Category Archives: Stories

Rehersals For (My) Departure

“Your dad used to sing this song to you all the time when you were a baby.” Every single time my mom hears “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder she says this to me.

Music has always been especially important to me. It’s in my blood perhaps. My mom can’t walk from one side of a room to another without singing her way there. She’s been like that my whole life. Pull any home movie out of the (giant) box of tapes in my parents’ garage and you’ll hear my dad, from behind the camera saying “Sing me a song!” And I would start singing at the drop of a hat about whatever was around me, or whatever popped into my imagination.

I remember sitting in the backseat of my mom’s car next to a little girl my age, probably 5 or 6. I barely knew this girl, but our moms were friends and we were forced to spend a certain forgettable afternoon together. I don’t remember her name or her face or where we were going or even whether we eventually became friends. But I just remember so clearly sitting next to her in the car and watching her sing along to every single song that came on the radio –  song after song – without missing a beat. I was in awe. I remember thinking she must be the coolest girl in the world.

Somewhere around this time, a babysitter canceled and my dad had to drive me in his truck to a school gymnasium to play a gig. I’d seen him play drums in church my whole life, but this was the first time I’d seen him play with a band. I watched him in adoration all night and told him on the way home, “I’m going to be in a band too, you know.” And that’s about the time the piano lessons started.

There was a mirror right above the piano for a while. I would sit down to practice every single day and look at myself in that mirror. Half the time I would be daydreaming and half the time I’d have tears running down my face from frustration. “You’re not going to quit,” my mother would say. “Play it again.” For the next seven years she would say that to me. The mirror wouldn’t stay up for long.

I was in 2nd grade when I discovered that my little cassette player had a built-in mic. I was home from school on a snow day, bored and goofing off when I accidentally pressed record and play at the same time. It was the discovery of the year. I took old cassettes from my mom’s room, ones that had church sermons on them because they were easy to erase. I stayed in my room for days recording my own DJ show and even made my little brother Luke pretend to be celebrities I could interview. We only played country music on my radio station.

Then one day a few years later my dad set up his record player.  I’d seen his record collection rotting away in our garage for years, but I’d never heard him play a single one. For some reason on that day, the record player appeared in the living room. I didn’t know how to use it, but I went out to the garage and picked out a stack of Beatles records. I stayed awake and snuck out to the living room once my parents fell asleep. When we figured out how to make it work, my brother and I laid down on the living room floor next to the speakers and played the records so quietly, flipping them over and over for hours.

This started a ritual between my brother and I. From middle school until I moved away, we would stay up late and listen to music after everyone had gone to bed. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes we would just listen. As time went by, we got really into showing each other new things. We were becoming friends, I suppose, and were bound by these discoveries and this understanding. All the other sweet and early memories of music would soon be obliterated in this setting.

The first time music really broke my heart, I was 15. It was almost Christmas and the tree was glowing, the only light in the room. Luke came home, told me it was snowing and pushed play on a CD that his older friend had just given him. It was “Rehearsals for Departure” by Damien Jurado and to this day, every single time I hear it, I think of this snowy night.

“Remember that live Pedro the Lion song where he says ‘Jurado’ at the end? Well, I found out that Jurado is his friend’s name. It’s this guy.” He put the CD on and the song “Ohio” started with a harmonica that did a freight-train number on my heart. He started talking, told me it was a concept album and told me part of the story behind it. I could only sit and listen, the first note to the last, on repeat until I became obsessed.

Now I’d heard emotional music before. I’d been moved by other songs. Hell, I cried every time I heard “When You’re the Best of Friends” on my The Fox and Hound cassette tape. But this moment – this was where my part of this insane journey started. I hadn’t heard anything like this before or if I had, I wasn’t able to understand what it really meant. And this particular album was full of stories, complex and gut-wrenching, broken up into little acts. Every single song was so perfect to me. More phases and loves would come, but the force behind this one really set me off. And for better or worse, it turned me into a junkie for heartache.

It was at once sweet and uncomfortably honest. It felt like the gross part of growing up – like cigarette stink on the sides of your fingers and catching someone you love smiling at someone else in a way only you understand. And it felt like winter, like the ice cold gravel of our driveway burning under my bare feet. It was a shattering and a heavy weight all at the same time and I had to live out 15 whole years before I could even feel that way. And I just knew I’d be chasing down that feeling like a bloodhound for the rest of my life.

Out from my window, please hear me Ohio
Your daughter wants to come home
She longs to be with you, to hug you to kiss you
To never leave her alone

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See the Lonely Boy, Out on the Weekend

by Levi Thomas

The birth of spring in Missouri is a smell and a feeling so unique, only those who have experienced it can understand. It was also the setting of a very special moment for me. Eleven years ago in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, I was sitting on the floor of my family’s living room in front of the TV. It was late afternoon and I was waiting for the next program to start when an old recording of Neil Young, “Live at the BBC,” came on the television.

I was going through a massive shift in my adolescence at the time. I had dropped out of public school a few weeks prior and had started homeschooling. In other words, I was spending most of my time alone, getting to know myself and was no longer concerned with following a crowd of peers. I had been feeling (and would continued to feel) lonesome though I wasn’t really familiar with the depth of that emotion yet. I remember that my mother was home, as usual. And while I wouldn’t say THIS exact moment changed our relationship, it was the beginning of my obsession with rock n roll which makes her nervous to this day.

