Saturday, April 21, 2007

On Jamming

what i'm listening to right now: Instant Pleasures by Simply Saucer

This post started out as a response to Michael in the comments to his post about Phish vs. The Grateful Dead. I ended up getting a little long winded for just a comment. Then I started talking about how Neil Young makes me feel like a loser. So I moved it over here.

By the way, this is my 50th post on this blog. A milestone has turned, or something like that.

So, jam bands. Or jamming to be more specific. There's nothing wrong with that. Michael's right, it gets a bad name, when it can be very adventurous musically. It can really change your perception of the music. (Most) every musician that I respect does it. It's kinda like masturbation. You don't talk about it with your friends that much, unless that's all your friends talk about (hippies). Shit, The Velvet Underground did it. Ever listen to any of the live albums? "Sister Ray" is a kinda-jam.

Just like any genre, or more specifically, just like any musical apparatus, jamming has it's transcendent moments, and it's large pool of pretenders. Unlike Mike, can I call him Mike? I'm sure I can. Unlike Mike, I would put Phish in that pretender pool. Phish, while technically proficient, has that one string that they pull. The jam, and that's it. The jam has to have some root in a song. A jam is a device in a toolbox, not the box itself.

The Grateful Dead on the other hand, and Mike argued this same point, so I'm just reiterating here, always had a song to return to. If they went off for thirty minutes, they always had the choice to return to a great melody and for the most part, some fairly great lyrics.

My personal favorite jamming, though is the jamming of Jimi Hendrix. In the last decade a shit ton of posthumous live albums have come out. Some better than others, but the one theme that runs through all of them is "holy shit, I'm listening to the greatest musician ever". The same kind of feeling when you listen to John Coltrane completely freak out on his saxophone. Jimi's jamming is more like Coltrane than Garcia. It's much more about unconscious musical ability. There's more emotion than there is "this would sound cool if I did this..." The difference between these two musicians and the rest of the world is their need to do this, in an instinctual sense. Like you can't imagine anyone else taking the triteness of "My Favorite Things" and turning it into a towering monster that scrapes the bottom of heaven. Like you can't imagine anyone else making their guitar sound like a machine gun for twelve minutes, and actually, sincerely mean it.

I might throw Neil Young into this group. Less graceful than either two, but there is real emotion behind his ragged playing. Neil Young really makes me feel like the underachiever that I am. By the time he was 24, he had been in a band with Rick James, Buffalo Springfield, made Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, After The Goldrush, AND Harvest. Damn. I can't really compare with that. How great is "Down By The River"? It's one riff, and like eight words.

While I was looking for a picture of Neil Young & Crazy Horse, I happened upon the picture above. I always forget about the Crazy Horse on a mountainside thing, and everytime I stumble upon it again, I'm once again blown away.

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