Sunday, September 23, 2018

Great Moments in Rock and Roll, Ctd.

From The Mansion on the Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen. and the Head-On Collision of Rock and Commerce by Fred Goodman:
...the [MC5's] legend...really began to solidify with a May 31, 1968, gig at the Grosse Point Hideout. The club, one of a chain of Hideouts owned by rock manager Punch Andrews, drew a capacity crowd of four hundred kids that night, perhaps helped by Gary Grimshaw-produced handbill that showed the band, naked in front of a backward American flag, along with the legend “Break through American stasis with the MC5.” 
   During an opening set, [John] Sinclair and drummer Dennis Thompson had stepped outside to smoke a joint with a group of local kids when the club’s security guards saw them and called the police. About to be arrested, Sinclair and Thompson got word to the band. Ron Levine, the group’s roadie, took the microphone in front of the packed club and urged the crowd to surround the police outside if they wanted the show to go on. And although the police dragged Levine offstage and quickly closed the club’s doors to prevent a confrontation in the parking lot, the manager was sufficiently shaken to have the police release Sinclair and Thompson. It was a triumphant MC5—and an equally jubilant audience—that rocked the Hideout that evening. When the exasperated club manager later shut off the electricity in a bid to end the frenzied show, the audience—led by guitarist Fred Smith—chanted “Power! Power! Power!” until the electricity was turned back on and the band allowed to finish.
John Sinclair's take on the cataclysmic event here.
The MC5, picnic shelter in park, 1968 

Top photo via Pinterest; bottom photo via Make My Day.

Friday, September 21, 2018

"Man, I don't know. I can't tell. I got no way of knowing."

Terry Knight and The Pack
Lately I've been obsessing over this 1965 teenage ground report, dateline Detroit Rock City, from rockin' Terry Knight and the Pack:
Sit all alone got no money in my pockets
Newsman on the radio talks of bombs and rockets
Jagger's on the TV screen singing about his cloud
Man lives in the house next door yelling at me loud 
People laugh at my long hair and try to put me down
My funny clothes and way-out ways are the talk of this whole town
Nobody tries to understand why I'm the way I am
Just tryin' to make a living, doing what I know I can 
Landlord's been yelling for me to pay off my back rent
The last girl I was goin' with, well, she pulled up and went
And it's hard, yeah it's hard, to get along without the one you love
When everyone around you just wants to push and kick and shove 
How much more have I got to give?
Before I can live the kind of life that I want to live
The kicker is the dramatic playlet in the eight-bar bridge, a shouted exchange between the singer and The Man next door in Everytown, USA:
"Hey, you with the long hair!"
"Tell me where you're going!"
     "Man, I don't know. I can't tell. I got no way of knowing"
"You leave my daughter alone, you hear? Don't try to take her out!"
     "Well, what makes you think your daughter wants to hang around in my cloud?"
I love that fourth line, a summary of all of the angst that a long-haired kid might've felt mid-decade, with the Byrds and Dylan and the Stones on the radio both scoring and fighting with heartbreaks and the social mores of home, school, bosses, and the rest. In that last line, the singer might be snarling "what makes you think your daughter wants to hang around with my crowd?" It's hard to tell, he's too worked up. I got no way of knowing.

Essential reading on Terry Knight and his wild career here and here.

Words and music by Terry Knight, Photo via YouTube.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Old 97s on Broadway

Times Square, old and new
Old 97's are a great American rock and roll band. It's no surprise to me that one of the best song about New York City in recent years was written by a guy born and raised in Dallas. Old 97s songwriter Rhett Miller moved from Dallas to Manhattan (via Los Angeles) in the late 1990s as his band was on the cusp of leaving the indie label Bloodshot for Elektra Records. "We landed [in New York]... and rode in a limousine to the Paramount, a swanky hotel 'just off Times Square'," Miller wrote. "The lobby was as massive as the rooms were tiny, and everything about the hotel seemed to ooze the kind of hipness that inflates the nightly rate by about 80%."
My room looked out across a narrow street, into the large windows of a dance studio where a ballet class was in full swing. If it is possible to fall in love with twenty-five women simultaneously, that is what happened to me the moment I looked out that window.

