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Blue Collar Holiday Reflections 2008
By Mick Polich - 12/08/2008 - 08:28 PM EST

Normally, I would take pause for a ‘holiday reflections’ column – it could border on cheesy, self-indulgent, and misleading (WHICH…. could be the premise of the column ANYWAY!). You know, the year-end, holiday letters which start piling up at this point – although, we have enough friends in our little world corner with sharp enough senses of humor to keep us entertained with the ‘holiday letter’ format!

So, if I wondered last night, if I did do a holiday reflections piece, I should probably hone in on a specific time in my life, and, of course, what would the message be that I try to convey to you, the audience?

Well, I’m thinking about the same time of year, only 20 years back in the ol’ time machine, and I’m hoping that thru the following piece, it would prompt my audience to look back on events that have made them what they are today. The questions to peer into yourself with would be, one, am I better off as an artist, musician, and a person, and secondly, is my immediate world that I’ve helped influenced then and now, better off? Well, yeah, of course you can state,” Well, the world has gotten MY art, MY music, MY persona, why WOULDN’T everyone be better off?” Take the ego out of here, folks – that ain’t what I’m asking. We’re talking for the good, the good of your little corners that you’ve been involved with over this time span……

So, the thrust here is a column that reminisces, yes, but hopefully tweaks some forgotten corners in your mind on the spirit of community, comradeship, and giving back in a fashion that doesn’t seem like giving back at all.

O.k., with that in mind, let’s go back to 1989, and let me tell ya a holiday tale about a time that seems to have been gone in a rush, and is now more a dream…..

I’m a 31 year old musician, gigging now maybe two, three nights a week in the ‘donut circuit’ around Des Moines, Ia. (no, not coffeehouses, and no, not donut shops – this refers to the bar/club layout where we got our gigs in and around the metro area). I’m going to classes during my days off to work on my on-going business degree quest ( taking my books to gigs on the way there to study for tests), and I’m also working 45-50 hours a week at Rieman Music Co. Now, what I’m mentioning here and henceforth, is old news in these e-pages, but to set up a scene, an idea, and a setting, we’ll need to cover familiar tracks – I was immersed in a local music scene/career, and a lot of things came into second place ( because, being a typical young musician at the time, I had some emotional maturing issues to deal with it…).

The holiday time between Thanksgiving and Christmas had a lot of elements from my past and future involved at this point – most of my aunts and uncles were still alive, so Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at my aunt’s farm north of Des Moines were a treat. And I say this now, because back then, I used to get immense grief from my uncle Chuck and cousin Kenny about my hair, clothes, lifestyle, and job during these holiday get-togethers (oh, never mind I was working my ass off and going to school – didn’t matter in the old-school sense). Other than that, it was wonderful eating authentic Lebanese food prepared by my aunts, and getting the Croatian dessert roll made by my dad’s cousin’s mom, seeing my relatives  – what a great tradition; I will never forget that!

And given those traditions, we, as a small music community, along with an associated group of friends, had our own traditions going on. One was the annual ”Romulan Intergalactic Deep Space And Wild Game Feed Party”, or the Game Feed, as legend now holds it. I’ve talked about the Romulan Fest before in these pages (October, 2007 installment on “Gigs That Mean Something”) – a Sunday marathon of food, drink, music, and fun that usually happened about the second or third week of December. My future wife attended these, as well as now long - term old buddies and musicians from the central Iowa music community. There are video and audio artifacts from this era (I wonder what happen to all my hair –the ‘Polich Curse’ as we laughingly put it in our family, and marvel at my wife’s own long, flowing locks down her back in the video), but mostly this lies in the collective heads of all involved. I have fond recollections of simple things  - setting up my guitar rig by good buddy John Behm Jr.’s seemingly mammoth bass amp set-up, beers and cigarettes on top of the amps to keep us fortified thru the day, all of the Salmon Dave and Friends band blazing about thru old rock and roll, country, soul, blues, punk, and Grateful Dead – extended space jams. The notes seem to offer themselves up easily, and were reciprocated in kind by all, either on the bandstand, or off. It’s the kind of bonding that seems long since gone – at that point, you’re thinking this could go on for a long, long time, but it’s always the moment, and usually wisdom and age tells you otherwise, because, well, that’s the way it’s all gonna be, as it passes you on to another era. It’s the musical spirit, now, looking back, I’ve been trying to re-create ever since – anything is possible, a blending of style and form. It’s all do-able - for the music, and the musicians. I was involved with the Game Feeds for a good (and I mean good as in measurement AND value of life) 9 year period – yeah, brand us counter-culture, brand us hippies, but we had the formidable Iowan spirit of all is welcomed based on good vibe, and good people. The music was always presented pro bono publico, even though a collection was taken up for the band (a nice goodwill gesture, but hell, it didn’t matter to us). No amount could cover the fun and joy we received from those events year after year.  Donny, Beam, Spazz, Se’ve, Richie, Pat Rouse, Gabby, Del, Almo  - thank you all for that time period, brothers!

Couple that with the fact that in the Salmon Dave Band, all of us worked for the same music store (Rieman’s), so we got to go thru the sales-crunching “Black Friday’s” together after Thanksgiving, and had our formal, and informal, holiday gatherings near or on Christmas Eve. Customers gone – make way for the food and drink, please! Toasts abound – hey, we hit another sales record this year in the Pro Shop (guitar/bass/amp/drums/ p.a. equipment and such), hey, we had a good year of gigs around town – what couldn’t we accomplished if we just kept driving towards the goal? You were young, employed, and in good health – what else could you want? Oy, to have such energy now – vat a THING!!

