What's your favorite musical group/artist of all time? Got it? Good.
Who are you voting for this upcoming election for President of the United States? Got it? Good.
Now let's say that favorite artist of yours was coming to Cincinnati to perform. Let's say it's a remarkably intimate show with limited tickets. And let's say you've got a friend who can get you a ticket to purchase. Let's say it's $35.
But here's the catch — your favorite group or solo artist is making their concert a fundraiser for the guy you REALLY don't want to be President.
Do you suck it up and pay the admission/donation for a chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime concert? Maybe make a bigger donation to your guy's campaign? Or do you refuse to do anything that may, in even the smallest way, affect the outcome of … well, possibly American history.
Cincinnati-bred/Brooklyn-based band The National has just announced a special last-minute pair of shows in Ohio next week, including a show at the revitalized Emery Theatre in Over-the-Rhine on Oct. 4 (they play the Newport Music Hall in Columbus on Oct. 3).
The concert — which comes a few weeks before the band headlines the Freedom to Love Now! marriage equality-supporting concert in New York City — is a benefit for "Gottavote: Ohio," President Barack Obama's campaign to get Ohioans registered and voting. The band will also reportedly play a private fundraising function in Cincinnati for Obama right after the Emery show.
Searching around for ticket info (details have yet to be announced; we'll update this post when they are), I came across the event's page at Last.fm, where an apparent big National fan left the post's sole comment: "Obama fundraiser...What a moral dilemma…"
As a hardcore lefty and big National fan, I personally have no dilemma in this situation, but I sympathize with the commenter. What if The National had a change of heart since last performing for Obama in Cincinnati (a huge, free outdoor show on Fountain Square with The Breeders in 2008) and the members were disillusioned by the President's first-term actions (or inaction), built up impressive balances in their bank accounts and decided the best way to protect America (and their money) was to go out and do whatever they could to get Mitt Romney elected. Would you still go?
"Shut up and sing" is an oft used saying for people who think politics and music have no business being in bed together. But if the artist shuts up and sings, but just so happens to give your admission fee to a politician you despise, what do you do?
Personally, I stay home and wait until the artist's next show. Luckily for me, deciding not to go to a Mitt Romney concert/benefit featuring Kid Rock, The Oak Ridge Boys and Hank Williams, Jr., is not a hard choice in the slightest.
I don’t like Radiohead.
Just like that, my budding career as a music journalist is destroyed by one, four-word sentence. I’m sure the pretentious Pitchfork police are on their way to my house right now to take me away.
I can imagine most of you yelling at me through the monitors on your Mac Book Pros, passing judgment on me through the lenses of your dark-rimmed Woody Allen-esque glasses.
I assure you, I can’t hear a damn thing you’re saying. So just save your breath and read.
I know why people like Radiohead. They are talented musicians who are constantly expanding their sound. Not to mention, Thom Yorke’s (even though he doesn’t know how to spell his name) vocal range goes for miles, making him one of the most impressive singers in Rock & Roll today. They are like the indie rock version of The Beatles, except The Beatles don’t take an eighth of magical mushrooms to appreciate. (Although I’m sure it makes it better, I wouldn’t dare know about such devilish things.)
Upon numerous occasions during my 23 years, I’ve tried desperately to enjoy this band.
At 16, I would peruse through cute “indie” girl’s MySpace pages, listening to “Karma Police” among various other cuts off of OK Computer. I would force-feed my metalhead mind to try and wrap itself around the ambient tones coming from my speakers. No matter how hard I tried (believe me, I tried; I needed something to trick these girls into liking me) it just never stuck.
A few years later, I made my second attempt. In Rainbows had just been released and it was a hot topic of conversation between my more “hip” friends. They would play the record on an endless loop and, eventually, I really did begin to dig it. Then I had a revelation.
While I was driving to work one day, I put the album on and quickly realized that I had never listened to this while I was sober. I mean, I know 2007-2008 had pretty much become a blur of various substances, but as the docile sounds of “House of Cards” rang through my car stereo, I said to myself, “Blake, put down the bottle and get your shit together! Also, take off that ridiculous v-neck shirt and skinny jeans. No one wants to see your Teen Wolf-covered man-boobs or your ‘Basilisk’!” (That’s right, my junk is nicknamed after the giant snake in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets; get over it.)
It was as if the smoke had finally cleared (literally and metaphorically) and I came out of this catatonic state of intoxication a new man. That man just still happened to dislike Radiohead.
My final attempt was no more than four months ago. My lovely girlfriend bought me a record player for my birthday and I decided I would give In Rainbows one more shot.
I had grown up quite a bit since the last time I heard this record. Not only was I knee-deep in my journey to becoming a music journalist, but also I wasn’t totally sloshed all the time either.
Plus, if it doesn’t resonate with me on vinyl, it never will.
This last go-around, however, was a futile one.
I always thought, “Maybe I was just too young to get it?” Or “Maybe, I was just too fucked up to understand?”
But as I put the record on, more questions came up, like “Am I too old to get it?” or “Jesus, what’s that drug dealer’s number again?”
As I racked my mind trying to figure out why I’m the only music journalist who isn’t a part of this worldwide circle-jerk over Radiohead, I finally came up with a simple, yet honest explanation.
Radiohead fans can be broken down into two factions. You’re either a Radiohead guy or a “Creep” guy. I’m obviously a member of the latter group.
