Haunting, Life Affirming and Way Past My Bedtime

What January slump?  For the past two weekends The G-man and I have been stepping out on Saturday night to hear some great music.  Last week it was Glen Campbell at Town Hall with his band Instant People.  Mr. Campbell has been open about his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, and has been on a worldwide “Farewell Tour, ” so I was preparing myself for this show to potentially be a little creepy.  Well, it gives me great pleasure to say I was very wrong.  The 75 year-old GC was in his element.  His voice was strong, his fretwork undiminished and he was highly engaged with both his band and audience.

The show was amazing on a couple of levels:

The band, Instant People, consisted of 3 of his kids, Shannon, Cal and Ashley (who plays a wicked banjo!).  All three appear to be talented and energetic musicians in their own right, but I got the impression Ashley was the anchor for her Dad — she’d be the one to make eye contact with him or call out a key change.  Also on stage was a gentleman who has served as GC’s  music director for the last 35 years and two other young professional guitarists.   In many ways these young band mates brought a sense of joy and timelessness, and counterbalanced what could have been a creepy and depressing “oldies” show. Here’s a link to their music in case you have an interest:  Instant People

GC did need a TelePrompTer for lyrics to new songs from Ghost on The Canvas, but the oldies are clearly burned into his brain.  And as far as playing a guitar, it was incredible to watch him.  Other than sometimes forgetting what key he was in, the finger work was spot on.  The kids made sure he didn’t stray too much from the program but he made mention of NYC a number of times and did interact with the crowd.  At one point he did complain it was hot on stage and some slightly manic woman in the audience shouted to “take off your shirt.”  He undid a couple of buttons, and gave a little show, but he kept it clean and kept control of the audience like a true professional.

Now comes the part that can make or break your live music experience: the audience.   It’s an organic life-form all its own with incredible performance-enhancing powers.  In this case I am speculating that at least 25% of the audience were psychologists.   Mostly white, average age 50+ with a couple of hipsters scattered about.  The grey-haired dude next to me was flying solo, and I think he had some form of OCD because he was carrying a little zippered cloth pouch from a Psychology Conference in Orlando, FL in 2005.  I thought he might have had a little seat cover in it because he did not sit down in his seat until the last possible moment and he stood up at intermission to stand at his seat and read a magazine that was stashed in the little zippered pouch.  And he wasn’t the only one who brought reading materials for intermission — there were at least 5 folks in my sight-line who were either working the Sunday Times crossword puzzle or reading a magazine.  But overall a very polite crowd — not too much standing or dancing in the aisles.  If anything, they were the type of audience who couldn’t wait to sit down, and they did not spend the concert texting or taking video on their smart phones.

Which was a marked departure from the audience at the Light Of Day concert we attended last night at the old Paramount Theater on the Boardwalk in Asbury Park.

Some back story:  the Light Of Day Foundation is the brainchild of Bob Benjamin who started it twelve years ago as a vehicle to both educate and fight Parkinson’s disease.  (Mr. Benjamin himself suffers from Parkinson’s.)  In the past 12 years it has grown into a worldwide effort, but locally it has been a real booster for the city of Asbury Park, which has been undergoing a renaissance in fits and starts over the last decade.  This year there were events and entertainment beginning Wednesday, January 11 running through today, January 15, but the major headliner is the show at the Paramount.  It is usually a sold out event — due in great part to the Bruce Springsteen zealots who are counting on the Boss making an appearance in his old stomping grounds.    Since the G-man is a himself a zealot, and I am his enabler, we try to go every year.

The show is organized “festival style.”   Showtime is early (6:30 PM)  and each performer/band plays a set with a mix of both high-energy bands and acoustic soloists interspersed throughout the night.  As you might imagine, the openers are lesser-known (but no less talented)  than the acts that perform in prime-time so there are a lot of empty seats; up&down and neighborly chatting during these performances.  So before I sound like an old lady yelling at the kids to get off my lawn, I’ll preface this by saying that my expectation of this audience is different from one attending the opera or an orchestral performance.  However, by 9 or 10 PM when the place is really packed and folks like David Bromberg take the stage, I would expect the folks in their seats are hoping to focus on the performers.  So I was really surprised when the woman next me (my age) apologized to me for “screaming really loud” during John Eddie’s set, yet she saw no problem flashing me with her smart phone lights as she texted and checked Facebook every 15 minutes.  Screaming song lyrics and hooting with wild abandon? That’s what we’re here for, my friend, but the migraine inducing lights of your iPhone DO diminish my experience.   I’m used to the undercurrent of constant talking.   I just close my eyes and focus on the music, but if you really just want to drink beer, play Words with Friends and talk to your buddies, why are you here?  That is just plain rude, and even the Boss would say so.

