Today I turn 44 years old. I don’t feel much different from 43. Some days I feel like I’m 26. Other days I feel like I should be retired and taking chondroitin with my prune juice and egg whites in the morning. Tomorrow I’ll probably feel feeble and in my 80s because I worked in the yard today.
So it goes.
I’ve got no complaints about aging another year. Maybe if it could slow down a bit, I’d like that. I’m getting grayer and more sore quicker than I like. My kids aren’t so small anymore, either. Nap time, trips to the Children’s Museum, and that crazed look of glee on Christmas Eve have faded to quiet indifference and sleeping past 9am on Christmas morning(I’m okay with that part.) Time, it’s a fickle beast. Jane can’t stop this crazy thing we call life. It keeps moving whether you’re ready or not.
Every birthday makes that all the more clearer.
I remember as a kid on birthdays I’d have at least one set of grandparents show up for cake and awkward glances as I’d run around the house in Superman Underoos(c’mon grandpa, you’ve never seen a 16-year old boy run around the house in just his underwear. You were a free mason for God’s sake.) I remember my 7th birthday party and the neighbor girl came over with her mom and I hid behind my mom for the first hour. I guess that was my first taste of dealing with the opposite sex. Birthdays were a learning ground for so many things. My 12th birthday party was the best. Me and 4 of my best friends went to Pizza Hut and then came back to my house where they all spent the night. We stayed up watching lousy horror movies and playing with GI Joe figures and Transformers. I think three of us stayed up till close to 4am that night.
My 21st birthday I bought my first new vehicle, a 1994 Nissan pick-up. My parents and older brother drove me to Fort Wayne to pick it up. My brother drove home with me and afterwards we went to the Ye Old Pub in North Webster and ate fried fish and I had my first official “of age” beer, which was a Michelob on draft. Two years later I spent my 23rd birthday in our new home. We’d only been in the house for less than a week so it still had that “empty, we’re new to this homeowner thing” feel. I’d gotten the flu and spent the day between my bed newly minting the toilet.
I have lots of birthday memories. Most of them good. Maybe a couple not so good. But the one thru-line is that you better enjoy ’em as they come because one day you’re hiding behind your mom as she lights the candles on your Boba Fett birthday cake while a confused 8-year old girl looks on, and the next you’re sitting on the couch, newly minted a ripe old 44-years of age typing on the couch as your wife of 21 years and your 12-year old son are in the kitchen making you a pineapple upside down cake.
To another year of learning and loving. To another year of figuring out the difference between relief and joy. To another year of enjoying these days as they come. As they slap you right in the kisser.
March On, Comrade are a hell of a band. They’ve been a band since 2015 when indie pop band Ordinary Van disbanded, but a few of the members decided to keep things going. Ryan Holquist, Charles P. Davis, and Chris Leonard started up March On, Comrade with John Ptak and Ben Robinson. They cut a great self-titled album in 2016, and then at the beginning of this year they played the Sums & Differences show with a 12 piece chamber orchestra. They recorded that concert and released it a month later.
In a relatively short amount of time they’ve achieved quite a lot.
But what do they sound like? They travel in post-rock terrain, but they embellish with crystalline pop hooks. Imagine This Will Destroy You, Sigur Ros, Auburn Lull, and the studio curiosity of Brian Wilson all rolled into one comfortable blanket of noise. It’s dense enough for the headiest of space cadets but there’s an air of romanticism that reels in even the casual channel surfer.
The guys took some time over the spring and summer and wrote and recorded their new album, titled Our Peaceful Atoms. They don’t retool their sound more than they hone it in on all the buzzing beauty and pop confections that they’ve created and culled over the last two years. March On, Comrade have made a lean and precise 6-song album that will go well with both existential pondering alone in the dark, and as a background score to conversations and beers.
I spoke to Charlie and Ryan about the Sums & Differences show, the new album, how it came together, and what we have to look forward to in 2018.
J. Hubner:The last time we spoke March On, Comrade were gearing up for the Sums & Differences show at Artslab. For those that don’t know, this was the March On, Comrade with a 12-piece chamber orchestra show. How did the performance end up? Were you all happy with how it turned out? Is it something March On, Comrade would consider doing again?
Charlie Davis: It turned out great! It actually surpassed my expectations. I expected us to have a good turnout but we were the only band on the bill and it was more expensive than a typical local show so for it to actually sell out in advance was amazing. We got terrific feedback on it. I think we’d like to do something like that again but we also don’t just want to do the same show twice so it is a matter of finding the time to come up with a way to do something similar but unique.
