Friday, November 11, 2016

Leonard Cohen 1934- 2016- Is This What You Wanted?

(John Cassavetes)

     There was a time in my late teens when I used to confuse Leonard Cohen and John Cassavetes . They both intrigued me and somewhat scared me. This was not Gilligan's Island or The Monkees anymore, it required another level of engagement. I sensed a danger I liked. Both were smart and made artistic choices that explored and celebrated life in a thought provoking way. They even have a similar physical look.  The two have a way in that,  if you let their vision of the world into your heart, you could see the beauty of celebration, disaster, love, despair, pain and joy and view it all through an artistic lens of your own.
   I just put on the 1977 album, "Death Of A Ladies Man". The horns, the strings, the seventies, the gluttony of it all, in the form (mostly) of loving a woman. He had comfortably evolved from his acoustic folk sound. The evolution began on the previous release, one of my all time favorite albums, 1974's, 
"New Skin For The Old Ceremony".  It opens with this:
You were the promise at dawn,
I was the morning after.
You were Jesus Christ my Lord,
I was the money lender.
You were the sensitive woman,
I was the very reverend Freud.
You were the manual orgasm,
I was the dirty little boy.
And is this what you wanted
to live in a house that is haunted
by the ghost of you and me?
Is this what you wanted ...
You were Marlon Brando,
I was Steve McQueen.
You were K.Y. Jelly,
I was Vaseline.
You were the father of modern medicine,
I was Mr. Clean.
You where the whore and the beast of Babylon,
I was Rin Tin Tin.
And is this what you wanted ...
And is this what you wanted ...
You got old and wrinkled,
I stayed seventeen.
You lusted after so many,
I lay here with one.
You defied your solitude,
I came through alone.
You said you could never love me,
I undid your gown.
And is this what you wanted ...
And is this what you wanted ...
I mean is this what you wanted ...
That's right, is this what you wanted ...

Is This What You Wanted- Leonard Cohen

     I love this era in his career. "Skin" is the beginning of moving away from the lonely acoustic guitar, but it doesn't make you miss it; when the creative drum part with accompanying horns roll gently in on,"Is this What You Wanted", Cohen shows he can do whatever the hell he wants and still succeed artistically. This just happened to be the Leonard Cohen era I stumbled upon. Fortunately, when it comes to his discography, you don't have to mine for the more inspired work. It is all inspired.
     By 1992, Leonard is using drum machines, synths and what have you. But 1992's, "The Future" holds up on substance and pure intent. He continued to use whatever sounds he wanted. It wasn't about the latest trends, it was just the stone he had walked by, picked up, examined and used in his latest sculpture.
     I found out about the passing of Leonard Cohen from a childhood friend this morning.  He said," On the occasion of the passing of Leonard Cohen, which has made me very sad, I sat up on the deck and drank copiously while working my way through his catalog.  Eventually, I came to "The Future," which always seemed borderline too dark (as I think you and I have discussed), but which now, in the post-Trump world, seems just plain prescient."
     Leonard Cohen passed away on Nov 7th, it was not announced until Nov 10th, after the US election of Donald Trump.  We do not know what lies ahead in a world without Leonard Cohen... along with these recent developments.  I'll do my best to see it all through that artistic lens, find beauty, use it and try to make something more of it.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Mourn For The Ones Killed Before Camera Phones

     Guns in the news everywhere. Innocent black men killed by police officers that are absolutely horrible at their jobs. Police officers killed by angry people with guns achieving the opposite of making their point, that the violence must stop. An eye for an eye just makes for more dead people and more paranoia.
     Let's try to see a bright side in these tragedies. The ongoing unacceptable 'mishaps" are finally being exposed. The black human beings we have seen killed by police are hardly a new trend. This has been going on through the entire history of the United States. The only new development is the video cameras everyone has in their phones (and body cameras etc.) to document these injustices.

     Let us take a minute to consider and mourn all of the innocent black people killed for hundreds of years by law enforcement without the benefit of someone documenting their death on video.
There are also police that are quite capable at their position. Men and women that could never possibly shoot someone over a broken tail light and a wrong assumption. But now, we are witnessing evidence of officers capable of doing just that and the police department's "wall of silence" only exacerbates the situation. Yes, police need to trust other police and have each other's back. But the public would feel better and safer if more police distinguished themselves from the murdering police that put their own work at greater risk.

