Only a memory. Sadly.

When the rock stars you grew up with pass away, they take a piece of your heart and soul with them. It’ll never be 1979 again but whenever I hear Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That” I’m immediately transported back to my childhood home in Hagarville, Arkansas… listening to that song on KKYK-FM (K-Kick), the rock station out of Little Rock. 1982 is long gone, but whenever I hear David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” I hearken back to my freshman year at Xavier and hearing all the fantastic songs on Kevin Fagan’s cassette of Changesonebowie. 1992 is way back in the rear view mirror, but when I hear a Smithereens song – which isn’t often enough – I think of my time spinning those tunes at 97X in Oxford, Ohio.

Petty’s gone. Bowie’s gone. And now the lead singer of The Smithereens is gone. Pat DiNizio passed away Tuesday at the age of 62, after battling health issues over the past several years.

If you’re looking only for Top 40 appearances, The Smithereens catalog of tunes pales in comparison to Petty and Bowie. But if you’re looking for pure, unadulterated power-pop, The Smithereens could go toe to toe with anyone.

The music writer for the Buffalo News, Jeff Miers, wrote a wonderful appreciation piece for Pat, a woefully underappreciated garbageman turned singer/songwriter/band leader. Check it out here. I love this excerpt:

On Dec. 12, we lost a beautiful musician whose name is not likely to be mentioned on Entertainment Tonight or during the local news broadcast. Pat Dinizio, a former garbage man from New Jersey, wrote some of the finest power-pop tunes this side of Big Star and Cheap Trick. His band, the Smithereens, released a string of indelible guitar jangle-driven gems that actually became hits at the tail-end of the ’80s. Then the bubble burst, and DiNizio and his band-mates spent the next 30 years touring like madmen, releasing great records that only true fans and rock aficionados appreciated, and making a living through a string of club gigs and the occasional casino date pay-off.

The Smithereens represent the old music business model. They played scummy clubs, they became very good at what they did, they built a following one enthused concert-goer at a time. Their integrity was hard-earned.

I wonder where the next generation of bands like that will come from… or if they’ll even come at all. It’s all laptops and Auto-Tune these days. Pat saw that even back in ’88, in an interview with NPR’s Terri Gross:

There are hooks today in a lot of popular music, but it seems as though the song itself is being ignored in favor of writing songs around a beat or a drum machine.

I’m still a sucker for the type of hooks that the Smithereens mastered. Always have been, always will be. Even in 2017. R.I.P. Pat DiNizio. Long live rock.

 

 

 

Let’s keep it stuck in neutral

On Thursday, the FCC is going to vote to end net neutrality—breaking the fundamental principle of the open Internet—and only an avalanche of calls to Congress can stop it. Net neutrality is the way the internet has always worked… if it’s repealed, giant cable/broadband/phone companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will be able to call the shots, play favorites, throttle speeds, charge more for internet services, block competing sites and censor content. Isn’t it funny how the current chairperson of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a former Verizon attorney?

Please call your congressional representatives and let them know where you stand. http://act.freepress.net/call/internet_nn_call_congress/

 

On Dasher, on Dancer, on… Rover?

My wife’s uncle Neil, who passed away very suddenly this summer, was a great guy. He loved people and parties. He loved his job and the people with whom he worked. He loved promoting Mt. Adams, the hillside neighborhood and business district in Cincinnati where his company is based. He loved dogs. And he loved Christmas.

For 30+ years, Neil dressed up as Santa and visited family members and friends on Christmas Eve.

Today, all those things that Neil loved will be on full display. In Mt. Adams, the 28th annual Reindog Parade will be held. Thanks to Neil’s company, Towne Properties, the event has been renamed in his honor.

You’d better believe that we’re throwing some antlers on our pooches and participating.

And I believe that Neil is upstairs grinning from ear to ear.

The original “Just do it”

I recently read this book:

It was extremely interesting to me, as I’m fascinated by how the punk scene came about. Here’s a quote that really stuck in my brain, from Danny Fields, who signed and managed Iggy & The Stooges, signed the MC5, managed the Ramones and worked in various roles with Jim Morrison and The Doors, the Velvet Underground and Modern Lovers. It this passage, he’s talking about how the Ramones, on their 1977 tour of England, encouraged Mick Jones and Paul Simonon, who were just starting the Clash:

The Ramones said “You just gotta play, guys. You know, come out of your basement and play. That’s what we did.”

And it wasn’t just the Clash whom the Ramones inspired. Here’s more from Danny Fields:

Basically the Ramones said to them, which they said to countless other bands, “You don’t have to get better, just get out there, you’re as good as you are. Don’t wait till you’re better, how are you ever gonna know? Just go out there and do it.” 

