All posts by Stephen Macaulay

“A Little Bit Rock and Roll”

Last week I had an encounter with someone whom I never imagined that I would meet—not that I ever even thought about meeting with him. Ever.

I was flying from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas. While in the scrum-turning-into line to board, I paid no attention to the person in front of me until I heard the woman who was scanning the tickets say to him, “I saw your show last week.  I really liked it!”

His back was to me. He was about 5’10”.  Medium build.  Wavy reddish-brown hair.  I glanced at his bag and saw a monogram: “DCO.”

And given where I was and where I was going, it struck me that I was next to Donny Osmond.

As a colleague had been upgraded to first class, and as I was boarding, as was Osmond, in coach, I said to Osmond that I was surprised that he wasn’t flying in the front of the plane. Which led to a bit of good-natured banter between the two of us about flying.

Osmond, of course, is an entertainer. He has been for the greater part of his 59 years, having appeared at age 5 on the “Andy Williams” show.

Continue reading “A Little Bit Rock and Roll”

Queen Elizabeth Catches a Cold

Let’s face it: given that dragons have, so far as we know, all been slain, there isn’t a whole lot left for knights to do. And given that there aren’t a whole lot of functional tasks left for royalty, there are basically symbolic actions for them to perform, such as participating in parades and making unusual hand gestures that are interpreted as waving.

So knights: not a whole lot of call for defense of the realm.

Queens: not much more to do than being royalty.

One thing that has been occurring in Great Britain for nearly 100 years is that the person wearing the crown celebrates the new year with honors—or honours—during which time people who are otherwise known as “commoners” get elevated in rank.

Some people become knights.

Nowadays, it seems, defending the realm of Great Britain is all about financial defense. Sir Paul McCartney is probably not going to be called upon to draw his sword. Chances are, it is more about how he’s helped out the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the past many years.

Let’s face it: when it comes to popular music, the Brits have clearly been doing a better job of coming up with new acts, and sustaining old ones, than any other country on earth, at least from the standpoint of their having achieved popularity and/or visibility. That is, based on statistics alone there are probably Chinese analogues of the Beatles and the Stones, though those of us in the west don’t know about them.

Continue reading Queen Elizabeth Catches a Cold

Drive: John Lennon’s hearse up for sale

With the exceptions of Jan and Dean (well, Dean, anyway, as Jan moved on in 2004), The Cars, Gary Numan, and Sammy Hagar, I find the seeming fascination with and apparent love of automobiles and rock musicians to be somewhat incongruous. Sure, the Futurist Manifesto hailed the automobile as the symbol of something that is more dynamic that those things preserved from the past and would leave them covered in its dust—“We declare that the world’s wonder has been enriched by a fresh beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car with its trunk adorned by great exhaust pipes like snakes with an explosive breath … a roaring car that seems to be driving under shrapnel, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace”—but (1) Marinetti wrote that in 1909, years before Bill Haley saw the light of day in Highland Park, Michigan (which, curiously enough, is where the second Ford Motor factory was located) and (2) there is evidently a deep longing for many rock musicians, both practicing and arthritic, to be entombed in a museum near Lake Erie.

We recently saw that Roger Daltrey is working with Rolls-Royce. And we cited a Rolls that had been owned by John Lennon.

Now we learn of another Lennon automobile, a 1956 Austin Princess Type A135 that will be going on the auction block at the 46th Annual Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction, to be held Jan. 14-22, 2017, which is essentially the auto auction of all auto auctions.

The vehicle was extensively used in the 1972 documentary Imagine.

It is a somewhat bizarre car in that unlike most ordinary Austin Princesses (note: Austin was a British car manufacturer; this is not a reference to some cotillion in the capital of Texas), this one was fitted out by coachbuilder Arthur Mulliner Ltd. of North Hampton (if you were to draw a line like this: \ from Birmingham to London, North Hampton falls in the middle). . .with the body of a hearse.

Mind you, this wasn’t some Lennonian prank or tweak; the vehicle was built as a hearse and operated as one by Ann Bonham & Son mortuary.

Continue reading Drive: John Lennon’s hearse up for sale

Yes, People Still Buy Discs. Millions of Them.

