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Archive for the ‘Crosby Stills Nash and Young’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: DAVID CROSBY & THE LIGHTHOUSE BAND-Tiny Desk #876 (August 7, 2019).

I had more or less assumed that David Crosby was done with music.  He seemed more of a punchline than anything else lately.  He hadn’t put out much in the way of music in the last decade or so.  But the new Lighthouse album was getting some positive reviews.

It seems odd that he’s never been on a Tiny Desk before, but then again, he hasn’t done much lately to warrant it.  Nevertheless, here he and his band are.

Moments before the first note at the Tiny Desk, David Crosby needed the mics rearranged: He asked that his microphone be positioned evenly with the rest of his band mates, rather than in front of them, explaining that while his name is the one on the marquee, The Lighthouse Band has no hierarchy.

That band is an inter-generational ensemble, featuring Snarky Puppy bandleader and bassist Michael League, as well as guitarist Becca Stevens and keyboardist Michelle Willis, both accomplished singers and songwriters in their own right. They all first came together while the members were collaboratively writing and recording for Crosby’s 2016 album Lighthouse. Everybody sings in this band, trading lead vocals for harmonies and vice-versa in just about every combination.

The Lighthouse Band sounds fantastic and Crosby really does take a back seat to the younger musicians.

“What Are Their Names” is a political song sung in a capella style.  It is short and smart

I wonder who they are
The men who really run this land
And I wonder why they run it
With such a thoughtless hand
What are their names
And on what streets do they live
I’d like to ride right over
This afternoon and give
Them a piece of my mind
About peace for mankind
Peace is not an awful lot to ask

Crosby sings lead on “Looks In Their Eyes.”  His voice still sounds pretty good–although he’s not pushing too hard.  Becca Stevens has a wonderful high voice.

Before “Other Half Rule” Crosby says that this is a song about asking women to take over the world–you couldn’t possibly do any worse.  Michael League sings lead (his voice is much better than Crosby’s).  Becca and Michelle sing the second verse and sound terrific together.  The design of this song is very CSN&Y and you can certainly hear their voices in the harmonies.  I also really like the part where Becca plays a lead riff on the electric 12-string in between strums from Michael.

Then they play the classic “Woodstock” with a new arrangement but still wonderful harmonies.  This is a fantastic song in any version and this version is pretty great.

[READ: August 2019] Snotgirl Vol. 1

I loved Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books.  The whole story was funny and the artwork was great.

This series is written by O’Malley, so it has a lot of the really funny moments like Scott Pilgrim did.  But it is drawn by leslie Hung, so the style is very different.

Hung’s drawing style is quite pretty, which befits the character-a fashion blogger.  Now, Scott Pilgim took O’Malley’s style and made the humor exaggerated.  Hung’s more pretty style is a contrast to O’Malley’s content.  It kind of works, although it almost deemphasizes the humor.

So what we have is a story about a vapid LA fashion blogger and, honestly, its not that interesting.  Scott Pilgrim was a loser, but his story was funny and interesting.  But Lottie might be too vapid to be interesting. Lottie’s biggest problem is that she has allergies (hence Snotgirl).

Is it possible to build a story around that?  Possibly not.

It starts with O’Malley’s humor as he introduces the characters.  Each woman gets a tag:

Lottie Person; Fashion Blogger; Style: effortlessly chic; Age: 25 3/4

Then her two best friends:
Megan Foster “Normgirl”; Style: boring, normie; Age 23? 27? don’t care
Misty Sutton “Cutegirl” Fashion blogger; Style: too cute; Age ???

She has to give everyone a nickname because she can’t keep anyone straight otherwise.

Then we see the first crisis of Lottie’s life.  Her ex-boyfriend Sunny Day is now dating her former intern, Charlene.  Charlene is younger, but thankfully not cuter.

While Lottie is freaking out about this she meets a pretty woman, Caroline, who orders the same weird coffee as her.  Lottie calls her “Coolgirl.”  Coolgirl knows of Lottie and follows her blog.  Coolgirl is an aspiring fashion blogger herself (good grief how many are there?).

Coolgirl is so cool, she forgot her phone and she’s living her life anyway.  Who does that?

Lottie goes to her allergist, but it’s a new fellow, a hot young guy who gives her a new experimental drug.

That night she meets Coolgirl at the bar (Lottie doesn’t normally go out). She has an allergy attack and runs to the restroom to hide her snot and take her new pills.  But Coolgirl barges in on her to se that she’s okay.  She laughs and calls Lottie “Snottie.”  Lottie seems to black out and when she wakes up, Coolgirl is dead on the floor.

But the next day (Lottie has no memory of getting home) there is no word of a dead girl anywhere in the news.  She;s pretty freaked out until her new intern, Esther Dumont (Style: my intern; Age unpaid) arrives to make all of Lottie’s problems go away.  [It’s staggering to think that Lottie would have an intern].

Lottie goes out for coffee with her “friends,” the haters club.  Charlene works at this coffee shop.  [I love that Charlene looks like Heather my favorite character from AP Bio, although this is from 2017, so its clearly a coincidence].  Charlene puts Lottie milk in her coffee (Lottie is lactose intolerant, of course) and that’s the last straw.

Then there’s a new character introduced, a detective.  His name is John Cho (no relation to the beloved actor).  Hes 27, and rising star with the LAPD. Now that he’s been made a detective he can unleash his greatest skill: Fashion!  This is such a wonderful O’Malley joke and delivery, that I wish it paid off more.  Cho is a huge fan of Lottie’s blog and believes her to be perfect in real life.  Their paths will cross later.

Later that night at a party Charlene and Sunny Day are there. Charlene is wearing one of Lottie’s old dresses (Esther the intern sold it to her).  Lottie gets right in her face and yells “Take everything. Take my dress, take Sunny, you’re nothing but a stalker and worse than that, you’re a fake!”

But when Charlene says she saw Lotte go into the bathroom with the pretty girl and she knows what Lottie did, well Lottie can’t deal and she pushes Charlene into the pool.

And yet just as things seem their worst, Lottie gets a text from Cool girl.  She is at the party too.  She’s not dead.

