By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
2012 is the centenary for two seminal figures in American music: folksinger Woody Guthrie and composer John Cage, both born in 1912.
They had a few things in common, believe it or not. Both were bold pioneers of their respective genres. Both dabbled in Eastern mysticism (well, Guthrie dabbled, Cage dove in). Both fell in love with dancers the second time around (Guthrie married Marjorie Greenblatt from the Martha Stewart company, Cage partnered with Merce Cunningham).
They probably never met, but Guthrie is on record as being deeply affected by some of Cage's groundbreaking, boundary-busting classical music. On July 10, 1947 — the day his wife, Marjorie, gave birth to his son Arlo — Guthrie wrote a fan letter to the Disc Co. of America. He'd been listening to Maro Ajemian's recording of the "prepared piano" solos (in which piano strings are augmented with screws, cards and more) from Cage's "Amores," and Guthrie declared that "this sort of piano music was really a keen fresh breeze ... a welcome thing in the way of a healthy change from the old ways."
Guthrie and Cage strived (and sometimes starved) in the service of that goal — to freshen the stale ways of each particular niche in which they found themselves.
As a result, the other and primary commonality between Guthrie and Cage is their different but deep, deep influences on modern pop and rock music. Guthrie's influence is better cataloged and freely bantered about — anyone who's heard, say, Springsteen open his mouth during the last eight months can attest to that — but Cage's imprint is, well, cagier.
Like Guthrie, Cage's legacy is often appreciated more for his ideals than his actual compositions.
"His theory, which was the strongest, utilitarian, American theory of music, was addressing the purity and the [at the time] European expectation of purity in music. He said there is none," John Cale says.
Before joining deeply influential rock band the Velvet Underground in the late '60s, Cale was a classically trained viola player who conducted the debut of Cage's "Concert for Piano and Orchestra."
"He said if you go to a concert intending to concentrate cleanly on what you hear, you can focus all you want but you're going to hear traffic, people coughing, rustling. So forget about purity," Cale tells the Sun-Times. "What he was really talking about is sound design, such as in theater or filmmaking. You can't ever hear the music just purely; you're going to hear it in context. That's where he brought the concert hall out into the street."
That basic idea found its ultimate expression in Cage's "4'33"." Titled for its duration, the 1952 piece calls for any kind and any number of musicians to sit quietly, not playing anything, for precisely four minutes and 33 seconds.
The idea is that the inevitable sounds of the performance space — a humming air system, a footfall, a sneeze or two, the general cacophony of an allegedly silent room — create the "music." As Cage described of the piece's controversial 1952 premiere, "You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out."
Cage was quite serious about that piece — as well as his "prepared piano" compositions, his looped experiments with audio equipment, even when he'd drink a carton of milk on stage with a microphone at his throat.
But his daring and his derring-do often came with a wink.
"John was a really mischievous guy. I liked his sense of humor," Cale says. "It was such a relief for me. I was clinging to the Dadaists and Fluxus, and they were fun, but then the [German composer Karl] Stockhausen school was so intense and serious. ... I read John's Zen koans and his work with silence, and it was a relief. I liked the playful nature of his ideas. I mean, '4'33"?' — you know, they broadcast it on BBC [in 2004]." He chuckles. "One of the guys told me, 'At the Beeb, they don't allow silence on the broadcast waves. They have a system that if something goes off and there's dead air, it automatically puts in an old political speech or music. So when they did '4'33",' they had to shut that system off."
"4'33"" has even been recorded, including versions by Andrew W.K. and Frank Zappa, and appears on online in numerous versions, including a "dubstep remix."
Museum of Contemporary Art curator Lynne Warren's favorite version is a version by a self-professed death metal drummer, filmed and posted on YouTube. He sits behind a drum kits for only slightly more than a minute, later explaining that he played "a little faster than the original tempo."
"A lot of the myth about Cage is that he gave you permission to do anything, and that's absolutely not true," Museum of Contemporary Art curator Lynne Warren says. "He gave permission to go beyond one's presuppositions, habits of mind, rote ways of doing things. He taught people to listen in certain ways, to get rid of one's ego. It's hard to pin down. It's not like you can say this was the first pop musician to put on a costume and prance around doing glam rock. There's no real linear explanation of his influence."
Warren hopes to illuminate that slippery pedigree by opening up the MCA's library for "MCA DNA: John Cage," an exhibit opening Sept. 1 that seeks to show the interdisciplinary nature of Cage's music and its impact. Listening stations will present his music, but visitors also will be able to see, and in some cases handle, Cage scores and other work.
"People have asked, 'Why are you showing Cage materials, like scores, as art?'?" Warren said. "The answer is that he considered them works of art, and he made works of art himself — prints, drawings, some scores are based on a painting he'd done. You absolutely cannot pigeonhole him, even into one art form."
The MCA exhibit spotlights Cage's recurring relationship with Chicago and the museum itself. Cage lived in Chicago briefly (1941-42) and returned throughout the years for performances and festivals.
Warren says one of the museum's most requested images for reproduction is the city map Cage used to compose "A Dip in the Lake: Ten Quicksteps, Sixty-two Waltzes, and Fifty-six Marches for Chicago and Vicinity" (1978), a sound collage based on recordings made at 427 Chicago locations, determined by Cage's favorite composing method: chance. (Hear it here.)
Another return to Illinois included Cage's 1969 premiere of "HPSCHD" in an Urbana arena. The composition called for seven harpsichords, 52 tape machines, 59 amplifiers, 59 speakers, 64 slide projectors (using 6,400 slides), eight film projectors (showing 40 films), one 340-foot circular screen and 11 rectangular screens. A New York Times review reported, "Some of those present were supine, their eyes closed, grooving on the multiple stereophony."
Thread that image through your memory of various multimedia art, rock and art-rock performances you've seen. Then the visuals of the Talking Heads and MTV, the sound experiments of Brian Eno and the Flaming Lips, the anything-goes-and-should spirit of concerts by Frank Zappa and Sonic Youth — it all has clear roots.
"MCA DNA: John Cage" runs Sept. 1-March 3 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave. (312-280-2660; mcachicago.org).
John Cale performs separately as part of the Brilliant Corners of Popular Amusements festival Sept. 21 at the Riverfront Theater, 650 W. Chicago (brilliantcornersofpopularamusements.com).
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Early in October 1997, Billy Bragg and his manager, Peter Jenner, finished a couple of concerts in Pennsylvania and jumped into a car. Bragg and the band Wilco had not yet begun recording their groundbreaking reinventions of Woody Guthrie songs, and Bragg had to see something before they started.
In a couple days, they were knocking around Okemah, Okla., Guthrie's birthplace — walking Main Street to see Woody's name carved in the cement back in the '20s, picking over the overgrown ruins of his childhood home.
People in Okemah are used to this. Guys with guitars make the pilgrimage year-round. The house is in ruins largely because so many wanna-be folkies have carried off its stones as souvenirs. Bragg, a noted British folk-rocker for more than three decades now, only turned heads when he flashed his accent.
"It seemed to me that if we were going to get in close to Woody then we needed to come and at least see Okemah," Bragg told me that day. He also came up to Tulsa, where I was writing then, and a great tip lead to a long interview. "You can read so much both of what Woody wrote about Oklahoma and what subsequent biographers have written, but we wanted to actually come down here and see what it looks like now — take that contemporary feel away with us — and to go out to Okemah and walk the streets that Woody walked and talk to the people about how they feel about him ... We're just trying to get a feel for it."
Bragg channeled that feel into the first volume of "Mermaid Avenue," recorded the following January and released in June 1998. This was the first major, full-length record using lyrics from the then-freshly opened Woody Guthrie Archives, songs for which Guthrie ("This Land Is Your Land") wrote down the words but not the tunes.
To add to the proper Americana feel of the newly crafted music, Bragg recruited Chicago's Wilco. With only two albums out, Wilco then was still saddled as "rootsy." After "Mermaid Avenue," the band began moving in fresher musical directions on the high-waterline albums "Summerteeth" and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."
For "Mermaid Avenue," Bragg and Wilco recorded dozens of tracks. Fifteen were released initially, and another 15 on "Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2" (2000). Two months ago, a box set was released featuring both volumes, plus a third (17 more songs) and a DVD of the album's making-of documentary, "Man in the Sand."
Their collaboration paved the way for scores of others — a wide range of musicians who have since spelunked through the Archives and revived hundreds of Guthrie's thousands of lost songs. Lou Reed, Rob Wasserman, Jonatha Brooke, Nellie McCay, Michael Franti, the Klezmatics, the Dropkick Murphys, Corey Harris, Natalie Merchant, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, David Amram, even Jeff Tweedy's former partner in Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar — all have posthumously collaborated with Guthrie in the years since "Mermaid Avenue."
It was a difficult beginning, though. "Man in the Sand," an odd film, documents the difficult "Mermaid" recording sessions. Tensions ran a bit high between Bragg and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett; by the end of the film they're not speaking, and there's no real explanation.
"When Nora approached me, the deal I made was that I chose the musicians," Bragg told me later, in July 1998. "She was very concerned that this not sound like a tribute record. Tributes are nice ideas, but they're often focused on the personalities of the people who record them. We wanted to focus on the artist."
So why Wilco?
"They sound like the ultimate Midwest Americana red-dirt band," Bragg said. "Jeff Tweedy is a marvelous songwriter, too. He really understood what we were doing."
This year is the centennial of Guthrie's birth, with months of celebrations are scheduled across the country, including last month's Guthrie tribute at Metro with Tom Morello as well as next weekend's 100th Birthday Celebration back at the Old Town School featuring Nora Guthrie, Bucky Halker and more (7:30 p.m. June 30, $21-$25). So Bragg is back on the road in America playing some of the "Mermaid Avenue" songs. His concerts feature one set of his own songs, another of Guthrie's.
If you have high hopes of Wilco members joining Bragg during either of his two shows this weekend in Chicago, it's not to be. The band has its own two-night stand this weekend at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver. Wilco still plays "Mermaid Avenue" songs on rare occasions.
Bragg also will be leading a songwriting workshop titled "Why Write a Song? The Art of Communication in the Digital Age" at 11 a.m. June 23 in Szold Hall at the Old Town School. Registration is $35 at (773) 728-6000 and oldtownschool.org.
• 8 p.m. June 22-23
• Old Town School of Folk Music, Maurer Concert Hall, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave.
• Tickets: $36-$40; (773) 728-6000; oldtownschool.org
By Thomas Conner
© The Washington Post
Rapper and actor Common is usually cool as a cucumber, but in 2006, he got a little nervous. He was working with Black Eyed Peas member and in-demand music producer Will.I.Am on a song for a movie soundtrack, and Will had assembled the tracks using liberal samples from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
“So this was serious, you know? Now I’m collaborating with Dr. King,” Common says. “Ain’t no playing around now. Not only do I have to be good, I can’t let down Martin Luther King.”
The fact that Common speaks of King in the present tense is telling of the personal and conversational flow to the rhymes he applied to the song “A Dream” (from the soundtrack to “Freedom Writers”). “In between the . . . hustle and the schemes / I put together pieces of a dream / I still have one,” he coolly and reverently raps before King’s voice returns to the mix.
Lately, you’d be forgiven for thinking hip-hop has always mentioned King this much — and this reverently. Since Common’s posthumous collaboration with King, MCs have been all over MLK. Sometimes it’s 50 Cent just citing his name, but others have equated King’s dream with the election of the nation’s first black president (rapper Jay-Z: “Now that that’s that, let’s talk about the future / We have just seen the dream as predicted by Martin Luther”).
Even Common was at it again a few months ago. At the White House (an invitation that caused apoplexy among certain pundits over the rapper’s controversial song about a cop killer), he performed a song from his album due in November, “The Dreamer, the Believer,” using more of King’s dream speech between verses.
But it wasn’t always like this.
“King was invisible in the early days” of hip-hop, says Michael Hill, a professor at the University of Iowa who researches racial identity and African American literature. “He wasn’t ‘sampled’ widely, even though his speeches were readily available. . . . He just wasn’t making his way into hip-hop songs. But that changed as agitation for a Martin Luther King holiday began in the 1980s.”
Stevie Wonder cited King in his cheery 1981 R&B song “Happy Birthday” (“There ought to be a law against / anyone who takes offense / at a day in your celebration”). The federal holiday for King’s mid-January birthday was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, and the first holiday was observed in 1986 — but some states hesitated, which prompted Public Enemy’s scathing attack in “By the Time I Get to Arizona” (“The whole state’s racist / Why want a holiday? / [Expletive] it, ’cause I wanna”).
King’s voice was introduced, years before hip-hop, by an iconic DJ, Joe Gibson, known as “Jack the Rapper.” Throughout the late 1980s and the ’90s, though, the most frequent civil rights icon cited by Public Enemy and other rappers was Malcolm X.
“Once they bring out Malcolm X, King goes away again for 15 to 20 years,” Hill says. “That Public Enemy sample [of] Malcolm — ‘Too black, too strong!’ [in ‘Bring the Noise’] — it’s one of the most iconic samples in hip-hop. They patented Malcolm X as the voice that should be associated with this particular hard-edged framework, connecting the music with the notion of militancy.”
• • •
King’s absence makes sense to some. “The philosophy of nonviolent protest or redemptive suffering runs counter to the confrontational tone of so much hip-hop,” says Adam Bradley, co-editor of the groundbreaking Anthology of Rap (Yale University Press). “More than that, the Martin Luther King vision is harder to fit into a slogan than Malcolm’s. For Malcolm, you have ‘by any means necessary,’ catchphrases that capture, albeit imperfectly, his vision. With King, the closest we come is ‘I have a dream.’ It’s not surprising that’s one of the most prominent ways he appears in hip-hop.”
Even Common, for all of his use of King’s iconic speech, agrees. “Malcolm just represents more of the . . . the fire of hip-hop,” he said.
Not that it has to be one or the other. MCs in hip-hop frequently drop both names into the same song, often among a torrent of proper names.
“The main uses for name-dropping in hip-hop are as a simile,” Bradley says. “ ‘I’m like this person.’ Or occasional self-aggrandizement. Lil Wayne has this song [‘Playing With Fire’] where he says, ‘Assassinate me, (expletive) / ’cause I’m doing the same [expletive] that Martin Luther King did.’ That’s arguable,” Bradley says, then chuckles.
How serious are rappers when they link themselves so directly to a potent or polarizing figure?
For someone like Lil Wayne, Bradley says, “King’s name gives him the sound he wants to use. . . . It has little of the reverence,” Bradley says. “It’s delivered with a knowing sense that its audacity may resist the comparison, and through that it will nonetheless achieve the desired effect, which is to cast himself the giant.”
Sometimes the name-dropping, though, is didactic, often from artists who style themselves as socially conscious or political. King’s name is often employed as a means of teaching history to young people. Chuck D once famously referred to hip-hop as “the black CNN,” and even in today’s hyper-informational online culture, some MCs still take that role seriously.
Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco, known for recently calling President Obama, on TV, “the biggest terrorist,” believes names are talismans, that dropping them will create ripples in the pond.
“It’s really a triumph anytime some rapper mentions his name,” Fiasco says of King. “The hope is that you say his name and some street dude in a car at a strip club smoking weed, that something triggers in him to go, ‘Now who is that guy and what did he do?’ ” Fiasco adds, “The names still carry weight in my world. Sneaking them in is very important.”
• • •
For Fiasco, there’s little sneaking going on. He opens his non-album track “BMF (Building Minds Faster)” announcing, “I think I’m Malcolm X, Martin Luther / add a King, add a Junior,” then proceeds through a list of figures he wants you to know about — “I’m Tupac, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Marcus Garvey . . . I’m Rev. Run . . . I’m T-Pain” — between his various critiques of social and foreign policy.
“I don’t even really break down who those guys were in the ‘BMF’ freestyle,” Fiasco says. “The names carry their own weight. Keeping them alive is all we need to do. It’s all we can do.”
Common understands this default duty of hip-hop — “Rap music in the hood plays the fatherly role,” he raps in “A Dream” — but when he was writing his rhymes to accompany King’s speech, the experience wasn’t so objective. It was personal.
His first verse describes every kind of darkness — gunshots fire from “sounds of blackness,” he’s followed by “dark clouds” and in his struggle to better himself, he says, “I just want some of your sun.” By the second verse, he’s turned introspective, speaking words as a letter to himself, telling “my story” about “tryna make it from a gangsta to a godlier role.” King’s dream becomes his own, though he initially worries he “ain’t using it for the right thing.”
“A lot of the struggle or fight that Dr. Martin Luther King was talking about was more for unity and about the rights of human beings,” Common says. “The character I took on in that song, you know, he says that fight exists in me. . . . I believe the change begins with you. You hear President Barack Obama speak and say, man, our work is just beginning. Well, our work is my work. We’ve got to take responsibility for the work. In the end, Martin’s dream starts with having a dream yourself — and then working to realize it, wherever and whoever you are.”
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Lollapalooza wasn't supposed to last 20 years. It was a miracle it survived 20 dates. The tour was a death knell, a tick on a bucket list, the proverbial last hurrah. That first tour, Lollapalooza 1991 — that was meant to nail a particular coffin shut.
"It was the farewell tour for Jane's Addiction," says Perry Farrell, leader of that storied — and now revived — alt-rock band and inadvertent founder of Lollapalooza. "Marc [Geiger, his agent] called me up to discuss what we wanted to do, how we wanted to send ourselves off. He said we could do whatever we wanted. Well, my background was putting on shows and parties in L.A. I would never play the straight clubs, I was always finding the weird loft or setting up in front of a hot dog stand or taking people into the desert. I was used to putting on parties that had extra things. And Marc said 'whatever you want.' So I said, 'All right, I'll call you back.' I wanted to really think about it."
Geiger, now head of music at William Morris Endeavor and still booking the new stationary Lollapalooza, recalls the idea for a roving festival being sparked in London.
After a Jane's Addiction club show, Farrell lost his voice, thus forcing the band to cancel its appearance the next day at Britain's Reading Festival, an annual multi-band music event dating back to the 1970s.
"I went on to the festival the next day and had an amazing time," Geiger says, "and we go back to the hotel, where the band is sitting around pretty depressed, and said, 'Man, you should have seen this. This is what we should try to do with the breakup tour.' Perry said, 'Absolutely,' and we sat in the lobby sketching out the format and making lists of bands. ... This being Jane's Addiction, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on. One day a while later, Perry called me at 1 a.m. and said, 'I've got the name!' He'd heard it on a Three Stooges episode."
Fried from drug abuse and exhausted from touring, by 1991 Jane's Addiction was ready to call it a day. Farrell and guitarist Dave Navarro were at each other's throats. They finished recording "Ritual de lo Habitual" and were able to agree on one last thing: the tour supporting that album would be their last as a band.
Farrell had no reason to think it would repeat itself.
"I wanted a longer lineup, just because I wanted to have a wilder, bigger party," Farrell says. "If it's a farewell, then let's invite some of our musical friends and peers. Nothing was supposed to come of it, you know. I had no intention of doing it again. I mean, the thing was over and William Morris and Marc and these guys are all really enthusiastic and saying, 'We think we can get the Red Hot Chili Peppers for next year!' — and I went, 'Wait, what? Next year?'"
Farrell's musical Frankenstein (created also with help from Jane's manager Ted Gardner and booking agent Don Muller) would become the undead monster stomping through popular music and the summer concert scene for years to come. Lollapalooza lived, died, and in 2005 was born again as an annual, stationary "destination festival" in Chicago's Grant Park. This weekend the event is sold out, meaning 90,000 fans a day over three days will hear 130 bands on eight stages.
Lollapalooza — one day and one stage — debuted July 18, 1991, at a dusty, shade-less amphitheatre in Phoenix. For the next month and a half, the tour's nine performers visited 21 cities, including Aug. 3 at the World Music Theatre (formerly the Tweeter Center, currently the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre) in nearby Tinley Park.
By the end of Lollapalooza that year, Jane's Addiction would be over — but more popular than ever. The rift in the band, however, was clear from that first show.
"The guys in Jane's Addiction got into a fist fight on stage. It was a hell of a way to debut," recalls Andy Cirzan, vice president of Chicago's Jam Productions. Jam would be producing the inaugural Lollapalooza when it reached the Chicago suburbs, so Cirzan had flown to Phoenix to see how it was going down. "The fight continued off stage. There was some definite roundhousing going on. I don't know if anyone landed a punch, but I specifically saw some punches flying as they left the stage."
"Yeah, well, that's why we were leaving," Farrell admits.
The rest of the Lolla lineup that first year: Nine Inch Nails, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Living Colour, Ice T & Body Count, the Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band, the Violent Femmes and Fishbone. (See where the Lolla class of '91 is now.)
Emergency Broadcast Network, a group of video artists, bewildered fans at some of the shows by projecting soundtracked films between sets (basically the kind of electronica videos now all over YouTube). In San Francisco, an all-black heavy metal band, Othello's Revenge, played 1991's only side stage.
(That same Aug. 3, 1991, weekend in Chicago also offered Bonnie Raitt with Chris Isaak at Poplar Creek, the O'Jays at the Arie Crown Theatre, Kelly Willis at Schubas, Dizzy Gillespie at Ravinia, and the South Shore Jazz Festival featuring the Count Basie Orchestra at the South Shore Cultural Center.)
The idea of a multi-band festival wasn't that unusual in 1991. One that moved around the country was.
"The festival scene had been in Europe for a long time, and lot of this was modeled on that idea. But those were all destination festivals. To take this thing a put it on the road, that was unheard of," Cirzan says. "You're not talking about two or three bands and their equipment. Now you're talking about eight or nine bands, stages, vending, kiosks, and moving it all across America."
The more Farrell thought about what he wanted to do, brainstorming after that initial "whatever you want" phone call, the more he wanted to do.
"I was thinking in terms of what else would happen on the grounds. I really wanted an art gallery," Farrell says. "That's the first extracurricular, front-of-house idea I had, to have a traveling art gallery. From there, I started thinking, well, that covers the ground, but what about the sky? So I wanted hot-air balloons. I kept on going. I didn't get resistance on anything except the hot-air balloons. We managed to do it one year, but a balloon only holds two to four people at a time. It wasn't cost effective."
