Sunday, December 30, 2007

More books...

A few more books to round out 2007:

56. The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes
57. My Appalachia by Sidney Saylor Farr
58. Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with Artists and Outlaws in New York's Rebel Mecca by Ed Hamilton
59. The Electric Church by Jeff Somers

Friday, November 30, 2007

"You think she's an open book, but you don't know what page to turn to, do you?"

I met my goal of reading 50 books a year last month. Here are the books I've read since then:

52. Loser by Jerry Spinelli
53. N.P. by Banana Yoshimoto
54. The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter by Sharyn McCrumb
Currently reading:
55. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Gonna shake my pie, gonna bake my soul..."

The man never disappoints. Never.

He opened with “Chinese Bones,” morphed into "Balloon Man," and cherry-picked a wonderful selection of tunes from his vast catalog, including “I Often Dream of Trains” (!), “Queen Elvis,” “Ole! Tarantula,” “English Girl,” and even the Soft Boys classics “Only the Stones Remain” and “The Queen of Eyes.” He deftly threw in a Dylan cover, hit us with some Hendrix, and busted out “Dear Prudence,” much to the chagrin of CR, who associates the song more with the hated Siouxsie than the beloved Beatles.

Robyn still looks amazing. Graying, wizened, and in need of a travel iron, but amazing nonetheless. CR and I have a running joke regarding Robyn’s sense of style, or lack thereof. He’s got a real penchant for bold patterns and colors, and over the years I’ve learned that the only other folks who tend to wear these sorts of shirts are record store owners. I’m not exactly sure why this is, nor am I all too sure it’s still as true today as it was in the past, but a quick look inside CR’s closet proves that he too was once a record store owner. Paul, mate. Stop laughing, lest you think I don't know about your old Lymington shop. It's evident in the clothes you wear. I’m not saying the shirts are bad, I’m just saying that they are a bit much in the pattern department.

My guess is that Robyn buys them because, in the event that some rabid fan managed to get backstage to his dressing room, they would not be tempted to steal one. Even rabid fans have some taste.

Opener Sean Nelson (Harvey Danger, The Long Winters) was self-deprecatingly funny and charming, and was the perfect counter-melody to several of Robyn’s songs. Their voices blended so well that it was hard to believe they have not always sung together. Such sublime magic nearly moved me to tears.

Of course he couldn't play everything we wanted to hear - that'd take DAYS - but he did a nice job of mixing the old with the new. Personally I would have loved to hear "Furry Green Atom Bowl," "Winchester" and "My Favourite Buildings," but I wasn't disappointed in his song selection. I’ve seen Robyn enough to know what to expect – amusing stories and snippets of alternate universes inhabited by land-crabs, can openers, tomatoes, and crustaceans of all sorts, coupled with acoustic numbers and some rocking electric craziness. But even this Hitchcock veteran got a few surprises last night: he requested the hall be non-smoking, which was awesome and unexpected because the show wasn't listed as such on the Southgate House web site; he played “Cynthia Mask,” which I wrongly assumed he’d never play again after the break-up with his Blue Ash muse; and he made himself accessible after the show for autographs and chit-chat with his legions of fans.

Very cool, and utterly brilliant. But then, that’s how Robyn Hitchcock rolls.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Friday, November 02, 2007

"Sleeping with your devil mask is all I want to do..."

I don't attend a lot of concerts/shows anymore. Mainly it is because they run late and at my age I can use all the beauty sleep I can get, but also because I just can't be arsed. I kinda burnt myself out over the past mumblemumble years.

That said, this month is a veritable bonanza and even this jaded old fart is all atwitter.

There's They Might Be Giants on Nov. 6. I haven't totally decided yet if I will go or not, but I probably should because it will be fun.

There's my main man Robyn Hitchcock on Nov. 8. Regardless of the dozens of times I've seen him live (solo, & The Egyptians, The Soft Boys) I will go. He may have become a greying, cantankerous bastard in recent years but all it takes is a spin of his sublime 1984 classic album "I Often Dream of Trains" and all is forgiven.

The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir (who are neither Scottish, gospel nor a choir) is playing a free show at Southgate House on Sunday, Nov. 11. Free is hard to pass up...

Then comes the grand-daddy of them all: Lisa Lampanelli at the Taft. Lisa fucking Lampanelli! I couldn't believe my good fortune to find out about this show the morning tickets were going on sale. Got EXCELLENT seats - close enough to be harassed by the Queen of Mean. Utterly fab!

Then the very next day finds Bob Pollard (formerly of Dayton's own Guided by Voices) at Southgate House and me with a ticket.

But never mind. I'll sleep sometime in December.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"I've been too long with my nose stuck in a book..."

Each year I try to read at least 50 books between January 1 and December 31. Last year I got #50 in just under the wire. This year I reached #50 last week, and I've still got two months left.

The list:
1. Margherita Dolce Vita by Stefano Benni
2. Just In Case by Meg Rosoff
3. 40 Acres and No Mule by Janice Holt Giles
4. Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War by Nicholas Lemann
5. Hannah Fowler by Janice Holt Giles
6. Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrill
7. The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby
8. The Kentuckians by Janice Holt Giles
9. Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time by Rob Sheffield
10. Inside the Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire by Ron Elliott
11. The Appalachian Photographs of Earl Palmer by Jean Haskell Speer
12. Miss Willie by Janice Holt Giles
13. The Fur Person by May Sarton (a re-read. Probably my favorite book of all time)
14. Beverly Hills: The Anatomy of a Nightclub Fire by Robert Lawson
15. Broken Moon by Kim Antieau
16. The Real Animal House by Chris Miller
17. I Had the Right to Remain Silent....But I Didn't Have the Ability by Ron White
18. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
19. 33 1/3: Exile on Main Street by Bill Janowitz
20. Another River, Another Town: A Teenage Tank Gunner Comes of Age in Combat 1944-45 by John P. Irwin
21. The Luger Handbook by Aaron Davis
22. The Sound and The Fury: 40 Years of Classic Rock Journalism by Barney Hoskyns
23. Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters
24. Stealing Your Life: The Ultimate Identity Theft Prevention Plan by Frank Abagnale
25. Working Stiff by Grant Stoddard
26. Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders by James Scurlock
27. Shanghai Diary by Ursula Bacon
28. Strapped: Why America's 20-30-Somethings Can't Get Ahead by Tamara Draut
29. Eternal Strangers by Ursula Bacon
30. The Keep by Jennifer Egan
31. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
32. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
33. Sala's Gift by Ann Kirschner
34. Rucker Park Set-Up by Paul Volponi
35. Faithfull by Marianne Faithfull
36. The Years of Persecution: 1933-1939 by Saul Friedlander
37. Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet
38. Lonely Planet Guide: Czech & Slovak Republics
39. Lonely Planet Guide: Prague City Guide
40. Lonely Planet Guide: Best of Prague
41. DK Eyewitness Travel: Prague
42. Old Timey Recipes compiled by Phyllis Connor
43. Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians by Jean Ritchie
44. Heart In The Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan
45. Crosley: Two Brother and a Business Empire That Transformed the Nation by David Stern, Michael Banks & Rusty McClure
46. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
47. The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by David Mendelsohn
48. Pies and Prejudice - In Search of the North by Stuart Maconie
49. That's Me in the Corner by Andrew Collins
50. Agent ZigZag: The True Wartime Story of Eddie Chapman by Ben Macintyre
51. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Currently reading:
52. Loser by Jerry Spinelli

Monday, October 22, 2007

"There lies a man who fought for equality..."

The first time I heard Lucky Dube was as a college student working at the campus radio station. The song was his anti-Apartheid anthem "Together As One."

I liked it enough to seek out more of his stuff, special ordering the albums - and later the CDs - from The Record Store. Me, TC and Aaron were massive Lucky fans and it was a real treat whenever we all worked together because invariably one or more of us would have a few of his CDs on hand to play in store. We turned a lot of folks onto his pure, uplifting, soulful vibes.

Of all of his albums, 1993's Victims is my favorite, the songs indelibly stitched into the fabric of that sunny, tie-dyed summer. It was the summer we did a lot of camping, hiking and Grateful Dead concerts, and Victims was with us always. It was the summer of Bo Derek-stylee cornrowed hair, capped at the ends with tiny skull beads. We wore crystals - huge purple chunks of amethyst wrapped in spiraling copper wire - and bells around our ankles. We stank of patchouli and Nag Champa, and danced around the fires, moving to the rhythm of the drum-circles, laughing delightedly for hours and hours.

And we sang his songs, believing we could change the world.
"Hey you government
Never try to seperate the people
Hey you politician
Never try to seperate the people
They were created in the image of God
And who are you to seperate them
Bible says, he made man in his image
But it didn' t say black or white
Look at me you see BLACK
I look at you I see WHITE
Now is the time to kick that away
And join me in my song..."

But we didn't change the world. Instead, the world changed us. We lost our ideals, and we lost our way. And last Friday, we lost Lucky too.
From the BBC:

Shock at South African reggae star shooting

Fans across the world are mourning the South African reggae star, Lucky Dube, who has been shot dead.
He was dropping his teenage son and daughter off in a Johannesburg suburb when he was attacked by car thieves.
Local radio stations have been flooded with tearful callers expressing outrage at the murder and renewing demands that the authorities act to curtail crime.
South Africa's leader paid tribute to him and called on people to "confront this terrible scourge of crime".

