21ST CENTURY JAZZ SUNDAY
Today’s Jazz Sunday playlist centers around bands and artists propelling the form into the 21st century. A new generation of musicians who respect the past while creating fresh voices for the future.
THE JOY OF STICKING YOUR FACE IN THE FAN
I suppose it happens to nearly all of us. At some point, people become set in their musical ways. They’ve explored and come to like all the music they care to let into their world. To my mind, these people are stuck. To their minds, they’re exactly where they want to be.
I can’t stay in one place musically. I just can’t. It was pointed out by a friend that new music is like oxygen to me. I need it to live! It’s an accurate assessment. Lots of people are content to hear the same songs played by the same band in the same fashion. These same people seem to get upset when their favorite band has the absolute nerve to release new music. “Just stick to the hits,” they say. Well, how is it you think a song becomes a hit?
But I digress.
There have been times when I felt myself sliding into a musical rut, getting more material from the same artists playing the same music in essentially the same way. It wasn’t that I was unwilling to stretch. I just hadn’t figured out how.
When I started traveling more (mostly to attend concerts from artists not coming to St. Louis), I always made an effort to go to at least two local record stores. But let’s be honest: at their core, all record stores are pretty much the same. Some might specialize in one genre over another, but you can find Radiohead and Miles Davis pretty much anywhere.
I needed new music. The only way to do that was to take some chances. That meant taking the time to learn about — and buy — music I was completely clueless about. I came to think of it as sticking my face into the fan. Sure, it’ll cool me off (finding something I loved). But it could also take my nose right off (find something I hated)!
But there is no true reward without risk. I had to take a chance.
So I started visiting record stores. Once I found an employee who actually seemed interested in talking to me — as opposed to just pointing me in some vague direction — I would ask for a specific favor. “Show me some quality artists from this area,” I would ask. My query was almost always met with great enthusiasm, whether I was in Memphis, Nashville, Cincinnati, or Chicago. (I didn’t make this request in Baltimore, which eats at me to this day.)
Each time, I told the store employee what I was into and that I was open to just about anything else. From Cincinnati I learned about Lung, one of the more interesting duos you will find in music. No way I was prepared for a combination of electric cello, drums, and vocals. But here we were. And they’re awesome!
I got the most enthusiasm from the good people at Grimey’s in Nashville. Perhaps it was because I told them Adrian Belew (who lives just outside of town) sent me to them. Nah … they were really nice people before I dropped Ade’s name.
I asked to be introduced to the modern Nashville sound, with the caveat that I’m not a big country fan. Our conversation lasted at least half an hour, and I walked away with four new artists I knew nothing about.
Sun Seeker put off a definite Indie vibe …
While Lilly Hiatt gave off a definite sense of Americana …
Steelism took Americana in a slightly post-rock direction. Is post-Americana a thing?
And then I was guided to Margo Price. Now, I distinctly remember telling the guys that I wasn’t all that into country. So what did they do? They introduced me to a young singer/songwriter, extolling her skills. They never used the word “country.” It was yet another great opportunity to stick my face in the fan. So I did. What I got from Price was definitely country. It was also brilliant! I was particularly fond of a duet she did with Willie Nelson.
Each artist sounded a little different from the one before. Yet they all sounded like Nashville. And had I not decided to take a risk, I wouldn’t know about any of them.
I’ve taken more than a few risks in Chicago, before and since I moved here. But that’s a complete essay of its own.
The point is, there’s no real joy in music without risk. Not for me, anyway. If you find yourself in a rut, do yourself a little favor:
Stick your face in the fan.
JAZZ SUNDAY: INTRO TO FUSION
This week’s #JazzSunday playlist is an intro to fusion, as I came to know it. Mostly I think of my dad showing me record after record, pulling me further and further down this glorious rabbit hole.
Not everyone worthy of representation is here. Those who can be included (and have their music available on Spotify) ultimately will. But this will get a neophyte started.
ADVENTURES IN POST-ROCK
I have developed a true obsession with post-rock. The moods and soundscapes really reach me.
To that end, here’s another Spotify playlist featuring some of my favorite post-rock artists. Be sure to have tissue on hand.
JAZZ SUNDAY: INTRO TO JAZZ
Every now and then, someone asks me, “How do I get into jazz?” Well, here is a bit of a primer to get you started.
It’s just about entirely acoustic, nothing too wild, and loaded with classics. This should provide you with a nice springboard to get you to the next level.
Since starting this blog (I still hate that word) a few years ago, you probably noticed a hashtag followed by “CirdecSongs” at the end of each piece. I guess I was dreaming of writing something that would ultimately go viral, and I wanted people to have something to refer to and follow. So far, I’ve had some moderately successful posts, but I’m a long way from achieving that dream.
The hashtag has essentially been a moniker since its inception. I had no other plans for it. Until now.
Now that I’m firmly in semi-retirement, I’ve realized I can do more with that hashtag. The thought came to me a couple of weeks ago as I started mapping out my musical activity for 2022. As Robert Fripp might say, the idea appeared to me in a flash. I could almost hear the “click” in my head. All of a sudden, I had an objective:
Convert CirdecSongs from a moniker to a brand.
And just like that, the floodgates opened.
I had a TON of ideas about what I could do to make this a reality. But before I could get into that, I needed to take a beat. I asked myself a question: what is CirdecSongs?
Once again, I found myself inspired by Robert Fripp and his label/brand, Discipline Global Mobile (DGM). In a virtual torrent, a mission statement entered my mind. Not only that, but what I’ve come to call a “Declaration of Intent.” It goes like this:
A Brand, A Celebration, A Mission
WHAT IS CIRDECSONGS?
At its core, CirdecSongs is a vessel geared toward the reception, absorption, contemplation, and sharing of music, primarily created by others. This will take place on multiple levels. Regardless of method, the ultimate goal is to generate and maintain the love of music, primarily from off the beaten path.
- IT IS APPRECIATIVE AND RECEPTIVE. CirdecSongs does not concern itself with where the music comes from. Music is a gift, and it will be received with gratitude and enthusiasm. Not everything will stick, but as much as humanly possible will be considered.
- IT IS PASSIONATE. CirdecSongs is in music for the love of the art. Any benefits that come as a result of this enthusiasm will be considered incidental, as opposed to being the driving force.
- IT IS POSITIVE. CirdecSongs is not concerned with taking down artists whose music does not prove appealing, unless specifically assigned to do so. Emphasis will be placed on what makes an artist or album enjoyable, with this information being conveyed to the audience. Negative or unpleasant musical experiences will simply be pushed aside without further consideration.
- IT IS INDEPENDENT AND INDIVIDUAL, BUT GENEROUS. CirdecSongs is and will remain a one-man operation, but with the intent of sharing these individual discoveries with any- and everyone who might find them interesting. I am merely a vessel. Musical secrets will be uncovered, but they will always be shared.
- IT IS ALL-INCLUSIVE. CirdecSongs is not interested in or concerned with musical genres. Music is MUSIC, and it does not need to be labeled in order to be appreciated. Genre serves as point of reference. No more, no less.
