Hallucinations, a blog about writing, trains, and Wire to Wire
Browsing Category: Music
These Artists Thought They Were Simply Playing A Tribute to Bob Seger.
What Happened Next Will Change the Way You Think About Neutrinos Forever.
Oh wait. You’re already here. Hmmm. Would you mind going away and coming back a few times??? I need to get my page views up or corporate says they’re giving my job to an unpaid intern from South by Southwest.
Speaking of which (SEGUE! Ba-da-boom! Can interns do that? They can??? Crap.), this year’s SXSW was more frenzied than ever. In addition to attracting a huge cohort of women in skinny jeans and cowboy boots (approx. 97,000), it also featured a record number of Shriners in medical boots (approximately one. But still a new record.)
The presence of a Shriner in a boot cast drove SXSW to a fever pitch, according to this hastily written photo caption.
The festival was also notable for the number of “tributes” to other artists – longish events where lesser bands played lesser versions of songs that influenced other songs that influenced songs you actually like.
The Lou Reed tribute was a case in point. It began Friday evening in the packed Paramount theatre and is scheduled to conclude by Memorial Day or when Wayne Kramer takes the stage, whichever comes first. So far, the tribute has featured an unforgettable half hour of music and 340 set changes.
A tribute to Jimi Hendrix was also held, timed to coincide with the unveiling of the new Jimi Hendrix postage stamp.
The tribute began with an amazing and seemingly impromptu set of opening remarks by a baldish administrator from the United States Postal Service. Performing solo, and dressed in stunning Casual Friday attire in honor of Jimi, the administrator wowed the multitudes with his virtuoso introduction, moving from rhetorical to declamatory techniques and back again. Holding his notes behind his back, he spoke fluently about commemorative stamps of all types, incorporating passages of epideictic and didactic hortatory, dive-bombing into a mixture of Pig Latin and jargon, before ending with dissuasive and beatbox elements tracing back to Aristotle and Run DMC.
“It was a total mind-blower,” the guy next to me did not say. “At first we thought, what is this? As it went on, we realized history was being made. Bland introductions will never be same again. I thought there were three guys delivering prepared remarks simultaneously, but it was just this one dude.”
Letters using the new Hendrix stamp will be delivered by dragonfly and will take “about a half a day,” to get where they’re going, the administrator claimed. At which point he set his speech on fire.
After the giant Jimi banner collapsed, a number of musicians who should never be allowed to listen to Hendrix songs, let alone play them, took the stage to demonstrate through contrast why Jimi was the best. The crowd, dazed by a Level Four Contact High, murmured approvingly while dreaming of snack food.
The Postal Service honored the most innovative guitar player ever with a "stamp" for an outdated communication tool called a "letter." What happened next will blow your mind!!
But of course, it was the Seger Tribute that was most anticipated. A full half of all festival attendees staying in Room 330 of the Radisson Hotel said it was the best SXSW tribute they had ever briefly imagined while waiting on line at Amy’s Ice Creams.
Like ancient Gaul, the Seger tribute was divided in three parts. “The Raw Years," “The Radio Years," and “The Kid Rock Years.”
The original plans called for the post office to unveil a stamp honoring Seger, just as they did for Jimi. However, plans broke down when a) Punch sent the artwork back to be redone for the 15th time, b) Bob said the adhesive on the back of the stamp needed a little more acacia gum and a slightly higher grade of polyvinyl alcohol before it could be released, and c) focus group testing revealed customers believed that using a Bob Seger postage stamp would mean their letters would be delivered in about a year, or the year after, or three or four more years, or possibly much later, if at all, depending on when the postal muse struck.
So the show went on without an official stamp. But what a show it was.
Could this irrelevant picture of Ultraman lead to exciting news about Seger's new CD? You'll never know unless you click!
For The Raw Years, a reanimated James Brown belted out “Gets Ya Pumping” and “Lucifer.” To the delight of several, a reanimated Otis Redding jumped onstage and joined Brown for a duet of “Red Eye to Memphis.” True Seger aficionados experienced an unforgettable rush of fanboy superiority, while 99.3% of the crowd turned to each other and asked, “What the hell are they playing?” Emergency responders did a terrific job of handling the epidemic of shrugs that followed.
