Sixty one

A few (six) years ago, a couple of friends got together for a birthday party at L’Archiduc in Brussels. Trulee was turning sixty, and her partner Samy rented the club, and some friends provided music. Blaine had just passed the sixty marker a week earlier, and if you notice in this extended intro, he asks “What comes after sixty?” to which you can hear Trulee call out “Sixty One!”

 

In a memorable evening, the simple obvious fact that sixty one comes after sixty remains a strong memory; life goes on. Now, I reach sixty one. I am reminded of the seasons of life as another friend of mine “retires” to Arizona, leaving behind fifty years of performances. I have also reached the time to rest.

The ride has been wonderful. Sure, I’ve visited the lowest places in the universe, I’ve also danced in the clouds. Balance is crucial in life; understanding that the good times will not last forever is healthier than crashing when they inevitably end. I expect them to end and come back, as they have several times. How am I supposed to write about all the different aspects of life if I haven’t experienced them?

The years have given the illusion of wisdom, more years illustrate the transient nature of the illusion. It works to remain calm, allow processes to run their course, listen rather than speak. I speak softly, and slowly; shouting dulls the senses. I give the appearance of being at peace. Usually I am.

I got to see the best bands, and some of the best concerts. I managed to be in the right (or wrong) places for some historical changes in society. I loved deeply and was loved as deeply. I played fair, even (maybe especially) when I was being treated unfairly. So now I get to enjoy myself. I am comfortable being anonymous, I don’t need to be noticed.

As I enter my sixty-first year, the changes that have taken place in my life are muted by the changes of the last year. So very much has taken place, I have not slowed down as I have aged; it has taken its price. There are good reasons to slow down consciously, rather than due to disability caused by not slowing down.

My desire to write is waning, in many ways my desire to communicate is drawing to a close. Too many people who honestly believe they know everything and want to argue without references are out there. I plan to withdraw from social media on my birthday, a present to myself, I can live much better without the vitriol. I am stuck here in the United States for the upcoming election year, and my capacity to overlook hate has been exhausted. I will still write the occasional blog, but I have no intention of becoming involved in the circus Americans refer to as “Politics.” I do rather enjoy checking the statistics on my readers, the other day one person read fifty of my articles.

As I write this, it has started snowing outside. The flakes fly in every direction from my view as various wind currents around the building carry it. The other day I watched every leaf on a tree in the complex fall off in under an hour, the area around its base covered with a green “snow.” There is plenty to see right out my window.

Janice and I will travel a bit, just in North America. We will still attend LGBT events, but as participants, on the street interacting with people. We intend to socialize locally with real people, as we turn our focus away from the internet and towards the real world. It’s a pretty cool place, I’ve spent a lot of time there.

Life is good, hope to see you along the way.

Social Therapy

The therapies I have participated in since my accident have attempted to bring me back to a functional state. I was never merely functional, but they need a target.

Occupational Therapy has been trying to get my elbow and wrist to function in ways conducive to performing in an occupation. My mind is a bit fuzzy (more on that later) but I do not recall being asked which occupation I should be prepared for. My last position was in a warehouse, preparing shipments of fifty pound boxes of cosmetics. Prior to that I have done many things, both as vocations and avocations. Presently I can write, but I have never made much money writing (You could buy my book if you want to help). As much praise as I receive for my progress, I am nowhere near ready to pick and ship boxes heavier than three pounds. The other day one of the therapists was saying how well I am doing, I can touch my shoulder. I told her I really wanted my arms to match, and she asked what I could do. I wasn’t in the mood to show off, but I took my left arm, extended it to perfectly straight in front of me, lifted my arm straight up, brought my palm to the back of my head, and rotated my wrist clockwise and then counterclockwise, ending each twist with the back of my hand on the back of my head. These movements were based on the extrapolated extremes of the exercises I had been doing for my right arm.

Apparently this was not the goal they had in mind, as none of the therapists could reproduce the movement.

My Physical Therapy has been trying to get me to walk smoothly, without falling. I am not progressing quite as well here, I’ve always been a little wobbly and my gait can best be described as a controlled fall. I make them nervous, they keep thinking I’ll fall, but I saw there was a wall there and managed to bounce off of it. My days of ballet, or even expressive dance, are no doubt behind me. Yoga is still on my list, I can see it as a life long physical therapy project. If I’m lucky I will find a way for medicaid to pay for it.

My Cognitive therapy is as broken as I am. I have my first evaluation next week, and my comprehensive evaluation has yet to be scheduled. Parts of my brain are healing, enough that I am aware that things are missing. The entire months of December and January are now a mystery, and November and February are not as clear as they should be. In the interim I am taking the Lumosity training, and after a month my scores are as high as the fifty seventh percentile. I am well aware my mental acuity was previously in the ninety ninth percentile for some tasks, never below the ninetieth. There are languages in which I once could speak fluently and no longer can count to ten. I know what belongs in the kitchen but can’t think of how to put it together into an interesting meal. Emotionally, I am vacant, yet for some reason I feel an attraction to a woman who I had the police remove from my house last year.

My vision issues are slowly being narrowed down to the correct ophthalmologist, and my hearing tests have resulted in a “well that’s unusual” response from my doctors.

The most satisfying therapy I have tried has been “Social Therapy.” Spending time doing the things I am accustomed to, with people I am accustomed to. I hope I am progressing well, but my friends are not therapists, they may not be telling me about my failures.

I started out slowly, catching my friend’s “British Invasion” show, a chronological performance of the music of the 60s and 70s. They even had actors doing introductory skits, the opening had a great twist on “Who’s on First” substituting The Guess Who, The Who, and Yes as the acts of a concert.

Sam and I had a nice evening discovering garlic fries and I shot some video for the band. It was a good “first night out,” not too crowded or loud, and loads of memory laden music.

The next week we returned to see  my friend Buddy Cash play with his band and a couple of the guys from the band Squeeze. Buddy always packs the house, it was a busy and loud night, but it was great to see everyone again. Squeeze covered a lot of Led Zeppelin, which was an odd turn but interesting. With Buddy and two former bassists from Squeeze there was a plethora of bass players, unfortunately I didn’t shoot any video that night.

A few days later I met some friends from school I had not seen in decades.

Blake, Mike, and Kati

Blake, Mike, and Kati

My friend Michael Montgomery is a magician, he lives magic, always prepared for an illusion. It was amazing to watch him seamlessly flow from conversation to magic. Kati (Karena Walker) is a yoga teacher and singing bowl practitioner.  I attended a healing circle Kati and another yoga teacher put together a few months ago (although in my mind it is presently a fact and not a memory), it was exceptionally soothing. We had not all been together in nearly forty years, we met at Michael’s house, met his wife Paula, and had a wonderful evening rekindling memories. This is something I must do again, I carried a smile for days.

Tonight I’ll be seeing another friend, Ritchie DeCarlo, play with one of his bands, The Prussia Kings, at a club not far from Sam’s house (fortuitous planning). Ritchie’s musical directions are always interesting, and the club carries Chimay Premiere, so the evening is promising.

My friend Tribbee returns from Scotland this week, the Vernal Equinox arrives with Sunday,  April brings the Punk Rock Flea Market and Record Store Day. All of these things engage and stimulate my brain, providing much needed social therapy.

The road ahead is long and mysterious, much like my journey with multiple sclerosis I have no idea what to expect. I do know, at least I feel, I must regain my memories, exercise my brain, regain my mental acuity. I may appear to have recovered from the accident, but there remains a long, largely invisible, recovery ahead. Sam has said being with me is like being with my twin bother, we look the same and have similar characteristics, but we are not the same person.

I really want to be me again.

