Private Avery William Whitmore was sent to France with the English 2nd Battalion in June of 1916. Having enlisted at a young age, Whitmore was but an eager boy, willing to serve for his King and country. As a learned student of English, he kept a private diary of his life on the front lines; a keepsake and journal detailing the hardships of trench warfare, this chapter paints a soul lost amongst the blood and mud. These pages were his last, Private Whitmore was killed on July 23rd 1916.
June 24th, 1916
Oh how the Southampton coast seems like a world away. It has been but two weeks since our paddle-boats came to rest at Havre. On what felt like stone our cattle truck ride to these front lines were but passing comfort; if I had only known of life here in these conditions my enthusiastic demeanor would not have been so. The sounds of whiz-bangs and mortar shells have become a morning roost and the smell of mud, rain and blood but my senses’ only test. How I yearn for this to end, my body has grown frail and my mind distraught from the constant trembling of guns. Our rations are low, water scarce and moral teetering on breaking. Yet among these sorrows the regiment has seen the occasional smile, a laugh and a jolly swagger that reminded me of the tales my brother Harold spoke of from his trips to London. Amongst our torment, Captain Meloy has been but our champion; our one unifying presence. He regales us with the many stories of wonder he has seen and heard; tales of pirates and far away lands, lost castaways of the many seas. And I remember so vividly how he began, in a voice so labored yet so swaying, his first parable;
“We set sail on a packet full of spice, rum and tea-leaves. We’ve emptied out all the bars and the bowery hotels” he called. And on he went amongst our watchful eyes and yearning ears, with images of daughters dragged with blindfolds through thick air. Then on to far away lands of nubile, dark-skinned natives and the lives of sailors past … all before he culls us, a swift adieu for the evening,
“So goodnight, boys, goodnight”.
June 27th, 1916
The days are long, the nights ever more so chilling. Men have lice, the mud and dirt so thick on my socks only my knife will carve them away. A bullet with grave conviction struck Private Browning today, his face a crimson red as it spattered on mine. His blood so thick it nearly choked me.
The captain has once again been our only rest from this human decay. He has just told us, nay, sung to us an ode to someone of mysterious ways. With such delectable blister and with the convention of phonographic wonder, in perfect glee came the story of sweet Myla Goldberg. Her “crooked foot all upside down” and her “pretty hands do pretty things” were slight notions of this strange character, someone who strikes me as rattled with age but still eager to grow.
June 29th, 1916
There was brief calm today. For the first time since my entrenchment, the guns were rested. In the silence of the moon’s whisper, there were no odes of death, no clouds of terror and no sounds of the dying – Captain Meloy played his gramophone for the men and we smiled to a tenor’s sound; an Italian man by the name of Enrico Caruso if I do recall. An opus he quickly turned to his own, with another tale no less, this time of a place in America. With passion that so quirkily quivers like the cold winter breeze and an echo that gallantly summons our land’s most extravagant orchestras, he tells us of the “city by the sea”, a city he seemingly, and affectionately surrenders to;
“Its streets and boulevards, orphans and oligarchs, and here’s a plaintiff melody, a truncated symphony, and ocean’s garbled vomit on the shore; Los Angeles, I’m yours”.
As he continues with his telling, I am astounded by the delusional wonderment in which his words unfold. As if they call upon me to travel these same unique paths, to walk on ground only he has done before and to forever let my imagination stir the greatest of fantasies. Perhaps this is our gift, that in these times of squalor we have been given the most human of sounds.
July 14th, 1916
My hands are frail and I have been aching to write, but the aching is the only sensation my body endures. Bedecked by constant struggles to stay awake, my posts are nothing more than endless peering into No Man’s Land; and I often dream of spotting a sniper, just to exercise these brittle limbs. With communication so meager, I find myself restless if my incessant standing up is not sustained by Captain Meloy’s straggled yarning. He had just completed a soft-spoken sonnet to his apparent theatrical ability. One where he quips, “I was meant for the stage, I was meant for the curtain, I was meant to tread these boards, of this much I am certain” – I am amused by his stubborn buoyancy; at times it is as if he seeks certain adulation for his off-kilter mannerisms. He had me won. But it was temporary, I was sent out again to man the loneliest view I have ever known, where not even fine cigarettes will do one good.
