Friday, 7 November 2014

Glenn Frey – Cowboy Casanova

‘I love the way he leans’
'He’s a good time cowboy Casanova/Leaning up against the record machine/Looks like a cool drink of water/But he’s candy-coated misery' ('Cowboy Casanova', Carrie Underwood)
I’ve got to admit that, before I was Schmitten, which was pretty recently (see my Schmitten blogs), Glenn Frey was my favourite Eagle and Don Henley was my sister’s. She bought Henley's solo material, I bought Glenn Frey's. This song sums up the Frey persona to me – a bad boy you’d do well to steer clear of (but don't want to), with tons of charisma and sex appeal.

‘You're struttin' into town like you're slingin' a gun/Just a small town dude with a big city attitude’ (‘Just Like Jesse James’, Cher)
Seeing pictures of him from the 70s on the EaglesOnline forum, I’m reminded of Angela’s (Claire Danes) comment about Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto) in my favourite teen TV drama My So-Called Life ‘I love the way he leans’. Glenn leans pretty well. Anyway, I’ve already covered the Frey sex appeal in another blog.

‘If you look at my vocal participation over the course of the 70s, I sang less and less. It was intentional. We had Don Henley.’ (Glenn Frey, HOTE)
Although this is true, although I love Don’s voice, it’s partly (perhaps mainly) the different vocalists (and particularly the blending of their vocals), their strengths and styles that create the diversity in the music and increase the band’s appeal. I’m crazy for Glenn’s voice. There's an edge to it. And he sounded great on this tour. Plus Glenn does much more than sing – he writes songs, figures out arrangements, decides who sings what and still finds time to exercise his inner Svengali and get people's backs up.

Glenn Frey: ‘It takes Henley for me to finish a song. And it takes me for Henley to finish a song.’
The creative dynamic between Glenn and Don was incredibly productive. We have a lot to thank Linda Ronstadt for.

Desperado who leans best?

‘I like the way your sparkling earrings lay/Against your skin so brown/And I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight/With a billion stars all around’ (or in plain English ‘Like your earrings/ Fancy a shag?’ but so much more persuasive the way Glenn puts it) ('Peaceful Easy Feeling', Eagles)
It was always Glenn – the hair, the attitude, the confidence, the moustache, the jeans, the smouldering gaze … need I go on? He was the ultimate 'Outlaw Man' for me. All that swagger and charm as epitomised in the above lyric.

‘Well, I'm standing on a corner/in Winslow, Arizona/And such a fine sight to see/It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford/Slowin' down to take a look at me … We may lose and we may win/ Though we will never be here again/So open up, I'm climbin' in/Take it easy’ ( 'Take It Easy', Eagles)
Jackson Browne asks him to finish a verse and that was all (s)he wrote. It all comes so naturally to him. When we holidayed in the States, we had to go to that corner. I’m sure many Eagles fans have made the same pilgrimage and there we were when a cool-looking guy in a flatbed Ford (is that the same as a pick-up?) stopped to ask us directions to the Probation Office. Or was it the Parole Office? Well, two English girls in summer dresses – I guess we must have looked like we would know. He recognised the would-be bad girls in us.

Used car salesman on vacation?

In some ways, Glenn is the most altered (though still good-looking and wearing well) – possibly because he was the epitome of careless youth while Don always seemed more mature. The others simply look like older/rounder/balder/greyer/skinnier versions of what they were but Glenn now resembles a used car salesman on vacation except that he has managed to retain that slightly disreputable air and that ‘big city attitude’ in his persona.

'Outlaw Man'

'We gave Glenn a nickname, The Lone Arranger. He had a vision about how our voices could blend and how to arrange the vocals and, in many cases, the tracks. He also had a knack for remembering and choosing good songs.' (Don Henley)
So if Don is the main singer and writer, the soul of the band – the angst, bitterness, anger, world-weariness; Glenn’s the pumping heart, the motor that keeps it all going, the somewhat schizophrenic, one-minute romantic dupe (‘What Do I Do with My Heart?’ rivals the tortured love songs usually reserved for TBS), the next ranting paranoid with villainous past ('Somebody') – my favourite Glenn incarnation:
'There's a jack-o-lantern moon in the midnight sky/Somebody gonna live, somebody gonna die/But down in the graveyard on that old tombstone/There's a big black crow and it's callin' you home' ('Somebody', Eagles)
Unfortunately for us all, 'Somebody' is not available as a link anywhere.

'When you said goodbye, you were on the run/Tryin' to get away from the things you've done' ('You Belong to the City', Glenn Frey) 
I love the seedy side of Glenn: the romance of the illicit in 'You Belong to the City'. Always one step ahead of the law, restless, dangerous. That sultry atmospheric sax intro; Glenn's intimate vocal on the verse before the chorus kicks in and he steps it up.

Happy days
'Somebody's gonna hurt someone/Before the night is through/Somebody's gonna come undone/There's nothin' we can do' (‘Heartache Tonight’, Eagles)
Don Felder on The Long Run:
‘We realized that Glenn had nothing to sing on the record except …  "Teenage Jail" … we just had nothing in his genre. So we called Bob Seger, and Bob had started about 60 or 70 percent of "Heartache Tonight", which was perfect for Glenn … .We couldn’t put out a record without Glenn singing a hit on it.’
This relates to the 'Glenn singing less and less' syndrome (something I really really don't understand). The general feeling is that Don is trying to put Glenn down here. It didn't come across like this to me to begin with but I sort of get it now, as it sounds as if he and the the others had to find a way to help Glenn out.  But he’s right about one thing: this song is entirely within Glenn’s vibe. (I wouldn’t say Glenn has a genre though, that he can't step out of – he’s perfectly capable of singing anything but this is something he excels at – uptempo, rocky, a song with a bite for a Saturday night): an obvious single and a sure-fire hit.