To cap this off, I look back on a small tradition in the midst of our arc of youthful power and presence: a few of us would meet at the Drake Diner, a still-successful eatery near the Drake University campus in urban Des Moines. Here is one of my most cherished memories – of sharing the special ‘holiday brew’ (usually a seasonal Liberty Ale microbrew – at that point in time, microbrews were still a weird anomaly, so there wasn’t a plethora of ‘em like there is today) with a small, diverse group of friends – people who followed our band, radio station jocks that played our tunes, and others who just want to share some spirit. We had great conversation and fellowship, toasting each other, and again, the unknowing good fortune of being able to make music, and a living, in the music business. We had a little notoriety, we had a little jing, maybe a good companion for the season to share some thoughtful intimacy  - but just having that drink and the hang with people you REALLY want to be around during a special time, well, what do you think?

I’ve mentioned Ned Rood before, and I’ll mention him again, because Ned was basically the dude who started that tradition of meeting at the Diner for a drink. Ned worked at almost all the indie record shops around time – a time, the Internet hadn’t taken over that market, and you could actually make a living selling records, Tapes, and the new form of CD’s from a brick - and – mortar stand-lone building (well, kids, imagine THAT?). During our yearly treks to the Diner - of course, with a crisp Midwest wind, a recent snowfall (or snow falling during our soiree), frost on the trees, people still scurrying about for last-minute shopping – well, it sets up a scene that’s almost…….. Christmasy.

Yep, groan all ya want, and sentimental musings be damned, but I don’t really care!

I’ve been thinking about this specific memory as a focus before I started the article, because it sums up so much of things that I didn’t realize at the time happening in my life – beyond that year, there was a huge turning of the page. The older members of my family started to pass on, so that changed the topography and scope of my holiday visits to my aunt’s farm considerably. The Game Feeds continued until my wife and I moved out of town in 1994 – then, as if decreed by the cosmic law of karma, it was time to shut down that period for payback to the gods, and move on. The Feeds started to cease being a holiday tradition - at one point, there was a move to revive the original origin of celebrating the summer solstice instead of the winter solstice for the Feed, but so many factors in a cosmic (and financial… AND organizational) sense just said to, ’leave it be’, thus ending that rich tradition.

Many of the ‘old guard’ at Rieman Music have moved on also, in many senses – you lose the lust you had for the job when you were a kid (how cool was it for a musician to cop a music store gig?), or you need more health insurance, money, hell, just a different scene. You move on, physically, or mentally. But you have a sense that you helped build something at one point, that was greater than yourself, and possibly left your community a little better, thru music, than it was. I know that was the furthest thought from our young, unfertilized minds then, but now…..

And speaking of music – I left the Salmon Dave Band in 1990. I won’t blink on why I left – at the time, it was all a little too close for comfort in one sense, but the big reason was I need to finish up this long journey that I had started in 1983 to get a business degree (leaving the band and my friends was painful emotionally, but I had to get on with finishing an education, too). I wasn’t a vested member in a band any more – I sold my share in the p.a. system, even sold my trusty Fender Concert amp that got me thru the majority of the 1980’s thru many a gig in a blazing hot pole barn for a county fair, or sub-zero temps setting in a trailer, waiting to be fired up at a small town bar. That in a way was closure – selling the gear that had been your best buddy for getting the sound you needed to make a noise and get the check…..

And what of Mr. Rood? Well, tales from old friends have it that Ned will be starting a new job much like the jobs of his heyday – managing a small indie vinyl/CD/music gear shop in Des Moines revamped and re-constituted East Village. I’ve said before in a past column or two that Ned’s been thru a lot since I’ve left home, so there’s no need to divulge any info (and nor would I). But I guess I’ve been trying to get back to having that drink with Ned, and in a sense, all who I’ve shared the holidays with, ever since. In fact, everyone who has shared their gift and spirit with me over the years, deserves a round of shots, palie…..

I don’t care what religious affiliation you are, or if you even have one. I don’t care if this time of year is merely a time to sit back, and watch the ‘crazies’ rush about, buying gifts, setting up lights and trees, as you witness just an overall lack of compassion and marvel over the sense of greed, and the imbalance we have in the world between societies – this never changes not matter how aware we are - that seem to fritter away funds as they try to keep their kids and relatives happy with gifts. That will always be, for better or worse. But if you are a musician, artist, or one that just comes to these pages on this website to enjoy the knowledge gained by many of the wonderful and experienced folks who want to share what they’ve learned with you, then I think you need to look at some things as we move thru this season. Even if you don’t have traditions, or immerse yourself in all that is the ‘holi-daze’, what ‘good’ has helped YOU along the way, even in small gestures from known or unknown people and places? And what ‘good’ are you gonna give back, if any? If you believe you give yourself your gift of art and music, and it doesn’t come from another place in the cosmos, so be it. But realize it is a gift – how has it made you better, and those around you better? Who have you shared your gift with? Not just friends and family, but total strangers who seek nothing else but to enjoy what you have to offer to’ leave their campsite a better place than what it was before’? And not just for the holidays, but for the past, and coming year?

Enough preaching – Ned, buddy, here’s that drink…..

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