June 28, 2014: A Band Called Death (2013)

I just watched this movie the other day, I may have to do my own write-up, what a movie and what great original music with shots from my college town. Very cool.

The League of Dead Films


Cast and Crew: Mark Covino, Jeff Howlett (Directors); Bobby Hackney, David Hackney, Dannis Hackney

What It’s About: Three brothers in Seventies Detroit form a band called Death and play music that sounds decidedly punk.  It’s not to anyone’s taste at the time, so they move on to other endeavors.  Many years later, passionate record collectors and the band members’ musically talented sons together inspire a revival of interest in the band.  Some similarity in plot to Malik Bendjalloul’s Searching for Sugar Man, released a few months earlier.

Why Watch it Today?: The film was released in theaters on this date last year.  While the first half of the film feels a bit like a documentary program for the History Channel or old-school VH1, the second half packs a powerful story of long-deferred dreams and family loyalty.  Who thought the story of a punk band called “Death” could be so heartwarming?…

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The only constant is Change: Responding to the Elder

The Elder J and I have always loved this song and I obviously stole his copy of the  CD as a young man. As much as we clash  all the time, we are similar in a lot of ways and I hope to draw some helpful conclusions by the end of the this post. Maybe I won’t. Maybe it’ll make things worse or have no effect at all. Hopefully, at least I’ll feel better or maybe understand each other and our lives a shade more.

My brother decided, after a long while of contemplation I’m sure, that he doesn’t want to write for the blog he created. He told me around Christmas but I clearly either didn’t hear him or take him seriously. I want to say “we” created because I wish that was true, but he was the one who had the idea and reading his post the other day is the first I have ever heard of my late Father’s distressful call/e-mail about my depressive behavior following grad school and my first serious break-up. I don’t blame him, it was necessary and having this outlet to write was something I always wanted and certainly would not have done it on my own. It helped me when I needed help and although I continue to procrastinate, I will also continue to write because I enjoy doing this.

You never know how you look through someone else’s eyes and even when you do share a lot on common, intentions and messages can become convoluted to the point where no one is on the same page.

As much as the Elder and I do share in common, we are also incredibly different and a good metaphor for this is the blog we have written together for three years now. He seems to want people to know who he is while I prefer to remain anonymous because I teach at a school where I live and also I don’t want to mention a friend who is then offended by something I wrote. I also don’t care how many people read this, how far our reach is, or how deep the posts are philosophically or otherwise. My favorites to write are amusing ways certain songs relate to my life and maybe to the readers as well as trying to share new music that could further enrich yours and my own musical experience. I agree with my brother that it can seem like a chore with so much going on in our lives and I barely know because he’s always written more and kept up on it better as well as leading a completely different life than I do.

Brother to brother relations are at an all time low right now. I’d like to blame the Elder completely but that wouldn’t be true. We’ve grown apart because of distance in geography, philosophy and general life style. I’m busy with everything from my band to my garden to my teaching to trying to date like an adult as I quickly approach the age of 30 to my multiple activities with many close friends in the area to trying to help the Mother J through a very hard time.  The Elder raises his two kids, runs his wife’s dentist office, teaches at a university, writes both this blog and written work in his field, runs marathons which he trains daily for and tries to help as much as he can with our mom. He ain’t heavy, he’s just my brother, and someday we will heal the wounds between us.

One thing I do agree with him on, at least in the last few weeks, is whenever I tried to sit down and write this post I felt an extreme anger to the point where I had to walk away. I think he said dread but you get the point.  When I was a young man, I had a real problem with controlling my anger and put a lot of holes into doors and walls. I grew out of it, but it scared me how strong it came back while trying to write this. I began it the day the Elder posted about Rachel which coincided with our mom having a pretty serious medical episode that has been pretty encompassing the past few weeks. She is much better but helping her get better has involved a lot of time and patience on my part. Two days after that, a childhood friend from childhood was in a motorcycle accident which killed him a week later after being in a coma. That, also with the typical last days of school which always equal crazy while spending all the free time I had in school where I used to write recruiting and organizing our class of students for next year. This sounds like the it somewhat approaches the level of activity the Elder has been dealing with all along so I understand his position more than ever.

I also find this very relaxing, like hip hop a few months ago. I loved Easy Star All-Stars even if it was considered lame by my peers in college. I need to make better use of my time. I’m busier than I have ever been but I still have time so I need to set a certain time to write on a daily basis which is what the soon to be mentioned retiring teacher does with his blog. It will probably never be what it was when the Elder did it with me, or did it pretty much for me rather, but it will be what it is and the best I can do is continue writing. I never was involved as much as I should have been, but like I keep telling my mom and student, actions speak louder than words. Best thing I can do is write, not feel guilty about what I should have done.

Another thing I’ve been into is that I was appointed to be the band leader for the  retirement party for the longest running teacher at our school, his career clocking in at 41.5 years! That’s 12 plus years longer than I’ve been alive. It took a lot of time the last few months as I had to gather many teachers together who play music with varying skill levels, pick out a set list, practice with the frenzied schedule of everyone, figure out logistics for the venue and generally try to keep my head from twisting off with everything going on. I listened to his retirement speech and the salient points I got out of it were that teaching at any level is one of the last noble ventures, make lots of good friends and find something passionate to do in your free time that connects back to your teaching. Make it part of your life and you will earn the respect of  teachers to students to administrators parents. Judging from the response from the show I put together, I think I’m on this path.

