sk//adrian

a vague collection of daily struggles, hourly arguments, minute concerns, and secondary impulses.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

you caught me smilin'.


"This was music that mattered."


some time during high school, I stumbled across a brief interview with music archivist Roger Steffens. at the time, I had no idea who Steffens was. the majority of the article was about his legendary collection of Bob Marley material, which made me chuckle. why this guy would even waste his time? sure, I had heard some Marley, but most of his fans I knew fit into the stereotypical categories. in fact, one kid I knew loved Marley's music, his feelings for the man's music overtaken only by a vocal and absolute disdain for black people. it took my brother's deep forays into ska and reggae during my sophomore year of college for my head to suddenly and completely cave in at this unfathomable balance.

still, I remember the piece closing with the above quote from Steffens, though my head was too muddled with the latest Deicide offering to take much more from the article. I was a young angry kid who turned to heavy metal for some of the typical reasons: to alienate myself from alienation, before it had the chance to strike; to escape from a boring life of mowing the lawn and eating my vegetables; and to feel a sense of belonging. the metal community is just that, a community, with people from all walks of life: children, adults, men, women, intelligent, stupid, clean, dirty, free, incarcerated. the only things we seemed to have in common was a suburban pallor and the inability to accept any amount of keyboards dubbed over a song.

there are several metal artists, albums, and songs that I will always hold close to my hollow tin chest, but for the most part, if you had asked me directly, I would have admitted that I was playing a part, a role. there was a strength in numbers; people seemed to think that metalheads and burnouts were best left alone, and for the most part, we wanted to be. I played up the amount of alienation I felt, but being quiet, giant, and shy, I already had enough to work with; the heavy metal subculture just let me have me an easier time. (the Columbine massacre could have brought this idea to national attention: which came first, the kid actively alienating himself, or the kid feeling alienated?)

I heard rumors that a lot of the "evil" black metal musicians also secretly masqueraded as DJs in all of the hippest dance/techno clubs throughout Scandinavia. the obfuscating work of Garm and Ulver -- once the proud flag bearers of all that was real and true and evil -- can only cement these ideas. (these whispers made me feel better about having worn a "Depeche Mode 1994 World Tour" hat when I went to meet Slayer at a Tower Records in Cherry Hill.) even half of Cradle of Filth decided to take a detour from professional face painting and form a rock and roll outfit as the Blood Divine.

it helped that my parents hated everything about heavy metal music. I could lie down on a leather couch as easily as the rest of the world, but my parents gave me enough of a foundation to become a functional adult, and did so in a subtle way that I am only now starting to realize. my parents had the same goal, but they worked in different ways. my mother was more forward, while my father relied on quiet whispers of appreciation and pride. it's not that they worked against each other, but they didn't always work with each other. eventually I was able to appreciate their separate voices and draw my own conclusions. but their best lessons were the rare, glowing instances of unintentional bipartisanship they flashed over the years.

though they generally had different musical tastes, both had a love and appreciation of music on all levels -- classical, revolutionary, mindless, improvisational, evocative. my mother spun the Byrds and the Beatles and Crosby Stills Nash, while my father reveled in Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk and Les Paul. both always made sure that I was aware of the big picture, the impact music could have, both positively and negatively. I knew the line "Four dead in Ohio" long before the brief hippie "boom" I waded through during high school.

one of my favorite lessons, though, was the difference between a musician and performer. the classic example my father planted was the Rolling Stones -- were they the most talented (or most original) band, musically? probably not. could they out-perform most bands on earth? most definitely.

the golden moments were when these two skills collided -- ridiculously talented musicians with an eye towards the stage, dodging pomposity and egotism while keeping their edge. music with brash social commentary wrapped up in listenable tunes and danceable beats. and no band had their share of those skills -- and more -- than Sly and the Family Stone.

