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Etta James

January 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Word on Twitter is that Etta James has passed away. I actually still remember the first time I became aware of her. Of course, I knew the song At Last, but didn’t know her name or her history.

Then one night I was in a cabin in Maine with a girl who loved Etta James. She loved her spirit and her soul, and they way it came out in her music. We turned on the TV and Etta was Letterman and blew me away.

I can’t find video of that on YouTube, so I wanted to post another personal favorite. Thanks to the success of At Last, people tended to think of her as a balladeer. But she had incredible range, and was also a great blues shouter. This song rocks as hard as the best 60’s soul numbers.

Categories: Music Tags: ,

Bridge To Nowhere

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

In the swamps in southern Ocean County, on the mainland side of the Barnegat Bay, there’s a dirt road that takes off eastward from an otherwise empty stretch. It’s a bit after the American Legion, and about a mile before the porn shop. After rattling your way down this unmantained isthmus, suddenly there was a mound in front of you. I only ever tried this at night, but it sure seemed to come out of nowhere. There are steps that lead up to a wooden platform. It’s a foot bridge about 6 feet wide, over one of the tributaries that criss cross the swamp.

The strange thing about this bridge is that there’s really nothing on the other side. If you walk across, there’s another short set of stairs that… leads you right into the marsh. There are no paths on the east side of this bridge. Just waist high swamp grass. Other than a couple of radio towers and the LBI bridge in the distance, it’s about as remote as you can get in the most densely populated state in the union.

This was one of my favorite out-of-the-way spots in New Jersey. I’ve seen sunrises from there. I’ve drank whiskey. I’ve shot off model rockets, almost been thrown into the river, confronted wasted rednecks, and wandered into the dried out swamps during a drought. To make our mark, sometimes we would bring chalk or magic markers and scrawl phrases that meant something at the time. The locals who probably went out there to fish the next day must have had no clue what these writings meant. We didn’t mean them to be graffiti. We just wanted to leave a little something permanent.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing permanent out there. The Bridge To Nowhere burnt down several times. The last I heard they gave up rebuilding it.

You should still be able to make it out there. The remains of the bridge are nearly as beautiful as it was in it’s prime. It used to symbolize the temptation of wandering into the unknown. Now you can go and think about what it’s like to see a while other world that’s just out of reach. Either way it’s a good place for some writers to go drink by moonlight.

Telling you all this is really an excuse to play the song Bridge To Nowhere by the Stone Lonesome, featuring vocals by Zach Jones, one of my favorite local musicians. I can only assume this is the spot he’s singing about. How many places like this can there be?

Categories: Adventure, Music

The Cost Of Rock And Roll

January 13, 2012 Leave a comment

I don’t go to shows as much as I used to. Not that long ago I would go see local bands several times a week. I became friendly with many of the musicians and the other regulars at these clubs. There was a communal aspect.

Nowadays, not so much. I tell myself that I’m not getting old, I just can’t afford to go every night, pay an average $8 cover and then buy drinks on top of that. And I don’t think I’m alone, because when I do go, I don’t see the same crowd. Maybe I’m imagining things. Maybe I’m remembering things being greater than they were. But I can’t imagine that the Great Recession hasn’t affected music fans. People have less disposable income, and knowing that it costs almost $10 just to walk in the door places is going to keep at least some people away.

At least a few non-traditional venues have started having original music in the area. These are bars that are not known for hosting music, but I’ve seen more people attending these shows than I have at most nights at the Saint or the Brighton recently.

Part of the reason has to be that these venues aren’t charging covers. You come in with, say, $20, and that’s what you can spend on booze for the night. Chances are once you start drinking, you’re going to spend the whole $20. Whereas, at the Saint or the Wonderbar, you go with $20, you’ll end up spending the amount, but only half of that will be on beer. So you spend most of the night nursing your drinks and wishing you were able to get another drink. It’s a worse experience.

So either way, the bar is getting that $20 from you. But by being more inviting about the cover, these new venues are probably going to be appealing to a lot more people. More people, each spending the same amount of cash, leaves a larger pot at the end of the night.

My band recently played EJ’s, a dive bar at the end of the Seaside boardwalk. Normally this part of the boardwalk is more or less abandoned during the winter, but somehow we were able to draw people out on a Friday night to come dance and drink. Everyone there had a much better time than if they had had to lighten their wallets just to get in. And that means they’re more likely to go back. And at the end of the night we were paid as much as, if not more than, we would have been playing to a half empty bar with an $8 cover.

