Invasion Of The Geriatric Rockers

We’re on the cusp of the summer big-name rock concert season.  Hey, who’s out on tour this year?

rod-stewartDon’t look now, but it’s a lot of the same acts that were touring 40 years ago, soon to come to a sports stadium or outdoor amphitheater near you.  The list of tours this year includes Queen, Foreigner, Boston, Aerosmith, Kiss, Alice Cooper, Billy Joel and Rod Stewart.  Rod Stewart, in case you’re wondering, is 72 years old, and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith is 69.  And as for Queen, their iconic lead singer, Freddie Mercury, died more than 25 years ago.  But neither advanced age, nor the death of original band members, nor concerns about wrinkles, hair loss, gum disease, adult diapers or iron-poor tired blood can keep these dedicated rockers from their appointed tours.  Just don’t be surprised if their contracts requires that the dressing room be equipped with Geritol rather than bottles of Jack Daniel’s.

The promoters call these “nostalgia acts” — which doesn’t exactly seem consistent with the whole notion that rock ‘n roll has a youthful, cutting edge, rebellious element to it.  When you’re a “nostalgia act,” around 70 and still playing songs that you first released when disco was king, you can’t fairly lay claim to the “rebellious” label any more. But there’s a strong market for concerts by these geriatric rockers because their music still gets played on “classic rock” radio stations, and the people who first heard their songs when they were in high school are still out there, willing to spring for tickets to hear “Cold As Ice” performed live one more time.  If you’re a performer, why not cash in, make some money, and give your fans what they want?

I’m torn about this, because I think it’s weird to see 70-year-olds strutting and rocking out on stage, and I wonder if these codger acts don’t crowd out younger musicians who’d like to get some stage time and radio play.  At the same time, in the past few years I’ve been to concerts to see two long-time performers — Stevie Wonder and Bob Seger — and they both put on really good shows.  So I’m taking a live and let live attitude, and figuring that if Rod Stewart wants to sing “Hot Legs” again, and his fans want to hear it, why not let them?  But I think I’ll pass.

At The ASO

Last night we went to see Julianne perform with the Austin Symphony Orchestra, which is the reason we came to the capital city of Texas in the first place.  The ASO delivered a stirring rendition of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, then Julianne’s oboe solo kicked off John Corigliano’s beautiful and touching Music from the Edge.  I’d never heard anything by Corigliano before, but I really enjoyed that piece.  The concert closed with a return to Copland, for some fine clarinet work on the Concert for Clarinet and String Orchestra (with Harp), and finally Dvorak’s powerful Symphony No. 8 in G Major.  Julianne played marvelously — of course!

It was a great performance by a really good orchestra.  One other thing about the ASO — its performance hall is world class, with a walkout area that offers a magnificent view of the Austin skyline across the river.  And since the ASO doesn’t like photos taken inside the building, I took the photo above to remember a wonderful evening.

Way to go, Julianne!

Live On Sixth Street

Everybody knows Austin has a thriving bar and live music scene.  Last night we started our pub crawl in the very cool Rainey Street area, which I’d never visited before, stopped to have a beer at the Container Bar, which is largely constructed out of those enormous corrugated containers used by the shipping industry, then legged it up past Stubb’s to a bar called Cheer Up Charlie’s, where a kind of light show projected against a white bluff entertained us.  After noshing at Stubb’s we headed over to Sixth Street, the traditional strip of bars and live music venues that keeps getting bigger — and louder.  

Around Austin you see people with t-shirts that say “Keep Austin Weird,” or something like that.  After our foray through Sixth Street, I’d say that goal is being accomplished.  You see people wearing flags as capes, masks, wigs, glitter, and just about any combination of clothing, or lack of clothing, you can conceive.  On Sixth Street, you can still freely let your freak flag fly.

Farewell To The Brown-Eyed Handsome Man

Chuck Berry died yesterday at age 90.  He was the man whose songs gave rock ‘n roll a sound and a shape and a theme and a direction, way back in the ’50s, and thereby helped to create a genre of popular music that has endured for more than 60 years.  His song Maybellene, his first big hit, was released in 1955, and its combination of irresistible guitar licks, a chugging back beat, and a story about teenage angst, girls, cars, and speed created a lasting framework for what was then a shocking and utterly new sound.  (Interestingly, just last year Chuck Berry was working on an album of new material to be released some time this year.  Let’s hope we get to hear it.)

chuck-berry-1957-billboard-1548The tributes to Chuck Berry are pouring in from across the music world.  The Billboard tribute linked above notes that John Lennon once said:  “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’”  The New York Times has published a fine list of 15 essential Chuck Berry songs that are worth listening to, again, in honor of his passing.  And a good indication of Berry’s huge influence on other crucial artists in the rock ‘n roll genre is that his songs were covered by the Beatles, who released excellent versions of Rock and Roll Music and Roll Over Beethoven, and the Rolling Stones, who recorded memorable live versions of Carol and Little Queenie, and just about everybody else of consequence in the world of rock music.  Has any artist had more songs covered by more superstars?

