Monday, December 24, 2012

Fairytale Of New York - Christmas Rock & Roll, part six (Bonus Video Christmas Eve)

Quite simply: The greatest rock & roll Christmas song EVER - hands down, no contest.  I have never - from the first time I heard it in 1988 until listening to it with a Bailey's in my hand earlier this evening - heard this song without it bringing tears to my eyes.  There's something about the way Kirsty MacColl sings the line, "Well so could anyone," in reply to Shane MacGowan's muttered, "I could've been someone," that has always and forever well and truly broken my heart.   

inspirational verse; no way to separate out any one element, I consider every word,
every sublime sweep of melody in this song to be a masterpiece. 

Merry Christmas, everybody.....and raise a glass to Kirsty MacColl 1959-2000
"some people left for heaven without warning" - Shane MacGowan, 1985

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Strummer's In Heaven (SoundCloud Bonus Tune & Bonus Video Saturday Night)

Joe Strummer - spark-spitting lead singer/resident rock & roll genius of The Clash, The Latino Rockabilly War and The Mescaleros - died ten years ago today, three days before Christmas 2002.  I can't believe it's been ten years, it seems like no time at all that we lost Strummer's force-of-nature rock & roll.  I was in New Jersey for Christmas with my lovely wife Debbie and her family when I heard the news in the car.  I remember staring uncomprehending at the radio.  How could Joe Strummer be dead?  How could that be true?  Strummer was then wholly, completely in the midst of a career renaissance.  He and his crack rock & roll crew, The Mescaleros, had cooked up a fearsome ganja-fueled brew of world music and Joe's punk-rock roots, without ever once losing sight of Memphis, Brixton or New Orleans.  On the albums Global A Go- Go and what would become the posthumous release Streetcore in 2003 Strummer was writing some of the best songs of his life.  He and The Mescaleros were a blazing live powerhouse, scorching stages all over the world.  And then he was gone.  I was still actively touring with Hamell On Trial at that time and I remember Ed calling me in Jersey and us commiserating for an hour in disbelief at the loss of Strummer.

I said back then to Hamell, "How will his family ever celebrate Christmas again?" and perhaps formed the basis of the tune below.  But later I realized that's just the point; somehow you find a way to move through pain and function in this life.  You take the inspiration and the power the person you lost has given you and try to push the resulting love & faith out into the world.  I realize Growing Old With Rock & Roll has gotten kinda heavy these last two blog entries - dealing with my dad's death and now with Joe Strummer's - and I don't intend it to, but I think the Christmas season is about remembering lost loved ones just as much as it is what we're getting under the tree. 

I sang this song onstage last night, opening a show for Colin Gawel & The Lonely Bones, and got a crowd of people to shout along with the resounding "9-9-9-9-9" refrain.  Ten years after his death the words of Joe Strummer survive in the hearts, lungs and minds of living, breathing people.  His lyrics are shouted out into the night, are bounced around all the frequencies in space, a tribute to the eternal life we are given by God and by all the gods of the rock & roll.  I'm not gonna say rest in peace here, 'cuz I know that somewhere right this very moment Joe Strummer is somewhere in this universe rockin', not resting.    

inspirational verse; "And I'm not here to mourn Joe Strummer. I'm here to try - however palely -
with this acoustic guitar to honor his memory, to try to be worthy of his legacy,
to beg for just a bit of his bravery, to try to escape the slavery of all that which is not righteous,
of all that which is not the rock & roll" - Ricki C. 2003

inspirational verse; "We'd like to sing about one of THE most important things in life,
in modern life today and that is; takeaway food." - Joe Strummer November 17th, 2002  

for that humor, for that heart, for that soul, for that Lion of Judah of rock & roll;
raise a glass tonight

(author's note: Hey kids, if you're looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for a rocker
on your list, I wouldn't quibble with your choice of The Future Is Unwritten,
a truly great, heartfelt DVD tribute to Joe, directed by Julien Temple.)

blog © 2012 Ricki C.
song © 2003 Ricki C.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town - Christmas Rock & Roll, part five (Bonus Video Wednesday)

I haven't had a shred of good advice since I was 17
My father died that year; Get the picture?
I'll set the scene....."

from "Today Is Father's Day" - © 2000 Ricki C.

