So yea. It’s one of them dark times. Sleep should have come but didn’t. Beer is running out. Work in a few hours. What now?
The Replacements on my Ipod. “Let it Be” and “Tim” and “Pleased to Meet Me”. On a loop for the last few hours. “Gary’s Got a Boner” standing side by side with “Skyway”. Enough to drive a good man to drink. Or a not so good man for that matter. This is the 80s we are talking about. Drinks were routine, with or without being pumped up by “Gary’s Got a Boner”. I need a benzo and some ambien. That generally does me good.
I was in college. I had a walkman. One of the first. I came in as a freshman blasting REM’s Murmur cassette, pretending I knew the words to “Radio Fee Europe” and “Sitting Still”. A guy from Old Forge pulled me aside and said 2 things. The first was that he could hear every note and word going into my ears, from about 20 yards away. He wondered if I was deaf. I told him I wasn’t sure but selective hearing was my strong suit. He then said “I know REM, I love them” and I felt crushed because I felt like they were my discovery and nobody else knew them. But Vince pretended he could decipher Stipe’s lyrics too….so we decided to join forces. We’d sit down…rewind over and over again….get something like “up to bar and Katie bars the door” or some shit like that and then felt like jackasses caring what this this weird guy with eyeliner was mumbling to the rest of us unwashed. Hasn’t he ever heard of a lyric sheet? But really….who cared? It sounded damn good unintelligible or not. Me and Vince soon had lots of company. REM broke big and nobody gave us any credit for being the top boys. We sulked a little and skipped a lot of classes to recover. Vince was an Italian from Old Forge. A prince of a guy. I wish I knew where he was today. The man had his priorities straight and probably ended up as demented as me. The poor bugger.
REM broke big. The Replacements never sobered up enough. REM loved the Replacements, and the Replacements loved REM. Both bands had the same goal. Do this music thing in a different way. Kids are in college? Ok, that’s where we’ll go, even though the REplacements consisted of 4 high school drop-outs. Delicious irony. Years later Craig Finn suggested we “Raise a glass to Joe Strummer…..he might heave been our only decent teacher”….and that sorta made sense, since you’d find Westerberg and Stipe and their respective bands listening to the Clash on the bus, while not having the remedial math skills necessary to keep from getting blatantly fucked over in contract talks by their record companies. And while all this was going on Bon Jovi was selling a gazillion copies of “Slippery When Wet”….a record with naked chicks on the cover who looked just like the naked guys in the band. Westerberg and his boyos had one more chance, on SAturday Night Live, but they proceeded to get so drunk on live television that NBC banned then the same way the Holiday Inn banned to Who when Keith Moon was alive. It seemed harmless enough but guys who wore suits for a living were pissed. Who were these Minneapolis neanderthals? Well….just kids really. Kids who didn’t trust you or anybody else. And kids who when told to go right, went left just because the last time they did what they were told you stole money out of their pockets. Kids who liked free booze but disliked just about anything else unless it came in the form of an unmarked envelope with no return address.
Just honest rebellion. You want to treat REM and the Replacements as circus performers? Two of the greatest American rock and roll bands on the planet? Good luck. I hope you don’t get hit in the face with piece of food while the camera is running. Westerberg and company sounded fine to me. They were banned forever afterwards according to rock and roll lore….even though the seemed relatively tame during their two songs. Not stone sober mind you, but upright and speaking english…and clearly making their own noises….not like Ashlee Simpson lip syncing and hurrying on to McDonalds to beat up on the minimum wagers. The Mats certainly sounded way better than…say…..Steely Dan or Paul Simon warbling through ‘Slip Sliding Away’. Not sure what all the fuss was about…..maybe the fact that the Mats were wearing each other’s clothing at the time and looked to be explaining to the rest of us, in 3 minutes or so, why selling your soul may not in fact be a good idea. It was like a masters class in “go fuck yourself 101″, and only Elvis Costello could match in in SNL lore when he broke free from his set list and played just what they didn’t want him to play. If only Johnny Rotten had showed up with his “I hate” Pink Floyd t-shirt right then we may have moved cultural mountains.
But no. It’s over. Bob Stinson went to war with his liver and lost. As in dead. Rock star dead. His brother Tommy went to war with Axl Rose as part of his touring band and was finally able to make some real money. Westerberg stayed in his basement and recorded a series of quirky solo albums, minor masterpieces some, that nobody ever paid any attention to. Every few years he shows up and threatens a Replacements reunion, but it just sorta fades away. This year the band got together for a special show at Coachella, and about 200 people showed up….roughly the same amount of folks that come to see me when my first band played a bar gig. Westerberg seemed pissed off. I felt nothing. The young 20 something half dressed in designer denim seemed more interested in being seen than in seeing, and when the bank broke into “Alex Chilton” there couldn’t have been 5 people there who knew what the fuck Westerberg was singing about.