- IT IS MULTI-DIMENSIONAL. CirdecSongs will exist on multiple media planes. Musical enthusiasm can and will be spread by way of essay, article, interview, video, audio (duh!), or any other way that makes it possible for people to be informed. Methods of distribution will be traditional and non-traditional, but always informative.
- IT IS PRESENT. CirdecSongs will not be bogged down by era or genre. It will endeavor to present to the most recent musical efforts by the most recent artists, with appropriate time and effort given to established, “classic” artists. Musical “golden ages” will be recognized and appreciated but will not be treated as the be-all, end-all of music.
- IT IS BEHOLDEN TO NO ONE. CirdecSongs will avoid favoritism and avoid putting emphasis on any one genre, artist, or record label. Musical exploration is based in what is made available for consideration.
- IT IS NOT INFALLIBLE. Tastes change. What once was not musically palatable can find its way into respectability in time. CirdecSongs will make musical mistakes. I will also do what I can to correct those mistakes when they occur. For this we ask for patience and forgiveness.
- IT READS AND REPORTS. CirdecSongs will obtain information through labels, publicists, publications, web sites, word of mouth, or any other way possible to learn about what is happening in the world of music. Information will be obtained, verified, and then passed along to those interested.
- IT MAKES THE GIG. CirdecSongs aims to become a fixture on the live music scene, specifically in the Chicago area. It will get to know the clubs and owners, the bands and their haunts in order to become one with the pulse of the scene.
- IT FOCUSES ON THE MUSIC. Music is a social activity, but the music itself is the the priority. Making friends and establishing relationships – while certainly beneficial – takes a slight back seat to the actual art.
- IT CELEBRATES THE MUSICIAN. CirdecSongs has no interest in trends or what is considered “happening,” even as patterns or scenes may be recognized and acknowledge. Music is not a beauty contest, and image (provided it does no harm) is beside the point. The musician and the music made by said musician is what matters above all else.
- IT REMAINS CREATIVE. CirdecSongs will not become set in its ways. It will endeavor to make the most out of modern technology and the ways and means that people choose to absorb music. What may not be preferred by the individual will occasionally have to be put aside for what works with most others.
I’ll be using a variety of methods and forms to get my brand out into the world. I’m not gonna list them all right now, because things happen, and plans can go sideways in a hurry. Best to tell you about things as they actually take place.
That being said, this is now a Thing. This is real. I don’t remember the last time I was this excited about a project. I’m practically giddy. And I do NOT get giddy!
Work has already begun. Keep watching this space.
Wish me luck.
RESOLUTIONS? JUST ONE
(Artwork by Dave Coverly)
I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. I haven’t been for a very long time. Nothing like the feeling that you’ve ruined your entire year when it’s less than ten days old because you skipped the gym two days in a row. Best to just do what you can without making a declaration and move on.
These past couple of years have been trying for all of us. Things have not exactly gone the way I’ve wanted since I moved, and it really came down on me last year. I’m feeling a bit better about the world these days. My optimism for the coming year is … guarded at best. But I’m determined to find a way to make 2022 work for me.
To that end, I’ve made a single resolution for the coming year. But it covers pretty much everything I hope to achieve or accomplish. I’m not sure where it came from. But one day, it was just there:
Make EVERYTHING go toward SOMETHING.
It’s pretty simple, really. There are tons of things I hope to do in the future. Making the right choices — productive choices — makes things flow.
Even if it’s something that seems unproductive — like catching a nap or playing a video game — can aid my mental health, which makes me more enthusiastic about my work. Leisure activity can lead toward something.
I suppose this is another way of saying “don’t waste time.” I’m not getting any younger, after all. And I’ve got stuff to do!
I’ve already started. Even my trip to the record store today can be considered productive, since I’ll be reviewing a couple of the records I bought. The rest will go toward a bi-weekly playlist I’ll be doing on Spotify and YouTube. More on that soon.
Make everything count toward something. This can be done. This will be done.
Back to work.
ACCEPTING THE UMBRELLA
(Photo by Petri Damsten)
In 1985, I was introduced to the music of King Crimson. My musical world changed literally overnight. I found I no longer had use for two thirds of my record collection, which consisted mostly of corporate rock and other popular records of the day. I was off in a new, more exciting direction of progressive rock, college rock, and jazz.
I spent the next decade-plus extolling the new musical avenues I had discovered, thanks to the path opened by the Great Crimson Renaissance. Moreover, I used every ounce of strength to denigrate and dismiss the popular music of the time. I believed it worthless, and had no problem telling people so. In time, I believed I could bring people around to my way of thinking.
Around 1997, I read an article in the now-defunct Musician magazine, explaining how commercial radio and the popular music industry really worked. Then and there, I realized I had been fighting a losing battle with ZERO hope of ever winning. The war was over. I conceded defeat. They do what they do, and I do what I do. We co-exist peacefully.
The same thing happened between myself and hip-hop, which I just knew was a trend and not worthy as a true musical art form. Over the years, I’ve come to see how wrong I was. Not only is hip-hop not a passing fancy, there is some positively brilliant music and artists to be found. Even in middle age, I grow increasingly enthusiastic about the form and I relish learning about new and classic artists. Lesson learned.
Sooner or later, you have to stop shouting at the rain. That’s a tough lesson to learn, especially when you have adopted the family’s notorious stubborn streak.
Well, here we go again.
For years, I have railed vehemently against music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora. Why? Economics. Specifically, artists are paid a pittance for getting their music streamed. We’re talking literal fractions of pennies here! Musicians work hard. They deserve to get paid.
Alas, the modern music industry doesn’t see things the same way. Today’s music consumers (particularly the younger ones) have distanced themselves from physical media, preferring to stream tunes on their phones. I still find that ridiculous and take a great deal of pride in my music collection. I will buy records and CDs until the day I die.
But here’s the thing:
One of my goals for 2022 is to establish CirdecSongs as a brand, as opposed to just a moniker. The audience I have now is mostly middle-aged, like me. But I would like to bring in younger people as well. I know this is possible, because I have personally influenced a few. They’ve told me as much. BUT … they don’t buy records and CDs. They go straight for the streaming services.
If I’m going to establish and expand my brand (and draw in a younger audience), I have to adapt. I have to accept the modern music industry for what it is. I have to stop shouting at the rain and make use of the available umbrella.
To that end, I’m giving very serious thought to creating a bi-monthly Spotify playlist. I’m taking a poll in my Facebook group to gauge enthusiasm. So far, the numbers appear to support the idea. Time, it seems, to open the umbrella.
This is the first step into a new world. There will be a couple of other modern developments as the year goes on. It’s time to adapt. It’s time to change.
It feels a LOT drier under here.
CIRDECSONGS EAR-CATCHERS 2021
To know me is to know that I’m not a fan of “Best of” lists because of the sheer subjectivity that comes with them. And Lord knows I haven’t heard everything that was released over the year. Add COVID and its side-effects to the mix and things are really thrown for a loop.