Faces in the crowd

Good morning, today is my birthday. I’m spending the weekend relaxing in the mountains, so on Friday evening I was talking with a friend and not watching any news. I woke to the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

As of now one hundred and twenty nine people are listed as dead, with another ninety nine of the three hundred fifty two wounded in “very serious condition.”

One hundred and twenty nine families will have an empty seat at the table. Lovers will lay down in empty beds, children will live their lives without a parent, parents will bury their children. One hundred twenty nine times over, for now, this time. The day before, forty three died and two hundred thirty nine were wounded in a suicide bomb attack in Beirut, one hundred forty seven were killed and seventy nine wounded in an attack on Garissa University in Kenya. Brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and friends lost forever.

Every face in the crowd is loved by someone, the eyes which once lit up when that face entered the room are now filled with tears.

On Saturday morning, my circles of friends checked to see if they were intact. Most were. Not all. I haven’t heard from Beirut yet, Baba had a way of knowing where his next restaurant should be blown up.

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe Zschoche

Luis Felipe was in Paris to complete an album with his band Captain Americano. He decided to catch the Eagles of Death Metal concert at Bataclan with his girlfriend. They are now faces in the crowd.

It is not a good day to be a Muslim.

I knew a woman who grew up in Germany during the second world war. She was a child, she did not know any Jews, she lived on a farm and knew there was a war going on. She had no idea about the holocaust taking place. Years later, in America, she was just another German, a NAZI, a Jew killer in the eyes of anyone who heard her heavy accent.

In America during the war we “interned” people of Japanese descent, American citizens were sent to what were essentially prisoner of war camps inside America.

As a society, I do not believe we have matured much since then. After the 11 September attacks anti-Muslim prejudices were so out of hand that Sikhs, who have nothing in common with Islam but happen to wear turbans (unlike actual Arabs or Muslims) were the target of hate crimes.

I do not expect people to be able to differentiate between peaceful Muslims and ISIS terrorists when they cannot tell a Sikh from a Muslim.

It is time to make some tough decisions, and in order to make intelligent decisions you must be armed with facts. Hear that well extremist friends. Be more intelligent than your adversary.

We are indeed at war, our my opponent is hate. So look deep inside yourself, which side are you on? It does not matter if you are Muslim or Christian; if your motivation to action is hate, you are on the same side, and you are not on my side of this battle.

My God tells me to love everyone. I return to Matthew 5:43-45; “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

If you choose to feed hate, it grows just like any other organism. One friend stated it quite well; “Let us not get polarized and divisive. Extremist organizations thrive and recruit from divisive societies. Let us not cast blame on an entire community because of the actions of a minority. People killing people are not fueled by differences of race or religion. Those are just the excuse for a deeper seeded evil fueled by extremism. So let’s not provide the soil on which those seeds of extremism can thrive and flourish.”

Do not mistake my intentions. The individuals who are responsible for the destruction of lives and families should be hunted down and eliminated like the cancer they are. Feeding that cancer by attacking innocents is counterproductive.

My time here on Earth nears its end, but my time with God has only begun. I will NOT spend eternity reconciling hate, that task is to be completed here. Besides, I hear they have a pretty good band in heaven, they just got another guitarist.

Dancing about Architecture

It has been a rough month. My typical approach to such times is to embrace the mantra “When the going gets tough, the tough go dancing,” but this has provided little comfort this time around, the wounds I have received are far deeper than any logic would predict or dance could remedy.

I have yet to prove to myself any purpose in continuing to exist, and such thoughts cause me to define existence. The definition, of course, returns me to the dance, the depression staining my interpretations cannot obliterate the beauty of the performance. I remember, and try to convince myself of what I once held as truth. One does not travel the paths I have without making connections in the matrices which serve as a foundation when life attempts to remove one’s soul.

One footing of that foundation is music, which has sounded sour to my ears these last few weeks, another is writing, which requires more thought than a mind filled with self doubt can provide. Another footing is human connections, and despite the betrayal these connections have faithfully provided, little sparks of hope occasionally illuminate a bridge. Knowing I must pull myself together, the universe conspired to bring me to a minuscule venue over a fabric store in Philadelphia, the irony of the side street sharing the name of the woman who has torn my heart to shreds is not lost on me.

A string of obscure introductions led me to meet Ritchie DeCarlo, a local musician who plays in a couple of bands. I’m going to call him a “drummer” rather than “percussionist,” although his kit contains some fascinating percussion instruments, because he also covers synthesized sounds which are only percussion in an examination at the quantum level, such as his use of a theremin.

 

Ritchie on theremin

 

Playing theremin always reminds me of someone conducting an orchestra. I had explained to my second wife (the Conductor) how a conductor was the only person allowed to dance at a performance; she was not amused. So I guess it is time to explain the title of this article to those unfamiliar with the phrase. It is from a quote by Frank Zappa, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” In my world, “Dancing” is a metaphor for life. The matrix of meanings and metaphors choreographs a sequence which supports my soul, even when that soul is in tatters.

One of the lineups Ritchie is involved with, the “The Trio from Hell,” more commonly referred to by the names of the band members; Percy Jones, Scott McGill, and Ritchie DeCarlo, performed at TTR Studios last night to a crowd of about fifty. Ritchie introduced the band, categorizing the music as “Not so easy listening.” It is a fusion of styles, most noticeably Jazz, “New Age,” and Electronica. Here’s a taste from last night;

 

 

 

Funny the things you notice in a video, I would have never noticed that bald spot developing on the back of my head. Back to the dance.

I find the music very easy to listen to, soothing with just enough twists to keep me from lulling into a trance. The guitar work of McGill was fascinating, his use of fretless guitars and midis, combined with a left hand that floated over the neck delivering lightening strikes reminiscent of a gulf thunderstorm, must be seen to be believed.

 

Scott turns chaos into order

 

In an industry in which the term “legend” has been overused to the point of meaninglessness, Percy Jones demands a personal adjective. His playing not only has influenced my musical directions, it has influenced many of my other influences. He effortlessly propels his line from “rhythm section” to “lead instrument” and back, creating sounds many people might not associate with the bass. This type of thing warms my heart, having been ridiculed for some of my arrangements; living within the definition of “improvisation,” yet not improvised at all.

 

 

Percy Jones

Percy Jones

 

Ritchie’s drumming glides between the styles fused in this band, again demonstrating the strengths required to play in a trio, the ability to effortlessly transition from lead to rhythm. In the case of a drummer, changing rhythm can be difficult, the mind (approach) is altered with time signatures and style. I recall trying to teach a drummer a particular passage which he envisioned as a waltz, or 3/4 time. It was not, it was a sequence of triplets in 4/4 time. The guitarist (whose ego dictated he believe “RMS” was a reference to his initials) scoffed at the explanation, but the drummer got it and never missed the beat in that piece again. Ritchie played a rather large kit this evening, but far from being gimmickry each piece fit the arrangement in which it was used, from his tympani tomtom through his eclectic collection of cymbals.

Most of Ritchie's kit

Most of Ritchie’s kit

 

Perhaps the most fortunate part of the evening was my friend bailing out at the last minute, leaving me with no one to share the experience. Because I do have someone, you.

Writers write, musicians play, and chefs cook. I’m ready to do all three today. I’m not back yet, I still need to make the “Lovers love” part work again, which rests with that woman named with a side street.

And the band played on

Last night, as I entered my usual Monday evening hang-out, there was a chill in the air.

Not the weather, in fact it had been an unusually warm day, with a high of twenty two, freakish relative to tomorrow’s predicted snow and low temperature of one degree below zero.

The normal buzz of the crowd was hushed, and rather than Monday Night Football, the televisions were tuned to CNN. The Grand Jury in St. Louis Missouri was due to return their verdict in the case of Darren Wilson, a police officer who had shot and killed Mike Brown, a teenager, in Ferguson Missouri last August.

