When Out And About This Weekend

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”.

Friday night, we’re at “Neighbors”, in Albertville. It’s our first time out there, and we’re looking forward to our first gig in the Northwest exurbs! We’ll be playing, roughly, from 9PM-1AM.

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!

https://www.facebook.com/Stillwater-Bowl-and-Lounge-969003089810159/

Hope you can stop out!

Siriusly Hateful

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. 
Joe Doakes

Lou Reed, being a New York “artist”, was given a pass on all that.

Blinded By The Date

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.

Living In Stereo

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.

Saint Noise

Kyle Smith on the Met’s new exhibit of notable musical instruments of the rock and roll era.

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.

The Gipper Meets The Boss

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:

This Weekend – Join The Herd!

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!

Listening To You, I Feel The Music

The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” turns 50 this year.

Kyle Shaeffer has a retrospective:

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…

With The Band

“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.

Takeaways:

  • 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.

The Squeakiest Wheel

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.

When Making Plans For The Next Three Nights

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 Need To Hit That Powerball. Stat.

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…

When Making Weekend Plans

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! [1]

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!)

[1] OK – to be accurate, it’s two songs. But hey, you’re not gonna get that from a dance club DJ, are you?

Fakes Like Us

Springsteen on Broadway – the Broadway hit just released on Netflix – is, as Kyle Smith describes it in National Review,

…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)

When You’re Making Your Weekend Plans

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!

The Bolt From The Blue

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

Almost.

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.

As Halpin told the story to the San Francisco Examiner  years later:

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…

Just Take My Money

Roger Daltrey has a new autobiography,  Thank You Mr. Kibblewhite.  It sounds like…

…well, exactly what one would expect of a Daltrey autobio.

Excerpt:

The band that would become The Who began in 1961 as the Detours, when Roger Daltrey, then age 17, talked bassist John Entwistle into joining his group. A few months later, guitarist Pete Townshend would join. During that period, Doug Sandom, a decade older than the rest of the members of the Detours, served as their drummer. He would leave the band in 1964, and be replaced by the now legendary Keith Moon, then age 18.

All during this time, Daltrey was driven by a statement from his headmaster at Acton County Grammar School, Mr. Kibblewhite, who told him on his 15th birthday that “you’ll never make anything of your life, Daltrey,” after expelling him for truancy. Determined to escape his lower-middle class existence in the west London district of Acton, Daltrey was driven to be the lead singer of a rock and roll group. What he couldn’t know is that he had stumbled into the rock and roll group, one of the most influential bands of the 1960s and 1970s.

And it’s off to B&N for me.

“We’re A Little Bit Older, But That Doesn’t Mean There’s Nothing New Left To Say…”

I think I may have mentioned it last week – I saw “Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul” at the Ames Center last Friday.

First – a word about the Ames Center, a place I’d only been to for a company meeting before.  For a room that’s clearly designed for community theater and high school music productions, it’s a wonderful venue for a rock and roll show for people who don’t want to go do the club thing anymore.

So here’s my TL:DR review.

On the one hand, Steve Van Zandt’s first album, “Men Without Women”, is one of my five favorite records of the rock and roll era. I’ve written about it before. You can even find it online, these days. It’s worth it.

I looked forward to the show for months – missing the original Disciples was one of my great regrets 35 years ago.

But I won’t say there wasn’t a little trepidation.

Reviews I heard from friends who saw earlier incarnations of the band said I may have done well waiting; back then, Van Zandt had a penchant for PLAYING REALLY REALLY LOUD, as in “Husker Du called and said turn it down please” loud, to the point where it was unenjoyable even for unreconstructed rockers like me.

And of course, back then he was very strident about his politics. He was the guy who wrote “Sun City”, the all-star rock-hop protest song about South Africa, and by far the biggest hit of his musical career…

…and let’s just say he started at the peak. His musical activism went downhill from there. How far downhill? The Alarm called and said “Hey, maybe dial it back a skosh?”

Point being, I don’t mind a little cognitive dissonance in my art – if I did, I’d be listening to country and Ted Nugent and little else. But getting browbeaten over politics when you’ve dropped a stack of money on a night out gets old fast.

But a few months back, I read that after a couple of election cycles of being very politically active, Bruce Springsteen had noted (around the time he got his Tony for his Broadway show) that he was dialing it back; he was starting to realize half his audience was getting tired of being browbeaten (even those of us conservatives for whom his music resonated for reasons utterly connected to our beliefs). I think Steve (Bruce’s longtime bandmate) got the message, mostly; at one point, he noted from the stage “…this is gonna be a *refuge* from politics”, to all kinds of cheering. And he largely did. More later.

