Some interesting 1960s stuff

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While researching some things for the Pitt class I teach on 60s music appreciation, I picked out a bunch of dead vintage musicians over the past ten years or so. Never mind those that expired in the 1970s. I split them into suicides for those that couldn’t make the transition into the new millennium and, of course the inevitable drug deaths, some accidental using the spectacularly dangerous drug (in amateur hands) Fentanyl.

Then comes a very interesting category, those 60s and 70s rockers that died of “old man diseases”. Now, recall that statistics show that something like 38% of the American population was less than 21 years of age in 1965. This, of course, greatly contributed to how the culture evolved through the 60s, including the psychedelic years. Now, assuming most of these guys were around 21 years old in 1965, do the math. Add (rounded off) 55 years to these guys to the present and most of them exceed the 70 years old range. The range where many of the “old man” diseases start occurring, heart disease, cancers, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and trauma.

To me, if you were a world class rocker in or around 1965, as most of these guys were, 70 is an independent marker of “natural” death once drugs and suicide is ruled out.

Suicide

Butch Trucks (Allman Bros)

Keith Emerson (ELP)

Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)

Brad Delp (Boston)

Richard Manuel (The Band

 

Drugs

Prince

Chris Cornell (Soundgarden)

Tom Petty Heartbreakers)

Bobby Hatfield (Righteous Bros)

Ike Turner (Ike & Tina)

John Entwistle (The Who)

Dee Dee Ramone (Ramones)

Owsley

 

Old age/Old man disease (and their age at death)

Alvin Lee (68)

Ritchie Havens (72)

Lou Reed (72)

Jimi Jamison (72)

Jack Bruce (71)

Dallas Taylor (66)

Percy Sledge (73)

BB King (89)

Cory Wells (74)

David Bowie (69)

Glen Frye (67)

Paul Kantner (74)

Scott McKenzie (73)

Ray Thomas (67)

Danny Kirwan (68)

Marty Balin (76)

Otis Rush (84)

Gregg Allman (69)

Daryl Dragon (76)

Peter Tork (77)

Eddie Money (70)

Rik Ocasek (75)

I have excluded all the 60s rockers that expired in the 70s. On Oct. 4 in 1970, singer Janis Joplin was found dead of a heroin overdose on the floor of a motel room at the age of 27. Janis was the second of a triumvirate of exceptionally talented people that pushed the envelope of a “no rules” life and paid the price of admission they didn’t anticipate.  Jimi Hendrix, age 28 (Sept 1970) and Jim Morrison, age 28 (July 1971). A large number of very talented people found out those consequences the hard way in the late 60s.  Perhaps prior lessons learned from the existential philosophers, most of whom went mad or suffered violent deaths, should have been heeded. Forty years later, Jim remains an example of the fate that awaits those who reach too far for answers unobtainable.

Dave Grohl believes that all music can eventually be traced to a central origin that nurtures and modulates it and he’s working very hard to explore that path. The best way to explain the concept is to postulate the repository of music as an unstable star in the universe of existence, undulating and straining but not ready to explode just yet, waiting for the right stimulus. Back in the 40s, big band music was simple and staid, feeding upon itself. In the 50s, a fundamental instability began with skiffle in England that created the Beatles In the USA, be-bop and rhythm & blues, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course, Elvis. All of this boiled to the surface to bring the star to an explosive point in the early 60s, setting the stage for the cataclysm that occurred in the second half of the 60s when it all literally and metaphorically went electric. A musical revolution never before dreamed of and will probably never be seen again.

The star erupted sending chunks of musical expression out into the abyss. Lets make a quick & dirty list of just a few the blinding chunks flying forth to change the fundamental nature of music. Hendrix, The Animals, the Zombies, The Kinks, Cream, the Doors, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, Otis Redding, Creedence Clearwater, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkle, Janis Joplin, James Brown, Miles Davis, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Buffalo Springfield, Procol Harum, Paul Revere & Raiders, Hollies, Dave Clark Five, Neil Young, Steve Miller Band, The Guess Who, Roy Orbison, Them, Beach Boys, Steppenwolf, the Temptations, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Marvin Kaye, Jefferson Airplane all at once.

Each of these chunks shone brightly and independently, eclipsing other nuggets in similar situations. But in the end, like real stars, gravity rules and all the chunks were slowly drawn back into the mass of the star by gravitational pull, stabilizing it into a huge mass of encyclopedic, heterogeneous, eclectic sound and tone. There is no more critical mass. The star allows a solar wind to emit from its surface, a temporary swell of unfiltered music that waxes & wanes in time.  Disco, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, “American Idol”,‘The Voice. They’re all out there wafting around at the whims of the desultory solar mini-eruptions. That’s maybe the new music of the new millennium. Unknown if or when the next big eruption will occur.

Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) with Jeff Lynn and Dahni Harrison (August 1, Pittsburgh)

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elo_660x360-b7cf1f0f60Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) In Pittsburgh, Thursday evening, Aug 1 with Jeff Lynn and surprise (to me) Dahni Harrison Band opener (yes, George’s son).  ELO started in England in 1970 by songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jeff Lynn. Their music has from the beginning been Beatlesque rock interfused with classical arrangements and a monster light show. Through its recording and touring career, ELO sold over 50 million records worldwide and collected 19 CRIA, 21 RIAA, and 38 BPI awards. ELO was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.  They are an authentic supergroup.

They played Thursday night, August 1 here in Pittsburgh and I went out of my way to get good seats through StubHub. A fact of life. If you want regular ticket price, you get regular seats a half mile from the stage. You get what you pay for and I did. I did notice that there were a few seats open in the front rows for US$1600. A little rich for my blood.

Normally, I pay little attention to “opening acts” as most are local and not very good. However, this time I didn’t want to get stuck in a parking dilemma so I arrived pretty early. Hordes of people were descending on the PPG Paints arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins- 20,000 seats. At some point in the concert they turned the house lights on for the musicians and every single seat was filled. The acoustics in the arena were world class.

