Post #15: The Sky Was Crying

Music, Tributes

I have a piece about to come out in Word Riot (Nov. 15th issue) that features a narrator who spends a lot of money on a guitar that looks like one that used to belong to Stevie Ray Vaughan.  It’s not about Stevie Ray, per se, but his image and power are essential components to the narrator’s worldview.  The reason I bring it up, though, is that even though the piece tops out at a mere 300 words, the writing of it was more pleasurable than any in recent memory, mostly because it’s given me a reason to reminisce about a certain Saturday afternoon a long time ago.

I was seventeen.  Mike was eighteen.  And we’d both been in a Stevie Ray stranglehold for what felt like a lifetime, though for me it had only been a year or so.  All we listened to was Stevie Ray, spun the CDs in a loop, watched “Live at the El Macombo” on VHS, jaws agape.  Mike, who’d been a fan for a while and could play some mean blues guitar himself, had introduced me to the late guitarist’s output the summer before.  The music, like that of Keith Jarrett a few years later, was a life changing revelation from the first note.  Found a secret place inside me I didn’t know was there.

We’ve all had this experience.

That day, we were stopped by the side of the road on a small highway in Oneonta, New York, waiting out a bad storm that had forced my teal Hyundai to the curb and made us ditch our cigarettes and roll up the windows.  It was the kind of rain that obscures all sight.  That leaves the existence of the outside world in doubt.  That makes you wonder how many animals you really could fit in an ark, and whether there’d be any room left for you once they were all in there.

As the rain pummeled the hood and my hazards blinked out through the downpour, we did what seemed only natural, put on Stevie’s take on Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”   And it all went away.  The rain.  The car.  The highway.  Even us and our teenage lives that felt so much bigger than they were.  The only thing that existed was that music.  All these years later, I can still feel it rattling around in my soul somewhere.   Still find it seeping into my thoughts, and, it would seem, into my words.

Post #8: Abbey Road & Risotto


There are only a handful of moments in recorded musical history as near to an audio orgasm (“eargasm,” if you’re an Outkast fan) as those few unbearable seconds when “Polythene Pam” swells and swells and finally bursts into “She Came Into The Bathroom Window” on The Beatles Abbey Road, the band’s impeccable farewell statement to the world.  Impeccable because they weren’t even a band anymore, yet knew that Let it Be (though eventually released as such) wasn’t good enough to be the last Beatles record.  The moment, though more so the product of some amazingly clever editing than carefully wrought medley (Lennon’s Pam and McCartney’s Window were written separately and the decision to blend them came later) is nonetheless visceral, a perfect accident the likes of which only the Beatles were capable, and always rearranges my loose parts into something beautifully whole.

When I listen to Abbey Road, it owns me in a manner that should come with a warning label.

For instance:

Recently, I was pulled away from a pan of touchy lobster risotto, for which I made the stock myself.  Have you ever made lobster stock, by the way?  We may have to move if the smell doesn’t.  And risotto of any variety is a dish, which, once embarked upon requires constant stirring and attention and babying. But, see, I’d put on Abbey Road.  And I couldn’t keep myself from invading the adjacent living room and dropping to my knees and cranking my stereo’s dial to better hear the aforementioned moment.  For a few timeless seconds, I was absent from the waking world, lost in John Lennon’s punchy “Oh, Look Out!,”the beautiful ugliness of George Harrison’s string bend response, that barely noticeable pause, then the way Paul McCartney picks up the melody and runs with it like a giddy tight end with an interception.

The risotto, by the way, was ruined.

But have you ever listened to Abbey Road?  Really listened, I mean.  Here’s what I want you to do.  I want you to get out your copy of it and listen to it from start to finish.

You don’t have that kind of time?

Okay.  Do this.  Put on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” turn off the lights, open your ears, turn the stereo really fucking loud, and tell me your face isn’t on the floor when it’s over.

Post #4: Under Five Hundred Words on an Album That Changed my Life, Part 1


Kind of Blue (1959, Columbia Records)


Freshman year in college I auditioned and was cast in (I didn’t have any lines, though) a student written and directed play called “A Summer in Delaware” that was very cool and totally weird.   It was eighteen minutes and thirteen seconds long, timed to be exactly the length of John Coltrane’s “Ole.”  I dug the music.  Had never really heard jazz before.  Decided to get into it.

“Where should I start?” I asked the director, and without even hesitating, he said “Kind of Blue.”

How could I have known what had just happened to me?  That he might as well have responded, “heroin.”

Based upon modal “sketches” prepared mostly by Miles Davis, but also by pianist Bill Evans, who plays on four of the five tracks, the album is largely derived from what would amount to rehearsal for most bands.  Coltrane?  Cannonball?  Jimmy Cobb?  They’d never really seen the music before that day.   Once settled into Columbia’s 30th St. Studio, they had some false starts while warming up, but for four of the five songs (“Flamenco Sketches” being the exception), only one complete take was ever recorded.  Stop and imagine that for a second.  Imagine George and Ringo showing up to a Sgt. Pepper’s session and Paul saying, “right, boys, here’s what’s on for today then.”  And then recording the album’s flawless final version an hour later.  That is the primary difference between jazz and everything else.

How to describe Kind of Blue?

Cool.  Bluesy.  Achingly beautiful.

You learn even note, yet it starts all over again every time.  I’ve played it over breakfast, making dinner, with kids dive bombing off the sofa, reading, cleaning, with company over, making funeral arrangements over the phone.  The regenerative power of this music is otherworldly.  Too good to be true.

And yet, it was made by six guys in a room over a couple of days in 1959.  Guys that knew each other well.  Guys that traveled together and shared toast and coffee and lousy scrambled eggs.  Guys that did drugs together.

It’s music that wants to be listened to; that wants you to like it.  Made by very gifted makers.

If I could only save one album, this would be it.