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Friday, December 20, 2013

A Simple Twist of Fate, Wormburner, 12.19.13 Mercury Lounge

Wormburner, Mercury Lounge 12.19.13

The Holidays can really wear a brother out.  The day to day business is hard enough.  Throw in work get togethers, gift shopping, and the inherent stress that comes with December before long it will break a man.   It is no coincidence suicide rates climb right about now.  Shit be real.

It is that stress that led some friends and I to make dinner reservations to one of NJ's finest restaurants, Serenade.  I am no foodie and am deeply uncomfortable sitting in their dining room (and most dining rooms really.)   Sitting in their quaint bar with access to chef James Laird's creativity and skill is a different story altogether.  The bar is a gem.  It is easily the best around We had to set it up about 6 weeks ago.  When is their a night, without sports or car pooling, tests, deadlines, that could work for an early bird special?  The logistics can be overwhelming.

But sure enough, at 6pm, we were seated in a cozy 4 top sipping our first cocktails.  We made it.

If we ended up simply having the meal, and it was exceptional believe me, the night would have been an unmitigated success.  The conversation was as complex and entertaining as the food.  From parenting issues, to the economy, values of college, tonight's 6th grade hoops game (I coach, good grief), cell phones, home improvements, it was ALL on the table.  The shopping and stress disappeared for a while.  Mission friggin accomplished.

I can be a bit of a phone hog during the day.  I never really figured out how to fix my settings after the IOS update.  The thing doesn't ring or vibrate, then it will, or not.  It's all messed up and I just can't be bothered.  Since the update I now get ALL of my 11 year olds texts and, gasp!, Face Time requests.  Gentlemen callers ask to face time my daughter constantly.

FT me.






I even saw a 'WTF won't you FT me one?"  It is a touch on the creepy side.  Come on boys, talk to her at school.  IT IS totally lame to harass her on the phone when you see her all day.  You can act like a man!  But anyway,  I am constantly looking to see if I missed a call, text, or Duck Dynasty news alert.   However, at social events I put the damn thing away.  I am not an animal.

Midway through dinner I will take a peek.  There could be a chance the babysitter is flaking out.  Or more accurately that lovely 11 year old all the young men seem to like.

I did have a text it from an old high school pal.   you remember this guy, right?  It read:  "you should be meeting me in Mercury Lounge tonight"

"Yeah right" I thought to myself.  He had been mentioning this show for months.  Wormburner and The Yule Dogs were headlining a Christmas show.   He is tight with Wormburner's drummer Jim Spengler.  I was unable to commit to the show prior to making last nights dinner plans.  Now?  Forget about it.

I was itching to see a live show though.  It felt like forever since Caveman's Bowery show.

But no, I reminded myself, it's impossible.  The dinner is the event.  Make it an early night and get some much needed sleep.

Funny thing happened though.  Our friends knew some folks at the bar.  They were from the same town and it turned out we knew them peripherally too.  It is a small town so that is not an Earth-shattering coincidence. What they told us as we were making small talk exiting the restaurant was a bit shocking.  They said they were off to a concert.

"Oh yeah" I asked.  "Who?"

"Wormburner" they told me matter of factly.  "Mercury Lounge."


Mercury Lounge is tiny.  Maybe 250 squeeze in there on the busiest night.  Its friggin small.  Which is why I love it.  I get there far too infrequently.  Most of the bands I want to see there end up playing  Wednesday's at midnight.  That's a hard sell.

Point is, this is a very random event.  Why on Earth would I be in contact with 2 human beings that are both going to a fairly obscure concert.  One is from the suburbs.  One is from the City.

Their connections brought them together with the band and now I was involved.

2 Degrees of Wormburner.  One knows a guy from College.  One know the guy from town, or is related to, or whatever.  

I am not one to believe in the supernatural, fate, or any of that happy horse shit.  But this one stopped me in my tracks.  How could I not go to Wormburner?  Stars were aligning.

We were not prepared for night time baby sitting and the Mrs had spent the better part of yesterday working in NYC.    She easily made the decision to stay back with the little one.  They probably made it through one episode of Property Brothers before sleep grabbed hold of them.

By 9:30 I was at Mercury Lounge.  It was a joyous 35 minute drive.  The Turnpike was wide open, almost as empty as my attempted drive into Lower Manhattan on 9.12.11.  Mad Maxian if you will.  On that ride I also came to the realization that I really like The Head and The Heart.  Their record Let's Be Still has provided many smiles from me this year.  Where was I?

I caught the final two songs of The East River Bandits set.  East Village country rock served with a big, brimming smile.  They recently funded their debut record through Kickstarter and seem poised to be headlining a gig like this in the near future.  Warning, you must like mandolin and twang.  If you don't you probably aren't reading this anyway.

Wormburner is an East Coast act too, by way of Hoboken, Colgate University, Philadelphia, and clearly New York City.  Those who attended last night were engaged, invested and genuinely glad to see these happy lads.  I had never heard one of their songs prior to the show.  I barely knew of them a mere two hours before.  But when a crowd fills a  room with energy and joy, particularly a club as intimate as Mercury Lounge,  its hard to ignore it.

Frontman Steve "Hank" Henry, Alec, Paul, Jim and Terry have been doing this for a while.  The grooves are tight.  The songs are precise and well rehearsed.  Henry's lyrics are fun and sing-a-long worthy.  Their are not so subtle nods to Bruce Springsteen and subtler ones to Shane McGowan and Elvis Costello.  Their second album, Placed By The Gideons, was released in 2010.  That record was well represented.  They also threw in some new material, and two sweet and timely covers.  "Let My Love Open the Door" was a pleasant surprise.  But it was their cover of Lou Reed's "Ride Into the Sun" that was the sets high water mark.  It didn't hurt that ex-Luna guitarist Sean Eden absolutely killed a few blistering solos.

