May all your favorite bands stay together

The first time I saw the band Dawes was in 2006. They were called Simon Dawes back then, touring behind their debut album, and they played a tiny club in a rundown part of the city, opening up for Band of Horses, with about 50 people in the audience.

The next time I saw Dawes (they dropped the Simon due to personnel changes*) was in the summer of 2012. They were supposed to play the Taft Theater in downtown Cincinnati, but ticket sales were so poor that they moved the gig to the downstairs “ballroom” – which is basically like an oversized version of your high school friend’s basement rec room. The audience tally was roughly 200.

A year later, in June of 2013, I saw Dawes at the Southgate House Revival, which holds 600, and they probably drew 500.

Last night, Dawes played the 2,500-seat Taft Theater… for real this time, they didn’t move the show to the basement ballroom. The gig was part of their “An Evening with Dawes” tour, so there was no opening act, and they played two long (and killer) sets with a brief intermission. It wasn’t sold out, but it was pretty darn close, with nearly 2,000 fans singing along to their songs (which typically sound better in concert than on the albums).

There are artists who truly are an “overnight success,” but more often than not, there are long years of hard work involved, playing tiny clubs, cramming into a Ford Econoline to get to the next sparsely attended gig, sleeping on friend’s couches or at motels that have a number in their name (Motel 6 or Super 8… the choice is yours). Giving it your all, night after night, even when you’re sick or tired. Building up a fan base one show at a time.

I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it’d be
I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever
I hope the world sees the same person that you always were to me
And may all your favorite bands stay together

If you put in the work, when your time comes, success will be that much sweeter.

Now it seems like the unravelling
Has started too soon
Now I’m sleeping in hallways
And I’m drinking perfume
And I’m speaking to mirrors
And I’m howling at moons
While the worse and the
Worse that it gets

Oh you can judge the whole world on the sparkle that you think it lacks
Yes, you can stare into the abyss, but it’s staring right back

When my time comes
Oh oh oh oh
When my time comes
Oh oh oh oh

 

*Guitarist/songwriter Blake Mills, who left the band in 2006, is now an acclaimed producer… and he produced Dawes’ 2016 album.

Knocking out sticker shock

Yesterday The Man was trying to beat me up and keep me down, but I bobbed and weaved and counterpunched my way to a couple of wins.

First to feel my frugal fists of fury was Big Pharma. My son needs acne medication, and if we got it through my employer’s health care plan, with my prescription “discount” card, the price tag was a whopping $532… for a single month’s supply. No mas! Thankfully the dermatology office did some digging (at my behest) and found a speciality pharmacy in town that’ll get us the generic equivalent… hand delivered to our home within a day… for $90. TKO!

That was just the undercard, though. The main event was Dubbatrubba vs. Car Dealer. The “check engine” dashboard warning light was on in our 2003 Honda Odyssey, which our oldest son has been using since he got his license a couple of years ago. We dropped it off at the dealership Monday night, and Tuesday morning they sent the diagnosis: it needs a new transmission. Here’s their estimate: 

Looks like Dubbatrubba (and his ancient minivan) are down for the count. But wait, he’s getting up off the canvas and… he’s reminding the dealer that they have a “lifetime warranty” on the drivetrain (including the transmission) if you get all your routine maintenance done at the dealership – and he has 15 years’ worth of invoices to prove he’s eligible. What a counterpunch! The dealer is stunned, staggered, reeling… the ref calls a standing eight-count. And now the dealer is throwing in the towel… they’re gonna rebuild the transmission for free!

I’m surprised that my punch-drunk brain actually remembered that “lifetime warranty” spiel from the salesperson lo those many years ago.

Yes, I realize the car is ancient and this is merely a slight reprieve. Heck, we may not even hang onto the minivan. Our teenage son has been a sport about driving it, but now he wants something a bit sportier/newer/better on gas (since he’s paying for gas now and he has a job delivering pizza). However, it only has 150,000 miles on it, which is low for a Honda, and every extra mile we get out of it is money in the bank. Besides, it’s sweet revenge for all those times we’ve had to pay “dealer prep” on a car.

