Archive | Rock and Roll RSS feed for this section

Gonna use my style

8 May

For a grown woman, I have an appalling number of rock and roll t-shirts.

Some were given to me as presents by sympathetic friends and family. Some I earned by going to concerts and having enough cash left after the $13 beers to buy swag. A couple came home with me from Nashville after visiting Sun Studios and the Johnny Cash Museum a few years ago. If you know me at all, you won’t be surprised that I also have four Tom Petty shirts: one a Mother’s day gift from the elder daughter, another a fan club thank-you, a third a 40th anniversary tour keepsake, and the fourth a one-of-a-kind item silk-screened by a friend of mine with a talent for creating wearable art.

They are all now in heavy rotation. Since I was let go from my day job a couple of weeks ago, I am no longer required to dress in that sartorial purgatory, Business Casual. Our office switched to this ill-defined style a couple of years ago after decades of Business Professional attire that required women to wear panty hose (a term I may have to explain to anyone under the age of 45). I still have enough blazers to outfit a prep school glee club and a number of those swoopy sweaters we ladies started wearing due to the fact there is not a single professional, flattering dress or top sold in America that has sleeves.

Now that we’re all pretty much home bound, there is nothing stopping me from cruising through my day in unfortunate athleisure or footie pajamas or an inflatable T-Rex costume, for that matter. (Mark my words: once businesses reopen their doors and slowly bring their employees back on campus after months of working from home, they will have a hard time making the case for any sort of dress code beyond ensuring people are wearing clothing below the waist.)

But when there is business to be done, I want to sharpen up. It puts my head in the right space, and even if I’m not on Zoom, it’s a sign of respect to those I’m on the phone with to take this seriously enough to be decently put together. Still, I want to maintain some personal flair. So when I had my first phone interview for a position today, and I wanted to feel comfortable, confident and a little bit kick-ass, I chose my Chrissie Hynde shirt from her 2014 solo tour:

Perhaps this is where the post-pandemic dress code will end up: Business Cool. Let’s hope so.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. If you do wear a rock-themed shirt on Zoom, remember the other participants will see it as a reverse image … meaning Lana Del Rey reads “yeR leD anaL. (Thank you to my elder daughter for making that mistake so the rest of us don’t have to.)

Life during wartime

5 Apr

My day job is being the director of internal communications for Michigan’s largest health care company. This means that over the past month, my life has become intertwined, 24/7, with the COVID-19 virus.

I am not a physician, nurse, respiratory therapist or other clinician, all of whom are risking their lives and leaving their families to help others survive. I am blessed to be able to do almost all my work remotely, well away from the hospitals that have been redeploying beds, supplies and staff at lightning speed to fight this pandemic. I am in awe of their dedication, and my heart breaks every time I hear about what they have to go through to ensure they have what they need to take care of patients and themselves. They are at war against an invisible enemy on our behalf, and we’re all in their debt.

For the first time in my career, I feel that what I do helps save lives. In one day, I went from taping a CEO video update for our employees to writing a blurb about a change in sanitary wipes – both equally important. To work with my exceptional internal communications teammates, all of whom have been going full tilt to support our care teams, is an honor and a privilege.

The stress is incessant, though. While our schedule has at last gotten to a point where we do not all have to be on call every day, it’s a rare afternoon, evening or weekend when I don’t have to monitor my email or jump back on my laptop to do something that can’t wait. It’s near impossible to unplug, and the evidence of the pandemic is everywhere. Taking a walk or going for a run, I look ahead to see if I need to swerve more than six feet away from an oncoming pedestrian. Watching late night talk show hosts wrestle with poor video conferencing connections and lack of flattering lighting and makeup is diverting until they have Dr. Anthony Fauci or another expert as a guest. I love having all three kids home for dinner, until I start thinking about why they’re here and not at work, or in New York, or at high school getting ready to graduate.

Even though I know – we all know – this will not last forever, everything right now feels like whistling while walking past a graveyard. When we’re out of this, we’re not sure what we’ll be in, and it’s almost foolish to imagine it. It’s better to keep the next hour of the day in front of you and move through that to the next one as best you can.

There are a few songs that have helped me get through moments of frustration, fatigue and fear. The Rolling Stones catalog, particularly from the Mick Taylor period, have a lot of screamy, brassy anthems that help me blow off steam. I am a sucker for horns, so “Bitch” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” are often on repeat.

