And what's the best way to end a fun, diverse, successful, story-filled, diary-covered tour that lasted just shy of five weeks, covering 11 countries and 29 shows in 31 days?
Why, of course! With a noontime matinee on a Sunday in Madrid in front of a roomful of parents and their kids.
Just when you think the entire book has been written on this kind of thing, someone finds a new way to fill another page. It was just 36 hours after closing the door on the series of "regular" Miracle 3 rock shows with a wild Friday night gig at the Helldorado club in Vitoria. Man, that was one for the ages. Packed, wild show with the band firing on all cylinders and the audience firing on yet a few more. We played four encores-that NEVER happens. That never SHOULD happen. Four encores is just ridiculous. But when the audience doesn't stop-just will not stop cheering for more it just would seem rude to hide backstage and pretend not to hear. A rousing "500 Girl Mornings" was the last song that Erik, Linda, Jason and I played together.
In a way that WAS the end of the tour and the children's hour today was a nice postscript. Jason and I sat side-by-side in chairs, playing a completely different set list from the rest of the tour on acoustic (me) and electric (Jason) guitars. What did we play?
There might have been one or two more. I spoke more Spanish than I have at any other show and was either funny, cryptic, insane, inscrutable, interesting or some or no combination of the above. More than a few of the parents told me it was their kid's first rock show which made me happy and reminded me of when I saw my first show-Delaney and Bonnie at UCLA's Royce Hall in 1969. I don't think they played any Warren Zevon songs that day.
And that, my bloggy friends, is that. The band and I are waiting for the Madrid restaurants to open, sometime around 8:30pm-that's the equivalent of the Senior's Early Bird Special over here. We will raise a toast to a fine tour, to good memories and, of course, to all of you. See you on the next one.
Can we talk about smoking? Will we talk about smoking? Yes we can, yes we will. (Have I turned into Dr. Seuss? Yes, I have!) Smoke smoke smoke. It's back, it never went away-take your pick. Spain, like Greece and Serbia, remains among the last of the ANTI anit-smoking holdouts. While most of the US and Europe have not only outlawed smoking in bars, clubs and restaurants but also managed to turn smokers into shameful pariahs, left to ply their trade huddled outside in the cold or in minimal, stockade-like roped off areas in public places, these few European outposts have done nothing of the sort. Grab your café con leche and chocolate croissant at the café in the morning and the guy next to will blow a hefty geyser of exhale in your direction. Stand on stage and share the smoke with the guy right in front of you. The words go out, the smoke goes in-it almost feels positively ecological. Not a breath or word is wasted-the space of exhaled sentiment is replaced by inhaled sediment. The smoker you drink, the player you get! Joe Walsh was right!
In the early days of this Spanish tour addendum we were told that the laws were changing and that smoking would be outlawed in bars and restaurants on the first of the year but last night in Gijon I heard from my old pal and Australian Blonde bandmate Tito that the initiation of the law has been pushed back six months. And I found in Germany last month that smoking has been reintroduced to bars, first as an option for sectioned off areas of bars to eventually just tossing the smoky baby out with the filtered bathwater and allowing smoking in most bars just like in the old days-those old days being the same as the days of leeches, witch-burnings and electroshock therapy. Okay okay okay-I sound positively bitchy this morning. But I must admit that I long for the days when opening my suitcase the morning after the show wasn't akin to unlocking the door to a roaring 20's speakeasy. Ah, you can take the Californian out of California but....
Now we're on our way to Vittoria, a city I remember from some manic live shows from the 80's. It was a mainstay on the Dream Syndicate tours although I haven't been back since then. A Basque city, Vittoria lives up to reputation with late nights, wild crowds, great tapas and good times. And for a night like that as we roll into the final few days I can certainly handle a puff or two of second-hand smoke.
There were long-and I do mean LONG, the round-the-block varieties-lines in Madrid this morning for their big end-of-the-year (love those hyphens!) Christmas lottery. I guess they began selling tickets for this big roll of the dice months ago and everybody nationwide wants their shot at the big prizes. I'm told that each ticket costs 20 euros and that the jackpot (of which there are several) is 300,000 euros. As Alvaro said, "that's a lot of money" and he's right but I guess I'm jaded and spoiled by the barrage of ads back home promising obscene 8-figure jackpots year round. And I never see a line that long in my neighborhood although I do get frustrated when I'm waiting to buy my Snapple and the latest Uncut while someone in front of me is reciting a litany of lucky numbers. Anyway, I wish everyone the best. My only lottery this week has been eating the amazing pimientos padrones and hoping that I don't end up the rare but lethal spicy one. It already happened once this week and I couldn't speak, let alone sing, for the next few minutes. Note to self: don't each pimientos padrones on stage.
As is usually the case when the tour is winding down, I get a little lazy about the daily diaries. What can I say? On a tour where we're playing 29 shows in 31 days it's only natural that you get a little tired and also there are always things to think about at this point of the tour. Where will bags, bodies, instruments, merch, brain cells and such be shifting after the last gig? What is left to be eaten, played, talked about, seen and avoided in the last days? And then there's Spain-one of my favorite places to tour although the shows are late, the revelry enticing and the drives are long which means the usual crinkly crunch of tour exhaustion goes into overdrive.
So, I've missed a tale or two. I neglected to mention the show in Barcelona where we partied with the writers and editors from the legendary Ruta 66 magazine until long after the show even though I had to get up at 6am the next day to catch the first high-speed train down to Madrid where I was shuttled off to an interview and acoustic performance for live, national radio. I guess the ongoing theme and gag of the four hour (7am to 11am) show was "Will He Make It?" and my arrival and taxi ride to the station was all documented for the entire nation to hear. I was a little fried and what I had lost on the top end of my voice was more than compensated by a low, gravelly burr (think Iggy, Serge and one Johnny Cash) which I used for an interview conducted entirely in Spanish (I'm getting more proficient day to day) and the first attempt at acoustic versions of songs from the new album ("Resolution" and "Colored Lights."). You can hear for yourself at http://www.rtve.es/mediateca/audios/20101201/hoy-empieza-todo-entrevistas-acusticas-steve-wynn-01-12-10/947449.shtml
The band arrived in Madrid at 7am and we were onstage just a few hours later at the Charada Coronita Jukebox. I was a little wiped out from the early morning and the band was dazed from the long drive but we rallied for a show that was one of our best in front of a very enthusiastic Madrid audience, heartening and surprising since, as I've said before, big city crowds can be a little subdued, daring you to "Show Me!" before giving it up. Then again, we were "giving it up" from the first note so there was nothing left to show.
So, now we're caught up. Well, except for the lottery ticket I just might have to buy at the next road stop. Wish me luck.
NOTE: Just wanted to give some explanation and backstory to the photo in yesterday's diary. Jason and Linda are not actually prone to giving the finger at any odd moment. Instead they were acting in character as early 80's "Oi"-styled UK hardcore punk rockers, their travel pillows converted to simulated Mohawks. It might have helped if you could have heard their accents.
I was eating breakfast this morning with Jason, dining on Spanish pastries on the 7th floor of the five-star Silken Hotel in Bilbao, overlooking the metallic waves and curves, sloops and slopes of the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenhiem just outside our window and Jason said "This is how it should be every day."
This is not how it is every day.
On tour the level of accommodations varies greatly from day to day. I remember that in Copenhagen our hotel very much resembled the sailors quarters of a budget overnight ferry and that other shows have had rooms that resembled a college dormitory. And ti's all good, all part of the daily roulette of touring. But every so often you get lucky, very very lucky and get a hotel that allows you for a moment to think, "Ah, this is how it is-this is what it's like to be a rock star."
"I guess this is the kind of place Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds stay in every night," suggested Jason. He might be right.
Much of the credit for the nice rooms as well as good promotion that led to a great attendance (on a Sunday night, no less) in the elegant Bilborock club must go to our new friend Mikel of the WOP Band that organized the event and opened the concert. WOP stands for Walk On Project, a charity organization put together by Mikel to help support the treatment and research for various pediatric diseases. Linda and I are going to join them in the studio in a few weeks for a benefit record and this show was the kickoff of that relationship. And what a night it was. Fortified by our happiness and good fortune, we responded not as lazy, pampered arena rockers but rather as giddy, fortified, reinvigorated touring veterans, glad to be there and knowing this would be a night to remember.
I've played Bilbao many times over the years and this was certainly one of my favorite shows in this lively Basque city. A nice mixture of the old and the new (and one of the nice things about this tour is that the songs from "Northern Aggression' seem to be going over as well as older material from my solo records and Dream Syndicate catalog). We managed to even break away to a local tapas bar for various delights involving octopus, cheese, ham and various delights "in their own ink." (My Baseball Project bandmate once considered calling his band's record "the Minus 5 In Their Own Ink"-what a great name that would have been!)
Now we're back in the van. Alvaro is playing a CD that he bought at the hotel, a collection of blues music put together by the hotel for their guests. What kind of blues can you have at a hotel like that, I wondered. Jason replied, "The checkout blues." Good point, Jason Very good point.
How much can be crammed into 24 hours? Well, let's see:
--When we last met, I was pondering our Dutch version of Thanksgiving (and that's somewhat appropriate when you think about it, as we normally would have been dining in New, rather than Old Amsterdam). We did, in fact, make it over to Bojo for various nasi rames, mackerel in banana leaves, skewered meats in peanut sauce and spicy soup, just the way the settlers had intended. You can always judge a place by the locals that attend and the first people we saw when we walked in the door were our able, trusty agents Bas and Aldo from Belmont Bookings. Bas, you were right. The mackerel was a revelation.
--And then back to the Paradiso where we were ready take the stage upstairs at about the same time as M.I.A. was holding court downstairs. At some point, I'm sure that "Amphetamine" and "Paper Planes" might have been worked into an unintentional medley and I am waiting for the remix release to follow. At one point during his solo in "That's What You Always Say," Jason noticed a very young fan up front playing air guitar and our guitar savant, recognizing a kindred spirit, handed over his Jazzmaster to the youngster who ended up reeling off a very impressive solo and then refused to give the guitar back. In the meantime, I was fighting a cold that had my voice plumbing the depths of, say, Mark Lanegan or Nick Cave before giving way to a Howlin' Wolf rasp. I'm already feeling better and glad to be healthy again but it was fun to morph into a goth bluesman for one night.
--We packed up. Quickly. And loaded out. Frantically-dodging the simultaneous loadout of the M.I.A. machine. I think our entire van could have fit in one of her road cases. Why the hurry? Turns out we had to drive three hours after the show to a hotel just outside of the Brussels Airport, where we had to catch a flight to Zaragoza the next morning. We arrived at the hotel at 4am where we got a couple of hours of sleep before bags were repacked, guitars and gear shuffled and we sadly had to say goodbye to Jan who was brining back the bits and pieces that we wouldn't need until later.
--And just like that we were wheeling our bags from baggage claim and into our new reality, one which we will be inhabiting for the next week here in Spain. We were introduced to our new van, new backline and new tour manager, Alvaro, who is also the singer in the fabulous band the Right-Ons who I saw in New York last year. By the time 24 hours had passed by we were back on stage, digging into the musical depths much further south and in thankfully warmer weather. Here we are, somewhat after midnight in the Zaragoza main square, grateful to able to walk around after the show without inviting frostbite and even more grateful to know that some much needed sleep was on the way.