I remember the glare from the early sunset, the uncomfortable Berber carpet I was sitting on, the soft light from the kitchen, the fuzzy vintage footage and, of course, that shimmering Martin D-45. I inched closer to the screen. Watching Neil, I knew that I wanted to play, write, perform, and research music FOREVER. To be completely honest, it felt a lot like falling in love.


I worked all summer after that to buy my Gibson, my only acoustic guitar to this day. The only interaction I was really concerned with for the next year or so was with that guitar. I was eager to learn all I could.

That 30 minutes of footage opened my eyes to an entire world of popular music I’d never known. It set extremely high standards for any artist I would discover after that but, more importantly, it set standards for myself as a musician and performer. I use this performance as a guide to this day. Neil remains my standard for everything a musician should be. I still follow his work and, thanks to his prolificacy, I get to hear something new from him at least every year.

Neil has an unconventional style of playing and writing that is impossible to imitate, from his wordplay and voice, right down to the way he touches the strings. And his lack of concern for the critics is what has kept his career strong. A unique presence is something I continue to strive for though it has taken me many phases and stages to find my way.


For the most recent phase, check out: https://soundcloud.com/levisaintthomas

WG_levi
(Photo of Levi by Steven Spencer)

Listen to Levi’s hand-picked Neil Young playlist, UNCLENEIL, before the entire Neil Young catalog is removed from all streaming sites.

Leon Russell: A Poem is a Naked Person

In a scene from 1974’s A Poem is a Naked Person, a young Leon Russell (both the subject of and collaborator behind this very film) and songwriter Eric Andersen sit, cameras rolling, and try to work things out after an argument. Andersen’s studio session had just been interrupted by Russell’s camera crew, causing a heated outburst between them and now the inflamed egos are dancing around each other, trying to make peace without total surrender.

“How old are you anyway, 42? 38?” Andersen jabs at a graying Russell.
“I’m quite sensitive about that so you can’t talk to me about that anymore.” Leon Russell responds, sounding less abrasive and more genuinely wounded. “I’m barely 30 years old, man.”

It’s a brief but telling moment, one of several in this documentary, which shows the sensitivity behind the swagger of piano playing legend Leon Russell. This same sensitivity kept the 1974 documentary in a cardboard box for 40 years.

If you haven’t heard the tale yet, I’ll summarize; fresh off the Mad Dogs and Englishman tour with Joe Cocker, Russell enlisted director Les Blank to direct a film about the making of his country rock album “Hank Wilson’s Back.” They set up in Oklahoma and started rolling film on the live shows, sessions, parties and transparent moments of conversation which followed. When Les Blank finally presented the finished product to the subject of his film, Russell hated it. It was shelved.

Blank was still very proud of APIANP and was known to show it in spite of Russell’s disapproval but for decades the only way you could see the film was with the director in person. Eventually, after Blank passed away, his son took up the cause to give this beautiful film an appropriate release. Four decades later, a bit softer with the passing of time and vanity, Russell finally approved the release of A Poem is a Naked Person.

Now 40 years later, when asked directly about the specific reason for the delayed release, Leon hesitates. He’s reluctant to delve too deep, but each version of his answer scratches the same self-conscious surface. He told one source that the film wasn’t what he wanted it to be, that it was more the director’s vision and not his. “More style than substance, in my opinion,” he says, eluding to some personality conflicts between Blank and himself. He told another that he didn’t want his midwest methodist family seeing him smoking and cursing on screen. Once he even left it at, “I don’t know why. I just didn’t like it.” But at a special screening last night, on the stage of the Ace Theater in downtown Los Angeles, he told us, a full room of fans who had just watched the film with him, that “sometimes, when you really see yourself, you just want to cry and go to bed for a week.”

A Poem is a Naked Person is about so much more than Leon Russell. Unlike the typical rock documentary, this film turns the camera lens away from the star at every opportunity in order to better understand what was going on around him at the time. While Russell’s performances are moving, ranging from wild and energetic to somber and spellbinding, it’s the wide focus – the one that lets in all the chatter of Russell’s surroundings – which really tells his story.

Sure, the shots of baby-faced Willie Nelson and George Jones are captivating. But it’s about rural Oklahoma, a wedding, an empty swimming pool, a building torn down, a church service – they show us not just one facet of one man, but a complete picture. Perhaps the whole story wasn’t interesting to Russell, at least not in 1974. It makes sense that a man with a rock and roll music career on the rise wouldn’t be excited to show extended footage of catfish in the middle of a film which was supposed to be about him. It can be hard to see value in the details of your own story.

The miracle of Leon Russell is that he possesses within himself both the personality and charisma to carry his own stage and the ability to seamlessly fuse his talent with the biggest names in music history. He could sit at a piano and melt perfectly into the background of more songs on the radio than you could imagine. The Crystals, The Beach Boys, George Harrison, Doris Day, Gram Parsons, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, Sinatra, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones – every one of these names (and more) owe something to the talent of Leon Russell.  A master collaborator, he played, wrote, and arranged the very foundation of what we know as 60s and 70s rock and roll. He could be energetic, commanding, even abrasive, but at the end of the day, he just wanted to get in a room and play good music.