As I stood in that tiny room, I did the math. I could live for a month in my East Dallas garage apartment for the amount of money Elektra was paying per night at the Paramount Hotel. Granted, my accommodations in Dallas were humble to say the least, but this was some serious opulence. If you ever wonder why the old “major label” business model failed, look no further than the money lavished on our little Texas rock band by the dozen or so labels that wooed us that summer. Ridiculous.
Miller had his guitar, "a bunch of nervous energy, and an hour to kill before dinner." He wanted to impress his new label bosses, but mostly he wanted to capture "the feeling I had at that moment–the feeling of being on the brink of something huge. My life was changing right before my eyes. The dream I’d fostered since adolescence was coming true." The song came quickly.
I am the innocent of the song, but I’m not. I have always been too aware to be "unaware." That night, even as my dreams were coming true, I was laughing at the silliness of it all, the overblown nature of these things we build up, these goals to which we attach ultimate significance. You know what’s real? This moment, this breath, a long and lonesome high note, and that lovely roomful of dancers.
"Broadway" appears on 1997's Too Far to Care. Miller's lyrics capture his disorientation and fearful awe, and the rise and fall of his melody in the verses chart his hopes and realizations, but the transcendent chorus sends the song to a place that's somehow both timeless and new—what one feels visiting New York City for the first time. The yearning, ache, and melancholy of the chorus capture the splendor and the decadence, potential and heartbreak of the moment. Feeling crass or cynical about city living? Spin this cut and you'll feel innocence again. This moment, this breath, a long and lonesome high note, indeed.

Old '97s in '97.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

"It's the same every year"

Last night, Amy informed me that since June of 2016 she's been privately writing down comments that I've made about the Chicago White Sox, some to her, some spoken under my breath, ducking into her writing room and scribbling as many as she could. Among my mutterings while reading the Tribune and various online sites and my cheers and curses during games, there's been quite a bit for her to document. I barely noticed when she'd disappear for minutes at a time, probably because I was still puzzling over a lousy game. She was curious if over time she might be able to chart a baseball fan's hopes and optimisms in the face of the game's typical and relentless heartbreaks, look for patterns. ("It's the same every year," she helpfully points out to me.)

Eventually she started thinking that it'd be kind of weird if I stumbled upon her secret on my own; coupled with the devastating news of Sox pitcher Michael Kopech likely out for 2019 with Tommy John Surgery, the time felt right for her to turn over her findings to me. Reading them was part strange, part hilarious. Apparently I'm a bit of an obsessive, and a repetitive one, at that. No surprise there. That's what baseball does to you if you're a fan: build you up in March, and test your will over the next several months, only to do it all over again the following season.

Here are some highlights and lowlights, some ups and downs from a White Sox fan. See any common threads?

15 June (Wednesday)
Baseball is so humbling. They’re only the best players in the world. And still they struggle.

16 June (Thursday)
There’s a rumor today that Robin Ventura might be fired.
20 June (Monday)
Wow. Walked the bases loaded. None out. Okay. Not much to say.

25 June (Saturday)
By the way did you see that the White Sox hit seven home runs but still lost? It’s only happened 3 times since 1913.

17 July (Sunday)
It’s comic that we do not score runs when Jose Quintana is pitching. We waste a beautiful pitching performance. I love baseball. It’s confounding.

18 August (Thursday)
I don’t get it. It’s a humbling game.

20 August (Sunday)
Inconsistent offense and shaky bullpen. Same old stories. [shakes head]

4 September (Sunday)
[reading from paper] White Sox are leading the Major Leagues with 26 blown saves. That’s great.

1 October (Saturday)
[sigh] Last game of the season tomorrow. I’ll watch as a loyal fan.

3 October (Monday)
God, why do I have to pull for a team that is so mediocre? Oh well, we’ll see… [wry smile] I already feel optimistic about March.

12 June (Monday)
It's a rebuilding year. Currently we’re in last place but if we stay there, we get a good change at a high draft pick so it’s actually a good thing.

16 June (Friday)
You know what place the White Sox are in the Central Division? …Last.

Hey it’s the second inning and we’re already 7-1! Maybe we’re getting our stroke!

17 June (Saturday)
With today’s win the Sox have won 5 of 6. We're still 5 under 500.

They say you win 60 and lose 60 and it’s what you do with the other 42 that counts. [a saying Joe likes]

18 June (Sunday)
The American Central Division is so bad that we’re in last place, but we’re only 4 games behind first place.

25 June (Sunday)
We’re in last place but that’s okay because it means we’ll get a higher draft pick.

2 July (Sunday)
Pedroia plays his 100th game without an error, meanwhile our shortstop Tim Anderson is leading the American League with errors.

8 July  (Saturday)
[excitedly] It’s that time of year when the division races are tightening up. [pause] The White Sox are not involved. They’re in last place. Last place. Can’t be worse in our division than last place.

22 July (Saturday)
Record-wise the White Sox are by far the worst team in the major leagues. Thought I’d clue you in.

27 July (Thursday)
This is going to be a real laugher of a season.

Meanwhile our great pitcher Chris Sals who was traded to the Red Sox is having a great year. That’s one of the difficulties in being rebuild-y.
We have a stadium logo with an arrow pointing down and our new pitchers name is “Bummer.” That just about tells you how our season is going.
30 July (Sunday)
Love the sport more than the team.

