Saturday, December 24, 2011

"...Hail, Hail, The Angst's All Here..."

Loves me some words.

Been putting them together, in one form or another, for as long as I can remember.

And I can remember pretty far back.

Near as I can remember.

And, every now and then, I find myself inspired to add a word or two to the mix.

Just such an inspiration occurred today.

Courtesy of Lana Del Rey.

Here's a quick "whatsheallabout" from Yahoo Music.

How dumb do you have to be to announce to the world that you're a "gangsta Nancy Sinatra"? But Del Rey appears to be dumb like a fox, in that way. And, also, a fox, if we must say so ourselves. Not everyone is crazy about her plumped-lip look in the video for "Video Games," but 12 million video views (and counting) later, she's doing something right. That shrewdness isn't just in her knack for self-marketing, but also the real craft heard in that knockout single, a funereal ballad which makes her lover's fondness for World of Warcraft sound like the stuff of very high tragedy. We'll have to wait till her full-length album comes out in January to find out if her boots were really made for walkin'.

I gave Diva D-R another look/listen while digesting that little description and, somewhere around the two minute mark of her melodrama, the new word popped.

Debut momentarily.

Though she's ostensibly the latest, the lady Lana is not the lone purveyor of this particular song style.

Not by a long shot.

But, it was that Yahoo's description of said style that put me on the path to generating a new genre'.

A genre' that counts, among its subscribers, such talents as Christina Perri, Adele, even, if you stretch the point a parcek or two, Taylor Swift and, of course, now, Lana Del Rey.

Young ladies whose primary presentation is pretty much equal parts love and lament, melodic and melancholic, romantic and regretful.

In other words, a whole lotta angst goin' on.

Which is just fine and dandy, thank you, because, let's face it, there's only so much Michael Buble' one can absorb before the blood sugar cries out for dark chocolate.

The core audience these young ladies has recruited will faithfully sway and swoon, if only internally, to the pretty pathos and the relatable ruminations, never burdened by the perspective of older listeners who will struggle, from time to time, with the continued conflict of hearing dark and dramatic "reflections on a life of heartbreaks" from someone who was in elementary school less than five years earlier.

But, hey, Bob Dylan was only, like, twelve when he was doling out the admonitions of changing times to people five times his age.

So, I say, you go, girls.

Atta way to articulate.

Oh, and as for the new word that came to life in my lobe?

I agreed, and chuckled, at the Yahoo writer's opening opine about the Lana D R's self image as a "gangsta Nancy Sinatra".

Which, frankly, is like calling yourself a "macho Adam Lambert."

But, I understand the spirit of what she's going for.

And I think she actually came pretty close to pegging it.

She was just off a tad.

Mses. Del Rey, Perri, Adele and assorted other prolific poetesses yet to ponder and present, may I suggest that "gangsta" is close, but no cigar.

Allow me.


Happy to help.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"...Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid, On, John, Paul, George and Ringo..."

Amidst the bargain jargon and super sale slang flying around like snow in a New England sky this time of year, there is a word, instantly evocative of the season, that tends to get lost in the shuffle.

At least, until the last lock on the last door of the last open store is finally clicked somewhere along the way Christmas Eve.


As in " the world..."

I was reminded of that today in a place doing something you don't often associate with epiphanous holiday moments.

Walking the treadmill.

Listening to The Beatles.

One song, amidst a variety of songs by a variety of singers on the IPod, put there for their groove, feel, mood, etc, ostensibly to keep me feeling upbeat as I work out, tone up and slim down but which, in fact, simply, and thankfully, do me the service of distracting me long enough to exercise for thirty minutes without wanting to load the treadmill into the trunk and drop it off in some unwatched dumpster on my way to the nearest DQ.

Go for the burn, my ass.

Winter is all about blizzards, baby.

The kind that come with chunks of Oreo.

And, this time of year, candy canes.

So, as I kept up a nice 3.2 MPH pace to the dancing and dining sounds of Michael Jackson, Nickelback, The Kinks, Shawn Colvin, Adam Lambert and Tammy Wynette, among others (hey, I wasn't born buff, but nobody can say I wasn't born eclectic), along came John, Paul, George and Ringo.

And a song that invariably, even after almost fifty years, evokes a smile and a little lightening of the load.

In the strangest way, as well, it also triggered that little previously mentioned holiday epiphany.

Because it caused me to be reminded of something that's missing, in large measure, from both the holiday season...and the current popular music culture.


Sure, many folks find happiness and warmth and good cheer and a few of its cousins showing up at Christmas time, but how much pure, untainted, child like joy is there to be found anymore?

And I'll spare you the diatribe about Black Friday madness and Christmas crazies and mall mental cases and let you reflect, yourself, on how buried or not, in all that sugar coated sludge, real laugh out loud joy there is in your holiday season.

Meanwhile, I realized, somewhere along the 26th minute of the 3.2 MPH as the Fab Four sang, that the same thing could be asked about pop music.

Sure, many people find happiness and warmth and good cheer and a few of its cousins in pop music, but how much pure, untainted, child like joy is there to be found anymore amidst the thump and the beat and the groove and the lyrics that either send a wave of angst washing over us like that big ass ocean wave that turned George Clooney and the gang upside down a few years back or so often imply, or simply offer upfront, the concept that we should "fuck like rabbits...and then maybe get to know each other"?

And just so the youngers don't leap to the tired old argument that my line of thinking is simply tired and old, understand this.

I'm not talking about morality.

Or hip quotient.

Or even cultural relatability.

I'm just talkin' about joy.

A feeling of delight and/or exuberance that comes without the baggage of angst or sexuality or social relevance or cultural connection?

And just makes you feel good...before, during and after.

With no buyer's remorse coated in a thin varnish of fear that you're going straight to Hell for drinking it, shaking it, making it and/or faking it.

And, truth be told, even The Beatles evolved fairly soon after into that next, more angst filled, phase.

But, while it lasted, this particular phase of artistic creation radiated pure joy.

And was a joy to hear.

The song has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.

But given the spirit that it evokes, I'm ready to make a pretty good case that it belongs right there on the Muzak with Rudolph, Frosty and the Holly Jolly of your own choosing.

Joy to the world...

...and I feel fine.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"...Gold...and Frankincense...and Frampton..."

Wouldn't be Christmas without "It's A Wonderful Life".

And amongst all the iconic images and catch phrase lines of dialogue that have woven their way into the fabric of our everydays, one particular line seems to pop up, for me, often throughout the year as the adventure of the life continues to unfold.

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

That thought has been, and continues to be, a source of both amusement and pride, depending on the given situation.

And, now and then, comfort when the water is low in the down phase of "sometimes the surf is up, sometimes the surf is down".

A friend of mine from bygone days is having a birthday this week and a little reminiscing about said days brought back both a fond memory and a renewed reminder about how we all affect, subtly, seriously or even satirically, each other on the shared road.

(excerpt from "I've Never Heard Of You, Either", @2010 by Blurb Publishing)

Peter Frampton was not amused.

Well, hell, I was just kidding.