yesterday afternoon, out of habit, I had wandered over to the Sly and the Family Stone page on Wikipedia, and made plans to start collecting individual albums to go with the Greatest Hits and Essential compilations I already had. later that night, after bothering Heidi, I wandered up to Record and Tape in Towson, only to arrive just after they locked their doors. (who closes at nine on a Friday? certainly not the Sound Garden.) I as left with no choice but to drown the pain of recordlessness with passages from The Lay of the Land and pints of Guinness.

after skipping the first practice of the year this morning, I was populating my iPod shuffle with a fresh round of workoutable music for a trip to the gym. suddenly disgusted with my usual collection of heavy metal and heavier metal, I plunked down the brash honesty and positivity of Damian Marley, Sly and the Family Stone, Mos Def, Tool, and Suicidal Tendencies.

I first picked up on Damian Marley from my brother, and within a month I held in hand his two most recent albums, the mighty Halfway Tree and the unassumingly militant Welcome to Jamrock. I later emailed my brother and asked him, simply, "Why can't all music be this good?" Catchy, deep, respectful, demanding, moving, talented. These qualities are shared and enhanced by Mos Def across his three solo releases, especially Black on Both Sides, an absolutely ridiculous album, and True Magic, a sad retrospective of the latest administrative mess age. When I picked up 10,000 Eyes, the latest Tool album, around this time last year, it impressed me so much that I actually dialed a phone; the warm voice on the other line remarked that I sounded "really happy", and for the first time in a long while, I could agree. I threw Suicidal Tendencies in as a tribute to John, although they were actually the first band I dragged to the iPod with the idea of making something "positive". I later cryptically texted John about being such an inspirationally positive motherfucker.

workout complete, errands run, car parallel-parked, I sat in the driver's seat (heh), the positive energy flowing through my limbs, The Essential Sly and the Family Stone blaring over the speakers. I had the car running for three or four songs, unwilling to turn the music off, even for the split-second to switch the engine off and run the battery down with the speakers cranked past ten. how could there be a moment better than this? my stomach moaned with hunger, not for food, but for life, for experience, to help others and be helped by others. is that band not exactly what this fucking world needs to be? a collection of men and women, black and white, yellow and red, old and young ... rocking out and doing their jobs to the best of their ability, everyone playing a part, everyone saying their piece, and having fun ... shining light on the dark corners of the world, on problems, on solutions. "different strokes for different folks", the anthem of the 1970s that my father pounded into my head before he would even let me listen to the song it sat inside.

but to just sit in my car and listen and dance and clap and cry with happiness -- and not do anything with this energy -- would have defeated the whole purpose of being inspired in the first place. so I reluctantly locked my car, dodged raindrops, and rocked out the rest of my weekend, building, clearing, cleaning, accepting, doing, living. I can see the floor in my apartment again.

"Rock and roll shouldn't just be like some bullshit feelgood movie that makes you forget how dull your life is for an hour or so -- it should fire you up to do something about it." - Darren White, The Blood Divine

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

how sweet it is.

I started tripping over my Hitsville U.S.A. compilations more often than usual. these twin beasts, each boasting four discs of classic Motown music, have been sitting on my shelves for over ten years -- festering, waiting, grumbling. I bought them back when I was under the spell of both BMG's direct mail service and Pat McGroin's bass tutelage. I wiped the dust of a handful of different baltimore city apartments and starting spinning.

after a few passes, it saddened me to recognize most of the songs by their having been sampled by deathly corporations to sell rotten products. I figured there would be a family sedan or tasty chocolate dessert somewhere in the mix, but nearly every other song? if the unholy alliances were due the actual artists selling their 40-year old classics (rather than a crusty old producer or manager, or some snot-nosed step-nephew), I can't say I blame them for cashing in years later; musicians today make ridiculous amounts of money based on a small fraction of the talent these guys had.

instead, I blame the unoriginal fucks at these companies for thinking that "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" makes me want to buy a car, eat a candy bar, or pick up some office supplies.

meh.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

ah, life.

the vague collection of daily struggles, hourly arguments, minute concerns, and secondary impulses.