This is the second time I've spent Thanksgiving in Amsterdam. The first time was back in 1988 with the Dream Syndicate. We ate dinner at Burger King. But now we are older, wiser and our palettes (as well as ability to do food research online) have developed so we are planning to go over to Bojo, our favorite Indonesian restaurant in town. Then again, the deli tray is looking mighty sumptuous right now after the three-hour (i.e. brief) drive from Brussels.
Ah, Brussels. What can I say about this fine city? Great beer (we had some Chimay back at the hotel after the show), amazing chocolate, waffles, fries (try them with the samurai sauce!)-well, just about everything is great. And then there are the clubs. There are two fantastic clubs in Brussels. We usually play at the Ancienne Belgique but last night was our second visit to the Botanique. And here's the funny thing. The AB is pretty much a Flemish club with a mostly Flemish staff and even audience. But the Botanique? All French, baby! In other words, Jan and Erik had no advantage over the rest of us. It was an evening of "Merci"s and "Au Revoir"s. Oh, and a really good, moody show in a round, mini-amphitheater room that suggested that at any minute we might be sent down to battle against some hungry lions. But that never happened. The lions were tired and sated from too much beer and waffles.
And I'd love to tell you more. But sound check beckons as does that local version of Thanksgiving. Who needs turkey when you can have peanut sauce on your nasi rames? Take that, you pesky pilgrims!
Short drives, short diary. Oh, wait a second? Is he actually COMPLAINING about a short drive? Oh, that Steve. I'll show him a long drive. Wait wait wait-hold on a second, Steve's internal dialogue. I'm only saying that the more extended drives do give more of a chance for extended ramblings. There are certain things that you might want to do in any given van ride. For example, Jason and Linda are having a scintillating conversation about the challenges of the corporate world. I could engage in some banter with my bandmates. Erik and Jan are up front talking in Dutch. I could chat with them and improve my Dutch vocabulary (currently up to about 7 or 8 words!). I could eat the cheese sandwich that I made at the breakfast buffet in Diksmuide this morning while staring out the window at the French countryside.
I just looked out the window. It is raining, a little gloomy with a few sheep in the distance.
I have new issues of Uncut and Mojo. I want to listen to the new Neil Young album. I have two books (the DiMaggio book and another by E.L. Doctrow along with a book about Spain that I got from Robert Fisher who was at our show last night along with fiddler supreme David Michael Curry). But I am choosing to exercise my typing fingers to bring you (and a future forgetful Steve) up to date. Up to date! That's today. We're on our way to London fresh on the heels of a moody, mercurial gig at the 4AD club in Diksmuide last night. The 4AD is a very welcoming, friendly club that I played for the first time on my acoustic trio tour in 2008. And it was nice having the chance to hang out with Robert and DMC-they're just wrapping up their tour after nearly a month on the road. They didn't seem tired. Very encouraging.
The ferry approaches. Our one hour drive slides into a one hour ferry trip from Calais to Dover (do I dare the English Breakfast? Do I have to eat baked beans?) and then another hour or two to London. Will London swing? Like a pendulum? My guess is...YES. I haven't done one of these Miracle 3 style rock shows there since 2006, it's a new club for us (The Lexington) and lots of friends will be there. And tomorrow? A longer drive which means you'll be able to hear all about it-just as soon as I get through that Ray Davies interview in Uncut.
Ah, what's sadder than having to hop in the van and leave London after the show? No chance for a late night run for fish and chips or a last Guinness at the fabled Columbia Hotel with the many good friends who graced our gig at the Lexington last night. But an early ferry lies ahead to bring us back to Belgium and our show tonight in Brussels at the Botanique so we needed to make our way back to this quaint little town that puts us that much closer to the ferry, the same ferry I wrote about yesterday. Déjà vu all over again.
But the Lone Ranger-like 1am escape from the scene of the crime is about the only regret about last night. Our London show was one of the highlights of the tour. Packed room-my first time at the Lexington and I was really impressed-and one of the more incendiary shows of the tour. And we were joined at dinner (Balti delights down the road from the club) by our pal Robyn Hitchcock who joined us on stage for versions of “Street Fighting Man” and “500 Girl Mornings” that ended the evening. And after the show we all had the chance to hang out with Chris Bailey (of the Saints) who was also at the show. Oh man---it was like my pre-Dream Syndicate record collection come to life! I think that Bailey (as everyone calls him) might join us on (or off) stage in Amsterdam tomorrow.
It's funny. I used to get very nervous about London show--something about the musical history of the city and the thought that it was a Big Gig. And, at times, it seemed that the audience was watching quietly and carefully with a Show-Me attitude but all of that has changed. It is just another stop on the tour-and I mean that in the best way possible. There is a comfort in playing a loyal, enthusiastic audience (and new fans as well) at all of our shows and last night's crowd was with us from the start. It was certainly a jolt of adrenaline to our system after a long day of travel.
But now it's time to pack up the bags and get on that ferry. I wonder what kind of gigs they have here in Maidstone.
Welcome to the Sunday review of This Week With Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3. I'm your moderator and featured commentator. In this week's review, my renowned analysts and myself will discuss the issues and controversies that have captured our world this week. Our world, of course, is specifically the inside of this van and various backstages, stages and hotel lobbies. It's a very small global territory but it's what we know.
I first turn the podium over to our lead guitar bureau chief Jason Victor. Jason has a new book on the bestseller's list called "Why I Began Eating Fish-A Guide To Being A Vegetarian On Tour." He is a regular contributor to our show. Jason?
Every time I do indulge in those aquatic creatures, I still feel pangs of guilt. But I swear, it's only occasionally. And it keeps me fit and awake (barely) - not easy when your average drive is 7-8 hours a day. But french fries just don't keep a man standing for long, and tofu seems so, so how does one say, invisible at the rest stops. So you get warm food when you can. One of the hardest decisions that you'll have to face daily is sleep or breakfast (sounds much tougher than my desk job, doesn't it?) About a week ago, while in Vienna, I chose the latter option, and as soon as I walk into the dining room, in my pre-coffee-eyes-still-glued-shut-daze, I notice a familiar face sitting down having his breakfast - was I still dreaming, or was it really the legendary Martin Rev - one/half of the legendary band Suicide? As he was leaving, I said "Hi Mr. Rev", and well, he couldn't have been nicer - even recognizing me from somewhere on the mean streets of NYC. What a way to start the day - it isn't often you get to meet a legend such as he whose influence goes far and wide.
Thanks for that report, Jason. Now we move on over to….wait a second. Everyone else is asleep. Such are the realities of the 15 hour drive that is nearing it's completion. Really good show in Oslo last night. Our most epic and occasionally free jazz laden version of "Coltrane" yet. I hope it shows up on YouTube or on the tape traders site (www.traders.stevewynn.net) where a few of the shows of this tour have already surfaced. We're now in Holland, the last of our five countries in which we are driving today. It's the tour in reverse and we'll spend a night at Erik's pad in Deventer before starting out again. It's the midway point of the tour. Get a good night's sleep, readers. There's more adventure up ahead.
I've enjoyed the expressions on the faces of the locals when I tell them our routing for this four-day Scandinavian tour. From last Thursday to tomorrow night our itinerary reads: Copenhagen to Stockholm to Malmo to Oslo and then back again down to Holland. You should look it up. Fire up your Google Maps and then print it out-make your printout actual size if you can and you'll see what I mean. It's all a little crazy but, truth be told, it's hardest for Jan, who is doing most of the driving, and Erik, who takes over when Jan needs a break and climbs into the mysterious upper berth, a sleeping area of the van that I have yet to explore. I hear it's nice. I hear there are orange groves and palm trees and free-flowing brooks where you can catch trout and then fry them up on the shores where you are fanned by sirens who sing Mantovani songs to you while you dine. Anyway, that's what I hear. But I'm not about to find out.
I don't mind the daily 8 hour drives (extending to about 12 hours for our drive back to Erik's house on Sunday for our "night off.") I can sleep in the van. I can listen to the new Neil Young album (not all that great) and a compilation of 60's French pop (now we're talking). I can read the new Uncut and Mojo magazines that I bought at a Swedish gas station yesterday. I wish life could be Swedish magazines. So said Iggy Pop. I wonder if he's somewhere up in that upper sleeping birth where our tall Dutch traveling companions keep disappearing. What IS up there?
We are on a current run of big fancy rock clubs with big fancy PA's that are walking distance from very nice hotels with big breakfasts with tiny, tiny herrings. Last night's show in Malmo at the fabulous Debaser club had the best stage sound we've had on the tour and we found ourselves bathing luxuriously in each note, strum and beat. The DJ's were mind-blowingly great, somehow moving back and forth between indie psych pop (I must hear more from the Yellow Moon Band!) and offbeat pop semi-hits (80's McCartney oddities like "Temporary Secretary") and "Damaged Goods" by Gang of Four. There was an amazing fish stew waiting for us when we arrived. In Malmo and Stockholm we had two of our very few opening acts of the tour-Plastic Pals and True Lies-and they were both fine bands and very friendly gentlemen. Our New York City pal-and legendary Fleshtones guitarist-Keith Streng was in Stockholm and joined us onstage for triple guitar gonzo high leg kicking versions of "That's What You Always Say" and "Amphetamine." These are the joys that easily offset hours and hours in the van. Then again, more and more episodes of the inexhaustible South Park DVD set that I bought before the tour offsets those same hours while we're IN the van. In other words, I'm not complaining. But, again, I'm also not driving.
I can see tons of snow by the side of the road with more falling from the sky. I'm not worried. Jan is not only a stellar soundman and take-no-prisoners tour manager but also a very capable driver. I look up from this diary and see that we're in Gothenburg. Look-it's the center! Look! The suburbs! Look! The outskirts! And another town rolls by. I'll close my eyes now and see if I might be able to wake up somewhere just outside of Oslo. The shows are always the reward for these long drives, after all.
I don't know why people think I write so much about food. I mean, look at this picture. You call that food? Seriously, those doggies look pretty good but I was already full from the cheese sandwich that I took from the breakfast buffet this morning and then devoured midway through our long drive from Copenhagen to Stockholm. On a long drive like this, eating usually has nothing to do with being hungry. You eat because you're bored, looking for some kind of way to mark the day, as though adding additional meals might somehow trick your body and mind into believing that you are even closer to your destination. I know better. But those dogs were more enticing than the photo might suggest. And in Sweden they will toss some mashed potatoes your way as well just to set them apart from the roadside dogs in other countries. You gotta mark your territory, after all. Every dog knows that.
Played Copenhagen last night for the first time in around five years, marking the end of a strange omission from several tours. Copenhagen has always been a good city for me and last night was no different. Fun show with lots of old pals and new (hi Thomas! Hey Nick! Howdy Martin and Paul!) The staff at the Global Club was friendly and helpful, the load-in was the easiest of the tour and the dinner was healthy and tasty. Things like that put you in a good mood for the rest of the night. And a healthy dinner can give you easy justification for a roadside dog. But I didn't take the bait, no doggie bait taken by me, no sirree. How much WAS that doggie in the window, I wonder. Hang on to your Kroner-three more days of Swedish highways and roadside stops lie ahead.
I'm sitting right next to the duty free store surrounded by German and Danish travelers as well as the bags and backpacks of my traveling companions. Yes, they've left me here, literally holding the bag(s) while they cruise the ship (have you ever noticed that people pun more when tired? You can look it up) in search of all of the various joys offered on your average 40 minute ride such as this. Not me, dear readers. I know that I don't need coffee, hot dogs, adorable little bags, batteries, 70's disco compilations, foreign language newspapers, sunglasses, perfume, bottles of aquavit, cases of Toblerone or knockoff imitation iPods. Oh, wait-Linda just brought a cup of coffee. Guess I DID need that.