It was another example of what little I know.  Why had I never seen Wormburner before?  And furthermore, where has Luna been all my life?

The power of song.  The healing feeling that comes from live music.  The event.  All of it.

Friend of a friend one minute, concert bound the next.

Something tells me to keep going with this blog thing.  Forces are at work and I am not sure I know where they are taken me.  Come with me?

Join me?  We work too hard in this life to not stop and enjoy it once in a while.  Thanks mysterious force that got me off the couch after a wonderful filet dinner.  Looking forward to the next adventure!

For more:  Wormburner Official Site or Luna or East River Bandits
Hank from Wormburner

Wormburner, Mercury Lounge 12.19.13

The Yule Dogs, Mercury Lounge 12.19.13

Friday, December 13, 2013

No Regrets Tour

Dramarama Collection

Great band shot.  Great New Jersey band.

On Jan 12th, 2014, one of my best friends (Mike C) and I will happily be braving long check-in lines at Newark Airport.   We will don our dress Chuck Taylors.  We will shake off the cobwebs from the previous nights bender, er, banter.  And with gracious anticipation accept the mild trek ahead of us (5584! miles round trip!)  



What do I mean by placing those two powerful words together like that?  For Mike & I, it’s the simple quest of finding youth.  You don’t need Doc, Einstein, and Marty McFly to go back in time.  Music is AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN my 1.21 gigawatts.  Sometimes an arrangement of chords & an iconic voice (John Easdale in this case) can make grown men drop every responsibility and chase, and ultimately FIND the “proverbial fountain of youth”.  Ponce de Leon fucked up, it’s not in Florida.  It's in LA at the Whiskey A-Go-Go on Jan 12th.   That night it will be administered by a band that is the soundtrack of my teenage years (and ++) – Dramarama.

Scene:  (Tastefully decorated urban apartment.  A man and his fiancĂ© begin to talk about some upcoming plans.  Man just comes up with what appears to be some sort of midlife crisis.  Fiance asks:)


“You’re doing what?!”

“Are you serious?!”  

“Yes honey, that’s what I want for Christmas - to fly with Mike to LA to see Dramarama play at The Whiskey” –

(smirk, fake smile, look back, wide eyed…)  ”Oh shit, you’re serious, aren’t you?!”

(end scene, but hardly.)

Alright, alright…I just reread this and I heard the “Wonder Year’s Voice” too.  I always wondered how Kevin Arnold grew up to look like Daniel Stern too?  Winnie Cooper avoided him more than Webster Papadopoulos avoided pole vaulting tryouts.  Apologies,  80s heavy tangents, along with 80s references,  are my social/writing  “safety nets”.

I’ve grown into a proud, yet uncomfortable music snobbery over the past several years.  Snickering at anyone that didn’t enjoy Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray or a deep brewing distain, no HATRED, for anyone that preferred "Here Comes Your Man" over "Debaser" - for those that don’t know,   google it. . By the way,  if you click that link you’ll NEVER get a Christmas card or handshake from me ever again.

I'm sorry,  but I’m serious.  Ugh, seriously this is tough.  OK, I’m wrong. 

Let’s get back to this trip I alluded to in the beginning of this “Clark W. Griswald roadmap” inspired post.

I assume the reason you’re reading this collection of overused commas & A.D.D. fueled 180s, is for the undeniable gift that we both “get it”.  

How can someone explain a sunrise?  Or for another uncalled for 80s reference - the first time I saw Det. Dee Dee McCall (Rick Hunter’s Aqua-Net commercial sidekick)? 

We just can’t…

Let’s get back on course –

In Janaury I’m getting on that plane with a good friend.  We are going to LA .  Another friend will meet us there.  And ultimately we’re going to see Dramarama play at the iconic Whiskey A-Go-Go.  
My Dee Dee McCall.  My Kevin Arnold.  My heroes that braved the highs and lows of the music industry.  They will, have, and continue to “wow” me and their loyal fans for over 30 years.  So much so, that 2 of them are enlightened enough to flip the bird to Lindbergh,  and make this 5584 pilgrimage. 

They continue to pursue their dreams.  Commercial success may have evaded them, but it has not prevented them from doing what they love, what makes them whole, which gives them meaning.

Isn't that we are all striving for?  You can go home again.  When is the last time you have been?

Check back next month for a full report.  In the meantime, go get yours.
_________________________________________________________________________________Some personal Dramarama favs, but as always, download the entire album for the proper experience,



"Anything, Anything"

"Some Crazy Dame"


"Emerald City"

"Steve and Edie"

"It's Still Warm"

to name a few.

Their finest record is Vinyl.  Case closed.

PS: “Restless angels scale the walls upstaging Mr. Fields…”


Me and John Easdale

Friday, December 6, 2013

Best of November, 2013

King Moonracer, Rock Star!

As I sit here, still reeling from an epic late night, words are very hard to come by.

Caveman made their way home after a successful European tour and kicked Bowery Ballroom's ass last night.  They billed it as a Christmas show and made the most of all the good tidings.  This space has been on board from the beginning and it appears others are buying in.

Their second (self titled) record is infectious.  Since its release earlier this spring I have listened to it more than any other music- and it ain't even close.  And note, this has been a great year for music.  The National, Vampire Weekend, Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire and a host of others, have released quality albums this year.  Most bloggers and music sources have been posting their "Best of" lists and I have not seen Caveman on any of them.

This is puzzling, understood and generally ok.

