Musings On Music

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Reflections On Gram Parsons

Prologue

So, I had been in need of a solo roadtrip, a rock’n'roll roadtrip…some kind of pilgrimage…well one week in August 2006 I was driving past Joshua Tree National Park and realized…hey that’s where Gram Parsons died nearly 33 years ago…I happened to have the Reprise Sessions with me and discovered it was on the 18th/19th, and it clicked…I had Mondays off and I needed to take a holiday next week, so that Tuesday became it.

I had really gotten into Gram Parsons that summer, really into the whole “Cosmic American Music” that he produced, the country rock that he invented, the legacy he left behind with his solo albums, his work with the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds, and the International Submarine Band, even his hanging around the Rolling Stones (debate what you will about his influence)…which is really what started this, it’s just an extension of my Stones obsession to some degree. Well, that and his music is just completely amazing, some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve ever heard. I also realized I never would have been able to thoroughly dig into his music if I hadn’t completely immersed myself in Ryan Adams’ Jacksonville City Nights.

I figured I would just drive out to the park, visit the Cap Rock where he and Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg would hang out and sing songs wasted…there’s a plaque there and a bit of monument…then I wondered about the hotel he actually died in…turns out they are totally into the Gram Parsons history of their little lodge…he died in room 8, overdosed on morphine and tequila. I made the reservations he day I returned, I would be sitting in the room in which he crossed over 33 years later to the moment (technically he was declared dead at a nearby hospital on 9/19/73 at 12:30 in the morning, but he had stopped breathing by 10:30 on the 18th)…I would take pen, paper, tequila, maybe some whiskey, a couple packs of smokes, a camera and a digital voice recorder for thoughts, poems, etc. and…his entire catalog of music of course.

Tuesday morning, I planned to head out to the Cap Rock and pay my respects at the monument. It seemed all somehow fitting to end that summer that way, it had definitely been a great one that had completely expanded my musical horizons.
The room had been kept nearly the same and most of the furniture, etc. are still intact. I was oddly psyched to stare into the last mirror he ever looked in which still hangs on the wall. This was one of the weirdest things I’ve done, I must admit–I couldn’t hardly wait.

 The Great Gram Parsons Pilgrimage

On September 18th of 2006 I went in search of a ghost, in fact I drove 366 miles across the Sonoran and Mojave deserts to seek out the Fallen Angel, the Grievous Angel, the soul called Gram Parsons that lost his life 33 years ago that evening, in Room 8 of the Joshua Tree Inn, only 16 miles from where his body was haphazardly cremated at Cap Rock in ritual only by a friend trying to make good on a promise, only three days later. During the five hour trip, I listened to the music of this man, this artist, this beautiful maniac who only lived 26 years and, in his own way, changed the world of music, if not the world itself and silently sits from the grave, smiling, rarely taking any of the credit.

I listened to his catalog in chronological order, starting with his earliest recordings in the Shilos and solo, barren with only voice and guitar starting with an early rendition of his later masterpiece, “Brass Buttons”, or covering “Codine”, followed by the International Submarine Bands “Safe At Home” album—considered by many to be the first country rock album (which is odd because I thought that was Elvis Presley’s debut album), followed by both discs of the legacy edition of the Byrds “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” with tons of Gram material, then through the entire Flying Burrito Brothers catalog. It was the latter groups work that really stuck to me this time, perhaps because I had watched some performances of the Burritos since hearing this previously, but suddenly it hit me that this was truly the pinnacle of rock meeting country music…those first two Burrito albums are amazing.

I was panicking because everything said “get there by 8pm”, office closes at 8, etc…well, I was cutting it close and so I stopped at a gas station at the exit before the one to Joshua Tree and called the Inn…told them I would be a bit late and he told me not to worry, he’d stick around…I shouldn’t rush, etc. I was reassured that all was well and that I wouldn’t lose the room. I panicked again on the way into Joshua Tree that it would be in the middle of nowhere and so I whipped a 180 at the first liquor store and paid way too much for a bottle of tequila, some margarita mix and a couple of limes….ten miles down the road there was a grocery store and a small town that would have done and I would have paid a lot less, but I was on a mission.

