The Music Blog: Gahan

Pete Rose was once as beloved a baseball player as there ever was. There were angry people when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record because he had more games in which to do it. People were thrilled at McGwire and Sosa as they chased Maris. By the time Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s record and the even more sacred record of Henry Aaron’s all-time home run number everyone knew it was a sham. The people who had once cheered McGwire and Sosa and Bonds, who had cheered Pete Rose knew it for the sham it was. Pete Rose bet on baseball including games he played in, games he managed. Steroids blew everything else up. Heroes, all flawed and human.

Do you remember when Emmitt Smith broke Walter Payton’s record? People were angry at Emmit because they didn’t see him as the humble Walter Payton, they didn’t see him as the good guy and they didn’t see him as the talent that Walter Payton was, unless you lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth area where Emmitt is still our favorite son. Heroes.

Heroes we all have them and because we all have them to a certain extent we must all need them.

We treat our musical heroes a little differently. We have music heroes from a really early age. We see them on television or in magazines. Their songs are played on the radio. Yet we have this strange tenuous relationship with them. We grow up believing in the notion of drugs, sex and rock and roll. We play air guitar in front of our mirrors with the stereo turned up. We can imagine without too much difficulty that we are Steven Tyler, Keith Richards, Terry Kath even Elton John in a flamboyant outfit playing piano and singing to 50,000 fans. In many ways too it’s a rebellion that our parents actually expected. All kids loved rock and roll and we plastered our room with posters of rock stars, we had black lights and lava lamps. What? I grew up in the 70’s what did you expect? We idolize and worship and then act surprised when they turn out to be flawed and boy do we ever turn on them. I am tired of seeing Keith Richards memes about outliving us all because I know he won’t. One day we will receive that breaking news that he is gone. Paul McCartney too. I saw a post on facebook earlier in the week that said Eddie Money and now Ric Ocasek. I wonder who is next. I don’t wonder because I don’t want to lose any of them. When we see a rock star and all their flaws open to all it’s not like me or you failing at something. The world knows and they tell the story a hundred times a day. People have a macabre fascination with when they might die. People took bets on Amy Winehouse. She couldn’t go anywhere. Cameras in her face waiting on her to be drunk on stage to be frail and people made a joke of her, that beautiful talented woman who really only wanted to be a quirky jazz singer and not a rock star at all. When she died she became a bigger joke even to this day. Me, I cried when I saw her walking down the street hounded by press, she was so frail so fragile so broken and when she died I knew that we would not hear another voice like hers. We did the same thing with Kurt especially towards the end when rumors swirled about whether he was suicidal and how much of an addict he was and then people acted surprised when he died. Just a few days before many of the same people were taking bets on whether he would die of an overdose or suicide. We watched it all. When Chris Cornell died it was all was it drugs or suicide or both. Prince too. We have such a fascination with dying rock stars we have an entire club dedicated to those who died at 27 and when a young rock star dies people want to know how old he was to see if he fits into the club and they can say I knew it all along.

Here I go again right. I mean this is what I do and somewhere in here there is a hook. It’s a music blog man let’s get to the music you yahoo. Okay okay.

Somewhere between 1993 and 1995 the entertainment industry began focusing on another flawed rock star who seemed headed for a disastrous end. It seems a lot earlier than that but that is when this rock star began grabbing the wrong kinds of headlines. He had missed several shows which angered fans, record labels, and promoters alike. I can remember disc jockeys on the radio saying should be a good show if he shows up. I remember when he had his very serious heroin overdose and how the press waited on him like vultures, waiting for him to die. I am sure that many of them had already written their stories about his tragic end. I remember my heart falling somewhere down into my stomach where it sat there. He looked little like I knew him to be, vital and charismatic. Instead he gave a quote about how terrible it was that they wanted a piece of him because he was so sick and couldn’t they see that he was sick and needed help. And they still shouted their questions. Like Amy Winehouse years later they called him pathetic. I was so sad so heartbroken and so scared. This wasn’t any rock star, this was my rock star, the singer of my favorite band one of the most charismatic live performers I had ever seen. This was Dave Gahan.

Dave Gahan

Martin Gore

Andy Fletcher

And for awhile Alan Wilder

You might not readily recognize any of those guys which is kind of cool because collectively they are Depeche Mode my favorite all time band. I have flirted with other bands and there are bands that have very special places in my heart, The Rolling Stones, Mother Love Bone and even the Sex Pistols and of course the Beatles. As far as every day listening bands, the bands you keep coming back to the bands that you just have to turn up their songs Depeche Mode is that band for me. Now I understand you might not like them or maybe you like them but could never love them the way you loved a favorite band. That’s okay really. I am not writing about your favorite band I am writing about mine. They get lumped a bit into just being an electronic band. I have even heard them described as not being very musical at all because all of their stuff is electronic. That’s not exactly true; not true that they are just an electronic band and not true that they have no musicianship. Martin Gore was in a band before where he played guitar and if you are not a fan you have probably not really listened to what a wonderful keyboardist Andy Fletcher is. They have been around since 1980 and you don’t last that long without growing and they have grown individually, collectively and certainly musically. Like any band they are better musicians than when they started, better songwriters and better performers.

By 1988 they had created this strange phenomenon. Depeche Mode had released a few albums which had sold modestly. They had some minor hits and one bigger hit in People are People. The crowds they drew at their live shows were disproportionate to their album sales. They sold out shows without having a huge selling album. Now this might seem a little odd to you. They are an electronic band so they are not exactly hopping all across the stage with huge pyrotechnics. You might think that if you never saw them live. There is something about Dave Gahan. In June of 1988 they played in front of 60,000 fans at the Rose Bowl. Gahan said that he reached a point in that show where he realized he could have told the crowd to do anything, take off their clothes, hop on one foot anything and they would have done it. When he left the stage that night he went backstage and saw his wife and new baby and knew that they would not be enough. His path to self-destruction began that night with that realization.

I saw Depeche Mode sometime around then, a friend took me to a show. Up until that moment I knew a few songs but mostly I was listening to R&B but music that you can sort of dance to has always been cool to me even though I don’t publicly dance and the public should actually thank me for that, monetarily if possible. Depeche Mode still wasn’t that band that they would become. They had some hit songs: Just Can’t Get Enough, Everything Counts, Master and Servant and the big one People are People. Their music was slowly evolving, getting deeper and using more instrumentation. In 1990 they released Violator and I was instantly in love with Depeche Mode and they officially became my favorite band, Policy of Truth is a much more beloved song to me than Personal Jesus which was actually the bigger song. That album is different than anything they had done before. I started working backwards at that point buying Black Celebration and Music for the Masses after Violator. I would see Depeche Mode one more time, at the height of Gahan’s journey into the madness of drug addiction when the disc jockeys could not resist saying that the Depeche Mode show should be good if Gahan bothered to show up. There was a lot of anger directed towards Gahan. I have always thought it strange. He wasn’t the only drug addict performing but there seemed to be a lot more abuse hung on him and of course it’s possible that I am just sensitive to anything that is said negatively about Depeche Mode and Dave Gahan especially. It was the Songs of Faith and Devotion tour, now my favorite album. Martin Gore has developed into a really good song writer and on that album he seemed to know exactly how Gahan was feeling and what he wanted to sing. Walking in My Shoes and Condemnation especially strike that chord perfectly. It’s a wonderful album and knowing now what Gahan was going through the personal demons as well as Martin Gore’s growing alcoholism and Andy Fletcher’s anxiety that would cause him to miss portions of tours the album has more meaning for me.

