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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Might As Well Enjoy It!

When I was a little kid, growing up in the last century, I never really thought too far ahead, it just was not in my nature. I still don't really think too far ahead. And I don't like to dwell very long in the past either. It just isn't something I like to do, and don't do often.

But when I was little, I must say, the year 2014 never seemed real, anything after 2000 seemed like the way distant future. The impossible future. A future of antiseptic, hermetically-sealed chambers, with flying cars, and strange, time-saving gadgets.

And well, there are lots of things that turned out differently than I thought they would turn out way back then. And although I don't look back often, and don't look forward often, I have learned that much of what I thought would happen didn't happen.  And maybe that's why I kind of stay "here now." Saves lots of time from worrying about things that will never actually happen.

And then of course, lots and lots of things have happened, and I do think about the world in ways I never thought I'd think about the world. And the world became a very different place from what I thought it would be. And surprisingly I am still here. At least right now. And that's pretty much all we have, right now, and if we must be here, we may as well enjoy it. That's the best advice I can give. To myself, and anyone else who would ask me for advice!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Long Live the Anti-King!

So yeah, it's weird. I've been reading Neil Young's book, and listening to his records, and learning some of his songs too.  At the same time, we are working on Elvis songs. Cruising thru YouTube, watching Elvis performances, (it's sad and invalidating) trying to select a handful of songs to do for an upcoming performance.

I realize I was learning Neil Young songs as almost an antidote to working on Elvis songs.

It's The King and the Anti-King. One wears big white suits. The other wears flannel shirts and jeans. One has a big, over-powering voice, the other has a shaky, fluttery kind of voice. One recorded lots of songs, but all of them are covers, the other pretty much, or almost exclusively wrote all his own songs, and his music is a record of his mind and his days.

One represents glitz and in-authenticity, the other seems homemade, authentic, full of heart and soul… at least this is how it seems to me.

One I often find ridiculous, and one I always find compelling. One sort of invalidates the whole pop culture/celebrity thing, (for me) the other seems to be working to an internal clock - one of mystery and loneliness and heart.

Both indulged in lots of mind-altering substances. Legal and illegal. One died fairly young, and one is still doing great work all these many years later…

Turns out "better to burn out than to fade away," is a pretty good line, but not really a blue-print for living! I'm sort of repelled by the King, (although I do love the early Sun Sessions Elvis) but I gladly, whole-heartedly embrace the Anti-King!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Love & Chemistry!

Just finished Neil Young's "Waging Heavy Peace." Loved it.  Not much to say, except Neil is a great story-teller, and a real original, and he has a pretty amazing life-story to tell.

It's all there in his music… listen to Tonight's the Night, or Zuma or Harvest, or Rust Never Sleeps, or On the Beach, or Everybody Knows this is Nowhere, or Ragged Glory or After the Gold Rush, or… hell, listen to all of them… and add in Journey to the Past, and Harvest Moon, and American Stars & Bars, and Comes a Time and if you are ambitious listen to the Buffalo Springfield records, and maybe CSNY's Deja Vu too… and don't forget Weld! And Arc Weld too!  And La Noise!

And for sure check out the Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live at Fillmore East, and Neil Young live at Massey Hall… and hell, anything else you can get your hands on… and preferably you have a vinyl copy of his records, and you still have a phonograph player and you live somewhere where you can really crank the volume, and PLAY IT LOUD!

As Neil says, it all comes down to "Love and Chemistry!"

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Yes, people disagree about stuff, I mean, pretty much everything. Always will. It makes you figure out what you believe and what you don't. It can make for messy times. Messy conversations. Messy politics. That's the breaks, that's the world. We need to figure out how to go forward even with the disagreements. No one has a monopoly on truth. It's sometimes hard to figure out what the truth really is.  It's good to listen. And to think. And to re-examine all of your beliefs and opinions, often. Maybe daily. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

American Id Running Rampant!

Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" is a stunner. It is over the top, balls to the wall film-making of the highest order. Certainly a masterpiece, up there with his other two great American epics "Good Fellas" and "Casino." And Leonardo Dicaprio as Jordan Belfort is hilarious and amazing.

