Tuesday, December 8, 2009

'In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make..'

Today was the 29th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon.

So incredibly hard to believe it has been so long, but if there is such a thing as true immortality, it is in an unparalleled musical legacy like this.

My dad gave me copies of 'Abbey Road' and 'Let It Be' for - I think - my 12th birthday, just as I was seriously getting into 'real' music (I remember seeing the Sgt Pepper album cover in our house when it came out, but I was too young to get why it was important).

And I remember dad waking me up that morning in 1980 with the news of Lennon's death. Teary-eyed, he was just shaking his head with the senselessness of it all.

Perhaps the saddest thing about losing John when we did was that he seemed to be so re-energized about the music he was making, and may have been on the verge of a new phase in his creative and personal life. Who knows what was really taken from us.

What he left, though, in addition to the music of a generation, was a lesson in humanity and a reminder that, truly, all you need is love.

I was saddened to hear recently about the passing of Thom Manno, guitar player for The Meetles, Eric Paulin's Beatles tribute band. I had the pleasure of running into the band during my stint on the subway, and here's what I wrote about them at the time, including a couple of video clips of the band. My sympathies go out to Thom's family and friends.

Monday, November 30, 2009

'Hail Hail, Rock And Roll..'

I've been speechless for a while now, to be honest. And with good reason. I've been working on a couple of things that have taken some time and I wanted to re-vamp this blog a little (partly since it's clearly no longer "summer") and the broadcast last night on HBO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary party is a pretty good way of getting back in the groove.

Everyone who played over both shows were icons of the modern music world, and the short films that knitted the performances together were just perfectly pitched. It was like watching your personal soundtrack unfold, with a reminder of how your own musical life is unbreakably connected to everything that came before.

Many of the acts I'd seen in concert previously, but just having them all under one roof was staggering. Seeing Simon and Garfunkel was very cool indeed and Paul's band - we'd seen them last year at the BAM anthology series he did - are brilliant musicians.

But the highlight of the first night was, surprise surprise, Bruce and the band, with their guests. A great, rockin' set - maybe even the best "Jungleland" I've ever heard, and an amazing "Tom Joad" and "London Calling" with Tom Morello, as well a great cover of Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" with John Fogerty. Bruce and Fogerty had played together on the Vote For Change tour in 2004 and again they did a high-energy version of "Fortunate Son" rather than one of my favorite CCR songs, which Bruce used to play live, "Who'll Stop The Rain?"

After hooking up with Billy Joel for a "Bridge and Tunnel summit", the E Street Band finished the set with a joyous "Higher and Higher", with pretty much everyone back on stage, as well as J Geils frontman Peter Wolf who climbed over the guardrail with Jackson Browne at the urging of Steve Van Zandt. Bruce must have liked how the song turned out too, since he started including it in his encores when his own tour resumed.

We originally just had tickets for the first night, but ended up going along for the second night too, thanks to the generosity of our friends. Tom Hanks gave the same opening speech from the other side of the stage, presumably for cut purposes, and the impressive intro film was the same. After Aretha Franklin introduced all twenty-odd members of her group, many of whom seemed to be related to her, the second night got distinctly bluesy.

Eric Clapton had dropped out with illness and Jeff Beck took his place. He was effortlessly brilliant, but it was his young bass player Tal Wilkinfeld, a striking 23-year-old Australian, who stole the show. There was a moment where Beck motioned to her for a solo; she ripped one off then turned away with a huge, genuine grin. It was perfect.

Then, the unexpected highlight of the night. "We're Metallica and this is what we do..." with guest spots from Lou Reed, for a brilliant "Sweet Jane", Ozzy Osborne, who greeted the crowd with "Come on you fuckers..!" and an energetic and ageless Ray Davies of The Kinks.

But I have to say that Metallica blew me away. These guys can play.

After a couple of songs by U2, Bruce and Patti Smith came out for a somewhat embarrassing "Because The Night", then, after rocking the house into the wee hours the previous evening, Bruce stayed onstage with U2 to play "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For".

U2 launched into the opening of "Gimme Shelter" and Mick Jagger strode onto the stage looking thirty - no, maybe thirty-five - years younger than whatever age he actually is these days. Fergie from the BlackEyed Peas did her best with the Merry Clayton lines that originally made this one of the best songs in the Stones' catalog. Tonight, though, despite Mick, it was a bit pedestrian and the addition of a string quartet didn't help.

After that, Bono and Mick dueted on "Caught In A Moment" but somehow it seemed devoid of any real electricity - maybe an odd thing to say considering the volume of both charisma and ego onstage, but then U2 did "Beautiful Day" and it was all over. No singalong, no communal feelgood like last night.

Sure, there were some moments that jarred - the technical problems as Stevie Wonder and U2 began their sets, or Patti Smith screwing up her own song (the upside was they played it again and it was even more powerful) and also seeing the lyrics for the next song being cued up on the TelePrompTer somewhat diminished the element of surprise.

In all honesty, not having Dylan, or Paul McCartney, or The Who did leave a hole in the encyclopedic nature of the bill, but that's a churlish criticism. Everyone has their favorites. I'm sure there were some folks who were hoping Elton John would show up.

For me personally, though, probably the only missing Hall of Famer who could have made the night even better than perfect was Tom Petty.

The challenge for HBO was always going to be in the editing. They had a four-hour show. The first night alone was in excess of six hours and I guess they wanted to get in as many of the "special guests" as they could. But whatever they came up with would be a great reminder of something very special indeed.

