Rachel, Our Father, and Me

 

I don’t know. No one ever knows his own father himself.

οὐκ οἶδ’· οὐ γάρ πώ τις ἑὸν γόνον αὐτὸς ἀνέγνω. 

Homer, Odyssey 1.201

 

“To remember the past, you tell a story about it. And in recalling the memory, you tell the story again.  It is not always the same story, as the person telling it does not always want the same things….As children become better storytellers, they become better rememberers. But their memory system also becomes more susceptible to distortion.”

Charles Fernyhough, Pieces of Light, 98

 

When our father died, it was as shock both for its suddenness and for the cliché we all suffer when we lose someone who was part of our life: we (thankfully, in a way) don’t know how to cope with the erasure of a human being, the deletion of a presence that was part of our lives for their entirety.  But in writing about him over the past few years, I fear that I have done a disservice to him and to us.

In keeping to the age-old injunction of not speaking ill of the dead, we have erred too far and have created a fictionalized father, a man who in our telling is far closer to the father we wish we had known than he ever was. There is nothing wrong with such a hagiography on the surface, but in a world in which biology is ever more carrying the weight of destiny and where the stories we tell have always shaped the way we view and judge ourselves, such distortion through omission can have dangerous effects on what we believe to be true about our lives and our decisions. If I willfully change the way my father was and completely elide his faults and his fears, how can I be sure I won’t make the same mistakes when I tell my own stories?

Neuroscientists have shown (as some psychologists have suspected) that the act of recalling a memory exposes it to distortion. Memories recalled often become part of the stories we tell about ourselves and their details will change to suit both the needs of the tellers and the audience. I don’t want to write to slander my father, but I want to give him the fullness and complexity he deserves as a human being. We are all slightly less-than-stable compromises of divergent desires and often destructive beliefs. Learning to accept the contradictory strains in our loved ones is necessary to acknowledging fully the often hypocritical tensions in ourselves.

Elliott Smith, “Memory Lane”. “All anybody knows / is you’re not like them / they kick you in the head / and send you back to bed.”

When my father died, I expected some trouble. He was a man who it would not have been surprising to discover was leading other lives. He lived a rich fantasy life—always dreaming that he would accomplish something great, that he would end up someone different. It fell to me to try to make sense of some of the messes he left behind: years of unpaid taxes; a maze of debt and collection bureaus; accounts tied to strange addresses; unopened summonses and bills.

I had the strange voyeurism of entering into my father’s email account, at first to contact some business associates who owed him money, and later to sift through his last few weeks of correspondence to try to figure out whether or not he knew how sick he was. (He did. Forty-eight hours before his death he sent an email to his older sister, writing “This is the sickest I have ever been.” He still waited another 36 hours to go to the doctor.)

This type of textual analysis was probably my safest way of handling grief. As a student of literature, I practice the ancient art of Philology, described once as “the art of reading slowly.” No amount of slow reading, however, could brace me for all the discoveries I’d make. Infidelity, I could handle. Debt and delinquency? This had been the story of my/our lives. But during the process of arranging for my father’s funeral, writing a eulogy, and trying to make an initial reckoning of his accounts, I started corresponding with one of my father’s business associates, a man I will call Felix.

Chvrches, “Lies”. This will make sense in a minute.

Felix emotionally and generously confided in me that my father had become a close friend, in part because of his empathy regarding Felix’s daughter. His daughter had suffered from an “unknown progressive neuro-muscular disorder causing severe dystonia” and the pain she endured alongside the uncertainty of her diagnosis (which seemed to indicate a shortened life) wracked him and his family with the kind of suffering that only parents can imagine.

Felix made it clear that my father changed his life because he was always there just to listen and because he inspired him with his love of his family and his expressions of religious faith. He also inspired him, Phil revealed, because he shared with him his own story of loss, the loss of his daughter Rachel.

We never had a sibling named Rachel. But I didn’t say this to Felix because he had forwarded me an email from my father where he wrote

“Every day I wake up thinking of my daughter –Rachel – go to bed thinking of Rachel. We had 4 children – now 3 but the blessings and gifts they have brought blow my mind […] but always Rachel is the background- never goes away- but I have still have joy and overwhelmed with blessings.”

