Thursday, June 30, 2022

Sonic threads

    People say we're wasting our time
    They don't seem to understand
    'Cause when you're dancing all night long
    It gives you the feeling that you belong

So sang Paul Weller in 1977 on "Non-Stop Dancing" on the Jam's debut album In The City. The song had been inspired by the Northern Soul movement then churning up dance floors in venues in northern England. "By 1975, Northern Soul had spread south into a national phenomenon, and the charts were full of reissues of old classics and new cash-in groups like Wigan’s Ovation," John Reed wrote in his Weller biography, My Ever Changing Moods. "And it reached Woking and the teenage Paul Weller, who'd ride up to the Bisley Pavilion on his scooter," adding, "It made such an impact that he even wrote a song about the experience." According to scrapbook notes that drummer Rick Buckler kept during the Jam's early years, "Non-Stop Dancing" was demoed in May of 1976, which means that Weller wrote the song when he was around seventeen years-old. Remember being seventeen?

Pushing forty years-old two decades later, Weller would essentially rewrite the song as "Peacock Suit," the lead single off of Heavy Soul (1997), a swaggering tune defending the Mod sensibility that gripped him as a teenager and that would come to define his tastes into his adult years, an outlook that Weller would liken to a religion. "I'm still a mod, I'll always be a mod, you can bury me a mod," Weller said to television host Jonathan Ross in the early 1990s on the cusp of a solo career. "Peacock Suit" was another in a clutch of songs wherein Weller married his twin obsessions, style and music. Allegedly written in response to an article critical of Mod attire, the song can be seen as a sneeringly cocky double a-side to the joy and abandon of "Non-Stop Dancing," both tunes celebrating Mod movement and style—"clean living under difficult circumstances," as the Who's early manager Pete Meaden famously put it in the mid-1960s. "I'm Narcissus in a puddle / In shop windows I gloat," Weller exults in "Peacock Suit,"
Like a ball of fleece lining
In my camel skin coat

I don't need a ship to sail in stormy weather
I don't need you to ruffle the feathers of my Peacock Suit
Did you think I should?
Weller now might blanch at the desire to fit into a community so dear to his heart in "Non-Stop Dancing," yet a sturdy sonic thread runs from that song to "Peacock Suit." The opening riffs in each are cur from the same cloth, as it were, and though the pace in '77 is typically quicker than what Weller would take in '97, each song extolls the same thing: the joy of movement, out on the dance floor and out on the street, your image mirrored gleefully in your sweaty mates' faces or in a streak-free shop window. The singer in each song doesn't give a fuck about your review. The driving "Peacock Suit" is still a staple in Weller's set lists; it's a wonder he hasn't revived "Non-Stop Dancing" yet (or updated it in other ways, as he's done in the past with his songs.) Overlay "Non-Stop Dancing" onto the cool, "Day Tripper"/"Jumpin' Jack Flash"-styled vamp at the end of "Peacock Suit" and what do you hear? I'm still a mod, I'll always be a mod, you can bury me a mod. Depending on one's attitude toward Weller, the resemblances in the two tunes can suggest a songwriter who's recycling ideas, and shallow ones at that, a criticism long lobbed at Weller, who never shies away from acknowledging that he steals from the best, and often himself. I hear a groove of sentiment and sound that keeps arriving and keeps surprising, the way a sunny day can affect you at seventeen and at forty in the same blissy and overwhelming ways. 

left, 1977; right, 1997

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Acting flash

On balance I enjoyed watching Pistol. The music's so goddamned great it allowed me to more or less forgive the original sins of biopics: the inevitable inaccuracies, the obvious dialogue, the self-awareness of the characters, the insistence that History Is Being Made when we all know that history comes later in the reckoning, rarely in the present tense of things. But the actors gave it their all, the use of archival footage was very cool, the set designing was terrific, and the direction and editing kept things moving. I wasn't there at the time, and I accept the portrayal of the intense media attention—journalists knew they had a story; Malcolm McLaren made sure of that. But I bristled at the dialogue: "We're Punks!" "We hate long guitar solos!" The telegraphing in private conversations was often over the top.

Did I mention how great the music is? Every episode sent me back to Never Mind The Bollocks which honestly I hadn't pulled out and cranked for too long.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

It's in the tune in your head

To say that I'm on a Paul Weller kick isn't terribly accurate; I've been on a Paul Weller kick since I was sixteen-years old. But lately I have been paying more attention to his songs that I've known and liked for years but have been hearing in new ways.

Like much of Weller's solo material, "Brushed" (from 1997's Heavy Soul) is as much a groove as it is a song, yet this particular groove is galvanizing, intuitive, and purposeful. It's also wholly original. Shuffling three chords, Weller and his band—bassist Mark Nelson and longtime drummer Steve White—are forced to muscle their way through their own arrangement and mix, which churns and startles, layered with screeching, riffing guitars, backward tapes, stereo panning, and restless, excitable percussion. Heavy Soul's producer Brendan Lynch and producer/engineer/mixer Max Hayes are credited with providing "additional sounds"—an apt credit for a soundscape that's hard to pin down, as a vivid nightmare is upon waking. I hear a scream in the mix at one point.

A strangely angry song, "Brushed" is remarkable: at once uncomfortable and lived-in, both anxious and grateful. Weller's words aim to reproduce, or anyway to try and make sense of, what seems to have been an epiphany that the singer's experienced, the title word evoking a blink-and-it's-gone moment when the universe wobbles a bit, and something bright and penetrating shines through for a moment before it's gone. (The Japanese have a great word for this, satori, a sudden kick between the eyes.) The first verse lays out the flicker of insight:
It's in a stroke of a brush
It's in the wave of a hand
And a view so bright
It turns the world
And makes all right
Yet seems to say
Come what may
You will be what you will
The second verse alters the terms slightly:
With a brush stroke of fate
You will have to think again
If you touch by it all
Lucky to be brushed at all—
Weller sings that he must now "walk a crooked mile / In a worn out smile" that's been "found on the ground." At the word found there's a sinister and alarming chord change. "Somebody else threw" that smile "down," and it's up to the listener to pick it up. "Looks like that you're the next blessed in town," Weller growls, the irony thick. Given the roiling arrangement, where parts of the song quarrel with each other to find resolve, that blessing feels pretty damn mixed. (You'd be forgiven for thinking that the eternally-stylish Weller sings "best dressed in town," as "Brushed" sits near the great "Peacock Suit," a riff-of-a-song essentially defending Weller's wardrobe.)
In the third verse, Weller locates the inspiration in "a verse" and in "the tune in your head": a revelation that revolves the world, illuminates life, and "makes you see / All the love within / Is still yet to come out." Weller's singing about the gift of art, I think, but he could as well be singing about mind-bending psychedelics; either way, the brief experience that he's trying to wrestle into form and expression ("Like the word—as a bang!") has demanded that he think again, see fresh again, and, blown away, he's grateful for this gift.

