Monday, October 26, 2009

Cover of the Week 51

Sorry to lame out with another old recording. When I say it has been a rough week, you will have to trust me; I have had no worse and would not wish this one on my worst enemy. Plus it was sandwiched between (2) gigs that needed a bit of preparation (as opposed to the usual paint-by-numbers shows with which I am associated). So, I give you another glimpse at the Exile show we are doing tomorrow night. I think the version of this song will be slightly better tomorrow night. But if anyone is going to be ill-prepared, I am placing bets on the singer/guitarist/author.

By the way, here are some details:

From the House of Blues: Doors are at 6:30, with menu available for fine dining Set: 8:30 sharp. Reservations for the dining room - call concierge Nikki at 617-960-8376

Sweet Virginia mp3

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Show Tonight

I am playing a regular-length solo set at the Brattle Theater tonight supporting Session Americana. Then I will play a handful of songs with that fabulous band as well, all in a beautiful room for listening to acoustic music, and now with the benefit of beer/wine. Plus, it is early enough for you to get to bed at a reasonable time. I will be debuting some new songs as well as play a couple of the covers from my Cover of the Week project. Many tickets were still available as of last night. If you have never been to a SA show, you've been missing one of Boston's great musical experiences.

Session Americana w/Bill Janovitz

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cover of the Week 50

I am jettisoning all irony for this particular post. Of course, when one does as much, he runs the risk of being trite.

Bad stuff happens in life, as we all know and have experienced. But when it does, it makes you realize that when everything seems overwhelming -- tasks, responsibilities, whatever -- the truly important components of life, are actually quite small and wholly manageable and essential; family, friends, health, a little money. And -- in a big way -- art and music.

I truly believe in the healing, restorative, and even redemptive power of music. I, like many others, have at isolated times felt like it was one of the few things that make life worth living. I felt this clearly last night, when my wife and I went to go see Aretha Franklin on what was surely a great night for even the Queen of Soul. She went to church and brought the entire 3500-4000 of us with her as the congregation. Let it only be said that this particular weekend I really, really needed even just a mediocre night from Aretha. Just give me "Ain't No Way," please, Ms. Franklin. She gave us way more.

I also played an afternoon family-friendly benefit, "For Amie," at the Middle East Downstairs. It was put on by Brad Searles for his wife. Brad is the author of the excellent Bradley's Almanac blog. My kids were there, Drew O'Dougherty's kids were there, and Kristen Hersh's kids were there. Other friends came with their kids. It was beautiful.

I have some other shows coming up. The invitation-only guestlist is pretty much past capacity for the Exile on Main Street reading and performance 10/27 at the House of Blues Foundation Room. If you are on the list and can not attend, please be sure to let me know. If you really, really want to go and have not yet emailed me, please let me know and I will do what I can do to get you in.

Exile on Main St. is an essential rock & roll record, a holy work of art. It is about getting through it all, "wading through the waste stormy winter/And there's not a friend to help you through." Let thee be healed. By the way, as I write, it is snowing. In Oct-fucking-ober.

Let me tell you something else: As of this writing, tickets are still amazingly available for the Session Americana show 10/20 at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Sq. I will play a solo set (that ALONE should fill Madison Sq. Garden) and then sit in with S.A., who also alone should fill, let's say, Wembley. Together, there is probably no venue that should be able to accommodate the demand. So, here we have the Brattle Theater, one of the nation's treasures, in Harvard Sq., that is also a national treasure, despite it's battle against being an outdoor mall. And this, due to no small contribution from the Brattle and the sadly diminishing number of independent places like it. And you live here in Boston and have not yet bought a ticket? Come here, lemme slap you.

Dang, there goes all I said at the top about irony. Well, I made it to this paragraph. I am who I am.

Session Americana are truly one of Boston's great music experiences. I hope you have enjoyed them in the past and I hope you'll be on hand Tuesday, 10/20.

Get ye healed, and if there's one out there, may the Good Lord (be it He, She, We, It, or all or none of the above) shine a light on you.

From the other show that we read and performed from Exile, April 2005:

Shine a Light mp3

The whole show is available at

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cover of the Week 49

This is for all of you who requested a Faces cover, though I don't believe anyone asked for this song. It is my favorite Faces ballad and, probably, my fave number overall from them. I am a sucker for the descending chord sequence; instant melancholy.

Autumn in New England is also instant melancholy. Just mix with Guiness and, voila! Especially when the Red Sox go down early. And, whew! Did they ever go down yesterday -- in monumentally epic gargantuan proportions (as my friend Mark responded, "that's an understatement.") The Sox, you see, are our last strand of summer, hope against the irrefutable scientific facts that are otherwise easily observable, the chill wind, the darkening sky, the explosive color of the foliage, and then the barren branches of the trees lining the lovely streets of Brookline and outer environs. But we hold on, for as long as it is baseball season, summer is not fully over. As Bart Giamatti (actor Paul's father) wrote,

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

It is a sentimental, perhaps even mawkish passage. But I love it. I am sure Robert Frost was more artful about it, but this just sums up a certain vantage point about the daily presence of baseball in the lives of its fans. It is read on the last Red Sox broadcast every year by Joe Castiglione.

I grew up a Mets fan until my family left New York when I was 16. My interest in sports in general had been waning and was in steep decline. I did not rediscover that love of baseball again until decades later. I woke up some time in the 1990s to discover that I had lived in the Boston area for another 10 years and found myself rooting for the Sox. I was no longer a New Yorker. When we got back from touring, Boston was home.

