Tag Archives: Pazz&Jop

Taking My Life Back

Bless me father,  for I have sinned, it has been over three months since my last legitimate blog post…

You don’t have any idea how many times I started to write this post in my head over the past couple of months, only to be sidetracked by schedule, or exhaustion, or – sadly – the lack of confidence and willpower. Running this blogzine had been, for the better part of three years, a daily joy. But much like many of my favorite things, it fell off the pile as the necessity to work 75-80 hour weeks took its toll. Missed that fall softball season. Favorite TV shows were DVR’d and hastily burned to DVD to make room for other unwatched programs. Albums piled up…think about that, I wasn’t prioritizing music. There were mornings when I didn’t want to slap that comedy CD in the car because I knew I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to enjoy it.

That is just fucking wrong.

But let me first put things in proper perspective. Nothing is really wrong outside the fact that my life became monopolized by my responsibilities at work. I’m healthy, I’m financially stable, I have friends and family and a blessed life compared to so many who have real problems. I do not pretend for a moment that my worst day in the past six months was anything more than me feeling pressure, exhaustion and frustration with something which I could have terminated at any second with two simple words: “I quit“.

It’s hard to overcome an addiction because you are so deep into it that you lose the objective perspective. You no longer see the whole, you only see the next move. Not to compare my experience to an addiction – even the word workaholic infers complicit behavior – but it takes an intervention to slap reality in your face long enough for you to distance yourself and see objectively again. And in my case the intervention came in two parts – an intimate musical performance and a dose of birthday guilt.

Christine Ohlman, a/k/a The Beehive Queen, is an amazing woman. A musicologist par excellence, she runs rings around me when it comes to the deep web of musical history, ane even a brief chat with her is an educational experience. But I recently saw her perform in a small bar in Rochester, a converted house called Abilene’s which was packed like a sardine can. No stage, the band sequestered in what would have been a living room, amps likely on “3” to keep the plaster from falling upon us like raindrops. I was so close I could have adjusted the monitors, and I watched her slowly weave her way through a set of gems – each one accompanied by an anecdote – and I was awash in soulful, penetrating beauty. I was energized by rock, heartbroken by blues, and warmed by the infectious nature of a true artist channeling her soul. I knew at that moment that I had to take my life back, that every precious day that I continue to put aside the things I truly love was another day wasted.

I also have a holiday-time birthday, which combined with seasonal affectation disorder…well, let’s just say it makes for an interesting experience. For the past several years, I have spent the better part of my birthday watching concerts, comedy shows and music documentaries, and this year was no exception. This time, the introspection of the day was combined with a rebirth of passion, as if the artists on the large screen were saying “hey dumbass…maybe if you made time for this every day you wouldn’t be so miserable?” With the new year a week away, it looked like I finally had a resolution with teeth to slot next to the old standards “lose a few pounds” and “work out more”. And when my older daughter caught me off-guard by telling me she had been checking my page weekly only to be disappointed, that sealed the deal.

It’s not like I was in a coma. I did listen to a lot of music and made my list in time for the Village Voice Pazz&Jop deadline; I do have my Best of 2011 drafts for comedy albums and DVDs in their final whittling stages, and I did jot down some drafts that will show up soon as reviews and editorials. But I missed some events I normally relish, like the recent award nominations. And tragedies – I should have posted the day Patrice O’Neal died; he played a club in town not long before and the news broke my heart. But I’ll add those thoughts when reviewing his posthumous CD, and you’ll see his brilliant DVD (Elephant In The Room) on that year-end list.

A real doctor doesn’t promise you anything; they merely give you good advice. So I won’t promise you a daily dose – not an unbroken string, anyway –  but I’ll do the best I can to be here as often as possible. I even have a plan.

As for the recommendations, those will continue to be well-intentioned but optional. I’ve got my hands full taking my own life back, thanks.

Happy New Year, everyone. I missed you, too.

It's a new dawn, and a beautiful new road lies before me. Hope to see you often along the way...

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Blast From The Past – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Awaiting their new release Mojo, I was reminiscing about the band’s earliest days. Those who have never enjoyed the tactile sensation of cracking the seal on a vinyl album and anticipating the first notes from the speakers might not get it, but when you held a twelve-inch album jacket in your hand, you were more likely to focus on the task at hand.

I’ve clicked as many MP3 and WAV files as the next guy, but they all look antiseptic. The smell of the record, the familiar label pattern and most importantly the art on the front cover would set the stage for the next fifteen or twenty minutes…before you had to get up and flip the thing over for side two (or as I liked to think of it, the home stretch).

And on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ first album, there was this leather jacketed punk with the thin blond hair staring me down with a smirk on his face. He didn’t look that tough, though – I could probably kick his ass if the rest of the band didn’t jump me – so subliminally my response was something along the lines of  “prove it, buddy”.

And, of course, he did. “American Girl” still sounds as fresh as it did in 1979, and as someone who had spent many a night listening to cars on 441 “like waves crashing on a beach” it was right in my wheelhouse. Two years later, when You’re Gonna Get It proved there was no sophomore slump going on (“I Need To Know”, “Listen To her Heart”) I was dumfounded that the band was not immensely huge. Not that I didn’t have a large collection of albums that shoulda woulda coulda.

Video: “Listen To her Heart”

When Damn The Torpedoes came out, I was able to get an advance copy from a friend who was the local MCA Records college rep, and I was absolutely convinced it was going to be the record that finally broke these guys wide open. I was running a club at a University at the time, a place where Friday happy hours were huge, although we usually just piped in a local rock station for music. I was so convinced that one listen to “Here Comes My Girl” or “Refugee” or “Even The Losers” or “Don’t Do Me Like That” was going to blow their minds that I dubbed it onto cassette, brought my own tape deck in from home and wired it up.

Not me, not now.

The room was packed and I made a brief announcement; for a moment I felt like those AM jocks did when they were about to drop the latest single on their listening audience. Because here in my hands I held the perfect hybrid of The Rolling Stones and The Byrds, and in Petty’s voice and words you could feel the desperation of a man who had just watched his career almost get flushed down the toilet when his prior record label (Shelter Records) went bankrupt. I was about to do three hundred college kids a huge favor. I was going to change their lives. I was going to scoop the local rock station by three full days. This, indeed, would be one of those moments we’d remember forever.

Well, I was half right.

The record held up its part of the bargain, but the crowd just…didn’t…get it. The second song wasn’t even ten seconds old when people started yelling to play some Grateful Dead. The Grateful fucking Dead? What the hell was wrong with these idiots? I wasn’t that much older than the kids in the room, barely out of college myself, and the rule for Happy Hour was rock’n’roll, not trippy noodling. This was a town that was dominated by rock radio. I was crushed.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time I shook my head in disbelief as a great record fell on deaf ears, and it was far from the last (my annual submissions to the Village Voice Pazz&Jop poll look like alien transmissions). Lesson learned, again. But time would prove me right, as Damn The Torpedoes went on to become one of the biggest records of the year and the album that singlehandedly turned Tom Petty’s career around. I never anticipated he’d become actual rock royalty with such a critically acclaimed career, but I do know a great record when I hear it. Most of the time, anyway.

Hearing the recent Mudcrutch releases and the first sounds from Mojo, it sounds like Tom is looking fondly backwards as well. And that’s just fine by me.

 Tom Petty website

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