As we were seated, I started picking up on the opening band. I didn’t know who they were but I was increasingly impressed with every number. They played different instruments, electronic keyboards and they were really, really good. World class musicians. The lead singer came up focused on huge TV screens we could see easily and I didn’t recognize him. I checked my phone to see if I could find the band and it turns out it was the “Dhani Harrison” Band. Yes, that Harrison. Jeff had chosen him to open for the entire twenty city tour, of which Pittsburgh was the last. It was an excellent start.

I first saw ELO in the opening year of MTV which would have been 1981. The MTV concert began with a huge flying saucer on stage, pulled up slowly by cables revealing the band that started their set with the saucer hanging over them. This time, there was no saucer, the show started with a huge light show complete with multiple modalities and lasers. It was just about the right number of decibels. Loud enough to push out anything else in your soul but not to do serious hearing damage. Loudness is important to Rock.

That said, there’s something really existential about a real “live” concert as opposed to listening to a record or something off a portable device. I’ve had the dumb luck to play rock music with a great band in front of hundreds of people in venues like “The House of Blues” around the country. I could see what was happening in the crowd from my vantage on the stage and this was the microscopic minor leagues. If you are the proper connection, the vibration of the music from a  20,000-seat auditorium simply fills your soul to the brim. The music grabs you so tightly there is no competition from anything else.

ELO blew the audience away when they hit:

“In this life I’ve seen everything I can see, woman
I’ve seen lovers flying through the air hand in hand
I’ve seen babies dancing in the midnight sun…….”

BUT I…I….I….I NEVER SEEN NOTHING LIKE YOU!”

at full volume with blinding multicolored lights. The aisles were full of dancing people, many my age. The old guy to my right was in tears. Everything  from our youths in the 70s came back in a flood. Unclear how that connection was made but it was absolutely there.

“Twilight” blew me away:

“Twilight, I only meant to stay awhile
Twilight, I gave you time to steal my mind
Away from me”.

At this point, old memories previously forgotten rushed back into me.

Then Jeff introduced his acolyte Dhani Harrison to do a duet of the first song the Travelling Wilburys sang as a group. “Handle With Care”, written in 1988 by George Harrison with specific intent for Roy Orbison to sing a specific section. As the song was being fleshed out in the acoustics of Bob Dylan’s garage, it had no title. Harrison looked around and noticed a label “Handle With Care” on a shelf box and that’s what he named it. The song “Handle With Care” is beautiful and meaningful music.

“I’m so tired of being lonely
I still have some love to give
Won’t you show me that you really care
?”

 “I’ve been uptight and made a mess
But I’ll clean it up myself, I guess
Oh, the sweet smell of success
Handle me with care”

This music has intense meaning to a lot of people. A lot of people. When Dhani came out and ELO began this song, I was immediately in tears. Again, no one has explained the emotional connection but it is intense. I think I can die now. I’ve heard ELO and Dhani Harrison speak to me.

And so it goes, the entire concert was an intense emotional experience, and accordingly, I have provided for you some of the intensity in the form of YouTube clips that will show you some of it.  First is the original Wilburys singing “Handle With Care” back in 1990-I think. Since then Tom Petty, George Harrison and Roy Orbison have passed, leaving Jeff Lynn and Bob Dylan. I think one of the most musically beautiful songs that can be sung by humans. After than, I found a clip of Jeff Lynn and Dhani Harrison reprising the song from this year’s concert. It spoke to me.

After that, I have given you some classic ELO songs that you should all hear and I hope you will as a favor to me.  First is “Roll over Beethoven” from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2017, tribute to Chuck Berry, featuring ELOs magnificent string section. Then “Twilight” and “Do Ya” (The song that made the Pittsburgh crowd absolutely delirious, including my wife who cares nothing about any of this-slapping her knee), both masterpieces of performance art. Please give them a look. You can’t possibly be disappointed.

 

“Handle With Care” (Travelling Wilburys)

 

“Handle With Care” (ELO with Dhani Harrison)

 

“Roll over Beethoven” (ELO)

 

“Do Ya” (ELO)

 

“Twilight” (ELO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The CODES in LA and the Moody Blues in Vegas, January 2018

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The venerable CODES, now pushing 11 years playing together, longer than most marriages, had a fabulous gig at the famous Globe Theater in downtown Los Angeles on January 24. We have a very serious following at the yearly International Stroke Symposium and hundreds of fans reliably show up for our gigs. This time we had a great light show to augment our usual fare, and, as always, some new material. It all went extremely well.

I then hopped up to Vegas to catch the last of the Moody Blues road shows. They ended their tour on Jan 26 at the Wynn Theater. I managed pretty good (but not great) seats as the show was quickly sold out and I ended up with StubHub tickets, all of which sold out quickly as well. The theater was nice, the acoustics were perfect and it wasn’t too loud.

The Moody Blues started their career in 1964, but really struck pay dirt in 1967 with the release of their second album “Days of Future Passed”, a fusion of symphonic classical music and rock, eventually termed “progressive” or “art” Rock. The two singles from that album “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon” are Rock standards. This album was quickly followed up by “In Search of the Lost Chord” in 1968 featuring flute solos by the late Ray Thomas.

These guys have been playing music, making albums and touring for 50 years. They did a Caribbean Cruise with the Zombies in 2014 (a friend attended). I saw them live in 1980 and again sometime in the 2000s here in Pittsburgh. They always have a great show. They have sold 70 million albums world-wide and were (finally) inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.

This particular tour in Vegas was interesting in several respects.

There are three remaining members of the band, lead singer Justin Hayward as been there since 1966 and has won virtually every award possible as a songwriter. Bass player John Lodge has also been there from the beginning. Drummer Graham Edge doesn’t appear to be in the best of health and I noticed there were two drummers, the younger guy assertively pounding the skins as Graham kind of went on a relaxed cruise mode. Mellotron Player Mike Pinder quit in 1979 to develop new artists. Ray Thomas died recently. The three surviving Moodies are all over 70 years of age.

