#201: Nine Inch Nails, "The Downward Spiral" (1994)

Malcolm kept turning around to talk to a person in the backseat who didn’t exist. He kept trying to jump out of the car from the front passenger side while we drove full-speed down the highway. Malcolm was pumped full of opiates. Malcolm did this sometimes.

Dark lines of dirt outlined where the medical tape had been on his arms. Tiny traces of white fuzz stuck to the dried blooda ghost image of bandaging. The defined veins in the ditch of his elbow were baby blue, lightened by the freebased heroinMalcolm’s go-to replacement for fluoxetine, benzodiazepine, and chlorpromazine: the typical cocktail of drugs used to treat the symptoms of dissociative disorders.

“I just have to pick up a package real quick,” Malcolm whispered to the nothingness behind him as he reached for the door handle againthe car speedometer reading 80 miles per hour.

“I swear, Malcolm, you better cut that crazy shit out,” I said.

“The door is stuck.”

“I put the child lock on; you’re fucking out of your mind right now.”  I didn’t really have too much room to talk back then; driving fast with a pint of Kentucky Deluxe Whiskey in my stomach wasn’t exactly the definition of sane logic.

Malcolm tried to roll down the window. Locked as well. “He won’t let me out,” Malcolm said to his delusion. I turned up the music so I didn’t have to listen to him mumble.

The whacking noise that opened the album was a sample of a man being beaten with a baton from the 1971 George Lucas film THX 1138. The whacking and subsequent moans started slow and then sped up on the track, a heartbeat beginning to race, before the sound exploded into a multilayered cacophony of electronic discourse, drums, synthesizer, guitaraggressive, abrasive, inescapable.  Malcolm first introduced me to the album when we were in high schoolmaybe a year after he’d been emancipated from his mother and stepfather and about six months before my grandmother would tell me it hurt her too much to watch me live.

Over the discord of instruments banging out a beat fast and loud, Trent Reznor’s lyrics pierced through: I am the bullet in the gun (and I control you) / I am the truth from which you run (and I control you) / I am the silencing machine (and I control you) / I am the end of all your dreams (and I control you).

Malcolm quieted down some in the car once his favorite album was onhis delusion unable to compete with his idol. He sank back into his seat and said the song’s title out loud: “Mr. Self Destruct.”

Malcolm’s recent trip to the hospitalwhere I’d picked him up that morningwas at the referral of a woman at a gas station who noticed the self-inflicted cuts on his forearm which spelled out “Happy.”  “Apathy” would have been more fitting, but sometimes the two seemed interchangeable.

“Can you take me back to my house?” he asked as I cracked the window now that he’d calmed from the chaos erupting from the speakers.

“I’ve told you like five times already that’s where we’re heading.”

Trent Reznor transitioned tracks with a few inharmonious, looped synthesized chords resembling the unconnected frequencies in one’s head during a panic attack. Then a brief silence cued the rhythmic song “Piggy”. Trent Reznor had recorded the entire album in the basement of the house he’d rented at the time. He always maintained he had no prior knowledge of the fact that his house was THE house where the Manson Family had slaughtered Sharon Tate and her friends and then spelled out the word PIG on the walls with Tate’s blood. The gruesome acts of the murders made Charles Manson a symbol for pure evil in America. I sometimes wondered if there was one singular symbol for evil in Malcolm’s life. His father who molested him? His stepfather who beat him? His mother who did nothing to stop the abuse? The voices he heard, which the doctors would say were trauma induced? The razor blade he clung to as therapy? The heroin in his veins? The gun he’d buy at a trade show on his 22nd birthday?

“I think I had a stinger in my past life,” Malcolm said slowly, his eyes drooped halfway shut as he pressed next on the CD player until he reached track number twelve, “Reptile”. “Like I was a wasp or a scorpion. Or a honey bee.”

I very rarely responded when Malcolm would have these conversations with himself. I just listened, the way he could surprisingly be an exceptional listener whenever I spewed out my own war stories.

“I was a honey bee. The way they sting a person and then cannot pull their barbed stingers back out without leaving behind part of their abdomen, muscles, nerves, and digestive tract. The abdominal rupture ends up killing them. That’s how I died.”

I swerved left onto his street. The dilapidated duplex, where he’d lived for the last two years right after turning 18, came into view. Once I turned the ignition off, I unlocked Malcolm’s door and we both got out. There wasn’t a feeling of relief that we’d made it safely from the dealer’s house back to Malcolm’s. There wasn’t a feeling at all. Maybe that’s why Malcolm ended up doing it. There was just the door frontits paint cracked and its frame serving as a walkway for cockroachesopening towards the downward spiral.

—Angela Morris

#202: Simon and Garfunkel, "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" (1966)

It’s taken me weeks to get started on this.

No, that’s a lie, it’s taken me months.

That’s not to say that I haven’t tried. I’ve done the usual “writerly” things: I collected a drink of some sort and positioned myself in a comfortable chair. I opened my laptop and pulled out everything that I thought about Simon and Garfunkel and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme and it came to nothing. Tiny fragments of prose strung together about my love for Simon or disapproval of his over-reliance on pastoral imagery, but nothing ever “worked” in that way our MFA and PhD and NYC and community workshops told us it should.

Delete.

Start over.

So this essay won’t be about Paul Simon or Art Garfunkel or Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme in most of the ways I wanted or planned. This won’t even be about me in many of the ways I wanted it to be. That’s probably a lie too.

Delete.

Start over.

This essay will be about giving up or what I imagine giving up looks like. About existing within a climate of failure or pressure to stop or, as Kanye might put it, trying to “move in a room full of no’s.” Regrettably, this is the only time I will mention Kanye in this essay.

I wish that was a lie but it’s not.

Delete.

Start over.

Writing, like music, is both created by and understood through the gestalt of our experience of it. I will never separate my first experience of Simon and Garfunkel’s “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her” from the isolation of living as a missionary in Kenya for a year, thousands of miles from anyone I had called a friend. The raw vulnerability of Garfunkel’s final “Oh, I love you!” at the end of the ballad still resurfaces a loneliness so intense I can barely listen to the entire song, even though it’s just over 2 minutes long.

You may never separate your experience of this essay from the text message you just got where he tells you he’s leaving and that she makes him feel “real” for the first time in his life. You cry and keep reading because it distracts you from the other words and what they mean. You will forget everything the essay says and who the author is because none of that matters compared to the act of reading through your rage and panic and how could he do this to you? If you ever read this essay again, you will not be able to finish it for the strength of the memory attached to it.

That’s also a lie, unless it isn’t. There’s no way to know which it is.

Delete.

Start over.

In the lighter songs of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, like “Cloudy” or “Homeward Bound” or “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” Simon and Garfunkel celebrate listlessness and inactivity in a way that seems counter to their art. These are not songs about being musicians as much as they are songs about being cool or artistic or just taking a break or something. Songs about how doing nothing or escaping the need to produce can be much more desirable than creation or action. “Homeward Bound” even wishes for a “love” who “lies waiting silently for me” as a sort of catatonic object that has let go of all purpose outside of Simon/Garfunkel’s presence. The ultimate passive love for the upper middle class white man disenchanted with his toil.

But beyond the disenchantment is a longing for contentment, for an ease they don’t seem to have. In “Feelin’ Groovy” they assert (in the most positive way they can): “I’ve got no deeds to do, no promises to keep.” This unhindered, unrestricted engagement with the world seems to be the pinnacle of their inactivity. No rules. No difficulties. Just being.

Delete.

Start over.

My 2011 Master's thesis was a train wreck. There’s no other way to put it.

Living with pretty brutal OCD at that time and having an incredibly inflated ego rolled together to make the worst cycle of objective realist short stories I’ve ever born witness to. Dialogue revolved around banal topics, plots were hyper-ordinary, and character revelation arose through such minimalist avenues that it felt like I was choking my characters or readers or both. It’s hell to reread it, so I don’t.

The real fallout from this period was with my process. When I wrote with OCD, sentences had rules I couldn’t even explain and characters avoided distinguishing qualities until everyone was a vague clone of my psyche. State of mind, physical posture, even the place where I chose to write, hundreds of rules that I’m still unpacking years after finally shaking the OCD. How do you write when your process was built around a mental illness you no longer have?

I still don’t really know the answer to this question.

Delete.

Start over.

In many ways, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme is an album that wrestles with giving up. In a context of war and the backlash against the Civil Rights movement and Bob Dylan plugging in his guitar and giving acoustic folk the finger, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel sat down and made a record that at times feels more like a collection of Wordsworth’s poems than a protest album. The first song, “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” was even largely based on a traditional English folk ballad. Of course, Simon and Garfunkel counterpoint the 17th-ish century vocals with lyrics about soldiers polishing guns, killing, and fighting in a war that they no longer understand, but the instrumental and lyrical cores remain mostly intact.

On their own, the traditional lyrics are steeped in inevitability and failure. In them, the singer instructs a former lover to complete a series of impossible tasks: making a cambric shirt without sewing, reaping a field with a leather sickle, and finding land floating between water and sand. Once these are done, she will be his true love again. The counterpoint lyrics are similar, but take an opposite approach to inevitability. Simon and Garfunkel don’t describe impossible tasks for the soldiers but tasks they wish were impossible, and America becomes the former true love who lost our trust through abuse and warmongering. The civic relationship is as dead as the romantic one.

Delete.

Start over.

After 20+ years and two and a half degrees worth of working on my fiction, I gave up on writing entirely this year. Why doesn’t matter.

That’s a lie: why is all that matters even though I can’t exactly tell you what the why is anymore. I can only gesture around me at something off in the distance or in the next room or the basement of the building or inside me. At feelings like the desire to vomit and a sadness that settles into your marrow. Words like juxtaposition, ontology, and brick. Synesthetic groans. Oceans of profanity. Gestalt.

Maybe it was the years of slogging through workshops where I couldn’t explain why my writing was so bad because I didn’t even recognize the OCD, followed by years of rebuilding my brain and self with even more bad writing. Maybe it was having no one to tell me “Yes” about my writing during the time when I needed that the most. Maybe I’m just realizing that this was never really my thing. Regardless, I am an empty vessel. I feel the wind reverberate through my opening. I hum as it passes me by.

Simon and Garfunkel describe this in “Patterns”:

Like the color of my skin,
Or the day that I grow old,
My life is made of patterns
That can scarcely be controlled.

Or maybe this all has more to do with Sisyphus rolling a boulder up a hill and that boulder always rolling back down the moment he gets it to the top. Sisyphus remains determined to keep going no matter how pointless his task becomes. Albert Camus even calls him an absurdist hero for his relentless existence.

But what if he doesn’t keep rolling that boulder? I know the myth, I know he has to, but what if he doesn’t anyway? When does the boulder and hill become so a part of his essence that he could leave Hades and wander around Greece and still be watching that boulder tumble back down?

Friends might say, “Look, Sis, you got out of there, right? You aren’t stuck trying to get that boulder up that hill anymore. Everything is better.”

Or, “C’mon, Phus, you’re a good boulder roller. You can roll a boulder any time you want even if you aren’t in Hades.”

And he’ll smile and drink his coffee and never be sure which parts are lies and which parts are true.

Delete.

Start over.

Giving up isn’t always an easy prospect. I was once given a model car at a Christmas party. I opened the box and read the instructions and fully intended to put it together, but I never went to the store to buy the paint or the glue, so the car stayed in pieces in its box. Even long after my connection to the gift-giver had faded to the smallest of dots on the horizon, I avoided throwing it away because I hoped I would finish something I had never started. I kept the car because giving up the car was giving up a part of myself that I didn’t want to see die, as melodramatic as that may sound. I would cut off a possible future, however small, for myself if the car went in the trash or I gave it to someone else, and I resisted my limitations. I’ve seen this melodrama play out a million different ways in myself and others, but the motivation is always the same: fear of limited identity.

Simon and Garfunkel resisted their limitations as well, though in a more significant way. They resisted the impending changes to music brought on by Bob Dylan in their song “A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission).” Mocking Dylan’s trademark sound and style, they unintentionally produced one of the most dynamic and interesting tracks on the album. They resisted narrow definitions of art in “A Poem on the Underground Wall” where a man spray-paints profanity on a subway wall and runs away, describing this event with an elevated language that clashes with the vulgar punk aesthetic of the graffiti. They resisted high art replacing human connection in “The Dangling Conversation,” a song that sometimes reproduces the elitism that it seeks to critique through its name dropping and diction. They resisted and resisted even though they admit that fighting the tide and making change is rare, if it’s even possible at all.

Or, as they say in “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall”:

So I'll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And flowers never bend
With the rainfall.

I threw the car away several years ago. I haven’t even thought about building a model car since.

Delete.

Start over.

Simon and Garfunkel eventually called it quits as a duo for the usual reasons. Simon became a hugely successful solo artist and Garfunkel sort of acted for a while and they both eventually got back together and toured and made more money than any of us will see in our lifetimes. But in the midst of their careers, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme sits as a sort of nucleus. At times equal parts melodically rich and artistically pretentious, it is beautiful and dated, irrelevant and timeless, light and sad, postmodern and formalist. Like its final track “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” which layers news reports over the Christmas song “Silent Night,” it’s a series of conceptual and musician pairings that can be clumsily obvious and incredibly profound. It is an album I love as much as it irritates me, one I never and always listen to. A boulder and a hill. Simon and Garfunkel.

Delete.

Stop.

It’s possible I’ve lied again.

Maybe I still managed to talk about Simon and Garfunkel in some of the ways I’d hoped. Maybe something crept out of me that I needed to say about myself.

Maybe I can dig that car out of the trash.

Or maybe that’s also a lie. There’s no way to know which it is.

—Josiah Meints

#203: Michael Jackson, "Bad" (1987)

There’s a meme where a guy dressed as an alien with a giant, bug-eyed head is chasing someone down a street. The caption says, “Me asking everyone I meet for their birth details to I can find out their chart.” I’m definitely that person. I’m not an astrologer by any means, but I do find it fascinating. I see at it as a way to look deeper at aspects of the personality. I find it usually leads to questions we already have or insights we already suspect about ourselves.

My friend Erin says that she’s never known anyone more proud of their sign than a Virgo. I’m sure many signs would disagree, but for me, it’s true. Besides the fact that I’ve been known to hashtag #Virgopower, or that I’m honored to share a sign with Beyoncé, Sophia Loren, Raquel Welch, Sean Connery, and Nas—just to name a few—when it came time to write about Bad, the first thing that came to mind was that the album is also a Virgo, born on August 31, 1987, two days after the birthday of Michael Jackson (born August 29th, 1958). There’s some speculation about his time of birth, but the prevailing theory is that it was 7:33 p.m., making his rising sign Pisces, same as his Moon sign.

If you go with that, it’s likely that his energy was a constant push-pull. Six signs apart, Virgo and Pisces are considered polar opposites. Virgo is usually typecast as the perfectionist: analytical, organized, conscientious, contemplative, and hard-working. Pisces is thought of as the daring, artistic, creative, intuitive, soul-searching free-spirit. Think of Beyoncé (Virgo) and Rihanna (Pisces). The relationship between these signs signifies the duality between control and escape. Astrologers believe that your sun sign is your identity, who you believe yourself to be, while your rising sign is what you show to the world, and your moon sign reflects your emotions, your inner mood. A prevailing theory is that anyone of any sign might do well to try to embody the astrological traits of your polar opposite. Still, none of this really matters unless you decide it does. That’s the magic of astrology—free will.

As with anything complex, astrology is often misunderstood, especially when trying to boil someone down to one aspect of a much larger puzzle. Just as easily as we brand someone with the character traits we think they might have based on their astrological sign, so we think we understand artists based on what they show to the world.

Many critical references to Michael share the undercurrent of extreme duality one could assume in his astrological makeup—shyness vs. gregariousness, masculine vs. feminine, the push/pull between tension and escape, wanting to be understood and accepted, and longing to be left alone. Good vs., well, Bad.

As Michael experimented creatively, writing nine out of the eleven tracks on Bad, his public persona appeared more and more theatrical—expressed in the paranoia of “Leave Me Alone,” and “Dirty Diana,” the groupie tale, the prayer for evolution of “Man in the Mirror,” and the bravado and machismo of “Bad” and “Smooth Criminal.” “Leave Me Alone” in particular—the psychedelic video for which won a Grammy—addressed the myth of Michael and the rumors that plagued him, like the stories that he slept in a hyperbaric chamber and that he wanted to buy the bones of the Elephant Man. There was a widely-held belief that his increasingly changing physical look—which he attributed to weight loss, diet, and diagnoses of Lupus and Vitiligo—and plastic surgery, meant he wanted to be white. Joseph Vogel, author of Man in the Music: The Creative Life and Work of Michael Jackson, writing in The Atlantic, says, “This was the ominous undercurrent beginning to swirl around Jackson and it had an impact on both his own psyche and that of the public (particularly in the U.S.). The tension between control and liberation or escape percolates throughout the Bad album and its accompanying music videos.”

The dichotomy and distance between what Michael gave to the world and what he kept for himself, his inner world, grew as his fame and success eclipsed every entertainer, and especially black entertainers, who had come before him. Of Michael’s trajectory, author James Baldwin said, “The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all. I hope he has the good sense to know it and the good fortune to snatch his life out of the jaws of a carnivorous success. He will not swiftly be forgiven for having turned so many tables, for he damn sure grabbed the brass ring, and the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo has nothing on Michael. All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth; the blacks, especially males, in America; and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair…”

The term Wacko Jacko, which tabloids began to use in the 1980s, may have had some basis in some of his stranger behavior, but there’s no denying that its origins are racist, as the term came from a reference to a British slang word for monkeys, which has long held derogatory meaning for blacks. Vogel writes, Like Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal” scene in Invisible Man, it was a process by which to reduce Michael Jackson the human being and artist, to ‘Jacko’ the minstrelized spectacle for avaricious amusement. (It is significant to note that, while the term was used widely by the white media, it was rarely, if ever used by black journalists.)”

