Going Back!

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Me and my sophomore roommates Bruce, Joel and Jon. Photo by Katharine Swibold

Booker T.: Reunion Time
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During the first weekend in June, I celebrated my 35th Princeton Reunion.  It was, possibly, the best one I’ve been to, and not just because the weather was incredible,  with mostly cool, clear weather instead of the usual heat, rain and humidity that is common in central New Jersey during this time of year.  I know that many Princetonians believe that anything related to our alma mater is the best, but our reunions are special–I’ve never met anyone from another school who speaks as passionately about their reunion as we Tigers do about ours.

Toward the end of my freshman year at Princeton, an upperclassman in the marching band asked me if I wanted to stay for Reunions.  Not being a townie, or the child of an alum, or having access to the yet-to-be-invented YouTube, I had no idea what that meant.  I understood that colleges had reunions, but I had no clue what Princeton’s Reunions entailed.  It was quite an eye-opener.  And, I got to hear Jean Shepherd for the first time.

There are a few things that set Princeton Reunions apart from others. First, while most schools invite back alumni from 5 year anniversary classes, Princeton not only invites, but encourages, every alumnus to come back every year.  The “major” reunion classes act as hosts for two older and two younger “satellite” classes, who can attend the events for free (other than meals).  From our standpoint, this allows you to retain connections with friends who are older and younger than you, and not just limit your “reuning” to your classmates.  Also, Princeton encourages us to bring back our significant others and children for the revelry. This broad attendance at Reunions cements the relationship between the graduates and the University, presumably resulting in increased contributions.

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Grace Under Pressure

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The Motors: Airport
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My family and I went to see the Broadway musical Come From Away a couple of weeks ago, and it was great–I highly recommend it.  My understanding is that it is vying with Dear Evan Hansen, which I saw a few months ago, for the Tony for Best Musical on Sunday, and honestly, I would be happy if either show won. [Edit–Dear Evan Hansen won for best musical.]

For those who don’t know what Come From Away is about, it takes place on 9/11 and the days afterwards when, due to the closing of U.S. airspace following the attacks, 38 civilian and 4 military flights were forced to land at the remote airport at Gander, Newfoundland.  Gander’s airport is huge, but significantly underutilized since it lost its status as a major refueling stop as technology permitted trans-Atlantic flights without refueling. The airport itself lacked sufficient facilities to deal with the 6,600 plus people (and the handful of animals) who were stranded at the airport.

The town of Gander, about 11,000 strong, and a few smaller nearby towns stepped up, arranging for transportation, shelter, clothing, food, and, apparently, liquor, for what the play refers to as the “plane people,” until the airspace opened again, and flights were able to leave.  Some of the planes were there for as long as 6 days.

Most of the members of the show’s cast play multiple roles, as Newfoundlanders, passengers, crew, and even George W. Bush, and it is 100 minutes of nearly non-stop, often breathless, activity.  We learn about the incredible hospitality and generosity of the local citizens, who stepped up and sacrificed to provide the plane people with comfort, sympathy and friendship, how the passengers, most of whom in the pre-mobile Internet and limited cell phone era, were initially unaware of the reason for their diversion, moved from fear and annoyance to appreciation and admiration, and how the crew members dealt with the disruption.

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Opening Acts

 

I’ve seen my share of concerts in my life, probably more than my share, really, so I’ve seen many opening acts.  Sometimes you get a legend, like when I saw Mavis Staples open for Los Lobos, or Lucinda Williams opening for Neil Young, or an established performer with a following, like Thin Lizzy opening for Queen, or Graham Parker opening for Nick Lowe, or Alejandro Escovedo opening for Nick Lowe (another time).  Often, the opening act is an up and comer that is looking for exposure, and occasionally the headliner allows the venue to pick a local artist, such as the mariachi band that opened for The Mavericks.

Usually, it seems, that the opener and the headliner inhabit a similar musical space–because the audience is there for a certain style of music, so it makes sense for the warm up to be in the audience’s wheelhouse.  I’ve seen a couple of shows with particularly strange bedfellows–country singer Dwight Yoakam opening for Hüsker Dü and rapper Kurtis Blow confusing the audience for The Clash.

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Roundup! Yee Hah!

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The Feelies: The Last Roundup
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I have an idea for an original, music-focused post, but this isn’t it.  This is another roundup of my writing for other sites.

My first real piece on Cover Me in a very long time put the spotlight on The Mavericks, timed cleverly to coincide with the release of the band’s new album.  I was particularly amused by their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them.”

There’s been a nice resurgence of posting at Star Maker Machine fueled in part by the return of Darius to active writing and encouraging the rest of us to write.  I continued a strange streak of TV related posts in the “Middle” theme with a look at The Rutles’ “Piggy In The Middle.”

We moved from the Middle to “Prison,” and I wrote about Christine Lavin’s “Prisoners of Their Hairdos,” which, to my utter delight, Ms. Lavin herself commented favorably upon.  Coincidentally, and unbeknownst to me, Lavin was working with my friend, the incredibly talented singer-songwriter Judy Kass, on a video about the post-election protests, and there’s one picture in which you can see a tiny bit of me.  Because it is all about me, right?

Next up was “Steel.”  I added a final “e” and remembered the great WNEW DJ Alison Steele, the Night Bird, including a song by Jimi Hendrix that she reportedly inspired.    I doubled up on that theme (a rarity for me these days–I think this year, I may not top the SMM year-end leaderboard for most posts) with a Southern rock flavored song from a band, Steel Mill, that might have been lost in the mists of history if its leader hadn’t been a young Bruce Springsteen.

