Thursday, June 26, 2008


I love Can. Just love 'em.

There, I said it. I have been meaning to say it for about thirty years now, but only recently have I figured out why I love Can so much.

Can, if you are not familiar with them, is a band from Germany who had a storied and influential career from the 1970's through the 1990's, maintained their own firm hold on the music they released and always made it push on the walls of the traditional four-piece rock band (guitar, organ, bass, drums). They did instrumental records, often soundtracks, that are fascinating and broad. Delay was their friend; you can hear a lot of the repeat echo guitar sounds of Michael Karoli in later disciples like The Edge from U2.

Occasionally, they made records with two singers, Malcolm Mooney (USA) and Damo Suzuki (Japan) which only added another shade to the regulated and understated chaos already in place. My familiarity with the band's vast repertoire is confined to their first few albums, which registered during my peak musical awareness years of 1970-1974. United Artists Records released them, along with fellow Germans Amon Duul II and other great stuff like Wales' Man and of course The Move's Split Ends.

Hard to say if many of my friends dug on those records as much, but I would slap on my Koss Pro 4A headphones late on a Friday night and dive deep into Tago Mago, their second album and the first to include Damo Suzuki. From the second the needle reached "Mushroom" I was in Can's care for four sides.

What moved me most then is what moves me most now: the drumming of Jaki Liebezeit, which is the embodiment of the funky robot. It's jovial, empty and sound. Regimental, orchestral in its form, it's still rock and roll drums, and Jaki somehow turns the regiment on its side and provides an element of soul that is implicit. Big holes alllll over the place, always turning up in the same place with something minimally different from the last time. (Like listening to Al Jackson Jr. to see when or if he'd take a fill and how many notes.) Jaki has the kind of feel that differentiates clocks you wind from clocks you program.

He makes me want to pound on the steering wheel when I'm driving and listening to them, so I do.

It doesn't hurt that the riffs of Michael Karoli's violin and guitar, and the playfulness of Holger Czukay's bass are right in there with him. And Damo is... certainly right there with them too, if on some other plane entirely in his singing. For many years, I've believed that he's been yelling "Searching for my tractor/yes I am" throughout the epic "Halleluwah" from Tago Mago. Through the internet, I find the word is actually "brother" which disappoints me a little, having pictured Damo wandering the back forty in his cap and overalls for three decades by now.

But Jaki is the power administrator in this community; you may remember "No One Receiving" by Brian Eno, the lead off track on Before and After Science. That's Jaki at the drums, doing his Jaki thing for Eno, and it's probably one of the hardest rocking tracks of the noted producer has ever made.

Jaki is now doing music with an artist named Burnt Friedman, and it appears he's deep into dub today. Life after Can. He turns seventy next year, and he's still creating music that requires some listening and thinking.

Pretty cool, very funky, Jaki.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Measure for Measure is up

Please go visit:

I'm so excited I can barely contain my joy at seeing this happen. My editor George Kalogerakis is a longtime friend who deserves much credit for making me sound more like myself. Thanks George.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Monday, June 9, 2008


Yesterday was a long day behind the wheel.

I drove my teenage daughter to her YMCA camp just across the North Carolina border with Georgia. She’s gone there for four years, and this year, she’s an Advanced Leadership Candidate, part of the strata of counselors they train and employ there. Suffice to say, she was very excited about it although she went through the natural strata of self-doubt, anxiety and mania on the trip in. “What is going to be expected of me there?” she asked several times. I suggested that the higher-ups would be able to give her the directions they expected her to take; people would indeed like her a lot, even people she’d never have met before yesterday.

When I left her at her sleeping quarters, I was already chopped liver and slunk down the camp road, happy to see her in her element.

I found out, right before we got to camp, that I had to drive my daughter’s best friend’s camp trunk to our friends in Alpharetta since I could not leave it there with the camper. That’s another two hour drive in either direction that I hadn’t counted on, so I had my wife do the incredibly 21st Century task of MapQuesting the directions and sending them straight to my cell phone.

MapQuest and its assorted competitors are a gamble for folks like me who have trouble with a regular oversize atlas in the driver’s seat. As close as you can get the directions, there are still some grey areas, like state road numbering, that leave a lot to be desired, I was to find out at the end of my day.

