For my upcoming gigs, check out the right hand margin.
Lots of other gigs on the docket, so check out the right hand margin and see if you can make it out for any of them. You can also catch me most Sundays at 10:30AM at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, 367 Spring Road in Elmhurst, IL.
Fiction: As always, I continue to submitted short stories to various publications and contests, and I'm busily reviewing submissions for http://www.sixfold.org/. You can still check out my most-recently published short stories in Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the YA periodical, Sucker Literary Magazine.
Original Song of the Week: That Bastard Arizona
As a lifelong Brewers fan, I admit that watching the Kansas City Royals battle for their first World Series title in twenty-nine years gives me just a twinge of discomfort. After all, three of the Royals’ starters are former Brewers who Milwaukee dealt in trades (Escobar, Aoki and Cain) and two are players the Royals acquired as a result of the Brewers dealing Jake Odorizzi to KC in the Zack Greinke trade (Shields and Davis). The Aoki trade – one that upset me at the time – paid dividends as Will Smith stymied hitters consistently before Brewer manager Ron Roenicke overused him, resulting in a tired arm, but there’s no arguing that the Greinke deal was instrumental in propelling the Crew into the playoffs in 2011, when they fell just two games short of their first World Series in twenty-nine years. Still, a little part of me wonders what might have been had Milwaukee played its cards differently.
But overall, Brewer fans should be encouraged by what the Royals have accomplished: not only a World Series appearance, but a miraculous 8-0 run before losing game one of the Series. Kansas City, long the doormat of the American League, has finally achieved some success despite it playing in the second smallest market in the MLB (Milwaukee is now the smallest) and competing in the same division as Detroit and Chicago. Other small markets – Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay – have also achieved some success, though Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are still trying to get to their first World Series since 1979 and 1990, respectively. The St. Louis Cardinals are perennial playoff participants despite playing in the sixth-smallest market in Major League Baseball.
In short: it can be done. Maybe not every year, but every once in a while a small market team can in fact make a run at a World Series ring. And Milwaukee has no excuse despite it playing in the smallest market. Milwaukee’s attendance continues to impress, drawing more fans relative to the size of their metropolitan market than any other team in baseball. In 2014, Milwaukee drew 2.8 million fans, good for eighth out of thirty teams. Not too shabby. (By contrast, Kansas City drew 1.9 millions, good for twenty-eighth.) And as the success of Cain and Escobar shows – not to mention Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and numerous others – Milwaukee’s farm system has in fact produced some quality players.
It can be done. Kansas City has proven it. Win or lose, I am happy as heck for Royals fans everywhere. But I’m even happier that maybe – just maybe – I’ll get to witness the Brewers in a World Series before the bottom of my ninth inning.
At sixty-six, Jackson Browne could easily phone it in and play concert after concert of the certified hits that came with regularity during the first decade and a half of his 40-plus year career, but on Tuesday night at the Chicago Theater he went a different route, playing deep cuts and new material along with a few crowd-pleasers for a balanced and effective show.
Beginning with 1996’s “Barricades of Heaven,” 1972’s “Looking into You,” and two songs from his new album Standing in the Breach, it was apparent that this wasn’t going to be a greatest hits show, and the evening was all the more rewarding because of it. Browne stitched his new material seamlessly with his older tunes, which you could take one of two ways I suppose: 1) his new material is as strong as his old material; or 2) his new material explores the same territory he’s been exploring for decades. It’s probably a little of both, but when you have an absolutely stellar band with equally stellar sound backing you up, and you’re reciting lyrics like: The seeds of tragedy are there/In what we feel we have the right to bear… well, I’ll take a little familiarity with my new Jackson Browne. All told, he performed seven songs from his new album. If you had asked me beforehand if that was a recipe for a successful evening, I would have demurred, but to my ears many of the new tunes were as strong as the old ones.
After being assaulted at several arena shows lately, I was thrilled to be able to hear every instrument on stage without reaching for the earplugs, and I spent much of the evening admiring the guitar work of Val McCallum and Greg Leisz (who played dobro, guitar and lap steel), both absolute monsters at their instruments, and one got the feeling that Jackson Browne had as much fun watching these guys display their craft as he did singing his compositions.
Alternating between guitar and piano throughout the evening, Browne sported an all-black outfit (as did the rest of the band), and the stage lighting bathed the musicians in shades of violet, with occasional splashes of color to enhance various songs, most notably the desert shades of “Leaving Winslow,” a song Browne introduced with a childhood memory of playing on a trestle bridge with his buddies and flattening pennies on the railway.