My sainted Italian father was the greatest man I ever knew; he completely, entirely made me what I am today.  He bought me my first guitar for Christmas 1968, when I was 16 years old.  He got me in free to all the 1960's rock & roll shows I've detailed in this blog when he worked for Central Ticket Office.  He encouraged me in every way - when I was still a painfully shy child and later a hopelessly withdrawn teenager - to escape the confines of our little house on Sullivant Avenue on the West Side of Columbus, Ohio, and to get out into the world.  When he died of a heart attack at age 56 in April 1970, I was 17 years old and it was effectively the end of good advice in my life.  I am not in any way discounting the role of family and friends in my existence the last 43 years, but I am saying my personal guiding light went out that April day in Mount Carmel West hospital.

What does this all have to do with Bruce Springtseen you might ask?  Just this: The first Bruce Springsteen record I ever bought was The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle in 1974.  (I'd heard tunes from Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. in various record stores and nominally on hippie FM radio stations previous to that and certainly enjoyed them, but Elliott Murphy was easily the more significant of "The New Dylan's" to me at that point.)  When the needle on that vinyl reached "New York City Serenade" and somewhere around the 3:42 mark - while Springsteen was doing his best Van-Morrison-channeled-through-smalltown-New Jersey impression - Bruce sang the lines, "So walk tall / Or baby, don't walk at all."  And just at that moment an entire world, an entire range of possibilities opened up to me.  I could hear my dad's advice when I was a child coming back to me from that record.  I'd largely been drifting those four years from '70 to '74; shuffling in shadows, aimless, absent, not engaging the world I existed - not lived - in.  Bruce Springsteen, echoing the words of my father, put me back in that world.  Thank you, Bruce.  Thank you, dad.

So walk tall, or baby, don't walk at all.  Nine words, and all I needed to know.

Okay, enough with the suicidally depressing holiday musings: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band were placed on this planet to bring joy and solace to everyone residing on it.  Their rendition of "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" is the second-greatest Christmas rock & roll tune of all time.  (Number One is coming up on Christmas Eve. Wait for it.)

inspirational verse; very nearly every word I've ever heard come out of the man's mouth.

© 2012 Ricki C.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Still Love Christmas - Christmas Rock & Roll, part four (Bonus Video Thursday)

Lotta Watershed and Colin Gawel & The Lonely Bones gigs coming up to close out December, here's the rundown;

1) Watershed broadcasting from CD102.5's Andyman-A-Thon, an annual charity event running at least 48 hours from Friday December 14th at 7 pm until Sunday December 16th at whenever it ends.  Watershed will be live on the air from CD105's Big Room at midnight Saturday night.  Call in and pledge money, it's all for the kids.

2) Watershed, 9 pm. at the concert closing out the Andyman-A-Thon festivities at The Bluestone, 583 E. Broad Street.  Doors at 5 pm.  Also on the bill: Miranda Sound, Los Gravediggers, The Girls! and Two Cow Garage.   For more details on the concert, click here.

3) Colin Gawel & The Lonely Bones, December 21st, happy hour 6-9 pm at the Rumba Cafe, 2507 Summit Street.  (author's note: Some solo acoustic guy named Ricki C. is opening that show, those of us here at Growing Old With Rock have been told he's kinda good.)  For a really good rundown on all these gigs, visit Colin's website.

inspirational verse; "And I want you to know I still love Christmas / I want you to know the spirit is near / I want you to know I still love you / Even if I don't show it this year" - Colin Gawel & Joe Oestreich, 1998

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2000 Miles - Christmas Rock & Roll, part three (Bonus Video Tuesday)

From the pride of Akron, Ohio - Chrissie Hynde (easily my second-favorite female rocker after the 1970's-era Patti Smith) - continuing our rock & roll Christmas tunes series, one of two contenders for our loveliest song entry....

inspirational verse; "2000 miles is very far through the snow / I'll think of you, wherever you go" - Chrissie Hynde, 1983