Jerry Garcia plays steel guitar on this and it’s one of the best teacher songs ever. We totally opened with it Saturday night and there was some beautiful saxophone and keyboard work, my first time performing with either one of those instruments. 

I’ve been able to use music in my class all the time, from developing a Great Depression assignment having my students write their own blues songs to actually playing during our structured hobby time on a daily basis. I like my job and where my career seems to be heading, both in teaching and in actually playing with my band which is getting a lot of new and different gigs. Life is good in a lot of ways and I need to keep pushing myself. It’s not as easy without the big brother who was my main motivator for so many years, but everyone has to fly on their own sometime.

I learned this song once to play for a girl I really liked and I never got a chance to show her cause we stopped talking before I got the chance. I include it here because it’s a beautiful song with a powerful message of how living the real and righteous way is to fly. Yeah, I’ve wasted a lot of time in my almost thirty years, but I’m not gonna be depressed about it. I’m going to keep trying to fly.

The Elder was right in that we have spent a lot of time talking about our Father in this blog. The most recent post was one I don’t think should have been shared, but this is not my decision to make. His point seems to be that we remember him in a rosy light a lot and not enough do we remember the bad things about him which could doom us to repeat some of his mistakes. While I agree that the best way to honor our late father is to try to push ourselves to our fullest extent, I don’t agree we need to air our dirty laundry to the world even if this blog is anonymous. What’s done is done and we have to move on. I want to do better in everything in life from my music to my teaching to being a solid family member to writing this blog. I owe to myself more than anyone else. Please keep reading and to the Elder J, I owe you more than you will ever know.

Payback to myself.




Scratching Post and the Art of Loss/Woodworking 101

The Fillmore East show version is better but it goes on for like 20 minutes and I want you to listen to this jam. It connects to this post and my own life because it’s been a rough winter and I built a scratching post for my cat last Saturday night.

Each year my brother posts about his gardens and our Dad is another time I can firmly say I will never get over the loss of my father. I also do the gardening thing and need to step it up because the winter was long but finally over. I have turned my beds over, taken apart the broken wooden frames that are rotting and dragged them into the garage. I briefly mentioned the garage a few posts back because I have finally cleaned it out and organized it, to some extent, for the first time in over three years. Actually, for the first time ever because I never worked out there with my Dad as I should have. Regret is not helpful though so I am using it as fuel for my own projects.

The old man loved this tune but I think he liked the Bobby Darin version. I also want to be a carpenter. Well, at least a competent handy man.

The wood shop was where my father hung out. He may have kept the house relatively clean, although the more we had our more own homes the more we found fault in our parents’ mode of cleanliness, but the wood shop was a temple of organization. Even after three years of basically nothing being out there and stuff slowly accruing on the benches and shelves, you can still find damn near anything within five minutes. It’s a sad and happy feeling to go searching for tools because everything is labeled by black Sharpie in my Father’s almost indecipherable handwriting. Happy because I can find anything I need and sad because the feeling of him is so strong that I almost think he’s gonna pop into the door wearing his filthy woodworking clothes and spouting some of the worst profanity you have ever heard before cracking jokes on your expense that you will make you laugh for days.

Both my Dad and Merle smoked marijuana and I know he took at least a few trips on LSD, but this song was never about bashing hippies anyway. Merle wrote it making fun of the conservative Midwesterners he knew and my old man loved this song endlessly. In fact, it just occurred to me that part of my love for honky tonk music may have come from listening to this song on repeat in my Dad’s dirt covered Saturn station wagon as a middle schooler.

I have stayed away from the wood shop for three plus years for the reasons I have stated, which can be summed up succinctly by saying I wasn’t ready to be so close to the spirit of my Father even if I sleep in his house every day. Sure, I have used tools for various home improvement projects, but I haven’t cleaned it up and the sawdust on the floor was likely from his final projects. With the loss of my best dog friend Remy a few months back, the loss of Dad loomed even larger. One of the ways I chose to combat this, I got a two-year old orange cat from the refugee league named Hunk. He’s a great cat, although he poops more than I do and he quickly began dismantling an antique chair in my living room. He needed a scratching post fast and I wasn’t about to go buy one when we could build one in the wood shop. But first, it had to be cleaned out so it could actually be used.

I don’t know if my Dad liked the Carpenters, but I bet he did. I want to be a carpenter in my free time and also the first project will hopefully be only the beginning. Lastly, this song is delightfully cheesy, like ELO’S “Telephone Line” but not as awesome. 

With the help of one of my best friends, we cleaned out the garage over the course of several afternoons, removing a trashcan full of dust, dirt and grime off of the floor. We then destroyed several old pieces of furniture, half-made projects that must have been my Dad’s, and did a dump run. We were finally ready to make the scratching post. We sat around the work bench to make a list of materials and as we wrote each item down, we would see it already in the shop. Plywood for the base? There it was, stuck under the bench and half covered in sawdust. A post for the main component of this project? Already cut to length and residing in the overhead racks he had built for scrap wood. A rope to wrap around the post to sustain multiple scratches? Coiled up perfectly on the wall. All the tools we needed were already there, almost eerily set up for our use.

