Jeebus Brought the Awesome to Albany

Back around 1995 or so, when I was reviewing music for Metroland, I stumbled across a demo tape called Jed Has Too Much Free Time and, curiosity piqued, went to check out a show by its creator, Long Island native Jed Davis, at the late, lamented Mother Earth Cafe in Albany. What I saw that night was mind-boggling: a charismatic UAlbany kid playing a seemingly-endless stream of incredibly literate, funny, and technically-proficient tunes, occasionally assisted by some other college kids, all of whom seemed to know each other, and Jed. I can’t swear to this, but I also think I caught Davis’ band of the era, Skyscape, at a show at the also late, lamented Bogie’s at the bottom of an otherwise unmemorable bill, with the same enthusiastic troop of UAlbany kids putting the townies to shame with their enthusiasm and commitment to what their seeming musical heroes were working up on stage.

jeebus

Photo by Bryan Thomas, thehiddencity.com

Davis later went on to found one of the greatest live bands to ever emerge from Albany, The Hanslick Rebellion (featuring fellow UAlbany students Mike Keaney, Alex Dubovoy and Mike Kearns), whose Albany-era legacy survived only in a live album recorded at the (once again) late, lamented QE2. Around that same time (I think), Davis put out a CD called We’re All Going to Jail that featured some of the songs I’d heard already, with cleaner, richer arrangements. It earned a spot on my top albums of the year list that year, and after feeling like a stalker of sorts, I finally contacted Jed to interview him for an article I was doing for Metroland on music technology, and later invited his next band, Collider (which also featured Keaney), to play on Sounding Board, the Time Warner Cable music show I hosted. That was the first time that we ever actually met and spoke in person. (In my pre-Sounding Board days, I virtually never, ever, ever identified myself to musicians in the market, since it was easier for me to be a critic when no one knew who I was; once TV blew my anonymity, I stopped reviewing soon thereafter).

Jed left Albany to go and do bunches of other spectacular things, most of them contained in what appears to be a reasonably accurate and up-to-date wikipedia page about him here. Jed has worked with, and impressed, an amazing array of well-known and highly-regarded musical folks over the years, and his latest solo disc, I Am Jed Davis, features a veritable Who’s Who of indie/studio rock n’ roll royalty. The Hanslick Rebellion reformed a few years back, and I took a group of RPI students and friends down to the City to see them perform at CBGB, before it, too, became late and lamented. And that was the last time I’d seen Jed, Mike and Alex (who, I would argue, are easily the best live rock and roll frontline that Albany has ever produced, hands-down, and one of the best I’ve ever seen anywhere, anyhow, anytime), until last night, when they rolled into town to close out the inaugural tour of their latest musical project, Jeebus, and Marcia and I were there to revel in their return.

As if it wasn’t delightful enough to catch the core trio of former Albanians returning to the scene of prior glories, Jeebus also features two other spectacular ingredients: guitar wizard Reeves Gabrels (best known in pop circles for the decade he spent as David Bowie’s primary creative foil) and drummer Matt Johnson (who also works with Rufus and Martha Wainwright, and played with Jeff Buckley, among many, many others). The five-piece band was simply jaw-dropping, playing a collection of newer tunes (“Blood” was a highlight), mixed with some popular Collider-era numbers (“1991” and “Mock Cheer,” the latter of which featured fabulous flow by special guest Jeebus Bryan Thomas), some punked-up Italian folk music (really!), a Hanslick Rebellion classic called “We Wait And We Wait”  (featuring a beautiful solo by Dubovoy), hilarious closer “I Hate All the People At My Party” (which I first heard performed on a Steinway grand piano at the Chapel + Cultural Center, when I ran the operation there), and just a whole giant dose of the passionate, personable goodness that these guys always seem to deliver, spiced up with Gabrels’ amazing theremin-cum-ARP processed guitar sounds and shredtastic tasty solos, and Davis’ excellently muscular keytar sylings.

Bryan Thomas posted some of his always-amazing event photos of the event over at the Hidden City website, here (including some very nice photos of Marcia, which I always appreciate having). You can smell the awesome coming out of your computer when you look at these snaps, and I can feel the waves of regret wafting from your house when you ponder the fact that you weren’t there. I literally don’t feel like I need to see another concert this year, because this one is going to show up at the top of the year-end best list when December 31 rolls around, so why waste time on inferior events for the next four months. Keaney, Dubovoy and Davis have never let me down, and always rocked me hard, in my 15-years of following their musical exploits, and I’m thrilled to have had them back in Albany this week, if only for a day. It kills me that we let them escape down the Hudson River. Again.