“Creep” is the anthem for every broken-hearted loser too cowardly to talk to the girl he dreams about every night. It’s the anthem for every outcast kid that roamed their hallways aimlessly; unable to find their place in the proverbial hell that was high school. It’s the anthem for every overweight, underachieving, late-blooming, weirdo band kid that the band chicks didn’t even want to associate with. It’s pretty much my 7-12 grade experience told in three minutes and 56 seconds.
“Creep” just always spoke to me in a way that no other Radiohead song ever had. It was effortless and truthful, yet, real and depressing. I made a connection with that song, a connection which I tried ever so earnestly to do with the rest of their catalog, but failed miserably.
So to the Radiohead fans out there, keep listening to them.
Do whatever makes you happy, whatever you want. Because truly, you’re so fucking special.
I just wish Radiohead was special, too.
Radiohead then …
Radiohead lately …
You know what I like? Pop music. Some of you may be judging me right now and, for that, I’m judging you in return. There is absolutely no legitimate reason to dislike Pop.
Of course, I get it. Most Pop music isn’t the well-written, deeper-than-the-ocean type stuff, but rather easy to understand and anchored by a catchy hook. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. Music isn’t supposed to be unattainable — we’re usually drawn to music because we can relate to it. Pop just expresses our emotions and situations in more simple terms than other genres.
Some of you are probably starting to get nitpicky about my use of “Pop” as a genre. To a certain extent, Pop isn’t a genre at all. Historically, Pop was just short for popular, meaning it runs the gamut on genres. Listen to the current NOW That's What I Call Music collection (we’re up to about 4067 volumes, I believe) and you’ll see what I mean. It’s not full of ground-breaking musical experimentation or earth-shatteringly powerful lyricism, but every one of those songs has a damn good hook.
Beyoncé wouldn’t classify herself as Pop. She’d call herself Hip Hop or R&B. “Run the World (Girls)” was certainly popular, though. Alex Clare’s “Too Close” is full of drums and synth awesomeness, lying somewhere between Rock and Electronic and yet it’s all over Top 40. Taylor Swift was, at one point, a Country artist. Now, with a little less accent and a lot less acoustic guitar, she’s lasting longer on Billboard’s Top 40 than the Country charts. The structures of their music may be very different, but they all end up on the same station.
Pop has very much become its own genre. It’s the genre for all the likable and relatable music from all the other genres. Think of it as the exact opposite of “The Island of Misfit Toys.” Pop is The Genre of the Overplayed.
They’re overplayed for a reason, though. Some of those songs are pretty close to genius. The best recent example is “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes (and Adam Levine). The idea is simple: Boy loves Girl … a lot. But throughout the entire song, they pull from the same stereo heart metaphor. Whether he’s referring to the trials and tribulations of a relationship via a comparison to an old-school boombox that requires tons of D batteries or the simple idea of a heart beating, like speakers, with every note, they carry the thought all the way through. In my book, that’s pretty impressive.
Speaking of Adam Levine, I like “Moves like Jagger,” too. You know what Michael Jackson, The King of Pop, sang about quite a bit? Dancing. You know what “Moves like Jagger” is about? Dancing … sort of. You know what it makes me want to do? Dance. Pop songs are nothing if not danceable. Even the slow ones! If they don’t make you wish for that cute guy across the room to come and sweep you off your feet and twirl you around the room, they’re doing something wrong.
Yes. Sometimes Pop can be annoying. A majority of Pop music is made by people with “outside voices.” They always sound like they’re yelling. Often they’re squeaky, too. One Direction is super excited about what makes me beautiful. For someone who adds an unsure “maybe” to the end of her pick-up line, Carly Rae Jepsen's voice is far from a timid whisper. But, I still really like that song.
The easiest explanation I can give is this: It’s catchy and easy and sometimes we’re all a little simpleminded.
Carly Rae and Taylor Swift may not write the kind of music that would inspire people to become “Band-Aids” or make William Miller, Greil Marcus or Lester Bangs commit their lives to writing about music. They do, however, write songs that are fun to listen to when you’re on the way to see a more substantive show. After a long hard day of deep-thinking and problem solving, what’s wrong with a little light-hearted entertainment?
So, for the sake of dancers, the simple-minded, the commuters and the road trippers: Long live Pop!
First let me say that I'm not what you would call a huge Olympics fan. This isn't an essay on sports. I'll tune in occasionally for things like basketball, soccer and Brazilian women's beach volleyball (LOTS of Brazilian women's beach volleyball), but it's hardly Must-See-TV for me every four years. If I had more patience, I'd probably watch more — but researching how the scoring works in water polo (and where they hide their horses) kind of takes the fun out of things.
I do love the drama of sports. I grew up the music nerd who didn't like sports because it was for jocks. My stance softened thanks to the 1999 Cincinnati Reds. Living just a few blocks away from the old Cinergy Field, I probably went to 50 home games that year — paid five bucks for a cheap "Top 6" seat (before they'd stop you from moving closer if there were open seats, which there usually were). Some of the dramatics of that season (cut short by a devastating one game playoff loss to the Mets) re-made me into the sports fan I was as a 10 year old.
The way drama in sports moved me reminded me (and still does) of the way music moves me. Though quite different experiences (sports is "thrill of victory/agony of defeat" exciting, while music moves me to my very core, caresses my heart, soothes my pain, gets me pumped up, etc.), they both give me a somewhat similar tingle in my brain.
