Thursday, December 26, 2019

Belated Merry Christmas and Some Brief Christmas Album Reviews

Belated Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, etc. Survived another one. Hope you did too, my peeps.

Just to tell you briefly about those Christmas albums I mentioned:

The Trail Band - Christmas with the Trail Band Live in Concert
and
The Trail Band - Peace On Earth: A Christmas Collection

I gave them both 2.5 out of 5 stars for an Average rating. The Trail Band in another project of Marv and Rindy Ross of Quarterflash, and they keep pretty much to the Oregon area. They're both folk music (in the full band sense, not the guy or girl with a guitar sense), and each album has its moments. They're both inconsistent though. (And Denise hated it when they used a tuba.)


Celtic Woman - The Magic of Christmas
and
Annie Haslam - It Snows in Heaven Too

I rated them both 3.5 out for 5 stars for a Great rating. The Celtic Woman album is brand new, and while I don't like the current version of this group as much as the original, they do a nice job here. Likewise, as you'd expect, given Annie Haslam's exquisite voice, her LP is also a winner.


But the pick of this year's litter is:

Rick Wakeman - Christmas Portraits

I gave this one a 4 out 5 stars, for an Excellent rating. This is all instrumental piano music done by the master, and it's a definite plus to every Christmas Music lover's collection.


I actually have one more on order, coming in late, that I'll enjoy next season, which is the remastered version of Blackmore's Night - Winter Carols. I gave a 3.5 out of 5 rating to the original, and in retrospect, I probably should have given it a 4. The new version has three extra tracks, and I think some alternate versions, and it's a two-disc CD. I'm not going to bother to review it, since I already did a full write-up of the original (which you can find on this blog in mid-December of 2016).

Anyway, I hope to back later this week with my Top 10 Albums of 2019 list.




Friday, December 20, 2019

Top 10 Local Albums of 2019

Well, I've got a lot more lists to get to this year, thanks to it being the end of the decade. I'm still working on the Best Albums of 2019 and Best Songs of 2019 lists -- I've got about eight more LPs I want to work my through before my final decisions. And as for the Best of the Decades lists, while I think that I'm probably finished with them, I don't want to post them yet, because they'll spoil the 2019 lists -- after all, if you see a 2019 album or song on my Best of the Decade list, you can pretty much be sure that it will be at the top of the 2019 list as well.

So let's start with my Top 10 Local Albums of 2019 list, as none of the remaining LPs I've scheduled myself to listen to are from New York-based bands.

Once again, here are the rules: To be eligible, it has to be a full-length album of at least seven songs (unless there are one or more epic-length songs). No EPs allowed. It also has to be all by one artist -- no compilations. And as now become my norm, although I still prefer CDs, I have once again allowed digital-only albums to be considered. 

As for the definition of the word "local", as always, I try to keep it very loose. For the purposes of picking a Top 10 Local Albums list, here's what I consider "local": 1. Long Island, for sure; 2. The five boroughs of NYC (especially Brooklyn, where a lot of Long Island bands have run off to); 3. Sometimes Jersey or a little ways upstate, if the mood takes me. (As I've said in the past, I'm not giving away money or anything, so I kind of get to make up the rules as I go along). Also, if a band or artist spent a decent amount of time living on and playing on Long Island or in the City in the past, they get to qualify, even if they've moved to another area of the country.

One regret I have is that this year, although we have had some quality releases by local Long Island artists, this year's list is made up pretty much entirely of New York-based artists who have a national following. I'd love to have a list that is purely made up of artists from the local Long Island scene, but the truth is I'm no longer enough of a part of that scene to make up a full list out of it. But I do want to give a nod of respect to artists like Robin Eve, Linda Sussman, Mark Newman and Matt Marshak, all of whom put out some creditable albums this year. 

As I did last year, I'll be including a link to my favorite track from each album. And at the end of the list, I'll give you a link to YouTube playlist that has them all. Anyway, here, in reverse order, are my Top 10 Local Artists of 2019:

Top 10 Local Albums of 2019


10. Dream Theater - Distance Over Time

I've always been a little up and down on this progressive metal band. They have a storied career and are well respected (and they're even members of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame), but their style isn't really the prog rock of old that I love. Nevertheless, Distance Over Time was a pleasant surprise, and a nice recovery from 2016's ambitious but overbloated 2016 double LP The Astonishing. So kudos to these guys for a nice comeback. Dream Theater - Untethered Angel


9. Xeno & Oaklander - Hypnos

Sputnik Music describes Xeno & Oaklander as "a minimal electronics girl/boy duo based in Brooklyn, NY." They remind me of early Eurythmics. The music is ice cold, but oh so good. Xeno & Oaklander - Fire and Smoke


8. Laura Stevenson - The Big Freeze

Laura Stevenson is a Rockville Centre gal, although her voice and her music sound southern to me. She's been heavily involved over the years with Jeff Rosenstock's Bomb the Music Industry! project. In spite of the album title, a lot of the music on here is more like the aural equivalent to warm, glowing embers. Laura Stevenson - Low Slow


7. Melanie Martinez - K-12

This is another concept album from the controversial Long Island pop artist Melanie Martinez. In this one, we take a musical journey as we follow her Cry Baby character from kindergarten through senior year of high school, as she encounters mean girls, abusive boys, evil teachers and a whole lot of sex. I love the ambition of this project, and there's some really good material on here. Melanie Martinez - Wheels on the Bus


6. Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride

While this LP is perhaps a little overlong (there are 18 tracks here), I thought it was a step back up after 2013's Modern Vampires of the City for this New York-based indie rock band. It's nice to have these guys back. Vampire Weekend - Harmony Hall


5. Lisel - Angels on the Slope

Lisel is the pseudonym for Eliza Bagg, from the New York indie pop band Pavo Pavo. This is her first solo album, and it's a very beautiful one. The music is here is delicate and ethereal, and very joyful. I'm hoping she continues to create solo music, because I really connected with this one. Lisel - Digital Light Field


4. Barrie - Happy to Be Here

This is another dreamy kind of LP. It's the debut album of a female-fronted pop rock band from Brooklyn. The vibes are mellow, the music is gentle, and the LP is a definite winner. Barrie - Clover


3. Ingrid Michaelson - Stranger Songs

New York songstress Ingrid Michaelson has been an amazingly consistent artist over the years. On this, her seventh studio album, she draws inspiration from the Netflix Sci-Fi show Stranger Things. (Which was kind of weird for me -- I had just binge watched Season 2 before I first listened to the LP, and I was like, "Hey! I recognize that dialogue!") As always, her voice is lovely here, and her pop instincts are right on. Ingrid Michaelson - Hate You


2. Bayside - Interrobang

Well, in a list that is dominated by the ladies, Bayside breaks through again. What can I say, I love these guys, and Interrobang is up there with their best work. This pop punk band has been around for close to two decades now, and they show no sounds of slowing down. And Anthony Raneri is still one of the best vocalists and best lyricists out there. Bayside - Interrobang


1. Charly Bliss - Young Enough

This Brooklyn-based power pop band are clearly hitting their stride. Young Enough contains 11 tracks worth of very consistent, extremely well-crafted pop rock. I caught them this summer at Radio City Musical Hall (opening for Chvrches), and their energy and enthusiasm were infectious. Eva Hendricks' voice is a little unusual, but it really works with the material. I'm excited to see where this band goes from here -- I'm really rooting for them. Charly Bliss - Hard to Believe


So that's my list. If you'd like to listen to the whole thing as a playlist, you'll find it (from # 10 to #1, even though YouTube has it labeled oppositely) at Top 10 Local Albums of 2019.

I probably won't post against until next week, so I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, etc. And hopefully, I'll be back to continue my year end Best Of lists very soon.


Thursday, December 12, 2019

Missed Show and new holiday music

SO you remember last week when I was promising you a write-up of a show I'd be attending over the weekend? Yeah, I lied. Well, not intentionally. I meant it when I wrote it. But life happened, and Denise and were both sick this past weekend. (Actually, the whole damned house has been sick. Suffolk County would be wise to just burn our house down, like a medieval black plague castle, to keep us from infecting the whole community.)

Anyway, we had tickets to see Mannheim Steamroller at the Tilles Center this past Saturday, and I was looking forward to the show and hoping it would get me in more of a Christmas state of mind. I was especially excited, because last time we saw them two or three years ago, we did so at some crappy Atlantic City arena that sold us obstructed view seats without telling us, so we really couldn't see any of the video footage that the show made extensive use of. Tilles Center is a great place to attend a show, and I was happy I'd be able to actually see it this time.

But when Denise came home a day or too beforehand feeling terrible, and I started developing a hacking cough, I had a bad feeling that we weren't going to make it. I was right. Denise was still hoping to try -- the tickets were a birthday present I'd bought her, and she was really looking forward to the concert. But when she went to the doctor early on Saturday, she was basically told "No way, Jose!" They diagnosed her with a 101.4 degree fever and a sever bronchial infection.

As for me, I didn't actually feel that terrible. (Then. By the next day, I felt like my body had been turned inside out, and for the next 48 hours, I couldn't even keep my eyes open for more than 90 minutes at a time.) But I knew that the rest of the audience in my section wouldn't thank me for coughing non-stop through the whole concert, and probably infecting the hell out of the lot of them. It wasn't really any sense of social responsibility on my part, so much as it was not wanting to deal with the angry and disapproving reactions to my Typhoid-Mary-like presence. (I'd like to pretend I'm more noble than that, but what the hell. You guys already know better.)