It is puzzling because their music (and more specifically their live performance) continues to evolve and shine.  Each show allows the listener another opportunity to find a gem.  My first introduction to them made me an "Old Friend" devotee.  It is a stand out and they absolutely killed it again last night.  Other times I was mesmerized by "My Time" (my vid from last night) or "Where's the Time?"   Last night "Ankles" was an unexpected treat.  Sure I have heard it countless times before.  But the slow build was somehow more effective last night.  Caveman's stage presence,  backed by tirelessly touring the globe, was hard to ignore.  The New York boys had themselves some quality production design too.  And that shit doesn't go unnoticed.  Christmas (NOT HOLIDAY) trees adorned the stage.  A circular projection screen featured various Christmas themes mixed with other scenes- fire, ice, a talking creature not unlike King Moonracer from Rudolph.  Good stuff.

All that pales to the visceral and emotional connection Caveman bring with their songs.  Now, with the added experience of performing two records worth of material, nearly non-stop for 4 years, things have escalated from building blocks to full on skyscraper.

It is easy to understand how they have not made it onto the mainstream dial.  For one thing, that dial can be a little, how you say, slow.  No offense to Lorde or Haim, but those ladies were never really "alt."  Their success has more to do with the mainstream liking a soft song with a hook.  Caveman are never going to find their way in that landscape.  Nor should they.  Their songs, and more importantly their willingness to jam and reach high, high decibels, is for a more sophisticated pallet.   Life can be pretty freaking busy for sophisticated.  It's darn easy to listen to Bruno Mars and Maroon 5 and sit at their concerts.  Believe me I have done it and think it's quite pleasing.

It's harder still to drag your tired ass out on a Thursday and catch a band, at 11pm!  Standing for several hours and following along (for a mind and body like mine) is taxing.  When the payoff is this good though all else is forgotten.   Getting home at 1:30am was never fun when I was younger and able to recover.  Now, forget about it.  A special shout out to my sister and her friend who travel and hour to get to my place.  They probably rolled in around 3 this morning.  And poor sis had a day of hair cuts awaiting her.  I joked with her that every customer ran the risk of exiting her salon looking like Daddy Warbucks.

Fact is,  Caveman are worth that kind of effort.  It makes sense why many folks in my suburban town look at me like I am crazy.  But it also makes sense that they are as crazy for not getting on board.

Adam Levine is great, don't get me wrong.  But you can TiVo that shit.  Each day you read about artists railing against Spotify and Pandora.  The music industry is a convoluted mess.  Maybe our only way out of it is supporting live music and all musicians trying to make it out there.  It's friggin tough.

Thankfully it appears this little Caveman has what it takes.

It's gonna be ok if ya'll don't get it.  There are many that do.  By this time next year there will be even more…  and more…  and more.  Viva La Caveman!

Caveman Band, Bowery Ballroom, 12.5.13

The month that passed had plenty of other hits and artists that caught my attention.  I will not even try to narrow my already bloated "Best of" list.  Take a look at listen to these new additions.

Remember to find me here: GTS or GTS on Twitter

"Pumpin Blood" Nonono

Sweden has long been known as a hotbed for pop and disco.  From Abba to Icona Pop those blonde, blue-eyed kids dig on some funky grooves.  This act follows suit with this catchy, whistle-centric dance number.  Vocalist Stina Wappling and a couple producers make up the band.  Would I want to see them live?  Doubtful.  But this sure is a fun song.

Passenger "Let Her Go"

The story of Brighton, England's Mike Rosenberg, nee Passenger, is a compelling and interesting one.  Should you have the time take a look here.   But if you just want a sweet, well crafted lyric performed with a understated ease just listen to the song.  I am sure this has become the angst ridden teenage girl anthem for 2013 and for good reason.  It has both the ability to make you smile and cry.

Best Coast "I Don't Know How"

LA duo Bethany Consentino (vocals/guitars) and Bobb(not a typo) Bruno (multi instrumentalist) make up Best Coast.  Their latest song is a tale of two tunes.  The first part is a slow bore.  Consentino echoes the refrain over and over in a tedious and grating manner.  When Bruno kick drums his way in the whole dynamic changes in a very positive way.  The sum is greater than the parts, much like the band members themselves.  I mean really, West Coast is Best Coast?  Um, don't think so.

Avett Brothers "Another is Waiting"

North Carolina brother Scott and Seth Avett are critical darlings.  Their homespun and folksy offerings provide a soundtrack for Main St., America.  There are banjoes.  There is wit.  There is cello.  There is harmony.  It is a mix of alt country, pure country, bluegrass, classical and most everything in between.   Their 8th LP, Magpie and The Dandelion, reached #5 on the Billboard chart so these guys are no secret.  This first single (and the sardonic video) are both gleefully addictive.  The Avett's are not for  everyone, as some friends of mine have told me, but in my mind they are as good as anyone making music today.

Sky Ferreira "You're Not the One"

Before researching I was unaware Ms Ferriera is a former model.    And her arrest over the summer (drugs with Diiv frontman and boyfriend Zachary Cole Smith) was not on my radar either.  Nor was her nude album art.  Ok you got me.  I knew way more about this young lady prior to her LP release than most alt ingenues.  But let the record state she is more than just a pretty face (and breasts.)  This single is a glorious throwback to 80s pop with more edge than Miley or Rhianna.  Fun stuff.

Fitz and The Tantrums "Walker"

Earlier this year I caught this LA act on Daryl Hall's excellent show.  It seemed like a perfect fit.  Michael Fitzsimmons has his ear firmly on Motown and 50's and 60s rhythm and blues.  He and his Tantrums bring an up tempo, positive vibe with a nod to pop not unlike the glory days of Hall and Oates.  It's all about good hooks and fun beats.  Oh, and Fitz and his leading lady Noelle, have voices Berry Gordy would approve of.  Note, this is the second track on the list showcasing whistling.  Is a remake of Walk Like an Egyptian next?

