Category Archives: Joey “Chicago” Walser My Rock and Roll Journey
Written by Joey “Chicago” Walser (DEVOUR THE DAY)
When I was 14 years old, the world was beckoning me in every direction with beautiful questions. Life felt like an endless hallway of unopened doors, and I wanted to see what was behind all of them. I was a freshman in high school and had no idea how complicated life would become, but I didn’t really think about it. I was right there in the moment and I didn’t want to miss anything.
A lot of big moments happened that year. I was a part of an undefeated sports team. I drove a car for the first time (when I snuck out of my house in the middle of the night for the first time). I won a ribbon at the first art show that I entered. I smoked weed for the first time. I had my first “real” girlfriend. and I lost my virginity. I also made a decision that would end up being one of the most vital of my life. Sometimes I think about how much it changed my course, and how much it led me to where I am now. I wonder if I would have met my best friend. I wonder if I would have traveled. I wonder if I would have had my children. It almost seems unreal.
I had been trying to write little pieces of music on my dad’s acoustic guitar a lot that year. I found myself fumbling around on the old Martin’s fret board more and more. The only song I learned was “Smoke on the Water,” because my father had taught it to me. I wasn’t really interested in learning other people’s music though, because it didn’t give me any satisfaction. It definitely wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate previously written music; I most certainly did. I was listening to every kind of music that I could get my hands on. Funk, reggae, jazz, hip-hop and rock and roll were my lifelines to a life not yet lived. Every new discovery was decorated in sonic mystery.
I had been in the school band since the fourth grade playing clarinet and saxophone, but beyond the basic ideas of conception and arrangement, I had no idea how any of it was made, so my brain processed it the only way that it could. I remember in the beginning how colorful music was in my head. I had always been a visual person, and each sound inspired bursts of vibrant changing color, like paint being thrown into a black room without gravity. I saw the colors swirling and mixing, floating and dashing in all directions as each new sound overtook me for the first time. I became obsessed with hearing anything and everything musically (as long as it was new to me). Sure, I had my “go-to” bands and jams that were my favorites, but I was constantly adding to my collection. I wanted to hear it all. Merely appreciating the artists and their art wasn’t enough though; I wanted to join their ranks. I wanted to craft my own bursts of floating color, and I set out to do just that.
I wrote music like I painted. I didn’t know where any of my ideas were headed when I started, but when I let it, the artwork would start to show itself to me. I often found myself cataloging the music that I had written by the patterns my fingers made as I played. Even when I was younger, and playing in the school band, I had memorized the patterns needed to play my assigned music, not relying upon the written music itself. Maybe that’s part of the reason that I didn’t want to learn other people’s music. Doing so felt academic and forced.
As my collection of little riffs and patterns began to grow, I began to notice that I was drawn to one particular aspect. I was drawn to, what I felt was, the driving backbone of what a song would be. I realized pretty quickly that I was writing bass lines. I would play these lines and patterns over and over in my basement, begging my fingers to get stronger and more precise. The acoustic guitar wasn’t enough. It was small and thin and too quiet. I wanted to move air. I also wanted my own identity, and was drawn to the electric bass. My heroes were bass players who were always behind the scenes. Everyone knows the singer, but if you really love a band, you know all of the members (at least that’s how I felt). I realize that I sound like a spokesman for underappreciated, hardworking octave lows everywhere.
That Christmas, I asked for one thing and one thing alone. When Christmas morning finally arrived, I was shaking with anticipation. I knew what I was getting because I had made it clear that my life would be over without that instrument!
I’ll never forget holding my first bass. It was an Ibanez four-string. It had a wood-grain finish (just like the bass I play on stage today). It was beautiful. It was perfect. It felt as though I had had a ghost limb for the first fourteen years of my life, and the appendage has just been returned to me. It was like it was always supposed to have been there. I think now about how many times this instrument has been there for me, and how many years I have depended on it to provide for my family and to support my dreams. I felt the weight of all of it when I held it in my hands for the first time…I was complete.