Then why the turbulent mix that sounds like nothing less than the soundscape of a bewildered brain? This is what I've been obsessing over since sometime last week, when—I don't know why or, really, how—I heard the song as if for the first time. It might've because I was listening to the 45 I'd recently scored, and the vinyl, unsurprisingly, led me to deeper and warmer places than the 1's and 0's had allowed me for the last couple of decades I'd spent with the song. Whatever the reason, I was particularly struck by the groove and music and the "rough seas" mix this time around, how unruly their vibe is while scoring a song ostensibly about the welcome, unbidden gift of a vision, however vague and fleeting. I think it's because the song matches, or translates, Weller's frustrations in describing what he experienced; if the perception had come unto him peacefully, in tranquility, then he might've reached for his acoustic, but because its presence shook him up and astounded him, he turned to his band, cranked up the amps, and tried to blast his way toward clarity. Weller often second-guesses his lyrics: in a video promoting Heavy Soul, he said about "Brushed": "Don't know what to say about that, because I really like the actual sound of it, sonically it sounds brilliant, I think. But...lyrically, I don't know. I'm not so sure." Yet the arrangement insists on the truth: you may be the next blessed in town, but the grace will forever slip beyond full understanding. Enjoy the ride and its surprising turns.

"[Heavy Soul] feels like quite an angry album," Weller remarked to Paul Lester in Uncut a year after the album was released. "Quite bare and exposed. The idea was to try and do something even more removed from [Stanley Road], more rough and spontaneous." He added,
There was criticism that some of the songs were undeveloped. That was true. I wanted to write them as quickly as possible. I wouldn't say I could listen to it every day. It's a bit heavy going. It's quite uncompromising.
On "Brushed," Weller sings in a way that sounds as if he's indebted and at the same time resentful for his tongue-tied fate. Heavy on the soul, indeed.

"Brushed" is one of Weller's great songs, yet it's the full-band performance that brings it to life. Here's the group grooving it in1997.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Hoodoo Gurus carry on

Dave Faulkner's songs have always been there for me when I needed them. I vividly recall standing in a consignment store on Knox Road just off the University of Maryland campus in the fall of 1984 when I first heard "I Want You Back"—the top of my came off during the chorus; I'd been sent without realizing I'd needed the deliverance. Over the new few years, Hoodoo Gurus' songs soundtracked my agonizing relationship problems and my general twenty-something agita with incisiveness, "I Was The One" and "Bittersweet" in particular reaching me—and helping me—in my darkest moments. A decade later, in a different state, literally and figuratively, "If Only" from 1996's Blue Cave played on repeat as I wrestled with major life decisions and existential questions of self-worth. I sang it to myself for months like bible verse. (Of course Faulkner wrote songs that scored bliss, as well: "Something's Coming" from 1991's Kinky brings me right back to the heady days of the courtship of my wife. I see her walking toward me on my front porch, now, as I sing the opening bars to myself 30 years later.)

And last year came the balm of "Carry On," one of the songs that helped get me through the unhappy residue of the Covid lockdown and a pretty severe anxiety attack during which I came dangerously close to bottoming out. "Carry On," in its blend of shrugging vulnerability and cheery resolve, is a signature song on the new Gurus album Chariot of the Gods as it suggests to my ears a turn of sorts in Faulkner's songwriting. He's always been tuned to the cynicism, meanness, excesses, and two-facedness that pockmarks humanity, and he's sung about them with humor and wryness, but on the Gurus' recent albums that grim knowledge turned his smile to a sneer at times. He seemed to be taking a lot of stuff personally. 

There's a dark edge to some of Chariots of the Gods, too— "Answered Prayers" recounts harrowing emotional and mental abuse from the point of view of the abuser, and the audacious and moving title track is an anthropological lesson in the colonialist ravages visited upon Australia's aborigines (really!)—but that edge is softened by the album's buoyant and lively tone. The sadder songs ("Was I Supposed To Care?", "My Imaginary Friend") are balanced by the fun ones: "World Of Pain" is a hilarious account of a bender that ends in a bar fight, "Get Out Of Dodge" wrestles with the grossness of narrow-mindedness but in a rollicking, winking way, capped with a vintage Gurus chorus, and "(He Wants To) Hang With The Girls" is a rockin' and pointed celebration of living along the gender spectrum. Guitarist Brad Shepherd's "Equinox" is a beaut: a knocked-out paean to the wonders and surprises that the natural world can offer, in this case the titular earth/sun meeting which blew the songwriter's mind in 2021. "You never know what’s coming," he reminds us.

"Settle Down," though tinged with the melancholy image of falling leaves, warmly embraces a calming epiphany of personal rootedness. Faulkner's mentioned in several interviews that he's recently experienced a significant measure of personal growth, self-acceptance and comfort in his skin that'd been sorely lacking for decades. I hear that new-found vibe on just about every groove of this mature, optimistic album. "I am less patient with the idea of mincing my words," Faulkner said in March to Dan Condon and Caz Tran at Double J radio. "I had some things I wanted to get off my chest, so there was definitely a lot of purpose there. That kind of fired me up."

[Chariot of the Gods] doesn't feel like a jaded piece of work. It feels fresh to me. It's very alive. It feels like a reboot to me, I actually approached it that way in my mind.

Even when Faulkner pushes back against those who want to box him in—a career-long pet peeve of his—he reacts less acidly this time around. In "Don't Try To Save My Soul," his personal confidence is matched by the song's freeing gallop, and the overall vibe is: I won't be bothered anymore:

There is a place called happiness
They said, “Go seek it, boy.”
They didn’t tell me where to look
To find the real McCoy.
I stumbled ‘round for nigh on 40 years
To work out who I am,
Now I ain’t gonna change for anyone
‘Cause I don’t give a damn.
Such a hard-won contentment's reflected in the album's closer, too, the Lou Reed-esque, hilariously titled "Got To Get You Out Of My Life," Faulkner's strutting coolness so centered and assured. This album could be subtitled I Just Don't Care.