Even the first Lollapalooza provided plenty of extra, non-musical distraction to fill the long hours in the summer sun. In addition to shops full of trinkets and food vendors, numerous organizations were spreading their gospels. Greenpeace had a heavy presence, and informational kiosks abounded for groups such as Rock the Vote, the League of Women Voters, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the National Abortion Rights Action League, Handgun Control Inc. and the Citizenship Education Fund. The Amok Bookstore sold banned books.
Jeffrey Othello, namesake leader of Othello's Revenge, christened Lollapalooza's first side stage. After working his way through college in concert security for legendary Bay Area promoter Bill Graham, Othello's first band was booked at Graham's 1990 festival, A Gathering of the Tribes. A precursor to Lollapalooza, this two-day event — a mini-tour organized by the Cult's Ian Astbury, with the first day outside San Francisco and the second outside Los Angeles — featured a diverse bill that included Soundgarden, the Indigo Girls, Ice T, Queen Latifah, Iggy Pop, Joan Baez and more.
"Our music got resistance from the booking agency for that festival, but you don't say no to Bill Graham," Othello recalls. "He liked our music, so he built a second stage especially for us on this grassy area at stage left. ... We were a big enough hit that we got the call to try the same thing at Lollapalooza that first year."
Lollapalooza '92 included a full-time side stage on all the dates, as well as the addition of the briefly notorious Jim Rose Circus Sideshow.
Diverse but not everything
The first Lollapalooza lineup and several subsequent ones were diverse, which is not necessarily the same as today's smorgasbord, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. In 1991, the industry still filed many of these bands under "college rock."
"The other reason I wanted so many bands to come with us is I felt there was strength in numbers," Farrell says. "This is before the title 'alternative rock.' There was no name for it. It was just this underground phenomenon now getting a presence on radio and showing good numbers on the live circuit. I figured if I just brought my friends and my record collection out there with me, together it would be very powerful."
The booking philosophy of the first Lollapalooza was considerably looser than subsequent tours.
"It was us in a hotel room with the manager and the band, and everybody could pick one band," Geiger says. "It was the non-scientific, choose-your-kickball-team approach. Dave wanted Siouxsie, because he's a Goth. Perky [Jane's drummer Stephen Perkins] loved Rollins. Perry wanted Ice-T. Eric [Avery, former Jane's bassist] wanted the Butthole Surfers. I wanted Nine Inch Nails and the Pixies. I got one. Living Colour was no one's choice; they were exploding at the time, and we thought they made sense."
"It was all hair metal at that time," Farrell says. "We were fighting against that. We were not pop, and rock had become pop. I don't want to pick on people like Styx and Journey, but you understand they would say they're rock bands. To me, they're pop groups. We didn't want to be that."
Farrell and Gieger also say they wanted those early Lollapaloozas to stay manageable. That '91 show seemed like such a big deal — with nine bands. This weekend's hootenanny in Grant Park showcases 130.
"I have to say, that's what was nice — and, I think, most effective — about those early tours. It wasn't about a million bands. It was a marquee slot, and everyone lobbied to be on it. It was a strategy about breaking your band nationwide," Cirzan says. "Today, it's, what, 150 bands? The average consumer — I mean, how could you even digest more than, say, 20 bands in a day? It doesn't seem that helpful to bands, just the promoters."
"The cool part came later," says Debbie Cohen, an English teacher at Glenbrook South High School. She attended Lollapalooza '91 at the World. "After seeing the bands you'd never heard of and then, after they became huge, you were able to say, 'Wow, I saw that show!' ... It was a whole day of music, and that seemed very cool, but it wasn't so much that it was too much, like today. Plus, at 15 years old, Tinley Park seemed very far away and exotic."
Cohen tagged along with her older brother, who was there "because Jane's Addiction was his favorite band in the whole world." They had tickets on the lawn; she remembers the day being slightly rainy. For Jane's Addiction, they managed to squeeze against the barrier between the lawn and the pavilion, and Cohen was hoisted onto "the shoulders of this 6-foot-4 dreadlocked boy named Todd, so I had the best seat in the house."
Her current students were astonished to learn Lollapalooza had a history.
"They were so excited this year, and I'd never heard of most of the bands. I said, 'You know, I was at the first one.' They looked at me like I was an alien," Cohen says. "I named some of the bands. 'Who's that?!' they said. ... They were totally flabbergasted."
Stephanie Katsaros, a Chicago sustainability consultant now who was 16 at Lollapalooza '91 at the World, got her view by standing on the pavilion armrests, "headbanging and fist-pumping to 'Head Like a Hole' during NIN."
Her experience at the first Lollapalooza was so satisfying and eye-opening, Katsaros says she's been to every one except 2008. The music was great, she says, but the crowd was amazing.
"The scope of the people — it was almost like the high school cafeteria, with punks on one side and preps on the other, had been mixed up," she says. "This mélange of people and ideas. It was the first time I'd seen that kind of movement. ... It started in the parking lot. People had cooler and food and drinks at their cars, just hanging out. It was definitely not a Grateful Dead parking lot scene. I remember black T-shirts and piercings and Mohawks. All these people kind of finding each other. ... We didn't know there was an us!"
Within a few years, the organizers of Lollapalooza began to realize that the scene was as important, if not moreso, than the music. They thought they'd try an experiment — in Chicago.
"They called us up in '95 and said, 'We want you ready to go on sale next week,'" Cirzan says. "I said, 'Well, you've got to tell me who's on the show.' They said, 'Ah, we're not going to announce the artists yet. We just want to see what we've got, and you're the test market.' I'll be damned if we didn't sell out 28,000 tickets with no lineup."
This is now the routine: Lollapalooza passes go on sale, and often sell out, sometimes weeks before a single artist is announced. That this now occurs in Chicago is because of that 1995 venture.
"When I thought about where we would put this as a destination festival, I never forgot that," Farrell says. "Chicago and I have had a love affair for a long time."
That same year, '95, Geiger told the Sun-Times, in response to a question about the festival's scaling back of shows that year: "I think in 2010, people are going to look back and see that we did what we had to in 1995 to ensure that Lollapalooza would still be around. ... It would be nice to be involved with something that lasts that long, given that the trends of the business go so fast."
Just as Lollapalooza came back from the dead, Jane's Addiction also lived, died, lived again and died again, but has reunited once more and is back this week with the first single — perhaps aptly titled "Irresistible Force" — from a new album, "The Great Escape," their first in eight years due in late September.
Oddly, given the perfect timing, Jane's Addiction is not performing at this year's Lollapalooza. As I speak with Perry, he's packing for another gig early this week — in Australia.
"We're going down to do one show at Splendour in the Grass. It's a destination festival!" he says. "We played Lollapalooza there a few years ago. We've got a great lineup this year, they don't need us. Maybe next year. I mean, it looks like this will go on forever, right?"
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Mr. Robotic released a debut CD in February — begrudgingly.
The Chicago rapper, aka Columbia College student Marcas Harris, has been writing and recording high-energy, club-ready songs for several years, and he claims to be making a full-time living from it. But the Benjamins haven't been coming from album sales ("Boy in the Band: A Love Story," a six-song EP, is his first physical offering) or iTunes downloads (though a small set of his tracks first appeared there last year). Instead, Mr. Robotic plugged his fledgling career into the other side of the music business: licensing songs to movies, TV shows, advertising and much more.
"I don't necessarily think the album is dead; I'm just not sure I need one to be a full-time, working recording artist," Harris says. "For me, I've got a commercial this week, a TV show next week. ... The people I work with getting commercial placements, they just need songs — and, you know, they're hungry."
"Commercial placements" — that means more these days than just hearing your song playing on the car radio while handsome doctors drive around on "Grey's Anatomy," or even landing on a movie soundtrack. Mr. Robotic songs have been sold for both of those uses — he was on the soundtracks to a couple of B-flicks last year ("Skyline" and "Stomp the Yard 2: Homecoming"), and his songs have been used on "Jersey Shore," "The Hills," "Greek," "The Beautiful Life" and more — but he's also written a theme song for a sports drink and an exclusive song for a national chain of yogurt shops. A Mr. Robotic song was used as background for a LeBron James highlight reel on ESPN's "SportsCenter."
Each time a musician places a song in one of these spots — ka-ching! It may not be a loud ka-ching, but in a troubled economy and a music business whose revenue model has been dismantled and decentralized, every little ka-ching counts. Websites, in-store promotions, social-media campaigns, smart-phone apps, you name it — businesses have myriad new opportunities to try to turn our heads with a catchy tune, and they pay for each one.
Those new and revitalized sources of income represent a seismic shift in a musician's business plan. As Damian Kulash — singer for Chicago's OK Go, which just unveiled its theme song to Morgan Spurlock's upcoming documentary about product placement — wrote in a thoughtful December essay about these issues for the Wall Street Journal, "So if vanishing record revenue isn't being replaced by touring income, how are musicians feeding themselves? For moderately well established artists, the answer is increasingly corporate sponsorship and licensing — a return, in a sense, to the centuries-old logic of patronage. In 1995, it was rare for musicians to partner with corporations; in most corners of the music industry, it was seen as the ultimate sell-out. But with investments from labels harder to come by, attitudes toward outside corporate deals have changed."
Bob DePugh handles music licensing at Chicago's Alligator Records. He's been with the label for more than 20 years, and he started making licensing deals for the label about a decade ago. Two songs by Hound Dog Taylor, for instance, are slated for "The Rum Diary," another Hunter S. Thompson story made into an upcoming movie starring Johnny Depp. DePugh even does extra work on the side. He's placed songs for artists at Chicago's Bloodshot Records, too — the Deadstring Brothers in "Sons of Anarchy," Justin Townes Earle in "Justified," the Sadies in "CSI: NY."
"It became more and more my full-time job as the market really grew for it," he says. "Of course, 10 years ago way fewer people knew about this scheme, so the fees you could get were much higher. About five or six years ago is when it really took off, once shows like 'The Gilmore Girls' and that ilk became highly driven by the soundtrack. The floodgates kind of opened. That was also about the time that CD sales began to drop, so it became more important [for artists]. A lot more people are now chasing this income, and by a lot more I mean everyone."
Licensing songs, however, is a crapshoot, DePugh says. Live performance is where the income is for today's musician, followed by album sales and single downloads. He's mystified by the notion of artists who include placements as part of a business plan.
"You can't rely on this income, not really at all," he says. "It's very fickle, and you're dealing with a lot of people. The music supervisor might take your song to the editor, and it might not work, or the director won't like it, or the budget will change — there are a lot of factors that make it very unreliable. It's great as found money, but you can't balance your budget assuming you're going to win the lottery."
One of those music supervisors scouting songs for TV is Evan Frankfort. He's won a Daytime Emmy for his soap opera scores and is a frequent collaborator with Chicago native Liz Phair writing TV music (he helped Phair craft her now-notorious "Funstyle" album while both were in the studio working on TV shows). Through his Los Angeles post-production music company, Would Work Sound, he also helps connect musicians with television directors looking for the right song for the right moment.
But while sealing the deal for a song in a primetime drama can feel satisfying for the artist at first, Frankfort says, the check usually is only as big as the artist. "Fees range from $500, if no one knows who you are, to maybe $10,000 if you have a following," he says.
Lyle Hysen, a New York-based music broker who works on commission with labels such as Chicago's Thrill Jockey and Drag City, has seen higher. "'Grey's Anatomy,' that could get you some money," he says, "but shows like that are usually exclusively dealing with a particular label. But that level of placement could get you $30,000 [all in]. New shows and cable networks don't have that kind of money, maybe $2,000, $5,000 or $20,000. It's not huge, and it's not consistent, but it's money the band doesn't have to load up the van for."
"A theme song, that's the ultimate goal," says Michael J. Mallen, a Los Angeles music broker who has scored Mr. Robotic many of his placements. "When we talk about this stuff, people usually think of the Rembrandts. Nobody knew who they were, then they wrote the theme song for 'Friends.' At that level, you're talking millions of dollars."
Most TV musical appearances, though, are disappointing for the musicians. Programs need theme songs and dramatic soundtracks, but they mostly need music for the background of a scene. Usually deep background.
"Most placements, I'd say three out of four, you won't even know your song is on the show," Frankfort says. "Everyone wants that final placement [like] at the end of 'Six Feet Under,' when the music plays over the drama, but it's usually at the bottom of what's going on. A guy I just did a record with had a song on a show this week. It was his first placement, and he was very excited. He e-mailed everybody. Not only was the show a big pile of sh—, he didn't even know where the song was. He called and said, 'I guess you didn't use it, after all.' I said, 'Yeah, we did, it's in the bar scene.'"
"I've listened to some placements on TV four or five times, cupping my ears down by the speaker, till I get a hint of the steel guitar lick that tells me, 'Oh, yeah, that's the track,'" DePugh says. "Sometimes the tenor of the singer's voice barely comes through. It can be that nuanced. It may not be that thrilling for the artist, until the check clears."
Frankfort has co-written with Chicago-area pop-punk band the Plain White T's, another band that has recently taken to the music licensing route to keep some money coming in. In August, the T's went on a tour not of public concert venues but of TV network boardrooms, playing mini acoustic shows for music supervisors in an attempt to market their music for primetime placements. Singer Tom Higgenson told Billboard: "With our band, our strong points are our lyrics, our melodies, our harmonies. ... We can strip our music down to bare bones and it's still just as effective."
It worked. Plain White T's songs have since been used in promos for NBC's "Parenthood," ABC's "Private Practice," Showtime's "Californication" and a two-month slot on ABC Family's "Secret Life of the American Teenager."
"Plain White T's are just so damn good in that environment," said Disney Music Group vice president of licensing Dominic Griffin. "Especially with 'Rhythm of Love.' It's such a great song with a universal message; it certainly has made it easier to accomplish our goals."
Those goals can range widely, but the bottom line is always there. "Usually, it's supervisors asking, 'Do you have anything that sounds like the Black Keys? Or Coldplay?'" Hysen says. "They want something that sounds hot and current, but something they can clear. Good supervisors don't give me the 'I need something that sounds like a rainy Tuesday.' Most of it's fairly targeted. ... Lyrical cues are pretty big. There's a lot of home, hey I wanna go home, I'm home — a 'home' theme is good. Seeing is a big one, too — happy to see you, good to be seen, maybe a medical show where someone gets their sight back. The werewolf/vampire things are pretty on-target these days. Don't mention fangs but maybe sing about internal love, undying love. Most good love songs do that, anyway."
Does any of this actually sell records or concert tickets?
Only if flashing the musician's name is part of the deal. A few years ago, the late Nick Drake plunged back into the zeitgeist when one of his songs was artfully used in a Volkswagen commercial; CD sales and downloads spiked because the Volkswagen site mentioned the artist for interested viewers who went hunting it. Several months ago, Hyundai helped boost the sales of an unknown pop duo, Pomplamoose, by using several of their Christmas songs in a series of TV ads and correspondingly naming them on their site. Mr. Robotic saw a small sales boost on iTunes after his "Jersey Shore" appearance, because as the song played in the show it included his name and song title in the corner of the screen. Also, that yogurt shop and that sports drink — they both placed links to his songs on their websites.
That doesn't happen when the song's playing in a coffee shop behind the main characters on "The Vampire Diaries" or when it flies by in a commercial promo.
"The good thing about TV music is that you can do a lot of it. The bad thing is that it has an air date," Frankfort says. "The music lives and dies very quickly, sometimes anonymously."
For an unknown, indie artist, music licensing affords them connections that could lead to other things, as well as the occasional check for a song placement. Oddly enough, indie artists even have a leg up on snaring these movie and TV show deals.
"I'm working mostly with unsigned people, independent artists," says Mallen, Mr. Robotic's broker. "If you're signed to a record company, that means there's publishing tied up in the deal, too. It complicates things. In films, often they want something that's available free and clear. It's quicker for them, it's cheaper, but the artist gets their name out there, for whatever it might be worth. I mean, Mr. Robotic can say he was in the Netflix Top 100. That's at least something."
"Most shows don't have budgets for big acts," Frankfort says. "Cable shows, commercials, they're all looking for cheap buys. One band's cheap, though, is another band's payday. Plus, even TV shows that blow their wad on a Fleetwood Mac song probably still need 10 other songs for cheaper."
Chicago balladeer Brad Smith has no illusions about his brush with international fame by virtue of a single song placement. "There's no doubt I was cheaper to get than Bruce Springsteen," he says.
Smith, a 30-year-old unemployed actor and a local musician seemingly unconcerned with his low profile, landed a song, "Help Yourself," on the soundtrack of the acclaimed and Oscar-nominated George Clooney film "Up in the Air" in 2009. How'd he do it? A combination of luck and, you know — it's not what you know but who.
"A friend of mine from high school is [director] Jason Reitman's brother-in-law," Smith says. "He played my CD for this guy, who forwarded it to Jason while he was in pre-production for that movie. I was told this, and then I heard nothing for almost a year. Then one day, Jason calls me up. He wants to use the song, but he doesn't know anything about me, so he's asking questions, like where I regularly played music. I said I didn't very often. He asks, 'What do you do?' I said, 'I read a lot and drink coffee. I'm unemployed.' He says, 'What do you live on?' I said, 'Frankly, if you weren't using this song, I don't know what I'd be doing. I'm about to lose my apartment.' ... That made for a good story. He plucks this guy from obscurity who has no money and puts his song into a movie that's about unemployment."
But despite the song's fairly prominent appearance in an Oscar-nominated movie (in the wedding scene) and on its internationally sold soundtrack — Smith wouldn't say how much he was paid for the deal — Smith remains ensconced in relative obscurity. His soft, acoustic-based songs draw easy comparisons to Elliott Smith, but he didn't receive the same landmark Oscar performance moment.
"There was a lot of talk in the beginning about awards, and Paramount was very confident the song would get lots of nominations, but that didn't happen," Smith says. "In the end, it hasn't done much [for me] at all. My Facebook and MySpace pages got messages from people in Uganda and Romania. That was cool. I got a couple of calls from a company asking me to do a cover of 'Slip Sliding Away' for a commercial, which thankfully didn't end up happening. They wanted to put 'Help Yourself' in that show 'Hung' [on Showtime], but I don't own the song anymore, so I forward those calls to Paramount. ... And I didn't move to Hollywood to pursue this, so things just died back down."
What he did get from the experience is less tangible, certainly less bankable. After taking part in some publicity for the film, he came back to Chicago and finally put a band together. He got serious about songwriting. Early this year, he celebrated the release of a new full-length album, "Love Is Not What You Need," with a show at Schubas, followed by participation in a songwriters series at Metro.
"The biggest thing I took from it was the realization I could take this seriously," Smith said. "My parents, too. It comforted them about what, in their eyes, was something of a hobby, something that wasn't putting them at ease about my security. Now I'm trying to get my legs, as far as my live performance goes. And now I've got some contacts. I much prefer the slow build to sudden stardom, but maybe this will actually work out."
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Lady Gaga isn't known for subtlety or subdued performances, and when she headlines the first night of Lollapalooza 2010 next weekend, she'll no doubt deliver an earful and an eyeful.
Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell already has admitted to spending up to $150,000 for the production of this single, two-hour performance. Lady Gaga's current Monster Ball tour features 15 over-the-top costume changes, plus a giant gyrosphere, a flaming piano, a neon car, a series of skits and an enormous squid attacking her onstage.
It's a long way from a clunky synthesizer and a disco-ball bra.
Lady Gaga performed three years ago on a side stage at Lollapalooza, long before she conquered the pop-culture world. She wasn't even blond yet.
It was Aug. 4, 2007, day two of the festival in Chicago's Grant Park. A small crowd of about 500 gathered to watch a brunette Lady Gaga, then 20, take the BMI Stage with her partner, DJ Lady Starlight, in the middle of the afternoon. During a 45-minute set, the Ladies played synth-driven dance-pop, including the songs "Boys Boys Boys," "Dirty Ice Cream" and "Disco Heaven."
Lady Gaga strutted across the small stage, singing, dancing, occasionally jabbing at a synthesizer, which she had set up just low enough so she'd have to lean over — flashing her cleavage — to operate it. She wore a black bikini, the top of which was adorned with chains (which she made herself), with high black stockings and heels. Her one costume change consisted of swapping the black bikini top for a mirrored one that turned her breasts into disco balls.
"I wouldn't say she was terrible," says Jake Malooley, now an editor at Time Out Chicago, who wrote a short review of Lady Gaga's appearance for the magazine's blog. (Critics from the Sun-Times and other local papers did not mention the performance.) "It just didn't seem like a Lollapalooza-worthy performance. She was doing this dance-pop sort of thing where she had a DJ, and she would poke a keyboard every now and then. ... It didn't seem very well put together, more about the spectacle than the music itself — dancing and being silly. She didn't seem to know how to play her synthesizer. She had to stop a song and get the engineer to show her how to program a certain sound."
His review that weekend concluded: "But no one's going to accuse Gaga of being a musician, and I think she's aware of that. 'In my day job, I'm a go-go dancer,' she said jokingly. Well, at least I thought it was a joke until midway through the next song she shimmied over to stage left, wrapped her legs around the scaffolding and began twirling while giving the metal pole a few aggressive pelvic thrusts. Very ladylike, indeed."
The revealing clothes even earned Lady Gaga some hassle by The Man. While later strolling the park offstage, wearing very short shorts, Lady Gaga was cited by a Chicago police officer for indecent exposure.
"I was wearing very short hot pants and a police officer told me to put my ass up against the fence because I was not appropriately attired to be seen by children," she told the New York Post last year. "I told him I was an artist, but he didn't care. Where I come from, they were just normal hot pants, but in Chicago they were indecent."
The outfit got Farrell's attention, though.
"I remember ... she's got dark-brown hair, she's in a bikini and she's wearing thigh-highs, and she's sweating because she was on at around 3 o'clock," he told MTV in June. "Her music was cool, her show was kind of cool."
