Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

Filtering by Category: Music

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Memoir

My favorite reference to Andrew Lloyd Webber is Elvis Costello’s lyrics from his 1989 song, “God’s Comic.”  He writes of God:

So there he was on a water-bed
Drinking a cola of a mystery brand
Reading an airport novelette
Listening to Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Requiem

He said, before it had really begun
"I prefer the one about my son

I've been wading through all this unbelievable junk
And wondering if I should have given
The world to the monkeys"

For whatever reason, Webber is a composer that musicians love to hate.  Non-musicians, too.  I recall an episode of a short-lived 1990’s sitcom called The Single Guy, in which the lead character is mocked for having purchased tickets to Cats.  (Robert Russo has an excellent summary of Cats and why some people hate it.)

But love him or hate him, Webber has had the kind of success that warrants a memoir, in this case a 480-page book called Unmasked that puzzlingly only covers the author’s life up through the year 1986, when he was on the cusp of what some claim to be his crowning achievement, The Phantom of the Opera.  No details about Aspects of Love, Sunset Boulevard and School of Rock, which is a shame, because I would have loved to have read less about Webber’s first forty years and more about his last thirty.  The author admits, “my verbosity got in the way,” and that is an understatement.  The details with which he describes the meetings, compositions, rehearsals, trials and tribulations of productions are sometimes interminable.  As a musician, I got some of the name-dropping references, but there were hundreds of other details that ended up muddling up the narrative.

Details aren’t Webbers only problem, unfortunately.  It’s good that he went into composing rather than writing, because as an author his prose is often cumbersome, filled with choppy sentences, unnecessarily convoluted similes and obscure references, not to mention questionable punctuation (he seems averse to the use of hyphens).  When I actively chose to read faster, I found myself having to slow down, as the narrative lacked flow.  Consider this sample from page 86: 

“EMI had such a postboy.  His name was martin Wilcox.  I don’t know if he ever blagged his way into the top honcho’s offices.  But he did get as far as Tim Rice.”  This choppiness makes reading 480 pages very laborious, indeed.

Which is too bad, because Webber has had a hell of a career.  Like many professionally successful people, he risked it all, leaving Oxford after only a year to pursue writing full-time with Tim Rice, the type of decision that often separates the wanna-bes from the real thing, and the accounts of Webber’s struggles to get productions like Evita and Cats off the ground are inspiring.  The former opened to terrible reviews in New York but still ran for over 1500 performances, and despite the jokes sometimes directed at Cats, it was the longest running musical on Broadway until another musical broke the record: The Phantom of the Opera.  So there you go

Webber wisely addresses his personal life sparingly, thankfully admitting to transgressions without dwelling on them, and referring to his past wives with respect.  He delves a bit deeper into various professional rifts he’s had over the years, but usually only slightly, often referring to a heated topic only to conclude, “It’s best left at that,” but on occasion he quotes unflattering letters he’s received from the likes of Tim Rice and Ken Russell, effectively settling old scores by using his wrong-doer’s own words against them.  Nevertheless, Webber’s decision not to write a tell-all book is refreshing, as is the modesty he portrays at various points, and I don’t get the sense that he’s feigning for the benefit of posterity, though I could be wrong.  He writes in detail about which sections of his Requiem are subpar, and he admits to being in over his head when composing Variations.

I’ve only seen two Webber musicals on-stage:  a traveling production of Aspects of Love in 1993; and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when my girls were toddlers.  Other than that, I’m only familiar with a handful of tunes.  Go figure.  I do wonder if Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music will have the staying power of, say, Stephen Sondheim or Richard Rodgers, but as a musician, it was interesting for me to gain a little insight into the creative process and how melodies composed for one purpose were resurrected for other stories, and Webber also does an admirable job of covering the business side of the industry, describing financial difficulties and concepts like grand rights in an accessible manner.

He also shares a few tidbits he’s learned over the years from people he admires.  After seeing Webber’s failed musical, Jeeves, Hal Prince wrote to Webber, “Remember, you can’t listen to a musical if you can’t look at it.”  And a meeting with Richard Rodgers led his conclusion that no one can take in too many melodies in one listening, a fact that often leaves me scratching my head after a musical crams two hours of new material down patrons’ throats with no melodic reprises.