Tennis "Mean Streets"

Denver husband and wife act Tennis are important for a few reasons.  One, they have shared the Fat Possum label with aforementioned Caveman.  They released their latest record, Small Sound, through Communion.  On the record we find out why else they are important- they make solid music.  Small is an apt description of their sound when referring to Alaina Moore's hushed vocals.  The overall vibe is far bigger though.  This tune relies on a steady and bone shaking bass line that is hard to ignore.  Tennis anyone?

Kate Nash "Fri-end"

Fiery English songstress Kate Nash comes from a long line of Brit bad girls.  If I cared to research I am sure she has been compared to Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse and Adele.  She released her third LP, Girl Talk, earlier this year.  It came and went without much fanfare in these parts.  Our loss.  Take a listen and fall in love with both the song and the artist.  She has staying power- unlike Ms Winehouse for instance.

Haerts "Wings"

There is a lot going on with the English, German and US band called Haerts.  They are still finding their way and recently released their first EP.  They formed just last year so who can predict what happens in the immediate future.  Will an LP come out?  Will they hit some big stages?  Will they even stay together?  Guess you could ask those questions about all the acts on this list.  Enjoy the song and let's all play the waiting game.  So far, so good.

Cut/Copy "Walking the Sky"

The Aussie synth powerhouses new record, Free Your Mind, is another one of those records I find myself listening to over and over.  They will embark on a huge tour early next year that includes a NYC trip I am stoked to be attending.  Their mix of arena pop and synth anthems are stand outs in a World of weak EDM and lesser, but more popular talents of similar sensibilities.  They are the high water mark in the category and this particular song is pure joy.

And for the record, still can't get enough of  "We Exist""Normal Person", and "Afterlife" from Arcade Fire's amazing new record.

and for more info on Caveman they have been written about extensively here.  take a look:

Caveman review 5 on 5 at Ace Hotel

Caveman from CMJ 2011

Caveman debut record release Mercury Lounge 2011

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankful That It All (Mostly) Works

I'm not much of a world traveler, but since I quit practicing law and went into the corporate world I find myself on a domestic flight once or twice per year.

Recently, I had to hastily arrange a trip to San Jose, CA. Due to the short notice of the trip (I had to meet with a bigwig when it fit his schedule, not mine), a limited travel budget, and my lack of travel planning acumen, I couldn't find a direct flight from Newark and ended up on a flight out of Philly that stopped in Chicago, then continued to Phoenix, where I had a two hour layover and had to change planes to finally get to San Jose. My return flight had a two hour layover in Dallas (where I had the best grilled fish taco I ever ate!)

A friend of mine, who is a much more experienced and savvy business traveler than I am, suggested that next time I take a much more easily obtained direct round trip flight to San Francisco, rent a car, and drive the 45 minutes to San Jose. Ah well, live and learn!

So once I overcame my chagrin over being such a rube, I thought about my "whistle-stop tour" of America's regional airports.

I started thinking how incredible it is that so many things in the world actually work. 

The pilot was an actual human being who called out the towns we passed over, the weather, and altitude, just like when I first flew on a plane as a kid in the 1970s. This was an excellent departure from the usual list of thanks to Elite, gold, silver, platinum, preferred, preferred plus, gold star customers, or whatever ever-more-thinly-sliced spectrum of preferred customers they had. 

The toilet on a plane still scares me, ever since first time I flew on a plane when I was 6 years old, on the long-defunct Eastern Airlines flight to Orlando. When I flushed there was that terrible harsh sucking whoosh and I jumped 5 feet in the air. To this day I still brace myself before I flush!

Travel, like anything else, is full of delays, rudeness, and bureaucratic numbskullery. But the fact that after spending about 10 minutes entering information online I found an entire transportation network ready to get me from one side of the continent to the other in about 8 hours is, well, almost miraculous.

How many countless people marshaled resources to get me from A to B? And all of it supported by my blind faith that all of these people, each doing their small part, would get me where I needed to go.

My religious tradition is one that has the Garden of Eden myth. This myth basically says that human beings once lived in a Paradise, and then something happened, involving two teenagers, a snake and fresh fruit, to screw it up-- with various assignments of blame handed out to all concerned. 

The result? Eviction from Paradise, and our having to labor, experience pain, sickness, and ultimately the loss of everything with our own death.

I think this myth is, to use a concept from Jung, "archetypal". We all seem to be hard-wired to dream that there is a better place somewhere else "out there" that we can get to if we just do the right things, make the right decisions, say the right words, perform the right rituals, eat the right foods, read the right books, etc. From an evolutionary standpoint, this attitude probably kept us on our toes long enough to send our genes to the next generation.

But sometimes I have a different take on this myth. Particularly when I am fortunate enough to catch the world working.

I'm not an atheist, but I am not one of those "everything happens for a reason" guys either. People who think bad shit happens to some people so that other people can have a personal growth opportunity, are, to me, heartless sociopaths. And anyone who repeats that "everything happens" phrase to someone mourning the loss of a loved one is committing an evil, selfish act.

I'm not a natural-born optimist, but I wonder if, perhaps, the Paradise is actually sitting all around us. If we look between the cracks, even amidst the pain, and loss, and suffering, maybe everything we need is already here, right in front of our noses. In this present moment. In all present moments. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Anti-Politics: The Liquid Center

What is the Center?  And who resides there?  You?

