Even Rock Stars Need A Hug Sometimes*

August 29, 2012

It surely doesn’t suck to be a rock star.

You get to travel to exotic locales, demand waffles at any hour, and stay up as late as you want, as often as you want.

You also get a helicopter.

Having had the chance to meet or speak with some successful musicians, it’s still an abstraction to me to think of them dealing with the things – trivial or not – that we mere mortals must.

But even successful musicians, obviously, do have friction in their lives.

In 2002, I had the opportunity to interview Louie Perez of Los Lobos, coinciding with the band’s then new album Good Morning Aztlan. It was the perennially critically-acclaimed act’s third straight album on a different label.

Mammoth Records, which was issuing the release, would fold a couple years later.

Los Lobos had fifteen years separating them from their brief period of mainstream success with the music from the bio-pic La Bamba.

Since their last album, three years earlier, band member Cesar Rosas’ wife had been abducted and murdered.

As I interviewed Perez, he was courteous and pleasant, giving well-considered answers, but something seemed not quite right. I think I flat out asked him if he was OK.

He noted some of the adversity that the band had endured.

He sounded worn.

“But you’re in Los Lobos, man.”

(I think I actually said “man”)

“How cool is that?”

“Yeah, it is pretty cool,” he agreed, seeming to be re-energized at the thought.

It’s not every day you get to cheer up an integral part of a truly great band.

Impossible to pigeon-hole, here are four songs that hardly scratch the surface of the breadth of Los Lobos’ catalog…

Los Lobos – Will The Wolf Survive
from How Will The Wolf Survive? (1984)

I remember knowing of Los Lobos through the glowing reviews when How Will The Wolf Survive? was released in 1984. And I remember hearing Will The Wolf Survive on Q95, an album-rock station which was among my staples at the time.

I didn’t get it.

(some years later, I would finally catch up)

Los Lobos – Kiko And The Lavender Moon
from Kiko (1992)

Children of immigrants, Los Lobos cut their teeth, in the words of All Music Guide, “playing parties, wedding receptions, restaurants, bars, and anyplace else where someone might pay them for a gig” for a decade before finding success.

Drawing on the music of their Latino heritage, the band incorporated traditional folk, country, R&B, and rock into the mix with virtuoso musicianship.

In 1992, Los Lobos released Kiko, their collaboration with noted producer Mitchell Froom, and proved that they could do experimental rock as well as any of the modern rock bands of the period.

Los Lobos – Tony Y Maria
from Good Morning Aztlan (2002)

With the upcoming election, there will no doubt be folks hopping mad over illegal immigrants. Of course, there would be no work for illegal immigrants if the CEOs of companies hiring them would be held accountable, but that won’t happen.

The lovely Tony Y Maria details the struggle of the titular characters, a couple wanting nothing more than a life together and to provide for their children. It’s a simple, plaintive song that is a reminder that, at the heart of the arguments and debates, there are real people.

Los Lobos – The Word
from Good Morning Aztlan (2002)

Good Morning Aztlan found Los Lobos working with producer John Leckie, known for his work with bands like XTC, Radiohead, and Stone Roses. Not that the soulful The Word would remind a listener of any of those bands.

Instead, The Word simmers and soars, with a groove and socially-conscious lyrics that evoke the spirit of early ’70s R&B.

It’s intoxicating, thought-provoking, and altogether glorious.

“Am I the only one around here who gives a @#%! about the rules?”

August 25, 2012

I know that Walter Sobcheck does, indeed, give a @#%! about them. He was willing to send Smokey into “a world of pain” for a foot foul in The Big Lebowski.

Admittedly, Walter was a bit extreme and Smokey – as you know if you’ve seen the movie – had emotional problems besides pacifism.

(but, unlike ‘nam, there are rules in bowling)

I kept thinking about Walter as I drank coffee and watched ESPN’s coverage of Lance Armstrong being stripped of his Tour de France triumphs over doping allegations. I was unsurprised that public opinion revealed a groundswell of vigorous support for the cyclist.

I am not a cyclist, a doctor, or a chemist.

I am a sports fan, so I’ve casually followed Armstrong’s saga and know the basic plot points.

I have no more idea than you likely do as to whether he cheated or not.

I do know that one recurring argument I keep hearing is that, because of his status as a cancer survivor, because of his contributions to cancer research, and because he has provided inspiration and hope to millions, Lance Armstrong should be left alone.

If Armstrong is guilty of what is alleged and he did cheat, he probably did so for the reason that most humans throughout time have cheated – he stood to benefit.

His altruistic efforts are laudable and deserve kudos, but Armstrong has certainly been rewarded for his cycling success and the possibility of that success being ill-gotten is troubling.

Troubling not so much in the context of Armstrong and what he may or may not have done, but troubling in that there seems to be a lot of ends justifying the means going on everywhere.

I’ve observed in the corporate world a willingness to bend the rules that has become pervasive. It’s business, it’s said, and, if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.

But there are repercussions to massaging the truth so you or someone higher up on the corporate food chain might have enough scratch and stock options to be able to replace organs or own a back-up yacht.

In the financial world, the numeric voodoo and dishonest culture that seems to be so accepted has left the global economy in shambles and millions in distress.

If Armstrong cheated, I suppose that he could be accused of robbing someone else of the chance to achieve their dreams and to bask in glory. Yes, that would be unfortunate, but not quite on the scale of vaporizing the economy.

