American Royalty

April 22, 2016 2 comments

People way more qualified to write about Prince are writing about Prince right now. But I’m going to write about him anyway because I want to remember, years from now, how this made me feel when it all went down.

I have five brothers and sisters. The best stereo in the house was in the basement….and one of us was always down there with our albums, rocking and rolling. We’d sit in the large chair against the wall and groove. No distractions. No TV. Just the music. Singing, air-guitar-ing. There was no sharing though. If one was down there, the others weren’t allowed. Unwritten rule. If somebody invaded, they were summarily ejected. If one wanted the space, we’d flick the light off and on at the top of the steps. “How much longer?” “Get lost!” Rock and roll was serious business in our house.

Prince-CTCMy twin brother was and remains an unassuming dude. But there were times when he’d be spinning something down there that I’d never heard before. He was a Cheap Trick fan before the Budokan record broke them. I was seeing these oddballs on album covers….some lunatic with a cap who looked like one of the Bowery Boys, writing songs like “He’s a Whore” and “Elo Kiddies”. My brother didn’t give a fiddlers fart that nobody knew who Cheap Trick was. He knew them and the rest of us could piss off as far as he was concerned.

He felt the same way about Prince. For You. Dirty Mind. Controversy. He had ‘em all down there, and I remember thinking, “what the hell is this?” Prince was some strange looking dude in his underwear…singing songs that were positively filthy. I scoured the album jacket, because in those days we did things like that, and saw that this kid was playing all the instruments himself. He was singing like James Brown and funking like George Clinton and then, out of the blue, he’d rip out a guitar line that would melt Hendrix’s afro. This was cosmic shit, and when the coast was clear I’d spin the records, thinking I was listening to some strange alien. Then just as quickly I put them back so I didn’t get caught. It almost felt like listening to Prince would bring on repercussions.

And then Prince became American Royalty.

The “1999” record blew minds, and “Purple Rain” followed and changed the fucking world. In retrospect we all should have seen it coming. Because this wasn’t just your run of the mill multi-instrumentalist. This was a total freak…..a talent not so much touched by the gods as one who overwhelmed the gods and forced them to question their own divinity. He could write better songs than you. He was a better guitar player than you. And a better bass player and drummer and keyboard player too. He was a better producer. He could dance you into the grave and had a voice that sounded like he swallowed Motown and Stax whole. He didn’t share the spotlight. Prince brought his own spotlight with him.

Remember in 1984 how Springsteen was everywhere? “Born in the USA” mania was upon us and “Dancing in the Dark” was being played every 7 seconds on the radio, propelled even more by MTV, who played that ridiculous Courtney Cox video every 8 seconds. “Dancing in the Dark” reached number 2 on the charts. It couldn’t dislodge “When Doves Cry”, a song that crystallized what every artist in the 80s was trying to do, and doing it all in 4 minutes. Prince was a badass. “Purple Rain” the record made him a celebrity. “Purple Rain” the film made him a star.

He was also a colossal fucking weirdo of course, but that’s allowed in rock and roll. Encouraged actually. Nobody normal changes the world.

“Sign ‘O the Times” might be my favorite Prince record. A sprawling double album that was impossible to pin down….normal people do not make music like this. He was inventing stuff on the fly and then moving on, sometimes in the same track. This music inspired my favorite record review of all time, when Robert Christgau of the Village Voice called it “Merely the most gifted pop musician of his generation proving what a motherfucker he is for two discs start to finish…”

And thinking on it….if ever anybody ever topped the Beatles in pop song-craft, it was Prince with “Raspberry Beret”. Argue this with me at your own peril.

Last night 6 of us formed an impromptu “Revolution” and got up on a stage in a bar and sang “Purple Rain”. The song is devastating and deserves better than was gave it, but I make no apologies because that’s exactly 6 musicians in a bar should have been doing last night.

Prince could always fascinate us. Even as he fell off the cultural radar….fighting the good fight against thieves and record labels (but I repeat myself), he’d pop up like a whack-a-mole with some one-off gig or Saturday Night Live appearance wearing 3-eyed sunglasses, or with some strangely distributed music in his pocket, following his muse wherever it took him. He made music constantly, and probably only released half of it. Rumors of thousands of unreleased tracks behind bank-vault thick doors at Paisley Park abound. So expect some unseemly money grabs in the future. A few nights back Prince performed a solo piano show in Atlanta. By all accounts it was absolutely transcendent. The man needed music like the rest of us need air. But music didn’t kill him, so don’t think that way. Music kept him alive.

