Liquid Velvet

2

There is something about K.D. Lang’s voice that is so soothing and safe, like those first few sips of a great red wine, or the warmth you get as you hold cold hands over a fire. It was my sheer pleasure to witness her put that voice to work live in 1993 at the Civic Center in Madison, WI.

I don’t really remember what got me listening to K.D., but the first album I bought, and became obsessed with, was Absolute Torch and Twang. Ironically, I’d spent a lot of my tween years being mortified by the country music that surrounded me at home and various family members’ homes. Since then, I’ve learned that there is country, and there is country. There is deep, raw, soulful country, and there is the godawful commercial country that has become so popular across America’s airwaves in the last few decades. But what Johnny Cash was doing, and what Toby Keith does, are like night and day. Like Cash, K.D. transcends her genre and is respected by anyone who recognizes beauty in music.

The album Absolute Torch and Twang struck a nerve for this Minnesota girl who loves urban cityscapes, but still loves the wide open skies and fields of the plains. K.D.’s deep and earthy love for the great plains and snowdrifts of Canada was something very familiar to me, and seeing it celebrated in this way was so very comforting… Real country music. No Stetsons and cowboy boots. Just pure celebration of the simple beauty of love and lonely places.

Here she is performing Trail of Broken Hearts…

In 1993, K.D. released Ingenue, and she became a sensation. I was so excited for her, and thrilled to hear that she’d be playing the Civic Center in Madison. I went off on my own to see her. I stopped at a cash point across the way before the show, and, for the very first time, was hit on by a woman. As K.D. hit the stage, I watched women catcalling another woman. Another fascinating first.

During most of the show, the tears flowed freely down my face. I couldn’t help it. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that her voice was even better live. Pitch perfect and utterly enthusiastic. And she was equally matched by her band who still stand out as some of the most incredible musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure to see live.

K.D. recently got to prove to the world that she is one of the most gifted artists today. She was asked to sing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah at the Canadian Olympics. I don’t have the video here as it’s not available. It was interesting to hear people express their astonishment at her talent. I believe they weren’t willing to listen in the 90s. She was ahead of her time. An out and proud lesbian who fought hard for animal rights and alienated the country ‘establishment’ of redneck radio stations, she was often written off. Much like Ellen, I believe she was held back by prejudices and bad timing. But now, the world is listening with more open ears and hearts. Just like Ellen, the world is a bit more ready to open up to her extreme talents.

I thank Alberta for giving us K.D. Lang. Her voice is the greatest gift a music lover could ever hope for.

The Thin White Duke

2

Music, like all forms of art, builds upon itself. One band, one sound, one singer, one bassline builds on itself, lends itself to the next to come along. Influences abound. Sounds are copied, built upon, multiplied. But very rarely, someone comes along, that appears to be so unique, so innovative, that they create a new base that others build upon. In my view, one of those rare and deeply special artists is David Bowie.

I believe that most modern alternative artists, especially those in Britain, from the late 70s on, owe a deep and enduring debt of gratitude to Bowie. Though he of course had his influences based in the great black rock and roll legends like Little Richard, he has been one of those rare artists to break free from early influences early in his career and blaze his own, very pioneering trail in music and theater. He created a world around himself. Multiple personas housed in a constantly evolving world of cabaret theater.

He has been in constant flux throughout his career, never satisfied with one way of being, or one way of presenting himself. Experimental and at times bizarre, he forged a path that others could only follow, trying desperately to keep up.

I recently watched a lovely interview of Depeche Mode. When asked who the most famous person was that he’d ever met. I thought he’d mention a world leader, or maybe Michael Jackson. But, Dave Gahan immediately answered: David Bowie. Of course, I thought, and good on Dave for acknowledging that, in their world, they don’t get any bigger or more important than David Bowie.

In my world, they don’t get any bigger than David Bowie either. So, when I read in the Evening Standard that David Bowie was doing a one off gig at the Astoria in 1999, I believe I almost fainted. They were offering tickets for a mere 20 pounds. Twenty quid!

