I do my best not to crow and gloat too much about the Yankees winning the world series. I'm pretty sure that more people hate the Yankees than love them and that's fairly understandable. Jason Victor, he of the guitar pyrotechnics of all things Miracle 3, wonders how in the world I can be a Yankee fan. And I see his point. They're the richest team in baseball, they solve their problems by throwing more and more money at them. And, in general, it works although it had been an unbearable 9 years since the last championship. I saw an editorial in the New York Times last Sunday (by Ari Fleischer of all people) pointing out that the Yankees have won all of their World Series championships in the last 50 years under Democrat US presidents (two under JFK, two under Carter, four more during Clinton and finally the most recent in the first year of the Obama administration). I love that stat.
But that's over now, closing a chapter on a year in which I paid more attention to baseball than I had anytime since I was in my teens. It had become my job, after all. Or so I told myself as I would sit on the couch and watch baseball through much of the Spring before hitting the road in August for 2 months of singing about the sport. You can only imagine the things that I have deemed to be tax write-offs this year. Now it's mid-November, there's a definite chill in the New York air and it's time to look ahead. Lucky for me, I'm not much of a basketball or football fan so I can breeze through the sports section in less than 5 minutes every day.
And what's ahead? I'll be starting/finishing new records with The Baseball Project and the Miracle 3, both of which will see the light of day in 2010. Funny. My spell-check doesn't recognize "records." I guess that term went out after the 20th Century. But it does recognize "spell-check." Self-serving bastard! Oh, and after years of trying to make it happen, it looks like "Medicine Show" will be reissued with a shiny new master, bonus tracks and extensive liner notes sometime this Spring.
New songs, new music, new recording necessitates new inspiration. Here are some recent favorite things:
Every major city punk rock scene had it's one or two promoters who got the ball rolling. You've got your Malcolm McLarens and your Tony Wilsons in the UK, you've got your Hilly Krystals in New York, Dirk Dirksens in San Francisco. And in LA that person was definitely Brendan Mullen. Now, I should point out that I was either lucky or unlucky enough (depending upon how much you believe that ends do truly justify means) to leave my hometown for the University of California in Davis from 1977 to 1980, completely missing the glory days of the Masque, the punk rock hovel that Brendan founded, booked and maintained. When I came back the club was closed, many of the scene's stars (outside of X, of course) had already faded away and the scene was in tatters. But Brendan continued to book shows at Club Lingerie and other places and was still the patriarch of Hollywood coolness. I was very excited when he booked the Dream Syndicate for our first show ever, opening for Brian Brain (a PIL spin-off and a pretty big deal that week) after we had only been together for 3 weeks. Of course, we mostly got the gig because we were the New Band of Dennis Duck (who was a local star with Human Hands). Whatever, we got the gig and played our first show to a packed room (that's a photo from the show on the cover of our first EP).
We continued from there and got more popular, became The Hip Band In Town, played a bunch of shows but were never booked again by Brendan at the Lingerie. It wasn't for lack of trying. I couldn't figure it out. Finally, about six months after that first gig, I ran into Brendan at a party. We had both had more than a few drinks. I went up to him and asked, "Why haven't you booked us again at your club?" He looked at me and answered, "because you're a third rate Velvet Underground rip-off band." I laughed, admired his honesty and that was that. He did end up booking us again at the Lingerie many times after that.
Brendan died suddenly this week at the age of 60. By all accounts, he was in great health. He was a good guy and had boundless energy and faith for the music he loved. And he booked our first show. RIP Brendan Mullen.
I'm sitting on the couch at home in New York and watching the Vikings against the Packers. Linda is a few feet away, sewing and cheering for Brett Favre. That alone is disorienting. It's also disorienting that she's sitting to my right. In the van she was always on my left. This is how I know I'm no longer on tour, not to mention the fact that Taqueria Del Fonda just delivered a big order of chilate (spicy chicken soup). That never happened in the van.
So, it's established that we're not in the van, no longer on tour, no longer anywhere near Scott or Peter or Andre or Chloe or Mary, our traveling companions over the last six weeks. And yet I'm still writing what I like to call my "tour diary." This is very confusing. I guess now it's officially a "home diary," even though I'm going to wrap up the events of the tour.
Austin was a great end to a great tour. We played an extra-long show to an extra-packed Continental Club, whipping out a spontaneous version of Doug Sahm's "She's About a Mover" while Clara the bartender danced and shimmied to my right. I can't believe that Peter, Scott and Linda had never played that song before. They could have fooled me. We ended up at an all-night Mexican bakery eating breakfast burritos (hey, the sun was almost up!) at 3am. Most of the other patrons had been at the show.
The next day Linda and I were finished, civilians, off the clock. But our bandmates were still on tour, switching over to one of the other musical guises as 2 of Robyn Hitchcock's Venus 3, switching instruments in the process. They were fantastic. It was good to see them play from the front. It was good to see and hear Peter play through the Goodsell amp I had been playing through for the entire tour (it really IS an amazing amp), it was great to hear Scott laying down some killer bass lines as battery mate with the elegant Bill Rieflin. By 9pm we were eating (yet more) Mexican food, sipping margaritas and using the last of our flagging energy to trade stories and laughs and bits of guacamole. By noon the next day we were off in different directions and the tour was over. The tour is dead. Long live the tour.
So, that's it. We'll be getting back together again early next year to finish the new album. In the meantime, Scott and Peter will do more shows with Robyn and record a new REM album, Scott will also tour with the Young Fresh Fellows in Spain, Linda will play in her new Blondie cover band and I will finish writing songs for the new Miracle 3 record that we'll be making early next year. In other words, lots of music lies ahead. But in the meantime, it's nice to enjoy the simple pleasures of being home. Let's see….the thrill of the 162nd games by the Tigers and Twins that left them both in a dead tie. Or a great show by Lucinda Williams at Irving Plaza (I just can't call it the Fillmore). Or hearing the amazing new Yo La Tengo album or getting ready to see the new Coen Brothers movie. All delights of being home (not to mention the Manhattan Autumn weather, an annual gift for enduring the stifling humidity of Summer).
All of these things are great. It's good to be home. But, as always, all it takes is a few weeks at home and I'm ready to hit the road again. Over 100 years of combined touring for our four-piece combo and we still love it. And that's why more tours lie ahead and that means-you guessed it-more tour diaries. Thanks for reading along and for all of your kind comments. See you down the road.
Welcome back to the weekend edition of the tour diary. The tour is over. Long live the tour. And there are tales to tell. Oh yes, there are tales to tell. A wild, triumphant finale in Austin. You want go-go-dancers on stage? We've got 'em. You want the story of our bandmates rocking the Austin City Limits festival with Robyn Hitchcock. Got it. How about a very touching Daniel Johnston performance? Got that too. And we'll be counting down the top 3, best-to-worst Mexican food experiences in the Texas capitol city (Casey Kasem inflection on the last sentence is optional). But you'll have to wait for all that until I get home on Sunday. In the meantime, enjoy some photos from recent days. You can make your own captions, much like those New Yorker cartoon competitions. Go ahead. Knock yourself out. And thanks to Sonya Forman, Chris McKay and Jonathan Lee for the fine photos. Me? I've got bags to pack and a plane to catch. See you all at the end of the weekend.
The original plan was to play our show in New Orleans and then spend the following day off driving to Austin. In theory, that plan would make good touring sense. It's a nine hour drive to Austin and nobody likes a long drive followed immediately by a show. But this was a different story. This was New Orleans. And we, like many of you out there, love New Orleans. It's a city ruled by good food, good music, good nightlife and a place where the clock is of almost no importance. We knew that New Orleans was the place to spend our day off, long drive to Austin be damned!
We checked into the Omni Royal Orleans hotel on Tuesday night at 7pm, just a few hours before our show at One-Eyed Jack's. The hotel had previously been known simply as the Royal Orleans and that indeed is the same name as the Led Zeppelin song from "Presence." The band used to stay at the hotel and one look at the rooftop pool and adjoining bar suggests a suitable site for very debauched archetypically 70's adventures. It's impossible to compete with the Zep (and that, my friends, is how we have outlived John Bonham) but 2am did find me, Linda, Andre and our local pal Rich trying to break into the pool area which had closed a few hours earlier. We did not succeed.
Now, the décor at One-Eyed Jack's would also suggest debauchery. Something between a whorehouse and a speakeasy, the club has a very nice gold velvet curtain behind the band and a wonderful bar up front. Linda and I had seen Rudy Rae Moore (a.k.a. Dolemite) there a few years ago when the club was called the Shim Sham. It was one nasty show. Let's put it this way: "Ted Fucking Williams" would have been the cleanest song in his set. I have to be tired. We were exhausted. But we soldiered through one long set and entertained both the audience and ourselves.
But you want to hear about food. I can hear you cry, "tell us about the food." Okay, everybody, back it down. We all slowly came to life around noon on Wednesday and it was time to enjoy a day of leisure, gluttony and commerce. We began at the Napoleon House, thankfully just a few strides from our front door. The table was covered with muffalettas (a local sandwich specialty featuring various cold Italian cold cuts and an olive spread), roast beef po-boys, shrimp remoulade and a cocktail called a Pim's Cup (gin, 7-up and cucumber). The food and libations put us in the mood for a stroll through the Louisiana Music Factory, one of my favorite record stores in the US. Almost everything they carry is local and you won't find a better selection of New Orleans music anywhere in the world. (they have a great website-check it out). I picked up volumes 4 and 5 of the great "Funky Funky New Orleans" series. Andre got a John Fred and the Playboys compilations that I need to check out before this drive is over.
Long naps followed. I hate to sleep for even an hour in such a great city but we'd had a pretty intense pace in the last week. And the main event lied ahead: dinner at Cochon, a favorite of Peter, Scott and Chloe from previous trips in town with REM. The restaurant is a spin-off of Herbsaint, one of the highest rated of the newer restaurants in town. It was amazing. We spent almost three hours there, telling stories, having some laughs, trying almost everything. You should go there when you're in town. That's all I can say. Everything was good. Go online and check out the menu. We ordered most of it. And it was all good. My personal favorite was probably the paneed pork cheeks with goat cheese arugula and beet rosti.
At that point Peter and Andre and Chloe had had enough and retired to the hotel. It was the right thing to do with an 8am wakeup call and the long drive and Austin show ahead. But Scott, Linda and I were on a mission to have the last drink at Donna's, a club on Rampart Street that features some great local music far off the tourist circuit. Sadly, the club was closed but we ended up at Laffite's Blacksmith Shop, bellied up to the piano bar where we were entertained by a woman who had made a jazz folk rock record in LA (and I have been using all of my Google skills to find her name to no avail-all I could find was a mention of the "slightly sad piano player" on one review site) in the 1970's. She played a few of her old songs, told some interesting and often bitter tales of her adventures in the music business (two words that really shouldn't go together, if you ask me) and played some tearjerking renditions of "Deacon Blues," and "This Masquerade" among many others, investing more emotion in lines like "they've got a name for the winners in the world, I want a name when I lose" than you will normally hear in a piano bar. It was a perfect, poignant end to the evening.
After all that, morning came much too quickly but I acted on the advice of my friend Mary Herczog (check out her various guides to New Orleans before your next trip-you couldn't have a better adventure planner for your trip) and went to Johnny's Po-Boys to load up for our trip. And now I am looking at a bag containing crawfish, catfish and turkey po-boys (not all mixed together-you think we're nuts?) and a muffaletta as well as some bread pudding. And that means it's time to stop typing and move into lunch mode. Gotta stock up on the fuel for our last show tonight in Austin.