In March 1958 Elvis’ Golden Records album was released.

“Heartbreak Hotel.”

“Love Me Tender.”

“Don’t Be Cruel.”

“All Shook Up.”

Those and other tracks are on the disc.

And it, itself, became a Gold Record in 1961. (It eventually racked up status as 6X Platinum, which sounds like a score on a pinball machine.)

But let’s face it: this first volume of complied Gold Records has a horribly weak name.

When volume two was released in November 1959 it was unimaginatively titled Elvis’ Gold Records—Volume Two, but it gained a name that is arguably one of the best album titles of all time: 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.  (What’s amusing about volume two is that the cuts it contains are not the audio icons that many of those on volume one have become, so those 50,000,000 fans were not quite as right as the ones the year earlier.)

Elvis comes to mind because of Garth Brooks.

Continue reading Yes, People Still Buy Discs. Millions of Them.

Can’t Explain: Roger Daltrey Designs Rolls-Royce for Charity

Roger Daltrey was a member of The Who, a band that he fundamentally established in 1964 with John Entwistle, Keith Moon and Pete Townshend.

Some people might argue that Roger Daltrey is a member of The Who, given that at the recent Desert Trip concert (a.k.a., Oldchella), a band named “The Who” performed.

Without going all Abbott & Costello (or a Hortonesque Dr. Seuss) about it, how can there be The Who when 50% of the band no longer exists: who’s left? Keith Moon died in 1978. John Entwistle died in 2002. (Daltrey had a bad case of meningitis last year and it almost seemed as though he’d be the answer to who’s next; fortunately he recovered and seems to be back on his game).

If we look at the band that is masquerading as The Who, know that Keith Moon was replaced by Kenny Jones, who was with the three original members starting in 1978. He was replaced in 1988 by Zack Starkey.

As for the bass position, that was taken up in 2002 by Pino Palladino.

So when does a specific “band” stop being that band in more than a marketing sense?

Isn’t the elimination of 50% of the musicians—especially musicians of the caliber of Moon and Entwistle, and with all due respect, does anyone actually think that Jones, Starkey and Palladeno are as good as those two were?—good enough to argue that it is something other than it once was?

After all, if you heard that a band was “decimated,” you’d probably think, “Geeze, there must not be much left.”

But that would mean that only 10% was eliminated, a far cry from the 50% of The Who (and it could be reckoned that with the replacement of Jones by Starkey, it would be a change of on the order of 65%).

Would Paul McCartney and Richard Starkey—I mean Ringo Starr—constitute “The Beatles”? Even at his most mendacious, it seems that McCartney doesn’t think so, either.

But now in their 52nd year of playing together, Daltrey and Townshend soldier on.

To be sure, they’ve done things other than play in the cover band known as “The Who.”

Ever since he appeared in Ken Russell’s 1975 film Tommy, Daltrey has been an actor, a performer on stage and screen (Who music isn’t just used as theme music for the various C.S.I.s; Daltrey has performed on the show as many characters, including playing, for reasons I can’t begin to understand, a middle-aged African-American woman).

Perhaps even more remarkable than that bit of acting is the fact that in 2008, late-middle aged American president George W. Bush awarded Daltrey and Townshend with the Kennedy Center Honors.

My interest in Daltrey was piqued by the recent announcement that he is collaborating with Rolls-Royce on the car manufacturer’s “Inspired by British Music” vehicles. It won’t be a “Roger Daltrey” edition, but “The Who” edition.

Continue reading Can’t Explain: Roger Daltrey Designs Rolls-Royce for Charity

The Beatles: Dying Young

If we think back to our English 101 classes, classes that occurred so long ago, we’ll undoubtedly recall a poem by A.E. Housman, even though we have no idea who the hell A.E. Housman was, which is somewhat understandable, given that he died in 1936, and we’d be unlikely to have any reason to read him outside of an English 101 class.  (Sort of sad to think that he is considered one of the greatest scholars of all time, and here I am, dismissing him like some circus curiosity.)

Our familiarity would be with one of his poems, “To an Athlete Dying Young.”  The opening quatrain:

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

But then, as the title indicates, the athlete died.  And Housman writes:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

 

Which brings me to the Beatles.

