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!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Renaissance (and R.I.P. Noodles)

It's been another one of those weeks. The worst part was that on Thursday, after countless vet appointments over the last two years trying to treat some kind of a respiratory ailment, our family had to say goodbye to the oldest of our three cats, Noodles.

Noodles was a stray who adopted us. He came to us right after my kids first moved in, when my daughter was 13 and my son only 10. The kids fed him once, and he moved into our front yard and never left. According to the rules of our adoption agency, we weren't supposed to bring a new pet into the house until we had all completed our adoption steps, the idea being that it's unfair to let children get attached to a pet until you have made the final commitment that you will all become a solid forever-family together. But Noodles was unplanned.

The night another cat tried to steal Noodles' food, and my 10-year-old charged out of the house screaming, "Hey you, get away from MY cat!" I knew we were done. We took him to the vet (Noodles, not my son), and moved him into the house shortly after that. Then we all learned to be a family together, Noodles as much as any of us. (To date, Noodles is the only cat to graduate our agency's steps program -- every time my son presented evidence to move up an adoption step, he gave evidence on Noodles' behalf as well.) He's been with us these past ten years, and he was no spring chicken when he first came to us -- we think he was already eight or so then.

In any event, we've been trying to take care of him, but this week, we finally ran out of options. He wasn't feeling well, and the vets couldn't do any more to make him better. So on Thursday night, the five of us (My wife and I, my two young adult kids, and my daughter's boyfriend) made the sad drive to the vet to give him some peace. We all cried -- a lot -- and said goodbye to our beloved friend. He was maybe the sweetest and gentlest cat I ever knew. It was a heartbreaking night.

Unfortunately, Denise and I had tickets to see Renaissance on their 50th Anniversary Tour the next night. It wasn't the best timing.

Friday was a bizarre day. I started by getting up at 7 to drive my daughter to her job training in Huntington. We've been doing this for five weeks now, and it's kind of crushing my soul. Saturday was supposed to be the last day for a few weeks. Unfortunately, before I even got home, my daughter texted to tell me she had to work in Huntington for one more week. Sigh.

Then, on the way home, I had something happen that had never happened to me in 35 years of driving. It was an exceptionally windy day, and as I pulled off of Sunrise Highway at the Hospital Road exit, I noticed a flock of birds overhead. They were whirling back and forth crazily, as if they were all being buffeted by the wind. And as I entered the service road, they started spiraling downward, lower and lower, until I suddenly realized they were going to shoot right in front of me. There was no time to brake -- I could only grip the wheel tightly as birds pounded into my car, smashing off of the roof and the windshield. I thought the windshield was going to break, but luckily it didn't. I looked in my rear view mirror, and didn't see any bodies on the road. But I must have taken out about eight of them, because there was bird grue on several parts of my car, even the driver's side window. It was like the Hitchcock film The Birds, or a frightening, Biblical event.

There were other weird things that happened on Friday, too, but I won't go into all of them, or you and I will never get to the damned concert. Suffice it to say that the day really didn't make my mood any better. As for Denise -- well, she's a cat person. She was devastated by Thursday night, to the point that she took off from work on Friday to avoid going into her office and crying all day. She's usually more of an upbeat person (by far) than I am, so I think she was looking forward to the concert to take her mind off of things. Here's what I was looking forward to.

As my regular readers know, I always like to print out the probable playlist for a show beforehand. I like to know what's coming. And most of the time, bands (especially older ones), tend to keep to pretty much the same setlist from one night to the next.

Denise and I, and Rich Da Drumma (who had accompanied us when we saw Renaissance in the Boulton Center last year, and was going to come with us again tonight) had seen the band play a 12-song set the last time, and the set they had performed in Annapolis on Thursday night looked to be very similar. In fact, there were only three songs that were different -- "Midas Man", which is a decent song, "Ashes Are Burning", which is one of their best, and my favorite song of all, "Mother Russia". (When they had played the Boulton Center, someone called out, requesting "Mother Russia", and Annie Haslam had laughingly suggested that they should "get stuffed.") So I was looking forward to hearing the band play my favorite Renaissance song.

