Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Wise Men Are All Fools

The song "Last to Die" was just broadcast on The Today Show Sunday Edition.

On the initial mp3's that passed around earlier this month, I liked the song, didn't really love it.
But live, it just slaughtered. Maybe it was different because the sound was so clear or the voice so upfront in the mix so I could understand the words, but it just seemed to me to be the most powerful damn thing I've heard from Bruce in about... I dunno, forever. Even with the audience shots of folks clapping along, having a "good" time.

Just so many lines in the song that leap out. Kids asleep in the backseat, maybe a reminder of "Seeds," with a different kind of numbness and rage.
Today falls during the festival of Sukkoth, when traditionally the biblical text Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) is read. Koheleth asked, "What advantage does the wise man have over the fool?"
Well... what if the (self-proclaimed) wise men are fools? Do we then just hear the cries of those who rule among fools?

There's nothing new under the sun, all the while we burn. The last to die? It's you or me, spiritually it's all of us.
Anyone who missed it, go out to or to youtube and catch it online. Or just click on the embed.

last to die

we took the highway till
the road went black
we'd marked, Truth or
Consequences on our map
a voice drifted up from the radio
and I thought of a voice from long ago

who'll be the last to die for a mistake
the last to die for a mistake
whose blood will spill, whose heart wil break
who'll be the last to die, for a mistake

kids asleep in the backseat
we're just counting the miles, you and me
we don't measure the blood
we've drawn anymore
we just stack the bodies outside the door

who'll be the last to die for a mistake
the last to die for a mistake
whose blood will spill, whose heart wil break
who'll be the last to die, for a mistake

the wise men were all fools, what to do

the sun sets in flames as the city burns
another day gone down as the night turns
and I hold you here in my heart
as things fall apart

a downtown window flushed with light
"faces of the dead at five"
our martyr's silent eyes
petition the drivers as we pass by

who'll be the last to die for a mistake
the last to die for a mistake
darlin' will tyrants and kings
fall to the same fate
strung up at your city gates
who'll be the last to die for a mistake

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Just Looking for Some Inspiration... and finding it

In late August, I received an email from an account manager at Special Ops Media in New York, asking if I might be interested in receiving a review copy of Patti Scialfa’s new album Play It as It Lays and post a review of it. It was a form letter, likely sent to anyone with a reasonably well-known Springsteen website. Nonetheless, having liked Patti’s first two albums well enough, not minding receiving promo material, and without promising what type of review I might give, I figured that yes, I might just be interested.

The disc arrived August 31, which, as anyone who has read any of my other recent blog entries might know, was about the worst possible day to arrive. August turned to September, my priorities turned to those of mourning, and the package did not make the trip to New Jersey. I asked a long-time friend if he wouldn’t mind writing the review for me.

Three weeks have passed. I’m returning to some semblance of normalcy. Patti’s album was released, to occasionally glowing reviews. Bruce’s album leaked more than two weeks ago, and my blog piece on that was picked up by Harp, generating about 1500 hits for an otherwise low volume site. Another friend tried to cheer me up by floating over an advance copy of another artist’s upcoming CD (it worked, the CD is a gem). But I didn’t get my ghost-written review for Patti, and so finally I opened the package for myself.

First, the downside – and really, there’s only one. The packaging sucks. At least, on the review copy. The inserts aren’t there. No credits – and on this album, I’d like to be able to hand some out. Just a watermarked CD in a plain red Columbia paper slip case.

The album, however, rocks. I worried a bit as to how I might write the review if I didn’t really like the record, but I needn’t have bothered: I love it. This is Patti’s best album to date. Her singing, which sometimes on her first two albums made her sound like she was trying too hard to be someone else (e.g., Rickie Lee Jones) is assured and confident. The vocal harmonies are exquisite, and the band is excellent.

The opening track, “Looking for Elvis,” throws down the gauntlet: Through remembrances of Septembers past, of looking for inspiration and for "something to rock her soul," of vivid dreams and awakening to carnival dust, the singer declares, "Stand up and deliver if you want my trust." The track features a searing bullet-mic harmonica part by Bruce Springsteen, punctuated at the end by his vocal calls through the mic; anyone who remembers his use of the mic during the “Devils & Dust” tour would recall the sound. (But anyone looking specifically for Bruce on this album may be disappointed; despite his presence on several tracks it’s his only prominent moment.)

Some songs brought back melodic ghosts for me: “Town Called Heartbreak” reminded me of Southside Johnny’s “Why is Love Such a Sacrifice” -- on which Patti sang harmony, way back when. “Play Around,” called up images of at least half a dozen of Bruce’s songs, though the more I let it rattle around the more it seemed – oddly, to me – to conjure up an answer, 20 years on, to his song “All that Heaven Will Allow” (with a bit of “Two Faces” thrown in for good measure). But while I might go looking back to ‘60’s R&B or some such on some songs, mostly I could just lay back and enjoy the groove.

