Rock's Backpages Writers' Blogs » Charlie Bermant Rock reviews, rock articles & rock interviews from the Ultimate Rock'n'Roll Library Mon, 20 May 2013 00:14:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Small town becomes “Whoville” to attract tourists Mon, 01 Apr 2013 01:22:17 +0000 Charlie Bermant Continue reading ]]>


PORT TOWNSEND (AP)—The Who will play a free concert in July in a small stadium that is normally used for high school football games, in exchange for the condition that the town rechristen itself in honor of its lead guitarist.
So on or around September 1 of this year, this seaport town of 8,000 people will be known as Pete Townshend, WA.
Supporters of the proposal expect the concert to bring tourists into the town, who will not only support local hotels and restaurants but “decide they want to live here because it’s an awesome, cool place.” according to one booster.
The action, which was taken unilaterally by the city council without public input, was made necessary “because municipalities need to be creative about how we provide services and we need to think outside traditional models” according to a council statement.
Townsend and the Who were approached with the deal “because it would offer minimum impact in changing our signage and stationary,” the statement read.
After the event the city hopes to build a museum and a commemorative plaque that says “Who Played Here.”
Even so, some people feel that while the move will bring needed revenue into the city it could attract visitors who are incompatible with the town’s current population.
“I just think we should have waited until we heard from Jimmy Buffett,” said Solstice Goldberg, a city council member who asked not to be named. “I like The Who, but we are a maritime community and there are other more appropriate choices.”

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Barry McGuire’s Living Room Anthems Tue, 26 Mar 2013 14:49:20 +0000 Charlie Bermant Continue reading ]]>

Barry McGuire live, March 23, 2013












Barry McGuire was around in the 1960s, and remembers them well enough to present a historical narrative of songs and stories for the benefit of those who either need reminding or want to reinforce their recollections.

McGuire and guitarist John York, who also remembers, do an occasional show called “Trippin’ the 60s” where they perform many of the era’s anthems mixed with anecdotes about the times that reinforce the idea that all this “love one another” stuff wasn’t just lip service.

McGuire had one huge hit, 1965′s “Eve of Destruction,” which pretty much embodied the “protest song” label. At the time he hung around with the LA Jet Set, the Mamas and Papas, the Byrds and others, and was immortalized in John Phillips’ “Creeque Alley:” “McGuinn and McGuire, just-a getting higher…”

I saw McGuire and York perform in a high school auditorium in rural Washington State, where the venue was filled half with aging hippie types and the remainder with those who looked like my grandparents used to, , although in more comfortable clothes. This can be a little disorienting until you realize that the audience is made up of people who dug this music when they were kids and have come out tonight to see it performed with a modicum of authenticity.

1960s publicity shot.

The trouble with nostalgia is that no one wants to pop the bubble and suggest that it wasn’t as groovy as some people remember. McGuire keeps it light onstage, peppering his recollections with a lot of pot tales, but offstage he’s willing to put the myths rest.

“We were looking for freedom but freedom without rules will kill you,” he said during a phone conversation earlier in the week, for a preview I wrote for the local paper.  ”Back then we were like a bunch of puppies poured out on a kitchen floor out of a cardboard box, running around spilling the milk, getting into the trash, getting under the sink, we were eating stuff that was killing us. We didn’t realize that rules are there to protect us and not inhibit us.”

McGuire performs “Creeque Alley,” noting that “McGuinn and I are joined at the hip by that song. McGuinn’s modern performances are comparable to McGuire with his own recent tour, which walks the audience through his career with a musical/verbal biography that seeks to provide an account of how it really was, from one who was really there.

McGuinn’s trip through the past draws mostly on songs that he wrote or originally performed, while McGuire performs a grab bag of tunes, mostly covers, with which he has only a peripheral connection. While engrossing, McGuinn can be scholarly and stiff and would not be out of place in a college classroom. McGuire acts like he belongs in a living room or a coffee house.

Onstage McGuire is spontaneous and relaxed, you get the feeling that it wouldn’t be any different if you went over to his  house and they broke out a couple of twelve strings. This is helped along by the set, a randomly selected imitation living room with chairs, end tables and lamps.

He kicks off with “Green Green,” one of the first songs he ever wrote and a hit for the New Christy Minstrels. I saw this performed on “Hootenanny” and am surprised that I remember the words and the tune so clearly. And while most singers on the revival circuit will put their biggest hit at the end of the show McGuire slips in “Eve of Destruction” about a third into the first set, making it part of the narrative.

While he is known to update the lyrics this time he plays it straight, only modifying the last verse slightly and adding a “when will they ever learn” coda from “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” With all the doom-and-gloom lyrics the “a handful of senators can’t pass legislation” gets the biggest reaction.

McGuire doesn’t have a booking agent or a manager, he’ll come play for a group if he’s asked.

“I don’t have an agenda,” he said. ”I’m a color and people can paint me into the picture, if they like my color I’m available, if they don’t like my color I’ll just stay home and work in my flower bed.”

Since small town daily journalism isn’t exactly rocket surgery reporters will often build a feature article around softball questions to anchor the story. Here, this became a query about McGuire’s most positive and negative 1960s experiences.

McGuire said that the high point of the 1960s for him was appearing in the original Broadway production of “Hair.”

“It was like going to a party every night where you were singing and jumping and screaming and laughing and getting paid for it,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how much fun it was.”

The low point was hearing about the murder of Sharon Tate and four others by the Manson family.

“When I heard about that I adopted a rule back into my life, that maybe we shouldn’t kill each other,” McGuire said. ”I had turned people on to drugs who died of overdoses and I had murdered two unborn babies who would be here now if they hadn’t been aborted. I have a son who is now 51 years old and I wanted to have him aborted but his mother wouldn’t have it, I would have murdered him if I had the chance.”

