The Music Blog: Green Grass and High Tides

I don’t know if I have shared this. I probably have but I am from the great state of Texas. I had a friend from New York visit once and she exclaimed in wonder how cool it was that people in Texas are more proud of being Texan than they are of being American. There is absolutely more pride in the state than anywhere she had ever been. It was an interesting notion to me. I didn’t know any better. I lived three years in Atlanta from 2007 to 2010 and besides that time I have always been here. I was born poor but by the time I reached school age both of my parents worked for the United States Post Office and you won’t ever hear me bash that institution.  By the time I reached Junior High we were pretty much middle class and I went to a pretty middle class high school that back then was considered a college preparatory school.

If you have ever seen the movie Dazed and Confused I am not sure that my high school was a whole lot different.  One of my goals was to reach legal drinking age, which back then was 18. I turned 18 on April 30, 1981 and legally could drink until September 1 when the law changed to 19. By the time it changed to 21 I was already 21. It wasn’t my only goal. I might have had one maybe two more. Our Friday and Saturday nights were spent driving around and getting into general mischief and occasional mayhem. Occasionally we wrapped someone’s house. I guess in some areas it’s called teepeeing but we also always managed to shoepolish the windows of any unfortunate car left outside especially if it were a classmate’s.

Back then Texas had no open container laws and if we were pulled over underage drinking the cops would tell us to go home and make us pour out the beer we had, which is usually why we had more stashed somewhere else. So we switched cars and resumed our activities. Yea it’s really hard to think that we got away with doing those things but we did. It was a different time, not better just different.  Back then it was roll the windows down and turn up the music. It was about looking for girls and at least for me hoping someone else would do all the talking. It was fun.

So now I find myself on the band the Outlaws, good old southern rock and roll the kind we like in Texas. Truthfully I am not crazy about the band. They have some songs I like but honestly if it wasn’t for one song, they would be in my dislike category, but they do have that one song and that song was the song we turned up the most. We had anthems back then, songs that we would crank and sing along to loudly. Steve was usually our driver and he would play along like an imaginary snare drum tap tap tap. I always sat in the backseat, honestly because I was the only one that could roll a joint without a table. Hey I had some skills.  We didn’t do a lot of that but we had our moments. So we would crank songs, Bob Seger’s Turn the Page, or Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir.  Funky Dogs and Nasty Kings always got  loud playing, or was that Funky Kings and Nasty Dogs. Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers was another ZZ favorite and of course we universally loved The Cars.

Our absolute favorite crank it up song was Green Grass and High Tides. We would play that song multiple times in a single night sometimes.  I loved those dual lead guitars, is just an epic anthem. Every single time I hear it I have to turn it up and I can almost feel the wind rushing at us, the laughter, the kidding around the well-being of being kids before everything started to get serious.  Looking back, all the things that came after sometimes pale in those moments of camaraderie that mattered so much, and now still mean so much.

So turn it up, and turn it up loud if you can.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Somewhere Out There

If you haven’t figured out by now, I got this thing for music. I cannot imagine going a day without it. My whole being is centered on this great love. I love it. I love albums, vinyl albums, the covers, the artwork the pictures of the bands or artists. I love the smell of old vinyl how it feels and the crackle and pops as the record plays. I love cds too, the clarity of the music. I love every band that ever tried, that ever wrote a song, except for that guy, you know which one I am talking about. I love how a song can play and how it can take you back to a previous time, sometimes a long time ago. I love the feelings the songs themselves emote, how they resonate and undulate inside you, tapping into something beautiful.  I love the sad songs, the happy songs, the songs you spend hours trying to figure out, the songs with your ear to the speaker wondering what in the hell is Steven Tyler actually singing.

Sometimes for me it’s not the bands, it’s the songs and sometimes its only one song. I am sure if you listen to rock and roll you remember the band Our Lady Peace. In 1997 Our Lady Peace released the album Clumsy. It’s a great album and I played that album so much. I loved the song Clumsy which has that perfect out of tune beginning that makes it oh so right. The song Superman’s Dead was a huge hit. It’s one of those albums like Counting Crow’s August and Everything After that I could just play over and over again. It remains one of those favorite albums which has a special place because it’s just so good.

But that’s not why I am writing this particular entry.

