Volume 12, Issue 8 ~ February 19-25, 2004

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Pugh's Reviews

Where I’m Coming From

Music and I go way back, so I expect certain things from it. As a little boy, I battled with asthmatic insomnia. To ease the suffering, my father would place headphones on my ears at bedtime and softly pipe through Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. The sounds diverted my attention away from my breathing and lulled me to sleep.

I was 13 years old, cruising home from the mall, when my friend’s older brother popped Led Zeppelin into the dashboard. Singer Robert Plant struck a nerve in me when he howled, “in the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man.”

Back then, my parents were newly divorced, hormones raged through my system and the world was beginning to look painfully different. The instant I heard Led Zeppelin, I knew I’d found an escape.

Jimmy Page’s searing guitar, John Paul Jones’ rumbling bass and Plant’s screams lifted me from a teenage funk. Zeppelin’s drummer, John Bonham, carried me away. His power and thunder made my guts winch and my spirit burn. I listened to every stroke and rhythmic expression. Then I sought to emulate it.

A friend had a set of red Remo drums that I conned him into letting me borrow. The moment I sat behind them, I could play. I’d learned basic music theory by playing trumpet in elementary school. My father had also taught me simple listening exercises like instrument identification. The drums made sense to me, and I fell for them.

I copied every Bonham beat I could. His playing fascinated me but never possessed me to become as great. Like many young teens, I pushed my instrument into a corner and watched it collect dust.

Dust never settled on music’s power to affect me, however. I thank my father for that, too, as well as the Grateful Dead.

My dad was — is — a Deadhead, who turned me on to Jerry Garcia and company when they rolled into Washington D.C. on July 12, 1990. That evening, I dangled like a puppet from every psychedelic note that echoed and dripped around RFK Stadium.

The short, strange trip set the tempo for years of summer music getaways and rejuvenated affairs with the drums.

Music became a communal medium through which I created many friendships. Pals and I evaded numerous beatings and arrests while hoping fences at Merriweather Post Pavilion to see our favorite acts.

For free we saw Santana, the Allman Brothers, Ziggy Marley, Steve Miller, Jimmy Buffett, the Horde Festivals and many others. All of them elevated my musical scope, consciousness and desire to play.

Some of the same friends also played instruments. We’d cram into our parent’s basements and jam aimlessly for hours, turning simple tunes into extra-sensory conversations.

During those sessions I caught a fleeting glimpse of musical transcendentalism — moments of Zen when the instruments play themselves — and understood why many musicians are obsessed with what they do.

I joined dozens of music powwows, saw hundreds of shows and discovered countless genres as the years passed. Then, in college, music opened another door for me. I was studying journalism, working part-time and feeling anxious and uncertain about the future when I saw a band called Phish.

Based out of Vermont, Phish is a jam-band that takes a free-formed approach to music similar to the Grateful Dead’s, only tighter and edgier. They are known for their unpredictable shows, rabid fans and mixture of musical styles.

Their tapestry of sound and energy was infectious. It made me sing, dance, think, reflect, laugh and cry simultaneously, raising the ante on all music — and drumming — I’d witnessed before. Bonham had ignited my desire to play the drums a decade earlier. Phish’s drummer, Jon Fishman, shocked and persuaded my desire to play them better.

His performance taught me about form, economy of motion, accenting, precision and other professional concepts I hadn’t noticed before. Leaving that show, I decided that music—in some capacity—would forever be a part of what I do.

When I began writing for Bay Weekly, I was bartending in downtown Annapolis and had become familiar with the crème of the music scene: Greg Phillips, Bryan Ewald, Dean Rosenthal, Todd Kreuzburg, Meg Murray, Jimi Davies, Kevin Martin, Van Dyke and Glaser, to name a few.

Around the same time — by the cosmos’ design — a show-crashing, music-playing friend from yesterday — Scott ‘James’ deGraffenreid — started jockeying at WRNR. He introduced me to other local greats like Damian Einstein.

Writing about music fit naturally, and so began years of covering local shows, events, musicians and music personalities.

When writing my reviews today, I juxtapose my experiences against all who come under my microscope. I believe that any music or musician — famous or not — is capable of affecting me the way Mozart, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead or Phish have. So I hold them to the same standards.

Music must have the power to move me. I want to sing, dance, connect emotionally and spiritually, be momentarily removed from reality and inspired to go play my Ludwigs.

Music must be challenging and accessible, and exude professionalism beyond receiving compensation for playing. I want to be awed by technical abilities — and the grace to make up for missing technique.

I seek meaningfulness from music — be it primeval or profound. It must offer something that fills me up and makes me think I understand — but later leaves me hungry and second-guessing.

If you or your band performs publicly as in Chesapeake Country’s Annapolis region, I’m going to hear you. My expectations are laid out — and I don’t think I’m asking for much.

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Last updated February 18, 2004 @ 11:59pm.