The Lady in waiting
From that Lollapalooza to this one — from a few hundred bucks for a stage show to $150,000 — Lady Gaga's career trajectory has defined "meteoric rise."
Before she began turning heads in 2007, she was Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, daughter of two technology executives and a student at an Upper West Side private Catholic school, with classmates Paris and Nicky Hilton. (In classic, Bowie-esque coyness, she now refuses to acknowledge her real name. "She's not here anymore," she said of her birth name in an interview a week after Lollapalooza 2007. "She's covered in sequins.") Her stage name was derived, she claims, from the Queen hit in 1984, years before she was born.
She grew up playing piano and began writing songs as a teenager, even sneaking out at night to perform at coffeehouses — more Fiona Apple or Tori Amos than the flashy vixen she is now — but 2007 was the year folks began to take notice.
Performing as Lady Gaga and the Starlight Revue, with DJ Lady Starlight (aka Gaga pal and makeup artist Colleen Martin), the duo attracted the attention of producer Rob Fusari, a music-biz svengali who has worked with Destiny's Child and Whitney Houston. He had some advice. "I had read an article about women in rock," Fusari told the New York Post in January, "and how it was getting very difficult for women to break through in the rock genre, how Nelly Furtado had moved into more of a dance thing." The Starlight Revue, he said, wasn't "going in the right direction. It wasn't something kids could relate to." (Earlier this year, Fusari filed a $30.5 million lawsuit against Lady Gaga, claiming she shut him out of proper compensation for crafting her persona and music.)
So Lady Gaga and Lady Starlight began weaving dance beats and Europop into their songs. The gambit worked, sort of. Lady Gaga landed a recording contract with hip-hop label Def Jam. But nothing happened. A debut album was scheduled for May 2007, but the label dropped her after three months.
Enter up-and-coming R&B darling Akon, who took Lady Gaga under his wing and signed her to his own Kon Live imprint at Interscope Records. "I was like, 'Yo, I want to sign that right there. She needs to be under my umbrella,'" Akon told the Huffington Post earlier this year. "She just blossomed into a super megastar, man." And made Akon very rich, he admits. "She's pretty much retired me."
Initially, Lady Gaga worked for Interscope as an in-house songwriter. She crafted songs for the Pussycat Dolls and New Kids on the Block (with whom she toured). Two months ago, a recording made the gossip rounds on the Internet — allegedly of Britney Spears' singing a demo of Lady Gaga's "Telephone," which Spears declined to record for her "Circus" album. Lady Gaga recorded it herself, teamed with Beyonce, and made it a No. 1 hit this spring.
Fame comes quickly
Meanwhile, Lady Gaga was creating her own music and trying it out on any audience she could find. Her first major single, "Just Dance," was released in April 2008. By June, she returned to Chicago, not yet at the arena level; she performed at the finals of the Windy City Gay Idol talent contest at Circuit on North Halsted.
This was also the time when she began experimenting with outlandish stage antics to get a wavering audience's attention. "I remember one show I played where nobody was paying attention to me," she told the New York Post in April 2009. "It was really late, so I took my clothes off. I started playing in my underwear at the piano and I remember everyone was all of a sudden like 'Whoa!' And I said, 'Yeah, you're looking at me now, huh?'"
The natural brunette also bleached her hair blond, allegedly because she was weary of being mistaken for Amy Winehouse.
One of her best friends wrote a piece about Lady Gaga for the May 2010 edition of Esquire. He recalled: "Back in the summer of 2007, there was a night when she popped out of a cake and sang 'Happy Birthday, Mr. President' for my then boss, the owner of Beauty Bar in Manhattan. It was fitting, somehow — the Marilyn reference. I'll quote something she said to me one day around that time as directly as I can: 'No one in the world knows who I am, but they are going to want to know who I am. My first time ever on TV I want to be on a huge show where I play one song. I'm going to come out onstage in my underwear and show the world that here I am and I don't give a f--- what anyone thinks of me."
That same month, Time magazine listed Lady Gaga in its annual run-down of the world's 100 most influential people.
"The Fame," her debut album, finally appeared in the fall of 2008. Over the course of the next year and a half, Lady Gaga would score six consecutive No. 1 singles and sell 8 million records — 35 million singles worldwide.
"Just Dance" was a big hit in the clubs, and it reached No. 1 in January 2009. The next single, "Poker Face," was even bigger, topping charts around the world. "The Fame" earned six Grammy nominations, and won for best electronic/dance album and best dance recording. A pattern was set. The follow-up album wasn't even supposed to be an album. "The Fame Monster" was supposed to be a bonus disc for the debut, but a few extra tracks made it a full-fledged new album last November, just to feed the hungry masses.
The center of attention
Lady Gaga is such a spectacle now, not only is she one of two headliners this Friday (the Strokes are scheduled on the opposite stage at 8:30 p.m.), Farrell says she's the evening's "centerpiece." He just hopes the elaborate theatrics don't overshadow her songs.
"Her presentation is so overwhelming that some may overlook the music," Farrell told MTV Radio two weeks ago. "But the truth is, her music to me is right where music should be. It's on the cutting edge, but it's [also] in the crosshairs of where every musician is aiming these days. She's this hybrid of Yoko Ono, sort of the Plastic Ono Band meets Madonna meets Elton John. She's this beautiful crossing of those things every musician is looking to find. Everyone's looking for that sound, and I think she really hits it.
"The production of her music, the people she's surrounded herself with, the development of her stage show — it's something that, when I think about Lollapalooza, in that gorgeous setting of Grant Park, with the amazing buildings all around us, lit up, I see her and her show as being a centerpiece to the evening."
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Question No. 3: What sonic and stylistic elements distinguish the Chicago blues sound?
Question No. 17: What was the first film to use a rock 'n' roll soundtrack?
Essay No. 2: Elvis Presley and the Beatles made successive impacts on American rock 'n' roll. Discuss their historic and musical development. Then declare and defend your choice for which of the two was most significant to rock as a whole.
These are the kinds of questions students across the country (if they're lucky) strained to answer during recent final exams.
Yes, parents, your tuition might be funding a study of psychedelic rock, quizzes about the names of Brill Building songwriters or term papers about Michael Jackson.
The history of pop music is fast becoming an enviable elective course on university campuses across the country. UCLA's music history program offers a wide variety of pop music courses, from a Beatles overview to "History of Electronic Dance Music." Northwestern University offers a basic course called "The Cultural History of Rock Music" (though thus far it's been quarantined in the School of Continuing Studies). We even found one at the associate-degree level deep in the wilds of New Jersey: Raritan Valley Community College's "Rock 'n' Roll History and Culture."
Roll over, Beethoven, indeed.
Rock 'n' roll is, after all, 63 years old (if you go by a debatable birthday in 1947), nearly eligible for retirement. That's an entire lifetime of growth and development, not to mention the genealogy of blues, jazz and folk music that preceded it. It's all ripe for classroom study now — particularly for newly enrolled college students born after Kurt Cobain and wondering why that new MGMT album sounds the way it does.
"Students now, they get to be teens and discover music, usually what's current, and then some of them have this epiphany — 'Wow, there's half a century of stuff before this!'" says Glenn Gass, a music professor who teaches rock history at the Univ. of Indiana. "But catching up with that history is so much easier than it used to be. Some of them have virtually the entire history of pop music right there on their iPod. When I started out, students had to listen to reel-to-reel tapes on a reserve list in the library. If you wanted to hear a Fats Domino collection, good luck; it's out of print. We'd go to hotel ballrooms for conventions and sift through stacks of 45s. CDs changed everything, and video — if you had two minutes of Jerry Lee Lewis playing piano, it was 'Oh my God!' Now people with amazing footage have posted it on YouTube. The technology has made all of that history available to students.
"But, as with any segment of history, it can be a lot to get your head around, you know? These new courses hopefully are helping put it all into some kind of perspective."
Fought the power
Gass teaches his two-semester course, "A History of Rock Music" (as well as "The Music of the Beatles"), in IU's Jacobs School of Music and has since 1982. He's written a textbook of the same title. Even after all these years, he says he still can't get used to the reconciling of generations that's occurred within the realm of rock music.
"In old days, rock tore the generations apart. If your dad liked it, that was the kiss of death," he says. "Now, time and time again, I play some classic rock, and the kids know it, and I ask how they know it. 'Oh, my dad and I listen to Hendrix together.' I can't imagine that in a hundred years. One student in my class told me, 'I'm glad we're finally onto rockabilly. My dad and I drive around listening to that.' That's soooo strange! There's no embarrassment anymore about growing up listening to the same music your parents did. It proves it's timeless. You didn't have to walk the streets of Vienna to appreciate Beethoven. The same is true of the Beatles. Which means it's ripe for study and a little guidance."
On this point, fellow rock academics point to the work of Lawrence Grossberg, a renowned cultural studies scholar who did doctoral research at the University of Illinois. Michael Kramer, who teaches Northwestern's "Cultural History of Rock" class, can speak at length on Grossberg's studies of rock music as communication, on his "high-falutin' language" ("Someone had to take it there," he concedes) used to describe rock 'n' roll and his attempt to determine if its was really the breeding ground of a leftist revolution it often claimed to be. By the end of the 1970s, Kramer says, Grossberg realized that the oppositional force of rock 'n' roll — kids vs. parents, youth vs. establishment — had evaporated. Once rock stopped defining difference, Grossberg moved on.
"And there are older folks who cling to music as opposition and don't want it to be absorbed into the academy," Kramer says. "Rock doesn't have its edge anymore. but that's exactly what's allowing it to slip into academia."
It happened with jazz. Once considered a cheap music and a dangerous influence, jazz preceded rock into the ivy-covered halls of learning and is now commonly studied alongside classical music, often with the same terminology and serious approach. (I took a History of Jazz course when I was in college, even writing a term paper comparing Steely Dan to Duke Ellington.)
Popular music studies have been on the British curriculum since 1980. Carey Fleiner at the Univ. of Delaware points out, in a 2008 paper titled "Teaching Rock and Roll History," that British "students also attend particular schools and conservatories explicitly to focus on rock music and to earn a degree on the subject." In the Midwest, Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University gets close to being a pop music studies conservatory; rock history courses have been taught there since 2001, and the school has enjoyed a decade-long collaborative research relationship with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame across town.
Rock is dead, long live rock
Until about 10 or 15 years ago, rock music studies began in history departments, communication departments, sometimes even English departments. Rock was used in its context to discuss social and political changes. After all, what serious study of the Civil Rights era or the Vietnam War would be complete without looking into how the people expressed themselves in music or rallied around certain folk songs and rock artists?
Today, rock history courses are migrating to music departments. The discussion is less about context and history and more about style, performance and lyrics. Gass, for instance, teaches rock history as a low-level music appreciation course.
"All that history and post-Marx theory applied to rock bores me out of my mind," he says. "I teach music appreciation, not cultural studies."
John Covach teaches rock history at the Univ. of Rochester (N.Y.), in the Eastman School of Music. He received all three of his university degrees from the Univ. of Michigan, studying classical music (while playing nights — secretly — in a progressive rock band). Echoing the experience of all rock history professors I spoke with, Covach said he encountered slight resistance to the suggestion of such a course — until the school saw first-hand how popular it would be.
"I started this course at [the Univ. of North Carolina at] Chapel Hill. They have a very conservative group of musicologists, but they said, OK, give it a try. They cautiously embraced it," Covach says. "Initially they wondered whether students would sign up for it. I told them the big problem would be keeping the numbers manageable. I cap the class at 125, and I always fill up. At North Carolina I had 320 students, and the fire code on the room was 318. If they'd ever all shown up there wouldn't have been enough seats. ... Once a department sees that, they see the course as a cash cow. More students in one of your courses means more resources for the department."
Gass faced challenges in launching a rock history course, too. He was undaunted; one of his first jobs was in a 1977 government program teaching jazz and rock history in Wisconsin prisons. "I had a fellow in the musicology department one day in the Xerox room, and the guy said, 'How can you spend one hour on that garbage?' He wasn't even trying to be insulting; he just couldn't understand why anyone would pursue it, the music was so obviously moronic garbage. That's cool. If it was too easy it would have felt strange. I liked that there were still adults who hated rock at that point. Now you have oboe teachers who also love Led Zeppelin."
But how you approach the subject — and from which discipline — matters, according to NU's Kramer. The most important question, he says, is are you teaching rock history or pop music history?
"I begin my class by asking: Is rock dead?" Kramer says, citing the theme of Kevin Dettmar's book, Is Rock Dead?. He then brings up "The Death of Rock and Roll," a 1956 record by Maddox Brothers and Rose, a country-rockabilly group, that was imitating Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman." "Rock 'n' roll has, from its very beginning, this notion of its own death. Maybe that's because it's the music of young people, and you have to grow up, your youth has to die. ... But there's a tension between rock music and pop music. It's something that's exploded at the EMP Pop Conference lately. Rock has had such an influence on pop music, but there are two totally different classes there, and they could come from any department, really. I would not open a class by asking: Is pop music dead?"
The death of rock may not have been greatly exaggerated — and may be the only reason academics now allow students to conduct the autopsy.
For his part, Gass prefers to get down to basics and just help students make sense of the smorgasbord available to them on iTunes and Amazon. "There are professors out there who treat a popular music conference like going to a physics conference. There is some real high-level inquiry out there. I teach non-majors — sophomores from the frat house. I'm just looking for a way to connect them to [Bob Dylan's] 'Blonde on Blonde.' ... If I can make that light bulb come on, then rock can live a little bit longer."
(Answers to those first questions — No. 3: Rooted in Mississippi Delta blues, with frequent use of slides, bent notes and double-stopped strings, as well as intricate rhythm patterns. No. 17: "The Blackboard Jungle." Essay No. 2: Answers vary. Widely.)
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Early in Tom Robbins' acclaimed novel, Still Life With Woodpecker, the narrator frets that mere words won't be enough to tell his story. His clacking typewriter's inky letters on parchment won't convey the real essence of his narrative. He pines instead for a "carved typewriter ... its keys living mushrooms, its ribbon the long iridescent tongue of a lizard. An animal typewriter, silent until touched, then filling the page with growls and squeals and squawks, yowls and bleats and snorts, brayings and chatterings and dry rattlings from the underbrush; a typewriter that could type real kisses, ooze semen and sweat."
These are Frank Orrall's same fears and desires. In 20 years of making music, Orrall has struggled to translate the sticky, wet, messy experience of life into living pop music. The earthy songs of his Chicago-based band, Poi Dog Pondering, rock and groove but also hum and throb and breathe and laugh. The tunes have celebrated the human body almost as nakedly as Orrall's lyrics. World beat or Chicago house music rhythms demand dancing, while Orrall — c'mon, a singing poet named Orrall! — sings about everything else you can do with your skin and eyes and hands and fluids. "You're a cup that I hold by the cheekbones / I pull you close and I drink you up." "Muscle and sweat and blood and bones / feel good, feel strong!" "Vim and vigor, full of piss and vinegar / wrapping around, surround and bound by ligaments and skin." "Living With the Dreaming Body," "I've Got My Body," "Ta Bouche Est Tabou," "Collarbone."
That peaty poetry continues on "7," the seventh and latest Poi Dog Pondering record — out Tuesday, and celebrated last Thursday with a sold-out show at the Vic Theatre — with Orrall confessing to a ravenous sexual appetite in "Candy," demanding that someone "spread your love all over me" in "Super Tarana (little golden deer)," which is definitely in the same spirit of "Sticky," and, in perhaps his most conservative lyric yet, pondering the thought of making a "Baby Together."
"There's so much about the life of our bodies, and the life in our bodies, that we ignore or repress. I just sometimes try to sing that unsung stuff," says Orrall during a recent conversation at a South Loop tea house. "But music's about the body and the spirit."
That would be the "rock and soul" dichotomy he insists on applying to "7," the first Poi Dog disc since 2003 and the first in many years to eschew samplers and sequencers and get back to making music with instruments made of wood. They even tracked the whole album using analog tape.
"A lot of that [electronic] stuff was hard to convey live," Orrall says. "A major thing that led to this record was me being out on tour with Thievery Corporation. We were sitting around, and one of the guys said, 'Play me one of your new songs.' And I realized I couldn't play him anything on the guitar. I needed all this gear just to convey my ideas. So I thought, I want to be at a dinner party and be able to play all our new songs with just one acoustic guitar." He smiles. "I gotta say, it feels nice. This record is very ... portable."
Susan Voelz, the band's longtime violin player, agrees. "Frank said he wanted to make some music he could play on the bus, you know, without having to set up backing tracks," Voelz said during a separate interview by phone. "And now we've really got some songs under our fingers. I love it. Every incarnation of Poi Dog is a trip."
Make no mistake, the tunes on "7" are still frequently rhythmic and easily danceable. The only real difference is that the grooves are laid down by congas and body slaps and real drums.
Poi Dog shows are usually writhing affairs, with the audience in near-constant motion. Orrall dances, too. He started as a drummer in his native Hawaii, and he confesses to some songs ("Natural Thing," even the languid "Catacombs") being born not out of lyrical or purely musical ideas but from ways he wanted to move his body on stage. He says he likes going out dancing and never misses "Brazilian night" at Chicago's Sonotheque nightclub.
Part of what attracted Orrall and his band (then based in Austin, Texas) to settle in Chicago early in the '90s was that love of dance and dance music. Arriving in 1992 on the swell of Chicago's most creative house music years, Orrall says the local DJs he encountered furthered his love of "movement music."
'The ego of words'
The core of Poi Dog followed Orrall to Chicago, but Orrall's music had changed. The lyrics almost fell away completely. The "Volo Volo" album originally was completed as an all-instrumental record, which the band's major label at the time politely declined to release; much of that music became the debut of Orrall's first of many side projects, the Palm Fabric Orchestra. Poi Dog released another fairly traditional acoustic-based record, "Pomegranate," in 1995, but Orrall showed his new hand by immediately following it with "Electrique Plummagram," a collection of "Pomegranate" remixes and other electronically derived songs, including some Chicago house music covers.
"I liked the vibe of the electronic stuff a lot," Voelz says, adding that her role as a wooden instrument player was not diminished. "I love trip-hop. I've played with a trip-hop DJ for a while. Instrumentally, the rules changed and the music was different. It wasn't all eight-bar phrases. The melodies took over sometimes as opposed to the lyrics. ... I was at South by Southwest [the annual music festival in Austin, Tex.] last week, and I didn't see Lou Reed, but I read about him saying that emotional music with intelligent lyrics is what you're going for. The emotion of the music has to be there. It melds with the lyrics, but the music can communicate by itself if it has to. Or if it wants to."
This is the direction Orrall says he took his music during the last several years here in Chicago. He stopped writing lyrics. He and Poi Dog dabbled in arranging for orchestra, presenting two acclaimed concerts with the Chicago Sinfonietta, each of which included an electronically buttressed "remix" of first Dvorak's New World Symphony and then "Carmen." He toyed with ambient video creations in relation to music. He collected a lot of plug-in gear.
"I was experimenting with long instrumental passages, feeling that there's so much you can say with music — why clutter it with the ego of words?" he says, hunching up his arms. "Plus, I was getting into this pattern of trying to write songs as opposed to perfunctorily going about writing them. They felt too ego-driven. I basically lost the point for a while. Then, more recently, I just started writing, without expectations, without trying to cram what came to me into four lines, then a chorus, then four more lines. I found I really liked writing long prosaic things rather than in meter. That's when I started getting the material I wanted to get."
Next week, the large ensemble — Orrall has to think for a moment about how many players make up the current incarnation of the revolving-door band (it's 10) — hits the road for a rare cross-country tour. When that's done, they return to play at Ravinia, a venue they haven't graced in a decade.
"We had a record crowd there last time we played," Orrall says. (The show in August 1997 may have been a record for the band, but it wasn't for Ravinia.) "And there wound up being problems with Ravinia's neighbors. It was really a peak time for us, and huge crowds came, and then there were town meetings about it. So we just kind of stayed away." He thinks another moment, sips his tea. "But it felt like time to go back. I guess a lot of this record is about going back."
Poi Dog: Unplugged but charged up
Poi Dog Pondering
The music of Poi Dog Pondering can grow on you, like a mold or a fungus. And if you're really the type of person to embrace an earthy, organic band like Poi Dog, you don't instinctively see that comparison as negative. Molds and fungi are the most basic, strong and pervasive forms of life, and you think that's worth celebrating. Hell, you think it's worth singing about.
The essence of Poi Dog is stated in the refrain of "Outta Yer Head," a song deep into the Chicago ensemble's latest (and seventh) album, "7." Lead singer-songwriter Frank Orrall sings, "C'mon, c'mon, out of your head now / and into your heart." Orall's lyrics and musical sensibility have always come directly from the heart, as both a symbol of romance and nonintellectual motivation as well as an organ of the body pumping its most valuable fluid. Because this record finds the Chicago-based band getting back to basics, performing 14 soulful and neatly arranged pop songs on real instruments as opposed to the samplers and sequencers embraced in previous live and studio outings. And Orrall's got the body and its fluids on his brain more than ever. He wants to spread those fluids around in the not-so-veiled sexual references of "Sticky" ("I'm gonna stick to you, baby / gonna have to pry me loose now"), "Candy" ("I'm gonna eat you from the inside out") and "Super Tarana" ("Spread your love all over me").
The latter two songs are extraordinary — and strangely buried near the end of the disc. "Candy" should be this album's "Complicated," a rousing, escalating rocker that starts out with a simple "mood for something good" and builds to a climax of ferocious physical hunger. "Super Tarana" must have a dozen guitars tracked on the same melody (and in a surprisingly rocking 7/4 time signature), and they sound like a thousand "Wood Guitars." There's some rather dull, by-the-book soul ("Lemon Drop Man," "Baby Together," the almost ambitiously composed "Rusted Weather"), but there are a few moments that conjure the charm of the first record, soft, seeping songs like "Butterflies," which floats on whispers and plucked acoustic guitar and winds up stinging like a bee, and the similarly acoustic-driven (ah, those haunting, beautiful plucks and slides from Susan Voelz's metaphysical violin) "Palm Leaf Effigy," as delicate and beautiful a track as they've recorded in a decade.