My most recent post, for the new “70s Motown” theme, focused on Graham Parker & The Rumour’s great cover of the Jackson 5’s classic “I Want You Back.”

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been lucky to see three great shows at the Tarrytown Music Hall–Son Volt, Richard Thompson and The Jayhawks.  And shortly, I’ll be seeing Roger McGuinn there.

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Ten More Covers! Ten More Covers!

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When I wrote my “What Ten Covers Matter To You” piece on Cover Me, I chose from an initial list of more than 30.  But there were more that felt left out, so here are another ten covers, making this a collection of Ten Covers That Are Meaningful To Me, But Not As Meaningful As The First List.

Again, alphabetically by title:

Hannah Becker—Baby, I Love You (Aretha Franklin cover)

I ended the first piece with an appreciation of my wife’s voice, and I’m starting this one with my daughter (my son will get his due shortly).  It was clear, very early, that Hannah could sing, and sing quite well.  Similar to her mother, she had a beautiful, pure voice.  In high school, she took singing lessons at a local music school, Lagond, that focused on teaching students the art of performance.  Hannah started working with a teacher, Amy, who believed that she could unearth a soul singer from our very white suburban daughter with the pretty voice.  Turned out, she was right.

Like many organizations, there was a little clubbiness about the Lagond students and their families, many of whom had children who had performed together over the years.  Hannah was a new student, who really didn’t know many of the others, but nevertheless was invited to perform at a benefit for the school.  The other performers were excellent, and mostly known to the audience of parents, faculty and staff.  Then, Hannah came out and sang her version of Aretha Franklin’s “Baby, I Love You,” and shocked the audience.  I later overheard someone remarking at how good “Aretha Girl” was, and wondering where she came from.  I don’t have video of that performance, but I do have it of her at a subsequent school showcase, where she again blew away the audience.

After leaving Lagond, Hannah seems to have moved away from the soul belting style, and back toward, which you can see here, with her college a capella group.

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Recycle Bin

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The problem is that I want to write about something other than politics here, but the current part-time resident of the White House has so dominated the discourse that it is hard for me to think about discussing anything else. I did live up to my promise to actually write about music here, with two music heavy posts, although one was admittedly pretty political.

Because I have nothing else, but I don’t want to leave this blog empty for too long, I’m going to do another roundup of my writing on other sites.

Cover Me is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and they asked all of their writers to contribute a piece discussing 10 cover songs that were meaningful to us.  You can check out my contribution here, and I recommend poking around the site to read the other writers’ pieces (and the many other great articles posted there).

At Star Maker Machine, I wrote a second “In Memoriam” piece focusing on a few “Overshadowed Losses” from 2016:  Fred Tomlinson, Dave Swarbrick, Pete Zorn, Gilli Smyth, and Bernie Worrell.  For our “Change” theme, politics intruded again, when a discussion of The Fleshtones’ 80’s garage rocker “The World Has Changed” veered off into a reflection on my fear, apparently justified, about the change that was about to come on Inauguration Day, and a long excerpt from President Obama’s excellent farewell speech.

The next three posts that I contributed to SMM were coincidentally television-based.  Maybe not coincidentally, because I seem to watch more TV these days than listen to music.  The first two were for the “Small Town” theme–the first was about David Letterman’s “Small Town News” segment, and how it reflected the changes in the show as it moved from NBC at 12:30 to CBS at 11:30 and Dave matured.  The second discussed the powerful, enigmatic “Devil Town” sequence from the final episode of Friday Night Light’s amazing first season.  My most recent post, for the “Pour” theme, focused on “Sugar, Sugar,” from The Archie Show, with digressions about my teen tour to Europe in 1978 and the nature of friendship in the Facebook era.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the two musical performances that I attended since the end of the year.  The first was a benefit for our local high school performing arts boosters.  Both of my children were active performers in their high school days, and this fundraiser, started after they graduated, has been fun–an evening of performances by students and graduates, a hard rocking band of teachers, and short sets from bands made up mostly of local parents (including a number of my friends). Also, we usually get a set from Dominic Chianese, best known as “Uncle Junior” from The Sopranos, but who has had a long career as a folksinger (some of his grandchildren have attended our district’s schools).  My daughter Hannah, home for the holidays from Barcelona, joined us, and when the benefit’s organizer saw her, asked if Hannah was interested in singing with her band, which closed the show.  Without blinking an eye, Hannah agreed, chose a song, watched a video of the band playing it, and killed it on stage (with the band’s singer and her high school chorus teacher singing backup).

The second was an intense, powerful show by The Drive-By Truckers with my son at a packed Webster Hall in New York.  One of the best Truckers shows I’ve seen, with, not surprisingly, a political tinge, considering their most recent album.

 

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Playlist For A Bad Day (And One For A Good Day)

I didn’t watch the inauguration.  I knew that it would make me ill to see such an unworthy, unqualified person become president of our already great nation (which, of course, has room for improvement, but not in the ways indicated by our new president).  I knew that I would be able to read about what happened without having to hear the new president’s arrogance or watch his preening, and I did (American carnage?  Really?)

Instead, throughout the day, I posted songs on my personal Facebook feed with lyrics, or in most cases, admittedly, just titles, that somehow struck me as appropriate for the day.  Not much thought went into the list–as something popped into my head, I found the video, and posted it.  Here they are:

The Mountain Goats–“This Year”

Most of the lyrics aren’t really relevant, but the chorus is: “I’m going to make it through this year/If it kills me.”

Steve Earle–“The Revolution Starts Now”

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