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Hanging Out in the Past
Is it really the music that matters?

by Jack Mars

As I sat combing the sand out of my hair I wondered if Kris had any intention of coming back for us. It was unlikely that we would last more than a few days out here. All but one of my companions huddled together, for warmth they claimed. It was almost 110 degrees and getting hotter. One man, the only one I had any interest in, walked towards the world's largest tangle of sagebrush, but I never considered myself much of an expert on that subject. It might have been impressive. Then again, maybe it wasn't. His reaction to the plant was however. His stealthy approach had been a mere ruse to trick it into a false sense of security and, when he was close enough, he began to assault it verbally, questioning its manhood and taunting its mother. It was only the beginning. After the second strike the guitar broke in half. Jonas took to stomping the bush and spin kicking it into submission. Eventually the task got the better of him and he wandered over towards me. He collapsed against the nearest boulder. He popped the top on the last of the beers, smiled at me and said, "Put that in your story!"

By the time we got to Phoenix I was pretty sure I coudn't go on, pretty sure one more night would kill me, and I was pretty sure that the members of this band were insane. Kris found the Pop Rocks he was looking for at a nearby Gas & Go and, since their "magical" properties protected him from Satan and smallpox, he felt safe enough to return and let us back on the bus. We never saw the driver again, but we made the gig. I guess that was the important thing. I guess...

"The hottest musician in the country, in the world, and you're going to give me a story about his new album!"

The money was good, I hadn't been on a tour in months and, besides, I happened to like this Jonas guy. His latest album, Buddha Took A Tumble was rocketing up the charts. Why not?

If I'd listened to the little voice inside my head, and not my editor, you wouldn't be reading this. That voice told me to turn immediately and run from this assignment. If I'd listened to that voice, I'd be somewhere south of Maine, and still running. Instead, I'm playing a midnight game of dominoes with two roadies and a concession worker somewhere in the depths of the Oakland Coliseum. I try to remember why I took this assignment as I contemplate the six white dots swimming in front of me.

"Say something about the new album," I hear someone say. Say something about the new album? I look around to see who's talking, then I realize it's me.

Normally, I could go on talking about the new Jonas album for days, but I am drunk and speechless. The show went well though. At least, I think it went well.

The morning finally brings a chance for reflection. What is it about the new Jonas album that makes 60 year old librarians throw their panties at a man 30 years younger than them? What is it about these songs that makes lumberjacks cry? What is it about this man that would lead a hungry young writer to follow him halfway across the continent, on to Alaska, and then back to the heartland? Why did I do this? Why didn't I ask for more money...more time? I fish the filter end of a cigarette out of my Coke and realize I don't care. How did I become so unfeeling?

The new Jonas album touches greatness, in a way that is difficult for the average listener to understand. I'm not sure I understand.

I'm taking a few minutes in the back of the bus to myself, a few minutes away from the groupies and the mayhem of this tour. I'm trying to collect my thoughts and tell you what I really think about Buddha Took A Tumble. The trouble is, I don't know what I think. I can't put a label on this album. I can't analyze it in any way that makes sense. Somehow, I don't think I should like it, but I can't stop listening.

"Working on your story?"

I look up and see Jonas' head poking through the curtain that hangs in the doorway. He slips through gracefully and lets in too much light, an almost angelic light. Jesus, who is this guy? He picks up his guitar and sits down on the bunk across from me.

"What's your angle?"

"That's my problem," I say, "I don't have an angle? I can't figure this album out. I like it, but I don't know what it is I like. This is obviously your best work. What inspired you to create this album? Give me your thoughts, your dreams, give me something!" I begged.

"I think I'd rather let the album speak for itself. I've recorded songs that speak to me, as I always do. What other people get out of them is their business."

"But what does it all mean?" I asked. "I used to be afraid that people didn't really understand my songs. Now, after some time, I realize they definitely don't understand them. Then I realized why. They're written in an obscure language and I am the sole speaker of that unique dialect."

"It has to be more than that," I said, "Your songs speak to so many people. There has to be something to that."

My question was interruppted by the boisterous crowd at the front of the bus.

"I mean, your songs don't lend themselves to this party image. Don't you ever want to just say, enough?!?!?"

I continued. "Every day...mostly I just feel tired, but I never try to transcend that. Maybe I just like that feeling. I know I'm looking at a world that is messed up. Sometimes music gives us prophets, but, too often, they're weak. I look around and I see they're all gone. Most of them are dead and, in too many cases, the demise was by their own design. I wonder where the heroes are. Why do we live in a society that deifies a man who places a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger?"

I knew things were going well, rarely did Jonas open up like this. I pressed on, delicately.

"What do you mean by that statement?" I asked.

"Somehow I think the real heroes came before us, built a world that had problems, but the world will always have problems, tried to build something for their children, right or wrong, had their children mock everything they stood for, and still got up in the morning and decided to stay and at least work for something they believed in. I think I can admire that more than I can admire anyone who abandons the fight."

"I'm confused," I said, "a moment ago you were talking about writing music only for yourself, and now, it seems, you're talking about some universal struggle."

"I'm talking about the will to live, the need to fight for one's self. I write songs for me. It's great if others can take something out of them. However, I make music in a selfish way. We're so worried these days about not being selfish, as if that's a bad thing, but, when selfishness is a path leading to self understanding and self preservation, I think it's a good thing. You can't save others if you're not willing to save yourself. We have to be willing to admit that we can be selfish creatures and that sometimes we get angry. Sometimes it's okay to feel things that don't have anything to do with anyone else!"

"So,what are you saying?"

"I say, when you feel angry, get angry...SCREAM!!! When you're feeling something intense, go ahead and feel it. I think it's a huge mistake to assume that the people who are outspoken about their feelings, the ones who beat their heads against the walls are somehow out of touch. I think that it helps them to remember they're alive. I am an intolerant person, I suppress that in the understanding that I must live within a structure that will neither accomodate, let alone accept, my attitude or beliefs. Somehow, I'd rather be angry, bitter, and know I lived than be accepting and play the game. Do I have a poker face? No I don't...and F*CK you!"

Suddenly he stopped. He looked at the floor and, in a casual way, ran his fingers through his hair.

"Do you understand what I'm saying?" he asked.

I paused and glanced at the man next to me and realized...he wasn't any different from me. I realized he embraced all the things I felt, but didn't want to own up to. Maybe that's what I loved about this album, it was unapologetic. For all it's flaws, problems, it was what it was and Jonas made no excuses for anything. This album came from the heart, because this man was performing for an audience of one and that requires more honesty than most people are willing to allow. Do I understand what you're saying?

"Yes, I think I do."

© 2002, Jack Mars, used by permission.