The case had drawn a great deal of attention, Wilson and Brown were of different races, so to the smallest of minds the only motivation could have been racial hatred, because racial hatred is all those minds contain. As the prosecutor explained the case and findings, tensions were at their peak, some people traveling hundreds of miles for the opportunity to loot liquor stores and burn businesses as a reaction to the obvious legal conclusion the Grand Jury had no choice but to reach.

It was 2030 in Ferguson as the verdict was read. There was no evidence an indictable offense had taken place. Almost immediately there were police and ambulance sirens fourteen hundred kilometers and one time zone due East, in Wilmington Delaware.

The band continued setting up.

A few hundred people in Ferguson expressed their interest in justice by burning police cars and firing over one hundred and fifty gunshots (Police data indicates no shots fired by officers). Meanwhile, the Earth continued to spin on its axis, the remaining seven billion inhabitants dealt with their own lives. During the four and one half minutes of symbolic silence Mike Brown’s mother had requested before the random violence would begin, eleven hundred babies were born and four hundred fifty people died in the world. Somewhere a couple met and fell in love, somewhere else a relationship ended. People celebrated their good fortune and mourned their losses. Were you to be watching a television, you might think the world was ending, eighty people arrested in Ferguson and thousands across the country, as innocent families watched their livelihoods burn to the ground. In fact more people worldwide were making love at the moment, but that did not make the news.

In one of those moments of synchronicity, I had woken that morning with the song “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church in my head. I had suggested to my friend Buddy his band should perform the song, and Lieve mentioned as we were discussing the arrangement The Church had announced a tour. One stop is in Philadelphia, at one of my favorite venues, and I was able to get tickets, not my favorite seats but one row behind them.

As I watched Ferguson burn out of the corner of my eye, the band played on.

It was a pleasant evening, several guest musicians, a couple of conversations with a few of the other regulars, then I drove home under the clear sky, the Milky Way above me, hidden by the lights of Philadelphia but exposed as I arrived in the darkness of Princeton.

In other times, justice was local. Witch trials and lynch mobs were a horror we told ourselves could not take place in our civilised system of justice, providing more rights to the accused than any other country in the world. Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the Earth using a pendulum, fixing the relationship of the eternal spin of the Earth and the opposing and shifting points of amplitude of the pendulum. Media attention can make a local issue a global one, uninterested professional protestors bear a great resemblance to hooligans, more interested in the fight than the cause. The concept of innocent until proven guilty has given way to trial by uninformed public opinion.

What is important to remember is while hundreds were throwing bricks in Ferguson (where do these people find bricks on city streets?) thousands were making music, hundreds of thousands were dancing, millions were laughing with a friend (a good percentage of which who were of different races).

Rather than focus on a few angry trouble makers, remember the billions of people dedicated to spreading joy and love.

 

Music

Music is an integral part of my life. It serves as a refuge, and it affects me in a myriad of ways. My experiences creating music began at age eight with piano lessons, then saxophone, drums, flute, and bass. I can pretty much pick up anything and make music with it, I bought a trombone because I thought it would look nice on the wall and ended up learning to play it. My first wife wanted to play the harmonica. I bought her a nice one in C major and she struggled with it for a while. One day I came home from work and “Piano Man” by Billy Joel came on the radio, her harmonica was right there so I picked it up and played along. She never touched the harmonica again.

I may not be a great dancer, but music flows through me and my body moves with it, I found a report card from first grade and the teacher had commented  “Blake doesn’t walk, he dances.” I like to use that phrase now when I have trouble walking, “I didn’t stumble, I’m dancing don’t you know.”

The most wonderful thing about music is no one owns it, anymore than they can own the air around them. Sound is a vibration, a wave traveling through the air, you cannot stop it or cage it. Sure, people control the ability to make money propagating music, but anyone can sing to themselves,  and harmonize with others. One of my wives found it annoying that my fingers trace the patterns in music, caressing her body like an instrument without any thought. Others have found it quite pleasant.

Music can tie itself to a moment, bringing a memory whenever it is heard. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was playing when Emma learned of her first husband’s death, twenty years later she was still disturbed every time it played, even though she loved the song it brought sadness.

There are people who believe they must be the only ones to enjoy a particular band, once the band becomes popular it isn’t “cool” anymore. Such people don’t comprehend music, and they don’t comprehend cool. There is no status attached to being the first to enjoy a song, and if the only enjoyment comes from some sense of superiority, it has nothing to do with the music. The waves travel through the universe, touching everyone in a unique way. Sharing is at the heart of music.

Music has no age, songs do not go stale. I listen to new music and songs from my childhood side by side. I saw a chart a few weeks ago comparing intelligence to the type of music a person prefers, suggesting some music makes you stupid. According to the chart, I was too intelligent to like any type of music. The truth is music only affects your intelligence if you’re making it, countless studies have shown that music education leads higher test scores in all subjects.

I’ve recently taken to following a group of musicians in South Eastern Pennsylvania. You’ve heard me refer to my “brother,” Buddy Cash, who plays with several different line ups, giving me the opportunity to hear an array of arrangements. One of my favorite venues is Gallucio’s, a small restaurant and bar in Wilmington Delaware. The crowd is eclectic, families and singles, young and old. This week a young fan lifted my heart.

Buddy had started the evening at Tom and Jerry’s in Millmont Park Pennsylvania, a weekly happy hour gig from 1700 to 2000. It’s a nice venue, Emma had worked there so I’ve been meaning to stop in some night. Following that was a special Halloween gig at Gallucio’s. Buddy thought I was following him to his place between shows, I thought he was going straight to Delaware, so I arrived before him, and he spent some time waiting for me back at home. George decided to get things going so he started an acoustic set, and Callan Brown, age two, who had been staring at me up to this point (okay, I was dressed like a pirate) was mesmerized by the music.

 

Buddy showed up, and joined George. Callan was enjoying every minute.

 

 

Callan reached his bedtime, but I stayed up well past mine as the band built up.

 

Music is like that, it wakes me up, it gives me life. The guy who is in bed every night at 2000 stays out until 0330 if there’s live music.

Music is not a line of work for those seeking wealth. The hours are long, the pay is minimal, the equipment is expensive. Yet there are thousands of musicians in every city. There is a currency in music far more valuable than any other, love. The love of music is felt by the musician as well as the audience. It feels good to make music, it feels good to make other people dance and sing.

The woman who didn’t like me to “play instruments on her” was a classically trained vocalist and horn player. She teaches High School music somewhere in New Jersey. She never really understood the joy in music, she approached it with a clinical precision. The woman who enjoyed my touch loved to dance, and though she had a horrible singing voice loved to belt out her favorites. She was the love of my life, carried with me in every song she loved. I can’t even remember what the other woman looked like.

An evening with Buddy

You meet people in the oddest ways. Last year my friend Guy Campo mentioned playing with a guy named Buddy Cash (these are actual names, a guy named Guy and a buddy named Buddy). There aren’t many people out there with my last name, so I initiated a conversation on FaceBook with Buddy, who turns out to be an incredibly talented musician and genuinely nice human being. We met in person at the premiere of a film featuring Buddy (with Guy as well), and found we had many mutual ideas about life.

COVER featuring Buddy Cash

COVER featuring Buddy Cash

This is when I cut my beard, someone had noticed a picture of Buddy and I and asked if I was his father, when in fact Buddy is a few years older than I.