I thought that quote would cause a stir in a town full of knee-jerk liberals but left it in place, with no slant. It is one thing to see someone with a vacant stare waving a jingoistic “Abortion is Murder” sign, but quite another to hear someone explain how they reached that conclusion.

The story was soon appended by comments from people who just didn’t want to hear another viewpoint and would rather that McGuire just shut up and sing.

One of the comments is from someone named Mike, who pretty much missed the point. It’s presented here in its unedited glory, underscoring Barry McGuire’s observation that he’ll always be confused with Roger McGuinn.

Now showing, at a living room near you.

I just want to know what all the right wing BS has to do with the show did he need to rant or what? So nice that as you call it ken that left wing paper let him spill that garbage on us. Great he doing a show to help my hats off to him for that, but why the hate Roger.  Why to Chrstains hate so much ? Why do they see things one way and are unwilling to let others live their lives. This would have been a nice artical about a nice thing but poor old Roger McGuire had to tells us all the things he hates about half of the country (Actualy more than half) sad old man. 

Not what he said, Mike. But thank you for proving that not all the hate, stupidity and bad spelling isn’t restricted to people on the right side of the political spectrum.

McGuire’s show is fun, but not particularly challenging. If you want complicated art you can go see the ballet, or U2. This is just a coupla white guys sitting around playing, and their continued enjoyment of these tunes makes this show a nice way to remember it all or learn about it if you weren’t there.

color photos: Charlie Bermant

Charlie Bermant has written about music since forever, and has collected the best of his interviews in A Serious Hobby, which is available here.


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Michael Nesmith’s Mother of an Invention Wed, 06 Feb 2013 03:43:14 +0000 Charlie Bermant Continue reading ]]> Michael Nesmith, once of the Monkees, was awarded a patent on Christmas Day for a process that incorporates live video into a virtual environment.  Called VR3D, it has the potential to increase the reality quotient of virtual worlds, bumping up interaction and integration a notch or two.

“This allows the video images including people to appear seamlessly in the virtual world — as if they are a part of it — and for the virtual audience to see and talk to the video image live and in real time — and for the live video image/person to respond live and in real time with them,” Nesmith said in an email message.

“My purpose for it is social and cultural — but anywhere there is a live gathering is a candidate for replicating inworld — a lecture, teaching, demonstrations, performances, speeches, all can work inworld by this process.”

Nesmith’s entrepreneurship is hereditary. His mother invented Liquid Paper when he was a teenager. He came up with the idea for MTV in the late 1970s and ran a prototype for a while before determining that he didn’t have the financial assets to make it work so he sold the idea to Time-Warner which then carried the ball to the finish line, such as it is.

His path for VR3D is a bit different. He may not have anything to do with its commercial development or administration but anyone who uses it commercially will need to pay a licensing fee.

The technology works, he said, but is not yet in use.

“VR3D was built as a virtual world to contain this technology and we have no scheduled programming for the live performance tech at present.” he wrote.

“I have no idea what I will do with the patent – if anything. That may not be my chapter to write, but if it is then I don’t see it yet.”


Artists such as Paul Simon and Neil Young have commented about the random aspect of songwriting, how a great song just “appears” and they need to write it down before it gets away. Nesmith applies the same yardstick to his technology ideas, saying that he was just in the right place at the right time.

“Like MTV the VR3D patent was a gift to me, it was another stranger that appeared at the door long ago that I let in and fed and played with, protected and helped,” he wrote.

“If the invention of something is the creation of something, then I had nothing to do with MTV anymore than my involvement with the now patented processes of VR3D.

“But if invention is drawing a circle around naturally converging ideas, bringing them into the inner chamber of one’s thought, clothing, feeding, encouraging, and protecting them, then I did invent it. It’s a question of perspective.”

In one post Nesmith writes that he remembered when he had the idea for MTV.

“It is not the MTV that exists now. It was the late seventies and there was nothing like MTV anywhere on the communications landscape. Like most ideas that pop into my thinking I had nothing to do with it. The choices I seem to have at such a time are to accept or reject the notions that show up at mind’s door. When MTV appeared I recognized a friend and a positive force. I let it in, worked with it a while, helped shape and build its early expressions, and then I left it to its own devices.

“I made a little money from it, but not much. I had a lot of fun. I still have the residuals of the joy it brought me.”

There are several Michael Nesmith fan pages on Facebook, it takes a little doing to find the official one. It’s a bit like Brigadoon, it pops up on my timeline when he posts something than disappears. He uses Facebook like nobody else, posting long, often profound pieces and then deleting them a few days later. He once explained why he did this, but when I attempted to refer to that post it was gone.

In a Facebook post commemorating the patent, which I managed to copy before it disappeared, Nesmith said he was thrilled about the timing. After all, what do you give a Monkee for Christmas?

“I didn’t know the Fed was even open on Christmas Day , if it is.” he wrote. “It made me smile. The notion of life handing me a patent on Christmas – in the middle of the gift giving holidays was delightful.”



3-21 The Franklin Theater, Franklin  TN/ 3-24 Canyon Club – Agoura Hills CA/3-26 Rio Theater – Santa Cruz CA / 3-27 Palace of Fine Arts -San Francisco CA/ 3-29 Aladdin Theater- Portland OR /3-30 Neptune Theater – Seattle WA / 4-03 Boulder Theater – Boulder CO /4-05 Fitzgerald Theater – Minneapolis MN/ 4-06 Chicago IL/ 4-07 Magic Bag – Detroit MI /4-09 Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead – Munhall, PA / 4-11 Iron Horse Northampton, MA / 4-12 Union County PAC – Rahway, NJ /4-13 Somerville Theater – Boston, MA / 4-15 World Cafe Live – Philadelphia, PA /4-16 Town Hall – New York, NY /4-17 Birchmere – Alexandria VA



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Richard Thompson’s Electric Outlet Tue, 29 Jan 2013 16:56:16 +0000 Charlie Bermant You gotta feel for someone who doesn’t own any Bob Dylan or Neil Young albums and hasn’t a clue where to start. There are too many choices: Early or recent? Electric or acoustic? Live or studio? They end up purchasing a ‘best of’ set which never makes anybody happy.

