Sunday, March 6, 2011

Where's this obsession coming from? Three men, three defining moments.

Whenever I begin formulating some musical thesis, there's a good chance that it will revolve around, or at least tangentially mention any to all of the following: Lou Reed/Velvet Underground, Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead and Michael Nesmith/The Monkees.

Those who have known me for a long time may roll their eyes and think "still?" I myself have had the same reaction. My music collection may consist of 1000 artists, and yet, these are the ones who continue to make me want to explore everything about their histories, both musical and personal, and come up with new angles to explore in their works.

I've arrived at a true and rather amusing list of reasons, and they all go back to me between the ages of 15-17, and revelatory experiences that influenced my musically and philosophically evolving mind.
Let's go down the list of the big three: 

1) Lou Reed. You'll notice that though these may be the Big Three, in previous or subsequent entries, I will also be quite critical of them. I mean, how can one not be critical of chunks of these guys' work? There's a lot that I won't touch. Stuff I've tried, shuddered and walked away. Maybe I'll do a bit about that, but for now, let's stay positive.
My sister, responsible for getting me into the Dead a couple years later, was my introduction to The Velvet Underground, and this was right around when Verve's reissues were coming out--1985? I liked some of it...some of it was freaky. My fave was VU, which I remember listening to on my walkman before a baseball game (I was a baseball geek in my early adolescence).
But I never felt a huge huge bond with the Velvets. Most things I loved were either from England or California. I couldn't get too into the NYC scene. Then, I befriended this guy, a fellow Beatles freak, and started writing songs with him. He borrowed my VU tapes and immediately got it, loved it, became obsessed with it.
We were hanging in a friend's basement bedroom. Maybe 7 or 8 people. It was either 10th or early 11th grade. I was in the midst of a big Brian Wilson phase. My friend didn't get it. I was drawing pictures of a chubby, bearded Brian Wilson saying "Hi! I'm all big and fat and I'm home to stay!" I thought it was funny.
My friend was disgusted. He said "is that what you want to be? a fat guy that never leaves his house?"
I said, "well, no, but sometimes I feel like that's my future."
He said "you need to listen to less Beach Boys, more VU"
I replied "you know I dig the Velvets, but I think this is my main question: if you could summarize Lou Reed's outlook, what would it be?"
He thought for a minute and said "'There are problems in these times, but none of them are mine'".
I realized, that right there there shields anyone from fear and doubt. That's awesome. I'm ready to go off into the world. God bless Lou for saying that. Thanks to my friend for saying that. 

2) The Monkees/Michael Nesmith.
In the summer of 1989, my sister and I saw about 6 or 7 concerts together, mostly at Great Woods, in Mansfield, MA (now the Tweeter something). I was between sophomore and junior years of high school and she was somewhere near the start of her undergrad at U Mass, Amherst, but living at home for the summer. The Monkees syndicated reruns were shown every evening at 5 during the summer on channel 56. This was the third summer in a row that I knew of. And I tried to never miss an episode. I'd tape them if I wasn't going to be home. Especially the second season, more trippy episodes.
One show we were planning to attend was The Monkees at Great Woods. This was 1989. Their big comeback had been in '86, and most folks were happy enough to welcome back the guys that summer and go on to the next thing.But they wouldn't go away. They kept touring. And watching the attendance drop with each year. For them, it was history repeating all over again, 20 years later (in 1966-67, and 1986-87, a Monkees show was a sure sell out. By '69, and again in '89 they could hardly get arrested--and were hardly talking to each other).
So, Alyssa and I tried to make the most of it and made sure we brought a good attitude to the Monkees show. I don't remember much about the show. What I do remember:
-- sequined tank tops and a real sort of gay/Vegas vibe
-- running up front to watch Mickey play the drums on one song--and one song only. And there was another drummer on said song too. Bummer.
-- seeing Rodney Bingenheimer--or, at least we swore it was him--hanging out near the backstage area, possibly scoping out ladies for the band. Alyssa wanted to talk to him, but I was getting way too creeped out.
THE MOMENT: I coined it The Lack Thereof Tour.  Lack of enthusiasm, lack of crowd...and of course, lack of Mike Nesmith. Now, I loved Nesmith going into this concert, but I REALLY loved him afterward, raving to Alyssa in the car how "Nesmith would not have let a travesty like this happen! No sequined tank tops, no stupid wigs, no not-playing-instruments...this was Davy's World! And it's not what I wanted to see!".
Later, I drew a picture of the band: Malted Mickey, Diet Davy and Perturbed Peter. I wish I still had it.
In any case, my obsession with all things Nesmith began after that.

3) Jerry Garcia--well, Jerry's the one I've spent the most time NOT into. I only started listening to The Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia again about 3 years ago. From 1990-2005 or so, you'd be hard pressed to get me to expound on anything Jerry-related. However,  I was definitely on the road to serious Dead fandom when I was 14-16. My sister had hundreds of tapes and after I heard "Anthem of The Sun", I knew there was something there. I mostly dug 1967-72 stuff and listened to The Grateful Dead Hour on WZLX each week.  But then I started hanging out with more alternative/punk/goth types and found I really jibed with their vibe and enjoyed hanging with them in smoky diners and listening to The Cure, than getting high and cranking a 17 minute "Eyes of the World".
But back to THE MOMENT when Jerry made his permanent mark on me. It was some summer night, 1989. I could not sleep. I borrowed my sister's vinyl copy of Live Dead and put on headphones. I was sure that side one, 22 minutes of "Dark Star", would put me to sleep. I'd never made it through the first 6 or 7 minutes previously. Instead, that night, I got it. I heard it. Jerry was heading a conversation with the rest of the band. Not verbally but through his guitar. There were questions asked, jokes told, proclamations made, advice given, apologies made, arguments made....and I was understanding it all. Perhaps it was the half-awake thing, but I felt like I'd landed in another land and could magically understand the native tongue.
Later, in 2005, Jerry came to me in a dream and gave me part of an unfinished song to use in one of my songs. But that's another story. However, it's partially responsible for waking up the dormant, Dead-appreciating part of my brain that had been on sabbatical for 15 years.

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