Art for art’s sake, not for Martin’s sake.

Band of Horses was in town last night, playing a sold out show at Bogart’s. Having seen them seven times already, in seven different venues, in four different cities (including an amazing acoustic set/electric set show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville), I decided to sit this one out. So did my friend Dale Doyle (the original d2), who has joined me at five of those gigs. But Dale’s an artist, a graphic designer by trade, so he made an oversized gig poster just for grins.

Simply brilliant!

I had the pleasure of working with Dale for five years at Landor (where I also worked with other amazing artists like Keith Neltner and Tommy Sheehan). Dale was at Landor for 23 years, working his way up from entry-level designer to Executive Creative Director, thanks to his skills and his dedication to the craft. His reward for all those years of service? He was unceremoniously dumped earlier this summer. Call it layoffs or budget cuts, or a “reduction in force” or a “restructuring”… to paraphrase Shakespeare, bullsh*t by any other name would still smell as stinky. (Sorry Big Willie!)

Yes, Landor’s Cincinnati office was struggling to make their numbers, and that’s part of the equation. But the other part is why their “numbers” were probably unattainable in the first place. Landor is merely a cog in the universe of WPP, a publicly-traded company that’s the world’s largest advertising conglomerate. It owns scads of well-known ad agencies, brand consultancies, PR firms, media buying companies and digital agencies. For 33 years, WPP was run by Martin Sorrell, a man whose ambition was outstripped only by his ego. A shark who swallowed up other ad agencies whole, usually via hostile takeovers. A man whom advertising legend David Ogilvy called “an odious little sh*t.” A person who could squeeze blood out of a turnip, and was never satisfied with the revenue numbers and profit margins of the dozens of companies and hundreds of offices under his thumb. Last year, “Sir Martin” (he was knighted in his native England) earned 70 million pounds. His net worth is listed as 495 million pounds.

Artist’s representation of Sir Martin

Creative artists like Dale are a dime a dozen to him, and if it came down to keeping a Dale or earning an extra nickel, he’d take the latter every time.

Dale did get a severance, so he has a few months to figure out his next move. He also has a freedom he hasn’t enjoyed in two decades. The freedom to create art whenever the muse strikes. To use his talents for self-expression rather than marketing campaigns. To make a band poster just because. You can’t put a price tag on that.

Oh, and what of our friend Sir Martin? He was sacked by the WPP board earlier this summer over allegations of “personal misconduct.”

 

 

 

Carping about the diem… and other random thoughts

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

— Wu Men

Great poem, wonderful sentiment. But it mentions nothing at all about 110% humidity. Therefore, I reserve my right to carp about the diem rather than carpe diem.

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My friend Robin had a birthday not too long ago. She’s an Elvis fanatic, so I sent her this text:

Here was her reply:

Yes, that’s Robin’s face superimposed on the woman.

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On a recent trip to an antiques mall, I found a cheesy 70s rock album by a band called Starz. Check out the great hairstyles on the back cover of their 1976 debut:

If you look more closely, it seems some smart aleck has “tagged” the dude at the top right:

“I’m Wm. Shakespeare’s Reincarnation”

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Here’s hoping your Monday isn’t crappy… but if it is, play to win!

 

In a festive mood

Cincinnati loves its festivals. Every weekend during the summer, a Catholic church in the area has a fundraising festival. They all follow the same script: raffles galore, a silent auction, games of chance (lollipop pull and fish pond for the younger set, poker and blackjack for the adults), food and beverages (including alcohol). Some of the larger parishes will also throw in some carnival rides and local bands as the evening entertainment.

With the proliferation of casinos, bingo isn’t the fundraising juggernaut it used to be, but the summer festivals still draw a decent crowd.