Here's the first night's setlist, via Jon Pareles at the New York Times

Jerry Lee Lewis :
“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On”

Crosby, Stills and Nash:
“Marrakech Express”
“Almost Cut My Hair”

Bonnie Raitt with David Crosby and Graham Nash:
“Love Has No Pride”

Bonnie Raitt and Crosby, Stills and Nash:
“Midnight Rider”

Jackson Browne with Crosby, Stills and Nash:
“The Pretender”

James Taylor with David Crosby and Graham Nash:

Crosby, Stills and Nash with James Taylor:
“Love the One You’re With”

Crosby, Stills and Nash:
“Rock and Roll Woman”

Crosby, Stills and Nash with Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and James Taylor:
“Teach Your Children”

Paul Simon:
“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”
“Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”
“You Can Call Me Al”

Dion DiMucci with Paul Simon:
“The Wanderer”

Paul Simon with David Crosby and Graham Nash:
“Here Comes the Sun”

Paul Simon:
“Late in the Evening”

Little Anthony and the Imperials:
“Two People in the World”

Simon and Garfunkel: “The Sounds of Silence”
“Mrs. Robinson”/”Not Fade Away”
“The Boxer”
“Bridge Over Troubled Water”

Stevie Wonder: “Blowin’ in the Wind”
“Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”
“I Was Made To Love You”
“For Once in My Life”
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”
“Boogie On Reggae Woman”

Smokey Robinson with Stevie Wonder:
“The Tracks of My Tears”

John Legend with Stevie Wonder:
“Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)”

Stevie Wonder with John Legend:
“The Way You Make Me Feel”

B.B. King with Stevie Wonder:
“The Thrill Is Gone”

Stevie Wonder:
“Living for the City”

Stevie Wonder and Sting:
“Higher Ground”/”Roxanne”

Stevie Wonder with Jeff Beck:

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“10th Avenue Freeze-Out”

Sam Moore with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“Hold On I’m Comin’”
“Soul Man”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with Tom Morello:
“The Ghost of Tom Joad”

John Fogerty and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“Fortunate Son”
“Proud Mary”
“Oh. Pretty Woman”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:

Darlene Love with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“A Fine, Fine Boy”
“Da Doo Ron Ron”

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band with Tom Morello:
“London Calling”

Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“You May Be Right”
“Only the Good Die Young”
“New York State of Mind”
“Born To Run”

Darlene Love, John Fogerty, Tom Morello, Billy Joel, Jackson Browne, Peter Wolf and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:
“(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”

And here's the second night:

Jerry Lee Lewis:
“Great Balls of Fire”

Aretha Franklin:
“Baby, I Love You”
“Don’t Play That Song”
“Make Them Hear You”

Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox:
“Chain of Fools”

Aretha Franklin:
“New York, New York”

Aretha Franklin and Lenny Kravitz:

Aretha Franklin:

Jeff Beck:
“Drown in My Own Tears”

Jeff Beck and Sting:
“People Get Ready”

Jeff Beck:
“Freeway Boogie”
“Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”

Buddy Guy with Jeff Beck:
“Let Me Love You”

Jeff Beck:
“Big Block”
“Rice Pudding”

Billy Gibbons and Jeff Beck:
“Rough Boy”

Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons:
“Foxy Lady”

Jeff Beck:
“A Day in the Life”

“For Whom the Bell Tolls”
“Turn the Page”

Metallica and Lou Reed:
“Sweet Jane”
“White Light/ White Heat”

Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne:
“Iron Man”

Metallica and Ray Davies:
“You Really Got Me”
“All Day and All of the Night”

“Stone Cold Crazy”
“Enter Sandman”


U2, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith with Roy Bittan:
“Because the Night”

U2 and Bruce Springsteen with Roy Bittan:
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”

U2 and Black Eyed Peas:
“Mysterious Ways”/”Where Is the Love”/”One”

U2, Mick Jagger, Fergie and Will.i.am:
“Gimme Shelter”

U2 and Mick Jagger:
“Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”

“Beautiful Day”

In short, those two nights at Madison Square Garden were pretty much the musical equivalent of a quick visit to heaven, and so reliving them here gives me a chance to draw something of a line under this extended summer and my busking project. For years now, music has been a central part of my life; something I hope never changes as I move into the next seasons and whatever they bring.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

'Even better than the real thing...'

U2 bring their amazing and extravagant stage show to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena tonight, and the show will be streamed live on YouTube.

You can see it here.

So far, the quality of the stream is excellent. After the live show ends, YouTube will rebroadcast it at the U2 channel page.

Update: Apparently the show generated 10million live streams.

Tonight (Oct 30) the Foo Fighters will stream a show via Facebook. Details and links here.

These are the early days of what seems to be a groundbreaking new potential revenue model.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

'Bring on your wrecking ball..'

So, we make the trek out to the Meadowlands for the first two of the run of "final" shows at Giants Stadium. I thought last summer's shows here would take some beating, but the second night this time around turned out to be probably the best Springsteen stadium performance I've seen in the 28 years since my first show.

A big part of the reason for that was 'Darkness on the Edge of Town', the album Bruce and the band were playing in its entirety. The first night, they ran through 'Born To Run', but it's eight iconic songs are staples within the setlist in any case, so the novelty was hearing them in order.

With 'Darkness' though, there are tracks you rarely hear live, but which are among some of the most powerful and beautiful songs he's written. It was a wonderful timewarp. The songs sounded as fresh as ever and the band were clearly relaxed and into the show as much as the Friday night crowd.

The opener on the first night was brand new. 'Wrecking Ball' spoke to the unique connection between band, audience and place. It was great. And it was the first time in thirty-odd shows that I'd witnessed the debut of a new song. There was a bit of a glitch with the lyric teleprompter, which was displayed on the backdrop behind the band, but no-one minded.

The second night was perfect.

(There's a cool video - not the one below - on iTunes now, which strangely has edited in Bruce's wife Patti Scialfa, who didn't play at either night, and edited out Curt Ramm's trumpet solo).

Here's the first night's setlist, including 'Born To Run' straight through...

Wrecking Ball
Johnny 99
Atlantic City
Outlaw Pete
Hungry Heart
Working on a Dream
Thunder Road
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Born to Run
She's the One
Meeting Across the River
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Into the Fire
Lonesome Day
The Rising
No Surrender

Raise Your Hand
E Street Shuffle
Growin' Up
American Land
Dancing in the Dark
Hard Times

Here's the second night, with 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town' straight through...

