Category Archives: Music

Garth Brooks And The Downfall Of Country Music

So it’s been raining all weekend and I haven’t done much and I haven’t blogged because I haven’t done much and I was good with that when a friend posts that she’s going to see Garth Brooks!!! and a couple of friends respond with “Have fun!!!” and I respond with “Why are you telling her to have fun? It’s Garth Brooks,” and she responds thusly:

If you know anything about country music you would know he is like the best artist ever

OK. Now I have something to talk about.

Do I know anything about country music? Well, let’s see. I was born in the country. I spent the first 18 years of my life in the country. I occasionally go home to the country on holidays and long weekends.

Yeah, I know a little bit about country music. It’s the music of my people.

My pa had a pickup truck with an AM/FM radio that had six programmable buttons. He only programmed two — one was for KWTO (Keep Watching The Ozarks) and the other was for KTTS (No Obvious Acronym). Neither was a rock-and-roll station. Neither was in the classical or all-news format. It was all country, all the time, in Pa’s pickup.

You didn’t touch the dials on Pa’s radio. Even when he would get out and say “stay here,” you didn’t touch the radio. I spent many a day listening to country music on KWTO and KTTS. There was no 8-track player in Pa’s pickup. At home, Pa didn’t listen to records, but Ma did. There was Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and Roger Miller and Tom T. Hall and the Statler Brothers and a few others.

Gunfighter-Ballads-Robbins-CDI wasn’t a big fan of country music but I respected it and I liked most of it. When I moved out I left country music behind for the most part. None of my friends or roommates listened to it. Laurie wasn’t into it, although she did have a strong love for Marty Robbins’ “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.” I had never heard of the album so I got a copy and soon fell in love with it as well. I especially like the hot pink background on the cover.

I first became aware of Garth Brooks while watching a news show where they did a segment on “Up and Coming Country Superstar Garth Brooks.” I was intrigued because Garth had taken a less-than-great Billy Joel song and turned it into a hit. In fact, during the segment they showed concert footage of Garth jumping up and down and climbing on cables while singing Joel’s “You May Be Right.”

“Why is this country guy so into Billy Joel?” I thought. But I didn’t think enough of it to go out and buy a Garth Brooks album.

Shameless_(Garth_Brooks_single_-_cover_art)It turned out — and here I’ll be sociological for a moment — that Garth Brooks was at the forefront of the “New Country” movement. By the 1990s traditional rock and roll was in decline, having been muscled out by rap, grunge and alternative rock. Young white people who feared rap and couldn’t sing along to Kurt Cobain and Michael Stipe had nowhere to go. So they turned to Garth Brooks and his ilk, who had taken rock and roll and meshed it into an unholy alliance with country music. If there’s a Frankenstein Monster of music, it’s New Country.

Or, as Tom Petty put it, “What they call country music today is like bad rock groups with a fiddle.”

You think Tom Petty and I are being too harsh? Don’t take our word for it, take country music’s word for it. Every year the Country Music Association holds its music awards show. The tagline: “It’s Country Music’s Night To Rock.” Think about it.

The country music I grew up with didn’t aspire to be rock and roll. It was country and it was proud of it.

But hey, Garth has sold millions of albums and has billions of fans, so that has to count for something, right? Not especially.  Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies have made millions of dollars and have plenty of fans but no one would call them “great cinema.”

Still, it’s probably true that in the hierarchy of country music that Garth Brooks is like the best artist ever.

As long as you don’t count Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Tom T. Hall, Charlie Pride, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Kris Kristofferson, Don Williams,  Hank Williams Jr., The Statler Brothers, Marty Robbins, the Carter Family and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Well, I’ll give you Garth over the Oak Ridge Boys.

(Yes, I am aware that this post makes me look like a “music snob,” but let’s be honest — when it comes to music we’re all pretty much snobs. At least I didn’t resort to the standard argument: “All (musician I hate)’s music sounds the same.”)

 

 

 

 

On Stage: Motown: The Musical

“Motown: The Musical” has returned to St. Louis for a 5-day run guaranteed to get audiences dancing in the streets — or at least in the aisles of the Fox Theatre.

Based on Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiography “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, the Memories of Motown,” the musical rips through more than 60 tunes made famous by the Detroit-based record label while telling the story of its founder and several of its stars. The show premiered on Broadway in 2013.

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Gabriella Whiting (Florence Ballard), Allison Semmes (Diana Ross) and Tavia Rivee (Mary Wilson) in a scene from the First National Tour production of “Motown The Musical.”        Joan Marcus photo 

Chester Gregory stars as Berry Gordy, who at a young age was inspired to be the best he could be after watching a Joe Louis boxing match. After a few false starts, Gordy discovered that what he was best at was making records and nurturing talent. Among his earliest finds and closest friends are Smokey Robinson (David Kaverman) and Marvin Gaye (Jarran Muse).

