Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Music in my Life

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, August 10, 2008)

While I was sorely tempted to talk about that idiotic politician, and hypocritical Christian, known as John Edwards, I found I really had nothing to say about him except I knew there was a reason I didn't like the asswipe that had more to do with him personally than his overly expensive and flying saucer-like haircut. Hopefully, his political career is now over. What a moron. (I do feel sorry for his wife though.)

So, instead I want to talk about music this week.

This last week I saw two music performances that were phenomenal. On Friday, I watched the Boredoms (http://www.myspace.com/boredoms) play a free show at the La Brea Tar Pits (http://www.tarpits.org/) here in Los Angeles. It was called 88Boadrum. This show was the type of special event we don't get very often in this city. It was sponsored by Nike Sportswear. (I always think of the Boredoms when I think of Nike.) There was a small circular stage set up on the grass next to the Page Museum and the main tar pit. On that stage was the current lineup of the Boredoms, singer and chief noisemaker Yamantaka Eye, and the three drummers that now make up the band. Eye was in back of a big synthesizer setup. But what made this performance special was that the stage was surrounded by 85 other drummers, making this performing group into a true drum orchestra. Most of the drummers were from local bands and included such people as Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse, Black Heart Precession), Katelyn Hall (Miko Mako), Patty Schemel (Hole), Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus), Aaron Sperske (Beachwood Sparks) and my friend, Tom Recchion (BPeople).

The show was performed on 08-08-08 and started precisely at 8:08 PM. It was supposed to last 88 minutes, but in actuality ended up being about and hour and forty-five minutes long, not that I'm complaining. (There was a New York version performed on the same date and time, except that was overseen by the band Gang Gang Dance - http://www.myspace.com/ganggangdance - who isn't nearly as interesting as the Boredoms). The performance started as a rather quiet cymbal wash, with each drummer slowly joining in. It reminding me of the ebb a flow of the ocean, but quickly grew into a massive percussive overload, punctuated by Eye's vocals and synthesizer additions. I thought it was a beautiful piece of music. My favorite parts were when one drummer or another would try something that would throw off their beat, causing a ripple to run through the music that would eventually fix itself after a minute or two. But those little imperfections were what made the piece interesting for the entire running time. It was a thrilling and ultimately extremely moving performance. I'm very glad that several thousand people were there to experience it.

But the show that really got me thinking about music and my history in it was by Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band (http://www.myspace.com/conoroberst). Most of you will recognize Conor as the mastermind behind the great Bright Eyes (http://www.myspace.com/brighteyes). I'm usually bored by critics when they start proclaiming an artists as the "next something" and in Conor's case, he is constantly saddled with critics naming him the "next Dylan". But in this one case, I have to agree. The man writes songs that reverberate with me the same way Dylan's songs did in the 60s. Granted, he's heavily influenced by Dylan as well, but his songs go way beyond that influence. I believe he is one of the best living songwriters in the world today.

Conor's performances are usually as good as his songs and this one was no exception. He has an easy, accessible stage presence that embraces you and makes you feel like his performance is just for you. He also has a knack for finding amazing musicians to back him up. This new band is every bit as good as Bright Eyes.

I've seen him in big places and small places and I always leave his shows happy and excited to have seen him perform those amazing songs. I loved this show so much that I was anxious to see him perform again when he plays the Henry Fonda Theatre in a few months. Alas, I'll be in Argentina at the time, so I'll have to wait until next time. (I'm also missing Wire - http://www.myspace.com/wirehq - during the same time period. Damn!)

But it was the classic rock music of Conor Oberst that really got me thinking about my musical history and led me to write this blog.

I don't remember what really set me off on my love of music. I remember listening to the radio and hearing the Beatles for the first time. I also remember not being all that impressed. My father used to listen to lots of classical music and jazz-pop singers. I especially remember him playing Chopin and Dinah Washington, because I would try to aggravate him by mispronouncing their names. I referred to Chopin as "chop-in" and Ms. Washington as Diane, always getting him to issue a correction that I would ignore every time. I pretended like I hated that music as well. I don't remember really liking it, but I certainly didn't hate it. Of course, these days I love that stuff, especially Dinah Washington's beautiful albums.

I also remember my parents taking me to the late, great Melodyland Theatre in Anaheim, across the street from Disneyland, to see the Supremes, with the Checkmates LTD opening. I don't remember the exact dates of this, although it had to be around 1966. I was 12 years old and this was my first ever live concert. I was very impressed. (They also took me to the same venue to see Phyllis Diller and I remember being horrified, and somewhat titillated, at my young age over her "breast jokes".)

I had a few 45s during that period that I played on my small portable record player, but I don't remember anything really grabbing my attention until I was 13 years old. I was at summer camp. It was my last day there for that year and there was a party being thrown. Someone put on an album and it totally blew my mind. I found the person manning the record player and found out what they were playing. It was the first Doors album. When I got home, I rushed out with my allowance and that was the first album I ever bought. It also opened the floodgates and I found I had a real hunger to buy more and more records and hear more and more bands. Shortly after, I had the first album by Spirit and "Sgt. Peppers" and my album collection began to grow quickly.