The Radio Years segment did not go as well, unfortunately. First up was “Against the Wind” by a reanimated version of The Eagles. The actual Eagles wanted to perform, rumor had it, but promoters, attuned to the average festival-goer’s limited attention span and need for maximum stimulation, preferred the livelier, reanimated version of the band.
The next performer, Suzanne Vega, delivered the most heartfelt tribute of the night. “This is dedicated to the man who set the standard for everyone who followed. A man who spoke for all of us, a genuine troubadour for humankind, he always lived his ideals – from his days as a young communist, to his support of peace and freedom everywhere. There will never be another like him, and I miss him terribly.”
The crowd, slightly confused, was nevertheless moved – until she launched into a medley of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Seger fans, enraged that their hero had been confused with a banjo-playing folk singer for the one-zillionth time, stormed the stage, intent on tearing Ms. Vega from limb to limb.
So it was perhaps provident that Ted Nugent chose that particular moment to wander up to the mic toting a .223-caliber Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle with a 30-round magazine, which he proceeded to empty into the air, quieting the crowd. “Where’s Rand Paul? he asked. “It this the CPAC convention?”
Realizing he was in Austin, he began to unwind a long rant about “subhuman liberal varmints addicted to cellphonesboozeandbirthcontrol.” Seger security man John Rapp reacted quickly, firing a tranquilizer dart into the right butt cheek of the Motor City Madman Who Doesn’t Actually Represent the Motor City in Any Conceivable Way, thus allowing the show to continue.
After a long set change, a new band, The Fauntleroys, took the stage and attempted their version of “Turn the Page.” After 17 false starts, the band left.
Could this be the entrance to the famous Segerfile vault where unreleased tracks are kept???
Then came the night’s dramatic finale, featuring a five-story Silver Bullet that rose from the stage. Posed provocatively atop the bullet was SXSW’s biggest celebrity, Lady Gaga, who belted out an autotuned, hip-hop version of “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll,” modifying the lyrics slightly to remove any reference to “old,” “time” or “rock ‘n roll.”
Unexpectedly, as she began bootie shaking through her final number – “Twerking on My Night Moves” – Ms. Gaga lost her footing on a bit of synthetic vomit from her previous show. Slipping off the bullet, she went into a five-story swan dive to the stage below.
What happened next was a textbook example of professionalism in action. Immediately, Ms. Gaga’s expert team of highly trained sycophants swung into action, producing their cellphones, tweeting and posting on Instagram. For the next fifteen seconds, #GagaCanFly and #AboutToGoSplat? were trending worldwide on Twitter, which Ms. Gaga’s social media director later heralded as “an unsurpassed triumph.”
At first, a collective cry of relief issued from the crowd, as it appeared Ms. Gaga’s fall had been broken by a six-foot pile of Doritos. Roadies who rushed to the salty pile of processed, nutritionless treats were the first to discover the staggering truth.
In fact, the singer’s fall had not been broken by the crispy snacks, as originally hoped. Rather, Lady Gaga herself had broken into a pile of Doritos. Representatives of PepsiCo, attempting heroic measures, quickly scooped the chips into a dozen extra-large garbage bags. “We’ll reassemble her!” their leader shouted. “To the factory!”
The evening thus seemed headed for a happy ending. Unfortunately, the PepsiCo team chose to take a shortcut through the Hendrix tribute. When they emerged on the other side, only three of the 12 garbage bags remained.
“I didn’t really think I’d like Lady Gaga,” one hardcore Hendrix fan said. “But she was delicious.”
Later in the night came the sad report that PepsiCo would be unable to rebuild the pop diva. “We ask only for your support, and God’s,” a spokesmodel mourned. “With the chips we’ve got left, we can only make Miley Cyrus.”
Contacted in his home outside Detroit, Seger commented only briefly on the event. “A tribute for me south by southwest of here? You mean Lincoln Park? Imagine.”
