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For Whom the Ears Ring

Posted by johnnieraz on April 20, 2025 at 1:55 AM

       By John Rezell

     I chuckle as my friends begin to hear the ringing in their ears that comes with an appropriate number of circles around the sun. While they complain of this latest twist along the path of life I tend to embrace it.

     My ears began singing years and years ago, the impact of blowing my sax in front of a crowd of revelers with a huge Fender amp behind me rockin' all our worlds. Those were the days of gigging around San Diego in couple of cover bands.

     I laugh because, in my mind, it's the one element of music that connects me with Peter Townsend. And that's sorta cool.

       Again, in my mind.

       My never-ending ear-ringing mind.

     Having become accustomed to the noise I've pretty much blocked it out and seldom notice it. Oh sure, I could take something that might alleviate the sound. But why? On those occasions that I'm aware of it I allow it to take my mind on an uplifting journey back in the day.

     Few things in life can match playing music with kindred souls. When you literally love the individuals surrounding you and then find a way to share that love through music, man, words can't describe.

     That bond began oh so many years ago. As junior high school and high school friends join me on Facebook the first connection that rings true for me is band.

     Anne Hunke played bass clarinet along side of me. Bruce Wermuth blasted his trumpet from the top row. Greg Hartlmeier puffed the Sousaphone pounding the bass lines with Anne and I. Bob Gurgul on the drums.

     Some of my favorite surprises come when one of my playlists tosses in a Souza march — El Capitain, or Stars and Stripes Forever, or King Cotton — and I can sing the bass clarinet part. No matter what disappointments that day was shoveling in front of me back at Pilgrim Park, when Mr. Hibler or Mr. Dominiak told us to bring out the march book, my spirits soared.

     I floated through the stratosphere in summer band. When I listen to old Chicago hits, I hear Bruce Wermuth wailing away to the opening of Does Anyone Really Know What Time it Is.

     The performance high, living through the bubbling deep inside with hands shaking, began in junior high with the Theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mr. Hibler wanted it to start with a haunting low bass before the tymphany struck. First all the basses played. He axed the baritones. Then the bassoon. Then Anne. Then Greg. And finally he decided that I alone would start the song in the quietest of tones.

      Striking the fat reed of a bass clarinet with a pianissimo accent and quietly rumbling on one of the lowest notes possible and holding it for, oh, I think 24 measures or so, is not a task for the feint of heart. And I certainly wasn't Mr. Machismo back then, the bass clarinet in its case rivaling my weight soaking wet. It was so easy to conjure up a horrific squeak. But I survived.

      And it wasn't just playing it in concert one night. We played it in contest, too. My first pressure packed test.

     After that Mr. Hibler recruited me (in ninth grade) to play with him and two high school seniors in a woodwind quartet that actually played around town. I remember playing one Sunday afternoon at an Art Gallery in Shorewood on Lake Shore Drive. Cool stuff.

     Unfortunately my high school band director and I didn't hit it off well, and he pretty much destroyed my love of music in one short semester. You can read the whole story in my memoir "You Can't Cook a Dead Crab and Eat It" so I'll spare the details here.

     My love of music took a hiatus at the time when most adolescents savor the thrills of their first bands. After college while working as a sportswriter in Dubuque, Iowa I had an apartment in an old school house downtown with a music store next door. I rented a tenor sax and taught myself how to play Clarence Clemons' Jungleland solo.

     I would climb the fire escape in the early morning hours after the bars closed and sit on the roof wailing Jungleland with a perfect view of the police station a few blocks away. As soon as I saw a patrol car dispatched, I'd climb back down.

     Years later in San Diego, I bought an old sax when some friends started a band. I took lessons from an old pro, who figured the vintage sax was from the 1930s or so, its configuration of keys giving away its age. My bandmates believe to this day it's a half note flat .

    There's just something about that music connection. My Bottomline bandmates Dan Popovich and Larry Fulton along with Mike and Debbie Sierras form a core of memories that will last a lifetime. They always want me to jump in even though when we had a quazi reunion a few years back my mind nearly went singing Love Shak even though I've only sung it a million times.

      Most recently, a year ago, we had a little reunion with my other band, the infamous Atrocious Noyze, after not playing with Brad Hammerstrom, Bill Watson and Jeff and Bob Jertberg for decades.

      So when that ringing in my ears carries me away, I can fly in my time machine back to countless moments of joy, but one stands out above the others. It wasn't even a gig. It was practice. One afternoon our Bottomline band played Aerosmith's The Other Side and a few bars into the song everything — and I mean everything — clicked like never before, or, really never again.

     We glanced around at each other as we played, almost like an outer body group experience where music replaced every cell in our bodies. We floated with each note to a place only music can take you.

     In those special moments, well, nirvana isn't just a grunge band.

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