Category Archives: music

Some Valentines

So, I’ll make no bones about it. I’m basically allergic to sappy mushy love songs. Not only don’t they apply to me (I am very happy to be a spinster – and isn’t “spinster” just a fantastic word? I’m serious!), but they are also, more often than not, either one-dimensional, badly written, trite, or just dishonest.

But a couple of love songs came up on random shuffle as I was listening to music the other day, and they made me think. There are some love songs that I love despite themselves. I decided to set up a few criteria and make a list:

  1. Sincere love songs only – not ironic, mostly sad, or primarily humorous ones.
  2. “I love you” is a different sentiment from “I wish you loved me.” I’m mostly looking for the former, here. This rules out “if only you were mine” songs, “why don’t you love me back” songs, the “since my baby left me” blues, and so on.
  3. Along those lines, no “this love is so great because it is doomed” songs. Likewise, no “love hurts and that’s what I like about it” songs. Looking for, I know this is radical, evidence of actual healthy relationships and human understanding here. Which also means no songs in which everything is perfect, always has been, always will be. Gag me.
  4. Finally they have to be songs I like. Which isn’t that hard because I like a lot of songs. But this is my list, and my taste. 🙂

So without further ado, sort of a bloggish mixtape – a few musical Valentines from me to you.

Little Steven, “Forever.” People who know Steven Van Zandt from the Sopranos or the E Street Band don’t always realize he is a hellaciously great songwriter in his own right. This song is maybe a little more of an invitation than a declaration of love, but it’s so purely celebratory that I had to include it. The studio version on the great “Men Without Women” album is better, but this live version with Southside Johnny is fun too. “If I give you my heart, would you love me forever? Will you pick up the pieces if I stumble and fall?

Patti Smith, “Because the Night.” I loved this song before I knew that Bruce Springsteen co-wrote it. It’s certainly hyper-romantic, but it has an edge. I love both Patti’s and Bruce’s versions of it, so I chose the one I heard first and fell in love with when I was 16 years old. “Love is a banquet on which we feed.

Ani DiFranco, “Pulse.” You gotta love a love song that starts out by comparing the beloved to a giant bug. And I love the wistful, downtempo, sort of gently obsessive musical bed Ani’s lyrics rest upon. “I would offer you my pulse/ give you my breath.

Indigo Girls, “Starkville.” It’s maybe as much “longing” as “love,” but having fallen for someone who was physically far away (okay, more than once… damn you, Internet), the sentiment at the heart of this song rings true. And I love how the lyrics place you firmly in the real, geographical world. “Now I’m haunted by geography/ and the flora and the fauna of your heart.”

Lucinda Williams, “Something About What Happens When We Talk.” Speaking of long-distance thangs and the magic that can happen when the only way you can touch someone is with words. I just rediscovered this song tonight, actually, after not having listened to it in ages. It’s a song of regret, a little bit, but mostly it’s about realizing how that too-brief intersection with somebody can be pure magic. I love that sense of purity in this song. “Conversation with you was like a drug/ it wasn’t your face so much as it was your words.”

Nils Lofgren, “Valentine.” Nobody does “sincere” quite as well as this guy. I think this is just a really sweet song, simple and direct. The studio version has Bruce Springsteen on harmony, which is always a lovely thing, and Ringo Starr on drums – but this live version has so much great guitar (Lofgren is one of the all-time great rock guitarists) that I had to use it here instead. “So let your blue heart open wide…

Bruce Springsteen, “Kingdom of Days.” Now, Bruce doesn’t have a shortage of songs about women, sex, love, whatever… but a lot of them are about wanting something good, not so much about actually having something good. This song is a gorgeous exception, and one that includes the joys of quietly growing old with someone. You gotta love that. “We’ll laugh beneath the covers, count the wrinkles and the grays…” (Honorable mention in the Springsteen category: Tunnel of Love – “the lights go out and it’s just the three of us: you, me, and all that stuff we’re so scared of.”)

Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Soul Companion.” I’m including this less because of the song (which is lovely) than because of the videos made for it. Fans were invited to submit photos of themselves with their “soul companion” and the resulting videos – six of them, which you can see on MCC’s YouTube channel – were compiled from those photos. There’s so much real love in the photos: couples of all genders, colors, sizes, ages; friends; parents and children; people with their pets; animals cuddled up together. The videos remind me that love is love, no matter what shape it takes, and it’s all worth celebrating. And in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about? Oh yeah, you might see a familiar face right around the 3:04 mark in this video.


Filed under music

Movie reviewish: “Not Fade Away”

Caveat lector: This isn’t really a proper movie review. I don’t know much about movies, and wouldn’t begin to try to critique a film from an artistic standpoint – I think you have to really understand a genre in order to do that. For a good example of a proper film review, I liked Leonard Maltin’s. This is pretty much just my own personal reaction to the movie; very personal, as you will see by the end.

"Not Fade Away" movie posterGiven that David Chase’s coming-of-age film  “Not Fade Away” is basically a love letter to rock & roll, it won’t surprise anyone that I liked it. Okay, I think it had some issues with pacing – there are times when scenes blow by quickly and I wasn’t really sure whether I had maybe missed something. There were some subplots that were interesting but never got fleshed out – the bit about Grace‘s hippie sister, for example. I was disappointed that the female characters were generally pretty two-dimensional, especially Grace herself; she’s just the pretty but slightly confused girlfriend, and though she’s on screen a lot, we never really get to know what makes her tick. And while I loved the last three minutes or so, the final arc towards the ending (the L.A. part) seemed a little muddled and out-of-place to me.

