The Music Blog: The Floyd

Imagine if you will being an English band in the 60’s and it’s the height of the British Invasion. You are not even a widely popular band in England but America is so hungry for British bands that you see yourself as being like the Rolling Stones. It could happen. If you can make it in the United States you can make it anywhere, your career is set. So you are excited and you are thrilled when your first appearance is on an American television show. They treat you so well and everyone is so nice you can have anything that you want. Finally its time to tape the show. You take your positions instruments in hand and the director explains what is going to happen. He says ready action and you start playing except your guitarist, singer, your front man the one you are depending on to get the girls screaming with that dark curly hair and those sultry eyes freezes, literally like a statue. Cut the director shouts and he goes through all the directions again and your singer says yea we got it of course we are totally ready. And action, and he freezes and this continues for a couple of more attempts and then they are done with you and its all over before you ever got started. Back to England you go and no one even your singer really knows what happened.

Back in England you get back to work but you find things are different. Something is wrong with your singer and you urge him to stop with the drugs. Some nights you go on and everything is fine but some nights you go on and you play one song and he sings another, or he plays a different song than the one you are playing. You hire a friend of the band to be ready to play if your singer can’t which seems to happen with greater frequency until one day without telling him you just stop swinging by to pick him up and you move on sadly because he is your mate, your friend your collaborator your front man.

The story of Syd Barrett is tragic and always makes me a little sad but truthfully the day they left him behind they got better as a band exponentially.  There are a lot of Syd Barrett stories but my favorite is when Pink Floyd were recording the song Shine On, a song about Barrett they arrived to find this strange man sitting in the studio, shaved head and heavy set it took them a moment to realize it was Barrett. They all laughed and slapped him on the back the way that friends do and then he quietly got up and left never having said a word even to acknowledge how he got there or why. It was odd too like he knew they were recording a song about him.

Pink Floyd.

If you are my age then you know them well. Most people love them and a lot of people are quite fanatical about them. Depending on who you talk to they may have recorded the greatest album of all time in Dark Side of the Moon. Most everyone loves it, and yes that means me too but its really so unique that I put the album in some sort of special category all its own. There were two albums where I grew up during the 70s that everyone just had to have. It might be different in your region but at least for me when I look back Frampton Comes Alive and Pink Floyd’s The Wall were albums everyone had. I had them both and it seemed like whenever you got in someone’s car they had The Wall in their repertoire. We heard the song Money on the radio a lot but outside of that I didn’t know Dark Side of the Moon well until after college. I am not a Roger Waters fan either so The Wall is an okay album for me but I don’t love it. There are three Pink Floyd albums I put above all others in the Pink Floyd collection and I will talk about them but not in the order they were released.

I was in my room one day doing something, probably building a model airplane and listening to the radio when I heard about Pink Floyd releasing an album. Up until that time I had probably heard the song Money but not really registered who it was as I was a lot more interested in Chicago and Elton John. Pink Floyd was releasing an album and I didn’t care except they were also releasing a giant inflated pig to mark it. I wasn’t really of an age to understand that balloons were going to come down eventually so everyday I went outside and scanned the sky looking for that pig. The album released was Animals. It was one f the first albums I ever owned on 8 track. Yea yea I am that fricking old. I later owned it on cassette and on CD and now on vinyl. I love that album and it has my favorite Floyd song, Pigs (Three Different Ones). There are only four songs on that album. I love all of them but Pigs (Three Different Ones) is just an anthem like song to me. I used to have this wonderful collie and he would go nuts when the song Dogs would play because he would hear the barking. No other dog has ever done that.

In 2001 I began working in cube land working short term disability claims which I was very good at because of all my medical expertise and experience. To help me get through the day I bought a small CD player/radio and one of the CDs that I began to listen to regularly at work was A Momentary Lapse of Reason. I fell in love with this album and partly because there is no Roger Waters who I really dislike. Its almost a haunting album to me and its mostly because that’s the way I find David Gilmour’s vocals. I have really loved Gilmour since I heard his 1978 solo album which featured the song There’s No Way Out of Here, still a favorite for me. He is an amazing guitarist and I love to listen to him play. That album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason has the song On the Turning Away and when it plays I stop whatever I am doing. It just hits me that way, makes me stop and listen.  That entire album just works for me.

The third album I fell in love with I already had and had heard a hundred times. Maybe one day I listened to it and just heard it differently than before, but Wish You Were Here became such a great album to me when I moved to Atlanta in December of 2006. I didn’t discover the album then I had heard it many times before and I loved the song Wish You Were Here, especially Gilmour’s guitar work and those great vocals. It made me feel closer to my son who was still living back in Texas. Shine on (You Crazy Diamond) the aforementioned Barrett tribute song is also a wonderful song.

I am betting that if you had to guess those would not have been your choices for Pink Floyd’s most cherished albums but then it’s a blog about my music collection and I never do anything just to go with the crowd.  I am also not one of those people who sit around dreaming that one day Pink Floyd will get back together. Quite honestly, I just don’t care.  There are not many bands I sit around and long for them to get back together and the ones I do are probably bands you don’t care about.

That’s the way it goes.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Heartbreaker

When I was 15 my parents divorced and for a short very troubled time in my life I lived with my dad which culminated in me running away before moving in with my mom. My dad is a great guy but I was rebelling against everything and he was single for the first time in a long time. My dad loves music but we don’t generally agree in music much. He could listen to Willie’s Place on Sirius XM all the time. He always loved to go to the music store back in the day and one day he bought something because the store was playing it and he liked it only to find when he got home that he didn’t like it at all so he gave it to me. It was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I didn’t like it either. I can’t remember if it was the first or the second album both of which I love now but then I hated it. That colored how I felt about Petty for a long time. To me Petty is like David Bowie. I love the hits but when I would go and buy music there was absolutely always another artist or artists that I wanted to spend my money on more. So for the longest time I didn’t have a lot of Petty albums. I have gone twice to buy music where I was looking for Tom Petty, once to buy his first solo album and again for what I think is his best album Into the Great Wide Open.