The old man always loved this song too, probably because it had his name in the title and had easy lyrics that he could remember to sing along. Now I don’t believe that ghosts can come back and avenge themselves and I don’t believe that the old man somehow knew we’d lose Remy then get a new cat down the road and need to build a scratching post. I think he just acquired tools for nearly any job and it was just a happy coincidence that all of the materials were already in stock. It did feel nice to feel close to him. 

Once we had cleaned the space and found the materials, building the thing didn’t take long. We had to cut down the plywood slightly using the table saw and then wrapped the rope around the post, putting in sheet rock nails every few wraps to keep it super tight. Then, I sunk a three-inch screw from under the base into the post with three additional two-inch screws to make sure it didn’t move. Lastly, I sprinkled cat nip all over the thing to make it appealing to the cat. We brought that beast right in and Hunk quickly took it on.

He has largely stopped abusing the old chair and spends most of his destructive time on the post, sometimes even sitting on top of it for a better vantage point from which to observe the living room. I’m sure my Dad is proud and I’m proud I got the garage cleaned up and my first project done. The best way to get through any hard time is to stay busy and this proven itself to me time and again. I can only hope to learn some more things so I can show my nephews and nieces some holiday and God willing, my own kids some day. I can’t go back in time but I can design my future.

This song is about nuclear war, but I’m taking it in the literal sense. I’m hopeful for my developing wood working skills, this growing season, and hopefully building some stuff with my family/friends. It’s one of the best ways to remember my Dad and utilizing this space and tools attached to my house.

Mother’s Day

Yeah this isn’t the most cheery song, but it’s clearly about mothers. I’m lucky because, although I may not always see eye to eye with my own mother, she has been there with unwavering support my entire existence. Lastly, I spent a lot of time listening to this song with my best friend Jay in his Honda accord while in high school when my mom was probably wondering where I was and what I was doing. So, thanks for never calling the police on me Mom!

Mother’s day is upon us again and I figured I’d write a quick post after just cooking breakfast for my mom, doing some gardening at the family compound in Maine and then going to see her sing with an adult community chorus that she has joined after which I will cook her a steak on the grill while enjoying a few Coronas (which are her favorite). I don’t always get along with my mother as well as I could and there have been a wide swath of conflicts over the years covering everything from when exactly I was coming home with her car to throwing up in her azalea bushes to not picking up after myself almost ever. I don’t always show her how much I do care about her but she knows deep down that all three of her kids got her back and we will do anything to help her as she always has done for us.

My mom laid the foundation for my love of music more than any one person and set me on the musically charged path in life that I am now walking. There was music in our house nearly all the time whether it was from CDs, the radio or my mom playing the piano. All of us kids got all of our music skills and appreciation from our mother. More on that in a minute.  Every year for her birthday and sometimes Mother’s Day, I get her some discs at the local music store and there is always at least one soul/r&b record like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, or whatever new one I can find.

It has not been an easy couple of years for my Mom. Beginning with my father’s passing three plus years ago, she had a run of bad luck that included some health issues which put her into the hospital for a few weeks back in 2011, health issues of her parents, various financial issues from  the untimely passing of Dad and the very recent loss of our favorite furry friend Remy. Through it all, she has remained steadfast in dealing with her problems and pushing on, making a joke when she can and still helping others even when she could barely help herself.

This selflessness is another thing all three of us kids got from her, as well as the ability to relate to damn near anyone we meet which makes us one of the most versatile family of conversationalists that I’ve ever come across. It used to embarrass us when my mother would start talking to people she didn’t know on the subway in NYC when the Elder J lived there, but now I see it as a genuine desire to learn more about people and to spread kindness wherever possible.

Another one of the many oldie style tunes that I associate with my Mom and Dad playing at top volume in whatever P.O.S. car we were rocking at the moment. She often tells the story of one of her brothers singing this song at her grandfather’s funeral while everyone was weeping upstairs. This is not a bad funeral song.

I sat in my garage the other night thinking about what else I need to build some Adirondack  chairs out there as I have cleaned out my father’s woodshop for me to use. My Mom came out and was pretty sad about missing our beloved golden retriever and the waterworks started. One of the few grievances I have with my mom is that she has always been a crier. Like, she cried every time I headed back to college after a visit to Maine, which was pretty often.  She cried so much that I barely responded when she did it which made me feel like a bad son.

A lighting bolt of knowledge struck me as I sat in the garage and I started to tell her how she personally is responsible for my love and knowledge of music and no one has done anything for me that means as much as this does. The waterworks really started then, but I think they were more tears of joy than of melancholy.

I took piano lessons as a youth but didn’t stick with them which is one of my biggest regrets. I was trying to transpose the guitar chords of this old folksy song to the piano the other night while singing it and couldn’t figure out why the D chord sounded wrong. My Mom knew the answer but said “Just keep trying, you will figure it out” knowing full well I had to stick a minor note in there to make it work which I eventually figured out through trial and error. It was a lot more helpful to make me figure it out then to tell me and this is just one of the slices of musical genius in my mom.