That being said, I did hear some quality music in 2021. Allow me a minute to share with you (in no particular order) some records that got and maintained my attention.
DAVE HOLLAND, Another Land. Bassist Dave Holland has been a jazz legend for more than five decades. His trio effort with guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire is a brilliant reminder why. Their interplay is a continuous smoldering burn that never loses control, even if the listener is always on the verge of doing so. Understatement is still a statement, and this album is a master class on how to do it.
BENT KNEE, Frosting. Once again, the Boston sextet shifts musical direction. Once again, I must make the effort to catch up. Once again, I am thrilled by what has taken place. Frosting is one of those records that pays off via repeated listens, as new details reveal themselves with every spin. This is what a classic record should do. COVID forced the band to work more as individuals, as opposed to hashing their songs out together. As a result, each member brings more of their own personality to the table. The results are quite spectacular.
HEDWIG MOLLESTAD TRIO, Ding Dong. You’re Dead. A heavy dose of earth-shaking fusion from a highly innovative band cashing in on its collective influences and what it brings to the group’s already unique sound. The music grooves, stomps, weaves, and floats from one moment to the next, never allowing the listener to get completely comfortable. Lucky us.
KICK THE CAT, Gurgle. My choice for the most fun record I heard this year. The Chicago-based fusion act combines its Zappa, Brand X, jam band, etc. influences to create a sound full of pyrotechnics and death-defying dexterity while never seeming to be full of itself. Listening to this album reminds one why music is such a great pursuit.
KHU.EEX’, WOOch. As great a final statement as one is likely to hear. Driven by the brilliant collision of funk, R&B, and Indigenous American sounds, the Seattle-based band makes the most out of the last studio efforts of keyboard legend Bernie Worrell, who passed away three months after starting this project. Bassist Preston Singletary, saxophonist Skerik, and the rest of the band solidify Bernie’s musical legacy with a passionate effort that must be celebrated again and again and again.
THE WORLD IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE AND I AM NO LONGER AFRAID TO DIE, Illusory Walls. A gloriously atmospheric Indie record with progressive rock tendencies, played to the hilt by a highly ambitious band. The aggressive guitar work (distorted or not), driving rhythms from the bass and drums, ethereal keyboards and earnest vocals make for a remarkable combination that make even the epic-length tunes seem to pass in the blink of an eye. This is music designed for candles and lava lamps. If “epic indie” isn’t a thing, it is now!
STEPHAN THELEN, Fractal Guitar 2. This album doesn’t pick up where its predecessor left off as much as it takes the information in hand and takes a slight sonic turn, with equally brilliant results. The tunes on this album have a slightly lighter feel with a solid sense of melody mixing in with the mathematical rhythms and floating soundscapes. Listeners can hear this album from a variety of directions, depending on which element they choose to grasp during each song. Highly creative and sonically brilliant.
PRINCE, Welcome 2 America. A marvelous posthumously released album that showed the continued growth of the legendary superstar, who put most of his sex-driven hitmaking aside in order to focus on the issues of the day. Prince shows not only an introspective and thoughtful side as a lyricist, but also the willingness to collaborate with fine young talent in the studio (which he did not always do). Bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and drummer Chris Coleman give the music precisely what it needs in terms of groove, making it easy for the leader to convey his many messages.
FRANK ZAPPA, Zappa ’88: The Last U.S. Show. Frank Zappa’s 1988 band was staggeringly talented. Featuring the likes of Mike Keneally, Ike Willis, Scott Thunes, and Chad Wackerman, this band was able to take Zappa’s music in just about any direction their leader desired. That they imploded shortly after they came together remains one of music’s great tragedies. This concert, recorded on Long Island, is essential to anyone to appreciate the genius of the last full rock band Zappa employed.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, Liberation Time. Even at nearly 80, the legendary guitarist continues to astound us with his musical abilities, be they in the realm of fusion or straight-ahead jazz. The album is in a constant state of smolder, with the heat being turned up in just the right ways in just the right place. Fans new and long-term will appreciate this stellar release.
AHMIR “QUESTLOVE” THOMPSON, Summer of Soul. Not an album, but a must-see movie surrounding a music festival in Harlem, New York, during the summer of 1969. These shows were every bit as important as Woodstock, which took place upstate the same month. And while we have seen Woodstock from nearly every possible angle, these shows were filmed, stored away, and never heard or seen again until now. Summer of Soul is just that, a series of concerts filled with a “Who’s Who?” list of musicians, from Sly Stone to Stevie Wonder to B.B. King, with stops in between to visit the worlds of jazz, gospel, and Latin artists as well. Music lovers must not miss this event, period.
And here are a few others well worth your time:
* ANI DIFRANCO, Revolutionary Love
* JUSTICE COW, Underglam
* JAIMIE “BREEZY” BRANCH, Fly or Die Live
* FROST*, Day and Age
* MOLESOME, Are You There?
* COWBOYS AND FRENCHMEN, Our Highway
* GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!
* HAL GALPER QUINTET, Live at the Berlin Philharmonic, 1977
* COPELAND, KING, COSMA & BELEW, Gizmodrome Live
* JAH WOBBLE, Metal Box — Rebuilt in Dub
* THUMBSCREW, Never is Enough
* STEPHAN THELEN, World Dialogue
* THE OMNIFIC, Escapades
* PERCY JONES, ALEX SKOLNICK, KENNY GROHOWSKI, TIM MOTZER, PAKT
* SONS OF KEMET, Black to the Future
This was quite the musical year, indeed. Here’s to an even more exciting 2022!
KING CRIMSON IS DONE? I CAN LIVE WITH THAT
For someone who swore he was done writing about King Crimson, they keep finding their way onto my radar. When that happens, I feel obligated to say something. But this is different, because this really might be the last time.
On December 8, King Crimson concluded their 2021 tour in Japan. Upon its end, Robert Fripp posted a cryptic, yet clear message about the band he founded in 1969:
“Shibuya Bunkamara Orchard Hall, Tokyo; Wednesday 8th. December 2021 I… Onstage at 18.40, doors held for ten minutes to allow the audience to enter. A full house.The first set: one hour and three minutes. Overall length: two hours and twenty-four minutes.King Crimson’s final note of Starless, the last note of this Completion Tour in Japan, moved from sound to silence at 21.04.”
If that wasn’t enough, music journalist Sid Smith — King Crimson’s official biographer — added these thoughts shortly afterward:
“On this day in 1972, my life was transformed after seeing King Crimson in concert. On this day in 2021, King Crimson played their final note onstage. It’s been an incredible journey. Profound thanks to all those who’ve taken part in the adventure & made it so special.”
Upon reading these words, I reached the conclusion that we have, indeed, seen the last of King Crimson. And while Robert has brought the band back from retirement more than once, this feels final. There’s no more to prove, no more to say, no more notes to play. That, as they say, is that.
My immediate thought upon receiving the news: Okay … let’s move on.
