Reflections in a fallish mood

The temperatures have dropped and there has been morning Delta blues picked on the porch – a sure sign the worst of the weather is behind us for a while. Not really “Fall” as we just have “A little less of a summer, what might be summer somewhere else”… and then our version of winter. And really I use worst in tiny little lowercase letters because there are places that get hit with storms the likes we just don’t see here in the south-central Texas hills, and the winters where I come from were brutal compared to the little occasional freeze ‘n flurries here for sure! Sure we get some “All the way on or all the way off” rain and sometimes it can be an issue, but most of the time ours is not a hardship, just uncomfortable. And it’s uncomfortable with the summer sun. The sun! Too much warmth. I just have to laugh. I’ll take it – it’s a blessing to anyone who knows cold. And it is in ways; and I do like to sweat when I work. But I’m glad for a little less intensity right now and a touch of gray, thank you.

This week many years ago there are many of us who remember exactly where we were when the news came of bassist Cliff Burton’s tragic passing. In the context of the day in 1986 Metallica were shaking things up but it was a slower build and you have to remember most of us on the east coast maybe knew somebody with a third gen cassette copy of an album by one of these “Speed metal bands from LA” as we lumped everything in as. We didn’t know. We bought Hit Parader but there was no real airplay of anything harder than Ratt and maybe the occasional more commercial Iron Maiden or Judas Priest tune. We traded horrible sounding bootlegs, drew band logos on our paper bag book covers, painted goofy stuff on our denim jackets and went to concerts. That was it. I was 17.

I had seen Metallica the year earlier opening for Ozzy and had barely known who they were – my buddies were WAY more metal than I ever got despite the hair and denim and pointy-ass guitars. But after the concert, as raw as they were – maybe a bit sloppy, perhaps a bit drunk – I left a fan and bought the first three Metallica albums. And that was it. I’d listen to them walking home at night after washing dishes at a restaurant. At the time nothing had the production of the then-new Master of Puppets – it was light years ahead of the heavy stuff around it. The album before it, Ride The Lightning, was a game changer. Their first? Kill ‘em All? Meh, I know it’s hallowed ground to some but kind of a novelty to me, jumping in when I did with the huge crunch of Master. Honestly I was way more into late ‘70s Cars and Eddie Money’s first few albums, some Neil Young, and grooving pretty hard to Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force and the whole neo-classical shredding thing. Andreas Vollensweider. The Ramones. Journey.

And yeah, Ratt and that whole scene Metallica and their peers were reacting against. The ‘80s was an amazing time to be young. As cheesy as a lot of that LA stuff seems now it blew our minds when it was easy to be over the top and got us excited about playing our instruments and starting bands. But for me, Cliff was just the craziest thing I had ever seen fingering a bass guitar. And when he died at 24, I was very sad. I remembered guitarist Randy Rhoads who died young in ‘82 but I had been younger and started playing just after that. 13 and 17 are totally different existences… very different levels of consciousness and awareness of your being and context. The news broke on MTV and I was at home, realizing for the first time that my heroes were men and they could die horribly… that life was changing and sometimes things happen so fast… but that ultimately it’s more about the mark you leave than how long you last. Whatever the tool of your trade, whatever the song you sing, it’s about the work you did and the inspiration you spread while you were here.

Listening to: The My Favorite Album Podcast on Jeff Buckley’s Grace ( ); Norman Greenbaum Spirit In The Sky (really a cool whole album); a Modern Jazz Quartet 10”; Nirvana Bleach; Dr. John The Sun The Moon & Herbs and In The Right Place; Andres Segovia My Favorite Works (a perpetual workshop favorite, been in rotation in here for ten years plus.)