Early in the second set, Browne asked, “What would you like to hear?” and after a deluge of requests, he answered, “Yeah, I thought so. But after that what do you want to hear?” But as far as I could see, the request resulted in only one audible, the 1980’s hit “In the Shape of a Heart,” and the rest of the evening proceeded much as his previous concerts in Philadelphia and New York.
I knew I could leave a happy man after Browne performed 1993’s “I’m Alive,” albeit a whole tone lower than his studio recording. It became apparent during the show that keys had been adjusted to accommodate Brown’s aging voice, but that said, his signature mellow tone still sounded excellent, and I got the feeling that he could have hit the high notes consistently had he been forced to. If there was one complaint about the evening, it’s that the band played on a similar energy level throughout with little in the way of dynamics; even some of the rockers came off sounding country. But this is a minor quibble, and for the last selections of the concert, Browne broke into crowd favorites and rocked a bit with “Doctor My Eyes,” “The Pretender,” “Running on Empty” and “Take it Easy.”
As I was buying junk food at Walgreens after the show, a woman behind me said to her boyfriend, “I was hoping for ‘Late for the Sky.’” I was too, but I give Browne a lot of credit for playing so much new music that was actually worth playing and worth hearing. He continues to sing about the stuff that matters, from the Haiti earthquake, to politics, to the Gulf oil spill. We need guys like Browne to continue to fight the good fight and to be willing to put new music at the forefront. I'll take that over a greatest hits show any day.
In 1999, Randy Newman sang these words: “I have nothing left to say, but I’m going to say it anyway” and “Each record that I’m making is like a record that I’ve made, just not as good.” In Newman’s inimitable self-deprecating style, it comes of both hilarious and ironic, since his album Bad Love is arguably among the artist’s best efforts; it’s actually my favorite album of his illustrious career.
I too have nothing left to say, it seems, as I’ve spent the last month pursuing activities that include not a word written, a note composed nor a chord recorded. However, since I recognize that age forty-six is quite a long way from the coffin (once can hope, at least) that I better begin writing something or I’ll simply have to go the way of Billy Joel and call it a career (without, um…the actual career). I figure, if Bob Seger can come up with something say even after no one cares, why not me?
So here goes…just a few things on my mind:
I’d be a lot happier for the Kansas City Royals were it not for all the former Brewers. A little glimpse of what might have been.
I could not be less worried about Ebola. So why is it taking up so much news time? Somewhere around 32,000 U.S. citizens die from influenza each year, garnering less than a front page headline.
In a perfect world, I would be that guy who reads The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, I'd be up on my politics, I'd have read all the classics and I’d know three languages. Alas, I am not that guy.
Tina Fey, while an excellent writer and comedic genius, is no dramatic actress, and the film “This is Where I Leave You” suffers as a result, not to mention that author Jonathan Tropper writes his own screenplay and is just a little too faithful to his original work. Sometimes an editor is necessary.
If an artist is going to go through the trouble of printing out its song lyrics with a CD, wouldn’t you suppose the lyrics should be easy to read? Yeah, I’m talking to you, Rufus Wainwright, The Shins and Dave Matthews and Pink Floyd and Prince and…
The fall of the Milwaukee Brewers, as demoralizing as it was to witness, did in fact prove my preseason prediction correct. On March 26 I wrote to some friends, “I said between 83 and 85 wins (earlier). I'm going to go on the low side. 83-79, good enough for third place, but no playoff.” The Crew finished 82-80. Third place. No playoffs. I’d rather have been wrong.
I’ve heard that you should never look at another woman who’s younger than half your age plus seven years. So for me, that’s thirty years of age. Kate Upton is twenty-two. So yeah, I’m failing that test.
Running once every six months does in fact make the run much more painful. I finished a 5K last month in relatively good time and felt it for three days.
If my daughters are any indication, senior year of high school is no longer considered a fun year (mine was a blast). They have been trudging through their existence, almost as if they were well into their second decade of a dead-end job that earns little pay. I guess, in a way, they are into their second decade of a dead-end job with little pay, except that this year there is an end, and a year from now their lives will dramatically improve. But for goodness’ sake, whatever happened to the notion of enjoying the ride?