But you know what, I still loved this movie. I loved it a lot. The soundtrack, as one would expect given the involvement of Steven Van Zandt, is absolutely killer. The Van Zandt original featured in the film, “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” is catchy as hell and just a great song. (You can read my review of the soundtrack album over at Blogness.)  The scenes where the band is learning to play are beautiful; the one where they’re working out “Bo Diddley” in particular made me want to run out of the theater and go start a band. There’s a hilarious cameo by Jay Weinberg (son of E Street drummer Max Weinberg, and until recently the drummer for punk band Against Me) as a drummer entirely ill-suited for the band he’s playing with; for the benefit of those who get it I will mutter here “No junior Ginger Bakers.” The acting is generally very good, especially leading man John Magaro, of whom I bet we will be seeing a lot more, as well as Meg Guzulescu who plays his sister – a tiny role, but she really shines. Anyone who grew up in the sixties will appreciate the attention to authenticity and detail throughout the film; it felt absolutely real. And I dare you not to walk out of the theater humming and/or dancing.

But mostly, and this really isn’t that much of a spoiler, I love that “Not Fade Away” isn’t a success story. It would have been easy to make a movie about a band that makes it big, or for that matter about one that crashes & burns dramatically. But as the lead character’s younger sister says at the beginning of the movie, this band is like most bands – you never heard of them. Does this mean this is a film about failure? No. The message of the film, to me, is that following your dream and doing what you love is not wasted time, regardless of whether you find “success” or “failure” or something in between. More specifically, the movie posits rock & roll as something worth pursuing and holding on to and in fact as the greatest thing American culture has produced.*  You can argue about that latter point, but you can’t argue that the movie and its characters come most alive when they are playing or listening to the music they love. And that has nothing to do with recording contracts, commercial success, or anything else.

As the daughter of a musician who made a modest (very modest) living for a while playing in your basic hotel-lounge cover band, and as someone who took guitar lessons for a while and came close enough to not sucking at it to have some pretty daydreams, I have a complicated relationship with the idea of musical “success.” When you spend hours and hours practicing your craft and you never have the kind of success you daydream about, have you wasted all that time and effort?

I think about that a lot, actually. When my dad got a “real job” teaching psychology at a university and moved us to Indiana, he pretty much stopped playing music. He probably could have found some guys to play with on weekends for fun. But having been good enough to play professionally, I think he recognized that no longer practicing regularly meant that his chops deteriorated quickly, and I think it was hard for him to enjoy playing if he didn’t have the facility with it that he used to have. So he stopped. Like him, I have enough of an ear to hear that when I pick up the guitar to bash around on it now, I kind of suck. I was never a professional-level musician but I was coffeehouse-level good once, and now I can’t even play that well. It’s hard for me to do things just for kicks, without wanting to be good at them. And so, mostly, I don’t play.

And what “Not Fade Away” tells me is, fuck that shit, just play. If it makes you feel alive, it doesn’t much matter if you suck or if you’re good enough to get a record contract. Being good enough to get a contract doesn’t mean you’re going to end up famous anyway. Like all those other bands you’ve never heard of, you probably won’t. You may find yourself in a strange city living a life entirely different from the life you were dreaming of, but on some street corner you might hear music and remember what it feels like to be alive again. And that, this movie says, that is what matters.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have a guitar that needs my attention now. Rock on.


*At the very end of the movie Evelyn, younger sister of main character Douglas, turns to the camera and says “I had to write a term paper, and I wrote about how America has given the world two inventions of enormous power. One is nuclear weapons. The other is rock & roll. Which one is going to win out in the end?” The question is left verbally unanswered, but Evelyn begins dancing in the middle of the deserted street, a graceful little go-go sequence that celebrates youth, rock & roll, and life itself. I would argue that her dancing answers the question pretty definitively. Rock & roll wins out – if we let it.

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Crazy Kindness: Some thoughts on love and authenticity

This past weekend I made a whirlwind trip to Kansas City for, yes, a Springsteen show. Drove there on Friday, went to the show Saturday, drove back home Sunday – a total of about 960 miles round trip. I got what I expected – hours in the car to listen to music and sing at the top of my lungs where nobody will hear me, some time spent with friends I don’t see often enough, and an absolutely fantastic concert (see my review on Blogness). I also got some surprises along the way, all of them good ones, all of them occasioned by kindness.

Anne Haines and Steven Van Zandt

Anybody know this guy? He seems cool.

Yep, that is me with Little Steven, aka Stevie Van Zandt, aka Miami Steve, aka Silvio Dante, aka someone who has been one of my heroes for many years. I had the incredible good fortune to be offered a pass to his pre-show meet & greet, and so I doubled my lifetime count of E Street Band members I have met (readers of my previous blog will recall that I met Max Weinberg when he came to Indianapolis with his big band a couple years ago). He was exactly like you expect him to be: relaxed, funny, a little sarcastic, charming, and definitely the center of attention in the room.

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, because you will inevitably be disappointed. But that hasn’t generally been my experience. I mean, I don’t expect them to walk on water. I’m old and I’ve seen a few things and I’ve gotten over thinking anybody walks on water. I haven’t met anybody, ever, who was fully incapable of being a jerk now and then. (Okay, I never met Mother Teresa, but I bet she lost her sense of humor a lot.) I think sometimes people have ridiculous expectations when they meet somebody they admire. It’s a real test, sometimes, to just make yourself stay in the moment and enjoy it for what it is. I’ve had varying levels of success with that (not that I’ve met THAT many famous people, mind).

