Could You Be The One?

Back when life was simpler and a lot less sad, I went out to see bands because I thought music might save my life. Music as a life saver? Please do tell.

Lot’s been written about Mark by me and others. In death, there is a tendency to enlarge one’s life, or attribute qualities to people in the dead person’s life that may or may not have been present. In Mark’s case, he was the real deal. I did my best as a dad and things turned out pretty well until last January.

In 1986, I was simply a father and husband with a three-year-old son. We were living on a dead-end street in Chesterton, Indiana.

Mark had a tricycle and was making a few friends in the neighborhood. I worked at a prison and Mary had just started working breakfast at Wendy’s prior to me heading off to the med room at Westville Correctional Facility.

Mark and dad playing in the snow [1986]

Things were looking up for our little family, trying to scrape together enough money to return to Maine. I also had aspirations of being something more than an hourly wage slave. It would take me another 15 years to recognize that the writing muse was calling. Unable to recognize its beckoning however, caused considerable frustration and angst in my mid-20s.

Besides one co-worker a few years younger than me, I didn’t know anyone that I’d call a friend save for a student I met at Purdue University’s satellite campus just a few miles from where I worked. I enrolled in a business management course, along with a philosophy class. That’s where I met Leo.

I’d just scored a cheap Japanese knock-off of the classic Gibson Les Paul and he taught me a few chords. I really sucked as a guitar player, but plugging it into the boom box (that was my first amp) and coaxing a few properly-fingered G and D chords made me feel like life might get better.

Don’t get me wrong—I absolutely adored both my young and beautiful wife (that I’ve now been married to for 35 years in July) and the increasingly-active son that was the apple of his dad’s eye—it’s just that I was contending with lots of mixed messages that many mid-20s young men struggle with in a world knocked off-kilter. Rock and roll offered an outlet of sorts and periodically, I’d head off to Chicago (sometimes with Leo and sometimes all alone), attending shows at clubs like Caberet Metro and Park West.

The former was geared towards punk and alternative rock. I once saw a show that featured SoCal punks The Descendants, DC3 (fronted by ex-Black Flag member, Dez Cadena), and Canadian punk gods DOA (from Vancouver, BC). Park West is where I caught Hüsker Dü (from Minneapolis). Never in my life have I ever seen a power trio create a wall of sound the likes emanating from the stage and members Bob Mould, Greg Norton, and the late Grant Hart.

I was sad when I heard that Hart died last week from complications associated with liver cancer. He was just a year older than me. That means that when I saw him, he was likely struggling with many of the same issues I was tilting at. His choice was music (and drug usage), yet he and his mates offered catharsis for me.

Music is powerful and those of us that believe “rock and roll can never die” remember those days, while fewer of us still go out and catch live music. I’ll be out tonight in Portland, seeing The War on Drugs at The State Theater with my friend, Dave.

While running down sources for an article I’m on deadline for, and also experiencing additional grief with yet another death in our family, I read a few tributes to Hart this morning.

I especially enjoyed this one via Twitter from Bill Janovitz, who fronted Buffalo Tom, a Boston band that I was really into not long after falling for Hüsker Dü. Janovitz mentions the Hüskers’ influence on his own band, which was apparent to me in the early-1990s when we’d returned to Maine and I was hosting a weekly post-punk radio show on Bowdoin’s WBOR. I played a shit ton of Buffalo Tom back then as did most of the DJs into this genre of rock.

My thoughts flow back to buying Warehouse Songs and Stories on cassette at a Michigan City bookstore/record shop and playing it for two weeks straight. This was the band’s major label breakout and anyone who knows rock knows this is now considered a classic. At the time, all I knew is that I couldn’t get enough of it, and that Rolling Stone was also digging it. The bands I was into usually didn’t get 5-star reviews in rock music’s review bible.

Not sure how to tie all of this together other than to say that in sadness and grief, I’m glad that music still offers up relief from the pain and hurt that’s a constant these days.

I’ll close with a video of Hart and Co. playing the inspiration for today’s blog title on Joan Rivers’ late-night program. Mr. Hart is the very young drummer.

Finding the Bridge

Sleep and sleep patterns have always intrigued (and affected) me. As in, I don’t always sleep as soundly as some. Basically, I wake up in the middle of the night more often, than not. This has been especially true since Mark’s death.