But for now….I just feel gutted. Because Prince isn’t supposed to die. Our nation is diminished. But we were stone lucky the have him. And now he belongs to the ages.

I like to think of “the ages” as being a place similar to my childhood basement, with a killer stereo and an unlimited collection of our favorite records. And people rocking back and forth saying, “you ever heard of this guy?”

“Everybody shut up / and listen to the band
shut up already / damn”

–Prince

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Hello. How are you?

April 16, 2016 Leave a comment

I just got home and my head is spinning. I wanted to share this with somebody but it was late and I didn’t think anybody would understand. So I decided to share it with myself.

My daughter Kiera is 13 years old. She’s in 8th grade. Her grade school has a father/daughter dance every year. Tonight was our last. High school beckons. Growing up beckons. Life beckons. But she’s my baby. She’ll always be my baby. Nights like tonight are pretty special. I love her in ways that make love scary.

As a father watching my girls grow (I have two, ages 13 and 17) up has been both intensely satisfying and intensely sad. They were easier to protect as children. I still hover of course, but at a distance. They’ve begun to chart their own course, and have become extraordinary young women. I have to trust their navigational skill, and hope that me being slightly fucked up hasn’t rubbed off on them. Thus far they seem untainted.

Fathers don’t dance of course….so the night is comically misnamed. The DJ plays a handful of slow songs and the girls dutifully wander off to find Dad and drag our sorry asses onto the dance floor. It’s charming really. Watching the fathers…..I saw 100 other guys worn down like a used pencil….just like me. But with a light in our eyes when our girls were close. We stood around in pairs and and threesomes and talked about how our wives would say “no” and we’d always melt and whisper and say “yes”. Show me a man with a daughter and I’ll show you a man who can be rolled like a drunk in an alley.

It was getting late. The dance was nearly over. And then the DJ fired up Adele’s song “Hello”. That’s when the magic started.

It’s a great song, so that helps.But you’ve never heard or seen it like this. Perhaps 100 girls. Ages 6 to 13. Grouped together in a bunch….like a rugby scrum. Singing every word. Dancing to every word. Jumping and swaying and holding onto each other for dear life. Their inhibitions were gone. For 4 minutes they became a single entity. I was a wallflower for all of it, which is what I was born to be. I kept thinking…”I should video this”…..but I never did because I would have had to take my eyes off them for a few moments to do so. I wish I could show it to you but I can’t. All that’s left is my fumbling around late at night trying to describe what it was like. When I say that I can’t remember the last time music has affected me this way, I’m telling you the truth and kinda wishing that I wasn’t. Because it seems crazy. It sounds crazy. These were just kids. Singing a pop song.

But during these 4 minutes they were thinking about what they’d been through. And what was upcoming. They were thinking that things weren’t always going to be like this. Friends were going to fall in and fall out of their lives, seemingly on a whim, and moments such as these needed to be savored…..to be put in a choke hold….to be lubricated in tears born from laughter and from sadness.

Jesus H Christ. Calm down Pops!

I’ll be the first to admit that most of my fellow Dads are probably in bed now, giving no more thought to Adele’s song than they are to the fact that the dance ran out of ice for the 2 liter Pepsi bottles. Who the hell runs out of ice?

But that’s ok. Since my early 20s I’ve attacked life with not much more than a handful of chords, a beat up Gibson jumbo, and a yellow legal pad. I feel eminently qualified to wax poetic on situations that others find no poetry in.

So it’s left to me to describe how the earth tilted on its axis this evening…and how yet again music proved to me that it has more power than anything I know of. And that includes prayer. It’s the only thing I know of that is incapable of being divisive. It’s the only magic that doesn’t require an explanation. Because there isn’t one. Music pulls rabbits out of hats and everybody says…”yea…ok….makes sense.”

It’s the only thing left that leads me to believe that maybe…..just maybe….there is a higher power. And that being….whatever he or she or it may be….sits at a piano or stands with a low-strung Strat, and beckons us together.