The thing I have always admired about SVZ, perhaps most of all, is that he seems to be someone who’s determined to be exactly who he is at all times, no matter what, and not try to change himself to fit somebody else’s idea of who he should be – even his own idea of who he should be. He’s been known to piss people off by making political or artistic statements, by wearing what he likes to wear, by doing all kinds of things. And the sense that I got (in the oh, minute and a half that I got to chat with him, and the half-hour or so – ok, I don’t know, I wasn’t exactly checking my watch! – that he was in the room with the group of us that were there that night) was that he’s someone who is very comfortable with who he is. Yeah, being who he is has paid off pretty well for mister rockstar/actor/DJ/record label guy. But you get the impression that he’d be the same person regardless. If he were, I don’t know, a factory worker or an elementary teacher instead of a rockstar, he’d probably be out there supporting local bands in the evenings – as it is, his “local” is international in scope, and when he discovers a band he loves he has the means to help them get a wider audience instead of just being one guy going to their shows and maybe dragging his friends along sometimes. Just for example. There are things that he cares about pretty deeply, and you get the sense that he would care about those things whatever his position in life happened to be, it’s just that he’s got the wherewithal to care about them louder than most people do.

I could be completely wrong about the guy, of course. This is just what I’ve surmised about him from following his career(s) for a few decades, and from the deep sense of authenticity I got from him in the brief time we were in the same room. (Okay, we were also in the same room for three hours afterwards, but the Sprint Center arena is a REALLY BIG ROOM and he was pretty busy at the time.) I’m sure he is thoroughly human. I’m sure he has bad days, and I’m sure I don’t ever want to piss him off. *grin* But he inspires me to try to be more authentic myself, to let myself care deeply about the stuff I care about, and to work hard while still managing to laugh a lot of the time. Not a bad sort of hero to have, methinks.

[And before anybody else asks. No, I do not have any advice to give you on how to arrange for a meet’n’greet with anyone in the E Street Band or anyone else. I really have no idea how these things usually happen. Mine came about via the good fortune of being in the right place, in the right time, and perhaps with the right attitude about such things although who knows. All I can say for sure is, enjoy the experiences you get and be kind to the people you meet, and you won’t have too many regrets.]

* * * * * * * * * *

Getting to meet someone I admire so much was just one of several memorable kindnesses that were extended to me over the course of the weekend. I was a lucky, lucky girl. I got to spend time with some friends I don’t get to see often enough, and I got to meet some new friends I liked a great deal. Even the crescent moon over the gleaming silver Sprint Center seemed to be shining down with a particular benevolence on Saturday night.

After the meet & greet I found my way to the arena floor and, because it was the sort of weekend when things happen easily (like walking near the arena and turning around to realize that a Twitter friend that I’d hoped to meet just happened to be walking right behind me), I almost immediately located two different groups of friends at the back of the pit. I said hi to both groups, filled them in on a bit of where I’d been and what I’d been doing; and then because I had to choose one group to hang with during the show, I chose the ones who were over towards the side of the back of the pit. There was a lot of room there, which meant we’d have room to dance and an unobstructed view of the stage. And since I probably would have been hanging with these folks during the lottery anyway, I was in the same spot I would’ve been in regardless, which assuaged any lingering guilt feelings I might have had over my good fortune that evening.

Given the events of the evening, I will never be able to be objective about the show itself. I was in a happy place and there wasn’t anything that was going to shake that. Luckily, it’s easy to say that the show was great and feel confident about that. Personal highlight for me was “Incident on 57th Street” – an early song I absolutely love, and one I’d never gotten in concert (and consider that, although I haven’t been to nearly as many shows as a lot of folks, my first Springsteen show was in 1978 so I go way back). I may have hyperventilated a bit when the song began, and it was just gorgeous. I’m now down to two “all-time favorites I’ve never heard in concert” songs: “The Promise” and “Lost in the Flood.”

My other highlight was “My Beautiful Reward,” which opened the encore. Bruce dedicated this very rarely-performed song to his cousin and road manager, Lenny Sullivan, whose unexpected death forced the last-minute cancellation of the Kansas City show in 2009. It was hauntingly beautiful, exquisitely performed with a spare arrangement featuring Soozie Tyrell and Nils Lofgren, and clearly deeply felt by Bruce. I still had a lump in my throat when the lights roared up and “Born to Run” ripped the arena wide open – I think it might have been the first time I wasn’t ready for the full-on celebration that song always elicits.

Since I was in the very back of the pit, I had a great view of Bruce whenever he sang from the platform between the pit and the main GA floor. I’ve seen the “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” tribute to Clarence Clemons a few times on this tour, and it’s always moving as the audience gets its chance to celebrate the Big Man’s memory. The recent addition of the late Danny Federici to the memorial slideshow has made it bigger and better, I think; a celebration of everything about the E Street Band that is now lost to the past – just as time causes all of us to lose aspects of our youth.

Bruce always stands on the rear  platform, mic held high to catch the audience’s cheers, and silently watches the slideshow. I’ve thought a lot about those moments – how it must feel to him to look at what are in a sense old family photos in front of thousands of screaming fans, what led to his decision to perform this particular tribute in this particular way. Because it is, make no doubt about it, a performance. I’ve seen fans commenting as though Bruce is putting his private grief on display as he watches the images – and I think it’s way more complex than that. I think it’s very possible that what he feels at that moment may be anything but grief (it’s been a couple of years, and he’s been through this tribute many many times now, and it can’t possibly be the fresh raw wound that some fans seem to want it to be) – but I think that he is performing grief in such a way that the audience, and for that matter the band, and for that matter Bruce himself, can access grief from the past, or the future, or the depths of the present.

