“I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. I saw something else: I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” – Jon Landau in 1974 after seeing Bruce at the (now defunct) Harvard Square Theater
Well, clearly Bruce is one of the greatest rockers ever, certainly its finest live showman. But as much as I love his stuff. it’s not clear to me that he turned out to be “rock and roll’s future.”
Nevertheless, with Bruce, I was again at the right place at the right time. I had moved back to Philly to live with my friend Steve and another guy. I like to call it The Year of Living Dangerously and I even wrote a novel about it that almost no one has read.
But since Bruce was a Jersey guy and we were Philly guys who frequently made trips to the Jersey shore to get drunk and hopefully score with women who liked drunk guys (none, as it turned out), it was inevitable that we would hear The Boss.
Until now you haven’t heard me mention much about jazz. That’s because I really wasn’t exposed to it. I mentioned my NYC jazzer friend in the previous post and that he helped get us into some of the prog-rock stuff. Recognizing, I think, that I was a kindred soul open to new sounds, one day he said, Here, listen to this.
This was “My Favorite Things” by John Coltrane. Now, I would love to say that the heavens opened up and my life somehow changed dramatically. It did not. I knew there was something there but it wasn’t quite yet love at first sight. But now there was a new taste, a new color in my paint kit if you will. As my wife said to me one day years later, “Jazz music is so rich.”
Now I won’t add “My Favorite Things” to the list as it goes on for like, an hour and a half. But I will say that along with Coltrane, it has been Miles Davis who captured my musical imagination over and over. (Saxes and trumpets are to jazz what guitar is to rock.) And why can’t we have both? Here are Miles and Coltrane together doing “So What” from Kind of Blue from some long-ago hipster jazz show in New York.
Another friend – my buddy Steve in Philly – introduced me to fusion with Weather Report who we wound up seeing a number of times, once in a college auditorium (For the record, Miles, as much as anybody, “invented” fusion with albums like In a Silent Way.) Then we got into Chick Corea, Larry Coryell, Zappa, Al DiMeola – all the fusion guys. Talk about virtuosity.
But the surprise of all of our lives was when guitar maestro Jeff Beck suddenly went fusion. This sets him apart from Clapton, Richards, Page, and all the other blues rockers out of England. They are all great but literally, none of them were playing this stuff.
From Blow by Blow, “Freeway Jam.”
Now if only there was a band that knew how to rock but also utilized jazz harmonies. Well, not that we were really looking for that but, well, maybe we were. I don’t know that we could even have articulated that Steely Dan were jazzers in rock suits but their string of albums in the 70s is a testament to that.
Your chances of hearing songs like “Aja” on anything but satellite radio or classic rock stations are pretty much null and void. Pity. Listen to the sax work of Wayne Shorter (Weather Report, Miles Davis) and Steve Gadd on drums. Phenomenal.
Blissfully happy in our ignorance, we figured that the music we liked would just continue to get more and more complex, maybe joining classical, jazz, rock, and blues in some mega-endless concoction involving black lights and lasers.
Alas, the world spins on its axis, we get older and the pop world changes. Rock music started out very simply and got increasingly complex. And a lot of (mostly) guys said, “Fuck this. We are not virtuosos but we want to play too.”
Hence, punk. Which frankly I had no time for. It was really hard to get on that train when the stuff I loved was not only great but played so well. And I know a lot of my peers got off the train around that time.
As to punk and its more sophisticated brother New Wave, I think my friend Bill is typical in that the only songs from that era he knows are “Alison” and “Roxanne.” I ran this list by him the other day and started to lose him as we got to the 80s.
Punk didn’t grab me (not until London Calling anyway, a great album.) But New Wave? Fuck me. The Police? Elvis Costello? Talking Heads? Blondie? I mean this was great stuff. And these guys were part of that era but they could play and had great songs.
Somebody once told me there was something called disco around this time but I don’t remember it at all so we’ll jump right over that and move to the Eighties. Which was …
… a whole different beast. MTV came along and changed everything. All of a sudden everybody had to have a video. And while at first, I was kinda resistant, the first couple of years of that channel were kinda fun.
