And Here You Go

After about 32 years of trying to write music, a year of recording stuff, and a few months of frantic planning, it’s here:  the debut (and who knows, likely final) album by my band, The Supreme Soviet of Love.

See Red goes onsale today at your favorite music online music retailer:

The album includes a few songs that date back to the eighties – “Fourth of July”, “Chicago” and “Great Northern Avenue” are songs I used to play with bands back at the Seventh Street Entry way back when.

Others – “The Wonders Each New Day Brings”, “Almost Monday” and “Snake”, among others – are things I wrote in the past year, largely to prove to myself that the whole thing wasn’t just a nostalgia exercise.

And a couple others – “Shotgun”, “The Ugly LIghts” – split the difference; they’re lyrical reboots of ideas that’ve been knocking around my head for years, sometimes decades.

Anyway – the album is on sales as of today:

Coming soon (like, probably today) on:

  • iHeart Radio
  • YouTube Music
  • Spotify
  • Pandora

And hey – it’s priced to move!

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind y’all one last time:


Tomorrow (Saturday) Night:  Elephant in the Room (rock and roll covers, ’50s-’90s) at the Sundance in Maple Grove

8-12PM.  No cover.


Sunday Night:  Album Release Party; The Supreme Soviet of Love at O‘Gara’s in Saint Paul

5-9PM:  $5 cover.


Hope to see you there!

2017 Tour

Waaaay back last summer, when I  planned to release a Supreme Soviet of Love album, I picked a date:  November 12.  A Sunday night.  Few conflicts, start and finish times early enough to get everyone home for the evenings news – perfect!

My other band, “Elephant in the Room”, after taking taking a few months off to learn new material and change lineup, on the other hand, spent most of the year looking for a gig.

Any gig.

So between scheduleing a Supreme Soviet of Love gig for November 12 way back in July, and today, what happened?

Of course Elephant in the Room landed a gig for November 11.

So talk about this weekend!.


Saturday, November 11 – the Sundance in Maple Grove

Elephant in the Room will be playing at the Sundance in Maple Grove from 8 to midnight.  

EITR does classic rock covers from the 1950s through the 1990s – a grab bag of Elvis, the Kinks, Ian Hunter, the Cars, Bad Company, the Stones, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, the Eagles, Steve Miller, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Johnny Cash…

…well, pretty much anything that grabs you from that entire forty year period.

And the Sundance – which I just visited for the first time last weekend – is a nice place; bowling, golf (probably not much of that ’til spring), good pizza, decent beer selection, “Steak Night” on Saturdays ’til 8PM (just $10!), and, of course, live entertainment.  That’d be us, of course.  No cover that I”m aware of, which makes it even nicer.

It feels like it’s way out there – but it’s actually super easy to get to:

It should be a fun night and a fun gig.

Hope you can make it!


Sunday, November 12 – O’Gara’s in Saint Paul

This gets complicated, so stick with me, here:

“The Supreme Soviet of Love” will be having the album release party for its first (and wjho knows, maybe only) album, See Red this coming Sunday at O’Gara’s.

See Red includes a bunch of songs – a couple of them going back to the 1980s (we’ve encountered some of them here), and a whole lot more that I wrote in the past year just to prove to myself that the whole thing wasn’t a nostalgia exercise.

Who knows – it may have been both.  I don’t know.  And I don’t care!

The Supreme Soviet of Love will go onstage at 8PM, and come hell or high water we’ll be out of there by 9PM;  you’ll be home in plenty of time for the 10PM evening news, or the 10PM rerun of Walking Dead if that’s what you prefer.

There’s a $5 cover – 100% of which goes to pay the rest of the band.  Me?  I’m hoping to sell CDs (and they’ll be on sale there, as well as available for download on iTunes, Amazon or wherever you like to get your music from.

And by the way, the opening act, going on stage at 6:30ish, will be…

…Elephant in the Room.  Yep.  I’ll be opening for myself.    That’s one way to save money!

I’ll be hanging out after loadout until they kick me out of there, for anyone who wants to talk politics, music, beer, food, or whatever you got.


So I hope, in an ideal world, you can make both shows; the Sundance could become a regular gig if we draw a lot of people, and of course the album release party has been on my bucket list since Ronald Reagan was president.

Either one would be great, though!

Swinging Singles

As I noted last March, I’ve been playing guitar for 40 years.

I moved to the Twin Cities 32 years ago, largely to try to be a musician.

And since either or both of those events, I’ve been dreaming about making this announcement:

My first single [1], “The Wonders Each New Day Brings”, is out today.  It’s on most of your major music vendors:

Amazon.

iTunes

(It’s also on Pandora, Spotify and any number of other music services)

The album See Red is also available for pre-order; it will be released 11/10.

[1] OK, it’s technically a “Teaser Track”, not a single.  I don’t care.

Art Of Noise

So the Supreme Soviet of Love’s first album, See Red, is off to the printers.   My son Zam – who’s in school for graphic design – did the front cover art:

So I’m committed now.  The album goes on sale on November 10 (I hope), on both CD and digital  download; with a little luck the “teaser” (they used to be called “Singles”), currently a song called “The Wonders Each New Day Brings”, should come out a week from today, if all goes well.

So – hope you can make it to the Release Party for “See Red”, November 12 at O’Gara’s in Saint Paul!