A Poem is a Naked Person – the title alone points to the vulnerability required to make art. Here the film is the poem and Leon Russell, the naked and exposed person. The man and his art are one and the same, equally honest, unassuming, and vulnerable to the critic’s eye. Maybe it was the profanity or the Oklahoma tractors or just his gray hair on a big screen which made him hesitate to undress for so long. Those reasons are in the past. As he said to those of us in the theater last night, still basking in the afterglow of what we had just seen and experienced, “That’s me, I did those things.”

Wand Announces New Album, 1000 Days

Wand has announced a new album entitled 1000 Days, set to drop September 25th. This will be the band’s third studio release in just over a years time. Prolific, hard working and ahead of the curve, the boys recorded 1000 Days even before Golem saw the light of day and will be releasing it right in the middle of a daunting world tour. Drag City is putting this one out so don’t expect to see it on any streaming services.

Check out their slightly subdued synth-heavy single below.

Tour dates:
07/17 – Los Angeles, CA @ MOCA
07/29 – San Francisco, CA @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall
07/31 – Happy Valley, OR @ Pickathon
08/14 – Saint Malo, FR @ Route du Rock Festival
08/18 – Haarlem, NL @ Pastronaat Café
08/19 – Luxembourg, LU @ Exit 07
08/20 – Brussels, BE @ Homeplugged (house show)
08/21 – Charleville-Meziere, FR @ Cabaret Vert festival
08/22 – Trondheim, NO @ P Stereo Festival
08/23 – Biddinghuizen, NL @ Lowlands Festival
08/27 – Dublin, IE @ Whelan’s
08/28 – Paris, FR @ Rock En Sein Festival
08/29 – Geneva, CH @ L’Usine
09/01 – Zurich, CH @ Kinski Club
09/03 – Lisbon, PT @ Lux Fragil
09/04 – Vlieland, NL @ Into The Great Wide Open Festival
09/05 – Maastricht, NL @ Bruis Festival
09/06 – Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset, UK @ End of the Road Festival 
09/07 – Bristol, UK @ The Exchange
09/08 – Brighton, UK @ Green Door Store
09/09 – London, UK @ Electrowerks Upstairs
09/10 – Manchester, UK @ Soup Kitchen
09/11 – Glasgow, UK @ Broadcast
09/12 – Birmingham, UK @ Rainbow House
09/13 – Le Havre, FR @ Le Tetris
09/14 – Tilburg, NL @ Incubate Festival
09/15 – Copenhagen, DK @ Loppen
09/16 – Helsinki, FI @ Kuudes Linja
09/17 – Antwerp, BE @ Trix club show
09/18 – Angers, FR @ Levitation Festival
09/19 – Leffinge, BE @ Leffingeleuren Festival
09/21 – Barcelona, ES @ BAM Festival
10/31 – Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom w/ Mac DeMarco
11/01 – Seattle, WA @ Narwhal
11/03 – Missoula, MT @ The Real Lounge
11/05 – Minneapolis, MN @ The Entry
11/06 – Iowa City, IA @ Witching Hour Festival
11/07 – Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
11/10 – Toronto, ON @ Adelaide Hall
11/11 – Montreal, QC @ Bar Le Ritz
11/12 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East (upstairs)
11/13 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
11/14 – Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade NYC
11/15 – Washington, DC @ DC9
11/16 – Asheville, NC @ Tiger Mountain
11/18 – Atlanta, GA @ 529
11/19 – Memphis, TN @ Hi Tone
11/20 – New Orleans, LA @ Siberia
11/21 – Austin, TX @ Red 7 (inside)
11/22 – El Paso, TX @ Lowbrow Palace
11/24 – Tucson, AZ @ Solar Culture
11/25 – San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar

More on Wand

On Coming to Life and “Stayin’ Alive”

By Alan Pierson

During the winter of 1977 I was a Star Wars freak, a KISS fanatic, a Charlie’s Angels hound, and an all around restless little dude. I lived in Tulsa but had just returned from visiting my dad, who owned a record store in Missouri, so I was elbows deep in newly acquired vinyl, my stereo, and polishing my new KISS Destroyer belt buckle. It was over Christmas break that year that I found myself in a crowded movie theater. I was twelve.

WGalan

I went to see Saturday Night Fever with my mom’s friend, Van. He lived down the street. He liked to wear brown. He had a really far out mustache. He liked to go do things with my step-dad like camp, canoe, drink, and wear jean shorts. He was what I would now refer to as a “swinger.” A real fern bar hound. Like the Regal Beagle on Three’s Company. That kind of place and dude.

I can’t really think of why Van asked me to go to this particular movie. He and I had never done anything together before and we never did anything after. In retrospect, it was really weird. He told my mom he was taking me to the movies. He didn’t tell her which one and he surely didn’t tell me what I was going to go see or give any clues. I was along for the ride. Out of the house. I didn’t have to do the dishes after dinner so that was cool for me.

It was butt ass cold outside. I was heavily bundled. I remember that the theater, a new bright movie multiplex, had a really great heating system so everyone in the house had their coats piled on top of their laps. I left mine on to feel safe and secure, since I was on a movie date with my step-dad’s swinger friend.

When the movie started, I felt electric. Like I was biting on tinfoil. I remember being completely sold from the opening scene. The beat. The walk. The two combined – that’s the fucking key – because until that time I had never really made the connection between music and video. I had seen “Tommy” and it really fucking freaked me out but it stuck with me like the way musicals stick with me which is not so much.

