Blessed: Lucinda Williams at the Royal Oak Theater

25 Nov

Beat the Bots

Foo Fighters tickets went on sale last Saturday. Being all about sticking up for the little guy, the band kicked it off with a “Beat the Bots” pre-sale. As an email explained, “Fans sick of Scalper-BOTS programmed to clog online queues and snatch up huge amounts of tickets to resell them will get first shot at tickets to the show.” So, just as in days of old, those of us wanting good seats could drive down to the box office and get in line.

Of course, Saturday was the last day of a bitter cold snap, with freezing rain turning every parking lot and bridge into a luge track. We were allowed to start lining up at 8:00 a.m. with the box office opening two hours later. It was about 8:10 when I realized that, while I had thought to bring my Rolling Stone with Dave Grohl on the cover to keep myself occupied, I didn’t have warm socks, waterproof boots or long johns. I was woefully underdressed. For the next two and a half hours, I shifted from foot to foot, jammed my gloved hands into my pockets and tried to stay limber while my teeth chattered.

As I felt my spine go numb and my gums freeze, I had to ask myself: why do I put myself through this? 

I could say it’s to earn the admiration of those in my age group who, due to other commitments and common sense, don’t go the extra mile I often do to see my favorite musicians perform live. “You are awesome,” read one post on my Facebook page; “Young. At. Heart” read another. If my race against decrepitude and boredom lands me in a mosh pit every once in a while, I’ll have the support of those living vicariously through my folly.

But there’s a more valid reason. Live music connects us physically with the singer and the song in ways a pair of headphones never will. It amplifies our ability to experience pure joy. Case in point: the transcendent Lucinda Williams, who I saw at the Royal Oak Theatre on Saturday night.

Lucinda Williams

Singer/songwriter Williams grew up in Louisiana, the daughter of a poet who was also a rabid Hank Williams fan (no relation … pity). Tom Petty was my gateway to her music. He did a blistering cover of Williams’ “Changed the Locks” for the soundtrack of She’s the One. (Lucinda returned the favor, covering “Rebels” when Petty received the ASCAP Founders Award this year.)

She’s got a voice like a broken beer bottle and views the world through cigarette smoke and smeared eyeliner. Her genre is hard to pin down. Alt-country, blues, rock, folk and gospel fuse together in her fearless lyrics that demand she be treated with passion and respect, as in one of her evocative creations, “Unsuffer Me”:

 

Her three-piece band was phenomenal, filling the sold-out venue with a dense, precision playing so thrilling, Lucinda herself would pull to the side of the stage to watch. She balanced her new material with old, plus some apt covers including Detroiter Bettye LaVette’s “Joy” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” She was having so much fun, when she finished her nearly two hour set, she came back for an encore … then another … then another (and perhaps another: I lost count in my glee). She got to a point that she ran out of numbers in the songbook she kept on her music stand; she sent the roadie offstage to fetch more lyric sheets so she could do more songs. (Kenneth Brian, the leader of the band that opened the show, told us in the lobby that she was making up for a stuffy gig the night before in Cleveland; “I’ve never seen her like this,” he said, astonished.)

Foo Fighters ticketsLucinda Williams was a perfect way to close out a year of remarkable shows, as I’ve been blessed by great opportunity and more often than not, a willing concert buddy. She reinforced my resolve to keep showing up, despite the cold or cost or clueless drunks air-drumming throughout the evening. And good thing, too … because I have a date with Dave and the boys in August 2015!

See you on the flip side … 

P.S. If you live in the Brighton, Michigan area, there’s still time to RSVP for the Brighton District Library Local Author Showcase, featuring yours truly and signed copies of Love and Other B-Sides! Let us know you’re coming by registering here: http://bit.ly/1vauiBR

 

 

Michigan Author Monday: Lisa Peers

24 Nov

lpon45:

My newfound friend – the author Laura Lee – featured me in her “Michigan Author Monday” blog!

Thanks so much, Laura, and be sure to follow her work as well: she’s got a rock-and-roll novel of her own coming out soon!