The album was conceived as a series of singles (as was the band's debut album nearly forty years ago) that were rolled out leisurely across 2020 and '21, which perhaps allowed Faulkner to focus more closely on his writing. The songs' arrangements are characteristically clean and tight, guitar-based, layered, but never fussy, and the band—rounded out by stalwart bassist Rick Grossman and new drummer Nik Rieth—is hitting on all cylinders, if a tad less loudly. (I attended a Gurus show at the old 9:30 Club in the mid-80s after which my ears rang for a week.) Shepherd hauls "I Come From Your Future" from his sack, a wah-wah-guitar stomp that hearkens back to "Mars Needs Guitars." The vinyl edition adds "Hung Out To Dry," a cool put-down that's impossible not to laugh along with in its mock sneer, plus two covers, a fun but superfluous "I Wanna Be Your Man" (man, that song's got legs; the Stones hauled it out the other night in Liverpool) and a jog through Dylan's "Obviously 5 Believers" from Blonde On Blonde, where Faulkner gets to imitate a mid-60s garage band imitating Zimmerman. Great stuff.

If the Gurus are indeed re-booted, after Faulkner's cheery pronouncement, then we can look forward to years more of affecting, smart, and powerful rock and roll. And here's hoping that the thrice-cancelled U.S. tour can be re-booted, as well. America needs guitars!

Band photo by Christopher Ferguson

Friday, June 10, 2022

The Buck Owens Guitar Method

I picked up this 45 a while back, and a seat finally opened up in class. If I'm gonna learn I might as well learn from the master!

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

"I'm so thankful"

I was gutted to hear that Reigning Sound is calling it a day. The band posted an announcement on their website today, reading, "Due to Covid-19 and several other logistical hurdles, we are announcing the cancellation of Reigning Sound’s upcoming July European tour."

We are also formally announcing the end of the group. It was my intention with A Little More Time to come full circle, reunite the original lineup of the band, and finish where we started. I thought we could support the album with some touring and go out on a high note, but Covid has proven to be a long-lasting concern and more difficult to navigate than anyone could have anticipated. Rather than compromise ourselves or our fans, I have decided this is the right time to dissolve the band.

We appreciate the fans who kept us inspired and motivated to make music for the last twenty years.

Thanks for your support. Be safe and be kind.

—Greg Cartwright, Reigning Sound

I loved Cartwright's songs—which I trust will still arrive—and the many bands he's led or played a supporting role in, but none more than Reigning Sound, which I consider one of the great American bands of the last couple of decades. Cartwright's songs were urgent, melodic, driving, sweet, cutting, always deeply felt. He sings the tradition of the three-chord rock and roll song like few do. 

In 2015 I wrote a 9,000-word essay on Cartwright that appears in my book Field Recordings from the InsideHere's the opening:

Thank you Greg and all of the terrific musicians in studios and onstage who helped bring his amazing songs to life.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Tales from pastel fields

In 1981, The Jam released the single "Absolute Beginners" backed with "Tales From The Riverbank." In the liner notes for the band's Dig The New Breed live album Paul Weller would describe 1981 as "an 'horrible year for songs!", yet he obviously cared enough about "Tales From The Riverbank" to have shepherded it through a few iterations, including an early charging version titled "We've Only Started" (first released in 1992 on the Extras compilation) and in a horn-driven arrangement issued as a fan-club flexidisc at the end of the year. Allegedly both he and his label Polydor regretted not choosing the song for the a-side of the single.

Seventeen years later, Weller would stroll those same riverbanks. In 1998, he issued Modern Classics, a best-of compilation of his solo work, including with it a new single, "A Brand New Start," an ironic title given its rearward-glancing b-side. "The Riverbank" is a curiosity: neither a remake nor a wholesale rewrite, it sounds like a spirit cousin to the original song, the new, affiliated title suggesting a relative once-removed. There are certainly family resemblances: "The Riverbank" emerges in a slow up-fade as does the '81 song; the moody and atmospheric arrangements, cast by trippy guitars, sitar, and feedback, are similar; the songs are only a couple seconds apart in length. So why did Weller revisit the tune? To redress the wrong of relegating a personal favorite to a b-side? Like many artists with long, sustained careers, he has been known to pick his old songs up off the floor and see if they still fit; he's performed onstage and recorded in the studio countless songs from his Jam, Style Council, and solo catalogues in differing arrangements and with competing intentions. (As I wrote about here, his 2018 live version of 1980's "Boy About Town" was revelatory.) Weller occasionally approached the same song from different angles during his eclectic Style Council years—the journey of "Headstart For Happiness" from acoustic version to big-band arrangement was especially audacious—but he rarely retitled a song of his, that gesture alone indicating that there's something distinct about "The Riverbank."

The differences between the '81 and '98 recordings are subtle: Bruce Foxton's memorable bass-line, the strong undertow in the original song, is gone in "The Riverbank" (though it's impossible for me not to hum it anyway when I listen); Weller's vocal a decade and-a-half down the line is more wistful, and gentler. In the last line of the opening verse the singer now wishes to spread in the listener's heart "joy and love" rather than simply "hope," and in the final line of the second verse Weller jettisons the "too many to the pound" lament about vanishing green spaces for the more expansive, and sentimental, "place of hope and of endless times." 