Wrecking Ball
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
No Surrender
Outlaw Pete
Hungry Heart
Working on a Dream
Adam Raised a Cain
Something in the Night
Candy's Room
Racing in the Street
The Promised Land
Streets of Fire
Prove It All Night
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Raise Your Hand
I'm Goin' Down
Be True
Jailhouse Rock
Thunder Road
Long Walk Home
The Rising
Born to Run

Cadillac Ranch
Bobby Jean
American Land
Dancing in the Dark

And this - this - is simply the music of the Gods. Unsurpassable. It's one of my absolute favorite Bruce songs anyway, but tonight it was just magical.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

'Somewhere in the swamps of Jersey..'

Nice story in The Guardian the other day about how Jude Rogers became a traditional balladeer at the Sidmouth Folk Week.

She also wrote a good essay a couple of months ago, "Music is not dead" about the changing musical environment and how we as consumers and music-lovers fit into it. It read, in part:

"..especially in a world in which music is as ubiquitous as wallpaper (..) It is our duty to the music we first loved as young people, and still adore now, to try to live in the moment, and to engage with it properly. The difference is that we have to work harder for it."


In a similar vein, the NYT has a feature about the outlook for traditional record stores and the 100th gathering of Vinylmania.

This gives you a flavor:

"Mr. Martignon said he got a customer or so each day; sometimes they just browse, but sometimes a whale comes along. “I get these Japanese guys that spend a few thousand bucks,” he said. “All out-of-print rockabilly stuff.”


We don't cash checks, you don't sell music..?

While Bob Dylan may have left his fans a little bemused by the announcement of his first-ever Christmas album, now comes news that it will be distributed initially by.. a financial institution?

Citibank said that "Christmas In The Heart" will be available for download to 13 million customers enrolled in the company's rewards program, during the week before it hits stores on October 13.

It's a virtual deal only. The bank also said the album wouldn't be available for sale in its branches.

Dylan is donating proceeds from the album's sale to organizations that work to alleviate hunger and poverty, so much can be forgiven, but I hope he at least negotiated a big pay-off from them. And got the money upfront.


From a music-making perspective, two contrasting guitar-related stories: A good weekend for Paul Reed Smith guitars in Maryland, who held an open house that landed about a million dollars-worth of orders.

Meanwhile, after plenty of online controversy, Gibson may be be back-pedaling on the idea of a Jimi Hendrix tribute model which initial photographs indicated looked very much like Hendrix's signature Fender Stratocaster. Hendrix also played a Gibson Flying V, of course, so I don't know why they didn't just go for a special edition of that model.

We'll see what eventually emerges, I guess.


Reclusive musician Daniel Johnston has had his music turned into an iPhone game. Although he doesn't seem overly enthused by the idea:

"I don't even know what an iPhone is," he said. He did not remember "much" about playing the game. "If they make it into a real video game, [with a joystick,] it might work out," he told the New York Times.


Finally, am off to New Jersey again tomorrow - provided that mythical NJ Transit bus from Port Authority to Meadowlands actually runs - to see the opening night of Bruce's latest stint at Giants Stadium. U2's show last week apparently set a concert attendance record, with 84,000 people seeing the show in the round.

I can't think of anyone more appropriate than The Boss to close out the venue, though. It's being demolished at the end of the football season, and the new structure has already risen alongside.

He'll be playing "Born To Run" in its entirety. We also have tickets for Friday night, when the featured album will be "Born In The USA". A little relieved we didn't get both nights for either album, although you'd figure that the rest of the three-hour setlist will be mixed up to compensate.

Friday, September 25, 2009

'The wheels fly and the colors spin..'

We went to Giants Stadium last night to see U2. Remarkably, this Irish boy had never seen them play live before. The stage set just looked incredible - even from the top tier - the extent of its complexity shown by how many equipment flight cases were stacked around the mezzanine level.

A couple of decades ago I'd seen David Bowie's 'Glass Spider' show at Wembley, and tonight's spaceship setup reminded me a bit of that stage, but on a much, much grander scale. Weirdly, the stadium PA was playing 'Space Oddity' just as the lights started to go down.

This was the second night for the band (Jon Pareles' review of the first night in the NYTimes is here) and the boys were in fine form, matching intensity and emotion in a way I'd experienced only rarely at a show this big (there were about 80,000 people in the stadium, hardly what you'd call intimate).

But there were definite moments of connection - 'Walk On's dedication to Aung San Suu Kyi, featuring supporters of Amnesty International encircling the stage, as well as Bono's running with a child during 'City of Blinding Lights' and Archbishop Desmond Tutu's uplifting oration on the 360 screen before 'One'.

The whole show was brilliantly impressive: professional, and perfectly paced. But for me the songs that really stood out were a couple of new ones: 'Unknown Caller' and 'I'll Go Crazy', as well as a couple of oldies that have maintained their power for more than 25 years: 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' - its point as sharp as ever, despite being transposed from Derry to Tehran - and 'The Unforgettable Fire', its timeless riffs make it one of the most perfect of pop songs.

While the crowd hung on Bono's every word, The Edge kept his guitar tech busy: a Les Paul for the opener, then a Telecaster and a Rickenbacker before the Explorer for 'Beautiful Day', then an SG and a Strat, another Les Paul.. you get the drift.

Here's last night's full setlist:

Get On Your Boots
She Moves In Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day
No Line On The Horizon
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For/Stand By Me
Unknown Caller
Until The End Of The World
Stay (Faraway, So Close)
The Unforgettable Fire
City Of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Walk On

Amazing Grace / Where The Streets Have No Name
UltraViolet (Light My Way)
With Or Without You
Moment of Surrender

This compilation clip gives a pretty good flavor of the evening (props to kskobac for a great job and a quick turnaround)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

'These two lanes will take us anywhere..'