In 1996 Gahan was court ordered into drug rehabilitation and since that time you have not heard much of a peep from him stepping out of line. He is healthy. He is wiser, but the band made a conscious decision that Gore, Fletcher and especially Gahan all needed time to become healthier people and so two singles compilations were released as well as an album Ultra they had begun and now completed but did not tour. Not many bands would make that sort of decision but Depeche Mode did. Gahan now has more than 20 years in recovery. He has made a few solo albums and Depeche Mode has released a string of new material beginning with Exciter in 2001. Over 5 years after his public meltdown and missed shows and all the disc jockeys could say was should be an interesting show if Gahan shows up. Why? Why do we do it?

Musicians live a harder life than what we know. Many of you will groan and say oh poor rich rock stars. Most of them have a slew of destroyed families, poor health related to alcohol and drugs the very things we dreamed about when we were kids. Yeah drugs sex and rock and roll. There is so much I love about music that has nothing to do with the music itself. I love the stories and the connections. Mostly what I have come to appreciate is that rock stars are human too, with all the frailties and all the flaws. I don’t want to lose any of them and I am sure not taking bets. When one dies the first thing we do is assume its drugs and we are greedy about every story that proves us right. I guess I don’t really understand that. I just see the tragedy, feel the loss because the world is a lesser place. I see Amy Winehouse walking down the street cameras in her face, I see her frailty I see how small she was. I see Dave Gahan never big to begin with, emaciated, unwashed hair long and stringy begging for someone to help him.

Maybe our heroes should be treated a bit more like us especially our rock star heroes. If we expect them to fail rather than cheering them and taking bets on their deaths, playing guessing games for which aging rocker might be next to die maybe we ought to just to appreciate them more, and using a little empathy now and then wouldn’t hurt either. Maybe when the media is hounding them at their most fragile point we should ask more of our media. Stupid idea huh? Supporting the men and women that we have idolized and loved? What a concept.

Mike out

Interlude A Poem: The Rain

So admittedly I do not write a lot of poetry. Mostly I write when I get a little overwhelmed with feelings and poetry has been an outlet to express the darkest of my sides and the most hopeful of my sides. You are going to read this and think I am standing on a ledge somewhere. I am not. But I do take things day to day. Mostly I spend my days trying to find creative ways to pay for things basic things. I am still adjusting to not being able to drI’ve to being helpless at times and to being alone way too much. I wonder where it’s all going and if this really is the best that it’s going to get. I dont to expect you to understand that at all. I really love my garden and i really love my music blog and the 5.2 readers I have. When I see that Tammy has made a comment I always rush to see what it is. When I see my numbers climb on a blog makes me feel good. So far my Terry Kath blog posting has the most like 12 or 13. Pretty good for me. Mostly I wonder what my dog is going to do to make me laugh. He is a famous dinosaur hunter who hunts under the name Disco Jones but he still.lets me call him Rosco. And I have music. I have had this poem in my head for a month so i had to write it. Maybe it’s dark but writing it made me feel better. Writing is like any emotional release you pour it all into what you are writing and you let it go. So today I wil let it go. So here is my poem Rain and it’s best not to analyze these things trust me.


I wish it would rain,

But not just any rain.

A Spring rain, soft and persistent.

A pitter-patter pitter-patter rain,

Like a hi-hat cymbal in a Jazz Standard.

I wish it would rain.

A clean rain washing away pain

And doubt, while you sit

Watching waiting on your porch.

Breeze upon your face.

All washed away clean

Spinning along the curb to some

Deeper water, away away.

Oh I wish it would rain.

A deep breath a sigh a final wisp;

All the dust and poison away away

Leaving behind apple crispness

I wish It would rain

I wish it would rain

A hard stinging rain,

Like the scalding breath of a dragon

Beating away the memories and

Leaving behind the bleach white bones

Like a long dead shaggy mammoth.

I wish it would rain

A beat hard and edged

With a Reggae tempo, tempered steel

And angry like a swarm of wasps,

Seeking a song of freedom, of release

Oh I wish it would rain

A rain to beat this out of me,

Beat me senseless, leave me brittle

Broken, shards of tiny glass

that wound only me, wound me deep

all of these wounds that won’t heal.

I wish it would rain and rain and rain.

I wish it would rain

An acid rain, burning blistering

Rain in rivulets like blood

From some ancient horrible wound

Staining the ground around me

A burning smoke filled rain

Like the deepest blues song

Burning all the way to my soul

Oh why won’t it rain

Bones brittle and dead

Now fluid under that persistent burn

An acrid smell, toxic and rotten

Fill the nostrils with an undying nothing

That smothers you like a macabre caress.

And the essence of me dissolves

Ashen, a pile on the midden heap

There I lie waiting, for all the moments past

I wish it would rain

I wish it would blow

A strong desert wind, hot and steamy

A trade wind aptly named

To barter this battered soul for oblivion

Pick these ashes, pick them clean

Blow them in drifts like snow in the winter

And blow them so fiercely to all points

I wish it would blow

Why won’t it rain, why won’t it blow?

I wish it would rain,

Black boiling clouds filled to bursting

Rain on acid, poison rain. Reduce me to ashes

I wish it would blow

Blow this nothing to nowhere

Let them drift upon the air among the clouds

Let it come let it blow

Let it rain let it pour

I wish it would rain

The Music Blog: The Anomaly

I really wanted to write a blog entry on The Cure.

I really didn’t want to write a blog entry on The Cure.

That’s an interesting start, I tossed and turned all night thinking up that one. Oooooooh I got you hooked now.

In an earlier blog I wrote that for me all music can be defined as one of four different categories:

  1. Music I love
  2. Music I like
  3. Music I don’t like
  4. Music I despise, even hate {aka Zappa}

You will need to remember that list but I will come back to it.

There is a scene in the movie The Matrix where Keanu Reeves is up and talking to Joe Pantoliano and he is on watch looking at these streaming lines of green numbers streaming by. It’s the matrix. Music for me runs along similar lines. No I didn’t say that music was part of the matrix silly people but it looks that way because at any given time there are dozens of time lines streaming by each time line representing a different time in the history of music. Some of these lines cross and some are connected in multiple places because an artist like Ray Charles will come along who influences multiple time lines all at once.

In 1981 I graduated high school and watched as all my friends took different paths, some to the military, some to a local junior college, some to large universities across the state and beyond. It was just life right. Thats what is supposed to happen. Me I was scared to death, lost and attending a large university locally that I commuted to daily. I had none of my friends to lean on, to go through the experience with me. It was scary and thrilling and hopeful the way it should be. On my commute I started listening to an R&B station mostly because of the morning disc jockey. I just liked his show and thus I was introduced to a whole new musical genre. Sometimes I make it out like I just ended listening to anything rock and roll and started listening to R&B exclusively but it was a process. I continued to listen to rock and roll throughout college but eventually almost all of the music I bought was R&B and then I slowly started to listen to rock and roll again. Because of this and some other reasons there was created a giant hole in my musical knowledge and experience. There were bands that I heard the first album maybe even bought it and then never heard anything more from them for years. There were bands that I missed entirely. With each passing month that hole got deeper. Now it also gave me a rich background in a music I love to this day R&B and because of that likely influenced me into listening to the blues and to jazz certainly. It all balanced out. To some extent when I started listening to rock and roll again much of my energy was spent filling that hole as much as I could.

