Teachers Who Rock the Stage

At our school talent show this week, a group of us teachers learned the Philip Phillips’ song, Home, and performed it live (with bubbles!) on the stage after all of the students had performed their own magic. The kids love seeing us teachers in the lights, and in a different light, too.

Peace (in the live music),
PS — That’s me on the left side of the screen, playing guitar.

That’s a BIG guitar

Kevin at Guitar Exhibit
I took my son and a friend to an exhibit at a local museum. The theme of the exhibit was the guitar, in all of its glory. It was pretty cool — they had a bunch of famous electric guitars on display, a history of the guitar and a bunch of hands-on activities for kids. The best was “the biggest playable guitar” in the world (according to the brochure) — a 43-foot-long Gibson that you could pluck and make notes on. I won’t say it sounded all that great but that was beside the point. The guitar was HUGE!

I shared the photo with my band, and then it was put on our Facebook page with a snarky comment about saxophone players needing to learn to play guitar on big instruments.


Peace (along the strings)

The Animated (GIF) History of Music

1999. ¬†Napster is launched. ¬†Vast amounts of music had never been closer to peoples’ fingertips. ¬†Also it had never been free-er. ¬†This made many bands very angry, especially Metallica, who filed a lawsuit against Napster.
The lawsuit ultimately succeeded, and Napster declared bankruptcy.  But it was too late.  The music industry would never be the same.

I am loving this site. Music History in GIFs, in which a musician tracks the development of pop music through animated GIFs that resemble old 8-bit gaming systems, is fun and informative, and just cool to check out when his updates come through my RSS feed. Yesterday, he posted an image about Napster and music file sharing, and how it upended and continues to upend the music business.

But this other one from last week, about Prince, was pretty nifty, too, and a nice use of animated art.

1993. ¬†Prince changes his name to an¬†unpronounceable¬†symbol later dubbed¬†Love Symbol #2. ¬†At first everybody laughs, but then they remember he’s Prince and he can pretty much do whatever he wants anyways.
Also, Prince’s label had to mail out a bunch of¬†floppy disks with the custom image on it. ¬†That fact makes me laugh.
And a little DEVO anyone?
1978.  Devo releases their debut album, Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!.  Their stage antics are full of wacky dancing, sci-fi outfits, and just all around amazingness.
Also their songs are so, so good.
 Check out Music History in GIFs and get rocked.
Peace (in the music),

Ben Folds Five and … The Fraggles?

My kids never really got into The Fraggles, for some reason, but anything Henson is OK by me. Here, Ben Folds Five includes the Fraggle cast in a music video. The bigger idea is how the resurgent Henson Company is tapping the Muppets and their kin back into the pop culture discussion, after years on the outskirts (Thanks a lot, Disney). Plus, it’s Ben Folds. ‘Nuff said.

Peace (in the tune),


DVD Review: Rush – Beyond the Lighted Stage

“We were always overreaching.” — Geddy Lee

I can’t say that I grew up a huge Rush fan, but I had plenty of friends who were, and who would listen to 2112 religiously, and even had a bass playing friend who took on the task of learning as many Rush songs as possible. (It turned out … not too many … have you ever listened to Geddy Lee?) I am, however, a fan of rock and roll documentaries, so I took a chance on Beyond the Lighted Stage, which showcases the band through the years and how their individualism and musicianship stood them well in the face of a music industry that, as one band member say, “didn’t know what to do with us.”

There’s something to be said for bands that refuse to kowtow to a record label. I don’t know if there are enough of them anymore, although maybe the shakeup of the industry is finally leveling the field a bit. Maybe there are more bands that can tell a record company where to go when they say “we need a hit” and still survive by carving out an audience. I sure hope so.

After watching Beyond the Lighted Stage, you have come away with admiration for the three members of Rush (OK, so if you listen to them and think, that’s only three guys? That still remains an eye-opener for me. Or ear-opener.) Their musicianship remains impeccable, their ability to weave narrative and story into songs is a worthy goal (even if they do, in fact, overreach), and their friendship through the years is something that I find admirable. One storyline of drummer Neil Peart (who is sort of a god-like drummer to most of my drummer friends and also the main lyricist for the band) is particularly wrenching, as Peart loses his daughter and his wife within a short period of time, and in a bit of escapism from the world, hops on a motorcycle for a year of traveling and reflecting. The band came to a halt, as his bandmates worried about him. The movie shows Peart’s re-entry into the life, and into music, with the help of Rush.

Watching the documentary reminded me of a webcomic I created around a bass player in a band. The main character — Bassman — considers Geddy Lee to be a god, and starts a viral compaign to get Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I think that Geddy Lee reference comes from memories of my friends, and the fanatical view of Lee as a bassman extraordinaire.


Peace (in the bass and beyond),


So Long, Andrew Love (of the Memphis Horns)

It’s becoming a sad year for legendary saxophone players.

First, Clarence Clemons passed away last June. Now, it is Andrew Love.

If Clemons is more well-known to you as a name (for his work with Bruce and his larger-than-life stage presence), I’ll wager a bet that Love’s saxophone sound and arrangements are a sound you know all too well, even if you never realized it. As one half of The Memphis Horns section, Love and partner Wayne Jackson (on trumpet) created the wall of horns on most of the R&B tracks from Stax Studios and more that became the soundtrack to much of the 1960s and 1970s. Love passed away a few days ago, after battling Alzheimer’s.

