master class:music faculty:
bob dylan roger daltrey roger mcguinn crosby, stills and nash added contributions from tom rush and arlo guthrie
course designed by charlie bermant fall semester 2009
Words and Pictures copyright September-October 2009, by Charlie Bermant, to commemorate a fourconcert sojourn including those I have followed since childhood. Two previous pieces, interviews of Tom Rush and Arlo Guthrie, are included as bonus material. Published at the time, in Rocksbackpages Blogs, Sonicboomers,com and the Kitsap News Group.
Stills crazy, after all these years
FIELD TRIP I’ve seen Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young ﬁve times between 1969 and 2006, with the interplay between Stephen Stills and Neil Young always leaving behind a sense of breathless wonder. I ﬁnally got off the couch to see CSN minus Y last night, then concluding that Stills doesn’t get his due. Young ﬂits in and out of his association with the other three, admittedly pushing the energy level up another notch. But if Young’s presence yields a spectacular combination, last night proved that the CSN-only brand packs its own potent kick. Even so, there was another elephant in the room. That is, the famous vocal blend has gone ragged, and they are several shades less than what they once were. They acknowledge this, but refuse to stack the deck with ringers. They do not, like the current incarnation of the Beach Boys, hand off the vocal chores to the hired help. They are less polished but more authentic, relying on the strength of their songs and the spirit they evoke. And they rely on Stills, whose magniﬁcent playing keeps everything fresh. He had such promise, back in the old days, but never reached his potential (funny thing, they said the same thing about me at the time). In the mid-1970s Stills either stopped making great records or we stopped listening to them. Likewise CSN, it seemed the brilliance of their ﬁrst group albums and the surrounding ﬂurry of solo work slowed to a trickle, to the point where they’d put out an album with two great songs plus ﬁller. Like too many others. Forty years ago, one third of a concert could consist of unreleased material that rivaled the familiar. When I saw CSNY in 1970 they staged what became the Four Way Street album, which evolved into a wild-card greatest hits package. At that show, I heard future classics like “Black Queen” and “Southern Man” for the ﬁrst time. There were no cover tunes. Performing other people’s music, especially considering the band’s hyper-productivity, would be a waste of time. The new model CSN has restacked the deck. They are road-testing a series of covers from the old days, including “Ruby Tuesday” and “Midnight Rider.” There is a circle of irony, as the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band” began as a CSNY homage. The effect was pleasant, acknowledging the music has become “classic” and putting to rest the idea that a bad original is better than a good cover. The acoustic set was pleasant enough. The songs are still great, and are performed with love. Two songs into the second set it went to another notch, with the triple-punch of “Marrakesh Express,” “Rock and Roll Woman” and “Long Time Gone.” CSN is a blend of disparate voices that become greater than the sum of its parts, so examining a single cog loses sight of the wheel. But Stills deserves respect. Some of it is due, with a pair of archival releases planned and followed by a solo box set (Nash and Crosby already have theirs). Archival boxes are museum pieces. that sit most comfortably on the shelf. The best strategy is to go see Stills play, solo or with others. at the very next opportunity. He smokes. Imprecise Set list, from memory: Helplessly Hoping, Wasted on the Way, Ruby Tuesday, You Can Close Your Eyes, Girl From the North Country, Midnight Rider, Guinnevere, Our House, Dream for Him, In Your Name, Uncle John’s Band, Southern Cross; Love the One You’re With, Marrakesh Express, Rock and Roll Woman, Long Time Gone, Just A Song Before I Go, To the Last Whale, Deja Vu, Wooden Ships, Almost Cut My Hair, Bluebird, For What It’s Worth, Teach Your Children.
Dylan Mumbles, Crowd Faints FIELD TRIP October 5, 2009 @ 8:01 pm SEATTLE, October 4, 2009. The retooled band backing the great man was propulsive and precise. The power quartet of two guitars, bass and drums was complemented by steel guitar and the bandleader on organ. Tremendous sound, although the vocals were something of a weak link. Bob Dylan ﬁrst earned this reputation as a lyricist, but if you didn’t actually comprehend his words’ meaning the songs evoked an instant, deﬁnable aura. Maybe you had to be there to understand. If you weren’t, and wandered into this concert with no preconceptions or history you would not have understood one thing. This wasn’t a problem for the attendees, who knew what to expect. The sound was crisp, with each instrument clearly deﬁned. You could even hear Dylan’s organ, which he was trying to make sound like a harmonica. So it wasn’t the PA. Any intelligibility was restricted to the words you knew before you arrived. He didn’t speak between songs aside from introducing the band, sort of. The guitarist’s name is Charlie Sexton, but you knew that already. He’s doing this deliberately, as he obviously remembers all the verses. The audience was full of people who could hear the words even if they didn’t actually hear them, if you get my meaning. But even as Dylan has changed our way of thinking, I’m not sure why he is messing with the “speak clearly+listen carefully=understand fully” equation. Dylan’s expected obscurity aside, there was some serious cult action going on here: Six guys, all dressed in black, playing songs the audience could not understand without a decoder ring (deﬁned as previous knowledge of all Dylan’s songs, and the ability to identify them through radical rearrangement). Despite all my whining, I thought the show was spectacular. It was in a small theater with great sound, My balcony seat placed me above the rude group who insisted on standing between the seats and the front row (this behavior is annoying enough with teenagers, you would think that by the time someone is 60 they would have learned some manners). The band was loud, but clear, but the only painful sound all evening were the jerks behind us whistling loudly during a call for an encore. Watching the late-model Dylan is cool, as long as you can accept your favorites will not be performed in any recognizable form. His reinvention into a new-style troubadour who plays what he wants, and very well, is something that everyone should see at least once–with or without a decoder ring. And if you seek him to provide a more speciﬁc direction, he’ll soon appear on a GPS near you. Setlist, more or less:Gonna Change My Way of Thinking, Shooting Star,Beyond Here Lies Nothing, Don’t Think Twice it’s All Right, Lonesome Day Blues, Highway 61 Revisited, I Don’t Believe You, Not Dark Yet, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Spirit on the Water, When The Deal Goes Down. Ballad of a Thin Man, Like A Rolling Stone, Jolene.