There he goes again, hello this is about the Cure, remember. Of course I do.

Sometime in the early 80’s I saw the Cure on a late night television program likely Saturday Night Live. I don’t remember the song I just remember Robert Smith. Crazy, make up, funkadelic hair great singing voice; he should have attracted me like a moth to a flame. I saw him and passed him on by, likely because the song they were playing sucked.

Remember how this blog began I want to write about them and I don’t want to write about them. Well that right there explains the complicated relationship I have with the Cure.

For as long as I remember music has been a central important part of my life. I have listened to it for almost 50 years on a daily basis. I know thousands of bands or artists and thousands of albums in multiple genres. I love the connections of who influenced who. In the late 70’s there was one of those defining moments musically in England with the Sex Pistols and with that came a hundred bands who wanted to be just like them. That is pretty impressive coming from a band that never played for more than 500 people with shoddy equipment and an English establishment that hated them. The post punk period in England brought a rich diversity of bands and a few of those bands I love dearly. The Cure are one of those bands.

Now listening and knowing that many bands you can probably guess that there are a fair chunk of bands in my bands I love category. There are even more in my bands I like category, less in the bands I dislike. The bands I despise are mostly new country bands, fake fake fake, Frank Zappa, Mothers of Invention which is also Frank Zappa, more Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart which is Zappa influenced. Zappa and well anything by Frank Zappa.

For every band that I love there is a reason why, a moment in time. If you ask me who my favorite band is there is a 95% chance I will respond quickly with Depeche Mode. I don’t care if you don’t like them, I don’t care if you put an imaginary gun to your head and pull the imaginary trigger to be cute. They are my favorite not yours. You get to love whoever you want so I should at least get the respect to do the same. I can tell you I love them because of the album Violator. I can tell you I love the band New Order because of the song Regret off the album Republic. I was dating the coolest most laid back chick ever. I would break up with her quite honestly because she was so with the flow that I really couldn’t tell how she felt about me, and also because I suck at relationships. We were driving from somewhere, in Fort Worth and the song came on the radio and I started shouting that’s it that’s it. Do you know that song? She didn’t. She suggested we go to sound warehouse. She was just cool that way so we did and got there about 10 minutes before they closed and of course they wanted me to sing the song which I did and they identified and I bought it that night.

Remember there was a hole in my musical knowledge. Partly this hole was my own fault for not caring about new bands and new music so I wasn’t listening when early New Order or early Depeche Mode began playing although of course I knew the song People are People. Now part of the reason is that I live in Fort Worth, Texas or the DFW metroplex. Now it’s not exactly a hotbed for musical enlightenment. If a song was really big like People are People it would make it to the radio. In fact back then and even today most of the radio stations were country and then there were a couple of heavier rock and roll stations and a few top 40 stations or parent music. Now none of those stations are exactly friendly to new bands, which is why what Nirvana did actually opened so many doors. Suddenly there were alternative stations and those stations played those bands New Order, Depeche Mode and The Cure too as well as a lot of other bands. So it’s a blog about The Cure I wanted to write and I didn’t want to write it, remember. So unlike every other band that would be in the music I love category I could not tell you why I love the Cure. It is an oddity. I can tell you that the first album of theirs I bought was Wish but I have no idea why I bought it, maybe for the song Friday, I’m in Love but honestly I don’t really know and I know on every band I love. I acquired two albums, Show and Disintegration but I am not exactly sure how. I do not remember buying them and one of them I got because my oldest step son joined the Marines and said that he had a box of cassettes in the attic and I could have them if any were any good and one of those albums was in that box. Only now I have it on cd and I don’t know which one.

The closest band that the Cure reminds me of is U2. Yes I know they don’t sound anything like U2. I know many of you love adore cherish U2. I don’t. They are firmly in the category of music I like but not music I love. They are probably right next to the Foo Fighters. Hah I love those little digs and yes readership is firmly holding at 5.2. What I mean is that U2 has never had an album where I just love every single song. On every band that I love except one, the Cure they have albums where I love every song. It doesn’t mean that every album is that way but there are usually more than one unless of course they only have one. U2 makes albums where there are anywhere from 2-4 songs that I just love and then 5 to 6 that I could do without. I have actually given away U2 cd’s because they were that bad. Now maybe the difference between U2 and the Cure is that there are always great songs, wonderful songs that I love and then there are songs I like and finally there are maybe a couple of songs I could completely do without. Other than the greatest hits album I have there isn’t a Cure album that I love every song.

I don’t know why I love them, but I do. If you went down a list of bands rapid fire and said them to me I could tell you immediately without hesitation what category they belong in. The Cure, absolutely love them, U2 like them, Zappa gag I despise him. I suppose when you have as much music as I have and as varied a taste that there are bound to be a few anomalies in there and I guess I count the Cure as an anomaly. I love them I just don’t know why.

Mike out

The Music Blog: So This Junkie Walks Into a Church

So a Junkie walks into a church…

Oh look now he’s got jokes. I love jokes and this guy writing is pretty funny, hilarious even.

Well not hilarious but he is sort of funny.

Well there was that one time, but he wasn’t trying to be funny, there was just that fall down a mountain into that yellow jacket’s nest. Man did he jump. Anyway that was funny.

Okay so he is telling jokes and he is not funny, this isn’t going to end well.

Nope. No jokes. Guess again.

Ohhhhhh I get it. It’s one of those long drawn out stories that have nothing to do with music and then bam a very slight connection only this guy understands. Hah and he wonders why he only has 5.2 readers. He has gone wonky. I think his moniker might really be appropriate. He has had too many swords upside the head, too many Rolling Rocks. That is entirely possible.

I don’t have any stories, at least not those kinds. I always have something to say. Today’s topic is the incredibly ridiculous American fascination with lumping people into categories. It is the only way we seem to be able to process anything. Popular, not popular, winners, Mike, cute, Mike, Rock and Roll, Blues, Country, whatever. (Oh yea my real name is Mike, like you had to guess.) If anything new comes along the first thing we do is try and categorize it. It’s almost panic driven. Whew that was a close one, for a second there I didn’t think that would fit anywhere. Part of this fascination I believe is to ensure that we keep people in their places. You don’t want to be different and even when you are different you still fit in with this other group. I wanna be a Goth, but that’s going to set me apart but that’s okay because there are all my Goth friends and they will take care of me. Music is no different, maybe the worst off all.

If you know me, then you know that my favorite time in music history is the late 80’s, early 90’s up to mid 90’s. There isn’t really a Seattle band from that period I don’t just love and love a lot. I was young, it was my time. I was who they were playing all that music for and so maybe that is a big reason why. One of my greatest frustrations though is that everyone from Seattle got lumped into that category of Grunge and I am not even sure what Grunge is. Oh silly it’s any music from Seattle that came from that time period. Yea, no that’s not right. None of those bands sound anything remotely alike so how can they all be lumped into the same damn category. I guess it makes us feel comfortable. Is it that way everywhere, I wonder? Some categories make sense, when you mention arena rock there is an image in your head and you think about Journey, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner even but there is a context in that those bands play a similar form of rock and roll. It’s the same with hair bands, Cinderella, Motley Crue, Poison the term conjures a certain style of music even though some of those bands did it better than others. Mention Grunge and you start with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains but none of those bands have any real similarities other than being from Seattle. It makes zero sense to me.

