Frank Gutch Jr: Plumbing the Depths

I woke up just a  few minutes ago with music in my head and a heart heavy with whatever it gets heavy with and found myself once again on the Low Rocks, plumbing the depths.  When you’re young and your hormones rage, you find sanctuaries—we all do— and my favorite was the Low Rocks, a slight rock shelf which skirted the Santiam River on the northern edges of good ol’ Sweet Home, Oregon, a town which I hold dear to my heart and which will always be home.

The Low Rocks were just around the bend of the river and east of the High Rocks, a larger and higher geological outcrop from which high school kids every summer reveled in giving parents heart attacks by diving from the dizzying heights into a river far, far below.  It was a social gathering point during the dog days, a swarm of activity.  The Low Rocks, by contrast, were seldom visited (at the easternmost point, the current was too strong to swim and the rocks hidden from the land side by large clumps of bushes) and an oasis, of sorts.  When I needed to be alone, I would fight my way through the bushes to the inviting and smooth rocks, plant myself right next to the water and, with all of the noises of summer that rivers are wont to attract, plunge my mind into the depths.  It was my safety zone.  It was where I grew up.  For hours at a time, it was where I lived.  It wasn’t limited to summer.  I visited the rocks every time a personal crisis developed (which, during my pre-teen and teen years was all too often) and suffered the wrath of my mother too many times for the dirt crusted on the butt of my jeans from sitting for hours on the wet and moss-covered throne (“Why can’t you take a towel or something to sit on, for Chrissakes,” she would say.  “Jeans don’t grow on trees, you know.”).

Oh, but I loved those visits to the Low Rocks.  If ever there was a place where I could submerge myself in myself, that was it.  What happened there?  I couldn’t tell you.  I would stare into the depths until my mind was blank and let my emotions take over.  I immersed myself in any and every emotion a kid could experience.  I buried myself in everything and nothing.  And I came out of each experience a bit more confused yet oddly cleansed.

In later years, I would recreate that experience by taking long walks in the rain, drinking and going to strip clubs where I would pay five bucks for a watered down drink, slip my eyes out of focus and traipse through lala land, no thoughts required.  Or I would listen to music.  There has always been something recuperative to me about music— it heals the soul.  It lets me breathe.  It gives me perspective.  I need it like others need water and I revel in it.  So what better way to end this year than to revisit some of my most poignant music moments.  I mean, there is a reason we all love the music we love.  Here are mine.

I grew up on country music, I guess you could say, though there was plenty of the pop music of the day as well, and classical.  Rock ‘n Roll was not yet to be found when I at first lolled around the family’ console and my head was yet to be bent, though when it was bent it was bent hard.  I would sit for hours in front of the lone speaker, listening to whatever came my way, and what came was a mixture of Bing Crosby, Hank Williams, Teresa Brewer, Mario Lanza and a hundred other singers and musicians and I loved them all.  Nothing got to me more than the country, though.  The music was like cooking meth naked, every fume permeating my being and making me an addict.  It made me happy and made me dance and sometimes cooled my jets.  But when it made me sad, that was the best of all.  Well, I shouldn’t say sad.  When it touched a chord.  That’s it.

Like all kids, that chord revolved around the simple.  Like when Red Foley sang about Old Shep, the dog who had just ended his days, or T. Texas Tyler sang (or talked) My Dad Gave My Dog Away.   Or when Jimmy Martin wailed about the setting sun in A Beautiful Life.  Sometimes it was the melody, sometimes the harmonies.  Always, it made me feel.  I still feel the mournful cry of The Blue Sky Boys when they sang “Though she tried so hard to smile when she walked down the aisle, there were tears on her bridal bouquet.”  It is embedded in my soul.

When rock began making its inroads, and partially thanks to those raging hormones, music took me over completely.  In grade school, there were great songs, but it was junior high when I felt full impact.  I fell in love a thousand times between the sixth and seventh grades, always to a song— The Four Preps26 Miles or Dion & The BelmontsWhere or When or The Lettermen‘s When I Fall In Love— and that continued into high school where The Beach Boys and The Beatles and a plethora of sixties bands and artists became soundtrack to a loveless youth.  The truth was, girls scared the shit out of me— well, not them specifically but what they made me become, a swirling mass of pathetic sweat, and that made me crawl further within myself.  Thank the gods for the Low Rocks and music.

College and the Army didn’t help matters any.  I suppose I was normal on the outside but on the inside I was a mess.  During those years, I began to realize that music, for me, was a coping tool of sorts.  I listened all the time.  It became an obsession.  I had to have it.  I began buying records in larger and larger quantities.  When I returned to Eugene, post-Army, I found The House of Records, a store which then specialized in the new and unusual, thanks to trade in promos.  I found Grin and Big Star and Glass Harp and Cargoe and a slew of artists I would carry with me into the future.

I also found Cowboy.  Post-Army, I had embraced the back-to-the-land mantra of the hippie movement and Cowboy fit right in.  Their first album, Reach For the Sky, hit me like a ton of bricks from the get-go.  Catch these lyrics:

I need time to find out where I’m going

I need people to show me where I’ve been

I know the answer and it feels good just knowin’

It’s my friends who show me who I am

Perfect for the guy who was fresh out of the Army supporting a war in which he did not believe in a country which seemingly had lost its way.  I was hooked.  Never had I heard a song which said so much in so few words.  Never had I had a song speak to me so fully.