But this, this scene alone, the shoes, the paint can, THAT was what my life had been missing. Everything that followed from scene to scene, every song, step, and beat, connected with me. I mean I was a music fiend. Queen, Bowie, Elton John, The Beatles, Sweet, The Bay City Rollers, The Stones, Heart, KISS, ABBA – these were bands that I really dug at 12 years of age, but I had never been able to find anything that linked what I heard to what I was seeing besides album covers and my dad’s Stones tour programs. It was a true epiphany.  A life changing experience. The scene where Tony takes over the dance floor, with Fran Drescher standing in the background, was when everything clicked for me and a change began. Pure ego, pure confidence and up to that point the most amazing thing I had ever seen or experienced with music.

I recall the color orange. A lot of orange. And white. The colors of the theater. I recall the reds, whites, blues, and blacks, of the clothes in the film. The wide ass fur collars on the winter coats in the theater and the white fur around Donna Pescow’s white coat in the movie. Polyester, sweat, body hair, Van’s mustache, lip gloss, and ugly looking food all come to mind.

I remember having a hard time keeping it together. I was processing everything that I was seeing: the music, Brooklyn, the people and the things I knew my Catholic mom would not have wanted me to see. I mean my whole paradigm of what music was and what it could do had changed. Music could hit all the senses and knock them out! And chicks?! I was already screwed up in the head about them and blowjobs, rape, and rubbers were things I didn’t even knew existed while I was eating waffles waiting for Van to pick me up.

Seventh grade was pretty freaking awkward. I was attending a catholic school, which I would get kicked out of in early 1978 as a direct result of the delinquency I saw in Saturday Night Fever. The scene in White Castle especially. I didn’t really give a shit about cause and effect no matter how much my step-dad tried to drill the concept of consequences into my brain. My music got louder. My attitude towards girls got cockier, more confident. I started to get to make out more and kind of knew what I was doing because of what I saw in the movie. The media was a powerful enabler.

The biggest imprint that Saturday Night Fever left on me was the music / video connection. I began to seek out and pay attention to everything every chance I got. The things that came down the road are emblematic of this experience. Less than a year later, DEVO performed on SNL, one of my three personal “Ed Sullivan” moments. The others were The Clash on Fridays in the Spring of 1979 and the exact and very moment that MTV debuted in 1981. I fell in love with Midnight Special, Video Concert Hall (hardcore fan!), the video album of Blondie’s “Eat to the Beat,” and discovered more life changing music through the films of the late 1970s; Quadrophenia, Rockers, URGH! a Music War, and the Concert for Kampuchea. Film and music became forever intertwined after this experience.

There are a few occasions that I could compare to the experience of seeing Saturday Night Fever that night in 1977: seeing Rushmore, Patti Smith or Tom Waits for the first time. An early show with the Flaming Lips in 1984 when they played “Tommy” all the way through. Seeing Bowie. Seeing Lady Gaga. Seeing PJ Harvey. Opening a Helmut Newton book. Reading Penthouse. Making my own movies. Making mixed tapes. Making out.

That winter night in 1977, I discovered that wanted to be Tony Manero, to have all eyes on me (I kind of pulled that off from time to time). I fell in love with disco, I mean every single note. I got my dad to get me all kinds of disco records. I learned how to disco dance watching all the Catholics take disco lessons in my Mom’s den. I became a music addict, a junkie, a sponge, a little crockpot full of beats that winter night. Then in the Summer of 1978, “Some Girls” came out and everything changed again.

Thank fucking God.

Unearthing the Legacy of Brian Jones

“History is written by the victors.” It’s an old saying, but its truth is shown in a plethora of evidence throughout rock n roll history. Led Zeppelin stole their whole first album from poor blues musicians and then got their record label’s lawyers to intimidate them from speaking up. The Beatles ousted original drummer Pete Best because Paul McCartney was bummed that Best was getting more chicks than he was. And yet, the cruelest story of them all would have to be from the original bastards of rock n roll: The Rolling Stones and the Evisceration of Brian Jones.

If asked about the band’s history, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards treat Brian Jones like a footnote. He was in the band and then he wasn’t. The story and the man have been played down to almost nothing and, for many, so lies his legacy. To the unenlightened, Brian Jones was a stereotype. He was a troubled musician from the 60’s who played guitar, took too many drugs, squandered away his opportunities, and died at the age of 27. He’s just another casualty of a rock n roll lifestyle and sadly, like a casualty of actual war, he’s become just a number. But Brian Jones was the original Rolling Stone. Even if this is the only fact you know about him, you have to admit that being the founder of one of the greatest rock n roll bands of all time definitely makes him more than just a number. Yet, if you dig deeper, you’ll find a creative force worthy of respect.

It’s true that Brian was a pioneer for the Stones in many areas. He was the first to have four kids out of wedlock (before the age of 19). He was the first to take drugs recreationally. He was the first to debut the dangerous but cool vibe (which made him easier to cut down during his decline) and the first to catch the eye of Anita Pallenberg. But before creating the Stones, he was the first and only member that had played a show. To be more specific, he had played over 100 shows. Before Jagger ever started strutting and pouting on the stage or Keef had begun…..well, being Keef, Brian Jones had already had more than 100 shows under his belt with a handful of other blues musicians. It was this experience that helped Brian not only start and manage the band, but also hone their original blues sound.