The better angels of our nature. They are the ones who sing.

In a bit..

–tf

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Bret Alexander’s Dupont Back Porch notes…

April 5, 2016 Leave a comment

We each wrote liner notes for the record. I posted mine here. Below are Bret’s thoughts..

coverBret’s NOTES – You learn a lot about someone when you make a record with them. Some guys seem laid back and mild mannered in real life but become insane micro managers in the studio. Some are prima donnas….. you gotta light a lot of candles and dim a lot of lights for those folks. And others are like Tom Flannery, they just don’t give a shit.

Now there is a difference between not giving a shit and not caring. People that don’t care anymore are so tired of fighting that they have given up. But people who don’t give a shit, well, they have already won.

If there is anything good about getting old, that is it. You have seen enough living to know what is real and what is a waste of damn time. I used to have a file folder in my studio that I would pull out in certain situations. When a band was worrying about something they shouldn’t be I would say, “Let me check my file of things I give a shit about.” I would open the folder and it would be empty. “Nope, it’s not in here. Let’s move on.”

There’s a line in one of the tunes on “Dupont Back Porches”:

“If you see right through me/I’ll see right through you too.”

I think that was the mantra for this collection. The record was done before we had time to analyze whether or not it sounded finished. It was like a bunch of candid photos. Both of us caught in the act of being ourselves.  It was like having a jam session where only one of the players sort of knows the song. I was watching his hands and reading lyrics and interpreting it all in real time. Most of the time, I got it right. Sometimes not so much. But that’s ok. It’s part of the vibe.

When you open up a magazine or a newspaper, there aren’t only pictures of airbrushed super models. There is raw, ugly shit in there. But for some reason people think all records have to be perfect. It doesn’t make sense.

Even with some live albums, a lot of the stuff is redone after the show. Stuff gets tuned and tweaked and replaced. The singer comes in and stares at the video while re-singing the show. God forbid someone would actually witness them making a mistake.  Pussies.

We cut 11 tracks. I didn’t want it to be pretty and bright and hi fi. Most singer/songwriters (and their engineers and producers) want everything pretty and bright and beautiful. Fuck that. We went for dark and raw. Like an early Dylan record or Springsteen’s “Nebraska”.

“Orphan Train”, “Four Winds, “Forever Again”……..most all of the tunes were first takes. If we added anything, we went with our first impression and that was it. It was the same with the mixing. “Slap echo would be cool here.”  Ok, done.

Tom and I had never worked together before. I had met him a few times and jammed with him even fewer times. He is also a playwright.  He sent me a play he had written based on the The Gin Blossoms’ guitarist Doug Hopkins, who had written all the band’s hits but committed suicide before the band broke. I knew Tom was a great writer, but I didn’t know he could write like THAT. It was a treat to work with him. There will be more.

The Edge is known to work on a guitar sound for a week then spend 5 minutes actually playing it on the recording. Neil Young and Crazy Horse get in a room and record live then spend weeks deciding just which flavor of shitty, loose, and sloppy they want to use. I suspect Tom worked hard on his lyrics and ideas before bringing them into my underground bunker of a studio. But once we got started, I had to make sure everything was working…… because you don’t get a second chance at a first take.

Like I said, there is a difference between not giving a shit and not caring.

Making “Dupont Back Porches” was a real experience.  I like to think that we were having a bitch session and a record broke out. That’s how it feels to me.

I think there is plenty of room in the world for records like this one…..

–Bret Alexander 4/5/2016

Get your copy of Dupont Back Porches here…

Categories: Uncategorized

Dupont Back Porch notes…

April 3, 2016 1 comment
cover

“Dupont Back Porches” is available now

NOTES – Yea….so this happened. I’m not sure Bret had any idea what he was getting himself into.

We knew each other. We’d played a few shows together. I was a huge fan of his band “The Badlees” since the early 90s. (“Riversongs” was the second CD I ever bought). I think he’s a brilliant songwriter. After a recent show I said…..”hey man….we should make a record together”. Bret, ever the gentleman, said “yea man, that’d be cool.” Probably figured I was just making small talk. I wasn’t. I suck at small talk.