Alongside Bob Marley, Lucky Dube was thought of as one of the great reggae artists - singing about social problems.
He was also one of the apartheid regime's most outspoken critics.

Correspondents say the killing of the 43-year-old singer has shocked South Africans who are already accustomed to one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Music producer TK of TS records and a friend of Dube's told the BBC the killing was tragically ironic.
"The whole continent has lost a performer, musician, a guy that fought for freedom in his own way, in his own right, was just shot by some guy who wanted to take his car, you know, which is Mickey Mouse really," he said.

Opposition parties and the youth wing of the ruling African National Congress party have called on the government to take drastic measures against crime.
Callers to radio stations have urged the country's rugby team to show some form of respect when they take to the field in Saturday's World Cup final against England in Paris.
President Thabo Mbeki is attending the final and took time to pay tribute to the dreadlocked reggae star before he jetted off to France.

"It's indeed very very sad that this happens to an outstanding South African, an outstanding musician - world renowned," he said.
"We shall continue to act together as a people to confront this terrible scourge of crime, which has taken the lives of too many of our people - and does so every day."
The BBC's Mpho Lakaje in Johannesburg says police are still hunting for three men thought to be behind the attack.

Police say Dube's son and daughter were already out of the car when three shots were fired through the car window killing their father on Thursday evening in Rosettenville.
Witnesses say the wounded singer tried to drive away, but lost control of his car and hit a tree.
"He was declared dead on the scene," Police inspector Lorrain Van Immareck told the BBC.

Lucky Dube's Rastas Never Die album was banned under apartheid

"I am a 27-year-old black South African girl. I have dreadlocks and I love reggae music so much and I am proud to be who I am, being black and African. I will miss Lucky Dube, you are an inspiration to many of us," Sbongile Diko in Durban wrote.
But the tributes have been worldwide - especially from Africa.

"Lucky filled up stadiums all over the continent. I would say he was far bigger outside South Africa then he was in South Africa," South African music journalist Peter Makurube told the BBC's Network Africa programme.
Dube began his career by singing mbaqanga (traditional Zulu) music and recorded his first album with the Super Soul band in 1982.
He later moved into reggae, producing Rastas Never Die which was banned by the apartheid government.
His albums Slave, Prisoner and Together As One saw him gain first national, and then global, recognition.

Three years ago his 1989 anti-apartheid hit Together as One, which calls for world peace and harmony, was voted one of Africa's top 10 songs by BBC readers and listeners.
Lucky Dube released his most recent album, Respect, in April.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Standard Gargoyle Decisions, decisions...

Bob Pollard is playing Southgate House on Dec. 1.

It's one of only two shows he's doing this year to promote his two superb new albums, Standard Gargoyle Decisions and Coast to Coast Carpet of Love.

Tickets are an affordable $10.

I've not seen him in a very long time, so it's probably a good time to walk across the burning bridge before it's too late.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

"U're just 2 much 2 take - I can't stop I ain't got no brakes..."

I have never been a fan of Prince, or the Artist Formerly Known As Prince, or Symbol, or whatever he's calling himself these days, but I have to admit that the man puts on a helluva show.

Hubby and I have been on vacation in Europe for the past month, and some friends of ours scored four tickets to see the little purple one on the last of his 21-night stand at London's O2 Arena. Of the four of us, I was the only Prince virgin - hubby, Rockin' and Lou have all seen him a number of times, including Earl's Court, Hammersmith and a couple of times in Paris. I was also the only one who was dubious about going, because he's simply never really appealed to me. I mean, there are a few of his songs that I really like (Delirious, When You Were Mine) but I guess I just got so burned out on the whole Purple Rain phenomena that I kind of wrote him off.

My bad!

He's a superb showman and certainly gave us all our money's worth. On top of that, I was staggered by the number of songs that I knew - me, who doesn't own a single Prince album (unless you count the 12" of Erotic City) - recognized nearly every song he performed that night. And boy did he play a lot of them: nearly 3 hours worth of funkin' us up! Time just flew by too - always the mark of a good performer when you are enjoying yourself so much that you don't realize that three hours have passed.

The arena itself was very clean and nice - perhaps because it is so new (it's the former Millennium Dome) and perhaps it's because the British are more conscientious about trash and litter (no food was allowed inside the arena), but the whole experience was top notch. There was a good variety of food and beverage vendors on hand - everything from the standard burger and chips/fries to pasta and baked spuddies. They also had a good beverage selection (Becks, Boddingtons, alco-pops, wine and spirits) and prices weren't nearly as ghastly as they are at U.S. venues.

Upon entering the O2 everyone was given a free copy of his Musicology CD and a purple glow stick. Most of the crowd milled around the vending areas, eating, drinking and shooting the shit until the announcement came that the show would begin soon. I thought that was pretty cool, having never been to a show where they informed you ahead of time how long you had to finish your food and drink. They made an announcement at 30 minutes, and again at 15, giving us all ample time to find our seats. When the lights went down the sight of 23,000 glow sticks was really magical to see. And everyone went absolutely bonkers the moment His Purpleness hit the stage.

Here's the set list. Feel free to be jealous!

I Feel For You
Somewhere Here on Earth
U Got the Look
Chelsea Rogers
Sexy Dancer/Le Freak
A Love Bizarre
Pass the Peas

Solo piano set
Diamonds & Pearls
The Beautiful Ones
Little Red Corvette
I Would Die 4 U
Under the Cherry Moon
Sometimes it Snows in April

Purple Rain
Take Me With You
Let’s Go Crazy

Nothing Compares 2 U

Solo synth medley
Sign O The Times
When Doves Cry
Darling Nikki
I Wanna Be Your Lover
Erotic City
Alphabet St.
Gett Off (Housestyle)
The Ballad of Dorothy Parker
Irresistible Bitch
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
Raspberry Beret

Second encore
When U Were Mine
Girls & Boys

Friday, September 07, 2007

"C'mon and take me to the place where it's alright..."

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Lab Partners should be HUGE.

I'm not just saying it because I'm friends with them, I'm saying it as a fan and as a music lover. They really are the best kept secret in town. The band is so tight and the songs are stellar. They continually knock me out each and every time I have seen them - and I've been seeing them for close to ten years now!

Arrived at SGH last night and the first person I ran into was TC, holding court at the bar. We hugged for eternities and sat ourselves down for a good chinwag catch-up since we last saw each other a few months ago. Spied Dennis as well (he produced Daystar) and had a natter. He told me he was filling in on guitar and was rather nervous, but he had no reason to be - he was excellent! His lovely wife (and my old WWSU chum) Kattie showed up and there were more hugs for eternities. When we get together there are always so many laughs.

It's times like this that make me really miss the great scene we had in Dayton.

TC introduced me to a mate of his named Eric who was pretty cool and as we talked we realized how many of the same people we knew. But then Dayton's like that - small city with a tight scene. It's always been inclusive rather than exclusive. It's like this: if he is a friend of a friend, then he is my friend too. And so I was pleased to gain a new friend in Eric last night.

And it was good to see so many other friends there last night too - several WOXY folks turned up for the show and there were more hugs and laughter.

High point of the night for me was that Lab Partners closed the show with Magnify! Fucking ACE!

I felt a little sorry for Spectrum though - by the time they came on several folks (who'd come only to see Lab Partners) had bailed and they played to a crowd of around 20. The ballroom seemed a bit cavernous and it had to be disheartening for them to weave their textured grooves to so few. Still, those who were there seemed to enjoy themselves - I know I did - and ultimately that's what matters most.

What I want to know though - how does Pete Kember stay so ageless? That bastard doesn't look any older than he did as a nipper in Spacemen3.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

"Radio is a sound salvation..."

From 1985-1990 I worked at a kick-ass college radio station and this post from an old colleague at the station has really made me nostalgic for those halcyon days.

Those years were some of the best of my life.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Close Your Eyes and You'll See

Sweet Jeeebus.

Sonic Boom/Spectrum is coming to SGH next week, with my mates Lab Partners opening.

There's my Thursday evening sorted.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Is this more than some old summer fling?"

The Old 97's blew me away last night.

Best live show I've seen at the Southgate House. You can tell the guys love what they do, and their enthusiasm is infectious. I could not control my happy feet.

Before the show I chatted with a couple who had driven up from Louisville and as they too were big fans we had a riot of a time bouncing around the crowded ballroom when the band took the stage. Brad informed me that he had proposed to Emily one evening as they were listening to the song "The Question," so when the band hit the opening bars they went a little bit bonkers kissing each other, while friends and strangers alike all bought them drinks.

The band cherry-picked a good mix of songs from all their albums, from 1994's Hitchhike to Rhome through Drag It Up and enjoyed interacting with the audience when fans called out for certain songs. They also promised a new album in April 2008 and everyone went nuts. My only disappointment of the night was that they did not play my favorite Old 97's song: "Melt Show."

But they rolled through nearly everything else from Too Far To Care, including a smokin' version of "Four Leaf Clover," which rounded out their first encore, and "Timebomb," which brought the house down and closed the high-octane, sold-out show.