On New Year’s Eve, Lottie goes out.  Charlene is there and she drunkenly pulls up her dress at Lottie and says, “I’m wearing your panties!”  There is a buzz around the room until Lottie has to tell everyone that they are not hers, she designed them.

Moments later, Lottie is talking to Charlene on the roof.  Charlene is in tears and Lottie feels like she wants to help this crazy girl.  But as the new year chimes in Coolgirl sees the two of them and jealously pushes Charlene off the roof.

What kind of story is this?

I found this book really hard to read.  Not because of the text girl speak (although that was annoying) but because the characters are so unpleasant and dull.  The first few chapters were meant as exposition I guess, but they were expository of characters that were hard to distinguish and seem ultimately irrelevant.

And again, the concept that Lottie’s biggest concern is allergies is hard to imagine as the basis for a story.

I’m not dying to read the other two books, but I want to give O’Malley the benefit of the doubt.

 

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[ATTENDED: July 27 & 28, 2019] Newport Folk Festival

Back in 1998, I won a radio contest (not through luck, I knew the name of a song and couldn’t believe no one else did!) and scored a ticket to the Newport Folk Festival.  It was in a lull back then and also, I believe there was only one stage (it’s hard to remember).  Now it is at full power, selling out before artists are even announced.

S. and I have talked about going and finally this year I saw when tickets were announced and I bought 4 tickets for us.  I knew that our son wouldn’t want to go, but I decided to make a long vacation out of it–a couple days in Rhode Island and then about a week in Maine.  He couldn’t say no to going to that.

I didn’t get Friday tickets because three days seemed excessive.  Plus, you never know who is going to appear until long after you buy the tickets. and that actually worked out pretty well.   Turned out, there wasn’t anyone I really wanted to see.

So we rolled in for Saturday.  I was told that if you wanted to get the poster you had to get their very early.  We arrived at 12:30 and they were long sold out.  Oh well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL YOUNG-Harvest (1971).

I like loud rocking songs and I dislike most country.  So really I shouldn’t like Neil Young’s Harvest (at least compared to his more rocking albums).

But Neil is Neil and while I would never say he can do no wrong (he definitely can), I give him the benefit of the doubt.  And on this album he delivers.  Plus, it’s really not a country album at all.

I think what I particularly like about Harvest is the looseness of it, which I see signified primarily by Neil’s harmonica which is never off, but which is never perfect either.  Plus, and I’m sure this has a lot to do with it–I’ve heard these songs a lot and they have really sunk in.

“Out on the Weekend” is the opening track and it was one of the songs I knew least well–which is odd certainly for an opening song.  There’s slide guitar and harmonica.  But it’s followed by “Harvest,” which is so simple and so notable–bass, a gentle acoustic guitar and basically a snare drum play that simple up and down melody as Neil sings “dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup with the promise of a man.”  It’s those steel guitar lines that seems to fade in from nowhere that really rather make the song.

“A Man Needs a Maid” is one of those weird songs that is so odd to me–the song is literally about him getting a maid (but much more): “keep my house clean fix my meals and go away.”  Neil sounds like he is singing from a mile away as he plays the melody on the piano.  And then after the first verse all kind of orchestration fills in–bells and strings and the song gets really really big.  By the time the song comes around again, the chorus is swallowed by the strings and bells.  It feels much longer than its 4 minutes.  I sort of hate it but kind of like its oddness at the same time.

And then comes the wonder that is “Heart of Gold,” another simple melody with soft bass notes and that harmonica.  Incredibly catchy and undeniably great.

Harvest is more of a folk album with slide guitar (and orchestration), but a song like “Ready for the Country” certainly leans toward country (or is it mocking country?).  It’s got a good beat and is kind of fun, with a lighthearted joshing about the country.

“Old Man” is a another slow classic.  When the harmony vocals come in later in the song it’s really wonderful.  I never knew that James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sang backing vocals on this song and that that’s Taylor on the banjo.  “There’s a World” is a ponderous song from the get go–almost as if it left off from “Maid,” with strings and kettle drums.  After a verse a harp swipes away the song and plays a delicate melody which is just as quickly wiped away as this song which seems so big comes to a rather quick ending–only 3 minutes in total.

“Alabama” introduces a fuzzy electric guitar with what seems like it should be a classic riff but which …isn’t.  It doesn’t quite resolve into anything and the chorus is almost satisfying–it starts really big with a chorus of “Alabama!” but it also doesn’t exactly resolve into anything.  I think I keep thinking it’s other songs, and yet it is distinctly its own.

“Needle and Damage Done” is just great.  A terrific riff and a poignant song simple and brief (2 minutes!) but really powerful.

“Words (Between the Lines of Age)” is nearly 7 minutes it’s the longest by far on the record.  It builds slowly with a big chorus.   There’s a great instrumental section with a nice piano melody.  The song ends with a very Neil Young guitar solo as well.  Pretty great stuff.

I’m not gushing about the album only because it is a classic and all classics have flaws.  But I could listen to this any day, even “Man Needs a Maid.”

[READ: July 1, 2016] Harvest

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.  But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This story gives a lot of history of Neil himself and a lot of context of the albums surrounding this one.

Inglis starts by talking about how when Harvest Moon came out in 1992, it was a call-back to Harvest and it was highly regarded, even though Harvest itself wasn’t at the time.  Even Neil himself seemed to recoil from the unexpected success of Harvest by playing every kind of music but folk/country for decades.

In fact, Harvest was panned when it came out–described as superficial and without meaning.  It was deemed pleasant rather than passionate.  It also worked to define Neil Young as a melancholy songwriter full of catchy tunes, smiling with prairie straw n his mouth.  Meanwhile other fans dismiss this picture entirely, preferring the gritty songwriter from Tonight’s the Night. (more…)

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McSweeney’s 49: Cover Stories: Contemporary writers reimagining classic tales (2017)

SOUNDTRACKBIG K.R.I.T.-Tiny Desk Concert #714 (March 5, 2018).

A while back I downloaded one of Big K.R.I.T.’s mixtapes and rather liked it.  Since then he seems to have become pretty huge and I feel like he has really expanded on his style.

K.R.I.T. sings/raps three songs from his new album.

