Tag Archives: music

Help! I’ve Got G.A.S.!

G.A.S.

That’s right, I’ve got G.A.S!

No, not the embarrassing bean-induced digestive distress, and not the American equivalent of petrol.

Amongst guitar players, G.A.S. stands for Guitar Acquisition Syndrome, defined thusly by GuitarDaddy over at The Guitar Buzz:

…the uncontrollable need to purchase “just one more” guitar. Then, when the new guitar arrives, the G.A.S. symptoms return. It’s a never-ending cycle that can be… terminal.

It’s an insidious condition, really, so common amongst musicians (not limited to guitarists, and therefore AKA Gear Acquisition Syndrome), that the acronym can be found on the interwebs in thousands if not millions of articles, blog posts, and discussion forums.

GAS-BookA book’s even been written on the topic.

My favorite piece on G.A.S. is at Music Radar, titled 7 Stages of Gear Acquisition, where the 7 stages are listed as: Dissatisfaction, Desire, Research, Purchase, Guilt, Acceptance, Relapse.

I particularly love this bit from the section on Desire:

You’ve seen the guitar you want, and it’s embedded in your brain like a want-splinter. Only this guitar can bring happiness. With it in your hands, your playing will improve and you’ll become a sexual colossus.

“Want-splinter”! LOL! So funny, and so, so, true!

I think most musicians would agree that these stages are not linear and sequential, and that one can bounce around them in no predictable order. Not all who suffer G.A.S., for instance, give into the Desire and amass massive collections and massive debt, and my own “collection” consists of only two electric and two acoustic guitars.

The vast majority of the time I vacillate between Desire & Research: checking the Craigslist musical instruments listings and Reverb.com almost daily, regularly getting lured in by a nice-looking guitar, scouring the reviews, watching YouTube clips, daydreaming and dreaming about the guitar, going to music stores to play the guitar if possible, etc.

Today, this is the one that got my G.A.S. symptoms raging:

Crstwood62_Splash

In the grand scheme of things, this is nowhere near an extravagant instrument. The Crestwood reissue sold for as low as $300 brand new, but because it was a limited run and is no longer available at retail, those available at eBay or Reverb.com range from $500-$600. Small beans compared to, oh, let’s say, a $2,500 vintage 1968 Gibson SG or a $20,000 1957 Fender Stratocaster.

Still, I don’t need another guitar. This is simply a want-splinter, nothing else.

I.Must.Resist…

What is your signature song?

johnhancockA few weeks ago, a friend posed the following question on Facebook:

What is a song that speaks for you in some way? A song that means a lot to you. A song that you would want played at your memorial. Your signature song.

Now, if I was just an ordinary casual music listener, this might be an easy task.

Rather, I’m an obsessive music geek, who has collected and studied and enjoyed thousands and thousands of songs over many years, over numerous genres, songs that speak to and/or for me on a variety of levels, from emotional to spiritual, from soothing to rage-venting, with lyrics simple and sweet, to abstract and esoteric, to direct and political.

To be asked to choose just one song, then, well, I don’t think it’s possible. And yet, I can’t resist the opportunity to spend a great deal of time pondering it, trying to narrow down the list, trying to determine what the phrase “signature song” really means to me.

The question was posed on January 27th, it’s now February 17th, a day has not gone by without my having thought about this, and the only thing that has become clear is that the crux of this question, the thing that makes it unique, as opposed to the typical “what’s your favorite song?”, is the phrase (my emphasis added in bold) “a song that speaks FOR you”. This, I suggest, is WAY different than asking what song “speaks TO you?”

All songs, especially those we like, speak TO us, by their very nature. Music is a form of communication, after all. But, only so many songs speak FOR us, communicating what we see, what we feel, what we experience, what we believe in, or what we don’t.

And then there’s my personal conflict, a conflict between what I experience and what I believe and aspire to.

If the purpose of a song, chosen to be played at one’s memorial service, is to represent the kind of person that we were, encapsulating not only what we felt about the life we lived, but also what we had hoped for, for ourselves, for others in our lives, or perhaps even for all humanity, in other words, an honest expression of what life was truly like for us — a Song Of Today — as well as an idealistic picture of what we believe is possible if elusive — a Song Of Tomorrow — then, in my case, it calls for two songs, two very different songs. If I’m to be authentic, I would like to be remembered for both.

Even then, picking just two songs is painfully difficult, and so I’d say that the two I’ve chosen for this post represent a snapshot of what seemed to fit today, what messages mean the most to me right now, and it’s very likely that if I try to answer this question again in the future, even days from now, that I might very possibly choose two very different songs.