The chorus differs slightly, but intriguingly, the original's
True, it's a dream mixed with nostalgia
But it's a dream that I'll always hang on to, that I'll always run to
Won't you join me by the riverbank?
replaced with
The truest of dreams, I live and I wonder
But it's the scene that I'll always hang onto, that I'll always run to
Join me by the riverbank?
In the '81 version the singer acknowledges that the bittersweet sentiment he sings about is part dream, part nostalgia—that is, it's all lost. In the '98 version the tone's less rueful to my ears, as the dream is now "the truest" of visions, casting a spell and inspiring wonder. Coupled with Weller singing the title phrase in a gently ascending melody against the '81 version's descending melody, the mood in "The Riverbank" is suffused with gratitude. It's a warm invitation, now. Generous too is the bridge, which in the '81 version is spooky and positively Welleresque in its grumpiness: because life's "too cynical," we lose "our innocence," and "our very soul." Seventeen years later he sings:
A magical leaving when it's time to believe in
The magic between us, the magic of innocence
I might be hearing Measured for leaving in that first line—I can't find the lyrics anywhere—but the adult wisdom in the words that follow rings loud and clear. Weller was nearing the age of 40 when he wrote "The Riverbank," an already-long career and a personal life of ups and downs behind him, and maybe he was taking stock in the value of cynicism—the language of his twenties—and questioning its shelf life. Or maybe the further he gets away from childhood days spent in the countryside along quietly streaming rivers the more he cherishes the memory and no longer feels that he must apologize for its romanticism. It's time to believe.


Listen to "Tales From The Riverbank" and "The Riverbank" back to back and the impression is of waking from a vivid dream, the particulars of which are already fleeing from memory in the moments of rousing. That was wild, the dreamer thinks, it was the same song but it was also different somehow, and he chases its wind-blown remnants the rest of the long day.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

My latest for The Normal School

My latest for The Normal School is out today. In “A Groovy Way to Grab a Musical Bag that Turns On the Sounds of Today" I take a look at those Super Hits albums that I was obsessed with as a kid—and still am! Released on Pickwick Records in the early- and mid-1970s, they featured "King's Road," a group of anonymous studio session musicians that cut sometimes faithful, sometime pathetic, always earnest covers of contemporary hit songs. "Played and sung like the original hits!"

Here's the opening:

Rediscover Records, Elgin, Illinois. The voice to which I’m only half-listening sounds familiar, but something’s off, also. I look up blankly from the records I’m riffling through and realize that I’m hearing Elton John, one of his well-known hits from the early seventies, but I haven’t heard this version before. Is it a demo? An early take? A scratch vocal? Elton sounds pretty awful, as if he’s poorly imitating someone imitating him. That, or he has a cold. I ask the cashier what’s playing. She points to the album sleeve propped on the counter. 

Turns out that I’m half correct. It is Elton. And it isn’t. Elton John Rock Hits was released in 1975 near the tail end of the pianist-singer’s half-decade meteoric journey across the Top 40, but John was nowhere to be found in the studio when the album was concocted. The songs here, those that momentarily confounded me in the record store—“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Daniel,” “Rocket Man,” “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” et al.—were performed by King’s Road, an anonymous group of session musicians and singers whose catalogue by the mid-70s was bulging. Between 1970 and 1975 they issued twenty-three albums, nearly all on the Pickwick label (their career would be finished by ‘76). King’s Road wasn’t a band so much as a hologram—a holoband, a hollow band—a one-dimensional image of a group whose sole purpose was to imitate, gamely if at times ineptly, the well-known hits of the day. King’s Road was a bad joke, a cut-rate impressionist. King’s Road was the best at being the worst.
You can read the rest—as well as my other Normal School music essays—here.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Real kids, real problems

The Gospel according to John Felice:
Yeah it is derivative. Rock ’n’ roll, just by what it is, it’s derivative, and I can’t imagine it ever being anything but. That’s what you look for. Every band, every era, like the Beatles, they covered all the old girl groups, and both the Stones and the Beatles covered Chuck Berry songs. All those bands covered the guys that came before them and they just put their own little twist to it and left it for everyone down the road to decipher. You would have to be looking for trouble to call that bad, saying 'Oh, well they’re not doing anything new.' Shit man, it’s rock ’n’ roll and you’re not supposed to think about it. You’re supposed to dance and move to it.
Testify. When I caught Felice and the then-iteration of the Real Kids seven years ago this month in Chicago I sure as hell danced and moved, and was also struck by how Felice is able to wring freshness and urgency out of his songs, songs which, yes, follow a well-worn template. Felice pitches his voice—one of my favorites in rock and roll and one which, in its way, is as recognizable as Joey Ramone's and Bruce Springsteen's—somewhere between cocky and desperate, a unique and irresistible sweet spot that makes his songs feel as urgent as this morning's news. The Kids have been around in various lineups through various periods of activity/inactivity since 1974, releasing a handful of studio albums (including The Real Kids in 1977, Hit You Hard in 1983, and Shake...Outta Control in 2014) and bunch of live and demo compilations via many cool labels. I recently scored a sealed copy of their 1982 gem Outta Place, and I've been playing it to death, struck in particular by a trio of tunes—"No Place Fast," "Small Town," and Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's "Problems"—that captures this great band at their best. 

Felice's voice isn't "strong" in the conventional sense—he sounds like he's had a sore throat for forty years—but he pushes against its limitations in a show of strength, which is one in the same in my rock and roll book. What could sound weak or petulant instead sounds nervy and reckless. Wounded, he sings with a smirk. He can sound like a kid puffing himself up to be a tough guy in front of the bedroom mirror, yet onstage he delivers. And what he's singing about—the confines of a shitty, nosy, low-ceilinged town, a breakneck love affair, petty and giant problems everywhere you look—is eternal. You make a lot of noise but they don't hear a sound, he rasps in "Small Town," but hell if that's gonna stop him. The lines he chases in "No Place Fast" nearly elude him in every verse; it feels like he's catching up to the very song he wrote. And digging deep in the tattered bag for an Everly Brothers nugget? All Felice proves is that what was relevant in 1958 was relevant in 1982. And, yeah, I'm reminded of its relevance in this century, too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Riding around, riding high

Via Google
Today for no apparent I remembered crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan-bound, sometime in the early '00s when Suicide came on, scoring that brief, iconic journey like no other song could. For the four minutes it played, I felt elevated—less from the bridge's span over the East River than from the song's echo-y, eerie mood, its odd propulsion, and its lyrics of doom and violence. Martin Rev and Alan Vega were singing about the late-70s, a couple of decades and a cultural continent behind me, but the vibe was,—is—timeless, as Manhattan loomed before before and Brooklyn behind me, the river beneath me and its relentless currents a reminder that songs are like rivers: you never hear the great ones the same way twice, and whatever waves lapped to the shores in a different era lap today's shores too.
Whole country's doing a fix
It's doomsday doomsday
Riding around, riding high
Riding around with my babe
Speeding on down the skyway


Suicide, 1979. Photo: Adrian Boot

Thursday, April 14, 2022

One door. Two songs.