Anyway, I was at least able to find the tickets a good home -- I pdf'd them to a couple of friends who I work with, and they took one of their sons who happens to be a huge Mannheim Steamroller fan. They enjoyed the show immensely (especially their son), the audience didn't have to catch our smallpox, and Denise and I got to rest for the night, which probably helped us to at least not get any sicker. So it all worked out. I hope to maybe catch Mannheim Steamroller next holiday season.

In the interim, as I do almost every year, I've at least picked up some new albums of holiday music to help lift me into the spirit of the season. They include the new Christmas CD from Celtic Woman; an older holiday album from Annie Haslam that I didn't previously have; a pair of Christmas albums from The Trail Band, which is a separate folk-project by Marv and Rindy Ross of Quarterflash; and a brand new piano-based album of instrumental holiday songs by none other than Rick Wakeman. So I'll hopefully get a chance to briefly tell you about each of them before the Christmas holidays hit.

Anyway, sorry I can't tell you about the Mannheim Steamroller show. Hopefully next year.

Until my next post, stay healthy, and keep your loved ones close.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

November 2019 Song of the Day

There were some pretty decent songs this month, although I thought there was also a lapse in quality about halfway through.

This was the first month in a while that I wasn't either host or co-host. However, the user who took over did a great job. And while there was less participation in terms of how many users took part in rating the songs, it's the first time since I've been a part of this that the song recs for the month came from thirty different users. So that was pretty good. The theme for the month was GIFTS. Each user was asked to rec a song that they liked that they first learned about because it was rec'd to them by another Sputnik Music user.

Anyway, here's this month's chart.

Artist/song/link/overall rating given by Sput users (out of 5)/my rating (X=I rec'd it)

1. Fazerdaze/Little Uneasy/https://youtu.be/szvFmW_oxeY/3.69/3.6
2. mewithoutYou/Rainbow Signs/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR542DzB_yc/3.39/3.1
3. Emma Ruth Rundle/Protection/https://youtu.be/u5H07c8DlgI/3.79/2.8
4. Macaroom/Toombi/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpux2AU37eY/3.21/3.5
5. Thomas Feiner and Anywhen/Dinah and the Beautiful Blue/https://youtu.be/BkcR-rvMlmI/3.06/2.7
6. Brainiac/You Wrecked My Hair/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0L7x840BPP8/3.24/2.2
7. Erang/Innocent Blood, Barbarian Blade/https://erang.bandcamp.com/track/innocent-blood-barbarian-blade/2.98/3.1
8. The Gloaming/Athas/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeLk5OvxQc8/2.96/X
9. Starbend/Einsamkeit/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRmFScvCyN4/2.79/2.3
10. Psychedelic Porn Crumpets/Bill's Mandolin/https://youtu.be/7-HGhSZn9J0/3.49/3.2
11. Fields of Mildew/Embers/https://www.youtube.com/watch?edufilter=NULL&v=hXrH5cy6BoI/3.32/3.4
12. Robbie Basho/Rocky Mountain Raga/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA2uHQ9XBI8/3.29/3.2
13. Memoryhouse/Sarah/https://youtu.be/VS3pAawNH-g/2.94/3.0
14. Fire! Orchestra/(I Am A) Horizon/https://youtu.be/BY36yXYJScU/3.44/2.1
15. David Kauffman and Eric Caboor/Kiss Another Day Goodbye/https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KN3SlXb5y7Q/3.40/2.5
16. The Ruins of Beverast/Rain Upon the Impure/https://youtu.be/BOXt8CzNUxE/3.15/2.9
17. Kairon IRSE!/Tzar Morei/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvjMJcN8gh4/3.41/2.3
18. Elder/Lore/https://youtu.be/PzDm6ImLtHc/3.37/2.7
19. John Moreland/Blacklist/https://johnmoreland.bandcamp.com/track/blacklist/3.45/3.4
20. Split End/Deep Love/https://youtu.be/D_60TbFv8y4/3.60/3.2
21. Debris/One Way Spit/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qBCTttbnNk/2.85/2.9
22. John Prine/When I Get to Heaven/https://youtu.be/l0EiV423j0M/3.48/3.0
23. Wilderun/Far From Where Dreams Unfurl/https://wilderun.bandcamp.com/track/far-from-where-dreams-unfurl/2.54/3.5
24. Cubfires/Ruby Sparks/https://rizkanrecords.bandcamp.com/track/cubfires-ruby-sparks/2.66/3.3
25. The Mortal/Sayonara Waltz/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfclvjzpdHg/3.12/3.5
26. The Afghan Whigs/Bulletproof/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYfw5NfcmBk/3.32/2.7
27. A Guy Called Gerald/The First Breath/https://youtu.be/ueWwv4RdTMM/3.68/3.1
28. Paddy Hanna/Toulouse the Kisser/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGGvFZSS2lU/3.02/2.8
29. Quo Vadis/On the Shores of Ithaka/https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBV1D1bgW4o/3.00/2.3
30. Midnight Oil/Beds Are Burning/https://youtu.be/ejorQVy3m8E/3.64/4.4


My pick for the month was The Gloaming's "Athas". Nobody really loved it, and nobody really hated it. It came in at an average of 2.96.

On the other hand, the last song of the month, Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning" did quite well at a n average of 3.64. The song was rec's by a user called Sharkattack, but he credited me as the user who originally "gifted" it to him. (And unsurprisingly, this was my highest rated song of the month, at 4.4)

The highest rated song overall was Emma Ruth Rundle's "Protection", which scored 3.79 overall. My highest rated song that was new to me was the first song of the month, Fazerdaze's "Little Uneasy".

The lowest rated song of the month was Cubfires' "Ruby Sparks". Was Fire! Orchestra's "(I Am A) Horizon". It was one of those jazzy/experimental-type tracks that just sounded off key to me.

The theme for December is "The song that first made you fall in love with a genre", so that should be fun.

I've got a concert review to write for you after this coming weekend (which will hopefully set off less of a firestorm than my last show review, heh heh. But we'll see.) This should be my last concert of 2019.

And after that, it will be time to start posting my Best of the Year and Best of the Decade lists.






Friday, November 29, 2019

The Artist of the Decade(s)

A week or two ago, I dropped a spoiler about my pick for Artist of the Decade for the 2010s. At that time, I released that while I've posted my list of favorite albums for each decade, I've never posted an Artist of the Decade list. So here it is.

You'll notice that I started with the '60s. I was born in 1957, so given that I was only 3 at the end of the 1950s, my only choice for Artist of the Decade for the '50s would have to be somebody I'd seen on Captain Kangaroo. [Frighteningly, while I have no idea who any of those artists were, all of those songs are still firmly stuck in my psyche: "The Very Next Payday (The Banjo's Gonna Get Fixed)," "Poor Little Robin," "The Horse in Striped Pajamas" -- I couldn't blast any of these songs out of my brain with a blowtorch. I'll probably remember them all long I've forgotten my own name.]

I suppose if I had to name one, I'd just go with Frank Sinatra, since I never really liked Elvis. (A couple of his ballads were OK, but other than that, I simply don't relate to him.)

But the decade where I first became musically aware was the 1960s, so we'll start there. I'll give you the list first, and then break it down year by year (including my honorable mentions).

Artist of the Decade

1960s - The Beatles (Honorable Mentions: The Rolling Stones, The Who)
1970s - Pink Floyd (Honorable Mentions: The Who, Jethro Tull)
1980s - U2 (Honorable Mentions: The Police, The Go-Go's)
1990s - Stephin Merritt (Honorable Mention: Nirvana)
2000s - Paramore (Honorable Mention: Bayside)
2010s - Bayside (Honorable Mentions: Foster the People, Stephin Merritt)


1960s - The Beatles (Honorable Mentions: The Rolling Stones, The Who)

I'd say that at least until the 1990s, it was considered obvious by most music fans that The Beatles were the top band of all time. I've noticed, though, that awareness of just how huge this band was has faded from the public consciousness for people born after the late '90s. Nowadays, it's not at all unusual to get a blank stare if you mention the band's name, and occasionally, I've heard of older teens responding with "Wasn't that Paul McCartney's band before Wings?"

Nevertheless, these guys were a juggernaut for people of my generation. They were the band that all other bands were measured against (and found wanting). Their reign was relatively short, given that some of their cohorts have now been around for forty or fifty years. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison started playing as the Beatles in 1959 (they'd begun playing under different names in 1957) -- and they broke up in 1970. (Ringo Starr joined as the drummer in 1962, just before they got famous).

But if looking back, we can see that their career as a band was short and sweet (well, short, anyway), it virtually all occurred in the sixties. The only studio album released after that was Let It Be, and while it's not a terrible album, if it had never been released, their reputation wouldn't have been harmed much at all.

They started out with a string of pop rock hits from the early-through-mid '60s, which led to them becoming teen idols who were followed everywhere by hordes of screaming adolescent girls. At this point, they became more "serious" artists, writing more sophisticated songs, and stretching the boundries of rock with concept albums like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and LPs that experimented with different genres like The White Album. They're credited as the main cause of the so-called British Invasion (Brit bands taking over the American music scene) of the 1960. And Wikipedia still lists them as the best-selling band in history, and as the best-selling music artists ever in the U.S.

While I've enjoyed a lot of The Beatles' music over the years, I can't say I've ever felt emotionally close to this band. I loved a lot of their early pop stuff -- I grew up with The Beatles cartoon show, which featured three or four of their songs on every episode. Unfortunately, while I owned copies of Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, and a couple of singles, at home shortly thereafter, my parents banned me from buying any more Beatles music for most of my teens. I'm not sure if it was Lennon's declaration that The Beatles were bigger than God -- it could have been, although neither of my parents were especially religious. I think what really broke it for them was John and Yoko's nude stunt in the department store window. I remember my mother referring to Lennon as "an animal". To be fair, I don't entirely disagree.

