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The Show Must Go On

18 Feb

I had the opportunity to see John Mellencamp in concert last night. For those not familiar, you’re dead to me. Ok, not so radical, but seriously, this guy has been around in the rock music scene forever, so you’d have to be either really living under a rock or something to not know him.

At the start of the show, he came out with the band, and they head off into some new material that I wasn’t familiar with – but three or four great songs with that familiar Mellencamp sound to them. The band – two guitarists, bass, drums, keyboardist that also played the accordion and a violinist – were tight and delivered that distinctive sound that he’s become associated with – interesting phrasings, mixes of major and minor chords, relaxed tempos, etc. That said, during this opening, clearly something was amiss with Big John’s voice – very raspy, very raw sounding. Since I had never seen him before, I was thinking that perhaps age wasn’t being kind to him, or the road, or something.

At the end of the 4th song, he stepped to the mic to greet the crowd and then said “Well, we talked this afternoon about cancelling this show because my throat is all fucked up. But then I said to everyone, ‘Hell no, we’re not cancelling. I can’t let those people down! Besides, I want to play.’ So folks, this is what we got. I sound like shit, but I’m here to play. If you can handle my croak, I can handle my croak.The band will rock and you guys will fill in when I can’t hit it. Deal?” Well, as you can imagine, the crowd went nuts.

Which made me like this guy even more. His music is all about “regular guy” real life, life in small town America, little Pink Houses for you and me, vacationing at the Gulf of Mexico, fighting authority (but authority always wins), thinking back on the good times and sitting and smiling. I love his songs – sing a few of them myself. And rather than being a diva and calling off the show because he has a scratchy throat, he just motored on through it and delivered for his fans.

The show must go on. A lesson for all of us.

As you were,

Stew

Apple Store Soho Presents Meet The Creators: Stephen King, John Mellencamp And T Bone Burnett

“Tribute Band” music – my outing to see Brit Floyd

24 Mar

A ton going on right now in my life and much, much to write about, but I’m going to go a topic at a time, so today’s topic is my outing last Thursday night to see Brit Floyd, ostensibly a “Pink Floyd Tribute Band” play the music of Pink Floyd at the Chicago Theater. I’ve never been a huge Pink Floyd fan – and in fact, it’s a topic of humor with my wife of late – we both realized that with Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and a few other major acts, there are a lot of songs we know and music that we like, but don’t ask us the names of the songs, and don’t ask us to name our favorites, as we won’t be able to tell you.  Now that said, it is a wee bit easier with Pink Floyd – there’s a couple of major songs from The Wall (Another Brick …, Comfortably Numb), from Dark Side of The Moon (Money, Time, Wish you were here), etc.  But even those, if you come into them in the middle of the song, we don’t hit right away.  The game we play now is if we’re in the car listening to Classic Vinyl on Sirius XM, and a Pink Floyd/Led Zeppelin, etc. song comes on, is to cover the radio display and say “Ok name it” … and neither of us can.

ANYWAY (the linguistic version of when you realize you’re down a rabbit hole you didn’t intend to explore), my friends Beavis and Peter Pan started emailing when this show was announced, and I thought it would be a good way to both have a great night out with two good friends and also perhaps get to know this music better.

So, the whole “Tribute Band” thing seems to be something that has cropped up in the last 15 years or so – bands that specialize in the music of one famous act from the classic rock era – and now starting to extend into the 80s and 90s.  Most of these are bar bands, some of them go so far as to basically play characters that are intended to be the original members (can you imagine the arguments?  “I want to be Paul Stanley.”  “No, I do, I can do the New York accent better.”), complete with costumes.  And some even go further than that and play them in different eras.  A local Beatles tribute band, Modern English does that – starting out in classic “Ed Sullivan/Liverpool” dress of black suits and skinny ties, morphing into Sgt. Pepper costumes, and then into the White Album/psychedelic era wear and wigs, fake beards, etc.

As I said, for the most part, these are bar bands, or at best, are touring local festivals – like Modern English does all summer in Chicago doing every “Taste of” “4th of July Fest” etc. around.

That got me thinking – is this really a new phenomenon, this “Tribute Band” thing, or is it something that has gone on for a long time – and the analog to it popped up like stepping on a rake – for the most part, most “city symphony” orchestras (like the Chicago Symphony), are tribute bands but are tributes to Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc.  Now that said, really what they are is cover bands – playing  the music of others, where truly a “tribute band” does the music of one band/artist, etc.  But, it really isn’t something truly new.

So, on to Brit Floyd – so what makes Brit Floyd such a cut above other “tribute bands” that they sell out a 6500 seat theater in Chicago at ticket prices ranging from $45 to $120/seat?  Versus going and seeing “Journey to the 80s” an 80s tribute band with a hairy overweight guy screeching out his best Steve Perry falsetto?  Quality … and musicianship, through and through.  That and these guys WEREN’T playing characters.  Were they a band that only played the music of one artist/band?  Yes.  That’s where the similarity ends.

To give it an analog, Brit Floyd is the equivalent of seeing the CSO play Beethoven’s 9th symphony in its entirety, while some bar band Pink Floyd tributeers might be the equivalent of the local high school’s “B” level orchestra scratching out the first movement.  Unbelievably professional musicians, incredible staging and production values, and while they were faithful to the Pink Floyd music, they also made it their own by extending the songs deeply – “Another Brick In The Wall” goes from being a 4:15 album cut or a 3.5 minute radio play to an 8 minute jam with extended/expanded guitar solos, a unique ending, a deep/long beginning that worked into the start of the song, etc.  It was like that all evening.  And it was incredible.

That was some of the best rock music I’ve heard in a long time.  The guitarists were virtuosos – both playing and contributing incredible versions of David Gilmour’s soaring guitar solos.  They had two percussionists, an incredible group of female backup singers, etc.  And their vocals, while again true to the Pink Floyd genre and sound, were their own voices – they weren’t playing characters, or singing in affect accents or any of the other typical Tribute Band garbage you see in the bar bands.

As I age, and become more and more attached to music as my right brain outlet, both playing and listening, I have often wondered, “what is the future of rock music”?  An acquaintance of mine, Dean, who is a professional musician, playing everything from folk to rock to blues to jazz and multiple instruments, has of late been posing the question – “when did music make the turn from professionalism to production values?”  He promotes his gigs as “no auto tunes, backing tracks, loopers, or unnecessary electronics – just pure quality music.”  Versus seemingly anywhere you go to hear music these days, bands use backing tracks to add additional instruments, people, etc. that aren’t out there playing.