World Tour 2017

Boy, is the weekend of November 10-12 going to be busy.

First – one of my bands, “Elephant in the Room”, is going to be playing at the Sundance in Maple Grove:

If you’re in the Northwest Suburbs that night, I hope you can stop by!

And then the next night, November 12, my other band, the Supreme Soviet of Love is having the release party for our first album, “See Red”, at O’Gara’s:

Doors open at 5PM, and the Supreme Soviet of Love goes on at 8PM.  Come on down, have a beer, enjoy a few tunes, hang out after for the closest thing to a MOB party I’ve been able to put together in a while!

Maybe I’ll print tour t-shirts…

George Barron

When people talk about what is wrong with American education today, at the end of the day most of the answers come back as some variation of “there aren’t more teachers out there like George Barron used to be”.

George Barron was my high school chemistry teacher…sort of.  He passed away late last month.

I say he was “sort of” my chemistry teacher because it didn’t really go well.  I mention this lest you think that this is going to turn into one of those Pollyanna-ish stories about teachers – Stand and Deliver or Mister Holland’s Opus or Watch Misplaced Teacher Turn The Meth-Heads Into Math-Heads or whatever –  where some plucky teacher triumphs over the recalcitrant kid (and the system that keeps them down, natch) and teaches everyone the Big Lesson by the end of the story.   It’s not.

Well, not directly.  Indirectly, it very much is.  But we’ll come back to that.

A solid generation before I took his chemistry class, George Barron was – or so I was told – a Navy dive-bomber pilot.  He didn’t talk about the war – none of the small group of teachers that were WWII veterans ever did – although he did make sure we knew that, during the war, he trusted his life to a tailgunner not much older than we.  Us, on the other hand?  He didn’t trust us to fetch donuts from the bakery. We had a way to go before we got there.

Judging by old high school annuals, Mr. Barron got out of the Navy, came to Jamestown, and became a chemistry teacher.  I know he was teaching when my father was a student, back in the fifties; he was still there when my dad came back to teach in the mid-sixties, and he was still teaching in 1979 when I was a sophomore in high school.  His legend preceded him; you learned a lot from his classes (Jamestown High School produced an inordinate number of doctors and scientists in those days, all of them alums of Barron’s classes), but he was tough.  .

I was not.  Not academically, at least.  I’d spent 9th and 10th grade bored out of my skull; English was a mind-numbing reiteration of grammar classes; History was taught by football coaches who had read less of the material than I had; but for languages (three years of German), Orchestra and Stage Band, I had pretty well checked out.

Which wasn’t a great start.

Toward the end of my sophomore year, as we were signing up for next year’s classes, we got a mimeographed sheet from Mr. Barron explaining that:

  • People who wanted to go to college took Chemistry.  People who wanted to go to Vocational school took “Practical Chemistry” from Barron’s associate, Mr. Scherbenske.  People who wanted neither, took neither.
  • He was tough, and made no excuses for it.  He had standards, and if you didn’t measure up, you’d get an “F”.

The page included a list of students who’d succeeded, and students who’d dropped the class – which struck me as a little odd at the time.  But I signed up anyway.

Of course, on top of everything else my junior year, Chemistry hit me like a truck.  Oh, Mr. Barron’s class hit everyone like a truck – but I was really, truly not ready for that.   I was disorganized, didn’t really have the math down, and just could not keep up.

I’d love to say there was an inspirational speech, or some moment standing at the blackboard trying to calculate a reaction where I had a blinding flash of epiphany that would be presented in a movie with a montage of late-night studying, slow improvement, and cutaway shots of Mr. Barron’s implacable grimace slowly softening into the hint of a smile.

But that’s Hollywood.  Me?  I cratered.  After my first six-weeks’ grade (a solid “F”), I dropped the class.  No, I didn’t switch to study hall; I managed to talk my way into Latin I; I started seven weeks behind the rest of the class, and caught up by the end of the semester.

My other classes?  I jumped from the C’s and D’s and occasional F’s of my first two years of high school to mostly A’s and B’s.  This was also my first year at the radio station – and I threw myself into that as well, and learned a lot of radio by the end of the year.  Part of it was that I was finally taking classes I cared about, and taking them from teachers who actually cared about the material themselves – my dad’s speech class, writing and a few others in particular.

Part of it was to not only live down, but expunge the stench of “quitting”.

Toward the end of my junior year, a sophomore friend handed me a copy of Mr. Barron’s mimeograph for the next year’s class. My stomach fell down my leg in an icy ball of confusion; I was listed among the kids who’d dropped the class.

My first reaction was to hunt him down and make him eat a bunson burner.  But the girl who’d sat behind me in class – let’s call her Lori – said “he’s just putting you out there as an example of a smart kid who didn’t gel with the class”.  It may have been BS, but I felt a little better.

The main point being, I spent the rest of that year, and the next, living that scarlet “Q” down.  And through four years of college, where I averaged over 20 credits a semester.  And the decades since, where in trial after trial, “don’t quit” has been the only real palatable solution.

And I owe that to Mr. Barron.

His “practical chem” colleague, another former Barron student, and my dad’s chess partner, Mr. Scherbenske, wrote a memorial to Mr. Barron in my hometown paper that sums the man up pretty well.

