Archive for June, 2019

The romance of rock and roll

June 29, 2019 Leave a comment

Is that the right thing to call it?

I’ve never really been in it though. I’ve merely traveled its periphery. Listening to it, obviously. Reading about it. Watching it. Doing it in small doses, on local stages. But I never had to courage to pile into the van and make a go at it…day after day…night after night. Chasing whatever it is that this music forces you to chase. If I had a do-over, who knows? But as that theatrical rock star O’Neill once said, it’s a late day for regrets.

But still…after all these years I’m still in love.

guitarYou can’t do it alone. Rock and roll is not a solitary pursuit. Even Dylan said “fuck this” and grabbed an electric guitar and a band. I suspect because he was hearing sounds in his head that required a gang. And since that day at Newport, Dylan, that most lonely of loners, has rarely gone anywhere without other noise-makers alongside him. He may not have ridden the same bus (his guitarist on the Rolling Thunder tour was Mick Ronson, who once answered the question “Isn’t Bob great?!” with the reply “I don’t know. He’s never spoken to me.”), but he knew stuff “Like a Rolling Stone” needed more than its brilliant lyrics and his Woody Guthrie cap.

My friend Bret Alexander (former member of a pretty decent band himself) told me once that there’s a tendency for bands, retrospectively, to (quoting a Jackson Browne song) “forget about the losses and exaggerate the wins”. I suspect this is true in the same way it might be true when any old friends get together over a nice warm fire and choice beverages. In my very regional experience as a musician, my eyes light up over the memories of good nights. I have to think harder to conjure up the shitty ones. Oh they’re there….but I just have to dig deeper for them. It’s very much like being in love.

I just finished making a record with my band the Shillelaghs. I think that’s what kick-started this train of thought. Because it was everything rock and roll is supposed to be. It was just us….all friends…..creating new music…..bouncing ideas off each other….trying new things. The control room looked like a dorm room… cans and chip bags and odd aromas when the drummer was there, and when it wasn’t filled with music it was filled with laughter. I wanted to make a double album not because I had that many songs (I didn’t), but because I didn’t want to stop hanging out with these guys. And for a brief moment (Ok, maybe more than one but still)….I pictured us piling into that van and playing these songs wherever anybody would have us, like circus performers. But an early alarm clock beckoned, along with bills that I still can’t pay even in my 9-5 existence. Not to mention the fact that I failed to live out the lyrics to “My Generation”, which means I’m old. Sooo…..

And who knows? If we were all 20 somethings and took that leap, we might’ve ended up wanting to kill each other in that van…..our camaraderie replaced by fear and loathing. In other words, we’d end up like 99% of bands in the history of the world.

But still…..the stories we’d have for that night by the fire, eh?

And at the tail end of all this, I discovered The Tragically Hip.

The great Canadian rock and roll band.

I’m almost ashamed to say that it took me this long, because I thought my snotty “I have better taste than you” radar was infallible. The fact that I could completely miss one of the great turn of the century catalogs in rock and roll while it was happening both pisses me off and makes me feel like an American dolt. It took a fucking Netflix documentary about the band’s last tour and the subsequent death of their lead singer to brain cancer for me to jump on their bandwagon. I’m sure they appreciate my impeccable timing very much.

Their final concert was broadcast live in Canada….and one THIRD of the entire nation watched it. The Canadian Prime Minister was there….wearing a band T-shirt, singing along to every single word. The band has no equivalent in the United States. Nothing even comes close. When their leader Gord Downie died, the entire nation mourned. A US pundit suggested that if Springsteen, Dylan, and Michael Stipe all died on the same day in this country, we might understand, but even then probably not.

They were together for over 30 years. The same guys. Friends since childhood. They were a gang. They were what a band should be. They had what I wanted. I’m sure they wanted to kill each other at times….but they never wavered and never let anybody else inside that circle. On the last tour a terminally ill Downie insisted on kissing each band member on the lips before each show, whispering “I love you so much” into each ear.

It’s all impossibly romantic…..and it only seems possible through the prism of rock and roll.