Felix assured me in the email that he had never mentioned this email to anyone. Even as I type this now I can smell the stale smoke in my father’s office where I read this for the first time. I remember calling my wife in to read it. Under the pall of our grief, we couldn’t process this, we couldn’t make sense of what it meant or whether it was possible. Soon, like my father, I was waking up and thinking about Rachel.

A

Typhoon, “Young Fathers”. Nothing has made me think more of what my father was like as young father than being a father myself.  Did he change my diapers? Did he hold me the way I hold my son and think about the terrible and beautiful brevity of life?

My mother had a miscarriage before me and after me and, as family mythology goes, was told she wasn’t able to have children. When I was younger and the whole family was more religious, they told me (the oldest) that they hadn’t had a child until they joined a new church and started to pray. I was baptized and confirmed in that church.  The minister was my godfather. I have a picture of him holding my daughter.

But when I asked my mother, in a probably less than sensitive way, if there were any other children or if they had planned on naming one of the miscarriages Rachel, she thought it was absurd. It didn’t seem to me likely that my father had spent years brooding in secret over a miscarriage when he had three healthy children. But he was a man who looked good in a disguise.

In the days before the funeral, I imagined myself as part of a future story. In my fantasy, I interviewed distant relatives and friends about his past, the type of people who might know about a lost child, about a baby born out of wedlock whose brief existence had been hidden from my mother. It was not inconceivable to me that such a thing might have happened. As the long hours past, it seemed more than likely that this was Rachel: a brief alternative life in the past whose loss had festered in my father as a metonym for all of the other lives he could have lived. Or, as that fourth child, that extra helping of happiness that might have tipped the scales in a middling life.

The Beatles, “Nowhere Man.” A ‘friend’ in high school once told me that this song should be my anthem. It was cruel, but it was true: I have long lived only half-engaged with those around me. My father was the same. Or more.

As the first step in this imagined memoir (the type of rangy self-discovery at home in The New Yorker), I emailed a friend of my father’s, a woman whose name would bring explosions of rage to our home, and asked her directly if she knew anything about it. She, who had known my father differently but quite well for years, said she would have been shocked if there were or had been another child, that my father loved his children so much that it would be inconceivable that he would have never mentioned Rachel. And, then, she added enigmatically, “He did say last summer that he would have named your [daughter] Rachel, if it was up to him.”

After my father’s funeral, things spiraled downhill for my family. We eventually got most of the finances under control (although we’re still working on it); two new grandchildren were born over the next year; and my mother suffered some of the most harrowing effects of grief. I left the issue of Rachel aside to protect her and us from the uncertainty. But I never stopped mulling it over.

Muddy Waters “Fathers and Sons”, Appropriate and inappropriate for this post. But my father would probably appreciate that.

I eventually concluded that there were three possibilities: (1) that my father had emotionally connected with a miscarriage, naming it Rachel and keeping the pain to himself; (2) that he had fathered another child who died (or was estranged); or (3) that he had made up the child drawing on his experiences to empathize with Felix. Given the absence of any evidence for the first two options, I decided that the last was most likely.

What does it mean to believe that your father was the kind of man who would fabricate a dead child in order to make a connection with someone? Is this even possible? What was the name Rachel to him and why did it recur in different contexts?

My father was a man cut off from many people by his deafness and his aloofness (probably interconnected). He was also capable of long-term deceit (for self-defense) and short-term confabulation (to try to keep others happy). If he did manufacture the memory of a child, I am almost certain he did it with a full range of emotions drawn from the rest of his life and that part of him wanted to believe it. We make up stories all the time. We all bend the truth and introduce new details into old stories. If he invented a Rachel to console Felix, he did it because he wanted to feel with him, to be his friend, and through grief to be more fully human.

Pearl Jam “Better Man”.  This song has always made me think about my father and myself.

But perhaps this conclusion is still just more evidence of me creating the father I wanted to have rather than acknowledging the man he really was.  To some, inventing a dead child might sound diabolical. But, given the other options, it speaks to me of someone who wanted to feel, of a man who into his last days was trying to be something real.

