Live – Mental Jewelry

Part 7 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

1991 for me represented a musical awakening – although I vacillated between hair metal and hip hop, I seemed to yearn for something a bit more. As much as I loved rocking out (and truthfully, still do) to Yngwie Malmsteen, White Lion, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, etc….my life was forever changed the day an older friend (probably in his 30’s then, sigh) played me Bossonova by The Pixies. As Black Francis screamed his way through “Rock Music” I remember thinking “What on earth is this music?”. Or in my 8th grade brain “This is really cool”. As that album progressed, I became more and more enchanted with what was known back then as “Alternative Music”. In all honesty, it is still my favorite Pixies album which isn’t really a popular thing to say (have you HEARD “The Happening” ?? Still gives me tingles to this day). I made it a quest to find out as much as I could about “Alternative Music” (this was about 6 to 8 months before Nirvana broke in the fall of 1991) and got my hands on records by bands such as The Smiths, Morrissey, The Ocean Blue, The Lightning Seeds, etc…

In those days, MTV played videos. I know, I know – very hard to believe. On their Buzz Bin feature, they were repeatedly playing videos by a very young band in their teens called Live. These videos (“Pain Lies on the Riverside” and “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition)”) featured teenagers questioning life, racism, and religion – all things that really struck a chord with me (and still do). I’m not sure if it was because the band was from York, PA that there was a buzz in my 8th grade class among the kids hip to the scene, but I recall having several conversations about the album and videos with some friends. Once I had the cassette in my hands (yes, cassette) I played it over and over again. Absolute perfection, reaching heights that the band would never again reach (this was close to 4 years before Live’s worldwide domination with their 2nd record, Throwing Copper. I grew to love that album as well, but remember being disgusted by the aggressive change of pace upon its release. I consider it excellent, but not a masterpiece). This album has been with me from age 13 until now (celebrating my 6th annual 29th birthday this July).

Let’s talk about the music, shall we??

“Pain Lies on the Riverside” The album opens up with drums, some shakers…the bass line kicks in and then the wailing of Ed Kowalczyk. Patrick Dahlheimer’s bass ties the entire song together….the music builds towards a massive chorus “pain lies on the riverside / and pain will never say goodbye / pain lies on the riverside / so put your feet in the water / put your head / in the water / put your soul in the water / and join me for a swim tonight”. The music builds towards an aggressive apex culminating in Kowalcyk singing his heart out at the end “i’ve got to learn to live until no end / but first i must learn to swim all / over again, / because…” Stunning introduction to the album.

“Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition)” It is often said that life viewed through youthful eyes is often the the purest vision. This song has been a part of my soul for over 20 years now. Very strong music, slap bass holding the song down. It cannot be stated strongly enough – the band is in complete harmony throughout this record. Kowalcyk repeats throughout “Did ya give it up / give it up / give it up”. I don’t care what you believe or what brings you peace – things need to be questioned before they can be accepted into your heart. Key lyrics “Heard a lot of talk about my spirit / Heard a lot of talk about my soul / But I decided that anxiety and pain / Were better friends / So I let it go” and later on they cut to the chase (and it is very strange to compare these lyrics to later Live songs and ESPECIALLY the recent solo outing by Ed Kowalczyk) “Heard a lot of talk about this Jesus / A man of love, and a man of strength / But what a man was two thousand years ago / means nothing at all to me today / He could have been telling me about my higher self / But he only lives inside my prayer / So what he was may have been beautiful / But the pain is right now / And right here”.

“The Beauty of Gray” slows down the pace just a bit. The song starts off with an almost spanish guitar kind of feel with complimentary drums. The full band joins is as it builds towards the stunning chorus “This is not a black and white world / To be alive I say the colors must swirl / And I believe that maybe today / We will all get to appreciate / The beauty of gray”. An absolute favorite, and it has never gotten old even after listening to it hundreds of times.

“Brothers Unaware” really slows down the pace. Guitar & bass anchor the song initially with Kowalczyk singing soulfully over top. Almost an R.E.M. ish vibe with this song. Key lyrics “Increasing peace and honesty / And not carrying on / Despite of me / Don’t you know / This ain’t about no race, no creed / No race, no creed / And it’s as simple as that / You see”. The guitar solo comes in for just a few seconds as the focus turns towards a chant like dirge “It’s simple as that, it’s simple as that / simple as that”. Brilliant.