Melbourne, Australia's Romero and Kansas City, Missouri's Whiffs write tuneful, amped-up, riff-driven songs, Romero's noise sweetened by lead singer Alana Oliver, the Whiffs' by AM radio hooks. Both bands prove that guitar-driven rock and roll is in good hands, its future bright (and loud!). Oliver's voice is huge and rangy; she'd likely have the judges of a music competition reality show eating out of her hand, but she'd cut those hands when necessary. To my ears she sounds a bit like Lydia Loveless, minus the twang, and, recorded well by producer Andrew Hehir, her suppleness is never smothered by her band's considerable fire power (brothers Adam and Dave Johnstone on guitar and drums, respectively, Fergus Sinclair on guitar, and Justin Tawil on bass). The Whiffs' muscular sound (Zach Campbell on bass and vocals, Rory Cameron on guitar and vocals, Nic Allred on guitar and vocals, and Jack Cardwell on drums) thickens their songs but the tunefulness remains vivid, and the record's so lovingly recorded by Joey Rubbish—his record collection is practically visible as you listen—that its late-70s analog vibe never sounds contrived or retro. (Ignore the requisite and limiting "power pop" label that critics feel compelled to tag the band with.) These groups' good songs are so good they transcend their influences.

Romero's debut "Turn It On!" just came out; the Whiffs' Another Whiff, their second, came out in 2019. I'm in love with a bunch of tracks on these albums right now, especially these two for the stories that they both tell and hint at. "My Vision Of Love" begins with a nod to Hoodoo Gurus' "Bittersweet," but the singer's so hoarsely charged that within a few bars it's the Whiffs' song only. It's an old story, but so desperately winged that the singer's hungers feel brand new: he's got no money (he "spent it last week"; a great detail, versus the more clich├ęd "last night"). He can't win and yet can't stop himself from ringing her doorbell, his vision of love the only thing that night that's keeping him right. He could use a lucky break or three, and if she'd let him inside then everything might feel not only possible, but likely. The guitar solo, as in the best rock and roll, declaims everything that he can't, threatening to derail things until that passionate chorus returns.
The Whiffs
Great, sexy stuff, yet Romero's "Halfway Out The Door" offers another the other perspective. The POV switched to The Vision herself, who's opened the door for this panting guy many times, but lately to diminishing returns. The song opens with a three chord sequence that mirrors "My Vision Of Love" but raises a skeptical eyebrow. In the Whiffs tune the singer's desperate to see her face; in Romero's tune we're seeing the back of his head. This is her turn, and her complaints are as old as his pleas: I’d tell you how I loved you / But you’re always halfway out the door / We aren’t like what we were before. In the powerful and affecting chorus, guitars ringing, echoing the singer's resolve, she makes things clear:
If this isn’t what you want, baby
Don’t come knocking, knocking, knocking, knocking
If you’re halfway out the door
Oh no, I won’t be calling no more
He always "howling in the street"—I mean, the Whiffs' singer practically admits it—and she's pissed and sad about it all. "How did we ever end up this way?" she wonders, "the first to call each other insane." The song's pace is measured, and I think that that's key: if the band had worked their way through these complications at a breakneck pace, careening around the corners, the couple would just as likely keep moving toward each other, burning each other out, unable to turn away from the heat and lust. But I'm pretty sure that she's figured out her next move; though she's in conflict—she loves him and fucks him, though he's too often halfway out that door—her song's slowed to the point of a reckoning, a deeper breath. She's considered things. His time's running out.


Two continents, two bands, two songs, a bunch of the same chords. One man, one woman, three stories. 

Maybe I'm a pessimist, imagining the Whiffs' singer's desperation to score with his vision—or just to see her in an open door—burning out in ambivalence, the age-old tale of the man who can't stick the landing, who's gotta move on, restless. I love that songs collide in the air above my head, the reverberations telling a new story. (Both bands write about ambivalence and contradictions really well: check the mixed-up man and the "undone" woman in "On The Boulevard" and "Petals," respectively.) Some days I listen to "My Vision Of Love" and the two end up in bed; sometimes I listen to "Halfway Out The Door" and the two end up in bed, but the satisfaction's waning, because both of their looks are directed at that front door she opened to him last night. For him it'll open again. For her it may close for the last time. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

All you need is Modernism

Rereading Paul Williams last night and was reminded of this item in the "What Went On" column in the August '67 Crawdaddy. File under, What Might've Been.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

My twenties; or, minor regrets

I'm teaching a class in Writing Arts Criticism this semester, and for one essay the students wrote about music—any artist, album, song, video, anything that turned them on and that they wanted to know more about, get inside of. (Among our texts was Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love, which a third of the students dug, a third rolled their collective eye at, and a third despised, which felt about right.) It's been a pleasure not only to read their work but to be exposed to a handful of artists with whom I was wholly unfamiliar, or knew only by reputation or, worse, held narrow biases against. In the best classes I'm learning, too.  

One lesson has been an unhappy reminder of my blinkered musical tastes when I was in college. My students have remarked that in the age of streaming, they're exposed to so much, encouraging the cultivating of a wide-ranging taste, yet the vast music collection to which we all have access now has only encouraged genre-biases and territory-staking; it seems that the number of echo chambers are virtually uncountable. Nearly forty years later, I can palpably feel the the thrill of sampling the new LPs and 45s that arrived weekly at the tiny offices of WMUC, the radio station at the University of Maryland where for three years in the mid-80s I had a show, enduring various time slots. I also recall the stiff resistance I put up to certain bands and songs that weren't in my wheelhouse, which then, as now, was planted firmly in 1960's and '70s guitar-based rock and roll, garage rock, R&B, and punk. 

