Dec 022020
 

Go ahead, call this Dad Rock. I dare you.

Let’s jam on it. What random topics are floating your boat in the homestretch of 2020?

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Dec 012020
 
“Glory of love…”

I believe no song in Lou Reed‘s catalog better represents the hardships he overcame as a musician than “Coney Island Baby.” I wish there was video of the live version from Take No Prisoners, with the sincerely beautiful, painful, uncomfortable intro about wanting to play football for the coach, but this will have to do. It helps to have video evidence of the struggle simply playing rhythm guitar and singing was for Lou.

I’ve spent a lot of time through the years having a laugh over Lou Reed, but I love the man’s music and the awkward pathos he brought to rock ‘n roll. I think about the expenses that went into paying studio cats and the highly accomplished road warriors who made up his touring bands to put flourishes on the 4 chords Reed can barely muster playing on songs like “Coney Island Baby.” I think about the background singers who had to get paid to accompany his hectoring on the choruses. I think about how much effort went into this attempt at reaching out to The People, the way Bruce, The Boss, has been able to do since he ambled out of his mother’s womb. Does “Coney Island Baby” land as intended for all but a handful of even Lou’s most passionate fans? Probably not.

“Coney Island Baby” always hits the spot for me. We typically measure our heroes up by their greatest accomplishments, their “Sweet Jane,” their “Like a Rolling Stone.” Greatness can also be measured by an artist’s “missed landings.” I want to play football for the coach.

Is there a missed landing, an against all odds numbers by one of your favorite artists that does as much to demonstrate that artist’s greatness as their acknowledged classics?

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Nov 282020
 

President elect Joe Biden’s choice for Secretary of State is a guy named Anthony Blinkin and he has a band and two of their songs are on Spotify. I suspect you’re thinking the same thing I was: Great, let me brace myself for some flaccid, middle-aged blues rock fumblings along the lines of that band of hedge fund guys from a few years ago, or Joe Scarborough’s mid-life crisis offerings.

The first indication that this might be different from what I feared was the picture of Blinkin playing a Danelectro. I believe that you can tell a lot about a person by their gear choices, and this is a hip choice. Noted bassist Mike Huckabee can be seen with the occasional P-bass but there are also plenty of pictures of him with some Guitar Center Special like a Yamaha, or an overly fussy high end bass like a Warwick, or, God forbid, a 5-string. So it’s no surprise that he turned out to be a horrible human being. A Danelectro, on the other hand, says to me, “Sure, I could have gotten a Tele. They are iconic and a choice that is beyond reproach. But I wanted something just a little more left of center.” (I’ve always liked the Danelectro but, much like the SG, I frankly don’t think that I’m cool enough to pull it off.)

Then I read the bio notes:
“Singer-Songwriter and, with Eli Attie, Jay Carney, Dave McKenna and David Segal, member of studio-only bands — including Cash Bar Wedding and Big Lunch — that have recorded in New Orleans, Bakersfield, Minneapolis and Washington, DC, with contributions from Alex Chilton and Grant Hart. Perform with two Washington, DC-based occasional charity concert bands, Pink Noise and Coalition of the Willing, formed in 2004 by Andras Simonyi with Linc Bloomfield, Dan Poneman, Dan McDermott, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter of Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers acclaim. Inspired, still, by 1970s classic rock and R&B.”

Okay, Skunk Baxter kind of makes sense since he designs missile defense technology or something these days. But Grant Hart? Alex frigging Chilton? I need more details. The word “contributions” seems intentionally vague in a way that is meant to capture almost any musical contact so I would like some clarification.

I see that he’s been in a band with Jay Carney, the former press secretary for Obama who namechecked Guided By Voices from the podium once. I’m assuming that Jay was the one that came up with the name “Cash Bar Wedding” since it sounds like it could be the name of a GBV album or song. This is an objectively great band name. “Coalition of the Willing” gets the silver medal for band names mentioned in this bio but loses out due to its wonkiness. The name “Ablinkin” must have seemed like a great idea that fell right into Blinkin’s lap but I think the cutesyness of that name causes it to wear out its welcome fairly quickly.

The songs: There’s only two songs. They both seem like they are recorded professionally. Honestly, they’re both catchy and well done. The arrangements are well thought out, and the playing is solid. His voice reminds me of someone. Do I hear notes of Elvis Costello? The songs seem like they fall into the category of Dad Rock as I understand that category to be. He seems like just a guy with a day job who never got tired of playing in bands, so in that respect, he’s not unlike me or a number of my fellow Townsmen. Are these songs changing the world or breaking new ground? Nope. But if the Donuts were putting together a show for a Saturday night with Nixon’s Head and these guys ended up on the bill too, I don’t think they’d be wildly out of place. Maybe they’d even have Skunk Baxter with them and I could confront him about the time when I was bartending and he was rude to me. (We’d probably end up laughing about it and then talking about compressors and whatnot.)

On to the questions:

  1. Are these songs legit or are they the little red sports car of someone’s midlife crisis?
  2. Is this Dad Rock?
  3. How do you define Dad Rock?
  4. Are a person’s gear choices a window into their soul?
  5. Are there any particular guitars you consider to be especially cool?
  6. Are there any guitars you consider to be inherently uncool?
  7. Between Blinkin name checking Grant Hart and Alex Chilton, Jay Carney professing his love for GBV, and people like former Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine saying the Replacements are his favorite band, are we entering the Golden Age of Musically Relatable Politicians?
  8. In terms of relatable politicians, would you rather have a beer with George W Bush, or argue the ranking of the three original Big Star albums with Blinkin?

