Lost and Gone Forever: Adolescent Dreams
Some bands are easy to grow out of; others just seem to grow with you. I first heard Guster in the summer of 1997, while "double majoring" in biology and drivers ed. at a UVM summer program during high school. It was the summer I found Skidmore, fell in love with Phish and wrote a poem for Caryn (I waited to the last minute to give it to her; she cried, and then my parents picked me up). People didnt start calling me Mikey until college, but I consider that six-week program a pretty accurate preview of who I would become.
In retrospect, its a pretty cheesy story: an upper middle class, suburban kid goes into the woods, discovers his parents latent hippie roots, and emerges mature enough to follow Phish around the country. But something more important clicked in me that summer. I think it was the first time I realized I wasnt going to follow in their footsteps.
At the time, the three men who comprised Guster were in their mid-20s, around the same age I am now. They wrote about pretty simple things: growing up, finding yourself, falling in love. But then again, I’m a pretty simple person. I bought their first CD, Parachute, from a friend and placed it in a case logic sleeve somewhere between the Counting Crows’ August and Everything After and the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty. I can’t remember the last time I listened to it, but its still nice to know that its there.
By 1997, the seeds of the jamband-scene had already been planted. A year later, a book would give a genre its name, a website would give that name an identity (or at least a forum to bitch at), and a fading giant would leave a vacuum far too big for one band to fill. If you flip through the book which inspired Jambands.com, you’d be surprised at some of the names which appear: G. Love, Vertical Horizon and, yes, Guster. At the time it made sense: each band played rootsy, organic music which didn’t belong to the mainstream, though they didnt necessarily belong to jam-nation either. Being a jamband isn’t really about jamming, per say. Its about beating to your own drummer—-even if that drummer tends to take solos which last for a few too many beer breaks.
For a band that hasnt jammed once in its fifteen year career, Guster is surprisingly core to the Relix world: the only band to open for Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews Band and the double bill of Phil Lesh/Bob Dylan, play both Bonnaroo and H.O.R.D.E and record with Page McConnell and Karl Denson. When Guster signed to a major label and released Lost and Gone Forever, its fans cried mutiny. But, in retrospect, the guys in Guster have always been better pop stars than hippies.
Its funny how time changes your perception. Last weekend, I took a train to Westchester to have lunch with an old friend I see far too little, whose wedding day approaches with rapid speed. As Metro North zipped through suburbia, I felt a strange disconnect to my surroundings, like I no longer belonged. I’m the type of person who enjoys life more in retrospect, but I’ve reached an odd stalemate with my adolescent aggression: not quite far enough from home to feel nostalgic, too far removed to remember why I was angry.
In the 1970s, my adult neighbors smoked pot and made babies at Watkins Glen. In the mid-1990s, they knocked down trees and built houses in Armonk. They are part of a generation of suburban settlers, the nouveau riche. Like many, they arrived to give their kids a better life, but I’m not sure how many of them remember that. I dont blame them. Its hard to look backward while trying to figure out how to move forward. So many nights, I stay awake, pondering the future, trying to figure out my place. Its scaryI wonder how many of us will return home or even remember where we came from. I’ll probably never really enjoy Parachute again, but I remember why I did for so many years.
Last night, for some reason, I decided to listen to a random Wetlands show from 1999, a stealth club gig before Gusters major label release hit stores. Listening back, the music seems so sophomoric, but the banter continues to intrigue me. Not so much because of its humor, but because of the audiences energy. Many of those faceless fans continue to make noise in the music world. One books indie-rock incubator the Mercury Lounge, another sells the place out on a regular basis. If the jamband generation has taught us anything, its that you could be a rock star without playing MTV.
Ill be honest: I hated the first Bonnaroo. I waited in traffic, missed far too much music and watched two hippies steal my friends stuff in the name of peace, love and Vince Welnick (seriously). But, I loved that I bumped into so many people that I knew from so many different walks of life, that 70,000 faces felt familiar. We had a common bond; it felt like home. I think thats why I get so defensive when musicians deny their roots. Tom Hamilton once told me, music isnt about picking a team and sticking with it. Hes right. In fact, I think many of the Guster fans screaming on that old Wetlands tape actually aged into Shins fans. I know I did. Heck, last year I quoted Caring is Creepy in a verbal poem I delivered to a girl outside Hi-Fi (I waited to the last minute to give it to her; she cried, and gave me the finger). I guess some things never change.
Im not really sure what my favorite Guster song is, but I can recite you my favorite line in a heartbeat: Call your mom on the telephone/Tell her your muse is gone/Tell her there’s not a chance You’re ever going to change the world.’ It first appeared on Keep it Together, an underrated gem of an album released the week I graduated college. At the time, I thought Ryan Miller was talking directly to me or maybe even about me. A collegiate cycle later, he sings One day you’ll understand/I wanna pull it apart and put it back together/I wanna relive all my adolescent dreams. A sense of hopeful nostalgia guides his words. After fifteen years, two guys and a bongo are still around, making music. In a very punk-rock way, jam-nation made the music industry tangible to normal, everyday people.
Last week, I received a personally watermarked advance of Guster’s next album, Ganging up the Sun. Its a beautiful album, full of mature melodies and, at times, incredibly poignant prose. It made me feel successful and, more importantly, happy. For so many reasons, I should have grown out of Guster around the time I removed my braces, but they still continue to make me bounce. Yet, it must be hard for a band like Guster to look back on albums like Parachute, full of sophomoric songs and fading memories. I still cringe when I think about that poem I wrote—-the elusive typo I never corrected. But, I’m glad I did it. Growing up isnt easy, but its important.
I dont mind falling down and scraping up my knees/Scars and Stitches always fade and only strengthen me, Guster, 1995
When Mike Greenhaus is feeling funnier he blogs at www.greemhauseffect.com