When Making Your Weekend Plans Two Months Out

It’s the working cover…

Looking for an early Sunday night out?  Block out the evening of November 12 at O’Gara’s in Saint Paul for my band, “The Supreme Soviet Of Love“, and the album release party (and only live date) for our first (and maybe only) album, See Red. 

Doors open at 5PM.   The opening act (“Elephant in the Room”) opens the show with a set of covers from the ’60s through the ’90s.   The SSOLs set begins at 8PM sharp.

Need a sample?  Here  you go

Anyway – I’ll post the EventBrite later this month.

I’m not quite gonna call it “The MOB Winter Party” – but if any Mobsters wanna show up for a drink or two after the gig (and before teardown), I’m totally there.

Long Weekend?

I’m taking an exceedingly rare sick day today.

Given that there’s a Holiday weekend coming up, I may not do a lot of regular posting until Wednesday.

Enjoy the weekend!

Our Passive-Aggressive Overlords

A friend of the blog writes:

Thought you’d enjoy this, from the people who say, “it’s not about entitlement for bicyclists, and we don’t hate cars” oh really? Yet you say Summit Ave should look like this, congested for one bike rider?

 

Which links to…:

First things first: I love biking. I love biking on Summit. And there are days when Summit, especially down by Lexington, does look exactly like that.

But the correspondent is right.  When you watch “Urban Planners” (the people who make cyclocentrism possible) when they think nobody’s watching, the level of Urban Minnesotan Passive-Aggression is nauseating.  The primary goal is as much about sticking it to drivers as it is about “bike-friendliness”; de-timing stoplights, putting obstacles and chicanes in roads to “calm” (read: snarl) traffic, and giving away traffic lanes to bikes, transit and trains.

Or whatever.  As long as the Car People end up getting pissed on.

Pledge Week!

It’s time once again for my annual pledge drive.

‘m not going to go all Andrew Sullivan and say “If I don’t raise $80K, the blog will have to shut down”.  As I’ve said before – I’d do this blog for free, and I’d do it for five readers a day (not counting myself).  But I’m not above passing the hat once in a while.

But if you like the blog, and it’s worth a few bucks, I appreciate every dime of support I get during my annual pledge week (which is usually more like 2-3 days – try that with MPR!)

I thank you in advance for any donations, and thank you for your support over this past fifteen years.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle, Year 11, Day 1

Why yes – it was ten years ago I started biking to work again.

Of course, I haven’t had ten straight years of biking.  After four years of working downtown (in easy biking distance), I followed up with a year of working someplace with a sixteen mile ride across Saint Paul, Minneapolis, Saint Louis Park and all the way to Hopkins, and then a few years where biking was just not practical.    I had a job two years ago that involved a fairly interesting ride from Saint Paul to Bloomington – but that ended after five months.

But now that I work out of my house (fingers crossed, knock wood), the time is right again.

So I got out and rode to downtown Saint Paul yesterday.

And I was surprised.  For not having ridden much in the past two years, it could have been a lot worse.  My legs actually worked the rest of the day, and when I woke up this morning.  Which was more than I could say ten years ago, when I started for the first time.

But I think I’ll give the legs a day off today…

Bullet The Cement Sky

If you remember my “Twenty Years Ago Today” series from way back when, you may recall that one of the things that drew me to the Twin Cities, 32 years ago this fall, was the music scene.  While I had not the foggiest idea at age 22 what I wanted to do for a career (and happened back into radio by blind luck), I did know I wanted to be a musician.  And so the fact that Minneapolis had a thriving music scene in 1985 played as much into my decision of where to move after college as anything.

I’d been writing music like a madman ever since I moved to the Cities; between December of 1985 and the following Christmas, I probably wrote 60-70 songs, and probably cut demos of 30-40 of them on my Fostex X-15 four-track cassette deck.

A Fostex X-15 tape deck. With it, a cheap drum machine , and a bass and my guitars, I recorded dozens of fairly elaborate demo tapes for the music I was writing like a madman at the time.

Eventually I worked up the nerve to take out an ad in the City Pages, and start an actual band.

That November, I found three guys.  That December – 1986 – we had our debut gig, and the old “McReady’s Pub” in downtown Minneapolis (where the Gateway parking ramp now stands).

And thirty years ago today, the gig that, ever so briefly, made me think like I’d made the right call, and might just be on my way.

The band was “Tenant’s Union” – and we’d gotten booked to play “New Band Night” at the Seventh Street Entry.

The Tuesday night gig was normally a dead end for bands; you got $20, and you played in the reverse order that the band showed up in.  We got there first, so we were the last band up -which ordinariy meant you just played for the dumbest drunks.

But this wasn’t just any night.

For starters, it was the day U2’s The Joshua Tree came out.

Which didn’t really bear on the gig, so much – it was completely unrelated. However, I’d picked it up on my way to work at KSTP that day, and had jacked my brain up into an expanded level of adrenaline-soaked frenzy listening to “Where The Streets Have No Names” and “In God’s Country” and “Bullet The Blue Sky” all day.

So I was pretty jazzed.

Second – and much more important?

It was Saint Patrick’s ‘Day.

Part of that meant that half the band – a couple of brothers from a large family of 100% Irish descent – were on an emotional tear.

And part of it meant that “Boiled in Lead”, the legendary Twin Cities traditional Irish band – would be playing the main room.

Now, Boiled In Lead was a great band.  Indeed, they still are.