This is a very, very funny movie. Ridiculously funny. And freaking appalling. It's an example of Capitalism Unbound. It's the freaking American id running rampant. Belfort is addicted to sex, to drugs, to money, and to the deal. He is the American/Capitalistic Wolf. A salesman extraordinaire. Belfort shows us that more is more and more. And who doesn't want more?! All the freaking time?!

And it's definitely a movie of our times - what about business ethics? What about decorum? What about shame? Is there any morality in the land? How old world, Baby.  What if Motley Crue were stock brokers - only in this case, there is more money, more sex, more drugs - it's kind of like that… but crazier too.

This trailer hooked me a few months ago and assured that I would be in a theater seat the day it opened. Kanye West's song is not in the movie, but it's great in the trailer… Wow!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Musicians & their Influences

If you (like me) read lots of books by and about musicians, you often read about musicians writing about their influences.  And it's often among the highlights of the books…

For instance…

Richard Hell writing about the first time he saw Patti Smith doing r&r poetry.  Patti Smith writing about watching Jim Morrison locked in battle with an audience. Pete Townshend describing entering a small club in London and seeing Jimi Hendrix on stage playing guitar. Jimi Hendrix describing how he'd carry around a Bob Dylan album with him everywhere he went. Bob Dylan describing how he wanted to become Woody Guthrie, and about the first time he listened to Robert Johnson. Neil Young describing how Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" changed his life. Marianne Faithful describing watching a young Mick Jagger dancing and singing in a small flat in London. Keith Richards' describing how Chuck Berry taught him everything he wanted to know about playing guitar. John Lennon describing how hearing Elvis Presley's  "Heartbreak Hotel" blew a door open in his existence.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

R. Kelly vs. Jim Derogotis

I know it's Christmas… so yeah, have a Merry Christmas… 

I wanted to wade into the R. Kelly vs. Jim Derogotis story.  Even though it's "stomach-churning." It seems Mr. Kelly has a major problem. And lots of people have known about it for a long time. And well, the hits keep coming, and supposedly hip institutions like Pitchfork and Bonnaroo are "enablers" and "co-signers" and anyone buying Kelly's music, should maybe have a re-think.

I applaud Derogotis for standing up against the pop machine…

"The saddest fact that I've learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody." - J. Derogotis

It takes guts to be the only one standing up to say that maybe the Emperor has no clothes. This is not a pretty story.  Thank you Jim Derogotis!

Maybe the tide has turned. Maybe people will open their eyes. Maybe we shouldn't look away...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Neil Young - Living the Hippie Dream!

I wrote about buying Pete Townshend's autobiography over Neil Young's autobiography in a blog post here… and you know what? I was wrong. I mean, I did enjoy Pete's book, it was a pretty good read, although it's also a little disappointing, seems Pete is kind of a tortured soul, and he didn't really enjoy the glory years of the Who as much as I do, but Neil's book (I'm only on page 77) is a truly great read. And if there's one thing I can say about it, Neil certainly isn't bullshitting anyone.

What a great character. Neil is a strange one. So unique, so original. A "weirdo" an iconoclast, a singular being.  He's into things I'm not into, things like Lionel trains, and classic old cars, and he's also into things I'm very much into, like old tube amps, vintage guitars, following the muse, and MUSIC!

I must admit that Neil is one of my favorite singer/songwriters of all time, up there with Bob Dylan and John Lennon and he is absolutely my favorite guitar player.

"But you know life has her ways. Nothing is obvious, and you never know what is going to happen." - Neil Young (from "Waging Heavy Peace").

Monday, December 23, 2013

Lost in Elvis-Land!

Yesterday I was still in Elvis-land.  Played some Elvis songs at our little rehearsal studio with another guitarist.  It's amazing what can happen if you add just one more musician to the mix. Simple chords and notes suddenly take on a little more resonance, a little more nuance.  