Ryan Holquist: It was very rewarding. It came together really well, and it’s flattering how well-received it was. We quietly snuck the audio onto Spotify and Bandcamp. The only down side of the experience is that we set the bar pretty high for ourselves, and now every time we play we want to have an orchestra and video projection. We didn’t want to record the exact same arrangements, but we were happy to have the same string quartet and percussionist on the new album. Sums & Differences definitely changed our compositional style, and you can hear those elements a lot more on Our Peaceful Atoms.
J. Hubner:So with “performing live with a chamber orchestra” marked off the band’s bucket list, you guys headed back into writing mode and we are now getting ready for the brand new March On, Comrade album Our Peaceful Atoms. How did the album come together? Where did the band record the record?
Charlie Davis: We had started working on a lot of new song ideas around the time of the Sums and Differences show, and that show really gave us a lot of inspiration moving forward. We wrapped up songwriting in early summer and started recording around July and August. We recorded drums at the rehearsal space of our friend Jon Ross, which sadly just burnt down. The rest was done at our own home studios, primarily John Ptak’s and my own.
Ryan Holquist: A couple of the songs basically finished writing themselves as they were recorded. We committed to leaving a certain amount of space and replaced some more standard guitar/drums/keyboard parts with other instruments and atmospheric sounds, such as accordion, kalimba, electronic percussion, and effected samples. We also gave a lot of leeway and freedom to Robert Cheek, who mixed the album. There’s a huge benefit to having outside ears involved in some capacity, and we knew we could trust Robert’s decisions based on his aesthetic and resume (Band of Horses, Tera Melos, Doombird, By Sunlight).
J. Hubner:Four of the six tracks on Our Peaceful Atoms were performed live for the Sums and Differences performance. Do they differ, if any, from those first live renditions? How long have those tracks been around? Do “Path” and “Lost” go back as well or are those newer songs?
Charlie Davis: Of the new songs we played at Sums and Differences, only one had been played at multiple shows before that so the others were definitely in infancy and have had some tweaks done to them since. Doing that show really showed us how well the orchestral arrangements filled them out, so doing them in a way that would leave room for those elements to be recorded was something we made a conscious decision about. “Path” is one we’ve been working on for awhile and has been played out a couple of times now, while “Lost” has never been played live and is the newest song.
Ryan Holquist: A recording puts things under a microscope, so there’s less need to fill things in with extra strums and drum fills. A couple of the songs are pretty close to the live arrangements (“Westlake” and “Terra”), but even some of the others we’ve played live have an intentionally different vibe on the album.
J. Hubner:Stylistically you guys still balance nicely between post-rock and dream pop. I’m hearing a lot more Auburn Lull than say, This Will Destroy You, especially with the vocals. Maybe neither of them play into the sound (could just be my old dude ears), but you guys have done a great job on Our Peaceful Atoms of creating these expansive songs while still giving them a very modern and inviting lean. You seem to be having the cake and eating it too while offering a slice to everyone else.
Going into this record, what were you guys wanting to achieve this time around? What were some influences and inspirations?
Charlie Davis: I don’t know that we set out to achieve anything specifically but we all wanted to push on the boundaries of the last record and see if we could do something different. We weren’t looking for a genre shift or anything like that, but we didn’t want to make songs that would be confused for anything on the last album. I think we accomplished that. These new songs seem to fit into our live show perfectly but if you listen to the two albums they have some very clear differences.
Ryan Holquist: I think we’ll always have a desire to keep certain post-rock elements, but we’re not so committed to that genre that we want to ignore appealing melodies or pop-oriented song structures.
J. Hubner: If you can, could you dissect the creative process with the track “Path”? I’m hearing a lot of electronic flourishes in this tune. How did this track come together? What were some of the artistic inspirations behind the song?
Charlie Davis: Ben was doing some work with a new sampler and came up with this really ear-grabbing beat that sounded like something heavy trudging along. He made a demo that he sent to us that had that beat along with some keys and other electronic elements. We all loved it right away and were actually able to finish that song very quickly. Any band at some point can start to feel a little formulaic in their songwriting and having something that started from a more electronic standpoint was very inspiring and allowed everything else to come about very naturally.