On the other hand, I DO need to tell you all about the events of the last 24 hours. A couple of weeks ago, I was trading emails with my old pal Howe Gelb. He told me that he was going to be on tour in Europe in November. "Me too," I replied. He told me the next stop on his journey was Germany. "Me too," once again. Oh, you see where this is going. We realized that we were not only playing Hamburg the same night but actually across the street from each other at the same time. This led to a flurry of emails from each of us to various powers-that-would-be to combine the shows into one. No reason for fans to choose between two somewhat like-minded shows, a chance for combined shenanigans and, well, the chance for all of us to hang out even more.
If you were there last night, I hope that we made the right choice (if not, let me know-I'm all ears). I think that everyone there had a good time. I know that we did. Michael Weston King opened the show with his solo folksinger protest songs and then we hit the stage at 9:15 with a slightly reduced set, culminating with our second shot at "John Coltrane Stereo Blues," this time clocking in around 14 minutes with some moments that reminded me of a party hosted by Jerry Garcia, Don Cherry, Lee Renaldo, Tom Verlaine, Derek Bailey, Johns Cage and/or Cale and Glenn Gould. I imagine that the party dined on jello, roasted marshmallows, candy corn and drank shots of ouzo while playing Chutes and Ladders. Can you imagine? And that's what "Coltrane" sounded like last night.
Giant Sand followed with a set that-oh, well, a set that conjured a party thrown by Jim Reeves, Neil Young, Lowell George, Vincent Price, Salvador Dali and Tom Waits with a deli tray of Indian fry bread, peach schnapps, 3-way chili, hash browns and beef jerky. Am I helping you to picture what went down? At the end, the forecasted shenanigans did ensue with all nine of us on stage together combining on versions of "Tower Of Song," "Ring Of Fire," Trickle Down System" (a Giant Sand song on which I played lead guitar on the original recorded version-I remembered it 22 years later!), "Hey Jude," and "Waiting For The Man." . There was even a double drum solo. I hope you were there. I think I saw you in the back of the room, holding your iPhone aloft and documenting the night-did you get my good side?
That's what happened. That's what went down. And look! We're still at sea. I wonder if I have time to buy a backgammon set, a key ring and, well, how about a Danish pastry!
Listening to the latest Chris Cacavas album, "Love's Been Continued," in the van right now. Chris and I have been pals since 1982 since our bands The Dream and Syndicate and Green on Red were cutting our rock and roll teeth together. Since those days we have made many records together and shared many stages as well. Jason's played in his bands as well and Linda was on the drum throne (that's what they call it. Really. Don't talk a drummer about their "stool") for his "Anonymous" record. Erik and Chris were along for the ride for my Dragon Bridge Orchestra tour two years ago. Hell, even Jan once booked one of Chris' shows when he was a club owner a few years back. In other words, Chris is family and we're always glad when he's around.
So, when we were glad when we found out that Chris was going to make the trek from a couple of hours down the road to meet us on our night off near Stuttgart on Sunday. Now, let's discuss the concept of a night off, shall we? Knowing that our hosts had a fully functioning mini-rock club in their basement (backline! Guitars! PA! Beers!), it was pretty safe to say that we would spend our night off doing what we always do: making music with our friends (Hi, Willie Nelson!) I think at some point the five of us played "500 Girl Mornings" but otherwise it was all covers from the time we started at 9pm until we played the last notes of "Werewolves of London/Sweet Home Alabama" at 2am. Let's see, there were also versions of "Mama Told Me Not To Come," "Get Back," "Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat," "Down By The River," "Whole Lotta Love," "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Honky Tonk Woman,""Rock Lobster," "The Whole Wide World," "Born On The Bayou" and....well, a bunch of songs. Edgar and Beate Heckmann were there. You can ask them. It really happened. It was sad to move on down the road without Chris but I'll be back on the road with him early next year. More about that coming next week.
It certainly is a week for old pals. Last night we had a show in Cologne at the Blue Shell, a new venue for me. I'm always worried about Monday shows-probably he worst night of the week to be gigging but the place was packed and we were in good shape, fortified by our, uh, "night off." And we were joined by many familiar names from these diary pages-our longtime road companion Carsten, German agent Chris and regular, good pals like Hammi, Ullrich, Dietmar and Marion and some new ones as well. Just a good night of good music and good friends and a night that ended with Hammi leading us to a good late night kebab stand, dining on a very tasty spinach and cheese burek (look it up-they're might good and a perfect post-midnight delight).
Oh, and we played our first version of "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" on this tour. And it went very well. Be warned. For now, we're in some slow moving traffic on our way to Hamburg where we're playing with Giant Sand. Another town and more old pals. The world keeps getting smaller and smaller.
Here comes a regular. I like that song. Paul Westerburg song on one of those Replacements records, back when he would toss a ballad or two amidst the irreverent punk rockers only to have fans say that the odd mutt of an earnest ballad was, in fact, their favorite. What does that tell you? What would that tell you? What would YOU do? There is no correct answer, this is not a rhetorical question.
And, of course, I digress. I weave and bob. I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. I'm trying to make a point, find the angle, jib the jab, tell the tale that I want to tell today. But I'm in no hurry to actually get there. You see, I don't have to be in a hurry. It's our first day off of the tour, one of only two such beasts between now and the last date in Madrid next month. So, we slept late this Sunday morning in Zurich and we're taking our time getting to Stuttgart where we'll spend the evening with our pals Peter and Claudia Weber.
But the regulars-back to that. At this point in my touring life, there are certainly clubs that you visit on most tours and pulling up to the front doors at sound check is almost like coming home. You know what the room will look like, what snacks will be laid out for you, where the dressing room lies and how to untangle the hunt for wireless internet. You know the promoter, what kind of drink he'll offer at the end of the night, some of the people who will show up. All of this is a nice oasis in the midst of touring where small bits of familiarity provide a nice balance to the random and sometimes frantic adventures of our landlocked life at sea.
The last three nights have offered such familiar and enjoyable pleasures. In Vienna, it was the Chelsea, a lively and hip rock joint that runs below the train tracks. David is one of the more enthusiastic and friendly promoters out there-always glad to see us and always enthusiastic about the music ahead despite the fact that he has bands in the club almost every night. There is a certain rough and tumble indie rock vibe in the club that would be very typical in the US but actually stands out in the midst of some of the more genteel clubs we find over here.
Then there's the Objekt 5 in Halle, located in the former East part of Germany. Ah, former East. Will we (I?) keep saying that phrase in 2038 when the wall has been down for 50 years? I'm already booking dates for that year, by the way. Get your tickets now. Anyway, I always play the Objekt 5 knowing that many of the fans had no access to western touring bands as recently as 22 years ago. The nights there are always fun and the audience very enthusiastic, usually moving from a cautious timidity to a raucous revelry by the end of the night.
And finally there's last night's show in Zurich at El Lokale. The place is tiny, just a weave of real estate around the bar that you can almost reach from the stage. It's run by Viktor a former professional football (soccer, you American gringos) player who gave it all up at age 21 because "it felt like I was in the army" and chose to be a rock and roll entrepreneur instead. He always greets us with gifts like Swiss army knives and chocolates (we got BOTH last night) and knowing that we had a day off ahead and a late leave from our hotel the following morning gave us the chance to hang out well into the night, listening to fantastic garage rock, drinking a local Swiss single malt Whiskey (very, very good actually) and visit with pals from Norway and Italy who had made the long trek to see us play.
Three familiar clubs and three of our best shows yet. To be honest, that equation boils down mostly to the fact that we've been out for a week and we're hitting our stride. But there's also something to be said for minor moments of predictability in the midst of the life of improvisation that we've chosen and embrace. I mean, you don't' want things to get too regular, after all. What fun would that be?
POST SCRIPT-Just woke up after an all-night jam session at our pals Peter and Claudia Weber. Me, the M3 and our pal Chris Cacavas. Here's one photo with more stories, pix and a list of songs coming up tomorrow...
Times change. I woke up from a deep rolling van sleep and found myself looking out the right side window of the van at the outskirts of Prague. See, this wouldn't have happened 25 years ago when I first toured over on these shores. Back then (tell me more, Grandpa Steve) we would drive via the "corridor" from Hamburg to Berlin, closely monitored along the way through the former East, stopping at the one sanctioned stop where we would grab some quick, cheap chow and a cup of coffee, wondering what the East German roadside workers thought of the scruffy American rockers that were passing through. Obviously, it's different today. Most of our drive from Vienna to Halle (mid-size town in the former East that has always been very loyal to my music) has been through the Czech countryside, a mixture of farmland interspersed with occasional islands of strip clubs, "night clubs" and a lot of things that describe their services as "non-stop". And the road stops? Much like any other around Germany or Austria except that you can buy absinthe. Which we didn't. Of course, had we actually bought AND consumed the absinthe we very well might not remember that we had.
We're not playing Berlin on this trip, which has been the subject of some grumbling in the van. In fact, this tour is a very savvy and tightly packed mix of just about every capital European city (kudos to Bas and everyone at Belmont Bookings as well as all of our individual national promoters), save for a few. Paris is one exception, Athens another. And then there's Berlin. I'll be back there on an acoustic tour in February. Uh-oh, did I let that cat out of the bag? Speaking of cats out of the bag, anyone close to Hamburg just might want to get advance tickets for next Tuesday's show—some very big surprises are in store.
Pretty mellow van ride today. Yesterday was a "South Park" film festival that got us all riled up. Today? Right now? Erik is driving, Jan is climbing (the "flying Dutchman" as we've taken to calling him) above to the raised sleeping berth, Linda is reading a Nabokov book, Jason's looking at pictures on his computer and I am alternating between email, reading a book about Joe DiMaggio's 1941 batting streak (juxtaposed against the political events of the day) and listening to Bob Dylan's "Shot of Love." No movies today. We've barely used the DVD player that came with the van despite a pretty decent library. We even have the entire Ken Burns' "Civil War" series. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine watching a lengthy documentary about the Civil War while on tour? Neither can my bandmates. I thought it was a cool idea.
I wonder what the road stops were like in South Carolina in 1863.
There is a guy in Trieste named Mr. Elk. His real name is Maurizio but I've always known him as Elk. Why? I don't know-I'm sure he told me at some point but that was about 20 years ago when I played near Trieste for the first time. He looks strong. His hair curls from his head in a creative fashion-maybe those are the reasons. Maybe he just likes elks.
Anyway, Mr. Elk is one of those guys that you find in any good music scene., a little older than the company he keeps and the one who dictated the musical taste for all that followed via radio, promotion and mostly by just emphatic endorsements and hanging out with the next wave of music fans, impressionable to his word and his favorite artists.
And guess who Mr. Elk really digs. That's right-me, your favorite diary-writing cult artist. And last night I saw the benefits when 350 people packed into the Miele Theater to see our show with our man Elk right up front singing along to every song. The backstage was stocked with lots of local wine, cheeses, liqueurs and sweets. The dinner was an orgy of meaty delights (our Pesce-tarian Jason lucked out with some spaghetti with clams) and the set ended with a few of the Elk disciples up on stage singing along to the end of "Amphetamine." It was one of those perfect nights and a fine example of the benefits of advocacy musical fandom. Hats (and horns) off to you, Mr Elk.
