Video Fridays: Jeff Tweedy & Stephen Colbert

tweedy-colbertAfter my depressing post this morning, I thought I’d lighten things up, WAY up, with this sweet clip from last night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for this week’s Video Fridays installment.

I’ve been a HUGE fan of Jeff Tweedy, since his days in Uncle Tupelo, through his over 20 years in Wilco, and through his various side projects, which I’ve mentioned in multiple posts over the years here at Fish & Bicycles, and one of the many things that I like about him is that his soft, vulnerable side has been a major recurring element in his music, making him and his music eminently relatable.

Even though these are two grown men in this video clip, I couldn’t help thinking back to when I used to read stories and sing to my son, now 18-years old, at bedtime.

Having an 18-year old is a grieving process, their time living at home with you is winding down, nest departure is inevitable and nearing day by day. We may want them to stay until it’s two grown men doing bedtime together, but that’s just not the way the world works.

Happy Weekend, everyone.

Video Fridays: R.I.P. Paul Kantner

Airplane's Paul Kantner At Altamont

Wow, January’s been one helluva month for deaths of musicians and entertainers that I’ve admired, so much so that I haven’t been able to keep up and post my reactions.

I managed to mark the passing of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, but then came Glenn Frey of the The Eagles (not someone I was a big fan of, but a ubiquitous figure who inspired a lot of people to listen to and make music); the lovable actor Abe Vigoda (this time, for sure), cuz face it, who didn’t love him as Fish?; and now, sadly…

Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane/Starship fame.

Kanter, and Jefferson Airplane more generally, were — along with other favorites of mine, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and others — part of the extraordinary late 1960s San Francisco music scene, a scene that produced music of incredibly raw, wild, psychedelic power, thoroughly reflective of the explosive counterculture of the period.

Kanter was an archetypal rhythm guitarist, eschewing the spotlight that lead guitar players naturally attract in favor of playing an essential supportive role. Indeed he, along with a handful of other players, were my inspiration for becoming a rhythm guitarist myself.

One of the first vinyl LP records that I ever owned was the 1970 compilation, with its wonderfully ironic title, The Worst of the Jefferson Airplane, given to me in the mid 1970s by a cousin determined to rescue me from Top 40 music.

Though I listened to the album when I got it, the rescue ended up taking a few years. Eventually, after revisiting the record several years later, it was obvious just how fantastic the music was and how much better it was, by magnitudes, in comparison to most of what was popular at that time.

So, thanks, Paul Kantner, for all of the amazing music, for inspiring me as a musician, and for singing about revolution, still relevant to me today, as the candidate I’m supporting for President of the United States is calling for a non-violent political revolution.

Bernie Sanders’ Non-Promise Promise

Bernie Sanders

Campaign promises are like helium balloons. They’re big, full of gas, and once the party is over, they’re absolutely useless.

Susan Gale

To be fair, it’s very difficult to nail down exactly what constitutes a campaign promise and what does not.

Certainly, it’s a candidate’s job to articulate what policies they propose and will pursue if elected, but VERY rarely do they use the phrase “I promise”, especially in the post-“Read my lips: no new taxes!” era and in these days of the viral interwebs.

Still, this doesn’t stop journalists and pundits and opposition campaign staff from wielding the word “promise” with abandon, hoping to nail someone for breaking their word.

Just googling around briefly before writing this, I found numerous articles with “[candidate] promises” in the headline, and when I read through the articles there is no actual promise to be found.

Certainly, promises can be implied, as it is with the use of the phrase “we will” (rather than “we might” or “we will try to”) in this example, from the candidate to whom I have pledged my support:

“This type of rigged economy is not what America is supposed to be about. This has got to change and, as your president, together we will change it.”

Bernie Sanders

Now THAT is a skillful promise, not suggesting he’ll do it all by himself, but rather making it clear that he needs help.

Indeed, Bernie is the only candidate who has actually declared that, if elected, he will not be able to change a damn thing, a non-promise promise, if you will, a promise that sounds ludicrous coming from a candidate for President of the United States of America … unless you listen to exactly what he said, in context.

This video of Bernie Sanders making his non-promise promise has already been widely seen, it’s very likely the shortest video clip I’ve ever posted, but it may be the truest message I’ve ever posted, more than justifying the choice.


Video Fridays: David Bowie

david-bowieSince I learned of David Bowie‘s passing earlier this week, besides writing an obituary post for him, I’ve been, naturally, listening to a lot of his music.

I started with and keep coming back to his last album, Blackstar, released just a few days before he died.

After my first time through the album, an admittedly less than focused listen, I didn’t quite know what to make of it, or whether or not I liked it much.

Some music, when I first hear it, I love it instantly, but some, arguably the best music, demands that you listen more closely, repeatedly, so as to unlock its secrets.

Now, having given Blackstar the time it deserves, I can honestly say that it is extraordinary; alternately haunting and beautiful and mostly both at the same time, especially when you consider that Bowie was dying when he made it and is gone now.

Additionally, songs like ‘Tis A Pity She’s A Whore and Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime) bring to mind Bowie’s edgier side, replete with raw, uncensored scenes from the darker corners of life.

Since it came out, I’d heard about the following selection for this week’s Video Fridays installment, the video for the Blackstar track Lazarus, I heard it was rather creepy, but I was hesitant to watch it, because I tend to avoid creepy things.

Anyway, now I have watched it, and it has shaken me, as of course it was intended to, as of course it should. And yet, it’s achingly moving and beautiful.

It is classic Bowie. Brave and unique.

R.I.P., David Bowie: A Delayed Reaction

david-bowieOk, folks. This post really IS about the death of David Bowie, but I hope you’ll indulge my taking a scenic, time machine route to his obituary.

