Contemplate 98

By Brian L. Knight

As another year passes by, there is so much to reflect upon. The Vermont Year is heading into its third year of publication and some of us still remain amazed. For bunch of cooks, waiters, dishwashers, bike mechanics, wood carvers, students, history buffs, or whomever, who knew that the creation of a magazine was in our cards. As we prepare for another exciting year of publication, let us see what the previous year has brought us.

The dominant force in the news in 1998 was none other than the continuing saga of our president. Just when things were looking good - the economy was booming, war was non-existent and talks of governor related sex scandals were diminishing – the words Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp entered our everyday vocabulary. Following on these two lady’s tails was our very own $40 million a year, never-litigated-a-court-case Ken Starr. With the release of the Starr Report, there were many ramifications: the daily newspapers had a newfound problem for they had to put sexual content disclaimers in their publications; the American embargo of Cuban cigars had a new angle and Newt was kaput. Rumors of conspiracy ran rampant as issues involving sending dresses back to mom; the taping of personal conversations and the Republicans taking advantage of one’s libido were the topics of the year. Unfortunately for the United States, the scandal will not end in 1998. As the New Year approaches, the United States enters its first impeachment hearings in over the hundred years and our society crosses a dangerous line of combining morality and ethics with the presidency’s cult of personality. For the first time in a long time, the President of the United States dominated both sexual and political news. The only sexual news outside the oval office was the release of viagra, which Clinton’s ex presidential opponent, Bob Dole, embraced with vigor.

While we were dealing with our presidency, the world around us seemed to be crumbling. The Stock Markets of the United States resembled the Coney Island Roller Coaster, and the economies of Asia and Russia resembled more of a bungy jump without the cord. The ethnic clashes in Palestine, Ireland and Bosnia all showed glimmering hope of cessation but once again, it was the empty rhetoric of politicians that provided the false hope. In other areas, it was the Cold War all over again as India and Pakistan reminded as the realities of nuclear war and the Koreas have shown little progress since the 1950s. In Iraq, many a world citizen continues to wonder exactly what was achieved during the 100-hour ground war of 1991. Relatively peaceful American embassies in Africa were bombed and Swissair never made it back to Logan. It was only Cuba’s embracing of Christmas that reminded us that perhaps the United States has a real purpose in international politics.

With all of the development on a national and international political level, many of us felt that the world was moving too fast. Populations are surging, countries are fighting, economies are collapsing, terrorism is thriving and resources are depleted. To add fuel to the fire, the Y2k problem began to gather steam. With the all the benefits of technology such as the video phone, the iMac, faster modems and better browsers, we all discovered that computers weren’t really that smart. The exact thing that was supposed to make our lives easier is destined to makes life a potential living hell on January 1, 2000. With news leaks of the Department of Defense lying to the public about their solving of the Y2k, the American public’s concerns were hardly alleviated.

As people set their Millennium clocks and began the countdown to Armageddon, a new countdown dominated the news. During the month of November, the first trailers to the new Star Wars movie were released and countless people flocked movie theaters to see the preview and then left. Who cares about the end of the world in 390 days when Star Wars will be released in six months? Elsewhere in the entertainment world, we were overcome by the Spice Girls (Oh No, Ginger left!) and Kenny was killed every week. Meanwhile, the X-Files fueled a nationwide conspiracy and alien craze while albums such as "The music that was playing while the Titanic was sinking" were going platinum.

In sports, the Nagano Winter Olympics attempted to return us to tradition. As Kerry Strug made her valiant final vault to win the gold, the boys on the hockey team were making like Joe Walsh in their hotel rooms. Meanwhile the two snowboarding Rosses made the media spotlight as Ross Powers won a medal for all of Vermont and Regliabati set precedent that smoking marijuana was not going to enhance your athleticism. France won the World Cup on its home turf while America’s interest in Soccer was questioned once again after a poor performance in the cup and low turnout for MLS games.