The Cashes

The Cashes

I haven’t had the opportunity to see Buddy play live, that is I haven’t had the time, Buddy plays five or six nights a week at various venues with various lineups. Last night I drove down to Wilmington Delaware to catch his Monday night gig at Gallucio’s with a couple of friends. This gig is called “Open Mike Night,” which turns out to be all requests and the opportunity to get on stage and sing lead vocals in some cases. It was amazing. Not only could the band play anything requested, they played it well enough to be mistaken for the original artists. I don’t mean they sounded like the album version of the song, they had the feel of the artists. When they played a few Led Zeppelin songs, Buddy and Jim sounded like Jonesy and Bonzo. When they played “Something,” Buddy’s bass line sounded more like George Harrison playing bass than Paul McCartney, he totally captured the feel and intent of the music.

The range of songs played would probably be mind numbing to most people. I’m not good at categorizing music, and when people have asked what kind of music Buddy performs I usually say “good.” That word doesn’t fit now that I’ve seen him play, and superlatives are usually dismissed, so I’ll say “Come along and hear for yourself.” I can see myself at Gallucio’s most every Monday night from now on, and Buddy has asked me to see him at Tom and Jerry’s in Milmont Park Pennsylvania a couple of times because he lives nearby and we could hang out at his place with his family and pets (he has five cats and a pig) after the show. I’ll have to to take a Saturday off for that one, the gig is on Friday and I don’t expect to be wide awake at 0500 the next morning. Emma had once been a waitress at Tom and Jerry’s, so there are a couple of reasons the gig is  attractive to me.

COVER’s producer, Kevin McQuiston, has made the film available online for $2.99, I can’t get the link he provided to work for me, but here it is. I’ll need to contact Kevin soon, because I seem to have given away all my copies of the DVDs he was selling at the premiere. When I hear from him I’ll update that link.

One more from last night, if you see me at one of the gigs come over and say hello.

 

 

 

 

I am still here

I have been having a rather rough time lately. I write from my heart and my heart has been broken.

Today, 16 August 2014, is the fourth anniversary of my first my first date with Lieve. It was the evening, and remainder of the date, that changed my life. I was struggling for meaning, and I found someone who believed in me. We connected on every level.

In a few weeks she leaves for Belgium. We had planned to go together, but she changed her mind and decided to “take a break,” so I will be staying behind, wondering how long her break will be. I remain hopeful, but there is reason to believe she will not be coming back, at least not to be husband and wife.

I’ve been to seek counseling, have seen psychologists and psychiatrists, have started taking anti-depressants again and stopped crying. Better living through chemistry.

I’ll be writing again, maybe once a week at first to share my insights and experiences. I’ve started a real job, working for Amazon, it’s rather interesting if not terribly challenging. I’ll have a roommate, a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology from Iran, which promises to produce some interesting conversations, and maybe some new recipes.

So just taking the moment, an anniversary of when I started living again, to let you all know I’m still alive and will be around more.

Oh, and I saw Sharon again…

And I cut my hair.

Opening acts

I’ve often wondered how a band chooses an opening act for tour dates. An opening act can be complimentary, complementary, comparable, or even detracting, to the main act. Here are but a few examples I’ve seen, in no particular order.

A few weeks back we saw the band Elbow. If you’re not familiar with the band, they’ve been together twenty three years and have put out five albums. Not mainstream, but solid. The vocalist has a beautiful voice, and moves from edgy blues to ballads with ease. The arrangements are those which you would rarely hear from a band which has not been together for twenty three years, and the lyrics carry such stunning structure as “There’s a hole in my neighborhood down which of late I cannot help but fall.” Opening for Elbow was John Grant. John has a deep baritone, in this performance he was accompanied by a young man on electric guitar while John switched from guitar to keyboard to just vocals. His melodies were striking, and his lyrics were Raw. Capital “R”, with titles I will not repeat in polite company. The two acts were complementary (and complimentary, I never saw a lead act acknowledge and promote the opening act so much before).

Considering complementary, a number of years ago Tommy Shaw opened for RUSH. Tommy’s drummer was incredible, and on any other night of the week would have been the star of the show. Then Neil Pert came on stage and made everyone forget they had ever seen another drummer before. Tommy’s band was complementary, in the sense that they were more than proficient, and still could not be called comparable.

Courtney Love’s opening act was more of the comparable type. “Starred” is a nice, edgy band fronted by Lisa Thorn. Lisa has been called “The muse of St. Vincent,” St Vincent being another female vocalist I saw perform with David Byrne. Those two are nothing alike, but as an opening act for Courtney, Starred worked well. Note to parents: DO NOT take your pre-teen children to a Courtney Love show, if you don’t know why you don’t belong there either.

We saw Junip, Jose Gonzales’ band, and opening was a little girl playing “strummy’ (her words) guitar. She was Sharon Van Etten. Junip had a number of issues that night, over modulation just one of them, and Sharon stole the show for me. The two styles, her pointed lyrics and soft arrangements versus his trance like jam made me (and her) wonder why he had chosen her to open, but I’ll thank him when I see him. I’ve made it a point to see Sharon every time she’s returned to Philadelphia.

Broken Bells was the concert that started this article stirring in my mind. Broken Bells owned the stage, using every element, even the LED arrays in the spotlights, in their performance. The opening act, “Au Revoir Simone” (ARS) was memorable only because they lacked everything Broken Bells possessed. Broken Bells (James Mercer of the Shins and Brian Burton AKA Danger Mouse) are talented on several instruments, playing well textured arrangements. ARS played preprogrammed synthesizers, going so far as to hold a drumstick to strike the drum machine. One girl picked up a prop guitar at one point, dropping it on the floor when she finished dancing with it. ARS’s lighting consisted of a couple of spotlights mounted on the back of the stage aimed at the girl’s backs. The contrast between the two bands was astounding. My initial impression was ARS is a detraction to the show, but without ARS I might not have noticed how detailed Broken Bells’ stage presentation was.

It still makes me wonder. I’m not entirely certain of the purpose of opening acts, not every band uses one. Sometimes they seem mismatched, sometimes it seems as if the design was to showcase an up and coming act, once in a while it appears the two groups just like hanging out together. It certainly complicates cancellations, recently we were to see Missing Persons, with two other bands. Dale Bozzio cancelled, and the venue wanted to reschedule. Getting the three bands to be in the same town on the same date appears to be impossible, but Ticketmaster keeps insisting the show is only postponed.

To those of you who are touring or have in the past, either as a headliner or supporting act, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 

 

Garages

The first time I saw this ad, I knew where I wanted it to go. I was shouting the line before it got there, and then they said it. “The Ramones started in a garage“.

 

 

Garage bands are about dreams. This works out really well, because dreams are what makes music happen. Yeah, there’s a lot of work, practice, late nights in scummy bars for no money, unloading equipment in the snow to get to the spare tire and all the other things that make great stories later in life, but dreams are the fuel that takes you all those places.

I have a friend I met about twenty years ago. At the time, all I knew about him was that he was the best technician the company had, so he was someone to learn from. One thing I learned was that I would never be able as good as he was, so even though I did manage to steal the “Tech of the Month” award from him a few times, I moved on to another company.

I ran into him again a few years ago, our paths intersected with a common friend. In addition to being the best technician Minolta has ever employed, Guy Campo is also an accomplished musician. He described his band as a “garage band”, because he’s still doing the nine to five thing as well. Lieve and I have been to see him play, and we’ve run into him (and his beautiful fiance) at a few concerts. He still amazes me, in that his “hobby” takes up more time than my job ever did. He works at least forty hours a week, plus rehearsals and performances, and is having a blast with life, always tweeting from some great restaurant  or event. I’m guessing he just doesn’t sleep.

Nearing the age at which many people choose to retire, Guy is still knocking himself out making music. I’ve known a lot of musicians. They have attained various levels of success, and Guy, like the people I consider most successful, is successful because what he’s doing makes him happy. That’s the secret, folks. Do what makes you happy. If you can make other people happy by doing it, even better.