Roger McGuinn: Still Flyin’ High GUEST LECTURE My mother recently instructed me to dispose of her record collection, but I disobeyed her orders and mailed it to myself instead. When they arrived I was drawn to a pair of albums featuring a pre-Byrds Jim McGuinn. He is pictured on the cover of the Chad Mitchell Trio’s Live at the Bitter End on banjo, and backed up Judy Collins on versions of two songs that he recorded with the Byrds two years later. At the time McGuinn was supporting folk’s entry into the mainstream, one album at a time. Forty-ﬁve years on, the mission continues. Morphing into Roger, he presided over two stages of Byrds: the early version that deciphered Dylan for the masses and the latter that lit the spark for country-rock. Since falling back to earth he has mined the traditional vein from which all these were descended, publishing a song each month on for the last 14 years on the Folk Den website, supplementing these homemade recordings with lyrics and chords. Once upon a time the songs were carried between towns by wandering singers. Today, McGuinn blasts out a song to more villagers than a minstrel could reach in a lifetime. As before, everyone still gets to come up with their own version. McGuinn’s own journey now includes Minnesota, California and Washington state, creating a movable Folk Den that draws from disparate sources to provide a cross section of the popular and traditional. Sooner or later, he will make it to your town. Sonic Boomers: What are you doing on stage these days? Roger McGuinn: I sometimes do an autobiographical show, and other times I just play a selection of Byrds songs and my solo albums. Sometimes I just mix things up. We design the set on the day of the show, at about 2:00 in the afternoon I go out to lunch with my wife and we write out a set list. This is based on what we played when we were in that town before. She has a notebook, where there are set lists from all the shows I’ve played. If we have never been in that town it comes down to what I feel like singing. SB: Are there songs you have to play or hate to play? RM: People would be disappointed if I didn’t do some of the Byrds’ classics, like “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Turn, Turn, Turn!” and “Eight Miles High.” I carry four different instruments, even though it is a solo set it has some variety. These songs are all good songs that I enjoy playing. It’s not like they are bubblegum hits that I am going to be forced to play all my life. SB: Who comes to your shows? RM: The people who come see me are usually men in their 50s who remember the Byrds. Sometimes they bring their wives, or their kids. Some of the kids are young, and some are in their 20s. If you liked the Byrds you will enjoy the show. SB: In recent years you have become as much an archivist as a musician. RM: That’s true. The Folk Den is a labor of love that I started, because the traditional side of folk was neglected in favor of the singer-songwriter. That hasn’t really changed, although I see more kids interested in roots music. Interest in folk has always been in cycles. It was popular in the 1910s, and the ‘30s and the ‘40s. It took a hit after that, but came back in the late ‘50s with groups like the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio and the Limeliters. It sort of collapsed under its own weight after the Beatles came in with their electric guitars. That wasn’t a bad thing. SB: Will you ever run out of material for the Folk Den? RM: No. I’ve done 170 songs since 1995. There are thousands more; there is no limit to the number of traditional songs that exist. There are enough to keep me going for the rest of my life. All the songs are under the “creative common” designation, so there is no copyright. And I like the Internet, because it makes it easy for me to put songs out where everyone can hear them, and for free. Although some people have the idea that if something is free it can’t be very good. SB: Aside from Internet distribution, how does technology enhance the Folk Den project? RM: I’ve always been a technology enthusiast. The new technology makes it easier to record. Where I once needed a whole studio all I need now is a Macbook with ProTools. I can record anywhere, I recorded one song on an ocean liner from Miami to Lisbon. SB: You wrote a lot of songs about space with the Byrds. Are you disappointed that today’s level of space exploration isn’t what we once expected? RM: I’m sorry that the space program got put on the back burner. I know a lot of the astronauts personally because I live in Florida, and have gone over to the Astronaut’s Hall of Fame and played for them a few times. They all feel the same way. It’s like one moment they were in the Beatles and the next they were in a garage band. It’s not the same anymore. The Byrds did a few songs about space. “Mr. Spaceman” was a comedy song, but we did a few that were serious: “C.T.A. 102” was based on a discovery in space, when we didn’t know what a quasar was. We thought that it was beaming out an intelligent signal. After the song came out someone from the Jet Propulsion Laboratories wrote something in one of the astrophysical journals saying we were wrong, that “Dr. McGuinn and (co-writer) Dr. (Bob) Hibbard are mistaken if they think C.T.A. 102 contains any intelligent life.” That was pretty funny. SB: Why are there so many bonus tracks coming out on recent reissues? Are they worthwhile? RM: There was a physical limit with LPs; they could only ﬁt twelve or thirteen songs. With the cost of publishing they knocked it down to ten, then nine. They didn’t want to pay publishing, because at nine cents a song that got into some real money. That was the reason why some of the songs got left off. It wasn’t a quality control issue. Although we did try to put our best stuff on the original albums.
SB: Are you the only hold-out for a Byrds reunion? RM: Yes. I’m not interested in being part of an oldies band. I just want to do my own solo thing. My wife and I travel together, it’s real romantic and fun. I’ve been on the road with a bunch of guys, and I prefer traveling with my wife. We’ve gotten the Byrds together a couple of times in the past 15 years, once to protect the name and another time for a beneﬁt. It hasn’t been a bad experience, but it’s not something I’d want to take on tour. It’s not out of the question, but it’s not something that I want to do. SB: What music do you listen to in your spare time? RM: Because I make music, I don’t listen to music all that much. If I want to hear music I’ll just pick up a guitar and play something. I have a lot of sources for music, I have a closet full of CDs, I download from eMusic, and can listen to satellite radio. But if you are involved in making music, listening becomes less of a pleasure. You ﬁnd yourself dissecting and analyzing the song, and it becomes more like work. SB: How do you remember the 1960s? It seems like you were more mature than a lot of your contemporaries. RM: I wasn’t really a hippie, although I did do a lot of the same things. My impression is that it was the biggest group of young people on the planet ever. There was a lot of discontent with the hypocrisy of the system, politics and religion, and society in general. So we threw everything out. We threw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, and we had to reassemble things. At the time we wanted to rid the world of poverty and hunger. We thought we could do it with music, which turned out to be overly ambitious. It turned out to be a big disappointment, kind of like the space program. SB: Why didn’t the Byrds play Woodstock? RM: We probably had a gig somewhere else, and didn’t know that it was going to be the biggest thing in the world.