4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, a double album in which he covers everything from blessings to depression while plumbing the carnal and spiritual depths of his own duality. All three songs performed here come from side two, titled after his birth name Justin Scott.

The first song “Mixed Messages” is really thoughtful.  He sings and raps

I gotta whole lotta mixed messages / in my songs am I wrong / to feel this way
I got me a lover but I still wanna cheat / I wanna be saved but its fuck the police
i never really liked the fake shit / but I’m attracted to the fake ass and fake tits
i really wanna sing but id better rap

K.R.I.T.’s backing band, which includes Burniss Travis II on bass and Justin Tyson on drums, also features on keys Bryan Michael Cox — the hitmaking producer and songwriter behind a slew of Billboard chart-toppers. Together, the trio delivers stripped-down versions of the latest thought-provoking material in Big K.R.I.T.’s catalog.

Introducing the second song, “Keep The Devil Off” he says his grandmother introduced him to gospel.  She brought him to church and “she would wake me up when i fell asleep saying wake up you gotta hear this.”  He sings beautifully.  And then the rapped verses are really well structured.

And when he stops to pay homage to his church-going grandmother before performing “Keep The Devil Off,” it’s clear that everything she instilled in him is keeping him alive, too.

Definitely in these times we need to keep the negativity away–keep the devil off.

His grandmother was clearly very important to him.

Big K.R.I.T. has kept her spirit alive through his music since his breakout mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which he released in 2010, the same year she died.  So it only makes sense that he would bring her with him for his Tiny Desk concert.

Halfway through his three-song set at NPR Music headquarters, K.R.I.T. stops to pull out an old-school tape recorder — the same one his grandmother would use to record him singing and reciting poetry as a child. “I have to feel like my grandmother was my first mix engineer,” he says before pressing play to reveal him and his brother as kids singing a duet of R&B crooner Donell Jones’ 1999 slow burner, “Where I Wanna Be.”

He plays the tape and cracks up listening to it.  He gets the audience to sing the refrain with his younger sell.  And then his grandmother introduces he and his brother as an R&B singer, “but I’m sticking with the rap thing.”

It’s a sublime interlude — one that resonated so strongly with K.R.I.T. that he had to start his last song, “Bury Me In Gold,” over to catch the proper beat. “I’m super emotional from this, too,” he says, laughing in a moment so genuine it was only right to leave it unedited.

He says “Bury Me in Gold” is not about gold really, it’s about having something so that in the event he gets to heaven he’ll give everything away.

He tells us to remember that peace of mind and your soul are more important than gold.

I’ve always enjoyed thought provoking rap and K.R.I.T.’s lyrics combined with his voice really work wonders.

[READ: May 29, 2017] McSweeney’s 49

It has been a long time (three years or so) since the previous McSweeney’s volume.  During that silence, the publishing house went non-profit and that seems to have taken up a lot of their resources.  They even address this a bit in the interdiction to this book.

But regardless of the reasons why, it is great to have them back.

As the subtitle says, this is a book of “cover stories.” What that means is a little vague–the contemporary writers model their story after a classic story.  I try to compare it to music covers, although in music covers the music and words are typically the same with some kind of variations.  Typically, the words are the same but the music is different.  I liked to flip this idea on its head for describing these stories in that the words are different by the music is the same.

Since I don’t know most of the original stories here I don’t know how similar these are to the originals–same character names?  Same ideas?  Same plot?  I don’t know.  And perhaps it would affect the way I read these stories if I was familiar with theory original pieces.  But without knowing them, these just turned out to be good stories from good writers.

Interspersed between the stories were poems and, in a wonderful commentary on our current shitty president and the cowardly house of representatives who on the day I finished this voted to strip 24 million people of health care, are comparisons of classic historical figures’ speeches with the petty garbled tweets of out current crap in chief.  Can we impeach this motherfucker already?  And send the whole lot of them to jail, please.  #ITMFA

As many McSweeney’s do, this one opens with letters.  And of course they aren’t really letters at all, even if they are addressed to McSweeney’s.  Many deal with cover songs, but a few are much more serious, political and right on.

WAJAHAT ALI writes from Camp FDR in Washington DC where he and his fellow prisoners were finally able to cobble together WiFi.  Ali explains that the Executive Order was inevitable the ban, the vetting, the registry were all just prelude. The need to protect against terrorism outweighs the individual rights and the rights of American Muslims…read the Supreme Court decision.

NICK JAINA writes about the Sept 23, 1970 episode of The Johnny Cash Show in which Ray Charles appears and plays “Walk the Line” and then “Ring of Fire.”  The letter states that the creator of “Ring of Fire” is actually mis-attributed.  The story is that June Carter wrote it after seeing a page in her uncle’s book of Elizabethan poetry.  But Johnny first wife claims that Johnny wrote it while drunk about a certain female body part: “all those years of her claiming she wrote it and she probably never knew what the song was really about.”  Then it reverts back to Ray Charles’ performance with an unseen band playing behind him–especially a great baseline–and as the song ends he lets out one last shudder and cackle like he just invented the orgasm.  “Johnny returns to the stage looking like a man who just watched someone have sex with his wife but was so in awe of how good he was at it that he could only thank him.”

ROBIN TERRELL talks about trumpmania in the Czech Republic from the perspective of a black woman, lesbian, child of civil rights activists, mother of a black man living in Prague.  The look in the eyes of people after the election: The U.S. is going to fuck us over again.  It stunned Europeans that the U.S. could generate someone fouler than Europe’s own crop of white male extremists.  She is now a refugee from her own country.  #RESIST #ITMFA

KIMBERLY HARRINGTON says she always believed that even in the darkest times humor has its place.  But lately she’s been bursting into tears rather than cracking a smile.  She hopes she can find things to laugh at–even death in these horrible times.

MARY MILLER says that for the longest time she thought her uncles wrote “Stagger Lee.”  Her uncles were musicians who wrote songs but also threw some covers into their shows.  She believed that “Stagger Lee” was one of theirs. She realizes that they are not famous and that no one will remember them–but she promises them that she will remember them.