All in all, I’m glad I read Unmasked, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t recommend it except for the most ardent fan of musicals in general, or of Webber’s specifically.

My Half-Year of Streaming Music

Denying for years to join the 21st Century, I indulged as recently as last summer in purchasing CDs, pulling the trigger on albums by Esperanza Spaulding, William Shatner, Bright Eyes, Paul McCartney and Field Music.  But last November I took the plunge and joined a streaming service – first Napster, whom I was told paid artists more but whose service I determined was inadequate, and then Spotify, a company vilified by some and praised by others.  Since then I’ve delved into scores of albums I’d never taken the time to investigate before, and for this reason alone, music streaming has a new fan.  I still love having physical CDs in the car, where I can immerse myself into an album and listen the way I used to, but for hanging out at home and investigating unexplored musical territory, streaming services can’t be beat.

I’m not much into playlists and haven’t utilized this aspect of Spotify more than a handful of times.  Instead, I’ve listened to albums and bands I hadn’t given attention to in the past.  Since November, I’ve fallen in love with the following albums:

  • Manifesto, a brilliant release by Roxy Music, surpassing what some claim to be their crowning achievement, Avalon.
  • Underneath the Colours, the debut album by an almost unrecognizable INXS.  Angry, edgy, melodic.  Fantastic.
  • Sit Down Young Stranger (or, alternatively titled, If You Could Read My Mind) by Gordon Lightfoot, heartfelt folk-rock from start to finish.
  • Odessey and Oracle by The Zombies, an amazing album recorded around the same time as St. Pepper, but – in my mind – surpassing it in some ways.
  • Grand Hotel by Procol Harum, a collection of wonderful melodies with gravitas

I've delved into so much more that I never would have done without the aid of a streaming service.  I checked out releases by Cat Stevens, Van Morrison and James Taylor.  I finally listened to the Rolling Stones of the 1960s, and concluded that aside from Beggar’s Banquet, much of it falls flat for me (and that Their Satanic Majesties Request may be among the worst albums ever recorded).  I learned that I’m not as fond of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions as I am of Lloyd Cole’s solo work, and that I'm not as fond of Jethro Tull and King Crimson as I am of other prog rock bands.  I discovered that early Chicago albums are padded with really bad, lengthy tracks, and that each of Esperanza Spaulding's releases are worth my attention.  I gave the last half-dozen releases by Elton John a chance, concluded that Aimee Mann continues to put out quality material, but without the punch of her first three releases, and that the J Geils Band is a great party band with some standout tracks, but ultimately doesn’t grab me.

I also listened to classical guitar by Ryan Walsh, Latin music by Natalia Lafourcade, Mansieur Perine, and Vicente Garcia, fusion by Snarky Puppy, jazz by Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and newer releases by Empty Pockets, Young the Giant and Lake Street Dive.

And on and on.

Now, the question remains: can artists make a living making music when people only use streaming services?  That remains to be seen, but for a guy in his 50s who sometimes has difficulty keeping up on music, streaming can’t be beat.

Of course, of the five albums I highlighted above, I’ve purchased four of them on vinyl. 

So yeah, I’ve still got the disease.

Al Stewart in Chicago

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Over the years I’ve met a few people who so dislike Al Stewart, the mere mention of his name leads to something akin to a gag reflex.  During freshman year in college, my old friend Tom, upon hearing that I owned a greatest hits CD of said Stewart, grimaced as if he’d just sampled a plate of cow dung.  Nevertheless, I continued to be a casual fan of Stewart, having purchased four of his records on vinyl – all of them either used or cutouts (remember those?) – but not going beyond 24 Carrots.  When Russians & Americans came out in 1984, I was tempted to take the plunge with my hard-earned money from Kolb’s Garden Center, but instead opted for Elton John’s Breaking Hearts. 