I’m in love. With that song. And I always will be. And I don’t have the balls to ask Westerberg or Stinson for anything. Surely I owe them a helluva lot more than they owe me. That old walkman copy of “Let and Be” and “Tim” and “Pleased to Meet Me” made college bearable. As did feeling that I was in on a big secret. Just wait. The explosion is coming. Just like REM. Remember when I predicted that one? Shit yea…..I remember.
But no. But I’m glad. I don’t have them to myself again, not by a long shot. That’s selfish.
The Replacements could be the American Clash. But that’s not my call. That’s yours. In the cars and bars and bedrooms of your formative years. Who was your finest teacher?
Do you think Cobain and Vedder came from another planet? No….they had their ears towards Minneapolis. To Westerberg and Husker Du, who invented whatever the fuck “grunge” became, but lacked the blue eyes or the flowing locks to bring it to the mainstream.
Make no mistake. Westerberg is a giant….the way Cobain and Vedder are giants. Westerberg and his band were passed over the rock and roll hall of fame induction this year. Kiss got in. So did Cat Stevens. Cat Fucking Stevens. Peace Train my ass. How about taking on some of your mullah and telling them they’re bat shit? No? Then take your peace train and ram it up your ass. If Woody Gutrie was alive he’s take his guitar that kills fascists and put a knot in your head with it.
Alex Chilton ain’t in the hall of fame either. Neither in John Prine. Or Los Lobos. Who does the voting here?
One foot in the grave / the other one in the gutter…
In a bit…
Spring has sprung. For a day at least. Near 70 degrees on this Saturday. Finally the birds are louder than the snow plows.
I’ve been crazy busy….but not doing the stuff I like to be crazy busy doing. Bill paying is a real nuisance sometimes…..and unfortunately it can rarely be done in 40 hours. I’ve been living a coal-miner’s existence. Work….sleep….work….sleep. A ghastly cycle. Books await my attention. My guitar awaits my attention. My notebook awaits my attention. Family members await my attention. And there I am…..snoring on the couch, still wearing my coat and shoes.
And as I’ve been told over and over again….I’ve got it good.
Thus, America, circa 2014.
I am one of the lucky ones. It’s so odd.
I woke up this morning with a song I wrote over 20 years ago in my head. I remember the chorus and the bridge perfectly, but the verses are nowhere to be found. It was sort of a Motown-ey thing……an “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” rip….called “Only You Can Keep Me from Crying”. No idea why I thought of it, but here it is still. Stuck. Somebody is trying to tell me something perhaps. Time will tell. I can’t remember many of my songs from 20 years ago because most of them were terrible. This was one of my favorites and it’s not terrible. I think it’s quite charming. I should dust it off…when I have time.
America’s greatest rock and roll band is “The Hold Steady”. That’s my take on it anyway. And I got a chance to see them last week (with my daughter no less!) at a radio station promo show. I was front row, with my feet on Craig Finn’s vocal monitor. One of those nights you don’t forget. Boys and Girls in America.
It’s a strange thing meeting your idols. Craig Finn was some geek getting beaten up by football players at a Minneapolis High School 20 years ago…locked in his bedroom banging away at a cheap acoustic while worshipping at the shirnes of Paul Westerberg and Bruce Springteen (both of whom he eventually met). All I could think to say to him was….”Craig…how does it feel when guys meet you….and you know they’re feeling the same way you felt when you met Westerberg?” He just smiled and said….”it feels weird man..”
An unpretentious dude….albeit not as chatty as usual since he was giving up beer for lent. And now he’s one of the greatest songwriters of our generation….fronting an absolutely killer band. And by all accounts having the time of his life. I came home after the show…..and it felt strange….knowing that my rock and roll-less desk job awaited in a few hours…..while Craig and his friends were back on the bus, off to the next gig. It wasn’t envy. It just reminded me of forks in the road….and the turns I didn’t take…..and how many fucking variables there are in life.
And how if you’re a guitar player, equivocation is deadly. All in or all out boys and girls in America. Nobody who works part time is allowed on that bus.
So yea….this is what has been on my mind lately. Bits and pieces as my Pop used to say.
Only you can keep me from crying / Only you can keep our love from dying
Only you can do the things you do / Only you girl….only you….
It ain’t poetry boys and girls. But it fucking swings. Trust me.
In a bit…
I sent these lyrics to my friend, guitarist and songwriter Neil Luckett from Britian, way back on 2007 (Myself and Neil were both involved in a Warren Zevon tribute CD, and Neil did a version of “Mutineer” that was the highlight of that record for me).
It’s my favorite songwriting collaboration to date. I hope we can work on more.
