1982, I was eleven years old. I would not pick up a guitar till my twelfth birthday, but I was intensely interested in music. I self taught myself a little keyboards and did lots of drumming on everything but a drum set. I mostly listened to what my older brothers listened to, a lot of the Doors, The Beatles, The Who, The Stones, Elvis, & the Beach Boys. I would sneak into my brothers room when he went out with his friends and pour over his record collection and listen to an album before he got home. I owned a couple of records, some of the above mentioned artists, & I bought KTeL's Rock 80 album which had Gary Numan & Pat Benatar. I owned High N Dry by Def Leppard, and some 45's by George Harrison, Chuck Berry, and Blondie's cover of The Tide is High, which introduced me to the feel of Reggae.
I grew up in a suburb of Worcester, MA. August of 1982 I did not know Punk Rock at all. I knew more about Rap music then Punk Rock. I had heard the name Iggy Pop and the Ramones were popular. I knew Iggy Pop had a song I'm Living On Dog Food. The Ramones were stars though, they had the movie Rock And Roll High School. At the time I didn't really think of the Ramones as Punk Rock because they were so successful. The closest music I had heard that was Punk Rock to me at the age of eleven was the Clash and the Police. This being the songs by the Clash & the Police that the radio were playing. The hits. Pop music really. The radio did not play early Clash. I could tell though that the Clash were different, and It was rumored they came from Punk Rock roots. One day in the late summer of 1982 my neighbor told me about the Dead Kennedy's. I was eleven. My neighbor told me the Dead Kennedy's were real Punk Rock from San Francisco, California. Before I even heard a song I pondered the name the Dead Kennedy's. It had been less than twenty years previous that John and Bobby Kennedy were murdered publicly. So the name of the band spoke to me. The name the Dead Kennedy's told this eleven year old anything is possible in America. The murder of a president and later the assassination of his brother who was gearing up for a presidential run can happen anytime. I also felt the name Dead Kennedy's was a tribute to the two politicians whose time had been cut short. Growing up Irish Catholic in Massachusetts the Kennedy family were regarded as royalty in my house. Anyway it struck my young growing mind this is a band name that makes you think. The name is multidimensional. Different then say Van Halen.
My neighbor told me the names of some of the Dead Kennedy's songs. I thought about the song titles. I was told the Dead Kennedy's have songs with titles like Kill The Poor and Holiday In Cambodia. I thought who would take a Holiday in Cambodia? Even in 1982 at eleven years old I had heard of Pol Pot's killing fields and his brutality to the Cambodian people. So this was my first brush with sarcasm in lyrics. I recognized it immediately. These lyrics were a long way from the Scorpions No One Like You. Rock music in general. was mostly songs about boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. The most interesting lyrics I remember up till then were the Doors the Soft Parade. All tripped out psychedelic poetry. This was literal on the money irony. Holiday In Cambodia changed the way I thought about music. Kill The Poor went way over my head. I was a child living in Reagan's America where ketchup was now considered a vegetable for school lunches. The sarcasm ran too deep for me. So I thought that The Dead Kennedy's wrote a song advocating doing away with all the poor people. The misinterpreted lyric was way too radical for this altar boy. I was confused. I retreated back to Bryan Adams Cuts Like A Knife. I never even heard what the Dead Kennedy's sounded like. No one I knew had their albums. I was changed though. My thinking of what a song could be was expanded. The summer passed. I got a 3/4 size electric guitar that December of 1982 for my twelfth birthday. I wrote my first song soon after. The song is titled I Want A Beer, it is a pure three chord Punk Rock tune. You can hear it today recorded by Aslan King on his album Kingsville released by my LoZRecords label. I may not have heard Punk Rock but I was beginning to open my mind to the possibilities it allowed. I began leafing through California Skateboard magazines looking for the section on music. I would not have had the courage to write music honestly at age twelve if I didn't learn about the Dead Kennedy's.
Starting guitar lessons in 1983 I mostly fell in line with the mainstream media listening to and studying Rock & Metal guitarists. A few years later though, one evening, late at night, a very brave tv station showed a video of the Dead Kennedy's live in concert. It may have been a documentary. I watched Jello Biafra, East Bay Ray and band destroy the audience with brilliant music and a captivating live performance. The singer Jello used his hand as a puppet as he delivered his lyrics passionately and resolutely into the microphone. I don't remember the songs they played but I got the message. There was no longer confusion. I thought of Holiday In Cambodia and Kill The Poor. The sarcasm. The irony. The politics. I understood the lyrics now in context with the music, performance, and audience. For a second time I was moved. This is indeed very high art. Imagine artists that can change a kids life with just a song title. Without even hearing the song. These same artists, the Dead Kennedy's, reinforced this change in the way I view music, and it's potential, a second time when I witnessed the whole band late one night on the tv.