31 July (Monday)
We’re in last place but that felt like October ball.

27 August  (Sunday)
It’s getting to the point where I realize it’s only a month left of White Sox baseball [listening to DJ and Farmer on the radio]

1 September (Friday)
I can’t wait ‘till playoffs. [Amy: for the White Sox??] The White Sox are firmly in last place with one of the worst seasons in baseball. We’re rebuild-y, don’t forget.
52-80 wow that’s bad. But we’re optimistic!
8 September (Friday)
[sunny day] Beautiful day for losing baseball battle of the #1 draft pick.

9 September (Saturday)
Ame my favorite White Sox player hit for the cycle!

9 April (Monday)
I don’t know if I’m going to be saying this everyday, but the Sox are losing.

21 April (Saturday)
[whistles] We’re terrible. I knew it was going to be rebuild-y, but…

6 May (Sunday)
[offers extended play-by-play of the game] …then we lost it. Typical Sox game. Typical Sunday.

10 May (Thursday)
White Sox are 3 and 15 at home.

11 May (Friday)
Rough season for the White Sox. That’s okay, rebuild-y.
May 30 (Wednesday)
In other news, White Sox are down 7-0 in the 4th inning already. Just keeping you in the loop.
May 31 (Thursday)
[reads headline] "Brights spots getting hard to find with Sox." It's true.

June 1 (Friday)
This looks about right. We're down 2-0 and the bases are loaded.

7 June (Thursday)
Sox start playing 21 games on 2 days. Oy. [voice of mock earnestness] We'll see what we're made of! We'll see if we've come to play!

19 June (Tuesday)
[listening to radio] Oh, rough year.

[a minute later] If you have a team that's terrible you don't have any anxiety or tzuris about losing or winning. You can just enjoy the baseball!

21 June (Thursday)
I feel bad for the White Sox beat guys because they have nothing to write about because we’re doing so bad. It’s all ‘specu-lying.’

8 July (Sunday)
Boy I wish my baseball team was winning.
Sox lost. Houston swept us every game this season. Hashtag rebuild-y.
21 July (Saturday)
You know what the Sox W-L record is? 33-62. 63 after last night.

26 July (Thursday)
I think the White Sox traded a player today. I gotta find out.

30 July (Monday)
[kindly tone]: Just wanted to let you know… The White Sox have reached a new low in ineptitude. … this is one of the worst teams that I can remember… that’s all. 13-4.

31 July (Tuesday)
We’re on a course to be one of the worst seasons in the franchise’s history!

26 August (Sunday)
Kopeck’s pitching well; got everyone out of a jam again

29 August (Wednesday)
[listening to a game on the radio] I love baseball; I’m already missing it.

1 September (Saturday)
[yearning tone] Honey, are the White Sox gonna compete in the next two years? Probably not.

2 September (Sunday)
It’s probably best that the White Sox won’t compete because I’d be a nervous mess, but when are we going to be good enough to compete again? It would be SO FUN to be in the playoffs. Oh well, rebuild-y. Two, tree years.

7 September (Friday)
Kopech tore his UCL and is out for the season. That’s why the White Sox can’t have nice things.
To be continued....

Saturday, September 1, 2018

All night: Spectacle in the Desert

I've been re-reading the chapter on underrated honky-tonk singer Wynn Stewart in Colin Escott's essential, and equally underrated, Roadkill on the Three-Chord Highway: Art and Trash in American Popular Music. In 1961 Stewart opened Nashville Nevada, a club in Las Vegas east of The Strip at 3015 Fremont Street called. "It was more a honky-tonk than a Vegas showroom," Escott writes.
The prevailing motif was Western, and when the curtain was lowered around the bandstand it simulated a covered wagon. There was a button behind [drummer] Peaches Price’s riser triggering the curtains, although [steel guitarist Ralph] Mooney insists that the device never worked, and the curtains usually had to be raised and lowered by hand. In theory, the curtains scalloped back, revealing the band.
As if this description isn't evocative enough, Escott includes these two great details: a jukebox would play as Wynn and his band hit the stage, and they'd open each set "by picking up whatever was playing on the jukebox in midsong."

Fantastic. But the best:
The club never closed, and so as part of the opening celebrations, the door key was dropped into the desert from an airplane.
That may be my new all-time favorite music story.
Stewart at the Nashville Nevada with Jackie Burns (at mic) and Ralph Mooney (on steel). Who knows at what time of night.


