Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: The Year in Shows

Broncho at the Black Cat backstage 

Small room, packed house, and an entire room waiting pensively for the band's signature song....which they wisely saved for the last number of the evening. 

One of the greatest experiences in live music is feeling a crowd surge forward when a song begins. And that's exactly what happened at the opening vocals of "Class Historian" kicked in. I'm pretty sure that no one in the room wanted that song to end.

Goatwhore at the Rock and Roll Hotel

Goatwhore isn't necessarily one of my favorite metal bands, but I do like the idea of the "blacked death metal" sub-genre (in execution more than name, I suppose). Either way, they pull it off pretty well.

Two things struck me about this show:

1. Goatwhore is a good band. And that's not always a given.

The gap between an average metal band and a good one might as well be a gulf. The two bands that opened for Goatwhore that night were clear road dogs. They were living it and loving it, but they simply weren't all that good.  It pains me to say this, and I certainly won't mention any names, but by the time Goatwhore took the stage it didn't really matter how much I liked them. It mattered that they were - by far - the best band in the room.

2. Ben Falgoust seems pretty normal.

Case and point: at some point in the show he said something about looking out for one another in the pit. This isn't unheard of, but I was surprised to hear him follow the warning by muttering that he knows what it's like to live with a physical disability, and that we need to take care of one another.

Not your typical satanic band stage banter...

Pentagram at the rock and Roll Hotel

I resolve that in 2016, I will stop using this blog to talk about my career problems. It is undignified.

But in this case, it fits.

Pentagram's homecoming show was less than two weeks after I lost my job. To say that I felt damaged would be putting it mildly. It was at or around this time that it was dawning on me that I was going to have to completely rebuild my professional life.....possibly in ways that I didn't want to.

I was 41 years old, with a head full of grey hair, and a wife and kid to take care of. And here I was, suddenly without a job, without a plan and without any confidence that I'd ever be as happy as I was two weeks earlier. It was hard not to feel like things were over. I felt though I was only good at things that didn't matter to anyone.

So, I went to the club alone that night, stood in the back of the room, sipped beer and watched a beaten-but-not-quite-broken sixty-one year old Bobby Liebling sing doom rock for an hour.

He looked frail, but happy. He was nervous in front of his hometown crowd in a way that way that seemed to scream "sober, at last." 

And while his stage presence was somewhat awkward, his voice was in tremendous shape. The highlight of the evening -- probably the concert year -- was hearing Liebling hit a surprise falsetto note on "Forever My Queen."

I headed out of the club that night, thinking how miraculous the entire event was.....five years earlier, Liebling was a full blown addict, living in his parents' basement. He'd burned all of his bridges, and missed countless career opportunities. By all accounts, it should have been over - his band, his career, his life - decades ago.

I walked to my car, reminding myself that it was never too late, and to never give up.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why Lemmy Matters

So, there goes Lemmy.

For one moment, let's put aside the "I thought Lemmy was invincible" jokes. Anyone who was watching for the past year knew that this was coming. He was shortening his sets and cancelling shows, which wasn't the sort of thing Lemmy did. He'd stopped giving interviews, and was often seen walking slowly with a cane. He'd been sick - very sick - for a long time. And, now we know that he was dying.

It's been heartwarming to see how the news had trended on social media for the past 48 hours. A lot of people really loved Lemmy. I've been holding back that childish tendency that so many of us have when a lost icon suddenly becomes celebrated: I find myself suspecting that many of the mourners didn't really love Lemmy enough, or love him the right way, or love him for the right reasons.

There's often a grain of truth in that kind of thinking, but it's still a pathetic impulse to indulge. (In fact, this is the third re-write of this post, specifically because I kept finding myself somehow suggesting that my love for Ian Fraser Kilmister was superior to that of other people).

So, instead of projecting how other people might or might not have felt about Lemmy, allow me to tell you why he mattered to me.

I am a failure.

I am a failed musician. I am a failed professional. I look and feel like hell most days. My time management skills are terrible. I am chronically late for everything. And somewhere along the course of my adult life, I've also become rather bad at managing my money. I live in a cluttered one bedroom condo, while all of my friends have neatly-manicured front lawns. And although I try to be a good husband and father, I sometimes wonder if I'm any good at those efforts, either.

So much of my adult life has been defined by compromise, surrender and defeat. I try not to think about it too much, but when I do, I tend to see failure all around me.

When those moments arrive, I can tell you with complete honesty that I have often thought of Lemmy Kilmister.

By so many measures, Lemmy could be considered a failure.

The man was a life-long addict, so dependent on substances that it famously impaired medical professionals from being able to treat him. 

As a young man, he was fired from a band that was on the rise. 

His next endeavor became legendary, but was chronically insolvent. He hired bad people and signed bad deals throughout his career.

Despite being a prolific songwriter, most people only knew him for one tune, which was recorded 35 years ago. Even fewer people ever bought a record from him after 1992, even though he never stopped writing or recording.

