While I haven’t probably kept up with all of Pete Townsend‘s work since “White City“, I have to say if I were to put together a list of his most overlooked solo/non-Who work, my list would look very much the same as this, and more or less the same order.
“The Sea Refuses No River” is far and away his most underrated song. And “White City Fighting” should have been a hit.
I’ve never much cared for the “progressive-rock” band Yes (except for their 1985 reboot, saying which always starts an argument with my Yes-fan friends). And in saying that, I’ll stipulate a lot of that disdain was my own adolescent “too cool for school” arrogance about music.
But “a lot” ain’t everything. “Progressive Rock”, with its orchestral pretensions and acid-fueled subject matter, annoys me almost as much in retrospect as it did then.
Of course, they knew it. One of the things that probably got me off on a bad foot with Yes were a series of interviews I read with guitarist Steve Howe; with his academic background and classical guitar training, Howe came off like he was working on a cure for cancer, rather than…songs.
Keyboardist Rick Wakeman – he of the Gregg Allman hair and flowing robes and mad-scientist stacks of keyboards – is inseparable from Yes (although he’s left the band a few times, so Yes is clearly separable from him). In the seventies, Wakeman was practically a synonym for bloated pretension.
And they were right – but as always, there’s more to it.
…in the guy. Not the seventies Yes albums, or Wakeman’s (not making this up) ice show about the legend of King Arthur – although reading about the guys he produced it all with just gets more and more interesting.
And to circle back to Steve Howe? I saw this a few years ago, before Squire’s death – a “rig rundown” of Howe and Squires instruments, amps and other gear. And Howe comes across as a pretty dang likeable…
…well, not so much a “bloke”. Maybe more of an affable old professor who’s taken to genial chats about his favorite light reading.
There are times I kick myself for having sorted so much of the world out according to cliches I picked out of Rolling Stone.
…and about 3-5 years before it became pretty clear that it was more the rule than the exception in top-40 pop music, and probably ten years before technology started doing the things that Milli Vanilli’s producer had to get humans to do.
Just saying – had Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan come along ten years later, they’d still be megastars.
(And before all the Billy Joel fans start beefing – Joel’s had two good moments in his career – and “Piano Man” was neither of them. There’s this song – which he wrote for Ronnie Spector, who covered it with the E Street Band in the background…
…and one whole, glorious album where I managed to mostly forget it was Billy Joel doing the singing.
And with that, I return to this blog’s official status quo: Bob Dylan is an eccentric genius, and Billy Joel is a talented douchebag.
He’s iconic for his technical prowess on the skins, of course – and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
And along with those immense technical chops came a taste for really, really big drum kits.
Big enough to serve as a cultural punchline for people from a certain generation – in this case, one of the kids in Freaks and Geeks, perhaps the only retrospective sit-com my generation is ever going to get. It sure got this right:
Over the years, when looking for drummers in bands, when I hear from people claiming to be influenced by Peart’s style, I can feel the back-ache setting in from a long, kit-heavy load-in and load-out even on the phone.
But for me, the most important thing about Peart – who replaced John Rutsey, who died even longer before his time – had little to do with drum technique.
My favorite drummers have tended to be either the human metronomes (Charlie Watts, Max Weinberg) or power-driving madmen (Keith Moon, Johnny Badanjak, Kenny Aronoff). Technical virtuosi like Peart, and Stuart Copeland of the Police, interested me less for their drum chops than for their place in the chemistry of theit various bands. Copeland took the edge off of some of Sting’s interminal pretension and self-importance…
…and in a genre where bloated pretense was the coin of the realm (Yes, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, King Krimson), Peart was part of an ensemble that simultaneously wrote some great prog-rock (admittedly a genre I care very little about) and had a rollicking sense of humor on the subject, about the genre, and about themselves:
Then – Saturday night, we’re back at the Stillwater Bowl and Lounge. Don’t let the name fool you – it’s a fun room, good crowd, and they have those edge-of-the-metro food and drink prices that make going out a *lot* more fun!
I have a subscription to Sirius XM radio in my car, but I’m going to cancel it. This morning, I heard a song that triggered me so bad, I can’t even. I was listening to the 70 station and some guy came on making fun of homosexuals, using stereotype words like Sugar Plum Fairy and encouraging me to take a Walk on the Wild Side. And then he started using racial epithets, claiming the colored girls go doo, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo, doo-doo, doo, doo-doo, doo-doo…. Sure, I could have changed the station, but why should I have to? Why are they allowed to put hate speech on the radio? The radio I’m paying for! That’s it, I’m done, I’m canceling my subscription and starting a Twitter boycott. Joe Doakes
Lou Reed, being a New York “artist”, was given a pass on all that.