Continue reading The Beatles: Dying Young

Rockin’ the Vodka on the (Lava) Rocks

Given the anti-gay laws and whole Edward Snowden contretemps, it seems as though Russian vodka isn’t as popular in drinking establishments in the West as it once was, which provides an opening for distillers from other countries. . .including Iceland.  Yes, the land of Björk.

Timing is good for Reyka vodka, which uses lava rocks for filtration, especially as it is running a contest for musicians, DJs and fans to perform at and attend the Iceland Airwaves music festival, which will be held October 30 to November 3.

Musicians and DJs have until August 19 to send in their work to Reyka, using Grooveshark (http://grooveshark.com/reykabands).  Music lovers have time for a cocktail or two, as they’re not to sign up for their chances to win until later this month: they can do it on Reyka’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ReykaVodka) from August 30 th through September 30 th.

There will be two bands and two fans sent to the festival among the glaciers and lava.

Says Reyka senior brand manager Lindsay Prociw, “We want our creative friends around the world to flock to Reyka’s land as a beacon of inspiration and imagination, and we’re happy to shepherd them one band, or fan, at a time.”

Presumably with a sufficient number of Reykas on the rocks, and shepherding is a requirement.

 

Songs, Law Suits & Sundaes

Neil Young - Everybody's Rockin'

While the idea that artists can make music that is not what people, fans, mainly, think or expect them to make and yet that music has as much validity as anything that they may have previously recorded or performed raised in this recent entry about Elvis Costello, it has come to my attention that this isn’t some philosophical rabbit hole, but potentially something that could have crippling consequences for the performer in question.

That is, back in the 1980s, when Neil Young was signed to David Geffen’s label, Geffen sued Young for $3-million, with the suit claiming that the music that Young was putting out—Trans and then Everybody’s Rockin’—were “unrepresentative” of, well, presumably Neil Young music.

The suit was dropped, but consider what the existence of the suit in the first place meant.

Neil Young was signed to a label presumably because there was something that was considered to be “Neil Young Music.”  Prior to that point in time, Young had put out a rather robust body of work, a collection that could be considered, to put it modestly, eclectic.

Does, say, Harvest (’72) have much similarity to Rust Never Sleeps (’79)?

Yet Geffen seems to have thought that there was Neil Young Music and there was something that was Not Neil Young Music.  He had paid for NYM.  He was getting what he perceived to be NNYM.  And so he wanted his money back.

If you went to an ice cream store and ordered a banana split and they gave you a hot fudge sundae, you’d probably want a redo, at the very least.  Arguably some of the components of the banana split are like those of the hot fudge sundae, but that’s not what you had in mind.

And Geffen didn’t have, apparently, Trans and Everybody’s Rockin’ in mind, either.

So who’s right?  Who decides?  The artist/performer or the person paying for the product?  (Yes, “product” is a loaded word, but most musicians are not involved in personal not-for-profit undertakings, because when they go to the ice cream store for that hot fudge sundae, the person behind the counter expects money, not a song.)

Steely Dan Alive In Detroit

Steely Dan 2013 merch
Fox Theater, July 27, 2013

“Hey Nineteen
That’s ‘Retha Franklin
She don’t remember
The Queen of Soul
It’s hard times befallen
The sole survivors
She thinks I’m crazy
But I’m just growing old”—Becker & Fagan, “Hey Nineteen,” Gaucho.

I suspect this may be the last time that I see Steely Dan in concert.  And the reason is simple: They are growing old.  And when you grow old—Fagan is 65 and Becker 63—things don’t work quite as well as they did as when you were young.

Fagan’s voice isn’t as strong as it once was.  Becker availed himself of a chair on stage not long into the performance.  Fagan’s voice actually got better, by and large, as the evening went on.  And Becker got up off his seat sooner, rather than later.

Those guys have been performing those songs for a long time.  And while practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, it does make better, which compensates for the loss in performance capabilities.  More or less.

Mind you, it isn’t that this may be the last time because they are growing old and I somehow think that I’m not and consequently I don’t want to see gray-haired or hair-challenged,  increasingly thick musicians.  After all, I enter into that category, as well.