Simple additions open sonic doors: they deepen and add granularity. You think such a simple, plain thing of adding a second guitar shouldn't have such a profound effect, but it does.

I sang those songs. My humble voice mouthing those words. It wasn't Elvis, but didn't sound bad. At least I was in tune, on pitch.  It's something.

Also got in two intense conversations about Elvis with two different musicians. One plays saxophone, one plays guitar.  Seems everyone who knows and loves Elvis, really has their own version of Elvis too. I realized their versions of Elvis were really different and a reflection of them too. Elvis is more than just a man, more than just a singer… he is a way of life, a way of looking at life.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Handsome Hero/Great White Whale of Excess

I don't want to turn this into the Elvis channel, but the King is on my mind, getting ready for a performance of some Elvis songs in early January.  But it's true I am totally fascinated by the King. Growing up I was not a fan. As a young lad I was in the Dylan/Beatles/Stones camp, and Elvis was so much a part of the cheesy entertainment establishment in the late 60's & early to mid-70's.  I always thought he was kind of a joke.

The movies were terrible. The Vegas Elvis was the epitome of bad taste.  But of course, that was not the whole story.  If you did a little digging, it turns out that people like Dylan, Keith Richards, Neil Young and John Lennon were tremendously influenced and inspired by Elvis.  Especially the young, early rocker Elvis.

Later I discovered and devoured the original Sun Sessions, and that haunting, amazing voice - so beautiful, so strange, so unique, finally hit me like a freight train. And if you dig a little, you will find amazing music - Blues, Country, Gospel and Rock & Roll.  I saw Jim Jarmusch's "Mystery Train," and then finally I read the two volume biography of Elvis written by Peter Guaralnick. It is a masterpiece. One of the greatest biographies I've ever read… of any kind, I'd put it up there with other great bios I've  read (and I've read lots of them). 

And the Elvis saga almost seems Biblical. Mythological. And so American. It's an inspiring ride. From very humble beginnings in the South to wild fame and fortune and then a horrifying, numbing, drug-addled decline. And Guranlnick captures it all in vivid and beautifully written detail.  It's an improbable, impossible story… and Elvis is the young, handsome hero who morphs into the great white whale of excess. 

It's a story of the birth of rock and roll and it becomes a story of the madness of celebrity culture too, and so much more… and finally you are left with just a man… Elvis… and that haunting, over-powering, improbable voice...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

And Well, What Exactly is an Elvis Song?!

So here is an interesting question (at least to me), what exactly is an "Elvis song?" Well, it's not so easy to define.  He wasn't a song-writer, and he sang lots of songs and recorded at least 759 of them.

And if you do "Get Back," or "Hey Jude," or "Bridge over Troubled Water," aren't you really cheating? I mean, Elvis may have recorded them, but not many of us really think of them as Elvis songs.

So then is it only "the top forty hits" that count? Maybe, but man, does that eliminate lots of great songs, and maybe the best of Elvis' work was not on the top forty. He sang Country, Gospel, Blues, Rock & Roll, and Schmaltz and Dreck, and just about everything in between too.

And if you sing an Elvis song, you find yourself trying to sing like Elvis.  I think this may explain the Elvis impersonator phenomenon. You not only want to sing songs he sang but you want to sing them like he sang them.  Elvis had such a big, distinctive (some might say bombastic) style that sometimes totally overwhelmed songs he sang. This was both good and bad. Elvis became the King, and everything he touched became Elvis, and just like King Midas this kind of became a tragic flaw too.

If you find yourself in Las Vegas, big, bloated, fat, drug-addled and sick, and all the adoring fans are still flinging their underpants at you, and you are forgetting lyrics, and stumbling around onstage, and everyone is still telling you that you are "the King" that can do no wrong… well, do you kind of find the whole thing sort of hollow and unfulfilling?

Anyway, not sure how to resolve the "Elvis Song" question… here's Elvis in rehearsal doing the Beatles "Hey Jude"… "let it out and shove it in!" Hah!

Friday, December 20, 2013

The King's Call!

