THE UNVEILING OF JARED MEES BY A CHILDHOOD FRIEND OF JARED MEES PLUS MORE.
Bereshith: I know Jared Mess. He is my childhood buddy. He lives in Portland but we grew up together in a small town in the Rocky Mountains. Jared recently asked me to write a short biography for him. Jared does not realize what a difficult and nuanced task this exploration of all that is he, may be. Nay. He has loosed me, naked and raving, into his Garden, with nary a suggestion, prohibition, thesis. It is a laxity he’ll soon regret. For already, problems arise. See:
Jared is releasing a music album. Thus, as in any exploration of the nature of things, we may begin with the axiomatic, the barest of facts.
The Portland-based musician Jared Mees is releasing an album of music called Life is Long.
Halt! Woe, brave expedition! Already, we have uttered falsity! I cannot accept even this seemingly simple statement, for it contains a fundamental untruth! I know better. And I’ll be damned if I keep quiet. Therefore: Let this short biography serve as my confession, and Jared’s unveiling.
Third paragraph. By this point, Jared surely wishes me to point out that he is a musician, a guitarist and a vocalist, and that he is releasing his fourth studio album this spring. The album is entitled Life is Long. Jared wrote all the songs and, recorded them with the stellar Paul Laxer (Typhoon) in a small cabin along Oregon’s mighty Santiam river. While supplying the vocals and compositions, Jared let members of Typhoon, Radiation City, The Domestics, New Move and Yeah Great Fine play the music. For many days, they all went about the cabin in pajamas and bathrobes, eating sandwiches and ingesting cannabis. After many days of this they came to call themselves The Comfy Boyz. et cetera. et cetera.
The album Life is Long contains ten songs, and I have already chosen four favorites. In the title track, “Life is Long,” Jared inverts an old cliche and invokes the wisdom of one of our mutual favorite authors, David Foster Wallace. The third song, “I Believe,” is about an adult making sense of the world after a religious upbringing, an upbringing Jared and I both shared in our small Rocky Mountain town. The positive anthem “This Is Your Year” is, frankly, much needed after 2016. And the final track, “Eyes Be Wide,” I have interpreted as Jared giving his daughter life advice. It is part sage primer and part reflection on what may constitute a meaningful life.
And by the way Jared Mees is no longer attached to The Grown Children by an ampersand or otherwise, there were many complications which brought this about.
But let’s stop there. The astute reader will here notice that I have committed one or two blatant biographical facts in the preceding paragraph. An error I hope to correct now. Jared Mees is a musician, blah blah blah… album names, song counts, references to supposed childhood experiences… you are beginning to feel how hollow, how whimsical these facts are. Facts like these could fill many pages, and yet do nothing to elucidate the actual state of affairs, the Truth. The last Truth you expected to hear in a musician’s short biography. Which is:
Jared Mees is no musician.
Nor is he any of those things we who know him would tell you, were you to ask. A father, a husband, a kind and generous friend. A small business owner, being with his wife Brianne the proprietor of the art store/record label Tender Loving Empire in Portland, Oregon. Again, these are all correct but they are correct in the merest denotative or statistical way. I repeat! Jared Mees is no musician!
Yes, he understands chord progressions and song structure. And he writes a damn fine hook. The music of Jared Mees, I submit, can even make you feel things. But this is not enough. These things can be learned by rote and credential, in garages or music schools… and are, often. Though there be plenty of technically accomplished musicians out there, I find myself wanting more. I demand Truth, and I demand it now.
By now, Jared will likely wish me to get to the point, gently reminding me that we have progressed already eight (nine?) paragraphs, having conveyed very little essential biographical information. This is, after all, only a short biography, and not a brave ontological or epistemological expedition, a commentary on the state of music, or anything else. But I don’t care! I still have a quote by an American president to fit in, as well as a fine Proof by Contradiction! No, I don’t care whether or not my material is appropriate for Jared’s biography. I don’t care because I want the world to know the Truth about Jared Mees. And Jared Mees is no musician.
No. He is much more. The Truth, at last:
Jared Mees is a Poet.