I had a standing joke in the 80s, unfunny to most, that the only bands that could drive me out of a bar were the Cure and the Smiths, two groups I couldn't stand and yet whose rabid fans—among them some of my best friends—I'd eye enviously as they lost themselves on the dance floor. Less smug and narrow-minded now than I was at twenty-one, twenty-two, I have clearer purchase on what I was instinctively rebelling against then. It wasn't that I couldn't relate to what I heard as the moodiness, affected doom, and sighing melancholy in these and other like bands; the problem was that I related too much. I had the voices of Robert Smith and Morrissey running in my head all day long; the words weren't theirs, but the edgy, disconsolate tone was theirs, a tormenting, claustrophobic ennui that I fought against in my worst moments. I didn't want to hear that on the dance floor, have my inner thoughts amplified; I wanted to get away from that, leave my head and body, exchange my depressiveness, self-doubt, and hyper self-consciousness for the grins and good times of rock and roll. Beers and barre chords! Riffs and hooks! (I ended up writing a 420-page book about one of those bands I loved.) Echo and the Bunnymen's "Bring on the Dancing Horses" might've sounded great at Cagney's or Back Alley Cafe, but it was the Godfathers who raised the roof for me, and in whom I found an urgent sense of purpose. There was a reason why I was teased at 'MUC as the guy who played The Knack (including tracks off of their third album) and The Slickee Boys more often than say, Siouxsie and the Banshees or New Order. Even when I did spin songs that soundtracked my inner dejection, they were usually sung by R.E.M. Rain Parade, or Pop Art—never too far from jangle.

I sought out manifestations of my complicated moods instead in books and art, Joyce and Eliot and Franz Kline and Joan Mitchell, and on long walks in the then-decrepit Old Downtown in Washington, D.C.. My morose reflection was cast back at me most graphically in my art history, literature, and philosophy courses, where in the quiet of reading, or in the endless stacks at the campus library, I could stoke my melancholy and self-pity across the centuries. Though I've never warmed to the metronomic "Blue Monday," my distaste for the song in my twenties blocked a rightful appreciation I ought to have felt then for Joy Division, another band who I resisted at the threshold, fearful of how swiftly they might invade. Of course, back then I hadn't really listened to the Cure or the Smiths, to Bauhaus or Coctueau Twins or for matter much of what I'd overheard or read was Gothic—childishly, I wouldn't let myself. We forgive a lot for youth and yet it turns out, of course, that the Smiths were a great guitar band all along! Johnny Marr's trippy vibe in support of Morrissey's emotionally nakedness was sadly beyond my ken when I was twenty, putting me at odds not only with my friends but with pop culture, and history. If I'd only looked through my beers more closely at the dance floor I'd have seen guys and girls rejoicing and identifying, in their authentic way—in a foreign language, sure, one I was too petulant or cowardly to try and learn. But the release on their sweaty faces and in the limbs transcended language, as great music does. These regrets are minor relative to others that haunt me from those years, yet I wished I'd opened up some neural pathways earlier than I did. I'm catching up. 

File all of this under A Pity I Didn't See It At The Time, a bulging, still-growing folder.

Top: Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on Light Ground), Francis Bacon, 1969. (2014 Estate of Francis Bacon/Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York/DACS, London)

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Happy Birthday!

Five years ago this month I published Field Recordings from the Inside with Soft Skull Press, a collection of personal essays about music, listening to music, being in love with music, and about how music soundtracks our lives in both small and profound ways. If you missed the book the first time I spun it, it's still available at the usual joints (here, here, or here, and hopefully your local bookstore).

This is what some folks had to say: 

[Bonomo] looks at the ways music influenced and underscored events throughout his life. The best essays here extend that gaze beyond his own life and into those of other artists and their audiences . . . [a] great collection.―Publishers Weekly

The writings he collects for this mix tape of memories are deep cuts . . . That is the appeal of this genre-spanning collection, along with the mix tapes: no special musical expertise is necessary for appreciating Bonomo’s point of view or the richly described nostalgia. Just drop the needle, hit play, scroll, or turn the page and enjoy. ―Booklist

The collection’s 18 essays do what the best music writing is supposed to do—they make the reader care, regardless of whether they enjoy, or are familiar with, the material being written about; I was mostly willing to follow Bonomo anywhere he wanted to go.—Los Angeles Review of Books


What is music? More importantly, what isn't music? In Field Recordings from the Inside, Joe Bonomo looks at family and faith, country and culture, Mississippi and Memphis, life and death, with sharp eyes (and ears) and a strong heart, shining a light on the past to help arm the present to make sense of the future. If you want beautiful writing in the service of powerful emotions, you want this book.―Ben Greenman, author of Mo Meta Blues and The Slippage

It’s so easy for critics to spend all their time worrying over how pop music gets made – the granular technical details, what a song or record means in its various historical or social contexts. Joe Bonomo understands those things, but still returns to what’s arguably the most crucial component of art: how it makes us feel and what it does to our lives. Field Recordings from the Inside is a beautiful, revelatory book about what it means to be a human with headphones on. ―Amanda Petrusich, author of Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records

Part memoir, part criticism, Field Recordings from the Inside maps the ways music can define and shape our lives―which, in Joe Bonomo's case, encompasses local bands and Top 40 one-hit wonders, Hank Williams and Frank Sinatra, everything that gets inside if your ears are open enough.―Alan Light, author of The Holy or the Broken and former Editor-Chief of Spin Magazine

Field Recordings from the Inside is the first book I’ve encountered that expertly blends my two favorite kinds of writing: music criticism and the literary essay. Joe Bonomo combines sound, the self, and the “roll and prank” of an essayistic mind to create a book that skates between discussions of history, records, coming of age, literature, relationships, and great rock-and-rollers. This book is a thoughtful and sonorous pleasure from start to finish. ―Elena Passarello, author of Let Me Clear My Throat and Animals Strike Curious Poses

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Everything, everything

After a short while, I headed home to join Patti and pick up our children from school. As I drove over the gravel of the beach club parking lot, I hesitated before pulling into traffic on Ocean Boulevard. Just then a car careening off Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge shot past, its window down, and its driver, recognizing me, shouted, “Bruce, we need you.” I sort of knew what he meant, but...
I ignored The Rising for many years, for lots of reasons, a few of them silly. I’m in one of my Bruce Springsteen reassessment periods now, and recently gave the record the full listen and attention it deserves. I don’t find the album overlong as many do, and to my ears the upbeat and affirming songs blend well with the somber songs about loss and grief—which feels like the confounding mess that life is, especially in the surprising, careening ways we grieve. One of the reasons I did shy away from The Rising was because of its weighty place in history. Writing for an occasion can be tricky. 'Tis Spring! verse in modestly-circulated public library newsletters and Presidential Inauguration poems alike often sag under the weight of their own agenda, striving for Big Statements and time- and -date-stamp relevance, or at least for fresh metaphors for rebirth, at the expense of artfulness. (There have been exceptions, of course.) 

