Alabama Shakes

Still, even in the face of all that, (see previous post), optimism is a choice. Maybe it’s an inherited trait too? I don’t know. To think, to hope, to dream. To live in the moment with as much attention, enthusiasm, heart and soul as you can possibly conjure up. It is an act of will. It takes a bit of gumption, discipline, determination. We all need some luck and pluck. See the light all around us. It is there. Lean into it.

The A.M Soundtrack – Alabama Shakes’ “Boys & Girls”  (2012). The Gospel According to Brittany. A total blast of fire, thunder, unbridled joy, & enthusiasm. A monster statement of creative purpose. What is the message? Hold on, Hang Loose, You Ain’t Alone.  It is a head spinner, a heart-warmer. Some fabulous grooves, a band giving their all, fronted by Brittany Howard’s overwhelmingly powerful voice and guitar. Yes. Highly recommended. Sets the tone for the day. What is the setting? Soulful & Optimistic!Jammer

Sure. Let’s celebrate, it is July 4th 2021, blow-off some fireworks, at least in our heads. Happy to be here, still kicking. Born in the USA and feeling pretty lucky. You know, Democracy, Freedom, Equality, Pursuit of Happiness, and all that. Nice, high-minded concepts. But, you know, it is complicated, and this is a profoundly Imperfect Union.

Those high-minded concepts bump against some hard, deadly, soul-killing realities: Genocide – “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” Racism/White Supremacy – Slavery, Ku Klux Klan, Trump-ism, Wars & Atrocities, Institutional, Societal, Political, Psychological Inequality, Gun-Crazy, Murder Inc. And our Enthusiastic Embrace of Idiocy – see: the Anti-Vaxxers, the Anti-Science Brigades, Conspiracy Theorist Nut-Jobs.

And the Confidence Man’s Amusement Park – “A sucker born every minute.”

The Hustle, The Sales Pitch, The Scam, The Hoax, The Lie, The Big Lie, The Cheat. We love to sell and to be sold. We love to lie to ourselves and to others. And, remember all those fireworks are made in China. Cheap thrills: Gunpowder, Smoke, Razzle-Dazzle and BOOM! That’s America, Baby! – Jammer

The A.M. Soundtrack – Wilco’s “Yankee Foxtrot Hotel” (2001) – Great early Wilco record. Great American Band. 

“Ashes of American Flags”

The cash machine is blue and green
For a hundred in twenties and a small service fee
I could spend three dollars and sixty-three cents
On Diet Coca-Cola and unlit cigarettes
I wonder why we listen to poets when nobody gives a fuck
How hot and sorrowful, this machine begs for luck All my lies are always wishes
I know I would die if I could come back new We want a good life with a nose for things
The fresh wind and bright sky to enjoy my suffering
A hole without a key if I break my tongue
Speaking of tomorrow, how will it ever come? All my lies are always wishes
I know I would die if I could come back new I’m down on my hands and knees
Every time a doorbell rings
I shake like a toothache
When I hear myself sing All my lies are only wishes
I know I would die if I could come back new I would like to salute
The ashes of American flags
And all the fallen leaves
Filling up shopping bags

– Jeff Tweedy & Jay Bennett

Record Store Day 2021 on the sidewalk in front of Vintage Vinyl. One of our favorite gigs. It has become a recurring event for us. Raw. On the Street. Exposed. Alive. Aware. Awake. Top billing in the window this time! Blazing hot… it was like playing Coachella… at least temp-wise!

The Lovely Carla Hayden and I dream about playing the big stage at Coachella one day. As someone remarked, when we verbalized that dream yesterday: “It’s good to aim high.” Yes, indeed.

Anyway, yesterday wasn’t that day. Instead, it was a performance on the sidewalk in front of Vintage Vinyl. About mid-point thru, it did feel like the California Desert; sweat dripping, heat-waves rising off the pavement. It was a good show. No. More than good. Magnificent! The intense heat actually helped us get to “transcendence.” With Nura A violin and Randy Farr on percussion; Carla and I rode those vibes for all they were worth. WWSP lives!

Afterwards, we were drenched in sweat, super-tired, and totally clear. It’s funny how energy works. You rise to the occasion, you give your all, you lay it all on the line, you live totally in each and every moment of a performance, and you totally lose yourself, and everything, absolutely everything falls away. And you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt.

That is what it’s about. Yes, there’s the music, the group dynamic, the vibe of the band, but those are just elements that go into the rocket fuel that propels us to a perfect, diamond-hard, clarity. Sort of like the greatest meditation you’ve ever had.

It’s a sounds a bit trippy, or hippie-dippy, but it’s not really. It’s the good work. Anyone can do it. There are uncountable ways to get there: drumming, dancing, running, meditation, art, poetry, music, pretty much any flow activity you can throw yourself into. It’s best when you drop the ego, and lose your self-consciousness. Basically, you find something you really love to do, and do it to the absolute max. And you do it often, as often as you possibly can. It is satisfying, & life-affirming, and super-important, for sure. For WWSP it helps to create and play with superb musicians, who also happen to be beautiful human beings. It’s better living thru creative chemistry and the alchemy of positive energy. You can’t bottle it. – Jammer

Now the story can be told. No names. Let’s protect the innocent.