I also got hooked on “Sympathy,” one of the songs from Father of The Bride, Vampire Weekend’s most recent album, due to its relentless momentum and a great bass solo at its center:

When I need to let a song take over my brain for a bit, “Chicago” from Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois album is a dreamy trip:

But there is one song – my favorite song – that is almost too apt. (It pains me to hear it in a Walmart commercial right now, even though they’re thanking their employees as essential workers.) To me, it represents hope against all odds, no matter how dire the situation. I’m trying to wait to really listen to it until that moment, weeks or months from now, when we can all literally breathe easier.

Here it is, in German, in one of the best uses of the song I’ve seen:

I hope you’ll share the songs that are helping you get through all this. Until then, much love, stay safe, wash your hands, stick to science, and look out for each other.

See you on the flip side …

Echo in the Canyon: A 12-String Serenade to the California Sound

21 Jul

A few months ago, I saw a trailer for Echo in the Canyon, a documentary focusing on California’s Laurel Canyon-based musicians who turned folk music into rock legend in the mid to late 1960s. And, for a brief few seconds, I saw my dear, departed Tom Petty on screen in a guitar store talking shop. I realized it must have been the last documentary project he ever did, so, with wistful anticipation, I planned to see it when it came to metro Detroit.

Thankfully, my partner saw it was playing at the Main Art Theater in Royal Oak on a hellishly hot afternoon when all any sane person would want to do was sit in an air-conditioned theater with an artisanal chocolate bar and iced black tea. I hustled over to catch a matinee.

The billed “star” of the documentary is Jakob Dylan, Bob’s fourth born and the lead singer of the middling Wallflowers. He and director Andrew Slater chose to focus on the prolific years of 1965-1967 to support their 2015 concert featuring stars of the 1990s and 2000s singing key songs by the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Mamas and the Papas, and the Beach Boys.

That is great material hobbled by a lousy premise. As much as I am glad Fiona Apple can still get a gig, the cover versions do nothing the originals didn’t do a thousand times better. Jakob has the sturdy timbre, diction and tone his father could never muster, but he is a passionless performer. He is stone faced during each recording session; he ably hits the notes and plays guitar, but there is no warmth or grit to hang your eardrums on. Additionally, no one benefits from Jakob’s staged conversations with Regina Spektor, Cat Power and Beck jammed together on a couch next to a coffee table piled with LPs. These talented, eccentric musicians say nothing about how the albums they hold in their hands affected their personal or professional lives. It’s a missed opportunity.

What Jakob does have is connections, and that’s where the documentary earns its cred. While it’s not stated, I imagine he has known many of these legends from childhood, and they easily open up to him. He gets Stephen Stills to admit he “booked” when the cops showed up one night, leaving Eric Clapton and others to get handcuffed for pot possession. Michelle Phillips, now a bright-eyed grandmother, gleefully shares how her dalliance with band mate Denny Doherty was the impetus for her husband (also a band mate) John writing, “Go Where You Wanna Go.” Brian Wilson jokes that Jakob and his backing band are playing “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” in the wrong key. Ringo confirms that George Harrison sent Roger McGuinn a note that he had based his opening riff in “If I Needed Someone” on McGuinn’s “The Bells of Rhymney.” Even Neil Young shows up, although he is only seen playing behind glass in a studio toward the end of the film without comment.

And, thankfully, Jakob’s dad’s brother Wilbury, Tom Petty, gets significant opportunities to be the consummate rock historian he was. He sets the record straight from the start: it’s Rickenbacker, not “Bach-er,” that made the 12-string guitar at the heart of the Byrds’ shimmering sound. Throughout the film, he provides the perspectives only he – as a lifelong fan, a musical beneficiary and a peer of the featured acts – could share. (I so miss that guy.)

Echo in the Canyon illustrates three years of pop music innovation and collaboration, nurtured by the woodsy Laurel Canyon culture where you could drop by your neighbor’s pad and noodle around on a song that would become rock and roll canon. It’s worth hunting for whenever you need a break from the heat while still enjoying the sunshine.

See you on the flip side …

“Part of the journey is the end.”

13 May

wallup.net

Download at wallup.net

I saw Avengers: Endgame twice in its first two weeks in theaters, and I’m still aflutter. The first viewing was like a roller coaster: you brace for whatever the Russo brothers are going to throw at you, then you give over to the speed and twists and lack of brakes and end the three-hour ride exhilarated and exhausted.