Friday, December 7, 2012

Shows I Saw In The 1960's, part two; The Who, 11/1/1969 (plus 2012 Gift-Giving Guide, part one)

2012 Gift-Giving Guide, part one

apropos of The Who, there are two new Who-related items in the 2012 Christmas gift-giving season:

1) A double-CD set called Live At Hull, the show The Who recorded the night after Live At Leeds, long-rumored to be even better than the Leeds show.  (Personally, I have serious doubts it's actually better, but that's the kind of stuff that rock band aficionados and music industry insiders always come up with just so they can hold over our rock & roll rank and file heads that they have something better than us that we can't have.  I call this the "nyah-nyah-nyah effect.")  (Actually, come to think of it, I do that all the time myself, mostly with obscure 45's from late-70's to mid-80's Boston punk-rock bands and live stuff by The Neighborhoods.)  Anyway, Live At Hull never came out before because there were technical problems recording John Entwistle's bass tracks, but with 21st century technology they flew in the tracks from Live At Leeds or some such sonic voodoo, so it's finally being released.  It's kind of a bullshit move.  I prefer my live albums actually being live, not doctored 42 years after the fact, but since when are live records live anyway?  (As proof, play Get Your Ya-Ya's Out by The Rolling Stones next to the Live'r Than You'll Ever Be bootleg from the 1969 tour.  Then we'll talk about post-concert overdubs and live album "sweetening.")  (Or maybe just ask Colin & Joe from Watershed.) 

The Ricki C. gift-giving recommendation: I haven't actually heard it, it's on my personal Christmas wish-list, but The Who circa 1966-1972 were the greatest rock & roll organism that ever stepped onto a stage (see following live piece), it's almost GOTTA be great, so buy it for yourself or for The Who fan on your list.  (Further, maybe buy it for the Arcade Fire, Muse, Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Black Keys, etc. fans on your list, so they can hear what a REAL rock & roll band sounds like.)  (Yeah, I know that's a boring old fart, close-minded, classic-rocker kinda sentiment, but this IS Growing Old With Rock & Roll, after all.  I'm entitled, nay, almost required, to be all of those things.)

2) The Pete Townshend autobiography, Who I Am, that just came out.  Those of you who know me well or who have been reading this blog for any amount of time are well aware of my philosophical problems with Pete Townshend.  In a nutshell: all of my standards of rock & roll professionalism are based on the 1969 Who and today Pete seems to have forgotten most, if not all, of those standards; Pete Townshend was my ultimate rock & roll hero from the first time I saw them on Shindig in 1966 until probably 1973 when the boring, over-blown, over-hyped Quadrophenia double-album convinced me that Pete had lost the rock & roll plot; then worst of all, in 1978 when Keith Moon died of an overdose of sedative medications and Townshend opted to continue The Who.

Quite simply, ladies & gentlemen, The Who WERE Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon.  No one else.  Not then, not now, not ever.  It took four mighty turbines to make that most exquisite of rock & roll engines, The Who, roar into life.  Those four turbines - Roger, Pete, John & Keith - not Kenney Jones, not Rabbit Bundrick, not Simon Phillips, not Pino Palladino, not Zak Starkey.    (For Chrissakes, even Led Zeppelin had the good sense and, more to the point, the integrity to break up after John Bonham died, and he wasn't even as integral to Zep as Keith Moon was to The Who.)  When Keith Moon departed this mortal coil it seems he took with him any sense of fun, any sense of humor and any acknowledgment of joy that Pete Townshend ever possessed in his miserable existence.

Only your biggest rock & roll heroes can let you down as badly as Pete Townshend has me: the endless "farewell" tours, commencing in 1982 and continuing to this day (I believe only The Eagles and Kiss have conducted more farewell tours than that rotting, bloated corpse masquerading as The Who that Townshend & Daltrey haul around the world every few years);  selling out The Who's greatest songs to any highest bidder, be they computer companies, SUV manufacturers, or whatever edition of the C.S.I. television franchise needs a helping of baby-boomer rock pablum.

