Tag Archives: Bonus Content

Guest Blogger Avi Glijansky: Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

14 Sep

I met Avi through my AADA-attending roommates soon after moving home to New York at a Midtown dive bar where he and his band used to play music I loved (and still love).  I was cranky when he moved to LA.

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OK, full disclosure: A song from this album was performed during my wedding ceremony this past October. I tell you this up-front, because it seems only fair that you get a hint of my biases before reading on.

But here’s the thing; when a friend first shared this Bright Eyes album with me, I really expected to dislike them. Honestly, some of my personal prejudices at the time made me want to dislike them. But then I listened, and despite myself I became a fan.

Bright Eyes aren’t exactly a band. For a long time it was just the name that Singer/Guitarist/Songwriter Connor Oberst recorded under with whomever he was making music at the time. Oberst is an indie rock wunderkind, hailed by The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and others as a significant “new” artist when he released his 2002 album LIFTED, OR THE STORY IS IN THE SOIL KEEP YOUR EAR TO THE GROUND at the age of 22. “New,” was a relative term though, since he’d already released 3 albums as Bright Eyes by that point.   He was part of the influential Omaha Music scene of the early 00’s (his brother co-founded Saddle Creek Records), and a member of the indie rock in crowd. Oh yeah, and when he was 23 he dated Winona Ryder.

For all the above reasons, I really wanted to dislike the guy. It was a chip on my shoulder owing something to the fact that we’re the same age and he had done all that, while I was a film student with a Rock ‘n Roll habit in the form of a band that didn’t seem it would ever amount to much (nor did it). Boy geniuses writing political protest songs just rubbed me the wrong way.

But like I said, then I listened.

Oberst and the musicians he brought together for this album are terrific craftsmen. The arrangements on the album are minimal, mostly acoustic guitars and other folk instrumentation; pedal steel, mandolins, Rhodes, and often only a couple at a time. Despite that, the songs don’t feel spare or barren. They feel vibrant, full, and when embellishments pop up (a trumpet that helps carry out Land Locked Blues or one of Emmylou Harris’ pitch perfect turns as an additional vocalist) they don’t feel showy or gimmicky. The choruses may not be arena-sized, but there are plenty of deceptively ear-wormy hooks. It’s easy to catch yourself singing along and tapping your feet. Oberst’s voice isn’t classically strong or pretty, but it’s an emotive instrument and he knows how to use it best on each song.

After a spoken intro (more on that in a few), At the Bottom of Everything kicks things off with a prime example of Oberst’s style of protest song. Musically, the track sticks close to the form, 4 chords and a melody that uses repetition to lend the lyrics an air of mantra-like purpose. It’s a survey of our society’s failings (materialism, inequality, religious fundamentalism, etc.) and could be an Occupy anthem penned 6 years early. But just because the subject matter isn’t novel doesn’t mean it’s not worth writing about, and the turns of phrase he employs are interesting and effective.

“And in the face of every criminal/Strapped firmly to a chair/We must stare, we must stare, we must stare,” Oberst sings at the end of the first verse. It’s not a particularly poetic line; it’s kind of awkward and uncomfortable. But then, so is topic.

From that track on, I’M WIDE AWAKE IT’S MORNING, blends broadscale political/social commentary with deeply personal storytelling in a way that feels both carefully crafted and completely organic.

Over the first four tracks, Oberst and his band slide from that initial protest rallying cry, to a questioning of the values of those same protests (directed both at others and himself on We are Nowhere and it’s Now and Old Soul Song (for the New World Order) ), and finally, in Lua, to candid reflection on a doomed relationship. What stands out about Lua and much of Oberst’s writing on the album is that it manages to make something beautiful and melancholy without glorifying the self-destruction it chronicles.

While the soapbox is never entirely gone, its appearances become entwined with the personal narratives. On Landlocked Blues Oberst sings of making “…love on the living room floor/With the noise in the background of a televised war.” Elsewhere, during raucous album closer Road to Joy (which musically riffs on the Beethoven composition its name spoofs), Oberst equates the way his parents cling to their religion to his own reasons for drinking.

That blending is what I love about this album. It seems to me, a reflection of something fundamentally true about the world we live in these days. If you’re going to write songs about love, fame, drinking, fighting, you know, all the stuff Rock n Roll is made of, how can it not be colored by the issues of the day. Surrounded by 24-hour news cycles, social-media, and cloud-based everything, any distinction between the political songs and personal songs, the public and the private, seems increasingly false.

