What I’m Thankful For

I’m gonna be cheesey and repost an old blog from last year which reading gave me a real perspective on where I’m at. My brother and his family just landed in Boston after some weather worries so I will be able to see my much bigger nieces and nephew. My new job is going great and the second annual biggest show of the year is in three short days. It looks to be bigger than the last one with a lot more people involved from promotion to musicians and I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds. Now if I can just spend more time on the blog in the coming months so my brother doesn’t hate me, all will be well in the world. Happy Thanksgiving from the Brothers J to all of you!

It’s that time of year again, when the turkeys and lame sweaters come out for a few weeks and everyone seems to generally get along better. It may be a facade but it feels alright and there’s nothing wrong with a little general happiness even if it is kind of fake and doesn’t last too long. I understand everyone has always walked around touting what they’re thankful and now with the onset of social networking, literally you can’t get on the internet without discovering what everyone you know is thankful for. I know it’s annoying but fuck it, I’m going to do it one more time. Here is what I am thankful for this holiday season. Please feel free comment on what you are thankful for or write it on your own blog.

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Rock Free Agency: A New Game

Note: Below is an email exchange with a new game, call it “Fantasy Rock Band”. Rather than write an essay about it, here’s the actual email exchange so you can see how shit gets done. (Or Not)

From: [Redacted]
Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2013 7:40 AM
To: [Redacted]
Subject: Rock free agency

Dear [Redacted],

I will probably start working on some Pearl Jam stuff tonight, but I heard an Audio Slave song on the radio and it got me thinking. In recent years, though it has been a few years now, we have seen this trend of bands breaking up, only to unite with other front men or artists and create these different entities. The two I liked the most were Audio Slave and Velvet Revolver, but during that time there were a bunch of others. I wonder, if you were a rock general manager, who would you like to see together? And what do you think of this trend?

[Redacted]

On Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 1:24 PM [Redacted] wrote:

Dear [Redacted],

This is a great idea and I am warning you from the get-go that I am going to turn this into a blog post with all of the emails appearing as we typed them with names and emails redacted!

email-iconLet’s start out by saying that when I saw your subject line I was driving to teach and I didn’t read the email right away (you know, for safety’s sake). The first thing I thought was that you were riffing off my Baseball Lineups and Album list post and thinking about  how true musical free agency (really, the death of the old labels) has altered the landscape of music in the way that Baseball free agency did for the sport (both good and bad). I immediately thought of (1) Prince’s “Slave” on his cheek in protest against his label; (2) REM’s ridiculous contract with Warner Bros that made no sense to anyone at the time; and (3) the way that contracts to developing and young artists allowed the music industry to reap tremendous products for the ‘cost’ of developing and nurturing talent. There is a real analogy here to have with baseball.

See, baseball teams sign players young to team friendly contracts with the basic explanation that many players don’t realize their potential and the low deals allow them to develop multiple talents while the club remains profitable. Before free agency, of course, this translated into players essentially living lives as slaves to their teams. After? Teams from larger markets could acquire star players without allowing the developing team to reap the full benefits of their risks.

For music, the eroded power of the labels in the digital era doesn’t seem to have a clear parallel in baseball. There isn’t an accumulation of successful groups in one area; rather, we have a disintegration of power and authority (with the exception of mass media outlets like Clear Channel, even MTV/VH1 have given up on creating hits).

But, of course, that’s not what you asked about. Instead, you’re playing a kind of Fantasy Bandmate game where we get to mix and match musicians. I have to start by saying that I am not quite sure how this could work. Too many bands are built on having competent support for one clear talent. You can mix and match sometimes (as when Dave Navarro joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers or when Van Halen switched lead singers), but too often the basic chemistry of a band depends upon relationships and personalities that cannot be anticipated from the outside.

Who would have guessed from watching that Dave Grohl was the best musician in Nirvana (and the least inspired)? Sometimes the combos work briefly: Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” is a great lesson in combining big voices and big personalities. And, yet, I think the bands you mention (Audioslave and Velvet Revolver) show how this can fail. Other examples I know (Breeders; The Rentals) show that members of famous bands (The Pixies and Weezer respectively) can have second acts when they deferred to someone else.  But novel combinations can yield revelations: who would have thought that Death Cab for Cutie’s front-man Ben Gibbard  would create one of the most unique albums of the 1990s when combined with Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello? (The Postal Service’s Give Up).