Uber-hottie and lead singer Rhett Miller also performed acoustic versions of "Help Me, Susanne" and "I'm With Her" from his 2006 solo effort "The Believer" during the first encore before being joined by the rest of the guys for some more energetic stompers. Those boys have that Texas shuffle down pat and the audience ate it up.

Although they hover consistently in my top 5 favorite bands, until last night I'd never had the opportunity to see them live. I caught Rhett Miller's solo tour last autumn at the Tall Stacks Festival and that simply whetted my appetite for the whole enchilada. And they were well worth the wait.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"I'm not immune to getting blown apart..."

I am over the moon that The Old 97's are coming to Southgate House next month.

I am sooooooooooooooooo there.

Love. Those. Guys.

Friday, June 08, 2007

"And if drinkin' don't kill me, her memory will..."

The Record Store had its share of wonderfully odd and colorful customers, and we had our share of assholes and shoplifters. We had deadbeats who special ordered hard-to-find imports and ephemera and then failed to pick up said items when they arrived, and we were blessed with some truly awesome music-lovers. Nevertheless, the majority of our customers were average folks who liked a certain song or artist and just randomly stopped in to our store hoping that we had it in stock after they'd already struck out The Mall. There were a few, however, we couldn't even classify as "customers."

Such was Mr. Dougherty.

In all the years he shuffled in, I can't ever remember him buying anything from us. He'd ask to look at cassettes, usually old school country artists like Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb, but he never bought them. He'd hold the cassettes in his quaking hands and scan the track listings, musing out loud about this song or that. Sometimes he'd sing a few lines in a hoarse rasp, asking if we knew what it was, and other times he'd remember a title and ask us to look it up, because he could no longer remember who sang it. He seemed to always inquire about the same songs and artists, forgetting from month to month that he'd already been given the answers to those questions.

I say month-to-month because we only ever saw him at the first of the month. After he'd taken receipt of his disability check, Mr. Dougherty would turn up in a taxi with a wad of green bulging from the pocket of his polyester trousers. Sometimes he arrived so early that The Beer & Wine Emporium next door wasn't even open yet, and so he'd kill time with us, leaning heavily on the glass showcase at the front counter, his long, grizzled fingers flexing to keep the tremors at bay. Every five minutes he'd ask what time it was, and then ask what time they opened next door.

All the while the meter was running.

Mr. Dougherty was a drunk, plain and simple. Even if the stale reek of day old booze permeating through his pores hadn't given him away, the watery eyes, bulbous red nose and quaking hands certainly did. And while most of the staff tried to steer clear of him when they saw the taxi pull up outside, I usually stuck around and helped him, even though I knew he was just wasting time until he could get his fix next door. Perhaps it was because he reminded me of my own drunken uncles, rather than altruism on my part, but I always tried to see him in the way that he wanted to be seen, rather than the way he actually was. And so I saw a young man full of promise and potential, instead of the pathetic, weaving wreck in the wrinkled western shirt.

There was a time, long ago, when Mr. Dougherty had been somebody, and he loved to bend my ear about his days amongst the Nashville elite. He had played poker with Hank Snow, hauled luggage for Patsy Cline, and chauffeured George Jones in his tricked out Cadillac. For Mr. Dougherty had been The Mechanic to The Stars.

Returning home after the Korean War, he found that small town life no longer appealed, and set off for the bright lights of Nashville to put to use the mechanic skills he'd perfected during the war. To hear him tell it, he was a real wiz-kid, and before too long found himself working for a company that provided exclusive automotive services to the cream of the Nashville crop. Mr. Dougherty might not have been able to remember conversations from one month to the next--possibly even one DAY to the next-- but 40 years later could still recall what the inside of George Jones's stretch Caddie looked like. He could remember, and describe in loving detail, the smell of Tammy Wynette's perfume mingling with the AquaNet she sprayed on her well coiffed hair, as Mr. Dougherty drove her around town. He never tired of retelling the story of eating fried chicken with Chet Adkins and his band at some little dive in the deep south, when he drove their tour bus. He claimed it was the best fried chicken he'd ever eaten, and wished he could taste it just once more.

He'd regale these stories in succession, his watery eyes momentarily coming alive. "I had it all," he'd claim with a wry smile that split his face into a million little creases, "I certainly did." He told of meeting and marrying "the most beautiful girl in the world," and how she took to the road like she'd been born to do so, and how they made a great team. She was his right hand man, so to speak, reading maps and making sure their privileged passengers were well taken care of. He drove the busses, fixed breakdowns, and hauled luggage, while she cooked meals for the bands, did their laundry, and made sure they always looked their best. In his eyes, she was a goddess among goddesses. Throughout the golden age of country music, the duo rubbed elbows with nearly all the big names: Loretta Lynn ("a beautiful lady and a saint, she put up with a lot"), Johnny Cash ("a godly man, but filled with the devil"), Dolly Parton ("sweetest little thing you ever did see") and his favorite, George Jones ("they called him No-Show, but he always got there when I was a'drivin'.")

Somewhere along the way the bottle got to Mr. Dougherty. His stories seemed to end in the mid-70's, so that must have been about the time his goddess took off with another man. Maybe she couldn't take the drinking any longer, or maybe she was the reason he took to drinking, but the two incidents are forever entwined, and with his long thin face in his quivering hands, Mr. Dougherty would openly sob at our front counter, telling me that his life just wasn't worth living without her. I'd seen the vicious circle all too often in my own family: a spiraling descent between the bottle and lost love.

Embarrassed by his open display of raw, drunken grief, I'd try to comfort with a pat on his bony arm and empty words, saying "it'll be all right, it'll be ok," when I knew that it wouldn't. Mr. Dougherty knew it too, and with sad, sunken eyes pleading, he'd ask me to play his special song, the one he'd ordered once upon a time but just couldn't bring himself to buy. I kept the single filed away where no one could buy it, and played it whenever his cloak of heartbreak became too heavy to bear.

"He said I'll love you 'til I die
She told him you'll forget in time
As the years went slowly by
She still preyed upon his mind

He kept her picture on his wall
Went half crazy now and then
He still loved her through it all
Hoping she'd come back again

Kept some letters by his bed
Dated 1962
He had underlined in red
Every single I love you

I went to see him just today
Oh but I didn't see no tears
All dressed up to go away
First time I'd seen him smile in years

He stopped loving her today
They placed a wreath upon his door
And soon they'll carry him away
He stopped loving her today…"
As the song neared the end he'd bury himself in an old handkerchief and again ask for the time, misery in his gravely voice. And at the appointed hour, he'd hobble slowly toward the door-- his sad, empty eyes moist with the anticipation of obliterating the present, and erasing the past.

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Just looking back before they take it all away..."

Henry was our golden oldies customer. He wanted nothing less than to go back to “the good ole days” of his youth, and to his credit, he had a long memory for the songs that were played at his high school sock hops, 50’s AM radio and each week on TV courtesy of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.

He wore his high school class ring – Class of 1959 – and while short and stocky always looked neat and tidy in a pressed shirt and trousers. His fair hair, although thinning on top, sported an expensive cut. Only his crumpled and stained baggy blue London Fog coat belied his impeccable appearance.

Every Sunday morning, not long after the store would open for the day, Henry would wander in the door, greet each of us politely and turn his attention to our singles racks.

In the beginning we would give him our usual spiel of asking if he would like some help, but he’d shake his head and continue flipping through the racks. It soon became apparent that he was painfully shy: he rarely made eye contact or uttered anything more than “hello” to us for the first few months.

The Sav, who opened the store on Sunday mornings, took it upon himself to draw Henry from his protective cocoon. He'd stand at the front counter, within Henry's earshot, and talk to himself, hoping that Henry would eventually take the bait and respond.

He didn’t.

When Henry would finally make his selection of 45’s – he always bought three at a time because the store offered a discount, and Henry liked saving money – The Sav would glance at the titles as he punched the cash register and try to elicit small talk about the songs or artists. Henry wouldn’t bite. In fact, for the first few months none of us even knew Henry’s name. We all referred to him as “Shorty’s Dad,” because he reminded us of an older version of another of our beloved regulars.

It took The Sav several months to figure out a way through Henry’s armor of silence: he offered Henry the chance to look through our new oldies catalog for possible special orders. This was big. The Sav NEVER let customers look through our wholesale catalogs, lest they get ideas about circumventing The Record Store by placing an order directly with the wholesaler. Never mind that most wholesalers required a minimum order of several hundred dollars. The Sav was convinced that any person who saw a wholesale catalog would immediately decide to open up their own record shop and put him out of business. I guess it was just a bit of leftover paranoia from his cocaine-fueled 70’s heyday.

The rest of us paid no mind to this obsessive distrust of our customers and pulled out the catalogs for folks all the time—as long as The Sav was unlikely to get wind of it. Of course this only worked with customers we saw on a regular basis- those who hung out in the store enough to know the way things worked and who could therefore be trusted to keep it on the down-low. So for The Sav to pull out the Collectibles Catalog and tell Henry he was welcome to thumb through it, well, that was considered a very big deal amongst the staff.