Posted in Music
Timing is everything. After months of working on the new book, I’m psyched to be hitting the road again for W2W, especially since the road is taking me to NY, Michigan, and my adopted hometown of Sucker Lake (which in a way, I guess, isn't really the road. But you know what I mean.)
As April begins, I’ll be taking part in the butt-kicking Animal Farm Reading Series, which is held monthly at Public Assembly in Brooklyn. The reading organizers like to point out that all reading series are created equal, but some are more equal than others. In any case, I’m thrilled to have been invited. On April 3, I’ll be reading with Bernice L. McFadden and Eliza Factor.
Gathering of Waters by Bernice L. McFadden & The Mercury Fountain by Eliza Factor.
A couple weeks later, I get to do the first W2W event in Lake Oswego, Oregon, which I sometimes call Sucker Lake to honor the lake’s original name. (It was named after the fish, not for the people who fell for the advertising slogan “Live Where You Play” and built their mansions on its edge.)
I’ve lived in Lake O for twenty years, wrote most of W2W in the tree house here, and yet am best known for being the father of Zane Sparling, former prodigy/humor columnist for the Lake Oswego Review. (True story: A couple weeks ago I was mailing off a copy of W2W at the Lake Oswego post office, or the LOPO as some of us call it, when a stranger saw the book and asked if I was Scott Sparling. I was getting set to autograph her hoody when she told me how much she liked Zane’s writing.) In any case, I’ll be at the LO Public Library on April 17. Maybe I can convince Zane to come.
A few nights later, on April 20, I’ll join fellow Tin House writer Alexis Smith along with Jean Auel, Emily Chenoweth, Loren Christensen, Ted Coonfield, Kim Cooper Findling, April Henry, Bart King and Barbara Roberts at HomeWord Bound 2012, a fundraiser for Community Partners for Affordable Housing at the Tualatin Country Club in Tualatin, Oregon.
Glaciers by Alexis Smith
Then, Michigan. On April 28, I’ll be in Lansing at the official Library of Michigan for an event that means a lot to me: Notable Nights, the Michigan book awards ceremony honoring the top Michigan books of 2011. It’s an amazing thrill to be on the list along with Jim Harrison, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Michael Moore, Susan Whitall, Keith Taylor, Laura Kasischke, and more.
As part of the Notable Books program, I’ve been invited to read at the Shiawassee District Library in Owosso, Michigan, about an hour north of my biological hometown. I’ll be there on April 30. Seger fans, stop by and we’ll talk music, freight hopping, glue sniffing and anything else that’s on your mind.
Later in June, I’ll be back in Michigan again, including Detroit and a short tour of the Upper Peninsula. Can’t wait for that either.
And to get ready for all this travel: the annual trip to SXSW in Austin later this week with the incomparable Ears Two, well known to Segerfile fans. I’m looking forward to four days of Jon Dee Graham, Chuck Prophet, Alejandro Escovedo, the Black Angels, Justin Townes Earle and dozens of other bands. I’ve already made Jon Dee Graham’s “Laredo” the unofficial theme song of the next book (currently called AUX IN):
I drove home from Laredo, I had the fireflies in my head
They were lighting up a small, dark something.
They were circling round a small, dark something
They were looking for a small, dark something.
-- Jon Dee Graham
If you’re in Brooklyn, Sucker Lake, Seger Nation or Austin, shoot me a tweet or an email, or come out and say hi. It’ll be great to see you the road.
Fourteen years ago – on February 11, 1998 – I launched the Seger File. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the beginning of one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done, all because of the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made.
A few Seger File facts:
- When I started, the site had very few graphics or images. I figured the information superhighway, as we called it back then, was all about information, not pictures. Also, my computer was way too slow to handle images well.
- The site was launched on a dial-up Internet service – almost everything was dial-up back then. I built the site in Claris Home Page, doing most of the coding in the cafeteria of Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan. My mom was in the hospital recovering from a stroke, and I could only see her a few times a day for short periods. In between visits, I’d go back to the cafeteria and do more coding.
- The site still runs on Claris Home Page, which only works on Mac OS 9. I keep an old laptop around to host the site. I do all the updates on a MacBook Air, then transfer them to the old laptop to upload.