At one time I was part of a group of really special people on a site called Single Parents Mingle or for the hip and cool people SPM. I was freshly separated and a little lost and so I joined the site because it was a dating site. It wasn’t though. Oh sure there were people doing that but mostly it was this amazing group of people in all sorts of situations trying to get by in the world of being a single parent. We could log in and chat in the chat rooms or play on the message boards for hours. It was a giant virtual support group.

But that’s not what I am writing about either.

Eventually the site chased us all away and we moved on. We kept in touch though and most of us found each other on MySpace. Ah remember MySpace. I loved that site. I loved how you could customize your own page, you could pull songs and have a play list. Sometimes I would go to people’s pages to hear their playlists. I thought long and hard about my playlist, naturally being so musically oriented. I wish I had written it down. One of my really favorite people Stephanie had a wonderful playlist and I copied her playlist and made a cd of the music. I didn’t do that to my own.

But this isn’t about MySpace either.

This is about one song that I put on my playlist and I honestly don’t know where I heard it first.  In 2002 Our Lady Peace released the album Gravity on the strength of the single Somewhere Out There. It was that song, that song, that song and yes that song, that was on my playlist that makes me so sad and makes me so full of regret and even that isn’t really what my blog posting is about.

I just don’t have regrets. I mean obviously I do. I just told you that I do and that one song makes me full of it.  Everyone has regrets, small or big. Regret is part of being human, and regret lets us know when we need to take more care and be better versions of ourselves. We hurt people, we break their hearts and we disappoint people sometimes the people who are closest to us. We pass jobs or opportunities up because we read events wrong or we are just too scared to take a shot. Sometimes people even elect horrible destructive people into office. Luckily I don’t have that one. Of all the character flaws I have it’s my ability to wipe my hands clean and walk away from people I love and care about that most haunts me. I have hurt people because of this horrible flaw and I have worked so hard on eradicating it from who I am. In high school there was a girl. There’s always a girl. I am horribly shy, horribly. I have crushes big crushes and I so fear rejection that they just stay with me eating me away. I watched this girl for so long. Watching her was easy because of an activity she was involved with it made it very easy. I knew where she lived and in the summertime I would drive by her house now and again. Yea I was that guy but I was also 16 or 17. I usually drove by her house at night when I was on the way home. Sometimes I hoped for a chance encounter but most of the time I was deathly afraid of that. During my senior year though, I got to know her. I was like a Dr. Seuss book, oh I did like her, I did like her so much. Her sister was in Spanish club and one night we had an activity over there and I ended up hanging out with her. We dated a few times and we hung out a few times during the year. I should have taken her to prom. I should have. When I went to college I was so lost. She and I enjoyed a great correspondence together. She liked me, she was ready for more and I was too stupid too shy too something to let it happen. So I walked away, despite still having that giant crush despite the feelings she brought out in me. I walked away. In 2005 I found her. She is not hard to find. Still the same warm, happy free spirited girl I have always known, sort of. Life changes us all. In 2007 I moved to Atlanta for 3 years and got busy and lost contact. A couple of months ago I heard a song and thought about her and found her again and because of an upcoming vinyl party I got her address and wrote her an old fashioned letter telling the story I was going to share. She never wrote back. I have her phone number. She gave it to me. I could call her. I probably won’t. I am not looking for magic or happy endings. I just miss my friend and I regret how much I hurt her. You see there was a cost to me as well.

When I was in college I played around with different majors before coming back to social work. I had always since the age of eleven or so wanted to be a special education teacher. My university did not have an education major so I chose social work. I met one of my great college friends in the social work program. Her name was Kris. She was from Peoria, Illinois and loved the band REO Speedwagon and she later fell in love with all things Madonna. I thought she was amazing. We did so much together. She was married, which was okay with me at least at first. The three of us hung out so much. I was over their house as much as my own. Kris introduced me to the art of making party tapes and we must have made a million. Okay so maybe it wasn’t a million. Her husband Mitch was an engineer. Kris got pregnant not too long before she graduated. Don’t think what you are thinking. Sheesh I am not that horrible. I had a problem in that I was really in love with her. I spent so much time with her that I just could not help it. She was nothing ever but my friend. I felt I had two choices, tell her the truth or to go on feeling that way and being miserable. Yes you guessed it I chose a third option of walking away. I have made multiple efforts to find her. I have even paid for information and still not found anything.