Glenn rocks 70s fashion like no one else
Bernie: This is a song that I used to hear a lot of on the radio last summer. Right around Halloween.
Glenn: Yeah round Halloween. That ain’t the summer.
This 1973 exchange between Glenn and Bernie at the beginning of ‘Witchy Woman’ sums up their relationship. Backbiting. You have to hear the tone of his voice as he delivers this line. How much he enjoys it. So quick. He ain’t going to be a diplomat any time soon. By the end of the song though, it’s the playing that counts and I’m glad they were able to get back to that for the latest tour.

Glenn Frey: ‘There's a lot of compromise involved in a rock band and trying to make people happy and feel a part of everything that you're doing. It demands a lot of sacrifice and a lot of compromise and a lot of patience and diplomacy.’
Patience and diplomacy were perhaps not Glenn’s strong suit. This may be why Bernie ended up pouring a beer over his head.

‘A rock band is not a perfect democracy. It’s more like a sports team. No one can do anything without the other guys, but everybody doesn’t get to touch the ball all the time.’ (Glenn Frey, HOTE)
Glenn’s attitude has undergone a bit of a sea-change. Love the way he expresses this, with a touch of venom. You can almost hear him adding ‘So get over it’.

Hair looking extra cool
Glenn's never been given to wordy avoidance or justifications (the sort that Don’s so good at). Witness this from HOTE:
Don: In the context of the times and the profession, the way we behaved wasn’t all that remarkable.
Glenn: It was the 70s. There were drugs everywhere.
Leave it to Glenn to tell it like it is and there's little doubt that his blunt attitude led to much of the creative tension. Ok he can be objectionable but I love that about him, that he doesn’t attempt to excuse or rationalise. Sometimes I feel like I’m surrounded by people who hedge their bets and are afraid to have an opinion.

Everyone talks about how funny Joe is (and he has some classic moments in HOTE), such as:
 ‘The first thing that happens is that you get some kind of label, and you gotta live up to it, and you just get caught up in that, and I forget what the second thing is’
but with Joe I always get the feeling that he sometimes only realises he’s said something funny halfway through or just after he’s said it whereas Glenn is much more self-aware and just as entertaining and his throwaway lines in the HOTE  film are classics. He’s always been the master of the soundbite, hence ‘Life in the Fast Lane’, ‘Lyin’ Eyes’. Here are a couple of classic Glenn lines:

Did I mention the hair?
'These songs are so old that when they were written, the Dead Sea was only sick.'

‘Detroit, where mother is only half a word’ or ‘Detroit, the city that gave us Ted Nugent … and won't take him back’
There’s a reason Glenn gets to tell the jokes at the gigs, albeit the same ones night after night. He delivers them way better than Don could. My favourites are the Detroit ones above.

‘I own a lot of guitars. And the reason is, I'm looking for one I can play.’ (From glennfreyonline)
Never afraid to be self-deprecating, Glenn happy to participate in a joke guitar duel with Joe Walsh every night of the tour, in which he gets to showcase what he can do but never really win.

Glenn wins the battle of the moustaches

Not quite finished but it seems appropriate to post this today. Well, it's the 6th in the USA but the 7th here. Happy birthday, Glenn!

Some quotes and images lifted from GlennFreyOnline. Thanks, guys!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

'Kick 'em when they're up':* Backlash Lashback: Response to Eagles' Detractors

Long Road out of Eden era
* 'Dirty Laundry', Don Henley

This is really a rejonder to the general press’s reactionary response to the Eagles. Obviously the band don’t need me or anyone else to defend them but that won't stop me.

‘And still all the critics keep saying/Are they still around?/When are they gonna stop?’
(‘The Road’, The Kinks, the rest of the song is also pertinent)
I’m struck when I read the press reviews of the Eagles UK gigs that no one is saying very much. They’re very short and somewhat grudgingly appreciative but the common tenor is that the band have just been going too long. I was originally going to write a review but this rant got too long so I'm going to publish it as a separate blog.

'I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour/But heaven knows I'm miserable now' ('Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now', The Smiths) Miserable and not afraid to sing about it! Plus you can't knock a song with the lyric 'What she asked of me at the end of the day/Caligula would have blushed'
Prior to this tour, I read a really negative piece (worth reading for the cutting ripostes in the comments) in The Guardian (one of my least favourite papers) championing the new over the old and advocating that the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones, if they couldn’t do the decent thing and chuck it all in to let the new bands have a chance, should at least pay a tax to finance the development of such bands. It is possible to like old and new bands. So-called 'old' music does not prevent so-called 'new' music from existing. Much of the new music sounds like either generic rock posturing or is unimaginatively derivative. Friends go crazy for the Scissor Sisters, Arcade Fire and their ilk who ‘are all about fun’ and the current stand seems to be that you can't be any fun unless your songs are a melee of different styles, all rehashed with a sardonic ‘aren't we clever, look what we’ve done?’ knowingness, with a general emphasis in the lyrics on ‘having fun’ as if, if you don't say it every second, you're suddenly miserable and being miserable is a crime. They sound anything but original but are more like a fusion of several styles I never particularly cared for in the first place. The word that always comes to mind is ‘ersatz’.