But I don’t care who you are, and I don’t care how Hibernian you fancy yourself or how much Guinness you drink or how much you say “ting” instead of “Thing” – people can only stand so much Bodhran drum and uilleann pipe music before they need a break.

And the only place to take that break that night was over to the Seventh Street Entry.

And so by the time we got on stage, the place was packed to its capacity.

High-budget stuff, huh? It’s our poster for our Saint Patrick’s Day 1987 gig at the Entry. From left to right, it’s Matt on bass, Corey on guitar, WIlly on drums, and me over on the right on guitar, harmonica and occasionally keyboards.

I have no idea what that “capacity” was.  I’m sure the number has grown over the years; in my mind, there were a solid 200 people there that night.

It took me a bit, but I remembered the set list from that night:

  1. Tiger Tiger (A song by Willy, the drummer – yes, it was a William Blake reference.  I told you he was Irish).
  2. Five Bucks and a Transfer (My song about having…well, the title says it. It shamelessly stole the beat from The Pretenders’ “Message of Love”, but it was a way better song, if I say so myself.  And I do say so myself).
  3. Switchyard Blues (think The Who covering Mose Allison.  I played a VERY mean harmonica that night)
  4. Espresso Corey (he other guitar player, Corey’s ode to working in a crappy coffee shop back before everyone was doing it)
  5. Ride Shotgun (wherein I pilfed the riff to “Jackson Cage” and the harmony guitar part from Big Country’s “Tall Ships Go” to grand effect)
  6. Blood On The Bricks (the Iron City Houserockers’ classic)
  7. Oh Suzanne (a bald-faced mash note)
  8. Fourth Of July (a song I still play at the occasional open stage night)
  9. Long Gray Wire (a song I’d written in about five minutes in the car on the way to practice one night.  Still one of the coolest experiences of my life.  Great tune, too)
  10. Great Northern Avenue (a song I’ve quoted on this blog before, and still by a long shot the favorite song I’ve ever written)

And we were smokin’ hot.  The sloppiness of our first two gigs had been replaced by a fearsome tightness and confidence…

…although we’d still not gotten over the nerves entirely.  We played very fast that night.  Between the speed, the tightness, and the fact that we were very loud, some thought we were a speed medal or thrash band; some people started moshing out on the floor.

This I didn’t expect.

It was a spectacular success.  Musicians who saw us asked us to open for them.  Other bars started booking us.  People paid a little bit of attention.

It didn’t last – it rarely does.

The band soldiered on in one form or another until 1989 – and did a one-off gig under a different name in 1996, at the Turf Club.  Then came marriage, kids, careers, adult life.

There’s never much point in dwelling on the past.   But taking five to remember one of the highlights can’t be all bad.

Postscript:   One of the songs – our big finale, as it happens.  It’s a different band, here, but it’s basically the same song, all full of country-mouse chip on the shoulder and carpet-bombing “wall of sound” guitars that I put on that four-track cassette back in the summer of 1986.

And you might surmise there’s another musical project underway.  And you’d be right.

More on that later.

Starting Decade Five

It was a wet, cold, slushy March evening in Jamestown, ND.  I was in the basement of the FIrst Presbyterian Church, at a church youth group meeting.

Notable fact about the group:  one of the group’s leaders, a student at Jamestown College, would eventually have a son named Jared, who’d become an all-star defensive tackle for the Vikings.  The guy who eventually became Jared Allen’s father was no slouch of an athlete himself; he was one of the very few people from that NAIA Division III school ever to get a walk-on tryout with an NFL team – I think it was the Rams, and I think he got as close to making the cut as anyone from an NAIA III school ever did.

But the story’s not about  him or his future son.

The kids in the group were what passed for my “best friends” at that socially awkward time of my life, probably, sort of.  Which isn’t to say that cliques didn’t find their way into the group.  Immune to cliqueishness as I’d always been, some teenage angst was inevitable.

And for whatever reason, I had a nemesis at the youth group.  Her name was Cindy.  She didn’t like me, and the feeling was mutual.

And I watched, teeth clenched, as Cindy uncased a guitar and started strumming out a song of some kind or another.

I will play guitar.  And I will play it better than Cindy, I resolved to myself.

I went home that night, and dug through the closet in the room I shared with my little brother.  There, I muttered.  The guitar.

It was a guitar that someone had left in my dad’s classroom back in the mid-sixties.  It’d sat in Dad’s locker, forgotten, for several years, before he brought it home – this on the day of the first moon landing, as I (possibly falsely) remember.

And after a little dilatory plinking, it spent the next eight years doing what most guitars do in the hands of little boys; it served as a machine gun, a fort for toy soldiers, an aircraft carrier for toy planes – pretty much everything but a guitar.

But those days had passed.   I needed a guitar, and a guitar it would again be.

It’d take all my stingy, cheapskate resourcefulness to make that happen.  The guitar had been a very cheap guitar even when brand new – a “May-Bell”, the kind of thing you got in the Sears catalog for $19,99 back in the sixties;  it was apparently part of a long line of cheap instruments.

Not my guitar, but close.

Its years of abuse had left it the worse for wear; there was a crack in the back and another in the front; it had two remaining strings, and it was missing three tuning heads.

I wasn’t completely green at this; I had played cello since fourth grade, and had picked up a few tricks, and had a few contacts.   I gathered my paper route savings and went to work.

And so on Monday, March 14, 1977, I walked into Midwest Music – a tiny little hole in the wall on main street in Jamestown.  I bought a pack of strings, dug through an odds and ends box for some parts to assemble some one-of-a-kind tuning machines, and a little tube of wood glue to try to repair the cracks.

I also bought a copy of the Gene Leis “Nexus Method” guitar book – basically a chapter on how to hold the instrument, a chapter on how to read chord frames, and then 20 pages of photos of chords.

Gene Leis, who passed away in 1993, but whose advice -make your chords automatic – are words to live by If you can find a copy of Leis’ “Nexus” guitar method book, you could do a LOT worse.

It was a fortuitous choice; the book’s tag lines said “If you don’t know your chords you’ll never play enough guitar to be dangerous”, and I took it to heart.   It was a brilliant maxim, and it served me well.   And I had one huge benefit – four years on the cello had taught me out to keep time, what intervals and chords were, and how music fit together.

The maxim was good.  Unfortunately, for all my cheapskate ingenuity, the MayBell was another story.  While I did a serviceable job repairing it, it was pretty much a disaster of a guitar.  It wouldn’t stay in tune (the wood glue didn’t really fix the cracks, and more importantly didn’t give the structure enough rigidity to stay in tune at all).

It was there that serendipity stepped in.

My dad had spent the previous year on sabbatical from his job at the high school, teaching in the education department at the college up on the hill.  One of his students was a young woman who was a music and education major from rural northern Californnia, who had just dragged her fiance – who, in a fun example of the circularity that seems to plague my autobiographical stories in this blog, was the future father of Jared Allen (whom you met in the second paragraph above).  They had broken up; Mr. Allen had a new girlfriend and a new best friend from the football team (a guy from Crystal, MN named Mick Burns, who is now a Presbyterian minister in Virginia) who asked him to come down and help with the youth group at the church…

…but I’m digressing.  Jared Allen’s future father’s ex-fiance, Jenny, who’d become a bit of a friend of the family, noticed how gamely I was wrestling with the jury-rigged MayBell, and noted that she had a Yamaha classical guitar that she’d tried learning to play once upon a time, and didn’t have time for, and that I could borrow until she graduated from college.

And so I set to work with a vengeance and, armed with the knowledge of what a guitar sounded like when it could actually stay in tune, and 20 pages of chords to learn, I started learning music.

And ran quickly up on a reef of ignorance; I just didn’t know that much music, other than the classical stuff I played on my cello at school.  My parents, God bless ’em, weren’t musicians, much – and when the radio was on around the house, it was usually tuned into CBW in Winnipeg, because it was the closest thing to NPR you could get in rural North Dakota at the time.

had heard a few songs by one artist, though – John Denver.  And so I grabbed a copy of the sheet music for his Greatest Hits album.

And for probably six months, I sat in my room most every night and woodshedded on that album. “Follow Me” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” were the first songs I ever managed to play coherently – and from there, my musical world kept expanding; “Back Home Again” was where I had my “ah hah!” moment on how fourths and fifths play together, and how to do a rolling sixth (which you use in every Chuck Berry song, and thus most everything the Rolling Stones and Mike Campbell ever played). “Take Me Home, Country Roads” taught me how relative minors work – and you can’t play anything on Born to Run without relative minors!  I got to “Sunshine On My Shoulders” – and discovered the perfect song for learning the basics of fingerpicking. The whole thing is a languid eighth-note pattern – like drumming your fingers on the table, once you learn your chords. And “Rocky Mountain High” is a great little workout on how chords fit together.

And so by the middle of that summer, I could play…a bunch of John Denver songs. It seemed like it took forever – and occasionally felt like it. My fingers did, occasionally, literally bleed. In retrospect, it was blazingly fast; anger was a great motivator!

But even then, I knew – knowing how to play John Denver wasn’t going to land me any babes.  And so I started branching out.

I found a copy of the sheet music for “Sundown”, by Gordon Lightfoot, and learned how to play moving chords fluidly in a progression.

And right after that – in July of ’77 – while sitting and listening to the radio in my room, I heard Styx’s gloppy, pompous faux-art-rock classic “Come Sail Away”. It was inescapable back then, let’s be honest.

And as I played along with the big, climactic guitar part, I strummed a “C” – and then an “F”, and a “G”, and then back to the “F” – and it all clicked; that’s how the song went together.  I learned it by follow a standard chord progression (1 to 4 to 5 – the progression you use for everything from “Louie Louie” to “Wild Thing” to  “Twist and Shout” to “Born to Run”), and back, without needing to buy sheet music for it

And it was like the floodgates opened.  By that fall, I would sit in the chair in the corner of the room I still shared with my brother, doing homework, with my guitar at my feet, and listen for any songs to cross the radio that I wanted to learn; I’d pick apart the chord progression, faster and faster, and pretty soon be playing along pretty fluently; by early winter, I knew most of the KFYR “Torrid Twenty” every week.  I learned hundreds of songs – some that I still remember;

Why yes – learning this song DID make me edgy back then. And it’d be months, maybe a year, before I learned who “Bruce Springsteen was”.