The Unifying Theme
Love

A Song Of Today: Love Reign O’er Me
I think it’s safe to say that when most people long for something in their life, something that transcends material needs, if we think about it long enough we really do wish the same for all. And yet, in the immediate expression of personal longing, especially for something so fundamental as love, it’s understandable that it may be expressed with “me” language.

And so lyrically, yes, this first song — Love Reign O’er Me by Pete Townshend, performed by The Who, from their epic 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia, which I wrote about a couple of years ago — sounds somewhat self-interested.

And yet, there is the suggestion in the lyric, however subtle, that longing for love is universal, in the line (my emphasis added in bold):

Only love can bring the rain that make you yearn to the sky.

But then there’s the music, music that transitions from a gentle rain of tender love to a thunderstorm of longing, a longing for love to reign down, not just rain down, on one and all. And, as I struggle day to day with how the news is dominated by all of the most horrible things going on in the world, this song speaks for my deep, desperate, urgent longing for love, rather than hate, to reign.

A Song Of Tomorrow: Box of Rain
Keeping with rain as a symbol, perhaps because I live in Bellingham, I turn to Box of Rain, from the 1970 album American Beauty by the Grateful Dead.

The music for this song was written by bassist Phil Lesh, in honor of his dying father, Phil had asked longtime Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter, to write the lyrics, and Phil has said that he was amazed how perfectly Hunter had captured the sentiment he had hoped to express to his dad.

It’s a beautiful gesture of love, and the lyrics are filled with images of love’s healing power, not necessarily divine love, but maybe more importantly the love of one human being for another:

What do you want me to do
To do for you, to see you through?
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through.

Gone, here, is The Who’s anthemic angst, and in it’s place a sweet melody and lovely, loving imagery, a beautiful hippie song, really, in all the best idealistic ways, filled with hope for tomorrow.

And, in terms of a song for a memorial, you couldn’t do much better, given its origins, with a line that speaks to how precious and brief life may be:

Such a long long time to be gone
and a short time to be there

I just hope that these two songs won’t be needed for my memorial for quite a while longer. :)

(I couldn’t find a video that had the lyrics, and so here’s the song, followed by the full lyrics.)

Look out of any window
Any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
Birds are winging or
Rain is falling from a heavy sky –
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
This is all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago
Walk out of any doorway
Feel your way, feel your way
Like the day before
Maybe you’ll find direction
Around some corner
Where it’s been waiting to meet you –
What do you want me to do,
To watch for you while you’re sleeping?
Well please don’t be surprised
When you find me dreaming too

Look into any eyes
You find by you, you can see
Clear through to another day
I know it’s been seen before
Through other eyes on other days
While going home –
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
It’s all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago

Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams
To another land
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted
With words half spoken
And thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A a box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain –
Wind and water –
Believe it if you need it,
If you don’t just pass it on
Sun and shower –
Wind and rain –
In and out the window
Like a moth before a flame

It’s just a box of rain
I don’t know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
Or leave it if you dare
But it’s just a box of rain
Or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone
And a short time to be there

Willie & Trigger & Me: ‘As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.’

triggerI came across a wonderful short documentary film today at Rolling Stone about Willie Nelson and his legendary Martin N-20 guitar (shown here), nicknamed Trigger. And, as I watched the video, it triggered a very vivid memory of mine.

About 15 years ago, I attended a weekend retreat, held at one of those camps where they have boy and girl scout events most of the time, a scenic lakeside property, dotted with towering Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, and a mixture of little cabins, barrack-style dormitories, and larger lodges, and as I was walking between two buildings with an acoustic guitar strapped on, I played as I strolled, probably some well-worn and well-loved Dylan or Neil Young song. It was an old, cheap guitar that I’d had for years, bought for $200, brand new, including a hard-shell case, but it had a surprisingly decent tone, especially by then, because I played it as often and as hard as I possibly could, which ‘opened up‘ the guitar significantly. And, I was strolling along with a friend who happened to be a guitar player as well, although a very different type of player, a performing classical guitarist, who played a guitar that probably cost him ten times as much as mine, and all of a sudden my guitar’s strap came loose from the guitar, and the guitar fell to the ground, onto a course gravel trail, the guitar suffered two significant dings, one on the headstock and the other on the upper bout, so deep that they penetrated the high-gloss finish down to the bare wood, and…

Me: Oops! Ha, ha, ha. (Picking up the guitar, barely missing a step, strapping it back on, and starting to play again.)

My Friend: Dude! Your guitar!

Me: No biggie. Gives it character!

