Please note that none of the audio on my website is currently available due to an unannounced change in my music host's policy (thanks a lot, Divshare). Stay tuned while I try to rectify this problem. For my upcoming gigs, check out the right hand margin. My story, "I, Monster" just won the lastest sixfold.org short story contest, with a cash prize of $1000. Nice! More soon on where and when you can read it. I'm hoping to begin recording a CD this fall, and don't forget that you can also catch me most Sundays at 10:30AM at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, 367 Spring Road in Elmhurst.
Please note that none of the audio on my website is currently available due to an unannounced change in my music host's policy (thanks a lot, Divshare). Stay tuned while I try to rectify this problem. For my upcoming gigs, check out the right hand margin.
My story, "I, Monster" just won the lastest sixfold.org short story contest, with a cash prize of $1000. Nice! More soon on where and when you can read it. I'm hoping to begin recording a CD this fall, and don't forget that you can also catch me most Sundays at 10:30AM at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, 367 Spring Road in Elmhurst.
I was shocked upon hearing the news earlier this week of Yes bassist Chris Squire’s death at age 67. I didn’t worship or even revere Squire – the last time I saw him perform, my main impression of him was that he could lose about fifty pounds and definitely lose the leather pants – but he was one of those guys back in the early 80s that inspired me and my love for music. And as I read the details of his passing, it occurred to me that this is only the beginning. If you’re a music fan of the old bands from the 60s and 70s, the next couple of decades are going to be rough.
I went through a mental list of all the performances I’ve seen since I saw Billy Squire at Summerfest in 1981 with my buddy John, followed by Crosby, Stills and Nash and Rush the following year. The truth is that except for a few supporting members like Clarence Clemens and Danny Federici of the E Street Band, Howie Epstein of the Heartbreakers and two of the Wilson brothers of Beach Boys fame, the guys I’ve watched perform are still around and still performing, which is something I never fathomed. When I saw Yes for the first time in 1984 I recall thinking that a whole fifteen years had passed since the band originated and that I was lucky to be seeing them before they call it a day. Well, now more than double that period of time has passed, and lo and behold, Yes will be performing this August in Chicago. Crazy. I mean, who would have thought back in 1982 that in 2015 you could see The Who, Rush, Yes, Paul McCartney, Elton John, and CSN? Insane.
But here we are in 2015, and Squire’s passing has prompted me to try to recall all the concerts I’ve seen over the years. Unlike some of my prolific concert-seeing buddies, I’ve never been a huge live music guy. I see a few big concerts a year, maybe a small one every couple of years, and that’s about it. And with me, I tend to see the same bands over and over (Rush, Rufus Wainwright, Bed Folds). I’m happy to say that most of these guys are still around (I just remembered seeing Big Country in 1993, and sadly, Stuart Adamson is no longer with us). It’ll be very sad to see more of these guys go, as more and more of my record collection turns into a sort of memorial to artists of yesterday.
Here’s my list. Not included are the 12 or 13 times I saw Pat McCurdy, and many of the bands listed were opening acts or part of a larger event (Steve Miller in 1994, for example).
’80 – Off Broadway (from the back! I didn’t realize kids got discounted tickets for lower grand stand seats).