Once Henry had access to the Collectibles catalog he warmed considerably to us and began to drop little nuggets of information about himself. We learned that he had never owned a driving license and preferred to shop at establishments along the bus routes. It was fortunate that there was a dedicated Metro stop right outside The Record Shop. We also learned that he didn’t own a telephone. For awhile he simply informed us that telephones were more trouble than they were worth, but over the years he got comfortable enough with us to admit that the real reason he didn’t have a telephone was because no one ever rang him when he had one, so he didn’t see the point in wasting the money.

We also learned that he lived by himself in a small efficiency apartment over a salon, which explained his expensive haircuts and well manicured appearance. He got them free in exchange for sweeping up hair from the salon floor during the work week. Henry had no other job. He had spent the majority of his adult life caring for his aging parents, and after they died he was frugal with his small inheritance. His idea of extravagance was in allowing himself one new pair of shoes each year, a nice meal in a restaurant once a month, and three 7” singles each week. He spoke disparagingly about his older brother, a lawyer out in California, who had forced the sale of the family home out from under Henry after his elderly parents had died. According to Henry, his parents had only enough money to send one son to college, so they sent the eldest son, and told Henry that since they couldn't give him a higher education they'd give him the house instead, and he agreed and stayed there, never marrying, to take care of them. After their death, however, Henry bitterly recalled how his brother figured out a loophole and, in Henry's words, "sold my house right out from under me."

Sundays at The Record Store were fairly cake. It was just busy enough to stay entertained, but not so busy that we were headless-chickening between the three cash registers while trying to keep an eye out for shoplifters, as was the case most weekend nights. I enjoyed working Sundays because I could fill up most of my day inventorying the Billboard Hot 200, singles charts and back stock. I could also count on having a nice long chat with Henry about the "good old days." Sometimes, when there was a lull in the action and The Sav had left for the day, Henry would pull out a pile of singles and I'd play them over the vintage Marantz sound system. As the music transported Henry back to a happier time and place, he'd lose himself in the memories, and take me with him through a stream-of-conscience rap about "how it was back then." I learned the names and locations of many a long-gone restaurant and store, could see the ball players in their crew-cuts and the girls in their poodle skirts and pony tails, such were Henry's vivid descriptions. It was a little like hearing someone describe the movie American Graffiti, but with a local flavor. Occasionally Henry would let slip about a girl he had dated, a girl he still pined for some thirty years later. His heart would break anew each time he visited the lonely town of CouldHaveBeen.

I loved hearing Henry's stories and always tried to make time for him each Sunday. I think we all did. He and The Sav were a little closer in age, and The Sav remembered a lot of the same places Henry did, so they'd bounce memories back and forth like verbal table tennis until The Sav was ready to leave for the afternoon. So it went for nearly seven years.

The Sunday that Henry didn't turn up was cause for concern amongst the staff. We worried that he had fallen ill, or that something bad had happened to him. We were unsure as to what to do, since we couldn't call him and had no idea where his apartment was located, and so we did nothing and waited to see if he turned up the following week. When he didn't, we took it upon ourselves to start calling around to all the beauty salons in town, hoping one of them would know him.

There are a lot of beauty salons in a city phonebook, and we called them all. Reynolds took A-K at the front register phone, and I took L-Z at the back phone. An afternoon's worth of phone calls later, no one we rang knew Henry. Puzzled, we abandoned our search and hoped for the best. When a third Sunday passed without Henry making an appearance, Phil went out to the bus stop and spoke to the driver, who, when given a description of Henry, knew where he usually embarked each week. The driver said he hadn't seen him in a few weeks and had wondered about the little man in the blue London Fog coat, but had shrugged it off. Once we learned where Henry got on the bus, we could narrow our search. Since we’d already tried all the salons in the Yellow Pages to no avail, we started calling everything in the Business White Pages that was in the vicinity of Henry's bus stop and sounded vaguely like it might be a beauty parlor. I can't help but look back on this seemingly hopeless venture and think about how much quicker it would have been to pinpoint the salon with the help of the internet, but we didn't have that luxury yet. And so we called dozens of businesses, hoping against hope that one of those numbers would come up trumps.

And it did, but it was too late. In her broad, flat upper Michigan accent, shop owner Shirley recounted that Henry had collapsed and died at home from a brain aneurism just a few days after his last visit to our shop. She told us through tears that his brother, Henry's only known relative, hadn't even bothered to come back to claim the body. He made arrangements over the phone and had Henry laid to rest next to his parents, without fanfare, and had a cleaning company go in to Henry's apartment a few days later to clear it out. Everything had been thrown away: clothing, photo albums, yearbooks, scrapbooks, and of course, his beloved record player and 7" singles.

Much has changed since Henry passed away, and The Record Store no longer exists. But the power of a song can elicit long dormant memories. And sometimes when I am transported back to those halcyon days, I think of Henry.

And I understand.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"The hands of the genius are stone cold..."

Ten years ago today I got the news that one of my local heroes had died.

At first I didn't believe it-didn't WANT to believe it-but a couple of phone calls confirmed the sad fact that we had lost him.

Tim Taylor was always larger than life, but even though it was obvious to us all that he and his band, Brainiac, were destined for greatness, he never let it get to his head. He was a super special guy with a tremendous amount of positive energy, always friendly with a quick and easy smile, and talented.
Jesus, he was talented. Not everyone "got" their unique brand of music, but for those of us who did, his loss was devastating.

I was not part of his inner circle, but Dayton's a small city with a tight scene, and we ran into each other at a lot of the same functions, shows and parties. It was always a delight to compare record store notes--as Tim worked behind the counter of another local indie shop when he wasn't on tour or creating jawdroppingly amazing music. He was funny, friendly, exceptionally creative, and the gaping hole he left in our hearts and in our scene has never been--and will never be--refilled.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"Hold it! Now Boogie-woogie!"

Back in my Record Store days, Adam and I used to make regular treks down to Over-the-Rhine to see our legendary blues heroes in action. We caught Pigmeat Jarrett, H-Bomb Ferguson and Big Joe Duskin every chance we could, usually at Jefferson Hall but sometimes at other area bars, and occasionally in someone's living room. Adam had a real nose for sniffing out good gigs where ever they may be, and he'd drive if I paid the cover.

The last of those legendary bluesmen died Sunday, when Big Joe left for that great gig in the sky.

Legendary bluesman dead at 86
By Rick BirdPost staff reporter

Big Joe Duskin, who died Sunday, is being remembered as perhaps the last of Cincinnati's "greatest generation" of blues men.

Big Joe Duskin played the blues, but he did it with a smile, a big heart and a joyful boogie woogie piano sound that influenced countless Cincinnati musicians.

Duskin died Sunday morning at his home in Avondale at the age of 86. Family spokesman Keith Little said Duskin had been in failing health for several months from complications from diabetes. He died a day before he was scheduled for surgery to have both legs amputated.
Duskin, who played with a rugged elegance, is being remembered as perhaps the last of Cincinnati's "greatest generation" of blues men. He was part of the pre-World War II players whose earthy music would become a window to the soul of the African-American experience and lay the groundwork for everything to come - from rock 'n' roll and R&B to hip hop.
Duskin's death comes just six months after the passing of another local blues and R&B legend, piano player H-Bomb Ferguson.

In addition to being a musician, Duskin was a World War II veteran, a postal worker and police officer.

Over the last 35 years he welcomed anyone on stage to perform with him.
"What that meant is a whole lot of people were standing next to Joe and jamming, drinking from that original source. He changed the musical lives for many musicians in this town," said Larry Nager, a musician and former music writer for The Post and the Enquirer. Nager produced Duskin's last recording, "Big Joe Jumps Again," released in 2004.

Harmonica player Steve Tracy, now a professor of African-American studies at the University of Massachusetts and author of "Going to Cincinnati: A History of Blues in the Queen City," said Duskin made other players feel special.
"When you played with him, you became the focus. He was just big-hearted and gregarious and that comes through in his music, too," said Tracy.

Born in Birmingham, Ala., in 1921, the third of 11 children, Duskin told Tracy in his 1993 book that one of his first memories was seeing hooded Ku Klux Klansmen outside his house as they dragged his older cousin out of his bed and hanged him for stealing a sack of potatoes from a white grocer.

By the late 1930s, Duskin had become a teenage piano-playing phenom on the Cincinnati blues scene, performing in venues that ranged from the black clubs of the West End to saloons in Over-the-Rhine where the blues flowed into the streets like the beer.
"Listen, in every beer garden and every home there was a piano," Duskin told The Post in a 2004 interview. "Man, you'd go in there and beat out those blues. I'd go and sit in and get about 15 cents. You thought that was money back in them days. It was great."
Duskin's critics included his father, who called blues "the devil's music" and whipped his son whenever he caught him playing it. Eventually, young Joe made a promise to his dad that he would no longer play boogie woogie music while his dad was alive.
When he made that promise, Duskin's dad was in his 80s. Perry Duskin lived to be 105, dying in 1963.

