Jammin' Till The Jam Is Through

It's too bad the word "jam" was ever invented, much less the concept it implies being attached to music.

Once, jammin' wasn’t all a horror. Like in the simple, non-indulgent reality of, "Duane Allman jammed." But then the evil spawn of the Grateful Dead took over and now it's oozed like so much poisonous Chinese toothpaste into every kind of music imaginable. And sorry Phish fans but the jam outbreak was still relatively localized until the Good Ship Trey made it okay for everyone to stop practicing their instruments, forget about songwriting and arranging and just, you know dude, jam.

Which leads me to Manu Chao. Standing on the storied Plains of Abraham in Quebec City at the summer festival last weekend, the giant Scene Bell Stage covering the ground where Montcalm and Wolfe once slugged it out, I got into the whole multicultural vibe that he and his band project. Part reggae, part rock band with much stoner reggae love music slathered in, these guys are huge for a reason Chuck Mangione once patented: it feels so good. Judging from the clouds of pot smoke wafting tastily over the crowds, the Spanish/French head banded one deserves props for keeping his constant groove thing so positive and easy to love. Filled with much Molson Dry, the fine folk of Quebec City, 80,000 strong, were all grooving heavily. And his band, many of whom were only partially dressed, is so motley and regular that everyone can relate.

But it's still too damned jammy. Jammy equals lazy-assed, self indulgent jackasses who think they’re the next Jerry. Newsflash: there was and will ever only be only one of those.

In practice the jam thing is by no means brain surgery, start a rhythm, add the band, and ride it as long as you feel it. At least some of M. Chao's sources are righteous. Many of his chants for example—"Oh, Yo, Yo, Yo"—are ripped straight from Bob Marley scat.