ROCK ‘N READ: LOVE AND OTHER B-SIDES

29 Mar

lpon45:

So grateful to Jason for his shining review of “Love and Other B-Sides.” Be sure to read his great blog as well for trenchant, heartfelt rock commentary.

Originally posted on Defending Axl Rose:

Romance and rock collide in novelist Lisa Peers’ Love and Other B-Sides.  Call me lame, but I’ve always been a sucker for a good love story.  Flavored with musical references and plot elements ripped from the headlines, Love and Other B-Sides reminded me of films like LOVE ACTUALLY…only good and written by Nick Hornby. Peers spins a yarn that touches on redemption, aging, find one’s true calling in life, and starting over.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 4.46.31 PM

The book centers on the relationship between aging rocker Stee Walsh and Connie Rafferty, a new fan who comes to the singer’s attention via a tech-savvy super-fan Walsh meets while signing a deal with a digital music conglomerate. Using a highly intrusive computer program designed to “study” the music habits of the buying public, Walsh becomes interested in a woman half a world away who spent the better part of a year purchasing his entire catalogue one song a day.

What’s…

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Rock-n-Rollers, now with strollers

23 Mar

Lord knows parents have plenty to worry about. Here’s one fear that seems to be on a lot of our Gen X and Y minds: how can we ensure our children will share our exceptionally good taste in rock music without them swearing like teeny-tiny Osbournes or whining about getting them full-sleeve tattoos for the first day of kindergarten?

Rockabye-Baby-NINClearly, manufacturers are happy to help ease our troubled minds. There are hundreds of baby items with rock flair: onesies with AC/DC logos silkscreened on their tiny chests; “Born to Rock” bibs; booties decorated with Fender Stratocasters in pastel colors. Then there is Rockabye Baby!, a CD series transforming rock songs from everyone from Coldplay to the Ramones into tinkling lullabies. I can only imagine when the babies grow up to be old enough to listen to unfiltered rock-and-roll, and they wonder who the hell is doing that noisy cover of that nice nursery rhyme, “Welcome to the Jungle.”

But angst over balancing rock’s musical legacy with parenthood goes the other direction as well for many rock musicians as they ask themselves, how can they raise kids and stay true to the music they love?

A few weeks ago I got around to seeing the 2011 documentary, The Other F Word, featuring interviews with kings of the West Coast punk rock  scene, from Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Mark Hoppus of Blink-182, about their unique and optically bizarre position as role models for their fans as well as their children. It is much more than helping their daughters pick the prettiest skulls-and-hearts skirt to wear to daycare before rehearsal. The vast majority of these guys are driven by a desire to being the fathers they never had: attentive, affectionate and present. They have to tour regularly, taking them away from their families for weeks at a time so they scream about anarchy and adolescence at their concerts. Plus, they are still trying to make a living in a genre that is defined by teenage male anger and rebellion, now that their own youth is decades in the past and their personal priorities have done a 180. If you haven’t seen this film, find it; it’s worth it just to see Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen, facial tattoos and leopard-spot hair and all, playing with his toddler at a San Francisco playground.

Bestest Concert EverThis weekend, I got another glimpse of how punk parents are helping us all raise the next generation of headbangers. My younger daughter and I met our cousins and their four-year-old girl in Royal Oak for the 3rd annual Bestest Concert Ever!, a fundraiser for the local high school band program. Playing for the playdate crowd was Candy Band, made up of four punk musicians who didn’t want to give up their guitars or give over to the Wiggles when they became moms. They turned their considerable talents to nursery rhymes and kid-friendly scream-alongs. (My favorite was a mash-up of Green Day’s “Brain Stew” with “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring.”)

Headlining the gig was Amy Gore and Her Valentines, who my cousins knew from her days leading the Detroit garage band Gore Gore Girls. In her current outfit she has scored kudos from Little Steven himself, who named their song “Send Me A Postcard” his COOLEST SONG IN THE WORLD on an episode of his Sirius radio show.

I’m guessing this was not her typical gig. Rocking a leather catsuit and a gorgeous white guitar, Ms. Gore looked out to the kids at the lip of the stage and said, “This is the cutest crowd I’ve ever played for. You’re killing me with cute here.” Were they ever. A pair of identical twin boys with Spider-Man face paint were enjoying their own mosh pit of two, throwing fake punches and wrestling each other to the beat. A young couple – probably the pride of the second grade – were attempting to ballroom dance to the strains of “Good Girls Don’t.” And there was our little cousin, with purple temporary hair dye and Ziggy Stardust face paint, grooving to the music.

As the punks of a previous generation once said, “The Kids Are Alright.”