Originally posted on The Power of Narrative:

10670124_386076988209320_5687981732714972528_nTell me a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Virginia, went to Harvard and lived in Massachusetts until 1990, when my partner, our son and I moved to San Francisco. Two more kids later, we relocated to Oakland County in 2006 to be closer to her family, good schools, bumpy cake, and so forth.

During my time in San Francisco I earned my MFA in acting from the American Conservatory Theater and did dozens of musicals and cabaret performances in the San Francisco Bay area. I’ve always maintained a serious day job alongside my artistic career. Right now I am an executive communications manager for a metro Detroit health care system in addition to my work as a writer.

What inspired you to become a writer?

My mother published stories and articles that were carried in everything from Methodist national publications to True Romance. Her stories…

View original 665 more words

Unplugged (audience): Chrissie Hynde at the Masonic Temple Detroit

22 Nov

Chrissie Hynde StockholmWhen I went to the “Women Who Rock” exhibit, up from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a time at the Henry Ford Museum last summer, I was a little hesitant. Yes, many amazing women shaped the genre and the industry, but there are relatively few great female rock guitarists – and that dearth is a significant issue for an art form that values the singer/ songwriter/ guitarist above all.

Then just as I was leaving, I caught a TV interview with a reporter who declared Chrissie Hynde is “the female Keith Richards.” I went back into the exhibit and watched a tape of her playing lead guitar on “Middle of the Road” to verify his assessment, and I had to agree: she’s an authentic rock-and-roll badass.

At 63, she is also freakishly hot, a testament to the benefits of vegetarianism and swaggering for the last 40-some years. She has the good fortune of being a contralto from the start, so her range has remained intact throughout her career – no need to scramble to reach the high notes when she never sang any in the first place. She is also unafraid of collaborating with musicians decades younger than she is, as evidenced by her 2010 album, Fidelity! with Welsh singer J.P. Jones. It includes the song “Perfect Lover,” which could be autobiographical for all I know – if anyone could be in this situation, it would be her:

 

My partner generously extended my Concertpalooza streak by getting me tickets to her solo show at Detroit’s historic Masonic Temple on November 15. Once again I was a little hesitant because Hynde is, as the gal selling t-shirts put it, as “a pistol” when it comes to performing, particularly in this era of camera phones. Signs were posted throughout the lobby of the Masonic, and the guy with the Voice of God microphone repeated the respectful request to “experience the show in the moment, not from behind a screen.” Despite the civility, not everyone complies, which results in everything from her mild rebukes from the stage to flat-out stopping the show, as Hynde did at her Nashville concert a few days ago. With this fresh in my mind, I could only hope no one would turn her into Pissy Chrissie during the show.

Not to worry. Following a brief statement to a fan in the front to “put down the phone or go home” – and a crack about how it was good to see so many “old faces” in the crowd, adding “You’re never too old to haunt the house” – the remainder of the show was noisy and joyous. Hailing from Akron, Hynde has an affinity for a Midwestern crowd and seems genuinely pleased by the city’s return to the living. Even with a new solo album to tout, she was happy to dive into her Pretenders material, including “Precious” and “Tattoo Love Boys.”

And for the first time in too long, I enjoyed a concert without having to look through a sea of arms aloft, cameras glowing. It’s worth wondering how many of the photos we take at concerts are 1) any good or 2) viewed again ever … or 3) better than letting the energy and the sound take you over to create visceral memories that no photo can match.

Chrissie Hynde Masonic - 111514When Hynde came out for her second encore, she relented at last, perhaps as a reward for us behaving ourselves. “I appreciate you not using your camera phones during the show – they really fuck with my head,” she said. “But now, hey, the show is over so, go ahead and take them out and get your pictures.” After an uneasy titter went through the crowd, she said, “No, really, get them out!” So, for the last two songs we were able to take fully sanctioned, if also kind of crappy, photos to commemorate the experience.

See you on the flip side …

By the way, my next stop on the book tour is the Local Author Showcase at the Brighton District Library on December 7. I’ll chat about my work, then follow up with a meet and greet. Plenty of copies of Love and Other B-Sides will be available! Let us know you’re coming – RSVP here!

Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days on Earth

5 Nov

For those of us who long to be artistic hyphenates, Nick Cave is inspirational. The singer-songwriter-film composer-screenwriter-poet-actor is still going strong decades after dropping out of art school to join a band in Melbourne.

Now in his late fifties, CaveNick Cave 2012 looks like Johnny Cash as designed by Tim Burton: long legs, pointy shoes, jet-black suit and matching hair. He’s known for his literate, sexy and occasionally violent imagery, delivered in a mesmerizing baritone. Being a sucker for Greek mythology, I first started paying close attention to his work when I figured out “More News from Nowhere” from Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! was a retelling of The Odyssey.

Until recently, I had no idea I’d seen him on screen back in 1988. Cave and his band, the Bad Seeds, were the punk musicians at the Berlin club in a pivotal scene in Wings of Desire:

 

I came this close to seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds when they came to town a couple of months back but, lacking a concert buddy as well as the funds after spending umpteen zillion dollars on concerts this year, I took a pass. Thankfully,  I took the opportunity to see Cave’s “autobiographical documentary,” 20,000 Days on Earth, at the Detroit Film Theatre. The quotes are there because this is far from the usual chronological tour through a rock musician’s life story.

 

The film follows Cave on a surreal “typical” day, his 20,000th: from waking up next to his wife to writing threads of lyrics in notebooks and on a manual typewriter, on to therapy and rehearsal and a meal with his longtime musical collaborator Warren Ellis, and eventually onstage both in a club and at the Sydney Opera House, performing the song that began on the page at the beginning of the film. As he drives from appointment to appointment, friends and collaborators (Blixa Bargeld, Ray Winstone, Kylie Minogue) appear as passengers to chat about their work, then disappear. At times, his internal narrative sparks a collage of images from his career and/or artistic perspective; his description of the impact of seeing his wife for the first time is illustrated by images ranging from Jacqueline Kennedy in mourning to explosions in space.

The directors – visual artists Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard – won World Cinema Documentary awards at Cannes for directing and editing the film. They certainly deserve the praise, for no one could do a better job of chronicling what it’s like to live in an artist’s head as he shifts from husband to musician to father to star.

It’s an extraordinary film because, of course, Cave is extraordinary. He’ll never be on pop radio but he could create the soundtrack for your dreams, be they terrifying or rapturous. As he sings in “Jubilee Street” on his most recent album, Push the Sky Away:

I am transforming

I am vibrating

I am glowing

I am flying

Look at me now

See you on the flip side …

P.S. I’ll be guest blogging soon on Laura Lee’s The Power of Narrative. We met at the Leon & Lulu Books and Authors event a few weeks ago and I’m grateful to her for reaching out to me for the chance to meet her readers. In the meantime, check out her site and her many published works – and tell her I sent you!

Rocking and rollerskating: Books and Authors Event at Leon & Lulu

27 Oct

Cross that item off my bucket list: I have now sold my book to complete strangers!

My first-ever book signingLeon & Lulu - 102614 was a total delight at Leon & Lulu. The store, which offers an eclectic mix of gifts, clothing and furniture, is in a former roller rink in Clawson, Michigan. Clerks often zip around the store on skates; signs outlining proper skater etiquette decorate the bathrooms. It’s one of those stores where you go to get presents for people you don’t know how to buy for; it’s a lot of fun.

Leon & Lulu hosts an annual Books & Authors event featuring local writers, many of whom like me are self-published (or “independent,” as one author was quick to point out), with a percentage of proceeds going to a local literacy charity. The 30+ of us were stationed at furniture displays around the floor. As you can see from the photo, I scored a sectional with side chair which, after sitting on them for six hours, I highly recommend for comfy-ness. (Store management also trusted me to be tidy to an amazing degree: I used the sectional’s $3400 price tag as my coaster so I wouldn’t have to take repairs out of my limited royalties.)