Now, I admit that it’s not entirely unfair to accuse I’M WIDE AWAKE, IT’S MORNING of pretention. For starters, there’s the fact that it was released simultaneously with an electronic album (seems everyone goes through that phase) called DIGITAL ASH IN A DIGITAL URN. Then there’s that spoken intro to the album’s lead track. Oberst, with phrasing that feels oddly like an Ira Glass impersonation, tells a story about two strangers on a plane that’s falling out of the sky. I still don’t get it.

But ultimately, all of these songs, and the album as a whole, just feel honest.

Which brings me to The First Day of my Life, the album’s 6th track and the song our little cousin sang at our wedding. It’s a love song and perhaps the only song on the album that you could argue really is 100% personal. If the Bright Eyes soapbox is present, I’ve never spotted it. But while it’s sweet, it’s not saccharine, and it sure is honest.

Because, it’s a love song that celebrates grand romantic notions (“Yours is the first face that I saw/swear I was blind before I met you.”), even while acknowledging that love isn’t a sure thing (“With these things there’s no telling/We’ll just have to wait and see”). The song ends on what at first seems like an underwhelming line: “Besides maybe this time is different/I mean I really think you like me.” Doesn’t exactly sound like a Shakespearean sonnet, but I think it’s even more romantic.

Being in love is one thing. Liking the person you’re in love with, really liking who they are as a human being, I’m pretty sure that’s what makes love last.

So yeah, I give this one a recommend. And even if Bright Eyes turns out not to be your thing, I’m going to bet that you’ll at least understand where I’m coming from with regards to The First Day of My Life. If not, I’ll try and sell you on it one last time. Or rather, I’ll let our 9-year-old cousin Sophia, and her father Mike do so.

(Also, just for fun, here’s a Buzzfeed list which takes all the reasons I wanted to hate Connor Oberst, and presents why I might just as well have wanted to be him.)

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Avi Glijansky is an independent Writer/Director/Producer of shorts, web series, and other moving pictures based in Los Angeles.

His work includes the IAWTV Award-nominated shows “The Further Adventures of Cupid & Eros” and “The Social Drinker”, as well as the Celebrate The Web-Winning “The Silver Lake Badminton and Adventurers Club”.

In addition his work behind the camera, Avi used to stand in front of a couple of rock bands that may or may not have been considered “promising” but were certainly “local.”

Should you care to, you can check out his work at highway9pictures.com and listen to his music at davidkirby.bandcamp.com & lostcityradio.bandcamp.com

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Guest Blogger Eric Dodd: David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

27 Jul

Another guest who has been following along with us via BGG, this time all the way from New Zealand!

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This is not my favourite Bowie album, and it may not be his best.

But it is as representative an album as you could ask for from such a shifting and changeable artist. I think it’s fair to say that if you don’t like any of the tracks on Ziggy Stardust then you probably won’t like any of his albums (industrial noise and drum and bass fans excepted). I was just too young for this album to mean anything to me growing up, but there’s little doubt Ziggy Stardust had real impact on the youth culture of the day. Not only did you need to lock up your daughters, when Ziggy was in town you needed to lock up your sons, too.

By the time of this, the fourth album of his career, Bowie had already been a hippie, a folk artist, a music-hall artiste, and even a rock singer. What Bowie really wanted to be was a star, and he made up a cosmic one of his own out of the best of his influences. Ziggy Stardust is the alien rock and roll messiah come to Earth to blow our minds, only to die at the hands of his fans. Although most of the songs have a space-age theme, Ziggy Stardust is really a one-song concept album.

To start the album, in “Five Years” the ‘Earth was really dying’ and Bowie relates the shocked responses of the people he sees out on the streets to a simple beat but driving intensity. “Soul Love” is a throwback for Bowie in style, and features 50s doo-wop and Beatles-esque lyrics and key changes. “Moonage Daydream” is an impassioned plea for a space race freak-out with a partner – is it a boy or girl, or does it matter?   Praying at the church of mad love, Mick Ronson’s guitar gets its first big solo, the repeated chorus leading into the hit single. “Starman” is an awesome song for building a young, fervent fan base. It’s a shared community (‘hey that’s far out, so you heard him too’) and youth versus parents in face of the new thing. The sing-along chorus with just a hint of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ embraces its childish joy as suitable awe in face of something exciting and awesome.