Finally, nearly 30 miles after getting off the highway I, I …I drove right past it. Saw this immediately and turned right around in the middle of the road and pulled hastily into the dirt lot in front of a dimly lit motor inn with a neon OPEN sign still on….the front door was locked…the side door was locked and then I found the back door wide open…I breathed my last sigh of relief for the evening and walked in, heart finally starting to slow down, my soul relaxing just a touch…the songs of Gram literally ringing in my head, I had made it, alive and in one piece…this was actually happening.

Evo, the owner met me with a big smile and I checked in, properly and paid and then he said, “You know tonight’s a special night.” I smiled and said, “Yeah, I know, I’m kind of surprised I could get the reservation.” He gave me the key and there it was room eight…wow…he showed me where it was but stepped away (later he told me, he lets everyone walk in alone to experience whatever they might on their own)…so I made my way to room 8, put the key in the lock and held my breath, I opened the door and the first thing I saw was the mirror shaking on the wall…turned on the light and was greeted by such a warm and peaceful feeling it was a bit overwhelming. Perhaps it was finally getting over the rush of the road, perhaps it was the relief in arriving at my destination…but in all seriousness, the atmosphere of the room just seemed to hug me when I walked in, I felt immediately at ease and was brought to a smile.

Me In Gram Parsons Mirror

I unpacked everything, then noticed a stereo in the corner, a burned cd with a picture of Gram on the case and on the disc it said “Gram Parsons Room 8″…on the table next to it was a leather bound diary of visitors from the last couple years…I was going to set up the stereo, but the AC adapter was missing, I went and got Evo and he was baffled, so we looked and then he went to get one for me and handed me a laminated obituary from Rolling Stone in the issue that came out the week Gram died….I asked about food and he gave me a bunch of locations but cautioned they all closed at nine…well, I was on a tight budget so I went to the supermarket back up the road and got some ice and two hoagies, figuring that and a soda would tide me over….I returned to the room and ate my hoagie, read the article and Evo came in with the AC adapter…he saw, I think, all of the Gram Parsons albums scattered across the bed and realized that I was very into this…he left for a while and after I finished my sub, I set up some candles I brought with me in the room, put on the GP album and opened the door, took a big swig of tequila and cheered to Gram, mixed a margarita and lit a smoke outside, then I noticed that the SAFE AT HOME plaque was right in front of my freaking room…with a light over it, candles, I grabbed some candles I brought and lit some of the incense there…after finishing my smoke, I went back inside had some more tequila and took some pictures. I went back out shortly and noticed that there were more candles, and mine had gone out…I rearranged them and Evo appeared once more…

He had lit the other candles and now there was a picture of Gram there as well, I lit the candles at the table outside the room that were there when I arrived and Evo…said, “you know there’s only three of us here tonight that know about Gram.” I said “Really?” He said “Yeah, have you met Anders from Sweden? A really nice guy, just stopped in today, wanted room 8, but you had it so he’s right down the way.” “Does he want to see the room or want a margarita?” “Hang on, I’ll go ask him.” And so that’s how a three man party to celebrate the life and music of Gram Parson’s began…

Evo turned to me in the room and said, “you know it was actually tonight…everyone thinks it’s the 19th, because he died just after midnight, but…” and I finiished, “Yeah, he was dead by about 10:30, 33 years ago tonight” We listened for a moment as the spirit and music of Gram filled the room…”I’ve got a candle, a woman named Peggy gave me a few years ago and I’ve never burned it, but I think tonight is the right night to finally light it, I’ll go get it” He went and got the candle, it was beautiful and blue with a picture of Gram on it in his nudie suit with rhinestones glued on it, we lit it and smiled.” It was around 9:30…”We’re getting close,” Evo said. “Let me go get Anders, he’s right over there.” “Yeah, tell him to come on in, we’ll have a celebration, I’ve got margaritas flowing.” “I’m gonna grab a beer,” he said.