Score one for the little guy!

And now, the Song of the Day, Joy Division doing “Transmission”…

 

 

 

 

Let’s all band together

A week and a half ago, I’d never heard of the bands Wilderado and Sure, Sure. Now I love ’em. All it took was one concert. That’s what I love about seeing up and coming bands in tiny clubs – the joy of discovery and the intimacy of the room can be musical alchemy.

Hat tip to my friend Jeff – he’s the one who put Wilderado on my radar. He knows my musical tastes and figured I would like them, and mentioned their upcoming show. I’d never heard of them at that point, much less heard their music. But thanks to the Interwebs, I was able to listen to quite a few of their songs, and Jeff was correct – they are right in my musical wheelhouse, a bit like Band of Horses mixed with Houndmouth. They absolutely killed it on stage, in front of about 50 people, and seemed genuinely appreciative of the folks who came to the show.

Sure, Sure was the headliner, and they were a bit more like Vampire Weekend spending the weekend at the Talking Heads house. (They even did a Talking Heads cover.) Much like Wilderado, they were fantastic in a live setting.

There’s an apochryphal quote attributed to Hunter S. Thompson:

“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.”

He never said or wrote that (he wrote something similar about the TV industry) but the quote is often repeated because the shoe fits. A year from now, both Wilderado and Sure, Sure could be no more, chewed up and spit out by the industry machinery. But we’ll always have that Tuesday night in Covington, Kentucky.

 

(Hat tip to the club’s sound man too. I’ve been to many, many concerts in tiny rooms over the past three decades, and a muddy or overly loud mix is a real buzzkill. This concert’s sound was pristine.)

 

 

 

More on Blogger Bob… and another local music luminary

After yesterday’s post about Bob Burns, my fellow DJ at 97X, Matt Sledge, posted a comment:

Big in Iowa. Big everywhere.

Bob Burns was the lead singer and main songwriter in a roots rock band back in the 90s. They were called Big in Iowa, even though Bob hailed from Hamilton, Ohio. They were big in Cincinnati, and even did a bit of international touring. But Big in Iowa never became big in Iowa (or the rest of the country for that matter), probably because they were a bunch of hefty, average Joe lads from the paper and steel mill towns near Cincy. They didn’t have, as Roxette would call it, “The Look.” (Yes, that’s the first, and we hope only, reference to Roxette in this blog.)

Bob got married in October of 2001. He needed a gig that was more stable than “rock and roller,” so he became a screener at the Cincinnati airport for the newly created T.S.A. Eventually he became the social media expert for the T.S.A., starting their official blog in 2008 and their Instagram in 2013. The Instagram account offered travel tips, often by showcasing the weird and wacky things people try to bring on board planes, using a great sense of “dad joke” humor that came straight from Bob.

F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed that “there are no second acts in American lives” but Bob’s second act as a social media dude made him more famous than his band ever did. In 2016, “Blogger Bob” was ranked #4 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top Instagram accounts (#5 was Beyoncé, just for perspective).

The account won multiple awards like Webbys (given out by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences) and Burns was featured in all forms of media with its increased popularity. He’d been profiled in the past year alone by NBC News, the Chicago Tribune, the Austin Statesmen and Mental FlossRolling Stone declared the account No. 4 on its list of best Instagram accounts and it got a nod from late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmell. Last month, Burns was featured on the syndicated TV program The Doctors. (Source: this CityBeat article)

A few weeks ago, Bob was bitten by a spider. The wound became infected… and Bob died of sepsis eight days ago, at the age of 48. He’s survived by his wife and two young daughters.

(The link to the GoFundMe page is here.)

“You can still find humor in the daily duties.” Here’s hoping we all can channel our inner Blogger Bob more often. We need it.

Playing soccer just for (penalty) kicks

My youngest kid plays soccer for the junior high team at his school. This past weekend, they won the city tournament, capping off an undefeated season. The finals came down to penalty kicks, and his team’s goalie, who is also our carpool buddy for practices, made a great leaping block of one PK to seal the win.

My son also played for the squad last year, as a 7th grader, and they won the tourney that year too. Which is certainly exciting, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. Can you pick him out of the photo below?