Richard Thompson’s vital Electric, to be released February 5, resembles many of its predecessors as an output for his versatility and craftsmanship. But it is  unique as it provides an entry point for those who have heard there is something going on with Thompson and just don’t know what it is.

Ever since ending the tour in support of his last album, 2010′s Dream Attic, Thompson has been woodshedding a power trio format during some spot gigs and two years as featured artists on the Cayamo Cruise. This will change this year as the trio (Thompson backed by bassist Taras Prodaniuk and drummer Michael Jerome ) are going this year and will open for several dates on the upcoming Emmy Lou Harris/Rodney Crowell tour.

Thompson’s deep catalogue always attracts preferences for different parts of the ouevre. So for those of us who favor his electric playing the trio hits a particular sweet spot. These protracted solos are put in the proper no-distraction context, listening to them can take you to a place in guitar heaven that isn’t visible to most mortals. Having seen six on-board trio shows I was ready for the new album to approach the depth and breadth of Hendrix’ Electric Ladyland.

But despite its title Electric is not a power trio record. There are no solo acoustic guitar tracks but there is still a healthy share of the slow and subtle. (Among these “Salford Sunday” includes one of Thompson’s most affecting vocal performances). So “electric” is more of an  adjective, a descriptor of the what the album is on a general level rather than an accurate label of its ingredients.

Thompson fans aside from the strict acoustic partisans will love the pants off of this record from the very first notes of the opener, “Stony Ground.” There is the rushed tempo, the crisp, distinctive guitar tone driven by an appropriation of traditional Celtic sounds. Name your favorite rock guitarists, and see that despite their diversity they all cut their teeth on American blues records. Thompson’s roots are elsewhere, which results in a disorientation of what we perceive of rock and roll. As a result many people hearing his music for the first time may not really get it. But after a while it makes sense, especially when the blues-based stuff starts to sound the same.

On Cayamo 2012 Thompson was one artist who didn’t repeat a single song during his four sets, but this year presented different versions of the same songs to different audiences. He seemed to be breaking in the material and trying it on for size, getting the new songs ready for prime time. Fans will take it either way, since his soloing takes on a life of his own you can’t really predict what will come next. And you get the feeling that Thompson isn’t too sure either.

He gets a little bluesy with “Sally B” although not enough to shake the Celtic identity. As a “what if,” this is what the Jimi Hendrix Experience would have sounded like if Noel Redding was from Seattle and Hendrix from Ireland instead of the other way around.

The album’s guitar centerpiece is, appropriately, smack in its center. “Good Things Happen to Bad People,” track six, is a midtempo stomp that will earn its way into his repertoire as a highlight as it provides a framework on which Thompson can hang his improvisation. That is the best part of seeing him in concert, how each song takes on a life of its own and can be 180 degrees from the version in the last set.

“Saving the Good Stuff For You” closes the album, a waltz-time love song that he has written versions of throughout the years. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We find comfort in a routine, so hearing a new song that’s similar to an old one can be reassuring. If there isn’t anything here that would be out of place on another Thompson album there is no sense of repetition. Some artists who have not achieved commercial success may keep releasing the same album until they catch on,  but listening to Thompson is like walking through a river because everything changes each time.

There is a bonus disk included, which isn’t discussed here because it wasn’t included in the advance copies that Thompson hand-carried onto the Cayamo Cruise and offered for presale. I can report that one of the bonus tracks, “Will  You Dance Charlie Boy,” is one happy little toe-tapper.

Electric was recorded last Spring in a home studio belonging to Buddy Miller, who also produced the record. As a producer Buddy has a light touch, seemingly rolling tape and letting the music proceed organically. So it all sounds pretty loose.  Miller lets the songs breathe, which is probably why it feels so fresh. Thompson and Miller have forged a close friendship on the last three Cayamo sailings, evolving into a cross-oceanic partnership that explores their respective legacies. The best artists take something complicated and make it look easy.

While he doesn’t approach their commercial success Thompson is in the same league with artists like Dylan and Young. They continue to release compelling new records while musical archeologists are always digging out alternate performances and outtakes from throughout their career. When someone is that good there is no bottom.

But neither Dylan nor Young are likely to release an album as hospitable as Electric. For that you need to go back to Harvest or Blood on the Tracks. With this record Thompson offers an on-ramp for the uninitiated that also gives long term fans something to cherish.

photo: Charlie Bermant

Charlie Bermant has written about music since forever, and has collected the best of his interviews in A Serious Hobby, which is available here.





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Neil Young’s Psychedelic Anthems Mon, 12 Nov 2012 05:50:19 +0000 Charlie Bermant Continue reading ]]>

Six years ago Neil Young brought his CSN buddies through town imploring the country to impeach the president for lying, this week he began the next leg of his tour with Crazy Horse with a straight-faced version of  “The Star Spangled Banner.” A political evolution? You decide. Neil Young always does what he wants and leaves it to others to draw the conclusions.

For the past 45 years Young has been one of our most varied, confounding and prolific musical voices, but his recent multimedia product blitz is astounding. It began in the spring with Americana, a punked-up version of traditional tunes that qualified as one more of his eccentric sojourns. It was followed by a weighty autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, followed by  the DVD release of Journeys, the final chapter in a Jonathan Demme trilogy of value-added concert films and Psychedelic Pill, a sprawling two disc set that represents the rejuvenation of his partnership with Crazy Horse. In parallel, Neil and the Horse have embarked on a worldwide tour (for the next dates go here).

