30 September 2007

If I had a heart I’d cry…

I don’t think you can be a musician and not like Joni Mitchell. It’s like being German and not liking mustard, or being Russian and not liking your family’s Borscht. You can’t be one and not be a part of the other. You don’t have to LOVE but you like, you appreciate, and you applaud a good batch when it happens. Such is the case for me. I’m a musician, I really dig Joni Mitchell, but I don’t love her the way others do. In fact, this week I let Abby choose the title lyric for today’s blog. She LOVES Joni and everything Joni.

On Tuesday, new music release day, Abby ran to our local Starbucks and picked up Shine. It’s the latest, and long overdue, 10 years (since she wrote her last song before being inspired to write Shine) in the making album from one of the greatest singer songwriters ever born. Say what you will about Starbucks, and I have, but you have to give them credit for doing some good in the lame music industry. Clearly they, or rather, Hear Music, the Starbucks record label, said all the right things to get Joni to come out from her official or unofficial retirement and release some new work. If you ask me – it was worth the coaxing, and the wait.

Shine is everything you expect it to be. Jazz - influenced, moody, smokey voiced songs that sound as relevant now as they would have 40 years ago and 40 years from now. What I mean is, with age her talent has not waned. She is timeless and so is her work. This is particularly evident in her remake of her classic “Big Yellow Taxi” – a song that was ruined for me by that horrible remake a few years ago by The Counting Crows and Vanessa Carlton. EW on so many levels. I’d like to shoot the Producer who thought that was a good idea. Thank god Joni remade this song and has thusly reclaimed the tune as her own once again. Some songs should never be remade except by the original artist.

One of my favourites of this collection is “Shine” – the title track. “Shine on world-wide traffic jams, honking day and night, Shine on another asshole passing on the right.” Not since Harry Chapin has an artist used the word ‘asshole’ with such reverence. Of course that’s not the only song or line that she wrote that reflects the modern world around her. Nearly every piece addresses some kind of issue or observation on the state of the world. Not to say this is a preachy CD – far from it – Joni is never preachy, merely more adept than others at shining a soft light, as opposed to a 1000 watt spotlight on any topic. She makes you think without you realizing you’re doing it. Much like Natalie Merchant or Suzanne Vega have done with their work. Clearly they have been influenced, and justly so. There are worse people to model your songwriting style around.

If you ask me, and while I don’t own everything she’s done, I may not be the person to ask, I’d say this CD is the bomb. Since I’m not a HUGE fan, but I am Russian and I like or rather, love, my family’s Borscht, I may not get as obsessed with this new work as I did say, with Blue, or the Once soundtrack – but I know every time I hear it I’ll enjoy every minute. I think you will too.

It’s week four of the 2007/2008 football season. Once again I’m faced with a disappointing Sunday. For some unknown reason we get the crappiest games shown out here which I’ll never understand. If it weren’t for the Sunday game of the week on NBC I wouldn’t even be tuning in today. I admit I didn’t grow up watching football – my family being European meant they cared only about Tennis and Soccer. Not the worst sports to watch, but I can’t claim some lifelong obsession with the game that others, like my best friend Fritz, can claim so maybe I have no right to complain. BUT I have been watching football since I was hanging out with Rugby players back in Boston more than 10 years ago so I feel I have a right to express my disappointment with the Sunday coverage.

Someone please explain to me why with so many people living in Los Angeles that come from other places, and no home football team that we are shown games like ‘Raiders at Dolphins’ this morning with no afternoon game to follow? Do the programming execs think that people in Southern California care about The Oakland Raiders who play over 400 miles north of here? Give me a break!! I get showing the San Diego Chargers since we could easily go to a game – but the Raiders? Who wants to see the near-dead Daunte Culpepper throw some lame passes? Show me Brett Favre surpassing Dan Marino’s all-time TD record. THAT’S newsworthy and certainly deserved to be seen out here.

I think, like the oil companies who bought the Los Angeles Railway system in the early 1960’s only to dismantle it and force people to drive, that this is a conspiracy to help the local bars/pubs and the state economy. If they don’t show the games we want, we’ll all go spend our hard-earned cash at say, Barney’s Beanery, that is, if we can even get a seat since not many bars around here show games. They force people into the public places, crowd us in, encourage us to drink at 10a and then around 12.30p the cops stand by waiting to give a ticket to the dumb-ass who thought that it was ok to drink and drive on a Sunday – the holy day of Football. I don’t know about you but something sure does seem fishy about all this and maybe if I had a heart I’d cry about it. But alas, I’ll do something more productive with my day and wait until tonight when, I hope, The Giants kick some Eagle butt.

