Blue Collar #6
By Mick Polich - 08/20/2007 - 10:22 AM EDT
The Story So Far (or: Darwin’s Theory Of Music De-Evolution)
We’ve all got a musical history, and secretly… we want to SHARE IT WITH THE WORLD!!!
Look back on your music career/ life: what do you think you see?
Interesting? Boring? Disappointing and poopy? “ Well, come on, compared to Bono, Ani DeFranco, Phish – it’s just KA – KA!!!”
Is it, though?
We’re lucky, good people. Very, very lucky. Think about our current world state: the Taliban, Third World artistic suppression, even myopic ‘moral’ blinders for the ‘ is it art or garbage’ forum. Man, any time you can get out to gig and ‘express yo’ self ’ is a good day above ground, people – am I right? This installment, we’ll look at some life examples of when a person needs to look back, take stock, and say that it was all good ( even when it didn’t appear to be ). I’ll center my tale around two different life periods from me own path – 1965 – 1975, then 2001 – 2006. At first, I was going to plunge headlong into a morass of blah blah about all my musical roads from birth to NOW, but good gawd, that would be long and really a crickets-chirping-in-the-silence-of-the-concert-hall-with-no-audience-response-thing, so fug it, as my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Pine, would say (no, she wouldn’t, but to any of my Woodside Jr. High classmates, wouldn’t it be funny if she DID????).
1965: post - Kennedy, post - Camelot for us boomers . As is today, the news usually starts with grainy, black-and-white footage of the dead and ravaged in South Vietnam. It was so common, it’s in grained in my memory like a gravestone etching. Also, the glean of the post World War 2 years is at an apex – suburbs, factory and white collar jobs, and the advertising for the American Dream comes thru the wonder of color TV and AM radio, dotting our collective consciousness. Popular music is on the verge of another shift –rock and roll, at first greasy, dangerous, subversive, gets caught by Madison Avenue, and cleans up in a white shirt, Brylcreem, and loafers. Pat Boone, Fabian, Frankie and Annette – lord, lord, what is…….. THIS???
I’m seven years old, the age of Reason, and somehow, my seventh year seems to fall into my most beloved, and memorable, as did the 12th, 16th, and 18th birthdays - before the Dawn Of Work, and the Discovery Of Music, Girls, Life, Beer, and the rest of the cake mix of being. I’m pretty aware at seven, at least when it comes to pop culture. AM radio, I already understand as a force and concept: the “Good Guy” DJ format, already “Saturday Night Oldies” shows hosted by KIOA’s Dick Youngs - Youngsy, the Youngster, I would meet him years later trying to peddle my orignal songs on a radio format already shifting to more talk, less rock in the 1980’s. I’m tying all the music of the mid-60’s in – Motown, especially Motown, the Beatles, the rest of the Brit Invasion stuff, the fading of my dad’s beloved Pop Music from the 1950’s – to the emerging culture shift. Malcom X, Bobby Kennedy, ’65 Mustangs, Mc Donald’s, sniff, sniff, what’s that smell, what, hippies? What are they doing out on the coast? The world in social change and flux – some would consider the 1960’s the great opening to a new age, while others would consider it the Bane. Music, art, movies, culture - it all ties together in my little mind. In the summers, I walk up to Couchman and Wilson’s, the last of the old-time soda jerk/ drug stores in our neighborhood. I’ve got maybe a quarter, maybe fifty cents to spend, but I get kicked out after three HOURS of figuring what to buy: two comics, Batman, Spiderman, Justice League or Thor, plus what about Ed “Big Daddy” Roth bubble gum trading stickers? Or should I add to my Batman trading cards selection? God, I hate that Batman show – why don’t they take it seriously, it’s so stupid, but I’ll watch it anyway and ruin my eyesight…..
Enter the Saving Grace of Our Lady Of Perpetual Radio – got a little AM transistor unit here, cool, yeah, this is such a mystery why I like it, this music, but I do. Maybe someday I can grow sideburns, and drive a cool Dodge Charger or a hot rod ’64 Chevy Impala SS with mag wheels, and a chrome blower, YEP!!! All this leads to the virginity of youth, discovering things for the first time, that feel, smell, touch – the thing we all try to get back to for the rest of our lives.