After the national anthem ended and some wiseass yelled “play ball” the Horse followed with anthems of their own, including two new songs that seemed to last forever but still disappointed when they finally came crashing to a close. “Walk Like a Giant” was a slam in the head, ending with five minutes of crashing, plodding noise that convinced you that a giant was about to stomp the building to shreds. Feedback abounded as the giant got nearer.

Listening to this my mind wanders, knowing that many of those in my acquaintance might interpret these sounds as noise. I accept this, an anthem for one person may be anathema to another. And not everyone gets Neil.


Throughout, the musicians were dwarfed by giant fake amps and a 20-foot tall prop microphone. The requisite giant screens were on either side of the stage  while the road crew dressed in lab coats milled around. Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, those Crazy Horseman, provided a steady counterpoint to Young’s improvisation. They are also having a tremendous amount of fun, with Sampedro challenging Young during “F*!#In’ Up” in a mock brawl echoing playground arguments everywhere. “You’re fucked up.” “No, you’re fucked up.” Over and over.


For this, Crazy Horse could be the greatest band in the world. They play these anthems, old and new, night after night. But there is never a hint of boredom or ennui. They love playing “Cinnamon Girl” and “Mr. Soul.” simple songs that have attained anthemic status, as if it were the first time.

Americana, the first manifestation of this year’s journey, at first seems like one of Young’s random little projects. An imagining of what it might sound like if a dedicated garage band decided to tackle some of our best known folk songs it wasn’t really popular among a lot of Young fans. First impressions were that it was another gimmick, a left turn taken until he did something real. So we ignored Americana in favor of waiting for the “real” Crazy Horse album that was supposedly imminent.

Psychedelic Pill is that album, and it fulfills all expectations and has pushed Americana to the background. Still, we ignore it at our own peril. A lot of Young’s left turns that were once dismissed now sound quite fresh. Trans, Everybody’s Rockin’ and This Note’s For You, ridiculed at release, now sound great. Maybe it takes all us a while to catch up.

Young wrote Waging Heavy Peace himself and it shows,  I mean that in the nicest way. There must have been an editor involved so its nonlinear structure is intentional. He jumps from one topic to the next and back again, omitting the biographical details and skipping through his various obsessions about trains, electric cars and a quest to improve digital sound.  Young’s father was a professional writer of some note and apparently advised his son to write in the same way he spoke.


So reading Waging Heavy Peace is most like what you would hear in a lecture hall, should Young take this book on the road. Or you can visualize it in someone’s living room where Young sits by the fire and talks about his life as people around the room have a drink or smoke a bowl. At the end you would thank him for coming over and wouldn’t feel bad if he didn’t take any questions.


Except this one: The book was written about a year ago after Young had quit drinking and getting high after years of indulgence. He states this increased his mental clarity but had been unable to write any songs since jumping on the wagon, wondering whether he’d be able to write when the time came. Psychedelic Pill proves that, he overcame songwriter’s block. But did he stay sober? We’re curious, only because the album’s opening track, “Driftin’ Back,”  is so trippy.


Journeys is for those who haven’t had enough of Young after reading Waging Heavy Peace. It’s meant to be a candid look at Young with mixed results. The backstage footage is often enlightening, and scenes of Young in his natural habitat provide that view. On the other hand, a shot of a solo live “Down By The River” that literally goes up Young’s nose is a little too much information, even for the most dedicated fan.

A real Neil fan has to have all of this and I succumbed. I saved a bit of money getting the book on Kindle and renting Journeys from iTunes, but I pretty much ate the whole enchilada this time. Young’s output is diverse and it’s rare to find someone who loves every one of his albums. Let’s go a step further: It’s rare to find someone who’s heard every one his  albums.


But this night, standing in toward the back of the general admission section at Key Arena in Seattle with the monster video screens in equidistant view, something clicks. In the middle of “Ramada Inn,” an astounding track from Psychedelic Pill, the auditory thrill reminds me why I bought into all this stuff. It’s the music, stupid.  The extraordinary noise that occurs when Neil makes when he brings some of his friends to play in your town. These sounds make everything else superfluous. If not for this music he’d be just another scraggly guy on YouTube singing “Down By the River” to the mirror and the book would be a waste of time.


This night I’m hoping he’ll stay straggly, loud and frazzled. But if he chooses to do something else I’m OK with that.

Set List: Love and Only Love/Powderfinger/Born in Ontario/Walk Like a Giant/Needle and the Damage Done/Twisted Road/Singer Without A Song/Ramada Inn/Cinnamon Girl/F*!#In’ Up/Mr. Soul/Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)/Tonight’s the Night.

Charlie Bermant has written about music since forever, and has collected the best of his interviews in A Serious Hobby, which is available here.

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Cowgirls and Lesbians Mon, 24 Sep 2012 05:27:15 +0000 Charlie Bermant WE ALL HOLD our own set of prejudices and preconceptions, with clear ideas about politics and religion, tolerance and hatred or country music singers and lesbians.

Chely Wright blows most of those ideas out of the water. An established country star who happens to have a strong Christian faith and a publicly declared sexual preference for women, she makes you reconsider what should expect from public figures, and how much it hurts to submerge your identity to please other people.

Port Townsend, about an hour west of Seattle. isn’t a big country and western town but it opens its heart to the politically and socially oppressed. Which is part of the reason that the town embraced Wright, prominently featuring the movie that traced her coming out as gay in this  year’s Port Townsend Film Festival. Wright, 41, came to town to promote the documentary, “Wish Me Away,” released in 2011, which traces her evolution from a country music star to a lesbian activist.

The movie sets the stage with some biographical clips of a closeted Wright receiving awards and accolades there is one face that is conspicuously blurred.

During a question and answer period following a festival screening Wright identified the blurred face as honky tonk veteran Jean Sheperd.