I’ve been thinking about that, and about, “what happens to the music we love when the artists die off or retire (or both)?”  Certainly there are these tribute bands in the bars, but I hope there is more “Brit Floyd” level acts forming up to cover and expand and interpret and make their own, the music we all know and love.  I, for certain, would pay to hear that.

Much more to come in the next week or two … lots happening.

But the train ride is at an end now, so …

(and pictures are below)

As you were,

Stew

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Chicken Fried Toes – aka “It’s the little things” … Summer Edition

23 May

When our oldest son, Joel, came home for winter break this year, he brought home something new he was into. Now, this isn’t exactly unusual behavior for college students – we all discover new things while away at college. In fact, my mom even said to me the day that they were dropping me at University of Iowa for my freshman year (and my Dad gave both her and I a look that was the embodiment of “eyeroll” and “facepalm” all in one): “It’s not for knowledge that you go to college, but the beer you drink while you’re here.” The point being not to encourage alcohol abuse but instead to embrace the concept that really what you do at college is grow up and create your own life shaped by your own experiences. Anyway, thankfully what he brought home needed neither medical treatment nor legal intervention: he had grown to like Country Music while away at school. Apparently the guys in the race shop at Illini Motorsports (the engineering-school Formula SAE racing team he is a part of) keep country music blaring on the shop tunebox, and well, he came to like it.

We were introduced to a variety of new artists and songs over Christmas Break, including the silly anthem of this past spring, Red Solo Cup. That said, one artist in particular really rang with Joel as he thought of me and that was the Zac Brown Band. Zac Brown’s music can be described as a little Lynyrd Skynyrd, a little Willie Nelson, a little Allman Brothers and some Bruce Springsteen rolled into one band that plays great, guitar-driven songs that are musically complex while at the same time being easy to play and sing if you’re a “cover guy” like me, and have really good, well-thought out lyrics. Joel picked out two tunes that he thought would particularly resonate with me – “Toes” and “Chicken Fried”. Toes is a song about being on an island vacation. My kids well know that there’s nothing that makes me happier than being on an island vacation, and this song describes it well. More below. And the other song that he picked out was “Chicken Fried” – a simple song that observes that the best things in life are the little things. As you well know, that’s something I always seek – enjoyment of the little things. We all get wrapped around the axles too much in our busy daily lives to remember that the things that are most rewarding are the little ones.  “Chicken Fried” is a celebration of that.
The chorus is:

You know I like my chicken fried
A cold beer on a Friday night
A pair of jeans that fit just right
And the radio up …

Well, I’ve seen the sunrise
See the love in my woman’s eyes
Feel the touch of a precious child
And know a mother’s love

Zac Brown goes on in this song to talk about how these values were just a product of how he was raised and grew up. “It’s funny how it’s the little things in life mean the most, not where you live, what you drive or the price tag on your clothes. There’s no dollar sign on peace of mind, this I’ve come to know.”

I want to believe that that’s a key way of how I live my life, and I know I’m not perfect in it, but I do think it’s true. Yes, we lead a very fortunate life, in a comfortable home in an affluent area of the Chicago suburbs. But our friends, and the things we do, are entirely focused on the little things – conversation over a shared home-cooked dinner. A beer on the back deck or front porch. A relaxing walk. A “dive bar”. Etc. Our closest friends are those that share the same values and feel the same way. What is more important is the time spent. Not where we went or what we own. Our dear friends that we met in Cancun and recently visited in Alabama are the embodiment of that.

Speaking of Cancun, Zac Brown’s other “it’s the little things” song also embodies the spirit of enjoying the little things – albeit on vacation in a warm, tropical place.

 

I’ve got my toes in the water,
Ass in the sand,
Not a worry in the world,
a cold beer in my hand,
Life is good today.
Life is good today.

 

 

That pretty much checks off what I love about escaping to anywhere warm and tropical. Now, what’s interesting is that there is a bit of a conflict there – in the first half of this post, I’m talking about the little things, not what you have or what you do but enjoying the little things in life, and now I’m talking about vacationing in Cancun, which, most would say, is a pretty luxurious thing to do. So, I guess I will cop to a little conflict there. That said, honestly, it is both a key to my sanity and a key to my happy marriage with my lovely wife, Robin.  We’ve managed to get away just us for a bit of time almost every year of our marriage. This year is no exception.  I do have to say that we do do these vacations on the cheap.  With all my business travel, we usually use mileage to get where we’re going, and the place we stay in Cancun is not a 5-star resort at all – more like a little 3 1/2 star, but more importantly, it does seem to embody my view of the little things being important.  Where we go is all about the people and all about the party.  The fact that we made a group of lifelong friends there shows that for us.

So, what’s the point? The point is, it’s summer, folks. And to me, summer is all about the little things. Putting up the hanging baskets and flowers on the patio and then sitting back and enjoying it. A quiet glass of wine or cold beer in the afternoon shade of my deck. A night grilling burgers with our friends. Outdoor eating. Long walks with the dog in the early morning or evening twilight. 4th of July, with little kids and sparklers. Washing the car in your bare feet and then standing back and admiring the shine. Loading up said shiny car with the family and driving to Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone. Sitting on my friend GASHM’s screened porch in the evening. Enjoying a summer thundershower. Late sunsets. Early sunrises.

These two songs mean a ton to me, and I have to thank my son Joel for two things: One, introducing them to me. And two, for showing that he knows and loves his old man enough to hear a couple of songs and know that they are in the music of his dad’s heart.

Go find some little things this weekend. It’s the official kickoff of summer.

As you were,

Stew

Pickin’ and Grinnin’ – Guitar Work

15 May

Shortly after I hit “Publish” on my last post, I realized I missed a key topic for our Sweet Home Alabama trip – playing guitar and singing with Chris “Coach”. Coach is a very talented self-taught guitarist and vocalist – he plays in a few iterations of various kinds – solo, with another guitarist, and then as guitarist for a local band in the Rainsville/Scottboro, AL area called The Big Band which plays at places like Margarita’s, Geno’s Live, etc. Chris and I found an instant chemistry when we went met for the first time in Cancun last year – and it was primarily over music. We got to talking and of course, since both of us play and sing, this was one of the first introductory topics that we covered. Later in that first afternoon, we were all sitting around the pool singing boozy renditions of old tunes we all know (the most memorable being “Cover of the Rolling Stone” by Doctor Hook) and a friendship was cemented.

