Pete Townsend – the idol of my early teenage years, and whose first memorable line was “I Hope I Die Before I Get Old” – turns 75 today.
The lesson? Be careful what you become known for at 19…
Pete Townsend – the idol of my early teenage years, and whose first memorable line was “I Hope I Die Before I Get Old” – turns 75 today.
The lesson? Be careful what you become known for at 19…
I was working in clubs and Top40 radio when Milli Vanilli rose, conquered…
…and slinked a way in a cloud of shame when it became known that they hadn’t sung their album, and had lip-synched their “live” performances.
And it was about this time thirty years ago that the “scandal” blew up, wrecking the careers of most everyone involved…
…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.
…only by a musician that hasn’t been a complete waste of time for most of his career:
NPR does what journalists actually should, and provides the needful – a list (and playlist) of all the songs referenced in “Murder Most Foul”.
(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.
My band, “Elephant in the Room”, is playing at Neighbors in Albertville tonight from 9PM-1AM.
Santa was just sitting in the night that pic was taken; Jon Heyer will be back tonight.
And for all you long-time NARN listeners – that’s my old producer, Tommy Huynh, singing. The guy can do Robert Plant, Dexter Holland and…Brad Delp?
Oh, yeah. Brad Delp.
Hope you can stop out to our favorite bar in the far northwest subs!
Neal Peart, drummer for prog-rock and high school sci-fi-nerd-rock mainstays Rush, died of brain cancer last week. He was 67.
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:
RIP Neal Peart
For my band, “Elephant in the Room”, it seems to be feast or famine.
This weekend is “feast” – or as I’m calling it, our “Winter Tour 2019”.
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!
Hope you can stop out!
Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:
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.
Lou Reed, being a New York “artist”, was given a pass on all that.
My band, “Elephant in the Room”, is at the Stillwater Bowl and Lanes on Saturday night.
“A bowling alley?”
It’s the bar next to the the bowling alley – and it’s actually a fun room! And it’s got those “edge of the metro” prices if you are getting a little wallet fatigue from $7 beer and $10 cocktails.
Come on out!
Bruce Springsteen turns 70 today.
Once upon a time, a then-local “progressive” activist asked via Twitter “To all you conservative Springsteen fans; have you actually listened to the records?”
My response was “yes – much more than you“. I went on to write one of my favorite series – the one showing that Bruce Springsteen was America’s best conservative songwriter.
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.
And if you’re lucky, passing some of that on:
I, too, believe in a Promised Land.
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.
Oh, well. We’ll always have the good times.
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.
Still does, in some ways.
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.”
Don’t be tired and bored with yourself. Just read it.
And as I noted a few years ago, completely without knowing it, Bruce is America’s best conservative songwriter – for reason that are purely conservative:
Why not stop on out to the Eagles in Stillwater on Friday or Saturday from 8PM til Midnight?
They seem to like us in Stillwater – back in April, we slew at the Stillwater Lanes and Lounge (it’s a much better venue than the name suggests), and this is like our fifth weekend playing the Eagles.
Come on out and join the Herd!
The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” turns 50 this year.
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.
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:
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.
That’s still up in the air. What I’d suggest is that you sign up for the MN Gun Owners Caucus’s email blasts – then, you’ll be getting the latest news. Also, make sure you “like” the MNGOC’s Facebook page – that’s also being updated constantly.
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?
Stop on out, have a drink, say hi!
…I could only get one right myself.
I’ve never been a yuge Pink Floyd fan.
But if you had to pick a guitar player whose style is probably most like mine, it’s probably David Gilmour.
And Gilmour is selling off most of his guitar collection for charity, including some seriously iconic pieces:
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 – time to find that winning lottery ticket…
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.
(And for those whose response is “I won’t listen to Bruce, since he’s teh liberal” – well, yeah, but in his prime he was also America’s best *conservative* songwriter, which makes some peoples’ heads melt, but I’m right and they’re wrong)
The punch lines practically write themselves; Keith Richards gives up drinking.
Aaaaaand rock and roll is, if not dead, navigating with a walker.
But not just any Friday.
It’s the Friday after Thanksgiving – which may be the single slowest traffic day in the year of a halfway-serious blogger.
So I’m just going to remind you my band is playing tonight and tomorrow out at the Eagles in Stillwater (all kinds of details right here), and leave you with this:
My band, “Elephant in the Room”, is playing Friday and Saturday nights at the Eagles in Stillwater.