In any event, I've told you all before that when I got my first transistor in the mid-'60s, I was firmly on the side of The Monkees in the great Beatles/Monkees grammar school debates. And in the years after this band broke up, while there where some songs I liked in each of John, Paul and George's post-Beatles years, I like Harrison's output much better than either of the other two's. Paul's work was too often mawkish and insipid, and Lennon's was too full-of-Yoko. I also found John and Paul both annoying as people. I'm sorry that John was killed so young, but to me, he was a petulant teen who never grew up, and McCartney and his wife's militant vegetarianism that they forced on all of their road crew was goofy and offensive. This was one of the reasons I enjoyed it when Howard Stern declared to Ringo fifteen or so years ago that he had outlasted the others and was now "the best-looking Beatle".

But in spite of some of my personal feelings about the band, I think that any objective assessment would have to name them the Artist of the Decade for the 1960s.

I'd loved to have named The Who. I've shared many times in this blog that I consider them to be the greatest band of all time. But while I enjoy many of their early songs, their first work of pure genius didn't occur until 1969 with Tommy. And the rest of their best output all happened in the seventies.

I therefore gave my first honorable mention for the decade to The Rolling Stones. While they also split most of their best work between the sixties and the seventies (and my favorite Stones album, Sticky Fingers was released in 1971), an overwhelming number of what most people would consider their "greatest hits" occurred in the sixties. This includes tracks like "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", "Paint It Black", "Sympathy for the Devil" "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Street Fightin' Man", among many, many others. It also includes some of my personal (quirkier) favorites like "Ruby Tuesday", "Dandelions" and "Lady Jane".


1970s: Pink Floyd (Honorable Mentions: The Who, Jethro Tull)

For me, the two greatest runs in rock music history were the three-album run by The Who from Tommy (1969) through Quadrophenia (1973) and the four-album run by Pink Floyd from The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) through The Wall (1979). If Tommy had been released in 1970 instead of 1969, I'd have given the very narrow nod for Artist of the Decade to The Who. (And lest you get at all swayed by the number of albums by each band - four Floyd LPs to three by The Who -- I'd remind you that Tommy, Quadrophenia and The Wall were all double albums, so we're really talking five vs. five discs.)

But Tommy wasn't released in the seventies, so the decision goes to Floyd. (And I should mention that Pink Floyd also released Meddle in 1971, which sweetens the pot and tilts the decision in their favor even more.)

When I wrote about the history of Pink Floyd in depth last year, I pointed out how they went through several distinct periods, starting out as Syd Barrett's weird little psychedelic band in the mid-sixties, then entering a period of transition as the Waters-Gilmour duo tried to find their voice (through some really weird-ass albums like Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother), before turning into the Pink Floyd that most of think of today.

What can I say about that amazing four-album run? I've already stated that I believe Wish You Were Here to be greatest album ever released. Meanwhile, Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall are two of the best-selling LPs of all time (Dark Side has charted on the Billboard 200 chart for more than 900 weeks total). And Animals weren't too shabby either.

The Who clearly deserves my top Honorable Mention spot for reasons already stated. (They also released The Who By Numbers and Who Are You during this decade, and while neither of these albums are favorites of mine, Who Are You in particular was loved by many.)

As for Jethro Tull, they've always been one of my most-loved bands. (Maybe even my favorite.) Their seventies output included such popular releases as Aqualung, Thick As A Brick and Songs from the Wood, as well as a few others I particularly admire, Heavy Horses and War Child.

Fans of other bands will cry out for their favorite artists, and I get it. For me (due, in large part I'm sure, to my age,) the 1970s was the greatest decade for music, followed by the 1980s and the 1960s. But these were my guys.


1980s: U2 (Honorable Mentions: The Police, The Go-Go's)

I really wanted to give this decade to The Police. And I would have if their first two albums hadn't been released in the late seventies.

But in all honesty, U2 was the supergroup of the 1980s. Like the Beatles in the '60s, virtually all of their best work was released during this decade, with the exception of Actung Baby, which came in 1991. I'll be the first to tell you that I consider their biggest selling album The Joshua Tree (1987) to be the equivalent of Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. -- somewhat overrated, and largely popular due to the general public finally catching up to them slightly after they'd released their best work. But I consider The Unforgettable Fire and (to a lesser extent) War to be underrated LPs. And while I don't really feel that any of their other album releases during the '80s passed the threshold of greatness overall (their first one, Boy, probably came the closest), they yielded a number of well-known and much beloved songs, including "I Will Follow", "Gloria", "Desire", "Angel of Harlem" and "All I Want Is You".

The Police released three studio albums in the '80s. Zenyatta Mondatta was certainly one of my favorites, with tracks like "Don't Stand So Close to Me", "Canary in a Coalmine", and "De Do Do Do Do, De Da Da Da", and the band reached full supergroup level with Synchronicity (1983), which went 8x Platinum. [And while I personally didn't love Ghost in the Machine (1981) as much as the other two, a lot of other people did, thanks in part to tracks like "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" and "Spirits in the Material World".] Unfortunately, at the height of their popularity, when Synchronicity pushed them to U2 levels of popularity, they called it quits as a band. Yeah, Sting finished out the decade with a pair of successful solo releases, and Andy Summers did some tasty team-up work with Robert Fripp. But it doesn't count for The Police. So embrace this chant, guys: "We're Number 2! We're Number 2!"

I know The Go-Gos are kind of an idiosyncratic choice for an honorable mention here. But Talk Show (1984) and Beauty and the Beat (1981) were two of my favorite albums of the decade, and while I found Vacation (1982) to be a more uneven album, the title track is certainly an iconic one.


1990s: Stephin Merritt (Honorable Mention: Nirvana)

I've made no bones about the fact that I thought music started declining in the mid-'90s. Call it the "American Idol Effect", if you will. But that doesn't mean there wasn't still some great stuff out there.

To me, far and away the best songwriter of the decade was Stephin Merritt. He's a throwback to the songwriters of the early 20th Century like George Gershwin and Jule Styne, albeit with a much darker sense of humor. I named Merritt solo because he was involved with four separate projects during the nineties. But however much people might have enjoyed The 6ths and The Gothic Archies, the heavy lifting for this decade was done by his two main projects, The Magnetic Fields and Future Bible Heroes.

Both of these bands contain both Merritt and his manager/friend/social director Claudia Gonson. There have been various other people involved with The Magnetic Fields over the years, while Future Bible Heroes has always consisted of Merritt, Gonson and synthesizer madman Chris Ewen. FBH actually only released one LP in 1990s (and three LPs to date overall), but what an LP it was -- Memories of Love (1997), which was my #1 album of the '90s. (They also released one EP during the decade.) Magnetic Fields released six LPs and one EP, the standout of which was Merritt's opus, 69 Love Songs (1999) [although Get Lost (1995) was also pretty great.] They should also be noted for their single, 1991's "100,000 Fireflies", which was something of a cult hit on college radio (and is still one of those songs that earnest kids post cover videos for on YouTube -- my favorite is by some nameless girl who uses an Omnichord (OM-84)*. (Actually, her name might be Joanna Newsom. Or it might not be. I'm not sure.)

Merritt's music is very lo-fi and under-produced. He says it's not even rock, and who am I to argue? But for me, he was the most meaningful artist of this particular decade.

My one honorable mention goes to Nirvana. Their output was sparse, consisting entirely of their masterpiece, Nevermind and their follow-up near-masterpiece, In Utero. (Plus an odds-and-sods kind of comp called Incesticide). Following these, of course, Kurt Cobain put  a shotgun blast through his own fool skull (or was murdered by wife Courtney Love, if you're a conspiracy theorist). But the two studio albums were both great, and they were largely responsible for the (again, short-lived) grunge music rage and subsequent fawning over Seattle by the music industry.

2000s: Paramore (Honorable Mention: Bayside)

With the advent of American Idol, and the dawn of prefabricated pop stars like The Spice Girls, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, I spent much of the late '90s and the early 2000's rummaging through first college and independent music and then, my own local music scene, to scratch my musical itch. Paramore was the band that brought me back to the national music scene.

It happened innocently enough. I heard of them somewhere, and picked up Riot! (2007) shortly thereafter. I'd heard "Misery Business", and liked it enough in a fairly casual way. I have to admit, the album didn't make an impression initially, and I don't think I even listed it in my Best of 2007 list. I'm no longer sure what it was that made me go back and give the album a second listen. I suspect it was one of the follow-up singles, possibly "Crushcrushcrush," but more likely (due to the timeline -- it wasn't released as a single until 2008) "That's What You Get". Right around that same time, the Twilight soundtrack came out, which featured both "Decade" and "I Caught Myself". I went back to Riot!, and it clicked for me like no other album had since Memories of Love.

At that point, I literally couldn't get enough of this band. I went back and purchased All We Know Is Falling (2005), and snatched up Brand New Eyes (2009) as soon as it came out. I was passionate about this band like I hadn't been for any other artist in a long time. They were even somewhat involved in my children's adoption, although that's a story I'll save for another day. But this was my new favorite group.

At the time, I would have told you it was all about Hayley Williams, a little bit of a girl with a great big voice. Unfortunately, I later learned it was almost equal parts Hayley Williams and guitarist/songwriter Josh Farro, when Josh and his brother Zac (the drummer) left the band. (Zac later returned.) With Josh Farro, Paramore was a driving pop-punk that could also slow it down for ballads. Without him, they've become an above-average pop band - not bad, but not great either. Their last two albums have been nowhere near as good as Riot! or Brand New Eyes. (And maybe even not as good as All We Know Is Falling.) But hey, nobody stays great forever. So, on the strength of those three albums in the 2000s, Paramore is my Artist of that Decade for the 2000s.