I made it to two festivals in Cincinnati this weekend, but they were quite different in style. On Friday night my wife and I went to a church festival to see Cereal Killers, a local band featuring two friends of ours. They were stellar as always (see this blog post for more about them), which is especially noteworthy when you consider the fact that they really only play gigs a handful of times each year. But they do practice quite a bit. The lead guitarist Matt and his wife Amy are neighbors of ours, and in Amy’s eyes, “band practice” is just a convenient cover story for a guy’s night out every week. (If that’s the case, I may have to join Cereal Killers as their lead cowbell player.)

Saturday morning, I got up bright and early and rolled down to the Ohio River to participate in Paddlefest. Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as dirty as it sounds… it’s just 2000+ folks in canoes and kayaks (and on paddleboards) taking a leisurely paddle down the mighty Ohio.

I’ve posted about Paddlefest before, so I won’t wax rhapsodic here. But suffice it to say it’s always a great time.

The only festival in Cincinnati that I didn’t attend this weekend was Goettafest. Yes, we have an entire weekend festival dedicated to a pork-and-oatmeal food that was popular with Cincinnati’s horde of German immigrants back in the late 1800s, and remains a Cincinnati staple to this day.

They even have a vending machine where you can purchase rolls of goetta.

Nein, danke.

Still no heart for Radiohead

[Radiohead is playing a concert in Cincinnati tonight, so I’m reposting a blog entry from May of 2016 below – I’m 53 now, but the sentiment still holds.] 

I’m an old man, but I have young ears. I like to listen to cutting edge indie rock/alternative/never-heard-of-them-before artists. I go to way more concerts by up-and-coming bands than a 51-year-old should. Pitchfork would give me a 7.9. But I’ll go ahead and risk losing all my street cred with a single, solitary statement: I don’t really care for Radiohead. 

I know that’s considered blasphemy among the music snobs, but I don’t care.

95% of the Radiohead songs that I’ve heard put me to sleep, including the ones from their brand new album. Sure, there are a few that I like… the usual suspects like “Creep” and “Karma Police”. But by and large, I find them to be supremely soporific. We have satellite radio in one of our cars (not the 2003 Honda minivan) and I listen to Sirius XMU, the hipster station. Sometimes when I’m driving and listening (in that order), if I hear a song that’s boring to me, I’ll reach to change the station and realize that I’m changing from a Radiohead tune. Same goes for Thom Yorke solo stuff… actually I find that even more bland.

Music cognoscenti, including many of my music-head friends, will wax rhapsodic about how amazing, brilliant, mind-blowing and genius Radiohead is, but I’m not hearing it. And I’m certainly not feeling it.

(Yawn)

 

 

Rock and Soul

If you can sing, I’m jealous of you. I can’t carry a tune, even if you give me a five-gallon bucket.

Let’s don’t.

If you can really belt it out, with a voice that sounds like a gift from the heavens, I admire you. This past weekend, I saw several singers with “killer pipes”… Thursday night, it was local performer Krystal Peterson, a jazz/soul/funk dynamo.

Friday night, it was Fleet Foxes. Their lead singer’s voice is not of this earth, and the vocal harmonies are jaw-droppingly good.

Last night, it was a triple bill. I went mostly to see the middle act, Drive-By Truckers, and they were great, as always. But I was also blown away by the opener, Marcus King, who sounds (and plays guitar) like the love child of Janis Joplin and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

And the headliners were Tedeschi-Trucks Band, and Susan Tedeschi has one of those rafter-rattling blues voices that sounds timeless.

All those great singers were so inspiring that maybe I’ll start to sing more…

… or maybe I’ll just go to more concerts. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

 

 

 

A poet disguised as a rock star

Jason Isbell is a wonderful poet. He just doesn’t get as much credit as he should because he sets his poetry to music.

I saw Jason Isbell and his fantastic band The 400 Unit a couple of nights ago.

There were several “goose bumps” moments during the set… I just love his way with lyrics. He’s also a heckuva guitar player, and has one of the most soulful voices around. With his band, he can turn on a dime from all-out rockers to heartbreaking ballads.