We’ll be playing from 8 ’til midnight. We’re a classic rock band that does stuff from the ’50s through the ’90s. And it features our “new” lead singer, former NARN producer Tommy, who can do Led Zeppelin ,Guns and Roses and the Offspring with style. Seriously – this isn’t your grandpa’s Elephant in the Room.
It’s a fun room, excellent food, drinks aren’t too expensive, and we have a lot of fun playing the joint!
It’s gone through every musician’s mind.
You’re at a show – from a club gig to an area show – and you watch the musicians doing their thing, and the thought crosses your mind; “What if (fill in a member of the band) were to keel over in a faint right now, and the band called for someone in the audience who knew the material, and I jumped on stage and totrally rocked it“?
Yeah, I’ve had that. At a Springsteen or Asbury Jukes or Richard Thompson or Warren Zevon or Gear Daddies or Los Lobos gig, thinking “If Nils or Gary Thompson or Pete Zorn or David Landau or Cesar or whoever the guitar player is gets the flu and faints away, I could jump up there and totally take over!”
It remains a fantasy for almost everyone. 1
It was 45 years ago tonight, every musician’s fantasy came true, for one Scot Halpin, of Muscatine Iowa, who’d been living in the Bay Area for about a year.
He was at a Who show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
After playing an hour and a half, Keith Moon – the Who’s manic drummer – passed out behind the drum kit. Roadies revived him after another song or two, before he passed out again.
The rest of the band – singer Roger Daltrey, bass player John Entwistle and guitar player Pete Townsend, continued for another song (“See Me, Feel Me”) without a drummer.
Then, Townsend asked the crowd if anyone could play the drums. Halpin’s friend ignored the fact that Halpin hadn’t touched a drum kit in the year since he’s left Iowa, and got the attention of a roadie, who got the attention of promoter Bill Graham. And one thing led to another.
When Townshend called out, “Can anyone play the drums?” Halpin and Danese were already at theedge of the stage.
“And my friend starts saying to the security guard, `He can play,’ ” Halpin says. In truth, he hadn’tplayed in a year, but that didn’t slow the braggart Danese, who made such a commotion thatpromoter Bill Graham appeared. “He just looked at me and said, `Can you do it?’ ” Halpin doesn’trecall his answer, but Danese assured Graham that he could.
“The story was that I stepped out from in front of the stage, but that’s not what happened,” Halpinsays. “Townshend and Daltrey look around and they’re as surprised as I am,” he says, “becauseGraham put me up there.”
With a shot of brandy for his nerves, Halpin shook hands with Townshend, then sat down at his firstdrum set since he left Iowa, in front of 13,500 critics. “I get onto the stool. Was it still warm? Whoknows. I’m in complete shock,” Halpin says. “Then I got really focused, and Townshend said tome, `I’m going to lead you. I’m going to cue you.’
“I’m laying down the beat. They’re doing all their `Live at Leeds’ kind of stuff, and then I don’tremember what happened. I guess I played a couple more songs. It was such a weird experience.”
The bootleg reveals that Halpin drummed through the traditional “Smokestack Lightning” and”Naked Eye,” from “Odds and Sods,” closing with the anthem “My Generation.” He wasonstage for about 15 minutes. “I played long enough with them that no one booed and no one threwanything at the stage,” he says.
After the show, Halpin got to party with the band backstage; Daltrey gave Halpin kudos in the press later – and bootleg tapes showed that he did a decent job. And he won a special, one-time-only “Best Pickup Player Of The Year” award in Rolling Stone‘s critics’ poll at the end of the year.
And until his death ten years ago of an inoperable brain tumor, he was probably the luckiest pickup drummer in history.
1 As it largely has for me. Although last summer, I went to a show at the Seventh Street Entry making the 40th Anniversary of Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, with a Springsteen tribute band, “Tramps Like Us”. They do a good show, by the way. But they were doing “Something In The Night”, one of the more obscure deep cuts on the record, and the lead singer was flloundering for the words. And I was singing along at the foot of the stage, so rather incredibly, he handed me the mic and I finished out the last verse for him. Not exactly pinch-hitting for David Hidalgo on “Will The Wolf Survive”, but it was fun, and I thank that lead singer, whoever he was…