I’m not sure I could even properly explore all the ways my mom influenced me when it comes to music. This blog is one of the biggest examples that everyone can see as she is clearly the foundation of the Elder J’s, Sister J’s and my love and appreciation for music as well as how it relates to your life. She gave us the opportunity to listen to all types of music, the access to musical instruments/lessons even if we didn’t stick with them and the undying support in whatever musical journeys we chose to take.

Music is an integral part of all of our lives as each one of us plays instruments and sings to our students/children every day. Music is the number one best thing in my life, the one thing that is always there for me and never lets you down. My bass playing isn’t anything to write home about, but it makes me happy and it allows me to make other people happy and even to teach what I know to both my students and any friend who wants to sit down long enough to pick something up. Life would not be fun for me without music so besides the decades of money, time and patience you have given me Mom, I thank you most for the gift of music. All three of us would be completely different people without it and I hope I can continue to try to repay you.

Spoiler Alert: My Mom’s name is Mary. My Dad was  “Hey Jude” guy but I will forever associate “Let it Be” with my mom. Thanks Mom, I couldn’t ask for a better parent.

Big Star: A revelation or This is an Elder J band for sure.

This was the song that really got me into the band, even if “In The Streets” is the most well-known. Also, when I was writing out the title I wanted to share how listening to the band was a revelation to me but also how I thought it was a band the Elder J would love right from the start while thinking of the long convoluted title of Dr. Strangelove. I got out of breath just writing that sentence. I always thought the singer said after saying he didn’t have a license that “it didn’t matter because I’m a big star” but actually, he says “if I’m a big star” which really plays into the band’s story. Spoiler Alert: Their name comes from the supermarket chain around Memphis, Tennessee.

Between new reggae, sunny pop music and more hip hop, it’s been a good year for me discovering new music and old gems. One band I’ve been into a lot lately is Big Star out of Memphis, Tennessee (from the semi-famous record label Ardent). Basically, their studio was pretty state of the art for the time and was bought by the epic Stax record label with the hopes of releasing some rock and roll because Stax was known for funk/R &B. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I think the Elder will like this band because they have cool vocals/harmonies, limited but tasty instrumentation and very tight song structure. They are definitely not prog rock, are pretty obscure in general and were often covered by Elliot Smith.

Many will recognize this as the theme to That 70’s Show as covered by Cheap Trick. It’s a sweet song and my band actually covers it. It does surprisingly well in the dive bar scene.  Lastly, I have liked this band for a while and recently found a movie about them on Netflix entitled Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me. It’s a great flick and if you like this band at all from this post then you should check it out.

The major point of the movie is that although the band was incredibly talented both in musicianship and songwriting, they never attained large commercial appeal. It was a combination of poor distribution by the record company, changing band membership and no serious touring to drum up support for the group. The main songwriters of the group are Alex Chilton and Chris Bell who also both play guitar as well as other instruments. Chilton was the lead singer in a band called The Box Tops who had a pretty big hit in the late 60’s with a song called “The Letter” which you may recognize. I instantly knew it from the same source as some of the tunes from the other day which I heard often and loudly in various vehicles of my Father.

Chilton has a deep rasp in this song that you almost never hear on any Big Star Records. It seems like he just did it for that song and maybe he even chose to use his range in Big Star so no one thought he was trying to ride the coat tails of The Box Tops who were pretty popular for a short period of time. It’s also cool to learn that Chilton was in his teens when he gained this fame and it’s a surprise he kept producing music until his death in 2010.

After the break-up of the Box Tops, Chilton hooked up with Chris Bell who was a local studio musician of some renown, as well as Andy Hummel on bass and Jody Stephens on drums. They spent endless hours in the studio and produced #1 Record which was most likely a hopeful joke but ended up being ironic because even though it was adored by critics and fans who could actually find it alike, the record company did not market it or have any type of widespread distribution. This was pretty hard on the band dynamic and although one more album was produced, that is all the classic line-up did as a cohesive group. Chris Bell did his own thing for a while and also got into some issues with drugs/alcohol.

This is a song I think my brother will like for sure. It’s got simple and well constructed lyrics with limited instrumentation.  The vocals are nice too. That basically sums up why I think he will like them and I hope he does.

After that, they released one more album which was largely the work of Alex Chilton and the semi-famous producer Jim Dickinson who is the father of Luther Dickinson of Black Crowes and North Mississippi All Stars fame. It was pretty weird. Even the studio shots from the aforementioned movie were strange. Some people say it was due to Chilton’s declining mental state, others say it was drug use, and more than likely it was a combination of  both as well as other factors we don’t know about. It does have some pretty interesting production techniques and some cool songs like this one.

This song is great but very off center. I still really have little idea what it has to do with a kangaroo except that the lyric at the end is “I want you like a kanga roo”

After this album, Chris Bell was around for a few more years doing music and died way too young. Chilton had some wild years and got into punk rock, veering far from the heavily produced sound of Big Star. He had some success with it, but more importantly for this post, Big Star started to become a major influence on alternative bands from R.E.M. to The Replacements who actually recorded a song with Chilton’s name in the title. Even the use of the Cheap Trick cover of “In the Streets” for the That 70’s Show shows how wide the influence was of a band who never had mainstream success. The band modeled themselves after The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and they never will attain the popularity that those boys did. But when it comes to tight pop songs with a hint of weird towards the end, there’s nobody who beats Big Star, the ultimate hip obscure band. Give them a try.