I remember, later on, feeling conflicted about that incident. On one hand, for millions and millions of people, a guitar, any guitar, even a “cheap” $200 guitar, would be a treasured luxury item. And so, it was an embarrassing display of economic privilege for me to have acted like a $200 instrument was practically a disposable item that could be replaced with ease.

j-guitarOn the other hand, I work hard at my Buddhist non-attachment, a guitar is just a material object, and it’s a tool not a museum piece, it’s meant to be handled and used vigorously, doing so causes wear, and I happen to love this wear, what some guitarists refer to as mojo. I think Willie Nelson’s Trigger, Joe Strummer’s road-worn Telecaster, and Neil Young’s Old Black are beautiful, because they symbolize passion over pretense.

My son has now inherited my old guitar (show here, with damaged headstock), and it gives me great pleasure that he plays it and appreciates it despite the damage. Meanwhile, I moved on to my own Martin, a 000-15s (shown here in a photo I snapped 4 years ago), now replete with all kinds of scratches and a few dings and just about the loveliest tone you can image, a tone that seems to contain all of the accumulated notes and chords I’ve played over the past 10 years, a tone so dear to me that I feel as Willie does, when he says about Trigger:

As long as it keeps going, I’ll keep going.

Anyway, check out this great short doc on Trigger.

Video Fridays: A “Morning Dew” Extravaganza

morning-dewI often think of myself as a pretty decent pop music historian, because in conversations with music geeks and non-geeks alike I very regularly can reference what others consider to be obscure music factoids.

And yet, paradoxically, I regularly learn something new that takes me totally by surprise.

Yesterday was one such time, thanks to a friend who posted a YouTube clip, not only of a British band from the mid-1960s that I’d never heard of, Episode Six, but of Episode Six covering a song I’d only ever heard before as performed by the Grateful Dead: Morning Dew.

I’d known that the song predated the Grateful Dead, but I never noticed that the song was written by Canadian folksinger Bonnie Dobson, and I certainly had no idea, until I did my research, just how many artists and bands covered the song, nor how wacky a variety of artists and bands it’s been.

As I commented on my friend’s Facebook post, “Any song that can be covered by the Grateful Dead, Jeff Beck, Lulu, and Devo, just to name a few, is one helluva song!” And, perhaps it’s the song’s heavy subject matter that has inspired so many to interpret it.

Per Wikipedia:

The song is a dialogue between the last man and woman left alive following an apocalyptic catastrophe: Dobson has stated that the initial inspiration for “Morning Dew” was the film On the Beach which is focused on the survivors of virtual global annihilation by nuclear holocaust.

Appropriately then, for this week’s Video Fridays installment, I’ve selected a handful of versions of Morning Dew to best capture this wacky variety, starting with the wackiest I could find.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

(Disclaimer: The first is a fan-made video, and the second is audio-only, as there were no live performance videos available for these two.)

Wacky, because Devo:

The songwriter’s own recording:

Nazareth, because hair and tank tops:

Jeff Beck Group, because soul, funky bass, and general awesomeness:

Lulu, because campy earnestness:

And finally, magical, because, as I wrote two weeks ago, 1977 Grateful Dead:

Headline of the Day: Fun With Airtravel

From the name of the band that this guy is a member of, to the vivid image of his behavior in the airport, this headline is like a scene from This Is Spinal Tap.

Puddle of Mudd Singer Arrested for Riding Baggage Carousel

Rolling Stone

That he was bailed out by a fan is the icing on the comedy cake. LOL!

Video Fridays: The Magic of 1977 Grateful Dead

jerryDisclaimer: I recognize that this installment of Video Fridays may only appeal to music geeks like me, or maybe even to just Grateful Dead music geeks like me, but inspiration hit me and this is what I have to share today. That said, if there’s even a sliver of a chance that I can turn someone on to this music that I love so much, then my work here will not be in vain.

There’s an old Jewish saying that I love a lot.

Two Jews, three opinions.

Well, I’m convinced, after many years of debating the relative greatness of the different eras of the Grateful Dead‘s 30-year career, that it would be accurate to paraphrase the Jewish saying by substituting “Deadhead” for “Jew”.

Consider my recent communications with my longtime friend Keith, who has been featured in two prior posts of mine: Post 1, Post 2.

A few days ago, Keith emailed, imploring me to go to Archive.org, a gold mine for Deadheads, and to listen to what some believe is the greatest show the Grateful Dead ever performed, out of their 2,317 total concerts, a show from a year, 1977, believed by many more Deadheads still, to be their best.

This was the legendary May 8, 1977 concert at Cornell University’s Barton Hall in Ithaca, NY.

Having been intimately familiar with this show for many, many years, dating back to when I owned a bootleg of it on cassette tape, now sadly lost, I was more than happy to listen to it again, and doing so led me and Keith to exchange a total of 38 emails and 100+ text messages over the next two days.

