Saturday, January 30, 2016

Reckless Part II - A Tale of Persistence

     As promised, here is my wrap-up review of "Reckless", the autobiography of Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of the Pretenders, who hails from Akron Ohio.  The first half of the book documented her years growing up in Akron Ohio and her college years at KSU.   Anyone who grew up in Northeast Ohio will find lots of familiar references to N.E. Ohio entities such as Ghoulardi, Portage Lakes, and Cleveland's groundbreaking rock radio station WMMS.  It's engaging and entertaining reading for Ohio natives.  
     Where my last  post left off, she had just arrived in London's Heathrow airport.  Ohio had become too stifling and besides, the Hell's Angels were after her.  They surely couldn't find her in England.  At this point the book began to drag a little. There were just too many details about day to day living in England and Paris to keep me riveted.  Maybe this is more a reflection on me, having never lived in any of those places.  Also, she started using  British English slang that I did not understand.  What exactly is a "quiff" hairstyle?  Who are the "get down boys?" And what does it mean to be "dossing?"  Again, this may be a reflection of my own lack of worldly experience.
     She spent a brief time as a writer for NME, a British "Rolling Stone" knockoff.  As a result she had plenty of contacts in the music scene.  When the NME job went sour, she moved to Paris, which was at that time an incubator of the punk rock movement.  She started using heroine, realized she was in trouble, and made a brief trip back to the states to shake the habit, but quickly became bored and returned to Europe.  Chrissie's main interests in life were to join a band and do drugs.  She was drawn to and hung with any avant garde character who shared those interests, including Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten, and many others.
      Despite all the drug use and crazy living conditions, she had a laser-like focus on joining a band.  She made some demo tapes and at one point got an offer from a manager who promised to make her a star, but she refused. She didn't want to go solo.  She rotated into and out of more bands than you can count. She was gaining her musical chops, but there was always a guitarist or singer waiting in the wings who was just a little better.  Besides, women rockers were not universally sought out by the male dominated bands.  The guys she was hanging with were the same people who eventually formed "The Clash", "The Damned", and "The Sex Pistols."  
      Eventually she hit the jackpot by hooking up with guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, bass player Pete Farndon, and drummer Martin Chambers, and the Pretenders were born. They cut records, started touring, and started making actual money, touring all over Europe, the U.S. and Asia.  Her description of touring & performing are interesting accounts of the day to day life of a "rock star."
     The drug use never stopped though.  Despite the commercial success, they were in a downward spiral of recklessness and drug abuse that was affecting all their lives and performances. Chrissie was arrested in Memphis after a fracas in a restaurant but that only seemed to bump up her rock credibility a notch. 
       It all came to a screaming halt soon after.  The band decided to fire Pete.  His drug induced craziness was too much even for them.   Chrissie discovered she was pregnant by then-husband Ray Davies of "The Kinks."  They agreed it was time to take a break, recover from touring, and re-group at a later date.  That never happened.  Within a short time, Honeyman-Scott was found dead at the age of 25 from cardiac arrest due to cocaine intolerance.  Later Fardnon was found dead in a bathtub, having shot up, passed out, and drowned.
     There is a happy ending though.  Chrissie has kept the band going with other members. She has a beautiful daughter, has stopped abusing drugs, and reads the Bhagavad Gita.  In her own words, the moral of the story is "drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, only cause suffering."  The other moral of the story in my opinion is "persistence pays off."  Chrissie's success was entirely due to the fact that she never lost sight of her goal to join a band. There were probably more talented singers and better guitarists in Paris in the 1970's but nobody ever had more desire, drive, and focus than Chris Hynde of Akron Ohio.   

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Those Dang Scottish Fiddle Tunes

