I have decided to write a short series on the musicians I’ve played and interacted with in my musical past. All these musicians had an impact on me, and for posterity’s sake I think I ought to make that known. Not only that, a few of them are still cranking out awesome tunes that I can point readers towards.
Way back in the mists of time, in the late 1900s, I was completely missing the death of grunge due to the fact that I missed the birth of grunge, too. I didn’t know much about grunge at all actually. It’s not necessarily that I was too young (though I admit I was only in 4th grade when Kurt Cobain died), it’s more that I wasn’t really that cool.
When I was in 5th grade, my mother insisted that if I wanted to learn how to play guitar I would have to pick a classical stringed instrument first. I didn’t understand her reasoning at all at the time, because I wasn’t interested in guitar whatsoever. I listened primarily to baroque music. If you’re unfamiliar with baroque music, let’s just say that whereas rockers and punks make fun of classical music fans, classical music fans, in a classic example of Freudian displacement, make fun of baroque music fans. Baroque is the least hip, nerdiest version of classical music there is. If classical music is a sci-fi convention, baroque music is the Farscape booth.
However, that all changed when I was in 7th grade – I first heard “Hey Jude” on the radio on a drive with my mother. I was suddenly plunged headlong into the world of rock. To be fair, after exhausting the Beatles’ catalog, I was then primarily interested in progressive rock (mostly Yes), which is basically the baroque music of rock and roll. But I had to ease into this, you know? After that I discovered classic rock, and then ’80s metal, and then Dream Theater, then Phish, and somewhere through all of this the foresight of my mother came into sharp focus, because I began playing guitar, followed by my brother on the drums. I remember forcing myself to read pages and pages of Allmusic.com daily, trying desperately to catch up on every genre and form of metal the rock world had produced over the previous four decades. I didn’t quite get to grunge till about 2002, but I’ll get to that in a later installment.
Once I learned what a minor pentatonic scale was, the world took on a dazzling new color I had never seen before. When somebody plays chords, you can then play scales over the chords! It all seems so simple now – but remember, I was easing into this. My brother and I discovered that staring at each other in the garage and playing the same 10 songs repeatedly lost its charm pretty quickly – especially since this consisted mainly of me ordering my brother onlyto play what I could figure out on guitar (and also sing what I couldn’t, which was most everything). So we decided to start a band. Enter Jordan Bartlett.
Jordan was just a sweet, nice kid who was closer to Thomas in age than me – which suited me fine, because I was the evil taskmaster in the garage. Hey, somebody had to make the tough decisions around there. But Jordan was a great guitar player, too. I got the feeling that he grew up with a slightly different heritage than me – whereas I transitioned into rock basically chronologically from the Beatles to Dream Theater, he went from pop-punk to blues and jazz. Seems like we shouldn’t have gotten along together, but the kid was dynamite. Luckily our common ground was Phish, and we’d spend hours noodling on scales and laughing at the results. There was actually no marijuana involved at all, which gives us no excuse for the resulting mess of noise I’m sure we made.
Jordan had an interesting musical mind, though. His song titles were often strings of nonsense syllables and neologisms that he created, and likewise his guitar style was melodic and eccentric (in a good way). We formed and reformed a few bands with basically the same cast of characters, and these bands had several names, but the only one that sticks in my memory is 4F, a joke that we thought was funny because we – and only we – knew what it meant. A few intense Google searches have convinced me that the website we created for the band has been lost in the digital past, but that’s probably for the best. After all, my nickname in the band was “Anguish Doom.” 4F consisted of Thomas, me, Jordan, my friend Jim whom we railroaded into playing the bass, and briefly a girl named Carrie. Sadly, but true to its name, 4F didn’t quite last too long on the musical battlefield, but my brothers, Jordan, and I still got to play our first band gigs together, and a great time was had for all.
As I got older, I found other musical outlets, and my brothers continued performing with Jordan. I suspect they had more fun than they did with me involved – I was quite intense, driven, and moody when it came to music, and this led me to find a little more peace as a solo acoustic artist. I pretty much lost touch with Jordan, too, once I left for college, though recently we’ve become reacquainted through Facebook. To my pleasant surprise Jordan still writes and records music, and he hasn’t lost that spontaneous creativity and melodic intuition that I remembered when we were younger.
Still, looking back, the happiness I felt in the garage with my ears ringing as a teenager was probably one of the musical highlights of my life, even to this day. Once you understand music a bit more and unpack it, analyze it, and process it, in a way it loses a bit of the magic it held when it was all new and fresh and exciting.
However, as I mentioned, due to my need for artistic control over the situations I’m in, I found a lot more artistic expression in solo acoustic music, and this was my primary mode of expression through the beginnings of college when I moved to Rexburg, Idaho. It was there that I met two people that are still present with me in some ethereal way every time I pick up an acoustic guitar, Rachel Couch and Miles Haeberle.