Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Requests for CoTW

Hey, let's get some requests posted in comments below. Remember the deal, a covered request gets you to contribute to a charity of your choice.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yellowed Newspaper Clippings

From today's Boston Globe review of Jon Krakauer's new book about the Pat Tillman cover up: "On Aug. 6, 2001, our vacationing president was warned by the CIA for the 36th time in eight months that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike in the United States and that recent intelligence had suggested an attack might be imminent. There were at that moment, George W. Bush was told, 70 bin-Laden-related field investigations being conducted in the country. 'All right,’' our president told the CIA officer, 'you’ve covered your ass.'"

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cover of the Week 47

Kay Hanley and Lori McKenna at Hot Stove Cool Music, January 2008, with me grinning appropriately for a part time man of rock. One of my favorite pictures. Oh yeah, please let me know who took it, so that I may give credit.

I am not yet convinced that Twitter is worth the hype. But it did facilitate this week's CoTW. More specifically, it led to me asking my friend and fellow Hot Stovie, Kay Hanley, to please sing on this rendition of one of the most beautiful songs in pop music history, Big Star's "Thirteen."
(In the early 2000s, I wrote about the song for allmusic.com; dig the dated reference to CD repeat buttons)

It's a drop-dead song and should be up there with "Yesterday" for most-covered pop songs. There have been a few notable versions, to be sure. And the world does not need mine. But I don't care. I don't even want to mess with it. I just want to sing and play it. So that's what I do here. But I do get the honor of having Kay sing with me. And what an unbelievably lovely voice she has.

Last week, I received a package from Amazon with the new Big Star box set, Keep an Eye on the Sky. I had not ordered it. I had no birthday recently. I could only think of one person that would send such an unexpected and unwarranted gift: Mike O'Malley. (See Mike's most recent turn at the end of this clip from the TV show, "Glee"):

Making friends relatively later in life is a rare treat and accomplishment. Rarer still is to form a bond with someone you start to count as one of your all-time best buds. But then again, it is rare to meet someone as big-hearted as Mike. He has this effect on almost everyone. By way of example, a friend of his told a story about this huge effort Mike made to be part of a personal event in the friend's life (those details do not matter here). The friend vowed to pay it back to Mike. And, semi-whimsically, the friend decided to throw a surprise party for Mike, just as a "thanks for being you" kind of fete. He started calling mutual friends. In a matter of a few days, people were canceling plans, booking flights back to L.A., finding babysitters on late notice, and offering homes in the Hollywood Hills, and to host. A bunch of actors showed up to read from one of Mike's plays (not many folks know Mike is an accomplished dramatist). He was gobsmacked. But he shouldn't have been; he has laid out enough good karma to pave his way to Nirvana no matter how he acts from here on out.

And I am a lucky guy to make such friends. I have mentioned many others here in this blog, people who have come along well after my mid-30s. I count this as perhaps the greatest benefits of my time in Buffalo Tom. We clearly reached many people, so it is almost like we have a head start in a relationship once we actually make acquaintances. Can you imagine what it is like to be a demigod like Dylan or McCartney walking the earth, doing good works? Only that we could touch the hem of their garments!

I guess I turned Mike on to this song years back, so he sent me the CD set. And so here I am this week, with the live version of the song in my head all week. The live version, by the way, is more acutely heart-wrenching somehow, with Chris Bell out of the group, and the strain of Chilton's vocals over the chatter of a small nightclub crowd. And with the song running through my brain, I look at one of my various screens and there is a "tweet" from Kay with the lines, "Won't you tell me what you're thinking of/Would you be an outlaw for my love." I'm all like, BAM, yo! I'll tell you what's on my mind, Kay! That song, that song! And you singing on it! And your hubby, USA Mike Eisenstein, playing the solo!

It was meant to be. Kay said yes, thank God. And the glory of technology, which offered its first glimmer of inspiration with that message on Twitter, continued to ratchet up with the sending-and-receiving-and-back-again of digital music files and home studio recordings. In a matter of two days, my humble dude-in-basement recording was brought to life by the sunny Cali (but melancholy in the Brian Wilson way) sounds of Boston ex-pats, my buddies, Kay and USA. Talk about your pros! Yikes.

Kay and Mike were mere kids when I first met them. And though we were also young, BT were starting to develop facial hair, at least, by then. But it was not until my involvement in the Hot Stove event, around 2001, that I got to know them well. I remember days around 1999 or 2000 on an Arlington (Massachusetts) playground with my then-baby daughter, playing Mr. Mom hanging out with Kay, Tanya Donelly, and our friend Kristen Hughes, all of us with out kids. Kay's and Tanya's daughters were born right around the same month as mine. We might still have a budding rock band or girl group.