Of course, I had to budget myself to what I was getting due to my allowance, which wasn't all that much. I quickly found out, I don't remember how, that I could buy a record from my local K-Mart and then take it back the next day, telling the return desk clerk that it was defective. They would tell me to go grab another one and I'd take my bag to the record section and stuff 4 or 5 albums in it. I would then walk by the returns desk and tell them I had a new one and thank them. They NEVER checked. I would then take the bag home and hide it in the bushes. That night, after my parents had gone to bed, I would sneak out through my window, get the bag and add the albums to my collection. I don't know how I managed to get away with this for so long. K-Mart never caught me and my parents never seemed to notice that my record collection was growing at a remarkable rate.

Now, my parents certainly weren't perfect in the ways they raised me. I could go on about mistakes they made and mild grudges I still hold for things they did back then. But despite the fact that they were rather conservative, I will always be thankful to them for raising me in such a liberal fashion. They encouraged my love of music. I wish I would have listened to them more when they urged me to learn how to play an instrument. I took guitar lessons and clarinet lesions. I even took a few drum lessons. But I was always too lazy to give it the attention I should have and I regret that to this day.

My father would allow me to go to concerts every once in a while. He would take me to the concert and drop me off and then come back and pick me up at an appointed time. I saw Iron Butterfly, Blues Image, Taj Mahal, the Bee Gees, Vanilla Fudge, Spanky and Our Gang, the Hook, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Sunshine Company and so many more this way. I also caught performances by Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Baja Marimba Band, and many others at Disneyland, another place I went, where my parents would take me and just drop me off. This was way before the days when parents worried about abduction and molestation, and it was a much better time because of it, especially for a young kid growing up and wanting to experience as much as he could. I especially remember being shocked at the Iron Butterfly show because it was my first experience with Hippies and seeing people smoke pot. It blew my young mind seeing the people dancing wildly in the aisles to the psychedelic music.

(As much as I enjoyed that Iron Butterfly show, I choose it over a show that featured the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and I think, The Merry Go-Round. I don't remember why I would do that, especially since I adored the Doors. But I hate myself to this day for that decision as I never got another chance to see my all-time favorite band.)

My parents also fed my vinyl addiction when they could. I remember one Christmas where all I wanted was the Beatles' "White Album". It was a double album and I couldn't afford (or steal) it at the time. My parents were steadfast in refusing to get it for me, telling me I didn't need any more records. Christmas day came around and I found a giant box under the tree for me. I was crushed and convinced that they had bought me some item that I would find useless and boring. I opened the box to find it full of paper and after spending what seemed an eternity digging through all that filler, I found a new, sealed copy of the "White Album" at the bottom. I still remember that Christmas as one of my all time favorites.
I also remember the first record I bought that my parents actually liked. That was the Credence Clearwater Revival's second album, called "Bayou Country". I loved that album, but was shocked when my mother, who liked country music, told me how much she enjoyed it as well. For awhile, I wouldn't play it any more, but finally gave in as it's just too great of an album to let such a thing distract me from it.

In 1970, my father got a new job in Northern Virginia and we moved to Springfield, where I spent the next two years. There, I started discovering the underground. I was a member of some record club and they always sent me the wrong records than the ones I ordered. But because of that, I discovered King Crimson, Led Zeppelin and many others.

There was also a local record store I would frequent and they turned me on to T-Rex and some local artists such as Grin, a band fronted by a very young Nils Lofgren. But I learned more from a local television show that featured really underground artists. It was that show that I first saw and heard the Stooges, Alice Cooper, The Bob Seger System, Emmet Rhodes and the band that totally blew me away, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band.

Once again, my dad would drop me off at the Alexandria Roller Rink and I saw such bands as King Crimson, T-Rex, Grin, Humble Pie, Edgar Winter and so many others I can't remember any more.

After two years, we moved back to Los Angeles. I had just turned 18 and started working for my father building computers. I actually enjoyed the work, but my heart and soul was in the music business, so when I walked into a local Licorice Pizza record store and they told me they were hiring, I jumped at the chance. I think my parents were disappointed, especially my dad, but as always, they respected my choice and let me make my own way in this world.

You know, I look back on this and I realize that despite their faults, I have some pretty damned great parents. I'll have to remember to tell them that some day soon.

I've talked about my life after that in past blogs. I went from record stores to working with bands and back to record stores before finally getting completely fed up and disillusioned by the music business. During this time, my tastes in music grew and changed to incorporate almost every genre of music there is. Because of that, despite my current disillusionment, I will always love music. It will always be one of the most important things in my life.

1 comment:

  1. I went to my first concert at Melodyland.I think the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band headlined and I remember being real impressed by the opening act who all wore black leather and all wore one black glove.They played the theme from THE WILD ANGELS with loud fuzz guitar riff.Cool stuff to see for a 9-year old.I still have a sweatshirt from the gig with 93/KHJ BOSS RADIO in front and Humble Harve with him in shades on the back.
    My parents used to drop me off at concerts too.
    Of course back then a kid alone wouldn't end up vivisected on YouTube like one might now.

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