BLOG – “INTERVENTION OF A MUSIC HOARDER”
“Hi. My name is Ben and I’m a musicoholic. Cover to cover Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks is my ecstasy. My marijuana is Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds.’ Anything by Joss Stone serves as my crack cocaine fix. And who needs ED drugs when God gave us Marvin Gaye and Maxwell?” I’m told that admitting to a problem is step one of twelve. But even my family on a motel couch and an A&E camera crew couldn’t get me to come down from my permanent music buzz.
My obsession with music began in 1983. My parents bought my brother a brand new bike for his sixth birthday, and in order to keep me from pouting, they also got me presents – an orange baseball and Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. While Matt shredded his tires on our neighborhood streets, I wore out my cassette player to the King of Pop. Innocently, I grabbed Billie Jean’s hand as she introduced me to the world on the right side of a treble clef. I had no idea that she sported a groupie tramp stamp until Big Daddy Kane taught me how a pimp prowls. And Kane was right – when it comes to music, anything goes. My DNA has way too many loose wires to stay still. Thankfully, Clarence Carter’s verses told me that it’s okay to stroke them in all directions.
So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last three decades. My CDs are all in alphabetical order organized by release date, and that’s just the first example of my compulsion. Making mixes is my version of chain smoking, and I most definitely have emphysema of the playlist. Here’s a breakdown of my conditions… all the singers and bands I like have a Ben Bamsey-produced “Greatest Hits” disc. I know it’s shameful to rearrange the order of an artist’s album, but I guess I just want to be a part of the process. So I flip it and flop it until the mix suits my chemistry. If a song fades out with a guitar, the next should begin with a similar strum. If a song makes me stomp my boots, the next track should keep a similar step. I always look for those mid-tempo tunes to help me switch gears from slow to fast. They are instrumental in making a mix ebb and flow the way I want. Of course, once a band releases a second album, a third or more – then the OCD turns to sinful gluttony.
Take Ben Harper for example… he’s released discs with The Innocent Criminals, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Relentless7. He’s also covered Beatles classics and appeared on compilations with Bonnie Raitt, Jack Johnson, Willie Nelson and so many more. I’ve done whatever it takes to own every song that contains his voice or slide guitar. I’ve stretched them out over seven methodically engineered Ben Harper “Greatest Hits” discs. Then, last week Ben & R7 released a live album with an “Under Pressure” cover. I’ve seen them play the Queen/David Bowie classic live before, and desperately wanted a clean version for my mixes. That meant finding its proper place on Ben Harper Greatest Hits 1 between “Fly One Time” and “Steal My Kisses,” and then remaking 2 through 7, too. This, of course, also meant redoing each customized cover to fit each CD. I’ve had the privilege of photographing four Ben shows, so I used a selection from each for disc 1-4. For 5-7 I went to Google images, clicked on “large” – meaning higher-resolution – and found three other shots I liked. Roxio has great CD label making programs. I use Toast. I used to make front and back covers for the fatter plastic cases. It was easier to organize with the folded side label, but after filling up an entire room full of discs, I’ve switched to the slim Jewel cases. Needless to say, I’ve spent countless hours on just the Ben Harper mixes alone – and have loved every tedious second.
Then there’s the “nuthin’ but love,” “dance your ass off,” “rock till your neck breaks,” “ho-down,” “R&B for the boom-boom room” and “chill” mixes. Over the years, I have made 423 love mixes. In the entire collection, never will you find a repeat song. On each disc, never will you find one artist more than once. Always, you’ll feel a flow and a man obsessed with hugging it out on any occasion. That’s 50,760 minutes of romance. 846 hours of slow dancing. 35 and ¼ days of nonstop passion that will constantly feel fresh thanks to eclectic gems ranging from Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” to Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and Jack Johnson’s “Angel” to R. Kelly’s “Bump n Grind (Old School Remix).” Each of the discs, of course, comes complete with its own love-related artwork. “Nuthin’ But Love 1-5,” for example, have the following images on the cover: 1) Roy Lichtenstein – Kiss V, 2) Van Gogh – The Sower, 3) Alfred Gockel – Romance in Red II, 4) Gustav Klimt – The Kiss, 5) Picasso – The Lovers.
And when it comes to music, whether it’s love songs or any other genre, I try to have something of everything. That way whoever comes over at any random time with any specific request can bring their dancing shoes and be in luck. My obsession goes on and on. Fifteen percent of my take home income goes to music related purchases – CDs, 99-cent tracks, concerts, T-shirts, art and so much more. I’m that sucker who constantly re-buys songs once they are re-mastered so the sound quality is equal across the board. Music is playing around me at least ten hours everyday – at the gym, in the car, at work. I’ve printed out book after book full of lyrics and constantly study them in search of wisdom. Rolling Stone is my second bible, and clearly I’m nuts enough to start this website.
It’s not a narcissistic bastard who thinks he can rock the turntables; instead I’m a listener and a fan. Most importantly, I’m in love with music. And I’m a giver in love. I refuse to use songs. I want them to get something from me in return. So I give them my time and my ultimate respect. If a song moves me, I study it like a love note from a soul mate. I tear apart each sentence looking for every sign or clue. First, I listen to the words over and over again until I understand them fully. Then, I tune into any and all subtleties in the instrumentation. Along the way, I research the shit out of the song and the people behind it. (If it’s been written, I’ve read it). Finally, I process the experience from play to stop, and I filter all that emotion into a clear endorsement. I strive to explain how Grace Potter’s “Apologies” was written from the exact chords that pull the broken parts of my heart. I have to be able to tell Katie Herzig someday how much “Wish You Well” brings me peace every time I think about the death of one of my best buddies from cancer at the age of 33.
And then there’s the poetry of Ray LaMontagne, lyrics that I conjugate like love’s calculus on my soul. “Dust falls like rain on your doorsteps, chokes you when you lift your rake. Red wine so sweet as the taste of your mouth, but your love ain’t the kind you can keep. Oh roses, cigarettes, pillow case that remembers you. The scent of you still lingers on my fingertips, till I think I might go insane.”
My singing voice adds nothing to music. I can only play a few licks on the guitar and blow a few notes on the saxophone. I haven’t written a classic tune, but I have opened myself up to music and fully embrace the notes that reverberate in my gut. Music is the nutrition that keeps my emotions healthy, so what I can give back to it is my unwavering loyalty. I am often humbled by those with a greater understanding of music, and long to be touched just as deeply as my spirit continues to grow. I will always be in awe of the power of a song and an ambassador to all those who’ve taken pen to paper and mouth to microphone to produce a melody that moves. Nothing satisfies me more than sharing an experience through song with someone else, who in turn lives a better life, even if just for a moment, because of the places it will take them. So I’m glad to be a junkie for life, and invite anyone looking for the ultimate high to trip with me via mix CD without fear of OD.
I know I’m not the only music freak out there… feel free to share your disease in the comment box below. I promise not to have any remedy.
Written by: Ben Bamsey