Jackson Hole, Wyoming, having won the bid to host Monkey Power 18, exceeds expectations

I’ve been in Wyoming these past few days, at the annual meeting of my one-day-a-year band, the Monkey Power Trio. This, I believe, was our 18th session. It was neither the worst, nor the best. All things considered, I’d say that it was positive. Many laughs were had. No one cried. No one screamed. No one threatened to leave the band. A few good songs were written. And, for us, that’s pretty good… Following are my notes, for those of you who live vicariously through our adventures across the landscape of America.

We went to Wyoming because our old friend Andy, who lives there now, offered to get us a place to stay and record… That, for those of you who aren’t among the several dozen that follow the Monkey Power on social media, is pretty much how we’ve come to operate as a band. Each year we put out the word that we’re looking for a free, or nearly free, cabin or apartment somewhere, and then, assuming someone steps up, we all converge there at a predetermined time, and do what needs to be done. Last year, one of Dan’s old friends in New York, who he hadn’t talked to in over a decade, let us use his cabin in Tahoe. And, the year before that, someone who Dave does ski patrol with in Oregon offered us his family’s place in the ski town of Government Camp. And, this year, it was former Michigander Andy Calder who stepped up and did his part to keep the almost two-decade old project moving forward.

Andy, in addition to playing bass in roughly 20% of the bands that perform in the bars of Jackson Hole, also runs a rock camp for kids, and, as a result, knows just about everyone in the upscale little ski town nestled among the Tetons. Here’s Andy, performing in his 80’s cover band 86, just a few nights ago.

MPTWyomingAndy86

We took a break from recording to go and see 86 perform on Friday night. That’s Andy on the right, with the cocaine all over his face, neck and chest. Always a stickler for historical accuracy, he also plays with a two-pound salami in his pants.

Andy, as it would turn out, wasn’t just good for lining up lodging, mics, amps, and everything else we needed during our stay, but he was also one hell of a good tour guide. We spent our first day in Wyoming driving around Grand Teton National Park, which had just that morning reopened after the ill-conceived and incredibly costly Republican shutdown, hiking into the wilderness, and enjoying the landscape. Knowing the migratory habits of the local Buffalo herds, Andy was able to get us right up close to these guys, who were grazing, snorting, suckling and fucking about 20 miles outside of the city.

MPTWyomingBuffalo

Everyone but me, it would seem, has an “Ansel Adams” filter on their phone. My bandmate Mike took this shot during our visit to the historic Mormon community known as Mormon Row, where we walked among the ruins, sharing our various brushes with polygamy. (Andy says that, in Utah, you can tell the polygamists because they have doublewide trailers outside their primary residences for each “sister wife” and her kids. The man will apparently start with one home, and one wife, and then begin building on, as his household grows, one trailer/woman at a time.) I suggested that we attempt a song about my favorite Mormon, King Strang, but, when it came time to write and record the following day, it never came to fruition. (I don’t need another project at this point in my life, but I’m thinking that Patrick Elkins, Naia Venturi, Pete Larson and I could probably create a compelling little rock opera about Strang with puppets, if given the budget, time and energy.)

wyoming2013cSM

“And, as long as we’re fucking around with camera filters, why not try to make Mark look as haggard as possible?”

That was apparently the single-minded objective of the rest of the band last night. As I lay in bed, trying to get some sleep in advance of my 6:00 AM flight out, my cell phone kept buzzing. Every few minutes, I’d hear peels of laughter in the other room, followed by the inevitable buzzing, as yet another photo of me came through… each one with progressively more darkened, sunken eyes, and deeper wrinkles. By the time I received this one, my eyeballs were completely gone. (correction: I’m told it wasn’t “the rest of the band,” but just Mike.)

OLDMarkTetons2013a

Jackson Hole, we’d come to learn, is among the richest communities in the country. It’s roughly half ski bums, many of whom seem to be trust fund kids, and half wealthy liberals looking to escape the grime-covered fishbowl of Los Angeles. Harrison Ford apparently lives in Jackson Hole, as does Sandra Bullock, and BB King’s Cousin. (Andy recently played bass at Harrison Ford’s 70th birthday party.) And, of course, there’s the dark lord himself, Dick Cheney. While we didn’t see any of those folks, Andy did point out a black cowboy that goes by the name Chocolate Chuck. He apparently sings for a popular local band and has a dancing horse. The details were a little sketchy, but it would appear that Chocolate Chuck once served time for an “unfortunate incident” in which someone died. (Speaking of crime, Andy checks the website of the local jail every day, checking to see who he knows that might have been locked up the night before. He says his favorite day to look at mugshots is the day after Jackson Hole’s annual Halloween party.)

This is the silo were we recorded. It was, by far, the nicest place we’ve ever worked… if you can call what we do “work.” I don’t feel as though I should share the name of Andy’s friend who owns the silo, as I don’t imaging that she’d want to be associated with a project as slap-dash, manic and off-tune as the Monkey Power, but she was incredibly generous, and I think I speak for everyone else in the band when I say that her kindness toward us will be remembered fondly for years to come.

MPTWyomingSilo

Before recording, we worked on mixing down last year’s session, which we hadn’t touched since flying out of the Reno airport. Although it won’t be released on vinyl for some time yet, I’ve asked the rest of the guys in the band if they’d mind if I shared a track. Here’s one of my favorites, it’s called Walt Whitman (I am Infinite). The whole record, if all goes well, should be available sometime after Christmas.