Art and music can change the way you think. Art and music are powerful.
At least it is to this forty three year old.
3.30.2014 Slightly Stoopid
I have been thinking a lot today about music. Last night old friend
and band mate Josh Driscoll gave me the opportunity to experience one of his current musical efforts working with San Diego band Slightly Stoopid. Josh has been one of the engineers mixing live sound for the band for the last several years on tour. Slightly Stoopid has been touring for almost 20 years growing an audience along the way releasing eleven albums. The band started as Sublime protégés evolving into a unique fierce live band with great songs. I guess I am guilty of being in the studio for the last decade working hard on my own record label, LoZRecords. I have not been to too many shows in the last ten years. I did spend 2010-2011 playing guitar with Boston's Hot Like Fire. Reggae has been in my blood since my first work in the summer of 1990 playing with the Tribulations(John Browns Body). Other than gigging Reggae in the North East a couple of years ago I've stayed in the recording studio. Occasionally popping my head out of the studio to see shows in Boston. The most memorable being Sean Lennon, then Brian Jonestown Massacre at the Paradise. As well I saw a most incredible My Bloody Valentine concert at the House of Blues and Belle and Sebastian at the Wang Theatre. A great Pixies reunion performing the Doolittle album and a spirited return from Mercury Rev. Spending so much time growing LoZRecords and adding artists Cowboy Matt Hopewell & Aslan King to the roster. Releasing my own albums and rereleasing The Secret, Josh and my old bands "Waiting" single. I haven't been to any festivals. I have not seen any real jam bands. Unless I was mixing sound at a local Worcester, MA club. I saw The Grateful Dead reunite as The Dead for a mediocre show. At least mediocre compared to the shows I saw the Grateful Dead play in 1989-1990 when I was a teenager. So here I am 20 years later stepping into a sold out Slightly Stoopid show at Lupos in Providence, RI. Guest list entry. I got the feeling I was in for something as the lights went down and billowing clouds of marijuana smoke filled the air and Brett Wilson from NH, with a Bad Brains shirt is covering Barrington Levy and Sublime to the oohs and ahhs of the youthful growing audience. I meet Josh as the second band Mariachis El Bronx take the stage playing excellent renditions of traditional Mexican Mariachi music with a twist. The singer is singing in English. And we talk. We talk about how American youth have been wanting Reggae music they just wanted someone that looks like them to sing it. Bradley Nowell was that man. Just like the way Elvis brought American youth rock roll in 1956. The kids that maybe wouldn't buy a Chuck Berry, Little Richard, or Bo Diddley record bought an Elvis record. Today these kids who love Bob Marley but maybe couldn't understand the lyrics of Buju Banton, Sizzla, or Damian Marley. They had Sublime. Heroin ended that too soon. Now they have Slightly Stoopid. So when Aslan King and I realize our wrist bands allow us backstage...we go. I see Josh checking the microphones and keyboards. He is making sure the guys in the band can hear themselves on stage. At the mixing board he waits. Slightly Stoopid takes the stage and as the massive front end speakers boom and swelling cheers from the audience resound. Josh calmly makes sure his guys on stage delivering the gospel of dub & dancehall are happy. Aslan enjoys the free bar backstage as we dance in the wings of the stage with a hundred friends and family. The show continues on a trajectory of happiness and a good time had by all. We leave ten minutes before the show ends to beat the traffic. Maybe because I'm older and I don't drink or smoke or maybe because I have to do laundry in the morning and go to church in the afternoon. Mostly because I miss my wife and want to be with her. We leave Providence, RI and I'm thinking to myself...Josh you are doing good work. Im thinking to myself...Slightly Stoopid you are doing good work. Im thinking to myself...hard work pays off. Im thinking of the three new albums I am working on. Im thinking to myself f#ck the pundits who cry for the end of the music industry. F#ck the corporate radio stations that play shit music. I don't listen to that music. Go to a Slightly Stoopid show and have a good time. Live music will be forever in demand.