Oh, and the photo? Seems that James Joyce spent 6 months in Trieste while writing Ulysses. And now he seems to hang out full time at our fine venue. Here we are having a chat before the show.
But enough about music. Let's get back to food. We've been in Italy for 48 hours and that means it's time to eat wherever and whenever possible. Go ahead. Google a photo of Bachman Turner Overdrive from the mid-70's. I'll wait. See what I mean? That's us in about four days.
Okay, I'm kidding. Seriously. I mean, imagine the extra fees we'd have to pay for excess personal baggage on Ryan Air when we fly to Spain later this month. It would be cost prohibitive. But there's been some good chow in the last few days. Let's take Monday's show at the Calamita club in Cavriago. We finished sound check at 8:30 with a 10pm stage time looming. No time for dinner? Guess again, bucko. We made it to the restaurant at nine and sampled and shared such items as fileto aceto balsamico (my personal favorite-see photo), spaghetti carbonara, grilled branzii, mussel soup and polenta. Made it back to the venue 10 minutes before stage time and felt fortified and giddy enough for a wild, two hour set of joy and epicurean conjuring power. And then last night at Big Mama and Rome, we stopped at our favorite local joint down the road. Oh man-linguine with clams, taglietelle with boar ragu, risotto, osso buco, tripe (nice call, Erik), grilled vegetables (just in case our parents are reading), pears in chocolate sauce and tiramisu among other delights.
Now, this is a good time to flash back on the days of yore, back in my Dream Syndicate youth when I had an iron clad rule to not eat within 3 hours of the show. But times have changed. Now I find that enjoying life, taking in the joys of the region where I'm playing and dining makes for a nigh of sensual delights that feeds into the music that follows on stage. And, sure enough, last night's two-set post-meal workout regimen on stage had some of my favorite musical moments of the tour. I'm really digging the nightly guitar duel of "The Other Side" from the new album. In fact, I can say with complete candor and without any kind of obligatory My-New-Album-Is-My-Best-Yet hype that the new songs have indeed been working the best-"Colored Lights," "Resolution" and "Ribbons and Chains" have been highlights every night.
Oh, and I got to take on the role of Big Papa Bandleader Tour Guide last night when I brought the band to one of my favorite spots in Rome, a restaurant in the Trastevere area called La Cisterna. We only had time for a glass of grappa (espresso for Jan) but were able to check out the beautiful dining area as well as the restaurant's showcase, a 17th Century well (the fabled cistern) below the restaurant where the city streets were located before the modern city was built above. Go ahead and check it out online after you're finished looking at Randy Bachman. It's pretty amazing and worth a visit the next time you're in Rome.
But enough about food. It's time to...wait. What's that? Erik has just called for a lunch stop at his favorite roadside spot up ahead in Barbarino. Hmmm.... I might have to lead the group in calisthenics before tonight's show.
One of the phrases that a touring musician hates to hear would surely be "Artists' Residence Above The Club." This can often mean a few bunk beds, cold and stained tile floors and some tattered blankets. Hey, I'm not one to complain. I remember 36-hour drives back and forth from LA to Texas with endless cups of coffee, no hotels, no sleep and nothing to eat but a loaf of Wonder Bread and assortments of Oscar Meyer cold cuts (by the way, I'm making no money for those product placements but those fine food manufacturers should know how to find me.). Still, a musician such as myself in his Extreme Thirties has to be cagey and cautious whenever possible. But the artist pad above Das Bett, our friendly club last night in Frankfurt was a delight. A living room larger than many clubs that we're playing on this tour, large and clean kitchen, stocked fridge, jukebox, loads of tidy, comfortable bedrooms-well, it was made for a tired band as well as a good late night party for which we were joined by our good pal Hammi. If you look back in these pages to a similar situation in Bielefeld in 1998 (Hammi being at that event as well) you'll find similarities but a little less debauchery this time around. We had a 7am wakeup call after all.
Good show. We're definitely finding our way and our style and sound for this tour. It all seems a little thrashy, a little less manic and more soulful, more musical than I would have imagined which is really making me happy. Also making me happy is the fact that some of the most enjoyable and best received each nights are the new songs. The bulk of the set seems to be "Northern Aggression" alongside some rarely-played Dream Syndicate songs. I have walked off stage each night surprised and delighted, two things that keep you happy night after night, along with a clean bed and the promise of warm coffee ready to greet you the next morning. On to Italy.
Jason is one row in front of me, wearing a dark wool stocking cap and looks like some kind of jewel thief, befitting the ever-evolving tour documentary I've been imagining about him in the last few days. You see, this is Jason's first European tour in almost half of the last decade. What can I say? The guy's been busy. Anyway, I imagine this tour is one of those "Oceans 973" (or whatever number they're up to at this point) kind of movies. And I imagine a scenario where I approach Jason in his lower Manhattan exile with the enticement of "One Last Heist." Yes, one last heist and then he can retire forever, walk away clean and retire to some exotic islan____ d (wait-he already DOES live on an exotic island-Manhattan!) I haven't figured out the rest of the story yet but I guess you'll be reading it here day by day.
Last night the four of us (led by our ringleader, the crafty Jan Veltman-I have him cast by Donald Sutherland or Max Von Sydow) cased the joint, entering not the First National Bank nor the London National Gallery but rather the very Ratsche theater in Geislingen (where we recorded "Live Tick" five years ago). The caper went off without a hitch. The witnesses were dazzled and dazed and we robbed them, ideally, of the very possibility of ever seeing anything more wondrous in their lives. Have I exhausted this metaphor? Oh yes, I most certainly have. Will I leave it to rest. Oh, you should know better.
Now it's on to Frankfurt. I've got a fantastic Fairport Convention BBC Sessions compilation on the phones. Incredible. At this moment, "Meet On The Ledge" is my favorite song ever written but that will likely change by the time the next one starts. And we have a DVD player in our van so I'm sure you'll get some movie reviews in the coming days. Yesterday we watched a collection of Paul McCartney videos. Jan and Erik were up front hearing the sound but not seeing the visuals. I'm not sure if that made the experience better or worse but they did wonder at some point if we would ever hear anything besides Paul McCartney again. Too bad they can't hear what I'm hearing today.
Traffic is at a standstill in the other direction and we are moving at top speed on our way to Frankfurt. That must be a good sign.
Can it really be that we haven't done this in almost five years? This is my first European tour with the Miracle 3 since 2006 but it feels like we were all together just yesterday. But time is real. Time is tangible. Time is now. Excuse me, that was the sound of my brain sputtering after a scant few hours of sleep following last nights blowout at show number one at Jaap Bos' Engelstede club in the Northern Dutch town of Engelbert. Don't snigger. I heard you sniggering. We made the same Engelbert Humperdink jokes that you all did. Did we all get it out of our system? Yes, we did, thank you very much.
So, where was I. Oh yes-time! At our rehearsal before the first show I mentioned that I wanted to play "What We Call Love" since I hadn't done that in a long time. "But we did it on the last tour" said our European bass superstar Erik Van Loo. And you know what? He was right. We did that on the last tour even though that tour was a long time ago. 30 dog years, more or less. Do you know how much a dog can do in 30 years? He would be repeating material from his repertoire left and right. "I'd like to do 'roll over and beg' as I have not done that trick in years," he might say. And in fact he may have done 'roll over and beg' just last week. But that was seven dog weeks ago.
You too could reach these Mobius strip trains of dead-end thoughts had you rehearsed for eight hours, played two mighty fine kickoff sets on the first days and night and then stayed up late, talking to fans, learning how to say nearly impossible Dutch phrases that somehow required "swallowing first," sipping on jenever (a Dutch gin) and finally ending the night with a plate full of something called Eier Balls, a local delicacy that involves a hard boiled egg surrounded by a mysterious flavorful goop and then deep fried. Let me tell you-at 2am, hungry and a bit weary from much musical revelry, it can be the best thing you ever ate.
So, here we are-Linda, Jason, Erik, our tour manager Jan (you all met him on the Dragon Bridge Orchestra tour in 2008), fueled by the confidence of the first show and the friendly hospitality of our good, longtime pal Jaap Bos who supplied the venue, rehearsal space and time to get over our jet lag (well, Jason and Linda, anyway-I'm a local by now, having already spent two full weeks on these shores). There are plenty of of new NEW songs and also new OLD songs on this tour. Check out the set lists from last night. In the meantime, I'm going to close my eyes and try to get about 28 dog hours of sleep before we get to the next gig.
I'm in the final hours of my seven-day residency here in Heilbronn. It's very strange to spend more than one day in any one city on the road, let alone a whole week. And I haven't even been playing gigs, although I did get up and do some songs with Rich Hopkins (Frankfurt) and the US Rails (Heilbronn-see the attached video). Instead, it's been a relaxed/chill/laid-back (take your pick depending upon your decade of birth) week. Do you want to hear about food and drink? There has been schnitzel, spaetzle, maultaschen, weizenbier, wurst, schnapps, sauerkraut and goulasch (man, that sounds like the chorus to a future song). Do you want to know about music? Well, the opportunity to see some fine sets by the aforementioned Rich Hopkins band and US Rails was a blast as was some shopping sprees at both the Media Markt as well as the Blue Rose home office where I picked up recent fine releases by the Slummers (featuring my old pals Dan, JD, Antonio and Diego) and Chris Cacavas as well as two-count 'em , TWO-collections of German schlager music from the 60's and 70's. I have been not too idly threatening to make a whole album of schlager music, something that brings either terror or nostalgic delight into the eyes of whoever I'm talking to over here. Dunno, it all sounds like Elvis, Leonard Cohen and Jim Reeves to me.
And then there are friends. Very good friends. Edgar and Beate Heckmann have shown me the joys and pleasures and secret delights of Schwebian life, leaving me relatively rested, well fed and with clean clothes which is just the way you want to be when you're starting a tour. Peter and Claudia Weber (the former is a touring partner and pal of my old bandmates Chrises Eckman and Brokaw as well as others) took me into their Stuttgart home last night for some food, conversation and a chance to hear some amazing in-progress bits and pieces of the new Tamikrest album (which Herr Eckman produced in Mali last week). And then visits with old friends like Uwe, Rosie, Juergen and Heike given more time and space by the slower, non-gig environment. It's just nice to have more than a few moments backstage to hang out with friends along the way and this has been a good palette cleanser between tours. But now? I see that noon (and thus checkout time) is approaching which means it's time to hit the autobahn with Erik Van Loo and drive up to Holland. The tour is approaching and you know what that means-yes, the tour diary. Get rested, get hungry, get ready.
It seems somehow appropriate to be here in Heilbronn, the home of Edgar Heckmann and my longtime label Blue Rose Records, on the day my latest record is being released in Europe. I’m spending a week here (and being very well fed by his very kind wife Beate) doing interviews for the record and enjoying the active Heilbronn nightlife. Don’t laugh—I can recommend the Tropicana bar the next time you’re in town. Seems like something Warren Zevon would have liked. I hear they make a mean mai tai although I have chosen to stick to the beer. Even with the protective shield that is a heaping bowl of spaetzle (and they do it right in this town), you just can’t be too safe especially when getting into fighting shape for a 4 week tour.