They came out to a really beautiful stage, a large screen behind them showing clips of them at a much earlier age. It was an interesting dynamic. The problem then was which of their massive catalog of songs to do before they moved on to play “Days of Future Passed” in it’s entirety, (the symphonic sections were canned). So they picked some pretty good selections, including “The Story in Your Eyes” which almost brought a tear to my grizzled eye as it brought back times and relations in my early life. But they only played for 45 minutes, then took a 20 minute break before coming back with the album.

That seemed a little bit brief to me. I played three hours straight two nights before and I’m older than all of them, but truth be told, I sure as Hell don’t do it every week for a full three month tour. They looked tired and I bet they were. They didn’t have time to play some of the classics I think they should have, but time doesn’t heal all ills. Ray Thomas was replaced by a female flutist and she was very good. Overall the production was very good but it was very obvious that Justin Hayward was losing his voice. He soldiered on but he was close to croaking.

All in all, it was a very serious remembrance of my past. “For our Children’s Children’s Children”, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour” and “Seventh Sojourn” got me through medical school in the early 70s and are vivid, painful markers of some relationship’s I’ll never have again. I was near tears at some of these markers. I’ll probably never see them again.

Video Clip is me pulling out my iPhone and taking a brief video of the boys singing a song I didn’t come on to for a bit later. I then hooked this video onto one I took of the Moody Blues in performance.

 

“Travelling eternity road
What will you find there?
Carrying your heavy load
Searching to find a piece of mind.”

From Children’s Children, 1969)

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

Further reflections on a U2 concert, Pittsburgh, 6-7-17

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There’s something about the energy of a world-class rock band playing to a throbbing throng of 40,000 people in a stadium. It’s infectious and a rare opportunity to people watch.

So it was with the Irish band U2 Wednesday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Normally, I would watch them on TV to avoid the obligatory expense and congestion of getting to and from such a huge venue, but the first on-stage performance of The Joshua Tree piqued my interest. It is the 30th anniversary of the time I saw them perform it last in 1987.

It was in Indianapolis and I happened to be there visiting family. I had had just started my career as a junior attending at St. Francis at the time. The event was at the then Market Square Arena that I think might have held about 15,000 souls. U2 was not nearly as famous as they are now and the event was not sold out. I had a good seat.

As a personal aside, at the end of the concert when the lights came up, I happened to turn to face a kid sitting next to me and we caught each other’s eye for a moment. I was 44 years old starting my life and he couldn’t have been more than 18 starting his. We silently connected for a moment, smiled at each other and went on our way. I thought about that encounter all the way home in my car, ultimately to pull out a sheet of paper & pen and write a hasty poem about the encounter, I will provide at the end of this missive for anyone interested.

I loved that album and still do. I think The Joshua Tree is among the top collections of incredible music ever put on vinyl. It transformed a post-punk U2 to a world-class phenomenon where they reside today, but they never matched that album again. U2 is a very unique band if for no other reason that they continue to like and respect each other from the time they started playing together in high school in Dublin. That’s VERY unusual. The never lost the focus that made them great.

But at age 57, the heart and soul of U2, Bono (Paul Hewson) is getting a little long in the tooth for these kinds of gigs. These days, he’s more of a full time social and political activist. He’s always been that way but nowadays, he has a lot more money to plug into it. They’ve been doing this for a long time, not as long as the Rolling Uglies, but long enough to where it’s getting just a little strained. I think that the Foo Fighters, only a few years younger, have ascended to that rarified air maybe gently pushing at them. But, all that aside, so begins my many complaints with this gig.

Firstly, it was expensive. Very expensive to get seats where much can actually be seen live. That’s just the way it is for stadium performances of any stripe. The closer to the podium, the more expensive it got. I was willing to sport for this expense because I really wanted to “see” the band. So perusing the seating map of Heinz field, I selected two seats that would be to the side, closely visualizing the stage at about a 45 degree angle, halfway up. Perfect vantage according to the map.

Then came parking. Oh, you want to park? Maybe somewhere less than a mile from the stadium? Well, those spots are “available” at exponentially increasing prices. So more money outlay, all pretty smoothly from StubHub by the way. Legalized scalping but necessary to get any efficiency in a huge congested area.

Safety measures at the arena were in place of course. No purses over a few inches in length. No full sized cameras. Metal detectors for all. iPhones OK. Close observation of everyone entering. However, once inside, I didn’t see any police. The stadium is exceptionally well laid out, with plenty of bathrooms and food between every entrance to the seating area. A hot dog and small coke $11.25.

Once in the seating area, I found that the stage had been moved forward significantly from where it was supposed to be on the previous map. From my vantage, I was looking at the stage from a 90-degree angle, unable to see the huge screen behind them. The actual performing area was far enough away that no details could be made out. The promoters should NEVER have allowed these seats to be sold, and there were only a few there. No one to my right, even further out. These were terrible seats.

Then to add insult to injury, when the band emerged at about 9 pm, they played their first set from a “B Stage” on the opposite side of the field!! It might as well have been an ant colony from where I was. The people had had less expensive seats on the other side of the field had incredible views and the “standees” were right next to the stage. I was furious. The band should never have allowed this insult to those on the opposite side of the field.

They did eventually move to the center stage to play the Joshua Tree standards but they weren’t playing them the way they were on the album and I know every note on the album. It’s probably impossible to play a complex studio album live anyway but it wasn’t the same and it showed. I was disappointed. The iconic song “Streets with no name” was done much, much better in 2009. Please watch it all the way through. It’s spellbinding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzZWSrr5wFI

The musicology of the band was pretty well preserved. Bono hit the high notes pretty well, better than Roger Daltrey I think. The Edge (Dave Evans) played masterfully from his guitar effects rig, as complex as a Boeing 747 dashboard. Bass player Adam Clayton was typically reserved. But the really interesting observation was the drummer Larry Mullen Jr. He was the hardest working man on the stage. He was amazing, in constant motion, working all of the skins to perfection. Neal Pert of Rush is considered a “greater” drummer but he has a stage full of drum kit completely surrounding him. Mullin has a “standard” kit and he uses all of it to perfection.