The traffic heading into the city was, as you'd expect, fairly heavy. We'd picked up Rich on the way, and he gave us a shortcut to get onto the Cross Island Parkway, which probably cut twenty minutes or so off of our trip. By 7:15, we were close to Town Hall, where the show was taking place. But the crosstown traffic was ridiculous as we approached the theater district, and we unfortunately accidentally bypassed the parking garage where Denise had made a reservation. By then it was 7:30, and it was clear that if we had to circle the block to get back to that garage, we'd miss the opening of the show. So we called an audible, and decided to eat that parking fee and pull into a different garage up the street ahead of us. It was kind of a pain in the butt, but under the circumstances, I think it was the right choice. We made it into the theater with twenty minutes to spare, giving us enough time to use the facilities, get some waters (and for Rich to grab a snack, since he hadn't eaten anything beforehand) and get to our seats.

The one major difference between this year's tour and the one I had seen last year at the Boulton Center (besides my having to haul my sorry ass into Manhattan for this one) was that for this tour, Renaissance was playing alongside what Haslam would later refer to as a chamber orchestra. And as we stepped out onto the mezzanine of the theater, we could see that not only was Frank Pagano's drum kit once again enclosed inside of a 3-sided plexiglass wall, but so was the whole back of the stage where the orchestra would sit (in a straight row across).

One curious (and kind of disappointing thing) was the attendance for this show. When Denise and I had been in this venue in the beginning of the year to see Joe Jackson, it was pretty much a sellout. But tonight, while I think the downstairs area was completely sold out, the upstairs area where we were was only a little more than half full. We had purchased the extra seat for tonight, but as it turned out, we didn't really need it -- Our whole row was empty, save for Denise, Rich and myself.

Before too long, the lights went down, and the orchestra filed out, followed by the band. There were eleven players in the orchestra, and Renaissance themselves played as a six-piece (including Annie). This included drums, bass, (usually acoustic) guitar, and two keyboards.

Now I had been listening to Renaissance all week, specifically the Ashes Are Burning album. (I was under the erroneous impression that the concert was supposed to feature the band playing this LP from front to back). I rank their top three studio albums as Turn of the Cards, Ashes Are Burning and Scheherazade in that order, but others might disagree, and some might even throw Prologue or Novella in the mix. In any event, listening to Ashes reminded me of all the things I love about this band. The most important are:
1. Annie Haslam's ridiculous five-octave-ranged voice. There weren't a lot of '70s rock bands out there with female lead singers, and most of the female leads who did exist had voices more of the harsh, hard-rock variety. (Think Ann Wilson of Heart, Janis Joplin or even Gracie Slick.) Few had Haslam's vocal beauty, and none that I can think of came anywhere near her almost-freakish range.
2. The use of keyboards, especially piano. I love the piano. It's one of my favorite instruments. And Renaissance inserted a lot of piano (and even some harpsichord) into their music. And
3. The way they mixed both folk and classical music into their songs. Yeah, sometimes they lifted whole pieces of classical music (such as Mussorgsky's Pictures From an Exhibition) and inserted it into their material (not too cool, I admit). But I still loved their style of prog rock. King Crimson, for example, was more brilliant, but they and many other prog rock groups inserted too much jazz into the mix for me to fully embrace them, and others (like Procol Harum) maybe relied a little too much on basic blues. Renaissance had just the right mix for me.

If they followed the previous night's setlist (and I was pretty sure they would, as this was only the second show of this particular tour), they would be playing two sets, of six and five songs respectively, and performing "Ashes Are Burning" as an encore.

They started out with three of their best, "Carpet of the Sun", "Ocean Gypsy" and "Running Hard", all in a row. And they sounded great, except ... 