That sounds like I’m hating on the band I constantly refer to as one third of my musical Holy Trinity. But nothing can be further from the truth. I give Robert all the credit in the world for knowing it was time to step off the stage, legacy intact. When I decided to retire from the police department after a “mere” 25 years (less than half of Crimson’s lifespan), more than one person asked me why. I quoted Michael Stipe, who said when he decided to end R.E.M., “The most important thing about going to a party is knowing when to leave.” It doesn’t get much more profound than that.
There’s nothing sadder than a band or an athlete overstaying their usefulness. Aging athletes often say, “I’ve got one more good year left in me” as their skills continue to erode and they become shadows of themselves. Hell, I did it after 11 years of playing tennis, albeit on a much lower level. Bad knees, a new career, and other factors began to eat away at the time I could dedicate to the game (which wasn’t too shabby), and it was clear that I was nowhere near the player I was in my “prime.” Yet I actually uttered those words. I actually believed I had one good year left. Shortly afterward, I tore my rotator cuff while serving. My tennis career ended shortly afterward.
Bands that stay too long at the fair tell themselves they’re doing it for the fans, or because they’ve still got “it” and feel they can still bring that thing onstage. Fans may be happy to see their favorite band up there, doing what they did for many, many years before. Chances are, they’re temporarily blind to the fact that the singer can’t hit the notes he once could, the guitar and drum pyrotechnics are not what they once were, and any new music presented just doesn’t hit home the way the classics once did. Fans aren’t seeing the band they loved. It’s almost like they’re seeing a cover band containing the original group members. Frankly, it’s sad.
Robert knew it was time to walk away. At age 75, he no doubt has other things he’s eager to accomplish without dealing with the rigors of touring with a band. He took the band out the way he wanted to take it out. Good for him, I say.
I’m getting older. The RAM in my brain feels like it has been greatly reduced. I have to make room for what’s new and exciting in music. I can’t remain stuck in the past with 50-plus year old bands. There are legions of young and talented musicians making their way through the ranks.
Fogies like me need to let go of what was and embrace what is. Of course, this is much easier said than done when it comes to some of the music fans I know. Getting them to sit still to take in a new band on CD (let alone anywhere near a stage) can be like pulling teeth. In the end, I simply decide to go on without them. Perhaps they’ll catch up sooner or later.
I did enjoy having Crimson around, since I was too late (or not strategically placed) to experience Miles Davis or Frank Zappa before they left the stage. There was a time when I didn’t even think I’d see Crimson, since I didn’t learn about them until 1985, a year after they disbanded for the second time. Their return in the 90’s allowed me to make a live connection after all. I treasure each concert I attended. Each was special for a reason, including the last one, which I wasn’t planning on attending.
And now it’s over.
King Crimson will always hold a special place in my heart. They opened the door to a vast musical world I continue to explore. Without them, I might not have been able to grasp Miles or Frank. Crimson was about possibilities … always pushing forward, rarely looking back (until this last incarnation of the band, anyway).
They took advantage of the technology available — electronic drums, guitar synthesizers, beat boxes and samplers, or whatever — to push their sound into previously unexplored territories. Next to nothing was off limits. The music went where it went, damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead! I couldn’t help but admire that, and I was rarely disappointed with what came forth.
Crimson gave me my musical idol in Adrian Belew, who I’m bow fortunate enough to consider a friend. The kindness I’ve received from other band members like Pat Mastelotto and Tony Levin will never be forgotten. I’ve even managed to have a couple of quick social media encounters with Robert, to include finding a copy of my book on his reading table (which still makes my stomach flutter). I found the right band to deify, even if there’s a good chance the guys would bristle at such a thought.
What more can I say? I’ll always have the records and CDs. The box sets I swore I would never purchase have all found their way to my media shelves. Any time I feel sentimental, I can head there and relive those precious moments. As much as I hate to say it, I’ve been given a gift that keeps on giving.
In the end, all I can say is this: Thank you, Robert and everyone who was a part of one of my favorite bands of all time. Enjoy the next adventure!
THE BEST LAID PLANS
Another year has flown by, and it’s safe to assume that many of us did not have the 2021 we were hoping for. While we were to emerge somewhat from the lockdowns and self-isolation, COVID refused to completely release us from its grip, making things more challenging by way of mutating and becoming variants of the original virus.
A vaccine was made available, yet there are more than a few not interested in taking it. For people who took the time and made the effort (myself included), this has proven beyond frustrating. Even as I write, the Omicron variant is attempting to obtain a worldwide foothold, affecting far more of us than we would like.
Personally, my first full year in Chicago has fallen short of expectations on many levels. Not just because of the pandemic, but because of an aching back that has seen me visit general practitioners, physical therapists, pain specialists, and neurologists. To say nothing of the other serious health issues that cropped up (or, more likely, had been there and ignored while I put the finishing touches on my career and the transition to the next life) and had to be addressed BEFORE any work could be done on my back. I won’t go into detail beyond saying I am now 40 pounds lighter, hopefully and counting, and things are back to where they should be.
This year was supposed to be the start of my second “career,” which I put in quotation marks because I do not expect to make a great deal of money from my efforts. My ambitions were vast and multimedia oriented, with the belief that I would firmly establish myself as part of Chicago’s music community, to say nothing of developing a solid presence and (hopefully) following, courtesy of the World Wide Web. At my most optimistic, I will say that I stumbled mightily out of the gate.
My back pain could be so debilitating, walking became an adventure. My running joke was that I was awarded a finite number of steps a day before my back declared that I would be spending the remainder of that day on my couch, focused on little more than trying not to be in pain.
Some days, I could putter around my home cleaning and cooking, eventually making my way into my office to get a little music work done. By the end of the day, I was fried. Other days, I would get no further than the bathroom and back in the morning, and my back would essentially announce that I was done for the day where mobility was concerned. When stepping up on a curb becomes an adventure, you know you have a pretty serious problem.
No doubt this injury had a serious affect on my life outlook, which brought things to a grinding halt more often than not. Things have gotten better since, but I am WAY behind where I want to be and what I want to be doing. The many plans and goals I had have seen themselves pushed back time and again because, once again, all I wanted to do was not hurt.
I still have a ton of records to listen to and review. But pain can take the enjoyment out of listening to music, which is more than a little irritating. I’ll be spending more than a little time making a concentrated effort to catch up before the year ends. It won’t be easy, but the effort will be made.
The year wasn’t a complete loss. I made my way to a few concerts, though obviously not nearly as many as I would have hoped for. People were often required to show proof of vaccination before entering venues, a requirement I had ZERO problems with. I showed my card with enthusiasm, but I couldn’t help but put a side-eye on a few people. Though for what it’s worth, I’ve never heard any grumbling at the shows I attended.
I was also able to get out every now and then on Bane, my bicycle. I live incredibly close to Lake Michigan, and the Lakefront Trails. My rides there have always been enjoyable. By simply crossing a bridge, I am able to put the city and the dangers that come with riding there aside, and the only traffic I had to deal with came from runners/walkers and other bicyclists. The views I could take in were nothing short of breathtaking in their own way.