In time, Evo returned with Anders, from Sweden and had a beer in hand, I had the door open and GP was still playing…I invited him in and Anders was just in awe and instantly felt the warmth and wonder of the room, he couldn’t believe it…he texted a friend in his band back in Sweden and grinned sitting in the chair by the bed, I made him a margarita and we toasted to Gram…Evo even called Peggy to let her know that it was getting close to the time, she was asleep, but after Evo explained, whoever answered the phone went to wake her up and we all ended up talking to her and thanking her for the wonderful candle that she made years ago that seemed just perfect for this moment…

We sat outside and soon it was time to change the album, which we obviously went to his second and last, Grievous Angel, we sat outside and stared at the shrine, I smoked and we took pictures of each other, at about 10:15 we went back into the room and talked about how amazing it was that this one person who lived for only 26 years could touch so many lives, in very positive ways, how much he influenced all those he met, how he touched even more people in death than he had in life and how sad it was that that was so often the case with artists, never being appreciated while they were alive. We talked about Nick Drake and Tim Buckley, we talked of Brian Jones and so many tragedies of youth…and then at 10:20…out of nowhere a white cat ran into the room, it’s right eye was blue and it’s left eye was yellow, it jumped on the bed and ran a bit about…Anders and I looked at each other stunned….Evo was out answering a phone call at the time, but by 10:30 we were all inside the room…and toasted to Gram once more…we took pictures of each other, and of the mirror…we listened to his songs and we felt his presence in a VERY strong way, it was Evo that said it, “I think Gram is very pleased with us tonight…” and I said, “Yeah, but I bought the wrong brand of tequila, apparently he liked Sauza…” “I don’t think it matters,” Evo said, he was on the phone with his wife, “My wife says Gram doesn’t care either.” We laughed and smiled at this. We drank some more and talked about Gram, standing over the shrine, sitting outside, just soaking it all up–now some might call this a bit weird, a bit macabre and even a bit disrespectful to be doing this, but really, it’s just a wake that was 33 years late…and there was nothing in the spirit of that night or from the spirits of that night that suggested what we were doing anything but celebrate the life and music of a great artist…

Evo asked about the cat and we both mentioned we had seen it, it’s name was Sky and it just started showing it up a few years ago and only hangs out in room 8…we were stunned and sure that if it wasn’t the reincarnation of Gram, it sure was his little totem, there was something sweet and sad in that cat, just like Gram…Evo also talked about all the bands and artists that had hung out at the Joshua Tree Inn over the years….Gram, the Stones, the Eagles wrote a lot of the best songs there, Donovan still visits their frequently and how they all hung out at the pool…I also told Anders and Evo, the circumstances that had led to this trip and the strange series of synchronicities that had brought it about and that on top of all of that, the woman I had spent the last half of a decade with had just left me and moved out while I was at work…they were stunned by my story and thought that it was in fact quite important I was there that evening. Grievous Angel was about to end and we decided on more drinks and some time to sit by the pool and stare at the sky…( On a funny side note…when I mentioned to Evo…about how I posted my thing about coming out on the Parsons pilgrimage to the a message board, and how someone else had posted it on gramparsons.com, he said “Oh, are you Lazy Dazed Angel?…I read that!”—too weird.)

I popped in the Live 1973 album, turned the volume up, mixed some more drinks and we headed to the pool…the sky was stunning….it was the first time in a couple years that I could see the milky way and was amazed and dazed by just how many stars were in the sky, so many that the constellations were no longer apparent, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the sky as clear and deep and beautiful and dark and on fire as it was that night–we were lucky the moon was getting close to New and we wouldn’t see it until early morning, in fact WE wouldn’t see it all….we sat down and Evo went to grab another beer then we agreed that the lights around the motel were a bit much, so Evo was kind enough to turn them off and in one case he got on a step ladder I think and just took a flood light down. We all sat back in front of our field of stars stunned with the idea of all the amazing artists who had sat right there, swam in the pool and wrote songs…songs we all knew…right there…this is where Keith Richards came to chill out with Gram during the mixing of Beggars Banquet, this is where the Eagles wrote numerous hits and KNEW they were writing hits, where Donovan wrote his minstrel songs and stared at the same sky we saw that night…there was something magic, incense and candlelight behind us, the distant sounds of Gram and Emmylou calling out from the open door at room 8 and we sat there loving it all, knowing damn well that Gram was pleased, that Gram was with us and that everything was alright if even just for a night…we talked and talked and watched the Pleidaes rise above the mountains that formed a dark horizon in the distance, we talked about how Gram would come out here to look for UFOs and it was about then that Anders saw a shooting star…we all agreed that was cool…then I saw one, then we all saw one…an Owl flew by and Bat did as well…everything was magic.

