morning becomes reflective…the thing about music (and Moby Grape)
Sometimes when you set out to write something a particular way or about a specific subject you get taken away. Or at least I do, since most of my writing ideas come to me during my morning walks with the dog and the iPod, and it seems that what’s clear one moment gets hazy the next, and then changes altogether. And such has been the case with Moby Grape, a band I’ve loved forever and one that I’ve often considered to be one of those “early Americana” types of bands I’ve written about here a time or two.
I have long wanted to do some sort of essay about this band but with the internet and all, if somebody is interested in their music or history you can simply Google and read away. So I’ve been looking for a hook or something different to focus on and from time to time I’d track down the band members as best I could and see what was going on. I probably missed my moment last year, when a sudden flood washed out guitarist’s Jerry Miller’s Tacoma home and folks there were trying to help him out. Or maybe it could have been the coming together of most of the band down at Omar Spence’s (yeah…Skip’s son) home studio for recording and practice of a Moby Grape 09 project. They also played a short set down at this year’s SXSW billed as New Wine/Moby Grape and featuring Jerry and Don with Omar and others. And those tracks they cut..still rough and in Omar’s possession.
For the past few weeks I’ve been posting something fairly regularly that I call the alphabet project, which is where I go through my digital library and write about some of the artists I like and occasionally stray to a book or otherwise go off topic. I try and keep away from the beaten track and help expose things you wouldn’t ordinarily know about, but sometimes I also choose the popular. I’ve gone from A-G so far and it’s been at the letter H that I’ve had a thought or an “ah ha” moment of sorts.
The music I listen to tends to roughly range from somewhere back in the thirties to stuff done last week. My collection is somewhat unique to me and my tastes, as yours is to you. When I hear a song (and I’ll cop to this right here…I hardly ever or never play an album anymore, let alone choose a song. I hit shuffle and let it be.) it’s like a living entity to me, regardless of when or where or who has done it. Be it an emotional reaction or if it kicks in some of my memory chips, the source is meaningless because it’s only the response I get at the moment that really matters. And so it is that when I’m drawn into a conversation about whether this artist is better or more important that that one (or if this album is more creative than the other) I shut down. Because I think there is no answer to those questions, no truth we can actually see or witness. But I’m wandering off the path again. Sorry.
As I have been going through my music library, I have come to realize that many of the bands I think of as being in the here and now, are actually not…at least not in the physical or material way. And I’m not talking about those bands like Moby Grape from the sixties, I mean bands from this decade. You see, as it has become so easy and cost effective to put out music these days, more and more people do it. And for myself, since I like hearing what young people are creating and performing a bit more than the old folks (did you see Mick on Larry King last night?) it has come to me lately that I’m feeling a little sad when I find that after one or two releases, they break up and move on. I get that college kids go back to where they came from, some get married and start families, others go off to fight the rich man’s wars, others stay in music but make it with others and so on. And I guess that this is just the way it is and has always been, since nothing stays the same and it’s always changing. (I’m just full of pop psycho-babble cliche’s today. Forgive me.)
Yesterday me and the dog are walking and “Omaha” by Moby Grape comes up on the player except it’s not the version off the first album, but a live recording from Amsterdam in 1967. That’s about the same time period that I saw them perform on a couple of occasions and it reminded me of a few things. The first is that I don’t think I ever thanked Carol Drucker for taking me with her to see them the first time when we were both in tenth grade back at Washington High. So thanks. Hope you’re well. The second is that despite the musical history revisionists who believe that the Grape began and ended with Skip Spence, you’re wrong.
This was an actual band with moving parts and the back story is quite sad if you don’t already know it. Aside from a lengthy legal problem that made it difficult for the band members to earn a living, Skip took a very public emotional tumble (that has been often compared with Syd Barrett) and so the legend has loomed larger than the man. (Gram also comes to mind, but I’m not going to duel with all of you Parsonfanatics today, so please don’t take me to task.)
For myself, what happened to bassist, singer and songwriter Bob Mosely that caused him to end up living under a freeway in San Diego fifteen years ago is an extremely compelling story and even more so in that it was guitarist and friend Peter Lewis who went to find him and help out. I believe that Bob is married and living up in Santa Cruz now, and Peter lives in Solvang and still is performing. Another thing I find interesting about the Grape is the relationship between guitarist Jerry Miller and drummer Don Stevenson that stretched back to Pacific NW garage bands in the early sixties. Miller, despite Rolling Stone magazine saying he is just the 68th best rock guitarist (wonder how it was determined that he’s not the 10th or 52nd or 74th? What scientific methodology is used for such nonsense?), was probably the hottest American player back in the sixties and continues to still get out there and shred with that old Gibson of his. And Don, one of the greatest drummers I’ve ever heard and a damn good singer, he spent a good part of his life as a time share salesman for Mexican condos when he wasn’t (or isn’t) making music. As Jerry Miller says…sometimes the guys just get together to play and go “Moby Grape’n”.
Since I’m not a professional writer or journalist, it’s good that I don’t get paid for this. My problem sometimes is, as you can tell, that I often stumble right about now when I try to sum it all up and make a point or two. I guess for one, whether an artist lives or dies, a band stays together or just breaks up into lots of pieces, the songs live on. It doesn’t much matter if they record on vinyl, tape, plastic, analog or digital, but it seems to me that it’s very important that we try and keep it available. Another thing is that the musicians we enjoy can often seem frozen in time in our minds, but they do get old and they do die. I found this picture I wanted to post here of some of the guys from Moby Grape taken last year, but couldn’t snatch it in the right file format. But if you can imagine, they’re older, grayer, heavier and wrinkle-lier. Kinda like the rest of us, or at least me. So as the world turns, thankfully the song remains the same.