Some gifts keep on giving: the vertebra I fractured in December of 1990 is coming back to wreak havoc on my neck. Perhaps I should have taken a beginners lesson after all. Unfortunately I was immortal when I was twenty-two.
In the category of “Lessons You’ve Learned but Don’t Heed,” I went on a record and CD-buying binge last month, and now I feel the stress of having all these albums that need listening too. Perhaps this is why I have nothing left to say: I’m too busy listening to music!
A few weeks ago, my friends are I challenged each other to a difficult task: select songs from our record collections from 1980 to 2000 that had – as a minimum and a maximum – only guitar, bass, vocals and drums. No strings. No brass. No tuned percussion. No harmonica. No accordion. You name it. Just the basics. This was a much harder endeavor than any of us had expected, especially as we challenged each other to represent all twenty-one years – not so easy during the 80s when even the biggest rock and rollers resorted to filling in the soundscape with a synthesizer, an organ or a violin (yeah, I’m talking to you, Mellencamp). For me, 1982 was the most difficult year to represent. I started off all cocky: “No problem, I’ll pick U2, REM or The Replacements.” Well, Mr. So-Sure-Of-Himself, U2 and The Replacements skipped 1982, and R.E.M. didn’t put out their first album until the following year. That I was never into heavy metal or big-hair bands (or grunge, for that matter) made the task set before me seem impossible at times. With a week to go until the big unveiling of our lists, I managed to find an LP from 1982 with a tune that provided the very basics. Thank you, Cheap Trick.
The evening was a bit haphazard, and we ran out of time to represent each year, but here’s what I documented. For each year, my selection is listed first, then John’s, then Kevin’s. Yes, the Replacements and the various iterations that resulted from the band are over-represented, but that ain’t bad; the song by Bash and Pop was one of the highlights of the evening for me.
Billy Joel, Close to the Borderline
Cheap Trick, Baby Loves to Rock
Kenny Loggins, I’m Alright; John Wetton, Turn on the Radio
Pat Benatar, Take it Anyway You Want it
The Church, a song whose title I forgot to document
4 selections from Kevin: Romantics, In the Nighttime; Stray Cats, Runaway Boys; Billy Squire, I Need You; Adam Ant, Beat My Guest
Cheap Trick, Time is Runnin’
Marshall Crenshaw, Mary Ann
Kevin, opted for another 1981 release!
The Pretenders, Time the Avenger
Black Sabbath, Trashed
Big Country, Where the Rose is Sewn
Replacements, I Will Dare
Scorpions, Leaving You
John Mellencamp, Rain on the Scarecrow
Joe Jackson, Hometown
Smithereens, Strangers When We Meet
Violent Femmes, Heartache
The Bears, Fear is Never Boring
Replacements, (a bunch from Pleased to Meet Me)
Jesus and Mary Chain, April Skies
The Pursuit of Happiness, Walking in the Woods
Pixies, Where is my Mind
Blake Babies, Dead and Gone
Lou Reed, Stawman
Gene Loves Jezebel, It’ll End in Tears
1990 We didn’t get to this year, but my pick was…
Lloyd Cole, Weeping Wine
Meat Puppets, This Day
Concrete Blonde, Joey
Keith Richards, Eileen
Paul Westerberg, Waiting for Somebody
Judy Bats, Simple
Buffalo Tom (entire CD of Big Red Letter Day); Bash and Pop, Friday Night (Is Killing Me)
Green Day, Basket Case
Neil Young, Piece of Crap
Nirvana, The Man Who Sold the World
1995 We didn’t get to this year, but my pick was…
Emmy Lou Harris, Where Will I Be
Barenaked Ladies, The Old Apartment
Rage Against the Machine, Bulls on Parade
Old 97s, Time Bomb
Sun Volt, Picking up the Signal
Fastball, Fire Escape
Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
Beck, Bottle of Blues
1999 We didn’t get to this year, but my pick was…
Indigo Girls, Cold Beer and Remote Control
2000 We didn’t get to this year, but my pick was…
Steve Earle, Another Town
My short story, "The Missing Ingredient," published in the winter 2013 edition of Sucker Literary Magazine, is now available for easy reading on my website.
Alex is living the rock and roll dream, playing bass and singing for the power trio, Aunt Sally’s Nightmare. But when his bandmates invite Maureen to sing lead, it soon becomes a battle for control. Or could it be a battle for something else?
To read on my website, click here.