You’re Gonna Have to Go and Find it
In late 2015, I had the pleasure of interviewing Blues Traveler frontman, John Popper. It was two months before he was to become a father and Blues Traveler was out on their Blow Up the Moon tour. As the train rolled into Boston, their management asked me to also interview Blues Traveler’s opening act, the up and coming — Matt Jaffe & the Distractions. I gladly obliged and was fortunate enough to be able to attend the show with an Access Pass.
Whenever I’m about to interview an artist I submerse myself in their catalog. The same thing happens as a result of a great concert. I get caught in a blissful wave of the music I just witnessed and listen to that artists almost exclusively, reliving moments of the show. Needless to say, I was swimming in a sea of Blues Traveler with no shore in sight. Their music was like my life-raft that I was resting upon in the middle of the water — frantically waddling, but grinning from ear to ear.
This was not the easiest of times for me personally. Amidst, a ton of confusion and restlessness, I turned more to music as my companion than ever before. I’ve always had a soft spot for Blues Traveler, mostly because their music has been a part of so many great times I had in my teenage years. They remind me of my cousin who is also my best friend. He introduced me to so many of their grooves. I connect Straight on Til Morning directly to the two of us living together one summer. We’d blast “Canadian Rose” and “Carolina Blues” constantly. I envision us driving down Rt. 6 in Cape Cod, with the windows down, wearing Oakley Frogskins and spitting out as fast as we could … “every single hope and dream I could ever conjure up, passionately springs in me and all things are possible, plausible…,” trying to impress everyone with just how cool we were. Oddly enough, nobody caught on. But that’s OK, looking back, we had all we needed.
When it came to interview prep here, my process was simple. Go to Blues Traveler on Apple Music and hit shuffle. I’d sit in my office, take a walk or throw my headphones on while working out and go about my normal routine with Popper and Co. serving as my backtrack. I’d catch on to little phrases here and there, get reacquainted with hits that hold up more now than ever and occasionally freeze still at how otherworldly Popper’s harmonica skills are. It’s funny, his bestselling book, Suck and Blow, opens with Popper explaining how he was fascinated with Jimi Hendrix as a kid and how Hendrix ripped apart the helpless guitar like no one else. Popper, does the same to the Harmonica. He lights that damn thing on fire.
On a humid, overcast and thick feeling August night that summer of ’15, I mindlessly popped on my Army Green beats, and climbed to the third level / top deck on my ferry boat home. There were no seats and the ground was all wet from the mist of the day, like an appropriate hangover sweat. I leaned against a railing and put my head down on the corner bar, just glaring out at the openness. All of sudden I hear this beautiful piano intro, followed by a subtle C to A minor strum. As we inched towards the middle of the vast sea, the sky was ominous, the clouds were actually black and the entire vibe matched the day I had. Suddenly as I heard Popper cautiously deliver, “You’ll get no answers from me,” I felt completely comfortable.
I had heard this song, “Look Around,” delicately placed within their mega-hit album, Four, before, but it had been a long time. The hook brought me back (see what I did there). This time, older, a little wiser and certainly more artistically susceptible, “Look Around” hit me like a ton of bricks.
It’s unlike most other Blues Traveler songs in that it’s very subdued and features Popper on guitar. As we all know, Popper is still the modern face of the harmonica. It’s your first reaction when thinking of him as a musician. Well deserved, but in doing that, you can lose sight of just how great of a vocalist he is. The dude can let it rip. What’s different about “Look Around,” is that he is incredibly vulnerable in both his lyrical choices and delivery. The selection of words is art at its finest. Every one carefully thought out and claiming its place on this canvas of self-expression.
“And sometimes in the midst of all my crimes, I feel lost or have I lost enough.”
There are certain two-word pairings that pack a first-round knockout punch in meaning: Now what, I can, So long, ………… Look Around.
Coincidentally, I find all of those things in this Blues Traveler song.
“Look Around” reads like a diary entry written in blood. While most of Blues Traveler’s catalog are unanimous with a good time, music you can sing and dance to and not overbearing, “Look Around,” offered a confessional that I really appreciated — exactly what I needed at that time. It’s a brutally honest journey, where Popper opens the doors and invites you into an experience filled with mistakes and will-power to change course.
“And If you’ve learned, you know much more than I.”
The message I took from “Look Around” that gloomy night is something I carry with me every day. Literally…. in every notebook I write down the chorus in “blood” red. The term “Look Around,” offers a strong and obvious suggestion. You want answers, you want change, you want help, you want strength, you want people? Look Around, they’re everywhere. But Look Around also means steer away from the exterior, narrow your focus to the interior and look inwards. How you choose to feel is how you are.
“It’s up to you, the things you throw away.”
It ain’t easy. As Popper melodically howls, you have to go and find it. You have to dig. Then comes my favorite line in the song, it gives me chills each and every time, … “You’ll have to unearth every ugly stone that kept you on your own and simply put them down.” It’s a perfect juxtaposition. You have to face your issues, face your past, look deep into places your weary of and acknowledge the ugly. And then….. just put it down. Keep on moving. Look Around.
Popper sings those lines with such emotion, pouring his heart and soul into every single syllable. You simultaneously feel for him while you think of yourself. I thought, if this mainstream musician can put this personal song out there for the world to hear and then perform it in front of countless people, I should at least be able to try out what he’s saying on my own.
Blues Traveler played “Look Around” at the show I attended in Boston. Without introduction and in the middle of an otherwise up-tempo set, we were graced with a roaring rendition of this ballad. I loved how there were no comments at beginning or end. It was a stone that was unearthed and then put down. I was stoic during the performance, deep in thought, sipping a $12 bottom-shelf, venue whiskey. The next day I drove past a church. One door was closed shut, one was wide open. I stared in and the song rushed right back. Then I felt the out-pour of emotion. A cleanse. An internal dig beneath the ground, unearthing every stone and then putting them down. Looking Around.
“You’re gonna have to go and find it. You’ll have to dig beneath the ground. You’ll have to unearth every ugly stone. That kept you on your own. And simply put them down. You’re gonna have to Look Around”
Contact Jeff Gorra: jeffgorra@gmail