RICK MOODY writes at length about Elektra’s 1990 tribute album Rubaiyat: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary.  I remember it coming out and I remember not getting it because it was too expensive. But Moody talks about what a great conceit this collection was to have contemporary artists cover classic songs.  He also talks about how the tribute album was quite popular in the 1990s (was it ever).  Some thought: He loves Bjork, but he thinks of the Sugarcubes as a cheeseball imitation of the B-52s (and that their “Motorcycle Mama” is pretty bad.  He mentions a few great tracks, like Kronos Quartet covering “Marquee Moon,” Metallica doing “Stone Cold Crazy,” and even a Howard Jones cover of “Road to Cairo” by the cult hero David Ackles.   But he says fully half of the collection is bad, some of it even awful–not worth its list price at the time but it has a great number of masterpieces on it.

Will Buttler (from Arcade Fire) wishes to make some amusing corrections: some errors during concerts, and apologizing for singing “I’m So Bored” with the USA because he is not.

ARIEL S. WINTER-This is an interesting philosophical question wondering whether or not Marty McFly actually created “Johnny B. Goode.”  How could he cover it before Chuck Berry had released the original.  As a child this blew her mind.  This facile beginning then goes on to say that before recorded music the notion of a cover didn’t really exist.  And indeed in the 1950s people recorded songs without concern for copyright.  It’s also true that when Chuck Berry plays Johnny B. Goode live, it’s not considered a cover of his original.  She concludes by that the Back to the Future is probably the first time she ever heard Johnny B. Goode.  So Marty McFly’s is the original to her (as it is to all the kids at the dance).  So in addition to a song having an original for the performer there is also an original for the listener.  Anyone who has loved a song for years before finding out that it’s a cover has had that experience.

INTRODUCTION BY THE EDITORS

This introduction talks about how the first time they did a “cover story” was in 1999 in issue 4.  Rick Moody covered Sherwood Anderson’s “The Egg.”  They had been planning to do an entire issue of covers as far back as two years ago and then things happened in the McSweeney’s universe to delay it.  And now : this issue is being born in a moment of racial, social and economic reckoning and imminent fascism…into a country that looks much different from the one in which it began, fronted now by a mean and disingenuous imitation of a president.   As such: Tucked between these thirteen beautiful renditions of thirteen classic stories are instances when a cover is not an homage but rather a perversion of its predecessor”  And by that they offer examples of eloquent speeches by former leaders and then tweets from our pervert in chief.

GARY BURDEN-excerpt from Nobody Knows (an autobiography)

Gary Burden created the cover images for this issue.  I had no idea who he was, but this autobiography tells me just how interesting a fellow he was.  He has been responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of the last 60 years!

These excerpt shows his origin story–he was 8 on December 7, 1941 and he has had vivid memories of WWII.  When he was 16 he joined the Marines.  But he was restless, got involved in bad things, was dishonorably discharged and got mixed up with even worse people (he says he can’t believe the things he did back then).  In 1964 he met “Mama” Cass Elliot. They spent a lot of time together and this opened him up to meeting all kinds of people: David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash.  Eventually he met and hung out with Jim Morrison and designed Morrison Hotel (a fascinating story that).  In one of the nicer things I’ve heard someone say he says that Jim was a real poet, someone who was unafraid of delving deeply into life irrespective of the personal cost.  Then he met Neil Young. He says that Buffalo Springfield has been his favorite band and then one day Neil came to Mama Cass’ house in his 1948 Buick Hearse.  He was also hanging around when CSN decided to become CSN&Y and then he and Neil became friends. and Neil sold him his house in Topanga.  Eventually he made the cover art for After the Gold Rush (and he gives a little story about the old lady there on the cover).  I’m kind of curious to read this whole book now, especially if it includes album covers.

EMILY RABOTEAU-“The Babysitter” after “Some Women” by Alice Munro
This is the story of a babysitter for Mrs Fagan.  She is a young girl and her employer is very rich and locally famous.  And quite eccentric (she went to East Africa and allegedly witness the Ark of the Covenant and then wrote a controversial book about it).  But in their town she was known as the white lady with black kids (Maya 3, Eddie 10 months old).  The story reflects back on the babysitter as child (she is now the same age as Mrs Fagan was when the babysitting began.  The babysitter’s mother is kind of jerk and is very sarcastic about this babysitting arrangement.  She is also a very strict Jehovah’s Witness, so when the narrator gets her first period rather than tell her mom, she just takes products from Mrs Fagan.  As the story opens Mrs Fagan’s son has just arrived and that changes the dynamic in the house.  How will Mrs Fagan take it when the narrator accidentally sets fire to the kitchen? I really enjoyed the way the end of the story plays on the notions of memories and the impact people have on others.

MEGAN MAYHEW BERGMAN-“The Lottery, Redux” after “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Lottery” seems like a pretty easy story to cover–I think everyone knows everything about it and it has been covered in things like The Hunger Games in their own ways.  I don’t know if this story references the original (with the redux),  for this story the people of the island of Timothy were exiled from America fifty years earlier for crimes against the environment.  They were gathering on July 27th, the day of the lottery.  And indeed the lottery is a death sentence, although it’s not entirely clear why.  Interestingly, the story is more about the girl chosen and what her life up to that point has been like.

ANTHONY MARRA-“The Tell-Tale Heart” after “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe
This story doesn’t diverge all that much from the original except for the wonderful modern twist on the beating heart.  It’s hard to say more without giving things away but I loved the modernization.

JESS WALTER-“Falling Faintly” after “The Dead” by James Joyce
I didn’t know all that many stories before hand, but I knew this one very well and this is wonderful homage.  It is not in any way rewriting the story–it’s a very different story, but it alludes to the Joyce story and directly mentions it and it is quite clear where the connection between them is.
Michael is a writer.  He is married with kids but has moved temporarily out to New York to write for this new police procedural.  The show is doing well and the female star is quite beautiful.  They bond over cigarettes–she is foreign and smokes like a European, he recently started again.  As stories like this tend to go, Micheal gets the wrong idea about this young, hot actress.  And given that she is not American she misunderstands the subtleties of his behavior (which isn’t very subtle admittedly).  But he wants her to know that his story is a tribute to Joyce’s “The Dead.”  When he talks about the dead she thinks he means real dead people and is pretty freaked out.  This leads to a restraining order and a police intervention–not how he thought his life in New York would go.  What doe sit have to do with “The Dead”?  Well they are standing smoking in the snow as it gently floats to the ground falling through the universe, faintly falling.