Seven years later, when I learned that Stewart was playing not three blocks away from my apartment at a tiny stage on Cathedral Square in Milwaukee on a sunny afternoon – not exactly the venue or the time of a major rock star – I figured, what the hell.  I walked alone, took a seat, and Stewart took the stage with accompanying musician Peter White and played a great set in front of a sparse crowd, but what stuck with me most were the haunting images of a then-unreleased song called “Trains,” another of Stewart’s history lessons, culminating in the tragic turns that locomotives took in the carrying out of Nazi orders during the Holocaust.

Last night, I was once again graced with a fine concert by Stewart, this time at the City Winery in Chicago, the first of two nights with a particular album highlighted.  I opted to see The Year of the Cat from 1976 rather than Past, Present and Future from three years prior.  What can I say?  My fandom of Stewart’s catalog only goes so deep, but it was great to hear the man once again after twenty-seven years.

Opening with three tracks (“Sirens of Titan,” “Antarctica,” and “Time Passages”) prior to delving into the evening’s featured album, 72-year-old Stewart’s voice sounded rather thin, but since he never had a powerhouse voice to begin with, all that was truly missed was some of the high range, and he had to weave in alternative melodies on “Time Passages” and many of the songs from Year of the Cat.  Dressed in dress slacks and long-sleeve button-down shirt, he looked more like a banker on lunch-break than an artist, but Stewart wasn’t even hip in the 1970s, so what would one expect when he finally reached his 70s?

What Stewart lacked in singing voice he made up for in telling stories, offering several insights between songs that kept the audience (my son may have won the prize for youngest attendee) engaged and – often – laughing.  Stewart mentioned that for a folk-rock historian, having a hit was not enviable, and so he began Year of the Cat with a song about a naval battle in 1591 (“Lord Grenville”) followed by another history lesson with “On the Border.”  Alas, the second song was a hit, as was the album’s title track, perhaps making Stewart very uncool among his folk-rock brethren.  He also told a story of how he began to play the guitar in the middle of nowhere, England, only to eventually find another guitarist nearby named Robert Fripp, the eventual virtuoso of King Crimson fame.  Not a bad find, even if Stewart ultimately rebuffed Fripp’s insistence on learning jazz chords. Introducing the song “Broadway Hotel,” Stewart explained that the song was about a seduction at a hotel in Portland, Oregon.  He waited a beat, then added: “I highly recommend it.”

Joined on-stage was Stewart’s opening and accompanying band, Chicago’s very own Empty Pockets, a stellar act whose six-song opening set of tight harmonies and soulful melodies fit well into the evening’s performances.  The standout for me was guitarist Josh Solomon, who nailed every part required of Stewart’s catalogue and then some, including a fine electric piano solo that surpassed anything I could have performed.  (I hate it when guitarists can also play keys better than me!)  Also on-stage was multi-instrumentalist Marc Macisso, who hammed it up for the appreciative audience, particularly during the signature sax solos of “Time Passages” and “Year of the Cat.”

Gone are the days when a melodic history lesson could become a radio hit, but for one night in Chicago, history was cool again.  I had asked several people to joined me for the evening, but none took the bait, and my son, who knew little of Stewart prior to the concert, said afterwards, “I’m glad your friends said no to the show.”  So there you are, Al.  You’ve earned the appreciation of a 16-year-old.  Not a bad feat for an aging rocker.

New Album is Available for Streaming/Purchase

The Great Divide by Heinz and Wrobel is complete!  To stream or purchase this ten-song album, check out the following locations: 

The album will be added to several other streaming sites shortly.

Heinz & Wrobel are:

Julian Wrobel – Bass
Sam Heinz – Drums
Paul Heinz-  Keys and Vocals

Tracking by Brad Showalter at Kiwi Studios, Batavia, Illinois
Overdubs engineered by Paul Heinz
Orchestration on “Cold” and “End Game” by Jim Gaynor
Mixed by Paul Heinz with the help of Julian, Sam and Anthony Calderisi
Mastering by Collin Jordan of The Boiler Room, Chicago, Illinois

All songs written by Paul Heinz, except “The Unexamined Road,” music by Sam Heinz and Paul Heinz, lyrics by Paul Heinz

Cover art by Sarah Heinz, based on a concept by Sam Heinz
Photograph by Sam Heinz

We’d like to thank Brad for his easy-going nature and diligence, Collin for his expertise Anthony for his objective listening skills, and Jim for giving two songs the lift they required.  We think “End Game” is the best song on the album thanks to you.