THIS JUST IN-Scott just found our piano bar late night serenading queen. Her name is Angelle Trosclair and sure enough she did make an album in the mid-70s and we did hear several of those songs last night. Here's the cover:
Chapel Hill Show
You should have been there. We played at the 40 Watt in Athens last night, one of our many "hometowns" on this tour. It was already determined that we would get Mike Mills on stage for some songs. After all, he was our quite able pinch hitter when Peter was unavailable for our Spanish festival show last month. Mike began the second set with us, adding guitar, bass and vocals on "Past Time," "Ted Fucking Williams" and "The Yankee Flipper," turning our hardball tunes into a triple guitar rock roar. But the big surprise of the night was when Bill Berry got up on stage with us for the encore, joining Mike, Scott, Peter, Linda and me for raucous versions of "The Ballad of John and Yoko," "Hang On Sloopy" (Bill on drums, Linda on percussion) and "Teenage Head" (Linda on drums, Bill on percussion). I hear that Bill doesn't go out to all that many shows and I'm pretty sure that he has only played a handful of times with Peter and Mike in recent years so it was certainly a real treat to be up there while that was all going down. I'm sure it's already up on YouTube-there were a lot of cameras hovering close to the stage.
Athens is known for it's music scene (and college sports although I did not spot Herschel Walker in the house) and the audience was loaded with musician pals such as David Lowery, Patterson Hood (who got on stage with us for "Revolution Blues"), David Barbe, Richard Buckner and Michael Stipe. Needless to say it was a late night leading into an early morning that finds us in the van on a 10 hour drive to New Orleans. You can be very sure that some good tales of food, late night fun, road stops and even music lie ahead. Hmmm...I think I'd better catch up on sleep during the trip. Good thing I'm not driving. Go Andre Go!
Who's going to complain about short drives? Not this guy, that's for sure. But this rare brief van excursion (a mere 90 minutes from Atlanta to Athens) means that I will somehow have to combine diary writing, book reading, sports page perusing, van napping, water guzzling, various band van banter and CD listening into a little more than an hour. Think I can do it? I would bet against me but I don't end up like Pete Rose and get banned from future van activities. We do have some very strict laws in this league.
But there's so much to say. First of all, work is being done as I type these very words to get the Chapel Hill show our there for all of you to hear (there is already a Dime A Dozen version out there but I know that site is not always easy to access for non-members). And I hope that someone documented last night's show in Atlanta as well. One definite highlight for me was getting Jeff Schultz on stage to introduce "Harvey Haddix." Jeff and I were buddies at University High School in Los Angeles and were fellow sportswriters for both the high school paper and the Santa Monica Evening Outlook. By 1978 my sportswriting days were finished (torn rotator typing finger injury, I believe) but Jeff went on to be a superstar columnist. Check out his articles (including one about this very tour) at the Atlanta Journal Constitution (www.ajc.com).
We also employed the iPhone, once again, to lead us to good food on the road. We were approaching Charlotte, North Carolina and craving soul food in a big way. A few touches of the screen and we were sitting at Mert's Heart and Soul. Incredible. One of the best soul food meals I've ever had and great music besides ("(Are You Ready) Do the Bus Stop" by the Fatback Band was a highlight). Definitely worth a stop when you're within, say, 500 miles of North Carolina.
I could go on about all kinds of things but I see that Athens is rapidly approaching and I have to finish "War and Peace" and listen to the entire back catalog of Howlin' Wolf before we get there. More stories to follow tomorrow on a MUCH longer drive.
It's Sunday. Time to get some rest. I'm not going to tell you all about last night's show at the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill. I'm not going to tell you that we all agreed it was one of the best shows of the tour. I'm not going to tell you that we had the chance to drink Brooklyn Pennant Ale at the Milltown Bar before the show with the good people of Yep Roc Records, our US label. I'm not going to tell you what a pleasure it was to give them a sneak peak of some of the songs from the next record. I'm not going to tell you that Peter scored at a local record store (Millennium! Every Brothers! Jimmy Webb!) and that I'm now reaping the benefits as I check them out in the van. I'm not going to tell you how jealous I am that Andre was able to sneak out and get some good local soul food before the show. I'm not going to tell you how much we're all pulling for Linda's Minnesota Twins as they try to gain ground on the Detroit Tigers as the season quickly runs out of time. I'm even not going to tell you how exciting it was to have Peter Holsapple join us on stage for the encore, giving us the three-guitar attack on "Teenage Head," "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White" and "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (but I do hope you get to see that on YouTube). I'm not going to tell you the very amusing story about how Peter B first met Peter H in 1974 at a Roy Wood's Wizzard concert in Atlanta long before they played together in REM.
No. I'm not going to tell you any of these things. I'm going to listen to the pile of interesting CDs that have accumulated (current fave; Light So Bright, the debut record by Fairlaine, the project of Bob and Hayley Rupe), read the New York Times articles I downloaded this morning (I always look forward to Frank Rich on Sunday Morning), dive back into Joe Pernice's incredible debut novel and even get a little bit of sleep. And I'm not going to tell you about any of those things, especially the sleep. I mean...how would I know?
Uh oh. I think I've already told you too much. Instead I will leave you with these fine photos that our pal Steffen Paulus took in Toronto 2 weeks ago. We were all much younger then.
Sometimes the best shows come under the most difficult of circumstances. We were all pretty exhausted yesterday as we pulled into Arlington, Virginia for our show at the Iota, dragged down by the cumulative effects of long drives, lengthy shows and very little sleep the night before. And then we hit the stage at 9:30 only to find that Scott's Telecaster had been overtaken by gremlins who had installed themselves in the 2 hours since sound check. Poor Scott. That's never fun and it took a few songs to get sound from his rig (that's rock talk-you can use it at your next party) while Peter, Linda and I worked up an impromptu raga version of "When You Smile." But once Scott was up and running, he was Up And Running which is to say we caught fire, got loud, got wild and played the most rocking, unhinged show of the tour. It was fun to play Gutterball's "Trial Separation Blues" with Bob Rupe, the man who played bass on the original recording, watching on from the audience. And we're pretty sure that we might have played the fastest version of "Strychnine" in history. If only the Sonics had access to Red Bull.
And now it's a new day. And we're newly rested, rejuvenated, jacked up, happy and sassy. But old habits die hard and we greeted the noon hour (i.e. the new day) with another stop at the Waffle House. The Baseball Project (hearts) the Waffle House. The country ham steak is a popular favorite. But today I rolled the dice and tried the "hash browns, covered, peppered and topped."-hash browns with onions, chili and jalapeno peppers. You can also get them "smothered" (with cheese) as Linda chose. And then there's "diced" (tomatoes), "chunked" (diced ham) and some word for when they add mushrooms. Linda suggests "shroomed," but that's a completely different thing. And you can get All The Way which is, of course, EVERYTHING. Nobody has ever ordered that in history since, as we all know, that moment would bring on the apocalypse and then there would be nobody left to pay the bill or choose the Waffle House song on the jukebox.
What do members of The Baseball Project do on their day off while on tour. Why, they go to a stadium, of course (much the way, I suppose, that Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez go to a nightclub on THEIR nights off). Last Sunday it was the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. And with a night off yesterday in New York, the four of us along with Peter's girlfriend Chloe and her cousin Eileen went to East Rutherford, New Jersey to see U2 play at Giant's Stadium. I hadn't been to a stadium show since I saw The Who share a bill with Rufus, Little Feat and the Steve Gibbons Band (ah, the 70's!) at Anaheim Stadium in 1975. And this was a nice time to jump back into the world of the Big Big Big Rock Show. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical of how a rock band could sound in a place made for sporting events but this is actually the natural element for the king size sound, ambitions and personas of U2. I'm sure the show has been dissected and documented many times over so there's no need for me to play rock critic here. But I will say that standing on the field with Linda and Scott, holding plastic bottles of Miller and listening to "Beautiful Day" while 65,000 people sang along was one of my favorite music moments of the year.
This is a good chance to say thanks to our pal Julie for hooking us up with the tickets as well as the police escort (at this point, I'm beginning to think that New Jersey is synonymous with police escorts) back to Manhattan for the after-party (must that be hyphenated? Must check) at the Ace Hotel in the Garment District. There was an open bar, a bizarre mix of snacks (almonds, pork rinds and caramel corn, all neatly packaged in individual plastic bags) and the chance to interact with actual Stars in their own natural environment. I guess the big names would be Kanye West, Jon Bon Jovi, Mary Louise Parker and Peter Sarsgaard but I was happiest to have the chance to talk to Jerry Harrison who played in two of my all-time favorite bands (Talking Heads and Modern Lovers). When this kind of stuff is not your everyday life it can be amusing and also leave you very, very tired when you have to get up the next day for a drive to Washington DC.
We've also actually played our OWN music since the last diary entry. Our show at the Bowery Ballroom was everything a homecoming (for me and Linda, anyway) should be. Lots of friends, a show mixed with equal parts ferocity, spontaneity and swagger and also the chance to expand our ranks to include Miracle 3 hotshot Jason Victor on guitar. The plan was to have Jason come up and join us at the end of the first set on "Lies Of The Living Dead" and "Amphetamine" but Scott had other plans when Jason brought his Jazzmaster on stage. "Let's play something he doesn't know," said Scott. I thought he was kidding but moments later we were playing "Ichiro Goes To The Moon" (from the upcoming album) and Peter stood face to face with Jason, telling him the chords as we went along. I didn't hear any mistakes. Nicely done, Jason.
I'm typing this from home but it's almost time to jump into a cab and rejoin the band and our trusty silver van downtown. What did Bono say last night? "We brought our own spaceship but we're not going anywhere without you." Yes, exactly, Mr. Vox.
Last night at the Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts was one of the longest shows of the tour. We started at 9:30 and played until we hit the club's curfew and the lights were beginning to come on sometime around 12:30. Peter began resembling the devil as he tried to get us to ignore the curfew and keep playing until either (1) every patron had left (2) the cops had arrived or (3) our limbs began to fall off and our vocal chords had been reduced to something resembling the beef jerky I saw at the last road stop. We avoided all three options and signed some posters and CDs and mixed with old pals as the club began nervously pushing everyone towards the exit.
Here, to the best of my recollection, is what we played last night:
We joked earlier in the tour that this band has quite a few "hometown gigs." On this tour you could say that Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, St. Paul, Atlanta, Athens and tonight's gig in New York City would all qualify as homecoming shows. That's the secret to touring success! Live in (or be from) as many places as possible and every show will be packed to the rafters. All I know is that Linda and I will be collecting mail, getting clean clothes, dropping off items accumulated on tour and sleeping in our own apartment tonight so that sounds like home to me.
Andre did us all a favor this morning by researching the best diners in Albany. It's way to easy too get lazy and end up at a Denny's or Iron Skillet merely because it's by the side of the Interstate and visible while driving. But on a morning like this when we actually have a little time and a short drive to the next destination it makes sense to make that first meal of the day (can you call it breakfast when it happens at 1pm? Of COURSE you can!) a special one. Andre shares our universal band enthusiasm for good, local food. He seemed very confident about the Miss Albany Diner and his choice was a winner. The diner was established in 1941, appeared in "Ironweed," and filled with character (and characters, for that matter). And it was hardly your average menu. Peter, Andre and I all went for the corned beef hash which we were told was "homemade, not from a can." Incredible. But Linda and Scott got the more adventurous choices. Linda had the diner's specialty, the Mad Eggs, which was essentially an Eggs Benedict with the hollandaise sauce replaced by a green curry. Trust me. It was amazing. Scott went for the Georgian eggs, which involved peanut sauce. It was all very good and the van ride to Boston is a very quiet, contented one at this moment.
We debuted "Buckner's Bolero," last night at Valentine's in Albany. One of my favorites of the new batch, the song is Scott's accounting of the events that led up to the Bill Buckner error in the 1986 World Series. If you're a baseball fan you know what I'm talking about. If not, it was one of the biggest and worst-time miscues in baseball history, a costly error that sadly defined an otherwise very impressive career. We were joined last night by our good pals Karen and Dave who moved from Jersey City a few years ago to the wilds of Niverville, just outside of Albany. I know they don't get many shows up there so they were glad to see our rolling circus in their own neighborhood. I wonder if they know about the Miss Albany diner. They should. Oh, and you should most definitely check out Karen's book "Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair With 50s Pop Music," one of my favorite music books of recent years.
