Thinking

Remembering Jack Ramsay

My dad died a week ago. We had a com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ship.

What can I say about him? He was a mys­te­ri­ous man. I have few specifics. What I have are some details that paint a gauzy pic­ture of whom I under­stand him to be, or to have been.

I know that his child­hood was fraught. That his father was abu­sive. That his moth­er was abu­sive. He grew up in West Philadel­phia at 61st and Girard. He had a guardian angel in his aunt Helen, who was also his par­ents’ land­lord. I knew her. He loved her very much.

While details of his boy­hood were scarce, he told amaz­ing sto­ries about his ado­les­cence. As I’ve heard from many Philadel­phi­ans his age, every­one seemed to fight con­stant­ly. The vio­lence was spon­ta­neous and intense. A neigh­bor­hood goon would ter­ror­ize the trol­ley. The plot of land that became Samuel Gom­pers Ele­men­tary School was a Gangs of New York-esque bat­tle­field where my dad punched the lead singer of the Dovells in the nose, or so he claimed. They beat each oth­er with spin­dles from stoop stair­cas­es. Philadel­phia in the ‘50s was wild.

He loved bas­ket­ball and played at Over­brook. The team was led by Walt Haz­zard. My dad told me that the top eight play­ers went on to play pro­fes­sion­al­ly. He was not among them.

To hear him tell it, Philadel­phia was so dan­ger­ous, he felt com­pelled to enlist. He claimed that going into the ser­vice saved him from Grater­ford. He joined the Navy and was an air­plane elec­tri­cian aboard the U.S.S. Ticon­dero­ga. I only recent­ly real­ized he was aboard dur­ing the Gulf of Tonkin inci­dent. He wit­nessed a pilot be butchered by a plane pro­peller. For all the sto­ries he would tell about surf­ing through­out Asia, the war deeply affect­ed him. He rarely spoke about it and was sharply crit­i­cal of those who reimag­ined them­selves as war heroes.

There’s anoth­er ellip­sis after he returns home. His dad — a WWI vet born in 1899 — dies in 1963, I think. He mar­ries my mom in 1974. He gets his degree in food mar­ket­ing from Saint Joe’s in ’75. He went at night. They moved to a farm­house in Gabelsville, PA that was built in 1760, where they raised sheep and hors­es.

I arrived in ’77 and my sis­ter in ’80.

He worked at GE, then Mar­tin Mari­et­ta, then final­ly Lock­heed Mar­tin for 40 years in Val­ley Forge. He wasn’t allowed to talk about what he did, but he brought home amaz­ing sou­venirs that his col­leagues got for him. I have a t-shirt from the Yeltsin coup. I have a Sovi­et offi­cers hat and a KGB watch. I got a t-shirt with an ele­phant that just said “Africa.”

He was an amaz­ing provider. He cared very deeply about us kids hav­ing a bet­ter child­hood than him. His abil­i­ty to cre­ate a life for us is unde­ni­able. He want­ed so bad­ly to take us to Hong Kong. We nev­er made that trip.

While our rela­tion­ship grew com­pli­cat­ed as I got old­er, I ulti­mate­ly under­stood that he was doing his very best. I hope he knew that I knew that, even if nei­ther of us was able to say it to each oth­er.

Love you, Dad. Give Aunt Helen a hug and a kiss for us.

Standard
Doing

Royal Trux at El Club

Roy­al Trux!

A post shared by J T. Ram­say (@jtramsay) on

 

Let’s fake our way through Bad Blood for John.”

Neil Michael Hager­ty was try­ing des­per­ate­ly to get through a gor­geous, dis­as­trous set at El Club’s first birth­day par­ty with a Roy­al Trux clas­sic, ded­i­cat­ing it to Neg­a­tive Approach’s John Bran­non, the first son of Detroit hard­core. Hagerty’s band­mate Jen­nifer Her­re­ma had spent most of the show seat­ed or lay­ing down onstage, join­ing in on vocals spo­rad­i­cal­ly.

It was every­thing I’d imag­ine it would be and more. Thrilled to see them back togeth­er again and back out on the road.

Standard
Listening

Grails — Deep Snow II

I met Grails in Fish­town, before or after a show upstairs at the old Cir­cle of Hope on Frank­ford, I don’t quite remem­ber. The show itself was phe­nom­e­nal. They were out in sup­port of  2007’s Black Tar Prophe­cies Vol 1–3, a col­lec­tion I real­ly enjoyed and a sound NPR Music’s Lars Gotrich describes as “doomy Amer­i­cana.”

He’s not wrong. After I heard, Earth’s great 2005 album Hex: Or Print­ing in the Infer­nal Method, I was intox­i­cat­ed by this sound. For the unini­ti­at­ed, imag­ine an instru­men­tal sound­track to True Detec­tive Sea­son 1. For me, it was a coun­ter­point to what had start­ed to frus­trate me about freak folk pop­u­lar at the time.

The guys them­selves were real­ly great. I planned to inter­view them, but Fish­town Tav­ern was way too loud, so we end­ed up talk­ing about music and shout­ing at each oth­er like the reg­u­lars. I’d lat­er catch them when they came through on sub­se­quent tours and was sur­prised to see Emil Amos’ hold­ing down the drums for the mighty Om.