Plus it seems to me that for someone who professes great love and devotion to a Spiritual Master, Meher Baba, Pete Townshend seemed really committed to alcohol and adultery and did an awful lot of cocaine.  And I'm not being a prude, we're all adults here.  Townshend is a rock star, but let's stop kidding ourselves; very few true spiritual seekers have copious quantities of kiddie-porn on their computers when the cops come knocking. 

The Who was a great band for the 1960's and early 1970's but were rendered rather redundant once the rock & roll audience shifted its pharmaceutical preferences from enlightenment and transcendence to simple obliteration.  It's only teenage wasteland, indeed.  (Forget about attaining nirvana, let's just kill a few million brain cells with 'ludes.)  Pete Townshend could easily have moved on to a brilliant solo career and somehow come to terms with those changes, challenging his audience rather than continually pandering to it.  Instead he chose to make The Who into an oldies act, rehashing Tommy or Quadrophenia year after year, tour after tour, whenever a balloon payment on his and Daltrey's English mansions are due.  I realize it's harsh, and rather obvious, but I wish The Who had died before they got old.

The Ricki C. gift-giving recommendation: Skip buying the book, get it out of the library (what a quaint notion in these Nook and Kindle-ridden days) and read as much as you can stand without throwing the book across the room.  (Don't get me started on how cavalierly Townshend treats the deaths of Keith Moon or the eleven Who fans at the Cincinnati show in 1979.)  Proceed at your own risk.

The Who / Veteran's Memorial Auditorium, Columbus, Ohio / Saturday, November 1st, 1969    

First things first: This was the greatest rock & roll show I have ever witnessed in my 60 years on the planet.  Hands down, no contest, the number two show - Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, September 1978 (see The Best Of Everything blog entry, January 2012) - doesn't even come close.  On a scale of 1-100, The Who in 1969 rates 100, the Springsteen show, killer as it was, was maybe a 78, like its year.  I saw Bob Dylan's first electric tour in 1966 (see Shows I Saw In The 1960's - part one, blog entry, May 2012), I saw The Doors in 1968 in their prime, I saw Cream that same year in their declining period, I saw The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968 and 1969, I saw Janis Joplin & The Full Tilt Boogie band in '69, etc.  and NONE, NOT ONE of those bands came anywhere close to The Who I experienced that November night.

From the very first chord of "Heaven & Hell," Townshend & company were magnificent.  And Jesus, were they fucking LOUD!  I was four rows from the back of the main floor of Veteran's Memorial, a 3000 seat auditorium, and I swear the entire audience's heads were blown back simultaneously by the first blast of sound off the stage.  And they played at that full volume for almost three hours without a break.  I couldn't hear properly for three days after the show.  I went to high school for those days in a kind of muffled haze that had nothing to do with drugs and everything to do with the grand redemptive POWER of painfully over-amped rock & roll.

But back to that opening number; while still recovering from and adjusting to the extreme volume coming off the stage (Keith Moon's bass drums sounded like the "booms" you hear at a fireworks display, you could actually FEEL the vibration in your chest, it was glorious) I realized that the opening verse of "Heaven & Hell" was being sung by John Entwistle and my heart dropped.  Where was Roger Daltrey?  I'd been waiting, ACHING to see The Who live since the first time I saw them on the Shindig T.V. show in 1966, and especially after watching them smash their gear in numerous disapproving establishment documentary newsreels of the time, and now three years later I was gonna experience them without their lead singer.  (It's kinda hard to conceive of for modern audiences, but 60's bands regularly played shows without key members; I saw The Beach Boys without Brian Wilson, The Left Banke without Michael Brown, Ray Manzarek of The Doors sang lead on at least three or four songs at The Doors show while Jim Morrison was, let's say, "indisposed."  I've read that The Velvet Underground routinely did shows without Lou Reed or John Cale being able to perform.  That was just the way it was in the 60's, you did what you had to do to make the gig, the show must go on.)