My directions to Alpharetta fizzed and sputtered at one point when the alleged ‘follow Georgia 20’ entries no longer had any correspondence to the actual road I was on. My air conditioning was the only cool thing in the car after a while, so I called the folks who were taking the trunk to camp; they said to come on to Roswell where they were. The husband in the couple talked me in, a jibbering, fuming wreck of a mind dealing with having made the four-hour extension into more like six.

After I dropped the bounty off, they gave me directions and encouragement toward I-85 North, the glory road to get me to my recording session in Moravian Falls, NC. I was hoping that I’d be there Sunday night, to hang out and talk about the songs we were intending to record, but that vanished with the news about Alpharetta. At the late point I started heading up there, I was clinging to a thread that I’d be there a little after midnight.

Outside of Greenville, I stopped at a McDonalds for a to-go dinner. It looked sketchy there, for some reason I can’t be cerain of. Maybe it was the guy chain-smoking by the truck stop door who looked to be eyeing my car. I would hate to lose the (borrowed) bass or my computer, so I nervously swung my head around the corner a couple times between when my order was placed and when it arrived.

Got to the car, decided to put a quart of oil in it to keep the warning light from flashing like a slow strobe at me (it didn’t), then on my way.

I pulled up to the exit of the parking lot, and I drove out onto the frontage road. Suddenly I heard a screech, and I sped up to the stop sign to try to get out of the car’s way.

I had just phoned my wife when I heard a loud smack on my passenger side. The drive I’d apparently cut off had jumped out of his car, and he grabbed the car door and flung it open.

“DIDN’T YOU SEE THE MOTHERFUCKIN’ RED LIGHT YOU RAN BACK THERE, MOTHERFUCKER??” he bellowed at me. He was a large black man whose bulk, wrapped in a Raiders’ football jersey, took up the entire door opening.

I calmly tried to tell him, no, I hadn’t seen it, and that I was incredibly sorry. I started to say something about it being a long day when he cut me off.


And he did.

He reached over the passenger seat and connected with my right cheek. I was too stunned, and my wife heard the whole incident over the cell phone.

As soon as he slammed my door and went back to his own car, I hauled ass back onto 85, resuming my conversation with my wife. “I heard the noise and I thought you’d been shot,” she told me. I assured her that, other than my smarting face, I was fine and that I was probably in the wrong and... I stopped short of saying that I deserved it.

Four hours later and a few more cups of coffee and Diet Pepsi, I woozily weaved around the back roads of Alexander County in rural North Carolina, trying in vain to find the dirt road that lead to the studio house. My phone was sapped from MapQuesting any landmark I could find, mostly Baptist churches whose names are shared throughout the entire NC Baptist community. It was nearing 3:30 in the morning and I got a surprise phone call from my compatriots at the house, concerned that I might be lost. How clever of them to figure that out, and how fortunate they were up so late.

FInally got there a little later, right around four. I’d already told them about the road rage incident, so that was old news by then.

The artist with whom we are recording promised me he would not punch me in the head if I played notes he didn’t like, so I fell to sleep in the back of the van and slept a dreamless sleep.

Friday, June 6, 2008


I have discovered on this sojourn with my teenage daughter that my destiny in life is to be the father-in-law of Nick Jonas from the Jonas Brothers. I could do a lot worse.

If you are unfamiliar with the Jonas Brothers, then evidently you don't have a teenager in your life. They are three brothers (duh), Nick, Kevin and Joe, who are pop stars. They toured with Hannah Montana; if you don't know who she is, then you don't have a television in your life. This summer, they're out with Avril Lavigne, an old family favorite of ours.

Nick is the sensitive, curly-mopped one who shares lead vocals with Joe, the funny, straight-haired one. Kevin, apparently, gets the shortest shrift as lead guitarist, sort of the Mike Nesmith of the band. (There is also another younger sibling, named Frankie, the 'bonus Jonas' who presently is seen scootering through his brothers' pictures but might end up like Little Jimmy Osmond or Andy Gibb...well, hopefully not quite like Andy Gibb, who died at thirty from myocarditis after battling drugs.) Their dad is a minister and a musician, and their mom is a chorister, so the lineage is pretty solid. The performing brothers all sport purity/chastity rings, which gives me considerable hope that Nick won't be damaged goods by the time he joins our family.

My daughter and I took a brief visit to her grandmother's place in Winston-Salem, and during the ride, I got schooled on the nuances of said brothers' catalog of songs, along with Miley/Hannah's tunes. I have always tried to listen with an open mind to what my daughter likes. We spent a lot of time Saturday mornings in New Orleans delivering flowers and listening to Britney, Avril and Lindsay Lohan. It wasn't always what I'd have wanted to listen to, I admit, but it did keep me in my kid's musical loop, so to speak. None of it was completely horrible.

I honestly enjoyed the songs I heard by the JoBros (to use the fan vernacular); they are all fairly rockin', with a reasonable amount of pop production tricks. "That's Just the Way We Roll" is giddy fun; "Hello, Beautiful", which Nick sings a lot of, is whispery sensitive, the kind of lyric line that my teenager likes. And sibling harmony, as evidenced by the Louvins, Everlys, Cowsills and the King and Williams families, cannot be beat--like slicing a single voice into several different notes.

I did fail my pop quizzes on which of the bros sang lead on whatever song was playing at the moment, although I bet I'd do much better now, with repeated listenings.

I've applied to be their MySpace 'friend' and although I haven't been approved, my daughter, ever the optimist, says it's only a matter of time. We can only hope.

They'll be touring all summer long (possibly for the rest of their lives, if they play their cards right) so maybe we'll cross paths at a Flying J truckstop late one night while the buses refuel. Perhaps we'll chat about high fuel prices, Les Pauls and the upcoming election. Maybe, in a life-imitates-Hannah Montana turn of events, they'll decide I'm the perfect guy, as they did with Billy Ray Cyrus, to co-write with them on their next album. (I doubt seriously I'd end up in their road band, as it's full of good looking younger guys already. It'd look like the bands I used to see at the Lusher School Crawfish boils in New Orleans, whom I always snarkily referred to as Some Guys with Their Dad.) I'll get our driver to snap a picture with me and Nick to send to my envious daughter, who I'll soothe with the promise of t-shirts and copious swag.

So, when all is said and done, Nick Jonas would be a welcome addition to the family; frankly, I'd be a lot more worried if my daughter was in rapture over any number of other more sordid lesser lights in today's pop world. (I won't name names but I'm sure you know who they are, unless you don't have a teenager or a television at your disposal.)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Stop the presses!

Sometime shortly after this weekend, I will begin blogging for the New York Times' online songwriting blog, Measure for Measure. You will be able to take a trip inside my mind, if that's not too scary a proposition, as I try to write a new song.

The Times started this series a few months ago, and it's become very popular. I began reading it about a month ago, drawn in by some excellent posts by Rosanne Cash (big surprise that she's such a superb prose writer, too, huh? She gave one of the finest keynote addresses ever at South By Southwest in 1991, after being introduced by the late Texas Governor Ann Richards--what an incredible way to start that weekend.)

The Times has been a part of my life since I was a kid, reading the Sunday Arts & Leisure section, sprawled on the floor of the den, perusing Bottom Line calendars and the full-page ad for the Woodstock Music and Art Festival and wishing I lived in Manhattan. In journalism school at the University of North Carolina, I learned that there were newspapers and there was the Times, an entirely different beast altogether; the Times was all about thoroughness, detail, color, composition and style.

And even though I don't get to sit at a desk there, pencil tucked over my ear, proofreading or deleting like a modern-day Hildy Johnson, I'm thrilled to be a tiny part of the greatest newspaper ever, at least the online version.

Please check in from time to time there, leave comments if you like or hate what you read. I'll still be here, too.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Making Notes book release party June 5, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh

In celebration of the release of the new anthology Making Notes, Ann Wicker, the editor of the book, and several of the contributors will be at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh June 5 at 7 pm to sign copies. It's a wonderful collection of stories and anecdotes about the vast repository of music in North and South Carolina. I'm proud to be among the writers collected here, and I'll be bringing my guitar to sing a few songs, as will my comrade and mentor Don Dixon and others. If you don't have other plans, like fixing the economy or watching paint dry, come on down, pick up a copy of the book and hear some tunes in the bargain.

You can now reach this blog via the above address. Tell your pals.

One day soon, I'll get a real together, but this is a start.

Thank you to my wife for making this happen.