Not Immortals

(Originally posted in August. Updated.)

RIP Charlie Watts.

We saw the Rolling Stones in Houston in 2019. It was the first time I had seen the Stones live, which is just insane, except I was really a Beatles person growing up.

We had tickets to see them in Dallas this year, but we actually skipped it. I wasn’t into it (see below) and my wife really wants to avoid crowds, so we just stayed home.

A couple of weeks before Charlie passed away, the Stones had announced that he was sitting the tour out. That was disappointing, but health comes first.

Now, we’ve lost the chance that he would change his mind or have a miraculous recovery.

I’m a lot more upset than I thought I would be over hearing that Charlie passed away. He was 80. Anyone in a rock band that lives to be 80 has lived a good life. However, these guys were supposed to be immortal.

Between the Beatles and the Stones, John Lennon died at 40, but it wasn’t his fault. George Harrison died at 58, but it was cancer. Brian Jones died at 27, but that was a rock and roll death.

This one hurts. I miss Charlie. Even if the Stones have had multiple incarnations and “Keith and Mick ARE the Stones”, it just wouldn’t be the same without Charlie.

Even though I was a Beatles person, I listened to the Stones, and they grew on me. I think you have to be a certain age to actually get the Stones, I think. I know I appreciate the Beatles more now, as well.

However, as much as the Stones records grew on me, I learned in 2019 that they are really a live band. They tore up the stadium in Houston. As much as I enjoyed Sir Mick prancing around and Keith banging away, the most compelling member of the band for me was the quietest one (with the loudest instrument) and that was Charlie.

  • Mick Jagger, fresh out of heart surgery, running around the stage.
  • Keith Richards, leading the charge, playing fifty-year old licks that never age.
  • Ronnie Wood, playing the licks Keith can’t remember.
  • Bill Wyman, at home, because he retired from the band 26 years ago.
  • Charlie Watts, a quiet gentleman, looking bemused behind a drum kit and apparently enjoying himself.

I thought that night that he had surely discovered the secret to a long life in rock and roll – never really believing you were doing what you were doing.

I am so glad we made the trek to Houston to see the Stones live. The trip actually got postponed once when Mick had heart surgery and I thought, “I hope we didn’t miss our chance.” When they rescheduled, we drove down again (we had gone the original weekend anyway because we had so many side trips scheduled.)

It was like being a teenager again.

We had dealt with Mick’s age a month or so before, but now they were ageless.

This year, we dealt with Charlie’s age, and now he’s timeless.

I may regret not going to see them in 2021, but I will always have 2019.

Closing Globe Life Park

Billy Joel, the patron saint of closing baseball parks, closed out the Texas Rangers’ time at Globe Life Park in Arlington (aka “Dallas” which has to make the Arlington city officials insane – never have a city with one pro team is named after a neighboring city and another is named after the State) with a two-hour hits set. He offered the audience a choice of “deep cuts and album tracks” or “hits” early on, and the crowd chose “hits”, which seems predictable.

If you can’t close a park with World Series baseball, Billy Joel is a good second choice.

There are few artists left that can play two hours and all the songs are known by most (if not all) of the audience – and even fewer who are doing all their own work, and not also covering other bands they used to be in (I’m looking at you, Sir Paul.)

It would be interesting to compare this set list to the last time he played here, since he hasn’t had any new (rock) material since 1993 (or so.) He was one of the first artists to make a business out of rehashing old material (I’m looking at you, Jimmy Buffett, Rolling Stones et al), but he’s still one of the best.
For anyone that remembers him as a balladeer, listen to the encore. Loud.

Billy Joel is one of my few “just buy the tickets” artists for good reason. It’s a fun show, faithful to the records of my youth, with some surprises thrown in, just to keep people paying attention. There’s an unapologetic New York lens on much of his work, but this set is fairly universal. “They’re sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone” is still the finest one-line summary of divorced guy business travel there ever was.

Billy Joel Setlist Globe Life Park in Arlington, Arlington, TX, USA 2019, Billy Joel In Concert

Recycling The Hits

Television commercials need background music, so the easiest path is to find an old song and license it – it also helps target the commercial to a particular audience. (If I hear 70s music, it’s probably pointed at me. 60s music? Burned-out baby burners. I’m still burning, so not me. Really loud music? Old folks. Porn music? ED sufferers.)