Not something as trivial as “a conservative who wrote music” – but someone who, at his best, wrote music that resonated deeply with Conservatives, for reasons that were utterly conservative, and for many of us utterly profound.
Ann Althouse once noted (with a hat tip to regular commenter Macarthur Wheeler):
“To be a great artist is inherently right wing. A great artist like Dylan or Picasso may have some superficial, naive, lefty things to say, but underneath, where it counts, there is a strong individual, taking responsibility for his place in the world and focusing on that.”
His best music – Nebraska, Born in the USA, Tunnel of Love and The Rising, but especially the “Holy Trinity” (Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, The RIver) were just that; stories about the struggles, yes, but also the strength and worth of individuals; their failures and their redemptions, sin and consequences, and forgiveness.
And for anyone that misses the point, I’d urge you to watch the Netflix version of Springsteen on Broadway, the Tony Award-winning one-man show that closed last year, in which Bruce admitted – with deference and joy – that the best music in his career was about his father; that he, a guy who’d never punched a clock in his life, had written a 45-year-long litany of tales of sorrow and inspiration and warning and cool rockin’ daddies about Douglass Springsteen, his father, and his mother Adele, who plugged away for decades, sacrificing and slogging away to keep their three kids fed and sheltered.
A few months back, I went to the movie Blinded By The Light – and noted that I felt it in the pit of my stomach more than enjoying it (although I enjoyed it a lot).
Now, the protagonist (it’s closely based on a true story) was the opposite of me, socially and politically; a Pakistani Brit who skewed plenty left, like Brit teenagers do. And yet I felt it in my liver; the discovery, and the epiphany, were the same for both of us.
“See, Mitch – those traits are universal and human, and progressives can gel with them too!”. Artistically? Sure, why not? But let’s debate what “Reason to Believe”, “Johnny 99” or “My Hometown” are really about first. Or, for that matter, the implications of what Sarfraz Manzoor wrote about – being seen as a person rather than a caricature or, dare I say, an “identity”. Then we’ll talk.
Because “progressivism” is about perfecting humanity; conservatism is about living with, dealing with the consequences of, clawing back from, and sometimes, just sometimes, triumphing over mankind’s, and one’s own, imperfections.
Ric Ocasek, founder and driving force behind seventies new-wave/pop earth-movers the Cars, died yesterday. He was…
…75? Yep. Apparently he spent the better part of 45 years lying about his age. He was well apparently a member of the Class of 1963, and halfway through his thirties and a veteran of years and years of playing in bars in Cleveland, Columbus, Ann Arbor and finally Boston by the time The Cars, their incandescent first album, landed in 1978.
It’d apparently been a rollercoaster year for Ocasek – inducted into the Rock and Roll Halll of Fame in 2018, in the middle of being separated from his wife of nearly 30 years, onetime supermodel Paulina Porizhkova – a marriage that was the subject of myriad “Beauty and the Beast” jokes when the 45 year old Ocasek and the then-23 year old Porizhkova married in ’89.
Read the whole thing. But I thought I’d pullquote this:
Yet the mystical power of some of these objects drowns out the racket. Here is a surviving fragment of the guitar Hendrix doused with lighter fluid and set on fire at the Monterey Pop festival in 1967, in a gesture intended to one-up Townshend’s guitar-ruination. Hendrix famously knelt in a pose of ecstatic worship behind the burning object, conjuring spirits from the vast deep. What was the meaning of that act? Hendrix was playing off the attraction of all things pagan for the hippie generation, but on a deeper level the ritual sacrifice cast rock as an art whose genuineness, hence its attractiveness, was tied up in its inability to control itself. Rock mesmerizes and destroys as fire does. To burn his own guitar showed Hendrix reveling in evanescence as not just the natural passing of youth but also a kind of death wish, an appetite for self-destruction. Like many of his peers Hendrix set fire to himself, and some part of it was performative, dutiful. Three years later he would be dead at 27. It may be that the age of rock gods has already concluded, like the Jazz Age or the Big Band era. The youngest artists represented at the exhibit — Tom Morello, Lady Gaga, St. Vincent — seem unlikely to inspire veneration, or even much interest, circa 2049. Some alchemy of sound and performance on the one hand and societal tumult on the other made rock a leading cultural indicator, for a time. “You’ve left your fingerprints on the audience’s imagination,” Springsteen once said, “and they stick.” Rock matters, or at least mattered, and the Met’s imprimatur on the form is well justified.
That was certainly what grabbed me as an adolescent with more emotion than reason.
Thirty-five years ago yesterday, “Born in the USA” was released.
And Kyle Smith makes the case that it did more than most things to ensure the *other* great event of that year, Ronald Reagan’s re-election.