And the volume was, well, perfect. Not too loud to feel like we were at an old-folks concert (although there were people at the show in walkers and wheelchairs, which would be just too clever for a writer to come up with if the night had been fiction). Not too quiet, so I could feel just a *little* rock and roll-y.

The band? Well, for starters, it was yuge. Fifteen people. Five piece horn section (including sax player Ed Manion, who in addition to being a longtime member of the Asbury Jukes and the Max Weinberg Seven, was the only other person onstage who’d played on Men Without Women), guitar, bass, drums, two keyboards (including Lowell Levinger, who was the guitar player in “The Youngbloods” fifty years ago, and doubled on mandolin and some middle-eastern bowed instrument that I couldn’t quite place), a percussionist with more gear than the drummer, Van Zandt on guitar, and three backup singers that didn’t stop dancing for two hours and occasionally almost stole the show.

And they were really, really good.  What’s more to say?

The music? Well, unless you’re a Jersey shore music trivia buff, you probably don’t know most of it; if you are, most of it has been in your DNA since you were in your teens and twenties.

They opened with a raveup of “Sweet Soul Music”, the Arthur Conley one-hit wonder from fifty years back, and followed up with:

  • Soul Fire (title from their current album).
  • Lying in a Bed of Fire (opener from “Men Without Women).
  • Inside of Me
  • Blues Is My Business (the Chicago blues classic)
  • Love On The Wrong Side Of Town – which Van Zandt changed up from the Asbury Jukes’ single version by rearranging it as more of a Phil Spector-meets-British Invasion sound, with a couple of jangling Rickenbacker guitars to complete the effect. I hope I can find this version out there somewhere – it was a welcome update to a classic warhorse).
  • Til The Good Is Gone (complete with audience singalong over the out ramp – and yes, I had been looking forward to that).
  • Angel Eyes – my favorite song off of Men Without Women. Almost a spiritual experience for me. You get it or you don’t.
  • I Am A Patriot – a reggae song off of “Voice of America”, and after Sun City maybe his best-known song – it gets played at stadiums constantly. You’ve probably heard it and don’t know it.
  • Under The Gun – with a long, extended percusson intro, oboe solo, and quarter-tone departure that was, musically, one of the highlights of the night.
  • Some Things Just Don’t Change – a song Van Zandt wrote for the Jukes a long time ago- .
  • Saint Valentine’s Day – the big single off the current album. Pretty sure he wrote and released it to prove he could still do retro soul. And he certainly can.
  • Standing In The Line Of Fire – a song Van Zandt wrote for Gary US Bonds during Bonds’ comeback in the eighties.
  • I Saw The LIght – Another one off of Soulfire
  • Salvation – the lone cut from 1999’s, “Born Again Savage”, Van Zandt’s fifth and last solo album before last year.
  • The City Weeps Tonight – an attempt at a doo-wop number with a not-very-subtle political undertone – two things that just don’t mix. The evening’s low point.
  • Down and Out In New York City – an early-70’s James Brown cover featuring solos by the entire horn section (and they were very, very good) – another musical highlight.
  • Princess of Little Italy – featuring Lowell Levinger on Mandolin and keyboard player Andy Burton filling Danny Federici’s shoes on accordion
  • Ride The Night Away – a huge raveup of the Jimmy Barnes classic.
  • Bitter Fruit – a song from “Freedom No Compromise”, Van Zandt’s 1987 worldbeat excursion and extended Anti-Reagan screed, an album that prompted my drummer at the time – a self-described socialist – to ask “Has Steve completely run out of ideas”? That being said, “Bitter Fruit” turned into a huge party raveup, with the entire band out downstage all but dancing in the crowd. Easily the most-improved song of the evening.
  • Forever – Van Zandt can’t *not* play Forever. That’d be like Paul McCartney not doing “Yesterday”, or the who eschewing “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.Heck – can’t not include “Forever”, and it’s not my show!

    Why would he not finish with it?   For half the crowd there, it would have been one of the night’s highlights, even if he’d just phoned it in. It’s of the most wonderful singles in rock history, one of the best songs of the early ’80s by any rational measure.   And they stuck the landing. Simply glorious.

That was the last song – although the band didn’t even bother putting their instruments down before the encore, the Van Zandt-penned Asbury Jukes classic “I Don’t Wanna Go Home”. And like every Asbury Jukes show, that’s where it ended.

Well, so I’d hoped. But no.

Van Zandt followed it up with “Out Of The Darkness”, Van Zandt’s biggest solo single (in terms of chart position, anyway), from 1985, his attempt at an eighties stye anthem.