With 10 members in this incarnation of the ever-evolving lineup, you could call them the Fleetwood Mac of my generation. But the Mac's songs are usually founded on romantic bitterness and betrayal, and Poi Dog is the warm, polar opposite. Twenty years into their musical career, this album actually limbers them up after their frequently stiff and static electronic experiments of recent years. Here's to the electricity of the unplugged.
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
He lost a job, struggled to feed his family and borrowed thousands from relatives before giving up and heeding his original calling: the ministry. Today, he's the Rev. Ed McCoy, pastor of the New Harmony Baptist Church in Detroit, but 40 years ago — in an era he dismisses casually as "a whole other life, a whole different time" — he was a record producer at one of the best times to have such a title and in one of the nation's hottest musical centers. But the audience for his rhythm-and-blues records rarely grew beyond the five-block radius of his makeshift warehouse studio, and scores of hot soul singles went unheard.
"Until now!" exclaims Ken Shipley, cheekily heralding the expected turning point in such a story.
He's the turning point, in fact. Shipley, along with Tom Lunt and Rob Sevier, his mates at The Numero Group record label, has made it his mission to unearth such lost musical gems from around the country and give them a second chance via a smartly curated and beautifully packaged series of CDs.
McCoy's story is moving, but it's a snowflake on the tip of an iceberg. The landscape of America is littered (often literally) with the broken dreams and broken platters of musicians and backers who made great music that, because of whatever vagaries of the business or their personal lives, never saw the proverbial light of day. Numero No. 008 (each title is numbered, thus the label's name) is "Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies From the Canyon," a roundup of '60s and '70s female folksingers who cut albums in church basements and whose scuffed LPs might be found only in Salvation Army thrift shops. No. 007 summed up the influential but briefly lived Deep City label in Miami. Numero's third collection chronicled Chicago's own Bandit label, a doomed effort of the late Arrow Brown but a powder keg packed with explosive soul.
No one's kidding themselves that landing a track on a Numero compilation offers a new chance at stardom, but many of the artists — fine performers who simply missed the music business boat the first time out — are grateful someone out there finally might hear and appreciate their tunes.
"Becky [Severson] was so surprised when we contacted her," Shipley says of the singer whose simply strummed, Joan Baez-inspired "A Special Path" opens the "Ladies From the Canyon" CD. "She didn't think anyone ever cared. ... I mean, we're not anyone's savior here, but it's nice."
Where in the world is ...?
Finding an artist like Becky Severson, however, takes determination and detective work. If the Numero Group never turns a profit, its founders can moonlight as gumshoes.
Shipley's Bucktown apartment is piled with vinyl records. As he talks about each Numero Group CD, he doesn't point to or play from the digital tracks — he's grabbing LPs and 45s out of rickety crates and throwing them on his turntable, sometimes with a preface such as, "You gotta hear this one — it'll destroy your brain!" These are the platters that feed and form each compilation. He presents Severson's LP, a homemade relic from the age of "Godspell" graphic design.
"We love ['A Special Path'], and we knew we wanted to lead the CD with it, but we had no idea how to get a hold of her," Shipley says of Severson. Then, pointing to various elements of the album's liner notes, he explains the "CSI" process that precedes the addition of almost every track to a Numero CD. The ladies from this "Canyon" were particularly difficult to find, given that most had married and taken new last names during the last three or more decades.
"See, it was recorded at Studio A in St. Paul. We Googled 'Severson' and found 10 in Minnesota, and called them. None of them were her.
"We narrowed it down to St. Cloud [Minn.] and called every Severson in the book. The 24th of 25 that we called was her father. He's an 80-year-old guy who lives an hour away from her. He says he's got 500 copies of the record in his attic."
The same process unearthed Judy Tomlinson. The title track to her "Window" LP, recorded as Judy Kelly, is a centerpiece of "Ladies From the Canyon," a soaring, early-Joni Mitchell metaphor of vision with voice and piano. If you're reading this and your name happens to be Judy Kelly, you already know this part of the hunt.
"We called every Judy Kelly [listed] in the United States," Shipley says.
"It took a lot of detective work to find me," Tomlinson wrote to the Sun-Times in an e-mail. "God has a way of working things out, but I'm still completely amazed that two guys from Chicago knew about me and the 'Window' album and had taken the time and trouble to track me down."
Caroline Peyton's soulful "Engram" made the CD, though she was easier to find. Peyton's tracks are all over Chicago — a theater student at Northwestern University in the late '60s, she wound up with a stage career that included "The Pirates of Penzance" here beginning in 1981. "James Belushi was our pirate king," she says, "and we were there when his brother John died."
Shipley relishes his discoveries. "They don't know this stuff his value," he says. "Most of them have forgotten about it. This is a long-gone part of their lives. My challenge is: There's a million records out there — let's find the best. Anyone could throw an unheard-gospel compilation together, but let's be the guys who assemble the best lost treasures."
He'll be on his way
Ed McCoy's phone had rung off and on since the '80s with people trying to get their hands on his stash. A few singles from his fledgling Big Mack label had managed to travel and impress a few other archive label owners.
"One of the songs we did had become a cult classic in Europe, a collector's item — 'I'll Be on My Way,' by Bob and Fred," McCoy says. The song, recorded by McCoy in '66, is on Numero No. 009, "Eccentric Soul: The Big Mack Label," which comes out Tuesday. "For a number of years this has been going on. ... I told 'em, 'I'm just not in that line now.' ... The Numero boys, they came with a plan, and we said, 'OK, fine.' It's not an issue I'm looking to get rich on. If it does something, fine. If not, OK."
McCoy got into the record business in his native Detroit without stars in his eyes. A social worker for the city of Detroit and married with kids by his early 20s, McCoy needed to supplement his income. Fellow Detroiter Berry Gordy was scoring big hits at Motown. McCoy thought: Why not?
To get his side business as a record producer started, McCoy borrowed $1,000 from his dad in 1961. Then, realizing his passion for the music was significantly stronger than that for his city job, he decided to make it more than a side business.
"I walked into the house on a Friday and told my wife I quit my job," he says. "We had a kid and one on the way, and a big house note. I went out and cut four or five sides, spent all of the thousand dollars. I had no idea what I was doing. I thought all you had to do was record it and get it done and go back and collect your money. But no promotion, no money. I was losing my shirt."
He went back to work for the city — in fact, he also picked up another job, working nights at Chrysler Motors, then later bought into a franchise of ice cream trucks — but he also managed to get use of a vacant building on Detroit's Warren Street for McCoy Recording & Distribution, which included three different labels: R&B and soul on Big Mack Records, blue-eyed soul on Wildcat Records and gospel on Brighter Day Records.
The Numero compilation chronicles a decade of scorching soul singles at Big Mack, from '63 to '72. The sound of the singles — the "pure car chase" of "Bui Bui" by L. Hollis & the Mackadoos, the off-the-wall "Why Should I Cry?" by the purposefully misspelled Manhattens, the "Animal House"-like stomp of the Sleepwalkers' "Mini Skirt" — is the sound of transition. These are Detroit singers, saturated in the moment of Motown but beginning to hear the grittier soul records coming out of the South.
"A lotta good folks came through there," McCoy says. Anyone could walk in off Warren Street and record a one-take, one-off song for $14.95. McCoy took all comers. "Folks were in that building every day rehearsing and working, and I didn't have any money. How the heck did we get it done? Why were these people hanging around? To do it now, I'd need a million dollars. But I'm one of these crazy folk. I dare."
McCoy closed down the recording company in 1981 to become a pastor, which has been his main method of making joyful noise for the last 17 years. But he's still in a band — a gospel band. And they're about to record a CD.
"But, you know, I'm content with this life. That's why we talked with these [Numero] guys so long," he says. "It's not anything I felt we had to do. It's just what we did. I can't help but be flattered by their interest. ... And if folks out there get to hear the music, even after all these years, well then, we did it. It took us longer than most, but we did it."
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Chicago Sun-Times
The fun part is watching the guys flinch. It's hard not to. Here they are in Ian Schneller's warehouse workshop, watching him beat their babies — in some cases, their very livelihoods — with a mallet. He lays them on his custom-built workbench and molests them with pliers and screwdrivers and, gulp, the occasional hammer.
"Don't worry, I'll use my soft hammer," he deadpans as he whacks the nut back into proper position on an angular, mid-'70s Gibson electric. The guitar's owner chews his lower lip and watches Schneller's hands with a live-wire mixture of concentration and concern. Three other guys wince with every whack. "It's like he's hammering my fingers," one of them mutters.
Tonight's class is the midpoint of the four-week "Guitar Setup and Maintenance" course, the initial offering of the Chicago School of Guitar Making. Other classes are now available — "Guitar Electronics," "Glue Technologies," "Tube Amp Building" — but Schneller's unusual (or, more accurately, rare) curriculum begins here, in a basic explanation of how guitars are made and maintained. This is where serious musicians get over watching a man take their guitars apart and put them back together. Then they learn to do it themselves.
Because as powerful an icon as the guitar is, especially the electric one, it is essentially a machine. It has moving, metallic parts, which must be cared for and eventually replaced if the machine is to continue to do its work, however aesthetic that work might be. Schneller — a sculptor first, then a rock 'n' roller (a founding member of the venerable, long-gone band Shrimp Boat), now a tinkerer-turned-teacher — tries to impart that practical knowledge to his students. "You have to know how to take care of your tools," he said in an interview later. "Any master craftsman and any truly successful artist knows that."
Schneller himself thinks bigger than that. He's more than a serviceman. He's a luthier, he'll tell you matter-of-factly — a maker of stringed instruments. He's put about 150 of them out into the world, from basic guitars to violins, from electric guitars shaped like Pac-Man to something called the Vibration Liberation Unit. His shop is littered with half-finished projects (a nearly 6-foot-tall wooden instrument shaped like a summer squash) to innovative and now popular specials (his virtually indestructible aluminum-body guitars and basses). He upholds what he calls "Chicago's rich history of guitar making."
That side of Schneller's enterprises is Specimen Products, a respected guitar-building business he started on the South Side in 1984. Now just west of Humboldt Park off Division Street, the Specimen shop is also the classroom for the Chicago School of Guitar Making. It's an outlet for his skills Schneller didn't exactly anticipate, but it's renewed his hope and improved his perspective on a lone man's contribution to art.
"The first time I was in here with a class and I heard the sound of eight little hammers working on frets — oh! I'm all about sound, you know, and that just blew me away," he said. "Chicago was once the guitar-making capital of the world. That's largely fallen by the wayside. It's all overseas now. And I know that as a solo maker I'm not going to impact that at all, but if I can teach what I know ..." His voice trails off, his eyes dart around the studio and he grins ever so slightly.
The rad scientist
In his blue lab coat, small spectacles and bush of peppery hair, Schneller looks every bit the mad scientist. His laboratory is nearly Frankensteinian. On his carefully cluttered workbench are oddly shaped feather dusters, bottles of eel oil, special-made outlets with voltage control, boxes of cough drops, countless tiny tools. The studio features several smaller benches for students, padded work stations that look like changing tables for infants.
Schneller teaches class at a large table near the door, next to his stereo system featuring two homemade speakers with big, arcing bell horns like old phonographs. Tonight he's flying through the lesson plan, talking tremolo vs. vibrato, sine waves, whammy bars, "under-the-saddle transducers" and a brief but fascinating tangent about making a microphone out of a tin can and some salt.
His technical lecture is liberally spiced with practical information — a student's question about string lubrication brings up the exceeding importance of a product called Big Ben's Nut Sauce (requisite chuckles follow in this all-male student body) — and occasional anecdotes. He gets unusually animated when he relates the tale of a woman who brought him "a holy grail guitar" last week, an arch-top Martin electric from a manufacturing run of less than a thousand. She bought it at a rummage sale for $75. It's worth about 10 grand.
Bigger sound, smaller machines
He tells the students most guitar technology peaked in the '50s and '60s.
"Since then," he said in our conversation later, "it's all been about market stimulation and miniaturization. Just like we went from vinyl records to cassettes to CDs to DAT tapes — computer technology hasn't changed as much as it's shrunk. It's the same machine doing the same thing, it's just doing it in a smaller space. And I'm willing to accept that the computer keypad isn't the only way humans can interface with technology. That's why I'm so drawn to stringed instruments."
Which are, remember, machines, just like computers. But in an era in which our instinct is to throw out and replace whatever breaks down, Schneller's studio — and now his school — is seeing increasing demand. Classes began last fall, and 130 students are currently enrolled, many of them on their third course. The schedule is booked through June, when he hopes to start teaching the big one, Guitar Building, and a waiting list is growing. Schneller said he can't write the curriculum fast enough.
"I'm getting people who are frustrated with the disposable nature of things," he said. "They buy things, they break and they bring them here. This class is called 'Setup and Maintenance.' It's about teaching how to keep things going. ... And I'm a sculptor first. Sculpture is more immortal than canvas. The things we make here, or the things we maintain here, they will continue to contribute to society and art long after I'm gone. That's the idea."
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
The black-clad, tattooed viking of a singer stomps around the stage with a microphone clenched against his spittle-spewing lips. Calling this guy a "singer," you realize, is generous — a job title not quite accurate to the duty he performs, which is more shrieking, roaring, growling and screaming. And whether you respect the catharsis of these "death metal" bands or shake your graying locks at these kids today, you ask the same question: How does that guy do that night after night and not completely shred his vocal chords?
One woman has the answer — a short, cheery red-headed PTA mom in suburban New York. Her name is Melissa Cross, but you can call her the Scream Queen.
"I am not your mother," she says by way of introduction on her new DVD "The Zen of Screaming: Vocal Instruction for a New Breed," though she is parent to a 5-year-old boy. "He certainly knows how to scream," she added during a recent phone interview from her home. "He's imitating me all the time."
Cross, 48, is not a physician, but she's the Dr. Feelgood for the latest wave of hard-core bands tagged with such descriptors as "death metal," "death grunt," "grindcore" or "doom rock." She coaches these young men — they're almost always male, though she just picked up a girl from the band Arch Enemy — on how to communicate their passion without destroying their voices.
"They were getting hurt," she says of the bands she saw screaming their lungs out onstage, "and as the genre became more popular and these kids were getting picked up by major labels, I was suddenly the only voice teacher that tolerated them."
Those major labels sought to protect their investments, so they put Cross on speed-dial. She now has a client roster that looks like the soundtrack to the latest big-budget horror franchise, performers such as Andrew W.K. and former Hole bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, and bands such as Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, Thursday, Killswitch Engage, the Agony Scene and Sick of It All.
Many of these singers give testimonials in "The Zen of Screaming" (now in stores from, appropriately, Loud Mouth). One confesses, "We're no Pavarottis."
Corey Taylor isn't, either. But his band, Slipknot, just won the Grammy for best metal performance. Taylor trained with Cross last year.
Learns to warm up
"It was such a revelation," he said of Cross' vocal techniques. "It's all about movement, warming up the muscles as well as the voice. A lot of times you go out onstage and you haven't done anything with your body, so even if you have a voice that night it just feels dead. Practicing all this stuff all together before I go out lets me hit the stage with everything, ready to go."
Taylor told of an earlier vocal injury, which he suffered after screaming too hard onstage. One of his vocal chords swelled; the injury looked more serious than it was, and for a time Taylor feared his meteoric rock career would end prematurely.
"I would just scream and get the craziest sound I could to vent the emotion. It was destroying my voice," he said. "I've lost a lot of range from doing that, actually. It kind of bums me out."
Cross led her own punk band while training in Shakespearean theater and opera at school in England; she even opened for Black Flag and X. But when she got back to the States, a friend began introducing her to many of the new hard-core bands he was producing as the styles emerged in the mid-'80s. By 1990, she was teaching classical voice full time.
But the rockers kept asking her questions about technique. She decided to turn her informal lessons into something bigger.
Word of mouth
"I had the education to deal with it, so I took them on. They ultimately became well-known — one called Overcast, one became Shadows Fall, another one went to All That Remains. I had Killswitch Engage back then. One client was from Hatebreed, and he never showed up to his lesson. But he told a bunch of people he was coming, and word got around."
Cross has the definition of a sunny disposition. Rosy cheeks, fair skin, and she has lots of tapestries and crafty things lying around. Into her cozy studio walk these hulking tattooed guys.
"Ironically, most of the kids are very soft-spoken and, I would say, repressed," she said. "That's why they do what they do. They're up there screaming because they have to. Their lives are so messed up, and they need the release. Most of them are very humble, polite and idealistic — not the monsters they play onstage."
They come to the Cross studio not so much for technical training but for behavior modification. The key, she said, is to teach them how to channel their emotion — which is the key in these genres — through different physical processes.
"There's always a light bulb moment," she said. "I see it every day. It's a change in the imagery, the ability to divorce the emotional aspect out of the throat. It's like an acting gig: You feel something, but you have the control not to let it permeate the muscles you need to do the work and make the sound. You dissociate somewhat. You feel anger and passion, but you don't make it feel like it sounds. So you can still be in the moment but utterly in control of your instrument."
The passion is what draws her to this music, anyway.
Enjoys passion, power
"I like any music that has integrity. I'm not exclusively a fan of this stuff. I like opera and Beethoven and the Bulgarian Women's Choir. What I really like is the honesty of a performance. This music is full of it. It's theatrical, Shakespearean. At Shakespeare plays they used to throw blood and guts from the stage. It's reality TV onstage. But it can only move you if the performers have what they need to perform — over and over and over. No artistic voice deserves to be silenced just because they felt things too strongly."
A second "Zen of Screaming" instructional video is already in the works. This first installment, oddly enough, contains little actual screaming; Cross promises the sequel will have more. After that, it's "The Zen of Speaking" — tips for "stock traders, aerobic leaders, tour guides, anyone who has to speak loudly for a living."
In the video "The Zen of Screaming: Vocal Instruction for a New Breed," voice coach Melissa Cross knows how to speak to her young rock 'n' roll audience. A sample of some of her vocal techniques, which probably aren't in the conservatory curriculum:
The Strapless Bra
In explaining how to expand the rib cage for maximum air supply while singing, Cross tells a female student about the "Strapless Bra" posture. "You know, if you have one on that's too big, and you have to expand your diaphragm to hold it on while you rush to the bathroom?" Strike that pose.
'Above the pencil'
Cross places an ordinary pencil between the teeth of her students, teaching them the difference between projecting the voice seemingly over it and under it. Over it is the goal, and the difference is clarion.
Or "the brown note," a colorful term for the flexing of a certain group of muscles also employed during, er, gastric evacuation. Is that diplomatic enough?
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
New Year's Eve, 1976, and the set of "Match Game" was its usual loony cocktail party. The New Year was always festive on this set, as "Match Game '73" was rechristened "Match Game '74" and so on, with reliably cheesy pageantry, until '79.
This episode opened with a gaudy fake bird, a bicentennial eagle, floating overhead and dropping an egg with the new '77 logo on it. Later, co-producer Mark Goodson made a rare appearance, asking host Gene Rayburn to read a special question for the celebrity panelists. Rayburn read, in the typical corn-pone style of the hit game show's questions: "Old Man Goodson said, 'By the time it gets to be "Match Game '99," I'll need a new BLANK.'"
Rayburn died in 1999, but even then "Match Game" was still filling in blanks on TV schedules. That is, the star-studded game show had been reincarnated half a dozen times, and for the last several years its classic '70s version has been a fixture of cable's Game Show Network. Today, the network is moving the show's reruns back to the fore of its late-night block — that's the "Daily Show" and Adult Swim hour — with two episodes starting at 10 p.m. weeknights.
The show's endurance is impressive given that "game show" these days is starting to mean reality-TV gladiator gaffe-fests. Even the Game Show Network now calls itself GSN, shying away from the original implication as its programming fills with reality reruns and new shows that aren't games at all, such as "Anything to Win," a documentary series about "the competitive spirit" debuting Jan. 10. Slipping away is the ding-ding-ding of the game show bell, and all that's left are a bunch of ding-a-lings.
"But 'Match Game' has always been a staple on our network," said Lou Fazio, GSN's vice president of programming and acquisitions, this weekend. "We've talked a lot about this in meetings, about the uniqueness of this show compared to other game shows. It's the casualness or looseness to the format, the camaraderie and the banter. You watch a couple of episodes and you notice they don't always finish the game, they'll let the game spill over into the next episode. Because the natural comedy aspect to it — Charles [Nelson Reilly] and Brett [Somers] busting each other's chops, mainly — is what's entertaining."
Indeed, "Match Game" is perhaps the only game show in which the game itself is irrelevant. Who cares if anyone wins? The contestants are distractions, unwitting straight players to a panel of sodden cut-ups. You tune in to watch the B- and C-list "celebrities" crack one another up with vaudevillian nyuk-nyuks and occasionally risque (for the '70s) camp. You watch to see what ludicrous outfit Reilly wears while deadpanning and puffing on his pipe. You watch to see just how far Richard Dawson can mack on a woman — contestant, co-star, crew, it didn't matter — in the era before finely tuned sexual harassment litigation. You watch to see these people smoking like stacks and sometimes joking openly about the well-stocked backstage bar. It's the surreality of encamped celebrity, decades before "The Surreal Life."
"Everyone on the show was just so likeable," said Rich Prouty, host of the weekly "Improv Match Game" at IO (formerly ImprovOlympic), 3541 N. Clark. "And they all seemed to like each other. They were having a great time. They're just friends hanging out, doing bits, laughing a lot — at and with each other. It's infectious."
In fact, three years ago, Prouty decided to launch his own version of the show. "I figured with Second City and 'Mad TV' and 'SNL' people around, I had the exact same caliber of panelists they had for the TV show, right here," he said.
He had a successful eight-week run in 2002, and when the smaller theater at IO came available on Monday nights late in 2004, he started an open run of the "Improv Match Game" with local panelists. The show — 10:30 p.m. Mondays (including tonight), free admission — observed its first anniversary last week.
