“Life turns to minutes and minutes to memories…”

September 7, 2011

This morning, as I often do on mornings when I have time, I leisurely perused a number of music blogs that are favorites as I drank my coffee.

One of those blogs was Any Major Dude With Half A Heart who, on this particular morning, had posted a regular feature called In Memoriam, paying tribute to those involved in music that had recently passed away.

The last thing I expected to find in a music blog by a fellow who had grown up in Germany and is living in South Africa – if I have the plot straight – was mention of someone I personally knew.

Yet that is how I learned of the passing of George Green.

The name is unlikely to mean much to most unless they absorb liner notes with considerable recall, but music fans are likely familiar with songs which they probably (and mistakenly) attribute to having been written solely by John Mellencamp.

George had been the one who had penned the lyrics to songs like Hurts So Good, Crumblin’ Down, and Rain On The Scarecrow.

As a high school senior, a number of classmates had argued for Minutes To Memories from Mellencamp’s Scarecrow album, which had been released at the beginning of the school year, to be class song.

(we were growing up two hours from Mellencamp’s hometown)

Three years later, I’m in college and working in a record store with a woman, Kat, whose husband had written Minutes To Memories and that is how I got to know George.

As I recall, the first time that I met George was to ask if he would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me for graduate school. Kat invited me over, introduced me to George, and promptly left the room.

I honestly don’t remember if he wrote the letter or not. We spent the afternoon listening to albums that he wanted me to hear.

(10cc’s How Dare You being one)

One thing that does become more obvious as the years pass and is that people who are a part of your life – sometimes even an intregal part – often drift out of your orbit. It’s been close to ten years since I last spoke with either Kat or George and I’ve often meant to make an attempt to reconnect with them, but…

I did have the chance on a number of occasions to spend time with George, though, and those are times that I treasure as he was a gifted writer and a good guy.

During those infrequent visits, he would often recite to me things that he had written, one being a poem that he had composed and read at his grandfather’s funeral.

It was a stunningly beautiful and poignant work.

This land, today, my tears shall taste
And take into its dark embrace
This love who in my beating heart endures
Assured by every sun that burns
The dust to which this flesh shall return
It is the ancient, dreaming dust of God

As special as that particular afternoon was, it’s one that I couldn’t truly appreciate at the time.

While I, with human-hindered eyes
Unequal to the sweeping curve of life
Stand on this single print of time

Only now, with the passage of time – and now the man – do I truly recognize that moment for the gift that it was.

Not long after, I was living in a different city, but having a conversation on the phone with Kat. As usual, I asked what George was working on.

She proceeded to tell me that he had a song on the then-forthcoming Mellencamp album.

I asked it it was anything with which I was familiar.

“Do you remember that poem…”

I admit that I was a bit skeptical. The poem was so amazing, so perfect, so brilliant and so fully realized.

I wondered if its use in a song might diminish the power of those words, words that needed nothing more than to be read in the unassuming Midwestern voice of their author.

I should have known better.

Human Wheels took love and grief – emotions that we all feel yet few of us can put into words – and put them into words.

I suppose that’s what great writers do. They take “the sweeping curve of life,” bear witness, and through their words make us feel more connected to one another.

At least that’s what George Green did.

John Mellencamp – Human Wheels
from Human Wheels

Advertisements

While I Gently Weep For My Guitar

January 2, 2011

I think that I had to be sixteen or seventeen before I ever held an electric guitar.

It must have been a BC Rich as it belonged to the younger brother of my buddy Beej and younger brother was a metalhead who aspired to join Dave Murray and Adrian Smith in Iron Maiden.

The next time I ever held a guitar was a good five years later. A housemate in college, Billy, owned a white ’64 Gibson SG.

Many nights we’d be hanging out in the living room watching some bad movie on late-night cable. Billy would be sitting there mindlessly playing scales and, on occasion, he’d show me a chord or two.

Over time, I’d grab the guitar from its case and monkey around with it when Billy was at work and I was likely supposed to be in class.

(cable and a couch trumps class on a cold winter’s afternoon handily)

I figured out how to play Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more of a rush of accomplishment.

Billy noted my increased interest in the instrument. He told me tales of the guitar’s history, of how it had supposedly once changed hands as part of a drug deal and how it had once belonged to a guitarist in a band called Mike & The Raiders.

(it was all so rock and roll)

Obviously I had no way to know how much was true, but the wear and tear apparent in the nicks and scratches on the guitar made anything seem possible.

Billy also had a bit of an agenda. He wanted a Fender Stratocaster.

And so, for a pittance of the SG’s worth, the guitar became mine.

I’d like to tell of how I played it ’til my fingers bled, put a band together, and that I now have a mansion and a yacht. I have no doubt that, in some parallel universe, that is exactly how it played out.

In this universe, the guitar was stolen from our house less than six months after I bought it.

I caught a few breaks, a canary sang, and I tracked the perp – a high school student – to his hometown four hours away.

The police, the attorney of the kid’s parents, and a co-worker that had done six years for armed robbery became involved, but, in the end, the guitar had been destroyed.

(or so I was told)

In some parallel universe, the co-worker did decide to go after the kid and shanked him.

I reaquired the SG, played it ’til my fingers bled, put a band together, and I now have a mansion and a yacht.