You don’t have to be in a band for that advice to resonate. It’s the same advice that countless other folks have given, from marketing guru Seth Godin (“ship your product”) to creativity guru Elizabeth Gilbert (“done is better than perfect”) to… yes, shoe peddlers like Nike (“just do it”).

I had a blog for about two years before I shared the URL with anyone. Why? Because I kept waiting to “get better”… waiting for some fairy godmother of writing to sprinkle pixie dust on me. Eventually I realized that the fairytale ending wasn’t going to happen, and what I had to do was face my fears and “just get out there.”

My “art” – using the term very loosely – is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s lowbrow… raw, gritty, rough around the edges… it doesn’t hit all the right notes. That’s alright. Because I’m not really a blogger… I’m a punk rocker.

Danny Fields, who was quoted above, has lived an amazing life… he’s like the Forrest Gump of punk rock. Check out this documentary on him, called Danny Says.

 

I will follow… or will I?

Found these scraps of paper on the ground at my kids’ school:

“I will learn to follow the rules.” – written 25, or 50, 100 times, or however many times the teacher thought the kid needed to write it down to “get his mind right” as they say in Cool Hand Luke.

I have no idea what this kid did to be sentenced to writing this sentence over and over. But I do know that too often, schools push compliance instead of engendering a joy of learning. That’s a shame. I wish I could find the kid who had to write this, and tell him/her, that it’s OK to break some rules… to march to the beat of a different drummer. And I’d share these quotes:

Or, as The Replacements said:

Kids don’t need that
Kids don’t want that
Kids don’t need nothing of the kind
Kids don’t follow
What you’re doin’
In my face out my ear
Kids won’t follow
What you’re sayin
We can’t hear…. 

 

All I want for Christmas is…

All I want for Christmas is a pair of Mariah Carey-cancelling headphones, so I don’t have to listen to that song roughly 28 billion times each year over the course of a mere 55 days.

Seriously, just make it stop!

It’s on the radio. It’s on the Muzak system at every retailer. It’s played in every “festive” public gathering spot. I cannot take it anymore.

“Take your saccharine song and move it away from me. Now!”

 

There’s only one real solution.

 

 

 

Being There. But Jay’s not here.

NPR is streaming an album of outtakes, demos and alternate tracks from the 1996 Wilco double album Being There. I love listening to it, because that album was fantastic, and a quantum leap forward from Wilco’s debut A.M. the previous year. The difference-maker was Jay Bennett, who joined the band between those two albums. A multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, engineer and producer, he took Wilco from their alt-country roots to a more expansive, experimental sound. Ask pretty much any Wilco fan and they’ll agree that the three Wilco albums that feature Jay Bennett are the golden era of Wilco. My buddy Joe and I saw them play during that era at a crappy little club in Cincinnati (R.I.P. Ripley’s), in front of about 40 fans, and Jay was amazing, moving from guitar to organ to piano to pretty much whatever instrument was lying around on stage, cigarette dangling from his lips, long blonde hair flopping in front of his face. It remains one of my top 5 concerts of all time.

Jay got kicked out of Wilco by bandleader Jeff Tweedy in 2001, shortly after they finished recording their epic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album. (Some of the drama is captured on camera in the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.) He released a few solo albums but largely faded into semi-obscurity, a footnote in the career arc of Wilco. That’s a shame, because without Jay Bennett’s prodigious contributions, Wilco might never have become the critic’s darling that they are today.

“When Jay was with Wilco, he really expanded the palette of the kinds of sounds and the instruments and arrangements that they were doing,” Loerzel says about him today. “You know, maybe Jeff Tweedy would have moved in that direction on his own, but Jay certainly helped him, and I think the two of them grew together in the band.”

What’s even sadder is that Jay Bennett died in 2009, from an accidental overdose. His health insurance wouldn’t cover his much-needed hip replacement surgery, so he was using a prescription painkiller – a fentanyl patch – to fight the pain while he worked to raise money to cover the surgery. (Think about that when you hear talk of repealing the Affordable Care Act.) He died in his sleep, at the age of 45.

I can’t listen to the outtakes album without thinking about Jay. Wilco is much more polished now, but I miss that grit, that soul, that energy. A couple of folks are making a documentary about Jay, and have already reached their Kickstarter goal. Check out the trailer below.

And check out these articles for more about Jay.

https://www.spin.com/2009/05/what-jay-bennetts-death-made-me-realize-about-wilco/

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2013/11/jay-bennetts-sad-final-days.html?p=2

http://nodepression.com/article/jay-bennett-gone-not-forgotten