Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Site! Say Goodbye to this One.

BillJanovitz.com and PartTimeManofRock.com will both be the same site now. All new covers and post will live there as this site comes to an end.

Keep checking in!

B

Summer Songs for Boston Mag

This is the full, unedited version of a post I wrote for Boston Magazine.

With my day job marketing real estate entering the semi-dormant state of the dead of summer, my attention veers back to music, specifically, songs that I love to play during the summer. Since I am trying out Spotify (user name billjanovitz), I will attempt to share a playlist there for the first time. Let's see if this experiment works with this link. I make no claim that these are the 10 best summer songs of all time (you would need "Summertime Blues," "Dancing in the Street," and "Heat Wave" on such a list.) These are not necessarily even my top 10, but they are the first 10 that jump to mind right now.

One of my band's (Buffalo Tom) best-known songs is called, "Summer," in fact. And like that song, many of my picks here have to do with the passing of summer or are otherwise melancholy. In fact, one of my song's lines goes, "Summer's gone, a summer song/You've wasted everyday." Uplifting, eh? I think this has every thing to do with growing up in the Northeast, where summer is so precious, and every year it seems to pass ever more quickly. We trot out all the cliches about the passage of time. And that is what my favorite summer-themed songs explore. Make the summer count, goes the sentiment, and by extension, make every day of life meaningful.

1. The Beach Boys, "Surfer Girl"


How could any list of summer songs not include a Beach Boys song? In fact, I could easily constitute the list with all Beach Boys numbers, including other melancholy numbers like "In My Room." This song is all about pining all summer for a girl from afar, an elusive surfer girl, over the classic pop ballad chord progression and a bed of plaintive Four Freshman-like harmonies. Poor old Brian wasn't the surfer. His brother, Dennis was. Brian was just a fish out of water more comfortable in his room. Pet Sounds was the real Brian. And so was his lament, "Surfer Girl."

2. War, "Summer"


OK, let's stop wallowing for a minute and just enjoy summer with this one from the band War. I am a child of the 1970s, so more than a couple of my picks are from that era. War sings of many of the cultural highlights of the '70s: "Riding 'round town with all the windows down/Eight track playin' all your favorite sounds." Late they sing about vans and CB radios. It was like they had a direct line to my heart and soul, or at least my fantasy world. It has such a good latin-funk groove that you can't help but chill.

3. Sly & The Family Stone, "Hot Sun in the Summertime"


This is one that would appear on the lists of many folks, no doubt. From 1969, the genre-smashing Sly & the Family Stone, offering a nostalgic look back at summer's past, but still celebratory of summers present. Sly could ease off of the funk pedal now and then with a big blast of horn-driven pop like this one.

4. Lou Rawls, "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"


Some songs just remind you of summer, even if the lyrics have nothing to do with the theme. This Gamble & Huff smash was released in 1976. Every time I hear it, it brings me back to summer of that year. I was 10, growing up on the north shore beaches of Long Island. This latin-funk-tinged slab of Philly soul was number one in July 1976. It poured forth out of every little Panasonic transistor radio on the beach, wafting over the gentle breakers on the jetty. I remember watching Lou on the "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" that summer. Johnny asked Lou, "do you like any of the new singers out today?" Lou replied, smoothly, "awww yeah, man. I love 'em all." Probing in that hardball way Johnny was known for, he pressed on, "anyone specifically you like to listen to?" Lou, kept his cool, undaunted, not prone to the sort of panic that would result in a weaker man blurting out something like "K.C. & the Sunshine band," just purred again, "aww, I just love 'em all." And I believed him.

5. Frank Sinatra, "The Summer Wind."


Frank Sinatra once said that Lou Rawls had "the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game." Which leads me to a Sinatra number. I grew up with this song (my mother is a 100% Italian New Yorker) but when I heard it over the opening scene ofThe Pope of Greenwich Village, with Mickey Rourke getting all dressed to the nines for his gig as a restaurant manager, it was sort of life-changing, or at least a revelation. I went to thinking Frank was actually cool. Sure, we all know that now, but this was 1984. I was 18. Sure, I liked Frank, but I didn't think he was cool. What the hell did I know? I was a kid, for chrissakes! I have sung this song at weddings, piano bars at Frank's Steakhouse, and the Paddock, not to mention karaoke joints around the world. What a lyric by Johnny Mercer: "Like painted kites, those days and nights, they went flying by/The world was new beneath a blue umbrella sky." And what a powerful Nelson Riddle arrangement of a Henry Meyer composition! It swings, baby! the version on my Spotify playlist is an older Frank, live at Radio City, from 1990. The years in his voice adds another layer of depth to the poignant lyric.

6. João Gilberto, Meditação ("Meditation)


The bossa nova stylings of Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto make for deeply satisfying summer listening. Gilberto is credited as creating this style, which take the beat of the samba but brings it to a stripped down, mellower context. Gilberto worked with the writer and producer Jobim to record some of the 20th century's most sublime melodies and lyrics. Depending on the translation from the native Portuguese, these songs can achieve the same Zen effect of Haiku, with nature, solitude, and meditation common threads that run between the art forms. Gilberto provides this evergreen Jobim song with his unadorned vocal style, which allows the listener to just soak in the melody, rest in the gentle samba sway, and ponder the rich lyric.

7. Chet Baker, "There Will Never Be Another You."


Chet Baker is closely identified with the "West Coast cool" offshoot of bop, which traded influences with bossa nova. One can here the similar "flat" style of singing, the relative straightforward presentation of the melody, and the gentle swing. There are few hard edges, but don't this stuff as "light." Chet's singing is deeply emotional and he was a real jazz player, surrounded by some of the best in the business when he tok to the microphone for his seminal Chet Baker Sings (1956)

8. The Rolling Stones, "Memory Motel"


Growing up on Long Island, we heard about this being written at and/or about the motel of the same name out in Montauk. This record, like many of the Stones' middle period, is actually quite underrated. This ballad screams 1970s summer and is one of my all-time fave Stones numbers. "When I asked her where she's headed for/'Back up to Boston, I'm singing in a bar.'"