Live from Guantanamo, it’s Bob and Joan LECTURE October 12, 2009 @ 3:53 am Edit This I am midway into the equivalent of a boomer music master class, seeing Crosby Stills and Nash, then Bob Dylan, in three weeks time. Next up, Roger Daltrey and Roger McGuinn. This is all coincidence, but has become a crash course in how some past masters have sustained and expanded their talent. I consequently loaded up my MP3 player with all the music from these four artists, rediscovering their past triumphs and turkeys. In between, I ﬁnished reading Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol,” where the protagonist digs deep into philosophy and history to ﬁnd the one word that holds the key to wisdom. Maybe it scrambled up my mind, because I discovered my own remarkable secret, what could be the hands-down worst sounds ever recorded: A six-minute reading of “With God on Our Side” as harmonized by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Not that I came close to hearing the whole thing, early in the song I slammed my shins reaching for the mute button. Even those of us who like his singing must admit that Dylan’s voice is neither bright nor clear, and is an acquired taste. Baez, on the other hand, is perceived as a gifted vocalist with a magniﬁcent range. You might differ with her politics or choice of material, but her instrument is astounding. Together they bring out the worst in each other, resulting in a painful, continuous screech of mythical proportions. And unlike some interpretations of longer Dylan songs they don’t skip any of the verses. But wait, you say to me. How do I know that no verses were skipped, as I listened only to the ﬁrst minute? And didn’t I see the pair perform twice in 1975 and rave about it later? But I was so much less particular then. I’m fussier than that, now. Dylan and Baez sang together quite a bit in those days. She introduced him to American audiences on one of her early tours, and they led the Rolling Thunder venture a decade later. Their recorded legacy includes a recent concert CD, as well as a large slice of the recent “The Other Side of the Mirror” documentary DVD. To make a blanket statement about this whole era without doing all the research is irresponsible, and unfair. So take away my critic’s license. I’m ﬁfty-ﬁve-fucking-years old, and I’m not going to spend hours studying something when the answer is immediately clear. These two sound terrible. If the government had assembled an hour or two of this caterwauling and played it to the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Bin Ladin would be in captivity. They would have played him the whole concert, at which time he would have renounced terrorism, checked his own self into prison and kissed Bush in the lips–as long as they kept the music off the prison’s radio rotation. Today’s Dylan has no use for Baez, and you could not imagine her on stage with him now under any conditions. Dylan, in fact, doesn’t share the vocal mike with anyone, on his current tour he is the only vocalist. He may sing badly, but at least he’s the one taking the heat. I am certainly stuck in the past, music wise, and most enjoy the songs and performers that are already familiar. But sometimes it helps to listen with a critical ear and open mind. Some things will sustain forever, and will sound great even when we are deaf. Other cases require a look in the mirror, to wonder exactly what we were thinking.
family versions (published by www.pnwlocalnews.com): The Who’s Roger Daltrey to play Showbox SODO in rare club show While classic rock fans are used to seeing their heroes in small clubs in casinos, Who lead singer Roger Daltrey’s Oct. 12 performance at Seattle’s Showbox SODO is something of a special event. Three years ago the Who released Endless Wire (Amazon, iTunes), the rare occurrence of an old band making new music that actually matches the strength of their earlier efforts. On the side, Daltrey has continued acting such as an episode of CSI where he played a character that assumes four different disguises. And last year, The Who was honored at a Presidential ceremony at the Kennedy Center. While Who guitarist Pete Townshend prepares new material for a 2010 tour, Daltrey is taking the opportunity to get his voice in shape. Port Orchard Independent reporter Charlie Bermant, who moonlights as a rock writer, had a brief phone chat with Daltrey in September. Q: How are you preparing for the tour? A: I’m just sorting through material that I can represent, old solo stuff that I have never done live, and songs that the Who haven’t played for years. The idea is to get out there and sing, have some fun, and give people a good time during these miserable economic times. Q: Do you need to play certain songs that you don’t like, or that people will be disappointed to not hear? A: With all this material it’s more like: “what do I leave out?” People will be disappointed that I won’t be doing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and I won’t. Or “My Generation.” If they shout loud enough it will be easy enough to slip them in, but artistically I want to do stuff that is more of a challenge. Q: What about playing in small clubs? A: I’m looking forward to the intimacy and talking to the audience, which is something that I don’t really do with the Who. There will be a change in the amount of energy, and ability to reach out and touch the back wall, if you like. Q: What is the future of the Who? A: It’s very bright, which is the reason why I am doing this tour. We are going to be demoing stuff for a new album in December and I want to be in top voice for that. When we recorded the last one we hadn’t been out for three years. But the Who will be gigging next year, we have some big events lined up. It’s a ﬁery mix. When Pete and I hit the stage together it’s like, “there’s something dangerous going on here.” Q: Your CSI appearance was quite a showcase. A: I‘ve never seen it, although it was great fun. It was a most extraordinary week. I got to sing Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” which is a great song. I got the script and had some notion what to do with the characters, but had no clear idea until after they put on all the prosthetics. If you don’t know what the character looks like it’s hard to give them a body language and mannerisms. Then they put in the colored contact lenses, you look at yourself, and you are a complete stranger. I’m not sure that I’ve ever even seen CSI all the way through. It’s not that I am not a fan of CSI. I’m just not a fan of TV.
