This is devastating news to music nerds and nerdy musicians everywhere. Neil Peart, the drummer for Rush, passed away this week. He redefined rock drumming, but he didn’t let drumming define him. A voracious reader, an author of seven books, an avid cyclist and motorcyclist, a lifelong learner… just an all-around interesting dude. Check out his website for more of his musings.
The first concert I ever saw was in 1982: Rush at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock, Arkansas. The band I’ve seen in concert more than any other band? Rush! They absolutely crushed it live for 40+ years.
Despite an iconoclastic nature, Peart found musical, and personal, brotherhood with bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson. The trio’s bond came alive during performances, which were immersive musical marathons that doubled as communal, spiritual experiences. Shows — of course — featured an extended Peart drum solo, performed with the precision of a surgeon and the creative freedom of a surrealist. But while highly technical, Peart’s playing was always joyous: As any Rush fan will share, air-drumming to 1981’s “Tom Sawyer” can be one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Neil wasn’t just the best rock drummer ever, he also was Rush’s lyricist. Lots of obituaries for him are latching onto the Ayn Rand/sci-fi angle. That’s not a complete picture. Yes, Neil did dedicate Rush’s 2112 album “to the genius of Ayn Rand” but he later said that he’d outgrown that influence. And yes, many of Rush’s song lyrics read like science fiction. But tunes like “Losing It” and “Red Sector A” were a nod to Neil’s love of literature and history. Songs like “Entre Nous” and “Afterimage” have nothing to do with dystopian societies, and everything to do with personal connections and the human condition.
While his drumming spoke volumes, he rarely gave interviews, preferring to let his work stand on its own. As a shy high schooler, Neil’s lyrics spoke to me. As a bookish old man, they still speak to me.
“He was in many ways like an outsider — the guy who was often different from everyone else,” Halper says. “But that was okay with him. He didn’t want to be like everyone else. He just wanted to be Neil.”
A few weekends ago, I created what many would consider a very crappy website. But I don’t think it’s crappy — I think it’s scrappy.
I’m a big fan of Seth Godin, and one of his key tenets is “ship your work.” In other words, you have to put your product out there, you can’t keep it hidden, or keep noodling it to death, wishing and praying that it’ll become perfect at some undefined, future time.
It’s scary, it’s intimidating, because you’re essentially signing your name to something that is rough, raw, unhoned. You’re saying “here, I made this” and opening yourself up to the slings and arrows of other people’s evaluation… and even criticism.
Here’s a recent blog post of Seth’s where he talks about “scrappy” vs. “crappy”:
The only choice is to launch before you’re ready. Before it’s perfect. Before it’s 100% proven to be no risk to you. At that moment, your resistance says, “don’t ship it, it’s crappy stuff. We don’t ship crap.” And it’s true that you shouldn’t ship work that’s hurried, sloppy or ungenerous. But what’s actually on offer is something scrappy. Scrappy means that while it’s unpolished, it’s better than good enough. Scrappy doesn’t care about cosmetics as much as it cares about impact. Scrappy is flexible and resilient and ready to learn. Ship scrappy.
Ship scrappy is exactly what I did. I’m a big fan of music (no shock to my handful of faithful readers), and I wanted a site where I could consolidate all my music musings:
blog posts about live shows, bands, the music business
episodes my semi-monthly podcast about my days at 97X, a ground-breaking indie rock station from 1983-2004 and online only through 2010
A weekly list of the concerts coming to the Cincinnati area, with my wacky (and sometimes snarky) commentary included. I used to send this out via email, but having it on a website makes it easier to edit and send, and more engaging (I hope) for the recipient.
Hence, 97Xbam.com was born in June, weighing in at 10 pounds of scrappy in a five-pound bag. Wondering where the name came from? Here’s the answer:
While I was putting the site together, I realized I could also add a few more features… a music video, a song from SoundCloud or a similar listening platform, indie rock headlines/news, a discussion board, a photo gallery of concert pix, even sound clips from my days at 97X.
I’m a writer, not a designer, so it ain’t pretty, but it’s pretty good. Huge tip o’ the hat to WordPress for making it so easy that even a caveman like me could do it. The domain name cost about $10, and hosting is about $100. A small price to pay for a scrappy little website. And I’ll keep working on it.
I’ll be posting most, if not all, of my music-related pieces on 97Xbam.com instead of posting them on this site. So if you don’t like my weird taste in music, you’ll enjoy NOT getting the occasional music post. But if you DO like music, you can also subscribe to 97Xbam.com via a link at the bottom of the page, and you’ll get an email anytime I post, typically 1-2 times a week.
It’s not perfect. But it’s scrappy. And that’s music to my ears.
Below is a post that originally ran in November of 2017… reposting today after hearing the news about Johnny Clegg passing away. He will be missed.
Johnny B. Good. Very good.
“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”
“Hello, I’m Johnny Clegg.”
No doubt you’ve heard of (and heard the music of) the former. Chances are, you’re not familiar with the latter. But Johnny Cash is to country music as Johnny Clegg is to South African music. A pioneer, a trailblazer, a true icon. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call him the Nelson Mandela of music. Back in the Apartheid era, teenage Johnny crossed color lines to learn music and dancing from Zulu men in Johannesburg, and eventually brought it to the world.
“They knew something about being a man, which they could communicate physically in the way that they danced and carried themselves. And I wanted to be able to do the same thing. Basically, I wanted to become a Zulu warrior. And in a very deep sense, it offered me an African identity. It was like a homecoming for me; I don’t know why, but I felt that.”
