Monthly Archives: April 2010

TRANSCEND THROUGH BEING MUSIC Kath Bloom

The Connecticut chanteuse has an impressive cast
of celebrity fans. When it’s all said and done, though, she’s just trying to
get through her day.

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN

 

“I don’t have too much time,” Kath Bloom says, rather
startlingly, explaining her recent efforts at emergence as a vivid, active
presence on new records and at concerts after decades of being more a musical
rumor than actual fact. She has a new record, Thin Thin Line.

 

“I’m 56 years old; I’ve got a lot of issues. It gets to be a
little bit scary when you get to be old. But at least I’ve got the music, when
I can do it.”

 

The unusual wavering vibrato quality in her singing voice –
with its uncanny ability to simultaneously straddle uplift and melancholy, pleasure
and regret, youth and maturity – can give a folk-rock-tinged love song the
introspective complexity and wisdom of a life’s journey. That’s why the use of
her “Come Here” in the record-store scene of Richard Linklater’s 1995 Before Sunrise makes it such a key
moment in one of that decade’s best romantic movies.

 

It was also a moment Bloom, busy raising a family with her
husband Stan Bronski, a carpenter and guitarist, was unable to capitalize on.
The daughter of a concert oboist, she had made extremely indie records in the
1980s – mixing folk, rock, jazz, country and blues – but the 1990s were a
struggle. When people asked to hear more by her after Before Sunrise, there wasn’t much opportunity. She was otherwise
engaged, sometimes struggling financially, with day-to-day involvements. But
she did continue writing. And she stayed in the music world tangentially by
teaching at after-school programs as well as classes for mothers and babies.

 

Music is something she has always loved, and she feared
losing the connection. “I liked everything,” she says. “I loved Richard Rodgers
and show tunes – I knew every word and tune in West Side Story. I was really a musical freak. I
loved Bach and Beethoven and Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and The Who. I liked
it all. And Neil Young and Joni just changed my life. And I’m absolutely nuts
about Maria Callas. She sang with every fiber of herself.”

 

Now, in the last couple years, Bloom has finally begun to
get new and reissued recorded work out there. An exceptional album of new
songs, Terror, came out in 2008 on
Australia-based Chapter Music, which also reissued several of the records she
made in the 1980s with her then-collaborator, guitarist Loren MazzaCane
Connors. (Two double-disc sets have come out.)

 

Last year, Chapter Music also put out a tribute album to
Bloom’s work, Loving Takes Its Course, attracting as contributors younger singer-songwriters attracted to the tuneful
honesty of her music – Bill Callahan, Devendra Banhart, Scout Niblett, Mia Doi
Todd, Mark Kozelek, and more. (A second disc included Bloom’s own versions.)
And now, Kozelek has released, on his Caldo Verde label, another new Bloom
album called Thin Thin Line. It’s
more evidence that Bloom’s power of observation, and fearlessness about
expressing her most intimate feelings, has if anything grown with the anxieties
of aging.

 

There are songs here that would impress Joni Mitchell with
their poetic sensitivity, as “Another Point of View:” “I lay my man under the stars/and I don’t ask who we are/I don’t ask
why, I don’t ask how/Will someone try to give me now/Just another point of
view/Cause I’m dying without you.”

 

The title song features her singing a transfixing jazzy rock
number that builds in Astral Weeks-like
urgency, as the lead acoustic guitar and violin and take turns building the
tempo. It also finds her at her most compellingly yearning as she pushes her
voice high to accommodate her need to sing out about her search for meaning: “Well it’s hard to remember where you
been/When you’re in the kind of shape I’m in/But where I’m going it’s not a
sin/If you want to come along, just hop in/It’s free.”

 

Bloom has also been performing and touring more to support
her music – doing a recent jaunt to England and looking into summer festivals
here and abroad. As she talks about all this, from her Connecticut home during
a phone interview, she expresses the same mixture of hopefulness and
trepidation that makes her music so singular. She knows she needs to perform
more – and she knows it’s difficult.

 

“If I was making money doing it, it’d be fantastic – I
always have a great time playing,” she says. “It’s just that the coming back
afterward, breaking even or losing money, is very tough.”

 

Kozelek’s relationship with Bloom started after he recorded
“Finally” for the tribute album. She sent him a copy of Terror and he liked it, especially the song “I Can’t Handle It.” He
invited Bloom to open for him and then offered to put out her next album.

She had already been recording material. “Anytime I put
something out, it’s just me doing it on a shoestring,” Bloom explains.

 

Working out of the Connecticut house of violinist Tom
Hanford, with Fran Patnaude on guitar, she cut “Thin, Thin Line” and a few
others. But those sessions abruptly stopped. 
So Bloom worked with Marty Carlson to find appropriate material for the
rest of the album. “We started digging stuff out of the archives – and I still
have tons more, too,” she says.  

 

Her powerful material draws omens good and bad out of
everyday sights and occurrences. “Watching
the wash wave in the wind/How did we start, how will we end,”
she sings in
the brooding “Dangerous Days.”

 

Structurally, the songs have memorable melodies that
highlight Bloom’s imagery and often lead to rousing, sing-along choruses that
are just plain catchy. It’s a quiet album, but it rocks out – as in “Back
There” when she sings, “If you get your
engine running/I will meet you down the road/You can tell by how I’m coming/I
don’t need that heavy load/I left it back there.”

 

Bloom acknowledges some of the album’s songs address
difficult subject matter for her. “I work out a lot of despair in my music, no
doubt about it,” she says. “But anything can change when you work at it,
especially if you join up with other people. Then it turns to joy.

 

“That’s the hope of it, the faith of it, anyway,” she
continues. “I don’t want anyone to tell me it’s too heavy. If it stays down,
it’s heavy, but I hope it starts to transcend that through being music. And if
it doesn’t, I’m sorry. I’m just trying to get through my day, too.”

 

As Bloom begins to seek concert dates and tours, it’s been
hard for promoters and bookers to classify her work. It can be seen as both
folk/Americana, a handle that appeals to an older crowd, or as more
acoustic-oriented alt-rock, which skews younger. She admires as a model
singer-songwriter Callahan, because he “works from the inside-out and comes up
with some very compelling things.” She also admires the newer folksinger
Josephine Foster, with whom she’ll be performing in New Haven in April.

 

“I think a good artist just makes their own thing happen,
whatever their roots are,” Bloom says. “I mean, we’re all connected – all of us
cross paths at some point.”

 

 

 

 

 

CHAT IN THE NEON LIGHT Veil Veil Vanish

On the set of their
new music video, the band pulls the veil back on themselves and their music.

 

BY GIL MACIAS

 

 

Veil Veil Vanish are in a great place right now. The San Francisco based
quintet is currently riding a high tide of praise and great reviews for their
stunning debut album, Change in the Neon
Light
(reviewed here). Most of the press can’t resist comparing them to The
Cure, but they’re far from being some new copycat Goth band. If their new album
is a sign of things to come, then there’s a good chance they won’t be vanishing
anytime soon.

 

I had the pleasure of meeting all of the band members on the
set of their very first music video for the new single “Anthem for a Doomed
Youth.” It was a small production yet there was big energy and positive vibes
from the band and their crew. I caught up with charismatic lead vocalist Keven
Tecon and keyboardist Justin Anastasi on a break and chatted with them about
the new video, how they’re handling all the press, the future of their music,
and their outlook on their career.

 

***

 

BLURT:  So we’re on the set of your first ever music
video, which is for “Anthem for a Doomed Youth.” Can you tell me how you guys
came up with the idea for this video?

 

TECON: Well,
we’re working with Justin Coloma, who is a good friend of ours who we’ve known
for a long time. We’ve seen him do a lot of videos before, so it was fun to
finally work with him. The lyrics to the song are very visual, in a way; there
are a lot of descriptions of nightlife and cityscapes. So we really wanted to
capture a lot of the atmosphere and the mood of the song.

ANASTASI: We’re
just trying to keep it really simple. We’re not the glossy video types. At
least that’s our idea of it. We don’t know what it looks like yet, so…

 

 So it sounds like you’re keeping it simple
because it’s your first music video. Do you think as time goes along and you
get more comfortable with filming, your
visions might get bigger, more expensive and glossier?

 

TECON: I hope not. [Laughs]
I hope we never do that. I thought it was fun to do a video. We’ve never done
one before. I don’t think it’s much of a sign of things to come. I don’t think
we’re going to do bigger, huge videos to the point where we’re like Axel Rose
jumping off of a ship, swimming with dolphins and stuff [Laughs].

ANASTASI: There are different degrees of success. We
probably wouldn’t do anything that’s dishonest to ourselves.

 

 Are you tired of all The Cure comparisons your
band is getting?

 

TECON: It happens sometimes. It’s fine. I don’t care.

ANASTASI:  We could be
compared to worse people [Laughs].

TECON: When bands start out, they always get compared to
somebody else. I think it’s a good entry point to get people interested.
Because if you have a band that gets no comparisons to anything, you have no
way to establish interest or give people something to grab onto. As you start
to listen to the music more, you kind of realize it’s something different. I
don’t think this album sounds like anything The Cure would make in any way. I
think it’s alright. It’s happened to a lot of bands. Even when The Cure
started, they got compared to…

ANASTASI: The Buzzcocks. They were considered a Buzzcocks
rip-off band.

 

 It could be worse. At least they’re saying you
sound like Robert Smith, versus saying you look like him—the way he looks
now.
[Laughter]

 

ANASTASI: [Looks at Keven]
Well, you have a few years to go. [Laughs]

 

 Justin, last night I noticed you were wearing
a Siouxsie shirt. Is she a big influence on the band?

 

ANASTASI: Well, personally, for me yes. Actually, we were
just talking about Siouxsie albums today. I like the first three or four albums
the best. The Scream, Kaleidoscope, Juju. Juju is probably
one of my all-time favorite Siouxsie albums. I definitely think she’s an
influence. I think a lot of the bands from that era got a bad name because of
what came after. But I think they’re still relevant.

TECON: I agree that it got a bad name. Eventually, all dark
music became “Goth.” It became synonymous with cheesy.

ANASTASI: I think it became synonymous with mall culture too.

TECON: A lot of those bands came from the punk movement. I
think we feel more kinship with that than anything that came after.

 

 You guys are a very young band. This is your
first album, you’re working on your first music video. Have you thought about
how long you might be doing this yet? Do you see yourself like U2, 30 years
later, still making music, videos and touring?

 

TECON: [Laughs] I
hope not.

ANASTASI: Ah, wait. I can see you keep going. You’ll keep
going. [Laughs] I need support to
know when to quit though.

TECON: I don’t want to. I don’t want to keep playing music all my life. I think it’s something I
want to do right now and it’s something I’ve done all my life so far. I think
it would be sad if I did it all my life without doing something else. It’s
exciting right now. I feel with that feeling that it’s not going to continue
forever, it’s kind of a good feeling that you can make everything as poignant
as possible. I would like to make our next album the last thing we ever do. I
don’t know if we’ll stick to that, but that’s my plan and then just move on to
something else.

 

 It sounds like you guys are living in the
moment and focusing on what’s going on now.

 

ANASTASI: I don’t know what will happen. [Looks at Keven] It’s been a day to day
thing for how many years now? [Laughs]
I think there’s something that’s said for being concise and knowing when to not
outstay your welcome, but who knows when that will be? Even when playing live,
if things aren’t feeling right, we cut the show short.

 

 So what would your alternate career path be?

 

TECON: I don’t know [Laughs].
I don’t have an answer for that. I’ve been so focused on doing this.

ANASTASI: I would do graphic design. Other than that, maybe
painting.

 

 If you could tour with any band or musician
right now, who would it be?

 

TECON: I don’t know, maybe A Place to Bury Strangers or Lady Gaga [Laughs].

 

 Wow, those are polar opposites!

 

ANASTASI: Lady Gaga would be fun. I would definitely do that
just for the experience. [Laughs]

 

 Are you guys actually fans of some mainstream
pop?

 

TECON: Amy [the bassist] is.

