22 July 2007

And so now we know it’s not enough to be in love…

A few weeks ago I wrote about one of the little things I do to make less of an ecological impact on this world – a smaller footprint if you will. For the most part I don’t buy new CD’s, it’s rare for me these days. Yes – I can write them off so the cost is not the issue so much as it is encouraging the world to produce more plastic. But there are artists whose work I deem to be extremely worthy of holding the jacket card and reading the liner notes whilst every word is in my hands as the music trickles through my ears for the first time. Suzanne Vega is one of those amazing artists.

For so many reasons I am in love with her music, in fact, she inspired me to be a songwriter, she’s a HUGE influence of mine and I’ve never hidden that from anyone. I have even met her a number of times – the coolest, or most insane time was the first encounter. It was after a show at Princeton University, someone had found out where her dressing room was so, with a little help from some nearby fellows, I climbed up to her window to say hello (this was no small feat if you understand how old and high the window ledges of that school are). It was very cool – she was very nice and she got a big laugh out of it.

I biked up to Virgin Records this week – her latest release, Beauty and Crime, came out this past Tuesday. I couldn’t wait. Sure, I could have gotten an advanced copy through her web sight (of course I’m on her mailing list) and waited for it to be shipped – but I wanted instant gratification and to hold it in my hands as soon as the cash left them. Oh boy….is this shit good!!! To be honest, I haven’t loved everything she’s done over the years and I definitely have my favourite CD’s. I fear, or perhaps I rejoice, that this could be in my top 3.

If you’re expecting a folkie album I suggest you go get a Dar Williams CD. This is not a folkie collection of tunes. This is a woman in love with her city, in love with her new husband and paying tribute to her late brother, Tim, to whom this CD is dedicated. Like her other writings she is adept at people watching, city watching and noticing the small things in herself that most don’t.

On “Ludlow Street”, she bears her soul showing a woman in pain as she walks her brothers old block noticing how empty it now feels as his presence is noticeably absent. “Love is the only thing that matters, love is the only thing that’s real, and when I think of you now love is the only thing I feel, this time when I go back to Ludlow Street I find each stoop and doorway’s incomplete without you there…” I can picture her walking in mourning trying to feel him one last time. I know – I’ve done it. Every time I go home to Connecticut or North Carolina I have tried to embrace the air hoping to catch my mother walking by. So yes, love is the only thing that matters and love lives on long after those we love have left the earth.

On another song, such as the above lyric/title for this week’s blog, “Frank & Ava”, we witness one of Suzanne Vega’s greatest traits. Her ability to write about other people and capture their essence is truly a gift (have yourself another listen to “Marlena On The Wall”). I feel like know Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner in a way I never have before hearing this song. Her inspiration came from something Ava Gardner said about how she and Frank fought – never in bed – but on the way to the bidet. It shows you that the genesis of a song can be something as simple as a first person account or something deeper as is her forte. You never know what this lady is going to say in her music. On this outing she also writes about Edith Wharton, Ruby, her daughter with Mitchell Froom, and if you want to hear one of the greatest love songs about New York City check out “New York Is A Woman”.

Overall this work harkens back to her first CD, Suzanne Vega, only instead of being a neo-folk collection this one is rife with some serious guitar and synthesizer licks. It’s more of a pop album – only of course deeper than your average lot of tunes that’s out there these days. With background vocals from KT Tunstall (one of the coolest new chicks in music) and her daughter Ruby – Producer Jimmy Hogarth took Suzanne’s music to another level. A very cool level. Die hard fans will love it for the depth and new fans will love it for the catchy melodies and pop production values. Ok – enough gushing – just go check it out!!! www.suzannevega.com
www.myspace.com/suzannevega or hit itunes!

As I’ve mentioned before I don’t drive much in this city. There are several reasons for this: a) everything I need is either walking or biking distance (though it could be argued that everything is biking distance if you are so inclined), b) in the last five years or so this city has gotten so crowded that rush hour nearly lasts all day and c) a lot of drivers out there are real jerks and don’t let shit go.

I heard recently that Miami has the worst road rage of anywhere in the U.S., since I’ve never been there I cannot attest to the truth of that statement, but I can guess that L.A. is a close second. I was reminded of this the other day when I drove to Santa Monica to hang out and get a change of scenery. I was coming upon a construction site and this guy in a ginourmous (I can use that word now since it’s officially in the dictionary) pick-up truck with huge wheels cut me off – he nearly hit me – so I went around him - he proceeded to pull up to my passenger window the first chance he got and yelled “Hey – you’re not gonna let me in?” – I retorted that he had cut me off and I drove away. Fine. Maybe I was a jerk, maybe I was being a little New York with my driving and asserting my way – besides – don’t these idiots know about the zipper affect? Why should I let him in just because his truck is huge and his, well – you know is probably smaller than an ear bud? Whatever. I just want to get to the beach.

Ten minutes later – I’m not exaggerating - and more than a few miles down the road he made a point to find me and pull up next to me. He wasn’t asking for Grey Poupon – not that he even knows what that is – he pulled up to yell at me again. I have an “I love NY” sticker on the back – he noticed this and yelled ‘NY F***** sucks!! Why don’t you go back you….’. I ignored him. I drove off cursing myself for not having rolled up my window in the 85 degree heat all the while thinking he was probably going home to beat his wife and just couldn’t wait. F***** looser!!!

Ok, not a bad story, right? That’s not even the worst because at least this guy did let it go, eventually. The worst thing, and maybe the scariest form of road rage that just won’t quit was this time Abby and I were driving down the mountain from Big Bear on an icy February afternoon. This lady in some wimpy fake SUV was tail gaiting me. It was dangerous and there was nowhere for me to go – there were a ton of cars ahead of me and she was in some kind of rush. I tapped my brakes a few times and she wouldn’t back off. This went on for forty - five nail biting minutes down a very windy road. Even if I’d let her pass she wouldn’t have gotten very far and would have done the same to another driver – or worse.

When we got to the bottom of the mountain where it stretches out and becomes a two lane highway I thought finally the antics were over. I was wrong, she continued tail gaiting me even when there was ample room, and another lane for her to go around. I pulled off the highway to get away from her, but no, she followed us. Not wanting to stop or endanger anyone else I jumped back on the highway. After a few more miles of this never ending nonsense Abby pulled out a pen and paper and showed her that we were taking down her info and calling the police – Abby actually dialed 911– the lady got scared and drove off. She could have killed us or anyone else on the road that day with those kinds of antics.

I have never experienced anywhere else this kind of attitude that people have – you piss me off – I’m gonna chase you down for miles and make you scared. Back east road rage happens but it’s over and done with as quickly as it began. A finger flies, nasty words are mouthed and you move on. Out here you better hope they don’t have a gun. To the outside word California comes across as an easy going, laid back place – but it’s just a fa├žade like most things out here. Tell me, where is the love?

This time next week I’ll be in a tent somewhere in Wyoming so I wont be updating the blog – but I shall return the following week. Hopefully you’ll use this time to catch up on my entries you haven’t read. ENJOY!!

Thanks for tuning in…Until next time….CHEERS!!!

15 July 2007

I think I’m gonna be a little damaged, I think I’m gonna be a lot scared, here is more than I can manage, I need to find Another There…

You’ll forgive me this week if I talk about my own CD, NUMB. My apologies, really, but you see I can’t seem to get a few of the songs from it out of my head, including the above-mentioned “Another There”. It’s a bit of a curse to me that I can’t shake these tunes I played Friday night at Loud Music Symposium. You see, I spent the last few weeks playing only three songs – practicing and practicing to get them right and sounding as perfect and natural as they can be.

