Sunday, February 04, 2007

Things about me, part IV (Music is life)

#4. Music gives my life meaning

If you’ve been a regular, or semi-regular reader, you’ll know that I have a passion for music. In fact, music is a thread that has continually informed my life and has served as an accompaniment to more than life's share of disappointments, missed opportunities, as well as joyful moments and important happenings, for as long as I can remember--I still often think of certain times in my life by a song, or a particular artist/band.

Over the years, I’ve acquired a solid understanding of popular music’s history, particularly as it pertains to the rock genre. While I’ve gravitated to rock, I’ve also dabbled around the edges of jazz, blues, folk and gospel. Granted, I'm not as well-versed in the history of the latter four, but one thing that has always brought a nod of recognition from me has been the presence of melody in the music I’ve come to enjoy and endeavor to listen to.

Since a lot of what I’ve written about the past two days speaks to formative structures and a rooted-ness of who I am, music fits well with that theme. I remember being around six, or seven-years-old and present at weekend parties at my uncle’s house. My uncle, at least when he was younger, was a lover of a good time. He had gatherings that brought together uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents, as well as assorted friends. The liquor would flow and there was always music booming from my uncle’s console stereo. A lot of the music was country, but I recall polkas, German beer hall songs and other forms, blasting forth on those sunny weekend afternoons.

It was at these parties that I experienced my first live music, as one of my cousins, along with a friend, would pull out the acoustic guitars and play Johnny Cash tunes and other country standards. I remember enjoying sitting nearby and hearing the rich sounds emanating from those instruments and thinking how much fun it must be to be able to provide enjoyment by playing music.

One of the best gifts I ever received was my first clock radio, which had both AM and FM. While as a pre-teen, I gravitated to the AM side of the dial and the top-forty tunes of the era, occasionally, I’d flick the switch and received my first taste of the free-form radio that ruled FM radio in the early 1970s.

When I first started buying music, they were 45’s of songs I’d heard on my local AM station, WPNO, out of Auburn. My mother would always pick up PNO’s top-15 hitlist every Friday, which I’d eagerly scan for my favorite songs, as well as the two or three up-and-coming tunes that often were “adds” later.

By the time I hit 8th grade, I was fully into the free-form, album-oriented music of the 70s. Because my best friend’s father owned apartments, we often had first dibs on album collections that tenants who skipped out on the rent, left behind. Obviously, many of these folks must have been influenced by the “Summer of Love” and the Haight-Ashbury scene, in San Francisco, as my friend and I got turned on to bands like Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, The Seeds and Country Joe and the Fish.

Later, I went through my KISS phase, as their Alive record rarely left my turntable in the latter half of eighth grade.

While most of our classmates were into the sounds of Molly Hatchet, Journey, Foreigner and the other big acts of the late 70s, I had moved beyond the meandering jams of the 60s and began checking out the short two and three minute bursts of anger coming out of the burgeoning punk movement.

On one of my Friday night excursions with my friends to Manassas Ltd., in Brunswick, for their Friday Night Record Massacre, I picked up The Dead Kennedy’s, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. My musical tastes were forever altered, not to mention my political understanding, also.

This was an exciting time for rock music, as the punk artists of that time were reacting to the over-produced, corporately-packaged, concept music that had taken over the mainstream music channels of 1979-80. Actually, my first exposure to punk had been a review of The Ramones first S/T record, which came out in 1976, via our local stellar arts paper, Sweet Potato.

As my friends and I shifted our focus to a more raw version of the rock that we had cut our collective teeth on, we began seeking out some of the seminal artists that influenced punk, bands like the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges (which I first heard in my neighbor’s bedroom, with his speakers feeding back and howling).

Another band that I got totally “lost” in was Thin Lizzy. This Irish outfit, fronted by bassist and lead singer, Phil Lynott, drew my attention for Lynott’s literate lyrics, rooted in the imagery of Irish history, love and the slice-of-life portraits of working class anti-heroes. Just as an aside, when I listen to former Lifter Puller and current The Hold Steady frontman, Craig Finn, I can’t help but hear strains of the late Lynott, in his lyricism and even vocal delivery.

Over my adult years, when so many people find more important things to focus on, I’ve maintained my passion for music and staying somewhat current on what’s “new” in rock music circles, particularly on the indie rock side.

I won’t bother to list my favorites—if interested, you can read the partial list on my own MySpace page. Some bands, however, have held a special meaning for a variety of reasons, bands like Silkworm, Guided by Voices, The Tragically Hip, Uncle Tupelo and Yo La Tengo, to name a few.

Even now, often when I’m putting together a post for Words Matter, I’ll be listening to music of some type. Recently, I’ve come to rely more and more on streaming radio stations such as WFMU and KEXP to stay current and also to supplement my own music collection.

As I grow older, I don’t get out to see live music as much as I used, or even would like to. Part of it is that I don’t have the patience to wait around for bands to go on late and play until the wee hours of the morning. Also, most times I attend shows, I’m one of the older people in attendance, if not the oldest and I’m not into the vibe coming from the “kids” in the audience.

Still, I’ll occasionally venture out, even now, to see a handful of bands and performers, like my trip into Boston in November to catch one of my new fave bands, Centro-matic.

While rock music was once the domain of youth, as the boomers and even Gen-X grow older, music is no longer limited by age, as it once was. Who knows, maybe when I’m old and residing in some assisted living center somewhere, I’ll be booking guitar-driven rock for Saturday afternoon mixers for my fellow geriatrics.


asfo_del said...

Wow, thanks so much for sharing these insights into your life. I'm so glad I tagged you!

Jim said...

At first, I was like, "Oh, God! Do I have to do this?" But I obviously got into it as I went along.

I'm glad you enjoyed reading.

Joe said...

I look forward to seeing the WWMR (Words Matter Radio) station on Pandora.

Rikki said...

Bocci Balls!

I don't even know where to start, other than to note that I leapt past Part IV after some kind of premonition. So, as I do when overwhelmed by the scope of a something, I shall resort to numbers:

1. "...first dibs on album collections that tenants who skipped out on the rent, left behind." = golden! Pure gold.

2. As a "rock guy," who reluctantly had to come to grips with his status as a "Beatles Man' (vis a vis "an Elvis Man," per the Mia Wallace extrapolation in one of the deleted scenes from Pulp Fiction, re: the polar worlds of maleness in rockness), I have spent the last 6 months gravitating into the world of jazz. I won't belabor the impetus or the reasons for the continuing de/a-scent into jazz, but sufficed to say, I've strayed from my rock interest over the same time. I note this sadly.

3. Your list of bands you remain into -- including GBV and Yo La Tengo -- yes. Similar tastes.

3a. I've struggled with the live music attendence for some time, having last attended a show of .... well, I started to type "consequence" only to realize "any kind" is more apt ... since before my three year old was born. With a three week old, the prospect of upcoming show attendence is slim.

3a(i). I remain troubled by my failure to attend a show, maybe six months ago, in Portland, partly because the fact that the band was playing at all seemed symbolic of synthesizing the aging process with humility and grace. Dinosaur Jr -- the reunited version with Lou Barlow, Murph, and J Mascis -- scheduled a show at one of the cozier venues in Portland, offering a nice juxtaposition to the last time I recall the Mascis-only version playing the Forest City --- circa '94 (or '95), at the State.

Anyway, I didn't attend the show. Nor did any of my fellow aging indie rock adherents who actually live in Portland (including, sadly, the 3 who live there partner and child-free). Partly, this derives from the fact that the show occured on a mid-week night. But, because it's only partly, and the remainder remains buried in the realm of 'unanswerable," it remains troubling.

Poor wrap-up, but that's the struggle. Perhaps, on an upnote, if Pavement reunites and actually passes north of the Middle East in Cambridge, I'll attend even if on a Tuesday.

3b. You like the Hold Steady?!? Interesting ... that's the only new band, from the last year or so, that I've felt driven to sample. Partly, and I'll show the bourgeois of my aging process, because of an NPR piece I heard that nicely presented their music as a synthesis of pre-"Born to Run" Springsteen and mid-80s Minneapolisanica (Replacements, Soul Asylum, Husker Du, etc.).

Anyway, I bought in, and I like the "Boys and girls in America" CD quite a bit ... and yes, I'm the guy who still buys CDs. Call it nostalgia ... call it material comfort ... whatever.

4. Actually ... that's enough ... probably more than.

Jim said...


You and I were both at the Dino JR. show at The State--how interesting.

I guess when I get the urge for going (to a Middle East show), I should let you know and maybe we could carpool--there's strength in numbers and it's good to up the avg. age at rock shows.

I'm always amazed at how few people know of Craig Finn/Hold Steady, or his previous incarnation--LifterPuller.