Bowie’s albums usually have covers, and “It Ain’t Easy” by American Ron Davies ended up here rather than on the earlier Hunky Dory album as was first planned. The line ‘It ain’t easy to get to heaven when you’re going down’ is the thematic link, but stylistic this song doesn’t really fit the album or Bowie’s voice. Just as well the rest of the album is rock solid, then. “Lady Stardust” is a complement to Ziggy Stardust, about the ambiguous but human performer with long black hair and animal grace. Is the narrator afraid to show his love for ‘boy in the bright blue jeans’ that all the audience is lusting after? Whether boy or girl, it just doesn’t matter… it’ll be alright as long as the band goes on.

“Star” sees Bowie imagining himself already the star this album would make him, showing how his dreams of success might have begun while already showing them up as a naive fantasy. Changes of tempo and style make this one of the more complicated tracks. Allegedly the first track written by Bowie on arriving in America for his initial visit, “Hang on to Yourself” is a rousing exhortation to stay in control as you survive that groupie and chase your dreams. More great guitar and the first mention of the Spiders from Mars ‘moving like tigers on vaseline’. This leads on naturally to “Ziggy Stardust”, as the entire saga, the rise and fall of the leper (‘leather’?) messiah is played out. Ziggy played guitar… but made it too far. Having taken over the band, Ziggy drives his fans wild with his smile, hairstyle and left-handed playing. Eventually the crass kids kill him and the Spiders from Mars break up, but they’ll always have the memories of Ziggy… Bow!

Bowie played out this song in real life by announcing on stage ‘this is the last show we’ll ever do’ less than a year after the album was released. Ziggy had served his purpose, and it was on to new styles and personalities for Bowie.   Great though deceptively simple guitar-work, and the song comes full circle musically and lyrically. “Suffragette City” is all about the aural assault, the battery of guitars driving a story of lust over friendship in Clockwork Orange argot ‘droogie don’t crash here/there’s only room for one and here she comes and she comes…’ Wham bam thank you m’am indeed! Finally the pace if not the intensity is taken down in “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”, a great piece that shows the after effect of fame. ‘I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain… you’re not alone.’ That’s what young Bowie fans, especially those uncertain of sexuality wanted to hear. For all his artifice, an impassioned Bowie clearly believes in the emptiness and desperation he’s singing about here.

A final word about the quality of the musicians. Mick Ronson’s guitar work is justly praised, but the bass section of Bolder and Woodmansey kept it tight no matter what style or mood the singer was exploring. You can ignore all the messages and get down and boogie.

Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs explore more of Bowie’s on stage theatricality. American styles and themes are explored in Station to Station and Young Americans. Brian Eno and German electronica influenced the Berlin trilogy of Lodger, Hero and Low. If you prefer the more straightforward rock and roll work backwards to Hunky Dory and The Man Who Sold the World.

I recommend them all!

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Eric says:

I’m a role-player and board gamer with over 30 years experience. My earliest popular music memories are of my parents’ Beatles records and my sister’s Abba tapes. I didn’t discover David Bowie until the Scary Monsters and Super Creeps album with the memorable Ashes to Ashes video. The best place to find me on the internet is as Red Wine Pie at RPGGeek. I check in nearly every day!

Guest Blogger Conan McNamara: The Bothy Band – Old Hag You Have Killed Me

13 Jul

Another guest who I have never met in person, Conan has been following along with my ramblings from the start via my parallel Geeklist at BoardGameGeek . . .

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I prefer my Celtic music simple, unembellished.  A slow reel from the strings of a capable fiddler is powerfully moving, distilling an emotional energy in me that’s unrivaled within my musical canon.  Then, within a moment, the fiddle picks up a jig and we’re spinning ‘round the room, boots beating out the rhythm, locking elbows, and embracing strangers.

On this album The Bothy Band give it to you both ways, leading off with the latter.  The first three songs are knockouts.  Two raucous reels sandwiching an impeccably harmonized a capella track.  Fiddles, whistle, and pipes take turns leading the melodies; each getting its solo moments, allowing me to savor the tune and the instrument’s tone.  The playing is impeccable, and the arrangements emphasize the tunes without embellishing them.

Eventually the album treads into musical territory that I enjoy less.  The Celtic equivalent of the adult contemporary ballad.  This record is nearly forty years old, but it might as well be a new release.  Even today the genre-standard seems to be including an ethereal ballad, hauntingly sung, with dramatic string arrangements.  It feels too calculated, too dreamy, and in the end too empty.  In trying to create ambiance, it loses the edge and energy that truly makes a song engaging The Bothy Band do offer redemption with a simple and beautiful female vocal track on the second half of the album.