It was clear from the beginning of the evening that Annie was having some vocal problems tonight. When I'd seen her last year, she was having some control issues in her lower range, but tonight, they were more pronounced. It could have been because this was only the band's second show since last December, so she was still a little rusty. Or maybe she was under the weather -- a lot of people I know are dealing with colds, etc., due to the recent change in temperature. (Even my son is coughing it up today, and talking in what I like to call his "FM Radio Voice".)

Annie was trying gamely, and she seemed to be having a reasonably good time in spite of whatever was ailing her, but even she made a reference at one point to the notion that they loved still being able to go out and play this material to the best of their current ability. (And in spite of her good spirits, she seemed a little less interactive between songs than she had last year, although that could have just been because the Boulton Center is a more intimate venue than is Town Hall.) It's also worth noting that Annie is 72 years old now, so it's not surprising if she's lost a step.

They continued through the first set with "Midas Man" (which they apparently haven't played live since 2012 prior to this tour). Annie then had her strongest number of the night, "Symphony of Light", a song about the genius of Leonardo da Vinci, from their 2013 LP Grandine il Vento. This song finds her singing much of the time in her very highest range, and the power and exquisiteness of her voice on this one brought the crowd to their feet in a standing ovation.

(And the crowd was pretty well behaved tonight. Yeah, the guy behind me was singing off key for a lot of the night, and at one point, a guy who looked like Bernie Sanders plopped himself down in the row in front of us, blocking Rich's view and annoying him for a song or two before he moved on. But in general, they were less irritating than the usual concert audience.)

Renaissance closed the set with a nice moment, inviting founding ex-member Jim McCarty onto the stage to join them for the set closer, "Island", from the band's first (pre-Annie Haslam) self-titled album. (McCarty would accompany them again for the last song of the night, "Ashes Are Burning".)

I was having a pretty pleasant night in spite of the events of the previous week, and I was in a pretty philosophical mood. You see, there's a chance this might be my last Manhattan concert ever. I've decided to take a bit of a break from live shows for awhile (once our current set of tickets runs out), and if my current state of mind lasts, I've gotten to hate the hassle of going into the city so much that I'm intending to cancel Manhattan from my life forever.

Denise has been trying to tempt me with some pretty cool bands playing in the city in the upcoming months, including The Fixx and Dead Can Dance. Last year, I would have jumped at them, or at least agreed to them. But for right now, my mindset is that unless they want to play on Long Island, I'm out. The combination of the physical and mental stress of going into the city, plus the disgusting condition of the city itself, make me just not want to go there again. If Madison Square Garden was a little more physically comfortable, I'd be inclined to consider shows there, since it would involve a simple LIRR trip into the venue's basement. But the physical discomfort of MSG, and the venue's crappy attitude, has led me to eliminate them from my concert life as well.

Never say never, because things can change. Maybe in a few months, when I'm not driving to Huntington four days a week, I'll feel differently. But for right now, I'm so tired, physically and emotionally. So I need to believe that I'm done with Manhattan.

The band opened their second set, and for me, the first few songs themselves were less impressive -- "Opening Out", "Day of the Dreamer" and "The Mystic and the Muse". They were well played by the band and the orchestra -- and I would single out Rave Tesar's piano as being especially impressive throughout the night. But Annie's voice was flagging, and the songs just aren't among my favorites from the band's repertoire. But I steeled myself. "Mother Russia" was next. After all, the band had been following the previous night's setlist song-for-song up until this point.

So you guys can guess what's coming, right? I sat back, waiting to hear that delicate intro to the band's musical tribute to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, an intro that always elicited a very physical reaction of pure joy from me. Wikipedia describes it as "a sparse, string-driven introduction marked by occasional piano crescendos". I'd describe it as orgasmic. Haslam announced it thusly: "Our next song is called 'A Song for All Seasons'".

Damned straight! Wait ... What?! ... Noooooooooooooooooo!!!