      Let's just hope that as hard as it is to witness these videos and process this information, we begin to understand that we are finally bringing an ugly truth about America to the surface. There are of course many other down sides to a world of people staring at their phones so often. But hopefully, we can use this opportunity of near perpetual video exposure to make the country we live in a safer place for all colors of police and civilians.  Americans existing with less fear of death by ignorance or misunderstanding would be a solid development for the 21st century.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Naked At The Gym in January


       Ah... January. Going to the gym and starting the year off right. If you haven't been in years like myself, the first return visit can be the hardest. You may not know your way around, which outs you as one of those January "yeah, sure they'll keep coming" kinda people.
      Returning to the Park Slope YMCA men's locker room after many years got me thinking two main things. One, I have never been in the women's locker room and I'm pretty sure whatever bender gets me in there, will not end well. Two, "There is a great difference between getting naked while changing, and parading one's self naked around the locker room".  I thought about this occasionally whilst not going to the gym and even gave it as one of the reason's I didn't go. Now I have returned, and there it is again. I have come to a basic conclusion.  I'd just rather not be naked or stand next to naked men in a locker room.  I categorize this as unfun nudity. You really need to simply do your business, shower, dry and apply your delicates. But, brushing your hair in the mirror naked and walking around shooting the breeze with your undercarriage on display... well, perhaps you could save that for an audience you know will appreciate such a thing. I am all for the good kind of nudity; nudist colonies, streaking, sex, art, parading around your house or enjoying the wilderness naked for weeks. Hey, it's only natural.
       A girlfriend and I once went and tried out a mud bath in Calistoga, Ca. Now I am sure these mud bath experiences vary from place to place... We got naked and slipped into these two mud tubs planted next to each other. They were too hot for me and quite claustrophobic. I was not digging it. Eventually, in what felt like the duration of the dark ages, some lady came in,  time was finally up. I was relieved and yet, it got worse. She had the both of us stand naked against some cement wall and hosed us down.  It had a Holocaust kinda vibe to it. When it was over,  I said, "Wow and we gotta pay for that experience?" "It would have been more enjoyable to have been arrested in Mexico." It was supposed to be therapeutic and all, but it just turned out to be another fine example of unfun nudity.
       Unfun nudity can be walking out of your apartment or hotel room naked and accidentally locking yourself out. Never mind how it happened, a dare, grabbing the paper, checking the weather, a mission from god, point is after it happens, what do you do? Ok, now that is sounding like an amusing challenge, at least from an outsider's point of view.
         For many of us the first encounter with it is in that dream; the dreaded going to school with no clothes on scenario.  I don't think many people have this dream later in life (at least not as often). It seems contained primarily to pre-pubescents. "They" say nudity symbolizes a number of things depending on what's going on in your real life . Freaking out and realizing that you are naked in public, "reflects your vulnerability or feelings of shamefulness. You could be hiding something and are afraid that others can see right through you". But then again, if you are destined to be a nudist. This could simply be the beginning of your calling.
        Of course there is the good old physical examination. My regular doctor is a friend. We have been social outside of the office. He had me disrobe. He put on a glove and it was time for him to put his finger up my (insert vulgar or clinical term here). Yes, he had to make some sort of a joke to ease the situation. I was actually surprised. I thought that would be my department and he would make some, "Now now, I do this all the time" sort of statement. We were both glad when that edition of unfun nudity was over. As for the ladies, I'll assume that going to the gynecologist isn't as fun as getting ice cream and riding the Cyclone on a hot summer day.
         Everyone confronts some form of unfun nudity at some point in life. I am relieved that as of this writing, I have not endured the prison /incarceration brand. The strip search can't be all that life affirming (at the airport or elsewhere) either. I have however experienced a great loss at strip poker (fortunately, it was rather enjoyable).
         I look forward to more skinny dipping, streaking, parading, dancing and getting loose. Nudity can be fun for the whole fam... no, that is just not right.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Metropolitan Museum of David Bowie