Oh, and a quick note to those of you who felt compelled to defend the 3-Way chili of Cincinnati. I wasn't knocking the local specialty (it was actually quite good) but rather doing my best to protect you, dear readers from yet one more tale of epicurean extremism. But bear in mind: we're playing almost three hours a night and sometimes you just gotta order big and clean your plate.
Ah, the perks of writing a bunch of songs about baseball. We have parlayed The Baseball Project into free tickets for baseball games as well as the chance to meet some of the subjects and relatives of subjects on the record. Yesterday's day off gave us a chance to add to that list when we were given a private tour of the Cincinnati Reds' Hall of Fame and Museum, got 5 prime tickets for the game against the Marlins and had the chance to meet and talk baseball with Tom Browning, whose name is mentioned twice in "Harvey Haddix." Tom, who is mentioned in the song as one of the few pitchers to throw a perfect game-his was against my Los Angeles Dodgers-was happy to talk baseball and recount his famous game but seemed even more enthusiastic about his progress as a guitarist, learning to play barre chords and taking lessons from Alex Lifeson of Rush. Linda later made the very good point that we wanted to impress him with our baseball knowledge while he wanted to show that he too was a rocker. The Astroturf is always greener on the other side.
The night before we played at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky which is just across the river from Cincinnati. The building was built in 1812, was a regular hangout for Lincoln as well as the birthplace and home of John Thompson, the inventor of the Tommy Gun. It's a beautiful club (Linda and I had played there before in 2001-it was the first visit for Scott and Peter). We debuted a few of the new Baseball Project songs ("Ichiro Goes To The Moon" and "The Straw That Stirs The Drink," the latter an ode to the cocky swagger of Reggie Jackson) as well as a locally appreciated version of Scott's new "Pete Rose Way." And we also had our second visit from a local sportscaster when Reds TV commentator (and former major league pitcher) Chris Welch chatted with us during the break and then came on stage in the second set to dedicate "Harvey Haddix" to his former broadcasting partner, the late Joe Nuxhall (who, at 15, was also the youngest player in major league history). This is a good time to give a big thanks to the Reds' Michael Anderson for arranging all of these fine events during our stay in Cincinnati. He seems intent on us playing at the Great American Ballpark sometime in the near future. Here comes that stadium tour!
Again, thanks to all of you for your comments on my website (and a reminder to the MySpace readers to check out the diary at www.stevewynn.net and sign up for daily delivery). I'm glad you're enjoying the road stories and appreciate your concern. We will order a salad tonight in your honor. And, of course, the less said about Cincinnati's specialty, the 3-way chili, the better.
Welcome to the weekend edition of the tour diary. Taking a break from the harder hitting news stories of the week, we turn to the more whimsical human interest pieces. Let's take a look at this hotel marquis from the hotel next door to ours in Lexington, Kentucky. Man, those had better be some good biscuits. Ha ha. Funny signs. You could make a whole TV show out of these things.
And how about that Waffle House! Now, I know that some of you have posted your comments that express concern over our "road diet." And we appreciate your concern. So, I can tell you with virtually no candor or verification potential that we ordered off the menu and got the alfalfa sprouts, baby spinach and green tea essence omelet (egg whites only) at the House this morning. Oh, who am I fooling? Let's just say that none of us got the "All The Way Hash Browns" (coming soon to a theater near you) and that we did delight in seeing the waitresses singing along to the Waffle House songs on the jukebox. I mean, laughter is healthy, right?
I can't say enough about the show last night. To be honest, I was a little unsure about what to expect at a show that was listed in our itinerary as the "Christ of Church Oktoberfest." Right away, that title might seem like a contradiction. And I can tell you that the church-sponsored event was awash with beer, brats, gambling and quite notably a scruffy rock band that chose to encore with a song called "Ted Fucking Williams." Yes, it was a rowdy affair and one of the best audiences of the tour. I could tell that we were in for a good ride when we opened with the Flamin' Groovies' "Teenage Head" and more than a few of the audience members were singing along. It was a boisterous rocking crowd which took me by surprise in a city where I had never been before and was best known to me as the site of the Kentucky Derby.
We ended the night with pizza, aforementioned beer (stored in bourbon barrels giving the overall sensation of a gourmet boilermaker) and conversations with the locals. Even sold a decent amount of CDs, although quite possibly not enough to pay for a round of the local biscuits and gravy.
One of the unexpected pleasures of making The Baseball Project CD has been the chance to make a connection with some of the people we sang about. Linda and I met Jack McDowell ("The Yankee Flipper") when I played an acoustic show at the All-Star game Fanfest last year and he gave his thumbs-up (NOT "middle-finger-up") approval to Scott's song. And Marcia Haddix, the widow of "Harvey Haddix" has become an email correspondent and actually put up her own money to take out an ad for the CD in her local newspaper, telling us that Harvey would have liked the song, noting that it was "his kind of music." But last night in Louisville we made a very unlikely contact with one Jim Delehanty, the third cousin of "Big Ed Delanhanty" (note the different spelling). I say it's unlikely because we just wouldn't have thought that a song about an event that happened 106 years ago would have tendrils that stretched all the way to a gig on this tour. But there you go. Five Delahanty brothers made it to the major leagues and one of the descendents made his way to our gig (there he is in the photo with Scott!) Who knows? Maybe a relative of "Ted Fucking Williams" will come to our Boston show. I wonder if they'll share that same middle name.
We only did one set last night as we were sharing the bill with a few other bands, including old pal Tim Easton as well as Paul Birch. Oh, and did I mention that the show was at the St. Francis of Assisi church? I have actually played churches a few times before but I have to say that I have never had a Religious Reading and Meditation Room for a backstage before. There were some good books (as well as Good Books) but Linda, Andre and I chose to spend our pre-gig time over at Mike's Feed Store, a recommended barbecue joint down the street. Peter went CD shopping (a Bobby Darin box set and a Germs 7" single-nice scores!) and Scott checked out the sets by the other bands, something I had really honestly meant to do. Sometimes you just have to make the hard choices.
And the set? It was the reduced version of our regular show but it did include what Scott claimed to be the "worst version ever played" of Wilbert Harrison's "Kansas City" as well as a mercifully quickly aborted version of "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet." We did not play versions of "Ted Fucking Williams" or "Aw, Shit Man." Sometimes respect must be paid.
Oh, and I must point out that we made up for yesterday's fast food debacle when we hit the famous Louisville breakfast spot "Lynn's Paradise Café" (as seen on "Bobby Flay's Throwdown" on the Food Network, they proudly boast). The restaurant is a dizzying display of colors, kitsch, novelties and very very big plates of food. It's a good thing we play so hard on stage or else I would have worried about how it would have been possible for five people to make such short work of various eggs, grits, turkey, biscuits, ham, bacon, toast, gravy and dressing. On the other hand, I'm fairly certain that the van is getting a little worse mileage now on this ride to Lexington. A small sacrifice, to be sure.
PS.....Thanks to all of you who have been adding the very kind and very entertaining comments as well as all the readers who are coming over from the REM website (www.remhq.com) I'm glad to see these van-typed tales of music, food, baseball and road adventures are being enjoyed by you all (or y'all as they say down here in Kentucky)
When you're traveling in rural parts of the US with long drives ahead and no time to site down for a meal you're going to eat things you would never eat at home. Everybody in this van is a food enthusiast, eagerly hunting down that one dish in that one restaurant that will allow you to slip into a dreamlike state of satisfaction at the mere memory of the taste and complexity for many years that follow the last delicious bite. Well, this morning's fare would not fall into that category. With six hours ahead before a radio session and then a show in Louisville (my first time there) we all knew that the morning's gas stop in Western Pennsylvania would be the first and last chance for food of the morning. Here's the recap. Linda and I went over to McDonald's where we both got the McSkillet Burrito, a discovery of this tour and-I can't believe I'm saying this-not all that bad. We had instructions from Andre to bring back a McGriddle (wasn't he the first baseman for the Cardinals?) Peter went over to Burger King where he used his powers of persuasion to get them to bypass the breakfast-only rules and serve up a burger for him. Scott went into the gas station shop and after much consideration settled on a granola bar (today's winner in the Almost-Healthy sweepstakes-well done, Scott!) but not before spotting one of the employees restocking the candy section while loudly whistling the "Good Ship Lollipop." These are memories and taste sensations that will have to last us well into Kentucky as we listen to Groucho Marx hosting an episode of "You Bet Your Life."
On our drive to Pittsburgh yesterday we made a stop in Harrisburg to get some drum sticks and other various items at Guitar Center. As usual, the soundtrack of the store was a guy off in the corner, playing guitar, moving from riff to riff as though his fingers were a rolodex of classic rock. The guy was okay. I seem to remember "Reeling In The Years," "Walk This Way" and a few Beatles songs and had him pegged as a sterling member of a local cover band. As we passed by the riffmaster he looked up and saw Peter. "Oh my God-are you Peter Buck?" he asked. Peter nodded. The guy paused. "I hate to bug you but could you show me how to play the riff on 'The One I Love?' I've been having trouble with that one." Peter took the guitar and gave him an impromptu guitar lesson, playing the riff and most of the song. Hey, I was taking notes as well. Riffman was delighted and then asked "How about 'Fall On Me?'" Professor Buck assented, played that song as well and then the guitar lesson was over.
Our show at Club Café in Pittsburgh had the most spontaneous, unplanned cover songs of the tour. Scott played Jonathan Richman's "Rollercoaster By the Sea," I gamely attempted to honor a request for Bob Dylan's "Catfish" and Scott and I traded untested waters of yet two more Neil Young songs-I sang "Roll Another Number" and he sang "Albuquerque." Hey, we even played some of our own songs. But not "The One I Love" or "Reeling In the Years"-we'll save those for some other time.
I wonder if we'll get some good barbecue tonight. And I'm not talking about a McRib sandwich. Really. I'm not.
I've spent a lot of time in Philadelphia this year. Their mighty fine radio station WXPN has played my records quite a bit and that has translated to many new fans and, thus, many new opportunities for shows and festivals. It has also meant a chance to better know a city that turns out to be quite interesting and filled with hidden delights. The cheese steaks, the Mutter museum (grisly but recommended), the architecture-all good things. But there was no time for tourism on this trip as we did double duty yesterday, taping a segment for David Dye's World Café Live (to be aired on the first day of the world series) before playing at the club of the same name.
The lack of time on the Philly streets means I had to fish around the van for good local stories. Peter came through. On our way out of town today we saw a guy dressed as a pancake on the corner of Broad and Walnut. His hair and various body spots suggested something akin to a blueberry tint so I'm guessing that he did indeed have toppings. It turns out that Peter had an incident with the pancake man the day before. He was walking down the street and saw a woman haranguing the poor oversized breakfast treat.
"You're not a real pancake," said the woman to the pancake. "You're a phony like everyone else in this neighborhood." The woman walked off disgustedly. "Man, tough job," said Peter to the pancake man. "You said it," he replied.
Had I known about the plight of the pancake man I would have suggested that he come to our show last night as an interpretive dancer. I wonder what kind of Breakfast Dance Moves he might have made to our ramshackle version of "Barstool Blues" that we busted out for the encore last night. I'm pretty sure that Peter, Scot and I were playing the chords one full measure apart from each other, kind of a rock version of "row row row your boat" or, more accurately, the way you might have heard it played by Crazy Horse on any given night. Great show, great audience, we were back with our own equipment, hung out with fans, talked baseball with Dan Reed on the radio. All in all a good night, even without cheese steaks.