It could be argued that Jones, who technically never wrote a song for the band himself, was only marginally influential. While it’s technically true that Brian Jones never wrote a full song for the Stones, he has contributed various iconic melodies and riffs to numerous Stones songs which not only improved, but defined them.

The Last Time (Out of Our Heads)

Keef plays the solo on this track and it’s a killer solo, but the show stealing aspect of this song has always been the main guitar riff. And who contributed that part? Why, Brian Jones of course.

2000 Light Years From Home (Their Satanic Majesties Request)

Their Satanic Majesties Request is an album that usually divides fans. Some say it’s too muddied while others say it is a cult classic. The feelings extend to some critics who say that, in the realm of psychedelia, Sgt Pepper’s wins out over it (though these critics are wrong too, as the Pretty Things’ S.F. Sorrow smokes both albums, in my unhumble opinion). While this album is far from perfect, it has several standout moments. From “Citadel” to “The Lantern,” there are a couple of really strong tracks in this haze. But the song that takes the cake is “2000 Light Years from Home.”

Jagger’s lyrics and singing style give the song an otherworldly feeling, but it’s Jones’ Mellotron hook that makes the song truly sound like it’s in fucking outer space. Not only did he write that incredible hook (which was surely meant to induce an acid flashback) but consider how hard of an instrument the Mellotron is to play. As George Chkiantz, a key engineer in the sessions says, “[playing the Mellotron] took a special kind of genius.” That genius was Brian Jones. Forget the fact that he did not write a song on his own – Jones’ seasoned dexterity with musical instruments made him, and every song he contributed to,  all the more powerful and captivating.

Under My Thumb (Aftermath)

When this song was being cut in the studio, nobody had much hope for it. This was around the time that Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” was released and, because of the similar chord progressions between the two songs, most of the Stones were skeptical about putting this song out. Can you imagine that? One of the Stones’ most famous songs almost didn’t make it past the cutting room because they were sure it didn’t have enough potential.

But Brian Jones not only saw potential, but elevated it. Before Andrew Loog Oldham discarded the song, Jones grabbed some mallets and pounded…er..tapped the song’s most prominent and recognizable riff. As soon as he laid that down, the song became something else entirely. Jones saved this track from being a throwaway through his sheer innovation.

The most heartbreaking aspect of this story: Jones never got rightful credit for this work and the song is still billed exclusively under the Jagger/Richards moniker. Though Jones was cool with this because he just wanted to make music with his “friends,” it does make his buried legacy all the more tragic.

Paint it Black (Aftermath)

Brian Jones’ contribution to this particular song is probably more widely known than any of these others. Around the time this song was being cut, Jones was exploring ethnic music; he would make regular trips to the far east and devour their musical abilities voraciously. It was only a matter of time before what he was hearing became what he was playing.

His sitar riff on this track is significant for that very reason. It is, without a doubt, the track during which Brian has the most control. Using an Eastern pentatonic scale, Jones practically blends cultures together with one captivating riff.
The rest of the band hesitated to flirt with influences outside of the blues, but Jones was brave (or stubborn) enough to ignore this and step further into the dark. For that, he was both rewarded and condemned.

No Expectations (Beggars Banquet)

The story behind this one is particularly heart-breaking. The Stones always had a contemptuous attitude towards Jones when it came to recording in the studio.  Even before his mental and physical decline due to drugs and pressures of the outside world, they used to unplug his microphones whenever he played a part and act like they caught it on tape.  It was yet another example of the cruelty that the Stones possessed in regards to their old friend.

But during the summer of 1968, as the Stones were recording Beggars Banquet, some of their practices became reasonable.  Jones would come to the studio, high and practically drooping over in his seat in the studio. He had a little more than a year on this earth and he was enduring some truly soul-crushing moments: his charade of a trial, the estrangement of his band mates and the feeling that he was losing his band. During this difficult time, Jones did something that his band mates could not ignore. While the band was recording the second track off the album, “No Expectations,” Jones sat down in a circle with his soon-to-be former band mates. He picked up an acoustic guitar and his slide and contributed undoubtedly the song’s most defining moment. It’s a beautiful solo with a tragic melody which becomes even more tragic with the story of how it was recorded.

Yes, Mick’s lyrics are great on this track, but without Jones’s slide guitar the song wouldn’t carry the emotional weight we can still feel today. It’s such a powerful melody that even his former band mates now cop to it being the last time “he was involved.” While the song may have once again been credited to Jagger and Richards, the truth of the matter is this: “No Expectations” is Jones’ swan song to the band and his life and to the music that he loved so dearly.


