For awhile now I've been contemplating writing a blog on music. I've started a few but they sit there as drafts since the topic, for me, is a bit overwhelming and I have so very much to say.
People who know me well know I am a music addict. In my lifetime, nothing has given me more comfort and solace in my most difficult moments. It is also something I've studied for a lifetime - it started as a youth in the 1960's when we we were inundated with such marvelous music and became cemented in my freshman year of college when I took a course entitled, "Popular Culture - Rock Music". The final exam had two hundred questions and I think it was the only final I ever received a 100% score on!
Since that time in my life all my interests, sans music, have waxed and waned. However, the one sure and solid and reliable source of diversion and comfort has been my tunes - LPs, 45's, 8 track tapes, cassettes, cds and now downloads - it's never mattered. I've always surrounded myself with music.
I am planning a trip next Autumn to Mississippi and Tennessee to visit the Blues Trail, Memphis, and Nashville and attend the annual Americana-fest. I can't remember being more excited about a trip. I'll be right there in the heart of it all.
Suffice it to say - I could go on for thousands of words about music but I'm going to limit the scope of this particular post by using the criteria suggested by Alex. Here goes:
“In no particular order – which 10 albums really made an impact and are still on your rotation, even if only now and then." It also says I should "post the cover and nominate another person to do the same" - uh, no to that part about nominating others. I'll tell you what mine are and if you're motivated to do the same exercise - then get on it!
An important proviso - these are not, necessarily, the albums that I think are the "best". For example, "Sergeant Pepper's" is certainly superior to "Magical Mystery Tour" - these are, instead, the albums that influenced me - my life and musical tastes, more than any others... Note also this is not a list of my favorite bands - otherwise, for example, the Rolling Stones would be in my top 5...
Also...while the instructions indicate there is "no particular order", these are fairly chronological.
Enough. Here goes...
Number one is an album that my parents purchased that I probably listened to more than any other as a child, "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison". It was released in 1968, I was eleven years old, and it's impact on me - musically, politically, sociologically was profound and remains so to this day. Johnny's identification with the downtrodden and lost and hopeless modeled for me exactly how a man should be. As I got older and was, at times, downtrodden, lost and hopeless myself, this album always brought and still brings comfort. Who other than Johnny could have sung with such anger, regret and sadness, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"?
When he sang, "I bet there's rich folks eating in their fancy dining car, they're probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars" I hated those rich and free people even though he knew "I had it coming, I know can't be free, but those people keep on movin' and that's what tortures me". And...what tortured me was the implication that they didn't know or care about the other sad and troubled riders, like Johnny's sad narrator, on their own train. Those people still don't.
The entire album merited nearly daily listening in my youth and it's still in my regular rotation after all these years.
It's just bad ass...
ROLL UP! ROLL UP! Number two was the very first album I bought with my own money. I was 10 years old and I saved my allowance each week. The guy at the record store wanted me, for some reason, to buy the new Rolling Stones album "Their Satanic Majesties Request" but I would have none if it. I had to have, just had to have, "Magical Mystery Tour". I wore out the grooves on it.
Of course , it's magnificent and I enjoyed that my mom hated, "I Am the Walrus" and it's lyric, "yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye", which was part of John's freaky imagery and while I didn't necessarily enjoy the picture of that image I liked that my mom thought it was so awful. Damn, I was a rebel.
My favorite song from this album was and remains, "Strawberry Fields". There have been songs, perhaps a dozen or so in my entire lifetime, that on first hearing take me away to a distant place - Strawberry Fields is one for me.
Let me take you down
Still works, doesn't it?
Number 3 is another I purchased, as an 8 track tape, on my own as an 8th grader at Ralph's Department Store in Blue Jay, CA. I played Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. II, over and over and over and drove my father to exclaim one day, "Can't you find ANYTHING other than that to play"?!" I'm an American Roots music man these days and so was this one influential? Well...yeah...obviously and profoundly. This was a delicious double album. Talk about resonating in my heart, soul and ears.
Of course, over the years, I have met people who claim that they, "don't like Bob Dylan's voice". That's cool, but my hunch is that they have favorite artists that don't have beautiful voices and whose success as a singer is perhaps because Bob led the way on lyrics and vocal expression...but to each his own. In my younger days I tried to teach the world about Dylan and and I ended up doing the learning. I learned that some people just aren't gonna "get it" and that's ok.
I have many thoughts about old Bob which probably will merit a single blog post in the future - my final exam in the Rock History class I was boasting about earlier? Of the 200 questions - 190 were about Bob. It's no wonder I aced it and got along famously with the professor. At age 61 I realize there will not be another artist who will mean as much to me in my lifetime as Dylan. His winning of the Nobel Prize finally shut down some of the ignorance about his work but, if you don't like Bob, don't you realize what you're missing?