I guess this is old news to people who are performers, but I’m just beginning to understand it myself – even though I’ve had some small experience with performance via poetry readings. I know that when I read a poem, I’m not exposing my deep inner self or whatever; I’m voicing a made thing that has, in a funny way, a life of its own outside of me even though I wrote it. I’m pretty sure it’s the same for a singer. He doesn’t have to feel terribly sad in order to make the audience weep during “My City of Ruins” – he only has to embody the feeling of sadness, which is a different thing. By offering up the grief performance of the “Tenth Avenue” tribute, Bruce is offering access to a set of feelings that the audience may choose to participate in. Which is not to say that it is a dishonest thing – and here we are, back to authenticity again. The feelings, even while being a performance, are very real. It’s like the important difference between facts and truth. Bruce may not necessarily be offering facts in his songs, even the ones that sound pretty damned autobiographical. But he is, absolutely, offering truth. And in the case of a Bruce Springsteen performance, that truth is conveyed in the music, in the lyrics, in the tone of voice, in every muscle of his body (he is perhaps the most physical performer I’ve ever witnessed, taking bodily risks as he crowd-surfs, making himself physically vulnerable to the audience, pushing himself to muscular limits).

Sometimes I am very aware of the performance as performance, as Springsteen enacts the persona of Springsteen. Now we’re going to have Goofy Bruce, now Mighty Rocker Bruce, now Serious Intense Bruce. It’s not that he is being inauthentic, but he is definitely in character. And sometimes, at moments, despite all that I know about it being performance, the truth of it shines so brightly that it makes me catch my breath. During “Tenth Avenue” in Kansas City, there was one of those moments: as a full-face portrait of Danny Federici filled the screen, Bruce reached his hand out towards it as if to touch — as if he could reach through time and mortality and use the genius of his physicality to touch his lost friend again. Yes, performance. Yes, he may even have rehearsed that precise gesture. But it was authentic, it was truth, and it pretty much broke my heart right there.

Bruce Springsteen and projected image of Danny Federici

photo / Stephanie Korby @PenskeMaterial

And in a weekend filled with acts of kindness and generosity, maybe that was the biggest one. Bruce isn’t standing there on that stage saying to the audience “Hey! I’m having feelings! Look at me!” (Okay, he’s definitely saying “look at me” sometimes – a performer’s got to have an ego! – but bear with me.) No – he’s saying “Here. I made this thing out of feelings and memories and muscles and sweat. I made it for you and I am giving it to you now, here, tonight. Keep it in your heart and maybe you can use it for something someday.”

Maybe that is kindness. Maybe that is even, in its own way, love.


Filed under music, ramblings, Springsteen

An evening with Anthony DeCurtis

One of the coolest things about living in a college town is the opportunity to hear all sorts of scholars and artists speak on campus. A couple of years ago I had the privilege of seeing the great jazz composer/educator/musician/bandleader David Baker (on faculty here at IU) interviewing the incredible Quincy Jones onstage, for example. And tonight, thanks to Jacobs School of Music faculty member Glenn Gass and his eternally-popular (and academically groundbreaking) course on the Beatles, I got to hear a lecture by journalist and music critic Anthony DeCurtis (Rolling Stone contributing editor). DeCurtis is a fellow IU English Dept. alum; he’s just a few years older than I am, and got his doctorate here, so I have no doubt we probably passed one another at a downtown street dance or in the corridors of Ballantine Hall at some point in the late seventies/early eighties – which only makes it cooler to hear him talk about the amazing musicians he has interviewed and written about. The lecture hall (Ballantine 013, a fairly large room) was packed to the gills with both undergrads and middle-aged old farts like me – a standing room only audience.

The lecture was ostensibly about the Beatles, 3/4 of whom DeCurtis has interviewed at length. And he talked quite a bit about the Beatles, their importance, and the very human individuals they were. It was fascinating to hear him talk about the differences between interviewing Paul McCartney and George Harrison. The McCartney interview was all arranged in a fairly standard, businesslike way; DeCurtis was still a little bit green as an interviewer, and he played us a tape of a bit of the interview to prove that fact. McCartney was talking about John Lennon’s death, the press response, and his own grief, and DeCurtis was so eager to talk about it all too that he completely talked over McCartney for a while. He told us about having learned, after that experience, to let his subjects do the talking. He talked about how a jazz critic once described Miles Davis as being a really good listener, which is why he was able to be such a phenomenal bandleader, and said that quality is essential for an interviewer as well. (I have to admit, I love the insight that a bandleader has to be a good listener.)

The George Harrison interview was very different. Harrison was harder to reach, for one thing; he hadn’t put out an album in a little while, and DeCurtis couldn’t track him down via the usual manager/publicist/record label channels. He was persistent, leaving messages everywhere, and finally Olivia Harrison (George’s wife) called him and, in a very low-key (and a very George Harrison-esque) way, the interview was arranged. When DeCurtis arrived, the first thing Harrison asked was, “You talked to Paul? …How is he doing?” –which sort of said a lot about the relationship between the former Beatles at the time, you know? Poignant. DeCurtis talked about having learned something important from this interview as well; he found himself getting starstruck enough to interfere with the interview a bit, and his mantra now is, just do the interview and then let yourself get excited later. He also played us a short snippet from the Harrison interview, also talking about Lennon’s death, and about the spiritual connection between George and John – George said something about how if you can’t have a spiritual connection with a good friend who has passed on, how can you hope to have such a connection with God? It was quite moving, really.