Yes. They skipped over "Mother Russia"'s spot in the setlist, and went straight on to the next song. It should be noted that "Song for All Seasons" was probably Haslam's worst number of the night. Her voice was flat as hell for much of the song. I don't know if "Mother Russia" is, for some reason especially hard for her to sing these days. I wouldn't know, because I've never heard her try to sing the fucking thing! But she might have known she didn't have many songs left in her for the night, and decided to cut down the setlist. I'll never know for sure.

I tried to hold onto hope. But in my heart, I think I knew it was over. After "Song for All Seasons", they called McCarty back to the stage ("Maybe they were waiting until McCarty could join them for "Mother Russia!" I told myself.) "This one is called 'Ashes Are Burning'". Grrrrr!

Still, ridiculously, I kept trying to delude myself. "Last night, they did 'Ashes Are Burning' as an encore," I told myself desperately. "Maybe they've switched the order! 'Mother Russia' would be a great encore!" After all, as "Ashes" wound down, it was still only 10:15PM.

"Well, thank you for that!" Annie told the audience, beaming. "We'll see you all next time."


The lights came on, and the crowd began to file out.

Now, I still have at least some sanity left. (Not much. But some.) The logical me recognizes that Renaissance has no idea who I am, and that they doubtlessly cut the song for some reason relating to whatever was going on with Annie's voice last night. There couldn't possibly be anything personal towards me.

But let me tell you, it felt personal. I felt like a little boy whose favorite toy had just been crushed by a bus, or like my delicious slice of chocolate cake had been knocked onto the ground by a bully. Where I am mentally right now, hearing "Mother Russia" live would have been like a soothing balm, even if Haslam had had to croak the damned thing. (Because it's one Renaissance song where it's more about the music itself for me than it is about Annie's vocal, anyway.) In the grand scheme of things, not hearing "Mother Russia" is clearly a tiny bump in the road, what some would rightly call a first-world problem. Still, it was just one more shit sandwich to choke down this week. Thanks, life.

We worked our way out of the city, and ate dinner at a diner somewhere near Rich's house. Then we dropped him off and headed home. By the time we got there (after waiting on line at the Taco Bell drive-thru at my son's request for about a half an hour) it was after 2AM. (It could have turned out to be even later. We just missed hitting three deer that came dashing out in front of us on South Country Road, which might have held us up for another hour or two waiting for the police so we could file an accident report. Like I said earlier, Biblical. But 2AM still sucked.) By the time I got to bed, it was almost three. And as you might guess, I was tremendously excited to know I'd be getting up at seven the next morning to drive my daughter to Huntington again.

So there it is ... the story of what I hope will be my last Manhattan show ever. The setlist for the concert is up at, at You'll see that whoever posted the setlist was kind enough to post this little comment at the bottom: "Note: 'Mother Russia' was on the printed setlist, but not played." Thanks for that.

Renaissance played again on Saturday night in Glenside, PA, but I have no idea if they played the song there, because no one has yet posted the setlist for that show. They probably did, though.

Fuck you, Renaissance.

But more importantly, Rest in Peace, Noodles. We love you, buddy. And we always will.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Sunset Boulevard

Spoiler Warning: There'sa gonna be lotsa spoilers ahead in this write-up. So if you've never seen this play (or the Billy Wilder film on which it was based), be forewarned.

I've stated here before that Andrew Lloyd Webber is my favorite composer for musicals, based especially on my love of such classics as Jesus Christ, Superstar, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera, and to a lesser degree Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Cats. But these are pretty much his most successful shows. There are quite a number of shows he's composed for that I hadn't seen and that were less successful. One of these was Sunset Boulevard.

Sunset Boulevard opened on London's West End in 1993, and on Broadway in 1994. Webber had had one relatively unsuccessful musical between this show and Phantom, but at the point when SB first came out, it would be fair to say that Webber was still golden. Sunset Boulevard turned out to be more of a mixed bag. It had decent runs in both London and New York, and it won a host of Tony Awards in 1995, including Best Musical and Best Original Score (and Glenn Close also won the Best Leading Actress in a Musical award for her performance as Norma Desmond).

