Friday, September 28, 2007

ISSUES FOR IDIOTS -- Where do you find the carnival of free music? Your local library.

That's right. Libraries these days are also in the music CD business, and the DVD business too.

Hey, it's all there waiting for you... beckoning you... and you might as well get something out of your tax dollars, right? Typically, the larger the library system is, the more you'll have to choose from; so you might do a little homework, especially if you're not near a large city. I'm in the Seattle area, and use the King County Library System rather than a local city system. I do know that libraries can lend among one another, but I've never looked into that---that's where some cost might come into play...

...but what does all this typically it cost? Absolutely nothing, unless you draw up late fees; which is hard to do since you can usually renew items online and in most cases have them checked out for 3 months at a time (assuming nobody else is waiting for them). Of course, I've still managed to do it, but I'm a swiss cheese brain. After all, I leave rare Rush posters in airports for no reason other than to make my life more complicated when I go back in search of them...

The lending library system is how I dove into jazz four years ago. I didn't just go out and purchase jazz CDs at random (even if I did have that kind of cash, I'd never do that), I checked them out through the local library to see what I liked and what I didn't like. I started with Ken Burns' DVD documentary on jazz, and then discovered there were best-of compilations issued from the documentary of the 22 "Jazz Giants," as Burns put it. That was an excellent starting point, and then I branched out from there.

With no library system, I would not be the huge Ornette Coleman fan I am today. I wouldn't have discovered the stunning magic of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. I wouldn't have discovered Andrew Hill, my all-time favorite jazz pianist. I can't emphasize enough how many gems would have gone undiscovered without the library.

I will go as far as saying the American library system, in terms of music, changed my life... probably with books too, but definitely with music. My life is richer and more fulfilling because of the library system.

I've made the same kinds of discoveries with classical music, opera, country, bluegrass, odd forms of world music, and I've expanded my rock & roll palate. This is how I dove deeper into Neil Young. This is how I worked my way chronologically through the Dylan catalog (painfully at times, I might add) to see what all the fuss was about with him. While I'm not a huge Dylan fan, I am now familiar with all his work and can appreciate the contributions he made to music... all, again, at no cost.

So who do we have to thank for this lending library system we have? I believe that would be Benjamin Franklin, who either came up with the idea or at least recycled an idea and put it into play back in the good 'ol days.

My only complaint, in the case of my local library, would be that I'm limited to having 100 items checked out at a given time... and none of the items are in gift wrapping either, because it certainly feels like my birthday every time I walk in to explore and peruse all this free music... and there's no cheerleaders, nor fireworks, to dance around and go off---because for some reason I always feel like celebrating when I leave with a full bag of CDs---again, for free! Yippie!!!

How does that song go? "It's yer birthday---it's yer birthday---it's yer birthday..." S

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gearing up for the "other Neil"

Now that the Rush chapter has come to a close for the year (and what a ride it was!!!)... well, it never really comes to a close, but I have to move onto other things to keep my mind occupied...

(drum roll please... bshshshshshshshshshshsh...) It's time to gear up for the "other Neil!" Yaayyy!!!

The "other Neil" means Neil Young, who also happens to spawn from Canada like the "primary Neil," (being Neil Peart, drummer /lyricist of Rush). In recent years both have also shared the fact that they migrated to southern California at some point of their lives. What else do they have in common... they're both lyricists, and they both have piercing stares... and they shake around alot (Neil Young's nickname being "Shakey," of course---I'm assuming due to his angular guitar poses when he's soloing and awkward sudden jolts onstage---soon to take out someone's eye, if he hasn't already)... what else... I'm sure I could draw all kinds of bizarre parallels...

So October 23 is the big day, which will be here in less than 4 weeks. It's a big event because not only will I be seeing Neil Young for the first time in concert, but his new album Chrome Dreams II is released on that same day. From what I understand, some members of the Crazy Horse band are accompanying him on this tour, so I'm expecting some electric Neil---but it would be nice to get a little acoustic Neil as well.