9. Elvin Bishop, "Fooled Around and Fell in Love"


Elvin Bishop was one of those guitarists who had an act under his own name but had his biggest hit with a guest vocalist, Mickey Thomas, a top blue-eyed soul singer who went on to become the lead singer in Jefferson Starship. This smash was peaked at number three on the charts in May of 1976 but was all over the radio that summer, hence its effective placement in movies like Boogie Nights and Summer of Sam. It has that "burned out at the end of a hot summer's day" feel to me, driving home all sunburned at the beach.

10. Grateful Dead, "U.S. Blues"


As I said, I am unapologetically a child of the 1970s, and this is an shameless summer anthem, filled with images of Americana, name-dropping the likes of P.T. Barnum and Charlie Chan, flag waving and bits of other old-timey summertime fun.

Summer Songs for Boston Mag

This is the full, unedited version of a post I wrote for Boston Magazine.

With my day job marketing real estate entering the semi-dormant state of the dead of summer, my attention veers back to music, specifically, songs that I love to play during the summer. Since I am trying out Spotify, I will attempt to share a playlist there for the first time. Let's see if this experiment works with this link. I make no claim that these are the 10 best summer songs of all time (you would need "Summertime Blues," "Dancing in the Street," and "Heat Wave" on such a list.) These are not necessarily even my top 10, but they are the first 10 that jump to mind right now.

One of my band's (Buffalo Tom) best-known songs is called, "Summer," in fact. And like that song, many of my picks here have to do with the passing of summer or are otherwise melancholy. In fact, one of my song's lines goes, "Summer's gone, a summer song/You've wasted everyday." Uplifting, eh? I think this has every thing to do with growing up in the Northeast, where summer is so precious, and every year it seems to pass ever more quickly. We trot out all the cliches about the passage of time. And that is what my favorite summer-themed songs explore. Make the summer count, goes the sentiment, and by extension, make every day of life meaningful.

1. The Beach Boys, "Surfer Girl"


How could any list of summer songs not include a Beach Boys song? In fact, I could easily constitute the list with all Beach Boys numbers, including other melancholy numbers like "In My Room." This song is all about pining all summer for a girl from afar, an elusive surfer girl, over the classic pop ballad chord progression and a bed of plaintive Four Freshman-like harmonies. Poor old Brian wasn't the surfer. His brother, Dennis was. Brian was just a fish out of water more comfortable in his room. Pet Sounds was the real Brian. And so was his lament, "Surfer Girl."

2. War, "Summer"


OK, let's stop wallowing for a minute and just enjoy summer with this one from the band War. I am a child of the 1970s, so more than a couple of my picks are from that era. War sings of many of the cultural highlights of the '70s: "Riding 'round town with all the windows down/Eight track playin' all your favorite sounds." Late they sing about vans and CB radios. It was like they had a direct line to my heart and soul, or at least my fantasy world. It has such a good latin-funk groove that you can't help but chill.

3. Sly & The Family Stone, "Hot Sun in the Summertime"


This is one that would appear on the lists of many folks, no doubt. From 1969, the genre-smashing Sly & the Family Stone, offering a nostalgic look back at summer's past, but still celebratory of summers present. Sly could ease off of the funk pedal now and then with a big blast of horn-driven pop like this one.

4. Lou Rawls, "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"


Some songs just remind you of summer, even if the lyrics have nothing to do with the theme. This Gamble & Huff smash was released in 1976. Every time I hear it, it brings me back to summer of that year. I was 10, growing up on the north shore beaches of Long Island. This latin-funk-tinged slab of Philly soul was number one in July 1976. It poured forth out of every little Panasonic transistor radio on the beach, wafting over the gentle breakers on the jetty. I remember watching Lou on the "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" that summer. Johnny asked Lou, "do you like any of the new singers out today?" Lou replied, smoothly, "awww yeah, man. I love 'em all." Probing in that hardball way Johnny was known for, he pressed on, "anyone specifically you like to listen to?" Lou, kept his cool, undaunted, not prone to the sort of panic that would result in a weaker man blurting out something like "K.C. & the Sunshine band," just purred again, "aww, I just love 'em all." And I believed him.

5. Frank Sinatra, "The Summer Wind."


Frank Sinatra once said that Lou Rawls had "the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game." Which leads me to a Sinatra number. I grew up with this song (my mother is a 100% Italian New Yorker) but when I heard it over the opening scene ofThe Pope of Greenwich Village, with Mickey Rourke getting all dressed to the nines for his gig as a restaurant manager, it was sort of life-changing, or at least a revelation. I went to thinking Frank was actually cool. Sure, we all know that now, but this was 1984. I was 18. Sure, I liked Frank, but I didn't think he was cool. What the hell did I know? I was a kid, for chrissakes! I have sung this song at weddings, piano bars at Frank's Steakhouse, and the Paddock, not to mention karaoke joints around the world. What a lyric by Johnny Mercer: "Like painted kites, those days and nights, they went flying by/The world was new beneath a blue umbrella sky." And what a powerful Nelson Riddle arrangement of a Henry Meyer composition! It swings, baby! the version on my Spotify playlist is an older Frank, live at Radio City, from 1990. The years in his voice adds another layer of depth to the poignant lyric.