So I called him a few weeks later and reminded him that he said “yea man…that’d be cool”. In case he forgot. Then I said….”ok, when can we start?” He said something like…”um….er….well Monday is free…” I said…..”see you then” and then hung up before he could say “um…who is this again?”

So that Monday night saw me almost killing myself on that ridiculous roundabout off route 81 on my way to his studio in Dupont (I’ll never get used to that roundabout….ever, and I still have no idea how to get to the airport…it tells you “turn here” and then says “do not enter”….I still think somebody is fucking with us for a TV show or something). I had my guitar and case crammed with half completed lyric sheets and less than half completed melodies. I felt totally prepared because this is how I make all my records. It’s not normal but then neither am I.

The studio is small and dark and narrow and walled off from the world by a door thicker than a bank vault. It felt like I was walking into an Edgar Allan Poe short story down there. Bret, as usual, dressed head to toe in black, including the frames of his glasses. Deep voiced and elegantly mannered. We sat down and talked for 2 hours. About the world. About our kids (we both have 2 daughters around the same age). About music. About film. He had war stories. I had some too. We’re the same age. We’ve covered a lot of the same ground over the years. We were becoming friends.

It was getting late. I hadn’t even taken my guitar out of its case. Finally I said….”well…let’s try one.” He said….”ok, what do you wanna do?” I said…”I have no idea.” His look said….”well this is gonna be interesting…”

That first night we eventually cut 2 tracks I think.  I needed a bridge for “If I Could See Right Through You” and Bret came up with something that I added some lyrics to. And we were off. Cut it live with 2 guitars in one take (the problem with multiple takes is that it never sounds like it’s the first take again, because it isn’t. Profound? Maybe not but it is so…). I asked Bret to sing every other verse even though he didn’t know the melody, nor had any time to digest how the hell I could cram all those lyrics into a I-IV-V progression. He was learning that I liked to work fast….and that the word “rehearsal” to me meant tuning the guitar and counting 1-2-3. I think we did “Got To Be the Change” too. I heard the playback and said “we sound like a demented Simon and Garfunkel”. He said…”well…that’s kinda cool”. It was. Done.

And so we were off. First takes almost exclusively, unless one of Bret’s dogs invaded the studio or something equally catastrophic happened. If the bum note sounded like it fit, we let it go. If the chair squeaked, I’d say “that sounds cool…turn that part up.” Bret would layer on mandolin tracks or add what he called “singer-songwriter piano”. I wanted some harp but forgot mine…and didn’t want to slobber into his harmonicas, so Bret did the duty. Neither one of us gave a shit who did what. We were just looking for a certain sound. I gave him completed lyrics to “Orphan Train” and “Music in the Mud” and he cut what he assumed were just demos one night after I left. I heard them the next session and said…”perfect”. He said…”what?” I said…”in “Orphan Train” can you just add a harp solo that sounds like Springsteen’s “The River” and he said….”um…sure” and 30 seconds later he’d done so. I heard him sing the bridge in “Music In the Mud” and we both smiled at the same time. I said “you ever gonna do it better?” and he said “nope”. So. Done. Making music is easy when you work with Bret Alexander.

I can’t say the same thing about making music with me, because….well….there’s the phrasing thing.

I’m used to playing solo acoustic. So if I’m singing a song with a repeated chorus, I might sing it with different phrasing each time. Just because I can and because I get bored easy. That’s all well and good when you’re singing by yourself, but when you ask somebody to add a harmony vocal to the inconsistent warbling you just recorded, well, let’s just say that Bret’s hair was jet black when we started and now it contains stray gray.

His efforts on “Oh Mary” and “That Ring It Don’t Fit Your Finger Anymore” were herculean. By the final track we cut…”Dupont Back Porches”, he simply threw up his hands and said “singing harmony with you is like trying to catch a greased pig”. I pondered this and replied…”can’t argue with that.” And so by mutual consent there’s no doubled voices on that chorus.

So the record is done. It’s not perfect. I hear all sorts of things that aren’t supposed to be there. Or at least…..things that weren’t intended to be there. Deep breaths. My bracelet jangling against the guitar sound hole. I can hear myself searching for ways to end songs. Flubbed chords. Late arrivals. Dropped picks. Ragged timing. In short, all of the things that make live music live. If we tried to record the songs again, they might sound better, but they wouldn’t be better. Musical eggheads will know what I’m talking about.