    One of the joys of raising a family is that eventually they grow up and become independent, and you finally have time to do things you never had time for when they were little and under your feet.  For me, one of those pursuits had been waiting in my closet for many years - my grandfather's old fiddle.  A few years ago I dusted it off, took a few years of lessons, and now consider myself a tolerable fiddle player, although my family and those who hear me may disagree. 
      Last summer, on a whim, I spent a week learning Scottish fiddling at Ohio Scottish Arts School in Oberlin Ohio under the tutelage of the 1995 National Scottish Fiddle Champion Elke Baker.  Elke is not only a wonderful fiddler, but she is also one of the foremost scholars on Scottish fiddle music in the U.S.A. and maybe even in the world. She serves on the staff of the Washington Conservatory of Music and also runs the Potomac Valley Scottish Fiddle Club in the D.C. area.  Elke has devoted much of her life to collecting and documenting Scottish fiddle tunes.  She has traveled to Scotland to spend time in the library of Edinburgh poring over some of the earliest Scottish fiddle music ever put to paper.  She knows the names of all the oldest tunes, when they were written, who wrote them, and why.
     The reason I like Scottish fiddle music more than other types is because it's just plain fun. It's fun to play, fun to listen to, and even fun to learn the names of many of the tunes and think how they originated. Of course you have your fair share of  tunes about "Lads" and "Lassies" and this and that persons' "Favorites."  But then there's the others you have to wonder about.  Like, what was going on in the pub the night someone penned "The Roaring Barmaid"?  Did it have anything to do with "The Devil in the Kitchen" or "Ronald's Rant"?  Did too much petting of "The Old Grey Cat" give someone "Itchy Fingers"?  
     The Scottish wrote songs about anything and everything, and sometimes you have to wonder why.  Pity the young couple who were unlucky enough to dance their first waltz together to this tune  and forever after would fondly remember "The Ass in the Graveyard"  as "their song."
     But some things never change.   Many of our modern songs are inspired by love and sex, and the Scottish were no different.   You had "The Lad With the Plaidie" (a plaidie is a blanket or shawl) and he invited his girl to "Come Under My Plaidie."  Whether she did or not I don't know, but she must have been conflicted about it. That's how she came up with "Stay and Take Your Breeches With You."  Or maybe it really ticked her off and "Jennie Dang the Weaver."  (For the benefit of the young people  in OSAS Scottish fiddle class, Elke quickly explained that "dang" means "hit.)   I guess in those days the gals handled sexual harassment their own way!
     The only thing the Scottish love more than each other is their kilts, thus we have "The Kilt is My Delight."  They really must have hated trading in their kilts for pants, or breeches, also known as "breeks."  It had to be "The Devil Among the Tailors" that was causing "A Curse on the Breeks."   Those must be "Willie's Auld Trews (Trousers)" hanging there because "The Breeks Are Loose and the Buttons Awa'."  That was some pair of raggedy pants to inspire all that singing.
     The Scottish may be ornery but they are a good people at heart.  After all that misbehavior, at least they could gain absolution by spending some time on the "Stool of Repentance." With their consciences finally relieved, they could once again "Sleep Soond Ida Moarnin.'"
   You have to laugh at some of the names of those fiddle tunes, don't you? After all, "Wha' Can Help It?"      

See a link to "Jennie Dang the Weaver" in the links section below.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Reckless - A Cautionary Tale

    In a sense, Chrissie Hynde's new autobiography "Reckless" is a cautionary tale of the wrong way to become a rock legend.  (For those who don't know, Chrissie Hynde is the Akron born lead singer and founder of the rock band  The Pretenders.)  The book is funny, shocking, sad, and poignant at times.  Chrissy lived an adventurous life, mostly because she never shied away from trying something new or going somewhere different.  It's written with a backward looking "if I knew then what I know now" type of wisdom. 
      Chrissy started dropping acid at the age of 15 and before she was 21 had done enough drugs to kill a moose. It's surprising that she has any brain cells left to put together a coherent sentence, but she does. Apparently she, like Keith Richards, has one of those curious body chemistries that can take all kinds of abuse and still keep going. In a sudden moment of self understanding around mid-book she confesses "this story is a story of drug abuse."  Is it ever.
   I was a teen in the 70's, an era when drug experimentation was fairly rampant but nobody I knew came close to ingesting the amount of chemicals that Chrissie and her cohorts did.  The funny thing is, while doing all those drugs, she abhorred the thought of putting a piece of hamburger into her mouth.  She became a strict vegetarian. Well everyone has their convictions.  Who knows the mind of a teenager?
   One of the more difficult sections to read is an account of going to a "party" with a bunch of Hell's Angels and being gang raped.  Chrissie has taken some heat from various women's organizations for claiming full responsibility for what happened that night.  But I get her point. I don't think she's saying the men were blameless.  She was in a drug induced haze at the time and agreed to go alone with a bunch of goons to who knows where for who knows what?  She's warning any young female readers that this is not a wise thing to do.  It wouldn't have happened if she'd used a little more common sense but who has common sense when they're messed up on drugs?
       It's really a wonder she wasn't assaulted more often, given the number of times she went to the house of a complete stranger to crash, moved in with someone she didn't know from Adam, or slept on the street.  She was lucky in that regard.  Well, almost.
     Due to her singular devotion to rock and roll as a teen, Chrissie was a persistent groupie.  Without giving away too much of the plot, she partied with some pretty big names in the business before she even joined a band.  I'm not even to the point in the book where she's hit it big yet.  She's only just now arriving in London, partly as an attempt to avoid any more encounters with her biker "friends."  I can only imagine how crazy the partying is going to get from here on out, and what kind of bizarre things will be happening.  If you're curious, keep an eye on this blog - I'll give you my final impressions later.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