Here’s a passable previous performance of my favorite song off the album: “One Tree Hill”, not as good as the vinyl but showing off the entire band. This is a truly great song; one of the songs that made them stars, I think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrlmhnBlH0Q

All things considered, I was very disappointed. I think the band is losing its musical edge as Bono spouts some of his political displeasure from the stage and increasing pyrotechnics slowly displaces intricacy. I paid a lot for really crummy seats that the promoters knew were crummy when they sold them. The band favored one side of the arena, stiffing the other side. They surely must have known this in advance.

I give this event a miserable one and a half of five bright lights. Be very careful before you buy tickets to this event. Find out more about seating before you lay a lot of money out.

REFLECTIONS AT A U-2 CONCERT

“Warily we fix each other,
this testament to my immortality and I.
All of fifteen, a shock of blond hair,
jacket collar insouciantly upturned.
I stand a paradox to him.

Similar in garb, but with an air of cynicism
born of war and pestilence,
The burden of human life balanced upon my fragile whims,
and having been to a county fair or two.

When I became a man, I did not put aside childish things.
He weighs this curiosity in silence,
portending a specter of myself in another lifetime,
for now an intruder in his world.

The band dispenses promises of hope and fulfillment;
deafening undercurrents finding common ground within us,
plucking his imagination as it once did mine.
But that was another time, another world.

I thoughtfully study technical nuances.
He conjures revelations of peace and love from nonsense,
and eyes me with curiosity
and rejoins me with an unexpected smile.

Behold my apocalypse,
this child, father to the man, prophesy yet to be fulfilled,
destined to go forth into the darkness, as I have done,
and keep the candle burning”.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

The CODES: Old and New

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The CODES: Old and New

picture-clippingThe CODES have been playing together for over 10 years. First gig was for a Neurocritical Care Society banquet, November 2006 in Baltimore. We had no equipment other than personal instruments, so we hired another local band “Rockgut” to set up their stuff and let us play as their opener. We created and gave away “Codes t shirts” to anyone wanting one at the gig. I still have mine. We weren’t very good but we had limited time to practice. We got better.

Since then we’ve put out a CD in 2009 and I wrote a coffee table picture book of the photographs taken of us through the years.

https://www.amazon.com/CODES-David-Crippen/dp/1364974150/ref=sr_1_21?ie=UTF8&qid=1488045444&sr=8-21&keywords=David+Crippen

Over the years we’ve played for various medical meeting banquets all over the country, several House of Blues venues, an SCCM symposium, a sleazy back street bar in New Orleans, a Texas Juke Joint and private invites. We opened for a great metal band in Germany and played for a meeting in Manchester, UK.

We were never a band that traded on four doctors playing novelty stuff. Our set list consisted of what used to be called “soft rock”, even “classic rock”. Very listenable covers of numerous famous hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s mostly, I think. We became fairly serious musicians and knew our way around technical arrangements.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYo6QbKKgBQ

But we started getting older through the years and the lives of each member inevitably changed. There were job changes, marital changes, sick kids and limited time to practice as we all lived in different cities. I’m 73 years of age. I haven’t looked at their drivers licenses lately but I’m pretty sure the rest of the group are at or near their 50s now. We’re changing with the times, but in a rather unusual way for our idiom.

We’ve embraced and absorbed a much younger member into the CODES. That would be Dr. Mohan Kottapally, currently assistant Professor of Neurology at the University of Miami heath center in Miami, Fla.

http://uhealthsportsmedicine.com/sports-medicine-team/mohan-kottapally-md

This addition has fomented a fairly radical change for us. It’s pushed toward a much harder edged musical direction.

Mohan is one of those charismatic guys with a stage presence that has changed the way audiences view us. I see his style as a bit of of Prince, I think. He interacts in that manner with the audience, very aggressively. He is in constant motion, flaunting and vaunting. He’s an excellent guitarist; I think a world-class rock lead singer and the woods ain’t full of ‘em. I think we’re lucky to find him and he has changed our world.

He has made my role in the band easier as my age advances and generalized arthritis and deteriorating physicality takes its toll. I can do lead guitar and I have done it in the past but it’s harder for me now, just like you can be sure it is for Eddie Van Halen. The most important base of a rock band pyramid is the drummer, followed by the bass line, then the rhythm. The fingers don’t fly like they used to, but I’m still an OK guitarist and I can definitely hold down a needed and necessary serviceable rhythm floor.

So we decided to re-invent ourselves as a much more modern band, discarding a lot of the material we’d played for years in favor of new material. That material became much more what I would call “hard edged rock”. Not metal or especially death metal, as most of that is simply a cacophony of high volume din that renders the listener eventually hearing impaired.

“Hard-edged rock” is loud but much more technical in its arrangement, a little unusual for guys of our generation to be playing. A lot of it is lead guitar driven which brings me to the subject of one of our songs now. That would be, of course, a hard-edged classic if there ever was one: Sweet Child O’ Mine” (Guns & Roses, 1987). An insane initial lead guitar solo that is said by many critics to have changed the face of Rock drives this song. Check out the lead intro in this amazing music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1w7OgIMMRc4

CODES lead guitarist Gary Bernardini must have played with effects pedals for weeks before he got the tone nailed down, and it definitely works. Mohan can definitely do Axl. This is an amazing song for us as a band. I was surprised to see how many in our crowd instantly recognized this song and responded vividly to it. Many were kicking the slats of their playpens in 1987. Of course, Guns & Roses, being the volatile mixture they were, imploded after a fairly short period of time.

