2004 Steven Was A Big Dummy

In April of 2004, I complained in a LiveJournal post that the $76.50 ticket price for a Prince concert was just too expensive. I was an idiot and a first-class buffoon. If I could time-travel, I would absolutely go on a tour of my stupid decisions, and I would repeatedly slap these younger stupid Stevens.

I did see Prince once, with Jade Walker and another friend. The year was 1997, and Prince was going by “The Artist” at the time. The show took place at the Miami Arena, a venue which has since been demolished and turned into a parking lot. The price for that ticket was a smidge over fifty bucks, and I would happily pay a much, much higher fee to see His Royal Purple Badness one more time.

I never had the chance to see David Bowie live. I didn’t really know how much I loved Queen until Freddie Mercury was already gone. I never saw Michael Jackson or George Michael. I missed Oingo Boingo’s touring days, although I did finally manage to see Danny Elfman in London.

Music is life. I say that so, so often on this blog, but it’s more than just a pithy slogan for me. Concerts are so much a part of my identity that I push through travel anxiety and a dislike of crowds to go to them over and over.

I went to 28 ticketed shows in 2019. In 2020, I went to seven.

Thanks to the pandemic, almost all the shows I wanted to see for the other nine months of last year were either canceled or postponed. It will be months before we can really do concerts again- there’s a sprinkling of new shows available at a few venues, but at greatly reduced capacity, and in a very different form than what I’m used to.

Now that vaccines are starting to be distributed, I’m more impatient than ever to get back to regular concert-going, and I have a not-really-very-short-list of artists that I would go far, far out of my way to see.

From the “I had a chance to see them, but circumstances kept me away from the show and I’m still mad about it” file:

  • Betty Who – She played downtown Orlando and I was otherwise engaged.
  • Ciel Gloss – She did a show in New York when I was there in December of 2019 and I couldn’t make it work.
  • Imagine Dragons – I actually had tickets to this show, and was unable to go at the last minute.
  • Mindy Gledhill – She played a Northern Virginia venue really close to here. I wasn’t here yet. Timing is everything.
  • Kesha – This is another tour that was canceled by the pandemic.
  • Janelle Monae – Another Orlando show that I am KICKING myself for not catching.

From the “I deeply respect their artistry and I really really really wanna see them live despite all the hype!” file:

  • Taylor Swift – Does Taylor Swift really need commentary from me?
  • Mavis Staples – This woman is a badass and she’s toured vaguely near me a few times and I really should have just made the drive.
  • P!nk – Pink is one of those shows that I really just should have ponied up the money to see when she played Orlando.
  • Lorde – I wonder if she’ll ever tour outside of New Zealand again. Damn, I hope so.
  • Carly Rae Jepsen – I actually saw her once, and the show was so good that I would absolutely see her again. If your opinion of her is based solely on “Call Me Maybe,” you should check out some of the other stuff on her five albums.

From the “I learned about this artist after their last tour concluded and then a pandemic happened and now I want to see them live so badly it probably looks like I have to pee” file:

  • Meg Myers – I was introduced to this artist by another friend, right after her tour in support of “Take Me To The Disco” ended. If I had a time machine…
  • Grendel – This band has been around for 20+ years already, but I was unaware of them until just recently, and I love what I’m hearing.
  • Marit Larsen – I’m not sure if Marit Larsen ever tours in North America- she’s from Norway and has mostly stuck around Europe and the Nordic countries. Maybe once it’s safe to fly long distances again.
  • Kelsea Ballerini – She’s a much newer artist with one song that got plastered all over the radio, but I’ve listened to more of her stuff and she’d be a blast to see live.
  • Ladyhawke – She’s another New Zealander, and I have no idea if she tours the US.
  • Jackie Venson – I first saw Jackie Venson on Austin City Limits, and she kicks ass.

I’m aware that most of the names above are in one particular genre of music, but I promise there’s other stuff on my radar. Don’t get me wrong- this is by no means a complete and unabridged list of who I want to see live- I’ve already got tickets to see eleven different shows later this year, and I’m watching carefully for announcements about others.