"I try to keep three or four of the panelists as regulars, because that was kind of the key to the TV show," Prouty said. "That way, the majority of people know each other, they're comfortable enough to poke fun at each other, take jabs. They made fun of Charles Nelson Reilly's toupee, and kidded Brett about being old. That was the comedy."
That's the allure of this chestnut game show. It's not a game, it's a living room full of very funny friends. "This isn't a job, it's a social engagement," Reilly once quipped about his top-tier "Match Game" gig.
And what's a little sexism between friends? The show that traded in double entendres often showed its Freudian slips. In one of his more notorious goofs, Rayburn was introducing two contestants, one of whom was a woman with a perky smile and adorable dimples. Rayburn, however, attempted to remark on those dimples, but it came out, "Doesn't she have nice nipples?" Censors, schmensors.
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Three years ago, a March evening in Oakland, Calif., and the Brad Mehldau Trio is playing a set as mercurial as the weather. The club is Yoshi's, a terribly trendy sushi bar and nightclub, and Mehldau is peaking as his generation's officially respectable ivory tickler ("the Bill Evans of his generation" we critics wrote, ad infinitum). The three staid but stupendous players dabble in original compositions and standards, or covers — whichever term you use for someone else's song. But when Mehldau bridged two songs by calling them "classics," the choice of word elevated many brows in the room. Cole Porter's "Anything Goes"? Sure, classic. But the next tune was Radiohead's "Everything in Its Right Place."
Mehldau's accomplishment — and the reason he continues to garner praise — is that both performances melded together seamlessly in that set. Even on his new CD, "Day Is Done" (Nonesuch), which features only one original composition, he's still doing it. He opens with another Radiohead song ("Knives Out"), follows it with Burt Bacharach ("Alfie"), Lennon and McCartney ("Martha My Dear," "She's Leaving Home"), Nick Drake (the title cut). But regardless of who penned them and how impossibly far apart they might be stylistically and historically — he owns the tunes. They're not played for yuks, or irony. It's not Paul Anka crooning a Nirvana hit with a wink; it's a consummate pro deconstructing a melody and making it transcend every classification in radio programming and record shop bins. And that's jazz.
But what of the term "jazz standard," which (to Mehldau's generation) has come to mean Gershwin show tunes, Sinatra chestnuts? And where does a young jazz hotshot draw the line between exploding the musical canon and simply being an erudite cover band?
"For me, as a performer, personally, the question of what constitutes a 'standard' or a 'cover' is irrelevant in terms of its viability as a vehicle for my interpretation and improvisation," Mehldau said in a recent interview. "I'm aware that if someone recognizes a song, it's an 'in' for them. It will make them perk up their ears and perhaps draw them into what I'm doing more quickly. But what will hold them is what I do with the song — the way I improvise on it, the way I shape the melody and, most importantly in a trio situation, the way the band communicates together, and the overall individual texture sonically of a given song. These factors are aesthetic more than anything else. Aesthetics for me rest more on musical attributes — melody, harmony, rhythm and timbre — and in this understanding, the choice of material is extra-musical."
But it's that "in" with audiences that keeps these guys coming back to including and sometimes spotlighting other artists' songs in their repertoires. Look at all the boomer rockers (Rod Stewart, Carly Simon, etc.) banking albums full of selections from the "great American songbook." In a roundabout way, these discs are helping young jazz players challenge the contents of that mythical book.
Take, for instance, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, a more manic trio bashing out some the wildest, most innovative young jazz on the current scene. The band's new disc, "The Sameness of Difference," is also top-heavy with covers. Its previous 12 CDs have been nearly all original creations, but new producer (and jazz business legend) Joel Dorn encouraged the guys to get outside themselves. After all, that's what hooked him.
"I caught 'em at Tonic downtown [in New York], and they played all their own material. It was cool. The musicianship with these guys is astounding," Dorn said last week from New York. "But I think they encored with 'Alone Together,' and it was a very unique version, and I thought, 'If they can do that unique a version of that song, I'll bet they can do things equally as exciting with other material.' It's not like this album is 'The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey Goes Hollywood' or 'Way Out West.' These guys just really did something that rang a bell in my head, and that's what made me want to work with them."
That decision had a little weight to it; Dorn has been in "retirement" for years, producing archive discs and box sets, and he rarely returns to the studio unless there's a "wow" factor. Dorn joined Atlantic Records in the late '60s and produced hit discs for a variety of jazz and jazz-leaning artists, including Les McCann, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Eddie Harris and Roberta Flack ("Killing Me Softly," etc.).
"It was that song ['Alone Together'] that hooked him," JFJO pianist Brian Haas said of Dorn. "I think so many people have this experience with jazz, too — even a legendary pro like Joel. He came and heard us and perfectly respected us, but it was only when we played something he understood, a template he recognized and could frame us with, that he paid full attention. He came back a second time and liked everything. It was that one tune that opened him up to the possibility of the band and, really, the music. Look at [John] Coltrane's 'My Favorite Things.' That's what put him on the map. That's how people tune in."
• • •
The Jacob Fred guys (Haas, drummer Jason Smart, bassist Reed Mathis — Fred is a made-up moniker) tour constantly, relentlessly. When we caught up with them for an interview last week, they were in the van heading through New York to New Hampshire. In the background, on the van's stereo, Mehldau's new album was playing.
"Brad's got a new drummer, and he's really amazing," Mathis gushed about the Mehldau Trio's new Jeff Ballard. "He can swing and open up, but most of the time he's playing backbeats. They're stretching out and improvising like they always have, but it has this dance-oriented drive to it. It does some cool, weird things to these standards."
Standards, eh? So in the 21st century, when "oldies" radio has caught up to Hall & Oates and Earth, Wind & Fire, does that mean "standards" have moved forward on the timeline as well?
"It's a funny word," Mathis said. "It can mean a lot, just like 'jazz' can."
"Dorn told us, 'You guys are completely not jazz — and that's what makes you more jazz than anything else I've ever heard.' Then he paused and said, 'It's like the sameness of the difference," Haas said. Thus, the new album title.
"But, you know, Cole Porter was the equivalent to Radiohead in his day," Mathis said. "He was writing catchy hooks that you can't forget, but with weird chords that sounded wrong if anyone else tried them. Listen to Brad, he really pulls that stuff off. His playing is so beautiful. He could be playing 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' and you could listen to it for hours. He extracts the guitars and the lyrics and says, 'Hey, check out this composition.'"
Precisely, said Mehldau. "I do not get any more or less excited about playing a song because of what era it comes from," he said. "Each song — and that includes originals of my own, which make up a fair portion of my performances — exists in its own locus and is fairly malleable in terms of the possibilities of interpretation. This is where the jazz aspect comes in. There are more-inspired performances and less-inspired ones, and the level of inspiration is not tied to what song we're playing.
"What constitutes an inspired performance is to what extent the players surprise themselves and the audience. That element of surprise runs contrary to a notion of doing justice to a particular song. It has to do more, in fact, with forgetting about the song at a certain point and surrendering to the improvisation. The song becomes a pragmatic vehicle."
Even Mehldau comes back to the Coltrane example. "Coltrane's performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'My Favorite Things' or 'Chim-Chim-Cheree' from 'Mary Poppins' are a constant for me," he said in a statement upon release of "Day Is Done" in September. "The way Coltrane's band blows up those songs into something great and dangerous, on this huge scale, that's a real guiding light for me in terms of what I'm trying to achieve in a band performance. The original tune is referred to, but it's raised up and becomes transfigured, giving the listener a transcendent experience."
• • •
Indeed, what these players danced around was the simple fact that the choice of song is largely irrelevant. Just give the jazz cat a melody, any ol' melody, and let them knead it into their particular hot, nourishing stuff.
Richard Niles, the host of "New Jazz Standards" on BBC's Radio 2 in England, summed it up in a recent e-mail exchange: "[Standards] have always been drawn from 'pop.' In the hands of a great jazz musician, playing a song by Gershwin is no different from playing a song by Fleetwood Mac."
The Jacob Fred guys knew this, but they were resistant to it — at least, they were hesitant to record an album dominated by other people's songwriting credits. In fact, they weren't sure about most of Dorn's ideas at first.
Most of the trio's discs have been live recordings, but its last studio effort, "Walking With Giants" (2004) is indicative of how these three work. They spent months recording, re-recording, overdubbing, tweaking, tinkering and overthinking. The results were still invigorating, but they lacked the crackle of the band's live energy. When they headed to New York to work with Dorn, they assumed another lengthy road was ahead.
"We finished our first day and expected to keep recording, but Joel walks out and says, 'Nah, it's done, babies,'" Haas said, still clearly flabbergasted.
Nor did the band want to record so many covers. But Dorn insisted, and the band is now pleased with the results. "It did let us do our thing, and show that our thing is beyond our own writing," Haas said. "I mean, this is the way the universe and the world continue to shrink and shrink. Every new melody is in some way derivative of a hundred old melodies, and the way we use tunes is as bare skeletons for different types of explorations."
"It's kind of the 'in' thing for modern jazz groups to play pop music," added Mathis, who opens "The Sameness of Difference" with a fluid reading of Jimi Hendrix's "Have You Ever Been to Electric Ladyland?" "Mehldau and such are staking their reputations on it, which is fine. It sounds a little gimmicky sometimes at first, and we wanted to avoid that as much as we could. I wanted to play our selections as seriously as we would play Beethoven.
"So we had to pick songs we really connect with. The Hendrix song is so deep in our psyche, and the Bjork song ['Isobel'] takes me right back to high school, to some fundamental feelings. When the Flaming Lips album came out ['The Soft Bulletin,' from which they pulled 'The Spark That Bled'], we listened to that twice a day in the van. It was thrilling to see some of this come out of our own instruments, and these became more intense when we started playing them in performances. The audience picks up on it. You can feel them go 'a-ha!' and connect more deeply to what you're doing."
Haas agrees: "Mehldau, all this stuff — it's part of a canon to reinterpret melodies. It doesn't matter where they come from anymore. The wisdom is in taking one and putting it into a new context. That's what we do every night."
GREAT MOMENTS IN JAZZ COVERS OF POP SONGS
Louis Armstong, "Stardust"
Armstrong in 1929 was a pop star himself, but this chestnut was a winner just before his reading of "Ain't Misbehavin'" became a jukebox hit.
Benny Goodman, "Sometimes I'm Happy"
A pop song that, in 1935, Goodman made swing, swing, swing.
Charlie Parker, "Just Friends"
In the '50s, Parker sought to record his sax with a string section. Fans worried, but his reading of this tune on "Charlie Parker with Strings" is considered by fans — and Bird himself — as one of his best performances.
John Coltrane, "My Favorite Things"
Coltrane's 1960 reading of Maria's ditty from "The Sound of Music" sounds like a quaint idea — until you hear what he does with it.
Miles Davis, "My Funny Valentine" and "All of You"
Miles' live concert album in 1964 was stuffed with standards — and set a few.
Ramsey Lewis, "The 'In' Crowd" and "Hang on Sloopy"
Is it pop? Is it jazz? Chicago's Ramsey Lewis did a little of both in 1965, and audiences ate it up.
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Where you been?
I haven't seen you for weeks
You've been hanging out with
all those Jesus freaks
Oh, yeah, and I feel like giving in ...
— Felt, "Ballad of the Band"
Josh Caterer sits in a leather armchair at Uncommon Ground, trying to figure out how to drink his hot chocolate. He sat down not knowing what he wanted, ordered this drink on a whim, and now it's a bit more than he bargained for — a wide soup bowl of cinnamon-dusted, frothy hedonism (in any other context, I'd remark on how sinful it looks) and it's got no handle. Whipped cream is piled high and is deflating over the brim. To get what he wants, he's going to have to abandon a few expectations.
But this is the prodigal son of Chicago rock, a wide-eyed searcher who broke up his band, the Smoking Popes, on the cusp of national stardom and chucked his rock records to find what he wanted in a newfound Christian faith. Now, seven years later — having searched and researched his soul, started a separate Christian band called Duvall and become a father of two — here he is slurping cocoa and matter-of-factly discussing how he's managed to compartmentalize his religious and rockin' ambitions well enough to return to the devil's music.
He's revived the Popes, they're having a blast in practice, and they might write a new album. The reunion show this week at Metro — originally scheduled as a one-off, a test, a lark — sold out in 36 minutes, so now there's talk of a tour. He's blessed. He hefts the bowl with both hands and sinks his nose into the foam.
"At the time," Josh says, wiping away the mustache, "the best way to respond to my decision to follow Christ was to quit the band. I did it with a sense of permanence. But my understanding of the faith has grown to the point where I can see how to encompass the Popes. On the one hand, I can do it without compromising my faith; on the other, I can do it without using the Popes as a platform for expressing my faith."
So relax, kids. No altar calls at the rock show.
Not that Josh didn't try that before the breakup. For the encores in '98, the band would return to play "I Know You Love Me," and Josh would discuss his newfound faith, a moment captured on the band's posthumous 2000 live album. You can almost hear the crowd shudder — not because they're necessarily a bunch of pagans but because suddenly Josh was Debby Boone, explaining that the "you" in "You Light Up My Life" was really Jesus and, well, few things can deflate a concert at a rock club near the witching hour quite like a little heartfelt evangelism. (Plus, the mind began to reel: Did the band's other perfectly romantic songs now have religious overtones? "You Spoke to Me"? "Let Them Die"? "Paul"? Had we been tricked?)
"That went over better than you might expect, though," Josh says of his attempted homilies. "I never had anything thrown at me."
• • •
We hadn't been tricked, he assures. The songs are as secular and seductive as we thought they were. But as he became swept up in Christianity — a result of years of searching for spiritual significance, from Buddhism to the Bible — it became clear the Popes were not the platform to make that particular joyful noise. Because Josh had little to no religious upbringing, his new insights were overwhelming. He didn't know how to balance the new life with the old. All he could think to do was eliminate the old one.
It was written. The guy who led a band with albums titled "Get Fired," "Born to Quit," "Destination Failure" and "The Party's Over" finally called it a day.
"It was a process over about a year," says Eli Caterer, Josh's brother and the Popes' guitarist. (The band also includes another Caterer brother, Matt, on bass, and a new drummer, Rob Kellenberger.) "Josh had become born again, and we started talking about it in practices. We started bringing it up with him, and eventually he started saying, 'Yeah, yeah, I can't keep doing this.' Josh is the kind of guy who likes having one-on-one meetings with people, and that's how he told us he wanted out. That's also how he got the band back together."
And he didn't just quit the band. He quit the life. He threw out his Zeppelin records. And the AC/DC, the Ramones, the Buzzcocks (which he describes with a phrase often ascribed to the Popes: "great melodic pop with a touch of melancholy") — all of it went into the bin. He stopped going to clubs. He switched off the TV.
It's a typical response of brand-new Christians, he's found, but perhaps it's especially ironic in Josh's case. He had not just listened to rock records and shaken a fist or two in his time; he'd tried to emulate them — an act that carries its own particular messianic overtones.
In "You Spoke to Me," from the Smoking Popes' second disc, "Destination Failure," Josh sings from the perspective of fans who see their music idols as golden gods: "I don't know if you actually saved my life — but you changed it, that's for sure."
"That song's about being on tour with Jawbreaker and hearing the things people would say to Blake [Schwarzenbach, the singer] when they got to meet him," Josh says. "They said crazy things. With tears in their eyes, they'd be gushing about the importance of his music in their lives, how they wouldn't be here without him. I was so struck by that, by the way this music affected people.
"My faith now has allowed me to sort of shift the importance I place on music and the lens I look at it through. Before, I think I saw music in some way like that — as some means to connect to something greater. There is that larger spiritual significance to making music, and music itself tends to have a religious quality, even if you're not an ordinarily religious person. But coming to know Christ, I understand that music can be used as a tool to worship and can help you in your religious experience — but maybe it's not that experience itself."
That's the discovery that set him free, he says. He's not the messiah — and now that he believes who is, the pressure's off. The real one, in his mind, can worry about the saving of lives. Josh maybe can change a few. And he can work at music again for what it is, a means instead of an end. "The thing I want now is God," he says, finishing the hot chocolate and smacking his lips, "so music is finally something to be enjoyed."
• • •
In 1997, the Smoking Popes toured nationally as an opener for another act who regularly hears the praise of a fervent flock: Morrissey (who had gushed about "Born to Quit" that July on KROQ in Los Angeles: "I bought the album, and I just thought it was extraordinary — the most lovable thing I'd heard for years. I think he has a great voice. Are they big here?"). The Popes and Morrissey's new band were both units marrying driving, buzzsaw guitars to lyrics that are quite clever though often hastily judged by their surface melancholy.
Josh, the Moz — one ticket, two tortured romantics. And both can croon cream into butter.
When discussing his band's sound, Josh uses a surprising word: "loungey." It's surprising, given some of the breakneck tempos and the buzzsaw guitars. It also may have been a description surprising to fans until the band's last studio record, the prophetically titled "The Party's Over" — a collection of 10 pre-Beatles pop standards. That album, Josh says, despite being an intentional record contract buster for the band, was the zenith of one of the band's rollicking musical experiments.
"I guess people thought the whole loungey thing we did was tongue-in-cheek," he says, cocking his head quizzically. "By the time we made that covers album, I guess they knew we were sincere. It took me a few years to be confident enough to attempt that vibrato. I started in punk bands in garages, basically yelling. When we recorded [our indie debut] 'Get Fired,' the last song I did vocals for was 'Let's Hear It for Love.' And, you know, when I'm alone or in the shower or something, I sing with an exaggerated vibrato. I thought, 'Let's lay down a track of me singing like that.' I did, and we laughed — but we thought it was cool enough to leave it."
By the next album, "Born to Quit," which would become the band's debut for Capitol Records, Josh was pushing the loungey singing on every track.
Josh was tapping into something he did get growing up: an appreciation of standards. When he started writing songs at age 11, he was doing so out of a fondness for ... "The Music Man."
"Goodnight, my someone; goodnight, my love," he half-sings, half-reminisces. "You can play three chords under that. I was figuring those out on the guitar. Even at that age, I was beginning to appreciate the timeless quality of that music. I could recognize that that kind of songwriting had a substance that transcended musical trends. It's not just that Sinatra was a stylish guy that we still listen to his music. If the melody is strong enough, and the lyrical content has an emotional quality that can touch people in a meaningful way, then the songs sound good 10, 20 years later, regardless of the recording quality."
• • •
It's not been 10 years since the Popes wound down, but the band's following seems to have held steady, even grown. The Popes' strong melodies and emotional lyrics seem to be doing their job.
"Being in Duvall, Josh and I were always surprised when young people would come to those shows because they didn't find the Popes until after we broke up," Eli says. "People were still finding out about us. The music was still out there doing its thing. It didn't just end when we unplugged it. The fan base is still growing. It seems to have a life of its own."
"I could never tell how widespread it was. There's always that chance you're living in a bubble," Josh says. Then, noting the sold-out show at Metro, he says, "Well, now we know the bubble is at least big enough to contain 1,100 people."
The Popes also played their part, however big or small, in influencing Chicago's current crop of pop-punks. The Popes' new bio quotes Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, saying, "After Naked Raygun, Chicago was the Smoking Popes. They were the Alkaline Trio before Alkaline Trio; they were Fall Out Boy before Fall Out Boy."
Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio adds: "The Smoking Popes were a good band that only wrote good songs. They have always been a big influence on Alkaline Trio and are a huge reason a lot of us started bands in the first place. I can't wait to see them again — I hope they play 'Brand New Hairstyle.'"
Josh confirms that a tour is being planned, probably to support a new collection of the band's hits or some out-of-print material. And the Popes plan to try some new songs. But likely not in this week's show.
"This show is really an attempt to reignite the flame we had going when we broke up," Josh says. "It shouldn't be hard to re-establish ourselves as the band eternally about to break."
The Smoking Popes
with Bella lea
When: 11 p.m. Friday
Where: Metro, 3710 N. Clark
Tickets: Sold out
Phone: (773) 549-0203
Duvall to Remain a Faith-Fueled Band
After Josh Caterer found religion and dismantled the Smoking Popes, he wasn't done with music altogether. Instead of keeping the Popes around as a mouthpiece for his new spiritual notions, he formed a new combo for that purpose called Duvall.
Duvall released two CDs, "Volume and Density" in 2003 and a Christmas record, "Oh Holy Night," in 2004, both on the Asian Man label.
Now that the Popes are resurrected, Duvall will continue, though in what capacity or frequency Josh is not entirely sure.
"When I was ready to come back to rock, I didn't want to start with the Popes," Josh says. "I wanted to express things I couldn't in the Popes. That's why I put Duvall together. I'll keep doing that. It'll be my outlet for that kind of expression."
His brother Eli — a fellow Pope and a founding member of Duvall — thinks that's the best plan, even though in March, he left Duvall, for similar reasons (though opposite philosophies) that caused Josh to bail on the Popes.
"Duvall had been riding this fence," Eli said. "Initially, Josh was ambiguous about his faith, then he realized he wanted to be more open about it. But we were still playing these secular shows. It was a conflict. Now he wants to be open and singing about faith and Jesus and stuff, which I totally support, but since I'm not actually a Christian, I felt like I couldn't do it, to be promoting beliefs I don't really believe in."
Josh says he's waiting to see how the Popes revival shapes up before figuring out what his next move will be in Duvall.
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
When his music became popular again during the 1990s lounge-music revival, Juan Garcia Esquivel — known singularly and more exclamatory as Esquivel! — was fond of telling a favorite Chicago story.
"There was a very influential columnist named Sig Sakowicz," Esquivel said. "He wrote an entertainment column, where he would critique everyone playing in town. Before we opened, he wrote in his column, 'Esquivel! ... Why?' He came to the show, and I showed him why. He came almost every night. The next week in his column, he wrote, 'Esquivel is so good, he deserves two exclamation points.'"