The notion of being starstruck, sitting there talking to George Harrison and realizing that you’re talking to GEORGE HARRISON, led DeCurtis to talk about how a performer transforms when they step onstage and they become that person – he used Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen as excellent examples of this. “That’s why they are who they are,” he said.

And he talked about aging and mortality a bit – only natural, given that the lecture was about a group that’s lost two of its members already, and that he was also talking here and there about having interviewed the Rolling Stones yesterday and they’re no spring chickens either. He did not say this verbatim, but my notes say “There are no miracles in mortality but there are miracles in art.” That sort of sums it up, really.

The Q&A period was fun. As mentioned, he just interviewed the Stones yesterday – in fact he was originally supposed to get to Bloomington yesterday but had to delay a day – it’s pretty cool to listen to someone who can legitimately stand there and say “Well, Mick was saying to me yesterday…” (!!) Someone asked how Keith was doing and if the Stones were really going to be able to perform, and DeCurtis gave an unhesitating, resoundingly positive response. He said that Mick and Keith are getting along very nicely now, and in fact were sitting together for the interview, something he hadn’t seen them do in quite a few years. They seem excited and “as if the band were happy to be the Rolling Stones.” He has no doubt that they will be doing a more extensive tour next year. Good news, Stones fans!

Another cool bit – he was talking about those extremely well-crafted pop songs that are just difficult to really say much about as a critic, giving the Beatles’ “The Night Before” as an example. (Which made me think of Steve Van Zandt and what he’s said about Bruce Springsteen as a pop songwriter, how nobody appreciates how incredibly hard it is to write those perfect little three-minute gems.) Then DeCurtis mentioned the Rascals, and noted that the first time he went to see them, Jimi Hendrix was the opening act. (!!!!) He then referred to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee meetings at which such bands are discussed, and mentioned how Steve Van Zandt always rants about how no band that has ever worn a uniform can ever manage to get inducted. (And inside my head I was like, wait, that’s exactly who I was thinking of! Heh.) I can just picture these meetings. Makes me smile, thinking about how even though it’s a meeting around a table and it could certainly be accused of being corporate etc., in the end it’s really a bunch of people who love rock & roll enough to argue about it.

Someone asked, of all these top-notch artists you have interviewed, what do they all have in common that enables them to be so successful? Ambition, he said – you have to really want it. You don’t get there by half-assing it. And what keeps them going past the point where they’ve already cemented their legacy, where they certainly don’t need the money? They still love doing it. They love the music, they love to perform. “That’s what they do.” I find that really heartening; I know people have said a lot of things about the ticket prices for the upcoming Stones shows, for example, and one could infer that the band is pretty much just in it to pile money on top of money. But this is someone who’s in a position to know, and he seems to think that Mick and Keith (and certainly Bruce, and others) just really, really love doing what they do. He mentioned Springsteen here and how he’s playing shows that are quite a bit longer than he’s done in a while, and he had this sort of look of wonder on his face as he said that – like he’s as blown away as the rest of us by the quality of what’s happening on the E Street stage these days. Nice.

Then someone (NOT ME! I SWEAR!) asked about the E Street Band – why they hadn’t been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along with Bruce, and whether they would be at some point. He had kind of a “yeah, yeah, I know” look on his face as he said something about the “peculiarities” of the nomination process and how it was “an obvious oversight” – he seems to think that some nominating committee members are erring on the side of caution in not wanting the appearance of impropriety, since Steve Van Zandt is on the nominating committee, though he said that SVZ has certainly never said anything about it in the meetings. He alluded to changes in the process, and said that he thinks it will happen eventually, both for the E Street Band and for other bands in a similar situation. (I wanted to shout out, “hurry the hell up before we lose any more of them” – but restrained myself.)

One last fascinating bit. He talked about how cultural commentary comes so immediately now that there’s “a kind of meta quality to everything you encounter.” He traces this back to around the time of Nirvana, and talked about how utterly different this is from the environment the Beatles came up in. It blunts the impact, he said, and people lose interest faster. For example, he noted that the Presidential election feels like it was ages ago and people have moved on from it, even though it was just last week (and even though the campaign felt like it went on for ten years). As someone who treasures a lot of what technology has brought us – reports and videos from a concert before the show is even over, and especially the opportunity to connect with so many people who love the music that I love, and the greater ease with which a regular person like me can contribute to the conversation around that music – this made me sit up and think. I wonder how we can preserve the parts of this “instant cultural commentary” world that are valuable, the connections and the sharing of what we love, without blunting the impact of the art? Because, yeah, I think he does have a point. I remember many, many hours spent alone in my room listening to the same albums over and over – how albums like Darkness on the Edge of Town and Horses and even Frampton Comes Alive for crying out loud, how those albums worked their way into the grooves of (I’m not going to say my soul, not going to say my soul, not going to say my soul) my soul and became a part of me in a way that I’m not sure they would have if I’d been tweeting with my friends about them, paying attention to what they thought, riffing with one another in ways that were maybe more about our relationship with each other than about our individual one-on-one relationship with the music.

Food for thought, I think.