But enough about tropical drinks, doughy treats and even the upcoming tour.-- more about that soon and I do hope that you’ll join us if you’re in the neighborhood or in the mood for a road trip. Let’s talk about Northern Aggression:
The bio/press release/back story is up on the website so let’s cut to the chase and talk about the songs:
RESOLUTION—The first track, the first single, the opening gambit. I had forgotten about this particular tune in the palette of ditties that I brought down to Richmond, Virginia until late one night in the studio when Dave put his foot down and said, “Okay, here’s the thing. We gotta do that song in D, you know the one.” And I did. One take later we had the version that you’ve hopefully already heard. It’s a mission statement, a zen koan. Time is the great equalizer—as is a good droning D chord, of course.
WE DON’T TALK ABOUT IT—The Southern tip of the Northern Aggression. Tony Joe White filtered through the Lower East Side, Captain Beefheart strolling through the Bowery. Linda said she tried to deny the funk but, as you can hear, that was impossible. What’s it all about, Alfie? Well, shine a light deep into the dark recesses, the cracks that nobody can see and the most interesting things arise. And then? Shut off the light and don’t tell anyone what you saw.
NO ONE EVER DROWNS—I wrote this when I was 20 years old (one year before forming the Dream Syndicate) for a band a band called Goat Deity, which was me and two sisters who went on to form Wednesday Week. We played it at our only gig, which took place in their mother’s living room. The song was never recorded in any way but somehow I remembered the music and lyrics 30 years later and it just seemed like this was the time, place and record in which it was time for some dusting and preening. A statement of defiance and bruised optimism from a precocious kid, barely out of his teens
CONSIDER THE SOURCE—Had this bit of music floating around since around the time of “Static Transmission.” Never could find the right words or story to tell. But in the laboratory that was the recording of my third album with the Miracle 3 I decided to give it a shot. I sat down at a Wurlitzer electric piano and just started playing. The band caught all of the changes on the fly, I made up the lyrics on the spot (it’s a live vocal, thank you) and amazingly enough my fingers never flubbed on the 88’s. That’s Jason on organ (the guitar solo was overdubbed). Yep, so much for Guitar Rock, although Jason says this is his favorite recorded solo.
COLORED LIGHTS—More on topic, this is us doing that Miracle 3 thing. Hazy psychedelia, riffs galore and a rave-up at the end. It’s what we do, man! Van Morrison said something about not pulling punches or pulling a river. But he said it more quietly. Oh, and I have always loved colored lights. I guess it’s some kind of visual Ritalin.
THE DEATH OF DONNY B—Okay, here’s the deal. I didn’t write this. But I don’t know who DID write it either. Jason discovered it as the soundtrack of a short, early 70s film on YouTube not long before we went into the studio and it became our mutual obsession for weeks. What a great film! What a great song. And late one night in Richmond we decided to record it just for kicks. Once again, a live performance, a live vocal, one take bit of magic. And, best yet, it was all documented on film by our friend Ford Loving. Go ahead, type in the title on YouTube. You might get the original film or you might get our version and they’re both worth your internet time over a cup or two of strong coffee.
THE OTHER SIDE—My bandmates don’t understand—nay, are somewhat repelled by my not so guilty pleasure enthusiasm for the occasional endless live jam bootleg documentation of the Allman Brothers and/or Grateful Dead. More about that at another time but I knew that I had to sneak this one by them by wrapping it up in Television wrapping paper and it does feel like the improbably link between Jerry Garcia and Tom Verlaine. Can you imagine the band they might have had together? The song was inspired by a duo show that Jason and I played in Austin at South By Southwest a few years ago. The rains nearly washed the show away before giving way to bright sunlight and some kind of low-grade epiphany that became this song. It’s all about transcendence; it’s all about breaking on through. It’s all about the other side.
CLOUD SPLITTER—I was going to call this “Jihadist Dream” but knew that was just looking for trouble. But it also might give some clue to this opaque pop tune. Animals tell us all kinds of things but they’re also sometimes an unreliable narrator, practical jokers, not always concerned with our best interests. Can we touch the sky? Maybe, just maybe—go ahead and give it a shot.
ST. MILLWOOD—Another song with an alternate title, “I Brought My Own Sorrow” which tells you all you need to know. Or maybe if I tell you that I had considered “Grief Tourism” as an album title, well you might get the idea. Or how about Emotional Ambulance Chasers? I’ve got a million of ‘em. Stephen McCarthy’s pedal steel work on this one brings me to tears every time.
ON THE MEND—Wrote this one in a Ljubljana hotel room, singing all of the various jam rock riffs into my tape recorder (a cassette, no less!) I think this song could have gone on for another 20 minutes and might do just that when we bring it to a stage near you. It’s a story I’ve told many times before—the dark side of recovery and rehabilitation but I’ve never set it to something that could have been a Dennis Coffey out-take. I’ve never played it live (which is true for almost every song on this record, actually) but if I was a betting man, I would bet on this being one of the highlights of the upcoming tour.
RIBBONS AND CHAINS—And ending it all on a happy note, the unexpected Hollywood Ending. It turns out that everything that rises really truly absolutely must resolve and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. For all of the desire to shape, mold, move, steer, deny and dissolve, you usually just end up where you started. With more miles, a few weathered cracks, a couple of jokes and the path and directions to begin the next circle or two.
This first tour, the appetizer to the much longer Miracle 3 tour ahead ended in Rome on Sunday night. It was the best of the four shows. And I'm sure the next one would have been better. True to the name of the project, I was indeed the stranger on this particular tour and it took me several shows to find my place within the large ensemble. It was musical Goldilocks out there-first show a little too timid and deferential, second and third a little too bold and rocking. I think I found the right mix at the last gig, placing my songs and vocals within the orchestral sound but pushing my guitar to more noise, more dissonance and more dirt to offset the beauty. It seemed to work.
The show was followed by a lengthy dinner around the corner from the theater and since the curfew had been 11pm there was plenty of time for much food, much wine and much recapping and reminiscing about the week that had just passed. I had a bucatini cacio e pepe that rivaled the same dish at Lupa, one of the best restaurants in New York and, as absurd as that might sound, that is truly a compliment. The pepper steak was better than a photo might indicate. In other words, LOTS of pepper which means occasional moments of choking as we all raised many toasts and worked our way into the wee hours.
And then the usual scattering after a tour-Stef back to Belgium, John back to Bristol, Hugo up to Modigliana to begin a tour with Erik Van Loo which will take him right up to our rehearsals next week. Marta, Giorgia, Manuel, Rodrigo went to various homes and hangouts in Italy (as did Marco, Davide, Roberta and Cecca-the fearless crew and management team). Cesare and I, on the other hand, ended up back at his pad in Milan where his roommate (and, I'm told, stellar lead guitarist), Lorenzo made an orichiette and what I think was broccoli rabe that was as good as anything I had eaten all week. We made our way back to the Caza de 139 where I had a beer and chatted with various pals including Giorgio and Roberto, the rhythm section from After Hours and the band's former keyboard player Enrico who had played in New York City last week (with Linda in attendance) the same night I was playing in Milan, a musical and cultural exchange program sponsored only by our own wanderlust.
And now that you've managed to digest all of these new names (not to mention vicariously digesting the various culinary pleasures), it's time for a week in Germany, promoting "Northern Aggression" and the upcoming tour that begins in 10 days. For those of you on these shores, I hope to see you all at a show or two. And for those of you back home, I hope you'll drop by this travel/tour-a-logue and enjoy the road with us. I'll have a glass of wine waiting for you.
I try to let these diary entries be our mutually shared eyes, ears and taste buds during my various tours of Europe and the US. But sometimes there's just nothing I can write that will do justice to a particular experience. Such is the case with last night's show at the Loggia del Lanzi in the Signoria Square in Florence. Have you been there? You can't miss it-walk to the Uffizi, grab a gelato, turn left and you're there. I am guessing that the collected touring years of our band would be right around 200 and yet all of us agreed that it was the most stunning setting for any show that we've ever played. I could describe the statues that surrounded us not only in the square but ON STAGE but I think you should either channel your memory (if you've been there), Google the setting yourself (hmm...Microsoft Word spell check does not recognize Google-damn that Bill Gates!) or best yet check out the link to the concert that I will have up here any day now.
As we watched the video this morning in the hotel lobby we all agreed that the stage setting was so stunning and almost so preposterous that it almost looked like an outtake from This Is Spinal Tap. I was taken aback by playing "Resolution" in front of several thousand people in this setting, singing "Everything that rises must resolve" and thinking of the political and historical implications of those lyrics in this particular setting. I was told that the square never hosts rock music but our version of "Manhattan Fault Line" felt positively orchestral. Everyone in the band rose to the occasion of the evening-how could we not? Such a setting bears a heavy responsibility, doesn't it?
The evening ended at May Day, a favorite bar of Manuel's down the street from the square. I was drinking something called a Blue Virgin, watching a soundless version of "Hell's a Poppin" that played on the wall and eventually closed down the place with Manuel, Cesare and Erik (who had made the 2 hour trip to check out the show). On the way back to the taxi we walked past the breathtaking Duomo and I did my best to juxtapose the experience with, say, walking down Bowery after a gig at CBGB's (which, in its day, was not a bad sight in itself) and it made me laugh. Droning D chords, menacing minor chords and songs about disaffected drifters do take you to the strangest places.
There are nine people in this particular tour of the Songs With Other Strangers band and another four people on the crew. I've never toured in an entourage of this size. And that presents several challenges. For one thing there is learning the names (had that down before the tour), histories, music, conversational rhythms and on-stage quirks of each person. But on a more simple and fundamental daily level, there is the challenge to figure out who exactly is in the van, where they are sitting and who just might be missing, a task made even more daunting on a day like today where the journey (six hours) outnumbers the hours of sleep that I had last night (four). If we stopped for a panini and espresso break and one person was left behind, you might not even know until you were well down the autostrade.
But the greatest challenge when it comes to the task at hand, this very diary, is to allow you to have the chance to get to know everyone. I mean, I have had most of each 24-hour day cycle with these talented, funny, kind people in the last week whereas you've only had the 3 minutes it takes to read each of these entries, scanning the words while drinking coffee, monitoring entertainment gossip, watching sports scores (don't talk to me about the Yankees) and losing your shirt at online poker. So, let's take a look at the Rolling Variety Show that is Songs With Other Strangers.
In alphabetical order:
So, there you go. And then there's our crew and management team (ciao Roberta, Marco, Davide and Cecca) but that will have to wait for the next time we do this again (and I hope that I'm invited for another go-round at some point down the line). As you can see, the numbers and varieties of personas allows for variety and depth not only on stage but off as well. I just hope we don't leave anyone at the next rest stop. It's rough when the head count is greater than the nightly hours of sleep.
One day out on the road with the all-star collective that is Songs With Other Strangers and I'm already moonlighting. I had booked a solo acoustic show at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan before I was asked to join this tour which meant that the Big Show had to take a little day off to allow for the Little Show. I had asked Rodrigo to join me for the gig when it was first booked but was pleasantly surprised to find out that Miracle 3 (European Style) bass player Erik Van Loo was planning on driving down to Italy for a tour next week with Hugo Race (yet more complicating, twisting and intertwining in our touring lives). In true Van Loo defiance of time, space and physical limitations, he decided to make the 600 mile drive from Holland in one day to join me and Rodrigo at our show. This would be madness enough but the feat was further challenged by an atypical 6:30pm stage time which gave him little time for error, traffic jams and bratwurst stops. I traded texts with Erik throughout the day and had my doubts but he walked into the theater just moments before I began and the solo show I had booked months ago was now an elegant strum-and-bowed baroque folk rock adventure in front of a very appreciative, sold-out audience. I mean, the audience themselves didn't sell out They maintained their integrity. Oh, you know what I mean.