However, it was a tremendously expensive show to produce -- it had a huge advertising budget, and there were lawsuits against it by both Patti Lupone (who had played the role in London and been replaced by Close in New York), and Faye Dunaway (who was supposed to replace Close in a Los Angeles production that had been running pre-Broadway, before that production was closed down altogether). So somehow, in spite of a Broadway run of 977 performances, the damned thing still lost nearly $20 million dollars (at least according to New York Times critic Frank Rich).

And as for its Tony Awards, they came during a down year for musicals. There was only one other show nominated against SB in the Best Musical category (Smokey Joe's Cafe, which I wouldn't sit through even at gunpoint, but some people still insist should have won), and Close only ran against one other actress (Rebecca Luker for Showboat). So even the awards weren't that impressive.

I guess what I'm saying is that this show is only moderately popular, and consequently, it's only performed by Long Island theater companies but just so often. The Gateway Playhouse did a run maybe five years or so ago, and I almost went once or twice to a matinee performance. But something always stopped me (including my own laziness a couple of times.) So when I saw that the John W Engeman Theater in Northport was doing a production this year, I promised myself to catch it.

This is one of those shows that Denise really didn't have an interest in -- let's face it, the show doesn't have a reputation for being a barrel of laughs -- and I knew my daughter would have even less interest in it than Denise -- so I was on my own for this one. Consequently, I bought myself a ticket for a Wednesday night show, when I knew it wouldn't interfere with any possible weekend family plans.

Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like death in the morning. I've been driving my daughter three or four mornings a week to Huntington for the last month or so, for training for her job. And most of those days require her to be there at 9AM, which means we have to leave the house about 7:20 or so to hack our way through the morning rush hour traffic. And my system just doesn't work at that hour of the morning. I'm usually either short of sleep, or dealing with stomach issues, or both. So the day didn't start well for me.

I felt a little better as the day wore on, though, and I managed to catch a power nap in the late afternoon, which also helped. So by the evening, I was as ready as I could be to enjoy the show.

I left my house at about 6PM for an 8 o'clock show. My plan was to drive to Northport, which I figured would take about an hour, then find someplace to grab a light dinner before the show. This plan mostly worked out, although there were some minor bumps along the way.

The first was that the directions on the theater's website kind of sucked. I had been there once before, when Denise and I saw Once a couple of years ago. But Denise had driven that day, so I hadn't fully paid attention. The directions on the website made it seem like three easy steps -- take the LIE to the Sagtikos north, take the Sagtikos to the last exit before the park toll, and make a right at Pumpernickel's restaurant. But they don't give the mileage between steps, and they make it sound as though Route 25A (which is what you get on when you get off the Sagtikos) and Main St. in Northport (where the theater is located) are the same thing. They're not.

The other thing I hadn't really thought about was that it gets dark at about 7 now. So just as I got to the point where I was a little confused, I was also losing the light. And I'm not that great these days when it's dark out and I don't know where I'm going.

It wasn't too bad, though. I did briefly wind up going the wrong way on 25A. But I quickly righted myself, and once I did, everything started to feel vaguely familiar. Before too long, I had found the theater. But by this time it was dark, and I didn't immediately see a good parking spot, so I turned around and took advantage of Engeman's free valet parking.

I asked one of the valets where was the nearest food spot. There was a restaurant across the street, but they looked like they were closing up. I was just looking for a little pizza parlor or something. The valet mentioned a couple of places a few blocks down. But I really didn't feel like wandering around Northport in the dark. (I wasn't afraid of crime or anything, just my own lousy vision.) He also mentioned they had food inside. Now this didn't jibe with what I remembered, nor did it jibe with the theater's website, which said they had $15 cheese platters, but you had to order them 36 hours in advance. But I figured I'd take a chance that he was right. (I wasn't really starving, more looking to kill some time.)