Smooth Sailing into Springtime

Queens of the Stone Age’s new album is awesome and apparently it’s their first number one album. This song actually popped up as a commercial and I was incredibly stoked because this band has not always been so popular. This song has a sweet groove to it and the video itself  has a story of a night of debauchery with the lead singer Josh Homme (pronounced like mommy) and some Asian businessmen. I didn’t even know people still made music videos for their songs

 The long winter is finally ending and I couldn’t be happier. It’s been a terrible one and I hope to soon forget it. Like every other season in Maine, we appreciate the nice ones because the bad ones are so extreme. Come to think of it, just winter sucks because some of the best weather I’ve experienced anywhere is during spring, summer or fall. Like the Bob Dylan song says, “they say the darkest hour is right before the dawn”, which aptly describes everyone about two weeks ago as winter seemed to stagger into April.

Now we’ve had a solid week run of good weather and everyone’s faces seem to have lightened up from the permanent frozen scowl so recently prevalent. I took the initiative  and started listening to a lot of reggae and other happy music towards the end of the coldest/snowiest winter in a hundred years in hopes that it would lift my spirits after losing my best friend, human or non.

My good friend Scott has been back in Maine for a few months after being down in Key West for most of the last few years working on various types of boats. Many moons ago, say circa 2002, I got him into Bob Marley and maybe a little Toots Hibbert.  Since then, he has spent considerable time getting into reggae and I now get to reap the rewards of exposing him to it so many years ago. I love this song and have listened to it at least thrice daily for the last few weeks. Also, when one of my students gets angry and almost to the point of throwing a chair at someone, I have her go to another room and take deep breaths. After about five minutes, I go in and play reggae from my computer while reading emails and it continually calms her down. 

In a blog where we have covered Elliott Smith and talked of the therapeutic powers of blues at length, it has taken me a long time to fully embrace the idea of listening to music that is antithetical to what I am feeling as a means to improve my mental state. It’s clear to anyone who has read this blog that we really try to share the ups and downs of existence and how music consumption is inextricably intertwined so it sort of seems like “duh” to write that it took me almost 29 years to realize it’s better to listen to happy music when you are sad because it may improve that situation. A case in point is the continual mourning process for my dog, which is clearly linked to the same process of mourning for our Father, which I have assisted as of late with lots of bouncy reggae and sunshine laced pop hits of the 1960’s.

Easter morning this year was fairly arduous as I had a show an hour south that ended at one so I didn’t get home until almost three with an added stop for a haddock burger at an all night fry spot on the ride home. That, coupled with one more beer than I should have had, made waking up at 9 to go to church a real treat. I know basically everything I know about pop music of this era from riding around as a kid in whatever shit-box vehicle my Dad had running with the golden oldie’s radio station blaring. It amazes me how I knew most of the lyrics to this song after not hearing it for a solid ten years, clearly do to dozens of listens as a youngster.

It does seem obvious to not continuing your misery by listening to sad songs when you are sad, but it is some weird tenant of our Northern upbringing and Scandinavian blood lines where what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or has the Maine vernacular goes, ” the more times you hit a pig’s snout, the tougher it gets”. Although these philosophies are both useful for overcoming adversity,  sometimes it helps to foster your own happiness and one way I can do this is flooding my ears with happy tunes.

My aforementioned old friend Scott has kept me swimming in new roots reggae while also motivating me to clean out my garage where my Father’s abundant wood working tools have collected dust for the last three years. I never actively made the choice to stay out of that building, I just did it without thinking and two months turned into three years. In the same vein, Scott says he wants to use the tools for his own projects and to help me with some of our own, but he let slip that this place was my Father’s favorite to be and we ought to honor his memory by utilizing these tools.

I love the dance hall vibes here, I totally am getting back into this music that I have stayed away from for some time. Bring on the reggae.

Mainers are not ones to talk about feelings and the like, instead letting their actions make these statements for them. Scott comes from a family that  has been in the area for damn near 300 years, a very old school clan whose Fourth of July party is the only one I know of that doesn’t serve alcohol due to old school Quaker values. They are not touchy feely and work through difficult times by hard work and determination which brings me to my next point, of the power of staying busy to overcome whatever problem comes your way. Besides positive music, the best way to get through any type of adversity is this method and I’ve been pretty steadfast in this, except for writing this blog the last few weeks which I won’t make any excuses for and will just put up more posts. Actions speak louder than words.

I can actually hit these notes now after a month of bronchitis-like symptoms and years of singing poorly. I have posted this song before but it’s been a boon to my psyche as of late and another song that I often heard in the car with my old man. I love childhood memories that keep coming back and are enriching to the life I live now. Lastly, we are playing a retirement party for an old school teacher and we just may try to pull this one off.

Spring time sure helps kick the blues too, probably above all else, because those months lacking sunlight sure are a bitch. My band is getting pretty busy again, school is winding up as we come closer to the end of the year, the time of gardening is near, I need to write more for this blog as we may expand into a new venture next summer and there’s almost never a reason not to be outside. I am continuing to pump happy jams whenever need be and it’s really looking like smooth sailing into spring time.

