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Ben Franklin Bridge
When the Four Winds Blow
Got To Be the Change
Dupont Back Porches *
I Feel Like An Orphan Train *
That Ring It Don’t Fit Your Finger Anymore
Music In the Mud *
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?”
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.
It 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..
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”.
“Just the 5 strings. Tune the A string like this….and the high E to this….there….see?”
“He takes the string off?”
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..
We love what we love for reasons we can’t always articulate. People. Dogs. Architecture. Changing seasons. Books. Lager. Drugs. Naps. Netflix. An endless supply of benzodiazepines. Warm blankets. A fireplace. Central air. The view of the ocean from a rich person’s balcony. The corner table. Mashed potatoes. Swedish Fish.
I could go on and on, and I’m tempted to actually because it’s kinda fun….but you get it. There are little fragments of our often hectic lives that reach out and nuzzle on our necks and slow down our breathing. They can crystallize that glorious moment at the end of a working day when we toss all our 9-5 shit on the table….and collapse in a happy heap on the couch….determined to never rise again.
We hate what we hate too. We can’t often articulate why we dislike something so intensely, but to the regret of our species, we always seem willing to give it the old college try. Ask me why I adore the autumn leaves….and I’ll go around and around in endless poetic circles that mean something to me but will probably leave you wishing you never brought up the subject in the first place. But mention the words “Donald Trump”….and I’m likely to go off on a rant that, whether you agree with me or not, would definitively not be filled with soaring, Lincolnesque rhetoric. It might also involve spittle. My verbal take-downs of this fascist, fear mongering racist neanderthal have not been my finest moments as a human being. See? I just did it again. It’s hard to be a saint in the city.
In my daily life, I’m much more likely to hear about Donald Trump than the beauty of the fall. ‘Tis a pity that. “The world’s lousy” Ty Cobb once said. Too much Trump and too little leaves. This is why.
What I’m leading up to is music. I lead up to things differently than most people I know, but bear with me.
When I feel that the world’s lousy…..when the amount of stupid I ingest on a daily basis begins to feel like an overdose….when I’m down….music lifts me up. Every time.
The sense of camaraderie is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. You meet once…that’s all it takes. Some of these people I see every week. Some of them I see maybe once a year. Either way, we always seem to pick up where we left off. There’s nothing at all awkward about the passage of time. Once you’re in, you’re in. Once you play “Magic Bus” or “The Weight” with somebody, they leave the keys under the mat for you.
When musicians gather, the conversation is relentless and articulate and beer-soaked and sometimes doesn’t even require words. A glance across the stage at the guitarist who just nailed the solo….or a spin around at the drummer who is making the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention. The unexpected harmony vocal falling down on your head like a soft summer rain. Watch when musicians gather at open mics and fall into impromptu jams. They are always smiling. It’s why the call it “playing”. Nobody “works” music. Well….some do I suspect. The ones I’m subjected to when my kids take over the car radio. But the people who sit in boardrooms and auto-tune voices for public consumption are one day going to grow old and sit in a confessional with a copy of “Live at Leeds” and beg forgiveness from a Priest whose life was transformed the night he saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Trust me. I know these things.
I played music with friends on Wednesday and Thursday this week and it made my week less lousy. Can you do better than that?
Can I articulate why? Well….I tried and that’s all I can do. I’ll say this as well. On our way to play music, we’re all listening to it. While preparing to play…we sing along to the jukebox. I’ve had times where during the intermissions musicians gathered outside in the parking lot with acoustic guitars for a quick play (perhaps a pull on the peace pipe here and there….but that’s what friends are for). When the gig is over, what happens? The jukebox is fired up immediately. And when the gear is all packed up and we’re heading home…..we’re singing along to the car stereo. There’s no thought process to any of these things. Our brains are wired this way. It’s like blinking. Or hating Trump.