Anyway, just as I was adjusting to the idea of a show with a three-man Who lineup, the second verse of "Heaven & Hell" kicked in and Roger Daltrey came striding out from between Entwistle's amps and Moon's drums, all blonde curls and barechested in that buckskin fringed jacket, swinging the mic chord and laying into the "AND DOWN IN THE GROUND IS THE PLACE WHERE YOU GO IF YOU'VE BEEN A BAD BOY, IF YOU'VE BEEN A BAD BOY" second verse.  It was, quite possibly, the greatest rock & roll entrance I've ever seen by a performer.  And then Daltrey, Entwistle and Townshend hit their mics for the "Why can't we have eternal life and never die?" chorus and my fucking brain exploded.  I was in that heaven.  I had never heard anything like that raging, sacred din.  I'd never seen anything like it.  It was like being at a four-ring circus, you didn't know where to look, didn't know who to watch: Townshend windmilling and leaping about doing scissor-kicks; Moon pounding the shit out of his drums, bouncing sticks off his kit twenty feet into the air; Daltrey singing his ass off and mic-twirling during every vocal interval; Entwistle anchoring the entire maelstrom and NAILING every one of his vocal parts, both bass and falsetto, something I don't think he ever gets enough credit for when people write about The Who.

So by the end of the first song I was brain-battered and semi-exhausted, I'm not precisely sure I'd taken a breath yet and without the slightest pause, the band blasted into "I Can't Explain," and it was even BETTER than "Heaven & Hell."  It was unbelievable, the sheer exhilaration coming off of that stage.  The Who used up more energy in the first two songs of their set than Cream had managed their entire decrepit show less than a year earlier at the same venue.  The first time my mind could form a thought clearly, possibly in the short interval between "I Can't Explain" and "Young Man Blues," that thought was, "Man, this is gonna be a short show, they can't keep this up, they can't play like this for long."  BUT THEY DID!  The whole show had to go well over two hours; they did about 35 or 40 minutes of older songs ("older" at that point meaning two or three years, not like today when "older" means 45 years), virtually the entirety of the then-brand new Tommy album, easily 45 minutes after that and the energy level never flagged ONCE.

Prime extra-musical moments in the show included Daltrey getting his microphone cord wrapped around one of Moon's cymbal stands during a twirling interlude and pulling over roughly half the kit, Moon continuing to hit thin air for about thirty seconds before realizing the left side of said kit was missing until a roadie could right things.  Another striking thing about the stage set-up was how close together The Who were onstage.  Bands that appeared at Vet's Memorial in those days tended to spread out, just to fill up the grand stage expanse.  The drummers were always up on a riser, and when The Doors appeared I bet there was twenty or thirty feet between Ray Manzarek and Robbie Kreiger with Jim Morrison ranging in between.  The Who were packed together like sardines, Townshend and Moon side-by-side, close enough to banter back & forth during songs as they played wildly off against each other the entire night.  The weakest musical link in the show was the vocal harmonies, given the fact that in 1969 monitor speakers hadn't been invented yet.  I just can't imagine how Entwistle, Daltrey and Townshend could POSSIBLY have heard one another's vocals with anything approaching clarity through the constant ear-splitting surge of sound from those HIWATT amps.

I remember quite clearly - after the band careened through "We're Not Gonna Take It" at the conclusion of Tommy - Townshend standing onstage with his hands on his hips, watching as droves of audience members collected up their coats and exited, convinced that HAD to be the end of the show, thinking the band couldn't possibly continue.  I'd have to say at least a hundred of the audience had gone when Townshend stepped up to the mic and said, "Okay, has everyone left who's leaving?  Good, here's the second set then."  And with that they launched into "Summertime Blues" and somehow impossibly lifted the show and the energy even HIGHER than all that had preceded.  It was quite unbelievable, it truly was.  I was exhausted and I wasn't even DOING anything beyond bearing mute witness to this paean to raw power.

They ran through "Shakin' All Over" and bashed their way into "My Generation," reprising a good bit of the Tommy finale in that tune.  The nascent beginnings of "Naked Eye" also got their first airing during the extended instrumental codas of "Generation," along with one or two other tunes that would later crop up in The Who catalog.  And here's something I've never heard mentioned in any Who-related literature I've devoured in my 50-plus years of reading rock journalism; in the course of that "My Generation" finale, the band were so spent that one or the other of them would stop playing entirely for 30 or 40 seconds at a time just to rest for brief precious moments.  All three of the instrumental players - Townhend, Entwistle, Moon - took those rest breaks. Daltrey, as lead singer, got lots of long breaks during the protracted instrumental flourishes.

