Tuesday, April 11, 2017

RIP J. Geils

John "J" Geils, guitarist and founder of The J. Geils Band, passed away at the age of 71 last night. He was found in his home, and all indications are that he died of natural causes.

This one actually hit me pretty hard. "Freeze Frame" was the first album I ever bought.

It was at the dawn of the Mtv Era. For a kid like me, "Centerfold" was the perfect video. It featured a bunch of pretty girls, of course, but the band itself was an eclectic mix of characters, bookended by a cool lead singer and an aloof guitarist. These weren't the type of people you'd see in music videos today. The band members were in their late 30's rather than their early-to-mid 20s and they lacked a certain polish. That was fine by me, because, at the time, when compared to my peers, I lacked a certain polish. The video for "Centerfold" held a special place in my mind. My fevered adolescent fantasies featured myself as Peter Wolf among the various hot girls who went to my school who wouldn't ever talk to me much less do a dance routine in the middle of the classroom. My mix of misfit friends was cast as the band with my best friend serving as J. Geils.

"Freeze Frame" was the second video from the album. The band was having a great time throwing paint at each other and there was this weird animation thingy in the middle that I found fascinating. I was sold! "Freeze Frame" would be my first official album purchase. The moment I got my allowance, I was off to K-Mart to pick it up. I can remember the moment that I first picked up that record. I pulled it from the rack and raised it up slightly above my eye-level. It was like finding a legendary treasure that you'd only read about in books. Yet, here it was before me in all its vinyl glory! No longer would I have to listen to "Freeze Frame", "Centerfold" or "Angel in Blue" at the whim of Mtv. I was in control now.

There was a slight problem: The final song on the album is "Piss On The Wall". Should my mother happen to see such vulgarity, especially in print, the album would surely have been confiscated. Luckily, my oldest brother was old enough to have fewer restrictions on his purchases. He offered to hold onto "Freeze Frame" for me, as if it were part of his collection. I could listen to it in his room any time I wanted. With the headphones on. I wore down the needle on his record player listening to it.

"Love Stinks" started getting some play on Mtv but, to my astonishment, it wasn't on "Freeze Frame". It was from a different album, one that had come out before "Freeze Frame". What?? There was life before Freeze Frame? With my next allowance, I went out and bought it. This time, however, I did not want go to K-Mart with my mom and run the risk of there possibly being another vulgar song title which my mom might possibly see and use as a reason to veto the purchase, so my brother took me to an actual record store to buy it. When I got there, I discovered that there were SEVERAL J. Geils Band albums that had been made before "Freeze Frame".

Over the next few months, I used my allowance to buy them too. I was astonished at what I'd heard. Instead of happy, goofy pop music, I was treated to bluesy, angsty, soulful music. It was such a departure from what Mtv told me to expect, but that was a good thing. It opened up a whole new world for me because, before they were the momentary darlings of Mtv, the J. Geils Band were the masters of East Coast blues-rock. I started to investigate bands with similar sounds and buy their albums.

This was a serious addiction. I used money that was normally allocated for buying Star Wars guys or GI Joes to buy music. I not only bought albums, but I investigated the stories behind the bands. I wanted to know about them, so I bought magazines like Rolling Stone so I could read album reviews and interviews. I'd even go so far as to look up articles in the periodicals index in my school library. When I reached High School, I toyed with the idea of becoming a music journalist or a DJ so that I could interview my favorite bands. And when I do some side work as a DJ, in the back of my head, I wanted to sit both J. Geils and Peter Wolf down in a room together and have them take me through the conception of each and every song they wrote (which can never happen now). They say that at some point, ever child must put away his toys and take up the implements that make him a man. Well, the J. Geils Band and "Freeze Frame" started me on that journey. I became a man because of that album. And, years later, upon discovering that a middle school crush had become an amateur cam model? Well, my blood ran cold.....

Creative differences between J. Geils and Peter Wolf eventually led to Wolf leaving the band in 1983. They'd reunite several times over the years for one-off shows here and there, but an argument led to the band touring without Geils, who then sued everyone and quit the band for good. I had hoped that the band would get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 and patch things up again. A reunion won't ever happen again, but maybe we can still get them into the Hall of Fame.

Anyway, RIP J. Geils. Your music made me a fan not only of your band, but of music itself.

I'm going to listen to the Best of J. Geils Band, then I'm going to spin up Peter Wolf's "Sleepless", which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest albums ever made. You should too.

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