I offered to make Anders another drink, but he was ready to retire, it was well after midnight and 33 years ago, Gram had been officially pronounced dead at the hospital miles away…I returned to the pool and drank another margarita and hung out with Evo, as we talked about every Cosmic American thing we could think of and it was during that time the meteor shower really kicked up…an amazing stream of shooting stars beneath the moonless night sky on a backdrop of the pure milky way was something breathtaking as the sound of Gram played from the open door of  room 8…we felt blessed for being there and sat there stunned for some time, as the universe seem to put on a special show just for us and really for Gram…soon, though it had gotten too late for both of us, Evo turned in and I added candles to the shrine, said my good night to the night sky and poured one more margarita, smoked a cigarette and felt like Gram was sitting next to me, soaking it all in…I finally decided to retire…though that’s unclear, since I had a nearly full drink…I put on the Sleepless Nights compilation and laid on the bed, stared at the ceiling and suddenly heard a beautiful, “meeeeowww” and Sky pounced on my chest and simply laid down on me, licked my face and that’s the last I remember of the evening, except occasionally waking to find this strange white cat snuggled next to me…I felt safe at home.

 

The next morning I first woke at 9:30…still fully clothed from the night before and realized that breakfast had just ended…I stared at the clock, saw the nearly full margarita next to the bed and the cat snuggled on my shoulder…I got up, slammed the margarita down and went back to bed until 11…the night before I had asked about check out time and Evo said it was 11, but that he wasn’t real strict about it and that I should really try a swim in the pool and generally I got the idea I could hang out a bit and get over the night before at my own leisure…which I did…I laid in the bed and stared at the ceiling, for nearly half an hour, dazzled by all that had occurred the night before, how present the spirit of Gram had been and I looked over to see the Gram Forever candle still burning, which pleased me greatly…I finally got up, went outside and had a smoke, Sky was still sleeping and I went to take a look at the shrine, candles burned, incense faded, it looked downright gothic…I finished my smoke and went back to the room…decided that I had to have a swim, but noticed there was still a shot of tequila in the bottle…I went outside with it, poured it around the shrine and wrote “33y” on the label…the pen died so that’s all I could get…then I went for a swim…the temperature of the pool almost stopped my heart immediately…needless to say, my swim was short and sweet, but nice nonetheless, I dried in the sun on a lounge chair and decided that I should probably take some steps toward checking out and heading on to Cap Rock at Joshua Tree National Monument.

I showered, ate the other hoagie I had on hand, slammed a cola and played the cd that was in the room when I got there…after showering and packing, I loaded the car and went back to the room, wrote a couple pages in the guest diary and finally decided it was time to leave, Sky wanted out finally as well…I went to the office but there was no one there, I eventually found the housekeeper and she said I could give her the key, I told her the Gram Candle and the Rolling Stone article were still in there and that those were Evo’s…she understood and then I asked if she could take a couple pictures of me outside the door…finally the candles outside had gone out…I gave her the key and headed on my way…

I got to the park entrance and paid my $15, then asked the very cleanut park ranger…”Hey could you tell me where Cap Rock is?”  “Uh, Cap Rock, huh? You’re here for the Gram Parson thing aren’t you”…I laughed…”Yeah, I am.” he shook his head “It’s 10.6 miles straight ahead”…First of all Joshua Tree is amazing with it’s peculiar forest of cactus trees and it’s monstrous granite outcroppings that burst out of the ground…it stuns all who travel through it and enjoy its wonder…the wind as it whips across the high country is amazing, warm and wonderful, soothing to the soul in search of a certain sense of isolation. Sure, enough in 10.6 miles I got to the familiar formation of Cap Rock, parked my car and hike around it until at last coming to the site of Gram Parsons cremation…a large cross made of stones was laid out on the ground and the rocks were covered with messages, names, lyrics and tributes to the Grievous Angel, guitar picks were everywhere, as well as a beer and a votive candle…the underside of the rock seems to still be a bit scorched and it’s color doesn’t match anything else in the Cap Rock formation…even the sand and gravel below was blackened, but I’m sure that was more from years of fires to honor Phil Kaufman’s bizarre ritual, in tribute of his friend.  I sat there for a while and lost track of space and time, a guy and his daughter showed up and hung out for a while, they took some pictures of me by the area and then left, I must have spent about another hour, just sitting in the sand, listening to the wind and silence and feeling the spirit of Gram in all of it….soon though, the sun told me it was time to go, I paid my tribute, said an old Indian prayer and left the park, satisfied.

