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Tough All Over and Tommy Conwell

December 13, 2019 Leave a comment

We all have our own ways of coping with the dying spasms of democracy. Yet another Trumpian buffoon has taken the reigns of a major power. So as Boris Johnson and his hideous mane tramp across Britain making dumbness great again, I’ve given up on the future completely and retreated into the past, diving into my childhood memories via music. With the help of my new Spotify account of course.

It’s all there. Every teen-era memory I can conjure up has a soundtrack accompanying it….and I’ve been pulling them up one at a time and smiling and longing for a time when our national IQ prevented such things like a viciously cruel fascist racist mentally deranged narcissist being elected dog-catcher, much less President of the United States. And having such a thing inspire other nations who think….”wow, if the US can do it imagine the fucking idiot we could put up.” But whatever, we’re here now and completely doomed and I don’t even pretend that we’re going to be able to redeem ourselves in the eyes of our children…..who will have to clean up the mess we’ve left them, assuming the planet doesn’t simply die from supreme neglect before they get old enough to vote, or be taken over by rampaging Nazis in khakis carrying tiki torches. Our kids are gonna toss all of us into decrepit nursing homes and never visit us, which is what we deserve.

Album_cover_for_Tough_All_OverSo it was the mid 80s……and it was the summer. Beer and girls and bon-fires and boom boxes, 4 of the greatest things in the universe. On magical weekend nights they’d all converge and time seemed to stand still. We laughed and sang and cried and thought things were gonna be like this forever….friends and warm summer nights and music and the water from the creek rolling by….promising eternal youth. And at the end of the night we’d break into groups….finding our way home….always on foot. Giddy from the beer, holding hands….with the free one clutching the boom box as we danced our way down  the street that curved like an S past the police station and the projects, singing John Cafferty’s Tough All Over….over and over again. We’d have to stop dancing and rewind the tape…..and then we’d be off again. Another 3 minutes plus of pure bliss. There was nothing special about that night….it was like 100 others…..except the memory is tied to that particular song. It’s a good song…..not groundbreaking…..but a solid bar-band song with a great chorus…..and I’ll forever be grateful that it exists because without it those special nights might have disappeared into the ether. For those few hours….or those few minutes….I don’t think I ever felt more alive.

Tommy_ConwellOne more memory……and that was this kid from Philly. My sister Eileen came home with this tape one day (I have no idea how she heard about him….but her tastes were impeccable so it was worth stealing). Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers. Walking on Water. It was a cassette. An independent release. This kid and his band were tearing up the Philly area….and she and her friend traveled out there one weekend night and caught his live set, which had become legendary. Climbing on tables…..the works. All word of mouth. She said the shows were Springsteenesque in their intensity. Word was that Conwell was gonna be the next big thing. He then released an absolutely killer song called “I’m Not Your Man” and those of us who were there on the ground floor felt superior to everybody else, smug in knowing what was coming next. Major labels came calling and all the attention apparently fucked with Conwell’s head…..and his second major release tanked (despite a brilliant song called “I’m Seventeen”) after 100 different industry types convinced him that he needed co-writers and a famous producer and famous guest stars and that he needed to get rid of his band and work with studio pros, and not to do what he had been doing which was strapping on his guitar and fronting a killer band of friends, and killing crowds with catchy songs and manic energy…and that was pretty much that.

He recorded another record that the label refused to release….and he was dropped. Conwell got a job as a teacher and eventually settled in to work for his Dad’s fencing company. These days he’s still haunting Philly bars….his 80s golden locks replaced by…well…nothing. A trucker’s hat covers his bald head….but word is that he ain’t mailing it in. He goes all out. He’s one of the great what-ifs that I know of. I wish him nothing but the best.

Hell, for all I know he may not have any regrets. But maybe I do. I remember how his music made me feel. And you probably missed it. The world would have been better if you didn’t.

In a bit..

–tf

 

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Spotify and a Monkees binge..

December 11, 2019 Leave a comment

I’ve always been a few years behind the times. I clung to my albums and tapes when others were buying CDs. When Itunes started taking over the world…..I jealously guarded my countless CDs and resisted (which of course I had owned on vinyl already and had to re-purchase…I’m still pissed at this record company scam but whatever…). When I finally succumbed (when CDs were topping out close to $20) to downloading music, everybody started to  jump on the streaming bandwagon. My current Ipod has about 30,000 songs on it…..and I treat it like a piece of fine china because they don’t make the Ipod classic anymore. So once it craps out (one already did….my current one I found used a few years ago), an entire life of music goes with it. My kids look at me the way I might side-eye a guy at the beach blasting 8-tracks. A hopeless relic.

Of course there is an alternative.

micky-dolenz-monkees-ftrAnd so here I am…..a brand new Spotify junkie, supporting the very platform that pays me as a musician a poverty-inducing $0.006 for each stream. Yes, I’m an idiot. But I’m also an idiot with sudden access to 30 million songs…..and I’m having the time of my life. As I type these words I’ve been listening to the entire catalog of The Monkees for the last 5 hours. Yesterday I listened to an entire shift of 60s garage rock. The day before I binged on the new Who album and the latest from Jesse Malin, this after listening to California Dreamin’ about 47 times in a row (how beautiful and perfect is this song?). All of this costs me nothing…..for now. I get 3 months free and will eventually kick in $14.99 a month for the family plan…..which seems an absurdly low amount for all the songs in the world but I’m not gonna argue (No wonder they only pay me $0.006, just saying….).

