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!

Howlin’ for You: The Black Keys at the Joe Louis Arena

20 Sep

Black Keys screen - Auerbach

Dan Auerbach

Black Keys screen - Carney

Patrick Carney

Concertpalooza came to a close on September 12 in a familiar place: the Joe Louis Arena, experiencing the Black Keys with my loved ones as concert buddies (this time, my partner along with our younger daughter). It was the perfect show to cap off an exhilarating summer of live music!

Props to the headliner for choosing stellar talent as opening acts. In 2011 they had the Arctic Monkeys on board. Our leg of the tour this time featured Cage the Elephant while other lucky people get to see Jake Bugg or St. Vincent; any of those bands could hold their own topping the bill. Cage the Elephant’s music is bouncy and fun, personified by their inexhaustible lead singer Matt Shultz. You may know their single from 2009, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” Check them out!

“Fun” isn’t the word I’d use to describe the Black Keys, though. Their music is fuzzed out, feedback-fueled blues rock … and their personal lives are even more distorted. Most of what I’ve read about them – the horrifying account of guitarist Dan Auerbach’s recent divorce; the 5000-word piece in Salon that drummer Patrick Carney’s wife wrote about their divorce; the Twitterstorm Carney kicked up over Justin Bieber; and the TMZ-fed feud Jack White forced onto Auerbach when he questioned Dan’s worthiness as a blues musician (sample hissy fit: Jack told his ex-wife to pull their kids out of the Nashville elementary school where Dan’s daughter attends) – tells me these guys are drama magnets. Lighthearted they ain’t.

Therefore, it was surprising and gratifying that they seemed to have a great time performing at the Joe. Auerbach did a lot of smiling between numbers, thanking the audience and raving about Detroit fans. (Who knows what Carney was feeling since he rarely smiles and doesn’t talk during concerts; he’s Teller to Auerbach’s Penn.) Auerbach’s bottom-heavy guitar style, snaky licks and atmospheric songwriting keep the songs tight and catchy; plus, the guy’s got a strong, distinctive voice. Carney is the first to agree with my partner that he “sucks at drums,” and he swerved off tempo more than once during the evening. When he was on, though, he brought the heavy ammunition.

If you want to bone up on less gossipy, more nuts-and-bolts trivia about the band, watch this:

Since I saw them in 2011, the Black Keys have cemented their status as a straight up, non-pop, 21st-century rock-and-roll band. For the two dudes from Akron, there wasn’t another choice. As Carney said in Rolling Stone,

When we were in ninth grade, we were well aware that if we wanted to go to a good school, it wasn’t a possibility – that we didn’t have the money. So it’s like, what do you have from there? You have rock & roll!

Detroit needs rock and roll. The city is fighting for an identity we can be proud of, something beyond blight and bankruptcy. Bands that shout “Detroit Rock City!” earn a roar of appreciation. Auerbach and Carney went a step further, honoring a local hero by playing for their first time ever a cover of Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Not for the first time that evening, half the audience (the male half anyway) broke out their air guitars, danced without rhythm and high fived each other, proud of themselves and damned glad to be there no matter what the troubles were outside the arena.

The Black Keys understand how a guitar and a drum kit can blast away your problems, and for that we’re all grateful.

See you on the flipside … and mark your calendars: I’ll be one of the featured local writers at the Books & Authors event at Leon & Lulu in Clawson on October 26, promoting Love and Other B-Sides to my closest friends and perfect strangers from 11 AM – 5 PM. Come see!

Oh, my my! Oh, hell, yes! Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at DTE Energy Music Theatre

28 Aug

Tom Petty smiling at DTE - 082414

So happy, he glows/ Photo by Davis Kurepa-Peers

Anyone reading this who knows me – and that’s a given because those who don’t know me never read this blog – knows I’m a Tom Petty fan.

