Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I'm Sorry

Dear REM,

I’m sorry, but it’s time to come clean: I have strayed from you. In recent years, I have felt alienated from you; distant. I have maintained the illusion of fidelity, gamely stood by your side – I actually bought Reveal - but in truth I have had doubts about whether we truly belonged together.

It wasn’t always like this, of course. We were both younger, and your dark Southern Gothic jangle-pop struck a nerve in me, incomprehensible though your words were. Document and Life’s Rich Pageant made me swoon. I couldn’t help it; I was devoted to you. Look at you up there! Three geeky music guys, and the dark, brooding artist. Dreamy! I hung a picture of your lead singer in my bedroom (my parents, briefly, thought I was gay).

And I was never more in love with you than midway through side one of Automatic for the People. Somehow, magically, you had remained yourself, only moreso. I was dazzled. More than most, you accommodated your superstardom, made it work for you. You comfortably and ably wore the mantle of megaband, and I was proud of you. Not that I had anything do to with that success, but what wasn’t to love?

High off your intoxicating assuredness, I bought Monster the day it was released, way, way back in those halcyon days of 1994. Do you remember those days, REM? I was certain, given the savage strength of “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”, that the whole album would be strong. It would be killer. After listening to it many, many times, I came to feel that, well, okay, I really liked “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” Great song. Also, “Strange Currencies” – not bad. As for the rest, “Maybe REM is tired,” I thought. That’s okay – that happens to everybody.

But, oh, then New Adventures in Hi-Fi happened, and my god, was I thankful for that. Something to reinvigorate our connection, to once again justify my love.

But then? Then…

Something changed in you when your drummer left, and I understood that. You seemed to have trouble finding yourself, figuring out where to go next. This explained to me a few irrational decisions, excused them. I can’t say I understood Up, but I knew where it was coming from: confusion. But as the years dragged toward and beyond the millennium, you imposed on my goodwill, REM; took advantage of it. Around the Sun – what the hell was that? Were you trying to make me dislike you? Was that your game, like people who can’t dump a lover, but act like such a jerk or so disinterested that they force their lover’s hand, make them become the dumper? Well, I didn’t dig that, REM. Not at all.

I could never entirely give up on you, of course. We had shared too much, over too many years. Even when you did whatever the hell you were doing in this picture, I still counted myself a fan. I love REM, I’d say. You just watch, I’d tell doubters, they’ll be back. But what I really felt was this: does loving a band who are no longer making relevant music make me irrelevant? Does their apparent oldness make me old?

The truth was this, REM: all those things I used to love about you seemed to have gone, replaced by studio trickery and the artistic equivalent of grasping at straws. It was sad, REM. It made me sad.

But here we are in 2008, REM, and you have finally given me a sign that you still remember those long ago days. I’m sorry I ever doubted that, but you have proven it to me with Accelerate, surely intended as a love letter to our shared youth. The other day I heard you interviewed on Fresh Air on NPR (see? old!), and what was obvious to me was that you have accepted your status as living connection to the days of underground American college rock, and also that you knew - and regretted - that you had spent years jilting me, REM, by promising but not delivering music that was at least grounded in that old sound. Accelerate tells me that you know you can’t go back again, but you can create something real, something with a heart, that references such a vital period in music history.

We’re none of us young anymore, REM, and it’s true that there’s nothing sadder than aging men attempting to recreate something undeniably lost. Accelerate isn’t Murmur, or Fables…, or even Green. But it’s good, and it actually remembers those other, earlier records. And what’s the harm in remembering? What’s wrong with moving into a future resplendent with the memory of the people we once were?

So thanks, REM. Thanks for Accelerate. Thanks for remembering. Thanks for – finally – returning the love.

Yours, etc.


Monday, April 7, 2008


The latest episode of Now's the Time went down last Thursday evening, and I must say, modestly speaking, I nailed it. There are nights in the studio when you have to concede that you're weren't quite on. But there are others when everything is falling into place, and there are no technical glitches to derail you, and you spend the long drive home, smiling, thinking: Hell yes, that was good.

The evening began with an interview with Adrian Cho, founder and artistic director of the Impressions in Jazz Orchestra. Adrian's a great guy, and I've interviewed him before. He's a tireless promoter and worker for the music he believes in, and his mission, as artistic director, is to deliver programs that aim squarely at the nexus of education and entertainment. In that sense, his vision dovetails nicely with that of the IMC. Anyway, the show he's currently promoting is the IJO's upcoming Cult Fiction Classics, April 18 at Dominion Chalmers. If you're in Ottawa, go.

Thereafter, I got my hard bop on. John Coltrane, until recently strung out, fired by Miles Davis, and searching for direction (some of which he found while woodshedding with Monk), spent much of the period between 1956-1958 collecting paychecks from Prestige Records. He was a member of a number of different session lineups, many of them billed as the Prestige All-Stars, as well as stints as a sideman, and occasionally he was co-billed (John Coltrane and Kenny Burrell). All of this is documented on the excellent Interplay, the Concord Music Group's recent repackaging of all of this previously available material. It sounds wonderful; warm and full. The package is handsome, and the liners are incredibly detailed. Great stuff.

Have I piqued your interest? Just download the show already:

Now's the Time - April 3, 2008: Impressions in Jazz Orch. / Coltrane's Interplay

I'm in the studio next on May 8, when I'll play music by Bengt Berger and his Bitter Funeral Beer band - worldy, free improv stuff by a large-ish ensemble, sometimes including Don Cherry.

I'll check in here next week with some non-improvised music related stuff.