And our trio moved into a choir double digits strong when we walked into the audience on "Manhattan Fault Line," the last song of the encore and I recruited John, Manuel, Hugo, Giorgia, Marta, Cesare and Stef who had all very kindly chosen to spend the early evening hours of their only free night at my gig. Next thing you know, the 10 of us were in the center of the room, singing to each other as well as the audience and transitioning my brief sojourn from the pack back into the big big show that resumes tonight in Turin.
The set list:
The nice thing about having such an unusually early show is that there's plenty of time for dinner and our entire Songs With Other Strangers collective was joined by Giorgio and Roberto from After Hours (for non-Italian readers, this is the band of Manuel and Rodrigo and the absolutely biggest rock band in Italy. I've seen them live-they're fantastic) as well as other pals, wives and kids at Osteria Grand Hotel, a favorite of Manuel's. One of the best meals I've had in recent memory-a photo would only reveal just the tiniest evidence of the bacchanalian delights. The secret to the dish, I'm told, is the use of egg whites, making it quite different from what seems to be just your "average' pork and pesto dish. Incredible place and one that may not be in tourist guides so you'll have to check it out on your own the next time you're in Milan.
And the night was still young by your average post-show standards, so a bunch of us (Erik, Rodrigo, Cesare, Giorgio, Roberto and their pal Lorenzo) made our way to their favorite local bar, La Casa 139. I had hung out with After Hours in New York City and turned them on to my favorite "local" (okay, it's 7 miles from my apartment but it's where I hang out), the Lakeside Lounge. Rodrigo told me that this was their Lakeside Lounge and even though the look was completely different-much bigger, much more "rock"-I completely got what they mean. Great music, nice people, no pretension, an easy hang, just like passing the hours on Avenue B at Eric "Roscoe" Ambel's joint back home. A potentially sunrise seeking endless jam session nearly ensued but I managed to get out by 3am and get my first full night's sleep since arriving on these shores. After all, there are still three more shows ahead, more songs to learn, more tales to tell and more miles to drive.
Ah, Italy. Check out this photo. This was the spread laid out for the lunch break at my first rehearsal for the Songs With Other Strangers tour. Back home it would be a PBR tall boy with a bag of ranch style Doritos. This was something more like an off-the-menu special at one of the Mario Batali restaurants except that I didn't need to make a reservation and I could practice songs between courses.
And does practice make perfect? Well, I can testify (and you'll have to take my word unless you live in Ravenna or the my testimony gets refuted by a YouTube clip) that the first show went really well. Hugo, Stef, Cesare, Marta, Manuel, Hugo and I each sang a couple of songs each and we swapped the sinister verses on a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows". I got the verse with the reference to Malibu, appropriately. Even 16 years after defecting, I'm still an LA boy.
Tonight is a night off from the tour but I'll be playing an acoustic show (accompanied by Rodrigo) at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan which means I'll be singing around 15 songs instead of two. I'm on Day 3 of the trip which is when, for me, the jet lag begins to hit hardest which should add a gentle psychedelic flavor to the show. More music, more food, more miles to travel ahead.
THE ROAD TO RAVENNA-The suitcase is heavy with clothes, CDs, guitar pedals and books, my jet lag is surprisingly minimal, the lush green Italian countryside rolls along to my right while my driver Ben is my escort for the three hour drive from Milan Malpensa Airport to Ravenna where I will begin rehearsing this afternoon for the Songs With Other Strangers tour. I've never met Ben before. He's a drummer with a hardcore black metal band and about to start a UK tour. There are always so many different bands and musicians criss-crossing the world and most of them ply their trade, unaware of the others that share the same highways and backstages in parallel but completely different worlds.
And it's a different world I'll be entering for the first week of this 2 month tour that will mostly comprise of the first Miracle 3 European tour in almost 5 years. I was originally booked to play an acoustic show in Milan this Thursday at the Teatro Dal Verme. Knowing that I'd be here, my pal Manuel form the very popular Italian band After Hours (a band that also includes my Dragon Bridge Orchestra touring mate Rodrigo D'Erasmo) asked if I would be a guest on the variety show tour he was putting together with various other luminaries including John Parish, Hugo Race, Stef Camel Karlins (from Deus),as well as local indie cool fixtures Cesare Basile, Marta Collica and Gioriga Pol.
I know I'll be singing "Manhattan Fault Line" and "Resolution" (the leadoff track from "Northern Aggression," my new album with the Miracle 3) each night. I think I might be singing a John Cale song as well. Maybe I'm going to make some guitar noise here and there on other people's songs. I don't know and that's both daunting and exciting as our car gets closer and closer to Ravenna where I'll start rehearsing in a few hours.
In other words, it's another chapter of Embrace The Random. All of the best things on tour are the things you didn't plan. And there's going to plenty of that this time around. Grab your morning coffee and pull up a chair. I'll be your pilot for the next few months. "Sunday Morning" by the Velvets is on the radio, easing out the memory of the Ian Dury binge that got me through the flight (mixed with the latest Dungen-fantastic!-and some Doors and Byrds). No food to report...yet. But you know that will change.
Look, there's a castle!
Been a while, right? I've spent most of the last few months either in the studio (finishing the new albums with the Miracle 3 and The Baseball Project), in airports (flying to various duo shows in Norway and Wales with the fabulous Jason Victor) or out in Tucson (last weekend, forming a one-night SuperTrainWreckPearlsFromChaosGroup with Howe Gelb, Robyn Hitchcock, Thøger Lund, Victoria Williams and Linda—any video/audio evidence of that show out there?)
But both records are finished, the summer's whistle-stop touring is about to give way to lengthier ventures and the next few weeks will be a rapid-fire release of news, song previews, videos, artwork and tour dates. Consider that a warning, threat, teaser or non sequitur depending upon your point of view.
First of all, as you may have seen on these pages, there's been some excitement in Minnesota about "Don't Call Them Twinkies," a song that I wrote for the next Baseball Project album with Craig Finn who sings the track. We mixed the song 2 weeks ago and sent it over to our friend Kevin Dutcher who chooses the music for the Twins home games. Two weeks later it has become the war chant for the surging team and will probably be getting more attention as the Twins go to the playoffs next week. You can check out the tune on the link somewhere near where your eyes are looking right now.
And then there's "Northern Aggression," my first new album with the Miracle 3 since 2005's "...tick...tick...tick." I'm pleased to say that Yep Roc Records has picked up the album for US release and you'll be able to order copies from them or Blue Rose Records (depending upon your side of the Atlantic) in the coming weeks in advance of the late November release date.
But in the meantime, check out "Resolution," the first single from the new album. And a special "making-of" video will be coming later in the week, thanks to our good pal Ford Loving who used to drive us up and down and side to side across the European continent. Ford has become a whiz kid in video editing and did a fine job of documenting what went down in Richmond, Virginia last April.
Am I excited? You bet. I've always said that the months in the studio and the months on the road compliment themselves perfectly and provide a good balance. Tour long enough and you're just dying to hunker down, disappear and come up with new songs and ideas. Sequester yourself in the studio long enough and you can't wait to show what you've done via CDs, websites and, of course, touring. This is that magic moment in the middle. The anticipation. The exhaling. Now excuse me while I take on some mid-level celebration.
"DON'T CALL THEM TWINKIES"
You can't take the Twins fan out of these New York City rock transplants
By Linda Pitmon & Craig Finn
"We are no longer the Twinkies. We're the World Champion Minnesota Twins." - Steve Lombardozzi 1987
The Baseball Project is a baseball loving musical entity comprised of rock enthusiasts Scott McCaughey (R.E.M., Minus 5, Tired Pony) Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3), Linda Pitmon (Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3), and Peter Buck (R.E.M., Minus 5, Tired Pony), with occasional pinch hitting by Mike Mills (R.E.M.) on bass.
This is the story of how Craig Finn of The Hold Steady came to write the anthem "Don't Call Them Twinkies" with Steve Wynn and record it with The Baseball Project.
I wanted the Twins to be represented on the new Baseball Project record despite the fact that I've been living in New York City for 15 years. 15 years, 7 AL Championships, and 5 World Series titles for the Yankees since I moved here. I can't say that it hasn't been fun at times, but it always takes a while to get over the sting of them taking the Twins out at the knees to get there. I just can't get that SCREAM-OUT-LOUD excited because the Twins are still my guys and have been since I was old enough to hit a Wiffle ball off the tee.
I cheered them on through the Larry Hisle years, for chrissakes. Lymon Bostock. Disco Danny Ford. Roy Smalley...Carew, Oliva, Blyleven. After listening to all those heartbreaking losses on my a.m. radio the ‘87 season restored my interest in the game at a point when I was a college student who'd gone deep into the world of music and had lost the thrill of sport. A ticket to Game 1 mysteriously landed in my lap and I was hooked again - seeing a grand slam in a World Series game can do that to you. That Gladden smash and the personalities of Hrbek, Kirby, Viola and the rest of that team sealed it for me.
The underdogs of all time....and we the fans helped them win it almost by willing it....by our sheer VOLUME. It felt like we were reaching out from our seats in the stands or through our television sets down onto the field and practically pulling them over the finish line. We deserved to know that feeling of watching OUR boys hog piling on the pitchers mound and then joyously bounding around, searching the stands for their parents and wives.
I wanted to capture the feeling I had at Met Stadium in 1975 as I stood nervously in line for Harmon Killebrew's autograph as he towered over us tiny mortals. My older brother and sister did the same 10 years earlier when my parents took them to the airport to greet the 1965 Twins team as they returned home from Los Angeles – defeated in Game 7 but still heroes to the city - exhausted but taking the time to sign anything the kids put in front of them.
Fans like us deserved a song that could capture the magic of the good years and the bad. The suffering of the 70's and early 80's fueled the euphoria of 1987 and 1991.
I wanted to write that song but I just couldn't figure out the right angle.
Craig Finn (of The Hold Steady) and I had bonded over our love of the Twins backstage a few years ago at a Golden Smog show in NYC where we were both guesting. Fast forward to July 2009, a medieval town in northern Spain at 3am where I'm making my way through the narrow street with Steve Wynn, Scott McCaughey, and Mike Mills. We had just finished playing our very first show (Mike pinch hit for Peter Buck on bass) at the foot of a beautiful castle and had taken a wrong turn on the way back to our hotel. We were still high up on the hill surrounded by fortress walls when Mike's phone rang (he obviously doesn't use AT&T), it was George Regis (The Hold Steady lawyer) and Craig Finn who were in the middle of watching a Twins game. Mike explained our circumstances of being in Spain playing songs about baseball and being that Mike is from Atlanta, it didn't talk long for George to bring up the subject of the '91 World Series. Before you know it I can hear Mike raise his voice and say "Ron Gant was NOT out, George!"
So in my writer's block dilemma Craig immediately came to my mind and I asked him if he was interested in immortalizing our beloved Twins in song.
We couldn't be happier that he complied with some of the most anthemic sports lyrics ever written....name-checking no less than 8 Minnesota cities, 2 neighborhoods, 2 streets, 9 Twins players and 2 coaches in just over 4 minutes - Craig's specialty!
Then Steve wrote the majestic music to marry with Craig's libretto and the band proceeded to bang it out in Portland in less than time than it takes for pizza to be delivered to the studio.
Zip - off it went in an email to Craig who recorded the vocals god-knows-where. Possibly Paris. You'll have to ask him.