The only downside was the ache in my back that often came the next day. It was almost like a hangover, with my alcohol in question being the bike ride rather than something I drank. But to be honest, the misery was often worth it, even though my plans to make it to the gym around the corner have been put on hold for now.
I’m doing what I can to push past the disappointment that came with 2021, and try to push my ambitions toward 2022. But this time, I know to temper those ambitions based upon how I’m feeling from day to day. But taking the time to write something — anything — every day will be a good start. As a matter of fact, I’ve already started it. Hopefully, the other things will flow behind it with minimal fuss.
We’re headed into our third year of COVID. Concert venues (those that remain anyway) are doing what they can to stay open. I will do what I can to make it to the shows. There are a couple of big ones coming down the pipe. Let’s hope they’re able to stay on the calendar.
With a little luck, my back issues will be resolved. And after recovering from whatever needs to be done, I can get back on Bane and make my way to the Lakefront with regularity, along with dropping by the gym a couple of times a week to tighten things up. If I’m really lucky, I might even find my way to the golf course, where I can make use of the brand new driver my sister got me as a retirement gift, yet I have never swung.
Plans are great, but these times are not really built for extensive, long-term planning. Nothing is really set in stone as long as we remain in the midst of a pandemic. The best plan I can make for the coming year is to take things one day at a time. Small accomplishments add up, and things will get done as the days go by. It’s the best I can do.
ZAPPADAN: CELEBRATING GENIUS
Normally, I don’t mark the date my favorite artists passed away. But some, it seems, leave a deeper mark than others. As such, you can’t help but mark the loss.
Frank Zappa flew from this world (as Robert Fripp would say) 28 years ago today. He was 52, and just a couple of weeks shy of his birthday. The passage of time is staggering. First of all, how has this man been gone for nearly three decades? Secondly, I turned 55 last month. I hadn’t thought about it until just now: I have outlived Frank Zappa. That doesn’t make any sense!
I wrote a good-sized chapter about Frank and his music in my book. He represents a third of my musical Holy Trinity (along with Miles Davis and King Crimson). I wish I could’ve told him that. I was fortunate enough to be able to tell his son Dweezil when he visited my fair city for a concert. His quiet reaction of humility and pride was more than enough for me.
Few things are more intense than when I go into what I call “Zappa Brain.” It happens five or six times a year. For a few days, the vast majority of notes I can hear and absorb were written by Frank and played by the small slew of immensely talented musicians he saw fit to bring those notes to life. To absorb these notes takes a level of mental dexterity only a select few seem to possess. (I’m well aware of how snobbish that sounds, and I stand by that statement.) I have no problem declaring Frank one of the greatest and most important composers of the 20th century.
Like-minded souls have created a celebration of sorts around this day. They call it Zappadan. I’m not sure how long it’s been going on, but this is the first year I’ve felt deeply compelled to celebrate with everyone else. Perhaps because I find myself surrounded by new friends with the same mindset, now that my very unrelated career is behind me. In fact, those new friends and I are planning a gathering and celebration as we speak.
In the meantime, I’ve started pulling CDs off the shelf and letting the music wash over me.
Where does one even begin? Early works? Live releases? Favorite bands? I don’t know. The well runs so deep. And it’s hard to make a bad choice. The good news is, regardless of what gets played, I will learn something new. Why? Because it happens every time! I’m sure I’m not alone.
I came to Frank’s music late in his career, during the summer of 1986. So I never had the privilege of seeing him perform live. I did get to experience Dweezil’s band a couple of times, along with some Zappa band alums (Don and Bunk, along with Mike Keneally and Ike Willis) at Progtoberfest in Chicago in 2017. It was truly a joy to catch the Zappa Band when they warmed up for King Crimson outside of Chicago earlier this year. The passion coming off the stage from that band defies description. I’m just glad I was there.
One can’t help but tip his cap to anyone brave and talented enough to take on Frank’s music. I’d like to try it, but my attention span just doesn’t have the endurance. That made watching a group of young musicians led by Chicago-based guitarist Chris Siebold tear through Frank’s Hot Rats album live a few weeks ago truly special.
Like many others, I wonder what Frank would have done with today’s technology to bring his music forth. But then again, I always say that musicians bring forth the exact amount of music they were meant to. Still, I think Frank might be the exception to that rule.
So, let the celebration begin! This music should never fade into the either. But I think we all know that is a virtual impossibility. There will always be someone around to protect the legacy. Of that I am certain.
Thank you, Frank.
A CIRDECSONGS PERFECT ALBUM: SIAMESE DREAM
Sometimes I really surprise myself.
When considering “perfect” albums, many jump out right away. Siamese Dream, the 1993 release from The Smashing Pumpkins, was not one of those albums.
Like so many others, I saw Billy Corgan and company as a bit of a one-trick pony. Corgan’s voice is something I have to absorb in relatively small doses. There are no Smashing Pumpkins marathons in my home. For me, a little of this band goes a long way. But brilliance is brilliance, and taken on its own merit and in context, Siamese Dream is brilliant! It will no doubt be continuously lumped in with the rest of the “grunge” movement of the early 90’s. Yet I’m not sure how accurate that is. I’m quicker to feel this record as an extension of the 70’s heavy metal scene. But even that only paints a small portion of the overall picture.
We should have seen Siamese Dream coming. All the evidence was presented in Gish, the Pumpkin’s ‘91 release. All the elements were there: wicked guitar tones from Corgan and James Iha; the steady bass grooves provided by D’Arcy Wretzky; and the at-times otherworldly drumming of Jimmy Chamberlin. Each element was a key ingredient in a spicy, but tasty, sonic soup. If someone wanted to make an argument in favor of Gish’s perfection, I would be slow to argue against it.
Still, Siamese Dream feels like Gish taken to the next level. The band’s playing is sharper, there are more dynamics to be found, some of the songs have a nearly progressive rock-like attitude like Black Sabbath collaborating with Rush. The sound is, in a word, fearless.
One key element to both albums cannot be ignored, and it comes from the Producer’s chair. Butch Vig (who also produced Nirvana’s Nevermind) knew exactly what he was doing with the Pumpkins. He gave them a the ideal sonic palate to paint from, and the band used every color marvelously. Vig helps the band bring more “thunder” from the bass frequencies, which only makes the guitars and drums sound better (particularly on the 2011 remaster).
That being said, this is not a “feel good” album. Siamese Dream exists to help you work through some stuff! There is nothing bright and cheery about Corgan’s vocal tone, which is derided by more than a few. But Corgan is a Rush fan, so he’s heard these kind of complaints before. So, full speed ahead!
First impressions are everything, and few make a better one than “Cherub Rock.” Chamberlin’s drum rolls open the show, followed quickly by a clean treble-pickup riff inspired by Rush. Now that the groove has been established, it’s time to dig in. Here comes the heavily overdriven guitar and monster bass line. And we’re off and running!
The second song, “Quiet,” is anything but. Rather, it is a confirmation of the opener’s sonic onslaught. But the album is marvelously paced, and the near-suicide inspired “Today” gives the body time to breathe, even as the mind continues to be hammered on.