“Tired of Me” begins with a guitar line with answering bass before vox come in “You say “Hold on to the reigns” / I say “Let them go tonight” / My brain waves / Confused between what is and ain’t / She cries “Groundless and free” the song progresses with lyrics spouting off about everything they are tired of (madness, violence). The music has a post punk feel to it. Absolutely essential.

“Mirror Song” An acoustic based song, a song I consider a “deeper album cut”. Soulful vocals, great lyrics. Key lyric (provides the title of the record) “What about my bank account / And my holy desert shield / That keep me dry under the arms? / Flags and mental jewelry’s all I know / And they keep my happy and warm inside”

“Waterboy” Angry jam song. One of my favorite Live songs ever – the anger is barely contained in Kowalczyk’s voice. Bass holds the song together with intricate guitar lines woven over top. It all leads up to the angry chorus “Free my son / Let him walk right through the rain / Free my son / Make him waterboy / Free my son / There he stands down on the shore / Free my son”

“Take My Anthem” – a mid tempo song, deep album cut. The bass comes into play and anchors the entire song down. It is fairly redundant to keep saying how amazing the bass is on this album – but never again was it so featured on a Live album. The song builds towards the um..anthem like chorus “Take, Take, Take my anthem today”

“You are the World” – this song starts off with just Ed Kowalczyk singing for over a minute with almost no instrumental backing. The bass kicks in and the rest of the band decide to join in with a glorious noise. Key lyrics “For you are the world / Fighting, mating, warring / You are all this now / Be aware, not scared”

“Good Pain” – Another jam song, a song that is perfect for singing along to cruising on the freeway. The anger and questioning is in the lyrics, the music explodes about a minute in. The lyrics are incredible and hard to believe they came from the minds of 18 and 19 year olds “so many of us stand in the middle / looking back to the worst / looking forward to the fall / making weapons of peace for the defense / of the bloodstains on our peaceful sidewalks” You guessed it – the bass is absolutely killer on this song, but then again so is the rest of the music. Vocals convey emotion with a restrained anger.

“Mother Earth is a Vicious Crowd” – a chant like song, amazing vocals. Have I told you how incredible the bass is on this album? A deep album cut, essential for the flow of the record. Key lyrics “Pollution, Cain, and misery / Oceans of golden mystery / Armies boisterous and armies loud / Portraits of a vicious crowd”

“Peace is Now” Live certainly had balls of steel back in 1991 – this is (arguably) the strongest cut on the record and it is sequenced…LAST. The lyrics are timeless, the music is some sort of hybrid between U2 in their post punk years and R.E.M at their most melodic. One of my top 100 songs of all time. The vibe is hopeful and angry…providing the listener with a feeling of elation and joy. The lyrics are among my favorite of all time and are reproduced here in full:

The world is burning down
Can’t you smell the smoke in the air?
War, disease, and famine
This demon, she is everywhere

Poets and preachers and politicians
They’ve all had their say
And we got 10,000 years
Devoted to nothing
But tomorrow and yesterday

If all of the ignorance in the world
Passes a second ago
What would you say?
Who would you obey?
I am here to say that

Peace is now

Mr. President
I hereby pardon you of all your crimes
For they are just as much mine

Selfishness and separation have led me
To believe that the world is not my problem
The world is not my problem
I am the world
And you are the world

If all of the ignorance in the world
Passes a second ago
What would you say?
Who would you obey?
I am here to say that
Peace is now

In my opinion, Live never again reached the glorious heights of this record. The time from 8th grade to graduation from high school seems like an eternity as a 13-year-old – yet, just 4 1/2 years later I sat in my parents mini van in Hershey, PA with my best friend after Live played to (in Kowalczyk’s words) “100,000 freaking Pennsylvanians”. Live took over the world for a brief time and I love that era as well – it’s just not as timeless as the music they made as kids. Adult disagreements and lawsuits have rendered impossible the band Live working together as we once knew them, but we forever have this memento of youth – questioning, angry, hopeful. There are a few other tracks from this period worth seeking out – the 4 songs EP has 2 other tracks from this era (“Negation” and “Heaven Wore a Shirt”). They also cut a full cassette of songs as the band Public Affection – if you can find the bootleg it is stunning (in places).

Join me next week as I continue with another Pennsylvania based artist, Jeffrey Gaines and his self titled debut record.

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