We played as the headliners for the International Stroke Conference in Houston, Texas on February 22, for a very large group of I believe as many as 300 people. Standing room only in a very big auditorium. We had a huge stage with professional sound technicians doing the auditory honors. We played three full sets over four hours, starting at about 8:30 pm and ending at 12:30 am. Between sets there was a DJ playing songs off his computer, and an “ice sculpture artist” that really entertained the crowd by forming a detailed cowboy boot from two big chunks of ice.

I put together a bit of a slide show to tell some things about The CODES, old and new.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxAIbVyPBBc

Make sure you tick off the High Def option and it’s best watchable on full screen.

 

 

 

What’s in a picture (part 2)

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johndenverOccasionally I’ll come across a photo that really is worth a thousand words, but for which little is written. I reported on such a photo last week.

I came across this after some research on singer/songwriter John Denver who piqued my interest from a really interesting video “The Wilderness Concert” (Google it on youtube). I think some really beautiful, underrated music.

One of the clips from this concert was regarding Denver’s brief monologue regarding someone he knew that was an inspiration for writing a song. Denver, like many other songwriters like James Taylor and Neil Young are famous for writing songs on-the-fly following some kind of otherwise trivial inspiration. Neil Young wrote “Ohio” in a few minutes on a table napkin after hearing the news on a radio about the National Guard shooting at Kent State in 1970. Denver wrote “Leavin’ on a jet plane” while on a ski lift. The inspiration comes, everything stops and songs are written Samuel Taylor Coleridge–style (“Kubla Khan”).

It was the imagery that Denver translated to maybe one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, nearly perfect musicality-wise. Listenable, emotional rhythm and perfect lyrics. He said in an interview that he didn’t understand how these things come to him. It’s a gift he’s very thankful for. I sometimes research these people wondering at such gifts.

At any rate, I really would like you to listen to the song he created from this simple inspiration. I think even Dr. Simmons, who hasn’t listened to a singer since 1950, will appreciate this beautiful song by a very underrated artist he probably never heard of ;-).

Here is part of the explanation he gives for the song.

“I have a friend whose name Mardy Murrie,

and she’s 93 years old… theman who was

her husband, Olaus Murie, passed away

many years ago, The way Mardy kept his love

and her feeling for him alive in her heart was to

commit herself to saving the land they both loved

so very, very She spoke of Olaus always as her

beloved,and they loved to dance, the waltz especially,

and they danced whenever they could, whenever

they felt like it, regardless of the conditions. And I

have this picture of them out in the frozen tundra

of Alaska in each others arms dancing, and no

music except the sound of the wind rushing across

that frozenwasteland, or someplace in a forest or

someplace beneath the full moon. And so I wrote

this song for Mardy.” – John Denver

Photographs of Mardy and Olaus dancing do not exist except in John Denver’s mind somewhere, translated to a haunting interpretation. Enjoy this beautiful music if you have an interest.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_S9IRebElY

 

 

 

Concert Review: “The Zombies” (Oct 14, 2015)

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ZombiesZombies (Oct 14, 2015) Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh

“Pre-British Invasion” group The Zombies arrived in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie and were well received by a full house. I say “pre-Invasion” because they were 19 years old in 1964 when their first song hit the charts and they were invited to play in America as scared kids. They were too deeply imbedded in the trees to see the forest. They had no idea they were the precursors of one of the biggest paradigm changes in popular music. Touring in America when the Beatles were sweating gigs at the Cavern Club in London. In 1965, the band appeared on the first episode of NBC’s Hullabaloo.

You’ll have to spare me a little dry history at this point. The band actually formed in 1961 listening to Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. They played throughout Europe, following the dues paying path also trod by the Beatles (Hamburg). They perfected a very “Beach Boys” style harmony, then hit the charts with “Odessey & Oracle”, recorded at Abbey Road Studio in 1967. (Yes, it was misspelled by the graphic artist that did the cover.)

Odessey found it’s place as a great album in 1969, a year after the band had broken up. Named number 80 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest rock albums of all time. The seminal single, “Time of the Season” was featured in the Robin Williams, Robert DeNiro film “Awakenings (1990)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xjf8F3v18DY

Of the original 60s group only keyboardist Rod Argent and lead vocalist Colin Blunstone remain. Argent remains a world-class keyboardist at age 70, mentioned in the same company as Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Rick Wakeman (Yes), Richard Wright (Pink Floyd) and Ray Manzarek (Doors). Argent went on in 1969 to form “Argent” (“Hold your head up”). The Zombies were nominated to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 but were not elected (yet). Lots of great artists are waiting for that nod (Bad Company, Deep Purple, Steppenwolf, Moody Blues)

Interesting to see those who attended the concert. A liberal supply of burned out hippies, shoulder length grey hair, wispy pony tails, clad in classic garb of the 70s. Many younger types arriving to see what the fuss of the 60s was about, covalently bonded to cell phones texting continuously. The guy next to me in the balcony was my age and a walking repository of Zombies history. We both took cell phone photos (prohibited and universally ignored) through the concert.

This was a good gig for these guys troding the nostalgia circuit, all of them over 70 years of age still packing (smaller) venues and still playing world-class music. Both Argent and Blunstone look good for their ages, trim and athletic. Both obviously color their hair. The other members of the band are appropriately grey. Following their extended rendition of “Time…..”, the entire audience gave them an extended standing ovation they very visibly appreciated. “I had an amazing balcony seat right next to the stage. At one point I leaned over the rail and caught Rod Argent’s eye giving him a thumbs up. He saw me, pointed and gave me the thumb back.        Ahhhh…..life is good.