In a bit..


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New Shillelaghs record coming soon…

June 18, 2019 Leave a comment

Peace and Love and Dollar Pints coming this summer!


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Niagara Falls

June 10, 2019 Leave a comment

A few random observations about our recent visit to Niagara Falls, Canada.

I will say that the only thing I hate more that tourists is being one myself… I’m not the best traveler by any means. But I make up for any self-consciousness with my ability to ignore what others might consider to be indignities. In short, I just keep my mouth closed and pay without complaining. If I was worried about how much shit costs, I wouldn’t have visited one of the most touristy places on the planet in the first place. So when the total cost of an 18 oz Molson at the hotel bar came to $13, I was so non-plussed I ordered another.

Our hotel room view

That being said, the Falls are quite a staggering sight. From the US side you get an awkward view, like attending a concert and getting seated behind the band. But from the Canadian side the view is unobstructed and mesmerizing, and at night, all lit up, it becomes even more so. On our last day we hung out by the rim of Horseshoe Falls and just grinned like idiots for about 2 hours, snapping pictures by the score and trying not to get pushed over the edge by wild-eyed grown-ups wielding selfie-sticks like swords.

Ah, selfie-sticks. I thought they were dead and gone, like grunge or Coke Classic. Ha! Americans may have moved on, but the rest of the world adores them. I saw literally hundreds, and not only near the falls. I saw them being used at dinner tables, or being walked down the street, their owners apparently terrified of being alone with their thoughts. These people look like fools to me, but you can bet your ass their scrapbook is better than my scrapbook. So who am I to judge?

Canadians might be the nicest people on earth. They just seem less uptight….so much less willing to act dickish just for the sake of being dickish. They handle the daily invasion of the entire world with a patience and a guile that seems…well…unworldly. One of the reasons that Niagara Falls is so beloved is because the best parts of it are IN Canada. Anyplace else and the world might care a lot less and just look at the pictures.

Canadians are also smart. Very smart. Everywhere you go…..when you find the door to get out, it leads you to a gift shop. It’s uncanny. You can find a random bathroom, and when you’re done and walk out, somehow you walk directly into an aisle of T-shirts and snow-globes. It’s impossible not to spend money here, but they make it all so easy that you hardly even notice you’re going broke one door at a time. And if I’m going to spend what I don’t really have, I’d rather give it to a smiling Canadian than to some surly European with a superiority complex.

Some things you just have to do, like the boat ride to the rim of the falls…the one where they give you the rain gear. It’s kinda cheesy, and they know it’s kinda cheesy and you know it’s kinda cheesy but you do it anyway and you love it and you have to talk yourself out of doing it again (standing on top the second time!).

We visited the museum where they keep all the assorted contraptions assorted lunatics created to ride over the falls in…..some of which worked and some of which…well…not so much. We were told a 7 year old kid survived an accidental trip over the falls back in the 1960s, and that about 20 people a year travel near and far to off themselves with all sorts of style points in mind. There ain’t much more than a chest high barrier to stop anybody from taking a header if they so desire, and just last year somebody fell in while taking pictures standing on the stone wall above the falls (what a last pic that would be eh?) something I thought might happen about every 15 seconds from my vantage point.  There’s no security or patrols, so….you’re pretty much on your own. I like that about Canada too. They are totally cool if you want to risk your life to take a selfie.

We walked and bused and walked some more. We visited a botanical garden, and wandered among a beautiful array of butterflies. It was charming.

It’s about a 5 hour drive for me. Basically drive to Syracuse and turn left and go straight until you are stopped by a border agent. It just seems longer. A lot longer. I don’t know why. The GPS has some fun with you on the way home, cutting off mileage by re-routing you through assorted single lane roads until you are convinced you’re completely lost….until you finally see a sign for Binghamton. Once you hit 81 again, the pothole dodging begins, and you know home is approaching.

So thank you Ontario. You were a splendid host. I’m rooting like hell for the Raptors tonight. And I’ve become a huge Tragically Hip fan.

In a bit..


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