You would make Guy and me both happy if you would download his latest, “Crackin’ up my Cadillac”. Isn’t that weird how we started this story with a Cadillac commercial? Guy is involved in a contest with the Hard Rock Cafe, and to vote for him all you have to do is download his song from their page on FaceBook. You get a free song and he gets a vote. Another win/win.

That link again is https://reverbnation.com/contests/2712/artist/375620, or you can click here. If you’d like to hear more of his music, there are several videos on the you tube page below. He plays a couple of locations on the Main Line routinely, if you’re around Philly, check him out.

Keep the dreams alive.

 

College radio

When I was young, “College radio” meant a low power station operated by students. The music was often local unsigned acts that provided cassette tapes recorded in garages. It wasn’t unusual to have a minute of dead air a couple of times a day. DJs made horrendous mistakes, often providing unintended humor.

The methods have changed over the years, the first station I was involved with didn’t technically “broadcast”, it was just a channel on the school’s public address system. Lieve worked at a “pirate” radio station, which is still around but has gone legit. A friend does a weekly “radio” program (92.1, Brussels) but I’m able to listen to it here as it streams over the internet.

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A handbill for Lieve’s old radio station we found in Leuven

In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania’s radio station is removed from the college entirely. WXPN pretends to be a college station, but its employees aren’t college students. Its leading host (David Dye) is nationally syndicated, and I believe his grandchildren have graduated from college. From his initial project with NPR, “World Cafe”, a small empire has risen.

World Cafe Live” is the name of two restaurants/concert venues. They are connected to WXPN in ways I can’t determine, weaving in and out of each others operations. WXPN is officially a National Public Radio station, and as such a non-profit organization. World Cafe Live is quite obviously a profit driven enterprise. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m glad they do.

Every Summer WXPN hosts the “XPN festival”, a three day concert with multiple stages, and acts ranging from local favorites to world class headliners. Tickets run about $25 a day, and access to the artists is incredible. Not only did I stand about twenty feet from Citizen Cope and Booker T, and within an arms length of Dar Williams and Gary Clarke Jr. on “stage”, there are meet and greet tents after every performance.

World Cafe Live hosts a variety of local and national acts in a theater with a capacity that ranges from 300 to 650 depending on whether there are tables or SRO. One miserable night in the middle of a storm we saw Martha Davis play a full set to about fifty people. Tickets are rarely more than $30, and every Friday there is a free mid-day concert, “Free at Noon”, which is broadcast live on WXPN. Next week we’re going to see Suzanne Vega. Free.

When we attend the evening concerts, we usually sit in the mezzanine, which is closer to the stage than most seats at large venues, and has comfy couch seats and cafe service. Having the band play in your home wouldn’t be quite as comfortable. We recorded this from our favorite seats.

Upstairs is the main restaurant, which also has a stage although I’ve never heard a band I liked there, mostly because the acoustics are suited to acoustic instruments, and the bands are usually amplified.

The food is good, innovative, and interesting. There aren’t near enough vegetarian options, which I found rather surprising considering the target clientele. The beer selection is robust, although they stopped carrying Stella Artois last year.

World Cafe Live also has charity events, and because of the odd relationship between World Cafe Live and WXPN, the charitable donation made to attend an event ends up paying for a membership to WXPN. We attend the “Musicians on Call” event every year, a fund raising concert for musicians who perform for patients in hospitals.

Being a member of WXPN has benefits, we get a discount at the Princeton Record Exchange and for the XPN festival, and early entry for the free at noon concerts.

This merging of enterprises, profit and non-profit, may not fit what we expect of the tax code, but I think it fulfills the intention of “non-profit”. It certainly fits the spirit of radio.

Plagiarism

Contrary to popular opinion, plagiarism is no more popular today than in the past. It is easier to find, with software that can analyse entire databases of songs for similarities, but it still needs to be proven. The U.S. Copyright Act says “The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”

Leslie West said a number of times that he liked using the opening to Also Sprach Zarathustra, because he thought that less than six notes didn’t constitute plagiarism, but cases have successfully found the use of as few as three notes to be interpreted as going beyond “fair use” standards.

Plagiarism in writing is fairly obvious. Simply changing a name does not create a new story. Plagiarism in music is much the same, but the majority of people are tone deaf so it is less easily recognized. There are, after all, only seven notes, and concepts such as chords and progressions limit the melodic possibilities. The formulas of counterpoint are mathematical in nature, certain genres follow specific patterns, so the definition is less artistic than legal in some cases.

The point of litigation is usually money, the root of all legal, but the motivation for plagiarism is usually ego (lack of talent is a close second).

Consider the Beach Boys, who listed Brian Wilson as the sole composer of “Surfin’ U.S.A.”, even while acknowledging Arc Music, Chuck Berry’s publisher, as owning the copyright. Later Chuck Berry was listed as the songwriter, and some releases list both writers, although the copyright has always been owned by Arc Music. Will you ever hear Surfin U.S.A again without hearing the obvious Chuck Berry riffs?

I can hear The Chiffon’s influence in George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, but it really didn’t seem like plagiarism to me. Bright publishing certainly heard it, or perhaps they heard the jingling of coins from suing a Beatle. George’s response above, “This Song”, takes a number of jabs at the testimony, my favorite is “This song has nothing Bright about it”.

When Men at Work were sued for using a riff from “Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree” (a popular children’s song from 1932) in the song “Down Under”, money was the obvious motivation. By 2009 sampling was de rigueur, but the important point of checking licenses was made. Which is how many rap “artists” made their living. Simply talking over someone else’s music doesn’t require as much talent as obtaining the right to talk over someone else’s music. Which might explain why Coolio got over his initial issues over Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise”, a parody of Coolio’s “Gansta’s Paradise” which was itself a “reworking” of Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise”.

Song parodies, the use of a song while changing the lyrics, can be an odd forum. The firm Goldieblox recently parodied the Beastie Boys song “Girls“, essentially turning the lyrics one hundred and eighty degrees, from abusive to empowering. In a blinding flash of irony, the late Adam Yauch, writer of the song, was a Buddhist and defender of feminism, but had made specific in his will that none of his work be used for commercial advertising. Plagiarism and irony often walk hand in hand, as in the time John Fogerty essentially sued himself for plagiarism. After he left Creedence Clearwater Revival to embark on a solo career, Fantasy records, the owner of the rights to “Run through the Jungle” sued on the grounds that “The Old Man Down the Road” was too similar. Fantasy lost, and John was allowed to continue being John.

Compensation for plagiarism can be as creative as the artists involved. Sometimes just a listing as a songwriter (which infers a percentage of royalties) as in the Chuck Berry v Brian Wilson case and The Hollies v Radiohead over “Creep” v “The air That I Breathe”. Oasis ran into a number of issues (that lack of talent thing), awarding credit to Neil Innes for “Whatever”, cash to The New Seekers for “Shakermaker”, and after initially pulling release to avoid prosecution over “Step Out”, released it as a B Side and gave writing credit to Stevie Wonder. Belgian songwriter Salvatore Acquaviva won a judgement against Madonna, claiming that her 1998 hit “Frozen” had been lifted from his early-1980s song, “Ma Vie Fout le camp.” The judge declined to award damages, but did order the withdrawal of all remaining discs for sale and barred the song from airplay on Belgian TV and radio. John Lennon agreed to record covers on upcoming albums as settlement for using Chuck Berry’s lyric “Here come up flat top / He was groovin’ up slowly” from “You can’t catch me” in the song “Come Together”. John didn’t quite fulfill his obligation (you may remember “Ya Ya” on “Walls and Bridges”, featuring nine year old Julian on drums) and had to pay $6,795. Absolutely worth it.