********************************************************************

After completing The Palisades in August of 2016 I wrote the following on my website: “I’m toying with the idea of doing my next project in about two days – all in the studio with a live band. A guy can dream, can’t he?”

Well, The Great Divide didn’t exactly take two days, but it was a hell of a lot faster this time around, for which I’m grateful.

In Spring of 2017, I began to ponder the next project, and Sam and I decided that we should record together in the studio and pound out the entire album in a day or two.  The issue was I didn’t really have any songs – only half-written melodies or a refrain or a verse that didn’t go anywhere.  It wasn’t until the summer when Sam was at camp for seven weeks that I began to diligently evaluate which half-written pieces of music were worth pursuing and which should be scrapped.  It took a while. 

That summer, I initially decided to create a thematic album called “Confessions and Confrontations,” with several instrumental interludes and a few musical themes that would repeat throughout the album, a pretty bold idea for someone who didn’t really even have any songs completed.  I worked hard on songs called “Eat Crow,” “Shouldn’t I Get Some Credit,” “Stretched Too Thin,” “I Once Fell in Love with a Girl,” “The Line,” and “Something Lost.”  Alas, none of these made the cut. 

Instead, a few other songs with working titles of “What Are You Going to Do” and “I Don’t Want to Talk About It Now” began to take shape, along with some very old ideas, such as one called “Same Old Shit,” which originated in the summer of 2013.  I also resurrected two song that I had, in fact, completed: one called “Cold,” which I’d written in 2001 and even recorded a demo of in maybe 2006; and “Put You Away,” composed sometime around 2009, but it never felt right with previous projects.  This time, it fit perfectly with the minimal instrumentation we were providing. 

One of the pieces I worked on in July of 2017 was a little chord intro that Sam had composed prior to leaving for Wisconsin.  This eventually evolved into a rather intricate little ditty called “The Unexamined Road,” a song that was known as “Untitled” up until November because I wasn’t happy with the lyrics.  Eventually this song sounded so darn good that it became the album’s opener.

I wrote most of the music for what became “Lies of the Damned” in April of 2006, but there it sat until 2017.  I needed an idea to help drive what I knew was an angry song.  Eventually, I came up with a sketch of a type of person I’ve met over the years: an odd combination of extreme self-centeredness, yet monstrously insecure.  I’ve known three or four people who fit this mold to a “t,” and once I knew the object of my angst, I was able to pound out the song very quickly!

“What is True” developed from a tune that came to me in a dream in December of 2016.  I was meeting my friend Scott Baldwin at an outdoor bar tended by none other than Rufus Wainwright, who was suffering badly of a cold.  He said that recently the “juices were flowing,” meaning he was composing a lot lately.  I asked him to fix me a sandwich, and he began singing his latest creation, “You say, I don’t want to talk about it now…”  I woke up and wrote it down and eventually developed it into a tale inspired by a friend of mine.  Similar to “I Can’t Take You Back” from Warts and All, it’s the heartbreaker on the album.

“Are You Gonna Fight For Her,” was nothing more than a verse and unfinished chorus in April of 2016, but in the summer I managed to write the bridge and instrumental sections that really made the song work.  I was the least confident that this song would work on the album, but once drums and bass were added, it all came together beautifully.

“Your Mother’s House” started once again with just a verse in May of 2014, and in April of 2015, as I was trying to write a chorus for the song “The Palisades,” I came up with a chord progression that eventually fit perfectly as the second half of the chorus for the former.  But I still had to write the first half of the chorus, which I finally completed at the end of August, along with the middle bridge.