Speaking of which, both “Hammer” and “Rocket” allow the Pumpkins to settle into a nice groove, and pretty much establish the rest of the album’s tempo. And while “Disarm” might be a glorious sonic shift, the tempo remains.
The use of dynamics really comes into play on “Soma,” a song that begins with a sense of tenderness that almost belies the rest of the album’s tone. But not to worry … it doesn’t last. Corgan and Iha cut loose in the song’s midsection with heavy guitar ruffing and feedback before falling back to the opening’s mood.
“Geek U.S.A.” feels like the band stretching out toward that prog realm, with the guitar chemistry on full display propelled forward by a thunderous rhythm section. The tightness of this sound cannot be overstated.
Things reach their crescendo with “Silverfuck,” the band’s attempt at an “epic,” according to Corgan. I say mission accomplished, albeit in dark and twisted fashion.
“Sweet Tooth” and “Luna” provide the ideal wind-down, enabling us to process what we have been hearing for the past hour. As the last notes fade into the either, we breathe a sigh of relief. We have survived the onslaught. And we are better people for it.
Of course, brilliance has backlash. And now that the Pumpkins were international superstars, the trappings of said fame came into play. Drugs, personality conflicts, and the relative bloat of the band’s follow-up, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness — which is still a solid album — signaled the beginning of the end. The Smashing Pumpkins have never really gone away, but they’ve never been quite the same.
But that’s rock and roll in a nutshell, isn’t it? So rather than focus on what could have been, I offer what is. And from where I’m sitting, Siamese Dream is the definitive statement of a groundbreaking band.
It is perfect.
WHEELS, RAILS, AND HIKES: MY LAST(?) KING CRIMSON CONCERT ADVENTURE
When King Crimson came to Chicago (okay, Highland Park, IL) on August 29, I wasn’t planning to be there. I’ve seen the band more than a few times, and the focus of this group — primarily the material from 1969 to ’74 — wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea. Let someone who relishes that period (and who was no doubt disappointed by that music’s absence from previous tours) take my seat and enjoy themselves.
The music gods, it would seem, have a sense of humor. The words I put on social media explaining why I wouldn’t be going were still floating in the air when a message hit my inbox. “Hey,” it said, “Do you need tickets to the show? I can get you a pair.” My mysterious benefactor (who shall remain nameless) came out of absolutely nowhere. I had spoken to no one about getting tickets, and it’s not in my nature to actively seek freebies. I know how hard these bands work, and how little they receive for their efforts.
I asked my benefactor not to go out of the way to make such a thing happen, but it was very nice to be asked. “You need to see this band once more before it’s done,” I was told. “Give me a bit. I’ll see what I can do.” Less than two hours later, it was done. I had tickets to see King Crimson, with the Zappa Band serving as the opening act. And the show was just a couple of days away.
So, now I was going to the show. I suppose that says a lot about how easily I can be bribed into doing something I didn’t plan on doing. I reached out to a friend and offered him my “plus one” seat. He agreed and the wheels were set in motion.
The show was at the Ravinia Pavilion, a venue I’ve never visited. It was some 26 miles north of me, and I don’t trust my driving chops in Chicago the way I did in St. Louis. I’ve gotten pretty much everywhere by bicycle, mass transit, or Uber. I didn’t see a 26-mile bike ride in my future, and Uber was WAAAAYYY too expensive. So, mass transit it is! No big deal … I actually don’t mind the CTA and the Metra rail here.
I’m not one to believe in omens, but I found myself constantly watching the weather up to the day of the gig. It was supposed to rain on the 29th, and I wasn’t 100 percent sure whether my seats would be under the Ravinia pavilion (which is covered) or on the lawn where I would see the band on a video screen (and is most definitely uncovered). It clouded up badly the morning of the show and rained just a bit throughout the day. I had no idea what would happen.
The show started at 7:30. I planned to be there an hour before, as is my habit. The Google map route I was given (which included my transit connections) would have me at the venue in 90 minutes, which meant catching the bus by 5. Just to be certain, I walked out of my building at 4:40, armed with the knowledge that a bus would arrive ten minutes later.
Thus began the adventure.
The sky began to darken as I stepped outside. I wasn’t out of my building’s shadow when a heavy rain began to fall. My umbrella went missing during my move, so I had only a baseball cap to keep my head dry. (To my credit — I think — I packed an extra shirt in my backpack in case the one I was wearing was soaked through.) My bus stop is covered and less than 20 yards away, so I figured I merely needed to make it there to dry off. Naturally, the wind picked up and was blowing east … DIRECTLY into my covered bus stop!
I stood there soaking in the rain, giving serious thought to calling it a day before things really went downhill. But something wouldn’t let me quit that easily. Maybe it was knowing someone else was expecting me. So, I stood there.
The music gods took pity, and the rain stopped shortly after it started. But I wasn’t getting off that easy. The bus I had been waiting for approached me … then promptly drove on PAST me with an “out of service” notice flashing where the bus’s destination should have been. I would have to wait for the next one, which was due in 15 minutes. Once again I considered bailing. Once again I held fast, and I waited.
And waited. And waited. And waited some more.
Fifteen minutes became 20, 25, then 30. I should’ve been at the Metra station by now. Here I was, still looking at my building.
Finally, the bus showed. I hopped on and we made our way down Lakeshore Drive. Some five minutes later, the bus stopped. Not at a drop-off/pickup point, mind you. We just stopped. I looked out in front of me.
Traffic. We were stuck in traffic.
Traffic is nothing new in Chicago. This I knew. But this was something different. Of COURSE it was! I needed to be somewhere relatively soon, so why shouldn’t THIS be the day everything gets stacked up and nobody goes anywhere? What could I do but wait.
And wait. And wait.
By the time we finally got moving, I had missed my connecting bus that would take me to the train station. I had to wait for another bus, which was ALSO running late. Of course! Why NOT?
I finally made it to the transportation center (which I had to look around for, as I had never been there), found the train I needed, and plopped down in a seat — only slightly damp — by 6:10. The train ride was scheduled for 50 minutes, so I would be there by 7. Irritating, but tolerable. So I tried to relax. There was only one problem:
We weren’t moving. We just sat there.
And sat. And sat some more.
At 6:35, the train FINALLY started to move. I was planning on being at the venue by 6:30. I was just leaving downtown! To know me is to know how much I DETEST being late. I’m sure a few people could see the steam coming out of my ears.
I let my friend now I was running behind. What I thought would be a 7:00 arrival now looked closer to 7:20, at best. But this is where we were and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Having thoroughly tested me, the music gods decided to cut me a little slack.
My friend took the initiative and got hold of our tickets. We not only had pavilion seats, but pretty good ones about 14 rows back, center-left. I breathed my first sigh of relief. The train stop was right outside the venue, as opposed to the 1/3 of a mile walk I was planning for, but not looking forward to because of my back issue. A second sigh of relief.