I just love this guy's diversity, both between projects and during live sets. How does someone get down and dirty with Crazy Horse in 1977's American Stars & Bars, then record a beautiful and sentimental acoustic album like 1978's Comes a Time, and finally slap down a masterpiece mixing both light and heavy sounds with 1979's Rust Never Sleeps? Then brings it out on stage to pull off both ends of the spectrum flawlessly? Neil Young. There's nobody like him, and the breadth of his catalog is only second to Dylan's---but in my opinion he's way more accessible than Dylan---and all due respect to you Bob, but Neil could rock you out of the house. Plus I couldn't understand a damn thing you were "singin'/sayin'" at Portland State a couple years back, which doesn't help matters either.

Neil Young is one of the hardest working artists out there, and always has
been. His career has taken more interesting and unlikely twists and turns than the North Cascades Highway; which, if you dive deep into his catalog, is one of the very appealing things about him; you have absolutely NO idea where he's going to steer the ship next. He could give you something light and polished, or he could drive it "into the ditch," as he once stated, and give you something raw and gravelly.

Neil's one of those artists who, if you venture deep into his catalog past the Decade compilation (which is actually a decent introduction), rewards you with countless lost gems. That's how I discovered Tonight's the Night, which is one from the "ditch trilogy" that I keep coming back to (along with On the Beach and Time Fades Away, the latter of which was never released on CD). I can throw that on, then bump up to 1992's Harvest Moon (a MUST own if your even a marginal N.Y. fan), then get more contemporary with his recent rallying cry Living with War.

Neil's catalog is a potpourri of tasty treats, and you really can't go wrong
anywhere---especially in the 60s, 70s and 90s---but especially in the 70s. Of recent, I really like 2000's acoustic Silver and Gold, the creativity of Greendale from '02, the sentiments of his father and upbringing in Canada on Prairie Wind from '04, and the anger and honesty of Living with War from '05.

The only part I might warn you about is his 80s material, which has some weaker albums, but that was overshadowed by extenuating circumstances involving a war between him and
Geffen records. David Geffen was basically being mean to Neil (there's really no other way to frame it, the guy's an ass) and not supporting new directions he wanted to go in, so Neil responded with an album titled Trans, which featured "Transformer Man," a rather amusing listen (morphed robotic early 80s voice and all, insanely dated). Despite that unfortunate period, he closed out the 80s with a new record deal and the album Freedom, which boasted the hit "Rockin' in the Free World." He then inspired an entire rock sub-genre, the grunge scene, which in turn inspired him. Whatever he may have lacked in the 80s he certainly made up for in the 90s.

Anyway, I could go on forever about this guy. I look forward to the new CD and to seeing the man in concert. We'll talk about him more in the near future.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"The soundtrack to our lives" at RushCon7

That quote, out of a Neil Peart interview a few years back, was what I came away with when I look back at what we all shared this last weekend at RushCon7 in Toronto. I'm playing the "red album," HYF, as I write and edit this post.

It was my first time attending this
conference, which was by now in its seventh year. I arrived with the notion that it was one component of an overall pilgrimage to see Rush, my favorite rock band, perform in their hometown. After arriving late Thursday night, I powered up early the next day and drove to St. Catharines to see Lakeside Park, Neil Peart's hometown. That afternoon, with the advantage of hotel proximity in downtown Toronto (referred to as T.O. by the locals), I walked up Yonge Street to peruse record stores and swung around through Queen's Park... for the ultimate site, the front of the Provincial Parliament Building. I took a quick tour of the inside of the building---that is, after gawking in shocked awe at the arches in the front for about 20 minutes... You guys must understand that Moving Pictures was the VERY FIRST rock album I owned---I got it for my 13th birthday. The MP cover was all I had to look at for the better part of a year---I would stare at the thing for hours, thinking there were secret codes and messages in it... like "Why's the little girl screaming? What's supposed to be happening inside the building?" Then I finally received Signals... for my 14th birthday... still have those original vinyl copies, I'll never let them go!