The Memphis Horns even won themselves a Lifetime Grammy Award a few years ago.


So Long, Andrew Love. Your sounds will remain.

Peace (on the saxophone),


DVD Review: From the Sky Down (U2)

I still remember the first moment I put U2’s Achtung Baby CD on. I was in the midst of a deteriorating relationship and I needed escape. I popped the disc in, sat on the ground, put on some headphones, and leaned against the wall. The music was like the soundtrack I had been hearing in my head but could not express. It affected me deeply, through the lyrics, the sonic walls of sound and the passion that seemed to be underlying another story of a relationship about to break apart. Mine did, eventually, and Achtung Baby helped me cope. That’s what music can do, I think.

I was remembering that first time as I watched David Guggenheim’s documentary of the making of the album. From the Sky Down captures the moment when U2 was on the verge of either collapse (from the weight of The Joshua Tree‘s success and the disillusionment of Rattle & Hum) or something great. It seemed for much of the recording sessions that the band would not pull itself up.

What changed the entire recording was the emergence of the song, One. It’s interesting because the chords for that song — which anchored Achtung Baby and pushed the band in a new direction — was actually the bridge for an original version of Mysterious Ways (then called Sick Puppy). There’s this interesting moment in the film where Bono and Edge are listening to an early tape of Mysterious Ways and then, that bridge comes into play. They both go silent and you can see it in their eyes — that was the first moments of One being caught.

In the studio, the band “heard something” and quickly pulled those chord changes from Mysterious Ways and began to build an entirely new song out of it. Bono has no words, only melody, so he scats phrases and words over the chords. The producer — Brian Eno — encourages the band to move beyond expectations, adding in the changes at the end of the song that are key to it all — shifting the melody every so slightly. The words come. The song falls in place in a relatively short amount of time, and suddenly, the band — after being on the brink of falling apart — is together again. The music is magic. It’s pretty fascinating to watch.

And best of all, the rest of the album begins to finally emerge and the band remains together.

As a fan, I devoured the documentary. (I admit to loving the behind-the-scenes work of musicians, particularly as songs come together). As a writer, the film reminded me of the difficult journey many artists have when confronted with a blank canvas, and high expectations, and the need to create something meaningful. What U2 didn’t want to do was repeat The Joshua Tree. How they created Achtung Baby was through the development of ideas, from the ground up (or as the title suggests, from the sky down). It’s a great message for anyone trying to create something out of nothing but ideas.

Peace (in the songs),


Slice of Life: Ridin’ with the ‘Wrecking Ball’

My youngest son spent the weekend with my father, who lives about 90 minutes away. He regularly takes one of the three boys for an overnight visit, coming to get them from our house and then I go pick them up. Before I jumped in the car, I downloaded the new Bruce Springsteen album to my iPod. I figured this was the perfect time to give it a listen, in its entirety.

I hit the highway and hit the volume, and soon, I was cruising south down Interstate 91.

I’m a fan of Springsteen, although not one of those rabid ones who thinks he some sort of rock god. I often have mixed emotions on his albums. Most have one or two great tracks stuffed in with some fluff tracks. The one album of later Bruce that I hold in high regard is The Rising, which he wrote in the aftermath of 9/11 and still chokes me up sometimes when I hear some of the tracks. His ability there to bring the listener into the lives of characters experiencing profound loss and sadness … and hope, even, is something often missing in modern songwriters.

Sprinsteen’s latest album, Wrecking Ball, is another mixed affair. With Bruce returning to his tried and true themes of economic disparity and political corruption and the state of the American Dream (and using more studio work to layer his sound, echoing the Born to Run days), the album skewers the fat cats on Wall Street and mourns the loss of opportunity for the blue collar folks in our country. There’s a real Celtic edge to this album, too, which no doubt reflects some of the work he has done in recent years around the songs of Pete Seeger and that live disc recorded over in Ireland.

And Woody Guthrie’s words and voice seeps through the album, too. As does the saxophone of the late Clarence Clemons, whose sax part was engineered into the song,¬† Land of Hope and Dreams, after he had passed away from complications from his stroke. (Bruce gives an emotional interview about Clemons in the most recent Rolling Stone magazine, too. It’s touching the relationship and friendship that Bruce and Clarence had developed over the decades together.)

I didn’t skip any of the songs on the first listen, but on round two, I found myself centering on just four or five songs. While the song We Take Care of our Own is getting the spotlight because its a message that the song hammers into your head, I think the title track — Wrecking Ball — is the much better song. There’s a moment in the song where the band pulls back, and Bruce’s words come to the forefront. It’s a reminder of the power of a few lines, and the poetry of songwriting.

Now when all this steel and these stories, they drift away to rust
And all our youth and beauty, it’s been given to the dust
And your game has been decided, and you’re burning the down the clock
And all our little victories and glories, have turned into parking lots
When your best hopes and desires, are scattered to the wind
And hard times come, hard times go ….
Yeah, just to come again

By the time I got to my father’s house, I was immersed in Springsteen’s music and words. Sometimes being alone with music is the best way to spend your time alone.

Peace (with Bruce),