“We didn’t ask her to make a statement,” Wright said. “She didn’t want to appear in a film that had anything to do with gay issues. I’ve done the Opry hundreds of times, I shared a dressing room with that woman, and introduced her to new fans who never knew who the golden girls of country music were.”

‘‘Wish Me Away” tells the story of Wright’s coming out in a countdown fashion, chronicling her thoughts and fears before coming out publicly in May 2010. At that time she simultaneously released an album, Lifted Off the Ground (recorded two years previously) and a book. The media blitz included the obligatory Bordenational television appearances and interviews.

The movie completes and explains the cycle. It begins with a recurring scene, a makeup-free Wright staring into a camera that appears to originate from a bathroom mirror. She’s crying and cursing, thrown into chaos because the date of her coming out is coming up and she is wondering “if I will ever have the courage to let anyone see this tape.”

So the idea that this is a move to further her career is pretty much off the table right there. There are some seemingly staged sequences (how did it happen that camera crews were able to film a conversation between Wright and her father on the phone, from the father’s house?) we can suspend our disbelief.

It is interspersed with humor, including interviews with Wright’s kick-in-the-pants   sister and an anecdote from Wright’s childhood, when she asked her mother why tennis player Billie Jean King dressed like a man.

“She told me it was because [King] was gay,” said Wright, who had already decided she wanted to be a famous country singer. When someone comes out to their family and friends they may attempt to orchestrate the event, finding the right time, place and words to get the message across. Wright’s orchestration was necessarily more elaborate, with millions of fans and a public face.

As Wright earns new fans she challenges them. At the Port Townsend screening there was applause for the line “the meanest people are those who do something mean in the name of Jesus” but the crowd didn’t know how to react to the account of Wright praying for guidance and being rewarded with an immediate relief of her burden. 

Taken together, the book, Like Me, movie and album portray Wright in an attractive, compelling light. Anyone meeting her through these avenues will like her a lot. The movie’s honesty resonates, staging aside. The album is sweet and tuneful and will be accessible to many who don’t really dig strict country. It sounds a lot like a Rodney Crowell album, which is no surprise because he produced it.

The album has earned Wright a lot of new fans, like me, but has a long way to go in order to make up for what she has lost.

“I spend my whole life developing a fan base of millions of millions of people who like country music and I was asking them to like me,” she said. “After coming out I lost two thirds of my audience, although a lot of new people are aware of me.

“People might like me on my Facebook page because they want to support what I’ve done socially but that doesn’t translate into them buying a record. It’s like I’ve been working my whole life selling tennis shoes and now people in the underwear business now know who I am.”

“That being said this is no shock to me, I had a feeling that this is about what it would be. I have no problems with the fact that my audience in country music is smaller because I have faith. I’m here, I have more imagination to use and I will always be OK.”

After cutting the ribbon for the festival I approached Wright and asked to schedule a convenient time for a few questions. “How about right now?” she asked. So I improvised.

What’s next for you musically?

I’m always writing, I have about seven songs that I think will be on the next album, but I have to be inspired to move forward and pull the trigger on it. I feel very free artistically now, I think the next album will be in the same vein but my producer, Rodney Crowell, tends to put an identifying stamp on things.

Will he be producing your next album? 

He has his own projects, Rodney gets busy sometimes. I will make another record with Rodney, I just don’t know if it’s the next one.

What’s been the surprise about coming out?

I think a lot of people didn’t give it much thought after the announcement, things move on, but I think I’m still getting used to it. With each step of my life I realize that I’m out.

You know, the holidays are different when I’m out, family things are different, life goes on, but now there is a gay artist in country music.

Are there a lot more?

Statistics show that there have to be more, so eventually another major country artist will come out. But I love that it’s off the table that there will never have to be another first.”

Buying tip: You want to download Lifted Off the Ground, as the physical CD doesn’t contain two bonus tracks; both worthwhile. The introspective “Don’t Look Down” is available on Amazon while the hard-rocking “Hamburg” is available on iTunes, For the Wright experience you will want to have both. 

Photos: Charlie Bermant, September 21, 2012, Port Townsend, WA

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Everybody Doesn’t Get Bob Wed, 12 Sep 2012 15:29:42 +0000 Charlie Bermant In 1966 I was a musically precocious 12-year-old, but met my match with Bob Dylan’s seventh album, Blonde on Blonde. I knew that he was “one of the greats” because all the older kids said so, but I didn’t really fathom what he was doing. It was all a bit abrasive, hard to pin down and with too many words.
I didn’t want to appear unhip, but I preferred to listen to the Beatles, The Stones, the Monkees and Herman’s Hermits  (I was, after all, 12).

Flash forward today: Dylan’s 35th album, Tempest, gets the full-court press from the smartest critics around.  From The New York Times: “He sings forcefully, in a raspy, phlegmy bark that’s not exactly melodic and by no means welcoming. Battered and unforgiving, he’s still Bob Dylan, answerable to no one but himself.”

From Paste: “Tempest is an album that works on many levels. Taken as sound or aural sculpture, the songs take the listener through a dark ramble through the back roads of American popular music. Every musical phrase, note, carries something that suggests more than itself. Each melody is weighed down with memory, reminding the listener of real and imagined pasts, old struggles, hinting that there’s a world rapidly slipping through our fingers, if it’s not already long gone.”

Some reviews, like The Atlantic, suggest that Tempest compares with his best:

“No musician of the rock and roll era has done more with sprawl than Bob Dylan. “Like a Rolling Stone” rewrote the rules of length in commercial pop music, and “Desolation Row” and “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” are essentially genres unto themselves. But his recent music tends toward an almost obsessive miniaturism, and Tempest is rife with intricacy. ”

I don’t want to appear unhip, but this time I’d rather listen to Blonde on Blonde.