- On the day after I launched the site, there were four visitors. There was no Google at the time and so no Google analytics. I’ve had several different visit-counter/analytic programs over the years, some of which are no longer functional, so I don’t really know how many people have visited the site in all. In the past five years, there have been 200,000 unique visitors.
A photo I took at the Primo Showbar in Ann Arbor in 1973. I gave it to Seger at the next show. He used it on the back of his next album.
- I started the site because I was having trouble finishing my novel, Wire to Wire. I thought doing the site would provide a good little break, and then I’d go back to writing my book. In fact, the site was so much fun to work on, it probably slowed the novel down by five years or more. (Shameless pitch: Don’t worry about buying the site a birthday present. But feel free to buy yourself a "smart, thrilling and darkly funny" book that's not really a crime novel, set in Michigan.)
- I was tremendously fortunate to have started a site about Seger at a time when he had pretty much dropped out of sight. That meant that instead of reporting news, I had to create essays. Without a lot of information to rely on, I had to give the site a personality. It made me a better writer.
- Want to know what’s up with Seger these days? Do a Twitter search or set a Google alert. If you wanted to know what was up with Seger in 1998, there weren’t many places to go. I’d hit the library, look through the microfiche and the out-of-town newspapers. If I found something, I’d make a photocopy, come home and re-enter the information. There were no other Seger sites back then, so for years the Seger File was the only online resource.
- In 14 years, I can only remember four times when people have asked me to take things down from the site. One was a bad review of a video, a couple were photos, and one was when I posted some lyrics Seger hadn’t released yet.
- There was more sarcasm and humor in my writing during the early years. When Seger got inducted into the Hall of Fame and the Detroit Free Press called me for an interview, I realized a lot of people were reading the site, and I became a little less gonzo and a little more journalistic. When the BBC called for an interview, I knew the site was making an impact. And there’s still plenty of sarcasm on the annual April Fools post.
- You might imagine that over the years, a person running the Internet’s largest Seger site would hear a lot of rumors and information that can't be posted. You’d be right.
- I initially named the site “The Segerfile.” Then I realized search engines weren’t listing it when people searched for “Seger.” So now I usually write “The Seger File.” But I still like Segerfile better.
And the best thing about the site, by far – all of you. Thanks for all your encouragement and friendship over the years. As Seger says in one of my favorite lines, no one has to tell me I’m a lucky man, and it’s your friendship that makes me feel that way.
Bob Seger, the Tigers, America the Beautiful. For a lot of us, the second half started right here.
Posted in Music
Time to switch all obsessing from fiction to music. SXSW is ten days away. Ears Two is sending spreadsheets almost hourly, mapping out which bands we must hear. (You remember Ears Two, my SXSW cohort with encyclopedic music knowledge.) The company laptop is jammed with sample mp3s and flashing “Low on Disk Space.”
Before things get any further out of control, here’s a partial list of rules for enjoying SXSW.
- Arrive early. Stay late.
- Don’t be greedy. Aim for one transcendent musical experience per day. Just have fun the rest of the time. (This one is tough. We want every set to be stellar.)
- Build your schedule around Jon Dee Graham and Alejandro Escovedo. Fill in the blanks with everyone else.
- But also, don’t follow your schedule or you’ll miss all the good stuff. Improvise. Give miracles a chance.
- Get totally blown away by at least one band/singer you thought you’d hate. Get totally disappointed by at least one band/singer you thought you’d love.
- No matter where you are, something better is happening somewhere else. Get used to it.
- Crowds in the street are not a sign of good music inside.
- If you meet the Buddha on the road, ask him if Mary Lou Lord is in town.
- Avoid grackles.
- The five-second rule does not apply to earplugs. When it hits the ground, it’s gone. Carry extra.
- Do not try to live-tweet the festival.
- Do try to find the cab driver with the big Tupperware container of frozen vegetables so you can work his profane dialogue into your next story.
- Do not buy a guitar.
- The festival is not a success unless you completely fill up an Amy’s ice cream punch card and get a free scoop at the airport the morning you leave.