6. João Gilberto, Meditação ("Meditation)


The bossa nova stylings of Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto make for deeply satisfying summer listening. Gilberto is credited as creating this style, which take the beat of the samba but brings it to a stripped down, mellower context. Gilberto worked with the writer and producer Jobim to record some of the 20th century's most sublime melodies and lyrics. Depending on the translation from the native Portuguese, these songs can achieve the same Zen effect of Haiku, with nature, solitude, and meditation common threads that run between the art forms. Gilberto provides this evergreen Jobim song with his unadorned vocal style, which allows the listener to just soak in the melody, rest in the gentle samba sway, and ponder the rich lyric.

7. Chet Baker, "There Will Never Be Another You."


Chet Baker is closely identified with the "West Coast cool" offshoot of bop, which traded influences with bossa nova. One can here the similar "flat" style of singing, the relative straightforward presentation of the melody, and the gentle swing. There are few hard edges, but don't this stuff as "light." Chet's singing is deeply emotional and he was a real jazz player, surrounded by some of the best in the business when he tok to the microphone for his seminal Chet Baker Sings (1956)

8. The Rolling Stones, "Memory Motel"


Growing up on Long Island, we heard about this being written at and/or about the motel of the same name out in Montauk. This record, like many of the Stones' middle period, is actually quite underrated. This ballad screams 1970s summer and is one of my all-time fave Stones numbers. "When I asked her where she's headed for/'Back up to Boston, I'm singing in a bar.'"

9. Elvin Bishop, "Fooled Around and Fell in Love"


Elvin Bishop was one of those guitarists who had an act under his own name but had his biggest hit with a guest vocalist, Mickey Thomas, a top blue-eyed soul singer who went on to become the lead singer in Jefferson Starship. This smash was peaked at number three on the charts in May of 1976 but was all over the radio that summer, hence its effective placement in movies like Boogie Nights and Summer of Sam. It has that "burned out at the end of a hot summer's day" feel to me, driving home all sunburned at the beach.

10. Grateful Dead, "U.S. Blues"


As I said, I am unapologetically a child of the 1970s, and this is an shameless summer anthem, filled with images of Americana, name-dropping the likes of P.T. Barnum and Charlie Chan, flag waving and bits of other old-timey summertime fun.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

CoTW 108 - Jersey Girl



I've been going to Cape May, NJ since 1986, the year I met my own Jersey Girl at UMass. Despite growing up on nearby Long Island, NY, I did not know much about "the Shore," as it is known south and west of the Tappan Zee and north of Delaware Bay. As a teenager, my mother used to make occasional trips down to Wildwood and that town still retains its honky tonk boardwalk feel. It is similar in reality to what people now unfortunately picture, thanks to the MTV sensation, "Jersey Shore." Most, almost all, of the Jersey Shore is nothing at like that depicted in that unfortunate cultural blip. Wildwood, however, is the kind of place that has an insurance fire at the Pier almost every winter and continuously struggles to reinvent itself, whether it be a preservation and celebration of its authentic 1950 Doo Wop culture and architecture, or trying to lure a minor league ball team. I, of course, will always fondly remember the transvestite shows at the (F)un Spot Cabaret, recalled in this past post.

The city is so close to charming Cape May that is a jarring study in contrasts. I came to this town for the first time 25 years ago and fell in love with it. Shhh, almost no one in New England knows about it. People around here think the Cape has the best beaches, or shockingly, Maine. Sure, Maine is beautiful to look at. And I love the Cape and spend a lot of time there, the outer Cape beaches are stunning. They are just different from the Jersey Shore. See, I like to actually go in the water and enjoy it for more than 10 minutes without freezing my balls off, which I can not do in most of New England. I also like long stretches of fine sand and real surf. And I like being able to walk along a promenade and going for an ice coffee and a felafel roll-up. Not many would expect me to be a beach person. I dig the beach. I need an umbrella to keep my precious alabaster skin from frying like bacon, but I love the beach, especially with kids and boogie boards.

I look forward to going every year, despite the truly horrific traffic down the Garden State Parkway which usually turns what should be a six-hour trip into a nine-hour stop-and-go vein-popper. My kids are educated in the finer intricacies of profanity as I pund the steering wheel. We used to take Laura's Pinto down. It was white. Red bucket seats. No AC. No reverse. Then we graduated to taking the Impala I inherited from my grandfather. I would not be able to do that without taking out a second mortgage right now. Same goes for the old Buffalo Tom Dodge Ram van, which was our next set of wheels and was almost the length of Rhode Island. Wait a minute, when exactly did I go from aspiring to be Keith Richards to becoming Dave Barry?

We used to stay at my mother in-law's little house. Then the kids came and we needed to get our own place. We have been renting the same house a block from the beach for three years. We shake off the traffic nightmare with a gin-and-tonic or two, and leave the car parked for more or less the rest of the trip. Everything is walking distance down old gaslit (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) treelined streets of Victorian, Shingle-Style, and Craftsman homes, people enjoying sips out on the front porches. There are world-class restaurants, great cycling routes, arcades for kids, and bars with live music. In fact, there remains a pretty decent jazz scene alive in Cape May. On my last night there, I have made a little tradition of going our for a nightcap on my own after everyone else has gone to bed (I am the only night owl in the family). Last year, I stumbled into the famous Mad Batter, where we usually have brunch a couple of times a trip, shuffled up to the bar for a G&T and ended up staying for a few more, as this singer named Lois Smith floored me with her vocals. Check out that link. She just sat at the bar with a wireless mic as the band played behind here. There were maybe five people at the rectangular bar. We chatted between songs. Lois is also a gospel singer.

Here is my "live at the dining room table" version of one of Tom Waits' most accessible songs. This is a real Brill Building/Bert Berns-like number from Heart Attack and Vine. You can read my essay on the song at Allmusic.com from back in the old days. It will always have special resonance for me and any other Joe married to a Jersey Girl.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Indian Wrestling

I grew up with a guy, let's call him Neil Eruzioni. His father was a barber and - at least back then, when I was growing up in New York - used to cut the hair for wise guys who "played bocce" at the... let's call it the "Fisherman's Club," an Italian-American social club. Neil's mom was a large woman, older than my parents. They lived near the downtown village.

