Listening, and listening to Jerry Cantrell. Or something.
I used to think music was a social thing: hanging at the counter at Second Time Around, listening to whatever Uncle Kenny felt like spinning (he was all of a year or two older than me, ended up on the touring crew for Pearl Jam, last I heard) every Saturday, and then off to some underage drinking and pinball playing; doing the pogo at the Showbox way back before it was nice enough to take a date to (not that I had a date in those days); sitting in one of Cheeseman’s apartments listening to everything from Miles (and he once owned every single recording Miles Davis played on) to the 13th Floor Elevators to the Standells to Pere Ubu (and, oh, dear, I see that Blue Cheer’s lead singer just died of liver cancer); standing or sitting in clubs, at concerts, hoping for that magical moment when the music swells all our egos together into one coherent whole.
Or so it felt.
Now, seeking to adapt to the iPod generation, I have my doubts.
Music is a private affair. One doesn’t share, not quickly, not easily. One trades, I gather, and maybe the other person listens, maybe not. But one doesn’t listen together.
Where I live, there’s not a lot of live music. Maybe living room music, maybe I hang out with the wrong people (again), but not a lot of touring acts stop in my part of Kentucky, at least not on purpose, and not often. (Billy Idol did play here once. So did the Carter Family, before the river flooded and killed the circus elephant, but the Carters got out.)
So now it becomes this other, furtive thing. This thing I do when nobody’s around, this guilty pleasure in which my wife and daughter rarely participate, about which I talk less and less.
Today’s guilty pleasure, then, is a single track (hah! that should please Peter, to whom I seem often to address these scribbles), from the Twisted Willie album. Not one of the two Seattle recordings for which I was happily present, but the third track recorded at Bad Animals: Jerry Cantrell’s version of “I’ve Seen All This World I Care To See.” Cantrell was and still is the chief guitarist for Alice In Chains, a band for whom I have no especial love. (My mom’s name is Alice; I thought they were bandwagon jumpers during the grunge era, and was one of several who derisively called them Kindergarten as they broke out, sharing Soundgarden’s management, among other things.) And to my limited knowledge he’s never cut anything like this Willie cover, though I suppose he might’ve. (AllMusic is no help. Or, rather, suggests I’m right, without proving that I’m not wrong.)
It’s a particularly sensitive performance, his vocals unguarded, uncertain. And it’s a grim song, made all the grimmer by my recollection of his late bandmate, Layne Staley, as a wraith around the studio, though his dying took a very long time and must have hurt a good deal. It builds to an unnecessary crescendo, but that was the spirit of the times. What strikes me is how good the song is (we all have our moments with Willie, right?), and how open to the whole thing Cantrell was. If memory serves, he did this as an homage to his father, who was a country fan. I don’t know that I would be as affected by an entire album made in this spirit, but I keep drifting back to that careful discovery Cantrell makes during this take that he can actually engage this song, and win.
And now I shall take my iPod back and fold laundry, which is what I’m meant to be doing with this quiet moment. And let Shuffle take me back to the golden age of gospel music, much of which I’ve loaded up on another errand.