Actually, this is the most diverse Celtic album I’ve heard.  So much musical ground is covered, that while I may rant about the ballads I have yet to skip a track on any of my dozen listens.  The Bothy Band provide a tour of trad music, and each song feels like it’s earned its place.  The pretenseless delivery of most songs give fresh context to the more fanciful tracks, which, in turn, help the jigs feel a bit more rambunctious.  The Bothy Band embrace a broad spectrum of traditional Irish music, and I think this album is certainly worth hearing before you die.

Also, the album gets one million bonus points for having the coolest title ever.

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Conan is a middle school teacher in Brunswick, Maine.  He lives with his wife and a conglomeration of pets representing several classes of chordates.

 A musician, reader, board gamer, disc golfer, woods walker, and cooking enthusiast; there is always music playing at Conan’s house, as has been the case since his teenage self found punk rock.  Subsequently he’s sought out, and been enamored by, music of all times, places, and styles.

Guest Blogger Jeff Kaplan: Boston – Boston

6 Jul

In a wonderful, six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon kind of way, I am pleased to introduce a guest blog by a friend of a friend.  I allegedly have never met Jeff Kaplan, but if our paths are anything like that of mutual friend, Mark Rentzer, then we have surely been in the same small NYC clubs watching a band at one time or another over the last 20 years.  Hell, I might have seen him play . . .

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Classic rock is a wonderful thing. Classic rock RADIO, well, sucks.

I don’t know how it is where you live, but here in (the suburbs of) New York City, which I hear is fairly large among cities, classic rock radio has been destroying everything great about classic rock for decades.

Familiarity with a song certainly paves a way for a deeper appreciation one cannot possibly get through a single listening. But, there comes a point where repeated repetition pushes aside that appreciation and makes way for utter annoyance and contempt. An alien might think that some of the great rock bands composed perhaps three or four songs and left it at that. Perhaps that’s all the world wants. In essence, and ironically, classic rock radio has done what it can to destroy classic rock by making us have contempt for some of the world’s great compositions.

The D.J.’s have no say in what they’re playing and the program directors are simply giving what the real antagonists of this story (the listeners themselves) what they want: safety and familiarity. We live in a world where “Stairway to Heaven” has become background music or a joke or an unchallenging piece of work because the whole planet has heard every inch of it too many times to count.

And, musically speaking, that’s kind of a sad thing.

The discussion about radio is a worthy one to have for its own sake, but we’ve gathered here today to talk about the first Boston record, released August 25, 1976 (I like knowing these things for some reason). So let’s.

I can hear some groans from here. Among all the artistes you’ve read about on this blog so far, and will in future weeks, months, and years, why are we spending time with a “corporate rock” record (I mean – that is what people think when they think of bands like Boston, no?).

Honestly, I’m not even sure what “corporate rock” means. I suppose it’s a pejorative describing rock music created not for the sake of artistic expression, but rather to sell maximum units. If that is the definition, it’s hard to say that the first Boston album isn’t a huge success given that it’s a known fact that every person on planet Earth has bought this record……at least twice.

Speaking of planet Earth, it features prominently on the record cover, being surrounded by a bunch of spaceships oddly shaped like guitars. It’s unclear if these ships are invading Earth or maybe just hovering. Either way, the Boston ship that is largely in our frame of view seems to be bringing up the rear. (Stay tuned for the cover of album number two for a continuation of that story).

What makes the first Boston album such a success, and I’m not just speaking at the box office, is that it is an album of irresistibly hooky songs, excellent musicianship, soaring vocals and harmonies, and a production that is so warm and clear it feels as if it could have been recorded yesterday.

There was a joke of some sort about this album that it was the first record composed by a computer and given just how faceless this band actually is (off the top of your head, can you visualize even one member of the band?), maybe there could have been some truth to that. But my guess is that only flesh and blood humans could tap into the type of music that just makes people feel good and uplifted.

These are simple songs created by complex minds. Prog rock it is not: don’t let the album cover fool you, or even the slightest hint of prog found on the first half of “Foreplay/Long Time” (child’s play to Yes and Genesis and downright infantile compared to King Crimson).

Side One also contains the obvious rockers, the ones ready-made for the arenas: “More Than a Feeling” and “Piece of Mind”.

The real humanity lies on Side Two.

Apparently the boys actually did slug it out in the clubs before striking gold (“Rock & Roll Band”) get high (or they don’t mind if the audience does) (“Smokin’”), some breezy Cali-rock (“Hitch a Ride”), they love (“Something About You”), and they lust (“Let Me Take You Home Tonight”).

Turning back to my opening rant about classic rock radio: classic rock radio created the idea of the “deep cut”. The idea being that – wow – The Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, Kinks, The Who, and Aerosmith actually did write more than seven songs each.