Neil was a fantastic drummer -- one of the best musicians any of us knew in those early adolescent days. Problem was, he liked jazz fusion and we liked the Stones and Neil Young, primarily. He is still a great drummer and I still like the Stones and Neil Young primarily. But now, I think Neil also like the Stones and Neil Young more than the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

One day, Neil was telling me about how his mother would break into uncontrolled hysterical laughter at the mere mention of the phrase, "Indian wrestle." Indeed, if for some reason Indian wrestling was being televised, say on the "ABC's Wide World of Sports show," she would also lose it. Basically, if she just brushed up against the concept of Indian wrestling on any level, she would lose it. 

I doubted this whole story a bit. But our mutual friends present testified to the veracity of these claims. And on the whole, I am pretty gullible, and was even more acutely naive back then. No one could explain it, the tale went.

Then I moved away. In some of my idle time of lonely exile in the high pines of Medfield, Massachusetts, it occurred to me that I had been had with this whole "Indian wrestle" business.

I was back for a visit about half a year later and Neil's dad gave me a crew cut. And the band got back together for a jam, for old time's sake. At least, this is how I remember it. We often practiced at his parents' house. This is how it goes for drummers. They would rather make Faustian bargains with their parents to allow amateur rock bands rehearse in their basement than pack up, lug, and unpack all the equipment.

One day, during a break from band practice, we were sitting around the Eruzioni's living room.

"Neil," I began. "You probably don't even remember this. But a while back you told me this story about your mother. It was about how she would laugh..."

"At the words 'Indian Wrestle.' Right," he answered. "What about it?"

"Well. That was not true, right? I asked. "I mean, you guys were pulling my leg."

"You don't believe me?" He asked. "You've never seen it?"

I made a skeptical "oh, come on" face.

He put up his index finger. "Ma!" he yelled. MA!!"

"Yes, whattaya want, Neil?" We heard his mother's voice from the kitchen.

"Come here! Ma, come in here!"

"OK, OK," she was saying as she came through the dining room and leaned against the doorjamb, drying something with a dishtowel. "Whattaya want."

Neil paused, looked her in the face, and said, blankly, "Indian wrestle."

She started to laugh. Sort of a normal laugh. But then it began bubbling up. And soon, like in a manner of a few seconds, she was in absolute, unbridled hysterical laughter. I'm talking tears. Catching her breath, she left the room. Laughs still emanated from the kitchen.

We could all not help but laugh along with her. Neil just smirked. It was something he grew up with. No one has ever explained it. His mother grew up with this... this little quirk. Something way back in her brain is tickled by the concept of, the name "Indian wrestle." Something from the past.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

You Got the Gig, Kid...Dispatch from Nantucket Film Festival

(from Boston Magazine.com)

For the past few years, I have had this website with the ironic title of Part Time Man of Rock. We all know there is not supposed not be any “part time” in “rock.” When my wife was a kid, she misheard the Kiss song “Rock & Roll All Night” lyric. It famously goes, “I wanna rock & roll all night and party every day.” She heard it as “I wanna rock & roll all night and part of every day.” I mean, in our minds, that’s still a pretty good level of commitment to The Life of Rock. Even just part of every day seems a worthy goal now that I am 45.

But I still find myself caught between the rock & roll and multiple other worlds on a regular basis. I sell real estate in Lexington, Lincoln, and other western suburbs. Sure, I get some maturing rockers buying modest homes, but I get many folks buying and selling swankier digs and they tend to be running in different circles than I do. And I did not exactly grow up poor. But nothing prepares me for the rarefied air of Nantucket.

Each time I go, I am astounded by the consistency of that life’s (truly, deeply, profoundly) rich pageant: men in “Nantucket red” pants from Murray’s, whale belts, and open collared Brooks Brothers, and skinny ladies with perfectly blonde tresses flowing down over their Lilly Pulitzer sundresses, gliding across finely manicured, croquet-court-quality lawns at evening garden cocktail parties. It is rare when you see someone in something as shabby as even Banana Republic chinos or (gulp) jeans. Listen, I can be as cranky as anyone about the slob-ization of Americans on holiday, but that's a costume party down there for cryin’ out loud.

I was on the island this past weekend, invited to be a featured guest at the event’s Storytelling Night. Other participants included such up-and-comers as Brian Williams, Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller, Tom Perrotta, and director, Dave McLaughlin. The packed house of 250 people included Chris Matthews, and a lot of people with extremely white teeth and the sort of healthy glow that yacht-loads of aged money brings. This is not my typical crowd. I sensed that I should be reconsidering my story about getting strip-searched for drugs at the French border and then spit in the face by a skinhead chick at a club in a squatted factory in Paris 20 years ago (story linked).

I was under no illusions of why I was there; I am a FOM, a close friend of the host, Mike O’Malley, who is riding the kind of hot streak that only someone with such a giant heart who has paid his dues for decades deserves. Mike has been going down there since he was in college, but he also hails from a different world than most regulars down there. Yet his success, his willingness to always help out worthy events, his extreme talent as an MC and host (never mind as a charity auctioneer) and his ties to the island make him a natural choice, even if he is a bit -- let’s say earthy -- for the finely bred folks there.

Years ago, I was pleased to be able to introduce Mike to Tom Perrotta, whom I had met at one of the legendary Earfull nights at the late and lamented Kendall Cafe, when authors would read and rockers would stomp. Tom, while able to hobnob with all strata of society, also seems far more at home at grittier events like those. And Tom’s success as a novelist and in Hollywood (Election and the Oscar nomination for his screenplay adaption of his own Little Children), also made him a natural choice as a storyteller.

