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: Two Sons
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.
When Jon Favreau made his big splash in the movie Swingers back in 1993, who could have predicted that he’d be playing a supporting role on TV’s Friends just a few years later? The guy was clearly destined for bigger things. Fortunately, since then he’s managed to carve out a nice resume of screenwriting, acting and directorial credits (Elf, Iron Man) and in his latest movie, Chef, he does all three in an absolute gem of a film. I haven’t had this much fun at a movie all year.
Favreau plays Carl Casper, a professional chef in LA who finds himself compromising his art due to restaurateur Dustin Hoffman’s insistence that he stick to the tried and true. A novice at social media, Casper learns just enough from son Percy (Emjay Anthony) to become dangerous, and a series of self-induced mishaps – culminating in a videotaped tantrum in front of food critique Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) – puts him back on the job market, lost and uncertain of what to do next.
At the prodding of Casper’s ex-wife, played by Sofia Vergara, Favreau and son begin a new business in Miami on a food truck, assisted by former line chef, Martin (played by the incomparable John Leguizamo). They city-hop across the country, learning a few things along the way about fatherhood, work-ethics, and how to use social media as one’s advantage. More importantly, the plot allows Favreau to show us his love affair with Miami, New Orleans and Austin, and the music and food that makes these cities come alive.
Favreau could have taken many predictable turns that would have made Chef yet another contrived Hollywood mess, and true, things are sewn up a little neatly at the film’s end, but the journey along the way is such a terrific romp, both sweet enough and irreverent enough to rope in my 12 year-old son (which ain’t easy), that a little contrivance toward the end is acceptable. It’s not often a movie balances things so well (Favreau’s excellent Elf is one example), and Chef lends credence to the notion that a well-done character-driven film is often more interesting than a plot-driven film (though having both is even better).
Big name stars Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman (not to mention Oliver Platt) all land terrific performances in small roles, but Leguizamo, sous chef Tony (Bobby Cannavale) and Favreau steal the show, along with Favreau’s father-son relationship with Anthony. The dialogue seems natural and unforced, and Favreau’s obvious love of cooking shines, as he affectionately devotes numerous scenes that reveal just how much effort people are willing to expend – all for the pleasure of a fine meal.
The movie 20 Feet From Stardom – and if you haven’t seen it, you should – has sparked many conversations with my musical brethren, most of whom point to two scenes that they found particularly poignant, both involving the amazing vocalist Merry Clayton. Never heard of her? Don’t worry about it. You have, in fact, heard her.
The first aforementioned scene shows Clayton and Mick Jagger listening to the isolated vocal track of Clayton’s performance on The Rolling Stones’ song, “Gimme Shelter.” It’s one of those performances that summons emotions in me that I’m unable to put into words. Hearing the track, coupled with watching the singers respond to it, gave me chills and brought me to tears. Just thinking about it gives me the chills. Not too shabby for a song I’ve probably heard a couple hundred times.
The second scene has Clayton recalling how her attempts at stardom in the 70s resulted in three albums that sold poorly. She says, her voice cracking, “I felt like if I just gave my heart to what I was doing, I would automatically be a star.”
No one could blame her or countless others for this belief. After all, we hear it all the time: Follow your dream. Do what you love. Cinderella sang about it. So did Aerosmith and a thousand other bands. Hell, even I’ve written about it. Graduation speeches promote it. Websites are devoted to it. An industry of inspiring posters capitalizes on it. It’s what parents want for their children. It’s what children want for themselves when they become adults. And I think there’s a kernel of good advice in that sentiment. Do what you love to do.
Are we entitled to make a living at it? What a luxury it is to even be asking the question! In the history of humankind, how long has this idea of doing what one loves to do for a living been given even the slightest consideration? For me, it brings to mind centuries of apprentices toiling in atrocious working conditions, slaves enduring worse, millennia of farmers laboring over the land, generations of immigrants, past and present, suffering through the most strenuous jobs for the littlest of pay.
I wonder how many people historically have had the luxury of saying, “I want to do this for a living.” How many people living today can devote a realistic thought to the notion? The starving worry about food, the terrorized worry about safety, and the poor worry about making a better living.
So the fact that some of us are able to entertain the notion of doing what we love to do is already a blessing of blessings. Let’s start there. But should we be able to make a living doing what we love to do? Well, that all depends, doesn’t it? I could get into an analysis I suppose of capitalism, supply, demand, education, market saturation, etc., but what it all comes down is that sometimes jobs are in demand, sometimes they aren’t, and sometimes there’s never demand for what you love to do.
Our grandparents, especially those who were the first in their family to go to college, probably didn’t give this a second thought, and majored in what was going to guarantee them a job. Right now, it seems like nursing is a good profession to go into. I have a niece pursuing this as I write, and her prospects look good. In a decade, who knows? Engineering looks very promising at present. Architecture, not so much. Then again, I know an architect in Milwaukee who is living her dream. You just never know. The entertainment industry, of course, is even more fickle. Some musicians can make a decent living at it. Others become superstars. Others still can barely get by. It isn’t fair, but that’s the way it is. In 20 Feet from Stardom, singer/songwriter Stings says, “It’s not about fairness. It’s not really about talent. It’s circumstances. It’s luck. It’s destiny. I don’t know what it is.”