 

 

 

 

“American Pie”, Don McLean (1971)

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donmcclean“American Pie”, Don McLean (1971)

Arguably one of the most important albums in (sort of) Rock Music history, for at least two reasons:

First reason- it contains spectacularly beautiful lyrics and melody not seen very often in contemporary music.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxHnRfhDmrk&spfreload=10

Individuals standing on stage, singing a melody and accompanying themselves with a simple instrument exhibit the most beautiful music, even in the rock genre. Solo artists (James Taylor), duos (Simon and Garfunkel), triplets (Peter Paul and Mary) and simple groups (Cream). Staged pyrotechnics diminish simple listenability and are currently in the process of destroying Rock as an art form.

Don McLean (and James Taylor) emerged as simple but effective troubadours. They understood this was karma and kismet and they would never stray from it. At some point in his career McLean graduated from college and was offered a full scholarship for graduate work to Columbia University in New York that he turned down. He knew what his future was and that it would be successful. He would not rise to his level of incompetence a-la the Peter Principle, and he has been exceptionally successful, continuing to do concerts now at my age.

Second reason- on March 14,1971, the album “American Pie” emerged as a new anthem from the ashes of 60s culture effectively demolished at the Altamont rock concert on December 6, 1969.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQzNtYsf5D4&spfreload=10

The 60’s and its anthem, “Alice’s Restaurant” (Arlo Guthrie, 1967) signaled the emergence of a radical change from the staid, prosperous Eisenhower 50s. The strains of “Are you experienced” from Jimi Hendrix and “When the music’s over” from the Doors wafted through the dorm halls leading to stunned silence. No one had ever heard anything like it before. It was electrifying and it led like the auditory pied piper to the culture that created it. An entire generation wafted into a radical social change that changed our lives and changed the world.

60s social upheaval was irrevocably intertwined with the music of the day. The medium of Rock has always been one of rebellion against conformity and conventionality, and accordingly fit like a hand in a glove with the 60s. Sixties Rock is the stuff of existential anti-heroism, inviting those seeking salvation by immersing their souls in a cathartic media masquerading as social profundity.  The high risk-high gain medium selects for those who actively live the dream. The musicality selects strains and chords evolved to selectively pull resonant strings of the human brain, abandoning order.

Those selected for this cast were drawn in at their peril, with no safety net. Perhaps prior lessons from the existential philosophers, most of who went mad or suffered violent deaths, should have been heeded. Some very talented people discovered those consequences the hard way. Altamont was the final blushing crow pointing out very vividly that when the surface of “self enlightenment” was scratched, what lay underneath was madness and violence.

“American Pie” was an allegorical narrative of what lay beyond Altamont, exploiting the unfortunate plane crash of Feb 3, 1959 that took the lives of the prophetic Buddy Holly and two other minor players. Markers of what was to come in popular music and the culture accompanying it. When they died, a potential culture died with them.

Buddy Holly’s star was rising as the new exponent of what would come to be called “pop rock”, melodic and listenable. His works and innovations inspired and influenced contemporary and later musicians, notably The Beatles, Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, Don McLean, Bob Dylan, Steve Winwood, and Eric Clapton. Holly was among the first group of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Holly #13 among “The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ty31QY5ZGHo

Parenthetically, Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts decided not to pay the US$36.00 fee and didn’t board the aircraft said to have “American Pie” painted on its cowl. J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper), suffering from flu symptoms, coerced Waylon Jennings into giving up his seat. Ritchie Valens beat out guitarist Tommy Allsup on the toss of a coin. These decisions haunted these artists for the rest of their lives.

McLean explored some cryptic predictions:

“I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I’d heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

And in the streets, the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most
The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died”

The literal interpretation of McLean’s lyrics have been a source of continuing controversy for many years. Books have been written about them. When asked what his song meant, McLean famously replied, “It means I’ll never have to work again.” But be that as it may, the album marked the sharp transition to a radically different culture, the 70s.

Although difficult to imagine for many of you, the years 1970-71 were a straight up revolution, exacerbated by the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King in 1968 and nurtured by the violent Democratic National Convention also of 1968. An age of violent protest. Nixon Agonistes, the Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Faction, Kent State, Vietnam Veterans Against the War (it’s head- John Kerry), Angela Davis and Black Power.

Much but not all of it related to an intensely polarizing President and the unpopular Vietnam conflict that remained in full swing. Virtually every city in the country brimmed with firebombs, looting and the crackle of small arms fire. Business owners sat in shifts with shotguns propped on their toes outside their storefronts nightly.

But I digress. Anyone more interested in the sociopolitical revolutions of the 60s and 70s in more detail should (shameless plug) check out my treatise on it:

http://www.amazon.com/60s-70s-Confessions-Attentive-Observer/dp/1320874401/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1430056783&sr=8-13&keywords=david+crippen

I have gone over the lyrics to American Pie for years and I think I understand a lot of it because I was there for all of it. It’s a very interesting song on its own merits anyway. Check it out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAsV5-Hv-7U&spfreload=10

Craig Ferguson Live (November 2014)

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Craig Ferguson (Late, Late Show CBS) takes some time off now and again to do stand-up around the country because he likes to do it and it breaks up his Late show routine. I have mentioned before that I think he’s possibly the funniest guy on the planet right now. He has an honest, fast moving, unscripted humor that flows consistently. He likes performing before live audiences and it shows.

He came to the Carnage Library here, a rather small venue not holding very many people. Every seat is a good seat. My problem was negotiating all this with a wheelchair. There was a “wheelchair row” off to the left of the stage but I had better seats, so we had to bludgeon our away around to the other side for our seats about four back from the stage. I had to do several pirouettes but we finally made it to the seats. The couple beside me said this is the third time they’ve seen him in three years and most of those there were Craig veterans as well.

First guy out was the voice of “Geoff” the mechanical skeleton robot that Craig trades quips off routinely. CBS didn’t give him enough money to afford a “sidekick” or much else but a desk, so Craig created living animations to play off. The guy that voices Geoff is really a celebrity voice mime and he’s pretty good. He’s also quick and funny, the perfect foil for Craig. Check out some of their interactions on youtube.