Now, in the broader context it’s worse. When the term alternative came out there was a little sense to it. It conveyed a certain independence, a bit of movement away from the norm because there still were other forms of rock and roll being played. So it was nice to have an alternative radio station. It made sense. And suddenly there was a place for bands like Sonic Youth, The Pixies, Concrete Blonde and all those Seattle bands to have their music played on radio without it being too mainstream or corporate.

Several years ago way before the recent stuff on Woodstock I saw a documentary on the 60’s. It was a 4 or 5 part series that ended with coverage of Woodstock. The 60’s obviously was an explosive time in American History and there was a lot of change a lot of rebellion a lot of counter culture. Woodstock symbolized the end of that decade and the end of the counter culture as a separate movement. With nuns walking around flashing the peace sign, the peace symbol everywhere and the anti-Vietnam war feelings it was quite obvious that the bigger American culture had simply assimilated the counter culture movement. It was no longer different or abnormal, it was part of the American psyche. Being born in 1963 I was 6 when Woodstock happened and entering school and over the next few years the use of expressions such as Peace as a greeting and Far Out Man became common and every day. Everything was back to normal, you know groovy.

By 1994 the bands that were being played on Alternative radio stations had also normalized. Suddenly bands like Collective Soul and Counting Crows were being counted as alternative music. Were they though? If all the bands are alternative is there really such a thing as alternative? Before you get pissed at me because I am bashing these 2 bands don’t, I love both of those bands and besides I am really going to make you angry now. For the last few years I have been amazed, stunned even at the reception that the Foo Fighters get. I have no doubt they will soon be elected into the hall of fame. Dave Grohl is called a genius. I find them and him to be the most overrated on the radio. I don’t get the fascination. When Jimi Hendrix died you didn’t hear how great the individual members of his band were, you didn’t hear them called geniuses. Being affiliated with genius or greatness doesn’t make you a genius and it doesn’t make you great. Dave Grohl was blessed to be in a band with a real genius a real artistic genius who changed the world. That doesn’t make Grohl a genius or the Foo Fighters great. Here is a secret, pretty much every Foo Fighters album is the same. They have not changed, they are not great. Dave Grohl is a wonderful human being. I like the Foo Fighters but they are what they are.

Hmmm are you lost yet? Okay settle down drink some tea or something you are all red faced over my Foo Fighter comments. Settle down soldier and put the knife down.

So this Junkie walks into a church.

Oh yea I remember.

You see no matter how we normalize music there will still be bands that just don’t fit into a nice little neat niche no matter how big a hammer we take to them. To me it’s why the term alternative becoming so normalized is a shame because there really are alternative bands.

In 1988 a band from Toronto Canada entered Trinity Church in Toronto to record their second album. No one had heard of this band as they were still making their way. There were three siblings, Michael, Peter and Margo and bassist Alan Anton. That album The Trinity Sessions would put the band on the map and make me a lifelong fan of the Cowboy Junkies. It is one of the most stunning albums I own. Margo Timmins has a unique vocal style. I have never heard anyone come close to sounding like her. It’s not contrived like so many vocalists today trying to sound unique. It’s her natural voice, hauntingly beautiful. If ever a band existed to fit the moniker the Cowboy Junkies would be that band. They fit in no niche. You can call them a folk rock band but that is actually a disservice. You can call them a country rock band yet it’s inaccurate. They obviously have country and folk influences but when I say folk I am talking about a folk music unique to the Appalachians. Yet they are not close to a bluegrass band. The Trinity Sessions starts with the song Mining For Gold, and all you hear is Margo Timmins’ voice haunting and you can feel for a moment the miner’s lament, what it is to be a miner. There are actually only a few original songs on the album, the rest are covers including in my opinion the greatest country song ever written I’m So Lonesome I could Cry and somehow the Junkies make this into something glorious. It isn’t country but you can also be sure that old Hank would not be upset at the interpretation. It’s a beautiful cover. So you think well okay they definitely have all that country background then they cover Sweet Jane, a cover of the Velvet Underground maybe the first real alternative band. It’s nothing really like the original. It’s amazing. The Trinity Sessions remains one of my favorite ever albums. It’s so unusual and so good a rare quality. The next Junkies album was titled The Caution Horses. I love Neil Young but one of the things I really love is that he has so many songs that are not necessarily well known that are just great. Those are my favorites. Powderfinger is one of those songs. Neil has the voice to sing that song. I am sure he has heard the Cowboy Junkies version. I am sure he loves it. Margo’s voice is such that she doesn’t let you down much. But if there is a song that is descriptive enough for the band that penned it, a song off the album Black Eyed Man might be it; Murder Tonight, In the Trailer Park. The title conjures certain images for me and it’s a warning maybe to never take anything too seriously. Maybe the best way to view bands is stop trying to put them into nice round holes even with a hammer.

Look I could go through all of the albums and pick my favorite songs but in the end I don’t think I have really accomplished anything. If this particular blog entry does anything it should tell you to beware those bands that are called great or genius or any other labels. You might think I get frustrated at the injustice of it all but I really don’t. I just enjoy the music playing. If you love the Foo Fighters fine it doesn’t bother me. Again I never said I hated them. Just be careful when throwing out labels about bands. The truth is The Foo Fighters have done the same album 4 or 5 times and just changed the words and the title and people lap it up like it’s the greatest thing ever because that’s what the industry wants you to think, that’s what they have taught you. It reminds me of walking in the mall once and all around me in all the stores there were all these Grunge outfits, flannels and layers and such all stylish and priced to make someone a fortune and people bought them. Meanwhile here is a band that continues to defy the easy niche, a band that hasn’t made a lineup change in 30 plus years. They just keep playing and recording the music they believe in and if you buy it great if you don’t, well it’s seriously your loss on a really original band with great vocals and great musicians. I mean seriously they have mandolins in their music how cool is that?

Some bands truly are amazing and truly are alternative.

So a Junkie walks into a church……magic

Mike out

The Music Blog: August and Everything After

I think the worst job I ever had as a social worker was that of an intake coordinator. Some people call these admissions specialists or other fancy names. The job requires you to have a license so essentially your professional ass is on the line. You might wonder exactly what an intake coordinator does at a psychiatric hospital. Well the hours usually suck because you want to be there when most of the bad calls and emergency visits happen. You take about 70% or more of the intake calls that come in, some of these are people honestly looking for help. Your mission is to make sure that as many of these people get into your hospital for an assessment as possible, Oh and you are going to do about 85% of those assessments including having other staff make appointments for you. So you think well that’s your job. Yes every sad horrible story there is, every bullshit story, every attempt to avoid something else, every no show, every manic going 1800 miles an hour you are going to see every last one of them. Crisis calls yep those too which means that when someone has to go to an emergency room at 2 am to assess someone it’s usually you. On the flip side of this every admission that utilization review doesn’t like you get blamed for. If the hospital is empty it’s your fault. And back to those crisis calls, you get people who tell you they have a loaded shotgun in their hands and they intend to put it in their mouth and pull the trigger. They won’t give you a name or an address or a phone number. The first few times this happens you panic a bit and you allow them to keep you on the line for a long time. My first one lasted almost two hours. Eventually you learn that it’s some lonely lost soul who just wants someone to talk to, but that first time, maybe even the first half dozen times you take that home with you, you toss and turn and you look in the paper for a story about some poor soul who blew their head off with a shotgun. You are responsible for all of that. After a while you learn if you cannot get something from them in fifteen minutes or so you aren’t going to and you start cutting the calls off nicely as you can. You still worry though. What if you were wrong? There is joy too though if you open your mind just a bit.