I have two friends, two best good friends (Gumpism) who both love Tom Petty. In fact they revere him. I asked them both to share a story or some thoughts about Petty. The first is from my friend Scott who is like me in so many ways when it comes to music. It’s such a huge part of our life that most of our memories revolve around music.  So this from Scott:

June 1st, 1987. The lights went up.

I had always been a Tom Petty fan. I wasn’t a “late arriver” but it was during a time when I wasn’t buying much music. No steady cash flow.  That is until 1981 when I went away to school. My cash flow consisted of what I could embezzle from my parents. They thought, while on campus, I was paying for necessities, but what I was really doing was paying for long distance phone calls to my girlfriend and buying vinyl. Every time the end of a semester rolled around and I sold back my books and I would walk the two blocks from the book store down to the Sound Warehouse. One day I walked in while they were having what was known as a “midline” sale; lots of albums for less than five dollars. While perusing the big blue bins I struck gold in the form of Tom Petty and Heartbreakers’ first five albums. Immediately they were in my arms. That vinyl sounded so sweet on my hand-me-down Electrophonic stereo system with built in 8-track and shitty speakers. Many hours were spent with headphones on, being entranced by and memorizing the words to all the songs I had never heard before. Up to that point I had only heard what was on the radio and up to that point the radio satiated my rock and roll lust. It would be three long years before Petty put out another record and I bought it brand new on the day of release.

In June of 1986, Petty rolled through town with Bob Dylan. Having never seen Dylan before, I purchased tickets for my before mentioned girlfriend and myself, and we hauled it up to Reunion Arena. What truly blew me away about the performance that night was not Bob Dylan, but his “backing band” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It sounded so good, so free, and so right. At the end of their warm up for Dylan, Tom said they would be back and I set my sights on this “next time.”

One year later in June of 1987, Tom and the Heartbreakers came back around. Once again my wife to be and I took our pony to Reunion Arena and we waited for the show to start. If there was an opening band, I can’t tell you who it was. I didn’t care then and I still don’t now.

The lights went up.

What I remember most about the presentation that night were the lights. It wasn’t some big elaborate lighting show/production. There were no whirling lasers or huge screens, just a band under the warm glow of strings of drop lights. They looked like strings of Christmas lights stretching from the stage to the audience. No glitz, no pizzazz; just an honest and humble rock and roll performance, like you might see in someone’s back yard. The lights reached out to the fans and even though we were probably pretty high up in the arena, they made you feel like you were part of something intimate. It was just a cozy show by your favorite home town band. The first few notes of Breakdown were heard and the crowd roared. Tom started the song but the crowd soon took over. That was the first time I heard him utter the words “Man, you might put me out of a job.” The rest of the night was spent playing classics along with a couple of new singles. My heart poured to every note. Nothing was lost on me.

That night encrusted me as a devote Petty-ite. I knew the magic of his words and I felt them every time I heard them. Not near enough was heard from him. He experimented with his sound but in the end there was always that foundation, those roots, and that honesty.

I still turn it up. This is what it’s supposed to be.

 

Thank you Scott. Good story huh? I remember when I heard the news that Tom Petty had died how shocked I felt. It compared to the death of Prince to me in how shocking it was. I had no doubts that it was an accident. After the shock wore off I thought about my friend Wayne who I knew would take it very hard. Like Scott, Wayne was more than just a fan and I knew how he felt about Petty. Some artists’ death we take harder than others. I knew Wayne would also want to share his thoughts on Petty.

This was something Wayne wrote after Petty’s death.

Monday, Tom Petty died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack. When I heard the news I was devastated. Here’s why.

I have been an avid fan of Tom Petty since I was a teenager in the 1970s. For 40 years he just refused to go away. He kept cranking out fantastic albums filled with great songs. His music has been with me during every major period of my life.

But there is another reason I have admired Tom Petty so much. Among musicians he is probably one of the best leaders the rock music industry has ever known. He has given us examples of leadership that all of us can apply to our own careers.

Here are 5.1 Leadership Lessons I have learned from Tom Petty’s 40 year career. 

Lesson 1.0 Build a Team.

If you’re going to build something great, don’t go solo. Build with a team. Early on, Tom Petty made it clear the he wanted a “band.” He didn’t want to be a solo artist with a revolving door of session musicians and hired touring bands. That is why when the record label in the mid-70s insisted his records be “Tom Petty” records, he pushed back and insisted they be “Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.”

In business, you can never accomplish anything of significance alone. Whatever you are trying to accomplish, form a team.

Lesson1.1 But, Lead the Team.

But if you form a team, be the leader of that team. Petty was not a dictator with the Heartbreakers. He understood their genius. Everyone contributed. Everyone had their say. But in the end, Petty knew he had to be the one to close the deal, push out the finished product, and have the final say. You should be the same way with your team.

Lesson 2.0 Build a Team with People you can Love and Care About.

If you’re going to build a team, find people you can love and care about, and who love and care about you, and the mission of your team. Petty was originally from Gainesville Florida. His guitar player, keyboardist, drummer and bass player were all fellow southerners like him. I am not suggesting you need to restrict yourself to working with people from your home town, but you do need to build a team with people that you would feel comfortable taking home to meet your family. Petty and his band were friends. When he died on Monday, most of the band was there in the hospital room with Petty’s wife and daughters.

Lesson 2.1 But, Be Willing to Make Tough Decisions with your Friends.

You build your team with friends and people you love, but if they can’t do the job or don’t share the team vision, let them go. Be nice about it. Help them find a new opportunity if you can. But do it.