As this year's Olympics progressed, I began to notice a lot of complaints about NBC's "tape delayed" coverage, whereby the network would hold back all the key, shining (mostly American athlete-oriented) moments for its prime-time broadcast. Of course, as pretty much every person with the ability to communicate online noted, this meant hearing that, say, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt just made Olympic history … then turning on NBC to hear "tune in at 9 p.m. to find out how!"
Anyone with access to a radio, TV with channels other than NBC, a computer, smartphone or an excitable Olympics superfan BFF usually found out what happened up to 10 hours ahead of time. In some ways, I felt bad for the piling-on of NBC's Olympic events coverage. I mean, they did broadcast hours upon hours of live footage from London on their multiple Olympics platforms (iPad apps, Android apps, websites, additional channels, etc.).
But some people are busy, work strenuous jobs (without access to the aforementioned fancy devices) and want to come home, have some dinner, maybe smoke a doobie and THEN see what happened earlier at the Olympics. I'd be curious if anyone was actually able to avoid all spoilers — every time someone won a medal, I received a "news update" alert on my smartphone or would find out instantly on a British news website or within my Twitter or Facebook feed.
So I cut NBC the slightest of slack for fouling up some of the tape-delayed broadcast decisions (but there was no excuse for promoting Today show interviews with "new gold medalists" right before viewers actually saw said gold medalist win the top prize, something NBC did multiple times). If you really wanted to see an event live, you could do so.
The same can be said for the Closing Ceremonies, which streamed live on the Olympics many media platforms. But when it came time for editing it all down to a tight two-and-a-half hour or so prime-time broadcast, NBC had to cut some material out of the Closing Ceremony to make it fit and leave room for McDonald's and Coke commercials.
During the Opening Ceremonies, NBC shamefully cut away to show Ryan Seacrest interview Michael Phelps instead of airing the ceremony's tribute to the 52 victims of the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks in London.
There's editing for time and then there's just rude ethnocentrism. If New York City hosted the Olympics and the BBC cut away from the broadcast to show Simon Cowell interview legendary British track cyclist Chris Hoy, I wouldn't be shocked if the U.S. immediately began discussions about when to start the bombing of London.
Thankfully, nothing quite that insensitive occurred during the Closing Ceremonies.
The Closing Ceremonies piqued my interest the most of all of the Olympic happenings, mostly because I'm a proud Anglophile when it comes to music. Of my favorite artists ever, I'd be shocked if half weren't from the U.K. (if not more).
So I was fairly excited when I heard that the Closing Ceremonies would be titled "A Symphony of British Music" (look, you can already buy a CD) and focus primarily on England's greatest export, alongside comedy (which was spotlighted cleverly in both the opening and closing events) and Cadbury Creme Eggs. (I was only "fairly" excited because these things can often be cheesier than a Super Bowl halftime show with Up With People)
I had a slightly busy Sunday (well, busy enough that I couldn't watch stuff on TV or online all day), so I checked a handful of performances from the Olympics live stream, figuring I'd be able to catch the whole thing later.
There were some great moments. The John Lennon/"Imagine" salute was touching in a pure, unforced and restrained manner (not much else was, but that's not what ceremonial, once-in-the-lifetime, music-driven ragers should be about, especially in London).
It was interesting to see athletes from other countries singing along to Oasis' biggest hit, "Wonderwall," in seemingly their own languages (not sure how Noel Gallagher felt about his little bro's band Beady Eye playing it, though; Noel did turn down a chance to participate).
The unfussy cover of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" was serviceable, but gets bonus points for bridging a generational gap by bringing together hot new singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran and RIchard Jones from young Brit band The Feeling with PInk Floyd drummer Nick Mason and Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford.
Meanwhile, the only thing missing from Eric Idle's perfectly nonsensical performance of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" was a chorus line of singers nailed to crucifixes (a la Monty Python's Life of Brian, the film in which it first appeared).
And, cheesy as it may have been, Freddie Mercury (in video projection/hologram-ish form) leading the stadium through a chant proved he is STILL the best frontman in Rock, even in death.
There were also, as is to be excepted, several cringe worthy moments.
The Spice Girls were a big deal for a few minutes, but did they deserve to perform more than one song at a global event like the Olympics? What exactly did they give the world besides a lady-friend for one of the planet's (former) greatest soccer players? I know, I know — it was a "rare" reunion (though it feels like they have "rare reunions" ever six months or so). I kept hoping for a five-olde-timey-taxi pile-up as they zoomed around the performance area at seemingly dangerous speeds.
Singer Jessie J must now be bigger than Princess Diana in the U.K., because she was able to perform multiple songs as well, like her big hit "Price Tag," showing the U.K.'s contribution to crappy Pop music, and "We Will Rock You" with Roger Taylor and Brian May, presumably because Paul Rodgers either wasn't available, passed away recently or refused to wear a nude, bedazzled unitard.
Ms. J also jammed with the artists during the segment where the London Olympics showed the world that there are indeed black people in the U.K., though Taio Cruz and Tinie Tempah are essentially carbon-copies of crappy American R&B/Pop singer/rappers. They did do a fun, mercifully short cover of the Bee Gees's "You Should Be Dancing," which probably pumped up views of the Bee Gees' Wikipedia page thanks to all of us who could have sworn the trio was from Australia (they were born in the U.K., moved to Australia, then back to the England where their career kicked off in earnest … in case you don't get Wikipedia).