I wrote the first several verses of “End Game” in September of 2016, just after completing The Palisades, but I didn’t finish this tune until over a year later, when I composed the build-up leading to the end of the song.  The “bombastic” section of the tune came in July, written originally as an instrumental theme to insert between songs, but then I recognized it would fit in the actual tune with a lyric.  How this all came together is a bit miraculous, and I’m grateful that it came off as well as it did.  By October I had to come up with a title, and “End Game” came to me in a flash. 

Little by little, songs were completed, while others were discarded.  Sometime in the summer, Sam asked if Julian would be up for recording with us, and he was excited to join the project.  On August 21 I drove Sam and Julian and a friend of theirs to Missouri to watch the total eclipse, and along the way I mentioned the name of the upcoming album and the concept.  They were both rather unenamored with the idea of “Confessions and Confrontations,” so I took this under advisement until I finished the song “Diverge,” a tune I’d written the first verse for back in 2012 but didn’t complete until October of 2017, the last tune written for the album.  I was so happy with this song that I was certain it would lead it off and that it should spawn the title for the album.  Eventually, “Diverge” gave way to “The Unexamined Road” as the opening track, a song which remained untitled and which I struggled mightily to come up with a different refrain, but none fit as well (An Energizing Trail?  A Uninspired Path?)  This is one of those instances where the lyrics don’t quite reach the same level as the music.

I liked the idea of The Great Divide as a concept and considered viewing the new album as a collection of songs about conflict.  I remember that the band Big Country had a song with this title off their Steeltown album, and after scouring through the lyrics of this song I came up with a list of possible titles for the album: “Sighs and Youth,” “Fire Away,” and “The Token Door.”  Eventually I thought, “Screw it.  Just call it The Great Divide.”  So there you are.

Once we knew the title of the album, Sam came to me with a concept for an album cover and I shared it with my daughter Sarah on January 8th at 3:38PM.  I wrote: “The drawing would be in the simplistic style of The Far Side comics and the Duke album by Genesis, and it would be a close-up of a inexpressive guy holding a baggy at eye level filled with water and containing a gold fish, and the gold fish staring back at him.  Hence, ‘the Great Divide.’  Get it?”  At 4:29PM she sent me the cover of the album.  Tell me she wasn’t looking for a reason to procrastinate finding an internship!  Sam and I looked at the cover after his drum lesson and immediately fell in love with it.

On October 26, I met with Sam and Julian and went through the whole album and how I wanted to approach things.  We discussed recording in February or March and decided not to record vocals at that time; it would be difficult enough to get the instrumental parts down.  We began rehearsing in November, and I was amazed at the parts that Sam and Julian created, producing a much better product than I ever could have managed on my own, and because we had so much time to rehearse, it ended up sounding better than if I had outsourced things to professionals.  Sam and Julian created “parts” for the songs; they didn’t just play along to a chord chart.

On February 17 we spent thirteen hours at Kiwi Studios in Batavia, Illinois, where I had recorded basic tracks for The Palisades, and finished piano, bass and drums for all ten songs.  Pretty impressive.  Brad Showalter engineered this time, and he was laid back, unhurried and flexible, making the whole experience very enjoyable.  Once again, Sam and Julian played like pros, punching in seamlessly, playing to click tracks for some songs and others on the fly.  The most difficult tune to record by far was “Lies of the Damned.”  By some minor miracle, “End Game,” which we recorded without a click track, we achieved on just the second take.  It is our favorite on the album.

I recorded vocals over the next few weeks into March, and then added a few backup vocals, percussion and synthetic strings, but what I really wanted was for composer Jim Gaynor to record orchestration for “Cold” and “End Game.”  In late March he was ready to add some tracks, and the results are superb. 

After several grueling rounds of mixing (an art form I still struggle with mightily on every album), I finished things up and set a date to master the product at The Boiler Room in Chicago, where Collin Jordan put the finishing touches on the album.  It helped that we had set an album-release concert for May 5th, which required me to wrap up the album quickly, whereas I’d normally spend another few months mixing everything to perfection (but never achieving it). 

