Some years back Bob Dylan was being honored, as Bob Dylan often is. I think it was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this time. Springsteen was doing the honoring. And Bruce looked around the room, filled with rock royalty, and said that there wasn’t a single person in the room who didn’t owe Dylan thanks. A pretty breathtaking statement really, but entirely apt. Dylan’s footprint is the size of America, and then some.
If we condensed our world down to the northeast corner of Pennsylvania (and why wouldn’t we?), the same statement could be made about George Wesley. If you make music here, you should thank him. Because he inspired you. Mentored you. Jammed with you. Supported you. Laid back so you could shine. The people who dance like nobody’s watching are most likely listening to George’s music. He’s our man in black…our soundtrack…..our constant. No matter what is going on around us, what trends are catching on and/or dying out, what flavor of the month is fearing the flip of the calendar, you can bet George is onstage someplace….doing what he’s been doing for as long as I’ve been alive. Bringing the positive vibrations, healing us while being healed himself…..the music seemingly passing through him as much as coming from him.
I remember the first time I saw and heard him. It was the 80s….I wasn’t 21 yet but close enough for Gallaghers in Dunmore, a place that checked IDs about as carefully as the person checking your Sams Club purchases on your way out the door. The good ‘ol days is what we call them now.
This skinny guy was fronting a trio. Just crushing Marley tunes. The dance floor was packed. It seemed to be vibrating. The beard was halfway down his pale chest….and it would swing back and forth like a pendulum as he played the type of guitar that made me, who had just taken up the instrument, want to go home and put a boot through mine. He oozed charisma. Dressed head to toe in black, when the lights went out between songs he completely disappeared…like a Dickens ghost. I was enthralled. I asked my sisters (always more hip than me), who were in the bar too, pretending not to see their underage brother drinking a Bud long neck.. “Yea, that’s George Wesley. He’s amazing and has been around forever…now get the hell out of here before I tell Mom…”
Even then, at the beginning, George had always been there. The definition of ageless.
We first met in the mid 90s. George Graham at WVIA thought it would be interesting to bring 3 disparate songwriters together and see what came of it. So he picked the biggest musical oddballs he knew. George Wesley, Canadian Lorne Clarke, and myself. I think he figured we’d either kill each other, or close ranks and become friends. We were like lab mice.
Over 20 years later my kids call George “Uncle”, and Lorne is the godfather to my youngest daughter. We’ve collaborated and covered each other and recorded together and done shows together and cheered each other on. And when one falls…he’s got 2 sets of hands to help him up. Friendship is a powerful thing.
Over that time, what comes to mind?
Bits and pieces. Like how George always has a guitar strapped on. Even visiting him at home….he’d walk around holding a guitar. He’d get a drink from the kitchen….while playing. You listen to him play, and it sounds like magic. And it looks effortless….his left hand like a large spider crawling up and down the neck. But make no mistake. He’s as good as he is because he put the time in. He never stops playing….which means he never stops learning. It looks so easy now because of how hard he works when the crowd ain’t there.
We even joke about how he can’t not play. We’d do these singer-songwriter in-the-round shows, where we’d debut brand new songs. I’d be in the middle of a new one, trying not to forget the bridge I just finished an hour ago….and George, in the chair next to me, would start playing along. It didn’t matter that he never heard the song before. He’s physically incapable of holding a guitar without playing it. “You’re sick, You know that, right?” I’d say with a laugh. “I know”, he said. “But it sounds good.”
Music is the reason he gets up in the morning. The only reason he sleeps is because music is also what fills his dreams.
You probably never heard him play old country songs. Hank Williams. Waylon. Willie. I have. And it damn near makes me cry. Because George can play Hank Williams as good as he can play Peter Tosh. I wish he’d do it more. Lorne and I once badgered him for months to write some songs in that vein. He finally did. I still have the tape. It’s incredible. George probably forgets what’s on it. To him it was like creating breaths of air.
His songwriting is way too often overlooked. Much of what you’re hearing when you see him is stuff he wrote. He’s been so long associated with Bob Marley’s music, but just think about that, and this, for a moment. George’s songs sit comfortably next to Marley’s in his sets….so much so that you don’t even notice the juxtaposition. Bob Marley is one of the greatest songwriters of our generation. You see where I’m going with this, right?
George would scoff at the comparison, but I ain’t scoffing. My daughter has a poster of Marley on her bedroom wall. I have a picture of myself and Lorne and George after a gig, hanging on my office wall 2 floors down. I’ll take “The Wheel” or “Music Sweet Music” to the same kitchen table where “No Woman, No Cry” is seated. And I’ll stand on the table.