I picked up my tickets at the Box Office (I had a "will call"), and proceeded inside. In the bar area, there was a pianist playing old standards, and a bunch of nicely dressed people milling around. Around the corner was a small food buffet. I asked one of the two servers if this was free for theatergoers, as I didn't see a place to pay. She informed me in a sympathetic manner that the food was for a private party. I must have looked sad -- lack of food makes me do that. Because a moment later, a female voice behind me said, "No, it's OK, he can have some." I turned, and saw a woman with long black hair, wearing a black dress, and, I think, a halo. "I'm the host for the event," she explained, "and we had ten people who didn't show up. So you're welcome to have some."

Now maybe it was because I was wearing my finest Hawaiian shirt, the black one with the deep blue flowers, so I looked like a nice upper class gentleman! Oh, let's face it -- at my best, I barely make the class level for that random pizza parlor I had been hoping to find. But in any event, it was a very kind gesture, which I deeply appreciated. I got myself a nice plate with some steak bits, some chicken, baked ziti and a couple of rolls, bought myself a diet coke from the bar. I then sat down at a small table in the waiting area to enjoy my bounty.

As I ate, there were some speeches going on inside, where I learned that my benefactor's name was Ellen, and that the group holding the event were the people who put together the Huntington Fall Festival, which is scheduled to occur the weekend after this coming one. There will be rides, live music, carnival games and food. They fed me, so here is their link: (What can I say? I'm easily co-opted.)

Before too long, the doors opened up and we theater goers began to file inside. I'd actually remembered to bring my eyeglasses so I could read the program, which made me very happy. Torturous music played over the speakers, music of the 1940s which my dim brain eventually worked out was meant to set a mood (as the play is set in 1949). The house filled up. But not much. I had been curious to see if this playhouse, which normally does great business (it's one of the three Actor's Equity theaters on Long Island) would sell out on a Wednesday. Not even close. At it's height, the room was a little less than half full. All well and good. More room for me.

I was seated reasonably comfortably in the first row of the mezzanine section. There was a little metal fence in front of me, and the leg room wasn't bad. The seats were unfortunately a little tighter than I'd like. I guess I've gotten spoiled by the fact that in modern movie theaters, you can actually put the armrests up so they don't dig into you. These dug in, to the point where I actually wrenched my back a little trying to shift around and get comfortable. But at least there was no one next to me. In fact, I had the entire row to myself. And for most of the evening, I was the person sitting furthest back in the whole auditorium. (There were a few rows behind me, and once or twice, I turned my head and saw someone sitting in the last row. But I'm pretty sure this was a theater employee, as the person wasn't there for most of the performance.)

So I'll give you my overall review, and then I'll break it down for you. In essence, I'd say that this production gave a top-quality performance of a somewhat flawed show.

Let's talk about the show first. For starters, as I mentioned, it's a fairly downbeat story. It follows Joe Gillis, a cynical young Hollywood screenwriter in 1949 who is down on his luck. On the same day, he meets Betty Schaefer, an idealistic young woman who works as an assistant at Paramount, and Norma Desmond, a middle-aged former silent-film star who lives in a huge but run-down mansion with her devoted manservant Max.

Betty believes that Joe has some real talent, and tries to convince him to turn a story he'd written into a quality screenplay. Norma is rich, but cray-cray. She has a manuscript that's thicker than a phone book (ask your parents, millennials), and is hoping for a big film comeback playing the sexy and 16-year-old Salome. Good luck with that. Betty is bright and practical. Norma is wealthy and larger-than-life, but batshit insane. Or at least lives a very rich fantasy life. You decide.

The play (and the film on which its based) starts with Joe narrating shortly after his own death, so we know from the get-go where this is going. And it's not Happyville.

Joe, of course, sells out to Norma and becomes her kept man, but regrets it when he falls in love with Betty. Norma's hoped-for comeback ends with humiliation for her, and a bullet in the back that leads to a nice post-mortem swim in Norma's pool for Joe. It's a little like the opera Madama Butterfly -- you don't really want to get too close to any of the characters, because you know it's not going to end well for them.

So the story is interesting, but not especially enjoyable. And depending on how they're played, the characters aren't always all that agreeable either.

