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.




College Radio: The Dying Art of Quality Musical Programming

I heard this song on the college station at my alma mater, The University of Vermont. I heard it twice in one semester as I made the long trek from Burlington to Bristol where I did my teaching internship. The first time is etched in my brain because it was a very snowy morning and the wind was causing drifts of the white stuff to float across the road. I skidded a little at one point and as I slowed to nearly a stop, the music kicked into high gear towards the end of the song and my love affair with progressive rock began in earnest.

My brother’s post about college radio struck a chord with me and I had to write something further on the subject. Just last night, while coming home from dinner with an old friend from high school, I spent most of the car ride telling her why I listen to the college station from the University of Maine or the NPR rather than any of the major radio stations. First and foremost, after years of listening to the radio while landscaping, I feel as if I’ve heard all of the popular songs. If I  hear “Don’t Stop Believing” one more time, I’ll probably lose my mind.

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Oatmeal Stout Playlist

Winter has sucked but it seems to be looking up. I just might be getting a real job soon and, a few weeks ago, I got a free keg from a pretty reputable local brewery.

Now how does one get a free keg? It was an odd turn of events with multiple excruciating moves of a very heavy keg of Oatmeal Stout and the continual drunkenness of my illustrious neighbor whom I have written on before. Basically, the neighbor gets the post brew grain from aforementioned local brewery and feeds it to his various livestock. The chickens seem to eat anything; however,  the pigs turn their nose up at it. After doing snow removal a few weeks ago, my neighbor/boss tricked me into going to help him pick up the grain.

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On the Radio: Move My Jacket

As I mentioned in a previous post, my wife corrupted our daughter in utero. On her way to and from work, she would listen only to top-40 and Hip-hop stations. I worried then that this would make our first child predisposed to my wife’s musical tastes, but I could not have that argument. (Who but a fool argues music choice with a pregnant woman?)

The actualization of this fear was not complete until my daughter started eating ‘table’ food, as they (pediatricians and other baby people) call it. My daughter is about as finicky an eater as you can imagine (although her aunt, the sister may have given her a run for her money: she ate nothing but grilled cheese and cheerios for a decade or something like that).

We learned early on that we could get our daughter to eat by (1) distracting her with novel household objects (2) singing and dancing or (3) playing music. We exhausted option 1 fairly quickly; we found ourselves often too exhausted for option 2. So, we turned to the radio. And guess what, the only stations that worked as an invitation to dinner were the stations my wife listened to while pregnant.

Of all the horrors I have been subjected to during this time, the song that has tortured me the most is “Move Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 (with Christina Aguilera). The first problem I had with it is understanding it: for the longest time I was convinced that the lyric was “move my jacket”, which I took as a metaphor for locating your home and identity with another person. That was, obviously, too deep.

The second issue: I don’t think the vocal stretching of the vowel in “move” is clever, aesthetically pleasing, or an indication of talent (too much autotune). The song is catchy the way an advertising jingle is.

(It doesn’t help that I think that Maroon 5 is completely overrated or that Adam Levine should be silenced by executive order.)

The third problem: I can’t tell what moving like Jagger means. See, Jagger doesn’t even move like Jagger. He moves like a white version of James Brown (on heroin). That patently tortured issue of identity aside, what is the semiotic value of Jagger’s movement? What cultural association is the singer trying to evoke? I fear that, like too many pop songs, Maroon 5 is merely trying to float a reference out there from pop culture to force a shared frame of reference and derive some benefit from a prior cultural symbol. By evoking a revered icon, however, in an unclear usage, the band runs the risk of cheapening it and emptying out any preferred meaning.

Or something like that.

The larger objection is that the song is stupid and the forced reference is lame. Someone moving like Jagger might be effective if mentioned once (as when Ben Folds starts a song by singing “I met a girl who looked like Axl Rose / got drunk and took her home / and we slept in our clothes” in “Julianne”); as the centerpiece of the song the reference starts out confusing, becomes hollow, and then gets lame.

I know that you don’t share my disdain for Maroon 5, brother, but am I off-base for this song?

Here’s the kicker: every time I move a jacket, I sing to myself “mooooooooooove my jacket..”  Do I protest so much because I secretly like the song?

Here’s something better:

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Sharon Jones is the exact result of James Brown and Tina Turner having a love child. I was completely unaware of her until I went to a one-day music festival in Northhampton, Massachusetts called the Royal Family Records Getdown Festival. This is the record label created by the band Soulive that features the related band Lettuce and all of the individual artists’ solo-work. I have seen Soulive a bunch of times since my first show at the spring fest concert at my college in 2006 and have also been fortunate enough to have seen Lettuce everywhere from outdoor festivals to tiny clubs. They are probably the funkiest band on the planet and never disappoint.

So, when I heard about this show I was interested. I loved both bands and the headliner was Soulive and John Scofield, an amazing jazz guitarist. His collaboration with Medeski, Martin and Wood, A Go Go, was a major influence on the creation of Soulive and to see the band with this legendary guitarist was unreal. Charlie Hunter was also there, as well as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, but the real find was Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. I had never heard of them and my mind was blown.

Just to give a little perspective on this show, I was realizing as we drove in that I had poison ivy. I had it basically all over my body and it slowly became worse as the show wore on. I had stupidly rolled in a patch while clipping back my grandmother’s lilac bushes. The only time I didn’t think about it was during Sharon’s set. She lights your world up. The energy on stages reminds me of James Brown but the dancing is straight Tina Turner. She crackles and pops with electricity her entire set, not a single falter for a solid hour. Apparently, she is over the age of 50 and only has experienced  mainstream success as of late. She has previously worked jobs such as prison guard and armored car driver in NYC. This woman is badass. I could on and on about her but just watch the videos and that will explain it all. I have been lucky enough to see her twice now and she delivers 150%.

Lastly, her band is internationally recognized for their work on the late Amy Winehouse’s smash album Back to Black, as well as countless other contributions to the funk/soul genre and beyond. The power of the horns and tightness of this combo is absolutely stunning and unlike any other live band I’ve ever seen. Go see this band. You will leave the concert a person changed.