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Nov 252020
 

The other day must have been Diana Ross‘ birthday, or something, as our local AAA station played a block of her music, from The Supremes through the excellent “Upside Down” single she did with the Chic crew. The penultimate track in the block was a song that, when it started out, I’d forgotten about, “Love Hangover.” While driving around and digging this unexpected block, I turned up the volume once more and as this forgotten hit from my early teen years started up. Then it happened: the song suddenly shifted to a Why Bother? disco jam that never let up for the rest of the song. It kicks in about 90 seconds into this live version.

“Why bother,” those who like to dance may say, “because we like to dance, Cement Hips!” I don’t know, even if I could dance, what’s there to get out the tacked-on disco exercise that that song turns into. I might as well be strapped into a massage chair. Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

It made me think of the classic Mel’s Rockpile episode on SCTV, where Richard Harris performed his new stylings on “MacArthur Park.” That bit said it all about the moment when disco went from a fun, innovative, cultural celebration to an impersonal Happy Ending.

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Nov 242020
 

Perhaps a few of you also suffer from a “hard drive” cluttered with weird pop culture knowledge gathered from sudden dives into rabbit holes. I forget a lot of important things, I am pretty sure, because my brain retains so much pointless information that only interests me. Here’s the latest case in point.

I was watching this excellent episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show the other night, and in the middle of an already top-shelf episode involving the possible firing Sally or Buddy and Rob getting an offer from a puppet, who should show up but Laugh-In cast member and Philadelphia native Henry Gibson. I always get a kick out of that guy!

At the following point in the show, he stands up and recites a poem. For the next few days, I kept thinking, “Where have I heard that before?” See if it rings a bell for you.

Last night, while washing the dishes, out of nowhere, I finally made the connection…after the jump! It goes without saying that as soon as I finished my chore, I jumped down a rabbit hole and eventually forgot to tell my wife something important.

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Thanks, Dad!

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Nov 212020
 
My dad (left), about age 23 with a 12-year-old Bobby Rydell. Dad had taken Bobby to see Johnny Ray. The photo appeared in an A&E Biography of Bobby.

My Dad died last night. He was a month shy of 90, lived a good life, his passing was neither unexpected nor drawn-out nor painful. I’m not writing this to look for condolences or sympathy but because one of Dad’s greatest gifts to me was a love of music and where better to acknowledge that and celebrate it than Rock Town Hall.

Not that Dad was much of a rock & roll fan. He did have broad tastes though and music was always playing at our house. Roger Miller to Tom Jobim to Chet Baker to Frank Sinatra, I heard a lot and loved it all and still do.

For a first-generation Italian-American in South Philly, Sinatra was of course number one for my father (and my mother). That was passed on to me. I like to say that I’ve loved Sinatra for 66 years even though I’m only 65 years old since I know I heard plenty of Frank in utero.

Dad saw so much live music back in the day and had so many stories to tell me. Chatting with Ella Fitzgerald before a show and buying her a drink at the bar of the club. Being the only person at another gig with Rosemary Clooney, telling her she didn’t have to do the show just for him (although she did). Hanging with Bobby Darin at a bar in Philly when Keely Smith called looking for him (and Darin telling the bartender – my uncle – to tell her he wasn’t there and if she ever called, he was never there, although his language was more colorful). “Managing” Bobby Rydell early on in his career (which mostly consisted of him collecting money at the Jersey shore while Bobby performed on the beach and taking him up to New York to audition for Red Skeleton).

Me and Bobby with the photo above. He was very happy to have a copy again.

The list of people he saw multiple times in little jazz clubs in Philly and NYC is staggering – Miles, Monk, Chet Baker, Ahmad Jamal, Anita O’Day, Astrud Gilberto, and countless others. And Dad wasn’t shy and the times were such that it was okay to talk to all these people, buy them a drink. One story he loved to tell was about chatting with Chet Baker before a show and asking him to play the song “Trickleydidlier” which was Dad’s favorite. Chet had no idea what the song was and apologized to Dad, saying “I don’t know these songs; they put the charts in front of me in the studio and I play.”

And, of course, seeing Sinatra at a restaurant after one of Frank’s shows and striking up a conversation with him.

Dad was a baker, a cake decorator. (Back before Cake Boss and any of that stuff, one of Dad’s creations was featured in the Philadelphia Bulletin in 1964, when he iced a cake and made it look like a Beatles mop-top.) He had one job working at a bakery in Wayne. He went to a lot of shows at the Main Point, seeing James Taylor, Janis Ian, even Bruce, and others long before anyone knew who they were.

Thanks, Dad; this is for you.

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Nov 202020
 

Hey Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?

I can’t meet a person named Luke – or talk to that same Luke for eternity – without thinking of this line from The Band classic “The Weight.” I’ve never met and may never meet an Anna Lee, so for me, the name Anna Lee does not count in this thread.

Is there a name in operation in your life – a name attached to people you actually meet – that you associate specifically with a particular line in a song?

This is NOT a Last Man Standing thread, so don’t start throwing out songs with names in them willy-nilly, like Maybelline. I may have to call bullshit on you if you tell me that you always think of the song “Maybelline” when you meet a Maybelline. If you really know a Maybelline, however, be my guest.

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