My honorable mention here goes to the Queens, NY-based band Bayside. Their output consisted of four studio albums in this decade, Sirens & Condolences (2004), Bayside (2005), The Walking Wounded (2007) and Shudder (2008). (Of these, the self-titled album and Shudder were my favorites.) Equal parts pop punk and emo, this band features driving guitars, powerful vocals by lead vocalist and somgwriter Anthony Raneri (with strong backing vocals by Jack O'Shea and Nick Ghanbarian), and painfully honest lyrics by Raneri. These guys survived a horrible van accident in 2005 that killed their drummer and severely injured Ghanbarian. My favorite songs of theirs over the course of this decade included "Existing in a Crisis (Evelyn)" (one of the best f.u. songs to an ex- ever written), "Devotion and Desire," "Winter" (a tribute to their late drummer John Holohan, released on a live acoustic album), "Choice Hops and Bottled Self-Esteem", and most of Shudder.


2010s: Bayside (Honorable Mentions: Foster the People, Stephin Merritt)

To be continued with more about Bayside. These guys have continued galloping on in the 2010s, releasing four more amazingly consistent albums. I'm still getting to know their newest, Interrobang (2019), but it's clear that this one is another winner, to go along with their other releases Killing Time (2011), Cult (2014) and Vacancy (2016). Killing Time is my least favorite of their 2010 studio albums, but it did include one of their best songs, "Sick, Sick, Sick". Other primo tracks in the 2010s include "Stuttering" and "Mary", plus a pair from the new one, the title track "Interrobang" and "Walk It Off", about what it's like to be raised as a boy. (This last one is an answer to all of those "whiny chicks singing about their feelings" songs that my daughter always accuses me of listening to).

First honorable mention goes to Foster the People. This alternapop band's debut Torches (2011) was one of the best albums of the decade, and featured the immensely popular hit "Pumped Up Kicks". Their two follow-up LPs, Supermodel (2014) and Sacred Hearts Club (2017) weren't quite as strong as that first album, but they were both very solid efforts.

The second honorable mention goes, once again, to Stephin Merritt. After a somewhat lackluster decade to kick off the century, he came back in the 2010s with two albums poised to make my Best of the Decade list, Future Bible Heroes' Partygoing (2013), and The Magnetic Fields' second opus, 50 Song Memoir.

So that's my list of Artists of the Decade from the 1960s through the 2010s. We'll see how the 2020's kick off next year.


* Since I mentioned that "100,000 Firefly" cover, let me give a shout out to my other favorite YouTube cover, an extravaganza put together by a young woman named Fernanda Alba covering Nightwish's "The Greatest Show on Earth", which features her collaborating on the song with young musicians all over the globe. Nice one, Fernanda.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Tommy: 50th Anniversary (Wonderous Stories)

Hmm. How do I bring this write-up together? I guess I'll start with the tickets.

Two weeks ago, when I was at The Patchogue Theatre for the Broadway Fright Night concert, Gary Hygom, the Executive Director of the venue, kicked off the show with some coming attractions for upcoming events. Now I had seen in some of the theater's lit that they had a show coming up celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the classic Who album Tommy, but I hadn't really given it much thought. There weren't any in-depth descriptions of the show, and as much as I love Tommy, just saying the name wasn't going to be enough to get my butt into a seat there.

On that night, however, Hygom described the show in a little more detail, and it piqued my interest. First, I learned that Steve DeAngelis, the same guy who put together the Broadway Fright Night show, was going to be involved in Tommy. Much as he did with Fright Night, he was going to be supplying a number of Broadway singers to sing various parts of the show. (I thought they originally said four, but it actually turned out to be three singers.) Since Denise and I went on to enjoy the Fright Night show, this made Tommy a little more attractive to me, in that I trusted that the singers DeAngelis provided would be of high quality.

This only partially did the trick, though. Because as much as I loved that original Who album Tommy, I never felt that the subsequent attempts to turn it into a show fully worked. Yes, there was some inspired casting at times. Tina Turner made a great Acid Queen, and I've enjoyed other castings over the years, including Elton John as the Local Lad (who sings "Pinball Wizard"), Ringo Starr (and later Phil Collins) as Uncle Ernie, Billy Idol as Cousin Kevin, etc. But I never felt that Tommy ever fully worked as a film, or a Broadway musical -- certainly, nothing ever fully captured the genius of that original double album with the members of The Who playing and singing all of the songs. So having a handful of Broadway singers singing the various parts wasn't going to be enough the sell me a ticket.

But then Hygom closed the deal when he mentioned that local prog rock band Wonderous Stories was going to be performing the music.

Those of you who know me know that I'm all about the original music scene on Long Island, and original music in general. I seldom pay much attention to cover, or tribute bands. Yes, they can often provide a fun night of music (or of nostalgia) if they're good. But I'd usually rather try to catch a band playing their own new music.

But if I am going to go out of my way to see a cover band, Wonderous Stories would be my first choice. Wonderous Stories was founded sometime in the 1990s by local musician Kenny Forgione. They specialize in the great progressive rock music of the 1970s, as is obvious from their name (taken, of course, from the classic Yes song). On a typical night, they cover all of the iconic songs of that era. One of the most fun things about them, however, is their specialty nights, where they'll cover a prominent LP, such as Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway or Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon from beginning to end. I don't get to see these guys very often, partially because they play in Nassau County way more often than they do in Suffolk, and partially because their damned website never seems to let me subscribe to get notices for their upcoming shows. But this is a band worth seeing.

So the notion of seeing Wonderous Stories perform Tommy from beginning to end, supported by some Broadway singers provided by Steve DeAngelis, was suddenly much more attractive to me. Denise was interested too. So the next day after the Fright Night concert, I went up on the Patchogue Theatre website and brought three seats in my favorite section of the second row. They were intended to be a tack-on to Denise's birthday present, which was that coming Monday.

Alas, great plans sometimes go awry. So even though the tickets were intended to be a part of Denise's birthday present, Denise had forgotten that she had another commitment on that same night -- a birthday party for one of her friends from her eighties group. She had rented a hotel room in New Jersey near the party for herself and another friend.

So, my "date" for the evening wound up being my brother-in-law (who is friends with Kenny Forgione -- although I'd seen Wonderous play before, the first time I actually met Kenny was at his house), and my niece, the no-longer-so-little show kid.

So, yesterday afternoon, Denise took off for the wilds of New Jersey. (She got there like four hours later, thanks to heavy traffic due to a series of accidents. I hate New Jersey.)

I hung out, fed my kids (Thank God for pizza!), and left the house at about 7:30 for an 8PM show. (I love the Patchogue Theatre). I thought maybe because it was cold last night, Patchogue Village wouldn't be so crowded, but no such luck. So after cruising the theater parking lot once or twice, I headed out to my usual spot in my ophthalmologist's parking lot across the street.

When I arrived in the lobby of the theater, I found that I had to skip my usual bottle of water, because the line at the concessions counter was just ridiculous. So I headed into the seating area, and found my brother-in-law and niece already at the seats. There I learned that my niece had actually performed in something or other with one of the three Broadway singers before, which helped to pique her interest in the show.

I started trying to explain to my niece what Tommy meant to her father and I (and all of the other geezers who packed the theater). But although she's a pretty polite kid, I noticed her eyes glaze over with that kind of "old people are talking, please kill me look" that teenagers get, so I let it go.

As I looked around, I have to say that the crowd was pretty impressive, especially considering I'd been able to buy second row seats just two weeks earlier. But Denise tells me that Wonderous was hawking the show pretty good on their Facebook page, and I had the feeling that a lot of the crowd (maybe even the majority) was there to see them. The main auditorium seemed to be completely full, except for the last few rows of seats in the left and right wings. And as best I could see, there was a pretty good crowd up in the balcony, too.

There weren't really programs for the show (just generic Patchogue Theatre booklets), but I had printed up my own one-pagers for our little group.

Here were the listed performers, other than Wonderous Stories:

Justin Matthew Sargent: Spiderman, Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ Superstar (he was the one my niece had performed with).

Lana Gordon: Chicago, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Lion King.

Michael Wartella: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tuck Everlasting, Wicked.

Both Kenny Forgione and Tommy Williams of Wonderous Stories also sang a significant portion of the show. (Williams is apparently also the musical director of The Patchogue Theatre, which I hadn't previously been aware of.) (Editor's note: I heard from Kenny Forgione after the show, and apparently Tommy Williams was the musical director for the night, but is not the musical director for the Patchogue Theatre. Apologies for the error.)

Before too long, the lights went down, Gary Hygom introduced the show, and the band hit the stage. In addition to their regular five members, Wonderous had added a 4-piece brass section for this show. (Wonderous has been around for so long that they pretty much know the entire Long Island music scene, so they can always get cool guest performers to play with them.)

So, being a glass-half-empty kind of guy, I'll give you the negatives first. (There definitely were a few, but spoiler alert, this was still a pretty fun show.)

1. I could tell that the full cast for this show hadn't had that much of a chance to rehearse the whole thing together. Wonderous knows most of Tommy pretty well, but a couple of the Broadway singers forgot lines at times, or weren't sure exactly where to come in. I won't say it detracted from the show that much, but having "performed" Tommy from start to finish dozens of times as a teenager by myself in the solitude of the living room of my childhood home (while my poor younger brother hid in his room upstairs), I clearly knew the lyrics better than these guys. (As, I must admit, did quite a few other members of the audience.)