The goal should be to get as many people as possible to come out. Build a community around the music. This benefits the club owners as much as the musicians.

Ultimately, we can’t afford to turn anyone away. Money shouldn’t be a barrier to going out and experiencing a show. We all want to get paid. The club owners want to make money. The bands want to go home with something in their pocket. Some of these guys have aspirations of doing this for a living. It’s tough to remove a source of income. You don’t have to squeeze every dollar out of your audience. Open the doors and let people in. It’s a win for the fans, the bars, and the musicians.

Categories: Music

Very Funny, NPR

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Someone somewhere must be playing a trick on me. I tried to listen to a story about atheist chaplains in the US Military, a topic I find interesting as this is one of the great fuzzy 1st Amendment lines left untouched. Religion is engrained in the culture of the military, it seems. Especially at the higher levels. And it seems no one has the political will to truly change this and make the service more inclusive.

However, when I first clicked on it, I discovered the link instead took me to 8 minutes of Greil Marcus talking about The Doors. This seems to me the type of lecture they might have in hell. A wonderful art critic extolling the virtues of one of “Classic Rock”‘s worst bands.

While it may just be my personal opinion, The Doors have always represented to me most of the worst aspects of 60’s rock. They were pretentious while being utterly vapid. They were in love with their own playing at the expense of the actual song. In fact, it seems like they rarely gave any sort of consideration to the people who had to actually listen to these songs. The music was self indulgent and the lyrics were at best trite, and at worst pseudo-profound garbage. About the only good things this band contributed to popular culture was Ray Manzarek (clearly the worst of the bunch) somehow discovering X, and Jim Morrison giving Iggy Pop the idea of whipping his dick out on stage.

Luckily, the glitch has been corrected. But in case you were wondering if someone as eloquent and thoughtful as Greil Marcus could possibly change my mind about The Doors, it turns out the answer is “No”.

Categories: Music

Where Were You When REM Broke UP?

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

I have to admit I was pretty surprised to see that REM is calling it a day. They’ve been a an active band about as long as I’ve been alive. I kinda took them for granted. They’ve been indie rock’s work horses. Most of the last 15 years or so they’ve been quietly cranking out what appears to be solid hyphen-rock (indie? alternative?), touring occasionally, and just seemingly punching the clock every day as indie rock founding fathers. Why would they break up? You never hear any drama about them. I can’t imagine Michael Stype beating up a paparazzi or anything.

Maybe that’s the reason I could never get into them. They’re a band that you have to respect, but I’ve always found it hard to love them. Mostly, I didn’t seem them giving me a reason to.

I was too young to really get into the music when they were at the height of their powers. I didn’t have an older brother, but if I did I would imagine him listing to REM in mind 80’s. While I was still listening to Sesame Street songs, they were paying their dues, chiming up college rock and being decidedly NOT Whitesnake or Poison. Maybe they were so afraid of falling into those excesses, they erred on the side of, well, boring.

By the time the 90’s came around and my tastes had grown up a bit. I was spending a lot of time listening to The Beatles, and felt like I found my niche. If I had explored a little more I might have found that they were trying really hard to be a sort of Beatles themselves. They had the rare ability to be classicist and still look like they’re innovators.

We’re talking about 4 guys that really did write some good songs and play some great live shows. But they also seemed like they were afraid of ever hitting any real heights. Every REM single was pleasant, enjoyable, arty in a non-threatening manner. These guys should be commended for sticking it out and continuing to churn out that seemed to mostly be reminders normal folk can make some good music themselves.

So tomorrow morning, for the first time in a long time, they’re going get up and not have to punch in to rock and roll. Whatever else they have planned, I wish them luck.

Categories: Music

BREAKING: World Supply Of Rolling Stones Related Puns Exhausted

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Most of the time, The Rolling Stones are more of a corporation than a band. It’s no secret that none of the members have been extremely close for years, if not decades. So when you see all four of them leaving the same London office building on the same day, you know something has got to be up.

2012 is going to be the band’s 50th (!) anniversary, so I can only hope they have something big planned. Details had to be hashed out. 5 story inflatable cowgirls have to be procured. Ronnie Wood needs to plan 3 or 4 more stints at rehab.

The band no longer does “small”. Reading about the Stones 60’s and 70’s tours was always interesting. They toured constantly, stopping only to record or get arrested, for about 2 decades. Everything about these tours were an order of magnitude smaller than what the Stones have done since the late 80’s. I think they understand that something has been lost, which is why the y insist on having a small “second stage” in the middle of the audience where they play a few songs per show with no supporting musicians. The purpose is not just to bring the band closer to the fans, but also to bring the Stones closer to each other.