There were a few glaring omissions from the parade of British Music stars, but the ceremony director gets a pass for that. How do you fit a century of music into three hours? Still, I could have done with seeing The Cure play (anything but "Killing an Arab") or New Order do a Joy Division/New Order mini-set or even Def Leppard (at least!) representing the influential New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement in lieu of Russell Brand singing a Willy Wonka tune and miming "I Am the Walrus."
And, hey, remember how Britain co-invented Punk Rock? Beside awkwardly copping "London Calling" as a sort of unofficial anthem (before people apparently listened to the lyrics) and a mention of designer Vivienne Westwood, Punk Rock wasn't very big in the U.K., I guess. And Fatboy Slim apparently invented the British rave scene and U.K. dance music (while living inside a giant inflatable octopus).
Finally, in the spirit of mixing British humor and music, it would have been hilarious if George Michael would have appeared with former Wham! mate Andrew Ridgeley clasped around his leg ("I let go once — never again!").
The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Sex Pistols, Kate Bush and others reportedly turned down invites to be involved in the ceremony, though at least most were given props during the ceremony (Bowie's "Fashion" soundtracked the tribute to British fashion through the years, while a remix of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" was used as the music for a dazzling dance number spotlighting the tune).
The biggest blunder of the Closing Ceremonies, though, came once again courtesy of NBC's prime time broadcast.
I'm an editor and I understand that sometimes you can't fit every single thing you want into the tiny box given to you; tough calls must be made sometimes.
But what network exec's 14-year-old niece was given control over the U.S. broadcast's final cut on NBC? Whoever made the tough decisions made a few seriously bad ones and the internet has been screaming about how much it SUCKED ever since.
The Kate Bush-soundtracked performance was cut, but I get that. Kate's not a household name in the States. I caught rockers Muse — who wrote and recorded the official song of this year's Olympics, "Survival" — and can forgive that one too — their performance was a bit lackluster and the song has an oddly ominous tone, like something Mussolini would have commissioned had the Olympics ever come to Italy during his reign.
Ray Davies' performance might have been spared if he'd playing "You Really Got Me" or some other U.S. FM radio staple. But Davies could play nothing but his gorgeous ode to London, "Waterloo Sunset," because it was the perfect time and place for the beloved British hit to be performed.
(Click ahead to the 1:35 mark to see it, until NBC removes it)
When I realized NBC cut "Waterloo Sunset," that's when my head-cocked bemusement turned to "WTF!" annoyance. A peek at the internet revealed I was not alone (I think the Davies cut was the hardest for most true Rock fans to take).
That is, until the end of the broadcast.
The absolute worst cut from NBC's primetime broadcast was the deletion of The Who, the perfect British band to provide a grand finale. If you were watching live, you saw the extinguishing of the Olympic flame and then, while Bob Costas was allowed to blather on about nothing over the allotted air time a day or two earlier, causing the show to "run over," Costas signed off with a very quick, "We'll be back from Olympic Stadium in about an hour for the London closing party featuring The Who. But stay tuned now for a full episode of Animal Practice, the new NBC comedy presented commercial free."
The network switched over to Monkey Doctor (or whatever it's called) and then followed it with local news.
THEN The Who's impressive eight-minute medley — touching on proudly anthemic and quite British tunes like "My Generation" — was allegedly aired, an hour after prime-time programming had ended. Pete, Roger and their ringers kicked things off with "Baba O'Reily," with its perfectly dramatic, almost always spine-tingling opening keyboard riff, which would have made a perfect segue way from the flame being put out. Instead — Hospitals for Monkeys (or whatever it was called), commercial free!
I left NBC as soon as Marcus Monkeypants MD started and ultimately fell asleep, mumbling to myself about how I'll never watch another episode of America's Got Talent or something like that. Then I spent today looking up what I missed on YouTube and other sites … when available. There was some good footage posted for a few minutes, but NBC and the Olympics yanked them faster than Fred Willard in a movie theater.
The nbcolympics.com site DID have The Who segment up by this evening. But they called "Baba O'Riley" by its not-actual-title, "Teenage Wasteland."
See — 14-year-olds are running NBC!
Ultimately, it's not that big of a deal — today there was another sad, tragic, inexplicable shooting in public near Texas A&M University. We STILL have not seen what Paul Ryan's abs look like. And NBC says the Olympic games were the most watched in history; one ad exec went so far as to suggest the high ratings in the U.S. were BECAUSE of the weird tape-delay approach. It created excitement (not hair-pulling-out frustration?).
So keep it in perspective and start getting ready for the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil. I'm already plotting how to watch it all as it should be watched — on a live stream, on Brazilian TV or in person (CityBeat, I'm volunteering my services). Because you just know NBC is going to shoot 90% of it from "above the waist." Some of those amazing booties over there are definitely NSF-NBC.
My life usually has a musical component, so it's not shocking that my vacations have many musical memories inexorably tied to the trips. I'm sure most music lovers have had similar experiences.