And shouldn’t this be the case? After all, if I could make a living watching baseball on TV, I would do it in a heartbeat. I know people who love to fish. Does that mean they should be earning a living at it? I know people who love nothing more than to play a round of golf. Does that mean they should get paid for it?
For me, I think the answer is this: do what you love. Pursue it. Immerse yourself in it. And if you’re able to, do it for a living. But either way, don’t stop. I stopped playing music and writing fiction for a while back in ’94 and ’95, and then again in the early 2000s. You know what? I found myself out of sorts. Unfulfilled. Unpleasant at times. Well, duh. I wasn’t doing what I loved to do. Now I make a little supplemental family income and I get to write fiction and play with fabulous musicians and create good – sometimes great – music. It isn’t superstardom, but so what?
I have musician friends, some of whom play or sing for a living, and it isn’t easy. I’m sure they had thoughts of stardom when they were air-guitaring in front of the mirror in 1985, but despite the difficulties, they’ve chosen to keep doing what they can to earn a living playing music. Other people I know had thoughts of stardom but decided to go into teaching or engineering or accounting. But they haven’t stopped playing.
I wish Merry Clayton had made it big. I wish lots of people had made it big. But there’s no reason they should have, just like there’s no reason I should be paid to watch baseball. That’s life. I have two daughters who in a year’s time will be majoring in fields of study that guarantee them nothing except a degree in four years. What happens beyond that is anyone’s guess. But I hope in twenty years, both of them are still pursuing their love, whether it’s during the week from 8 to 5, or on evenings and weekends. Either way, they will be successes in my book.
And you know what? Merry Clayton is a star in my book, too. To hell with superstardom.
A serendipitous twist propelled my bandmates and me into a realm of temporary rock stardom last week while at the same time a good-natured musician named Izzy was relegated to the role of story-teller.
Many months ago, Izzy gave Paula Lorenzo-Tackett, director of Cache Creek Casino Resort in Brooks, California a business card for his band, 2nd Time Around. There are countless bands called 2nd Time Around, or in my band’s case, “Second Time Around,” and lo and behold, after searching on-line for a while, Ms. Lorenzo-Tackett happened upon the website of a band from Barringon, Illinois, liked the promotional video, and decided to ask them to perform at the sixth anniversary celebration of her restaurant, the Road Trip Bar and Grill of Capay, California.
My bandmates and I didn’t quite understand the request. We are a very good classic-rock band, to be sure, but performing around the Chicago area these past several years has taught us nothing if not a healthy dose of humility. There are many, many good bands out there, and we know that our performances can always be improved, our transitions and endings made tighter, our stage-presence refined, and we know that there are countless amazing performers within the California border. So it was with a degree of skepticism that we accepted the invitation to fly out to the West Coast, all the while wondering if it was too good to be true.
It wasn’t. For two days we were treated like royalty, as Ms. Lorenzo-Tackett flew with us on a chartered jet to Sacramento, accompanied us on a stretch limo to her restaurant and casino, and then treated us to a state-of-the-art stage, lights and sound system, not to mention a wonderful stay at the beautiful Cache Creek Casino Resort. The Entertainment Technical Manager at the casino, James Taylor, told me stories about his time working with Amy Grant and Blackfoot, and how when he got the call to work at Cache Creek he couldn’t turn it down because it was evident that the ownership believed in doing things the right way. Strolling along the runways on the theater’s perimeter, I glanced at the photos of other performers who have graced the stage at Cache Creek – Ringo Star, Melissa Etheridge, Jay Leno, Smokey Robinson, etc. – and it was clear that doing things the right way had led to some wonderful performances. And here we were, a cover band from Chicago, getting to play in front of 475 people in a spectacularly-decorated room with several audio and video experts working diligently to coax as good a performance out of us as possible.
For three sets, we performed our hearts out, hoping we would do right by the folks at Cache Creek, and ultimately, we think we did. We had a blast, the crowd danced and yelled for more, and Paula and her husband Jerry gave us high praise. Whether or not we were deserving of it, we didn’t know. We just knew we had given it our all.
The leaders of Second Time Around, Johnny and Angie Fridono, are believers in karma. Treat people right, and you’ll be treated right. I’ve only been in the band for the past year, so I feel like I got to ride the coattails of decades of Johnny and Angie treating people right. Who knew when I responded to a “keyboardist wanted” ad last year that it would lead to such an incredible journey?
At the show’s end, there was Izzy, clapping his hands in front of the stage. I introduced myself, and he said, “I’m in a band called 2nd Time Around too, and I’m the reason you’re here!” He told me the story, and I wondered if he was going to be bitter about seeing a different band perform where his band had hoped to play. But Izzy said graciously, “You guys are TEN TIMES better than we are.” Izzy seems like another guy who treats people right, and I hope that karma catches up to him sometime and offers him the gig of a lifetime.