The Nest Is Empty

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Katelin is in her new nest in Geneseo. She was a happy camper as we left, so that’s a good feeling. The move-in process was well-handled and efficient, so we were on and off campus in less than two hours. Nice cool weather made hauling things more pleasant than it might typically be at this time of year. As I stood outside of Katelin’s dorm, looking west over the valley, a C-47A Dakota rose into the sky from the grass airstrip at the 1941 Historical Air Group Museum. Thrills! Chills! Excitement! To me, anyway. Katelin and Marcia weren’t quite as excited about that as I was.

College Arrivals, College Departures

On Monday, we served the very first production meals at the University at Albany’s amazing new Indian Quad Dining Room. This food service facility was specifically designed and built from the ground up (when I started my job here, the space was literally ripped down to the sand underneath the Uptown Campus) to address the needs of the so-called “Millennial Generation,” while also fully supporting sustainability objectives that are an integral part of the University’s environmental stewardship programs. Indian Quad officially opens to its student customers for dinner tonight, though we’ll be doing a formal ceremony tomorrow morning as the new freshman class moves in to show off the space to students, their parents, and (hopefully) our friends and neighbors in the community through media coverage of this exciting project.

I may get to have my picture taken at things like this because I direct the organization responsible for providing food service to the University at Albany community, but the folks who really made this happen are the dining, facilities, plant, production, architectural, crafts, marketing and other folks from the University at Albany, UAS (my organization), Chartwells (our dining contractor) and dozens of construction, equipment and service companies who shepherded this project from the focus group stage all the way through to completion. It’s a powerful testament to the way that public-private partnerships can result in great things on a University campus like Albany’s. I pinch myself at my good fortune in getting to be a beneficiary of the amazing work that went on before I even arrived on campus.

While the incoming freshmen won’t know how much better their facility is compared to the space that served their predecessors, I think by any objective standard, they will have to be pleased with the choices, quality and presentation of the dining experience offered to them. One colleague noted that the fixtures and decor of the space reminded him of the interior of Creo (also designed as a sustainable green space) at nearby Stuyvesant Plaza. I agree with him, and it’s quite a kudo to have a college dining hall compared to a new beacon of fine cuisine hereabouts. If I checked into a high end hotel, went downstairs and found this facility awaiting me, I’d be quite pleased, and would likely return for another stay.

The other thing that’s been phenomenal over the past few weeks is watching how the University faculty and staff are working above and beyond the call of duty to prepare for the arrival of both our new and returning students, not only at Indian Quad, but throughout all of the extended Albany campuses. I believe that most parents would sleep far easier on the nights after they’ve dropped their children off at college if they had any idea how much thought and effort was being put in to making their students feel welcome, safe, secure and connected.

Residential Life and related staff members at Albany and other colleges and universities are absolute saints in my eyes, as they’ve chosen to work in a difficult professional field dedicated purely and solely to helping ensure the happiness and success of young people, at one of the most vulnerable transitional stages in the students’ lives. These staff members believe in what they do, and they’re good at it. The positive impact that they will have on the students entrusted to their care can’t really be measured, and the students themselves may not even realize that they’re benefiting from it. But they will, as will millions and millions of their parents, coast to coast and beyond.

I consider myself lucky to have that perspective as a result of the time that I’ve worked here and at RPI, but that fortunate feeling is especially strong this week. Because after greeting the University of Albany class of 2013 tomorrow morning, I’ll hop in a rented minivan and drive out to Geneseo to hand my only daughter over to the care of the Residential Life staff there at our sister school. It gives me great comfort to know that she’ll be greeted there by folks just as conscientious and caring as the folks I work with here at Albany, though I doubt she’ll get to eat in a dining hall as nice as the one we just opened!

Compassionate Grounds?

Jim was my best friend in junior high school. He was a Navy brat, I was a Marine Corps brat, and we were fortuitously thrown together by the fates when our families both moved to Mitchel Field, New York before the start of our seventh grade year. We were both placed in a “Talented and Gifted” program at our friendly neighborhood junior high school, where they basically sequestered us and some other bright kids away from the mainstream of the school, likely turning us into odd ducks, if we weren’t so already. I suspect that Jim and I were in the latter category.

We essentially functioned as a two-person intellectual tag-team unit for the next three years at school and in our neighborhood, generally hanging out together except for during the six weeks in summer when he went to camp in Virginia, and we wrote long, elaborate, coded letters to each other laying out of plans for the year following his return. I still have a lot of those letters from him, most of them written with a fountain pen, blobs of ink all over them, preserving one of Jim’s more persistent (and eccentric) preferences at that time.