ANASTASI: Amy follows teen pop, mostly. I think she takes it
within the spirit it’s given, you know what I mean? It’s just meant to be fun.

 

 What was the writing process like on this new
album versus the first EP?

 

TECON: With this album, I ended up getting a lot of
keyboards at garage sales for free. I started writing a lot on keyboards. I
felt it was kind of exciting to write on a different instrument that I’m not
used to playing on. I would start writing on drums, keyboards, bass and other
instruments. It was kind of refreshing to approach things in a different way
and to start writing from sound sets as opposed to, “Ok, let’s all sit down and
write this bridge or this chorus” or something like that.  It was like building an atmosphere.

 

 I know your debut album is still brand new,
but have you started work on a follow-up yet?

 

TECON: A little bit. We started writing some stuff. It’s
going to be completely different from this one and the first EP. I think it’s
kind of important to move on as a band and try other things. For this one it
was kind of an experiment. I said, “Ok, let’s try doing music that’s a little
more pop.” We had never really written anything like that. There was actually a
bet that I started. [Looks at Justin]
One of the first songs we started was?

ANASTASI: It was literally called “Pop Song.”

TECON: Yea. A friend of mine bet me I couldn’t write pop
music. So I gave it a shot, and one of the songs came from that. I don’t mean
that it’s all a joke or anything like that, but it is like taking some of that pop
music and some of the undertones of the darker music that we really like and
some of the harsher sounds and more experimental music, and we really tried to
put that into the pop format in a way. It’s interesting because there’s such a
dichotomy with some of these pop formulas, but some of the sounds are so harsh
and experimental. Also, the lyrics are really not pop lyrics. It really had a
message we were trying to put out with it. So there’s a lot of different
dimensions to it all.

 

 Are you worried about the risk of confusing or
alienating fans by putting out a record that sounds completely different?

 

TECON: Even with this album at first, we definitely weren’t
doing pop music before. We weren’t sure if people would be into it or not. People
seemed to really like it a lot and felt like it still had a lot of the feeling
that our older material did, but really kind of pushing it further.

 

 Your album is so short and sweet too, there
are only 9 tracks.

 

TECON: I really wanted it to have a cohesive feel. I feel
that with longer albums, they start to lose their focus and as a listener you
start to get tired. Well, at least I do. I wanted to keep it kind of consistent
with a cohesive and whole feel. I
felt like it would start to lose that if we had more songs. Even our live shows
are short. I don’t want to see a band play for very long unless they’re U2.
After 40 minutes or so, I get tired or want to sit down.

ANASTASI: People are used to variety too. Especially because
of the way people listen to music now. I think more people listen to things as
a sparse mix of all these different genres at the same time. So, like I said,
it goes back to outstaying your welcome.

TECON: Plus all the classic albums we really like were all 8
or 9 songs long. I thought that was great.

ANASTASI: I know Keven wanted the album to be concise.
Though it’s a pop format, it is sort of a narrative; it has a beginning,
middle, and end. It’s a stream of consciousness.

TECON: The lyrics are really meaningful to what we’re doing
and also to what we’ve gone through, like living in the city and watching it
decay. It is really a sign of the times. I think it’s really a current album in
that way. Some of the lyrics get playful sometimes and other times, it’s just a
really direct representation of what we’ve gone though.

 

***

 

At this point he guys had to get back to their filming and
the conversation had to be cut short. The guys informed me that they are still
taking this whole music video process in, as it was a bit of a frazzling and
exploratory process for them. More conversations were had as the band invited
me down to the house-turned-studio hybrid in the Los Angeles Valley
where they lived for weeks while recording Change
in the Neon Light
. All 5 members are a truly amazing, hard-working and
passionate bunch, gifted and surrounded by a creative circle of friends who help
the band achieve their goals. To my surprise, the ‘20s inspired album cover was
created by Anastasi and featured a model who is also a friend of the band. You
would have guessed it was an authentic art piece from 80 years ago. As their
name becomes more known and the fan base grows larger, the promise of big tour
buses, larger venues, and seeing them travel the globe shouldn’t be too far
off. The band will be back in Los
Angeles in May, so look forward to a continued
conversation with Veil Veil Vanish next month.

 

Check out the band on
the web: www.myspace.com/veilveilvanish

 

 

 

TOUR. EAT. LAUGH. EAT. BATHE. EAT. Rebecca Pidgeon’s Tour Diary

In which the
actress/musician sets out upon a noble quest.

 

BY REBECCA PIDGEON

 

Ed. note: Although her
husband David Mamet might claim otherwise, Rebecca Pidgeon’s estimable gifts as
a musician and song stylist may one day eclipse her not-too-shabby acting
skills – but in the interest of diplomacy, for now we’ll just call it a draw. Still,
since music’s our primary focus here at BLURT, we have to say we were excited
to receive Pidgeon’s tour diary documenting her band’s recent April road trek
opening for pop/soul guitarist Jeffrey Gaines. The less said about Willie the
inflatable penis (and his balls), the better, but hey, you’re about to get a
special English translation of an incredibly rare French epistle penned by the
good Mr. Mamet, so dig it! Oh, and don’t miss the Shel Silverstein
cameo-by-anecdote. Pidgeon’s latest release is
The Blackboard Acoustic
Session EP – ordering details for that
and previous recordings, tour dates and news are available at her official
website
. And away we go…

 

DAY 1:

 

My Rebecca Pidgeon Tour to end hunger (of the band members), supporting
the wonderful Jeffrey Gaines,
1st night of
tour:
Tonight, Tim Young, Chris Rugulo and I drove from NYC to Wilmington Delaware.
I’ve never been in Delaware, but I presume
it’s where Washington
“crossed”, with those other seven or eight guys in the boat. I’m assuming he
had back up, because he “whomped the ass of the British” as my Chicagoan
husband would say. Washington
was a “great guy”. If I was from Delaware, I
would be very proud to have had Washington
cross my river.

We played tonight at a place called “The Logan House”, where according to
a poster on the wall of the green room, Pete Best’s band “Best of the Beatles”
also played.

I will
always think of tonight as “Megan’s Night”. Megan was the bride who came in
half way through our set with a huge inflatable penis and balls strapped to her
back, and her seven hundred squealing girlfriends, for her bachelorette party.
Megan was very young, and very adorable, and with her friends, not paying one
jot of attention to the music Tim and I were playing, as why would she? She was
involved in that rite of passage: “The Last Fling.”

She and her
friends were me twenty years ago. I ended up extracting her from the group,
giving her a blessing, and also giving her some advice about marriage, as I,
unbelievably, have been married for twenty years to a guy I adore, and felt in
a position to jolly well do so. She either appreciated it, or she was just
being kind, but I wish her the best in her sweet young life, and hope she has a
very happy marriage. We got her picture at the end of the night with all her
friends, and “Willie” the inflatable penis.

This is what
life on the road is all about.

 

View Rebecca’s candid
photos from the road for this day here.

 

 

DAY 2:

 

Note to self: should the
next tour be “The Rebecca Pidgeon Tour to end peckishness of the band members”?
Think about it…
Van humor: Tim sent me an email which has apparently
gone viral on the world wide inter-web, by an alleged 8th grader on the subject
of Koala bears. He posits that though endangered, koalas don’t do shit for him,
so why should he help them? They are not “hard” like the cool panthers and
other hard animals, like, I presume, lions, but on the contrary they are
“weak”, and though they pretend to be members of the Kangaroo family, they are
just full of it, because kangaroos are “hard” and have big hard legs, whereas
in contrast the koalas legs are mere “little ass” legs that can’t do shit. He
thinks that if a storm comes, the koalas will just be falling like rain from
the trees because of their little ass legs.

But I wonder
if on pausing for thought he might remember their one super power. I put it to
him, that though cute and little ass, they I think are the one animal on the
planet who can digest eucalyptus leaves, which is their diet, thus making them
smell like a lozenge. So if you take a koala bear to bed with you at night, and
hug on to it, it may CURE THE COMMON COLD! And what bad ass kangaroo can do
that/wp-content/photos?

 

It occurred
to me that I’m too “pleasant looking” in my photos, and that I always smile
just like a weak koala. So I have determined to be more bad ass like a
kangaroo. Watch out for some bad ass kangaroo photos of me. Rock stars should
be more like kangaroos, and totally bad ass. Enough of all this koala bullshit.

We played
tonight at the ADORABLE (think koalas), coffee house, “Godfrey Daniels” in Bethlehem.

It was a lot
of fun, and as the audience were all in their right minds and they all had
their coffee and cookies, we didn’t get into any drunken brawl girl
bachelorette parties, which was nice for a change, but I wouldn’t want it to
ALWAYS be like that. Just every now and then.

Bethlehem is a very picturesque
town, which used to be a steel mill town, but now there’s an enormous casino
instead.

Now we’re in
the van talking about “Allentown”
by Billy Joel.

 

View Rebecca’s candid
photos from the road for this day here.

 

 

DAY 3:

 

Pidgeon tour to end the hunger of myself due to nervous tension, and of
Tim Young due to finding good restaurants in New York, day 3:
We took a day off of
touring to take part in a benefit for our pals the Atlantic Theater Company,
(actually to benefit school kids going to see performances at this magnificent
company). At the last minute Mare Winningham had to drop out of performing her
song, so Tim and I donned our superhero capes, or in my case a jolly nice Dolce
and Gabbana dress, and in Tim’s case, just what he normally wears, which is
damned decent in and of itself, leapt on to the stage, and saved the day with
an impromptu version of one of our favorite songs “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, by the
fabulous Brian Wilson.

We saw lots
of nice folks and friends, helped raise some money for a worthy cause, and a
good time was had by all.

Tomorrow we
perform at the Rockwood
Music Hall. I’m
psyched!!!!

Oh and this
morning I wrote a song with Freedy Johnston who is the BEST.

My dear
husband Mr. Mamet, (or “Dave” if you will), wrote for me the following epistle
in French to deliver to our friends at the Atlantic Theater Company fundraiser.
I offer my meager translation for your benefit, as I feel the words are too
moving to be horded, but MUST I say, be passed along, and so I do:

“It was, I believe, the great French writer Marcel
Proust who once said, ‘who, for the love of God, released the sacred swans from
their pen, and who the hell is going to clean up their shit?’ Another equally
unforgettable historic figure and doyenne of the stage, Sarah Bernhardt replied
to Marcel Proust, ‘shut up you asshole, and take your foot immediately from the
hem of my dress!’

My children,
take these words to your hearts – and long live the Company!”

Simple
words, yes, but so true.

 

View Rebecca’s candid
photos from the road for this day here.

 

 

DAY 4:

 

Day 4 of the Pidgeon tour to end hunger of Tim Young and Rebecca Pidgeon: Well, today I raced uptown to have a singing lesson (“like you do,” as
Eddie Izzard would say), and then I raced back down to have a vital nap.

I needed my
beauty sleep because we were meeting our intrepid film crew, Josh and Ralph,
who were going to be taking moving pictures of me and Tim “walking around”.

They took
moving pictures, and Tim and I walked around with the adorable Jamie from Sacks
and Co. We had a few laughs, broke a few hearts, nobody was arrested.
Successful moviemaking in short.

Then Tim and
I raced in to the Rockwood
Music Hall to play our
gig there. I’ve heard so much about the place. It is VERY cool. In case you
don’t know, it is a bar in downtown New
York, famous for its singer songwriter guests who
come and play for the fortunate passersby. I believe Nora Jones plays there
sometimes, though I may be mistaken, but I do know that Jesse Harris was on right
after us, and that’s pretty damned impressive in my book.

Timothy
Bracy and Matt Keating were both in attendance, two very talented songwriters
who I have been lucky enough to work with. We are playing a whole bunch of new
songs in preparation for a new CD we hope to record in June this year. May it
be so.

Ended the
evening on a happy, rather “koala”-like note I’m afraid, and all off to bed.

 

View Rebecca’s candid
photos from the road for this day here.

 

 

 

DAY 5:

 

Tour to end hunger of band members’ day off: Well, today we had a
lovely day off, which meant that I got to spend the morning with the impressive
Alec Wilkinson from the New Yorker,
and we chummed about doing errands. He joined me for tea, and we talked about
my dad, who is a physicist.

I realized I
couldn’t accurately tell him what it is my dad actually does, beyond “he works
in semi-conductors and lasers,” and I don’t really know what that means. So we
called my dad, who was in the middle of doing construction in his kitchen, and
I couldn’t hear a blessed thing he said, but there was a lot of laughter and
ribaldry on his end of the conversation I must say.

I said, “Dad,
I’m here with Alec Wilkinson of the New
Yorker
and he wants to know what you do!” (Much laughter at his end). “No
dad really!” (Howls of laughter). “Just tell me so a normal person can
understand for Chrissakes Dad please.”

It turns out
he’s working on some sort of Quantum computer, to either A: make the world a
better place, or B: make pornography much more quickly accessible. I couldn’t
quite make out which.

Anyway it’s
jolly impressive I think. I’m quite proud. I just hope he’s not trying to
renovate his kitchen BY HIMSELF, which I wouldn’t put past him. Next stop after
our important tea was to Matt Umanov’s guitar shop on Bleecker Street, the best guitar shop in
the world. My husband took me there many years ago, and bought me an old 1930’s
Martin guitar. Our dear friend Shel Silverstein was with us as I recall, and we
stayed there for hours while Matt, Dave and Shel told stories and sang songs.
That was pretty damned great. (Shel was such a good friend of ours that he came
with us on our honeymoon – but that’s a very INTERESTING story for another time
kids.)

Alec and I
hung out with Matt for a bit, and he gave me some picks which I needed, and
then Alec and I buzzed up to Euphoria rehearsal studios to meet the lovely and
talented Timothy Bracy who I am doing some co-writing with.

Alec had to
shoot off, and Timothy and I wrote a song.

“And that’s
the news from Lake
Woebegon”.

 

View Rebecca’s candid
photos from the road for this day here.

 

 

DAY 6:

 

Rebecca Pidgeon tour to end the hunger of Jeffrey Gaines, day 6: Woke up this morning with
a cold! Oh no no no. I made an emergency visit to Gwen Korovin, ear nose and throat
doctor to the stars, who fixed me up god bless her. Then back in the van to
drive to Connecticut,
but this time we had our lovely camera and sound crew with us, the intrepid
Josh and Ralph. They tried and tried to get me and Tim to give them a straight
answer on any topic at all really, but with not much success, until Josh told
us to stop behaving like children.

I took
pictures of them and they took pictures of us.

We played
tonight with Jeffrey at the beautiful Infinity Hall in Norfolk, Connecticut,
which was built in the 1880’s as a vaudeville/meeting hall by three women whose
names I forget. One of them supposedly still walks around the hall on occasion.
(All theaters worth their salt have to have a ghost.) Apparently Mark Twain
used to speak in that hall.

Fred the
sound engineer gave us lovely monitor mixes, which was good because I felt like
my head was in a goldfish bowl what with my cold and all.

We are
staying at the lovely Mountain View Inn run by a lovely couple, who serve
breakfast, art and vintage clothes! (I have my eye on a couple of beautiful
vintage sweaters.)

There is
nobody about, all is quiet, there could be deer on the lawn, and I am going to
have a bath in the clawfoot tub.

Tomorrow Tim
and I will meet for breakfast and discuss Quantum physics.

 

View Rebecca’s candid
photos from the road for this day here.

 

 

DAY 7:

 

Tour to end the hunger of Jeffrey Gaines, Rebecca Pidgeon, Tim Young,
Jeffrey Gaines’ band of 24 yr old youths, and the strange adventures of Tim
Young, day 7:
After our breakfast discussion of Quantum Physics,
we hit the road, sans camera crew who had left early to go back to NYC. I for
one was very tired because the utter and complete stillness of the country side
had woken me up VERY early with an uneasy, “What’s all that no noise thing
happening?”

After a ride
of 5 hours of philosophical discussions, and metaphysical musings, plus a nap,
we showed up at the beautiful Hyatt hotel where we de-camped for a bit, while
the trusty Chris Rugulo (my Barrett Bonden for all you Patrick O’Brian readers)
went out to scope the venue. Tim and I checked into our rooms, and probably had
much the same experience except for one crucial point. My room wasn’t double
booked.

 

So Tim took
a leisurely bath, hung around in what we can only assume was his most
comfortable state of being, lay down on the bed to watch TV, and in walked… (It would be nice here to pause and think,
“the girl of his dreams”, except he’s already married to her, and she’s waiting
for him back in LA, or to think of some happy scenario where two people meet in
an unexpected and potentially awkward to say the least situation, but it’s the
beginning of a beautiful thing and maybe they even get married, how sweet…
.),
the business woman whose room it actually was, just, in fact, at the moment
that Tim noticed somebody else’s unpacked bag at the foot of the bed.

Tim was of
course a brick about the whole thing, the hotel were very apologetic, and the
lady – well I dunno. How would you feel?

But all’s
well that end’s well, and we were off to play our gig at the Milkboy in Ardmore Pennsylvania.

You gotta
love Philly. It’s where the founding fathers put together this extraordinary
system of democratic government from which we all benefit so profoundly in this
United States, and it’s where they built a monument to William Penn, the
founder of Pennsylvania, that was very high, and there wasn’t to be another
building any higher, or else Penn would put a curse on the city. Some
developers, alas, not heeding this warning, built at least three (as far as I
can tell), MUCH taller buildings than the monument to Penn, and that’s when the
trouble began. The Phillies lost game after game, not unlike the curse of the Cubs
when they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. There was a pall cast over the city,
and nothing, but NOTHING was going right. That’s when some clever Phillyites
got the idea to make another smaller statue of Penn, and stick it on top of the
TALLEST building in Philly. From that point on, everything has gone smoothly
again. Phew. I guess each time they build taller buildings they’ll have to keep
moving the statue to the tallest one.

We got to
the charming Milkboy Coffee house, jammed around a bit with fabulous Jeff
Gaines, had some Thai food and played our gig.

Then Chris,
Tim and I went to have a weepy little beverage as it is sad to part from good
chums for a wee while, but we were cheered by the notion that mayhap we will
see each other, and do this crazy music tour thing again, sometime in the near
or distant future, when our paths will once more meet, on another happy day.

 

View Rebecca’s candid
photos from the road for this day here.

 

 

HEAVEN AND HELL BESIDE YOU Alice in Chains

With a comeback album
climbing the charts and a new singer filling Layne Staley’s tall boots, the
grunge-era kings get the last laugh.

 

BY MICHAEL G. PLUMIDES, JR.

 

In the fall of 1990, I was in hiding and flat broke.  The 4808 Club had been closed down by the
authorities after the infamous GWAR bust that September (read the account
here), and as the owner and licensee, I was held accountable.  To add insult to injury, I had to pack up
everything and move out of the defunct venue, mostly by myself.  All my friends and employees had run for the
hills.  I went from being the “media
darling” to the “media punching bag” in a matter of seconds, and no one wanted
to know me anymore.

 

Once I had cleaned out my office and brought most everything
back to my then-girlfriend’s basement, I started sorting through my
effects.  In early September, I had
received a box of promotional material from Epic-Columbia.  I hadn’t even opened it yet.  And because I couldn’t get hired at McDonalds
after the high profile arrests, I lived off the stacks of discs I had received
over the course of the last few years, and was eager to make a run to Repo
Records.  Foraging through the box of
mostly hair-flipping crap, I came across the Alice in Chains long-playing debut, Facelift: It was really heavy, balls-deep, outshining the other
teased-hair pabulum the majors grew famous for. Needless to say, Facelift didn’t end up in the “new
arrivals” bin of used CDs at Repo… and I wore that fucker out.

 

In the months following, the whispers and finger pointing
had become unbearable.  So by February of
1991, I had left my girlfriend and packed up for Myrtle Beach, SC,
where all the criminals go… and Facelift came with me. 

 

The album’s first single, “We Die Young” hadn’t done much on
AOR but was embraced by metal radio to a degree. By April of 1991, “Man in the
Box” had hit the airwaves to an overwhelming response rising to #20 on the
singles charts, amidst the Winger and Warrant songs.  And the heavy rotation MTV video depicting a
“Jesus Christ” posed shrouded man with his eyes sewn shut sparked controversy,
setting the band apart from the likes of labelmates Danger Danger, and
Firehouse.  

 

The band followed up with the single “Sea of Sorrow”
which rose to #27 on Billboard‘s
single charts.  Even radio stations like
WKZQ-FM in Myrtle Beach
had picked up a few deeper cuts from the album, more notably “It Ain’t Like
That” and “Bleed the Freak.”  The guard
at the heavy metal house of cards had changed right under the mainstream’s
nose, and Alice
in Chains was swinging a wrecking ball.

 

In many ways, the new rock revolution had already begun,
albeit sparsely, via bands like The Cult, Danzig,
and Jane’s Addiction. But with the arrival of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains,
fueled by Sabbath-y guitar riffs and howling vocals, there was no question
cheese metal was doomed, easily a year before Nirvana broke in the summer of
1992. This put Seattle, a town that famously blossomed Hendrix and Heart, back
on the map with its new “sound.”  But of
the “grunge” set, it was an easy pick: Alice
in Chains was the heaviest.

 

Originally, AIC had caught the eye and ear of Susan Silver,
Soundgarden’s manager, in 1988.  Silver
pitched the band’s demo, The Treehouse
Tapes
, to Columbia,
and the label quickly snatched up the quartet of street urchins: Layne Staley
on vocals, Jerry Cantrell on guitar, the drums of Sean Kinney, and original
bassist Mike Starr. David Jerden was ably assigned to produce the band’s first
album.   What set Alice in Chains apart from the other fops in
their tight knickers wasn’t just the searing, crunchy, blistering guitars of
Jerry Cantrell, but also the dynamic yet haunting harmonies conjured between
Cantrell and late lead singer Layne Staley. 
The combination of their vocal stylings was more than organic; it was
symbiotic.

 

Together, Staley and Cantrell pushed the spectral envelope
of operatic and piercing highs, though through the window darkly: The moody,
brooding Facelift reflected the
ethereal atmosphere of a rain canopied Seattle.
But Facelift was also besieged by
trippy, psychedelic flights that would become more evident in 1992’s
multi-platinum selling Dirt.  The combination of heaviosity and psychedelia
might possibly be a by-product of the band’s drug use, and in my book Chains
ranks in the top five “stoner rock” bands of all time, mostly because they
lived the lifestyle openly and expressed it through their songs. 

 

The carnival-esque, drug-induced atmospherics of Dirt would propel the band to
international stardom and critical acclaim, selling four million copies in 1992
alone. The album rose on the Billboard charts
to #6, and would spawn five singles: “Them Bones”, “Angry Chair”, “Rooster”,
“Down in a Hole” and “Would” which also appeared on Cameron Crowe’s Singles soundtrack – Cantrell dedicated
the latter song to Andrew Wood, of Mother Love Bone, found dead from a heroin
overdose in his apartment previously. (Earlier that year AIC also released the
critically acclaimed Sap E.P., an
acoustic departure.)

 

 In 1993, AIC would
co-headline Lollapalooza with Primus, and due to mounting personal differences,
bassist Starr would be replaced mid-tour by ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist Mike Inez.
The band subsequently recorded the 7-song mini-album Jar of Flies, described as “darkly gorgeous” by staff writer Paul
Evans of Rolling Stone and spawning
the band’s first #1 single, “No Excuses.” The next album, subtly entitled Alice in Chains, would debut at #1 on
the album charts following its November ’95 release. Meanwhile, though, Staley
became increasingly hard to manage, and when AIC appeared on MTV Unplugged a few months later Staley’s
gaunt, emaciated outer appearance had become more evident.  Staley did form a new band for a time, the Seattle “super group” Mad
Season, but rarely performed with the band. 
Layne Staley’s last live performance came while AIC supported the
reunited original Kiss-lineup, with his final live show on July 3, 1996, in Kansas City, Missouri.

 

Despite all of Alice
in Chains’ mainstream successes and kudos, it was evident that Layne Staley was
falling apart. You might say, “with success comes excess” but Staley used drugs
in spades, almost dancing with the devil with a demonic fervor, just to see if
the rabbit hole would end up in Hades. 
After the death of girlfriend Demri Parrott in 1996, Layne became even
more reclusive, rarely leaving his condominium, as he spun downward into a
vortex of drug-riddled depression and self-loathing. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Staley was quoted as
saying, “Drugs worked for me for years and now they’re turning against me.
Now I’m walking through hell.” Cantrell stayed busy in the studio,
released solo efforts, and helmed the money-making machine that AIC had become,
releasing box sets and B-sides with their Sony label.  The band went on permanent hiatus; however, although
they never publically disbanded, they had cocooned themselves intentionally.

 

Staley had finally succumbed to his battle with addiction
and was found dead in his condominium on April 20, 2002, with the syringe still
in his arm.  He had been dead for
weeks.  The autopsy revealed that Staley
had taken a lethal dose of a mixture of heroin and cocaine.  Before his death he openly admitted to the
use of heroin and crack cocaine stating, “I never wanted my life to end this
way” weeks before, acknowledging he was “near death.”

 

After a period of dormancy following Staley’s death,
Cantrell and Alice in Chains would recruit William Duvall, of the Atlanta band, Comes With
The Fall, in 2006, to do a series of reunion shows in selected cities, after a
brief stint with Phil Enselmo of Pantera (also suffering from various
addictions and a shot voice box). By October of 2008, the newly reformed AIC
also had a new label, Virgin Records picking them up and eventually releasing Black Gives Way to Blue in September of
2009, the first studio album for the band since the mid-nineties. The latest
single, “Your Decision” is ranked #2 on Billboard behind Stone Temple Pilots
(who in 1992, incidentally, released their pinnacle album, Core, the same day as Chain’s Dirt was released). Both bands have endured through their various torments,
successes and addictions and were essential listening for grunge-era
aficionados.

 

Not to overshadow Alice
in Chains’ accomplishments with stories of addiction and demise, let’s jump to
the present.  In support of their new
release, Alice in Chains had been scheduled to
play in Charlotte, NC, on March 2, 2010, at Live Nation’s Fillmore. I
was eager to see AIC with vocalist Duvall, as I had previously watched some
2006 footage of their reunion, and was curious to see how he would hold up. I’m
sure a lot of the fans suffered the same skepticism. I attended Black Sabbath
three separate times in the early ‘80s, when Dio had taken the reigns from
Osbourne after his years of alcohol and drug abuse.  To this day both Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules are among my favorite Sabbath albums. With Alice’s new singer I hoped to be as pleasantly
surprised as I was by the Dio-fronted Sabbath.

 

The March 2nd show was cancelled due to illness,
disappointing throngs of fans who had sojourned in the rain and sleet from
miles around.  The band’s publicist told
me that Cantrell was “burned out” and as winter weather was so foreboding on
that particular day, Alice
used the opportunity to take a break. After a series of sold out shows, Chains
needed the rest.  The AIC show was
rescheduled to April 20, 2010, to the larger Uptown Amphitheatre, next door to
The Fillmore, in the hopes of selling more tickets and to better accommodate
the sold-out Fillmore appearance.

 

Upon arriving at will-call, my name wasn’t on the list.  So, the ticket office radioed the tour
manager up to the gate. The tall, slender man called “Chuck” and sporting a
shaved head, earring and goatee then escorted me down into the bowels of the
venue.  As we walked, I noticed he bore a
striking resemblance to Anton Szandor LaVey, High Priest of the Satanic Church
of San Francisco, so I mentioned it in passing. 
Chuck’s response was, “I’ve been mistaken for Anton LaVey on several
occasions.  The difference is… he was a
lot nicer.” (LaVey died in 1997.) 
Dancing with the devil indeed.

 

After several minutes of interrogation, the tour manager was
kind enough to admit my girlfriend, Anne, and me through the side gate by venue
personnel as it rained lightly.  By this
time we had missed the first act, Shooter Jennings, son of the incomparable
Waylon, but several days later he appeared at local legendary venue, The Visulite. 

 

We arrived just in time to grab a ten-dollar tall boy and
find a spot on the lawn.  Hindered by the
rain a bit, and not donning ponchos as we had previously discussed, let’s just
say we got a little wet.  But the new
amphitheatre doesn’t have a bad seat in the house, and even a lawn seat is only
a matter of feet away from the stage with no visual obstructions. And there’s
no cover over the assigned seats front and center, so everyone got soaked, not
just the bleeders.  The crowd hung tight through
the torrent to witness the rebirth of one of the better ‘90s grunge bands.

 

Alice
in Chains opened with “All Secrets Known” off of Blue, and it was almost as if the specter of Layne Staley crouched
in the shadows of the stage as Duvall and Cantrell sang the harmonies almost
supernaturally together.  A silence came over the crowd as if to hang on
every note, and every chord.  But more
important, the crowd wanted to see how close Duvall could bring it.  And Duvall did not disappoint.   Alice
immediately led into “It Ain’t Like That” then “Again” as the crowd rejoiced in
the barrage of Seattle’s
sound.  It was “Check My Brain” that
really got the crowd going, surprisingly. 
The band’s combination of old and new songs, coupled with articulately
tight musicianship, was borderline overwhelming.  Any other show I would have left, but instead
I tied a t-shirt around my head and rode the storm out.

 

Cantrell apologized to the crowd for the cancellation and
then went into a crowd favorite, “Them Bones” off of Dirt.  What was mind-blowing:
I had forgotten how many hit songs Alice
in Chains forged over the years, and the band played each with a zealous intent,
satisfying old fans and making new ones. 
“Dam That River” and the latest single “Your Decision” was further evidence
of how much Cantrell was, and still is, the backbone of the band, complimented
by his veteran rhythm section provided by Inez and Kinney.  Alice
would play nineteen songs in all, including “We Die Young”, “Grind”, “Sickman”
and “Angry Chair” all to the crowd’s sublime satisfaction, finishing up with
“Man in the Box”, then encoring with “Would”, and “Rooster”.  The experience at Charlotte’s Uptown Amphitheatre was quite
enjoyable despite the teardrops from above.

 

All in all, Alice
in Chains has managed to overcome some surmountable obstacles in their
reformation. And I think Duvall, nightly, feels as if he has something to
prove, but in this writer’s opinion, he’s already done so. Originally, it was
thought that Staley was irreplaceable, but there’s no question in my mind that
Layne Staley’s ghost walks with Duvall and Cantrell; “heaven beside you,” so to
speak.  As twenty years have passed since
I first experienced AIC, their recent live performance made me feel as good as
the first time.  And of all the bands
I’ve encountered, I can honestly say with Alice
in Chains, I have been to hell and back.

 

[Photo Credit: Michael Plumides]

 

Michael Plumides is a
writer and author of the “well received” indie book entitled,
KILL THE MUSIC, available on www.amazon.com. Read an excerpt from it in the latest print
issue of BLURT.

 

GOD SAVE THE QUEEN British Invasion DVD Box

Gerry & the
Pacemakers, Dusty Springfield, Herman’s Hermits and Small Faces get the
first-class treatment.

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN

 

One wants to be careful, when reviewing new releases of old
rock ‘n’ roll, to not succumb to nostalgia. And if you’re a Boomer – the target
audience for this package – the British Invasion is a real minefield for that.
It’s hard not to watch old video of those acts, who changed American music and
lifestyle forever, and not well up over younger and perhaps better days.

 

I’m that target audience, I know, but I think I can put
nostalgia aside to say that the 2009 filming of Gerry Marsden of Gerry &
the Pacemakers
performing a solo version of “Ferry Cross the Mersey” at Liverpool’s Cavern Club is a lovely cinematic and musical
moment. It’s the highlight of the 5-DVD British
Invasion
box set (Reelin’ in the Years Productions;
www.the-britishinvasion.com) which includes separate volumes on the 1960s-era
music of Gerry & the Pacemakers, Herman’s Hermits, Dusty Springfield and
the Small Faces, plus a bonus disc. (The first four titles are also available
singly.)

 

The Pacemakers – friends of the Beatles and managed by Brian
Epstein – were among the earliest “Merseybeat” bands to play the Cavern. They
only had hits in the Invasion’s early years, including an upbeat rocker the
Beatles turned down – “How Do You Do It?”

 

Most of their hits were like that – sunny, danceable,
friendly without any edge, sung by a hard-working Marsden in his TV appearances
(compiled here) with a clenched smile that borders on overbearing.

 

But Marsden did write two wonderfully melodic hits,
straddling major and minor keys with great delicacy, “Don’t Let the Sun Catch
You Crying” and “Ferry Cross the Mersey.” The latter, a tribute to his hometown
and its river (and also the title of a film), contained the refrain, “This
land’s the place I love/And here I’ll stay.”

 

So here’s Marsden, 44 years later, concluding a new
interview with director David Peck for It’s
Gonna Be All Right: 1963-1965
at the Cavern – which has been reconstructed
after Liverpool authorities filled it in for an underground train station in
the 1970s – by picking up an electric guitar and singing “Ferry” for the crew.
He’s a little nervous, but as he points out, he really did stay in Liverpool – he’s lived the life he wrote about. He puts
an affecting “Gloria”-like downbeat into his chording, one that adds a
melancholy, bluesy dimension to the song, and sings it with all his heart.

 

Overall, this is a solid, well-researched series from the
company that has produced the DVD sets American
Folk Blues Music, Definitive Motown
and Jazz
Icons.
If the subjects of this series may sometimes seem musically
lightweight compared to the previous ones, the approach isn’t.

 

 The Herman’s Hermits and Small Faces volumes are two hours long; Gerry & the Pacemakers is 90
minutes; Springfield
is about 80. While obviously this would be more important musically if the
Kinks, Who or even Dave Clark Five were subjects, don’t underestimate the
sociocultural impact of these acts. As Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits points out,
his band at its peak was selling as many singles as the Beatles – The Who even
opened for them on a U.S.
tour.

 

For each spotlighted act, full performances of songs are
included – live when possible, although there is plenty of lip-synching  – and there are archival and contemporaneous
interviews with the featured subjects and those who worked with them. The  DVDs roughly follow the chronological order
of each acts 1960s-era hits, so people like Marsden and Noone (of Herman’s
Hermits) are able to comment on how their careers unfolded  as we watch. Each DVD also has a thorough
booklet and source-material credits.

 

On that lip-synching issue, some acts fare better than
others, but Reelin’ in the Years has worked really hard to find as much concert
and live-performance footage as possible.

 

The Herman’s Hermits volume, Listen People: 1964-1969, is blessed with footage from several
concerts, including one in an Australian TV studio where the band is bombarded
with confetti.

 

Springfield,
represented by the Once Upon a Time:
1964-1969
volume, really benefits from having a fair amount of live
performances included. This affords an opportunity to see and hear her in her
greatest decade and to appreciate not only her vocal range but the effortless
way she could adjust intonation while moving among soul, pop and rock material.
At the NME Poll Winners concert from 1966, she goes from the ultra-torch-song
drama of “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” to Sam Cooke’s raucous “Shake”
without missing a beat.

 

That the compilers were able to find as much “live” footage
as they did is impressive; as a pop star Springfield
was forced to endure a lot of cornball lip-synching set-ups on variety shows.
The worst is included on the bonus disc – an Australian show called Bandstand that placed her in the middle
of awful sets (an inappropriate cowboy motif for “Twenty-Four Hours From
Tulsa,” a great song) – and then made her endure questions from an unctuous,
idiotic host who wants to know why the Springfields broke up. (This was a
folk-pop group, featuring her and her brother, that she left in 1963. The
interview took place in 1967, after she’d had countless solo hits.)

 

Since Springfield
died in 1999, her volume relies on archival interview footage along with new
conversations with her still-awed back-up singers Madeline Bell and Simon Bell.
In the old interviews, Springfield
has a charming, self-effacing quality. Interestingly, she’s mostly a
conservative dresser, showing very little skin or cleavage. Modest by standards
of a Lady Gaga or Amy Winehouse, but her voice sure isn’t.

 

Here’s an interesting, little-known fact about Manchester’s Herman’s
Hermits – courtesy of the interviews with Noone included on Listen People: The pop-rock quintet
recorded “For Your Love” before the Yardbirds and “Bus Stop” before the
Hollies. Noone had an in with songwriter Graham Gouldman who gave his best
stuff first to the Hermits. (A version of “Bus Stop” is included on the bonus
disc.) Gouldman wrote the Hermits’ finest hit, “No Milk Today,” a model of pop
songwriting in the way its verses, choruses and bridges rise from and support
each other. This DVD includes an excellent live version of “Milk,” plus an
exuberant Ray Davies-penned hit called “Daddy,” from German TV.

 

No one’s going to come out of watching Listen People thinking Herman’s Hermits desperately need critical
reappraisal – teenage Noone’s preening poses, designed to make the girls
scream, and too many vaudeville/music-hall-hinged songs prevent that. But you
will come out with increased appreciation for the talents of the late lead
guitarist Derek Leckenby, whose tight, sizzling solo on “I’m Henry VIII, I Am”
is a prime example of exciting, rock ‘n’ roll economy. In recent oldies
concerts, Noone has taken to combining “Henry VIII” with the Ramones’
“Blitzkrieg Bop,” and you can really see the connection.

 

The Small Faces DVD, All
or Nothing: 1965-1968,
should be the highlight of this package – like The
Who, they were R&B-loving Mods who made the transition into swingin’ London and psychedelic
rock with flair. Yet, for all their British hits, only “Itchycoo
Park” was ever big in the U.S.

 

But it’s actually somewhat disappointing, although not for
the song performances – it’s wild to watch the band’s musical and fashion
styles change so dramatically in such a short period. But with both lead
singer/songwriter Steve Marriott and powerfully thumping bassist/songwriter
Ronnie Lane long gone (although the DVD uses an interview that Lane, starting
to be affected by the ravages of MS, made in 1988), a lot of the contemporary
commentary comes from the keyboard player, Ian McLagan. And he’s too damn
hypercritical – even slagging “Itchycoo
Park.”

 

Fans of the Faces’ post-Sgt.
Pepper
high-art concept album,
Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake,
will value the appearance here of seven songs from
the album the group performed on a BBC show called “Colour Me Pop.” (Marriott
and Lane sing live to pre-recorded tracks.) But be warned – the appearance of a
British comic named Stanley Unwin, who speaks in a mangled Cockney accent
between songs, gets very old very fast.

 

This kind of first-class treatment to British Invasion acts
makes one hope more will come – and, indeed, Reelin’ in the Years has announced
the next batch will include the Hollies, Manfred Mann and (a group that never
successfully invaded the U.S.)
the Pretty Things. That’s something to look forward to.

 

 

 

 

 

UNITED STATES OF GREEN Earth to Blurt (Pt. 3)

It isn’t cheesy being green, and these
musicians will tell you why.

 

BY LAVINIA JONES
WRIGHT

 

In just a few
short years, it seems like the entire music industry has caught Green
Fever.  What was once just a crusade for
a few devout Earth-loving jam bands and hippie festivals has become status quo
for conscientious music creators of all genres. 
Environmentalism is becoming hip. 
And artists are getting creative in their efforts to save the planet. BLURT
polled a few of our friends to see just exactly what today’s thinking man’s
bands are doing to combat global warming and keep things cool.

 

Marco Benevento:

It can be tough
to cut down your environmental footprint when you’re livelihood requires you to
be traveling everywhere in a van or a bus or plane. We keep the tires filled
with air, which cuts down on gas mileage, we never, ever stop at fast food
places on the highway ’cause those places are always anti-life force and we
bring reusable cups from home, so that we’re not just consuming and creating
garbage. I’ve also got a solar powered backpack that charges up my phone, iPod,
laptop, etc. My wife and I definitely make an effort to do “green”
stuff in our personal lives like using cloth diapers, driving a Prius, we
always shop and buy food local and organic, that last point is an absolute
must.

 

Beth Tacular of the Bowerbirds: 

We lived for
several years off grid in an AirStream trailer, and now we are building an
off-grid cabin out of salvaged materials that will utilize low-impact
techniques like greywater, solar and rainwater catchment.  We also have a
car that runs on biodiesel, and we try to eat local and organic and buy most
things used or make them ourselves.  On the road, we refill our own reusable
water bottles and eat mostly at food co-ops.

 

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals:

When we’re out
on tour we’ll all walk to the grocery store when we can to avoid using cars,
and we are all about the reusable shopping bags instead of getting plastic.
We’ve also tried to cut back on small bottles of water by buying the big jugs
and using individual mugs.

 

Be Hussey of Radar Brothers:

We are recycling
all the studio beer cans for a friend’s foundry that teaches kids how to make
aluminum sculptures. (See: www.artsrefoundry.org and www.comp-ny.com)

 

Zach Rogue of Rogue Wave:

I decided in the
fall to become a vegetarian. The level of pollution modern industrial food
production causes as well as the misery it causes innocent animals is something
we’ve decided to get away from. It’s easy to do, and there’s the extra tiny
benefit of living longer.

 

Cary Brothers:

I recycle all
beer cans and whiskey bottles.

 

Eric Lindley of Careful:

Of course gas is
terrible when traveling, so I try to fit pedals, cables, etc. in a backpack – and
bring only the instruments I can carry – in order to take public transportation
whenever possible.  I also try to stay
with friends who have a kitchen whenever I can so I can cook my own meals and
not have to get the typical, over-packaged food available on the road.

 

Brandi Carlile:

We partner with
REVERB, which helps bands at all different stages of touring plan
environmentally sustainable tours.  We’ve been working with them since we
were in a van. Also, instead of buying carbon offsets, I donate their
equivalent to education programs or indigenous organizations working towards
wind energy and clean water.

 

Craig Minowa of Cloud Cult:

We plant several
hundred trees each year to absorb our CO2. We also fund the construction of new
wind turbines. All of our merch is 100% postconsumer recycled content or
certified organic. And we continue to expand our environmental nonprofit,
Earthology Institute
, which helps to green schools as well as the music
industry.

 

Seth Glier:

All of our CDs
are printed on recycled paper and shrink wrapped in soy plastics, our 100%
organic tour T-Shirts are printed using vegetable-based inks.  We’re driving a hybrid vehicle that gets 52
miles to the gallon and also purchasing wind energy credits to negate our
remaining Carbon Footprint.

 

Todd Fink of The Giving Tree Band:

We’ve
implemented a zero-waste policy on our tours by recycling and composting
everything.  Additionally, we are excited to be launching an Earth Day
sale of our past releases, Great
Possessions
and Unified Folk Theory,
exclusively through our website.  Half of
the proceeds will be donated to our environmental partner, Global Green USA, a
non-profit organization focused on stemming global climate change, eliminating
weapons of mass destruction, and providing clean water to the 2.4 billion
people without access to it.

 

Adam Gardner of Guster:

Guster has been
working hard to lessen its impact on the environment while also engaging our
fans, our peers in other bands and the music industry itself to take real steps
to protect the planet.  In 2004, my wife and I started the environmental
non-profit, REVERB
, that has greened over 85 major tours including Dave
Matthews Band, Maroon 5, John Mayer, Coldplay and John Legend and has worked
with numerous venues, radio stations and record labels to help them establish
more sustainable practices.  Greening efforts include powering shows with
wind power, fueling busses and trucks with sustainably produced biodiesel,
various waste reductions, fan carpool programs for concerts, and sourcing
catering from local family farms.

 

John Wesley Harding:

I am buying a
bike (and I shall use it as often as possible, while whistling “Bicycle Race”
by Queen
)!

 

Harper:

Let’s face it,
plastic bags suck and are very harmful to our planet! So I try to use as little
plastic as possible.  I use my own cloth
bags when we go shopping. I live out in the country and have loads of critters,
so I use non-toxic dishwashing liquid and shampoo.  Every little bit
helps!

 

Ray Wylie Hubbard:

I take my own
glass bottles of water or tea to gigs. I take all boxes, cardboard and paper
from CD shipments and mail them to the recycling place in San Marcos once a
week. All unsolicited CDs sent to the office get glued to the ceiling or used
in art projects for a youth group and the jewel cases get reused in the office.
 Food scraps, newspaper and coffee grounds go on the compost pile.  I
do this every day, not just Earth Day.

 

Raul Malo:

The truth is
that we’re really not doing anything special on the road to be
“green,” other than smoking a hell of a lot of weed! I wish that we
could say that we rented a hybrid, but there isn’t really one big enough to
take us on the road for a long time. I wish we could say that we stayed at
“green” hotels, but other than some progressive cities, they don’t
really exist.  This really points out how
much work is needed to be collectively “green.” So as much as I’d
like to be supportive of the cause more needs to be done to really get people
behind the concept.

 

Anne McCue:

Selling fewer
CDs means using less plastic!

 

James McMurtry:

I do most of my
fishing from man-powered watercraft.

 

Rob Miller (owner, Bloodshot Records):

Instead of
plastic, we are making our CD covers out of baby harp seal pelts.  So much
softer… but seriously folks, I am a compulsive recycler: over two tons of
paper/cardboard last year from the office. 
All the unwanted/unlistenable demos are recycled to a plastics
company.  All our shipping materials are
made from 100% recycled content.  And for
the past three years, we’ve been moving from plastic jewel cases to paperboard
digipaks
(with varying degrees of recycled content.)

 

Stephanie Morgan of stephaniesĭd:

Luckily, being
green and staying economically afloat tend to work together in the band
world.  On tour, we pack ourselves in the tiniest van possible for fitting
ourselves and our gear, and we’ve been smarter about where we travel in general
(now the criterion is “is the love really there for us?”).  And
we’re planting lots of stuff in our gardens!

 

Christine Ohlman of Rebel Montez:

We pack
ourselves (all of ourselves) into the smallest possible vehicle and hit the
road on a regular basis. Twenty-five percent of us (that’s one) drive a hybrid.
 We’re determined to use less gas, less oil, and travel green.

 

Eric Nally of Foxy Shazam:

We will simply
appreciate the scenery as we drive from show to show. We know that it’s special
and that’s all that matters to us.

 

Emma Cooper of Standard Fare:

Standard Fare
has fair-trade T-Shirts. We try to get the train when we can and car-share when
we can. Emma is also doing a PhD in Green Chemistry, and her work is part of
a larger project working to find sustainable alternatives to the
current petrochemical-based system.  We also do Fundraiser gigs for
environmental causes such as reducing traffic in city centers.

 

Webb Wilder:

We gon’ keep on
recyclin’, relaxin’ and re-joicin’ in the true, evergreen spirit of ROCK AND
ROLL!

 

 

ROCKIN’ IN THE
GREEN WORLD Blurt Goes Green/Earth to Blurt (Pt. 1)

 

HAPPY 40th EARTH DAY Blurt Goes Green/Earth to
Blurt (Pt. 2)

 

 

Image above is Rob Cobb’s
1969 Ecology Flag. Bands, readers: tell us your own stories of how you’ve “gone
green” or otherwise tried to make a difference, in the comments section, below.

 

 

 

 

HAPPY 40th EARTH DAY Blurt Goes Green/Earth to Blurt (Pt. 2)

 

Party like it’s, er,
1970, from the Climate Rally at the National Mall to Happy Hippy Day in Tokyo.

 

BY THE BLURT EDITORS

 

In honor of Earth Day 2010, we wanted to do our own small
part in promoting awareness of what’s unquestionably a significant milestone in
the evolution of the ecology movement: April 22, of course, marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Yesterday BLURT published Gillian G. Gaar’s look back
at the history of the intersection between the rock ‘n’ roll and the
eco-communities (read that account here), while tomorrow at the site, Lavinia
Jones Wright interviews a slew of contemporary musicians – among them, Marco
Benevento, Brandi Carlisle, Grace Potter, James McMurtry and Zach Rogue – to
find out what efforts they’re making to adopt green lifestyles.

 

Earth Day was conceived initially in September 1969 by U.S.
Senator Gaylord Nelson as nationwide environmental teach-in; it was his hope
that “a grassroots outcry about environmental issues” would get the attention
of Washington
lawmakers already sensitive to citizens speaking out against the Vietnam War. The
first Earth Week took place in Philadelphia
in 1970 (starting April 16 and culminating on Earth Day, April 22.

 

From Wikipedia:

 

On April 22 1970,
Earth Day marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement.
Approximately 20 million Americans participated. Thousands of colleges and
universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment.
Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power
plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, Freeway and expressway revolts,
the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they
shared common values.

 

And that was just the beginning; we’ve all come a long way
since then. (Read the full account at the Wikipedia entry.) But we’ve all got a
long way to go, too.

 

At any rate, below you’ll find a somewhat random, and in no
possible way comprehensive, roundup of some of the more interesting Earth
Day-related happenings and events taking place this week, some music-themed,
some political in nature, some just so weird they had to be mentioned. (Hello,
Happy Hippy Day.) The point being that over the course of the next few days you
should have ample ways to express your support for the environment, and feel
good doing so even as you have a fun time. (A number of such events were already
taking place last weekend, so for
those who have already rocked, we at
BLURT salute you.) And don’t forget the importance of involving your kids – most Earth Day happenings have a strong youth-fun component – because the awareness we instill in them now is what will eventually sustain and support the pro-environmental movement.

 

We don’t necessarily presume that anything BLURT says or
does or spotlights will have an impact, but key with any type of activism is
how a chorus of small voices, if sustained over time, can become a single large
mass that does make a difference. Please
take a few minutes to think about your own lifestyle and what you can do to
help it synch more naturally with our planet’s life cycle. Then tell your neighbor about it. And if the spirit moves
you to become directly involved with a local or national organization, or
simply to make a donation to help them continue their activities, please do so.

 

The official Earth Day 2010 website says it the best:

 

“Forty years after the
first Earth Day, the world is in greater peril than ever. While climate change
is the greatest challenge of our time, it also presents the greatest
opportunity – an unprecedented opportunity to build a healthy, prosperous, clean
energy economy now and for the future. Earth Day 2010 can be a turning point to
advance climate policy, energy efficiency, renewable energy and green jobs.
Earth Day Network is galvanizing millions who make personal commitments to
sustainability. Earth Day 2010 is a pivotal opportunity for individuals,
corporations and governments to join together and create a global green
economy. Join the more than one billion people in 190 countries that are taking
action for Earth Day.”

 

***

 

The Climate Rally:
The National Mall, Washington
DC (Sunday, April 25):
This
is the biggie. Sting, John Legend, The Roots, Bob Weir, Patrick Stump, Mavis
Staples, Passion Pit, Q-Tip, Joss Stone, Jimmy Cliff and Booker T will perform
a massive climate rally organized by the Earth Day Network for The National
Mall. The intent is “to demand Congress enacts climate and clean energy
legislation in 2010” and will feature speeches from Reverend Jesse Jackson,
film director, James Cameron, AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumka, Olympic gold medalist
Billy Demong, producer Trudie Styler and author Margaret Atwood.

     In a recent
editorial at ClimateProgress.org, Denis Hayes (national coordinator for Earth
Day in 1970, and currently the international chair of Earth Day 2010, observed,
“In general, I haven’t been someone who pushes rallies. But the Tea Partiers
have gotten an absurd amount of media attention for relatively tiny
rallies. Back in September, they claimed they had a million attendees at a
DC rally that in fact had perhaps 60,000 to 70,000.  This Sunday, let’s
leave those numbers in the dust. Past climate rallies have generally run
from a few dozen people to a couple thousand. On Sunday, April 25, energy and
climate activists from New England to the Carolinas
will gather together to find new friends and allies at largest climate rally
ever. We are coming together to move beyond education; to demand change; and to make it clear there will be political
consequences of Congress doesn’t act.

     “In 1970, I told
huge Earth Day crowds in Washington, DC, Chicago, and New York: ‘We won’t
appeal anymore to the conscience of institutions because institutions have no
conscience. If we want them to do what is right, we must make them do what is
right. We will use proxy fights, lawsuits, demonstration, research, boycotts,
and-above all-ballots…. If we let this become just a fad, it will be our last
fad.’

     “Come to the Mall
between the Capitol
Building and the White
House on April 25. Bring your spouse, your parents, your kids, your neighbors, your
friends, your co-workers, your congregation, your bowling league. Vote with
your bodies at the largest climate rally ever. And put our political leaders on
notice that you will vote with your ballot a few months later. Let’s show the
Tea Partiers and the media and the general public what a real crowd looks
like.”

 

(Read Hayes’ entire editorial here, and get more
details about The Climate Rally at the Rally page of the Earth Day Network
site
.)

 

 

The Indigo Girls are doing a special Earth Day concert tonight in Sheyboygan,
Wis., at the Stefanie H.
Weill Center
for the Performing Arts. (Wisconsin is a hotbed of eco-activism, in case you didn’t know.) The Indigos have a long history of political and
social activism – they also travel using B5 biodiesel for their tour bus – and
in particular, Native American environmental justice issues and alternative
energy. They work with Honor The Earth (HonorEarth.org), having headlined
several Honor The Earth tours over the years, and also travel using B5
biodiesel for their tour bus. (Details at the Weill center website.)

 

Widespread Panic and
Band of Horses
have a two-night stand at Raleigh, NC, venue Walnut Creek
Amphitheatre on Saturday and Sunday, and while it’s not billed specifically as
an Earth Day celebration, W.P. has never shied away from social activism – and,
per tradition, the group is sponsoring a food drive for the two shows. You can
bet there will be a few pro-environmental comments from the stage from both
groups, too. (Details at Walnut Creek
website
.)

 

Earth Day at Red
Rocks
happens Saturday at the park adjacent to Denver’s famous amphitheatre. It’s put on by
the Windstar Foundation, which was founded in 1976 by activist-musician John
Denver (we mentioned Windstar in our “Rockin’ In the Green World” feature
yesterday), and accordingly, there will be Denver music played all day. The event
includes a park clean-up, free face painting for the kids, and information and
education from many environment-related groups such as the Sierra Club,
defenders of Wildlife and The Cloud Foundation. (Details at the Windstar Foundation
website.
)

 

Local Earth Day
Concerts Everywhere:
If you enter some nominal Google search terms (such as
“musicians for earth day”) you’ll get scores of hits. Just a cursory scan turns
up mini-Woodstock festivals today and on into the weekend in such diverse
locales as Newburyport, MA; Black Mountain, NC; Milwaukee, WI; Topanga Canyon, CA; Seattle, WA;
Houston, TX; Morristown, NJ; Orlando, FL; Oak Ridge, TN; Boulder, CO; St. Louis,
MO; and on the campus of Teachers College, of all places, in Manhattan. Check
your local listings or fine tune your Google search for your own region – we
guarantee you’ll come across something happening in your own back yard.

 

A few items we just
couldn’t resist listing…

 

The Green IT Awards
are held in London today
at the London Zoo
in Regents Park. They are intended to “celebrate
the cutting edge enhancements and ‘invisible green’ that shrinks our
civilization’s environmental impact each day,” according to EcoFactory. (Also,
there will be a concurrent event where “volunteers will remove old fencing in a
wetland preserve of a British Navy submarine base… and removing invasive plant
species from the giant wetlands area.” Hey, how often do you get to hang out at
a British sub base?!?) The beautiful Regents
Park is well known in the
green community; it’s been the recipient of the “Green Flag Award,” among
several awards. (Details at the Regents
Park site
– check out
that elephant-shaped topiary!)

 

“Happy Hippy Day” in Tokyo today: While
rock band “Pacific Trends” (gotta love that name) performs, students will dress
up like hippies, presumably as they would have appeared 40 years ago. More
specifically, Happy Hippy Day, says EcoFactory, “is a celebration in the honor
of two local environmentalists and a human rights activist that have changed
the lives of many Japanese. Attendees will be dressed up like hippies and
celebrating the “groovy” lives of environmentalists.” Sounds groovy
to us. There will also be screenings of environmental films. Apparently last
year the event was a huge success with more than 100,000 people attending,
including “20 to 30 year old hippies as far as the eye could see.” (Consult the
Tokyo Greenspace website for some pretty far out photos from 2009.)

 

Avatar released on Blu-ray disc today: As more than a few
pundits have observed, James Cameron’s arranging for his
mega-mega-blockbuster’s official Blu-ray unveiling on April 22 ain’t no
coincidence. As Cameron himself has said in interviews, “I’m not coming out of
the closet as an environmentalist,” in reference to the movie’s themes. (Hey,
he could have had the Na’vi kitted out in GREEN skins instead of blue, but
maybe that would have been too obvious.) Added Cameron, “I have no illusions about a piece of entertainment
saving the world. But if people are thinking and talking about it, and are
emotionally open to it, that’s the point at which you can ask people to
introduce change into their lives and the way they do things.”

     And according to
news reports
, Cameron and his producer Jon Landau are “putting their [movie
profits] where their collective mouth is” by committing, in conjunction with
the Earth Day Network, to planting a million trees around the planet. Hollywood
News indicates
that Cameron, Landau and some of the cast members will have a
special tree-planting ceremony at the 20th Century Fox Studio lot in
L.A. today to
kick off the “Home Tree Initiative” which, if all goes as planned, will see
those million trees getting planted in 15 countries by the end of the
year.  

 

 

Readers: feel free to plug your favorite local or national
event/happening that’s taking place today or over the course of the next week
in the comments section, below…

 

 

 

ROCKIN’ IN THE GREEN WORLD Blurt Goes Green/Earth to Blurt (Pt. 1)

Everyone has to start somewhere, and a
lot of rock musicians have done exactly that. Your Earth Day begins NOW.

 

BY GILLIAN G.
GAAR

 

Environmental
causes might seem an anomalous concern in the realm of rock ‘n’ roll. After
all, when it’s Saturday night and you just got paid, the next step usually
involves heading out in your Rocket 88 for a night on the town with all the
desire to consume that implies – “carbon footprint” be damned!

 

And in truth,
it’s taken a while for musician to take up the green banner. Until the
mid-‘60s, most entertainers eschewed making any kind of political statements,
in order not to alienate anyone in their audience. That changed as the era of
protest rock began, though the songs primarily concerned themselves with war
and social injustice, providing a musical backdrop to debates about the Vietnam
conflict and the emergence of the modern civil rights movement. Feminism and
gay liberation followed. But interest in environmental causes lagged behind.

 

Appropriately,
that began to change after the first Earth Day event, held exactly forty years
ago tomorrow, on April 22, 1970. Throughout the decade, environmental issues
became increasingly mainstream – and a topic increasingly addressed by
musicians. Pro-green songs from artists as diverse as Marvin
Gaye (“Mercy Mercy Me [The Ecology]”) and the Beach Boys (“Don’t Go Near The
Water”) were released early in the decade. Even cuddly suburbanites The Brady
Bunch went eco-friendly on “We Can Make The World A Whole Lot Brighter” (with
its lament “Birds flying high, in search of a clear blue sky/While they’re
choppin’ down the trees below them”) on their 1972 album Meet The Brady Bunch.

 

The
benefit show became a staple for activist musicians. Bonnie Raitt played her
first benefit for the Sierra Club in 1974, and went on to co-found MUSE
(Musicians United for Safe Energy) in 1979. The organization hosted a series of
“No Nukes” concerts the same year, which were filmed and released as a
documentary. One of the biggest stars of the ‘70s, John Denver, provided a
subtler form of pro-green commentary in his paeans to the beauty of the
environment (particularly his beloved Rocky Mountains), but was increasingly
outspoken offstage, eventually co-forming The Windstar Foundation
(www.wstar.org), dedicated to promoting awareness of environmental issues. In 1989,
Sting expanded his political activism into the green realm by co-founding The
Rainforest Foundation Fund (www.rainforestfoundation.org).