91.3 The Summit

I just added a link to this blog to one of the best radio stations in Northeast Ohio - 91.3 The Summit  - Akron Canton.  I accidently stumbled upon The Summit a few years ago while tooling around on my radio dial looking for something worthwhile to listen to. The Summit is proudly "listener supported and commercial free."  They play a refreshing brand of inde and alternative rock/folk music, much of it created right here in Northeast Ohio.

A visit to the website will give you a feel for what The Summit is all about.  It's more than a radio station - it's the one stop shopping place for music and events in the Akron Canton area.  There is a link to community events of all kinds (including art, humanitarian, historical, and social), listings of concerts in the area, live streaming music, and lists of local live  music performances (including a local high school battle of the bands!) 

It's educational too, and not only regarding music - the Go Green section of the website features suggestions on how to conserve, recycle, and "go green" in your own life, including suggestions from listeners and a place to submit your own ideas.    The "Book Show" radio program has discussions with local authors.   On "Life & Lyrics," local leaders are invited onto the show to discuss the music that has influenced their lives the most, and we listen to those tunes.

Since The Summit is commercial free and listener supported, they are not bound to playing only the most commercially successful music.  For that reason they do an especially good job of promoting new artists and local bands trying to break into the music scene. I don't always recognize who I'm listening to on The Summit but I usually like it.   It has broadened my music exposure to things I would never have heard otherwise.  The website has a link where anyone can submit music for possible air time.

The links to "Local Musicians" include some well know names like The Black Keys, Joseph Arthur, and Michael Stanley, and other not so well known names such as Hey Mavis, Shivering Timbers, and Hey Monea.

So check it out!  The Summit is a radio station like no other.  If you're tired of the same old same old and looking for something different, you won't be disappointed.  The Summit, aptly named, is the peak of what a radio station should be.   

Friday, January 22, 2016

No Twitter! Don't Do It!

 It's rumored that those who manage Twitter are considering raising the "tweet" limit from 140 characters to 10,000.    For those who don't know, Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called "tweets".  Tweets cover all topics from the ridiculous to the sublime, from politics, arts, and entertainment to just plain goofy stuff like Heidi the cross eyed opossum.  Lots of people & entities have Twitter accounts, including the White House, God (He has several), and Donald Trump.  It's a great way to see what a lot of people are thinking and saying about a particular topic in a relatively short amount of time. 

In the dictionary, "tweet" is defined as "to utter a succession of small, tremulous sounds, as a bird."  The key word here is "small."  The beauty of Twitter is that the 140 character limit forces people to be brief and to the point.  A "tweeter" has to think carefully about what they want to say, and then say it as concisely as possible.  There's not a lot of time wasted on what my high school English teacher used to call "purple prose."  Lots of people can participate in the public discourse without anybody "hogging the stage."

A regular sized paperback book has about 330 words per page.  With an average of 8 letters per word (which is generous), 10,000 characters comes to around 3-1/2 pages.  That's a lot of space to publish a quick, concise thought, with lots of room to ramble.

Twitter is fine just the way it is.  It's fun, informative, entertaining, quick, and easy. That's evidenced by the number and variety of users.  All the major political candidates have accounts, as do actors, musicians, religious leaders, and regular people like you and me.  In order to be an effective "tweeter", you don't have to be eloquent but you do have to be able to make a point. If someone wants to go on at length, they can always publish a link to an extended site.