Tom, his wife, and I shared a ride down with Dave McLaughlin, who directed the film On Broadway, for which I provided th musical score, and which starred Joey McIntyre, Eliza Dushku, Lance Green and (have you picked up the connections yet?) Mike O’Malley. Dave is the youngest of 11 kids in a West Roxbury Irish family, has written at least two screenplays, one of which played at an earlier Nantucket Film Festival, and worked for the Mayor for a while. You think he has some stories? Again, slam dunk as a choice.

Then there is me. A real estate agent who also played in a modestly successful post-punk rock & roll band called Buffalo Tom (polite applause from the man in the blue blazer and the perfect hair in row three, two seats over from BriWi, as Anchorman Williams is affectionately called by the locals). The organizers like to mix in some local, non-celebs to tell five-minute stories, like the Moth Radio Hour on NPR. So, it is not like I was the only person there of little renown -- unlike the time Mike brought me to Nomar Garciaparra’s “Nomar Bowl” charity bowling event circa 1999. I thought I was going to that shindig to rub elbows with ballplayers. I did not expect to be enlisted onto a team as a “celebrity” when someone else did not show up. Neither, it seems, did the visibly and audibly disappointed hedge fund managers on my “team” who had paid good dough to be at that event.

Mike has such famous friends that anywhere he turns, he could get some big names. And Tom Perrotta is not exactly just low-hanging fruit. The fact that Mike invited me, even though we have been best buds for a dozen years, was still flattering, and I was glad to accept the challenge. Though I have performed in the course of 25 years on some huge stages (60,000 at the Reading Festival a couple of times, e.g.), I am not a good public speaker. I will not say that the only speech I gave as a best man at a wedding was the worst of all time; I will only point out that it was the only one I have ever given. I believe I have since been passed over for the role after word of my deficiency got out.

But I think I can write well enough and I have a couple of good stories from over the years in a rock band. But I felt the night, the theme of which was “off on the wrong foot,” was indeed off on the wrong foot for me. First, the extremely sweet and efficient organizers asked if I would also consider bringing my guitar to provide a little music and, mainly, to signal to the speakers that they were nearing their five-minute mark. But as the first speaker went closer toward the 15-minute mark, despite my polite gentle, harp-like arpeggios, I knew I was sunk. How could I possibly be the Bad Guy, up on stage, while this person is soaking in the laughs? Next up was my buddy, Tom, followed by Jerry Stiller. Who am I to play over the comedic genius who brought George Costanza's father to life after decades as a headlining act my parents enjoyed? Never mind that I am simply not the “give ‘em the hook” type; I had to tell my own story later. But the hosts of the event became increasingly strident in their throat-slitting gestures from the side of the stage.

Mike had the crowd in the palm of his hand all night. Anne played off of him expertly. And when Jerry came on, I really enjoyed having the best seat in the house. I greatly relished watching this legendary husband-and-wife comedy at work. They may look their age, but their timing has never been better. I watched as Anne’s lips twitched, anticipating Jerry’s story, and jumping in at just the right time, only to have him comically swipe back, as if this was just muscle memory. It was as if you saw an elderly couple slowly shuffle up to a tennis court for a doubles match only to shed off their years and destroy all comers like they were Navratilova and Agassis in their prime. Tom told a story about a high school fight that conjured up the perfect mix of comedy and pathos that he mastered long ago. And Dave told a story about losing his virginity while wearing a brace bolted into his head after breaking vertebrae in his neck. BriWi slayed the audience with a series of one-liners about Nantucket -- not exactly a story, but perfect laugh lines nonetheless. And talk about skinny -- someone at the cocktail reception afterwards described him as “lady skinny.”

I managed not to collapse in a puddle of sweat, stammer, or otherwise embarrass anyone during my turn at the mic. I was just glad to be able to get a couple of laughs. But it was not my audience. This was not a “rock & roll all night,” or even “part of every day” crowd. But there were a few who knew the band and the story went fine.

As I packed up my guitar, I wondered why the hell I had lugged it into a minivan, a ferry, and a cab, only to pluck a few notes. I did no songs. The audio techs just faded up classic rock in between performers. But after the reception, it seemed there were enough people who wanted to keep the party flowing. Mention was made of heading “around the corner” to the Summer House Bar/Restaurant. Sounded good to us. Dave, Tom, Tom’s wife, Mary, and I literally felt our way in the foggy darkness down sleepy narrow lanes, and over a footbridge. A few wrong turns and a leap of faith later, and we had finally arrived, the warm yellow glow welcoming us as if we had traveled over the misty moors to a local pub in the English countryside. The place only had a handful of people there, but it was hopping and the martinis were flowing. I had not even sat down when a slightly older fella named Jamie saw my guitar case, opened up the piano, shouted to the bartender to shut off the music on the house stereo, and asked me what songs I knew. I sat on a couch and started “Tupelo Honey.’ I looked up to find another dozen or so folks had made there way over from the Story Night. It turned out that Jamie was an old pro. We all ended up harmonizing on about a dozen classic rock and country songs, Van, Neil Young, Petty, the Stones, Merle Haggard, etc. We had the whole place singing along until last call (hear a snippet here, captured on Dave's iPhone). It was a perfect, spontaneous end to a fun night. The lubricated owner told me, “be here tomorrow night, kid. Dinner and drinks on me.”

Well, he probably did not say “kid,” but that was how I heard it. I had the Nantucket gig if I wanted it. I guess if I can't join 'em, I can at least play some songs for 'em. Its good to have a contingency plan. Even as the Part Time Man of Rock.



Crossposted at bostonmagazine.com

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New Target Cancer Tracks

Two new songs up at the web site for the charity, Target Cancer, RightTrackTunes.org. You might remember the Christmas tunes we did for the same organization. One is a Van Morrison cover, the other is a Staples Singers cover. Many of you who used to come to the Toad and Lizard Lounge residencies of yore probably have heard me cover these songs before. Download them for a great cause.

