Gary Mays

9 Articles
Gary Mays

A bolt action .22 rifle

We learned to shoot in high school.

It was the 1980s, and as an alternative to gym class, any student could, with minimal instruction, be blasting away with a .22 bolt-action rifle in the basement.

Once the rules were read, and some initial range-safety demonstrations given, we were off and shooting within a week. And, for the next few weeks after that. We shot so many rounds, in fact, that teenagers grew bored of it — bored of shooting (real) guns, having grown up shooting imaginary Russians with sticks.

Many of us became excellent shots by the time it was over — some even shooting bull’s-eyes from the hip when the instructor wasn’t looking.

It still seems ludicrous. I’ve often wondered about it as I recount this high school memory to a generation more familiar with metal detectors than the sounds of a platoon of fellow students blasting away.

Gary Mays

Lyrically, and spiritually at least they’ve been trying to find the new ‘Bob Dylan’ since, well, since the former Robert Zimmerman from Hibbing, Minn., broke through the din of the1960s folk scene in Greenwhich Village to tell the world that “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall.” Yet while many singer-songwriters over the decade have tried the title on for size — voice of a generation — few have passed the test of time, digital music, and a wandering cultural attention span.

Perhaps listeners, ears accustomed to auto-tune inanity, could care less about lyrics anymore. Dylan’s new record, Tempest, came out with much marketing fanfare last week, and from the one track I’ve heard, it’s pretty good. Yet lyrically, Dylan’s best days seem behind him — and that’s OK, for even an aging, cynical and wealthy Bob Dylan is better than most of the crap out there.

But in the view of this writer, the lyrical claim to fame these days belongs to the obscure, the twisted, the relatively unknown and the deeply personal. And that’s why, while I’ll always be a Dylan fan, singer-songwriter John Darnielle is my new life coach.

Darnielle, front man for the intrepid band, ‘The Mountain Goats’ writes with demonic power and urgency, and like Dylan at his earliest and angriest, he senses the cultural zetgeist and tears at it with pen and rapid fire downstroke on his acoustic. The chorus to the first Darnielle song that grabbed me went like this:

“And Sonny Liston rubbed some tiger balm into his glove, some things you do for money and some you do for love, love, love.” (Love, Love, Love, The Sunset Tree)

Next song I heard: “St. Joseph’s baby Aspirin , Bartles and James; and you, or your memory…” (‘You or Your Memory’, The Sunset Tree)

Gary Mays

I missed it. I’m an area resident and one of many fans of the English band Mumford & Sons who were clamoring for tickets to the “Gentlemen of the Road Fest” held Aug. 18, in an unlikely locale: Dixon, Ill, pop. 15,773, home to one of the state’s biggest medium security prisons and birthplace of President Ronald Reagan.

With a towering statue of Chief Black Hawk overlooking the city and river, it’s also the spot where, in 1832, President Abraham Lincoln met up with the Illinois militia at Fort Dixon to fight in the bloody Black Hawk War.

But M&S— whose “gentleman” tour included Gogol Bordello, Dawes, Abigail Washburn and other acts— had no say on this particular tour date. Dixon officials entered and won a National Trust Main Street contest to host a “major band tour of historic towns.” (No doubt it was a welcome bit of  news amid a bad municipal run: the town’s Comptroller/Treasurer, Rita Crundwell, was indicted by the feds in April for allegedly embezzling $30 to 53 million from town coffers.)

Still, they threw out the welcome mat and let the music play for Dixon, which celebrated the event with storefront murals to greet the 15,000 fans who showed and nearly doubled the town’s population.

The Grammy-winning Mumford & Sons, whose newest record, Babel, is set for release next month, are an unplugged musical and lyrical tour de force, employing acoustic instruments, mostly, to deliver body blows of resonant sound, introspection and prescient honesty.

They rose to prominence from the “west London Folk Scene” that also cultivated such like-minded bands as “Noah and the Whale.” But when M&S played with Bob Dylan at the 2010 Grammys, the world too was finally able to make the musical connection, as that first network appearance pushed sales of its debut “Sigh No More” and thrusted M&S to major global headliner.