Ryan Holquist: Ben came into the band after most of the songs on the first EP had been written, so he was largely trying to squeeze into the gaps and create atmosphere. “Path” is a great example of how his contributions have morphed our sound, as is the presence of a lot more piano and prominenet synth parts. Ben’s chord progression and electro twiddlies from the OP1 made us all think outside our usual boxes for ways to contribute, which bled into our parts and overall approach to some of the other songs. It’s also pretty obvious that at least a couple of us really love the Valtari album by Sigur Rós…
J. Hubner: “Westlake” reminds me of The Beach Boys. To my ears, Smile is one of the most complex pop albums ever made. “Westlake” has moments that put me in mind of the song “Surf’s Up”. You guys pull off both progressive rock leanings while still making this a beautifully spaced-out pop song. Besnard Lakes do that very well, too. How does pop music play into the writing process in March On, Comrade?
Charlie Davis: We all listen to it in some form or another so I’m sure it finds it’s place in our music. There are a few parts of that song that Ryan would tell you are essentially Genesis tributes, so maybe we get some influence from the pop of other eras as well. Most pop music nowadays is very computer oriented in terms of the songwriting process as well as the instrumentation and arrangements. This album definitely has a larger emphasis on electronic elements that could be found in a lot of pop music while still sounding like a rock band.
Ryan Holquist: Beach Boys, interesting! I wrote most of “Westlake,” and I don’t know that I had any particular vibe in mind for it. When Robert was mixing it, he warned me that he was going for full-on Fleetwood Mac. I think I’m the only band member who would count himself as a particular fan of progressive rock, and as Charlie mentioned, I ended up with a subconscious nod to Steve Hackett (Genesis) in my guitar part. I suppose it’s fair to say that on “Westlake” in particular, we played pop-oriented harmonic content and groove, in a progressive rock arc, with enough space and ambience to qualify as post-rock.
J. Hubner:On December 8th March On, Comrade will be having a CD release show at the Brass Rail. Can you give us some details on that show? Who’s playing with you guys? What sort of merch will be available? Will minds be expanded?
Charlie Davis: We just completed the line-up recently, and we’ll be playing with our friends in Trichotomous Hippopotamus and The Be Colony. We’ve played with both bands before and they’re both amazing bands with their own unique sounds. We’ll be selling whatever is left of our t-shirts, old EP, and of course we’ll have copies of the new album. Since most of the new songs have either not been played live much, or never, we’re hoping everyone will really enjoy them and maybe get some mind expansion from them.
Ryan Holquist: To give you an idea of how much minds will be expanded, Our Peaceful Atoms will be born on the same date as Diego Rivera, Nicki Minaj, Sinead O’Connor, and Ann Coulter.
J. Hubner:Are there any other shows on the books for March On, Comrade you can tell us about?
Charlie Davis: We have a couple other shows on the books at this point. We didn’t get to play out much this last year due to our own scheduling conflicts so I’m hoping we can be a bit more consistent in 2018. Our next show after this will be on January 20 and is a benefit show for a good friend of ours who is trying to raise money for her and her husband to adopt and we have some great bands in store for that one as well.
J. Hubner: We’ve almost put another year behind us. 2017 has been kind of a dumpster fire to say the least, with a few moments of beauty scattered here and there. What do we have to look forward to in 2018?
Ryan Holquist: If we would have known when we first started playing together in 2015 that there would be so much talk about ties to Russia, we might have reconsidered our name! We are proud to have had no part in the dumpster fire of 2017.
Charlie Davis: It was a very intense year to say the least. I’m hoping it will be an exciting year for Fort Wayne music. I’m sure the veteran bands will continue to put out great music and there are always new bands getting started that amaze us with their creativity. As for March On, Comrade, we have no plans of stopping anytime soon so I’m looking forward to working on new songs, playing shows, and seeing what the five of us can continue to come up with going forward.
Don’t forget to get out to the Brass Rail on December 8th for March On, Comrade’s CD release show for Our Peaceful Atoms. They’ll be playing with Trichotomous Hippopotamus and The Be Colony. And be sure to grab a copy of the CD. If you can’t make it or you are weird about physical media, then just go to https://marchoncomrade.bandcamp.com/album/our-peaceful-atoms and download it on December 8th.
Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper is an album that takes some time opening up and getting inside. It’s a dense affair that feels very much like a meditation on grief and mourning. It’s a record that takes patience in order to get through, as it’s one 84-minute track. If that last sentence scares you, then Mirror Reaper may not be for you. But if you’ve got the time, Bell Witch have one hell of an album for you.
