Tag Archives: Grand Rapids

50 Years Ago: A Letter to My Teenage Son

Audio: Victor Lundberg -- “An Open Letter to My Teenage Son”

Victor Lundberg - AN OPEN LETTER TO MY TEENAGE SON

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the 50th anniversary of the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine, dated November 9, 1967. The interviews and reviews of early Stone are rightly celebrated, but I like flipping through for the ads and weird news items.

The second issue came out two weeks later and featured Tina Turner on the cover. It was 20 pages long, with 3 full-page ads, and featured an interview with Donovan and a big Jon Landau piece on Aretha Franklin. The thing that caught my eye, however, was an article on page 8 by Bob O’Lear titled, “USA’s Hottest New 45 RPM: Letter to a Teenage Son.”

The hottest record in the country — not the Monkees, not “Incense and Peppermint,” not the “San Francisco Sound” nor even the Beatles — is a non-musical offering by two middle-aged advertising executives from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The song, if you haven’t heard it, is a slice of the reactionary doublespeak for which my hometown of Grand Rapids is notorious (Amway, Betsy Devos, et al). “Some of my generation judges people by their race, their belief, or the color of their skin and this is no more right than saying all teenagers are drunken dope addicts or glue sniffers.” Of course, by the end, the narrator threatens to disown his son if he refuses to fight in the Vietnam war. “Your mother will love you no matter what you do because she is a woman.”

Fifty years later it’s kind of hilarious, but still pretty sad because it’s based on an actual letter the dude wrote to his 17-year-old son. This was the state of the world in 1967. Imagine having to make that choice as a teenager. “If you decide to burn your draft card, then burn your birth certificate at the same time.”

O’Lear plays it straight. No moralizing, barely any condescension, just straight reporting. He interviews the songwriters, the record label, and a radio program director, and he quotes a big chunk of the narration. This is O’Lear’s only byline in the Stone.

A little googling uncovered a “promotion man” named Bob O’Lear who worked for labels affiliated with Liberty Records in 1967. So was this article essentially a press release? Native advertising? Had Jann Wenner already sold out by the second issue? Or was he just willing to publish whatever content he could get?

“An Open Letter to My Teenage Son” spent six weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at #10.

Continue reading 50 Years Ago: A Letter to My Teenage Son

Forever Summer

Forever Summer by The Silence

I’ve been in bands my entire adult life. For most of that time, it was the most important element of my identity. Being in a band was not only a crucial creative outlet, but also a social space; it was how I met people beyond what is now the GLONO crew.

The first band I had--or at least the first group of guys who tried to get a functioning, performing band together--was The Silence. We were really only together for a summer, but we played a couple of shows, if you count basements as venues, and wrote and recorded eight songs. The best of these songs was a perfect little piece of electro pop called “Forever Summer,” written by Rick Grossenbacher.

The Silence, from top going right: Dan Terpstra, Mike DeRuiter, Derek Phillips (Author), Rick Grossenbacher

Rick was our keyboardist and sequencer. He loved electronic dance music way before there was anything called EDM. His flavor was more in the vein of Camoflage, Front 242, New Order and Depeche Mode. Man, he loved Depeche Mode. He and Dan, our lead guitarist, would go on and on quoting videos, interviews and studio banter I can only assume came from outtakes and bootlegs.

“Start the tape, Mart.”

At least I think that quote is from Depeche Mode. I don’t really know because that wasn’t my scene. I came from the Brit Pop school and was specifically focused on the Madchester sound of The Stone Roses. Happy Mondays and The Charlatans. The most important Manchester influence for me though was Johnny Marr and he was then in his dance band project, Electronic, with New Order’s Bernard Sumner. So if keyboards, drum machines and sequencers were good enough for Johnny, they were good enough for me.

Continue reading Forever Summer

Live: Regina Spektor in Grand Rapids

The show was billed as “A Very Special Solo Performance” by Regina Spektor. And it certainly felt special. She was chatty and giggly between songs and seemed to sincerely appreciate the enthusiastic adoration of her fans at the sold out 20 Monroe Live. I’ve never been to a concert where the fans whiplashed between shouts of obnoxious requests and exclamations of love to complete silence and reverence as soon as the next song began.