As I attempt a mad dash away from rigid political ideology, I find myself caught in the slippery net of what the media likes to call "centrism". Yet another attempt to box up our ideas like chocolates for easy consumption.

NBC and Esquire (there's a combo for ya) have put together a survey where you can chart yourself on their pre-arranged "political spectrum". They also collect the data as a poll to allegedly show trends in political thinking in the US. 

The poll results opine that there is a "new American center". I resist this characterization as, well, un-American. "Center" compared to what? Left v. right? Why are we limited to such a narrow spectrum?

Anyway, a summary of the survey findings to date stated the following:

The new American center has a socially progressive streak, supporting gay marriage (64 percent), the right to an abortion for any reason within the first trimester (63 percent), and legalized marijuana (52 percent). Women, workers, and the marginal would also benefit if the center had its way, supporting paid sick leave (62 percent), paid maternity leave (70 percent), tax-subsidized child care to help women return to work (57 percent), and a federal minimum wage hike to no less than $10 per hour (67 percent). But the center leans rightward on the environment, capital punishment, and diversity programs. [NBC News]

Does this sound familiar? Maybe this sounds like you, or me? 

It sounds like people with more important concerns than what their fellow citizens do with their private lives, and expect their fellow citizen's same lack of concern in return. (Gay marriage, abortion, recreational drug use)

It sounds like people trying to earn a living, particularly in the real world where a two income household is necessary to keep a toehold in the middle class (paid sick leave, maternity leave, child care)

It sounds like people who base their views on day to day experience, not rigid ideological hectoring. 


The Environment- Everyone wants clean air, clean water, and open spaces, but they don’t want to revert to a pastoral, agrarian existence, or give up air conditioning. And until some scientist proves that eating organic produce at three times the cost is better than the regular stuff, they should just be glad  we are eating fruits and vegetables from Shop-Rite, and stop providing free advertising for Whole Foods (aka "Whole Paycheck")

Capital Punishment-  I know there are people of good conscience who are against capital punishment in all circumstances. And I am well familiar with the uneven way these sentences are handed out (I always remember my law school classmate, an ardent “hang 'em all” supporter of capital punishment, who, after spending a summer internship reviewing clemency requests, became an anti-capital punishment advocate) I think most of us are big fans of those due process protections we inherited from England -  public trial by jury, right to counsel, opportunity to cross-examine, a jury verdict, and rights to appeal – but most of us can't shake the idea that there are some crimes so horrible (I need not list them here) that it is an injustice not to punish the guilty with anything short of execution.

Diversity Programs- No decent person today thinks anyone should be denied a job, housing, education or anything based on their race, gender, religion, ethnicity or even sexual orientation. However, diversity programs that use those criteria (rather than economic disadvantage) to give people preferential treatment, however well intentioned -- and perhaps necessary a generation or two ago--- now smack of unfairness.

Americans at their best are respecting of equality as well as individuality and base decisions on facts and experience, not ideological purity. As Emerson said "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Why can't we tack left, then right, then up, then down, as the situation or problem demands? 

So let's not let ourselves be boxed up. To be continued...

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Head and the Heart, Webster Hall 11.6.13

I have given plenty of thought in recent months on what it is I am doing here?

Who really gives a shit about the random rants, political and economic discussions, and pretentious alt world music reviews that litter this space.  The internet has far more committed and talented journalists capable of satisfying these needs to the masses.  Not to mention, having a full time life ( family, "career", volunteer work) can be draining.  There are days when I finally get on a chair, or in front of a television around 10pm.  By 10:15 I am sound asleep.  Sitting down to right the endless thoughts that pop up during a day is akin to me doing carpentry, trigonometry, or pilates.  It ain't happening.

There are, however, a few nights in a month where I throw caution to the wind.  For me, the happy place (aside from my wonderful and loving family) is watching live music.  I fear if there was no outlet for the tensions that can arise from the life described above heads would roll.

Why else would we live and work here?  It's a huge challenge.  Think about this, if my wife and I want to use mass transportation to GO to work Monday morning, it will cost us $44.   Let's say we go in 3 days next week?  Or 4?

That is real money to simply GET to work.

Not really bitching about it mind you.  It is just an observation.  A few years ago it became more clear that this world is too fragile.  I find myself buying condolence cards.  I am scared to step on a scale.   My disparaging comments are now frequently heard by strangers in addition to the voices in my head.

Still, there is no way I want to sputter along in the slow lane as the 1% laps me.

It is gonna be hard for me to get to the 1%.  I now consider myself early 40s.  I grew up in a blue collar New Jersey town, the son of hard working parents.  It was middle class America and absolutely wonderful.  Both of my folks worked and did all they could to provide and ensure my sister and I would have more than they did.  I was the first one to go to college in my family.  I will never forget sitting in my basketball coach's office listening to him beg the Admissions Department to accept me.  "He's a good kid, take a chance" or something like that.

I did just fine in school, but never had a clue as to what I wanted to do.  Anyone who reads this blog o or knows me can tell you I still don't.  For about 11 semesters I thought all I had to do was graduate.  Wait, what?  You have to get a job (you love.)  You have to buy a house?

Thankfully I got the wife and kids right.  Sure, it is more Al Bundy and Peg than Rob and Laura Petrie.    But that part is rock solid (smooth soft 70s rock mind you- think Boz Skaggs.)

If they had the testing available in my scholastic career it would not surprise me if I were diagnosed ADHD or appeared somewhere on a learning disabled spectrum.  Back then, in the hills (and sticks) of West Jersey, I was perfectly normal.