Anyway, we miss you Kay and Mike and all the other friends who made the smart move for sun and work in L.A. Keep up the good vibrations!

Thirteen mp3

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Hey, someone asked me what a "clam" is, as referenced in my last post. Well, I assume more people don't know the term either. So, a clam is a mistake/bad note. Old music-dude terminology. See: Buddy Rich balling out his band on a bus.

"...while you clam all over this fucking joint....

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cover of the Week 46 and Ticket Give-away

Here is a cover of the Stones' "Let it Loose," recorded at the Attic in Newton, Massachusetts 4.21.05. It was around the time or the release of my book on the subject of the album, Exile on Main St. for the 33 1/3 series by Continuum Books. So I did some readings from the book and played a bunch of Exile tunes, as well as some loosely related material -- originals and non-Stones covers. The show was a cooperative effort with Tim Huggins, who used to own Newtonville Books and was one of the founders of one of Boston's all-time great series, Earfull. These were mixed shows of author readings and musical performances at the tiny -- and long lost -- Kendall Cafe Pub in Cambridge. Tom Perrotta, Dennis Lehane, and one of the Farrelly brothers were all rubbing elbows at the bar one night. Those nights were a blast.

Well, I was honored to be invited by the kind folks at the Boston outpost House of Blues to do something like it at the Foundation Room at the H.O.B. on October 27. Check out the virtual tour; the room seems to fit the vibe of Exile, no? Well, we will play a good healthy set, I will do some readings, and I will sign some books.

Here's the thing: it is a private gig for members and Friends of the Foundation. But I get a bunch of tickets/guest slots to give away to friends/fans who want to come and check it out. If you would like to be added to the list, I think the best way to do this is email me at janovitz.bill@gmail.com to put in your request. I will take the first however many I am allowed. There should be plenty of room for those who would really like to come.

Also, the week before, October 20, I will be playing a solo acoustic set before the wondrous Session Americana at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Sq. I believe I will sit in with them for a song or two as well. No guest list spots for that one.

Here again is "Let it Loose," as performed by Crown Victoria: Matt Tahaney on bass/vocals; Phil Aiken on piano, organ and vocals; and Tom "Cal-eye-forn-ee Here I Come" Polce on drums and vocals. The clam near the end is all me. One of my favorite songs of all time.

Let it Loose mp3

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cover of the Week 45

I always loved when our friends in the band Fuzzy pulled out Neil Young's "Losing End" in their sets. What a great old song, and really cool when sung by Hilken Mancini and Chris Toppin -- two women's voices in place of Neil's and Danny Whitten's.

You'll have to forgive my version. It slips a bit out of tune almost from the get-go. But it was late night and I didn't notice until playback. I didn't want to do it over. And I was inspired to keep going after the end to slide into a Neil medley. So settle back. Send the kids off for bed. This is an epic. It's like an album side. Double shot.

When Tom Maginnis was a high school kid, his older brother and his buds would use code for going to smoke pot: "Wanna go listen to some Neil?" It comes in useful to this day. Not that I admit to using illicit drugs, never mind advocate...

The Losing End (When You're On) + mp3

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Public Radio Piece

I think I forgot to post this here, though I had posted it over at Facebook. It is a piece I wrote and narrated about my childhood friend Chris Campion for the "Here and Now" program produced by my poker buddy, Chris Ballman, for Boston's NPR news station, WBUR. Campy wrote a highly engaging memoir called Escape From Bellevue: A Dive Bar Odyssey, about his struggles with booze and other substances, while trying to get his band off the ground in the 1990s NYC alt rock world.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cover of the Week 44

Labor Day weekend. Down at my parent's place on Cape Cod. We're in the garage about to leave for the last hurrah of the summer at Old Silver beach with my mom the kids. My father is seeing us off from the garage. I look down and see a big box for a 3M overhead projector. I assume it is being used for something else. They had been cleaning out junk from the basement.

"You have an overhead projector?" I ask, opening the trunk of the car.

"Yeah," he answers, hands in pockets, with the unspoken implication, "why do you ask?"

I ask, "Really? I wasn't even aware that people still use these things. What with Power Point being 15 years old and all."

My wife and mother are snickering as we all load up the car.

"Nah, I don't know how to do any of that stuff," he answers.

