How’s it going, true Baleievers?
Not much going on presently in the land of the Abominable Snowcone. It’s 11:20am on a cold Tuesday in Cleveland—as good a time as any for another injection of Prozium.
Speaking of weather, what’s the deal with these freezing temperatures? The morning news on TV reported that this winter has seen 26 more days below freezing than last year. That’s another entire month of sub-zero weather! Global warming? Kiss my ass! Spring technically began over a week ago—but I had to use the ice scraper again to clear off my windshield this morning. The heat and defrost were cranked on the commute to work. That’s not Spring. Cleveland—a gritty town where the sun doesn’t shine for months on end—doesn’t really acknowledge Spring till mid-April, by which time the Indians (for better or worse) have opened their baseball season and the temps generally exceed 50 degrees without plunging into Hoth digits on the thermometer.
Today is Mrs. Snowcone’s birthday. The big 4-0. She acknowledged last night that she’s somewhat frazzled by the milestone. I downplayed it—you’re as old as you feel, it’s just a number, etcetera. And I do believe that. We’ve been married over thirteen years. We’ve dated for over two decades—which means I’ve known her intimately for at least half of her forty years. I continue riding shotgun with her on this adventure called life, as we raise our two mini-Aboms to be the Professionals we know they can be.
Keeping busy on the other blogs these days—particularly over at www.theclevelandsound.com . Did some phone interviews with Henry Rollins and David Thomas (of Pere Ubu). Rollins was a fantastic interview. Thomas was something of a grump—and I didn’t feel badly for missing the Ubu show at Beachland on March 19th. However, I did catch Rollins last Friday in the lovely Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art. His spoken word performance lasted 2.5 hours without so much as a sip of water. Very articulate, quite funny, and often insightful. Say what you will about his music (I’m a fan), but Rollins is a Professional.
Sadly, I had to leave the Rollins gig halfway through and race down Euclid Avenue to the House of Blues, where Willie Nelson was playing. I’d gotten an eleventh-hour email from his press people saying I was approved for a photo pass, and I couldn’t not get those shots. I felt like a heel scurrying out of the aisle from the Rollins gig—but I did so knowing Henry would probably appreciate my intentions. I’m Professional, too. So I hauled ass downtown, paid dearly to park my car (again), and hit the HOB box office with what I thought was mere minutes to spare. Turns out I was early; the opening band hadn’t even taken the stage yet. I had plenty of time to prep for Willie, and probably could have stayed with Rollins another half-hour. Oh well. I got some cool pictures of everyone’s favorite grandfatherly country toker.
Took the kids to a Neon Trees concert at John Carroll University on Saturday. The little Aboms are huge fans of the Trees, who are known for their bubblegum pop-alternative hits “Animal” and “1983.” The gig was something of a secret affair, known to very few people beyond the JCU student-body. It was their annual spring concert; past years have featured shows by Ben Folds, Nickelback, and Third Eye Blind. I got some decent photos there (Tony Decarlo gymnasium) as well, and the kids had a great time rocking out with Tyler Glenn and Elaine Bradley—whom I chatted with while working HOB last year—and who are the nicest, most unpretentious people you could want to meet.
In other music news, I recommend the latest from Colin Hay. Gathering Mercury (reviewed here on AIBN) is available now, and its musical contents will improve your life. If you order the disc from www.newburycomics.com, Colin will autograph it for you. He’s Professional like that. If you’d rather wait and pick up the CD at one of Colin’s fantastic live shows, he’ll still autograph it for you after the concert. Like I said, he’s way Professional. Thirty years have passed since the release of Men at Work’s Business as Usual. I wouldn’t have guessed in the mid-eighties that Colin Hay would rule my car disc-changer for weeks on end every time he dropped a new disc post-2000s.
On the book front, I suggest Sammy Hagar’s new Red biography on Harper Collins. It’s not earth-shattering, nor is it particularly intellectual. But it is a fun, quick read for rock and roll devotees, like me—who worship at the altar of all things Van Halen, Red Rocker, and Chickenfoot. I also recommend the book that inspired the film Kill the Irishman by Rick Porrello. I also give a thumbs-up to everything by Willy Vlautin, including Northline, Motel Life, and Lean on Pete. If you like dark tales of Americana about imperfect people with imperfect lives, Vlautin is your writer.