Bell Witch have under their belt, including their Mirror Reaper, three full-length albums. Each are meditative, minimalistic doom metal. They’re more like movements than songs, really. Modern doom metal classical music. The Seattle band started out as a two-piece with Adrien Guerra on drums and vocals and Dylan Desmond on bass and vocals. With this set up they released their demo in 2011, followed by Longing in 2012. In 2015 Four Phantoms was dropped and they seemed to have solidified a sound that was equal parts Gothic, slow core, doom metal, and ambient. It is heavy music. Seriously heavy, for sure. But the mix of just bass and drums with the distant guttural roar of vocals that sound more like ancient tomes that lyrics for a rock song, give Bell Witch’s tracks an open and vast sound. Their minimalistic approach to songwriting gives their songs a storied, vast sound.
While in the process of writing Mirror Reaper Guerra passed away suddenly, leaving Desmond to pick up the pieces. With the addition of Jesse Shreibman on drums, vocals, and organ the two set to finishing the record. What we have now is an entirely different Mirror Reaper than what was begun back in 2016. It’s heavier and far more sorrowful than anything Bell Witch has done before.
There have been other bands that have laid out whole sides of an LP dedicated to just one song. Those ponderers and mind expanders in the audience can appreciate a good album side stint so as to enjoy a beer or two. But at 84 minutes for one single song, Mirror Reaper takes the funeral cake. Though as to add a moment of calm amongst the storm, the band broke the single track into two 40+ minutes parts, titled “As Above” and “So Below”. Sleep still holds the record for the longest “Black Sabbath meets Cheech and Chong” mash up with 60 minute single track “Dopesmoker”, but Bell Witch have built an 84 minute meditation on death, loss, and grief that no one will surely meet any time soon.
Musically, Mirror Reaper does have moments of sheer heaviness and blustering metal. But really, where the power lies on this album are the moments of quieter reflection. Dylan Desmond’s 6-string bass playing is done with great care and delicate ease. There are many moments on this record that remind me of those melodic, reflective musical bits you’d hear on earlier Metallica albums. Desmond reminds me of Cliff Burton’s melodic bass playing, quite a bit actually. And Jesse Shreibman’s drums keep a sort of perpetual motion going on throughout. There’s a slow but continuous chugging as the song moves on, keeping a melodic undertone in conjunction with the weight of the riffs. Shreibman also peppers the record with Hammond organ, giving the track a real funeral feel(Bell Witch are referred to as “funeral doom”, after all.) At the half way point, Adrien Guerra’s voice appears, giving that midway point some serious catharsis and emotional heft. He’d recorded the piece prior to his death while him and Desmond had begun to record the album.
Mirror Reaper isn’t an easy listen, but one that does reward those that give it repeated spins. Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman have built a mammoth wall of Gothic doom, but have installed and easily accessible doorway for us to enter through. The album deals with endings, but also beginnings.
The room is dark and humid. The only light I see in front of me seems hundreds of feet away. With each step I take the floor beneath me feels as if it’s getting softer and softer, limiting my stride as I make my way forward into the abyss. Where am I? How did I get here? I can’t remember where I was prior to this black hole I find myself in. In the distance I hear noises; an organ, what appears to be drums, and garbled electronic bleeps and blips. It sounds like a hippie love-in in Hell. There’s a feeling of being on the edge of sanity with the music I hear. Like it’s building to something, but what I can’t tell. It’s like some radio frequency that keeps going from John Cage to Morton Subotnick to Jefferson Airplane to the early sound experiments of Pauline Oliveros with no rhyme or reason.
Is that something burning that I smell?
Is that someone yelling in the distance?
Just when I think I’m getting closer to the light at the end of this endless tunnel I can feel myself being pulled backwards as my feet rise from the spongy floor and I feel weightless. In my mind I imagine myself as a helium balloon, rising from the ground and making my way through a cloud-filled night sky. No way to gauge where I am or how far I’ve risen into the atmosphere. The light I once thought I was gaining traction with is but a dust speck beneath me. Wherever I have entered, I don’t foresee myself leaving any time soon. There’s still music in the distance. It’s like some acid-burnt guitar jam with flute and feedback coalescing in this galactic womb I feel myself floating in. My skin moist from the humidity and aged air I’m surrounded by, it’s as if I’m beginning to melt into my surroundings. I can’t tell where my flesh ends and the blackness begins, all the while still rising into the atmosphere.
Is that a voice I hear? It sounds like it’s talking in reverse. Am I still wearing pants?
I think I see another way out. The noise is deafening around me. I need to find an exit to this madness before I succumb to the insanity that surrounds me. I keep hearing “Genesis, Genesis” over and over. Is it a message from whatever exists in this darkness? What does it want with me? And how did I get here?
And where are my goddamn pants?
Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Komische Theater with your host, J Hübner. Tonight we brought you the one act play, Electronic Meditation, written by Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze, and Conrad Schnitzer. It’s the story of one man’s madness taking the form of an existential crisis inside his own subconscious. He grapples with the confines of adulthood and maturity as he becomes a father for the 5th time in 6 years and wonders how life would have been different had he sold his father’s Schnauzer farm and left the Leipzig countryside for the leather bars of Munich. Spanking was always his passion, but a traditional lifestyle is what he found himself in. It ends with our Schnauzer farmer-in-crisis finding himself dissipating in the wet heat of his own crumbling subconscious.
Hey there, J. Hubner here. No, not the host of Komische Theater, just the boring Midwestern clod you know and love(you love me? You don’t even know me, fella.) I’m coming to the end of a lovely week off from work. Lots of cleaning projects and lots of cerveza was enjoyed. Movies and shows were watched ,shopping was done, and on Friday, November 25th I hit up Karma Records of Warsaw and saw my pal John V in honor of Black Friday Record Store Day. I hadn’t even looked at the lists of what was coming out, and frankly I didn’t really give a holy hoot about it. But earlier in the week John posted some of the goods that were going to be sold on that consumers-be-damned day of days and I saw Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation was being reissued. Well shit, that’s one I didn’t have and hadn’t yet bought an OG pressing. I guess that means I need to buy that bastard.
So yesterday I jumped in the van, the boy and I got some groceries and before we headed home we stopped into Karma and I snagged the TD record, as well as Future Island’s Singles. It was 10% off everything in the store and I’d wanted that one for a long time now(it’s brilliant, btw.) I almost bought Slayer’s Christ Illusion, too. Alas, that will be for another time.
I’ve now listened to Electronic Meditation twice and I have to say I’m pretty underwhelmed. Here’s the thing, Froese was in his artistic infancy, man. He was feeling his way through the darkness and figuring out how to expand minds. In order to expand minds, you’ve gotta learn to expand your own. Edgar Froese was still figuring that shit out with that first record. I had high hopes with both Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzer on this with him, but alas with the exception of a little aural weirdness, this one just comes off as just overreaching. There’s a lot of free noise and electronic warbling, but Froese had yet to find that existential vein he would eventually tap into with Alpha Centauri, Zeit, Atem, and then the masterpiece Phaedra. Froese hooked up with Christopher Franke after this record and things seemed to start to come together quickly. There’s too much of that dated “jamming” noise on this record for my taste. Too much Jefferson Airplane and Doors vibes for me. I mean, we’ve gotta start somewhere, right? It’s not a complete loss, but once Froese found his footing there was no stopping him.
But for all my bellyaching, I’m glad I snagged this one. I love seeing where prolific musical geniuses start. It only took Tangerine Dream two years to get from Electronic Meditation to Zeit, and then two more years to get to Phaedra.
That’s one hell of an evolution of the mind and spirit.
From 1970 to 2000, Tangerine Dream put a record out a year, with some years having two records a year(usually a film soundtrack followed by a studio record.) Honestly, there’s nearly one TD album released every year up to this year if you count live albums and reissued older stuff. It’s pretty fucking impressive, man. I think you can forgive “Journey Through A Burning Brain” and “Resurrection” with that kind of track record.
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is one of those films that stands as a horror pillar in my early teen years. I remember reading all about it in Fangoria and seeing the pictures of those Cenobites. Those visuals were unlike anything my teen brain had ever come across. It felt foreign, alien, new, and disturbing in a way I’d never seen. What were these vile creatures in black leather with the chattering teeth, grotesque features, and nails sticking into their skulls? I wasn’t even 14 years old when Hellraiser was released, yet I knew I had to see this movie. Fortunately for me, my parents dug this kind of shit so they were cool with taking me and my best friend to see it on a Saturday afternoon.
