Saturday, March 29, 2014

For What It’s Worth (TOTR 212)

 ** the history of my fandom continues with a hippy dippy trippy flippy mix fix**

The Fugs – No More Slavery
Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son
Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth
Country Joe & The Fish – Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine
The Stooges – 1969
MC5 – Ramblin’ Rose
Sly & The Family Stone – Everyday People
The Staple Singers – We The People
The Byrds – Eight Miles High
Jefferson Airplane – White Rabbit
Jefferson Airplane – Embryonic Journey
Jimi Hendrix Experience – Third Stone From The Sun
The Velvet Underground – Sunday Morning
Nick Drake – Northern Sky
Van Morrison – Ballerina
Crosby, Stills, & Nash – Helplessly Hoping
Janis Joplin – Me And Bobby McGee
Joni Mitchell – Woodstock
Canned Heat – Going Up The Country
Allman Brothers Band – Revival
The Band – The Weight
Arlo Guthrie – Coming into Los Angeles
Eagles – Doolin-Dalton
The Holy Modal Rounders – Hot Corn, Cold Corn
Grateful Dead – Uncle John’s Band
Gram Parsons – Love Hurts

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Like A Song (TOTR 211)

Originally aired in 2014.
Edited post in 2023.

Bruce Springsteen – Dancing in the Dark
U2 – Like a Song
Big Country – Fields Of Fire
Mike Peters – The Stand
The Waterboys – Spirit
Simple Minds – Sanctify Yourself
Lone Justice – Soap, Soup And Salvation
R.E.M. – Harborcoat
Guadalcanal Diary – Fire From Heaven
Echo & the Bunnymen – Seven Seas
the The – This is the Day
The Cure – In Between Days
The Smiths – How Soon Is Now
Billy Bragg – The World Turned Upside Down
The Clash – Clampdown
Peter Gabriel – Biko
Violent Femmes – No Killing
Minutemen – The Price Of Paradise
The Replacements – Here Comes a Regular
Suzanne Vega – Undertow
10,000 Maniacs – Back O’ The Moon
Lone Justice - Wheels 
Cocteau Twins – Lorelei
This Mortal Coil – Song To The Siren

By the time I reached high school, I knew I wanted to write and began working for the school paper, the Southfield JAY (our team mascot being the Blue Jays). For the duration of my high school career, I would write about sports, music, and social issues, including peace, civil rights, and ill-fated endorsement of the Walter Mondale/Geraldine Ferraro ticket for President in 1984. 

My older friends Scott and Joe had programs on the school radio station WSHJ, so soon I joined them with “Music For Thinking People” and “United Underground,” airing weekly and respectively during my junior and senior years. I like to joke that “sex, drugs, and rock n roll” ended my athletic career, lettering in track and cross-country, and it’s not that far from the truth. 

By 11th grade year, I had adjusted the birth date on my driver’s license from 1967 to 1962, so I could get into clubs that had an age restriction. Using my radio and journalism passions as justification, I even went downtown to shows on school nights. I learned how to telephone record labels and managers and get free stuff or get on the guestlist, with my staff status on the JAY and WSHJ as the only credentials I needed.  

As an up-and-coming journalist, I read Rolling Stone magazine religiously. Soon, I would discover fanzines. I was weaning myself off classic rock and getting heavily into punk, new wave, and those bands or artists that would end up under the wide umbrella of “alternative.” In Rolling Stone around 1983, an article about the Irish band U2 was called “Blessed Are The Peacemakers.” As a devout Christian, the reference to the Beatitudes immediately grabbed my eye. In this story, a singer called Bono spoke of his allegiance to the ideals of the 60s and his disdain for the superficial sides of pop music. He exuded an enthusiasm for life that I shared, and he located his anti-apartheid, anti-nuke stances in his Christian faith, such as I would soon discover, with biblical allusions dripping from his lyrics, all the while resisting the “Christian rock” pigeonhole of groups like Petra or Rez Band.