You don’t even need to claim to write a song to be sued for plagiarism. Ariana Grande, who has emulated Mariah Carey to the point that some people have asked why she hasn’t been sued for copyright infringement (oddly, Mariah never copyrighted herself) has been sued for plagiarism over her latest song, “The Way”. The problem is, Ariana isn’t listed as a writer of the song, which leans very heavily on Big Punisher’s “Still not a Player”. She’s just the vocalist.

Which brings me back to the question of assigning a value to plagiarism. Imitation is often considered to be the highest form of flattery, so being seen worthy of homage is payment enough to an artist who is happy with his place in the universe. When the fact Bruce Springsteen’s “Radio Nowhere” is amazingly similar to “867-5309/Jenny” was brought up to Tommy Heath, he said “I’m really honored at a similarity, if any, I think there’s too much suing in the world now”.

For my part, every fax machine I ever installed has a speed dial button marked Jenny, with the number 867-5309. I used it as a way of training users how to program speed dial buttons, every now and then there would be a smile from someone who made the connection.

I love Creedence

Sometimes things slip your mind. Lieve decided we should give little gifts to each other for our anniversary. I think a part of her motivation was to justify rummaging through the $5 CD bin. She decided to give me a CD by the group Creedence Clearwater Revisited, “Extended Versions“.  I didn’t notice that it was “revisited” instead of “revival”, John Fogerty apparently wasn’t too happy about it either when his old rhythm section started putting out albums.

It’s nice stuff. A little slower than the originals, and the vocal range isn’t what it was in the screaming seventies, and the harmonies are oriental, but forty years of playing the same songs has resulted in some very sweet bass lines.

My memories of Creedence are sunny days and garage bands, a friend’s Bar Mitzvah where someone had preesed E7 for “Sweet Hitchhiker” so many times we had to disable the selection, and the movie “Twilight Zone”. Kind of weird that I think of John Lithgow in a strait jacket every time I hear “Fortunate Son” or any other CCR song.

One nice thing was being reminded of all the great songs I hadn’t thought of in a while. Another was singing along at the top of my lungs while driving home. Yet another was finding this to be the kick required to crank up my bass and play along. It also made me laugh to find that Lieve had trouble deciding between this CD and one by Soundgarden.

There are good things about having varied tastes in music. There’s almost always something to listen to, bands break up and reform making old music new, sometimes you hear stuff you have no idea how you ever forgot.

Listen to something new this week, even if it’s something old.

Under the covers

Last night, over the credits of “The Sopranos”, the song “If I were a Carpenter” played. A somewhat spooky moment followed, as I discussed the track with Lieve, I had a similar conversation with Emma when the episode first aired in May of 2004.

Back then, I hadn’t known the artist. I enjoy cover versions, and had no idea how many times this track had been covered. It was Bobby Darrin, I was more familiar with the Johnny Cash and June Carter rendition, and didn’t know that Bobby’s version was much more popular. My personal favorite is Leon Russell’s version, from his “Stop all that Jazz” album.

Lieve heard the song begin and said “Isn’t that Tim somebody?”. She typically knows more than me when it comes to music, so we Googled the song and found that indeed, the song had been written by Tim Hardin. “Who?” you may ask (I did), is Tim Hardin? Tim was a singer songwriter in the sixties, and performed “If I were a Carpenter” at Woodstock, backed by Muruga Booker on drums. Oh but that’s not all. Tim wrote several other songs you have heard. He wrote “Reason to Believe”, which you are most likely to recall Rod Stewart turning into a hit. “Don’t make Promises” was covered by Joan Baez as well as a dozen other artists. “Eulogy to Lenny Bruce” was covered by Nico on her debut album. His music is timeless enough to have been covered by Echo and the Bunnymen and The Dream Academy. Tim had one of those interesting careers that began as a “Military adviser” in Vietnam, where he found what would end his life twenty years later at age thirty nine, heroin. He played as a studio musician on Harry Chapin’s first two albums, and appeared on stage with Harry in 1973. And yet I had never even heard of him. Life is like that, big world, too many faces. Tim died in a year of too many musician’s endings, John Bonham, Bon Scott, Ian Curtis, Darby Crash, all overshadowed by John Lennon.

This morning I have been going through the covers by scores of musicians, listening to the originals, getting a feel for his message. I always enjoy covers, reinterpretations and homages. Back in the days of Napster I collected forty seven covers of Jimi Hendix’s “Little Wing“, one nice version by Celtic circle stands out in my mind. A cover reveals not only the composer, but the effect the composer has had on other musicians. James Timothy “Tim” Hardin had an enormous effect on the world of music, and I’m better for knowing of him.

Tim Hardin in 1969

Tim Hardin in 1969

 

 

 

The misinformation superhighway

Lou Reed died last week. Really.

I mean, it’s not an incredible shock that a seventy one year old ex heroin user who had a kidney transplant last year would die, it’s just shocking that he died on Sunday, 27 October. Because on Saturday, 26 October, his agent had confirmed that Lou was alive, after an internet hoax spread the rumor of his death the week before. He had flown away from the dirty disinformation boulevard, just to be run down on the misinformation superhighway. Ambiguous in life, ambiguous in death.

I spent a bit of time trying to figure out if he was still with us or not. Rolling Stone and the New York Times were running the story. The story. As I checked various “sources”, I found the same story, word for word, published by every news agency. Does the story take on more credibility when both Rolling Stone and the New York Times cut and paste the same piece?

Despite all the amputations, you know you could just

Journalism seems to have sunk to the level of telephone tag. As I and others were trying to separate fact from fiction, one perfectly reasonable issue was raised. If the article doesn’t mention the hoax from the week before, it’s less credible. Unfortunately, Lou was dead, and he hadn’t made many friends in the press, so either they were lousy journalists or just weren’t aware of the hoax. More than likely both.

It is harder and harder to verify information, because a good deal of it is just re-posted with the primary source uncredited. When it is also re-posted without a date, old rumors can become new again. Even people who think they’ve avoided a hoax still manage to propagate one, as happened a few weeks ago when I received an email warning about a new Christmas stamp honoring Muslims. At the bottom of the email was a link to Snopes.com, which shows the information in the email to be false. I’m guessing not many people click on links, they just see “snopes.com: New Forever Stamp — Muslim EID Stampand assume that the link confirms the email. I’m sure some people see EID and fail to recognize it means “Festival” in Arabic, perhaps confusing it with I.E.D.

Most hoaxes can be dispelled by taking a deep breath and counting to ten. How likely is it that Obama has a staff of twenty secret service agents to polish his golf clubs? Wouldn’t you have heard something about it over the last four years? Isn’t that website a source of satire? Does the fact that the author’s last credit was “Twenty four ways to vulcanize a chicken” suggest that he may not have the background to be reporting this information? Is the person who sent you this email the same person who told you that the Earth’s magnetic field was about to reverse?

The internet is filled with information. Information is not facts. Facts are not “the truth”. The truth is not the story. Example: Information “There are fourteen million child brides every year worldwide” (Defined as bride under eighteen years of age). Fact The legal age for marriage is under eighteen in much of the world (The lowest legal age in the world is New Hampshire, USA, at thirteen, and Yemen, where there is no limit on age for marriage, but intercourse is not legal until “the indefinite time they are suitable for sexual intercourse”). The truth early marriages affect both men and women, both positively and negatively.  The Story Young women are often forced into servitude under the guise of marriage. 

Don’t miss the forest, don’t miss the trees.

Frietjes

Frites and sauces

Friets and sauces

One often overlooked national dish of Belgium is friet, affectionately called “frietjes” (little friets). Off hand I can’t think of a dish from another culture that has an affectionate diminutive. They are traditionally served in a cone, and the sauce of choice in Belgium is mayonnaise.

