Art for Art’s Sake

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

Kurt Vonnegut, in his book A Man Without a Country

May we skip this month?

Spring is supposed to be the season of hope.

But May has been a real Mother of a month. And last year was a bear… heck, the pandemic was just the cherry on top of the crap sundae.

One of my best friends from college had a stroke a year ago. He’s made great progress since then, but he’s still not 100%.

The same day my buddy’s wife told me about his stroke, John Erhardt, a guitarist/pedal steel player in two bands whom I adore (Ass Ponys and Wussy), passed away at age 58 after battling mental health issues. Four days later, the 18-year-old son of a friend from my radio days passed away after battling depression and anxiety. And Scott Hutchison, lead singer/songwriter for the brilliant band Frightened Rabbit, took his own life on May 9th of 2018 after battling… you guessed it… depression and anxiety.

It seems a cruel twist of fate that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Then again, maybe not. It’s an uncomfortable topic, but mental health challenges are a reality for millions of people.

The more we talk about it, the easier it is to break the stigma, and the easier it becomes for those in need to reach out.

A year-plus of pandemic isolation certainly doesn’t make it easier to deal with underlying mental health issues. But spring is a season of hope, right? So if you’ve got some hope to spare, please share it. And if things seem hopeless, please reach out.

(The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a wonderful resource for families.)

Getting Hip to Hops

Not that I need any more notoriety — this blog has thousands hundreds tens a few loyal readers — but I managed to get a byline in the April edition of Cincinnati Magazine by writing the text to accompany some really cool photos (by Aaron M. Conway) of a local farm that grows hops.

You can check out the full online version here.

The editor of Cincinnati Magazine, John Fox, is an old friend of mine. When I was working at an alternative music station, he was the editor of an alt-weekly, and the station and the paper would collaborate, cross-pollinate, and co-promote events often due to the large overlap in audiences. John will throw me a magazine assignment every now and then – usually something fairly straightforward and not too time-consuming. I enjoy the challenge, and I always wind up learning something new while doing research and interviews. For the hops farm piece, I got to interview one of the growers and connect with brewers at several local breweries… it’s a really tight-knit community and it was cool to witness the spirit of collaboration among them. I also learned quite a bit about the process of growing hops, and I found it quite fascinating.

“The more you know…”

If you’re keeping score at home, I’ve now done four pieces for Cincinnati Magazine over the past couple of years, and two of them have been beer-centric. I think I’m being typecast. Then again, if the shoe beer mug fits…

Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through

Jim Steinman passed away this week. This lede from American Songwriter sums up his oeuvre pretty well:

Jim Steinman, the songwriter famous for the super-charged operatic rock epics he created for Meat Loaf and other artists is dead at 73. He was a songwriter proud of his lack of restraint in his songs. Subtlety was not the aim. It’s how he proudly earned and owned his distinction as “The Richard Wagner of Rock. ” Like Wagner, his songs were epic, operatic and always with a dark grandiosity.

“If you don’t go over the top,” he said, “you can’t see what’s on the other side.”

Wagner, however, never wrote any hit songs. Steinman wrote many: The grand statement was the entire song cycle of Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell. He also wrote Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” and Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.”

From this American Songwriter tribute

Jim was over the top, but it took him to the top. He accomplished a real rock and roll rarity that I don’t think anyone else has matched: for a while in 1983, two songs written and produced by him, but recorded by different artists, held the top two positions on the Billboard singles chart, with “Total Eclipse of the Heart” at number one, and “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” in the number two slot.

Not many songwriters get credited on an album cover. But Jim’s contribution to Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell album was so crucial that he got cover props.

That album is one of the best-selling releases of all time.

Source: Wikipedia

And it almost didn’t see the light of day. Here’s the album’s producer, Todd Rundgren, on the Sound Opinions podcast, talking about how many music biz “experts” passed on the album, and how it finally caught on.

The full podcast episode is here.

Jim Steinman also worked in musical theater – his bombastic style was tailor-made for the stage. And he released a solo album back in 1981, called Bad for Good. One of the songs on that album was “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” (later sung by Meatloaf and released on Bat Out of Hell II):

We’d be listening to the radio so loud and so strong
Every golden nugget coming like a gift of the gods
Someone must have blessed us when he gave us those songs…

Keep on believing
And you’ll discover baby:
There’s always something magic
There’s always something new
And when you really
Really need it the most
That’s when rock and roll dreams come through
The beat is yours forever
The beat is always new
And when you really
Really need it the most
That’s when rock and roll dreams come through
For you

“Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” by Jim Steinman

Jim Steinman wasn’t a Dylan, he wasn’t a Springsteen, but that wasn’t his goal. And he deserves a lot of credit for having a unique vision and sticking to it, and making his rock and roll dreams come through.

Obit from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/apr/22/steinman-obituary-bat-out-of-hell

Publish or Perish

“Shoot for the moon,” they say. “Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Well, sure, but then there’s also this:

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Heck, I’m too ADHD to even put together the basis for a lackluster novel. But I’m OK with that. Lackluster blog posts are right in my wheelhouse. And there’s something to be said for that. Putting pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard to the ether — is worthwhile to exercise those writing muscles. Even when the end result is lackluster.

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