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Thanks to the many of you who have found a spot for my novel, Love and Other B-Sides, on your e-readers. If you have a sec, how about adding your review? And if you haven’t gotten your copy, drop on by Amazon and download it today!

Tweedily-Tweedily Tweet!

17 Feb

As most of you know – because you are dear friends and are nice enough to read my material whether or not you care about the subtle differences among Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses and The Decemberists (hint: there aren’t any) – I published my first novel as an e-book a couple of months ago: Love and Other B-Sides.

Love and Other B-Sides - ebook cover

Shameless plug …

I am insanely grateful to everyone – many of you reading this, in fact – who bought, read, reviewed, praised and spread the word about my book. Sadly my sales have plateaued, so the challenge now is to go beyond just convincing those I know to read it. I have to convince total strangers that it’s worth forgoing their Starbucks run to pay for a virtual copy.

Since I don’t know any strangers personally, I had to go where they hang out: Twitter.

Despite being a communications professional I had never been a Twitterer (Tweeter? Tweetster? Twit?). Up until two weeks ago I hadn’t used the site beyond a couple of botched tweets on behalf of my employer (one of which, touting our Red Tie Ball fundraiser, thanked people for their support of the Red Toe Ball). Fresh off of a terrific Twitter course offered by the The Story Cartel, I started to invest time and pithiness into posting regularly. What I learned from the course is: if you devote some time to follow and be followed, starting conversations and sharing observations as if at a world-wide cocktail party, after a while people will care enough about what you think and what you write that they’ll read your blog and buy your book. If you shill too early, though,  you’ll be that guy, the one forcing business cards into everyone’s hands before being sent to a corner to nurse a rum and Coke Zero, alone, behind a potted plant.

The course required us to follow at least 25 new people by the end of each lesson. I quickly ran low on people to follow: there are only so many personal friends, fellow writers, and fake news correspondents I could think of. So I started following rock musicians who, like me, crave an audience and seek validation at every turn.

The first was – surprise, surprise – @TomPetty, which seems to be written by whomever’s lowest on the totem pole of his PR firm: it’s uninspired marketing with a few old photos thrown in. But within seconds of following the real Tom Petty I was followed by @ImTomPetty, a parody site. The faker posts on an hourly basis in a way that that the tweets might be from TP himself … if he was trying to get to second base with a girl by telling her exactly what she wants to hear:

ImTomPetty

I figured that younger, more alternative bands would have better feeds so I signed up for a slew of my favorites – @Airborne_Toxic, @FitzAndTantrums, @SpoonTheBand. I actually hit pay dirt when I learned via @theholdsteady that they have a new album (!) and are coming to the Crowfoot (!!). And lo and behold, I got this in my feed this morning:

Peter Bjorn And John

Yep, the whistling “Young Folks” guys like what I have to say about music, writing and the Westminster Dog Show enough to add me to their feeds.

I’ve been at the virtual cocktail party long enough for a band to come out from behind the potted plant and tweet me directly:

Dirty Angels

Of course, I replied:

Dirty Angels reply

It’s a brave new world out there.

See you on the flip side … and so, what bands do you follow on Twitter? Tell me in the comments!

Beats Music: does it beat iTunes?

30 Jan Bow down before the one on your server ...

My blood pressure has equalized and my breathing is back to normal. The pounding in my head has stopped and my optimism has returned. All is right with the world once more.

In short, I’ve fixed my iTunes account.

Anytime I get an update message from Apple, I wince. I am a technological dinosaur, dependent on an 160GB iPod and an aging PC to protect and play my substantial library of songs. I don’t store my music in the cloud, my iPhone has maybe two songs on it, and I still mourn iTunes’ original, virtual brushed steel design. I’m terrified that I might delete my entire library with one misplaced click of the mouse.

My worst fears were realized when I restarted after the most recent upgrade – and this little box popped up six times in quick succession:

iTunes error messag

To fix this I had to uninstall every whiff of Apple technology and reinstall iTunes from scratch. (Luckily I had an open bottle of pinot noir to steady my nerves.)

I gotta say, Beats Music is looking real good right now.

Debuting last week, this streaming service is backed by Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, the legendary music producers who created the best reason to spend a car payment on headphones. Trent Reznor is the outfit’s chief creative officer. As you can see from the “vision” video he narrates, Mr. Nine Inch Nails/Oscar-winning composer/Grammy ranter can’t wait to get in between our ears to burrow into our very souls:

The press has been considerable (with feature articles in Time, Rolling Stone and New York Times to name a few) and overwhelmingly positive. This is because in addition to offering access to pretty much any song ever recorded, the killer app of Beats Music is human beings. The recommendations and playlists rely on curators rather than algorithms  It sounds like being an eighth grader hanging out with your older brother’s cool high school friends: they flip through LPs or tap into SoundCloud to expand your horizons without rolling their eyes at your limited taste. (I can’t imagine how this actually works: do they employ armies of crate-digging hipsters or is Reznor chained to a laptop somewhere?)