You know them as “french fries”, the French call them “pomme frites” (from the French for potato, pomme de terre, but literally apple fries). They are properly double fried to give a crispy exterior, and friet houses (Friethuis/Frietkot/Frituur) are everywhere, from stand alone shops to window service street side.

frituur

A frituur in Belgium

Frieten Vending machine, cooks Frietjes on the spot

Frieten Vending machine, cooks Frietjes on the spot

It is surprisingly difficult to find proper friet in America. Even Belgian restaurants don’t always get it right, as I found the first few times Lieve and I visited “authentic” Belgian restaurants in attempts to familiarize me with the food. Fortunately, we found a real friet huis, through an odd accident. After a Thomas Dolby concert in the village, a friend of a friend suggested friet.

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A Belgian friet huis in Manhattan

Pommes Frites is unique in America. So unique that in a conversation about friet at the Jersey Shore, a stranger mentioned the shop as the only place she had found proper friet. So the other night, when we found ourselves at an event in SoHo with Tired Pony at an Apple store, We stopped for friet before the performance. There was something poetic about “Pommes Frites” and the employee minions at the Apple store being so fried they couldn’t mike the backup singers.

real choices

real choices

I recommend the wasabi mayo, Lieve had the dill lemon. The large size is more than adequate, the double is a feast of carbohydrates. This is a one man operation, the line often extending into the street. There is a very small seating area in the back, with holes in the tables to hold the cones. The cook is amazing, taking all the orders verbally, nothing is written down as he keeps several detailed orders in his head while preparing them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Emboldened by this mix of cultures, Belgian friet, eclectic NYC sauces, Oriental chef, I drove to the parking garage, cone in one hand, steering wheel in the other. The only thing I really like about Manhattan is the driving environment, it is the pinnacle of evolution. The weak links have been cleared from the playing field.

Despite my primal distaste for all things Apple, the “Meet the Musicians” program is a very nice project. An intimate question and answer portion followed by a short performance. This one will be released as a podcast eventually, I may update after the publication to comment on the editing. To give you an idea of the intimacy, Gary Lightbody held the door for Lieve when she entered.

Gary waiting for the previous speaker to finish

Gary waiting for the previous speaker to finish

The previous speaker was no lightweight, Robert Reich, discussing his new film. And yes, he really is that short in person. The band wasn’t as large as they were last we saw them, maybe due to the limited space, and after an hour sound check, in which I heard the roadie state specifically about the backup singers that “it’s easier to turn it down than to turn it up”, the backing vocals were still inaudible. Nonetheless it was a great Q&A session and a wonderful performance.

Peter Buck in a classically uninvolved pose

Peter Buck in a classically uninvolved pose

Michael Stipe was spotted backstage, as well as a throng of hangers on that showed up at the end, but the crowd was very earthy. Well, earthy for an Apple store in SoHo. The new album will be released next Tuesday, 1 October, and sounds just as nice as the first.

Update:

The pocast is available (free) here. In the audience views, that’s Lieve and I in the lower right corner, second row center stage.

The Timid Roosevelts

We saw a new band, The Timid Roosevelts, at a club in Trenton last night. A trio, Bobbie Parker on bass and lead vocals, her sister Jamie Parker on drums and backing vocals, and Ricky Lorenzo on guitar. Very nice sound.

This band has a lot of potential. Their CD is only five dollars, putting that in perspective, the High School soccer team is having a car wash today and is charging eight dollars. I told Bobbie she should raise the price, so buy one before she takes my advice. I’m not one for categories, so I can only suggest that you listen to a few tracks. They played a range of styles, and did nothing poorly.

Bobbie has that “Abby Sciuto” look and pink strings on her bass, a soft smooth voice that she can stretch to a muted scream a la Courtney Love, and her playing style ranges from almost “strummy” rhythms to melodic lead. Jaimie harmonizes perfectly (sisters often do) and has a great feel for percussion. I liked her use of bells, Lieve thought she filled too much, but it was a small venue, and anything other than gentle percussion would have been overwhelming. Her time keeping was both simple and intricate, I appreciated it as a percussionist. Ricky is a competent guitarist, and  had several moments when he shined, but he seems to be relegated to background/rhythm guitar and didn’t display the skills of other guitarists in trios. That could have been a function of the setting, Trenton Social is more a small bar and restaurant without a full sound system or mixing board.

They play the Philly to Manhattan circuit, keep an eye out for them.

Unusual birthday gifts

I acknowledge that I am unusual, “eccentric” is the polite word but I really don’t mind “weird”. One of the benefits of being eccentric is that “normal” people tend to shy away from you. This leaves the path open for other eccentrics, so we tend to congregate, or at least associate. There are of course times when the eccentricities clash, but we’re usually friendly, accepting folk.

Knowing unusual people usually means peering into unusual families, we rarely sprout up without some kind of nurturing. When I was thirteen, one of my best friends was Otto, and while Germans aren’t odd in and of themselves, his family was very odd to me. The food and the language was the start, but the choice to bestow a thousand dollar oscilloscope on a thirteen year old as a birthday present left even me scratching my head.

I’m not sure why Otto wanted an oscilloscope, or if he even asked for it. This was 1972, and I think it had something to do with testing vacuum tubes, our eccentricities clashed and we found ourselves out of sync with each other shortly afterward. It was cool to hook up to his record player, and watch the waves as we played music. My favorite was the song “Popcorn”, which just told a story of its on on the CRT screen.

The experience piqued my interest in electronic music, which was just coming onto the scene. Walter “Wendy” Carlos had released “Switched on Bach” a few years earlier, and my Uncle Steve introduced me to the music of Isao Tomita a few years later. Tomita’s use of synthesizers is astounding, and using his covers of Debussy and Holst I introduced a number of friends to classical music. I read an interview with Tomita in which the interviewer commented that the clock on the wall was five hours slow, and Tomita replied “No, it’s seven hours fast”.

Synthesizers have changed immensely since then. From the banks of analog Moogs to the handheld Casios sold at K-Mart. Tomita still plays the Moogs, there is something about the combination of man and machine that transcends digital electronics.

Tomita in the 70s

Tomita in the 70s

Electronic music has also changed. From the early covers of classical music through arrangements developed to suit the capabilities of the instruments. As digital took the place of analog, synthesizers began replacing other instruments. even drum kits became electronic. The pendulum swung back and forth, from “No one played guitar” to “No Synths!” being seen as selling points for albums.

Today, what is called music ranges from a rapper talking over an actual artist’s recording, to the resurgence of traditional instruments as in the band “Ghengis Barbie“. Electronica is here to stay, it can be well crafted or garbage, and as has always been, one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure. I treasure my eccentric friends, and the paths they’ve opened to me.

Of all the things music is, it should always be fun.

Save

Old friends, new friends

Lieve and I met some of her old friends in Brussels last night. She has known Samy and Truly for about thirty years, they are wonderfully warm and friendly people and accepted me into their circle a few years ago. We always have a great time when we see them.

We arrived in Brussels early to do some shopping for Truly’s birthday present, and stopped by a little cafe that Lieve used to visit when she lived in Brussels. Even though the city has become very “touristy”, some places are hidden away enough to remain quiet.

La Becasse

La Bécasse

At the end of a hallway with a hardly noticeable doorway is La Bécasse, a pub dating back over one hundred thirty years. Despite the crowds on the street the place was almost empty and very quiet, with an open terrace and a dark pub. It’s past its glory days, but is still very cute. There is a great deal to see in Brussels if you look around, on our way to dinner we looked up above the second floor of a rather trashy casino to see beautiful art deco decorations in the facade.

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After dinner, we went to a tiny little club, L’Archiduc, to hear some old friends play. Blaine Reininger, a founding member of Tuxedomoon, knew Lieve, Samy and Truly from the days they were involved with Crammed Discs and Crepuscule. Lieve always thinks that no one will remember her because she was involved behind the scenes. I remind her that it’s not just me that is impressed by her, she stands out in a crowd. Several people approached our table to say hello to her, she is well remembered.

