This is an excerpt from a story I originally published for another publication in September 2016. On hearing the sad news – still not confirmed at publication – of Butch Truck’s passing, my homage to what the Allman Brothers Band has meant to me in my life only seems appropriate. Peace and love to all, and make sure you never take your life, or the lives of your loved ones, for granted.
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As a still recovering, long-haired, anti-Establishment disciple of music only people like me could ever possibly understand, I’m a little freaked out when a band that was exceptionally important to me over most of my life is honored with a museum. It’s a little disturbing on a lot of levels, not the least of which is that a huge chunk of my life is now museum-worthy. But I take solace in understanding that thirty years from now, some band that’s currently building its reputation and fan base will be celebrated similarly.
Time and generations keep flowing.
Things change but they really just stay the same with different characters.
When I was in high school, my parents who had grown up during the Big Band Era might as well have come from different planets, and conversely I don’t think I really appreciated any music with a horn section in it until I discovered ska in college.
I saw the Allman Brothers for the first time on Thanksgiving night in 1975 when I was two days shy of my 16th birthday. I went with my friends, and my parents were – to put it mildly – not happy. It was a journey from my Central Jersey home on the train into Manhattan to Madison Square Garden, and back then NYC was not the Disneyland North it is today. But since hearing Dreams in my brother’s Grand Prix two years earlier, the impression the music made on me was indelible and worth the fight.
Twenty-five years later at a show at the Beacon Theater in New York (fourth row, thank you Internet pre-sale!) a hippy-chick somewhere near my age offered my seventeen year-old son a hit of her joint. The look on his face was delightful. I was the uncool old guy and he was the mortified teenager hanging out with his unhip father. He demurely declined, I smirked and the band played on. Time and music continued marching forward.
Over the years I’d place the number of ABB shows I’ve seen at twenty-five; I can go for months without hearing them, but like a holiday at home with family and friends, I always return. Depending on the song, I’m either transported back to a brilliant and light time in my life, or sometimes by choice, I revisit dark and desperate times just by popping on an album or clicking on a song. This peculiar power is not reserved solely for the Allman Brothers Band: every great artist has the ability to connect to people who are open to be connected to, it’s just for me this is the band that does it.
I could literally soundtrack the story of my life from fourteen until sometime in my forties through the music of the ABB. You’ve got a band like that too, and ain’t it fabulous?
In the digital age, people (including yours truly) often bemoan the state of today’s music industry, but with a little insight into what things were like back in the day, we can see that things really haven’t changed all that much. Artists still struggle to get their art in front of an audience, and audiences still clamor for great art. The biggest difference between now and then is that fewer middle-men make money off the struggle.
A letter from bassist Berry Oakley that is displayed at the Big House museum in Macon GA, kind of puts it all in perspective. In a letter from a hotel in New York home to his wife Linda, Berry wrote:
“…I would have sent more but my amp blew up and it cost $35.00 to get a new one but I’m trying to more together so don’t worry.
The tour is going very good, a lot of people are really getting behind us so even though we ain’t makin’ much we is!”
He goes on to describe some of the “bullshit” the band has had to put up with on the business end of things but the letter is not unlike a letter to a loved one from someone struggling to make a go of it regardless of what generation or decade they happened to inhabit. This is why, as disturbing as it is on some levels to have your favorite band be the subject of a museum, it is quietly comforting to know that at the end of the day, the struggles and desires of people don’t really change all that much down through the years.
This is the power of music.
The generation that started the Allman Brothers Band on their journey now visits the Big House with walkers and as part of AARP tours, but the beauty of the whole thing is they’re just one end of the spectrum. During my visit there this summer with the museum’s curator, I saw no less than four generations of people just soaking in the history and the vibe. The road truly goes on forever…
It’s the power of music.
Everyone has their own personal Allman Brothers Band and your relationship with that band or artist is yours and yours alone and you don’t need to justify that to anyone. I can tell you first hand: The names and notes may change but the power of the music doesn’t.
Visit an old friend tonight and let the air around you get filled with the vibe of the power of music.
Originally published at kefdirect.com September 27, 2016.