Nevertheless, I will play your game. Let’s start with my rules: I want to create bands that have what I like (a combination of male and female vocals with interesting song structure). So, if I could take Jose Gonzalez and force him to play guitar with the keyboard/drum combo in Mates of State, I think we might have something special. But that’s not really a fair example because that’s adding someone to a band. So, if I wanted to draft an entire band, how would I start? First, you have to decide what you want the sound to be—bass-driven progressive alt-rock like Primus? Conventional rock like Pearl Jam? Synth-pop? This changes your line-up. If I could, I’d want some Pixies-esque, pseudo-prog. So, give me the vocalist from Tune-Yards, Matt Sharp on Bass (from the Rentals and Weezer), the percussionist from Imagine Dragon, and a guitarist who knows how to make a little bit of a riff (let’s risk it, give me Jose Gonzalez, the best main-stream guitarist out there).

I fear that this group would be like the 2011 Eagles. A high-paid disaster.

What would you do?

[Redacted]

From: [Redacted]
Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2013 4:28 PM
To: [Redacted]
Subject: Re: Rock free agency

Dear [Redacted],

Yes I am absolutely stealing this from your baseball lineup idea–which by the way I would like to see you add something for the pitching rotation because that was my favorite part of that team. Pedro and Schilling need a song!

Okay, so I am obviously out of my league talking music with the J’s, but here is what I need in my fantasy band. I need a powerful lead guitarist. I need Slash. I need guitar solo intros. I need “Sweet Child of Mine” intros.

I also need a front man who gives a shit about what he is singing. I need passion. I need to feel like every song is the most important song he of his life. So, while I like Jacob Dylan for his sound,  I need Vedder for his heart!

Slash and Vedder! A good start?

[Redacted]

On Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 9:38 AM, [Redacted] wrote:

Dear [Redacted],

See, the guitarist and vocalist combo is inspired by of all things Led Zeppelin. Everyone knows the vocalist and guitarist. But bands need bass and drums!

I like the combo, but you have to finish it up…

[Redacted]

From: [Redacted]
Sent: Friday, October 18, 2013 10:08 AM
To: [Redacted]
Subject: Re: Rock free agency

Dear[Redacted],

It would seem that I have a little Zeppelin in me, despite my age. I guess this could be because of their influence on bands I love or maybe Pops had a bigger music influence than I thought (he theme song is “Sweet Home Alabama” by the way.)

I was in fact considering Bonham, I mean he does have feature called “Moby-Dick” after all. He would make Queequeg proud! In terms of bass, I really like the stuff Muse is doing and so I think Wolstenholme would make the band a little bit more eclectic. He would the band a little bit more modern sound but would not over power the others.

So what do you think?

[Redacted]

Shit. That’s a good start. Next time we’ll do this on Twitter.

What do you think, my brother? What ‘Dream team’ would you put together

Dazed and Confused: How can this be twenty years old?

This has always been one of my favorite driving songs and a very apt first song for this post. Dazed and Confused is about a lot of things but I feel like one of the big things is how much time was spent driving around aimlessly in cars while in high school. I think it’s a small town thing.  What else is there to do on a Friday night besides trying to find a party and driving around? I spent more time than I like to remember in this very pursuit and the film portrays this expertly.

One of the all time great films about teenagers came out twenty years ago this week, the excellent Dazed and Confused. I’d say it’s my favorite coming of age film actually, far exceeding Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Fast Times at Ridgemont High because it was far closer to my high school experience than those films or any other film I’ve seen in this genre. Even though I wasn’t even alive in the 70’s, the activities of a typical Friday night, the social circles and even the music were far closer to my adolescent years than even films of the 90’s and 00’s.

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On the Radio: November Rain

So, recently my car, that blue 2008 Prius that makes me such a badass on the road, betrayed me. I live in a rather warm state and after only 141,000 miles, the air conditioning just gave up on the world and checked out. When I arrived at the dealership (angry because the local garage claimed that servicing an AC on a prius was beyond its capacities), I was skeptical when the service salesman said that AC units never go on Priuses (should it be Prii?). Guess what? The whole damn car had to be taken apart to fix. The repair bill was, well, sobering.

Cool enough for Larry David. And the chick in Weeds.

Cool enough for Larry David. And the chick on Weeds.

