As we all know, the focus of Stereophile's music section, and rightly so, is recorded music. But in my unsubtle opinion, music writers or just music fans who only listen to recorded music and never see anything performed live, are missing half the ballgame. If the only way you know a certain artist is through their records, then sorry to say, and yes, I know that not everyone lives in a city where they can see live music, you’re only getting half the story. I know critics who've been let go because they basically refused to go out to see live music. They were happy to stay homehey, no traffic, no lines, no fighting the elements, sounds good to meand listen to CDs or LPs. Unfortunately though, while they may have stayed comfy cozy at home, their opinions on music ended up having only a certain amount of value. The X factor about seeing music live versus hearing it on record is that often you have to see the music performed live to make any sense of the record. Though rare, it can also work in reverse as well: you have to listen to the record to make sense of a live show.
One night last week, a bout of channel surfing brought me to the Grammy nomination concert. Not the Grammys mind you, that’s in February, but a televised special to announce the nominations. And only the nominations of the celebritydriven stuff like Best New Artist which is when LL Cool J, who was hosting, walked across the front of the auditorium and ask the Jonas Brothers how it felt to be nominated. As the bile rose in my throat I changed the channel. I found it to be very strange that this was proceeded by a showing of the venerable 1964 stop motion animation special, Rudolph, The RedNosed Reindeer which is narrated by Burl Ives and contains a couple of indelible toon icons in the prospector Yukon Cornelius and a Yeti called a “bumble.”
Here in the age when rock stars like Jagger and Richards are not only still breathing, but are now turning 70“I’d rather be dead than sing “Satisfaction” when I’m 45," Mick once said with a straight face
First, it’s time for all good thoughts and good energies to be directed south, to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville where Charlie Louvin, the great Charlie Louvin, is about to undergo the long and complicated operation needed to try and remove the stage 2 pancreatic cancer that he was unexpectedly diagnosed with last week. For those who don’t know, Charlie, 83, was once half of the Louvin Brothers, who were and basically still are the greatest duo act in the history of country music. Charlie has experienced something of a late career comeback in recent years thanks to Josh Rosenthal and his Tompkins Square record label. His brother Ira, (who Charlie calls EYE-ree), the man responsible for the tire fire on the cover of the duo’s most famous record, 1959’s Satan is Real was a hellion of the first order and was killed by a drunken driver in 1965. Charlie, not surprisingly, has been nearly the opposite and is one of the sweetest guys it’s been my pleasure to meet. I particularly remember one night at the Rodeo Bar in NYC where the man had an endless store of really silly sex jokes. He’s says he expects to be back onstage a month after his surgery so we’ll see. Despite his health, he’s gonna be a trooper and play a previously scheduled Opry gig this Saturday which because of the recent floods is back in the Ryman Auditorium, which seems very fitting for this Charlie appearance. He goes on at 8:45 PM CDT. Listen at www.opry.com
Of the many advantages of living in NYC, Doctors has got to be one of the biggest. Many, many good, no nonsense ones to choose from, if you or your insurance can pay. Cosmic Justice. I survived HE 2007 only to fall prey to my own impatience. Instead of sliding the vegetable drawer in my refrigerator out slowly like a normal person, my tired, irritable and schmoozed out self jerked it and it jumped its track and smashed my foot. Damned apples and carrots weigh too friggin' much. After three days of denial and whistling in the graveyard about how it was gonna be fine, I finally broke down and dipped a damaged toe in the health care system. One scalpel slice later and things are looking up on the sore paw front.
By convenient circumstance, I recently caught Tony Jo White on a Sunday night at the Thunderbird Caf in Lawrenceville, a rapidly changing for the better part of Pittsburgh, Pa. In a small but sweet back room, White put on a low key show that shows both his voice and his ability to get in a groove and jam are still potent. His methods are easily understood, he comes out, looking vaguely like a long and lean version of Charlie Rich, when the Sliver Fox wore a similar kind of hat, and plays either spooky ballads or a bluesy, rumbling groove that runs for many verses and becomes a long jam. His hits (or “best known songs” if you prefer) , “Polk Salad Annie” which is probably most famous because of Elvis’ version (Tom Jones actually slays it as well) came off with the needed amount of snap to the choruses. And then there’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” a tune I always forget TJ wrote until he starts singing it or someone puts a Tony Jo record on. It’s a sweeping slow number whose chorus changes are really gorgeously bittersweet. The man has soul, there’s no doubt. And rock gigs like the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival gave him serious rock chops for awhile as well.
Walking along the spring streets of this crowded city, a place where you’re literally always in everyone else's business whether you like it or not, I'm often struck by the amount of serious, pounding through the songlists iPod listening that’s going on. People are eyeballing their little screens as much as they're listening.
So far, other than Steve Zahn who is really annoying as a devilmaycare DJ with goofy eyeglasses, the new HBO series, Treme is pretty great. Lots of flavor. Some hokiness of course, but still fairly believable most of the time. The best scene so far hands down was when Elvis Costello, playing Elvis Costello, comes out of a bar to crawl into his limo and Kermit Ruffins, playing himself, is standing on the sidewalk really huffing on fatty. When Zahn encourages him, through the cloud of smoke, to talk to Costello and maybe land himself an opening slot on an upcoming Costello tour, Kermit demurs and Zahn comes back with a line, and I’m paraphrasing, “So what do you want to do all your life, play music, get high and BBQ in New Orleans?” Kermit laughes and shakes his head in the affirmative. In some ways that’s the story of a lot of NOLA musicians. They can be provincial. And disdainful of success. It can be a town where a sort of collective inertia keeps people from doing anything but hanging out. I know, I’m painting with broad strokes here, but it’s always been a town, heavy with musical talent, much of it unwilling or unable for whatever reason, to leave. And then those who do leave get tarred as traitors or getting too big for their britches. There truly is nowhere like New Orleans, I adore it, but damn, the place is like a parallel dimension sometimes.
All Together Now, the DVD that details the making of Love the Beatles collaboration with Cirque du Soleil is coming out on October 21 and from the looks of the trailer it could be fun. I hear there are flashes of Yoko being a dragon lady (now there’s a shock), McCartney being a doofus of sorts (another revelation) and some great bits with George Martin which, all kidding aside, might make this worth the price. The subtitle in this trailer that says, “Yoko hates it,” is a classic.
I've come to the conclusion that birthdays really aren't a whole lotta fun. I mean what's to like? You're another year older, fatter, dumber; in short, whatever detriment is plaguing you at the time is magnified by yet another año.
As history goes, the U.S.A. is weird shape these days. But not all is lost. Yeah, we got our shit: the war in Iraq, a warped, unconnected, hilariously inarticulate jackass for a president, a porous border with Mexico (oh wait, the republicans billion dollar fence will solve that). But just when it looks like it's all sliding down a rat hole it's good to remember that hey, we still got Ted Nugent. U!S!A!U!S!A!U!S!A!