Early on, Petty went to California looking for a record deal with a band named Mudcrutch, that was made up of his home town friends. After trying out for several labels, he was finally told his band was not good enough to get a deal, but Petty was. Petty made the tough decision to disband Mudcrutch. He then formed the Heartbreakers. He said it hurt to send his friends packing, but he had to make the tough decision to see his vision become true.

Also, after the Heartbreakers hit super star status, their original drummer Stan Lynch decided he didn’t like Petty or the Heartbreakers anymore. He became a chronic complainer and trouble maker for the band. Petty fired him.

Petty would later find ways to honor and help his friends from Mudcrutch. And he always spoke well of his former drummer Lynch. He even invited Lynch to rejoin the Heartbreakers for one night when they were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame.

When you work with your friends you have to be ready to let them go. It’s the hard part of “business friendships.” But we spend most of our awake time at work, might as well spend it with people you like, love, and care about.

Lesson 3.0 Don’t Back Down.

Before Petty had become a superstar he got into a huge fist fight with his record label MCA. He went as far as to file for personal bankruptcy to get his way. It was unheard of for a young up and coming musician without a platinum record to go up against his record label. But Petty did and won. It reshaped forever how record deals were done in rock music. Petty would have other disputes with his label, and always got his way.

I am not suggesting you sue your employer or get into fights with everyone. But there is something to be said for having a laser focus, and a commitment to fairness, and to doing things the right way.

Lesson 3.1 But, Be Nice When you’re not Backing Down.

The music industry is a rough and tumble world. Your industry probably is also. There are many stories of Petty standing his ground but being nice about it. One that comes to mind is when the George W Bush campaign started using Petty’s song, “Don’t Back Down.” He didn’t make a huge deal about it, but Petty did have his people send the Bush campaign a letter that essentially said, “I am not political, and I don’t want my songs being coopted by politicians. I am respectfully asking you to stop using my song for at your political rallies. I can’t make you stop playing my song at your rallies, but if you don’t I will endorse your opponent and come out against you.” Firm, but polite. Bush backed down. Petty went away and was not heard from again in that election.

There are other examples of people using Petty’s music. Several times other artist took a Petty song and kept the music, but changed the words. Petty’s response was always the same. “No hard feelings. These things happen. List me as the coauthor of the song and include me on your royalties.”

In your business life you face similar challenges. Someone oversteps their bounds and needs to be confronted. Sometimes it’s easy to let others run you over. And sometimes, pushing back hard, and roughing people up seems to make sense. Petty showed a middle ground. Tough lesson, but one we need to follow. Try to take that middle road. Don’t back down, but don’t overdo it.

Lesson 4.0 Embrace Change and New Technology

Petty’s first platinum record hit in 1980, just as the music world was going through its biggest change up to that point. Petty came up in a music industry where the formula for success was built around record sales, radio hits, and touring the country playing convention centers. MTV changed all that. The music video, and television interviews became as important, and some would argue, more important than radio. With his gawky appearance and funny southern accent, few predicted Petty could survive this seismic shift in the music industry. But he did. If fact he was hugely successful with it. Many would argue that of all the rock bands who found their start in the 1970s, Petty made the most of MTV and the Music Video genre.

Lesson 4.1 Don’t just Embrace New Technology, Be Really Good at it.

The 1980s are littered with horrible, cheesy, rock videos put out by really talented and accomplished bands. Many musicians saw the rock video as an expensive nuisance, and a distraction. Not Petty. He was not an early adopter, but when he started making videos for MTV, they were innovative and interesting. He also did something else no one had done yet. He hired actual known actors like Johnny Depp and Kim Basinger to star in them. https://www.wired.com/story/rip-tom-petty-video-pioneer/

Today you are confronted with social media, crowd sourcing, ride sharing, and much more. Like Petty, your goal must be to not only engage these new technologies, but to be the best at them.

Lesson 5.0 Collaborate, Collaborate, Then Collaborate some more. 

The list of musicians Tom Petty collaborated with is breathtaking. From George Harrison, to Bob Dylan, to Roy Orbison, to Johnny Cash, to Stevie Nicks, and many more. The list just goes on and on and on. His most famous collaboration was the Traveling Wilburys with the aforementioned Orbison, Dylan, Harrison and Jeff Lynn. In your career you may not be offered many chances to work outside of your circle. So instead of waiting for opportunity to be offered to you, go out and find them yourself. The Traveling Wilburys didn’t call Petty, he called them, before they were even formed. There are several legends about how the band came to be, but the fact is that Petty had stepped out of his comfort zone to hang around some of the greats in is his industry. As a result, he was there to seize the Willbury opportunity when it arose. You should do the same. http://www.travelingwilburys.com/

Lesson 5.1 When Collaborating, Don’t be Afraid to Take a Backup Role

Twice, after becoming platinum selling super stars, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers became someone else’s backup band. The first time was in the late 80s when they spent a year touring with Bob Dylan as his back up touring band. They played Bob Dylan music, and Petty sang back up to Bob Dylan songs. Petty said they did it because Dylan asked them to do so, and Petty and the Heartbreakers thought it would be fun. But Petty later said the experience made him and his band better musicians. He also said it helped them get out of a creative slump. Petty was not wrong about that. In the years to follow, his music career would reach a new peak as he put out some of his best music ever.

The second time Petty and the Heartbreakers played back up, was for one of Johnny Cash’s last, and best records. They received little notice for this collaboration, but said they did it as a tribute to Cash whom they all considered a music hero and friend.

In your business world you are probably surrounded by people far more successful than you. Don’t be afraid to become friends with them. And don’t be afraid to collaborate with them. Be their equal if you can, or be their back up if you must. But be around greatness as often as possible.