I wrote the lyrics quickly on tour about a year ago, and then over the next few months played with a few lines that bugged me over time. My intentions were twofold: I wanted to remind people of the proud history of my team, but also to try to capture the language that real sports fans have when boasting or arguing about their teams. I love living in NYC but I really don't like Yankee fans and the way their team outspends everyone and calls it part of baseball. I had to bring up the fact that the Twins win at baseball in a more admirable way than teams like the Yankees. I had to bring up the awfulness that was the Braves fans' Tomahawk Chop in the 1991 World Series. I had to bring up Ron Gant, and his infamous brush with Kent Hrbek at first base.
I recorded the vocals this summmer at Wild Arctic Studio in Brooklyn with Dean Baltulonis, who knows just about nothing about baseball. I ended up having to explain all the references to him, and when he heard about the Ron Gant play, he suggested we do a harmony on that line, just to make it stick out. I liked that idea.
Since collaborating on the song with The Baseball Project I've gone to the new stadium a few times. Downtown Minneapolis is so alive, the bars are bustling, and the Twins are winning. It's a great summer, and hopefully this song is some way of giving back some of the joy that the Twins have given to me.
This is a story I wrote for ESPN to accompany the latest installation of the Broadside Ballads, one one-a-month series that we're doing for their website this year. Bear with me even if you don't care about baseball--you'll see by the end that it's a pretty universal story:
I remember when David Clyde made his debut at age 18 for the Texas Rangers back in 1973. I was pretty excited. After all, I was just 13 years old, not even old enough to drive, and here was a guy just five years older than me starting a major league baseball game. It was a big deal. He had gone straight from high school to the majors. And he won that first game. But he didn't win many more after that, victim of a questionable call to rush him along too quickly.
I'm not saying that Stephen Strasburg is the same story by any means. He's already older and much more seasoned than David Clyde even though he is only 21. And he certainly has the stuff. I think he's here to stay—and it doesn't hurt that he'll have Bryce Harper in the lineup before too long.
But I wanted to write the song from his imagined perspective, a little wary of all of the early praise, a little fearful that the glory and the magic could fade away at any time and merely wanting to keep his head down and begin a distinguished, long career.
It's a story that I can certainly relate to as can, I'm assuming all of my Baseball Project band mates. We have all experienced the flush of early success, a rush that feels like a dream and then worked our way through all of the ups and downs, keeping focused and putting together various bodies of work (is there a musical Bill James figure who can tell me how many CDs that Linda, Peter, Scott and I have made in our combined careers?). We've all had good days and bad days (hopefully more of the former) but after several decades of making music we are all proud of what we've done.
It would be accurate to say that the members of The Baseball Project are more Jamie Moyer than David Clyde and also that it would be the choice Strasburg would make as well. Then again, he just might be more like Walter Johnson. Time will tell.
Anyway, enjoy the song. After all, this phenomenal youngster might just be saying "It's better to burn out than fade away." And we can all relate to that.
Everywhere I go I hear the sound of humming air conditioners, boy, because the Summer's here and the time is right for....well, it's just too hot to pull the Sammy Cahn (ask your parents) rhyming dictionary from the shelf to find a match for "conditioner." Parishioner? Yeah, that will do for now. And I'm not going to wear our your patience by talking about the weather. On the other hand, consider this: residents of Los Angeles (as I was for most of my life) never have a reason to talk about the weather. It's always just slightly warmer than moderate, the air is dry and you can put on a light coat in the evening. But in New York City (and most of the country, this week), you can roll the wet air into a ball and toss it against the wall. Just for fun. Try it out.
The weather and meteorological conditions are extra jarring because one week ago today I was in Norway where the air is cool and crisp and where the sun barely (or never, in the case of Trondheim, my first stop on the mini-tour) sets. Up north was a show at Credo, one of my favorite clubs in the world (best club-based meal in the world, trust me) and then down South was the Visefestival in the small but (to me) very familiar town of Egersund. The latter was a summer camp, of sorts. I spent three days regularly crossing paths with old and new pals (Robyn Hitchcock, Michael West King, Patrick Berkery, Roald Ripland, Steve Hochman) and watching the sun rise at 2am each day. Robyn and I did a show consisting completely of covers the night we both arrived which means very minimal rehearsal. Take that into consideration when you check out the recordings of the show that are already circulating the internet. Nonetheless, it was a blast and I think there might be more such hootenanny collaborations down the line.
And now? Back home, seeking AC for a few more days and then another Atlantic crossing back to Cardiff where Jason and I will be playing a house concert next weekend. More and more of these private gigs are coming in these days and they're always fun, mostly because they're always very different and a good chance to make new friends, new converts and get a glimpse into other worlds in a way you wouldn't get at a club gig.
Speaking of club gigs, the initial dates for my European tour with the Miracle 3 for Fall 2010 just went up on my website. Have a look. It will be our first tour of Europe since 2006 and we'll be playing songs from the new record that comes out that month. Oh, and you can bet that Medicine Show will be heavily represented as well.
And here's a preview of the next missive coming down the pike in August: I'll be previewing a few songs from the new Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3 record and having a competition of sorts: you're all invited to make your own video for one of the songs (it's so easy these days—heck, I might try one myself) and the five best videos makers will get a signed copy of the new CD and a pair of tickets to the show of his or her choice.
But more on all of that later. I'm on my way outside to seek out the coldest AC in Manhattan. Hmmm.....What rhymes with AC? Oh yeah, Jay-Z! An Empire State of Mind indeed.
Is it cruel, is it unkind, is it a bold nasty tease to say that you should have been there? Hey, I'm just glad that I was there. Imagine if I had missed it. I mean, I never missed a Dream Syndicate show (just like that damn Dennis Duck-we share the all-time record) and I wasn't about to miss this. Thank you Delta Airlines for getting me there. I couldn't have done it without you. Nor could have the Miracle 3. Did I mention they were there as well?
Yes, it was one wild weekend of nostalgia filtered through the very much NOW last weekend when the Miracle 3 and played Medicine Show (Friday) and The Days of Wine and Roses (Saturday) in order, each night followed up by a motley assortment of other tasty morsels from the 26 years since those records were brand new. Let's see if I can jog my memory (and my memory hates to jog, preferring an all-out sprint or a leisurely stroll)
1st Night encore:
2nd Night encore:
It was quite the scene. People had traveled from Belgium, Italy, Dallas, Baltimore, Iowa, Florida and even from down the street from the 529 Club in Atlanta where this all went down. Thanks abound-to all those who were there, to the many budding Pennebaker's who filmed the event (most of the evening is up on YouTube - scroll through videos in player above) Thanks to Chris Chandler and Jeff Clark for bringing us down and promoting the event. Thanks to Mike Mills who spoiled us with a fine steak dinner and a ride back to the club in a stretch limo (see? Just like 1984). Thanks to pals like DeWitt and Jackie Burton, Jeff Schultz, Teresa Linkous, Jim Barber and Arthur Johnson for providing links to the near and distant past.
Oh, and thanks to Jason, Dave and Linda. They were in fine form. I know. I had the best viewing vantage point in the room. Will we do this again? Hmmm…who knows? Who really knows?
I'd never heard the expression the expression "Opened in New Haven" before my mother mentioned it to me yesterday (on Mother's Day, of course). Maybe you've all heard the expression before. But I hadn't. I guess it's a theater tradition in which you test out your new play in New Haven before bringing it down to Broadway. That's rough. I mean, who made New Haven the guinea pigs of the world? (or conversely, one could see this show biz glass as half-full and ask Who Died And Made THEM the Sneak Preview Gods?). I do know that New Haven has arguably the best pizza in the US and that's good enough for me.
But sure enough, we did Open In New Haven last Saturday night. The Miracle 3 and I drove up the beautiful Merritt Parkway (a more attractive and speedier alternative to the I-95) and somewhere along the way I decided that it would be a fun idea to try out the concept of playing the first two Dream Syndicate albums that we'll be bringing to Atlanta this weekend. I had played each of the albums in their entirety but never in the same night before. Turns out that the fans of Atlanta have nothing to worry about-the show went off without a hitch and even though flowers were not brought to our dressing room (ending the theater tradition analogies), we did enjoy a large plain pizza as well as the fabled clam pie, courtesy of the kind and generous promoter Paul at the Café Nine.
And all of this Dream Syndicate hoopla (did I mention that I used to be in the band?) ties in with the long-awaited reissue of "Medicine Show" which will be shipping out in just a few weeks. Check out the front page of the website for more information. This current run of the live version will actually close in Atlanta but might get revived again at some point in the near future so stay tuned.
NOTE: I am typing this from a café on Broadway (see? Open in New Haven, move on to Broadway!) and a bulldog dressed in full infant gear was just wheeled by in a baby carriage. I love this city.
Some of the hardest lessons I had to learn quite early during my ten days at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival were the following:
-- You can't see everything
-- You can't eat everything
-- You can't drink everything
Lord knows, we all tried our best. Not only does the festival itself last for 7 days with five or more bands playing each of the ten main stages (go ahead, do the math. I'll wait) but also there are also endless clubs with incredible lineups each night lasting well into the wee hours. It's no exaggeration to say that there are over a hundred shows during the ten days that would be one of the best things you might see all year. And yet you tend to see three or four songs by any given band and then move on in search of the next thrill that lies 50 yards beyond. My baseball brother Scott McCaughey who was in town (along with the rest of REM who were there working on their next album) called it the musical equivalent of "channel surfing." My hand was on the remote for the entire 240 hours I was there.
It's not enough that there are so many incredible bands and legendary performers, many of whom you would never have a chance to see outside of the New Orleans city limits. But there are also the attention span land mines of dozens of food kiosks each serving the epicurean equivalent of seeing the Beatles back Bob Dylan (or more appropriately, the Meters backing Lee Dorsey). Repeat after me: you can't eat everything. But you can try.
We managed to sneak in a few hours to record the third installment of the Broadside Ballads, the one-a-month musical baseball blog that the Baseball Project is doing in conjunction with ESPN (it will hit their-and this-site next Monday, I believe). The song is called "30 Doc," a meditation on the chances that Philadelphia pitcher Roy "Doc" Halladay will win 30 games.
I usually end these posts with a list of "recent faves" and usually I find around ten things that are thrilling me at the moment. This list, I'm afraid, will be a little longer this time. If you haven't been to Jazz Fest (this was my first), you should book your ticket right now for 2011. See you there next year.
Jazz Fest faves:
And, of course, much more. But you get the point. Now it's time to hit the gym, skip the fried foods, finish some lyrics and get ready for the shows and studio sessions ahead. Don't be surprised if most of the songs are about fried oysters.
With the lion's share of the recording of the new Miracle 3 record left behind us somewhere in the outskirts of Richmond, it's time to drift into the week- long orgy of food and music that is Jazz Fest right here in New Orleans. I've always wanted to check out this highly regarded festival but it seemed that the timing was always wrong, usually conflicting with our own touring plans. How dare MY music and food adventures get in the way of enjoying the food and music adventures of others. But here we are, Linda and I camping out in a collective of French Quarter cottages with our Baseball Project compatriots Scott and Peter who are here working on the new REM album. We're even going to sneak in the recording of the third installment of the Broadside Ballads on Monday when REM closes up shop for the day.