Ah here I go again...maybe, after all, I still haven't learned the lesson...
Number 4 "Harvest". Another artist, my entire life, who I've always managed to find at just the right moment is the great Neil Young. This album, from my high school days, if I had to guess, is probably the one I've played more than any other when I've been deeply sad (Simon and Garfunkel are good, too!). At my high school, when the weather was nice, the Drama Dept. would pipe music outside and I can remember warm, spring days listening to "Heart of Gold" and feeling that teenage youthful joy that we only experience when we're young. This is another album in which I could discuss each track and how much it has meant to me over the years. One song, "Out on the Weekend" might just be number one on the soundtrack of my life. Obviously, it's "still in my rotation". Neil has always seemed to understand the profound sadness and strangeness of life.
See the lonely boy,
Number 5 - The first concert I attended, in the Fall of 1974, was Elton John at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, CA. Elton had some songs that were big hits on the radio and while I loved, "Yellow Brick Road" (still do) it was "Madman Across the Water" that captured my passion. I didn't realize it at the time but the great Elton John lyricist, Bernie Taupin, was living just a few miles away in a nearby neighboring mountain town, Blue Jay, CA. "Tiny Dancer" has always been a favorite and I still use it as one of the quintessential road trip songs. The image of the "seamstress for the band" while they travel from town to town captures some essential travel vibe that still resonates.
Hold me closer tiny dancer
There are several excellent songs on this album although they may not be as well known as Elton's "hits". I hope you can imagine my horror and sadness when this artist started making songs Like "Philadelphia Freedom" and went so far away from his original brilliance. Oh Elton, where did you go?
Number 6 - "The Band". Most of these "influential" albums are obviously from my youth. This band and this album have been my "go to's" all my adult life. In my view, the Americana genre was really started and pioneered by The Band (ironically 4 of the 5 members were from Canada). Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm are two of my musical heroes. I was lucky enough to see The Band in 1975 at the Greek Theater for their last tour and just a few short months before the famous "Last Waltz" concert - of which I had tickets but to my everlasting chagrin couldn't go - (true story and it still pisses me off). My lifelong anthem, "The Weight" is not on this particular album - it was on "Big Pink" - every single song on this album is a treasure and has personal meaning for me. As I reach the twilight of my life - and as much as I love the Beatles and Stones and Clash - this group, it turns out, has been my lifelong favorite. Perhaps one day I will write an entire blog post discussing each of their songs and why they are so important in the canon of American music. It started in the fields and then the delta and through Charley Patton and Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and there is a direct line right to "The Band". What music...
Number 7 - "London Calling". In college I considered myself kind of a cool kid and I knew music and was a bit jaded and then...punk music. I was admittedly infatuated with the genre and really liked the Sex Pistols album when it came out but I was blown away, wiped out, by The Clash. Not only was the music new and cool but Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had a nearly Lennon/McCartney harmony that was compelling and fascinating and provocative as Hell. As if they could be any more cool their politics were EXACTLY like mine and, oh say, Woody Guthrie's...People sometimes seemed surprised to find out that Woody was such an influence on Joe Strummer but, when you think about it, it's not much of a stretch. One of the most wonderful afternoons of my life was spent at the Santa Barbara County Bowl listening to the English Beat and then the remarkable Clash. If you haven't given this album a listen in awhile then do so again and hear the musical revelations - and revolution.
The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
You know, there's a reason the call him "The Boss". Number 8 could have just as easily been "Born to Run" or "The River" but, nah, I gotta go with the one that knocked me for a lifetime personal loop, "Darkness at the Edge of Town". In this album Bruce cemented his place as America's next great along the Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan line. Few albums in my life have been written that seemed to be expressing everything about my life - the feelings, the loss, my own personal faults, the injustice of the world, like "Darkness". It's as if Bruce channeled my mind and then expressed it musically. There is pain in this album - it's filled with pathos - but because, it's Springsteen, it has layers of hope and beauty...just enough to make it real and universal. Classics like, "Badlands", and “The Promised Land” are as good as contemporary music gets. "Factory" could have been written about my father, too. Each song has profound lyrical and musical depth. While I have given excerpts from previous songs from albums on the list this one is given in its entirety.
"Darkness On The Edge Of Town"
For many years I could be found there in the darkness too.
It took many years before another songwriter spoke to me like Bruce...and that's today's generation's Jason Isbell. I can't call him "influential" but he gets it...I could write an entire blog post on "Southeastern" but you should just listen to it instead.