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School’s Out

Summer vacation is nearly upon us so this is an obvious choice from an obviously awesome movie. Alice Cooper must have gotten as much a second wind with the young folks from this as he did with Wayne’s World.  I can only imagine the brawls that would ensure if any high schools tried to do this to my students. This is easily one of my favorite movies ever. If you haven’t seen this gem, it’d be a lot cooler if you did.

Since my brother and I are both educators, his time of teaching is done and mine is right at the doorstep. It has been an incredibly stressful few months with the new job keeping me on point all of the time and gigs for the band racking up for the summer. My hard work will hopefully pay off with a full time time job for next year as I wait for call backs on interviews and budgets to be passed. I look forward to finally being able to slow down and enjoy the beauty of my home state in the late spring.  I will have a long three day weekend before I hop back into landscaping which will probably be a welcome change after spending so much time in a small classroom with a bunch of overstimulated 14 year olds. I’ll be outside cruising the old beat and crossing my fingers for quality radio. Do you remember the last days of school?

This perfectly describes the level of  activity my brother and I have been experiencing the last weeks. It does in fact feel like I’m going faster than a roller coaster but I am becoming strangely calm about it. I need to write more for this blog and I’m still waiting for that love to come my way, however,  everything else is becoming easier to handle. This is a cool track and it sounds like someone is clapping to keep time. Buddy couldn’t read music and didn’t know chords  yet still came up with some of the cooler pop songs of the century. What a cool dude.

I really wish I could feel some of the euphoria of a looming summer vacation that you felt as a teenager and maybe even in the early years of college when you didn’t have to get a serious job for the summer. I can almost grasp it in my nearly 28 year-old self-conscious, from seeing and talking to different middle school kids on a daily basis, that feeling that you have a seemingly endless amount of time to do whatever you want until the cruel fall when you are herded back to the dreaded temples of public education.

A very small minority of the students plan to get jobs while most intend to ride their bikes, go swimming, dub around wherever they are tolerated and even not leave their air conditioned rooms at all summer to overdose on video games or Netflix. The complete absence of responsibility and an enforced schedule with periodic sunshine. A whole summer to be lazy.

Im still listening to a lot of progressive rock, especially this band who I never really got into until the last two years. They seriously rock. Jon Lord’s non-traditional Hammond B-3 work coupled with Ritchie Blackmore’s ridiculous guitar picking just straight up melt my face. Teamed with one of the top rhythm sections in the rock world in the form of Roger Glover on bass and Ian Paice in the second incantation of this band, they dominated the live shows of the early 7o’s when giants like Led Zeppelin were also roaming the earth. I have the Made in Japan vinyl and I often play it so loud that it spooks my golden retriever Remy into running upstairs to retreat the aural onslaught.

But I cannot fully imagine the feeling of planning to do nothing at all for three months. I know I have a predilection for procrastination and I definitely wasted a lot of time in my adolescence playing Nintendo 64 and watching hours of stupid horror movies, but as an older man with numerous hobbies and responsibilities, I truly can’t fathom the notion. As much as I enjoy being productive at this point, I’m kind of jealous. I had one student tell me that he was just going to ride his scooter around the trailer park he lived in and “be a gangsta”.  He’s a student from another classroom that has some special  needs and is generally a very nice young man. I’m not sure what this exactly means in reference to what he will actually be doing but I instantly thought of this song.

The best use of this jam was clearly in Office Space and I wish it wasn’t such a profanity laden song with such angry lyrics because the kid would love the beats. He and I have occasionally had little dance offs to school when my students play rap and he always gets a big kick out of seeing me dance like a fool. 

I do remember one summer, probably after junior year when I was a houseman at a hotel 30 minutes from my house, when I had just gotten the Zep record In Through the Outdoor. This album was the one where the bassist John Paul Johns really took the reins because Jimmy Page was pretty bad into heroin and not contributing much. Thus, it sounds far different from any other Zeppelin album and after listening to the first six albums an infinite amount of times, I went through a brief period where I thought this album rocked. It’s not my favorite now but I always associate it with this girl I thought I was in love with who drove Subaru Justy with a cd player and the end of the school year. Specifically, this song.

They don’t make Justys anymore and for good reason. It was like an oversized clown car with go-kart tires and a completely floppy frame that would surely crunch into a square if it ever got into an accident. I do love Subarus though and drive a multi-colored 1999 Impreza currently. Oh yeah, “In the Evening” is still a great jam.

