You CAN go home again

Five kids who grew up in Cincinnati (twin brothers from one family, two brothers from another family, and one other dude) and played in various local bands, joined forces in Brooklyn nearly 20 years ago and formed a new band called The National.

Bryce Dessner, Scott Devendorf, Bryan Devendorf, Matt Berninger, Aaron Dessner

This past weekend, they staged a “Homecoming” music festival on the banks of the Ohio, in downtown Cincinnati.

10,000 folks showed up both days, in glorious weather, to see several great artists.

Both nights were capped by a headlining set from The National, under the light of the moon.

Pretty friggin’ cool.

 

The ripple effect

Part 1

Allow me to introduce you to “Hippie Bob.” He was a gig buddy of mine back in the day. I’ve gone to hundreds of concerts in my lifetime (I know, hard to believe from someone who blogs about music every other day). Because I like “weirdo” bands, the crowds are usually smaller, and you wind up seeing the same familiar faces, concert after concert. That’s how I met “Hippie Bob.” After seeing each other at several shows, we finally introduced ourselves to each other. At that time (circa late 90s), Bob was nearing retirement from his 30-year career as a photography teacher at a local high school. I called him “Hippie Bob” because he was clearly a product of that era, with his long ponytail, tie-dyed shirts and his turquoise jewelry. But he was also a great guy, soft-spoken, kindhearted, funny. A good dude to hang out with at shows. We never hung out socially outside of concerts. I never even knew Bob’s last name. But if you drew a Venn diagram of my musical tastes and Bob’s, there would be a 90% overlap.

A = punk banks like Superchunk. C = old school folkies like Peter Rowan. B = millions of great bands.

There we were, show after show, year after year, following the same bands, and comparing notes on upcoming shows and new releases. “Are you going to Son Volt at Top Cat’s?” “Yes, I’ll be at that one!” “What do you think about the new Patty Griffin album?” “It’s great!”

Once kids came along, I got to less concerts, but invariably Hippie Bob would be at most of them. The last time I saw him at a concert was probably a decade ago, and his health wasn’t the best. I don’t even know if he’s still with us.

Part 2

Allow me to introduce you to Lauren Fisher. She’s a creative, specializing in motion graphics and animation.

She lives in L.A. now, but she grew up in Cincinnati. Yesterday morning, she gave a talk at a Creative Mornings Cincinnati event, and talked about her artistic journey. Outside of her parents, the person who influenced her career choice the most was a high school photography teacher named Mr. Gregory. She was drawn to him because he was wired differently. When she put up a slide with an old yearbook photo of Mr. Gregory and described him saying “he had a ponytail, wore turquoise jewelry, listened to NPR and loved the band Wilco” I did a double-take and nearly blurted out “Hippie Bob!”

Yes, I only knew Hippie Bob as an super-cool older dude who liked good music. But over his 30-year career, Bob influenced so many kids, imbuing them with a love of photography in particular, and the arts in general. They say teachers change lives, and I’ve always believed that to be true. But it really hit home in a tangible, visceral way yesterday.

Today I’m going to an all-day music festival. I’m going tomorrow too. It’s a bunch of weirdo bands, of course.

I doubt I’ll run into Hippie Bob, but I have no doubt that dozens of his proteges will be there. So I know he’s still with us.

 

Add Calexico to your musical lexicon

I saw Calexico in concert last night, at the Woodward Theater in Cincinnati. They’re a Tucson, Arizona band and don’t come through these parts too often, so I was willing to stay up late on a “school night” to catch them, and I’m sure glad I did. Seven dudes up on stage, most playing multiple instruments — including trumpets and xylophone — during the course of the set.

Wikipedia attempts to define them with “AmericanaTex-Mexindie rock band” and says their musical style “is influenced by traditional Latin sounds of mariachiconjuntocumbia and tejano mixed with countryjazz and post-rock.”

In other words, they sound like no other band around, in the best possible way. I’m sure that’s a curse for album sales, but it’s a blessing in a live setting.

Lead singer Joey Burns and drummer John Convertino have been together since 1990, when they played in Giant Sand. They formed Calexico in ’95. Those decades of working together really show – they’re the musical version of a married couple who can complete each other’s sentences.

Calexico’s new album is The Thread That Keeps Us.

You can listen to every track on this playlist. One song is below. Happy listening!

 

Evel. Pure evil.

As a 70s kid, I grew up with Evel Knievel on the brain. Motorcycle stuntman extraordinaire. (But “Skycycle” failure.)

It was the 70s. ‘Nuff said.

A perennial performer on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Jumping fountains, jumping buses, jumping a pool of sharks before Fonzie did.

Before Bodyglove wetsuits existed, people often wore their leather jackets in the ocean.

Evel was all the rage, and so were his toys.

Naturally my brother and I would attempt to emulate Evel. Usually that involved setting up a piece of plywood on a log as a makeshift ramp and attempting to jump over some obstacle on our Schwinn bikes with slick back tires and banana seats.

But once we just decided to try a long jump – sans bicycles – in our living room. We marked out a launch line and would track our landing spots, trying to jump a bit farther with each attempt (and probably making motorcycle “vroom-vroom” sounds with every launch). On my final attempt (and the reason it was final will become perfectly clear by the end of this sentence), I set a new record… but in true homage to my hero Evel, I got a bit wobbly on the landing, stumbled, lost my balance, and tried to stop my fall… by putting my hand through one of the panes in a living room window.

Luckily, my hand came out unscathed. But the window wasn’t as lucky. Because my father wasn’t much of a handyman and our meager household budget didn’t have room for repairs, we just thumbtacked a Hefty garbage bag over the missing windowpane. That damn garbage bag was up for years, a constant reminder of my failed stuntman career. Which is why I force my kids to take out the trash… the Cinch-Sak memories are simply too painful.

Why do you taunt me so?

On a brighter note, a few decades later, I stumbled again… but this time it was stumbling across a true gem of an album.

If you ever see this album at a flea market, buy it! It has excerpts of Evel interviews prior to the ill-fated Snake River Jump, and even a song sung by Evel himself (and I’m using the term “sung” very liberally). The album wraps up with this lovely ballad (and by “lovely” I mean “cheesier than a pound of Swiss”).

He can move a mountain

Leap across a winding river

Once he’s made his mind up, there’s nothing he won’t try

There’s something deep inside him, lusting for the thrills that drive him.

Yet he knows someday he’s gonna have to face that canyon in the sky.

I miss you, Evel. The world needs more risk-takers like you. And stronger windows.

 

Pick a day, any day

For the stoner set, today’s an “earth day” of sorts.

4/20 dude!

The official date is this Sunday, April 22nd. It’s been that way since 1970. I really didn’t know that much about the origin of Earth Day, but this page on the EarthDay.org website sheds a lot of light on it. Here are my favorite excerpts:

The idea for a national day to focus on the environment came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. By the end of that year, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean AirClean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. “It was a gamble,” Gaylord recalled, “but it worked.”

Wow, that’s powerful stuff! Can you imagine anything uniting such disparate groups today? In some ways, it’s depressing to see where we are… it feels like we’re regressing. On the other hand, it’s energizing to know that amazing things can happen on a global scale thanks to the efforts of a tiny team of dedicated folks.

It’s almost Earth Day. It’s time to answer the questions about Mother Earth posed by Dramarama back in 1991:

What are we doing here?
and what are we doing to her?

What are we gonna do?

 

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