But a part of me feels like a castoff, a man without a home, and the New Yorker in me was sad to see Shea Stadium go. It has little to do with the actual structure and architecture of the place; it was really an ill-conceived and impersonal mid-1960s structure in the middle of vast parking lots. Nevertheless, it was the first place my father took me to see a game. And everyone remembers the first time they come up off a concourse to see the shockingly vivid green of an infield at a major league baseball stadium. And so it was for me at Shea, where the Beatles had played only a few years before. I talk a bit about this in an interview with Timothy Bracy that should be going up on L Magazine sometime today or so. Sorry to quote myself, but the discussion coincided and dovetailed with this post:

So, that's how I grew up. Kingman, Kranepool, McGraw, Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub, Tom Seaver, even Willy Mays, these are the names I grew up with. But my memory is so bad for sports. I have very little recollection of those games. But I remember going many times to Shea, and of course, the first time. I remember my father pointing out Mays' pink El Dorado in the lot. I got Ron Swoboda's and Lyndsey Nelson's autographs. Mr. Met, Banner Day, "Meet the Mets," "Kiner's Korner," "the one beer when you're having more than one," and losing while the Yankees were always winning. I recall being very young and thinking that fandom could be completely arbitrary, that I could therefore simply declare myself a fan of the Cowboys or, godforbid, the Yankees. I was just tossing such ideas around, but not committing. It was one of those life lessons when my wise father told me, basically, sure, I could. But that the character of a person is their loyalty, even loyalty to something as silly as sports teams. So if I wanted to be a fan of the Yankees, that was my choice (those words came hard for him, I am sure. He probably threw up in his mouth) but if I made that choice, he didn't want me changing my allegiances later on. No fair-weather fans in his house. It was not an outright ban on Yankee fandom; it was something much larger and more important.

Now it is torn down and something new is there. I can't imagine them considering -- as was seriously considered up until just a few years ago -- replacing Fenway Park. It is such a trip to bring grown friends of mine there for the first time, mostly visiting New Yorkers. Like Wrigley in Chicago, it is hallowed ground, a magical link to the past, an actual ballpark right in the middle of the city -- not some urban outpost relegated to the outskirts of a metropolis like Shea or even Yankee Stadium, never mind some godforesaken suburban NFL stadium like Gillette (which I have yet to visit and I have very little interest in doing so.)

No, Fenway has a real sense of place, of authenticity, of tradition. Like those football/soccer joints in England and Europe, there is a human charge to the place. I remember sitting in a pub in Chelsea while English fans filed past on their way to the game played in the same neighborhood their fathers did, on the same pitch. It's a similar feeling at the pubs around Fenway and Wrigley.

And, for all its faults, Shea held some history. And to merely replace it with some new place across the parking lot is only a surface improvement. I was sad to see it go, though I am not sure my Mets friends who saw no such disruption in their fandom feel the same way. But it is the same phenomenon of leaving a place -- a town, a college, whatever; those places from the past are colored in sepia washes of nostalgia that blur out the less pleasing edges and messy reality.

I'm pretty sure that's not exactly or solely what Hot Rod is singing about on "Love Lives Here." But he definitely is concentrating on the sense of place, a place that -- as Tom Waits sang on Cover of the Week 37 -- once "held laughter, once it held dreams," the same way that countless country songs from "Home for Sale" and "The Grand Tour" do.

There's always next year.

Love Lives Here mp3

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cover of the Week 48

I used to play "Rocket Man" during some solo acoustic sets in the early/mid-'90s. The only places I recall playing it are in the U.K. Specifically, I remember a set in Wales. I think this is because there might have been a recording of it. I was actually already starting the recording when it was requested in the below thread/post by one Billy Peregoy. So those of you who also requested Elton John might feel somewhat compelled to make a donation to charity as well, since I am unlikely to do another Elton song. But if I do, it would be "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues," and my guess is that few of you want that to happen.

When Buffalo Tom was starting to really crank along, I relished the opportunity to play some completely solo shows on the side for die-hard fans. Playing solo is a completely different challenge from playing with the full rock trio. Musically, the advantages are that I get to mess with arrangements on the fly, without wondering if other players are with me. And I really get to change dynamics and use my voice more. But the disadvantages are that I can't hide behind walls of distortion and other players covering up possible warts. And while going out on a limb with arrangements usually yields rewarding and often surprising results, it can also result in awkward or tragic musical missteps. And while the dynamics allow for a more intimate listening experience, the range is much flatter than the dynamic peaks and dips of a band, so listeners can more easily get bored.

When I did strings of such shows, I became a lonesome troubadour -- Lonesome Billy. I loved the freedom of traveling alone, hopping on trains across the U.K. and Europe, mainly, or getting in my car to go play a show in Toronto (I played with Neko Case and Her Boyfriends up at the Horseshoe there), or down to the Fez in N.Y. Even better was when my wife traveled with me for a mini vacation, as I get morosely lonely quite easily. While that was usually inspirational for songwriting, it did not do me well in the short term.

When I played "Rocket Man," it was just a guy on stage with only a guitar accompanying. That was going to be the idea here, but I fear I might have ended up bringing it pretty close to the ideas on Sir Elton's original recording. I always thought of it as a more melancholy version of "Space Oddity," which I was always more scared by (my old review of the song here). I like Bernie Taupin's lyric here. It is fairly straightforward for the oblique lyricist. I guess being out there playing those shows on my own allowed me to identify with the rocket man burning out his fuse out there alone. Damn, it's lonely out in space!

Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time) mp3

Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time) Hi Fi .wav