Bruce Springsteen turned 60 today.

One of few artists responsible for the enduring soundtrack to my adult life, his songs and energy and passion have been constants for me, from the time I heard 'Born To Run' when I was a sixteen-year-old kid in Ireland; to the time I first saw him on TV eighteen months later; to the first time I saw him play live in 1981; all the way up to next week, when I'll see him twice at Giants Stadium.

It's been a great ride, Bruce. Thanks for everything.


Congratulations also to Lucinda Williams, one of my wife's favorite songwriters, who married her manager onstage at her show in Minneapolis the other day at the start of her 30th anniversary tour.


If you haven't seen this very cool video of the 'Birds on a wire' yet, check it out. According to a post by the composer, Jarbas Agnelli, the shot isn't photoshopped.


Finally, here's a really great and timely video by Paul Hipp. If Tom Lehrer and Joey Ramone wrote a song together, it might sound something like this...

Friday, September 18, 2009

'When you go through the flood..'

For a lot of folks this week is college move-in time. We're on our way back from dropping stepdaughter at the University of Cincinnati. We'd thought it would be a sad time, but we had a nice ride down and while separation is always tough, she's so happy to be there - and we're happy for her to be where she feels welcome - that I think it'll probably hit us in a few days when we realize she's not around.

We stopped last night at Somerset in Pennsylvania, not far from the West Virginia border and in the heart of coal country. The town isn't far from the site of the Quecreek mine, where in 2002 nine miners were rescued after being buried underground for three days while the nation held its collective breath and feared the worst.

A couple of months later, I moved from New York back to London and the following summer I went to see one of my favorite guitar players, Buddy Miller in a solo show at the Borderline and he played a remarkable song that his wife Julie had written, called Quecreek.

In the year after September 11 - and Somerset is also quite close to Shanksville, where United 93 went down - when we were all looking for any clue that events in our world weren't always destined to end badly, the mine rescue gave us all some hope.

Quecreek was also referenced in another beautiful song last year by another of my favorite musicians, Mark Erelli. 'Hope Dies Last' from his album 'Delivered' takes you from a feeling of powerlessness to affect world events, to a place where we can appreciate the things we can change in our own lives. Take a listen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

'And gently whispered Hope..'

For various reasons I spent a lot of time today thinking about Northern Ireland - and not just because of the World Cup qualifier, which didn't turn out so well for us. I've always found that people in the US are eager to hear about Irish singers and musicians and have been pretty good at supporting them.

When my American friends ask "who should I listen to that I might not have heard?", one of the people I point them to is Foy Vance, from Bangor, an excellent singer and clever songwriter. He was just in New York a couple of months ago and played at the Roots jam at the Highline Ballroom, and he's currently on tour in Europe with Tori Amos.

There's a nice interview with him from last year here - I love that when he's asked "which song do you wish you'd written" he replies "It's a coin toss between 'Amazing Grace' and 'Anarchy In The UK'".

Anyway - check out his work; here's his "Gabriel and the Vagabond", one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard:

And the equally lovely "Indiscriminate Act of Kindness".

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

'If I can't change the world, I'll change the world within my reach..'

Whatever your political preference, what in this world can be remotely objectionable about encouraging kids to stay in school and work hard? What can be wrong about telling kids that, sure, it's not always easy, but the rewards of hanging in there and trying your best are worth it?

And what can possibly be so awful about saying this:

"Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future."

If you honestly, truly and genuinely don't think that message is worth passing on, then I despair for you.

Friday, September 4, 2009

'The fire is sweepin' our very street today..'

In all the attention given to the 40th anniversary of Woodstock this summer, it might be easy to overlook another landmark concert, historic for different reasons.

The Rolling Stones' show at Altamont has often been portrayed as the "end of the summer of love" and this piece in The Telegraph looks at Albert Maysles' movie of the events at the show, 'Gimme Shelter' which is being re-released in a couple of weeks.


I really enjoyed the first edition of the new TV show NY FM, presented by 101.9 WRXP's Matt Pinfield and Leslie Fram, and I plan to tune in regularly.

This weekend they had an interview with Dave Matthews, and items on Rocco DeLuca and one of my favorite guitar players, Derek Trucks - next week they have a feature on Tom Morello - as well as a look at the John Lennon exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex.


Talking of the Beatles, The New York Times seems to like the upcoming Rock Band product, as the marketing hype cranks up and remastered versions of some of their classic albums get ready to ship.

Meanwhile, The Guardian has a video of Sir George Martin's son Giles talking about the production of the new game.


Really interesting band on Letterman the other night. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros initially struck me as sounding something like a jam between Sufjan Stevens, Michelle Shocked and the Spin Doctors.

To be honest, I wasn't sure whether I actually liked their song "Home" but I couldn't take my eyes off the performance, and I guess that's half the battle for a developing band.

Here's a clip of them playing the same song in Los Angeles a few months ago:

Monday, August 31, 2009

'Smells like clean spirit..'

A mall in Flemington, New Jersey might seem an odd place to smell a country music star, but I guess you can't always predict these things.

I was walking through Kohl's, the discount clothes store, when I spotted a pile of fliers and a tester bottle promoting a new men's fragrance. Nothing unusual about that, and ordinarily I don't bother any further, but then I noticed that the top of the bottle was shaped like a little guitar pick.

I had to stop and take a look.

It was "McGraw by Tim McGraw". Finally, I thought, a chance to smell like a gen-yoo-whine country music star. Apparently there are two fragrances in Tim's range - the regular "McGraw" and something called "Southern Blend" - I don't even want to guess what might make them different.

But there you are. Not my thing, but I'm sure it'll do very well. Just as well, probably, as Tim's wife's own fragrance surely will too...