I can’t compete with the likes of John Lennon and Billboard in assessing the impact of Chuck Berry on the world of music, so I won’t even try.  I can say this without fear of contradiction, however:  when my college roommate and I hosted parties back in the late ’70s where the whole point was to drink draft beer and dance with wild abandon, nobody was better at getting people up and moving their feet than Chuck Berry.  That remains true today, 40 years later.  That’s quite an impact, when you think about it.

The Raffi Years

The other day, a colleague was talking about one of his young children and their behavior in the car.  It made me remember when Richard and Russell were little, during what I now think of as “the Raffi Years.”

71zba6fuual-_sl1259_Raffi (whose name is actually Raffi Cavoukian) was a singer of children’s songs whose CDs dominated the playlists when the kids were in the car in the early ’90s.  We had multiple Raffi recordings, and they were played on strict rotation.

At first, our discovery of Raffi — no doubt occurring through the “Moms’ grapevine” by which women with children disseminated information about what to do to keep from being driven crazy by those little hellions at home — was a blessing.  A Raffi CD actually got Richard and Russell to stop poking each other, fidgeting in the back seat, and repeatedly asking “when are we getting there?”  Instead, they listened to the music and would pipe up “put on Raffi!” whenever we got into the car.

And that quickly became a double-edged sword, because as they listened to the music, we did, too.  And I’m not saying that Raffi’s music was utterly puerile, but songs about baby whales that are targeted for little kids simply aren’t meant for repeated listening by adults.  At first I appreciated Raffi for helping to keep the kids occupied on car trips and introducing them to music, then repeated exposure to his songs started to really irritate me, and finally I would grit my teeth whenever the kids wanted to replay “Baby Beluga” again and think about how pleasant it would be to drive steel spikes into my eardrums.

Of course, one day Richard and Russell decided they’d had enough of Raffi and moved on, and soon enough they were listening to their own music on Walkmans and iPods and other devices.  I feel grateful to Raffi for getting us through the squirmy years, but it was wonderful to take his CDs out of the car, forever.  And I’ve got no desire to hear him sing, ever again.

The Queen Of Soul Drops The Mike

Aretha Franklin has told a Detroit TV station that she plans to “retire” this year, after a new album is released.  It’s not entirely clear what her retirement will mean, practically, because she says she’ll still be available to perform now and then.  Basically, she wants to spend time with her grandchildren before they head off to college.

I hope the Queen of Soul doesn’t fully drop the mike, because she’s simply irreplaceable.  Of all the great female R&B and soul singers of the ’60s and ’70s — and there were a lot of them — Aretha Franklin was without peer.  Once she sang a song she made it her own, and there was just something about the tone, and timbre, of her voice that could reach into your chest and grab your heart.  Listen to any of her great recordings from the ’60s and you’ll be amazed at how fresh and stunning they still sound, 50 years later.  I’ve provided two vintage videos, one from the ’60s and another from the ’70s, that I think make the point.

I hope Aretha Franklin gets to spend that time with her grandkids, but I also hope she’ll continue to give some of her time to the rest of us.

Columbus Jazz Orchestra

Last night Kish and I completed our Christmas cultural gift exchange by attending a performance of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra.  Entitled Ella Fitzgerald & The great Ladies of Swing, the show featured the CJO in full throat and two superb guest artists:  Marva Hicks and Nicki Parrott.  

It’s the first time I’ve seen the CJO in a long time, and the show demonstrated what I’ve stupidly been missing.  This is a tight group with a big sound and lots of talent to display, and when they get a chance to play classic tunes from the American songbook with two brilliant female vocalists (and, in Parrott’s case, a fine double bass musician, besides), you’re going to get a great show.

The program was top-notch from stem to stern, but I particularly liked Parrott’s rendition of Fever and I Will Wait for You and Hicks’ version of Stormy Weather, and Kish and I always relish Blue Skies, which was played on our wedding day.  I also enjoyed CJO artistic director Byron Stripling’s  tasty trumpet fills and deft vocal efforts to channel his inner Louis Armstrong– but the high point for me was Hicks’ powerful and heartfelt performance on My Man’s Gone Now, from Porgy and Bess, which was a knockout punch if there ever was one.

The CJO is another artistic asset in a city that is full of them.  If you’re in the mood for some great lives music, you can still catch this show tonight and tomorrow.