It started with boredom. Late March 2020 in the Heartland. A raging Global Pandemic, and a lockdown. My partner was working on a work-from-home freelance project. I had lots of time on my hands.

I was reading William Gibson’s 1999 novel “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and this line seemed like a direct message that guided my actions: “… you are less inclined to move counter to the momentum of things.”

Right. That became my artistic credo.

I decided to learn how to play a mini-Moog. I’m a longtime guitar player. I had no clue. Just started fiddling with dials, switches, keys, and tones and textures. I created a bunch of ambient, instrumental tracks. All solo mini-Moog, no beats, no drums, no clix. I decided I had an EP (5 tracks), which I then shared with our mailing list.

A small, well-connected Hip-Hop Record Label emailed me to say they loved it and wanted to release it. Ha! That was unexpected. I found a $500 an hour lawyer who gave me a “starving artist” break, and I signed signed a multi-year, multi-album contract, an “exclusive recording contract.” I delivered the tracks, and they paid me the first half of an advance.

I must say all this felt like pulling a rabbit out of hat. The $ came at the perfect time. We were swimming in uncharted waters and we had no idea how we were gonna make it from day to day.

I had some conference calls with the label, they had big plans for my little EP, a vinyl record release, and a worldwide introduction of a new artist named Faux Fu. Together we found a graphic artist to create cover art. He started working up some pretty amazing illustrations.

What’s up with name? I found it on a torn piece of cardboard with a picture of a Buddha on one side and a bar code and text on the other. I was using it as a bookmark. The original text read: FAUX FUR. But the “R” was missing. Faux Fu. Perfect. You know, the momentum of things?

Well about a year later, by February 2021, it all came to a halt. The label changed direction, I was no longer in their plans. No EP release, no multi-year deal, no more $ would be coming my way. We voided the contract. They did let me keep the advance, and then they gave me my tracks back. I was suddenly a free agent once again, so I uploaded my EP to Bandcamp and I was back in business as an “independent” artist.

What was the fuss all about? Be sure to check it out for yourself. I must admit, the enthusiasm and interest from the label unleashed a torrent of creativity from me. As of today, I have recorded 41 tracks of instrumental music.

And I recently signed an agreement with a music publisher who thinks my tracks will be attractive to their clients. They have added 17 of my tracks to their catalog. So who knows?! Faux Fu’s vibrations may find life out there in the wider world.

So yes, an adventure, a strange story with a happy ending. I mean, you know, going with the flow & the momentum of things. – Jammer

I am an optimistic sort. But you know, I can go dark & existential with the best of them. I think everything will work out fine, but then again, I also know everything is liable to go to hell in a blink of an eye. That’s just the duality, and reality, of our lives.

I believe in progress and the good. But you know, the “future is unwritten,” and there is hope and peril in that reality, nothing is promised, everything can be taken away at any time. There are dark forces at work always. It’s always a battle between the dark and the light. It’s never-ending. Nothing should be taken for granted.

I’ve been listening to two records that kind of illustrate the divide. There’s Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “The Boatman’s Call” (1997). What is the sound of a soul in deep distress? What kind of lyrics does a man write, what kind of music pours from him when he is torn apart by the vicissitudes & the vanishing of love? Nick Cave goes deep & dark into the wounds of failed love and failed relationships. Funny. It is a beautiful record. A man in deep pain, a lament, an ode to lost love and deep turmoil. There is a hushed, gorgeous beauty. The Bad Seeds are holding back, playing so minimally. Nick is truly suffering, and he uses his suffering to create beauty. Beauty in sadness & loss.

“It ain’t that in their hearts they’re bad

They can comfort you, some even try

They nurse you when you’re ill of health

They bury you when you go and die

It ain’t that in their hearts they’re bad

They’d stick by you if they could

But that’s just bullshit, People just ain’t no good

People they ain’t no good” – N. Cave (1997)

The other record which I have been spinning often, one I “discovered,” during the pandemic, lockdown days, is Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” (2013). It is a bold, overwhelming, gratifying and inspiring sonic manifesto. It too is bounded by loss and sadness, but at the same time there is an amazing optimism, joy and pleasure to be found in the grooves. Surprising that two Robots (with some special guests) could convey such soul and heart. Giorgio Morodor tells the tale of his artistic life, and it’s just the most validating, beautiful & insightful monologue about musical creation and artistic freedom. There is a belief in the “sea of possibilities.” Remember the future? Daft Punk turns to the stars, the heavens, and sees an opening. And you know, maybe we “get lucky?” Then special guest Paul Williams (!?) sings a duet with the Robots on “Touch” and it’s just the most amazing moment of the record:

[Intro: Paul Williams]

“Touch, touch I remember touch

Touch, touch I remember touch

Where do I belong?