My family went to Washington, D.C., every 4th of July for many years when I was growing up and The Beach Boys always played a free concert next to the Washington monument. These late ’70s/early ’80s gigs are what I've always considered my first concerts. The memories are vague but deeply entrenched. I'll never forgive my folks for not letting me watch opener Joan Jett (at her "I Love Rock & Roll" peak). I was about 11. And I was pissed!
I have many amazing Lollapalooza road trips memories, from the first-tour Cleveland stop in 1991 when fans charged the gates as Nine Inch Nails played an early set to getting seriously beaten by bouncers (then evicted from the premises) after telling them not to be dicks during my trip to Indy for the Beastie Boys/Smashing Pumpkins headlining year (1994). I also had a personal rebirth on a trip to the standalone Lolla in 2007, feeling inspired by seeing Amy Winehouse, Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Patti Smith under the mammoth Chicago skyline.
But many musical vacations aren't concert related, nor intentionally "musical." I vividly remember "Rhinestone Cowboy" being played on the radio nonstop during a trip to Atlanta as a child. If I hear that song now I can think of nothing but being 6 or 7 years old, flopping around in our un-air-conditioned, early ’70s VW bug's cubby hole, the small compartment between the backseat and the engine. We not only didn't wear seatbelts or sit in carseats back then — we were allowed to play in literally the most dangerous spot in the tiny death trap.
I remember an L.A. trip the month the Beastie Boys dropped Check You Head. I played it nonstop on a Walkman and arrived in Los Angeles to discover everyone dressed exactly like Adam, Mike and Adam. I found the summertime wearing of winter hats hilarious. It seemed all based on one music video and an album cover.
That same trip I developed a supernatural bond with Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking and Smashing Pumpkins' Gish. I listened to both several times on that trusty Walkman as I sat alone on a Pacific Coast beach, mesmerized by the moon's reflection on the vast, dark ocean mirror, the sound of waves crashing perfectly in time with the music's hypnotic psychedelics, just figuring my life philosophy out, scared but excited for whatever the future held.
I've had some great odd music-related coincidences on summer trips, as well. As I giddily drove over the horizon on my summer journey to New York City to intern for several months with an editor and caught my first glimpse of the always jaw-dropping skyline of Manhattan, the dance remix version of "Miles Iz Dead" by personal hometown heroes of mine, The Afghan Whigs, just happened to come on the terrestrial radio station to which we were listening. It would be the no-brainer soundtrack selection had it been a scene in the movie of my life.
My vacation from which I just returned, a trip to the deepest-south Alabama, was filled with several interesting coincidences, all related to a single, singular musical icon, a fascinating man I learn more about every day.
I only connected the dots when I got home. Had my memorial trail actually been evident to me as I journeyed along, I would have explored more, to connect even more dots.
As it stands, it was a fun if inadvertent adventure, even in hindsight. An accidental pilgrimage of sorts.
Gradually, I pieced together evidence Hank Williams spirit-guided me on my recent trip:
1) Drove through Butler County, Ala., and saw signs for Mount Olive, birthplace of Hiram Hank Williams, as I later discovered.
2) Drove past Montgomery twice, where Hank cut his teeth and launched his career.
3) Drove a stretch of highway officially dubbed the "Hank Williams Memorial Lost Highway."
4) Admired the massive shipyards along the bay in Mobile, where Hank worked during World War II.
5) Held in my hands the heavy vinyl version of the The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams (2011) compilation in the building headquarters of the record company that released it (Third Man Records in Nashville).
6) Nearly bought a weird old Hank Jr./Hank Sr. split LP at another Nashville record shop and walked past Roy Acuff's record store (where the above photo was apparently taken).
7) Touched and was awestruck by the grandeur of God's Own Listening Room, the Ryman Auditorium, home to the Grand Ole Opry when Hank performed there (and was later banned for life).
8) Roamed Broadway and the alley beside the Ryman where I am fairly certain Hank once frolicked pre- and post-gigs.
9) Walked by the current Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Hank was among the first three artists to be inducted in the Hall's first class of inductees in 1961.
10) Returned to work this morning, seated four floors above where Hank Williams recorded "Lovesick Blues," a crossover smash that cemented Hank's status as a superstar, as well as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and other classics.
There's a piano down there Hank probably played when he was in town. I think I'd like to go down there, tickle those ivories and see if Hank's ghost wants to hang out and chat for a while.
I do believe these are all merely fun coincidences. Maybe it was all subconsciously strung together to help keep my sobriety in check. Hank's a musical hero of mine, but not a role model. He's a cautionary tale; I am an alcoholic who would likely have met a similar tragic fate as Hank's had I not stopped boozing.
Sometimes great vacations can take you down more than just literal new paths.
But if Hank is my life journey's Sherpa, I'm more than ready. I only insist that he doesn't drink while we're driving; that shit's frowned upon nowadays. And it didn't end well last time.
I drifted off Thursday night and had my wonderfully fitful sleep punctuated by the strangest dream. Like most dreams, it was disjointed and surreal, but it made an odd sort of sense. It’s never easy to describe these nocturnal apparitions but it was so vivid, I shall give it a try.
Friday, July 13
I was walking downtown. I knew exactly where I needed to go but I didn’t know exactly how to get there. A ridiculously convoluted route got me to the desired entrance, I received my press credentials and a map of a fascinating kingdom which I entered through the back gate, popping up in the midst of a Craft Beer Village, a place I would revisit many times.