I think hell's just about to freeze over
‘We set out to become a band for our time. But sometimes if you do a good-enough job, you become a band for all time.’
(Glenn Frey, HOTE documentary)
But why should liking current bands prevent anyone from appreciating older ones? After all, although of its time, truly great music is timeless. It isn't finite. There’s always room for more. If someone is successful, it doesn’t stop someone else being successful. Instead of criticising the Eagles who have created (and we hope will continue to make) so many beautiful songs, how about noticing the fact that much of popular music these days is lyrically drivel and musically limited? Most songs that get to Number One have the same words rearranged plus some often quite objectionable and/or childish rap inserted for the sake of it. I’m not saying it’s all like that but shouldn’t we fight against this endemic deterioration in standards, where there’s a sample of a previous song (sometimes a good one – not so bad – at least it’s bringing it to another generation) and if we’re lucky one original but ever so slight melodic refrain? See my previous blog for more on this, and, in particular, the Black-Eyed Peas.

Anyway, who’s to say what’s new or old? If it’s new to you, does it matter if it was made in the 60s? What’s that got to do with whether it’s worthwhile or not? I’ve just discovered Poco and Gene Clark as well as more recently, Citizen Cope, Christian Kane, Shakey Graves. None of these acts have had the acclaim or success they deserve but I’m sure they don’t blame the Eagles for this.

‘I decree today that life/Is simply taking and not giving/England is mine - it owes me a living’
(‘Still Ill’, The Smiths, a band that seemed totally different to anything that had gone before, replete with passion and pathos, memorable tunes and witty, evocative, thought-provoking lyrics)
I fear this bleating, which is typical of the wishy-washy, bleeding-heart liberals at The Guardian, always ready to jump on the next musical bandwagon but always a couple of years behind the times; they just about grab onto it as it disappears into the sunset and the credits roll, as with Jackie Leven or the Fleet Foxes, or just after an act has become a parody of itself and ever so quick to denigrate something they think is passé, is all part of this ‘the world owes me a living’ attitude. It doesn’t.

It’s not only journalists who indulge in this kind of carping. Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) says he knows why the Eagles still tour: ‘It’s not about the money. It’s because they’re bored.’ Always amazes me when somebody  has the gall to claim they understand someone else's motivation. Henley (never a shrinking violet) has hit back at this in Rolling Stone but also at the London shows when he said they don’t do it because they’re bored but because it’s the best job on the planet or words to that effect. Sort of reminds me of when Oasis and Blur gloved up in the 90s.

‘You don't want to work, you want to live like a king/But the big, bad world doesn't owe you a thing’ ('Get Over It', Eagles) 
It’s always been difficult for new artists to break through and the talented don’t always thrive while the screechers and flavours of the day (according to the papers) such as Paloma Faith and Ed Sheeran (although I do like ‘I See Fire’) make it. Whether they do or not has nothing to do with whether Fleetwood Mac are touring or not. The two are not mutually exclusive.

The Mac
I hate this labelling. The Eagles songs and harmonies and ideas would still sound fresh and exciting if you were to hear them for the first time today. Same with the Stones. And there’s a reason that ‘The Chain’ is still used as background build-up for all the Formula 1 events on UK TV. It’s as exciting now as it ever was. A couple of years ago I finally discovered the Kinks who became a fairly long-lived musical obsession of mine. Not new but new to me.

So I say ‘live and let live’. Stop bitching and moaning. Good music is good music and it will endure. That’s not a fault, that’s a virtue. I like this comment on The Guardian article from MickGJ: ‘If it wasn't for these old acts there wouldn't be any 30-year old records for them to sound a bit like.’ I’m discovering new and old music all the time.That's how it should be.

The thrill ain't gone

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Opinion8: Must-see TV

Judging this by the programmes that changed our expectation of TV, said something new or had the ability to touch me, sometimes every episode. As usual, I've chosen 8 (as in Opinion8). Some of these shows I didn’t see first time around but I’ve listed them in date of broadcast order.

Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar)
First, a disclaimer: By all rights Buffy the Vampire Slayer should be in this list but I want to include it in my Opinion8 Top Teen TV Shows and as I’ve already put Buffy herself in another blog, I didn’t want there to be Buffy overkill. I don’t want to detract from its importance. I think it was a watershed in television and will always remember seeing the first episode on BBC2. My Dad and my brother also saw it, each of us separately and I definitely spoke to one or both of them on the phone afterwards. I seriously think we can talk about TV as pre- and post-Buffy. It’s just a shame that there have been so many derivative rather than innovative programmes resulting from the super-popularity and sheer brilliance of the original. I don't include Angel in this category. If anything, Angel surpassed Buffy, in humour, action, characterisation. I mean instead the Twilight franchise, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries. I could go on.