"What do you use it for, presentations?" I ask. Though my father is at least 12 years into retirement, you would never know it. He is on various committees on a volunteer basis. I imagine him showing the arts guild and the church find raisers how messy their financials are: "next slide, please." He keeps regular hours in his home office. We got him a shredder once as a gift for something. A year later, it was still there in the unopened box. "I haven't had a chance to read the manual," he explained.

A shredder.

My mother asks, "So what are you showing on that projector thing, nudie shows?"

"Yeah, 'hey man, the transparency of that chick is upside down!'" I add in my best disgruntled stag party jeer. "Where did you get this thing, on Craig's List or something."

"Nah, Staples."

"They still sell them? Other people still buy them?"

"Yep, I guess so."

"Have you read the manual yet?" I ask him.

This is a man well known for his adherence to the meticulous practice of unpacking parts no matter what the kit or product, assembly required or not, laying everything out in an organized flow, getting the proper tools, unfolding the instructions and reading and re-reading them. And yet, it once took two of us to get a swing set about 3/4 of the way assembled before we realized we had to disassemble almost all of it and start over. I inherited my mechanical know-how from him.

And so, we bid goodbye to another summer from a Cape Cod garage.

We were happy to find out that the Buffalo Tom song, "Summer," was placed on this NPR list/mix of "Songs for Summer's End." Regular readers and BT fans are well aware that the topic of the change of seasons, and summer's end in particular, have held a forceful sway for BT songwriting. A small sampling of our others in this genre include "White Paint Morning," "Treehouse," and "September Shirt" to more overtly autumnal tones like "Mineral." Winter songs might include "Frozen Lake" and "Crutch." The peak of summer? Maybe "Tangerine," and "Souvenir." A Buff Tom May Day soundtrack would definitely have "Sundress."

There are a good amount of songs that capture the immediate end of summer for me as a fan. From standards like "September Song" and "Summer Wind" to Earth, Wind, and Fire's "September." Wilco's "In a Future Age" resonates for me more recently.

But nothing captures the "wasted every day" feel and the idea of lost opportunity of summer like the Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl." It probably seems as incongruous -- as it does even to me -- that I love the beach. Talk about transparency -- that might as well describe my ultra-fair skin. I can only swim a few strokes before I sun out of steam. I hate seafood. But I never was a camping guy, a mountains or a lake guy. I love the shore. I always wished I was a surfer dude. I envy Matt Tahaney and Billy Beard, fellow musician buddies who head out in wet suits in almost any season around New England, laid back and hunting for great waves. Maybe this is why I identify with "Surfer Girl."

While they are so immediately associated with the joys of fun, sun, surf, and sand via their early singles, and then for the melancholia of the more growing-up projects like Pet Sounds and later, "Surfer Girl" is one of those that sits in between somehow.

The music is unmistakably wistful, a pining melody against an almost corny standard D-Bm-G-A sad-pop chord sequence. But then it turns even more aching. As I pointed out on Twitter/Facebook this week, I really would not have previously been able to tell you what a major 7th chord was, even as I might be playing a major 7th (as opposed to s straight 7th), but the chord form is all over "Surfer Girl" (under "make my heart come...") and ("standing by the ocean's roar," e.g.) and a good major 7th will break your heart. Apparently, Brian Wilson used "When You Wish Upon a Star" as a guide, writing it at the age of 19.

But I think -- perhaps incorrect in my presumption -- that most people write off the song as a lightweight Beach Boys number. On the surface, it seems like just a surfer dude out to pick up a surfer girl. Story over. But Brian was not a surfer. He sees himself as a poseur here, a wannabe surfer but not cool enough. As with another song from the same era, "In My Room," there is an acute loneliness at the core, heartbreak, anxiety and resignation that he will not get the girl ("little one/Make my heart come all undone/Do you love me, do you surfer girl?) She is elusive, nameless, a voiceless stranger, a crush ("I have seen you on the shore/Standing by the ocean's roar.") That poignant melancholy has a tight grip.

But then it gets even more urgent, as the singer is all of a sudden left alone on the middle-eight, after having had the support of Four Freshmen-like harmonies up to this point. He takes the "We could ride the surf together...." lines solo before the choir comes back in to join him as the key modulates upwards to an even more aching verse and outro.

It is all a dream. You never believe that the idea that the singer can truly "ride the surf together" with her, or that he even has a woody (please Beavis; it refers to a wood-paneled station wagon that was hip with surfers), though you can tell he really knows he can make her "dreams come true" somehow. He has watched her all summer and knows he will never see her again.

Surfer Girl mp3