This article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
Unedited, straight from the mind of Jim James.
i have always lived in louisville.
i remember waking up to the sound of chirping birds, as a one year old child, and seeing a giant orange easter bunny with black bead eyes standing above my crib looking down at me laying there. the sun was shining in over his back and there was music playing...some kind of tinkling bells all covered in the haze of fresh human experience...maybe it was coming from the mobile turning above me as the easter bunny would spin it with his hand. this was way before donnie darko.
i remember hearing dan fogelburg’s “leader of the band” in the car with my mom when i was about 3 and, for some reason, i LOVED that song. so she rode us over to raceland mall(remember raceland mall? what a weird name.) and we bought the 45 record of the song, took it home, and listened to it on repeat(that and “thriller” of course). why would a 3 year old gravitate towards a song like that? to this day i cant even think about the song without tearing up. a few years after dan passed away i was able to purchase his old recording console. talk about full circle.
sometime around that same time i remember sitting on the floor of the living room just balling at how sad and beautiful “when you wish upon a star” made me feel when they played it at the end of “the wonderfully wide world of disney” or whatever they used to call that show that walt would host.
i’ll never forget seeing kermit for the first time in stuffed animal form...and saying: “who is this beautiful frog!” and then my mom sitting me down on the floor in front of the TV as the opening song of the muppet show came on and my mind just being blown to bits at the music and the creatures and the beauty of it all. i really believe the muppet show was the first place i learned about the deeper qualities of music and how far reaching and powerful it was...how it could make you feel so many things...watching and laughing at the electric mayhem’s goofy songs or gonzo singing with his chickens...then crying as some weird scientist muppet sang jim croce’s “time in a bottle”...or just feeling utterly mystified and convinced at a young age of the existence of a higher power as kermit sang the rainbow connection and all the muppets joined in with him in the end.
i remember watching neil young perform “harvest moon” on saturday night live, as his guitar tech swept the stage with a broom keeping time, and my mom taking us to the store(remember when you had to go to the store to get music? R.I.P. ear-x-tacy) to get it and picking out “harvest” accidentally instead. i’ll never forget sitting on the floor of my basement bedroom in 6th grade as “out on the weekend” came on over the speakers and it sounded like the beautiful creaking of an old barn that has been in the wind forever and weathered many storms but somehow still standing...and i thought to myself: “this isn’t harvest moon.”
perhaps my greatest musical blessing in louisville, other than the wonderful musical guidance from my mother, came from attending st. martha catholic elementary school... and, even though the majority of that experience was laughably hellish, i met some of the greatest friends of my lifetime there in the 4th grade- like patrick hallahan, who plays drums in mmj and shares with me the very same bday...dave givan, with whom i perform and host sir microcosm, and several others with whom i am still connected to and create with. we all felt as “outsiders,” as many weird or “artsy” kids will feel in grade school and music was our saving grace...it transported us outside the realm of what we felt was impossible in our bodies here on this earth...it enabled us to transcend the pain of being an awkward adolescent...and experience the true glory of life.
at the time my friend aaron had gotten a guitar from his parents for christmas...a beautiful white harmony strat...i’ll never forget looking at it laying there on the table and feeling transported- somehow knowing that this guitar, or one just like it, was the key to salvation...
so my uncle tom was kind enough to loan me money for my first fender squire stratocaster...which i repaid by tearing thousands of boxes of business forms for his company. during that time he also greatly expanded my mind by giving to me a copy of REM’s “out of time,” which contained the first song that my friends and I would ever all perform live, in my buddy dave’s parents garage- “losing my religion.” i wish i still had a copy of our version. it was hilarious. we were VERY lucky that no one heard it, and also that dave’s parents would let us take over their entire house- they are saints. i owe a lot to dave’s parents...as well as my own- who eventually saw how committed i was to music and helped me to purchase an amp, an acoustic guitar, and put up with the constant noise i made listening to and playing music at full volume.