I was talking with Bret last night and he mentioned something he’s always wanted to try. Writing AND recording an entire record (10 songs at least) in a single day. Now, let me remind you that I once wrote and recorded a song every week for 5 years running. Over 250 songs. So it’s not like I’m not fucking crazy too. But this? An entire record in a DAY? Absolute creative lunacy.

My response? Ain’t it obvious?

“When do we start?”

Sláinte.

–tf 3/31/2016

Get your copy of “Dupont Back Porches” here.

Categories: Uncategorized

Dupont Back Porches available now!

March 31, 2016 1 comment

Download the album NOW for only $7.00
(old fashioned CDs coming soon!)

Ben Franklin Bridge
When the Four Winds Blow
Got To Be the Change
Dupont Back Porches *
I Feel Like An Orphan Train *
Oh Mary
That Ring It Don’t Fit Your Finger Anymore
Music In the Mud *
Forever Again
If You See Right Through Me (I’ll See Right Through You Too) *
I Think I’m Feeling It Too

All songs by Tom Flannery except * by Tom Flannery and Bret Alexander
copyright 2016 all rights reserved
recorded at Saturation Acres in Dupont, PA
produced by Bret Alexander

Tom Flannery – guitar, vocals
Bret Alexander – guitar, vocals, mandolin, piano, harmonica

NOTES – Yea….so this happened. I’m not sure Bret had any idea what he was getting himself into.

We knew each other. We’d played a few shows together. I was a huge fan of his band “The Badlees” since the early 90s. I think he’s a brilliant songwriter. After a recent show I said…..”hey man….we should make a record together”. Bret, ever the gentleman, said “yea man, that’d be cool.” Probably figured I was just making small talk. I wasn’t. I suck at small talk.

So I called him a few weeks later and reminded him that he said “yea man…that’d be cool”. In case he forgot. Then I said….”ok, when can we start?” He said something like…”um….er….well Monday is free…” I said…..”see you then” and then hung up before he could say “um…who is this again?”

So that Monday night saw me almost killing myself on that ridiculous roundabout off route 81 on my way to his studio in Dupont (I’ll never get used to that roundabout….ever). I had my guitar and case crammed with half completed lyric sheets and less than half completed melodies. I felt totally prepared because this is how I make all my records. It’s not normal but then neither am I.

The studio is small and dark and narrow and walled off from the world by a door thicker than a bank vault. It felt like I was walking into an Edgar Allan Poe short story down there. Bret, as usual, dressed head to toe in black, including the frames of his glasses. Deep voiced and elegantly mannered. We sat down and talked for 2 hours. About the world. About our kids (we both have 2 daughters around the same age). About music. About film. He had war stories. I had some too. We’re the same age. We’ve covered a lot of the same ground over the years. We became friends.

It was getting late. I hadn’t even taken my guitar out of its case. Finally I said….”well…let’s try one.” He said….”ok, what do you wanna do?” I said…”I have no idea.” His look said….”well this is gonna be interesting…”

That first night we eventually cut 2 tracks I think.  I needed a bridge for “If I Could See Right Through You” and Bret came up with something that I added some lyrics to. And we were off. Cut it live with 2 guitars in one take (the problem with multiple takes is that it never sounds like it’s the first take again, because it isn’t. Profound? Maybe not but it is so…). I asked Bret to sing every other verse even though he didn’t know the melody, nor had any time to digest how the hell I could cram all those lyrics into a I-IV-V progression. He was learning that I liked to work fast….and that the word “rehearsal” to me meant tuning the guitar and counting 1-2-3. I think we did “Got To Be the Change” too. I heard the playback and said “we sound like a demented Simon and Garfunkel”. He said…”well…that’s kinda cool”. It was. Done.