I pretty much embraced FM radio when it first developed, which is a big part of the tale also, because FM was a catalyst for the free-flowing format of embracing all music types and some free-thinking discussion forums, especially in the early morning hours ( I can’t help but think of the old SNL skit with Tim Meadows, “ Perspectives”, and the on-running joke throughout it regarding the EARLY morning hour the show airs, like “ 2 o’ clock in the a.m.”……so very true for the early FM days ). My dad got me one of the first AM/FM/ shortwave portable cassette decks on the market, I’m thinking this is 1969, 1970. Anyway, Electricity comes to the Heart Land, no matter what the time line – boy, was THAT a concept. Just like your grandpa tuned in to the old tube-type Philco, my ears were picking up on broadcasts local and international : o.k., hmmm, wow, is the French? It sounds like it. How about that local FM station, KFMG? What’s this jazz stuff? Miles Davis, who’s that? “Bitches Brew” – how can they call a record by THAT name? ( More knob diddling)…o.k., wow, they sure play a lot of different music styles on this bandwidth…definitely some cool stuff happening here….think I’ll set my alarm for 3 a.m. for these old radio programs tonight. Ah yes, kids - the Ol’ Mickster strokes his developing soul patch, and wistfully thinks back to a codger ‘in-my-day-we didn’t have heat-or-water’ moment - the only FM stations coming close to this format nowadays are NPR and small college stations ( check out WREK in Atlanta ). But, time is a master, and it moves on, as should we all……
Those early AM and FM days affected my concept of embracing all music, to give each style some time, due, and grace. In 1975, I really picked up the guitar for good, to plunge into a path of another mystery. A year later, I got accepted into the pep band at Saydel Sr. High to play guitar during basketball games that winter. Wow, amazing, AND I get to use my wah-wah pedal ( very, very important move here )! The next step was 1977, when I joined the band program at Saydel. This is critical to the folklore because the “ Virgin Mary sighting” moment comes up quickly (hey, sorry, it’s the ol’ Catholic imagery thing, it’s INGRAINED…).
Our jazz band starts an afternoon practice – I’m cued up with my Electra Les Paul copy guitar, ready for anything. The tune starts off – I can’t recall the exact number - then, THEN, something happens. A tingling, a rush, a euphoric feeling – I, I , can’t describe it. So, THIS is what they talk about, that ’ musician’s rush’. Wow, o.k., yeah, this is GREAT (nothing else to compare it to at that time in my life, if you know what I mean), but nonetheless, yep, I’m in ! And that moment – that feeling, that flow of complete oneness – THAT is what I believe all artists try to get back to forever in their careers.
So, this is it, this oneness, this pastoral, visceral, yet exciting flow to the senses – making sounds on a music instrument, apart and together with more people from the Club. And it’s all new, yet it’s been a force and form that’s been growing since birth. Now, it’s my job, my vocation, my life, to seek it out, and help shape it, nuture it, make it HAPPEN, thru me - the tricky part. No road map, schematic, or heavenly advice from St. Cecilia – got to find out on my own…..
Run the life cassette machine, fast forward to July, 2001 - another UPS transfer to Atlanta, the “New York, New York” of the South, and so far, I’m believing it. Cradle of the civil rights movement, yes, and reminded by our real estate agent, yes, we Yankees did swoop down and burn it to the ground ( thank you, o.k., let’s put it to rest now ), home to Hank Aaron, Home Run God in spite of insipid racial insensitivity – but, Atlanta, the Allman Brothers just south of here, Macon, the big house, Athens to the east – R.E.M. and the Southern indie rock movement, and yes, all you ‘80’s dancers, the B-52’s. But wow, there are more pockets of culture than what I imagined – Pakistani, Indian, with radio shows for their music on WREK, along with other stations. Cool –I like it already!