Chal­ice Hym­nal, their first record since 2011, is out in a few weeks. Check­ing out the new tunes on Tem­po­rary Residence’s Sound­cloud, it’s a depar­ture from that doomy Amer­i­cana sound. The title track has ele­ments of dub that were com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed.

Deep Snow II” is more of the fore­bod­ing pas­toral I fell in love with when I first heard the band. It’s less witchy and more space rock than the stuff they were doing 10 years ago, but it’s famil­iar in its tone and mood.

If there’s some­thing I espe­cial­ly love about 2017 musi­cal­ly, it’s that so many of the bands I loved as a music crit­ic are get­ting back togeth­er and mak­ing fan­tas­tic music. Grails are no excep­tion.

Standard
Listening

The New Pornographers — High Ticket Attractions

The New Pornog­ra­phers are an inter­na­tion­al trea­sure. Every­thing I wrote in this post I want to take back. Their only crime was giv­ing us so much joy. You have no idea how elat­ed I was to find their new song, “High Tick­et Attrac­tions,” from their forth­com­ing record, White­out Con­di­tions, post­ed to YouTube.

High Tick­et Attrac­tions” picks up where Brill Bruis­ers left off: uptem­po, vocal inter­play between Carl New­man and Neko Case, loaded with buzzy fun. It’s exact­ly what you’re look­ing for from them and they deliv­er.

The New Pornog­ra­phers are head­ed out on tour in sup­port. Shame they’re not com­ing to Detroit this time around, but if they’re com­ing to your town, don’t miss them. I regret every time I did. I’m hard pressed to think of a band that’s bet­ter at ban­ter.

 

Standard
Listening

Gorillaz — Hallelujah Money

When I think about the artists I grew up lis­ten­ing to there are few I admire as much as Damon Albarn. Sure, much of that is owed to my year in Den­mark, where I wit­nessed up close Blur’s bat­tle with Oasis, but when I look back on that time, I still think The Great Escape held up much bet­ter than What’s the Sto­ry, Morn­ing Glo­ry?

(Before I get too far down that path, can we talk about how Goril­laz’ debut came out 16 years ago? This is like real­iz­ing the Jicks have been togeth­er longer than Pave­ment were.)

Hal­lelu­jah Mon­ey” is their first record in six years. Can’t wait to hear what comes next.

Standard
Listening

Steve Gunn — Eyes on the Lines

It may be my 19125 show­ing, but Steve Gunn’s Eyes on the Lines seemed crim­i­nal­ly under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed last year. It was a per­fect sum­mer record that split the dif­fer­ence between the Grate­ful Dead and those late Son­ic Youth records inspired by the Grate­ful Dead, with a dash of the fun of those ear­ly solo Malk­mus records (“Full Moon Tide”).

Standard
Listening

Wilco — Schmilco

2016 was a fun­ny year. One of the year’s biggest sur­pris­es for me was Wilco’s Schmil­co. For me, Wilco was a casu­al­ty of over­ex­po­sure; to be a rel­e­vant music crit­ic in the ‘00s meant killing your idols and real­ly try­ing to dis­tance your­self from indie rock to the extent it was pos­si­ble.

In some ways, the divorce was painful. Wilco were prob­a­bly one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite band, at the end of the 90s. I fell hard for Being There, loved Sum­mer­teeth, fell hook, line and sinker for Yan­kee Hotel Fox­trot and felt like they’d rein­vent­ed them­selves all over again with A Ghost Is Born.

But then some­thing hap­pened. It was a con­flu­ence of fac­tors, to be sure, but the over­ex­po­sure and the super­se­ri­ous treat­ment the band got — and seemed to embrace — was a bit much. The band I saw rip­ping through a set on the banks of the Coop­er Riv­er was a dis­tant mem­o­ry. More­over, the weird got much weird­er. Wilco’s art rock machis­mo didn’t fit the mood. I nev­er cot­toned to Sky Blue Sky and tuned out a band I’d seen on every tour between 1999 to 2003.

Albums came and went. I read tweets about Nels Cline’s sub­lime gui­tar, but I wasn’t moved. When I lis­tened to Star Wars I was entranced by “Mag­ne­tized,” but I didn’t trust my emo­tions. Could it be that Wilco had found their way back, much in the same way one-time tour­mates Son­ic Youth did with Mur­ray Street?

They had, but I couldn’t admit it yet.

It’s a crum­my rock crit­ic thing, but in the inter­im, even as Jeff Tweedy mor­phed into an elder states­man of Great Amer­i­can Song­writ­ers, the all caps idea of Wilco had become some­thing else alto­geth­er. Star Wars felt dif­fer­ent, but with Schmil­co, Wilco were under­dogs all over again, a rock band at once com­plete­ly out of time — didn’t they get the mes­sage the idiom had passed them by? — and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly right in the pock­et of the Zeit­geist in the most under­stat­ed fash­ion imag­in­able.

In short, once Wilco were unbur­dened by the chal­lenge of being the coolest rock band on the plan­et, it freed them up to make real­ly fan­tas­tic records that cap­tured the cre­ativ­i­ty and feisti­ness of their ear­ly years. If Schmil­co is Wilco’s Son­ic Nurse, then I can’t wait for their Rather Ripped.

 

Standard