Jeff Zittrain

Sacrifice Something You Love

Thanks to everyone who posted comments on the last column – always good to see the cultural dialogue achieving some level of thoughtfulness and sanity, even if it’s only our little blogospherin’ corner of the world.

Seems 24 is just the tip of the whole fast-paced zeitgeist these days. I just read a SF Chronicle review of Poseidon (the remake of 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure – apparently they now only have time for one word in the title) which crystallized my complaints with 24 – action with no point or reflection. As reviewer Mick LaSalle put it: “ An experience that’s nerve-wracking and exciting in the moment, but that, in the end, leaves audiences with a lonely walk back to the car.”

Staying on top of everything and not getting to the bottom of anything – quite appropriate imagery for the upside-down world of Poseidon’s flipped-over cruise ship…

Anyway, our topsy-turvy attention-deficit lifestyle has struck close to home in the buildup to this column. It began a few weeks ago when I found myself bleary-eyed and buzzed at 4 in the morning downloading and searching iTunes – I was truly addicted. One of the heretofore hidden beauties of iTunes was hitting me full-force – I could buy all these songs from artists I knew I wouldn’t need an entire album from – Bands that were singles-oriented, that didn’t really make album-length musical statements.

It all began innocently enough with “Beth” by Kiss, the song that had brought me back into piano-playing in 8th grade (which would in turn bring me into guitar playing). But I didn’t stop there – one more click and I also had the unplugged live version.

Yes, this is the original piano music I bought back in 8th grade…

A couple of songs from Deep Purple alum Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (who I saw open for Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult on the rather windilly-named “Black and Blue” tour back in 1980) and my halcyon high school days… um, hearkened. A mad rush of clicks and the floodgates opened so my iTunes receipt looked like the graffiti people used to scratch into desks in high school – Heart (“Dog and Butterfly”), Ted Nugent (“Free-for-All”, “Great White Buffalo”, “Cat Scratch Fever”), J. Geils (“I Do”), Lynyrd Skynyrd (“The Needle and the Spoon”, “Tuesday’s Gone”), even some pre-“Hi Infidelity” REO Speedwagon (reminding me that Gary Richrath was a damn good guitar player). It was all pretty pop-oriented and sugary-sweet, but its roots were the jam – guitar musicianship puffed up and billowed out into arena rock.

I’d recently finished the just-released first novel by “Dr. Frank” (of Berkeley punk stalwarts The Mr. T Experience) called King Dork, a riff on Catcher in the Rye with a first-person middle-school narrator; this along with my iTunes high school habit told me my column should be about “music and identity and school cliques.”

But all my iTunes shenanigans were also sending me on treasure hunts to the used cd stores. I found the Fleetwood Mac 2-DVD set Live in Boston 2004 for $7.95, and, always interested in male/female pairings because of how it relates to the male/female dynamic in Famous Last Words – was surprisingly inspired by Buckingham and Nicks not phoning it in after all these years – on the contrary, they were somehow able to create intimacy in an arena setting.

I also snagged for under 10 bucks a 1999 Eric Clapton and Friends DVD that was also not phoned-in, but had some surprisingly stunning moments, in particular a collaboration with Sheryl Crow and David Sanborn on “Little Wing” and a simmering, smoldering, incendiary version of “Old Love” – with back-to-back guitar/ keyboard solos so soulful they made Lindsey Buckingham’s excesses look like arena rock wanking – so my column topic shifted into “the non-wanking arena rock jam.”

Suddenly FLW got word that we might be opening for Dickey Betts in North Carolina – I serendipitously found the new live Dickey Betts DVD the next day for $4.95 – so the column (still totally unwritten) was quite nicely evolving into “the relevance of classic 70’s jam rock.” It helped that I found Clapton’s newly released deluxe edition of 461 Ocean Blvd as well as his 1974 Rainbow Concert and even his 1985 Behind the Sun which manages some ripping guitar amidst all of the Phil Collins-produced synthesizers.

