Goals, or some shit like that... I'm almost thirty and still chasing music...

Life Goals of a severely disturbed, and severely genius man...


One of the things that has always driven me, one of the things I hope and wish to accomplish before I sign off for the last time, is a deep desire to give, even if to only one other human being, the inspirational gift of music.  No single thing has altered the trajectory of my life in such a distinct and measurable way.  My whole life, as I have mentioned previously, took a significant, inconceivable and wonderfully magnificent turn when I truly embraced music.  And, another way of fleshing out the idea of “truly embraced” is to say “devoted my life,” to music.  Like most people when they are growing up and figuring out what life is and how they might fit into the world around them, I listened to music mostly passively.  That is to say, on the radio in the car or while we were shooting hoops.  Sports were my life, my focus and my thoroughly intense passion back then.  I was going to be the starting shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers or catch passes from Brett Favre at the tail end of his career.  I also loved basketball, but even at a very young age I was well aware of my limitations in regards to someday playing basketball professionally; which is to say, I knew I was short and white (or rather pink, being half red and half white).  At that time, those were the only things I knew:  football, baseball and basketball, with a little hockey and tennis thrown in for good measure.

As I progressed into the terrifically awkward and self-conscious teenage/middle school years, something started to change.  The world was slowly unveiling itself unto me, with all its splendor and glory suddenly coming sharply into focus.  Girls, music, literature, poetry, art, movies, travel and on and on were right there in front of me when, just the moment before, they were not.  It was all new and unconscionably exciting.  I was being pulled in a thousand directions and my brain could barely contain itself.  Things were coming at me from all angles and my poor Aspergian brain was desperately trying to collect them all, process and file these things neatly away.  Only it wasn’t neat, it was a fucking disaster.  I gobbled it all up as quickly as I could, for fear of missing out on something amazing or awe-inspiring.  My brain is such an archivist and a completist that whenever I found something new, I had to fully immerse myself into it and absorb everything I could as quickly as possible.  It couldn’t have been much more than a couple weeks after first reading “Slaughterhouse-Five” that I obtained copies, sometimes multiple, of every Kurt Vonnegut book.  I remember I got them very cheaply by ordering them off this weird internet thing called “Ebay” which used to offer tremendous deals on used items people no longer had a use for.  I can still feel the joy I had opening box after box which contained anywhere from one or two to ten or twelve new books for my consumption.  And I consumed them all, with vigor.  Again and again, I repeated this process.  I can’t tell you how many times I joined and quit BMG music so I could get 12 cd’s for the price of 1 plus shipping.  All of the sudden I needed every Metallica album, every Guns N’ Roses album, every Bon Jovi album, every “Weird Al” Yankovic cassette tape.

Of all the new mediums and modes of entertainment I had recently discovered, music always held the greatest draw.  There was something about it that just captured me in a more visceral way than movies or books or television.  It’s the sort of thing that happens when I see a Salvador Dali painting.  I am in awe and dumbstruck by the brilliance, but inspired at the same time.  Music had the ability to manipulate my emotions like nothing ever had.  Great movies like “Raging Bull” or “Back to the Future” had the same impact, but it was spread out over a couple hours.  I liked the immediacy of music.  Somehow, these artists could, in a matter of three minutes, change my entire day or week.  I couldn’t understand it.  So for years, music was no more comprehendible in its construction than “The Brothers Karamazov” by Dostoyevsky or “The Leaf of the Artichoke Is an Owl” by Gorky.  I had no idea how or why these things came to exist in the world.  I couldn’t fathom how one would go about the business of creating such wonderful, beautiful, magnificent, awe-inspiring things.  There was no way that I could ever be a part of that world in any other means than as a consumer.  That was my role and I relished it.  There was such a small group of truly brilliant people and I, in no way, was included in that ever-exclusive club.  I longed to be a genius but deep down knew I wasn’t.  I wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with these giants but couldn’t.  Alas, it was my Roxbury.