Roger McGuinn: The Byrd who will never be a dinosaur Roger McGuinn’s career divides into ﬁve stages: As lead singer of the original Byrds, he translated Bob Dylan’s poetic dissonance into a pop music language that could be comprehended by the general public. With a new set of Byrds he did the same for country rock, setting off the spark that more or less deﬁned the softer side of 1970s music. After the Byrds ended he was somewhat adrift, even as he managed high points like appearing in Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review and making an inspired album with former David Bowie sidekick Mick Ronson. In 1995 he began the Folk Den Project, recording one traditional song every month and posting it on the Internet with words and chords. The intent for people to learn the songs, work up their own versions and pass them on to others(McGuinn said he will never run out of traditional songs to reinterpret). Stage ﬁve touches down at three area venues; Oct. 23 at the Kentwood Performing Arts Center. Oct. 24 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts and at Bremerton’s Admiral Theater on Oct. 30. He promises to perform a cross-section of the famous and obscure tunes that have solidiﬁed his reputation as one of the most eclectic and compelling veteran rock performers. McGuinn’s repertoire draws from the Byrds, his solo albums and Folk Den tunes. “People would be disappointed if I didn’t do some of the Byrds’ classics,like ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ ‘Turn, Turn, Turn!’ and ‘Eight Miles High.’” McGuinn said. “These songs are all good songs that I enjoy playing. It’s not like they are bubblegum hits that I am going to be forced to play all my life.” McGuinn said that he carries four different instruments, to lend the show some variety. “If you liked the Byrds you will enjoy the show,” he said. McGuinn is one of three surviving Byrds, along with David Crosby and Chris Hillman; both of whom are eager to reunite. McGuinn admits that he is the only hold-out for such a reunion because he is “not interested in being part of an oldies band. “I just want to do my own solo thing,” he said. “My wife and I travel together, it’s real romantic and fun. I’ve been on the road with a bunch of guys, and I prefer traveling with my wife.” He decides what to play on the day of the show, when the couple has lunch at a local restaurant (he sticks to a pre-show diet of steak and broccoli) and hammers out a set list, based on what went over during his last performance in the area. “We tried all sorts of different eating combinations over the years and found that this meal will last him until we get back to the hotel after the concert,” Camilla McGuinn said. ”We also found out that carbs cause a hypoglycemic reaction in Roger so we limited them especially on the day of a show. It was real scary to watch him turn pale while playing ‘Eight Miles High.’ Now we don’t have that problem anymore.” McGuinn was already established during the psychedelic era, so he did not fall into its trappings. “I wasn’t really a hippie, although I did do a lot of the same things,” he said. “There was a lot of discontent with the hypocrisy of the system, politics and religion, and society in general. At the time we wanted to rid the world of poverty and hunger. We thought we could do it with music, which turned out to be overly ambitious. It turned out to be a big disappointment.” Another disappointment was the fact that the Byrds missed playing at the Woodstock Festival. “We probably had a gig somewhere else,” he said. “We didn’t know that it was going to be the biggest thing in the world.”
Ah, Daltrey INTERVIEW/GUEST LECTURE One of the privileges of my generation is the opportunity to watch the once-mighty play small clubs, but seeing someone of Roger Daltrey’s stature didn’t seem possible. But it’s happening. In preparation for a ﬂurry of activity by the Who in 2010, Daltrey is participating in a two-month jaunt where he promises to mine his own catalog for rare gems, and pull out Who songs that have not seen the light of day for some time. If the purpose is to get ready to grease the tracks for the big Who train, the most dedicated fans will have a chance to hang around the station for awhile. After a long static period Daltrey and the Who are hardly over the hill. Three years ago they released Endless Wire, the rare occurrence of a qqn old band making new music that actually matches the strength of their earlier efforts. On the side Daltrey has continued acting, such as an episode of CSI where he played a character that assumes four different disguises. And last year, The Who was honored at a Presidential ceremony at the Kennedy Center. Not so long ago we didn’t really expect much more from The Who, aside from another victory lap. So it is nice to know there are still some surprises left. Sonic Boomers: How are you preparing for the tour? Roger Daltrey: I’m just sorting through material that I can represent, old solo stuff that I have never done live, and songs that the Who haven’t played for years. The idea is to get out there and sing, have some fun, and give people a good time during these miserable economic times. SB: Do you need to play certain songs that you don’t like, or that people will be disappointed to not hear? RD: There will always be people who will be disappointed, with a catalog like the Who. I want to do songs that the Who haven’t done in the last ten years, or if I do them it will be totally different, my version of what they should be. There is a lot that I haven’t done live, like from my last solo album (1992’s Rocks in the Head), which has four good rock songs that I want to play. With all this material it’s more like: “what do I leave out?” People will be disappointed that I won’t be doing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and I won’t. Or “My Generation.” If they shout loud enough it will be easy enough to slip them in, but artistically I want to do stuff that is more of a challenge. SB: What about playing in small clubs? RD: I’m looking forward to the intimacy and talking to the audience, which is something that I don’t really do with the Who. There will be a change in the amount of energy, and ability to reach out and touch the back wall, if you like. SB: What are you usually thinking onstage? RD: When I’m onstage with the Who I am always trying to get my brain together for the next song. You live all these words, and play the song as if it were the ﬁrst time. It takes me to a space where things come naturally and subconsciously, which is much better than having something planned out. I don’t think in a real sense. If I start thinking too much about it I lose my way. I forget the words. SB: Do you use teleprompters? RD: No. SB: You’ve played more guitar with the Who lately. Does that take away from your singing? RD: No, it’s easier for the phrasing and the rhythm, if I am playing guitar. There are a lot of acoustic guitars on Who records, so it’s nice to put some of it back. I don’t swing the microphone as much, but the old eye and the old shoulder aren’t good for that kind of thing anymore. I’m a bit worried about missing it, and whacking someone. SB: You and Pete were honored last year at the Kennedy Center, where George Bush read a tribute. What were you thinking, then? RD: I was thinking “what the fuck am I doing here?” It was not a political event, and it was a not a place to drive in your politics. It was totally surreal. Everyone was very gracious. I just went for the party. It was great to have two days of people entertaining me rather than me having to entertain them. It was a wonderful event, especially with the history of the band over the last ten years, with John going. It’s been a hell of a roller coaster. SB: But when he introduced you Bush didn’t seem to know who you were. RD: It didn’t matter. That’s all personalities and politics. I don’t give a shit about that. It was nice to be honored by America, which I have a great affection for. With all those other people, Morgan Freeman, Barbara Streisand, Twyla Tharp, all who are at the top of their professions, I wondered, how did I end up here? So we accepted it, graciously. I didn’t ever do anything great to deserve this, it’s just what I do. I was wonderful to be honored by your country, and I was really proud of Pete. He is one of the great popular music writers of the twentieth century. He’s made his mark, that’s for sure. And I had the good luck to be the voice for that. And I have never forgotten how lucky I have been. During that time have I added something to the mix? Yes, there’s no doubt. The two of us together have always had a lot more strength than either one of us individually. SB: There has been some friction, though. RD: There is still a tension between us. We respect each other, but we don’t always agree. We have the courage to challenge each other all the time. It’s a ﬁery mix. When Pete and I hit the stage together it’s like, “fuck me, there’s something dangerous going on here.” We just know if one of us makes a mistake the other will jump right in. There aren’t so many arguments anymore, they’re just differences of opinion. We don’t have the same drive to argue as we did when we were younger, but in some ways we will always be tied to our past. SB: What about this rumor that Charlie Watts has left the Rolling Stones? RD: If Charlie leaves the Stones, the Stones are all over. I hope that they do another tour, where they strip down and be like when they started. For me, that would be magic. They’re a great band. I hope that Keith can still move his ﬁngers enough to play the way he plays. Mick is singing better
