I will never apologize for the love I have for the musical stylings of John Mayer. I may not always agree with the man, but as far as musicians and songwriters go, he is one of this generation’s greatest and you can not argue with that. I remember where I was the first time I heard his music. Like the memory of a man remembering the moment his future wife walked into the room, I know exactly where I was the first time I heard No Such Thing, his debut song from the album Room For Squares. Over the years I have followed the musical stylings of the young Mayer, and two of my greatest dating stories coincide with the only two concerts of his I have ever been to (those will be saved for another post).
I have sat through the pop stuff and I have chilled with his brilliance of his jazz with the release of Try, his album with The John Mayer Trio, consisting of himself, the amazing Pino Palladino on bass, and my hero, Steve Jordan on the drums. At one point, I was able to play the drum solo of every song in Mayer’s first three studio albums, and to say I was (am) obsessed with Where the Light Is, a live concert album performed in LA, would be the understatement of my life. To this day, my dying wish is to have the live version of Gravity from that album played at my funeral, that is how much it means to me.
John went a little crazy after the success of his studio albums, and by crazy, I mean introspective. He moved to Montana to find himself, to find his music. He had become a slave to the record labels, and he was not writing the kind of music he had wanted to write. He disappeared, and in doing so found himself and his voice (literally and figuratively) again. After a while, he re-emerged to the charts with his 5th studio album, Born and Raised, a more folksy vibe than his previous jazzy and pop renditions. He found his soul, or in the least, allowed it to finally come out.
On the ninth track of his album is a hidden gem, Walt Grace’s Submarine Test-January 1967, a song that, the first time I heard it, broke me, and still does to this day. Many of you will hear the song and not give two cents to the music or the lyrics, but for me, the tale of Walt Grace and his submarine test, is a testament to all of us, and is easily one of my top 5 songs, if not top 2.
The beginning is a trumpet solo by the ever amazing Chris Botti, who’s stuff I have heard over the years and was floored by. There is something haunting about the singleness of a trumpet playing, that I can only contribute to the sound of Taps being played by a bugle.
The song is about a man, Walt Grace, and his challenge to build a submarine. Yes, it is a crazy idea and the thought of it as a song is quite peculiar and well, silly at the same time. But if you take the time to listen, hear the words, the story of a man that has been put down and beat down, you will start to understand the meaning of the song, the meaning of life. The wife and friends the song speaks of, can easily be assigned to any number of stressors to a person’s life, haters if you will. And whilst all this is going on, you have the will of a man to simply do the things we all want to do in life, escape, survive, and prevail. To be who we are meant to be, do the things we are meant to do, to be happy, to have purpose.
The lyrics are almost that of a fairy tale, and the music is the kind you would almost find playing in the background of a circus, as the magic of clowns and elephants engage your senses. I remember the first time I heard the chorus “Cause when you’re done with this world, you know the next is up to you”, I wept. To hear Mr. Mayer explain it, this is the song that lyrically, he holds as his heaviest and perhaps most meaningful, and yet it is a song that only the true fan of Mayer’s music has ever heard.
The song continues with Walt Grace building a submarine, testing the machine, and then setting off, to escape the suffering he had behind him. Whether he lives or dies pays him no nevermind, he is a man following his heart, and in doing so frees his soul, a soul that is destined to keep walking the Earth or move on to the next world.
The ending can be summed up as nothing short of perfect. It is left to the listener to figure out. Does he live and the song is glorious and gratifying, or does he die trying, in which case, he does so gloriously and gratified that he tried.
You should give it a listen. I do so often. I am Walt Grace, looking to make my way through this world, doing my best to survive, and you are too. You will find yourself listening to a song written about me, and you, and us, a society that at times is so lost, we need to do something so outrageous as to build a one man, fan blade submarine, to survive.
John Mayer was asked once during an interview if Walt Grace survives or dies. He gives an answer, but I will not ruin it for you. For the answer you get from the song may be the way you look at life. I know what I thought, and I know how I look at the song, and the man, Walt Grace. I am him and he is me, and with that, I know what happens to me, in the end, when I am done with this world.
https://youtu.be/SrcMMyNeJJs (link to the video)