Once we set our schedule to go to Alabama for our vacation the first week in May, we were already planning how we’d play together – I’d bring a guitar or two down with me, there was the possibility of me sitting in on one of his gigs, or we’d just sit and strum together and entertain our friends. The one thing we didn’t count on was me getting a nasty cold and upper respiratory infection and completely losing my voice – had not only no range other than a cracking croak (sounding somewhat like a frog going through puberty), but also didn’t have any breath capacity behind it. For a guy who loves to play and sing, this was torture, as it was one of the biggest things I was looking forward to on this trip – both playing and singing with Coach and also singing Karaoke at Brian’s karaoke night our first night in Rainsville.

Nonetheless, we made a go of it anyway – the Saturday night we were there, we got a big fire roaring in the firepit (after having obtained some properly dry wood), and then hauled out the guitars for a good strum – we played at least two hours outside, then the party moved indoors and Chris and I stayed up for another full hour playing some more. While I couldn’t sing much above a bare whisper, the hands were working fine, and I really enjoyed the play time.

The point of this post really isn’t to talk about that, but to talk about the joy of making music with others. Every person who has musical ability and either plays an instrument or sings knows what I mean – it is entirely one thing to sing and play solo, and that does have enormous enjoyment, but to make music with others – whether informally getting together and playing, or formally in some sort of organized group, band, choir, etc., is where there truly is a wonderful thing that happens. I liken music to team sports a bit. As a baseball player, you can go to the cages and hit against the machines all you want, but there is no better thrill than cranking a fastball off an imposing pitcher, dropping the bat and running hard for first base. So goes music.

My love of playing music, I’m sure (and my mom can probably fill in details more than me) dates long before I actually picked up a guitar or trombone. That said, my actual music education began, like it does for most, in 6th grade when I started playing trombone – then you move into 7th grade band and suddenly, you understand why, what you’re doing works. Even though that 7th grade band is awful and out of key, suddenly you hear how those notes you’ve been playing fit with all the other notes the others play and the result becomes music. In 7th grade, my guitar obsession truly began – although I had been dabbling with it for about a year at that point, with my sister receiving an acoustic guitar as a gift about then. I decided to learn bass guitar when I found out that the music for bass guitar generally mirrors that for trombone – learn the bass clef, learn how a tune goes and all you’re doing is moving your hands in a different way, versus blowing through a horn. That made learning bass very easy for me. I also truly learned guitar at that point by taking lessons through the school (Mr. Chas Elliot, thank you!), and then also from taking a handful of random lessons from some local guitarists (see my Rock and Roll Hall of Fame post for more on that). About spring of 7th grade, I was approached by another guy a year older than me who asked if I’d be interested in playing bass in the band that he and three other guys were starting up – I did, and the rest is history. Even though our repertoire was limited to just a few songs, man, we were making music! The first songs we could play were just Smoke on the Water (are there any young bands that don’t start with that? Ironically, now that I’m older, I’ve found that that song is actually quite complex, versus rudimentary.) and a variation on a I-IV-V fast blues riff that we somehow morphed into Roll Over Beethoven by Chuck Berry. Nonetheless, I still remember that first practice in a garage and how amazingly fun it was to make some rock and roll.

Through school, I also started playing bass guitar in Jazz band – and was in the “A” Jazz band throughout high school – we had a scorching rhythm section, anchored by my pal and drummer for my rock band, Jay (the Eyeguy) – still to this day, our Jazz shows when we were on the contest tour senior year are some of my best memories.  The joy of performance never, ever gets old.

Fast forward to being an adult – I picked up guitar again about 12 years ago, mostly out of a desire to have a hobby again that was less frustrating and far less expensive than golf. I found that years of music love had actually honed my abilities a bit, and after some refresher lessons – after a few lessons with a guy that specialized in beginning guitar players, I discovered that I was a better player than my teacher – I was off and playing again. Instead of being focused on bass guitar though, I bought an electric guitar and an amp. Shortly after, Robin, after figuring out that this wasn’t a passing fancy, bought me my pride and joy guitar – an Ovation round-back six string guitar. (I’m playing it in the shot above). These are unique because instead of a big wooden box, the back of the Ovation is a parabolic shaped plastic bowl with a spruce top affixed. They are generally all acoustic-electric guitars with built-in pickups, tuners etc. When they were introduced in the 1970s, they were considered very forward-looking guitar technology. Back when I was in high school, I badly wanted an Ovation acoustic guitar, and in fact, had saved enough to buy one – but, for whatever reason – popular idea, wanting to follow along with my friend Phil, etc., I spent the $300 or so I had squirrelled away on a bicycle – and well, I did ride that thing all over the state of Iowa and get in much better physical shape. But … I didn’t get the guitar of my dreams. Shortly before my birthday that year, Robin and I went to a Melissa Etheridge show at Chicago’s House of Blues and somehow found our way very close to the front. Melissa was playing a gorgeous Ovation with a round center sound hole (some ovations have small sound holes near the upper arch of the guitar) and a sunburst finish. I pointed it out to her and said “see that guitar? That’s the guitar I’ve always wanted.” Well, my birthday was a few weeks later, and by G-d, my lovely wife had done it – she had gone to Sam Ash Music, had picked out an Ovation (albeit from their “amateur” series versus the nearly-$5,000 pro series) that looked, and more importantly SOUNDED exactly like Ms. Etheridge’s guitar. I was in heaven.  I’ve since added the matching 12-string guitar to my collection as well.

Well, my interest from there took off – I started putting together large songbooks of the music I wanted to play, with lyrics and chords, I started “eating up” as much music as I could, and played for my friends who were a wonderful, if a bit boozy, audience to my sing-alongs. But, the missing link was playing along with others. On the great fun side, I inspired a dear friend, GASHM’s wife “1.1” to take up guitar on her own – and we had a lot of fun for awhile there. That said, her desired style of play is a lot different than mine – she was learning the instrument much as one would learn a piano – and well, I’m a strummer and singer (and a picker and a grinner and a lover and a sinner … ) – so we sort of stopped playing together. After suffering through a lot of neck and shoulder issues, she hasn’t played in quite a while. There are others that I play along with, however – “Zohan” – who is quite a good “strummer/singer” guitarist in my own vein, with a predilection to Creedence Clearwater Revival music – he and I play together ever few months, and we have a lot of fun doing it. He and I need to get a bit more focused on this –we could actually put together a set and perform if we both put our minds to it. Same with my friend Steve, who plays at a similar level as me, and has very similar musical interests. My brothers –in-law, Jon and Micah, are both solid players in their own right – with Micah just having picked it up in the last few years. Micah and I manage to get together for a strum fairly often and each time it offers a great brain break and mental stretching.