In 1974, several years after Sakowicz had moved on, Esquivel landed a gig back here in Chicago — six months performing nightly at the La Margarita Mexican restaurant in Morton Grove. The age of the great bandleaders had long passed, and Esquivel's group was down to a combo of four musicians, two singers and himself on piano. The music, however, still had the zing! and the pow! and the wow! that earned him those exclamation points. While they were in Chi-town, the restaurant manager suggested they record a live album to help promote the gig.
They did, and Bar/None Records recently reissued the session as a disc titled "The Sights and Sounds of Esquivel." (The original title was as windy as the city: "An Evening at La Margarita With Esquivel! and His Sounds.") The music wasn't captured live at La Magarita, though. Esquivel being a bit of a control freak — for good and ill — the songs were cut "live" in a studio in December of that year.
"I've had this tape for years and years," said Yvonne DeBourbon-Rodriguez, Esquivel's widow (he died in 2002 after years of ill health after a fall) and one of the two vocalists in the band at La Margarita, in a recent interview. "This was done exactly as we would do the show, on one track with no overdubs. The only thing added was the applause. Juan was very, very particular when it came to recordings. I don't think he would have wanted to record in a nightclub. He never made any actual live recordings. This is it."
Esquivel's meticulous detail in making his "space-age bachelor pad" music is one of the reasons his albums were lurking in hipsters' collections long before the '90s lounge-music fad and will remain there long after. Esquivel was a Latin bandleader in an era when "Latin bandleader" meant Ricky Ricardo. He was one of the first arrangers to make use of stereo recording, leading his slide guitarist or his drummer to pop in and out of the left or right speaker for lively, unpredictable effects. His music was aimed at the easy-listening market, but it wasn't always the easiest listening.
His resurgence in the '90s was often heralded as "unlikely," but given the electronic music experiments taking place at the time around the world, it wasn't all that surprising. DeBourbon-Rodriguez saw the connection.
"People still feel connected to this music. It's like Trekkies. It doesn't matter how old 'Star Trek' is, people will always be fascinated with it," she said. "You know, when his music became popular again in the '90s, he was absolutely delighted. He loved arranging — that was his forte. He played incredible piano, but he wasn't as interested in composing as he was in arranging. It was fascinating for him to see how he could make an old song dance to a new tune, or the challenge of bringing something alive that was in a dusty vault somewhere. All these young people and their remixing today — it's the same thing. That's why they love him."
Esquivel loved performing his arrangements as well, which is why even into the '70s, he was accepting the gigs offered him — like playing dinner music in the Chicago 'burbs. But whether performing at the Hollywood Bowl or the early equivalents of Planet Hollywood, Esquivel was always as entertaining and unpredictable as his tunes.
"He was a consummate performer," said DeBourbon-Rodriguez. "He looooved having an audience. He had a glow about him when he was onstage, and he loved having little jokes with the audience, double entendres.
"We were performing in Puerto Rico one time. I'd had surgery and couldn't perform the dance routines. The crowd was calling out, 'La colora!' He couldn't figure out what that meant, though he spoke fluent Spanish. Finally, someone said, 'The redhead!' They wanted me to dance. He tried to explain why I couldn't, saying I'd had surgery. 'Want to know where she had it?' he asked the crowd. 'In Las Vegas!'"
You can almost hear the rim shot.
Things in Chicago remained pretty hot. Literally.
"I think we experienced one of the mildest winters Chicago had ever had," she said. "I love snow. I live in California, where normally we don't have snow, but that year in Chicago, it was beautiful. I enjoyed the smell of it and walking in it. I'd been in Chicago in January, downtown with winds off the lake, and oh my God, my ears felt like they were burning off, but for some reason that winter was very mild, and we made such lovely friends with the musicians and their families."
Several years ago, during the revival of his music, a movie about Esquivel's life was reported in the works. DeBourbon-Rodriguez said it's still "in the works" to her knowledge, with Alexander Payne ("Election," "Sideways") contracted to direct and John Leguizamo starring.
In the meantime, DeBourbon-Rodriguez is still involved with music, working with husband and Latin jazz musician Bobby Rodriguez. The two recently finished a book, The ABC's of Latin Jazz.
"We discuss Juan in the book," she said, "because of his contribution to arranging and because of the music he used. You know, he's not often thought of as a Latin music figure other than the fact that he was from Mexico. But he helped pioneer clave, that kind of rhythm. He was one of many musicians who were using native music styles at the time, but it wasn't identified as such then. It's just one of many ways he was a pioneer."
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Ed Goggin is a fairly typical James Joyce fan. All it takes is the slightest prodding and he gushes forth with thoughts, theories and wonders about the late writer's confounding, captivating prose.
"I remember my first reading of Ulysses," the Tulsa singer said in an interview last week, "or my first attempt, anyway, because no one gets it on the first try. I was touring Australia, and my bass player nicked it from the Melbourne library. This would have been 1988. I started getting through it, and I was just mouthing the words as I went, completely humiliated that I could not make sense of it. I thought, 'This is like reading a foreign language written in my own.' "
But, like many brave souls who've tackled the tome, Goggin pressed on, finding something in the words that, despite their sometimes baffling complexity, egged him on instead of shutting him out. "It was such a blow to my ego that it became a kind of holy quest to get through it and understand it," he said. "I hear people say all the time that it's the book everybody knows and no one has read, but people who have read it are almost religious about it. In some ways, it's a kind of secular bible. I mean, it covers the whole breadth of human experience in a single day."
Indeed, Ulysses - all 642 pages of it, in my paperback edition - spans a single day, June 16, 1904, making this Wednesday a centennial of sorts. It's a book that has angered, astonished and thrilled its readers, sometimes within a single page.
Irish censors bristled over its publication in 1922 (the same year Americans first met Mickey Mouse), objecting to its frank descriptions of, er, certain basic bodily functions. Critics continue placing it among lists of civilization's best novels.
The poet William Butler Yeats marveled that it was "an entirely new thing," and writer Martin Amis recently claimed that it "defines the modern novel." Virginia Woolf's reaction, however, was dismissive ("Never did I read such tosh!"), and Tennessee Williams didn't advance its cause much by titling his school term paper "Why Ulysses Is Boring."
Few, however, are ambivalent about it, which is why this Wednesday's centennial is somewhat of a marvel. June 16 has, for decades, been celebrated as Bloomsday, named for the novel's central character, Leopold Bloom, a 38-year-old Jewish advertising salesman in Dublin. This week's celebration in that city will draw thousands - including a few Tulsans - to discuss, debate, natter and nitpick every line of Ulysses.
Why are we still buzzing about this book?
"Because Bloom is an epic hero, and he's just like you and me," Goggin said.
"Because it's so high-brow and so low-brow, at the same time. It's like Jon Stewart (on Comedy Central's 'The Daily Show') - it's really intelligent, but with a poop joke."
A democratizing book
Goggin, who named two of his '90s Tulsa pop bands with allusions to Ulysses (Stephen Hero and Mollys Yes, both disbanded), is onto something with that first part. It's the idea of epic hero as everyman that makes Ulysses a compelling and timeless tale.
"Bloom comes to embody the heroism of the everyman," said Sean Lathan, assistant professor of English at the University of Tulsa. He's also the editor of the James Joyce Quarterly, which has published from TU for 41 years.
"As we follow Bloom around Dublin, his everyday experiences become ripe for heroism," Latham said. "Because of the novel's mythic overlay, Bloom's ordinary actions become heroic. It's not Odysseus setting sail, it's Bloom on the toilet."
Ulysses essentially tracks Bloom and a colorful cast on that fateful Thursday as they wander the Irish capital, basically going about their business. Bloom sells an ad, buys some "sweet lemony soap" and has a pint at Davy Byrne's pub, which still exists on Duke Street in Dublin.
It's the interior monologue, though, where the real action of the novel takes place — the stream-of-consciousness struggle of Bloom suspecting his wife of having an affair (all the while scoping chicks on the beach himself), searching for a son who doesn't exist and wrestling not only his own ego but that of his entire nation. The novel is bookended with its other two major characters: Stephen Dedalus in the beginning, the same protagonist from Joyce's previous novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a self-proclaimed writer who hasn't yet written much; and Bloom's wife, Molly, whose famous soliloquy ends the novel with a ringing affirmation.
Just plain folk — Irish ones, as it turns out.
In one sense, particularly in the book's theme of feeling adrift and longing for homecoming, they're not unlike the Dust Bowl refugees chronicled in the songs by Oklahoma's own Woody Guthrie. In the decade after Ulysses was published, Guthrie was rebelling against Tin Pan Alley's sunny, manufactured representations of Americans by writing "real" people into his popular songs. Joyce, similarly, sought to glorify the common man by telling such a tale within the framework of the great epics. The title's namesake, after all, was the hero of Homer's "Odyssey."
"Most basically and pricelessly, he included the common man, his common actions," Amis said of Joyce in a recent interview at Powells.com. "Bloom on the toilet is an incredible breakthrough for the novel, to be written about so beautifully and delicately. That's why Virginia Woolf said it's the sort of novel you'd expect a costermonger to write. It's hilarious to see the snobbish objection to it, but it is a great democratizing book."
The "snobbish objection" to which Amis refers is a natural defense against Joyce's dense symbolism and complex network of literary allusions. In an oft-repeated quip, Joyce once said he constructed Ulysses with the intention of keeping the professors guessing for decades. He succeeded; Latham is one among many professors who will further the speculation at this week's 19th annual Inter national James Joyce Symposium in Dublin.
But it's not just academics who continue facing Joyce's prose. Most of the fanatics retracing Bloom's route through Dublin this week are people such as Goggin who picked up a copy, gave it a shot and were goaded into Joyce's game.
In fact, it's exactly a connection between highfalutin literary snobs and common folk that Joyce was after.
"Ulysses is both deeply snobbish and critical of snobbery," Latham said.
Latham is one who doesn't use the word "snob," or any of its derivations, lightly. He's written extensively on the subject, including his book Am I a Snob? Modernism and the Novel (Cornell Univ., 2003).
"Snobbery is a willful display of cultural capital, the spending of one's own cultural capital in a public way," he said. "It's Stephen in the library at the beginning of the book, performing his theory of Shakespeare, showing off a certain membership in a particular understanding."
Once a reader solves some of Ulysses' puzzles, it's easy to feel admitted into a select — snobbish — membership. Expressing that exclusivitiy means chuckling at oblique comic references with others or, if you're an artist yourself, alluding to the book in your own work. Such allusions which further the snobbery of Ulysses itself.
These allusions to Ulysses are in-jokes — not critical to the understanding of the new work itself but a self-conscious display of some cultural capital. It's Mel Brooks, for instance, naming one of the main characters in "The Producers" Leo Bloom, a hapless fellow who finds enormous success in an impossible piece of literature, or the Bloom family in Tim Burton's film "Big Fish," a family confused by the reliability of the father's stories. It's art-rocker Kate Bush singing a song based on Molly's soliloquy (her 1989 hit "The Sensual World"), or Goggin naming his band Mollys Yes.
"Things like that testify to the celebrity of the text," Latham said. "It's a kind of empty allusion, but it signifies the book's snobbish appeal.
"Joyce was a ruthless parasite," Latham said. "He borrows from Homer all the way up to his contemporaries, including (Oscar) Wilde. It's the pastiche that makes his writing so resonant.
"But part of the reason you don't see even more reworking of Joyce is that Ulysses is still under copyright, which is defended by a tight-fisted estate. That may be why some of the allusions to the novel are so empty, because to have more you really need to quote directly from the text. . . . The irony is that now artists are trying to do exactly what Joyce did, and the estate won't allow it."
Doing our partGoggin continues his minor tributes to his hero and his epic novel. No longer singing full-time (though Mollys Yes is rehearsing for a reunion performance at a benefit in August), he now produces a television show, "Doc Geiger's Outdoor Adventures," which sometimes, according to the credits, is directed by Buck Mulligan.
Mulligan is the first character we meet in the opening of Ulysses.
"I slip those in all the time," Goggin said. "I think no one will get it, but sometimes they do."
Goggin hadn't thought about making Bloomsday plans until we called.
"I'll do my part," he assured. "I'll have a Guinness mustache."
Latham, meanwhile, will be in Dublin for Bloomsday 100. He will be joined by several TU students.
"I'm a little dubious about going now that I've looked at some of the material," he said. "There's a breakfast scheduled to accommodate 10,000 people."
Reading 'Ulysses'? Get help!
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Thinking of trying to read James Joyce’s Ulysses? It could be the ultimate summer project. And that’s just it — make it a project. Ulysses is a mind-boggling, challenging and immensely rewarding read, but I confess: I never would have made it through the crazy thing myself if I didn’t have some help.
My own assistance came in the form of a class, in which Joyce scholar Michael Seidel began our discussion of Ulysses with this wisdom: “Puzzlement should not stop you. It’s built in for a reason.”
But there are several good companion books and Web sites to help navigate the stream of consciousness, as well as the puns, the symbolism, the allusions, the chronology, the ...:
Ulysses Annotated by Don Gifford (Univ. of Calif., 1989) — The ultimate companion to Ulysses, and significantly larger than most volumes of the novel itself, Gifford’s guide offers line-by-line explanations of the subtext as well as basic explanations of historical and literary references.'
James Joyce’s Dublin: A Topographical Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses by Ian Gunn, Clive Hart and Harald Beck (Thames & Hudson, $45) — A new book published this month offers superb maps and analyses to complement the adventure through Dublin. Understanding the layout of the city really helps.
The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses by Harry Blamires (Routledge, 1996) — A sharp running commentary on the plot, a hip and handy companion to the adventure. This is written expressly with the first-timer in mind.
How to Read Ulysses and Why by Jefferson Hunter (Peter Lang, 2002) — A brief but helpful primer to the novel, Hunter’s book offers a plain and simple explanation of Ulysses' relevance.
Reading Joyce’s Ulysses by Daniel R. Schwarz (St. Martin’s, 1987) — A thorough, albeit conservative, analysis of Ulysses with a comprehensive episode-by-episode reader’s guide.
The Brazen Head: A James Joyce Public House (www.themodernword.com/joycehttp://www.themodernword.com/joyce) — A cheery Web site full of interesting articles and links related to Joyce and Ulysses. Read a Joyce biography, see a list of Joyceinspired films, look at some photographs of the crafty author. Join the Joyce email list to touch base with other Joyceans.
The Internet “Ulysses” (robotwisdom.com/jaj/ulysses ) — Everything you need handy for a thorough reading of Ulysses — notes of different editions, a chapter-by-chapter synopsis with maps, Joyce’s own schema used in structuring the novel, plus a discussion area and thousands of links.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
People still talk about the tour.
Granted, in Tulsa — Leon Russell's recognized home turf — it's the stuff of legend, but across the country it's still one of the best stories in rock 'n' roll. The tale just keeps getting taller. A new band of transplanted locals in Nashville is reportedly even preparing an album tentatively titled "Mad Dogs and Okies."
Musicians still have it on their resumes. Sometimes an artist's bio will come into the Arts desk here, and it will tout — very near the top — that this musician performed on the Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour in 1970. We have to chuckle, because that's not saying much. Hundreds of people wound up on that stage.
Funny thing, though: when they mention the tour, it's always Leon Russell's Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour, never Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour. Leon was the bandleader for Joe's show. Pretty unintentionally, though, Leon stole that show right out from under Joe.
That's pretty much why these two classic rock figures haven't shared another bill since.
Until next week.
For the first time since that infamous circus, Russell and Cocker will share the same stage on the same night. That is, they're each scheduled for individual sets as part of one show. Concert organizers don't know whether they'll actually perform together.
"I suspect that they will, but I don't know," said Mark Lee of 462 Concerts this week. "No one could imagine them not playing together, but they haven't in 30 years."
The Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour was a highlight of Cocker's career and the launch of Russell's.
Cocker had come up through the British pub circuit with the Grease Band. He landed a No. 1 hit in 1968 with a gritty, soulful cover of the Beatles' "A Little Help From My Friends." When he sang that song at Woodstock the following year, his superstardom was assured.
Russell had been struggling through the ranks in America as a session pianist. He was sought-after — working frequently with Phil Spector — but he was still a session player in the wings. His 1967 solo debut LP, "Look Inside the Asylum Choir," was respected by critics but didn't sell. In '69, he hit the road with Delaney and Bonnie.
It was then that the two crossed paths. Cocker, always looking for good material, picked up Russell's "Delta Lady" and recorded it for another hit. When Cocker decided to tour again, he asked Russell to put together a band for him.
That was either his first mistake or his stroke of genius, depending on who you talk to.
Russell didn't hold back in assembling a motley crew for what would become the Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour. One-time Russell girlfriend Rita Coolidge was on board. Delaney and Bonnie joined up. The Rolling Stones' future horn section was there, as well as Derek and the Dominos' future rhythm section. Some shows had up to 45 people on the stage, including a few actual dogs.
It only lasted a couple of months — 48 cities in 56 days — but the tour's effects lasted a lifetime. It was even filmed for a concert movie of the same name. It was the hottest post-Woodtsock ticket around the country, because not only was Cocker in his prime but there was this long-haired Okie up there stealing the show. Russell ran back and forth between piano and guitar, leading the band with his hair flying. Russell was so manic and so darned good that people wound up talking about him as much, if not more, than Cocker — and it was Cocker's headlining tour.
After the show inevitably fell apart, Russell's star rose. He showed up on albums by B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, and the next year was a highlight of George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh. Then he toured with the Stones — all this while living in Tulsa. The record label he founded here, Shelter Records, nurtured the early careers of Tom Petty and Phoebe Snow, as well as locals Dwight Twilley and J.J. Cale.
Cocker didn't fare so well after the tour. His albums and performances suffered from problems with alcohol on and off the stage. He bounced back with another hit, a cover of "You Are So Beautiful," in '75, and then made that kind of romantic ballad the hallmark of the rest of his career. Later, his raspy crooning scored him soundtrack hits such as "Up Where We Belong" (a duet with Jennifer Warnes) from 1982's "An Officer and a Gentleman."
Russell continues churning out his traditional and sometimes country songcraft through his own label, Leon Russell Records. Cocker just released his latest collection, "Respect Yourself," on the Red Ink label.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
You've probably never seen the most important member of your favorite band.
She gets most of the band's money. She's instrumental to the band's success. Every member talks the most about her, and if it weren't for her unique contributions, you'd never have seen the band in the first place.
It's the van.
Yes, Roger McGuinn offered some great advice about playing guitar and wearing tight pants in his handbook song "So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star," but he left out the most important bit of advice: buy the best van you can afford.
Playing live music means hauling equipment — drum kits and doo-dads, cabinets and keisters. If you can't get to the crowd, how can they adore you?
It takes a lot of fame and money to afford the tour bus of rock legend, so most bands — even a sizeable majority of household names — travel cramped together with (and sometimes on) their equipment inside a van.
Talk to a musician and the van undoubtedly will come up in conversation. It broke down again. It nearly went off an icy precipice in Utah. While trying to sleep in the fetal position against the window, it induced a terrible cramp.
"The van is a huge investment, probably the most important piece of equipment you can buy," said Jarod Gollihare, singer-drummer for Admiral Twin.
Admiral Twin recently upgraded its ride, bidding farewell to "Old Blue," the lurching, smoking '86 Chevy that's taken this local pop band in loop-de-loops around the country for a decade. Her odometer has rolled twice.
"It was on its absolute last wheel, held together with rubber bands. It gradually lost its heating, then the air-conditioning and the transmission's about to fall out. It was making weird noises, and sometimes it was hard to start. Then it would be hard to get it to stop," Gollihare said. "We've never actually driven it to a coast. We've always flown to the coasts. I think the salt air would just disintegrate it."
The new Twin ride is a used '99 Ford, purchased with money from a flush gig in Michigan. The former owners were dog trainers.
"The dog smell is pretty much gone now, but we left the 'We Raise Golden Retrievers' sticker in the back window," Gollihare said.
"This purchase is the biggest thing that's happened to our band in months."
Admiral Twin wasn't brand specific in its search for wheels. The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey trio was.
Keyboardist Brian Haas was trapped in Los Angeles over the Christmas holidays waiting for a custom Dodge part to be shipped to a garage — where the band's former van had languished inoperable for 19 days.
"I guess Dodge vans just totally suck," he said at the time.
For a band that plays 221 shows a year from coast to coast, the van is crucial — transport, rehearsal hall and bedroom, all in one. It's got to work.
"We just got a lemon," said bassist Reed Mathis of the thankfully departed Dodge. "Last year, that van forced us to cancel tons of gigs. We missed the whole Dirty Dozen Brass Band tour because it dropped its transmission for the second time and stuck us in a roach motel in Florida, where we laid around watching 'Behind the Music' all day with whores calling the room asking us if wanted dates."
The Odyssey's new Ford has already been on an odyssey — 47,000 miles since February, and no complaints.
The guys also do what they can to make the place feel like home.
"We took the middle two seats out and put down a futon," Mathis said. "We've got kitchen drawers up front, a cooler and a water dispenser. We try to keep at least one plant inside to keep the air clean and the energy positive. We had one spider plant that lasted a year and a half. We were amazed."
"We keep ours pretty clean and standard-looking," said guitarist Mark Haugh of the van hauling his band, Caroline's Spine. "If we don't keep it clean, we'll get in a fight. I can, well, be kind of a slob."
When the members of Caroline's Spine went shopping for their latest van — their fifth in less than a decade — they decided to go all out and get all the features they wanted and needed.
"Until now, it's always been the cheapest van we can find, then we throw 100,000 miles on it and get rid of it," Haugh said. "This one we actually special-ordered. We got a good deal and got exactly what we wanted. We have a matching white trailer, so we look like a government vehicle. That's important so you don't get pulled over."
The band's previous vans included Haugh's old Volkswagen minibus, an "old, beat-up Dodge that never worked," a green Ford and an "old Ford conversion van that was like the Good Times van, the '70s disco vehicle."
The new van has a diesel engine.
"If you close your eyes, it sounds like a bus," Haugh said.
"We got all these features, but somehow we didn't get a CD player. I still haven't figured that out."