I returned to the Joshua Tree Inn to thank Evo for everything and mentioned the people at the rock…no sooner did I mention them than they appeared…they were staying in Room 8 that night!  The dad asked me if I wanted to have a look at room 8 and I laughed, “No, thanks, I stayed there last night.” He laughed back, understanding the irony of our twin meetings.  I smiled, thanked Evo again and he in turn thanked me, he said, “It was an amazing experience, I think you were definitely the right person to have been here last night. I think Gram was very happy with it all.”  That made me feel great as I headed on my way home and I felt as though I had experienced something beyond my comprehension, Evo and Anders did as well…it was an amazing time and on the way home I listened to the Stones and yeah, some more Gram…and I felt like a little bit of that spirit rode beside me all the way…amazing times, amazing days. 

If anyone had any doubt, I can assure them that Gram Parsons is Safe At Home and Rests In Peace in Joshua Tree, California.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a strong singular spiritual presence in my life and that spirit was very pleased…I felt sad having to leave so soon, but Gram’s music has really become a part of my soul and in point of fact, a part of Gram’s spirit seems to be with me somehow… All of a sudden I can think of any song of his and just sing it, any lyric and I can place it…I think of his smile and it hugs my soul, it’s like he’s one of my angels and that’s how it was supposed to be from the start I had to find him and he had to meet me…just that I had to get to Joshua Tree, and the cosmos arranged that nicely for the both of us… And with all that’s happened to me recently, it makes more sense than it would first seem.

 Really, though, what a weird and wild rock’n’roll legend to track down…a year ago, if you had told me I’d do what I just did, and chase the ghost of Gram Parsons across the desert, I would have stared bewildered by what the hell you were talking about, and when you told me, I’d have probably laughed at you a bit…

 

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Setting The Records Straight

This Sunday, January 8th, Elvis Presley would have been 77 years old. I’m not sure any of us can imagine a 77 year old Elvis, honestly, but I do wish he was still around so we could all wish him a good one.  Around this time of year and later in the year around the anniversary of his death, there is the constant chatter about the ”King Of Rock’n'Roll” and I can handle that, but sometimes it gets into talk of him  inventing rock’n'roll, or the man who put out the first rock’n'roll record, or slightly inane and factually bizarre revisionist tidbits of history are uttered by talking heads on TV and folks on the radio that should know a little bit more about the music that employs them. I have to write something that sets the records straight…not the record, but the records. Each year around this time I read a lot of articles, blurbs and various references to this idea of Elvis as the inventor of rock’n'roll and I shake, rattle and roll my head every time I see that. This also happens alot in the music media around the start of July because on July 5, 1954 a hillbilly truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi walked into Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee and recorded a cover of a blues song by Arthur Crudup called “That’s All Right.” That young man had been trying for nearly a year to convince Sam Phillips to record him at Sun and finally his big break had come. After a series of stops, starts and near disasters, the inspiration during a recording break with his two sidemen, over some Cokes, came to him and a 19 year-old Elvis Presley began his triumphant and perhaps tragic 23 year recording career.

Now anyone who knows me, knows I love Elvis. And if you thought you knew me and didn’t know that, you probably don’t know me all that well. The first concert I ever saw was on May 29, 1977 at the Baltimore Civic Center and it was the King himself…it was his last tour and he was literally larger than life, bloated beyond comprehension, out of sorts and he had to leave the stage twice that evening–but even at that point, two month before his death, that hillbilly from Tupelo could sing. I remember loving the performance, not understanding why he left the stage or seemed as though he was about to pass out, I remember people shaking their heads as they left the civic arena and now it all plays out in my memory as the ominous harbinger of what was to come–the day I remember my mother answering the phone and her friend telling her Elvis was dead. As the years waxed on, I moved away from the Elvis camp, tried to forget how much I liked his music, because the ethos of punk rock was definitely not in line with the fat, jump-suited, Vegas Elvis that died on the toilet in Graceland. But in the last five years or so I’ve returned to my love of Elvis and his music. The point is, I’m an enormous Elvis fan, my first son’s middle name is Presley, after all–I don’t dress up like him or have a shrine (well, ok, it’s a small shrine)–the cat was cool for most of his time and now even the later years seem cool in a strange kitschy way. And if his early rockabilly pre-army career doesn’t strike one as consistent with all that is punk, then I’m not sure what does. But no matter how you slice it, “That’s All Right” was not the first rock’n'roll record.