Lesley Uggams as Kizzy in Roots
1 Roots (1977)
The theme music here sounds far jollier than I remember. I’m sure the version on the BBC series was more stately, more sombre but I might be wrong. I wrote this to begin with: true-life drama on an epic scale, bringing to the forefront the evils of the slave trade and its consequences but I’ve just read that what I thought was the result of an investigation by Alex Haley into his heritage, was actually a novel. I’m a little disillusioned but still can't fault the TV series and the programme makers’ courage in tackling such an emotive subject and doing it so brilliantly. A classic in the era of the TV miniseries. It worked because the characters were so easy to like and empathise with (who can forget Kunta Kinte, Kizzy and Chicken George?) and because the narrative was hauntingly compelling.
(Wiki facts: The series won nine Emmys, a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award and its finale still holds a record as the third highest-rated US television programme.)

Sebastian (Anthony Andrews), Charles (Jeremy Irons) and Aloysius
2 Brideshead Revisited 1981
Was held so completely spellbound by this superbly crafted and impossibly romantic series with its evocative theme music that I wrote my dissertation on Catholicism in the novels of Evelyn Waugh. Just like Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons), we all fell at least a little in love with the beguiling Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews), fascinated by his vicissitudes, excesses, denials. As someone who was already suffering from nostalgia when I left primary school (at 11), I was a total sucker for what Waugh calls ‘a kind of gluttony … for the splendours of the recent past’, even though it wasn’t my recent past. I identified completely.  Spawning the heritage drama of  Merchant-Ivory and forerunner to the Downtons and Austen adaptations of today or what we heard a Sidcup resident describe more prosaically as ‘those olde worlde ones’, it was sumptuous to look at and I was happy to immerse myself in a place and time that was so far removed from my own.
(Wiki facts: In 2000, the serial was tenth in the BFI’s 100 Greatest British Television Programmes, in 2010, second in The Guardian’s Top 50 TV dramas of all time.)

Original cast of ER
3 ER 1994-2009
Must-see TV before the term existed, a water-cooler subject before we even had water-coolers (in the UK at least, yes, seriously). I could talk to people I had nothing in common with but this. ‘What about Doug and Carol then?’ Believable and likeable characters, entertaining or affecting situations – I think I cried nearly every week. Totally escaped my life for an hour. Stuck with it till the end despite not really being enamoured of the new characters in the final season. I was crazy about so many of these people: Carol, Doug, Mark Green, Luka (the episode when he escaped execution in Darfur was heartbreaking), Lucy (how did Kellie Martin end up in the Mystery Woman series – she was excellent), Ray and Neela and their failed-to-ever-get-there romance (we were rooting for him but disaster struck). Week after week the writers put us through the wringer. And we loved it. ER – I’ll never forget you.

Aside: As touched on in a Kinks blog (about who should play Ray and Dave Davies in the upcoming movie), Parminder Nagra (Neela) is another actor who had an early acting role with Keira Knightley and showed way more promise (like Hans Matheson in Dr Zhivago) but who was left eating dust as Keira raced on to become a major film star. And what has Parminder done since? Ok, Noah Wyle’s (Carter) in Falling Skies, which isn't my cup of tea. Julianna Margulies (Carol) has a lead role in The Good Wife (although Archie Panjabi usually steals the show and Julianna has a hard ask to pretend to be aroused by Will Gardner when Chris Noth is more appealing). And we all know what happened to George Clooney (Doug). I liked him when he was Booker in Roseanne so didn’t need any convincing.

Dish by name; Dish by nature (D. B. Sweeney)
4 Lonesome Dove 1989-90
Never thought I would succumb to a Wild West miniseries but this is simply magnificent TV. The scenery, the acting, the script, the characterisation, the production values are all top-notch. While Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones are beautifully flawed heroes, I fell hook, line and sinker for Dish (D. B. Sweeney), his unrequited devotion to Laurie (Diane Lane) so moving. How could she resist the hat and the moustache, not to mention his soulful gaze? Just hearing the soaring sweep of the fantastic theme music (by Basil Poledouris) effortlessly evoke the vast vistas of Montana can bring tears to my eyes.
(Wiki facts: National Television Critics Association’s Program of the Year and Outstanding Dramatic Achievement; won the D. W. Griffith Award for Best Television Miniseries, with CBS garnering the Peabody Award for Outstanding Achievement in Drama.)

Kyle MacLachlan as Special Agent Dale Cooper
5 Twin Peaks 1990-1
Weird and wonderful, we’d never seen anything like this. Filmic values, interesting characterisation (Killer Bob, the Log Lady, Special Agent Dale Cooper, Audrey the Lolita, played to perfection by Sherilyn Fenn), cups of Joe, cherry pie and diners, surrealist dreams with people talking backwards. All this plus a murder mystery plot. Some of the time, we didn’t know what was going on but it didn’t really matter. Alien and enchanting, it probably generated my abiding interest in Americana. Even the credits are leisurely and otherworldly in that Lynchian everything-is-ordinary-but-nothing-is-quite-what-it-seems way.
(Wiki facts: The pilot ranked 25 on TV Guide's 1997 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time; series ranked 45 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time in 2002; in 2007, it was in Time's Best TV Shows of All-Time.)