Tonight, Blaine was playing with Georgio “The Dove” Valentino, a young artist. Georgio has a beautiful voice, and since he usually sings in Italian, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t understand the lyrics when he performed his own work. His wife played bass, and another Tuxedomoon alumnus, Luc Van Lieshout, played trumpet. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any video of his playing due to a guy who kept walking in front of us. Luc’s playing was beautifully subtle, and his ego is non existent. When I complimented his technique he said “Well, I’ve been doing it for forty years”.

 

As nights out with Samy usually go, there were many old friends and fans there. Samy was not only the lead singer of Minimal Compact, but has a radio program  on 92.1 Radio Campus Bruxelles and DJs today. Samy’s musical knowledge is encyclopedic, and he can speak extemporaneously for hours about not only the old days, but everything that has happened since.

Time out for an autograph

Time out for an autograph

Samy and Truly have been married longer than some of Samy’s fans have been alive, a testament to love and understanding. Their joy of life is infectious, and they seem like newlyweds at times. We were celebrating Truly’s birthday, and true to character she brought a gift for us.

Samy and Truly

Samy and Truly

I can’t identify what is about music that keeps us young. The effects of aging cannot be stopped, many of us have greying or missing hair, but music has a rejuvenating effect. Watching Blaine’s fingers flying on the neck of his violin was amazing. We have seen friends lose their battles with excess, but age gives another dimension to our experience. There is little to no generational discrimination in music, musicians of all styles and backgrounds join together in a river of creativity.

Truly had invited us to spend the night, although Lieve had warned me that Samy’s record collection inhabits every inch of their apartment and we might be sleeping atop record crates. We had to catch the midnight train to Leuven in order to catch the last bus home. Well, it would have been the last bus on a weekend, but the route ends earlier on weeknights, so we ended up walking home. It was only a few kilometers, and the streets were quiet and peaceful.

 

No tears at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courtney Love

A surprising number of people don’t like Courtney. And by “don’t like” I mean “despise”. So her show at the Theatre for the Living Arts was not sold out. That was fine, it was a fascinating crowd of true fans, and not terribly crowded. At points it was a sing-a-long, which seems better suited for campfires and the other types of artists I enjoy.

Not exactly Kumbaya, but it worked.

Music is an odd thing. It can bring people together or tear them apart. When the concert was announced, there were a lot of hate comments towards Courtney. The crowd at the concert was diverse, punkers and grunge types to families with children (that surprised me). We met a nice young man who introduced himself as “Big Gay Mike”, who was exceptionally friendly.

While we were waiting for the concert to begin, I was thinking how diverse the TLA is. Last month, Tom Jones played there. Next month, Hanson. Courtney isn’t exactly Lieve’s style, and I thought about the varied artists we have introduced to each other. Lieve had never heard of Laura Nyro when we saw “One Child Born“, she didn’t know Dar Williams or Booker T., she wasn’t familiar with the Left Banke, Alanis Morissette, Ian Hunter, Michael Nesmith, or Dr. John. Lieve has introduced me to bands I didn’t know, Citizen Cope, Kaki King, and The Monochrome Set to name just a few. Together we have found Tired Pony, Gary Clark Jr., and Sharon Van Etten.

We both have musical backgrounds, Lieve worked for a couple of record companies, including Factory, I’ve been a musician, trained on a variety of instruments and played in a few bands. We have slightly different approaches, I prefer a little raw edge, she’s more into new wave/techno, and we meet on female singer songwriters. Music takes you down unexpected paths. Largely because labels really don’t work in music. You can pretty much classify the majority of popular music of the late twentieth century as “rock”, but the sub-genres are almost as numerous as fans.

In a previous life I worked with a man named Guy Campo. Through the wonders of Social media I found that in addition to the place where we had worked together he’s performing throughout the area both solo and with his band, The Contusions. Lieve and I have seen him play, and also routinely run into him and his fiance at concerts. As I’ve gotten to know his fiance, we found that we had attended the same Allman Brothers concert back in 1976. Somehow you can see the tapestry of music and threads intersecting.

Music brings people together in ways never expected. Then there’s the other side, the “breakup song”. When you’re feeling down, there’s nothing like the right song to make you feel even worse.

My feeling is that it’s harmonic. As we exist as energy disguised as human beings, certain vibrations resonate. Vision, taste, and smell can all bring back memories, but music brings you back to the place, time, weather conditions, and mood, that you associate with a particular song. These feelings can be bad or good, and they may change over time, but nothing transports me like music. People who only like one specific type of music are impaired, there’s an incredible range out there, and it all has more in common than its differences.

I even like some rap.

The Monochrome Set

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrank Zappa said “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. While the experience of music is certainly irreducible, it remains possible to alert others to opportunities. I recently saw The Monochrome Set live at The Record Collector. In the past, I wouldn’t have done this, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, regardless of how cool I appear, I had never heard of The Monochrome Set before. The fact that they are made up largely of ex-bandmates from Adam and the Ants, and influenced such bands as The Smiths and Franz Ferdinand had not brought them to my attention. Another reason would be that I would never have found myself in Bordentown New Jersey, in the back of a record shop, for any legal purpose. It took a friend flying in from Japan to introduce me to micro concerts, and The Monochrome Set.

Picture 1Photo by Yuko Shimbo

It was, to say the very least, a fascinating crowd. One of the great things about small venues (in this case there may have been fifty people present) is the interaction with the band, and also with the audience. No one was there by accident.

For some reason the video is only coming up as a link

I have come to enjoy smaller venues. We routinely visit World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, to the point that when I buy tickets, I know our preferred seat numbers (section 503, seats 3 and 4). This was the most intimate setting since I played basements back in High School. Despite that, Yuko wasn’t close enough (that’s us in the second row) and stood by the speakers. You can see her at 00:38 on the far left, holding up her camera.

As Zappa had mentioned, here comes the architecture. The Monochrome Set possesses what I love about this type of music, in that this type of music is beyond definition. “Post-punk new wave indie rock” is a little closer than “Avocado Helicopter”, but only a little. It’s not the kind of stuff I can listen to all day long and still accomplish anything, which is probably why bands that play music you have to actively listen to aren’t popular with people who accomplish things. As with most music, you can still dance to it, but the lyrics and the compositions deserve a good deal more praise than they receive. Their playing was so tight it made their relaxed look seem incongruous, which is part of the “post-punk” bit, kind of like salt and chocolate. You now know why I don’t dance about architecture often.

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The band was, if anything, too approachable. Yuko wanted to introduce me to her friend Andy, the bassist, but one fan had brought a couple of suitcases filled with 45s to sign, and I was in need of a beer. Downside to concerts at record stores, no bar. There is, however a restaurant just down the street, Jester’s, and they politely stayed open for the post concert group. If you find yourself in Bordentown, tell the staff at Jester’s that you have a schedule to meet, and they’ll be prompt. Otherwise, you will receive service at a pace perfectly suited to a quiet little town.

I would be remiss were I to fail to mention the supporting act. A band that opens for another is always in an odd position, on this night Janet LaBelle opened. What a sweet young totally out of place act she was. While she normally performs with a full band, this night she was solo, primarily on electric guitar, but also doing several songs on the ukelele. Beautiful voice, skilled player, not too good at improvising, as when the store manager asked her to play a little longer before The Monochrome Set came out. I have no idea how music works in other people’s heads, but I liked her music. I may have been alone in that particular crowd, but at least one other person spoke to her during the break.

This weekend I will either see The Bush Tetras at Robert Drake’s birthday party, or Guy Campo at Yachtstock, or I’ll just rest up for next week’s Courtney Love show. It’s unlikely that I’ll write about any of it, I’ll be dancing.