So, here's the thing. I may have broken the law. And not knowingly and willfully like usual. But it turns out that my video series for pairing a wine with a vinyl record resides hermit-like in the vast gray desert known as "copyright infringement." And as a songwriter with income derived from copyrighted works of my own, I have decided it would be less than cool to carry on after having learned this. So while I rework the video series idea into something not only entertaining and informative, but also legal, I have decided to move “Wine and Vinyl” to the written medium. Stay tuned for updates on that. For now, on to the blog. This week, in stark contrast with the emotions evoked by phone calls from one's lawyer, we are going to delve into two innately happy things, maybe even the happiest. I mean, like the universal symbols of joy and celebration. Yes, Brothers and Sisters, I've come to you to preach the gospel of champagne and Bob Marley.
Now, initially one may think this pairing to be a touch on the obvious side. I mean even the strictest of fun police can agree that “Three Little Birds” and bubbles from the north of France are guaranteed to boost serotonin levels. However, my reasoning behind this festive duo is actually far more complex than that. You see, not only are both Bob Marley and champagne international beacons of good times, they also share a deeply troubled and violent past. I mean, seriously dark.
Check it out:
The Champagne region of France: Topography wise, we’re talking about acres of lush green rolling hills and vineyards dotted with quaint little towns dating back to medieval times. It's just northeast of Paris and a short train ride from Belgium. Sounds idyllic, right? Coincidentally, if you're looking to invade France, like so many conquerors of the past millennium, Champagne is also the ideal place to start. In the past this region has played host to such famous tyrants as Atilla the Hun, and to conflicts so violent and regrettable that their names speak for themselves: The Hundred Years War, The Thirty Years War, and most recently, World War I. It is said that by the start of the 1600's the cities of Epernay and Reims had been destroyed a combined total of 32 times. Thirty-fuckin-two. And that's just the region. The wine itself is also known to have blood on its hands. I won't go into lengthy detail about the history of champagne, as I imagine if you're reading a wine blog you probably already know the gist of it. Also, much champagne history is written off by historians as folklore and marketing schemes. In brief, here is a quick summation of the legend of champagne using the language of our times:
The rest of France was all, "Champagne sucks, I don't want bubbles in my wine!" And Champagne was all, "Not our fault, bro. It’s so cold up here the yeast cells go to sleep in the winter and wake back up inside the bottle in the spring." And France is like, "Savage, but you can't brunch with us." Then a monk named Dom Perignon was all, "What if we finesse the bubbles?" And the other monks were all, "#GOAT."
However, in this pursuit of perfect bubbles came some serious drama with regards to the cork. Now, it's likely we've all witnessed some near miss injuries when it comes to opening a bottle of brut. But imagine, having no idea how to properly cork this stuff, and going to work in a cellar completely surrounded by glass bottles loaded with volatile liquid and heavy wood corks. In today's world it would have been an uninsurable occupation. I have heard many (unconfirmed) rumors of monks going down to check on the cellar only to find their buddy dead on the floor as the result of a cork/glass explosion incident. In the event that this is true, I consider it yet another testament to the French passion for winemaking. "OK. Steve is dead now. Ya, but he died for the wine! It's what he would have wanted. Back to work." And work they did, over decades and centuries, amidst seemingly endless war and violence, all the while perfecting the beverage most associated with pleasure and celebration the world has ever known, seamlessly blending unadulterated joy with the complexity of their troubled past.
Now, let's talk about Bob. Bob Marley grew up in a desperately poor neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica known as "Trench Town,” a title inspired by the massive open sewer that runs through it. Fortunately for the world, some of the most influential reggae musicians in history happened to be growing up in this same slum and would come to join forces and start a band with Bob called The Wailers. Throughout his early recordings and success there was deep political unrest over massive class division sparking constant riots and violence in Kingston. And, while a champion of the poor, Bob Marley publicly maintained the position that peace and diplomacy were the only way forward. This ultimately led to a politically motivated assassination attempt in which Bob, his wife, and manager were all shot in his home two days before a large free concert in Kingston. Bob performed at the show anyway, after famously delivering to a reporter one of what I personally believe to be the most inspiring and downright badass quotes of all time: "The people who are trying to make this world worse aren't taking a day off. How can I?" It is with this knowledge, one can understand how a man who writes such optimistic calls for unity as “One Love,” can also pen dark journalistic accounts of day-to-day life in warring Jamaica like: “Heathens” and “Crazy Baldheads.” So there you have it, two international vestiges of hope, happiness, and celebration, both born out of unthinkable violence and oppression. A deeply suited pairing, indeed.
Now here's the rundown of what I'm drinking/jamming:
The record: Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Exodus,” 1977 Island Records I picked this album because it beautifully showcases both sides (pun intended) of this monster-talent of a man/activist. Side one features dark frustrations about the state of affairs in 1970's Jamaica. Take, for example, the chorus of track one “Natural Mystic” in which Marley in a woeful sing/speak laments: "Many more will have to suffer, many more will have to die, don't ask me why." It gets even darker, and downright eerie on tracks like “Guiltiness” and “The Heathen.” All a far cry from the overtly optimistic calls for love and peace you will find on side two, which hosts anthems like “Three little birds,” “One love/people get ready,” and “Jamming.” The glue holding all of this emotional contradiction together is Marley and The Wailers signature combination of unparalleled groove, musicianship, and songwriting.
The wine: So, I couldn’t pick a favorite bottle of French champagne if my life depended on it. So instead the following are my suggested instructions for today’s pairing: Wait until payday, preferably a check with bonuses or overtime, walk into a reputable wine vendor and say, “I want to try a blanc de blancs grower champagne.” Chances are you will spend $60-80 and leave with a bottle of bubbles you have never heard of that will not only give you the absolute best possible start to the weekend, it may also make you reconsider your current belief system/general life outlook.
Until next week,