More info:

Bill Janovitz and the Q-Dee Revue-y -
Cul De Sac & What You Gonna Do?



Cul De Sac

This is a Van Morrison number from an almost criminally overlooked album called Veedon Fleece. In many ways, the album is an answer from a slightly more mature Morrison to the Astral Weeks of his younger days. Granted, though there were five albums (six if you count the live It's Too Late to Stop Now), Van was still only 29 by the time VF came out in 1974. The yearning, the sense of place and of home, of comforting the restless soul -- all those great Van themes appear here. Most interestingly, though, VF represents his first album written after a long hiatus from his native Northern Ireland. While Astral Weeks was about making it back home, Cul De Sac says in a few words all that needs to be said on the subject. The meaning is in the heart of Van's voice as he sings over the gospel/soul progression.

This song was originally recorded by Van Morrison in 1974. This version was recorded live in Studio B at Q Division Studios in Somerville, MA on December 9, 2010 by The Q-Dee Revue-y – exclusively available here.

Bill Janovitz – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Tom Polce – Guitar
Ryan Spraker - Guitar
Matt Pynn – Pedal Steel
Matt Tahaney – Bass
Steve Scully – Drums
Phil Aiken – Piano
Andrew Jones – Percussion
Paul Ahlstrand – Baritone Saxophone

Produced by Tom Polce
Recorded and Mixed by Pat DiCenso

What You Gonna Do?

I don't personally know of any other versions of this song aside from the Staple Singers. At least, I have not heard any. The recording on Freedom Highway was done in a Chicago church in the late 1960s and you can hear how its influence seeped into the late 1960s/early-1970s roots revival, with The Band and the Rolling Stones absorbing that full gospel tilt. This was a great late-night session just before Christmas, and I was able to sing with and off of Chris Toppin and Jenny Dee.


This song was originally recorded by The Staple Singers in 1965. This version was recorded live in Studio B at Q Division Studios in Somerville, MA on December 9, 2010 by The Q-Dee Revue-y – exclusively available here.

Bill Janovitz – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Tom Polce – Guitar
Ryan Spraker - Guitar
Matt Tahaney – Bass
Steve Scully – Drums
Phil Aiken – Piano
Chris Toppin – Background Vocals
Jenny Dee - Background Vocals
Andrew Jones – Percussion

Produced by Tom Polce
Recorded and Mixed by Pat DiCenso

Download both here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vinyl Confessions From a Man Cave

From my latest post for Boston Magazine dot com:

Since today is June 15, 2011, known in Boston as Stanley Cup Game 7, I have a confession to make: watching hockey makes my eyes glaze over. I know this is ridiculous coming from a baseball fan who can spend four hours watching (and with intense interest) a meaningless Sox-Angels game in April. I try, but after a few minutes of watching bearded Canadian dudes skating back and forth and bumping each other into the walls while slapping around a little black speck (I thought HDTV was going to vastly improve this aspect of viewing), I am soon paying more attention to the music at the Garden or the Rogers Arena.

At the home ice, the Boston stereotypical classic rock comes out — a bit of the Cars, Boston (the band), and, of course, Aerosmith. For some updated flavor, they might throw in “Shipping Up to Boston” from the beloved modern classics, the Dropkick Murphys. All of this is an improvement over present-day Fenway. One would be forgiven for thinking that the “lyrical little bandbox” has been transported to suburban Nashville for all the lamestream modern country-pop music played there this season. And I guess we can be grateful that at least hockey players and the fans of the sport share a reputation for the sort of toughness that would not allow for the unfortunate tradition of “Sweet Caroline” (made worse as a post-Fever Pitch phenomenon) played between periods. (Or is it? I am never at live hockey games, but I can’t imagine that would fly.)

Either way, during the series, I’ve found myself turning down the volume (though I really enjoy the excellent play-by-play of Doc Emrick) and reaching for my records — yes, my old, dusty records. They reside in my basement man cave, which just was improved by the addition of a knock-off of the classic Eames Lounge. Mine is a Plycraft recliner variation and, damn, if it isn’t one of the most comfortable listening/viewing spots. Coupled with some recent turntable tweaks, I have been back to enjoying the vinyl experience again on a regular basis.

Now, I am not one of those old record-collecting SOBs who will bore you with tales of what has been lost with the age of digital music. For me, it has been less of a revolution (excuse the pun) and more of an evolution, embracing the new without forsaking the old. However, I actually had the old records in the attic for a while after we moved house. They were up there for a couple of years during which I did not play records at all. It wasn’t until trying to describe to my daughter the experience of acquiring Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour LPs that I decided to get all the records out again and actually show her.

Read the whole post here.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, June 11, 2011

CoTW 105 -- Heart Full of Stone

Don't have much to write today. I am written out. But I recorded this version of my favorite Yardbirds song for your consideration.

As mentioned in nostalgic reveries here in the past, we had five or six record stores in town growing up as kids. I got this great 10-inch at One Way Records. It was next to a diner/lunch counter called Tom Vos Snacks. The Pop Shop was in the rear of the same building (I think), a sort of beverage wholesaler. Later on, Ed. M., the school bully was shot to death in an apartment above it.



Heart Full of Stone mp3

Friday, May 27, 2011

CoTW 104 -- Deacon Blues

I struggle with Steely Dan. When I was a kid on Long Island in the 1970s, suburban New York was awash with the mellow, edgeless sounds of Steely Dan coming down the powerful FM airwaves ("no static at all"). Not that I could articulate it at the time, but they represented a sort-of grown-up, studied jazzy pop that had little to do with the stuff that had immediate appeal like the the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Jackson Five, and later punk rock and post-punk/new wave influences. In fact, Steely Dan stood in stark contrast in the late '70s to music coming from even mainstream acts like Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, the Allman Brothers, and Patti Smith. Grown-up smooth stuff did not appeal. "Clinical" was the term often used to describe their meticulously recorded, perfectionist sounds.