Here's a Google Street View image of the building, now housing Imperio Club, taken in March of this year:

And here's Wynn few years after Nashville Nevada opened rocking a killer tune that I've always wished those other consummate showmen, Rockpile, would've covered:

Photo of Nashville Nevada via Vintage Las Vegas; photo of Stewart at Nashville Nevada via Biography of Wyn Stewart.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Tale of Two Parks

Before last night's Chicago White Sox game I checked out the 114-year old, ten-acre Armour Square Park, which sits next to Guaranteed Rate Field (a name I still hate writing). Activity was low—no kids running around, no pick-up games; there were a few families strolling and plenty of folk streaming by the park on their way to the game—but noting the proximity of the vintage Armor Square Fieldhouse and the modest ball fields to a giant Major League park is a pleasure. I imagine that it would be pretty sweet to patrol the outfield in one of these parks, a glimpse of the White Sox's home flashing in your line of sight as you park yourself under a fly ball. Open-air bars along West 33rd Street were humming, a nice reminder that the much maligned 'hood around Sox Park (ah, that's better) is warmer and more hospitable than its undeserved reputation.

Guaranteed Rate Field, as seen from the batters box in the ball field in Armor Square Park

Guaranteed Rate Field, as seen from deep left field

Still, I can't help thinking about what might have been.


As for the game, well, continually impressive Sox starter Lucas Giolito cruised through five and then the bullpen imploded, that old story. Sitting in the second row of bleachers in Section 160, which afford a terrific view and game experience, I got to see a Mookie Betts homer land a few sections over to our right, and enjoy the Sox throwing around some good leather in the infield (the same couldn't be said of the Red Sox outfielders). The loss marked another victory for Boston, on their way to a possibly (likely) franchise-record in wins. Best of all, I got to take in an inessential but entertaining game, drink some fine Revolution beer, and swap hilarious and often enlightening stories with my buddies, great company that I'm always grateful to share.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Like a child

The opening paragraph from "To the Reader" in Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, published in 1957:
These memories of mine have been collected slowly, over a period of years. Some readers, finding them in a magazine, have taken them for stories. The assumption that I have "made them up" is surprisingly prevalent, even among people who know me. "That Jewish grandmother of yours . . . !" Jewish friends have chided me, skeptically, as though to say, "Come now, you don't expect us to believe that your grandmother was really Jewish." Indeed she was, and indeed I really had a wicked uncle who used to beat me, though more than once, after some public appearance, I have had a smiling stranger invite me to confess that "Uncle Myers" was a hoax. I do not understand the reason for these doubts; I have read about far worse men than my cruel uncle in the newspapers, and many Gentile families possess a Jewish ancestor. Can it be that the public takes for granted that anything written by a professional writer is eo ipso untrue? The professional writer is looked on perhaps as a "story-teller," like a child who had fallen into that habit and is mechanically chidden by his parents even when he protests that this time he is telling the truth.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Form & Theory, a lecture by Greg Cartwright

There are as many chord changes in this song as there are points, counter-points, and breakdowns in the couple's argument. "The problem here is we're both right." Cartwright's a master.

Reigning Sound, single (with Last Year's Men), 2011

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Rock and Roll

I'm always grateful that I got to regularly catch Lyres in their prime, the early- and mid-1980s, before lineups began imploding (sometimes onstage) and before Jeff Connolly's output diminished. Onstage, the band didn't wear the trappings of a Neo Garage Revivalist band; it was usually jeans and t-shirts for these guys, who looked indistinguishable from the venue's sound man or bartenders, or the odd roadie helping them load-in at sound check. Their songs were raw, unvarnished, rancorous rock and roll, self-consciously styled spectacle and image be damned, whether they were obscure covers or Connolly's originals. A night at a Lyres show meant a grinning, sweaty, dancing good time. I miss 'em.

And a killer cut from '92, a cover of a 1966 song by Ohio's Thhemm:

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


DeKalb County, IL
Kingston, IL
Kirkland, IL
The Farmer's Inn. Pkg. Goods. Kirkland, IL
"Bar For Sale." Kirkland, IL.
DeKalb County, IL

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

God only knows... Satan knows...

Heaven...or Hell
1966 was a heady year for questing adolescents. Heaven and Hell? God only knows in July, but Satan knew what you did back in February.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Youth, discovery, sexuality, et al

Last semester a student of mine worshipfully rocked a Beyoncé Lemonade t-shirt to class virtually every other day. Years from now she'll discover that shirt in a box or in an old photo and the flood of feelings that will overcome her: in that moment she's enacting what someone experienced a year before her, five years before, a decade before, half a century before, and what someone will experience next year. What identified her and so graphically broadcast her attitudes and desires—what was uniquely hers in that heady era of highs and lows—morphs into a silhouette for—what?— youth, discovery, sexuality, that which we love and can't define, and so on. My Stones tour t-shirt is his Sub Pop t-shirt is her Lemonade. Your past is unique and special because it's yours, yet you act out the epiphanies, regrets, and losses of all those who came before you. A humbling and beautiful thing. Bittersweet. Nothing and somehow everything.

Detail of t-shirt via ModCloth.
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