Three things I loved about this event:

  1. Mary Liz Curtin, who co-owns Leon & Lulu with her husband, Stephen Scannell, championed us from the start, swooping through the store on crutches (due to a recent tumble) and rearranging store displays to reflect the authors’ works. Also, the staff was utterly terrific, bringing us drinks and food and acting as our cheerleaders throughout the day.
  2. The other authors, who were nothing but friendly and kind. Some of us were hawking our first book; others had series that are nationally known. They were eager to share their tips on writers’ conferences, printers and other sales opportunities, and their lack of ego proves that art is never a zero-sum game: instead, when one wins we all do.
  3. My friends and family who turned out, picked up first copies for themselves or second copies of my book as presents for others, and walked through the store with my book prominently displayed.

I sold well, particularly for my first such experience. Perhaps no sale meant more to me than one late in the afternoon to a woman I’d never met before. She confessed in hushed tones – as a lot of us do – that she was an aspiring writer who had a book she’d love to publish some day. I told her what I’d been told all day: “Congratulations and keep going because, hey, here I am as proof it can be done.”

See you on the flip side …

P.S. If you weren’t able to make it to Clawson or you prefer an electronic version of Love and Other B-Sides, you can pick it up on Amazon 24/7!

Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living): Discovering EELS

15 Oct

Mark Oliver Everett 2014

E: Singer/songwriter/beard model

Having written this blog for four years (thanks for the virtual trophy, WordPress!) I know I could get a lot more readers if I wrote in a more timely manner. I don’t do my statistics any favors by waiting days after a concert, or weeks after a book comes out – or years after an album is released – to share my opinions. Life keeps getting in the way of my incipient success as a writer, I guess.

Even if I was a little more mindful about building my platform, there is so much rock and roll out there it’s a miracle if I get around to listening to something once, much less discover an artist who inspires me to consume his entire catalog.

A miracle just occurred: now, more than two decades after his first recording hit the alternate airwaves, I am officially obsessed with EELS.

Mark Oliver Everett, known as E, is the singer/songwriter/multifaceted musician who created EELS as a catch-all name for the work he does on his own and with various musicians. (I’ve seen it written “eels” and “EELS” on his albums, in case you’re wondering.) E has 13 studio albums to his credit, and his songs have appeared in movie soundtracks ranging from American Beauty to all three Shrek pictures. If you know any of his work, it is probably this tune and nifty video from the 1996 album, Beautiful Freak:

 

He even had a great scene – and song – that ended up on the cutting room floor from This Is 40 (with lots of NSFW language, just to warn you). The guy has seemingly been everywhere and hiding in plain sight at the same time.

As usual, my discovery started in the library stacks, checking out Blinking Lights on a whim after seeing a reference to EELS in some magazine article. Here’s the description of the two-disc album off of the EELS official website:

It’s the most personal eels album since 1998’s ELECTRO-SHOCK BLUES. That album dealt with the nearly simultaneous suicide of Everett’s sister and terminal illness of his mother, from the subjects’ points of view. This album finds him a few years down the line, now battling some of the family demons himself, with the after effects of past tragedies becoming more of a personal issue in his adult life, sometimes fearlessly autobiographical, and other times built around the related stories of others.

Sounds like a total downer, right? Not really; well, not completely. While the material isn’t always a picnic, the music is consistently beautiful and original. E’s sandpaper voice conveys a great deal of warmth and humanity, and the varied arrangements include cameos from Tom Waits, Peter Buck, John Sebastian … and E’s dog. Listen to it with a strong cup of coffee or a stiff drink in hand.

I have barely scratched the surface of this artist. Lyrics are just beginning to get stuck in my memory, rhythms are resonating in my headphones. It’s that delightful stage of exploration where I know I’m onto something truly special and I can’t wait to see what I’ll find next.

To continue your own discovery, here’s a ramshackle version of one of his catchier tunes from Blinking Lights – enjoy!

See you on the flip side …

P.S. My very first Books & Authors event is Sunday, October 26 at Leon & Lulu’s in Clawson, Michigan. This is a great store for finding unique gifts, clothing, furniture and more – in a former roller rink, no less. See you there!

New to the Rock and Roll Bookshelf: Memoirs by Graham Nash and Lisa Robinson

29 Sep

For someone who purports to being a novelist, I read very little fiction. I should probably do something about that.