Interestingly, though where I’ve gotten the most “play along” satisfaction is when I get the treat of sitting in with someone who is clearly better than me – and there are a few of those folks in my life. First, my next door neighbor and spiritual “rudder”, RavMarc – who is a very accomplished folk singer and guitarist – his music tastes are more folk than my acoustic rock tastes, although we do find ways to collaborate. And then there’s two guys who are both better than me, and have perfectly matching tastes – my old work pal Rick, and now, Coach. Unfortunately, both live out of town. Rick and I were colleagues at another company for about 8 years and we discovered our mutual “playalong” compatibility when he was visiting me for a business trip. After that, we both schlepped our guitars to the Dominican Republic for a company fun trip and entertained not only our work colleagues, but pretty big crowds of folks at the resort as well. And, he invited me to sit in once at his standing gig at a bar in New York City, which was completely enjoyable for me. Probably less so for the folks in the audience. I hope we get to repeat our session sometime again. And now, most recently, Coach – Coach clearly knows his stuff both as a guitarist and as a singer and we discovered that our music styles are completely compatible. It was great to be able to play along with him, providing depth and texture with my rhythm guitar work while he was able to rip away at solos and also focus on his vocals. Hopefully in Alabama, that was first of more than few times where we can jam along together. I’m hoping we can both bring our “cheap beater” guitars to Mexico with us later this summer and repeat the jam up by the pool.

So, where does this arc lead us? Well, again, like sports, music is best made, at least in my view, in a team setting. You compliment each other’s strengths, compensate for each other’s weakness and the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. There’s no more fun, at least for this amateur musician, than to be part of a bigger sound, making music that others enjoy and sing along to. And, like sports, you find that one of the best ways to raise your game is to play with others that are of higher skill than you – it forces you to raise your stakes and learn more to be able to play along.

As you were,

Stew

Sweet Home Alabama – the Trip

9 May

We just got back from a wonderful driving trip to Alabama for a week-long vacation. Time to blog!

This is the first of what will be a few posts in a series – I have to see how the thoughts come to me, of course, as my dear ‘ol blog is always done on the fly, extemporaneously, off the top of my head, pulled out of my ass, etc. That said, there seems to be a few topics to cover – the trip itself, the people we saw, and the places we went and food we ate. So, this one will be a light one – the trip itself.

Our trip was yet another version of the great American Road trip, similar to the one I just took with my sons in early April for their spring break. While that one was “one lap of Ohio – a trip from Chicago to Cleveland, to Dayton, and then back to Chicago, this one was a bit more linear, and more desitination-oriented. Specifically to Rainsville, Alabama. Population: 5000. Their civic motto? The Crossroads of Sand Mountain. Why Rainsville? Well, it’s not like we played darts or anything – instead it happens to be the home of some dear friends of ours, Keary and Lisa, whom we met in Cancun in 2007, then stayed in touch, met up again on a beach on Grand Cayman in 2010, and then joined them again for a week in Cancun last year. We met a bunch of their friends through that second trip – Chris and Sharon, Brian and Leslie, Tammy and Jerry, and now are fast friends with the lot of them. We’ll cover that in my next post – on the people.

As we were planning this trip, people were saying to us “Why Alabama?” We’d explain the friend connection and they’d say “oh, well, OK. Couldn’t they meet you somewhere else?” Obviously they hadn’t been to where I’ve now been and will return to many times more. As northerners, I think we’re conditioned that if you think of visiting a rural place in the deep south, you envision ramshackle tar-paper shacks, dirty kids running around throwing sticks, old coon dogs on the porch (which is peeling, sagging and gray) rusting yard cars, and people with no teeth. Not the case at all. Rainsville, and its nearby companion county seat, Scottsboro, AL, are tidy rural towns that would fit right in in any state in the union. They are agricultural – Rainsville sits up on a geological formation called Sand Mountain, which is a 1500 to 1700 foot above sea-level ridge that is about 25 or so miles wide and hundred or so miles long on average and is some of the highest ground in Alabama. Its sandy soils are supposed to be great for growing tomatoes. Leslie and Brian sent us home with a tomato plant set in Sand Mountain dirt – which is light brown and sandy. They say it grows the best tomatoes – so we’ll see if we can get “Bubba The Big Boy” to grow on our Chicagoland patio.

The trip was basically a 675 mile-long straight shot south – our route went down I-65 from the Gary, IN area to Nashville, then onto I-24 towards the NE corner of Alabama where you pick up US 72 into Scottsboro, hang a left, cross the Tennessee River and Guntersville Lake and up onto Sand Mountain and Rainsville. The next town southeast of Rainsville is Fort Payne, AL, made famous by the country Supergroup of the 1980s, Alabama. 675 miles is about 10 ½ hours of driving. We could have done it in one day, but half the fun of a road trip is stopovers, so we made our stopover on the way down in Nashville – about 8 hours from Chicago, and one the way back, made our stop in Louisville, which is exactly half way almost to the mile from between Rainsville and Buffalo Grove.

The driving from Chicago to Indianapolis is miserable. Dead flat, devoid of scenery. Like driving on a treadmill.   About the only interesting thing to see is a gigantic wind turbine farm near Rennselear, and the only good stops to make are at Fair Oaks Farms at Winamac and to eat at Triple XXX Drive In at West Lafayette (see my other post about Triple D restaurants). After Indy, it gets better – starts being more wooded and rolling and then south of Louisville, it gets downright beautiful – mountains and hills, big rock cuts for the Interstate – woods everywhere. Gorgeous! South of Nashville, it really gets interesting– with true mountain driving featuring 6-8% grades for miles at a time, steep turns occasionally, beautiful scenery. And once off the interstates and onto US 72 headed into Alabama, you follow Lake Guntersville and things are truly spectacular.

Our friends Keary, Lisa, Brian and Leslie joined us in Nashville – we stayed at the Marriott Courtyard which is in a beautiful converted bank/office building right in the heart of downtown and only 4 blocks from the Broadway music strip. Just a few steps away is the Ryman Auditorium, which Brian (who is a walking/talking Chamber of Commerce guide for both Nashville and his own area around Rainsville) liked to call “the Mother Church of Country Music” – the

original site of the Grand Ole’ Opry. We hadn’t been to Nashville in ages – I have been there about 3 times for business, and Robin only once for business, and each time we were there between us, we’ve just stayed at the Opryland Hotel. I did make it downtown once before to tour the music scene, but it had been ages. Thus, this was a real treat, made only better by our Alabama friends driving the 3 hours up on their Harley Electra Glides to join us.