than ever. But he should stop running around on those big stages. They don’t need the circus anymore. They are great musicians. SB: What is the future of the Who? RD: It’s very bright, which is the reason why I am doing this tour. We are going to be demoing stuff for a new album in December and I want to be in top voice for that. When we recorded the last one we hadn’t been out for three years. But the Who will be gigging next year, we have some big events lined up. We could play Quadrophenia, or Tommy, or go with the show we have now, which is greatest hits with some more obscure ones put in. My dream would be go on the road and do Tommy for a week, Quadrophenia for a week and then the hits show the week after. With the Who we are never short of material. SB: You could go on tour but not tell the fans what they are getting at a particular show. RD: That’s worth a try, isn’t it? SB: What is Zak Starkey’s role in the Who? Is he is an ofﬁcial member? RD: He’s not a full member, but he is our drummer of choice. He ﬁts so well into the Who. It’s one thing to have someone who musically ﬁts, but Zak’s personality ﬁts totally into the band. We have a very cohesive family on the road. SB: Your CSI appearance was quite a showcase. RD: I‘ve never seen it, although it was great fun. It was a most extraordinary week. I got to sing Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” which is a great song. I got the script and had some notion what to do with the characters, but had no clear idea until after they put on all the prosthetics. If you don’t know what the character looks like it’s hard to give them a body language and mannerisms. Then they put in the colored contact lenses, you look at yourself, and you are a complete stranger. I’m not sure that I’ve ever even seen CSI all the way through. It’s not that I am not a fan of CSI. I’m just not a fan of TV.
Confessions of a Who Snob LECTURE September 7, 2009 @ 7:28 pm Edit This Journalists are faced with conﬂict of interest opportunities every day. It’s obvious that you should never deliberately lie or plagiarize, but the harder decisions come around issues that are not so easily deﬁned. Like when reporters acquire information that can, if revealed, affect their personal interest. You would like to think they do the right thing more often than not in these cases, but there isn’t one who hasn’t been tempted in such a situation. My crisis moment occurred last week, when I was editing the transcript of a Roger Daltrey interview to be published on the Sonic Boomers website. Daltrey was describing how his upcoming tour would feature songs that haven’t been played live a lot lately, from both his solo career and the Who catalog. He promised that he would sing rescued Who songs his own way, naming “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “My Generation” as the castoffs. Then he reveals the source of my own moral conﬂict: He has no plans to play these songs, but might “if people should loud enough we’ll be able to slip them in.” I was tempted to withhold this quote, despite its news worth. I don’t care if I ever hear “Won’t Get Fooled Again” again, aside from my yearly backslide into Who’s Next worship. And a shot at hearing “Bitter and Twisted” or “Relax” live is a real temptation. But if I publish this it will encourage random yahoos everywhere to yell out “Pinball Wizard” at every opportunity and essentially ruin the experience of everyone else there. Speciﬁcally, me. If I don’t publish, then I am committing the worst journalistic sin, that of controlling the information in order to improve my personal situation. If I keep my mouth shut, maybe no jerks will start yelling out the names of songs that we’re all sick of, just to get in a shouting match with Daltrey and bully him into playing his lame request. So I have found a compromise. They don’t let just anyone read the RPB blog, those of you gathered here have a sense of quality and restraint. The writers of this blog are, like myself, powerful and inﬂuential members of the rock journalism community. So if I share this here perhaps we can control the situation, preventing that idiot crew from ruining our experience by shouting out for the boring stuff. Daltrey last toured solo in 1994. It could be another 15 years before this happens again. So let’s behave ourselves, shall we?
Daltrey’s R-r-r-regeneration FIELD TRIP Roger Daltrey Showbox SODO, Seattle October 12, 2009 We need to immediately dispatch this old man crap; Roger Daltrey’s age, how good he looks in its spite, and of course that whole “hope I die before I get old” nonsense. Although if he had chosen to sing “My Generation” tonight it could have been delivered with a healthy dose of irony. Daltrey’s tour is supposed to provide a training lap for the next phase of the Who, where he promised to play songs from throughout his career his own way. Or at least that’s what he said when I talked to him for Sonicboomers in September. This could be a crapshoot, as Daltrey’s ”way” could have been dreadful. Instead, it was pretty subtle. He stripped out a lot of the effects of “Who Are You,” essentially boosting its power, and added a few extra bars to the ”Squeezebox” coda. Otherwise, the renditions were pretty faithful and well executed. He faithfully resurrected ”Pictures of Lily” and “I Can See For Miles” and rescued “Going Mobile” from its slot as the weakest track on Who’s Next. Less compelling was “Blue, Red and Grey,” but perhaps it suffered from being moved out of its setlist order, landing immediately after a surprise appearance by a local hero, Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder. Midway into the set Daltrey called for a “special friend” and Vedder strolled on without introduction, playing one of the band’s own sunburst guitars. At that point half the crowd pulled out their cameras and pointed them at the stage, yielding a Christmas tree effect. After duetting Pearl Jam’s Better Man” Vedder took off the guitar and started to walk off, but Daltrey said how much he enjoyed singing together and invited him to stay on. They did “The Real Me” trading off verses at ﬁrst and then trading off individual lines. Vedder seemed to sing the ﬁnal line–that howl–but Daltrey ended the song with a howl of his own. Daltrey told stories in between, like when a young Leo Sayer wrote “Giving it All Away,” but most of the verbiage was lost in the noise. Even if you could only understand the context, he gets points for actually talking to the audience in a real way. When the Who play Seattle next year it will more than likely occur in one of the large halls, and sell out quickly. So it’s odd how tickets were available for this week’s show, and any Who fan in the region could plunk down $40 and see one of the big boys play to a small crowd. Many experienced concertgoers complain about how the experience has degenerated, but this was fairly low-impact. Going to concerts can be a tremendous inconvenience, but if you stay alert there is still a chance for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Setlist: Who Are You, Pictures of Lily, Going Mobile, A Second Out, Tattoo, I Can See for Miles, Gimme a Stone, Freedom Ride, Giving it all Away, Squeezebox, Days of Light, *Better Man, *The Real Me, Blue Red and Grey, Walk on Water, Young Man Blues/Shakin’ All Over, Baba O’Riley, Johnny Cash medley, *Bargain.