Gordy launches his black artists onto the airwaves and the concert halls in the early 1960s, a time of racial segregation and unrest. The civil rights movement is a constant presence in the show, both in the characters’ lives and how it is reflected in their music.

Motown unleashes a wide variety of talent in its first 25 years — from Stevie Wonder to the Jackson Five to Rick James — but the artist who becomes the focal point of the story is Diana Ross (Allison Semmes). Her relationship with Gordy gives the show its romantic angle, as well as show his managerial skills in boosting her from fronting a girl group to solo success and a movie career.

Of course, success breeds many challenges. Gordy’s “family” of talent finds the grass is greener at other studios — especially when they’re offering so much more green. As his stars leave, the record company starts to falter. Even though all the old gang are coming home for Motown’s anniversary, Gordy isn’t sure if he wants to be there.

If you love the music of Motown, then you will love “Motown: The Musical.” A number of talented singers and dancers, along with an immensely talented band, belt out hit after hit, sometimes in truncated form but always with high energy and heart. The leads, especially Gregory, really deliver the goods.

In addition to its classic soundtrack, the show boasts colorful, elaborate costumes and a dazzling, multimedia sets. “Motown: The Musical” is a joy for the eyes and ears.

“Motown: The Musical” runs through March 26 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

Gone: Greg Lake

You see, it’s all clear
You were meant to be here
From the beginning

C’est la vie

Have your leaves all turned to brown
Will you scatter them around you
C’est la vie
Do you love
And then how am I to know
If you don’t let your love show for me
C’est la vie

Oh c’est la vie
Oh c’est la vie
Who knows, who cares, for me?
C’est la vie

He had white horses and ladies by the score
All dressed in satin and waiting by the door
Ooh, what a lucky man he was

Do you wanna be the player
Do you wanna be the string
Let me tell you something
It just don’t mean a thing

You see it really doesn’t matter
When you’re buried in disguise
By the dark glass on your eyes
Though your flesh has crystallised

Still… you turn me on

greglakekingbiscuitinconcert51571Soon the Gypsy Queen in a glaze of Vaseline
Will perform on guillotine
What a scene! What a scene!

Next upon the stand will you please extend a hand
to Alexander’s Ragtime Band
Dixie land, Dixie land

Roll up! Roll up! Roll up!
See the show!

Performing on a stool we’ve a sight to make you drool
Seven virgins and a mule
Keep it cool. Keep it cool.

We would like it to be known the exhibits that were shown
were exclusively our own,
All our own. All our own.

Come and see the show! Come and see the show! Come and see the show!
See the show!

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
But instead, it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin birth

I remember one Christmas morning
A winter’s light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell
And that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
And they told me a fairy story
Til I believed in the Israelite

And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked at the sky with excited eyes
Then I woke with a yawn
In the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear

They said there’d be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah, Noel, be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas we get, we deserve

Gone: Leonard Cohen

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love

Maybe I’m still hurting
I can’t turn the other cheek
But you know that I still love you
It’s just that I can’t speak
I looked for you in everyone
And they called me on that too
I lived alone but I was only
Coming back to you

It’s coming through a crack in the wall
On a visionary flood of alcohol
From the staggering account
Of the Sermon on the Mount
Which I don’t pretend to understand at all.
It’s coming from the silence
On the dock of the bay,
From the brave, the bold, the battered
Heart of Chevrolet
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

leonard-cohen-2002-the-essentialAh, the moon’s too bright
The chain’s too tight
The beast won’t go to sleep
I’ve been running through these promises to you
That I made and I could not keep
But a man never got a woman back,
Not by begging on his knees
Or I’d crawl to you baby
And I’d fall at your feet
And I’d howl at your beauty
Like a dog in heat
And I’d claw at your heart
And I’d tear at your sheet
I’d say please, please
I’m your man

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

Now Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river,
She is wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters,
And the sun pours down like honey on Our Lady of the Harbour,
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers,
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning,
They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever,
While Suzanne holds the mirror.

And you want to travel with her,
And you want to travel blind,
And you know that you can trust her,
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

And I’ll dance with you in Vienna
I’ll be wearing a river’s disguise
The hyacinth wild on my shoulder,
My mouth on the dew of your thighs
And I’ll bury my soul in a scrapbook,
With the photographs there, and the moss
And I’ll yield to the flood of your beauty
My cheap violin and my cross
And you’ll carry me down on your dancing
To the pools that you lift on your wrist
O my love, o my love
Take this waltz, take this waltz
It’s yours now. It’s all that there is

There is a war between the rich and poor,
A war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the ones who say there is a war
And the ones who say there isn’t.
Why don’t you come on back to the war, that’s right, get in it,
Why don’t you come on back to the war, it’s just beginning.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
To laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again

And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of May,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Now I bid you farewell, I don’t know when I’ll be back
They’re moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track
But you’ll be hearing from me baby, long after I’m gone
I’ll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the Tower of Song

And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear

Sincerely L Cohen

On Stage: Once

“Once” isn’t a flashy spectacle of a musical. It’s just a very entertaining one.

Based on the 2007 film by John Carney, it was turned into a Broadway show by Enda Walsh (book), Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (music and lyrics). It went on to win eight Tony Awards in 2012, including Best Musical.

Once

Mackenzie Lesser-Roy and Sam Cieri and the ONCE tour company. Photo by Joan Marcus

The show boasts an unconventional opening. The stage is set up as a large Irish pub and audience members are welcome to go up on stage and mingle before the show begins. The cast of actor/musicians come out and begin playing. As showtime approaches the audience slowly goes to their seats but the cast continue performing until seamlessly and without warning, the show is underway.

“Once” is the story of a Guy (Sam Cieri) and a Girl (Mackenzie Lesser-Roy) whose lives are changed through a one-week encounter. The guy is a struggling musician in Dublin. His girlfriend just left him for New York, and he spends his days fixing vacuum cleaners and his nights playing in a friend’s pub, where all the other customers also turn out to be musicians.

Guy has written several songs of love and longing about his ex-girlfriend, which he performs with great emotion. His talent gets the attention of Girl, a Czech woman recently settled in Dublin with her mother and daughter. She is determined to break him out of his funk, record some hit songs, and ship him off to New York for fame and a reunion with his lost love.

There’s not a lot of story here but what “Once” lacks in plot it makes up for in music and richly crafted characters. The music, mainly of the Irish-folk sound, includes the Academy Award-winning “Falling Slowly” and show stoppers like “Gold” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up.”

The talented cast performs multiple duties as actors, dancers, the orchestra and setting up the stage between scenes. They handle all these challenges with skill and high energy.

“Once” runs through Saturday at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

In Concert: Paul McCartney

As part of our “Catch Them One More Time Before They Die” bucket list, the Roy clan made its way to Busch Stadium last night for a performance by Sir Paul McCartney. McCartney was big in the ’70s and ’80s with a band called Wings. Before that he was in a band called The Beatles. If you don’t know those two groups, just go away. I don’t write this blog for mindless millennials.

We had seen McCartney several years ago at Busch so I had no great desire to go through all the crap one has to go through for a big-time concert these days, but Laurie seemed determined to go, and since she was buying the tickets, who was I to complain? We decided to take Andrew with us since a ticket would be only slightly more than the cost of hiring a sitter, plus he had never been to a concert before that didn’t involve bringing your own lawn chair, plus he seems to really enjoy the music of The Beatles.

He likes most music, but he really perks up when he hears the Fab Four. Once we were driving home from the farm and “Norwegian Wood” was playing on the stereo and I heard this odd sound that I couldn’t make out. Laurie was asleep as usual and I turned around and there was Andrew — singing —  along with John. I had never heard A string together more than five words, so this was a major thing. I woke Laurie up to listen, but as soon as he realized the spotlight was on him he stopped. And I never heard him sing it again.

Sigh. But I digress…

Once the tickets are purchased, the next decision is how to get downtown. One option is to take Metrolink, but everybody will be taking the train so you’re going to be doing a lot of waiting and a lot of standing. The other option is to drive downtown, park in a lot, and walk to the stadium. The downside to that is the possibility of being shot in a drive-by or beaten by punks playing the knock-out game.

We decided that there would be enough people downtown during a Paul McCartney concert that it would be safe to drive downtown and park in the lot where Laurie works. Free parking, and as long as L was driving, who was I to complain?

Day of show finally arrived. L insists we wear our Union Jack shirts because (a)  we are adorable when we dress the same (b) it’s easy to keep track of each other when we dress the same, and (c) people love Union Jack shirts. We got many complements on our outfits, the same as when we went to The Who concert.

paul1

The lines were long and slow-moving when we got to the stadium. Now I remember why I stopped going to concerts. The mob was large and difficult to wade through. Now I remember why I stopped going to concerts. I wind up sitting next to a man large enough that he spilled out into my seat. Now I remember why I stopped going to concerts. $6 for a Coke (because they were out of Sprite). Now I …

The concert was to start promptly at 8 p.m. It started at 8:30 p.m. Because Sir Paul’s time is clearly more valuable than mine. And no, I don’t consider the half-hour spent watching an odd video slowly scroll across the giant screens as part of the show. Now I remember.

But then Paul finally took the stage and I quickly remembered why I used to enjoy going to concerts. Macca ripped through a nearly 3 hour, 38-song set that nicely spanned his long career. It was a stronger show than the one I remember from the ’90s. Interesting set list, lots of Beatles songs, a few Wings tunes, the unfortunate handful of new songs that few people care about. Too many highlights to list (I never thought I would hear a live version of “Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite”). Good use of video screens and lights and, of course, blowing stuff up during “Live and Let Die.”

paul3

McCartney sounded as strong as ever, unlike some of the other geezer rockers I’ve seen in recent years. Probably one of the benefits of never stopping your career. He told stories and seemed very engaged with his audience. An excellent show, well worth the overpriced tickets.

Now if you’re going to take you autistic son to a concert, you might not want to pick the one where you have to sit for almost 4 hours. Especially when you forgot the beads and gummi bears. That $6 Coke did not last long.

paul2Still, Andrew handled everything with a smile and a laugh. He put up with the delayed start time much better than I did (But then, I suspect everyone handles delays better than I do). While it was nerve-racking waiting for him to melt-down, it was also a lot of fun watching him react to the music. He would smile at the songs he knew, rock and clap, and never got anxious. He didn’t sing along. He probably annoyed the person sitting in front of him, but hey, after years of being surrounded by obnoxious jerks at concerts, it was my time to be the troublemaker.

Overall we had a good setup. Only one person in our section insisted on standing up and dancing and she only did that a couple of times and she wasn’t in my line of sight so I didn’t care. The weather, which looked ominous at 8 p.m., turned cool and pleasant and the rain held off until morning.

Getting out of the stadium was quite the challenge but we somehow managed to get out of Busch still alive and still together. As expected, there were plenty of people walking around. We even went a block out of our way to get to the garage and still didn’t get killed. After all the sitting the walk did us good. The garage was far enough away from the stadium that getting out of town was not a problem. Especially since I wasn’t driving.

 

 

For The Record: The Monkees: Good Times!

Last Sunday morning I was watching “Sunday Morning” and they announced they were going to be doing a segment on The Monkees and I thought, “that’s nice, but what’s the occasion?”

Turns out this year marks the band’s 50th anniversary, which by itself is a good enough reason for a segment on “Sunday Morning,” but then they dropped the bomb that the band had also released a new album. I was giddy, but apprehensively giddy.

You may recall I went to see the pre-fab four roughly 2 years ago and I left the concert feeling that maybe it was best if they retired. It was a good show but I felt like their voices were going.

And then there’s the fact that their last studio album, “Justus,” wasn’t one of their best efforts. I think they were trying to be too hard. They wrote all the songs themselves and, well, songwriting was never the group’s strong suit.

the-monkees-good-times-cover-art-final-1200x1200For “Good Times!” they went back to the formula that made them so successful. While each Monkee provided one track, the rest of the songs were written by an eclectic but talented group of songwriters, including classic tunes from former Monkees tunesmiths Goffin/King, Boyce/Hart, Neil Diamond and Harry Nilsson,  along with new songs by Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller (Oasis), Andy Partidge (XTC) and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie).

Who knew The Monkees were so popular with the indie music crowd?

The end result is a Monkees album that actually rises to the greatness of the “Headquarters/Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.” era. To put that in context that normal people can understand, if this were a Beatles album, it would rank right up there with “Sgt. Peppers” and “Rubber Soul.”

It’s that good. Really. And I haven’t been impressed by a Monkees album since the “Head” soundtrack and that was 1968. The band’s 5 albums prior to this were average at best. (To be fair, I’ve never heard “Pool It!” but I’m assuming it’s not that great. Without Nez it couldn’t be very good.)

Remember how I said I thought their voices were degrading after I saw them in concert? Well, it’s amazing what recording in a studio can do for you. Mickey has never sounded better, Mike’s stronger here than he was on stage and even Peter sounds good here, and Pete sounded like warmed-over death at the Fox.

What’s really great about the album is how it recaptures the sound and spirit of those early ’60s Monkee tunes. Listening to this record is like going back in time.  So many fun songs. “You Bring The Summer” is the perfect light-and-breezy song for the season. “Birth of an Accidental Hipster” nicely captures the band’s psychedelic period. My favorite song has to be “Me and Magdalena,” which features lovely harmonies by Nez and Mickey.

Even the late Davy Jones gets in the act, as the album includes “Love to Love,” an old Neil Diamond-penned track. Davy’s songs were usually hit-or-miss for me but this is one of his better tunes.

Check it out on YouTube then do the right thing and buy a copy. I recommend the digital deluxe version as it includes a really nice tune with a scary title (Terrifying) and a more uptempo version of “Me and Magdalena.”