By August 2001, I have a few music students and most of the accounts that would make up Polich Electronics, my repair shop, for the next 5 years. But, I’m also looking for players, and my game plan for finding them changes like new born diapers. For now, the old-school days of going to clubs and jamming are turned off at the domestic faucet – husband, dad, with a wife who travels for work and a 2-year old at home – won’t work. So, a new day, a new approach.
Steve, one of my guitar students who is my age, and just coming back into the discoveries of the guitar after a long life – layoff, is becoming a friend and a musical confidant. One day after a lesson, I suggest to Steve a plot to put an ad in the neighborhood newsletter to look for people who want to jam. This sounds good, but in the back of my mind, I have a secondary motive : why not get some assemblage of a group going, maybe play a gig for the neighbors ( after all, out of 623 homes, there’s gotta be some old codgers out there willing to plug in and turn up…)? I can’t remember if Steve-o initially responded with cautious optimism or a hearty ,”Hell,yeah!”, but it was a go, at least between the two of us.
Players from the neighborhood responded quickly – unbelievably, we had enough for a band (give or take a small guitar army). The first gig was at our neighborhood’s annual Memorial Day party in 2002. With players of various ages and experience, the gig came off, we were a ‘ hit ‘, and thus, a new tradition was born in the ‘hood which carries on today. This probably won’t be the last time I’ll delve into the “ MB 5/Bridge Brothers And Sistas “ legend, namely because there are too many interesting and talented characters to yap about in this tale! But how this ties in that initial rush of first discovery is : 5 ½ years after the fact, I’m growing tired of the music biz. Tired of re-inventing myself, thinking I’m just another old fart, trying to relive a few dreams of youth and make some money happen in an industry that might not want me anymore (o.k., please cue the swelling violins and violas….). My shop, while it looks good to the naked eye because I have accounts and a basement full of work, does not look good on paper. I’m involved with our church choir, the Bridge Band, the group Mary and I had started, the Groove Kings, old classic codger rock with a great little bar band called the Mixx (thanks for the gig, Rosa!), NewHeart, a ministry band that plays in Atlanta’s homeless shelters, and a jazz duo/ trio. And, even the initial heady years of building my teaching business are fading –students lost to the usual: competition, school activities, and life in general. Truth is, I’m burning out and I’m losing my way – can’t do all of it, even though I would like to. Then, we find out we’re relocating to Dallas/ Fort Worth. Oh man, no, but maybe I could set my good friends up with gigs so they can continue on, wipe the slate clean, and see what happens out West for our family. Easier said than done, El Presidente! A prayer to the Great Spirit and a slam on a power chord thru a Marshall amp – I move forward.
But then the magic unfolds in the sadness of moving and leaving close friends. First, a surprise party/gig at our neighborhood clubhouse for Mary and I : the Bridge Bruthas/ Sistas have been rehearsing like mad and it shows - probably the best the band has sounded; I’m mighty proud. Not all, folks, because my ‘gold watch’ gift is the coolest Mex-Tele electric guitar I’ve ever played, signed by the band! Then, that feeling, that elusive feeling hits me, but in a different way. Yeah, jamming with the band feels good, as it will in the coming weeks for other going away parties with the other groups. But, I feel like I left the camp site cleaner than when we first got there ( my brilliant wife will drop that quote, and I love her for it!). Gave something back, made some lives a little richer through what I know from the arts and music. Set some people up to continue some things I started, only in their own way, in their own fashion. And the story continues: the Bridge Band played a great summer gig at the ol’ clubhouse a few weeks ago, sans Fearless Leader, and that was happenin’. St. Ben’s church choir keeps chuggin’ along, with my good buddy Jordan in my old spot. I’ve set up some good friends who are great music instructors with my old student base, and so far, so good. And the Groove Kings played a great set at the Alpharetta Arts Fest this past spring – the gig I was fortunate enough to get as a yearly ‘home’ gig for the Kings. I miss ‘em all, I love ‘em all – hopefully, we will all jam again someday down the pike……
Yep, the” Story So Far “– unfolding and unending, hopefully for a long time down the trail !!
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