just not today

YESTERDAY, I got to thinking about Hackett.

It happened like this: I was walking back from the supermarket in the evening, which for Estonia in early November is actually late afternoon. The temperature was about 39 degrees Fahrenheit, 4 degrees Celsius. The weather was, more or less, miserable. A faint mist, a faint fog, some sluggish traffic. I crossed the intersection, came up by the other shopping center and past the apothecary and looked into the windows there, and saw my own reflection.

I could see my German officer’s jacket and the flat cap I bought at H&M, the one that makes me look like my grandfather. But for a split second, I saw 1995-era Hackett there, vintage Brendan. When he had that weird in-between yellow afro, not long, not short, and would gesture with one hand, as with a pipe, and talking out of the corner of his mouth about things, as if he actually knew things. Hackett’s always was a deeply philosophical soul. He liked to listen to Robert Johnson.

What also struck me was how alike we still were. We were both then and now terrifying. Was there anyone in our class who hadn’t turned out terrifying? Denzler was inarguably terrifying, but then there was Cover, who was an entire other class of terror. DeVerna, the attorney, had aged into respectability, but he was certainly still terrifying deep down, and Grande, as good-natured and friendly as he was, no doubt hid some kind of dark side. He moved to Maryland. Nobody who moves to Maryland lacks a dark side. Then there was Hackett, gesturing with his hand, his shoelaces always untied. Why were the shoelaces untied? He tied them, but they came undone.

***

I had never listened to his EP, Just Not Today by The Bern Band. I had promised him that I would. Somehow, I never got around to it. You know how you buy a book and intend to read it, but you never do? That’s what happened with Hackett’s EP. So in homage to this spectre of young Hackett, I decided to give it a listen. The time had arrived.

The first thing I can say is that the guitars are plump. This guy knows his guitars. He is painting this masterpiece with guitar. There are bold, emotive, Picasso-like strokes. Spiralling earworm blackhole cosmic grooves and fills. Vintage 1995 Hackett could not play like this with his crappy Ibanez with the Grateful Dead sticker on the smashed-up part. We played covers of the first-year guitar player canon, such as “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room,” “Pinball Wizard” and that’s really about it. Hackett was not actually a wunderkind, prodigy kind of guitar player. I met plenty of musicians who could outdo anyone when they were 14 years old, but he was more of a disciplined devotee of the instrument. He worked on it every night. He rehearsed. And, over time, he got really good. Hackett was also an incredible listener. Hackett listened to people. He had a lot of empathy. He applied this empathetic ear of his to the craft of music. He listened to songs the way a bank robber might put his ear up to a lock, waiting for that tell-tale click.

This record has plenty of classic rock influences all over it. What I think is great about it is that you can’t really tell where it all came from though. It’s almost like that classic William S. Burroughs “cut up method,” except The Bern Band did this to classic rock radio. The Beatles mixed with Led Zeppelin crossed with maybe some Grand Funk Railroad and Thin Lizzy and The Jam? Am I leaving anyone out?

I just can’t figure this one out. Where did this all come from? He’s also honed his vocal delivery into I don’t know what. Some kind of Robert Plant meets Steve Miller meets the Eagles? Who the hell are you, man? Hackett has become a rock and roll shapeshifter.

The other piece of The Bern Band, the Bruce Foxton to Hackett’s Paul Weller, is Dave Trump, who is also an old high school friend, yet not terrifying in the least. He plays bass on this record and apparently contributed 100% to the project. He is clearly an old pro on the instrument. My favorite stretch is on the track “Midnight Run,” where Trump cranks out beautiful, melodic basslines that will remind any player of why they first fell in love with this understated but incredibly fundamental instrument. The drummer, whoever he is, is also good.

***

Years ago, I almost connected with Hackett in Stockholm. I had an afternoon to kill while I waited for the ship back to Tallinn, and he was there with wife and baby. But they were on a boat somewhere out in the archipelago. I told him though about a great music shop near Slussen, where they sold vintage guitars and basses, including a Rickenbacker I like to visit and gaze at, and the next day Hackett went down there, sized up the same Ric, and bought some t-shirts. So if we play our cards right, we might all wind up back in the music shop in Stockholm one of these days. Until then, old friend, many rocking riffs.

Catch you again in the apothecary glass.

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