I couldn’t do this alone though, this dream of mine. I needed a team. I needed a band………
Tune in to Chapter 3 of “My Rock and Roll Journey,” to see how the story unfolds…
MORE “MY ROCK AND ROLL JOURNEY” STORIES
Written by Joey “Chicago” Walser (Devour The Day)
“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Genesis (???) – Here are two stories about a beginning…
So, here we go…I am unsure what going back in time will actually bring up, what it will allow to swell and bubble to the surface. Slowly (turning the grinder like I was winding a clock back in time), I prepare myself to visit the history before my present reality. I’m like a blind man being asked to recant the years before he lost his sight. However accustomed I have become to the logistics of being an adult artist, it is bittersweet and difficult to transport myself to a time before innocence lost. Ignorance is bliss (Put me back in the Matrix. Blue pill please). That being said, I wouldn’t trade my journey with anyone else living or dead (well maybe, Phil Knight, “Just Do It”…billion dollars…boom…swoosh).
(Sorry, I’ll chill out with “side thought” parentheses)
I can still feel the carpet on my face — the coarse hairs of a living room floor, well-weathered by the traffic of a young, blue-collar family. I know that perfectly average beige color and its tiny curls as if there were Polaroids laid out before me now. I can feel the weight of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comforter over my head and the density of the air below it. The last collection of the night’s darkness still captured beneath in my blanket tent. I can still hear the muffled combination of my father’s voice belting out the Saturday chores (terrifying and amazing), and the mysterious floating melodies of a sound I was unsure of…
I woke up that morning physically and mentally, but also consciously. My young body strained not to let the light in, but my curiosity begged to decipher the noise coming through my father’s 1980’s home stereo. Yeah, I’m an ’80s kid. I lifted the blanket. Light and sound flooded in, and the muffled noise became clear. A voice, a lyric, and a perfect equation had drifted into my ears. I understood in a way I had never felt before. This was a story. This was a simple story about a boy falling for a girl. He saw her standing there. He was just 17. The feeling that came over me was warm, powerful, raw, and–complete. I had no idea I had just met my best friend around the age of 7.
This was my first beginning. Innocent…
Life pushes forward. In my head, I see a montage of a kid version of me moving from Florida to Chicago in the 5th grade. It’s really hard on the kid. He’s a fat kid. He’s a “get picked last” kind of kid. He’s a “hang out with his little brother” type of kid. He’s a “wet the bed” type of kid. It’s ok…laugh. I’d laugh, too.
The montage ends as the kid version of me walks up to his brand new middle school. 6th grade. Rebellion. Fire. Girls.
This is the second beginning…
The year is 1993 and I’m 11 years old. There is a “cool” table in the lunchroom, but I never sit there… ever. I’m awkward. My dad calls me a “tweenager.”
It’s fall in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. Have you seen Suburbia? It’s exactly like that, even though at that point, I’m obviously too young to realize that. Something perfectly ironic happens that changes my life forever.
My parents had decided that year to make a big deal about pumpkin-carving. It was our first real holiday since the family had gotten a full grip on being a “well-adjusted” Chicago-style family; we even had Blackhawks and Bulls STARTER jackets. We had gone out and each of the kids in the family and both parents had picked their own round orange canvas. We went home and each of us labored away on our carving. My sister was so little, and she was so proud of those pumpkins. To her, they were like trophies out in front of our house. A few nights later, somebody destroyed those pumpkins. They laid in pieces all over the front yard. I remember my little sister cried so hard; she was devastated. I tell you this because it ends up being that moment that leads me to my awakening, my musical enlightenment, and my salvation.
Tower Records record stores were so fucking awesome! They were huge, and had multiple floors — levels upon levels of dreams coming true. They had everything that had to do with every kind of music and it was all over the place. They had listening rooms and giant posters on the walls. They had rows and rows of music. Genres and genres, and on further into sub-genres, all out on display. Flashing lights and sounds coming from every direction. It was beautiful. I was Charlie in the chocolate factory every time I was in there.
I moved quickly through the aisles, mumbling each marker as I passed the corresponding section underneath. “Rock,” “Jazz,” “Rap.” I remember one of the sections had a hand drawn label above it. “Local Bands,” it said. If you were in a band at all, you were already living my dream. But I thought, ‘these guys, in these bands, were from around MY hometown!’ These bands were tangible. My eyes scanned the shelving, desperate for something to stand out. Four rows down, in the center, staring right back at me was a record that would change my life. I slowly picked it up. I felt wrong for holding it, after everything that had happened only nights before. Maybe it was destiny that something so bad could lead me to something so good. Maybe what had happened that Halloween was meant to be? I read the band name out loud as if I were the only kid in the store…
“The Smashing Pumpkins,” I said to myself, followed immediately by a thought that I would have many, many times afterwards…‘My mom is going to hate this!’
This was the beginning of “My Rock and Roll Journey.” Stay tuned for Chapter 2 to see how the story unfolds from here…