’81 – Billy Squire
’82 – CSN, Rush
’83 – Beach Boys, Supertramp, Genesis
’84 – Yes, Bruce Springsteen, Spyro Gyra, Rod Stewart, Elton John
’85 – Jean Luc Ponty, The Tubes and Utopia, Til Tuesday and Tom Petty, Patrick Moraz and Bill Bruford, Supertramp
’86 – Leo Kottke, Marillion and Rush, GTR, Julian Lennon, The Moody Blues
’87 – Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Tom Petty
’88 – Sting, Bruce Hornsby
’89 – Elvis Costello, BoDeans, Violent Femmes and Cowboy Junkies and Edie Brickell, Joe Jackson
’90 – Innocence Mission, Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffet, Rush
’91 – Blake Babies (I think this year?), Elvis Costello, Al Stewart, The Guffs, Innocence Mission, Rush
’92 – Genesis, John Mellencamp, Indigo Girls, Randy Newman, Wallflowers and 10,000 Maniacs
’93 – Michelle Shocked, Da Da and Sting, Big Country, The Connells
’94 – Rush, Melissa Etheridge and Steve Miller and Natalie Merchant, The Pretenders
’95 – Van Morrison, They Might Be Giants, Elvis Costello
’96 – Wynton Marsalis, James Taylor
’97 – Bar Scott (I think this year?). Generally lost in parenthood, Broadway plays and living in Allentown
‘98 – Lost in parenthood, Broadway plays and living in Allentown
‘99 – Bruce Springsteen, but generally lost in parenthood, Broadway plays and living in Allentown
’00 – Joe Jackson, but generally lost in parenthood, Broadway plays and living in Allentown
’01 – Eve 6, Joe Jackson, Paul Simon, Yes, Ben Folds
’02 – Harry Connick, Jr., Rush, Paul McCartney, Yes, Ben Folds
’03 – Joe Jackson, Leo Kottke, Tom Petty, The BoDeans, Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, Randy Newman
’04 – Yes, Rufus Wainwright and Ben Folds, Patti Austin, Harry Connick, Jr., Barenaked Ladies, Marc Cohn
’05 – Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Indigo Girls
’06 – um…what the heck was I doing?
’07 – Rufus Wainwright, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers
’08 – Randy Newman, Yes
’09 – Steely Dan
’10 – Company of Thieves, Craig Ferguson, Rufus Wainwright
’11 – Yes, Weird Al Yankovic, Rufus Wainwright, Paul Simon, Sting
’12 – The Hush Sound, James Taylor, Rufus Wainwright, Bruce Springsteen, Rush, Joe Jackson, Ben Folds Five
’13 – Sara Bareilles, Rush, Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five, Paul McCartney, A Silent Film
’14 – Roger Hodgson, Devo and Arcade Fire, Jackson Browne, James Taylor
’15 – The Who, Rufus Wainwright, Graham Parker, Rush
Watching Rush last Friday at the United Center in Chicago for what will likely be the last time, I was torn between the tale of two sets: one predictable and lackluster, and one that left me wishing the band would stick around for another tour or two. The trio performed a reverse chronological set, but rather than mining deep into their catalog during the first half, they relied heavily on songs that were mainstays of their concerts for years (and they also skipped too many stops along the way). The second set helped redeem the evening, and if this is truly the band’s last stand, it was an impressive way to end a forty plus year run.
One can forgive Rush for wanting to play three songs from their highly regarded last studio effort, Clockwork Angels, and though “Far Cry,” off of Snakes and Arrows was an uninspired choice since they just performed it two years ago, it’s still a great track. So far so good. However, the inclusion of “The Main Monkey Business” off the same album was a complete waste of time – an uninspiring instrumental that pales in comparison to some of the band’s other work.
Then Rush did what they often do, relying on what I refer to as the “first-track syndrome.” Literally every other track of the first set (and the first of the second set) was taken from the first track of one of their albums, so instead of getting a surprise or two, we instead heard songs that have been performed numerous times in the past: “One Little Victory,” “Animate,” “Roll the Bones,” “Distant Early Warning” and “Subdivisions.” How much better would the concert have been if Rush had instead performed “Ceiling Unlimited,” “Between Sun and Moon,” “The Big Wheel,” “Kid Gloves” and “Digital Man”? On alternating concerts, Rush has been performing “How it Is” from Vapor Trails and “Between the Wheels” from Grace Under Pressure, and both would have been better choices the night I saw them.
On a night that could have showcased each album of the band’s career, the most glaring error of the evening was skipping entirely the albums Test for Echo, Presto and Hold Your Fire. Ignoring Power Windows made sense since the last tour highlighted five songs from that effort, but leapfrogging over the other three was unfortunate, especially since these are all strong albums that could have offered some interesting selections.