The problem for me is that I always react to the song and not to the ad. Remember the brouhaha when Michael Jackson let Nike (I think) use “Revolution”? It’s the same thing. I think it was Nike. I’m pretty sure it was Nike. I know what the song was.

I had the same issue with “Bad Moon Rising” which was in somebody’s ad recently. All I could think was “CCR? Really?” I have no idea who the sponsor was. They have good taste in music, but “Bad Moon Rising” is not exactly cheerful – the music may be, but the lyrics aren’t. John Fogerty said it was about the coming apocalypse. That should sell sneakers.

I wonder about how successful this methodology really is. I suppose if you’re a person who hears the music and flashes momentarily to your (hopefully happy) teenage years, and you don’t think about the lyrics too much, or the fact that some of the players are no longer with us, then it may work, and get you to actually watch the commercial.

However, in my house, at least, the music in commercials just annoys my wife, because I will immediately start by identifying the music, then discussing the origins of the song, rehashing any trivia I know about the song, explaining why the lyrics make no sense for the given commercial, given the product in question, and not paying attention to any of the brand messaging. Worse, sometimes my song lectures (which apparently are not as interesting to all as to me) will make me fast-forward past the resumption of the show. So, music in commercials can be hazardous to my health.

At long last, the point I was going to make – as in, the song that finally made me write this down.

The other night, we were watching something on the DVR, so I was about to spin past the commercials, when the opening guitars from ELO’s “Do Ya” started playing. I love that song. The lyrics are a bit sketchy in places, but the guitars are great.

I mean:

I’ve seen old men crying at their own grave sides
And I’ve seen pigs all sitting watching
Picture slides

Methinks Jeff Lynne may have listened to “I Am the Walrus” a few too many times over the years.

So, the commercial in question was probably pointed at me and my generation. However, the end result was that I paused the DVR, went and played the song on my iPad while the Spousal Unit went to get a refill in the kitchen, and I then I skipped over the commercial. Plus, I missed the next section of the show we were watching, trying to figure out why pigs were watching picture slides. I’m almost forty years older now than the first time I heard this song, and I still don’t know what the hell Jeff Lynne is talking about – but the guitars are still great.

I’ve had “Do Ya” stuck in my head for three days. Three days. Three freakin’ days. I have no idea what the commercial was selling.

Thank you, Jeff Lynne. I can’t get it out of my head. Yes, I see the irony. (See? Music trivia. I can’t help myself.)

The Beatles on Ed Sullivan

To quote John Lennon, “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup”. That sounds much more literate than, “I’m rambling around a topic, but I’m not sure I have a conclusion.”

Tonight was the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. I know this, because I watched the special. I was pre-warned by any number of commercials in the past few weeks. It will be interesting to see how many more people watched the special than watched the original show.

Fifty years is a very long time, indeed.

It was actually before my time, logically if not actually chronologically. The Beatles played in February, and I would turn four that April. So, I didn’t see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, because I was too young. I was not one of the 70 million or whatever insane number saw the Beatles live that night. Live. Think of that – no DVRs, no OnDemand, no YouTube. You saw it or you didn’t, until it got released on video or DVD forty-something years later. You had to see it live, because the technology to see it later at home wasn’t there yet.

So, I watched the special tonight as an interested observer and Beatles fan, but not as someone reliving the past, however glorious that past may have been.

I did finally see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1970, but they weren’t playing live – they had sent promo clips from “Let It Be”. The Internet tells me they played “Two of Us” and “Let It Be”. The videos they sent Ed were better than much of what you would see on MTV today (if you can even find videos on MTV today).

Nobody else in my house cared much about the Beatles in 1970 – my brother was too young and my parents were too square. So, I’m pretty sure I tuned into Ed Sullivan alone that night in February, 1970, ready to be enlightened.

I remember being confused.

In the years since I missed the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, I had been fed a fairly steady diet of “Meet the Beatles”, “Yesterday … and Today”, “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour” from my friend, Jim Suhler (today, the guitarist for George Thorogood and leader of Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat, in those days the co-founder of Stagecoach VII), so I knew the Beatles. I could sing most of the songs on those albums by heart. (I can probably still recite some of them.)