Spektor took it all in. She spent most of the time seated at her Steinway grand, but played a couple songs on her blue Epiphone Royale, and a few on an electric piano. She even sang a capella, including the charming rarity, “Reginasaurus.”

Her songs are written from a unique perspective. She’s sometimes lumped in with the antifolkies of New York from the turn of the millennium, but I dunno. Her music sounds more like Stravinsky than the Moldy Peaches. Her classical piano training is obvious, although she clearly relishes subverting that by playing with one hand and beating on stuff with a drumstick in the other. Or making trumpet sounds with her mouth. Or beatboxing. Or singing about bobbing for apples in Somalia while “someone next door’s fucking to one of my songs.” At one point she explained why she doesn’t like people to clap along with her songs: “It’s nice, but I actually stretch time.”

Continue reading Live: Regina Spektor in Grand Rapids

New Sheryl Crow video: Roller Skate

Video: Sheryl Crow -- “Roller Skate”

Sheryl Crow - Roller Skate (Official Music Video)

From Be Myself, out now on Warner Bros.

It’s cool to see Sheryl Crow skating around the da Vinci Horse (by sculptor Nina Akamu) at Meijer Gardens in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In fact, all the scenes in the video where Crow is wearing the black “Grateful” tanktop were shot at Meijer Gardens where she played a sold-out show in July.

I haven’t paid much attention to Sheryl Crow for a long time, but this song sounds pretty good. Certainly can’t argue with the message.

I don’t want competition
So put your phone away
Let’s roller skate

Of course if you’re going to sing about roller skating, it’s hard not to think about Melanie’s “Brand New Key.”

Update: Looks like the video has been yanked from YouTube, possibly because it may have used unlicensed footage from “The Funk Phenomena.” Boo.

Update #2: Video’s back online. Must’ve figured out whatever needed to be figured out. 9/28/2017.

Via @pauljendrasiak.

Sheryl Crow: web, twitter, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

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Video: The Dollyrots -- “Brand New Key”

The Dollyrots - Brand New Key

Live: Tav Falco at the Tip Top Deluxe

What year was it? Must’ve been 93, right? My senior year of college, because Amy and Sarah were already living down there. I still can’t believe we found them. It was Mardi Gras and me and my ridiculous friends drove from Kalamazoo to New Orleans with one phone number and no real plan. Nobody answered the first several times we called and we were all shitfaced on Bourbon Street when we decided we’d try one more payphone before crashing in the car. Thankfully, Sarah answered and gave us their address so we could sleep on the floor. The next morning the girls introduced us to their pals from the Royal Pendletons and we all went to the Zulu Parade together. Later (much later) we ended up in Uptown at a funky little club called Muddy Waters. The headliner was Tav Falco and his glorious Panther Burns. The last thing I remember was “It’s Only Make Believe.” There are photos of me passed out in the back seat of the Pendletons’ Ford Fairlane.

That was a long time ago. But that trip changed my life. I’ve learned a lot more about the history of rock and roll since I was a dopey college kid, and now I appreciate how lucky we were to get to experience that. So when I found out that Tav Falco would be playing a show in my hometown I knew I had to go. And to make it even more irresistible, Mike fucking Watt is now a touring member of the Panther Burns! Watt is a hero. For his ethics and his spiel as well as his mighty musicianship. And last night at the Tip Top Deluxe I got to stand six feet away from him as he worked his bass. And man oh man, what a sight that is!

It might seem like a weird fit, Watt playing in a rockabilly band, but neither Watt nor Falco should be pigeonholed so simply. They’re both far more complex than that. And yet it was pretty crazy to see Watt in a suit playing a violin bass when the band came on to “Green Onions.” But he was awesome.