There’s one final aspect that makes Jones significant – his charisma. Before Keef became the dangerous one, Jones was already dabbling in his own sort of black magic. Inspired by the legend of Pan, Jones fashioned himself as the band’s leader. He was arresting both on and offstage. From his fashion, to his stage moves, to the fact that he was always the best in early Stones interviews, Brian Jones knew how to be Brian Jones. And as you can see in this interview, Mick and the others were not content to be in the backseat for long:

Let me be clear on one thing – the point of this piece is not to make people dislike the Rolling Stones, post-Brian Jones. Mick and Keith wrote some of the best Stones music ever made after Jones passed (“Monkey Man” makes that point). If I truly despised those two, I would not have shelled out a stupid amount of money to catch them on their Sticky Fingers tour (in the nosebleeds, getting drunk with the rest of my fellow peasants). But the idea that Brian Jones is nothing more than a footnote in the history of one of the greatest rock n roll bands of all time is something that I can’t abide. Pioneers get shot down with arrows, but we should at least give them a proper memorial. Brian Jones deserves to be acknowledged as an intricate and critical part of his band, the Rolling Stones.

It’s as simple as this: without Jones, there would be no Stones.

Art by Daniel Zender

Resources include:

  • Brian Jones: The Making of the Rolling Stones by Paul Trykna (2014)
  • “Jagger Remembers” by Jann Wenner (Rolling Stone Magazine, 1995)
  • Stone Alone: The Story of a Rock ’n’ Roll Band by Bill Wyman (1997)

    Edited by The West Ghost

Jeff Cooper: Whatever by Mail

For many of us, there was one important moment in our lives where music stepped in to shape our understanding of life. And for some, this experience opened up a new world where we would live for years to come. This blog is interested in the stories behind those magical and formative moments. Here’s one such story as told by Jeff Cooper:

Where were you when you had this experience?

I was in Bryan, TX (my hometown). The year was probably December 1996 – I was in 9th grade. I was chilling in my room listening to the only cd stereo I’ve ever had.

Do you remember how you were feeling generally or what you were doing in the moments or even weeks beforehand?

Likely just feeling ok, going to school where I was raising all sorts of hell. It was a really small school and being the only one (out of 14) in my grade who wanted to have fun instead of study, I sort of ‘took one for the team’ a lot of time. I caused way more trouble there than I would later in life, when surrounded with like minded troublemakers.

In this particular case, I had just ridden my bike literally across two towns to pick up this import cd I ordered from the best record store ever (Marooned Records on the main drag in College Station, TX – long gone). It was the Whatever single from Oasis – a non-album track that I only caught a brief glimpse of in a passing MTV promo – it was the one song I couldn’t find on any of my albums. How I found this out pre-internet, I cannot remember. I guess I looked at what I could order and found one I had no idea about (‘Whatever’) – I plopped down my $12 and ordered it. It took about 4 weeks to come in…so I guess you could say I had been waiting.

Did anyone introduce you to this album?

As with almost everything else I did in QuaintComfortableShithole, USA, I was pretty alone in my research, experience, and subsequent appreciation of this.

Can you recall the temperature of the air?

The air would have been cold – not only because it was December, but it was a long hour each way bike ride, so I was pretty chilly. My lungs were probably very fresh, and I guarantee I came straight in from the bike to the cd player in my room, so I was probably breathing heavily.

What colors does this memory recall?

Muted pastels. Pink, sunset sky mixed with the blue of the afternoon. Bubbly, washed out green and the shine of reflective plastic from the cd case and artwork which I know I digested intently.

WGoasis

Describe your emotional state during this moment.

Pretty wide-eyed. It was definitely the longest bike ride I had ever done alone, and it had gotten dark by the time I got back. I really had no idea if this thing I kind of randomly went out on a limb to find (I was not a huge fan at the time, just a curious archivist) was actually what I was looking for. Again, since this was pre-internet, I really had no idea what was about to come out of my speakers. I’d say total, receptive, open curiosity.

Describe any physical reactions you had to what you were hearing.

I went catatonic. For a young teenager, the strings in the lead track were pretty lush at the time. It sounded very refined – like cool music but with a ton of class. It was also unlike most anything in America at the time, or anything on the radio, so it felt totally foreign and incredibly interesting. The next song completely floored me – huge distorted guitars, lyrics that didn’t say much but felt so right. Then the third track – holy shit, the opposite end of the spectrum, super muted keyboard, single snare drum (ha, is that where my obsession started?), totally hit me right in the chest with the lyrics. Then the last track which was actually an album track I had missed (last track on the record). So the physical reaction must have been wide eyes, and stillness.

How did you feel when the moment had passed?

Total shock, disbelief, contentment, success. Not only had I found exactly what I was looking for, I opened a whole new door, and got a new view on the things right under my nose.

Did this experience make you feel more or less satisfied with your life?

I’d have to say more satisfied. I had followed this totally passing whim just to test how far I could take it, and it worked. I found this rare gem of a song from a split second I heard once on TV. I had new a ammunition of music to love and revel in that was 100% my own – I wasn’t trying to copy anyone else which felt good. At the time, I probably didn’t realize how that same feeling would go on to later alienate me in a lot of ways.

Are there any events, decisions or actions which shaped your life as a result of this specific experience?

I’d have to say too many to mention. I was able to always lead the pack when Oasis came to Houston (I’ve seen at least Noel Gallagher at every chance in the same theatre since 1997 – which is like 3 times). A concert with friends, even a big ol’ show in the big ol’ city is always fun.

I bonded with one of my best friends in college when he returned FROM MANCHESTER after he had saved up and flew out just to go to the concert. We’re very close and still still talk to this day.

I’ve also sought out many of those rare imports since then – which can be kind of an addiction.

Are you still getting something out of this experience?