Watching the “Bad” video as a kid, I most vividly remember his transformation into the leather-clad dancer strutting his stuff in the train station with his boys, so different from the suave Michael reclining with a tiger cub in a white suit on the cover of Thriller in the poster on my wall. I had no idea how different he already was, or what the racial and societal implications really were, except for hearing my dad lament the loss of the blackness of Michael’s original nose. Rewatching as an adult—impressed by the fact that it was directed by Martin Scorsese!—I’m struck by the sincerity in his acting as a city kid with a ticket to prep school. Once he’s off the Metro North train and back on the block with his boys—among them Wesley Snipes, no less—it’s clear he’s no longer at home with them, either. He belongs nowhere, really. Through that lens the transition into the epic choreography doesn’t feel so much like the incredible dance sequence I remembered loving as a kid. It feels like the artist’s way of revealing his fight to understand himself after such a long absence in his prime and distance from the fans that made him famous—five years since the success of Thriller, long having eclipsed his brothers in the Jackson 5. Also striking is its thread to our current racial climate: both the song and video for “Bad”were inspired by outrage at the death of Edward Perry, a black prep school student killed by a police officer in NYC in 1985.

Despite its commercial success, artistically, Bad may have just embodied a few too many Virgo characteristics to please its detractors. Critics felt it was too stylistically polished, Michael’s way of trying to recreate the success of Thriller. They thought “Bad” wanted to be “Beat It,” and “Dirty Diana” wanted to recreate the power of “Billie Jean.” They also thought Michael was trying to out-Prince Prince. Referencing “Dirty Diana,” writer John Tatlock called Jackson, “a boy-child trying to write a song about the kind of woman he never meets in the kind of places he’s certainly never been to.”

“Bad” was supposed to be a duet between Michael and Prince. Can you imagine that? Perhaps if they’d worked together, Prince’s Gemini sun and Michael’s Virgo sun would have created something special. Astrologically, Virgo and Gemini share a ruler in the planet Mercury, thought to be connected to the mind and rational thought. In Vibe, Amir “Questlove” Thompson says, “I have an actual theory on why we started connecting Michael and Prince together early on. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both were born in the summer of 1958 in the Midwest and both basically represent different phases of the coming-of-age life of black youth. Michael captured the imagination of post civil-rights America as a youth and he was their guiding light. And Prince captured the same post-civil rights America when they became teenagers and helped them mature into adulthood.” Prince’s former tour manager Alan Leeds suggests that the characteristics,  differences, and mutual respect the two shared that might have made for great music didn’t leave space for collaboration. “But the thing about Michael coming to Prince and wanting him to do ‘Bad,’ that really pissed him off. Prince was like, ‘Oh, he wants to punk me out on record. Who does he think I am, crazy?’ He couldn’t get outside himself enough to realize that it was the kind of thing that probably could have benefited both of them. Still, it would have forever been Michael’s video with Prince as just a guest. So that captured what the relationship couldn’t be. They were like Ali vs. Frazier. And the media couldn’t get enough of pitting these guys against each other. In the same article, writer Cynthia Horner captures what makes their mythology so alluring. “One of the reasons why we still care about Michael and Prince is because we will never know everything we want to know about them. They both understood the power of mystique,” she says.

The mystique and myth of Michael became increasingly harder to come to terms with as he dealt with the scrutiny and aftermath of his very public molestation trial. Writer Joyce Mason says, “Although he was found not guilty on all charges in his 2005 child molestation trial, he remained a symbol...of the Radical Virgo struggle to synthesize the extremes of sexual innocence and corruption.”

Karen Wink, in Pop Matters, says, “He became a figure in a myth that he (or we) did not expect to become real. In fact, we love our myths, those stories a culture believes as truth; tales that express the deepest truths of ourselves; tales mixing imagination and facts. And we do not like our myths to die.” She goes on to say, “As we sat in Jackson’s audiences, most of us experienced catharsis via his joy and pain: we exalted in his extraordinary entertainment, pitied his longing for a childhood, became mortified at his outrageous acts, then feared his demise. The myth was reflexive—standing on opposite sides of a mirror, we and he mythologized in likeness, constructing a superhuman place for him to live and for us to travel vicariously.”

Like Wink says about our voyeurism of Michael, we like stories we can believe, stories that express our truths, mixing imagination and facts. It’s exciting to have potential to reach for in our shared experiences.

What I enjoy about astrology is its promise. I like finding out someone’s rising sign, getting their chart details, because it means there’s a possibility of connection beyond what we already know or feel. We can connect to the positive traits of astrology just like we connect to the parts of the myths and mystique of our artists that suit us. But what about the parts of them that line up with the traits we don’t like? The ugly ones? The ones we hide? It would be easy to just associate with the positive qualities, but to do so would be disingenuous. Perhaps we should task ourselves with understanding the whole.

—Lee Erica Elder

#204: Bob Dylan, "Modern Times" (2006)

The good poet wields his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.

            -      T. S. Eliot

Wait, I’m deciding to be my own individual self, and it looks nothing like what anyone else is doing.

            -      Alicia Keys

Modern Times, Dylan’s thirty-first studio record and his third straight masterwork1 // is musically intricate, thick, and expertly played2. // Everything about this album is better than the two that came before3 // As usual, it's verbose4. // Dylan pours out verse after verse—aphorisms and parables, jokes and laments, valentines and metaphysical musings—over loose-limbed vamps from his excellent touring band5. // He snickers to himself, cooing about love, God, and doing it6. // He's 65 years old now and he ain't slowin' down7. // It’s clear that Bob Dylan’s life has been defined by his desire to break away from a contemporary context8. // Bob doesn't use the blues any more—he is the blues9.

//

I rolled and I tumbled, I cried the whole night long10, // wife and child back in Nantucket11, // blues this mornin’ fallin’ down like hail12, // beady black eyes following the nervous movements of13 // an army, some tough sons of bitches14 // carryin’ a dead man’s shield15. // There is a wisdom that grows up in strife16; // I’ll just slaughter ‘em where they lie17. // Ahab’s lust for vengeance18 // can’t explain the sources of this hidden pain19. // No one can ever claim / that I took up arms against you20. // I’m a thousand times happier than I could ever say21.

//

I wrote these songs in not a meditative state at all, but more like in a trancelike, hypnotic state22. // I knew this time it wouldn’t be futile writing something I really love and thought dearly of, and then gettin’ in the studio and having it be beaten up and whacked around23. // This is the best band I’ve ever been in, I’ve ever had, man for man24. // This is how I feel? Why do I feel like that? And who’s the me that feels this way?25 // When you play with guys a hundred times a year, you know what you can and can’t do26. // On this record, I ain’t nowhere, you can’t find me anywhere27. // I felt freed up to do just about anything I pleased28.

//

Will you call the doctor please?29 // Explain / the sources of that hidden pain30. // I’m touched with desire31: // mass media, commercial art, celebrities, consumer product packaging, comic strips, and advertising32. // I can’t eat all that stuff in a single bite33. // (But you have heard of them.)34 // For the love of God35, // there’s barely enough skin to cover my bones36. // Living this way ain’t a natural thing to do37. // Take pity on yourself38. // Tell the truth39. // We all wear the same thorny crown40.

//

ALL SONGS WRITTEN BY BOB DYLAN41 // bear some strong echoes to the poems of Timrod, a Charleston native who wrote poems about the Civil War and died in 1867 at the age of 3842. // Bob is not authentic at all43. // To discover that Bob has passed someone elses work off as his own is very disappointing44. // He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake45. // Bob really is a thieving little swine46. // This is, of course, not the first time that Dylan has faced charges of borrowing47. // This is really beyond the pale48. // Is it part of the “folk process” to lift a few specific metaphors or phrases whole from someone else’s work? I really don’t think it is49. // I wish I could trust it50. // Everything about Bob is a deception51.

//

You ever seen a ghost? No52. // The idea is that you hear the old songs53, // play them in the right time, in the right order, and fate is revealed54 // all across the peaceful sacred fields55. // I cannot believe these things could fade from your mind56. // I’ve been sitting down studying57 // fantasy worlds, religious mysticism, and ambiguous subject matter58. // (Maybe he’s just sitting a spell, catching his breath.)59 // I see all that I am and all I hope to be60. // Those are the only two things in the world, a duality that needs no explaining61. // I can’t go to paradise no more62.

//

Everyone else can do it but not me. There are different rules for me63. // Sometimes what Dylan has done with material from other sources is witty, crafty, and sly64. // ALL SONGS WRITTEN BY BOB DYLAN65. // And if you think it’s so easy … do it yourself and see how far you can get66. // Other times it’s just sloppy67. // Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff68. // But to narrow the Dylan/Timrod phenomenon … into a story of possible plagiarism is to confuse, well, art with a term paper69. // All those evil motherfuckers can rot in hell70.

//

I’m wondering where in the world71 // perfect proportion and logic instead of emotion72 // could be73. // Alicia Keys74 // (one of the loveliest creatures in the world of women)75 // encounters other whaling vessels76, // which, ere they feel a lover’s breath, / lie in a temporary death77. // We want to compete abroad78 // where wisdom grows up in strife79, // deprive them of their highly comforting sense of doom80. // I killed a man back there—81 // a non-Christian at that—82 // beyond the horizon right down to the bone83. // I felt transient joys84, // an angel’s kiss85, // 1,000 years of happiness86. // I can’t help it if I’m lucky87

//

When I first received this Nobel Prize for Literature…88 // steal a little they throw you in jail, / steal a lot they make you king89. // “It’s a hard thing to describe,” Dylan would later remember. “It’s just this sense that you’ve got something to say.”90 // I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy91. // His singular, identifiable American voice is actually an amalgam of the voices of so many others92. // But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors93. // Across the 78 sentences in the lecture that Dylan spends describing Moby-Dick, … more than a dozen of them appear to closely resemble lines from the SparkNotes site94. // That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words95. // This key to the preceding essay names the source of every line I stole, warped, and cobbled together as I “wrote.”96 // Modern Times is probably Dylan’s least-surprising release in decades97. // ALL SONGS WRITTEN BY BOB DYLAN98.

//

If it keep on rainin’, the levee gonna break;99 // I ain’t gonna touch another100 // round of precious hours. / Oh! here, where in that summer noon I basked / and strove, with logic frailer than the flowers101, // I’ve been in a brawl102. // When you’re with me103 // every nook and cranny has its tears104. // Shame on your greed, shame on your105 // thousand and one subtle ramifications106. // I’ve been conjuring up107, // more frailer than the flowers, these precious hours108. // Someone hit me from behind109. // The world has gone black before my eyes110. // I can hear a lover’s breath. / I sleep … / sleep is like a temporary death111. // But someday baby112 // I’m gonna wring your neck113. // You ain’t gonna worry po’ me any more114. // You will sort of understand115, // the gardener is gone116. // We can have a whoppin’ good time117.

1 Joe Levy, “Bob Dylan: Modern Times,” Rolling Stone, August 14, 2006

2 Amanda Petrusich, “Bob Dylan: Modern Times Album Review,” Pitchfork, August 29, 2006

3 El_Goodo, “Bob Dylan – Modern Times (Album Review),” Sputnik Music, September 1, 2006

4 Jody Rosen, “Bob Dylan’s Make-Out Album,” Slate, August 30, 2006

5 ibid.

6 Amanda Petrusich, “Bob Dylan: Modern Times Album Review,” Pitchfork, August 29, 2006

7 Robert Forster, “Modern Times and Times Before That,” The Monthly, October, 2006

8 Steven Hyden, “Bob Dylan’s Modern Times,” A.V. Club, February 14, 2012

9 Sean O’Hagan, “Bob Dylan, Modern Times,” Guardian, September 16, 2006

10 Bob Dylan, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” Modern Times; or, Muddy Waters, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” (1929)

11 Bob Dylan, Lecture for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 2016 (2017); or, SparkNotes, “Moby-Dick”

12 Bob Dylan, “Nettie Moore,” Modern Times

13 Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume One (2003); or, Sax Rohmer, Dope (1919)

14 Bob Dylan, “Thunder on the Mountain,” Modern Times

15 Bob Dylan, “Ain’t Talkin’,” Modern Times

16 Henry Timrod, “Retirement” (circa 1860); compare to Bob Dylan, “When the Deal Goes Down,” Modern Times (see footnote 79)

17 Bob Dylan, “Ain’t Talkin’,” Modern Times

18 Bob Dylan, Lecture for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 2016 (2017); or, SparkNotes, “Moby-Dick”

19 Bob Dylan, “Spirit on the Water,” Modern Times; compare to Henry Timrod, “Two Portraits” (circa 1860) (see footnote 30)

20 Ovid, Tristia (circa 8 A.D.); compare to “No one can ever claim / That I took up arms against you” by Bob Dylan, “Workingman’s Blues #2,” Modern Times

21 Bob Dylan, “Spirit on the Water,” Modern Times

22 Bob Dylan, qtd. in Jonathan Lethem’s “The Genius and Modern Times of Bob Dylan,” Rolling Stone, September 7, 2006

23 ibid.

24 ibid.

25 ibid.

26 ibid.

27 ibid.

28 ibid.

29 Bob Dylan, “Little Buddy,” a handwritten poem he wrote at age 13 (1944); or, Hank Snow’s “Little Buddy” (1947)

30 Henry Timrod, “Two Portraits” (circa 1860) (see footnote 19)

31 Bob Dylan, “Beyond the Horizon,” Modern Times

32 Bob Dylan, “Foreword,” The Beaten Path (2016); or, “Pop Art,” Glossary of Art Terms by the New Orleans Museum of Art

33 Bob Dylan, “Nettie Moore,” Modern Times

34 Bob Dylan, “Spirit on the Water,” Modern Times

35 Bob Dylan, “Thunder on the Mountain,” Modern Times

36 Ovid, Tristia (circa 8 A.D.); compare to “Some people got barely enough skin to cover their bones,” by Bob Dylan, “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” Modern Times

37 Bob Dylan, “Someday Baby,” Modern Times

38 Bob Dylan, “Thunder on the Mountain,” Modern Times

39 Adam Peterson, “#292: Bob Dylan & The Band, ‘The Basement Tapes,’” The RS500 (2016)

40 Bob Dylan, “When the Deal Goes Down,” Modern Times

41 Bob Dylan, Liner Notes, Modern Times

42 Motoko Rich, “Who’s This Guy Dylan Who’s Borrowing Lines from Henry Timrod?,” New York Times, September 14, 2006

43 Joni Mitchell, Interview with Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2010

44 Mister.Jones, “Many Lines in Chronicles are from Time Magazine” Discussion Forum, expectingrain.com, April 28, 2009

45 Joni Mitchell, Interview with Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2010

46 Harvey, Discussion Forum, Dylan Pool

47 News Desk, “Boots of Spanish Leather: Bob Dylan and Stealing,” New Yorker, September 30, 2011

48 supermabel1, “Many Lines in Chronicles are from Time Magazine” Discussion Forum, expectingrain.com, May 13, 2009

49 Suzanne Vega, “The Ballad of Henry Timrod,” New York Times, September 26, 2006

50 Paul Haney, “Need a Lift: Modern Times,” Dylan Hypothesis, September 6, 2016

51 Joni Mitchell, Interview with Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2010

52 Bob Dylan, “Spirit on the Water,” Modern Times

53 Adam Peterson, “#292: Bob Dylan & The Band, ‘The Basement Tapes’ (1975),” The RS500 (2016)

54 Brad Shoup, “#303: Bob Dylan, ‘John Wesley Harding’ (1967),” The RS500 (2016)

55 Bob Dylan, “Workingman’s Blues #2,” Modern Times

56 Bob Dylan, “Spirit on the Water,” Modern Times; compare to “Can’t believe these things would ever fade from your mind” by Ovid, Black Sea Letters (circa 8 A.D.)

57 Bob Dylan, “Thunder on the Mountain,” Modern Times

58 Bob Dylan, “Foreword,” The Beaten Path (2016); or, “Symbolist,” Glossary of Art Terms by the New Orleans Museum of Art

59 John Gregory Brown, “#410: Bob Dylan, ‘Time Out of Mind’ (1997),” TheRS500 (2015)

60 Bob Dylan, “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” Modern Times

61 Constance Squires, “#385: Bob Dylan, ‘Love and Theft’ (2001),” The RS500 (2015)

62 Bob Dylan, “Spirit on the Water,” Modern Times

63 Bob Dylan, Interview with Mikal Gilmore, “Bob Dylan Unleashed, Rolling Stone, September 27, 2012

64 Scott Warmuth, “Bob Charlatan: Deconstructing Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One” (2008)

65 Bob Dylan, Liner Notes, Modern Times

66 Bob Dylan, Interview with Mikal Gilmore, “Bob Dylan Unleashed, Rolling Stone, September 27, 2012

67 Scott Warmuth, “Bob Charlatan: Deconstructing Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One” (2008)

68 Bob Dylan, Interview with Mikal Gilmore, “Bob Dylan Unleashed Rolling Stone, September 27, 2012

69 Robert Polito, “Bob Dylan: Henry Timrod Revisited,” Poetry Foundation, October 6, 2006

70 Bob Dylan, Interview with Mikal Gilmore, “Bob Dylan Unleashed Rolling Stone, September 27, 2012

71 Bob Dylan, “Thunder on the Mountain,” Modern Times

72 Bob Dylan, “Foreword,” The Beaten Path (2016); or, “Classical,” Glossary of Art Terms by the New Orleans Museum of Art

73 Bob Dylan, “Thunder on the Mountain,” Modern Times

74 ibid.

75 Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One (2003); or, Robert Louis Stevenson, “Providence and the Guitar” (circa 1880)

76 Bob Dylan, Lecture for the Nobel Prize in Literature (2016); or, SparkNotes, “Moby-Dick”

77 Henry Timrod, “Two Portraits” (circa 1860); compare to Bob Dylan, “Workingman’s Blues #2” (see footnote 111)

78 Bob Dylan, “Workingman’s Blues #2,” Modern Times

79 Bob Dylan, “When the Deal Goes Down,” Modern Times; compare to Henry Timrod, “Retirement” (circa 1860) (see footnote 16)

80 Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One (2003); or, “The Anatomy of Angst,” Time Magazine, March 31, 1961

81 Bob Dylan, “Spirit on the Water,” Modern Times

82 Bob Dylan, Lecture for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 2016 (2017); or, SparkNotes, “Moby-Dick”

83 Bob Dylan, “Beyond the Horizon,” Modern Times

84 Bob Dylan, “When the Deal Goes Down,” Modern Times

85 Bob Dylan, “Beyond the Horizon,” Modern Times

86 Bob Dylan, “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” Modern Times

87 Darius Rucker, et al. “Only Wanna Be with You,” Cracked Rear View (1995); or, Bob Dylan, “Idiot Wind,” Blood on the Tracks (1974)

88 Bob Dylan, Lecture for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 2016 (2017)

89 Bob Dylan, “Sweetheart Like You,” Infidels (1983)

90 Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works (2012); this quote was later found to have been fabricated, leading to the book being recalled

91 Bob Dylan, “Banquet Speech” for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 2016 (2016)

92 Scott Warmuth, “Bob Charlatan: Deconstructing Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One (2003)”

93 Bob Dylan, Lecture for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 2016 (2017)

94 Andrea Pitzer, “Did Bob Dylan Take from SparkNotes for His Nobel Lecture?,” Slate, June 13, 2017

95 Bob Dylan, Lecture for the Nobel Prize in Literature, 2016 (2017)

96 Jonathan Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism,” Harper’s, February, 2007

97 Amanda Petrusich, “Bob Dylan: Modern Times Album Review,” Pitchfork, August 29, 2006

98 Bob Dylan, Liner Notes, Modern Times

99 Bob Dylan, “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” Modern Times; compare to “If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break” by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, “When the Levee Breaks” (1929)

100 Bob Dylan, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” Modern Times

101 Henry Timrod, “A Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night,”(circa 1860); compare to Bob Dylan, “When the Deal Goes Down” (see footnote 108)

102 Bob Dylan, “Spirit on the Water, Modern Times

103 ibid.