2. The Broadway singers all had good voices, although a couple of them were a bit too preeny for my taste. Ms. Gordon could kind of get away with it, as (let's face it), the Acid Queen is a bit of an over-the-top part (although Mrs. Walker is less so.) But when Roger Daltrey plays the part of Tommy (whether just for a song or two in concert, or playing the full show), there's a kind of sweet sincerity about him which I suspect is one of the things that makes Tommy work. But Sargent sang the part as a hot-dogging rock star, constantly making guitar face and just generally Jaggering it up. It wasn't that big a deal -- this was intended to be more of a fun concert than a serious attempt at drama, and he clearly was having fun with the role. But when I watched him, I definitely thought to myself a couple of times that I wished I had some eggs to go with all that ham.

I guess those were really my only negatives, though, which overall really isn't that bad.

Now for some positives:

1. Wonderous Stories. I'd never seen them perform Tommy before, and I'm glad I finally got the chance to.

2. Michael Wartella -- there were a couple of things I thought he really nailed, especially the part of Cousin Kevin. He had a lot of fun dragging an imaginary Tommy around by a lock of his hair, or intimidating poor Kenny during the second verse of the "Cousin Kevin" song. (For the record, Kenny made it clear that he, in fact, wouldn't enjoy it if Cousin Kevin turned on the bath, ducked his head under and started to laugh.)

3. Good versions of songs that aren't usually my favorites. This cast really made me enjoy a couple of the songs that aren't usually my favorites in this rock opera. They totally rocked out on "Christmas", and as I mentioned, their version of "Cousin Kevin" was also first-class. Also, they lived up to their word and actually did perform the entire piece from beginning to end, including "Welcome", which even The Who themselves never performed on the couple of occasions when I saw them do Tommy.

4. Making me hear things I haven't heard in years. Unfortunately, one of the sad things that happens with the music you love best is you tend to listen to it so much that eventually, you can't really hear it anymore. Psychologists call this "habituation". I call it sucky. Wonderous's performance of Tommy last night really made me hear, for the first time in ages, all of the psychedelic elements of this great work. Most of us tend to think of The Who primarily as a hard rock band, or sometimes (in the case of their two rock operas) as a progressive rock band. But in Tommy, there's quite a bit of '60s psychedelic rock in the mix, too. It was exciting for me to really hear that again.

5. The crowd. My brother--in-law and I were definitely no worse than median-aged in this crowd. But these old fogies were rocking the eff out! Especially towards the end, there were war whoops aplenty, arms (and sometimes canes) raised in triumph, and a just a lot of energy in the room in general. For many, it was what the great philosopher Max Bialystock described as "one last thrill on the way to the cemetery". I'm pretty sure I was sitting directly behind Norma Desmond. (I never saw her face, but the hat fit.) But she, and all of the other old codgers surrounding me, were moving (to the extent that they still could move) to the music all night long. This was one of those cases where the crowd really helped to make the show.

6. The encore -- Once Tommy had concluded, the full cast rocked it up with a cover of "Baba O'Riley", before Wonderous closed out the night with their version of "Won't Get Fooled Again". It ended things off nicely.


So yeah, overall, even though this wasn't a note-perfect night of music, it was a very successful one.

I don't have any tickets for The Patchogue Theatre again until March. But there are some upcoming classical shows I'm tempted by, so who knows?

As for Wonderous Stories, in addition to playing regular Wednesday night shows at KJ Farrell's in Bellmore, and a regular monthly gig at The Warehouse L.I. in Amityville, they're playing the night after Thanksgiving here in Patchogue at 89 North (where I may have to just go check them out again.)

Anyway, peace and music, my people!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Daily Life Stuff and End of the Decade Preview

Lots of stuff going on in the home front, as always.

To start with, Denise tried to kill me again. Well, that's my story, anyway. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little.

Here's the deal. These days, as I've written, 90% of the time, I work from home. However, once a month, I have to physically attend a staff meeting for my job. This wouldn't be so bad, except that the meetings occur in Little Neck, at 9 o'clock on a Saturday morning. And while that doesn't sound too horrendous, understand that my normal sleep schedule tends to be roughly from about 4AM until about noon. I've worked more of my life than not on the graveyard shift, and for whatever reason, this seems to be my body's natural proclivity. So while I'm used to waking up at noon (or a little later) most days, on that one day a month, I suddenly have to get up at about 7AM. So if you normally wake up at 7AM for your job (as many do), this is the equivalent of once a month, having to get up and go in at 2AM. Wouldn't be much fun, would it?

And me being 62 years old, I'm not as flexible on these things as I used to be. (I've tried to convince my boss to throw the occasional staff meeting at a more reasonable hour for me -- say, midnight. But so far, he's being very stubborn about it.) So by the time I get home from these things, I usually feel like a poo poo sandwich.

Anyway, what I usually do on these Saturdays is get as much sleep as I can the night before. Then, when I get home (about 2:30), I wind down for a half hour or so, and then take a nap. I prefer not to do anything that night, but it seems like the universe makes sure that all the cool stuff (concerts, etc.) happen on that one monthly Saturday. But at least if I have, say, an 8 o'clock show somewhere, and it's not somewhere too strenuous (like going into the city, or walking the marathon that is the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium), I might not be 100 percent that night, but I'm in at least OK shape to enjoy a show. (This is why I had to skip that Morrissey/Interpol concert a few months back. Forest Hills on these Saturdays is a no-go.)

Today, though, Denise's family decided it would be the perfect day to throw a 85th birthday dinner for my mother-in-law at an Italian restaurant in Williston Park. Originally, it was supposed to be at 6PM, which would have allowed me to go to the staff meeting, get home, wind down for a half hour and grab a couple of hours of sleep before going out. Unbeknownst to me, however, the family decided to move the time back to 5PM, which meant no sleep for me. There were some other possibilities -- I could have skipped the staff meeting today -- I've never missed one -- but I don't like to do that if I don't have to. Or I could have gone directly to my mother-in-law's house after the meeting and slept there. But then I'd have had to drive home tired after the restaurant (instead of Denise driving me home). And especially since my night vision isn't what it used to be, I decided to just suck it up and go to the dinner without sleep.

Anyway, last night, I just couldn't turn things around to grab a full night's sleep. ( I got maybe four hours.) So I went to my meeting, came home, and watched TV for an hour before going back, After the dinner, we got home here at about 9PM, and I crawled into bed feeling godawful. And now it's a little after 4AM, and I'm up again feeling maybe half my usual self and kvetching about it all here. And since it was an event for Denise's family, I put this in the category of "Denise tried to kill me". See what a delight I am to live with?

Really, though, I must be. A delight, that is. Because this past Wednesday, my daughter (and her boyfriend) moved back into our home.

The original plan was that in the beginning of November, they were supposed to be getting their first real apartment as a couple, with no roommates, etc. But on that last (backbreaking) drive to Huntington a few weeks ago, she asked me about the possibility of them moving in here.

They're both hardworking kids, and they looked at a number of apartments together. But Long Island is such a friggin' expensive to live that they started to realize that while they could afford to get a place together, if they did, virtually all of their money would be going just towards surviving.

Now if you read this blog regularly, you probably figure that I'm pretty freaked out about this (me being a misanthropic pain in the ass and all). And when she first asked me the question, I think I was a little.

But then, a weird thing happened. As you might have read an entry or two ago, we just lost our little buddy Noodles (my son's cat) recently. And when I really examined my feelings, I discovered that while it's going to be a little challenging (five adults living in a small one-bathroom house), I was more happy about it than not, especially with the holiday season rolling up on us like a runaway reindeer.

If you've raised biological children, by the time they're young adults, you've had about two decades with them. Maybe you're sad when they move out, or maybe you're excited for the privacy. But Denise and I have only had our kids half that long -- my son was already ten when they first moved in with us, and my daughter was thirteen. And the time goes so fast.

So my daughter and I are already picking out what shows to watch together. (Right now, it's looking like Season Two of The End of the World is going to be our number one choice.) My son is happy, because it's two more people near his age in the house all the time. He'd try to claim otherwise, but he's always looked up to his sister, and her boyfriend is like an older brother to him -- he was actually my son's friend before he was my daughter's boyfriend. Denise is still a little freaked out, I think, about the extra cooking, etc. But she and my daughter have always been close, so I know it will work out. So from my point of view (and much to my own surprise), right now, things are pretty good here. I'm looking forward to getting through the long winter season surrounded by the warmth of my family.

Anyway, (finally!) getting around to music, I've been working diligently this year, not only on my Best of 2019 lists, but also on my Best of the Decade lists. I started working on the Top Songs of the Decade stuff the weekend Denise and I went away to Connecticut, and this week I started organizing my Top Albums list. I think I know how it's all shaping up, although I'm not finalizing it yet -- there are still another six or seven weeks left in the 2010s, and I'm leaving room for something to blow me away at the last minute. (And it's actually possible. There's a brand new Bayside release I've just started listening to, and the greatest rock band of all time, aka The Who, have a brand new studio LP coming out on November 22. I'm not actually expecting greatness -- after all, the guys are in their mid-seventies. But who knows what kinds of surprises Pete and Roger might have left for us?)

However, barring an eleventh hour shocker, here's how things are shaping up. 1. My #1 song of the 2010's looks like it's going to be something from the country-folk rock genre; 2. My top album of the decade might just be an epic metal album; and 3. to give you one actual specific, my artist of the decade, no matter what else happens, is clearly going to be Bayside. Regardless of the strengths or weaknesses of the new LP (Interrobang), this band already put out what my British friend Zak would call three absolute bangers in the 2010s, in Killing Time (2011), Cults (2014) and Vacancy (2016).