After the events of 9/11, many writers felt compelled to somehow respond. Along with millions of others I was at home, watching on television, 800-plus miles from the World Trade Center. In the weeks that followed, I tried again and again to scratch out something that got its hands around my feelings, and what I thought others might be thinking and feeling, but I always wrote toward a blind end. My experience of 9/11 wasn't an experience at all, it was a somber observation from a time zone away, utterly meaningless in the context of the suffering of those in New York City, western Pennsylvania, and northern Virginia. I recall laboring with a piece of writing having to do with being "west" of West Street in lower Manhattan, but I was appalled at my presumptuousness, and at my preciousness for believing that I could create something of value in response. What to do, then, with the impulse to respond artfully to humanitarian crises, a terrorist attack or the suffering of innocent Ukrainians, if you're hundreds of miles away, safe and secure? Work it out on your own terms, I guess, in private, or anyway modestly. Ask an important question: who are you doing this for?

When Springsteen pulled out of that parking lot, made contact with a random fan, and heard that he is needed—that is a different story entirely. That morning, Springsteen had been at home, again as millions of us were, eating cereal and watching the news. Then he felt compelled to drive closer to the horrors. For Springsteen, leaving the cocoon of his secluded, 400-acre farm in Colts Neck, New Jersey  and driving the ten or so miles to a public beach is not an idle drive of a suburbanite—it was the journey (I wince, but there's no other word, really) of a public artist with the burden of a vocation. "In the late afternoon, I drove to the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge," he wrote in Born to Run. "There, usually, on a clear day the Twin Towers struck two tiny vertical lines on the horizon at the bridge’s apex."

Today, torrents of smoke lifted from the end of Manhattan Island, a mere fifteen miles away by boat. I stopped in at my local beach and walked to the water’s edge, looking north; a thin gray line of smoke, dust and ash spread out due east over the water line. It appeared like the smudged edge of a hard blue sheet folding and resting upon the autumn Atlantic.

Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge, looking north toward lower Manhattan, November 2021 (Google Maps)

Sea Bright Beach, looking north toward lower Manhattan, January 2021. Photo by Vitalli Beliaiev (Google Maps)


Naturally, Springsteen's response to the unfolding tragedy was to write songs. But his brilliance came in trusting his impulse to write at the edges of post-9/11 suffering, in the inevitable wakes moving from the wreckage of the World Trade Center back into the small towns that produced so many of the victims that day. The politics on The Rising are subdued, polemics nowhere to be seen; instead, Springsteen looks unblinking at the carnage, and then to the side where what smolders does so with a different yet no less destructive heat, and imagines into song the kind of characters he always has, those who live modest, unspectacular lives. When we listen to The Rising in the coming decades I don't believe that it will sound overly of-its-era (minus some production touches, perhaps) precisely because Springsteen recognizes that loss takes many shapes, from the absence next to you in bed and the photographs we grieve on the mantle to the unrecoverable at Ground Zero and a Tower-less blue sky.

Nearly half of the album's songs ("Waitin' On A Sunny Day," "Nothing Man," "Countin' On A Miracle," "Let's Be Friends (Skin To Skin)," "Further On (Up The Road)," "My City Of Ruins," and possibly "Lonesome Day" and "Mary's Place") were written before September 11, and this is revealing, in that Springsteen recognized not the specifics of 9/11 but its outline resonating through songs he'd already written, or begun. That's key to the album, I think, in that Springsteen likely felt liberated from having to compose an entire album's worth of songs in the burdening occasional mode. The songs that he did write after the attacks—"Into The Fire," "Empty Sky," "Worlds Apart," "The Fuse," "You're Missing," "Paradise," and of course "The Rising"—blend seamlessly with the earlier material, to my ears. I’m not sure that the reputation of the title track isn’t greater than the song itself—but then again I wasn’t listening to it in the dread echo of 9/11, when the song might’ve transformed for me.

In Born to Run, possibly in light defensive posture against those who felt that the album was too long, Springsteen justified The Rising's blend of the upbeat and the morose. The inclusion of “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” feels wholly appropriate in retrospect, but others backed into the sequencing. "We recut 'Nothing Man,'" he wrote, "a song I'd had since ’94," adding that "It captured the awkwardness and isolation of survival." "Worlds Apart" and “"Let’s Be Friends" are described as "Beach music!" and "the band tearing down the house," respectively. If "Mary's Place," one of his great late-career uplifting rockers, was indeed written earlier, than Springsteen was shrewd to include it, a "house party" that the album "rises music with the blues hidden inside." He added that he wanted "some of the warmth and familiarity of The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, a home place, the comfort music and friendship may bring in a crisis."

Finally we circle back around to “My City of Ruins," the soul gospel of my favorite sixties records, speaking not just of Asbury but hopefully of other places and other lands. That was my record.

"The dead have their own business to do, as do the living," he added (a line so good I'm surprised he didn't save it for a song). In the end, the lower-pitched songs on The Rising resonate the most for me, those moments between seemingly endless grieving and the yearning for transcendence, no matter how brief that redemption might be. “Nothing Man,” “The Fuse,” and the quietly devastating “You’re Missing”—each below—are among the strongest songs Springsteen has written, modest, respectful portraits of men and women navigating the long spaces between communion and desolation, and unity and brokenness. Eternal gestures, those, stretching back in history and forward into the future, released, always, from the lousy specifics of our own daily, though crucial, lives.