Obviously, a sweet Toots Hibbert song covered by my favorite slide guitarist Derek Trucks. This version of this song pulled me out of a 102 degree fever in Paris, France once.

Is it the end of AC/DC?

I’ve always said to my friends that this sounds a lot like ZZ Top’s song “Jesus just left Chicago” which I just found out came out two years earlier than this AC/DC jam. They probably drew some influence from the song, but let’s face it, both songs are awesome and are milestones in the Pantheon of Rock and Roll. 

I’ve made a few fuck-ups in my life…..ok, quite a few but who is counting? A major one just revealed itself in that it appears Malcolm Young from AC/DC  has had a stroke and although it’s not clear yet, it sounds like they will hang up their rock and roll spurs. I never saw the band live and this is seriously depressing. If you don’t like them, you should. Only the the Rolling Stones match them in longevity and in the pure essence of everything that is rock and roll. If this rumor is true, it is truly a sad day not only for rock and roll, but for existence itself. I sure hope they ride on. 

“It’s a Long Way to the top” is one of the finest rock songs ever and it sets the whole pace for the band on this title track to their seminal album of the 70’s.

Apparently, they are just taking a break and the AC/DC camp will not confirm or deny that it was in fact  a medical reason that has derailed the band. This is understandable, they have always been a very private band that has never aired their personal problems for the public to scrutinize. I have a good feeling that this is the end though and as much as I love the band and still want to see them, it might be time. As anyone reading this could see, I am mostly playing videos with the original lead singer, the immortal Bon Scott. He died in 1980 and the band soldiered on with about the only man in the world who could attempt to fill those shoes, Brian Johnson. They say they will not continue if Malcolm can’t come back into the fold and I see this is a matter of integrity, not copping out,

I far prefer Bon Scott era AC/DC to Brian Johnson era because I received my first AC/DC album as a sophomore in high school and it was the international release High Voltage which began with “It’s a Long Way to the Top”. This album blew my mind and still does to this day. The straight forward rock and roll that remains simple yet refined will never lose it’s mass appeal. It’s a wonder to me why anyone would not like AC/DC , but one person told me it’s because of their high pitched vocals. I feel bad for them.

It is a profound statement that the band got big right after Bon died from misadventure, with Back In Black being their biggest album ever and Bon’s contributions figuring into the mix.  They kept going in 1980 because they had yet to find global success even though the Young brothers joining with Bon Scott is what made the original band. Since then, they have maintained that if either one of the Youngs cannot perform, then the band is done. In the era of the Rolling Stones STILL performing and bands claiming they are doing a final tour and then coming back three years later because they are broke, it’s nice to see someone who maintains integrity and bow out gracefully. I love the Stones as I’ve professed many times, but it’s probably time they move on with their lives because the last few dates did not sound great from the recordings I heard and Keith looks like hell.

This relates so what I was just saying in two ways. First, this was one of the last songs Bon wrote and recorded with the band as well as one of the most well known.  Second, Keith Richards looks like hell so perhaps he is well along that road. Even though I’ve heard this song one million times, I still turn it up whenever I hear it in the car.

Oddly enough, prior to me getting that first AC/DC album, my major aural interaction with the band was through the wonderfully bad Stephen King movie Maximum Overdrive. It is about a meteor that passes within Earth’s orbit that somehow causes all mechanical things from trucks to electric carving knives to lawn mowers to come alive with a homicidal streak. Emilio Estavez stars as a tough truck stop cook who ends up saving the day. AC/DC did all of the soundtrack and “Who made Who” was written for this flick. It works well and besides the comically bad acting/special effects, it really made the movie.

This actually has scenes from the movie! I apologize for the ads but I wanted this video specifically.

I mentioned briefly why someone wouldn’t like the band conceivably, the vary high pitched. I could see why someone who is into complicated music like progressive rock would see this music is overly simple and why women could see some of the songs as being chauvinistic. Regardless of all these nuances, AC/DC remains one of the last straight forward rock bands in the land. They haven’t changed much in their almost 40 year reign and right now could be the death knell. Maybe it’s fine and my memory of the band will be listening to the first track I played at high volume while drinking Natural Ice in my freshmen year of college or showing a new girlfriend how amazing Bon Scott was in his prime. AC/DC represents a desire we all have for a simple time when rock was basically one speed, only a few topics that included women and rocking, and guitar solos were concise. We will all grieve the loss of the band even if we don’t realize it.







Math Tests

I have been in a high speed wobble between parent teacher conferences, kids in crisis, new animals and a pretty important test this Saturday. This time, I think I got it because it’s English, but it is three hours so I’ve been trying to fit in studying whenever I have free time which has been rare. So enjoy this one from last summer and expect some serious posts coming from me soon!

More White Stripes brother….they truly do rock and I hope they get back together because I missed them last time they were in Maine

I am getting closer to getting a real job in my field and one thing I have to do is pass a test early Saturday morning to become highly qualified in middle school mathematics. I have never taken a math course at the college level, majored in History and got my Masters in Teaching Social Studies to grades seven through twelve. Thus, on paper, I am inept at math and this becomes reality as I slog through the Cliff’s Notes study guide I broke down and bought.

