Thursday, January 24, 2013

Talking About Springsteen

Two authors whose latest works concerned Bruce Springsteen spoke at the local bookstore the other night.

Caryn Rose, who I knew first as fellow Mets fan and neighbor, read from RAISE YOUR HAND, a kind of rock n' roll travelogue about the experience of having followed Springsteen through five countries as he toured Europe last summer. She was joined by Marc Dolan, a professor at John Jay College and author of the new biography BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE PROMISE OF ROCK 'N' ROLL.

Rose's reading passage described a moment in Dublin when she and her companions realized they were in not for the typical Springsteen live fireworks but the kind of lengthy, thrilling spectacles upon which Bruce continues to build his legend. It's clear that Rose was energized by the opportunity to experience Springsteen perform before an audience that tended to be younger and livelier than what's become the typical American Springsteen crowd of "50-something white guys standing around waiting to hear 'Prove It'" as she described them. The implication is that Bruce returns the energy for the very same reasons.

Dolan's reading also concerned Springsteen's connection with his audience, only from a songwriting perspective, describing the artist's determination and precarious state of mind as the MAGIC album took shape. Dolan is particularly interested in Springsteen's evolution as an artist (perhaps, he's an anomaly among 50-something white male American Springsteen fans) and his point that Springsteen is to be admired for not bashing out the same formula for 40 years but continually struggling to connect was a good one, and not lost on me. I've been reconsidering the Springsteen of my youth for a few years now, and more recently I was unexpectedly stirred by WRECKING BALL's fury. His work is certainly worthy of exploration. I haven't read a Springsteen biography since Dave Marsh's valentine BORN TO RUN as a 14-year-old, but I guess it's time to begin again. I'm reminded also I haven't seen a Springsteen show in more than 20 years.

With two knowledgeable, enthusiastic and opinionated Springsteen fans on the same stage, the presentation in almost no time veered toward the arcane. Tom Morello's coming stint as Steve Van Zandt's replacement in the Australian leg of the tour turned into a nuanced discussion of the meaning of the various E Streeters. They talked about things they liked (David Sancious' contributions to "New York City Serenade") and what they didn't ("Waiting on a Sunny Day," Bruce's guarded self-image and propensity to be less-than-forthcoming in public remarks). I learned a few things (Springsteen wrestles with depression, had no idea); and humiliated myself by submitting near-blind guesses at an impossible 10-question trivia contest. I got four correct; the winner had 9 of 10. Nothing to it, Mister.

Monday, January 21, 2013

No Star is Too High

Even are a trio from Melbourne, Australia that I first came across while goofing off on the Internet. As with a lot of things in life, I've come to appreciate them a little late in the game.

To the extent Even had a heyday, it would have been in the late 1990s behind their first two albums, LESS IS MORE and COME AGAIN. They (rightly) gained attention for classic crafted melodies and harmonies (one musician, Tim Rogers of You Am I, called the latter "my favorite Beatles album,") and Rolling Stone named Even one of its "Hot Bands" of 1996. They specialize in 60s influenced guitar pop, often with a psychedelic or rootsy treatment. If not especially groundbreaking, they're well-written and performed songs that would appeal to fans of bands like the Smithereens.

Alas, the critical attention didn't get them very far and their sound had few contemporary practitioners, particularly after Oasis tanked. Today the band appears to be something of a side project for its members (singer/writer/guitarist Ash Naylor is a busy sideman) but still they plug away. I was sucked in the first time I heard "I am the Light" and liked 'em so much I sent away for this brilliantly designed tee-shirt (traveling by Australian Sea Mail, the package took 7 months to arrive to New York). Their most recent album is called IN ANOTHER TIME (officially out for a year now but only available to stream in the U.S. for a few weeks). It's a moody, psychedelic affair I've been wearing out, especially No Star.

Here are two more Even songs I think you'll probably like, "No Surprises" from COME AGAIN (1998) and the aforementioned "I am the Light" from Even's self-titled 2008's elpee.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

That Won't Happen to Us

By 1986, I'd already given up on Billy Joel. From my point of view it'd been pretty much downhill since The Stranger became a phenomenon, although I always had a soft spot for the live record Songs In The Attic, which highlighted his pre-Stranger material in lively arrangements. But by '86, Billy in my opinion had already gone soft, dating a famous supermodel, clawing to the contemporary on the strength of duets with 80s phenomena like Cyndi Lauper and, somehow, Ray Charles. Years later I'd similarly hate Billy Joel for trying to claim Shea Stadium as a part of his legacy despite my strong suspicions that he and most of his fans including the Long Island ones, are Yankee fans. They would approve of Cyndi Lapuer duets and 'Uptown Girl.' It didn't require any imagination.

But the DIMT is all about reconsideration. I'd been formulating a piece in praise of the TURNSTILES album but recently while filling the tank at a Wawa in Bel Air, Maryland, Joel's 1986 single 'A Matter of Trust' blasted across the gas bar. My reaction was not unlike the passerby in the below video. I'm pumping gas in January, trying to stay warm, and... godamnit, I'm dancing. Damn you Billy Joel.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Up All Night

Carol Miller spoke to me in bed. She worked the 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift at WPLJ in New York when that station was the only way I knew to grip onto what was new and cool in the world. 'PLJ ran a tight but lively "album-oriented rock" format that though lacking at the extremes provided a fairly well-rounded education in the basics from the British invasion to this New Wave thing before the format tightened still again and finally became a casualty of the "contemporary hits" format in June of 1983.

Writing in her new book UP ALL NIGHT, Miller reveals that she did not survive that format switch for long because the equity she'd built as a sultry-voiced, puberty-triggering, Zeppelin-blasting rocker all those nights couldn't translate to credible spins of Madonna and Lionel Richie. And so she washed up at PLJ's old rival WNEW (where she briefly was employed before her starmaking turn at PLJ) and rode those nighttime airwaves for another few decades. These days, she accompanies me on my night runs, still playing Led Zeppelin and Springsteen, still sexily baffled by reading the sports scores, on the banal but dependable WAXQ, New York's last rock n' roll station and the spiritual descendant of her former employers. Rock Lives, a little.

While the dust jacket promises salacious tales of torrid affairs with rock's elite, we learn Carol's not that kind of girl. The oldest daughter of a conservative Jewish family from Queens, she remained wide-eyed and naive despite the inevitable (but tame) encounters with the Paul Stanleys, Steven Tylers and Rod Stewarts of the world. Her marriage to MTV's Mark Goodman -- back then, a royal coupling -- was a disaster as she learns Goodman not only was cheating on her, but using her money to finance his affairs. What a dick! Carol in the meantime was dealing with the beginnings of what would become a lifelong battle with cancer that's required dozens of surgeries, and she battles still today. I had no idea.

While not particularly interesting from a musical standpoint, UP ALL NIGHT is best giving us a peek at the other side of the mic, and her story provides unexpected lessons in the value of perseverance, surviving not only the collapse of the radio and rock industries, but personal trauma too. I love her more than ever.