You would think after seven months of recording “Another There”, “Now” and “Mice and Men” that I would know the words but I don’t. When I’m recording I am listening to so many other elements that the words escape me. Since I am mildly dyslexic and I easily confuse words and names of objects anyway it makes it harder for me to memorize sentences whether I wrote them or not. Obviously, performing live is a very different beast than recording so I have to do all kinds of things to make sure I know the words. This can include a trick my mother taught me when I was trying to learn my lines when I was acting in High School and College. She always told me to get into the character of the person I am singing about and the story I am telling – if I do that than the words will make more sense and hopefully come more easily. This little trick definitely helps.

The other trick I do, and thusly explains the mess in my brain today, is that I play the songs over and over again. Sometimes I play a song three or four times in a row before moving on to another one. I do this for at least one to two hours a day depending on how much time I have. Hence, irrespective of any other music I listen to this stuff is deeply imbedded and effluent within my brain – even in the middle of the night when I wake up these songs are present. Yes, I need help. Hopefully by next week I should have a different CD running through my brain – and a review will surely follow.

I must say though – I’m very proud of the work I did on NUMB – I’m pleased at how it turned out with the limited resources I had and the struggles that came about during the recording process; flakey people, people that would only play if they got paid, or those who simply were too busy to ask around on my behalf. I did everything I could to get others to play on the CD and in the end it was mostly me along with my co-producer Rebecca, and Dan my bass player. I was challenged, I stood up to it and I’m glad for it all. I hope you, my readers, will take the time to check out this work. Please go to www.myspace.com/laraschuler, or itunes and sample NUMB – hopefully you’ll like it as much as I do.

As for Loud Music Symposium it was a lot of fun! This, despite the blackout that occurred just minutes, yes, minutes, before the show was to start. What did we expect? It WAS Friday the 13th, afterall. The show was delayed all of an hour while the crew scurried to find performers to ask if they would still play if they could get a generator and make-shift sound system going, and then hustled to set everything up - two bands bailed, I’m not sure why, but I wasted no time in saying yes. Why not? I’d sat in traffic for over an hour then jumped onto some ugly surface streets for an untold number of miles to get OUT of the traffic just to get there – damn it of I wasn’t going to play after all that. It was a no brainer and I’m glad I stayed.

While I certainly can’t speak for how my performance sounded under the stars with a generator buzzing in my ear I will tell you that it felt good, and I had fun. I can, however, say that the folks who organized it did a great job stepping up to the plate and getting the show back on track. Tom, Seth, Anne, Lee and the rest of the folks were amazing!

The whole night was a benefit performance meant to raise money for The Renegades, and So Cal Dream – two drum corps bands that perform in competitions around the country. Needless to say they didn’t make any money that night because of the circumstances so if you would like to make a donation please go to: www.renegades.org or www.socaldream.org

Thanks for tuning in…Until next Monday…CHEERS!!

09 July 2007

Chester the dog he lives across the street he’s got four furry tiny feet….

I’m a little biased towards this week’s featured artist, Dre Towey, a.k.a. Andrea Loomis Towey. You see, we went to Jr. High/High School together, and while we weren’t the best of friends back then we were always friendly. To be honest, she was one of the nicest people in our school. We reconnected at our High School reunion this past fall, both of us, coincidentally, working on new CD’s. As her adorable kids played at our feet we discussed our projects and have stayed in touch since then - even sending each other MP3’s of our demos through the glory’s of email. It’s been very cool to share the rough mixes and get the support and encouragement that comes from the feedback of another artist.

Her debut solo release, Chester the Dog, is Dre’s first foray into the world of children’s music. Wait. Don’t stop reading. All my readers who drop by every week for rock n’ roll reviews – hang tight……..Ok – back to it…..so here’s the deal – yes – it’s children’s music – but only if you actually listen to the words closely. Unlike Laurie Berkner’s work this music is very appealing to adults. The production values are excellent (the CD was recorded at The Carriage House in Stamford, CT), and are such that you could be listening to a country/bluegrass CD. Her voice is reminiscent of Nanci Griffith, and her three kids singing backup on several of the songs is absolutely priceless. Part lite rock, part 50’s roll, throw in a dash of a screaming telecaster and you have music for all ages.