This second time through, I let my mind wander a little more:

  • For all her fighting with, then against, Thanos, Nebula still has time to get her nails done. She also has eyelashes a Kardashian would envy.
  • Speaking of eyelashes, Chris Evans’ look like they’re made of chinchilla.
  • Natasha wore the most gorgeous lip color on her one-way trip to Vormir. Perhaps MAC will market it as “Soul Stone Sacrifice.”
  • So why didn’t Ben & Jerry’s come out with Hulk-a-Hulk-a-Burning Love – in gallon containers?
  • Speaking of Chris Evans, he is the most symmetrical human being I’ve ever seen.
  • Why would Scott Lang – a San Francisco native – eat hard shell tacos?
  • How much did William Hurt get paid to stand silently in the back of row of Tony Stark’s funeral tableau as his only appearance in the whole movie?
  • How much more did Samuel L. Jackson get paid for the same job?
  • How many Academy Award winners were in that movie? I counted seven people and eight Oscars: Michael Douglas (2), William Hurt, Brie Larson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Redford, Tilda Swinton and Marissa Tomei.
  • Speaking of Chris Evans’ symmetry, baby got back.

Over the past weeks, I’ve been obsessed. I’ve gone down every YouTube rat hole – including one hailing the mouse as the actual savior of the universe. I’ve located every Easter egg, read thought pieces in the New York Times and unsuccessfully searched for a Kevin Feige bobblehead. It’s not healthy – but that’s how I roll.

I have been a superfan many times in my life. I saw the original Star Wars 18 times in the theaters and still have four original action figures (minus the rifles, dammit). I was a stone cold X-Files freak until about halfway through Season Six, when I threw in the towel because Scully had been pregnant for fourteen months and Mulder was noticeably AWOL. The show Lost? I LOVED the final episode – don’t @ me.

Now I’ve been sucked into the MCU and never want to leave. I can only wonder why, as a grown woman who could be investing my time into more refined pursuits (writing, knitting, going down a Tom Petty YouTube rat hole like I’m supposed to), Endgame has hit me so hard.

This may be because, as much as it exists to be cool and blow stuff up, the final story of the 22-film saga centered on family bonds. Who do you choose as your family when you have none of your own due to being frozen for 66 years, or having been an assassin since childhood, or being a talking raccoon? If you could have one last conversation with a parent before they die, what would you talk about? And when death takes those you love, how can you possibly move on?

iron man marvel GIF

It’s also because of Iron Man, or more correctly, Tony Stark – or even more truthfully, Robert Downey Jr. His talent is breathtaking, funny, mercurial and heartfelt. His unique take on this role rescued his career after years of addiction and bad casting. It also set the whole MCU on the path of greatness, with subsequent films attracting amazing actors who embraced being sorcerers and African kings in vibranium cat suits and gamma-irradiated big green men without hesitation or apology.

Downey Jr. is six months older than me, and there won’t be any other central Marvel character who is my age in this universe again. At best, today’s greats might be featured in secondary roles, as everyone from Glenn Close to Annette Bening has been. I’m glad these timeless actors are getting work in such high-profile properties … but they aren’t the heroes anymore.

What does that say to me, at this point in my non-heroic life? I’m still working on that.

One of Tony Stark’s best lines from Endgame in his hologram goodbye to his four year old daughter: “Part of the journey is the end.” That’s really heavy news for me, much less a little girl mourning her dad. It bumps up against what I’ve wrestled with since I turned 50 more than three years ago, followed by the loss of my most beloved musical heroes and my novel imploding after more than a decade of work. With those parts of my life wrapped up, what now?

I am trying to frame my Endgame obsession as inspiration for my next great move forward: writing a totally different novel, balancing my personal and professional responsibilities, maybe even falling for a new favorite band. After all, in the MCU, there’s always another saga to be told.

See you on the flip side …

A change has gotta come

4 Jul

It’s been hard to post lately. My get up and go … got up and went.

I kind of ran out of gas when confronted by mounting evidence that rock and roll is becoming a dead language. Sure, I can listen to Greta Van Fleet and marvel at how much those kids from Frankenmuth, Michigan sound just like Led Zeppelin, but that isn’t moving the genre forward. My idols were back in the news for the wrong reasons. Prince and Tom Petty had more in common than that glorious version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony: both were felled by fentanyl taken to ease the pain of their screwed-up hips after decades on the road. Plus, my iPod – the power source for my astoundingly superior musical taste – is spinning its last. Its obsolescence is a gloomy metaphor for the state of the art form.

Jonathan Van Ness kitty pic

The real Kleenex moment this episode: Jonathan petting baby kitties! SQUEE!

I’ve tried to assuage my ennui by binge-watching Queer Eye and slowly paging through The Sun and the Moon and the Rolling Stones, by Rich Cohen … both well worth the time, both modern takes on nostalgic favorites.