He was a borderline hoarder whose raggedy-looking apartment did not say "rock star" on any level.

He was an absent father, who never got to experience the joy of having a loving family of his own.

It's not an inspiring portrait. And one considered Lemmy to be a failure.

And that's because Lemmy understood what he was good at, and he understood what made him happy. He dedicated his life to that....even if he never made as much money as he should have. Even if it sometimes seemed like no one cared. Even when he got fired. Even when he seemed like a kind of lonely guy. Even when he got sicker and sicker and sicker. 

He uncompromisingly did what made him happy. It gave him integrity, and it made people like me interested in what he had to say.

With a new year on the horizon, his example reminds me that I have to have to find that happiness for myself.....even if no one else gives a damn. It reminds me that I'm actually great at certain things, even if no one cares about them. And as I try to figure out what the hell I'm going to do about my career, it reminds me to continue saying no until I find the right opportunity. 

It reminds me that just because I'm a failure, it doesn't mean that I can't be successful.

Thank you, Lemmy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: "He said let's run And we'll have some fun Now before I melt away"

I'd never actually heard this track before a friend posted it on her Facebook page last week. And I couldn't be happier to have heard it.

The Cocteau Twins remains a mysterious band to me. I own very little of their music, but I've never heard anything by them that I didn't find enchanting -- due in no small part to magnificent production, and Elizabeth Frazer's unabashedly playful approach to her vocals.

I have not heard a Christmas song this year that has made me happier than this one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

This Christmas Take-Over: "With an uneasy feeling in my chest"

Another downer, but it seems fitting for this year: a time when our leaders are threatened by the very thought of cooperating with one another, and the nation can't muster even the slightest bit of enthusiasm for any of the egomaniacs battling to be the next president. 

It's a troubling state of affairs, and we all know it. That's the one thing everyone seems to agree about: this isn't working.

And yet each of us (myself included) seems more willing to draw lines in the social media sand than to try and find shared  goals for our nation. It's embarrassing.

For the record, I don't particularly like it when other people sermonize at me like this. Even with the greatest of intentions, it's terribly patronizing, and it doesn't actually change anything. 

So, I'll shut up and kick it over to Steve Earle. 

And with three days til Christmas, I'll try and get more upbeat....

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: How the Brits Won Christmas

Glam just never really caught on in America. 

It's a shame, really: so many great songs, so many terrific hooks, so many fantastic rhythm sections.  But we Americans were an easily-threatened lot back in the 70's. We didn't deal so well with ambiguity, so we left glam to the British, and banked on manlier acts like Three Dog Night and Grand Funk Railroad.

And that's a real shame. Because on Christmas, 1973, kids across the UK were rocking the fuck out to Slade's "Merry Christmas Everybody." Meanwhile, American audiences were struggling not to slit their wrists to Jim Croce's lovely, but maudlin (even for me!), "It Doesn't Have to Be That Way."

God save the Queen.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: More Awkward Brits

Holy crap. Where to even start with this one?

Quick history lesson. Mud was a kind of big band in the UK. Not huge, but big in their day. They had two massive hits in the early 70's, one of which is included below. And the guitar player went to see notable success as a producer/songwriter of some tracks that were pretty big hits in the UK.

So, you know: respect.

All that having been said, get a load of these guys.

First, you've got this Benny-Hill-as-Elvis-Presley vocalist.

Then you've got Fraggle Rock on guitar.

Over there you have the drummer. (I'm assuming this. He could be anyone). 

And finally, you have the sullen bass player, seemingly only too aware that there's no prize for being the cute one in the world's most awkward-looking glam band.

The irony is, I like this song better than most of what's on the Elvis Christmas Album.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: I Would Like to Leave this City

Ok, so "Half the World Away" isn't actually a Christmas song. And everyone hates Oasis for some reason that I don't at all get.

But this is an outstanding song, and the video (ok, fine... advertisement) that accompanies it is just a wonderful holiday piece. 

That's the thing about the Brits....they're all sneering and sarcastic and bawdy until you're not looking, and then.....

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: Pete's Dad

At least thirty percent of this song is a giant mess. But the rest of it is just so damned beautiful.

"Pete's Dad" got a fair amount of holiday airplay in the 90's, and I looked forward to hearing it each year. But I always had trouble following the lyrics, and never actually knew the name of the song. 

It took me a while to track it down, but here it is for your enjoyment:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: It's Not the Darkest Night I've Spent Alone

There's nothing quite like the first Christmas after a devastating break up.

While the Posies' version of this song doesn't meddle much with Florence Dore's original arrangement, the harmonies are just magnificent.
The song is already heartbeaking, but Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer's vocals provide an aching level of vulnerability....which was kind of their thing, I guess, and they were great at it.

This one goes out to everyone spending Christmas alone.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Christmas Takeover: White Christmas

I've never quite known what to make of Helloween. They've always struck me as one of those unfortunate metal bands that was unintentionally hilarious.