On a hot Los Angeles, California summer night, July 10, 1989, having just read the New York Times obituary for the famous voice of Bugs Bunny and other Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, I emerged from my room in the 3-bedroom apartment I shared with my two longest-standing friends from back in New Jersey, slowly walked down the hallway, through the living room, and into the dining area, where my friends Mike & Keith were seated, and the following, two-line exchange happened:

Me: I can’t believe Mel Blanc is gone.

Keith: I can’t believe he was here.

Ever since, for over 25 years, whenever someone dies who inspired, influenced, entertained, or was otherwise meaningful to us, either by email or text one of us sends the first line of that dialogue, and it’s a race to see who will first respond with the second line.

And while it may seem strange to crack a joke upon the loss of someone meaningful to us, it was never a reflection of a lack of caring. We’re from New Jersey. It’s how we deal with loss.

So, what does this have to do David Bowie?

Well, of all the people we have eulogized in this manner, Bowie comes the closest to someone who I really can’t believe was ever here, hence my delayed reaction.

Employing another anecdote, recently a Facebook friend posted this:

OK, been a while since I’ve done one of my random musical questions. This time I want to hear something that you think of as just utterly unique and off the beaten track … stuff where you hear it and just think, “What just happened?”

To me, THAT was David Bowie.

I had that reaction the first time I heard Space Oddity, Fame, or Heroes, or the entire The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars album, and if it wasn’t the entire song, it was specific lyrics:

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city
Strung out on lasers and slash-back blazers
Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
Talking ’bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York’s a go-go, and everything tastes right

You’ve torn your dress, your face is a mess
You can’t get enough, but enough ain’t the test
You’ve got your transmission and your live wire
You got your cue line and a handful of ludes
You wanna be there when they count up the dudes

… or it was his constantly shifting appearance:


So yeah, to paraphrase my friend, What the fuck just happened?! This doesn’t sound or look like anything I’ve heard, read, or seen before!

David Bowie was the ultimate artist-musician. I might not have liked everything he did, but I never doubted that he was constantly evolving and striking out for new ground, and his massive success and critical acclaim speak for themselves.

That Bowie accomplished all that while boldly and unapologetically challenging deeply embedded, narrow, and rigid gender identities is nothing short of heroic. He made millions of people feel less alone for not fitting neatly into one of two prevailing and accepted gender stereotypes. An incredible gift.

So, thank you David Bowie, for all of the music and courage. Rest in peace.




Video Fridays: Guinea Pigs, Because Friday

WARNING_CUTE_PREHey folks, I’ve scoured the interwebs today looking for a video for today’s Video Fridays installment, and I couldn’t find anything better than this.

Ironically, it’s my shortest ever Video Fridays installment, but when you’ve got guinea pigs acting this painfully cute, you have to think of the consequences of this level of cuteness lasting more than 31 seconds.

Could anyone really withstand any more of this without rushing out and finding a guinea pig and taking one home?

And if that happens in numbers that I suspect it would, pet stores could very well find themselves completely wiped out of guinea pig inventory during holiday season.

So, here it is, 31 seconds of cuteness.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Springsteen, The River, And The Mixed Legacy Of Pop Music

bruce_springsteen_tiesSo, I’ve been listening, on Spotify, to the just-released box set of Bruce Springsteen‘s 1980 double studio album The River, titled The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, which includes the remastered original album, the shorter single album version that was almost released instead of the double album, a bunch of outtakes, and…

…it’s really a mixed bag.

There is undeniable explosive energy in many of these songs, some of the lyrics are as good as anything Springsteen wrote before or since, and the musicianship is solid, the product of indisputable talent.

And yet…

The most persistent impression I got as I listened was that Springsteen was reaching for a sound reminiscent of early Rock & Roll from the 1950s, with a touch of Phil Spector’s early 1960s Wall of Sound studio approach, and I think it’s important to note that Rock & Roll, during that period, still had one foot in the often cheesy pop music that it grew out of.

There are two elements, in particular, that stand out to me, one related to the studio production, and the other to specific instruments.

First, the studio production, the most pervasive element, affecting every single song on the record. The best way I can describe it is that the album sounds incredibly thin, even on a good sound system or using good headphones, as if it was playing on those cheap metal speakers they had at old drive-in movies.

And while it may have seemed like a clever homage at the time, it gets old real fast, and it feels inexcusable, given that Springsteen had the very best studios and engineers at his disposal. I found myself wanting less reverb and a lusher mix, with the mids and trebles tamed and the low-mids and bass enhanced.

Second, the single most-noticeable instrumental element that stands out is the way keyboards are used on this album. Not THAT they are used, but HOW they are used, which is to say that they, unfortunately most of the time, DOMINATE and therefore detract.

This is also a tragedy of the studio process, as it turns out, because if you check out on YouTube some of the awesome footage from The River tour, you can hear that, onstage, the keyboards are WAY less forward in the mix, and the guitars and the bass, fortunately, stand out, giving the songs more bottom end and an edgier power, as opposed to the bubble gum sheen that the keyboards gave to the same songs on the album.

There’s no better example of this than the song Ramrod.

Here’s the cheesy studio version:

And here’s a live version from the tour:

If Springsteen released a live album from The River tour that had all of the songs from The River on it … well … I’m not saying it would be as great as his first four albums, but it would sound like it belonged in their ranks.

SO many of my favorite rock musicians were inspired by early Rock & Roll and give credit where credit is due, to artists who blazed a new trail.

But, there is a reason why that early Rock & Roll music sounded SO much better, to me at least, when played by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and other British Invasion bands, and it’s because they either reduced or left out entirely the cheesy pop elements and they rocked the shit out of the songs.