And this in turn is a lesson on the complexity of what makes each one of us who we are.

 

 

Ending is a New Beginning?

“No other Odysseus will ever come home to you”

οὐ μὲν γάρ τοι ἔτ’ ἄλλος ἐλεύσεται ἐνθάδ’᾿Οδυσσεύς,

Homer, Odyssey 16.204

 

 “Music-cued autobiographical memory can also demonstrate the power of first associations. A song that might have been heard many hundreds of times can nevertheless send the listener back in time to its first listening…” Charles Fernyhough, Pieces of Light, 54

 

After too much thought and time, I have come to the conclusion that I am not going to write for this blog any longer. Because I cannot let good enough alone, I will explain this. And, because I would much rather go out with a bang than a whimper, I have written a few final posts (after this one) to rectify some of the mistakes I have made and to bring the whole project full-circle.

 

This blog has/had two starting points and many other ancillary goals that were all in some way related to our favorite subject, our father. I don’t want to rank any of these points, lest I give the mis-impression that one in some way outweighed another. But the first time I remember thinking about it was after a call and an email from my father. He told me he was worried about my brother, that he needed direction and some way out of his depression after the end of college and the end of a relationship.

 

Tegan and Sara, “Goodbye, Goodbye”. I still love this band. This song may be a bit harsh.

 

I had been trying for some time to be a better brother—but the majority of my attempts were merely talking to him frequently on the phone and trying to help him continually spruce up cover letters and his resume. Once my father made a specific request (something he rarely did), I started daydreaming and eventually came up with the idea for a blog. In part, as my reasoning went, my brother needed something else to do, but he also needed something else that helped him change his vision of himself, to introduce new ideas about his future.

 

In a way, and this is where another motivation for the blog comes in, I needed the same thing.  I was definitely not loving my career; I felt unmoored and exiled in Texas; and I was languishing emotionally and intellectually because of both. The blog seemed like a salve for both of us: we could be closer; we could work on something together; and we could explore different visions of ourselves and different options for the future.

 

Social Distortion, “Bye, Bye,Baby”.  I am still pissed that I never went to CBGBs. I suck

 

When my father died, the writing of the blog also had a therapeutic function.  As I re-read pieces, I can see us coping with our loss in different and mostly productive ways. In his absence, being there for my brother was even more necessary. I threw myself into writing for the blog and cajoling him into writing, editing, and then re-writing.  Before we posted anything online, I think we had nearly 75 1000-word pieces ready.

 

My reasons for leaving the blog now are in part related to its origins. The therapeutic effect has waned; my brother has grown up a lot, found music in new and exciting ways and has a full-time job in his own field; and I have learned an immeasurable amount about myself. I am a better writer now, a better thinker (I think) and I know a lot more about what goes on online.

But my frustrations with the blog have to do with my own contributions, what they cost me in time and energy, and what I derive from the process.  If we have any regular readers, you will know that I have posted sparingly during this year. While not writing for the blog, I have done more writing for my career than ever before. Obviously, the practice of writing daily has helped my discipline. It has also helped make my writing less stilted (seriously) and my interests more broad. And, yet, this has also helped me see the limitations of my writing on the blog—I don’t know as much as I should about music to keep this up. The dilettantism shows up too often. I can’t write well for the blog and write well for the many other projects I have going on.  I am an all or nothing person.

When it comes down to it, though, the simplest explanations for my departure are these: I have many other things to do (and for two years I was spending 6-10 hours a week working on the blog); and the writing of the blog has ceased to make me closer to my brother. If anything, it has had the opposite effect.

 

Guster, “So, Long.” I still love this band. This was recorded in Portland, Maine.  In another timeline, I might have been there.

 

At the same time, we never really achieved the success I imagined we would in creating a community or in attracting readers. Part of this is certainly due to my own writing style (which isn’t always friendly and which is also not well-suited to the medium). My frustration derives also from my ego—I think we’re doing more creative and interesting stuff than people who have a hundred (or a thousand) times the daily views. Because WordPress gives you graphs to show all of these things, I became somewhat obsessed with tracking our pageviews: looking between classes, in the middle of the night, even while running.