The Rolling Stones are my favorite band, hands down (so expect more Stones-blogging in the months to come). I’ve seen them a half dozen times in the past decade, and each show was great. The really interesting at this point is  how these 4 very different people suck it up every few years, get together, and somehow become the Worlds Greatest Rock And Roll Band.

Categories: Music

Things Should Start To Get Interesting Right About Now

 

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Bob Dylan shows are like beaches. No two are exactly alike, and there’s a lot going on beneath the surface that you might miss if you’re not paying attention. So Dylan fans go time and again, each time noticing the different shore lines, different eddies and wave patterns. Some bring small notebooks, obsessively sketching every fine grain detail. But most people there just want to kick back and have a good time.

When Bob came through Asbury Park on August 14th, this was no scholarly exercise. He was there to have a good time. He spent most of the show grinning and mugging to the audience. He looked like a kid in his first school play, just excited to get to be in front of a captive audience. This guy has been playing well over a hundred shows a year for roughly two decades now, and he was prancing around the stage, having the time of his life. That’s what music does, if you do it right.

Ally got there early and grabbed a spot in line. The deal was that she’d hold the spot in line, and I’d come bearing whiskey. When I got there, so quickly poured most of the Jim Beam into some ginger ale cans she had with her, and we got our place up near the front of the line. The crowd filled Convention Hall, all ages and types. There were excited old hippies, just glad to have something going on other than golf outings or bridge or whatever it is those people do. There were college kids, and parents who probably last saw Bob playing with The Band in ‘73 bringing their kids out so they could have the experience once. I mean, the man isn’t getting any younger.

We all squeezed into the auditorium at 6:30. There were old drill-instructor types hollering orders to the crowd. “If you have any chairs or blankets with you, you must dispose of them now. Umbrellas will not be allowed in the venue. Make sure you have your tickets out and ready”. Sir yes sir.

Thanks to Ally, we were right up front, just a couple yards from the stage. The remaning crowd packed in behind us. We waited there for an hour and a half before the opening act came out.

Leon Russell was okay. Really, not bad. If I closed my eyes, the music was grooving and fairly soulful. What I couldn’t get past is that he did NOT look like he wanted to be there. Not a single smile the whole time. Once Dylan came out afterwards, the contrast couldn’t be clearer.

Bob’s set was heavy on newer material (you can find the set list here). Right off, he set the tone with Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat. The song is a tongue-in-cheek take on romance gone wrong. Bob was in full jokester mode. To Ramona came next, and was pretty somber, but even that had a lilting beat, an ironic waltz. Soon he brought a shortened Tangled Up In Blue, singing “Me, I’m still on the road, trying to stay out of the joint”. The new Bob is a classic trickster. A Chaplinesque tramp, trying to stay one step ahead of the problems he’s causing.

The biggest surprise of the night was a jaunty version of Mississippi. It’s not surprising that he played this 180° from the album version. Radically changing song structures is practically Dylan’s stock in trade at this point. But this reimagining didn’t quite hit. Instead of being a story of regret and perseverance, Mississipp became, without any changes in lyrics, the story of scamp moving from one con to another. The music was an upbeat blues shuffle, and Bob stood at the mic, center stage, practically acting out the song to the audience. Of course, Bob’s been re-thinking how this song should be played. If you get the Deluxe version of Tell Tale Signs, you’ll find 3 (!) alternate versions. Plus he gave it to Sheryl Crow to cover before releasing his own version. Even if I would personally pick it as possibly the best song Bob’s written in the last 15 years, it’s clear that he still doesn’t know quite what to do with it.

The show continued on. Bob changed between standing at his keyboad, standing center stage, maybe blowing a little harp here and there, and actually playing guitar (3 or 4 songs this time!). A older man leaned in to me and said “first there was Shakespeare. Then 500 years later you get Dylan”. I don’t know if it’s a fair comparison. Shakespeare didn’t have nearly the range that Bob’s built up over the last x-decades. But either way it doesn’t matter. He’s going to pull his show up to your doorstep every so often, and if you’re smart, you’ll go and be part of this experience. But if not, it doesn’t matter. This is a show that exists separate from its audience. It will continue as long as the performers wish.

Categories: Dylan, Music Tags:

Happy Birthday Bob

Bob Dylan’s birthday should be a national holiday.

 

Categories: Music Tags:

Old Habbits Die Hard

Listened to She & Him Vol 1 last night. Forgot how good an album that was.

Categories: Music