Here are four guitar songs…

The Jayhawks – Miss Williams’ Guitar
from Tomorrow The Green Grass

Paloma and I spent innumerable hours listening to Tomorrow The Green Grass, the fourth record by the alternative country-rock band The Jayhawks. Though the group never really broke beyond having a devoted grass-roots following and a slew of swooning critics, the Minneapolis quartet was beloved at the record store where we worked at the time.

Miss Williams’ Guitar had everything we’d come to expect from The Jayhawks – stellar songwriting and musianship delivered in an exuberant mixture of country, folk, and roots rock.

Tomorrow The Green Grass would be the final album that featured the glorious harmonies of vocalists/guitarists Mark Olson and Gary Louris as the former would leave the band and marry folk singer Victoria Williams, the subject of this song.

Steve Earle – Guitar Town
from The Essential Steve Earle

The title track from Townes Van Zandt-protege Steve Earle’s debut album captures the wanderlust of life on the road with humor and twang.

It all rings true when delivered in the rough-hewn vocals of the hard-living Earle and makes the fact that the artist shared bills with Dwight Yoakam and The Replacements at the time seem totally appropriate.

Radiohead – Anyone Can Play Guitar
from Pablo Honey

Though it lacked the distinctiveness that caught the attention of listeners with Radiohead’s more offbeat breakthrough hit Creep, Anyone Can Play Guitar is still a wonderful alternative pop song from the band’s debut.

Mainstream Interest in Radiohead waned in the States following the initial excitement of Creep, but the band remained a favorite of our record store’s staff with the brilliant follow-up album The Bends.

Then came O.K. Computer and Radiohead again – and deservedly – became the “it” band of the late ’90s.

John Cougar Mellencamp – Play Guitar
from Uh-Huh

Growing up in Indiana, any new album from John Cougar was going to get a lot of play on radio.

But, as American Fool had sold millions and been one of the biggest albums of ’82, the release of its follow-up in the autumn of ’83 was treated by local radio as an event. Stations teased the arrival of Crumblin’ Down, the first single, for weeks before its premier.

Though Uh-Huh wasn’t quite the commercial juggernaut that American Fool had been, the singer was now a homegrown institution no matter what his moniker might be and radio latched onto – and played into the ground – almost every cut on the record including the raucous and rebellious Play Guitar.


The DJ Wanted To See Us Naked (And I Had No Idea Where It Would Go From There)

May 7, 2008

Of late, my thoughts have been pre-occupied with nautical nonsense – giant squids and repeated viewings of Jaws – and, as I have no sea shanties to post, I thought that I’d take some shore leave. Fortunately, JB over at the wonderful The Hits Keep Comin’ has made me nostalgic for a time when radio meant something in my life – actually, it meant everything.

Music wasn’t a part of the landscape of our home when I was growing up. The radio was tuned in to the local country station but mostly for the weather. Although my parents were teens during the birth of rock and roll, like so many people music was hardly a need in their lives once they reached adulthood.

I do recall a few albums being played as a kid – stuff like Roy Orbison, Ray Price, and The Statler Brothers – as well as the odd, current hit single. I had little interest and, now, I wonder how I spent my time before I fell in love with music.

However, my time – almost all of my time – would soon be filled with music as the result of two things that were conversation staples among my classmates in junior high as the result of the popularity of Q102 out of Cincinnati.

The first thing that had my classmates abuzz was the on-air antics of Q102 DJ Mark Sebastian. Sebastian was irreverent and, to us, completely outrageous, signing off his shifts with the declaration, “And remember that I, Mark Sebastian, want to see you completely naked.” In 1981, in Southeastern Indiana, that was inconceivably shocking.

The other topic of many conversations centered on the previous evening’s Top Ten at 10, during which the ten most popular songs of the day would be counted down. Tuning in nightly, something clicked in my pre-teen consciousness, some connection was made and these songs, some for only a brief time, meant something to me. Music suddenly mattered and nothing in my life would ever be the same.

So, here are a few of the songs that were all the rage in those early months of 1981…

Styx – The Best Of Times
Styx – as well as Journey, REO Speedwagon and Kansas – was a staple on radio in the Midwest and Paradise Theater was the album among many of my friends. Not only were they my first concert two years later, but Paradise Theater was one of the first cassettes I ever purchased. Along with The Best Of Times, Too Much Time On My Hands and Rockin’ The Paradise were fixtures in Q102’s Top Ten.

Blondie – Rapture
While some of my early favorites hold little appeal to me now aside from nostalgia, Blondie’s stature has only grown as my tastes have matured. Musical chameleons fronted by Debbie Harry, whose non-musical charms had us equally as captivated, Rapture was the introduction to hip-hop for many kids of my generation.

Hall & Oates – Kiss On My List
The tall, blond one and the short, dark-haired one known as Hall & Oates were an unstoppable radio juggernaut in the early ‘80s. As a teenager during that time, it seemed hard to imagine a world without a Hall & Oates song every twenty minutes.

John Cougar – Ain’t Even Done With The Night
Before he was John Mellencamp, saving American farms, and incessantly reminding television viewers that “this is our country,” he was simply John Cougar (or, as my friend Bosco would refer to him, Johnny Hoosier). He’s arguably done better music since those early years, but this is, perhaps, the one song of his which I still never tire of hearing.