Jim and I first connected over our shared obsessions with the early music of Steely Dan and Jethro Tull, and we would spend hours and hours playing, discussing, analyzing and dissecting their albums. He was a bit more cosmopolitan than I was, and introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Monty Python, and Perrier. I think I introduced him to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom Series, Dungeons and Dragons, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer (via a copy of Tarkus that I pilfered from the library of a nearby community college). Whatever we got into, we got into deep, and my cultural tastes today are largely similar to those that I forged with Jim during those formidable, formative years.

We did many of the things that smart junior high school boys do, and some that many don’t: we skateboarded, we smoked things we shouldn’t have, we figured out how to deal with girls, we wrote pretentious poetry, we worked on the school’s closed-circuit television show, and we designed elaborate linguistic and wargaming systems that combined Burroughs, Tolkein, and our own rather off-kilter senses of humor. We also liked to set things on fire, and once almost burned Jim’s house down while igniting model airplanes in his basement. I still have scars on my left leg where molten model plastic splashed me.

Soon after that accidental fire, Jim hand-delivered a note to my house, which I still have. On the outside, it said “Special Bulletin to Eric Smith (Only)”. Inside it read:

“Though you may have guessed already, I will tell you that on the Friday 19th, after I took Wendy out (yup! yup!) my mother discovered her bottle of Sobo (TM) glue in the “small” room (basement) and also other things (hint: [some drawings of candles, model airplanes and fire appear here]). I made sure your mom didn’t find out, so things went a little easier, and I was heavily restricted for one night, for which I compensated by reading my (and Tolkein’s) companion. So, you guessed, fate has destined our pyromaniacal phase to terminate and I accept his decision on the matter and have decided that we now must enter a more conservative phase, where we must seek peace of mind, keeping within the limits, being subtle, yet radical, and settling down to more time with Wendy and Maria (yup!). But we must stay tactical, shrewd, uncanny, as we battle our foes. Also, we must be a team without civil war. I have drawn up a file to record and index anything or anyone concerning our organization(s).”

Of course, as happens with all organizations built around or for military brats, eventually duty calls for the military members, and their kids go with them. Jim left Mitchel Field first, the summer before our tenth grade year, moving to New Jersey, where (like me) he grew a foot in a year or so, and took up fencing, because he was the type of guy who just looked right with a sword in his hand. We continued to correspond regularly, and got together a couple of times that year before I moved to Newport, Rhode Island, and then on to Jacksonville, North Carolina, at which point our letters tended to become less frequent, though more florid. I have a six-page, handwritten letter, for example, containing an epic poem called “Green Dragon Friday” that Jim sent me during the first semester of our senior year in high school. It’s really a spectacularly clever and creative piece, and it’s one of the reasons that I consider Jim one of the best writers (and smartest people) I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.

College time came: I went off to the Naval Academy, and Jim was accepted to a prestigious Ivy League school, where he went on to become an All-American fencer. His school and my school were rivals on that front, so whenever he came to Annapolis to compete, we would get the chance to catch up. I made it through college in four years, but Jim’s wanderlust took him, and he left school before graduating, and headed off to Europe to explore, travel, think, and write for a couple of years before finishing his degree.

Just before Christmas of 1988, Jim boarded a plane in London to return to the United States. But he never made it home, perishing instead with 269 other people when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, and plummeted to the ground, 31,000 feet below. Jim had a window seat, just above the wing. According to the investigation report:

“. . . when the cockpit broke off, tornado-force winds tore through the fuselage, tearing clothes off passengers and turning insecurely-fixed items like food and drink trolleys into lethal objects. Because of the sudden change in air pressure, the gases inside the passengers’ bodies would have expanded to four times their normal volume, causing their lungs to swell and then collapse . . . A minute after the explosion, the wing section containing 200,000 lb (91,000 kg) of fuel hit the ground at Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie. The British Geological Survey at nearby Eskdalemuir registered a seismic event measuring 1.6 on the Richter scale as all trace of two families, several houses, and the 196 ft (60 m) wing of the aircraft disappeared . . .”

I think it’s safe to say that Jim would have liked to have lived another several decades, and to have spent his final moments not as described above, but rather in the presence of his loved ones, as will Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the man convicted of killing him, who was released from his life sentence on “compassionate grounds” yesterday, returning home to a hero’s welcome in Libya.

