I’ve often wondered about how music comes to be so important for some people. I’m one of those people who has fallen in love with multiple bands over my lifetime, in many cases following those bands around the country to see them perform. This surprises some people. For some, it is unfathomable how a band and its music can mean so much. My mom was at my place a few years ago and I was listening to a James McMurtry album; and she said she really liked it, so I burned her a copy. Then I told her that he would be playing in my folks’ hometown and she should go. She replied, “Why? I already have the CD.” My mom didn’t get it. And I guess, I wondered, if she didn’t really get me. I’m not sure how many concerts I’ve been to in my life. If I had to guess I would say it is well north of 500, but I would never be able to give much more of a precise answer than that. There are some bands I’ve seen 10-20 times, some I’ve seen 40-50 times, and one band I’ve seen probably close to 150 times. This essay is about that band, and we’ll get to them soon. First, a little background.
It would seem ironic that after what I just told you that my mom actually played a big role in my love of music. I remember on the weekends around the house the radio was always on. Reruns (or maybe they were current, it’s been too long to recall) of Casey Kasem’s Coast to Coast Top 40 or Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll and Remember were the constant background to the weekend mornings. My folks also used to take me to see a local oldies’ cover band called Captain Rat & the Blind Rivets frequently. My first “real” concert was the original lineup (minus Dennis Wilson) of The Beach Boys in 1986. They remain to this day one of my favorites, a band whose music always invokes nostalgia. This was further cemented when I lived in SoCal and would hang out at Big Belly Deli eating pizza and drinking beer, watching the surfers on Huntington Beach. Their jukebox had multiple Beach Boys albums and I would always play Endless Summer in its entirety. In 2014 I got to see the current version of The Beach Boys (well, only two original members and no Brian Wilson) with my folks; it was nostalgic, anticlimactic, bittersweet and fun all rolled into one.
I developed my own taste for music pretty early on, buying cassette singles and before that, 45s, whenever I could scrounge up the money to do so. The walls in my bedroom often were coated with band posters, and until recently when my parents decided to repaint the whole house thus de-conserving my room as it had been left after high school when I moved out for college, posters of Nine Inch Nails, Guns n’ Roses, Weezer, Liz Phair, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Sonic Youth lined my walls. In high school I always had two overflowing CD booklets of all the music I could consume on my too-loud car stereo. When I went to college, my love of music continued to grow, and it was accompanied by the desire to see live music often, and quickly, to follow bands around. Thankfully I didn’t have much of an expendable income otherwise I likely would have dropped out of college and lived on the road with Phish for several years. Phish was not the first band I truly loved (that would be Guns n’ Roses), but it was the first band to consume me. I thought my identity was somewhere inside that travelling carnival of fans. The hippie ethos that may have not really ever existed was, to me, embedded in that band, its music and its dirty hippie fanbase. I jumped in head first, but reflectively I wonder if I ever really bought in entirely. I think I liked the escape and the alignment with something off the grid. I’ve always gone against the current, so in this was an association that was very apropos.
But as the years rolled by, I soon left Phish in the past. They’re still important to me because of the role they played in a crucial period of personal growth and development, but I rarely listen to their music anymore. I still may see them once a year these days, but I typically leave during the encore to beat the rush. I’ve grown old. Or maybe they just simply don’t capture my heart anymore. And that, dear readers, is the thesis of this essay: being in a relationship with a band.
I first discovered Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons in 2002. They were playing the side stage at a Widespread Panic concert, and out of curiosity I wandered over to check it out. I was instantly captivated. They came through Boulder about a month later and I was sure to be there. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I bought a CD. I looked forward to the next time I would see them. But for whatever reason, I only saw them 2-3 times over the next four years. I don’t know why. Reflectively, I wish I’d made more effort to see them; that was their heyday. But for whatever reason in 2006 I saw them a couple times and then bought all of their studio albums that I didn’t have that summer. Their studio work is polished and slow for the most part, antithetical and non-representative of their live performances. They are truly a band you have to see live, and slowly but surely, I began to seek them out and see them as often as I could. With that came the meeting of other fans, those who also felt a significant draw to the band, and this made it more fun to be involved. The fan community coupled with the sincere love of the music made for a lot of fun times.
The lyrics began to seem to apply to my life, I began to feel as if there was some cosmic connection between the music and myself. I wanted to be more and more involved. It had captivated me. Whatever Jerry Joseph & the Jackmormons was, so was I. And this feeling built over time. It truly did come to resemble a human-to-human relationship, a symbiotic one where I needed the music as much as it needed me. This lasted for quite some time. Years. Until it didn’t. To borrow from the original musical love of my life (GNR), “Nothing lasts forever, not even cold November rain.” Band lineup changes, a move from the classic canon and an embracing of slower, more melodic music chafed my connection. It wasn’t “electric” the way it once was. Through this transition members of the fan community dropped out for similar (or other) reasons, and the party that I hoped would never end kind of did in some regards. Or at least so I thought.
While the amount of times I saw the band dropped from 20-25 times a year to around 10 (which is still a lot by most standards), there were just some shows that were so chocked full of predictability and new music that I felt I wasn’t getting what I originally set out for. I wasn’t getting the love from my partner any longer. We were growing apart, so it seemed. I didn’t stop going to shows though, I just stopped traveling as far as I used to see them. But then inevitably, like any relationship that won’t die, the band pulled out all its old stops. The songs that caused that uncontrollable smile to break across my face incited that feeling again. The new stuff I thought I didn’t care for became more intriguing. And while some fans had left the fold, those that stuck it out were rewarded as well. At the time of writing, the band is on day three of a four-day run over the New Year’s holiday. The shows so far have been great, and I can’t wait for what’s to come. I still love the band and its music. We’ve grown together, we’ve weathered some storms. We may not stay together until death, but we will stay together for a while. There’s comfort in familiarity, maybe it’s simply time to adjust expectations. Figuring out what is at the core of what you love and then holding on to it with all your might. I think that’s what I’m doing. Trying to save my relationship, and trying to save myself. See you at the rock show.