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"As Good As It Gets" - a Blue Collar Retrospect
By Mick Polich - 10/12/2008 - 09:38 AM EDT

Ever thought that the music that you are or were playing at a certain point was probably going to be a highpoint for you in your career? Of course, a lot of us don’t have that kind of hindsight, especially when we are younger, but if we’re lucky enough to look back on our musical lives, we might be able to take hold of this vision. 

Should we appreciate every single musical moment that is thrown at us, even the bad ones?

I say YES!

Take it from me, people – again, this comes from years of hindsight catchin’ up to the Ol’ Blue Collar Rocker – there are moments never to be captured again that are precious time capsules (or as my ol’ buddy, keyboardist/singer Ron Kennebeck said after one stunning reunion gig that failed to get captured after an audio glitch,” Some gigs are better left up here”, pointing to the ol’ cranium……).

Well, time is a precious commodity, and even when I’m dog-tired, I try not to waste my time, or anyone else’s. I look back on all the gigs (and I do mean ALL gigs) where there was some musical turning point: mid – late 1990’s back in Ohio, where we would record and create experimental electronica/jam based music – my students, amp repair customers, and fellow enthusiasts. Or the ‘Game Feed’ parties at the end of each year at the shelter house in Ankeny, Ia. – upholding a tradition that lasted damn near 20 years in it’s run. Or the two years spent playing Saturday nights at a downtown Atlanta shelter house for homeless men. You begin to realize, hopefully sooner than later, that these are the moments for the music – never to be grasped again, like water running into drains and out into the rivers.

The cool thing is that I can play Jim Hendrix’s “Axis: Bold As Love” album again and again. My moments, unless I capture them electronically, are gone to the wind…..

It’s akin to running a cross-country meet – you run and run the course, not realizing what you’ve covered or where you’re at in the present. At the finish point, you’re exhausted, then your mind starts to recap things about the race. Retrospection can be a cool thing….

Cool thing, as in, hey, look at the music I’ve made, people I did it with, and the places we made it in. Those ‘places’ could be a 3,000 arena, or 60,000 seat stadium. Those places could be in your town’s ‘music row’ of clubs, eateries, and coffeehouse. Or, those places could be a neighborhood event, or small-town festival.

And the music that you’re making at that point in time could be ‘it’ – your only shot to make that sort of music, with those people (or by your lonesome), in those conditions, at that period in time!

Another reflection: getting back to the Columbus, Ohio move in the mid-1990’s, I didn’t realize that I would be making some of the most interesting music of my ‘career’. I spent that first year or two after the September 1994 move just getting over the shock of not living in my home state (eastern standard time – what, the news comes on at 11 p.m.??). Well, some things fell into place – down the street from our home was a cool little coffee joint called the Cappuccino Café – great food (saddled next door to the coffeehouse was a great little deli), good coffee, and live music. Well, I ended up being defacto music director for a few years there – between the Cap and the music store that I worked in teaching lessons, I had two venues for my students to have recitals/jams/performances. Looking back, there were some great musical moments. Jason Riedelbach (and if you see this, Jason, get ahold of me – been wondering what you’ve been up to for the past decade) was an artist/musician who was a student of mine who was busy doing the DJ thing with the ultra-cool, inexpensive, Yamaha DJX keyboard ( $199 all day from Sam Ash). It was the ‘electronica/remix’ era, after all, and I asked him if I could throw some guitar loops and jams over the top of his keyboard programs. He brought his gear down to the Cap one Friday evening, and what a time we had (at least for me, it was exciting) – guitar jams over loops and ambient textures – big fun! I made a couple of CD’s back in the early 2000’s that harkened back to the spirit of those jams (got some good reviews from some on-line prog rock mags…). But that was the time, that was the place – glad I was there….

Sticking in that era, we also formed an experimental music band called the Electric Wellspring Music Co-op – an amalgamation of students and amp repair customers who got to together a couple of times a quarter to set up in an uptown record shop to record and play improvised music. Those jams are on a compilation CD that me and my buddy/fellow musician/former student Frank Anelick released jointly on our different labels (again to good reviews in whatever little press we could garner…). I’ve still got more jams in a tub in my garage, patiently awaiting Remixville from oxide 4-track cassette tape to the brave, new digital world. We pulled out drum machines, synthesizers, guitar looping and processing, and percussion instruments for that one – many different influences converging for those jams. Think electronica, metal, world music, ambient space, a bit of the Dead, and ‘muzik concrete’ colliding together into one glorious mash-up – that was E.W.M.C. We even had a handbook (or started on, anyway), copping some rules from music heroes such as Weather Report (“We always solo, and we never solo”).

We drew up the good ol’ Musical Pendulum, with our polar points being “Chaos” and “Strict Order” – you could fly anywhere between those two points, or hang out at those two points exclusively!  Fun times at Bernie’s Groove Shack, the record shop we would set up in (officially, it was another name, but Bernie wanted to rename it the Groove Shack, so that stuck with those ‘in the know’, so to speak…).