Vic (Michael Chiklis), Shane (Walton Goggins)
6 The Shield 2002-8
W..a..a..y before The Wire, Vic and his crew didn’t exactly blur but totally obliterate the (thin blue) line between cops and criminals. As corrupt as the gangs they fought, loyal (at least to begin with) only to each other, not so much flawed as riddled with evil intent, I think each viewer experienced a turning point, when they suddenly started to root for this bad-ass band of brothers. Moments to remember are Vic chasing a bad guy down an alley: the runner climbs over a wooden fence, Vic thinks twice then barges straight through it. In an interview room, Vic says: ‘Good cop and bad cop left for the day. I’m a different kind of cop’. Visceral action, sometimes hard-to-catch dialogue, The Shield put us on the streets with the villains (there were no good guys),Walton Goggins even managed to make me feel sorry for his character Shane after he’d killed another member of the team out of misguided fealty. His confusion and pain were evident in everything he did. The first season of Justified positively fizzed with the chemistry of the dynamic between Goggins’s Boyd and Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan.
(Wiki facts: It won awards, including the Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Drama in 2002; 2008 AFI Award for Best Television Series; and some individual prizes for Michael Chiklis.)

Cast of Lost
7 Lost 2004-10
Mysterious, sexy (the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle, not sure which of these I fancied the most, not to mention Sayid), thrilling, it never really mattered that the denouement didn’t quite resolve all the narrative threads. We lived for the intrigue and rooted for the characters as unlikely heroes developed (Sayid, Lock) in their bid for survival against whatever the island (the writers) would chuck at them next – smoke monsters, the Hatch, the Others, supporting them even when they went back in time to the 70s. They played their roles with such conviction that we accepted various implausible events and the notion that these could all have been orchestrated by the enigmatic Dharma Initiative. But the real mystery was how did so many unfeasibly good-looking people end up on the same plane.
(Wiki facts: Lost won several awards: the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series; the Writers Guild of America Awards  for Outstanding Achievement in Writing for a Dramatic Television Series; and the Screen Actors Guild Awards 2005 for Best Ensemble Cast.)

Michael Peterson
8 Death on the Staircase 2004
This was an incredible documentary by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, that follows the ins and outs, ups and downs of a murder trial (the suspect, a novelist Michael Peterson, is accused of killing his wife). Riveting from start to finish, with all the components of a crime/courtroom drama, it was hard to believe that all this was actually happening.  Truth really is stranger than fiction. It has since been made into a movie but it’s nowhere near as involving as the original film. The ‘blow-poke’ (poker to you and me), the disappearance of the ‘blow-poke’, the internet correspondence with an alleged rent boy, the death of another friend of Peterson’s in similar circumstances, the exhumation of a body in Germany. I could go on. Getting the inside track on all this was simply compelling: you felt that you were involved in the process; each episode provoked endless discussion in our house, not least on how ramshackle the process sometimes seemed.
(No Wiki facts but it did win a couple of awards, such as one from the International Documentary Association in 2005 and a Peabody Award in 2006.)

I have to admit that I love anything that is dramatic, thrilling, funny, involving and usually those sort of programmes cross genres, are hybrids. After all, I couldn’t categorise my life as a TV or film genre. It’s comic and tragic by turns. It’s not a romcom or a mystery. Actually, scratch that. It is a mystery.

Other TV I Love
Band of Brothers
Queer as Folk (original UK version only)
Generation War
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Killing
(original Danish version only)

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Christian Kane – Covered in Glory

I’m a huge fan of Christian Kane and his original songs but I also really love his interpretations of other people’s. He puts his heart and soul into anything he chooses to sing. Country music isn’t a big deal in the UK so I often hear Christian’s versions of a song before I encounter the original and discover that I don’t like it as much. Weird, because I’m usually someone who’s a stickler for the original, for instance, Judy Garland – Over the Rainbow; Frank Sinatra – Well, anything Frank did really. I don’t like the watered-down, limp versions common in the charts today – usually by fey songstresses with affected, insipid vocals, popularised by their ubiquity in adverts: Ellie Goulding’s bafflingly turgid Your Song; Lily Allen’s total crucifixion of Somewhere Only We Know; that awful, soulless Wherever You Will Go by Charlene Soraia.* Whereas these seem to drain the life and spirit out of the song, Christian Kane does the opposite. He invests them with more emotion and verve, making the originals sound just a little colourless in comparison. His voice is a gift – unique but with echoes of Elvis, reverberations of Springsteen. It has a depth and resonance that can reinvigorate an old song, making it seem contemporary and new and real. And it appears totally effortless. His original material showcases his talents even better but that's another blog.
* Of course there are exceptions – Adele’s Make You Feel My Love; the Byrds’ Tambourine Man; Timothy B. Schmit’s Caroline No; the Eagles’ Ol’ 55, Poco's Magnolia.

Apologies if any of these aren’t the originals you know. I’ve tried to put down the writer when I thought it relevant. Links are in the words ‘Original’ and ‘Kane’ if you want to hear what I’m talking about. Obviously Christian Kane has covered ‘ songs live that I haven’t included e.g. Sweet Home Alabama, either because I haven’t heard them, couldn’t find a good version of them or he hasn’t played them that often. 