A great change was headed my way, but I was not to know it until many years later.  Early in my musical awakening, I was a huge fan of Classic Rock, Metal and Hair Metal.  Guns N’ Roses was, for a long time, the epitome of everything I loved about music.  They rocked harder, looked cooler, got more chicks and wrote better songs, I thought at the time, than anyone else on the planet.  Then, I found Led Zeppelin, and they rocked harder, looked cooler, got more chicks and wrote better songs than Guns N’ Roses!  Then, I found Bob Dylan, and he…wrote better lyrics…than anyone else on the planet.  OK, that didn’t really work in that regard, but Dylan played an enormous role in my musical development, which I’ll get to in just a bit.  I always thought to myself, “if I could ever play music, I would definitely want to be the lead singer of a Rock N’ Roll band.”  But the Led Zeppelins and the Guns N’ Roses-s and the Bon Jovis (my favorite Bon Jovi memory is from when I was 12 or 13.  My best friend in the whole world, at that time, James, decided, with my help of course, that it was a good idea to try and woo a girl he had a huge crush on by singing to her over the phone.  The song he so skillfully, and appropriately, we thought at least, chose was “Livin’ on a Prayer.”  Needless to say, she was mightily unimpressed by his ability to not really hit any of the right notes.  That final chorus was downright brutal with his untrained voice.  Naturally, of course, I and the other boy who bore witness to this, couldn’t control our laughter and endlessly mocked his enthusiasm, impressive though it may have been.  James certainly didn’t fail that day due to lack of confidence…) all had singers that I knew, even then, had way more talent than I could ever hope to attain.  Because, you see, some people are born with the great gift of talent, and the rest are born like me:   with no artistic ability whatsoever.  I’ll never forget arguing with my art teacher who once gave me an “F” on a set of sketches I submitted for an assignment.  She said they were so bad that she was sure that I had pencil-whipped them that morning before class.  I was so mad, and hurt, seeing as I had spent hours upon hours on them that week, diligently working every night, when I could’ve been shooting hoops with my friends. I desperately wanted to be good at art.  But, she was right, the sketches were terrible.  At least I got her to change the “F” to a “B” by staying after school for an hour to draw in front of her so she could see that no matter how hard I focused and tried, the results were equally shitty.

Now, I realize that having a distinct lack of talent is no longer much of a deterrent in music these days.  Just ask Grouplove, the owner of the worst piece of flaming garbage ever referred to as a “song” (check out their song “Shark Attack,” so you can revel in the comfort that comes with no longer wondering where the bottom is.  The seemingly racist music video is a terribleness all its own, which adds bonus shittiness-points to the song).  But, back then, sucking ass and making people want to murder their earballs was not appreciated the way it is today.  We’ve come a long way, baby!  But, this is the point in the story where Bob Dylan comes back.  He was the first person I heard, which I simultaneously loved and respected AND thought “God, I could sing as good as that guy.”  Listening to the, mostly, simplistic acoustic guitar lines and his vocals, registered in my brain as something that I, as terrifically untalented as I may have been, might actually be able to do!  It was the first of many revelations in regards to my musical future, which, at that point, was still not a thought that passed through my 14 or 15 year old brain.  Shortly thereafter, I saved up my lawn-mowing money and bought my first guitar out of the JCPenney’s catalog.  It was a black Harmony dreadnought acoustic guitar.  It was the most magnificent thing in the world.  Only I had no fucking clue what to do with it.  I couldn’t afford lessons, the internet back then was still just for weirdos who wanted to send “email” and look at porn; and no one I knew had any idea how to use one of these strange contraptions.  Well, first things fucking last.  I very quickly learned two things:

1)  I needed to also purchase a tuner in order to successfully use this thing
2) Sam Goody, in the Beaver Dam mall (R.I.P. thanks to Wal-Mart) sold books that would show me how to play anything I wanted.  The first book I bought, of course, was an anthology of Bob Dylan songs.

Dylan’s influence weighed heavily over my early musical career.  From the simple chord progressions and song structures to the poetic, prose-y type lyrics, I tried desperately to be as much like him as possible.  On my first album, “Burn What You Can, Bury the Rest…,” the song “She Will Never Return to Me” is the last vestige of that early songwriting style I adhered to.
By now, if any of you are still reading, I’m sure you’re wondering “What the fuck does any of this shit have to do with giving the inspirational gift of music to someone?  This is just a long, boring wank about your life.”  Well, you’re right.  But, also, I’m getting there assholes; just hang on a minute…

OK, so here’s the fucking tie-in.  About a year after all that shit, I began to wonder what I really wanted to do with this newfound “magic” music shit.  Dylan was nice, but save for songs such as “Like a Rolling Stone” and “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” he just didn’t “explode” out of the speakers the way I wanted to.  Elvis had it in spades with “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock,” but more or less cooled off beyond that.  Billy Joel’s “Glass Houses” slipped just the tip in.  Hell, even Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” (see what I did there… huh, right?) had its moments.  Then, I got my grandma’s old, buffet-style (literally, on Christmas and Thanksgiving) record player.  It was a motherfucking bitch to get up the stairs to my bedroom, but in the end, I don’t know where I would be without it.  Probably would’ve went to college and actually did something with my life.  You know, made money and shit, like an adult.  Flipside, would’ve been boring as fuck.  I lived a lifetime by the time I was 25 and I loved every minute, even the terrible stuff.  Totally worth it, kind of…