July 22nd, 2003
I am surprised that a sense of claustrophobia has not gripped me; the canals of these mud graves are smothering, more so when men are blown off their feet by bursting shells. Trapped in the bloody rags and the sandbagged bodies of our fallen brothers, I have on so many occasions felt like jumping out – just for that escape; to not breathe this suffocating corrosion, but I know that if I do, the air I breathe will be my last.
I do not want to think of such things.
This evening, the men have felt a joy we haven’t felt in almost a month. Corporal Bradley arrived this past afternoon as a bearer of good news. Some of the men have been given permission to head for Blighty; first steps in returning to life as a civilian. Oh how I yearn to be rid of this hatred. A hatred for a country I have not stepped foot in, a hatred for people I’ve only killed and a hatred for myself for believing in this fictitious honor. Still, the corporal’s visit was not today’s only sun. The captain has but restored a little hope; this time with his grandest of sketches – a salute to us, the men of this regiment. This was his glorious tribute to battlefield camaraderie and homage to the one true value we have; a loyalty to each other, our unending trust of our brothers-in-arms. He deems this the feeling of being alive and I concur so.
When I again return home to live my life in humble austerity, the only thing I wish to keep in memory will be these strapping lads who shared with me the hardships; huddled in confines with bricklayers, bakers, schoolboys and one never-dispirited soul, I lived the soldiering life. And through the tales of faraway lands and beckoning sounds of admirable fascination, I am again filled with certain humanity.
(Kill Rock Stars)
The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites
We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!
It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.
The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.“
It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.
Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?
It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new.
It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?
We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home.
How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?
It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked.
Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?
Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.
I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them.
For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?
We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music. With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since.
How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?
It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.
I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?
It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first.
Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?
I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world.
Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?
I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s.
How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.
I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album.
The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.
Allweather – Through the Floor
Debut album from San Diego’s Allweather is a compelling listen
Where did Allweather come from? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself through the first 5-6 times I listened to their debut album Through the Floor. Collectively the songs reminded me of a sound prominent in the mid-90s; tempered by the album’s melodic-hardcore demeanor. Punctuated by the terrific strained vocals, the initial reaction was to equate Allweather to a band somewhere in between early Polar Bear Club and early to mid-Transit. The music, for the most part, takes pop punk but substitutes the saccharine for more gruff melodies and the kind of pained, mid-tempo emotion that made those bands household names. But listen after listen I felt that was another connection; one that resonated with me more than those aforementioned bands did.
It hit me after listening to “Another Sad Song” for the umpteenth time- Allweather, while sonically more akin to current pop punk’s downtrodden, baggage-saddled sound, resonates closer to that of melodic-hardcore greats Lifetime. In part because vocally, Allweather’s vocalist Tim Putnam is so close to that of Ari Katz that it is almost impossible to discern between the two. And that is a very good thing- because Katz’s vocals reverberate as powerfully as it did back in 1995 as it does today. In Allweather’s case, listen to songs like “Grim Ave” and the a capella opening of “Die Slow” and you can swear that these songs are cuts off Hello Bastards or Jersey’s Best Dancers. Allweather employs more mid-tempo structures than they do Lifetime’s breakneck pace, but the sum of the parts make Through the Floor a compelling listen, even if the Lifetime comparison isn’t 100%.
“Groundswell” is probably the album’s best outing; melodic, emotional, hard-hitting in a way Texas is the Reason was, while “Die Slow” is not far behind for its sincerely great Lifetime-esque similarities.
For a band relatively new (having only released a two-song digital album prior in 2017), there is already so much to like and look forward to. Composed and packing a punch, those who miss the melodic but pained sounds of bands like Texas is the Reason, and of course, Lifetime, need not look much further than Allweather to find that what is old (and great) is new again.