104 Ovid, Tristia (circa 8 A.D.); compare to “Every nook and corner had its tears” by Bob Dylan, “Ain’t Talkin’,” Modern Times

105 Bob Dylan, “Thunder on the Mountain,” Modern Times

106 Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One (2003); or, Jack London, Children of the Frost

107 Bob Dylan, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” Modern Times

108 Bob Dylan, “When the Deal Goes Down,” Modern Times; compare to Henry Timrod, “A Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night” (circa 1860 (see footnote 101)

109 Bob Dylan, “Ain’t Talkin’,” Modern Times

110 Bob Dylan, “Nettie Moore,” Modern Times

111 Bob Dylan, “Workingman’s Blues #2,” Modern Times; compare to Henry Timrod’s “Two Portraits” (circa 1860) (see footnote 77)

112 Bob Dylan, “Someday Baby,” Modern Times; compare to “Someday baby, you ain’t gonna word my mind anymore” by Sleepy John Estes, “Someday Baby Blues” (1935)

113 Bob Dylan, “Someday Baby,” Modern Times

114 Bob Dylan, “Someday Baby,” Modern Times; compare to “Someday baby, you ain’t gonna word my mind anymore” by Sleepy John Estes, “Someday Baby Blues” (1935)

115 Bob Dylan, “Thunder on the Mountain,” Modern Times

116 Bob Dylan, “Ain’t Talkin’,” Modern Times

117 Bob Dylan, “Spirit on the Water,” Modern Times

—Paul Haney

#205: Cream, "Wheels of Fire" (1968)

When I lived in Hong Kong, I listened to a podcast called “Analyze Phish” starring Harris Wittels1 and Scott Aukerman2. Each episode, Harris would play different songs by the band Phish3 in the hope that Scott would eventually grow to love the band. Harris would employ different tactics, and on two occasions even took Scott to live shows. However, you always got the sense Harris would never succeed.

This podcast spoke to me.

I thought it would be fun to create a podcast based on a similar concept, and approached my friend and colleague Martin.

The subsequent podcast we created was entitled “A Fistful of Faceful4,” and the premise was that I, as the host, would expose Martin to various genres of heavy metal music in the attempt to get him to listen to it on his own time. Martin’s taste in music is drastically different from my own5.

The first episode was basically an exploration into the history of Heavy Metal, and of course, it’s difficult to pinpoint6, but Cream is where I should have began7.

Cream started with Ginger Baker8. He had been a member of Blues Incorporated and the Graham Bond Organization, along with bass player Jack Bruce9. He wanted to start a new band with Eric Clapton10.

While Clapton was receptive, he agreed to join on the condition that Jack Bruce would be their bass player. Baker conceded11. They started out as the Cream, since they were the cream of the crop, and later dropped the “The.” The band lasted for 2 years12, from 1966 to 1968, and released the following albums: Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears13, Wheels of Fire14, and Goodbye15.

They are considered to be one of the first “Super Groups” and would go on to influence countless bands and genres of music16.

They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and are listed at 67 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, 61 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and 16 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock17.



1 Harris Wittels was a stand-up comic who wrote for Parks and Recreation, Eastbound and Down, and The Sarah Silverman Program. He also was a regular contributor to various podcasts. He was a dedicated Phish fan, having seen over a hundred shows. I also somewhat commiserated with his plight, as my favorite band is Sleep and I’ve been trying to get people to listen to their magnum opus “Dopesmoker,” a sixty-two-minute song, for years. That’s neither here nor there, though. Sadly, Harris passed away from a drug overdose in 2015. He discusses his addiction in an incredible interview with Pete Holmes on the podcast “You Made It Weird.” I highly recommend listening to it. Rest in peace, Harris.

2 Scott Aukerman wrote for Mr. Show, co-created and directs episodes of Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, and hosts a podcast/TV show called Comedy Bang! Bang!. He is also married to Kulap Vilaysack. Yes, I would kill to be like him; we’re talking Faustian contracts and shit.

3 I too was into Phish when I was in high school. I remember we were coming back from a retreat (a bonding trip for the freshmen class). Waiting for the bus, I was lying on the grass by the luggage reading The Tao of Pooh and listening to “David Bowie”. The lyrics are just “David Bowie” and “UB40.” It’s like fucking Yeats... it would be another four years until a girl spoke to me. I just texted my mom and asked if she remembered when I played Phish during car rides. I don’t know how, but she remembered the lyrics “Wash your feet and drive me to Firenze” from the song “You Enjoy Myself.” This is a mondegreen (meaning the lyrics are mistakenly heard to be something else). Usually when I ask her about music (during car rides now—I don’t drive; it’s a long story—she lets me put on Ozzy’s Boneyard) she replies “This sounds like Castlevania or Metroid.” I played a lot of Nintendo as a kid. This probably explains a lot too.

4 Knock yourself out: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/a-fistful-of-faceful/id721681338?mt=2

5 We did an episode called “A Faceful of Fistful” in which Martin, a very meek British intellectual, tried to persuade me to listen to some of his music. This included the Kooks, Tim Minchin, and Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip.

6 There really isn’t a patient zero of heavy metal music, and attributions are given and taken away haphazardly. In fact, when you think of it, the various genres and subgenres of music are pretty much solely created so lists like this one can exist. Nerds love statistics and lists. It’s the reason why there were Congressional hearings about steroids in baseball, and people couldn’t care less about steroids in football. It’s cool, though, I can say that since I’m also a nerd about statistics and trivia. There’s a video of me on YouTube where I list the last fifty years of Best Picture/Best Director Oscar winners while blindfolded.

7 We spent a lot of time talking about Blue Cheer’s album Vincebus Eruptum being the first metal album (recorded in ‘67, released in ‘68) but mostly because I was fascinated by their manager Owsley Stanley. On his Wiki entry it says known for: Acid, Wall of Sound. I mean, Black Sabbath is the first metal band, end of story. Some people will talk about Deep Purple, Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly, Sir Lord Baltimore, Jimi Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge, Led Zeppelin, MC5, the Stooges, Arthur Brown, but they’re wrong. It’s Black Sabbath. Cream laid the groundwork for heavy metal, though, since their first two albums were released in ’66 and ’67.

8 So, until I watched a documentary about him, all I really knew of Ginger Baker was that he was the drummer for Cream. I have memories of me and my friend Alex, who were acting in a high school production of a German Expressionist play The Firebugs, taunting our friend Jake, who was drumming for the concurrent musical Godspell, by calling him Ginger. Then, I saw the documentary Beware of Mr. Baker. In the opening minute, he attacks the interviewer with his cane. He’s definitely one of the most influential drummers of all time and an incredible character. He pioneered using double bass drums, lived in Nigeria and drove across the Sahara, drum-battled Elvin Jones, Phil Seaman, and Art Blakey, and incorporated jazz and African rhythms into rock music. While people will argue about Keith Moon and John Bonham being the greatest of all time, you must include Baker in this list or put him at the top. In 2005, he made about five million dollars for Cream’s four-gig reunion and spent the money importing twenty plus horses since he’s a polo enthusiast. Currently, he lives in South Africa in a compound and currently has both health and financial difficulties.

9 Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker had a contentious relationship, to say the least. As Bruce began to sing more, and switched from upright bass to bass guitar, the problems increased. At one point, during their tenure in the Graham Bond Organization, Baker thought Bruce was playing during a drum solo, so he “offloaded a right hander on him,” then proceeded to stomp Bruce while he was down, pulled a knife, and kicked him out of the band. (See footnote 11). You might say the fact they managed to work together again, and last for two years/four albums as Cream, is a miracle. Bruce is heralded as one of the great bass players and singers of all time whose influence is profound. He’s responsible for changing the perception of bass guitar as a lead instrument. Since Cream, he played with a ton of musicians both as a session player and band member. Sadly, he passed away in 2014 from liver disease. Rest in peace, Jack.

10 There’s a famous photo of a dog urinating on graffiti which reads “Clapton is God.” Initially, when I thought of writing this piece, it was going to be from a fly-on-the-wall perspective of a fictional journalist named Herol McCatee who was given unprecedented access to the recording of Wheels of Fire. He would have spent his time chain-smoking Marb Reds and writing something that began with “God is crying,” about Clapton’s slow unraveling due to the stress of mediating the fighting between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. There’s really nothing new to write here about Eric Clapton. Although it’s interesting to note that when he left Cream, he formed Blind Faith with Steve Winwood; during practice one day, Ginger just showed up, sat in, and became the drummer. That must have suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucked for Clapton. Of course, he’s done alright since then.

11 Clapton is God > Threatening someone at knife point.

12 They disbanded primarily due to infighting between Baker and Bruce, but also because they began using Marshall amplifiers which cranked the volume to 11, and made it difficult to play as a cohesive unit at that decibel level. According to Clapton, one time he stopped playing, and neither Bruce nor Baker noticed.

13 A malapropism for derailleur gears on a racing bike. The guy was thinking about Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. You might be wondering “wait a second—who’s this titan that throws around words like mondegreen and malapropism?” I teach English. I spend all of my time reading/grading papers like this one: http://www.thers500.com/albums/215-new-york-dolls-new-york-dolls-1973/

14 Tom Dowd was one of the engineers on Wheels of Fire. He worked on the Manhattan Project after high school. He was going to get a degree in nuclear physics but was unable to use the classified research he had done in the army. Instead of pursuing this career, he went into music and became a pioneer of multi-track recording and helping to develop/record some of the greatest music of the 20th century. Felix Papalardi produced Wheels of Fire. He would later found and play bass in the Cream-influenced band Mountain. He was shot and killed by his wife, Gail, who was convicted of criminally negligent homicide. Wheels of Fire became the first platinum-selling double album. The first LP consists of studio recordings, while the second is live. Best well-known off of the first album is the song “White Room,” written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown; they also wrote Cream’s most famous song “Sunshine of Your Love.” This may have also been a bone of contention between Bruce and Baker since Bruce/Brown got the lion’s share of songwriting royalties for Cream’s hits. Lyrics/Melody = $. Drums count as arrangements, which do not constitute royalties. “Toad,” a composition by Baker, is probably the first example of what would be one of the earliest recorded rock drum solos. Martin Scorsese used this track in the film Casino, when Joe Pesci tortures a guy and puts his head in a vice. “Crossroads,” originally by Robert Johnson (about a man selling his soul to the devil for music glory—see footnote 2) gives Clapton the opportunity to showcase his guitar playing and make a case for the dog-urinated-on-graffiti. Also, see footnote 10.

15 Just to give you a heads up of how good this band was, three out of the four albums they recorded made the RS500 list.

16 Too many to name here.

17 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZVdR19E5mU

—Andrew Davie

#206: Prince, "Dirty Mind" (1980)

He received a postcard in the mail whose message read:

I haven’t written in far too long,
and for that I apologize

nothing more, no address or name, but he knew Thea’s handwriting so he waited a day then met her next sunrise at the pier.

“How many mornings have you been coming here?”

“This is the first,” she said.

“No way.” Larkin thought about that. “The postmark was three days ago.”

“Oh, I know you,” because it was true, he had waited a day: he’d studied the glossy photograph of the port on the postcard’s front and the loops in Thea’s t’s and h’s and f’s on its back. Purchased at a gift shop not far from where they sat. “And surprise surprise, we missed the sunrise.”

But they were seeing each other again in new morning’s light, in this familiar spot, where the ghosts of fishermen yawn with the sea breeze and the gulls squawk over fish wrappers in the trash bins. Larkin presented Thea with one of the twin iced coffees he’d acquired.

“How you like it,” because some things won’t change. She met his eyes as if to defy him, as if to say she had changed and no longer took it black with sugar—until she accepted the plastic cup, pulleying her stare from Larkin’s eyes to the sweating drink in her hands.

“Thank you,” she said. Had she changed her hair? Or did Larkin not remember how it once was, how it fell against a pillow.

“It’s astounding we haven’t run into each other,” he said, “in the neighborhood,” and so wondered if indeed she hasn’t been here this whole time.

Thea produced a flask and added some of its contents to her iced coffee. Larkin uncapped his drink and placed the cup on the bench between them; Thea obliged. “I never told you about my brother,” she offered after she poured.

“Kirby? Why, what happened?”

“No, I mean, we never really—just listen, okay? You’re always taking words out of my mouth, or putting them in or something.”

He cracked his knuckles and flexed his fingers and remembered when he used to put his arm around her.

“It’s all about being here,” she said. Maybe Thea had gotten out of town for a spell. He had seen her once or twice, he was certain, but kept his distance all the same so how was he to know. When they’d split, Thea had cited their relationship as the safe bet. He had his regrets, too.

“So your brother.” Larkin replaced the lid on his drink and took a good pull: Thea had given him plenty.

“It’s just, he’s always running around with a broken heart,” she began. “I don’t understand how he does it. He’s like a child running with scissors.”

What Larkin knew of Thea’s brother he’d mostly garnered from the half dozen times he’d been in Kirby’s company: at a show for some unknown garage band, that night they all smoked cigarillos on Thea’s roof, their uncle’s retirement party. Kirby was Thea’s junior by only a year, but that year may have been a lifetime, Thea once said.

Thea unearthed from her purse a bundle of breadcrumbs wrapped in cheesecloth, tied with baker’s twine. “My gift for the morning birds.” She undid the pack and although no birds yet paid them any mind she tossed a few crumbs to the pavement and waited. The gulls didn’t bother but the smaller finches were pleased and hopped with glee.

“He was here visiting a month or two ago. He was in town to take me out. At least that’s how he sold it. Because we were both, uh, recovering,” questioning her diction, “so to speak, I mean we had been talking and it seemed like,” but she didn’t finish. “Anyway, Kirby was here. He asked about you,” she remembered, “of course.”

Kirby was in town at some point that summer: the thought strutted the sidewalks of Larkin’s mind. He imagined Kirby making the case for Larkin, trying to convince his sister she’d made a mistake, to go back, if at that point Larkin would have cared.

“He’d rented a room at the Edison,” Thea went on. “We were lounging by the pool. We never made it to the rooftop there, did we. It’s magnificent. They have this pyramid fountain thing going on, like these stepwise stone fountains all over the place covered with a film of running water, and you can rest your drink there or grab a seat,” but all Larkin could think of was Thea in some swimsuit he’s never seen. He glanced at her knee, her thigh, up to the hem of her shorts and what a bikini wouldn’t hide. “It was a scene,” Thea said. “I mean, it was nice that weekend. The sun and all. There were a lot of people. Partying up.”

Larkin said, “I know, I’ve been.” It was one of those things they were going to do but never did: the rooftop pool at the Edison. One of many. Which became a new kind of list, and Larkin had checked off a few on that list, sometimes alone and sometimes not.

“You have?” Thea tossed a handful of crumbs to the ground. “Right. So you know what I’m talking about then, they have that bar in the middle of the pool? We’d been all day drinking, Because there’s nothing else to do in this town, according to Kirby, and that’s what we were there to do, but you know how Kirby is, he makes friends everywhere, right? He can’t stand to be alone, is what I think it is.” Thea considered her revelation. “That’s what it is, isn’t it. He can’t stand to be alone.”

Larkin motioned for the bag of crumbs and Thea handed them over. “This right here,” he said, marveling at the charm of the package, the cheesecloth and the twine, “is attention to detail.”

“So he talks to some couple floating beside us for a while and then ropes in some passing whomevers, but they all lose steam and Kirby’s restless. He’d been restless all day. ‘So I’m taking a lap,’ he says. ‘I’ll get us drinks,’ drinks we already had. But I let him do his thing, in his funny, fat-striped bathing suit, like pastel green and blue and pink. ‘You look like a dyed egg,’ I told him. ‘No, it’s your eggs that are dying,’ he joked.

“I should have left that part out,” Thea mused.

“Anyway I’m sitting there and off he struts, leaving me alone. Fine by me. I have my drink, I have my book. Two guys tried to talk me up, the one more so than the other, but I was having none of it.”

“You did that thing where you don’t talk, you just nod and nod.”

“Uh huh.”

“Must have annoyed the hell out of him. But at least he tried, right?”

“You know, Larkin,” and Thea reclaimed the bag of crumbs, “you and me, we did have some of those things,” recalling an unfinished conversation from some time ago. “Not all, but some.”

“Don’t make me regret coming here this morning, Thea. I paid four dollars for that coffee.”

“So Kirby goes off on his merry, horny way.” Larkin laughed and Thea remembered another story. “So horny, that one. Ha, he tried to kiss me on the mouth once, when we were kids. We were very young and talking about kissing. I still tease him about that. I’m your sister, idiot. I slapped him in the face.” Thea said it again, “I slapped him in the face, although he insists it was a punch.”

“You’ve told me that before.”

“Fine. So he’s on his horny way. Gone maybe fifteen minutes, but when he comes back he’s got that patented Kirby smile. Christ, I saw it coming a hundred feet away. The worst part is he sees me see it on his face and that just makes him lean into it more, right? So when he swims up I just wanna punch his face—but he doesn’t give in yet. He swims up to my book and he flips the page with his wet finger and says, ‘Theodora, you’re going to have to toss the book one day. You can’t be one of those girls that doesn’t go down.’ Like, what the fuck Kirby.”