As for the music that was created this year, I can’t say too much. It’s still too close. My sense, and I very well could be wrong, is that we have at least one really good song, and a few marginally interesting ones… which, for us, isn’t that bad. All we need, after all, is to be able to fill a 7″ record. And, of course, after we let things age in the Monkey Power vault for a while, and mix everything down, my assessment could change. The song that I think is great, might not be, and the songs that I think are interesting now may not even make the record. That’s the way it generally works. Things that we didn’t even take notice of at the time, start to grow on us. And sometimes that process even continues after we press the record. A lot of our discussions upon meeting for this year’s session, for instance, were about past songs (like Adobe Bricks, Toccoa, Cold and Devil Man), which were inexplicably left off of former records in favor of other songs. As with everything Monkey Power related, it’s a crap shoot. Every session is different. Things are always changing. And the regrets keep coming.

Most bands can have a bad day. They can get together to practice, determine that nothing’s going well, and go home to smoke dope in their parents’ basement. We don’t have that luxury. We meet for one day a year, and we record. The way I look at it, and I suspect some of the other guys in the band would disagree, the Monkey Power Trio is more of an art project than a music project. If we’re angry come that day, we record angry. If we’re sad, we record sad. If we’re uninspired, then the result is uninspired. If we’re sick, we record sick. We’re never, in other words, going to write Bohemian Rhapsody. That’s not the kind of group we are. We can’t work on things, and perfect them. We’re not built for that. Our framework is different. We sketch out ideas in broad strokes and then we move on. We fabricate crude time capsules. Only, instead of burying ours under buildings, we broadcast them over college radio.

[If you’re unfamiliar with Monkey Power, and would like to know more, I’d suggest starting with the four-hour MPT retrospective that ran a few years ago on KFJC… Hour: 1, 2, 3, 4.]

This year, I just didn’t have the energy. Maybe it was the altitude. Maybe it was the cold that I was fighting off. Maybe it was age. Or the fact that I hadn’t slept well the night before. I gave it my all for about a half dozen hours, screaming and babbling nonsense into a mic, and then I fell asleep in a chair. And that was the big take-away for me… I’m finding it more and more difficult to muster the energy that at 24-hour recording session requires. And I think we’re all growing a little less patient with age. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t sense that there’s the same willingness to go running off on tangents, for hours on end, in hopes of capturing something new, beautiful and strange. But, maybe that will change with time. Maybe we’re just in a groove now where we want to each go off to our corners and fully write songs before working them out as a group. Maybe improvisation will come back as more central to what we do with time. Or maybe we’ll transition completely to radio drama, which is something that I’ve been pushing for years. Who knows… as we grow into old men, maybe we’ll just sit around and record our conversations, as our grandkids beat on pots and pans in the background, releasing the results on vinyl for college radio. I think that would be kind of beautiful.

The important thing is that we’re there for one another… at least one weekend a year. And I think that’s the main thing in all of this. My life is better for having this creative outlet… for having this reason to meet with these four other men for a few days each year, to talk about our lives and scream into microphones. I think everyone could probably benefit from something similar.

Here we are, in various stages of stupidity.

2013bandshotMPT

BandMinusDave

Again, I may not be speaking for everyone, but I do think that, with the passage of time, the music is becoming secondary to just being with one another, talking about the problems that we’re facing, our dreams for the future, and everything else people go through as they pass through their 20s, and into middle age. And I think that’s pretty beautiful… even if the music isn’t.

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8 Comments

  1. Eel
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Did you take a shot for the Hall of Douchebags?

    http://www.rockandrollconfidential.com/hall/

  2. anonymous
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Do you think Harrison Ford, Dick Cheney, Sandra Bullock and BB King’s cousin ever go out for dinner together?

  3. Kevin T.
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Speaking of Ansel Adams, his photo of Jackson Hole is among the artifacts carried by the Voyager II spacecraft, launched in 1977.

  4. Guy Kawasaki
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    “Nothing can be loved or hated unless it is first understood.”
    ― Leonardo da Vinci

  5. Jen
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    A rock opera about King Strang would be the bee’s knees! I hope you do it.

  6. K2
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Did you go to the bar where you sit on saddles?

  7. Patty
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Something was missing from that photo of you that needed to be filled.

    http://imgur.com/JwxSSeV

    P.S. The variety and scope of images of eyes with broken blood vessels on Google is impressive.

  8. Posted October 22, 2013 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    1. I watched douchebags do shots. Does that count?
    2. Usually it’s just Bullock, Cheney and King. Ford is an alternate, in case one of them is sick.
    3. No, the other guys went to that bar. I stayed home and slept. I’m like a giant infant.

    And thank you, Patty. That was beautiful.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] Mike, in an attempt to make me feel even worse about myself than I already do, had relentlessly fucked with a photo of me until I had inch-deep wrinkles and sunken black holes where m…? Well, my friend Patty, I suppose because she felt sorry for me, took the day off from work today […]

  2. […] soulless suburban McMansion of a recently divorced couple outside of Atlanta. The year before that, we recorded in some kind of converted grain silo outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming that belonged to t…. And, the year before that, if memory serves, we recorded in a vacation home outside of Lake Tahoe […]

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