I had long since given up on the chance of seeing him live. When I’d become aware of music and concerts, he was hitting Phoenix with the Serious Moonlight tour. I was too young to get tickets. The following year, as my friend Lori and I became serious fans (in all honesty, at that point, she was a bigger fan than me), we lamented having lost the opportunity to see that show. We had to satisfy ourselves with VHS tapes of the Glass Spider tour. This was one of Bowie’s less satisfying moments, but I was still captivated. But it wasn’t until high school, when I went back and looked at some of the earlier material he had produced, that I became hooked. One of his albums that most captivated me was Scary Monsters. Here’s a track from it called It’s No Game Part One. It is full of rage and frustration. The scolding Japanese woman seemed so alien, so bizarre at the time that I was totally enthralled. It is still so tense, so sexually charge, edgy and brilliant, after all these years. I’ve never looked into the translation of the Japanese. In a way, I don’t want to know. I have many theories of the bone she’s got to pick…

In the spirit of acknowledging where you came from musically, here’s a gem I came across while researching and reminiscing about some of his more recent work. This is Bowie’s excellent song, I’m Afraid of Americans, remixed with NIN. Yet another great Trent Reznor collaboration… Trent seems to have more respect for his predecessors than most, and I adore him for that.

David Bowie is an endlessly fascinating figure. Yes, he’s had some really bad moments musically in recent years. I’ve heard the, ‘Bowie was best when he was a junkie’ argument for years. I don’t care about that, though, as a writer, I’m mildly insulted that people think you’ve got to be off your head to write or produce anything of interest. I don’t care that he’s had some rough albums in recent years. What I care about is that, when looking at his overall career, you step back and are astounded by his contribution to music and art as a whole. This man has astounded and excited me for years.

When I got to the Astoria, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Having heard that he’d given up on the older songs live years previous, I wasn’t sure what to think when he came onto the stage and opened with ‘Life on Mars’. Actually, in truth, I wasn’t thinking anything. I was too busy crying the happiest of tears. Sound cheesy? I don’t care. It was moving. It’s long been my favorite song of his, and I couldn’t quite believe he was opening with it. I couldn’t quite believe I’d had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time, and had a ticket to the show, in this small venue. I was alone, and I can’t remember the reason for that. But in a way, it worked. This was my alone time where I could focus on the show and all the great songs. It is strange to finally see someone that you’ve had such a strong feeling about for so long… But that first song stuck with me. As the lights came on as it all came to an end, I looked around the balcony and spotted Gary Numan and Celis from Catatonia. I’m sure there were other musicians there, but I was too excited, lightheaded to care. It was a perfect show. From a perfectly flawed and beautiful artist.

 

 

 

From the Metro to Brixton… a journey with Suede.

2

Walking past a State Street record store one day during my senior year of college, I spied an album cover that intrigued. My friend Melissa was also intrigued. And together, we went off to the Metro in Chicago and ended up at a show that would lead us both into yet another obsessive relationship with yet another great English band.

I remember telling my friend Nicole about this band. We watched this awkward interview on MTV (yes, when they still played music, and had a wonderful show called 120 Minutes). Somehow, they’d caught on to the fact that Suede was busy taking the UK by storm. We laughed at the awkward exchange between old country and new. Now I know that Brett was being a bit of an earnest prat, and I’m painfully aware of how annoying the interviewer (strangely, his name escapes me) would come across to a UK audience… But at the time, I thought, it was fabulous.

So, Melissa and I took off for Wrigleyville, and had a truly memorable experience. We were in the front row of this tiny but wonderful venue. As they came out on stage, my mind kept going back to Bowie… Brett was a frontman as exciting, as sexually charged, as intense as the great man himself. Melissa had the unfortunate pleasure of being crushed against a roadie trunk that some idiot had decided to put on its end in front of the stage. I was whipped in the face at one point by Brett’s mic cord. We loved every moment (aside from those two) and were hooked from there on.

 

There is an intensity and excitement to a Suede show that you don’t often see. Even on that first tour of the US, they were inspiring a level of adoration that I hadn’t seen since Morrissey. We had the pleasure of hanging out in the alleyway next to the venue after the show with the band and a few dozen fans. That was where I realized that most groupies scare the hell out of me.