But I just wonder whether those two are going to continue against nature and continue to undertake the unnatural touring life for much longer.

And I must admit that were it not for an absolutely astonishing back-up band, who did much of the heavy lifting (especially Jim Beard on keyboards and Jon Herrington on guitars), it would have been a less-than-stellar evening’s performance at Ticketmaster prices.

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This is something that truly puzzles me.  Why do we go see bands like Steely Dan?

The last time they put out an album was 10 years ago.  Everything Must Go.

The band has been putting out records since 1972.  In 1980, Gaucho was released.  Then, there was pretty much a Steely Dan hiatus until 2000, with Two Against Nature.  There were solo efforts and the Alive in America recording (1995), but 1980 was something of an end point, it seems, as regards Steely Dan.

There was nothing older than selections from Gaucho played at the concert.  There were all manner of the tried-and-true from the other discs.  “Show Biz Kids.”  “Deacon Blues.” “Peg.”  “Reelin’ in the Years.”  Etc.

So there we were, listening to 30-year-old musical selections, music that we’d all heard, literally hundreds of times.

Somehow this seems a little odd.

There were but minor variations from the way we were used to hearing the music.  Which means that it was little different than what those of us who were at the Fox two years earlier had heard.

If someone said, “So, are you going to see an oldies’ show?” we’d be miffed.

But isn’t that what it was?

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While the name of the band is, of course, Steely Dan, it could just as well have been Fagan & Becker.  After all, those two are the only points of commonality throughout the band’s career.

It reminds me, in a couple of ways, of Hall & Oates.

In the cases of both sets, they are more successful musically together than they are apart.  Sure, there are some good things on Nightfly as there are on Sacred Songs.  But still, together is better.

And when John Oates steps up to the mic for a lead vocal, a bit of cringe sets in.

A bigger cringe sets in when Walter Becker goes to the mic.

He sang “Monkey in Your Soul” from Pretzel Logic.  And something happened that I have never experienced at a concert.  Never.

When he was done, there was no rousing round of applause.  There was little applause at all.  It wasn’t because it was horrible.  It was just as if people weren’t really sure if they were done, if the song was over.

It must have been offsetting to Becker.  Had I been under similar circumstances, I would have probably wandered off the stage not to return.

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Two quotes from Fagan.

“We’re in Detroit, so we’re going to play the blues.”  And they launched into “Black Friday.” Presumably, this has something to do with the bankruptcy:  “When Black Friday comes/I’ll stand down by the door/And catch the grey men when they/Dive from the fourteenth floor.”

“Thank you.  We really appreciate it. . .we’re getting old.”  He was thanking the crowd for their strong ovation before kicking into “Kid Charlemagne”: “Could you live forever/
Could you see the day /Could you feel your whole world fall apart and fade away.”

Yes, I could.

Why You Should Respect Performers

Beyonce Fan

If there ever was an argument for the superiority of Dyson products, it was made earlier this week in Montreal at the Bell Centre when Beyoncé had her hair tangled in a fan. Had there been a Dyson Air Multiplier on stage rather than a thing with whirling blades, hair stylists everywhere wouldn’t have had a heart-in-the-throat moment. Still, credit must be given to the stalwart performer, who kept on keeping on, singing “Halo,” tonsorial issues notwithstanding.

There must be something about performers, hair, and a contract with Pepsi. Who can forget Michael Jackson in 1984, when his hair caught on fire during the third take of a Pepsi commercial? In Beyonce’s Pepsi spot, there are shattered mirrors, but no fireworks.

(Was Beyoncé’s hair mishap an accident. . .or something else of a more spectral variety, a thriller, as it were?)

While people might think that the life of a musician is all limos and lager, living life large, performing can be deadly. Like the case of Les Harvey, of Stone the Crows, who was electrocuted by a microphone in 1972. Or Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson who had a fatal gripper on stage in 1996, as did Miriam Makeba in 2008. And there are more who gave up their lives so we could be entertained.

Make no mistake: Performing can be hazardous to your health. Of course, if you’re a musician and not performing, it can be equally untoward (cf: Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison. . . .).