During the course of the discussion, I started out agreeing that 1977 was a great year and that the Barton Hall show was great, but I disagreed with Deadheads calling it “the best”, as I was of the opinion that this distinction was not important, and I mentioned that lately I’d been listening to and loving shows from 1974 more than any shows from other periods.

But then, I inevitably became lured into a 1977 immersion, listening to shows at Archive.org and watching shows on YouTube, and while I still don’t think it’s important to label 1977 “the best”, it absolutely was a VERY special year.

There are several factors that made it so, but one of the most striking things, clearly evident in Jerry Garcia’s smile in the lead photo I’ve included here, and as can be seen throughout the video below, as Jerry himself said, “We’re having fun again.”

The band had gone on a touring hiatus after their Fall 1974 tour, they only played four one-off shows in 1975, but they had a bunch of new songs from their 1975 album Blues For Allah, and a bunch more from the album Terrapin Station, which they recorded in the winter of 1976 and would release in July of 1977. All of that studio time had two interesting side effects.

First, it demanded discipline, as studio time is expensive and records are for posterity, leading to consistent cohesion and tightness in their music, and, as a performing musician myself, I can attest that this is up there near the top of the list of the most fun things humans can experience.

Second, after a grueling 1974 tour, with their legendarily massive “Wall of Sound” sound system, a system that demanded they play on large stages, where they tended to spread out from each other like this:

GD-74

…they set out on their 1976 tour with a a greatly reduced amount of sound equipment, and having been in the confining spaces of a recording studio, they set up their gear very close together, and for most of their time onstage for the next few years they’d be huddled together, like this:

Grateful Dead live

…paying really close attention to each other and playing off each other, often, as mentioned, smiling from the pure joy of it.

Time moves on, and due to a combination of the occasional internal strife that all bands struggle with, as well as having reached a level of maturity, musically, that no longer required them to play in such close proximity to each other, they gradually spread out on stage again, and from around 1980 onward, with the exception of the acoustic sets they did in the ’80s, they mostly looked like this:

GD-90

So, yeah, 1977 was special, magical even, if you believe in music magic, as I most decidedly do, and thanks to the Music Vault YouTube channel, another gold mine for Deadheads, we’re lucky to have access to a number of videos from 1976 and 1977, including the following treasure from the Spring ’77 tour, a full hour and 45 minutes from their April 26th show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey.

Again, just watch Jerry to see how much fun he’s having! That fun comes through the music in a glorious, glorious way.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

R.I.P. Joe Cocker

cockerwoodstockMan, it’s been a brutal December for rock & roll.

Joe Cocker, Iconic Rock Singer, Dead at 70

Even if The New York Times insists that the “celebrities die in threes” thing is a myth, I know I wasn’t alone in wondering who would be next, when music legends Bobby Keys and Ian McLagan died on two consecutive days earlier this month.

And, while it took a couple of weeks, it’s one of the creepiest things ever that the third to fall turned out to be Joe Cocker.

As I mentioned in my post mourning the loss of Keys:

…while most who do know and love his music associate him first and foremost with The Rolling Stones…I most closely associate Bobby Keys with his work on my all-time favorite live album, and the film for which it was the soundtrack, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

I even included a clip from Mad Dogs & Englishmen, featuring a gorgeous Bobby Keys solo.

And then, in my post honoring Ian McLagan, I listed the many musicians that McLagan played with, among them…Joe Cocker.

How strange is life and death, that these three — two of them 70-years old at the time of passing, the other 69, all of them major players in the glorious rock heyday of the 1960s and 1970s, and all three having made music together — should pass on within the span of three weeks?!

Well, what else can I say about Joe?

My cousin Richard gave me a vinyl copy of the 1970 release Mad Dogs & Englishmen, approximately 10 years after it came out, and I admit that I was slow to take to it. I didn’t recognize many of the songs, and I had yet to fall in love, as I decidedly am now, with the R&B and soul music that Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, et al. were clearly channeling at the time.

But, something led me to hold on to that record, and now, as I’ve said, it really is my undisputed, all-time favorite live album.

If I had to use one word to describe Joe Cocker’s greatness, I would use the word commitment, because, when you watch and listen to Joe perform, you see and hear a man committing himself to the music to the fullest extent possible, giving himself over to it completely, giving all of himself without reservation.

There’s no way to fake what he did, and it’s my personal opinion that if you don’t find the following at all stirring, if this 20-piece band, replete with full-blown choir, doesn’t course through you with the power of love, well then, you might want to check yourself for a pulse.

Rest in peace, Joe, and thank you, thank you, thank you for the many years of beautiful music!