And now, here’s the most amazing thing that I can say about the debut Boston record. It has no deep cuts. In the modern tragic age of classic rock radio, I honestly cannot think of one other record where every single song is played in regular rotation – even to this day. If you have subjected yourself to modern day classic rock radio – then you know every song I mentioned in this little essay, and I did list them all.

Boston continues on today with leader Tom Scholz at the helm, but have never duplicated the highs reached on the first album. The second album (Don’t Look Back) was a more than decent effort, the third album (Third Stage) a not-as-decent effort, and, to be totally honest, I’ve never given anything past that a chance (2002’s album was called, strangely enough, Corporate America).

Some random final thoughts:

  1. The back cover does put some faces to the faceless. Rhythm guitarist Barry Goudreau looks like Blue Oyster Cult’s Buck Dharma’s missing twin, drummer Sib Hashian sports a killer afro, and band leader/lead guitarist Tom Scholz looks like Black Flag’s Greg Ginn.
  1. Speaking of Greg Ginn, I’ve always felt a bit of a spiritual connection between him and Scholz. Aside from looking somewhat similar, both were electronic whizzes in their pre-band lives inventing stuff (most notably, for Scholtz, the Rockman guitar amplifier), and both the mainstays and kings of their respective bands.
  2. I was far more bummed out than I thought I would be when I heard that soaring-vocals vocalist Brad Delp had taken his life in 2007 at age 55.

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Jeff Kaplan came into this world on the same date as the first Queen album, which probably made for a good omen. 

Jeff’s passion for music, both as listener and player of notes, has been a life-long one and he has been entrenched in the Long Island and NYC punk/hardcore scene for over 25 years, although his musical adventures has taken him down different paths as well. 

Jeff’s brief ventures into writing about music (something he finds virtually impossible to do well) include the short-lived blog ‘12 Notes Is Enough‘ and zines ‘3 Cynical’ and ‘A Light in the Attic’. 

Jeff plays guitar in long-running hockey-punk band Two Man Advantage where he is better known as “Captain” and plays bass in melodic-hardcore band Too Many Voices.  He has also played bass for the Hudson Falcons and The Judas Iscariot and a ton of other bands you’ve never heard of.

Jeff lives on Long Island with his metal-head wife, Anna, as well as their dog, two cats, two bearded dragons, tarantula, and Sulcata tortoise. 

Guest Blogger Johanna Pinzler: Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick – Fiddler On The Roof

18 May

Johanna is the love of my life, a singer of songs.

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My Bat Mitzvah was in 1986.  I received many wonderful and varied gifts ranging from Savings Bonds, Tiffany’s heart necklaces and fountain pens to United Colors of Benetton and Ton Sur Ton gift certificates. But one remarkable gift in particular had a lasting impact on my life.

My cousin Faye gave me 30 cassette tapes that she had personally dubbed from LPs of original Broadway Cast musicals.

What this gift lacked in cost it made up for in a huge number of man hours and obvious love.  They came in a special cassette suitcase which held exactly 30 tapes onto which Faye had painstakingly recorded what she believed to be the best or at least the most important that musical theatre history had to offer up until that point.  I had already expressed a clear interest in Broadway and Musical Theatre and being a fan and ‘person of the theatre’ she took it upon herself to put me on a path I have never veered from.

I am not only a musical theatre geek (and I say this with utmost pride) I am a WELL EDUCATED musical theatre geek.  These 30 recordings which started my library, which would grow to include countless more, included obvious choices such as The King and I, West Side Story, The Music Man and The Pajama Game but also had in its ranks lesser remembered old chestnuts such as Flora the Red Menace, Fiorello, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown and finally also included less successful (but no less worthy of a listen) shows such as The Me Nobody Knows and Merrily We Roll Along.  She even made a point of putting asterisks on any songs she thought I could (or eventually should) sing.

I think Faye did this with remarkable foresight and a sense of purpose; for this gift set me on a lifelong love affair with the American Musical Theatre.

Faye had also been a performer herself and one of her claims to fame had been sharing a dressing room with Bette Midler and Adrienne Barbeau when she played Spritze/Grandma Tzeitel in the original record-breaking Broadway run of Fiddler on the Roof (which was also, of course, included in the 30 tapes).

Which brings me to this week’s blog focus for “The 1000”, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s masterpiece, the original Broadway cast recording of Fiddler on the Roof.