Because of family obligations, I had arrived late, and the celebration, which had been dubbed Bunbury, was already in full swing. I headed for what I perceived to be the main concentration of activity and there ran into Brent and his wife Kat, who I frequently cross paths with at these sorts of soirees and who are always a welcome sight and great companions. Almost immediately, I encountered my nephew Jim, who proceeded to buy me a multitude of beers, a welcome refreshment on a steamy afternoon.
We made our way to the Globilli stage to see The Crash Kings, a keyboard/bass/drum trio that made sounds like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath with a twist of Styx (when they were a decent Rock band) refracted through an Indie Rock prism. Keyboardist Tony Beliveau was improbably wearing a long sleeve flannel shirt in 90-degree heat, but he said they were from L.A., so he may have legitimately been cold. They played songs from their eponymous debut and a few from their as-yet unreleased new album, there was an epic bass solo at one point, and Beliveau made other worldly sounds with the use of a whammy bar on his rig, which I had never seen before. The Crash Kings were incredible, and they would have kicked 1975 square in the balls.
At the Landor Stage, Ponderosa were cranking out some sweet Indie Rock/Soul from their first album, Moonlight Revival and their new album Pool Party, which ultimately led to a cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U.” Kalen Nash, clad in a much cooler serape and stalking the stage in Hobbit-like bare feet, bemoaned the loss of the Southgate House and said to the crowd, “Let’s bring that back.” We couldn’t have agreed more.
Back at Globilli, O.A.R. were giving a sizable audience a fair dose of heartland Indie Rock and getting an enthusiastic response in turn. The band started in Maryland but rose to prominence as students at Ohio State, and became something of a regional phenomenon. Much like the Dave Matthews Band, O.A.R.’s reputation grew by grassroots methodology and hard work. Marc Roberge acknowledged their local ties and thanked fans for their loyalty with a rousing set. Jim’s pals Andre and Kevin arrived at some point, more beers were acquired and all was well.
I took my leave of Jim and his friends to check out Ra Ra Riot at the Bud Light Stage. I love their studio brand of visceral Chamber Pop/Indie Rock and they most certainly do not disappoint in the live arena as they tore shit up good and proper. Ra Ra Riot make compelling feel-good music but I always feel a touch of melancholy when I listen to them, remembering their courage and loyalty when they remained together as a band in the aftermath of losing their original drummer John Pike, a drowning victim five years ago. Their biggest successes have come in the wake of that tragedy, but they remain in contact with Pike’s family who have in turn remained fully in Ra Ra Riot’s corner. That is truly inspirational, and that depth of feeling is translated into every note that RRR puts out into the universe. The real headline from RRR’s set was Wes Miles’ announcement that Bunbury was “the best run festival we’ve ever played,” high praise from a band that’s attended SXSW, CMJ, Seaport Music Festival and a good many others.
Somewhere between O.A.R. and Ra Ra Riot, I ran into Sean Rhiney (Messerly & Ewing) and Brian Kitzmiller (Black Owls), and was introduced to a flock of people (between them, Sean and Brian know every human in the Tri-State area) whose names are lost in a haze of previous beers but who were constant friendly faces in a sea of humanity over the next three days. I raise a perpetual glass to your continued well being and camaraderie.
It was back to the Globilli stage for The Airborne Toxic Event (named for a phrase in Don DeLillo’s 1985 chemical spill thriller, White Noise), which I’ve found to be one of the better muscular Indie Rock outfits. On the surface, they might seem like one of many innocuous radio-friendly ciphers but they’ve got a fascinating back-story, a fairly intricate sound and impressive songwriting talent. Frontman Mikel Jollett and his TATE cohorts played with a calculated frenzy to a rapturous response, and Jollett even injected a few serious moments into the festival’s spirited atmosphere to plug the Wounded Warrior Project and to offer some bi-partisan criticism (“Don‘t tell us you’re with us if you’re for cutting veterans’ benefits, don’t tell us you’re with us if you’re for raising taxes on returning veterans...”). A show with a message and a blazing soundtrack … not too shabby.
Then it was back to Landor for the most anticipated show of the night, and quite possibly the best show of the festival; the triumphant return of Cincy's Foxy Shazam. Eric Nally was in rare form, in both gymnastic stage behavior, microphone stand ballet and crowd interaction. A sampling of his repartee: (facing GABP) “Hey Votto, if you can hear me, hit the motherfucker out of the park..."; “I did an interview and when I read the story, the writer said we were unique, and I said, ‘Yeah, we‘re unique, just like everybody else..."; “Spill a little wine over here, spill a little wine over there, eventually everything’s red, spill a little blood over here, spill a little blood over there, eventually everything’s dead.”
During “Unstoppable,” someone winged a bottle of Gatorade at Nally, who flung it straight back and took issue by singing “Whoever threw that Gatorade is going to pay” at the close of the song. He then chastised the offender, saying, “Don’t make me explain to my kids why I have a bottle of Gatorade stuck up my ass,” and noting that he would let security allow the thrower backstage if he wanted to fight. Classic Nally.
Later, Schuyler White danced on his keyboard then tossed it onto the front row of the audience and dove into the crowd, playing while the audience held him in place. Classic Foxy. The crowd went batshit crazy when Foxy launched into “I Like It” from their latest and best album, The Church of Rock and Roll. At the breathless conclusion of Foxy’s set, the bar was officially set for the next two days.