And so we were off. First takes almost exclusively, unless one of Bret’s dogs invaded the studio or something equally catastrophic happened. If the bum note sounded like it fit, we let it go. If the chair squeaked, I’d say “that sounds cool…turn that part up.” Bret would layer on mandolin tracks or add what he called “singer-songwriter piano”. I wanted some harp but forgot mine…and didn’t want to slobber into somebody else’s harmonicas, so Bret did the duty. Neither one of us gave a shit who did what. We were just looking for a certain sound. I gave him completed lyrics to “Orphan Train” and “Music in the Mud” and he cut what he assumed were just demos one night after I left. I heard them the next session and said…”perfect”. He said…”what?” I said…”in “Orphan Train” can you just add a harp solo that sounds like Springsteen’s “The River” and he said….”um…sure” and 30 seconds later he’d done so. I heard him sing the bridge in “Music In the Mud” and we both smiled at the same time. I said “you ever gonna do it better?” and he said “nope”. So. Done. Making music is easy when you work with Bret Alexander.

I can’t say the same thing about making music with me, because….well….there’s the phrasing thing.

I’m used to playing solo acoustic. So if I’m singing a song with a repeated chorus, I might sing it with different phrasing each time. Just because I can and because I get bored easy. That’s all well and good when you’re singing by yourself, but when you ask somebody to add a harmony vocal to the inconsistent warbling you just recorded, well, let’s just say that Bret’s hair was jet black when we started and now it contains stray gray.

His efforts on “Oh Mary” and “That Ring It Don’t Fit Your Finger Anymore” were herculean. By the final track we cut…”Dupont Back Porches”, he simply said “singing harmony with you is like trying to catch a greased pig”. I pondered this and replied…”can’t argue with that.” And so by mutual consent there’s no doubled voices on that chorus.

So the record is done. It’s not perfect. I hear all sorts of things that aren’t supposed to be there. Or at least…..things that weren’t intended to be there. Deep breaths. My bracelet jangling against the guitar sound hole. I can hear myself searching for ways to end songs. Flubbed chords. Late arrivals. Dropped picks. Ragged timing. In short, all of the things that make live music live. If we tried to record the songs again, they might sound better, but they wouldn’t be better. Musical eggheads will know what I’m talking about.

I was talking with Bret last night and he mentioned something he’s always wanted to try. Writing AND recording an entire record (10 songs at least) in a single day. Now, let me remind you that I once wrote and recorded a song every week for 5 years running. Over 250 songs. So it’s not like I’m not fucking crazy too. But this? An entire record in a DAY? Absolute creative lunacy.

My response? Ain’t it obvious?

“When do we start?”

Sláinte.

–tf 3/31/2016

rsz_1rsz_dbp-back_cover-spine-page-001

Categories: Uncategorized

Good things come to those who wait….

March 21, 2016 4 comments

Good things come to those who wait. That’s what they say anyway. I figured I’ve waited long enough. Pete Townshend has been my muse….my inspiration….my alternate universe persona…since I was a teenager. When the 80s kicked off I was a painfully shy and insecure 98 pound guilt-ridden Irish Catholic with bad skin and even worse hair. Even my dreams were boring because I didn’t know any better. I had 3 older sisters. All of them were way more popular then me, so on the weekends they’d be socializing and I’d be home, rifling through their record collections, which very helpfully were combined because they all shared the same bedroom.

the-who-by-rick-diamondIt was here I first noticed the records. “Who’s Next” and “Quadrophenia” and “Tommy” and “Who By Numbers” and “Who Are You” and Townshend’s solo album “Empty Glass”. I devoured them all. I had all the time in the world back then….not being burdened with anything resembling popularity. I had a record player under my bed…a penny taped on the arm so the needle would dig deeper into the grooves and decrease the skips. I also had a mirror, and it was in this reflection that I noticed that I was a natural left handed guitar player. I could wind-mill like a motherfucker….although my scissor kicks sometimes drew rebukes from my mother one floor below. They would rattle the dishes in the kitchen.

In 1979 eleven Who fans were trampled to death at a concert in Cincinnati. A week after that show my older brother and my sister’s had tickets to see them in Philadelphia. My Mom was appalled. But they made all sorts of “we’ll be careful” promises and went anyway and survived. I watched from the sidelines in worried fascination. This was serious shit. The stakes were high in rock and roll, and the more I dug into Townshend’s songs, the more I realized that he was right here, inside my head, and when he ran out of things to say his Les Paul filled in the parts where I’d normally just stutter and make a fool of myself.

This was my band. Nobody came close.