It has been said by many, and I have to agree, that it is one of the most complete and flawless musical scores ever created.  It is hard for me to imagine that there was ever a time when the opening violin strains were not recognizable, not evoking both emotion and nostalgia about a time and place where I (and indeed most American listeners) had never been.  I can boast a distant ancestral connection to the world of Fiddler but my family came to this country before 1905 so although the idea of pogroms were nightmarish and told like Jewish horror stories they weren’t real, at least not to me.

Avri put the recording on at dinner the other night and I was struck that although I have not listened to individual songs in at least 10 years and the whole show in even longer I knew every single word.  I can sing all 4 parts of the opening number “Tradition” and am still oddly moved by “Sabbath Prayer.”  I still think “Wonder of Wonders” and “Now I Have Everything” are some of the greatest expressions of love by men to women onstage ever. As a kid I fancied myself as Tzeitel and could think of no greater match for myself than Motel the Taylor.

While I can appreciate the gravitas of it I never got all of the fuss over “Sunrise Sunset.”  Sure it’s a beautiful song but I always found it somehow pushy and a little bit cheesy. Maybe over the years I heard it at one too many Jewish weddings. But I do understand the longevity of classics like “If I Were a Rich Man” (particularly Zero Mostel’s version), “Matchmaker,” and “To Life.”  They are undeniably catchy and funny while never turning into an offensive ethnic joke.  To this day,”Tevye’sDream” holds up as one of my all-time favorite musical theatre scenes and the recording is so fantastic that you can almost imagine it unfolding before your eyes.

Fiddler, probably, could not have been written today with our world so closely policed by what is or is not politically correct.  This truth only serves to make me thankful that it was, in fact, written in the 60s and hit upon the perfect cocktail of ethnic pride, curiosity and the star power of Mostel combined with an audience of baby boomers and, more importantly, their elders, longing for something that felt safe and traditional and groundbreaking all at the same time.

As a post script to this wandering blog post I should mention that I got to play Golde in Hebrew School, which no doubt at least partially contributed to my intense familiarity with the music and lyrics.  I must have been 12 or 13.  It was the first in a long line of roles I would play.  Roles of ballsy women I was far too young to play (including Miss Hannigan in Annie, Mother Superior in Agnes of God and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd).

Ironically when I was actually an actor in my 20s and 30s I went in for multiple cattle calls for productions (usually touring companies) of Fiddler on the Roof and I was never once called back.  I couldn’t understand it.  I got a sit down with a well-known casting director once and asked him why he thought that was.  He looked right at me and said “Well you don’t look Jewish, you look more Armenian.”

He told me I should audition for Zorba.

I was flabbergasted.  I have always been able to play certain ambiguous ethnicities having been called back for or cast as Italian, Greek, Black Irish and even Puerto Rican, but apparently my own ethnicity was a stretch.  There’s still plenty of time though, maybe someday I’ll get to play Golde again or Yente the Matchmaker.

You can pretty much never get too old for that one.

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Johanna Pinzler has an MFA, a husband (who you may be familiar with) and a daughter.  Most often she can be found on subways reading her Kindle while she commutes from Brooklyn to the Bronx and the Upper East Side where, depending on the day, she teaches Theatrical Directing, Acting and Public Speaking.  In her alternate reality she is a Professional Director with a regular gig in Sonoma County, CA miraculously getting paid to do what she loves. 

In her past life she got paid to sing rock and roll and show tunes in piano bars. 

Go to www.johannapinzler.com so you can look at pictures of productions she has directed and hire her as an acting coach. 

Guest Blogger Tom Savini: Blondie – Parallel Lines

4 May

Another repeat guest blogger, this time my good friend Tom whose musical tastes have always been as closely aligned with mine as our literary tastes have been mismatched.

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Parallel Lines opens strong, diving head first into “Hanging On The Telephone,” Blondie’s love song to those of us who have stared for hour-long minutes at soundless receivers.  It’s a song paralleled by the next cut, “One Way Or Another,” which takes obsession out of the lonely hallway into the street, until the last verse, when the bloom has faded from the rose, and all the singer wants to do is ‘give you the slip.’  The band drives both songs with grinding guitars, choppy ‘new wave’ rhythms, and pounding drumbeats, especially under Debbie Harry’s rap at the close of “One Way.”

The band relaxes with the relative tranquility of “Picture This,” a song featuring one of my favorite parallel lines penned by Debbie:

I will give you my finest hour,  The one I spent watching you shower…

(My favorite Debbie Harry parallel line is the opening couplet from ‘Dreaming:’

When I met you in the restaurant, You could tell I was no debutante.

Someday I’m having that printed on my business cards.  “Dreaming” is on Eat To The Beat, the 1979 follow-up to this disc.)