Though I have been, at times, what most people would call a groupie, I like to think that I’ve always controlled myself and carried myself with grace and a certain sense of self-awareness and humor about it all. My lowest point was during a near encounter with Sting. But that is for the Sting entry. At this point in my music fan journey, I was pretty much under control. I did, and still do, have such a deep admiration and respect for what these artists do, that I simply have a real desire to have the opportunity to tell them how much I appreciate their work. I must have done this on this particular occasion. However, I can’t honestly remember due to the lasting image of the girl with the painting. As we stood and observed the band and the fans’ interactions, a strangely nervous girl approached Brett with a canvas. She presented it to him, showing everyone in attendance that it was a painting of Brett in some sort of bondage gear. He was incredibly kind and thanked her as politely as he could. But I remember feeling incredibly uncomfortable on his behalf at the thought of someone spending that amount of time and energy depicting your image in such a bizarre way. Bloody hell, he must’ve thought. I know if I had been him, I’d have wanted to run away.

Here is some excellent footage from a show in Hamburg off that first tour… Suede at their quieter, intensely beautiful best on Pantomime Horse.

My love of Suede hit at the same time that I met my soon to be husband, and continued as we made the decision to move to London. The timing for following this band on their own turf couldn’t have been more perfect. I had missed the heyday of the great 80s new wave and alternative bands. But here I was, heading to London, my personal musical mecca, with a great band to follow at their peak.

About a year after our arrival in London, there was another fabulous show at the National in Kilburn. What a venue. What a night. With my new friends Anne Marie, Jane, and Mandy at my side, I had the funny feeling that I’d finally come home. I don’t know if this is footage from our night, or the other night they were there, but it actually made me cry finding someone had been incredible enough to upload most of this show.

Then there was a most special Suede experience at the Forum to follow. As was Melissa’s custom around those years, she had arrived in London for a visit, and the focus of this particular visit was on a fan club only gig at the Forum in Kentish Town. This show was special for many reasons. We were together, seeing our favorite band of the time. We had a grand adventure just getting to the gig as we walked around the abandoned warehouses behind King’s Cross station, met up with others in the same state of confusion, ended up sharing a cab and just making it to the Forum in time. Melissa took a grand crash off the stairs on the main floor. And they played only b-sides. Things that they’d probably never play live ever again. A special night indeed.

Then there was the penultimate (for them) Suede gig. At the lovely Brixton Academy no less. With the lovely Caroline. My personal circumstances were much different by that point. I had had my first little boy, and the night had to be well planned for a long time in advance. I was to come down to Herne Hill, where I’d stay the night after attending with Caroline and her sister. Time was at a premium. I remember rushing to the pub pre show, downing a few very swift halves, and chatting with some gentleman that Caroline knew. Then I remember being on the main floor, just a few rows back, in a throng of pogo dancing fans, all wire and fueled with multiple pints and a deep sense of sad urgency… this was, after all, the penultimate night of Suede’s existence as a band. We danced hard and I sang along hard as I always do, no doubt annoying the hell out of all those around me. Though, seeing the general state they were in, I doubt anyone noticed. Lots of beer spilled on us, angry words between Caroline’s sister and some huge bloke that did most of the spilling, and many great songs later, it was over. The lights came on and it was time to go home. Like being ripped from a fabulous dream that you don’t ever want to end, the night, and Suede, were over.

Still to this day, no one epitomizes London to me as much as this band. They symbolized everything I loved about that period of my life in that great city, and for that, I’ll always be grateful to them. From the Suede mug on my desk at DK, to the ‘See you in the Next Life’ t-shirt I got at that last show, they were the English band I’d always hoped to be able to have in my life while actually living there. All the pale, angular Anglo attitude and androgyny. So sexual yet so sexless. Thank you, gentlemen, for some incredible times and beautiful music. Here they are with Still Life…

Of course, they got back together last year, something which Melissa got to witness on her annual trip… Here’s hoping they’ll stay together for a while.

Tin Tin and the Thompson Twins

1

Of course, as an American teen, I had never heard of the Thompson Twins’ namesake Tin Tin characters. But, as a middle school girl, I was introduced to the band the Thompson Twins. I got into them very quickly and in a very big way for many reasons. Firstly, I must confess, I was instantly in love with Tom Bailey. He was so good looking… appropriately pale and arty and angular, yet with a gentle kindness to his face and demeanor that made him seem safe to such a young girl. And he had that incredible haircut that just seemed so unbelievably cool. Even with the tail.

Looking back now, Tom was often off pitch when singing live. But it didn’t matter. The music was fun and imminently danceable. And I loved the egalitarian nature of the band. A boy. A girl. A black boy.

