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.

 

 

Not ready for Prime time

Take a gander at all the fabulous things I bought during Amazon Prime Day:

Sorry that I didn’t get sucked (or suckered) into your retail vortex, Mr. Bezos. First of all, “Prime Day” is a contrivance intended merely to get us to open up our wallets, much like the Tooth Fairy, Sweetest Day and Cincinnati Bengals home football games. And secondly, what you’re peddling is all just “stuff”… and “stuff” doesn’t bring long-term happiness. In fact, buying stuff actually brings us down.

All the gadgets, gizmos and geegaws are no substitute for a walk in the park, playing catch with your kids or having lunch with a friend. When you start selling that, let me know.

 

 

Getting to the non-meat of the matter

Over the weekend, my older sister sent me a link to this article in Time. WeWork is taking meat off the menu, and won’t pay for meals that include meat:

The startup has told its 6,000 global staff that they will no longer be able to expense meals including meat, and that it won’t pay for any red meat, poultry or pork at WeWork events. In an email to employees this week outlining the new policy, co-founder Miguel McKelvey said the firm’s upcoming internal “Summer Camp” retreat would offer no meat options for attendees.

“New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact,” said McKelvey in the memo, “even more than switching to a hybrid car.”

This is bad news for Arby’s.

But it’s good news for a planet that desperately needs it. WeWork’s new policy is a bold move – one that’s sure to get some backlash, yet one I applaud with my wimpy vegetarian hands.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go full Morrissey on you.

I gave up meat 27 years ago for health, environmental and economic reasons, and it’s worked for me, but I try to avoid prosthelytizing… usually. To each their own.

But “going veg” doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Perhaps there’s a less-meaty middle ground. Even a “meatless Monday” every week would be a big boon in reducing greenhouse gases, improving health and saving the planet.

Livestock alone account for more than 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and by 2050 the food sector could account for half if cuts are implemented in other sectors along the lines that countries have committed to doing. A vegan or vegetarian diet could cut those emissions by 70% and 63%, respectively.

Changing dietary patterns could save $1 trillion annually by preventing health care costs and lost productivity. That figure balloons to as much as $30 trillion annually when also considering the economic value of lost life. And that doesn’t even include the economic benefits of avoiding devastating extreme weather events that could result from climate change.

(from the Time article… and below are a couple  more fun facts from a CNN article about going vegan)

 

Perhaps it’s time for all of us to give peas (and pea proteins) a chance. Veggie options have come a long way in the past couple of decades.

Take a page from the WeWork workbook and ban the beef, chuck the chicken and pull pork from the menu, at least every once in a while.

C’mon, give it a try. The planet needs you.

 

 

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.

 

Learning to fly… or not

Last Thursday evening, when I walked down my street from the bus stop (I’m such a tree-hugger), I spied a foreign object in our driveway. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, so from afar I thought it was a sweater. (Why I might think a sweater would be in our driveway on a 95-degree day is a topic for another day. Don’t question my logic!) But upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a baby hawk… deceased. It damn near broke my heart.

There’s a hawk nest in one of our neighbor’s trees, and we’ve been hearing hawks screeching non-stop over the past few weeks, and watching them go from tree to tree. Once I even spotted the baby’s head peeking out from the nest, which was so cool. I’m guessing this little lad (or lass) was from that nest.

I called Raptor, Inc., a local non-profit dedicated to the preservation of birds of prey through rehabilitation, education and preservation, because I wanted to know two things:

  1. What should I do with the body? Answer: dispose of it via the trash or burial… the only thing you can’t do is keep it/taxidermy.
  2. Why did this happen? Answer: Fledglings are still “getting their wings” – they tend to be rather unsteady fliers, so they’re prone to running into things. Also, there’s “failure to thrive” – if the parents aren’t still helping them get food once they leave the nest, they could be malnourished. And our current heat wave certainly doesn’t help matters. The woman from Raptor Inc. said they’ve been getting a lot of reports of dead baby hawks during this fledging season.

fledge  v. Old English *-flycge (Kentish -flecge),an adjective meaning “having the feathers, fit to fly,” 

I don’t know about you, but whenever I see a hawk soaring majestically over the highest trees, I’m jealous. “You lucky son of a gun, you get to fly! And you don’t even have to flap your wings much… you just float on the air!” This was a not-so-subtle reminder that life can be a struggle, even for the most majestic creatures.

On Saturday, I saw two adult hawks on the same branch of a neighbor’s tree. I felt like they were trying to tell me that things will be OK. One hawk may be gone, but the species will survive.

 

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.