By all accounts, Duskin kept that promise and moved on to "life's work." He was a Lincoln Heights police officer for 10 years, then had a 20-year career with the U.S. Post Office.
But the early '70s brought a renewed interest in America's indigenous music, spurred by many Baby Boomers discovering it was really the original blues men who wrote the rock 'n' roll book.
It was Tracy - then a recent Walnut Hills High School grad, blues aficionado and a talented harp player - who looked up Duskin in 1971 while he was researching Cincinnati blues players. Tracy encouraged Duskin to play with his band in Mount Adams hangouts, and Duskin became a popular figure in clubs such as Coco's and Corry's. He frequently opened at Bogart's for national blues legends performing there.

By the '80s, Duskin was drawing bigger crowds in Europe than he was in Cincinnati, playing festivals and clubs where fans couldn't get enough of America's original blues artists. In the '90s, he teamed with singer Sweet Alice Hoskins for two tours of Paris and Italy for what was billed "A Night of Cincinnati Blues."

"Oh, they loved him over there, except when he tried to speak French," said Hoskins.
For Hoskins, the beauty of Duskin's sound was that he was the "real deal," something she has tried to copy in her own act.
"He got those low tones and the deepest sound on that piano," Hoskins said. "It was straight down blues. It was from the days when people would dance to the blues. When Joe got those deep down tones you could feel like you wanted to get up. You can't hardly find that sound in people today."

As late as 2000, Duskin was still playing in Germany and Belgium and still trying to speak the language.
"I tell them, 'Ich liebe dich. I love you, I love all of you.' By me speaking a little German, they love that. They just go crazy," Duskin said in a 2002 interview.

Three years ago, Duskin recorded "Big Joe Jumps Again," a live studio set that played as a great slice of his original boogie woogie blues sound, even if his skills were diminished by age 83. Still, it was an album that would get him a W.C. Handy nomination (the blues version of the Grammys) for "comeback of the year." (It also got some attention because blues-rock legend Peter Frampton contributed guitar tracks to a song).
He did not win, but still went to the Memphis awards and was a featured performer hanging out with the elite of the blues world.

"There was Charlie Musslewhite, Shamika Copeland, Guitar Shorty, Pinetop (Perkins). It was good to see Joe where he belonged, which is hanging with these folks," said Nager. Other accolades followed Duskin in 2005 when was presented an Ohio Heritage Award for arts contributions and performed before a 10,000 people at the Dayton Folk Festival.
When asked two years ago about the recognition, Duskin was appreciative, but did express some regrets he abandoned music for so long. Of course, there was also a bit of boogie woogie bravado when he said: "If it hadn't been for my dad, Oscar Peterson couldn't have touched me, no place. I mean that. I was playing jazz, boogie-woogie, blues, classical - you name it. Even opera. I would have been one of the greatest piano players.''

Tracy said what made Duskin truly great was that indefinable element.
"Sometimes people can play the notes," he said. "But there is just that special soul and feel that makes it sound better coming out of those musicians that have it inside of them. Joe had that."

Duskin is survived by his wife, Emma Harris; a daughter, Sharon Parks; a step-daughter, Ernestine Davis; and three sons, Ronald Lee Duskin, Ray Duskin and Yahku, all from Cincinnati.
Services will be at noon Saturday at Hall-Jordan & Thompson Funeral Home at Jordan's Crossing, Seymour Avenue and Reading Road, Bond Hill. A private family burial will be Monday in Dayton. Donations to the family may be made at any US Bank location in care of Joseph L. Duskin or Emma Harris.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Take me down to the infirmary and lay me down on cotton sheets..."

One of my best friends died today.

We’d only known each other since November 2004, but as soon as we met we clicked and became inseparable. We very rarely argued, and when we did it was always about music. She had an affinity for techno and dance music, whereas I was always more eager to listen to singer-songwriters.

We used to drive to work together and could talk in nothing but song titles during the hour-long commute. Those were awesome times, and I missed them when I took a job in downtown and my commute got shortened to less than 10 minutes. We still hung out at the gym and on the weekends, but it wasn’t quite the same.

Last year she started feeling under the weather, so run down that she could barely function. She became forgetful, sluggish, had next to no energy, and got easily confused. After a series of tests we were told that she needed surgery, and even then there were no guarantees, but really, the choice was a no-brainer. She had the surgery and amazingly bounced back to her former, fun self for awhile.

It almost seemed as though we both knew she was living on borrowed time, however. I worried about her constantly and could never quite shake my doubt that she would have a relapse. Every time we were together I feared that something would happen to her and I wouldn’t know what to do. I mean, I know basic first aid, but that wasn’t going to be enough to save her if it came right down to it.

My worst fears were realized a few months ago when she began acting tired and run down again. She would be fine for a couple of days, but it was taking longer and longer for her to recharge and recover, which we knew was not a good sign. We danced around the subject, not wanting to admit that she was never 100% better after the operation, but I think deep down we both knew it was simply a matter of time.

She started having mild seizures, which were over almost as soon as they happened. She tried to act like they were nothing, tried to convince me that she would be fine, yet seemed completely unaware that she had developed a very weird stutter. She also began to behave erratically and was certainly not her old self anymore. I know that the worst thing you can do is research symptoms on the internet, but that’s exactly what I did, and the more I looked the grimmer it got.


Wading through the internet gloom and doom, it became clear that anything I tried to do to help her would simply be akin to dressing an amputation with a Band-Aid.

This morning on the bus she totally lost it—her erratic behavior reached a crescendo and she suffered yet another seizure. Frantically, I tried using the pointers I’d gleaned via Google, to no avail. It was obvious that she was sinking fast, and all I could do was hold her as she shuddered and sputtered. She never even gave me the chance to say good-bye.

We’ve been through so much together, and had so much fun, that I’m finding it hard to let her go. But maybe I’ll feel differently when her replacement arrives later this week.

Farewell 40GB iPod. There will always be a place in my heart for you.

Monday, April 23, 2007

"Another fine outing, pointing and shouting, 'Look, it's Baseball!'"

This weekend I went to my first baseball game of the season, and I’d just like to make one casual observation.

Adam Dunn has the worst musical taste in the majors.

Let me explain.

I have no idea if this is a normal occurrence at baseball games these days, or if the Reds are unusual, but as each player steps up to bat a snippet of player-selected music is played over the loudspeakers. Ryan Freel’s choice is the DNA Remix of “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega. No, I don’t know why. Do I care? No.

So anyway, back to Git-R-Dunn. The first time he stepped up to the plate, it was Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian.” [shudder]

The second time it was slaphead Phil Collins doing “In the Air Tonight.” So Adam, diggin’ those power ballads, are we?

The next time it was Billy bloody Joel’s “Big Shot.” ARGH! If there’s anything I hate more than 80’s power ballads, it’s ANYTHING by Billy Joel. I could happily live the rest of my life without ever hearing anything by that man again.

It’s no wonder the bastard struck out every time he stepped up to the plate Saturday night. I’d suck too if I’d chosen that tripe.

But I reckon I ought to look on the bright side. At least he didn’t pick something by Journey.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Now I can remember like it was only yesterday..."

iPod gave me a Back to the Future flashback this morning during my commute:

When I Write the Book – Nick Lowe
Super-Tuff - XTC
Unsatisfied - The Replacements
Deny – The Clash
Chemical Warfare – The Dead Kennedys
Farandole – Love Sculpture
A Question of Time – Depeche Mode

I miss doing Back to the Future on WOXY…

Thursday, April 05, 2007

"Magnify my soul for all to see..."

I hooked up with some old friends last weekend for a laughter-filled evening of booze and music. Barb & Dave have been living abroad for the past few years and only recently moved back to the states, so it was good to catch up with them and compare notes and giggle uncontrollably all night.

We kicked off the evening with Pogo at Hofbrauhaus, then wandered over to the Southgate House to check out the Black Angels/Vietnam/Lab Partners show.

We ran into TC and talked and hugged for eternities. I told him about seeing a dude in the queue wearing a t-shirt for The Record Store. Just as I finished telling him, the cat cruises by and we both called out to him. He turned, grinning, and started over, only to realize he didn’t know who we were, so he turned on his heel and stalked off. We burst out laughing. The poor schmuck had no idea he was in the presence of greatness.

As enjoyable as Lab Partners were (even if they omitted "Magnify" from their set), by the time Vietnam was into their third song it was getting unbearably hot in the ballroom, so we made our way upstairs and hung out in Junie’s Lounge, watching a sweet rockabilly band shake the house. Why there were tables in the lounge is mystifying. Everyone wanted to dance! That thumping stand-up bass and twangy guitar forced feet to move, whether or not the body was willing. It was a completely different crowd up there—dressed as if 1955 never ended—and it was so refreshing that we couldn’t stop laughing and smiling and shaking that thang.

Back down the stairs to the ballroom, we were greeted by a blast furnace when we opened the doors and stepped into the inky darkness. The Black Angels took the stage a few minutes afterward, amazingly cool in the sweltering heat. Their mesmerizing drone captivated and enthralled, and for awhile we all forgot about the heat.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"It's about time we begin it, to turn the world around..."

WOXY, The Future of Rock & Roll, has entered the blogoshpere today by unveiling The Futurist, a blog that includes indie rock news, recaps of Lounge Act performances, MP3s, giveaways and a whole lot more.

Read the blog, listen to the best damned station on the planet, and fall in love all over again.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"It's more than a feeling when I hear that old song they used to play..."