Final Thoughts:

Most of us will probably never play a guitar or write a song as well as Tom Petty. But all of us can take away some leadership lessons from his remarkable life.

#RIPTomPetty

Wayne gave me permission to edit that and take excerpts but in the end I felt that would not be fair. I am not going to ask someone to share their thoughts on an artist they love and then cut it to pieces.

One more thing about Tom Petty, here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area we have a Tom Petty cover band called Petty Theft. They are terrific and I have been lucky to see them a few times all with either Wayne or Scott.  The first time I saw them was with Wayne. At the time I had maybe five Petty albums and generally he was an artist I liked but as I said not one who I went in search of his music. I went that night mostly because I wanted to hang out and hear Last Dance with Mary Jane. I was surprised to hear so many Petty songs I knew and some I didn’t, what you might call deep cuts. They did play Two Gunslingers which is my favorite song on Into the Great Wide Open. I came away with a new found respect for what Tom Petty had done. I started collecting his music and discovering an artist I had mostly ignored. I will never love Petty the way my two friends do but that isnot the point. It’s never really too late to discover an artist. Thanks Tom Petty your music carries on.

I want to thank my friends Scott and Wayne for sharing their thoughts on an artist they really love.

Mike out

 

 

The Music Blog: Like the Mythical Phoenix

Have you ever wondered why some bands are able to continue and some are not when a member dies. It certainly depends on which band member dies but sometimes it seems off. INXS tried to replace Micahel Hutchence. Alice in Chains did replace Layne Staley although many Staley fans refuse to acknowledge the band even though it’s as much Jerry Cantrell’s band as anyone’s. Led Zeppelin knew immediately they would not continue without John Bonham. Mick and Keith have always agreed that if the Stones lost Charlie Watts they could not be a band. You can go back through the history of music and look at it through any window you like but it still isn’t easy to explain.

When Andrew Wood died Mother Love Bone didn’t even contemplate moving forward. They disbanded and went their separate ways. For Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard that meant retreating back to the home of Stone’s parents or maybe it was his grandparents where they disappeared into the basement and contemplated chunking it all. They wondered if they had it in them to give it another try.  Ultimately they started playing music again and recorded a cassette of music that they sent out to their contacts in the music business.  That tape made its way into the hands of Eddie Vedder who liked what he heard and added lyrics and sent it back with a letter. Jeff and Stone responded and Vedder made his way to Seattle from San Francisco. He arrived penniless and without a place to stay. One of the first things these three new musical friends did was help out Chris Cornell on the Temple of the Dog Tribute album to Andrew Wood.  They also participated in the filming of Cameron Crowe’s Seattle film Singles portraying Matt Dillon’s band.

They also went to work adding a drummer and more notably guitarist Mike McCready. The result was an album that I believe is one of the 10 greatest albums ever made. It is so close to perfect and it retains its edge even after all these years.  When the song Evenflow was released it took only one listen for me to know I wanted the album and I bought it as fast as I could. Back then it was not unusual for me to buy ten or even more albums at a time.  I could not stop playing the album. It was so good and it was one of those albums where there just wasn’t a bad song which clearly the label agreed with because there were so many singles.  The album made Temple of the Dog take off and it made the song Crazy Mary which is my favorite Pearl Jam song an underground hit as well.  Pearl Jam could do no wrong. I love the song Alive and I can’t help but smile at the memory of one of my all-time favorite patients, Gianna, sitting in front of a speaker and singing it at the top of her lungs. She was such a free spirit.

I like so many others waited for that follow up album and when it came it completely surprised me. Somehow Pearl Jam completely reinvented themselves and if you expect Vs. to sound like 10 you will be greatly disappointed. I loved it. Pearl Jam kept doing that, creating music that was always theirs, never really bowing to corporate label pressure. They fought a war with Ticketmaster and released multiple live concerts. Most of these were double cds in stripped down packaging, no pictures. I looked for them and I bought a few of them. I think they are wonderful.

That’s the pattern for them too. You never know what direction the music will take from album to album and their efforts have produced a string of hits. Listening to their greatest hits album is absolutely amazing. They are my favorite American rock band.  There are a lot of Mother Love Bone and Andrew Wood fans out there. I wrote before that the two largest groups of pure music fanatics I know are for Andrew Wood and Layne Staley. Most of them hate the band Pearl Jam and treat them as if they owe Andrew or even his family something.  I love Andrew Wood. I love Mother Love Bone but Pearl Jam doesn’t owe him that kind of homage. Andy gave everything he had and that’s all there was all we are ever going to get. I have never heard Pearl Jam, be disparaging. They did not slight him at the Hall of Fame. In fact Stone and Jeff freely gave of their time for the documentary Malfunkshun, and through Stone’s efforts and backing the music of Mother Love Bone and Malfunkshun has been remastered and released again. Andy has been gone more years than he was alive and its way past time to move on from that ship. I love music enough that I can love both bands and Ten remains to me one of those amazing very special albums.

They have maintained their Seattle roots. They have continued on, a voice of a generation when so many of their peers have fallen by the wayside. I sometimes think that they carry the mantle of the great American rock band Aerosmith, ready to bring their music to generation after generation. And they began, oh they began like the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes of Mother Love Bone to be something different and something better.

Mike out

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

The Music Blog: Regret

I have long stated and I truly believe that one of the most influential bands of all time are the Sex Pistols. They had a short life span, less than three years, recorded only one album and never played to a crowd more that 500 or so. They were vilified, made out to be an enemy and inspired hundreds of youth worldwide to pick up instruments and play their heart out. They are often overlooked when talking about the great rock and roll bands, quite honestly the Clash is seen as a much more influential band yet few recognize that without the Sex Pistols the Clash doesn’t exist. They too were influenced and inspired by the Pistols.

So too was the band Warsaw. Wait, what? I heard every one of you do a discount double take. Who the hell is Warsaw?

