Don’t call it a comeback… unless you want to make us feel worse

I was checking out at the grocery store yesterday (“bloggers – they’re just like us!”) and saw this on the cover of Us Magazine:

TAYLOR SWIFT: MY AMAZING COMEBACK!

Comeback? Excuse me… did I miss something here? Because the last time I checked, Taylor Swift had released five studio albums prior to her latest release, each one coming roughly two years after the previous one (and perfected timed for the late-October/early-November holiday shopping season, might I add)… and the crappiest selling one of them is quadruple platinum.

Am I the new Rip Van Winkle? Have I been asleep for the 20 years when Taylor Swift fell out of the public eye?

            

Have I entered a Twilight Zone where her every dalliance isn’t documented on a daily basis?

Are we now living in an alternate reality where T-Swizzle lost her entire $250 million fortune on orange juice futures?

What exactly is Taylor Swift’s “amazing comeback”? Coming back from her own private island, perhaps. Her newest release just sold 1.2 million copies in a week… in a day and age when people don’t buy music anymore.

Can’t wait for next week’s issue of Us, maybe they’ll have another great feature like:

Scrooge McDuck: My Amazing Rags to Riches Story!

 

Dyin’ ain’t much of a living, boy

On Friday morning I saw a very life-affirming presentation… from an expert on dying. Cole Imperi is a designer, but she’s also a thanatologist… an expert in death, dying and bereavement. And she has a great hairstyle.

She spoke at the Creative Mornings monthly breakfast lecture, about Big Death vs. Little Death (the former is when someone passes away, but the latter can be any significant change in life – a divorce, losing a job, etc. – and we need to mourn those too) and Big Voice (your ego) vs. Little Voice (your passion/purpose). She has spent countless hours with folks who are dying, and she said you can see the regret on their face, and 99% of the time it’s about things they didn’t do but wished they had.

Cole also had us all write a quick obituary, following the standard form (name, age, city of residence, job, hobbies, etc.). Then she asked if any of us felt like our obituary was perfect – we had accomplished everything we wanted to in our lives. Of course no one in the audience felt that way. So the good news is, we’re not dead yet.

We still have time to do what truly drives us. After all, as Dylan said, “he not busy being born is busy dying.”

Cole believes that better living comes from knowing dying. Jason Isbell covers that territory beautifully in a song from his new album, “If We Were Vampires.” Watch the interview after the song when they talk about the line “maybe time running out is a gift.” As Jason says, “maybe the best thing of all is death, because that’s the only reason any of us get up in the morning. It’s the only reason any of us fall in love. It’s the only reason any of us care about anything…. is because one day we’re gonna be dead.”

Happy Life Day! But not this Life Day:

 

 

 

Johnny B. Good. Very good.

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”

“Hello, I’m Johnny Clegg.”

No doubt you’ve heard of (and heard the music of) the former. Chances are, you’re not familiar with the latter. But Johnny Cash is to country music as Johnny Clegg is to South African music. A pioneer, a trailblazer, a true icon. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call him the Nelson Mandela of music. Back in the Apartheid era, teenage Johnny crossed color lines to learn music and dancing from Zulu men in Johannesburg, and eventually brought it to the world.

“They knew something about being a man, which they could communicate physically in the way that they danced and carried themselves. And I wanted to be able to do the same thing. Basically, I wanted to become a Zulu warrior. And in a very deep sense, it offered me an African identity. It was like a homecoming for me; I don’t know why, but I felt that.”

When he formed an integrated band – Juluka – with Sipho Mchunu, they couldn’t even play in public at first.  Eventually they landed a record deal and toured the world.

When Sipho got homesick and left for his Zululand home, Johnny formed a new band called Savuka, which means “We Have Risen” in Zulu. His songs were at the forefront of the fight for equality in South Africa.

“You could not ignore what was going on. The entire Savuka project was based in the South African experience and the fight for a better quality of life and freedom for all.”

One of the best concerts I’ve ever seen was Johnny Clegg & Savuka at a club in Cincinnati, circa 1993. For some strange, mystical reason, I too wanted to become a Zulu warrior that night. And I can’t dance worth a damn. The passion, the energy, the “goodness” emanating from Johnny and his band was palpable, and the tsunami of positive vibes swept up the whole crowd. “I don’t know why, but I felt that.”