I was pretty pumped about Tempest, which was released Sept. 11. Things have changed, and I didn’t have to wait for the official release date or even leave the house to buy the album. Late evening Sept. 10 I downloaded the album from iTunes and turned it on as I went to sleep. As it is in those cases (and no reflection on Dylan) I didn’t make it past the fourth song.

It was pretty nice. The opener, “Duquesne  Whistle” had a catchy bounce and the next two songs were a lot of fun in a jazz-blues kind of way. I listened in the car again on the way to work getting about halfway through, but wasn’t able to focus. I got serious in the afternoon and started from the beginning but soon got a little anxious. As the album’s centerpieces “Tempest” and “Roll On John” had generated a lot of buzz. What was promised was making it hard for me to enjoy the scenery so I skipped ahead. Because I could.

Things have changed since the time where we would reverently greet a new album with an uninterrupted listen or two, paying close attention to every nuance. Today there are so much peripheral chatter and listening options it’s hard to filter out all the noise and get to the music. This gets down to attention span, since there are so many options you can switch to something more interesting if what’s playing bores you even a little bit.

But Dylan deserves our full attention. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get Blonde on Blonde the first time out, you only gained access to its depth through repeated listenings. As for the perception that Dylan has lost his mojo with some of his later work, it could be that his genius shines as brightly but people these days aren’t willing to listen to the albums enough times to understand them.

Back to the present. I listen to seven minutes of the title track. I could follow what he was saying but wasn’t exactly sure why he was saying it. On Blonde on Blonde you didn’t know what he was saying during the first listen. On Tempest you can understand it right away but sort of wish you didn’t. I skipped again to “Roll On John” which was pretty frustrating, the words weren’t clear and the music was hard to fathom.

Things have changed since 1970, where I would have responded to an album I didn’t really like by playing it again. The failure to connect was not the artist’s fault, rather it was my inability to understand the art. This worked too many times to count, as the records I most love now didn’t take root until the tenth listen.

So I’m driving down the highway listening to “Roll On John” and it doesn’t quite gel. I will give it another chance. This is Bob Dylan, after all, and 10,000 critics can’t be wrong.  But not today. Technology has allowed us to do some remarkable things, like push a few buttons and call up an album of your choice. This time I call up six consecutive Blonde on Blonde tracks, from “Visions of Johanna” to “Just Like  a Woman.” The mood lifted, and I was transported back into an unprecedented world of music that still has potency and life. The voice is the biggest contrast. The Times characterizes his voice as “raspy, phlegmy bark that’s not exactly melodic” as if it were a good thing, but on Blonde and Blonde, in the mono mix, it’s clear that his voice as a greatly expressive instrument with no apologies needed.

Everything loops around. Today is just like 1966 where all the smart and popular kids are saying that Dylan’s latest is a masterpiece and I just don’t get it. Looking back years from now the public may see it on par with what is today considered to be his finest. As for my own reaction I’m willing to go with a “it’s not you, Bob, it’s me” defense and give it a few more listens. Even so, I can’t imagine that these dark tales of death and disaster will ever evoke the same feeling as Blonde on Blonde‘s intricate portraits.

I may grow to actually appreciate Tempest, but for now I’d rather listen to music with a bright aura than sounds soaked in doom, gloom and The Titanic.


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Ian Hunter’s Campaign Swing Tue, 04 Sep 2012 05:24:09 +0000 Charlie Bermant Continue reading ]]>

Ian Hunter at Bumbershoot, Sept. 2, 2002

SEATTLE— Ian Hunter has drawn the same fans for ages and they are all here tonight, but this is more than just All the Old Dudes. A new album, a crack band and perfect weather prove that people who’ve followed Hunter for all this time were right in the first place.
When I’m President, released Sept. 4, is comfort music for classic rock refugees who want to remember the spirit but will feel just fine if they never hear “Won’t Get Fooled Again” again. It’s typical as Hunter albums go, with odes to rock and roll mixed with bombastic power ballads and a few surprises. One is “Fatally Flawed,” which starts out gentle and then explodes; two or three times.
“I love the bombast, and how that song goes from naught to ten.” Hunter said.
“I love it when the high drama kicks in.”
Another surprise is the title track, a seemingly educated rant about the elections and the political system. It’s easy to scorn artists who babble on about politics as they are often stupid, disagree with what we know is the truth or both.
“When I’m President” just clicks. The tune a direct descendent of the buoyant rock and roll that has been Hunter’s calling card from the beginning. And at the break  he hits the nail on the head, politically speaking.
“You come in with the best intent when you become president…..but something happens to you up on the hill, it’s business as usual. So you want to buck the system, welcome to the pit and the pendulum.”
“I’m pretty down the middle. But I don’t like the Republican people, it’s a great idea but some of the people who’ve got a hold of it are out of control,” Hunter said.
“It seems like everyone is angry at everyone else and that needs to change.

photos by Charlie Bermant

“But I don’t really want to be president, it’s a horrible job. The very last line in the song is ‘when I’m president pigs are gonna fly so it can be taken as a guy spouting off in a bar. Which is sort of what I’m doing.”