Increasing the limit to 10,000 characters is going to flood Twitter with too much information.   Who has time to read tweets that long? (That's if they can still call them tweets.  How about "Sqawks" or "Soliloquys?")   If someone has that much to say, let them write a blog.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Black Star Falling

     The  news hit us from out of the blue, unexpected like a shot from the dark.  He was gone - that male/female shape shifter who seemed to take different forms at will, as did his art.  He'd faded into the background in recent years.  I'd first become a fan in the "Stardust" years, even attending a concert around 1975 that featured a surrealistic Salvador Dali film called "Un Chien Andalou."  I still cringe thinking about that sliced eyeball.  But he lost me when he morphed into the Diamond Dogs character. I just wasn't into disco.
     His ambition and success took him many directions.  He'd parlayed his talent into acting, starring in the stage version of "The Elephant Man", and playing various elflike creatures in fantasy films.  His gaunt features and waiflike form especially suited him for those roles.  But we hadn't seen or heard from him in awhile in any major way. 
     That's why the news stunned us so. He was gone. If we hadn't been paying attention, we didn't know he recently had released a Broadway musical called "Lazarus."  He didn't actually appear in it, but it was unmistakably his.  The critics liked it but were a bit confused. It was cryptical.  What did it mean? 
     Then even more recently, he released a video by the same name.  Three days later, he was gone.  All at once the meaning of the cryptic, mysterious musical and dark video became all to clear.  He had been deathly ill, was dying, in fact.
     When a person is faced with their own death, they start to look for signs that there is something beyond this physical realm we live in.  What better place to find that sign than in the biblical story of Lazarus who, as the story goes, was raised to life after being dead for four days.  The Bible tells us that when he arrived at his friend's tomb, "Jesus wept."  (It's the shortest verse in the Bible.) Then  with voice thundering, defying death, Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead.  Lazarus appeared upright at the tomb entrance, wrapped in grave clothes, while the onlookers stand there, stunned.  Jesus tells them to unwrap him. He's alive again.  You can imagine the chaotic, happy, confusing scene.
      In his video, David Bowie appears as another kind of Lazarus, his gaunt form emerging from a tomblike closet, with bandages covering his eyes. The symbolism in unmistakable.  They lyrics seem to be a very condensed life story while the video expresses in vivid imagery the fear of impending death. We get a sense of the physical and mental torment he must have gone through during his illness.  At the end of the video Bowie retreats back into the tomblike closet. There will be no escaping death for this one.
    It's a gripping, artistic, well done but disturbing video.  Part of me wishes that as his parting performance, the Star Man could have left us with something a little brighter, a little more hopeful.  But I guess that would be hard to do when you are facing your own demise.  We are left amazed that he could conjure up the psychic & physical energy to still create and perform under these horrible circumstances.  We are grateful for one last glimpse of his talent.  And we wept.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

First Concert Memories

Okay, I'm going to admit I'm of the Baby Boom generation. With the loss of several of our  most creative musical geniuses just in the last week (David Bowie and Glenn Frey,) one of the reasons I created this blog was to share recollections of Boomer experiences and spur others to share theirs as well.
     Do you remember the first rock concert you ever attended? I believe my first one was Ted Nugent opening for J. Geils at the Canton (Ohio) Memorial Auditorium, probably around 1973.  I was too young and innocent to be interested in indulging in any kind of drugs or alcohol. I was not even a big fan of the bands but a friend had invited me so I went, not knowing what to expect. The auditorium seemed cavernous, filled with wild and crazy people, many of whom  were obviously "on something." The music was painfully loud.  I only recognized a few of the songs and the rest was unrecognizable noise - to my ears, anyway. I was a fish out of water. Needless to say that was the only hard rock concert I ever attended, although I did see many greats as time went on, including Linda Ronstadt, Paul McCartney and Wings, Peter Frampton, Electric Light Orchestra, James Taylor, and Pete Seeger. How about you? What was you first concert? Was it what you expected? What was most memorable about it?

New Memoirs that Rock!

Just created my new blog to record all the crazy little thoughts my brain spews out on a daily basis. Topic 1 is celebrity memoirs. Just finished  Carly Simon's "Boys in the Trees" and am now working on Chrissie Hynde ' s "Reckless." Both quite interesting, they came from polar opposite backgrounds but ended up making it big in the tough music industry. Very different personalities, Carly sweet and bashful, Chrissy brash and bold, but both carved careers out of raw talent in a business dominated by men. Gotta give 'em credit. If you grew up in the 70 's and 80's listening to their music, or are fans in general, get your hands on these books. You won't be sorry.