I couldn't possibly write a post and not include my favorite album of the great Elvis Costello. I read a review of him - got his first album, "My Aim Is True" but it was his next one, "This Year's Model" that must be included on this list at Number 9. Elvis, to me, was such a rebel and a a "retro rebel" if that is a thing - His "Elvis" name and those Buddy Holly glasses and pigeon toed style of performing. He was the man! Young Elvis captured my angry young man years as well as anyone because he also was so damn pissed off...and cynical and condemning of modern society and it's emphasis on superficial values. This album is flawless and one of the most brilliant ever produced.
From, "This Year's Girl":
See her picture in a thousand places 'cause she's this year's girl
Number 10 - More Bob? Yep. Although I struggled with this last one. I feel like I'm leaving out about a million albums that I love and, well, I kinda am. I was just about to place "Document" by REM here but it wouldn't be a true indicator of "influential" to me and I simply couldn't do it. Then there was, "Who's Next" and, as much as love it, I just didn't love it in the same way as my favorite Dylan album (I think it's my favorite - I equivocate a bit - tough choices there). I do know that in high school all the cool kids were spinning "Blood On the Tracks" and I guess I was one of the cool kids. This is Dylan at his balladeer best and not even my dad complained when I played it - which was daily for about, oh, ten years! I actually sang, "Tangled Up in Blue" when I was the Drama teacher at Rim of the World High School at the "talent show". I'd like to emphasize that was my one and only public singing performance outside of drunk karaoke. There are reasons I'm just a listener...
A few years back I read that Bob simply said about the album that it was, "nothing but pain" and his son Jacob said it was the musical soundtrack to his parent's divorce. I can certainly see that kind of sadness but there is also great storytelling to be found here as well as sweetness and love - especially with, "Shelter From the Storm" and "Simple Twist of Fate". Of course, "If You See Her, say Hello" summed up my teenage romantic angst so aptly:
Sundown, yellow moon
So there you have it - I've taken several weeks to think about his and I'm not sure I've gotten it right and I suppose I'll second guess my choices but, today, it's the best I can do. If you have similar tastes that's marvelous - if you don't well, that's OK, although I'd encourage you to keep listening to new (and old!) music and go to concerts, maybe read a little music history and theory, and, whatever you do, don't say, "Music died in the '60's or '70's" or...whatever. First, it's not true and secondly you're shortchanging not only some great artists but yourself as well. In my experience people who say, "I know what I like" really are saying they "like what they know" and usually that isn't much. Nothing speaks to our inner self - our soul - like the charms of a good song. There's beauty and soul stirring melodies and words out there no matter your tastes...
If, like me, you're compelled to get more into the "American Sound" I'd encourage you to start your journey by reading, "Mystery Train" by Greil Marcus. It'll put you on the right road.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading about your most influential albums.
Now, go put on some tunes!
Something I get asked from time to time is, "How do you travel alone so much?". It typically strikes me as an odd question but I get it. Being alone with one's thoughts as your only companion can be difficult especially if you identify with those thoughts. This is a major reason I meditate. I'll write about meditation in a blog post soon but, in the meantime, these are my thoughts on traveling solo:
My career was people oriented. I did my best to create positive relationships with everyone with whom I worked. I truly cared about the people I worked with even if it wasn't always reciprocated. Perhaps I was naive. I also worked with people who didn't share my passionate values about the welfare and education of young people and I didn't mind their enmity but was always hopeful that we could "see the light" together at some point. Nonetheless, I was constantly interacting with others. I spent my life, from kindergarten through retirement, around groups of people on a daily basis. As a result, my retirement has been completely different and weird at times (thank God for my beautiful family who have endured my sadness and helped me). While I used to crave solitude I now seemingly have an over supply of it. My first year or so of not working was terribly difficult for many reasons and I often felt lonely.
That's no longer the case.
I have learned to cherish and appreciate this solitary life. I'm blessed with an understanding and loving wife and family. They accept my longing for the road and pursuit of beauty. That unconditional love provides a firm foundation which gives me permission to do what I want (and need) to do with approval and encouragement from those who "get" me.
My days, off the road, consist of reading, meditation, and personal growth activities - like walking, writing, watching films, following sports (USC, Liverpool FC & the Dodgers), learning Spanish, reading my twitter timeline, running errands, planning trips, an occasional motorcycle ride, and learning the guitar. My reading hunger since I stopped working has been insatiable- I know I'll die before I read everything I want to read.
My days on the road, since I have my books and my meditation, are rarely lonely. I do, of course, enjoy traveling with others, in particular, my kids, family, and wife. They are all fabulous, non complaining, funny, curious and grateful, adventurers. Of course, they have their own business to attend to and my wife can't retire for a few more years. I do, certainly, miss many of my friends, some of whom have died and others lost to the vestiges of time and vagaries of life. The worst part of traveling alone is wanting to share the singular experiences and the astonishing scenery. I take pictures, lots of them, in my attempts to share. This website and blog is another effort to share with my friends and family the places I see and visit.
