Archives For Random Music Writing

Whatever year Sheryl Crow’s first of many mediocre albums came out, the family and I were vacationing in Florida.  Now, most people head to the Sunshine state for vacation in the winter but not the VH’s.  Why, oh why, did we have to go every other August, when it is the hottest, stickiest, and rainiest?  Well, I’m sure if you were to ask my dad he’d say something like, “it was the best time to catch a couple of Marlins games. The race is just starting to get good in August.”  Ok. But. The Marlins didn’t exist for a large part of my life and for most of the years of my vacationing life that they did they were coming out of the cellar.  

Anyway, it was extremely hot and humid on  these trips which meant that tempers would often flare up and boil over. I remember driving down a particularly scenic road while Sheryl Crow’s foot tapping club hit, “All I Wanna Do” lazily drifted out of the speakers of our rented Lumina.  I couldn’t stand this song.  It was repetitive, sung by a woman, and failed to feature Eddie Vedder or Kurt Cobain. (What was she thinking? Oh. Grammy.) Clouds had just started to roll in and the sky grew blacker and blacker as each word touched down.  My hatred increased by the second as my 17 year old brother belted the chorus directly in my ear. He’d inch closer and closer, nearly gobbing in it.  I’d push him away. Or maybe I possibly returned the favor by spitting on him. But just as most mature 15 year old siblings would have handled the situation, I pleaded with my parents to “tell him to stop or at least turn this shit off.”

He wouldn’t shut the hell up, so my dad just turned the dial.  The immense amount of relief that came directly after that quarter turn can still be felt to this day.  I would’ve been happy to hear anything else, but it just so happens that it was this very moment that I received my first dose of the long haired Canadian songsmith, Neil Young.  I distinctly remember my dad bobbing his head and enjoying a song that contains the words, “Well I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying In the yellow haze of the sun.” Now I didn’t know what the hell this man with a supremely  high pitched voiced was saying, singing, or on but I knew that I liked it. I can still feel the chills every time I replay the beauty that that song enshrines.  I listened intently to the lyrics as the clouds moved out and the sun reappeared.  Palm trees and ocean filled my sight lines as “After the Gold Rush” soothed my previously spat on ears. 

I had always been a big fan of music. Enjoyed all shapes and sizes.  As cheesy as it sounds and as far back as  I can recollect, it was at that exact moment that I discovered the immense power of moving you that music has.  Now I can’t live with out it.  Thanks Neil! Oh, also I didn’t hear or figure out what that song that was until a couple of years later. But when I heard it again, I knew.  Of course I knew.

It’s kind of funny how one memory can trigger all sorts of others, no matter how buried they may be.  In writing that last post alone, many repressed memories flooded my frontal lobe and momentarily flushed the deepest crevasses of my mind.  Now, I don’t want to go on about all of them or bore you with each and every recollection.  So I’ll keep this as tidy as possible by mentioning the two (in a series of posts) that made me smile the most. I should forewarn you though that due to the nature of the last post, most of the memories had to do with Neil Young’s music and how it, somehow, worked its way into my life.  So, if you were slightly disinterested in what I laid down a couple days ago, that feeling may reemerge. 

 

In the fall of 1999, a friend and I had gone to see Phish in Memphis. We arrived a few days early in order to make the most of the situation. C’mon, the ink on the Elvis portrait that decorates my forearm was still drying as we boarded the Greyhound. Anyway, once we got there we made sure to hit all the hotspots.  Graceland, Sun Studios, the Civil Rights Museum, Stax and we of course hit Beale Street for great food and music.   But when our belly’s were full and no one was playing, we’d poke our head into a few of the shops to get a look see at some of the gaudiest (awesomest) Elvis memorabilia you could imagine.   While my empty pockets failed to produce funds enough to purchase those great EP sunglasses, or that sweet TCB necklace, I managed to come up with a couple of bucks to by a cheesy harmonica that adorned a Christ-like portrait of my man, E.A.P., on the box.  Now, I had no clue how to play the bastard but I was positive that someone like me, an overweight kid that never picked up a musical instrument in his life and likes to follow jam bands around the country, absolutely had to have a Elvis sponsored harp. Truth be told, it stayed in the box the remainder of the trip. 

 

It wasn’t until a week after we got back to Milwaukee that it came out of the cardboard and made its way to my mouth for an extremely short period of time.  As another friend and I were pulling away from parent’s house en route to the next Phish show in Normal, IL I remember digging around in my shirt pocket for one thing or another.  Having forgotten that it was in there, with a large smile of excitement on my face, I pulled it out, glanced at my friend and started to quietly play it along with the Radio.  Surprisingly, “Love Me Do” was on, and even though I thought that I was keeping up and playing smashingly along with the recorded harmonica, I know that was not the case. I was fucking horrible.  My friend laughed momentarily but soon got rather irritated. She begged me to stop. “After this song” I said.  “I got it,” I said.  Well, when the song was over I put it down and told her that I would only play it again if another song with a harmonica came on.  She, absent mindedly not thinking of the colossal amount of harmonica in classic rock, agreed. 

