on the path…My Metheny moments part 1

Most of you know I’m a huge Pat Metheny fan.

Last Sunday night I got to see Metheny and Brad Mehldau at WDCH and was entranced with the music coming from the stage. It got me thinking about how I became, and still remain a loyal advocate for his music for 20+ years. I began to think of how powerful Metheny’s music is and how it has become a sort of soundtrack to my life. Whether it be LP, a tape, CD, or LIVE. I was interested in documenting these events to see if I could uncover a common thread. I explored a few memories, and found out that this music has become a very important part of my life.

I’ve been a Pat Metheny Group fan since a 1985. My unlce Sam first hipped me to Metheny trying to get me into jazz a bit and away from the ultra pop I was into. But it wasn’t until, “This is not America” became a hit that I started paying attention. A song written by the group and sung by David Bowie and crossed over to Top 40 radio. I thought it was a great match and hoped the two artist made an entire album
but it was just for the “Falcon and the Snowman” Soundtrack.

What really pulled me in and prompted me to actually spend money on a LP was a video called “Yolanda You Learn”.

Anyone remember the USA network’s “NightFlight”? That’s where I saw this video. They played stuff MTV would only bury in the back yard. Very 80’s, very post modern. Anyway, I was instantly drawn to the tune. So much was going on musically I was hearing for the first time, the use of synthesizers was extremely interesting and the drum part was fantastic! The whole song was done at a level of musicianship that transcended anything I had ever heard.
So then I went out searching for the record “Yolanda you Learn” was on and bought it. The record was called, “First Circle” and it really did change my life. It changed the way I listened to music.

“First Circle” was Metheny’s last record for ECM. A jazz label that leaned more towards experimental and improv music. The reason I even mention this is because the first track on the record is an experimental piece featuring the “Synclavier guitar synthesizer”. That, and the rest of the group immitating a beginner’s marching band. It was ridiculous barage of untuned sound.

Funny, I guess to the guys who made it, but I was incensed!

“I blew my money on this?!!”

“Who in their right mind would commit this to tape?” I thought.

After buying a few more ECM albums by other artists I got the joke at a deeper level. I wonder if Manfred Eicher-President of ECM records- ever got the joke?

I suffered through those four minutes and then “Yolanda You Learn” kicked in and the rest of the album just blew my mind. I was baited with a joke, and then for the next 40 minutes listened to the finest music my high school brain had ever heard. I made a cassette tape of it immediately so I could listen to it in my car. Pulling out the good stuff too, a $5 TDK SA90. I listened to it ALL SUMMER LONG.
My Freshman at USM, Camelot Music was blowing out LP’s to make room for CD’s -yes I remember when CD’s were new and came in cardboard longboxes. I stopped in on my way back to USM after Christmas break and bought “Travels”. I listened to the double album incessantly! I’m sure it drove my room mate crazy.

There are so many memories attached to that record. It was the group’s first live record and I could tell in order to fully appreciate the music I was going to HAVE to see them live.

I concocted the perfect date -in my 80’s soaked college mind- to see the Pat Metheny Group live at the Hollywood Bowl. I thought it’d be great to sit on the grass with my then girlfriend;
Listening to this brazillian tinged music in the open air while drinking our wine. The caveat was that
I didn’t drink wine at the time so I guess, I thought we’d just make out on the blanket. Except, I think there’s only benches and booths at the Hollywood Bowl, another piece of logistics I had yet to consider.

Musically, I devoured “Travels” just like I did “First Circle.” It was the last record Danny Gottlieb played drums on. I thought he was the perfect balance between rock and Jazz drumming at the time.
I actually charted and worked out one of his solos when I was home from class one weekend. MAN, what a tasteful drummer. That record was on my turntable and in my tape deck more than any other during my time at USM and the music provided the soundtrack for many trips between Hattiesburg and Vicksburg.

When “Travels” came out on CD it was expensive and very hard to find. Eventually, I found it at a now defunct Tower records -remember them?- in Nashville TN. I was in town interviewing for music business internships. That was a time in the music business before the Sony/Columbia & Time/Warner mergers. Suddenly I found myself often housesitting for an A&R executive listening to Travels on a her fantastic stereo. I remember hearing new things on the CD vs LP; sonic ear candy like chairs being dragged along the concrete closer to the stage during certain ballads.

I finally saw the Pat Metheny Group live in New Orleans in 1996 for the “We Live Here” tour. This was when Tim and I were playing in Fellini’s Raincoat and he was interested in seeing the Metheny group as well. We drove down in his VW with a broken heater. The only car I’ve ever been in that had a broken heater.
Anyway, I met drummer Paul Wertico. I was into aroma therapy at the time and was so nervous being there my shoulder muscle tensed up in a horrendous knot. The only thing I had for relief was a bottle of Neroli. Over the course of the concert I kept applying this aroma therapy oil all over my shoulder in huge amounts. When I got to meet Paul and ask for his autograph- he said, “yeah, where do you want me to sign… WHEW! You stinK man! have you been eating garlic all night?”
It was a long trip back. Cold car, wreaking of Neroli. I think we cracked the windows a bit to cut the smell and bring a little humidity inside the car.

Shortly after that I stopped messing around with aroma therapy.

Stephen A. Thomas

One Response to “on the path…My Metheny moments part 1”

  1. Davak Says:

    Great post.

    Two things made me chuckle:

    - the Neroli stinch…
    - and the “good stuff”: $5 TDK SA90

    I totally remember sitting down and trying to decide if something was “good enough” for the expensive tape.

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