art by: Mal Bray
Rockin’ and Inspirin’ Twice As Hard
Spring, 1990: I hit the garage door opener, the clunk noise of it slowly folding up was the intro sound to a weekly experience that illuminated the feeling of being lonesome, but simultaneously free. I’d hop on my red Mongoose bike (sans helmet, it was 1990), with my Jansport secured over each shoulder. I’d get so focused and excited to then pry open my yellow Casio walkman and pop in the cassette that would soundtrack my ride to school that I’d often forget to close said garage door.
What was on this cassette? Well, to me, an elementary school newbie, it was a very important decision. This music was not only to accompany my ride, but also serve as my co-pilot and best friend.
In February of 1990, The Black Crowes released their debut record, Shake Your Money Maker. Six months prior to that, my family and I had moved to a new town in Northern New Jersey. Like any kid still in the single digits, I was reluctant. I was excited for a new house, new room, new sunny street, but cautiously optimistic about my new life. I didn’t know anybody, and even at a ripe age, was more comfortable as an introvert settling in a small group of people where I could converse openly with maybe one or two others that I was familiar with.
This was now a big school in a town where sports reigned king. Coming in, I had picked up a Franklin baseball glove that felt more like plastic than leather, maybe ten times total. I took a few wild hacks off a tee, but that was it. My sole memory is of my helmet flying off as opposed to actually connecting with the ball. So, let’s just say that yes, even at that is point in the wondrous world of child, to the fault of no one, I was behind.
At recess, I couldn’t really catch a ball. At least not like everyone else. Nor could I catch up to someone running down the sideline. But I could try, and I did have the desire to push it, so there was at least that fire.
Then in April of 1990, I found The Black Crowes Shake Your Money Maker cassette in the parking lot of the school as I was waiting for my mother to pick me up. Subconsciously, but maybe with deep-rooted intent, my first inclination was to run up to it and kick it – which I did. This may have been the best soccer kick of my short career because it bounced off the brick wall of the school and landed right in my hands. So, I kept it. As it was, completely undamaged and without a case, it was rewound to the very start of the album.
One thing that is a given with me is that music has been part of my fabric since the start. Long before any memory of a particular toy or activity, I remember a record player, The Beatles and my mother introducing me to Stevie Wonder at two-years-old. Life changed, scenery changed, sports and friends came in-and-out, but music has always been my security blanket.
I had been familiar with The Black Crowes version of “Hard to Handle” and the lead single “Jealous Again” from the radio, but it was another particular gem that would impact my life in an immeasurable way.
That first bike ride morning where I had Shake Your Money Maker in hand was as picturesque as could be. Clear, with a sun that rose gradually like it was smiling down, allowing you to ease into the day. It was brisk but providing an air that felt fresh and invigorating to inhale. I popped the tape in, fastened the yellow deck and just hit play.
Whoa. The crunch guitar intro to “Twice As Hard” was intense and felt just like there were now firing cylinders on the back on my Mongoose. At thirty seconds in, the drums and the rest of the band kick in, just as I was hitting the steep hill down Park Ave (seriously, Park Ave). Every single time, this song intro rush perfectly paired in unison with the free fall of the hill, before frontman, Chris Robinson breaks into…
“Clean as a whistle, smellin’ like a rose.”
And that’s exactly what it felt like. A brand-new slate, where for just this four minutes and ten seconds I was not alone – I was not new, I was not behind, I was not lost, I was not uncomfortable… I was just young and free.
Turning right fiercely onto the side streets that eventually lead into the back of the school, I would sing the chorus at the top of my lungs, exaggerating the “Twiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice as hard” each and every time. One morning in particular, there was an older girl sitting atop a giant rock in the woods with one of the main jocks. They got a good laugh out of my drive-by. For a little sensitive bee, I didn’t care at all.
Years later, the same bike ride routine would apply to Pearl Jam’s “Last Exit” off Vitalogy. There’s symmetry there that I’ll get to later. When it all began however, what fastened itself to me like a tattoo was this concept of twice as hard.
had photo by: Josh Cheuse
Thorn In My Pride:
While Robinson’s lyrics are certainly open to interpretation, “Twice As Hard” appears to be centered around love and relationships, but for me it was just about accomplishing life. Twice as hard – yes, that’s exactly what I related to in terms of making a name for myself, having a voice and carving my place into these tight rings of social circles. Twice as hard – to tie the shoelaces on my cleats while everyone else is already on the field throwing the ball around, to smile with a front tooth that grew in like an icepick or to finally go to a friend’s house when invited because they had a dog and I was petrified due to being attacked by one at two-years-old. Was life so easy for everyone else or twice as hard for me?
