Track Of The Day

I haven’t been in the greatest mood. I got a speeding ticket for doing 38 in a 30 zone. What the fuck’s up with that? The cop said there were orange cones… But this was on Chautauqua at one in the morning! Don’t the cops have anything better to do? If you’re going to do anything illegal, do it in the daytime, when the cops are preoccupied.

And you know those days when you don’t want to hear anything on the radio, when you don’t even want to turn it on? It’s the assault, every track in your face, trying to sell you. That’s when I usually dial in the comedy channel. And I’ve been surfing that a lot recently. Sonny Fox has been airing a multi-hour interview with George Carlin on XM, you can get it for free as a podcast via iTunes, just search the store on "Stand Up Sit Down". Subscribe, and then click "Podcasts" in your iTunes sidebar and then click to download the two Carlin casts.

But, I’ve fired up the stereo. And I’m firing through the channels. Looking for something familiar. But that’s not what I get. On Sirius’ jam band channel, #17, I hear a song that just sounds right. Turns out it’s by Widespread Panic, it’s entitled "Space Wrangler".

I’ve seen Widespread Panic. Back in ’92, in a triple-header with Col. Bruce Hampton and Phish. Actually, I thought Widespread Panic WAS Phish. I’d been up skiing at the intermittently defunct Mt. Waterman, listening to an Eddie Money cassette on the way down (download "Gimme Some Water" and "Trinidad" from his "Unplug It In" album, and I listened to Tesla’s "Great Radio Controversy" too, I kept about ten cassettes in the glove box, but only the three exceptional tracks, "Love Song", "The Way It Is" and "Lazy Days, Crazy Nights".)

And Chip insisted I come to the Variety Arts Center. It was my birthday, my father had died the month before. I was in a reflective mood. And when I walked in, I immediately got this band, that was already playing.

And I now know two things about Widespread, as their fans refer to them. They never broke through and their guitarist died. But they still ply the boards.

You may be too old to have experienced the Grateful Dead when they broke through, when they finally followed Crosby, Stills & Nash into country rock with the exquisite "Workingman’s Dead". It was a revelation. It made me buy their first double live album, "Live/Dead", with "St. Stephen" and "The Eleven". And, unfortunately, live the Dead played forever and most of the time weren’t brilliant. So I stopped going. Probably about the time you started, when the younger generation renaissance happened. But I remembered the vibe, the feel, the hit. "Space Wrangler" has that same vibe, that same feel, it gave me the same hit.

Oh, there are takes on YouTube. You can steal the studio version. But, you know whether you like this music or not. You probably already are aware of this if you do. But I wasn’t. But, listening I’m getting in touch with something I thought I lost. We’ve been so caught up in the trappings. "Space Wrangler" isn’t about the trappings, it’s about the music.

The vocalist is not even John Mayer, never mind Gene Pitney. Joe Satriani can play the guitar better, never mind Mr. Mayer himself. But, there’s magic in "Space Wrangler". You see, music can’t be quantified, it’s not what’s on paper, not something calculated by Clive, but a feeling.

Listening to "Space Wrangler" is like having your best friend drop by unannounced and insist you get in his car for a road trip. The automobile’s not a Ferrari. It’s probably not even a convertible. And a movie star is not sitting in the backseat. But staring out the windshield, you’re in heaven anyway. Thinking that being alive is so fucking great! Thinking about the unknown, contemplating your adventure.

You wonder why jam band music does business year after year? Because the audience knows. The secret. That it’s not about album sales. Not about terrestrial radio. Not about how you look, not even about hits. It’s about the music. The music makes you want to join the club.

"Space Wrangler" was a revelation.

It may be old to you, but it’s new the first time you hear it.

"Space Wrangler" is something you can listen to again and again. You want to see the band live, to see how they extend it, how they improvise, how they morph it. Businessmen are eager to eviscerate the soul from the music. But, musicians insist on keeping it in. Not listening to others tell them how to do it, but following their own muse. That’s why we’re fans. That’s why we keep going to see them. It doesn’t begin and end with the recorded take, that’s just a jumping off point. 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