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Transitions: Blitzen Trapper

As I gaze back upon my life, I can chunk it into meaningful periods according to the music that I listened to at the time.  These periods tend to coincide with major life events — or transitions.

Some of my memorable and indelible transitions include:

  • 1983: Starting boarding school
  • 1986: Starting college
  • 1990: Starting my career in the Marine Corps
  • 1992: Becoming a father
  • 1993: Moving to Detroit MI
  • 1996: Deploying overseas
  • 1998: Graduate school in Monterey CA
  • 2002: Getting divorced
  • 2004: New love
  • 2007: Musical discontent

I’ll document these periods in another blog post sometime.

For this blog post, the life transition occurred in 2010 when I retired from the United States Marine Corps, and I moved with my family to Lake Oswego OR (just south of Portland).  It is fitting during this major new beginning that I discovered one of my favorite bands of all time: the Portland Oregon-based experimental country/folk/rock band known as: Blitzen Trapper.  But, I didn’t discover them in Oregon, oddly enough.

My last tour in the Marines, from 2009 – 2010, proved to be a career capstone experience which would be difficult to beat.  I deployed in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (aka: Task Force Leatherneck or MEB-Afghanistan).  Notably, the MEB planned and executed Operation KHANJAR and Operation MOSHTARAK — two massive counterinsurgency operations in the southwestern desert.  The MEB operated primarily in the Helmand River Valley.  The Helmand River is supplied by snow melt from the Hindu Kush mountains.  The Helmand River’s silt and soil deposits combined with Southwestern Afghanistan’s dry climate make for perfect poppy growing conditions — which is why Helmand is the poppy capital of the world.  The MEB’s operations essentially denied the Taliban their annual poppy harvests for 2009 and 2010, which was their major source of revenue.  For these and other actions against enemy forces, the MEB was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.  I’m proud to have contributed to this effort.

Prior to deploying to Afghanistan, I had in my possession an enviable follow-on assignment — permanent change of station orders to be the G-1 for Marine Forces Europe (MarForEur) in Stuttgart Germany.  Relatively few Marines get the opportunity to be stationed in Europe.  Unlike the Army, Navy, and Air Force, the Marines have a relatively small permanent presence in Europe.  So, as I departed for Afghanistan, my family and I were very much looking forward to the three year European assignment.  However, the year-long deployment proved sufficiently challenging on my family that, in January of 2010, my wife and I decided that we would retire from the Marines rather than execute orders to Germany.

Between January and early July 2010, my family set about preparing for retirement.  As you can imagine, there were all kinds of activities: selling a house in Quantico VA, deciding where we’d live after retirement, finding a house in the new location, securing a new home loan, packing and moving, etc.  Military families sacrifice tremendously, just as service members do.  My wife, in fact, did not want me to deploy to Afghanistan.  And, truthfully, I could have gotten out of the deployment, if I had wanted to.  However, the deployment was something that I felt that I needed to do in order to do my part.  So, after my wife and I decided that we would retire instead of execute orders to MarForEur, she was the one who researched and decided that we would move to Lake Oswego, just south of Portland.

So, after re-deploying to the United States from the stark desert of Southwestern Afghanistan in May, and I made several weekend solo-drives between Quantico VA where my family was living and Camp Lejeune NC where I was stationed.  On one of these solo-drives, I first heard the music of Blitzen Trapper.

I don’t recall the radio station.  It must’ve been a college or independent public radio station in the vicinity of North Carolina’s Research Triangle.  The song was called “Black River Killer,” but you would hardly be able to guess the title from the chorus and lyrics alone.  (This was just before the days of easy lyrics searches online.)  So, I had to wait until the three or four song segment concluded, hope that the radio station’s signal didn’t fade as a raced north to my family, and listen carefully for the DJs song recap.  Fortunately, the announcer mentioned something like, “…And, we started out the segment with Blitzen Trapper of Portand Oregon with ‘Black River Killer.'”

Now, I’m not much for the woo-woo pseudoscience side of life; however, I have to say that it does feel good to get little experiences which seem to align with major life decisions.  That’s the kind of feeling I got when I heard this new song that I liked and learned that the newly discovered band was from my future home town — awesome.  Love it when that happens!

Since 2010, I have probably seen Blitzen Trapper perform a dozen times.  Their shows never disappoint, evolve continually, contain a great mixture of rock, alt-country and psychedelia.  Moreover, they pay homage to some great musicians with covers.  Notably, in 2015, they played a series of shows where they played all of Neil Young’s 1972 Harvest album.  They also have a fondness for Townes Van Zandt, and occasionally cover some of his songs.  I discuss Townes and others in this post.  They frequently hang the Cascadia flag at their shows, although I don’t know if they are strong proponents of the Northwest independence movement.

Blitzen Trapper tours nationally and internationally.  I highly recommend you catch a show.