While a few of the tunes are traditional and she does a cover of the Carol Hart song “A Friend Like You” my favourite songs are Dre’s originals. “Chasing the Cat” is fun and hilarious and makes me want to chase my cat more than I already do. I also love “Mama Makes the Mashed Potatoes” and the title track “Chester the Dog”. Of course, you have songs about days of the week, counting, and other cool things for kiddies to learn about – but there are other messages in the music – such as stopping to smell the roses – something we all need to do. All of her tunes are very cool and accessible - I even hear hints of Badly Drawn Boy in her song “Engineer Emmet”. Basically you don’t have to be a kid to appreciate this CD.

Overall, I feel like dancing. It’s a very happy mix of tunes and I know I will be popping this one in whenever the mood strikes me. Way to go Dre!!! For more info: http://www.littleloomis.com

Thanks to Tivo I watched or skimmed over 22 hours of the “Live Earth Concert” over the weekend. It was a lot of fun and while the channels I get didn’t show as much of the London show as I would have liked (I missed James Blunt, Damien Rice and all but one song of David Grey’s – this bummed me out immeasurably) for the most part the coverage was good and I really enjoyed seeing Roger Waters (amazing!!!!), KT Tunstall, Crowded House (awesome!!) The Police, Lenny Kravitz, Dave Mathews Band, UB40, John Mayer and Alicia Keys, one of the most talented folks to come out of music in recent years. Though I did think her performance was brought down a notch by her collaboration with the snooze fest that is John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae – two of the most boring people to come out of music in recent years. I think I fell off my couch reaching for remote to fast forward as quickly as humanly possible. Oh well – the rest of the show was very cool and more than made up for that blunder.

One of the great things about the show was that not only were the short films interesting and thought provoking, as I’d read they would in the New York Times friday the organizers made a point to show how easy and accessible making a difference can be. You don’t have to be rich and put solar panels and windmills on your roof to affect change – you can do some little things that in the long run can add up to a big change. Here are some things I do and have been doing for some time (in no particular order):
1) I walk or bike when I can instead of taking the car.
2) I changed my light bulbs to the fluorescent kind and then turn them off when I leave a room.
3) I take a canvas bag(s) for my walk to the grocery store.
4) I turn the water off when I brush my teeth.
5) I don’t use air conditioning at home.
6) I turn off power strips when I’m not using them.
7) If it’s yellow I let it mellow if its brown I flush it down.
8) I don’t eat red meat.
9) I don’t shower every day and when I do I keep it short or take a bath.
10) I recycle even though my landlord doesn’t provide a bin – I stealthily use other’s bins around the neighbourhood. It’s kind of fun, actually, except when I’ve gotten yelled at – I think they were missing the point.
11) I use a Brita filter instead of buying individual bottles of water.
12) I don’t buy over packaged foods.
13) I only use natural, biodegradable detergents and soaps.
14) I made a point not to manufacture too many copies of NUMB in the hopes that people will download the music and save packaging and shipping resources. Basically, I rarely buy new CD’s – I download or buy used.

If you look around – you’ll see the little things you can do to make a difference. One step at a time. One act at a time. We can all do it. For more info go to www.liveearth.org

Thanks for tuning in….Until next Monday…CHEERS!!!!

PS. I saw a great bumpersticker the other day, it read: Am I a liberal or am I just educated?

02 July 2007

Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand….

Like a lot of folks yesterday I got up in the morning, turned on VH1, and watched the “Concert for Diana”. In case you’ve been living in a hole it was a 6 hour concert organized by her sons, Prince’s William and Harry, to commemorate what would have been her 46th birthday. This being the left coast I wasn’t sure how ‘live’ it would be – you see, you never know around here – many things are tape delayed, including the evening news, award shows, and the morning shows. I wasn’t initially sure what time it aired since to be honest, I don’t much watch VH1 since it became a mostly game show/reality oriented station, not an actual music station. Scrolling through my online guide I discovered that it was indeed live and airing - and was about 1 ½ into the program. Ooops. But I did stay tuned in until the end.