Read the whole thing – but I’ll give you the conclusion:
“Morning in America,” the title of a corny TV commercial, was often described as Reagan’s all-but-official reelection theme. Really it was “Born in the U.S.A.” There is only one upbeat line in it, but it’s the last one Springsteen sang: “I’m a cool rockin’ daddy in the U.S.A.” Despite everything he’s endured, the narrator is still rockin’, still cool. Even those who paid close attention to the lyrics of the accidental anthem could take from it this: Dark as things got in a previous era, this is a new generation. The draft is no more. We have shaken off the pall of Vietnam. We are back. We are Americans, and it’s time to shout it out loud again. We were born in the U.S.A.”
Yes, Tommy is very 1960s. Pinball competitions and psychedelic acid trips are not exactly hallmarks of today’s world. But of course, what makes the album sotimeless is the music. From great singles such as “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free,” and “The Acid Queen” to the more intricate musical tapestry and recurring themes laid out in the five-minute overture, this is an album one can, and should, listen to front-to-back in one sitting.
While hailed as a triumph by most critics upon its release, Tommy did have its detractors. Some found the theme overly twisted and its ideas of physical and sexual abuse and subjecting children to acid trips just too distasteful. Even at the ripe old age of 23, when he began work on the project, Pete Townshend was not a simple man. It should be noted that to compose songs for the two most disturbing parts of the opera, “Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About,” Townshend asked bassist John Entwistle to do the honors. Having been sent by his parents to live with a clinically insane grandmother for two years as a child, they brought up too many dark memories better left to his autobiography.
I discovered The Who about the same time I discovered pop music – I was a moody adolescent, and Pete Townsend was a moody arrested adolescent, so it wasn’t a huge stretch. I think I was 15 when I first checked out Tommy from the library. I did in fact sit down and learn the whole thing on guitar – I probably could have played it from memory, almost, at one point.
And I thought – next year, Tommy will be closer to the end of World War I than to the present day. Or,, to put it another way, neither were all that long ago, really…
“Hired Gun”, on Netflix, is a movie about “sidemen” – guitar, bass, drum and keyboard players who get hired by musicians to support them on tour, sometimes for a tour or two (Jason Hook, a metal guitarist spent time touring with Mandy Moore and Hillary Duff), sometimes joining the band (Jason Newsted with Metallica), sometimes bouncing around between being session musicians, touring with other musicians and being part of their own bands (Steve Lukather, Ray Parker Jr.).
It’s a little like “20 Feet From Stardom”, only with teeth.
I’d have never thought Rudy Sarzo – who played with Ozzy Ozbourne, both editions of Quiet Riot, and Whitesnake – would come across as pretty savvy philosopher.
If you don’t like Billy Joel, get ready to hate him. If you like Billy Joel, get ready not to like him so much. While I acknowledge his talent, I’ve never liked him much (other than “Songs in the Attic”, which had some cool songs, and “Innocent Man”, which was a great album), but the stories that Russ Javors and Liberty DiVito tell about Joel’s snide arrogance (and the role it may have played in Doug Stegmeyer’s suicide) re-centered my attitude on the little fop.
Alice Cooper (as a friend of mine pointed out on Facebook) is the opposite of Billy Joel – a great boss.
Kenny Aronoff – who played drums on all of John Mellencamp’s best records in the eighties, and is currently with the BoDeans – may be becoming my favorite living drummer. His story behind that little two-bar drum solo in “Jack and Diane” is a lot cooler than I’d imagined it would be.
If all you think about when the name “Ray Parker Jr.” comes up is “Ghostbusters”, then stop what you’re doing, cuz I’m about to ruin the image of the star that you’re used to (#NailedTheReferenceTieIn!). The guy was one of the better session guitar player in R&B for a looong time. But the story of how “Ghostbusters” came about is exactly as dorky as the video Parker shot for it back in ’84.
I will never feel adequate on guitar again.
There are happy endings, some really sad ones, and all in all if you care about music at all you should just watch it.
So last Monday and Tuesday I went to see *both* nights with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the Dakota.
Now, this’ll be the fourth year, I think, I’ve caught Johnny and the band at the Dakota – which is as far west as they ever go, since their fan base never got far west of New Jersey even during their commercial heyday (big album sales in the seventies; some big placements in the eighties; one top-forty single with the help of Jon Bon Jovi, Springsteen, and Steve Van Zandt in 1991).
Now, they are perhaps the tightest band I’ve ever seen. LIterally – the whole seven piece band (guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, trumpet, trombone and sax) taking cues on the fly and launching songs from a 45 year career instantly.
And once every night – just once, a little before halfway through – Johnny seems to decide to test the band on that, by asking the audiene “What do you all wanna hear?”
And then he filters through the cacaphony from the audience, and finds a song, and calls it out – or sometimes just starts singing the first line – and the band counts off and plays.
And in previous years, the call from the stage caught me flat footed.