Anyway, a really fun evening, and I’m grateful to have had a couple of hours to hear Anthony DeCurtis talk about the music that he so obviously still loves deeply after all these years. It was so cool to hear a few of his stories – and to imagine how many more cool stories he has to tell.

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Learning to ride the waves: Indigos, Springsteen, Obama

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks. Concerts, crazy weather, and oh yes, a little election…

Indigo Girls in concertOn 11/2 I saw the Indigo Girls for the first time in a couple of years. I am not wild about their most recent album, but always enjoy seeing them in concert. I was in the front row (which seldom sucks) at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington, which is one of my favorite concert venues; it’s a renovated old movie theater, large enough to feel like a show but small enough to feel relatively intimate. I’ve seen a lot of great shows there.

The Shadowboxers opened – young band out of Atlanta. I have to admit that their music is not completely my cup of tea; they’re a little bit pop for me, but they did what they did very well. Good vocals, nice harmonies, good energy onstage. I can imagine them doing well on radio and garnering a pretty decent audience. I was reminded of how I felt about fun. when I saw them open for Janelle Monae, actually, and that was right before they got so popular you couldn’t avoid them.

Indigo Girls’ set was higher-energy than I’ve seen from them the past few times, due at least in part to having the Shadowboxers as their backing band. I love seeing IG with a full band, and it had been a while! They pulled out a few songs they don’t usually do without a band, like “Trouble” and “Tether” (which was absolutely killer) and an exceptionally funky “Shed Your Skin.” Quite a good show overall.

Bruce Springsteen & Steven Van ZandtAnd then there was the next night: Mr. Springsteen in Louisville. I’ve already written up some of the musical highlights over at Blogness, so I won’t rehash those here. Instead, a few more personal thoughts.

Louisville is only about 80 miles from home for me, so it was lovely to see a Springsteen show without having to fly, drive for hours, or even get a hotel room. I’d persuaded my friend Karen to go with me, so we left in the morning in the midst of a cold rain and arrived in downtown Louisville in time to meet up with some other friends for lunch. (Side note: the Bluegrass Brewing Co.  is terrific! Nice selection of beers, and good food for both vegetarians and carnivores – I had some vegan bbq wings that were very tasty, and Karen’s bison burger looked great too.)

We watched a sleet/rain mixture outside the windows for a while, and when that let up, we headed across the street to the arena to get our wristbands. (For those unfamiliar with the process, General Admission ticketholders obtain numbered wristbands, which are given out from 1-4 pm. Then at 4:30 you have to be back at the venue, where they draw an allegedly random number; the person whose wristband matches that number gets to be first in line. It is not a complicated procedure, although some audience members and some venue staff try to make it complicated sometimes.) Then we had a couple hours before we had to be back, so – back to the BBC for dessert and coffee. (Bourbon bread pudding with caramel sauce, for me – fantastic.)

And then back to the arena, where venue security did not seem to know which end was up. Usually they line up wristband-holders in several queues by number – the 100s here, 200s here, and so on. There were some barricades set up to create queues, but there was nothing else going on. We all milled about, then security tried to sort us into lines … sort of. Basically we stood there smooshed together (which is really fun when you are 5 foot 1 and mildly crowd-phobic, let me tell you – especially when somebody nearby is being rude enough to smoke). Fortunately we were under an underpass; I say “fortunately” because the nasty cold rain started up again, so we were dry, although it was noisy as hell under there.

Finally they announced how many wristbands they’d given out (six hundred and some) and how many would be allowed in the front part of the GA floor, aka the pit (300) – and drew the number. We did some fast math and figured that our group had missed the pit, but not badly; we’d be within the first 40 or so people onto the back part of the floor after the pit people went in, which meant we had an excellent chance of being right on the back rail – a great place to be, actually. So we were content.

pit wristbandsAnd then they started letting people in, keeping track of wristband numbers, making sure we were in order. This is the part where you start feeling a bit like cattle, but it’s also the part where you are closer to getting into the actual arena. They checked my number, scanned my ticket, inspected my small shoulder bag… and then… slapped a second wristband on me. A pit wristband. We were all a bit dumbfounded, realizing that after not making the pit, suddenly … we’d made the pit! Apparently they decided to let more people in than originally planned, and we were lucky.

Then there was more waiting. And more waiting. Did I mention there was waiting? I don’t really mind the waiting, to be honest; even when I’m at a show by myself, by this point I’ve made friends with the people around me in line, and we usually find enough common ground to be quite congenial. When you’re with friends, it’s actually kind of fun. You speculate about where you will end up on the floor, scheme about which side of the stage to head for, text distant friends to let them know you’re in the pit… then before you know it, you’re being ushered into the arena.

I’d been of the opinion that we should head for the back of the pit, where there’s a smaller stage set up and where Bruce usually stands to sing at least a couple of songs. I figured we’d have a chance at being “up close and personal” for a few minutes that way, and probably a little better visibility for us short people than we’d have packed into the center of the pit. Others in my party wanted to go for the center of the pit, so I followed along. As we settled into our spots and sat on the floor to (three guesses) wait some more, I’m afraid I got a little cranky and snappish; it looked like I was going to have some tall and broad people right in front of me, and I dreaded having one of those shows where I never get to see the actual stage. Also I’d only had about four hours of sleep the night before, so I was a bit of a toddler who’d missed her nap. (I’m learning, after all these years, that sometimes the same events can bring out both the best and the worst in me. I am such a Gemini.)