Our time in Westerville, Ohio, was also marked by my first and last time as a concert promoter.  There was a kid who worked for me in my amp repair shop and who was a student of mine – David Fowler (again, Dave, if you’re out there, gimme a shout, o.k.?). Anyway, Dave and I talked about having a venue to let a couple of his buddies bands play at – an outdoor concert in the park. Immediately, I got nostalgic visions of the outdoor concerts that happened back in Des Moines, post-hippie era, in Greenwood Park, which is a beautiful nature park right by the Des Moines Art Center, my home away from home. So, I call Westerville Parks and Recreation, signed the contract and paid the rental fee on the amphitheater, and we proceed to set a date, and move forward. Day of the concert ( a Saturday afternoon), Dave and I were setting up equipment and p.a. when the kids started coming in for the show. Now, at the time, I was nearing or at 40, so I had a good 25 years on most of the participants and show crowd. Talk about ‘ herding cats’ (and without a rent-a-cop, which would have just placed that authority presence there to show everyone what’s what, but I had neither the budget or the foresight – whadda headslapper!)  -  well, that was the first, and last time in that arena! But, the cool thing is, Dave on drums, myself on guitar, and another student on bass, Brad Swackhammer (GREAT rock and roll name!), formed an ad hoc power trio – big fun (at least to us – there were dozens of dumbfounded, deer-in-the-head faces staring at us as we hammered thru original punk/proto metal jams (probably at me, having the distinction of being the OLDEST musician there – yes! Yep, that was the first, and last, “Pants Optional” Fest (Dave gets credit for the name – I thought it was too funny to pass up…)

Last, the now-semi – infamous “Jazz In The Garage” parties – a series of parties we would have at our house, with multiple musicians and bands, running the gamut from rock to folk to jazz. I played bass in the Gay Galvin Jazz Trio – we had a run in Columbus, Ohio playing gigs from 1995 thru 1998. Big fun, the usual suspects on the jazz standards chart, with added emphasis on soul jazz  - I learned quite a bit musically thru that group. Anyway, Mary and I would put on our “Jazz” gigs in our garage, invite the neighbors and friends, and have a wee of a time, with our jazz trio leading the way. In retrospect, we had quite a group of talented friends  - some we met thru Gentile’s, which was a local wine bar where we hung out, others were people that came in at the right time in our lives.

You never know when those special musical, and life, moments will come and go – my advice is to keep your antenna up, know when those moments hit, and savor all the flavors, because they come and go as quickly as the winds. I’ve honed in on one time and place – there were dozens of moments before, and hopefully, dozens to come.

I used to think that the next ‘special’ music moment, or artistic triumph was always around the corner or over the hill – the great song, band performance, recorded ‘masterpiece’. Problem is, given how critical you are, is that you keep waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Ah yes, your tormented, self – absorbed spirit says, “That was CRAP – wait until you see the next creation!” And so it goes, until the day comes when you run out of time, money, energy, or will – then you curse yourself and others as failures ( hmmmm… Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders, anyone?). You’re in a black vortex, and you can’t get your mind to the ‘light’…..

Gee, kinda ugly, ain’t it?

Just think about where you are, and who you are, and where you are going. Gut-check time, and brutal honesty – no sir, don’t like it, but sometimes, that’s what it takes, by gumption.

O.k., don’t snicker, all of you who are hipper-than-thou, but this brings to mind a quote from Mother Theresa : be faithful of small things because there in them your strength lies. Small things – gigs that you may have forgotten about that come back at quite reflections that make you say, ”Hey, yeah, that was pretty good, wasn’t it?” Songwriting sessions that may have yielded at least one of the best lines in your creative tenure – this is the stuff, yep.

Ironically, this article, with it’s content about our musical forays during our stay in Ohio, gets bookended on a sad note – Sam, our 13 year-old Lab retriever, passed away a few days ago. I don’t think I’ve cried for an animal that was as much as a friend, companion, sounding board, and buddy, as much as I have for Sam.

Sam was actually the first being Mary and I cared for – he and Maggie, his sister, were ‘pilot projects’ for Mary and I: we knew the next step was a child after those two. We picked Sammy up when he was 9 weeks old from a breeder in southern Ohio, in 1995 (Maggie came from the same breeder in 1998.Hersey Annie, a beautiful chocolate Lab, was Sam and Maggie’s mom). But if it was running to pick up amplifiers and guitars for repair, teaching music lessons, gigs, or hanging outside on a cool, autumn night with a beer, listening to good music, Sam was always there. Any pet owners will understand how hard it is to let them go  - seems like it’s been a journey, hugging that old brown dog as of late, sensing he didn’t have much time left here, and telling him how much he was loved. I learned a lot about life from Sammy – he could project a lot of wisdom with a smile and a wagging tail……

Sam will be missed, but as my son Andrew has said, Sam left each of us in our family with his emotions, strength, and hope. Unbelievable – where does a 9 year - old boy get that stuff?

Sam’s passing brought it all back home for me in many ways. His death was a reflection back to a time when I was leaving the only life I knew from so many realms, of 35 years in Iowa, and starting a new journey that I had many doubts about because, well, it was frightening leaving behind friends and family, a job, and an artistic identity. Only now I see, as it comes rushing in waves, how many riches I had gotten from that time period – not only in making new friends and building a family, but the abundant musical riches as well. Looking back, and listening to whatever recorded archives that I have in my music library from that time period, there were many creative, artistic experiments, chances taken on new musical roads. And heck, it ain’t over yet, comrades!

And good gravy, it is fall, after all - a time of harvest and renewal! My favorite time of year…..

And this is why, good readers, putting this in our creative perspective, that we need to hold close ALL of our musical experiences – remember the good and the bad, and think about what we’ve gleaned from them. We can learn so much, and see the pathway to our growth not only as musicians and artists, but human beings., as well.

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