Then the band came out for the second set, and though I would have preferred a few additional surprises, the truth is that it was incredible from start to finish. I also got lucky and got to see them perform both “Natural Science” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” whereas on other nights they’ve substituted the former for “The Camera Eye” or for nothing at all. My second set went as follows:
The Spirit of Radio
Hemispheres, Part 1: Prelude
Cygnus X-1, Part 1 and 3
Closer to the Heart
2112: Overture, The Temples of Syrinx, Presentation, Grand Finale
What You’re Doing
Geddy Lee had to screech his way through much of the latter part of the set, and I would have been just as happy hearing an instrumental medley, but overall he did a pretty solid job with the tunes. The big surprises were “Jacob’s Ladder,” which hadn’t been performed live since 1980, and “Lakeside Park” and “What You’re Doing,” which hadn’t been played since 1978 and 1977, respectively. It was also very cool hearing the first part of “Hemispheres” for the first time since the Counterparts tour.
Visually, the concert was appealing in that the band’s crew gradually simplified the stage, so that what started as an intricate steam punk theme slowly evolved into a simple stage with a few amps on chairs and a screen backdrop make to look like a gymnasium, a sort of Benjamin Button for the stage, if not for the performers themselves.
As always, the band employed a great number of prerecorded tracks triggered via foot pedals, from backing vocals to keyboards and sound effects. I’ve learned to accept this over the years, though it detracts from the musicianship of the band. I would have much prefer to see three guys on stage playing everything live. Nonetheless, the band will largely be known for its solid live performing, and last Friday’s show was no exception. I bid Rush a fond farewell.
The band Rush is notorious for sticking to the following script: play most of the new album, the first track off of another 11 or 12 albums, one or two surprises, and call it a tour. Though I’ve seen them do this eight times (82, 85, 90, 91, 94, 02, 12, 13), rumor has it that the current tour could provided more in the way of surprises, and since this will be the last time I see the band I’m hoping to go out on a high note. While I could check the set list on-line, I’ve decided to go to Friday night’s show at the United Center in Chicago cold, because anticipating what song comes next is half the fun.
Recognizing that I’m reaching here, below is my Rush Wish List, and I’ll check back after Friday to see what part of my wish comes true. I suspect very little, but one never knows. I’m going to go in reverse chronological order.
20) from Clockwork Angels: Headlong Flight
19) from Snakes and Arrows: nothing really, but if I had to pick, Spin Drift would be okay.
18) from Feedback: nothing.
17) from Vapor Trails: Ceiling Unlimited
16) from Test for Echo: Half the World
15) from Counterparts: Between Sun & Moon, Everyday Glory
14) from Roll the Bones: The Big Wheel
13) from Presto: almost anything, but Chain Lightning and Superconductor would be cool.
12) from Hold Your Fire: Prime Mover
11) from Power Windows: Territories (yeah, they played this song on their last tour, but it’s soooo good)
10) from Grace Under Pressure: Kid Gloves
9) from Signals: Analog Kid (again, yeah…played on last tour, but…)
8) from Moving Pictures: Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta, YYZ
7) from Permanent Waves: Spirit of Radio, Freewill, Jacob’s Ladder, Natural Science
6) from Hemispheres: would love to hear the Prelude and The Sphere from Hemispheres, maybe part of La Villa Strangiato
1-5) Look, it’s no secret that Geddy Lee can no longer hit the night notes, which is fine. So rather than screech his way through a bunch of old tracks, I’d love to hear a musical medley that includes some of the following:
5) from A Farewell to Kings: A Farewell to Kings, Cygnus X-1
4) from 2112: A Passage to Bangkok, Something for Nothing
3) from Caress of Steel: The Fountain of Lamneth
2) from Fly By Night: Fly by Night
1) from Rush: Before and After
So there you are. I understand that on this tour there are a number of songs that Rush will be substituting between gigs. I’ll cross my fingers that I get the better of the two setlists, but either way, it’s been a hell of a ride for this band and this fan. My son and I will take it all in one last time.
Many of us have become adept at selling an image of ourselves – our brand, if you will – especially since the advent of social media. We want to show the world that our lives are exciting, our kids are brilliant and that we’re well on our way to checking all the boxes on our bucket lists. When I jumped out of an airplane in 1988, I took pictures, but I had nowhere to post them. Today, if I were to jump out of an airplane, every person I’ve been in touch with in the last decade would know about my feat within seconds, and they might even get the false impression that I’m daring and interesting.