I didn’t have the album Gravity and as I said I have no idea where I heard the song Somewhere Out There.  I finally bought the greatest hits album A Decade because it’s on the cd. That song makes me feel what it’s like to have someone just walk away from you and leave you behind. It hurts when it plays and yet I love the song so much and maybe part of the reason is because it does make me feel that way.  I am really good at self-punishment. I don’t believe that I deserve much in this life. I have disappointed and hurt people and all I can do is work on myself so that I don’t keep doing it. I do know there is atonement.

Some of you might feel the need to chastise me or calling me a stalker. Sheesh, come on you were sixteen once. Some of you might think I sit around in this pool of regret all the time but that’s not true. When music comes around on the playlist that reminds me I think about them but I don’t wallow around in self-pity. Actually over the last three months or so I have done more work on myself than I have ever done and I like the results. It’s also foolish not to at least recognize your flaws, your mistakes and in doing so becoming better. The last bit of cleanup is that there is a reason I don’t share the name of my high school friend and you don’t need to know that reason or who it is. Of course there probably won’t be more than 2.7 of you read this anyway.

So much for thinking this would be a short blog.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Kurt

Sometimes fate steps in. Sounds like a fantasy story right? Well it’s true. I have never been a what if kind of person. What if John had never met Yoko? What if Brian Jones hadn’t been a drug addict? What if Morrison had not gone to Paris? What if what if what if. There are hundreds maybe even thousands of them but sometimes things happen that make no sense and the void they create resonates through time until someone fills it up, Maybe that’s a little too Eastern for you. All I know is that throughout history the right person seems to come along when you least expect them and at just the right most opportune moment.

He seemed like an unlikely figure to become the voice of a generation. In fact, if someone had come upon him and offered him the opportunity to go to art school and that it was fully paid for he would have jumped at the opportunity. He didn’t even spend a lot of time in Seattle, spending most of his time in Olympia. He came from a broken home and had trouble connecting to either of his parents and he got into trouble with the law more than once. At times, he was homeless, and even slept in the car of one of his friends. He shopped thrift stores looking for old board games so that he could paint on them because he could not afford canvas. He lacked confidence and direction. Somehow, through some strange twist of fate, this unlikely hero became a musical genius, a voice of a generation and one of the most troubled human beings to ever walk the planet. He can’t be understood by any book, or any recollection, cannot be defined by the lyrics or songs he wrote. He was more than that. Even looking at all those things combined he remains enigmatic. He is judged, constantly judged, even today people think that because of his actions they know him, they think that because he wrote a beloved song or even a dozen that they have the right. They believe they know everything there is to know about his wife and that its really her to blame for everything and so they do, They call her vile names, a horrible mother a horrible wife a horrible human being who only wanted him for his money, The world is full of sick people who think they have the right to judge others.

Musically he had a few lessons on the guitar, but they were difficult lessons as he was left handed and like many left handed guitarists before him he had to figure out many things on his own. He had a tendency in shows as the band developed to smash his guitar, his only guitar and so he would put it back together only to do it all over again. He loved punk music, the music of the Melvins, and the U-Men and later in his life would still go and see live punk acts when he could, when he had the time. He loved the Gits and after Mia Zapata’s death would play a benefit concert so that a private investigator could be hired to work the investigation that had grown cold. He was generous to his friends, not so much with money but with himself and valued people who could love him for who he was not who he was portrayed to be. He suffered with horrible pain wracking stomach ailments which no doctor could find a source and so they all dubbed him a hypochondriac. Who knows? He was unlikely in every single sense of the word.

I truly believe that Andrew Wood’s death caused a ripple through time. Mother Love Bone would have been and even should have been the first big band out of Seattle since Heart. After Wood’s death someone needed to pick up that torch. Chris Cornell had everything, great looks, a great voice and Soundgarden had been together since 1985. They were poised and ready but I don’t believe they had the kind of music that was going to change the world. For that matter Mother Love Bone’s music harkened back to the days of arena rock. Neither band was ready to represent an entire movement, an entire generation. The same could be said for Alice in Chains who were not quite ready anyway and Pearl Jam had barely formed. Nirvana hardly seemed to be the answer. They had been signed by SubPop and had already put out the album Bleach on that label. They had traveled the world with the band Tad but they didn’t seem a likely candidate to be the next big thing. There was also considerable conflict over their record deal. SubPop had signed them to a three record deal and now Nirvana wanted out of that deal and so negotiations were ongoing for their next album. They had also changed drummers because Kurt hated drummers and their previous drummer was too rock and roll and not enough punk. It had nothing to do with skill.  Kurt was surly and most of the time seemed disinterested in a music career, in any career. He really just wanted to paint.