But I can't say I hated most of it. It was like aural wall paper. I mean, there were some SD songs that I absolutely hated, like that one about Dr. Wu. But then there were some pop songs like "Reeling in the Years," "Peg," "Hey Nineteen" and my real fave of theirs, "My Old School." That's just a blast of early '70s R&B. Nothing to dislike there. And I have this funny home video of my 12 y.o. daughter singing to "Any major Dude,' which her masochistic substitute music/chorus teacher subjected on a bunch of fifth graders last year.

"Deacon Blues." That's just a head-scratcher to me. I think there were times in my life that I actively disliked this song. I don't think it was around the time it came out and was all over the radio. I think the dislike came later, in the '80s, when I started to get further away from the mainstream in my musical tastes (or the mainstream moved from me). By that time I was playing guitar. I was never a finesse player, knew only basic chords and scales, and suffered from both a lack of ambition and a lack of desire to learn more than was necessary to play Clash, Neil Young, and Stones songs. And "Deacon Blues" is just too damned smooth sometimes. Crazy-assed chords.

Many who follow this blog and related social networking sites of mine are already up-to-date with my ongoing struggles with the Dan. But a funny thing happened: I started listening and paying attention to this song that had been omnipresent in my life. I feel like I have come 180 degrees on this song. In fact, it has been an obsession for the past year. The lyric is genius. The protagonist ranks up there with distrustful and delusional suburban narrators of post-war AmLit. like Frank Bascombe, Harry Angstrom and the like. The humor is biting and ironic: "I crawl like a viper through these suburban streets/Make love to these women, languid and bittersweet." And of course, the famous refrain (which probably went by my 1000 times before I really paid attention). "They got a name for the winners in the world/I want a name when I lose/They call Alabama the Crimson Tide/Call Me Deacon Blues." But there is also real pathos there to match the gorgeous chord progression (someone called it "Ellingtonian," I believe) and the absolutely sublime melody. "I cried when I wrote this song/Sue me if I play too long/This brother is free/I'll be what I want to be."

Those lines were echoed in other songs later on, such as Prince's "I was dreaming when I wrote this, so sue me if I go to fast." And maybe it is Prince, or Ron Isley who inspired my falsetto here. Honestly, I raised the key because the original is too high for me to sing in the same octave as Fagan, so by raising it, I thought my low ocatve would be high enough. I realized after I recorded the guitars that this was not so. Rather than scrap the track, I tried falsetto, which I ended up liking a lot.

Eager to hear comments about other songs in people's lives that they have changed their minds about, or anything in art/life for that matter. As we grow, we mature, maybe the mind even opens up some more. I am also eager to hear interpretations of this song's lyric.

Deacon Blues mp3.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Almost Famous

From my latest on BostonMagazine.com:

I just got home late Saturday night from the last of the Buffalo Tom touring for 2011. (Because, really, why would a rock band want to play on a Saturday night and come home instead on a Sunday?) It had been an especially intense little run of five West Coast shows in four cities, three states, and four days — flying each leg from Boston to San Fran, to LA, to Portland, then driving overnight to Seattle for a daytime lunch performance, which was broadcasted live on the excellent KEXP, and then a late-night club performance the same night. Flying home the next day, you would excuse me for sleeping the whole flight.

Back at Logan, I rounded up my guitars (always the last bit of luggage to arrive at baggage claim), and bid adieu to the band and two-man crew until the next time. I loaded up the cart and went up to meet my taxi driver, an enormous individual who did not leave his seat as I loaded the stuff into the trunk.

Making small talk, in between labored breaths, he proceeded to list all the classic rock knowledge he had accumulated, with a particular slant towards local rock history, such as the warehouse in Waltham where Aerosmith once rehearsed and recorded. Sadly, limits of his expertise betrayed him before he could come up with the name of the lead singer for the J. Geils Band.

“Peter Wolf,” I volunteered.

“What’s dat? Oh yeah, Petah Wolf. Right,” he affirmed. “So, are you famous?”

“Well,” I wearily started to explain, “Not really. We had our day in the 1990s, but never hit it really big like all of those guys.”

He paused in pensive silence for half a minute. “I can tell you’re not famous because you’re carrying your own equipment.”

You noticed that, eh, I thought. While you were sitting there watching me load my guitars into your cab, for which I will nevertheless tip you 20 percent for some stupid reason?

And that’s about how it goes. No respect for trying to keep a dream alive in one’s 40s. We must suffer the indignities of a cab driver pointing out that he can tell we’re not famous.

Rest of post here


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Giant Kings Scare Me

Last week, after a middling Wednesday of trying to sell and market real estate with mixed results, instead of throwing in the towel and wrapping myself in a Snuggie to watch the Celtics get eliminated, I did the only thing that made sense at the time: shook myself a small, ice-cold martini.

It was just enough to perk me up and make me want to listen to some music. I checked Facebook and was reminded that the greatest band in Boston, The Giant Kings, were playing that night, the second-to-last of a residency at the beloved subterranean Lizard Lounge in Cambridge. These gigs are relatively rare, and seeing as though I am leaving town for a short Buffalo Tom West Coast tour and would miss the final night, I sent out the Bat Signal and managed to round up a foursome to go down and listen to some great music. When you are in your mid-40s, the enormity of this accomplishment on a Wednesday night cannot be overstated. I must also point out that I had already gone out the previous Monday night to see the legendary Echo and the Bunnymen, my 80’s heroes, at the Paradise. Two nights in one week during the busy spring real estate market makes me feel even more boastful. Combine this with the fact that I have been spending more than my usual allotment of nights in rock clubs these past few months while touring with Buff Tom, well, yes, I am beating my chest! (I made it a trifecta with the Feelies at the Middle East on Saturday.) And those bags under my eyes? They are a a badge of honor....