“That’s Alright” was definitely a landmark in that it was Elvis’ first slab of wax, but, beyond that not much can be said–it wasn’t even a hit, except on local Memphis stations in 1954…sure it led to his RCA contract as did all of his other Sun recordings, but it really didn’t have quite the effect that revisionist historians would like to make us believe it did. No one could argue that none of the early rock records made that much of an impact on their own, but together they founded a movement–I can agree with that, but even with that in mind, I still have to say that “That’s All Right” still arrived three years after the first rock’n'roll record was released and two years after the first rock’n'roll event occurred. It may, more honestly reflect when a white guy started performing what was considered black music–and if that’s how historians are judging the history of rock, then they’ve completely missed the goddamn boat on rock’n'roll, its true roots and all that’s happened since.

If we’re judging the birth of rock’n'roll by national success…the prize still would not go to Elvis…his first Top 40 charting hit was “Heartbreak Hotel” somewhere in the early spring of 1956…over half a year after Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” had swung a number five hit and nearly a year after Bill Haley and the Comets hit number one with “Rock Around the Clock”…but again that was all in 1955, the first year that Billboard began tracking the chart success of pop and rock hits. Big Joe Turner had first released “Shake, Rattle and Roll” in 1954 with great success, but he was considered largely a boogie woogie or jump blues artist and white audiences completely missed the leering lyrical intent of the song. It was clear though that the sound came out of the south, the deep south where the roots of blues, country and jazz had been fermenting in the swampy soil for quite some time. It was also clear that the sound was black and in the beginning, that’s why it was considered so damn dangerous, the very term itself–rock’n'roll–was a black euphemism for getting laid. And I will admit that if it wasn’t for that white, hip swinging, mama loving hillbilly from Tupelo who could sing like a black man, rock might never have taken a foothold or it would have had to wait a year before a geeky Texan named Buddy Holly made a brief splash on the scene.


Granted there is no, absolute, one answer to who created rock’n'roll, but there is a beginning…that one record, that one day when the blues went beyond the blues and if not a record, than there was an event, one gathering that lit the torch. As rock stands today, it’s easy to see who contributed what, who laid the groundwork for all that was to come and Elvis is absolutely and obviously included in that crowd, because, after all, he was the first true rock star, superstar or whatever else you would like to call his cult of personality phenomena that bookended the Beatles career by six years in either direction. Chuck Berry was the architect; I mean what the hell would we do without the guitar intro? Elvis the star. Bo Diddley and the quintessential backbeat. Buddy Holly and the beginning of rock’s history of youthful tragedy. Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis using the piano like the others were using guitars and so on…in fact they had to get the sound from somewhere as well, those are the people everyone knows, but the true originators of rock were probably penniless poor folk somewhere in the Mississippi Delta just playing the blues and dying uncredited for their creation.


Rock’n'roll should have celebrated it’s 50th anniversary in 2001 or at the latest, 2002. In 1951 in the very same studio where Elvis would record “That’s Alright” three years later–before Sam Phillips had started the Sun label to promote black artists that were taking jump blues a bit further than most people thought proper–a group called Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats recorded the true first rock’n'roll record with a song titled “Rocket 88″. The band itself, didn’t really exist, it was in fact Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm recording under an assumed name. Brenston was Turner’s saxophonist and is still given the songwriting credit for the tune, though everyone, most notably Sam Phillips who produced the record and Brenston himself admit that it was all Ike’s doing…but even that’s a mistruth. Sure one of the world’s most famous wife beating child haters was responsible for arranging the sound, writing the song and providing the monstrous backbeat–but,”Rocket 88″, an ode to an Oldsmobile, the first rock’n'roll record, owes much of its mystique, mystery and brilliance to an accident. You see Ike’s guitar speaker was damaged on Highway 61 on the way to Memphis and when Ike plugged in, his guitar created a distorted, fuzzy sound that had not been heard before–Sam Phillips loved it and the song became quite a hit, the rest is obscured history.