Evidence: Life is Long, Jared’s fourth album, employs many of the Poet’s traditional tools: metaphor and simile, alliteration and euphony, rhyme and aphorism, variation in voice and point of view. But these are only devices by which Jared the Poet treats his diverse subject matters: Loss of Faith, Love, Legacy, Suicide, to name a few contained in Life is Long. Indeed, over 10+ years and four albums (including 2007’s If You Wanna Swim w/ the Sharks You Gotta Concentrate, 2008’s Caffeine, Alcohol, Sunshine Money and 2011’s Only Good Thoughts Can Stay) , I’ve never known Jared to shy from serious themes. He has parsed the elation (“Excellent Time”) and transience (“Limber Hearts) of Youth; bound to rambling ballad the intoxicating agony of Young Love (“Loboito”); named all that is bittersweet in Growing Up (“Billy Bird”) and all that is paradoxical in Being Alive (“Hungry like a Tiger”); invoked the absurdities of Modern Life (“Working and Drinking”) and Modern Entertainment(“Cockleburs and Hay”); as well as given anthem to Fatherhood (“Signal Fire”), Mental Illness (“Shake”), Getting Old (“Juicy Fruit”), and Loss of Love (“Tiny Toy Piano”); and, finally, he has grappled with Poet’s fundamental Problem (the beautiful “Moonlight and Timing”; the bitter “Trampling Daisies”; the melancholic “It’s in the Way”), while, layered over it all, is Jared's frenzied invocation of all that is Life.
Impressive. Yet, even this register does not make Jared a Poet. Thus, we arrive at the heart of the matter: What is a Poet?
Here we follow the example of logicians, mathematicians, and John F. Kennedy, in formulating a Proof by Contradiction. Let us, as Kennedy did, assume the existence of an Anti-Poetry. I refer to his convocation at Amherst College, after the death Robert Frost. The day was October 26th, 1963:
“When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”
It is not hard, looking at our modern slice of the world today, to glimpse a certain arrogance, a corruption, a narrowing. In politics and business, in news forums and social media, in churches and in marketplaces, Anti-Poetry is everywhere. Chances are, you have spouted it. And I’d be a fool not to admit the same.
The difference is a subtle one, but one which, necessarily, makes all the difference. Where the Anti-Poet reduces, oversimplifies, seduces with panacean and bite-sized truth-morsels, the Poet dives headlong into the chaos, returning at length with perhaps no Truth at all. The Anti-Poet employs archetype and tautology; the Poet, imagery. The Anti-Poet is a persuader, a coercer, a prolix biographer, seeking to contain all life in a narrow frame, a dataset, and death as well… for the Anti-Poet fears death, insisting, “We die, we become nothing.” The Poet replies, “Listen to the wind in the trees.” (as Jared suggests we do in the sublime “I Believe” - track 3 on Life is Long) The Anti-Poet draws a line in the sand, demands we stand on one side or the other. The Poet sees only the sand, and reminds us that what we believe is not so important as how we arrive at there.
This is not to say that the Poet remains ambiguous. When the Poet chooses to take a stand, it is unequivocally that: a choosing. And I suppose this brings me to why I enjoy Jared’s music, and why he is a Poet. The twinkling nexus of short biography, or essay, or whatever this whole thing turns out to be… well…
Just don’t expect me to lay it out. You must complete the proof now. You see, I’ve finally taken a tip from Jared. Hop off the soapbox and into the bubble bath, as they say. No one says that. Better, the old creative saying: Show, don’t tell. I remember:
When Jared and I first discussed his new album, Life is Long, Jared related to me that in that winter-bound cabin he went about that cabin in a bathrobe, and when the time came to lay down vocal tracks he would approach the microphone, disrobe, and sing naked. We laughed about this story, then spoke no more of it.
Yet, I thought about it later. What did it mean? This was either a juvenile joke, or a thrust at some fundamental truth concerning the nature of Jared’s music, of Poetry itself. Of course, Jared hadn’t said anything like this. Like this short biography, The Poet hadn’t told me what to write, what to say or think. He simply told me the story, then let me divine what I would. Showing, not telling.
Thus it was from this simple story, that I recognized the Poet’s greatest gift: Myself. To see and interpret as I will. And that is a meaningful gift beyond compare.