I just came across this very good instructional video for a song I've been playing for a while. I've been using a standard tuning but the same chord structure, with the capo shifting the key depending on whether its me, or one of my stepdaughters, who's singing it (they have slightly different ranges); but this version with the DADGBD tuning sounds much better.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

'You've got to make your own kind of music..'

I've written a few times on here about my stepdaughter and the beginning of her career as an opera singer.

She's leaving for college in a couple of weeks and yesterday was the culmination of a lot of hard work for her over the summer when she held a recital at her great-grandmother's barn in Pennsylvania. She and her teacher, Neal Goren, put together a program that showed how far they'd come together over the past eighteen months. It goes without saying she was wonderful.

About 90 guests showed up - family and friends came from all over the country to support her, as well as some friends of our aunt's from the AVA. Everyone went home happy.

The most special thing of all, though, was that Che's 90-year-old great-grandmother got to hear her sing, and was so moved by having her home filled with glorious sound that, after most people had left, she played her own piano for the first time in a long while.


Later, a bunch of us headed to the Cactus Grill for dinner and to hear Wayne Johnston play. Wayne's brother Kurt has been a friend of the family for years and is just a terrific musician. Wayne is too, so we all had a great time.

It's a pretty cool world when you can watch your stepdaughter singing in Italian and yelling along with 'Big Yellow Taxi' in a country roadhouse within a couple of hours.

Thank God for music.

Friday, August 28, 2009

'It's been a long time comin' but now it's here..'

A couple of worthy catch-ups for the end of the week, with two really clever English songwriters I was a fan of some years ago and who have recently resurfaced.

James Maddock used to be the front man for a band called Wood, who released a great album about ten years ago called "Songs From Stamford Hill". The leadoff track, 'Stay You' was pretty much as perfect a three-minute pop song as it's possible to get.

Now, finally, he has a new album out - just as melodic, just as affecting as when he left off - called "Sunrise on Avenue C" and he's gigging again to support it, with a couple of shows coming up in Pennsylvania before heading out to California next month.

The other singer I'm glad to hear is doing ok is Adam Masterson. I used to see him play at pubs in London five or six years ago and was sure he'd break through any day. He released a terrific album called "One Tale Too Many", including a song, 'Into Nowhere Land' that's still on my most-played list on iTunes.

Very happy he's back with some new material.


Kurt Cobain will be "resurrected as a pixellated grunge throwback" in the next release of Guitar Hero, says The Guardian. The paper says that Courtney Love and Dave Grohl both endorsed the deal.

In tangentially connected reading, check out this piece from the Telegraph the other day: "Should We Always Obey A Dying Artist's Wishes?'

And, as a final thought, maybe even in death, the audience manages to get what it wants.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

'Put your records on..'

Apple today signed off on the use of an iPhone app for Spotify, the European music streaming service where suscribers - it's free if you put up with ads - "rent" rather than "own" content.

This crucial question, rent vs own, is what will ultimately define the future of music distribution. The big labels are wondering how they can get consumers to pay for the same product over again, as in the vinyl-CD-online transitional gravy-train of the last decade, but that's not going to fly this time, since the market has already passed it by.

It's probably true that people my age prefer to 'own' music in whatever format - whether that's because we like to read lyrics on the album sleeve, or we like to make mix CDs for the car - but there's a generation of consumers that not only doesn't care about ownership, but is driven purely by ephemeral utility.

They want to hear a specific track now, share it with their friends or embed it into their current playlist while its hot, for the next week or so. Then they want to move onto the next thing.

It seems like the next logical step here is voice-recognition - Apple iTunes already has this facility in Speakables which allows you to select a track by speaking its name - and a combination of that with Spotify would allow users to audibly request a song and have it play, instantly, whether they own it or not.

For my generation, we'll continue to stack our thousands of CDs against the wall and never be able to find what we're looking for. And we'll be happy, dammit, 'cause we own all this great music. If only we knew where it was.

But don't forget, it was the generation before mine that came up with the idea of "renting" music. It was called the jukebox.

And on the subject of transient recorded media, there's a store here in Brooklyn called the Record and Tape Center. It's a great old store where you can browse boxes of vinyl and CDs and unearth untold treasures at decent prices.

A couple of weeks ago, they ended up putting a huge - I mean, huge - box of cassette tapes out on the sidewalk with a note saying "free, please take".

When you're giving away half of the name of your business, you better hope people will still want to buy the other half.


Nice piece in the Telegraph today about the rise of 'living-room gigs' as well as a nod towards the increasing numbers of old fogeys like me playing music, and, as I mentioned yesterday, providing a ready market for the Beatles edition of Rock Band.


Coming to this a little late, but here's a really great fan-video for Grizzly Bear's track 'Two Weeks', put together by Gabe Askew. The band's Ed Droste gave the animator props on Twitter.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

'It gets stronger, in every way..'

Songwriter Ellie Greenwich, whose credits include songs like 'River Deep Moutain High', 'Da Doo Ron Ron' and 'Leader Of The Pack' died yesterday aged 68.

She left a remarkable catalog of classic songs that are a snapshot of a specific time in musical history and which have aged well.

Her passing also reminded me of the debate about whether or not a teenage Billy Joel actually played that ominously atmospheric piano part on 'Leader of the Pack'.

In 2005 Joel told Rolling Stone:

"I played on a session with "Shadow" Morton for two songs: "Remember (Walkin' in the Sand)" and "Leader of the Pack." We did the recordings before the Shangri-Las sang on them. I'm pretty sure it was me. I saw an interview with Ellie Greenwich [the song's co-writer], and she said it wasn't me. I never got paid, though, so it doesn't make any difference."


Not content with the prospect of achieving immortality through giving driving directions, Bob Dylan is recording a christmas album. Apparently profits will be donated to Feeding America, and other charities overseas that provide meals at Christmas.

Good on ya, Bob.


Very nice little tale over at Share My Guitar about bluesman Luther Allison.


According to Wired, Rock Band is looking at crowdsourcing songs through a community network. This looks like it could be a really interesting development, combining open source gaming and collaborative composition.