Plus at that time I had started playing guitar in bands, mostly blues, R&B, J. Geils, Stray Cats, and stuff like that. It was all cover stuff and we eventually developed a minor following even though we were clearly hopelessly out of touch with the zeitgeist.
I even considered going into music as a profession. But I was getting older, took inventory of myself and realized I could just as easily wind up being one of those guys who plays in restaurants to nobody as anything else. I just didn’t want it badly enough. So now it’s just a hobby and I try not to embarrass myself too much.
As to the music of that era. sometimes I was about ready to pack it in, figuring, well, I like what I like and I probably won’t get into anything new. But …
.. I’m happy to report that U2, REM, and Tears for Fears – among others – changed my mind. If there’s any inflection point here it’s perhaps that The Edge opened my eyes up to a different kind of guitar playing, that it didn’t have to be based on jazz or a bunch of blues scales. It is not what I would choose to play but I can appreciate it. And U2 are a great band. (Apologies to REM who will be on the Special Deluxe Edition Director’s Cut Spotify list.)
I should here acknowledge that I was listening to (and going to see) Stevie Ray Vaughan pretty religiously back then. But since my blues tastes were already established by then, I’ll roll into the Nineties which I call the Last Great Era of Mainstream Rock.
My guess is that readers of this blog came of age musically somewhat later than me and know this era better than I do. But there was a fair amount of excellent stuff and I tried to stay with it.
Nirvana, for me, is just a given. What I like about all these bands is they sounded fresh and new if admittedly geared towards a younger generation. They were keeping the rock flame alive. (Cobain was a big Beatles fan).
But while I liked these bands, I increasingly found myself nostalgic for groups that were either blues-based or who could add a little jazz or sophisticated harmonies into their music. Or just do outrageously great instrumentals. I wasn’t really finding that as much as I used to. (Nod here to jam bands like Dave Matthews and Phish who I would likely have followed around in my younger days.)
But who, if anyone, was carrying that oddball, somewhat Floydian strain? Hello? Anybody?
And so, by the early 2000s, while I would not say my musical journey had ended, increasingly I started losing interest in a lot of the stuff like indie rock (these guys sing with no soul at all) and I certainly wasn’t into rap. (Though I did try).
Most of the FM radio stations I had listened to were either gone or on their way out. The great band scene that once existed in Boston was no longer. Many of the clubs I once frequented or even played in were gone or were playing to a much younger crowd. Now there are three or four clubs where I can hear jazz and blues but I have to drive for an hour or so to get to them. But my son’s bands play out pretty frequently and so, the torch passes to that crowd.
This is not to say it’s all bad as I hear some good stuff from fellow bloggers as well as on satellite. And with Gary Clark Jr., Joe Bonamassa, Kingfish, and Eric Gales, the blues has nothing to worry about.
So, here we are. It’s 2022 as I write this. I still go to live shows but fewer of them and increasingly they are nostalgic boomer acts (McCartney, Dylan, Springsteen) or older jazz (Ron Carter) or blues (Fabulous Thunderbirds) acts.
As to buying music, for the most part, not happening. Times have changed. I pretty much stream everything now and if I’m honest, I spend more time looking back than forward. Am I open to new stuff? Sure. But if I seem less than excited about Taylor Swift, rap and the crop of autotuned stuff you hear on the radio, well, now maybe you understand why.
Maybe I’ll spend more time listening to classical. Or chamber music. Or minuets. Or world music. I remain, as always, open to the experience.
Or maybe I’ll listen to stuff like this. Because, you know, it’s only rock and roll.
Below is what I’ve jokingly been referring to as the Deluxe Edition Spotify list. Sixty-five songs and it does a better job of filling in the gaps and lessening the jumps from one genre to another. I really thought about it and each song here had either some impact or my music listening, playing, or both. For the true fanatic. Below is the 35-song version that I’ve listed in the posts.
Fellow bloggers, feel free to take this idea and run with it. Note – it will ruin your life for at least a week. Proceed with caution.