In a work environment that can be very labor intensive and frequently chaotic, what with thousands of CD’s, tapes and assorted other merchandise items needing to be priced, stocked, dusted and protected from theft, it was only natural to expect that we would, occasionally, want to go off the well trodden path and come up with a few things for our own amusement. After all, those M.A.S.H. guys did some pretty wacky things and got away with it because everyone just sort of silently understood that it was their way of keeping from losing their minds in the madness. (not to equate the horrors of war with the running of a record store, but, unless you’ve done retail at Christmas, just ease off on the rush to judgment, okay, pal?)

We came up with a few little diversions from time to time. One I was particularly proud of (since I created it) was something we called the “trivia card”. Simply described, it was one of those plastic cards that sits in the stock bins, you know the ones that have the artists name on them so you can tell where the John Denver leaves off and the Frank Zappa begins, which we embossed with little bits of trivia about that particular artist. (...”Did you know that Andrew Gold, the singer/songwriter who created ‘Thank You For Being A Friend’ is the son of Marni Nixon, the lady who dubbed the singing voice of Natalie Wood in West Side Story?”)

The customers seemed to enjoy them, especially when we went a little left or right of center (“.....Sonny is a Congressman, Cher sells face creams and their daughter is a this a great country or what?”).

Sooner or later, though, it was inevitable that we would piss somebody off.

Hey, show me the way, Pete.

I had made up a new batch of cards and, feeling particularly witty that particular day, included this little tidbit of info under the name


“....artist whose album ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ is the best selling live album of all times...go figure...”.

I thought it was funny.

The staff thought it was funny.

Customers thought it was funny.

Peter Frampton was not amused.

I dodged the bullet, being occupied when Mr. Frampton came by, but Rob Esparza, one of my assistants had to do a very quick tap dance for the miffed musician. (....”what’s this?” “oh, you know, Mr. Frampton, go figure just means it’s hard to explain phenomenal success like yours”.....”oh, is that right...well, uh....I don’t think...” “well, sir, if you are offended, we apologize and here {sound of label being ripped off}’s gone..” “well...”)

I thanked Rob for falling on the sword for my attack of the witties. And, I was, in a spirit of good humor, content to let it go…until….

Not two hours later, my boss came to me and informed me that our main office had gotten a call from Mr. Frampton’s management office expressing their sincere unhappiness with the ridicule we had inflicted upon the aforementioned Mr. Frampton.

Well, shit, Peter, you sort of validated the whole “go figure” thing with that little temper tantrum, didn’t you?

Convinced that discretion was the better part of retort, I let it drop.

But not before I made up one last bin card for the benefit of staff and friends to use as a prop when telling the story:

“ was a joke, Peter...lighten the fuck up...”

Admittedly, that story doesn't necessarily qualify as a memory of the misty water colored variety Barbra Streisand warbled about.

But I think, if you stretch the point, you can see the threads of our humanity that weave in and out of the story, threads that take on a special meaning as family and friends gather to share a very special time of year.

There's humor and harpiness, vanity and victory, quiet determination and quick thinking, sacrifice and silliness, folly and friendship.

One, and all, essential tiles in the mosaic of the lives given us by the God whose kid is having a birthday this month.

And just as Harry Bailey wouldn't have been around to win the Congressional Medal of Honor if George Bailey hadn't pulled him out of the icy lake when they were kids, so, too, perhaps would my life not have taken me to success as a writer and radio personality had I been fired that day because Rob wasn't around to pull my bacon out of the fire.

"...Each man's life touches so many other lives...."

An unconventional, but, I'd offer, totally appropriate thought in this season.

Not to mention the other, equally unconventional thought that might best be remembered when the frantic frenzy of said season starts to overtake and overwhelm.

"...lighten the fuck up..."

Happy birthday and Merry Christmas, Rob.

Oh, and Peter...Merry Christmas to you...and...see above...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"...You Just Gotta Know That Somewhere Tonight, He's Wrapped Up In Some Lovin Arms..."

You're liable to hear a lot of "Drift Away" for the next day or two.

Dobie Gray has passed away.

When a celebrity dies, it's customary that whatever most identifies that celebrity for the public becomes, at least at first, that celebrity's media epitaph.

In Dobie's case, that would be "Drift Away."

Not too shabby, as epitaphs go.

But narrowing the focus on an amazing and diverse career that spanned five decades down to a single song might do the man proud but it hardly does him justice.

And while cliche' is always anathema to this word guy, it's only fair, and totally on target, to say that Dobie Gray truly was a one of a kind vocal talent.

In a culture that seems, sometimes, to pride itself on being the newest version of the current next big thing, Dobie was a singer who could not be mistaken for any other singer.

Even if you tried.

And while Dobie's career rebirth performance of Mentor Williams' amazing "Drift Away" deservedly belongs in the list of iconic pop songs, you're cheating yourself out of some wonderful discovery if you don't seek out his larger body of work including, but certainly not limited to, his seminal performance of Tom Jan's stunning "Lovin Arms".

Not to mention a little ditty from the hip and happening sixties that was, to Dobie, "I Was A Teenage Werewolf" was to a young Michael Landon, that which brought fame but, along with it, a latter day cringe factor of ten plus.

"The In Crowd".

As for this baby boomer, I was doubly blessed by Dobie Gray's time on the mortal coil.

First as a young fan of both that cheesy sixties stuff and the seventies rebirth that produced "Drift Away", et al.

Then in the early eighties as a friend and peer who was honored to be asked to sing backup with him on stage at the 1982 Volunteer Jam in Nashville.

That was quite a night on a couple of counts.

First, I had just, about two hours earlier, married the lady who was standing next to me in that backup group on stage, a wedding that Dobie was gracious enough to announce to the thousands in the hearty partying crowd jammed into the Municipal Auditorium.

Second, don't let anybody kid ya. Singing the high harmony part live on "Drift Away" ten feet from the star and in front of thousands of hearty party-ers and actually hitting the notes is no small feat.

You can't buy memories like that, I'm here to tell you.

And not to tarnish the tribute, but the irony isn't lost on me that today another Nashville name has been in the news.

John Rich was thrown off a Southwest jet because he was too drunk to act like a civilized human being, not the first time Rich has made headlines with one low rent incident or another.

The contrast is both pitiful and poignant.

Because Dobie Gray was not only a one of a kind vocal talent.

He was a class act.

Classy enough, in fact, to share only with friends and enthralled, honored, newly married back up singers that he couldn't stand doing "The In Crowd" while always graciously thanking those fans who said they loved it.

Including enthralled, honored, newly married back up singers.

So you're liable to hear a lot of "Drift Away" for the next day or two.

I suspect Dobie is just fine with that.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"...When It Comes To Love, Was A Time That Only The Insights Were Penetrating..."

Oversimplification is a slippery slope.

And not being much of a climber in the first place, I'm disinclined to attempt any ascent.

That said, I found what John Blake had to say in an article written for to be both simplistic and spot on.

The premise, that contemporary black music has replaced romance with rawness, innuendo with intercourse, is, by any reasonable measure, a valid one.

And while one generation's romance is often perceived by preceding generations as rawness, I don't think there's any getting around some starkly sociological observations that Blake makes.

Some excerpts...

"...Listening to black music today is depressing. Songs on today's urban radio playlists are drained of romance, tenderness and seduction. And it's not just about the rise of hardcore hip-hop or rappers who denigrate women.

Black people gave the world Motown, Barry White and "Let's Get It On." But we don't make love songs anymore.


"...Earth Wind & Fire keyboardist and founding member Larry Dunn says a new generation of black artists is more cynical because more come from broken homes and broken communities..."

"...Crack cocaine decimated black communities in the 1980s. The blue-collar jobs that gave many black families a foothold in the middle class began to disappear. Desegregation split the black community. Those with money and education moved to the suburbs. The ones left behind became more isolated.

Today, we have a black first family, but our own families are collapsing. A 2009 study from the Institute for American Values and the National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting at Hampton University in Virginia highlights the erosion.

The study found that while 70.3% of all black adults were married in 1970, that rate dropped to 39.6% by 2008. The study also showed that while 37.6% of black births were to unmarried parents in 1970, that figure soared to 71.6% by 2008.

Our music became as grim as those statistics. Singing about love now seems outdated...."

"...Something else also happened: Black people became more narcissistic, and so did our love songs.

There's been a lot written about the narcissism of young Americans. They don't want to pay their dues. They are self-absorbed -- tweeting, texting, posting asides on Facebook -- and they are constantly immersed in their private worlds.

This self-absorption has seeped into contemporary black love songs.

One of R&B's most popular current hits is "Quickie" by Miguel, who declares, "I don't wanna be loved. I want a quickie."

There's nothing wrong with singing about sex. Few songs are as sexually charged as Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." And few singers can evoke bedroom heat like Al Green. But black men don't even bother to romance women in love songs anymore, says Kimberly Hines, editor-in-chief of SoulBounce, an online progressive urban music site.

Consider a recent Valentine's Day song by popular  artist Chris Brown called "No Bull S**t," in which he sings about inviting a woman over to his place at 3 in the morning because "you know I'm horny."

Then he sings to her to take off her clothes because "you already know what time it is" and orders her to "reach up in that dresser where them condoms is...."

"...A recent study of Billboard hits confirms the notion that wooing a woman is disappearing from modern R&B.

Psychology professor Gordon Gallup Jr. and student Dawn Hobbs studied the subject matter of the 174 songs that made the Billboard Top 10 in 2009. They analyzed three musical genres among the top-selling songs: R&B, country and pop.

The researchers at the University at Albany in New York found that R&B contained the most references to sex per song (an average of 16 sex-related phrases per song). The top three sexual themes in R&B songs were the singer's sex appeal, the singer's wealth as it relates to finding a partner, and descriptions of sex acts. A total of 19 song themes were examined.

The least-popular theme in R&B music was "courtship," while country music offered more songs about courtship than any other genre, the study said.

Music critic Ollison says men and women have objectified each other in modern R&B and whine "about not getting what they felt they deserved."

"It's a shame, because our desires don't change and we still want to be loved and open to someone, but the music we're sharing doesn't evoke it," Ollison says. "It's not about sharing. It's very narcissistic, sort of look at me...."

"...That narcissism hasn't just seeped into the songwriting. It's infected the process of recording R&B love songs, as well.

During the classic soul era of the '60s, '70s and '80s, making records was a communal experience. It was a time of great bands. Think of the album covers from that era -- they were crowded with musicians.

The ability to play well -- and with others -- was expected. But how many contemporary R&B artists can actually sing, write or play instruments?

Dunn, of Earth Wind & Fire, says he was playing professional engagements every day of the week by the time he was 15. There was only one prerequisite for being in a band.

"You had to play your butt off," he says.

"I got into music for one reason, and all the guys I knew did for the same reason. We wanted to be the best we could be. We didn't know you got paid. We were too young to be tripping on women. We didn't know what the bling-bling was."

What made the classic R&B love songs great wasn't just the singing or the lyrics. It was the music. The wicked groove the drummer and bassist unleash on Barry White's "Never Gonna' Give You Up," Dunn's jazzy keyboard riffs on "Reasons," the bittersweet saxophone accompaniment on Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" -- it all still sounds good.

That musical depth is missing from contemporary R&B love songs. Funding for music programs has been cut from many schools, so kids often don't grow up learning how to play instruments.

Any wannabe singer with a mediocre voice can now sit home in his or her underwear and eat Doritos while cutting a song on a computer and post it on the Internet the next day.

"A lot of producers just do everything by computer and knock that song out. Musicians have gotten checked out of the equation...."

"...Toby Walker, creator of the soul music site Soulwalking, says many contemporary R&B artists can produce great love songs by changing the way they make music.

"These performers would hugely benefit by leaving the stilettos, makeup, mobile phones and management behind them, putting on a T-shirt and jeans, and retiring for a couple of months someplace with some real musicians, real instruments, and a recording studio," Walker says.

Some people may say it's not important if we stop singing about love, but I'm not so sure.

Black music isn't just for black folks; it's America's music. It's been that way for years. Black musicians who played the blues inspired rockers like Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones; contemporary hip-hop artists have as many white fans as black listeners.

What happens when millions of young listeners -- regardless of color -- learn about intimacy from songs that reduce love to reaching "up in that dresser where them condoms is"?

And what happens to black people if we can't sing about love?

Whenever I see a black couple doting on their children in public, I want to throw a ticker-tape parade. I know so few blacks who are married. How do we build families and raise children if we can't even stay together?

Music was never just about entertainment in the black community. It was about hope. From the spirituals that slaves sang to survive brutal racism to civil rights anthems like "We Shall Overcome," love of God, self and one another was the message in much of our music.

I wonder where a new generation will go to hear those songs that talk about striving and love.

I wonder if they will even know enough about their past to ask.

Where is the love?..."

Some months ago, I wrote a piece regarding the Enrique Iglesias club hit, "Tonight, I'm Lovin' You", a song which came in two versions, the second, less air played but, inevitably more club played, of the two being "Tonight, I'm F***in' You".

That piece can be found here...

My two cents, at the time, was that, regardless of any accusations of old fart fogey-ism, the blase' acceptance, not to mention enthusiastic endorsement, of the vaginal version was, at best, a sad commentary on the willingness, even desire, of young women in the culture to let themselves be reduced to little more than receptacles for the nearest erection.

And while I stand by my own original assertion, that oversimplifying something is risky business when coming to legitimate terms with that something, there remains a fine, yet visible, line between oversimplification and simple truth.

If popular music continues to be a reflection of the times in which it is created then any lawyer worth their salt could easily convince twelve reasonable people of a simple truth.

The heart of black music has been relocated to its crotch.

And, regardless of how hip, happening and/or hot it might be, that's more than just a little sad.

It's just that simple.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"...It's HAnson...As In HA HA HA..."

Don't let anybody kid you.

Singers and songwriters can be funny mofos.

Case in point.

The pop singing, songwriting brothers Hanson.

Check it out, from Rolling

Hanson are prepping the launch of MMMHop, their own brand of beer. The squeaky-clean pop trio hope to make the brew, an India Pale Ale, available to fans sometime in early 2012.

"We of course make records, they are fundamental to what we do, but we wanted to create a brand so that our fans have a greater experience," Zac Hanson told reporters at Oxford University Union in Oxford, England on Monday, justifying the new project. "What is vital is that Hanson merchandise is quality and not made solely with the purpose of profit."

"We have a board game and even a record player to play our last record on, but we will never make dolls, lunch boxes or toothbrushes that play our songs, for example. It's vital our fans have trust in everything Hanson do," says Hanson. "In fact, we are soon going to be selling our own beer, I'm not even joking. MMMHop IPA, anyone?"

I'm the last person in the world to begrudge anyone the right to avail themselves of the opportunities offered by the glorious system known as free enterprise.

And if Hanson wants to bottle and peddle brewsky, I think we can all agree it's their prerogative.

What makes this funny isn't the prerogative.

It's the posturing.

..."What is vital is that Hanson merchandise is quality and not made solely with the purpose of profit."

"We have a board game and even a record player to play our last record on, but we will never make dolls, lunch boxes or toothbrushes that play our songs, for example. It's vital our fans have trust in everything Hanson do,"...

On behalf of a grateful nation, boys, may I be the first to thank you for your courageous and unwavering dedication to principle.

Because in a world filled with dolls, lunch boxes and toothbrushes bearing the likeness of celebrities of all ilk, nothing says integrity like board games, record players...

...and beer.

In fact, I suspect that somewhere, reading his copy of the current Rolling Stone, noted entrepreneurial mastermind, Sir Paul McCartney is kicking himself in the ass for not having thought that one up decades ago.

"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Lager", anyone?

Monday, November 7, 2011

"...Treasure in the Key of M.D......"

Never been much for shopping.

It has to do, I think, with my primary hard wiring.

Or, more accurately, my male DNA.

Because I've said for years, on air, and off, that guys aren't predisposed to what seems like wasted hours of wandering around looking for things that we may or may not buy.

Put simply, women shop.

Men go get.

That said, I do have an understanding of one facet of the shopping dynamic.

Those moments when you unexpectedly discover, amongst the various and sundry same old same old stacked, spread or strewn throughout the display table, a genuine find.

As with pretty much everything else, I don't, owing to my gender, shop for music, either.

I usually know what I want and just go get it.

But, missing mall wandering genes notwithstanding, I know a find when I see one.

Or hear one.

Suzie Brown is a find.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"...This Just In...Country and Pop Find Common Ground...And Grant Is Buried In Grant's Tomb..."

For more than twenty years, Nashville was home.

But it wasn't necessary for me to have had a 615 area code on my resume to know what I know.

And what I know, you'll know in a minute or two.

(CNN) -- There's a standing joke that if you play a country song backward, the singer gets re-hired, wins back his girl, finds whatever he's lost, quits crying and leaves the bar.

Employed, happily married and sober? Doesn't sound much like America these days.

Authenticity is what defines country music, says Karla Lawson, a morning host for Nashville's WSIX country radio station.

"It's so real and accessible and down-to-earth and relatable," she says. "It's really the most honest music out there."

The Country Music Association's 45th annual awards show airs live on Wednesday, November 9, at 8 p.m. on ABC. The show consistently ranks in the top four among the most-watched awards shows on television, alongside the Oscars, Grammys and Golden Globes, says CMA media relations director Scott Stem.

Joining favorites like Rascal Flatts and Kenny Chesney on stage this year will be rock singer Grace Potter, pop artist Natasha Bedingfield and Motown mogul Lionel Richie, who has an upcoming country duets album called "Tuskegee."

"Country as a genre has changed ... and the audience has reflected that," Lawson says.

To be fair, country music's popularity has been on a steady incline for more than 20 years, Billboard country chart manager Wade Jessen says.

Singers like Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood broke down the barrier between plaid and pleather in the early 1990s. Even if you weren't stompin' your boots just yet, you were probably secretly humming Shania Twain's "I Feel Like a Woman," Billy Ray Cryus' "Achy Breaky Heart," or Faith Hill's "This Kiss."

The list of artists who have gone country since then is lengthy: Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Bon Jovi, Uncle Kracker, Hootie & the Blowfish's Darius Rucker, Jewel -- even Jessica Simpson. But if the last year has shown us anything, it's that America's gone a little bit country and a little less rock 'n' roll. As Brantley Gilbert sings, "Country must be country-wide."

Things really heated up in late 2010, when viewers tuned in to watch actress Gwyneth Paltrow make her live singing debut with "Country Strong" at the CMAs. Then Justin Bieber sent a million tweens into a frenzy when he announced that he'd be teaming up with country group Rascal Flatts to record a duet in 2011.

In February, Lady Antebellum swept the Grammys, winning record of the year and song of the year. In March, Lady Gaga put out a country version of her single "Born This Way" (although I have to say, Little Big Town did it better).

Even "Footloose," originally pure '80s pop, got in on the action. The movie was country-fied in its 2011 remake. Blake Shelton sang the movie's theme song and was joined on the soundtrack by country artists Zac Brown, Big & Rich, Jana Kramer, Ella Mae Bowen and more. Shelton has invited Kenny Loggins -- the original "Footloose" singer -- to perform with him at the CMAs.

But wait, the roundup is not done yet. The first three national anthem singers at the World Series were country artists: "American Idol" winner Scotty McCreery, Trace Adkins and Ronnie Dunn (of the former Brooks and Dunn). Bieber added a song featuring The Band Perry to his new Christmas album. Jason Aldean and Lady Gaga were the first artists announced for the Grammy nominations concert.

Oh yeah, and Adele wants in on the country action as well.

The 23-year-old reportedly plans to go country for her next album, saying discovering American country musicians was "like (being) a 4-year-old in a candy shop who's discovering sweets again."

CMA's Stem isn't surprised. "I always claim that everyone likes country music -- they just don't want to admit it," he says with a laugh.

Artists like Taylor Swift have certainly added a "hip" factor to the country music industry. But it's the stories and the soul that keeps fans coming back, Stem says.

"We are a very real-life music, based on real-life experiences. Who among us hasn't had our hearts broken? Who hasn't lost a loved one, found love or not gotten the job we wanted? It covers (everything from) the sad to the happy to the silly."

Now that sounds more like America.

Now, as promised, here's what I know.

The rise in popularity of country music, at least the country music defined these days as country music, is, in large part, less about the music than the missing.

And what's missing is pop music.

Today, there really is no such thing.

The top forty chart, traditionally the home of pop songs and singers, today largely consists of hip-hop, dance and/or other "groove" and/or ethnic work. Musically tending to focus on singular beats and/or often monotonous melodies, lyrically tending to limit itself to primal intentions and/or odes to the joys of club life.

And while there are a few, occasional glints of more "traditional" pop sounds, those glints tend to be limited to singer/songwriters who specialize in the always young crowd pleasing angst approach (Christina Perri, Adele, et al).

Put simply, if regrettably old fart fogey-ishly, there ain't a Beatle or Byrd or even an Elvis anywhere in sight in present day pop music.

Country music, meanwhile, has welcomed the homeless with open arms.

And turned country music, for good or ill depending on your age and/or regional affiliation, into the freshly painted home of pop.

Not convinced?

Consider this.

Country music, for generations, was a subset of popular music, featuring rural values, hillbilly musicianship and singers who were as at home on a stage fashioned from a flatbed truck as they were pushing a shopping cart up and down the aisles of the local Piggly Wiggly.

For those same generations, country music's biggest stars had names like Hank...and Patsy...and Kitty...and Buck...and Loretta...and Merle.

Even in more recent years, the core of country was made up of plain spoken, fried chicken preferring, God fearing folks like Alan...and George...and Tammy...and Reba.

Not an Elton or Mariah or Whitney or even Madonna in sight.

Eventually, pop found a hole in the fence and wandered over more than just a little east of California and a little west of Philly, Detroit and all the other ancestral homes of top forty sounds and singers.

Not so much because of wanderlust as much finding themselves with nowhere else to go.

Their traditional stomping ground had been become a haven for hip hopsters, a den of dancers and a cacophony of club dwellers.

In the cultural sense, at least, there went the neighborhood.

And Nashville, having, for years, already had a discreet welcome mat out for rock and roll (Elvis cut many of his hits there, various Beatles, Stones, Monkees, etc also availed themselves of the world class studios and musicians)simply came out of the musical closet and replaced the discreet welcome mat with a big ol' billboard.

Welcome to Nashville. Music City, USA.

Nothing in that slogan restricting the welcome to country music.

And because pop and country managed to share space in the same spirit peanut butter found with chocolate, the evolution revolution was on.

So much so that, often, it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Because for every Blake, Trace, Miranda and Dierks, there's a Carrie, Keith, Taylor and Lady A.

All of whom are about as down home, corn pone country as I am.

The premise of the CNN article, that the "country" has suddenly "discovered" country music is, essentially, silly.

Mainstream media has simply discovered that the two have been sleeping together for a while now.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

"...In This Case, They Doth Protest Just Enough..."

Only two things sure, it is said.

Death and taxes.

I'd suggest there's, at least, a third.

There really is no such thing as new.

Semantic distinctions and splitting of hairs notwithstanding, pretty much everything that is, or even has yet to be, is, if researched to the core, merely an evolution of, or variation on, a theme long ago discovered and/or created.

That observation is, of course, fair game for discussion and debate.

But let's save that for another, more existential moment.

Nickelback has, what I think is, a very cool song out now.

Give it a spin, cats and kitties....

Now, regardless of your philosophical predilections, there can be no denying that this piece is as catchy as all giddyup.

But, when you listen past the groove, the beat ripe for tapping of toes and/or fingers and the hey-ay-ay-ay-yeah daring you not sing along and zero in on the lyric, you discover that nestled amongst the aforementioned groove, beat and sing along, like an overlooked Cadbury egg in a gnarl of green plastic grass, is a lyric that can without much convincing be described as "protest".

As in "protesting the shortcomings of society and the cultural implications of said shortcomings, ad nauseum, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all".

So to speak.

And although this song is moving up the airplay charts only at a pace that a fairly alert snail could best, I've been featuring it on my radio show because, like I said, it's catchy as all giddyup.

Protest is profound.

But catchy is cool.

And, in that light, this song qualifies as being both profound and cool.

But not new.

Nigh on fifty years ago, 1962 to be exact, an industry respected, but little known publicly, folk singer named Malvina Reynolds wrote a song lamenting the, then new, nasty habit of atmospheric nuclear testing.

And, in a beautifully poetic fashion, highlighted the potential damage possible to the air we breathe and the rain we danced in from the fallout created by the nuking.

Two years later, in the midst of the British Invasion, The Searchers (of "Love Potion Number Nine" fame) recorded a version of Malvina's song in 1964 Mersey beat/orchestrated style.

It was never a "hit" hit, making it to the top twenty in the UK and the top twenty in the USA.

But it was then, and remains now, a remarkable version of a remarkable piece of work.


And catchy as all giddyup.

"...Somebody Heard Them Sing and Said...'Man, That Was Righteous, Brother..'...Voila! A Duo Was Born..."

A picture is reputed to be worth a thousand words.

A song, on the other hand, can conjure up a thousand pictures.

Do the math.

This song, along with the thousand plus images conjured, has not only a timeless sound but more than just a few facts coming along for the ride.

It was co-written and produced by Phil Spector whose 50's and 60's pop genius was later overshadowed by his unfortunate habit of playing with loaded guns.

Although the song was recorded by The Righteous Brothers, the focus, and bulk, of the presentation is the baritone work of Brother Bill Medley (later to find further fame and fortune musically helping keep Baby out of the corner, with the assistance of Jennifer Warnes, on "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life" from "Dirty Dancing".)

One of the backup singers on "Lovin Feelin" was a young protege', and later singing partner and wife, of Phil Spector's then A&R guy, Salvatore Bono.


And because, in the day, it was believed that a ballad that ran almost four minutes (actual time, 3:45) would never make it past the program director's desk to the station turntables, Spector solved the issue by simply having the label printed 3:05, instead.

And if all of that don't make you wanna close your eyes anymore when he/she kisses your lips, try this on...

As of 1999, the original 1964 Righteous Brothers version of this song has been documented by BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc) as the song that has been played more on radio and/or television than any other song in the 20th Century.

It is, quite simply, a love, a love, a love, a love you don't find every day.

And it was meant to be heard, now and forever, on a turntable at 45RPM.

Like this...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"...Chances Are, This Is What We Get For Constantly Telling Kids to 'Grow Up'..."


Here that?

It's the sound of envelopes being pushed.

Take a look/listen.

I'll be right here when you get back.

Music being the subjective little scamp it is, I'll take a pass on climbing the slippery slope of offering up any critique here.

You either like this or you don't.

Are offended by it or not.

Will ban your kids from it or not.

Good luck on that, by the way.

I'll offer you simply this.

In another place, in another time, in a completely different context, I think Nicolas Cage called it.

" ain't Ozzie and Harriet..."

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Substance abuse is, to any reasonable mind, an insidious affliction.

It occurs, though, that there's an even more insidious affliction hidden inside the aforementioned insidious affliction.

Romancing the stoned.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — In the days following Justin Townes Earle's arrest last September in Indianapolis, he slipped so deeply into a cocaine psychosis it began to change his personality.

Gone was the brash, cocksure young singer-songwriter who against the steep odds of addiction and a tough upbringing had transformed himself into a true artist with the critical acclaim to prove it. In its place was a 150-pound wraith haunting the East Village in New York City with an overriding paranoia brought on by an eight-ball of cocaine and a half-gallon of vodka every day.

The continuous binges were destroying his talent and making his intense live shows occasionally forgettable. They were destroying his friendships one by one. Nearly six years of sobriety, all gone during an increasingly tight downward spiral over a year's time.

Earle fixated on an erroneous news report that said he hit a woman while destroying his dressing room in an Indianapolis club. For a man raised by a single mother, the idea he would hit a woman was devastating. It prompted a five-day bender.

"I'd just be walking down the streets in Manhattan thinking everybody was looking at me," Earle said. "I thought everybody knew about what happened and it absolutely was just crushing me. I remember vaguely calling my publicist at the time — I fired my manager not long before that had happened, and my publicist and my booking agent were the only people still working for me — and just hysterically crying and saying I just didn't want to do this anymore. I didn't want to tour any more. I didn't want to make records."

Not long after, Earle entered formal treatment for the 13th time.

In the 10 months since he completed rehab, the 29-year-old son of country rebel Steve Earle has experienced a series of highs and lows he shared in several interviews.

He's slipped back into heroin use and rallied, turning to a new treatment that seems to have helped him settle into a healthier routine. He's been hailed as a new voice for his generation and targeted by cruel attempts at gallows humor. He split with his old girlfriend and started a new relationship that's brought him back to his hometown.

Today he's on the "marijuana maintenance plan" and enjoying the benefits of anti-addiction drug Soboxone. He's exercising and feels as fit as he ever has. He's touring much of the fall and is preparing to record his fifth record, a significant step that has Earle pointed directly into the future.

"And I'm as content as I've ever been," Earle said. "Which doesn't mean I'm content, but I'm as content as I've ever been. I'm still always going to be a little bit discontent because I'm a little bit crazy and I'll always want more than I have. That's what keeps me going. That's what keeps me driven to keep on doing what I'm doing."

Perhaps it's that drive that's kept him alive so long.


Sometimes, Justin Townes Earle is amazed he's still above ground.

Images flashed through his head as he sat backstage at The Mercy Lounge last November, staring out a window at bejeweled luxury high rises. The Nashville he's looking at doesn't much resemble the lazy town with the seedy side he grew up in during a nearly feral, often lonely and always confusing childhood. At the same time, some things look very much the same.

"I remember when you'd look out this window and there wasn't (expletive) anything there," he said. "It was a rail yard. Well, hell you can still buy crack on 8th Avenue."

A few weeks out of rehab, Earle admits his mind is often on drugs. He catches himself falling prey to the classic addict behavior of daydreaming about scoring.

"I feel good now, but at least once a day I come up with some kind of hare-brained scheme to get high and get away with it," he said with a laugh.

The view out the window seems to jog memories and he spends an hour telling stories that would fit nicely in a "Scared Straight" curriculum ... of a childhood spent mostly alone after his famous father Steve Earle, extremely gifted but also haunted by drugs, left his mother ... of crimes committed as if they were nothing ... of difficult relationships that still sting ... of horrors no child should have to endure.

"I've come to the decision basically or the belief that it's just who I am," Earle said. "I'm a songwriter. I'm an artist. I am my mother's son. I am my father's son. And I'm a drug addict. And it was a behavior that I displayed very early on in my life. When I was a kid, my mom would buy granola bars and stuff and I would eat the whole box. One after the other until I was sick."

His mother, Carol-Ann, had to work and the home was often empty. But there were times when it was too full as well with the occasional boyfriend. The result was the feeling that he had no safe haven.

Drugs quickly became a diversion from an existence that "hurt all the time."

"I remember I got high the first time when I was 10 off of reefer and I just loved it," Earle said. "By 11 I was just an avid marijuana smoker. I smoked constantly. It wasn't heroin, it was Dilaudid, the pharmaceutical pain killer, that was first thing I got my hands on. I just remember getting hit with it and it just felt like everything was just going to be OK, until of course it wore off and I was sick as (expletive) until the next morning. But even with the sickness, I wanted to go back and capture that feeling again, you know? I started to shut down at that point."

His teen years flashed by, a montage of searches for drugs, living with both his mother and father at times before leaving to live on his own in his late teens.

He went to Chicago at 18 and found really pure heroin for the first time in his life. He eventually had to come back home, penniless, hopelessly addicted and pretty much washed up already as a performer. He sold what he thought would be his last guitar at 20. He awoke one morning and couldn't believe what he saw in the mirror of his rundown motel room.

"My hair was singed from smoking crack," Earle said. "I had this mustache that was just burnt to pieces. I was missing my front tooth. I weighed about 125, 130 pounds. My arms looked like somebody had been throwing darts at them. I remember just standing there and looking at myself and having no clue who it was I was looking at."


It took years, but Earle pulled out of it. He tried a number of treatments, including four years of methadone, which left him with a soft-brained feeling for years. He had good days and slips and eventually reached a kind of equilibrium that allowed his gifts as a songwriter to emerge.

"At 20 years old I just had to start learning to live," he said. "I just had to learn what it meant to be a man. That's a thing I'm still completely totally devoid of. I think I'm learning, but I still don't think that I know what it really is to be a man."

He released three increasingly well-received records and appeared to be carving out a career with six years of sobriety in tow.

Then he started smoking a little weed from time to time. And having a drink occasionally. By the time he was ready to record his highly acclaimed 2010 breakthrough "Harlem River Blues" a year later, he was a raging addict again.

"I produced that (expletive) record doing an eight-ball of cocaine a day and choking down pain pills, you know, just loaded," Earle said.

He'd party all night, roll into the studio around noon still tweaked and somehow managed to pull off an album of folk- and rock-tinged country that would cement his status as a rising young star, net him song of the year at the Americana Honors & Awards this week and earn him more cash than he'd ever had.

While pleased with the reception, the album, tour and critical acclaim, all that was secondary to his need to feed his habit.

By the time he climbed in the van to head to Indianapolis for a show, he'd fired his longtime manager and lost most of the folks who worked for him. Tour manager Lauren Spratlin, who became Earle's girlfriend a few months later, quit soon after.

"I called him and told him I love working for him and I'd be happy to do it if he would get sober," Spratlin remembered. "But the way things were going it was too hard. It was too much emotionally to watch him. ... It was all bad."


Spratlin wasn't alone. Earle's closest friends pleaded with him not to throw away his future. His best friend, Joshua Black Wilkins, watched him quickly change from a reasonably engaged guy to something unpredictable.

"You didn't know if he was going to get into a fight or pass out on the bar," he said.

Knowing everything was at stake, Earle listened. He knew the difference between famous and infamous. It seemed to go well and he relaunched his tour. But he emerged with the old feeling he wasn't done with drugs.

"I've just become easy with it," he said last November. "I know that I have a slim chance of staying clean for the rest of my life and I have a very great chance of drinking and using drugs again, you know. It's as simple as that. I think it's amazing when drug addicts do stay clean."

The sentiment feels a little like a prediction. Earle stays clean for about three months, working his way across the United States and England. But along the way chronic back pain flares up. Instead of treating it by visiting a chiropractor, he says he turned to codeine on a solo tour of Australia.

By the time he returned, he was ready to slip back into the life of a heroin addict. Looking back, he calls it "my little vacation in the ghetto for like a month."

"Once that part of me comes out — the really, really wants to get high part of me — there's really nothing I can do to stop it," he said.

Earle realized there was too much on the line this time, though. He decided to take a more direct approach to recovery. He traveled to New York where a specialist put him on Soboxone, an addiction-battling drug that's an alternative to methadone.

Four days later he was back on stage. It's a recovery that feels something like a whirlwind compared to his previous experiences. He calls Soboxone "absolutely perfect" and notes that he's exercising, eating well and is probably in the best shape of his life. This time around recovery feels less temporary.

"Heroin, opioids are kind of like the mother of all drugs to me," he says. "And so it's definitely saving me in that aspect."

That fact is on his mind as he finishes writing a new album he plans to record this month. He started writing the new songs while clean, then continued during his backslide, and finished them up in July. After his treatment began he went back and paid particularly close attention to the songs he wrote while high to make sure they stand up.

He says he can see how the heroin affected his writing.

"I think I was just a lot meaner," he said. "I'm a lot more unfeeling and mean when I'm junked out. And, you know, it's kind of an interesting perspective to write from. It allowed me to write one of the meanest songs I've ever written toward a woman called 'Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now.' But then it also allowed me to, at the end of the record, write a song that examines what's left of my boiling (expletive) angst towards my parents. I called my stepmother (Allison Moorer) and told her just to be ready, because this (expletive) record's really heavy with daddy issues."


Wilkins is intrigued by the relationship Earle has with his father. They are brotherly friends, he says, who talk often on the phone.

Listen to them talk about each other and that's not always clear, though. Wilkins says hurt feelings remain, but there's also something of a rivalry developing.

"They are both very competitive against each other, which is really interesting to me because they're both making great records," he said. "Justin doesn't want to have his dad outshine him and Steve doesn't want Justin to outshine him."

You can hear it in the way the two talk about each other. Justin notes he's broken through at a younger age than his father. Steve notes Justin sounds an awful lot like him, whether he wants to or not.

"The stuff Justin does get from me he usually gets by going as hard as he can in the opposite direction of where he thinks I am, and then arriving back at what I would have done anyway," Steve remarked in an interview last spring in New York. "It's just the way that is. It's the way it is with fathers and sons."

Asked if he's had to watch Justin learn some of the same lessons he learned about life himself over the years, Steve said: "Sure, but you can't do anything about that. ... I can tell him, and I do, but he doesn't listen."

For the record, Justin says, his relationship with his father isn't hostile. His father really is a "generous" person and they get along as well as they ever have. The two occasionally pop up together — they did an episode of the HBO series "Treme" last year.

After much consideration, the younger Earle has decided his father did what was best for him when he left all those years ago. The life of a junkie and that of a father are not a great mix, he knows. Steve Earle battled heroin addiction and alcoholism for years and was sentenced to prison for a year on drug-related charges in the 1990s. He left Justin's mother early in his son's life and wasn't much of a physical presence afterward, though Justin did occasionally live with Earle and Moorer.

"It's one of those things that still kind of baffles me even," Justin said. "I don't think either of us really understands what our relationship with each other is. We're father and son but not in any traditional sense whatsoever."

In the last few years, Justin has started to think about having children of his own. He knows he's not ready and wouldn't bring a child into the same situation he found himself in as a child.

"But I think I know how to handle it now: I know basically to do the opposite of anything my parents ever did," he says.

Thinking about the future, he can see a kid in a few years in the house he shares with Spratlin if things keep going this way.

And he can daydream about a career measured in decades rather than years or even months.

"I'm in the best position I've been in in my entire life," Earle says. "I actually look forward to next year instead of dreadfully wondering what the (expletive) is going to happen next."

First, and this is only a sidebar, when, exactly, did the definition of news get stretched this far?

And, cutting slack in a benefit of the doubt spirit, if this piece is more "human interest" than breaking news, when did feature writing for a news site expand its parameters to allow said piece to end up the length of a wanna be best selling novel?

Meanwhile, back to the point.

No person possessed of the least little heart could deny compassion for the struggles of a fellow flawed mortal.

We all gots our issues, know what I mean?

But Justin's public profile, and especially his choice of career path, don't make his issues any more unique or, God forbid, dramatic than the local high school teacher who is trying to put down the bottle or the neighborhood grocer who likes the bong just a little too much.

Painting the picture that way distorts the paradigm.

And just so we're clear here, I'm less inclined to shoot the messagee than I am the messenger.

If only for these two telling passages in the endless story.

Earle fixated on an erroneous news report that said he hit a woman while destroying his dressing room in an Indianapolis club. For a man raised by a single mother, the idea he would hit a woman was devastating. It prompted a five-day bender.

The Nashville he's looking at doesn't much resemble the lazy town with the seedy side he grew up in during a nearly feral, often lonely and always confusing childhood.

First of all, substance abusers don't need much of a shove to fall off wagons and the whole "devastated at news report/five day bender" slant here is meandering melodrama at its most mediocre.

Second of all, "nearly feral, often lonely, always confusing childhood"?...excuse me, Mr. Want To Be Tennessee Williams Drama Boy, but take out the feral and who amongst us hasn't been lonely and/or confused at some time(s) in our childhoods?

And if you count the state of our bedrooms through about the age of 18, you can put feral back into the mix, too.

And while we're at it...

Raised by a single mom?


History of substance abuse in the family?


Broken home.


Sums up about seventy five percent of the people I've known in my life to this moment.

Present company included.

Carol Ann was a friend/co-worker years ago.(and there was no falling out here, we just lost touch through the years...C-A, if you read this, how are you? catch me up sometime..)

And she did as good a, if not better, job of raising her kid than anyone I know of.

And Justin surely deserves props for his courageous willingness to keep dueling with the demons.

But they both deserve a lot better than having their story shared by a "reporter" sorely in need of a big jar of cliche'/stereotype remover...

And an editor.

"...Rodeo, Schmodeo....This Ain't Our First Gaga, You Know...."

Elvis, arguably, was the first.

The Beatles pulled it off nicely from time to time.

Madonna had a fair run at it.

But Gaga seems to have taken it to a whole new level.

Playing the game.

The game, in this instance, being defined as mastering the skill of flouting convention without being denied mainstream acceptance and/or success.

Fifty years ago, the elders were aghast, aghast I tell you, at the lip curling, pelvic gyrating antics of that morally corrupting boy from Memphis, Tennessee.

But he sold millions of albums, sold out hundreds of shows and had an across the age groups fan base numbering in the tens of millions that was unwavering in its loyalty right up to the day he died.

And still.

Forty years ago, the elders were aghast, aghast I tell you, at the long haired,chain smoking,foreign born foursome who had their tween daughters screaming themselves hoarse with the devil's own patented brand of backbeat before evolving into spokesmen for a generation that didn't want to be coerced into fighting a war they didn't believe in or be told there was anything wrong with wanting to enjoy tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

But they sold tens of millions of albums, sold out hundreds of shows and had an across age groups fan base numbering in the tens of millions that was unwavering in its loyalty right up to the day they broke up.

And still.

Thirty years ago, the elders were aghast, aghast I tell you, at the smarmy, borderline slutty antics of the girl from Detroit who had not only the gall to preach to her young followers about papas not preaching and enjoying the joy of new love as if it were virginity taken but compounded the offense by actually being named after one of religions more sacred charter members.