With a fairly elaborate stage set complete with women on trapezes and giant video monitors displaying some sort of acid freak-out movie from the ’60s, Jane’s Addiction clearly trumped Foxy in terms of spectacle but fell short in terms of raw energy. Dave Navarro peeled off plenty of scorching riffery, his patented classic combination of ’80s Hard Rock and ’90s AltRock with his guitar set to stun, Stephen Perkins bashed his kit like a man possessed and new bassist Chris Chaney supplied a thunderous heartbeat, while Perry Farrell stalked the Globilli Stage like an earthbound raptor, howling his way through a set comprised of songs from their latest album, last year’s The Great Escape Artist, and heavy on the classics from their other three discs.
The show couldn’t be characterized as lackluster or phoned in, as it was a feast for the senses; plenty of engaging trappings and a propulsive soundtrack that tapped into memories of a visceral and compelling band on the edge of the alternative frontier two and a half decades ago. It was all incredibly entertaining, but it was a far cry from the scalp-tingling urgency of JA’s hungrier days, which is why this tour was designed with so much visual overload; few if any bands are able to recreate their earliest chemistry 25 years after the fact. My favorite JA memory will always be their opening set for Iggy Pop in 1988; seeing Jane’s at Bogart‘s that night was the aural equivalent of licking an electric outlet. I was certainly not disappointed with what transpired during JA’s Bunbury set, but neither was I spellbound by it. And Farrell’s humorously profane diatribe (“Let the pussies hear you!”) linking Pete Rose’s absence in the Baseball Hall of Fame to Jane’s Addiction’s lack of nominations two years after their eligibility was a bit awkward; he seemed to think steroids were somehow involved in Rose’s case, and as far as JA is concerned, well, four albums over a quarter century span, regardless of the influence of the first two, does not a Hall of Fame career comprise. I was glad to have experienced Jane‘s Addiction in the 21st century and I like the bombast they’ve created to present their old and new material but, as Blue Oyster Cult once noted, this ain’t the summer of love.
At some point during the JA set, I spied my most excellent zen editor Mike Breen, so I sidled over for some quick face time (being freelance I don‘t get into the office as much as I probably should), and he seemed to be digging the show greatly. I look forward to his thoughts on it because I greatly respect his musical opinions in a completely non-ass nuzzling way. (Editor's Note: You're hired! Fireworks rock! And "Free Pete Rose"!)
And Jim’s wife, my niece Robin, came late to the festival but somehow spotted me in the twilight and gave me a nudge in the back. Even though she is only five years my junior, I have been married to her aunt for almost three decades, and so I am and will forever be Uncle Brian, which is both touching and charming. A good number of the nieces and nephews I inherited when I started dating my wife have kids of their own now. Time and the generations march on.
I left Mike to his JA reverie when I spotted revered music connoisseur and branding legend Matthew Fenton (once an occasional CityBeat music contributor), who came down from his lair in Chicago to experience Bunbury’s inaugural year. I had e-mailed him to ask if he and his most excellent girlfriend Kelly would be in attendance, but never heard back. Turns out he’d quit his job after last year’s MidPoint and has taken up the study of improv comedy at Second City, a program from which he will graduate next month. I am both astonished and completely unsurprised because Matthew is a genius that makes geniuses insecure. Matthew assured me that Kelly would be around for Saturday’s festivities and introduced me to his older brother John, an equally princely guy by all indications.
Now we have a festival.
Saturday, July 14
I made my way back to the media entrance, this time being tended by old friend Jacob Heintz (Buckra) and the lovely and talented Sara Beiting (a former CityBeat all-star). The cloud cover was heavier, and it had already rained relatively hard north of the city but it didn’t seem to have impacted the downtown area too badly. I grabbed a beer and made my way through the throng … or did I make my way through the throng and grab a beer? The skies were not the only things that were partly cloudy.
At the Globilli stage, I was just in time for the start of Alberta Cross, a British duo now getting their mail in Brooklyn and fleshing out their live sound with a full fledged band. They sported an expansive vibe that had an appealing Verve quality, or Oasis without the contentious brothers problem screwing everything up.
Memorial Day (originally called “Decoration Day”) was founded after the Civil War. The amount of men both the South and the Union lost during the Civil War was so staggering that it is often still referred to as our bloodiest war. Needing a way to grieve for their fallen loved ones, women and children took to the cemeteries to decorate the graves of their killed husbands, fathers and brothers. Over time, as America involved itself in more wars and saw the loss of more men and, eventually women, Memorial Day soon came to be a day to memorialize all fallen comrades, not just those from the Civil War.
These days, despite the fact that we still have thousands of soldiers deployed overseas, the meaning of Memorial Day seems to have diminished. For many people, it marks the start of summer. It’s the day where it’s officially OK to unroll the cover off your hibernating pool. It’s an excuse to invite over a few friends and fire up the grill. We build bunkers out of charcoal, dodge the friendly fire of water guns and begin donning our summer uniforms of shorts and tank-tops. Rarely, however, do we stop to remember the soldiers who have fallen in order for us to enjoy the oncoming lazy days of summer.