But enough of my gushing. He’s my friend. He’s your friend too. He’s got a fight in front of him, but he’s a stubborn old cuss and he’ll be back out there doing what he’s always done as soon as he beats back this thing. He’ll be bringing the healing.
There’s a benefit coming up next weekend at Mountain Sky. You can pick up a t-shirt. Some big medical bills are on the way, and the NEPA music community is gonna come together and see what we can do about that.
Because sometimes thank you ain’t enough. Sometimes you gotta sing along.
In a bit..
Americans are a complicated people who are in love with simple solutions. This spells trouble. We are fertile hunting ground for a vast variety of snake-oil salesmen. Thus, we want more guns, no guns, walls built, less taxes, more services, free schools, blue skies, cheap drugs, the free market, Jesus in the pledge, no muslims, less mexicans, and government cheese. And we want it all now. And if somebody dares to stand up and point out that such wants require, you know, details and stuff, well…that person is stomped by the populist mob, who view an intellectual argument as highbrow elitist snobbery at best, or, at worst, just a bunch of long words strung together to test the spell-checker.
Our current political climate is so juvenile that it is collectively dumbing down all of us, to the point where all that we leave behind on the couches we collapse into every night is the residue of freshly killed brain cells. A man who could very well be the next President of the United States recently proposed printing more money as a solution to our economic woes. Read the sentence again if you want. I’ll wait. Ok? And his sage economic advice was met with howls of, not derision for being so breathtakingly ignorant, but delight. For isn’t it so obvious? You want more money? Just fire up the lazy proles at the US Mint. Make America great again.
We used to have guardians against this type of nonsense. But Cronkite and Murrow have long been replaced by bought-hacks like Hannity and O’Reilly, and the generation that once marched to stop a war are now out pounding the pavement looking for their 2nd or 3rd jobs, because “retirement” is now a synonym for “the day you die”. All but the top 1% are doing the doggie-paddle every minute of the day, and instead of getting pissed at the ones who tossed us in the dirty water, we’re shitting in the pool to spite each other. Pissed off people are rarely rational. And Americans these days have to be the most pissed off people on the planet. And the least rational.
Words have no meaning anymore. Or, rather, they mean whatever we want them to mean. So telling the truth has become quaint, like a kid who takes his hat off when he walks into your house. Thus many can and will still argue that universal healthcare is an American impossibility, despite the happy healthy Canadians looking down at them and waving frantically saying….”you fucking idiots realize that all of the politicians arguing against government health care HAVE government health care, right?” Facts are extremely inconvenient at times…..and never more so when we have no time. I gotta pick up my kid from the sitter after leaving my 2nd job, and you want me to hit up Snopes.com to validate a meme on facebook? You’re ADORABLE.
So 2 are left standing. Our choices. To run this nation. If you were to take a poll they’d probably be the 2 most hated people in America. So you gotta hand it to us. When we fuck things up, we do it monumentally.
I’ve become tone-deaf, as only someone who supported Bernie Sanders but considered him far too conservative can be. I look at Donald Trump and think he’s hilarious. I’m not scared of him. There’s a part of me…..the part that loses myself inside Netflix binges…..that actually wants him to win for the sheer entertainment value alone. I want to see him on the world’s stage, kissing Putin’s ass and getting everyone else’s name wrong, desperate to access the launch codes but not knowing how to open the briefcase…..wondering why the lowest bidder can’t seem to find the laborers to get the wall built even armed with wheelbarrows full of not exactly inflation proof freshly printed green-backs. I want to see him issue crazy orders….and watch as nothing happens. I want to see him take on the iceberg that is the house of representatives, recently described as “435 heads up 435 asses”, and slowly lose what little is left of his small mind in the process. You want change? Oh, you’ll get change alright. I’m almost tempted to vote for the asshole myself.
Hillary has better hair, but that’s about as far as I’ll go. For years she’s been bloated with the same dirty money that republicans have gorged themselves on. She’s so bought and sold she might as well decorate herself with corporate stickers, like a Nascar driver. The main joy I’d get from her winning is watching Fox news collectively set themselves on fire in protest, like those Vietnamese monks.
I want to take all of this seriously. I really do. But I have to stop laughing first. I presume that won’t happen until after November, when it’ll be too late. When we start casting votes not for who we admire, but for whom we despise the least, democracy has officially broken down. I should feel inspired inside a voting booth, not like I need a shower.
If you think this is the best we’re capable of, you’re part of the problem. Only nationwide disgust can save us now.
“In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.”
—Joseph de Maistre
God help us…
In a bit..