Back in the van. With Andre. And our equipment. And, maybe most significantly, with our clean clothes. Life is suddenly much better. Even though we're on a long (500 mile) journey from Toronto to Philadelphia.
So far today, our soundtrack in the van has been old Jack Benny radio shows and Del Reeves. I'm wondering if Andre wasn't sucked into a Rock Van Time Machine while we were gone and, in the process, has pulled us in as well. I mean, it might actually BE 1947. And that means this diary posting is definitely not going out. It was very hard to get wifi in 1947.
Peter bought animal crackers at the last road stop. And all of the heads were missing. What could this mean? And then he came back in the van and ordered a Jayne Mansfield book on Amazon while we were driving down the Interstate. 1959 or 2009? Am I going to find Jack Benny, Jayne, Rochester (ask your parents) and Bob Hope in a chat room before this drive is over?
Linda is amused by "carrot dippers," prepackaged snack packs that include, uh, carrots and ranch dressing in neatly separated plastic containers, covered by saran wrap. She wonders how such simple items could be called "Carrot Dippers?" And could you mix them with animal crackers?
Scott is leading in the Oscar Gamble's Afro fantasy baseball league that he shares with me, Linda, Mike Mills, Steve Berlin, Adam Selzer and several members of the Yep Roc (our label) staff. I'm in last place. I don't want to talk about it. Especially since Mills and I have a 10 dollar bet on who will finish higher.
Andre bummed us all out after our next stop by announcing that Jimmy Carter had died. But it turns out that the rumors of his death were premature. Jim Carroll on the other hand DID pass away and that's sad indeed.
Are we there yet?
A clip from the Chicago Show:
Roll with the punches. That's the best advice for anyone going out on tour. Things are going to happen and you have to view the need for a solution as a challenge, a game, a puzzle and not as a reason to panic. I could fill a book (who knows? Maybe I will someday) with road horror stories, some horrible and some hilarious, all of which were dealt with, solved and left me here today to tell the story.
The last few days have certainly thrown a few curveballs (obligatory baseball reference) in our direction. First, Linda's cymbals were left at the Turf Club in St. Paul. Andre called ahead to the next few clubs and made sure that nightly replacements would be waiting until we could pass through New York City tomorrow night on our way to Philadelphia and get replacements from our pad. Roll with the punches.
And then we got to Clark, NJ (hustled from the airport in a police cruiser, as promised-see photo) for the Union City Music Fest and found that a day of solid rain had provided logistical challenges, soiled shoes and a seriously diminished audience. What's more, the choice of amplifiers were Marshalls, Marshalls and more Marshalls. I can and will play through almost any amplifier outside of Marshalls. I just don't dig the sound. Too ROCK (as opposed to "rock" which I do play). But we soldiered through the mud, entertained the very enthused and grateful crowd and I found a sound that wasn't too much like Ritchie Blackmore. Roll with the punches.
But once we got back to the mobile home that served as our backstage we were hit with a punch that was a little more severe. Andre had been held up at the Canadian border and found with the boxes of CDs that were tucked away in the van. He was denied entrance to Canada which means we will be playing tonight at the Horseshoe without our drums, amps, extra guitars, merchandise or even a change of clothes. Fortunately, the Sadies (friends of Scott and a really great band) are lending us their gear. Not much to do about the CDs (if you like the show, go to your favorite local record store. Or to our websites) or the clothes (oh man! Don't get too close). But we will be on stage and armed with our songs and sparkling personalities. And sometimes that's enough. Roll with the punches.
Hmmm....I feel like a motivational speaker today with all of this positivity. I wonder if I should get in touch with Serena Williams.
How do you get from Chicago to Toronto (no, not practice!). We're choosing the unusual route that takes us from Chicago's O'Hare airport, brings us to Newark, puts us into a police car (I'm not kidding) and will zip through New Jersey Turnpike traffic to place us onstage at the Union County Music Fest in Clark, NJ, an outdoor festival that has us sandwiched somewhere between Tommy James and The Shondells and the singer from the Fixx before grabbing some sleep and then flying back up to Toronto where our van, equipment and trusty Chief of Staff Andre Elam will be waiting for us.
Got that? Did I mention that the 1910 Fruitgum Company will be playing the same festival the following day? You really can't make this stuff up.
But enough about what lies ahead. Let's talk about what we just left behind in Chicago. Keeping up the tradition of "each-gig-is-better-than-the-one-before," last night's show was a real barn-burner (though not a "club-burner," the staff at Martyr's might want me to add). There were highlights aplenty. Volume 2 of The Baseball Project made it's debut as we played "Tony," a heartbreaking Italian Rock Opera about Boston's Tony Conigliaro. "Find a Finger" by the Minus 5 had its tour debut. And the updated version of "Harvey Haddix" which includes mention of Mark Buehrle (the latest member of the perfect game club) was enthusiastically received by local fans of the Chicago White Sox, the team for which Buehrle threw his gem. The local baseball angle was also worked by a surprised guest appearance by Cubs play-by-play announcer Len Kasper who came onstage midway through the second set to introduce "Harvey Haddix," but not before suggesting (and actually singing!) some words he had written for "Past Time" that gave equal times to Cubs legends Ron Santo and Billy Williams to counter Scott's mentions of Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox and Minnie Minoso. It was amazing. I hope someone gets it up on YouTube so I can learn those new lyrics.
To the non-baseball fans, I apologize. That last paragraph may have caused your eyes to glaze over a bit. I'm just typing fast and furious to blot out the current patch of turbulence. Ah, that's better. Would you like to hear more about our upcoming ride in the cop car? I'll save that for tomorrow. But I can give a quick shout-out to guests in the house last night-Rick Rizzo (Eleventh Dream Day), John Stirratt (Wilco), Jon Langford (Mekons), Joe Pernice and our pal John Pierce. I wonder if Len Kasper can work up a verse that mentions all of them as well.
I guess it's a true sign of a band's tightness on a tour is that it can allow itself to be completely loose, sloppy, reckless, shambolic and inspired and still come reach some kind of inspired highs while daring to plumb the horrific lows. To be honest, the first week of shows on this tour found us on our best behavior, careful to remember all the songs we had learned from each other's various catalogs. I mean, we laid into the songs, had fun, got loud, got wild but we also played everything pretty much by the book.
That book got tossed out the window late last night at the Turf Club in St Paul.
Our two sets contained mostly songs that we had played before on the tour (the only new addition was "Twilight Distillery" by the Minus 5). And when we came out for the encore, I figure we would play the Sonics' "Strychnine" which has been the usual closing song on this tour. We had been playing for 150 minutes (including intermission) at that point, it was past midnight and a one-song blast seemed most likely. And then Scott called out "The Ballad of John and Yoko." Fair enough. We had worked that one up before and played it in Lake Arrowhead. And it was a song by the biggest band in the country this week (seriously, I think these guys are going places). And then we played "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White." Ditto. We had that one under control
And then Scott started playing "If Only You Were Lonely," a Replacements b-side from their early years. I remembered the song only well enough to know that it was a Replacements song and that was about it. I learned the chord change just seconds before the song was over. Linda looked on quizzically. Peter roamed the bass and found his way around the tune eventually as well. In other words, we probably did a tighter version than the Replacements would have done at the time. But the stage was set. It's Random Cover Time. After versions of "Fernando" and "Sometimes I Dream Of Willie Mays," Scott suggested "Green River" by CCR. I said "yeah, okay" but just didn't feel like playing that one. We had done that one in Lake Arrowhead as well and it just felt too much like we were playing in a Holiday Inn band. So, I started "Born On the Bayou." I mean, why not! And we played it pretty well so I started strumming a hard and fast A7 chord without indicating where we were going-but I knew that the band would know where to go once I began singing "Time Fades Away" by Neil Young. Yep. Another song that lives in our collected DNA. We were having fun. The crowd was having fun. It was getting late. We wrapped up the 40 minute "encore" (call it Set 3, if you like) with "Strychnine" and it was time to unplug, descend the stage and hang out with pals until the wee hours.
I was in the lobby of the hotel this morning and saw Andre. "Did you have a good nap," he asked, referring to our meager 4 hours at the hotel before we began our drive to Chicago. And I think that nap might have to be continued right now as we barrel down I-94. I mean, we might end up doing FOUR sets at the show tonight. Uh oh.
Pity the poor bands of the Pacific Northwest. First of all, they have to wear those itchy Pendletons all the time. But even more distressing is their geographic isolation, which means that any road trip outside of the region means a very long drive to get to, say, Denver or San Francisco or the Twin Cities of Minnesota. We are heading to the latter-a 1700 mile drive that will take most of the 50 or so hours between now and our gig at the Turf Club in St. Paul. None of us are any strangers to long drives and this drive is made easier by various distractions. Our newly acquired tour manager Andre has an iPod filled with great tunes (today's highlight-Rufus Thomas) and a stack of DVDs, none of which he'll be able to watch since he's promised to do the lion's share of the driving. And then there is the usual stack of books (just finished "The Long Season" by Jim Brosnan-highly recommended to baseball fans and non-fans alike), newspapers and magazines. And, as of today, we have wifi in the van (a first for me on any tour). This means I can write these very missives and send them right when I finish. It's like....well, it's like you're in the van with us. Don't touch those tortilla chips. They're mine.
Internet in the van. Incredible. I remember the days (oh, do tell, Grandpa) when we were happy to get a good classic rock station on the radio. Now we'll be watching baseball games in the evening and I'll be trying to find that damn Beatles box on mono (why, oh why, did I not buy it before I left town a few weeks ago). I still make sure to check out the incredible scenery (northeast Washington right now), read a few pages and fortify myself with well-timed van naps (Linda is enjoying one such snooze right now). In the meantime, Scott and I are both happily typing away. Peter remains in his Seattle home from where he will fly to meet us on Thursday. Smart guy.
We played the sprawling Bumbershoot festival in Seattle yesterday (thanks for the photos to Paul Austin of Transmissionary Six/Walkabouts fame who also gave us the amazing gift/van talisman of a Mark Fidrych-signed baseball). We were joined for the day by Minus 5 guitarist John Ramberg, whose licks I have been copping and augmenting for most of the tour. We were a mighty three-guitar attack as the rain fell on the afternoon crowd. Hammi was there. The legendary (fabled?) Pat Thomas was there. We ate potstickers. Linda drank not one but TWO Red Bulls. And then it was all over and I was downloading obscure garage tunes at Peter's apartment by 4pm. Now we have to wait another 3 days to play but that will begin a 3-week stretch where we play almost every night, which is just fine by me. I'm really enjoying this tour and the way the band is developing from night to night.
Hmmm....let's see. Only about 1500 miles to go. Linda still sleeping, Scott still typing, Andre still driving. I'm going to dive into today's paper. And that should be the story for a while. But if anything changes, you'll be the first to know. (SEPTEMBER 8)
It's not often that you get seven days off in the middle of a tour. But for various reasons (strictly on a need-to-know basis, my friends) we had a few days in Portland between our California gigs and the rest of the tour to follow. Now, there are many things you can do with a few days off. You can catch up on your laundry, read the complete works of Shakespeare, build a geodesic dome, open a chain of Nutella, ham and cheese emporiums (I'm still working on this one). All very enticing options, of course, but we used our open days in the schedule to rehearse and record a new Baseball Project record. After all, the biggest challenge with this band isn't finding material or inspiration but rather finding free time in our mutual schedules. Peter, Scott, Linda and myself in the same city for one week? Make a record. It's that simple.
The four of us reunited with Adam Selzer (who recorded and mixed "Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails" a couple of years ago) at Adam's Type Foundry studio. Due to scheduling, Peter had to overdub all of his parts on the first record but this time around we were all together, fresh from a week of gigs, road food and shared iPod experiences. In other words, we were truly a band this time around and that newfound cohesion really shows on the new tracks. We only had time to record basis tracks and some vocals which means that overdubs and mixing still lie ahead (to be sandwiched between gigs and recording by the Miracle 3, REM, Robyn Hitchcock and the Young Fresh Fellows, not to mention our own current tour) but I'm really excited by what we have so far.
