Tag Archives: music

Raging for Twenty Six Years

I remember the first time I heard Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut album.

I was a junior at a country high school. My brother and my best friend were deeply into punk rock, and I wanted to date this hottie college girl named Cheryl Carpenter.

I was all over the place, at times trying to fit in with the rednecks and the true-blue farm kids, and at other times trying to be what I saw my favorite others around me being.

I hadn’t really found a place for myself yet. Continue reading Raging for Twenty Six Years

January Roads

It’s easy to not like January. It’s bleak, it’s past the grand family holidays of December, it has 31 days, and it represents the coldest, hardest, deadest part of winter.

No flowers will bloom until late February, and the daylight, while remaining infinitisimally longer each day, is dulled by steel-grey skies in the long and relentless march to Spring.

I made a playlist for myself but with her in mind. She likes to sing in the car, so I picked every other song to be one she could sing along to.

Continue reading January Roads

Trump is president and Leonard Cohen is Dead

I was killing time at my best friend’s condo in PDX tonight, waiting for the protests to die down when the news of Leonard Cohen’s death broke.

My friend didn’t know who he was, so I played “Hallelujah” on Spotify for him and his kids.

Of course they only know the Jeff Buckley version, or, more realistically, the John Cale version from “Shreck,” but my point was made.

The man whose lyrics I read more than I ever listened to is dead at 82.

And Trump was in the White House today.

Continue reading Trump is president and Leonard Cohen is Dead

Happy Wellington’s Wednesdays from Chicago –

John K. Samson is one of my favorite songwriters. And this morning I played Wellington’s Wednesdays on my commute, and I was reminded why.

Here’s the song, a masterpiece of simplicity and truth. A lyrical poem that gets right at the heart of dwelling in a city.

“The night’s a spill, a permanent stain; the city soaks in silence, salt and dirty snow. A blue glow from the TV again, the curtains never open, faces never show. And every time a light is turned on there’s a light that’s turned off somewhere. For every failing feeling that’s lost there’s a perfect cost, there’s a debt you can’t share. And every night they play the same song to the same offbeat believers. And everyone is singing along wearing blue black eyes, wearing dead-mens’ neck-ties. Clocks stopped at the corner of Albert will show your last bus left an hour ago, so stumble down the stairs again, pretend you’re not too proud to understand and still know when your voice cuts through the crowd that lonely people talk too loud. Numbers on a washroom stall. There’s always more then one last call calling you. Or you got blue eyes, or you got green eyes, or you got grey eyes” – John K. Samson

A Wrigley Field of Dreams: Bruce Springsteen and his Ghosts

Bruce Springsteen spoke of ghosts last night at Wrigley Field. 

“The older you get, the more ghosts you have. These are your friends and companions along the way. Old houses carry ghosts, old guitars carry ghosts … lot of ghosts in old ball parks.”  

I wish I could remember more of the quote than this. But this is what stuck with me throughout an evening performance that was unparalleled for me. 

This is not a review, just a personal memory of a night which I hope will relive itself, like a ghost, in my memory for a long, long time.


Springsteen is 62. But he seems immortal, as if he is of Númenórean descent. Much like one of my favorite fictional characters, Aragorn, The Boss seems to be in the prime of his musical life. 

There are days that I wish I had even a bit of the energy displayed in this 3-hour rock spectacle. 

Springsteen invited native Illinoisans Eddie Vedder (Evanston) and Tom Morello (Libertyville) to the stage for various collaborative performances throughout the evening. 

But even if he had to carry the entire evening himself, I have no doubt about his ability to do so. 

The energy flying around the stage and directed out toward the audience was palpable beyond just memorized lyrics and thunderous rock sounds shaking the old seats at Wrigley.

At one point a very drunk and stoned young man who had been twirling in his seat for two and a half hours turned and held his arms out and sang to a middle-aged woman who had been arm dancing in her seat behind him the entire evening.

“So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore. Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright, oh, and that’s alright with me.”

“Thunder Road” was more than a little thematic for the concert in support of the “Wrecking Ball” tour.

But as he held his arms out and belted out the refrain as loud as he could, with darkly stoned eyes and a wet smile on his face, I watched the 50-something woman connect across some ghostly bridge. There was no age difference, no genre walls between them. Just disembodied experiences relayed on an invisible stave. 

For every great Springsteen song, every personal favorite, he left out a dozen songs that people would have given body parts to hear. But three hours is barely enough to satisfy the record label, let alone thousands of fans young and old. 