And on the subject of Rock Band, I mentioned yesterday how my kids aren't exactly bowled over by the prospect of the Beatles edition. I pressed them a bit on our way to GameStop and they told me this product will likely be a big hit "with people [your] age, who've maybe not used it before and who want a bigger experience rather than just playing the game."

Thanks, I think.


For one youth club in Inverness, there was apparently a problem getting their clients to go home at the end of the evening.

Solved, thanks to the soundtrack of The Sound of Music, says the BBC.

"..This is a creative use of music - classical music, musicals and if things get really awkward I understand nursery rhymes will be deployed."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

'Well I'm lost somewhere, I must have made a few bad turns..'

So, Bob Dylan is talking to some car companies about becoming the voice of their GPS, according to the BBC.

"Renowned for his raspy, nasally tones, the 68-year-old American gave his listeners a taster of what his directions might sound like: "Left at the next street. No, right. You know what? Just go straight."


My kids love to play Rock Band, but from what they've been saying I don't think we'll be lining up to get the much-hyped Beatles edition when it's released in a couple of weeks. Funky 'exclusive' controllers or not, the kids' verdict so far is that the songs "don't look challenging enough".

* Via Mashable today, comes news of Hit Machine a free to play online game. Not sure i like the idea of replacing the controller with a keyboard. The whole thing's already a bit too Kraftwerkian for me, and even a faux guitar is better than no guitar at all.


My friend, former FT colleague and former bandmate Peter Whitehead decided to try the busking life for himself in London a couple of weeks ago. You can read how he got on here, with a nice audio slideshow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

'Now witness the quickness, with which we get along..'

Thanks everyone, for all the emails since I finished up. I've been down in Florida for a few days with the family.

When I get back to the city next week, I'm going to continue to blog about music and New York in general, and think about what sort of project comes next for me. I have a couple of interesting ideas, and it'll be fun to explore them.

But today is my wedding anniversary, and I just wanted to say thanks to Mrs B for putting up with me.

I'll see you all again next week.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

'If I wander til I die, may I know whose hand I'm in..'

The final day.

This has really been a lot of fun, full of great characters, and at the same time, a sobering lesson in just how tough a life it is to make a living playing underground. There were days I'd come home exhausted after only playing for a couple of hours in the noise and the heat and the dust. Anyone who does this full-time and makes it work has my complete respect.

At the end of 48 days, I collected a total of $110.24 for the Robin Hood Foundation, which will be doubled up after I send them a check in the next few days.

There was a time in my previous life when I would earn about twice that in a day, and I know of people who make more than that in an hour. But those numbers are just measures of our usefulness at a particular point in time, not our true value.

Thank you to all my fellow New Yorkers who threw a dollar or some change in my case along the way. I'm glad I was able to move you to feel better, even for a couple of minutes. Please continue to support Subway musicians.

I don't pretend to have any talent at all, but I love music and I love to play. Some of the people I came across are just tremendous musicians and deserve wider recognition. There were times when I just wasn't able to communicate with the performers as well as I'd like, while some others - despite their public persona - didn't want to talk or allow me to film them. Every single day was always interesting. The cops and MTA officials I encountered along the way were overwhelmingly good-natured.

Part of the appeal of this was the idea of randomness; that by starting at a different station each day I would encounter music at different places across the city, and I tried as far as possible to get a good cross-section of neighborhoods. I was also keen that whatever I did should be time-limited, since busking has been going on long before I showed up and will continue long after I'm gone.

It's part of what keeps the city vibrant, and vital. You literally don't know what you're going to see around the next corner, or at the next station.

A couple of web sites that I came across very late in the day, are definitely worth checking out: The Busker's Handbook has a nice, witty approach to the subject, while Nick Broad's excellent Undercover NY is a wonderful near-encyclopedic reference covering performers in New York and cities everywhere. If you're at all interested in the artists who perform on the streets, I'd encourage you to take a look.

I'd also totally recommend "Subwayland", Randy Kennedy's collection of brilliant New York Times columns. While not specifically about music, it gives you a great insight into the sort of characters who inhabit the netherworld.

Thanks to everyone who emailed or commented on the posts. Your support was very much appreciated. Thanks also, particularly to my family, especially Mrs B, for their encouragement and patience while I was doing this. I know they're anxious to see what comes next. So am I.


Today was one of those days I was reminded of why I'm glad I live here. Nothing remarkable, just a realization that this is the greatest city in the world and anything is possible.


Even on the final day, there seemed to be music everywhere I turned. Outside the ferry terminal an acappella group called Select Blendz were serenading one of the security guards on her break.

Then when I was walking around Battery Park, I saw Andre Small and his friend, African drummers. Since it was drummers who jumped on my train that day and planted the seed of this idea in my head, I was happy that drummers happened to be the last performers I end up mentioning.


The station at Brooklyn Bridge is one of those that should be a lot more fun to play at than it actually is. There are plenty of tunnels and crosswalks, but the platform itself is busy and noisy and hot.

It was important for me to come here to finish, though, since I now consider myself a Brooklynite, and it's special being on the water and crossing the bridge. I walked across today after I played, and got caught in just an unremitting downpour - one of those where it's pointless running, since you're not going to get any wetter.

It was almost as if I needed a really long shower today...

Today's songlist:

Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
Bad Moon Rising - John Fogerty
Johnny Strikes Up The Band - Warren Zevon
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Welfare Music - Bottle Rockets
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
Keep On Rockin' In The Free World - Neil Young
Blood Brothers - Bruce Springsteen

I also played one additional song at two above-ground locations today; on the Staten Island Ferry and in Battery Park. The latter makes the last BuskerCam:

And here - finally - is Peter Bradley Adams, with his beautiful song about being out of place and at odds with a world that may have passed you by. There's something about this song that reaches down inside your soul, and I can't remotely hope to do it justice.

Thanks again for following the blog. I hope you've had as much fun reading it as I've had doing it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

'I got chills, they're multiplyin'..'

The penultimate day of the project and I wanted to do something special, so I asked my beautiful stepdaughter if she'd like to come busking with me.

Surprisingly, being the possessor of the lion's share of musical talent in our family, she agreed to humor me; so I thought we should go somewhere that hopefully will figure large in her future musical career.

She and I have been singing together for years, and now that she's about to go off to the opera program here, I didn't know when we might get the chance to do something like this again.

There was also something 'full circle' about the idea of my musical journey ending as hers is about to start.

She'll be learning how to project her voice over ambient noise, but I'm guessing she won't have to compete with the sounds of real trains - unless she's in a Jonathan Miller production. The platforms at the Lincoln Center station are unbelievably noisy. In addition to the up and down 1 line, there's two express tracks that run down the middle, so timing our performances was tricky.

In any case, she certainly did her best and stayed good-natured, for which I'm grateful. We sang for about 45 minutes, with plenty of repeats, and made a dollar. Running total is now $110.24.

Today's (slightly girlier than usual) songlist:

Passionate Kisses - Lucinda Williams
The Times They Are A-Changin' - Bob Dylan
Jolene - Dolly Parton
You Belong To Me - Kate Rusby
100 Miles - Catie Curtis
Walking In Memphis - Marc Cohn
Good Riddance - Green Day
Look At Miss Ohio - Gillian Welch
You're The One That I Want - The Beautiful South

Monday, August 10, 2009

'I ain't here on business, I'm only here for fun..'

Two important reality checks tonight.

I'm coming to the end of this 'temporary life' and it has given me a renewed respect and admiration for the people who do this every day for a living. They work hard and deserve any recognition and reward they can get.

I'm just an interloper, an observer. I have, for now, the relative comfort of doing this through choice, not through necessity. I'm the one - if you'll forgive the obvious pun - that's playing here.

Obviously I'll need to find some sort of job when this is done, but that's another story.

For now, though, I wanted to acknowledge all the folks I've come across who graciously took the time to talk with me, or let me record them or just listen as they went about their daily business.

Here's the other reality check. One of the things I realize as I meet musicians around the Subway is just how great technical players a lot of them are and no matter how hard I tried or worked, I could never be in their league.

Randy De Luca is one of those.

I've always loved how the Dobro sounds, and I've been a fan of Jerry Douglas since seeing him play a couple of times with Alison Krauss and on the Transatlantic Sessions, so it was great to come across Randy on the 116th platform this morning.

We talked briefly about how good the acoustics are at 116th and how there's a sympathetic crowd "when school's in session".

He said he also enjoyed playing at 72nd, where I'd just played the other day. "I make good money there, but it's more difficult to sit down on the platform," Randy says.

He told me about the Columbia radio station and its bluegrass show, The Moonshine Show, which until recently was hosted by Matt Winters, and he also recommended some other good players I should check out, like Bob Ickes and Andy Hall. (Isn't that clip just amazing..?)

Randy is originally from New York but his Dobro, which he plays in a G tuning, is quite new and from China. "I got some things to say about that," he says. He told me he doesn't play in a band outside, but prefers playing on the subway.

I listened to him for a couple of songs until my train came, and I left feeling good. And that's what it's all about.


So I was doing the four-station catch up today, hoping to right some wrongs. How'd it all work out?

At a couple of the stations, I realized today that the platforms are just too noisy to work without an amp. Maybe I was being overly optimistic before, but at both W4th and 34th, when the trains pull in, it's just deafening.

57th Street was perfect, though. Relatively quiet - although I think the recorded platform announcements might be even more incoherent than at Bleecker Street, if that's possible - and good, resonant acoustics. And because there's only one line that runs though it, there's a little more time between trains. I played longer than the four songs I'd planned, but it was a good groove and it paid off in the end.

I went back up to 116th to finish off, and as if as a sign that I should call it a day, I broke not one, but two strings on the fourth song. An Australian woman came over to me while I was playing and said: "I've no money for you, but can I use you in my podcast?" Best pickup line all week.

Heres' today's songs:

Knockin' On Heavens Door - Bob Dylan
Badlands - Bruce Springsteen
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Lakes Of Pontchartrain - Paul Brady

Money in the case? Nope.

Knockin' On Heavens Door - Bob Dylan
I Will Posess Your Heart - Death Cab For Cutie
Wonderwall - Oasis
Steve's Last Ramble - Steve Earle

Money in the case? Nope.

Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
The River - Bruce Springsteen
Drift Away - Dobie Gray
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
Knockin' On Heavens Door - Bob Dylan (reggae version)
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen
The Promised Land - Bruce Springsteen

Money in the case? $6. (Running total $109.24)

People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello
I Know - Kim Richey

Money in the case? Nope.
Broken strings? Yep, two..

I did manage to record a BuskerCam at 57th Street. I figured if I was going to play a little more than I said I would, I should at least have fun. And this is one of my favorite songs to sing.

And here's my equivalent of the 'Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show' moment; Bruce on the BBC's "Old Grey Whistle Test' in 1978.

I wrote earlier about my friend who lent me 'Born To Run' when I was 16. I was swept up in the romanticism and language of this beautiful poetic music about a land far away; but what Springsteen was really all about didn't become clear to me until this night. After that, I never thought of rock and roll the same way.

As Jon Stewart put it a while back after seeing Bruce at Madison Square Garden: "Do you like joy?"... and sometimes it's just as simple as that.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

'Go back, Jack, do it again..'

I took a break from playing out today to recharge a little and prepare for the final three days of the project. I can't believe the time has gone so quickly. I've learned a lot and enjoyed the experience, but it has - genuinely - been the toughest job I've ever had.

Tomorrow, rather than play somewhere new, I thought I'd try going back to a few of the stations where I'd struck out first time around, just because I don't like to take no for an answer.