Fast Car
Original: Tracy Chapman 
Unstoppable rhythm and melody, compelling narrative. I love her deep voice. It has a certain intensity and immediacy.
Kane studio; Kane live: A little hard to listen to owing to the enthusiastic fans singing along and occasionally drowning him out (he loves it). He still sounds tender and true. Plaintive and melancholy but that natural growl lets you know he’s no pushover.
You got a fast car/I want a ticket to anywhere/Maybe we can make a deal/Maybe together we can get somewhere/Any place is better/Starting from zero got nothing to lose/Maybe we'll make something/Me myself I got nothing to prove

The One I Love 
Original: David Gray
I’ve got to admit that I’m not a fan of his voice, thought he bleated like a lamb on his big hit This Year’s Love but this is better.
Kane: ‘Somebody else wrote this but it’s one of my favourite songs’. More rough tenderness, he always sounds as if he’s lived what he’s singing. Passion and restraint.
Next wave coming in/Like an ocean roar/Won't you take my hand darling/On that old dance floor/We can twist and shout/Do the turtle dove/And you're the one I love/You're the one I love

Wary and suspicious
I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man
Original: Prince 
The single is bouncy, infectious, unputdownable although I couldn't find it on YouTube.
Kane: This doesn’t completely work countrified (not sure about the fiddle) but it’s very lively and upbeat and it's plain CK identifies with the sentiment.
I asked her if she wanted to dance/And she said that/All she wanted was a good man/And wanted to know/If I thought I was qualified/And I said baby don't waste your time/I know what's on your mind/I may be qualified for a one night stand/But I could never take the place of your man

Original: Ray LaMontagne
Low-key, breathy, mournful but, combined with his very deliberate phrasing, it sounds a little affected.
Kane: ‘It had so much to do with my life – I just fell in love with it’. In Christian’s earnest, heartfelt rendition, there’s a memory of anguish, hard times and misguided youth that makes it affecting.
I found myself face down in the ditch/Booze on my hair/Blood on my lips/A picture of you, holding a picture of me/In the pocket of my blue jeans/Still don't know what love means

Drift Away
Original: Dobie Gray (written by Mentor Williams) Easy-going, laidback, likeable.
Kane: There’s palpable joy in the energy and exuberance in his version.
Thanks for the joy that you've given me/I want you to know I believe in your song/And rhythm and rhyme and harmony/You've helped me along/Makin' me strong/Oh, give me the beat, boys and free my soul/I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away

Part cowboy
Should’ve Been a Cowboy
Original: Toby Keith
I can't really fault this. Jaunty and upbeat, a country no.1 in 1993.
Kane:‘I lost country for a while. This is the one of the songs that brought me back.’  Part-cowboy, part-Cherokee, CK rocks out, breathing new life into this song.
I should've been a cowboy/I should've learned to rope and ride/Wearing my six-shooter riding my pony on a cattle drive

Luckenbach, Texas
Original: Waylon Jennings (written by Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons), a country no. 1 in 1977.Easy-listening, old-school country.
Kane: Christian reinvents this; it barrels along with enthusiasm and gruff charm and something about his tone really reminds me of Elvis.
The only two things in life/That make it worth livin'/Is guitars to tune good/And firm feelin' women

Part Cherokee
The Dance
Original: Garth Brooks (written by Tony Arata)
Sort of middle of the road, pleasant and inoffensive, Garth has a nice, even tone that’s easy to listen to.
Kane: Only a tiny clip of this. I’d kill to hear more as this is a great appetiser. There’s a depth of experience in the few lines we have here and that twang of a Texan accent on the last word kills me. Also rate Scotty McCreery’s version, which, despite his youth, still has gravitas, although not the rueful quality of the Christian snippet.
And now I'm glad I didn't know/The way it all would end the way it all would go/Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain/But I'd have had to miss the dance

Redneck Side of Me
Original: Jamey Johnson (written by Jerrod Niemann)
The instrumentation is wonderful (is that an organ at the beginning?) but the vocal sounds sort of creepy, like a bad uncle, someone you wouldn't want to meet on a dark night and is too much on one level, there’s not enough drama. Great accent though.
Kane: Again, only a tantalising snippet,. In a couple of minutes, he conveys a promise, a threat, gentleness. Listen to the line: ‘I never hunted 'gators in the Everglades’. The softness and timbre of his voice make my throat quiver. 
I never was a roughneck pumpin' crude down the line/An' I ain't logged no timber, sawin’ on them Georgia pines/I can't mix the best batch of etouffee/I never hunted 'gators in the Everglades
(Aside from Wikipedia: Étouffée or etouffee is a dish found in both Cajun and Creole cuisine typically served with shellfish over rice.)

'Country music has always been first and foremost in my heart'
I think my main point is that Christian Kane always sounds more than credible because he chooses songs that mean something to him. And he can sing anything. I’m mystified as to why he hasn’t had a huge hit although I know that talent doesn’t always translate into success and am probably not the best placed person to try to fathom the machinations of the country music business. But he’s personable and appealing and let’s face it, fine-looking. By rights, he should have ‘made it’ with any of his original songs, such as A Different Kind of Knight, America High, Rattlesnake Smile or with Let Me Go (written by Casey Beathard and Tom Shapiro), which he begged to be allowed to sing. Part of me thinks it’s because he has more than one string to his bow being an actor too (maybe Nashville doesn’t like the fact that he isn’t solely a musician, that he wants to have his cake and eat it too); part of me thinks it’s owing to the extreme dedication of his fanbase (to some extent drawn from fans of his acting that have got into the music) – it’s possible that this contributes to the mainstream country/rock industry’s failure to take him seriously; or perhaps he’s just refusing to play by the rules. I’ve been watching Nashville and wondering why he hasn’t got one of the major roles. Perhaps they wanted musical newcomers but he would be a shoo-in for a recurring cameo of a roughneck country rocker, perhaps on the wrong side of the law.