I spent the summer of our nation’s bicentennial in the swimming pool. When not floating around on a Styrofoam chair in my own pool, I was over at Alicia’s doing cannonballs off the diving board.

Alicia’s family had an in-ground pool, a much coveted luxury in our neighborhood, plus she had the added bonus of being an only child. Trish and I greatly preferred swimming over there to suffering a swim with our brothers and their noisy, creepy gang of friends. Never mind that Alicia was younger than us. We were all kids. It didn’t matter.

Those endless summer days dawned sunny and bright. I can’t ever remember it raining during the summer of ’76, although surely it must have. Every morning we were up with the sun, antsy to get outside and into the water. I’d shimmy into an eggshell blue bikini with “Shake Your Booty” emblazoned across my rear and dash out the door, wriggling into an Andy Gibb t-shirt as I made my way down the hill and up the street toward Alicia’s. Trish and Alicia lived across the street from one another, their driveways in eternal face-off, and Alicia’s mom counted on me and Trish to keep an eye on Alicia during the day. We weren’t babysitting, as we considered Alicia our peer, and we earned no pay. Being poolside every day was payment enough.

We lived in the water with the radio blasting--the dial permanently set to WEBN. We had swimming races to the sounds of Led Zeppelin and Hall & Oates, played water volleyball to Fleetwood Mac, practiced our backflips to Boston. We dashed around the slippery edges, oblivious to danger, chasing each other with coiled wet towels while CSN&Y’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” blared out across the humid breeze. We’d ricochet off the diving board, our squeals of glee echoing around the block as the water exploded, sizzling, upon the baked concrete.

We tanned brown as biscuits, our hair a sun-bleached glossy white, and our ears gurgled with pool water sounding forever like moths frantically beating their wings against eardrums with each tilt of the head. We paraded across the clover-covered lawn wrapped in tatty Wonder Woman beach towels, laughing long and hard, doubling over, gasping for breath and suddenly needing to pee.

We would race across the street to Trish’s house for a bathroom break, then to mine for orange popsicles, the blacktop hissing hot and bubbly under our bare feet as we ran. Alicia’s mom always locked the house when she went to work, leaving Alicia to the mercy and goodwill of her friends. None of us ever gave it a second thought. That’s just the way it was.

Those scorching poolside days introduced us to bands that shaped our budding youth, and although our interest in them waned with the passing years, we never loved them more than we did in the summer of ’76.

Boston's epic first album was the soundtrack to that halcyon summer of blue, cloudless skies and shimmering heat mirages. Sometimes we caught “More Than a Feeling” on WEBN a dozen times a day, crackling out of the Realistic stereo that Alicia’s dad had installed in their Tiki bar at the side of the pool. We couldn’t get enough of that song and would have happily listened to nothing else given the chance. As each day bloomed brighter and hotter than the one before, so did our love for the band. We knew all the lyrics, and joyfully belted them out whenever the song came on. I got the 8-track through Columbia House Record Club and we played it on repeat so many times that the songs became muddied and warbled, the plastic casing puckering in the sticky heat.

The summer of ’76 was the last one we had as carefree, happy-go-lucky kids. We were invincible, inseparable and believed our heroes immortal. We assumed that life would march merrily along exactly the same as it did that last perfect summer. We had no idea that we were on the cusp of change, with puberty lurking stealthily around the corner, ready to pounce with acne, low self-esteem, heartbreak and loss of innocence.

And the heartbreak continues today for the loss of Brad Delp, lead singer of the band that gave us the soundtrack to our most idyllic, blissful summer.

“I looked out this morning and the sun was gone
Turned on some music to start my day
I lost myself in a familiar song
I closed my eyes and I slipped away…”

Has it really been 31 years since the Summer of '76?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye..."

Until I heard “Never Gonna Give You Up” playing in the background at a deli today, I’d nearly forgotten all about Shelly, the store’s biggest Rick Astley fan. For several years, coinciding with his ascent and self-imposed exile from popdom, every one of us must have talked to Shelly on the phone at least thrice weekly. She had it bad for Joey Lawrence too, but she could get a heady dose of Joey on TV each week, since he starred in the sitcom Blossom, but honey-voiced Astley was her Number One Heartthrob, and American television simply did not give her the fix she required.

Shelly loved Loved LOVED Rick Astley. Loved him as only the truly obsessive can. It got to be a running joke at the store that every time the phone rang we’d bet nickels on whether or not it was Shelly calling. This was in the days before caller-ID, but it wasn’t like we really needed caller-ID anyway. Usually one out of every ten calls turned up trumps, with Shelly barking out arcane Rick Astley questions at us.

Oh, we didn’t have to answer the usual stuff, like when the new single was being released, or what the next projected single was going to be, or whether or not the label was going to issue an extended dance remix. Nope, we had to answer questions about his house, what sort of dog he might have, what color were his eyes. Luckily for us, Philbert had the presence of mind to pick up a British teeny-bopper magazine he happened across at Books & Co. one day, after noticing that it had a two page q&a with the reluctant star. It was possibly the best three bucks we ever expensed to the store. We kept it filed with the special orders, within arms reach of the phone, should we have the misfortunate to answer her call.

Now as with many of our most memorable customers, there was something not quite right about Shelly, Rick Astley/Joey Lawrence obsession aside. We weren’t quite sure what was up with her, since our only contact with her was via telephone and she never stepped foot in our store in all the years I worked there, but after having dated a guy who had a brother with Downs Syndrome, I noticed a helluva lot of similar characteristics. There wasn’t anything wrong with her dialing finger though, let me tell you. A typical conversation with Shelly went something like this:

“Record Store, may I help you?”

“Ummmmmmmm. WhenisRickAstley’sbirthdaySNNNNNNNNNNnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn…..”

Shelly always took a deep breath right after the Ummmmmmmm, and whatever air was left over at the end of the sentence was expelled down the line via her nose. She must have kept those nostrils pressed right up against the receiver. It had a fat greasy sound, like sizzling bacon.

“Hi Shelly. Let’s see. Rick Astley’s birthday, huh?” we’d make idle chit-chat, stalling for time while we flipped through the tatty pages of Smash Hits.

Silence. She was holding her breath, waiting to see if we had the correct answer.

“February 6, 1966” we’d proclaim triumphantly, to which she’d exhale a strangled “thankyouSNNNNNNNNnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn….” and hang up. This sort of thing went on daily, and after awhile we all learned a multitude of esoteric Rick Astley facts. Like how he started out his career by preparing the tea for the British production team of Stock, Aitken and Waterman, and how he was “discovered” at age 19 singing in a band called F.B.I., and how he had two older brothers and one older sister. The magazine was so useful that the store eventually began importing it in via an indie distributor, usually a few weeks out of date but still chock full of enough Britpop nuggets that we developed a waiting list of special orders for it. If there was any Rick Astley trivia within the pages, the magazine was whisked across the street to Kinko’s for photocopying. In the course of several years, we built up a towering pile of Astley-related ephemera, all paid for on the store’s dime.

Reynolds used to really get into talking with Shelly. He could keep her on the phone longer than any of us, not that the rest of us tried very hard. But Reynolds was and is a people person, and if the store wasn’t busy when she rang, he’d lean on the glass showcase up front, thumbing through the pile of Smash Hits clippings, and occasionally making up his own Rick Astley Fun Facts, which he would scribble into the margins for the rest of us to follow in the event that we answered the phone and Shelly blasted the inquisition at us. He made up a Fun Fact about Rick Astley disliking Brussels sprouts, for instance. According to Reynolds lore, Rick Astley had also owned a Jack Russell terrier named “Alouishes” as a child, and his favorite drink was Tang.

He also managed to gain her trust enough to extract little innocent fantasies out of her, like how she wished the album sleeve for the “Hopelessly” single would come to life so she could brush the sand from his arm, and that his beige cardigan sweater looked so soft that she just wanted to touch it. And Reynolds would say something like, “Shelly, is that the only thing you’d like to touch?” and we’d all fall about ourselves in riotous laughter, while Reynolds scurried away toward the ticket booth with his hand cupped over the phone, lest she hear our howling and hang up. The one thing he never managed to wring out of her was her phone number. All of us had tried, unsuccessfully, to finagle her number so we could call her when we took shipment of new import 12” singles or Smash Hits magazines, but apparently Shelly had been warned by her parents not to give out their number, so she’d get angst-y and hang up on us whenever we asked for it. So each time any Astley-related memorabilia arrived, we’d simply slide it into a brown paper album bag with her name scrawled across, and place it with the special orders. I guess her parents used to stop by on their way to work early in the morning, before most of the staff had rolled out of bed, to pick up anything we had put aside for her. The Sav was the only person who ever interacted with them.

Shelly was absolutely shattered when Rick’s third album bombed. At first we tried to hide it from her, knowing what a fragile flower she was, but we couldn’t shield her from the horrible truth of Casey Kasem’s Top 40, when “Hopelessly” peaked at a sorry #31 and then fell away into obscurity. She was truly distraught and agitated, and ceased bellowing out trivia questions at us when she rang. Instead, she wanted to know how come we weren’t pushing the album harder. We were suddenly at fault for not forcing the album on the buying public. “HowcomenobodysbuyingRickAstleySNNNNNnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.”