And then it was over, it was in the books.  It was the greatest rock show I ever saw and, at my advanced age, I can't imagine I'm ever going to see a better one.  I can close my eyes and SEE, remember every moment of it.  It really was quite magnificent.  Roger, Pete, John, Keith; thank you, from the bottom of my rock & roll heart.

For the young, or for the uninitiated, the best representations of The Who live at their peak 1969-1970 period are the Live At Leeds Deluxe Edition double-CD and the somewhat questionable but best-we've-got Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 DVD; neither of those representations, in my humble opinion, comes anywhere close to the show I witnessed in Columbus, Ohio, but really it was the sixties, you kinda hadda be there.       

© 2012 Ricki C.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Father Christmas - Christmas Rock & Roll, part two (Bonus Video Tuesday)

What can I say about The Kinks that hasn't already been said better somewhere else?  That they're my third-favorite English rock & roll band behind The Who and The Rolling Stones, but ahead of The Beatles?  (see blog entry, The Best Of Everything, January 2012)  That Ray Davies is a genius rock & roll songwriter?  That "You Really Got Me," "Waterloo Sunset," and "Celluloid Heroes" are three of the greatest rock & roll songs of all time?  That "Too Much On My Mind" from the 1966 Face To Face album might be one of the five best rock & roll songs that you've never heard?  (One day in 1969, when I was 17 years old, I was sitting in the newsroom of our high school newspaper listening to "Too Much On My Mind" and the 14-year-old kid sister of my then-girlfriend said wistfully, "This is exactly how my brain  feels."  How world-weary could we have been at 17 and 14?)

notable video moments: Ray Davies wearing what appears to be a League Bowlers shirt in the video; The Kinks giving up any notion of actual lip-synching at the 1:50 mark (wait, I just realized, that's the footage from the bridge flown in from the 2:24 mark later in the song - why would Top Of The Pops edit like that?); drummer Mick Avory's Santa get-up;

inspirational verse; "The last time that I played Father Christmas / I stood outside a department store / A gang of kids came over and mugged me / And knocked my reindeer to the floor"


"Have yourself a Merry Merry Christmas / Have yourself a good time / But remember the kids who got nothing / While you're drinking down your wine" - Ray Davies, 1977

neatly encapsulating that dichotomy of simultaneously funny and heartbreaking that has characterized Ray Davies' writing though the years from 1965 until the most recent song he wrote.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Run Run Rudolph - Christmas Rock & Roll, part one (Bonus Video Saturday)

Today, December 1st, begins the Ricki C. Growing Old With Rock & Roll Christmas Gala.  This will include videos of my favorite rock & roll Christmas tunes because the incessant carols playing in every store I enter and all the local radio stations’ non-stop Christmas coverage RARELY touch on rock & roll.  It will also detail some holiday gift suggestions and possibly some seasonal Ricki C. stories.  (Providing I can get signed clearances from family members indemnifying me from defamation suits.)

We begin, as so many things in rock & roll do, with Mr. Chuck Berry of St. Louis, Missouri.....

inspirational verse; "Said Santa to a girl, 'Child, what would please you most to get?' /
'A little baby doll that can cry, sleep, drink and wet.' / And then away went Rudolph,
whizzin' like a Sabre jet" - Johnny Marks & Marvin Brodie, 1958

(author's note - Until I started to research what year Chuck Berry released "Run Run Rudolph" I had NO IDEA he didn't write the song, that it was written by Johnny Marks, the same guy who wrote "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" for Gene Autry, "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" for Brenda Lee and "Holly Jolly Christmas" for Burl Ives. (Yeesh.)  Mr. Marks was also the brother-in-law of the guy who wrote the original story of Rudolph.  (Man, what CAN'T you find on the internet.)  But let's face facts, people, I seriously doubt Marks or Brodie wrote that guitar intro or established that absolutely killer rock & roll rhythm groove, without which The Rolling Stones would not exist.)