Things never worked out with the Justy chick and I think this was the last summer I really got the feeling I described above of just having this huge block of time where nothing was expected of you. I do really like playing bass with the band, growing my own vegetables, and writing this blog. I need to be constantly busy to keep my  mind occupied. Maybe it’s the fact that I am now within two years of being thirty that makes wistful for the irrevocable feeling of c0mplete freedom to do whatever for two and half months. I don’t want to go back to those days but I’d like to experience that emotion even just for a moment.

This was the end of the sophomore year of college exit song, one we listened to endlessly. This was the semester I hooked up with the girl I’d end up living with for two years and dating for the rest of college and all of grad school. Again, I don’t want to go back to these days and the song brings a positive memory of a wide future open before me. I still have that now, it’s just a different view than it was then. I just found this version and it has my favorite guitar player Derek Trucks tearing it up along the legit Warren Haynes. This song almost gives me the freedom feeling….for six minutes and five seconds.

Rain Music

This band has been a mainstay in Maine since the mid 90‘s and I believe the Elder J once peed in a urinal next to the lead singer while at a battle of the bands in about 1995. I guess he was kind of a dick, so I didn’t like this band forever because I thought the singer was mean to my brother. Turns out they are pretty good. It’s shocking how many people, not just my 8th grade students, who can’t do long division by hand which is what I think every time I hear this song, beyond the whole groovy context. Clearly, we need to have math teachers work away from calculators and get those pencils back in hand!

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Waiting on the Keg

I have a very cool Cheers mug that I use so even if my bucket had a hole in it, I could still partake.

Some readers may remember a while back when I wrote on receiving a free half keg of Oatmeal Stout from one of my home state’s finest breweries. Afterwards, I gave up alcohol for Lent and tried to gain some clarity which I definitely found. Just yesterday I got another free keg, this one being a Rye IPA that is easily one of the best beers I have ever tasted and definitely worth the entire afternoon we spent waiting on getting it.

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Angry Music

“You guys should play more angry”

–The Mixtape Girl’s Brother

“Goddess, sing the Rage of Achilles, the son of Peleus / the destructive rage that sent thousands of Greeks to their doom”

Homer, Iliad 1.1-2

(We never took time on this blog to note the passing and commemorate the memory of the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch. It is always a loss when a good man dies young. Coverage of his passing made me think of this subject.)

When I was younger I had the peculiar experience of dating a girl a few years my senior. Now, as far as the dating goes, there was really nothing unexpected or abnormal (indeed, it was a formative and not atypical adolescent firestorm); the peculiar part was that her (the Mix Tape Girl’s) younger brother was my age and in my classes at school.

Perhaps that is not all that strange—it was, however, a bit awkward. At the beginning he and I were not friends or really all that friendly. (In fact, I am sure he was not all that happy to have me around.) But, by the end of the relationship, we were friendly enough—we actually ended up in a related network of friends. We went to at least one movie together. He farted around me openly.Where the Mix Tape Girl was a little ‘alternative’ (but still close enough to the in-crowd), her brother started out a little nerdy without being a geek—that is, he took AP Physics and Calculus, but definitely wasn’t into Dungeons & Dragons or They Might be Giants. He was a bit of a clown, atypically kind in private, and charmingly goofy outside of school.

One day, when the two of us were working together at a convenience store, I was inflicting another conversation about my band on him.  I am sure he heard me sing and play the guitar more than anyone not dating me or related by blood should have had to. But he never complained. Instead, he seemed to try to understand the maudlin lyrics, the prog-rock harmonies and the attempts to imitate TMBG on one day, Nirvana on the next, and bad folk music on the third.


I think I was complaining about how no one we knew would come see my band play. And then, he said it: “Why don’t you guys play more angry? You know, like Rage Against the Machine or something.” He impressed upon me the value of letting people feel pissed off, the adrenaline sparked by angry music.


In all honesty I have always been a little bewildered by the attraction of the heavier and angrier bands (to the extent that my own affinity for Fugazi is only half-hearted). Moshing, slam-dancing, intentional violence—all these things always seemed off to me. Of course, at the time, the alternatives were to be a full-fledged Lilith Fair supporter, or to dwell somewhere awkwardly between the extremes.