Bless her, we didn’t have the answers she needed. What we did have, however, was Reynolds. We’d disclose his hours to her each week, so that she had his virtual shoulder on which to cry. He eased her through those rocky months, giving her encouragement by telling her what a special fan she was, and how it was true-blue fans like her that were the best fans, and how he was certain that Rick appreciated her love and support. He went from poking gentle fun to being dial-a-shrink. All those years of chit-chatting had bonded them, and he knew how real her heartache was, and he took it upon himself to do something about it.

He rounded all of us up and requested that we go on a little treasure hunt. We were to find anything and everything related to Rick Astley that we could. Reynolds rang the record label and import companies, I spoke to our various clothing and memorabilia distributors, and The Murphdiver scoured Goldmine Magazine for collectibles. A few weeks later, we’d managed a promotional t-shirt, some 12” singles, loads of promotional flats and posters, a keyring, a teacup with his face on it, a couple of buttons, and our piece de resistance: an autographed glossy 8x10. We boxed it all up, wrapped it in gaily decorated paper, and typed up a little thank you note on pink treble clef stationary, and forged Rick Astley’s signature on it. Then we clued in The Sav so that he could give the box of goodies to Shelly’s folks the next time one of them stopped in.

Her parents made a special trip to the store one evening a few weeks later to personally thank the staff—and in particular Reynolds—for our kindness. Our offhand gesture had made their daughter the happiest teenager on the planet.

Astley retired from the world of pop music shortly after Shelly took receipt of that package and soon Shelly likewise vanished from our lives, to be glimpsed only as a flashback in a downtown deli on a rainy afternoon.

Friday, February 23, 2007

"And I'll raze your faith until the vein is done and dry..."

I ventured out into the cold last night to let the exquisite Richard Buckner warm my soul at Southgate House. CR wasn’t interested in seeing him and doesn’t really know his music, so I went by myself. It was a weird experience to sit on my own the entire night with only a bottle of beer for company, but it didn’t make the show any less magical. I once was lost but now am found.

This is the third time I’ve seen him perform live, and each time has been a unique, rewarding experience. The first time I saw him he was still signed to MCA and was touring for Since. I cajoled Gazbot into going to Canal Street Tavern with me—even though he knew nothing about Buckner at the time-- and he was not disappointed. Neither was I, especially when he wandered by before the show and I went up and chatted with him. Now I’ll be the first to admit that he looks a bit intimidating and scary. He has a somewhat haunted look about him much of the time, and photographs only serve to enhance that somber, ominous appearance, but as we chatted his face broke out into a wide, glorious grin that completely brightened his entire being. Richard Buckner may not smile too often, but when he does, it will light up the darkest night; melt the coldest heart.

He had a lot to smile about back then. His album was getting decent airplay; his shows were well attended; he was garnering heaps of critical acclaim and was happily married to wife Penny, who accompanied him on drums.

When I saw him a year or two later, Penny had disappeared--the marriage over--and Buckner was achingly alone and spookily menacing on the Canal Street stage. He opened a suitcase full of noise and proceeded to turn all his beautiful ballads into screeching walls of feedback, and remade his up-tempo, jangly songs into funeral dirges. It felt as though he was exorcizing ghosts, and perhaps he was. I admit that my head hurt upon leaving the club, partly because I wasn’t ready for the noise, and partly because I couldn’t fathom the change.

Last night was the first time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him with a full band, as opening act Six Parts Seven sat in with him during the first half of the show. Theirs is a languid, shimmery sound, replete with a rippling organ, plucky banjo, bright trumpet (and on one song, a tuba!!), and a bassist who strums the instrument as one would a guitar, which resonated the club with a deep, rich mellowness. While they were on stage I noticed Buckner—a bit heavier, hairier, and grayer,--setting up his musical wares over in the opposite corner of the club. He’s grown a big, bushy beard since the last time I saw him, a cross between Grizzly Adams and an uneasy Jesus. I went over and thanked him for continuing to put out such lovely, sublime work, and the grin he unfurled my way dazzled to such a degree that I was sure the Rapture was at hand. The clarion call of the trumpet on stage only heightened the surreal, holy incident, and I scuttled away, cowering like a devil from the shadow of grace.

Buckner is a true lonesome troubadour. He doesn’t interact with the audience at all once he is on stage. He seems to go into a trancelike state: nothing else exists outside of a resonating voice and a couple of guitars. His eyes burn with a forlorn intensity; sadness and rage an onion skin from the surface. His songs meld seamlessly, a trick he first employed on 2000’s The Hill, with an effects pedal echoing as he tunes and retunes his way around the fret board. Then his whisky-soaked, ragged voice rings out with such heartbreaking clarity that the audience is transfixed, unable to take their eyes from the stage, afraid to move, afraid to applaud, afraid to breathe, lest it break the spell. It is transcendent.

Let the evangelicals have Jesus. I’ve already willingly accepted Richard Buckner as my one true lord and savior. Amen.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Today I made you a mix tape, and decorated it with lots of stars..."

Title: Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time
Author: Rob Sheffield
Publisher: Crown
ISBN: 978-0-307-35157-9 (0-307-35157-2)

For those of us who came of age prior to the digital revolution, mix tapes were our ultimate musical expression. Sure, technology has advanced to the point that creating a mix today is as easy as shuffling some songs on an iPod. But where is the soul in that? Even mix CDs leave something to be desired, because the creator is simply pulling a group of songs from a database and tweaking the running order before hitting the “burn” button. I guess one could argue the same about mix tapes, but tapes by their very nature are more physical. Making a mix tape takes time—the creator has to actively listen to each song as it is recorded, and oftentimes the very act of listening to a song inspires the follow-up song. The format demands your time and attention. It is easy to get lost for hours whilst creating a mix tape, for it isn’t an instant gratification arrangement, as any of us who sat in our rooms with albums scattered across the floor and our fingers on the pause button, can attest.

And although many of the themes are easily recognizable for seasoned mixers, (the road tape, the you-broke-my-heart-and-made-me-cry tape, the good-songs-from-bad-albums tape) Rob Sheffield’s book is not about making the perfect mix and all the subtle nuances that go with the territory. And while there are those that might argue the point, there are no hard and fast rules for making mixes. There are some who will insist that it is in bad form to put the same artist on a mix twice. Those types might also argue that Whitney Houston has no business sidling up next to L7, and that female singers should never be placed back-to-back, but you know what? The true beauty of mix tapes is that there are millions of songs out there, and infinite combinations in which to mix them. Mixes are highly subjective and intensely personal. So quash that inner music snob. It has no business ruining this beautifully poignant memoir.

The story begins with the discovery of a mix tape dating back to 1993. It has no track listing, but the author recognizes the curly, girlie scribble of the handwriting on its title and knows he’s in for another long night. As the hours roll by, he replays the cassette the girl created, releasing her ghost and letting each song guide his memory. "All these tunes remind me of her now. It's like that old song "88 Lines About 44 Women," only it's 8844 lines about one woman. We've done this before. We get together sometimes, in the dark, share a few songs. It's the closest we'll get to hearing each other's voices tonight."

Who among us hasn’t stumbled upon an old mix and given it another listen, just for old time’s sake? And are there any who haven’t been transported back to a certain place and time with the opening strands of a half-forgotten song? For Sheffield, the songs all circle back to Renée, the fun-loving, hell-raising Appalachian punk rocker who, in the short time they were together, coaxed him from his shy, hermetic existence, and got him “all tangled up” in her “noisy, juicy, sparkly life.”

Each chapter introduces another mix tape, from the Radio Mixes created as a spotty ‘70’s kid immersed in Top 40 radio, to college mixes, to those found after Sheffield became a writer for Rolling Stone magazine. Along the way myriad friends, school mates, neighbors, and ex-girlfriends are brought vividly into focus via the power of music-provoked memories, none moreso than the lovingly detailed, bittersweet reminiscences of the effervescent Renée.

It was the music on those mix tapes that brought Sheffield and his muse together, encouraged their romance, and kept them together though they were worlds apart. He was a “shy, skinny, Irish-Catholic kid from Boston,” and she southern born and bred, “warm and loud and impulsive.” He fell hard for her: "I thought, there is nowhere else in the universe I would rather be at this moment. I could count the places I would not rather be. I've always wanted to see New Zealand, but I'd rather be here. The majestic ruins of Machu Picchu? I'd rather be here. A hillside in Cuenca, Spain, sipping coffee and watching leaves fall? Not even close. There is nowhere else I could imagine wanting to be besides right here in this car, with this girl, on this road, listening to this song. If she breaks my heart, no matter what hell she puts me through, I can say it was worth it, just because of right now. Out the window is a blur and all I can really hear is this girl's hair flapping in the wind, and maybe if we drive fast enough the universe will lose track of us and forget to stick us somewhere else."

The mixes find him chasing phantoms, however, for all the greatest love stories are tinged with tragedy, and theirs is no exception. Not only does he chronicle the music that brought them together, but also the music that held him together when the rest of his world fell apart. Renée’s presence looms large on each page and every song, while he struggles to relearn how to listen, because the music they shared together just isn’t the same when half of him is missing.