I feel badly for the folks in Japan who lost their lives or were displaced by the earthquake and tsunami. It’s the stuff Roland Emmerich dreams of—and celebrates on film—but it’s disheartening when it happens in real life to real people.
Speaking of disasters, one of those space shuttles recently completed its final mission without blowing up. Discovery, was it? Guess NASA can close that book. And we’re nowhere closer to Mars or anywhere else, and haven’t returned to the moon—even if just to say we did it again. Instead, we send people up to masturbate in orbit. C’mon now, show of hands—who sort of secretly hoped something bad would happen?
We just passed Ash Wednesday. It is now the Lenten season, if you’re into all that. I was raised Catholic Christian but am presently as lapsed as they come. There’s almost another month until Easter. Why so late this year? Ah, these strange pregnant pauses between Patty’s Day and Easter. Fuck winter. Did I say that already?
Addendum: 4 April 2011.
Apparently, the Academy of Country Music Awards 2011 was televised last night.
This is a big deal, I guess, because country music is just another kind of “pop” music these days. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry. I noticed resurgence in country music—or what passes for “country” music—back in the early nineties when Billy Ray Cyrus and Garth Brooks started crossing over into the mainstream. Or should I say, guys like them started pulling an audience from the mainstream over the white picket fence into “country” territory.
Since then, the media have groomed dozens of what I perceive to be the country bubblegum equivalents of mainstream pop artists like Britney Spears and Katie Perry. Only difference is, they’re a little better-dressed and have names that sound so down-home it’s ridiculous: Kix Brooks, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban. You’ll never see a country star named Phil Schudowski. He’d have to change his name to something that evokes country imagery—like Billy Honeysuckles or Bobby Joe Pebblecreek.
Did you see the awards? Me neither, because I could give a fuck. But I saw some Internet photos of the awards presenters and recipients—and I’ll be damned if they’re not mostly blonde and beautiful. Do a Google search and tell me I’m wrong. Kimberly Perry, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Nettles, Carrie Underwood, Julianne Hough—all of these vixens were featured on the show. All of them are very blonde, very well-dressed, gorgeous, and—unlike their pop-star peers—devoid of any conspicuous tattoos.
But this focus on imagery by the country industry begs a question: What happened to the old days, when what passed for “country” was songs about living hard, (mostly) by mustachioed men in flannel shirts and big belt buckles you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley? I wonder what Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings have to say about bands like Rascal Flatts and Lady Antebellum, who appear more concerned with how their hair looks in videos and on billboards advertising country radio stations. Willie Nelson is in his seventies and is twice the man any of those Rascal Flatts guys will ever be.
It takes more than pedal steel to make a song “country.” There was a time when it took a certain kind of attitude. Heavy metal requires a certain kind of attitude. Punk rock breeds—and is bred by—a unique spirit as well. There was a time, back when Dukes of Hazard ruled Friday nights, when Kenny Rogers and George Strait were country. You could imagine these guys bailing hay, breaking wild horses, and getting greasy under the hoods of pickup trucks on roadsides deep in the sticks. You think Tim McGraw ever got his fingernails dirty? I don’t. You think he has bad teeth? He’s the Kip Winger of country.
Or what is called “country” today.
I got news for you: What used to be country now travels under new labels, like “roots music,” “Americana,” and “folk.” And there are still some great artists out there. Give a listen to anything by Tom Russell. Check out Love and Fear or Blood and Candle Smoke. Lookup Dave Alvin. Or if you want a pretty lookin’ songbird with a voice like silk, check out Eliza Gilkyson.
Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift are outrageously good-looking. So much so that even if they did miraculously come up with a good song I could get into, I’d still be hard-pressed to take it seriously, coming from a hot chick in a prom dress. I hear Swift and Antebellum were big winners this year. Where were Alabama and The Oak Ridge Boys? Doesn’t anyone want to kick a little country ass anymore? Or is “I Need You Now” the epitome of country? If it is, I dislike it more now than ever, because it’s nearly indistinguishable from pop. It’s like, if it’s up-tempo and sung by a chick, and it has a drum machine, it’s “pop.” If authentic drums were used in the recording and lap steel or banjo are involved—bingo—you’re in the “country.” The amount of hairspray and Mary Kay cosmetics used is about the same.
Long live Johnny Cash.