What can I say without giving too much away? The 12 new songs cover such subjects as Reggie Jackson, Tony Conigliaro, Ichiro Suzuki, Roger Clemens, Albert Pujols, Mark Fidrych, Pete Rose, Dizzy Dean, Bill Buckner, brushback pitches and a seemingly magic baseball glove that Scott once found. Scott and Peter were mighty from both sides of the place, switching between 12 and 6-string guitars and bass, Linda was so fired up that I think we might have to impose mandatory Red Bull testing before we can induct her into the Hall of Fame. And me? I was having a ball playing my new Jazzmaster. I've only played a Jazzmaster before on "The Days of Wine and Roses" and "Melting In The Dark" and those both worked out pretty well.
I think we'll have some guest turns this time from like-minded baseball loving/guitar shredding/wordsmith guest stars on this record and...well, see? There I go. Spoiling all the surprises so I'll just leave it there. I mean, we leave tomorrow for a show in Seattle and then the rest of the tour? And I do still have laundry, iPod loading, reading ahead of me. And then there's that dome I've got to assemble. Buckminster Fuller, here I come!
Reunion fever is in the air. It all started at our first show in Portland when I was greeted after the first set by Dave Provost who played bass for the Dream Syndicate in 1983 and was in the studio with us for The Medicine Show. I hadn't seen Dave in about 10 years or so. He's living in Portland and playing in a country band. I think I'll go check out his band on Wednesday.
And then at the Troubadour in LA it was the non-musical reunion of The Dream Syndicate. I knew Dennis Duck would be at the show but was completely surprised to see Mark Walton (who had driven in from his home in Las Vegas) and Paul B. Cutler. We have all remained friends since the band broke up and always enjoyed hanging out together. Why did we break up? It's hard to say. The band just seemed to have run it's course. But the moment we're all together (as we were at the unofficial acoustic reunion show at McCabe's a couple of years ago), the old stories begin to flow, the laughs return and it reminds me how much fun we had together.
Finally, reunion week came to a close last night at the breathtakingly beautiful Great American Music Hall in San Francisco (built in 1907, the year after the big earthquake). Russ Tolman and Steve Suchil (see photo) came to the show and suddenly we had 60% of Suspects, my new wave band from my college days in Davis. All that was missing was Kendra Smith and Gavin Blair. I see Russ all the time but I hadn't seen Steve since the early 80s. He was our bass player, a little bit older than the rest of us and was the one who turned us on to so much of the music that I still love today. It was Steve who turned me on to the Velvet Underground so you could truly say that he had a profound affect on my musical taste and the music I'm making today.
We all agreed that the show at the GAMH was the best of the tour. We're rapidly becoming more of a Band with every night and the shows are getting both looser (improvisation, playful gags, between-song banter) and tighter (playing the songs without thinking about the chord changes or the arrangements). "Love Me Anyway" (from Crossing Dragon Bridge) made it's debut in the show and Peter and Linda laid down a greasy, mighty groove (they're already a formidable rhythm section) while Scott blew my mind with some lysergic wah-wah action. You should really see this show if you get the chance-and I have a feeling that the end of this tour will not be the end of this particular band.
But for now we're on our way to Portland for a week off that will be spent recording new songs for the second Baseball Project album. Yes, there seems to be a future for this band. And that means that a breakup is very far away and, thus, a reunion even farther away.
As usual, our LA show was a reunion party, mixing it up with friends from recent and distant past. In attendance at the fabled Troubadour (it seems that you have to precede "Troubadour" with "Fabled") was most of my family, the entire final lineup of the Dream Syndicate (see photo), Kirk Swan, Ward Dotson (Gun Club), Syd Straw as well as many old friends with whom I have NOT shared stages (hello to Tom, Suzanne, Janet, Donna, Dave, Don and more) and most of my family-three of my four parents, two sisters, cousins and more. NOT in attendance were James Taylor, Elton John, Jackson Browne, the Smothers Brothers or Harry Nilsson. But being the Troubadour one can imagine that they were somehow there in the room in some cosmic 70s karmic way.
This was the first actual club show of the tour and all four of us (joined for much of the night by Robert Lloyd on organ, mandolin and accordion) were relieved and charged up by the chance to play whatever one might call a "proper" show (proper? Us?) We added a bunch of songs to the set including "Dark Hand of Contagion" (Minus 5), "Jackie's Lament" and "Ted Fucking Williams" (The Baseball Project) as well as "Manhattan Fault Line" and my first ever live performance of "Waiting Like Mary" (my song but essentially a cover of the Minus 5 version from my tribute record of a few years back). The crowd was lively, we wore the material like an old (but garishly brightly colored) cardigan, the onstage banter was almost comedy club ready and it was my favorite show of the very young tour but could easily be topped anytime in the coming days.
Lists lists lists. This diary entry seems to be all about lists. My mind seems to go into List Mode when I'm tired. That's me. The more tired I get, the faster I speak, the more I say and the less sense I make. I go into some kind of a Rain Man mode, just naming names and songs. What's next? State Capitols? No, I guess the only thing left to detail would be food highlights of the last 24 hours. And what an epicurean 24 hours it has been. We ended the night at a plush red leather booth at--.I can't help myself-- the Fabled Dan Tana's (next door to the Fabled Troubadour). The place is a notorious spot of old debauched LA-great for star sighting and, in fact, we did see Harry Dean Stanton at the bar (a bar that seemed to be holding him up). I had never actually been there before but Dan Tana's is an old favorite of Peter's and he managed to snag a table for us and put in a food order while we were packing up. Nice job, Peter. We reveled in Old School Chow like chicken parmasean, fettucine alfredo, spaghetti Bolognese and big, thick very well done steaks. Those items and a stiff nightcap made for a good way to ease down from a wild show, a great hang with old friends and to get some sleep to prepare for the early morning drive to San Francisco.
We are on said drive right now (moving up along the Fabled Interstate 5) and just struck road food gold in Buttonwillow, discovering Tita's Pupuseria. It's just a taco truck parked off the highway and nearly eclipsed by the usual array of Taco Bells and Subways and Starbucks. But you won't find better food on this lonely, dull stretch of road. Linda had the squash pupusa, Mary went for the carne asada tacos, Scott had three pupusas (squash, bean, herb and cheese) and I went for the breakfast burrito (egg, chorizo). Peter continued a Fabled Van Nap but was greeted upon our return by a carne asada burrito. That's a good way to wake up. I have dreams like that, burritos floating above my head like little beef pillows with wings. You've had those dreams, right? Please tell me that you have.
Well, Linda's behind the wheel and I should be getting some sleep. More food, more music, more friends, more Fables lie ahead in San Francisco, Baghdad By The Bay (hello, Herb Caen) and I would hate to miss any of it.
There's a stretch of mountainous highway that connects the Bakersfield area to Los Angeles called The Grapevine. If you have lived and traveled around Southern California or if you have been in a touring rock band you know it very well. I'm sure I have been on that approximately 60 mile path over 100 times in my life. It causes cars to overheat, challenges the power of big vans filled with musical equipment and I could drive it in my sleep (if that was legal which, by the way, it's not). So, I'm really happy that Scott is taking us on an alternate route today, driving through the valley that will connect Lancaster to Lake Arrowhead. The view from outside my window is something like the moon as imagined by Georgia O' Keefe. The soundtrack from the random shuffle of Peter's iPod is particularly inspired today-The Fall, Al Kooper, Elvis Costello-and the mood is set for the last leg of the long drive that will take us to show number two.
Modern technology has changed touring in many ways (I mean….The Electric Guitar!! Thank you and RIP Les Paul). But last night was my first encounter with the iPhone as a valuable long distance drive assistant. We were driving just outside of Sacramento around 9pm and had a shared craving for Mexican food. There were no signs, nothing was visible from the road and in the past we would have hoped to find a Taco Bell (by the way, this blog receives nothing for product placement-just so you know. But I can be bought). Instead, I tried out the Around Me program, typed in "Mexican Restaurant" and we found that the very next exit would lead us to a place called Rosalindo's and in just 5 minutes we were sitting at a table with chips and guacamole and margaritas. It's magic, I tell you. Just imagine what touring will be like in 20 years-- or 20 days for that matter. I'm pretty sure I'll be seeing fewer cactus plants from my window.
I guess I could have titled this entry "Coming Into Los Angeles" but the Arlo Guthrie reference may have fallen flat even on this 40 year anniversary month of Woodstock. And we're not "bringing in a couple of ki(lo)s" but rather dragging our evolving variety show to the fabled Troubadour. This will be the first time that Scott and Peter have played the club (Linda and I have played there once, about 10 years ago) and it will also be the first actual "club" show of the tour. Last night's gig at Lake Arrowhead was anything but typical. Our show was sandwiched within a Summer's schedule of mostly tribute band shows (try these names on for size: Which One's Pink, Hollywood Stones, Turn the Page, the Beach Toys, Aeromyth and…well, you get the pictures). And as you would expect in such a summer resort setting our audience was a mix of diehard fans who had made the long journey and local curiosity seekers looking for fun and break from swimming pools and pina coladas. I don't think that I've played for so many pre-teens since my fifth grade band The Light Bulbs played at my elementary school (try finding THAT one online!). Adorable little kids worked off adrenaline running back and forth in front of the stage, tossing rubber balls, playing inflatable toy guitars while we played some of the following caustic tunes (no, we didn't play "Ted Fucking Williams." It just wouldn't have seemed right):
To the best of my recollection:
And that's about it for today. We're sitting in some rough downtown LA traffic with the promise of a lunchtime taqueria dangling just beyond the next clump of cars. It's really the best (great Mexican food) and worst (traffic jams) of my old hometown
Starting a new tour is like breaking in a brand new baseball glove. You have to make sure it's well-oiled from the start. And then you have to give it some time to get loose and ready for all of the wear and tear that's sure to follow. Pardon me but I had to try out some good sports/music analogies as we dive into our first day on the road as The Baseball Project. It's over one year since the release of our "Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails" record and Scott, Peter, Linda and I played our first ever show together last night in Portland. We are now truly a band.
But what, in fact, does make a band? Is it making a record together? Did that. Is it hanging out and sharing some laughs together? Did that. Who knows? Maybe it's playing on the David Letterman show in his sub-arctic studio. Yeah, did that too.
Maybe a band is born when they play a show together. Okay, that was last night. But I think a band truly is born when you get in the van, drive for hours and then make your first road stop. And that, my friends, happened just moments before I typed the last paragraph. It was 11am, we had been on the road for a few hours and we needed food. We were on our way to the usual best-of-all-fast-food-evils option Taco Bell when Peter spotted a local barbecue joint. Now, I don't usually think of barbecue and Oregon in the same sentence but this place made a mighty fine brisket sandwich. Now, we're back in the van, content and quiet with only the Stooges' "I've Got a Right" to break the silence.
How much further to go? Oh, I'd say about 800 miles to Lake Arrowhead where we play tomorrow night. A thousand miles on the road? Yes, that is how you break in a new band. We'll be ready to take our swings, hit the cutoff man, drive the ball to all fields and....oh, excuse me. I'll have to stop the sports metaphors right here.
So, let me set things up for you. There are 4 of us. Linda, Peter, Scott and myself (and Scott's girlfriend Mary for this leg of the tour). And the four of us make up the three-band bill: the Minus 5, The Baseball Project and the Steve Wynn IV (pronounced as the letters "I-V" rather than the number "four,"-more of a medical than a numerical reference). But we're actually more bands than that: at any given moment we can be the Young Fresh Fellows, Gutterball or the Dream Syndicate. Or, for that matter, the Standells, Sonics or any other Nuggets band. In other words, roll the dice, close your eyes, hold on tight and take your best cut. The road (and this season's tour diary) starts...HERE.