And this was the most dissonant part, for me – because as dominated as as the evening was by old soul, R&B and blues covers and over two hours of painstakingly reconstructed Stax/Volt style retro-soul, “Darkness” was by far the most dated sounding song of the night.

But the crowd loved it

And I loved the show. But you probably caught that.

The Things Men Without Women Do

I’m doing something tonight I should have done 35 years ago – going to see Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul at the Ames in Burnsville.

“Who?”

He’s better known as Steve Van Zandt – aka “Miami Steve” from the E Street Band, or Silvio Dante from The Sopranos.  And as I wrote in this space six years ago, the band’s debut album Men Without Women is one of my three favorite albums.  Ever.

Ever!

Men Without Women was a horn-driven “white soul” record reminiscent of Stax/Volt, that reminded some critics of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.   It was recorded with an all-star cast of New York / New Jersey artists – Dino Danelli and Max Weinberg on drums, Felix Cavaliere and Roy Bittan on keys, Jean Bouvoir on bass, and the horn section from the Asbury Jukes (and, later, the Max Weinberg Seven and, today, the E Street Band).

And it was glorious. This was from two years ago:

This? Probably more like thirty years back, with the Asbury Jukes:

And from Mw/oW, for my money my favorite:

Van Zandt didn’t follow up with retro soul; his next album, Voice of America, was garage rock delivered with all the subtlety of an Angie Craig ad.  His nest three records all descended into worldbeat and a concomitant shrill far-left politics.  His sales reacted accordingly.

He was able to fall back on The Sopranos, his gig in the E Street Band, and Little Steven’s Underground Garage, one of the best syndicated music radio shows in the business.   But somewhere along the way he got the message; people liked the original Disciples.

And so that’s what he’s put together for this tour – not quite the original, but close:

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So my phone’ll be off from 7PM til further notice tonight…

 

When Out And About Tomorrow Night

My band, “Elephant in the Room”, will be playing at the Outpost in Ramsey Saturday night at 9PM.

It came up pretty suddenly – so our leather-lunged lead singer Tommy “The H Bomb” Huynh won’t be interrupting his family vacation for it.     It’ll be the old, four-piece version of EITR.

Anyway – come on out to the Outpost Saturday night.  You never know what’ll happen!

Krokodile Tearz For The Kidz

My kids were a little older – probably 9 and 7, which was not long before I started this blog, now that I think about it – when I first encountered “Kidz Bop”, an endless series of current pop songs, sung by a rotating but always identical-sounding group of pre-teens, bowdlerized for a pre-teen audience.

It always annoyed me – and made sure I never got any for the kids.  I figured that’d come early enough.

Now that my kids are in their twenties, it’s really not .an issue for me; the loathsome nature of modern pop music became one of the lesser problems, although the laothsome pop music of the day was the soundtrack to the worst of the teenage years.

But others did buy them – enough to put several of the compilations on the Billboard Hot 100 Albums over the past decade and a half.

This piece in Vox (motto:  “The WaPo Libsplains America!) has issues with the series – for similar reasons to mine, but not at all the same.

A 2017 study on the effects of censorship in Kidz Bop found that replacing phrases does not actually wipe lyrical recognition from children’s minds if they have already heard the original song.

I’m trying to imagine anyone who thought it might.  Given the way kids – and kidz – pass on information they;re not supposed to know about the grownup world, it’s pretty inevitable, at least among people who have, or have been, actual kids.

Even if it did, what Kidz Bop is enforcing is also not kid-appropriate: The study says the music perpetuates the sociological phenomenon of “kids getting older younger” (KGOY), which claims that marketing is pushing kids out of their childhood earlier and earlier. The study says that repackaging adult music as kids’ music doesn’t eliminate the adult messages, even though some words and phrases are changed.

One source quoted in the study is Christopher Bell, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs who is an expert on how race, class, and gender intersect with children’s media.

Of courses he is.   Else, he wouldn’t have been in Vox.

He has hosted a TED talk on female superheroes, is currently consulting on an upcoming Pixar movie (which he cannot talk about because of a very long NDA), and is an avowed Kidz Bop hater.

He sees the product as both lazy and emblematic of our mistaken views on what censorship accomplishes. Kids’ media may take out “bad words,” but it doesn’t fix the problem of violence and oversexualization of women in media and pop culture.

They – the author and Mr. Belll – come periliously close to an insight in the rest of the article (which is worth a read, sort of);

Censorship doesn’t fix the problem of “over-sexualization of women in media” – because children themselves are over-sexualized.    Eight is the new thirteen…

…thanks, largely, to the popular culture that Vox (and the WaPo, which holds Vox’s leash) have been promoting and profiting off of.