Johnny Cash is gone. Johnny Clegg will be gone soon – he’s battling pancreatic cancer. He just wrapped up a brief U.S. tour and has headed home to South Africa, with one more gig in Cape Town lined up for this year.

NPR has a nice profile of Johnny’s career. (The quotes in this post are from that piece.) Please check it out.

Thank you Johnny, for sharing your music and your love with the world. Don’t stop dancing.

 

Goodbye Gord

Gordon “Gord” Downie passed away this week. It’s OK if you’ve never heard of him. Most folks in the U.S. haven’t. He was the lead singer of a Canadian band called The Tragically Hip… they were beloved in Canada but never really made much of a dent on U.S. radio or sales charts.

Gord was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2016. He could have wallowed in self-pity and shut things down. Instead, his response was to tour… to keep doing what he did best – sharing his art with his fans, his friends. And to continue to support reconciliation with Indigenous people in his home country.

 

Canada is in mourning over the loss… watch this heartfelt speech from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and you start to get a feel for the impact he had.

Here’s to you, Gord. Not just in the Great White North but across the world, there are millions of folks that appreciate your music and admire your courage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DO Blink or you’ll miss it

This weekend, Cincinnati is hosting BLINK. What’s BLINK, you ask? Well, according to the “About” page on the BLINK website:

BLINK, October 12th to the 15th 2017, is expected to be one of the largest light, art and projection mapping events in the nation. The four-day event will feature large-scale projection mapping installations, murals, urban artscapes, media light and interactive art in Cincinnati, OH. BLINK will span 20 city blocks, from Cincinnati’s Banks to Findlay Market. Food and beverages will also be available. BLINK is free and open to the public – no tickets are required. 

That description really doesn’t do it justice – it really is one of those “you have to see it for yourself” things. It basically uses the walls of downtown buildings as giant screens for all sorts of projections, like a mini-movie about the start of King Records:

And it “animates” dozens of murals celebrating Cincinnati’s history and famous citizens. Here’s one of Rosemary Clooney:

All the lighting magic is amazing, but the coolest part to me was the fact that BLINK brought thousands of folks from the ‘burbs to downtown Cincinnati and the area just north of downtown called Over the Rhine. All ages, races, creeds, colors… just enjoying an evening stroll around town with their fellow citizens, checking out the bands that were playing, meeting up with friends, riding the streetcar.

It showed our city at its best, and I hope we see more of it in the future – with or without the light show.

Exclusive: the true origin of the East Coast-West Coast hip-hop feud, revealed!

It all started with a Ho.

The Day The Music Died… yet again

Local radio station WNKU signed off for good a couple of nights ago. It was the only local station worth a damn, and now it’s gone. They started as a bluegrass and folk station in 1985, but over the years had morphed into a “Triple A” (Adult Album Alternative) format, and recently had shifted more toward modern rock/indie rock, a format very similar to 97X, a now-defunct station where I worked as a DJ back in the mid-90s. In fact, WNKU had even added Matt Sledge — one of my co-workers at 97X — to their on-air staff a couple of years ago.

That’s the real gut punch – I feel like WNKU was just hitting their stride and picking up momentum when the rug was pulled out from under them by their owner, Northern Kentucky University. I get it, there’s a budget crunch in higher education, and especially in Kentucky, where Governor Matt Bevin cut funding for all state schools by 4.5% in 2016. So the university had to get out of the radio business… especially when the format favored outlier artists over the pop pablum, bro country and other lame formats favored by the (m)asses. WNKU broadcast on a few frequencies around the area – two were sold to a Christian broadcasting company, and another signal went to a local country station.

It’s a big loss for music in the area. WNKU supported local artists by playing at least one track from a local band every hour. And they helped draw national acts to the area. This past winter I hosted a house concert by Craig Finn, lead singer of The Hold Steady. That never would’ve happened without WNKU, because Craig scheduled his house concert tour around in-studio appearances at radio stations, promoting his new solo album. He was on the air with Liz Felix in the afternoon, doing an interview and playing an acoustic set. Liz even came to the house concert that night. No WNKU = no more Craig Finn visits = no more amazing house concerts at my place.

