16 December, 2007

That verse in Prince's "Alphabet St." about drivin' his daddy's Thunderbird to Tennessee? One of my favorite moments ....

I'm snowed in with the dogs. Single again, it seems. I just turned 36. My friends were very nice. Olga was specifically sweet, convincing me this literary/rock and roll thing vs. an actual career is *not* a midlife crisis, is a good thing.

Of course I don't need that convincing.

The holidays impend. It's jumper season downtown, officially. I always enjoyed the winter, though I dunno about it getting dark at 4pm ...

18 May, 2007

Friday I've got Friday on my mind

In my line of work, a slow work week is a double-edged sword. I finish a bit earlier and less exhausted, but with considerably less cash to throw around on silly things like horse races & beer & new musical toys & groiceries & rent. This was one of those weeks. Actually, I should say these were two of those weeks. Yegad.
It was a nice day. Actually had time for a lunch break. Ate completely crappy pastries & drank burnt coffee watching suits & tourists pass by at the top of Viagra Triangle. Watched a couple young canvassers from my old org. work the corner to little avail. I don't miss that job, and they won't, either.
They're shooting in my work neighborhood. Some football movie titled "The Express" with Dennis Quaid. I read somewhere the story is set in Syracuse, NY., which makes much sense ...
Jerry Falwell passed on this week. I was thinking I must be some low-life, because when I received that bit of news, my gut reaction was "good -- maybe as of now the world is a bit less hateful." Obviously, I wasn't the only person on earth to feel this way, and it was heartening this morning to read Cathleen Falsani's religion column in the Sun-Times to find she had pretty much the same reaction I did.
That old Everly Bros. tune, "Walk Right Back," in my head most of today.
Heading home from work ... the blue line lurches doggedly forward filled with a demographic more reminiscent of a Naperville-bound Metra than the mass transit of Chicago's eclectic & hard-working NW side ... some fratboy in a backwards blue baseball cap yells, to nobody in particular, "Cubbies ... how about those Cubbies?"
"Uh, did you just say, 'how about those yuppies?'" a woman's voice chimes. The three of us who did not just walk out of the J. Crew catalog and onto the el had a nice laugh at that one.

13 May, 2007

#4 in the series

(note: my band, The Prams, hosts a regular series of shows featuring great bands from outside Chicago: The KICK YOUR DOOR DOWN! series. #4 featured Rosehips, from Columbus, and was supported by The Prams & We Make Thunder! )

In retrospect, it was an anecdote from the bios of our favorite bands: a whiskey-soaked, all-energy train-wreck of a show where any minor mishap is superceded by the unpredictable spirit of true rock & roll, the kind you tell your kids about, the kind 100 people witness & millions claim to have seen. ... woke up this mornin' & I got myself a bee-eer ... I got drunk & I fell down ... Johnny always takes more than he needs, blows a couple chords, forgets a couple leads ... I've been piecing the night together for a week. I really don't black out like this. Fuck.

We brought Rosehips from Columbus, OH. They're a quartet of women with big drums & amps, high-altitude guitar-ing & catchy changes. Their bassist, Jill, also plays in November Loop, who were part of our first 2 gigs ever, so this was a sentimental big deal for us. Anyway, we *always* love playing the Mutiny and we *always* love doing it with friends from out-of-town. Like ham & eggs, or Waylon & Willie.

This show fell on Kentucky Derby Day/Cinco de Mayo. Some of us played some horses ($41 back on $60 of wagers) & drank mint juleps before hitting the venue. It probably wasn't a good idea to drink more bourbon at the Mutiny, but hindsight is so-named for a reason, and rock and roll knows no moderation.

We Make Thunder *tore* through a great set, played their 'classics' and covered Neil Young along with the usual surf & girl-group homages. Each time I moved, somebody handed me a shot. We Make Thunder were that perfect mix of tight and loose. I was pretty tight, myself.

The first thing I noticed about Rosehips was the controlled explosiveness of the Rhythm section. They were set up first, and warmed up around the classic hook of Pixies' "Gigantic." Maybe I threw all caution to the wind from this point on because I knew the show would be a great one. It was. The mix was loud & in everyone's face. The crowd was excellent, both in number & in spirit. Everybody rocked hard & dropped singles, fins & sawbucks into the collection jar. Rock and roll church, y'uns.

I remember the first half of our set being energy, cock, balls & sweat. We had a sing-along on the old Son Volt tune, "Windfall..." Guys from Altgeld Forgotten & Tall Friends were there (love those bands). Some greasy dude claiming to be from Matador was there, too, I later heard. If it were 1993 and not 2007, that would have been cool.