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

23 September 2007

Take this sinking boat and point it home we’ve still got time…

I’m not sure this week whether I’m talking about the film, Once, from whence today’s title song, “Falling Slowly” came or whether I’m talking about the soundtrack, so you’ll forgive me if this blog doesn’t make sense this week. You see, it’s very hard to discern one from the other since the music in the film is so much a part of the dialogue of the characters as well as echoing the feel of the city of Dublin, Ireland where Once takes place. You can’t talk about one without the other, or at least I can’t. Perhaps this is what makes it one of the more incredibly entwined soundtracks I’ve ever ‘seen’, quite literally.

If someone had told me this film was classified as a musical I would have scoffed and said – ‘no way am I going to see a musical – I hate musicals…’. However, a few months ago as I was listening to XM Radio on my TV, I heard “Falling Slowly”. My first thought, as I listened to the cadence of Glen Hansard’s singing and the way the song was written/produced was that it was a new track from Damien Rice. After I listened more closely I realized, no this is something new, deeply gripping, and pretty amazing. As the song drew to a close I hit the ‘info’ button and it showed that it was Glen Hansard (of the Irish band the Frames) and Marketa Irglova from the soundtrack to Once. WHO? WHAT? WOW! As I kept hearing the song played on XM Radio I enjoyed it more and more but then life took me away and it wasn’t until they sang on David Letterman on 10 Sept that I decided I had to see the film.

Abby being the music lover she is immediately after seeing them on Letterman downloaded the soundtrack off of itunes. Thankfully, with a guest in town last weekend, I didn’t have time to listen to it but once (forgive the pun). Odd you might think that I could be so in love with a song and not listen to it a ton of times but I really was busy and I’m glad for that.

Yesterday, Saturday, was the perfect day. It rained cats and dogs, the sun would shine, then it would rain again. As Abby and I ran around the city doing errands and getting caught in the rain our treat was going to be walking up to the local indy film theatre (Leammle’s Sunset 5) to see Once. You couldn’t ask for a better time to see this film. It was chilly, moody and the city, for as much as it can, had a romantic air about it. We settled into our seats and prepared ourselves to really like the film. We were wrong though, we ended up both really loving it.

I don’t want to give anything away. This film is too perfect to want to ruin it by talking about scenes in the film that were moving or particularly touching. I will say that Glen Hansard is the very handsome and talented love child of Cat Stevens/Yusuf and Damien Rice. This is evident in the first frames of the film where we see him on a sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon strumming his very old beaten up Takemine and singing the songs he thinks a passerby wants to hear – namely Van Morrison. We find out later that as night falls he sings and plays the songs his soul wants to play – the songs he wrote that give him life and give his broken heart a place to rest.

Guy meets Girl and you have a film that is hard to describe, easier to feel. He is the older love - weary guy living in his childhood bedroom, she’s a young immigrant and talented songwriter who doesn’t know it yet. It’s not a love story, that would be too easy, and love is never easy as is evident as the film unfolds. It’s not a musical, but the songs are part of a subtext of dialogue that have their own life and breathe in this film (the songs were written by both Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – writing partners and a real life couple who recorded the 2006 album Swell Season). We all have our stories, our paths and our history that we carry with us wherever we go and with whomever we meet. Basically, Guy meets Girl and the rest is an amazing film.

Maybe it was the rain, the fluffy, intensely grey clouds and the unusually awesome 65 degree New England Fall - like feel of a city that is normally 95 degrees and terribly ugly in September. Maybe after hearing one song I knew I would love this film. I don’t know – but I do know that all these factors made me feel as if I was in a dreary, chilly, intensely grey clouded Dublin – a fly on the wall of these people’s lives that I got to witness and feel as much as they did.

Which came first? The script or the songs? I don’t know and I can’t figure it out from my research. No matter. Because no matter what for as much as I want you to go buy the soundtrack I think I want you to see the film first. Allow yourself to hear these songs as they are in the film. Allow yourself to feel the songs as you hear the intertwined dialogues of the characters speaking and the characters singing. I think this is the best way to understand both and fully understand whatever your heart feels as you watch these fine pieces of work unfold, hand in hand.