But Moon was dead….and the 1982 “farewell” tour was an impossible ticket for a 16 year old with no job. So that was that. Or so I thought.

Of course it’s been the longest farewell in the history of rock and roll. In 1982 they had been together 17 years. They said it was over. It’s 34 years later now. Bassist John Entwistle is dead…gone out like a rock star with a nose full of coke and a bed full of hookers…..but Townshend and Daltrey have soldiered on, blasting through the old hits during various tours in the 2000s and 2010s….each of which I passed up, for various reasons. Scheduling conflicts, lack of tickets, lack of money. A hatred of large outdoor stadium concerts…nothing more than blatant money grabs.

My friend Joe “Wiggy” Wegleski called me last year. He didn’t ask. He told. “They’re coming to Newark in October. I got you a ticket…so fuck off you’re coming with us.”

Then Daltrey got meningitis. Shows were cancelled. So much for that. But then, another call from Wiggy. “Show is rescheduled for March 19, so fuck you you’re still coming.”

And so it came to pass. Me and Wiggy and Chris Hludzik and Lenny Mecca and Wiggy’s sister Jackie were on our way to Newark to see my idols….the greatest rock and roll band in the world. Townshend was 70 years old. Daltrey is 72. I’m not going to tell you how old I am…but if you’ve been paying attention you can figure it out. I was the only Who virgin among us. We arrived early….found a spot at a nearby bar for $5 PBR pints….met a guy from Scotland dressed like Jimmy the Mod from the “Quadrophenia” booklet. I said…”you’re a long way from home” and he looked at me like I was disturbed and said….”well it’s the ‘oo innit it?”

(Before I get into show details I’ll get the Irish luck portion of the show out of the way. At concerts assholes are everywhere. By process of elimination…..there has to be the biggest asshole. The drunkest, most drugged, most sociopathic guy who wanders into an empty seat he’s not supposed to be in and nearly starts a war. If that guy is a moth…I am his flame. It never fails. He was right behind my right ear…screaming non-sequiturs like somebody with Tourette syndrome…..until I finally turned around and got into a “shut the fuck up….what do you say to me?…fuck you….go fuck yourself” back and forth argument with him that was about to get physical….and then Wiggy….who had seen this coming….arrived like the cavalry with a very large black security guard and gave him instructions to “get this fucking guy out of here.” The rest of the section endorsed these instructions with a hearty cheer….and the guy was removed….but not before trying to blame the entire episode on me. I sat there looking virginal, like the Irish choir boy I am…..and that was that. Chalk one up for the good guys.)

So how was the show? Roger sounded great. Pete is nowhere near the high flying acrobat he once was….staying glued to the floor, but his windmills were undiminished and he looked energized and engaged….no small feat when you’re playing “Baba O’Riley” for the 1000th time. High points for me were a blazing and unexpected “I Can See For Miles” and a sublime version of “Bargain”, perhaps my favorite Townshend song of all. They closed with “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, climaxing with a Daltrey scream that nearly stopped the heart. If this is their last gasp….and it’s hard not to think so, they weren’t getting cheated. Pete added an unexpected coda to the song….drummer Zak Starkey holding on for dear life trying to follow…..and finally brought it to a close with a final swing of his arm. He thanked us all…and we all fell into the chilly Jersey night, ears ringing and, for some of us, dreams fulfilled.

The entire ride home we recited entire scenes from “Spinal Tap”. It’s what grown up rock and roll fans do when they want to feel like kids again.

They also listen to The Who. And always will.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Every picture tells a story don’t it…

March 17, 2016 3 comments

FullSizeRender (2)I was out and about with my wife and daughters on Saturday when a friend sent me this pic. It’s so charming I sent it to a few friends. Bret Alexander was one of them. He posted it on his Facebook page with the comment “I could write 10,000 words on this.”

I was sorta thinking the same thing. And then I remembered that both Bret and I probably write about music as much as we try to create our own. Bret’s excellent posts have recently been picked up and are shared via an NEPA online magazine as well. So I said….”let’s both  write about it….and compare.” And Bret, as cool as the other side of the pillow as usual, said….”I’m in”.

And so here we are. Sitting around on St. Patrick’s Day looking at a picture of Keith Richards playing his guitar for an adorable little boy. Undoubtedly both with big goofy grins on our faces.

