All posts by Stephen Macaulay

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.

///

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?

///

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.

///

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. . . .).

The Costello Variations

Elvis Costello at Hyde Park

So I am watching Elvis Costello & The Imposters’ performance at Hyde Park on AXS TV. It was pre-Royal Baby. No lullabies were included. An hour-or-so-long set of the hits being rat-a-tat-tatted out with the drive of Pete Thomas on the drums like a high-speed stamping press.. Accidentswillhappenican’tstandupforfallingdownhighfidelityalisonradioradio. Barely a pause. At one point, a roadie has to step back away from Elvis as he attempts to swap out a guitar. Elvis sweats. He sweats some more. The crowd stands around. Nieve fiddles around with the knobs on his keyboards. Elvis chews—what?—gum. Davey smiles like Karl Pilkington. The band plays on and on and on and on and on.

And something occurred to me.

When Elvis started the set, his vocals were cringe-worthy. He was off in pitch. Off in timing. Just off.

But what was he off of? It was off of the versions of those songs as I have come to know them from his recordings. To be sure, I have seen him live many times. But even there, the sound of the songs, by and large, had to be comparatively close approximations of what had originally appeared on the recordings. Sure, he would mix things up—adding something of a reggae approach to “Watching the Detectives”—but again, all of the audio cues had to line up in some way with what had been released on My Aim Is True.

Here’s the thing: Is it possible for Elvis (or any other artist who is performing his or her own work) to do an off version of one of their pieces? After all, what it is departing from is something that that person had done, as well, and had that person (or a producer or whomever) decided to have another recorded version, another approach that is different from the one that we have come to expect to hear, then wouldn’t the version that we now know be, in some nontrivial way, off from what we expect?

How do we know that there isn’t a deliberate effort to sound crappy? How do we know that the artist just doesn’t want to seem as though he or she has forgotten the words or that their ability to vocalize isn’t want it was some 35 years ago.

What if, say, Costello was to put out My Aim Is True: The Laryngitis Sessions? Wouldn’t a scratchy, barely-audible rendition of “Waiting for the End of the World” be as valid as the “straight” version that we’re familiar with?

We expect everything to default to a definitive version. Variants are acceptable, but only within certain parameters.

Rock and roll doesn’t necessarily work that way. But our expectations do.

The D Goes Down

The D Las Vegas

For about the past year or so, there have been billboards around Detroit promoting a casino in Las Vegas (there are three casinos in Detroit proper, and one clearly visible from the city’s underdeveloped water front in Windsor) that is said to have the Detroit attitude. It is called The D Las Vegas, presumably so as not to be confused with The D Detroit.

So let’s get this straight: Someone is going to want to go from Detroit to Las Vegas so that they can go to a casino that has a restaurant serving Detroit coney dogs? Isn’t the whole point of leaving someplace to go someplace else that you’re someplace else, someplace different? Do Parisians think that the place to go is the Paris Casino? Do Roman’s go to Caesar’s? Are a whole lot of Venetians. . . . You get the point.

It seems somewhat ironic that the day that the D, the authentic city, not the place that is part of the so-called “Freemont Street Experience,” filed for bankruptcy, the D, the other one, announced its lineup for its one-year anniversary this coming September.

The headliner will be Kid Rock. Detroit’s own.

Rock, like Jack White, a former Detroiter, have made efforts to support the city, for which they deserve massive credit.

But it is sad, that the actual city fell so low as to have to had papers filed in court, in large part because there are so few actual jobs making stuff but a whole lot of low-paying jobs in service industries—like casinos.

The celebration at the D is going to kick off on September 26 with Rock’s pal Uncle Kracker. Rock plays the 28th.

Chances are, there won’t be a whole lot of celebrations in the actual D anytime soon.

Nikki Yanofsky & the Sound of Authentic Soul

The other evening I had the opportunity to listen to one of the best vocalists I’ve ever heard in a comparatively small setting in downtown Toronto. What is all the more remarkable is that the set lineup was of music that I appreciate, but don’t much care for. Ella Fitzgerald. Sarah Vaughan. Billie Holliday. Like that. Music of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s.

Yet there I sat. Amazed. The vocals were rich. The vocals were authentic. The vocals indicated a depth of feeling, passion and understanding that one recognizes as going beyond simple skills to a depth of soul.

The woman who was singing is Nikki Yanofsky.

