There was an article on the Austin band Fastball recently, and the story behind their song “The Way.” One of my absolute favorite tunes of its era, it was inspired by an elderly couple showing signs of Alzheimer’s just taking off together one day and, well, off into their sunset they went. I have a huge “die free” streak in me. A cow outside the gate? “Run! Run! Better a day on the run than a life in line for THAT trailer!” I see reports of missing teens and my perspective is a bit different having known some of the teens I knew and what their home lives were like. I just feel a big ol’ “Go! Go somewhere, find shelter, and struggle your way onto your feet! You can do it! You got out!” welling up inside. I don’t know why that’s in there but it is. An elderly man escaping from a nursing home? That would be me and I tell you this - it would take one hell of a mortician to pop my face back out of that smile. The blaze of glory is real. I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s situation and I don’t think I am. It’s serious. Life is serious. Safety is serious. But I loved that song, it really tugged at me, at some vital kind of true north in my core. I thought the band was great, and must have taught “The Way” to a hundred guitar students ready for barre chords and songwriting 101.
I think about those bands of that time that had one or two hits – the whole album Feeling Strangely Fine by Semisonic is fantastic front to back. They had a great tune called “Closing Time”, and there were others like “Counting Blue Cars” by Dishwalla, probably the worst named band in history after Bowling For Soup. But hey, who am I to talk - at 16 I was writing punk tunes about couch springs poking me in the ass as Johnny Vomit. Where am I going with all of this? I have no idea. But I had a good conversation the other day with an old friend about music and points in time where clear influences became something completely different vs. obvious developments along a musical DNA strain. For example, you had improvisational jazz, you had folk, you had bluegrass, you had the blues-into-50s-rock. Then all of a sudden you have The Grateful Dead and the color palette of music is now mixed a bit differently. That’s one example. One for the DNA strain of music would be this – listen to Muddy Waters, then the Rolling Stones around ’69 to ’72, then Aerosmith’s first few albums, then Guns ‘n Roses Appetite For Destruction. That’s as direct a lineage as it gets.
I remember in the '90s when Radiohead hit. Yeah, we’d had trippy bands from across the pond already. Sure people were like “That’s just Pink Floyd with gadgets.” But those are not critical listeners. Those were the people who say your new pickup looks just like their cousin’s because they’re both some shade of blue and have four wheels. Like Hendrix, like the Dead, like The Beatles… there were aspects of what happened that existed, and then all of a sudden here’s this NEW thing using the tools in fresh ways and that music is changed. There was “Before OK Computer” and “After OK Computer”… I remember being absolutely blown away and I’ve been hearing Radiohead DNA in music since. Fastball didn’t achieve anything close to that, but I know for sure at the very least there are ripples from that one song in the formative playing years of a lot of people, and that song meant something to far more than just me... and in that, as it does, art and music’s vibrations spread out and find their needs to fill, their ways to color life, their fertile grounds to seed.
Listening to: SomaFM.com; John Scofield Trio live at Leverkusen Germany; Aerosmith Rocks; Pat Metheney Group Quartet.