Where do you even start? Imagine being able to stare at Mt. Rushmore from the vantage point of the tip of Lincoln’s nose.It’s a bit like that. Only more intense. Because….well….Keith.

Can you grow old gracefully in rock and roll? The rules were set in backrooms by person or persons unknown from the start. Probably someone who watched a dangerously gorgeous Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan and notated to himself….”it must always be this way.” And then Elvis killed himself slowly by letting everybody down, and even worse, got fat and ugly in the process, and 40 became to rock and roll what 65 is to the rest of us. To quote Woody…”so long, it’s been good to know ya…”

Even Mick Jagger snarled that there was no way he’d be singing “Satisfaction” when he was 40 years old. The Who broke up in 1982 but I have tickets to see them this Saturday night in New Jersey.

So yea, these these things happen because rock and roll was kick-started by rebellion….by kids who never fit in….kids with big noses and bad acne and a raging list of neuroses. Kids nobody knew what to do with. Kids who were painfully insecure but wanted to make a big noise. Kids who are, in polite society, called “fucked up”.

Mick Jagger and Pete Townshend and Keith Richards really don’t know how to do anything else. Playing in a band with Angus Young is more dangerous than working at a Bronx convenient store, yet there he still is, dressed very much like the age of the blond boy in our picture….having what looks to be a either a grand mal seizure or mimicking a kid having a fit at the mall because his mother just said “no” to him…on the floor of the stage during “Let There Be Rock” because that’s all Angus Young was built to do.

After you write your memoir and appear in a few really bad movies…the mansion on the hill gets pretty boring. So you come back down the mountain and plug in and play. Paul McCartney is one of the richest men in the world, worth well over a billion dollars. Last October found him on a stage in Columbus, Ohio playing for over 3 hours. He’s 73 years old. I find that wonderful. Not everyone does.

The old blues guys had no such age stigma. They just played until the devil came for them. And that’s what Keith Richards is going to do. He made up his own rules as he went along. Then when he broke them he didn’t have to answer to anybody but himself. And Keef is nothing if not infinitely forgiving.

The little boy is looking at a man. He’s real. Swiss blood transfusions and snorted paternal ashes notwithstanding, Keith Richards took the tools of the blues and started to tinker with them….and one night he woke up in the middle of the night with the riff to “Satisfaction” in his head. He reached for his guitar and played it into a tape recorder. The next morning he heard it. About a minute of the riff….and the rest of the tape filled with his snoring. In such small scenes foundations crack, and thus set the stage for the walls to come tumblin’ down.

Keith Richards changed the world. And the little boy can sense it. He’s thinking, “other men are not like this. They don’t rock polka-dot shirts and head scarves with ringlets and skull rings…this guy is dangerous…..and (sounding vaguely Jaggeresque) I like it.”

I remember my moment. Thirty years ago. Playing guitars at a friend’s house. He gave me the secret.

“No….just take the low E string off”.

“What”?

“Just the 5 strings. Tune the A string like this….and the high E to this….there….see?”

“He takes the string off?”

“Yea….watch…”

Until that point “Brown Sugar” sounded like Bach to me. In 5 minutes I could play it. I now understood why Keith’s left hand index finger looked like a hook. But the pain that day was exquisite.

“Start Me Up”. “Happy”. “Can’t Always Get What You Want”. “All Down the Line”. “Honky Tonk Women”. “Tumbling Dice”. “Before They Make Me Run”. “Monkey Man”. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”. “Rocks Off”. “Shouldn’t Take It So Hard”. What did I leave out?

This was blues we could call our own.

To me this kid looks like a future badass. He’s gonna get a guitar from Santa and barricade himself and his Ipod in his bedroom and when he comes out it’s gonna be slung low and the girls are gonna go out of their way to stroll past his house in an attempt to catch his eye.

Jon Landau once wrote that “I have seen rock and roll’s future and his name is Bruce Springsteen.” Fair enough. But that was then, and this is now.

I see rock and roll’s future here. And he’s staring into the eyes of Keith Richards. And Keith is staring back. And, without a word…..just music….the torch is passed.

That’s my take on it anyway….

In a bit..

–tf

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized
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