Who am I kidding? I am a shameless, obsessive and thoroughly insufferable bozo of a Tom Petty fan. Two framed, autographed album covers adorn my office walls. I’ve downloaded pretty much every song the guy’s written, sung, played, produced or mentioned in passing. I’ve bought his autobiography, Conversations with Tom Petty. I’ve seen the Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour documentary multiple times.  I’ve even gone down numerous YouTube rat holes searching for prizes like this one from 1976, when his label mate Dwight Twilley needed a bass player to stand behind him while he lip-synched songs for a long-forgotten TV program – fast forward to 1:42:

 

I am also one of those saps with a paid membership in the Tom Petty Highway Companions fan club. There are two reasons I pony up the dough every year. For one, I get to listen to “Buried Treasure,” his weekly XM Sirius program featuring “the best in rock, rhythm and blues,” which has introduced me to a number of great records over the years. And for another, I can buy concert tickets several days before they go on sale to the general public. I don’t get any discounts, mind you; I just get to buy sooner and have better seats to choose from … all while paying an annual membership fee on top of it.

My high-velocity fandom only began a few years ago, and I may never completely understand why this man overran my musical receptors so completely. It’s like Nick Hornby’s description of the bond between a musician and his fan in Juliet, Naked:

You speak to him. For him. He connects. You plug right into a very complicated-looking socket in his back. I don’t know why, but you do.

TP at DTE - 082414Tom and the boys released their 13th album, Hypnotic Eye, a few weeks ago. New material from a classic rock band is often not a reason to celebrate. They may just go  through the motions; vocal power may wane and songwriting can get stale. Or, the band may decide there’s no time like the present to release that experimental album they always wanted to do, even if their audience doesn’t want more than their hits from a generation ago. (Even I didn’t care much for their 2010 release, Mojo, a bluesy psychedelic saga of an album that gave guitarist Mike Campbell permission to jam in any direction he wanted to, breaking their cardinal rule for success: “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.”)

Petty acknowledges as much. As he said in an interview in Men’s Journal recently,

[S]uccess is a dangerous thing. What great band hasn’t done some absolute shit? So I’m kind of to a point where, if I’m going to do it, I want it to be good. Otherwise there’s no point. Who needs another Tom Petty record?

Let me tell you: we needed this Tom Petty record. Hypnotic Eye is honest-to-God rock-and-roll, which is surprisingly rare these days. Its lyrics are timely and the melodies have grit. Petty’s got a gift for portraying downtrodden men who hold onto hope. At this point in his life, though, his hippie optimism has gotten hammered, and sometimes he’s  just grateful to be noticed. My favorite song on the new album is “Forgotten Man,” with a Bo Diddley beat driving lines home like, “I feel like a four-letter word”:

 

Steve Winwood - 082414

Steve Winwood/ Photo by Davis Kurepa-Peers

Leading off their concert at Pine Knob (aka, DTE Energy Music Theatre, whatever) was the phenomenal Steve Winwood, who still sings like a teenager and can fill in for Eric Clapton in the Blind Faith songs with ease. By the time the headliners opened their set with the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” I was vibrating with glee. Tom Petty was in fine voice and good humor, exchanging licks with Mike Campbell on some of the most beautiful guitars on the planet. They even included some older material they don’t play at every show: the redneck howler “Spike” and “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me),” one of the best breakup songs ever written. Even the group of exceedingly tall, exceptionally drunk people who kept filing in and out of the row in front of us didn’t diminish the experience.

My favorite musician and his crackerjack band played some of my favorite songs in the world less than 50 feet away for a crowd of 15,000 … and also just for me. It was magic.

See you at the final stop on my summer Concertpalooza tour: The Black Keys at Joe Louis Arena with special guests Cage the Elephant on September 12.

P.S. Is your book club gearing up for the fall? Want to chat about reading, writing and rock and roll? I’d love to do a reading of Love and Other B-Sides in person or via Skype for you and your book-loving friends. Just reply to this post.

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