 

So, sure as shit, not five minutes later the first chords of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” start t to fill our ears.  About 15 seconds in, trying not to push her too far, I gently blow into it, sounding absolutely awful.  I rest. She grins. I tap my knee and wait for my next opportunity to show off my skills. But when that time rolls around, right after the first verse, I completely blow my fucking top.  I start to play that thing so damn hard and loud that steam shoots from my ears and the hat I was wearing ends up in the “way” back seat.  Best thing is, I don’t stop when Neil does.  I just keep going. Feeling the groove and having an absolute blast.  No words are audible, Neil’s stand no chance up against my new fascination.  It is all that can be heard.  And that is the exact moment that my fascination ended.  Seeing the fun in my eyes, the spit dripping from the harp, and the steam of joy coming out of my ears, my traveling companion grabbed it from my clutches and through it right onto I-43.  I don’t think we spoke a word to each other until we got past Beloit.

 

So, if you’re ever driving down old 43 and you happen to catch a glaring object in the sun, if you’ve got some extra time on your hands, pull off to the side of the road and see if it’s the only musical instrument I’ve had the pleasure of purchasing in my entire life.  I can’t offer an reward but I can guarantee good karma.

 

 

Sometimes, a lot of times, when hearing an album for the first time something about it communicates to your brain.  You think “I would love to do…while listening  to….” or “this album is a perfect soundtrack for…”  A prime example of this would be Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. I’m sure there are a lot people out there that said upon hearing the chaos that greets you at the front door of “Speak to Me,” “Whoa, someday, I’m gonna level myself with cheap booze, pot, and maybe mushrooms while l listen to this.” Now, while most people believe it is/was the perfect soundtrack to nod off in a drug filled haze or hazes to it is obvious that the album was specifically made to be played over the the audio track of  Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  

In thinking about my own connections to this idea there are multiple examples of when this has come into play in my life, but there is one specific instance that won’t let me write about the others.  Crazy thing is that it wasn’t me that made the connection.

I was a teenage know-nothing that hung out in a smokey cafe that played nothing but loud and sometimes obnoxious music that just made sense.  It was often hard to hear yourself think in that place, or breathe, but we went there because the music was loud, the coffee was strong, the food was fantastic, and it  was off the yuppie grid. I don’t even think the word barista was in circulation yet. Anyway, this one particular evening I was sitting there with one of the staff, a friendly kid but a kid that always had a blank and dumb look on his face. I scribbled Kerouac or some other beatnik flavor of my teens into a pocket-sized pad while Frank fed his gullet with one hand and dragged off of his Export-A with the other.  Meanwhile the speakers were just PUMPING something that I had never heard before.  Screeching guitar, a screech-ier voice and HUGE but simple drumming.  Speed began to pick up and the rapid snare hits were now accompanied by high pitched yelps. “Wooo, wooo, wooo, wooo, wooo.” I wasn’t even sure if I liked what I was hearing (yet) but this music was the utter definition of raucous. A powerhouse of sound.

As the album continued to play  I would briefly lift my eyes up and look at Frank lazily bobbing his head while his feet stomped the fuck out of the floor. I couldn’t help but get into it as good as  I could.  I knew nothing of this band. This sound.  It was fresh to me.

“Fucking Detroit.”

“Huh,”  I said.

“Only Detroit could produce something like this. Shits maniacal”

“Yeah. I don’t know what it is but I kinda dig it.”

“Whenever I put this tape on, all I really wanna do is pull some kind of a heist. You know, break down a wall, grab whatever it is were taking, get back in the car and drive away as fast a the car will go.  This tape is the perfect fucking music for some shit like that.”

At that point I was a little taken aback by what he said. A heist? What the hell is he talking about a heist? Maybe this kid is as goofy as he looks.

But.  In this cloudy room that wreaked of stale smoke, onions and coffee it didn’t take more than mere seconds to realize that The White Stripes self-titled 1999 debut was just that.  If I were ever to get involved in “some shit like that,” Frank was right. That would be the perfect fucking soundtrack.

I still think it’s interesting to think about how one’s taste in music evolves over time. I suppose when you’re growing up and so into one band or a type of music, you tell yourself that you’ll never stop listening to and liking it/them. It’s like the last scene in “SLC Punk” when the child version of Matthew Lillard’s character sternly tells his friend that is trying to turn him onto a whole new scene, “C’mon man, Rush is a very good band.”

I remember when I was a kid, my mom would give me shit about liking Guns N Roses. I wanted this large wall hanging made out of silk with the Appetite for Destruction cover art inked on. She repeatedly refused to buy it for me, saying that this $50 tapestry would be in the basement within a year or worse yet – in the trash. Obviously I pleaded with her, telling her that GNR was the second coming and that if she did not comply she would have to face Axl’s wrath. But like my wonderful mother always does when I am in absolute NEED of something, she bought it for me. She said it was better than the belt buckle.

No idea where that bastard is today.