The music scene in Nashville, as one would expect with the moniker “Music City” is fantastic. If you’re a fan of live music, this is the place for you. Downtown features at least 50 or more live music clubs playing everything from Country (lots of it), Rock, Blues, R&B, and even alternative and ska (as we saw from some places we passed on our morning walk the next day). After a brief and pretty good dinner at Demo’s Italian-style Steakhouse, we started up Broadway, with our goal being Tootsie’s Wild Orchid Club and a show from country music up-and-comer John Stone, a native of Fort Payne, AL and friend of our friends from Rainsville. Each live music club has a wide open front door and generally the stage is right at the front of the room – you walk past, turn around to watch. No cover charges anywhere – just a tip jar and a tradition of “pay to play” – you want to hear something played, you pay – $20 is the general medium of exchange. We hit at least three places – the final being Tootsie’s Wild Orchid – and danced and enjoyed a fun mix of country, rock, country/rock and country/ska. The experience at Tootsies was amazing – when we arrived, the early band was still on stage and rocking the room – two guitarists, a drummer, bassist and this beautiful girl playing a hot fiddle. Their focus was mostly country. The fun thing there was people kept offering them $100 and $200 tips to play additional songs, so they played an extra 20 minutes or so. A quick change of gear, and John Stone’s band came on – I think he called his band the Trailer Trash Trio or something funny like that. These guys rocked it though – great harmonies on the country stuff, played some great scorching rock including a fantastic rendition of Highway to Hell by AC/DC at the request of a Brit in the room. The place was jam-packed – it seems like fire marshall attendance laws haven’t caught on here. Downtown Nashville overall seems to be in a big renaissance phase with big high-end hotels being built, a new sports stadium and more. It is very impressive and we will be back.

Onwards to Rainsville, Sand Mountain and Lake Guntersville. Rainsville is a classic “crossroads” town of two major state highways that earn the town’s one primary traffic light (or “redlights” as they call them there) with businesses lining the two roads for about a mile in each direction, and the residential areas fanned out from there. The town is quaint, tidy and nice – a few too many shuttered storefronts of course, and some of the requisite chain encroachment including McDonald’s (but no Starbucks!!), but the usual – a couple of grocery stores, the usual service businesses of hair, dentists, cleaners, etc., auto parts stores, furniture, etc. While of course like any rural town, there are run down homes here and there, but for the most part, there are nice, tidy homes of smaller to average size. The town has an “all grades” school – Plainview  (Go Bears!) – that has about 1600 students spread from K-12. And a big business there, the Rainsville Funeral Home, where our good friends are the owners. Keary and Lisa’s funeral home is a huge, beautiful, stately building that’s beautifully furnished on a large tract of ground that includes a cemetery.

Rainsville and the whole area experienced a seriously defining moment on April 27, 2011 when the NE Alabama tornados tore through the town and the surrounding counties. That day, dozens of tornadoes went through the general area, and in Rainsville in particular, the largest one hit – an F5 that turned into a quarter-mile-wide monster, dropping down near the high school, destroying a large portion of that, tearing up the town’s civic center, then flattening dozens of businesses and homes and killing more than 20 people in Rainsville and the nearby area. We took a tour of the area and it is really eerie to see – the area is generally pretty wooded and there is a clear path you can see where the trees are all torn apart and every building is completely gone. There is rebuilding going on, which is great, and there are things that will never be rebuilt. The community, led by some of our friends – specifically Lisa and Tammy, recently erected a beautiful monument to remember those killed in the tornadoes.  The impact of this is unmistakable. Rainsville will clearly mark time for generations to come in terms of “before and after the tornado”.

 

 

We left Rainsville on Friday to head to

Keary and Lisa’s lake home on Lake Guntersville. Lake Guntersville, is one of the biggest competition bass fishing lakes in the southeast, and is just immense – something like 75 miles long and up to 2 miles wide at certain points. Nearby is a big state park, which I did not see, but featured a beautiful lodge on a bluff about 400 feet above the river. We saw eagles, cranes, pelicans, fish of course and much more. Keary and Lisa’s home is on a beautiful point toward Guntersville with sunset views. Just really didn’t get prettier. And there’s tornado damage there too – in fact the tornadoes took out a bunch of trees on his property, and damaged the house as well. Behind the house and in some other places around the lake you could see paths that the tornadoes made through the trees. We stayed out at the lake until Sunday around sunset, then back to Rainsville for one more overnight and then headed home, this time by way of Louisville.

We overnighted at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel – thanks Hilton HHonors for the free room! The Seelbach is a beautiful old property right in the middle of downtown Louisville. The 4th Ave Market is right next to it – an entertainment “district” of a block or so of restaurants and bars – with a covering over the street – very manufactured, but I’m sure quite fun. It has been at least 10 years or more since I was last in Louisville and it is impressive how much the downtown area is revitalized since then and is still coming up. This was a really dynamic place and there’s lots of good dining, hotels and fun to be had there. We walked to the Garage Bar – which turned out to be a much, MUCH longer walk east on Market Street than the hotel concierge made it out to be, through an area that, well, hasn’t been through the revitalization yet. While it didn’t feel dangerous in the 7:00 PM daylight, I’m sure it would be in the midnight darkness. I’ll write about the food in another post.

We got on the road after a wonderful breakfast (again, food details to come), and headed for home, stopping at Fair Oaks Farms for ice cream, and making a decision to come through downtown Chicago, even though rush hour traffic was building, just to enjoy the big city sights after being in the rural areas.

Our little VW GTI shined again for us – eating miles at a prodigious rate (cruise set about 80 mph most of the time), handling the mountain roads like it was born in Europe (wait, it was), blasting up slopes, burbling down them, hugging the curves and hauling it down fast when idiots without knowledge of the concepts of rearview mirrors would cut us off. All while turning in an average 29.8 mpg. The total: (which includes a fair amount of time driving around in Alabama): 1576 miles driven, 27 hours and 0 minutes spent in the car, 58 mph average speed with the 29.8 MPG. Fantastic.

Love our road trips!

And we loved Sweet Home Alabama.

As you were,

Stew

Earworms

26 Mar

Ok, before you go all EWW! on me – the definition of “earworm” that I’m talking about is the internal “iPod” in your head that plays the music that gets stuck there.  This morning, I’m coming to you live from American Airlines flight 876, winging its way from O’Hare to Boston Logon airport – currently at about 37,000 feet over Lake Erie.  As much as I loved being unplugged over the weekend, here’s one spot I like being “plugged in”.

