I missed Tuesday’s deadline but I know all will be forgiven. I mean, for Pete’s sake, after 21 years of spirited music discussions, shouldn’t I be confident that Gary and Sally will cut me some slack? Oh… you have no idea what I’m talking about, do you? I guess I need to give you some context. Let’s go back to 1988, shall we?
I was 23, working at an ad agency in Chicago, going to concerts with my friends at awesome venues like The Riv and The Vic and The Aragon Ballroom and The Park West to see bands like The Replacements and Midnight Oil and The B-52s and Living Colour and solo artists like Morrissey and Sinead O’Connor and Elvis Costello and Bob Mould. Music was everywhere and life was good.
I was acquainted with a work colleague named Sally; we were both invited to an Us Magazine industry party (Us wasn’t even weekly at that point) at the Hard Rock Cafe (don’t judge… it was the 80s.) Over several Coronas and a potato skin or two (don’t judge… it was the 80s), Sally and I talked about music. For hours. We bonded over our fascination with Toni Childs, our secret obsession with Bob Seger, our mutual love of Tracy Chapman and The Cowboy Junkies. A friendship was born, living proof that music makes the people come together. (I’m not in a position, however, to comment on music’s effect on mixing the bourgeoisie and the rebel.)
A few years later, Sally asked me to join her and her friend Gary (whom I had never met) to form a music club of sorts. We wouldn’t make music; we would discuss it. Here was the premise: we’d each fill a 90-minute cassette (don’t judge… it was the early 90s) with songs that spoke to us, accompanied by notes that explained each song’s significance. The notes could describe a particularly moving guitar riff, a profound lyric, and/or a fond memory associated with a particular song. My first mix included tunes by 10,000 Maniacs, The Moody Blues, Marvin Gaye and Alison Moyet. My notes referenced Natalie Merchant’s intensity and Marvin Gaye’s soul. I don’t think I was particularly insightful back then, but I sure had fun dissecting music with like-minded fans.
On that very first exchange, Gary exposed me to an Eric Clapton tune I’d never head before and gave me a new appreciation for U2’s Angel of Harlem. Sally waxed poetic about Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder and The Indigo Girls. We were off and running. Since we modeled our group after a book club — but discussed music on tapes instead of books — we dubbed ourselves the Tape Worms. (Instead of Book Worms, get it?) We eventually dropped the “Tape” and just referred to ourselves as the Worms, ultimately turning worm into a verb (“Have I wormed that song before?” “Are we worming any time soon?”) Here’s an example of one of my write-ups, circa 1998:
Redemption Song by Bob Marley
The same guy who was once obsessed with Bob Seger’s greatest hits became obsessed with Bob Marley after a New York cab ride. I was heading downtown on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the cab driver was was jamming to a mix tape of several Bob Marley songs he’d put together. “Africa Unite” and this little gem were two of the ones that stuck out for me. I used to think that reggae was music for people who have no musical opinion. I picture a bunch of trustafarians grooving on ‘shrooms at Northwestern University’s Armadillo Day. That said, this song works for me for some reason. I could totally hear Harry Belafonte singing this… Why is that? I like the fact that it’s just an acoustic guitar and his distinct voice… none of the steel drum grooves of your typical reggae song. The lyrics are political the song is pretty. What’s not to love?
You get the idea, right? Over the past 21 years we’ve wormed 17 times. Not bad, considering at one point Sally lived in LA, Gary in Chicago, and I in New York. The tapes, of course, eventually gave way to CDs and now we listen to our Worms songs on iPods. For the past two decades, Gary and Sally have turned me on to songs which are now among my all time favorites: Hey Eugene by Pink Martini, Feelin’ Good Again by Robert Earl Keen, Poor Man’s House by Patti Griffin and Birches by Bill Morrissey, just a name a few. I encourage you to form a Worm club of your own with your best music-lovin’ pals. And may it bring you the countless joy I have experienced with my Worms.
But as I said, I’m already late. Our music and notes for Tape Worms 18 were due on May 1st and I am still tweaking my notes. Don’t tell Gary and Sally — I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise — but my songs include Kandi by One Eskimo, The Art Teacher by Rufus Wainwright and Grace Jones’ version of La Vie En Rose. I can’t wait to hear what they have chosen. I’m sure there will be a gem or two that end up on my list of all time favorites.
Tracy Chapman Tracy Chapman
Cowboy Junkies The Trinity Sessions
Midnight Oil Diesel and Dust
U2 Rattle and Hum