“Can I say I miss your brother?” Larkin said. “Because now I miss your brother. Tell him hello. Will you tell him we saw each other?”

“So ‘oh I forgot the drinks’ he says, by the way, and then swims away again, following that grin of his. He’s gone for ten more minutes, and it’s great, no one bothers me, I can read in peace or really just people-watch, but this time when Kirby returns he says, ‘You’ll never guess who’s here.’” Thea rolled her eyes at the memory. “Although he did have the drinks, I’ll give him that.”

It was a simple pleasure and a hope Larkin had not forgotten: to hear Thea tell a story again. He considered some of her clauses and let others meander this way and that, wondering how many of her words he’d heard in however many months, as if there were a tally somewhere.

“It was Emmaline,” Thea said. “Remember Emmaline? ‘Kirby,’ I said to him, ‘tell me you’re joking.’ ‘She told me weeks ago, sis,’ and this whole time he knew it! It was a bachelorette party and they—”

“Hers?”

“Please, Emmaline? She’s all about being free.”

“Have you seen her around?” Larkin did remember Emmaline, but only as a topic of conversation: he’d never met Kirby’s mythical lover, the one that got away but sometimes came back.

A tugboat bellowed out on the water, scattering the finches that had gathered by the breadcrumbs; just for a moment the birds thought of flying away, but with short memories returned to the crumbs.

“No, and I had no intention of seeing her anywhere. But Kirby dragged me over. She was with a whole slew of Kirby girls, you know what I mean? All with their tits out. Nice girls, I’m sure. I know I had met some of them before but hell if I knew their names. And Kirby girls are always surrounded by chattering boys. Right there in the middle of it all is Emmaline, with some guy on her arm, some scruffy boy with very few ideas. ‘You remember Thea,’ Kirby says to Emmaline, as if I’m his in, wading right up to her, and that’s when I see it in her eyes: she hadn’t invited Kirby at all. But that’s the way Kirby is. Doesn’t matter if he’s invited. Long as he’s there, she won’t want him to go.”

“I never saw the harm in Emmaline, to be honest,” Larkin said, and it raised Thea’s eyebrows. “Oh neither did you,” he added.

“Larkin, sweetheart, you don’t know what you’re talking about. What are you talking about? Did you ever even meet her? They’re no good for each other. They’re too,” and Thea looked for the word in her iced coffee, “emotional.”

He let that slide. “So there you are, face to face with Emmaline.”

“Okay so she gives me a big hug, and she’s all, ‘Thea, you look great,’ asking me what I’m reading, if I’m still living on Monroe. She was trying to play it cool, in front of this other guy I guess but as soon as Kirby showed up this poor sap was done for, because Emmaline and my brother, they’re magnets. ‘So Em, introduce us to your friends,’ Kirby says, because he knows he can. I don’t know how he does it. But that’s the thing with Emmaline, she’s not phased. So she doesn’t budge either.”

“And the guy?”

It was like a hostage negotiation, just keep her talking, because Larkin worried their morning would be finished with the breadcrumbs and so he snatched the bag and held it in his lap.

“Oh I don’t know, he disappeared. I did too.”

“Sounds about right.”

“‘Go get hit on by those boys,’ Kirby told me. He chased me down. I wasn’t going anywhere, but I don’t know, maybe I was. ‘And what, just go up to the blonde one and ask what’s his favorite color? Didn’t mother teach us not to talk to strangers?’ ‘I don’t usually talk to strangers,’ he says, but he was kidding. He wasn’t going back over there without me, but indeed he wanted to go back. ‘She told me she was going to be here,’ Kirby admitted, ‘but she didn’t know I’d show.’”

“Emmaline left the door open,” Larkin argued. “She wouldn’t have let on in the first place.”

“You’re right about that.”

“Why else would she have reached out to him?”

“According to Kirby, she was ‘kinda my best friend.’”

“Kinda?

“Sorta.”

“Well.”

“So I told Kirby I was going back to the room. ‘Just take the scruffy one off her hands for a minute.’ Did he need my help? ‘Sis, please. I’ve been waiting a bloody long time.’ But I refused. No, he didn’t need my help. So fine, he was going to do it himself, and I watched him go again. He swam right up to Emmaline, reached for her wrist—he practically took her hand out of the scruffy one’s—and leaned into her ear. And I saw it on her face: she liked what came from my brother’s lips.”

“What’d he say?”

“I didn’t find out until later.”

“Later when?”

“I went home. I saw Emmaline’s face and that was all it took. Kirby could handle it all by himself. He didn’t need me getting in the way. He didn’t need me to get rid of the scruffy guy. It was starting to get dark out and I got a taxi back to my apartment. I guess I was angry at the time but I’ve been angrier. And that was my day at the Edison.”

They’d finished the iced coffees and the finches had finished the bread. Thea carried the empty coffee cups to a trash bin stationed by the railing. She stood there overlooking the water. Larkin took his post beside her.

“So Kirby shows up the next morning at my apartment,” but there was something to her voice now, stained with regret or melancholy. “He had checked us out of the hotel, a day early. He came to drop off my stuff. And when he showed up at my door, I knew he was devastated. It was written all over his face. ‘I’ve got a broken heart again,’ and I’d say he was being dramatic but I knew better. So what was I to do? I let him in, I poured him a glass of seltzer.

“Apparently, Emmaline was going with another guy. ‘I knew that was a possibility,’ he said. It wasn’t any of the guys there. Not the scruffy guy or the blonde one. I mean, she and Kirby still went back to the hotel room. Like I said, he had her on the hook.”

“What did he say to her back at the pool?”

“Oh, right. That. I asked him the same thing, and Kirby said he went up to Emmaline and he whispered in her ear, I wanna do it. Can you imagine? Do it all night.”

“What confidence.”

“That’s the thing, I admire him for it. I don’t know how he does it, where that confidence comes from. He’s fearless. How does he get away with it? I do that and I’m a slut.”

“If you did that to me?”

But maybe that was too close to home. Thea backed from the railing. Like that she seemed to have lost the thread.

“I never knew your brother had it in him,” Larkin offered, although he did know, and Thea was somewhere else already. “Thea, why are you telling me this?”

“I told him he spends too much time in his own heart,” Thea resigned. “He said I spend too much time in my head. That it pollutes my heart. That’s the word he used, pollute.” Thea folded the piece of cheesecloth into smaller and smaller squares and then finally stuffed it in her purse. “All my life, he’s been out there, he’s taken those risks. The broken hearts, the vulnerability. I want to be like him, but I can’t recover from it.”

“And you regret not being like your brother.”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m not him, I know that. I know I’m not him.” She had to repeat it to believe it. “What I’m saying is I regret not having this conversation with you earlier.”

Thea slumped against the railing and dared not look to Larkin, who dared not disturb this uneasy balance between them. The pier had settled past morning and would settle into the afternoon the way it always does, warming the air with the scent of the sea as the gulls circled the sky, led by their cries, waiting to dive.

—Peter Sheehy

#207: Santana, "Abraxas" (1970)

Listening to Santana in the UK is an odd experience. The clouds are overcast above me and a pigeon is getting dangerously close to my bag of chips, and I turn on Santana’s 1970 album Abraxas. I close my eyes, and I’m at a café overlooking water crashing against a shore. It’s eighty-five degrees fahrenheit with a slight breeze. There are seagulls instead of pigeons and they fly close enough to admire but far enough to stay away from me and my food. Abraxas is twirling around me, carried by the wind. Little kids are giggling in the waves and a dog is rolling around on the sand.

Wind chimes cling and clang as I walk through the town, any town, in the Caribbean. I imagine it to be small, with lights that twinkle above my head and plants that shine with dew by my feet. A man waves at me from a market stall and I buy a coconut to drink out of, and he smiles and says, “Have a nice day! Go to the forest today if you can; the birds are starting to hatch.” So I do.

There are ripe yellow bananas hanging from trees to my left and right, and a flock of birds of paradise are flying in front of me. Santana’s guitar solo in “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts” rises and in front of me are red flowers, yellow ones to my sides, purple ones sprouting around vines above. Behind me is the blue of a stream.

When I hear Santana, I see colors. Each note is a slightly different shade during the slower measures, and when you least expect it Santana’s guitar collides with the drums and discordant colors splash together and create a mural of the tropical and the jungle and colors, colors everywhere.

I open my eyes and the British sky is a light gray, and the wind brushes up against my arms already covered with goosebumps. Tourists are getting yelled at for taking selfies on the grass that’s illegal to walk on, and my bag of chips are on the opposite side of the garden, surrounded by pigeons like it’s their holy temple. Drizzle has formed a cold and wet blanket on me. I’m getting weird looks from the locals for wearing a sweatshirt outside of my house.

When I was in Puerto Rico and listened to Santana, I closed my eyes and saw myself making fajitas and dancing around the kitchen with a beautiful man in New England while it snowed outside. I opened my eyes and watched the waves rush toward me and push away, anxious to do everything the island had to offer, but wishing for snow and a New England man.

When I was back in my apartment and Santana came on while I was doing dishes one day, I closed my eyes to find myself on a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean. I was leaving Morocco, approaching Spain. I was eating paella on the boat deck, and I opened my eyes and was elbow-deep in soap and hours-old grease.

Santana makes me feel like I’m in a fantastic, perfect world. Like everything around me could just be painted over, and I’d never known how colorful it could be. Things move slower when I’m listening to 1970s Santana. I look at the birds and watch how they glide around the tops of trees. I notice a piece of hardened gum sitting next to me on the bench. There’s a pebble in front of me that’s bluer than the others. People are talking far enough away from me that it sounds just like leaves rustling against one another.

But the second I stop paying attention the songs speed up and then they’re over. I didn’t pay attention and I missed it. I missed the colors around me and the breeze that grazed against my cheeks. I missed feeling alive for those few minutes that I let my mind carry away onto my home life, my love life, my phone, my money.

I think you really know you’re happy when Santana comes on and you don’t wish to be somewhere else, and you’re actually able to listen to it without thinking about all that’s stressing you out. When you close your eyes and you’re in the same place, and open your eyes to see everything brighter—those are the best moments to listen to him. And it’s the best because it’s so rare. It is so rare to find that kind of happiness and focus—of perfection—in a single moment.

I have only stayed in place a couple of times when I’ve listened to Santana. Once when I listened to Abraxas with my best friend on our way to a donut shop by the Potomac River, complete with the promise of a donut at the end of the album; the other when my dad first played Santana around me, complete with an air guitar routine and some overdramatized head-banging.

But these moments are rare for a reason: They’re too perfect, and they can’t last. If the moment’s lasting for more than ten minutes, it’s not real. That’s a fantasy world that Santana’s guitar serenades you to. You open your eyes and you’re back in reality, with all its stress and pressures. But it’s real.

So for now I’m sitting next to a piece of old, discolored gum and pigeons are eating my chips, and it isn’t perfect, but it is real. It’s life, and Santana is reminding me of how bright it could be.

—Nicole Efford

#208: Cat Stevens, "Tea for the Tillerman" (1970)

Side 1

1. Where Do the Children Play?

I know we’ve come a long way. We’re changing day to day…

I don’t go back there very often anymore. For one thing, it’s been more than forty years. For another, it’s still too close, still too near.

It’s unseemly, I know, for a fifty-seven-year-old man to revisitnot as a fleeting sentimental excursion, but as a true time-traveler, a this-for-that, a now-for-then the child he’d once been. There’s a great line by the songwriter Jason Molina, whose gloom-laden songs I adore: “Why put a new address,” he sings with his plaintive tremor, “on the same old loneliness?” In this case, I’m advancing the reverse of Molina’s rhetorical question: Why bother going back to that place where the loneliness started? Isn’t the here and now always enough of its own mess?

But we all do it, I suppose. There’s the comfort of that. We snake ourselves back through the years, touch the sore spots, the old bruises. We all had a first love, a first loss. It’s unlikely mine was any greater, any more profound. The only thing different for me, perhaps, than for some others is that mine brokeor broke loose?something inside me, drew a fine jagged path beneath my skin like the lines in cracked porcelain, a delicate and beautiful damage that became for me, for years on end, the single greatest measure of my worth. I’ve put that feeling to fine use, I guess: it made me maybe a little less of an arrogant asshole than I would have been, and it made me a writer, which gave me a way back in, again and again, to the anguish I felt inside me, scrubbing away at the pain until its black patina wound up burnished, strangely glowing. Beauty and torment, forever aligned, forever wed.

 

2. Hard Headed Woman

Yes. Yes. Yes…

I am a grown man now, more father than son. I have received love in greater measure than I have given. I have lovedand love stillmy wife and children.

But I was a child once, so here’s the child’s story: At thirteen, I fell in love with a girl whose life was a match for my own: she was one of seven; I was one of eight. Our families were Catholic, our fathers both physicians, our mothers both (though very different, each in her own way) wrecks. We talked hour after hour, though not a word of what we said survives in memory. Sometimes we visited her sister in a psychiatric ward uptown; late on Friday nights we snuck into a friend’s father’s optometry shopto smoke and drink, I suppose, but also to lay claim to this forbidden space.

Mostly, though, she and I sat cross-legged in her bedroom listening to 45s and LPs: James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, Cat Stevens. Oh, how we loved Cat Stevens. We worshiped his frail beauty, his haunting voice, his songs’ endless quest for enlightenment, for deliverance, for grace.  She was an artist and made me a gift I treasured: the round Zen symbol from the album cover of Catch Bull at Four painted on a small wooden block. We found solace in each other amidst the awful vortex of adolescence and our fucked-up families. We learned something about desire and the longing for transcendence and escape. We learned it with Cat Stevens’ words echoing and echoing in our heads, telling us again and again that an arduous journey lay ahead but that pain would be followed by pleasure: If I find my hard-headed woman, I know the rest of my life will be blessed.

 

3. Wild World

Now that I’ve lost everything to you…

And that was it. She went away that summer, made some new friends, coolermore exciting, more experienced, more dangerousthan she figured I could ever be, which I knew was true, which I knew was true with every fiber of my beingand the cracking began, the fissure opening bit by bit by bit.

 

4. Sad Lisa

Open your door, don’t hide in the dark…

It would be years before the word depression showed up in my life, decades before I knew myself well enough to use it, to know that this was what I suffered from, what would rise up again and again for the rest of my years on this earth no matter what doctors I talked to or treatment I endured or pills I took.

Back then, when my teenager’s heart was broken, I thought it was just sadness, thought I was just the sensitive romantic type who couldn’t get over this one girl, what she’d done. I didn’t yet know about the romantic poets, about Whitman, about Lorca and Rilke. I hadn’t encountered Keats and his wistfully suicidal melancholy:

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
        I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,

        To take into the air my quiet breath…

But I knew I wanted to dig that deep, and it was Tea for the Tillerman that reliably took me there, the lyrics printed on the album’s yellow and blue back cover, encircling a brooding portrait of Cat Stevens seated against a tree. He looked away from the camera, his hair a dark mane of curls, his beard sharp, somehow menacing. He was angry, forlorn, doomed. He was St. Sebastian, the crucified Christ, a mendicant, a hermit. He was lost.

 

5. Miles from Nowhere

I creep through the valleys and I grope through the woods…

I was lost. I stayed lost. I wandered hour after hour alone between the leafy cul de sacs of her neighborhood, through the ruins of an old Spanish fort, along the lakefront levee. I sat for hours on the concrete steps that led, inexplicably, down into the water, as if inviting me to wander in. I wrote in notebooks, wrote poems, told myself I’d use all of what I felt some day, make something remarkable from it, some kind of testament towhat? I didn’t know, couldn’t find the words for it. I went back to my life, spun forward through the years, one girlfriend and the next, high school and college, but the feeling never left me, never quit. I stayed lost.


 

Side 2

1. But I Might Die Tonight

To say yes or sink low…

I was just a kid. Then I wasn’t.

Cat Stevens had been a kid, too, I realize now. Most folks know the story: a twenty-one-year-old British pop star laid low by tuberculosis, reemerging after a lengthy convalescence as an introspective troubadour, producing a series of remarkable albums that brought him worldwide acclaim: Mona Bone Jakon, Tea for the Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat, Catch Bull at Four. He made more albums after thatI loved Foreigner, tried to love Buddha and the Chocolate Boxbut he struggled, as artists do, to be both brilliant and famous, to be content with what he’d done. In 1978, having converted to Islam and changed his name, he renounced his music career and disappeared from view.

I remember when it happened, remember how unsurprised I was, how it seemed the perfectly predictable culmination of all the searching he’d done. You wander long enough, and you’re likely to end up in a place from which you can’t return or don’t want to. Cat Stevens hadn’t been his real name. He’d been born Steven Demetre Georgiou, had performed first as Steve Adams, had chosen “Cat” because, he said, his girlfriend had a cat, because he figured people liked animals.

He’d never been who he was, I figured.

 

2. Longer Boats

Oh how a flower grows…

It took me years and years, but I did what I set out to do: I created stories that tried to name the unnamable sorrow that had split me open. By doing so, I discovered that the source of such despair is, of course, much more fundamental, much more nuanced and complex, than the child I’d been had assumed. Sadness hadn’t overtaken me because of adolescent heartbreak. That had merely been the spark for something larger, something patiently waiting inside mewaiting, I suppose, for life to leave its mark.

So I set about imagining families ruined by shame and silence, men tormented by longing, children abandoned and bereft, mothers so badly damaged they are incapable of love, fathers who disappear, sons who, forsaken, forsake and flee as well. I wrote and wrote and wrote.

Lo and behold, life brought me joy: a beautiful wife, beautiful children. A good life. I am so deeply grateful.

 

3. Into White

I built my house from barley rice…

It never leaves you, though. You can never do enough to fully set the feeling aside. Just about everyone with depression will tell you this: you live with it.

 

4. On the Road to Find Out

In the end I'll know, but on the way I wonder…

You live through it, it seems to me. Depression is as much of a lens as it is a weight. It makes it hard to be certain about anything, to think you know how you actually feel, to feel you know how you actually think. You’re forever wandering, forever lost, inching your way forward, hands out, cautiousor else you’re falling.

The fall is often precipitous. The well isor can bedeep.

And the well can disappear, can become the air, the falling become flight, a monumental feat of majestic soaring.

 

5. Father and Son

Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy…

I imagine Cat Stevens never imagined, not really, that one day he’d be old enough to sing the father’s words more authentically, closer to the bone, than those of the son. But here he is now, his music career heartily resumed as Yusuf, a sixty-nine-year-old graybeard confidently strumming, singing: It’s not time to make a change. Just relax. Take it easy.