In 1976 3 friends from Salford, England saw the Sex Pistols in Manchester England. Stephen Morris, Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner decided that they would form a band and so they began without even knowing how to play an instrument but that’s what the Sex Pistols were about. The three decided they needed a front man and asked a local youth they all knew. It took some convincing but soon Ian Curtis became their lead singer and lyricist. They were soon playing a few gigs in the area and even made an early recording. Their name and early artwork using Nazi symbolism used on a single convinced the band to change their name and they were soon Joy Division. Over the next few years they began building a solid base of fans mostly in the Manchester area and released several singles and the album Unknown Pleasures. They began touring more and more in England and the wider Europe and Curtis was stricken with an adult onset of Epilepsy. He was also married, with a child on the way and carrying on an intense friendship and possible sexual affair with another woman. It all depends on which version of the story you believe. The band set to working on their next album Closer and their schedule only grew more intense. Curtis began having more and more seizures some of which occurred on stage and began sliding into a deep depression related to the personal battles he was fighting. He seemed to be looking forward to the upcoming American tour but he and his wife had split. Ian Curtis hung himself on May 18, 1980 ending his promising life and the dreams of a band. Long before the four bandmates had made a decision to never carry on as Joy Division if someone left the band.

Fast forward please. That’s what we used to do in the old cassette days. In 1993 my world was pretty good. I was having fun, still young but old enough to have learned some lessons. I was dating a girl that by every standard should have been perfect for me.  She was cute, could be attentive, very attentive, had a really easy going nature that made everything seem so easy going and nice. She never got too disappointed, appreciated small things as well as big things and for whatever reason we just could not connect. We did okay, there just was something missing and as usual I was pretty sure that what was missing was somewhere inside of me. One night we had been out and we had been having a good time when a song came on the radio and I said “There, there, that’s the song I am looking for. Who is that band?” She didn’t know and she said we were close to Sound Warehouse and they were open so off we went to find out. We got there about 10 minutes to closing. There were still a few customers in the store and I started asking one of the sales guys about this song. He shook his head and said you’re going to have to sing it. Now as I have said I am kind of shy but if I am going to make a fool out of myself I am going to go big, I am going to make it memorable. It’s why I don’t sing Karaoke or anything that requires me to do something in public. Once I know I have humiliated myself I will just go for it. So I start singing and while I am singing I start dancing. The sales guy is laughing, the girl is laughing hysterically and I am singing so everyone in that store can hear:

I would like to find a place I can call my own

Have a conversation on my telephone

Wake up every day, that would be a start

I would not complain ‘bout my wounded heart

Now at this point I play air guitar dud da duh da and the sales guy had all he could stand and said, “New Order, New Order,” pointing to a rack of cds. And that’s how I bought my first New Order cd. It seems weird that it took me that long to discover them. They had been around for several years, but of course I live in Texas and there just were not radio stations that played that kind of music. Regret is actually my second favorite song from the band but it will always have a special place in my heart. Regardless from that point on New Order became one of my very favorite bands and have remained so to this day.

Flashback to 1980 please. Oh crap you went too far, okay a little forward, bam there you go. Remember those three friends reeling in the aftermath of their friend and bandmate Ian Curtis’ death? Well they reformed and started rehearsing and playing music and while it felt awkward playing Joy Division songs and working on new material with rotating vocals to see who could do the job they stumbled forward and eventually changed their name to New Order. They would add a keyboardist Gillian Gilbert who later married Stephen Morris.  They began building a new repertoire of music slowly rebuilding their new band name and recording. They hit it big in 1983 with the song Blue Monday.  By then they had clearly settled that Bernard Sumner would be their vocalist. Their history was defined by poor management, poor financial decisions and horrible infighting mostly between Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner. They would have large gaps between albums and claim they were done, yet be dragged back by financial demands to record just one more album. Eventually they restructured, and relieved themselves of horrible debt, their longtime manager died but the damage they did to themselves was harder to repair.

They are the epitome of English bands from the Manchester area that recorded singles and albums separately. Most American and even English bands record albums and release singles from those albums. It makes buying some albums a joy as there may end up being four of five hit songs on one album. The singles that were hits for New Order weren’t on an album until the greatest hits album was released. It ended up being a monster album for New Order to have all the singles on one album.

I have always thought that New Order was a better band than Joy Division because I think Sumner is a better vocalist although he is not nearly as dynamic as the often bizarre Ian Curtis. Sumner’s problem is that he is just too arrogant to see any other way other than his own. New Order fans now fall into two camps the Sumner camp or the Hook camp. I might be a rarity but I think they are better together than they are apart although I side with Hook. Sumner fired Hook in 2007 and for years there were legal battles between Hook and the band that were for the most part amicable. Most of these are all over but maybe one day the two will sit and talk things out and pave a way for Hook to return. Me, I will just keep listening to the band I love, and loving the old songs and exploring the new ones as long as they keep putting albums out I will keep buying them although I doubt I will ever dance and sing in front of a sales guy again and we should all be thankful for that.

One last thing, Regret remains one of my all-time favorite songs but only my second favorite New Order song. Crystal is my favorite. It’s a crank up the volume song but we’ll get there when we start exploring the music.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Cuttin’ Heads

Imagine if you will. Hmm, sounds like the Twilight Zone. Seriously imagine if you will that you are a blues man working in the delta or maybe Memphis or even Chicago. It’s the 1940’s or maybe early 50’s. You have worked hard, like every blues man before you from Charley Patton to Robert Johnson to Big Bill Broonzy. You have played every dive juke joint on every back road imaginable. You have seen knife fights, even been in a couple. You have laid people low with broken bottles and you have the scars to prove it. Now you have left those smaller joints behind and are playing to bigger audiences. You have a good band, people like to dance to your music and they spend their money. You may or may not have had a couple of small recordings, regional things that made you less than a hundred dollars. Tonight you expect a big payday. It’s a big crowd and there has already been a band out to warm things up for you. You are just about ready to go on when the owner taps you on the shoulder and tells you the bad news. You have been bumped. You are mad and getting ready to pull a blade out when you see the band that is there now. You know the singer, his guitar is out and you get it. You just got you head cut. Cuttin’ heads it’s what you could do to make money when you had a name for yourself. It’s how blues men survived when times were hard. It was part of the business and everyone did it on some scale or another unless you were on the bottom of the heap.