Nevermind might have gone the way of Bleach a good album without airplay, but the music world was tired, the same old hairbands the same old music and more and more bands were merely duplicating what they had done before to sell records. AC/DC sang it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll but it’s really tough to stay there. Smells Like Teen Spirit had so many things that people were looking for. The song is not sung so much as it is growled. It’s an attack on the mundane rock bands, here we are now entertainers but it was also typical Kurt I feel stupid and contagious. It is played with the honest hard hitting intensity of a punk song, with the melody of a rock song and it was like nothing ever heard before. That can be said for the entire album Nevermind.  It was an entire album that spoke to a generation about all of their frustration and it changed music forever. It also helped that the band put out well done videos that got massive airplay which only helped to generate and sustain energy for the album.

Kurt was flawed and he had problems. Courtney Love had to manage those more than any other person. She has been vilified by media and by fans and mostly by Dave Grohl. She had a different vision for Kurt’s legacy than Grohl which she had every right to have as his surviving widow. Media and fans claim that she abandoned Kurt when he most needed her. She had tried to intervene, taking his access to money and credit cards away and forcing him into rehab. She knew about the recent suicide attempt In March of 1994 and she wanted Kurt to get help. Krist Novoselic, Nirvana bandmate and one of his best friends said that Kurt had stopped connecting to anyone and was distant. Kurt walked out of rehab on April 1, 1994 after calling Courtney and leaving her a message that he loved her no matter what and made his way to Seattle without money or resources. He had a friend buy a shotgun for him so as not to alert the police. On April 5, 1994 Kurt committed suicide using the shotgun in the greenhouse of the home he shared with his wife and child. Courtney was in rehab herself at the time. She had hired a private investigator to find Kurt after sightings put him in Seattle after April 1.

I worked on a psychiatric unit in a hospital and it was there that I first heard the news. My office was outside the locked unit door in a hallway and throughout the day nearly everyone who passed my door and knew that I loved music stopped to ask how I was. I was numb and a little in shock honestly not knowing how I felt because all the signs were there and I had been worried that something like this would happen. A psychiatrist who used to talk to me about music every time he saw me stopped and closed the door and was the first to say that he knew how hard it was and to let me know that he was around if I needed someone to talk to, Over the next few years the blame game took a toll on me with Dave Grohl writing his songs about Courtney and Courtney not having anything nice to say about the band. They were all hurting. Mostly the social worker that I was, worried about a child with a famous father who would grow up without him. I still get angry when people bash Courtney, because there is no greater testimony to who she is than how her daughter has grown up. She is a pretty damn good human being and that’s Courtney’s doing, not the music of Nirvana, not Krist Novaselic and certainly not Dave Grohl.

Stop blaming Courtney, stop blaming anyone including Kurt. He’s gone and Courtney has raised a pretty amazing daughter who has had to grow up in strange circumstances.  While he was alive I would often get frustrated with Kurt for throwing so much away. With everything to live for, why be so unhappy? Happiness though is not wrapped up in success and money. Mostly now I am thankful for the short time Kurt graced the world with his music. The rest is like looking at tea leaves to somehow divine the future. Think on that if you will.

My favorite performance from Kurt was the 1992 Saturday Night Live performance of Nirvana. Up until the moment he walked on stage no one in the cast or the band knew that he was going to be able to perform and there was some scramble as to how they were going to fill the time. Kurt was miserable in his dressing room horribly dope sick. He was also complaining of the botched hair dye attempt he had made to change his hair color to purple. Instead it came out as some sick shade of red not even covering all of his hair. Everyone was nervous and then he walked out of his dressing room, terribly frail and pale and prepared to walk on stage. Nirvana delivered a live blasting of Smells Like Teen Spirit. I like to think of him that way. I like to hear the live MTV Unplugged concert where he shows so much dry humor between songs. I wish the world had been kinder to him.  I wish the world would be kinder to him today and I hope he is at peace. That’s all I can do, all anyone can do. As time as gone by I do something I somehow couldn’t at the time of his death, I cry. So maybe for today or whenever you read this, try and think about a kind thought to him, a kind thought to any that were close to him and try not to judge anyone. There is a void when a musical genius leaves us, as much for those that knew him best as those who knew him through a few songs. Peaceful rest Kurt.

Mike out