Following this, and a bit of a surprise to the veterans, “Secretariat” the stuffed horse (two guys in a brown cloth horse outfit) came trotting out on stage followed by Craig. They did their little dance together and It was hysterical. The crowd went nuts. Secretariat is a staple on the Late, Late show and plays off Craig as well. The play-offs between Craig and these artificial creatures interact incredibly and always funny. This has never been done before. Craig’s interactions with his guests are never scripted, always completely fresh.

Craig came off as genuinely affectionate with the small audience. You could tell it in his eyes. Basically, his humor consisted of extemporaneous, fast paced storytelling. He paces back and forth along the stage and spins tales pulling it all up as he goes along. The lady sitting next to me says he always starts out telling the audience the best joke ever told, then digresses to the rest of his routine for the next hour and fifteen minutes or so, then to bring up the end, he finally tells the best joke ever told, a joke I will tell you now:

“Two very competitive guys were playing golf and deeply into the game when a funeral procession happened by. One of the golfers stopped in the middle of a putt, took off his cap and stood solemnly as the procession passed. The other golfer was amazed: “Wow, what could possibly prompt you to do this?”. The other golf went back to his putt after the procession passed and remarked: “Well, I was married to her for 35 years”.

Ferguson is a master of grabbing seemingly insignificant daily occurrences and making them funny. Never scripted, no teleprompter or held up signs. He’s alway fresh and always interesting. His last Late, Late show will be December 19 I think and we will lose one of the funniest men on the planet. He admits he has no particular plans for the future.

I would strongly suggest you see his show on CBS after David Letterman 12:30 am. Most TV setups now allow taping. Just tape a couple of shows and watch them earlier. Really one of a kind, his likes probably never to be seen again.

Something interesting going on in American Music. (2014)

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dave-grohlSomething very important to American music is going on right now. A couple of weeks ago there was a preview as David Letterman had The Foo Fighters playing at the show’s end every night for a week with remarkable guest artists. Ann and Nancy Wilson of “Heart”, Zak Brown rendering a thundering rendition of a Black Sabbath song, Rick Nielson of “Cheap Trick”. Each of these productions is simply incredible and predictive of what’s coming next.

Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters are spending a week in each of eight cities, each with a specific musical heritage to absorb the unique vibes, then write a song at the end, the lyrics of which are gleaned using only quips and memorabilia learned by interviewing local musicians during the week. One side of the ledger is things learned, the other side lyrics cut and pasted from the experience. Grohl paired the music and documentary to give substance and depth to the final song, making for a tight emotional connection.

First city was Chicago where the Grohl explored the evolution of Chicago Blues and the legendary Buddy Guy, then the evolution of the punk rock scene that influenced many of the Chicago musicians. For the final song, they’re joined by Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielson to record the first song for “Sonic Highways”.

The second city is Washington, DC, home of most of the American punk scene in the early 70s. Punk band Bad Brains and Ian MacKaye of Teen Idles, Minor Threat and Fugazi, who all recorded at Inner Ear Studios in DC over the decades. Virginia-raised Grohl says that vibe “produced the entire soundtrack of my youth,” and he dwells on the punk scene of each city.

The “Punk” scene permeates all of American music, including early Nashville and Austin, Tx music. The American punk scene was remarkably different from the coincident European punks, a reaction to unemployment. The American punks embraced the concept of absolutely no limits in musical expression. Anyone anywhere could stand on stage and try their luck. By the sheer volume of those playing, a lot of creative music congealed and emerged.

Third city was Nashville and interviews with still productive country greats, Dolly Parton, Tony Joe White, Willie Nelson, and Emmylou Harris. Fourth city was Austin Texas, home of Austin City Limits, as exploration of the ingredients that brought legendary Stevie Ray Vaughn to greatness. Gary Clark Jr. Joins the Foos for the final songs “What Did I Do? And God As My Witness”. This is some of the best music I have ever heard. The final product, four cities yet to go, will be a very interesting interpretation of how environments shape music. This has never been done before.

Dave Grohl believes that all music can eventually be traced to a central origin that nurtures and modulates it and he’s working very hard to explore that path. The best way to explain the concept is to postulate the repository of music as an unstable star in the universe of existence, undulating and straining but not ready to explode just yet, waiting for the right stimulus. Back in the 40s, big band music was simple and staid, feeding upon itself. In the 50s, a fundamental instability began with skiffle in England that created the Beatles In the USA, be-bop and rhythm & blues, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course, Elvis. All of this boiled to the surface to bring the star to an explosive point in the early 60s, setting the stage for the cataclysm that occurred in the second half of the 60s when it all literally and metaphorically went electric. A musical revolution never before dreamed of and will probably never be seen again.

The star erupted sending chunks of musical expression out into the abyss. Lets make a quick & dirty list of just a few the blinding chunks flying forth to change the fundamental nature of music. Hendrix, The Animals, the Zombies, The Kinks, Cream, the Doors, Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, Otis Redding, Creedence Clearwater, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkle, Janis Joplin, James Brown, Miles Davis, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Buffalo Springfield, Procol Harum, Paul Revere & Raiders, Hollies, Dave Clark Five, Neil Young, Steve Miller Band, The Guess Who, Roy Orbison, Them, Beach Boys, Steppenwolf, the Temptations, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Marvin Kaye, Jefferson Airplane all at once.

Each of these chunks shone brightly and independently, eclipsing other nuggets in similar situations. But in the end, like real stars, gravity rules and all the chunks were slowly drawn back into the mass of the star by gravitational pull, stabilizing it into a huge mass of encyclopedic, heterogeneous, eclectic sound and tone. There is no more critical mass. The star now allows a solar wind to emit from its surface, a temporary swell of unfiltered music that waxes & wanes in time. Disco, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, “American Idol”,‘The Voice”, any black female singer with ironed hair. They’re all out there wafting around at the whims of the desultory solar mini-eruptions.