We sent things off to Diskmakers and made physical CDs for the first time since my album in 2003, The Dragon Breathes on Bleecker Street.

All in all, a very satisfying and enjoyable project, made all the more meaningful by having my son and his friend, along with my artist daughter, involved.  And my vocalist daughter is able to join us on stage for the record release concert, so all three of my kids were involved in some meaningful way.  Now, if I could only get my wife involved somehow on the next project!

Join us on May 5th at 7PM, as Heinz & Wrobel host a record release party to celebrate the completion of our new album.  Email me for details. 

Cheap Kiss Records

Note: I recently wrote this article as part of a neighborhood magazine and thought I'd include it as a blog entry on my website.  These guys are class acts working for a great record store.

If you spot a Toyota Venza with the license plate “I BY VYNL” whizzing around the west suburbs of Chicago, consider introducing yourself to Chris (Grey) Ellensohn, who – along with business partner Pete Kuehl – owns Cheap Kiss Records, a store that’s dedicated to buying and selling vinyl and cultivating a love for music for the next generation.  Ellensohn and Kuehl want the world to know: records are still a thing. 

Yes, records, as in those black twelve-inch platters whose grooves contain the stuff of magic.  You may not be one yourself, but chances are you know someone who’s into albums or who laments the collection he traded away for a couple of cases of beer back in the late 80s.  Vinyl is making a serious comeback these days, and now accounts for about twenty percent of revenue for physical recorded music formats, and Cheap Kiss is part of the reason.

Chris, who by day works at Northwestern Mutual, started the business with Kuehl ten years ago after winning an eBay auction to purchase Platterpus Records out of Louisville, KY.  They changed names to Cheap Kiss Records in 2012 and now have two stores: one at Cornerstone Books in Villa Park and another in Glenview at the Rock House, along with a regular inventory at a Schaumburg warehouse where they conduct on-line business and frequent warehouse sales.

What does a normal day look like in the glamorous world of buying and selling vinyl?  Today, Chris is going to meet with an elderly man who purports to own somewhere around 5000 LPs, all in mint condition.  Will it pan out?  You never know.  Chris’s favorite moment is knocking on a would-be seller’s door, because at that point all things are possible.  Sorting through a few boxes of musty LPs might just lead to something amazing, like the time Chris found a copy of an album by the local metal band Amethyst, the most expensive record either Chris or Pete has ever sold.

When approaching a would-be seller, Ellensohn is quick to empathize.  “We understand that albums can be emotional.”  Sometimes a seller can’t pull the trigger, and that’s okay.  “They know that when the time comes, I’ll be here.”

Chris claims he can spot a vinyl collector in just a few seconds.  What are the qualifications?  “Typically a male, age forty to sixty, sporting a concert t-shirt and no females within fifteen feet.”  All joking aside, there’s a certain air that vinyl collectors share, and it’s one that Ellensohn knows well he says because he’s “one of them.”   

“You meet all sort of cool people, actually,” and he meets them in all sort of places.  Chris isn’t a shy guy, and he’s happily approached people at gas stations or concerts to inquire about their interest in vinyl.  At a pop-up sale at the Arcada Theatre last month, Pete and Chris met a woman in her sixties who regaled them with stories about her concert-going days, when she witnessed The Beatles at Comiskey Park and a double bill featuring The Who and The Kinks. 

Chris and Pete don’t have a goal of amassing copious amounts of records – their aim is more virtuous than that.  They view buying and selling vinyl as a way of repurposing LPs and keeping them out of landfills and on people’s turntables.  “We want records to be listened to,” says Chris.  “Vinyl is meant to be played.  It does no good sitting in an attic somewhere.” 

And what about vinyl as a medium in a world in which streaming services can provide almost any song at the touch of a button?  Chris is reminded of something a young woman once told him: “You should have to work for something this good.”  Just as sharing a playlist isn’t nearly as meaningful as creating the mixtapes you once compiled for old flames, vinyl helps the listener connect to the music in ways that streaming can’t.

On April 21st Cheap Kiss Records will host Record Store Day at their Cornerstone Books location.

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved