“downhill” is now available

October 1, 2020 Leave a comment
Categories: Uncategorized

Shooting the TV…

October 20, 2020 3 comments

Has there ever been a more suitable time for introspection?

We’re all disconnected. The nights are longer. The days bump into each other. Chaos is everywhere. People lashing out because they are scared, or stupid, or both. A bad combination, that. Sleep is the only refuge at times, and when that doesn’t come…..well…..it makes for some interesting nights. We crawl into our own heads, and over the last 8 months some interesting stuff has burrowed in there. So we sit up late at night, all of us in danger of becoming Elvis shooting the TV. One more day down. Another one is coming. And still, the tunnel is dark.

I usually find myself reading (deep into an Elvis bio now, that dude was crazy y’all….) or on YouTube…..trolling for something. It’s like one of those book stores with no shelves, and everything in boxes on the floor. You never know what’s in there. Last night I found myself watching a 2002 TV special on the Badlees….one of my favorite bands. Their guitarist and primary songwriter was Bret Alexander, and he and I have become friends. We’ve made music together, and watching the band at their peak reminded me again how lucky I’ve been to make his acquaintance. A seriously talented dude….and a good one too.

(commercial…….I highly recommend their 1999 release “Amazing Grace”….a crazy good collection of crazy different stuff that the band tossed off from their studio-basement while in the midst of being screwed by a major label that had no idea what to do with them. ain’t the music biz grand?)

This was randomly followed (as in it just popped up) by a fantastic interview of Mark Knopfler by AC/DC lead singer Brian Johnson, from a web series called “Life on the Road”. When I think of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits I generally don’t think of AC/DC…..but these 2 guys both grew up near Northumberland in the UK (“like the Spanish City to me, when we were kids…“…both men charmingly recalled time spent there as lads) ….and their mutual admiration is heartwarming. It seems a genuine friendship, and I kept thinking that only music can do this. They laughed and sang together and for the entire 40 minutes of the episode I forgot how shitty things were outside my front door. I did not expect my evening to consist of Monday Night Football, the Badlees, Mark Knopfler, and Brian Johnson.

But yet here we are.

It was late…..the insomnia had a hold of me, and I just started wandering. There is wonderful stuff out there. Look for it. Ignore the shit. You’ve already waded through that all day anyway. This is your time, and if you can’t sleep, crack a beer and look for something that smiles back at you.

My daughter is attending law school and living in Harrisburg. Over the last week we started virtually walking together at lunch time. Via Facetime…..her on her path and me on mine. Her at her pace and me at mine. We share the sights and sounds and discuss the issues of the day, and it’s the best therapy in the world and we’ve pledged to keep doing it until whenever, and right now I can’t imagine when whenever will be. When you think about it, FaceTime really is some serious Jetson’s shit…..we take it for granted but we really shouldn’t because it’s wild. We’re walking together, feeling connected, seeing each other, and the views we each have, hearing each other’s breaths, and I know it ain’t as good as being there but it’ll do in a pinch and if we didn’t have it my long nights would probably be even longer. So Steve Jobs may have been a super douche-bag but he gets a pass from me for giving me the ability able to look into my kid’s eyes from hours away.

I’m trying to look at the bright side. Shit always rolls downhill…..so eventually it has to reach the bottom. We just didn’t realize how big and steep the hill was. That’s kinda 2020. Some big ass mountain mudsliding all over us.

Now’s the time Bubba. Eventually we’re gonna be freed up to gather again, without fear. So we should decide now how we’re gonna handle ourselves going forward. Are we gonna be the same ol’ shitheads, or are we gonna act like Mark Knopfler and Brian Johnson, bro-hugging and singing along to each other, finding all that common ground that’s buried beneath the preconcieved notions.

It’s quite possible that the best friend you’ll ever have in this world is someone you’ve not met yet. That’s a pretty cool thought, eh?

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

The future of (live) music

October 14, 2020 3 comments

What’s gonna happen to live music?

How long can folks hold on?

Winter is coming. Venues are still shut down. Some permanently. No concerts. No festivals. Bars at half capacity, or less, are struggling to pay the mortgage and their people….so they can’t afford the bands anymore. The virus hasn’t abated at all. It’s still killing people. Most Americans take it seriously, but the ones who don’t can still overwhelm the majority. That’s the way these things work. All it takes is one person pissing in the pool. All or nothing. In 7 months we’ve gotten exactly nowhere. Our new national strategy seems to be to pretend that it doesn’t exist, but living in that sort of dreamscape is not gonna trigger a Springsteen tour in 2021. The entire live music industry is close to collapse. And since the streaming services came along and devoured all the royalty income (Peter Frampton testified in Washington to being paid $1700 for 55 MILLION streams of “Baby I Love Your Way”), roadwork became the only way for professional musicians to pay the rent. Warhorses like David Crosby have been painfully honest about all this. He’s in fear of losing his house. And it’s not just the musicians. All the support personnel that make the thing go round. The roadies. The drivers. The promoters. The venue employees. There’s no relief on the horizon. The CDC is calling for a long, dark, cold winter. And, per usual, our Government offers nothing.

The crushing irony in all this, of course, is that we all need music more than ever.

It’s kept me going the last 7 months. Making it (new record here). Listening to it. Everything. For absolutely no reason whatsoever I was cranking AC/DC’s “Rock or Bust” (perhaps the most uncomplicated song ever written) last night while watching a baseball game. I spent the day at work cruising through the Van Halen catalog, and even managed to get through Van Halen III, out of respect to King Edward. On my nightly walk I took The Tragically Hip and a few George Jones songs along. As I type this I’ve got The Smithereen’s “Top of the Pops” blasting in my earbuds. Sometimes music is the only thing you can count on. We take it for granted, but it never holds that against us.

The impromptu live streams on social media gave me some hope back at the start of all this. For a brief moment, I thought I saw the future. You could just sit there on your couch, flip your phone around, hit the “live” button, and beam yourself around the world. Solicit donations……watch real-time comments come in. It wasn’t the same as having somebody knock their beer over onto your guitar in a bar, but it would do in a pinch. The little guys started this……the indie folks. It was a nice way to stay engaged, and make a few bucks…..until behemoths like Garth Brooks jumped on the bandwagon and started doing it and that pretty much killed the novelty stone dead (Well that and the buffering). The folks still doing it now look like hostages being forced to read from a prepared statement (donations have slowed to a trickle)…..and if I see one more person who doesn’t know how to stream themselves live without looking left-handed I’m gonna lose my marbles.

But still, here we are. Where do we go from here?

“Someday girl / I don’t know when / we’re gonna get to that place / where we really want to go..”

That place is gonna be filled with music. And people packed shoulder to shoulder, hugging and singing and smiling and laughing and lifting their glass and buying rounds and there’s gonna be no lies and no fear and we’re gonna walk (and dance) in the sun, because tramps like us were not born to watch live music on our fucking Iphones.

Ok, I’m not really sure where that came from but whatever. You get my point.

Do what you can. Support your favorite artists. BUY their music instead of streaming it. Bandcamp is a great alternative.

Pat Dinizio was the lead singer and songwriter of the Smithereens, one of the most underrated bands of my lifetime. One of my songwriting heroes. He passed away 3 years ago. On Monday, what would have been his 65th birthday, his 10 room farmhouse in Scotch Plains, New Jersey was torn down to make way for some hipster bullshit (petitions to save the house were blown off), and that sorta started me on this rant today, because it summed up the way we treat those who fill our ears with soul.

We all need to do better.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Enjoy it while you can…

October 12, 2020 Leave a comment

We just had one of those majestic fall weekends, when the temperatures hover near 70 and the sky is ocean blue and the foliage is at its peak, bursting with wild colors, every mile a new painting. You didn’t even need a destination. Just had to point your car towards the mountains and try to keep your eyes on the road. The summers may be too hot and the winters too cold, but in between are times like these, which can make NEPA worthwhile. I cannot imagine a colorless October anymore than I can imagine a music-less one. Windows open, the stereo a little louder than usual. The fall is its own soundtrack. Monday morning we all awoke to a cold, dreary rain, which somehow made the weekend that much better.

Pandemically speaking, things are still a mess. We went from no sports to complete sports overload….the Stanley Cup leading into the NBA finals competing with the MLB playoffs competing with an NFL season with a schedule being made up on the fly to deal with all the positive Covid cases. Saturday college football, especially in the South, all of a sudden is featuring tens of thousands of un-masked un-socially-distanced fans, which could lead to a health catastrophe (but not before the money is counted, which is apparently all that matters). And, bizarrely, the Masters golf tournament will be held a week or so before Thanksgiving, so there’s more chance of seeing frost than azaleas. Positive Covid cases are once again at the same level they were in March, when things were shut down. They are trending upward. Over 1000 die every day. The difference is that less and less people seem to give a fiddler’s fart. My life is filled with countless dunces wearing masks under their nose, apparently convinced that they too are filled with Trump’s tiger blood (and have access to his government health care). There’s no stimulus in sight, so here’s hoping you haven’t spent that $1200 you received 5 months ago. The upcoming election promises nothing but more chaos, sending us even further down the banana republic highway. It really was nice to have this weekend. A little respite before the shithouse starts to burn down again.

Today the news cycle is dominated by the pointless hearings for Trump Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a spooky self-hating religious zealot set to take the seat of the feminist icon Ruth Bader Ginsberg, which is the most FU-this-is-2020 thing ever. Flocks of women dressed in “Handmaid Tale” costumes have gathered to protest the nomination. Barrett will crash through doors RBG opened for her, only to ensure that she slams them shut behind her…..assuming her husband allows it, of course. Set your clocks back 100 years.

And it’s “Columbus Day”…..the day federal employees get to sleep in thanks to the genocidal machinations of a guy who used indigenous people as dog food. #MAGA! Kinda like Cambodia having “Pol Pot Day”….which would be a better analogy if any of the “grrrrr Columbus grrrr” folks knew who Pol Pot was. The struggle is real when you’re trying to be clever these days, yo.

So I turn to music, as I usually do. Stevie Nicks dropped her first new song in years today, and it’s marvelous. A 4 minute piano-driven dreamscape called “Show Them the Way”. Amanda Shires and her husband Jason Isbell released the powerful “The Problem”, a song depicting a couple having an honest conversation about abortion. Strong women are getting stronger, which gives me hope in the days of a relic like Amy Coney Barrett.

(and this just in…..a Dolly Parton documentary recently dropped on Netflix…the south should tear down the Robert E Lee statues and replace them with Dolly….”of course black lives matter! Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!”)

I was thinking of the great stuff released during this pandemic, and remembered that Pearl Jam released a burner in March called “Gigaton”……and as I type this I have “Never Destination” on repeat. I still prefer the boys when they kick out the jams. Drive-By Truckers have released two full length records this year…..as these road warriors didn’t have the luxury of sitting back and living off non-existent royalties. They need to work, and if they can’t gig, releasing new music is their only option. I have no idea how long bands like this can sustain themselves in a world of closed venues. Live music may be dead. I’ve blasted Bob Mould’s latest called “Blue Hearts” so many times, and wonder if Sir Bob will ever have the chance to tear through a set with such power that paint chips fall from the ceiling rafters, like he did in 2015. The Metropolitan Opera House announced that it won’t re-open for another year, at least. By that time it may be too late to re-open at all. Broadway will remain dark until at least the summer of 2021. If ever.

Don’t take anything for granted. Anything. Reach out and support those you can. Hang together.

Wear a fucking mask.

And take sides. Silence only helps the oppressor, never the oppressed.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

King Edward I (and last)

October 7, 2020 Leave a comment

In 1979 I was in 8th grade. It’s almost impossible to imagine now what Van Halen did to 8th grade boys back then. We were all musical virgins, and then we weren’t. And they didn’t ask permission either. Our ears were held back against our will, and were ravaged. I remember hearing “Dance the Night Away” from Van Halen II on an 8-track machine in a car and thinking “thank you sir may I have another…” And then “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” came on and the guy driving the car suddenly gunned it to what had to be 100 mph, and I thought “well this is appropriate….”

Everybody wanted to hang with Roth, but dudes wanted to BE Eddie. The coolest dude on the planet. Handsome as the devil, with that iconic hair and that crazy guitar. If you counted up all the time 13 year-olds mimed to “Eruption” in front of their bedroom mirrors, it might add up to decades. If you could turn a bomber pilot’s descent to their target into an opera, this is what it would sound like.

Every kid who ever picked up an electric guitar after this wanted to play “Eruption”, which caused a mass exodus of guitar teachers who couldn’t teach it to them. (And then the smart-asses started showing up with acoustics and saying…..”okay, can you teach me “Spanish Fly” instead?”)

He just made sounds that nobody ever made before. Just made them up on the spot. His earth-altering solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was one take, and he never got a dime for it, because he couldn’t be bothered to ask.

Everybody tried to copy him. Everybody sounded like shit trying to copy him. Eddie told a great story about being in a record store when “Beat It” came on and kids scoffed saying the guitar player was trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen and Eddie tapping them on the shoulder and saying “it was me!”

“That incredible virtuosity combined with that beautiful smile allows me to forgive him for letting David Lee Roth stand in front of him.”

–Pete Townshend

So yea, there was that. Perhaps the greatest guitarist who ever lived might have surrounded himself with guys a little….er….deeper than Roth or Hagar, but you can’t argue with success. Both iterations of the band sold a gabillion records. And no matter who was screeching out front, you knew it was a Van Halen record. Because of Eddie.

(I’m a Roth-era guy myself, but you always remember your first. No disrespect to Sammy. But whenever I start to get all uppity about “Eddie deserved better than these knuckleheads” I just put on “And the Cradle Will Rock” and when Roth deadpans “have you seen junior’s grades?” I instantly change my mind and feel like the two were a match made in rock and roll heaven. I don’t feel that way when Hagar sings about aliens. So suck it PT.)

Who knows what was going on with Eddie? All kinds of crazy stories. Drinking. Drugging. Smoking. Guitar picks on the tongue and electro-magnetic fields. Losing his teeth. Then the cancer diagnosis. Removed a third of his cancerous tongue. There were Salinger-esque stories of him creating music every day…..and sticking it in a drawer. Then more rumors. The band was coming back. With Hagar. No, with Roth. With the guy from Extreme? With BOTH Roth and Hagar. After a while we were all punch drunk, so when Eddie announced that he had bounced bassist Michael Anthony from the band and replaced him with his own son, everybody just sorta shrugged and said “of course he did”. A few more money-grabbing tours….featuring some musical train-wrecks caught on YouTube, a mediocre new album that sorely missed the touch Anthony brought to the band with his background vocals, and then it just sorta petered out.

In short, it hasn’t always been graceful.

Nobody had really been thinking much about Eddie Van Halen these days.

And then the news came. Like it usually does these days. Social media. First one post. Then another. Then my feed was filled. He was gone. As if 2020 hasn’t sucked a big enough bag of dicks already.

It immediately brought me back to 8th grade. It was our soundtrack. It cut through all the teen-angst and bad hair and acne like a power-saw…..”have you seen junior’s GRADES?….” and then Eddie was off on another sonic bender and for 3 minutes at a time all was right with a world kids would never understand.

Fuck cancer. Fuck 2020. All hail King Edward I.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Clorox the Truman Balcony…

October 6, 2020 Leave a comment

Mark me down for one not expecting Trump’s “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” photo-op from the Truman balcony. That being said, it didn’t surprise me one bit. After checking himself out of the hospital against medical advice, (science? medicine? fake news), freshly oranged (his make-up marks clearly visible), our hero, jacked up on who knows how many steroids and experimental drugs and sweating profusely, rips off his mask with a strong-man’s flourish, and then jams that obvious sign of pussy liberal weakness deep into his pocket (though not without a bit of effort). He’s clearly breathing quite heavily…wincing almost. Then he buttons his jacket (again, with much difficulty. Thankfully he didn’t need to take a sip of water), jams his heels together, and SALUTES. Not sure who this is geared towards, but all that was missing were the faux military medals worn by one of his favorite strongmen. The salute goes on and on….as if he’s overseeing a military parade. For 23 long seconds he holds his Pinochet-pose, overseeing a slew of no-doubt confused sycophants he probably just infected on the walk in. He then clicks his heels and re-enters the disease-laden White House, with the mask still in his pocket, his status as the leader of a buffoonish death cult now firmly re-established. In the last few days he’s managed to infect more people in the White House (27 and counting) than cases in the entire nation of New Zealand (22).

Almost immediately he starts steroid-tweeting that the flu is worse….and re-tweeting somebody from the NY Post calling him an “invincible hero” for taking on this deadly disease (or “Hoax”) and prevailing because he’s just the bestest President ever. He then shits all over the memory of the 210k who have already died not surrounded by 20 personal physicians in a private suite with free health care and access to the latest medicine by saying they should not have let dying alone while on a ventilator make them “afraid” or “dominate your life.”

And just like that, our long national nightmare continues because he’s a dumb obtuse narcissistic fucking moron.

Please send help. And Clorox wipes if you can find them.

In a bit..

–tf

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R.E.M.

October 5, 2020 Leave a comment

Music resonates when there is some sense of discovery. A connection. And this begets an ongoing relationship. You trust the artist. And the artist trusts you. You almost feel jealousy when others start catching on. And then the “well where the hell were YOU all this time?” smugness comes out. You want the band to be yours, but they now belong to everybody. But THEY don’t know the deep cuts. THEY don’t know the B sides. THEY sing the wrong lyrics. Amateurs….THEY SOUND OUT THE FUCKING LETTERS! THEY only know that MTV thing…..the one where the lead singer dances funny. THEY don’t even know his NAME.

The band is so good they should NEVER be famous!

We were insufferable back then, weren’t we?

I say “back then” because the world has changed. This feeling doesn’t exist anymore. Word of mouth was half the fun, and word of mouth doesn’t exist anymore. Google killed it. Social media killed it. Spotify killed it (what is the point of buying music that isn’t wrapped in cellophane?). We don’t watch concerts anymore. We point our phones at them. Music magazines are gone, replaced by URLs. You can’t scotch tape a URL to your bedroom wall.

I can feel myself turning into the “hey you kids! get off my lawn!” guy as I type these words.

It comes in cycles…..my re-immersing myself back into R.E.M.-land. It could be triggered by anything or nothing. Maybe a year ago I saw their manager Bertis Downs was on Facebook….not with a “look at me, I’m sorta famous” account, but a regular old account like the rest of the plebes. Pictures of his kids and things like that. And the occasional mention of his old band…25 year release re-issues and the like. I hit the “friend request” button. In a day or so, he accepted it. What an odd world we live in. I could now say I was “friends” with the manager of R.E.M. and only sorta be lying.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, a few days ago Downs made a post about a new Netflix release about songwriting, and one of the episodes dealt with “Losing My Religion”. Intrigued, I checked it out Friday night. There was Stipe….and holy shit…..there was BILL BERRY, who I hadn’t seen since the 90s, looking every bit as cool as I remembered him. The best eyebrows in rock and roll. They were all discussing the iconic song…..and as it was broken down track by track, you could see them, to use a Townshend phrase, “remembering distant memories, recalling other names..” Berry was stunned to hear hand-claps in the mix, he had no recollection of them at all. It was just a really cool half hour….and it made me sad because I wanted these guys to be around forever. When Berry left the band, only the die-hards like me remained, and ironically, after being pissed that I wasn’t the only person at my college who had heard of “Reckoning”, the fact that these dolts didn’t appreciate how good 2000+ albums “Reveal” and “Accelerate” were now drove me crazy.

But “Reckoning”. This was my jump-on point. I was a degenerate reader of music magazines…..had subscriptions to them all. “Record” and “Musician” were the two I remember most. And “SPIN” too I think. Anyway…this band from Athens, Georgia was getting all this ink. They looked cool. Five star reviews. Critical darlings driving around the country in a van, playing to 7 people. This was incredibly romantic to me, because it’s exactly what I wanted to be doing. Instead I was wasting my time in college. Appalling.

Anyway, to “Ralph’s Record City” did I go. And discovered that “Reckoning” was their 2nd record. So I walked out of their with “Murmur” as well. As soon as I got home “Reckoning” went on the turntable, and I tossed “Murmur” on top of my coat, which happened to be sitting on a radiator. It soon fired itself up and melted the record, which I managed to salvage but it was now so warped that it never sounded right, and always skipped in the same places. It wasn’t until I replaced all the records with CDs years later that I heard it the way it was supposed to sound. But even melted, “Sitting Still” became my favorite R.E.M. song. (I sing along even though the only words I can make out are “waste of time sitting still…..”, which is what I suspect Stipe does as well.)