I’d then discover “She Talks To Angels” and was radiated, with chills up-and-down my spine from Rich Robinson’s open-E guitar intro. When The Black Crowes third record, Amorica hit in 1994, I took to “A Conspiracy” so deeply that I wore the CD out in three days because I pressed back to track two non-stop. But by this time, the Seattle wave had taken the world be storm and I was loving every second of it. Too deep of a thought for a pre-teen mind, I was suspicious The Black Crowes did not like that, and therefore, my hardcore dedication slipped away a bit.
Make no mistake, for a misfit dealing with the norms of elementary and middle school, all music was vital to me. Boys II Men, Green Day, Coolio, Soundgarden… it was all in rotation. So, The Black Crowes still had their place.
Fast forward to 2020, a new decade – Chris and Rich Robinson had just told us on my favorite – The Howard Stern Show in November that they are back, celebrating 30 years of their classic debut record. This past week, the brothers of a feather hit Boston as an acoustic duo to perform a set on a mini tour before breaking into the full-range summer trek. In preparation, I decided I wanted to listen to Shake Your Money Maker in full, just like I did in 1990 – from start to finish and in sequence.
On my way to work, I went for it and I’m immediately taken back to my early 90’s feeling of “Twice As Hard”. For some reason, that emotional memory stored itself into a place where it could fly out at the right time when I almost had forgotten it was even there.
The day the Crowes hit Boston was so oddly similar to the crisp New Jersey bike morning where I first discovered “Twice As Hard”. The cold air hits your face and glides down your lungs like a freshwater fall, where you feel it’s cleansing you with sparkle. On this day, I had a ton of time to alone to myself and it hits me, 30 years later, this concept of “Twice As Hard” has been one that has been ingrained in me forever.
Want to make the 8th grade basketball team? Well that meant getting up at 6am to practice in my driveway. By high school I loved football more than anything else (besides music) but to even play on the same varsity field as my friends I had to put countless hours into the weight room, running track and watching tape. While all the others had to do to perform was simply show up, I had to work…. Twiiiiiiice as hard.
First learning guitar at 19 … twice as hard.
Moving to a new city, leaving it all behind 10 years later… twice as hard.
Starting a career all over again in your 30’s, from absolutely nothing upon falling flat on your face … twice as hard.
Building a nest from scratch in a beautiful place where most don’t have to build a thing…twice as hard.
Starting your own publication/music blog to project your interpretation of “voice”… twice as hard.
photos by: Brian Kelly
It’s been a blessing and a curse, a “Remedy” and a disease. Do I wish sometimes not everything took a gigaton of effort and maybe a bird would land on my shoulder with a glowing opportunity tied up with an elegant bow? Hell, yeah! But that’s not realistic and it’s not what generates an appreciation for the journey and ripple effect that inspires passion with a purpose. Or is it purpose with a passion? Regardless, I say both phrases a lot.
Because anything worth a damn, especially running down a dream, is twice as hard.
So, I hear Robinson sing “Twice As Hard” now in 2020 under the vulnerability of just his brother backing him up with an acoustic guitar. The same brother he had publicly feuded with the past 15+ years. And now here they are unifying and taking the stage together with the ultimate trust that probably came from a reconciliation process that was twice as hard as just continuing on their solo ways. The setting has changed, we’ve gotten older and with sacrifices, priorities willingly change. But the resonance of the music stays the same.
That afterglow then kicks in. I smile, kiss the family, hop into my jeep (or onto my bike) and hit play. Driving off the rush of accelerating down the hill and whipping around the corner, my soul is singing… “Twiiiiiiiiiiiice as hard.”
photo by: Josh Cheuse
Catch The Black Crowes on the Brothers of a Feather tour through March 6th
and the Shake Your Money Maker tour starting June 17th.
For tickets and more information visit: BlackCrowes.com
*all article sub-headings = Black Crowes song titles, performed 2.19.20