I really was going to do a year end post because… that seemed like the thing to do. But you know what? I haven’t got a clue what to say. It’ll just come out sappy and say very little. And if I’m going to be sappy, I’d rather have some kind of… thoughts to go with it.
So I’m going to talk about Sonic Highways.
Um, fair warning that this post and however many follow it will probably be boring as fuck to anyone who isn’t into The Foo Fighters, rock music, or thoughts on how artists create stuff. And I’ll probably try to talk about each episode, but I tend to… ramble. D: I like the sound of my own typing.
For those who don’t know, Sonic Highways is a miniseries on HBO created by Dave Grohl (singer for the Foo Fighters, drummer for Nirvana.) (And yes, I am seriously late watching this. D: ) He and his band travel around to a bunch of different cities and learn about the music scene there- from a historical perspective but, more than that, from an influential perspective, to see how that music changed the music that came after. To get a feel for what emotions and feelings and anger or heartbreak or politics or love went into that music. To see how a city influences what its musicians create. And then at the end, The Foo Fighters write a song with all of that influence added in and it’s just… fucking genius. Like, some of these were songs I’ve been listening to on the radio, and they’re really good by themselves, but when you know exactly what went into them, when you get all the meaning in the lyrics, it’s incredible.
So, first episode:
Something From Nothing- Chicago
God, did this episode hit me hard. Partly because, I think, I was expecting this show to be good, because I love the Foo Fighters and I think Dave’s a genius, but… wow. This blows away every expectation. But also because I could see myself in these people. I’ve always loved the parallels between writing and music. Let me talk your ear off about it. And there they were, all right there in front of me.
Okay. Chicago. I’ve only been to Chicago once. I was taking a train across the country and we stopped in Chicago. The train station was… sort of underground or something? My memory is so fuzzy. But what I do remember is that we had a layover and we thought it would be good to get out and see the city. And we climbed up or took the elevator up to street level and walked out the doors… and these MASSIVE buildings were towering all over us, everywhere, and it was busy and windy and just… crazy. I have this image of it being crazy. And we were like, ‘Well, we’ve seen Chicago,’ and we turned around and went right back in.
So that was always my impression of Chicago- terrifying. But this episode gave me a completely new look on it. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into this show or what, but this episode seemed to be about beginnings. How people ended up doing what they do. And the blues… well, the blues are where rock music came from.
Buddy Guy put it better than anyone I’ve ever heard. He was talking about how he came to Chicago and he wanted to play guitar. Just wanted to play guitar. And he ended up meeting Muddy Waters and they became amazing friends. And that was really how it started for him. And now he’s, you know, one of the most well-known and well-respected (rightfully) musicians on the planet. And he said that it was like he’d come to Chicago looking for a dime, and he’d found a quarter. He said it with this big smile on his face, like it was the simplest thing in the world that this was how his career started, that this was how his life had gone.
Excuse me while I go have a cry.
I mean. That’s gorgeous. And simple. And accurate. And that’s… well, I’m definitely not Buddy Guy, and my career has (hopefully) only started, but that’s how it feels for me. It feels like I came to the writing community looking for a dime- I wanted to be published, I wanted to do okay- and I found a quarter- I’m getting published, I’ve got a few books signed, I’m still writing and it’s awesome, but really, the whole ‘quarter’ part, the thing that makes this whole experience better than I could ever have imagined, in a million years, is the friends I’ve made. The fact that people have wanted to help me, have been generous with their time and their insights. Have taken me in and made me a place, not just as a writer but as a person, and I don’t want to be anywhere else. I didn’t know to hope for any of that. But somehow it happened and I’ve gotten so incredibly lucky.
The Feast and the Famine- Washington D.C.
I had no idea about the D.C. music scene. Punk music isn’t something I’d probably seek out on my own, but I had a friend who was really into it and we were good about letting each other in on what we liked to listen to. So I’m pretty familiar with Minor Threat and Black Flag and Big Black and, uh… Okay, so I’m marginally familiar. I’m not at all familiar with go-go music, which was the other half of the D.C. music scene at the time the episode starts talking about. But what an amazing story of two separate genres, really growing up together but completely apart, and coming together. And both so underground and unknown, and both so… alive. That is some history there. That’s important.
But. Okay. As cool as the history is (and god, do I love diving into the near past. I like learning about all history, really. But give me the history where people can still tell me the stories they lived, where they knew the people from then, where they were there, and I’m just obsessed. That collision of the past and present is never, ever boring for me.) Um, anyway. As cool as the history is, it was the idea, here in this episode, of all these people who basically had to make a space for themselves because there wasn’t anywhere else for them. There wasn’t anywhere that wanted them.
The story about Dischord Records was really amazing. It was founded by a bunch of teenagers. Because they didn’t have an option. If they wanted to put out music, if they wanted to archive the music that was telling the story of their youth, if they wanted a record (like, a historical record but also a physical vinyl) of the music that was important and vital to them, they had to put it out themselves. Or, they could not. Those were the options. They could do ALL of this themselves- bring bands together, put music out, fucking… hand glue the record sleeves together, sell that music- carve out a space for themselves when they weren’t welcome anywhere, or they could let it go.
Ian MacKaye is one of the founders of Dischord. And he’s been in a bunch of bands. And he keeps doing it. All those years, he became a better musician and businessman, he learned and grew, and he kept going when, goddamn, I can only imagine how hard it was. Do you know how hard it is to be a musician? There’s a reason I don’t want to be a drummer in a band anymore. I chose writing over being a musician, ffs. And sometimes writing makes me want to curl up in a ball and die. It’s… It’s beyond difficult to make it as a musician. This is the number one reason why rock stars are stars. It’s because most people give up.
But this is the thing I’ve noticed in every episode of this show I’ve watched- the people who do make it always say that they did the things they did like there wasn’t ever any question. Like the idea of giving up was completely impossible. Like they couldn’t live without making music. Like they would do whatever it took, no matter what.
Which is why I’m a writer. It was the only thing I never wanted to stop doing.
Ummm… so, more talk of episodes to come, possibly? *blogs sporadically*