I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday, January 11th.  The world awoke to the shocking news of the passing of David Bowie. I kinda lost it, cranked my essential Bowie and beyond, did some writing while occasionally checking the related scrolled news and posts. This loss was as universal as when John Lennon was murdered.
    My Facebook and Twitter feeds are everything Bowie, some beautiful, some cliche, but all heartfelt. I begin to feel inspiration from David Bowie and what he has meant to me through my life. The first thought was, "get off this computer and go do something that is alive and inspiring. So I got on the train and went to the Met.
    I looked around at the people on the subway. "Are they aware that he is gone?", "Does it matter to that guy?" "I'll bet that fourteen year old girl likes Kanye and vaguely knows Bowie as some old guy that dressed funky" "That woman is about my age, wearing black motorcycle boots with lots of silver, she knows, and I'll bet she's thinking about it right now" "Ok, that guy in the Mets hat and Knicks jacket, talking to his friend about The Nets defense, it's not on his radar ".
    I get off the subway and I realize I only have about 45 minutes to enjoy in The Met (yes, all that Bowie processing ate up time ). I give the gal 2 dollars (you can still pay what you wish at The Met) and went straight to the Impressionists.
    I stood in front of Van Gogh's "Wheat Field With Cypresses". I used to go look at these paintings not all that unoften.  Standing here and seeing the depth of the paint, I mean it's thick! It looks three dimensional. I start to feel like I am melting into the painting. "Oh right, I ate that THC lemon drop before I left the apartment, there was that". But, that hardly cheapens the experience. I dive into a few Monet's and Manet's. I am starved for seeing all of these paintings, kinda like when you eat a few peanuts and you realize you haven't eaten all day. 
    I often say to myself, "Go to a museum today". I have a musician schedule, so I can go on times when they are not crowded... This is when it dawns on me, "Shit, I haven't been here in years". I don't want an exact figure. "Did they have to give up? "They let people shamelessly take pictures of paintings?" "I think you could without a flash, but now that every schmo has a camera on their phone, they figure they might as well!!" So, I am absorbing myself in another painting, I also sense a tourist waiting for me to move out of the fucking way so he can snap a picture of his mortal mug in front of this masterpiece. I made a pact with myself right there. I will never take a picture of a painting in a museum. There are so many other works of unbelievable substance you can lose yourself in that don't come complete with a caravan of gadget goblins, but the celebrity paintings; they now have an amateur paparazzi to contend with for the duration of mankind.
     The camera thing aside. I walked out of the museum with a satiated sensation I have not felt in far too long. It's a special feeling I can't get out of a great song, book or movie. The Impressionists always inspire me. They were radicals in their time and their study of light and color stills feels cutting edge. I walked through Central Park in the dark ("people think I'm...craaazy"). I thought more about Bowie and went and met a friend at Joe's Shanghai to close the celebration.
     I wouldn't have gone to the museum today if it wasn't for David Bowie. His inspiration could apply to a few other actions in my life. There is something going on beyond notes in a scale when a musician inspires you to go to a museum.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie- Everything In Excess

Me: David, I just wanted you to know, that my youth would not have been the same without you.
David Bowie: Oh, well I am sorry about that Jack.

I had the pleasure of spending a day with David Bowie. It was for the filming of his cameo in Zoolander. I was hired as an extra. My friend called and said they wanted some rock n roll/fashion looking types for a catwalk scene.  I always loathed extra work and there was no talk of David Bowie being there. But, I needed the money to finish an album.

     I got there and Ben Stiller was giving all of us some completely insincere speech thanking all of us for being there and how he couldn't make this movie without us. It was immediately condescending and I damned myself for letting myself be talked into doing this bullshit.  They sent us back to the holding area and it was announced that David Bowie was going to be in the next shot.
     Everyone got all excited in that hoo ha thespian way. I had been a theater major and was reminded why I went into music at this moment. They called us in and began putting everyone around the catwalk, all of the "actors" were fighting to get up front for the chance to get their close up; hey, this could be their chance to be the next Ernest Borgnine.  I thought, "to hell with this, where is Bowie standing between takes?".  I saw him standing stage right in the way back. I made my way and stood right next to him. He nodded and looked down.  Someone announced, "Ok folks, please remember where you are standing, this is where you will be for most of the day".
      David lights up a Marlboro red. I thought, "OK, don't start talking about your favorite albums, just hang out with the man."
Me: You still smoke?
David: Oh yeah.
Me: I'm curious, how much do you smoke a day?
David: (laughs) Oh, I do everything in excess. Hi, I'm David.
Me: Nice to meet you, I'm Jack.
 Just then a cute female PA walks up and offers David a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
He puts out the cigarette with his shoe and eats a cookie. He then grabs two more cookies and literally stuffs his face.
David: Oh my, I realize I didn't eat anything today (he says through a mouthful of cookies.)
The PA giggles nervously, she clearly did not expect this gluttonous display. But he was not showing off. He just immediately wanted 3 cookies in his gulliver...
He turns to me with a smile and one eyebrow raised, "Everything in excess, Jack!"

      The rest of the day we made jokes about what was right in front of us, the set, announcements made etc. There were no huge moments, we were just enjoying passing the time. It can get quite tedious on a film shoot.

When David's part was completed, someone announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, it is a wrap with David Bowie!" Everyone applauded and he walked down a corridor with a manager type. I decided to go and say goodbye. They were in a heavy discussion so I followed for a bit. We came outside to a beautiful sunset splashing against the Hudson River (a studio up in Yonkers). David turns and waves his arms to acknowledge the glow and colors in the sky, and notices I am behind him.
David: Oh, hi Jack!
Me: David, I just want to say... my youth would not have been the same without you.
David: Oh, well I am sorry about that Jack.
Me: It was a good way to pass the time today.
David: Oh yes, it was you Jack. Thanks Jack!

I was too busy trying to exit gracefully to realize immediately that he was being his witty self.

We parted ways in the most surreal orange blinding glow, the sun was swallowing us up in it's majesty. I was willing and ready.