I've also been thinking about the shape of this blog in 2020. I told you back after the Bastille concert that I didn't know where I'd be going with it, and maybe I'd even be winding it down. I do plan to attend fewer concerts in 2020 than I have over the last two years. Neither my body nor my wallet can keep up with the constant concert going. But while I might post less often in the future (I usually try to post at least once a week or so right now), I might also add a couple of features to spice it up. Denise has no intention in cutting back in her concert going, and she's got some fun shows coming up that I won't be attending with her, including Midge Ure, The Fixx and Dead Can Dance. (She's also got that eighties cruise coming up next March that I won't be taking with her). So maybe I'll fill in the gaps with a couple of guest reviews from her. (If you know her, you know she'll be a lot less curmudgeonly in her write-ups than I am. But be patient with her. Nobody's perfect.) And while I don't plan to go back to doing full album reviews anytime soon, maybe I can at least throw some one or two-line summaries in there once in awhile.

So I think the blog will continue to go on, albeit in a somewhat altered form.

Anyway, that's my little sneak preview for the my End of the Decade stuff. How about you guys? What was the music that blew you away the most in the 2010s?

Until next week, when I'll be back at The Patchogue Theatre, I bid you all adieu!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

October 2019 Song of the Day

This is another month that I think started much stronger than it finished. The theme for this month of Halloween was "SPOOKY", and I think that too many people went with tracks that were more a collection of disturbing noises than they were actual songs. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the month as a whole.

I was the co-host for the month -- someone else picked the theme, and I did the grunt work. I'm also happy to say that over the last few months, I helped to increase the number of participants, to the point where while a few months ago, we were in danger of having to make four song recommendations apiece, but in October, most of us didn't even get to make a second rec. (I did it by basically making a point of personally inviting a number of people to participate in their shout boxes on the site.) So the whole Song of the Day thread has been newly revitalized.

So here's this month's chart:

Artist/song/link/overall rating given by Sput users (out of 5)/my rating (X=I rec'd it)

1. Lycia - Estrella - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb_7_aB6eng - 3.14 - X
2. Biosphere - Aura in the Kitchen With Candlesticks - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0I9eNMMJQ5E - 2.95 - 3.3
3. Lustmord - Heresy, Part III - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJj7An8conE - 3.11 - 3.0
4. Tom Waits - Murder in the Red Barn - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcvQsetOV4g - 3.05 - 2.3
5. Slint - Good Morning, Captain - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocZK5DHzkh4 - 4.12 - 3.5
6. Have a Nice Life - Cropsey - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-bDyYkYX74 - 3.72 - 3.6
7. Bohren and Der Club of Gore - Painless Steel - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VA4jpq8Q128 - 3.35 - 3.1
8. Monolake - Phenomenon - https://youtu.be/dBBnJ4vkQm0 - 3.63 - 2.8
9. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Babydoctor - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7FeVPoMlC0 - 2.86 - 2.9
10. Fantoma - Delirium Cordia - https://youtu.be/9XNbA7NdE1Q - 2.43 - 2.8
11. The Caretaker - All You're Going to Want to Do Is Get Back There - https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dtfTwqBfxgo - 3.52 - 2.0
12. Tribulation - The Lament - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvJQGOFltSk - 2.87 - 3.7
13. Demdike Stare - Forest of Evil (Dusk) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBFDXE4xFyk - 2.99 - 2.4
14. Daughters - City Song - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NB7RBZ1yGY - 3.09 - 2.6
15. Dir En Grey - The Blossoming of Beelzebub - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-J6YI5ysDU8 - 2.36 - 2.3
16. Stirge - The Golden Rat - https://stirge.bandcamp.com/track/stirge-the-golden-rat - 2.42 - 2.6
17. Rammstein - Wiener Blut - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plZOZDVtrq0 - 3.39 - 3.1
18. E-D - Opera of the Frogs - https://youtu.be/77hjz842Tfs - 2.89 - 2.7
19. Amigo the Devil - Dahmer Does Hollywood - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IweYyPM0cyI - 3.49 - 3.1
20. Ulver - Darling Didn't We Kill You - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtZhlPr7XaM - 3.39 - 3.9
21. Lil Ugly Mane - Cup Fulla Beetlejuice - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGF_EUvsEic - 2.68 - 1.5
22. The Specials - Ghost Town - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqZ8428GSrI - 3.72 - 3.8
23. Sharon Van Etten - Jupiter 4 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcaYbZFg3XM - 3.33 - 3.2
24. Ulver - Funebrae - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjFakbekU3M - 3.54 - 2.9
25. Rusty Cage - The Hearse Song - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xclh_676KwE - 2.50 - 3.5
26. Lorn - Acid Rain - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxg4C365LbQ - 3.16 - 3.2
27. Throbbing Gristle - Hamburger Lady - https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Fih-xzWGKPA - 2.46 - 2.1
28. Korhadt - There Is No Room for Ven Gecik - (https://ngcprod.bandcamp.com/track/there-is-no-room-for-ven-gecik) - 2.50 - 1.7
29. Trist - (keine) Angst - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dDpgY2_JKQ - 2.30 - 1.9
30. AFI - Halloween - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5WNq5XuuJ8 - 2.45 - 2.3
31. Ministry - (Every Day Is) Halloween - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFPI9b9N6CQ - 2.34 - 3.2


My pick for the month was the first song, Lycia's "Estrella". It did OK, but in retrospect, maybe I should have gone for a "Spookier" Lycia cut.

I was looking to getting cheesy with a second pick, which I would have either used for Alice Cooper's "He's Back", or Witches in Bikinis' "Witches in Bikinis" (both of which would have probably not gotten great scores from my peers, but I still love them both.)

The highest rated song, by far, was Slint's "Good Morning, Captain". My highest rated song (much to my own surprise) was an instrumental track by Ulver, "Darling Didn't We Kill You".

The lowest rated song was "(keine) Angst" by the German band Trist. My lowest rated song, however, was the godawful Lil Ugly Mane's "Cup Fulla Beetlejuice". Spooky gangsta rap? I think not.

Anyway, the links are all up, so if you like, you can listen and judge for yourselves.

I have surrendered the hosting duties for November. The theme for the month is "Gifts from Other Users", wherein participants are asked to submit recs that they first discovered through some other Sputnikmusic member recommending either the track or the band to them.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Broadway Fright Night

OK, let's try this again, albeit in a more abbreviated format.

The Date: October 26, 2019.

The Venue: The Patchogue Theatre.

The Concept: Take five musical actors with legitimate Broadway and National Touring credits, add one keyboardist, and let them perform a bunch of show tunes from horror and sci-fi based musicals a few days before Halloween. It sounded like a good idea for a show, and it was.

The Producer/Host: Steve DeAngelis.

The Musical Director/Keyboard Player: Eugene Gwozdz

The Players: Richard Todd Adams, Jackie Burns, Janine Maria Divita, Jenny Lee Stern, Joey Taranto

The Shows: The Phantom of the Opera; Wicked; The Rocky Horror Show; Young Frankenstein; Sweeney Todd; Jekyll & Hyde; Little Shop of Horrors; Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark; Bat Boy: The Musical; Ghost; Dracula, The Musical; Wonderland; The Addams Family; Dance of the Vampires; Bat Out of Hell: The Musical; The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Ones They Missed: Evil Dead: The Musical (this is the one I most regretted that they skipped); Carrie (yeah, the show was a disaster on Broadway, but some of the ones they included didn't do much better); Damned Yankees (too dated?); The Woman in White (too obscure?); Lestat (too Elton John never even released the cast album for this train wreck?); Eyeball Eaters From Outer Space (too damn, I forgot I haven't finished writing it yet?)

Some of the Highlights: Richard Todd Adams' rendition of "Music of the Night"; The full-cast rendition of "The Time Warp", which was done as an encore; Jackie Burns (who has performed the role of Elphaba on Broadway more than any other actress) singing "Defying Gravity"; Jenny Lee Sturns' hysterical take on Young Frankenstein's "He Vas My Boyfriend"; Adams and Sturns as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Levitt performing "Epiphany". ("Try the priest!")

Pop Songs I Didn't Expect to Hear That Were Included in This Show: Joey Taranto and Ms. Burns singing "Total Eclipse" (the Bonnie Tyler song) from Jim Steinman's Dance of the Vampires; Taranto singing Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" from Steinman's Bat Out of Hell: The Musical. (Yeah, I didn't know there was such a thing either.)

A Quick Piece of Trivia: Dance of the Vampires was based on the Roman Polansky film The Fearless Vampire Hunters. Yes, Polansky is a creep, but I always thought that film was kind of funny.

The Consensus: Denise and I loved it. (We also had second row seats, which didn't suck.) And as we were walking out of the theater through the parking lot, I heard several people saying they thought this was the best of these Broadway-Revue type shows they'd ever seen at The Patchogue Theatre.

DeAngelis is bringing four other singers back to the Patchogue Theatre on November 16, who will be working with the excellent Long Island cover band Wondrous Stories for a full-length concert version of The Who's Tommy. Denise and I enjoyed Broadway Fright Night so much that today, I bought us tickets for that show as well. (And we've got the same seats for that show as we had tonight.)

Sorry I somehow deleted the original version of this write-up. It was a lot fuller, but the gist was the same. This show focused on several of the musicals I like best, the performers were quite good, and the musical selections were pretty decent overall.

Happy Halloween!

Broadway Fright Night -- first attempt

Arghh! Over two hours of writing somehow accidentally deleted for this write-up!