Anyway, over the weekend, I had the pleasure of experiencing a singing duo that we’d never heard before – Jackopierce – it is an acoustic duo, sort of Jack Johnson/John Mayer meeting Loggins and Messina – that was a big hit in the mid-late 1990s in the Dallas area.  They’ve recently re-formed and are touring again.  My friend Professor Troutstream and his lovely wife Molly invited us to join them for the show and I had a really fantastic, “music to the core” experience – goosebumps, tears in my eyes, the works – all for a band I’d never heard before.  The Professor’s favorite song was Vineyard and I’m getting the goosebumps again just thinking of that song – it is the band’s “encore special.”

That said, the earworm that I got from them was Please Come to Boston – the David Loggins song from the mid 1970s – their rendition of it was stirring – they slowed the tempo a bit and because they are two very talented guitarists, one of them played the “straight” chords and the other was playing a wide variety of triads and other “up the neck” chords that added a huge dimension to the sound of the song. And … well, I’m flying to Boston this morning.  That song has been stuck in my head non-stop since yesterday morning.

Last week, when our “Jewish experiment” group met to define our future as a community (“B’Chavana”), we got to talking about what is important to us – and while this should be as no shock to anyone, music is clearly one of the most important things to me in my life.  The ability to listen, to play, to sing.   I said in our meeting, and I fully maintain this thought, I feel that G-d speaks to me in music.  The incredible wash of good feelings, of stress relief, of balance, of … well, every good feeling, has me convinced that it’s G-d speaking to me.  Our little worship community is very musically driven – there are a mix of folks in it that when we get going, it is not unusual to hear 4 and 5 part harmonies on our liturgical music.  And that music sticks with me – “earworming” as it were, for an entire week.

Late yesterday afternoon, we joined our Rabbi and his wife at their home for a music jam night – RavMarc is a guitarist par excellence, and we had other members there as well as a few other friends – most of whom have been a part of B’Chavana at one point or another – Rachel and her husband, Anita and Don, Renee and David and of course Robin, and RavMarc’s wife Susan.  We played a big mix of folk music with a few of my acoustic rock numbers mixed in for good measure – with the group just sitting in a circle and singing.  So good for the soul.  I went to that last night with my stress-knot in my upper back (I get a kin in my upper back right by my shoulder blade from stress), and honestly, wasn’t in the mood to go.  Had work and business travel on my mind.  Well, we played and jammed for an hour, and at the end of the hour, I had no knot in my back, a bit of sweat on my body, and all was good in the world.  I do feel like I was again touched by G-d – coming through me and taking my stress away.  I slept great last night, and feel great today.   My only regret is that I hadn’t worked out Please Come to Boston to play with this crowd.  The harmonies would have been exquisite.  Not as good as Jack and Cary from Jackopierce, but damn close!

So where does this lead me?  Well, of course, every time I play, I know I have to play more.  I need to work on my songs, get more music, memorize more, etc.  I need to really devote a minimum of an hour or more of playtime a week – it is good for me, and of course, it’s great for my playing.   And, well, it brings me closer to G-d as well.

A thanks to the Professor, Molly, RavMarc, Anita, Rachel, and all those that rocked out with me this weekend.  I needed it.

As you were,

Stew

Listen to the music!

3 Feb

Last Saturday evening, after dinner, we went to our friends Jason and Andrea’s house for drinks to celebrate Andrea’s birthday.  It was one of our “just gather” things we do with our friends- not a party.  No invitations, etc.  There were husbands and wives missing for various reasons – chasing kids, business travel, etc. Impromptu.  After the requisite cake and toasting, one couple went home for kid bedtimes (they being the only couple in this group with younger kids), another guy went off to pick up a daughter, and my wife and the remaining three women announced they were going to another’s house to watch chick flicks.

That left just Jason and me hanging out having a drink – and we were left with a binary choice – either put on some sort of man-flick like Pulp Fiction or whatnot, or, better yet, crank the tunes and listen to the music.  We went for the latter.

A back story – a few months ago, I posted about “Listening to Albums”  having been to a concert where Frampton played Frampton Comes Alive.  And how the concept of listening to an album has all but gone away.  Jason and I (and his wife Andrea, and my wife Robin) love to hang and just listen to music, and especially to albums.  Jason, like me, is a big music fan, and he’s an audiophile – meaning he has some serious stereo gear.  While my gear is old, it was very serious in its day, and still sounds great – hence we get into listening to the tunes.  We just hang out, grab drinks, put on a track or an album, listen to it, talk about it, lather, rinse, repeat.

We were marveling over what a treat it is to do this – and how for the most part, this isn’t something people do anymore.  We did it all the time as kids – you’d buy a new album and invite your friends over to listen to it.  You’d have a bit of a party and a major portion of that was “cranking the tunes” and listening to the music and being really into it.   We both came to the conclusion (between savoring the lead guitar parts in the acoustic version of Hotel California, where Joe Walsh squares up with Glenn Frye and they scorch out that harmonizing solo, and Boston’s Hitch a Ride, where Tom Scholz and Barry Gordreau do pretty much the same thing), that technology has changed the way people enjoy and consume music.

Back in the day (a phrase I hate, by the way, especially when some 22 year old says it – “really?  Back in the day?  Like what, 2 years ago?) – when we were in high school and college – you listened to tunes primarily at home.  Then in the late 70s and early 80s, car stereos became serious audio, and so, you added your car to that – but you still listened at home.  Then we added walkmans and other portable devices – now you could listen at home, in the car, walking around.  Layer into that streaming internet music (Spotify, Pandora, etc.), iTunes, MusicMatch on cable, Napster, iPods, Zunes, smartphones, etc. and suddenly our music is with us everywhere we go.

And the net result?  Music is not listened to anymore – it’s just a sound track for whatever else we’re doing.  Working? It’s on.  Driving – it’s on. Running or working out?  On. etc.etc.  This massive availability of music, however I think has killed off the activity of actually LISTENING to the music.  NOT multi-tasking.  Not watching video with it.  Turning down the volume of the input on the other senses, and turning up the volume on the music results in you really focusing on it.  You can hear how Joe Walsh, because he plays slide guitar so much is a bit lazy in his fingering runs and drags his fingers on the strings.  You can hear how Alex Lifeson of Rush plays with almost military like precision with his pick.  You can hear how Eddie Van Halen combines tapping, picking and other crazy techniques so that it comes out of his amp like a flood.  You can hear Geddy Lee’s right hand hitting the body of his bass on his solo in Red Barchetta.  And you can hear an acapella soloist in a song (one is not coming to mind) take breaths.