I am floored to hear of the passing of David Bowie. It never dawned on me that he would die. His presence has been more like a moon or a star. He was just there, making art,  never preaching, just leading by example. Time to play Hunky Dory...loud.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Lemmy Kilmister- Band Leader 101

Lemmy Kilmister wasn't just an artist. He was the art. He would also likely shun the term artist and say,  Rock n' Roller. The lifestyle of playing music as well as you can, running your own band with revolving members and living hard hits home to me. It truly is, live by the sword, die by the sword. It's not just a cliche, it is a certain lifestyle in Rock music, and some are just better at keeping it rolling than others. Lemmy didn't end up in a retirement home or spend his last decade going in and out of hospitals, arguing with Aetna, riding around in a Hoveround. He lived a complete life the way true Rock n' Rollers plan, with a tour schedule ahead and one right behind.

It can be possible to be a fan of just Lemmy the man. "The Ace of Spades" is the only song many out there are really aware of, yet they are feeling a genuine loss for someone special. Simplicity and clearness of message can be very encouraging for all of us. Lemmy was a walking definition of all of that, wrapped in wit and rolled in stories of life on his own terms. This was a man who loved Rock n' Roll and life and saw them as one. He preceded the terms Metal and Punk, and they both claimed his influence, wore his logo and shouted his praises in an era when you were allegedly supposed to take sides. He played his own music, no labels or analysis necessary. Everything you need to know about Lemmy is inside any Motorhead song, "We Are (The Road Crew)" "Overkill" or even his cover of, "Louie Louie". One song played from Motorhead and you can understand (if you are paying attention).

Lemmy's image comes through crystal clear. The Motorhead logo is arguably the best in Rock. The mutton chops 'stache combo, black attire and cowboy pirate hat. If you dress as Lemmy for Halloween, you don't have to explain your costume to anyone that knows anything about rock.

It was easy to love him for just being Lemmy, his signature mounting of the microphone way up high, singing to the ceiling or sky. He said it was, "for personal comfort, that's all. It's also one way of avoiding seeing the audience. In the days when we only had ten people and a dog, it was a way of avoiding seeing that we only had ten people and a dog." Then there was his Nazi memorabilia collection, he made clear he just liked how it looked and has no affection for the Nazi party, "the bad guys always have the best uniforms".  In his leisure, he wore super short cut off jeans where you could almost see his equipment. He chose to live in a humble apartment off the Sunset Strip in LA and loved playing his favorite video game while drinking his Jack and Coke. It has always been many people's errand to swing by the Rainbow and see if Lemmy was holding court.

I am a bandleader by trade. I see Lemmy's life as a successful bandleader artistically, financially and spiritually. That is quite the trifecta.  If the band leader is not enjoying his or her life and music, chances are the musicians and crew are probably not either. I get the sense that the Motorhead family is in great pain but are also incredibly proud of the great ride in life that they all just took together. 

There should be a music class called bandleader 101.  Mission one?  Play consistently great music professionally, consistently and passionately until you drop. Mission two- Keep your band happy and inspired and the audience will continue to return. You could keep it simple and just have the course only be about Lemmy. Simplicity and clearness of message can be very encouraging for all of us. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rachelle Garniez Defeats January 1-0

      I went to see Rachelle Garniez play last night on a cold January Tuesday in Brooklyn at Richard Julian's new haunt, Bar LunAtico.
      Rachelle's voice was scratchy from whatever's been going around the winter air, keeping many in bed; it gave her vocal sound the appropriate effect. Her vocal rang defiantly in the face of a typical New York City, January, go suck it people, type cold front.
      I sat down and was joined by my friend and fellow musician, Andy Borger.  Rachelle's playing and singing has the ability to awe and drop a jaw or two. Andy and I were nudging each other with those, "did she really just do that?", kind of reactions. (The song I have posted here has one of those moments, where she vocally harmonizes with the accordion solo.)  Rachelle has songs that take you on journeys, some bring you back home, some leave you lost on a subway out to Rockaway Beach. This is no cookie cutter songwriting effort, some of it feels stream of conscious, but it ends up going to too interesting a place to be that random. I love the arrangements, you never know where they are going to land. It might be that she just decided to segue way into a different song, or that is just the turn the number takes. Predictability is not at a home at this show, save that for your Hot Pocket © at the gas station on Interstate 80.
I just had so much damn fun hearing Rachelle and Tim play.
      Yes, Tim Luntzel was on upright with Rachelle. Tim and I have been in Van Hayride together for quite a while and I love when he plays in the Jack Grace Band. I have seen Tim play with many people. Rachelle's music and playing are such a perfect showcase for Tim's sense of melody, time and humor. He compliments, takes risks, but never overpowers.  This is a power duo at it's best.
      I went over to Tim's place before the gig, he made me a delicious pork chop.
The End.