As I am wont to do every once in a while, I’d like to single out one of my old friends who is still doing tremendous things after all these years. You’ve heard me rattle on about Salem and Ann and Bud, Chip and Jon among others, but it’s time to say a few words about my buddy, the Id of New City, Jamie Block.
me and Jamie, 1988
Everyone gets monumentally depressed their junior year of college, which is why most people spend it abroad. I was about to sink into my own post-parental-divorce saturnalia when Block showed up with a giant jug of wine, a guitar, and a cover band that played U2 songs for screaming chicks at Granville Towers. We proceeded to spend every waking moment together, convinced we could bed any woman willing to listen to our heartstring-yanking version of “April, Come She Will.”
We participated in some crazy shit: misty, weird parties in the Hamptons; breaking into every hot tub in Chapel Hill; even an aborted trip to California, where he had to fly back to NYC after being in LA for three hours. I was one of the few people who met his mom, a vivacious, wonderful woman who helped up put together flyers for our shows.
She passed away suddenly the summer before our senior year, and it threw Jamie in the kind of tailspin I can only imagine. When we graduated, we both stayed in Chapel Hill, but it was no place for a folksy musician, so he began his Lost Years up in the East Village, headlining the “anti-folk” movement of the early ’90s (a genre I still don’t quite understand, but was happy to go to the shows). He lived in a room on 5th Street that was six floors up and no bigger than a double bed.
As his songwriting muscle strengthened, he began to write some of the most incredible music: “To Alice in Thunderland” (a tortuously beautiful ballad about his mother) and “Reuben Says” freaked my shit out. It was no surprise that by 1998, he signed with Capitol Records and released Timing is Everything, getting on the soundtrack for “Never Been Kissed” and “Rounders” in the process.
I was living in Los Angeles by then, and we tore the town apart every time the tour came close. It was amazing fun, but of course, the music business is an unbelievably cruel clusterfuck, and for the want of about 20 grand, Capitol wouldn’t send him on the MTV Spring Break tour. And that was that.
late 2000 at Arlene’s Grocery
In 2000, he started over and created another band, this time with me playing keyboards and violin on select numbers. There was nothing riding on it, just for fun, and the music is a total blast, veering into strong dance, then backing into some beautiful, contemplative solo voice-and-guitar. Loopy, eclectic, sunshiny, dark, surreal pop. It’s a little tour de force that he’s been working on for five years, and as of today, it’s available on Amazon. And you should buy it, not because I’m on the album (although that’s a damn good reason) but because it’s a run for the home team, and if we can get it jumpstarted, good things will happen.
Here’s the thing about Block: in the midst of the Capitol Records debacle, he looked at his family (the amazing Susan, and their two daughters Johanna and Sophie) and had a conversion experience. He quit touring and became an investment banker. His training day occurred on September 11, 2001, a few feet from the World Trade Center in Manhattan. When the planes hit, he had to dodge falling bodies in order to actually jump onto the last ferry pulling away before the second tower came down.
He was one of the only trainees who stayed with the business after that, and in five short years, has become the wunderkind of Morgan Stanley, in charge of more money than he’s allowed to say. He’s the funds person for ASCAP, and has carved out a niche as every musician’s broker, since he knows from experience how to be an “artist” and keep finances flowing.
We’re all capable of rebirth, but Jamie has had to do it, dramatically, several times over. I’m beyond proud of him. Shuffling millions by day, and singing by night, he accidentally became the Sustained Artist, the very person we wanted to be when we were still trying to get that chick Lisa into the hot tub by singing “Mozambique.”