Hooray for guitar gods! (I was thinking…) I also found the Stones’ StrippedBeat the Retreat: a Tribute to Richard Thompson (with XREMBonnie RaittBob MouldLos LobosLoudon WainwrightShawn ColvinDavid Byrne, and the Blind Boys of Alabama) and Pete Townshend Live at the House of Blues. And an almost perfect gem, Mark Knopfler’s overlooked 2004 Shangri-La cd with Mark actually crooning the melodies instead of talking his way through them, and which (hyperboles be damned) contains one of the sweetest and most beautiful songs ever committed to disc, “Our Shangri-La”. And Mark and Emmylou’s just-released All the Roadrunning which had been my reason for going to the store in the first place (again the male/female dynamic) which they rewarded in spades with the last tune, it’s opening lines being “My famous last words…”

For a mere pittance I also procured Neil Young’s Rust Never SleepsPink Floyd’s Roger Waters-less A Momentary Lapse of Reason, and an Electric Ladyland: Classic Album documentary DVD. I should mention here that since FLW is presently in the studio recording our 3rd cd, any “Making of…” dvd’s are always given the green light. I figure if they yield even one applicable idea, it’s – as they say on the commercial…priceless. A few years ago I used this logic to plunk down what seemed at the time a hefty 35 bucks for a David Grier bluegrass instructional video – as I was practicing one of his cross-picking patterns at a soundcheck, our bassist Kate asked what I was playing since she had some new lyrics that would fit right on top of it – it became the basis for our (much-loved) song “The Most.” Thanks, David – 35 bucks well spent, I say.

Meanwhile, in the 5 cd’s for 15 bucks bins, I was replacing my vinyl and cassettes: Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs (which wears Hendrix on its sleeve and beyond to its whole wardrobe, but certainly yields a couple of great tracks), Dylan’s Shot of Love (#3 in his born-again trilogy, which includes the brilliant “Every Grain of Sand” and “Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” as well as the title track, which my band Esme’s Dream used to cover, since it has cool lyrics and also hangs for so long on the B minor which means you can jam really well even if you’ve got a peanut butter jar filled with liquid acid in the fridge back home, as our bass player did in those (footloose and fancy freewheelin’) days…)

I had to get Electric Ladyland since I’d just watched the DVD – and also snagged in the 5 for 15 bin Fleetwood Mac’s Say You Will since it contained the new songs I’d seen on the DVD.

Strangely enough, though, the one cd that I listened to in its entirety that night was Crash Test Dummies’ 1993 God Shuffled His Feet – no guitar heroics, no 70’s epic statements – but just quality intelligent well-played music (and produced by Talking HeadJerry Harrison). And googling them, I found they are much more than VH1’s “One Hit Wonder” series would have you believe – there’s a whole world of CTD as they’re called, with albums, solo careers, rabid fans, etc.

So THIS would be my column topic – All the little nooks and crannies of bands and players that you barely heard of each leading into their own rich worlds. It was the OTHER side of the arena-rock gods.

In fact, the Electric Ladyland DVD had a compelling interview with session B3 organ player Mike Finnigan – so I googled him and found he was a legend from Lawrence, Kansas who’d cut, along with an astounding array of sidework, an extremely rare and legendary cd called The Crazed Hipsters with his short-lived project called Finnigan and Wood.

I had also downloaded to my iPod and been listening all week to local (Bay Area) band 86 who I’d just seen at their cd-release party – sounding like a cross between the Byrds and the Velvet Underground and the Jayhawks and with the greatest song Neil Young never wrote called “Remember What You Are” – a song so moving I got chills hearing it in the car driving to work (truth be told I actually started to get scared as if something too profound was being revealed, the way I got scared once at a Dead show as “Terrapin Station” climbed to its climax) – and also a song called “I Guess I’ll Never Be a Rock Star” – as if they knew it would fit perfectly with the topic of this column.

