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Columns > Jesse Jarnow - Brain Tuba

Published: 2002/10/23
by Jesse Jarnow

BRAIN TUBA: On the Occasion of the 50th Issue

Yo, Budnick:
Fire up the jets, skill up Tin Cans and Car Tires, spark a jay. Shit,
man, it’s the 50th issue. On some level, that doesn’t mean much. It’s
not like we’ve got any Pulitzers to show for it. Shit, man, as a collective,
we haven’t even won any Jammys. You should do something about that.
But, as far as pure bull-headedness goes, I’m pretty impressed right now.
Please accept delivery of this here pneumatic backpatter as my gift to you
in celebration. See, look, it’s got the corporate logo
embossed in gilded lettering there by the controls? Isn’t that just
Four years, huh? So, what’s happened? Where are we? The jamband scene is a
strange thing. One day, when it’s perfectly convenient, it’s there — as a
marketing tool, as a gen-u-ine aesthetic classification device, as whatever
you want it to be. Then, another day, when the sun is bright and the grass
is green, it’s just a lucky conglomeration of open-minded bands. At the very
least, we can assume that there’s something to grasp at, because we’re now
part of this mini-conglomerate. That’s kind of weird, Dean. Relix owns, and presides over a small empire that includes a record label,
a cozy merchandise arm, and runs promotions with bands that get reviewed in
their pages, etc.., meanwhile, has become something of a brand
name as well, stamped in steam on the Jammys. Both have covered events that
they’ve had a large hand in putting on. Whether or not there’s anything to
this whole jambands-as-genre thing, I dunno, but there’s definitely
something to this.
So, what we have here aren’t exactly objective publications in
anything resembling a strict sense — and maybe they’re not supposed to be,
and maybe I was the only one who ever made the mistake of thinking of them
as such, but there’s something downright imaginary about all of it.
Quite simply, we’re writing about ourselves. Always have been. There’s
something nice about it, too. I like dreamworlds. Like I said: bull-headed.
I think that, when the site launched, there was a much firmer handle on
what, exactly, we were doing because there were so few people paying
attention. Go back and check out the first issue. There was just as much
navel-gazing "what is a jamband?" pondering there is today. Then, though,
there was less to contend with. The deepest question we had before us was
"is Medeski, Martin, and Wood a jamband?" Like, wow, man.
Recently, I was having an argument/discussion with a friend of mine, another
writer. She said that all this crap that’s going on right now is just the
usual stuff that happens to a scene after a certain point. It’s happened
before – the D.C. punks, hip-hop movements, various electronic posses, etc. – and who really cares about a bunch of rich, white kids from the suburbs,
anyway? Well, that’s what she said (and she’s into all this stuff). On one
hand, yeah, I agree with her. On the other hand, it’s still something that
interests me. I mean, it’s something that I’ve been involved with for a
while. While it may be inevitable, on some level, that doesn’t mean it’s not
happening and shouldn’t be observed.
From my vantage, here’s how I see it: anybody who actually is a "jamband"
(if there is such a thing to begin with) will deny it vehemently; anybody
who says they’re a "jamband" is pushing something. I’ve seen the vultures
moving in, Dean (to quote somebody else). It’s not pretty. We’re a
dem-o-graphic now, Dean. We can be illustrated in 27 eye-dazzling
colors in USA Today. There’s just something weird about seeing
the name of the publication quoted in press kits and promotional one-sheets.
("Forget it, man, it’s about the music, who cares about all of this?" "Shut
up. We can get back to that later." I mean, ultimately, I guess it is
about the music. Once genre names or a general approach to music start
impacting how bands sound, then it matters. And that’s already happened, on
a very simple level, with the idea that a Phish cover band like The Phix can
be a viable business proposition.)
Phish and the Grateful Dead are the forefathers of The first
year the Jammys existed, in 2000, Phish won a Jammy and somebody read a
statement that Mike Gordon had emailed in from the road. At the time, that
seemed like a coup to me, that somebody from the band would deign to even
recognize that the site existed. I think that might’ve even been
before any members of the band were interviewed on the site. The second year
the Jammys existed, in 2001, Phish won a Jammy again. That time, they got
booed. In 2002, though, the Jammys featured two members of the band! Golly,
Dean, whadda show! And it was! It was pure spectacle! Glittering lights!
Times Square, baby! It looked like the front page of,
all those shifting, blinking ads! Somebody’s made it. Let’s say "we":
We’ve made it, Dean. We’ve made it. But what have we made?
Jesse Jarnow is a bit cranky.
[editor’s note: No argument there.]

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