(This reminds me of my favorite line from the 1987 movie, Broadcast News. When William Hurt’s character asks, “What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?” Albert Brooks answers, “Keep it to yourself.”)
The problem is that we’re constantly exposed to other people’s accomplishments, and I find myself reading other people’s posts and thinking I don’t measure up. What’s particularly bothersome to me are the dreaded Bucket Lists whose entries make me question whether the happy life I’m leading is all a fraud. I resent the implication that I haven’t lived until I’ve (fill in the blank: scuba dived, bungee jumped, swam with whales, dolphins, sharks or any other large aquatic creature, gone on safari, traveled to anyplace that takes longer than a ten hour flight to get to, rock climbed, run a marathon or any other kind of “thon”, attended the Kentucky Derby, deep-sea fished, fished anywhere for anything, eaten liver or tongue…).
Sure, my life is tame compared to some, but so what? Well, social media keeps telling me what, and I start to get defensive. I’ll even catch myself comparing my life to the lives of fictional characters while watching TV (“I don’t see Andy Taylor training for a marathon, and he seems pretty happy.”)
Yeah, it’s come to that.
So, in the spirit of the old t-shirt that displays an unemotional face with the caption, “Have a day,” I'd like to share my bucket list that mostly involves not dying:
1) Live at least another three and a half decades.
2) Stay happily married until death do us part.
3) Maintain a good relationship with my kids for the rest of my life.
4) Regularly challenge myself in small ways.
There. Throw in taking dance lessons someday and traveling to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I think that just about covers it. And lest you think my goals aren’t aiming high enough, I leave with a question: how many people live to be eighty-two, happily married, and still have good relationships with their kids?
During Rufus Wainwright’s show last week at City Winery in Chicago (a great show as always, though far too short), he played the song “Grey Gardens” from his second studio album, Poses. The performance inspired me to revisit the song, and I’d forgotten that it begins with the following line of movie dialogue:
“It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present, you know what I mean?”
I probably first heard this line around thirteen years ago, but apparently lacked the curiosity to actually look up its origins until last week. Many of you may already know the details, but for me it was news; turns out the dialogue comes from a film called – surprise – “Grey Gardens,” a voyeuristic 1975 documentary about Edith and Edie Beale, the respective aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who in the 60s and 70s lived a reclusive life in the decaying mansion of Grey Gardens in East Hampton, New York. A few years prior to the film, the Beales were very close to being evicted due to health code violations until Mrs. Onassis came to the rescue by investing $32K to get the home back up to code. It could be argued that it wasn’t money well spent; the film shows the mother and daughter living among cats who relieve themselves anywhere they please, papers and food scraps scattered everywhere, and open holes in the plaster through which raccoons and other animals enter (mostly because the younger Beale proactively feeds them). It’s certainly an interesting film and one that achieved a cult following over the decades, though it’s not for all tastes, and the movie sheds little light on what made these two women decide to live largely cut off from the outside to begin with.
Luckily, while searching for the documentary (which can be rented on Amazon for $2.99), I found another movie with the same title, a fictionalized version of the Edith and Edie Beale story starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore that first appeared on HBO in 2009 (and can also be rented on Amazon). This film is outstanding, with pitch-perfect performances by the two leads. In addition to giving the viewer a (fictionalized) glimpse of what the lives of the Beales may have been like prior to their fall from grace, it meticulously reproduces many of the more poignant scenes of the documentary. It won three of seventeen Emmy nominations and two of three Golden Globe nominations.
The allure of watching previously wealthy eccentrics living in the shadow of missed opportunities must be somewhat universal, for the Beales's story was even captured in a successful musical, first off-Broadway and then on Broadway itself in 2006, winning three of its ten Tony nominations in 2007 and running for 307 performances.
So in a nutshell: I learned a great deal and watched two interesting movies all due to a song - yet another example of how music can enlighten our lives. Thanks Rufus.
If you’re interested in learning a thing or two about Little Edie and Big Edie Beale, a good place to start might be the Grey Gardens website.