Instead, I read biographies, autobiographies and memoirs about people in show business, many of whom are in the music industry (natch). For instance:

Lisa Robinson's backstage passes, or, another reason to wish you were her/ VanityFair.com

Lisa Robinson’s collection of all-access backstage passes, or, another reason I wish I was her/ VanityFair.com

There Goes Gravity: a life in Rock and Roll by Lisa Robinson 

Let’s get one thing straight: Lisa Robinson knows more rock stars than you ever will in your entire life. It’s up to you to get over your seething jealousy and enjoy the fruit of her labors as a journalist by reading this entertaining, intimate memoir about making a living by writing about the biggest names in rock and roll history.

Robinson is still one of the few women in her line of work. She got her start as the editor of several rock magazines then became a columnist for the New York Post and now is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. She was also on the nominating committee for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 18 years.

Robinson championed Led Zeppelin at a time when they were being savaged by Rolling Stone and others, and that – and her deep knowledge of jazz and blues – earned her a seat on their private jet the Starship during their tours in the mid-1970s. Holding her own with those “lads” led to her covering the 1975 Rolling Stones tour along with Annie Leibovitz (riding the Starship again, as it turned out). Since then she’s covered everyone from John Lennon and Bono to Eminem and Lady Gaga.

She credits her knack for gaining her subjects’ trust to being a journalist rather than a critic, and she was able to offer a uniquely up-close perspective on the artists and their lifestyle by not getting swept up in the debauchery:

Often, I was the only woman in the room and certainly the only one who wasn’t sleeping with any of [the musicians]. I wanted to keep everything professional, to get the stories. For me, the lure was always the music. But if you’re not having sex with someone on a tour, or participating in the drugs, you really are on a different tour than everyone else.

Yes, she drops a lot of names but she’s earned that right. The photos from throughout her career – pointing a cassette recorder at an 11-year old Michael Jackson; sitting on David Johansen’s lap to chat to Freddie Mercury; reading a newspaper with Joe Strummer – are proof.

I liked this book so much I bought it after I returned it to the library. Check it out yourselves!

Graham Nash's Wild TalesWild Tales by Graham Nash

Graham Nash rightfully earned his place in rock history as a founder of  2 1/2 seminal bands: The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and occasionally & Young). He was one of the organizers of the No Nukes concerts in 1979 that brought rock music together with environmental  fundraising. He has also enjoyed success as a solo musician, a photographer, book publisher and visual artist. Despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars he blew on cocaine, he has survived and saved enough to enter his 70s living in Hawaii … with the time and means to fly into New York to participate in Occupy Wall Street.

Wild Tales chronicles Nash’s rise from the council projects of Salford to becoming a British Invasion sensation with the Hollies. Then the action moves over to nearly five decades of his ins and outs with various combinations of Stephen Stills (whom Nash depicts as a relentless egotist), David Crosby (best friend and cringe-inducing drug addict) and Neil Young (infuriating musical genius). Along the way, many women were loved (including Joni Mitchell and Rita Coolidge) and many drugs were done and, as Nash tells it, he was usually the one  stuck waiting for his friends to show up or sober up to perform. When contemplating reuniting with the Hollies in the early 1980s, he took the gig because

God almighty, was it easier to sing with the Hollies than with CSN! It was certainly more fun, less plagued with personal bullshit. No freebase, no egos, no Neil Young.

Humility is not his strong suit. Neither is literary finesse. That’s what makes this a rather tiring read.  At best Nash’s book, like his lyrics, demonstrate his straightforward charm, but often he gets preachy and pedestrian. Also, his overuse of nicknames (“Clarkie,” “Croz”) and his hippie grandpa phraseology – for instance, he refers to “smokin’ it” (it being marijuana) constantly – does him no favors. Still, he does have an insider’s view of the California music scene and all its unwashed glory, and his celestial harmonies should be celebrated and enjoyed two generations later. Rather than read about why he thinks they’re great, put your copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash on the turntable instead and experience Graham Nash’s best talents for yourself.

What’s on your nightstand these days? Let me know … even if it’s fiction.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Do you use the Facebook? Stay up to date on the doings associated with my novel by liking the Love and Other B-Sides page there – and I hope to see you at my first author event on October 26 at Leon and Lulu in Clawson!

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