By then, I was already passionate about John Lennon and the Beatles. Lennon’s death in 1980 had hurt me deeply, so nothing could mean more than seeing a passionate and charismatic voice like this coming from my generation. I was in my late teens and the members of U2 were in their early twenties.  On the album War, Bono declares in “Like A Song”: 

Angry words won’t stop the fight
Two wrongs won’t make it right
A new heart is what I need
Oh God make it bleed

In U2, I had found the voice of my generation.

My enthusiasm for U2 quickly turned me on to the authentic anthem bands from across the pond, bands like The Alarm, Big Country, Waterboys, and Simple Minds. The politics of people over profit informed the likes of Billy Bragg and the clash. Back in the USA, Bruce Springsteen was a more sophisticated John Cougar. Down in the South, there was a jangle rock scene, from fiery bar band Guadalcanal Diary to the Athens, Georgia legends R.E.M., who would be the American peers to U2 in terms of widespread popularity, creative expressions, and progressive messages. 

Refugees from punk provided the antidote to cheesy radio rock, and the likes of Minutemen, Replacements, and Violent Femmes filled my ears. 

Finally I found my first genuine fanboy crushes on Maria McKee of Lone Justice and Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs. I kept my intentions all about the music and was thrilled to meet them, interview them, write about them, and travel all around the country to see them play. As my newspaper and fanzine articles started to land in the hands of other bands and labels, backstage access was a surprisingly easy hustle. I ended up meeting almost every artist I saw. 

Many of the artists I saw were also activists against war and racism, commitments I shared. Surviving the Reagan years meant meeting like minded folks, attending lots of protests, and having a great record collection. The transition from the high school years to the college experience was so bumpy and wild and included drugs and dropping out. While I loved all my adventures, there were close calls and dark detours. These amazing soundtracks kept me moderately sane and always inspired.  

Listen to a playlist:

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Let The Sun Shine In (TOTR 210)

updated 11/9/2020

Part One: The Unofficial & Incomplete History of My Music Fandom

Bill Haley – Rock Around The Clock
Buddy Holly – That’ll Be The Day
Tom Lehrer – National Brotherhood Week
Pete Seeger – The Draft Dodger Rag
Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind
Harry Belafonte – Jamaica Farewell
Odetta – House Of The Rising Sun
Peter, Paul & Mary – 500 Miles
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound of Silence
Beatles – Eleanor Rigby
The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want
Jesus Christ Superstar Soundtrack – Superstar
Godspell Soundtrack – Day by Day
Hair Soundtrack – Flesh Failures (Let The Sun Shine In)
John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulders
Don McLean – American Pie
Dan Fogelberg – Leader Of The Band/Washington Post March
Rose Royce – Car Wash
Commodores – Brick House
Village People – YMCA
KISS – Rock And Roll All Nite
Rush – Limelight
Santana – Winning
Journey – Wheel In The Sky
John Mellencamp – Jack And Diane
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band – Roll Me Away

The living room floor in our first house in Cleveland had carpet where I would sit for hours, right next to the turntable on which I would spin records from my parents’ modest but colorful collection of vinyl. Between popular TV or movies and those records, a doorway opened into a vast new world of sound and style that continues to unfold for me to this day. 

Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” opened the popular TV show Happy Days and could easily be an apt metaphor for my emerging attitude toward life, little did I know the exalted plateaus and dark valleys that this rocking 24/7 would bring for most of my 46 years. 

We saw The Buddy Holly Story in the theater in 1978, the year it came out, and my introduction to rock’s tragic side had a huge impact on me. In strict temporal terms, our fascination with the 1950s then would be analogous to today’s 1990s nostalgia. That simply blows my mind.  

My folks were Christian peace and civil rights activists in the 1960s.  Not only did I learn about Martin Luther King and my uncle who refused service in Vietnam, I also confronted a sense of humor on vinyl records with Tom Lehrer’s biting “National Brotherhood Week” and Pete Seeger’s rendition of the Phil Ochs ditty “Draft Dodger Rag.” Tom Lehrer’s quip remains a cutting quandary to social progressives today: “I know there are people in the world who do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that.”

The early 1960s folk revival so strangely chronicled in 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis actually lived in my parents’ record collection as far as I was concerned. Surely there were some more obscure Greenwich Village names of note, but ten years after the seminal folksy outbreak in an Ohio suburb, I was reared on Bob Dylan, Odetta, Harry Belafonte, and of course, Peter, Paul, and Mary. Today’s acoustic resurgence—celebrated when Bob Dylan jammed with the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons on the Grammys—acts as just another wave in a recurring cycle of the great American folk tradition.

Coming to consciousness in a leftish household in the early 1970s meant having both a tragic and hopeful sensibility. I knew about the deaths just down the road at Kent State, and I love to tell how my parents pumped me full of iced tea to stay up past my bedtime on the night that Nixon resigned. We attended rallies for failed presidential candidate George McGovern and for crusading activist Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The same artists that spun at 33.3 revolutions per minute were active in the social revolutions that shaped me then and shape me now.


As influential as the folksy folk were, they couldn’t hold a coffeehouse candle to the importance of the 1970s musicals, first plays and then films. These important works—Godspell, Hair, and Jesus Christ Superstar—formed a kind of trilogy that forever fostered my particular flavor of hippy Jesus spirituality and activism. Decades later, I am still unpacking the strange and liberating intersection of two subcultures, psychedelic hippies and evangelical Jesus Freaks, for this fusion still follows me as I listen to music daily and try to follow the long-haired, peaceful, crucified, and resurrected One. 

Without the 1970s folk-pop explosion—with many of the great Laurel Canyon artists I would only learn about later—we would never have known its most accessible ambassador to the kids, who put a Colorado tint on the best of California and Nashville. John Denver’s influence on my tween years cannot be understated. He was one of my first concerts thanks to Mom and Dad, and his Greatest Hits record became a bedtime turntable lullaby in my room, as even through an emotionally lonely February, I could long for the spring, for God, for a girlfriend, and for “Sunshine On My Shoulders.”

Don McLean’s dynamic epic poem of a song called “American Pie” introduced me to the profound mythopoetics of American pop culture and became the topic of lyrical analysis for an 8th grade English class project. The Christian allusions in songs like this and “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg didn’t seem distinct or separate from the larger ocean of the air we breathe. God couldn’t help but show up everywhere, even and especially on the radio. 

Although my parents had Beatles records, I had to wait for my brother to turn me on to the Rolling Stones. Being a younger brother does wonders for your introduction to new bands. Like the William Miller character in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous whose sister seeded his future hardcore fandom, I benefited from an older sibling as Arthur turned me on to all the great classic rock. Like so many other kids, he joined the multi-million dollar mailorder Columbia House record club that sent albums to our house.  

I have such mixed feelings about the late 70s and early 80s classic rock that connected me with the times and culture. That I experienced the complete hard rock carnival of KISS at an arena show in the 1970s feels like it was a rite of passage. My dad chaperoned, and I am grateful, since I was really too young to see, if even from a distance, the darker effects of the drug scene in full effect. “Rock And Roll All Nite” was an anthem for the eve of a snow day. Each record gets tied to memories, and there are many more songs than fit neatly into a particular playlist. 

Because Art and I were part of a voluntary bussing program that brought us to the predominately black elementary school in our community, black culture greatly influenced my musical tastes then and now. I could never endorse the Disco Sucks movement, and even though I didn’t have the vocabulary to understand my critique at eleven-years-old, I somehow knew deep inside it was just a smokescreen for cultural racism and homophobia. In fact, it was funk, disco, R&B, and the earliest signs of hip-hop and electronica that moved me the most out of the mainstream of my more likely cultural trajectory. 

Even though I most enjoyed the superficial incarnations like the Commodores and the Village People, I was forever changed in favor of social equality and stylistic tastes that tilted towards the extremely eclectic. The great trauma of the early 1980s for me was moving from Cleveland to Detroit, from a suburb called Shaker Heights to a suburb called Southfield, from junior high to high school. Around that time, radio and MTV were still relevant, as were my first loves and first experiments with alcohol and drugs.

Although the north coast of Ohio and the southeast edge of Michigan were many metaphorical miles apart in my mind, we remained Midwest to the core, and the music I heard in the coach’s van during cross country practice or on the bus with ski club reflected this in the likes of (then) John Cougar or Detroit’s own Bob Seger. 

My brother had left for college, and my parents weren’t really buying records anymore. By now, I was ready to forge out on my own. By my 10th and 11th grade years, I made musical discoveries that would take things to the next level and change everything forever. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Visionary Vapor: Starting Lent with Michael Gungor and The Liturgists

It was a busy weekend on the eve of Lent for fans of spirited singer and spiritually-minded musician-bandleader Michael Gungor. If you were not on the Gungor or Michael Gungor Twitter feed over the first two days of March, you might have missed the news about a new band, a new record, and a new mini-tour.

As the band called Gungor takes a short break from touring in support of its sonically and lyrically adventurous album I Am Mountain, the family business has reinvented itself with the proverbial “side project” so common with musical visionaries who cannot contain their creative output to just one brand name or band name.

But The Liturgists—a collective that includes Michael’s wife Lisa, brother David, and a host of other supporting musicians and collaborators—are not just another band, and the brand is “the work of the people. The band’s Vapor EP is a warm and experimental worship text that includes a song, a spoken-word invocation and incantation, and a guided centering prayer meditation. On the group’s Ash Wednesday-week mini-tour, all the shows are free by RSVP and are not really shows as at all, not as indie-consumers even in the contemporary Christian scene have come to expect.

The Liturgists are bringing something entirely different, defying expectations and redefining everything along the way. While we could say that they are just instigating an interactive praise and worship experience on the road, what the Liturgists are up to is all that but so much more. The work of the people is reinventing or rediscovering how we interact inside the arts and culture angle of the Body of Christ. The Liturgists intentionally break through artificial walls and artfully involve all of us, creating a performance and preaching Happening, inviting us into a participatory Eucharistic epiphany. 

Since the speaker-on-tour is the self-defined evangelical and science nerd Mike McHargue and since the spirit of what The Liturgists are doing seems shockingly out-of-this-world cosmic, fans expecting either a Gungor concert or a pre-approved doctrinal message may feel denied, while the adventurous among us will be absolutely delighted.

At the core of The Liturgists’ traveling revival and recent EP we discover hope in our interconnectedness and humility in our infinite smallness, in our fleeting and vaporous vanity. The singalong scenario of the events hits the perfect valleys and crescendos to evoke an emotional and spiritual response.

To fully enjoy this new experiment requires something of us, shedding any assumptions of religion or rock n roll in order to get a joyful jolt of both. I know I have been to concerts where I have felt the spirit of communion, but here, I was offered the actual elements of bread and wine, shared sacramentally amid what only resembled a concert and clearly affirmed our resurrection.

Photos from Nashville event on Monday, March 3, 2014.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Let It Be So (TOTR 209)

Zac Brown Band – Free/Into The Mystic
Big Head Todd and the Monsters – Travelin’ Light
Hard Working Americans – I Don’t Have a Gun
Mike Gordon – Long Black Line
John Butler Trio – Cold Wind
Temples – A Question Isn’t Answered
U2 – Invisible
Big Country – Winter Sky
Cry Of Love – Too Cold In The Winter
St. Paul – Like a Mighty River
St. Paul – Let It Be So
Lake Street Dive – Use Me Up
Lake Street Dive – What About Me
Angel Olsen – Forgiven/Forgotten
Beck – Unforgiven
Beck – Waking Light
Robert Ellis – Steady As The Rising Sun
Robert Ellis – Still Crazy After All These Years
Hurray for the Riff Raff – The New SF Bay Blues
Band Of Horses – Slow Cruel Hands of Time (Live Acoustic)
Band Of Horses –Detlef Schrempf (Live Acoustic)
Run River North – Growing Up
Rosanne Cash – When The Master Calls The Roll.

Jennifer Nettles – Like A Rock