Anxiety deals with the internal struggles he goes through, even when to the outside world he has it all – successful career, lovely and talented wife, adorable daughter:

It’s the weight of the world
But it’s nothing at all
Light as a prayer, and then I feel myself fall
You got to give me a minute
Because I’m way down in it
And I can’t breathe so I can’t speak
I want to be strong and steady, always ready
Now, I feel so small, I feel so weak

Anxiety
How do you always get the best of me?
I’m out here living in a fantasy
I can’t enjoy a goddamn thing
Anxiety
Why am I never where I am supposed to be?
Even with my lover sleeping close to me
I’m wide awake and I’m in a pain

White Man’s World deals with “white privilege”:

I’m a white man living on a white man’s street
I’ve got the bones of the red man under my feet
The highway runs through their burial grounds
Past the oceans of cotton

I’m a white man looking in a black man’s eyes
Wishing I’d never been one of the guys
Who pretended not to hear another white man’s joke
Oh, the times ain’t forgotten

There’s no such thing as someone else’s war
Your creature comforts aren’t the only things worth fighting for
You’re still breathing, it’s not too late
We’re all carrying one big burden, sharing one fate

I’m a white man living in a white man’s nation
I think the man upstairs must’a took a vacation
I still have faith, but I don’t know why
Maybe it’s the fire in my little girl’s eyes
Maybe it’s the fire in my little girl’s eyes

Last of My Kind is a fish-out-of-water tale of a farm boy from Arkansas living in NYC:

So many people with so much to do
The winter’s so cold my hands turn blue
Old men sleeping on the filthy ground
They spend their whole day just walking around
Nobody else here seems to care
They walk right past them like they ain’t even there
Am I the last of my kind?
Am I the last of my kind?

Daddy said the river would always lead me home
But the river can’t take me back in time
And daddy’s dead and gone
The family farm’s a parking lot for Walton’s five and dime
Am I the last of my kind?
Am I the last of my kind?

And Cumberland Gap reflects the struggles of a guy in coal country when the industry is fading and his town is dying:

Remember when we could see the mountain’s peak?
The sparkle off the amphibole?
Like a giant golden eagle’s beak
Now they say no one wants the coal

I thought about moving away
But what would my mama say?
I’m all that she has left and I’m with her every day
As soon as the sun goes down
I find my way to the Mustang Lounge
And if you don’t sit facing the window
You could be in any town

Maybe the Cumberland Gap just swallows you whole

I highly recommend that you catch a poetry reading this summer or fall.

 

 

Sunday morning coming down

A trifecta of odds and ends for your morning perusal.

  1. It’s the finals of the World Cup, with… that one team… playing… some other team. (Sorry, I know fútbol is the most popular sport in the world, but I just can’t get into it.)

I’m with Michael Cera

 

2. It’s hard to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor in a backyard garden when your garden looks like an illustration from a Beatrix Potter book:

Sorry for the fuzzy shot… my flip phone is only 3 megapixels, and I didn’t want to bother the bunnies while they were having dinner.

Those little buggers ate all of my cherry tomatoes. But they don’t like basil, apparently. Pesto, anyone?

 

3. I may not be into soccer, but it’s been fun watching the Reds lately. After an abysmal start, they’re actually playing decent ball. And they have the best defensive centerfield in the game:

It’s not the first time Billy’s stolen a homer from Matt Carpenter:

 

Enjoy your Sunday!

 

 

 

 

Days of future (of rock and roll) past

Last night I drove up to Oxford, Ohio to see my friend Dave’s son play guitar for the local band This Pine Box. But going to see the band was just a handy excuse, a smoke screen of sorts. Don’t get me wrong – This Pine Box is a great band. They’re getting some national attention and  they deserve it. But the real reason I made the long trek to Oxford was to see some old friends:

These are some of my homies from my days at 97X. Going left to right, it’s: yours truly, Steve Baker, Dave Tellmann, Gentleman Jim Mercer, Kathy Lucas, Billy D. the Fresh MC, Matt Sledge and Chris Adryan.