“Love is a Mix Tape” is a beautifully written, honest and heartbreaking reflection of life, and loss, one song at a time.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Through the darkness we still speed, my white bicycle & me

Title: “White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960’s”
Author: Joe Boyd
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail (4 May 2006) (UK only)
ISBN: 1852429100

Reviewed for Randomville

When I heard that Joe Boyd was writing a memoir I was immediately intrigued. The co-founder of London’s short-lived but heavily influential UFO Club, Boyd was right in the thick of the 60’s cultural revolution, giving UK underground bands like Tomorrow, Soft Machine, Procol Harem and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown their big break. The UFO Club is probably best known, however, for their revolutionary light shows and for booking Pink Floyd at all-night concerts called “Night Trippers,” and where Syd Barrett had his on-stage complete mental breakdown.

Boyd started off his career as a concert promoter while still a student at Harvard University, promoting blues artists. Eventually landing himself a position as road manager for a traveling blues show, he first visited England in 1964 and moved there full time the following year to establish an overseas office for Elektra Records. Although Boyd was in the midst of the psychedelic 60’s, his real passion was folk and blues, and he became one of the major movers ’n shakers of the British folk scene. He was there when Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival and was, in fact, one of the contributing factors in Dylan’s decision. He founded Witchseason Records and signed a multitude of talent, including Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band, John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny and Nick Drake. His deft production of Drake’s Five Leaves Left album is what originally drew me to seek out more of Boyd’s production work, which includes R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction and Billy Bragg’s Worker’s Playtime, and his mentor status with Drake (chronicled in the Nick Drake biography by Patrick Humphries) made wanting to read his own account very appealing to me.

He’s got all the makings for a fabulous story and the book “White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960’s” should be a real page-turner. But for all his production acumen and wildly interesting life, Joe Boyd is simply not a very good writer. There is no chronology to the book—he skips and jumps all over place and time, which tends to make for a dreadfully disjointed read. Nor are there any real revelations in the book. He leaves juicy vignettes dangling all over the place but rarely comes through with the full, meaty story. I understand that perhaps he is simply being discreet due to the nature of his allegiance to so many artists, but the reader is left with the feeling that there is a whole lot more Boyd could be telling us, in his own incoherent way.

The book’s title takes its name from a song by UFO Club mainstay Tomorrow, in which lead singer Keith West recounts the glories of the free transportation Amsterdam’s white bicycles afforded in the halcyon summer of 1964. Much like the White Bicycle Plan, which collapsed within months of its inception due to rampant theft, Boyd’s book is filled with lofty ideals and goals, but leaves the reader feeling robbed and sorely disappointed.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A perfect circle of aquaintances and friends...

There are a number of folks with whom I trade CD mixes. And of those who trade with me, there are a handful whose mixes are always entertaining, inspiring, and perfect in every way. These are the mixes I play over and over, because the music flows well and offers not only great music, but also insight into the person who made the mix.

One of my mix-trade buddies died in a fire early this morning. He was 34.

Stop Your Crying-Spiritualized
Nothing hurts you like the pain of someone you love
There ain't nothing you can gain that prepares you enough
Come on baby stop your crying
Come on baby stop your crying now
Nothing hurts you like the pain of someone you care about
If I could take it all myself you know I sure would without a doubt
Come on baby stop your crying
Come on baby stop your crying now
Nothing hurts you like the pain of someone so close to you
I feel so broke inside but I'll devote my life to loving you
Come on baby stop your crying
Come on baby stop your crying now

jspacemen3 will live on forever in those perfect mixes he made for me.

See you on the B-side, Sean. I'm a better person for having known you.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"Look What the Cat Dragged In..."

One of The Sav’s old drug buddies from the store’s mid-70’s glory days happened to be an A&R guy with Capitol, so over the years we had a lot of Capitol acts make in-store appearances. The first in-store I ever worked was for hair metal band Poison, at the time signed to Enigma, which was a subsidiary of Capitol.

Had The Sav realized that Poison was a bunch of dudes, he’d probably never have asked for a booking, but The Sav was convinced the band, with names Bret, Rikki C.C. and Bobby, were chicks. Hot chicks.

The night before the album was released, The Sav stood at the front counter gawking at the album sleeve and fanning himself. Whenever he was hot and bothered he always fanned himself whilst tugging on the fourth button on his shirt. It was one of his many quirks. Sometimes he fanned himself when he was angry with one of us, but usually he fanned himself whenever good looking girls were in the store, or when he was checking out the centerfold of High Times magazine.

So The Sav fanned himself for a bit before showing the album sleeve to Reynolds and Tom. “Check out this hot band!” he mouthed conspiratorially so that I wouldn’t hear. Tom and Reynolds both looked at the cover and then at each other, puzzled. No one had heard of Poison at that time, but the guys were pretty sure they were looking at glam rocker dudes rather than hot chicks. The Sav pointed to the top left hand corner of the album and said “I’d do her in a heartbeat!”

Reynolds snatched up another copy of the album and flipped it over to read the back. “Greg, I don’t think these are chicks,” he said, shaking his head. “One of them is named Bret Michaels. That sounds like a guy name to me.” Tom agreed, picking up a third copy to peruse. The Sav was having none of it. “No, these are definitely girls. Look at the lips on this one—that’s all girl right there. And have you never heard of Bret Ekland?” So the guys did what was expected of them, which was to let his bastardization of Britt Ekland go and deviously agree with him that yes, Poison were hot chicks.

Tom caught up with me at the back of the store and relayed the news, to which we had a good laugh. Naturally I went along with their assessment when The Sav showed the album sleeve to me and asked the question. “Well they certainly look like girls to me!” I admitted, although like Tom and Reynolds, I was fairly certain they were guys.

The Sav had his Capitol contact on the phone the next morning to find out Poison’s itinerary. As luck would have it, they would be rolling through our neck of the woods in a few months, opening for Ratt at Hara Arena. The Sav immediately insisted that the band do an in-store before the gig, and Mr. A&R said he’d see what he could do.

By the time the Ratt/Poison tour made it to our city in January of 1987, everyone—The Sav included—knew they were guys. We’d been selling the album moderately well since its August release and The Sav had it in the evening rotation at the store, much to our chagrin. It was starting to drive us nuts.

Having never worked an in-store, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but The Sav and Philbert, both in-store veterans, warned me that it would be as manic as Christmas Eve, and much, much louder. The Sav had also informed us girls that we needed to “dress like rocker chicks” for the appearance, which was probably his own little fantasy, or possibly because he hated my normal thrift store attire and faded Chuck Taylor’s. I borrowed a fringed leather top and a pair of zebra print spandex tights, and I was ready to go. Jenny, I noticed, paid no mind to The Sav’s pervy suggestion and came in wearing a pink Oxford shirt with the collar flipped up, and baggy jeans.

Fans began lining up hours before the scheduled appearance. We employees had to remove all the Poison albums from the shelves and stack them up on the front counter, so that fans wishing to purchase a copy could do so without having to fight through the crowd. It also meant that less than honest fans would not get a five-finger discount by slicing one open during the melee and pretending they’d bought it. We made sure to open and remove the shrink-wrap from each album we sold before handing it over, in an effort to keep the store clear of debris.

Jenny and I spent the morning decorating the back of the store, plastering Poison posters and flats over every available surface. The guys dragged in the stools and dusty tables from the back hallway, wiped them down and we draped posters all across the front and around the sides, like lip-gloss glam table skirts. We opened several boxes of Sharpie markers and placed them strategically on the ledges behind the tables, within easy reach of the band when they arrived, then sat back on our heels and waited for the mad rush.

By 4 p.m. the store was heaving with fans. The queue stretched the length of the store, out the door and halfway around the building. People were freezing outside and starting to get antsy. We’d been blasting the album non-stop for the last two hours, and already my nerves were as frayed as that stupid leather top.

After Mr.A&R rang from the arena to say the band was finished sound checking and was on their way, The Sav sent Philbert through the back hallway to wait at the emergency exit door for the band to arrive. The Sav and his buddy had done enough in-stores together over the years that things ran like clockwork. Even the fans at the back of the building didn’t realize when the band arrived, because they had been loaded into a non-descript white rental van. Not very glamorous for the guys, but extremely discreet.

I don’t remember a lot about the actual in-store because I was working the front checkout, selling shedloads of Look What the Cat Dragged In to rabid fans, but I do remember how friendly and down to earth the guys were after we’d cleared everyone out and they did some shopping. C.C. Deville was the only one who we felt was stuck-up, because he didn’t talk to anyone and wouldn’t take off his stupid mirrored sunglasses, but later on I found out that he had been nursing a severe cold brought on by the freezing midwestern weather.

Two months after their in-store appearance at our store, the album was exploding off the shelves, thanks to the single “Talk Dirty to Me” receiving heavy rotation on MTV.

Bret Michaels ended up dating a Middletown girl named Susie just after the in-store. I’m unsure whether or not they met in the store that day, but for years afterward, whenever the two of them were in town visiting her family, or when Poison was in town for a show, Bret would always stop by the store to shop and say “Hi.” He told us he’d never forget the store that took a chance on them before they were famous.

If he’d only known…