One of my friends knows I'm on an Elvis kick and he sent me this song that Phil Lynott wrote about the demise of the King…

"Me, I went to the liquor store, I bought a bottle of wine, a bottle of gin…"

It features Mark Knopfler on guitar… how did I miss this one? The song takes on a little extra gravity when you know that Phil didn't make it very far down the road either…(love that Gretsch White Falcon!)...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Rocker, the Cheesy One, the Great White Whale - Your Choice!

In January we will be doing some Elvis songs, or I guess, since Elvis was not a song-writer, songs that Elvis covered, for a gathering of folks drinking whiskey and eating cake. At first I was thinking of doing songs from the legendary Sun Sessions, I mean it really was the birthplace of Rock & Roll. But it turns out that another performer has snagged most of the songs I was considering.

So, there's all the other eras of Elvis to consider, including the cheesy Hollywood Elvis of the early to mid-sixties, or the era of the Great White Whale Elvis, where all taste and decorum and "integrity" was pretty much obliterated by adoring fans, massive quantities of drugs, large and improbable jumpsuits, mountains of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and questionable song choices. 

But you know cheesiness, dreck, mutton chops, and enormous white suits with over-sized collars and belt buckles, and tastelessness, that was all part of the glory of Elvis. This one is from the cheesy Hollywood era… and it's pretty cool - in a silly, cheesy kind of way! 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cobain Channeling Leadbelly!

This aired on MTV twenty years ago. I always thought it was a masterpiece too. It's funny, Nirvana was a very loud, very electric band from Seattle, but it was their unplugged set in New York that was a total revelation. And Cobain channeling Leadbelly is one of the most beautiful, haunting, chilling and sort of scary performances I've ever listened to and seen. Cobain's voice seems ancient, other-wordly. Such a big force coming out of that little fragile-looking man. There's real pain. And death hovers all around this set… amazing… three months later Cobain took his own life… the man burned… and rocked, and lit the world up with his passion…

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Big Things Really Aren't

According to this science article - "Life does not exist." Another example of how we have built our understanding of the world and our place in it on castles made of sand.  Our understanding of all the big things that make up our world are suspect…


It's all a little unsettling… but as Kurt Vonnegut once wrote in "Slaughterhouse Five" ... "So it goes."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reality! Really?!

Reality? What is reality?  Maybe there's only "reality." With quotation marks. Even the most solid, real things sometimes seem fungible - flexible, changeable, interchangeable.  Fluid too.

You can easily blow a hole in your own reality. It can actually happen in a blink of the eye. What do you believe? What do you choose to believe? What do you see? And what do you choose not to see?

Reality is a relationship. It can work for you, work against you. You can choose how you engage with it. You can embrace or deny it, but still, you meet reality halfway, and your half helps make reality what reality is or at least what you think your reality is…

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Happiness Baby!

Maybe the struggle, the over-coming of obstacles, the concerted effort despite the vast pool of those twin dark matter evils -  hostility and indifference -  really is what makes all things worthwhile? 

Free and easy is nice. But nice isn't enough. I never got it that in Camus' "Myth of Sisyphus" - you know the one where the dude rolls a boulder up a hill, and then when he gets it to top he loses his grip and it just rolls back down? And he does this over and over and over? I never quite got it that we are to "imagine Sisyphus happy!" 

How did I miss that? I always thought Camus was using the myth to illustrate futility and the absurdity of our existence. But I didn't get that futility and absurdity would vanish or be rendered powerless if we imagined that the simple rolling of the rock makes one happy.

And well, I guess, it's true… and all those years of futility and absurdity and rock rolling that I have endured? Happiness Baby!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thoughts After Seeing the Coen Brothers "No Country for Old Men" for the 3rd Time!

We can imagine we live in a world of large and powerful forces, forces which we can't name, can't understand, can't control. We must contend with these forces, or maybe, really, we just bend to their will. We can imagine that we have autonomy, and we can imagine we have a say in our "fates." But the powerful forces that hover above and around us don't really take our imaginings into account.