This particular night Hunter and band whip through an hour set of career high points. Four of them were album openers, so it feels like a hit parade. As he’s winding up “Sweet Jane” he says “that’s it” and walks off the stage. The crowd knows there is more to come as “All the Young Dudes” is yet unplayed.
He returns with “Roll Away the Stone,” “Saturday Gigs” and “Dudes,” which he’s played thousands of times but still keeps fresh. The song goes on forever and the crowd does the back and forth wave that started when the song was a hit. Some of the people who waved back then are probably here tonight.
“The audiences haven’t really changed, they’re still crazy, but we are seeing a few more younger people because the older ones have all tottered off,” he said.
“But they act the same. When we had the (2009 Mott the Hoople) reunion in London they were standing up like they always did. I’d say ‘sit down, there’s a seat right behind you’ but they never did.”
A lot of Hunter’s contemporaries won’t play anything more recent than their old hits, but he mixes in some new stuff.
“Portland isn’t one of my strongholds but last night we played six new songs, I thought it was a bit too many but the band had rehearsed them and they sounded great,” Hunter said.
“We surrounded it with stuff they knew but it didn’t seem to matter, they accepted it like anything else.”
Hunter said he tries for a balance of one third new, one third solo hits and one third Mott “but it doesn’t always happen that way.”
Hunter, 73, faces the same challenges as all his old friends, how to keep and satisfy the audiences who showed past passion for his music. He doesn’t seem to have a plan, aside from writing an interactive Q&A on his web site every month. This shuttles between the informative and the obscure, he sometimes provides details but often the notations are clipped: “Irena, Sorry, I don’t.”
But “Horse’s Mouth,” as the column is known, can be a lot of fun; especially for fans who get a personal nod from Hunter that no one else can share.
“I do my best to answer people and just go on from there,” he said.
“They’ve all been very nice to me and I feel that I owe it to them to answer their questions because they’ve looked after me for all these years.
“But before the Web there were pockets of fans everywhere, we’ve given them a way to talk to each other. And we get a lot of travelers at our gigs, which is something that never happened before.”
Even has Hunter releases compelling new music he will always be tied to his past. Strolling around these grounds today I’m telling people I am going to see Ian Hunter. They say “who’s that?” and when I mention Mott the Hoople they go “oh, yeah.”
Hunter’s fame heading Mott was an aberration, it was preceded by years of sweaty gigs  in small places and followed by years of “Who’s that? Oh, yeah.”
According to the documentary “Ballad of Mott the Hoople” these early gigs were full of people who saw the band as their own and were left behind when they became glam rock kings. Those of us who were not early fans then picked up the torch, making it bigger although not always better.
The circle is complete. Hunter is now greeted by an enthusiastic cadre who claim him as their own. There may be other artists following a similar path and generating a replica of the same excitement, but right now this is the center of the world for us.
He didn’t plan this, or any other phase of his career.
“I don’t have any ambition, I never did,” he said.
“I sort of do what I want to do and the next thing comes along, although right now there are 40 gigs I have to play.”

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Rodney Crowell’s Melodic Literacy Mon, 06 Aug 2012 16:56:53 +0000 Charlie Bermant

Rodney Crowell, who turns 62 on August 7, has been on our radar since the 1970s, when he was the freshest horse in Emmylou Harris’ songwriting stable. Since then he’s been a left-of-center presence, a master of diverse categories but a prisoner of none.

He’s always been a words guy, and his latest project, Kin, is a joint effort with writer Mary Karr that features Harris, Norah Jones, Vince Gill. Rosanne Cash and a great LeAnn Womack rave-up, “Momma’s On A Roll.” It’s all about family and relationships; quirky folk and home cooked meals.

Adding to his lit cred he authored a memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks, which talked about his hardscrabble childhood and painted a remarkable portrait of his parents and their influence on his life and music. A lot of musicians are writing books to tell stories we already know in greater detail, but you can be halfway through Crowell’s character driven tome before realizing that he’s not feeding us the true dope about Emmylou or Johnny Cash or life on the road. And that’s a good thing.

This winter Crowell will appear on the Cayamo Cruise, joining Richard Thompson, Buddy Miller, Brandi Carlile and others to create a floating songwriter’s paradise. This will be followed by One Yellow Moon, a duets album he recorded with Harris that has been in the works for a while.

So for Crowell, 62 looks as exciting as 26.

How did ‘Kin’ begin?

I sat down with Mary Karr, she’s a great poet and a writer and was real supportive when I was writing book, so we fell into writing songs. I wasn’t thinking about making a record of any kind. I was just saying to her “you’re brilliant, you’re a language scholar, let’s see what we can do. “ It just caught fire. After five or six songs I knew these weren’t songs that I was going to put on one of my albums, this is a collection of paintings that we need to put on a wall somewhere.
We didn’t set out to get a lot of people on the album on purpose. As we wrote the songs we realized that a lot of the songs had a female narrative and since Mary doesn’t sing we needed a female voice. We thought we’d get one female voice to sing those songs and I’d sing the male parts.
Norah Jones was a big fan of Mary’s and has recorded a couple of my songs, but she could only do one. Emmy hears about it, and it started to grow. It kind of made itself. A lot of my best albums kind of make themselves. There is a kind of art or music or storytelling that comes from a place where there is no design for a marketplace. These kinds of things have worked out better for me than when I was trying to anticipate what somebody wanted to hear.
I had a big success a few years back and didn’t recover fully when it was time to move away from that, I tried to reclaim it and I failed. Somebody gave me too much money, more money than I could handle, so I tried to oblige them with something that wasn’t true to my heart. Now no one’s waving a lot of money at me so I just do what I want to do.

What worked, and didn’t?

I made a few records, Let the Picture Paint Itself and Jewel of the South. If you but them both together you could get three quarters of a pretty good record. But I wouldn’t buy those albums. Sex and Gasoline has some of my best work, that one was overlooked. It happens. There is a natural flow in an artist’s career when things are happening in other corners of the room. You might have a really good piece of work that doesn’t get noticed. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s not that people don’t care, it just means that the universe is elsewhere.

And you can’t force it.

I can’t. Back at the Brill Building they certainly could do it but it was a different time. The language hadn’t been poured over the coals. They were coming up with an interesting and compelling new language, and it is a lot harder to do that in 2012 than it was in 1967.
I work better when my intuition is leading the charge, if I follow my intuition and my heart chances are it will be more timeless. If my brain gets involved in trying to run the show chances are I’m going to come up short.

How did you end up on Cayamo?