Fact is, I’ve had to turn my attentions elsewhere. In case you haven’t noticed, America’s public institutions are being threatened, vandalized and outright incinerated right now. It’s so dire, I have been driven to do something I never thought I’d do: become politically active.

While I have long had a strong interest in current events, and I turn out to vote in every election (you’re welcome), I have never put my money where my mouth is until this year. It’s not simply that I am a Democrat in a Republican era. This administration’s brute ignorance, blithe corruption and sinister disregard for the humanity of others leaves me no choice but call, and write, and argue, and donate and march, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!”

My first political rally was the Women’s March in Lansing last January. Clever, biting protest signs are the price of admission to these events, and I didn’tWomen's March 2018 want to disappoint. I wanted it to convey who I am and what I stand for. I wanted to promote positivity rather than spew insults. I wanted it to be so awesome that perfect strangers would take photos of my sign to share with their broad-based social media platforms.

As you can see from the far more awesome signs created by my daughters, for any of that to happen, my pop culture references need to crawl into the 21st century. (There was a moment when I got a tap on the shoulder from a gal with her phone ready to take a photo. As I was prepping for my closeup, she said tersely, “Could you move your sign out of the way? I want to take a picture of the Beyoncé poster.”)

Concerned Citizen 3

I. Mean. Business.

Since then, I’ve attended candidate forums and signed petitions. I’ve written postcards encouraging people to register and vote in the primaries. I was even featured asking a question at a televised town hall focused on reducing gun violence in schools. I’ve coached my younger daughter as she led the walkout at her school after Parkland, and I’ve ensured my older one registered in her new Brooklyn precinct.

Families Belong Together MarchAnd yet, it often feels like it doesn’t add up to much. Each day brings more to be angry about; each news item piles on disgust and despair. I never had to worry about the safety of my nearly 30-year relationship with my female partner before now. I never imagined tearing children away from their asylum-seeking families and incarcerating them would be considered okay by anyone, much less Americans. I am astonished by how fear and greed have overwhelmed common sense and compassion. And I feel helpless.

I hate feeling helpless.

So I continue to call, and write, and argue, and donate and march, believing that by showing up again and again, I and millions of others will break through the bullshit and make the world a better place – for I do not intend to let democracy die on my watch.

See you on the flip side … and at the polls!

Guaranteed to sell with dead faces on the front: Rolling Stone celebrates 50 years

6 Nov

Rolling Stone magazine is turning 50 this year, and CBS Sunday Morning kicked off its show this week with an interview with Jann Wenner, who began the counterculture mainstay when he was just 21. Over the years it’s gone from newsprint to glossy, oversized magazine to what is now a slim, stapled publication that is more an advertisement for its online material as anything substantive. In the CBS interview, Wenner talked about why he has put the publication up for sale last September, explaining it needs to “live on its own.” That’s code for, “It’s breathing its last, and I don’t want to be here to watch my baby die.”

At least, that’s how I hear it.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame RS installation

The news itself is now the story: Rolling Stone’s 50 Years anniversary retrospective at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

I’ve been a subscriber since sophomore year of college. (I still remember the string of scolding dunning notices I got from the publisher in 1982 saying, “Bruce Springsteen pays his bills; so should you.” I replied in my final, successful letter, “Here’s another copy of my canceled check from three months ago. Signed, Bruce S.”) I did my thesis on Hunter S. Thompson (and named one of my kids in his honor). I became enough of a fan of Annie Leibovitz, David Fricke, Mikal Gilmore and many other journalists to buy their books and tune into their podcasts. For decades, the magazine has been tactile proof of the permanence and importance of what I hold dear: rock music, self-satisfied leftie politics, innovative celebrity photography and Dave Grohl gushing about his mom.

RS’s sale is yet another sobering sign that all of that may be coming to an end. Chuck Klosterman just published X, a terrific collection of essays on his two abiding loves: sports and earsplitting, ridiculous heavy metal. (Gotta hand it to a guy who invests 10,000 words into justifying his devotion to KISS yet retains his self-respect.) In the final piece,”Something Else,” he observed something both obvious and shocking enough to stop my breath: “Dying used to be an occupational risk to living like a rock star, but it’s now the primary thing rock stars do.” By extension, that’s now the publication’s reason for being:

 I have a friend who works at Rolling Stone magazine, and we sometimes play a party game where we speculate on whose death would (or would not) warrant the magazine’s cover…. It’s almost become a business decision: The only issues of Rolling Stone guaranteed to sell exceptionally well are the ones with dead faces on the front.

TP Rolling Stone coverSadly, Tom Petty was on the cover of the most recent issue for that very reason.

