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