As for Webber's score -- well, ask yourself, how many songs do you actually know from this play? Unless you're a real musical theater buff, chances are, not many. It's not a bad score at all. It's simply not that memorable. At times, there are flashes of "Music of the Night", or little whiffs of something from Superstar. But it just never reaches those heights. And for Webber, it never would again.

The sad irony here is that unbeknownst to himself, by the time Webber wrote Sunset Boulevard, he pretty much was Norma Desmond -- an aging artist whose best days were behind him. I don't love saying that, but look at his list of shows post-Phantom -- there's not a blockbuster in the lot.

In any event, the story is pretty well told (a lot of the dialogue was lifted directly from the Billy Wilder film), and the one thing the score does do really well is move the show along. SO there are some pleasures to be had here. And thankfully, this particular production does a good job of maximizing SB's strengths.

The show is well directed, the orchestra (I couldn't see 'em, but the announcer assured us there was one) was spot on, the scenery was pretty good, and the cast -- the cast was delightful!

The main players included Judy McLane as Norma Desmond, Bryant Martin as Joe Gillis, David Hess and Max Von Mayerling, and Sarah Quinn Taylor as Betty Schaefer. All were quite good.

The film version of Sunset Boulevard featured Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond. As I mentioned, I've never watched the movie, but from the clips I've seen, she plays her fairly melodramatically, in spite of the fact that she won an Academy Award for the part.

It's telling, then, that for years whenever I thought about Sunset Boulvard, the portrayal that first came to mind was Carol Burnett's, in a series of skits that she and Harvey Korman did about the Norma and Max characters on the old Carol Burnett Show.

McLane's Norma is imposing, and at times pathetic, but her interpretation of the character seems more realistic than Swanson's, and for most of the production, you actually like her. (At least I did). You feel bad for her when she realizes she is losing Joe, and even worse when she finally discovers that her big comeback was only ever a fantasy.

In fact, I'm going to embarrass myself here, and talk about the soap opera General Hospital. Much to my shame, I know most of the characters on General Hospital, past and present. This is because Denise has watched General Hospital for as long I've known her. And when you're married to someone for almost thirty years, and they watch a show for all that time, you can't help but absorb some of it, even if you're kicking and screaming all the way.

There's a character on General Hospital (I think she's off the show right now, but she'll doubtlessly be back) named Tracy Quartermaine, played by the actress Jane Elliot. She's described by Wikipedia as "spoiled, rich and often badly behaved," and she eventually marries a younger man, Luke Spencer (of Luke and Laura fame). I understand that when the character originated, she was basically a villain. But in more recent years, she's been kind of a likable character. Judy McLane plays Norma Desmond as a delusional Tracy Quartermaine, but one who can sing her ass off.

Bryant Martin's Joe Gillis character is in an unenviable position. He's actually the protagonist of the play, but he's also far less riveting than Norma. (He's also saddled with a lot of 1950s-style dialogue, the kind where taxi drivers would say things like "Now look here, Mac!") But he makes the most of the part, and also manages to make his role a sympathetic one (at least for most of the show). In spite of the fact that he's using Norma, you can kind of see where he's coming from. And for most of the show, he at least attempts to be kind to her.

David Hess's Max is well played, although I don't feel as though the character itself was all that consistently written. There's a lot of missing info here on how exactly Max went from being Norma's first husband (which we learn in the second act) to being her toady. Hess had some amazing musical moments, though.

Sarah Quinn Taylor's Betty is actually a little annoying at times. That's OK, however, as initially Joe finds Betty annoying also. (The character seems to have been played as something of an innocent ingenue in the film, but I think this interpretation works just as well, or maybe even a little better.)

So overall, I won't say it's the best night of theater I've ever had. I thought it got a little draggy towards the end, and it's just not that pleasant a story, however well it's performed.

I also have to say, though, that it must have struck some kind of a chord with me. Because when I got home, I went up on Amazon Prime and added the original 1950 film to my to-watch list, and my plan is to watch it sometime before the end of the weekend. So I guess that theater doesn't always have to be delightful to be effective.