But mostly this trip is about revelry, moderate excess (not the contradiction in terms one might think- I'm more of a moderate extremist than extreme moderate when it comes to the good things in life) and, of course, celebration. And there is plenty to celebrate right now. Our eight days in Richmond went incredibly well and we have recorded 14 tracks of which the greatest challenge will be deciding which ones to leave off the record. What can I say? Hard to describe but I would say it's a rocking, psychedelic, dreamy, hazy, trippy, muscular, whimsical, loud, soft, scary and celebratory affair. In short, it's what the four of us do together. But it might be the best example of us "doing our thing" yet.
By the way, the record is tentatively titled "Northern Aggression." That would be the post- Civil War tale of 4 Northerners moving below the Mason- Dixon line to wreak havoc but, fortunately, all in the name of love and music and good times this time around. . I wish it were coming out next week. But you'll have to wait until November. My apologies.
In the meantime, stay tuned- there will be more correspondence from right here in New Orleans. The next 24 hours will contain a veritable gumbo of the Meters, etoufee, Patti Smith, Levon Helm, cocktails, jambalaya and much more. I think I just made myself tired.
ps....I will be doing my best to join the Tweet Revolution while I'm here so feel free to sign up on this very website
Yes, there is a theme of the "NEW" here as I get ready to leave New York (ring in the new, ring out the new) to begin a new record with the Miracle 3, our first together in five years. Jason, Linda, Dave and I are going to Richmond, Virginia where we'll be working with Bruce Olsen who was at the helm for both Gutterball records. A fine, greasy record as well as tales of BBQ and soul food will surely follow.
But in the meantime, may I draw your attention to the new design of my website (www.stevewynn.net). Lots of new features to go with the new look so check it out, have fun, kick the tires, take it out on the open highway and have some fun. Many thanks to the incredible Wonder at WONDERKNACK for the design and to Daneane Gallardo at RexRuff Web Site Construction for putting all the pieces in place and making it all work with the clean precision of 1959 Fender Princeton amplifier (trust me, that's good).
And while we're at this whole NEW theme, check out the second installment of the Broadside Ballads, the once-a-month song series that The Baseball Project is doing for the ESPN website-click on www.espn.go.com/espn/thelife/news/story?id=5053976 and see why Scott McCaughey thinks this could be the year that the Chicago Cubs end their 100+ year drought. Hmmm, not sure if I agree but I was happy to chime in on guitar and vocals (if you play those vocals backwards they say "My money's on the Yankees.")
And new shows? There are a few of those as well-I'll be traveling in various musical forms to New Haven, Atlanta, Portland, Seattle and Norway in the coming months (now, there's some interesting routing) so check the website for details.
But enough of the new. I'm going to kick back with an Old Fashioned, pop in a DVD of "Old Yeller" and maybe head downtown to check out a Claes Oldenberg exhibit. You've got to go back to the old favorites now and then, after all. See you all soon.
This is the short version. The longer version has been told and will be told again, I'm sure, in greater detail and with greater poetic dexterity.
When I was 20 years old I was so moved by the Big Star 3rd album that I found it absolutely necessary to jump on a Greyhound bus to Memphis merely to soak up the environment and maybe meet the man who could make such beautiful, vulnerable, transparent, honest music.
I not only experienced the city but also was welcomed by Alex Chilton himself. I spent a full week that summer in 1981, buying beers and smokes for Alex, talking about love and art and philosophy and life-everything but his actual music, as it turns out-over many late Memphis nights. We heard that week that Jerry Lee Lewis was on his deathbed in a Memphis hospital and parked across the street, drinking beer and toasting his health.
30 years later Jerry Lee is still here and now Alex is gone.
That night Alex invited me back to his parents' place where he was living at the time. I looked in awe at the gold records for "The Letter" and "Cry Like a Baby" as I walked in. What can I say?--I was a fan. And he made me some very tasty grits for breakfast the next morning.
Since then, I encountered Alex here and there. We played a festival together in Norway in 2007. The next day Linda and I met up with him at the Oslo airport and helped him find the gate for his flight Paris. He wanted to talk about our dates of birth, astrological signs and compatibility. His curiosity almost caused him to miss his plane.
Last year I saw Big Star play in Brooklyn. Alex and I talked for a while after the show. We exchanged phone numbers and I was looking forward to seeing him when we were in New Orleans for Jazz Fest next month. My hero had become my pal and that made me very happy. I've heard that was the last Big Star gig and I'm glad he went out on such a great show before a wildly appreciative audience.
In a very sad month when I have lost one of my oldest and best friends (Mary Herczog) and am still taking in the horrible suicide of another friend, Mark Linkous, I find myself shattered by the untimely death of a man I didn't know all that well, a man I wish I had had the chance to know a little bit better. I wish I could have seen Alex play a show when he was 90 years old (I guess I would have been approaching 80 if my math is right). He was a guy who had so much enthusiasm and talent. His passing is a great loss for his fans, for music and for people like me who drew so much inspiration and solace from the beauty and love that he chose to make so public to anyone who cared to look within.
As Alex said...take care
LA's fine. The sun shines (most of the time). And the feeling is laid back. Palm trees grow, rents are low but, you know, I keep thinking about...
uh oh. my apologies. I thought I was Neil Diamond for a second there. But I am indeed in LA for a few days. And, despite living here for the first 34 years of my life, I find myself in that New York state of mind (even worse! I slid into Billy Joel quoting for a second) and being amazed to see sunshine in early March. And I'm not complaining. Oh no, I am not complaining
But a clear sign of impending Spring is impending baseball. Spring Training is here and if the time may not be right for dancing in the streets, it is certainly the time where the imaginations and metaphor-filled pens of The Baseball Project are coming to life. And not only are we in the middle of putting together our follow-up to "Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails" but we are also going to be writing songs throughout the baseball season, sort of a musical blog if you will. But only if you will. Quick. Let me know.
Ask anything. Quiz me, stump me, ask me to predict CC Sabathia's ERA. I'm ready.
In the meantime, here are some recent faves:
And I am here to tell you all that the other side of 50 feels fine, just fine. Maybe part of the reason for the easy transition (it's just a number, just a number they say, but oh what a number) might be that the bridge to 50 was laid at the Lakeside Lounge, a place where I have made many transitions over the years. Since I was the center of the festivities I chose a bunch of songs that we rarely play. We had to play "Older," a song I wrote at 32 about staring down the evidence and ravages of age. 32! Imagine that! I'll have to play it at my 80th birthday bash. We also tackled "Some Kinda Itch," "Melting In The Dark," "Out of This World" and "The Side I'll Never Show," all songs that haven't been in many set lists recently. Heck, I even took the liberty of calling out "Let It Rain," a song often covered by The Dream Syndicate but never played by the Miracle 3. Jason and Linda and Dave handled it with grace and expertise. Naturally.
I believe you can find the show up at Dimeadozen but you'll have to be a little more adept at this whole World Of Torrents than I am. Good luck.
Thanks to all of you who wrote such kind words on the website, the various Facebook and MySpace pages and by email. I've had the chance to thank some of you directly but know that all of the messages were gratefully received.
And have a good look at the WynnWeb site because it's going to be going through some changes in the coming months. This gives me a good chance to thank Daneane Gallardo who revamped and restructured the site a few years back and has been holding my cyberspace hand as I pull myself into the second decade of this still new century. Check out her website at RexRuff.com and check out her fine work. I mean, she does the websites for Bob Marley and the rest of his family. Such company! I am humbled and honored.
And last but most certainly not least, all of the festivities of my birthday and the first Miracle 3 gig of the year were tempered by the sadness of losing my dear and longtime friend Mary Herczog last week after her long, dignified and courageous battle with cancer. I could tell you about all the fun times we've had together, I could tell you that she was there all the way back to the earliest Dream Syndicate days, I could tell you what a cool person she was and that you should check (as I have done) buy her New Orleans travel guide and then use her literary voice to guide you around her favorite city. I could tell you so many things-especially how much she'll be missed by me and so many others-but I think the best thing to do is to direct you to her incredible website Cancerchick.com for a good glimpse at her writing, her history and to see how much she meant to so many. Mary, you are in our hearts forever.
Here's to a long and happy life to all of you. Or as Warren Zevon said, "Enjoy every sandwich."
I've always been a pretty big jazz fan. Much of my gateway to the psychedelic music that marked my early years came from an immersion in John Coltrane's later records ("Ascension" was a favorite). In the years before the Dream Syndicate I spent most of my guitar study time playing along with Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman (and, of course, "Marquee Moon" which is pretty much a jazz record in my book). And then there's "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" from the second Dream Syndicate album. I'm proud to say I've met many people who have told me that our song was a gateway for exploration into jazz music.
But when it comes to jazz I have been pretty much like those classic rock enthusiasts whose taste doesn't go beyond 1972. You know what I'm talking about-the people who choose and enthuse over the halftime shows at the Super Bowl, for instance (I mean-The Who in 2010? Really? Pino Palladino? Really?) And I do love my classic rock. That's for sure. But I'm also always hunting for the brave new turks who keep the flame alive. But when it comes to jazz? I'm old school all the way. Coltrane, Miles, Mingus, Ornette, Monk-those are my favorites.
That might be changing. After a recent article in the Times about a festival that happened here a few weeks ago I began checking out some of the new names that were mentioned and found that, in fact, there is a whole new revolution mixing the trad and the modern and even outside influences as well. And it sounds great. I've been listening to a lot of Vijay Iyer (check out "Histrocity" from last year. Wow) and Rudresh Mahanthappa and also Matt Wilson. Great stuff all the way
Now, I know that to jazz fans I might be sounding like some "modern" rock newbie who shows up at your house telling you about new bands like The Strokes and White Stripes and Yo La Tengo. But, hey, it's always good to be excited by new things and being a music fan is about sharing those new things with your friends. Which, my friends is what I hope I've just done.
Other Recent Faves:
I never understood the concept of Winter when I lived in LA. The onset of January merely meant that you might have to put something on over your t-shirt as you walked down the Venice boardwalk. When I was out there last month I saw Santa Claus driving a convertible down Ocean Avenue. True story. He was making a left turn onto the Pacific Coast Highway. My traveling companion pointed out that he always drives a convertible. Good point.
But here in New York it's a different story. The weather has been at or below the freezing point for the last 10 days. No complaints. The outdoor chill has meant a good chance to catch up on music and movies and, well, kick around a few songs as I get ready to go into the studio with the Miracle 3 (April) and The Baseball Project (May). But we all know that the internet is a good partner for procrastination (c.f. YOU. Right there, right now!) So, let's check out a few new places to guide your eyes.
First of all, I was stunned and delighted this week to see that my pals Jens Jakob Sorensen and Thomas Mejer Hansen have finally finished their magnum opus: the complete Tape Traders Website and Database. Check it out. It's at:
It makes me feel both proud and exhausted. Did I really play all those shows? They've done a great job of compiling the gigs I've done since 1981 and allowed for cross-referencing by band, year, tour and by actual song. It's an honor for me and I send them my heartfelt kudos.
And on a less self-serving note I have become a regular patron of www.burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com. It's run by my old pal Sal Nunziato who also ran my favorite local record store NYCD until they closed a couple of years back. The site is amazing. Sal's a funny guy and you get a good taste of his comic writing. And Sal is a music historian with excellent taste and you not only get his picks (like actually being in the store) but you can also download most of them. I was just enjoying some James Booker this very morning.
And in the spirit of recommendation, here are my 10 favorite albums of 2009. In the meantime, I have to go. Santa got a flat tire just shy of Zuma beach and needs me to come out and give him a hand.
Favorite albums of 2009 (in no particular order):