We can imagine we live in a world of power and probabilities. We can imagine that everything is basically a coin toss and every decision, every event in our lives is an event of luck and percentages. We can imagine that there are other forces and reasons to our lives, but again, our imaginations are pretty much bounded by our heads.

Our hopes and dreams are vanities.  But maybe we do need a little bit of vanity to carry on. But those forces that guide and bound our lives don't really care and aren't influenced by our imaginings, or vanities, or reasons. It's a hard, clear-eyed way of looking at existence. Maybe it's no country for old men, and really, we are all old, or will be old. We are all implicated in this hard country.

Still, it is the country we live in. And living, is our thing, and living does have it's upside. Sometimes.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Weather Just Is

I hate stories about the weather. Someone's house gets blown down, or the river washes it away, and some well-coiffed TV personality with a microphone asks the poor schlub how it feels to have his life's dreams evaporate before his eyes . Not too freaking good!

Yeah, the weather just is, and we must endure it. I can understand how Midwesterners think that extreme weather can "build character." Sometimes just strapping on your boots and heading out into the elements seems like a true act of courage.

The elements can damage you. They can impair you. They can kill you. You must respect the elements.  And yes, I suppose, survival is an honorable thing. You do what it takes to get through the day. You brave the elements and do your best to endure, to make it in one piece.

At least for a time. This time. This day. The weather. Hah!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pearls of Wisdom!

I always have to have a book to read. I'm between books right now, I have a few on my "wish list" but haven't actually plunked any money down yet to buy one.  So I'm browsing through some books that I've already read. I have a couple from Chuck Klosterman. They are easy reads, sort of funny, covering music and pop culture.  They almost seem like throw-away kind of books.

If you read Klosterman you will read about Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. You will read about Cocoa Puffs, and the loneliness of Billy Joel. You will read about TV shows you've never seen, like "Saved by the Bell." You will laugh and be amazed how someone can really like the band KISS, and can devote lots of time listening to and describing the pleasure of listening to a long list of "hair-metal bands," that you will never listen to.

Also you might come across some cool insights… little pearls of wisdom…

"The goal of being alive is to figure out what it means to be alive…" - C. Klosterman

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


"Enjoy your day in the sun!" 

Seems like good advice. Even if today there is no sun - just clouds, and snow.  And even if the temperature is a harsh "sub-zero." 


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Little Knit Caps for All!

It's funny. We were recently in L.A. Temps were pretty much in the mid-sixites. All the beautiful hipsters - boys and girls were wearing little knit caps. They are all the rage. Nice accessory, pretty much a "fashion statement." They were everywhere!

Here it's near zero degrees. Those little knit caps are essential. And you need to pull them down low, way down. Not so fashionable here. All the lonely gray people wear them here too. Not so beautiful, just sensible. Not so fashionable, just reasonable.

And those L.A. hipsters sort of seemed like "posers," but really, who are the silly ones? Those who choose to be fashionable, or those who choose to live in the land of frozen tundra?

Monday, December 09, 2013

Random Wisdom!

It's funny. Maybe the most liberating, profound advice (see previous post) comes from a fortune cookie. Something that was just randomly typed up and inserted in a cookie and then randomly left on a table, and then just randomly picked up, cracked open and read. And usually this method of conveying information just makes you laugh, or shrug, or yawn or whatever; the words don't really stick… but then, maybe this time, this message, really, really hits home, and you think: "Wow, how come no one ever told me that before?" And it really resonates. And you carry it with you, and pass it on...

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Joy Yee - Words to Live By!

Maybe it's no surprise that my favorite restaurant has the word joy in the name.  Joy Yee Noodles. And no surprise that it's a great place for a vegetarian to dine. And the pictures of the food on the menu don't really do the food justice. The food is better than the pictures!

And I was so happy to discover yesterday that they will pretty much make whatever you want. Even if it isn't listed on the menu.  Black mushrooms with Thai Curry Noodle? No problem. 

And yes, you always get a fortune cookie with your bill. I never eat the cookie, but always crack it open and read the message. Yesterday's fortune was a keeper, and actually used a semi-colon!