Like me, you may find yourself unsure of whom you relate to most – the young Czech girl with the weight of the world on her shoulders or the thirty-something year old struggling artist. It’s been fifteen hours since I walked out of the theatre and I still don’t know. All I know is I’m still haunted by this film and these characters. As the sun shines brightly this morning in Los Angeles, I still feel like I’m in Dublin, falling slowly.

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

16 September 2007

And I know where you live, and I know who you are, don’t get too close and don’t go too far…

You will forgive me for talking about Shawn Colvin again this week. I know, I know, I mentioned her last week after my trip to Santa Barbara where I bought her latest CD, These Four Walls. While I had a listen to it on the way back to LA it was only a passing listen in a noisy top up convertible going 80 miles an hour – hardly the time to really HEAR the music – but just enough to know I would enjoy a real sit-down with it. Boy did I ever.

I’m a little obsessed right now. It started Wednesday morning when I hopped in Abby’s VW Cabrio, Hamish, to avoid having to park my 12 year old Cherokee in a neighbourhood behind work that has street cleaning. A small car means I might be able to fit into the last available all day space and avoid another ticket. While driving my car, The Big Red Onion (named after my favourite bar, and former brothel, in Alaska) I listen to my old shuffle since my changer is way in the back and hard to access when parked in my garage. Since I was driving her car I thought I would take advantage of the easy to access in dash CD player. I pulled a couple of CD’s to listen to that would get me through my 25 minute each way commute – one was These Four Walls.

I had every intention of listening to another CD, I swear I did, but it never happened. For 3 days straight all I wanted to hear was Shawn’s voice. This might be one of her best pieces of work ever. I think her having a kid, not writing for three years and the general process of getting older really shaped the sounds and phrases of this CD; it’s a journey she takes you on down a river of time that far outreaches four walls.

Her narrative consists of truthfulness, honesty, admissions of childhood abuse, and tomboy toughness as evidenced in the song “Tuff Kid”. She writes “my momma had me, but she didn’t get me, I guess I broke her at the age of 5, my Daddy hit me, but he couldn’t quit me, we showed each other how to feel alive…” She takes the good with the bad and clearly knows how to forgive and love those around her – and write a damn good song while she’s at it.

In “Summer Dress” we hear the fond reminiscence of a young girl setting out on her own to face the world leaving the comforts of Carbondale, Illinois to follow her dreams. “I put on my finest Summer Dress, so light and thin it was my best, I brushed my hair I held my breath I went out to face the wilderness, I went out to face the wilderness. The men in hats the boys on bikes, the perfect girls, the baby dykes, the superstars the blighted ones, I went out to face them one by one, I went out to face them one by one. Goodbye MaryAnne, as you turn to watch me, don’t cry MaryAnne, and don’t try to stop me…” Yes, on paper, this could remind you of Nanci Griffith’s “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret)” but in reality I think at some point in all of our writing processes we write a song like this. If we haven’t – we should.

I could go on and on singing the praises of this fine CD and believe me when I tell you it’s hard to stop writing about it. From the first song, today’s title tune, “Fill Me Up” to the very last desert like special – her cover of the Bee Gees “Words” (it is as if we have been treated to a surprise live performance - using just guitar and voice in it’s simplicity is quite simply brilliant and adds some credence to what I once thought of as a cheesy song) you wont be disappointed. You may even become obsessed, wanting more – like a movie you don’t want to end. At the very least you will be glad you spent your hard earned cash. www.shawncolvin.com or www.myspace.com/shawncolvinmusic

I have an old friend in town, Laura, we’ve been friends forever like Shawn and MaryAnne and I’m going to get going here. Yesterday I took her to Santa Barbara so she could touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time – today we’re staying closer to home and heading out to Santa Monica…..but it’s time to hang with her so I’m taking off…y’all have a great week!!!