- It is okay to let people assume that, given your age and your badge, you must be a record producer or some other type of VIP. It is not okay to tell people that you have copyrighted the phrase “Check Check” or “Testing One Two.” Do not attempt to collect royalties for same.
- When the temptation to get a tattoo or a cowboy hat becomes too strong, head home.
Posted in Music
Thirteen years ago, I needed to take a break from working on my novel. It was 1997. The web existed, but barely -- there was no Google, no Facebook, no LOLCats. The Internet was empty, compared to today. To get my mind off Wire to Wire, I did what any born-in-Michigan, proud-of-the-Motor-City writer might do: I decided to start a website about Bob Seger.
It wasn't meant to be a big deal. I figured I'd spend about six months on the site. Today, Segerfile.com turns thirteen years old.
I was lucky in a couple of crucial ways. First of all, no one else was writing about Seger online at the time. I had a monopoly. I'd go to the public library here in Portland, search out old Seger articles on microfilm, copy them down, come home and post them on my site. That was the 1997 version of Google Alerts.
Even luckier, though, was the fact that Seger was staying completely out of sight at the time. He wasn't touring. He wasn't releasing new material. Mostly, he was being a dad, raising his kids.
The absence of real Seger news, which at first seemed frustrating, turned into a good thing. It forced me to become an essayist, rather than a reporter. The writing took on personality, became humorous, even sarcastic. The people who returned to the site came back, I think, not because there was news, but because it was fun to read. At least, that's how it seemed to me.
The focus of this site, scottsparling.net, is Wire to Wire. But for one night only, join me as The Segerfile celebrates 13 years online by sampling a few of my favorite posts. And remember to do this.
The Seger vs. Springsteen Complexo-Meter World Exclusive(TM)
Are there folks out there who really like Bruce's music, but just wish it was, well, a little less confusing? Does "Born to Run" leave you scratching your head? No problem! Just buy one of Bob's CD's. You'll find it in the "Rock Music for Dummies" section…more
I've Got Tonight
What a party! All my celebrity friends showed up, plus quite a few people I probably ought to recognize, but don't. After about ten hours, though, things went a little sour. I was happily playing foosball with Sheena Easton, when I must have blacked out…more
Listen All Night to the Wind
The trees are swaying tonight, which means the floor is moving a little, too. It's late and I'm in my treehouse, and there's music coming in on the wind. The party that I hear is 2,500 miles away at the Waldorf-Astoria, where Seger is being inducted into the Hall of Fame…more
The traffic clears and we get going again, and this is what I hope for: That my son will grow up and have his own kids and his own music, and one day, out of pure love and enthusiasm, he'll punch up the volume, turn to his kids and say "Listen"…more
Harp jumps a freight in Wire to Wire and calls it his Crosscut hop. Call him Lucifer, if you think you should.
Posted in Music
Trains change when you’re close enough to touch them. The sound is different, for one thing. The roar that seems like a single thing from afar turns out to have ten layers, at least, and sometimes more. There are multiple saxophones going, and many guitars and drummers, and there are even delicate parts that are hard to hear until they hook you and then become hard not to hear.
The sound changes again if you’re actually on the train, because the interplay of train and track is reversed.
The thing to remember is that trains play the track. Like a bow on a string, except they’re both made of steel. When you’re on the train, you hear the specific rhythm of your car – and the three or four cars around you – hitting all kinds of track. The iron rail gives a little under the weight of the train, and as you move down the line, the wheels hit the joints between rails in an ever-changing drum solo.
When you’re on the ground, what you hear is the same section of track being hit by all different kinds of cars. The pattern is a little more predictable, but just as hypnotic. For me, anyway, and maybe for you too.
Warren Zevon’s brilliant lyrics to “Nighttime in the Switchin’ Yard” got this perfectly:
Listen to the train
Listen to the train
Listen to the train
Listen to the track!
Listen to the track, he said. Only someone who had actually listened, carefully and specifically, to a moving freight would get that distinction. When I first heard that line, I wondered why Zevon would write a lyric that would only make sense – only really ring true – for people like Iron Legs Burk and me, people who had actually ridden freights. But maybe I was giving us too much credit.