Up to this point, my horror was of the more American-made kind. I was a Romero and Carpenter nerd and dug movies like Fright Night, Silver Bullet, The Howling, An American Werewolf In London, and of course those flicks where horny teens get slaughtered one by one by a hulking man-child with mommy issues. Hellraiser felt decidedly European to me. It felt very foreign and dirty. It was a weird one to see in the theater with Ma and Pa Hubner(as I’m sure it was weird for them as well.) But man, it was a hell of a flick. Very visceral and to the bone. I’d never seen a movie with such Gothic vibes before. Of course I’d later learn just how sexualized Barker’s work was in books like In The Flesh and The Damnation Game, but being a newbie to Barker in the theater on a Saturday afternoon in 1987 I sort of felt mentally violated. This was horror, but there was this dark sensuality I couldn’t quite compute with my 13-year old highly hormonal brain. The leather, the chains, the pain and pleasure,…the Cenobites were dominatrix’ for some netherworld sex club and I was invited to watch their purgatorial peep show. I thought this was supposed to be a horror film of blood-stained sights and terrifying worlds? What are these new “feelings” I was feeling? Are there any female cenobites looking for a date to the 8th Grade Formal? And isn’t that guy the same one who was in Dirty Harry? There was in fact a female cenobite, but she wouldn’t show up till Hellbound: Hellraiser 2(she was already going to the formal with “chattering teeth” cenobite),and that was indeed the Scorpio serial killer Andrew Robinson that played Larry Cotton. As for those weird feelings? What’s wrong with you, ya freak!?
Hellraiser was a one-of-a-kind movie experience, especially for an impressionable, greasy teen. It did open new doorways into art and cinema for me. The best pal I went to see it with got into graphic novels and bought up a bunch of Barker’s books that I would borrow often and read. That whole world led to stuff like Gaiman’s Sandman series, James O’Barr’s The Crow, and even into musical rabbit holes like The Cure, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, and Cocteau Twins. It was very much a British pit of doom, gloom, and goth girls that you wanted to make smile with a stupid joke.
Thanks to the nostalgia bug I recently separated from $29 and in return came home with a copy of the Hellraiser S/T by Christopher Young. Lakeshore Records recently reissued it on a pretty sweet gooey red-colored vinyl. Until a few months ago I hadn’t seen Hellraiser in over 20 years. My son and I watched it one Friday night and I was really impressed by how well it held up. The look put me in mind of Bernard Rose’s excellent Paperhouse. It was another very British film with a weathered, Gothic feel that stuck with me for years. Rose would go on to direct the film adaptation of Barker’s Candyman, which I absolutely loved(and if you haven’t seen his Immortal Beloved with Gary Oldman as Beethoven, you ain’t livin’ Bub.) Back to the cenobites, one thing that really struck me was the score to Hellraiser. As a teen I didn’t really take note of it, but now it really stands out as a beautiful musical work. I’d read that Barker originally wanted Coil to do the soundtrack, but the movie company said they wanted something more traditional. I’d like to see a cut of the film with Coil’s music, but I’m glad that they went with Christopher Young. It’s nuanced, low key, but has just the right amount of melodrama to give the film an almost classic feel, as opposed to the darker, S&M feel of its themes. And apparently Young re-worked some of Coil’s music into orchestral pieces to go into the film. So there’s that.
So are you still bloated from yesterday’s Thanksgiving stomach bludgeoning? Are you contemplating grabbing that turkey leg from the fridge and eating it sans pants in your chair Henry the VIII-style? Well I’m not going to stop you. Hell, I’ll encourage you to do so. But instead of watching some holiday blech on the boob tube, why don’t you cue up some Hellraiser for old time’s sake? It’s okay, do it. Everyone’s out Black Friday shopping. You’ve got the house to yourself.
It’s an overcast morning. Mid-30s and it’s currently snowing. It’s nearly 11am and I had to do that thing I detest more than anything on a holiday: I had to run to the store because we used up all the milk. My thoughts on stores being opened on major holidays has always been that those folks working the registers, stocking the shelves and working behind the meat counter have families at home that they can’t spend the day with because they have to serve idiots like me that forgot to buy an extra gallon of milk.
20 years ago stores were shut down, with the exception of maybe a gas station on the highway. There was an unspoken rule that on Thanksgiving and Christmas, stores would be closed so that EVERYONE could be home and enjoy the turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie with their husbands, wives, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, and extended families. The only place you needed to be was the kitchen basting the turkey and shooing little hands away from bowls with sweetness in them. You’d arrive at wherever the festivities were taking place and hit the appetizers(veggie trays, deli trays, cheese balls, deviled eggs, and other delights.) There’d be lots of conversations, lots of laughing, and coffee poured. Grandparents would tell tales of past holidays while the kids would run around the house being told to “Stop running in the house!” You’d eat till the point of misery and then sit the allotted time for proper processing of the food and hit the pies. More coffee was poured, more laughs, more stories, board games were played, and when it was good and dark and cold outside you’d load everyone in the car and head home.