"Our band was built well, over many years, for difficult times." From Born to Run

When people wanted a dialogue, a conversation about events, internal and external, we developed a language that suited those moments. We were there. It was a language that I hoped would entertain, inspire, comfort and reveal. The professionalism, the showmanship, the hours of hard work are all very important, but I always believed that it was this dialogue, this language, that was at the heart of our resiliency with our audience. The Rising was a renewal of that conversation and the ideas that forged our band.
Brendan O'Brien's production is tasteful and unobtrusive, atmospheric studio touches rare and effective, and the E Street Band and the many side musicians play expressively. I don't love everything on The Rising—the breathy "heartland" talk-singing that Springsteen adopted sometime in the mid-90's quickly grows tiresome for me—yet now I see how in its sprawl, ambition, and generous spirit this album is indeed one of his and his band’s best. Pity that I couldn’t have been bothered to listen to it when it was released, when I might’ve responded to it in deeper ways.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Talkin' 'bout heavy music

Say what you want about Dave Marsh—and for a while there back in the 80s and 90s, people said a lot—he really understood rock and roll. Though he was prickly and at times smirkingly arrogant about his tastes, which you should, he assured you, share, and too interested in cultural politics for some, he was genuinely moved by loud, righteous rock and roll, and his urge to share his passions was ultimately generous and right-minded (and longstanding: he currently hosts three Sirius XM Radio shows). He was on the ground in Detroit, in the crowds and backstage at the Grande, and in the offices of Creem and, later, Rolling Stone, for some of the most exciting music there was. Lately I've been re-reading Fortunate Son, his terrific, long out-of-print collection published in 1985, and was happy to be reminded of "Doncha Ever Listen to the Radio?", a run-down he wrote of Bob Seger singles that ran in Creem in May, 1972. At the time, Seger was doggedly grinding it out as a native (Detroit) son-star, on the cusp of national attention. Marsh's take on Seger's incredible "Heavy Music (Part 1)," his last single for Cameo-Parkway, released in 1967, is still humming a half century later.

I love reading on-the-ground accounts of rock and roll that emerge in real time, as it were, the sounds of writers making sense of a band, artist, album, song, or show within weeks or months of the music having emerged. Given how the parameters in music criticism have changed in the last few decades, it's somewhat bittersweet now to read Marsh's of-the-era enthusiasms for the likes of the MC5, the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols, and Bruce Springsteen, among other heroes. Vaguely quaint in some quarters these days, his belief that rock and roll—read, loud spectacle made by (mostly) white men with guitars—could genuinely change people (if not systems) might fall on deaf ears, irrelevant or tiresomely rockist in the culturally diverse era of Hip Hop, EDM, Pop, and Dance and the billions in revenue they produce. And if that development, along with the implacable passage of time itself, dates some of those takes, for both the reassessing writer and the reader, what often lasts down the decades is the palpable thrill of the initial contact. Here, Marsh considers "Heavy Music" a long five years after its release, yet he writes as if his ears were still ringing, his heart still racing, enthusing that the song "hasn’t lost a drop of the magic it possessed in 1966 [sic]," that it's "so simple it’s almost primal." He recalls that "Everyone who heard [the song] was incredulous. No one had ever put it that way before, but suddenly the phrases seemed to have been there all the time. And the music that punched the message home said the same thing, just as effectively," adding that the song's "musical power abets its lyric, so that together they're improbably strong."

What startled and thrilled Marsh in "Heavy Music" was its self-consciousness about rock and roll—still relatively young in '67—which, rather than hobbling the song's message, liberated it. On top of a pummeling groove, provided by Seger on guitar and organ, Carl Lagassa on guitar, Dan Honaker on bass, and Pep Perrine on drums and percussion, Seger howled a manifesto about the power of AM radio and the stage and the sounds that leap from them, the song boldly "proclaiming itself," as Marsh recalled. "Its opening lines ('Doncha ever listen to the radio / When the big bad beat comes on') are as magically rhetorical as anything ever written. Of course you do—otherwise you wouldn’t have heard this," adding:
Sometimes it’s just a stone-cold, drop-dead-in-your-tracks pronouncement that a new phase has dawned:

    Doncha ever feel like goin’ insane
    When the drums begin to pound
    Ain't there ever been a time in your life
    You couldn't believe what the band is puttin' down

A new phase as yet un-billed. "[I]t must be remembered that no one had thought to call [music 'heavy'] before,' Marsh wrote. "Though the song may never have reached your backyard, it was Bob Seger who coined the phrase that sums up everything since Zep unzipped and the Jeff Beck Group zapped us right in the guts with a whole new sound. That sound was what the Who and the Yardbirds had been implicitly promising but never quite defined." You could hardly be anywhere in the Detroit metro area, Marsh remembered, "without hearing 'Heavy Music,' and every time you got into the car, you practically had to keep one foot on the dash to keep it from driving you right through the windshield." Yet Seger's local hits often dropped into commercial oblivion when his label's promo people pulled wide; this was deeply frustrating for Seger. In typical luck, Cameo-Parkway folded soon after "Heavy Music" was released. Seger asserted that the problem was Allen Klein ("Yes, that Allen Klein") who had purchased the label, causing the stock to soar "and then the federal government shut the company down," Seger sighed. "The stock went from two to seventy, so the company was literally shut down."

There was another stumbling block to getting the heavy "Heavy Music" into the Top 40. “A lot of people really misconstrued [the song],” Seger remarked. “That was a song about the music but a lot of people thought it was a song about music and sex, the two together. There was nothing sexual in it, it was simply read in by a lot of program directors. The part about goin’ deeper.” Seger added that those program directors told him that he oughta go in "and rerecord that tail end, put something different on the tail, because no one’s ever gonna play it'." More a downed-power-line groove than a song, born out of a late-night jam one long night in Columbus, Ohio, Seger and his band riffing on the word "deeper" and the righteous, mind-opening concepts it inspired, "Heavy Music" was destined to be ignored by the masses, and dug by those in the know. For decades the early Seger singles traded at high value, and YouTube opened up the songs to a whole new audience. Near the end of the piece, Marsh mentions that the celebrated Detroit label Hideout was interested in buying the Cameo masters and releasing them on a compilation titled Bombs Away. Alas, that never happened. It took nearly half a century for the material to finally come out on Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-1967 released in 2018 on ABKCO. (Yes, that Allen Klein.) The wait was worth it.

On the flip side to "Heavy Music," an unhinged Seger riffs over the backing track, near the end name-checking an artist who I imagine he felt was close competition when writing the tune: "Stevie Winwood's got nothin' on me." That signaled a sonic turf of sorts in heady '67, yet the wailing, sublime, hypnotic groove that Bob Seger & The Last Heard laid down that night utterly transcends its origin. It sounded exhilarating to Marsh in '72; it sounds the same to me in '22. Turn it way up.

Photo of Marsh by John Collier, Detroit Free Press via Detroit Free Press