More here at a post I wrote about the incredible Giant Kings


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, May 8, 2011

CoTW 103 -- Girls Talk

We come from a land east of here, a land also quite northerly, where the winters hit almost as hard as they do here. We have travled many miles, from one frozen land to another, on a flying machine, to play here in your city, in your land. And we have one question for you: What have you done with all your womenfolk?

Though this particular prevarication was not verbalized as such until we reached Minneapolis, the question had started passing through my mind weeks prior, as Buffalo Tom was a few shows into our first tour of 2001, in the Benelux and UK countries (with a quick stop in Köln). Scanning the ever-decreasing audiences we pull into our shows at this stage in our career, we started to notice: very few women are left.

Don't get me wrong; I am quite happy for the passionate, paunchy, balding, middle-aged mirrors of ourselves that take the time and make the effort to be there late at night in some club that they have likely been coming to, perhaps with less frequency, for the past 20-odd years. I know that feeling of getting myself off a couch after dinner, on a week night, tired from work and the kids, perhaps it is cold out, and going to stand in sticky dried beer as my back starts to give out and my ears ring. But when I am looking forward to seeing a band whose records I love, the result is more often offers transcendence above that mundane stuff. It is like exercise -- the last thing you want to do, but it makes you feel so much better when you have done it.

But my own wife now attends maybe one or two shows a year (not just Buff Tom -- I mean all shows). Someone has to be responsible and care for the children. And I imagine this is what has happened to many of the BT fan womenfolk. And, to be quite honest, we were very grateful for that brief moment in the sun, when the lovely light of having "Late At Night" featured so prominently in a pivotal episode of the beloved-by-chicks show, My So Called Life. And that light shed down its rays on us, pierced the darkness of big-necked dudes in white "COCKS" baseball caps, who in the early-1990s parted their hulking flannel-shirted shoulders to all of a sudden let a parade of young women in to see Buffalo Tom!

Alas! Like the sun, the light was here and then it was gone. And we are left to ponder the dark and dank smell of dude, as if in a cave with a council of hunter-gatherers. Or something.

So, for all you women who DO still come (yes, I see you! I am so happy to see you!), thank you for coming!

But I still don't pretend to fully understand you. Hence this week's cover, a perfect pop song that completely summed up my adolescent gropings -- physical and mental -- when I was a teenager. A song which, in its effervescent pop shimmer and clever wordplay, actually lent a tinge of romantic erudition to my lost wanderings through vacant high school hallways. And Costello wrote quite a few of those.

I adhere closer to Dave Edmunds' hit version here. Sorta. Edmunds' version owes more than a bit to the Everly Brothers in feel and arrangement. And of course I stole the sentiment and half the title for my own solo song, "Girls Club"


Girls Talk mp3

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Charlie Byrd and the Emphemeral



This might be the most sublime of all of Jobim's melodies and therefore one of the most sublime melodies of all-time.

When I was just starting to learn guitar, my dad and I went to a little clinic and concert that Charlie gave at the Munro Music store in Huntington, NY in about 1980. He signed our (Dad's) copy of this record. I still have it. Let's hear you say something like that about an mp3.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cover of the Whenever 102 -- A New England



Billy, the Kendall Bros., Tanya, Billy J., Harry Horgan, Natalie at the Shake a Leg benefit in Newport back in the heady 1990s.


When I was 16, I came downstairs into my family's living room wearing a blazer (I still don't know the difference between sportcoat, sportjacket, and blazer) with the sleeves pulled midway up the forearms. This being 1982 or '83, this was a fresh look that I was trying out. The jacket was a heavy Filene's tweed jobber, not quite the Don Johnson, lightweight linen style. The sleeves did not want to stay up. But I thought I would try it out.

It was a weeknight in suburban Boston. The thick-pile carpet of my family's living room served as my catwalk. My parents, the fashionista critics. I kind of sidled in, though, not parading like model. Kind of waited to see if anyone noticed this bold new look.

"What the hell are you wearing?" asked my father, from the GQ Magazine seats.

My mother turned her head from the television, taking it in. "He's trying. To look. Punk," she pronounced. The last word came out more like, "apunk." Not like "a punk." "apunk."

"Go take that off. You're gonna wrinkle it." Said my father. The critics had spoken.

I don't think I was trying to look punk. New wave, maybe, but these were distinctions that were hard for my parents to follow. They had never quite adjusted to men growing their hair over their ears. Truth be told, I think I was going for more of Alex Keaton. I hadn't thought it worked for me either, but just like the time I got my ear pierced, I figured it would be worth trying to get a rise out of the critics before abandoning the look on my own terms.

They might have had their guard up looking for punk-rock warning signs in the apparel/body modification department, but they could not care less what I listened to. Every Christmas found some new vinyl under the tree. In 1983 or '84 I recall I got Billy Bragg's Life's a Riot With Spy Vs. Spy record among others.

I had been way into Echo and the Bunneymen and got to see them around this time at Boston's Opera House venue. I believe I came armed with the knowledge, or found out right after the gig, that they had this guy opening up for them who they had discovered busking in front of a venue where they were playing a gig. They invited him to tour. I would not be surprised if this is a myth or just something I got in my head on my own. I like the story. And Billy was great in that solo electric setting.

A New England is one of the great songs of the 1980s.

A New England mp3.

*****

Thanks to all who came to see us in Belgium, Holland, Germany, England, and Scotland. After that little tour, the family headed to Disney World, hence all the delay between covers. There will certainly be more time between these posts as Buffalo Tom heads out for dates in the States this spring. Hope to see you out there.