Could it be?
I’ll end with this exchange, which sort of sums Christian Kane’s music up.
My Dad asked me what Christian Kane's music was like. I said 'It's country rock' and he said 'Like the Eagles?' I said 'More country' and my sister added 'And more rock'.

Perhaps he’s just too much of each to be fully accepted by either (having played to rock audiences at the Viper Room). But they say this is The Year of Kane. 

He also features in another blog of mine:


Sunday, 5 January 2014

Grant Hart Live: Milton, Sputnik, Burroughs, Amtrak and Apollinaire

William S. Burroughs
Links in song titles as usual.

Last time we saw Grant, he played a blistering show with the Burn Burning at the Monto, Water Rats. It was amazing to hear him with a full band again but tonight he’s solo once more, again promoting The Argument, his musical take on William Burroughs’s truncated version of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Grant is not afraid of a concept or a broad canvas or a mythical theme. The songs on this album I think of as those ‘details taken from a painting’ postcards you get and I was hoping to hear a good few tonight. I wasn’t disappointed. Haven’t got the album yet and heard that Grant had some to sell but never saw any.

The Miller at London Bridge
The Miller is a pub a stone’s throw from the Shard side of London Bridge, easy for us to get to from South London. Big, rambling and full of nooks and crannies, with the pleasant and efficient bar staff all in Hallowe’en-themed costumes. The gig takes place in an upstairs room with a stage, a couple of tables and a few bar stools. See some familiar faces from previous Grant gigs. Learn that there are two support acts and Grant should be on at 10pm. I usually like to cut to the chase but my sister is less jaded so we go up to listen. Had a brief chat with Grant while they were playing but forgot I had cotton wool in my ears and couldn't hear him properly. Grant, ever the joker, claimed he had come as the infamous, elusive graffiti artist Banksy – no one knows what he looks like. He looks well, still has tons of thick black hair, some pulled back in a ponytail. If he dyes it, he’s doing a great job.

Early days
Bold Things from Ireland start the warm-up. They collect the firewood. Their songs are pleasant enough. They have a lot of tall twenty-something fans who stand right in front of us. Next up are Le Deux Furieuses. (I think it should be Les Deux Furieuses, girls.) They light the taper. They look distinctly art collegey but after a deal of preparation, involving back projection and a carved and lit-up pumpkin, we’re smacked by a sonic onslaught, which would probably have terrified the fans of Bold Things but which is welcomed by die-hard Hüsker fans. I end up quite admiring them and I think they’re surprised by the crowd’s positive reaction.

Grant today
When Grant eventually takes the stage to stoke the flames, he’s a little frustrated by some problems with a borrowed amp and is unimpressed generally as they are unable to turn off a strobe effect that’s giving him vertigo, saying something like it’s great if you enjoy taking it up the ass every night (don’t quote me on that) but, after jokingly offering people their money back (the audience demurs, won't be pulled down by the undertow, buoys Grant up with its enthusiasm), the show goes on. It must be so difficult travelling, using the equipment to hand, organising everything yourself, dependent on the goodwill, courtesy and commonsense of venues and other bands.

I’m not going through the whole setlist; I’ll post it at the end, just mention certain songs. Suffice to say that Grant could play and sing some of these songs perfectly in his sleep and it’s always good to hear them. You know the ones I mean.
'Hey, are you sure you're not taking my picture?'

There’s something about the next three songs that reminds me of the rhythm of the sea – constant but ever-changing, the same but always different, waves crashing against a beach; the way a lyric or refrain is repeated/altered. 

You’re the Reflection of the Moon on the Water
Always a rousing opener: inspired by this comment from a monk about a possible candidate for the next Panchen Lhama, ‘He is the reflection of the moon on the water but he is not the moon’, i.e. something lesser than the real thing, the truth but not the whole truth. The verses are variations on this theme: the insistence and repetition reinforce the point, like the sea rushing headlong to shore, the fourth line of each stanza a diminishing of the first three, like the backwash of the tide.
You’re the reflection of the moon on the water/You’re the reflection of the moon on the water/You’re the reflection of the moon on the water/But you’re not the moon
You are the scent of the sea on the night wind/You are the scent of the sea on the night wind/You are the scent of the sea on the night wind/But you’re not the sea
You are the shadows from the light of a fire/You are the shadows from the light of a fire/You are the shadows from the light of a fire/But you’re not the light
You are the sound of the rain on the dry earth/You are the sound of the rain on the dry earth/You are the sound of the rain on the dry earth/But you’re not the rain

Grant dedicates this to Lou Reed (RIP) as ‘another satellite’ song – the song was built around the beeps from Sputnik, Lou Reed’s is of course Satellite of Love. I’ve got to love a song that uses the word ‘apogee’. Another charming, infectious melody; insistent, repetitive – an ocean tide.
Is the sky the limit?/What is the apogee?/
Is the sky the limit/For me?/
I only wish to love you/For you to notice me/
Now I dread how limited I can be

This is the gentler ebb and flow of a calmer sea. Becalmed.
The earth it hangs on a golden chain/
The earth it hangs on a golden chain

Paradise Lost
The songs he plays from The Argument are liberally interspersed with older material throughout the set and work as standalone tracks as well as to illustrate aspects of the story, as if you simply focused in on a character and his thoughts/intentions. Grant is able to slip between viewpoints and in and out of musical styles.