Some while back I had two blog entries fairly close together where I explained who my top bluesmen were. I have three that seem to rotate at the very top so I call them 1a 1b and 1c. Previously I covered Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. For a long time though my third guy held the position of number one, and sometimes as I do with the others I think that he might deserve to be at the top by himself. They are all that good. They have all had a turn. When I hear his voice, that incredible distinctive voice it’s difficult to think that anyone ever could be as good.

He was mostly raised by his grandmother after his mother died. His famous nickname or at least part of it came from her as she tagged him at a young age because he was always playing in the muddiest stream possible. So she nicknamed him Muddy and years later he added Waters because it seemed right.

He was born in either 1913 or 1915 in either Rolling Fork, Mississippi or Jug’s Corner, Mississippi. His given name was McKinley Morganfield. He learned to sing in his unique style from church and bought his first guitar for $2.50. His early influences were Son House and Robert Johnson. He developed a style that was more up tempo after moving to Chicago to look for a break. That break came when two brothers, Leonard and Phil Chess put everything they had in a record label and studio and so Chess records was born. Muddy Waters would record some of his biggest hits with them including Hoochie Coochie Man, I Just Wanna Make Love to You, and I’m Ready. To most blues aficionados he is considered the Father of the Chicago Blues.

Waters saw a real resurgence to blues music and his in particular with the British Invasion. All they could do was rave on the American Blues they had all fallen in love with. For the first time this seemed to give blues music an audience that was wider but it also caused problems. It was confusing to be loved by a white audience but hated in their hometowns by many of the same people. In the 70s this continued in a twisted way with blues stars sometimes dependent on a white artist to recognize them and give them an audience. On the one hand it brought them a bigger piece of the financial pie but it cost them part of their soul. It happened to Muddy a lot and many times he found himself having to introduce white stars because they were just more important than the artists that created the music.

I discovered Muddy Waters early in my blues journey as you might expect. I have always found his delivery of his songs magnificent and stunning. Mannish Boy will hit you right in the gut with just its raw power.  He died on my birthday in 1983from complications from the cancer he had been fighting. What a life though, from his early days opening for Big Bill Broonzy to cutting heads with his band before he made it big, to his work with Chess Muddy Waters became a legend his name only drawing instant recognition. So he is at the top of my personal blues list along with John Lee and his friend Howlin’ Wolf. I can’t think of a better 3 to be at the top of any list.

If you don’t know his music well then it’s a good time to check him out. He is well worth your time. Open some good bourbon and bring a long a friend and give it enough volume to make it special.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Shout at the Devil

In cognitive theory you learn that each person has their own filing system, unique to themselves. This filing system dictates how a person will respond to certain events or actions in their life. It tells us how memories are formed and what might trigger memories. Many of my memories are centered around music which really should not surprise anyone.

A few weeks ago I heard a song on a compilation cd that triggered a memory, a powerful memory and one I had not thought of since the early 80s. It was a bit surprising as I had heard the song a hundred times and never once had that particular memory. What is really strange is that a few weeks from now I will gather with friends for our next vinyl party and I have a sub-theme to my selected songs maybe because of this memory or maybe as a result of just looking for songs. Some of you might believe that life is a series of choices all leading to becoming something, a search for some mystical thing. I don’t mean to dive into the deep end here but a lot of my upcoming theme centers around becoming. We become a man, become a social worker, become a father or mother and the list goes on.

I cannot remember the when, although I know the approximate time frame. I had just bought a 1984 Trans Am. So it could have been late 1983 or early 1984. That’s probably the least important thing about the memory. I had a small group of friends from high school. When we graduated we all went separate directions. I went to school. Another of my friends faced his sexuality and explored that. My best friend got married shortly after graduation to his high school sweetheart. They are still married. He worked and went to school part time. I went over to my friend’s house, chatted with him showed him my new car. I wanted to go run around and I was wanting to buy an album (actually a cassette.) It was pretty cool when my other friend also showed up and we went out together. We ended up at Target and I bought this cassette. There was a little bit of the old horseplay but not much which was understandable. We piled back in my car and I put my new music in and cranked it. Less than one song later they wanted to turn the music down and wanted to go home. They had other things going on. I said my goodbyes a little later and realized how far we had drifted. Where once we had all been on a path together now we were on different paths and I realized that my path wasn’t better or more special than theirs just different.

It might seem strange that a song like Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil would engender so much in me. It isn’t the music or the lyrics though that reminded me of my friends. Life happens. It moves whether we are sitting still or moving rapidly towards a goal. Life happens whether you are rich or you are poor, faithful or skeptic. As I said I had never had that memory before with any song now it seems unlikely I will be able to hear it and not think of it. That’s both the power of music and the power of memories.

I first heard the album Shout at the Devil in the small town I worked in during the summer, weekend and holidays. A young guy I sometimes rode around with was in love with the song Knock em Dead Kid, which admittedly is a great song. He would drive around for hours listening to that one song which is probably why people were not riding around with him. Just a thought.