Then the heavens opened, and Springsteen unbuttoned his vest, shook it off at the base of the drum set, wielded like Oden’s Hammer, by Max Weinberg, and descended into the fray. On a little pedestal at the base of the stage, the venerable rocker stared up into the maw of a collapsing cloud and delivered a benediction for every drought-stricken county and musically deprived soul within the sonorous sound of his voice. 

Several times he entreated the crowd. “Chicago, are you ready to go home.” The response was an overwhelming no, spat through rain-drenched lips. 

The ghost of Clarence Clemmons was there, as was his nephew, Jake Clemmons. Springsteen seemed to enjoy the companionship of traveling ghosts, and it could be said that New Jersey was in attendance as much as Chicago was last night. 

As the evening wore on, you could tell that there were more than the 20-or-so E-Street Band members on stage. The performance seemed to suck all the electricity out of the storming sky above us.

“There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away. They haunt this dusty beach road, in the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets. They scream your name at night in the street, your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet. An in the lonely cool before dawn, you hear their engines roaring on…”

Bruce Springsteen, it seems, is not haunted by his ghosts, which eats at some performers like a cancer. Instead, he has embraced them, those companions and friends along the way, which is maybe the reason a Springsteen concert is as much a worship service as a rock show. It’s caught somewhere between heaven and hell, between Jersey and Illinois, D.C. and Afghanistan.

These ghosts, these haunted guitars and saxophones. The ghosts of every union man and woman, factory workers and farmers in the Springsteen canon were in attendance, boosting the 40,000 seating capacity of Wrigley. But that’s the advantage that ghosts have. 

“…lots of ghosts in old ballparks.” – Bruce Springsteen September 8, 2012

Wrecking Ball Review: Springsteen and Alaska

I bought “Wrecking ball” on a whim while driving from Wasilla to Talkeetna today. Other than a few performances on Late Night recently, I hadn’t heard anything about the new Springsteen album. 

But my father-in-law declined my offer to drive today, so I needed to do something to take my mind off the fact that I hate not driving. It’s a control thing. 

The 3G disappeared somewhere between the Parks Highway and Talkeetna, but it picked up again after lunch. By the time the album downloaded to my iPhone, we were our way to Cantwell. 

The first time through I listened to the music. Nothing outstanding here, big guitars and lots of drums. Trumpet solos and bagpipes. I would say typical Bruce, but that’s not entirely true. The arrangements are nothing without the lyrical mastery of one of America’s most unheralded songwriters. 

The second time through I listened to the writing. 

I was raised out here in the swamps of Jersey, some misty years ago / Through the mud and beer and the blood and the cheers I’ve seen champions come and go / So if you’ve got the guts mister, yeah, if you’ve got the balls / If you think it’s your time, then step to the line and bring your wrecking ball 

I feel I’ve come to know New Jersey well through Springsteen’s writing. He often conveys a sense of the place that rarely relates to other places. 

That wasn’t the case with “Wrecking Ball.” 

As we drove through the two Alaskas, the urban cliff dwelling known as the Anchorage Bowl and Wasilla-Palmer sprawl and into the interior along the George Parks Highway, I played the songs of “Wrecking Ball” not from a Jersey perspective, but from an Alaska perspective.

There are very few songs that make me feel patriotic and fewer albums. 

Listening to “Wrecking Ball” while driving through Alaska made me feel patriotic. 

Now my home was here in the Meadowlands, where mosquitoes grow big as airplanes / Here where the blood is spilled the arena’s filled, and Giants play the game / So raise up your glasses and let me hear your voices call / Come on!

Not that football and drinking are necessarily the paragons of patriotism, but then it wasn’t one song that made me feel patriotic. 

I suppose it was the reference to mosquitoes as big as airplanes. What’s more Alaska than that?

But it gets better. The first song on the album goes on to perfectly describe an Alaska that has met the business side of the wrecking ball.

Yeah we know that come tomorrow, none of this will be here / So hold tight on your anger / Hold tight on your anger / Hold tight to your anger, and don’t fall to your fear

You think Jersey, I think sea ice and permafrost. 

Listen to the second song on the album, “We take care of our own,” and you’ll hear unrepentant references to the recession, health care or lack thereof, bank bailouts, the politics of greed.

I hear the same thing. And it makes me feel something, which good words and music should. 

Find your way through “Wrecking Ball” while driving somewhere remote and beautiful or while driving through Detroit. It’ll make you pissed off and patriotic, which go wonderfully together like basil and tomatoes.

Music should make you feel something. And right now I want to run and scream and cry and shoot something or swing a bat violently at a small white ball and run and run. 

Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” is everything you feel pent up and uncomfortable about expressed in a voice we can all mostly agree with.