As Americans, we are certainly a culture full of short attention spans and we, the media, do a piss poor job of helping you remember why Memorial Day is still relevant. We publish thousands of words each year memorializing overdosed musicians and crazy, drug addled actors. We’d rather publish images of wild-eyed and high comedians than show you the reality of the flag covered caskets that still come rolling in off of planes each week. That’s incredibly pathetic when you consider that roughly 6,400 soldiers have been killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. So, maybe it’s our fault.
This year deserves to be different, though. Recently, one of my best friends sent me a video of a bunch of bored soldiers in Iraq dancing to a Vanilla Ice song. We’d been discussing the reasoning behind the exorbitant amount of soldier suicides. I guess it had gotten the best of both our moods and he decided we needed to cheer up. Except he failed. As I watched the videos, I couldn’t help but wonder just how many of those boys were still alive.
They really were boys, too. None of them look any older than the staff at CityBeat. Most of them look a lot younger. Soldiers are hardly grown-ups — according to Congressional record, the average age of a combat soldier is 27 and 68 percent of the fallen soldiers are under the age of 30. For many of us, that means they’re kids who went to our school. They’re our prom dates, point guards, arch-enemies and best friends.
This Memorial Day, as you’re preparing for your summer-long battle with mosquitoes and weeds, enjoy this playlist of fun, bar-b-q worthy music (including two versions of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”). At some point, though, check out the videos that go along with them. Even if you have no personal acquaintance to memorialize, take time to remember that others around the patio table may have someone missing. Say “Thank you” to the dude with the U.S. Marines sticker on the back of his jeep (he’s surely lost a friend or two) or apologize to the mother with the gold star on her service banner. Drink a beer for the girl you knew back in high school who was in ROTC or take your kid to go pop an American flag on their great-great-grandpa’s grave.
With each passing year, the reasons behind any war almost always end up blurry. Don’t let the faces of our soldiers become that way, too.
On this date in 1967, Floridian Psychedelic Folk band Pearls Before Swine (a precursor to contemporary so-called "Freak Folk") began the three-day sessions for its debut album, One Nation Underground. The album would become a moderate success, selling nearly a quarter of a million copies.
One of the album's tracks, "(Oh Dear) Miss Morse," was the source of some controversy. The subversive chorus of the weird little song (essentially a banjo riff with some organ blips) consists of vocalist/songwriter Tom Rapp (and that organ) "singing" in Morse code the letters "F," "U," "C" and "K" (Dit Dit Dah Dit/Dit Dit Dah/Dah Dit Dah Dit/Dah Dit Dah).
And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for some meddling kids! Famous New York DJ Murray the K was busted after playing the song on the air when a few smarty-pants Boy Scouts reportedly recognized the code and called in to complain about the veiled obscenity (or maybe brag that they figured it out).
It's not the only song to feature secret Morse code messaging. Mike Oldfield's album Amarok (featuring, essentially, one hour-long track) came towards the end of his contract with Virgin Records in 1990. Oldfield sent a little note to his boss on the album; towards the end, there's a Morse code message that spells out "Fuck Off RB," referring to Virgin label chief Richard Branson.
The Rush song "YYZ" from the 1981 album Moving Pictures also features Morse coding, in a pretty ingenious manner. Drummer Neil Pert's rhythm on the song is based on Morse for "YYZ." The letters weren't especially controversial, though — they were simply the code for Toronto's airport (Rush is from the area).
Other instances of Morse code in popular music: Roger Waters' album Radio KAOS features several Morse messages; Kraftwerk used it throughout their 1975 track "Radioactivity" (it simply spells out the title); and The Clash's "London Calling" has choppy guitar feedback at the end of the song that spells out "S.O.S."
Here's the Pearls Before Swing tune. NSFW (if you work for a former Boy Scout or telegraph expert).
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 7 birthday include late drummer for influential Rock bands New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Jerry Nolan (1946); Disco diva ("Don't Leave Me This Way"), singer/songwriter and actress Thelma Houston (1946); masterful German Boogie Woogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger (1955); Motorhead guitarist Phil Campbell (1961); Swedish one-hit-wonder, son of Jazz legend Don Cherry and half-brother to Neneh Cherry, Eagle-Eye Cherry (1971); drummer for British Pop/Rock stars Arctic Monkeys, Matt Helders (1986); and British singer Martina Topley-Bird (1975).
Topley-Bird is probably best known as a crucial part of Trip Hop pioneer Tricky's early (and biggest) success as vocalist on his classic album, 1995's Maxinquaye. The album made Tricky a Pop star, something that he admittedly was not prepared for and which drove him a little nuts. He recently told U.K.'s The Guardian that, going into the album's release, "I thought I'd be an underground artist. I had no idea it was going to do that and I was not ready for it." He says he spent much of the rest of his career trying to become more of a cult artist than a superstar. And he succeeded.
Topley-Bird parted ways with Tricky in 1998 and has made a trio of solo album (and worked with Gorillaz and Massive Attack). But late last month, she rejoined Tricky in England to perform Maxinquaye in its entirety. Well, that was the plan, anyway. Tricky reportedly disappeared during parts of the performances, which didn't exactly live up the "play the full album" billing. In a review of the performance in Manchester, ClashMusic.com wrote that the Tricky concert ultimately became "the Martina Topley-Bird show, with the singer providing the only reliable musical seam throughout, in contrast to an erratic and seemingly disengaged Tricky."
Here's Martina Topley-Bird's "Anything" from her acclaimed debut solo album, Quixotic.