All the time. Still get high as hell when I hear the songs off this cd especially. Still follow the band (disbanded), especially Noel, not so much Liam or his new band. Always finding new quotes from the guy (he’s hilarious how biting he can be), and then saw him the last night of his tour at the same theatre where I’ve always caught them. They played one song “Idler’s Dream” that I couldn’t believe I was hearing…they had never once played that song before that night. Also they played the two b-sides off this very record. I was thrilled.

WGjeffcoop

Jeff Cooper is still living and making music. He’s done some traveling and and relocating, but is back in Texas for the time being.

The Match That Lit J.R. Top

For most of us, there was an incredibly important moment in our lives where music opened up a world where we could lose ourselves for years to come. For some, this translates to years of seeking, appreciating and following. But for J.R. Top, this lead to intense creativity and prolific songwriting. As Sweetwater Abilene, he was a beloved Missouri storyteller of rock and roll. As Booyah! Dad, he lit up Little Rock, Arkansas with a more playful approach to his talent. Now a (slightly) more domesticated Texan, JR is still writing and still inspiring. Here, he tells us about the day he decided it was time to create.

WG: Where were you when you had this experience?

JR: 14 years ago, I was at Cornerstone Music festival. I was right up front waiting under a hot, sweaty, dusty tent out on a farm in Illinois. I had been listening to a Havalina Rail Co. record called Russian Lullabies for a few months beforehand and was anticipating them walking out on stage.

Do you remember how you were feeling or what you were doing in the moments or even weeks beforehand?

I had just graduated high school and was working as a secretary at the small southern baptist church  I attended. I had seen some posters for this band and heard a few friends talking about them. I borrowed the Russian Lullabies cd from my mentor and guitar teacher who really introduced me to them.

I was feeling excited and curious to see what was going to happen when I finally got to see this band, who I had been enjoying a lot on record, perform live for the first time.

Can you recall the temperature of the air? Any particular smells?

The air was hot, humid and dusty. It smelled like tar had been poured over gravel to keep the dust down, like a diesel engine and dirty sweat.

When the time came, how did you feel watching this band perform?

I was ecstatic. I had never heard music like that, nor seen it performed that way. I was smiling, yelling – just generally losing my shit. I had no idea that you could even do what was being done in front of my eyes. It was mind-blowing.

At the time, I was listening to all kinds of Christian Rock – Steve Taylor, The Choir, Adam Again, Plankeye, 5 Iron Frenzy, Danielson Famile, Blenderhead, a lot of Tooth & Nail label bands and a lot of Sonic Youth. It wasn’t so much as what I was hearing, as it was what I was seeing. I had heard it before but had never observed it.

This sound struck something in my soul; there was beauty, chaos, and the joy of playing music and letting it go where it wants.  It was rock, eastern block, avant-garde, Latin, all in a structure that made sense.

What colors or textures does this memory recall?

Red, black, sunburst, the texture of sweaty skin.

How did you feel when the moment had passed? 

I felt amazing. I knew what direction I wanted to take my music. I had finally found my path. I finally found something that mattered, that I could be a part of. These people, who I could meet and talk with, made art. They were gods, and I could touch them, converse with them. I was finally on a level field that made me satisfied.

What events, decisions or actions which shaped your life as a result of this specific experience?

I will always be getting something amazing out of that experience. It stays with me always. As a result, I started recording a fuck ton of really weird records, finding my voice, and following a path.

As you moved forward pursuing musical experiences, did you compare them to this moment?

It set supremely high standards of what music and a show should be like. I saw people clap at musical interludes before the song wasn’t even close to over. I saw how to engage. I compared many experiences to this moment at the beginning, until I realized “Don’t copy. Make.”

Sleep and Memory : Phoenix Lee

For most of us, there was an incredibly important moment in our lives where music collided with us and opened up a world to get lost in for years to come. This blog is interested in the stories behind those moments. They’re a beautiful reminder of the emotions, the magic, and the mysterious something calling to us from our speakers.
Here’s one such story by Phoenix Lee:

I was sixteen in Columbus, Georgia. Downtown to be exact, in the passenger seat of a dark green 2001 Chevy Malibu that was owned by my then-girlfriend Sara. She had just picked me up from work (at the time I was washing dishes and bussing tables at the local Texas Roadhouse) and we were headed to the cool kid cafe.

Downtown Columbus is very simple. It is one street, Broadway Ave, that has a wide median in the middle. All of the buildings are old and the trees that make even lines down the street are fairly young.

I was feeling very relieved to be off work, excited to get into some trouble, and lucky to be loved. I had just started this job not too long before this moment, and was so far enjoying it. Sara had just had prom the week before, and I was allowed to be here date even though I had dropped out of high school the prior year. We had grown very close during the last few weeks because we were able to spend more time with each other since high school was over for her. We shared everything, and were able to express our emotions freely and without judgement.

As we neared our destination, she grabbed her iPod (I don’t exactly remember what was playing at the time) and said “I need to hear something.” Scrolling through, she quickly found what she was looking for and cranked up the volume…

It was early summer, the windows were down, and the sun was beginning to creep down behind the buildings. Because of its close proximity to the Chattahoochee River, downtown always smelled a little fishy, a little trashy, and yet the smells of barbecue and pizza were ever present at this time of day.