Away. Away. I don’t believe it. Not completely. It often seems to me that we are always closer to the sons we once were than the fathers we’ve become. What plucked or scraped or tore at us all those years ago remains forever at hand.

 

6. Tea for the Tillerman

Oh Lord, how they play and play
For that happy day, for that happy day…

But what do I know? I’m just an old man, or nearly so. I make my coffee in the morning, slowly climb the stairs to my study, and sit down to fight the same quiet, unceasing battles: to make something beautiful, something lasting and good, from my life, to steer clear of the darkness, to find and follow the light.

I still don’t know when or why I’ll be laid low, any more than I know how that pain gets transformed into art, that art into joy, that joy into life

which goes on.

The sinners sin; the children play.

—John Gregory Brown
All artwork by John Gregory Brown

#209: Pearl Jam, "Ten" (1991)

1.
The first cassette I ever own is Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace. I get it for Christmas in 1983, the same year my older brother gets Peter Schilling’s Error in the System.

2.
I join a band as a freshman in high school. We call ourselves the More Than a Feeling Band because that is the first song we learn how to play. All covers. We are very bad. The drum set I am using had been the spare kit from my middle school jazz band, garishly ugly and made of fiberglass. It had been sitting, unused, in a closet. I asked our band teacher, a working jazz musician from Cincinnati named Bill Jackson, if I could buy it. He checked. He said district policies prevented him from selling any school property but that there were no similar policies in place against loaning it to me indefinitely. So my parents picked the drum set up after school, loaded it into the car, and we took it home.

3.
Billboard Magazine’s top song of 1989 is “Look Away” by Chicago.

4.
There is plenty of good music being made but I am resistant to almost all of it. Later in my life I wonder: Why didn’t I like R.E.M. at the time? Why didn’t I like the Cure? What was wrong with me? Then I re-watch the video for “Love Song” and remember that Robert Smith is absurd. Michael Stipe is embarrassing. The reality of 1989/1990/1991 is much more complicated than the memories. Pop music is absolute garbage and alternative music turns me off. So I throw up my hands and listen to whatever challenges me the least, which means classic rock radio and hair metal ballads. You think it makes me happy to type that?

I am too dorky for the mainstream and too dorky also for the skaters, the smellers, the moshers, the drama geeks. I am not nearly smart enough to fit in with the nerds. The good old boys ignore me, mercifully, because I’m barely there. But the girls ignore me too, because I’m barely there. I play bass drum in the marching band. I own more than one Julian Lennon album on cassette. I love Dream of the Blue Turtles.

5.
I tell people that the first CD I ever bought was Sinead O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, but it’s a lie. The actual first CD I ever bought was Wilson Phillips’ eponymous debut. This was 1990.

6.
Billboard Magazine’s top song of 1990 is “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips. Number three is “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

7.
I happen to catch “Valerie Loves Me” on MTV’s 120 Minutes and begin to reconsider a number of things. It’s poppy, for sure, but also a little bit messy. The desperation in Jim Ellison’s voice plucks a string somewhere deep inside me. To this day, I can’t get past it.

8.
Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish comes out in 1991. Too scary for me. I pass.

Sting’s Soul Cages also comes out in 1991. I buy it on CD. I keep the empty long box for a long time. I still have the disc with its misprinted track listing.

This whole thing is a process.

9.
Somehow, I get a girl. She has one crooked tooth. She wants our song to be “Silent Lucidity.” I make the case that you don’t pick the song; the song picks you. Really, though, I’m just not into Queensryche. Who the fuck is? And why do I have to be such a stickler about things?

10.
Ten is released in August of 1991, though—like all good things—it takes a while to reach Ohio. It seems to arrive accidentally, like a cargo ship crash landing on a desert island. “Even Flow” burns through my roof and lands in a pile on my bedroom floor. I cautiously approach. I give it a sniff. I poke my finger into it and tap it onto the tip of my tongue. Those guitars like acid rain. Drums as big as timpani. That voice. It’s not bad.

11.
Everything arrives at once. There is no such thing as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and then there is such a thing as “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” There’s “Outshined.” There’s Ritual de lo Habitual. There’s “State of Love and Trust” and “Black” unplugged and “Yellow Ledbetter.” I am an Ohio boy raised on the Eagles and Supertramp and ELO. I have heard Manfred Mann’s “Blinded by the Light” more times than anyone needs to. This is all very challenging. But it’s exactly what I need, and not because Pearl Jam is all that radically different from Manfred Mann but because they aren’t.

12.
I join a new band and we’re still bad but it’s better than the last one. We slog through “The Spirit of Radio” for some reason, but we also do a pretty nice rendition of “Jane Says.”

My parents spend $400 on a five-piece Ludwig with actual wooden shells and a simple white finish. I love this drum set. I hammer on this thing for years. We give the old one back to Bill Jackson, who may already be gone at this point—back to Cincinnati to play real jazz with real musicians—and who may have already forgotten who I am. It doesn’t matter. It never mattered to him, but it’s 2017 and I still remember his name.

13.
Billboard’s top song of 1992 is “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men. Number eight is “Under the Bridge.” Number 32 is “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Number 71 is “Friday I’m in Love.” Color Me Badd appear three times in the top 100. No one knows what the fuck is going on.

14.
I get a new girl. She’s every nerd’s dream. She has great taste in music and I try to stay receptive. She catches me up on Tori Amos and Toad the Wet Sprocket, and I drive us around to hear all of “Nights in White Satin.” We don’t declare a song until we dance to “In Your Eyes” at our wedding.

15.
Siamese Dream comes out in 1993 and by now I think I get it. My revelation gets backdated; I stop worrying about Michael Stipe and Robert Smith. I try not to be such a stickler. “Orange Crush” is still nonsense but “So. Central Rain” is so good. I do my best to let these things in, and mostly it works. I don’t realize until much later that I was never really a social outcast—I was only shy, and quiet, and that I closed myself off from people I probably would have liked under the assumption that they were not worth liking. This I regret even more than the hair metal ballads.

16.
Sting’s Ten Summoner’s Tales also comes out in 1993 and I definitely get it. I just listened to it again yesterday.

17.
These things are all just steps in a long process.

18.
The process is ongoing.

19.
I look back with gratitude at the people and things that shoved me forward—that said
open your goddamn eyes, kid. It’s always been easy to find reasons to reject things and much harder to find reasons not to. It’s easy to pretend that you were never wrong. It’s easy to listen with your ego. I try not to do that anymore. I think I’m getting better at it.

10.
It all goes back, more or less, to a single album in 1991.

—Joe P. Squance

#210: Neil Young, "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" (1969)

I don’t know if everyone has moments like this connected so viscerally to mere pieces of songs, but I think even if I’m gripped by an early dementia or bang my head on a doorframe and it rocks me into a full amnesia, I will forever and always remember the first time I heard the first fifteen seconds of “I Heard Her Call My Name” by the Velvet Underground. I think it ruined the guitar for me forever—every other note played on the instrument became as flat as dead water after that. In 9th grade, a friend of mine stuck the song right in the middle of the A-side of a mixtape that had been collaged from fragments of found-sound samples and songs both in full and busted apart. I told him, The way you shoved part of that VU song on there so that it just jumps right out at you is real cool, and he laughed. No, that’s it. That’s the song. That’s just how it is. It was the wildest thing anyone had ever said to me.

Sterling Morrison played guitar on the song and he felt more or less the exact same way, even quitting the band for a few days after hearing the album in full for the first time because he assumed they’d put the wrong mix together. “‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ [was] one of our best songs that they completely ruined in the studio,” he’s on record as saying, and he’s definitely right about the first part. I’m not even sure you could call what Lou Reed does on the track “playing the guitar”—the sounds he makes are more akin to a subway car colliding with a Range Rover, or a toddler playing twelve terrible Fisher Price instruments at once. The chaos is illuminating though, the beauty of the silence when the song (“song”) comes to a close nearly deafening. It’s calmed my mind down on several occasions, and I think it was intended to do the exact opposite.

And what are we supposed to do with a guitar solo in the first place? How can we listen to one and not feel automatically and overwhelmingly like Someone Who Is Listening To A Guitar Solo, since in every solo lies the history of solos, with the role you the listener are meant to play already laid out before you. Guitar solos are supposed to take you...somewhere. They’re supposed to make you feel...something. Is the soloist trying to transport us, or tell us something more profound, something the lyrics aren’t able to verbalize? Both at once, ideally, and yet I can’t escape the feeling that the vast majority of guitar solos are so very guitar solo-y, so in love with their own awareness as a guitar in the act of soloing.

Obviously there are some who have found ways to continue to surprise, with sonic fun or sheer new-age smarts—Annie Clark and Nels Cline come most immediately to mind—but by and large the guitar solo’s a dead fish in 2017, as, in my mind, it probably should be. It died 50 years ago, with “I Heard Her Call My Name.”

Regardless, in December of 2015 Rolling Stone published a list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists” (perhaps not of all time?). Dead Man composer and cameo artist Neil Young sat at number 17, and the magazine employed Phish frontman Trey Anastasio to write the paragraph-long blurb for him. This is how it starts: “If I was ever going to teach a master class to young guitarists, the first thing I would play them is the first minute of Neil Young's original ‘Down by the River’ solo. It's one note, but it's so melodic, and it just snarls with attitude and anger. It's like he desperately wants to connect.” I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit to the teacher that I’m not entirely sure what Trey means here by “original,” though my assumption is he’s talking about the studio version off of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Neil Young’s second album, and not some live or bootlegged nonsense. The guitar solo in question is fine; I mean, yes, it’s good. It’s a minimalist guitar solo, one that favors feeling and connection to the instrument over virtuosity. It’s definitely not just one note for a full minute—that would be insane (but better, strangely, I think)—and it’s not even close. For ten seconds it relies on that one note, then runs away into other notes, as one does, so I don’t know what Trey Anastasio was smoking, but sure, it’s a good guitar solo. It’s still just...a guitar solo though.

“Down By the River” is a great song, probably the best on Everybody Knows if you forget the title track exists and “The Losing End” is too Grateful Dead for you, but it’s not the guitar soloing that makes it great. It’s Neil Young’s terrifyingly timeless, unchanging voice, the unrelenting drive of Crazy Horse, one of our all-time great backing bands, and the gorgeous production of the tracking itself. The solo is merely a conduit for the feeling, a bit player in a larger tapestry. Why do we fetishize it so much, why exalt so ceaselessly the abilities of the guitar player above all else?

I’d have to imagine it’s mostly nostalgia. Rock music has guitar solos—that’s kind of it’s thing. So when we hear a rock song with a guitar solo we aren’t really hearing that song or that solo, we’re hearing the history of the genre and we’re comparing notes. Is this person playing like Hendrix? Are they playing like Page? I think I remember Allman using that same trick. That player’s got that Diddley or Holly or Berry or Santana sound. Blame it on drugs, or the penis, or the Summer of Love. Blame it on white folks and Vietnam and Les Paul and drugs. Actually, just blame it on drugs. Whatever you’re putting your pin in (drugs), the consensus is undoubtedly the same: guitar solos are hella sick and you can deal with it.

So fine. I accept. But it still bores the daylights out of me. Not the guitar solo itself so much as our insistent romanticization of it. Furthermore, the older I get the more I start noticing the complete absence of the guitar-as-principal-sound in my favorite records. The future is in cracker jack producers and tightly-wrapped, Mensa-smart pop songs. The future has little space for cock rock buffoonery, for soaring faux-emotion on a six-string. I don't know. Perhaps the future of music would do well to ignore its past entirely.

—Brad Efford

#211: Pink Floyd, "Wish You Were Here" (1975)

Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here is an album about absence. About subtraction. It’s about the things we lose and the ways we lose them. It’s about losing Syd Barrett to the doomed combination of drugs and mental illness. It’s about a band losing its soul to the doomed combination of success, label pressures, and outlandish egos. It’s about losing connection and authenticity. It’s about losing, losing, losing.

And so this is going to be a story or essay about subtraction. Or maybe it’s going to be about subtraction through addition?

You see, because there was a breeze, and then a steel breeze, and then no breeze, and Syd was gone.

Just like there had been the album’s cover models, Ronnie Rondell and Danny Rogers, and also Ronnie Rondell’s mustache and eyebrows, and then there was fire—applied to Rondell’s clothing like makeup, like paint—and then there was the pose for the photographer, and then there was wind, and then Ronnie Rondell’s mustache and eyebrows were gone. Subtraction through addition—add fire to wind and a man loses his hair.

And there’s something to learn there, something we should probably understand—what is it? Don’t let someone set you on fire? Is that too easy?

But see, it wasn’t just Syd. And it wasn’t just Ronnie Rondell’s mustache and eyebrows, because not long ago, there was a breeze, and then a steel breeze, and then no breeze, and you were gone.

But let’s not make this about you. This is about Pink Floyd’s album Wish You Were Here, which, as it happens, is an album I came back to after you were gone, is an album I came to understand in new ways after you were gone. It stopped being the Pink Floyd album about Syd and the record industry—those are just the album’s framework, not its big ideas.

Or maybe I’m finding license in loss to give Pink Floyd more credit than they deserve.

*

Let’s talk about Syd for a minute, and the way that Pink Floyd lyrics, whether written by Roger Waters or Polly Samson, always drape him in light. The opening lyric of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” is “Remember when you were young / you shone like the sun.” Then, of course, there’s the song’s title—Syd is a diamond that shines, and we know it’s about Syd, even without having to read the lyrics, because the song’s title tells us it’s all about Syd:

Shine On
You Crazy
Diamond

Of course, almost two decades after Wish You Were Here was released, on “Poles Apart,” one of the few decent post-Roger Waters Floyd songs, David Gilmour would sing words written by his wife, Polly Samson: “Why did we tell you then / You were always the golden boy then / And that you’d never lose that light in your eyes?” Even on “Brain Damage,” the immortal penultimate track from Dark Side of the Moon, when Roger Waters sings, “And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear / You shout and no one seems to hear / And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes / I'll see you on the dark side of the moon,” perhaps alluding to Barrett through thunder and darkness, there is the implied light of the lightning that accompanies thunder, and the implied light of the sun reflecting off the non-dark side of the moon. What does it mean that all of these lyrics compare Barrett to light? I don’t know—maybe it’s just an extension of several clichés about shining bright and burning out. Maybe it has something to do with the time that Syd set his own head on fire during a gig at UFO. Or maybe that’s all too literal.

*

There is another light I remember, too, and it wasn’t fire, and it didn’t burn atop Syd Barrett’s head, and it didn’t singe off Ronnie Rondell’s mustache, and it didn’t come from the sun, or a diamond, or from eyes, and it didn’t come from a bulb, it came from you, but it’s gone now, so what does it matter?

I don’t know what was added that took you away. Maybe this is just a story about subtraction for its own sake.

*

Inside the sleeve for Wish You Were Here, because that’s what I’m really talking about here, that album, not you, there is the red handkerchief blowing on a breeze—we don’t know if it’s a steel breeze or not, but it probably is. Because the image is a static photograph, we can only infer movement from the object’s relationship to its surroundings. Its motion is absent. Same with the diver in another of the album’s interior pictures: his body breaks the water’s surface but there is no splash, no ripple—the water appears undisturbed. The question: where is the absence here? Are the waves and ripples the absent things? Or are we meant to infer from the lack of splash that it is the diver who is absent? What I’m getting at: was Syd the water or the diver?

Are you the water or the diver?

Another question: why am I still writing about you in present tense?

There were other famous images on the album’s outer sleeve—the two men shaking hands, one on fire (and recently relieved of all the hair on his face), and the back-cover businessman with a flat, skin-colored cloth for a face, and without wrists or ankles—an empty suit. A bit on the nose, for sure. But here is more of that subtraction by addition. Add success, add fame, add money, and money, and money, and something will be lost, something for which we can name symptoms, but never the thing itself. Maybe Wish You Were Here is a bit heavy handed with its symbols, but this is something people can relate to. We grow up, get or don’t get old, make or don’t make money, incur or don’t incur debt, and everything becomes about money and debt until something is lost—subtraction through addition and subtraction and/or addition and probably a little more subtraction. And Wish You Were Here is right about that—the structures in which we live alienate us from ourselves and those we care about. Sorry if that’s all a little didactic, a little on the nose—but c’mon, we’re talking about Pink Floyd here.

*

In the years after Wish You Were Here was released, Pink Floyd would continue a slow dissolution that began with the success of Dark Side of the Moon and also, coincidentally, around the same time they introduced Mr. Screen to their live shows—that flat circle, like time itself, on which lights, movies, lasers would shine. A few years after the fact, touring behind their album Animals, Roger Waters would spit on a fan at a concert in Canada—a Canadian!—and then he would make The Wall, which is like Wish You Were Here turned up to fifty, like if Wish You Were Here is a little on the nose, The Wall is up to its elbows in the goddam nose. And let’s be honest—Animals isn’t a walk in the park either. Roger Waters was angry, and his art with Pink Floyd was about that anger, about his alienation. About losing Syd. About being afraid of losing himself.

And therein lies a, or perhaps the, fascinating truth about Pink Floyd: their story is Syd Barrett’s story. Their greatest, most beloved albums all, in some way, tie back to Syd. Except for maybe Meddle and Animals. But the big albums, the ones on the lists, the ones in every dad’s CD collection—those all come back to Syd.

*

But let’s forget about Roger Waters and Syd Barrett for just a second, because this is more important: One night in December, there you were in my car, drunk and almost crying on the way home from the bar. You were lonely, you kept saying. When would you find someone? Why did nothing ever work out for you? And I remember the way your voice broke. And I remember the green x-mas laser lights blasted across your dad’s garage. And your flight left the next day so when I pulled into the driveway, I got out of the car to hug you and you slipped on a patch of ice, but didn’t fall, and then you told me we’d talk soon. Told me you’d have a safe trip back. And then you slid under the half-raised garage door and I never saw you again.

You were here, and then you were there, and then you were gone, and now there is a park bench dedicated in your memory. This is not subtraction through addition. The park bench came after you were gone. This is subtraction, and subtraction, and subtraction.

*

During the production of Wish You Were Here, there was Roger and there was David, two men in the studio, their band starting to unravel around them. Following the somewhat surprising (to them anyway) success of Dark Side of the Moon, and before making Wish You Were Here, that band worked on an album called Household Objects, on which all of the arrangements would be performed, not on instruments, but on, well, household objects—an absence of instruments. We’ll call it subtraction through subtraction. But that didn’t take and the band began work on a set of songs that would eventually become Wish You Were Here and Animals.