Then when Grace Under Pressure was released in the spring of 1984, along with the ensuing tour (my first ever concert), I realized I needed more cash in pocket to buy more Rush and to diversify my music a bit... which meant I needed to be employed... sorry to digress!

With respect to RushCon; as someone we know has once said: "Anything can happen." Nothing would prepare me for the mind-blowing experience I was about to have...
It was without question the easiest room I've ever entered; it was
like meeting long lost brothers and sisters for the first time; a meeting of the minds of sorts... As if you were finally hanging with your own kind. Everyone just knew it and understood it. You weren't going to connect with everyone---as there was simply not enough time---but for those who you did connect with, it was very special. For me, having been a fan since 1981 and attending live shows since 1984--now up to a total of 19 (including #5 of the current tour)--I didn't think it could get any better. However visiting Toronto, and especially attending RushCon, brought the meaning of the band to a whole new level that is very hard to describe.

That Friday night, the group took chartered "school of rock" busses to the Opera House in town, where the night started out with some karaoke and air drumming contests. Then the Rush
cover band Limelight played for nearly 4 hours! The band, a 4-piece with a lead singer, was obviously very dialed into the set list of the current Rush tour---as most of the material they covered filled in the blanks of what we weren't hearing live from the "real Rush." Hey, we even heard "The Necromancer" and "Beneath, Between, Behind!" ...and for 4 hours---I think everyone can appreciate what kind of a workout that was for Limelight. The lead singer, sporting a N.Y. Rangers Mark Messier hockey jersey, kept himself in top form throughout. The guitarist had all the Lerxst guitar facial expressions down too, and the rhythm section kept everything both grounded and animated. Animate everyone, they definitely did. Very impressive!

Saturday was a big day. Things began midday with a series of fun and games, including "Let's
Make a Deal," "Wheel of Tidal Fortune," and various other trivia games. Then it occurred to me that I've obviously been out of the video game loop for quite some time, as participants were able to hold makeshift instruments and "compete" in a digital rock concert setting to songs of their choice. While numerous improvised versions of YYZ were "performed" with instrumental theatrics, including lowbrow computer animated characters spinning guitars, machine gun guitars, and muscle flexing with guitars---the group went really outside it's realm and performed "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns and Roses. It was actually a welcome break!

Then as the evening rolled around, we met in the bar downstairs, and after some time it was back onto the School of Rock bus---and... SHOWTIME!!! The boys rocked to a packed house at the Air Canada Centre, and you could tell they were really amped to perform for the home crowd! Everyone I ran into at the venue was really friendly; I exchanged emails with a fella visiting from Germany (also on a similar pilgrimage), and sat with locals during the show---to my left was a fella I had sold my ticket to earlier in the day, and to my right was a sweet teenage couple attending their first ever concert. As the more veteran fan, I tried to provide a little "song and album" context whenever they asked or were scratching their heads---but I tried not to do the infamously annoying "play by play," as that's never a good thing. It's never good to become Harry Carey and turn an otherwise life-changing event into a Cubbies game.

Post gig festivities went into full gear as the group did some
bar hopping, including a little skip down to the Orbit Room, and some late night eats at a local 24 hour joint. There was a congregation of folks there who attended the concert, including several who weren't part of RushCon---just fans making their own pilgrimages to Toronto, or folks who just lived in town.

As a side note, may I mention that ever since I had arrived at the Days Inn late Thursday
night, I'd been wondering IF there was a room numbered "2112," and WHO it was that might be staying in that room. My curiosity was further peaked as I was assigned room #2011, frustratingly 101 digits from the promised land. I thought of yelling "Hello up there!" but figured it was 2AM and I'd wake up the neighbors. As it turned out, I met the inhabitants of the sacred room as I hung out with a power trio of late night partiers Saturday night. They'd artfully recreated the inside sleeve to 1982's Signals on the front door of the room. A priceless photo indeed, and my original question from the night of my arrival was indeed answered! I thought I heard a waterfall in there, but it just turned out to be the bathroom sink (there was no blueprint of a bathroom sink either, nor a Lerxst to be found working on said sink).