She looked nervous when she came in and I did my best to make her feel at ease. She was blunt and honest and said that she was a Schizophrenic. She said she needed to come in and get on some medication so that she could get back to work. It was impressive that she worked. She had no support system. She was in her late 20’s had been diagnosed for a little over 10 years. She had stopped taking medication long before and knew when to come in and get back on medication. She said when the voices turn ugly when the faces in the wall turn mean it was time. She said that being on the medication, kept her from working. Her plan was to get stable and get back to work. She didn’t want to be in the system. I thought her one of the most resilient people ever.

Switch to another patient altogether, younger still at home with her parents, early 20’s. She was incredibly artistic and would hardly ever speak to anyone. Medications didn’t seem to last long and she needed a lot of adjustments. When she was stable she painted and made pottery. She was so pretty but the medications took her to another place, the medications were as bad as the disease. She sold her art on a corner in her hometown.

He was so far gone that it was difficult to get any reaction from him at all. Schizophrenics have so many problems because so much information is coming in, essentially everything and the medications shut off the flow. The old school medications with so many horrific side effects shut everything off and make you into little more than a zombie. Todd’s life consisted of smoking and he would show up in our ER where the ER staff would treat him like he was a diseased maniac. I would go down and get him and call his case manager. He had no family. He wanted me to get cigarettes for him one day, cheap cigarettes that he chain smoked I did and told him the story of the king of cigarette smoking while he stared off into space. When I was done I started to walk away and he looked at me and chuckled and said good story. It was a small victory.

I love working with schizophrenics. I have never once been afraid of one. I get a little upset when there is a mass shooting and the mentally ill are blamed. Those are my people.

The first schizophrenic I met was at a place called Opportunity House, a Tarrant County facility that I was delivering snacks to from the food bank where I had done a pick up. As these guys were unloading the van one of them turned to me and said, “I don’t know whether to keep doing this or go and masturbate.” I nodded and said “Really good question let’s finish this and then you can do whatever you want.” The staff wanted me to work there. I wish I had.

Somewhere in all my blogs there is one entitled Gianna. I will not tell her story again but you are of course welcome to go back and read her story. There isn’t a day that goes by that I do not think about her and wonder how she is. I hope she is thriving. I hope she is well.

Yea I love schizophrenics.

In September of 1993 Counting Crows released their debut album August and Everything After. It was an instant hit based on the song Mr. Jones. It’s a great song now my least favorite because radio overplay just killed all of the joy in that song. I wrote recently that there are albums that are connected deeply to my soul and August is one of those albums. There are few albums that I love more, that bring forth a greater range of emotions that mean as much to me. I can’t say this about many albums but there isn’t a bad song on the album and if you don’t have it or have never heard it in its entirety you should.

It’s hard to really point out why the album touches me so. Sure there is one song that brings everything I have written into perspective but for an album to be great there just has to be more than one song. There is of course. There are about 5 of those favorite songs on this album. Perfect Blue Buildings is one, Anna Begins is two. That alone would make the album special because those two songs are really that good. A lot of the reasons why the album is so good is Adam Duritz. Hey any white man with dreadlocks is alright with me. You should know that. Rain King is three. Sullivan Street is four. Raining in Baltimore is five. When an album plays that has that many great songs, you just sit listen and sing along and pretty soon you can hear your soul chirping away content and happy. It’s a wonderful album.

You can see I have left a hole right. I mean this started out as some story about loving Schizophrenics. It’s really one giant lovefest, love of Schizophrenics and love of an album and where the hell is there a connection. If you worked in the mental health industry around the time this album came out and didn’t foolishly waste your time listening to bad music aka country music then you might remember the opening song on August is called Round Here. The song was released as a single and it probably gets more airplay on Sirius than Mr. Jones these days. Most of us who worked in the mental heath industry and we all seemed to flock together believed this song to be about a mentally ill girl and we spent some time trying to diagnose her. Was she Bipolar, Schizophrenic, Schizoaffective. Truthfully I have never known a Schizophrenic to take their own life which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. I just view Schizophrenia a little differently than most. Now the reason we thought the song was about mental illness was the girl.

Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand

She said she’d like to

Meet a boy who looks like Elvis

She walks along the edge of where the ocean meets

The land just like she’s

Walking on a wire in the circus

She parks her car outside my house

And takes her clothes off, says she’s

Close to understanding Jesus

She knows she’s more than just a little misunderstood

She has trouble acting

Normal when she’s nervous

Later this girl talks about jumping from a building, she’s tired of life, she must be tired of something round here. It is a sad song. Of course we all got it wrong. It isn’t about the girl at all. It’s about the guy.

According to Adam Duritz who should know since he wrote the song it’s about a person leaving people behind and the more he leaves people behind the more he leaves himself. Now that resonates with me too.

It’s funny about song lyrics, poems, novels or just about anything creative, anything that is art. No matter what the artist intends to convey there is someone or many someones who will get a different meaning from it. When we view art or hear a song or read a book we are always doing so from where we are at that moment, that place in time. If you have ever been through a really bad break up, had your heart broken then you know that the universe also knows and so every song you hear or every book you read is about heartbreak. You could go and see a Friday the 13th movie and cry though the entire thing and have your buddy ask, dude what the hell was that? Your response will be something similar to it was just so sad, she really loved him I think and he still killed her with that chainsaw. Come on you know it’s true. If you think that every lyric of every song is going to be about you, then it will be and you will tell the world that song has so much meaning for you. It’s not my fault that you can’t see the stares people are giving you or that they are laughing at you because the song is about a night someone got drunk, a dog, a water buffalo and a transvestite named Hortense. It happens. It is why I rarely put much stock in lyrics because most of the time we get them wrong.

I will tell you though. Whether it’s on the radio, or on a compilation I have, or the album itself when I hear the song there are certain things I think about.

I think about the king of cigarette smoking.

I think about Todd’s laugh and a smile.

I think about a girl selling her art by the side of the road.

I think about a girl who knew when to come to the hospital because the voices turned mean and the faces on the wall a little too vicious.

I think of the freest spirit I have ever known and her yellow stockings flying through the water. I hope that Gianna is ok, I hope the world has not been too cruel for her. I hope.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Elvis! Elvis! No Not That One

I remember walking around the track at my high school with another guy. We were both injured but were walking wounded so we walked around the track and then stretched. We got to talking about Elvis Costello. We were debating whether he was a real artist or a spoof, a clown just making funny music. Tim, my fellow walker insisted that he was the real deal. At the time there was only one song I knew which was Red Shoes, the angels wanna wear my red shoes. It’s a good song, but at the time I thought the song too quirky and really just didn’t want anything to do with the funny looking guy which was more proof that he was just a spoof, a gimmick act. Weird that I could love the B-52’s and Devo but have problems with one Elvis Costello. It would take me a long time to catch on, longer than you might think.

Now it really didn’t take all that long to figure out that Costello was actually a serious performer with serious songs, but my first impression held firm with me. There were exceptions of course. First there was one song, one beautiful song that could have been written about me. That was the only song that I liked though at least at the time.