Music is life. And I miss living.

What concert do you most wish you’d seen when you had the chance?

2/52

The Worst Cover I’ve Ever Heard™

I love cover songs. If any artist has an interesting or entertaining version of someone else’s music, then I’m generally down for it. My personal music collection contains something like 1500 cover songs from different artists.

I especially love when a cover is so good that it becomes the more well-known version, and the fact that it was sung previously by another artist becomes a matter of trivia. A great example of this is “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” I became acquainted with this song originally as the version from They Might Be Giants, on their 1990 album Flood. The original is a 1953 track by The Four Lads.

Sometimes, if I’m not in the mood for something specific, I’ll just fire up a good old fashioned shuffle play. My continuing adventures in shuffle-play recently served up the Worst Cover I’ve Ever Heard™. I do not use this label lightly. I’ll forgive a lot, with the possible exception of covers of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah- none of them get it right. Sometimes a cover misses greatness and it’s just sort of okay- this was not that. This cover is actively, horribly terrible.

I’m not making this up. And those of you who’ve known me for a while know that because I’m fond of covers. I love the hell out of all kinds of covers, even the covers that make purists run away, climb trees, and gibber.

But this… this…

It all started one night many years ago, probably in 1998 or 1999. I had gone to Respectable Street Cafe to dance and drink and hang out with my friends. When I arrived, there was a band playing.

The band was called Apocalypse Theatre, and they produced two albums between 1998 and 2002. They still have an active FaceBook presence, although I haven’t been able to find any new music by them after 2002. I remember thinking at the time that most of their music was fine, a sort of industrial-with-a-side-of-noise aesthetic. They reminded me a bit of Android Lust, only not as danceable.

I remember it very clearly- I was sitting out on the back patio happily talking with friends when they played The Cover. I didn’t even notice it at first- It was so, so bad that they were a good two minutes or so into the song before I even realized what it was. When I noticed it, I stopped, flabbergasted. Then I ran into the interior of the club to hear the rest.

It was so amazingly bad that I bought the unlabelled cassette they were selling for $8, hoping like hell that the song would be on it. By the way, this show occurred well after the compact disc was commonplace, but they were still selling tapes.

The tape did have the Worst Cover I’ve Ever Heard™. Years later, I took the time and effort involved to move it from cassette to mp3. Now I’m sharing it with you. Apocalypse Theatre’s finest work. The Worst Cover Song Ever.

I deliberately encoded this without the song title, because I want to see how long it takes each of you to figure out what the song is. ::evil grin::

Try to figure out what song this is.

If you figure it out right away, please, please, please don’t answer in the comments. I don’t want to deprive anyone of their chance to puzzle through this for the first time. If you’ve listened, and you still haven’t figured it out, I put the answer over here. Oh, and the rest of their stuff is over on Spotify, and it’s worth a listen.

Provided this one track hasn’t shaken you to your core, that is.

What’s your favorite cover song?

45/52 (and 24 of 30!)

Happy Pepper Day!

Today is Pepper Day!   While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery!  Post something today.  A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay!  Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!

To celebrate Pepper Day, I will tell you about the day the music returned.

When the pandemic hit, music around the world ground to a halt. The last concert I attended was a show by Transviolet at a small club in downtown Orlando on March 1st. The week after that, I was in New York for work, and some of my co-workers saw Broadway shows on the last few nights before the Great White Way went dark.

By the third week of March, everything else started to shut down. Every concert I had remaining in South Florida – and several in other states- was either canceled or postponed. Conventions were pushed off. A big family gathering on the west coast was postponed, which killed my plans to see Portland and Seattle on either side of the family stuff.

By the time the dust settled, every single concert, convention, trip, or airplane ride I had planned for the year was wiped clean from my calendar. The few shows that did get rescheduled were all pushed off to next year, no earlier than springtime. I resigned myself to nothing live, just live streams and prerecorded stuff until the pandemic was behind us.