LA was a blur. An easy, gauzy, caramel-colored hazy blur. Sometimes my hometown has an almost hypnotic effect with New York rudely snapping it's fingers, bringing you back to life just as the sadistic hypnotist had you imitating a chicken imitating Don Knotts. Can you imagine? I'm sure it's happened. But I'm pretty sure I'm back. Let me look outside my window. (pause in actual room-crossing time). Let's see-they're gutting the Gershwin house, adding what seems to be a Wonka-esque random elevator station on top. Am I still hallucinating? Did the Gershwins move to LA and co-write with Steely Dan before they all moved back to the Upper West Side. Doubtful. I must be back in New York.
Then again, maybe LA didn't happen. Was I really in the living room of longtime fans/friends Steve and Laurie Price, playing "Candy-O," "Born On The Bayou" and "Down By The River" with Jason, Dave, Linda and...Elliott Easton? Did that really happen (I won't believe it for sure until either YouTube or Archive.Org makes it official). Did I also play four Dream Syndicate songs at the same party with the rhythm section of Dennis Duck and Mark Walton with alternately Jason Victor and Vicki Peterson on guitar? Did I really drive an extra hour out of my way at 2am just to visit my favorite burrito stand on the corner of Sherman Way and Lankershim (the Miracle 3 can't offer proof as they were snoozing in the back seat-I mean, IF a burrito is eaten in the forest and nobody sees it, do you gain weight?)
And did we really play the Medicine Show album at the Echo in Silverlake with family, fans and friends that spanned most of my adult life (even my Mother was there-I've known her my WHOLE life). Did Jason and his new bride Silvia really see Harry Parry, the roller-skating, guitar-shredding, turbaned legend of the Venice Boardwalk and did he employ a few of those licks when we played Rock and Roll Pizza in Woodland Hills? Wait. Did we really play a pizza parlor? In Woodland Hills? And did I really order the "Elliot Easton's Favorite" pie?
It all comes back to Elliott.
But I do know that I'm home and that I'm burning the midnight oil (the metaphor not the band), learning full sets of material by The Baseball Project (for our Spanish festival in August and US tour that follows), the Minus 5 (ditto-my first tour ever as a sideman, at least for part of the set) and Bob Dylan (festival show in Italy next month). And have I learned almost all of those songs with two weeks left before I leave?
Now I KNOW I must be dreaming.
House concert season seems to be heating up. I had only done a handful of these private shows before this year but I've already done 2 this month and have another few on the schedule for July. The shows are always fun, always interesting, always a new experience and the bag of tricks (both musical and of the human variety) that I bring out to the shows are always different.
A few weeks ago it was New Hampshire. I had never played New Hampshire and had only crossed the state lines once or twice. "Live Free Or Die," the sign advised as I entered and I wasn't about to argue. Driving a car with some friends (Jason and Linda), some guitars, amps and a few drums felt pretty free. Maybe not 'Easy Rider' free but maybe something between Woody Guthrie and the Grateful Dead free.
That particular show straddled the folk and rock sound in able fashion (folk! Rock! Imagine the potential!) Burgers and hot dogs grilled on the patio while we were grilled by requests on the makeshift stage inside. Flamin' Groovies? Roxy Music? No problem. Songs off one of my earlier solo records. Hmmm.... A little tougher but we'll give it a try. Standing outside after the show, holding a beer, smelling the trees and watching the stars (most of these house concerts are far from the lights and glare of the big rock club cities) reminded me that we were far from, say, the Mercury Lounge and the East Village.
And last weekend Home Delivery Caravan was joined by Dave and it was the full -on Miracle 3 coming to your town and hoping to party it down. The town in question this time was Shirley, Mass. (Shirley! You Must Be Joking! I couldn't resist). We were given free reign to play near our full volume (the nearest neighbors were the hosts' two horses living in the barn behind the house and they weren't about to complain). The three hours of music were augmented by barbecued ribs and chicken, cornbread and various libations that eventually had the revelers (most of who were celebrating impending or recently passed 40th birthdays) dancing wildly to lengthy and frenetic versions of "John Coltrane Stereo Blues," "Amphetamine" and "The Days of Wine and Roses."
Yeah, I'm really getting into this modern version of the old-fashioned life of the wandering troubadour. It's a nice variation on the touring club scene-each bringing delights and surprises in their own way. So, if you're home one night watching "Lost" and hear a band down the road that sounds like they're playing a song off "...tick...tick...tick," that band just might be us. Bring some burgers. The grill is hot.
PS....Thanks, Kudos and Congrats to Jack (Bow, NH) and Alex and Andrew (Shirley, MA) for throwing down some mighty fine parties.
So, I'm sitting on a cement ledge near Symphony Space on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I was just wrapping up a phone call when a guy walks up and sits right next to me. Now, you really can't get all worked up about personal space in New York City because there really is no such thing. But there, in fact, WAS plenty of space around me. Anyway, I figure no problem. I'm done with my call and I'll be moving on in a minute or two.
I finish my call and put the phone back in my pocket. He fixes his eyes on me and I can tell I'm in for an interesting ride.
"Do you think people ever get tired of talking,?" he asks.
"Maybe. Talking's overrated," I answer. I don't necessarily believe that but I figured it would either move the conversation along or provide me with an exit strategy.
He laughs and says, "Talking's overrated. I like that. I think I'll use it in a song. I've written a couple of songs. I think it would make a good song." He laughed, pulled a can of Colt 45 out of his big, stuck in a straw and chuckled. "Yeah, talking's overrated. That's a good song."
"I've written about a thousand songs," I answered, inhaling the pungent smell of the malt liquor. "So you can have it."
"Yeah, I've written a few songs. Do you know this one?" He starts singing "Runaway." "I was there when that song was written. Just me, Del Shannon, Fuzzy Linhardt and a bag of cocaine."
"Really." I took the bait. "Are you telling me that you wrote 'Runaway?'
"No. I didn't write that one. . But I was there when it was written.'" He sucked a big gulp of beer through the straw. "But I did write another song that Bette Midler stole from me. You know this one?" He starts singing, "But you got to have friends..."
"Yeah, I know that one. You wrote that?"
"I wrote that song but Bette Midler ripped me off." He gets bored with that subject and he's back with Del Shannon again. "You know who else was in that room when he wrote 'Runaway?' Todd Rundgren."
I couldn't help it. I had to play fact-checker. "Todd Rundgren wasn't there. He would have been a baby." Maybe not true but close enough."
"Oh yeah. He was there. I'm sure of it. He wasn't a baby." The guy gets up, stretches, pulls off his t-shirt, exposing a pasty and flabby midsection and blurry tattoos on his upper arms. He walks over to the corner of 95th and Broadway and dumps the t-shirt in the trash can.
This is my cue to leave. "And he lived in Philadelphia," I said.
The guy pulls another t-shirt out of the bag that also had contained the beer. "You couldn't pay me to live in Philadelphia."
I'm on my way but point out "Well, they've got good cheese steaks."
He smiles. "They've got good cheese steaks right here in New York."
And you know what? He's right.
Finally made it out to the new Yankee Stadium (aka The House That Was Built To Pay A-Rod's Salary) last night to see the Bronx Bombers take on the Minnesota Twins. Great game-everything you could want from a night of baseball. An early pitching duel gave way to a plethora of home runs (including an inside-the-park home run by the speedy Brett Gardner) And the local squad won the game on the last play, a walk-off two-run single by Melky Cabrera, delighting everyone in the house except possibly Linda who does, after all, hail from Minneapolis.
Now, I realize that the last paragraph just sent many of you into a confused, catatonic (dare I say BORED) swoon. And that's fine. We don't have to share all the same hobbies (there might be some of you out there who-gasp-don't care about food, the dreaded "eat-to-live" crowd who counters the much preferred "live-to-eat" variety). But the baseball season has begun and with it has come news that The Baseball Project will be doing a festival in Spain in August followed by a six-week US tour later that month and stretching into October. This is great news. I really enjoyed making that record and was disappointed that we were only able to do 2 gigs (that would be our wedding and the Letterman show, a weird First Two Gigs for any band) when the record came out. We'll certainly make up for lost time before the year is over-dates soon to come.
It also looks like we'll be making a follow-up to "Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails" before the tour begins so I suddenly find myself being able to justify baseball watching as Actual Research, an immersion songwriting program (watered-down beer and stale peanuts can only help the process, I suppose). And then the Miracle 3 will be hitting the studio towards the end of the year. In other words, a busy year ahead. Just don't book anything for late October. That would be the World Series. And after last night's dramatic win, optimism reigns supreme, one of the joys of a sport whose season lasts 162 games. It's ain't over 'til it's over. Which very well could be, oh, sometime around late September.
Man, forget about the Beatles vs. The Stones. Oh, wait. You DID forget? Okay, then you might want to remember that long-debated subject of rock geeks that has raged and then snoozed and then raged again for, yes, generations. Okay, you remember that one now? Fine. Now forget it. It's ancient history. One band broke up and the other is a living museum piece, a hologram, a set piece for Martin Scorcese. No, the classic rock battle that still matters is Bob vs. Neil, especially since both of them buck the odds and redefine the concept of the aging rock star. Both of them have managed to keep fresh, maintain the element of surprise, seeming like they still care and continuing to make some of their best music.
And, as with any career approaching 50 years (can that be? And is my own moving towards that number in its own sweet time), there are going to be ups and downs. Dylan hit some dreadful lows just as Neil Young was waking up from his artistic slumber with records like "Freedom," "Ragged Glory" and "Sleeps With Angels." And then Bob made a couple of his best records ("Time Out of Mind" and "Love and Theft") while Neil was idling with records that were adequate but hardly inspired. Dylan's been on a roll with his radio show, his autobiography and the last few albums.
This might be the first time in a while that they both have new records out at the same time and I gotta say that I give the showdown to Neil Young. Dylan's "Together Through Time" is a spirited album, a fun album, an album with moments of brilliance but Neil Young's "Fork In The Road" is a loopy, funky, freaky record that feels tossed off in all the best ways and, in fact, reminds me of "Reactor," another overlooked Neil broken classic. I think the current rock critic (and fan?) conventional wisdom may not agree with my take on things but I can't stop listening to "Fork In The Road." And the videos are amazing (up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure). Hey, it's amazing (and personally inspiring) that these guys are still taking chances, pushing themselves and hitting moments of brilliance at this point in their career but I'm going to have to give 2009 to Neil, especially with Archives, Vol. 1 on the horizon
Yes, that's about as geeky a post as I've written in a while. But I find that I've been listening to a lot of music lately, finding more faves than usual. Between some of the people I met at last week's Lou Reed tribute in Vienna and oddities found on Emusic and Croz.FM and recent shopping in the East Village it's been all music, all the time. Here are a few things that stand out.
And I would go on from there but I see it's 6pm and I'll be on stage on the Lower East Side with Chris Brokaw in just a few hours. I mean, it's enough to listen to a bunch of music but now and then you gotta make some of your own, right?
Now, let's see. The last time I checked in with these pages I was sitting on a Delta flight to Venice from JFK. And now? I'm sitting on a very similar flight going back home from Venice to JFK. A week must have passed. The date on my MacBook (that's product placement, Steve Jobs, I'm still waiting for my endorsement) tells me that it has. I'm more tired than I was a week ago so something must have happened. I'm sure it did even though the only change I can see from my current perspective is that I am sitting 2 rows closer to the pilot than I was 168 hours ago.