I mean, I’ve tutored in this subject for years and thought I knew it well because I‘m often telling other teachers little tips on math stuff. I may be able to teach remedial math to students and adults alike, but my actual grasp of formulas, tangents and so on is weak. I’m freaking out.

Hopefully this isn’t me at the test.

I am supposed to be also finishing up my Female Artists part 2 right now which I’m also not doing because I keep starting to write then going back to studying math and realizing more that I don’t know. It’s my own fault for waiting so long to study. See, my whole academic life, I really did not do a bunch of studying. Sure, for big history finals and the like, I’d copy my notes over once and read them a bunch of times. Most of the time, it worked.

In grad school, I never took tests and have a pretty good track record with projects/papers because I like to write and to see a final product that took a lot of organization and time to complete. Math is not like this, at least math the middle school level. It’s knowing what all of the formulas are, how to identify curves in graphs and what discrete math mathematics actually means. It’s discrete goddammit, aren’t we not supposed to know what it means?

Now if this song was just about adding 46 and 2, I could certainly handle that. However, it’s actually about a theory Carl Jung had about the human genome chain. It is currently at 44 autosomes and  2 sex chromosomes with our evolution, by Jung’s ideas, moving to 46 and 2 to get out of what he perceived as humans disharmonious state. The cool part of this song for me is how the unbelievable drummer Danny Carey will be playing in a 7/8 beat while the rest of the band is in 4/4 and then bringing it back all together on the downbeat. This is math I can get into.  The song also talks about Jung’s “shadow” theory, the “shadow” being the part of ourselves we fear and hate. Can my “shadow” take my test for me?

Best case scenario, I pass this test and become highly qualified in a subject I’m probably not standard qualified in as of right now. Worst case, I fail miserably and have to take the test again. Of further significance would be the realization that I do need to study for subjects that I am not so familiar with and am a moron for again procrastinating. I could tell how the extreme heat and working outside has sapped me of my strength and required literal hours of watering my vegetables, how I am very close to getting a new job through networking, how my band played two gigs last weekend after weeks of a show every week, and on and on.

It’s all bullshit because the Elder J is busier than I am and way better at time management. I have what he always loves to call “hubris” or tragic pride in thinking I can get everything done I need to and well. I can’t and I just may end up feeling like this song. Wish me luck!

I can just take it again and put hours of time in and really learn this stuff so it will probably be a good life lesson if I do fail. I prefer lessons I choose to take but who doesn’t?

Longest Winter Ever

I used this song first for a Valentine’s Day post because it’s about my favorite love song ever,  but I think it also aptly describes the love I had for my dog Remy. I don’t want to harp on this subject because it is painful and I am trying to feel better not worse. This song does coincidentally sync with my feelings with the dog, from my first feelings against him when my parents got him as a puppy to my disapproval because I didn’t think they’d take care of him to getting close after taking over ownership and the dog barely making it through my Dad’s passing to my eventual real love for the dog. I’ll be brief in my writing on the grieving process, but it’s obvious we love our pets in this family and it’s never easy when they die.

This is easily the longest winter I can remember experiencing and I think everyone’s seasonal affective disorder is boiling over. You can see it in people’s faces, from the despair at the grocery store to the five fights at the dive bar last Friday which far exceeds the norm and it makes me happy that I gave up alcohol for Lent so I was not at all involved. Losing my cat and then my dog was the nail in the coffin for this being the worst winter I’ve had so far in my life, except behind my father’s passing three years back in January.

For a few days there, I was the second most depressed that I have ever been, spending much of last Friday night staring at the ceiling. I’m coming out of it now, as time and activity will heal most wounds, as well as my recent acquisition of a two year old orange cat named Hunk from the refugee league who seems like he will fit in well at the Brothers J family compound in Maine. Nothing will ever replace Remy the Golden retriever I inherited from my Dad, but I will slowly not feel so sad and be happy for the time I shared with him.


I go back to this song a lot, it’s totally a mantra I say when I get really down about hard times because all things do pass whether you want them to or not. I also sing “Let it Be” in my brain when I get stressed out so maybe I can design and market a whole program os using Beatles’ tunes and solo tracks as a philosophical framework. I’m sure they’d get all the royalties. Lastly, this is a different version than I normally listen to and I dig the horn section.

The times the loss of my faithful friend Remy are most powerful are times of transition, like when I expect to see him sitting there when I get out the shower or when I come home from school and he would wait by the door so I could bring him for a walk. This will pass and I will be left with positive memories, but Spring would sure help this process along. It’s the first of April tomorrow and sleet/snow covered the roads this morning during my commute. This much snow and this much cold weather has literally turned everyone into angry and depressed people who should all change after the first consistent run of warm weather. The Stones said it pretty well.

This is the first time I have heard this song which is very odd as I am a pretty avid Stones fan. I like it, it’s very much like a tune on Exile on Main Street.

It’s funny how fast our perceptions change. I couldn’t imagine living in my house without the dog living there too because that’s how it has been for the last nine years, but sadly enough, I’m slowly adjusting to the cat greeting me instead of my dog. We will all complain about the weather, but after a week of warm temperatures, we will all be talking about how amazing it is here in the Northland and all the rednecks will start reminiscing about how good the snowmobile riding was this winter and how they can’t wait until next year. As stuck in our ways as humans are, we can adapt quickly even if we don’t want to.