I'm calling it "Make Right Monday" and I'll re-visit these four stations:
W4th Street, 34th Street, 57th Street and 116th Street at Columbia University.

I won't be stubborn and stay indefinitely until I make something; so I've decided I'll play just four songs at each one, and give it a real effort and then that's it; so if I come up empty again, I can't say I didn't try. Sixteen complete songs is about what I usually play in a normal set that lasts anywhere from an hour and a quarter to 90 minutes, depending on interruptions.

It's not about the money, more about the idea of having a second chance at something.

There have been other stations where I hadn't made anything, of course, but these four I thought were central, busy, and decent places to play, where the people should generally be receptive. We'll see how it goes.


I wanted to share this video from a couple of years ago of a MUNY artist gone mainstream, Susan Cagle, who used the Subway backdrop in a professional video shoot. She has a great voice and this is a great song. I've never met her but she has the perfect 'discovery' story that a lot of fulltime Subway players er, dream about.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

'You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one..'

In 1965, Eric Paulin saw The Beatles play at Shea Stadium and it changed his life.

Today he runs the best Beatles tribute band in the Subway.

The Meetles have been together about six months, with the group's name being chosen by a poll on the New York Beatles' fans Meetup page.

Along with subway veteran Eric on drums and his wife Naomi on authentic Hofner bass, the band is completed by Thom on rhythm and vocals, one of apparently two Robs - neither of whom made it tonight - on guitar, and Danny on vocals.

Steve Baldwin, who handles photgraphy, security and publicity - he'd be the fifth Meetle if there wasn't already five of them - told me all the musicians are "students" of the Beatles, and it's clear they've done their homework. Danny's inflection is perfectly Northern, even down to the "bath" in 'Norwegian Wood'.

The band plays regularly at the main MUNY spots at 34th and 42nd Street - a better gig than playing in clubs, they say - and occasionally on the surface. Saturday night is their "big show", usually culminating with the crowd joining in a communal 'Hey Jude'. But they're playing tomorrow (Sunday) at Strawberry Fields, weather permitting, at about 1pm. Try and catch them, they're very good.


Today, Saturday, was also the 40th anniversary of "the walk" across the Abbey Road zebra crossing. A schoolfriend of mine, who I'd played in a band with when I was a kid, worked for a while as a technician at Abbey Road, so I was lucky enough to be able to get into the studios with him late one night and see round.

I count myself very lucky to have been able to stand at the center of such creative brilliance both there and in the Motown Studios in Detroit - worlds apart, but connected in the soul.

Another friend of mine is a proud Liverpudlian, who at one point helped run the Beatles' official fan club. I'm sure he must die a little inside every time another autographed item sets a new auction record these days, but for him it was always about the music.


In keeping with today's theme, I played at 72nd Street, the stop nearest the Dakota Building and Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial garden in Central Park. It's hard to believe that next year will be thirty years since John's death.

As you might expect it was a pretty mellow crowd; quite a few people wanted to chat; the guitar players especially about how good the little Martin was sounding. I was at the bottom of a stairway down to the A/C line, but I started off at the wrong end before moving down to where people were coming onto the platform, rather than leaving.

My original plan was to play one set here, and one set at Spring Street, the nearest station to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex, which is having a John Lennon exhibit at the moment. But as it turned out, I did two sets at 72nd, played quite a few songs two or even three times, and it felt good.

In all, I played for just under two hours, really enjoyed it, and broke the psychological barrier! I collected $5.86 today, making the running total $103.24.

Today's songist:

Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
Let It Be - Beatles
Imagine - John Lennon
Knockin' On Heaven's Door - Bob Dylan
How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live - Bruce Springsteen
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Johnny Come Lately - Steve Earle
Forever Young - Bob Dylan
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello
You're Still Standing There - Steve Earle
Passionate Kisses - Lucinda Williams
Already Home - Marc Cohn
The Promised Land - Bruce Springsteen
May You Never - John Martyn
The Waiting - Tom Petty
1952 Vincent Black Lightning - Richard Thompson
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
New York, New York - Ryan Adams
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen

'I'm singin' this note 'cause it fits in well with the chords I'm playing..'

I went to Lincoln Center this evening to hear an outdoor performance - the US premiere - of Rhys Chatham's minimalist piece 'A Crimson Grail' scored for 200 guitars. It sounded pretty cool in the open air and in that great setting. It reminded me a bit of "In C" by Terry Riley which blew me away when I first heard it maybe 25 years ago.

Here's part of the intro. You decide for yourself.

When the bass started thumping at the start of what I guess was the second movement, at least two people near were I was standing started singing the guitar line from 'Purple Haze'.

'It's not just you, it's not just me; it's all around the world..'

I ran into a few musicians this evening on my way up and downtown, and it was a real National Geographic trip.

Yily Nelson - not Wille, Yily - is a guitar player originally from the Dominican Republic.

If you like Yily, you might also like Thalys Peterson Quaresma, a Brazilian player I met a couple of weeks ago.

Annette Taylor's powerful voice hits you as soon as you come down the stairs onto the platform. She was in the middle of belting out the Alicia Keys song 'I Keep On Falling' and it sounded great. Her latest CD is 'Hustlin' For Dollars, Hustlin' For Change'

There was a woman playing an African drum in the passageway at 42nd Street but I didn't get a chance to speak to her.

Finally, there's Professor Edwardo Alvarado.

He's a little hard to describe, beyond saying he's like a cross between Eddie Layton and Rod Steiger, but here's a nice piece on him from the Village Voice a couple of years ago.

Compelling as it is, I honestly have no idea what the main focus of his act is meant to be - is it the music or the slightly unsettling choreographed puppets? Does it matter?

But one thing I do know is that he gave me probably the sweetest smile I've ever had on the subway when I put a dollar in his basket.

And if I'm still making music when I'm his age, I'll consider myself blessed. (I'll probably ixnay the puppets though).