Whatever the case, somehow I ended up in a quaint New Jersey suburb.  Naturally, we arrived a year or so removed from the train line going direct to Manhattan.  Consequently, housing prices were at all time highs.  And it was a year or so before 9.11.   The idea of getting steady employment in NYC seemed like an easy proposition.  For someone like me, very little skills as it pertains to generating income, it proved difficult getting work before the Towers fell.  Bin Laden just slammed the door on whatever hopes had remained.

Through it all, the one constant has been music.   Gomez provide the soundtrack for the many phases of my  marriage.  Ben Folds and Eels were the sound of lullabies with my daughter in our one-bedroom apartment.  The Psychedelic Furs speak to moments in my youth, as well as today.  Peter Bjorn and John remind me of Hilton Head.  Savages and Foyygen are 2013.

So too are Pacific Northwest folk rockers The Head and The Heart.   More specifically, they represent why it is I continue this blog. On this lovely Saturday afternoon I sit (in full hipster-mode mind you: hoodie, Mac laptop, Simple sneakers AND in coffee shop- can someone come smack me in the face???!!!) and remember good times.

It has been a few days since I saw them at Webster Hall and I am still riding a bit of a high.  I have been playing their new record, Let's Be Still, nonstop.  That album's single, "Shake" , brings a constant smile to my face.  I thought good things about the band before Wednesday night.  I think better thoughts now and look forward to seeing them again, real soon.

We arrived late to a packed Webster Hall and could get nowhere near the stage.  The band, led by singer/guitarist  Josiah Johnson (looking strikingly like Billy Crudup in Almost Famous), is the latest in the folk-pop boom that has dominated the alt-world.  Think Ben Folds, Avett Brothers with a twist of Grouplove.  The songs are all well crafted and the live execution is tightly rehearsed and executed.

It wasn't until this humble writer ended up on stage to witness  "Lost in Your Mind" that the night became unforgettable.

What's a learning disabled underachiever doing this close to a band at NYC's premier night spot?
The free entrance and street parking made the night epic enough.  Hell even our alligator armed friend bought dinner.  We were playing with house money.  Now this?  On stage taking video??

It was short lived and I was asked to step down after about 5 minutes.  But that moment speaks to something more I think.  A few years ago I was catching a few shows a year and nothing special.

Now I sometimes define myself as a journalist.

This space doesn't pretend to "guide" the reader anywhere.  It is a guide for me and for those who see and do things out of the ordinary.  For those folks who know government shutdowns and rigged elections are pointless wastes of time.

I think that is many of you.

If The Head and The Heart does not motivate you,  it's cool.  But here is hoping you get motivated by something.  Thor at the Regal 10?  The MoMa's Matisse exhibit?  Binge watching Breaking Bad?

It's all good.  Check us out here and join the conversation!

Thanks so much for your continued support and taking the time.

Just like Miley Said

New York Times review

The Head and The Heart, Webster Hall

As close as a member of the press as I have ever been

Head and the Heart "Lost in Your Mind" live 

Head and the Heart setlist from Term 11.5.13… was very similar @ Webster Hall

Goodbye "Left-Wing Conservative", Hello "Anti-Politics"!

I am more skeptical about politics than ever. And more disgusted with ideology than ever.

The recent government shutdown put me over the edge.

The timeless truth is that we are social animals, and thrive best in some sort of tribe or other organization. And in every tribe, there are the leaders, and the led.  This is inevitable.

I used to think that the goal in politics was to put a party in place who would enact a specific agenda, and that I should see myself as a foot-soldier in that fight, even if all I was doing was arguing and debating with others, and not actually putting some skin in the game by volunteering for a campaign.

To challenge my thinking on this topic, for a while in this blog I stumbled along with this "Left-Wing Conservative" idea? Why? Why be conflicted? Why have to call myself anything?

Maybe I, and we,  need is to take a colder, realistic, and more grounded look at our political system. Perhaps what we need is an "Anti-Politics".

I got this "Anti-Politics" term from Eastern European writer George Konrad. In the midst of the Cold War struggle between the West and the Soviet Union,  which had the world constantly poised on the brink of World War Three, Konrad described the goal of "Anti-Politics" to  "limit, diffuse and demystify" state power. For him, Anti-Politics was based in not power, but skepticism - "dialectical, ironic and critical of ideology.”

Konrad said "Let the government stay on top. We will live our own lives beneath it”. By this Konrad did not suggest we should be complacent or give up on representative democracy (democracy having not yet been realized in thawing but still Communist 1980's Hungary). Rather, he suggested that the goal of a democracy was to "protect society from the volatile fusion of a grand idea with political power", to carve out areas of “de-statification”, and have government involved in only those things that support the most basic infrastructure of day to day life, and to otherwise rely on each other for joy and meaning in life. To do otherwise, for Konrad, was to strike a devil's bargain.

This Anti-Politics perspective aligns with some reading I've done on systems theory, conversations I have had with actual politicians and campaign managers, and an excellent book by Judge Richard Posner, "Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy".

As a result,  I've come to believe that the most essential function of democracy is not to establish "heaven on earth", but rather the non-violent, peaceful selection and replacement of leaders.

Not the stuff of soaring rhetoric, but when you consider how many countries there are where change of leadership is determined by who has power over the army or the intelligence services, the importance of freedom of speech and the right to vote cannot be overemphasized. When democracy works best, we are able to keep our "best and brightest" scheming wheeler-dealers on their toes, with good policy being a side effect of same.

And when leaders are focused on solving practical problems, rather than ideology, things get done.

With apologies to Orson Welles as Harry Lime in "The Third Man", in the 20th Century we had politicians up to their ears in graft, back-room deals, and horse-trading, but they gave us roads, bridges, dams, Social Security, Medicare, The Civil Rights Act, defeated Hitler and the Soviet Union, and put man on the moon. In the 21st Century we have ideologically pure, incorruptible politicians to whom compromise is a sin. And what have they given us? The soundbite.