There is, however, something peaceful and poignant about traveling solo. I can reflect, muse, and do all things that I damn well want to do. If I like a place I can stay- if I don't I can move on. After spending many hours researching I go where I want to go and see what I'm curious about. As the Buddhists suggest, I eat when I'm hungry and rest when I'm tired. I read voraciously. I listen to music and spend hours preparing a long playlist specifically designed to complement the journey. I hike. Occasionally I fish. I write. I meet strangers and share travel stories. In the evening I make a nice dinner, perhaps start a fire, and watch the sunset. Afterwards, I crawl into the back of the truck- get comfortable and listen to the local radio stations, contemplate the doings of the day, and plan my next day's activities. I nod off while listening to the songs of the coyotes or the pure quiet that can only be found miles away from cities.
I do miss the people that I love. I think about their qualities- the reasons that I miss them. I remind myself that all things are temporary, I will die, and I must use this time in the most meaningful way possible. I worked, for a lifetime, trying to change the world and make it a better place. I attained a doctorate and rose to the top of my profession. All those years of work, putting my career first, ironically didn't work out as planned. Now, I try to live my life the right way and let the Universe decide if my life will impact others positively in any way. I can only do my best for my family and friends and this beloved earth. I try to be an example. I choose to surrender the rest.
This precious time in my life, when I have the freedom to travel the West, is a profound gift. Perhaps, some day, I'll connect with former friends, become a better guitar player, write beautiful stories and poems, work publicly to save the planet, demonstrably help the poor and needy, but, for now, I'll travel alone and contemplate, learn what I can, and be the best father, husband, friend and man I know how to be.
This solitary travel helps me ground myself, clarify what's important, and find and explore my humanity. I enjoy myself. I experience a powerful spiritual connection to nature and, in particular, the Southwest. It is my sacred home.
All I can truly offer the world, in the end, is my humanity and experience - if I can stay true to a life of empathy, compassion, tenderness, and love, then, perhaps, my life will be of some worth. I can't think of anything else to do that has more meaning.
The one song I have listened to more than any other the last several years is "'Cross the Green Mountain" by Bob Dylan. The lyrics resonate deeply in me- like a soft breeze of pure, cool air in the late desert afternoon.
He expresses it perfectly:
Pride will vanish
And glory will rot
But virtue lives
And cannot be forgot
Let them say that I walked
In fair nature's light
And that I was loyal
To truth and to right
See you on the road, in fair nature's light, soon.
I'm Utah bound in a few days.
Notes From The Road- Ready To Go?
Hi friends. I'm getting ready to take off early, early tomorrow morning. "Pre-trip" is an odd emotional time. It's an exciting time usually tinged with some sadness about missing my wife and family. I also start to anticipate the first day's drive which means dealing with Southern California traffic until I get "out there". The older I get the more I abhor traffic and the lack of scenery in SoCal. As I leave I can't seem to put it behind me fast enough. In addition, my mind gets cramped with details. Did I pack everything? Food? Personal items? Do I have what I need? Am I ready?
Tomorrow I'll take the good old Interstate 15 through seedy, gaudy, tawdry, Las Vegas and then head toward Zion on my way to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. I'm interested in the state park and anxious to explore it. I hear it's a place a lot of the land maulers, aka Quad riders, visit. The noise, partying, and general attitude of those people aren't usually my cup of tea. We'll see. My hunch is that it will be more than fine.
It's a long drive (442 miles) but not as long as Tuesday when I drive to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (476 miles). When I arrive there and get a camping spot my trip will settle down into a more relaxed mode. I work at slowing down constantly the first few days of any trip. Once that calm kicks in the trips can start to become tranquil and magical. After rushing around for 35 years slowing down is a daily challenge. I'll explore the new National Park at the Gunnison River and then head for fishing and hiking grounds near Silver Jack Reservoir, the Rio Grande and, eventually, the Arkansas River.
I will try to write from the road but that may not be possible given the typical lack of cell reception in the more remote and mountainous areas. I purchased a small digital tape recorder to perhaps more easily take notes. I also got a monocular for the camera and it will be interesting to see how that works. The playlist is ready- lots of Bob Dylan, Calexico, Neil Young, Gourds, Jon Dee Graham, Beck, Drive-By Truckers and Alejandro Escovedo. I'll be reading "Go In Beauty" by William Eastlake and bring lots of Edward Abbey & Terry Tempest Williams to supplement. I'm also bringing the classic, "Land of Little Rain" by Mary Austin.
May you all slow down and enjoy the simple things while I'm "on the road".
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.