…What began to play was “Sleep,” the third track off the album Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This song starts out with an audio clip of an old man talking. He is telling the audience about Coney Island, and how it used to be when he was a child. He was a very warm voice, happy and reflective–with an olde New York accent. As he continues, his voice becomes more sad, by the end you can almost hear the tears coming into his eyes as he describes how desolate the Island has become and how much it has changed.

At the time, I had only seen pictures and old video of Coney Island–so those images were projected straight into my mind, becoming darker and more broken down as his narrative continues.

I was curious to know who this man was, but I could almost feel his sorrow coming through the sound and working its way into my heart, giving me slight goosebumps. Everything else seemed to fade away into his story. I no longer noticed being in a car, I no longer cared where we were headed. And when he finished talking, the music began, and Sara hastily switched it to something more upbeat–I think it was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs–as she pulled into a parking garage. But I wanted to know more. And for the rest of the day, I was very somber and introspective, not necessarily thinking purely about the song…but it was more like the song had opened areas of me that I had never taken the time to know and acknowledge.

At the time I did not know how important this moment would be to the rest of my life.

During the following months, I got caught up with some shady characters and started doing way too many drugs. It was a very bad time for me; my mother has basically disowned me and kicked me out, Sara tried to help but I pushed her away. I needed to get away. So I did. With nothing but a skateboard, a backpack, and a CD player, I took off. One of the CDs I took was Lift Your Skinny Fists….

Over a couple months, I managed to hitch and skate all the way up to Washington state. Along the way I became more and more attached to Godspeed. I would listen to their albums while I went to sleep, and when I awoke. I would listen to them as I explored new cities and the wilderness of America.

wgphoenix

Fast forward a few years, and my love for the band has only grown–and I have expanded that love to incorporate side projects of the band as well, mainly A Silver Mt. Zion.

They do not tour regularly, only when they release a new album (which Godspeed did not do for about 11 years until 2012). Luckily, I managed to see ASMZ in Chicago with a dear friend of mine this year (2014). It was, so far, the best show I’ve ever been to. I will always cherish those days, and that show, for the rest of my life.

When I was a kid (about 7 or 8) there was a playground near my grandmother’s apartment. Everyday after school I would get together with my friends and play there. Eventually life went on, I moved away, and the playground was only a memory. Years later, after I had seen other parts of the country and had grown up, I went back to this playground. It was in ruins. Rusted. Dilapidated. A useless junkyard. From then on, I knew exactly how this old man felt, and the song resonated that much more–because our experiences were one in the same.

The group of musicians that make up these bands have gotten me through heartache, addiction, boredom, depression, and so much more over the past seven or so years. They opened my ears to music I never would have found otherwise. And they have been a large influence as I shaped my own ideals and dreams into adulthood.

As I’ve matured as a person, the messages and sounds of Godspeed and ASMZ have only become more a part of me. They have made it easier to accept love into my life, and to love everyone–no matter what. They have helped me to see the beauty in everything around me, and to know what’s truly important (love, hope, and joy).

Phoenix Deets is a traveler and poet, currently contributing to midwest zine, Wizard Spit. 

From Tutti Frutti, to his own Short Stories : Andy Ferro

For most of us, there was an incredibly important moment in our lives where music collided with us and opened up a world to get lost in for years to come. This blog is interested in the stories behind those moments. They’re a beautiful reminder of the emotions, the magic, and the mysterious something calling to us from our speakers.
Here’s one such story.
WGelvis

Andy Ferro’s lead guitar puts the beach vibe in Nashville’s gypsy psych band, Ranch Ghost. This year he released his own set of songs, a beautiful stripped down collection titled Short Stories. Here he shares a memory from 17 years ago, when he first heard Elvis Presley’s version of Tutti Frutti.

Where were you when you had this experience?
In the living room of the flat where I was born. There was a green corduroy chair and a bay window with a view down to the garden.Do you remember how you were feeling generally beforehand?
I don’t remember how I was feeling, but I must have been ok because I was trying to do the splits.Did you make this discovery yourself?
My dad put the record on.

Did your interaction with him change as a result of this moment?
We’ve always connected over music. I don’t know that this particular moment changed anything for us, but it was certainly important.

Can you recall any particular smells?
I can’t remember. I think I remember it being kind of dusty in there though.

What colors or textures does this memory recall?
Wood floors, beige paisley, cream colored walls with white trim. A hi-fi with little shiny stickers of airplanes on it. I think my sister stuck them there. They’re still on there.

Describe your emotional state during this moment.
I don’t think I had learned how to worry about anything yet.

Describe any physical reactions you had to what you were hearing.
I had the urge to do the splits. I thought I was pulling it off, but I think it was more of corkscrew flop thing to the ground.

How did you feel when the moment had passed?
I have no recollection of subsequent events. I probably pretended to be a lion for a while.

Did this experience make you feel more or less satisfied with your life?
That was probably the most satisfied I’ll ever feel. I was 5, didn’t know how to worry, and could do the splits. What more could I have asked for?

Are there any events, decisions or actions which shaped your life as a result of this specific experience?
I’m driving to California to play music right now. I think moments like that probably scooted me in this direction.

How do you feel about the song now?
I love it more now than ever.

As you moved forward pursuing musical experiences, did you compare them to this moment?
I’ll know I’ve made it when someone’s listening and busts out the splits.

WGferro

Listen to Short Stories HERE.