I did and didn’t want to go to my prom. By the time prom came around I really just wanted one thing; to graduate and have that terrible part of my life high school be over. I wanted to be in college where I believed things could be more on equal terms, which turned out to be true. I did want to go because years later I didn’t want to have some sort of weird regret and my mom who never graduated high school wanted me to go. Other than athletics the only club I belonged to was Spanish Club which was full of quirky people just like me. I was one of the Spanish dancers in the club and we performed some. It was always fun and generally we were well received. Oh yea you can bet your ass I could dance the Tango. You wish you were me right about now. I had a really good friend, a junior who was one of my partners in Spanish dance. I screwed up three times with her, times where I should have asked her out and didn’t. The first time was over prom when I stupidly asked if she thought a friend of hers would go to prom with me. Yes I really was that stupid and clueless.

One reason why I liked the other girl and asked her to prom was that she was the queen of weird. It wasn’t anything overt, she was just a strange chick. She took me home to meet her father and she had one or two older brothers I forget how many. Her mother was not in the picture and I believe she had died. Her father worked at Bell Helicopter as an engineer and unlike his daughter he was very talkative. He sat me down and asked if I liked Pink Floyd and I said sure. He put on The Wall specifically that small part where the helicopter is landing and then turned it up. It was loud. He had a really nice stereo. He then identified the helicopter and told me all about it. I was thinking her dad was pretty cool. Then he told me this long story of how they grew marijuana in California and juiced it to get a pure form of THC. I thought why the hell is he telling me this?

Prom was horrible. The girl and I broke up a few days before but went anyway too much money spent on a dress and tuxedo. She also had this ridiculous curfew of like 11:30. I had no curfew. At the prom though was a girl that I had a lot of classes with, and who was on the drill team. The drill team during football season decorated the football players lockers and dumped enough candy in them to ensure that they would be nice and wired for the games. This girl was responsible for my locker. I loved her, one of those many girls that were way over my skis but she was so nice all the time. You probably guessed her name was Allison. As it turns out Allison had broken up with her boyfriend too and was at prom with him some dude on the basketball team and she invited me to an early morning breakfast that we called champagne breakfasts but she made it clear with narrowed eyes there would be no alcohol and I better show up sober because her mom wanted me there. I had never met her mom. I wasn’t dumb enough to think that this was a romantic invite and I would not have gone if it had been. Even back then I was conscious that there was a certain poison about me. I just liked being her friend. Her mom greeted me like a long lost friend. I had no idea how she knew me. There were place mats all the way around the tables with names printed on them and my name was there, I thought it odd, still do. Anyway both Allison and her mom told me not to get into any trouble that night. There were real champagne breakfasts out there, yea I hit a couple. It seems over the years I kept meeting women that were just like her and I don’t think I ever met an Allison that didn’t take a chunk of my heart. Yea My aim is true.

Alison (Elvis obviously doesn’t know how to spell the name as he uses only one L) remains one of the saddest songs ever. Have you ever really listened to how Elvis sings the words especially the words “I heard you let that little friend of mine take off your party dress.“ Have you ever felt that way, wanted someone so bad and watched while someone else treated them less than you would? Its crushing.

If Alison represents one end of the spectrum the type of girl who does end up with me is not so bad either, if you don’t mind being dumped in the lake now and again. Apologies to the Dixie Chicks who dumped Earl in the lake the coolest chick to ever rid herself of a body is in the song Watching the Detectives. Now, why on Earth it took me so long to really discover Elvis Costello is beyond me. He would have been perfect for my college experience yet I went on having already decided that I just didn’t like him. How wrong can a person be? Watching the Detectives is probably, and I know I say this between 25 and 50 times a day one of my all time favorite songs. I do believe the current count on favorite songs is somewhere around 11, 422.62. Yea don’t ask. Look when you have this much music there are going to be some well and truly loved songs, favorites. If you have ever had a favorite book and kept it and read it so many times that the pages get soft and yellow and you still refuse to buy a new copy then you will understand. There is magic there. There is magic in music so you should have more than one song for every occasion or feeling.

These two extremes, Alison and Watching the Detectives represent about 140% of my dating or married life. Okay maybe not 140% but a good solid 138%. I KNOW it’s not possible silly rabbits but it feels so true. I laugh when I hear the song Watching the Detectives, and it does have the greatest line ever in a rock and roll song, “She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake.” I laugh every time and then inevitably one of a dozen women will pop into my head and a few of those memories make me go heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, that’s my body they were looking for. What a way to go.

So let me say apologies if you think maybe this blog was a little more story and a little less music but sometimes it works out that way. Believe it or not I was in my late 30’s before I seriously gave much thought to Elvis Costello. Imagine my regret when all that great music was really heard by me for the first time. Yes, regret because there is regret in music too and not just regret that you spent some of your life thinking country music spoke to your soul. Not me of course country music has never spoken to my soul but some of you people sheesh. Branch out, please. Costello should have been the music of my college life. It would have been perfect but you know I didn’t have it so bad and you never know it may have lacked any real meaning for me if I had simply because I lacked any real experience. Imagine if I had known the song Watching the Detectives. I would have gone searching.

Have a musical day people.

Mike out

The Music Blog: God is a Bullet

It was my friend Eric who brought it to my attention, which is funny looking back on it. In the late 80’s early 90’s I was working as a social worker mostly with troubled children, we called them emotionally disturbed, aged 6-12. I drove all around Fort Worth and I seemed to be well known everywhere. A lot of people knew me. I played a lot of basketball and I played in a lot of sketchy places. Eric was a friend that I played a lot of basketball with. He had a killer cross-over dribble. I picked him up from his house where I shot the bull with his mom until he was ready. I always brought his mom something because she fed me a lot and welcomed me into her home. It was a black neighborhood and some of the people didn’t like me being around. Miss Ruby set them straight. When Eric got in my car he asked for me to identify a song that was being played a lot at the gym. He loved the song wanted to know who played it. He hummed it, but I didn’t know it so he asked me to stop listening to the blues I had on my cassette player and find a white radio station. We found the song in about five minutes. I had never heard it before. It was Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.

Now before you wonder just how out of touch musically I was, I will say that I was and I wasn’t. One of the reasons why I was struggling with music is that hip hop or new jack swing was significantly impacting the R&B that I loved so much. So I was exploring the blues at the time and just beginning to dive more seriously into jazz. I also had another friend who I had met in college and ran into at a basketball court and began running around with this guy. He was kind of a strange quiet guy who liked to hang out in Deep Ellum in Dallas where together we saw a lot of live music mostly at the club Trees. I liked the place because they served Rolling Rock. I have no idea of all the bands we saw but it was a lot. There was a lot of really good music being played and I was starting to get interested in music again. He used to leave these horribly recorded cassettes in my apartment, in my car and I would find them because it was like a game of hide and seek. On these cassettes were all these underground bands, mostly punk music. He had been doing this for a couple of years. I may have heard Nirvana on one of these cassettes, or Mother Love Bone, or Mudhoney, Soundgarden or any of a hundred bands that would soon hit it big. I definitely heard Somic Youth and The Pixies because I had already bought music from these bands.

Nirvana impacted me the same way it impacted so many others. Overnight I felt comfortable leaving behind R&B returning to the rock music of my youth because suddenly rock music was interesting. Pearl Jam would follow still one of my favorite bands, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney all drew my attention and I was like a sponge including a strange attraction and devotion to Andrew Wood but that story is for a later time.

It’s been a long time since Nirvana hit the airwaves. Sometimes there is this mistaken perception that with Nirvana came a host of Seattle bands that dominated the airwaves and owe everything to Kurt and company. This is certainly true in part; however where this is incorrect is that the albums that came next the bands that came next already had deals in place. Nirvana did not provide them with record label opportunities. They were merely first. That’s okay. Their influence was tremendous. I think they are one of the five most influential bands of all time.