* with eddie vedder
CLASS DISCUSSION Rock’s Backpages Blog comment section Going to concerts can be a tremendous inconvenience, but if you stay alert there is still a chance for a once-in-a-lifetime experience< Inconveniently located and operated venue. Once-in-a-lifetime show. I was left thinking “I won’t be forgetting this one”. They killed on the rockers, thanks particularly to the drummer who Devour-ed the songs. If the Two do go out again they should take this guy with them instead of Zak, who although great in Tacoma during 1996 mostly just kept the beat in Seattle 2006. Comment by Ron B — October 14, 2009 @ 2:37 am # I dunno, Zak looks pretty good to me. Both for how he plays, and Who he is. Comment by Charlie Bermant — October 14, 2009 @ 5:23 pm # Starkey did nothing to generate excitement at the 2006 show until the Tommy rave-up at the very end; even the drum break during a generally tepid ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ appeared to have been executed with as little playing as possible. Scott Devours on the other hand brought back a taste of the old glory with his strong playing, even maintaining the snare roll on ‘I Can See for Miles’. Comment by Ron B — October 14, 2009 @ 6:08 pm # You’re probably right, from a drummer’s perspective. But I missed the drum roll you mentioned, and actually didn’t notice Devours at all–aside from the fact that he was part of a very powerful, polished band. Many listeners don’t pick things apart on that level, and enjoy the music as a single entity. Not saying who is right or wrong, it just is. Some of us only notice the individual parts when they malfunction. If Zak misses a speciﬁc riff we may not care. Comment by Charlie Bermant — October 14, 2009 @ 10:14 pm # The thing with Who songs is most of them were recorded with Keith, with his rolls and ﬁlls a big part of their distinctiveness. You don’t have to be a drummer (I’m not) for them to sound unsatisfactory when played with key drum parts left out. Any songs recorded and played at ﬁrst with the rest of the instruments pausing for the drummer to ﬁll in will sound underperformed and underpowered if later the band still makes the pauses but the drummer doesn’t ﬁll them. As with various incarnations of postMoon Who I noticed the same peculiarity at an Eric Clapton show, Cream tunes being played as though Ginger was still involved but with the current drummer leaving the holes unﬁlled. Comment by Ron B — October 15, 2009 @ 2:16 am # You’re right, again. But you need to relax your expectations. As musicians get older–and even die–recreating the original in any faithful way isn’t gonna happen. If you must hear it a certain way, and will be disappointed to not hear a certain drum roll, perhaps you should stay home and listen to the latest remasters. I’d rather approach it with a bit more openness, asking just one question: Does it sound good, or not? Do I get anything positive out of seeing this person live, or is it depressing? OK, that’s two questions. When I ﬁrst started going to concerts it was at a time when the best ones were new experiences and the songs were decidedly different than the recorded versions. For instance, I saw the Who in 1970 with the promise that they were going to play a slew of new songs. Instead they did “Tommy,” again. Again, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’d just rather be me, right now. Comment by Charlie Bermant — October 15, 2009 @ 3:15 am # My expectations were exceeded, making the experience that much more enjoyable. After seeing 4 versions of the post-Moon Who 5 times (and a John Entwistle solo show) I was pleased to ﬁnally see someone drive all the more rocking songs home. Simon Phillips actually produced a thundering wall of sound (a la Keith) at the end of ‘My Generation’ during 1989 in Tacoma. But the next show, in Vancouver he played it the way Kenny Jones used to. Scott Devours was right there every time this recent show with Roger. Comment by Ron B — October 15, 2009 @ 4:17 am # Thanks for the discussion, Cheers. Comment by Charlie Bermant — October 15, 2009 @ 5:56 am
Tom Rush: No Regrets GUEST LECTURE/FILM Tom Rush is telling a story about writing “No Regrets,” the potent end-of-relationship ballad for which he is best known. It was, he said, written for a woman he had not yet won, and ﬁgured that it would help his chances. It worked, as she was then pictured on the cover of The Circle Game, his breakthrough 1968 album. The story continues, about how the song becomes a self-fulﬁlling prophecy. The relationship ends, and the woman departs. To Venice. Where she drowns. Rush sobs. The audience laughs. And the story continues, adding to an evening that combines tall tales about modern life and songs about what it takes to live it. Folksingers have offered combinations of stories, songs and miscellaneous observations forever, and it still works when done right. “Did I mention that I have a kid in college? he says before the intermission, prime time for merchandising. “If everyone buys a CD, then he can go to college. And if everyone buys three CDs then he won’t need to go to college. He’d like that.” Rush recorded nine studio albums between 1963 and 1974, and just released a tenth, What I Know, earlier this year. He says it is “maybe the best thing I’ve done.” Great records are more than just music and lyrics, their effect also depends on where you were when you ﬁrst heard them. So even if What I Know doesn’t whack you upside the head today it could achieve future greatness. During his touring years he was all about telephones and managers and where he had to be at noon. Today, he takes short mini-tours, traveling solo with suitcase and guitars in hand, handling all the merchandising and performing all the roadie’s duties on his own. He spends ten minutes in the lobby prior to the show, demonstrating how to run the credit cards. He isn’t often recognized on planes, except for some security personnel who have left little fan notes in his guitar case. The venues have also changed, since the glory days of Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Tonight, he is scheduled in the performing arts center at the Kent-Meridian High School in Kent, Washington. It’s quite an ordeal getting in, through miles of suburban clutter that leads to a labyrinthine palace devoted to secondary education. After asking directions from a series of clueless joggers we ﬁnally ﬁnd the right door, which leads into a school lunchroom. The “hidden” auditorium is posh and comfortable with a great line of sight. If nothing else in today’s world is certain it is clear that kids these days have a nice place to practice. It turns out that the school setting is appropriate, as tonight’s audience is the senior class, This