At the moment you can only subscribe through AT&T, but I’m sure they’ll branch out to other carriers very soon so that world domination can follow. At that point I may switch to a streaming service and for the first time pony up a monthly fee to discover new tunes and revisit old favorites … leaving iTunes collecting virtual dust. So now, your opinions, please: 

 

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Want to read some good rock and roll? My first novel, Love and Other B-Sides, is on the e-bookshelves now – and Amazon Prime members can read it for free!

We’re only human after all: The healing power of Level 42

3 Jan

I'm just glad that the Gene Simmons one doesn't dispense blood ...

I’m just glad the Gene Simmons one doesn’t dispense blood …

Each Christmas, I am grateful that my family indulges me in my predilection for rock-related everything. On CD, I received both volumes of the Ann Peebles Hi Records collection, the Albert King/Stevie Ray Vaughn live sessions and Jeff Beck’s Truth, along with Foreverly, featuring the delightful duo of Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones covering the Everly Brothers. I also got the fantastic Johnny Cash biography as well as Tune In, the first of a well-received multi-volume history of the Beatles. And a couple other things (see photo).

I also got a trip to the emergency room and a two-night stay in the hospital. (That was not a gift from my family, unless you count genetics.) Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve I had a gallstone removed via endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatogram (ERCP is its kicky nickname), then laparoscopic surgery to take out my gall bladder.

I hadn’t been admitted to a hospital since my youngest was born nearly twelve years ago, and I hadn’t had surgery since my wisdom teeth were taken out twelve years before that. All the pre-op questions about whether I had bad reactions to anesthesia and if I had anything removable in my mouth were unsettling. Since I’d been taken in ahead of schedule I had no idea if my partner was in the waiting room. Even if she was, she wasn’t going to be able to see me until after the procedure several hours later. Still, I had full confidence in the medical team and that I would feel immediately better once the ERCP was done. All I had to do was wait my turn.

Alone.

Lying on a stretcher in the pre-op unit, trying to keep my thoughts from migrating toward the morbid the closer I got to being intubated, I focused on the non-threatening classic rock music playing overhead and identified a personal connection to each song that came up:

  • “Dance to the Music,” Sly and the Family Stone. That was the song playing as I was wheeled into the pod – a great song for making a grand entrance!
  • “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” Pat Benatar. As much as I made fun of her angry Bambi eye makeup in the Eighties, I was secretly jealous that I could never master her combination of highlight and contour to sculpt my own chipmunk cheeks.
  • “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” Journey. Ah, the guilty pleasure I analyzed in one of my first blog posts.

Then came a tune that reached out from the overhead speakers and held me in its arms: Level 42′s “Something About You.”

[The only version I could find of the original MTV video was insanely buggy so this will have to do instead ... enjoy the fashion parade.]

For all its synthesizers and glossy production values, it’s an achingly beautiful depiction of a long-term relationship on the wane:

Now, how can it be
That a love carved out of caring
Fashioned by fate could suffer so hard
From the games played once too often
But making mistakes is a part of life’s imperfection
Born of the years
Is it so wrong to be human after all?

I know, a song about making mistakes is hardly a reassuring message for someone facing a medical procedure. Yet the fact that this song played when it did made me feel better immediately. It’s not on the radio much and it’s rarely included in Eighties compilations, but it’s an all-time favorite of mine and one of my first iTunes purchases. Listening to this bittersweet tune, in my hospital gown and fall-prevention footies, I felt like it was playing just for me, to keep me company and see me through. I wasn’t alone anymore.

I am glad to report that I’m home now and recovering well, thanks to the exceptional care team at the hospital and the loving attention of my family and friends … and the mystical power of a great song from a one-hit wonder. What a way to start the New Year!

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Did you get a new Kindle or iPad during the holidays? Start building your ebook library by downloading my new novel, Love and Other B-Sides, now available on Amazon!

The Rock and Roll Bookshelf has a new author: me!

12 Dec

Love and Other B-Sides - ebook cover

Love surprises an aging rock star when he meets his newest fan in his old home town.

I’ve got the world’s best reason for not posting for the last several weeks: I was busy publishing my first novel.  I am now officially an authoress!

Surprise, surprise: it’s a rock-and-roll novel. Who’da thunk?

