It’s been five years…
In November 2014, I penned an anonymous love letter to Amorica for her 20th birthday. It was such a thrill to have it posted on Rich Robinson’s Facebook page that month, not only because I considered it an honor. Connecting with so many others over the album made me feel like I had found my tribe, a rare sensation in these fractured times. At the time, I concluded with a plea to the band to throw a surprise party for Amorica. I remember thinking, but not writing it because it seemed too ominous - Do it now, before it’s too late! Little did I know, just a couple months later, on January 15 2015, the Black Crowes would disband. The exact date is seared into my brain because I couldn’t help but take it as a bad omen that my favorite band actually broke up on my birthday! I’ve been waiting for a good sign ever since.
Finally, I think I got one. Just as I was finishing a follow-up piece for Amorica’s now 25th anniversary, the two Crowes logo was spotted on a billboard above the Lincoln Tunnel. There is a lot of buzz right now about a possible tour next year. My fingers and toes are crossed, but I try to remind myself - there was a lot of buzz about a tour five years ago too…and then they broke up!
In an effort to not get ahead of ourselves, let’s just take a moment to celebrate what is in front of us now. Our dear Amorica is twenty-five years old today, and it is not nice to forget a lady’s birthday. Even if that lady has pubic hair peeking out from her bikini line.
Happy Birthday, Amorica!
Amorica Lost and Found
The Black Crowes’ Amorica turns a quarter-century-old on November 1st and I cannot stop myself from asking the most cliché of questions - Where did the time go? It is impossible to fathom, the collective twenty-five-year experience of this album’s fans. Times have been kind and cruel, and not always in the right measures. We have been blessed and deprived, lived in grace and despair, fell in love and fallen apart. If we are here, we have survived, and likely learned how to make a space inside for those departed. In twenty-five years, we lost an innocence we did not know we had.
There is almost nothing that can make me feel like it is 1994 again, but Amorica is a time machine that works. It may not have been the soundtrack of the nineties according to VH1, but the Pacific Northwest bands they would pick to represent the decade’s rock-n-roll just don’t take me back. Don’t get me wrong, I wore plenty of flannel in the nineties, but maybe the despair of grunge is just far too au courant these days to elicit nostalgia. Amorica captures how I actually felt. On the outside, I may have been trying to look disaffected in shades of Seattle grey, favoring dark colors and baggy clothes; my Cherry Doc Martins were about as bright as I would go. I lingered in coffee shops with my comrades, silently coding existential ambiguity through the fog of our cigarette smoke. But inside, I felt a lot more like Georgia – ripe green with the kind of energy that lingers low there in the humid air - a swampy mix of emotion, restless desire, and a longing to escape.
In 1994, I was one year out of college and had fled the Northeast. Unlike many of my peers who went West, I first went South, and with my liberal arts degree took a minimum wage job at a dry-cleaning establishment in Austin, Texas. Though I had been drawn there in part by Linklater and his Slackers, I somehow lacked enough self-awareness to consider myself one of them. Not surprising really; I have always felt like more of an outsider than an insider. Generation X – we were confronted with an existential crisis in our very label before we even had a chance. Wandering around like a tribe of lost latch-key kids, whoever named us wanted to make it clear how little we mattered. A few years earlier on the Crowes’ first album, She Talks To Angels had called out to us while most of us were still kids - She’ll tell you she’s an orphan, after you meet her family. They understood.
Amorica would let us know they weren’t having any of it. Refusing to let music reinforce our negation, like rock-n-roll warriors, the Black Crowes fought the good fight, laying down their third album in the trenches of L.A., the antithesis of Seattle. They would never abandon the guitar gods or the muses of melody. Chris Robinson was not a front man who was about to sit still and hide behind his hair, and he kept right on singing loud and clear all the way through the garbling, groaning and growling of the nineties. Wearing bell-bottoms and black eyeliner, with all the bravado of a dirty hippie Sinatra, he throws down his own My Way with the closing lyrics to Amorica’s opening track, Gone. You can almost hear the hip thrusts punctuating each line - Wasted. My way. I’m gone.
But the Black Crowes were never more here. These were not the lyrics of a nihilist, and we know that for certain because of the way the music sounds. Amorica is in fact a Ballad in Urgency, packed with songs that originated from the hips, gut, and heart. Time itself would be Gone with a vengeance we never saw coming. The Black Crowes were just there to record 54 minutes and 13 seconds of it - of a band Descending deep into rock-n-roll.
Did they call their album Amorica because they realized they were patriots of a sort? If it was a call to arms, it worked. The true Amoricans responded, and we still do. In the winding road that has been the career of the Black Crowes, we keep following them. I have just one tattoo on my foot - the hobo symbol for “hit the road”. When someone inquires and I tell them what it is, they assume I love to travel, which is true, so I usually just leave it at that. What I don’t tell them is that “hit the road” was actually a warning sign to fellow travelers – keep moving, it is is not safe to stay put. I don’t want to get into why that has meaning for me personally. Let’s just say that for some people, the road is essential. If I had to explain my tattoo in a song it would be Amorica’s Wiser Time. I am a true believer in pushing through the hard miles to get to the ones where we feel like we can part the seas, never settling, reaching for glory beyond our means. I won’t follow a preacher or politician, but I will always pledge allegiance to Amorica.
Amoricans everywhere, join me in honor of her 25th, and don’t forget to hit the road and turn it up. To the miles behind and the miles to go – to Amorica!