As Lincoln said “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but can not do at all, or can not so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities.”

So what do we really need to have done? And how do we make sure our leaders do it? And what can we do better ourselves?

I don't know where I am going with this approach. Hopefully I will have something fresh to say.

To be continued.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The No Fun League

The NFL has had a rough go of it lately.  Off the top of my head I can think of more than a handful of recent black eyes-

Aaron Hernandez murder story

Former pro Tony Dorsett and others dealing with memory loss.

Same with Brett Favre

Not to mention the NFL's reluctance to act on concussions far sooner.

It is a very flawed system/league/entity, unless you are talking about money.  In case you were wondering the NFL's projected revenue in 2014 will be approximately $7 billion.   That ain't too shabby, especially when you consider the overall economic landscape.

It is without question America's game and fuels millions of dollars in related income and business.  We could discuss sports betting (legal and illegal), Fantasy football, and the bar businesses that thrive on televised games.  Monday Night football is but one of the primetime events the NFL broadcasts each week.  Sunday nights and (gasp!) Thursdays are also in the mix- and very unwanted if you ask me.

But no one is asking me and frankly, the NFL does not care.  Their model is making money and as they say, money talks, bullshi*t walks.

What strikes me this week is just how much the NFL is a microcosm of today's America.  There are but a handful of superstars/players making amazing salaries.  The owners and media tycoons are all making way more and calling all the shots.  They are all, essentially, the 1%.  The rest of us drink, fight in parking lots and use each game as catharsis for the mundane worlds we desperately want to forget.

Which brings us to the sordid fish tale that emerged from Miami over the past week.  By now you have all heard that one Dolphins player left the team because another player was bullying him.  I prefer not to name names or share links here because quite frankly, at this point it is nothing but misinformation.

Happier times?  Or a precursor to impending race riots?

Other than the player leaving the team and alleged bullied being suspended there are NO other facts.  But the press will have you believe otherwise.

What is known is we do not know how to communicate anymore.  One should not be subjected to harassing calls and abusive (maybe even racist) taunts and language.  But one should also be able to a) stand up for his or herself or act through the proper channels to ensure the behavior is stopped.

These are grown men we are talking about.  And I mean grown!  Both of them are over 6' tall and 300 pounds.  The "victim" is a Stanford graduate with Harvard educated parents.  If he was too "soft" to handle the physical and mental abuse what does that say of his upbringing and ability to cope with adversity?

The "assailant" is a known thug with a checkered past, including being voted the dirtiest NFL player by his peers a few years back.  Yet, for 8 years he has collected a hefty paycheck, made All Pro teams, and was a member of the Dolphins Leadership team.

Both scenarios are wildly messed up.  The thug is a role model and the victim is now ostracized.  No.  Freaking.  Win.

Not to mention what this does to the team itself.  Miami is currently 4-4 and very much in the hunt for a playoff spot.  In a matter of 5 days they lost 2/5 of their offensive line.

Dolphins veteran players have further complicated matters coming to the defense of the suspended player.  They have asserted the two were friends and this whole mess has been taken out of context.

Don't tell that to the press.  They need a black versus white story- literally and figuratively.

But as we all know these days, its all a shade of gray.  Save for one exception though…  green, like money.

Which is why when Sunday rolls around we will all be glued to the set watching violent people commit violent acts.  Nothing will ever change.

Wait, that is not quite true.  The 1% will get richer.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Best of October, 2013

New York Favorite

Where were we?  In a simpler time, where both the Red Sox and Cubs were cursed.  3 titles in a decade in Boston just doesn't sound right.  More importantly, a legion of Red Sox fans have invaded, gasp, New York City.

Pretty sure before Boston finally broke through in the early 'Oughts you did not see the amount of Red Sox hats on the train platforms, streets and common areas as you do now.  It is understood that Yankees and fans hibernate when their team is eliminated.  That should not give them permission to allow such a hostile takeover.  The indifference , complacency and lack of talent your team exhibits does not allow for passive behavior from its fan base.

Its one thing not watch the World Series because your team sucks.  But c'mon New York and New Jersey!  These Red Sox fans have taken over.  I spent a couple hours yesterday at a Northern New Jersey parochial school's Halloween party and don't remember seeing one Yankees Jersey.  I do remember seeing more than a few kids with full beard masks and Boston uniforms on.  Oh, and a couple parents were in Sawx gear too.

Northern NJ?  Red Sox Nation?

It's the new way, right?  Mariano retires and embraces David Ortiz at Fenway.  We keep our animosity locked up or reserve our finest rage for your favorite "Comments Section."  When the repression reaches a fever pitch sometimes it escalates into violence.  The baseball Giants and LA Dodgers have taken rivalry to a new level.

In simpler days a Yankee fan would tell a Sox fan to "Piss off" if he shared personal space with him/even her.  I remember walking a job site years ago with an Astros hard hat on and getting heckled and threatened.  Union guys yelling at me in a darkened stairwell over an affiliation with a team 1000 miles away and NO history is an eye opener.  Seeing Red Sox hard hats in Lower Manhattan is something far more disturbing.

Listen, I don't have a dog in the fight.  As far as I am concerned Boston, New York, St Louis and every last bit of them represent the Evil Empire.  But let's restore a little order, no?  Defend your turf.