Sunset Boulevard will continue playing at the John W Engeman Theater in Northport through October 27. The website is

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

September 2019 Song of the Day

September started out as a strong month for the Sputnik Music Song of the Day chart, and we had a greater number of different people participating than had taken part in the charts for the last few months.  This was a good thing, even though it meant that all of the participants were reduced to recommending a max of two songs for the month.  did tail off a bit around the end of the month, though.

I was also the host for the month, and I got to pick the theme. And although it was unknown to most (all, really) of my participants, I chose to give a bit of a nod to our old friend Jeremy Gilchrist by declaring the theme for the month to be "SONGS OF DEATH". And fittingly enough, a Long Island artist actually had the highest scoring song of the month (It was one of my recs. But before my head got too big, my second rec came just short of getting the lowest conglomerate score of the month, so I'm still my usual humble self.)

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

1. My Favorite - Burning Hearts - - 3.74 - X
2. Emery - Dear Death Part 2 - - 2.28 - 3.4
3. Depressive Silence - To Die in Your Dream - - 2.89 - 3.3
4. Lagwagon - One More Song - - 2.32 - 2.9
5. Hammock - Floating Away in Every Direction - - 3.56 - 3.4
6. Gravediggaz - 1-800-Suicide - - 3.53 - 2.0
7. Beyond the Bridge - All a Man Can Do - - 2.40 - 3.7
8. R.E.M. - Try Not to Breathe - - 3.56 - 3.4
9. DJ Krush - Final Home - - 3.38 - 3.6
10. Anathema - Memento Mori - - 3.52 - 2.4
11. LCD Soundsystem - Someone Great - - 3.67 - 3.1
12. Purple Mountains - Nights That Won't Happen - - 3.49 - 2.9
13. We Lost the Sea - Bogatyri - - 3.07 - 3.0
14. Dirty Projectors - About to Die - - 2.62 - 2.1
15. Gladys Knight - License to Kill - - 2.82 - 2.3
16. Neck Deep - Candour - - 1.73 - X
17. Mastodon - Jaguar God - - 2.67 - 3.1
18. Bad Books - Army - - 2.03 - 2.7
19. B. Dolan - Who Killed Russell Jones? - - 1.75 - 1.0
20. Alkaline Trio - Heart Attacks - - 2.20 - 3.6
21. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - The Mercy Seat - - 3.27 - 3.2
22. Coldworld - Suicide - - 3.31 - 2.8
23. The The - Phantom Walls - - 2.93 - 3.0
24. Regina Spektor - Samson - - 2.79 - 3.6
25. Lil Peep and Lil Tracy - White Wine - - 1.61 - 1.7
26. Flying Lotus - Coronus the Terminator - - 3.60 - 2.1
27. Black Moon - Reality - - 2.70 - 1.0
28. The Pogues - The Body of an American - - 2.48 - 2.6
29. Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat - The Copper Top - - 2.85 - 3.0
30. Los Jaivas - La Poderosa Muerte - - 3.52 - 3.6

My recs for the month were on the 1st and the 16th (My Favorite and Neck Deep). The My Favorite went over well, but I learned tragically late that most of my cohorts have no tolerance at all for emo vocals. Sigh.

The highest rated song by the group was My Favorite's "Burning Hearts", which I wholeheartedly concurred with. But since we're not allowed to rate our own songs, my highest rating went to Beyond the Bridge's "All a Man Can Do," a bit of epic prog metal (which many of my colleagues hated.)

The lowest rating for the month went to Lil Peep and Lil Tracy's "White Wine," which might not have received my lowest rating, but was certainly a deserving pick. My lowest scores went to B. Dolan's "Who Killed Russell Jones?" ( a mostly spoken-word piece that had no musical accompaniment at all), and Black Moon's "Reality" (a bit of gangsta rap that my son probably would love).

Follow the links and give them a listen if you like. See how your ratings match up with this lot's.