But not this year. I spent time practicing, drilling on my response, so I’d be there with a title when the challenge when out.
Monday night, when Johnny presented the opportunity to the crowd, I was right there. I donned my projecting radio/command voice, and shouted out “Got To Be A Better Way Home!” – a deep cut from their 1978 album “Hearts Of Stone”.
And a second or two later, boom. There it was.
(Not *quite* that fast).
Now, I do believe gluttony is a sin. But doggone it how many times do you get to go for a bifecta in life?
So the second night, when we got to that part of the show, I was ready. “Sweeter than Honey!”.
And darned if they didn’t launch straight up into it:
I’ll be attending both shows next year, God willing. But I think I’ll sit out the request time. I had my fun.
Tonight: The House DFL may be trying to amend their Universal Gun Registration and Red Flag Confiscation bills to the Omnibus Public Safety bill. Debate may well happen tonight. It’s entirely possible we’ll need to get a huge turnout of people down to the Capitol or the State Office building to show the Legislature what Minnesotans really think about the erosion of our civil liberties.
And maybe I’ll see y’all at the Capitol (or somewhere in the Capitol complex) tonight!
Friday and Saturday nights: My band, “Elephant in the Room”, is playing at the Stillwater Eagles both nights from 8-midnight. We do everything from Elvis to Nirvana, from the Cars to, well, The Eagles. I mean, we gotta do Eagles at the Eagles, right?
The instruments that will be on the auction block at Christie’s New York headquarters this June include many of his signature instruments. He’ll be selling the Black Strat — a guitar he played on “Money,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Comfortably Numb” and enough other songs that it has amassed a legacy worthy of its own book — as well as his Stratocaster with the serial number 0001, the 12-string he wrote “Wish You Were Here” on and the Ovation six-string he’s played “Comfortably Numb” on at almost every live performance he’s done.
“These guitars have been very good to me,” he tells Rolling Stone on a phone call from his home in England. “They’re my friends. They have given me lots of music. I just think it’s time that they went off and served someone else. I have had my time with them. And of course the money that they will raise will do an enormous amount of good in the world, and that is my intention.”
I liked this particular pullquote:
It’s very hard to talk about the writing process and how I record and use little snippets. Sometimes I’m hearing a piece of music as it’s playing on the radio or on television, and I record 10 seconds of it, just for a little particular thing and rhythm or something attracts me. I will go back to that little moment to say, “What was it about this that attracted me and what can I … not steal, but pay homage to or extract a feeling from it.” Most of [the ideas] are things strummed on acoustic guitar or plunked on a piano. Ninety percent of them, I will not understand why on earth I jotted them down and recorded them, but I have several hundred of them. I’ll find something good in there.
So – if you’re out and about and need to warm up and work up a sweat tonight or tomorrow, stop on by the Eagle in Stillwater. My band Elephant in the Room will be playing from 8 ’til Midnight, Friday and Saturday.
It’s in the old Famous Dave’s, on Highway 36 at Greeley.
We’ve got some music for the holidays, too! 
Good food, not-too-expensive drinks, great location, pool tables just around the corner, fast service – and EITR. What a perfect way to decompress from the holidays?
(And don’t forget – we’ll be at the Outpost in Ramsey on Friday, January 11. Two weeks from tonight!)
 OK – to be accurate, it’s two songs. But hey, you’re not gonna get that from a dance club DJ, are you?
…a luminous performance, an unexpected new late-career peak. His persona may be fake but his artistry is sublime.
Let’s back up a moment and talk about that “fake persona” bit. It stems from the show’s big opening admission – in Bruce’s words:
“I made it all up,” he tells the audience in his new Netflix special Springsteen on Broadway. “Bruce Springsteen” the persona — all gritty working-class authenticity — is a creation. “I’ve never held an honest job in my entire life!” he says. “I’ve never done any hard labor. I’ve never worked 9 to 5. I’ve never worked five days a week. Until right now.”
To be fair, this surprises nobody who’s followed Bruuuuuce this past, um (counts quickly) 40 years or so – as Dave Marsh showed in his classic bio “Born to Run” back in the early ’80s, he pretty much eschewed everything but playing in bands and building a following.
News flash – to succeed at something, you gotta live it every day, as someone once said.
And that’s one of the lines about the whole evening that resonated with me the most – because there are times I feel like I “made it all up” too; I’ve never had any formal training for any of the careers I’ve had – or even for any of the things I do for fun. My UX career? Tech writing before it? Music? Blogging and talk radio (OK, I had some OJT when I was a kid, but beyond being a DJ, nothing)? I decided I was gonna do them, and started doing them. After 20 years as a UXer, I still feel like someone’s going to bust me as a fraud someday.
Anyway – it’s a great show, and I hope you get a chance to see it on Netflix.