If we’re not considering the first record to be the start of rock’n'roll, what about the first rock concert? On March 21, 1952, Alan Freed–a radio disc jockey in Cleveland who was notorious for playing “race” records and coining the term “rock and roll”–booked the Cleveland arena with two partners for the Moondog Coronation Ball. Unfortunately, they sold something on the order of 25,000 tickets for a venue that could only hold 10,000 people–the show was promoted relentlessly on Freed’s Moondog show and kids were lined up around several city blocks waiting to get in. By the time the opening act, Paul Williams and the Hucklebuckers, played one song the arena had been torn to pieces by a crazed mob of people dancing, fighting and freaking out. If you’ve ever wondered why the rock’n'roll hall of fame is in Cleveland, this is your answer.

So there you go, pick your myth and if you want to stick with what the white folks like to believe, that “That’s All Right” is where it all began, that’s fine too. According to a recent CNN poll, 35% of those asked agree with you, the largest percentage of respondees incidentally. For me, it’s “Rocket 88″ and how an accident on Highway 61 transformed the sound of modern music, for others it’s how the first rock concert only lasted for one song…for someone else it may be the day that Big Joe Turner enlisted a young Fats Domino for his backup band in New Orleans. Perhaps the best answer to the question of when rock’n'roll began is that it never began, that it is infinite and timeless, as old as the cosmos itself…after all that supposedly began with one big bang.

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Welcome to MindPopMusic.com!

Letter From The Editor:

Greetings,

Welcome to mindpopmusic.com, thanks for tuning in. This blog is born out of a mutual interest I share with a few close friends, for whom music has been a necessary and vital part of their lives. I dare say that music has been as necessary as food, shelter, clothing and companionship for us nearly all of our lives. This is not hyperbole. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and in discussions that began last summer between myself, Keith Hobba and Jeff Thompson, we decided we should probably actually do something about it. So, today is the day. I hope to collect on these pages insights, thoughts, perceptions, notions, anecdotes and deep seated reflections on the music that has shaped our lives, your life, everyone’s life that has invited music to play an important role in their development. So we talked about it and then, that was that, we decided we certainly should do something about, that it was a good idea–we had all the know-how and certainly the passion. And then time passed and the thought sat in the shadows, like a dimly lit billboard on a rural side road of our minds. Until the other day, that is.

There were two events that made me put the thought from months ago into action. The first happened during the holidays. I’ve become a big fan of mass transportation since my Jeep decided it needed a $1000 in repairs and I find that I actually like riding the bus and walking every chance I can, because it opens up the mind a bit to slow down from life’s hectic rate and literally enforce patience on you. I found myself at a bus stop one day in late December, staring at the western sky as the new morning was consuming it’s night time friend and suddenly, a song was play in my mind. It happened to be a song that I probably haven’t listened to in fifteen years, maybe more, maybe less. It was Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s “Only Dreaming” which is a fairly obscure goth drenched early alternative number from their magnificent album Nothing’s Wrong. It played note for note, lyric for lyric, perfectly sharp and clear as the day I first heard it in my head and I wanted to run home and write all about this really obscure song time travelling through my soul as the new dawn was erasing the long night. That’s how my mind and writing works, that’s how entwined my sould is spun with the music that has been the soundtrack of my life.

The second event was that I discovered an old friend of mine and I were listening to the same album within hours of each other and once more, it was kind of an obscure choice. This was the event that nailed it home–I have a day job (well, a night job actually) and one of its luxuries is that if I so choose I can throw on headphones and listen to music every minute of every hour I am there. Something, somewhere, somehow had prompted me to pull Robert Palmer’s debut album Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley off the shelf, dust it off and give it a few good spins that night.  It’s an album that I do frequent every so often, at least once a year I’m sure. Most people think of Robert Palmer and…well, I don’t even need to talk about it do I? You’re already watching the videos in your head. Before that Robert Palmer existed, in fact it was 1974, the young Robert Palmer debuted his amazing vocal talent with a lean and hungry edge on one of the greatest underrated albums of the day. It didn’t even chart, there were no hits, but luckily there were once radio stations that played entire albums or sides of albums or in this case they would play the medley that was the first three songs on the album “Sailing Shoes/Hey Julia/Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley.” This has been one of my favorite pieces of music since I first heard it on the radio as a teenager and it always will be and once more I wanted to rush home and write all about it.