same group could have gathered in 1970. Recognizing this, my 53-year-old companion notes that she is the youngest person in the room. Rush not only plays a healthy two sets, but spends the intermission and post-concert period in the lobby signing autographs and hearing how much these songs meant once upon a time ago. He’s heard it all before, but still listens politely. “I don’t mind the personal contact,” he said. “I answer the e-mails folks send me and go out and chat with them at halftime and after the show. These people have paid my rent for 50 years so the least I can do is go out and say hello.” Rush is best known as a “folksinger,” which has several deﬁnitions. One of the most widely held is someone who travels from town to town, learning a song in one place and teaching it in another. Modern times have complicated things, but in some ways it has stayed the same. An illustration comes later during the protracted “No Regrets” intro, when Rush tells of how a few lines from the song “magically appeared” into the head of a singer, who added it to what he was singing at the time. This would be only ﬂattering, except the singer was that guy in U2, and his memory twitch found life on TV, on a DVD and in live performances. Pretty soon Rush paid them a cordial visit, but reminded them after all this re-use “there were royalties involved.” We don’t have the documents, but Rush doesn’t seem especially upset about the situation. “No Regrets” was a hit for the Walker Brothers, which Bono probably heard growing up. Perhaps he in fact spontaneously recalled the song and thought he’d give them a plug. Except for the fact that good folk singing is a little like good journalism: You should always attribute your sources. And if there are two types of musicians, Rush belongs to the category that is scrupulous about acknowledging song’s origins. For this year’s senior class there are three killer songs. These are predictable: The aforementioned “No Regrets,” Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going” and “Child’s Song.” Tonight’s audience most likely ﬁrst heard this powerfully affecting song about leaving home in proximity to their own initial ﬂight now they hear it from the opposite side. Rush himself is visibly moved at the song’s close, choking back his own emotions before swinging into “Who Do You Love.” He asks our permission to play one more song because he does not want to leave us with a sad one. Yes, he’s done this before. But it is still authentic. Much like a good folk song. Rush talks about following the old blues guys around Boston, acting like a star struck geek. Now, he is the old guy. And we hope that somebody is following Rush around and learning his tricks, because even in these new media days there are some things you need to learn on your own. Rush has a few contemporaries left, still making new music and avoiding the indignity of playing a string of hits to people in casinos. “Sometimes we sit around and tell war stories,” he said of his old fraternity. “But most of us focus on what is going on now, not what happened before. The road behind us is less interesting than what’s coming up.” FOR A VIDEO VERSION GO HERE: http://blip.tv/ﬁle/2007449/
Arlo Guthrie: Alice is Back on the Menu FIELD TRIP/GUEST LECTURE ALICE’S RESTAURANT’ is back on the menu. First released in 1967 as the title track of Arlo Guthrie’s debut album, the 18-minute talking blues
narrative became a counterculture touchstone, and along with ‘Ina-Gadda-Da-Vida’, redeﬁned what was played on radio. Guthrie, then 20, took audiences by surprise with his sly, sarcastic delivery of a tale concerning Thanksgiving, garbage and draft boards. The song was decidedly of its time, and has a deﬁnite “you had to be there” feel. It is now quaint to imagine high school kids sitting around in circles playing the full version of the song to each other, forming clubs called “The Group W Bench” to celebrate their rebellion. Unlike the aggressive nature of modern social commentary, ‘Alice’ made listeners simultaneously laugh and think. And to this day, there are still people who take time out of their Thanksgiving to play the song in full as if it were part of their family history. Arlo is headlining the Guthrie Family Legacy tour. He is the linchpin between his father, (folksinger Woody Guthrie, who wrote ‘This Land is Your Land’ and characterized his guitar as a machine that ﬁghts fascism) and his children. Son Abe is the band’s musical director. Daughter Sarah Lee, along with husband Johnny Irion, ﬁlters Woody through Arlo to come up with her own brand of socially compelling roots rock. As part of a tour that began last July, the Guthrie clan touches down at the Admiral Theater April 12. At press time there were only about 100 tickets remaining, with circles, arrows and a paragraph on the back of every one. TRANSCRIPT, March 13 2006 9 a.m. PDT. Key West Inn, this is Tammy. Can I help you? Arlo Guthrie, please. Arlo Guthrie? The musician? Is he staying here? I was given this number. I’ll check. Hang on. Hello? Mr. Guthrie? This is Charlie Bermant, from What’s Up Magazine, Kitsap County, Washington. Hi. Where’s that? Bremerton. You are playing the Admiral Theater on April 12. Oh yeah. I love the Admiral. It’s a great place. What should we expect to hear? We are on the last six weeks of the Guthrie Family Legacy Tour. It’s a way to have fun with my family, singing some of my dad’s old songs and some of his new songs. Some of my old songs and some of my new songs. And some spontaneous songs. And ‘Alice’ is back on the menu. Your dad died in 1967. How can there be new songs? He left about 3500 handwritten poems with no tune. My sister took some of them to different musicians and it resulted in several albums by Billy Bragg, Wilco and some other people. I’ve worked on some of the songs too, but we are all family so there is no copyright. Why ‘Alice’ now? These times are looking eerily familiar. Right now, you never know where the next group of soldiers are going to come from. So the song has some legs. The song originally took me about a year to write, from 1965 to 1966. So we are celebrating its 40th anniversary. I never thought I’d be singing it for that long. I’d never thought I’d be performing for this long. We did it for the 15th anniversary in 1983, and re-recorded the whole Alice’s Restaurant album in 1996 in the same church where it all happened. Now it is closer to the