It was through sports that we saw that history does repeat itself. The Red Sox blew another post-season while the Yankees continued in there winning ways. Basketball and Baseball pulled a switcheroo as the NBA went on strike and baseball made the spotlight through the exploits of McGwire and Sosa. Other historical reoccurrences? Fantasy Island, Hollywood Squares and the Love Boat made it to TV once again while the Rolling Stones did another tour. Disco never died as the movie theaters featured The Last Days Of Disco, Studio 54 and Boogie Nights and ‘swing" music was alive and well with the successes of band such as Big Voodoo Daddy, Alien Fashion Show and the Brian Setzer Orchestra. John Glenn returned to space and it was trust busting all over again as the Microsoft suit began. Ironically enough, images of Standard Oil were rising like phoenix from a fire as Exxon and Mobil prepared a merger. The Volkswagen Beetle entered the market while the Bikini made the news one more time as Miss America contestants were allowed to wear the skimpy coverings.

In Vermont, the state tree was decimated by the great ice storm that left two counties as official disaster areas. El Nino didn’t keep the snow off the mountains during the first winter of 1998 but this December is a different story. A Stranger in the Kingdom was the sleeper hit of the year and the Hayes Brothers displayed their snowboards to the populace. The state was divided by the controversial Act 60 and Vermont voters showed that they rather vote for Fred than any educated flatlander. Senator Patrick Leahy gave a valiant yet unsuccessful attempt at making Lake Champlain a "Great Lake"; instead it is given "cousin" status. And then, of course, there was the music.

Although the Grateful Dead officially came to end and almost two years ago, there was somewhat of a revival in 1998. This spearhead was led by the formation of The Other Ones which consisted of original Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Phil Lesh as well as many other friends. The Other Ones hit the road and brought back the spirit that so many fans have missed. What the fans saw was re-energized band. They played tunes that were long missing from the Grateful Dead repertoire and they played with invigoration. Coinciding with the creation of The Other Ones were a whole slew of new releases and re-releases. Most notable was the array of Dick’s Picks which were selected by the Grateful Dead’s Dick Latvala. The Vermont Review spent two issues conversing with master tape collector and got to see deep into the Grateful Dead family. In addition, the Vermont Review featured interviews with two of the Grateful Dead’s members – Mickey Hart and Vince Welnick. Although both artists were saddened by the demise of the Grateful Dead, it was obvious that their love of music was keeping happy and focussed. 1998 also saw the release of Bill Kreutzman’s Backbone; Keith and Donna Godchaux’s Heart of Gold Band; Howard Wales/Jerry Garcia’s Live; Bob Weir/Rob Wassermann’s Live; and some hidden beauties from the vaults of Old And In The Way.

When the Grateful Dead family wasn’t releasing new music or going back on tour, fans of the Grateful Dead were making music contributions. Over the course of the year, the Vermont Review had an opportunity to speak to both Billy Cobham and Alphonso Johnson of Jazz Is Dead. Along with T Lavitz and Jimmy Herring, Jazz Is Dead took a jazz approach to rare Dead tunes and released a great album called Blue Light Rain. New York City’s Joe Gallant who combined Chamber Music with the Big Band sound and covered the music of the Grateful Dead used the same idea, but different approach.

The year wasn’t entirely about the Grateful Dead as there was so much music to be had. Reggae maintained a steady beat throughout out the year as the Vermont Reggae Festival once again came to fruition with Burning Spear headlining the show. Jimmy Cliff and Toots and the Maytals also honored the region with visits. And then there was the extension of reggae with the ska sounds of Bim Skala Bim and Rustic Overtones. Similarly, bluegrass and country made its way through Vermont with appearances by Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, String Cheese Incident and Fleck, Meyer and Marshall. The ladies also made their impact: Tori Amos, Diane Krall, Rickie Lee Jones and Ani Di Franco all played to New England fans. Unfortunately, our exposure to the Spice Girls ended with cable and the movie theater. The funk experienced a revival as the Vermont Review featured interviews with Ray Davis of the Original P and George Porters of the original Meters. With these two interviews, we also witnessed the legacy of conflict between band members, record labels and producers, as bands needed to differentiate between being the original band or the present band.