Tav Falco was not happy with the sound system at the Tip Top. Poor Cliff (or was it Clyde?) the soundman got an earful from the stage. There was horrible feedback and apparently never enough vocals in the monitors. Despite that, Falco was never less than a captivating performer. He is a Southern gentleman and an elegant dancer. He is a survivor of the fucked up 70s Memphis art/music scene that included Alex Chilton, William Eggleston, Jim Dickinson, et al. In fact, the original Panther Burns were a collaboration with Chilton.

The set was mostly pulled from the new album, Command Performance. Lots of great songs, including one that featured a psychedelic Mike Watt bass solo. I was a little disappointed not to hear my faves like “Girl After Girl” and of course “It’s Only Make Believe” but when a guy’s been making music since 1979 you can’t expect to hear everything.

Grand Rapids is a funny little city and the Tip Top is a funny little bar. It’s in the middle of a rundown residential area on the city’s west side, and it feels like you’re hanging out in somebody’s rec room. The stage is a six-inch riser in the corner of the room with barely enough square footage to contain Falco, Watt, drummer Toby Dammit, guitarist Mario Monterosso, and keyboard player Francesco D’Agnolo. I saw Wayne Hancock here a few years ago. Still it felt like a coup for this venue to be able to book a Panther Burns show, and when they first announced this tour back in August, Grand Rapids was the only stop above the Mason-Dixon line. (They ultimately added Detroit and Chicago dates.)

After the set, I was sure to thank Falco for coming to Grand Rapids and he sold me his new CD for $20. Seems like a lot but he signed it for me. I always feel a little awkward approaching musicians after a show. The band had stepped off the little stage and scattered into seats at tables around the club. I know that some touring folks don’t like shaking hands for fear of catching cold on the road, so I asked Mike Watt if I could have a handshake or a hug. He immediately shook my hand and I leaned in to thank him for playing a great set, but as I did he stood up to give me a hug and I accidentally knocked his glasses right off his face! I felt terrible but he was nice about it.

Continue reading Live: Tav Falco at the Tip Top Deluxe

My Annual Reminder: The Hold Steady in Grand Rapids

Let this be my annual reminder: I need to get out to more shows. It’s easy to forget what a transformative experience a tight band in a small club can create. Craig Finn knows this. He exudes pure joy on stage. The crowd internalizes this joy and amplifies it back to the stage, generating a loop of enthusiasm that increases exponentially until we all explode in a blast of fist pumps and cheers and raised tallboys of PBR.

The Hold Steady is America’s greatest rock and roll band right now.

At least they were last night at the Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids. The venue has a capacity of 420 and even though the show wasn’t sold out it seemed pretty full. This was at least my fourth time seeing this band but the previous times had all been at big outdoor fests (Lolla 2006, 2007, and one or more Pitchfork). But these guys need to be seen in a bar.

Continue reading My Annual Reminder: The Hold Steady in Grand Rapids

Fiona Apple vs. Rodney King

In a speech similar in tone to her widely-mocked 1997 MTV Video Music Awards acceptance, Fiona Apple told her Grand Rapids audience that she’s been really upset about Rodney King since he died and that she’s been carrying a picture of him. “We really let that guy down.” The speech culminated with Apple declaring July 9 to be “Rodney King Hero Day.” Then she played “Paper Bag.”

Discussing the show with my wife on the ride home, we came to the conclusion that just like 15 years ago, while the delivery of her message was inarticulate, rambly, and painfully awkward, the content her message was right on. She was 100% correct when at age 19 she pointed out that the glossy celebrity world of MTV was bullshit. It was bullshit then and it still is. And last night, she eventually got around to the point of her story: When Rodney King sincerely asked everybody if we can all get along, people just made a joke out of it.

Think about that. In 1992, a guy who never asked to be put in the public spotlight is mocked mercilessly for asking rioters to “stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids.” Five years later, a 19 year old singer stumbles through an attempt to subvert the whole “awards show” rigamarole by telling kids not to model themselves after what celebrities think is cool but to “go with yourself.” And she gets mocked mercilessly for that.

What kind of shit is that?