I don’t really know, someone suggested me. I’m a decent songwriter so there was a movement that said “you’ve never had this guy on the boat.” I’ve gone on a boat before, Delbert McClinton has a blues cruise, I loved the music and the playing but the boats get a little queasy sometimes.

Will you bring a band?

I haven’t made up my mind, when I get some more information I’ll see what works best. Since it’s a songwriter cruise it might be better to be more acoustic. I attach a lot of importance to language, and I want people to hear the words. You want to move people and get people to move, that’s the balance we need to strike.
Sometimes when I play with a drummer and electric guitars I can’t hear anything. The other night my band was playing and they were really blowing, then I came out for the encore and sang with Emmylou. Her band was so quiet and I could hear every note I was singing. So I was thinking “why can’t my guys behave?”

What’s next for you?

There is the duets record with Emmy, we just finished mastering it today and it will be out early next year. With Emmy and I, our paths have crossed, we came up around the same time in the 1970s, and we always talked about making a record of songs that we liked and both wanted to sing. There are old Roger Miller and Kris Kristofferson songs, we thought that we don’t have to write these songs so we might as well just have fun.
I also have another solo album that’s almost done. So I have some stuff in the pipeline.

If you were building the Mt. Rushmore of American music which four artists would you include?

Hank Williams, Howling Wolf, Ray Charles and Bob Dylan. I’d also have to add Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. I’m going to need six.

photo: Allen Messer

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Levon This World Fri, 20 Apr 2012 01:03:36 +0000 Charlie Bermant Continue reading ]]> Social networking has changed how we hear bad news and how we grieve. We’ve known that not all was well with Levon Helm for several months, he would cancel shows for ailments and operations but we all thought that he would last forever-or at least until we could make it up to Woodstock for a Midnight Ramble.

On Tuesday we knew that wasn’t going to happen, as Helm’s family released a statement that the singer was in the last stages of cancer treatment. The response was remarkable. After the announcement on Facebook about 100 people a minute left a comment of love and support. Four hours after his death an astounding 5,000 comments were registered. You wouldn’t read all of them unless you were family, even then the comments all start to sound alike. But in the same way that funerals are for the living, comment boards allow fans and admirers to have their say regardless of whether anyone’s listening. Besides. Levon’s funeral, if there is one, is not an event that many of us will be invited to.

The death-by-misadventure common in the old days was traumatic because the artists in question hadn’t reached their peak and had more to say. If Jimi Hendrix were alive today he’d probably be on par with Bob Dylan and Neil Young as a senior statesman. Or maybe he’d be playing casinos like Eric Burdon and the Beach Boys. You never know.

Death by old age is another story. It’s less traumatic because you see it coming. And even though Levon has had a recent creative spurt, he is most celebrated for what he did long ago. We loved him for what he did while with The Band, and never fail to get a big kick out of watching him strut through The Last Waltz. Which I’m going to watch all the way through tonight, turned up loud.

Levon was a survivor. He lived through drugs, the death of his bandmates, financial ruin and Robbie Robertson. He had carved a niche for himself in Woodstock, playing weekly house concerts that allowed anyone who made the trip and paid for a ticket to get up close and personal with people you last saw play in stadiums. The trip could take a lot out of you, but the tickets, at $150, weren’t all that dear. You can pay more than that for an arena show and still need binoculars.

I did the Ramble one year ago thinking it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience but planned to do it again on my next trip east. It wasn’t as hard for me as some people, as I lived in Woodstock as a child and still have a place to stay. While some of the Rambles are pretty star-studded, my night was relatively benign celebrity-wise, although I did get to see Hubert Sumlin whip off some great solos while tethered to an oxygen tank. I was maybe twelve feet away from Levon, but as luck would have it there was a cymbal that prevented me from watching too closely. That always happens with me and drummers.

I was happy enough to be in the room with Levon and his buddies, and didn’t care who wasn’t there. Even when I looked at a list of past Ramble guests it didn’t really matter. Over the past year they hosted Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne and Garth Hudson. Robbie Robertson never made it it over, although Levon’s manager told me she was in touch with Robbie’s manager, standing by in case the two antagonists finally buried the hatchet.

We don’t know what really went on between these two, but that doesn’t stop us from speculating. The idea that Robertson took credit for joint work, which translated into increased royalties, has the ring of truth. His statements over the past week also seem a bit disingenuous, from his Facebook page: “Levon is one of the most extraordinary talented people I’ve ever known and very much like an older brother to me. I am so grateful I got to see him one last time and will miss him and love him forever.”

OK, fine. But you had 30 years to call him up and explain yourself, or convince him that he was wrong about you. Again from Facebook: “On Sunday I went to New York and visited him in the hospital. I sat with Levon for a good while, and thought of the incredible and beautiful times we had together.” Can you imagine that scene, with Robbie and Amy and Libby Titus and Donald Fagen all around Levon’s bed? Did anyone regret that it didn’t happen ten years ago, when two virile-yet-aging compadres could have yelled, screamed, cried and hugged, then gone inside for a beer instead of sitting around a bed thinking about beautiful times?

Again, we’ll never know. But this is a lesson for all of us, how if reconciliation is important you should never leave it up to the other guy to make the first move.

You can’t imagine what it’s like inside the Helm household tonight, or the converted barn which has hosted so many outstanding musicians and fans for the past seven years. But it would be cool if the Rambles could continue in some way. The idea that a loose connection of really good players could meet weekly in an intimate location for a musical free for all that has only a slight resemblance to a standard concert. It would never be how it was before, since the centerpiece will no longer be sitting at the drums with that big wide smile.

Levon’s gone, but the idea doesn’t have to die with him. Maybe someone should start a franchise of Rambles, one in every town. where a movable cast of characters perform intimately for themselves and the fans. Or maybe we should all stay home, brew some tea, and crank up The Last Waltz at full blast.

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