Probably not. Because it’s a team sport. And the life lessons that come from that are what really matter. Last year, he didn’t get much playing time. Even this year, as an 8th grader and one of only five returning players, he wasn’t a starter. Because that’s how life works: nothing is handed to you. You have to work hard, get better, earn it. Which he did. Besides, a player can lead without being the leading scorer — he excelled at that.

The team’s practice jerseys have “Team over Self” written on the back. A not-so-subtle reminder of how to play.

I’m happy for the team, but not because they’re “champs”… because they’re a great group of kids who get along well with each other. Long after the trophies are collecting dust in a corner of the basement, the friendships he’s formed will remain. That’s a much bigger win in my book.

 

We’re more connected than ever. We’re less connected than ever.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…

Thanks to our smart phones, our tablets, our laptops… heck, even our “smart refrigerators”… we’re more connected than ever. We can get the information we need (or a bunch of time-sucking listicles and memes) easier than ever before. But there’s a tradeoff: what we’re losing is our ability to connect with other people, face-to-face (sorry, FaceTime doesn’t count).

… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…

Exhibit A: Tourists. “Back in my day” when you were in a strange city or country, you’d have to stop and ask a local. “Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to the museum?” Mundane, sure, but also a chance to connect… “Where are you visiting from?… Oh, I have an uncle who lives in Albuquerque!”

Now, we use Google Maps to help us navigate (even though Google Maps doesn’t know the shortcuts). We use Yelp to figure out where to eat. Heck, even hailing a cab required a bit more conversation than Uber or Lyft… “Where to, Mack?”

Seems like we’re forgetting how to strike up a conversation with any stranger who isn’t named Siri or Alexa.

…we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

But don’t worry, there is a cure for this social malady. It’s lederhosen. Yes, that unique German combo of cargo shorts and overalls. Allow me to explain. A couple of days ago, I went on a Pub Run with a bunch of co-workers. We ran (or walked) from one pub to another, from downtown Cincinnati across the Roebling Bridge to Northern Kentucky and back again, and had a beverage at each stop (or some of the stops, depending on when you had to pick your kid up from soccer practice). The pub run organizers, John and Jay, decided to give this run an Oktoberfest theme. So they dressed up in lederhosen (and in Jay’s case, a mullet wig – don’t ask).

At our 4th stop, a couple came up to us and — wait for it — struck up a conversation! They had spotted us at one of our previous stops, then saw us again half an hour later, so they just had to know what was going on… especially because there were lederhosen involved. Les and Amy were co-workers, in town from Tucson for a conference, and looking for a good place to eat. We were happy to meet them; they were happy to meet us. We were more than happy to explain the lederhosen (the mullet remains inexplicable). We were thrilled to be able to share our local knowledge and offer several restaurant options.

The entire encounter took less than five minutes, but I guarantee you that Les and Amy left feeling much better about the friendly folks in Cincinnati. And they probably had a better meal than Siri could serve up.

Next time you’re on the road, put down the smart phone. Act dumb. Talk to a person. Especially if they’re wearing lederhosen.

 

Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

I attended a taping of the Jerry Springer Show yesterday. Don’t worry, it wasn’t that bottom-feeding TV show of his… there were no midgets married to horses, no clown strippers, no trailer park homewreckers (at least as far as I could tell – it’s not something that you ask in polite conversation).

This was the Jerry Springer Podcast.

If you’re not from Cincinnati (and old like I am) you may not know that Jerry was once a city councilman for our fair burgh… albeit a councilman who got caught in a scandal because he wrote a personal check to a call girl. His political career survived that incident and he later became mayor of Cincinnati, then a local TV news anchor. And his syndicated TV show wasn’t always the hot mess that it is now.

