Remember A Day: Memories of life on the road with Joe Pascarell and The Machine
It was Thursday – January 20th, 2022. Nita and I had just returned a few days before from the country of Jordan, where we were assessing the condition of my mom (who has lived in the Wadi Rum desert for 26 years); and we had been invited by our dear friends Mary & Paul to have dinner, tell stories, and decompress. We were on our way – in the car – when I got the call from my old friend Ryan Ball. “I don’t know if you heard”, he said, “but Joe Pascarell has left the planet.”
At dinner I was kind of in a state of shock…although Joe P (Jeep as he was known by his friends) and I hadn’t spoken much in the last few years, I still considered him to be a great friend – built from working with him and the other members of The Machine, week in and week out, for the better part of a full 10 years.
Joe was an extraordinary human being, and I learned a lot from him, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. It was through Joe that I first understood the concept of “never take anything personally”, something that has saved me a lot of angst over the years, and the concept of “if it’s bothering you, you’re not ignoring it hard enough” – usually applied to medical conditions, and taken with a grain of salt and a chuckle.
We shared more than a few interests, discovered on long car rides home from gigs (for which Joe almost always drove). Physics was one – he knew a lot about current concepts in theoretical physics and we would discuss them at length on those car rides home, late at night. He introduced me to the famous “Feynman lectures”, and we talked a lot about the concepts of time and gravity.
Mozart was another. I had grown up in a house where classical music was played – on the stereo, and on the piano – by my father. But the focus was always on Beethoven, his contemporaries, and successors. Somehow, I missed Mozart entirely, except in the periphery. Joe corrected that for me, and in fact I went overboard in the other direction – I couldn’t listen to any other composers for many years. My obsession has subsided, but I now proudly add Mozart to my consciousness and repertoire. Joe would talk about Mozart’s music and his life (if you know about it, you know – otherwise I strongly suggest learning about him), and the fact that his music was simply ‘heard’, intact, in his head. Mozart’s scores have no corrections (with a few exceptions), and he wrote close to 600 pieces of music, dying at age 31. (To this day I listen to certain pieces of Mozart’s music to “prepare my mind” for improvising, especially for Dance Classes, where a fountain of simple melody is required.) My love of Mozart will be forever linked with my memories of Joe.
Probably the most important connection, and in retrospect the most obvious one, was Joe’s love of Synthesis – specifically Modular Synthesis, and not this teeny-tiny Eurorack stuff (as lovely as it is). Joe was into massive modular instruments – Serge, Moog, and his personal favorite, the Buchla. The first time I ever got to really work with a Buchla was sitting next to Joe at his house. I grew up with synths – the Modular Moog (Switched On Bach); keyboard-based analogs by Moog, Arp and Roland, the semi-modular ARP 2600, and others. But I never took to pure modular the way many people have, Joe among them. He could craft serious breathing vibrating sounds that were more than just interesting – they were electronic compositions. Joe showed me around the design and tech of the Buchla design, include circular sequences, optical gates (can you say “squelchy??’), voltage controlled LFOs and Envelope generators with cycles of up to 5 minutes (that’s WAY long – 15 seconds is considered long by most standards), and other goodies include a mysterious module called “the Source of Uncertainty”. Good times were had, and we even managed a performance or 2 of pure electronic music.
Having spent 10 years touring together, there are a multitude of wild stories, most of which I will save for another time. Here are a few choice tidbits:
-At one show in Providence Rhode Island, Joe was feeling very much under the weather. In order to change his head and do the show, he stuck a piece of pizza into his pants. (This became known as the ‘Pizza in your pants’ incident.)
-As stated earlier, Joe would almost always drive us to and from shows, usually in a rented car. Sometimes we’d get out of these shows very late – 2, 3 am – and Joe would drive the 4 HOURS home after the gig. During one such drive, while the rest of us were literally asleep, I awoke to find we had pulled into a rest area on I95. Joe proceeded to get out of the car and RUN the circumference of the parking lot, in an effort to keep himself awake. I’ll never forget THAT image.
-Joe was also a huge fan of Comedy – he could quote comedians, knew quite a few good jokes and would say things that could have come straight from a standup routine. We would so often just fall out laughing.
-Star Trek was another connection we shared – I knew a ‘little too much’ about The Original Series and we would discuss it at length, partly how ridiculous it was – another well of laughter both at the world, and at ourselves.
-As mentioned earlier, Joe taught me the essence of “never take anything personally” – something I discovered in a book called “The 4 Directions” years later. Joe also introduced me to Bjork (through her album “Vespertine”) – something else that was to change the course of my musical life yet again.
It’s hard to quantify just how much of an influence and effect Joe had on my life. Suffice to say that I am a better person for having known and worked with him, and I shall always keep the memory of his warm smile and commanding presence alive in my heart. Goodspeed, Jeep.
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