Anyhow, let me set the scene:  young “Brad” is 16, sort of mussing around with this “guitar” trying to figure out what he wants to do with this new “music” thing he’s jumped balls-first into.  After lugging this fucking record player up to his room, he’s bound and determined to use it.  He flips slowly through his mother’s old records, which haven’t been touched in years, carefully examining each one, and pulling out his favorites, based on nothing but a gut reaction to the album covers and his limited knowledge of these artists.  After making a few selections, he returns to his room, delighted in his newfound modicum of music consumption.  It’s so pure and simple, he thinks.  They sent the Voyager Gold Record into space believing records to be so simple and wonderful that even aliens could figure out how to sink a needle into the groove and blast “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” into the outer realms of space; still somehow annoying their begetters, or whatever they hell they call their parents.  He threads up a records and listens, more intently than he has ever listened before.  The clicks, the pops, the hisses and warbles somehow making it all seem more human, more imperfect.  The drums sound more vibrant, the bass more distinct.  The spacing of all the instruments is more like one would imagine them coming from a stage; the guitars over there, the drums booming from the center, the bass anchoring it all down.  One record, then another, booms from the speakers, with “Brad” listening like he’s never heard music before.  Then, it goes silent, the end of record loop.  “What next?” he thinks and examines the stack he’s brought into his room.  And then he sees it.  It has never particularly struck him, though he’s heard a few of the songs.  “Seems more like adult rock than anything I might like.”  Nevertheless, the cover is quite striking.  Dark, contrasting, black and white images set against nothing but a blindingly white background.  It folds out to reveal the entire photo, which he’s never seen before:  a scraggly, skinny white kid with a beat-up Tele and a large, black man with a saxophone.  There’s a smile on their faces that exudes confidence and fun, but hints that there’s more struggle than one might initially ascertain.  The print is bold and clean.  Each song title sounds like it could be a movie from the 50’s or 60’s, starring Marlon Brando and Grace Kelly.  Well, it’s only eight songs, let’s see what it’s got…

He pulls it out, but, being still new to vinyl, lays it B-side up on the turntable.  He turns it on and carefully lowers the needle onto what turns out to be “Born to Run.”  What happens next is still hazy and dream-like.  No sooner had the warm sounds touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the sound of the drums and guitars, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?


OK, for the nerds out there (or the well-read, I’m not discriminating, I’m joining you), you’ll recognize that passage as Proust’s tea-soaked madeleine incident but the sentiment remains, assholes.  I told you I’d fucking bring this back around and here it is:  if, by some intrusion of fate, heavenly or otherwise, I could somehow impart, no, bestow that very experience unto some young child, henceforth, enlarging their world and their experience and their love of beauty, both of this world and within oneself, then I could die, knowing I fully served my purpose on this earth, as a mortal man in God’s image.  That might seem a bit self-aggrandizing but the sentiment holds true.  Music is truly a gift and should be regarded as such.  It has become the bastard child of art in recent times, degraded and reduced to background noise constructed in such a way as to make us “feel” a particular emotion on cue.  People will gladly pay thousands of dollars for a painting they will look at, perhaps, once a month.  But a song they listen to everyday, albeit probably just to fill space while driving/running/shopping/folding laundry/etc., is worth nary a penny.  People would just rather stream a song than buy it.  I could not possibly quantify the dollar amount of entertainment, enjoyment and personal fulfillment “Born to Run” has given me.  I owe it my life, there’s no doubt about that.  I have purchased it countless times, in one format or another, but no mere dollar amount could balance that debt.  “Born to Run” has shaped my life in such a way that it’s impossible to separate the two.  It’s my R2D2 in the escape pod moment, the seemingly galaxy-altering detail told in the seemingly smallest way possible. Proust understood the gravity of the moment where life suddenly became something new, whether he understood the implications or not.  I knew, but I knew not what was happening, only that it was happening.  It was terrifying and wonderful and my life would never be the same.  I hope I can ruin someone’s life in such a way one day.  Ruin it in the most beautiful way…