I could go on and on about each and every one of them (except maybe Kathy, because she spent a decade at 97X but that was after I departed), but suffice it to say the folks you see in the photo above, and dozens more that weren’t in Oxford last night, have fond memories of their time at a small-but-mighty modern rock station (a.k.a. “the future of rock and roll”) in a college town nestled among cornfields. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it was the least amount of money I ever made in a full-time job, yet it was the most fun I ever had at a workplace.

Seth Godin calls them “tribes”:

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” 

For the 97X tribe, the shared interest was the music. And even though our station’s broadcast range barely covered parts of Cincinnati and Dayton, we certainly had a way to communicate. Not just on the air, but at the concerts and the promotional events. Not everyone could get 97X on their radio, and fewer still actually “got” 97X, but those that did made it a fantastic ride.

 

Odds and ends

A few leftovers on a Monday morning:

Heartbreak for the Hogs

It’s been a couple of weeks since this happened, but I was on vacation at the time (also, still smarting from it). The Arkansas Razorbacks were one strike away from clinching their first national title in baseball at the College World Series. One pop foul away, actually. Then this happened:

Great Bill Buckner’s ghost! You know what happens next… Oregon State ties it, then wins that game and the next one. What a way to lose. But the Razorbacks will be back.

The Great Pretender

I saw The Pretenders in concert on Friday night, and now have firsthand evidence that Chrissie Hynde is the coolest chick in rock and roll. (I’m using the term “chick” because I’m pretty sure Chrissie would use that term also.) While the set list was a bit short on classics (I’d be happy if they played their first album in its entirety), it was still a darn fine show, and Chrissie is still going strong at 66. (Must be that vegan lifestyle.) Props to original drummer Martin Chambers, too, working overtime keeping time on the kit.

I didn’t take this photo… Chrissie doesn’t allow audience members to take them, and our seats were much farther away.

Good news/Bad news

Good news: Superchunk is finally playing a show within 100 miles of Cincinnati. It’s been eons since that happened.

Bad news: The show sold out in 13 hours… before I could snag a ticket.

  

Ending on a happier note

 

 

The low profit Prophet, Chuck

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

That quote is attributed to Hunter S. Thompson. He never said or wrote it (he did write something similar about the TV industry), but it certainly seems to be appropriate.

If you’re a recording artist with mass appeal — the “1%” of the music industry — you can make some cash. Everyone else scuffles and struggles for table scraps. Chuck Prophet is firmly entrenched in the 99% category.

I saw him last night in concert at the Southgate House Revival in Newport, KY. There were maybe 250 people in the audience. Probably the same 250 people who see Chuck when he rolls through town each year. You can set your watch by his gigs. The swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, the buzzards return to Hinckley, and Chuck comes to Cincy. He — and his fabulous band The Mission Express — are consummate road dogs. They tour constantly. In a van, not a fancy bus. Hoping to sell enough merch to turn a small profit.

Chuck has been releasing albums since 1985, when he joined Green on Red. He’s been putting out solo albums since 1990. He looks — and often sounds — a lot like Tom Petty. If you listen to his releases, you find Americana/indie rock/call-it-whatever-you-want gems on every album. Two of his most recent albums, Temple Beautiful and Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins, are wall-to-wall stellar.

Chuck could be bitter, but it certainly doesn’t seem that way. He’s up on stage smiling, laughing, joking, having fun with the audience and his band (which includes his wife Stephanie Finch). At one point in the set, he even said “let me tell you a secret: I’m having a blast up here!”

Barring a miracle, Chuck’s never going to make it big in the music industry. But if writing and recording great music and putting on a great show night after night for a small but appreciative audience count (and it my book they do), then Chuck’s a superstar.