Then I learned about the Birchmere.

The Birchmere is a music hall in Alexandria, Virginia. First opened in 1966, the Birchmere has been home to rock, blues, jazz, country, R&B, and bluegrass artists. The main hall seats 500, with a smallish stage and food service.

The food is the key here: Because the Birchmere has food, it was able to open in July under Virginia “kinda-sorta restaurant” guidelines. Smaller crowds were necessary because of the reduced capacity during Covid, but the music continues.

On October 19th, I went to the Birchmere for the first time, to see a rock guitarist named Samantha Fish. This was one of two sold-out shows- where sold out is still roughly 25 percent of the music hall’s total capacity.

The Birchmere has had a lot of amazing shows, and their entry hall walls are lined with concert posters and framed photos, many of them signed by the artists. I haven’t the foggiest clue what made me decide that the Spin Doctors was the best example of this legendary musical talent represented in this hallway, but this is the one photo I took of the walls.

Because this was my first time at the Birchmere, I arrived a little earlier than was really necessary. Once I arrived, they took my temperature at the door and guided me to a table. I was seated up front, just a few feet from the stage and spaced a table’s length from any other people. I ordered the fish and chips and a Red Stripe while I waited for the show to start. This was my view.

I’m not going to lie- it felt weird to be out at a concert while the pandemic is still ongoing. Even with everyone masked, it was the first time I’d been around that many people in more than six months.

It was all worth it, though, when the show started. When the music returned.

And Samantha Fish began very seriously to rock.

What was the last concert you saw?

43/52 (and 22 of 30!)

My Prime Directives

Several of the other Nano Poblano participants this month have posted entries which led me to respond with comments about the set of rules that I have taken to calling my Prime Directives. Yes, that’s a nod to Star Trek, because of course it is.

Obviously I have to obey certain rules and customs to get along in this world, like wearing clothing to the grocery store and so forth. “Thou shalt not give people involuntary haircuts.” Aside from the basics, I don’t have a lot of rules though.

Being an adult with no real requirements on my time besides work and basic existence means I can pretty much do my own thing, and that means I get to set my own rules for getting along in life.

That’s where my Prime Directives come in.

This may not be a complete list- sometimes I add or remove directives on the fly, as they occur to me. I might also have forgotten something as I write this up.

For this precise moment in time, at least, and in no particular order, this is my list of Prime Directives.

Rule the first: Be kind.

This means exactly what it says. I try to be kind to other people, and I hope very much that when most people think of me, they think of me as a kind person.

Sometimes I’m bad at this one. Very few people in this world have seen me truly angry, but those who have seen my anger know that I can be a spiteful, vindictive, cruel bastard. I have Bruce Banner’s problem. It’s always there, the rage, right under the surface. I try to negate that as much as possible by choosing to be kind whenever possible.

It seems like the thing to do.

Rule the second: Never eat anything bigger than your head.

This one is lifted from a 1976 B. Kliban book I read when I was a kid. When I was little, it was funny to me, but as I got older, I realized it’s actually really, really good advice. I have stomach issues, and eating too much is a trigger for Very Bad Things to happen to my digestion. Plus I could make some earnest noises here about moderation being good for you, I guess.

Rule the third: Share the music.

Music is life. Music is very often the one thing that truly saves what’s left of my sanity – if I don’t listen to it for too long, I get cranky. It calms me, reduces my anxiety, helps me concentrate, and elates me.

If I had to choose, right now, between a life without delicious food or a life without music, I would say “sign me up for the cream of wheat, and then let’s go to a concert.”

It’s precisely because I love music this much that I believe it’s important to share it. When I was in high school, I made mix tapes. Later in life, I made mix CDs. Even now, sometimes I’ll put together mixes to share with people- the method changes over time, but the goal is always the same: “Let me play this amazing song for you! I hope you love it as much as I do!”

Music is life. Sharing the music means sharing life. It’s that simple.

Rule the fourth: Embrace your whimsy.