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Stocks aren't the only sector of American industry
reeling from last week's terrorist attacks. The folks who
create the artistic expressions that offer both escape and
insight into the world situation have been derailed and
befuddled by the new world order, too. Here are some items
illustrating the attacks' ripple effect in the music
The hit list
One of my favorite episodes of the old TV series "WKRP in
Cincinnati" involved a radical preacher named Dr. Bob who
asked the fictional radio station not to play a list of
certain songs he and his followers found offensive. It's a
pretty poignant discussion of artistic expression and
censorship — for TV, anyway — and it features Mr. Carlson
(Gordon Jump) reading the words to John Lennon's "Imagine,"
which the preacher dismisses as anti-God and "communist"
despite its lack of any offensive words.
"Imagine" allegedly made another hit list this week when
Clear Channel Communications, the Texas-based company that
owns nearly 1,170 radio stations nationwide — including six
in Tulsa — circulated a list of 150 "lyrically questionable"
songs and suggested its stations consider the wisdom of
playing them in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks,
according to the New York Times.
It's a curious list (see page D-4). Some selections are
obviously insensitive for this particular moment in history
-- Soundgarden's "Blow Up the Outside World," Billy Joel's "Only
the Good Die Young" or "You Dropped a Bomb on Me" by Tulsa's
own GAP Band — but others are truly bizarre and
overreaching. Some poor, pin-headed exec somewhere must
have racked his brain for titles that might allude to
anything related to the tragedy, such as planes (the
Beatles' "Ticket to Ride," Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets")
or New York City (Sinatra's signature song "New York, New
York," the Drifters' "On Broadway").
Some songs, though, are even patriotic, like Neil
Diamond's "America," or universally uplifting, like Louis
Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World."
Clear Channel was quick yesterday to issue a denial. It
was carefully worded, denying the fact that they actually
banned any songs but not denying that a list was
circulated. Accoridng to the Times, the company's corporate
headquarters generated a small list of songs to reconsider,
and an "overzealous" regional executive expanded it and
circulated it widely.
Tulsa DJs never saw one, anyway. Rick Cohn, vice
president and marketing manager of Tulsa's Clear Channel
stations, said he had seen no song list from his corporate
headquarters. What he had seen was a statement "suggesting
that each program director should take the pulse of their
market to judge the sensitivity of listeners given the
circumstances now," he said Wednesday.
"We voluntarily went through our playlists to see if
there were things we might want to avoid in good taste,"
Cohn said. "I mean, `Leaving on a Jet Plane' just doesn't
seem like the song KQLL `Cool 106' needs to be playing
Wise choices, surely, as long as they aren't mandatory
and lasting. After all, in times like these, music is what
we should be turning to, not running from. One of the songs
on the list, Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled
Water," gives voice to a narrator who assures the listener
of help through whatever trials and sadness we encounter.
Of course, Lennon's "Imagine" is the ultimate sing-along in
times of desperately needed unity:
You may say I'm a dreamer
but I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
and the world will live as one.
You ought not be in pictures
Three months ago, DJ Pam and Boots Riley holed up with
their Photoshop manuals and produced what they thought
would be a cool and controversial image for the cover of
their new CD. They had no idea how controversial it could
The image features the two rappers standing with the
World Trade Center Towers looming behind them. DJ Pam is on
the left holding drumsticks while Riley, on the right, is
pressing a button on what is assumed to be a bomb
detonator; the towers behind them are exploding in flames
and smoke — at what look like the exact spots where the two
hijacked airplanes hit on Sept. 11.
Needless to say, the duo's record company, 75 Ark, has
ordered all the covers destroyed and replaced before the
CD, innocently titled "Party Music," is released Nov. 5.
"The intent of the cover was to use the World Trade
Center to symbolize capitalism," Riley said this week. "This
is a very unfortunate coincidence, and my condolences go
out to the families and friends of the victims."
This is the second album release interrupted by the
attacks. Neo-progressive rock group Dream Theater's "Live
Scenes From New York" was yanked back from shelves last week
because its cover depicted the Manhattan skyline, complete
with WTC towers and the Statue of Liberty, in flames.
Local benefit song
Michael Jackson has already written his benefit song for
the victims of last week's terrorist attacks, which he
hopes to cast with big stars (a la "We Are the World") and
release within a month. For my money, though, I'll stick
with Bristow native Alan Pitts' tune, "She Still Stands
Tall," penned last week after the tragedies and already a
KOTV, channel 6 has played Pitts' song several times,
complete with a video montage assembled by the station. The
song has rocketed up the country chart at
www.soundclick.com since it was posted on Sunday. Pitts
also may perform the song at the Tulsa State Fair;
arrangements are pending.
Demand for the song has already overwhelmed Pitts and
his Tulsa-based band. Until full-scale production of a CD
can be completed, Pitts has been burning copies on his home
computer. He hopes to have them available soon for $10,
with a third of the money going to the American Red Cross.
For information about obtaining a copy, call Redneck Kid
Productions at (918) 582-5316.
Off the road
The attacks last week interrupted the music business,
namely some tours that were making the rounds on the East
Coast. Some of the bands that canceled shows around the
country in the wake of the attacks were Aerosmith, the
Beach Boys, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Clint Black, Jimmy
Buffett, Coldplay, Billy Gilman, Phil Lesh, Jerry Seinfeld
and They Might Be Giants.
Oddly enough, the Pledge of Allegiance Tour — featuring
such deathly metal acts as Slipknot, System of a Down,
Rammstein and Mudvayne — was scheduled to begin last week.
The first four dates in the upper Midwest were rescheduled
for later in October. Also, the annual CMJ Music Marathon
has been rescheduled from its original dates last weekend
to Oct. 10-13.
Carol Anderson of CMA Promotions reported that most of
the Christian pop shows she represents are moving ahead.
"They feel that the kids need words of hope even more than
before," she said.
Most of the artists' publicists we deal with as
journalists are headquartered in Manhattan, and it's been
nerve-wracking checking in with them the past week. Gary
Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, posted an
editorial on the magazine's web site last week encouraging
Americans not to hide at home throughout the aftermath.
"If you afraid to buy tickets and attend public events,
then you let the bastards win," he wrote. "Make no mistake
about it, no one can completely guarantee your safety as
you walk through the turnstiles. But then, no one can
guarantee it as you sit on the couch at home, either."
A final word
Jessica Hopper at Hopper PR in Chicago summed up the
nation's sudden readjustment of priorities in an email to
industry insiders last week: "Nothing like profound tragedy
to make our myopic punk world and scene squabbles seem
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Before going on the air, Davit Souders mentions this
band from Coffeyville that's been bugging him — in a good
way. They're called Pheb:ate, they've got a fresh debut CD
and for the last several weeks the band and its small
legion of supporters from the Kansas border have been tying
up the phone lines during Souders' late-night local music
radio show, "Home Groan," begging him to play something from
the new CD.
"These crazy kids," Souders says, "they still want to get
on the ol' radio."
So the show starts — 11 p.m. sharp, as it does every
Sunday night on KMYZ 104.5-FM — and pretty soon the phone
lines are blinking again. This time, though, one of them is
a cellular call. The producer patches it into the studio
"Look out the window!" cries a jubilant young woman
through the satellite static.
We go to the window and eight floors down in the parking
lot is a gaggle of young'uns, waving hysterically and
brandishing an acoustic guitar. For the next half hour, the
crowd grows, and the young woman on hold keeps begging to
be allowed into the studio. At one point, things get a
little loony, with the band's female fans so eager to show
their support that they show, well, more of themselves than
their mommas would have appreciated. It's one video camera
away from becoming "Home Groan Girls Gone Wild."
Souders — a true rock 'n' roll warrior, but a businessman
who enjoys at least a modicum of control — eventually
relents, and the band is ushered upstairs for a quick
on-air chat and an impromptu performance in the studio.
After the show, the whole group hangs outside and plays
guitar, confident their assertiveness has scored them a
major marketing triumph.
"That's as pure as it gets in my book, right there,"
Souders says later that night. "I mean, Jim Halsey (local
music entrepreneur) is always talking about the psychic
payoff musicians get from things like this. Boom — there it
is on those faces right there. Because when it comes down
to it, it's not really about money and girls and sales
figures, it's about getting played. It's about getting to
feel like the work you've put into something means
something, anything, to even one little radio host like
In the nearly six years he's been hosting "Home Groan," a
weekly show dedicated to Tulsa-area original music, Souders
has been buttered up by bands hoping to score a spin on his
show. They know when he's due on the air, and sometimes
they lie in wait in that same parking lot outside the
station, thrusting CDs in his hand and sometimes a pizza or
two — learning early lessons of salesmanship the hard way.
As America's — and Tulsa's — radio landscape becomes more
vanilla, monochromatic and pre-recorded, "Home Groan" has
survived as a refreshing oasis, largely due to madcap
moments like this one. More importantly, though, is the
influence the show has maintained — the impact radio airplay
(even in the worst possible timeslot, late on a Sunday
night) has on the evolutionary spark of a local and
regional artistic scene. Why else would two or three dozen
kids from Coffeyville drive an hour in the dark of night to
harass an innocent DJ?
Souders, of course, is more than a DJ. He's been
formulating fiendish local concerts as Diabolical
Productions for more than a decade, having worked
hand-in-hand for several years at the Cain's Ballroom when
Larry Shaeffer was there, and having owned and operated his
own nightclub, Ikon, in three Tulsa locations.
He's also a musician, once a member of a local band
called Lynx and currently singing for a revolving forum of
local players called D.D.S. He even makes his own kilts,
but perhaps that's another story (best told by the
His radio career began in the eighth grade in the late
'70s, when he was the voice of Tulsa Public Schools lunch
menus on KAKC. For this duty — reading the advance warnings
of tomorrow's institutional slop — he created an on-air
personality called Dr. Psycho Fanatic. Everything you need
to know about Souders (other than his obsessions with Elvis
Presley and his idol, Alan Freed) likely is summed up in
this fact: to this day, the Dr. Psycho Fanatic gig is still
on his resume.
From 1990 to 1994, Souders hosted the "Teknopolis"
electronic music show, which bounced between three
different local stations. In '96, he picked up the "Home
Groan" gig, replacing its original host, Admiral Twin
drummer-singer Jarrod Gollihare.
He has certainly made the show his own. In particular,
he has been instrumental in applying the show's brand to
occasional "Home Groan" "low-dough" concerts featuring local
bands as well as two "Home Groan" CD compilations. The former
have been especially illustrative of the show's success.
"We had a show at Cain's a couple of years ago where we
had about 500 kids," Souders said. "Of course, I emcee a la
Alan Freed, and you know I end all the radio shows with my
little catchphrase: 'I'm not evil, I'm just Diabolical.' So
I get up on stage at this show and say, 'I'm not evil, I'm
just . . .' and the bulk of the crowd shouts, 'Diabolical!'
I was blown away."
Souders hopes to one day produce another CD compilation,
probably of live performances from those low-dough shows,
but the plans to reopen Ikon are in the deep freeze.
Meanwhile, Diabolical continues bringing interesting shows
to Tulsa. But Souders is clearly in his element behind the
microphone, scratching his head underneath the trademark
bandana and directing a new band into the public arena.
The Hanson wave rolls back into town (quick, take your seats!)
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Perhaps you have experienced this particular strain of
Hansonmania: you're on vacation or speaking to an
out-of-state friend or relative and they immediately ask to
exploit your insider Hanson connections.
"If I send you a letter, would you give it to them?"
"Can you get me tickets to the show?"
"Where can I find their first two independent records?"
The assumption is always the same — Tulsa is so small a
town that we all know the Hanson family intimately. In
fact, we wave to them on Main Street every afternoon. We're
all pals, all in the loop. That's what most young fans
around the country seem to think, and they have spent the
past year and a half of Hanson's pop music reign calling,
writing and e-mailing Tulsa businesses and government in a
tireless effort to milk every drop of information out of
the MMMBoppers' hometown.
For some businesses, the influx
of attention has been mildly amusing; for others, it's been
a real headache. "It's been crazy. I got a call just
today from a little girl in Missouri wanting me to give her
the Hansons' phone number," said Kirby Pearce, owner of the
hip Brookside clothier Zat's. "We get letters and poems.
We've been inundated with it — from all over the world.
"It got on my nerves right before the concert. People
were coming in with movie cameras and talking to my staff
and photographing each other. It didn't cause problems — it
was just kind of aggravating. One family came in from
Brazil and hung out for several hours. They seem to think
we all have this direct link to them."
Why would Hanson fans be targeting a clothing store? A
homemade fan magazine several months ago printed an
interview allegedly with the Hanson trio in which the boys
listed some of their favorite spots in Tulsa. The 'zine
proliferated around the globe, and Zat's was mentioned as
the city's coolest outfitter.
"They've obviously been here, though I've been in
business here for nine years and probably wouldn't have
recognized them if they came in," Pearce said.
The fan magazine also listed Mohawk Music as a cool
Tulsa record store, but Mohawk owner Paul Meek was fielding
frenzied calls long before that 'zine hit the streets.
"We started getting letters and e-mail right away from
people looking for the first two indie albums," Meek said,
speaking of Hanson's two pre-fame, locally produced
records, "MMMBop" and "Boomerang." "Everyone figures that Tulsa
would be the most likely place to find them. Some say
they'll pay any amount of money. I have to tell them I've
never seen the product and didn't even know it existed
until they became famous."
The notice has, at least, increased the foot traffic in
Meek's shop. He, too, has seen whole families come through
the door inquiring about Hanson merchandise.
"People stopped by all summer while here or passing
through on vacation. They're just amazed that a Tulsa
record store isn't overflowing with Hanson stuff," Meek
The Blue Rose Bar and Grill in Brookside has become
something of a tourist attraction since the Hansons played
an impromptu but contract-clinching show there some years
ago. Even details like that don't escape the short but
intense attention spans of fans. "Apparently our name is
all over the Internet. These kids are very resourceful,"
said Blue Rose owner Tom Dittus.
He, too, sifts through calls and letters from eager fans
— most of whom first assure him that they're not obsessed --
seeking phone numbers, addresses or just correspondence
about their latest obsession ... er, group.
"There were families on vacation this summer that made
Tulsa a stop on their route so they could come by the Blue
Rose and take pictures and see where the guys once were,"
Dittus said. "We can't allow anyone under 21 in the
restaurant, but we'll let them peek in the door from time
to time. They walk out of here with T-shirts, cups, menus,
caps — I've even given out several autographs myself, which
is pretty hilarious."
Radio stations, too, have been strangled by the
fiber-optic strength of Hansonmania.
"We've been swamped. Everyone wants to know where they
can get tickets," said Mike Davis, promotions director at
KHTT, 106.9-FM "K-Hits." "I had a 90-year-old great
grandmother call me begging for tickets, and I had to tell
her to hit the streets looking for scalpers." Davis said
that this summer, before the first Hanson concert in Tulsa,
two radio stations in New Zealand called for information.
They were organizing a contest to send listeners to Tulsa
for "the Hanson hometown experience."
That kind of strangeness at least makes local chamber of
commerce officials happy. There's no denying the increased
exposure and tourist dollars Tulsa has received since
Hanson began spreading our name around. Officials at the
Tulsa Chamber of Commerce said they've already noticed an
economic impact around the concert dates.
"We're looking forward to having them back again. They're
bringing in people from all over the country, and those
people stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop
in our stores," said Chamber communications director Chris
The Chamber's switchboard has been swamped with calls,
too — more than the usual queries about what to do and where
to go in T-town. "We've gotten lots and lots and lots of
calls about Hanson. All last week we gave out the
800-number for tickets," Metcalf said. "It was anywhere from
300 to 500 calls last week. We don't ask where the calls
are coming from, but we've heard all kinds of different
accents, and some of the connections are obviously overseas
calls." Lewis Vanlandingham, director of the Mayor's
Action Line, gets the same calls. And letters. And ...
"They even send me pictures of themselves. They want to
know where (Hanson) will be tonight. At home, I guess,"
Vanlandingham chuckled. "We're not used to getting calls
like this at all. When Garth Brooks was here, we didn't
have any of this."
Yours truly still screens a daily barrage of phone
calls, letters and e-mail from Hanson fans who don't read
the paper, have never seen this paper or are convinced I
know more about the Fab Foals than I print in these pages.
So don't be surprised if some preteen girls call your
insurance office or giggle their way through your cafe this
week. The boys are back in town — and so are the groupies.
For official Hanson info, call the Tulsa-based Hanson
hotline, 446-3979 (a recording, usually of Isaac updating
the tour schedule and thanking fans profusely), visit the
group's web site (http://www.hansonline.com/) or write to
the fan club at HITZ List, P.O. Box 703136, Tulsa, OK
Hansonmania in full force
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
That's right — Hansonmania is in full force again.
The world-famous trio returns to its hometown this week
for a second concert.
A second sold-out concert.
The Hanson show kicks off at 7 p.m. Thursday at the
Mabee Center, 8100 S. Lewis Ave.
The nearly 8,000 tickets for the show sold out the day
they went on sale, Sept. 12, in an hour and a half.
The group's oddly named continental trek, the Albertane
Tour, originally was scheduled only through mid-August. The
high demand for shows, though, has led to several
extensions, including this final swing through the South
which will include the Tulsa reprise. Tulsa is the
second city Hanson has repeated on this tour. The return
trip also allows them to play Dallas (Reunion Arena, Sept.
Officials at Hanson's record company, Mercury Records,
said the tour keeps getting extended because "they're having
a blast and they want to play more shows."
Another Tulsa group, the smart pop band Admiral Twin,
has opened shows for Hanson throughout the tour and is
scheduled to play the second Tulsa date, as well.
Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Brad Becker left the
tour for two shows — he's still got a job here and an
expecting wife — but he'll be back with the band this week
for the Tulsa show.
Hanson returns for second sold-out, hometown show
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
The hit musical group Hanson — three Tulsa-born brothers --
returns to Tulsa on Thursday for a repeat concert,
following up on the high demand for tickets after its
initial July 8 performance.
The sold-out show kicks off at 7 p.m. at the Mabee
Center with another Tulsa-based pop band, Admiral Twin,
opening the concert. Hanson's Albertane Tour — named
after a mythical location in one of the trio's songs --
kicked off early this summer and was scheduled to end in
mid-August. The enormous demand for more shows, however,
prompted the group to extend the tour several times,
picking up cities they missed on the first legs of the
They returned for a second show in Detroit, then opted
to swing back south to make a second stop in their
"They've been wanting to come back," said Glenn Smith, the
show's promoter, "and here we come again."
There is less official hoopla this time around, though.
No meet-and-greets have been scheduled, and the boys will
not face another media conference before this show.
Also, at press time plans to film the concert for a
cable television special remained tabled as a result of
scheduling difficulties. The nearly 8,000 tickets
available for the show sold out in less than an hour and a
Ticket buyers who have not yet received their tickets
can go to the Mabee Center box office Thursday, at least an
hour before show time. The ticket company handling the show
will be there, Smith said.
Also, although at press time the show was still
sold-out, "production release" tickets sometimes come
available at the last minute. Less than an hour before the
July 8 concert, about 100 such last-minute tickets became
available for sale.
But don't hold your breath.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Some Hanson fans love the Tulsa trio sooooooooooo much
that they channel their obsession into their own, um,
artistic expression. Instead of merely daydreaming their
fantasies of hanging out with Taylor, going camping with
Zac or finding a soulmate in Ike, legions of fans are
writing those fantasies into Hanson fan fiction and posting
it on the Internet for all to see.
The web is now thoroughly packed with clearinghouses of
this novice prose. The stories are written mostly by girls
and — yeesh — a few older women, and they cover just what
you'd expect them to: idolizing a Hanson, meeting a Hanson
and eventually smooching a Hanson.
If you ever need justification that young girls harbor
ambitions of becoming the next generation's Harlequin
romance novelists, tune in. A good place to start reading,
if you dare, is through the stories link at the Ultimate
Hanson Links Page.
Hanson fan fiction has it all — sex, violence, drugs and
the dropping of more brand names than a professional
product placement representative could contract in his or
her entire career. It offers a glimpse into the lives of a
segment of American youth that most miss — or ignore — and it
ain't always a pretty picture.
They've never been to Tulsa
You wouldn't believe the number of stories that describe
the Hanson home with a horizon of snow-capped mountains in
the distance. In the notorious "Tulsa 74132," written by
anonymous authors, Juliet and Isaac spend a day in the
fictional Metro Parks, described thusly:
It had huge ponds, trails, swamps and educational
buildings, plus a ton of wildlife took sanction in the
park, making for an always exciting animal spotting
adventure. And now they sat on a bench in Buttermilk Falls,
just enjoying the view. Buttermilk Falls was one of the
most spectacular sights, for it was a trail that led from
one stream of waterfalls to the next. Each bed of water was
crystal clear, showing the hard work the city put into
keeping it a nice area. They have underdeveloped
In one story ("Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow,") Taylor
treats his latest female admirer to dinner at a Tulsa
eatery called Ray's Restaurant:
He picked up a menu, scanned it quickly and reclosed
"I'll take the dill salmon and a large root beer."
They are ready for the realities of marriage
"Tulsa 74132" includes a scene in which Isaac's new lover,
Juliet, pushes him away and retreats into pouting. Isaac
tenderly inquires as to the source of her distress and is
met with this harrangue: "We never go anywhere. All we do is
sneak somewhere and make out. Why don't you take me
They are incredibly defensive about their work
Rare is the piece of Hanson fiction that does not begin
with a disclaimer warning all naysayers to step back,
something like Rachel Munro's statement at the beginning of
her 20-chapter story "Forever Friends": "There is only one
rule I put on my story and that is that only true Hanson
fans are allowed to read it." So there.
The safe-sex messages are getting through
Every story in which fan-Hanson copulation actually
occurs makes explicit mention of using condoms — and not
just rote regurgitation of safe-sex lectures from school.
For instance, in "Near You Always" by Ashley Elizabeth
Farley, Isaac and a young girl named Emma seal their
undying passion after making sure that all the safe-sex
requirements are met — with Isaac singing all the way
through it (yegods).