Anyway, nothing sounds better than a certain kind of train, unless it’s a great train song. Wire to Wire is full of music, but not train songs per se, so to rectify that, I put a list up on the site. The minute you do something like that, you know you’re gonna leave out some good ones. And sure enough, after just a couple of weeks, readers have suggested several additions.
Mike M. – a longtime reader of my other site – says I should add “The City of New Orleans,” the Arlo Guthrie version. Good call. The list has already been revised.
Fellow writer Nicole R. suggests “Train Song” by Tom Waits: “I know he's someone people either love or hate, but this song is pretty awesome and perfect for his voice.” Agreed.
From Christine P. comes “Bob Dylan's Dream” – he is, after all, on a train headed west, she points out.
And Ears Two – well known to readers of the Segerfile – suggests…well, about fifteen different train songs. As you might expect from someone with encyclopedic pop music knowledge. Many of his nominees will be added in the future.
I’m dead certain the list isn’t complete yet. What else did I miss? Let me know.
In other music feedback, Mike M. points out that “Alice’s Restaurant” was released the year before “2+2=?” – making it an earlier antiwar song than Seger’s track. Fair enough, though I would put “Alice’s Restaurant” more in the folk rock category. Which raises a question: Why was it okay for folk artists to release antiwar protest songs all through the 1960s, while the subject seemed to be off-limits for other genres until about 1969, when Edwin Starr broke through with "War (What Is It Good For?)"
Iron Legs Burk on the road. "Train Man," by the Bob Seger System.
Philip Slater wrote a lot about money and sex in his 1970 book, “The Pursuit of Loneliness.” In the chapter, “Putting pleasure to work,” he describes how we eroticize anything that can be sold – cars, potato chips, toothpaste, etc – for economic reasons. “The gross national product will reach its highest point when a material object can be interpolated between every itch and its scratch,” Slater wrote.
But for the model to work, stimulation has to be ramped up constantly. Mass media is how it gets done. Every TV show, magazine, advertisement, movie, billboard, etc., has to be sexier than the last. At the same time, we have to clamp down on gratification. Otherwise, no sale. So Justin Timberlake can sing about bringing sexy back, but he can’t show us Janet Jackson’s nipples. That gets uncomfortably close to gratification.
According to P. Slater, the job of the economy and our culture is to generate “esoteric erotic itches that cannot be scratched.” We buy things hoping for relief, get none, and buy more. The Charlie Brown/Lucy metaphor applies – we never get to kick the football, but we never stop trying.
That fact that maximum stimulation and minimum gratification drives us all crazy is an unfortunate side effect – at least the economy is functioning. Sort of.
Of course, Slater was writing all this before cable television, rap music, video games, the Internet, sexting, etc. etc. etc. He had no idea how sexy we could make everything.
Last weekend, I saw the touring version of Hair and was struck by two things. One, the nudity is now handled very discreetly. Dim, dappled lighting disguised it almost completely. Were the actors really naked at the end of Act 1? Hard to tell from where I was sitting.
On the other hand, the show was packed with fully clothed pantomimed sex. How do you like it – doggy-style, reverse cowgirl, missionary, DP? They had it all, and none of it seemed particularly offensive.
In the 1970s, it was the opposite. The actors were naked and brightly lit, but you couldn’t do all that sex stuff on stage. It’s okay these days, because we’re all stimulation junkies. But naked bodies gets too close to gratification, and we’re bigger prudes about that sort of thing now. Or so I claim.
The second thing I noticed was this: showtunes were the earliest forms of rap and hip-hop. Seriously.
Here’s why. Except for ballads, most showtunes are just about slinging a lot of rhymes over a good beat. “They’ll be gaga at the go-go, when they see me in my toga??” What the hell? Nobody said “gaga” in the 70s. Nobody went to “the go-go.” And this was before Animal House. We did not wear togas. Doesn’t matter. The words sorta rhyme, so just keep going. Case closed. Don’t like rap music? Blame Broadway.
The earliest known rap song: "Hair"
Posted in Music
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