"Just be yourself; you are wonderful."

Words to live by!

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Conservative Right was Wrong about Apartheid Too!

Yes, we should emulate the example of Mandela. Be humble, forgive, move on. But also, we should remember, that the U.S. was a long-time friend of apartheid, and friends to the oppressors that ran South Africa. 

And yes, the Conservative Right was wrong about apartheid, and South Africa and sanctions for a very, very long time.  They were the useful idiots and they were kind of a star-studded group - names like Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, William F. Buckley, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson - they actively worked against sanctions and helped keep apartheid in place… a rogues gallery of rogues.

Friday, December 06, 2013


“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would 
lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my
bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”  - 

Nelson Mandela

27 years in prison. Willing to die for his cause. Fighting against an obvious evil - apartheid.  He was a firebrand, a revolutionary willing to fight, and also a man of grace, strength, power. A humble man who walked out of prison to lead a country. Once free  he embraced non-volience and reconciliation, and he brought a people together. An amazing, inspiring human being.


Thursday, December 05, 2013

Moving too fast for conditions!

It's a sad and tragic thing. Death. And Paul Walker, an actor in the Fast and Furious movie franchise, dying in a fiery crash in a Porsche, out on the road in California, well, it is sad, baffling and strange. A story almost too symmetrical, too neat, almost like an O. Henry story.

They could make a movie about it. A young, blue-eyed actor, riding high in a big time movie franchise that features cars moving too fast for conditions, dies in a car moving too fast for conditions. Don't know why this story has resonated with me.

You see someone who looks like he has it all. Fame, fortune, good looks. And it's snatched away in an instant. "An accident." Maybe really doesn't make a very good movie after all.  Kind of leaves you baffled and hollow at the end. And the thrill of riding too fast is a cheap thrill and not really worth it!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Conservative Right - Always Wrong!

Yes, all this hostility from the Conservative Right to "Obamacare," and the certainty that subsidized health insurance is some crazy, Rube Goldberg contraption that can't possibly work, seems so irrational. If you've ever worked in the tech industry, the idea that a website has "bugs" is so "ho-hum."

It's funny how out of touch with reality the Conservative Right has turned out to be. Maybe it was always so.  You think even a broken clock is correct occasionally, but almost by definition it looks like the Right is always, always wrong! Funny!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The Irish Curse!

I wrote this r&r diary post over at our band website about the great, sodden, Shane MacGowan.  I ruminated about the state of the man's liver.  Doing research for this post, I also discovered the meaning of the "Irish Curse."  I always thought it was a tendency to over-imbibe alcohol, but supposedly it's the propensity to having a less than average-sized penis!  Who knew?! I mean, what about Bono? Suddenly all those great songs have a new resonance… "I still haven't found what I'm looking for…" 

Monday, December 02, 2013

JP Morgan Chase's Twitter Fest Breaks Bad!

This from Matt Taibbi is funny and heart-warming!  JP Morgan Chase's little Twitter-fest breaks bad. Really bad. What started as a cool little PR event idea for the bank, quickly became something else entirely. Maybe "the people" are not as brain-dead as those well-heeled bankers think…

"Can I have my house back?"

"I have Mortgage Fraud, Market Manipulation, Credit Card Abuse, Libor Rigging and Predatory Lending AM I DIVERSIFIED? #AskJPM"

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A Long Day & Night!

Yesterday. Woke up early on the West Coast. Up in the hills, looking down on the blinking lights of L.A. Oh yeah, there's the Griffith Park Observatory.  Isn't that where Sal Mineo died? Finished the day late in the wee hours of the morning at a little bar on the North-side of Chicago. Playing guitar and singing in two r&r bands. It was a long day. A very long day. And we wrung out just about every emotion and feeling you can think of: exhaustion, joy, exuberance, edginess, satisfaction, neediness, wanting, thirstiness, hunger, fulfillment. Burned out this morning. But wouldn't change a thing. That was pretty good day and night!

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