It turned out that I knew the 1963-1967 Beatles.

The Beatles that night were the 1970 Beatles, who were about to become ex-Beatles. They were tired. They were grumpy. They wanted to go back to basics. They were brilliant.

So, I finally saw the Beatles but I was three years out of phase. They didn’t play anything I knew, and they didn’t look anything like their album covers.

I think Ed Sullivan mentioned the Beatles were hard at work in London, so they couldn’t be there in person. He didn’t mention they were hard at work, preparing to sue each other. I’ve seen the clips since then, so even though the memories have faded, they have been reinforced over the years.

It was a magical moment for me. If you can find a bootleg copy of the movie “Let It Be” or your grandmother has it on VHS in the attic, you can see what I saw – the clips are near the end of the movie, before the rooftop concert. The camera pulls back, and there is Paul McCartney at the piano, in all his bearded glory, singing about “Mother Mary”. His Mom was Mary. My Mom is Mary. Our Lord’s Mom is Mary. Take your pick. It’s a masterpiece, whoever the actual Mary may be.

That night was one of the moments that put me on a quest to find all the Beatles albums Jim didn’t have yet, and learn everything I could about the band. That way, I could be Paul McCartney when I grew up.

When I got my first real job, I saved until I could buy a stereo, and then I bought all the Beatles import albums at Peaches. (I was realizing even then I was not going to be Paul when I grew up.)

When I was in my only air-band contest, in college, I played bass, left-handed. My band won the contest, by playing “Can’t Buy Me Love”. My roommate played guitar, which was interesting, since he didn’t know the song or how to play guitar. I went home that night, and tried to figure out the bassline. It’s difficult. I thank Jameson’s Irish Whiskey for the ability to play an instrument that wasn’t there with the hand I don’t use. (I’m sure the fact the bar was using all my import albums in order to do Beatles Night had nothing to do with my victory.)

When I went to London without my parents, I walked across Abbey Road. (I could never have explained the importance to them, so I didn’t even try to add it to their schedule.) By some miracle, Paul McCartney was playing in London that night, so I put a ticket on my corporate card and went (I didn’t expense it.) It was a great show.

I’m still collecting Beatles stuff to this day, and have amassed a lot of fairly useless knowledge over the years.

In fact, I told my wife tonight that it looked like Maroon 5 had used the same font to write their band name on their drum head as the 1964 Beatles. She just shook her head and wondered.

Now, consider this – All my Beatles obsession and possible insanity since 1970 was from hearing their albums and then seeing the Beatles on TV, on tape.

So, I can only imagine what seeing them live in 1964 did to the children of the half-generation before me, beyond spurring any number of them to pick up guitars and start bands.

I still can’t play guitar. I make enough to be able to afford tickets to Sir Paul and Ringo a couple of times each, but I’d really rather play guitar.

Jim Suhler can play guitar. In fact, one of my favorite Beatle memories isn’t of the Beatles at all – it’s of Monkey Beat. Jim used to play his song, “Shake” to finish a set. In the live version, he would play any number of other songs or snippets instead of a simple guitar solo. For a time, he would play “Rain”, or most of it, anyway. It always made me very happy that one of us actually got paid to play a Beatles song, since that was my career plan from when I was seven until I was twelve or so.

I still can’t play any instrument. My poetry is not exactly publishing-quality, in spite of what has told me, in order to sell me books. My prose is not much better, as you’ve discovered by now. However, the Beatles still had a profound effect on me, even if I didn’t see them that first night. Part of that effect is from how much time I spent listening to them while growing up. Most of the effect may be due to their producing songs which are still fresh today, and will be played forever.

Listen to the Band (Sometimes)

Play the drum a little bit louder,
Tell me I can live without her,
If I only listen to the band.

Michael Nesmith, “Listen to the Band”

I love that song. I love listening to the band. Pretty much any band. Just not while I’m eating. Actually, I would like to be able to eat without any songs. It’s getting harder to do.

Could we please stop having bands in restaurants? A band in a bar is one thing – I expect that. However, the new trend of putting amplified bands in a restaurant just pisses me off. A lot.

