Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fables of the Reconstruction - A New Column

The author as Elton John in the mid 70s.

I was one of Twist and Shout’s earliest customers. When Paul bought Underground Records at a tax sale in the late 80s, he was the coolest teacher at my high school, the kind of teacher who would hang out with you during lunch hour and talk about music, the kind of teacher who would loan you his precious live bootleg cassettes. I spent a fair amount of money in that little shop on Pearl. One day during the summer between graduation and the first day of college I went wild and loaded up on CDs and records, some of which I still vividly recall: a new copy of the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out! on CD, used vinyl copies of Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, two bucks each. All told, I spent $95 – a lot of money for a kid back then. As Paul bagged up my goodies he expressed his gratitude by saying something like, “When you publish your first book, I’ll buy ten copies.”
As far as I know, he never made good on that promise. But that’s not what I’m going to gripe about here. My beef is with myself. Everything I carried out of Twist and Shout on that day is gone. Long gone. Casualties of MP3. In the years since that $95 shopping spree, I’ve decimated two fairly impressive collections of music -- one LP and cassette, the other CD -- in favor of a 160 gig iPod full of mathematical approximations of music stolen from Napster and Limewire or occasionally bought from iTunes. I had hours and hours and days and days of the stuff on my hard drive. And the more I snagged, the less I valued. It got to the point where I didn’t really care about music anymore, which is a profoundly sad statement, considering how much music defined my life for many of my years.
The author @ The Dead in Chicago, 2009
Then about two and half years ago I got the inkling to listen to the Grateful Dead. I had hundreds of live tapes back in the day, but I got rid of them all in a fit of anger in 1989 after the band had the gall to play “Dark Star” at a show where I wasn’t in attendance. In early 2009, I had a craving for “Tennessee Jed,” of all songs, and I discovered that just about every note the band ever played is available for free online, and in pristine quality. Within a few months I had a 2.5 terabyte external hard drive loaded with thousands and thousands of hours the Dead.
It got me thinking about Paul, so I wrote him a letter - a real letter with a stamp. I told him the Dead had made me fall in love with music again, and I hit him up for some boots. We struck up a nice email conversation that’s still going today. Soon I had a new used stereo, complete with turntable, and growing collection of records. Our conversation sort of evolved too, and with a lot of persuading on my part we came up with this idea of me writing a column for Spork. Like I said, Paul taught me how to write when I was a little punk at Smoky Hill High School, and I’ve gone on to do pretty well with it. In 2006 my first book came out, snatching a few good reviews, a couple of awards and best-seller status for one long and glorious week, in Denver. This fall I begin a new career as an assistant professor of creative writing at Columbus State University in Georgia.
I’ve decided to call this column “Fables of the Reconstruction” because it’s going to mainly be a collection of stories unearthed in the rebuilding my music collection. (Also because the R.E.M. album of the same title came out when I was in high school and has deep significance for me personally that I’ll probably divulge at a later date, and because I’m moving to the South, to the same state R.E.M. hailed from, and so on and so forth.) This project is more than amassing a bunch of wax and pretty cardboard covers. I’m reconstructing a life.
Music is more than just notes and beats. It’s an interactive life force, a conduit to the world and to undiscovered realms of the self. It spurs reflection, perspective, appreciation and exploration, all of which writing can facilitate. Likewise, Twist and Shout is more than just a store. It’s a community hub. In addition to the physical space of the shop on Colfax it offers newsletters in print and email, Facebook and Twitter, and this blog so anyone can connect from anywhere in the world. I hope that by that by spinning yarns about my adventures in musical discover and rediscovery I’ll inspire others to venture further down the path.

- Joe Miller

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