The only other thing I remember is that telling, rock-bio moment:

The end of our set, as we're deconstructing our medley of "Lullaby," "Supersport" & the GbV song, "Smothered in Hugs" into a sonic, 3-string implosion, Steph jumps behind Tom's drums. Andy from We Make Thunder grabs Steph's bass & takes over that implosion. At this point my guitar is off my shoulder & up against my amps making its own feedback & Jill hops up & grabs it, interspersing these angular, Carrie Brownstein-ish riffs with dissonant chord windmills. Steph gives up the Drums to Shawn from Tall Friends. A great, impromptu noise-rock supergroup you'll never see or hear again. The only moment of cogniscence in my blackout. The only one that matters.

#4 will most likely feature those meddling kids from Youngstown, OH, Posture Coach. And another great Chicago band or two.

10 March, 2007

#2 in my band's KICK YOUR DOOR DOWN! series

The Mutiny is rapidly becoming our favorite place in Chicago to play. Yes, some clubs have a nicer sound system, or are less smoky, better-known or at least more 'on the radar,' but the club has been good to us, they're decent to bands in general and they're proving to be eager to work with us bringing awesome bands from out-of-town to Chicago. Hey, I'm a sucker for free drinks and being able to play longer than 45 minutes.

We hosted Treysuno. They used to be based in Toledo/Bowling Green & now they're scattered in various parts of OH and MI, I believe ... anyway, they've just wrapped up a rock-solid full-length & we'd been aware of them for a few years & we were excited to have them. We completed the bill with Tall Friends & Red, two of our favorite local acts.

Tall Friends played first. Probably the best performance I've seen from them. During their set, Andy from We Make Thunder overheard the doorman comment about the abundance of Ohio IDs at the gate. Every time I turned around, it seemed there were 10 more people in the club. I expected a *decent* turnout, as Red always bring a good crowd, but this turnout was definitely unexpected. You couldn't take two steps without knocking folks aside. It was like a big, smoky, alcohol-soaked Tokyo subway with good rock.

When Red played, folks started to move. They have this awesome song, "Not Too Late," that seems to get everybody going. After that, Treysuno put on a short-but-energy-driven set. This had to be one of the best shows I'd seen to this point. I was nervous to follow such performances. But we did, and in spite of a surprise visit from the fire marshall & in spite of Steph's amp blowing up, we trudged through our set & it seemed folks were happy.

#3 is May 5, with The Rosehips. They're a killer, all-woman band from Columbus. If it's half as good as the last one, it'll be great.

06 February, 2007

cawfee tawk

It's been about a week straight the media has been running with this recent Consumer Reports piece on McDonald's beating out Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts in a coffee taste test. Far be it from me to call out the fair-minded purveyors of that survey, but I've never thought too highly of any of the three. Say I'm spoiled for coming of age in a college town where several cafes served up house-roasted stuff or for living in a big city, where there's decent coffee & decent cafes aplenty, or because the first time I actually drank coffee it was somewhere in Paris when I was a very impressionable 18 years old, but what is so good about any of those multinational options?

McDonald's coffee is served way too hot, and doesn't really taste like much.

Dunkin Donuts? A little more flavor than McDonald's , but still kind of stale & a bit watered down.

Starbucks always burns their coffee, which tastes exactly the same no matter which 'brew' you order.

I actually believe the Consumer Reports piece came to the same conclusions.

There's a great place way up in Edgewater called Metropolis. They roast their own beans and do creative things with a frother. They supply a number of nice establishments with their product. I only wish said product would find its way into my neighborhood and/or the one in which I work.