This was what Thanksgiving was when I was a kid.
But at some point(I’m guessing when Walmart completed their world domination in the early 2000s) that unspoken rule of keeping the doors locked on Thanksgiving went by the wayside. It was more important to stay open in case someone had the urge to go buy a videogame or a frozen pizza or a cookware set. So if one store is staying open then by God everyone had to stay open. It’s become a free-for-all for consumerism, tradition be damned. Then of course there’s Black Friday, which pretty much sealed the coffin on tradition.
So what am I saying here? I mean, I was one of those assholes this morning that headed into the grocery to buy milk and a couple extra cans of green beans. I think what I’m getting at here is that I’m thankful for those folks at the store that aren’t home basting their turkeys and shooing kids away from pie fillings in bowls. I’m thankful for those that are stocking the shelves where I grabbed the green beans and guys and gals in the dairy putting out the gallons of milk that I went in to pick up as well. I hope they all have an amazing time and a great meal with their loved ones at some point today. I know I plan on it. I’m thankful for having a home full of amazing humans(and a dog) to share this day with. I’m thankful for a hell of a lot, really. I hope you all have an amazing day with family and friends.
There are a few bands that are part of my DNA thanks to my parents. At a very young age I can remember hearing on the Zenith console stereo in the basement Aerosmith, The Doors, and Led Zeppelin on a very routine basis. My mom and dad had the first house out of all of my mom’s siblings, so the basement in my parents’ house was the go-to spot for pool, beer, smoking, and rock and roll shenanigans. There were plenty of records spun on those hazy nights, but those three bands I remember hearing a lot of. Of those bands, Led Zeppelin stuck. I was limited to my Zep love by the records my parents owned. Led Zeppelin II, III, and IV were the albums I came up on. “Black Dog”, “What Is And What Should Never Be”, “Going To California”, “Misty Mountain Hop”, “Friends”, “Immigrant Song”, and “Out On The Tiles” were songs that stuck in my brain and never left. They were in my head so much that I recall getting in trouble in kindergarten for humming “Black Dog”, out loud, while the teacher was talking. In my defense I thought the humming was happening inside my head and not outside of it.
I mainly stuck with those three albums until I hit high school and I bought that 4-CD Led Zeppelin boxset that was released right around 1990 and I started hearing songs from Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti. It was like a whole new musical world opened up. You mean there was more to life than “Whole Lotta Love”, “Stairway To Heaven”, and “You Shook Me”?
The answer is undoubtedly yes.
Of the post-“numeral” albums, I think Physical Graffiti was the album that hit me the most. For a long time Houses of the Holy ranked at the top thanks to “Dancing Days”, “The Rain Song”, “The Crunge”, “The Song Remains The Same”, and of course “No Quarter”. Houses of the Holy was the post-high school Zeppelin album for sure. First beer buzzes, first long road trips, and first philosophical conversations about nothing in general were gathered around that 1973 record. But at some point, those bright and shiny tracks started to fade a bit. I’d found a vinyl copy of Physical Graffiti that my brother had bought in the late-80s. He’d found it at one of the last music stores in town where they still sold vinyl and bought it on a whim. I began spinning it on my parents Pioneer turntable and I was honestly floored. “In My Time Of Dying”, “Ten Years Gone”, and “Kashmir” were already pretty familiar to me(“Kashmir” thanks to Fast Times At Ridgemont High), but there were so many other songs on that record that I hadn’t gotten deep into that were honestly blowing me away.
Physical Graffiti was Zeppelin’s dark horse record.
Physical Graffiti began life way back in 1973 when Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham entered the studio to write but quickly halted the sessions because John Paul Jones was ill. But it was later revealed that Jones was thinking about quitting the band to take a job as the choirmaster at Winchester Cathedral. After a few weeks of being away he decided to stick it out with his Zeppelin mates and they reconvened in the studio and knocked out 8 “belters”, according to Plant.
And boy, he wasn’t kidding.