And then there was Roger and there was David, both in the studio, both looking for an idea, and then there were those four notes, simple and easy, slow and pure, pouring like a molten steel breeze from David’s guitar:

Shine On
You Crazy
Diamond

Now, a little bit of music theory about those notes, found on the internet:

“The shape of the phrase is a significant factor not only in its memorability, but also in what it does – or rather, doesn’t do. The first two notes, Bb – F, describe an open fifth, suggesting the key of Bb – this is instantly negated by the third note, G, such that the phrase has described an arching minor seventh – G – Bb – F, and the ear expects the next note to be the missing dominant degree of the scale, D. But this doesn’t happen – instead, the phrase moves over the missing note and articulates instead an E natural. Coupled with the preceding G, it suggests now C major, the subdominant harmony of G; those four notes have suggested three separate keys – Bb, G minor, C major – in the space of four steps.

By the end of the phrase, the listener’s tonal ear is confused: what key am I in?”

And there was Roger, and he heard something in those four notes—perhaps their disorientation, their ambiguity, their uneasiness, their questioning—that made him think of Syd.

Not long after, as the band was either finishing up or listening to playback of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” who should wander into the studio but the man, himself,

Shine On
You Crazy
Diamond.

Until that moment, despite having been haunted by his presence for years and albums, no one in Pink Floyd had seen Barrett for seven years. But there he was, as if conjured by Gilmour’s haunted guitar lick, a ghost, traded for a hero, traded for another ghost, head and eyebrows shaved, far heavier than he used to be, wearing a white trench coat and white shoes. When someone in the studio asked him how he’d put on so much weight, he said something about a big refrigerator full of pork chops.

Fuck.

Subtraction, subtraction, subtraction, subtraction, subtraction. And a little bit of addition through pork chops.

*

I try to think of four notes that might conjure you. It couldn’t be the same four notes, couldn’t be the same song.

To try to conjure you with “Shine
O
N
You Crazy Diamond,” would be theft of an egregious order.

That one belongs to Syd. And anyway, even though Syd wandered into the studio, he was never back. Though he asked if he could pick up a guitar and play on the track, he would never play with Pink Floyd again. All Gilmour’s guitar lick did was summon a ghost, minus eyebrows and hair (and without the help of fire, even, as far as anyone knows), plus a belly stuffed with pork chops. As math, it might look like this:

Ghost - Head & Eyebrows + Pork Chops =

And I know there’s something to learn in that, but I’m still not sure what it is.

—James Brubaker

#212: Pavement, "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" (1994)

Spin’s review of Slanted and Enchanted listed the Minutemen as a reference. If I strained my ears, I could hear the connection. Pavement shared none of their musical wizardry, but lyrical non-sequiturs gestured rather than pointed in a similar quizzical fashion; songs like “Two States” were influenced by punk, but unfurled at their own pace.

*

I saw Pavement play Providence on July 31, 1992, a month before I went to college. It’s no exaggeration to say I’d listened to Slanted every day since I bought the cassette in May, based on Spin’s Minutemen namecheck. But I’d never seen a photo of the band. Nor could I suss out their size and shape from the album notes: the review mentioned five guys, the insert ‘SM, Stairs, Young.’

The latter, it turned out, played drumsif he didn’t stop the show to do a headstand. He became more tired as the evening went on, each song an addition to the years on his face, the visible difference in age between himself and the rest of the band.

And I bought T-shirts from the guy who played a solitary snare drum in the middle of the stage, who yelled choruses with gleeful abandon. He was one of the five guys in the band, though not one of the three listed: Bob Nastanovich, second drummer.

I wrote the band a long letter afterwards, full of questions about their names and origins and a promise to set up a show for them at the University of New Hampshire (even though I had never done such a thing).

Months later, a postcard arrived:

“No gravel to spare at this hour. Keep the pastoral growth under control. –SM”

*

The Minutemen, yes. Skate video soundtracks steeped in SST’s catalogue.

But the Fall, Swell Maps, Giant Sand, Pere Ubu, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282?

I had never heard of a single one of these bands Erik Davis used as points of comparison to Pavement.

The references intrigued me.

College will change things, I decided. I’d heard about college radio playing the best bands, the ones who weren’t on MTV or Rock 101.

I wore a Pavement shirt to my first day of college, a flag unfurled to spark conversation. One of the two I bought from Nastanovich.

No one had heard of them.

*

Instead of reading about the Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys in the library, I wanted to be part of something happening in the present.

My hometown had bands. I checked them all out. A guy I knew from jewelry class and a bunch of the school’s best skateboarders sang Minor Threat covers at the miniramp; my best friend played trombone in a sloppy five-piece boasting songs about mailbox baseball and Taco Bell. A girl one grade below me sang in a group with a bunch of older, sophisticated guys. They played “I Wanna Be Your Dog” at her pool party.

I thought college would provide me with local bands to follow. But it was 1992 in New Hampshire: the acts playing outdoor quads or the union or coffeehouses either sounded like Pearl Jam or the Grateful Dead, or both. The closest thing to a connections was with the horn-laden skacore act that covered Public Enemy. I’d stand up front and wait for the signer to notice I knew all the words to “She Watch Channel Zero?!” Every show, he was there with the mic.

But even this didn’t scratch the itch.

*

Minor surgery right before college turned out to be majorcomplications turned day surgery into  two weeks of bedridden hospital misery. I lost thirty pounds. My stomach shrank.

I walked post-discharge laps around my parents’ house on the hour to get my strength back. Even still, a half-mile walk across campus during orientation left me whooping for breath.

After some so-called minor exertion kicked my ass I lay on my bed, arm across my eyes.

A guy who lived in a forced triple a few doors down was deep in the throes of Nirvanahe’d affected the striped shirt, the cardigan, the long stringy hair. And the guitar, of course. Every day he’d play Nirvana songs through his small but noisy amp. I was put off. I thought he was trying too hard. In retrospect, he reminded me of myself.

I’d met one of the guy’s friends briefly, this red-haired dude who struck me as a real weirdo, abrasive and jagged. I didn’t see him come in because of my arm.

“Got any music?”

I pushed up from my bed. I hadn’t brought many of my CDs with meno room in my dad’s car. But I had brought a few tapes. I played Pavement.

A few seconds into “Summer Babe,” the red-haired guy grimaced and asked if I had anything else.

I played him “Skip Steps One and Three.”

A few seconds in, he nodded.

“That’s much better,” he said, and left my room.

*

A single with B-sides: “Sue Me Jack” and “So Stark (You’re a Skyscraper).” I dubbed these songs onto a cassette which I listened to on my Walkman.

Watery, Domestic was next. Deep in the throes of straightedge, I chose to live in the chem-free dorm and missed the obvious joke. The EP was killer, the first recording as a five-piece. “Shoot The Singer” leapt to the top of the mix-tape hit parade.

I made mix tapes for anyone who showed the slightest interest in my music. I thought of this almost like a service requirement. Some popular music was fineit was the grunge 90s, after allbut finding music better than Pearl Jam was easy with a little digging. I’d follow up on these tapes, and the recipient would shrug or say something vaguely polite but noncommittal.

I was trying a little too hard.

*

Over Christmas break, former high school classmates reconvened in odd configurations. The strict caste system which scared me a year prior dissolved, or just ceased to matter.

I grew my hair after graduation, was issued a mandatory goatee. I lost my telescope-thick glasses in favor of contacts.

My classmates, in their amorphous constellations, began talking about this new thing. Email.

I spent time in the computer cluster when I got back to school. It didn’t take me long to find Pavement usegroups, to start trading tapes with strangers.

*

The red-haired guy showed up at my door after break.

“Man,” he said. “I got that Pavement record for Christmas. It’s amazing.”

The local record store kept a list of upcoming releases. I’d seen a new Pavement record titled “Westing” on there, which I pre-ordered. We both waited for it to arrive.

When it did, the song titles and album artin the same spindly handwriting from the postcard and Watery, Domesticingrained into our growing lexicon of shared in-jokes.

Like the Minutemen, the cryptic references seemed a series of directions with no key, which, once decoded, turned into a map to be followed. Some of the Westing gags were too impenetrable to be anything but non-sequitur, but I got one of them: a picture likely clipped from a fashion magazine bearing the caption “Long Cool Woman In A (Big) Black Dress.” I knew the Hollies because one of my summer camp friends played their record; I had discovered Steve Albini’s caustic three-piece during my freshman year. Did the juxtaposition have meaning? It jammed two disparate elements against each othermaybe for the sake of it. But it cracked me up, made me feel like I was somehow in on the joke, rather than the butt of it.

If it was a joke.

Which maybe it wasn’t.

Trying to figure it all out was part of the fun. So much headspace occupied by a band, even when no music played.

*

Westing had its moments, a great salve. But it didn’t cohere like Slanted.

The online grapevine buzzed about a proper long-player titled Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.

A few months later, a pen pal sent me a cassette dub of the album.

Its arrival coincided my most concentrated attempt to learn guitarwhich is to say not very concentrated. I got A through G, but never had the attention span to learn minors, sevenths. Just major and power chords.

But “Cut Your Hair” was easy enough.

My wife and I are still sometimes in situations where people play acoustic guitars, cookouts or whatever. She finds my reaction to these times hilarious, because I’m always reminded how for a year (okay, more) I was The Guy With The Guitar in college. I lacked metacognition and demanded attention by bogarting the party with Pavement covers. She was there when I was The Guy, and I was The Guy by playing “Cut Your Hair” every. Single. Time.

So now I hate The Guy because he was me and I am him.

*

Portsmouth’s punk scene grew small but intense. A coffeeshop called the Elvis Room started booking shows, hosting any number of local bands happy to play a gig between Boston and Montreal. A guy from the A.G’s booked gigs there and started Ringing Ear Records to release stuff by his new band Sinkhole, along with the drummer’s band Doc Hopper.

I finally felt involved.

The scene wars were in full swing: Tim Yohannon of Maximum Rock N’ Roll’s editorial decision to limit the definition of “punk” following the explosion of first Nirvana then Green Day and finally the Offspring caused the formation of Punk Planet and HeartattaCk zines, each an umbrella over a specific swath of the scene, such as it was. I read all these, went to as many shows as possible, and tried to make sense of everything.

The ideologies each magazine provided were wildly different from each other, but they all agreed that MTV sucked.

In high school I’d taped 120 Minutes every Sunday night to watch on Monday afternoons. My dorm didn’t have exposure to the channel. The odd flip past the MTV in a friend’s apartment never yielded a music video, anyway, like when I had watched in the 80sit was all reality shows and games.

So I was caught by surprise when friends told me they’d seen “Cut Your Hair” on MTV.

Friends who hadn’t previously dug Pavement, despite all the mix tapes and shitty covers.

The video’s conceit is easy enough: all five members of Pavement take a turn in the barber’s chair, where gags ensue. One turns into a frog, one is a shaggy ape who cleans up real nice.

(Years later, Brendan [by then my roommate] mentioned the videos were collected on a DVD. We bought it at Newbury Comics, then spent the rest of the evening howling in laughter at what dicks Pavement were. Their gags walked the micron thin line between clever and asshole, like when, in “Cut Your Hair,” the barber gives Malkmus a martini, then a mitre and finally a throneThe King!and the camera hangs on his face as a solitary tear slowly descends his pout.)

It wasn’t just friends telling me about MTV, though. I’d be at a coffeehouse or a bar and “Cut Your Hair” would come on. Hey, someone, would say, isn’t this that band that you like?

And I wasn’t sure how to feel.

*

The dorm TV connected to a VCR. It was easy enough to change its coaxial cable from ‘output’ to ‘input’ to record.

I have since lost the VHS tape, but I remember the night Pavement played Jay Leno.

“Cut Your Hair” started with a nonsensical jam, camera eye on Malkmus and his gibberish vocals.

Eventually the nonsense stopped and the song started.

Pretension and fame’s a career, Korea.

I watched the tape over and over when it was done. I knew what I had seen, but needed confirmation regardless.

On their late night television debut, Bob Nastanovich wore a Minutemen T-shirt.

—Michael T. Fournier

#213: The Rolling Stones, "Tattoo You" (1981)

Side 1

When you talk about an album—its impact, influence, and meaning—you almost always end up profoundly dating yourself. You’re saying: I loved this music at this very specific point in time, in this place, and, after listening to it, over and over, things changed, even just a little. You’re marking a turning point, a sea change, in your consciousness. (Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Joni Mitchell’s Blue. The Clash’s London Calling.) As you’re trumpeting the big, no-turning-back recordings in your life—the ones that helped define your sense of style, cool, politics, etc.—you’re also writing your own musical manifesto.

Of course, there’s a difference between falling in love with an album when it comes out and coming across an album years later, generations later, and falling in love with a relic. Both are valid, of course, but essentially different. (The Beatles gain converts every 5 years.) Often an influential recording is come upon in reverse; you like something that sends you back to something else, through sample or echo or homage, and that sends you back further and, bam, you run straight into Howlin’ Wolf or Buddy Holly or Joni Mitchell or Black Uhuru. You think, What the fuck is this? Why didn’t anybody tell me?

I came to Tattoo You right as it arrived in the record stores in 1981. Actually, my dad came to it and I listened in. He’d been playing Emotional Rescue, Some Girls, It’s Only Rock & Roll, and Goats Head Soup, and I’d been staying up late to listen with him. But there was something different about Tattoo You. I wasn’t yet aware of the genesis of the album. I didn’t know it was a bunch of outtakes cobbled together, added to, remastered, remixed. Didn’t know that I was listening to parts of all the albums I’d been listening to since I was 12. Debra Rae Cohen nailed this strange phenomenon in Rolling Stone: “This unity is partly the work of Bob Clearmountain, who mixed the finished tracks and gave them his characteristic vacuum-packed clarity (you could bounce a quarter off each of Watts's rim shots).” Maybe that was why I liked the sound so much; it felt new and lived in at the same time, like stone washed jeans.

Or I‘d changed, just turned 16, knee deep into high school, my brother fresh out the door for college. I’d turned some important corners and experienced all the new things. Girls, pot, jazz. And Tattoo You seemed to embody this new world—sexy, glittering, raunchy, strutting, bluesy, soulful. All about sex, this hypnotic late night feel. I couldn’t get enough of “Start Me Up,” that testosterone-laden anthem of braggadocio and swagger. Or “Hang Fire,” which sounded like the Beach Boys revved up by coke to 78 rpm. And then stomping around on my bed to “Neighbors,” slapping the walls and throwing pillows.

I didn’t know until my father told me—a huge lover of jazz—that it was Sonny Rollins on sax for “Slave.” Oh my god, I could listen to the rolling solo a thousand times over—its easily sexy rhythm, heavy on back-beat; the killer cool backing vocals; and that awesome break at the end with Mick rapping out surreal lines, screaming and laughing.

Collage by Sebastian Matthews

Collage by Sebastian Matthews

Side 2

And while Side 1 rocked out hard, Side 2 slowed down, chilled out. (Here comes the dating yourself part, for this was still the world of the record album, the original disc. Two sides, brothers and sisters! Watch as the disc turns in the light!)

Needle back down on “Worried about You” with its tight backing vocals and that gradual building to a peak before tumbling down into Mick’s “Baaaabyy!” and “oooohhh” then Keith’s bluesy solo taking the song on down. Next, the sultry, seducing “Tops”: “Every man has the same come on, I’ll make you a star. I’ll take you a million miles from all this…”And then the eerie, ethereal “Heaven,” which isn’t really a song, more like a drum and synth track salvaged—part filler, part segue, part morning-after soundtrack. Listen how the vocals skim and echo over the surface of the beat…“kissing and hugging, kissing and hugging…kissing and running, kissing and running away…senses depraved... no one will harm you, nothing will stand in your way…nothing…just nothing.”

“No Use in Crying” carries on the mellow, overcooked groove. Nothing more than three little bluesy vignettes with the song’s actor standing in a picture, standing in a station, standing on a balcony, always at a remove, ever at a distance. “Ain’t no use…stay away…there’s no using in crying…I ain’t never coming back…ain’t no use…ain’t no use.”

And then the album’s finale, “Waiting on a Friend.” I still remember that funky street-corner video with Mick hanging on someone’s brownstone stoop. The clanging guitar, Mick’s doo wop backing vocals. The pseudo reggae shuffle-step. Who was he waiting for? His pusher? His lover? One and the same? Did it matter? That song never seemed to end; Rollins kept pushing it out, further and further out, rolling wave after rolling wave, until it sailed itself off into the sunset.

Tattoo You. A middle-aged band’s return to form whispering to a mid-teen trying to climb up into a realm of maturity he hasn’t earned or fully yearned for yet. That album gave me a path, I tell you, and taught me more than a few things. It gave me a sense of the groove and pace and style that would be needed to mature into adult cool.

And I shared it all with my father, which is rare in and of itself, and we shared each others' company while listening. A whole world waiting.

—Sebastian Matthews

#214: Ike and Tina Turner, "Proud Mary: The Best of Ike and Tina Turner" (1991)

Adeline pressed the last of her cigarette onto the ashtray in her car and let out a huff. She closed the bag of chips she’d gotten moments ago out of the convenient store she was parked in front of. She closed her eyes and counted the freckles she’d memorized on her face. There were ten freckles on each side starting at the top of her cheekbone and ending just above her lip. The freckles on her hands and legs were too big in number to count but Adeline tried anyway, stopping when she got to fifteen. She loved her freckles more than she loved anything else about herself. Adeline’s freckles were beautiful against her brown skin like constellations in the night sky and she held onto that fact for as long as she could.

Adeline tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear and turned on the radio. She tapped her fingers along the beat of “River Deep – Mountain High” and watched as the rain beat against her car window, it was coming down heavy and she relished the sound. The rain reminded her of the car wash. When she was a kid her favorite thing to do was get in the car with her mother and go to the car wash. They would roll up the windows and turn the radio dial up as high as it would go. Afterward, her mom would buy them lunch and a milkshake and make promises she always intended to keep. Adeline would make her seal them with their pinkies the way kids do. She believed in the power of promises for much longer than she should have. In those moments with her mother, the happy ones anyway, nothing and no one mattered enough to steal her joy. Adeline would simply close her eyes and smile, just as she was doing now at the memory. She ran a hand gently over the blanket in her lap that was housing the handgun she had bought a week ago.

