A toast to those who are gone. And those who are still here.
Amy Farris: great fiddler from Austin; most recently one of Dave Alvin's Guilty Women.
Larry Knechtel: part of Spector's Wrecking Crew; Larry played the signature piano part on Bridge Over Troubled Water; I remember him most fondly for his work with Costello on Mighty Like Rose and the tour for that album. Check out "The Other Side of Summer."
Jim Dickinson: Memphis great. Played on Wild Horses. Alex Chilton did his best work with Jim: Third/Sister Lovers + the oft-neglected Like Flies on Sherbert, an album that rivals John Cale's Music for a New Society for its renegade spontaneity. If you can find it, check out Dickinson's Dixie Fried lp from the early seventies (I found it for a dollar at AKA!). His got the Dixie Flyers with him including the late great Charlie Freeman (you can read about him in Stanley Booth's Rythm Oil). The album was made at Criteria Studios in Miami. You gotta here Jim's take on Louise by Paul Siebel (another lost hero ... Paul, are you out there?).
John Updike: The Rabbit books are peerless. But after he died, I dove into a bunch more including Couples (Piet Hanema may be even more sympathetic than Rabbit Angstrom) and Villages (it's amazing how horny Updike remained ... into his seventies. He calls sex a vacation from life in this book Hmmm. Anyway, Updike has got to the be the greatest writer to come out of Pennsylvania. Maybe the greatest writer of his generation.
Willy Deville: How did I miss this guy during his lifetime? I remember reading about Mink Deville (the name of his band that emerged from the CBGBs scene of the late seventies) but I somehow never managed to hear them/him. Well, this dude is worth seeking out. Track down whatever you can (I've got a cool collection of the Capitol stuff and his 2nd one for Atlantic, Where Angels Fear to Tread). I thought Lou Reed had a corner on making poetry and song outta junkiedom. Wrong. Listen to Willy sing "Mixed Up Shook Up Girl" from the Mink's debut album. "Candle lit // My eyes are slits // Jumping now! // Paperclip." I had to research this one. Turns out the you can use a paperclip to heat up black tar heroin. The Velvets were great. But Lou Reed could never croon the word "paperclip" like Willy does. Also check out: Storybook Love from the Princess Bride. A stunningly simple and beautiful song. Shit, Doc Pomus thought the world of Willy and wrote a bunch of songs with him (that appeared on Le Chat Bleu). Enough said, right?
Elvis Costello: Still my number one guy. For his voice, his continued songwriting ability, his fearlessness, and performance skills. I caught him at the Count Basie Theater (Red Bank, NJ) and Wolf Trap (Vienna, VA) as well. He was touring with a bluegrass band including Jerry Douglas and Stuart Duncan. I was initially luke warm on EC's new record (Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane) but after hearing the songs set in relief with those from King of America (my favorite EC record), everything made sense. Especially a wonderful ballad EC composed with Loretta Lynn. He said she showed up for the songwriting session with a box a lyrics, fragments dashed down on cereal boxes etc. The title of this song says it all: "I felt the chill before the winter came." Indeed.
Bruce Springsteen: I caught two of the recent Spectrum shows. I don't really understand this concept of playing an entire record. Isn't the point of a live performance to arrange songs from one's repertoire in an interesting and compelling way for the audience? And, let's face it, nothing Bruce has done flows like, say, Dark Side of the Moon (that isn't a knock, by the way). Darkness didn't hold up so well as a performance piece. Though "Something in the Night" into "Candy's Room" into "Racing in the Streets" was as good a triple shot as I've ever heard from the man. A few nights later, the performance of BTR worked better. The performances of Thunder Road, Backstreets, and Jungleland were fantastic. Bruce sometimes sings around his great melodies. Not on this night. And during Backstreets, he went into an almost Van Morrison like trance about "the end." It was tough, man. To be sure, my favorite Bruce show of 2009 was during Round One of the Working on a Dream Tour, especially Seeds into Johnny 99 into the Ghost of Tom Joad. Seeds had a Stonesy/Exile feel that really pushed the tale of hard times and relocation. Johnny 99 was a Rockabilly Rave-up: the old Hank Williams trick of happy music married to grim lyrics. And Joad electric (replete with a Nils Lofgren guitar workout) is even more relevant today than when Bruce courageously wrote it during our so-called prosperous Clinton years. Bruce is a hero.
Bob Dylan: My pal Mark and I went for hardshell crabs at a shack in Aberdeen. Then we headed over to Ripken Stadium for one of these Bob Dylan Show things. Willie Nelson phoned it in. Mellencamp is dreadful. And Bob was ... well ... Bob. Highs and Lows. But since this is a toast to those who are still here, I'll focus on the former. Forgetful Heart which isn't so memorable on Bob's new one (Together Through Life) was a revelation live. Bob stood in front of the band singing and playing harp. Some of his best harp work I've heard since the Gospel Tours of the late seventies and early 80s (have you guys ever heard the harp solo on "What Can I do For You" from Saved? Track down the Massey Hall recording from 1980). Allen Ginsburg says in No Direction Home that Bob at his peak was like a column of air. I didn't really undertstand what Allen was talking about until I heard "Forgetful Heart" while standing on a soggy baseball diamond in Maryland.
On the Horizon for John Train:
All of your Stories: Mike and I made a cassette live to DAT in 1995. People have been asking me about it for years. It appears that All of Your Stories will get a release sometime in the near future. There'll be some bonus cuts including, I hope, a couple of newly recorded numbers.
No More: I also hope to get started on a new John Train album before too long. Maybe a Fall 2010 release or January 2011. Phil Ochs wrote one called "No More Songs." We're gonna take it a step further: No More. Period.
Remember to check out the new Slo-Mo record, Gimme What You Got. I think it's their best yet. Buy it. Don't steal it. You know what EC says: would you go into a museum and take a painting off the wall and walk out with it? Uh. Maybe you would. The Train Army does have some unprincipled scoundrels in its ranks, right?
John Train itself will be at Fergie's through November 13th. Come on by if you can. We need your support if we're gonna keep this thing going as a FREE gig.
Alright, friends. Hugs and kisses and all the best wishes:
Jon, October 2009