This quote from Pitchfork sums it up:
But the great thing about The Argument is that, not only does it make a Hüsker Dü reformation seem like an evermore remote possibility, it makes the whole prospect that much more undesirable and unnecessary. 

California Zephyr
Upbeat song about riding the rails. It’s such a romantic thing to do, not ride the rails but name your trains, and so evocatively too. Unfortunately using Amtrak is anything but a romantic experience. Only did it once and there was a twelve-hour delay!
Then a cab to the Bay Bridge Inn/
They check you out while they check you in

Milton by way of Burroughs by way of Hart
Shine, Shine, Shine
That fairground organ on the album track – let’s get on the merry go round. A sparkling Christmas bauble of a song.
We enjoy the life ideal/Running naked through the fields/
There’s no shame/No secrets unrevealed

Another song rife with connotations and literary allusions and a lilting refrain. It’s ostensibly about the remains of Apollinaire but with Grant, there’s always another level (and I’m not talking defunct British boyband). Here’s a little extract from a chat I had with Grant when this song was new:
I had been reading the life story of Apollinaire, … in the context of like viewing somebody at a funeral or ‘all that’s left’, only an outline … when they circle the body and things like that and I didn’t change anything … on … the studio recording of it because it’s nice that it bear those other meanings as well.
Supposing, too much to assume/Saying nothing but speaking volumes
Silence broken with shattering sounds/Books for no one, where are they bound?

Grant asks the audience to ‘pucker up’ to whistle along and it’s fantastic how many of them can a) whistle b) know the tune c) actually whistle in tune. Grant has been playing this live for ages so I was surprised that it was part of the Paradise Lost project.
What is it you’re seeking?/What would be your prize?
Is it no fair peeking?/If I look past your disguise

Someone requests Letting Me Out but Grant reacts as if he’s called ‘Let Me Out’ and says ‘The door’s over there’.

During this, an over-enthusiastic fan sings along off-key and very loudly (I find the two usually go together at gigs) and Grant notices and has to choose something that the guy doesn’t know next.
Oh well I put down the money/When I picked up the keys/
We had to keep the stove on all night long/So the mice wouldn't freeze

A shy woman asks my sister to pass Grant a note for her. It says ‘Please play All of My Senses’. His response: ‘Boring’. There are some songs Grant must be sick of performing (the die-hard Husker fans inevitably ask for the same ones and occasionally he obliges) but this isn’t one I’ve ever heard him try live.

Another song he never plays, out of respect, because it’s hard to separate the song from its provenance, is Diane but for those who called for it at the Miller, here’s a fantastic version from Sao Paulo. Sends chills through me.

Less suspicious
A crowd pleaser. This sounds like and works well as a sea shanty (on the 'high' main) while the lyrics also tell a story about drug dependency (mainlining), with a litany of red-light districts – Reeperbahn, Christiane, Pigalle (coincidentally always the location of our hotel whenever we travel) – and references to De Quincey and Christ. As the makers of Every Everything no doubt discovered, Grant is knowledgeable on many subjects but what astonishes me is the way he’s able to crystallise ideas and images into lyric and melody.
There was life on the corner/And death all around/…
Reeperbahn, Christiane, Pigalle, all the same/On the main, the main, remember your name

The song I wanted him to play (I Knew All about You since Then) is a great example of this talent and his Mary Poppins-style approach – a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. Trenchant put-downs in wordplay encased in a sunny little tune so you’re suck(er)ed in without realising.

This was my belated alternative request because Grant couldn’t play the original one, for very good reasons. This video is from the actual night.
With her family far and in a family way/Well she told me that she missed him
It's hard to keep in touch/With just the US postal system
Grant changes the lyrics each time, this time he sings ‘useless social system’. It’s one of the things I love about him – a gig can go in any direction at any time – he keeps it fresh and the night is entirely dependent on his mood and how he interacts with the audience.

Still shimmeringly pretty even when slowed down and infused with bitterness as in this ‘mid-life crisis version’ from Zurich.
It's a great big world/There's a million other guys
I feel so lucky when I look/In those green eyes

Grant’s voice still has that pure tone, clarion-clear (as in this version of Don’t Want to Know if You Are Lonely; a burst of breathless energy); he still has that facility to fashion a memorable tune, his lyrics still blend the everyday with the erudite and I’m left pondering that eternal question. Bjorn and Benny put it better:
I've often wondered, how did it all start?
Who found out that nothing can capture a heart
Like a melody can?

Have guitar, will travel ...
Mercurial, maverick, articulate, undaunted, Grant Hart may be coming to a town near you – catch him if you can. 

The Argument is available on Domino Records and from Amazon of course.

Setlist from the Miller, London 31 October 2013
You’re the Reflection of the Moon on the Water
Admiral of the Sea came in here somewhere
California Zephyr
Is the Sky the Limit?
(From The Argument)
Shine, Shine, Shine
(From The Argument)
Awake, Arise!
(From The Argument)
Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill
Remains to Be Seen
Never Talking to You Again
The Main
You Are the Victim
So Far from Heaven
(From The Argument)
Letter from Anne-Marie
Golden Chain
(From The Argument)
Pink Turns to Blue
Underneath the Apple Tree
(From The Argument)
Green Eyes
She Floated Away