Tag Archives: Love and Other B-Sides

The Last DJ: SiriusXM

12 May

As they say about anything addictive, the first taste is free.

When we bought a new car a few months ago, it came with a three-month trial subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio. Since it wouldn’t be my primary ride, I didn’t think this would matter much to me, but once I realized 1) we were going on a cross-country vacation and this could save me from 20+ hours of radio hell, 2) I could also access the stations via the web and a phone app and 3) there is a station dedicated to playing repeats of Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure 24/7, I knew it would spell my doom.

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Paying for satellite radio seems practically un-American

I am not a fan of the concept of satellite radio. I believe that, like schools and security, radio ought to be a free service existing for the public good, providing listeners a quality listening experience with as much variety and as few commercials as possible. Following this logic, I should cut my Comcast cord, slap the round antenna back onto my television and be grateful for the times I can get PBS without too much snow on the screen … and turn off the TV during pledge drives.

Many problems exist with this model now, particularly for rock enthusiasts. There are only so many channels on the dial, and that sorry few have to balance popular taste (which is often an oxymoron), the sheer quantity of rock songs produced since “Rocket 88” started the fad, and the overwhelming competition from more flexible streaming options that serve every possible taste.

Streaming sites have their advantages, particularly the fact that anything that’s ever been recorded is right there, a few keystrokes away. If you detest commercials or crappy loading speeds, you can pay for their services, meaning that instead of being completely ripped off, signed artists might make minimum wage once their songs get played approximately 1.1 million times. (Check out the amazingly depressing infographic to see how the streaming sites stack up in terms of how well they pay their artists … if at all.)

But what if you have lousy taste and want to expand your horizons? What if you don’t have a patient older brother (or cool mom) to take you through the milk crates or playlists? Who’s going to tell you what’s worth your time? The answer is DJs: music geeks with robust personalities, vast musical memories and voices with a bit of grit. That’s what’s missing from the streaming sites, and that’s what got me hooked on SiriusXM good and quick.

Little Steven's Underground GarageThe E Street Band’s Steven Van Zandt is a pillar of SiriusXM as the leader of his namesake Underground Garage channel. In addition to his own show, he’s got a passel of DJs “spinning” a great mix of gritty rock classics, recent pop punk and little-known gems including a weekly Coolest Song in the World. My favorite is Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators NYC – check him out here and on tour:

I’m sure the other 964 channels have their charms, and one has Tom Petty 24/7, which I may have mentioned already (ahem). I’ll have to find out before my six-month fix subscription runs out …

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Need a beach read? Love and Other B-Sides is the perfect paperback for summer: breezy, romantic, and holds up in the heat!

Good artists copy, great artists steal: Tom Petty, Sam Smith and so many others

13 Feb

Especially in the wake of Sam Smith cleaning up at the Grammys, I’m sure you’ve been waiting with bated breath for me to chime in about the revelation that Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne will each get 12.5% of his royalties for the mega-hit “Stay With Me” because of the similarities between its melody and that of “I Won’t Back Down.”

Sorry to take so long to comment about this because … well, I’m torn.

No surprise I’d like to come down on Tom’s side, especially as he graciously said in his Facebook page statement there was no lawsuit and he has no hard feelings because “these things can happen.” Smith stated that when the similarities were pointed out, his team agreed to name Petty and Lynne as co-writers even though he hadn’t ever heard Petty’s song because “I am 22 years old.” (Snap!)

But here’s the thing: Petty’s people hunted down Smith’s for royalties, even though he just shrugged it off when other acts blatantly ripped off his work on purpose. To wit:

  • “Dani California” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers mimics the licks and the lyrics of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (although this YouTubian blames their common producer, Rick Rubin)
  • The Strokes admitted they lifted a lot of “American Girl” in their 2001 tune, “Last Nite” – which, according to Petty, “made me laugh out loud. I was like, ‘OK, good for you.’”

So why did he go after Sam Smith? There can be any number of cynical reasons, leading off with Lynne and Petty wanting a piece of his revenue stream to see them into their sunset years. Perhaps this is also part of some kind of campaign to remind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame folks to induct ELO on the ballot next year.

As for me, I’d like to think it’s retribution on behalf of their great friend and fellow Wilbury, George Harrison.My Sweet Lord

He's So Fine“My Sweet Lord” was the first single off of Harrison’s 1970 solo album, All Things Must Pass. In January 1971, music publisher Bright Tunes sued him over similarities between Harrison’s hit and “He’s So Fine,” a Ronald Mack song made popular by The Chiffons in 1963. The suit lingered on for years and was settled in favor of Bright Tunes when the judge determined Harrison had committed “subconscious” plagiarism and owed $1.6 million in damages. But from the start, Harrison contended he was actually inspired by a different song: “Oh, Happy Day,” a hymn that was in public domain.

The additional kick in the head? By the time the suit went to trial in 1981 (having begun in 1976), Bright Tunes was owned by Allen Klein, Harrison’s manager who had advised him when the suit began. Harrison eventually bought Klein out for $587,000 to settle the case, and it took until 1998 to wrap up all the loose ends. It cast a lingering pall over Harrison’s songwriting, although he found a way to laugh about it at the time:

(Extra points if you can identify the comely blonde juror in the black hat.)

So, in my vain hope that Tom Petty was being somehow altruistic when he sloughed off thousands of dollars from a man who had no knowledge of his music, I choose to see the “Won’t Back Down”/”Stay With Me” settlement as karma … because in the music business, what goes around, comes around.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Love is on the airwaves! Get your copy of Love and Other B-Sides for the Valentine in your life!

Rock and reading at the Brighton District Library

11 Dec

Being an indie novelist is a little like being in an indie band: being paid is less important (or likely) than connecting to an audience. Bands will work for beer. Us novelists, we’re happy to get out of the house and commiserate with other indie novelists.

Brighton District Libraray Local Author Event - 120614

At the Brighton District Library, ready to rock and read!

This fall I began what I’m grandly calling my book tour for Love and Other B-Sides. It began with the Books & Authors event at Leon & Lulu in October. That led to being invited to the Local Authors event last Sunday at the Brighton District Library, courtesy of Sarah Perry, a librarian there who is also a YA author. Once again I was able to meet a lovely group of writers whose considerable talents range from children’s picture books to adult fiction of many stripes.

I also got my first chance to do a reading. With a mere five minutes to introduce myself, give a shout out to Michigan public libraries for giving me a place to write and research my work, and read a passage from the book, I kept it short. I decided to feature a quote from my career rock-and-roller, Stee Walsh, about why he got into the music business, which I figured would resonate with the writers in the room:

I never played music to become a star or get rich. I played music because it was all I was any good at. I was a skinny loser catching hell from my father and this close to getting kicked out of high school. Being in a band gave me friends and girls and a ticket outta Richmond. I’ve been lucky enough to make a living out of it—an incredibly good living—and I’m grateful, but people are fickle and times change and no one really owes me anything and the fame could all be gone tomorrow. But the music will still be around, and it still makes me feel good to write it and play it with my friends for my fans, which is more important than making some critic respect me.

To those who organized the event, turned out, bought my book, bought others’ books, and generally gave independent writers reasons to keep at it – thank you.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. If you want to give me an early Christmas present, please, please like my book page on Facebook!

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

 

 

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!

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!

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