But you already know this isn’t about Nirvana. For a variety of reasons you know this. I am not on the letter N, and even I am not goofy enough to place Nirvana under C out of some misplaced devotion to Cobain. Nirvana did change things, some for the better some sadly for the worse. For good or bad all Seattle bands became grunge bands whether they sounded like Nirvana or not. Grunge though became a subtype of a larger musical change because overnight almost all rock and roll went from hairbands and metal to alternative. Suddenly there were alternative stations. Suddenly bands like Sonic Youth the Pixies, Cowboy Junkies and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were not considered underground bands but were played on mainstream radio. Thus music changed.

Before Nirvana came around there was a movie that came out in 1990 that became instantly popular with the youth of the day as much for the soundtrack as the story itself. Pump Up the Volume might not have been the greatest title for a movie. I thought it was cheesy and it made me not want to see the movie. It starred Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis and is of course about a high school student who runs a pirate radio station at night and suddenly becomes a cult hero. It’s the music he plays that is so interesting. The first song that you hear on this station is a Leonard Cohen song from the album I’m Your Man. I knew the album and I knew the song Everybody Knows. It was the band that covered the song later that I fell in love with. On a soundtrack I always wonder whether it’s a one off, whether it’s a person in an established band that recorded the song for the soundtrack or a real band. The soundtrack to Pump Up the Volume though was actually a lot of new artists or artists that had not hit mainstream radio. Concrete Blonde was a three piece band from Los Angeles. There are really only two members of this band co-collaborators guitarist James Mankey and bassist and singer Johnette Napolitano. It is Napolitano’s voice that hit me so hard on the song Everybody Knows. The original Cohen version is delivered in Cohen’s flat casual style almost talking. Napolitano added heavy guitars to it increased the tempo and made the vocals soar. It will make your heart race, well maybe. Concrete Blonde has always been that band that seemed to be on the cusp of a huge breakthrough and never quite got there. They had a hit song off the album Bloodletting with Joey but seemed to struggle to really catch on. They seem to be in that category of band where you either love them or you hate them. Since I am blogging about them and they don’t have Clapton or Zappa in their band I must love them a bit.

I tend to like bands that have something to say and say it. Now I am not one of those that get lost in lyrics and make daily posts about how the lyrics speak to me or for me about lost loves and heartache or even loss. There are a few songs that do capture that emotion quite well but since everyone and their grandmother write those songs most of it all comes across as sappy sentimentality and the people who fawn all over themselves about the lyrics to songs just seem foolish to me most of the time. I mean something different when I say they have something to say. There is a song off Bloodletting, the only really big album Concrete Album had titled Tomorrow Wendy. I love that song, Hey Hey Goodbye, Tomorrow Wendy is going to die. It is about the senseless and horrible death toll of HIV/AIDS. What the song isn’t is a lament about the disease but about the loss of a cherished friend and saying goodbye to them. If you have ever lost anyone to that horrible disease you might possibly understand, and if you haven’t you can’t even guess.

The title of this blog is God is a Bullet which is a song on the album Free. The song centers around the killing of an innocent man by a police officer. It’s a blistering song both in tempo and its brutal honesty directed at the Los Angeles Police Department. I think about this song a lot, every time I see an unarmed black man shot down by police and every time I see a white killer arrested. I hear the words every time I read commentary on the criminal history of an unarmed black man shot down as some sort of excuse. God is a bullet have mercy on us everyone. I have also said the words when people offer up thoughts and prayers because another school has been shot up. God is a bullet have mercy on us everyone. I find it interesting that music grows stale periodically and then has to reinvent itself, it has to change. It seems an inevitable fact. With every change the mark is set and we race off to do it all over again. The world doesn’t seem to change at all and we just don’t seem to ever learn any lessons and get better. As I write this, the world burns and no one really seems to care.

This blog though is not so much about social commentary. It is about a band that I do not think gets enough notice, enough credit for the music they have produced. I think Bloodletting is a wonderful album. I love every song and while I didn’t particularly feel the same about Walking in London, Mexican Moon more than made up for it. I always love when songs are sung in different languages and the title track is done in Spanish by Napolitano. There is an English version too. That album is amazing, so many good songs and you know I will be sharing them.

One of the things I really hope to accomplish is to present bands that you might know but have forgotten about over time. Sure I will hit the big bands too or some of them. I think it’s just as cool though to share with you how I feel about bands like Material Issue and Concrete Blonde and yes Mother Love Bone and not just focus on the Nirvanas or Pearl Jams of the world. As you can tell I seem to have an endless supply of stories and in my soul I am a storyteller.

For the last five years or so I have waited for the next big thing. Music seems like it’s in a rut again. No one really wants to have a garage band anymore, to learn how to play guitar to rock out. Everything is electronic and digital and that now seems to be where music is at. We can make music without really understanding it at all. Lately I wonder if it even matters. There seems to be a lot wrong with the world and we seem intent on rushing towards something cataclysmic. In the past it has been these kinds of times when something musical happens to change the world. Will lightning strike again? I don’t know but I always have hope that it will. Music has healed me at times when I was torn apart, not figuratively but emotionally when my soul stopped singing and chirping away. The music I play is a daily reminder of the beauty in the world the imaginative beauty of humans.

Hey Hey Goodbye Tomorrow Wendy is Going to Die Because God is a Bullet.

Have Mercy on us Everyone

Mike out

The Music Blog: Miles and Coltrane

When I was fresh out of school, degree in hand and knowing the path I wanted to be on I changed jobs from a small group home to a large orphanage type place. I don’t know if it was really an orphanage since I have never worked in another, but that’s the easiest description I can make. Technically it was called a home but with about 50 children male and female very young to twelve years of age living there, all wards of the state, it felt more like an orphanage and less like a home. We, meaning the staff, did our utmost best to making that place as loving as possible. I remember going to the cafeteria where the cooks tried so hard to make meals that those kids would love and didn’t mind giving out some good portions. They would talk to the kids and the group leaders going through the line. I always tried to bring them something now and again, flowers to tell them I appreciated what they did. Almost all of the kids who lived there had a history of severe abuse from biological parents and then for most abuse from the foster parents that were supposed to take care of them. Many had failed adoptions, some more than one. They were scarred physically and emotionally. Reading their social histories and their medical histories it was easy to wonder why some of them were not dead. It was a wonder why any found anything to smile about or who could trust another adult. They had trouble forming relationships and maintaining them. Any transgression that went against their trust and you were done for because they didn’t give a lot of second chances. The children were divided up in small groups of 4 or 5 depending on age and I had the oldest group of boys. I was a group leader a fancy name for someone that had primary responsibility for a group of children. I was the primary group leader meaning I was there Monday through Friday. If the kids needed to go somewhere off campus I took them if they needed to spend some money from their state money which would accumulate then I took them and provided guidance while they shopped. It was a 40 hour a week job except that it took a lot more than 40 hours. Most of us worked double shifts or worked extra shifts on weekends. It was hard to keep staff and you ended up giving parts of your soul to that place. You almost felt compelled to pop in now and again just to check on your kids or say hello. I once stopped in the middle of a date. Every once in a while the kids would really revolt sometimes on the weekends and they would call people in. Nights were the worst these kids didn’t want to go to sleep and I didn’t want to know their dreams, their nightmares. Every night someone had trouble and every night at least one group leader would be in the hall charting and have a kid sleeping beside them. Some of us chose to chart after they were really asleep and would lay in the floor of the kids’ room so they knew that you were there and that they were safe. It was a sad place and a happy place.