Perhaps it’s best that the publication passes the baton. Their reputation for investigative reporting took a near-lethal hit and lawsuits continue from the magazine’s debunked story about campus rapes at UVA, and they are not alone in railing against Trump and his cockamamie cronies. While they may feature Kendrick Lamar on the cover (between obituaries), it’s less because young rap enthusiasts read RS and more because older RS readers want to say they know something about rap. And it’s all about the video clips on the website now, accompanied by photos scaled to be viewed on iPhones. Times have changed.

Sob!

***

Thankfully, before I posted this and crawled off to drown my sorrows in a reasonably priced pinot noir, my younger daughter intervened. She assured me that rock music will continue to thrive as long as people like me continue to care. So, everyone out there, c’mon: clap your hands and say with me,

I do believe in rock and roll!
I do believe in rock and roll!
I do believe in rock and roll!
(fade out)

See you on the flip side …

Heartbroken: Tom Petty, RIP

4 Oct

Tom Petty in a vanWith all the literal disasters that have happened in the last month – three hurricanes, an earthquake, the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas – it seems almost silly to be bereft over the loss of a rock musician.

And yet … Tom Petty seeped into all corners of my life. Sure, everyone has to go sometime, but his death came so abruptly without warning, it’s like the air has been sucked out of me. Jeez, I just saw his 40th anniversary concert in July. Even as he’d intimated this could be his and the Heartbreakers’ last large-scale tour, he also admitted he didn’t like to stay still and probably would renege on that vow. He had promised to release another album of songs from Wildflowers – his best era, in my opinion – and maybe do concerts in which he’d play the entire thing. He had so much more ahead of him. He was having such a good time.

TPATH photo - 1979

Petty became my reference point for all other music: you can connect him to practically any other major act in two steps. He recorded with two Beatles; he backed Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash; he shared the stage with everyone from Bo Diddley to Eric Clapton to Prince. His SiriusXM Buried Treasure show championed artists I now love: Lucinda Williams, Big Joe Turner, Ann Peebles, Louis Jordan, the Shangri-Las. He had incredible taste, which was a remarkable contrast to the bloated acts that clogged the 1970s when he came up in the business. And he kept up his songwriting chops throughout his career. Someone I read years ago pointed out that every one of his albums rated at least 7 out of 10; that was as true of Hypnotic Eye as his eponymous debut.

He also had a sense of humor. Witness his appearance on The Larry Sanders Show trying to clock Greg Kinnear and Clint Black:

 

And a flair for animation V/O:

 

There are any number of respectful obituaries that list Petty’s hits and talk about his talent for championing the underdog in his songs and his fights with his labels. Thing is, he was rarely included in critics’ lists of the “best” American rock musicians: that is an honor bestowed on Elvis, Dylan, Springsteen, and possibly Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry or other pioneers. That is probably because he was less an innovator than a craftsman. He and that insanely talented band of his, the Heartbreakers, could play just about anything, original songs or covers, from muscular chord-based rock to devastating ballads:

After that night in Vegas/ And the hell that we went through
We went down swingin’

Throughout the last 24 hours, I’ve received a lot of genuine condolences from friends and coworkers. My daughters have been checking on me often, offering support and shoulders to sigh on. My elder daughter pointed out what a privilege it is to connect deeply to an artist’s work during his lifetime, especially since he inspired me to create my own. (This blog and Love and Other B-Sides would not be here without me falling head first into his catalog.) I’ve also gotten some solace from listening to SiriusXM’s “wake” on his channel, with famous fans (Cameron Crowe, John Fogerty) and regular folks calling in to share what Tom Petty meant to them.

Means to them.

Means to us.

Means to me.

This is going to take a long time to get over, folks. Thank God we have each other.

See you on the flip side …

Lisa Peers talks a lot

the source for communications insights and observations 

Sixty Something

Observations, insights, hindsight, and forward thinking

timeweleftthisworldtoday

This world's so mixed up everywhere you go

keepsmealive

"No dress rehearsal, this is our life."

No Rhyme Or Reason

Positive/Thought Provoking Essays on One Fan's Love of Music

the EARL of SWIRL

"to be average scares the hell out of me"

Every Hit Song Ever...from A to Z!

Talk about.........Pop Music!

All You Need Is The Beatles

(Not just about The Beatles!)

Publication Coach

& Gray-Grant Communications

The Immortal Jukebox

A Blog about Music and Popular Culture

Television Blues

A new online music channel

Mixed Tape Masterpiece

an ode to the songs (and radio stations) that shaped my life

Cave of Fame

Digging through relics while becoming one myself

My Effin Life

It's not profane, it's my life.