In 1990, his TV station’s owner (which also produced Donahue and Sally Jesse Raphael) recruited him to host a new daytime talk show. “There was no expectation that it would last at all,” Springer recalls. “My first contract was six weeks.” At the beginning, The Jerry Springer Show emulated Donahue and tackled serious subjects. But the success of Ricki Lake in 1993 convinced Springer and his producers to target a younger audience and go full tabloid. “Young people are much more open in their lifestyles, so every once in a while the show would go crazy,” Springer says. By the late 1990s, Universal had bought the show—and dictated that Springer up the crazy. (Source: https://www.tvinsider.com/47933/jerry-springer-picks-10-of-his-best-of-the-worse-episodes/)

But Jerry’s podcast is something completely different. My friend Jene Galvin is Jerry’s sidekick, and they tackle political topics, along with some amusing banter among Jerry, Jene and co-host Megan Hils, plus a live performance from a roots/Americana band. (Last night’s musical guest was Wild Carrot.)

Jerry’s a lifelong liberal, so the show doesn’t just lean left, it’s a full 90-degrees left of center. But the man’s no dummy – he earned his law degree from Northwestern, spent more than a decade in local politics and won mutiple local Emmys for his TV commentaries. So he has an interesting take on the current political shenanigans (which often make the antics on his TV show look tame in comparison).

The podcast is certainly worth a listen. And if you’re in the area, I highly recommend that you attend the show, which takes place every other Tuesday at a neat little place called Folk School Coffee Parlor in the quaint Kentucky town of Ludlow, along the Ohio River. There’s also a local brewery/taproom next door called Bircus Brewing… but go after the show, not before… we don’t want any fights breaking out (save that for the TV show).

 

Green acres is the place to be, farm livin’ is the life for… not me

Yesterday afternoon the Neltner Family hosted their annual pig roast on the family farm. They’ve been hosting a pig roast for two decades – inviting generations of neighbors and friends to their place for an evening of great food and even better company. It’s old school all the way, like a church picnic… “bring a side dish or dessert to share.”

The Neltner family has been farming the same patch of land in Northern Kentucky since the late 1800s. Farming was their main occupation for generations. Plant some corn and tomatoes and apple trees, grow enough to feed your family and if the weather gods smile down upon you, sell your surplus. Nowadays, it’s more of a side hustle – the hardest side hustle ever. My friend Keith Neltner and his brother Rick are both graphic artists, and Rick does photography too. Which makes for an interesting mix of people at the pig roast:

But Keith and Rick and their siblings (and now their offspring) spend a lot of their “leisure time” working the farm.

Keith is one of the most talented artists in the world. Yet he spends his weekends doing manual labor to keep the family business going. That’s a tough row to hoe, literally.

The Neltners host a family festival at their farm several weekends in the fall. You won’t find a nicer family, or one more deserving of your hard-earned dollars. And it’s an honest-to-goodness working farm, not one of those “dump a bunch of pumpkins next to some hay bales and call it a ‘farm'” places.

Load up the family truckster. Stop by, say howdy, have some fun. And show a little appreciation for the hardest working folks around.

Going, going… gone

A couple of days ago, I helped our oldest child move into his freshman dorm room (and it was on the 11th floor, and the elevator line was too long, so we hauled his stuff up 11 flights of stairs… and it was snowing… wait, now I’m mixing up my hardship stories).

He’s not going far from home. He’s enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, which is about 8 miles from our house. But if home is where you hang your hat, he’s now living “away.” It’s been a long goodbye. He started checking out when he moved into his own room a few years ago. (It’s the one above the garage, the former guest room, a.k.a. “The Fonzarelli Suite.”) Then he got a job at a swimming pool one summer and was away even more. He added another job at Ramundo’s Pizzeria, and started driving, and hanging out with his friends more, and spending the night at their house quite a bit on the weekends… but that slow fade from our house doesn’t make his departure any easier. He doesn’t have to check in anymore, doesn’t have to text when he arrives at a friend’s house. He’s on his own… at least until laundry day (which for an 18 year old boy could be months).

As an alum of crosstown rival Xavier, I can’t help but feel that I’ve failed in my parenting. Then again, Xavier doesn’t have an engineering program.

His room at home has been empty most of the time for the past few months. But now it’s a different kind of empty.

It feels more hollow… in a way it mirrors the hole in our hearts, the void in our lives. I’m so happy for him as he starts his next adventure, and I’m trying to focus on that part of the equation. But it’s tough.