Tag Archives: Bruce Springsteen

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 …

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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 …

Grateful Undead

11 Feb

I hate zombies.Billy Idol zombies

My family thinks I’m afraid that they’re hiding under the bed, lying in wait for me. (Of course not; that’s where the Blob lives.) I know that zombies aren’t real and never will be. However, if I’m wrong and there is ever a zombie apocalypse, I’m sure all of us Literature majors will be locked in a corral with a big sign saying, “EAT THESE FIRST! They use books for hammers and can’t help us rebuild civilization … besides, their brains are so cultured!”

I just find them gross. Visually they’re all splatter and gore and rot. Aurally, I cringe at the groaning and crunching. I can’t be in the same room as my partner when she’s cutting up a chicken, so needless to say I get no joy in the skull-cracking, bone-shattering brain munching of the typical zombie story. Also, the stories are so dang hopeless: humanity might soldier on but without coffee, who cares?

Darn tootin'!

Darn tootin’!

But then came Warm Bodies, the zom-rom-com starring Nicholas Hoult as R, the hottest member of the undead ever and perhaps the first zombie hipster in film history. He met his demise in a hoodie, skinny jeans and Chuck Taylors, and he trudges around with the bad posture and bed head he probably sported in life. He has a crate of vinyl, scavenged from the pony-tailed used record store owners he devoured, no doubt. His living love interest comments approvingly on his being a purist, choosing a turntable over an iPod. Circling his cold hand in the air, he said he liked records because they were more “alive.”

R might be a zombie, but he’s no poser.

(Then again, beggars can’t be choosers. He salves his lonely, unbeating heart by playing John Waite’s “Missing You” at full volume.)

I liked the songs selected for the soundtrack.  In addition to some 1980s standards that were sort of tongue in rotting cheek (Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” for instance) it featured a nice mix from alt rock to Bob Dylan. What I thought interesting is the song chosen to play over the final images of hope and sunshine: “Runaway” by those masters of dreary bleakness, The National. Did the director listen to the lyrics before selecting the song?

Of course, if R truly was a crate digger with eclectic taste, director Jonathan Levine missed an obvious choice … and no, it’s not Thriller:

Go see Warm Bodies, the feel-good zombie romance of the year, and let me know what music you’d need to survive the zombie apocalypse.

See you on the flip side … 

School of Rock

7 Aug

“The Boston gig has been canceled … I wouldn’t worry about it though, it’s not a big college town.”

My teenage daughter is going to be a senior in high school come September. Next week, I will accompany her up and down the East Coast for her first college tour … or as she sees it, the Bataan Death March of the Soul. As much as she wants to flee parental control, she is leery of jumping into the arms of the academic establishment due to the cost, the pressure, and the likelihood that she’ll have to do her own laundry.

I told her that going to college means one thing for certain: great music. Even dinky campuses get any number of bands traipsing through town to build up their rabid following, one underclassman at a time.  Occasionally, they spring up from the students themselves: Talking Heads at RISD, MGMT at Wesleyan, Vampire Weekend at Columbia.

To prove my point, and perhaps to make it worth her while to set foot in Providence, I looked up the concerts in the New York and Boston areas when we’ve got free nights. And there is NOTHING. No thing. Nada. (There is a Marina and the Diamonds concert in but it’s 18 and over. As her mother, I can’t exactly help her get a fake ID so we can catch a concert.)

Of course,  Bruce Springsteen is playing Fenway Park while we’re in Boston. Call me un-American, but I have absolutely no interest in seeing the Boss in concert.  I wish him no ill. I’m glad he’s in the world, and he is nothing if not sincere. If someone offered me tickets to his show, I’d go. But otherwise, it would be like me going to a Latin mass when I’m only a diffident Protestant: I might recognize some of the melodies and get the gist of what all the fuss is about. Not being a true believer, though, the fervor of the faithful would be dumbfounding. (Maybe if I had gone to Rutgers …)

I was looking forward to catching a show. I saw all of three concerts in the Boston area during the eight years I lived there:

  1. Elvis Costello and his ill-conceived “Spectacular Spinning Songbook”, where he spun a wheel to choose the next song, making the show seem like it went on for days. When 10 p.m. came around and he hadn’t landed on “Alison,” he gave up and just shoved the ticker over.
  2. David Bowie’s “Glass Spider” tour at Foxboro Stadium (speaking of ill-conceived).
  3. The Fine Young Cannibals’ only appearance at Great Woods; they performed their three songs respectably then promptly broke up.

Of course, I want to see a show with her for reasons beyond just redeeming my Boston-based concert roster. With the advent of her senior year, it’s hitting me that there aren’t that many more opportunities for my daughter and me to share music together here at home. I’ll start feeling the emotional impact as we head to the airport and I hand her my iPod to select what she wants to hear in the car. It’ll rear up again when we’re packing her turntable in bubble wrap so it’ll arrive on campus safely. And it’ll knock me flat when Airborne Toxic Event comes through Detroit and she’ll be seeing them on another stop on the tour.

There are still Marina and the Diamonds tickets left. Anyone know where in New York I can get my daughter a fake ID?

See you on the flip side …

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