I turned 40 years old today, so lately I've been thinking about experiences that set roots. Here's the start of an occasional series called By the Fruits: short essays on 40 pieces of music that have changed (and continue to shape) my life. Given the right conditions and the spirit to receive, a song, an album, a performance or even a single note can plant a seed that's fed by friends, faith, musicians and history; to quote Larry Norman, who will inevitably be featured here, "I opened the mouth of love and I found a wisdom tooth."
We start with the series' namesake.
Artist: Jack Rose
Song: "Now That I'm a Man Full Grown"
Album: By the Fruits You Shall Know the Roots (Time-Lag/Eclipse)
Year Released: 2005
Year Experienced: 2005 (age 22)
The kind of music we listen to, we don't need drugs. It was a good line because it was true: We were goody two shoes college kids who dug deep into sharity blogs, Wuxtry and Low Yo Yo Stuff's bins and WUOG's stacks for freaky free jazz, heady psych and records namechecked by Stereolab and Sonic Youth. And, well, we didn't do drugs. We were a ravenous pack, in a healthy competition with each other to turn everyone on to the most blasted and blissful sounds.
Our group of friends received and used music differently: One was the musician, funneling influence into his own projects, quite brilliantly; another was the giddy historian, picking the brains and ears of anyone who'd lend their time; there was the enthusiast, a constant cheerleader on-air and at shows; the collector was an information specialist, checking credits and acknowledgements to map entire scenes; the networker reached out to labels and artists for copies of obscure records and reissues. Everyone swapped roles as needed; we all benefited from sharing the wealth.
Around this time, the burgeoning freak folk and New Weird America scenes simultaneously fed our hunger for archival discovery and new music — like dusty blues 78s spun on a turntable forged from psychedelic bifrost. Like most coinage, there were loose guidelines for this umbrella of music, but as Byron Coley once wrote, the term "made immediate intuitive sense" as it "embraced an aesthetic that could semi-coherently include everything from the tenor sax ecstasies of Paul Flaherty to the minimalist ghost glimmer of Erika Elder’s harmonium to the chittering noise-toggles of Sunburned Hand of the Man’s Conrad Capistran to the lush acoustic string inventions of Glenn Jones."
Requested by one of our crew, Time-Lag Records kindly sent WUOG a burned CD-R of By the Fruits You Shall Know the Roots; understandably, the label didn't want to send the limited 3LP version. Six artists were each given a side of vinyl to fill, including Six Organs of Admittance, the MV/EE Medicine Show with Chris Corsano, Dredd Foole, Fursaxa and Kemialliset Ystävät with Joshua Burkett. Few compilations so succinctly crystallize a scene unbound by sound; By the Fruits understood its capacity to capture and expand the movement.
Each track was a wonder in itself, but then I heard the first chord strummed on "Now That I'm a Man Full Grown." Burly, yet windswept like tall grass, each string of the acoustic guitar struck with alternating purpose: Defiance, determination, trauma, grief, resignation, relief. Who was this Jack Rose? It's like he had a direct line to my heart.
The song unfolded slowly and similarly, processing the melody in swirls of fingerpicked bends and pull-offs, somewhere between a raga and a morning hymn. The chord returned; reset. The motif picked up speed, less spindly, more urgent — there's a sense that Jack does and doesn't know where he's headed, only that barreling forward makes the most sense, consequences be damned. But even as dischord entered the frame, he doubled down, fingers sliding up and down the fret in a frenzied state of self-awareness. The chord returned; reset. We have not left the meditative state, only slowed the blood to take in air. The melody feels refreshed, enlightened even. The first chord is also the last, but somehow brighter.
There was an emotional universe excavated within those wordless 10 minutes. The song not only set me and my friends on a path with Jack Rose, whose music has been a constant in my life ever since, but across fingerstyle guitar, drone, old time, raga, blues and folk music — not a genre but an intuited galaxy of sound.
(Side note: While By the Fruits contains my personal favorite version of "Now That I'm a Man Full Grown," it's nowhere to be found online. There is, however, a second version recorded for Jack's solo album, Kensington Blues, also released in 2005. Where the former was a little rugged and ragged, the latter definitely has the benefit of some time — not better, just refined.)
Jack isn't with us anymore; he died of a heart attack on Dec. 5, 2009, at the age of 38. Jack didn't make it to 40. But I think about that song title often: Where did it come from? What did Jack want to convey? Where was Jack himself in life to reflect on responsibility, aging and adulthood? What did being a "man full grown" even mean to him? And what happens now that he is... or is thinking to be? Jack's song titles were often homages to blues tropes or punkishly tongue-in-cheek, but "Now That I'm a Man Full Grown" had an undulating cadence akin to W.H. Auden or Arthur Russell — a sturdiness associated with turn-of-the-century masculinity (and whatever performance that entails), but dotted with rhythmic dips of uncertainty. From what musicians and friends have told me, that image of Jack tracks: a whiskey-swillin' bear of man who cared little for sentimentality or pretense, yet his music required a keen sense of vulnerability in order to open up his brawling, beautiful heart. —Lars Gotrich
Jack Rose, "Now That I'm a Man Full Grown II"
Biluka y Los Canibales, "Huascha de Corales"
Beauty Pill, "a blood orange in an art class"
Zohra, "Look for Love"
G Sudden & Feel Free Hi Fi, "Journey"
Sex Virgin Killer, "Devil"
우륵과 풍각쟁이들, "도깨비 놀음 (해맞이 타령 Ⅰ)"
The Aaltos, "Pray"
Damien Jurado, "Neiman Marcus"
Mandy, Indiana, "Pinking Shears"
Braid, "Killing a Camera"
Califone, "the habsburg jaw"
Ratboys, "Black Earth, WI"
Infinite River, "Track 6"
Smoulder, "The Talisman and the Blade"
Horse Lords, "Bending to the Lash (Live in Leipzig)"
Ale Hop & Laura Robles, "Son de los diablos"
Vanille, "La rose"
Clémentine March, "Elixir"
Carla Boregas, "Correntes & Ventos"
Angus MacLise, "Drum, Harmonium, Electric Viola, Flute"
Windhand, "Black Candles (Sound of Music Demo 2009)"
O Yuki Conjugate, "Deep Head Scene"
The Local Moon, "White Lilly"
Transgressive, "We Protect Us"