Ah, another year. Another birthday.
Getting older.... it's just something we all have to do! But alas, there are two things I like to do every year for my birthday (which is technically on 8/15) and they both revolve around my closest friends.
First, I like to make a themed CD mix and hand them out to everyone I see that week. Second, I like to gather up a small group and celebrate with some sort of social event, usually a movie.
A few years back, we did a screening of a 16mm print of BACK TO THE FUTURE (thanks to Mike Williamson) at the Jumpcut Cafe (R.I.P.) and I crafted the "80's Movie Music Mix." (Read about that one here.) Last year, I turned 40 (!) and decided the best movie to represent getting older yet maintaining your youthful spirit would be by showing BACK TO SCHOOL starring Rodney Dangerfield! So, we screened that in my buddy Scott Reynold's backyard, and the CD mix of choice was my "Oldies But Goodies" mix, a collection of feel good tunes that everyone could fall in love with. (Read about that one here.) I usually think about this for months in advance, buy a spindle of blank CD's and envelopes, and get 'em ready for when the time is right!
This year, it was all about the 90's.
I can't explain why. I've just had a lot of that music on the brain lately. It was such a pivotal aspect of my formative teenage years, and now listening back holds a special place in my heart for that entire era of music. And so, I knew my mix CD this year would consist of all the quintessential songs from that decade. But what about the movie? Well, I guess I could screen SINGLES? But then I had a crazy thought.
One of my favorite musicians/ DJ's/ radio hosts/ human beings is Christian James Hand. He hosts a show called The Session where he takes the original masters to classic songs and breaks them down in a fun, informative and educational way, instrument by instrument. I wrote about him a few months back. He does a live version of his show once a month in the Los Angeles area. And he pops up every Monday morning for a condensed version of his bit for KLOS 95.5 on the Frosty, Heidi and Frank show. After I first caught his performance last year, I've been screaming to anyone and everyone that would listen to check out what he does, because it's truly unique and special.
So, I did the totally douchey thing and basically asked him, "do you play birthday parties too?"
Thankfully, because we're already friends through my roommate, and he also participated in my upcoming music documentary, he didn't think I was a total douche and instead was receptive to my idea, as long as I found a proper venue that provided the speakers and sound set up, along with a bottle or two of Coca-Cola, his preferred drink of choice.
Finding a place to do this proved challenging, but after all options were explored, we decided to do it, yet again, in the Reynold's backyard, and bless them because they're complete saints for opening up their home to do this crazy thing on my behalf.
As I anticipated, a lot of my friends had no idea what to expect, but they were all completely blown away. The songs Christian and I picked were breakdowns of SOUNDGARDEN's "Spoonman," (not a personal favorite of mine, but one that I now will never hear the same!) and NIRVANA's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." (Classic!) He warned me that the evening would probably get "dark" considering the awful ways that both Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain chose to leave this planet, but I still felt it was important to celebrate what they left behind. I wanted an experience with friends that would be emotional, poignant and special. And that's exactly what we got, with a lot of levity thrown in for good measure, because that's what Christian does best.
We didn't shoot any proper video of the evening, because his show is really better experienced in person, (and this was a private event) but in my slightly drunken haze (hey, it was my birthday celebration), I posted a few 15 second snippets to Instagram, and one of the attendees there managed to get slightly lengthier clips to give a better feel for the evening's proceedings. Here we go...
First up, a bit about Matt Cameron's epic drum tracks on "Spoonman," along with a bit of Artis the real life "spoonman" who the song is about, and who happens to have his own track in there! The second clip down is a bit of all of it together, minus the vocals. Third clip is the longest of the bunch and worth watching in its entirety.
During the discussion, it became clear that with Cornell's passing, PEARL JAM's Eddie Vedder is the last great vocalist left from that group of bands that came out of the grunge explosion. Christian ended the first half by playing TEMPLE OF THE DOG's "Hunger Strike" in its entirety and with the photos of all those singers, now gone, up on the big screen. Chills.
After a brief intermission, and a visit from the local police for being a bit too loud on a Tuesday night, we returned to break down NIRVANA's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Here's a bit that focuses on Dave Grohl's drum parts, and also a tangent about how he's the luckiest guy on the planet, which... he freakin' is!
It's hard not to be taken aback by Kurt Cobain's isolated vocal tracks for any of the NIRVANA songs, but in particular "Smells Like Teen Spirit." So, here are a few snippets of just his voice.
The thing that really made the night special for me personally is that not only were all my friends there to experience this, but we had kids there too; mostly teens. And it warmed my heart that all of them were as equally blown away as the adults. Days later, they're still talking about it with me.
Christian closed the set out in an unorthodox way. He read, in its entirety, Kurt's suicide note. I'm paraphrasing what he said after, but basically, it was that we need to remember, honor, celebrate and appreciate this music that these guys left behind for us. "Because they died for it."
Despite ending on what might seem like a somewhat dour note, it was actually very uplifting and inspiring. And everyone was touched by it. And I can think of no better birthday gift to give to my friend than that experience.
And by the way, if you want to have that experience yourself, be sure to "like" Christian's page for The Session On Air on Facebook. And you can listen to some breakdowns via his Soundcloud page right here. Here's his abbreviated version of "Spoonman" embedded below for your convenience.
Naturally, if I saw you that day, (or during the week that followed) you were treated to a brand new mix CD, courtesy of me, along with a fun added bonus. Official membership cards to "Rob G Video," a joke gift made for me by my friend BJ Colangelo.
Without further ado, here is the track listing!
90's Hits! A 2017 Rob G Mix!
1. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
2. Jeremy by Pearl Jam
3. Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden
4. Today by Smashing Pumpkins
5. Basket Case by Green Day
6. Pretend We're Dead by L7
7. Somebody To Shove by Soul Asylum
8. Cannonball by The Breeders
9. Loser by Beck
10. No Rain by Blind Melon
11. Plush by Stone Temple Pilots
12. Creep by Radiohead
13. Under The Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers
14. Would? by Alice In Chains
15. Sabotage by The Beastie Boys
16. Nearly Lost You by Screaming Trees
17. Shine by Collective Soul
18. Wonderwall by Oasis
19. Hunger Strike by Temple Of The Dog
That's it. I'm another year older. And I feel good about that. I shall leave you with two things. A handful of pictures from the evening below, as well as a You Tube playlist of the 90's Hits Mix for those of you I haven't run into in person to give a CD to above. Hope you enjoy it!