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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2003/11/28
by John Zinkand


Winter and the New Year are on the horizon and I am at the crossroads in life again. From what I have seen so far in my 30 plus years on this planet, life, and just about everything else, moves in cycles. Once things are started in motion, they make waves that spiral out and get larger in some manifestation or another for the rest of time. Whether those waves and cycles turn into something you planned for or not is a cosmic toss of the dice. Our scene has blossomed into a large, shape-shifting, breathing mass of creativity. The forces the Grateful Dead set in motion all those years ago with their "jamband ethos" has morphed and expanded into an incredibly diverse and beautiful music scene. I’m sure they didn’t expect this scene to evolve from some acid tests in San Francisco back in the 60’s, but time has a way of sorting things out on its own.
I started out in this whole crazy scene by catching some Dead shows back in 1988 and 1989 at the tender age of 15. I had no idea at the time that these shows would fuel my imagination and drive me to enjoy all kinds of great live music on a deeper level than I could even imagine back then. When I heard Phish for the first time when I was 15, I dismissed them as silly. But just a few short years later I was in college in New England enjoying intimate theater shows with my new favorite band Phish all throughout the early 90’s. Of course, Phish exposed me to even more styles of music like jazz, funk, and bluegrass and they personally introduced me to such bands as the Aquarium Rescue Unit. Standing in front of small bar stages with my mouth agape trying to comprehend the power of Jimmy Herring, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Sipe as a young man in college in 1992 helped to further shape my boundaries of what constitutes music. And who would have thought that all these years later, as a 30 year old man, I would fly down to San Francisco to see Phil Lesh playing Grateful Dead music with none other than one of my old favorites, Jimmy Herring. Life can be strange.
Over the last year and a few months, I’ve floundered around and struggled with unemployment. It wasn’t a pitiful experience by any rate; it was one of the best times in my life. I had enough money saved up and was getting good enough unemployment benefits that I was able to do many things, mostly involving live music, of course. Renting an RV and heading to High Sierra this past summer was one of the highest moments of my life. I also gave a good college try at making more money writing, and by all accounts, failed miserably. When I was really going strong and steady there for a few months with writing I was pulling down a phat $150 per month, which, if you are doing the math at home, is just not enough to live on. But it helped me re-establish the fact that I love to write about music no matter what. The music moves me so much that I need to express myself in regards to how it makes me feel and think. Don’t tell Dean, but I would gladly contribute to this forum each month for free.
Over this last year off I also have done some self-evaluation. I decided that I was done smoking cigarettes and haven’t had one in well over a year now. I also decided that my sedentary east coast life style that I had brought with me to Oregon had to go. I began working out and went on the Atkins diet and am now a much more svelte freak than my former self. Now, 51 pounds lighter and with boatloads more energy, I feel like I’m starting a new chapter in life. This summer I was able to do more hiking and backpacking than ever before, which is one of my biggest passions. The nature and wonder of the west coast is religious for me. I started a new job with a large global corporation, but I don’t feel weird about it. I realize now that I need a job pretty badly, even if it is not purely writing about music. Music and the ability to romantically opine about it will always be a deep and meaningful part of my being. Feeding myself and paying for my house, however, is even more important. As I’m about to begin my 31st year in February, I have a new perspective. I’m more conscious of my health, my body, my mind, and the need to be doing something productive. Life is peaks and valleys, they say, but if there are no valleys the peaks become pretty darn mundane.
Musically, there are a few peaks in my life right now. They are called Umphrey’s McGee and Garaj Mahal. Both these bands are really pushing the envelope and are on the verge of something bigger. I feel like the new decade I am about to embark upon will definitely involve these two bands heavily, along with the usual cast of jamband characters. I love music and will never stop enjoying it in a live setting until the day I die. But no bands are more enjoyable and thought provoking for me right now than Umphrey’s McGee and Garaj Mahal. Both bands can funk and groove, but also have the ability to take the music and vibe into uncharted places. While Umphrey’s seems like the tight-knitest of units, Garaj has been faltering now and again with egos clashing. While that is a shame, it is life. Art mirrors life and pain and arguments are a part of the deal. I hope Garaj Mahal can get past all of that for the love of music, though.
I’m sure there will be all sorts of twists and turns in the coming decade – surprises, loves, hates, friendships, joys, agonies, new people, new music. With the holidays upon us, I feel a sort of rebirth amidst all the darkness and harsh weather. The scene has blossomed like an overweight rose and now seems to be dipping under the sheer girth of itself. New cycles and waves are being set in motion and the enigma of what they may evolve into is a delicious mystery. As I start a new job, I realize it’s a give and take. I hope my new favorite bands can make it down the path with me for a long time as I earn and save money to see them, but I also expect to meet many new musical friends along the way. The best thing about the upcoming cycle in my life is the not knowing exactly what it will entail…well, except for great live music.

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