LAUREN GROFF-“Once” after “Wants” by Grace Paley
I loved the way this story started.  I saw my enemy at the beach.  With that as a groundwork we slowly learn just how this woman has an enemy (it’s an old boyfriend’s mother) and how they have grudgingly begun to respect each other decades after the two broke up. I really enjoyed this short piece.

ROXANE GAY-“Men on Bikes” after “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood
I can’t imagine what the original of this story is.  The actual story of this is pretty peculiar itself.  Basically, the men in town have all started riding bicycles everywhere.  It started when one of them was arrested for drunk driving.  He didn’t lose his license but his wife took it away from him.  He dug out a bike and began riding it.  She thought he looked ridiculous, but when another man had his license taken away, they began riding together.  It was quite a sight, although I’m not sure what the point of it was.

NAMWALI SERPELL-“Company” after “Company” by Samuel Beckett
I like Beckett, and I know that he can be confusing.  I don’t know what “Company” is about so I have no idea how it relates to it, but man I did not get this at all.

It was confusing and really long.  It is broken into many small sections which might be connected.  The first is about the brightening which happened although many people missed it. Then we learn about the ship which is electro epidermal, which is cool but not really explained  and then the story turns into a quest for melanin and just when you think it’s a sci-fi story, it becomes a story about race.  There is a pale man tied to a tree hitting a sack (pound pound).  There’s a lot of vomit.  If the white man inseminates even one person, finding pure stem cells is impossible.  Dark skin marked you as  lucky when the darkening came.  But then she says the mission is over.  There’s more vomiting.  A fellow is supposed to be invisible in the village but Pound sees him.  There’s more vomit, a section titled rape, where Pound rapes Lila every once in a while and then who the hell knows what happens at he end.

KIESE LAYMON-“And So On” after “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
Weeks ago 64 black folks changed the world.  You are the 11th.  Aside from the direct address to the reader the story is pretty straightforward and interesting.  Chanda Stewart was 8th, the narrators research assistant was 9th and Doug E., Chandra’s boyfriend was 1st.  They are at a fancy restaurant, Chandra, the narrator and you.  She swears that Doug is a porn star, but the narrator argues that having 1089 twitter followers and awkward consensual sex with a few white women filmed on an iPhone 2 in his fake Timberlands, blue knee brace and yellow wrist bands makes you a porn participant, not a star.  The story comes down to which side the narrator is going to choose.   sides or run for our lives.  Because while they were talking, Doug E. and about sixty young black kids were marching down the street.  To the school.  They each had an ax and a shovel.

MEG WOLITZER-“If You’re Happy and You Know It” after “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” By J.D. Salinger
I haven’t read this Salinger story in a long time, so I don’t really know how it connects to this, but I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the way that it was written which was a little confusing but in an intriguing way.  Set in a hotel on Miami there is the young woman in 609 who arrived with her new husband.  She’d sent him off to the beach.  We see her telling her parents that he is taking it easy, but they want to know if he is taking the Klonopin.  Later that night in the lobby, a four year old girl, Chloe, is in the lobby of that hotel watching a man play piano.  The man is a guest also and he is playing and really getting into it.  Another boy asks if he can play This Old Man and the player jokes about the boy calling him old.  But Chloe asks if he can play “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  He says he might be happy but he may not know it. She is puzzled by that.  He says she is breaking his heart.  We soon realize that the pianist is the Klonopin man, and while things don’t get dark exactly, they certainly get strange.  And Chole’s parents have foisted her off on a poor babysitter the whole time.  This was one of my favorites in the book.

T.C. BOYLE-“The Argentine Ant” after “The Argentine Ant” by Italo Calvino
I can’t imagine what the original story is like, but this one from Boyle was really icky and really fantastic.  Its’ a fairly simple premise–a family moves to a rental property in Argentina, only to find that it is swarming with ants.  The ants are everywhere–even crawling all over their baby.  They run to the next door neighbor’s house only to see that they know about the ants and might have a secret weapon.  But mostly they just seem to be putting their furniture in jugs of water–presumably as a deterrent.  There is also an Ant Man who might be fighting the ants or who might actually be bringing more.  What is great about the way Boyle writes this is that the guy renting the house is working on an academic theorem that his wife thinks is rather frivolous.  And that tension underpins everything.

ALICE SOLA KIM-“One Hour, Every Seven Years” after “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury
Again I don’t know the original, but this story was great, and also weird. The weird part is that the story seems to start over multiple times. And that’s because there is a kind of time travel component to it.  The title refers to how often the sun comes out on Venus.  There is a girl, the main character, named Nargit. She was born on Earth and so she saw the sun.  The other kids are pretty angry at her for it (as if it’s her fault).  They are abusive to her, and the time travelling is the girl’s attempt to protect her younger self.  Many things go wrong but they bring about different results.

CHRIS ABANI-“Sleepy” after “Sleepy” by Anton Chekhov
This story was pretty horrific.  Kemi, a sixteen year old black girl who is now an orphan is working for a white family.  The family has two little children, one of whom is a baby.   The family is horrible to Kemi.  Pretty unrelentingly horrible.  Kemi is tired and never gets a break and the baby cries all the time.  She can’t soothe the baby and the family blames her for her failures.  Her exhaustion builds and builds until you pretty much know the ending several pages before it happens.

TOM DRURY-“The Yellow Wallpaper” after “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I know the original story although not super well.  But this version feels almost exactly the same. I honestly can’t tell what the difference is (without having re-read the original again to compare).   Jane and John are renting a place on an island for the summer.  John thinks Jane is not strong and keeps her hidden away in a room with yellow wallpaper.  He more or less runs everything in her life until she starts seeing people through the wallpaper.  You know things can’t go well from there.