Several years ago, new information about the history of sleep came across my desk and it helped me recognize that eight hours of uninterrupted sleep wasn’t necessarily the norm, at least until marketers seized upon another way to deepen their pockets—by pushing the idea, along with a host of sleep aids and other pharmaceuticals.

According to Roger Ekirch, a history professor at Virginia Tech, people slept in “shifts,” basically, or twice per night.

His research conducted over 16 years found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight-hour chunk, but instead, sleep came in two shorter periods, but over a longer range of night, with the range being about 12 hours long. He later wrote a book about it.

When I wake up and can’t fall back asleep, I get up, go downstairs and attend to some task for about an hour. Then, I get drowsy and often, go back to bed and sleep for 45 to 90 minutes. I generally wake up refreshed and ready for my day.

These nocturnal interludes between sleep shifts are when I discover interesting things, or do some quick research on something I’ve jotted down the previous day or prior week. Continue reading

Death Don’t Have No Mercy

Some friends have heard my Jorma Kaukonen story. It was years ago when I was much younger and less well-versed about the personal effects of one particular song he covered frequently (don’t remember if he played it that night, or not).

Kaukonen was an idol of mine, a member of a personal shortlist of musicians that I’ve never grown tired of listening to, reading about, or contemplating their body of work. And in Kaukonen’s case, I’ve had the privilege of hearing him live, too.

My story centers on Raoul’s Roadside Attraction, a small, intimate club on Forest Avenue, the kind of place that was a bit larger than your living room, but not so big that the music and performer got lost in the space. “Intimate” comes to mind as a descriptor. It was likely 1989. Continue reading

Throwing a (World) Party

In lieu of substantive blogging material, I’m planning to throw up random thoughts and ideas for awhile. That should suffice for fresh content until something big shows up at my doorstep. I’m actually fine with transitioning the JBE into a poor man’s Pitchfork if need be. I’ve never been shy about sharing my opinions on music (past and present).

Years ago, I read an article by some music journalist. He was speaking with Karl Wallinger (former member of the Waterboys) and at that time (in the 1990s), Wallinger fronted World Party. I don’t recall the publication. I do remember Wallinger being articulate about his music, however. He was talking about the Beatles, and their influence on his writing and song structure, as well as a host of other things that the British singer-songwriter was weighing-in on at that moment.

Like most things from my past, I boxed up Wallinger (and his music) and stuffed them back into the subconscious recesses of the soft tissue that is my brain’s roomy central archive.

Funny thing about music (at least for me), this material dating back half a century seeps out at unexpected times. With Wallinger and World Party, it was on Sunday, in the early afternoon. This followed my Sunday-morning-coming-down filled with trying to recall everything I’ve been studying from the NFHS Volleyball Rules Book. I had to pass their online exam in order to become certified, and become legit with the Maine Association of Volleyball Officials (MAVO). Continue reading

A Purple Friday

The obvious thing to write about today if I was following the herd, would be the death of Prince, the great purple one. Actually, I will follow the masses today, as I did want to touch briefly on the sudden end to his music career.

In terms of music coming out of Minneapolis (Prince’s hometown) in the 1980s, I was a fan of The Replacements and Hüsker Dü. I knew of Prince, but he was too commercial for my tastes at the time. In terms of popularity, he tended to curry favor with the mainstream music crowd that I looked upon with disparagement.

According to Wikipedia, Prince sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artists of all-time. I knew he was popular, but didn’t know his sales were that substantial.

I always enjoy catching Purple Rain, whenever it runs in the loop of B-fare movies that show up across cable television. There’s something about him that obviously resonated with his followers. For me, his appeal was that of observing a prodigious musical talent, but from a distance. Prince’s death is similar for me in many ways to David Bowie’s—if you knew anything about music, you never were not aware of either Prince, or Bowie.

Prince is frozen in Purple Rain in my memory.

Prince is frozen in Purple Rain in my memory.

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Bands That Suck

Indie rock is something I’ve blogged about before. The DIY mindset that permeated the period between say 1979 and 1995, pre-interwebs, was a unique one. If you happened to have tapped into it in some small way—simply as a fan, or perhaps a DJ, let alone as an actual band member—you know that it’s something we’ll never replicate again.