So as I said…..I’m sitting here now, and at my fingertips is a virtual jukebox that would have to be the physical size of a 21st century luxury liner. And I’m getting all sad and sentimental because Davey Jones and Peter Tork are dead and feeling pissed off that I didn’t write (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone. And I’m realizing that Micky Dolenz has always been one of my favorite singers. And that Mike Nesmith wrote (and writes) great songs. And I’m saying to myself that if the Hollies are in the rock and roll hall of fame (as they should be), why aren’t the Monkees? Compare their songbooks and explain it to me….and don’t tell me they weren’t a real band, because neither was the Beach Boys. When guys like Glen Campbell and Hal Blaine are in the room, do you know what you do? You get out of the way and let them play. And if somebody writes you “Last Train to Clarksville”, you record it and smile about it for the next 50 years.

Ok, it’s been a slow day but still. This is what music does to you…y’all. And I cannot believe that I never knew that the song by the Association is called “Windy” and not “Wendy”. When the fuck did that happen? I’ve only been singing it wrong for 35 years.

I can’t wait to see what my brain conjures up tomorrow. And the day after. I might go all Laurel Canyon…..or dig deep into 70s power-pop…..or stand on a barstool to scream about how underrated the Cowsils were. I might just throw in the towel and say Motown is the greatest music in the history of the world. And I can pull up Suite: Judy Blue Eyes and once again wonder why Crosby Still and Nash even bothered to do anything after releasing that song because clearly there was no way they’d come even remotely close to topping it……they could just lay back on a big water bed covered with beautiful girls and Tony Montana-sized bowls of coke and say “top that one, motherfuckers.”

And by the way you do realize that neither Warren Zevon or John Prine or Los Lobos are in the rock and roll hall of fame either, right?

If I were them I wouldn’t want to join a club that didn’t admit the Monkees. So there.

Happy listening boys and girls…

In a bit..

–tf

 

Categories: Uncategorized

December

December 2, 2019 Leave a comment

It’s December…..that strange time between major holidays when everybody is giddy and excited and homicidal all at the same time. Hurry up and wait and eat and drink and be merry and make sure you don’t miss Charlie Brown or Rudolph or the Grinch. Things seem to pick up and slow down simultaneously….with a lot of Office Space-type jobs going into semi-hibernation. Companies won’t admit to this of course, but the give-a-shit meter is barely detectable from now until the new year in a lot of places. Office parties…..loads of folks taking time off…..good luck getting somebody on the phone until the year 2020.

2390E7EB00000578-2852585-Scrum_down_Customers_push_each_other_out_of_the_way_as_the_crowd-72_1417213372623I broke one of my cardinal rules and left the house on Black Friday. I had the day off so in a fit of madness I volunteered to accompany my wife to the mall. What I saw was absolute chaos everywhere……while my wife kept saying “my God….this is nothing. There is nobody here….” over and over. I could not understand it. Checkout lines reminded me of Disney World. Parking lots were obstacle courses…..traffic law and order had seemingly broken down. I was just waiting for somebody to throw themselves across the hood of our car to reach their destinations quicker. I’m not good at this. At all. My wife is a pro. Apparently on-line shopping has taken quite a bite out of the Black Friday foot traffic….which I would have no way of knowing since it was probably the first time I’ve ever been near a mall the day after Thanksgiving. So the 8 billion people I saw that day is apparently usually 80 billion. Just thinking about gives me a newfound respect for shopping warriors like my wife, who seem to float above the crowds while I manage to get in everyone’s way. But right when I’m almost ready to accept that these people aren’t nuts I read about the Black Friday brawl outside of Nashville that apparently started over an argument over a pair of Frozen 2 slippers. And the fear and loathing begins anew.

I always feel bad for this shopping thing. The folks working at the stores don’t want to be there (looking at them reminded me of an assortment of hostage videos)….and maybe if idiots like me didn’t go to their stores 8 seconds after Thanksgiving dinner is over they wouldn’t have to be. But then if I stay home and order online I know I’m fucking over a pile of warehouse workers being paid like shit and treated like slaves by Jeff Bezos, not to mention the men and women who have to work a slew of overtime to drop the useless garbage I just ordered on my porch within 24 hours…..most of which I’ll probably return anyway. I’m an asshole either way.

And then came word that we were all going to die in a winter storm that promised ice and snow and unicorns. Folks forgot about buying ugly sweaters and flocked to empty supermarkets for bread and milk and beer….determined to ride the thing out while watching “The Irishman” on Netflix. And so while it did manage to sleet for 12 hours in a row, which is no joke…..the multiple feet of snow promised…..well….most of us swept it away this morning with brooms. My daughter’s college cancelled classes and she kept sending me photos of the green lawn of her apartment complex with the letters “lol” attached. She was grateful for the reprieve, but a little confused about how a forecast could be so….well…wrong.

And so here we are. A few more weeks and then Christmas. And then another week until New Year’s. And then instant depression, because it really is the best time of the year despite the madness and chaos and the fake snow storms and the brawls over children’s slippers. I think people are just a little bit nicer for about 6 weeks. Dicks are less dickish, and the normally charming practically glow. Everybody wishes you a “Merry Christmas” despite Fox news saying this isn’t allowed anymore because…..well…..you know.

But come the first week of January all of this illusionary stuff hits a brick wall and everybody is back to normal…..miserable and broke ready to shank anybody that looks at them wrong before they have that first cup of coffee.

Happy Holidays everyone!

In a bit..

–tf

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