I'll be back to rewrite it (probably in a greatly abbreviated version). But for right now, I need to rock back and forth for awhile, holding myself and quietly sobbing.


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Favorite Artists, Part 7: About Bruce Springsteen (and, sadly, politics)

I knew when I first conceived of this Favorite Artists series that this was going to be the most difficult entry to write. The reason is simple: it forces me to do something I absolutely hate to do -- mix music and politics.

Those of you who have known me over the years know that this is abhorrent to me. The reason is simple: to me, music should be something that brings us all together. Yes, we all have our own tastes, and our own musical likes and dislikes. But in the end, music is a unifying force. Or at least it can be, as long as you're not being a butthole about it. ("Dude! Your music sucks!")

Politics, on the other hand, inevitably drives us apart. Maybe it's always been this way. In my lifetime, I've seen the tumultuous sixties, the Nixon impeachment attempt and his subsequent resignation in the seventies, the Clinton impeachment in the nineties, and the entire Trump era which has ended friendships and turned family members against one another.

This is why, when I used to run the longislandmusicscene online Yahoo group, I did my best to enforce a policy of no politics of any kind, unless it was something where you absolutely couldn't help but to touch on a political subject. So, for example, if your band was playing at a show that supported some sort of political cause, you could advertise the show, but you couldn't proselytize for or against the cause. It was a lot of work, because most people are so convinced of the rightness of their beliefs that they often can't even see when they're being disrespectful to people who don't share those beliefs. But ultimately, I think it made the list, and the Long Island Music Coalition that sprang from it, a much more peaceful place, because it kept people focused on promoting the music. Which is what the list was created for in the first place.

Alas, in the real world, it's much less easy to keep music and politics separate. As someone who falls somewhere in the conservative-to-libertarian range, at some point I found it became increasingly impossible to just go out and enjoy a night of music. This is because within the musical genres that I most enjoy, the majority of artists fall on the opposite side of the spectrum from me(which is fine), and many of them feel entitled, or sometimes even obligated, to advocate for those beliefs from the stage, often in ways that are insulting (often deliberately so) to people from the other side of the aisle. This puts me, as a musical fan (and consumer) in the position of needing to rethink whether I'm willing to attend live music any more. And it also forces me to evaluate whether I'm willing to support people who actively push political agendas which fly directly in the face of my own values. Which brings me to Bruce Springsteen.

Unlike all of the other artists I've previously written about in this series, Springsteen is someone whose music I came to when I was already a young adult, when many of my musical tastes were already pretty well formed. Now if you're reading this as an adult music fan (which I think is the case with most of my readers), maybe you can relate to this. When you're young, everything is new and exciting. As I grew up, in the late sixties and early seventies, there was so much great music going on that it was almost a sensory overload. I can remember spending hours browsing through record stores, looking at all of the colorful album art, promising myself I was going to buy this album or that one whenever I saved up enough money from my allowance.

But as we get older, we get more jaded. Once we've established a kind of baseline of the music we like the best, it gets harder to impress us. The colors don't look quite as bright, and the sounds don't sound quite as innovative. We hear something new, and we're like, "That's pretty good," but it's more of a mild pleasure than something that rocks our world. So when an artist comes along who really, truly excites us, who can make us feel that passion we felt when were still just forming our tastes, it's a rare and precious thing. And for me, Bruce Springsteen was such an artist.

In 1974, I was mostly into British prog rock. ELP's Brain Salad Surgery was released in '73, and Jethro Tull's Warchild in '74, and this was typical of the kind of music I was listening to at the time. That May, I was finishing up my junior year of Holy Cross High School in Queens, and WNEW-FM radio was an incredibly important part of my life. And on WNEW-FM (I'm pretty sure, as I can't imagine where else I'd have heard this), an incredibly audacious piece of music hype worked its way into my consciousness regarding a young singer from nearby New Jersey. It came from a credible music critic, Jon Landau of Rolling Stone magazine. It was a one-line quote from a review of a live show he'd seen in Cambridge, MA. And the quote was this: "I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen".

Wow. Pretty brazen.

But it caught my attention. WNEW didn't play Springsteen all that often back then. But when they did, I started listening. And I was intrigued by what I heard. At the time, Springsteen had released just two albums, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. And as 1974 wound into 1975, and I started getting closer to graduation, my favorite radio station started playing more and more Springsteen music, in anticipation of the release of Springsteen's forthcoming album. And I started to get more and more beguiled. Songs like "Growin' Up", "Spirits in the Night", "4th of July, Asbury Park" (aka "Sandy"), and especially "Rosalita" began to flood my sensibilities, and to touch my soul. The music was more raw than the prog rock stuff I'd been listening to, more basic and vital. So when Born to Run was finally released in August of 1975, I was practically delirious. I bought it the day it came out, and I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever heard.

I can't tell you too much about those next three years, except that over the course of that time, while The Boss was embroiled in a legal battle with his ex-manager Mike Appel that kept him out of the recording studio, I wore those first three albums out. It didn't hurt things at all that Springsteen sang in my key, so I could comfortably (and joyfully) sing along with just about all of his songs. Bruce Springsteen became my favorite artist, and if you'd have asked me at that time, I'd have told you that Born to Run was the greatest album of all time. (And although I no longer rank it at #1, I still have it pretty far up there -- it's one of only fourteen albums I've rated at 5 out of 5 stars on the Sputnik Music website).

It seemed like it took forever, but when Darkness on the Edge of Town was released in June of 1978, I was more than ready, and I bought it within a week of its release. I actually ranked it higher than Born to Run on my all-time album scale (and I still do). I went to work as a drama counselor that summer in a small children's sleepaway camp in Suffern, NY, and I remember repeatedly booming the album at full volume from the little wooden playhouse during the day, as I swept the building between drama classes. And later that summer, when the guy who stole my girl at the camp invited me to head into the city with him and his older brother to see Springsteen live at Madison Square Garden, I accepted in a second, and felt I'd gotten the better of the deal. (OK, full disclosure -- she was never really "my girl", she was just the girl that I had a crush on. But he was a pretty cool guy, and that concert more than made up for the disappointment of finding out that the two of them had a fling. It was kind of like, "You rat bastard, you stole Jodi from me! Springsteen tickets, did you say? OK, we're good!") Anyway, for me, that was Springsteen at the height of his powers, and that concert still ranks up with there with my favorite concerts of all time.

Now in 1980, when Bruce released The River, I have to admit that the bloom came off the rose just a little. Don't get me wrong, I still really liked the album. Just not as much as the some of the other Springsteen enthusiasts who were friends of mine. There were still some truly terrific tunes on the LP, stuff like "Sherry Darling", "Drive All Night" (which he'd pulled together out of something he used to work into another track, I forget which one, but I'd seen him perform it during that MSG concert), and the heartbreaking title track. But as a double album, there was also a fair amount of filler material (I'm looking at you, "Ramrod"), so I've only got this one ranked at four out of five stars.

It was in the eighties that I started becoming more politically conservative, although Bruce and I were still good then. (I'd voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976, and his Presidency had a lot to do with my disillusionment with the left.) I knew that "Little" Steve Van Zandt, Springsteen's guitarist, was a pretty left-wing guy, but that was no big thing -- a lot of musicians were. But musically, Bruce and I had started to grow apart.

When Springsteen released Nebraska in 1982, without the E-Street band, I was just a little horrified. I had been drawn to his music for its energy, its vigor and its bright colors. But somewhere along the way, he'd traded in those wild stories of bikers and street thugs, The Magic Rat and Spanish Johnny, for this music of dreary rural desperation. Granted, the change had begun on the Darkness album, which I'd loved. But on this one, the music itself was suddenly bleak and low-key. The critics mostly loved it. I just didn't get it, except maybe for the track "Atlantic City", which at least has a little life to it. Nebraska is OK, I guess, it's not terrible music. But it didn't rouse me at all, nor did it connect with my life on any level. And in retrospect, I think it's biggest lack was this -- it was missing the Big Man, Mr. Clarence Clemons.

The E Street Band was (and is) a great band. Springsteen and this amazing group of musicians have always had some sort of primal connection, something where the whole was something way more than the sum of its parts. The mid-'70s lineup was magic, and included Van Zandt, "Professor" Roy Bittan on piano and keyboards, Danny Federici on organ and other keyboards, Garry Tallent on bass and tuba, and "Mighty" Max Weinberg (later of The Conan O'Brien Show fame) on drums. But perhaps the most important member of all, other than Springsteen himself, was Clarence Clemons. His powerful saxophone lent Springsteen and the E Street Band's music a special kind of magic that elevated them from merely great to iconic. I could grant The Boss one album like Nebraska to get this cheerless solo music out of his system. But in retrospect, let's face it -- Springsteen was never fully Springsteen without Clarence Clemons.

Anyway, the next album, Born in the U.S.A. (1984), took Springsteen and the E Street Band to their greatest heights of national (and international) popularity. But to me, it was like when U2 did Joshua Tree. The general public was just fully catching on, but the band's truly greatest work was already behind them. As for me, I had moved on, and while I still had a special place in my heart for The Boss, by this point, I was mostly listening to (and loving) British (and sometimes American) new wave.

Tunnel of Love (1987) was OK, but nothing special. For me, it was most memorable for being one of my first two CDs, which my brother gave me as either a birthday or Christmas present. I remember kind of jokingly cursing him out for it, since I had already turned over my original vinyl LP collection into a cassette tape collection, and now he was kind of forcing me to do it all over again with CDs. (Wonder why I was so resistant to mp3 files for so long?)