Touch, I need something more

I remember touch

I need something more in my mind”

[Reprise: Choir]

Hold on, if love is the answer, you’re home

Hold on, if love is the answer, you’re home

Hold on, if love is the answer, you’re home

So yeah, we have Nick and the Bad Seeds, and we have those French Robots. And they both speak to me. There is wisdom & beauty in the grooves. Food for the soul. – Jammer

“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”

You realize

History = Biography

Biography = Psychology

It is all in our heads. And it’s a tangled, twisted, and incredibly dense web that inhabits that dark cavern we call “our minds.” Yes, “people are tricky, no doubt.” I should know, I am one.

This morning I awake with that Neutral Milk Hotel song “Two-Headed Boy” running thru my head: “Two-Headed Boy, All floating in glass, The sun it has passed, now it’s blacker than black, I can hear as you tap on your jar, I am listening to hear where you are, I am listening to hear where you are…”

The singer, singing the song about a two-headed boy, is also a two-headed boy, and the listener, listening to the song is a two-headed boy too. 2 x 2 x 2 = Human Conundrum. Two heads. Always of two (at least) minds. Twisted. Contradictory. Complicated.

Sure, it’s a great song, a great record, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” (1998). One of the amazing records I have totally, madly & deeply delved into, and lived with, over the last year. I mean, we’ve owned this record for many years, but this last year, it became an intense fever-dream that inhabited my body, head and spirit. A strange, wonderful, wild, raw and exhilarating blast of creativity. A shiny, spiky, uncommon beast. A carnival side-show of a record. A bit of a two-headed boy itself.

It’s true. The Lovely Carla Hayden and I live by “signs and wonders.” Our creative adventure, WWSP is a two-headed boy too. Lately lots of “synchronicities” and guided insights. Makes you think the Universe is much more mysterious than we can even imagine. The last few days, Jerry Garcia, Federico García Lorca, Lester Bangs, Patti Smith, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Two-Headed Boy,” Jeff Mangum have said “Hello” and gifted us with new ideas and pointed us in new directions. Amazing. – Jammer

Star Nebula

I play guitar but I don’t really consider myself a “musician.” I have often been paid to play, but I don’t consider myself a “professional.” I write songs, but I don’t really consider myself a “songwriter.” I sing but, really, come on, I’m not much of a “singer.” I write, but not a “writer.” I read and write poems, but not really a “poet.”

So what am I doing? Creating. Conjuring. Trying to create a bit of magic. Do you believe in magic?

A couple of nights ago, we were finally in a room with other musicians, getting back to being a band, playing music together. It’s hard to talk about, hard to describe how amazing it is to create vibrations together, how healing that is, how important it is to our lives, how fulfilling it is to share that experience with others.

It’s a little bubble, a sort of dream-state. A shared dream. We create and conjure. We listen to each other. We are playing songs together, but it’s not really about the songs, the songs are just a vehicle, a platform, a launching pad, to get to something else.

It’s not an ego thing. It’s a drop your ego thing. You get in the room together and are trying to “transcend,” to get to another state. To create a vibration that is bigger than any one individual. A collective energy. Our band is amazing. Fabulous musicians, they all listen, they take care to find their place in the spectrum of sound, no one is over-bearing, or trying too hard. Everyone just brings it.

So it’s amazing how quickly we can transform the vibe of the room. It’s emotional, it’s spiritual, it’s transcendental. Kind of trippy, hippy-dippy, really, and that’s ok. It’s what we do. What we love to do. We have really, totally, madly missed it. But now, we are back at it.

We do think it’s important. So important, so essential. Certainly for us, those who are doing it, it is one of the essential reasons to be alive on the planet. And hopefully we can create a dream-bubble of possibility for others too. Who knows? Sometimes it flies, sometimes it doesn’t, but when it does it is supremely extraordinary. – Jammer

I love this photo from the inside booklet of the cd. The old guys are in charge. The Boss is calling the tune, the old hands are at the mixing board. It’s sort of like the Wild Bunch, hitting the trail, girding for another battle with their demons.

There is something reassuring about having an opportunity to listen to a new a record, “Letter to You” (2020), by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. These old-timers have been doing it for a long, long time. There is a continuity, even though the years have rushed by, and what Bruce is singing about today, isn’t quite the same as what he was singing about as a young man. 

There is still fire and beauty, and powerful rock & roll in the grooves. 

The Boss always lays it all on the line. Every record. No doubt. And no other band quite sounds like the E Street Band. Interlocking guitars (Bruce, Nils Lofgren, Steve Van Zandt), Gary Talent on bass, Roy Bittan Piano, Max Weinberg on drums, Clarence Clemons’ son Jake on Sax, Patti Scialfa on background vocals, Charile Giordano organ. A layered, complex, undeniable, indelible sound. And there is a joy in the listening. It’s not breaking any new ground. Well-constructed rock & roll played with heart and soul. Bruce is singing about death, loss, time passing. Songs that reflect the years. You know, he is writing about a time when people still wrote and read letters. Lots of ghosts across these tracks. Ghosts hang over everything. It’s a joy, a pleasure, a conjuring, it’s all a bit reassuring.  

Rock & Roll. It saved Bruce, changed his life. R&R changed my life too. – Jammer