Classes resumed, and the walk-man was invented. So I’d bring “Reckoning” with me and blast it, and one day outside of a Management class, a guy heard the earphone leakage (“Pretty Persuasion” it was, my musical memory is remarkable) and tapped me on the shoulder and said “is that R.E.M.?”

How did he know? If I had Stipe’s phone number I would have called him up and screamed at him. But anyway…..the guy’s name was Vince and he was a crazy as me and pretty soon we were discussing whether it was “Fables of the Reconstruction” or “Reconstruction of the Fables”. Life was a lot simpler back then Bubba.

Anyway….fast forward. “Life’s Rich Pageant” became a favorite…..and then things got crazy with “The One I Love”, and the aforementioned “Losing My Religion” made people lose their minds. They were the biggest band in the world, which wasn’t the weird part. The weird part was that they were also the best, and those 2 stars just didn’t align anymore.

They seemed to recognize this, and decided to scale things down with a quiet weird acoustic-y record called “Automatic for the People” that might throw some of the johnny-come-lately fans off the scent. This blew up in their collective face when the record turned out to be as influential in its time as the Band’s “Big Pink” record was in its own. AFTP sold 18 million copies, or about 17,999,900 more copies than all of my records put together. The poor buggers couldn’t do anything wrong.

A few years later Bill Berry got tired of hotels and airports and fans like me and became a hay farmer…..one of the most rock and roll things ever. That doesn’t mean I’m not still pissed at him, though.

This was the best American rock and roll band ever, and if you don’t agree with me that’s fine, but you’re still wrong.

I wanted to write and mumble like Stipe and play guitar like Buck (I loved Bono’s quote saying Buck “played guitar like somebody who worked in a record store”) and sing harmony like Mills and then write an American classic like “Everybody Hurts” and walk away from it all like Berry did. Nobody will be as cool as this band ever again.

Rock and roll used to be a life-force of its own. I’d rush to get home to listen to it, and rush to get outside to act it out. Those days are over, and I wish they weren’t.

I’m reminded of something Stipe sang right out of the gate…as if he knew what he (and the rest of us) was in for.

Not everyone can carry the weight of the world…

They gave it the old college try though, didn’t they?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go listen to my un-melted version of “Murmur”

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

The Who By Numbers

October 2, 2020 2 comments

Of course “Tommy/Live at Leeds/Who’s Next/Quadrophenia” is/are the greatest album(s) the boys ever made, but I didn’t discover this band chronologically. I found them all at once as a young teen….rifling through my sister’s album collection. It was the visuals first. The pissing-on-whatever-that-thing-was cover and that huge booklet explaining what a mod was and the one that looked like a paper bag and the bizarre blue thing with birds flying out of it. And then there was the one with the connect-the-dots drawing that may have been the best of them all. I so wanted to try my hand at finishing it but my sister would have killed me. I did try it with a pencil once but had to erase the results before she got home.

(I love that John said the cover cost 32 pounds, compared to Townshend’s Quadrophenia cover that cost “16,000 pounds, the same as a small house back then”.)

I devoured all these records of course, but at the time I had no idea who came first, as it were.

That “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8” that kicked off “Slip Kid” (by who I could never tell?)……I was hooked. That syncopated rhythm. That thing that sounds like a saw as Pete comes out of the solo. I still have no idea what the song means, and if you ask me why I think it’s one of their greatest I can’t really tell you, except that it is. No easy way to be free and all that, but armed with a song like this you just know freedom is gonna be worth it.

This was heavy shit to be laying on the head of a 13 year old kid. And that was before Moon did about 8 trips around his kit to kick-start “However Much I Booze”, a depressing little ditty with a great riff that sounded like something cooked up in Chet Atkins’s parlor. Unlike “Slip Kid”, there was no mistaking what this one was about. I kinda glosssed over the 70s confessional singer-songwriter thing, but I was pretty sure those dudes never lacerated themselves quite like this. But the song rocked. This was one of the songs that convinced me that this band wasn’t quite like the rest. The Stones didn’t sing songs like this. Probably a good thing, but still.