For indie music fans of a certain age in the Cincinnati area, it’s reliving a nightmare. 97X signed off in 2004 and left a similar void in their lives. There aren’t many folks who are into the artists who are weirdos, rebels, up-and-comers, but those fans are as passionate as you’ll find, and losing a beloved radio station is like the death of a family member – for listeners and staff alike, as you’ll see in this video from the Cincinnati Enquirer:

The Enquirer story is here.

Sure, it’s a bluetooth, wi-fi, satellite radio world. We can stream Spotify or Pandora or Google Music or Sirius/XM or whatever is out there in the ether. But it’s not the same. It’s not as personal, and it never will be, because those folks (or more fittingly these days, those algorithms) don’t live here, they don’t know us and get us like a local radio station does.

Aaron Sharpe wrapped up with a great Talking Heads song. I’d like to add a couple more to the swan song playlist. One is a local band, This Pine Box. Guitarist Joe Tellmann is the son of my friend Dave, who worked at 97X for more than a decade. This band should be on every station in America, not just a tiny station that no longer exists.

And here’s the song I heard on WNKU more than any other tune, it was played nearly every Friday morning during the request show, and it’s a beautiful song about death from a brilliant artist ignored by the mainstream. Seems rather fitting.

 

 

 

 

There’s no replacement for The Replacements

The Replacements are one of my all-time favorite bands. They definitely had a Mae West attitude toward performing:

They’re almost as famous for their crazy, drink-and-drug-fueled, self-destructive antics as they are for their music. But in February of 1986, they played a legendary show at the now-defunct Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey. 29 songs… for the 30 people in attendance… in what would wind up being one of the final performances for lead guitarist Bob Stinson, who was summarily sacked by a band that included his kid brother.

L to R: 19-year-old bassist Tommy Stinson, Chris Mars on drums, lead singer Paul Westerberg and lead guitarist Bob Stinson.

Luckily a 24-track mobile studio was recording the whole shebang. The master tapes sat collecting dust for 30 years, but are finally going to see the light of day on October 6th.

You can check out five of the tracks via the links here. (Side note: I think it’s pretty cool that Rhino sprinkled the tracks across different music blog and music sites… smart marketing too.) If you only have time for one link, the Consequence of Sound article features 10 fun facts about the release from Replacements biographer Bob Mehr.

Once you listen, you’ll understand why the ‘mats were such a great rock and roll band. Can’t hardly wait ’til October 6th.

 

The Dü, finally getting their due… but losing Hart

In the late 70s and early 80s, the frozen tundra of Minneapolis was a hotbed of musical innovation. The Replacements brought the raucous rock, Prince brought the funk, and Hüsker Dü brought the punk.

Now, hot on the heels of the release of a remastered box set of Hüsker Dü’s early recordings comes word that drummer Grant Hart has passed away at the age of 56.

Jon Wurster, the drummer for Superchunk who also mans the drum kit for The Mountain Goats and former Dü member Bob Mould, wrote a great tribute to Grant on Rolling Stone’s website.

And at the center of the sonic hurricane was Grant Hart, arms flailing, feet flying, laying waste to every drum and cymbal in his path. 

His drumming alone is enough to secure Grant Hart a place in the alt-rock history books, but that’s only part of his story. Grant was a top-shelf songwriter, penning and handling lead vocals on Hüsker Dü classics like “Terms of Psychic Warfare,” “Diane,” “Green Eyes” and “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill.” 

And what a voice. His was arguably the best to come out of the post-punk/hardcore/alternative scene: sweet and angelic one minute, menacing the next. Grant also handled much of the band’s visual side, designing Hüsker Dü’s album covers and helping other bands with theirs, most notably the Replacements’ 1983 LP, Hootenanny.

My favorite Grant Hart tune is the lead track off his first post-Dü release, “2541”… and I’m not alone. This Minneapolis writer feels the same way.

R.I.P. Grant, and thanks for the great music.