Up to this point Jimmy Page and Zeppelin made it a point to make these pristine rock records. Sonically rich and engineered to the nines. But as soon as album opener “Custard Pie” hits you things seem very different. There’s a rough edge in this track that makes it almost seem vulgar. Jones’ clavinet pushes Zeppelin into a funk territory they’d only mildly explored to this point. Even Plant’s voice sounds dirtied and broken. He can still hit those high notes, but he sounds like he just rolled out of bed after an all-nighter. Then “The Rover” comes rolling in like a derelict after a night of monkey business at the local pub. Page’s guitar is all spaced-out thanks to some groovy phaser and Plant lays on the ethereal whining beautifully. “I’ve been to London, seen seven wonders/ I know to trip is just to fall/ I used to rock it, sometimes I’d roll it/ I always knew what it was for” Plant sings over a rock and roll strut that is equal parts street trash and rock royalty. This is the point when Zeppelin truly take their music into modern times. They leave the blues rehashing at the studio door. “Houses of the Holy”, a leftover from the last record fits in quite nicely here in this set. Zeppelin always had a knack for heavy music, but making it something that you and your dad could enjoy together. This is generational metal.
Nowadays I find myself hitting fast forward for “In My Time Of Dying”. When I was younger I was enamored by this song. Dirge-y, slide guitar blues epics are what I lived for at 20 years old. At 43, it just gets a little old. I like hearing Zeppelin making something unique with their influences and inspirations. I don’t think “In My Time Of Dying” is that necessarily. It’s not bad, it’s just an 11 minute song that’s about 7 minutes too long. But “Trampled Under Foot”? Oh yes, most definitely. John Paul Jones truly shines on this album. With Presence and In Through The Out Door those records wouldn’t have existed without him. Between Page’s drug problems and Plant losing his daugther, Jones stepped in to keep things afloat. With Physical Graffiti he lets his musicianship and studio prowess shine. That clavinet, man. It sounds like Stevie Wonder jamming with the British rock titans. It’s not little Stevie, it’s just John Paul Jones blowing everyone out of the water.
I’ve heard “progressive” used to describe Zeppelin, and there have been a few moments on earlier records where I could hear that. “Dazed and Confused”, “No Quarter”, and “The Song Remains The Same” all sort of expand in your brain as you soak in their slightly psychedelic, slightly forward-thinking tones, but “In The Light” off Graffiti is about as progressive rock as they come. This could be my favorite Led Zeppelin song. There’s something about its eastern vibes mixed with an almost hippy-dippy uplift in the chorus that puts this track in a category all on its own. Once again, Jones takes Led Zeppelin into a Yogi-Maharishi-meets-Philip-K-Dick-in-an-opium-den vibe with those ethereal keyboard tones while Bonham reels his drums into a very controlled groove. I absolutely love Robert Plant’s vocals here, too. It’s part mysticism and part sweet crooning. Of course Page lays waste with his guitar. This track is simply transcendent.
Elsewhere, “Down By The Seaside” still gets me after all these years. Like Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend”, this song floats along on a cloud of wurlitizer electric piano as Jimmy Page does some magical thing with lapsteel run thru a Leslie speaker. This song dazzled me at 19 years old and it still dazzles me now. That middle section that pumps up the rock and roll only goes to turn this track into more of a legendary jam. And do I even need to mention “Ten Years Gone”? Do I? Okay, then holy shit what a song! It sits by itself as a musical entity completely of itself. I can remember my cousin learning this song when we were much younger men and I was completely floored. Those chords even run through a mini-Marshall stack and a slightly out of tune SG still gave me chills. Page was and still is one of the best rock and roll composers. His chordings and song structures remain untouched by most.
So I mentioned that gritty, raunchy vibe with this album earlier. “Night Flight”, “The Wanton Song”, and “Sick Again” absolutely ring my bell. There’s a gutter groove vibe going on. I love that a band like Led Zeppelin can step away from the maestro rock songs and put out stuff as gut punch-y as “Sick Again”, “Trampled Under Foot”, “Custard Pie”, and “The Rover”. These songs are like middle fingers in the form of rock songs. There’s just a feeling of four guys in a room turning it up to 11 and letting loose.
Physical Graffiti is the Led Zeppelin record you come to later on and realize there’s all this greatness buried deep inside of it. Diamonds in the rough like “Down By The Seaside”, “Ten Years Gone” and “Kashmir” block your view of the dirty, gritty rock numbers buried in there. I’ve read that this album is one of the band’s favorites because it sort of encapsulates everything they’d done up to this point, like a pop-up book of their musical tricks and idiosyncrasies. I would have to agree with that statement. Once we close this chapter things just aren’t the same for our Tolkien and Norse-loving Brits.
Physical Graffiti, as far as I’m concerned, is their rock and roll Valhalla.