The final highlight of the trip involved a walking tour of Anthem Records. Once again, the proximity of the Days Inn paid off as the group of us was able to do a straight walk down Clifton street (about 4 blocks) to our destination---what appeared to be a most unassuming residence---otherwise you would simply walk by it and never know Rush's record company was inside. The staff there was very kind as they let staggered groups of us walk through and gawk at the countless sea of gold records, platinum records, and numerous other awards that hung on the walls. The most impressive artifact, however, was the large size painting of the Power Windows album cover. With respect to the Anthem tour, one person commented that it felt like a dreamscape, while I mentioned it reminded me of a Rush screen saver I've used before---you know, that one with the maze of album covers aligning the walls. Maybe that makes me sound outdated, as I haven't used it in awhile.

Sunday continued with a well organized charity auction, where participants held their red stars high in hand to bid on various items and Rush memorabilia. There was some very interesting and creative things to bid on, and it appeared that lots of money was raised for local charities. A send-off event at the Orbit Room Sunday night ended the weekend.

RushCon was all about bonding and forming new friendships, and no topic was off limits. Folks at the conference came from all walks of life; students, professors, realtors, accountants, grant writers, engineers, planners, casino money counters, photographers, artists, clowns (seriously), writers, aaaaaaaaand (of course) SALESMEN!!! Discussions in many ways were not focused on Rush; they tended to cover other bands of interest, careers, hobbies, politics, religion, and other personal passions... pretty much the whole gamut. Rush discussions tended to focus on which tours were attended and where, then the conversation might venture into the details of one's formative years. By filling in those blanks, you could essentially superimpose the soundtrack to the upbringing of the person you were talking to. The band, their catalog, Neil's lyrics and what they represent provide a potpourri of springboards to work from in terms of getting to know someone who has the same appreciation, and as someone put in the RushCon program, "Get's it" (or as Starwoman from the 2112 room suggested, "Geds It." Get it???) Everyone was able to share stories from their successes to personal tragedies, and dig a little deeper in the short time we had together.

The band plays the central role in making folks gel together like they did at RushCon. The most satisfying part of this is that the band seems to understand this and appreciate the role they play in the lives of their fans---as I've picked up on this from some of the interviews I've read or listened to over the years---which are too numerous to mention. As Neil was once stated as having his own epiphany about the feedback he's received from fans; that the band has provided the "soundtrack to their lives." From what I understand the band is deeply moved by that notion.

Thank you, my Rushie brothers and sisters, for a stellar, incredible experience! ...and a
special thank you for the hard work of the RushCon staff for all the dedication and running around they did to make everything happen. I'll venture to speak for all the guests at the convention, in that we can appreciate how hard all that work was. Simply put, you put on a very entertaining, flawless convention. It was an honor to be a part of it.

So, until we meet again, "The song remains the same..." Whoops, wrong band... let's try this again... "God save the Queen!" No, that's the Sex Pistols convention...

Well, then how 'bout this: "Though we know that time has wings, we're the ones that have to fly!!!" Thaaaaat's more like it. Happy (vapor) trails everyone, see all of you down the road!!!

Monday, September 24, 2007

"The Music Project" is launched!

Hey there, music peeps!

I figured I needed to start a blog that's dedicated specifically to music, since I have something on every day, and that usually turns into more than just one something. I also have found that over the years my palate has diversified, so there seems to be lots of music to write about.

Plus, this might be a good way for me to save some cash and write about music rather than going out to buy it---one of my very favorite pastimes---perusing the record stores. It's a habit that refuses to be kicked, I usually need more and more, and I have many enablers in my life who also have the habit. I can say however, with great authority and conviction, that despite all the cash I've blown on music over the years---it will never add up to the pleasure and satisfaction it has given me.

I try to keep things entertaining and light, with plenty of anecdotes and stories, in addition to a few animated opinions (but only a few)... So I hope you enjoy it and keep coming back!

So feel free to comment and let me know what's on your mind with some of the posts. Rock on, groove on, jazz on, symphony on, or whatever sort of music blows your hair back!