Motley Crue just seemed to appeal to my metal loving half, the music driving and Mick’s guitar which I have always thought is incredibly underrated. He is the drive for that band, the wall of sound that emanates. It wasn’t the make up either or the spandex and leather or even the big hair. It was just this band and like other bands no matter whether they like each other or hate each other together there is something mgical about them. This isn’t a comparison but they remind me of the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger isn’t the greatest singer, and until recently Keith Richards was rarely viewed as some great guitarist. Charlie Watts has one of the smallest drum kits ever for a drummer in a rock and roll band. Whoever the second guitarist has been when you put all their pieces together its special. Motley Crue is the same way to me.

I have all sorts of musical heroes and I have several just plain old heroes. Nikki Sixx is the only one I have in both categories. No he isn’t Ulysses Grant but he is heroic. His story is compelling, a heroin addict who found recovery and somehow through that process became this completely different person, a better musician, a better husband and a better father, but mostly a better human. You might focus  solely on his flaws but I recognize that we are all flawed. It’s how we handle that. I would say that Nikki Sixx has handled his flaws better than most. If you don’t know his story then go find out as it’s really easy.

I could go through the songs and the albums but you get the point right. The real story is not my love of Motley Crue, or Nikki Sixx. No it’s the memory of so long ago and the realization that my life was changing and my friends’ lives were changing and where once we were on the same path now we had drifted.  I didn’t go back or if I did it was only briefly. I lost touch went out with new friends and found new passions including a profession. Theirs did too. It is that part that makes me sad, the process of what was once so valuable to me becoming changed. I didn’t consciously go through all of this when it was happening that is the point of retrospection to gain an understanding of some past event. It is always the little things that eat at us.

Meanwhile, I am still becoming.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Andy

Sometime in the late 80’s or maybe early in the year 1990, I had a friend who I occasionally played basketball with and would run into from time to time. I was working a lot and the amount of ball I was playing was less and less but I still liked to run some games now and again. It’s hard even to call this guy a friend because quite honestly I don’t remember his name. He was a squirrely thin guy who could really play and was always quiet and never talked trash. In fact he didn’t talk much at all. He loved music though and he had decided that it was some sacred duty to show me the changing world of rock music since at the time about 90% of what I listened to was R&B. So almost every time I would run into him he would hand me a cassette tape of music almost all of it underground. This is how I discovered bands like the Pixies, Sonic Youth, the Descendants and a host of other bands some good many of them strange.

So a few times we went together to Deep Ellum in Dallas where there was a rebirth of music and clubs. We saw a lot of live bands and I am sure I may have even seen some of the early grunge bands that toured as Seattle was just about to explode. It’s in one of these clubs that I heard that Andrew Wood had died. I thought he was some local kid or maybe a friend they all knew and didn’t think much of it. Over the course of the next year Andrew’s name kept surfacing. Nirvana hit it big. My friend Eric had to play it for me and from that point on I bought few R&B albums. Pearl Jam followed Nirvana as did Soundgarden who I had already heard. Other bands followed like Smashing Pumpkins, Concrete Blonde, Cowboy Junkies, the Pixies all now had willing ears to listen to their music.  Suddenly music was amazing.

Then in 1991 a song hit the airwaves that had been released almost a year earlier. The video was so cool because it featured members from both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. The band was Temple of the Dog and the song of course was Hunger Strike. I wondered why these two bands would join forces for an album and then learned it was a tribute album; a tribute to Andrew Wood. I really wanted to know who Andrew Wood was and why he was so important.

Andrew Wood was born January 8, 1966 in Columbus, Mississippi. Later the family moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington near Seattle. He was the youngest of three boys. To say that he was raised in a dysfunctional family is a bit of an understatement. There were conflicts and rampant alcohol abuse and drug addiction. Andy began using drugs as early as age thirteen perhaps earlier. One of the many things you learn in a social work education is family systems theory. Andy became the entertainer of the family, the one who made everyone laugh and so he learned at an early age to always be on and his personality even at a young age was big. He would often sit in his room and have pretend concerts or pretend to interview himself as a big rock star.

In 1980 Andy formed the band Malfunkshun with his brother Kevin and friend Regan Hagar. They began playing shows in Seattle which had a lot of very small music clubs. Malfunkshun would become a major influence on the developing Seattle sound. Andrew would come on stage playing bass wearing white face paint and called himself Landrew the Love God. Their music was Love Rock. They often played without a setlist, were sometimes booed or turned people off yet they were part of a small group of musicians that played off of each other. Bands like Green River, Soundgarden, Skin Yard and a host of others watched each other’s shows and fed off of them. Audiences grew bigger, the music less raw. In 1985 Andy’s drug use which now included heavy use of heroin had reached the point where even he knew he needed help and he entered rehab later that year.  By all accounts rehab went quite well.

 

When he got out of rehab he drifted a bit and found an unlikely soul mate and friend in Chris Cornell who was looking for a roommate. Andy needed a friend who wasn’t using drugs Chris needed help with the rent. Their friendship was fast and furious and it was said that had either been a woman they would have been the perfect couple. Cornell would tell stories of how they would play music sometimes for hours and record them on cassettes, marveling at Andy’s ability to create sometimes masterpieces of music with no rehearsal and on the fly. Sadly none of that music survived.