We will be in Newark, NJ tomorrow night watching my wife's beloved Flyers battle the Devils.  You better believe verbal assaults will come her (and our young, impressionable) daughter's way when they arrive in Philadelphia colors.   Oh, and lest we forget the classy "Rangers Suck/Flyers Swallow" chant. How again do you answer your 11 year old when she asks what that means?  Or your wife for that matter?  It's cool.  Enter enemy territory at your own risk.  Good, clean fun I say.

When the games have ended politely (or more often than not, drunkenly) nod your head, walk away, and wait for next time.  The only time it is acceptable to shake hands with your opponent is at the conclusion of an NHL playoff series.  As for the fans, haters be hating.   That need not be a bad thing.

The good news is there was Halloween in New Jersey last night.  Snow storms and Hurricane's took the night off and many kids got to discover tricks and treats for the first time.  It was a glorious night.  Slow, windy rains were present most of the evening.  But it was warm, unseasonably so.  Kids could have worn shorts and gotten away with it.   Children were so excited to be out after a two year hiatus that.  Some kids on my block started at 4pm.  The last kids were out well past 9.  It had a nice ET feel to it.  Except of course it was on a different coast and in a different era.  For a few moments time stood still and could have been Halloween in Anytown, USA.  Any year.  Any decade.

It is what this writer strives for day in and day out.  Some normalcy.  Some beauty.  Some PG13 in a hard R.

November has lots of it.  The trees are in full fall splendor(for at least another week or so.)  There are bright reds, burnt oranges and elegant golds.  Enjoy every moment before the gray of winter grabs hold.  Is there anything worse than staring at a cold, leaf-less tree?

Thanksgiving is weeks away.  It is a time to eat, drink and remind yourselves things could be a whole lot worse.  And question what the hell Jr thinks he is going to do with his Communications degree.  Or why crazy Aunt Helen can't seem to get her shit together.

And two more months of music.  No, not the Holiday garbage that has already infiltrated your local top 40 radio station.  I mean seriously, do we need 2! months of The Waitresses or Elmo and Patsy?  No, we do not.  This has been a terrific year for song, artist and record.  If you cannot get to a show, no biggie.  Here are but a few more tracks that can easily translate on a fall hike, long drive, dour commute, or Lazy Sunday.  Go get yours and enjoy all November has to offer.  And even what it does not.

Cage the Elephant "Come a Little Closer"
This list represents a whos who of acts I have not seen live (yet.)  Kentucky boys Cage, the Elephant are tops on the list.  Their new record is out and this brooding track is the first single.  It is Matthew Schultz's howling vocals that are the star here.

Volcano Choir "Comrade"
Some say Volcano Choir is a "Supergroup."  Sure, Justin Vernon from critic darling Bon Iver is the spirit behind this Wisconsin band.  But "supergroup?"  Don't think so.  This borrows much of Vernon's trademark soft sound and falsetto narrative that made his last record soar.  No, haven't seen any of Vernon's numerous projects live either.  But to me, this is the stuff of relaxation and thoughtful introspection.  Do I need 90 minutes of it?

Placebo "Loud Like Love"
This lesser known 90s act really never went away.  They played Terminal 5 a few weeks back in support of their new record, which shares its name with this power pop ballad.  Every time I hear it I can see Matthew Modine (as Louden Swain) running through the rainy streets training for his bout against Shute.  Louden you can do it!

MS MR "Hurricane"
I would not necessarily say I am late to this party.  The song has been on radio for months now. In fact, they released the video way back in April of 2012.  New York based and Vassar educated duo Lizzy
Plapinger and producer Max Hershenow make up the band.  Its alt lounge music with an emphasis on mood.  Sung well and produced well.  Nuff said.

Polica "Chain My Name"
Another Midwest band (Minneapolis) with ties to Justin Vernon( he joins the band sometimes.)  They are also similar to MS MR as they team a producer (Ryan Olson) with sultry singer (Channy Leaneagh.) It's synth pop, plain and simple.  This groovy diddy is the first single from second album Shulamith, released just 2 weeks ago.

Phantogram "Black Out Days" live from The Current
Yet another duo reliant on synths and a female singer.  And another American act, here from Saratoga Springs, NY.  Sarah Barthel is the voice and keyboardist.   Josh Carter (guitars/vocals) is the other half. They released a self titled, 4 song EP in late September.  Voices, their sophomore record, is on its way.

Grizzly Bear "Will Calls"
What are these guys doing here?  Well, they released an expanded, deluxe, super-sized version of their epic 2012 album Shields recently.  Hard to believe this established Brooklyn act thought this was better off on the cutting room floor.  Well, they learned from their mistake because they included it on the re-issue.  Lucky us.

Dr Dog "Broken Heart"
These cats from Philly have a terrific sound (and are another band I NEED to see live.) There are many good acts coming from that town.  The War on Drugs and Kurt Vile come to my mind too.   Their new record, B-Room, just came out last month.  Two things, first this is their 7th record!  Second, one of the members used to intern for Howard Stern-which is pretty cool.  Another solid song/record from an under the radar group you should be into.  Shame on you!

Killers "Shot at the Night"
 The Killers show in Newark earlier this year was a highlight of 2013.  Brandon Flowers is a real Las Vegas showman and his band knows how to rock.  They released a Greatest Hits record- unreal, but they can actually pull it off.  This new material appears on it and is a great post 80's power ballad.  There are not many who do what Flowers does, and fewer still who do it so well.  Chris Martin?  Black Keys?  Kings of Leon?  You tell me your Arena Band top 5!  No Classic Rock please.  The band must be from 2000 on...

Albert Hammond Jr "St Justice"
Solo Strokes is always better for me than Strokes proper.  A sweet song and a poignant video here (although NSFW.)  It should get your weekend started and propel you deep into November.

Be great everyone!  Or at least be better than your enemies.