Archive for July 2005

At the Hop

This weekend was an annual event I have attended and enjoyed for the past few years. But I need to give a little backstory before I expand on it:

Two years ago, my older brother Dan died suddenly of complications from pancreatitis. It was a shock and threw his family and friends into grief. Probably what was most clearly shown by the loss was the number of friends he made over his too short time with us. Jason (who we all
called Jasper) one of Dan’s oldest friends, invited my younger brother Bill and I to attend an annual get together called the Mountain Hop he holds at his home, as a way to commiserate with this circle of friends that Dan left behind and keep his memory alive at this gathering. And
he gave us a request: “Bring your instruments, we do a jam session”.

Dan’s life consisted of many low paying jobs, and he never really had a career. His real livelihood was performing: He had been playing guitar since junior high, and been in numerous bands and groups. The music streak is a part of our family: Bill and I are both classically trained, and have music education degrees. But while we were versing ourselves in theory and scholarship, Dan learned to play along with Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and his favorite, the Grateful
Dead. He became quite a good guitarist and performer, and he would play, with Jasper accompanying on drums, at the Hop.

So that fall I found myself setting up under the tarp at the corner of Jasper’s property, tuning Dan’s Fender Telecaster that I had inherited, while Bill prepared the Takamine acoustic that he inherited, and despite occasional drizzle, jammed out with Jasper and our friend Mike, a terrific guitarist and performer. We had a fun time, and we looked forward to returning for the next one. The following year we got a bit more involved, as I also brought my Yamaha keyboard, Mike
provided a bass guitar, and another of Dan’s friends, Dave, brought his keyboarding skills. Although tempered by some torrential rain, we again had a blast as we chunked through tunes from Pink Floyd and John Mayer and the Dead.

This year, a new wrinkle. Jasper and Mike collaborated on a songlist, and sent it to Bill and I, so we could be prepared to play the music with more competence, instead of staring at each other while we figured out chord changes. What a difference! By this time I had acquired a bass of my own and diligently learned the bass lines to as many songs as I could. We played and played and played, and as a testament to the fun we had, we never felt like we ran out of steam. In fact, the other party guests almost literally dragged us off the instruments at about 2 AM. I can still see Bill belting out “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” by the Beatles, the group getting lost in a
floating rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe”, a fantastic jam built on the Beatles’ “Come Together”, and our attempt to accompany Mike on his infamous “G major medley”.

Afterwards we continually talked about how much fun we had; we even talked about getting together again before the next Hop and just jamming. When Jasper floated performing for an audience (for money!), I cautioned that we ought to do some real practice. But even then, I felt
a twinge of excitement. What kid growing up musical didn’t want to be onstage playing rock and roll?

I never really performed alongside Dan: He felt more attached to his friends than to his family, and I always thought that performing music could be the thing that brought the brothers together. I grew up thinking about the three of us becoming a family band, in the tradition
of other performing brothers, like the Beach Boys’ Wilsons, or CCR’s Fogertys, or Oasis’ Gallaghers (The closest that idea came to fruition was a one-off project many years ago nicknamed “Cuz”, consisting of Dan, my cousins Jeff and Patrick, and myself, for the sole purpose of entering a talent show at Jeff’s high school). Dan is no longer with us, but when Bill and I join with his friends (and by extension, our friends), we bring him back, for at least in the time we play and enjoy the music he loved playing.

If Jasper is really serious about performing for an audience, then we may need to add another song to the playlist – “Ripple” by the Grateful Dead. And when we play it, Dan gets to perform again too.