The security checkpoints were painless and we moved through efficiently. My friend was waiting for me right where he said he would be. More sighs. It’s my ritual to get to the gig early enough to take in the venue, check out the merch table, and have a beer before making my way to my seat to await the opening act. None of that happened this time. Instead, I was plopping my (slightly) damp bottom into my seat just as the Zappa Band played the opening notes of “Zombie Woof.” Talk about timing!
How was the show?
Oh, yeah! That …
First of all, I can’t say enough about the skills of the Zappa Band. They were INCREDIBLE! These alums took their task seriously while appearing to have an absolute ball doing so. Ray White sang with power and earnestness, depending on what was needed, bringing the classic Frank Zappa songs to life. Bassist Scott Thunes was locked in from Note One, bringing highly dexterous thunder as he did so. Joe Travers’s drum grooves never wavered, and his fills were spot-on and highly skillful. Robert Martin and Jamie Kime shined from their keyboard/sax and guitar positions, respectively. And not enough could be said about Mike Keneally, who juggled complex guitar, keyboard, kazoo, and vocal duties as comfortably as taking an evening stroll through the park. Simply put, there were no weak links to be found.
As someone who never got to see Frank Zappa perform live, this was a glorious experience on par with seeing Dweezil Zappa’s band play his father’s material a couple of years back. Personal highlights included “Peaches en Regalia,” “City of Tiny Lights,” “Alien Orifice,” and “Andy.” Honestly, an authorized recording of this band from the Zappa Family Trust wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen in music.
As for King Crimson, my intense study of this band’s output between 2014 and now saw to it that there were few surprises, save for the relatively short length of the set. It clocked it at around 90 minutes, where “Evening With” performances ran nearly three hours. That being said, there was never any doubting the skillset of this band, starting up front with the three drummer configuration.
While all three shared drum duties, Gavin Harrison came across as the primary drummer, with Pat Mastelotto serving as percussionist and Jeremy Stacy doubling as drummer and keyboardist, depending on the tune. Watching the three weave their way through “Hell Hounds of Krim,” which opened the show, and “Indiscipline,” was fun for both the drummers and the audience.
Mel Collins handled his woodwinds with his trademark dexterity and skill, while Tony Levin reminded us why he is considered a living legend on bass and Chapman Stick. Jakko Jakszyk was in fine vocal form, making the songs in the classic Crimson repertoire his own while also playing a solid guitar.
Ringleader Robert Fripp finally appears to be enjoying the spotlight (even if he does position himself to far stage right), landing one classic riff after another with a sense of joy and poetry. Must be the Mohawk. It’s clear this is the band he wants to go out with, whenever that day might be.
For those who have clamored for the ’69-’74 Crimson classics, this was the gig for you. While not my favorite era of Crimson, there’s no denying the skill and gusto that went into performing these tunes, from “Pictures of a City” to the closing “21st Century Schizoid Man.” These are spectacular musicians playing brilliantly skilled versions of classic songs Fripp left in the musical attic for decades.
My gripes with the arrangements have been consistent through the years. I wish Mel wouldn’t play the flute during “Red,” as it sucks the “heavy” right out of the middle section. The middle section of “Level Five,” once hammered home by the guitars of Fripp and Adrian Belew (with Mastelotto playing brilliant electronic and acoustic percussion and Trey Gunn providing heavy low-end Warr Guitar) has been replaced by the drum trio handling the downbeats and Fripp and Levin firing off the complex riffs.
This is all well and good, but it doesn’t feel quite as “nu-metal” as it did in 2003. The song also misses Belew’s banshee guitar wails, now provided by Collins’s saxophone. Essentially, it’s the difference between metal and chamber orchestra. It works, but I like the other style better.
Most of all, Jakszyk’s singing of Belew’s spoken-word vocal on “Indsicipline” just doesn’t work for me. I’m sorry … it just doesn’t. Belew’s guitar pyrotechnics are missed here, as well. But the opening drum duel was a lot of fun.
Lest anyone think I’m coming down on the performance, it was remarkably good overall. My benefactor told me I needed to see this group one more time before they called it a day. Rumors are starting to circulate that Crimson is playing its last North American tour. Personally, I’ve developed the habit of never saying “never” when it comes to what Fripp wants to do with his band.
Still, it was nice to see this band in person, even if the older material doesn’t reach me the way it does so many others. I’m glad I went.
A special shout-out goes to the security personnel, who were quick to pounce on anyone they saw attempting to record or photograph the gig, which has been established as a STRICT no-no. Why people insist on believing they’re special and above the law is beyond me. But security was on it, and that made me happy.
The long walk I had successfully avoided finally came after the show when my friend and I hiked half a mile or so to his car. With a healthy back, such a walk is no big deal. Alas, my back is FAR from healthy. But I made it, and got dropped off right in front of my building. Thanks, Rob!
What started out unplanned and frustrating ended as pleasant and enjoyable. While I’d just as soon not go through that kind of grief for a concert again, it ultimately proved to be worth it. If this is my last live King Crimson experience, well … I can live with that.
GATEWAYS DON’T LEAD EVERYWHERE
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’ve never been comfortable with people thinking of me as “The Prog Guy.”
It’s not that I don’t enjoy progressive rock. I do. I’ve said that before, too. But when I listen to friends and others talk about bands within the genre, I realize that I often barely know the first thing about the groups they’re discussing.
Some friends had a group chat going about a new release from Magma. As the chat continued, a thought occurred to me: I have NEVER consciously heard a single note Magma has ever played. Not ONE.
This is not an isolated occurrence.
They talk about Gong, or Hawkwind, or Van der Graaf Generator. I stare at them blankly. I know NOTHING about these groups outside of being familiar with their names. that’s pretty mucnh it.
I have a couple of Gentle Giant albums, along with a couple from Camel and one from Marillion. But I can’t tell you anything specific about them. They’re just in there on my media shelves, taking up space. Not that I mind … they’re good records, but they just don’t resonate with me the way they resonate with their fans.
But I’m into progressive rock. At least, I like to think so.
So, how could this have happened? How can I be personified with a music genre I don’t feel I know nearly enough about? I finally decided to give this a little thought. Almost instantly, I reached two conclusions.
First, most of the music my friends are going gaga over comes from bands who dominated prog’s Golden Era of 1969-74. Which makes me between three and eight years old when these bands were at the peak of their prowess. And let’s face it: prog was NOT a default musical position in my childhood home. Motown, Stax, and Philly International ruled the day at Casa Hendrix.
Secondly, it’s King Crimson’s fault.
Specifically, it’s the 80’s era of Crimson. They were my first exposure to the band, and remain my all-time favorite. I’ve made no bones about that.
Crimson was not literally my first foray into prog. I already dug bands like Moving Pictures-era Rush and Genesis from Seconds Out to Abacab. But I never thought of these bands as prog, because I didn’t really know what that was. I was hearing them on St. Louis’s “classic rock” station. Rush and Genesis were just a couple more rock bands to me.
But in the summer of ’85, that all changed. The full story is told in my book, but that’s when King Crimson entered my world. That’s when I was informed that I was a progressive rock fan. Okay … fine by me.