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

09 September 2007


I’m gonna be here for you baby,
I’ll be a man of my word,
Speak the language in a voice you have never heard

I wanna sleep with you forever,
And I wanna die in your arms
In a cabin by a meadow where the wild bees swarm

And I’m gonna love you
Like nobody loves you
And I’ll earn your trust making
Memories of Us

I wanna honor your Mother
I wanna learn from your Pa
I wanna steal your attention like a bad outlaw

I wanna stand out in a crowd for you
A man among men
I wanna make your world better than it’s ever been

And I’m gonna love you
Like nobody loves you
And I’ll earn your trust making
Memories of Us

We’ll follow the rainbow
Wherever the four winds blow
And there’ll be a new day
Comin’ your way
I’m gonna be here for you from now on
This you know somehow
You’ve been stretched to the limits but it’s allright now

And I’m gonna make you a promise
If there’s life after this
I’m gonna be there to meet you with a warm wet kiss

And I’m gonna love you
Like nobody loves you
And I’ll earn your trust making
Memories of Us

Written by Rodney Crowell

This song, “Memories Of Us” from Keith Urban’s 2004 release, Be Here, is I think one of the most romantic songs written in the last few years. While I don’t consider myself a country music fan, I do, on occasion find my ear latching on to a tune or two and feeling touched by the message or the melody. I think mostly it’s Keith Urban. His mix of rock/pop infused country music of late is what keeps me listening.

Yesterday Abby and I took a little birthday road trip up to Santa Barbara. No, it’s wasn’t to go to Oprah’s shindig for Barak Obama. Maybe if it had been for Hillary Clinton or John Edwards I would have wanted to go. This was a way to celebrate my birthday that fell on Thursday in a way that was fun and allowed us time to spare (yes, Thursday morning/night was awesome, but I did have to work in between). It was a ton of fun, not crowded and we did our usual lunch/dinner, shopping, beach/jetty walking and even managed to walk by a wedding in progress while listening to a High School football game over a loud speaker which was kind of cool and odd at the same time.

One of the coolest things about Santa Barbara besides easy access to kayak rentals, tasty seafood, and Santa Barbara Outfitters is Morning Glory Music right on State Street. I can’t walk around that town without stopping and loading up on used CD’s. In addition to new normal priced CD’s they always have cool stuff on sale – some CD’s go as low as $1.99. It’s easy to spend a ton of money there though I did resist spending too much.

While I did my usual ‘pick up a bunch of CD’s and then wander around contemplating whether I ‘need’ them or not’, or whether I’ve heard too much of something to want to own it at this point I did manage to spend under $23.00. It was my attempt at fiscal prudence that saved me from purchasing everything I laid my hands on. It was hard, but I managed to walk out of there with only three carefully chosen CD’s.

The first CD I practically ran into the store hoping they would have used and to pick up was Shawn Colvin’s latest, These Four Walls. The CD was everything I hoped it would be and more. She (and co-writer John Levanthal, Rosanne Cash’s hubby) is a songwriting goddess, she’s beautiful and she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met (see my entry from 23 Oct. 2006 entitled “Do You Believe in a Lover or just the curve of the word?” for more on that). While it was not as cheap as other CD’s I could have bought, at $9.99 it was better than downloading it from itunes. You see, I love reading liner notes – they enhance the experience for me - you just don’t get that when you hit a button and the music appears effortlessly.

The second CD, Keith Urban’s above-mentioned Be Here, was a no brainer because of “Making Memories of Us”. This would be the song I would play if Abby and I were playing our ‘why I bought this CD’ listening game which we play every time we buy new stuff. Last night, however – we just popped in the CD and kept listening on the hour and a half drive home – playfully pointing out the songs, but it’s not the same as sitting on the living room floor in front of the CD player. While not all of the Cd is my flavour – it does get a little too country for me at times – I’m certainly glad I bought it.

The third CD was, speaking of country, Vince Gill’s Let’s Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye. Why? Because it was $1.99 and why the hell not?

Overall it was a great, fun day. Unlike last weekend where it was too hot to move/think or write my blog, this weekend we are at a very tolerable and fan-only temp which is how I like it. I actually woke up chilled this morning. But that’s cool with me – and it’s how I like it.

On another note – RIP Pavarotti – you were a force to be reckoned with and truly once in a lifetime talent. I will miss you. No doubt you were greeted by many of my late family members when you reached those pearly gates of heaven.

Thanks for tuning in…Until next Sunday…CHEERS!!! Now it’s time to really watch my New England Patriots….HAPPY FIRST SUNDAY OF FOOTBALL SEASON, ALL…