They had wonderful graphics, too. This was very important to me at the time, as I fancied myself a bit of a cartoonist with aspirations to maybe work at Disney… that particular dream (along with a few others) never came to be. But I could still work hard at copying the clever outline of their three heads that became their logo.

A lot of things in my life at that time revolved around my obsession with them and Duran Duran. I tried to bring my two favorite bands into my everyday life in whatever way I could. When my drama class required us to do a lip sync, my friends and I did “We are Detective”. When Halloween came round, I insisted on being Tom… I even got my friend Janiene to give me a chunk of her horse’s tail for my tail. I then sprayed my hair to match Tom’s color. This was a bit like my odd Luke Skywalker obsession, during which I dressed as him for Halloween. I’m not sure what a psychologist would have to say about having a crush on someone, yet wanting to dress as them for Halloween…

Finally, there was a chance to see them live in 1984. They were headlining, with OMD. I went to the arena with Ali and Jenny (my friends that I’d gone to see The Smiths with). At the time, Ali had an Allanah Currie style up do that was most impressive. We sat outside in the huge line (it was general admission). We were rewarded (or so I thought at the time) with 1st row status on the main floor. We rushed to our spot, feeling grateful and giddy at having nabbed such great spots. That gratitude was short-lived, however, as I felt the great swell of the sea of humanity pressing against me in a deeper way as it came time for OMD to hit the stage.

OMD were impressive, and though, at the time, I didn’t really appreciate their great talent, I was trying hard to pay attention to them, despite the fact that I was having trouble feeling the cement floor anymore. I soon realized that it was time to get the hell out of that spot. The crowd was only going to get more restless and aggressive as the main act came out. But how does a girl get out of a crowd of thousands pushing against her? I did what had been suggested to me… threatened to vomit on them if they didn’t let me pass. It was amazing how people found space, however slight, to let me pass. Eventually, after much unpleasantness, I broke free of the throngs, and found a comfortable spot on the sides.

My friends Ali and Jenny weren’t so lucky… they’d decided to stay back and shortly after the Thompson Twins hit the stage, they asked to be plucked by the security guards from the crush of the crowd. I remember Ali saying her decision came (as heartbreaking as it was to give up front row, center) after she could no longer feel her legs.

From that point on, I remember the show being very fun. But its memory was dominated by that somewhat horrific experience on the main floor. It gave me a healthy respect for the power of a crowd, and how you can never quite tell what’s going to happen.

Here is a bit of their early days live. This is from a VHS tape that I used to watch over and over again (I didn’t have MTV, and it was one of two tapes I owned… the other one being Duran Duran). It’s the song, Kamikaze. I think it’s one of their most beautiful songs.

Burn down the Disco (and put on the Smiths)

Everyone who’s into music in a big way and likes to go to shows accumulates favorite show experiences and moments along the way. There are the incredible ‘they sound even better live’ revelations. There are the very rare and special guest appearances, or songs they said they’d never play live again, but do, seemingly, just for you. Then there’s the bands or tours that you caught just before it all ended. These are the shows that show your age, but also give real music fans moment to pause and feel genuine envy that you were there.

Seeing The Smiths on The Queen is Dead tour is one of those moments that often makes other alternative music fans very jealous indeed. Many of them have seen Morrissey, but a lot of them hadn’t had the chance to see The Smiths before they broke up. And I owe that experience to my dear high school friend, Alison Hopkins. As usual, Ali knew about The Smiths before I did, and introduced them to me. I wasn’t instantly in love. Morrissey’s voice initially struck me as oddly out of tune at times. But after a few listens, it grew on me. I found his lyrics so perfect for a disaffected teenager who knew there was more to life than proms and jocks, and a bigger world outside suburban Phoenix. He had a dark humor that I appreciated, and made constant references to what were then exotic-sounding places in England, further fueling my out of control anglophilia. Mostly, here was a voice that gave the go-ahead for wallowing in the angst of adolescence and alienation. Perfect.

Ali, Jenny, and myself went off to Mesa Ampitheatre dressed in black. It turned out that almost everyone else was dressed in black, too, from head to foot. My dad drove us there, and upon seeing the huge crowd dressed as they were, he became agitated and concerned, saying, ‘I don’t like the look at that crowd.’ Oh, the deep embarrassment I felt. I had to explain that everyone was just fine. I was, after all, only 15 years old. This whole dressed in black thing was very new to my dad, who didn’t understand or appreciate why the emphasis was so dark… from the lyrics to the minor keys (he was in a band and we had had long conversations about the ‘major key’ happy-go-lucky nature of the beach bands and early rock and roll). He wasn’t going to understand the Gen X misfit mindset no matter how hard he tried, and I did try hard to explain. But, in the end, he accepted the lack of color and dropped us off.

With regards the show itself, a lot of the details are vague. I remember great excitement, and being fascinated by the crowd. There were even a few men walking around in full bridal gowns. Having never seen anything remotely like that before, I felt suddenly somewhat hip just by the association of being into the same band. I do remember a frustrating sense of detachment as we were so far away. But then Morrissey did something that caught me by surprise. There was an empty moat that ran along the front of the stage. What I didn’t know at the time is that Morrissey was notorious for encouraging people onstage. He obviously didn’t like the great distance between the band and the people going on here. Much to the security guards’ chagrin, Morrissey yelled, ‘Storm the moat!’ and dozens of all too eager fans ran roughshod over the scrambling guards and onto the stage to dance with Moz himself. To a 15-year-old, this seemed like one of the coolest, most anarchic things I’d ever seen. In that moment, a very intense love affair that lasted for years (and worried many of my friends and family) was born.

I couldn’t find any live video from our specific show, but this is from that year, 1986. I’ve also included one of my favorite Smiths songs, How Soon is Now, in official video format.

Bauhaus and the Resurrection

I built up a strong and probably somewhat unhealthy addiction to all things Bauhaus and Pete Murphy when I was in college. I’d heard of them in passing before that, and had always been intrigued by the occasional t-shirt that would show up at clubs, but it wasn’t until college that I found a special place for them in my dark, lonely stirrings. They hit every corner of my dreams at the time. Endless drama. Extreme beauty. Darkly beautiful stage performances. Odd and jarring guitar riffs. Deviant lyrics dripping with themes of fallen grace, dead actors, decay—all delivered with an air of aristocratic knowing. Above all, Pete’s gorgeous, velvet sexy voice. What a perfect thing for a girl working in a theater, going clubbing every week, studying Victorian and Gothic literature, and trying to finish her creative writing novella assignment.

Meeting my husband, I was happy to find that he had quite liked them during their heyday in England. His best friend had even appeared in the Ziggy Stardust video, apparently (though I still can’t spot him in the crowd of writhing fans). But, sadly, their day in the spotlight had long since passed in England, and they had long since broken up. Pete was having great success in the club and alternative world as a solo artist. And Love and Rockets were making it big in the US especially, even on the top 40 charts. But in 1998, they got back together, and then started the Resurrection tour in 1999.

We went to Brixton Academy with high hopes, and were not disappointed. They do interesting things that few bands could pull off with the most basic of props or instruments. The stage had, at various times, several, or one single, light bulb, hanging from basic black wires. Pete would hold them from time to time, playing with them and capturing the dramatic angles of his bone structure in a cabaret style. But he mostly strutted back and forth, commanding the full attention and reverence of the audience. Daniel Ash cut his usual incredibly cool and untouchable figure, playing beautifully. David J and Kevin were their wonderfully solid and supportive selves. For me, it was so much fun to take in them, as well as the crowd of middle aged and slightly younger, English goths, having one of the best nights of recent times.

Here’s some video from a show around that time… I don’t know if it’s from Brixton or not. But it’s still lovely.

REM says goodbye

1

I am a bit emotional and not sure how to express my feelings upon learning that my beloved REM has decided to call it a day. My relationship with this band’s work has been so personal, so internal in so many ways that it’s hard to put into words just how much they’ve meant to me over the years.

31 years. That is an amazing run. And that covers a whole lot of late night drives, lonely walks home, longing daydreaming from car windows, tearful bouts of homesickness while dreaming of open American landscapes. Loneliness, joy, longing, rage, poetry, redemption, coaxing out our better selves… all of these themes and many more were a constant part of this great group’s journey, and their shared gift to us listeners.

Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry… these 4 have been unlikely heroes of the alternative music scene for so long. No big drama. No scandals (though I don’t know what they were personally up to, you never heard about it). No noticeable egos. Just real brotherly love. Love for other bands such as the B52s, 10,000 Maniacs, Morrissey, etc. No sexuality, though Michael’s coy, boyish sex appeal was always there, just under the surface. They were not hard core. They were not into fashion. They were a bit earnest. And for them it seemed it was all about the music and the joy of expression. This band mattered in a deeply profound way.

And don’t let songs like Shiny Happy People fool you, or distract you from their legacy. Every album had beauty in it that surpassed what most bands can achieve in an entire career. Fleeting moments of deep comfort like on ‘Belong’. Joyful moments of affirmation of belief and belonging on ‘I Believe’. And even those songs that made it into the mainstream… pieces such as ‘Everybody Hurts’. That song wraps a great bear hug around you, making you sure that, no matter what, you’re going to be okay.

In the end, I believe that REM cared a great deal for their fans, for their art, for the words. They cared about social issues, yet didn’t hit you over the head with pretensions of grandeur like a certain Mr. Bono… they just got it. They understood what was real and what all human beings yearn for and dream of. Dreamy nighttime skinny dipping sessions, joyful duets with other fiesty southern singers, Vietnam nightmares… these were some of the scenes they created. In doing so, they hit every single human emotion.

REM was my old ‘holy grail’ band (now it’s Depeche Mode). The band that I never got to see live. I wasn’t cool enough to get invited to go along to see them in high school (they were still an obscure ‘college rock’ band in Freshman year). I bought tickets to the Green tour only to have to sell them at the last minute… I remember crying myself to sleep that night. Sad, I know, but that band got me through my hellish Senior year of high school (along with Natalie Merchant’s 10,000 Maniacs and the Sugarcubes). Then, finally, my big chance came. A fan club only gig in Brixton… a smallish venue. And they asked for REQUESTS from us a few weeks prior. Thankfully, most people seemed to agree that Life’s Rich Pageant and Document were two of their very best works, as they played the best off of both albums. It was bliss… being just a few rows back from a beaming Micheal Stipe, having my dear friend Anne Marie there with me, watching Stipe’s embarrassment at seeing the Georgia flag waving, the music, his soothing and reassuring, so very American voice (I was always hit with a strangely deep national pride when I listened to them in the UK). It was a precious evening, from a band I’ll never, ever forget. Thank you, gentlemen, for being a major part of my inner landscape for all these years. You have sustained me and countless other fans through moments of great pain and joy. You are true artists and will always be loved.

Here they are in one of their classic moments live… love Mr. Stipe’s desire to keep poetry a large part of his life and performance, and the life-affirming lyrics of this great song. Enjoy!

Tom Waits… the wait was worth it

November 2004. Hammersmith Apollo, London

My husband introduced me to Tom Waits. I must say, at first meeting, I was underwhelmed. As a girl who loves voice above all, it was hard to cozy up to the voice that varies wildly between growls and barks, all wrapped in a blanket of years of cigarettes and life. But I was really young, and learned, over the years, to love that voice. My husband told me his fascination with Tom Waits stemmed from the fact that, as a Brit, he felt Waits represented that seedy underbelly of the US that’s so often swept under the carpet. As I’ve aged and grown very fond of that underbelly, I can see exactly what he means. Through Waits’ odes to prostitutes and charming lounge singer persona, he is the flag-bearer of authentic America. The dropouts and downtrodden, the knowing who’ve opted out of the mainstream.

When we heard he was coming to London, we felt very lucky. It was his first tour there in 17 years, and though the seats sold out in 30 minutes, we managed to get some. And thanks to our very kind friends Anne Marie and Robert, we had childcare covered.

So off to the show we went. My husband held back his excitement in his usual style, but I know he was very excited indeed to see this living legend. As Mr. Waits came out on stage, the sense that someone very, very special had arrived. His stage presence is so powerful, he has such control over the room, that you are instantly comfortable and settled, ready to soak it all in. Through simple music and his occasional bullhorn, he maps out a portrait of life and America that is so authentic it makes me cry.

The peak of the night was Alice. Impossibly beautiful, it is an unlikely love song, made all the more special when delivered in his quiet, raspy voice. The lyrics hang in my mind:

And so a secret kiss
Brings madness with the bliss
And I will think of this
When I’m dead in my grave
Set me adrift and I’m lost over there
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
Of Alice

So precious, so fragile, from such a gruff and self-described grumpy man.

Despite the idiots in front of us who insisted on smoking pot the entire show and then going on about how high they were (and yelling the lyrics along the entire time), we had a magical evening.

Tom Waits in action in London

 

What’s old is Nu

Upon looking up the term ‘Old School’, wikipedia had this to say: ‘In slang, old school can refer to anything that is from an earlier era. Depending on the context and intent, the term can imply a high regard or respect, or be a pejorative. The term often describes music, clothing, games, language, or perceived norms of behavior and generally implies a vintage of at least 15–20 years, but could be considerably older. When used to imply a high regard for something, “old school” is usually applied to things perceived to be of timeless style, wisdom, or quality, or with wide acceptance in earlier times and continued value in the present.’

I can’t tell if this term being bandied about so much in recent years is a sign that some teens and twentysomethings are starting to have more respect for what came before, or if it’s more often used as a disdainful pejorative, a convenient way to encapsulate everything too old to be relevant or interesting. This came to mind last fall, when I was working with a young woman of around 20 years old. Happily, after chatting for a bit, I found out that she loved music too. We had an amiable discussion of various groups, and then Nine Inch Nails came up. She referred to them as being ‘very old’. I was a bit taken aback by the thought of Trent Reznor being seen as being old, but then the reality of my own age hasn’t really ever hit. I wondered how such an incredible innovator, someone that so many people in the music business look to for what’s coming, could be seen as ‘old’ or ‘old school’. She grudgingly admitted that NIN was an important force to be reckoned with, but still couldn’t seem to get over how ‘old’ they were.

I kept thinking of that conversation as I went to see Gary Numan at the Metro in Chicago shortly after. Gary Numan is regularly noted as a major influence on Trent Reznor. I was aware of this fact before going to see Gary Numan, and I thought it was interesting and apt. But, as I prepared for the show, I was more focused on Numan’s interesting new direction. I’d heard years earlier that Numan had abandoned his new wave, electronica roots and had gone towards a more NIN-influenced industrial sound. A reach to the future, while NIN often happily reached back. This idea was further explored by Numan himself. The first half of his show was The Pleasure Principle, synth glory, in its entirety. He then abandoned his synth for the most part, and took on the role of industrial poet. It was a fascinating evolution to watch onstage. I’ve never seen an artist attempt this, and he pulled it off brilliantly. He is very brave to pick up a new style later into his career. He is very wise to follow his obvious passion. He’s producing beautiful, dramatic music with a level of emotion that he’s never displayed in his earlier work.

I’ve included a great video of the two playing on stage together in London a year before I saw Gary Numan. That’s Gary singing, and Trent on keyboards. It’s a joyful collaboration between two generations, so obviously inspired and motivated by each other. Schools don’t matter. What matters is the music, and the respect for what’s come before, and what’s yet to come.

Gary Numan at the Metro, Chicago, 2010

Musings…

This is a hard post to write because I don’t really know where to start. Seeing Muse live is an experience very different from any other live experience. There is so much to take in that it’s difficult to describe. My friend Lisa and I went to see them in Milwaukee, at the Bradley Center. We were a bit distressed at the lack of tickets having been sold… the upper tier was completely empty, and the main floor obviously hadn’t been sold out. I thought they’d come out disheartened, and play to meet basic expectations. I was proven so very wrong. They threw everything they had at it, regardless of empty space. From the moment their incredible video towers started to do loops of figures walking up stairs and falling, they had the audience’s full attention in a very deep way. A tiny excerpt can be seen here (posted by some lovely person in Milwaukee)… had I had access to this sort of video taping as a younger groupie-type girl, I would never have graduated from high school, let alone college.


Matt Bellamy is one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever seen. I kept thinking of Prince throughout the show, as, in terms of overall talent and incredible ability on many levels, Matt is the only one to come close. His amazing guitar skill is something to behold live. Though I’ve never been one for guitar solos in the traditional sense, his are so artful that they’re a joy to watch and listen to. His and the band’s combined sound output, the sheer energy, is breathtaking. Not since my early days of U2 shows have I felt such a sense of an ‘event’. This is an unbelievably exciting band live. And it’s not all bombastic walls of sound… there are dear and delicate moments, such as when they’re playing their gorgeous new symphonies, or Matt is at the piano.

See them if you ever get the opportunity. You will not be disappointed.

Lisa, and myself—2 very happy campers after the show