Jon Fine played in what he’d call one of the “weird bands” of that period, first with Bitch Magnet, then later with some bands even less well-known (like Coptic Light and Don Caballero). It’s not like Bitch Magnet’s a household name, but in the world that counts Black Flag and Sonic Youth as the best-known of a group of bands that were all a bit off-center, the period was worth recounting in some detail.

"Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock's Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear)", by Jon Fine

“Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear)”, by Jon Fine

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Grammy Who?

While I’ve never been a “dedicated follower of fashion,” as The Kinks sang, especially when it involved Top 40, mainstream pop, I somehow managed to cling to some sense of who the kinds of people were that garnered Grammys. Until this year.

The unbearable whiteness that is Taylor Swift. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today)

The unbearable whiteness that’s Taylor Swift. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today)

I guess that officially pushes me up and over the threshold of relevance, right? Actually, I do know who Taylor Swift is, so maybe I get a reprieve from getting shoved into the trash bin. Possibly that admission probably means that I need to check my white privilege.

My penchant has been for music that went against the grain, or wasn’t trying too hard to be fashionable. In high school it was The Dead Kennedys. I coped with my post-fundamentalist years stranded in Indiana, surrounded with a soundtrack that was weighted towards punk and industrial music; Black Flag and Ministry come to mind.  Hit singles never really captured my fancy. Continue reading

Fame is Overrated

Because I follow a few people via Medium, I now get a daily email and digest of content published on the platform. Most of it’s crap, but a handful of stories stand out and I’ll read them. Like this one, about a musician, Mike Posner.

I’d never heard of Posner, actually—at least not until I read his post.

Like a lot of young performers that ascend fame’s ladder, the ride to the top changed who he was, or at least magnified things about him that he found he didn’t like. Of course, the ride back down celebrity’s hill can be equally as dramatic (as well as ego-deflating). To his credit, Posner possessed some measure of self-awareness and took time to reflect and reconsider. Not every young man facing the crash-and-burn of his career would have had his presence of mind, and taken steps to right himself.

After he had a worldwide hit in 2010, with a song called “Cooler Than Me,” he ended up being dropped by his label. Five years later, he had to redefine and yes, reinvent.

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When Maine Was Country

New England is the oldest region in the U.S. The six states that make up the amalgamated group known as the Northeast are foundational in the American story. Outside of Boston, the region’s largest city, and New Hampshire—which garners national political interest once every four years—our patch of geography is pretty much ignored by the elites in New York and Washington.

Maine’s closest thing to a city, Portland, gets written up incessantly about its amazing food scene, i.e. overpriced and pretentious dining for hipsters—but I’ll save that one for another day.

The New England region is one of the richest in the U.S. in terms of heritage and culture. This history dates back to our founding, and before. Yet history’s value is set pretty low these days. The category is just not sexy enough and doesn’t play well when considering Twitter’s truncation and Facebook’s emoting. Some, like Santayana and others, recognized history’s value.

I’ve been known to mine some of the history of the region, like baseball played in small towns, or distinctly-different soft drinks. There’s still plenty of it to discover and develop stories about.

Take country music.

Now I’m not talking the Nashville brand, or whatever’s being programmed on so-called country radio right now. Blake Shelton isn’t the kind of country music I’m talking about. Not to pick on Blake in this matter either, as the debate about “what’s country, and what’s not” has been bandied about for decades. Continue reading

Ziggy Played Guitar

[I wrote this Monday night]
As we age, it’s an ongoing battle not to become a nostalgia act—in the music we listen to, the books we read, the clothes we wear—especially when others our own age are entrenched in the past.

I see it on Facebook. In the people that I once knew, went to school with, and most of whom I likely haven’t seen face-to-face in 35 years. And yet, we somehow have some tenuous connection that Mark Zuckerberg is able to exploit?

Last week I was listening to KEXP, one of the stations I enjoy streaming, given the sad state of radio in my own region. I prefer to listen to music that was written and recorded in the last decade and stations like KEXP (from Seattle) play a mix of newer music, while recognizing some of the pioneers and icons of rock and their contribution to the history of the genre.

David Bowie would be one of the latter. In fact, KEXP highlighted Bowie, celebrating his birthday last Friday, with what they were calling “Intergalactic David Bowie Day,” playing a shitload of his music, old, and new, including his latest (and last) album, Blackstar.

David Bowie, as Ziggy Stardust (circa 1973).

David Bowie, as Ziggy Stardust (circa 1973).

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