 

Though
green causes would seem to be non-partisan – bad air and water will harm
anyone’s body, regardless of political affiliation – they were often tagged as
a “lefty” issue because many of the artists making pro-green statements were
known for their liberal views, and rock
star activists are often on the front line for those wanting to take potshots.
But ironically, the one incident that really raised awareness about green
issues – as well as clearly illustrating what kind of impact on the environment
the consumption of music could generate – wasn’t something largely being
addressed by musicians at all. It was the eradication of the CD longbox.

When CDs first
came on the market in the ‘80s, they were usually packaged in 6-by-12-inch
cardboard boxes featuring the album’s artwork; they were designed so that two
boxes could fit side by side in record store bins designed to hold
12-by-12-inch album covers. No one had previously complained about how records
and tapes were packaged, but now, given that most people simply threw the outer
box away, the waste factor was obvious.

 

A 1990 article
in Entertainment Weekly claimed CD
longboxes generated 18.6 million pounds of trash per year (“roughly the same amount of garbage created daily by a
population the size of Missouri’s”).
The same article quoted a record wholesaler as protesting, “We don’t want to do
anything that will cause damage to the environment, but we don’t see any other
way to merchandise,” but music consumers were less attached to the longbox (and
even less so to the plastic version of the longbox, the much-hated “blister
pack,” which had an annoying tendency to slice open your finger when you were
trying to pry it off a CD), and by 1993 they were being eliminated. The
cardboard longboxes have naturally gone on to become prized collectors items.

 

Nowadays,
more and more CDs are housed in paper sleeves instead of a plastic jewel box,
with an emphasis on using recycled materials. And in this age of rampant
downloading (legal or otherwise) CDs themselves maybe eventually become seen as
little more than “wasteful packaging.” Though
downloading devotees still have to face another environmental dilemma – how to
best dispose of a dead computer or iPod.

 

It was a classic
example of how ideas once seen as “fringe” concerns become taken for granted.
From the ‘90s on, musicians have increasingly found new ways to jump on the
green bandwagon. Instead of simply performing benefits, letting pro-green
groups set up tables at shows, and making the occasional
let’s-save-the-environment statement, more musicians, and record companies, are
engaging in more direct kinds of action.

 

The Chicago offices of Smog
Veil Records feature solar panels and wind turbines. Sub Pop Records purchases
renewable energy credits, called “green tags,” from the Bonneville
Environmental Foundation (www.b-e-f.org) to
balance out the energy the company uses during the year. Planting trees has
become a popular way of giving back for musicians. Pink Floyd and Coldplay
vowed to plant a tree for each copy of Echoes (Pink Floyd) and A Rush of Blood to the
Head
and X&Y (Coldplay)
that’s sold; The Police made a hefty donation to MillionTreesNYC following
their last tour (an organization plans to plant one million trees in the city
by 2017; www.milliontreesnyc.org);
Pearl Jam have announced that they plan to donate
money from their upcoming tour to plant trees in the Pacific Northwest. There’s
also an eye on how trees are used; Martin Guitars, for examples, only uses wood
from non-endangered forests to make their instruments.

 

Singer-songwriter
Rufus Wainwright has found an imaginative approach to get his audience thinking
about the impact they have on the environment via his “Blackout Sabbath” events
(www.blackoutsabbath.org). The
“Sabbath” in question is the first day of summer (June 21), when Wainwright
encourages people to live without electricity from noon to midnight, taking the
time to write down “things that you will do in the next year to contribute to
the earth’s well-being.” He promotes the event (now in its third year) at an
annual “Awareness concert” performed by candlelight.

 

And
artists that want to make their tours eco-friendly now have a variety of
organizations to help them. Reverb (www.reverb.org),
founded in 2004 by Lauren Sullivan (who’d previously worked for the Rainforest
Action Network) and her husband, Adam Gardner, (guitarist/vocalist in the band
Guster), work with musicians to help find ways to offset the environmental
effects of touring. Their first clients were Barenaked Ladies and Alanis Morissette;
they’ve since worked with Phish, Sheryl Crow, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and
Bonnie Raitt, among many others (a recent client is this year’s Lilith Fest).
Some measures are obvious (biodiesel-fueled tour buses, recyclable cutlery in
the catering tent – set up to serve locally grown organic food, of course),
while others are designed to let nothing go to waste (Barenaked Ladies ended up
collecting their broken and used guitar strings to be re-worked into unique
jewelry). “Eco-villages” are set up at shows to educate attendees, and websites
set up for the tours not only tout the ways the shows are green-friendly, they
also offer resources like enabling fans to organize carpools.

 

“Being green is not all or
nothing,”
says Reverb’s website. “Many people doing
some things will have more impact than some people doing everything.”

 

MusicMatters (www.musicmatters.net) also helps
musicians to green up their act. The organization worked with singer-songwriter
Jack Johnson on EnviroRider, a
handbook on how to make your tour eco-friendly, followed by the development of
a similarly styled program called Sustainable Minded Artists Recording and
Touring (SMART), which has worked with acts like Korn, Incubus, and OAR.

 

Some
wags have pointed out that the efforts to offset one’s despoiling of the
environment aren’t necessarily designed to provide a quick fix. The climate
expert who worked with Pearl Jam on their tree planting scheme admitted to the Seattle Weekly it would take around 50
years for the 33 acres of trees the band wants to plant to offset the carbon
expenditure of this single tour, to say nothing of the subsequent tours the
band presumably plans to undertake.

 

But
even small steps are a move in the right direction. “As a touring band, it’s
our responsibility to start making a difference,” Korn singer Jonathan Davis
told Planet Green (www.planetgreen.discovery.com).
“We can’t save the planet overnight, but this is our way of saying everyone has
to start somewhere.” When even metal heads are going green, it’s clear that
being eco-friendly isn’t just a fad any more.

 

Bands, readers: tell us your
own stories of notable instances of eco-activism in the music world in the comments section,
below.

 

PRODIGAL RETURN Roky Erickson & Okkervil River

When
the psychedelic godfather was ready to resume recording after years in the
wilderness, his Austin
neighbors proved the perfect collaborators.

 

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

 

Were you shocked when Pavement reunited? How about when
Mission of Burma returned? Nice as those were, their comeback stories have
nothing on Roky Erickson. As leader of The 13th Floor Elevators, Erickson
basically invented psychedelic rock, writing the classic “You’re Gonna Miss Me”
at the age of 15.

 

But things went downhill quickly after that. Soon, Erickson
was dropping acid and shooting heroin on a regular basis. Yet it was one joint
that really ruined his life. In 1969, he was arrested for having a single
marijuana cigarette and sentenced to 10 years in prison by authorities looking
to make an example of him. Instead, he pled insanity and was sent to a mental
hospital where he received electro-shock treatment. By the 1980s, he was living
in squalor and suffering serious health problems.

 

His brother finally came to the rescue in 2001, winning
legal custody of Roky, getting him on medication and into therapy. Within a few
years, Erickson had put his life back together and begun touring again. Now,
he’s releasing his first new album in 14 years, True Love Cast Out All Evil (reviewed here at BLURT). The album was
made with an assist from fellow Austinites
Okkervil River.
We talked with Okkervil leader and album producer Will Sheff about a record few
thought they’d ever see.

 

***

 

BLURT: How
did you begin working with Roky?

WILL SHEFF: There was a writer for the Austin Chronicle who was a fan of Okkervil River
and a longtime fan of Roky’s. She thought it would be fun if we did a show with
him at the Austin Music Awards in 2008. Roky loved it. He felt inspired and
excited to have a younger band play with him, and we had a blast.

      Shortly after
that, Roky’s management approached me about producing a new record. I was
hesitant. I didn’t want to make one of those perfunctory late career records
that exist just for a tour or get by on generalized goodwill, but aren’t very
good in and of themselves. I wanted it to be a worthy addition to the canon.

      Then they sent
me the songs. There were 60 songs from throughout his career – stuff from The
13th Floor Elevators they never put out, stuff he wrote while he was
incarcerated and some from his horror rock era in the 1970s. The songs were so
powerful and moving and autobiographical. They presented a side of his writing
I never knew was there. I felt they were some of the best songs he’d ever
written.

 

What
struck you most about the songs?

If people know Roky for something beside The 13th Floor Elevators, it’s for horror rock, which was essentially his own genre. He
was doing these scary hard rock b-movie themed songs. He was talking about
electro-shock treatment and being on Thorazine in a veiled way. I wanted people
to know he also wrote about electro-shock treatment and Thorazine and prison straightforwardly
and openly. There’s no humor, no metaphor in these songs that insulates you
from the pain. It’s very, very raw, but there’s beautiful, whimsical, fanciful
language that has to do with who Roky is as a person. It’s a very special thing,
these pretty, fanciful songs soaked in this really intense pain.

 

What
was your main goal as Roky’s producer?

I really wanted people to see Roky in a different way. I
wanted them to see the wisdom and tenderness and mysticism that is part of his personality
just as much as the wild man rock and roller is. And that [wild man] stuff is
great. I don’t mean to downplay it, but when you hear this, you see how varied
his work is.

 

The hard
rock sound that he’s known for isn’t really part of this album.

His horror rock songs were happening during the flowering of
heavy metal. They dealt with horror, but they were theatrical. When you’ve been
in prison with pedophiles, rapists and murderers, and are getting shock
treatment, a werewolf or a vampire isn’t scary. It puts a smile on your face,
like a Halloween costume. Songs like “Please Judge” or “John Lawman” are actual
horror rock. That was the real horror in Roky’s life.

 

How is
Roky’s mental health these days?

He’s doing better than ever. Roky is schizophrenic. There’s
no way around it. But for over a decade he was not allowed to be on medication,
so he was really declining physically and mentally. Everyone in Austin thought you’d
never hear from him again. We thought he’d be like Syd Barrett and disappear. It’s
miraculous what people did to help him out. And once they got him to that
place, he helped himself out. He’s happier than he’s ever been. His whole life
was marked by excess. He really even keeled now.

      One thing that
really frustrated me about the [2007] Keven McAlester documentary, You’re Gonna Miss Me, is that they stopped filming at a certain
point. It’s not Keven’s fault. It’s just the nature of the project. But the
point at which they stopped filming was the beginning of Roky’s recovery.
People walked away from the movie thinking Roky was beyond recovery. That’s
completely false. But you don’t see that in the movie because it stopped
filming in 2001. Since then, he bought his first house, bought his first car,
reconnected with his son, and asked his first wife on a date so they
reconnected and now live together. He tours regularly. If you saw the movie, you’d
never anticipate that. I want to spread the word about it.

 

What’s
happening with your own band? Is there a new Okkervil album in the works?

We’re working on an album, but we’re going real slow. In the
past, I always felt rushed. I don’t think anything that came out was
compromised, but there were moments where the fun was starting to fall away
because I was working so hard. I think there’s something about music that
should be play, not work. I’m always
suspicious of people that use the word “work” in reference to art.

 

You’ve
worked with several legends lately – not just Roky but also Levon Helm. What
did you learn from them?

The thing I took from Levon is that he’s just so happy to be
playing in a beautiful, old-fashioned entertainer way. If you think of humans
making music for each other, it’s a beautiful natural thing. Being a rock star
is like the cancerous version of that, where the cell has grown out of control
and become toxic. The idea that you should bow down to this one person or that this
person is more deserving of attention is such a gross mutation of what music is
supposed to be about. Levon is so great as a musician, and The Band are one of
the all-time great rock bands. At the same time, there’s such humility with him.
Although there are all these people who come to see him, he’s bringing the feeling
of a bunch of people sitting around enjoying themselves.

     Roky is the same
way. He has a line in “Be and Bring Me Home” that says “Special and magical
music/ These are feelings from one to another.” That alludes to something about
Roky’s life. Music sustained him and kept him going. In the mental hospital,
music kept him sane. It kept him from complete and utter despair.