As always, the summer is the time for Festivals. The H.O.R.D.E. made it way through SPAC, as did the Furthur Festival. The Berkshire Mountain Festival, with its incredibly impressive lineup of over 40 bands, was decimated by Mother Nature. It was Phish’s end of the summer festival in Northern Maine, the Lemonwheel that was once again the concert event of the year. Phish kept on amazing its fans with their Halloween rendition of Velvet underground’s Loaded, a rendition of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon two days later and then stellar Thanksgiving and New Years concert runs. Through trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans for the Jazz Festival, this author realized that life really does exist south of Brattleboro and west of Bennington.

Halloween was a good evening for Vermont bands as Phish, Strangefolk and Viperhouse all celebrated the evening appropriately. In 1998, Strangefolk was picked up by a major label; Burlington’s Chin Ho enjoyed success with Low Flying Planes and the word of Viperhouse kept on growing. Seth Yacovone kept up with aggressive touring throughout the state and finished his Thanksgiving Weekend with a jam session with Phish on a Worcester stage. In addition to providing a forum for fellow Vermonters, Phish has also paved the way for a whole new genre of music – jam rock. In the course of a year, the Review covered the masters such as Max Creek and Widespread Panic, but we also met quite a few of the newer bands to hit the scene such as Schleigho, Day By The River, Jiggle The Handle, Refried Confusion, Blue Yard Garden, Ekoostik Hookah, Foxtrot Zulu, Disco Biscuits, Percy Hill, Agents of Good Roots, yeP! and Boud Deun.

Although funk and the Grateful Dead made significant revivals in 1998, it was jazz that really made its impact on the 1998 music scene. Once again, the jazz-rock phenomena kept on surging as bands such as the Miracle Orchestra, the Slip, Fat Mama, Liquid Soul and ulu all made significant steps forward. If it weren’t for the success of bands such as Medeski, Martin and Wood, the Greyboy All-stars, Galactic and Charlie Hunter, who all toured in 1998, these upcoming bands would have less ground to stand on. The Vermont review held conversations with Rich Vogel of Galactic, Karl Denson of the Greyboy All-stars and John Medeski and discovered what makes these great bands tick. All of these bands owe tribute to the masters of jazz whose work over the last 40 years laid the groundwork for today’s jazz revival. We talked to jazz greats such as Herbie Mann, John Scofield, Roy Haynes, Les McCann and Melvin Sparks. If wasn’t for these guys, who knows what we may be listening to in 1998. In addition, the Vermont Review, through its CD reviews, found out more about the many styles that exist within the genre of jazz. We came across the bop-swing of the West Coast sound; the rock-jazz fusion of Bitches Brew era Miles Davis; the funk-jazz of Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters; the free form, avant-garde of John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders; the acoustic piano of Marian McPartland and Jessica Williams; the smooth ballads of Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper; and the acid-jazz of Grant Green and Reuben Wilson.

While the world is rocking in turmoil and the respect our national government diminishes day to day, the music that surrounds us is the only thing that maintains our sanity. Without music for relaxation, escape or introspection, we are less stressed by today's current events. Older generations may say that music makes us unaffected and apathetic about current events and that we are out of touch of reality. If that is case, then music is Generation X’s version of the extra-dry Martini. 1998 was a good year for music and I am sure that 1999 will bring as a lot more. The talks of "Millenium Concerts" will soon develop and some cases already have as Phish has given preliminary hints of a three-day Millenium festival in Hawaii. Besides that, Prince’s album sales for "1999" will surely experience a resurgence as well as R.E.M’s "It’s the End Of The World". In closing, the biggest development of 1998( and just about every other year of the 1990s) was the continued advancement of our great "informational highway". If it wasn’t for the convenience of e-mail and the ability to trade information with ease, this article would have never been written. I would like to say thank you to all of my pals in San Francisco, Albany, Manchester, Burlington, Boston or wherever who gave me the ideas for this particular article. Maybe next year we can do the same thing with the videophone.