So with my rant out of the way, I will say that the talent was exceptional for this show.  The old-timey Napsters who remember Southside Johnny with his Asbury Jukes would be knocked over with a feather to hear him with his new band, The Poor Fools.  It was a cleaned-up, stripped down Southside and his voice was the strongest and cleanest I’ve ever heard.  Maybe all those horns were covering it up or pushing him to work against a naturally sexy and devilish rasp of voice?  And those Poor Fools?  They were anything but ~ they stole the show!

The last time I saw David Bromberg was in August of 1979 (at Wollman Rink in Central Park) and we’re both a little grayer and pudgier, but this old man schooled us in how it’s done.  Too bad a goodly portion of the crowd seemed to have no clue that he’s a legend, and how smart and witty a song writer he is.

Bruce did show up, and it’s like having Bill Clinton make a cameo at your BBQ:  he really can’t help taking up all the oxygen in the room.  But he was his usual high-energy self and what band wouldn’t let him sit in on their set? In this case it was Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers.  (Local NJ.com coverage here gives all the zealot details ~  Bruce )  So he closed the place down with an acoustic sing-a-long of Thunder Road, and we headed out to the Blue Swan diner for a late-night snack around 2:30 AM.  A time even Mr. Springsteen agrees with me is now past our bedtimes, yet still reminds us “to show a little faith” in that magic in the night.

But now I’m off to bed.


Love Letter to Hugh Laurie, Nick Lowe and Glen Campbell

September was a spankin’ good month for new music releases among the geriatric set, and you know I have a thing for grouping related themes into collectives of three.  So today I take a few moments to acknowledge three artists who have been practicing their craft each for a long time, and keep expanding their body of work.

Now I know at least one reader is scoffing that Hugh Laurie is an Emmy nominated actor, best know on US shores as the insufferable Dr. Gregory House. For more background I’ll point you to the New York Times Magazine feature of September 4, 2011 by Gavin Edwards  (this issue also showcases the Noodlers of the recent Okie Noodling Tournament:  if you watch Hillbilly Handfishin’ on  Animal Planet you know what I’m talkin’ about).  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/magazine/hugh-laurie-sings-the-blues.html.   The album, Let Them Talk,  is more than decent.  Mr. Laurie has been practicing his piano a long time now, and has a genuine respect and affection for the blues, which is only right since he is a British bloke.  And I give him props for stretching his artistic limbs a bit and making this fine record.

I’m also a child of the 80’s…. a time before Madonna when there was still so much aural diversity.   Remember listening to FM radio before The Man took over and we started getting programed “adult contemporary” or “lite” or whatever other little box o’demographic  programming that was more for advertisers than the listeners?   Well, let’s go back to the time of big hair, DJ Dave Herman and New Wave.   And remember my man Nick Lowe, songwriter of a few of my favorite tunes, Cruel to Be Kind, and (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?  Mr. Lowe is now 62 and I think this small excerpt from a June, 2007 interview is a great inspiration for our Grandma Jezabels or anybody else who thinks “clinging to youth”  is a better option than facing the future with some optimism and age-appropriate attire:    

A New York Daily News article quoted Lowe as saying his greatest fear in recent years was “sticking with what you did when you were famous”. “I didn’t want to become one of those thinning-haired, jowly old geezers who still does the same shtick they did when they were young, slim and beautiful,” he said. “That’s revolting and rather tragic.”

His latest release, The Old Magic, follows up At My Age. Dare I say he looks quite natty in the album notes?  Nick most recently opened for Wilco on their North American tour, and although I’ve never seen the gent “live” I like these songs that talk a bit more about second chances and being a grown-up.  Don’t get me wrong, I still crank up the volume on my Pandora when the 80’s tunes come ’round — ff only to embarrass the children with these over-produced songs of our pre-historic youth.

I have never been a country music fan, but I fell in love with a guitar guy and it opened my eyes to the richness of the instrument and how it enriches the sound of the voice.  So I’ve been open to listening to stuff I wouldn’t necessarily select.  In time, and in spite of myself,  I’ve gained an appreciation for country music.  Glen Campbell has been around a very long time, and he’s been a victim of his own success/excess over the years.  His songs were a big influence on my Guitar Man in his formative years, so he had to have Glen’s latest, and presumably last release, Ghost on the Canvas.   Mr. Campbell is currently on his “farewell tour” ~ he went public with his diagnoses of  Alzheimer’s disease last June.   Now you could argue that taking a 72 year-old man with a progressive disease around the world so he can “say good-bye” is cruel and self-serving to the folks who earn a living around that.  But maybe it is the artist’s choice to keep performing his craft?  (Is it naive of me to want to believe that?  We all want to remain active and productive for as long as we can, yes? ) The songs on this album were written by Campbell and others, and their performance is both haunting and touching.   There are a few instrumental interludes that make me think of the music you hear in Disney World when you’re waiting in the dark for a Tomorrow Land ride:  kinda spacey and New Age, but it fits.  So I wish Mr. Campbell a graceful and dignified farewell, and thank him for keeping the musical faith.  Really, all these gentlemen inspire me to keep creating, and I wish the same energy for us all.