Like everything else, things are best when savored.  Your mama always told you – “don’t gulp your food!”  My grandmother had a plaque on her wall that said “Don’t hurry, don’t worry, and don’t forget to smell the flowers.”  Enjoying a fine meal means shutting off the other inputs and thinkiing about what you’re smelling and what you’re tasting.  Enjoying a fine painting in a museum, there’s no music.  There’s just good lighting and silence.  A place to sit and stare for a moment – walk up to it, walk back from it – look at it from differing angles.

And the same thing with music.  If you seriously fancy yourself as a music lover, then think about it.  When was the last time you actually sat and listened to music?  No TV, no laptop/iPad/iPhone/Droid, or even for that matter, conversation.  Think about what you’re hearing.  concentrate on hearing the parts – repeat the song and try to listen exclusively to one person or another, one instrument, etc. Savor it like a fine steak.  And be amazed.  Listen up.  Like we used to.

As you were,

Stew

Cover Band or “Old Favorite”? Does it matter?

5 Sep

In keeping with our favorite summer activity, live music, Thursday evening we went to see Lynyrd Skynyrd at Ravinia.  Ravinia, for those that don’t live in Chicago, is a wonderful outdoor concert venue with a Pavilion offering reserved seating to about 3000 people in the Pavilion (for a higher ticket price of course) and an additional 12,000 or so folks spread out on “the lawn” which is a beautiful wooded park – with speakers spread throughout.

We had lawn seats for Lynyrd Skynyrd – we were directly off the Pavilion so the sound we were hearing was straight off the stage sound system versus the lawn sound.  But sitting in the lawn, I could have been listening to a very good cover band versus the original – which of course got me to thinking:  All the touring bands under the names of the old faves are often just that – cover bands.  Which of course gets the next thought – “does that matter”?

Lynryd Skynyrd is probably less of a cover band than most these days – it stars four original players including Gary Rossington and Johnnie Van Zant.  We all know this band’s story – back in the late 70s, there was a tragic plane crash that killed three of the band’s original members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant – who really was the star and “sound” of the band.

We’ve seen lots of other “old fave/back in the day” touring acts in the last 8 years since this phenomena took hold including:

– Foreigner – one original member left:  Mick Jones:  That said, Foreigner is probably the best sounding of them all – and Mick Jones, while looking like father time himself, still riffs like a 30-year old and the band’s sound is stunning.

– Styx:  Two original members, Tommy Shaw and James Young, joined on stage by Chuck Panozzo on bass for a few numbers.  Tommy and James were the rockers of Styx, while Dennis DeYoung wanted to take the band into operatic “prog rock” back in the early 80s, which broke up the band.  These guys are the heart and soul of the Styx that I loved and the songs they play are primarily from Tommy Shaw and JY’s catalog, versus DDY songs.

– Boston: Only original member is Tom Scholz.  Still scorching.

– REO Speedwagon – two original members, Kevin Cronin, and the bass player (can’t remember his name).

– Kansas  – two original members

– Journey – two original members and a vocalist that was auditioned via You Tube and he is a Filipino guy who was a Steve Perry impressionist doing Karaoke until the band recruited him to be the Steve Perry impressionist doing live band Karaoke in front of a big live audience.  I haven’t heard them but I hear they are great.

And more …

And that’s the first tier.  These folks are still playing bigger venues, commanding decent ticket prices, and it still feels like a real rock show.  The second tier is where the cover band thing really starts kicking in.  Generally these acts are playing places like community festivals (Foghat played Buffalo Grove Days a few years ago and the year after was Starship – the smoking ruins of the old Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship, etc.).   Most of these bands feature just one original member and it is usually only someone that was sort of part of the band’s soul.  Foghat’s original member was the bass player.  Starship’s was vocalist Mickey Thomas, who was the band’s front man in the 80s, but without the incredible vocals of Grace Slick, that band was pointless.

Of late, we’ve seen many good  cover acts as well – tribute bands to the Beatles including Chicago-based and nationally-touring American English, tribute bands to Pink Floyd, Journey, Foriegner, Kiss, etc. etc.  And all are great – and it is great fun to hear the music of your youth performed live.

Which of course brings me around to the point – are these cover bands or are they originals?  And, does it matter? Certainly, in the case of bands like Styx, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc., you can make the point that they are current versions of the originals.   All businesses and let’s face it, rock bands ARE businesses, change out personnel, so it goes in music.  Foreigner, with Mick Jones at the helm, and considering he wrote most of their catalog, isn’t a cover band so much as a better version of the original.  While I’m no expert in contract law and intellectual property, clearly all these bands have a member who still owns rights to the band name and the music catalog and so they go.

On the subject of “does it matter”?  Well, depends on your perspective.  If you’re a music purist, I suppose it does.  But, if you’re like me, a music lover and a nostalgic soul, instead these bands are a walk through our youth.  And a damn enjoyable walk it is.

And while those first huge, loud chords of “Feels Like the First Time” by Foreigner slam through you, or you’re fist pumping your way through “Blue Collar Man” or “Fooling Yourself” with Tommy Shaw of Styx, savoring the incredible guitar solos of Boston, or yelling “Free Bird” with thousands of Lynyrd Skynyrd fans like I did Thursday night – you’re simply transported back to an earlier time.  And that’s all good.

Go see live music and support these touring 60 year olds.  Re-live your youth.  It’s good for the soul.

As you were,

Stew

Music – the Time Machine

23 Aug

As most of you know, I’ve been a musician to one degree or another for most of my life. I don’t even remember what my first instruments were but I remember having a more than a couple of toy guitars, a recorder or other flute-like thing in the house, and from the time I was 9 years old, a piano in the house as well.

I never took piano lessons (a decision I regret to this day, and something I will eventually do) but starting in 5th grade, I started playing the trombone, and in 7th grade learned guitar and bass guitar. Of all the things I was involved in in high school, music was the dominating factor. I was in choir, singing in both the full chorus and small groups. I was most involved, however, in band, playing in marching band, concert bands, jazz bands, small groups and combos, etc. Outside of school, I was part of a four-piece rock band that played together for about six years, with a few different members, playing bass and providing vocals. And through it all, it remains – I get no bigger buzz than when I play or perform music.

My best high school memories revolve around Jazz Band. Junior and Senior year, our high school had this amazing band teacher, “Mr. O”, who really cultivated a spirit of performance in the band. Our Jazz bands, senior year, went on a contest “tour” all over the Midwest, with stops in St. Louis, Kansas City, Kirksville MO, Omaha, Waterloo IA, Iowa City, Davenport, Des Moines, Ames and other cities. Our Jazz One band – the top tier – was well known in these competitions and we would usually dominate, coming in first or second in most of them. I played bass and was part of a very strong rhythm section. Our trumpet section featured five guys that could positively wail with the best of them, and our sax section provided a strong anchor to the show. We combined that with some unusual features that included an electric violin, occasionally two “trap” drummers with one playing electronic synthesized drums, and more.