The featured act was Duran Duran, The Princess’ favourite band, which I missed because I wasn’t awake at 8am PDT. But I did manage to catch them every time VH1 did a recap – which seemed to happen a lot. I’ve got to say, those guys can still kick butt on stage. While I wasn’t a huge fan of theirs in their heyday, I do enjoy listening to them now and it looked to me that they put on a good show. It seemed fitting that they were the 2nd act to kick off the day after Elton John – one of Diana’s closest friends.

Overall the acts I saw were pretty cool…everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and got into the spirit of the day – celebrating the life of Princess Diana. Though admittedly I was glad that some artists only did one song – my guess is that they were the artists that maybe only had one song that the world would actually know. I thought it was very smart of the Princes to give more time to the classic artists and not waste time on the unknown songs of what may turn out to be a one hit wonder act. It also added to the very cool mix of music that was on stage throughout the day and I think they did a great job of choosing the performers – old and new.

One of the coolest things was the series of video vignettes that were interspersed throughout the day in between on - stage performances. The testimonials, called “DIANA and me”, from real people that the Princess had met were touching and often enlightening. While we all know her as ‘the people’s Princess’ for some reason seeing/hearing these tales of her interactions with commoners, and the sickly, made her seem even more human and real than I would have ever imagined. I almost felt as if I had met her – and I think that was the point. To show her to the world more as a mother and caretaker and not as just a Princess of the tabloids. It was a nice touch and all of the segments were very well produced, well written and sent a very positive message. It made the day seem not to be just a day of music – but a day of opening our hearts and reliving the goodness that she brought to this world. It reminded us that it’s not just about having money and doing good things with it – but that being human, kind, and real can also make a huge difference in the footprint we leave on this earth – it can be fleeting and flighty – or it can be tangible, sweet and last forever.

Last Monday Abby and I went to Las Vegas for a couple of days. We had gotten a good ‘deal’ on a room at The Luxor – as long as we took some silly tour of one of their vacation time share units down at the ghost town side of the strip. What a load of crap that was! We were lied to from the very first second we met the first sales person in the hotel months ago – ‘no – you don’t have to take the trip if you don’t want to’ – only to find out that we DID have to take the tour or we’d pay a significant penalty. Then we had to check in at one hotel to then go stand in the long ass line at our hotel to actually get into our room – which all total took over an hour and a half to complete.

Oh yeah, and when they tell you that the tour only takes 2 hours – or longer if you are interested in buying into the waste of money time share scheme – they mean it takes 3 ½ hours whether you are interested in buying or not. No matter how many times we told them we are NOT interested and no matter how many angles we came up with to tell them that (‘we’re outdoor enthusiasts and don’t find this to be our thing’ or ‘we like to road trip – hike, camp, sleep on the ground and not be surrounded by annoying ill behaved spawn of other annoying ill behaved fat americans’ or ‘we already have vacation property’) they had an answer to everything. It was very tiring fighting them and I mean them – because all total we were face to face with no less than four, yes, four sales people up until the moment we walked out the door. I’m surprised the security guard didn’t try to sell us anything. Or did she? I may have blocked it out.

Oh yeah – the last and final lie was that although we’d been promised a free Vegas show the one we wanted that didn’t have anything to do with ‘t and a’ was of course sold out that night. REALLY?!?!!? You don’t say…..We opted for the gambling voucher and I proceeded to win $25 off of their cash. It was a small victory – but a victory nonetheless. I’m guessing non of these slimy vultures has a clue about how to be human and I’m guessing like their main demographic won’t make much of a positive impact on this world.

Needless to say after 2 ½ days of being pushed around, mowed down, and generally overcome with homicidal feelings I was ready to get in the car and head home. Don’t get me wrong – for the most part we had a good time – as long as we stayed away from elbows, large bellies, and the children who ran amok in casino.

Thanks for tuning in…Until next Monday…CHEERS!!