These lines sum up Debbie and Blondie: fun, campy, a little trashy, maybe not too deep on the surface, but given some time and repetition, a whole lot more going on than might have been apparent at first glance.  Blondie’s lyrics made me wonder, do these folks have some ironic, sangfroid outlook on life, some wisdom borne of experience, or are they just a bunch of hacks trying to make a line rhyme?

Blondie lives the pretense.  Debbie’s stage persona, ‘The Blondie,’  was born from catcalls, peroxide and her desire to throw the stereotype of the Quaalude-fueled chick singer back in the faces of the audience.  Parallel this façade with the acerbic lyrics and incredible vocal range of the real deal, and you have Blondie in a nutshell – parallel lines of reality.  The cover of the album shows the five musicians in cloned new wave uniforms, black suits, skinny ties, with Debbie clad in white, standing against chiaroscuro stripes, echoed by Debbie’s hair.  Contrasts and contradictions running alongside each other, presenting stereotypes and expectations but then turning them on their ears- these are Blondie’s hallmarks.

Parallel Lines is a series of songs showing parallel paths.  On the one path is the band – Jimmy Destri, Frank Infante and Chris Stein on guitars; Nigel Harrison on bass; and Clem Burke on drums, all showing steady musicianship and wild talent, showcased on songs like “I Know But I Don’t Know,” and “11:59,” particularly, but at other times, stepping to the background and letting the other parallel line, Debbie’s voice, take the spotlight.  Debbie’s got her own parallel course going- on the one hand, “Fade Away and Radiate,” “Pretty Baby” and “Sunday Girl” highlight the beauty and range of her voice; on the other line, “Just Go Away’”and the two opening cuts use her voice as a chainsaw to rip into the song.  “Will Anything Happen?” offers a parallel course where the band and the blonde walk side-by-side through a nice up-tempo piece, a style maximized in the jump rope-polka romp “I’m Gonna Love You Too.”  The band and Debbie course through these songs as perfect accompaniments, parallel lines following the same course, enhancing each other by their distinctness like the black and white lines on the cover.

But the cut that put this album and the band on the map is “Heart of Glass.”  That’s why it’s on this list, folks – the song that made it okay not to hate disco.  ‘Parallel Lines’ dropped in 1978, the same year that I started high school.  A good time of life to start expanding musical frontiers.  In my case, there was a serious “Disco Sucks” fence erected around my 13 year old definition of music – any song with a dance-able beat was suspect, including tunes by the Tramps, Tavares, and those traitors to the cause, the Bee Gees.  “Heart of Glass” opened the door to let teenage boys from Buffalo have the chance to like a disco song without feeling we were being traitors to the rock cause – because, after all, Blondie wasn’t a ‘disco’ band, they were a…what the hell were they?

There’s where the pretense comes in.  They were, if anything, a new wave band, before the term came into being.  They weren’t as punk as the Ramones or the Sex Pistols, and most of America wasn’t aware of the connections among these bands or Blondie’s roots in the NYC punk scene.  Parallel Lines was not a disco album, and the band’s delivery of “Heart of Glass” seemed almost as if they were making fun of disco, and themselves.  It certainly wasn’t a punk album.  Blondie confused their own identity issue so much, that they made it okay to just like a song because it was a damned good song.  Best parallel line from “Heart of Glass,” intentional or mis-heard:

Once I had a love, and it was a gas, Soon turned out to be a pain in the ass.

And listen to the song, because 36 years later, it is still a great song.

Blondie didn’t take itself too seriously, or so it seemed, so why should the audience worry about anything besides whether or not “Heart of Glass” was a good song?  Worked for me.  Parallel Lines opened the door, then Blondie cemented itself in my consciousness a few years later by sound-tracking ‘Last American Virgin,’ and their songs still fit heavily on my soundtrack to the late 70s and early 80s.  For mainstream radio, they made it possible for new wave to happen, to reach a greater audience and to evolve popular music into new directions.

Did Blondie intend to be musical trailblazers, or were they just club kids latching on to the latest fashions, trying to sell records?  Hard to tell, and I never wanted to look too close to find out.  A few years later, they’d open more musical doors to ska (“Tide Is High”) and rap (“Rapture”).  Debbie and Chris Stein would defy the conventions of the music power-couple, leaving the limelight for years as she nursed him through a debilitating illness.  The band would collapse into factions that can’t be on the same stage with each other today.  I’d rather have a parallel reality where Debbie and Chris were still together, living happily ever after, and where the band tours every two years and gets along famously.  But the life and soap opera of the band are secondary to the music, which is just great in itself, and Parallel Lines set the course.