“I don’t mind the sun sometimes, the images it shows”. We all need some sunshine now and also maybe softly spoken lies and the knowledge that you never know just how you look through someone else’s eyes.

While the fall is kind of a death knell for the other three seasons, spring is the beginning after a long winter of bone chilling cold that ruins everything from your positive outlook to my furnace which broke down yesterday keeping me home today so it can get fixed on April Fool’s day. Is this sunny day going to be like a giant joke in itself, suddenly turning into a blizzard with negative temperatures, one last cruel joke from that unrelenting force of Mother Nature? I wouldn’t be surprised in the least. I am going to think positive thoughts because one way or another, spring is coming. I miss my dog, but I know that some time I won’t  be so depressed about it and I’ll mostly be able to look back on all the good times I had with him. Everything passes with time and the only constant is that things will change. I just hope we get a few months of sunshine to revitalize our souls and forget how cruel a winter it was.


I have been very into this song for a few months, kind of like the mental hip hop vacations I took this winter to relieve some stress. This jam is on like every list for the top ten best rock instrumentals of the 1960’s and deservedly so, it’s a real jam that makes me want to strut around somewhere sunny and forget all the ills of the world. Hell, it makes me want to dance.


I can’t Dance.

The Foo Fighters was the first cd I bought but I think this Genesis album was the first cassette tape I purchased on my own. I’d imagine a big part of my choice was due to this video which I found really funny then and still, although for probably different reasons because now it just is goofy.

I’ve never been a good dancer, regardless of how much beer I’ve consumed. It’s always been something I’ve observed at bars, parties, concerts, and really anywhere. I am jealous of people who can actually dance because I feel pretty inadequate while trying to shake a leg next to them. Granted, I think that dancing is good for you regardless of your skill level because you take a few minutes to forget the stress of the world while having some fun  and burning some calories. Who knows, maybe you will slide onto a dance floor somewhere and have similar moves to your one true mate in the world. Doubtful, but possible.

Dwight Yoakam is slowly becoming one of my favorite country artists because of the type of music he was playing in the time period, the 1980’s, when country was really in a terrible place.

This post came to me because of a show my band played on Saturday night in the same coastal tourist town my brother had one of his first jobs at a gas station, probably about the same time he drove the Ford LTD Wagon.  We had done a show the night before in Portland, Maine at a hipster bowling alley that had gone fairly well, except for the fact that the opening band played longer than we did because of scheduling SNAFUs.

Our expectations were pretty low for a beach town in mid-March with two feet of snow on the ground, but strange things do happen. A sight-seeing trolley, whose existence in these conditions is a mystery in itself, dropped fifty people off so we switched our faster second set with our slower first set and a bonafide dance party ensued. Literally, a conga line formed during “As Fast as You”, which was something we’d never seen before and never will again most likely.

I went to a lot of jam band shows in college and there was a lot of hippie dancing.

The rest of the show was great and we got paid extra because we kept the dance floor doing all night, even to Pink Floyd’s “Money” which is pretty hard to dance to due to its odd 7/8 time signature. It got me thinking about the different way people dance, the various skill levels, and why we dance at all. At our shows, you see a lot of older folks doing a similar dance where they stick their butt out and wave it around while waving their arms out a little. It’s sort of similar to the typical hippie dance where you spin around in a circle with your arms out like a bird or a 747 like my brother compared it to once when we were imitating it in a subway in NYC.

White people dancing to hip hop has always been  source of amusement to me. I don’t want to make it a race thing, but from my observation, black people are far better dancers than their white brothers. There are exceptions of course.

I have been to a few hip hop shows, most notably Wu Tang Clan, and most of the people in the crowd do a similar dance. You know the dance, where you jump up and down and occasionally put your arms up and fan the air like you are trying to put out a fire when actually you just are feeling the vibes of the beat. I’ve seen this at parties from high school up to the present time and it feels great. We all do it, even those who detest hip hop, because it’s fun and puts you into party mode. Probably the best part of dancing is the amount of time you spend not thinking about anything except the music, moving, and having a good time. Like the LCD Soundsystem song, you can dance yourself clean.

Music can truly help you dance yourself into feeling fresh and new, or  even clean. Of course, when you are all sweaty after, you could actually clean up.

I think if the only thing you get out of dancing is a short vacation from reality, then that’s a good thing. I have read many rock and roll biographies in the last few years and I just finished Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman which details a lot of drug abuse and poor treatment of those around him. The most salient point is that nowadays, if all Gregg can do is give his still numerous concert goers a few hours where they don’t think about the problems in their lives, then he considers it a job well done. Regardless of the complexity of music, isn’t this what we are all looking for in our music? A distraction from the rigors of daily life?

The slam dancing of Primus shows back in the day has given away to much more hippie dancing as they have moved into jammier tunes, but there was a brief time when I enjoyed the mosh pits. Even Les doesn’t like them anymore and calls people out on the mike when they get too rowdy during their current shows.

So I will probably never be a good dancer, but that will not stop me from trying. Whether it be old person dancing, hippie dancing, rap dancing, or even light moshing, it’s fun for everyone involved. Don’t worry if you can’t dance, Phil Collins probably can’t either and that hasn’t stopped him from becoming super famous.