So, when all is said and done, I’m not particularly concerned about Lance Armstrong. He seems to have retained a lot of support and, though his world might not be seashells and balloons, he should still be good.

I’m more concerned about Monday morning.

I will commute to work and spend the week walking a tightrope. The more honest I am with clients, the more I’m at a disadvantage which well might be my undoing because, apparently, only Walter Sobcheck gives a @#%! about the rules.

Walter also said, “@#%! it, Dude, let’s go bowling.”

Here are four songs that appeared in The Big Lebowski

Townes Van Zandt – Dead Flowers
from The Big Lebowski soundtrack (1998)

Songwriter friends I have known revere the catalog of Townes Van Zandt and I’ve dug the little of the late Texan’s work that I know. The Big Lebowski made use of a live recording of Van Zandt’s cover of The Rolling Stone’s Dead Flowers.

Kenny Rogers & The First Edition – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
from The Big Lebowski soundtrack (1998)

Kenny Rogers cracks me up, but Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) is pretty groovy and surprised me the first time that I heard it.

The Gipsy Kings – Hotel California
from The Big Lebowski soundtrack (1998)

The Dude had strong feelings regarding The Eagles and, needless to say, he wasn’t going to go bowling with Frey and Henley. Perhaps he was more of a fan of The Gipsy Kings flamenco-styled take on one of The Eagles’ classics.

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Run Through the Jungle
from Chronicle: The 20 Greatest Hits (1976)

The Dude lost his Creedence tapes, along with his briefcase and some business papers, when his car was stolen. Fortunately – and despite the pessimism of the officers handling his case – he did get his car and his Creedence tapes back.

Run Through The Jungle was among CCR’s impressive string of brilliant singles that the band seemed to churn out at will during a three-year stretch in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

In the ’80s, with lead singer John Fogerty having a successful return to music with Centerfield, it was Run Through The Jungle that Fogerty was accused of plagiarizing for his The Old Man Down The Road by his former label president.

It’s The Journey Not The Destination

August 23, 2012

Most summers, from the time I was a small child until I left for college, there was a week, sometimes two, spent in western Pennsylvania, visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and such.

And as this was the ’70s and ’80s, long before humans had the ability to teleport, there was an eight-hour trip in the car to reach our destination.

These ventures usually took place in the waning weeks of summer break, the hottest time of the year and in a a car without air conditioning.

(hell, maybe we did have air conditioning, but I wouldn’t know as it was never used)

It was eight hours rolling through the blandness of Ohio, sweating, without television, jockeying with my brother for back seat terrain like nations squabbling over a few miles of dirt.

The journey there had an undercurrent of anticipation to sustain us through the dullness. As the grandchildren who were not local, heard of but seldom seen, we were rock stars.

On the way home, the road went on forever. Often, we were returning home to the start of school within days. It would be on that interminable slog that the grim truth was undeniable.

Summer was cooked as surely as I was being being cooked in the backseat of the car, some of those precious, final hours of the glorious, sun-drenched bliss of summer break were slipping away.

As this annual ritual played out in late August, 1981, I was thirteen.

For the first time, I sought refuge in the radio to cope with the ceaseless boredom and it was on that return trip that I first heard Journey’s Who’s Crying Now?

I must have heard the song a dozen times during those eight hours, becoming more enthralled with each listen.

We pulled into the driveway at home and the first thing I did as I settled in my bedroom was turn on the radio, wanting to hear Who’s Crying Now? one more time.

Here are four songs that I might have heard while trying to get one more Journey fix…

Foreigner – Urgent
from Foreigner 4 (1981)

You’ve got Junior Walker adding sax and Thomas Dolby playing synthesizer – on a Foreigner record. It’s lots of fun.

Personally, I never really understood the critical angst over Foreigner. Foreigner 4 – like much of the band’s output up to that point – is some fantastic, straight-ahead rock.

(of course, I grew up in the Midwest and, during the late ’70s and early ’80s, Foreigner was inescapable)

Billy Squier – The Stroke
from Don’t Say No (1981)

For a few years, Billy Squier was a rock god amongst my classmates in junior high and high school. Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion must have resided in everyone’s collections and songs like In The Dark, My Kinda Lover, and Everybody Wants You were staples on the rock radio stations.

It was The Stroke, though, with its anthemic sturm und drang, singalong chorus, and martial cadence that was everyone’s favorite.

Electric Light Orchestra – Hold On Tight
from Time (1981)

My childhood buddy Will loved ELO. At least he loved the song Don’t Bring Me Down enough to own the 45 and, if I had a dime for every time he played it during those years, I would be writing this from a hammock…on the beach…of an island…that I owned.

Hold On Tight is effortlessly infectious like so much of ELO’s stuff. One day I truly need to delve into their catalog as any band that churned out as many catchy songs as they did likely has some equally worthwhile tracks that didn’t make it to radio.

Don Felder – Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)
from Heavy Metal soundtrack (1981)

It was mostly Top 40 that I was listening to as that summer ended in ’81. I might have known the term heavy metal, but I doubt that I could have named a band within the genre or described it.

Don Felder’s Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride) was hardly metal, but it rocked harder than a lot of the music I was hearing and, as it came from the soundtrack to an R-rated cartoon that none of us were allowed to see, it had added cachet at the time.

Thirty years later, I still think it’s a wickedly cool song.