 

In 1988 Green River disbanded. Mark Arm went on to form the band Mudhoney. Former Green River guitarist Stone Gossard began writing songs with Andrew Wood finding an easy going song writing relationship each helping the other with songs. With Regan Hagar and Jeff Ament they formed a brief one gig band called the Lords of the Wastelands. After this gig Stone, Jeff and Andy decided to carry on with a different version of this band adding drummer Greg Gilmore, and guitarist Bruce Fairweather and they began immediately playing the Seattle area clubs with tremendous buzz and success under their new name Mother Love Bone. They recorded an EP Shine in 1989 and began drawing attention from major recording labels. Other bands too from the burgeoning Seattle music scene were drawing interest. Nirvana had moderate success on the Sub Pop label with their album Bleach and were already looking for ways out of their deal with Sub Pop. Soundgarden too were signed around this time. Other bands like Alice in Chains were waiting in the wings. Mother Love Bone signed to Polydor and traveled to San Francisco to record Apple. Andy was struggling. There is now tons of speculation about how Andy was feeling. It was certainly possible that being in a band where he didn’t have to be in charge of all things creative both relieved him and minimized him. People look back at his lyrics and see a dark soul full of demons but outwardly he was larger than life in photo ops and in shows and in interviews. Nevertheless he was using heroin more and more. Many years later a friend of his who did drugs with him said Andy always wanted to get higher and of course with heroin it just takes you lower. He felt Andy never really understood that but maybe Andy understood it all too well.  Andy finally checked himself into rehab before the release of Apple to prepare himself for the tour to come. There was certainly hope. The band was only just learning how addicted he was despite being told by Andy’s girlfriend that he was in trouble.

motherlovebone4701203245832888469.jpg

 

On March 16, 1990 Andy was found passed out by his girlfriend who had first thought he was only sleeping. When she could not wake him up an ambulance was called. He was initially pronounced dead. He improved and then suddenly turned after suffering an aneurysm. Andrew Wood was removed from life support on March 19, 1990 and died later that day. In one of the strangest twists to this story was the family contacted Chris Cornell who was out of state on tour so that he could be at Andy’s side when they removed the life support. In the documentary Malfunkshun Cornell spoke about how that was both cool and creepy. Regardless when Cornell spoke about Wood’s death there was a grief a mournfulness to him that I believe never went away. After Cornell died many on multiple Andrew Wood and Mother Love Bone sites claimed how the two were finally together again but that too has such a creepy component to it.

At the time of Andrew Wood’s death I had still not heard of him. In fact the first time I heard the words Mother Love Bone was in reference to Temple of the Dog being a tribute album to Andrew Wood former lead singer of Mother Love Bone who died tragically of a heroin overdose.  Around 1992 I saw the movie Singles and during the opening credits there was the graffiti wall that used to be in the area of a lot of clubs and right in the center Mother Love Bone in all its splendor. Just a few years ago Jeff Ament had that wall graffiti replaced on the outside wall of Easy Records as a tribute to his former band. Still I had not heard a single Mother Love Bone song until I bought the Singles Soundtrack which included the song Chloe/Crown of Thorns. In 1992 Stone Gossard with the surviving members of the band released Shine and Apple together under one album Mother Love Bone which I acquired somewhere around 1993.  Eventually I had both Shine and Apple on vinyl.

 

 

The more I listened to the music of Mother Love Bone the more I fell in love. It made me remember arena rock of the 70s but it was so fresh and new, unique and compelling. It was easy to see why a record label would want to record that music. Had Andrew not died Apple would have been the first Seattle album to hit it big. I am one hundred percent sure. The time was right, the songs are simply too good. It was a perfect convergence of the right personnel the right time for a change and a personality big enough to lead that change. Andy could have been all those things but really all we have are what ifs or should haves or could have beens and that is the sad story of a young man who once interviewed himself as a rock star in his room as a child.

Knowing Mother Love Bone, hearing Andrew Wood’s voice opened up something inside of me, something deep that struck at my love of music my love of a story and even the sadness in my own soul. Yet there was an additional discovery for me.  In 2005 Scott Barbour a director and producer released the documentary  Malfunkshun; The Andrew Wood Story. It was a tremendous documentary with friends, bandmates, family and Andy’s girlfriend all participating. There were hours of interviews done, footage from the Malfunkshun days, home movies and Mother Love Bone footage and interviews with Andy himself. It also included a cd of Malfunkshun’s music almost all of it previously unreleased. I didn’t discover this until 2012. I bought it new and stared at it for days. I needed it to be the right time to watch it because I knew it was going to probably devastate me. One day I put it in and there he was, larger than life speaking alive and well and on always on. Throughout the documentary the music plays and I sat there singing the songs watching mesmerized tears steadily rolling down my cheeks sometimes sobbing. It had seemed like such a long journey for me. In 2016 Stone Gossard released  an amazing boxed set. It’s well worth the cost.

There is this fine sometimes razor thin line between fandom and fanaticism. I love Andrew Wood love his soul love his music. He was just that kind of person, that kind of musical figure to me. He was flawed. We all are flawed and sometimes we judge those flaws in others way too harshly when it would be easier on our souls to just be kind. There are fan clubs to Andrew Wood and to Mother Love Bone. One of my friends from facebook is a site admin for one of these sites or was at one time. I am on both sites but rarely post. I can only read the same posts so many times before I shake my head and back away. Would Mother Love Bone be bigger than Pearl Jam? How huge a star would Andrew be? There are posts bashing Pearl Jam. Why oh why did Pearl Jam insult Andrew’s memory by not mentioning him at their Hall of Fame induction?  It all gets old.

I love Pearl Jam. Personally I think they will very likely be that band that carries on like Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones and please don’t take that as some comparison as it’s not. I just mean that they will have that kind of longevity. It was discovered when Andy was hospitalized that he was battling a lot of health issues he knew nothing about. I doubt Andrew stays with Mother Love Bone had he lived but all that is conjecture. Andrew’s life was short and maybe he gave us all he had because there certainly is not any more coming. It can be sad playing what if games. I understand them just refuse to be lured down that particular rabbit hole.

For me he will always be Landrew the Love God and his music will always be love rock. I still sometimes mourn him, feel sad that such a burning light is gone but I don’t dwell on those feelings long. I don’t think Andrew would appreciate it at all. I think he would be pleased that young people are still discovering his music and that is a very good thing.

Rest in peace you beautiful soul

 

andrew-woods564903060863855274.jpg

 

Mike out