And so to my brothers and sisters who fight the good fight with guitars and drums and keys and harps and the beauty and wonder of the human voice…..Wiggy and Jim and James and David and Joe and Joe and Joe and Luke and Mark and Bret and Edward and Bryan and Asialena and PJ and Chuck and Martin and Maggie and Jack and JP and John and Rob and Rob and Johnny and Tiff and Father Paul and Ronnie and Fran and Mark and Lenny and Gary and George and Chris and how many others……I say “thank you sir, can I have another…”
In a bit..
Really people. Calling it the “republican clown car” is seriously offensive to clowns. So stop it. I’ve known guys who were clowns. Not the creepy Gacey-type clowns…just regular kids birthday party clowns trying to make a few extra bucks on the weekends, with smiles and balloons and rubber noses and the big red feet. Charming really. This assault on their good name should not stand. We’re better than this, dammit!
Last night, as the new leader of the Republican party bragged about the size of his dick during yet another Presidential debate (add the actual CNN headline “Donald Trump defends the size of his penis” to the NeverThoughtIdSeeThat category) , I was playing a gig in Dickson City….warily watching the unsmiling man across the bar with the camouflage “Trump” cap as I sang “meet the new boss….he’s the same as the old boss…”. After all, it was an open mic night and the room was filled with hippie liberal commie guitar players. Like me. Mostly Bernie supporters who dream big about equality and not being led by a fascist….. quaint shit like that. I half expected the guy to start building a wall around the stage using Mexican money. It was a bit unnerving but he seemed nice enough and seemed to enjoy the music…which is all that matters. Music is never divisive. Music brings people together…which makes the fact that it’s the first thing schools cut when they wanna save pennies all the more perplexing. Personally I think a world with more guitars and less bombs would be a better place, and not just because guitars are cheaper (unless you ordered a custom Martin from the factory). But so be it. We shared a room and escaped to sing another day…..and remain freakishly liberal….and that’s the important part.
Apparently Marco Rubio…..that one who looks like a high school sophomore…. the one who reminds me of that kid who sits under the hoop at basketballs games and runs out and wipe the floor with a towel during timeouts, made a nudge- nudge wink-wink comment about the size of Trump’s hands. Or something. It’s hard to keep up with this stuff. Trump insists on calling him “Little Marco”…..which is driving the Rube crazy. So….you know….what would you do?
Reference the size of Trump’s willy, obviously. This is America boys and girls. Brave men and women have fought and died so that Republican challengers for the President of the United States can say “mine’s bigger than yours.”
It’s down to four now. Ted Cruz and John Kasich are the other two, for those counting at home. Cruz is so batshit crazy he makes Mel Gibson’s dad look like Dennis Kucinich. He can only be from Texas. With that “please punch me in the face” face and his creepy wife who thinks he’s Jesus reincarnated sent from the sky to make us all rapture-ready. His own daughter won’t even pretend to like him on the campaign trail. Hands down he’s the most hated man in the senate, which is really saying something when you think about it. His colleagues joke about killing him on the senate floor and getting away with it because nobody would dare convict them. Clearly this man is a bridge builder eh? Even fellow Texan Rick Perry….who is well acquainted with crazy….thinks Cruz needs to be medicated.
We all know guys like Ted Cruz in our lives. We call them “assholes” and “dicks”.
Kasich is the only person on the stage who acts like an adult during debates. That is…he doesn’t make penis jokes and he doesn’t shout over the others and doesn’t blame tough questions on the menstrual cycle of female debate moderators. Of course this makes him boring as fuck in the year of our Lord 2016 so he’s in dead last place. He’s the “moderate” of the bunch….a man who admits the climate change is real and doesn’t want to deport all the brown people. He also considers women little more than walking wombs….and his draconian anti-abortion stance sounds like something cooked up in between Salem witch trials. But whatever….in today’s Republican party Dick Nixon and Ronald Reagan look like Che Guevara in comparison, so Kasich is treated as a minor annoyance and nothing more.
And so that’s that. It has come to this. We’re out of ideas. America has turned into Shutter Island. Break out the psychoactive drugs and line up to enter the lighthouse. Your lobotomy awaits.
In a bit…