Our music selections were innovative as well – it was a combination of old-world big band music from folks like Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, etc., with more modern Jazz of folks like Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Miles Davis and others. Additionally, our leader, “Mr. O”, also was a composer and wrote some truly off-the-hook charts for us, including one voluminous work, “Spaces” that generally won us every competition where we performed it.

As a band, we had some badass swagger as well. All the guys (and please, remember the era – late 1970s, lest you become judgemental), all wore Stetson cowboy hats for the tour trips (although we didn’t wear them onstage), and would walk around whichever town or school we were visiting with them on – the other cities got to know us by this. I seem to remember the girls had some sort of wardrobe thing they did as well, but can’t remember exactly what.

The other key thing in our swagger was our warmup work. At each tour stop – normally a high school or college campus, you were assigned a classroom or other practice space for your band to be able to put your stuff, get your gear in tune, practice, etc. Other bands would set up in their practice space and spend hours before they went onstage practicing their performance numbers. While we usually made a brief dip into those songs – usually just the opening and closing bars to make sure we were tight – Mr. O instead encouraged us to develop a warmup that was anything but our performance tunes. As a result, we developed a number of amazing jam numbers – with one favorite being an instrumental version of Master Blaster by Stevie Wonder. If you’re familiar with the tune, you know this is a great song for a bass guitar player – and being our band’s bassist, it was my favorite. Other bands would make sure their doors to their practice space were closed, but not us. We’d get ripping on Master Blaster and Mr. O would open the door and soon there’d be a crowd in the room, spilling out into the hallway, just to watch us jam. Kids from other schools would come up to us and say how cool that was. And intimidating.

Which loops me to this weekend. Just for something random to do on Saturday, I decided to cruise the town and hit garage sales – my buddies “Charlene” “Jayce” and “GASHM” are big garage sale devotees so I thought I’d try it. At the second garage sale I struck gold – a little Fender bass guitar combo amp. 15 watts – perfect size for my home office/music room. My “big dog” bass amp bit the dust a few years ago and I gave it away, so I hadn’t had anything to play bass through in quite a while.

I hustled home with it and plugged it in – first with my electric guitar. Works fine! I strapped on my ancient old Univox “Hi-Flyer” bass guitar that has seen years of gigs and tuned it up – amazingly, still in perfect tune even though it hadn’t been played in more than 2 years. I then plugged my iPod into one of my other guitar amps to give myself a track to play along with.

You can guess now what I played.

While some of the runs are really rusty, I can still jam along with that song, 30 years later. And it had probably been 30 years since I actually played it.

And just like that, I was crammed in some high school history room, with the 20 kids that were my best high school friends and we were banging out some of the scorchingest jazz sounds to be heard that day.

Music IS a time machine. And one that I know will work for the rest of my life.

As you were,

Stew

Listening to Albums

13 Aug

This summer, I’ve had the unique, fun and nostalgic experience of hearing two of my favorite artists, play two of my all-time favorite albums end-to-end in concert.   First was Peter Frampton playing Frampton Comes Alive straight through on July 5th (great way to celebrate the night of our 25th reunion, by the way) and the second was last night with Steely Dan playing Aja all the way through.  Both were treats.  And trips.

Back in the day (and friends around my age will get this), that’s how we listened to music.  You slapped on an LP, or later, a CD and played it from start to finish – all the tracks.  Flip it when needed, change records if it were a multi-disc set, etc.  But you got to know the album and the artist through the rhythm of the album.

There were plenty of occasions where you wondered a bit, “now why did they put that track there?”, “how come they buried this uptempo hit song on side two in the middle”, etc. etc.  I’m sure there are people that are far more knowledgeable about the music business than I am, that understand the idea and rhythm of figuring out what order to put the tracks in.  But at the end of the day, that’s how you knew your music.  After a few listens through, you knew which track was next.

A good friend of mine, Jason, is a music aficionado, and we will frequently get together with his wife, Andrea and Robin and me and sit and listen to old favorite albums straight through.  It is a rare treat.  Some of my all time favorite albums – Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, Boston’s first album “Boston”, Styx’s Pieces of Eight, Aerosmith’s Toys in The Attic, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Led Zepplin 4, The Eagles’  Hotel California, The Beatles’ White Album and Abbey Road, Steve Miller Band’s Book of Dreams, and of course the aforementioned Frampton Comes Alive, and Steely Dan’s Aja are just great works.  Yes, I love the songs individually, but there is an entirely different listening experience that comes from hearing the entire artist’s work, in the way that the artist intended it to be heard.

I guess this is a nostalgic post – in these days of iTunes downloads, YouTube videos, media sharing sites, Pandora, iPods, etc., this style of listening is entirely foreign to our kids in general. My kids, thankfully have gotten in the habit of buying CDs, not just tracks from iTunes (although with iTunes gift cards being a popular currency, there’s plenty of single-track buying being done), but I don’t think that they are in the habit of hearing the work striaght through.  The tracks get ripped to the computer, dropped into playlists, etc.  Thank goodness iTunes and iPods support album listening – because I’d be lost without that.

Overall, this has been a fantastic music spring/summer for us so far – in addition to seeing/hearing Steely Dan and Peter Frampton, we also have seen Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, as well as Steve Miller Band and in a few weeks, we’ll be seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd (also at Ravinia).

As we were listening to Steely Dan – Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, play through Aja, Robin and I were talking about how we doubt our kids will ever have the experience of hearing the artists of their youth, touring in their 60s, while they are in their 40s or whatever, and enjoying the trip back to their youthful days.  Who of today’s artists have music that has that staying power?  Damn few!  Perhaps Kid Rock, Nickleback, Jason Mraz and a few others, but certainly not Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and all the other autotuned acts.  That’s a bummer.

Anyway, my advice to you my dear friends, is put on an album.  Sit down with a beverage of your choice, put on an album from your favorite artist (in whatever format you have – vinyl, CD, iPod tracks, whatever) and with perhaps a loved one or two, and just listen.  Think about the rhythm of the tracks and how they work together.  If it’s an old favorite, try to remember what comes next.  And immerse  yourself in the music.  You’ll be glad you did.

As you were,


Stew
(and other album covers for nostalgia purposes …)

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