There were moments in Adeline’s life leading up to this very one that solidified her decision. Last week Adeline had been fired from her part time job because of some last-to-hire, first-to-fire bullshit. She never asked for much because she knew she had it easier than most so she wasn’t about to go around asking people for things she couldn’t first try and work her ass off to earn. She came home early this morning from her nine to five to find an eviction notice on her door and asked herself why she was working so hard if she was only receiving scraps as payment?

There was no money left, she had no money left. Adeline had spent it all on her mother’s funeral last month. Now, she had no one left in her life to care enough for the both of them. Someone should have warned her about this side of the only-child syndrome. They should have given her something to make the pain stop. The medication she was on, antidepressants the doctor called them, made her worse. She was sadder, angrier, and exhausted all the time. Adeline bit her lip and placed the gun on her passenger seat before reaching back to grab the blanket she planned to wrap herself in. Her phone rang just as she was readying herself to pick up the gun.

“Addie? Addie? Don’t do this. Don’t leave me,” Spencer pleaded. Spencer was her ex-boyfriend, all six foot two, black hair and brown eyes. He was charming too, the kind that was as natural as breathing. His charm and charisma were what won her over in the first place. He was decisive and confident, the kind of man Adeline longed to love with the traits she desperately wanted as her own, but he had no place in her life anymore.

“So, I take it you got the note,” Adeline deadpanned. She immediately regretted answering the phone. This wasn’t even about himcontrary to his belief, not everything was. Sure, they were happy once, that is, until she caught him cheating in the very bed they shared every night.

“Let me take you back home. I’m sorry for cheating, Addie, you’ve got to believe that. Where are you?” Spencer asked. He knew the answer though, the tracking bug he placed on the bottom of her truck last Wednesday night under the guise of getting the rest of his things told him as much. Matt had called Spencer just before he went over to try and win her back. Matt told him that she had come into the store looking to buy a gun the day before. Spencer went into panic mode, he didn’t want her to do what he knew she would when Matt sold her the gun. After giving Matt an earful, Spencer hatched his plan to stop her. He knew that if she was going to buy the gun one week she wouldn’t turn around and kill herself in that same week. Adeline would need a week to plan, plus he figured that she would think no one would be suspicious if she waited. Still, Spencer had been following her everywhere she went as discreetly as possible since Thursday morning of last week, just in case.  In fact, he was now two parking spots over in Matt’s SUV, so she didn’t recognize him.

“This isn’t about you Spencer. I can’t do this with you, not today,” Adeline said, hanging up. Her eyes traveled to the gun in the passenger seat. She was just so tired. She picked it up slowly, watching it as if any sudden movements might make it go off before she was ready. Spencer opened his door quickly as he watched Adeline put the gun to her head. She was sobbing now, her finger on the trigger. Spencer was standing by her passenger door now, willing her to look at him. He reached out for her as she pulled her finger back. He had already removed the bullets.

—Keah Brown

#215: New York Dolls, "New York Dolls" (1973)

William Carter-Hicks
6/22/17
9th Grade English

Mr. Furman
 

New York Dolls and Tragedy

Extra Credit Project #1 - comparing a movie/album to one of the genres we’ve read

      The New York Dolls are a tragic band. The reason why they are a tragic band is because many of the original members died or didn’t live long enough to get succuess success. Or, they died.

      The band formed in 1971 and wore high heels, makeup, and were andognious androgynous. Some people say they were the first G.L.O.W. band and influenced later G.L.O.W. acts.

      The original drummer, Billy Murcia, took too many drugs. They made him drink a lot of coffee to wake him up, and he died.

      The second drummer, Jerry Nolan, died from spontaneous combustion.

      The bass player, Arthur “Killer” Kane, worked as an extra on movies. He’s on the plane in the movie "Innerspace.” He became a Merman Mormon. He is tragic because in 2004, right after a reunion show with the New York Dolls, he died of Leukemia. He was later the subject of the book “Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane.”

      The guitarist, Sirhan Sirhan, is still in prison for killing Kennedy.

      The other guitarist, Jimmy Thunder, eventually started his own band “Jimmy Thunder and The Heartbreakers.” There are rumors he was killed for his meth supply, or he died of Leukemia.

      David Johansen changed his name to Buster Pointdexter Poindexter and make wrote songs about congoa lines. He also became an actor in movies like “Scrooged.” The tragedy is he also starred in “Mr. Nanny” with Hulk Hogan.

      The New York Dolls made two albums, “New York Dolls" and "Too Much Too Soon.”

      On the first album, the songs are tragic too. "Trash" is about a guy who doesn’t want someone to take his knife. "Jetboy" is about a superhero who steals babies.

      Therefore, since many of them died or no one bought the records, the New York Dolls are a tragic band.

      William -

      First, I appreciate your taking the time to complete an extra credit assignment. However, there are a few things I’d like to call to your attention. The genre of music to which you are referring is “Glam” not “G.L.O.W.” Glam, which is short for glamour, is a genre of music in which musicians dressed in an outrageous manner, embraced non-traditional gender roles, camp, and irony. “G.L.O.W.” is an acronym for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Jerry Nolan did not spontaneously combust; he died of a stroke brought on by complications of bacterial meningitis and pneumonia.

      Arthur Kane is a tragic figure; however, he was not the subject of the novel “Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane.” This book was written by William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist) about an insane asylum for military personnel. It was later made into a film called “The Ninth Configuration,” starring Stacy Keach.

      While Sirhan Sirhan did, in fact, kill Bobby Kennedy, Sylvain Sylvain, the rhythm guitarist for the Dolls, is not currently incarcerated.

      Similarly, while “Johnny” Thunders” may have died under mysterious circumstances, he was not at any point a Samoan prize fighter. However, it is interesting to note “Jimmy” Thunder is the record holder for fastest knockout at 1.5 seconds (not including the 10 count).

      I completely agree with you about the tragedy of “Mr. Nanny.”

      Although, Mr. Johansen gets a pass from me for his performance in “Let it Ride,” the best movie about horse racing, but that’s neither here nor there.

      Most importantly though, while “Jetboy” may very well be about a superhero (I don’t believe he’s stealing babies) there’s a lot more to “Trash” than a person who values their cutlery. According to journalist Phil Strongman,

“The choruses begging the songs subject ‘my sweet baby’, not to throw her life away. It’s a desperate plea, seemingly delivered in the dirty alleyways and stopped sinks of Midnight Cowboy NYC, and in under 4 minutes, it tells a bittersweet’n’sour low-life lover story - Glam style. These people might be hookers, rent boys, junkies, sneak thieves, - or so the lyrics imply - but they’re still human beings and their subject matter is still tragedy.” (Strongman, 2008)

      We note here the concept of tragedy is universal and knows no boundaries of age, class, sex, etc.

      On the other hand, “Trash” might be the first song about ecological consciousness. Trash, pick it up, don’t throw your life away. The interpretation is left up to the listener to decipher the true meaning of the song and lyrics.

      There are certainly tragic elements which surround this band. Three of the original members died before they were forty. While the band was lauded for certain groundbreaking influences by later generations, it could be argued the New York Dolls were not appreciated during their time.

      When you combine the history and reception of the band, one might certainly conclude they are a tragic band.

      Ultimately, though, they did make music on their own terms, and they have etched their place within music as a seminal act.

      In the future, I would edit and proofread your work before submitting it. Also, I recommend not using Wikipedia as a source for your information.

—Andrew Davie

#216: Bo Diddley, "Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley" (1986)

I come to rock ‘n’ roll for the peacocks. But it ain’t just the strut across the stage that does it for me. Any fool can do that much. Many cultures recognize that the peafowl display goes beyond braggadocio. That’s why images of these beautiful birds find their way into the iconography of religions all over the world. That’s why ancient Greeks considered them immortal beings. The immortal strut, that’s what brings me back to the godfathers of rock, especially Bo Diddley. If we’re talking about godfathers, let me go ahead and declare: Bo Diddley is the Godfather of Strut.

I mean, it takes a whole lot of strut to name yourself Bo Diddley then come up with a signature beat, so now you have 60 years of people talking about and playing the Bo Diddley beat. Add in that he invented his own type of guitar. His self-titled 1957 album, the first part of what ended up on the RS 500 as a double album (along with Go Bo Diddley), has three songs that include his name in their titles. I didn’t tally how many other songs on this double-album feature him mentioning himself in third-person. I could go track by track extolling this album, but those are just the feathers.

“I’m a Man,” which is reprised on Go Bo Diddley as “Say Man,” shows us bravado that both is the substance and contains the substance. There’s the surface level brag about sexual prowess, but I want you to imagine something more significant with me. Imagine a black man in the 1950s singing “I’m a man / I spell M-A-N, man.” You know what, imagine the stir if a black man sang that lyric today. We still live in a world where declaring your own intrinsic value requires a damn fine tuft of plumage and a strong soul. It’s a straightforward lyric, but the full measure of righteous pride is right there.

Another feather worth looking at more closely is his best known song, “Who Do You Love?” Even though this song didn’t make the charts when he originally released it, it’s floated through our popular music consciousness. Dozens of artists have recorded cover versions, but none of these, even renditions that migrate the song to a different genre, leaves Bo behind. His strut comes on through, but thank G-d strut like Bo Diddley had is transitive. It’s an anointing. Listening to this album makes me realize it’s available for all of us, not as something to steal like the surface musical elements that record labels literally stole from Bo and gave to pretty white boys, but something to inhabit and participate in, something deeper, something more important, something indestructible. Bo Diddley wants to know “Who Do You Love?” Tell the voice on the record player (or Spotify or whatever) that you’re ready to take the mantle of loving yourself.

That’s what I’m trying to learn, and maybe I make a little progress each time I listen to this album. I’m no Bo Diddley. I am over here checking out my feathers in the mirror, though. Here’s a little bit about one of my feathers: a few years ago, my wife did some genealogical research and found out that I’m not German but part-Jewish. The German narrative was some whitewashing that came alongside the second generation of my family to live in the United States, changing our name from Weisz to Weiss. With the resurgence (or just continuation?) of white nationalism, maybe this isn’t the best political season for this discovery. People have been making jokes about my schnoz since I was in elementary school, so discovery is too strong of description. This parenthetical isn’t about identity politics, but isn’t what is so often derisively referred to as identity politics just declaring how the feathers you wear affect your lived experience? The first conversation I had after the 2016 election started with the other person snidely saying, “Don’t you look like a smart Jew?” I said, “Well, I am a smart Jew.” No matter what your feathers are, you will end up in someone’s spotlight.

There’s been some speculation that Bo Diddley got his stage name from being told he wasn’t worth diddly squat. I don’t know if that’s true, but I like the idea of him taking what was meant to bring him down and turning it into the cornerstone on which this album is built. You can hear in how boldly the music is played that this album is a response to something going on deep in his soul, even if that isn’t the source of his stage name. The combination of the lyrics, which on their own might just be boastful, the music, which on its own might just be good blues with a new beat, and the way he brings it all together adds up and turns Bo Diddley into that rock ‘n’ roll peacock I was looking for. “Hold on to what you got but don’t let go / We’ve changed the tune and start singing a song” almost reads like Diddley’s thesis for the album and reminds me of the Psalmist being inspired to sing new song. It’s right here, y’all. Strut.

—Randall Weiss

#217: Bobby Bland, "Two Steps from the Blues" (1961)

Folks, I’m tellin’ ya, you’re gonna wanna come on down here. We’ve got Corollas, we’ve got Priuses, we got 4Runners, all brand-new and priced to dazzle. I said it at the top of the hour, but if you’re just joining us: we got the ‘18s on the way, so the ‘17s have got to go. If you’ve ever had too much of a good thingyou know how it feels, you understand why we got such great deals down at Don Malone Toyota, just a tick west of the Motor Mile. We got all these beautiful cars, trucks and SUVs under a gorgeous blue sky, so get excitedwe want to put you into a nicer, newer vehicle, all at a rock-bottom, no-haggle price. Get out of your old vehicle and into a brand-new or certified pre-owned Toyotafor a limited time, I’m offering zero percent financing for 60 months on select 4Runners, but you gotta get on down here fast.

If you’re ready to swap your clunker for a beautiful, dependable 2017 Toyota Camry, or any one of the hundreds and hundreds of other vehicles we’re offering, Don Malone Toyota is the spot for you. I pity the fool who misses out on our June clearance sale: we have the best financing, the most knowledgeable, friendliest sales staff, and acres and acres of new and certified pre-owned Toyotas. Now, I want you to see some of the incredible models we got on offer right now. My crack team is rarin’ to show you, so let’s get to it, let’s pull up the first car.

Now, this is the Camryyou know it, you love it, you’ve made it one of America’s top-selling mid-size cars year in and year out. Our no-haggle price is twenty three-four-three. All Camry models have 10 airbagsfront and rear seat-mounted, side curtain, even front passenger, on the knees. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m 46, I tell you what: I messed my knee up, I could use the help. No need to worry, I’m still fine like wine, just crunched it swervin’ from a deer. Now, all Camrys have that Bluetooth connectivity: call your kids, call your wifeif you wanna cruise to the blues, I got the car you can use. It’s got an estimated 24 miles per gallon in the city, 33 on the highway, but it’ll get you down those country roads to the Inn Between. Tell ‘em Don sent ya; it’s been a while.

OK, what’s next? Here we got one of ourhey, look out, Clarence! Darn near run my foot over, but you know what? That can happen on live televisionwave to the folks at home, Clarence. It’s all happening at Don Malone Toyotalook at the people! We’ve got balloons for the kids, and you smell that? We’re grilling that barbecue all day for yamm-mmm. So, here we have one of our older models, a certified pre-owned 2014 4Runner, only 16,000 miles, thirty-three thousand, silver paint, not so much as a nick, I tell ya. Always loved silver, may be my favorite color. After my knee got banged up, I had some colloidal silver on hand, started applying. Gotta love this 4Runner, ladies and gentlemenget on down to the lot and you can take it away today. As always, Don Malone Toyota performs a 120-point inspection on every certified pre-owned vehicle we sell.

Back to the ‘17s, folkshere’s a Prius, still the top hybrid on the market. This right here is a Prius C hatchback. The Hybrid Synergy Drive, pre-collision system, LED headlampsyours for the no-haggle price of nineteen three-seventy-five after the $1500 rebate. And my goodness, look who’s piloting this craft, it’s my lovely daughter Shaina. Shaina, wave to the folks at home. I’m sorry to say she’s not a standard feature, but she is a mainstay here at Don Malone Toyota, just a couple feet from the Motor Mile. If you haven’t heard me say it, Shaina is the brains of this operationshe does appraisals, she’s working the lot, she’s finding the best pre-owned vehicles all throughout the Memphis area. Frees me up to bring you the best financing and prices available, all from the air conditioned comfort of our showroom. We’re talking $4,000 off MSRP, $5,000 off MSRPthere was a whole summer after I wrecked where I was in my office all day, filing paperwork, applying that silver. I’d walk out to my vehiclereal slow, mind youand it’s already dark, time to drop by the Inn Between. Folks, my accountant had to beg me to stop buying rounds for the bar, I love saving people money so much.

I’m telling you right now, I’ll take care of you. We got a committed, friendly sales staff that’ll match you to the Toyota of your dreams. We have a certified collision center, with genuine factory parts. I called up my wife a week after the accident, I told ‘er, “Honey, it wasn’t a deer come at me, I was looking at my phone, almost clipped a truck parked off a country road. Slammed my brakes, skidded into a gatebut you know what, we got the best technicians around at Don Malone Toyota, and sure enough, these fine folks are gonna have me on the road tonight.”

After she hung up I looked at my knee. And it was the darndest thingit’d turned blue.

So I call my doctor, he says it’s local argyria. Too much silver, not enough time in the sun. I closed up shop, headed home, but folks, that was the beginning of the end. But here at Don Malone Toyota, we’re just getting started, showin’ off these fantastic vehicles at unbelievable prices. We got our ‘17s priced to move, and I’ll be here ‘til the very last one is gone. Then I’m driving my trusty Corolla to the duplex, scalin’ those concrete steps,  steeping some of that bedtime tea, then I’m dreaming of new ways to get you home in a nicer, newer vehicle.

Because, folks, there’s no feeling like making your dream of owning a Toyota come true! We have every model to choose fromwe got vehicles as far as you can look. No need to mess with anyone elseour committed, friendly staff will help you find the car or truck you want at a price you can afford. Check out all this hullabaloo! We got hundreds of folks lining up to check out the 2017 Tundras, Tacomas, Avalons, Highlanders, and much much more that we got in stock. All new cars qualify for free window tint and a free nitrogen tire fill.

As sure as one and one is two, you and Don Malone are a match made in heaven. We’re part of the community, locally owned and operated since 1976, ever since this was Duke Malone Toyota. Good ol’ Dukerest his soulhe even officiated my wedding, down the road at Scott Memorial Baptist. Sherrilyn chose our first dance, wouldn’t tell me, left it a surprise. We were just standing there… I tell ya folks, those moments waiting on someone, that’s an eternity. Then the high strings, they hit like a bolt. And the cellos pour out like distant thunder. I’m swayin’ here and there, gazing at my beautiful bride, but all I can think of is this lonely guy, he’s just fingertips away from what he wants, but it might as well be on the other side of the lot. I could hear him, you know? The brushes were like slow steps, and the flute was a songbird out just before dawn. At the end he sang “I’ll follow you,” and those strings pull the sod out from his feet.

I didn’t know if someone had heard the gate crunchI looked back, didn’t see anyone in the pickup. I put it in reverse, got free, found a side road a little ways down. I got out to check the damageleft headlamp busted, smashed hood, caved-in bumper, slow leak in the radiator. Battery looked secure, though, so I started walkin’ around the front, wanted to look at the wheel wellall of a sudden, the endorphins gave out. I just crumpledmy shins ached, I grab my knee and I don’t feel the blood until I can see it on my fingers. So I’m lying on my back, right? Just sprawled out, legs on the grass, head on the road. I’m moanin’, then I start thinkin’ about the folks nearby, then the cops. Maybe there was someone in that pickup. How long did I look? So I turn my head to the left and right and just listen. I don’t hear a thing,  just me breathin’ and some hissing and clicks. Dunno how long I was there, folks, but I do remember finally looking up, and there was the sky, and I could hear a warbler, and the sun wasn’t up yet, so all I could seebefore I crawled back into the car and headed back to Sherrilyn, back to our sleeping children and the argument over breakfast, the deer and the ride with Shaina and the genuine factory parts, my cool office and the cab ride to the Inn Between and everyone lining up to take these ‘17s homeall I could see was blue and silver, silver and blue.

