Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Constant Friend and Companion

This is a slight diversion this week, back to music. The snow that has fallen has put me into a melodic mood.

Music continues to be a major part of my life. I have many friends that have outgrown this partner on their journey. For me, it’s as relevant today as it’s always been.

In my childhood, I remember my first pair of headphones, when the musical world transformed the normal world into an all-encompassing ether, a nether world or other world where nothing else existed but sound. (As I write this, I’m donning a pair of high-quality headphones and am flipping between music. I do this every time I blog.) Those first few years I wore out certain bands, albums and music. I still can’t listen to Foreigner today, after my cousin gave me a copy and I wore it out, completely. I was a dirty white boy.

After that initial phase, radio played an important part in my small Iowan city. It wasn’t completely by choice, and at that age my choices were very limited in terms of discovery. But I had my mind, heart and soul set into the rhythms, lyrics and anthems that played to me. As I matured so did my musical choices. I emerged from American Rock (Iowa is all-American, despite what you can try to say about it), to an aural playfield of new choices: alternative, goth and other emerging genres.

Music was not just something I listened to, but also something I did. I played sax, sang and dabbled with the piano. These weren’t cool enough for my high school years so I dropped them all, but college brought me back to singing, a little voice training, music theory and a garage band. (Ok, it was a farm tractor-dealership band, but that doesn’t sound as cool.)

My first radio show started in my high school years; my love of music grew into a collection. Not a shy person, I got behind the mic spinning discs. Vinyl was king, but cassettes also played their part in rotations. A friend joined me for local color. We had complaints: people were listening.

High school brought angst, depression, bouts of introversion, confusion and thoughts of suicide into my head. The music poured forth and saved me, buoying me above the depths and floating to elation. I had my long, hard-rock guitar-wailing bands that were late-night cruising music, bands with heavy guitar, bass, drums that would play and play and play in the self-installed Alpine deck for late night cruises. My mood flowed onto the yellow-dashed lines in the road as I combed hills and alleys playing cat and mouse with my friends.

Then one day on a whim I bought Doolittle by the Pixies and everything in my life started to change. I developed a dream-pop longing of ambient sounds and rhythms, mixed with a heavy dose of alt-punk. My tastes morphed into moods of Cocteau Twins, Pixies, The Cure and Jane’s Addiction – bands that took me through deeper depressions, not of teenage angst, but the depression of breakup and loss. I could lie in a dorm room under the a mixture of neon light and black light, don a pair of headphones and wish I was ocean size.

Music became vigilante as well. On our collegiate ski team, punk music was the perfect prelude to Alpine downhill, readying my pulse to speed through gates, or speed though just about anything else. My tastes grew wider as I toured with our group of collegiate singers, performing Cole Porter tunes and drowning myself in This Mortal Coil. Everything had meaning.

College ended, work began. I found beauty in falling snow flakes the winter I met my future wife, Liz Phair sounding brilliant as work drove me all around the metro. I still think of winter, or still bring Exile in Guyville out during this season – and relive the imagery of falling snowflakes and concerts at First Ave.

I cannot tell you the exhaustive list of concerts I’ve been to. I have been to some of the best of my time – Lollapalooza anyone? – and still go to many each year. I am a junkie to the collective thrill of jumping up and down with a crowd of strangers. (Likely another reason I’m drawn to Vodou.) Energy fills the air as the boat shakes up and down during a Michael Franti concert on the Mississippi River outside of the port of New Orleans. It doesn’t get any less excited on the balcony of the Northrup Auditorium when he plays here and I worry if the balcony can actually take it. (I jump anyway.)

I’ve been in the mosh pit, carried my weight of body surfers and stayed transfixed through one of my best concerts of all times, an evening with the Dead Can Dance. I’m not that picky to genre, and if it’s live, I can stomach and dance to almost anything. One of the favorites in my hometown, a Zydeco-Bluegrass combination complete with washboards took the biker-bar house down.

Heavy Rotation

I do have certain bands that receive heavy rotation, even throughout the years. Liz Phair’s Exile is one, Greg Dulli’s collective works in The Afghan Whigs – Twilight Singers – Solo and Gutter Twins another, followed by: Hex (almost unheard of), Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Sublime, Pixies, Wookiefoot, Foo Fighters, Curve, Joy Division (years later Ian you still live on) and I still need: Jane’s Addiction, Hendrix, the White Stripes and PJ Harvey. Newcomers to the playlist are Black Keys, Modest Mouse, The National, The XX and Sleigh Bells (which absolutely rock in concert). Oh and I like White/Rob Zombie, get over it.

My frustration at this point is with punk. First, everything seems to be post punk these days, which I guess is only fair. But really, punk shouldn’t sound clean. It loses everything on CD. It’s supposed to sound scratchy, snowy and muffled like it’s been overdubbed about 100 times too many (that’s ripped kids). I still have a cranky cassette or two, but buying classic punk on CD or worse MP3 is like trying to watch a modern-day low-budget B movie. It just looks too – clean. Punk should be dirty and sound like someone got bloody making the recording: broken bottles, tables, sticky 7th Street Entry floors and the like. You should have a hard time hearing the words. Buying punk new today is reminiscent of watching the Rocky Horror Picture show without the mad theatre audience to go with it. You’re missing more than half the experience. You probably don’t even know it.

“Get the Wheel, Let’s Go For a Ride” – Greg Dulli

Today, those same activities as when I was a kid get an album thrown on. Mowing, cooking, cleaning as well as the moods: happy, sad, depressed and exhausted. What would a road trip be without music? What music do you play on a road trip?

One of my favorite activities I love to do with Saum is road trip, we DJ for each other. We channel surf (the radio). We sing, crank it up, we go to a different place. We do it well together. The best road trips of my life involved some great music. Particular music brings back those memories: Sublime and Soul Coughing come to mind. Put it on, and the top could be down or the sun roof open along with the windows and we could be hearing Bug Rain driving through South Dakota on our way to Wyoming. It’s the elixir of late night travel.

I have SiriusXM in the car and love discovering new music. We have a great local station, The Current, check it out for yourself. I have many more choices than my earlier years. Pandora and Rhapsody are two of my favorites.

“Have a Little Faith” – Michael Franti

My taste has diversified into rap, with Atmosphere being my local favorite. I love the Twin Cities sound; we have our own way of doing things. The Purple God laid the foundation; others have taken the mantle since then. It’s not major-label overly commercialized: the poetry still is there. First Ave endures, still a great venue. The 7th Street Entry is remains grimy and I double-dog dare you to use the bathroom.

You may see me standing, jumping, swaying, clapping or shoving my fists in the air. I still leave with a healthy sweat. Whether in a large arena or preferably in a small venue, you just may catch me hopping around or singing to myself.

Perhaps you’ll catch me at home, letting the neighbors know my favorite tunes. You may see me in traffic; I’m one of those people rockin’ out in the car. Wherever you catch me, I’m likely to be carrying a health supply of music. Some of it popular, some obscure.

Music has been my constant friend and companion. It’s gotten me through some serious times. If I ever stop loving the music, I’ve checked out. I’ll be all out of joy and tears. May that never, ever happen to you or to me.

Last night I saw the strangest light. I want to see it again.” – Greg Dulli

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