And another nail in the coffin has been the superficial and narcissistic nature of the medium. The content, level of discourse, overall tone of conversation on the internet has only served to undermine my confidence in the medium as a force for discovery and debate. It may sound dramatic, but I am sure there are days where my involvement in the blog has been mentally unhealthy. I don’t think the world needs access to everyone’s opinions.  I am sure that little good has come from my words thrown into the mix.

I don’t think I will ever stop searching for new music, ruminating on why I love the music I do, or writing. I want to write more freely and more pensively and I also want to shed the veil of anonymity. One of the things I have worked on outside this blog is the danger of living separate lives and how emotional instability and narrative uncertainty can ensue when you maintain separate personae. A watershed moment came from me when a blogger wrote on his site that “this [the blog] is real life”.

“Farewell and Adieu To You Fair Spanish Ladies.” As a Mainer, I love Sea Shanties.

I disagree wholeheartedly. The internet is a mirror of a picture of real life. It is an echo chamber twice removed from real sound and real experience. It prizes noise and frequency over quality and beauty. Perhaps I came to this too old or perhaps I am just too natively intense to spend as much time as I have online without losing something of myself. But I have been spending random days unplugged, and the quiet is beautiful.

The last few posts I leave all in some way contend with other frustrations that I have had during the writing of the blog. Much of it will seem too confessional, but I strive to narrow that gap between the person I am and the one I want to be.  I will post a story about my father we should have put up earlier.  I will post an early piece we were too cowardly to post because it was too ‘real’ and then I will close with an adaptation of a letter that I wrote to my brother before all of the blogging started.

I am grateful to the readers we’ve had and the empathy and consideration they’ve shown. I am also forever in debt to my brother for his patience with me.  Everyone in my family thinks I am hard to please. And they are right. But as my brother put it in his most recent post, we cannot rebuild the past, we can only lay out better designs for the future.

NSync, “Bye, Bye, Bye”.  A little fun to end the game. True story: I hate this song. But I like it too. That’s about all you need to know.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Musical Treasure Trove

So, I have been thinking a bit about re-reruns (prompted, I must admit by a This American Life episode about re-runs). This thinking has dove-tailed with some of my thoughts about the repeatability of the cover song and the tension between one ‘performance’ and another. Part of this thinking is a tortured attempt to try to justify what I am about to do today: repeat one of our posts. What happens when you repeat a repetition?

Like my brother, I have found that the busyness of normal life (whatever that means) has gotten to be a bit overwhelming. The end of the semester has brought me a pile of grading, a CV-length of promised articles, and two children who are growing faster than I can imagine. This has kept me (guiltily) from having the time to write a quality post while also making me wonder whether or not this blog is doing what it should.

See, it has been suggested that the posts are too long and too discursive–and, as readership has ebbed and flowed, I have wondered what the worth is. This contemplation lasts a few minutes because, when it comes down to it, I enjoy writing this blog even if the act is entirely masturbatory.

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Springtime? Nope. Winter is Coming: Game of Thrones is Back, A Song List

TyrionLast year around this time I confessed (ok, reiterated) my own geekiness when I was hyperbolically excited about the fact that Night Riots has a song named “Berelain” after a character from Robert Jordan’s recently (and posthumously) completed Wheel of Time series. I must add, however, that my geek credentials are the real-thing: I get paid to teach about mythology and to write about ancient poetry.

(Well, the credentials are spotty. I mentioned earlier that I actually played a bard to the 21st or 22nd level in a role-playing game. At one point, I actually tried to write music for the fictional character to perform. I am so ever grateful that I don’t remember it and that the internet did really exist to record my follies back then.)

This week? I have been eagerly awaiting the return of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Now, as readers of this blog know, my brother and I occasionally get excited about television, but not too often. We both used to like The Walking Dead. We both really loved Breaking Bad. He gets into things like Doomsday Preppers while I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which he will not watch). But Game of Thrones is something that we share. And there is an important reason.

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