When I got home that day, I realized that’s when this blog had to be. I contacted Keith, reached out to Jeff and a few others for whom music is a vital part of their diet and decided mindpopmusic.com’s time had come. Over the years I’ve had many moments like these, where I excitedly dashed home and five to fifteen pages of bliss about a song, an album, a band, an artist or simply a memory of how music had touched me and then I’d save it to my computer and that would be that. Over the years some people have read some of these things often with comments about how I should publish them, but for the most part they reside in the equivalent of  a storage closet. While music is my food, writing is my art, it is my passion, so  it is natural these two collide frequently. While I have been writing about music nearly my entire life, I’ve only been writing about it in print for just over twenty years in newspapers and various magazines throughout the land. For the last five years I’ve been writing about the local music scene in Phoenix, Arizona, where I have been blessed to witness the birth of something amazing, beautiful and inspiring happen, like time lapse photography on a seed spit into the dirt growing into a mighty towering sunflower. I live, breathe, drink and most of all, I think, support the local music scene out a deep belief in what is happening here. You can check out the articles I put into print each month in JAVA Magazine or my blog that celebrates the magical minstrels of this wonderful town at soundsaroundtown.net. I’ve also been working with the amazing group of musicians and writers starting up the amazing echocloud.tv which has only just begun and is simply an amazing endeavor.

That being said, my mind and soul and creative juices need a vacation from time to time. I need some space where I can write a few thousand words about just how goddamned great Robert Palmer’s Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley was, is and will always be or why Spoon may be the most important American band so far in this century or how The Manic Street Preachers ended up meaning more to the world than Blur or Oasis, how the Rolling Stones last album was their best in twenty years or simply, why The Damned are so damned important or how music outside of my little desert oasis is still very much on my mind and in my soul. So this is my outlet and it is also an outlet for my friends, some who I have known most of my life and whose opinions and perceptions and passion for music I respect and understand, even though I may not always agree. This is where my mind will go on vacation to write about the fire that has fuelled it since it all began. I know it’s true of Keith and I, and I imagine it’s true for Jeff as well, but we grew up in households where music was practically sacred, where records were played all the time, where needles and turntables had to be replaced frequently and where sometimes speakers were blown. I did not grow up with religion, I grew up with rock’n'roll and music saved my mortal soul. Some of the early content I would like to share is from a book of rock essays, I’ve nearly completed, covering my writing on the subject for the last twenty years, half of it has been published in edited form, the other half has remained hidden away. I hope,  if I can get away with it, to call it, “It’s Only Rock’n'Roll (But I Like It).”

The name for the blog was purely accidental, I have a growing collection of domain names I keep around, some it seems for no reason at all and some I say to myself, I’ll use some day in some way. mindpopmusic.com happened to be one of those domains I had hanging around and since the decision to start this thing happened in a few moments and it was already there, I thought its time had come as well. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it and Keith and Jeff seemed to like it as well, I liked that it had many meanings. I tend to like anything that can be interpreted a million ways like art and music itself. So the idea of “mindpopmusic” makes me smile. Music that makes your mind pop, mind pop music, Mind! Pop! Music! Be mindful of pop music and those are only a few of the variations I’ve reeled at since remembering I bought the domain last June in a late night haze of vodka tonics. So there is where it all begins for this blog, I hope to have content up soon from Mssrs. Hobba and Thompson soon–they have always amazed me with their insight into the world of music. Keith has been my lifelong companion in music addiction and he may well be the only person on the planet that I’ve met that knows more than I do about this subject. Jeff is actually a very talented musician and also an amazing scholar who has blown my mind continually over the years. For instance, he just posted a video of  Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” from 1972 that I had to listen to three times over because I hadn’t heard it in years. His intellect also happens to be astounding.

So there you have it. This is the start of mindpopmusic.com. I hope it’s a lot of fun for everyone involved and I hope to get more individuals I’ve known throughout the years involved in this endeavor. This is definitely one of those projects where “the more, the merrier” truly applies. And expect more than words, I’m certain there will be audio and video streaming through these pages in no time, pages of links to our favorite resources, even tips on find the best deals on purchasing music whether in digital ephemeral form or the hard copy bliss of vinyl and CD. But, hey, enough of my yakkin’; whaddaya say? Let’s Boogie!

Mitchell L. Hillman
Editor/Writer/Fiend

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