 

[Photo Credit: Todd Wolfson]

 

DON’T THROW STONES Gentle Giant

The British prog-rock
maestros enjoyed a checquered but fruitful tenure that spanned the psych and
punk eras.

 

BY REV. KEITH A. GORDON

 

Often overshadowed by contemporaries like King Crimson or
Yes, England’s
Gentle Giant may not have been one of the best-known bands of the 1970s
progressive rock revolution, but they were certainly one of the more
adventurous. Formed in 1970 by the three Shulman brothers – vocalist/guitarist
Derek, bassist Ray, and saxophonist Phil, with keyboard wizard Kerry Minnear,
lead guitarist Gary Green, and drummer Martin Smith  – Gentle Giant’s roots were in the R&B
infused psychedelic rock of the era… kind of like the Pretty Things, but with
more technically-oriented instrumentation and an art-school temperament.

 

With the typical prog-rock emphasis on musicianship, and
incorporating elements of British folk, jazz-fusion, and classical music,
Gentle Giant sounded like nobody else on the street at the time. They were
quickly snapped up by the prog-leaning Vertigo label, which would release the
band’s first four albums in Europe, while
Mercury, then Columbia Records would handle stateside releases. Although
critical response to Gentle Giant albums like the band’s self-titled 1970 debut
or 1972’s Octopus would be mixed,
prog-rock fans quickly embraced the band, and by the time of the band’s fourth
album – the aforementioned Octopus
Gentle Giant records were scraping the bottom rungs of the Billboard magazine Top 200 album’s chart with regularity.

 

By 1973, though, Gentle Giant had undergone some changes.
The stress of the band’s heavy workload – four albums in as many years, as well
as constant touring in both Europe and the United States – combined with the
better part of a decade spent playing music with his brothers would cause Phil
Shulman to leave the band after the release of Octopus. Permanent drummer John Weathers would join Gentle Giant
after the band’s third album, bringing along the explosive blues-rock chops
that he honed while with the Graham Bond Organisation. So, it was with this
line-up, sans brother Phil, that Gentle Giant that would enter the studio in
1973 to record In A Glass House, the
band’s fifth album.

 

Considered by many to be one of the band’s hardest-rocking
albums, In A Glass House represents a
period of transition for the band. Minus Phil Shulman, who had seemingly
brought many of the “gentle” influences to the giant, the band
pursued a much more aggressive musical tack, beginning with the abrasive sound
of breaking glass that serves as an intro to the album-opening song “The
Runaway.” Taken from a BBC effects tape still in use today, the
ear-scraping sound of shattering glass is looped to take on a peculiar rhythm,
which itself gives way to swirling synth flourishes and shards of jagged
guitar.

 

While In A Glass House is ostensibly a concept album on morality – “people in glass houses
shouldn’t throw stones” – the album’s obtuse lyricism is maddeningly
oblique even by prog-rock standards. “The Runaway” is about a
fugitive, maybe running away from the authorities, but just as easily
attempting to hide from his own demons. Derek Shulman’s vocals are sparse and
to the point, but it is the miasma of instrumentation, odd time signature
changes, circular guitar riffs, keyboard wizardry, and powerful drumwork that
push the seven-minute-plus composition into exhilarating musical territory.

 

Much of In A Glass
House
is of a similar vein: lengthy exercises in progressive virtuosity,
with four of the album’s six original songs weighing in at better than seven
minutes in length. A kinetic madhouse of vocal gymnastics and dancing
instrumentation, “Way Of Life” features a spastic rhythm around which
multi-textured swaths of jazzy keyboards, syncopated drumbeats, and imaginative
guitar dance like dervishes.

 

With a baroque-styled string intro, “A Reunion”
evolves into a striking, folkish, almost pastoral treatise with wan vocals and
mesmerizing violin that, with its brief two-minute-plus running time, seems to
serve as a sort of intro to the title track. “In A Glass House” is an
eight-minute showcase for the band’s immense instrumental skills, as everybody
gets their moment in the spotlight, while the album’s closing moments,
comprised of passages from the previous songs, dwindles cleverly into the sound
of broken glass, coming full circle to where the album begun.  

 

In their infinite wisdom, Columbia Records choose not to
release In A Glass House in the United States,
deeming it lacking in commercial appeal. The label promptly dumped the band from
its roster, allowing Gentle Giant to take possession of the album’s master tape
to license to a European label, Phonogram Records subsidiary World Wide Artists
(WWA). Long an in-demand import item, In
A Glass House
wouldn’t receive a proper stateside release until 2004, when
it was released on CD. 

 

What is most remembered about In A Glass House in its original vinyl format was its unique 3-D
cover design, which used a cellophane inlay and a stark high-contrast image of
the band members to create a stunning effect that jumps right in your face.
Sadly, this novelty is absent from a new 2010 reissue version of In A Glass House (released on the band’s
own Alucard Records; www.blazemonger.com/gg/)
that, while benefiting from careful digital re-mastering, is inferior in
packaging to the 35th anniversary version released by Derek Shulman’s DRT
Entertainment in 2005. That reissue
included the cool 3-D cover effect, a slipcase, and a couple of bonus tracks,
while this newer version offers only the album’s six original performances and
a rather plain cover.

 

Packaging notwithstanding, it’s the music that counts, and In A Glass House sits comfortably in the
top third of Gentle Giant’s twelve album releases between 1970 and 1980, and
competes easily with similar works from King Crimson and Genesis. Almost
half-way through its decade-long tenure, Gentle Giant was on the verge of its
most commercially successful album yet – 1974’s The Power and the Glory – an accomplishment at least partially
set-up by the band’s willingness to stretch out its sound and add more
“rock” to it’s unique prog-rock formula with In A Glass House.

 

***

 

By 1975, however, Gentle Giant stood at a crossroads.
Although the band’s line-up – brothers Derek (vocals, guitar) and Ray Shulman
(bass, vocals), guitarist Gary Green, keyboardist Kerry Minnear, and drummer
John Weathers – had remained stable over their three previous albums, pressure
was on the group to deliver the goods.

 

A brief tenure with World Wide Artists had yielded In A Glass House and The Power and the Glory, both of which
helped expand the band’s U.S.
audience (despite their import-only status) while clawing their way into the
upper reaches of the Billboard album’s chart. Now signed with Chrysalis Records for the U.K. and distributed by Capitol
Records stateside, Gentle Giant was expected to build upon its modest success
and chalk up some album sales while retaining their artistic and creative
integrity.

 

In reality, the move to Chrysalis from WWA had been a
positive one for Gentle Giant, with label head Terry Ellis – who had made stars
out of similarly prog-leaning folk-rockers Jethro Tull – offering sympathetic
support to the band’s studio efforts. The result would be Free Hand, the band’s seventh album and its most successful,
highest-charting U.S.
release (reaching 48 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart), an album also considered by many Gentle Giant loyalists
as the band’s most focused and creative work.

 

Re-energized by the change in record labels, and bringing a
fresh approach to their music, Gentle Giant hit the studio and created an
incredibly complex and musically exciting album in Free Hand. The band’s unique, progressive sound had always mixed
rock with folk, jazz, and classical influences – including the odd baroque or
chamber pop interlude – but with Free
Hand
they freely incorporated more jazzlike sounds with strains of
medieval-era classical and later-period Renaissance music. Thus, the album’s
seven performances not only showcase the instrumental virtuosity of the various
band members, but do so against a backdrop of contrasting styles and textures
which, surprisingly, struck a chord with a large group of listeners beyond the
band’s usual fan base.

 

Over the course of their previous albums, Gentle Giant had
generally created each as a stand-alone “conceptual” work, as was the
style with early-1970s prog-rockers, and while individual songs may have
addressed the band’s life on the road and in the studio, they did so in relation
to the conceptual subject at hand. Not so with Free Hand which, while not a concept album per se, nevertheless
brims over with emotion and venom against the music biz.

 

The album-opening “Just The Same,” which intros
with the snapping of fingers and a fractured piano riff, quickly jumps into
Derek Shulman’s nimble vocals and Green’s angular fretwork. Lyrically, the song
dissects the meaning of fame, and the difficulty of finding your identity when
faced with so many people’s differing perceptions of who you actually are.
Minnear’s high-flying synth playing sends notes shooting out into the mix while
Weathers’ subtle drumwork lends structure to the song’s ever-changing
instrumental landscape.

 

“Free Hand,” the album’s title track, is its most
overt criticism of the music industry. Drawn from the band’s previous
experience with corporate labels like Vertigo, Columbia, and WWA, the song’s lyrics liken
the band’s recent change in label to the sudden freedom after the break-up of a
bad relationship. Bolstered by a muscular and complex soundtrack that features
Minnear’s raging keyboards and Green’s heavy guitar chords, the song rocks hard
without sacrificing the band’s progressive roots, and there are plenty of
lightning-fast time signature changes, head-turning changes in musical
direction, and cacophonic instrumentation to please even the most jumble-minded
prog-rock fan.

 

Free Hand has its
experimental moments as well, perhaps never illustrated better than by the
amazing “On Reflection.” The song’s lyrics, about a relationship
breaking apart, take a backseat to the Renaissance-styled four-part fugue
vocals that involve almost the entire band, and which in itself represented an
important additional instrument that dominates the song above all else until it
evolves, a couple of minutes in, into a beautiful, pastoral piece with wan
vocals and instrumentation. With several changes in direction, the song is both
exhilarating in its scope as well as exhausting in its execution, but it never
fails to impress.

 

The engaging instrumental “Talybont” is also
Renaissance-flavored, beating Richie Blackmore’s fascination with the form by
better than a decade. This is no modern-day “Greensleeves,” though,
the song perfectly welding medieval baroque frippery with hard rock guitar,
galloping drumbeats, and inspired rhythmic bass lines courtesy of brother Ray
Shulman. It’s an interesting interlude before the lengthier and more involved
“Mobile.”
Lyrically addressing the obstacles and fleeting friendships of life on the
road, “Mobile”
is also, perhaps, the closest that Gentle Giant ever got in treading across the
hallowed creative turf of fellow proggers Yes.

 

Kerry Minnear has been severely underrated as a keyboard
wizard, and his various synth flourishes and piano runs here are just as lively
and imaginative as anything fantastically spun out of the aether by Rick
Wakeman. Paired with Weathers’ complex timekeeping skills, Derek Shulman’s
nimble vocal abilities, and Green’s impressive and often overshadowed
six-string leads, “Mobile”
is an energetic and thought-provoking way to end Free Hand.

 

Gentle Giant’s association with Chrysalis Records would
provide, initially, a recharging of the band’s creative batteries. While Free Hand would prove to be the peak
album of the band’s career, from both an artistic and a commercial perspective,
they would have, just six months later, less than a month off the road to write
and record Interview, their follow-up
to Free Hand. Returning to a
loosely-conceptual theme that positioned the album’s songs as answers to a
music journalist’s questions, Interview would, in many ways, become the band’s final prog-rock oriented album.

 

Whether pressured by the label, or merely the brothers
Shulman chasing chart success, subsequent late-1970s studio efforts like The Missing Piece and Giant For A Day! would find the band
moving towards a more pop-oriented sound that alienated many of their early
fans while failing to achieve any sort of momentum towards building a new
audience. Caught up in the changing musical changes of their homeland, Gentle
Giant would record one last record, Civilian,
in 1980 and subsequently call it a day. With ten years and a dozen albums under
its belt, Gentle Giant experienced both a modicum of fame and the indignity of
obsolescence, as prog-rock would be eclipsed by first punk, and then new wave
pop in their homeland, by hard rock in the U.S.

 

Today, Free Hand holds up well as an entirely unique and timeless collection of music. The
Alucard label’s 2010 reissue of the album features digitally re-mastered sound
taken from the original master tapes, but unlike the 35th anniversary version
of the album released in 2005, which included a live version of “Just The
Same” as a bonus track, this version of Free Hand offers only the album’s seven original performances.
Nevertheless, this is an integral piece of the Gentle Giant catalog, and a
seminal work of 1970s progressive-rock that shouldn’t be overlooked by any fan
of the genre.