Love and Other B-Sides began five years ago when I started getting into rock-and-roll in a big way. I began to wonder what daily life was like for a name-brand rock musician: like, does Bruce Springsteen pump his own gas? And, if you are at the level of a Bruce Springsteen, what do you aspire to when people will pay you millions to play the hits from thirty years ago? Plus, what happens when a musician falls in love with a civilian girl? Could she possibly keep her day job?

This fueled my story about Stee Walsh, my fictional “seventh most successful American rock musician still performing today.” I had a first draft well underway and was feeling really good about my unique take on a fairly unexplored topic  …

Juliet, Naked cover

After getting out of a long-term relationship with a man obsessed with a reclusive singer, a woman begins a flirtatious email correspondence with that singer.

and then Nick Hornby published Juliet, Naked in 2009, two days before my birthday, no less. My heart nearly broke.

Nick Hornby is one of my favorite storytellers – no surprise there. He is able to put words to the pleasures and pitfalls of being righteously self-absorbed and the desperate need for music like no other. Here’s an example from About a Boy:

But later that night, when [Will] was home on his own and listening to the sort of music he needed to listen to when he felt like this, music that seemed to find the sore spot in him and press hard up against it, he remember the deal Marcus was prepared to strike.

That his books were also the basis of three of my favorite movies – High Fidelity, About a Boy and Fever Pitch – just adds to my awe.

Here I was with a manuscript barely begun and an idol of mine goes and publishes a novel (with a relentlessly cool book cover) that riffs on my premise. And the deluge of rock novels had only just begun. The next year Jennifer Egan won a Pulitzer for the Möbius strip of a story rooted in the San Francisco punk scene, A Visit from the Goon Squad. Jonathan Franzen – who in my opinion spills way too much ink creating characters he despises – had a minor character find some musical success in Freedom. There was Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia which made several top 10 lists that year, about a brilliant recluse of a rocker whose only audience is his sister. Then Jonathan Tropper’s One Last Thing Before I Go and Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue (not about rock and roll, but close enough) came out in time to be on my Christmas list in 2012.

Clearly I was not the only writer swept up in the rock-and-roll zeitgeist. I was in good company … good, famous, already published company. Crap.

Then it occurred to me: so what? There is room on the virtual bookshelf for everyone. Hey, a lot of great songs use the exact same chord progressions and we love them in their own ways. (Listen to this mashup of “25 or 6 to 4″ by Chicago, Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Brain Stew” by Green Day to hear what I mean.)

So I am proud of my book and I sincerely hope you’ll buy it,  enjoy it, write a review and recommend it to your friends … all the while listening to the music you love most.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Even though Love and Other B-Sides is only available through Amazon, you can download it using the Kindle App onto your Nook, iPad, smart phones (if you like tiny, tiny screens) and even desktops. Hard covers may be available in the near future depending on demand. So, demand already!

Saved by rock and roll

29 Oct

Lou Reed, rest in peace.

lou reed transformerSo many people are eulogizing him – from critics he insulted to artists he inspired – I doubt I add anything unique to the critique of his life and career. I’m also not a thoroughly devoted fan in that I haven’t listened to anything he wrote over the last twenty years. (What caught my interest most recently was learning that he was married to Laurie Anderson.) But still, he’s a musician who carved his initials in a piece of my soul.

As his music lives on beyond his time on earth, I invite you to check out three of my personal favorites:

“Rock and Roll” (Loaded)

Loaded was Reed’s last album with the Velvet Underground and features one of the best songs to listen to on a transistor radio, if they even make them anymore. At least here you can hear it on vinyl:

 

This song framed the first video you see on the tour through the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It sums up why the building was built: as a testament to that “fine, fine music.”

“Intro/Sweet Jane” (Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal)

I discovered this while I was in college. It became one of those songs I’d play with earphones on and eyes closed to recover from a terrible day.

 

“Nobody but You” (Songs for Drella)

In 1990 Reed and his former Velvet Underground bandmate John Cale recorded Songs for Drella, a tribute album to Andy Warhol (who was nicknamed by Reed as being a cross between Dracula and Cinderella). This song had a bit of airplay on alternative radio at the time, benefiting from its proximity to Reed’s successful New York. It’s written from Andy’s point of view as his public notoriety, personal distaste and physical pain intersect after being shot by Valerie Solanas:

 

Lou Reed’s songs were streetwise and romantic, haggard and buoyant, coy and frank, all at once. He gave the deviants a voice and valued their stories. He showed the beauty in the grime. And he could be a sour SOB, too. But he was a revelation, and he is already missed. Thank you, Lou.

See you on the flip side …

 

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