Springsteen with the horn sectionI shouldn’t have worried. Once the band came onstage I could see well enough, though I occasionally had to crane my neck around one person or another. And the show was intensely energetic! The third song was “Hungry Heart” and this is where Bruce usually goes to the platform in the back of the pit and then crowd-surfs his way back up to the stage. And, well, we were right in line. Bruce checked in with the people at the platform, made sure they were ready to catch him, then turned his back and fell gracefully onto the sea of waiting hands. Don’t steer him off to the side, I pleaded silently… and then, there he was. Okay, so you don’t necessarily have a lot of options as far as which particular little bit of Bruce’s anatomy presents itself to you when he crowd-surfs over you… and, well, sorry, Bruce – we probably should have been properly introduced before I laid hands on your, er, posterior. What was I supposed to do, DROP HIM?!? No. Certainly not.

The crowd-surfing thing, from underneath, was actually kind of wild. I’d seen it from up in the seats, and I’d seen it from over to the side of the pit, but I’d never actually taken part. The rush of people trying to get closer to the man himself is intense. There were people pressing at me from three sides, and then as Bruce – the eye of the hurricane – passed overhead the tide shifted and I was being pushed in the other direction. It felt like being wiped out by a big wave and just having to trust that you will surface head-up when it passes. Surface I did, and there were different people around me than there had been before the surf, but my friends were still nearby and I actually had a better view from there on because a couple of the taller people had been shifted over to the side a bit.

It was a show of extremes. “My City of Ruins” had me in tears, thinking of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation and about how much I regret not having visited the Jersey shore before. “Streets of Philadelphia” was a song I never would have expected to get in Louisville, and it was intensely emotional for me; that song came out right around the time my dad died, and lines like “my clothes don’t fit me no more / I’ve walked a thousand miles just to slip this skin” are a devastatingly poignant description of what it’s like to see someone gradually fade away. The song was beautifully performed and it wrecked me. Then the transition into the most ferocious, determined “Atlantic City” I’ve ever heard, into a soaring “Because the Night,” into the always-primal “She’s the One” – that might have been one of the finest four-packs I’ve ever gotten at a show.

Springsteen & Van Zandt - the clowns! I’ve never been to a Springsteen show I didn’t love. I’m not sure I would put this one in my top five of all time, but it was certainly one of the most intense in a way, one of the most present and participatory shows I can recall. And you know, it was strange – but good – to end up in my own home a couple hours later, instead of in a hotel room or somebody’s guest room.

On Monday, the guy whose posterior I’d been standing underneath on Saturday night was flying around on Air Force One – accompanying Barack Obama to campaign rallies in Madison, Columbus, and Des Moines. I saw pictures throughout the day of this and you know what, it blew my mind a little bit. I wanted to go back to 1978 and tell that shy 17-year-old holed up in her room writing bad poetry that someday, that scruffy rockstar whose posters were hanging on her wall would be flying around on Air Force One with the President. (Not to mention that writers for Slate and the New York Times would be assigning said formerly-scruffy rockstar some measure of the credit for a presidential campaign victory. Whoa.) And that she would, despite being a perfectly respectable (oh hush) middle-aged lady, still be standing in line for hours and getting as close to the stage as possible and going absolutely crazy at that same guy’s concerts.

I don’t think she would believe me. I think she would probably demand to find out what I was smoking.

I won’t try to go back and tell her that the President Bruce would be flying around with would actually be a couple of months younger than me. And African-American. My face doesn’t like being laughed in all that much. 🙂

Next stop… Kansas City!

Bruce Springsteen

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Rock Stars and Road Trips

Anne Haines playing guitar circa 1978

Daydreamer. Me circa 1978.

When I was seventeen, I dreamed of travel. I loved listening to what I thought of as San Francisco music – 1960s Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, and the like – as well as some of the L.A. singer-songwriters of the time like Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, and Joni Mitchell. I’d never been west of the Rockies, but for some reason California was where my daydreams drifted. (For that matter, I’d never seen the ocean, landlocked Midwestern girl that I was, and I was fascinated by the idea of that as well. Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” album, with its ocean sounds, was a big favorite of mine.)

I’d taken guitar lessons for a couple of years, so of course that qualified me to daydream of being a rock star as well. I enjoyed writing songs, sensitive-singer-songwritery things as well as songs I played alone on my acoustic but on which I imagined screaming electric guitars and thunderous drums. I dreamed of riding around the country in my fancy tour bus, performing for appreciative crowds of thousands, and wearing really cool boots.

I won’t say that I didn’t have musical talent. I probably had enough. I’ve always had a good ear, and if I’d spent the time and effort and practiced a lot and worked really hard, I probably would have been a pretty good guitarist and a decent songwriter. Probably never would have been a great singer, but even without taking studio trickery into consideration, there are plenty of singers making a living out there with fairly ordinary voices. But I was shy, and didn’t always play well with others, and I never started a band. And I never had the onstage charisma or the pure chutzpah to put myself out there as a solo performer. Again, something that could likely have been remedied with some coaching and a lot of hard work – having grown up with a father who put himself through grad school and supported his family as a working musician, I have never had any illusions that being a musician was anything other than really hard work – so in the end the fact that I didn’t pursue this daydream is on me, completely, and my decision not to put in the work that would have been required.

When I went off to college in 1979 I sold my electric guitar (a little Gibson Melody Maker, and yes, I still regret this but at the time I needed the money more than I needed the guitar) and took the nylon-string and the Ovation roundback with me. I continued playing for fun but drifted away from practicing with any seriousness. But I still daydreamed of travel. I had a little road trip in mind that would involve driving south to New Orleans, then westward through the desert, on up the California coast to the Pacific Northwest, then home. I used to look at maps. I used to add up miles.