The angry, or aggressive side of rock was not a new phenomenon even then—the heavier sounds that arrived with Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath set the stage for the much later mainstream popularity of a band like Rage Against the Machine which drew on the Hard Core movement of the 1980’s. Punk, especially in its early days with the Sex Pistols, shared the same genes.



Of course, I did not think any of this that day behind the register as we sold 99 cent King Cobras to local drunks. Instead, I tried to figure out what such a kind, often quiet, and altogether ‘happy’ guy like my girlfriend’s brother found to identify with in the anger of Rage Against Machine and the mad noise of “Sabotage”?


The complicated answer I come to years later is that for most of us who lead normal lives, such flirtation with anger acts like an emotional release valve. On a cultural level, our raging musicians, artists (and sometimes crackpots) express the destructive emotions that might just destabilize society if they are given no release.


This is not to say that artists like Rage Against the Machine, Black Flag, or Fugazi have nothing to be angry about, but, rather, that their appeal to those who are not defined by protest and inspired to challenge authority confirms that they are filling a larger cultural need.
Or something like that.

But, when I think about this topic further, this explanation makes sense (although it needs nuance and support). Anger, or perhaps something more basic and animalistic like rage, appears as the central theme of one of the oldest narratives in the Western tradition, the Iliad, where the main character’s rage (Achilles) is so super-human that it not only destroys his enemies but it results in the deaths of his friends. In turn, as Achilles follows his anger to its (il)logical end, it secures his death as well. It is only when he gives up his rage to make common cause with Priam, the father of his enemy Hector, the man he kills and then whose body he disfigures in fury, that Achillles becomes something like a human. He re-enters society. To become a civilized man, he must foreswear his rage.

Led Zeppelin got angry. About a foot.
Yet, the society that tells his tale still ponders the dangers and effects of anger. Why? Because the sub-human, animalistic spirit resides within us—especially within men. I used to think that angry music was popular because anger is a simple emotion that often covers for more complex things. Now, I think that while anger may correlate with many other emotions—loss, frustration, jealousy, to name a few—it is more basic and profound than a mere cloak for tender feelings.

Anger, I could say, is that battle within as we negotiate the balance between our needs and the world that confounds us. Anger, on a larger scale, is the expression of fundamental disappointment in the way things are. Anger, when sampled even vicariously, must be tamed or released for us to live together in something like peace.

Or that’s the answer I have now for why a nice young man essentially implied that my band was too whiny and needed (as he put it later) “balls”. Perhaps this too may explain my brother’s disdain for ‘emo’. Who wants every day and self-pitying emotions  when stronger stuff is on offer, when angry music lets us feel something or express something that we don’t find every day?
Here’s some real angry stuff:

And what do you think my brother?  Does the theory pass the smell test? Did you ever think you’d read about Achilles and Black Flag in the same post?

To Solo or Not to Solo: Is that a Question?

My brother and I have had an ongoing debate for the past few years. In fact, I think that this debate probably predates this blog by a healthy length of time. See, he has a predilection for bands that use what I consider to be too much noise. I have a taste for music that he, at times, considers too ‘emo’ or something like that.

This summary, of course, doesn’t fairly represent either the depth of the discussion or the opinions on either side. The whole concern, I suspect, is so directly connected to our  converging but essentially separate music aesthetics as to represent in toto our different characters and world outlooks.

Most recently, we have been debating the musical structure of songs by Mumford & Sons. One thing we both recognize (and disagree about) is that what sets the band and their style (shared in part with bands like the Lumineers and The Last Bison) is in the eschewal of conventional rock instrumentation—the abandonment of both the drumset and the iconoclastic lead guitar.

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Why I love the guitar solo.

One of my favorite solos ever, almost certainly the favorite for the mighty Led Zeppelin. I’ve loved this one for over a decade which is not the same I can say for those old Foo Fighters records. Just listen to how he keeps building the solo until there is a climax, not unlike a sexual experience. Many people, including an interview I can now not find with Jimmy Page, have ascertained that songs like  “Stair way to Heaven” are modeled like this for that exact reason.

The Elder and I talked about Mumford last week and he commented on my post after some back and forth that he thought most guitar solos are “superfluous ostentation” which I think is the equivalent of tail fins on a car. They look cool and add to the overall picture but don’t really do much for the ride. (He continues the debate here.)

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