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Tom says:

“I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY, and hope to return there sometime soon.  Currently, I live in Brooklyn, NY.  I studied history in school, and spent my first decade out of college working in human services until I found a job that actually makes use of history degrees.  My favorite band is Fleetwood Mac.”

Guest Blogger Steve Oksienik: Blind Faith – Blind Faith

27 Apr

There are legends on the dark underbelly of the internet.  Individuals who intrigue and appall in equal measure with their levels of wit and inappropriateness.  Stormseeker75 is just such an creature, and I was thrilled to discover that his awesomely unsavory wit translates wonderfully to meat life . . .

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I remember my first concert very vividly.

I was 8 years old and living in rural New Jersey.  My dad came home, told me we were going to a concert, threw me into the car and off we went.

We met our barber who happened to be a friend of my dad’s at the gate for the show and snuck right in next to a security guard who my dad’s friend knew.  The sheer number of people boggled my mind.  I was a small human being, but I have never felt so small in my entire life.

And I remember certain smells which I’m sure you can figure out.  What I remember most of all was the music.

Warren Zevon started the night with a solo piano set and I mesmerized.  After his set, the main act started and Steve Winwood took the stage.  The drums and bass kicked in with guitars and keyboards and suddenly a young boy’s life had a very deep connection to the world.

Blind Faith was a phenomenon unlike anything else at the time.  The group was instantly popular just by virtue of the names in the band.  Hype surrounded them from day one and as such their debut album sold phenomenally well, going gold in the first month of it’s release.  It’s still widely regarded as a classic and has joined some elite company as one of the greatest classic rock albums of all time.

The album starts off with an incredibly tasty lick from Clapton as “Had To Cry Today” comes in.  This song gives you a good idea of what you’re in for because although it’s got phenomenal guitar work, it’s a bit long and meandering at the end.

“Can’t Find My Way Home” follows up with a nice juxtaposition in tone with acoustic guitars and Winwood’s pseudo-falsetto vocals creating a soothing sort of atmosphere.  I’m no fan of Ginger Baker, but his work on this song is perfect.

“Well Alright” features Winwood’s best vocal work on the album.  He’s right in his perfect range and sounds both effortless and powerful.  This is followed up by an equally fantastic performance on “In the Presence of The Lord”, a more bluesy soulful song than others on the album.  The transition from slower hymnal speed to faster bridge and back is masterful and creates great texture to the song.

“Sea of Joy” sounds a lot like a Cream song from the intro and then transitions into a much more Traffic-y sort of tone.  As good as Winwood is on the songs before, he’s terrible here.  There’s a few places where he’s trying to hit notes that he should just stay away from and it really detracts from the entire song for me.

As strong as the album starts off, it finishes with a whimper with the overly long and drawn-out “Do What You Like”.  The meandering ending to “Had To Cry Today” is nothing compared to this mess of a song.  It’s almost like they had 5 songs and said “Well, we need to fill 15 minutes….what should we do?”

The answer was an overwrought jam designed to fill up an album side.  If they could have contained this to even 8 minutes it would have been better.

This album’s accolades are definitely based in some musical proof.  There are a few outstanding tracks here.  Out of 6, 3 are fantastic, 1 is solid, 1 is alright, and 1 is mostly a waste of time.

And in some ways, that sums up exactly what Blind Faith turned out to be.

It didn’t matter what these guys did at the time because people were going to buy it anyway.  The recording session was hurried and it shows.  The pressure on these guys to tour and release an album stunted what could have been mind-blowing.  Due to the talent on the project, it still ended up being awesome despite the limitations of the process.

Unfortunately, Blind Faith never made it to a second album.  It would have been interesting to see where this band went.  Would they have gone more jazzy like Traffic or more blues/R&B like Derek and the Dominoes?  Either way, you can see the legacy this band has left and the influence they had on the music industry.

My mom is still mad I went to that concert.

Apparently, my dad was supposed to take her but she couldn’t get a babysitter for my sisters.  Mom, trust me when I tell you that was one of the best things you ever did for me.  My life would be far less meaningful without music fueling my soul.

So thanks, Mom, Dad, Dave, random security guard, Warren Zevon, and Steve Winwood.

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Steve Oksienik is a blogger and podcaster for Cardboard Insanity and also for Off The Beaten Tracks.  When he’s not writing or podcasting, he is an avid yoga instructor, boardgamer, and wrestling fan.

Steve’s passion for music is deep and he loves talking about it as much as he likes listening. 

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