Yes, she stammers a little and mixes up a couple words and quotes Maya Angelou, but the content of what she was saying was so fucking accurate that the entire world seemed to willfully misunderstand her. If half of the people who had heard that speech had taken her message to heart, the audience for future awards shows would’ve shriveled up. That world is bullshit. Who even tries to deny that anymore?

And again, last night the message of her rant about Rodney King was nearly obfuscated by her inarticulate manner of presenting it. For a person who writes such compelling lyrics, Fiona Apple is apparently pretty terrible at coming up with words off the cuff. Maybe that’s why it takes her seven years between albums!

Learning that she’s a great big stoner has actually made me feel better about her awkward public persona. She’s not stupid or crazy; she’s just super high. Which makes it funny instead of embarrassing. (We’re laughing with you, not at you.) It probably also explains her yoga/frog inspired dance moves.

And anyway, who cares how somebody talks (or dances) when they have a singing voice like that? Getting to see and hear her perform at the beautiful Meijer Gardens was an especially rare treat. And while the sunshine bothered her sensitive eyes (“I’m not really that angry — I’m just squinting.”), it made for a gorgeous setting for her haunting, otherworldly music.

Wayne Hancock Live in Grand Rapids

Play Till You Die.

That’s Wayne “the Train” Hancock’s motto. And by all appearances, he’s living it.

He’s back on the road after having to cancel a bunch of dates this summer “to enter a comprehensive residential rehabilitation program.” The last time I saw him in concert was over ten years ago, and back then he joked about his clear-headed sobriety and sang, “I’m a double A daddy / I’m sober all the time.”

Who knows what’s changed in his personal life since then, but his music is as powerful as ever, proving you don’t need drums to make a bad ass rock and roll ruckus. Flanked by two lead guitar players and an upright bassist, Hancock beat the hell out of his acoustic guitar and nodded instructions to his players. Another solo from the hollow body. Now one from the Telecaster. And now back to the chorus. He’s a true bandleader making decisions on the fly, reading the pulse of the room and controlling it.

The downside of that level of spontaneity is that there were more than a few false starts with some songs being abandoned altogether halfway through. Hancock is a charming enough frontman to laugh off these rusty missteps, but it made me a little nervous. Sure, he was playing in a tiny little bar without a real soundboard and no actual stage to speak of, but still. I’m pretty sure Hank wouldn’t have done it that way.

There were jokes about an upcoming divorce and about maybe needing some reefer, and I realized what a commitment “Play Till You Die” really is. Hancock’s not fucking around. He takes this shit seriously and his music deserves a much bigger audience. I’m thankful that we have a place in Grand Rapids like the Tip Top to book groups like this, but this guy should be playing to huge crowds of adoring fans. It’s a damn shame there’s absolutely no place in the country music establishment for someone like this.

I realize that nobody gives a shit about the concept of authenticity these days, but Wayne Hancock is the real thing.

MP3: Wayne Hancock – Throwin\' Away My Money
MP3: Wayne Hancock – Workin\' at Workin\'

Intersexion – Liz Licks GR

I can see a new expression on my faceLiz Phair, Wheat, Rachael Yamagata at the Intersection

Grand Rapids, Michigan, March 15, 2004

Grand Rapids has an odd relationship with rock and roll. Located in central western Michigan, the city is a haven for Reformed Christianity, and the social conservatism that comes with it. In a broad sense, it’s lite rock lilt and the long arm of the Lord that keep GR’s toes a-tappin’. But just like a new kid with a hair lip, this blond and bland environment was just asking to be fucked with. Legendary haunts like The Reptile House took up the gauntlet; it rocked bondage nights and The Melvins before The Man finally drove it out. The Intersection did its part too, for years helping to anchor a shabby corner jumble of drunk haunts and hot dog joints, but those days died with the opening of a shiny new downtown Intersection, cleansed to resemble a Calvinist teen’s vision of the ultimate Christian rock clubhouse. What would Liz do?

Continue reading Intersexion – Liz Licks GR