Ah yes! I was in Ljubljana. The prodigal tourist (hardly a son-the adoption papers never came through) was returning home to Trubarjeva Street (cf: the back cover of Crossing Dragon Bridge) to return the sound and vibe and memories of his album to its rightful homeland. I was brought over to play one show, a live start-to-finish rendition of CDB with many of the local legends-Chris Eckman, Vlado Kreslin, Blas Celarec, Ziga Golop-who appeared on the record. The show culminated with all of us onstage for a marathon version of "Down By The River." I don't think Neil Young was placing his sinister character by the banks of the Ljubljanica but it all seemed to fit somehow.
One of the highlights of the show was the chance to finally meet Tomaz Pengov, who wrote "She Came," the song I covered on the album. Tomaz made a couple of incredible albums in the early 70s and then slowly extracted himself from the scene. In terms of music and his actual life story he is a hybrid of Syd Barrett, Townes Van Zandt and Leonard Cohen. I don't think he makes it out to many shows and everyone was excited to see him-even Vlado, the biggest recording artist in the history of Slovenia, seemed slightly cowed by his presence. Tomaz brought me a copy of his second album, a record I had been trying to find for the last 18 months and told me he liked my version of his song. And he stayed with us until we finally left at 3am, something that I'm told is very unusual for him. Check out this photo of us together (if you are reading this on my website-otherwise look in the photo section elsewhere on this MySpace page). What a guy!
And food! You knew I had to get around to food. There were many highlights but the biggest revelation was dropping into the Pomf diner and having my first bowl of Jota, a cabbage soup that seems to bring most Slovenians into a state of reverie, filling them with memories of mothers and grandmothers and cold winter days. A big bowl of the stuff cost 1.50 euros (3 if you wanted a hunk of sausage-which, of course, I did-tossed into the mix). Incredible and enough to stave off hunger for the rest of the day. And then there is the ubiquitous burek, the greasy, nasty puff pastry (filled with either meat, cheese or spinach although I'm told that only the former of those ingredients makes the TRUE burek) that is best used to soak up a night of revelry and stave off the inevitable hangover. I tried my first burek by the light of day and it still tasted good.
And that was that. The truly symbolic end to 18 months of recording and then touring for one of my favorite records I have made. What's next? Well, let's start with a roll of quarters for the laundry and a slice of pizza down the street (APRIL 10)
It's strange, the things you'll watch on an airplane that you would never watch at home. I swear that I have been entranced by "Everybody Loves Raymond" while high up in the air but never watched it in my living room. And now I've just watched five back-to-back episodes of "In Treatment" and am somewhat relieved that there are no more on the in-flight menu on this flight from JFK to Venice. It's actually a really good show. I can see why Gabriel Byrne won an award for his acting on this show. And it's a therapeutic voyeuristic thrill while surrounded by hundreds of strangers, most of whom are asleep right now.
I'm on my way to Venice where I'll be picked up by Chris Eckman who will drive me back to Ljubljana. I have a show there next Tuesday, the closing chapter on the 18 months of "Crossing Dragon Bridge" that began right there in October of 2007. I'm staying in the same hotel, I'll be frequenting the same cafes and hunting down the same gyro at 2am. It's not that I'm not open to new adve ntures but there will be some comfort in the full circle that this gig will provide.
And then there is a strange sadness in the full circle. When I came to Ljubljana to make the record my friend Katherine was in the final stages of her fight against colon cancer and finally succumbed while I was making the record. I had my last conversation with her from an internet calling booth by the river and her spirit and humor and friendship was a strong presence on the whole record. Now I am returning just a few days after hearing that my friend and sometimes bandmate Duane Jarvis died from colon cancer this week We last played together at the Cinema Bar in LA in November. He knew that things were getting worse, was very matter-of-fact about his battle and yet dove into his tacos at our pre-gig Mexican food stand before the show as well as our songs together that night with the same joy and enthusiasm, smiling about the food, about the music and about the time we were spending together. Duane made some really great records and added his spirit and talent and love to music by people like John Prine and Lucinda Williams and Michelle Shocked. I really liked him and I'm so sad that he's gone.
I see the drink cart coming down the aisle. I think I'll get a shot of something brown and raise a toast to my fallen pal.
I've been told that mentioning the words "Vegas" and "Divorce" in my latest Tales Of Urban Delight will bring in a whole wealth of new and very confused Googlers today. And that's a human behavior experiment that I'm willing to try. So…if you're reading this blog, this diary, this missive, please be assured that I am not the casino owner, am not a multi-zillionaire and that divorce is the furthest thing from my mind. Well, that's not true. The divorce of my namesake is on my mind. But only until I finish this paragraph.
Now. Where was I? What was I saying? I can't remember a thing.
Seriously, I don't think that my namesake (he spells HIS first name with a "ph," the poser!) would have even begun to contemplate divorce had he watched HIS wife rock the drums so mightily with Dee Snider last week. I've got to say that I imagined many things when I was young but never quite imagined that I would someday watch my wife playing on stage with the architect of the Nuggets compilation and the leader of the dBs while they backed the leader of Twisted Sister on his biggest hits. I mean, Twisted Sister didn't even exist at the time. I've gotta say it was also quite a thrill to back Lenny Kaye on a version of "Gloria" and seeing his eyebrows raise with delight over my various lead guitar squonks and squeals during his middle section rap.
Middle Section Rap! Sounds like a hip hop anthem for AARP. Note to self.
The mixture of past and present and the leveling of the playing field between heroes and pals will continue tonight when we go to Carnegie Hall (how do we get there? Practice? Nah, the 1-Train will do just fine) to see an REM tribute show featuring the previously mentioned dBs and Lenny Kaye (as part of the Patti Smith Group) and Calexico and my new pal Rhett Miller who I met last Saturday in Philly. My bandmate in The Baseball Project Peter Buck (he's also in REM. Did you know that?) will be in town and invited us to the show. Full reports will follow although you shouldn't expect anything that mentions "Vegas" or "Divorce"-I never play the same con twice.
Inspiration is where you find it and here in New York there's plenty to be found especially on a week like this. All you have to do is to venture beyond your front door which seems pretty daunting on a cold day like today. And I will get outside if nothing else to play some harmonica tonight at the Lakeside Lounge during a set by the Prima Ballerinas, an all-girl New York Dolls cover band featuring one Linda Pitmon on drums. I will very likely turn 49 right at the moment I blow those first blues notes on "Pills," the old Bo Diddley classic. It's a good thing to begin your 50th year on the planet with a harmonica in your hand.
Of course, I'm just a mere child compared to the man I saw on stage last night. Leonard Cohen played down the street at the Beacon Theater. I think he's 74 although some of the math wouldn't quite add up. I would say he's closer to 80. Doesn't matter. He played for well over 3 hours, dropped repeatedly to one or both knees almost like a cross between James Brown and Al Jolson, skipped-actually SKIPPED-off stage before each encore and pretty much played every song you would want to hear him play. And he played them with more skill, emotion, nuance and passion than you could ever hope to hear from a man who was born during the first term of FDR's presidency.
But that wasn't the full extent of this weeks Inspiration From Old Guys. Linda and I went to see Loudon Wainwright at the Blender Theater on Wednesday. I believe he had played in Manhattan more recently than Leonard's last show in the early 90s but he doesn't play around here much more than that. The last time I saw him was in Olso back in the mid-90s, just a few years after we shared a festival stage in Brugges. I had forgotten how great he is on stage. Yes, he's a great songwriter. You know that (and if you don't, you should check out his records immediately). And he's probably best known these days as "Rufus and Martha's Dad." But on stage it's another story. I've never seen anyone who actually LIVES every word of every song so vividly during a show. It's almost as though he is experiencing each moment during the song in the moment when the event first happened. It's really something to see although it's hard to say when you'll get the chance. I think he might be doing just fine with soundtrack and acting work. Oh, and keeping up on the careers of his kids (Rufus joined his Dad for one song, by the way).
But an equally awe-inspiring and maybe more easily accessible moment of inspiration happened on Tuesday as I wandered the length of 14th Street and listened to all 17 minutes of "Highlands" by Bob Dylan on my headphones. Since I don't have the opportunity to put an "Ask My About My Grandkids" sticker on my car (I have neither a car nor Grandchildren) I should have an "Ask me about 'Highlands'" sticker on the back of my coat. I love this song and truly believe you can only appreciate it if you hear the entire song from start to finish. If it wasn't for "Tangled Up in Blue" or "Every Grain of Sand" I would say it's the best song he's ever written (which is to say that if it weren't for those songs or "Famous Blue Raincoat" or "First We Take Manhattan" or "Motel Blues" or "The Man Who Couldn't Cry," it would be the best song ever written). It's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" as performed by Charlie Chaplin, it's a mix of the profound and the mundane much like life itself. And it quite neatly gets you across the width of Manhattan if you walk quickly enough.
And all of that inspiration should certainly should send me on my way to a new record, a few rock operas and the 2nd and 3rd volumes of the Baseball Project (it is Spring Training after all) but there's a cold, biting day outside just daring me to take it on. I don't know if I'll last the duration of any 17 minute songs but there's a Minutemen song or 2 that I'm wiling to enjoy.
For a while there it seemed that every rock show was being held in a disco that was slightly augmented to accommodate live music. Bands would play to devoted fans who would then be unceremoniously ushered out rapidly to make room for the club kiddies who would pour in to dance to techno (remember "techno?") until dawn. Promoters of such clubs were often music fans that continued to book live music because they WANTED to but would also book the disco nights because they HAD to. The heyday of such things were the early 90s, the height of the once-per-decade declaration that Rock Is Dead and that guitars were meant to be banished to the deepest recesses of the mustiest attic space. I remember such talk in the early 80s, again in the early 90s and I'm sure that some version of that manifesto will still be proclaimed 50 years from now when some kid discovers the wonders of an electric guitar for the first time and gives birth to some cool new band that makes rock music new and exciting once again. I'll be 98 and I'll be there in the audience.
Anyway, the era of "please-load-out-quickly-so-we-can-make-room-for-the-disco" has largely passed but last night's show at the Santana 27 in Bilbao was certainly a throwback. At midnight we were wrapping up a fiery show to a packed room and then soon after we were chatting with the fans and signing CDs but by 1am it was as though the show had never happened. Disco kiddies well into their weekend buzz (they had been huddled in the nooks and crannies of the industrial zone outside, drinking beer, wine and calimocho, the deadly mix of cheap red wine and coca cola) and were filing into the club as we were hustling our gear out and into the van. I was tossing my Stratocaster into the back seat when I saw a fight break out by the front door. Man, these two guys were going at it. They were separated by the bouncers and carried into the club, aloft horizontally with arms and legs flailing and then, apparently brought to OUR backstage room where Linda and a few other friends were hanging out. The two guys began to go at it again and within minutes blood was flowing, bones were breaking and our backstage resembled the end of a cheap wrestling match. We barely got out with the rest of our stuff and were back on the road leaving the insanity just as the police and ambulances began to arrive.
Needless to say the adrenaline was flowing by the time we got back to the hotel with our friends Esti and Ricky (old pals from Bilbao) and Hammi (who had flown down from Cologne) and we were ready to hit the town, hopefully tracking down Chris Brokaw and Steve Shelley who had played earlier that evening. But it was not meant to be. Steve and Chris had most likely gone to sleep by then and we couldn't find a bar that wasn't jam- packed and on the verge of yet ANOTHER bloodbath so we returned to the hotel lobby. Linda had a bottle of wine and some glasses but no corkscrew (this is what Hell very much might resemble). The hotel bar was closed but not locked and our heroes Chris and Josh hopped over the unattended bar in search of said corkscrew. No luck. But they DID manage to find a bottle of top-shelf vodka and a party did ensue. Yes, my friends, our sophisticated and well-dressed orchestral ensemble did break (or maybe just bent) the law but, let's face it, we had no choice and no blood was shed. And, best of all, nobody had to listen to bad remixes of a-Ha or Culture Club.
