One of my favorite bands, Poi Dog Pondering, is playing at SPACE in Evanston on Dec. 30 and 31, and while I bite my lip and wonder whether, in this post-omicron landscape, I dare jam myself and my wife into a crowded audience, vaccinated or not (spoiler alert: I don't) EGD's Ravenswood bureau chief Caren Jeskey steps into the void and fills our Saturday with music, as if to make up for my deficiencies. Her report:
Yeah, right. It’s taken me to the medium ripe age of 52 to realize that there is more shit in this world than can be cleaned up. So what’s next? Escapism. A nervous system needs comfort. Pleasure. Joy. I will, as always, lean heavily on music as a steady source.
“Any decent realtor, walking you through a real shithole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful," from Good Bones by Maggie Smith.
From flapping my wings with Do Bee in Romper Room, to strumming a ukulele at 3, to sitting at the feet of Ella Jenkins, the First Lady of Children's Music in a basement bar when I was 5, to picking up a silver flute at 6, to Walkmans full of TDKs, XRT and WGCI radio as an adolescent, to symphonies, operas, operettas and musicals (that I was forced to attend until I realized they were cool and went on my own volition), music has been a saving grace. There is always hope to be found in the form of dancing, singing, blowing into a woodwind or a horn, shaking a rattle, slapping a djembe- or listening to everyone from noodlers to stars do their things.
I am not the first person to notice that music is a form of church. When lost in music nothing else matters. We are allowed to feel. To be quiet, or to scream. To feel connected, even as we rest in our own silence.
That’s why I invited Jason Narducy to have a Zoom visit this week. To be inspired. Thanks to Jason mentioning Cheap Trick, I can hear sweet voices in my head as I type today. We all know the feeling of the body and brain lighting up in response to certain sounds. With new music there’s always the chance we'll have that moment where we think “what is happening right now?” as new neural pathways tunnel and weave, thought ceases, and presence ensues. Time stands still.
I felt this when listening to Jason’s band Split Single’s new album Amplificado. From the intro to the outro I was engaged, and have listened all the way through several times. I wanted the album to be longer. Jason’s voice is bright and strong. Some of the songs reminded me of Neutral Milk Hotel (aka NMH) with languid far away horns and clanging sounds that suggest the wheels of industry, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Smiths with an '80s vibe that alternates from crisp to melancholy, and Rick Springfield’s Jesse’s Girl. It's said of Jeff Mangum of NMH that some of his lyrics are literal translations of his lucid dreams.
Jason, too, has dreams inform his lyrics. "I often [have] structural engineering type dreams where there are very complex buildings, and I am somehow either on a train going through them, or [on a plane] flying through them, in cityscapes. There's a song on the new record called Mangled Tusk where I reference that." He cracked me up by adding that the song is also "about how I have to wear a night guard- I mean most songs are about wearing a night guard." The lyrics in Mangled Tusk "structures of engineering, genius and doom is a reference to how I dream. A lot of metal and very large structures that are non-conventional shapes that I wouldn't even know how to describe, it's so equidimensional."
I find the song Satellite on Amplificado impossible not to sing along with, and it comes with a pretty neat video. It's one of those songs I've just recently heard, but when it comes on it has the comfort of a song I've known forever. “I had the concept of someone who would wrap themselves in aluminum foil, climb to the top of a building, and try to connect with something. They made a homemade antenna— my son made the one in the video— but then they ran out of foil and had to go and get their fix for more. In the video I am trying to connect with something but there is nothing. The sky is gray. Then I look over and there’s the guy I buy aluminum foil from all the time, right there.” The point of the story is that the character ultimately connected with somebody who they have known the whole time while falsely believing they needed a special antenna to connect with something unknown. In the video, when Jason sees his aluminum dealer played by actor Jimmy Chung they break into smiles beaming towards each other. I have to admit I got full body chills to witness this joining of minds.
The video was filmed in a parking garage in Evanston and directed by Jason’s pal Brendan Leonard. “I’m proud of it. I love the way it came out.” It seems that Jason is thriving in life, with a nuclear family, extended family, friends, and collaborators he lovingly peppers into his conversations, a new album, and two live singles that were released yesterday on Bandcamp.
Jason has a solo (vax'd, masked, limited capacity) living room show coming up in Madison on December 11th, and a show at Gman Tavern next to Metro on Clark Street in Chicago on December 18th. You can find the ticket information here.
When the pandemic hit, Jason’s line of work as a touring musician with Bob Mould and his own project became precarious, as did his business Inside Outside Painting. Fortunately, SPACE in Evanston hired him for lawn concerts. They were so well received that he performed them 53 times during COVID summer of 2020.
Lyrics in the song Bitten by the Sound (on Amplificado) give us a glimpse into Jason's formative years. "All four wheels lifted at night, I’ve never seen a car sit on bricks” refers to one morning in 1979, when Jason was 8. He looked out of the window of his home on 53rd and Woodlawn to see his family’s Honda Civic sitting up on 4 bricks. The wheels were gone. “I thought ‘that’s crazy,’ then asked my mom when we were leaving to go out for the day.” It didn’t even occur to him that they’d been robbed and would have to spend the day untangling from this ordeal.
Later Jason lived on Sheridan and Jonquil Terrace in East Rogers Park with his father— his parents had gone through a tough divorce when Jason was 4. Jason recalls seeing his mother Sally Iberg and the man who would later become his stepfather, Jim Iberg, play music together at Biddy Mulligans. Jim was the founding guitarist for The Special Consensus bluegrass band that’s still together (sans the now retired Jim) today.
Jason was handed his first instrument in about 1977, a mandolin that he played until the strings could no longer be fixed. A year later he got his first electric guitar that he adorned with a Star Wars decal. Jason met a pal Chris Kean at Lincoln School, and through Chris met the person destined to be a friend he calls his brother, Zack Kantor. Jason and Zack shared an “obsession with playing and practicing and getting better. I had my partner in crime.” The three, along with vocalist Tracy Bradford (whose cousin is Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters) formed a punk band of 10 year olds they called Verböten.
Early in life, Jason felt “unsettled at times due to a lot of change, and not enough security. Music provided that safe place. The sense of community. The tribe that I wanted to be a part of.” Jason is not just a part of the Chicago music scene, but a prolific and integral player, with the passion and drive to keep us entertained with his voice, musical prowess, humor, and kind spirit.
Hope to see you all at a masked limited capacity show soon, but if not, happy listening.