Uncle Jesse… no, not that one… not that one either…

You can keep your heartthrob John Stamos from “Full House”

You can have the proud elder statesman of the Duke family on “Dukes of Hazzard”

And I’ll stick the Jesse Malin, the glam/punk rock/singer/songwriter/poet, the pint-sized dynamo who has been entertaining audiences with his music since he was 12 years old, and continues to perform with the energy and enthusiasm of a teenager at the age of 50.

I’ve seen Jesse Malin live in concert four times now, and each of those shows has had two things in common:

  1. An enthusiastic, entertaining, uplifting, energizing performance from Jesse
  2. A sparse crowd

This past Saturday night, I saw him at a tiny club in Columbus (yes, I drove 100 miles to see him, well worth it), giving it his all for an audience that was 50 people strong at best. He even joked from the stage about at least having more folks in attendance at that night’s show than at the Last Supper.

The lack of a crowd just doesn’t make sense. His music is brilliant, and runs the gamut from introspective songwriter tunes to garage rock to punk rock. His stage performance is as high energy as anyone I’ve ever seen, including Springsteen. He’ll crack jokes, tell great stories, hop into the crowd, whatever it takes to make the performance memorable. This past Saturday, that included dancing on the bar while singing a cover of the Clash’s “Rudie Can’t Fail.”

And Jesse has friends in high places, too. Ryan Adams produced his first solo album. Springsteen sang a duet with him on his 2007 release. He was in a side project with the members of Green Day in 2010. By all accounts, he should be packing theaters instead of playing dives. I think he does better in Europe, and closer to his home base of NYC, but he really deserves a better fate commercially. Just check out this song, the one he opened up with this weekend, a sizzling slice of Stones swagger:

But instead of worrying about the size of the crowd or the Billboard charts, I should just channel my inner Jesse. He clearly doesn’t let it get him down, and I respect the fact that he gives it his all every single night. He does what he does with passion, and unleashes his creativity into the world… what the world chooses to do with it after that is out of his control.

Keep rockin’, Jesse, and I’ll keep listening and watching and appreciating.

Music and Magic

Would you want to run into this guy in a dimly lit bar at 11 o’clock at night?

If you like great rock and roll music, the answer is a resounding “yes!”

His name is Tim Showalter, and he and his fantastic band perform under the name Strand of Oaks. I saw them last night, in a free 10 p.m. show at MOTR Pub near downtown Cincinnati. It was well past my usual bedtime by the time they hit the stage, but I can always catch up on sleep, and I’ll probably never see a show quite like last night’s. The band was fantastic, sure, but there’s more to it than that.

And halfway through the show, they introduced a guy whom they had just met. A local singer/songwriter who had emailed Tim earlier in the day. He has a tumor in his chest that needs to be removed, but there’s a 50/50 chance that the surgery might damage his vocal cords. So in “Make a Wish” fashion he wanted to play on stage with Strand of Oaks, as it might be his last singing performance. Heavy stuff.

Strand of Oaks not only brought him up on stage to play one of his songs, but also had learned another song of his prior to the show and served as the backing band on it. 

The moment was truly moving…I’ve been to hundreds of shows in my life and never experienced anything like it. It also shows what a big heart that Tim Showalter has. He may look like he belongs in a biker gang, but he’s a music lover, not a fighter. Here are a couple of quotes from recent articles that prove it:

I’m giving hugs and shaking hands and sweating with everyone at our shows. I love making records and writing songs, and I’m already writing for the next record now, but what I love most are the concerts — getting to hang out with cool people, sing, play for my friends, have some good drinks and stay up late. I’m a simple guy, and whatever size the show is doesn’t matter, as long as my guitar works.”

[Read more here.]

We’re not living in the day and age where you can sell 5 million records, but there are still people hungry for it and that is the best thing about it. You can never duplicate the experience of what it’s like to go to a concert. [emphasis mine] That’s priceless currency in this world. You can never take that away. It’s my favorite thing to do.

[Read more here.]

Strand of Oaks latest album is called Hard Love. Check it out.

 

Nailed it! Then caulked and painted it!

I’ve found a kindred spirit that abhors all those home improvement shows as much as I do. And he’s written a hilarious blog post about it.

Trust me, more than 12 people read his blog, unless there are only 11 other people besides me who appreciate well-crafted sarcastic humor.

The entire post is here. You won’t list it, you’ll love it. And the rest of his Hitting the Trifecta blog posts are well worth checking out as well.

Attaboy, Billy!

Billy Bragg has always been one of my favorite folkies. (Or as I heard him describe himself in concert once: “a quasi-political punk-rock folk singer.”) His new song “The Sleep of Reason” is a great example of why I love him so. Check out the bitingly insightful lyrics.

And in the end, the greatest threat faced by democracy/isn’t fascism, or fanaticism, but our own complacency. 

The year without a Santa Claus

As I sit down to write this, it’s 10:40 a.m. on a Sunday. Normally I’d be at Mass right now, sitting in the same pew as my wife’s uncle Neil, and his wife Gayle. They were with us on vacation in Florida July 1-8, along with a bunch of Neil’s relatives, and everyone rolled back into town late last Saturday night. After every Sunday Mass, all the family members in attendance always gather and talk for a bit, with Neil at the center of the conversation.

A week ago, it was just Neil, Gayle and me. We chatted for a bit, and said our “see you next week” goodbyes… Neil had a heart attack later that day, and passed away on Thursday. Yes, he was 78, and overweight, and had already had a heart attack and heart valve replacement several years ago… but I still feel like he was stolen away from us way too soon. That’s the way it always is with great folks, and he was a fantastic human being.

There are so many stories I could tell about “Real Deal Uncle Neil” as I called him, but to me the one that best epitomizes his character and caring is this: for nearly 40 years, Neil would dress up as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and spend several hours visiting the homes of dozens of relatives, friends and co-workers, spending a few minutes at each house talking to the kids that lived there, having them sing a Christmas song, reminding them to go to bed early, asking them to leave a snack for his reindeer… totally getting into playing the part of Santa Claus. Our house was one of the stops when our kids were younger, and I’ll never forget the look on our kids’ faces when “Santa” showed up and spoke with them. Pure magic.

Think about that for a bit. For 40 years, Neil sacrificed his Christmas Eve to make others happy. It was no fun riding around dressed up in a sweat-inducing Santa suit, with heavy boots and an itchy beard… but bringing some magic into the lives of others superseded that.

Here’s the thing – the Santa suit was just a prop. Honestly, Neil was the type of person that brought magic into the lives of others every day – kids and adults alike. He had the Irish “gift of gab” and never let the facts get in the way of a good story. He was comfortable talking to anyone and everyone, and always left you with a smile on your face.

In hindsight, as we look back at a few things Neil did on vacation that were a bit more sentimental than usual, we think he knew his time on earth was drawing to a close. We’ll miss him dearly. But I’ll also take solace in the words of Ray Bradbury, from his beautiful story about dying called “The Leave-Taking“:

Important thing is not the me that’s lying here, but the me that’s sitting on the edge of the bed looking back at me, and the me that’s downstairs cooking supper, or out in the garage under the car, or in the library reading. All the new parts, they count. I’m not really dying today. No person ever died that had a family. 
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