In "Tulsa 74132," a young temptress named Juliet sidesteps
the typical safe-sex reluctance and insists on being
You go, girl!
Shakespeare is still required study in American
"Tulsa 74132" features a protagonist named Juliet in its
tale of star-crossed love. Some other story titles: the
aforementioned "Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow," "Where for Art
Thou, Taylor?" and — really — "Methinks They're Sooooooo
Some of them are foul-mouthed little brats
Some Hanson fiction authors use the medium simply to
mouth off. Case in point: "Barbie and Her Three Kens" by
Kitkat, a Dadaist stream of nonsense that turns the Hanson
brothers into offensive little thugs. In Part Two, they
insult every aspect of another girl's appearance — to her
"Toss It Up, Tulsa," by an unidentified author, is loaded
with profanity, vulgar situations and a version of Zac cast
as a salivating sex fiend. Turn on those parental controls
and wash out these modems with soap.
There are plenty of lines that are fun to quote out of
context. Par example: "Suddenly Isaac realized what he
was doing: sitting in a darkened movie theater, looking at
and feeling women's lingerie" (from "Tulsa 74132").
Lucky fans of Hanson are 'armed'
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
At least one mother could sing about it.
As she ushered her young daughter into the Drug Mart at
32nd Street and Yale Avenue to get one of the cherished
Hanson concert-ticket wristbands, she sang, “MMMBop / Is
it worth it? / MMMBop / I really hope so / MMMBop / Oh,
brother . . .''
Hanson fans of every age were lined up outside — and
around — eight Carson Attractions ticket outlets Thursday
morning for a crack at the wristbands, which became
available at noon. Some had arrived as early as 3 a.m.
determined to get tagged with the bright pink and orange
wristbands that guarantee a spot in line when tickets for
the Hanson concert go on sale at 9 a.m. Saturday.
A concert by the Tulsa-native hit trio Hanson is
scheduled for July 8 at the Mabee Center. The Tulsa concert
is the only show scheduled in the Midwest.
Hanna Willsey, 10, was the first in line at the Maxwell
Convention Center, decked out in her Hanson T-shirt and a
necklace with beads that spelled out Hanson. She and a
friend, Valerie Grannemann, 13, arrived outside the
Convention Center at 5 a.m.
“I'm glad school is out, but I would've missed school,
anyway,'' Valerie said, jumping up and down.
Jack Tubb at least had some leafy shade to stand in
about halfway down the line at the Convention Center. He
plans to buy some tickets for his granddaughter. She'll be
visiting from Kentucky when Hanson appears here, and — shhh --
it's a surprise.
As noon approached, the Convention Center crowd began
clapping and chanting, “12 o'clock! 12 o'clock!'' By then,
the line stretched a good 100 yards out the building's
The wristbands are the first step in the ticket-buying
process for the big show. A wristband does not guarantee a
ticket, only a place in line Saturday morning.
Ticket outlets were turning away hundreds of fans as
their stock of wristbands quickly dwindled and ran out.
Some frustrated fans hurried to other locations, but nearly
every outlet had given away all the wristbands by 2:15
“I don't know what we're going to do,'' said Verna
Smith, the mother of two pouting young girls. They were
turned away from the Mabee Center, where an estimated 1,000
fans stood in a line that wrapped almost all the way around
the building — all vying for the 350 wristbands available at
that site. “I'm not sure my girls will forgive me if they
miss this show,'' she said.
Some crowds got a bit unruly. James McCarthy, manager of
the Drug Mart at 31st Street and 129th East Avenue, said he
had to call the police to help deal with a mob that started
pushing and shoving.
“We had about 400 people out there and only about 175
wristbands to give out. I thought we were going to have a
problem, but everybody was pretty nice when it was all said
and done,'' he said.
Glenn Smith of Glenn Smith Presents, the show's
promoter, said his company has tried-and-true formulas to
determine how many wristbands to make available.
“There are enough for one show, and 85 to 90 percent of
the people who got wristbands should get tickets,'' Smith
said. “It's not like paper money that we print until it's
worthless. We've figured out how many should be at each
location given the number of terminals there, the fact that
each wristband holder can buy up to four tickets and our
guess that about 15 percent of the tickets will be sold by
Smith handled last summer's five concerts by Garth
Brooks and used the same procedure then.
Hanson fans quickly purchase 8,000 tickets for Tulsa's July concert
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Armed police officers patrolled the line. Men with
hand-held radios and clipboards checked off the numbers of
the desperate refugees. When the signal came, everyone
screamed. A child was torn from her mother.
Sound like a war zone? It was just the Mabee Center on
Saturday morning as tickets went on sale for the July 8
Like any military skirmish, too, there were winners and
losers and lots of cries to pity the children. But for
those frustrated by the ticketing procedure and their
inability to get tickets, it all boils down to a simple,
military answer: There were only about 8,000 tickets and
only time for one show.
“We could have sold three shows here easily,'' Glenn
Smith said Saturday morning after all 8,000 tickets had
been sold. “It looks like about 85 percent of everyone
with a wristband got tickets.''
Smith, the show's promoter, said, “We still turned
thousands away. . . . You just don't know when you're
planning a show like this in advance — scheduling the venues
and the transportation and such — what kind of demand there
will be. Who could have imagined eight months ago that
there would be this kind of demand?''
Smith relayed a message from the Hanson boys themselves:
“We will be back as soon as we possibly can.''
A second show can't be added because of the tour
scheduling, Smith said. Also, the Mabee Center is booked
the following night.
Tickets went on sale at 9 a.m. Saturday at eight Carson
Attractions outlets and via a toll-free telephone number.
They were all gone by 9:58 a.m.
Despite having their place in line already guaranteed by
their numbered wristbands, fans began gathering at the
Mabee Center box office as early as 4 a.m. By 6 a.m., they
lined up in the order of the numbers on their wristbands
and eagerly awaited the random drawing that would determine
the first place in line.
At 8 a.m. sharp, the number was called: 227.
Summer Smith, 14, and her friends halfway down the line
began squealing hysterically. The line ahead of her — now
full of fallen faces, young and old — was moved to the rear,
and Summer stepped up to the door.
Ironically, Summer's mother, Teresa, had wristband No.
225. She had to head to the very back of the line, while
her daughter stepped front and center. Mom took the twist
with good spirits.
“I was the one who brought all these girls here, who
waited in line with them, who spent the night out here,''
Front and center is exactly where Summer will be on July
8, too. Her first spot in line scored her and her friends
front-row seats. They're probably still screaming.
Others at the back of the line had a few choice words
about their predicament. The ticketing procedure required
fans first to obtain numbered wristbands. A drawing was
held Saturday morning at each ticket outlet to determine
the first place in line.
“Dedication doesn't pay,'' said Sue Smith, an
end-of-the-line mother buying for her daughter in
California. “If you sit out here from 3 a.m. because you
care about these guys, you should get a ticket. This didn't
alleviate people from camping out. They were still spending
the night to get wristbands. What difference did it make?''
“Concerts have always been sold first come-first
serve,'' one mother, LeAnn Rose, who was next in line,
said. “It's not fair to these kids. They're the ones who
will be the most crushed by it.''
Smith said he devised this procedure early on for other
high- demand shows like Garth Brooks. He said he would
rather bring it all down to luck of the draw than risk
having kids injured in a mad rush or lose out to scalpers.
“It's the fairest way,'' he said. “If we had done it
first come-first serve, we'd have scalpers — not fans --
camping out for weeks ahead of time. Mothers wouldn't let
their kids do that, but scalpers don't have lives — they can
afford to beat you in that game. This gives everyone an
equal chance to be first. Unfortunately, not everyone can
be first, but I don't know a better way.''
One Carson Attractions employee predicted early on that
Saturday would be a short work day.
“This will sell out really quickly,'' the employee said
Thursday. “It's still not as big a crowd as we get for
(professional) wrestling tickets, though.''
Hanson ticket trauma
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Two girls. One ticket.
Oh, the dilemma.
Victoria Rodriguez, 15, stood in line for four hours
back in May for wristbands to purchase tickets, but she --
and thousands of other fans — came up short. Rodriguez,
however, managed to find one ticket through a friend a few
weeks after the quick sellout.
Good news for her, surely, but a friend of hers, Lili
Lambert, 14, traveled here from Germany just to see her --
and the Hansons.
"The girls are at the Hansons' house today in southwest
Tulsa, hoping to see them and find another ticket," said
Rodriguez's mother, Nila Estradda. "We found one from a
scalper for $175, but that's just too much."
For the time being, Estradda said, Victoria gets the
ticket for Wednesday's show.
Rodriguez met Lambert last year through the Internet.
They chatted online nearly every day, Estradda said, until
Lambert and her parents came to visit in mid-June. The trip
was to unite the new friends and let them explore the
hometown of Hanson in hopes of finding . . . something.
"They are fanatics, both," Estradda said.
Hanson — the Tulsa trio of Isaac, Taylor and Zac that
scored a No. 1 hit last year with "MMMBop" from the group's
debut album, "Middle of Nowhere" — is scheduled to play a
concert at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Mabee Center, 8100 S.
Lewis Ave. The show sold out in less than an hour when
tickets went on sale May 30.
While Hanson may be hot, so are their fans.
One of them was on Monday, anyway. That morning, disc
jockeys at radio station KRAV, 96.5 FM, asked listeners,
"What's the craziest thing you would do for passes to meet
Hanson?" Lonnie Dugan called in with his bright idea — to
ride around town on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle wearing
a clown suit — and the station took him up on it.
Dugan is a fan of Harleys, not Hanson, but his daughter --
like most young girls in the hit trio's hometown — is more
interested in "Three Car Garage," Hanson's latest album.
Dugan's idea won his daughter and her cousin two
hard-to-find tickets to the show plus backstage passes.
"They're definitely happy campers," Dugan said.
He found out, though, just how hot a ticket this concert
is. Dugan donned the clown suit and set off among rush-hour
traffic — shortly after the air temperature reached its high
mark of 99 degrees Monday.
"I ride an old Harley, and it runs pretty hot. The heat
outside didn't make it any better," he said.
At least 8,000 fans — plus hundreds of others just hoping
for a glimpse of the blond boys — are expected to descend on
the Mabee Center for the show.
Another Tulsa band, Admiral Twin, has been on the tour
with Hanson for nearly a month. This power pop band — which
includes drummer Jarrod Gollihare, author of Hanson: The
Official Biography — will open the Tulsa show.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
This story should never be written again.
You're probably sick of hearing about it. Riot Grrls. Angry young women. Lilith Fair. Girl power!
It's been written a thousand times, particularly during the recent glut of female artists finally cracking the popular charts in droves. Rolling Stone nearly spent its entire 30th anniversary edition looking at women in music. Seven books have been published in the last three years about women in music, most of it rock. Friday even sees the release of “Spiceworld,'' the Spice Girls' much-ballyhooed feature film — noteworthy if only for the fact that you're probably hard-pressed to name another widely released feature film about an all-female music group.
Women, women everywhere. This is news?
But the reason this story, by all rights, should be the last one of its kind is that the issue of women in music has finally become a moot point. It's not a story anymore. The presence of women on the radio is no longer the novelty it once was to the male-dominated music and media industries.
Granted, here I am — Mr. Conner — practically pronouncing women free of their former bondage. Well, I wouldn't presume that, but I will say this much: in music, gender cannot be called a genre.
Oh, I tried. I assembled 10 female musicians last weekend in a conference room here at the Tulsa World and intended to probe the woes of sexism and restraint. But these artists complained less about what their chromosomes held back from them and more about the danger of the media's distractions and the struggle to make it in Tulsa playing original music.
So the story here is that there is no story — that women are now being heard more as individual voices than as unwilling spokespeople for the feminist movement, and that while sexism still rears its bony head, all the talk about women in music has simmered down to little more than a marketing ploy. And we know how long those hold up.
The following musicians were gathered for this discussion: jazz vocalist Pam Van Dyke, rock and standards singer Lori Duke, pop singer Jennifer Gee (from the Pedestrians), rock songwriter Sarah Wagner, rock-country singer Tex Montana (head of Tex Montana's Fireball Four), pop-rock singer Shawna (formerly from Daisy Strange), rock singer Angie DeVore (from Outside In), jazz singer Jennifer Miller, pop-dance diva Melodie Lee (from Degage) and solo rocker Holly Vassaur.
Here's the nut of the conversation we had, and the poignant insights it generated:
The Fixation on `Women in Music'
Wagner: It's the big trend now because you see more women in music, and not only that — they're making big hits.
Duke: You don't have to have the curves to get people's attention anymore.
DeVore: Yeah, that beauty-pageant mentality that dominated the industry for so many years is gone. Women are being successful, so the media writes the story of that ... More women are breaking now. They've always been out there, but more now are having really big success.
Shawna: A lot of the people who think in those ways about women being second best to men — well, this is blunt — they're dying off. A younger generation is stepping up and saying that women are as talented as men, if not more talented. As a result, women are focused on as a gimmick.
Wagner: It cuts both ways, too, because sometimes the focus on women in music hurts the guys. Back in the days of (my original band) Food Chain, we always had a guy in the group. We'd roll into some town, though, and there'd be a poster saying, `All-girl band!' I kind of felt sorry for the guys there.
Different Approaches Within the Media
Shawna: Radio listens for the talent and whether or not someone has the chops to attract an audience. The press looks for the story to tell, something worthwhile to share about the artist. TV only worries about who looks good, and since TV is such a dominant medium, that's what's hurt us more than anything over the years. But I think people are starting to get beyond that now.
Why Women Are Making It
Miller: The cost of making a CD and doing things has come down within the grasp of most beginning artists, many of whom are women. It's affordable now to get into the business. That changes the whole face of doing things.
DeVore: For $30,000, you can build a studio that's equal to the $3 million ones of yesterday.
Wagner: And what about the audience? Look at the people working in offices now. You have more women in the workplace, more women with purchasing power and business presence. What market do they want to hear? Some guy wailing on a guitar or stomping on a nail? No — there are more women in the audience wanting to hear what appeals to women.
Two Steps Forward, One Back
Miller: Still, even though my name is on the bill, when someone in the business approaches us at a show to talk to us, they'll almost always first go to the guitar player or the drummer, thinking someone else must be in charge besides the woman.
Montana: Here's how far things have come. Two months ago we played a happening spot here in Tulsa, and a happening band played after us. Afterward, I went up to the guitar player — who had fully seen me playing guitar earlier — and said, `That's a really cool guitar,' and he said, `It's a ... Les ... Paul,' like I wouldn't have any idea what a Les Paul guitar was.
Duke: We were watching a band a while back out of Nashville called the Wild Rose Band — all women. A guy I was with said there was no way they could be playing all the instruments, that surely they had session players — men — come in to play the parts and the women just sang.
Vassaur: I worked at a music store here, and the reason I quit was because a sales job came open and they hired a guy who had zero experience and barely knew about music.
Wagner: Someone told me once that a woman's place is in the audience. That was actually a lot of what inspired me to pick up a guitar and prove him wrong.
The Curse of the Angry Young Woman
Vassaur: Women are always going to be angry at men. There's always going to be that element of bitterness.
Miller: Heck, Motown's been trashing men for decades ... It didn't seem like that with most of the early jazz singers who were women, but they weren't usually writing their material. Jazz, too, emphasizes the music more than the words and the message.
Van Dyke: Someone like Billie Holiday, though, wrote some of her own songs, and they were pretty dark.
DeVore: Alanis (Morissette) did a lot to open doors for women, but there were a lot of pioneers before her.
Working With Female or Male Musicians
Wagner: You work with whoever can play the part. Men, women — it doesn't matter.
Montana: Yeah, but then who carries your gear around?
Montana: I am a woman. That's all I know. The life experiences I'm writing about are a woman's experiences ... It's a lot easier for a woman to go out and sing a pretty song about something that's pretty inane — that's easier than going out and displaying your anger and jumping around and trying to be a guy among the guys. That's pretty difficult, I think.
Duke: Gus Hardin came to me years ago, when I was about 21, and said, `You sing real good, but one day you're going to get rid of all this stuff, and you're going to have some emotions come to you, and then you'll have something to sing about.' Your perspective changes with experience, and you have to be ready to drop the facade and give yourself to the performance — guys or women.
Miller: You write about what you're going through at that time, at that moment. You write for yourself. I write for me — a woman ... But there are some basic emotions — love, fear, happiness — for which it doesn't matter who you are.
Wagner: Audiences and critics are so much more critical about women's performances. I'm sorry, but Johnny Rotten couldn't sing a note, so why are we getting all over Courtney Love? She yells just as good as he did.
Montana: There's a part of you that's always a ham if you do this. Part of you is going, `Look how high I can kick while playing guitar!'
Gee: It's easier for women to get started in music, and it's easier to move ahead. People don't give you weird looks as much when you tell them you're in a band.
Lee: I don't tell people I'm in a band. I don't want people to say I'm cool just because I'm in a band — and they do. People find out and turn to me, going, `Melodie, you're really cool!'
How Tulsa Measures Up
Miller: I'm from the East Coast originally, and I've noticed much more of the good-ol' boy mentality here. It's a totally different mindset here than in Europe or on both coasts. It's more critical of women.
Sarah: If you play standards, you can land a five-nights-a-week gig, but if you play original music in this town — let me tell you, honey — you won't get a thing.
DeVore: If we didn't have some covers worked up, we wouldn't get most of the gigs here.
Montana: You take a man and a woman, and when kids come into the picture it's real easy for the man to walk himself right over and keep playing in a band and keep doing what he wants. Women can't do that. Most of us don't let ourselves, anyway. In that respect, we don't have the same opportunities as men.
In a Nutshell
Van Dyke: Women are simply very interesting — across the board. For a long time, a woman's place was not in public, and the women who did make into fields like music and acting had to get over their reputation. Now the barriers are broken down, and people realize how great we all really are.
© Tulsa World
Concert: Sex Pistols Tribute Show featuring N.O.T.A., Riot Squad, the Skalars and Steve Jones
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Cain's Ballroom, 423 N. Main St.
Tickets: $5 at the door
It sort of crept up on us.
It caught Davit Souders by surprise, anyway. Souders — concert promoter for Diabolical Productions and Little Wing Productions — had been looking at his calendar for January and wondering why something in the back of his head was hinting that this month had special significance. Special significance to punks, that is — and these days, that's not as limiting a category as it once was.
It dawned on Souders as the calendar began to turn. It's 1998 — the legendary Sex Pistols played here 20 years ago this week.
Gotta throw a party.
“It occurred to me that out of the seven dates on that historical U.S. tour, perhaps we should celebrate the history of that event,'' Souders said this week, waxing rather eloquently.
So on the actual anniversary — this Sunday — Souders has thrown together a bill of rude boys and punks to celebrate the brief stopover of the world's most notorious rock band in one of the nation's more famous venues, Tulsa's own Cain's Ballroom.
Yes, the Sex Pistols came ashore in the winter of 1978 and careened through the heart of virgin America at the height of their brief career. Infamous manager Malcolm McLaren purposely scheduled the British punk band's first and only U.S. tour through the South so as to generate appropriately confrontational attention.
Cain's owner Larry Shaeffer fills in the details of how the band came to our humble hamlet.
“I had booked a jazz-fusion group in the mid-'70s called Go. A Warner Bros. rep named Noel Monk came with them and loved the Cain's. When Malcolm McLaren was putting together the Sex Pistols' tour, the theory was not to play the Chicagos and New Yorks but play the South, where the likelihood of adversarial situations would be greater. Noel was working with them and said, `I know the perfect venue, too,' and set them up for the Cain's,'' Shaeffer said.
The Cain's was already a famous musical venue, thanks to the smarts and endurance of a native Texan named Bob Wills half a century before, but this event put the ballroom on the map for a new generation. (Each interview I do with serious rock 'n' roll performers includes at least some banter about the Cain's, their eagerness to return to/see the place, and this question: “The Sex Pistols played there, right?'')
The Cain's also is one of two venues from that 1978 Pistols tour still in operation. The Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas — where the Pistols played (and fought) the night before their Tulsa show — has recently reopened.
At least for some, the concert proved to be a pivotal moment. Tulsa resident Mike Lykins (you may remember him as Michael Automatic from the Automatic Fathers) was right up front for the Tulsa show — he's in the photo that ran in Creem magazine — and left the ballroom that night a changed man.
“It was just raw,'' Lykins said. “Every little creepy band that came out around here in the next few years probably wouldn't have if the Pistols weren't here. Until then, it was all coming from Aerosmith and Kansas and Yes, getting more and more sophisticated. These guys said, `No, let's just crank up those creepy guitars and have at it' ... I mean, that wave would have come here eventually, but to have them give it to me personally was something else.''
The Cain's survived with no lasting scars (though I'm told one of the holes in the backstage walls is the result of Sid Vicious's fist) but plenty of lasting memories.
“That was the first dangerous show Cain's ever did, but it wasn't really bad,'' Shaeffer said. “People came expecting all these dangerous things to happen — there were vice cops thick in the crowd, the fire department was here, protesters outside — but I don't even recall them using any profanity on stage. They didn't do anything but play loud rock 'n' roll music.''
Which is exactly what four other acts will do this Sunday to remember the event. All the bands will be playing at least some Sex Pistols songs.
Tulsa's own punk legends N.O.T.A. will be heading the bill. Leader Jeff Klein said he missed the Pistols' Tulsa performance.
“I was sitting around with a girlfriend who didn't want to go, whining about wanting to go,'' he said.
Surely the most intriguing performance this weekend will come from Steve Jones — not the Sex Pistols' guitarist but the bass player in Tulsa's own out-of-control rockers, Billy Joe Winghead. Jones will be performing an acoustic set of Pistols songs. Don't be tardy — that's too weird to pass up.
Some memorabilia will be on display from the Tulsa show — tickets, photos, Sid's autograph, possibly the contract for the show — all wrapped up in a Union jack that once flew over the British embassy.
God save us.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.