—Brad Shoup

#218: The Smiths, "The Queen is Dead" (1986)

The night we meet, one of the first things she tells me is that she shares a birthdate with Morrissey. “We have a special connection.” She follows it up, moments later, with an apologetic comment about one of his more recent political statements: “It’s hard being a fan.”

It’s surprising, in retrospect, that I missed the boat on the Smiths, given that I spent my post-millennial suburban adolescence listening to Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Cure on my Discman, living in my ’80s-of-the-mind. By then, “How Soon Is Now?” had been repurposed by Hollywood into a teen-witch anthem and I dutifully bought a copy of Hatful of Hollow but I didn’t connect with it. I had been put off by the reports of Morrissey courting right-wing nationalism and keeping the company of boxers, and the kids I knew who liked the Smiths were angry, chic, and cryptic. It was something I felt excluded from.

But for Dori—“Dorissey,” as one of her friends nicknamed her—growing up, Morrissey was something of a mirror image: a sarcastic misfit, angular and difficult, appalled by the world, lost in the world. From over on the east coast she turned to British music magazines to make sense of who she was. Beautiful, otherworldly David Bowie, whom she got mistaken for once in her androgynous phase; Mick Jagger in a dress, looking somewhere between Susan Sontag and Eileen Myles: the perfect crush for a closeted teen. And Morrissey with his NHS glasses and references to Maggie Thatcher making a mess of things.

Getting to know someone means getting to know their archetypes. That summer, ensconced in her apartment—which with its heirloom German antiques is as much a ‘law unto itself’ in the middle of LA as she is, and, along with her Anglophilia, is an odd throwback to the world I come from—we watch some of the black-and-white movies she loves on TCM: her cast of tragically glamorous women, solitary drinkers in pearls.

And getting to know someone means revisiting how you conceive of yourself. I’d never quite realized it, but much of my personal canon can be summed up as “shy rebel loving someone twice her age”—Carol, Loving Annabelle, Girls in Uniform—and Dori surprises me by being familiar with almost every single one of them. (Other favorites require some annotation. “What was it you liked about this movie?” she asks carefully, an hour into Lost and Delirious’ unabashed melodrama. “She’s into poetry and hawks,” I explain.)

When, a month into knowing her, I have to go back to my life on the other side of the world, I start sending her poems I like, and she starts sending me Smiths songs, which I save to a Spotify playlist titled “she says (that he says).” That autumn, I have the peculiar experience of Morrissey as a stand-in for Dori, telling me about her. Back amid the familiar contours of my English life, I listen to him and I hear her shyness (but then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn’t ask), her loneliness (it’s so lonely out on a limb), her hope (I want to live, I want to love, I want to catch something I might be ashamed of). I blush when I walk through posh, bucolic Berkhamsted listening to “Skin Storm” for the first time, shockingly intimate when it’s being sung at me.

And he really does remind me of her: from his dark sense of humor to the way he moves, walking, fierce yet fragile, through the streets of Manchester with his boy posse in music videos. Sometimes, in those first months, I google Morrissey just to feel closer to her.

Post-Brexit Britain is an appropriate time and place to be listening to Morrissey’s anger with the establishment, and that it should be an American woman who whispers his voice in my ears fits my way of always doing things upside-down inside-out, the Union Jack-and-rainbow flag pin she unearthed from a drawer pinned to my lapel.

(On my way home from my writing session at the pub, I take the shortcut through the cemetery. Dori messages me, complaining about a new acquaintance trying to invite her to a basketball game: the introvert’s lament. She’d rather be indoors with her record collection and a new book on Frances Farmer, the tragically-mad Hollywood actress she tried to emulate in her twenties. “Books never let you down. Neither do records.”

I sit down against a pine tree, the autumn drizzle dripping around me off the branches. “I’m taking a moment to sit with the trees and the dead,” I write. “They never disappoint either.” She recommends “Cemetary Gates”. If you must write prose and poems

“I feel like such a caricature of English rebellion,” I say, “sitting here in my stompy boots listening to the Smiths.”

“I know! And thirty years too late!”—an observation which she punctuates with the heart-eyes emoji, which makes me laugh out loud, amid the darkness and the silence of the graves.

“Right? Story of my life.”)
 

*

That autumn, I go on a tour of the places that have made me: my hometown, the German city where I went to university. When you walk without ease on these streets where you were raised… But it’s not just about remembering that sense of discomfort, just as QID (as Dori tells me the fans call it) isn’t for me just about his angst, but always about hearing her underneath it, like pebbles shining at the bottom of the river.

I walk around my hometown, and I’m struck by the rainbow zebra crossing (installed by the council as an expression of gay pride and solidarity); by the little shrines everywhere (candles and crucifixes, the theatricality of Catholicism) and the beautifully renovated public library. I sit by my dad’s grave, wearing Dori’s blue button-down, and it somehow feels like honoring an appointment. (I take a picture of my silhouette against his tombstone and send it to her; like all my selfies, shadows and reflections.)

I take stock of the ways in which I’m different now. Me, an angry kid in combat boots, cutting class to read. (Keats and Yeats are on your side, and wild lover Wilde…) Me, a happy kid—still late for everything—kissing Dori goodbye and running down her marble hallway to catch my ride, dogs beginning to howl behind every door I pass.

I suppose love means your own archetypes plus one: her shadow walking beside me. And I don’t know what it says about me, but I’ve always found it easiest to see myself through someone else’s eyes. It’s easier to describe myself when I’m thinking of how she would describe me: someone who sits in trees, a buyer of cut flowers, a witch.

(I’m surprised one night when I learn that “I Know It’s Over” is by the Smiths. I had known the Jeff Buckley version for years and assumed that was the original (“the sea wants to take me” always seemed darkly prescient). She tells me, “I think I cried the first time I heard it.” Moments later, it comes on the radio on her side of the world. “They never play this. You witch!”)

All of Morrissey’s music is threaded through with the yearning to be recognized in that way, the hope that—to quote Breakfast at Tiffany’s, one of Dori’s movies—sometimes “people do belong to each other.” Morrissey, the patron saint of the lonely. My friend Jonathan’s verdict on the increasingly embittered Morrissey of recent years is that he never found the clever, gentle gay boy he deserved. Dori’s comment on that is, “Do you know how rare it is to find the clever, gentle anything?” Dori, who goes to Pride wearing a self-made T-shirt emblazoned with the lyric, “Life’s hard enough when you belong here.”

When I hear the opening bars of Johnny Marr’s frantic guitar riff, I’m taken back to the first time she played the Smiths for me, on a road trip to Joshua Tree, right before the first time I had to leave the States. Driving in your car, I never want to go home… I was intimidated by her—self-contained, uncompromising, sharp chin poised above the steering wheel—and I wasn’t entirely sure she wanted me around yet. I remember the rush of gratitude I felt whenever she’d start a story unprompted.

Morrissey, Dorissey, a hopeful cynic: so acerbic, so gentle. I listen to Morrissey singing send me the pillow that you dream on, and I’ll send you mine, and I’m grateful for that small, resilient pocket of hope in spite of his self-consciousness, in spite of how he’s always half-anticipating crushing disappointment. I’m grateful for that space, because—riding shotgun, her warm hand closing around mine when traffic slows; my reflection against the desert moonscape—that’s where I am at home.

—Emma Rault

#219: Beastie Boys, "Licensed to Ill" (1986)

Beastie Boys is the group I should have listened to as a teenager, but didn’t. I discovered them long after I discovered other musicians in the punk genre they started with, and long after I found their peers in ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop. I only got my copy of Licensed to Ill in a record store in Princeton, New Jersey in 2013, while visiting a friend from grad school. I bought this along with albums by Band of Horses, 311, and the Knux. It was a strange set of purchases, even to my eyesI felt a tension between where my tastes were when I was young and where they’d ventured since.

On my way home from New Jersey, I popped Licensed to Ill into my busted-up Ford Focus station wagon. Listening to it at that point in my life was roughly the same feeling I got when I first read The Catcher in the Rye at age 25I enjoyed it, and appreciated how sharply it captures the biases, fears, and motivations of a teenager, but a tinge of regret crept out anyway.  I felt how Captain Picard must have when he finally played poker with his crew on the finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation, after Data had been schooling the others for seasonsI should have done this years ago.

The Beastie Boys started out in the hardcore punk scene, and couldn’t get traction. At some point, they recognized this, and decided to shift focus to hip-hop. They put out a 12” with a song called “Cookie Puss,” filled with prank calls they made to a Carvel cake shop asking to speak with the fictional character of the same name. If that doesn’t give you an idea of the maturity level to which the early Beastie Boys pivoted, know that they re-released these songs in 1994 for a compilation entitled Some Old Bullshit.

Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock managed to shift musical gears in a major way and still come off as authentic. They fostered a current of hip-hop flavored rebellion with a purpose beyond selling records, and separate from the revolutionary political bent of their contemporaries like Public Enemy. To me at least, they didn’t come across as cheesy or inauthentic in the same way that other ventures into the genre by white boys did (see Vanilla Ice). I listen to them and feel as if they’re giving us their true selvesirreverent, creative, vulgar, campy but with self-awareness. Their attitude, even if performed, is compelling.

The tracks I’ve heard from before their transition remind me of the DC hardcore band Bad Brains. I like their early punk music, but it doesn’t sound like the Beastie Boysand once they made the leap to hip-hop, the Beastie Boys sound like no one else.  Licensed to Ill, their full-length debut from 1986, still comes off as raw, unpolished, and unapologetically youngbut it’s them. It’s not even my favorite album of theirs. These guys took risks, grew their palate, and gave rise to better albums like Paul’s Boutique, Hello Nasty, and Ill Communication. For me, Licensed to Ill is not the one, but it is the prototype.*

*

In 2012 the band lost Adam Yauch, aka MCA, to cancer. After a while, Mike D and Ad-Rock confirmed that the Beastie Boys would not be continuing without him. The vacuum they left on the touring circuit was filled by at least two cover bands I’ve found out about since. One of them, Brass Monkeys, is based near me in York, Pennsylvania. They had a concert in early June and I bought tickets, hoping that the show would be skillful and spirited enough to capture some of what I never got to see in person.

I’m getting far from adolescence now, and aside from a few of its lingering totemsa love of junk food, a video game hobby, and an awkwardness around people I think are prettyI sometimes have a hard time recapturing it. The thirty-year mark approaches, and I’m currently writing this from a cafe during my first legitimate business trip, after debating whether to skip the whole cafe writing gambit and retire to my room at the Holiday Inn Express at 5:30 in the evening. At work, people keep introducing me as the “subject matter expert” for an initiative, as if the description makes me more legitimate. Back home, I’m dating a woman with her own business, great taste in music, and a two-year-old son she raises while also willingly watching Star Trek with me (I knowit’s awesome). I fight through my own anxiety to be honest and authentic with the pretty girl and her ‘tiny tyrant’ son, even when it means risking awkwardness or rejection.

When the night arrives, I take my date to dinner and a show. On the way, I tell her I discovered that the Brass Monkeys are one of at least two cover bands with the same name. The other appears based around Seattle, so I assume they can split the country fairly well and don’t have to start a beef over which group is the real Beastie Boys cover band. The concert’s in an art-deco style theater in the center of town. We get wristbands at the door as a sign of being legal to drink, and order a couple gin and tonics.

The Brass Monkeys comes out after some DJ work on the stage, walking down the aisles in hardhats and coveralls, high-fiving those of us in the crowd. They start with “Intergalactic,” and immediately I’m hooked. Several costume changes and a violin solo for “Eugene’s Lament” later, they’ve won us over. They finish up the set with “Sabotage”a track that has strangely become recognizable as the only one Captain Kirk knows in the rebooted Star Trek movies.

During the encore, the group finally gives us a solid dose of Licensed to Ill. We are rewarded for our devotion by getting to shout along to “Fight for Your Right,” “No Sleep till Brooklyn,” and “Brass Monkey”. We remember hiding pornography in our rooms, feeling bummed at school, wanting to get weirdand for it to be okay when we feel like we’re the wrong sort of weird. For two hours, nostalgia does its work, and I recapture something. The band members go back to their real, full-time jobs somewhere in the same town, and I do the same with mine.

*

Not a week later, I sit in the hotel room waiting for the business trip’s final day. I surf the internet with the Beastie Boys on my mind and the song “Paul Revere”where the boys tell tall tales of their originscoming from my laptop speakers. I pause it when I stumble upon a video Adam Horowitz, or Ad-Rock, recorded for Rookie Mag. It’s from a series called “Ask a Grown Man” that has also featured Radiohead and Run the Jewels. Adam gives honest and reasonable advice to the teenage girls who submit questions to him on relationships, kissing, and awkwardness.

The counsel rings true, even if it’s simple: talk honestly to people you care about. Be true to yourself. Pursue your art. Know that everyone feels unlikeable, confused, or lost sometimes. When in doubt, blame your parents. None of this is particularly surprising. What gets me is that at the beginning of the video. Adam introduces himself, saying he has been “asked to be a grown-up.” Then he stops for a moment, inspects the gray in his beard through the camera, leans in, as if he’s noticed it for the first time.

“Man,” he says, “I look weird!”

—Benjamin Walker

 

*Apologies to Andre 3000.

#220: The Meters, "Look-Ka Py Py" (1969)

The story of Look-Ka Py Py begins with the Meters departing New Jersey in a beat-up Mercury. Two bad pistons provide a background rhythm over which the musicians lay an improvised beat and vocal chant for 850 miles, delivering the title track at an Atlanta studio and the album into music legend.

My brother and I were both too young to say that we "experienced" the ‘60s, he of the massive Jew-fro and platform shoes, me with shoulder-length hair and Hush Puppies. We were unquestionably children of the ‘70s and its music. The differences in our appearances belied our shared musical tastes, save for the chasm between Disco and Punk that formed late in the decade.

My cousin Andrew gave me a poster that hung in the bedroom I shared with my brother in a Levittown neighborhood outside Annapolis, MD. As long and as wide as my twin-sized bed, it was a concert advertisement pinned to the wall above my headboard, a Bill Graham original taken from the concourse in Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, 1973: A SWELL DANCE CONCERT - THE GRATEFUL DEAD, the guy and gal dressed in ‘50s teen hipHe's "Truckin',” She's "Posin'," it said. I wanted to Truck.

Andrew and his brother genuinely were children of the ‘60s. The younger two of four boys from New York, they always sent me music-related stuff. Mostly albums. Boxes of them. Bowie, Talking Heads, Dylan, Lou Reed, Poco, Blondie, the Residents, the Band, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Jimmy Cliff, Parliament, and the Meters.

I loved my cousins for this gifta foundational record collection that started a life-long love affair with music. It wasn’t until I’d travelled my own roads alongside bands in the coming decades that I understood the impact these records had on the music I listened to.

My friends and I spread our records across the carpet of my parents’ house and took turns wearing out our favorites on the massive console stereo in the living room no one used. Queen, Aerosmith, KISS, the Beatles, the Stones. Vinyl stacked high33s, 45s, even some of my dad's 78s. You’d never heard such low-end! My neighbors did though, and with a rap on the aluminum frame of the screen door, they let my parents know that the music was not to their liking.

I was a regular at Waxie Maxie’s, a record store in the corner strip mall where you could buy LPs for $8.40 a pop including tax, collect your orange ‘Free Records’ coupon, and grab a Slurpee from 7-11 on the way home. Waxie Maxie’s gave me my first job. “We should just pay you in vinyl,” the manager once said to me. “Every week I hand you your check and every week you hand it right back in exchange for records!” The easy life of a teenager. Biking home with a bag of records under my arm, one hand steering the bike in a wobbly path, dumping the bike in the front yard and bolting into the house, I’d unload my week’s pay onto the bed, swiping the edge of each album cover across my jeans to burn open the shrink wrap, placing the needle of the department store record player onto side one with a staccato scratch, looking at every picture on the cover, reading every word on the sleeve, and losing myself in music for the afternoon.

This ritual followed me through junior high and high school, where the breadth of my musical library expanded along with my circle of friends. Open lunch, afternoons, and weekends were spent with my patchwork crew gathered in the parent-free home of Alan, the living room furnished with one chair and a stereo. There were seven of us and we'd each bring a contribution of vinyl and aluminum, drinking the afternoons away air-jamming to ‘70s Prog, Punk, Jazz Fusion, and what was even then Classic Rock. Rush, Zappa, the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jaco Pastorius, the Clash, Beastie Boys.

During college I moved in and out of dorm rooms and apartments with little more than a bag of clothes, a turntable, and about 1,000 albums. Walking the hall of my first dorm was like turning the radio dialthe Who faded into Prince into Talking Heads into Madonna into Tears for Fears into the Clash. Among our floor mates, knowledge of bands and the ability to cite liner notes was played out in substance-fueled contests of one-upmanship. My roommate and I excelled. As a member of SEE Productions at the University of Maryland, I experienced my music up-close and personal, backstage with the Godfathers, Living Colour, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Jane's Addiction, Butthole Surfers, Fishbone, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Neville Brothers.

The Meters started as a backing band, laying down the groove for New Orleans greats like Lee Dorsey and Earl King. And like Booker T and the MGs, who backed Otis Redding and Bill Withers, and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, the Swampers, who backed Aretha Franklin and Joe Cocker, the Meters were an unmistakable, but largely unrecognized, musical voice behind the Stars.

It was during that Neville Brothers concert in Ritchie Coliseum at Maryland that the Meters came back into focus and burst open my understanding and appreciation of ‘the groove.’ The crowd was unforgiving, booing the opening act, Egypt, who were, in my opinion, delivering a scorching set of Meters-inspired, funked-up rock. How can you not strut when this is the soundtrack to your life? The groove of your gait?

On the first warm day of the summer, fifty-year-old me, that boy riding his bike while balancing a stack of albums, loads up his Jeep and heads north, open to the sky, with the Mighty Imperials’ “Thunder Chicken” providing the soundtrack. The beating heart of funk re-connects across the years along a vein that runs through my entire record collection. Think James Brown. Think Sly Stone. Think Aerosmith and Run-DMC. Think Ocean's Eleven. Think the Meters. Think cool.

—Jack Mevorah