Don’t get me wrong – I love music, so much it annoys most of the rest of my family. I can quote lyrics ad nausem. I volunteered for the Board at KNON because of their (our) music programming. I will pay to see a band I like, I always tip, but stop fucking playing while I’m trying to eat. I can’t hear anyone at my table, and I’m with people specifically so I don’t have to eat alone.

The only exception is a truly cavernous space, or a large Tex-Mex place with a cheesy Mariachi band just to be ironic (or for tourists, in a tourist trap). If you have twenty tables or less, you don’t need a band. Amplified. You just don’t. Please stop.

Also, any Hispanic band in a Tex-Mex place that plays “Smooth Operator” should have their union cards revoked.

If you want a small acoustic band playing in your restaurant just to avoid having a CD player, don’t. It’s lose-lose. If they’re good, nobody can hear them over the noise, but at least you can talk at the table. For me, I’ll be instantly distracted (quoting lyrics, original versions, the whole setlist), which annoys my companions. If they have any self-confidence (a musician? self-confident?), they just crank it up so you can hear them. In spite of my love of music, sometimes I don’t want to hear you. No offense, really, but my wife has stuff to talk about. If we do it in public, we fight less, or at least more quietly.

I love music, but I’m losing some of my favorite restaurants because somebody thought music would add a good vibe. It doesn’t. It’s annoying me. If it annoys me, a music lover, what is it doing to less tolerant people? I know we saw one couple walk out of a place tonight before they got in the door, because they heard the band.

Move music back to the bars where it belongs.

For my musician friends, I love you guys. I really do. I’ll always buy your CDs, I’ll download your MP3s, I’ll support your Kickstarter projects (don’t tell my wife), I’ll come to your shows when I can. I’d get you on the radio, but the DJs own their playlists. If you ever need a producer, I took a record production class years ago. If you could let me eat quietly, we’ll call it even.

Dog Senses

So, dogs have a better sense of smell than humans. They have better eyesight than believed before, as they may be able to discern some colors, which is probably why our Cocker Spaniel barks at the HDTV almost constantly and the Chihuahua watches it while sitting on one of the humans. However, while dogs also may have a better sense of hearing, they do not have any real comprehension, although the previously mentioned Cocker Spaniel hates most current pop music (“Good dog, Murphy!”).

Most dogs do have a limited vocabulary (“Sit”, “Stay”, “Dammit!”), but that’s about it. This explains why two of my dogs could get into  a major snarling match while “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” was playing this afternoon. Irony, anyone?


Just found Funkytown by Lipps, Inc. on #SoundHound for Android.

I posted this more for myself than anyone else – it was playing on whatever generic radio station the dentist’s office was playing (seriously, there’s a reason KNON was voted Best Radio Station for Music two years running by the Dallas Observer), but hearing it gave me a flashback to college.  Specifically, to Fiesta San Antonio and the beer stand I was working that was right next to the carnival ride that had this as the background music. Twelve hours of Funkytown a day, for four or five days. Wow.

I always assumed Lipps, Inc. was a one-hit wonder because some carny  ran their van off a cliff after hearing Funkytown twelve hours a day at work while trying to sell hot dogs or get people to lose their life savings at the ring toss.

Hard Times

So, we’re living in hard times – I hear that all the time. Constantly. It’s a battering ram for one political party against the other. It does seem like there is less of a lot of things these days. (Saying there is more of less just seems wrong.)

However, maybe it’s us. Maybe, just maybe our priorities are screwed up.

This occurred to me last night while we were at a Lady Antebellum concert. Three acts – Thompson Square, Darius Rucker,  and Lady Antebellum played a sold-out show at the American Airlines Center. We had tickets through the Darius Rucker fan club, but we had still paid over $100 for a pair of floor seats. A $59 ticket is a full day’s work, given a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

(This is not meant as a rant against Lady Antebellum or the other acts. It was a good show. This basic thought occurs to me every time we attend a concert.)

So, there were 21,000 people in attendance, since the band announced it was a sell-out and that’s what Wikipedia says the AAC holds for concerts. (Two unimpeachable sources.) I’m pretty sure we got a deal on tickets, since the box office was selling someone tickets for $99 (“good seats”) while we were at wll-call, and a scalper was selling his floor seats for $300. Each.

That’s a lot of money.

There were an amazing number of iPhones in attendance, which are not free, plus you have to pay to use them. There were some fairly sluttily-attired women, and from my understanding, looking slutty can be expensive.

The Spousal Unit and I had two cheeseburgers, a large Dr Pepper and a bottle of water before the show. That was another $29. We saw enough alcohol being consumed to require an AAC staff member to make the rounds with a mop. Seriously.

My point is that there was a lot of discretionary spending going on in the AAC and these are not the 1% that are supposed to be universally hated.These are the 99% that are constantly being told they are suffering. (This is not based on any specific research other than my understanding is that very few of the 1% actually own gimme caps.)

Maybe we are spending $200 a night plus $800 for a phone and $100 or more a month so we can take photos for Facebook to try to forget we’re poor. That might be the problem.

Now, I’m sure that some of these people will attend this one show this year and nothing else. However, it’s still a lot of money.At $59 a seat (and many paid more), there was over a million dollars of seats sold last night. The band announced it was their sixth sellout of the tour, so it’s not just Dallas.

Jimmy Buffett will be in town this summer, and he wants $136 EACH for tickets. Four hours after the show was announced, the only tickets at that price level were in the second tier. (To be fair, seats on the lawn – i.e. no seat at all – are only $36. We’re not going. I can’t see spending $300 to hear a bunch of songs I heard live when I was in college.) It should be noted that Jimmy Buffett probably does not set his own personal ticket prices. However, he reaps the benefits.

[Based on attendance at the last Buffett concert I attended, some of the Parrotheads are the 1%, trying to relive a life they never had. Doctors and lawyers make bad pirates. Well, doctors, anyway.]

We have a lot of money for concerts and concert accessories, apparently.

I’m as guilty as the rest, too – so I’m not just pointing fingers. There’s a certain list of artists who I will go see when they come to town, regardless of price (mostly.) I won’t pay $300 for Jimmy Buffett. I’ve paid more than that for Sir Paul McCartney. We paid close to that for Tom Petty floor seats after his Super Bowl show.

I can almost understand the price levels when there are only 21,000 seats available, since there are a lot of fixed costs involved with moving three bands around the country and setting up the stage and the light show. However, the prices don’t go down when you get to larger arenas (Cowboys Stadium, which has shit acoustics, seats five times as many people.) In fact, some times the prices go up.So, economies of scale don’t enter the equation.

You know, this started as a rant about the economy, but it’s turning into a rant against the music business.

Here’s how to help the music business – next time a touring band comes to town, and you wince when you see the ticket prices, just go down to your local bar, pay the cover (if any) and throw $10 in the band’s tip jar. You’re helping a small band, the local economy and you’re saving money. (If they don’t suck, buy a CD. Buy two. If they really don’t suck, ask if they’re on PledgeMusic or Kickstarter for their next project. Pledge.) Find your local community radio station, like KNON. Pledge. A lot.(Really. We’re in the middle of pledge drive at KNON.)

When you do see a local band, take the CD home and play it. See how it sounds very close to how they sounded live? That’s because the band plays the music, whether live or recorded. Now, do the same thing with a big touring act. Does it sound the same? It depends on how many musicians they have on stage with them. Also, you’ll never notice because the thousands of dollars of light show distracts you.

Maybe popular music should take a hint from classical – when you go to an orchestral concert, you have the music. I’ve never seen a cellist rise up from the middle of the stage at the Dallas Symphony. There isn’t a light show. The violinists don’t dash across the stage to trade solos. Why? Because people are there to listen, not see.

So, as always, the fundamental problem with the universe is MTV. I’m glad we got that cleared up.

A final note to national touring bands – you can stop telling us you appreciate how we’re spending our hard-earned money on you. We get it – you’re grateful. You’re also rich, so you don’t have to remind us that we’re not. If you’re really grateful, why not leave drop $20 off the ticket prices. Either that, or buy everyone a beer.

A final thought – yes, this is contrary to my earlier post, and yes, we had screamers behind us last night. Sigh. How many times has Barbra retired?

Retiring from Live Performances

I’m old. I admit it. I don’t even bother to act young any more, even if people don’t think I act my age. Still, even though I’m a decade or more away from “real” retirement, I’m getting ready to retire from live performances.

Now, this is nothing like the Beatles quitting touring in 1966 – mainly, since I don’t perform at live shows – I can’t play an instrument and I can’t sing, although I suppose with backing bands and Auto-Tune, I could still make a record – it’s worked for any number of Idol winners.

However, I do try to attend shows – support local music! – and support the venues that host live music.

Here’s the problem – first of all, I’m old (as mentioned before) and as far as I can tell, a bar owner will want a band to play until closing time, which around here is 2am. Actually, they want them to finish just before 2am, so people will clear out before actual closing time, so there’s time to clear the bar and mop the puke. (Next time you’re in a bar, check the clock. Either there isn’t one in obvious view, or it’s set at least ten minutes fast.) So, if you finish at one-thirty in the morning, last set starts at 12:30am, given an hour-long set. There was a break before that, which probably started at midnight. Second set started an hour earlier, or 11pm. Break before that started at 10:30pm. First set started an hour earlier, or 9:30pm, which is why the announcements say the band starts at 9pm, because people are always late and the band generally forgets to tune up.

All that math is approximate, but anyone who has followed a local band for any amount of time knows all set times are approximate.

So, first problem – the music won’t start before 9pm at the earliest. For the younger crowd, that’s early. For old farts, that’s getting to the point where you’ve realized you’re not going to leave the house that night after all.

Second problem – the band ends at 1:30am or later. If they’re playing on the weekend, that’s one thing, but I know people who play this schedule on “school nights”, which is fine if you can sleep until noon, but I usually have meetings in the mornings (yes, I would like to sleep through them, but it’s frowned upon at the office.)

Third problem – a lot of the places that host bands I like are not particularly large, so they fill up quickly. If you get there early enough for a good seat, you have an hour or so with very little to do but drink, or enjoy delicious bar food – which is why you drink. When you’re at my age and alcohol experience level, this is not much of an issue. For some of the younger crowd, this means they will be plastered by the time the music starts.  (For any of my younger readers, there is a concept called “pacing” – it saves money and it could save your liver.)

So, late start, drunk crowd, small venue. Does this sound like a recipe for enjoying a band?

The final straw for me was the other night at Pearl, which is traditionally very good for live music. Jason Elmore was home from a Canadian tour, so it was his “welcome home” party. Towards the end of the first set, a rather large woman just across the room from me started howling after every guitar solo. Now, I love Jason, but some solos are more howl-worthy than others, and two bars of music does not a solo make. By the time the second set started, she was howling at random at a pitch that put most dogs in the area and some of the glasses on the bar at considerable risk. Plus, everyone was wrapping up their conversations from while the band was on break, so it was pretty noisy.

That’s when I hit me – “I can’t hear the fucking band.” This is not a string quartet, this is a blues-rock band with three electric guitars, an electric bass and a drummer. They’re in a pretty small room with speakers all over. Yet, they were being drowned out by a whole bunch of people theoretically there to enjoy the band and a rather large howler monkey with a short skirt.

After that night, I think I’m done. It’s not the band, it’s not (necessarily) the bar, it’s the audience.

I suppose the real issue is that many bars publicize they have live music, because some marketing person decided it was a good idea. However, if the majority of the crowd is just there to drink or hook up, the band is basically background noise, even on a good night. So, if you’re going to the bar to actually hear the band, you are not only in the minority, you may be the only sober ones left by the time the band takes the stage. Also, the idiots drowning out the band are running up bar tabs, so it’s not likely they’re going to get evicted for being drunk and obnoxious.

One simple solution is to only follow corporate-sponsored bands with recording contracts that play stadiums or the larger venues, because there the focus is the music and not getting drunk, but the vast majority of bands in the universe are undiscovered and much more deserving than the crap LA, NYC and Nashville are forcing on us. Also, I’ve had people talking over the band at paid concerts, so it’s still an issue. People are idiots, drunk people especially.

The other solution is to follow very unpopular bands, but they don’t play very often, and there would still be alcohol in the bar, so they would just have hostile drunks yelling at them.

So, I’m looking for a realistic solution. In the meantime, I think I’m going into retirement from live shows.