POETRY:

REBECCA LINDENBERG-“Having a Coke with You” after “Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem for Keats” after “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

STEPHEN BURT-“A Nickel on Top of a Penny” after “Piedra Negra Sobre Una Piedra Blanca” by César Vallejo

BRIAN TURNER-“The Metaphor Program” after “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams

STEPHEN BURT-“Roofers” after “The Armadillo” by Elizabeth Bishop

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER-“Poem on the Occasion of a Weekly Staff Meeting” [the first two lines are taken from “A Poem on the Occasion of the Consecration of Sandford and Shippon Churches” by Rev. F. Wilson Kittermaster, 1855]

STEPHEN BURT-“Suspense” after “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane

KEVIN MOFFETT-“Second Wonder”-a monologue that will air on The Organist.
I found this puzzling at best.

PATTY YUMI COTTRELL-excerpt from Sorry to Disrupt the Peace
I read this book not too long ago.
This except was about two young children who invented a game called “Confession” in which the boy confesses his real or imagined sins to his sister.

~~~~~

The comparison quotes are called Great Speeches from History vs. the Tweets of Donald J. Trump:  I can’t bring myself to write any of the jerks tweets.

Mahatma Gandhi from the “Quit India” speech, 1942 vs. a Feb 4 2017 tweet

Abraham Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address” 1863 vs. a Feb 18 217 tweet (about fake news)

Martin Luther King Jr from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” vs. Feb 21 2017 (crowds planted by liberal activists)

Frederick Douglass from “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery” 1852 vs. Feb 6 2017 (negative polls are fake news).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, inauguration speech 1933 vs. Jan 22, 2017 (including all my enemies)

 

The bad thing about this issue is that the last four or five stories were all real downers, making it a pretty tough slog.  But I loved the idea, and I liked that they found the time and space to point out how stupid trump sounds and looks and is.

For ease of searching, I include: Cesar Vallejo

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[ATTENDED: May 25, 2016] Trey Anastasio

I saw Phish for the first time last summer.  The show was a lot of fun and I understood why people wanted to go to every one of their shows.  I haven’t really listened to as much of Trey Anastasio’s solo music, although I do like his new album Paper Wheels.  But I thought it would be a great opportunity to see the front man in a small place–getting up close in a way I’d never be able to at a Phish show.

The ticket said the show would start at 7:30, I wanted to get there early to get in front.  I arrived later than I wanted to, but the show didn’t go on until 8, so I was a little annoyed.  And yet it also meant that I got to get up pretty close (right behind the front section which appeared to be the dance section of the floor).

I was really surprised at how little pot there was at the show.  I smelled a little, but for the most part it was more drinking than smoking (and there was much drunkenness at the end). (more…)

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CV1_TNY_03_18_13Kalman.indd SOUNDTRACK: THE MILK CARTON KIDS-Tiny Desk Concert #232 (July 16, 2012).

milk-cartonI was unfamiliar with the Milk Carton Kids before seeing them on NPR.  I had always assumed they were a punk band with a name like that. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.  The Milk Carton kids are a delightful folk duo.  And they give the origin of their band name a little later in the Concert.

Joey Ryan sings lead and plays rhythm acoustic guitar.  Kenneth Pattengale plays lead guitar and sings beautiful harmonies.  It’s his guitar work that is so disarming because he plays leads throughout the songs, so rather than having the two guitars doing the same thing, his guitar is all over the place–playing beautiful trills and lines while Ryan is singing.

The first song they play is “Michigan.”  I love how in the middle of the song between the melodies and the harmonies it sounds like about three different bands—there’s a kind of Simon & Garfunkel vibe, a Jayhawks vibe, and maybe even a CS&N vibe–and yet it retains their original sound.  There’s some beautiful melodies in the vocals and the lyrics are really good (but sad).

After the song, Bob asks about the neckerchief on Kenneth’s guitar.  he says, “well it looks good.”

Then he explains that in a technical way, “This guitar is a bit crummy.”  When they play higher chords the strings buzz, so the neckerchief keeps that from happening: “It’s practical and it’s alluring—this is what got Stephen to stop at our concert to listen.”

Kenneth then says that Joey usually talks more than this “I don’t know why he’s so demure today.”  Joey deadpans, “I don’t know what demure means, but I’m, sorry if that’s how I’m behaving.”

Before the next song, Joey deadpans, “This is something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  Hence our palpable excitement.”

They’re very happy to be behind this desk so “We’ll play you a love song to the desk.  This song is called ‘To the Desk.'”  The song is actually called “Stealing Romance.”  They sing a duet with Ken taking the high notes.   It’s a slow ballad.  During the song you can hear all kinds of sirens going past the offices.  When it ends, Ken says, “I think Joe Biden drove down the street during that one.”  Joey reacts: “Who’s that?”

Then Joey explains the origins of their band name Milk Carton Kids.  The name comes from one of their songs “Milk Carton Kid.”  The song itself is named after a lyric in the song.  He says it’s an attempt to answer the question that’s one everyone’s mind with a completely unsatisfactory answer.  Then he says they’re not going to play that song.

Rather, they play “their happy song” “I Still Want A Little More”which proves to be really fast and uptempo—a real surprise after the other two songs.  Ken is wailing away on his guitar while they sing in great harmony.  There’s some rollicking guitars and singing.  This is my favorite song of the three.

I don’t love their slower songs. Although as far as slow songs go, their setup is great–the harmonies, the interesting guitar.  But I really like the two of them.  They are great performers and excellent storytellers.

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Checking Out”

This story is bookended with a man planning on marrying woman.

Obinze is African, and he is in London on a work visa.  He is arranging a sham marriage to be able to stay in the country.  The arrangement has been set up by some Angolans. They claim that he is a friend of a friend and they’re doing him a favor, but they are keeping lot of the money that is meant to go to his bride.

When he met Cleotilde, he was surprised to see that she was young and pretty.  And it seemed that she was pleased with him when she saw him as well-0ff.  I guess expectations are pretty low in this situation.  He was kind to her from the start, making sure that she was okay doing this. And she said she was–she really needs the money for her family.

Obinzne and Cleo meet up a few times to get their details straight, and he finds that he is really falling for her–although he knows he can’t really act on it until after the marriage. (more…)