way we did it originally. We took some of the material out. A lot of people today don’t know who Nixon was, and don’t know anything about the 18-minute gap. What did your father think of ‘Alice’? We like to say that we played it for him and he passed away. It was way before CDs so we had an acetate, a test pressing, that we played for him. By that time he was pretty gone. He smiled. Did you play it for him as a work in progress? No. How does it feel to turn 60? I haven’t really thought about that yet. I don’t ever know what’s going to happen. I started playing at the beginning of the “Folk Scare,” and was six to ten years younger than most of the people that were playing, like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. I was always one of the young kids showing up at the festivals. Now I’m one of the older ones playing. There are not many of us around. But right now there are some great new pickers. How do the stories ﬁt in? When I started performing and included stories the audience would tell me to shut up and sing. After I had played ‘Alice’ for a while and then stopped the audience wanted me to stop singing and talk. But I am not out to please everybody. I’m not a pop star that just repeats himself. If I take a loss in the audience because I don’t play the same thing over and over that’s ﬁne. There are other places that people can go to see that kind of stuff. How do you keep things fresh? If I get to the point where I can do a song in my sleep it becomes like a trained seal act. If I ever ﬁnd myself drifting while playing a song I will just take it off the show. But It’s a two way street. You have to train the audience to accept the new stuff and they have to train you to know what is working. But you want to be creative. Some of the songs that you play over and over again you add new elements. Like ‘Coming into Los Angeles’ or ‘City of New Orleans’. Some parts are exactly the same. We can always do a good show. But we can never do a great show unless we are willing to risk doing a bad one. We take that risk, and it pays off about one in a hundred times. To do a great show where everything works and everyone plays right doesn’t happen too often. I’ve done it three or four times throughout the years. Fortunately I’ve gotten them on tape and released them as albums. What’s the secret to doing a great show? If I knew that, I’d do one every night. How are you feeling now? I feel great. Never felt better. There was a test that I could have taken for the (hereditary) disease (Huntington’s Chorea) but it would only tell me if I had it. There was nothing I could do about it. Who the hell wants to know? Your kids feel the same way? Yeah. Thanks for talking to me. I may come to one of the shows, and promise that I won’t disrupt things by yelling for ‘Guabi Guabi’ (from 1977’s Amigos). Well, just call out for it. If we are relaxed enough and in the mood we just might try it. Thanks, Arlo.
Professor McGuinn explains it all to you
After class, Professor J. Roger McGuinn explains to one of his students why she is getting a ﬂunking grade this term.
FINAL EXAM It’s been an exciting six weeks, with shows by Crosby, Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan, Roger Daltrey and Roger McGuinn. This added up to a master class in what I now call “classical music,” although only McGuinn acted like a real professor. You may not know to look at him, but McGuinn once breathed the same air as the Beatles, Dylan and the rest of the long gone aristocracy. Those who have not maintained their fame have suffered somewhat, it is a devastating blow to lose the spotlight, and ﬁnd your best efforts are no longer good enough for the ﬁckle public. When someone leaves the spotlight they don’t have a lot of options, and are usually forced to play their same old hits in the same old way. McGuinn has gone down another path. He sits the audience down and walks them through his life, explaining details about the experience and providing a depth that would be absent in a rapid ﬁre blast-from-the-past recreation. McGuinn has some tales to tell, after nearly ﬁfty years onstage. Starting as a back-up player during the 1960s folk boom, he guided two stages of the Byrds–ﬁrst interpreting Dylan’s song for the masses (and having the stones to cut out a lot of the nonessential verses) and for providing the template for what became country rock. He tells these stories a lot, as the autobiographical version of his show is rotated and reﬁned per his whim. He bribed his way into a bar and jammed with one famous folk group while underage, and they hired him on the spot. They ﬂew him to LA, and subsequently became the in-demand backup guy, hopping from one hot group to another. As one door closed another opened, and he slid right through. Has it ever happened to any of us, that we have a great job when someone visits and offers another position that pays twice as much? And you get to be famous, as a bonus. He is a real gentleman, spinning the stories in a positive way. We hear only how the Byrds explored new avenues, leaving out the ego-driven soap opera sequence that has been accepted as truth. He tells his tales in a relaxed, extemporaneous voice, noting that it wasn’t always cool to talk to the audience (and it still isn’t if Dylan show just weeks ago proves). The next day I heard recordings of McGuinn live from ten years ago, telling the very same story. Surprising, because it seemed so fresh the previous night. McGuinn has refused to participate in a Byrds reunion, even as the other survivors (David Crosby and Chris Hillman) are reportedly eager to do so. Instead, he prefers to tour accompanied only by his wife Camilla. He doesn’t want to be touring with a bunch of cranky old guys, and ﬁnds it “more romantic” to tour on this scale. I could speculate, that Crosby was such an unforgivable asshole in the Byrds that McGuinn has decided to not forgive him. He is a gentleman, after all, and gentlemen have rules. Both McGuinns are cordial and pleasant, answering the same questions for the thousandth time. They even have a little fun along the way. During the break I told Camilla my favorite-ever McGuinn song was “Dreamland” from 1976’s Cardiff Rose, written by Joni Mitchell and arranged by Mick Ronson. Joni’s own version was inferior, and lacked the ﬁre of McGuinn’s reading. I acknowledged the song would go unplayed this evening, because my favorites are always absent. She agreed, saying that McGuinn “probably wouldn’t remember all the verses.” Except he slips it into the set, along with its very own story. I suspect that Camilla made the request on my behalf, something she later won’t conﬁrm or deny. McGuinn, for his part, does the song closer to Joni Mitchell’s version, and ﬂubs the ﬁnal verse.
workbook must be returned to instructor or final grade will be withheld. this item is on loan to: ___________________ ___________________ ___________________ ___________________ ___________________
an account of four concerts by veteran rock stars over a six week period; presented as if it were part of a college course.