But I was an English major, so when I graduated I was pretty broke. By the time I was making enough money to even think about a six-week road trip I had a job, and cats, and … well, it never happened. I realized too, eventually, that I am not really a road-trip kind of person. I like comfort, and I like planning and having things go according to those plans. I’m not sure I would have done well as a touring musician, to be honest! In retrospect I would have done well to develop some technical skills and do some kind of studio work; I would’ve been a decent audio engineer, I suspect, or maybe even a producer. Water under the bridge, water under the bridge.

Those daydreams never completely go away, though. So that is why I occasionally do crazy things like drive 465 miles each way to Kansas City to see a Bruce Springsteen show (something I’ll be doing in November). It wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties that I had both the courage and the wherewithal to just jump in a car and hit the road for a rock & roll road trip; in 2008 I traveled to Nashville, St. Louis, and Kansas City for three shows in four nights, and that is still one of my favorite things I have ever done. I love driving hundreds of miles – with the right music and good weather it feels effortless as flight – and I especially love when I have a General Admission ticket and make a full day out of it, getting my wristband and lining up and hoping for a decent spot and waiting and waiting some more. I love the ritual of it: being let into the arena finally, finding my place, watching the tech crew make their final adjustments. The guitar tech rings out a few chords just to make certain. The lighting crew climbs up the flimsy monkey ladders into the rafters. Somebody comes out and tapes a setlist down. You can set your watch by all of this. The reserved seats begin to fill with people and the arena begins to fill with voices. Backstage, you know the band is performing whatever pre-show rituals they like to perform. And when the lights go down and the band strides out to claim the stage, which is one of my favorite moments in the world, it’s all the more joyous because of the hundreds of miles and the hours and the waiting and the ritual that led up to it.

Notre Dame's Athletic & Convocation Center, exterior view

Athletic & Convocation Center at Notre Dame

There is nothing better – nothing – than that moment when the lights go down. It’s like all at once the arena becomes as big as the heavens and as small as the pinpoint of a spotlight. The first arena shows I went to, when I was in high school, were in the basketball arena at Notre Dame University – at the time called the ACC (Athletic & Convocation Center) – which was a dome, and so it felt just a little like being inside a spaceship. When the lights went down and the roar from the crowd went up (along with no small amount of, er, herbivorous aroma – hey, it WAS the seventies), for just a moment it felt like you were launching into space. Then the spotlights hit, and you realize you are actually in the same room (albeit a very very large room) with someone whose voice has spent a lot of time in your ears, whose face you’ve looked at on album covers (and nowadays, on YouTube) – no matter how many times I see a performer it seems like there is always at least a momentary flash of “oh my gosh, it’s really him (or her)!”

Heady, and addictive, feelings all around. And feelings you cannot replicate with concert DVDs, with YouTube videos even if they pop up five minutes after the concert ends, with all the bootlegs and clippings in the world. I love recorded music, but man, nothing replaces the feeling of being in the room. NOTHING. And I love the road trips that I make for this. I still don’t think that I could travel for a living – I’m just too much of a middle-aged homebody now. But for a few days, there is something about making the effort, something about spending hours on the road and hours in line all for that unearthly moment of liftoff and the few short hours that follow it. I understand the concept of pilgrimage, now. So when you say I’m crazy to drive over 450 miles each way for a three-and-a-half hour show, yeah, maybe I am. But it’s a kind of crazy I’m in love with.


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Ghosts and glory

Well, I’m hardly writing poems at all these days, but I did turn out a little bit of writing Tuesday night that I’m pretty happy with. I was thinking about why Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball tour has resonated with me (and with a lot of other folks, particularly those in my age group) so strongly, and as I wrote, I came to some realizations. Of course, we all love the musicianship, the incredible energy on stage, and so on. But the material that Bruce is working with on this tour hits so close to home for a lot of us – the whole idea of dealing with loss & mortality, of (as he terms it) walking with ghosts – it’s what we, or at least I, need to hear right now. It’s just as relevant to me now as “it’s a town full of losers and we’re pullin’ out of here to win” was when I was fifteen. And I am amazed, as always, at the longevity of Springsteen’s art and at how an E Street show still moves me so profoundly – their best shows still knock my socks off just as much as the first one I saw, back in 1978 when we were all a heck of a lot younger.

Anyway, I wrote about it over at Blogness, and you can go read it there if you’d like. It was great fun to write.

I’ve got two more Springsteen/E Street shows on my calendar, both in November – Louisville and Kansas City – and I’m so curious to see how the last leg of this 2012 tour shapes up. I feel very fortunate to have been able to plan on seeing five shows this year; serious fans on the East Coast have mostly seen more than that, but when you live elsewhere you have to kind of work at it to see multiple shows. I’ll drive as far as Indianapolis for quite a few artists, have made it as far as Louisville for a couple of different bands, and would consider a trip to Chicago for something pretty good – but only for Bruce Springsteen would I get in a car and drive all the way to Kansas City just for a concert. I might be crazy, but you know, I’m okay with that – these little trips make me really happy. And hell, it’s cheaper than psychotherapy and probably works better too!

And something about Bruce Springsteen shows makes me want to WRITE ALL THE WORDS. Since I’ve been writing so little lately, I’m just very happy to have shaken something loose, even if it isn’t poems. Poems will come eventually, I think. I hope. I’m pretty sure.



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