“Hot Child in the City” by Nick Gilder, “Fooling Yourself” by Styx, “Logical Song” and “Give A Little BIt” by Supertramp,  “Help Is On Its Way” by the LIttle River Band, “Three TImes a Lady” by the Commodores, “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty, “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” by Meatloaf, “Dancing Queen” by Abba, “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas (fingerpicking and all), “Magnet and Steel” by Walter Egan, “Still the One” by Orleans, “Night Moves” and “Hollywood Nights” and “Mainstreet” and  “Still The Same” by Bob Seger, “Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue” by Crystal Gayle, “Because the Night” by…Patti Smith (it’d be months before I learned who Bruce Springsteen was), “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne, “Wild Fire” by Michael Murphy, “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon – and learned them so indelibly I can play all of them, note for note and word for word, today – even the one hit wonders (Nick Gilder?  Really?  Yes.  Yes, I can).

And sometime in the next year, it led me to my next big project; learning how to be a lead guitar player.  And after hours of trying to decipher how it was done, I had my first victory; the solo from “More than a Feeling”, by Boston.

If you were an adolescent in 1977 and this song doesn’t make your heart go “poing”, I’m not sure you were an adolescent in 1977.

And once that fell into place, the whole musical world opened up to me; by tenth grade, I was not just a greasy-haired dweeb.  I was a guitar player.   I had an identity, and it was damn fine.

And it started forty years ago this past Tuesday.

One thing that ended not long after that anniversary was my junior-high enmity with Cindy.  We actually became friends through high school and then college.  And around college graduation, I mentioned to her that she was the reason I started playing guitar in the first place.

“Huh”, she responded  “I think I quit the guitar right after that”.

Anyway – I got hooked.  About a year after I rebuilt the Maybell – just before Jenny graduated and needed her guitar back – I bought my first guitar, a Ventura acoustic that I still have (although it needs some TLC).  Then, the summer after 9th grade, my first electric, a 1961 Fender Jazzmaster.  I still play that one; God wiling, I’ll hand it down to my son, also a guitar player, someday.

And eight years later, it led me elsewhere.

More later today.

Note For This Week

I’m running a round of usability testing this entire week.

Which means I’m going to be in a lab, focusing on people doing stuff with software.

Which means if your comment goes in the moderation queue, it will be likely late afternoon before I can get around to approving comments.

That is, of course, for those of you whose comments get approved pro forma.  Those of you on suspension will still need to do what you were asked to do to unblock your comments.

I apologize for the inconvenience.

Teenage Wasteland

One of my blog resolutions (besides “laughing over the online graves of so many liberal blogs”) is to spend a little less time on politics this year, and a little more on some of my other main subjects – history and of course music.

The band I played in back in 1987. This was the poster for the gig I wrote about in this story, almost ten years ago.

Music’s gotten short shrift lately; I wrote a grand total of thirteen posts about music all last year, and three of them were obituaries.

So it’s time to do a sort of musical palate-cleanser, I’m just going to reprise something that was going around social media the week of New Years; the top ten albums that affected you as a teenager.

Which is of course, a curve-ball; there are albums that have had a bigger influence on my life than some of these; “Shoot Out the Lights” by Richard Thompson, most of the Dire Straits catalog, and so on.

But here’s a start, in rough ascending order.

Gordon Lightfoot, “Gord’s Gold”

Yep. You heard that right. Loved that album back then. Still do.   Part of it was just that Lightfoot had a real way with a hook.   Part of it was that I learned a lot about playing acoustic guitar from listening to him.

And part of it was because even then, I very counterintuitively liked Lightfoot’s persona.  Not sure why that very un-teenagery image grabbed me, but it did.  So sue me.

Styx, “The Grand Illusion”

This one’s going to be a little counterintuitive.  If you know me, it may even come as a shock.

I detest Styx. Especially anything sung by Dennis DeYoung. However, one of the defining things about my identity as a teenager – really, the first part I liked – was as a guitar player and a rock and roller.

And “Come Sail Away”, “Fooling Yourself” and “Miss America” were the first songs I figured out how to play on guitar by ear, without any help or sheet music or anything. And once I figured them out, the dam broke and I learned *hundreds* of songs just by listening to the radio. Indeed, throughout high school my evening homework-time ritual was to tune in KFYR in Bismarck and listen as I did my reading and math; if I heard a song I liked, I’d grab my guitar and figure it out along with the radio.

And so as much as I loathe Styx, being able to play “stump the band” with the best of them was a yuuuge influence on me as a teenager.

Pretenders

Yeah, I’ll cop to it; the album had the whole “Chrissy Hynde meets teenage hormones” bit.  And you had the same issue, back then (assuming you’re a straight male of a certain age, a lesbian with impeccable taste, or a hetero-curious gay guy, I suppose.  I dunno).

Anyway, the album (especially James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar parts) was just as manic and all-over-the-place as I was back then. Listening to Honeyman-Scott, I started to think “maybe I can do this “lead guitar” thing.

And that was a very, very big thing for me.

And did I mention Chrissy Hynde?

Boston

To a genation of hipper-than-thou punks, “Boston” was to music what WalMart was to shopping.

But even at the nadir of my hipper-than-thou punk phase, I loved this album. The *sound* of the record itself was just freaking thrilling. I think even before I knew anything about *producing* music, I was drawn to the whole idea of production as art, and this record is why.

