Song for your deathbed

 

When my brother and I first talked about starting a music blog, one of the first topics we came up with was what song would you want to hear on your deathbed, one last tune for the road that goes on forever….or stops forever, depending on your own philosophy.

Without delving into questions of spirituality, this is a moment you move towards your whole life and you get one shot to get it right. Only the true lover of music would be remotely concerned with this, as people typically pick music for use at their funerals to reflect their personality or whatever, not for the ‘pre-game’ event to actually expiring. What factors does one put into this decision?

Here are my rules, of much importance in this monumental decision.: First off, this is a strictly selfish decision–so no one else’s input matters in the slightest. You are the one dying so it’s your choice. Second, I feel the decision has to try to encompass all of the music you’ve loved your entire life, from your first cd to trading tunes with the homies in the geriatric ward. Lastly, don’t settle for the first tune you come up with, as again, this may be the last time you hear any music and you don’t want to fuck it up.

Contrary to my third rule, I picked the first song that came to my mind when we had this conversation. (Hey, rules were meant to be broken, even if you make them up yourself). I would choose to hear “Mountain Jam” by the Allman Brothers Band from their highly lauded first post-Duane album Eat a Peach. I have so many reasons for this that it hurts my head to think about it, but I’ll try and work through the pain.

First and foremost, it’s more than thirty-three minutes long. This is the longest song I’ve ever been really into and, if you’re making the final transition, I’d imagine you’d want to have as much time as possible to say goodbye to loved ones, ruminate on your life/existence and so on. Many people have this qualm with so-called “jam bands”: the excessive jamming described by my brother once as “musical masturbation”. In some cases, this is certainly true and in other cases, some people will just never be into improvised music that can go on indefinitely. Life is uncertain and can take a myriad of twists and turns, much like this music that I so love.

Another reason is that it’s easily my favorite instrumental ever and damn near close to my favorite live jam just because of the sheer diversity of ill contributions from all band members, especially Duane’s incendiary guitar work. His solos, the last of which I used to drunkenly refer to as the “sky part ” whilst spinning this record late night in college, are a testament to his style and the cornucorpia of influences he picked up over the course of life and as a session musician at Muscle Shoals.

I’ve read that before Duane’s passing, he listened heavily to Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” among other jazz jams which directly influenced their rendition of “Mountain Jam”. It is musically based on a short piece called “There is a Mountain” by the English pop star Donovan. So, they take the basic structure of a pop song and extrapolate in the jazz tradition to create something wholly new, just as Coltrane did with the old song from The Sound of Music.  I’ve always loved the concept of taking something already known and changing it to reflect your own input and thus creating something new. Don’t we all strive to do this in life?

Another reason I love this piece so much is the conglomeration of multiple styles into one free form improvisation that has no genre. They start with a very simple progression and branch out to outer space. Is it blues rock or southern rock? Is it a jam band or a rocking blues band? Is it jazz rock or rock jazz? I’ve always been one to not pay attention to genres and this song gives me a particular thrill as it really can’t be put into any label. I feel it is one of the best meldings of multiple genres into one cohesive piece that has ever been produced. Blues, jazz, English pop, you name it, this tune has got it.

Lastly, I have already used this song, almost always playing the second half of “Mountain Jam” of disc two of Eat a Peach with two of Duane’s best solos ever put down on wax, for moments in of celebration in my life thus far: minor and major things like graduating college, being drunk on a Tuesday night in July whilst grilling steak, and trying out my new speakers with my new turntable.

The song, finally, fits into use for my life’s events and works nicely as a bookend. If only I could go back to my birth and pipe it through the hospital. The nurses would be hippie dancing, the doctors playing air guitar and a brand new me would be stretching out my arms yearning for the ultimate jam.

 

Here.

To start…


Why ?

As in almost any endeavor, this blog has several motivations behind it. First, and foremost, we decided to start this blog as something of a public conversation between us. This cooperative project, we hope, will allow us to hear each other’s voice and opinion more frequently than life currently permits; the public nature, additionally, will also let others tell us when we’re full of it. Second, both of us are also passionate about writing and were eager to establish a venue where we could write regularly and, at times, savage each other’s language and logic (in the nicest way, of course).

Third, and most importantly, we have both found ourselves dissatisfied with the way people talk about popular music. From the perspective of the popular critic and the fan, the myopic focus of new album reviews and the commercial emphases of old and new media have rendered even great music temporary and disposable. From the perspective of academic and theoretical studies—with the exception of some post-modern philosophers/cultural critics and their followers who see any cultural artifact as worthy of serious consideration—the high-culture/low culture divide has prevented popular music from receiving the reflective and insightful study it deserves. While the two of us will approach our topics in popular music in different ways, both of us maintain the strong belief that the songs that we hold dear possess deep and resounding meaning and, further, that the pursuit of such meanings will teach us much not just about what it means to say that a song is good but also what a song can mean to a specific time and place and, perhaps most importantly, what the love/hate/mere appreciation of a song can tell us about ourselves.

We are not so arrogant as to assume that we are really doing anything all that original or radical. Instead, our hope is that we can combine the many disparate strands of our own individual lives into something that, at the very least, we can learn from together. At the most, we hope to invite and excite conversations from others. At the least, we are happy with a virtual version of the debates we have when get together and try to convince the other to listen to a song.

Who?

We are two brothers—nearly seven years apart in age—who grew up in the backwoods of a New England state and who are now separated as well by several thousand miles. While music was always a part of both of our lives, differences in age when we were adolescents and in subsequent experiences have yielded predictably varied, and often conflicting, tastes in music. Despite these distinctions and the distance between us, what unites us is both a love of music and a love of talking about music.

The Elder

I, the Elder J went left New England to spend several years in New York City pursuing a PhD in a dying field of the Humanities. Now, I teach at a large state university in ‘real’ America. Before all of this, however, I was in crappy alt-rock bands as a rhythm guitarist and sometime lead singer. My love for music goes back to some of my earliest memories—my first babysitter played the banjo and the guitar; our mother plays the piano. My appreciation for music, however, is also informed (often only superficially) by post-modern philosophy and literary theory and by long-term study of the poetry of the Western literary tradition.

In all truth, I was probably most shaped by the music of my youth: the early days of rap on MTV, the alternative rock explosion, and the disintegration of major music outlets with the rise of the internet. (I did not send an email or use an internet browser until I was in college.) Music Likes: Independent rock; early alternative; some folk; some reggae; early hip-hop. Music Dislikes: Popular country; Opera; Death-metal.

The Younger

I’ve listened to and enjoyed music for as long as I can remember. The first cd I ever bought was the Foo Fighter’s self-titled first disc that had the big ray gun on the front and “Big Me” and “I’ll stick around. I bought that album because I had spent the fourth grade stealing my brother’s copies of Nevermind and In Utero and listening to them after he left for high school and before I had to go to school. Something about that last song about the fish having no feelings and shit really touched me as an 11 year old and I wore only flannel shirts until my sweating bothered the other students come spring time. I thought Kurt Cobain was the coolest person to live and remember crying all day when he died. Eventually I had to buy my own copies of all the Nirvana albums and I still have them.

My other earliest musical memory is hearing “Love on the Rocks” by Neil Diamond blasting from my parent’s bedroom in my family’s old lake house while coming back from an early morning swim with my siblings. To this day, I don’t know if my parents were fighting or fucking and truth be told, I don’t want to know either but I have always been a big Neil fan. I spend at least an hour a day reading about music and quite a bit more time listening to or playing music. I picked up the bass when I graduated college last year when and realized I just entered the worst job market in fifty years. I figured I’d use my time wisely which is the same reason my brother and I are starting this blog. I act like I know everything but everyone should know that nobody knows everything and there are few things I love more than a spirited argument with someone who knows more than I do. I like all types of music and will never tell you that you are wrong unless I am absolutely sure you are.