Neil Luckett – vocals and guitar
She went to the cupboard but the cupboard was bare
so she went and cut off her long flowing hair
she laid down between the ground and the sky
looked straight ahead and never asked why
expected little and received even less
her mini-skirt came from cutting her dress
frayed at the edges and torn at the seams
desperation leads to extremes
Discarded bottles a railroad track
fighting that monkey on her back
the conductor smiles then he shakes his head
’cause she left her ticket back under the bed
back where her man’s boots used to be
caked with the sod of another shrill plea
she rolled towards him one night and instead hit the floor
and now she forgets what she needed him for
But what does it matter when you get down to it
a place to lay down, and a soft spot to sit
she tells herself this, then she cries like a child
who’s been left in the dark, scorned and reviled
So take this all down, so the record is clear
the coast might be too…but it may not be near
love’s a backhand across the mouth
as it rolls on away…to points due south
Is she just a collection of assorted loose parts
out of warranty….out of broken hearts
a beat down jalopy…just another used car
always destined to not get very far
this world’s a place that can swallow you whole
scorned for the capture…not for what you stole
tell me what’s she supposed to say
when she gets the news….that he’s MIA
Old Lynn Concerts – 2/8/2014
In Lieu of You
12 O’Clock Whistle
Don’t Kill My Heart
That’s What He/She Said
This is what songwriters dream of. My song…covered by a guy I’d pay to see. John Canjar. I get to call him a friend too. It doesn’t get much better.
It’s a second take only because he did a perfect first one and I forgot to hit the record button. If I could sing and play like this I could sleep late everyday.
Thank you John. I’m truly honored.
I’ve been thinking of Pete Seeger. It should not be a surprise that a 94 year old man has passed. But I was surprised. I feel that way every time a man who cannot be replaced dies. Seeger was like Mandela with a banjo. A man who walked and like he talked (and sang) it. Utterly fearless..yet never fearsome. When dragged before the infamous house un-American activities committee, Seeger offered to sing, but eloquently refused to name names (or use the 5th Amendment..”I had nothing to hide” he said)…..facing down the small minds arrayed against him with so much integrity that his accusers seemed baffled. Seeger is my definition of a great American. A man who served his country his entire life.
I’ve long been an ardent student of Woody Guthrie. But even Woody at his most rambunctious couldn’t keep up with Pete. Seeger was like a liberal energizer bunny. There was one path. The right one. He would not equivocate. He would not compromise. No man more fervently believed that “all men were created equal”. When I hear these famous lines from Tom Joad…
“…wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.”
…I know it was truly Seeger who lived them. Right to the end. Always imploring us to sing along. To get involved. To not be passive. To raise our voices. You think it’s easy to get folks to sing along? Try it sometime. I’ve seen many a fine musician want to crawl into a hole onstage after failing at audience participation. In the last few years of his life Seeger’s singing voice was no more than a whisper. Yet he could still raise the roof….with 3 part harmonies to boot.
If not for Seeger, marchers wouldn’t be singing “We Shall Overcome”. Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” would not be sung by today’s school children. Leadbelly might be the unknown answer to a trivia question. Who knows. Dylan might be working in a Minneapolis car-wash. Oh…that Dylan kid. The famous story of Seeger grabbing an axe and wanting to cut the cables during Dylan’s electric set at Newport is all true, but Pete wasn’t pissed with the amplification. He was pissed because nobody could hear the words to “Maggie’s Farm”. If you can’t hear the words, how can you sing along? Seeger could never understand anybody being intentionally unintelligible.
Seeger made the world a better place. How many can say that? Can you really think of a better legacy?
I never considered that one day he’d leave us. He’s always been here. Pro-union. Pro-worker. Walking the picket line. Marching for Civil rights. Marching against war (at the age of 83 he stood alone in the dead of winter along the highway near his home holding an anti-Iraq war sign, as cars motored past either honking their support or giving him the finger. The sign said, simply, “Peace”) He was very much involved with the current “Occupy” movements. He was the largest 130 pound man in the world. There may be an American artist out there with Seeger’s integrity. But dammit, right now I can’t name one. Can you?
I once sent him a letter and some songs I’d written. He responded with a hand written note (with his trademark banjo drawn in the corner) and called me a “great lyricist”. I think I had to wear larger shirts for a month to accommodate my puffed-out chest. I hope he realized how much the little things he did for people like me mattered.
And so we move on. Pete will be out of the news in a day or two. I wish that wasn’t so but it is. He deserves so much more that what modern memory will offer.
A final story. Pete recently sang for a group of schoolchildren in his hometown of Beacon, New York. Their teacher introduced him as a “man who has probably done for this country than any other.”
I can’t argue. Can you?
Farewell Pete. It’s been good to know you…
In a bit..