When he formed an integrated band – Juluka – with Sipho Mchunu, they couldn’t even play in public at first. Eventually they landed a record deal and toured the world.
When Sipho got homesick and left for his Zululand home, Johnny formed a new band called Savuka, which means “We Have Risen” in Zulu. His songs were at the forefront of the fight for equality in South Africa.
“You could not ignore what was going on. The entire Savuka project was based in the South African experience and the fight for a better quality of life and freedom for all.”
One of the best concerts I’ve ever seen was Johnny Clegg & Savuka at a club in Cincinnati, circa 1993. For some strange, mystical reason, I too wanted to become a Zulu warrior that night. And I can’t dance worth a damn. The passion, the energy, the “goodness” emanating from Johnny and his band was palpable, and the tsunami of positive vibes swept up the whole crowd. “I don’t know why, but I felt that.”
Johnny Cash is gone. Johnny Clegg will be gone soon – he’s battling pancreatic cancer. He just wrapped up a brief U.S. tour and has headed home to South Africa, with one more gig in Cape Town lined up for this year.
That phrase might not mean much to you right now. In fact, chances are pretty good that you’ve never even heard of the band Charly Bliss, much less heard their music. But I have a feeling that’s going to change over the next year or so.
They have everything it takes to make it big: fantastic songs, a unique sound, great chops, a cool vibe, tons of energy, and a very charismatic and photogenic lead singer.
But to be clear, Charly Bliss is a “we” not a she… lead singer Eva Hendricks, her brother Sam on drums/vocals, Spencer Fox on guitar/vocals and Dan Shure on bass/vocals are a cohesive unit, and together they pack a powerful wallop. Last night’s show, at a tiny club with 150 people in the audience, tops, easily could have blown away a theater-sized audience, or been a headlining set at an outdoor festival.
They’re usually classified as power pop, and they do have a poppy sheen to them. But after seeing them live, I realize they’re really a power punk band tucked inside a pop shell. The subject matter on the new album Young Enough is heavy stuff, about escaping an abusive relationship. But the songs are postive, not pessimistic, cathartic rather than depressing.
“Something really wonderful about getting older is this sense of perspective that you gain. You can look at your experiences and, even if they weren’t great, you can feel grateful and be like, ‘I really was an idiot then. I’d just love to give her a hug, she really had it all backwards.’”
Read more at https://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-radar/charly-bliss-young-enough-interview-2484798#sLaJZIF0Pj7mpbU0.99
I’ve been a music fan long enough to know that the music business:
is a business first and foremost and
isn’t a meritocracy.
The cream doesn’t always rise to the top. There are hundreds of bands that have “shoulda coulda woulda” stories to tell. So many things can derail a career: band squabbles, crappy record deals, distribution challenges, overbearing producers or managers, road fatigue, changing public tastes… But with a break here or there, I really think Charly Bliss could be “Yuuuge. The best ever! Believe me.”
When that happens, I’ll say it again: “I Charly Bliss at a club show!” Guess what? You can say that too:
I had no business going to see Hiss Golden Messenger in concert on Monday night. After all, it was a “school night”… and a Monday no less.
The opener, Anna St. Louis (who, it should be noted, is from Kansas City) didn’t come onstage until 8 p.m.
Hiss Golden Messenger didn’t start until close to 9 p.m. That should be pajama time for this old man.
Mind you, this concert was hot on the heels of the David Gray concert on Sunday evening.
I also had no business going to that gig, because it too was on a “school night”… and it was in Louisville, KY, no less – a 90-minute drive away. But my friend Dave had an extra ticket, and we rode down with Dave’s brother Phil and Phil’s family, who are also good friends of mine.
Mind you, that concert was hot on the heels of the Mad Anthony free concert on Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati on Saturday night.
And I had to pick up my wife and daughter at the airport after that gig – they didn’t arrive until one in the morning.
I probably had no business going to any of those shows. I’m a middle-aged dude who lives in the ‘burbs. Silly old man, Hiss Golden Messenger is for kids!
Yes, I had no business going… but it wasn’t business, it was pleasure. Music is my happy place. Concerts give me energy. Especially when they’re as great as the Mad Anthony, David Gray and Hiss Golden Messenger shows. Most notably that final gig, on a school night, past my bedtime. Hiss Golden Messenger sounded great; the band is super-tight. And M.C. Taylor, the lead singer/bandleader, wrapped up the encore with a solo acoustic version of “Heart Like a Levee”…. with the entire crowd singing the backing vocals. I still have goose bumps over that one.
Sing me a summer Oh, that Cincinnati moon – like a wheel in the sky – shows two roads, honey Tell me which one leads to mine?
Live music – there’s nothing quite like it. So, as Warren Zevon said, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
Since the founding of this country, life expectancy has more than doubled, with nearly all of the increase coming since the outset of the 20th century. We can traverse the continent in less than the duration of a workday, a workday considerably shorter than it was a century ago. We can speak with and see anyone, anywhere and in real time, on the black mirror in our pocket. We have temperature-controlled homes, private and protected and our very own, with reliable indoor plumbing, light to extend productivity into the dark, and entertainment at our command to amuse us with worlds we would otherwise never see, or that exist solely in imagination. We work only five of seven days, eight of 24 hours, 50 of 52 weeks. Sometimes not even that.
It’s easy to focus on the negative. Looking on the bright side takes a bit more work. But if you pause for a moment and look around, you’ll realize how good we’ve got it.