The solar wind occasionally allows some bright spots. There’s a lot of incredible music out there and if you seek it, there is one rule. Don’t follow the money. The money will lead you to hype, glitz and an empty box with a Kardashian brand on it. The performers that we’re still listening to pushing 50 years later wandered into Nashville or San Francisco on foot, broke with a Taylor or Telecaster strung over their back and played for five drunks in a dark bistro. They all shared one commitment and that was absolutely no compromise. The music was what it was and would not be altered for any commercial advantage. It was all about the music. They didn’t care if they starved as long as someone was listening.

Neil Young who never compromised a minute in his entire life wrote: “We may not compromise……I may not suit your taste tonight”. Kurt Cobain wrote: “”I’m too stubborn to allow myself to ever compromise our music or turn us into big rock stars,” Cobain said. “I just don’t feel like that.” When Kris Kristofferson arrived in Nashville, Sam Phillips of Sun Records said his shoes were “falling off his feet.”

These are the musicians I want to hear and you want to hear. That’s where the creativity is. The innovation, initiative, inspiration, artistry and vision. The further you get away from money, the better it gets.

Dave Grohl understands this and has explored it for 20 years with the Foo Fighters. A substantial book could be compiled on his formidable abilities as a musician, songwriter and producer since the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994. In “Sonic Highways” Dave digs deep into the musical history of each city and crafts a song for each in hopes of showing the differences. It isn’t perfect but it’s good. A musical map of America. Highly recommended by me:

http://www.hbo.com/foo-fighters-sonic-highways#/foo-fighters-sonic-highways/about/video/tca-trailer.html/eNrjcmbOYM7XLMtMSc13zEvMqSzJTHbOzytJrShRz89JgQkFJKan+iXmpjIXcjIysoGgdGJpSX5BTmKlbUlRaSoAUBcXOA==

All that said………

The one big paradox in American music is the ascension of mediocre talent to big money. No performer illustrates mediocre voice talent more than Taylor Swift. I’ve heard equal voice talent in local bar band singers. As it pertains to the nuts and bolts of voicing, tone and ear worthiness, Ms. Swift cannot stand on the same stage as Sharleen Spiteri of the Glasgow band “Texas”, who in 25 years continues to enjoy only local UK exposure.

Ms. Swift’s latest album of sophomoric personal narratives, “1989” sold 1.287 million copies in its first week, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 and making Swift the first singer act to have three albums sell more than one million copies in a week.

Postulating that talent must (eventually) equal success, it’s difficult to explain how this can be.

The unfortunate reality is that lack of talent does not necessarily equal failure once marketing becomes involved. This is because the ears of the general public are mercilessly commuted by aggressive marketing techniques blending visual images into the mix.

Taylor Swift is an exceptionally attractive blonde young woman with a great body. Savvy marketers have worked this to the max and it’s extremely rare to see her without a full regalia of Avant guard clothing and makeup. Her concerts are full of frenetic flashing lights, glitz and costume changes. This product was created and tweaked by legions of experts to focus on a specific audience; probably teen and especially pre-teen girls (see Britney Spears elsewhere).

Looking at the big picture, selling “millions” of records isn’t that impressive compared to the number of listeners out there, especially ones that don’t purchase records. Recently, Charlie Rose interviewed actor Jake Gyllenhaal regarding his new film “Nightcrawler”. The conversation about a sociopath that creeps around Los Angeles at night photographing violent, salacious activities and selling them to local TV stations. The question of who could possibly be interested in such things arose.

The answer was interesting. Back in the 60s, television news was immune from TV station merchandizing for profit. This changed somewhere along the way and the news section was expected to generate a profit. This quickly produced what we see now on every local TV station in the country. Roving reporters looking for anything that might possibly be of interest to a population of jaded viewers bored with life in general. Weepy mothers decrying their kid shot dead just minding his business in the middle of a high drug exchange area at 3 am. Vivid car accidents. High visibility court cases, especially involving sexual infidelity. This is news? No, it’s entertainment and it draws viewers, which draws sponsors, which generates money. It is an inalterable fact of life.

In section three of Dave Grohl’s monumental HBO series “Sonic Highways” (Friday nights 11pm), Dolly Parton candidly discussed the poisoning of talent by progressive “business” practices fomented by bean counting money experts who have nothing to do with music. Nashville used to be a town where raw talent could arrive, pay their dues and eventually find at least sustenance and possibly fame.

Nashville is no longer about singer-songwriters. It’s about songwriters writing songs for singers who fit the profile for the proper amount of glitz and showmanship to generate money. The song matters less than the milieu of how it’s delivered, passing a gauntlet of financial and marketing experts who know moneymakers when they see them. Dolly opined that if she walked into Nashville today, no one would give her the time of day.

It naturally follows that Taylor Swift started out in Nashville. She worked it for years, plying the potential to make money while delivering at least a serviceable vocal product. For years the mentors gently nurtured her into a product that would fill the bill. None of this had anything to do with vocal talent. It was leaping onto stage from spring loaded boxes, dressed to show her figure as provocatively as possible and warble to the flashing lights and a swell of electrified instruments.

She learned her lessons very well, and as of this week, continues to learn them from the legions of business managers that surround her. In removing her material from Spotify (a realistically priced music streaming site), she remarked: “I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music.” Other critics suggest this move will generate more short-term dollars from fans forced to purchase her new album.

So the new flavors of popular music have quickly moved to sacrifice widespread listeners of their music for a higher marginal price to disseminate each portion of it.

Unclear where this will end if it ever does. In the days of singer-songwriters that strode into town, broke, unwashed, wrote their own music, stood on stage with minimal if any accouterment, played for endless hours for drinks and refused to compromise even a little are clearly over. This is where genius resided. The only environment that can nurture genius. If there are any more Kris Kristoffersons, Willie Nelsons, Steve Earles, Emmylou Harrises, Waylon Jennings we may have to catch a seat at the historic Bluebird Café to see them. There will be plenty of Taylor Swifts for sale.

Just some desultory thoughts while I watch my leg heal.