After this, the Boss got increasingly mediocre. It would be easy to just blame this on poor Patty Scialfa, which some have done, much as people in the eighties blamed Christie Brinkley for the deterioration of Billy Joel's music. The timeline fits. But I think it's unfair (more so for Bruce than for Billy, heh heh.) You see, when Springsteen released Lucky Town and Human Touch in March of 1992 he was, by then, 41 years old. And let's face it, rock is a young man's game. Whatever the reason, of the eleven albums Springsteen has released since 1992 (including Lucky Town and Human Touch) I've given ten of them ratings that ranged from 2 to 3 out of 5 stars, a far cry from the 4's and 5's I was giving those first five LPs of his.

I don't hold that against him, though. Almost all of my favorite artists (and most musicians and bands in general) had a peak period in their early years, followed by decades where they only showed the briefest of flashes of their former glory. What I did have a problem with, though, was his increasing outspokenness and activism in favor of left-wing political causes.

Somewhere during the W. Bush years, Springsteen and a lot of other artists started to get (from my point of view) a little crazy. It wasn't just that they disagreed with me. (Although never do that. I'm pretty much always right. Jk. Or am I?) It was that they became so smugly sure of themselves about the correctness of their positions that they decided they had to start preaching their thoughts (or in some cases, what passed for thoughts) to the point where they were shoving them down other people's throats.

Some artists, at least, were nuanced about it. Since I brought up a U2 comparison earlier, Bono, for example, has always been a left-wing guy. But at least he was able to give W. Bush some credit for his efforts at wiping out crippling diseases in Africa. Bruce, unfortunately, not so much. From the Bush era on, he suddenly became very active at promoting causes, and especially people, that I abhorred. I always kind of blamed Van Zandt for getting in his head about this stuff, but I could be totally wrong there. In any event, this artist, who had once been my favorite musician, and who didn't seem interested in politics at all when I first got into him, began promoting a left-wing agenda that I found heinous, and doing it in the most empty-headed of ways. And after seeing the recent Springsteen on Broadway show on Netflix (well, actually I heard the album first, but you know what I mean) I kind of understand why. But more on that in a minute.

In any event, I'm not someone who feels comfortable supporting artists of any medium who are really strident about beliefs that I don't respect. I would never pay to see a Jane Fonda film, and as you might imagine, the list of actors, actresses and directors whose films I won't support has grown in recent years. And so, because of Bruce's increasing "wokeness", combined with his increasing inability to create first-rate music, I stopped buying his albums for many years.

But this was my guy, The Boss, the man who was once my favorite musical artist. So at some point, I got nostalgic and became curious about what he'd been up to musically over the years. So I compromised, and bought all of the back albums I'd missed used off of second-hand vendors on Amazon. I told myself, "Well, I'm not directly supporting him, right?"

Interestingly enough, there are artists way to the left of Springsteen that I've had no such qualms about over the years. Larry Kirwan of Black 47 is basically an Irish Republican radical who shares Marxist views on class and race wars. And yet somehow, even though I knew this about him from the beginning (or maybe because I knew this about him from the beginning), I've always been able to separate who he is politically from Black 47's music. (I don't think much of their ideological songs, although I kind of like a few of the ones about rebels like Michael Collins, aka "The Big Fella" -- but I really do love their funnier, and often self-deprecating, character studies like "Funky Ceili", "Czechoslovakia"  and "Izzy's Irish Rose"). I think it's because I never let a band like Black 47 get as close to my heart as I did with the Boss. I feel like he bait-and-switched me. He drew me in with his music, then suddenly turned into this quasi-communist that I didn't recognize.

Creepy as it sounds, in some ways, I feel like a scorned ex-girlfriend. We used to be so close, but now he's off whoring around with people like Obama and Hillary. This is something that I have in common with poor, pathetic Chris Christie, the ex-governor of New Jersey, who has always worn his heart on his sleeve about his love of Springsteen, even as Bruce has repeatedly and callously publicly rebuked and spurned him.

My most interesting (and fun) reaction to my breakup with Springsteen occurred when he decided to try his damnedest to get Bush out of office by doing a hugely promoted concert tour to benefit John Kerry's campaign during the 2004 election season. I had my radio show on WUSB at the time, and all of the many left-wingers at the station arranged for WUSB to carry Springsteen's Meadowlands show, in an attempt to build support for Kerry. I complained to the station about getting involved in the Presidential campaign in such a one-sided way, and the station manager, Norm, did what I always did when somebody suggested some great idea for something they wanted to me to spend a bunch of time and effort on for the LIMC -- he offered me the opportunity to either put up or shut up by putting together my own show to promote the other side.

The result was the most bizarre -- and one of the most fun -- moments in my radio career. To counter-program the so-called Rock for Change concert, I put together a special to give not only Bush proponents, but spokespersons for virtually every other party in the race, a chance to come on the air and say their piece about their own candidate of choice. (I wanted to call the special Anyone But Kerry, the idea being that Kerry had already had his moment on the station, so this was everyone else's chance to shine, but Norm vetoed that name as too partisan. So I think we went on the air without actually naming the show.)

The result was several hours of weirdness and hilarity. I started it by having a spokesperson call in from one of the more far-right parties. It might have been the Constitution Party, I'm not sure. The one thing I remember about their campaign literature was that it occurred to me how you seldom read words like "sodomite" anymore. The guy called in very suspiciously, absolutely certain that I was some college radical who had invited him on either to scream at him or to laugh him off the air. When I asked a few innocuous questions, and just let him say what his candidate was about for fifteen minutes, he sounded totally confused to not have been attacked.

I filled the rest of the special with friends who supported all sorts of different ideas and candidates. I had Bruce Allen Martin, who did the WUSB weekday afternoon libertarian show, along with his son, to promote the Libertarian Party candidate. I had Jeff from the Pisces Cafe (and maybe Chaka from the Pisces, also, it was a long time ago) to talk about both the Green Party and the Socialist Party candidates. And I had conservative local musician Todd Shea (I think it was before he moved to Pakistan, but I have a vague memory that he was somewhere out of state at the time), and Peppi Marchello of The Good Rats, both call in to promote the candidacy of President Bush. It was ridiculous and funny in equal measures. By the time we were finished, the hip-hop guys in the WUSB lobby, who were patiently waiting to come on the air and do their own show, weren't sure whether to laugh or beat the hell out of me. ("I be illin'" was the way one of them described their reaction.) Happily, they decided on the former, and I got out of the station alive. All of this in reaction to Bruce Springsteen's John Kerry benefits.

I said earlier that I felt I understood some of Springsteen's later life political activism after listening to the Springsteen on Broadway album, and it's this. Bruce Springsteen has many talents. He's a terrific songwriter, and an even better performer. He's charismatic. He's a great story teller. What he isn't is especially bright, at least in the conventional sense of the word. And he's also a bit of a fraud.

Let me say very clearly that I'm not saying this because he's a left-winger. There are many progressives who are brilliant people. Just because I don't happen to agree with them doesn't mean I think they're stupid. I've been beating the U2 comparison to death, so I'll stick with Bono. Bono, as far as I can tell, is a very smart man. So is Sting. So are many left-wing spokespeople and artists.

Bruce is different. If you listen to him tell his life story in the special, you begin to realize that he's been making a lot of it up as he goes along. For example, after all of those brilliant songs that I fell in love with about The Magic Rat, and gang shootouts in Manhattan and The Bronx, it turns out that when he wrote them, although he grew up an hour-and-a-half away on the Jersey Shore, by his own words, neither he nor anyone he even knew had ever so much as visited New York City. And after 45 years of writing about the common working man, as it happens, the man has never held a regular job in his life! He's made a living in music since he was a minor. It was a meager living at first, before it all took off for him. But although he comes from a working class background, he himself has never been a regular working man.

What he is, instead, is an incredibly talented writer of musical fiction. He's ridiculously intuitive, so he's able to make songs up that feel real. Write what you know, they say? Hah! Throw that right out the window. This is a man who has spent his life writing about what he doesn't know, but doing it so well that it feels real. And he's gotten rich off it, and deservedly so.

He's also a guy who has a tremendous desire to be loved and adored. He needs the energy, and the wild approval of the crowds. And my theory is that that's how a kid who started out seemingly without a political bone in his body eventually grew into the John Steinbeck of rock and roll. You have your big-ass theory, Charles Darwin? Well this one is mine! I think that after years of surrounding himself with left-wing musician types, he was eventually convinced that he had to stand up for all the "correct" causes, whether they were really his own or not. Like I said, I blame Steve Van Zandt. But really, it was probably a lot of Van-Zandt-like voices in his head over the years.

And you've got to hand it to him. Even though he's well past his prime, like Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series, he can still crank one out of the park once in awhile, to the extent that even a right winger like me can listen to a song promoting an agenda I don't agree with, like "American Skin (41 Shots)", or the full-band version of "The Ghost of Tom Joad", and begrudgingly admit, "Damn! That's a great song!"

So there you have it -- my relationship with Bruce Springsteen. It's a bittersweet tale. It began with pure, unadulterated joy, but has since turned into a tortured love-hate relationship. I love his music. I hate many of the things he stands for.

This year, Springsteen put out a new album, Western Stars. It's his first new studio album in five years. It's also the first Springsteen LP I've bought new in nearly twenty years, and the first one I've rated as high as 3.5 stars since Born in the U.S.A. in 1984. It's a low-key but powerful release that sees Bruce trying on yet another new identity that he has no firsthand experience with -- that of a cowboy/drifter in the great American West. It's good. So good, in fact, that it appears that it's more than likely to make my Top 10 Albums of 2019 list. God damn him!