I am a silly, silly man, and don’t you forget it.

My second favorite thing to do with other people, right after sharing music, is to make them laugh. I’ve said on numerous occasions that my resting state is whimsy, and I think that’s basically true. If I am drained of my other emotions, and free of anger or ennui or despair, then what remains is just pure unbridled whimsy.

Leaning into my own whimsy helps me keep things light. Embracing my inner Muppet keeps me balanced.

Rule the fifth: Never wait longer than 70 minutes for a theme park ride.

This one is just good common sense for logistical planning. No ride is worth standing in line for more than an hour and ten minutes when you’re surrounded by the entire rest of the theme park. Especially when the entire ride only lasts five or six minutes. Just go do something else instead of waiting in line. You’ll definitely have more fun that way.

A Questionable Rule the sixth: Nothing good happens after 2 AM.

While I never heard this one articulated until I was watching “How I Met Your Mother,” it’s an often true statement. I can think of many, many times that I’ve stayed up late on the off chance that something cool would happen, only to have nothing happen, or worse, to have bad things happen instead.

I marked this one as “questionable” because I can think of a handful of times that I’ve had really cool stuff happen well after 2 am. Only a handful, though. Most of the time, it’s just better to go to sleep.

Everyone says you should get enough sleep, right?

Rule the seventh: Family is important.

I am fortunate to have a fairly close-knit family. My siblings and I get along really well, despite all the times they’ve tried to kill me. This extends to more than just that first ring of family, too. Just last week, I had lunch with my cousin because she’s not far away and I enjoy her company. It’s important to me to try to nourish those relationships when I can. Speaking of which- Happy Birthday, Older Brother! (Even though I’m positive you’ll never see this blog post.)

Obviously this Directive doesn’t work for everyone- I have loads of friends who don’t speak to their birth family or have disowned parents or siblings over long and sustained pain. That’s why this isn’t just limited to families of blood. Families of choice are important too.

The people you choose to thread through your life are another kind of family. I have friends all over the world, and many of them are, in my estimation, a type of family. There are people in Germany who are dear to me, and people in Orlando, and people in Long Beach, or in New Orleans, or in South Florida.

Family is important, whether you grew up with them or added them on later in life.

Do you have any Prime Directives of your own?

42/52 (and 21 of 30!)


Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation

Last April, I was in Chicago for a few days and I had a chance to swing by one of the holy places of music: Chess Records.

To be more accurate, I visited Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation, which is dedicated to the preservation of the history of blues music. The Blues Heaven foundation lives in the former site of Chess Records.

Chess Records was founded in 1950, and was located initially at several different locations. The main offices moved to 2120 S. Michigan Ave around 1957, staying there until 1965. Chess Records is where Chuck Berry recorded Johnny B. Goode. Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, and some other lesser-known acts like the Rolling Stones recorded there.

There is still a functioning studio in the building- Chess Studios continued beyond Chess Records, and the Rolling Stones and other bands also recorded here. Marie Dixon, Willie’s widow, purchased the building in 1993 and reopened it a few years later as the Blues Heaven Foundation. The Blues Heaven Foundation does four tours a day from Tuesday to Saturday. The tours are inexpensive and well worth a look. While you wait for the tour to start, there’s a gallery filled with artifacts that will fascinate anyone who loves the blues.

The red dress in the gallery above was work by Koko Taylor, often referred to as the Queen of the Blues. Willie Dixon brought her to Chess Records in 1964, where she recorded Wang Dang Doodle. Here’s a slightly more recent recording of Koko just killing it live.

I happened to be there on an auspicious day- the Blues Foundation was opening a new exhibit about the blues festivals that Willie Dixon organized in Germany throughout the 1960s The gentleman in the hat in this photo is the son of Willie Dixon, on hand for the opening of the new exhibit. If I remember correctly, the other fellow was a representative from the German embassy.

Finally, it was time for the tour!

The absolute highlight of the tour was spending time in this room- the main studio. Countless legendary recordings were made here, like this one:

9/52