Case in point:  the wall of guitar feedback from 1:49 to 1:57 of this song.  Feedback was nothing new – Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townsend had made it an art form – but this particular little squall was a simultaneously a raw blast of power combined with a subtle harmonic progression (like opening up the drawbars on a Hammond organ) and and rhythmic, like using feedback as a drum fill.  It was a little production filigree, a gorgeous little instrumental aside that turned a run-of-the-mill seventies pop-rock song into something you could dissect for hours, and years, and write about (ahem) forty years later, and always find something new in.   It was about as organic as Splenda – it was the product of layering guitars like a Phil Spector “wall of sound”, and more high-tech processing than a Queen album.  But who cared?  It – among many similar little bits of production magic – was just glorious and made you feel glad to be alive.

Also – “More than a Feeling” was the first guitar solo I ever learned how to play.  I sat down when I was probably 15 and learned the whole thing, note for note, like someone trying to learn how to order food in Japanese phonetically.

And once I knocked that out, I was a lead guitar player – ergo, for the first time in my high school life, I was cool.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Damn the Torpedoes”

This album was, and is, my audio encyclopedia of everything that is great about rock and roll.

Seriously – it’s hard to even count the number of ways this album smacked me, 37 [koff koff] years ago.

But goodness knows I’ve tried; this article here did as good a job of it as I’ve ever managed to pull together myself.

And the song “Even the Losers” gave me hope, back then; sometimes, even us losers did get lucky.  And it probably did the same to you.

Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, “Men Without Women”

Men Without Women is a glorious record in its own right – all huge hooks and raw, blazing emotions and pure brilliance. It’s still one of my three favorites of all time.

Beyond that? There wasn’t a lot of musical diversity in rural North Dakota when I was a kid. Seventies R&B never really spoke to me.

And I listened to Mw/oW, and a light went on over my head, and I wandered into the back room at the station I was at at the time, and dug out a bunch of Sam and Dave and Smokey Robinson and Four Tops records, and felt that clicking sound when ideas drop into place.

Mw/oW opened the door, first to Stax/Volt, then Motown, and an entire new world of music.

John Denver’s “Greatest Hits”.

When I was 14, I was a little too tall, coulda used a few pounds.  I was a junior high loser, never made it with the ladies…

…’til I decided to give myself a “cool” transplant and teach myself the guitar.  And I figured, using my analytical sense, that I needed to learn to play something.

I’d heard a few John Denver songs.  They sounded accessible.  And so I bought a copy of his Greatest Hits for $3 in a cutout bin, because I figured (correctly) it’d be a good way to each myself at least something on guitar.

And it worked!

“Follow Me” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” were the first songs I ever managed to play coherently, reading from book of sheet music. “Back Home Again” was where I had my “ah hah!” moment on how fourths and fifths play together, and how to do a rolling sixth (which you use in every Chuck Berry song, and thus most everything the Rolling Stones and Mike Campbell ever played). “Take Me Home, Country Roads” taught me how relative minors work – and you can’t play anything on Born to Run without relative minors!

“Sunshine On My Shoulders” is the perfect song for teaching yourself the basics of fingerpicking (the whole thing is a languid eighth-note pattern – hard NOT to play right!). And “Rocky Mountain High” is a great little workout on how chords fit together (and, I discovered after thirty-odd years of being too cool for it, not a half-bad album or song); combine that with your finger-picking from “Sunshine”, above, and kablooie, you’re Mark Knopfler.  Just like that!

So while I hushed up about the whole “I own a John Denver record” thing by about eighth grade, it was that record that was the key to playing the guitar, and playing the guitar was the key to whatever self-confidence I had as a teenager – including the self-confidence I needed to walk up to Bob Richardson and apply for my first radio job.

So it’s kind of a big deal.

The Clash, “London Calling”

Mostly first and second takes, recorded rough and ready, it was sort of the “do it yourself” album that spoke to my chaotic nature, making me think “I could do this!”.

Also, nobody else at Jamestown High School was into the Clash in 1979.  Which made me, for the first time in my life, way way way ahead of the curve.

Maybe the last, too – but let’s not get side-tracked, here.

Also, so good that I thought “I am going to have to get much better at what I do to do this”.

Bruce Springsteen, “Darkness on the Edge of Town”

I know, no surprise, if you’ve read this blog at all.  But I don’t care.

If you’ve known me *since* high school, you probably remember me talking about this album. The best album ever written about isolation – which certainly spoke to a kid in one of the most isolated places in the country.

Still my favorite album of all time.

The Who, “Who’s Next”

But let’s forget about “all time” here.

I was a nerdy, gawky, athletically inept teenager in a town that revered athletes. This album showed me that the guitar I was plinking away on could be my weapon of mass destruction, my full contact sport, my identity.  With a windmilling slash at my Fender, I slew dragons.

If you knew me in high school, you knew I wanted to be Pete Townsend.   I had enough gashes and bruises on my hand from “windmilling” accidents to prove my dedication.

Apropos not much.

Gotta Move Fast

My piece earlier this noon hour, about the complete collapse of Jessica Chastain’s anti-2nd-Amendment melodrama Miss Sloane, reminds me of a problem that’s emerged this past year.

Sloane was the second movie in the past 12 months involving an issue in which I’m fairly intimately involved, and that I’ve actually wanted to go to a theater to see (the other  was the hilariously-mistitled Truth, which passed unlamented by anyone but the left’s movie critics in the winter of 2015), albeit only at a second-run theater like the Riverview; I’m not gonna give Hollywood the satisfaction of paying full price to watch its propaganda.