I lost only a childhood friend over Lockerbie and I’m viscerally appalled by the Scottish judge’s decision, so I can’t comprehend how those who lost children, parents, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives must feel. There are strong ties to Pan Am Flight 103 in the Capital Region and other parts of Upstate New York (especially Syracuse), and I grieve for those families here and elsewhere as they watch mercy being dispensed to the person who unmercifully robbed them of their loved ones.

Those families are the ones worthy and deserving of relief on compassionate grounds, though there is none to be granted them.

 

 

Notes: Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi died in May, 2012, some 30 months after his release. My sentiments on the subject discussed above and the injustices committed remain unchanged. There is an error in the memorial page above; Jim was returning to South Hadley, Massachusetts, not England.

Ten Quick Bits

1. We take Katelin to college one week from today. This has a lot to do with why I’m not on here much lately: as much as I like spending time with you, my invisible internet-pipe friends, I like spending time with her many times more, and I want to milk that while I can.

2. I get back to work on my Ph.D. the following Monday,taking three evening classes in the Fall semester. That will distract me from the vacuum created by the time that Katelin currently fills. Maybe.

3. I am listening to an awe-inspiring album called Legends of Benin. I have no idea what Gnonnas Pedro et Ses Dadjes’ “Dadje Von O Von Non” is about, but I totally want it as my theme music, playing whenever I make an entry into a room, suave, cool, and stylish. Make it so, Number Two.

4. I think Plaxico Burress got railroaded: two years in prison for shooting himself in the leg? Yes, he could have shot someone else, but he didn’t. I am completely, totally, almost irrationally anti-gun, but I still think that losing his livelihood and (nearly) his leg is pretty much all the punishment he needs. I doubt he’d be looking at hard time if he was a corn-fed, church-going, white quarterback from the Midwest, who accidentally shot himself with his hunting rifle. Just saying.

5. Still working on archiving my consolidated blog archive. I’ve gotten back to June 2004 with putting post titles and tags on things. 2004 has been slow and hard to work with, as that’s the year I wrote a poem a day, then wiped them clean, so the posts that remain are a bit choppy and hard to edit.

6. I’m eyeballing some analog synthesizers for my studio/office, hence the sale on some old gear. I’ve raised about half the cost of the one I want already. Yes, I could afford to just buy what I want outright, but it is such a piffling indulgence that I would feel guilty putting it into the family’s general operating account.Selling toys to buy toys is psychologically more comforting.

7. I’ve been nibbling my nails as efforts to Free Spirit continue apace. But. holy moly, while Spirit is trapped in her sand dune, darned if Opportunity didn’t roll right up on the largest meteorite yet seen on the surface of Mars. These little machines inspire me.

8. Marcia and I went to the track at Saratoga today and wagered on seven races, winning three Exacta bets. Unfortunately, in the other four races, we lost what we won. Easy come, easy go, with a zero sum game day at the races. Marcia overheard a young girl tell her mother “That’s why I always bet on the longshots . . . because they always win!!” Oh, youth.

9. The new Indian Quad dining hall at University at Albany opens next week. It was designed specifically with the tastes, likes and needs of the so-called “Millennial Generation” in mind. I hope they like it. I am participating in the ribbon cutting (metaphorical, not literal) next week, though I will be trying to dodge cameras to make sure that students are front and center in the coverage of the event. My staff and the many University and contractor staff members involved have really done wonders on this project over the past couple of years. Hats off to them, hurrah!

10. It’s not a blog post without a picture of a cat. Or at least a cat’s mutant, shoe-lace-tying, prehensile-thumbed feet:

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Clearing Out the Studio

I’ve got a new musical acquisition in mind (more news to follow when I know I’ve secured it), so I’m clearing out some of the lesser used goods in the studio office to make room. If anything piques your curiosity, you know where to find me. (I’m Craigslisting because I don’t want to pack and ship stuff, so locals only, sorry, please and thanks).

BOSS DR-110 Dr. Rhythm Vintage Analog Drum Synth:
http://albany.craigslist.org/msg/1326539900.html

KORG Electribe A EA-1 Analog Modeling Synthesizer:
http://albany.craigslist.org/msg/1325064590.html

Three Classic Ibanez Guitar Pedals (SC10, DDL20, TS10):
http://albany.craigslist.org/msg/1326516499.html

1988 Ovation Custom Balladeer Guitar:
http://albany.craigslist.org/msg/1325135796.html

Mountain Dulcimer:
http://albany.craigslist.org/msg/1325085478.html

ZOOM 607 Bass Effects Pedal:
http://albany.craigslist.org/msg/1325075457.html

Yamaha RBX260 4-String Bass Guitar:
http://albany.craigslist.org/msg/1325055059.html