I usually play the Iguana Club when I'm in Vigo. Great place with unusual hours. You tend to sound check at midnight and then go to dinner before taking the stage at 2am at which time you play for 90 minutes before the club turns into a disco around 4am. It usually makes for advance tour burnout, good times and stories to tell when you get home (or stories to forget as soon as possible-take your pick). But this time we tried out the brand spanking new Club Mondo. Cool place-it had that "new club smell," all shiny and perfect. The backstage was bigger than many places I've played and the bar was covered by various hams, cheeses, pastries, breads and, of course, octopus. It was the continuation of what was an all-day non-stop parade of gluttony. And that meant that we had to play that much harder just to work the food off and get our systems back up to full speed. The plan was a success and by the time of the encore we were firing off Full Punk Orchestra first-time-on-the-tour versions of "Amphetamine," "Carolyn," "Annie and Me" and even the Cramps' "Human Fly." We talked with fans, signed CDs and then drank something called "black vodka" while talking about episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Now we're back in our car/van 2-vehicle caravan on a long, long drive to Bilbao. Chris, Linda and I are in the sleek roadster with Marcos while Roberto is driving the van with Erik and Josh. In the course of 6 hours I've seen snow, sunshine, blue skies and clouds. I haven't seen fire and rain but I can hum a few bars. And speaking of bars, I have a feeling that a few of Bilbao's most famous are in our future as we're expecting to meet up with our old pal Hammi (who flew down from Cologne) as well as Chris Brokaw who is playing in town tonight with Christina Rosinvinge. Another late night? Of course! And with the end of this short tour only 36 hours away it's time to put the pedal to the metal, the fire to the brimstone, the nose to the grindstone, the hammer to the Gods. In other words, No Sleep Till Queens!
We just had lunch at the border between Asturias and Galicia, two northern regions along the northern part of Spain. Both of these areas are known for their food and the flavors are strong, aggressive and sassy. In Galicia it's all about the "pulpo," bits of octopus that are swimming for their lives in shallow pools of oil and garlic. Asturias, one of my favorite areas for food, is all about the things they do with their intense blue cheese. And lunch was an orgy of all of the above-pulpo, various meats in various cheese sauces as well as spicy pepper sauces. My taste buds feel like they've just gone 15 rounds with George Foreman (circa 1974, pre-grilling days). I hear that more octopus lies ahead tonight at our show in Vigo. Today is all about the tentacles.
We played a casino in Gijon last night. I don't think I've ever played a casino before (although my namesake owns plenty of them) and I had a brief flash of what it must be like to have been one of the Rat Pack. I kept looking for the dancing girls. Or tigers. Or dancing tigers. You know, a good show is made all that much better by dancing tigers. Everyone knows that.
We ended up walking along the beach at 3am. The waves were crashing against the wall below the sidewalk where we stood. I should have brought my camera.
And now we're moving down the road, about 30 miles from Vigo. Linda and I are in some snazzy car with Marcos, our soundman, while the rest of the van travels in the van with Roberto, our tour manager. I was just handed a phone a few minutes ago as I woke up from a deep sleep. It was the national radio and I did another "radio blog" completely in Spanish. I'm sure I didn't make any sense. Late night beach strolls, 4 cups of espresso, garlic, oil, cheese and octopus can shake up the senses.
I imagine that Lux Interior must have driven these same roads at some point. The Cramps were very popular in Spain. I played "Gravest Hits," and "Songs the Lord Taught Us" until the needle wore holes in the vinyl back in the final years of my impressionable teens (vinyl! Needles!-ask your parents). He was and remains one of my all-time favorite singers. I loved the way he could approximate a vintage echo or tremelo unit with his voice as though he had swallowed the entire control room at Sun Studios. I was really saddened to hear that he passed away yesterday at 62. Adios, Lux. Vaya con dios.
DJ Chris Cacavas is in the house. He's up front with our tour manager Roberto Nicieza and violinist Josh Hillman and he's spinning (the CDs do spin, after all-we just can't SEE them) some compilations he threw together for the tour. He actually intended them as pre-show music, setting the tone for the evening to follow. But right now he's just setting the tone for our first drive from Madrid to Gijon and that tone is a mighty funky one. I've heard some Rufus Thomas and a few other things I recognized but otherwise it's all freaky and obscure. I'm in the middle seat with Linda and Erik and I'm tired of repeatedly asking "what's that? What's THAT? What WAS that?" I'll just have to sneak off with it later and check it out for myself.
We had our first gig of this brief tour last night at the legendary El Sol club in Madrid. The band was already in mid-tour form and the audience was right there with us as we played a show which consisted mostly of songs from "Crossing Dragon Bridge." There were a handful of Dream Syndicate and older solo songs but I'm just having a good time playing the new stuff and the response to CDB has been really good over here. Nobody seemed to mind and they were very familiar with the tunes and that was gratifying.
We ended up on the sidewalk in front of the club with my old friend Paco Martinez, the drummer from Australian Blonde with whom I made the "Momento" album back in 2000. He was there with his longtime girlfriend Nuria and we were all trying to figure out where to find a decent bar at 2am when a guy walked by with a bag of ice-cold Mahou (my favorite) beers. He charged 1 euro each and we drank them right there just a few meters of Calle Montera. At that moment I'm pretty sure that WAS the best bar in Madrid.
Now we're on our way to Gijon in the Asturias region. Never heard of it? Neither had Vicky or Cristina, the main characters of Woody Allen's last movie. But nonetheless they go to that region for a weekend and if you see or have seen the film (it's his best in years) you will know that it's a very cool part of the country. And the food? Oh, I guarantee you'll be hearing about the food. What's that song you're playing right now, Chris? "Peanut Duck?" Really? Wow, I hope that's on the menu tonight.
The lords of wifi have not been on my side. And that means that I have write this opening volley of the tour diary on my blackberry. Normally I wouldn't admit to such things but now that our prez has made these devices respectable I guess I can openly fly the flag.
We just finished a taping for a national TV show here in Madrid. 30 minutessix songs in front of a very young looking audience. They seemed to enjoy it and are probably waiting for their parents to pick them up at this very minute.
I'm backstage with the dragon bridge orchestra '09. Josh Hillman, Erik Van Loo, Linda Pitmon, Chris Cacavas are carefully choosing sandwiches. Who gets ham and cheese? Tortilla? These are majoy decisions, amigos!
Now it's time to dust ourselves off and get over to El Sol for the first show. Hang in there. More musical/epicirean/tourism tales soon to come as soon as I'm typing with more than one finger.
I've been on a bit of a movie binge lately. It's usually what happens to me (and many others, I'm sure) before the slew of awards shows that crop up this time of year. Naturally, not everyone cares about such stuff but I was born into a family where the Oscars was serious dinner conversation and I guess it stayed with me. Anyway, there have been a bunch of good movies in the last few months after a year where there was almost nothing I wanted to see. I've listed a few below but that's just the tip of the celluloid iceberg.
But I don't think I'll be seeing many movies in the next few weeks as I'll be rehearsing and touring in Spain. It's funny-Spain was one of those places where I was just about to hit that dreaded "don't-you-ever-tour-anyplace-else" level of overexposure a few years ago when we were making the Smack Dab record, touring behind "…tick…tick…tick" and Linda was recording at Paco Loco's studio with Golden Smog. I think I spent about 6 weeks in Madrid alone that year and I was sorry when it was finally time to leave.
But now it's been 3 years. That's 25 years in Touring Musician's Years (slightly longer than the average dog, appropriately). And we're heading out tomorrow on an Iberia flight out of JFK. Get ready for reports of music and food and whatever else comes along on the radar. There's a place over there that serves nothing but pig's ears. Really. And my hearing isn't what it used to be so I might just have to graft a few on the side of my head.
Now THAT would make a good movie. Calling David Cronenberg.
RIP John Updike
I tried out a new joke at Schuba's in Chicago last night. It was 9 hours after Barack Obama was sworn in as president and I took the stage with "It's great to be back here in Chicago since, after all, Chicago is the new Crawford, Texas." Nobody laughed. Maybe it was too obscure, maybe everyone was still a little numb from hours of CNN-watching. But it's true nonetheless. We are getting rid of a president who chose to spend his free time clearing brush and hiding out from any reminder of major cities, other people and the realities of day-to-day life and ushering in one who will take his family to the nation's third largest city whenever he gets a break from Washington. I like that.
And I really like Chicago. It's a toddling town, says Frank Sinatra (heck, he was delighted that he saw a man there who danced with his wife. Never did understand why he got such a charge out of that). It's a beautiful city. The arts and music scene is exciting. They have a baseball team that is fabled for its futility (100 years without a championship and counting.) You can get a great burrito at 3 in the morning.
And I was really excited to be there for the inauguration. If I couldn't be in DC this was certainly the place to be. I think that along with the moon landing, Nixon's resignation, 9/11 and a few other major events THIS will be one of the things that I will be allowed and encouraged to ramble endlessly about when I'm 90 years old and trying to entertain the kids over cups of coffee at the diner down the street. There was certainly a feeling of excitement and celebration at the gig and I had a great time on stage. I think it was taped and I hope the show gets out there as it was one of my favorite solo shows in a long time.
And the next morning I got up way too early and went to fabled rock radio station WXRT (we go way back, all the way to when they taped and broadcast the show that ended up being 'This Is Not The New Dream Syndicate Album…..Live!" back in 1984). They have a show called The Eclectic Company where guest musicians take over as DJ for two hours. Man, there are only about five or six things I like more than being a DJ (I'll find that list somewhere) and the show was a blast. It airs over the airways and on the internet next Tuesday, January 27 at 10pm (Central Standard Time) on www.93XRT.com.
And now I'm back in New York. Only 48 hours away from home but a whole lot has changed. People seem happier, more patient, more curious, more aware. Everybody is listening, hearing, seeing and ready for something. Is it just my imagination? Hard to say. But I still wouldn't pick the Cubs to win the world series.
5 Ways That Ron Asheton Touched My Life (among many)
--In 1977 I bought "Raw Power" for my high school girlfriend Michelle. I knew she was into "punk" and when I saw the record over at Rhino Records on Westwood Boulevard (can we talk about ways that store has changed my life? Another blog, another time) I knew it was a good way to score some big points in our budding relationship. Now, I was musically adventurous and my favorite bands at the time were Roxy Music and The Who so I wasn't afraid of volume, anger and dissonance but this was a whole new thing. I heard the opening notes of "Search and Destroy" at her place and it knocked me out, threw me against the wall, felt like a good version of electroshock therapy, wiping out much of what I thought and knew about music and beginning the end of my sportswriting dreams and paving the way for the string of bands I began playing in later that year. Now, I KNOW that Asheton "only" plays bass on this album and I KNOW that you really can't hear the bass but he was still the heart and soul of that band. Oh, Michelle dug the record and later appeared in the LA punk documentary "The Decline of Western Civilzation." We broke up six months later.
--In 1983 the Dream Syndicate was on our first tour of the US. We played the legendary Joe's Star Lounge in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After a very rocking set, we were met by someone who told us that Ron Asheton loved the show and wanted to meet us in the basement of the club. This was his town. He was holding court. I was thrilled and ended up talking to Asheton for about an hour that night. I remember we talked a lot about Destroy All Monsters who I was listening to quite a bit at the time. He was kind, larger than life and generous with his time. It was easily one of the highlights of a very exciting tour.
--"Then She Remembers"
--I was a mess while making "Medicine Show" in San Francisco back in 1983 and 1984. Six months making a record will do that to you as will a daily liquid diet of a fifth of Jim Beam. I played "Fun House" every single day we were making that record. I don't know if it held me together or if it enhanced the spiral but you can definitely hear the influence of that regiment in the record, especially on "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" which was my unintentional nod to "LA Blues."
--"Strange New World."
There are certainly others but those are the first that come to mind. Ron Asheton died today at 60 years old. I never saw him play.