The Day After ‘the music died’ – thoughts on Buddy Holly & Herb B. Berkowitz


I've never really been a fan of that Don McLean song. I've never really been a fan of that whiny, melodramatic '70s 'singer/songwriter' genre. Be it McLean or James Taylor or Seals & Crofts or Dave Matthews or whomever, I didn't get it when I was a kid and I don't today.
Don't get me wrong: I love when a great songwriter (Willie Nelson, Ani DiFranco, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar, Chan Marshall Paul Westerberg, to name a mere few) picks up a guitar or sits at a piano and just bares all. However, I also like my rock and roll to be at least a little bit threatening. After all, it's rock and roll – lock up your daughters and hide the radio teen angst rebel music. It was this way from its very accidental and organic onset and what's left of the good stuff is still this way. If it doesn't make a certain element of the 'power structure' cringe, it's elevator music: Pat Boone, not D. Boon.
Which is why I'm always disheartened every February 3 to open up any major newspaper and come across what I believe to be some reactionary version of a tribute to Buddy Holly on the anniversary of his death. Granted, Buddy has countless fans representing every nook and cranny of the spectrum (probably not as many as Elvis Presley, but that's a different story about the unjust nature of the so-called industry and its marketing practices). Yesterday it was an article by Herb B. Berkowitz, who directs a PR firm in North Carolina.
Mr. Berkowitz is obviously a great fan of Buddy's music. He was thirteen on that fateful day in early 1959 and has attended the anniversary tributes to Buddy, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson at the Surf Ballroom. I couldn't be happier to know there are such dedicated champions of Buddy's work, and none of this is meant to take anything away from Mr. Berkowitz or as any sort of personal attack.
What initially puts me off is the following quote from his tribute:
Back then, the cool rockin' daddies and teen queens who entertained teenage America did so with their voices, not by putting their private parts on display.
This is a rather reactionary statement, in my opinion. It's also spin not much different than that propagated by too many rightists on Martin Luther King's birthday every year when they unwincingly 'adopt' Rev. King as a champion of their own platform.
Now, I was born nearly 12 years after Buddy was taken from us. However, I don't think I need to have 'been there' to know this is anything but accurate. We've all seen the footage of Presley thrusting his hips like some porn actor on speed, no? Jerry Lee Lewis marrying his 13 year-old cousin? Chuck Berry violating the racist Mann Act? The orgasmic stage theatrics of Buddy's dear friend, Little Richard Penniman?
Buddy's work itself is every bit as sexually subversive as that of any of his contemporaries who were shaking up the white, patriarchal power structure of the Eisenhower years. In "Not Fade Away" -- a song dense hippies will mistakenly tell you was written by the Rolling Stones and made famous by the Grateful Dead -- Buddy sings, "my love is bigger than a Cadillac." "Rave On" could be his generation's "Talk Dirty to Me." His cover of King Curtis' "Reminiscing" addresses a cheating significant other. "I'm Gonna Love You, Too," according to some of the bios, was initially about an orgy in which Buddy may or may not have taken part. If you believe the first-hand accounts in said bios (or subsequent interviews with Little Richard Penniman), Buddy took the stage at one performance late and with his zipper down because he'd been backstage shagging a woman from Little Richard's band. He bedded his usurious producer's wife during a recording session. His fashion -- dark-rimmed glasses and all -- mirrored the style of the young, hip African-American men too many daughter's fathers reasonlessly feared in those days (a nearsighted Briton named John Lennon would later credit Buddy for giving him the courage to wear glasses onstage). He may not have trashed any hotel rooms, but Charles Hardin Holley was the epitome of the contemporary definition of rock star.
There also exists the story of one cold West Texas November during one of those notoriously draconian 'busload of talent' tours when Buddy invited tourmate Little Richard, a bisexual black man, to his parents place in Lubbock for Thanksgiving dinner. His folks, white Baptists somewhat set in bigoted ways, refused to allow Richard into their home or feed him. Buddy joined Richard on the freezing front porch, refusing to enter the house or eat until the elder Holleys finally came around and welcomed their son's friend to their table.
Berkowitz goes on to write, "In the pre-Beatles era of rock'n'roll (sic) (Holly) was one of just three white boys who really, really mattered, and the only one who didn't live long enough to cash in on it." He cites Presley and Roy Orbison as the other two who "really, really mattered."
Without going into any of the myriad reasons I'm moderately offended by the invocation of race in the above opinion, I could also opine this isn't exactly accurate. Les Paul pioneered the recording techniques Buddy embraced & remained fiercely adamant about. And Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran were hard-rocking, songwriting trailblazers who also died way too young and never really "cashed in." Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis were incredibly important artists, and claiming they ever reaped their just rewards would also be a decent-sized stretch of reality.Like too many recording artists of just about every genre, time and place, Buddy Holly was shamelessly exploited. Recording engineer Norman Petty strongarmed a naïve Buddy into allowing Petty partial songwriting credit for songs Petty had no hand in writing. At the time of his death, Buddy (whose wife, Maria Elena, was well-connected in the recording industry) was in the process of starting up his own independent record label, Taupe Records, as a reprieve for exploited artists. Ritchie Valens and Waylon Jennings were among those who would have been in the Taupe catalogue. Buddy had 'discovered' Jennings. He taught his friend, Roy Orbison, how to play a bullfighting call that would become the famous guitar hook in Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman." He wrote the first "girl's name" song, "Peggy Sue," and introduced minor chords and modes to rock and roll. Unlike Presley, Buddy Holly actually wrote his own songs. His independent, relentless conviction was responsible for sound recording innovations we still employ today. He played a Fender Stratocaster because it was the loudest guitar he could find, and he rocked hard. His band rocked hard. Several years before the Beatles made an advertising campaign of it, he put into words and music "we'll live and love with all our might."