Either, it seems, did anyone else.  Both movies disappeared from box offices faster than the Vikings left the playoff race.

The “problem”?  They leave the theaters before I can get around to going to review them.

It’s a smile problem, in the great scheme of things, but still.

Dr. Blake

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been punched in the stomach. But I remember what it feels like with this news: Dr. Jim Blake, my college advisor, died a few months ago in Oil City, PA.  He was 68.  That I’m hearing about it a few seasons late shows how life’s sturm und drang will have its way.

Dr. Blake was one of the two best teachers I ever had, and one of the most influential people in my life in many ways.  It was he who passed on to me his love of analysis and of fairly relentless logic, yes – but also how to find joy, stimulation and meaning in how words were put together; the packing of meaning into every word of a great poem, the layers of symbols and meaning in a great book, the ruthless economy of a well-honed phrase.   And he showed a lot of us how four years of studying literature could be a good, powerful and important force in ones’ *real life* – which is, I’m afraid, a lost art in the modern college.

Beyond that? Incredible as it may seem in this age, it was Dr. Blake – an English professor who called himself a “monarchist” – who showed me that I really wasn’t the bobblehead I had been when I started college; “Mitch, you’re not a liberal”, he said in his Queens accent during out of our hours of talking about policis, philosophy, current events; he shook his head and made me read Solzhenitzyn, Paul Johnson, P.J. O’Rourke, Dostoevskii and Tolstoii.  And by golly, he was right; once my brain turned on, I was a conservative after all. When I pulled punched my ballot for Ronald Reagan in 1984 (albeit without telling my parents), and started my first conservative talk show in 1986, and every day I do the NARN or write my blog today, Dr. Blake was and is there.

I’ve thought a lot over the years; would the modern humanities academy know what to do about a Dr. Blake – an English prof with a fearsome BS detector and no patience for the PC fripperies of the modern humanities academy?

Oh, it would be an epic battle indeed.

The only tragedy in his death is that not every college kid had or will have the opportunity to learn from him.

Policy Change

I’ve run by far the most, er, liberal comment policy among Minnesota bloggers with traffic in my general weight class ever since I started carrying comments in 2002.

I ask for civility, as a general rule – but don’t require it, or at least not to a pollyanna-ish extent.  Don’t get too pointlessly inflammatory, and don’t go too far off topic, and we’ll get along just fine.

Unlike many blogs in my general traffic class, I don’t censor comments, and I don’t block commenters that I find annoying, to say nothing of those that try to challenge me.

I welcome commenters who disagree with me – indeed, encourage them. In the history of this blog, I think I’ve actually banned a grand total of half a dozen commenters – none of them for disagreeing with me, or even being jerks about it.

However, the comment section has a goal; to serve as a forum for discussion.  Which is to say, discussion of the topics I write about.

By extension, this means two things:

  • By discussion, I mean a two-way dialog.  Not repeatedly, constantly, very deliberately, dropping comments and running away without any further discussion, as if my comment section is your personal blog space.  It’s not.  You want a place to drop your comments without further comment?  Get your own blog, and build your own audience.
  • By the topics I write about, I mean “in relation to the posts I’m writing about”.   Now, I don’t mind the occasional thread-jack; sometimes they lead me to a topic I’d have missed otherwise.  But some thread-jacks just say “I don’t want to talk about what you’re writing about; I want to talk about what want to talk about”.  Which is your prerogative – on your own blog.   Go out to Blogger.com or Tumblr or WordPress and start building your own audience.  It’s harder than it looks.

So I’m changing policies;  the following behavior will wind up with the commenter getting put in the moderation queue:

  • Commenters who make a habit of leaving comments without discussing them, ever
  • Repeated thread-jacking with an intent to turn the comment section into the commenter’s publication space.

When posts go in the moderation queue, they stay there until the offender contacts me to work things out.

I’m sorry it’s come to this.

Correction

A longtime reader of this blog writes regarding this post, by Joe Doakes:

To correct the record, Pillsbury United Communities is a nonprofit that is not connected to the Pillsbury brand owned by General Mills. It was founded by the Pillsbury family in 1905: https://www.puc-mn.org/about/history

It’s more analogous to the Ford Foundation vs Ford Motor Company.

This was apparently in response to Joe’s remark “Pillsbury Doughboy wants to give me a free assault rifle.  How can I turn that down?”.  

It would be more accurate to say “A bunch of left-leaning plutocrats want to provide us an opportunity to out-bid the city and themselves on some potentially useful hardware”.

We apologize for the error.

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today

I was in the control room at KSTP-AM.  It was a hot, stiflingly muggy July day.

I was screening calls for the Don Vogel show.    With me in the control room were Dave Elvin, the other producer, and news director John MacDougall.

I got a call on the hotline from John Lundell.  Lundell – the manager of the Twin Cities’ Metro Traffic branch – was doing an experimental traffic broadcast from an airplane that day.

Lundell told me, with some urgency, that he and his pilot were watching a tornado as they flew over the newer, sparsely-populated suburb of Blaine.

We put him on the air immediately; Lundell did play by play as he watched the storm develop.

I flipped on KARE11 on the control room TV, and watched as the Bears put up their own coverage, live from one of their choppers:

We’d beat them by a solid minute or two – but the video footage was some of the best taken of a live tornado to date.

It was one of the more amazing afternoons I ever spent on the radio.