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Sfeb20156OUNDTRACK: GRAHAM NASH-Tiny Desk Concert #515 (March 14, 2016).

nashI only realized after reading this blurb that he was in The Hollies.  I’ve really only known him from CSN&Y.  And that makes sense now why “Bus Stop” (a song I’ve known forever but never knew the name of) sounds so familiar.

Nash plays guitar (and harmonica) and sings and he’s accompanied by Shane Fontayne on guitar and harmony vocals.  The duo sound great.  Nash’s voice is clear and sounds amazing (because he’s 74 but even if he weren’t).  Obviously I missed the mega harmonies of CSN&Y, but as a solo performer he really shines.

The first song he plays is “Bus Stop” and it sounds wonderful.  I miss some of the inflections that are in the original–but this is clearly a solo rendition (and it has been 50 years after all).

The other two songs are from his new album.  “Myself at Last” he says was the first song the recorded and that it was done in one take (and that musicians love that).  It’s a lovely song with a very Graham Nash feel (imagine that).  I love the chord progression in the bridge and the slight delay in vocals for the chorus.

For the final song, “This Path Tonight,” he asks us to imagine “an incredible rock and roll band playing with us.”  Even though the song isn’t fast, it has a real sense of urgency in it.  The chord progression is intense, and I imagine that with a band this song would be even more exciting.

[READ: January 20, 2016] “My Diagnosis”

This is the kind of story that reads more like an exercise that was later developed into a full story.

The opening of the story is that the narrator’s mother has made the narrator’s diagnosis public.

And the rest of the story is the narrator’s way of obfuscating what that diagnosis is–possibly from herself but definitely from her mother’s friends. (more…)

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mercurySOUNDTRACK: MOBY & KELLI SCARR-Tiny Desk Concert #58 (May 4, 2010).

moby This is the first of a few Tiny Desk Concerts that break with the format we’ve come to know.

For unclear reasons, there is a video for only one song from this show.  Although there is a full audio feed in which you can hear all of the songs that Moby and Kelli play.  This video is also filmed at night, which is quite different from their usual mid-morning showcase.  It is very dark outside and in the studio, which is also unusual.

The song that they play is “Gone to Sleep,” a song they created for Project Song.  The premise behind Project Song is to write, record and complete a song in 48 hours.  As inspiration, they used the word Sunday and a picture of a man in the woods with clouds for a head (Moby describes him as a pedophile from another dimension).

It’s quite a good song with a really catchy, very Moby chorus.  And the dark video is interesting to watch.

There’s audio where you can learn a bit more about Project Song and how they created their song.  But there’s also audio from the rest of their set, which features covers and Moby originals all done on acoustic guitar.

They play a fun, surprisingly light version of “Ring of Fire” (with audience participation on “trumpet solo”).  Then the do Moby’s “Pale Horses” which is quite nice in this stripped down version.  Their next cover is “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.”  They do an interesting take–it’s almost upbeat and folky, which is unusual.  He switches from “and the colored girls say” to “and everybody here says.”  He also tells a funny story about campaigning for John Kerry and playing that song and seeing Kerry’s wife act horrified and maybe a little turned on by the lyrics.

The final song is CSN&Y’s “Helpless.”  It’s a pretty, very different version from the original.  It’s a good set, especially for those who think of Moby as a more dancey artist.

[READ: June 21, 2015] Mercury

I really enjoyed this book by Hope Larson, one of my consistently favorite graphic novelists.

And this book may be one of her best.  The book drifts back and forth between two timelines in Nova Scotia.  The older timeline is 1859.  We meet the Fraser family living in a house on French hill.  They have just had a visitor, Asa Curry and he seems taken with their daughter Josey.

The modern timeline is set 150 years in the future.  The Fraser family until recently still lived on the property at French Hill.  A few years ago it burnt down and the survivors had to move.

The 1859 story has a black border while the contemporary story has a white one, it a subtle but very cool way of distinguishing the timelines. (more…)

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staticSOUNDTRACK: YES-Fragile (1971).

fragileComing out just nine months (!) after The Yes Album, Fragile (which included new keyboardist Rick Wakeman) was a brilliant classic rock album that (depending on how much you like Wakeman) eclipses The Yes Album in greatness.

This was the first Yes album with a cover by Roger Dean (not up to his usual style for the band and prior to his creating their iconic logo).

Some might argue that Fragile is a better album than The Yes Album, and I might be one of them, but it’s really close (and depends on the day).  Fragile has bigger hits in “Roundabaout” and “Long Distance Runaround” (at only 3 minutes an actual radio song!), but it also has a number of weird little “solo” items.

“Roundabout is a staple in classic rock—not bad for an 8 minute song.  The opening notes are iconic, and then the bass comes in, big and round and heavy.  And there’s so many little fiddly bits-the keys, the guitars, even the bass, that it’s not even that clear to me how they did it all.   But there’s also the “in and around the lake” part that has such simple guitars and is so catchy.  It’s also the first time you really get to hear new keyboardist Rick Wakeman who is insanely talented and full of all kinds of interesting notions (and evidently a rack of 12 keyboards). And sure, the end of the song is mostly a chance for everyone to show off their skills and that’s pretty cool.  The final section has some great harmonies ala Crosby, Stills and Nash.

According to Bruford: “I said—brightly—’Why don’t we do some individual things, whereby we all use the group for our own musical fantasy? I’ll be the director, conductor, and maestro for the day, then you do your track, and so on.’  And that’s why there are five tiny pieces of songs scattered between the longer songs.  The first one is by Wakeman and is called “Cans and Brahms” a piano and organ piece.  Wakeman later described the track as “dreadful” as contractual problems with A&M Records prevented him from writing a composition of his own.  The following solo piece is by John Anderson and has multiple vocal lines overlapping over a simple musical base.  I never knew the lines were “Tell the Moon dog, tell the March hare.”  I love that it ends with footsteps running away and a door slamming—to what?

“South Side of the Sky” returns to a proper 8 minute song. It opens with a cool drum fill and some great guitar lines (all with Squire’s rumbling bass underneath–or actually in front).  After about two minutes there’s some interesting piano sections, including an almost spooky solo section of high notes.  There’s a pretty section of “la las” after this until the song comes bouncing back to the noisy part nearly 6 minutes in.

