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The Last Honest Man: In Memoriam, Jascha: Show Preview and Music Retrospective, pt 2
Posted March 11, 2014 by Matt Erler
WRITTEN BY
Matt Erler
ON
March 11, 2014
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As it has been awhile since Jascha played a significant amount of show in Indianapolis, even before his passing, we thought a primer would be appropriate. Part one was posted last week, with four songs ("xx," "Quetzalcoatl," "Starting to Think, pt 1," and "Divorce Makes People Cry; Especially Me) to listen to. 

Part two contains four more songs, as well as additional thoughts from his bandmates and a guest singer. 

Enjoy.

***

This is going to be a beautiful, moving show. A lot of love and talent have gone into it. Stop whatever you’re doing that night and go.

These next four songs are my favorites. I have a feeling many of them will coincide with others. A common thread on three of them, though, is Jascha coming into his own as a singer, songwriter, and performer. These are gorgeous songs by a songwriter who had figured out who he was, instead of just who he wanted to be. His influences still linger, particularly in “E,” but these four songs are definitively Jascha, and no one else.

He opened his heart fully on “Hide and Seek,” “Victory Song,” and “E.” Sometimes it isn’t easy to hear. He was an empathic singer who forced us into his mind. The way he sings key lines in “E,” for instance, reveal a performer completely at ease with who he was and a songwriter with the ability to keep us at his fingertips.

The challenge for the performers on Saturday is to capture that without sliding into mimicry.   

“One thing I learned is how good Jascha was,” said Christian Taylor, who will do four songs Saturday night. “Some of the ways he delivers his melodies is really not a technique I would use. It’s stressful. But that’s part of the rock and roll him.”

Lauren Moore, who played accordion and sang on there’s nothing like love for making you miserable, and was one of the integral forces in the shaping of the band, spoke of the challenges of fully attacking Jascha’s material:

“I had to turn down singing the lead on “Divorce Makes People Cry” because I can’t do that scream,” said accordionist/singer Lauren Moore. “It would destroy my voice."

"He didn’t care if it was hurting him,” she said.

The Last Honest Man: In Memoriam Jascha is on Saturday, March 15th at Radio Radio. Tickets are five dollars and can be purchased in advance here: http://www.futureshock.net/event/479155-last-honest-man-in-memoriam-indianapolis

All proceeds will benefit Jascha Fox Marvin Updike, Jascha’s son.

And all four of these songs are extraordinary.

“Welcome to the Monkey House”

A simple harmonica solo. A wordless chorus. Verses that are short and sweet. Something draws me to “Welcome to the Monkey House,” again and again. It isn’t his most complex or beautiful work. Nor is it his best. But “Welcome to the Monkey House” is a great campfire song, in the very least.

Jascha loved Kurt Vonnegut. Welcome to the Monkey House, is, of course a great Vonnegut short story, and he throws in little Vonnegut references here and there, but I think what Jascha was really getting at was more in line with the whole Vonnegut ethos.

“Everyone must die/Everyone will die/Each alone/Sing hi ho.”

So it goes.

“Hide and Seek,” from there’s nothing like love for making you miserable

I’ve written about music for a long time. In college, I learned how to keep myself separate from the scene and from the people in it. I wanted to be honest about the music I listened to and what I thought of it. I didn’t think I could do it if I was friends with the musicians I wrote about.

Then Jascha came and destroyed that notion.

My friendship with jascha and my relationship to his music are entwined. That was the brilliant thing about him. The two were not separate. Jascha the person was Jascha the musician and vice versa. To know him was to understand, at the very heart and the very core, what his songs were about. They were a window into him. He wasn’t putting on airs.

I’m pretty sure that’s how everybody who knew him felt about it.

There’s something rare and potent about this song. It’s like listening to lightning. It’s so simple and elegant and beautiful and seductive, and it slinks up beside you and then it’s just there forever. Indelible.

“E,” from there’s nothing like love for making me miserable

His vocal performance on this song blows me away. The piano arrangement barrels right for your heart like a train.

“E” is profoundly sad. He jumps from phrase to phrase and from lyric to lyric almost impatiently, like he can’t wait to get to the next one: “Not sure where I begin/you got under my skin/and you tied up my tongue like a string/if I’m keeping silent now/it's because I’m all out/of words and won't say what I mean.”

It’s like he had too much to say on this one.

 But it soon gives way to a stark final phrase, one he repeats over and over again.

He was willing us to understand him.

From drummer Bryan Unruh:

“This song was recorded months after the rest of the album. We had kind of forgotten about it. But not Jascha. This song was very important to him. It was originally a song he wrote about Elliot Smith for the "Jamestown Special" EP, but he modified the lyrics for the album version to make it about something else entirely. It was recorded at David Hazel's house as he was finishing up the mixing on the rest of the album. The cello and violin had been recorded along with the rest of the album, so Jascha had to play the piano part along with the strings when they came in. Kinda weird, but didn't end up being an issue. One take, if I remember correctly. This song resided permanently somewhere in Jascha's soul, so it was pretty easy to put it to tape."

“Victory Song” from there’s nothing like love for making you miserable
 

Drew Malott said what I tried to say better than I did, so I’ll let him take it from here:

"Victory Song" is my favorite song by any singer, any songwriter, any musician, ever. Period. Only a handful of people in the world know what it felt like to perform this song onstage with Jascha: the tension, the exhilaration, the release. Even writing about it now, I get chills. This song perfectly encapsulates every single thing that I love about Jascha and his music.

Each stanza is a blindingly powerful couplet; they could stand on their own in any context, but they tie together and are astoundingly cohesive. The imagery conjured up by the words Jascha chose is amazing: "stuck inside a freight train, or sprawled out on the lawn". Note also the subtle wordplay in the very first stanza: "one more drink til you've had too much/it's 3 a.m. and you're waiting for the bars to close". 1 2 3 4. Pretty clever, Jascha.

But beyond all of this, this song sums up what I feel to be Jascha's entire modus operandi. The subject of the song (Jascha himself?) longs for the affection of someone who doesn't appear to be requiting. Someone has been out drinking too late. Someone's heart has been crushed. All hope seems to be lost. There is ironic resignation: "hallelujah, I will not be saved". And there is painfully tragic foreshadowing: "the joke's on you..."

Then from out of this despair, this beautifully worded and honest portrayal of sadness, comes a sweeping major-key celebration of anything in life that could possibly be worth celebrating simply to spite the fact that we "will not be saved". Four words, over and over again. Everyone Jascha knew and loved (at the time), in one room, at the top of their lungs. It's a rising melody, uplifting, confident, jubilant. The perfect contrast to the isolation and resignation of the first half of the song.

And that's what Jascha really was about. He knew about the first half of the song, all too well; but he lived his life like the second half.

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