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Be the Mule Blog

Play It New

Play New Shit - Where it Came From


When I was a kid I attended church irregularly, usually with my mother. It was more a function of tradition, as her parents took her to church, than of actual adherence to Catholic teachings. I liked it for a bit. I found power in the song, and the community when we were living in the city in Minneapolis. I stopped going at a young age, maybe 13 or so, but I remember very well the songs from church and the power I often felt there. Once we moved to the suburbs and there was a social, dressed up and put your favorite make up on, the rich family gets the front row practice, I stopped going.


One time, near the end of my church going days, I was sent to something called Cotillion. Many of the Our Lady of Grace church families sent their kids there. That was the end for me. They taught young girls how to sit lady like, boys how to correctly court women and walk with their chests out, and a number of other horrible, fear based teachings I felt sick from. I told my mom after the first night I wouldn't be going back. Nonetheless, I am grateful I had this experience. In fact, Im grateful for pretty much all of everything at this point. It gives us the opportunity to have voice. 


Ironically, I think its the truth and depth I found in church song, and in exploring some gospel music, the songs of emancipation and longing born from African American experience, the lyrics often based in biblical teaching, that taught me enough to know what I saw in church was not truth. The adage of giving a person sufficient knowledge, inspiration for inquisition, for them to realize what you are selling them is bullshit. Teacher becomes its own enemy. 


I was not confirmed or anything of that sort, and I hated Sunday school because the teachers were generally quite transparent in their reluctance to consider. So I didn't go. I wanted to be around the people and the music. My mother did not make me. She was very supportive in things like this, if not perhaps a bit worried. Thats probably still the story, she is a mother. But what I learned in church, and in singing and feeling, was that I felt, in my heart, that the institution it had become, the social game, the money, would probably repulse the writers of the principles upon which the church was founded. Love, empathy, community. So I don't have any interest in being part of that. Church at this point is sitting for me across a table from a friend and sharing, or listening to someone I love, someone I can fall in love with, play their music, make their art. 


But the power of community, of song, and of stating something serious, of gratitude, an emotion that requires you to be exposed and honest, I think I took that from that time, and then following gospel song, blues, the history of the south. That always fascinated me. Great song comes from very exceptional places and people. Its natural and speaks to the heart. You can feel it even if you don't like it. You can feel the person inside the art. I love that. I worry we are losing it.


I was watching a YouTube video the other day of a band I happened upon through a publication that gave A Love Electric some press. They were from Brooklyn. They had an American flag, the old school one with the 13 stars, draped over the organ and a bottle of whiskey on top in their stage setup. The guitarist was wearing suspenders and one of them had a Duane Allman look going. The music started, and they played what they were trying to look like. And they looked like what they were trying to play. This is judgmental of me, I know, and Im ok with it in this case, its helpful to me to know what I disagree with. There was absolutely nothing there. Any serious person would agree after a listen or look. It was void of substance. They had been packaged. They were gonna be the roots rock guys, satisfy all the cliches, and give us just what we expect despite the fact we don't really need it, want it, nor does it satisfy in any meaningful nor lasting way. 


So that would be the bad news. More and more this is the way bands approach their craft. They need to adhere to a stereotype, not create one. 


Be bold. Actually we don't even need to set out to be bold, if we are honest, the weight of the statement takes care of itself. Be an artist in whatever you do. Listen to where what we love came from. 


So what can we do new now? People talk about that often. As if we are done, its too hard to find new. Thats a soft excuse. It was never easy to be different, which of course IS what everyone is.

I saw an interview with the man often cited as the Director of Institutionalized Jazz, Wynton Marsalis (a fine trumpeter, his respect for the tradition is admirable, and our respect for the music's significance and legacy also important) where he stated "you really think you are gonna play some hew shit? There's only twelve notes"…. commenting that it has all indeed been played. Wrong Wynton. The miracle of music is that these twelve notes, when played with sincerity and respect for one's own persona and vision, sound an infinite amount of different ways. The combinations can be calculated mathematically to a finite number. The way the notes are expressed can never be quantified. Shake the cynicism, sorry academia and industry has done that to some people. There is an incomprehensible amount of new. A ton. A ton of beauty. You know it, we all know it. It just requires doing. Having the confidence to speak like yourself.


Pull from where no one else does, and where no one else can, inside yourself. 


Here's a photo from a short tour we just did opening for Billy Martin and Wil Blades. I did not know Wil prior, he's a really wonderful person.

Billy has become a friend and always been an inspiration. The more time I spend with him the more I realize he is all artist. Its complete commitment. He means it and he's done his own thing whether it was adored or not. I feel like he's just getting started. Going to do my best to stay close.


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