She is 19 years old.

Her breakout came at age 12, when she was a headliner at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

She is not a novelty act. Yanofsky is real.

She did “I Would Rather Go Blind,” a song that I’d thought was Rod Stewart’s from Never A Dull Moment (1972), but which I learned was Etta James’s. Her recording was done in 1967. But I’d only known of Stewart’s rendition, and it was one that was formative for me back then, back when high school sometime-could-have-been was seen with someone else.

Yanofsky, who has worked with people from Herbie Hancock to Phil Ramone, who has performed live with Stevie Wonder, who has Quincy Jones as the executive producer of an album that will be released in the fall, says that she wants to bring the music of Fitzgerald and the like to her generation.

Yet I wonder.

I wonder whether this is possible. Conceivable. Do 19-year-olds want to listen to music that has stood the test of time in an era where time is accelerated?

One thing that is interesting about Yanofsky is that while there are plenty of others who have vocal range—think of Joss Stone or Leona Lewis (both of whom have a few years on Yanofsky, but are still under 30)—there is very real passion that she evinces in her vocals. Passion is what we crave in music if it is to actually move us.

The conceit of this site is that “Rock and roll can change your life.”

But I would argue it can change your life only if you are younger than 30. Because it is when you are 15 or 19, when you are alone, listening to music, that there are certain artists who have an effect on you that is transformative. At that point in life you are still malleable. Still being created. And certain music can change what you are, what you become. You are falling in love. You are being heartbroken. You are on top of the world. You are at the deepest depths of despair. You are always being formed and reformed.

And there is the music.

We were told not to “trust anyone over 30” for socio-political reasons. But it probably has a lot to do with being 30 and pretty much set in our ways, no matter how flexible we want to claim that we are.

So I listened to Yanosky and was more marveled than moved. At least less moved than I would have been had I listened to her rendition of “I Would Rather Go Blind,” when I would hear “When the reflection of the glass that I held to my lips. . .revealed the tears that were on my face” and then had to go to high school the next day.

Nikki Yanofsky: Web, Facebook, Twitter.

Imported from. . .Canada

Motown MuseumWhen Chrysler busted out with the 2011 Super Bowl ad with Eminem, which gave rise to the whole “Imported from Detroit” theme, a theme that was green-lighted by Olivier Francois, a Parisian-born executive of Fiat, an Italian company (that owns Chrysler), people in Detroit at large got a good feeling. Yes, the people are tough and gritty, smooth and stylish. The car in question in the spot (a Chrysler 200) isn’t exactly the a car likely to make any publication’s Ten Best List, but as it is the only car that Chrysler produced in the Detroit Metro at the time (it put the Dodge Viper back into production in the city earlier this month, and it actually has built the Jeep Grand Cherokee in the D for the past several years), they had to go with what they had.

Why not the Chrysler 300, the sedan that was immediately popular with golfers and gangstas alike when it appeared as a model year 2005 vehicle?

Because that car is built in Canada.

Chrysler is now beating Detroit like Meg White the drums.  Unless it is an ad for Jeep, chances are there is something airing from the company that goes directly back to that “Born of Fire” Super Bowl ad.

It has just launched the 2013 Chrysler 300 Motown Edition.

The commercial for the car shows Motown founder and Detroit native Berry Gordy sitting in the backseat of the car. . .in front of the Motown Museum on West Grand Boulevard. If you’ve ever been to the Motown Museum or on West Grand Boulevard, you know that the word “grand” isn’t used in a particularly descriptive way.

And while Gordy established Motown in Detroit in 1960, he moved it to Los Angeles in 1972.

Thanks, Berry.

And while the 2013 Chrysler 300 Motown Edition moves Gordy through the streets of Detroit, it deposits him in New York City, in front of the Lunt Fontanne Theatre, where “Motown: The Musical” will be opening in March.

He may have forgotten that there is the Fisher Theater literally down the street from the Motown Museum. They stage Broadway shows there, too. It’s not Broadway. But it is Detroit.

The car is all chromed up. Perhaps the best part of it is that the limited-edition sedan’s audio system comes with 100 Motown tracks, but then those are accessible without having to put out an MSRP of $32,995.

“We are Motown and this is what we do,” Gordy says at the end of the spot for the car.

What? Move out of the D?

2013 Chrysler 300C | Who We Are | Motown: The Musical