It is the same today.  I surround myself with music which speaks to me.  Mostly it is about love and death and lonely.  Mostly it is about ideals and the romantic side of life.  Mostly it is about emotions.  Mostly…..

Jess Pillmore speaks to me.  Jess is the daughter of Cowboy co-founder Bill Pillmore and an artist in her own right.  It is not always music— she is up to her neck in theater and dance as well— but I know of her through her music.  Back in 2005, she released an album titled Reveal which set off neither alarms or whistles but which included two of the most magnificent tracks I’d heard to that date:  Open My Mouth and Don’t Show Me.  Both are a reflection of love and loss beyond the norm.  Imagine the one you truly, truly love walking away without a word, without explanation.  Imagine the pain and the suffering and the shock and the betrayal, if that is even what it is.  Imagine pain so deep that it won’t bring tears.  Pillmore captures the depth of that suffering in those two songs, produced to an absolute perfection by producer/sideman Dan Phelps.  I have spent hours listening to the album and especially those two songs.  As painful as they are, they cleanse.  And, no, the whole album in not as intense.  I don’t think I could take a full album of such songs.

There is a whole story behind Tom Mank & Sera Smolen‘s album, Where the Sun Meets the Blue, but this is neither the time nor the place (You can read their story here).  Suffice it to say that when Mank writes songs of delicacy, he excels.  The title track of the album is about a lady who sailed the Atlantic on what was to be the happiest journey of her life but who was lost.  A storm intervened and she was never seen again.  Tom wrote the song for the girl’s mother.  He could not have captured the story better.

We all have our ways of dealing with death.  Fisher‘s Kathy Fisher dealt with the loss of her father by writing a song about it.  I found out by writing her and asking about the whole idea behind Water Burial only to find out that it was not an idea at all.  Her father died alone while fishing, one of his big passions.  He died doing what made him happy. But that did not answer any of Kathy’s questions, so she wrote a song asking those questions.  It is both beautiful and eerie.  It could not have been easy to either write or record.  You can tell by the intake of breath which ends the song.

Greg Laswell lost a wife.  He went to work one day and when he came home, she was gone.  Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t that simple, but it happened.  So Greg locked himself in his bedroom and pulled the shades and emoted for a good six months.  When he came out, he wrote enough songs for an album.  Sad songs?  Yeah, but only in a way.  Many of the tracks are intense with sound, loud and raucous compared to what one would think.   He put his whole grieving process to music and when he finished it had come to grips with the fact that he was in no way lacking responsibility.  While it didn’t deaden the pain, it had to have been therapeutic as hell.  Through Toledo is amazing— both the track and the album.  An album with this much sound should not be this emotionally draining, but it is.

You don’t have to be young to experience teen angst.  Dala has proven that again and again.  On the two albums I’ve heard (Who Do You Think You Are and Everyone Is Someone), they prove it again and again, from Anywhere Under the Moon and Hockey Sweater on the former to Lonely Girl and Crushed on the latter.  The songs may appeal to the younger female crowd, but these girls lay it out so we can all appreciate it— with beautiful melodies, lush production and harmonies which can almost bring you to your knees.  I swear to God that Lonely Girl could wring tears from a turnip.

I remember listening to Nick HolmesSoulful Crooner album many times when I was down.  Sometimes, it was the three in the morning blues and at those times I sat by the turntable, playing The Promise Suite ad infinitum.  Holmes and crew created a symphonic gem when they recorded it— a symphony not of orchestra but of music nonetheless.  You can thank Holmes for his songwriting expertise and incredible and unique voice, Michael Mainieri for his production skills and the sidemen for their abilities to capture the moment.  One night, after playing it what must have been fifteen to twenty times, I watched the sun rise.  I have seldom been filled with so much hope.

I know this column has been a bit hard to follow.  I do not apologize.  I think I needed to write it.  I’m tired and I’m a bit down.  Nothing serious— just end of the year blues.  I will return after the first with the first of what I hope will be a serious look at the record industry and how they aimed at their foot and shot themselves in the ass.  I hope the guys who have been writing articles which basically say “get over it” will stop by for a read and will respond.  No sixteen pound feather gloves for them.  It will be bare-knuckles, winner take all.  But I know them.  They’re chicken. Then again, we’ll see.

Hope you all are enjoying a festive holiday season.  Mine won’t be festive as much as recuperative.  My attitude needs adjustment.  Merry Christmas!

A Reminder:

The First Annual Don’t Believe a Word I Say Reader’s Poll

To everyone who may be having a problem with copying and pasting the Poll from Monday’s column. Try this:1. Highlight the Poll 2. Right click on the Poll and choose ‘copy’. 3. Open a new word doc or email. 4. Right click and choose ‘Paste’, 5. Fill out the form and 6. Email either as a word.doc attachment, or as a straight email. The Poll is also available to copy and paste on my Facebook page Let me know if that works. If that doesn’t work, email me at, and I’ll mail the Poll directly to you to fill out. That might be the easiest way. Sorry for the inconvenience. We really are interested in hearing what you have to say. Also, your answers can include any music, movies, TV, etc, from any year, not just 2011. 

Thank you,


We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted: Please use it to ask questions,  tell us what you’d like to read about, send links you’d like to share, and let us hear what you have to say.

Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: