Tuesday, October 29, 2013

One More for Lou Reed

In 1988, bassist Rob Wasserman released his second solo album, Duets. It's a great album full of duets (hence the title) performed by Wasserman and various artists. Each song features Wasserman and a guest performing all instruments and/or vocals. I happened catch a performance of Wasserman and Aaron Neville doing their version of "Stardust" on the David Sanborn show, Sunday Night, and was inspired to seek out the album. This same version of "Stardust" appears on the Rain Man soundtrack, for those of you interested.

Duets remains one of the most listened to albums in my collection. Besides the Neville track, there are great songs with Ricki Lee Jones, Bobby McFerrin (which I used in my college film, The Brass Ring - don't tell them) and Cheryl Bentyne of the Manhattan Transfer. However, the one song I return to almost monthly is "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," a pop standard written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer and made popular by Frank Sinatra. The Chairman of the Board once called this song a "drunk song,"with his arrangement being a big band ballad sung by a man lamenting the loss of his lady. The version on Duets is most definitely not a big band version. Instead, it's a late night blues rocker sung with conviction by Lou Reed.

At the time of the release of Duets, Wasserman was working with Reed on his acclaimed concept album, New York (1989), and a camaraderie between the two men really comes through in Reed's performance. In the song he may be singing to a bartender, but he seems to be singing directly to Wassermen, the only other guy in the room while they were recording. An image immediately comes to mind when their "One for My Baby..." begins. The reverb on Reed's guitar certainly creates the mood of an empty bar, after hours, with the house lights on, and some tired bartender trying to close up for the night. But there's this one guy- probably a friend - who's had a shitty night and he just needs to let it all out to someone.

The defiance in Reed's voice does wonders for this song. Instead of a poor sap lamenting about a his broken heart, Reed makes the narrator a little pissed off and poised to take on the next round of crap the next day will bring him. Written in 1943, "One for My Baby (One More for the Road)" is timeless, and this particular version, now 25 years old, has certainly stands up there with Sinatra's.

After Reed's death, I gave "One for My Baby..." a quick listen and I thought the lyrics were somehow fitting for one man's passing from one world to the next. Whether you believe in the afterlife or not, it's also a great song for hoisting whatever drink brings you comfort and saluting one of rock's great poets.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Popdose Rewind: Lou Reed, "Walk on the Wild Side"

Lou Reed died today, at the age of 71. I can't claim to be the world's biggest Reed fan, but several of his works are favorites. Transformer and New York receive regular plays on my iPod, while the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane," and Reed's moderate hit single, "I Love You, Suzanne," are songs I can't go very long without listening to. In 2009, I wrote about a memorable night in North Olmsted, driving around and listening "Walk on the Wild Side." I do believe this was the first time I heard this song and it was my introduction to Transformer, one of the best albums of the 70s.

We huddled outside the North Olmsted recreation center waiting for the rest of the spirit band to
arrive.  On this cold December night, we were supposed to be energizing high school hockey fans, but when not enough kids showed up, we were presented with a three-hour window to spend the rest of the night.  Our foursome included Dan, a junior, cool, laid back (like most trombone players) and the one with the car.  There was Mark, a stocky, sophomore coronet player who was the epitome of band geek (really nice guy, though).  Mark often wore a t-shirt that asked the question, "Why be normal?"  He liked to smoke pot. Jay was a fellow freshman drummer, one of those guys who bled talent, and a close friend at the time.  He was an emotional firecracker, calm and fun-loving most of the time and then- BAM! -- an explosion of anger.  Finally, I rounded out the group, the dorky son of the band director.  I wore big '80s-style glasses, had poofy hair (I'd yet to learn what gel was), and dressed in god-awful sweatpants that covered the knee brace of my right knee, which was recovering from ACL surgery.  With nowhere to be and nothing in particular to do, we piled into Dan's car and drove away.
Cruising through the hometown seems like a time-honored rite of passage for most young men.  You get the keys to the car, you don't want to be stuck at home, so you hit the road and just drive, listening to whatever music is on the radio and killing time until you have to roll into bed and sleep away the weekend.  On that night, navigating the slick streets of a Saturday night, with the melted snow sloshing around in the tire wells making that sound like water running, we owned this city. With a swagger you only have as a teenager, we felt like kings, invincible; nothing could hurt us.  The neon signs from the fast food joints, the banks and the gas stations beckoned us, but we drove on, searching for what I don't know.  Camaraderie, I suppose. Isn't that what we all want when we're trying to figure out who we are?
I was in low mood; my girlfriend had broken up with me the night before.  Somehow, even though I'd only spoken to a couple people about the break up, everyone knew. This was my first experience of gossip traveling faster than the tears can hit the pillow.  These three guys, boys I hardly hung out with before that night, decided to comfort me in the same manner they knew adults handled pain and loss: by scoring some beer.  Meanwhile, the radio dial was tuned to the venerable Cleveland station, WMMS, and their new weekend program, Classic Rock Saturday Night.  The deep voice of one of Cleveland's legendary DJs (I swear it was Len "Boom Boom" Goldberg, but more likely it was the equally great "Spaceman" Scott Hughes) spoke to us through the speakers in Dan's car, as he introduced music from the early 70s by the artists who had shaped rock and roll.  We were a generation raised on new wave and MTV and in 1984 if we'd heard the music of Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Who or Pink Floyd, it was because of our older siblings who had passed the music down. I hadn't received that passing of the torch, so listening to MMS and the songs they played opened up a new world to me.
In a parking lot behind a second-run movie theater we received our contraband, a 12-pack of Michelob, bought by one of the guys' older brothers. I look back on what we did next with a sense of fondness, but also a realization of how fucking stupid we were. Back then, when you wanted to discreetly drink and drive, the Valley was the place to go. Our next destination was the Cleveland Metroparks, also known as the Valley because of the steep descent you took getting into the park. An entire night could be spent looping around on the twisting and winding roads that passed through several neighboring cities for over 20 miles. On that night the sky was clear without a moon ad the Valley was pitch black, save for the headlight beams from Dan's car. Occasionally we passed fellow wanderers or even parked cars with steamed-up windows. Otherwise, we were alone, in a separate universe, with Classic Rock Saturday Night as our soundtrack.
Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" came on, with its dual bass lines, jazzy brushes on the snare, and Reed singing endearingly about the transvestites and drug addicts he knew; we all quieted and listened, letting the music sweep over us. When I tried to explain to Mark that the entire moment felt like a movie and wouldn't let up about what I was feeling, he nudged me and said, "Shut up and enjoy the movie." The background singers came in with their "doo da doo da doos" and the four of us began singing, uninhibited, at the top of our lungs, until our laughter was louder than the radio. It was one of those strange, mystical nights that only happens in the movies: Four guys, friends, but not best friends, spend the night driving around talking about the things that only guys talk about. In the course of the evening, they discover that they are not alone. They discover that everyone suffers heartbreak and wants to go out with the pretty girl and wants to get good grades and wants to impress their parents and wants to get a hug from their dad on occasion and wants to be the cool kid in school and wants to have a lot of friends and wants to lose their virginity and just wants to be loved. And they discover that everyone wants to escape from the place where they grew up, at least for a little while.
I've often questioned why this particular event in my life has stuck with me. Of all the pointless times aimlessly cruising through the Valley, of all the irresponsible incidents of my adolescence, why does this one event remain so vivid? Perhaps because on that night, free of the pressures and expectations of our peers, the four of us let our guard down and allowed other humans to glimpse at our souls. Or perhaps it was just stupid fun that I was never able to replicate in the remaining four years of high school. Dan, Mark, Jay and I never hung out that way ever again. We remained friendly, but it was like after that night, the universe we lived in realigned and the four of us slipped back into our old selves. Still, there would be times when we saw each other in the hall and a simple nod or knowing smile would draw a laugh and we'd recall our walk on the wild side.

Originally published February 19, 2009 on POPDOSE

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Disturbed Podcast #3 is Posted

My buddy, Jeff Marsick, and I have been recording a podcast devoted to American Horror Story: Coven. The podcast is produced by Southgate Media Group and we've done three so far. The third one has just gone live on the SMG webpage.

You can download the first two eps on iTunes or from the SMG webpage.

The theme music is by the band Expiate, which was the group my brother-in-law, Seann, was in before his death. It makes me feel good to be able to use the song "No Doubt" as our theme music.

Check out the podcast. I can't promise any brilliant insight, but I think you may be entertained. This week I was starting to get a cold, so I was a little loopy in the head.

Here's the link: http://www.southgatemediagroup.com/disturbed-an-american-horror-story-fan-podcast/


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2014 Rock Hall nominees/SRV

I can't say that the list of Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame nominees this year are a bad bunch. Some people (i.e. critics) may scoff at the inclusion of KISS, but whether you like the band or not they did alter the landscape of  rock music. I'm thrilled to see the Replacements and Peter Gabriel get nominated. The 'Mats helped establish what we call indie rock and Gabriel is one of the founding fathers of alternative music. Also, he opened the eyes of young people who otherwise may not have taken interest to the plight of black South Africans living under the thumb of apartheid. Gabriel's moving anthem, "Biko," remains a cornerstone in the movement to end apartheid.

Although it's not going to happen (again), Chic deserves to get in. They were more than just a disco band. Listen to their songs and you'll be amazed and how groundbreaking they were.

Now, will someone explain why Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble were not nominated?

If you check out this Wiki quotes page, you'll find words by 14 different Hall of Fame inductees all praising Stevie (the one by Clapton is especially nice). Stevie was a man who kept the blues alive in the 1980s, a time when most of the guitar greats had either conformed to the mainstream (a la Clapton) or fallen into obscurity. And his band? Double Trouble was not just two (and later three) guys backing up a guitar virtuoso.  Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon (and later Reese Wynans) were as good as Booker T & the MGs when they played with Otis, or the E street Band when they're onstage with the Boss. Double Trouble locked in to Stevie and together they became a force of nature.

I just don't get how this important figure who continues to influence new generations of guitar players has not been recognized by the Rock Hall.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Gravity and Meatballs

Julie cooked her homemade meatballs tonight. Oh my God, they are the best meatballs you will ever taste. Don't tell her dad, whose recipe she is working from, but Julie makes them better.

Budd, Karyn and their family came over for dinner and they introduced us to their their new dog. It felt like old times, those nights ten or fifteen years ago when we'd get together on a whim. These days, with high school children, everything is planned. You can't just pop in on a Sunday night anymore. Nevertheless, it was wonderful just to have a casual night together.

Last night I saw Gravity, the new film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. It was incredible. I've never seen Bullock better, and Cuaron is a director whose career I will follow for the rest of my life. He is one of those rare directors who can mine human emotion out of spectacle and populous material.

As I drove Sophie to church this morning, I began describing the plot of Gravity. This is one film with a strong female protagonist whose actions are admirable and heroic. I really think Soph might enjoy the film... someday. For, as I told her what happens in Gravity she exclaimed, "The movie sounds BAD!" Mind you, it sounds "bad" to her because Bullock gets stranded in outer space after tragedy strikes and people die. Too serious for Sophie.  She gets more like her mother every day.

Today she tried out for the Saugus Swim Team. I'm so proud of her for doing it. She hasn't been on the parks and rec summer swim team for two years, due to family trips. Yet, when she came home from Ohio this summer she began training on her own. She really did her best to get ready for the tryouts and has maintained a good attitude.

"If it doesn't happen it wasn't meant to be," she's said.

Before her tryout Sophie was told that it was going to be tough to make the team. The girls team is very competitive. She didn't let this intimidate her and she did great. I really hope she makes it. Sophie would be an asset to any team simply because she would never give up and you would see a definite improvement in her skills and time. If only I was making the final decision!

Another weekend comes to a close and I'm surprisingly exhausted. I have a creak in my neck and I can barely keep my eyes open.

Oh, and I've decided to write another book.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Basement Songs at a discount price

The Kindle version of Basement Songs is being offered at the discount price of $2.99. If you have a Kindle and you've been hesitating to buy the book, now's your chance!


So I was in Korea for a week....

I was out of the country for a week and fell behind on my writing. That and the typical crap that happens when you're trying to be a dad and husband. But here I am, back behind the typewriter and feeling somewhat refreshed.

I did do a few reviews.

Patty Griffin's Silver Bell came out this week. This is the official release of her third solo record that was supposed to come out in 2000. You can read about Silver Bell and what I thought about it here:


Also, I saw one hell of a great movie. A DIY teenage comedy called Gimme the Loot. I LOVE this movie. Check out my review here:


That's all I have for now. Korea? Oh yeah, I'll talk about that in a bit.