In fact, the ol’ cult of personality rock star thing wasn’t always working – tellingly, the one cd I found unlistenable and actually returned during this frenzied music acquisition period was Clapton’s Pilgrim – he’d spent a good part of the past 30 years trying to escape his guitar heroics (at least on record), and he certainly succeeded on this one.

And on the other side of the same coin, I feel like I saw the guitar hero literally imploding in a Deep Purple Live at California Jam ‘74 DVD I’d picked up. Ritchie Blackmore, following in the mythic wake of Hendrix and the Who before him, destroys a couple of guitars and amplifiers at the end of their set, but instead of inspiring or profound or even much moved at all, it left me feeling just kind of worn out with a weird taste in my mouth. (Yes, all I was doing was watching tv…). When Hendrix set his guitar on fire at Monterey Pop in 1967 he announced that he was “sacrificing something [I] love”. With Blackmore, I think, there was no real sacrifice because…there was no love. It was all kind of spoiled and petty. Deep Purple (in this their 3rd incarnation) certainly had monster chops and even some soul but something was missing, even back in ’74.

What were they singing about anyway? Action with no point, no reflection. And I suspect that even if it was exciting in the moment, the audience was left with a lonely walk back to the car.

It’s as if rock and roll was waking up with a hangover, but not conscious yet. Afterall – after all the hi-jinx of the peaked-out jam, there’s got to be (as the song goes) a morning after.

And me and my frenzied hi-jinx? I’ve talked in previous columns about the yin/yang and balance. The forest and the trees, the big picture and the details are all, as Ram Dass would say, grist for the mill. You consume and you process. Recording and writing and otherwise, they’ve produced this column which helps me reflect – and hopefully given you some reflections, too.


  • # 1 Sal Says: June 4th, 2006 at 11:40 pm
  • ‘Bout time we got a new one. Less philosophy in this one although I suppose it is somewhat of a critique of our culture of consumption.
  • Cool on the Betts thing, almost. I checked out some of your tunes. Pretty cool old school stuff. You’ll have to post some new songs one here.
  • # 2 Jay N Says: June 4th, 2006 at 11:44 pm
  • Hey Jeff and Sal, I just checked for the new column too! I like the title, it shows the emptiness of the buying spree, which reflects the emptiness of material possessions. Jeff, you seem a bit spaced out on this one though, all over the map. You all right over there? :-p
  • J
  • # 3 Jeff Says: June 5th, 2006 at 9:49 pm
  • Hey guys –
  • Thanks for hanging in with the column! – I actually submitted this a few weeks ago but it got hung up in KyndBureaucracy….
  • The “24″ column was probably my most focused and this is probably the least – I was thinking that was kind of an interesting idea to write about – how I was sort of falling prey to the “staying on top of everything” ADD vibe. But there’s also something to be said for the benefits of overload. The Jack Kerouac/Dead thing of riding the waves of experience instead of keeping it all under staid control. I could have talked about that more – if I wasn’t so overloaded…
  • But I think I’m all right – thanks for asking…!
  • Thanks for the props on our tunes also – we’re working on our 3rd cd – I’ll get some stuff posted when it’s ready…
  • # 4 Paul Says: June 7th, 2006 at 3:26 pm
  • I hear a lot gets lost in the kyndbureaucracy, but cool column. I think you wrote this one just to get it out of your own head; empty your thoughts on the page and the overload eases.
  • # 5 Jeff Zittrain Says: June 8th, 2006 at 6:14 pm
  • Thanks Paul – I think I wrote it to process it all also, not just purge it – which helps the overload as well…
  • # 6 Dave TerpenySays: June 11th, 2006 at 2:19 am
  • huh, all this kyndbashing.  Jeff’s orgy of music consumption is ongoing I think but this column is interesting in the whole peaks and valleys of the experience.