“Five Per Cent for Nothing” is a Bruford composition.  It’s staccato and all over the place and was, evidently his first composition (all 38 seconds of it).  Then comes “Long Distance Runaround,” another classic with an iconic guitar intro.  There’s some more unusual guitar lines (and a lot of open space) in this song.   It segues (and when I grew up the radio station often played both parts) into the next track written by Squire: “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus).”  Even though it is Squire’s it does not have a lot of crazy bass in it, well, until the end when he gets to really fly.  This isn’t really a solo song since the rest of the band plays along.   The final solo piece is Howe’s flamenco guitar piece “Mood for a Day” which is lovely.

And then comes “Heart of the Sunrise” one of my favorite Yes songs.  It has one of the most amazing  introductions to a song.  It’s incredibly fast and intense riffage followed by a very slow section that has complex drumming an interesting bassline and keyboards.  It’s great how Squire and Bruford keep the steady beat amidst all the flourish.  The chaos goes on for nearly 3 and a half minutes before it totally mellows out to a delicate section sung by Anderson.  Then as you settle into this more mellow (and very pretty) section, around 7 minutes in we get a wholly new section of some wild keyboard.  And then some interspersing of weird keyboard and that awesome opening riff.  And although it sounds like it’s going to fade out, there’s more to come—another delicate section with repeats of the great guitar riff (not the opening heavy riff, the other one).  The song slowly builds to a climactic section that then switches back to the wild riff for a quick end.  It’s exhilarating  But that’s not exactly the end.

The disc ends with the door opening again and “We Have Heaven” reprising for a few seconds before fading out.

It’s outstanding and is unquestionably a classic.

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.  Our second change occurs with this their fourth album:

Chris Squire-bass
John Anderson-vocals
Bill Bruford-drums
Rick Wakeman (#2 replaced Tony Kaye)-keyboards
Steve Howe (#2)-guitar

[READ: January 15, 2015] Static Shock: Trial by Fire

In the old DC vs Marvel war I have clearly become a Marvel guy.  In fact, when asked to name some DC guys, after Superman and Batman I fall flat.  And, unlike the Marvel Universe, Superman and Batman are never really seen together.  Let’s say that Marvel has done an awesome job at marketing.

So here’s a DC book, and I was pleased to give it a try. I was also pleased to see that the superhero is black–an all too rare experience in graphic novels.

The back of the book says that Static Shock is the “hot new animated series on the Kids WB!”  I wasn’t sure if Kids WB was still on, but that’s irrelevant because this book was published in 2000 (! why are we getting it now?).  The book was printed in 1993, so nothing in the introduction (which talks about the Kids WB ) is at all relevant.

Not to mention that the TV show was clearly adapted from the comic to make a much more kid friendly show.  I didn’t realize that when my son grabbed this and started reading it.  He put it down after a few pages.  I don’t know if he got to the point where the boys in high school call each other fag and queer or the black kids are called monkey, or what.  I had to apologize to him and he declared it “weird” so I don’t know what he actually thought.

Suffice it to say that this book is not for kids.  It is a harsh look at racism in high school and the opportunity for a black nerd (who is into comics) to actually fight back against he white playas (who are way too into the hip hop scene). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 8, 2014] An Evening with Neil Young

2014-10-08 22.40.54 Sarah has wanted to see Neil Young for decades.  However, we’ve had bad luck (or high prices) with tickets so we never went.  But when I saw that he was performing in Philly for not too too expensive, it was time to get Sarah to see her man.

I myself have enjoyed Neil Young for a while too, so this wasn’t like a sacrifice or anything.  I had just never gotten around to seeing him either.  Over the years he has played with some amazing other bands (not to mention Crazy Horse), like Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam–two tours that I should have gone to but didn’t.  But this night was all about Neil.  It was just him and his guitar and his guitar and his guitar and his guitar and his guitar and his guitar and his guitar and his banjo and his piano and his piano and his organ and a bunch of harmonicas.  (He had about 8 guitars on stage and he played every one of them).

I don’t usually check setlist before shows because I like to be surprised, but with Neil, ever the curmudgeon, you never really know what you’ll get–perhaps he’ll do an all Trans night.  So I scanned a set, saw a few hits and felt secure in letting him give us whatever he wanted.

2014-10-08 19.42.37-1Outside the theater–the Academy of Music, to which I had never been–there was a big silver bus (not an Econoline van) with the license plate ZUMA, and we knew we were in the right place.  Then we entered the old building and went up the less than impressive stairs (it looked like a middle school stairwell).  And we proceeded to go up and up and up and up to our seats.  We were about ten rows from the top of this building.  And the theater was breathtaking (especially since we were out of breath from climbing 8 flights of stairs).

But it 2014-10-08 19.52.35was stunning to be eye to eye with a chandelier.  However, the building is not deep, so we weren’t that far from the stage.  Of course, mostly we saw the top of Neil’s head (and the top of his piano–which was cool).

Before the lights dimmed we got the great announcement to “please refrain from shouting out song titles,” which I loved–if only the latecomers had heard that message as well.

And then, lights went out, flashlights appeared and Neil shuffled on stage–in jeans, a T-shirt, a flannel type shirt over it–and sat down in the middle of the stage.  He picked up one of the guitars (he already had his harmonica clipped on) and busted out “From Hank to Hendrix.”

Okay, so I’ve been listening to Neil for a long time–I’ve gotten nearly all of his records, I’ve heard a bunch of live things, saw him recently on Jimmy Kimmel–nevertheless I was absolutely blown away by how good his voice sounded.  It was clear and strong and nothing like the 68 year old guy shuffling around on stage should be able to possess.  And his guitar playing sounded crisp and clean, his harmonica was spot on–it was so perfect sounding.  Perhaps it was the venue, but it was the purest sounding concert I may have ever heard.

When he finished the song, Sarah, overcome said, “Okay we can go now.”  That’s how good it was.  [You can read her review here].  But of course we didn’t go.  We sat, rapt as he picked guitars to play, “This one was a gift from Stephen Stills.” [Audience guy: How is he?] “He’s good.”  And on that guitar he played a Buffalo Springfield song.  Then he played “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”  At this point I stopped trying to keep track of the guitars he played. (more…)

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