And on and on it went. Probably the less said about “Squeeze Box” the better (the “Wagon Wheel” of its day), but “Dreaming From the Waist” was every bit as good a song as “5:15” (which it kinda resembles?). Why it didn’t become a live staple I have no idea. Entwistle’s playing is just sick here…..the sort of performance that inspires embarrassed face-palms from bassists everywhere.

(And speaking of Thunder Fingers…..his “Success Story” is as good as “My Wife”. If you don’t believe me you’re wrong. Townshend wishes he wrote this song.)

“Imagine a Man” made a sort of comeback on their most recent tour. I heard a hilarious interview with Townshend in which he claims to have gotten hundreds of enraged letters from Who fans pissed off that a BALLAD was on the record. At least Moon restored some order and blew up “Behind Blue Eyes”, right?

“They Are All In Love” you say?

hey goodbye all you punks / stay young and stay high / hand me my checkbook and I’ll crawl off to die / like a woman in childbirth grown ugly in a flash / I seen magic and pain / now I’m recycling trash

One of the most savage lyrics in the history of rock and roll. This song, with its gorgeous melody carried by Nicky Hopkins’s piano, still makes the Sex Pistols sound like Tom Jones. As a songwriter, it’s songs like this that place Townshend head and shoulders over his contemporaries. Nobody else had to balls to write this song. This is how you gob on the band.

“Blue Red and Grey” gave Eddie Vedder another career. How’s that for power?

“How Many Friends” is Townshend’s dark night of the soul, the morning after “However Much I Booze”. Probably the one and only time a major songwriter has admitted to getting “the willies”.

And “In a Hand or Face” is the sound of a collective Townshend snarl, almost a reminder, if one was needed, that a nervous breakdown could be accompanied by power chords.

This was not Tommy. This was not Lifehouse. This was not Quadrophenia. This was Empty Glass before Empty Glass. This was a band at the absolute peak of its powers, creating, by accident, one of their most coherent “concept” albums. There was no mistaking the gist of this story. And in retrospect it wasn’t that difficult to surmise that there would not be a happy ending.

As I said….heavy shit. This music got into a teenager’s head and it’s still there bouncing around, after literally hundreds of listens.

I’ve met a few of my “heroes” over the years, and I’m nearly always disappointed because they turned out to be….well….distinctly non-heroic. Assholes, in other words.

I would never want to meet Townshend. Too risky. But if I did, this is the record I’d want to talk to him about.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

New album “downhill” coming soon…

September 29, 2020 Leave a comment

It feels like a million years ago. For most of us things got really Covid-y in mid-March. It was parade day weekend in Scranton, and there was no parade. “There ain’t no party like a Scranton party” and all that, but aside from the diehards who filled the Scranton bars despite the warnings that doing so might kill them, the party was on infinite hiatus. In a matter of days, I was only leaving my house for long evening walks, and it was possible to safely wander down the middle of what used to be busy streets. My only company were the birds, who only seemed louder because they had nothing to compete with anymore.

Myself and Bret Alexander made records in 2016 and 2018 respectively. We half-joked last year about another in 2020, to keep the streak alive. But this was before everything went to shit. Plus, Bret was just coming back from major surgery. It wasn’t gonna happen.

And then it started to happen.

Bret and I stayed in touch throughout Covid-time, almost exclusively through text messages. (Guys do communicate. They just refuse to talk on the phone. And they don’t know how to use Zoom)

Isolation had forced me to learn how to properly use my Tascam 8 track machine. And I had this song called “What If These Are the Good Old Days”. A little pandemic-inspired ditty with a sugary melody masking its passive aggressive depression (I’m a hoot at parties too..in case you’re wondering). One of its verses was based on something Bret had mentioned to me a few days earlier….

the world turned on its head / the kids laughing on the bed / just a suggestion if I may / what if these are the good old days?

His kids (and mine) were now home together. A bit of silver lining, to see and hear them together, home and safe. The song needed a bridge. I asked him if he had any ideas. He did. He sent them to me. Perfect fit. The song was done. It just needed to be recorded. So I cut a guitar track and a vocal. I sent these off to him asking him to fill it out. He added harmony vocals and some guitar tracks, and mixed it down.

None of this was planned. Or discussed beforehand. But it was fun. There’s something communal about music….and creating it with friends is the world’s best cure for the quarantine blues.

Neither of us was stating the obvious. Yet. But eventually it became apparent that if we could do this once, surely we could do it 9 more times? (10 songs being the magic Flannery/Alexander number for an official record)

So we’d start with an idea. Maybe a title. How about this? How about trying it like that? I’d have a melody and a few verses, and Bret would flesh it out with a bridge. Or I’d have a lyric and simply pass it along. We not only didn’t meet face to face during all this, as I mentioned we didn’t even speak on the phone. So there was no deep discussions. There’d be a text. “I just sent you something.” Then maybe 2 days later…a reply. “Ok….I’ll check it out”. Then another few days and “I sent you an idea”.

I asked him some questions about the town he grew up in, and crafted a lyric based on that. He said…”whadda you hear on this one?” and I’d say “make it sound like Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell” and instead of saying “are you fucking crazy?” he’d say “will do” and the result was “If All I Get Is One Goodbye”.

(A slight digression. Jimi Hendrix once asked his producer to make a song sound like “water” and the guy said sure and took it away and worked on it and when Jimi heard the results he said “that sounds great, but can you make it sound like blue water?” After 3 records together both of us could easily slip into this sort of talk….)

One night we were texting about the loss of civil rights pioneer John Lewis and I suggested that “From Selma To Montgomery” would make a great song title and he said “let’s do it” so I wrote the lyrics and the next day he had the tune. We cut it and he hated it. I asked him why and he said “I hate my acoustic guitar” and I said “well then get rid of it and replace it with piano” and he did and he didn’t hate it anymore. This constituted a major production meeting in Flannery/Alexander world.

Sometimes he sang and sometimes I sang and sometimes we both sang and sometimes he’d add harmonies and sometimes he’d say “singing harmony with you is impossible” and not. The only rule was to not repeat ourselves….to keep it new….which resulted in the unabashed pop of “It Never Feels Like She Cares All That Much” and the Petty-ish guitar/bass/drum workout “Cool It Out”, the latter of which featured rare loud noises from the old men. Boredom is more contagious than Covid-19, so it had to be avoided at all costs.

When we got to 10 songs, we figured we’d stop and release what we had. And then look forward to 2022.

I said “you got any ideas regarding a cover and a title?” and he said “well I had a picture but it won’t work” and I said “why won’t it work?” and he said “it’s an actual Polaroid” and I said “tape it to the wall and take a picture of the picture” and he did and that’s our cover (“With the blue tape or without?” “Definitely with”. Done.). The title is “downhill”. Our album packaging meetings are as long as our production ones.

And so here we are, in the year of the devil 2020. Our streak is still intact. We hope this music helps a little…

It’ll be up on Bandcamp soon, and eventually all the streaming services. We’re extremely anxious to cash that $4.00 Spotify check once we reach 1000 streams, which doesn’t sound half bad when you consider that the same amount of streams on YouTube nets us $1.75

What I’m saying is that we’re clearly only in this for the money.

In a bit..

–tf

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Cool It Out (new song with Bret Alexander)

September 23, 2020 Leave a comment

Cool It Out

download mp3

written by Tom Flannery and Bret Alexander

Bret Alexander – guitars, bass, drums, background vocals
Tom Flannery – lead vocal, acoustic guitar

Radio pressed to my ear we’re skipping hand in hand
filled with beer and young love and the start of a plan
to boldly go where others always feared to tread
take a chance on forever if only in our heads

Down by the river we sit by the fire
warming our hands with flames and desire
lies in the rear view coast always clear
when you only fill your head with what you want to hear

Cool it out Cool it out Cool it out Cool it out

The years move slowly like a soldier marching on
to battle after battle with the officers all gone
every road sign a warning speed bumps ignored
all the picture frames falling to the floor

Cool it out Cool it out Cool it out Cool it out

change of direction a little change of pace
that little sense of wonder on a child’s face
Another storm is coming you better hunker down
sleep behind the levees and hope that you don’t drown

Life is a killer, time is a sword
A new set of words over the same damn chords
There’s a difference between leaving and planning to go
You might understand, but you’ll never know

Cool it out Cool it out Cool it out Cool it out

Categories: Uncategorized