This is in large part because they are a pioneer in power metal -- arguably metal's single most ridiculous sub-genre. But I think it equally may be because they are so very German. And let's be real: Germans can be kind of weird. 

But in the name of the Baby Jesus, let's put that aside and celebrate our differences. Because this is the time to celebrate. And this is very different.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: All I Want for Christmas is More Music Videos Like This

True confession: 

I have no problem with Mariah Carey's version of this song. It's a little cloying on the 10 millionth play, but in the age on online shopping I've come to miss those songs that used to dominate shopping mall holiday play lists.

That said, I adore Dikembe's take. There's an element of longing and humility to the vocals that I identify with...probably more so in this disappointing year than at any other point in my life.

And this video is just so heartbreaking and hilarious and brilliant. 


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: Drinking Christmas Dinner All Alone

Up until recently, this was the snow leopard of Christmas songs in my family.

For decades, my parents swore up and down that several years ago, they saw Mac Davis on the Tonight Show, singing a song about getting plastered over the holidays. No one, however, could remember the name of the song, or any of the lyrics....

I am proud to announce that the magic of YouTube has finally closed the case on this mystery. 

Other things I learned on the Internet:
  • Mac Davis wrote "A Little Less Conversation" for Elvis.
  • Mac Davis wrote "Memories" for Elvis.
  • Mac Davis wrote "In the Ghetto" for Elvis. 
  • Elvis was worthless as a songwriter. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: Remember When Bruce Was Fun?

Bruce Springsteen doesn't really excite me the way he used to. I suspect that's true for most of us (....well, except for the ones for whom it isn't. Which always strikes me as strange and a little bit sad, but whatever).

Anyway, I used to mark the official start of the holiday season by whenever I first heard this song on the radio. And it always put me in a great mood.

This isn't the version that's on the radio each year, but I like it a little better. Springsteen is more awkward on stage, but he also seems to be genuinely enjoying himself, and not displaying any of that odd, swaggering self-consciousness that the elder Springsteen lives within.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: Santa Can't Stay

You should know up front: this song is dark.

Strip out the walking bass line, the holiday production, and the delightful lyric "He said he might just have to beat the crap out of Ray," and it's all bad.

That having been said, this is a really well-written song.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: Christmas is the Time to Say "I Love You"

This song was a mainstay of Christmastime FM Radio when I was growing up (not to mention those early days of MTV, when this video basically ran every hour the last two weeks of December). Total cheese, in the best kind of way.

Somewhere along the line, I started denying the fact that I like Billy Squire. That ends today. 

...hey, is that Chrissie Hynde in the background?

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: The Bells of St. Mary's

Never had any use for Bing's version of this song; it always sounded like a funeral dirge to me.

Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans' version is another matter entirely. If you don't believe me, just skip to the :58 mark.

Nice job, Mr. Spector.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Christmas Take-Over: Doin the Christmas Twist

Blog's been a downer lately. Time to correct things.

I dare you not to smile as you watch this.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

For I've Grown a Little Leaner, Grown a Little Colder, Grown a Little Sadder: The Christmas Take-Over

I'm going to do this.

I will enjoy Christmas. And it won't be as easy as it sounds. 

This holiday season finds me lonely, anxious, and just not in a great state of mind. Money is tight. And we're still living in an apartment that's too cramped for even a small Christmas tree.

And more than anything, I find myself actually dreading Christmas morning. I know it sounds crazy, but I used to love working on Christmas day. Waking long before dawn to be with people in need? That brought me more happiness than anyone really knows - certainly more Christmas joy than I think I've ever experienced as an adult.

I'm fortunate to have experienced that. But it kills me to know I won't be there this year, with the people I came to know and love  as my "other family". It certainly isn't my choice.

I have to shake it off, though, for the sake of my family and my own sanity. Because I do love Christmas, and I'll only be more depressed if I allow the holidays to come and go under emotional cloud cover.

And so, I'm introducing the Christmas Take-Over. For the next four weeks, I'll be posting nothing but my favorite Christmas music. Happy songs, sad songs, funny songs.....all of them centering me around a time of year that I'm accustomed to loving. 

I'm counting on this to put me in a better mood, and I hope it does the same for the rare and infrequent visitors who find this blog.

Today, we start with "We Need a Little Christmas," as interpreted by AgesandAges. 

I'll be up front: I have historically detested this song. I loathe the marching goofiness of it, the dopey children's chorus, and most especially of all, the Broadway musical that spawned it (....long a story about that one, which I will not be sharing here).

But I have to admit that AgesandAges nails it. For the first time, an artist strikes an appropriate tone for what this song is actually about: "We Need A Little Christmas" isn't so much about celebrating, it's about seeking distraction from a forlorn existence. 

It's not about powering through the holidays, it's about hiding behind them. And that's something I think I can relate to.