We had a group leader that working there was her entire life. She set herself up as the Queen of the group leaders, worked as a relief supervisor. I don’t know how many hours she worked. She didn’t look healthy, pale, stringy hair that always looked unwashed and overweight that spoke volumes about what she ate and what she didn’t if you can understand that. I thought her hygiene questionable her devotion almost unhealthy. She was a favorite of the Director of Children’s Services and in hindsight I am sure she knew the girl and the girl’s family and her history and was watching over her. The supervisor who I was good friends with was pretty concerned and because she could not be everywhere I was her eyes on the floor. I taught all the classes on dealing with aggressive behaviors. I was sent and certified as an instructor, just a way to make extra money. This group leader had a tough group of kids 7 and 8 year olds and she demanded quiet and would get in the face of other group leaders. She tried to do this to me one time and I said no, don’t do that and walked away and she never did again. At night she would lay in her boys room and play Kenny G’s Songbird. I had been thinking of bringing some Mozart for bedtime but Kenny G seemed to work well. One day I arrived to work and there was a lot of activity because the girl, this group leader had shown up and had a complete mental breakdown. Her family was called and they took her for treatment and she never came back. I bought Kenny G the next day. It was my first jazz album.

There is a line from the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. Mr. Holland comes home and he is frustrated because he doesn’t want to be a teacher he wants to write music, he wants to compose. His wife then tells him that she is pregnant and his reaction is less than joyful. Realizing he has screwed up he comes to her and she is so distressed. He says that when he was a kid he used to visit this record store and the guy who owned it thought he knew what he liked and so he gave him this record and said listen to this. It was John Coltrane. So he took the record home, listened to it and hated it. So he played it again and hated it. So he played it again and he played it again until he just didn’t want to stop playing it.

Now the scene is more about him learning of pending fatherhood but his description of Coltrane actually applies to a lot of jazz. My journey into jazz branched out rather quickly from Kenny G, to David Sanborn, to the Crusaders, to the Rippingtons, to the Yellow Jackets. I understood that the jazz of the 80’s and later the early 90’s was a trimmed down, sleek overproduced jazz. It wasn’t what I imagined. I liked the music but I knew that jazz had a lot more to offer but was I willing to go there. Quite honestly I thought it would be a lot like diving into the blues. Going back into the history of the blues and discovering Robert Johnson, or Charley Patton, Big Bill Broonzy and each time you pull from the well it makes you want to go back for more. Jazz is not like that. If I knew then, what I know now, I could have provided myself a little more guidance. Hey check out Art Blakey you will love him. I didn’t trust the advice of others mostly because to them jazz was all about that quiet storm music that was current. None of my friends who listened to jazz had ever heard a John Coltrane song. My first venture though struck gold with a compilation cassette called Miles and Coltrane. I was walking through the jazz section at sound warehouse and came across this gem. It gave me a little history on two of the greatest jazz performers to ever walk the planet, to ever grace us with a note.

A lot of people do not know that Coltrane played with Miles Davis. He actually played with him twice, early in his career and then later for one brilliant moment in time. Early in his career he began playing with Miles Davis first great band. Jazz was all about Miles Davis at this time, but Coltrane was literally a side man a support player, unspectacular except that he was so damn good. Coltrane was still making his way trying to decide which direction his own music might take. Davis was the big innovator in jazz in a time when innovation and that free playing style that always leads to great things was going full tilt. Coltrane though became addicted to heroin and left Miles Davis. They parted on good terms. Coltrane mostly disappeared although he played a bit with Thelonious Monk a kindred spirit in what came next. Monk and Coltrane were every bit as important for jazz as Davis and Coltrane. Monk helped lay the foundation for Coltrane for what came next and what came next set jazz on its ears or maybe a better description on its ass. When Coltrane returned he created a style that influenced everyone from Davis to Blakey to Monk to Adderley and a hundred other players.

Most critics and jazz lovers agree that Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue if not the greatest jazz album of all time is certainly one of them. Now to my 4 ½ readers you already know that I think Ornette Ceoleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come is the greatest jazz album of all time. Just so you know, critics are with me in believing that record is one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, most have it in the top ten so it’s not like I am coming from left field on this. As far as Miles Davis is concerned I have always loved Sketches of Spain more than Kind of Blue, and mostly because of all those Latin rhythms. No doubt Dizzy Gillespie also really enjoyed that album because his music is full of Latin influences. So before you get all squirrely on me and say I just want to be difficult Kind of Blue is just simply drop dead amazing. I get thrilled at this time in my music collection because in multiple genres some of my favorite artists reside right where I am at and Miles Davis is certainly one of those.

For the more casual jazz listener or someone who just loves Miles Davis and has yet to branch out Kind of Blue is as much if not more about John Coltrane than it is about Miles Davis. Take Coltrane from Davis’ band at that time and Kind of Blue probably doesn’t register as anything but another Miles Davis great album but it won’t be considered the greatest of all time, an album that has reverbing effects not only on jazz but on other genres. Coltrane was about to set the world on fire. Sometime in late 1958 or early 1959 John Coltrane returned from the dark and rejoined Miles Davis. He didn’t stay long just long enough. The work that he had done with Thelonious Monk had charged his mind on what could be done with jazz. Whatever he was before, John Coltrane was transformed when he returned to Miles Davis a completely different saxophonist.

Now Miles Davis is the master of the long note. One could even say that it was the signature style of Miles Davis. While others played around him in syncopated mastery Davis was always a minimalist when it came to how he played. He would hold notes for various time lengths and it’s beautiful to listen to. No one does it better or even the same. Compared to say Gillespie it’s almost like he isn’t playing at all and I don’t mean that as a slight, just the opposite. Different styles different influences make them two different trumpet players.

So while Davis holds these notes, these long notes on Kind of Blue, here comes Coltrane. Coltrane plays 25, 50 even a hundred notes while Davis plays one or two. Together they hit you with the most perfect syncopation you ever heard, like they invented a special language that only they could speak but by God everyone could understand. It is magical this wall of Coltrane musicality, the notes come at you so fast you don’t know what he is doing. It shreds your senses, leaves you raw. It’s amazing. Kind of Blue is every bit as much about Coltrane as it is about Davis.

Kind of Blue is the only album this new version of John Coltrane would play with Miles Davis. You cannot say he outgrew Davis but he found himself able to stand on his own equal in every way. He was ready to shine. Later on that year in 1959 John Coltrane went on to record another one of the greatest jazz albums of all time Giant Steps. It is an interesting album to listen to, no Miles Davis no Thelonious Monk just Coltrane in all of his glory. I have never understood why people don’t get him. While the story from Mr. Holland’s Opus I find true for a lot of jazz I have never needed to play Coltrane multiple times to like. I have loved him from the first. The quirkiness of my music collection prevents me from listening to Kind of Blue and then Giant Steps back to back. There have been times though when I will pull six or seven of my favorite jazz albums and listen to them. I did this for a girl I was dating. She wanted to learn jazz and while admittedly I am a crappy teacher because I just don’t know enough I can at least pull out some albums and play them. At the end of the day jazz doesn’t need more than that. Just listen to it and if you find yourself hating it, then stop trying to feel something or that you should like it and just listen. That’s all any music really requires, no deep analysis on what the hell the artist was trying to say or what he meant or what they were trying to convey, just listen.

Mike out