But she sold tens of millions of albums, sold out hundreds of shows and had an across the age groups fan base numbering in the tens of millions that was unwavering in its loyalty right up to the day she went from being like a virgin to being like a wife and mom.

And then there's Gaga.

The elders, right on cue and time, are aghast, aghast I tell you, at the over the top antics of this bizarrely cosmetically enhanced, sexually suggestive strutter who bleats of bad romance with a poker face while all the while berating those who belittle those who were born that way.

While selling tens of millions of albums, selling out hundreds of shows with an across the age groups fan base numbering in the tens of millions who are unwavering in their loyalty as they take her to the edge of glory.

Pop music, at least in the form of rock and roll, has always, at its heart, been about, in some measure, about shaking, rattling and rolling the foundation while not completely knocking down the pillars of society.

And, naysayers saying nay notwithstanding, so far, so good.

But each of the aforementioned pop pantheons share another, less discussed, talent.

The ability to inject the mainstream with a jolt of adrenalin without damaging its heart, creating chaos in the culture without crumbling its walls and doing all of it, not with the reckless abandon of raving revolutionaries, but the studied skill and panache of a plastic surgeon, putting the scalpel to the skin in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to simultaneously change the look, refresh the presentation and make everything old new again while never cutting so deep as to maim or mutilate.

Put simply, each of these cage rattlers knew, or know, exactly what they're doing.

Talented writers, singers, dancers?


But the hidden genius is in their ability to write, sing and/or dance all the while winking at the audience that shares the secret with them.

That it's all just a game.

And we all play it together.

And the best part?

You don't have to be all that hip to play.

Even Hillary gets it.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"...I Tend To Prefer A Different Flavor Of English Tea...Imagine That..."

First, a disclaimer.

If you are under the age of, say, forty, this piece is going to have very little relevance to your life.

Even less if you are under the age of twenty.

So, if you are pressed for time and have no particular interest in ploughing through what will very likely read to you as an arcane, bordering on anachronistic, assessment of a events that took place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, please know that no offense will be taken if you opt to jump off the page and move along with your day at the conclusion of the very next, and very short, paragraph.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tomorrow, John Lennon would have celebrated his seventy first birthday.

And like most birthdays, this one has the dual effect of reminding us there is cause for commemoration and/or celebration as well as reminding us that yet another year has rolled over on the meters of our own personal life taxis.

Made out of newspaper and appearing on the shore.

And, then, there's that whole "oh, Lord, here comes another twenty four hours, give or take, of not being able to swing a dead cat without hitting a TV or radio that is, has been, or is about to be, playing some or all of "Imagine".

Or, better or worse depending on your personal pop palate, "Birthday".

Yes, we're goin' to a party, party.

In 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis poetically lamented, following the assassination of her husband, John F.," now he is a legend, when he would have preferred to be a man...".

Loath as I am to put words in anybody's mouth, I can't help but think that John Lennon would feel the same way.

Lennon himself alluded to the concept, years ago, when he summed up, in one of the myriad of interviews he and his fellow fabs gave along the way, how he perceived his particular place in the sun.

"...we were just a good pop band that got very, very famous...".

And, given his rebel with a cause approach to most things, I imagine (sorry, the word does inevitably show up as a verb now and then), that he would have experienced a considerable disdain at becoming the fodder of tribute shows, coffee mugs and weekend music marathons.

Especially given the way he sardonically, if not too subtly, mocked the way his much loved/loathed kindred spirit/sibling ran willingly into the limelight of mainstream adoration and acceptance.

And what's wrong with that? / I'd like to know.

Personally, I remained musically loyal to John and his work pretty much right up to the end.

Truth be told, though, I lost interest somewhere shortly after the first solo album.

Actually, even midway through it.

Because my affection for the work was rooted in the love of the taste of the entire recipe.

I never much cared for coleslaw by itself.

But I totally relished it as long as the three pieces of extra crispy, mashed potatoes and gravy were along side to make it all come together (right now..over me).

So, to each his own noted and notwithstanding, I'll be taking a pass on any media musings on the life and times of the "leader Beatle" today or tomorrow and, in the process, will hopefully avoid having to do any weekend wondering about how easy it would be if I try.

And if I should meander into a mood that demands a little looking back, I'll pull a couple of tunes that say more to me about the diversity and depth and talent, as both singer and/or songwriter, of the guy than any dozen imaginings.

Happy birthday, Johnny. You're the toppermost of the poppermost.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"...Waylon and Willie and The Boys....Say Hello to Jeff..."

Truth, the old adage offers, is often stranger than fiction.

How about when the truth is fiction?

Or, more to the point, when fiction offers up more truth than truth offers?

Got that ice cream headache in the middle of your forehead yet?

Twisted fortune cookie wisdom notwithstanding, it occurs to me that there is, among other things, a delightful irony in the fact that the product being offered by a fictional country singer seems more real than the lion's share of the merchandise rolling off the 16th Avenue assembly line these days.

After all, when someone says "essential, seminal, no frills, roots edged country music artist", I'll bet my Rorschach against your Rorschach that the first name that pops to mind is not Jeff Bridges.

And what fun to find that it pert near oughta be one of the first names that pops.

My good old days in Nashville taught me a lot of things, among them that Hollywood, historically, doesn't have a clue about Nashville.

From the early 60's when George Hamilton lip synced to Hank Jr's vocals as he "portrayed" Hank Senior (yes, kids, that George Hamilton) to such modern day Tinseltown missteps as "The Thing Called Love" and even George Strait's close, but no cigar turn as "Dusty Rhodes" in "Pure Country" (Strait was young and impressionable in those days, but I bet he doesn't have the same agent now as then...if only for allowing his client to portray a country singer named "Dusty Rhodes"...why not just name him "Music Rowe"?...), Hollywood has a near perfect record of cranking out crap, labeling it country and conspiring to cash in on the popularity of the format at any time the masses are paying attention.

In fairness, they are consistent about one thing.

They almost unfailingly portray Nashville, and country music, in terms of the way they think Nashville and country music should look and sound, as opposed to the way it actually looks and sounds.

Even the most recent high gloss "Country Strong" could just as easily have been made as "very special movie of the week" on Lifetime.


Or both.

For my movie spending money, the Hollywood hoedown wanna be's have only gotten it close to right twice.

"Tender Mercies".

"Crazy Heart".

Robert Duvall got an Oscar for the former.

Jeff Bridges for the latter.

And, in both cases, the lead actor was the lead singer, performing material that met the criteria too often missing from the garden variety sour mash melodramas.


Meanwhile, back to the irony, go in search of both the soundtrack to "Crazy Heart" and Jeff Bridges most recent, eponymous CD.

I think you'll be, as I was, surprised and delighted to find that the most throwaway stuff in either case are the inevitable "slickies" on the movie soundtrack.

The coolest, meanwhile, is the remainder of the soundtrack and the whole of the solo album.

In other words, production by T Bone Burnett and vocals by Jeff Bridges.

Amazing work.

And an oasis in a desert of paint by the numbers "country music".

Five stars from this seat in the peanut gallery.

And my fail safe litmus test as to the pristine quality of the product?

Bet your life savings that American Idol will never do a "Jeff Bridges Night".