Attention all planets of the Solar Federation

I’m a day late and a dollar short on this, but that’s just how I roll. Yesterday wasn’t just the Winter Solstice. The date was 12/21… but in many countries, including Canada, our friendly neighbor to the north, they typically write the day first, then the month. So in Toronto, it was 21/12… I think we should all take 20 minutes (and 39 seconds) to celebrate:

The first concert I ever saw was Rush – on April 14th, 1981, at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock, Arkansas. I lived 40 miles away from Little Rock and didn’t have a car, so going to concerts wasn’t exactly easy. For this show, I got a ride with a couple of my co-workers at Piggly Wiggly – Paul “Greens” Turner and Steve Robertson (who once fell through the ceiling of the Piggly Wiggly and landed in the meat case – butt first into the rump roast – when he was trying to look for shoplifters through the two-way mirror peepholes in the rafters… but I digress.).

It was the Moving Pictures tour (great album, btw), but Rush opened the show with the first part of 2112 (“Overture” and “The Temples of Syrinx” if you’re keeping score at home) and it blew my mind. I still get goose bumps thinking about it. Sure the song (or song suite more accurately) could be considered a bit bombastic, overwrought… heck, it takes up the entire side of an album. But when you see Geddy, Alex and Neil play it live, you appreciate their musicianship in a whole new way. Three virtuoso musicians operating as a single, living, breathing entity. So tight. So stellar. So interstellar too!

Unfortunately, Rush is no longer touring and may never record again. After 40-plus years of rocking, they’ve certainly earned their retirement. But I was a Rush nerd in ’81 (which helps explain my lack of luck with the ladies), and I’m a Rush nerd still (which helps explain my general nerdiness). I also don’t like the cold, dreary winter… so every year from now on, instead of marking the first day of the saddest season, I’ll celebrate 21/12 Day. And you should too.

 

We’re through being cool

When I think of plastic hair helmets, I think of the band Devo. (Don’t we all?)

But the old codgers who exercise at the same rec center that I do always insist on having one of the TVs in the fitness room tuned to Fox News (a.k.a. Faux News). It’s actually good for my health, because I get so worked up about the tripe spewing from the talking-heads-with-trumped-up-talking-points that my heart rate is elevated before I even start my workout.

Having (unwillingly) seen many hours of these broadcasts, I realized that Fox anchors have Devo-style hair helmets too:

And if you peel back the onion, and study a bit about Devo, and what they are all about…

The name Devo comes from their concept of ‘de-evolution‘—the idea that instead of continuing to evolve, mankind has actually begun to regress, as evidenced by the dysfunction and herd mentality of American society.”[8]

Devo’s music and stage shows mingle kitsch science fiction themes, deadpan surrealist humor and mordantly satirical social commentary.

… you realize that Fox News is the greatest ongoing Devo performance of all time. Well played, Spudboys!

 

 

 

What does the Fox say?

My old pal John Fox (he’s the editor of Cincinnati Magazine now, but he used to visit the 97X studios when he was editor of Everybody’s News) commented on my last post about the death of the lead singer of the Smithereens, Pat DiNizio:

Great tribute, Damian. I was a huge Smithereens fan. There was a time from the early 80s to the early 90s when I delighted in finding cool new bands, pre-internet. Some hit the big time (REM, The Cure), when I sort of lost interest, and many toiled in the shadows of occasional MTV and 97X fame that was good enough for me, and the Smithereens were in that category. There was an even smaller category of bands where I thought maybe I was the only person who appreciated them, and we lost one of those guys in recent weeks. Tommy Keene died November 22 at age 59. He was from Maryland and was big on the east coast for a while; here’s a great tribute in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/tommy-keene-power-pop-songwriter-and-star-of-80s-dc-music-scene-dies-at-59/2017/11/24/ed373d1c-d12b-11e7-9d3a-bcbe2af58c3a_story.html

Thanks, John, for shining the spotlight on Tommy Keene. He certainly deserved more of a spotlight while he was with us. I was vaguely familiar with his work, but I’ve spent the past couple of days going through his catalog of tunes and it’s rife with power-pop gems. And he played with Velvet Crush, a band that also falls into the “brilliant yet criminally overlooked” category.

Dave Holmes also did a nice tribute to Tommy in Esquire. This paragraph sums things up quite nicely for folks like us who appreciate the under-the-radar folks:

A great artist can make you feel like he’s speaking directly to you. That’s how Tommy Keene made me feel for the last 31 years, and at the end of the day—and it is the end of the day—it doesn’t matter whether ten or ten million other people had that same feeling. What matters is that we did.

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