I was obsessed with this band, and heartbroken to learn that not only had they broken up the year before I learned about them, but they only recorded three albums. I needed more from these guys. And that’s where my prog rock “family tree” took root.
Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, Tony Levin, and Bill Bruford had madee music with other bands and as solo artists. It became my job to hunt those records down.
The oldest connection came from Bill Bruford, who was in Yes. I gobbled up and loved The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge. He also had a fusion band called Bruford (what else?), which introduced me to Allan Holdsworth, Jeff Berlin, and Dave Stewart. So I needed to have the records they made. (Yeah, I thought it was the Eurythmics guy for the longest. I was wrong on that one. So it took a little longer to get to National Health. But I got there.) Both Tony Levin and Robert Fripp played with Peter Gabriel (who also fronted Genesis in the early days). Those albums were quickly added to the collection.
Both Fripp and Adrian Belew played with David Bowie, whom I was already musically enamored with. Those were no-brainers. I would also learn that Adrian played with Frank Zappa. But that was for the following summer. And so on, and so on( and so on.
I was hip-deep in progressive rock. Or so it seemed. So why not visit the ’69-’74 material then? Well, I had other musical fish to fry.
The only place I had a chance to hear the music I had just learned about was on college radio stations. Even there, they weren’t played that often. Instead, I learned about bands like U2, The B-52’s, R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, Hüsker Dü, and The Smiths. This is also when my dad and I came together on jazz. So there was Miles, Bird, Dizzy, Monk, the Marsalis brothers, and on and on and on. I was positively flooded with music. Who had time for Hawkwind or Tangerine Dream? They never came near my radar. It wasn’t a slight or something malicious. I just didn’t know about them.
The 90’s brought in Grunge and the “Alternative” movement. Then there was electronica, “drum ‘n’ bass”, progressive metal, hip-hop, and everything that has followed since. It never occurred to me to spend time plundering what happened during prog’s Golden Age. My plate was full!
As I type these words, there is a pile of CDs on my ottoman, consisting of mostly newer jazz, waiting for my ears to review them. A friend turned me on to Juana Molina today. I instantly fell in love with the first song I heard, and now I’m headed down that rabbit hole. I was introduced to no less than 60 bands during my two trips to Progtoberfest in Chicago. A couple of the acts, like Soft Machine, had established themselves during the Golden Age. But I was more interested in the modern bands like Schooltree, District 97, Sons of Ra, and Progger. My unwritten policy has been to look forward for new music. What’s back there stays there, for the most part.
That’s not to say I won’t spend time with VDGG or Hatfield and the North sometime down the road. But now isn’t the time. I’ve got too much going on as is.
So you’ll have to excuse me if you mention a classic prog band and I only respond with a blank look. It’s not willful ignorance. I just haven’t gotten to them yet. And you can blame King Crimson for that. They planted the seed that grew the tree that is my current music fandom. But that gateway doesn’t lead everywhere.
This might cost me a little prog cred from the hardcore fans. But I have no regrets. I consider myself better off for it.
CIRDECSONGS REACTS TO “REACTS TO” VIDEOS
On more than one occasion, I’ve been asked if I would consider doing “Reaction” videos to unfamiliar tunes, then post them to YouTube. It’s not something I’ve really given much thought to. And given the absolute glut of such clips on the site, I don’t know if I would really be adding anything of use.
For the uninitiated, “reaction” videos consist of various music fans taking on a band or tune they’ve never heard and offering up their immediate impressions of said band or tune. Some reactions are more dramatic than others, and the takeaway is usually the band gaining a new fan or two because of the tune.
It’s a pleasant enough concept, I guess. Not long ago, I found myself stumbling into this particular rabbit hole. Before too long, I began to see a few similarities. Some were more positive than others. And most told me why I’m not really the right person to do these things. I offer a few notes:
(By the way, I have come nowhere near seeing every one of these videos. The conclusions I reach can be construed as sweeping generalizations worthy of deeper study. Unfortunately, I don’t have that much time on my hands.)
- Most of the people doing these videos are playing the role of the “fish out of water.” For example, a hip-hop fan is introduced to progressive rock or metal; or a classical composer is introduced to an intricate rock piece; or a country fan learns about jazz. You get the idea. The point is, the listener is pulled outside of his comfort zone and sent somewhere he normally wouldn’t go. That won’t work for me because I’m pretty open when it comes to receiving music, which means I rarely feel out of place. (I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m just saying I’m fairly adaptable.)
- Most of the participants are millennials playing music from the early 80’s to the 90’s. Their exposure to music seems (or pretends) to be, for the most part, one-dimensional. That won’t work for me, either. I’m very much Generation X and have gone out of my way to find new and interesting musical forms. To say nothing of the fact that I grew up listening to the music they’re reacting to.
- The videos are a living testament to why we MUST have music education classes in our schools. Some of these kids seem to have NO idea where music comes from, or how it’s made. They can’t conceive of an instrument outside the human voice. They think beats come from producers, as opposed to DRUMMERS. They have no idea how drum kits work! (“Why does he have all those drums? How does he know which one to hit?”) They are completely unaware of the sounds a guitar can make, aside from the obvious. They mistake guitars for basses (since they both have strings) and synthesizers for pianos (since they both have black and white keys). Needless to say, I can tell the difference. That all started with having music classes in my school.
- Most of the music being analyzed comes from progressive rock/metal bands like Pink Floyd, Rush, or Tool. I have more than a little music from those bands seared into my brain from decades of listening. Surprising me would be quite difficult. I suppose I could choose some more obscure music, but the goal is to react to songs many people know.
- “Reaction” videos seem to involve the listener stopping the song being explored frequently in order to offer up an immediate impression. This goes COMPLETELY against my internal programming. I need to hear the ENTIRE song in context before I can offer up an educated impression. Stopping a tune mid-riff or phrase is positively MADDENING! My OCD musical brain will NOT allow it! Besides, they might get the answers to their questions if they’d just let the song reach its conclusion!
So, there’s that.
My former career necessitated the ability to tell when someone was lying to me. Which is why I think I can get away with saying more than a few of these videos seem a little contrived, and the reactions seem a bit less than genuine. It’s like the reviewer spent a little time looking for the perfect, catch-worthy phrase and it took a couple of tries to capture it. I can’t prove that, but it’s the vibe I got.
Still, I have found a couple of rather enjoyable moments, like when these two were introduced to the music of Rush:
Or when this young lady experienced David Gilmour’s guitar work in Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”:
Or this guy digging the drum work of Tool’s Danny Carey:
Are they all 100 percent genuine? I’d be lying if I said I knew for sure. But I kinda doubt it. (Though I was kind of touched by the Pink Floyd reaction.) Regardless, I don’t think I’m the right kind of person for this kind of thing.
Don’t get me wrong: I react to music all the time. I’d just be doing it “wrong,” based on all these other clips. So … never mind. I think I’ll pass.
In the end, my best reaction appears to be not to react at all.