Another temptation is to evaluate whether this album is a confessional. Particularly since the man, in most of the songs, seems like nobody’s prize. I tend to think it's not… but were I to make an exception, it would be for the final two cuts, in particular the album’s title track. In it, the singer addresses her partner, acknowledging the bad as well as the good, and ultimately decides to “play it as it lays.”

As for the album, I can just play it. If it ultimately gets lost due to Bruce’s disc that is coming out in just two weeks, that’ll be a shame, as this disc deserves to be played, often.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A little Magic - addendum

It seems my last blog entry got noticed at Harp Magazine. Which means a couple things:
  1. Traffic went up; more than 100 visitors found the way via that magazine
  2. I get to see how other writers interpret what I had to say.
The piece starts like this:
Springsteen’s New Magic Album Leaked In Its Entirety Online
Fred Mills
September 7, 2007

Despite stringent security precautions on the part of Columbia Records to keep Bruce Springsteen’s new album Magic under wraps until its official Oct. 2 release date, as of this morning MP3s of the entire album were flying around the Internet faster than you could say “Rosie, come out tonight!”

Twelve songs in all had been posted to various websites or file-sharing services—one of them, “Terry’s Song,” about Springsteen’s late friend Terry Magovern, is reportedly a track that isn’t on the album and will presumably turn up as a bonus or a B-side.

In short order, the bloggers ground into action:

At the Matt Orel “Orel Family” blog a fairly in-depth, and somewhat critical, review of the album was posted.

ok, "fairly in-depth," I like that. And I guess it was "somewhat critical," though overall I do like what I've heard on the first 4-5 listens.

Mostly, I was relating the nearly... ahem... magical timing of this material becoming available, to where I was personally in the immediate aftermath of my father's passing. Of course, Bruce has dealt with death throughout his career, whether directly (e.g., recent songs "Silver Palomino" and "Terry's Song") or more generally (e.g., at least 2-3 songs probably on every album). And there's always an aspect to carrying on, despite that darkness: Gonna be a twister to blow everything down that ain't got the strength/faith to stand its ground. That's what this week is for, in my tradition, and I can relate to that. Even if the new album wasn't quite all I hoped it would be on first listen.

I should note one more item about my first listens to Magic: Listening to mp3s on poor speakers is always a risky proposition. I transferred over to a more respectable system yesterday, and noticed that the compression on the mp3s was very noticeable. I expect it will sound much, much better on the official release.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bruce Springsteen and a little Magic

I’m sitting here, trying to come to terms. So far as grieving goes, I’m somewhere between denial, anger and acceptance right now. Part of me wants to yell at my dad, “how could you have done this?” but then I remind myself that he’s the one who’s gone. People coming and going from the same house where I grew up. So many of the appliances and furnishings and even wall hangings have remained unchanged from the 1960’s. Everything’s the same. Some of the kids I went to elementary school with, I’ve seen their parents these last 3 days. Or the kids, some of them still live in town, some of them came back. There are too many desserts. Way too many. More keep coming in, and we can’t keep up, and there’s one less person eating them, anyway. Cousins I haven’t seen in 20 years, super 8 movies to thread for the first time ever (dad always did that), we can all see ourselves from happier times in 1968.

As I write, washing over me are the sounds of “Long Walk Home,” a track from the soon-to-be-released album Magic, by Bruce Springsteen. Hey pretty darling, don’t wait for me, it’s gonna be a long walk home. It’s a throwback album, something like what he might have made after the Gary US Bonds albums of the early ‘80’s, almost. The album isn’t due out until October, but it leaked this afternoon, and it’s been some time since I’ve needed a tonic quite like this. When they built you brother, they broke the mold.

Love is a power greater than death. Well, not quite.

My father was a great fan of swing music in general, and of Benny Goodman in particular. That was his music. He didn’t show off his knowledge very often, but if you put on any old jazz record for him, within a couple bars he’d tell you the song, the band, the players, and if it was a song with multiple versions, he’d tell you which one. In 1986, my sister graduated from college in California, and the family all came out for it. Benny Goodman died that weekend. My dad was 65, and for the first time I saw him look like an old man, as if his youth had just been robbed.

“Magic” isn’t an unqualified success for me yet, though I like it enough. “Radio Nowhere,” with its strident beat and a tune vaguely reminiscent of the Tommy Tutone hit “8675309,” gets the album off to a good start, but “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” just never seems to get off the ground, with riffs that seemed pulled from the back catalogue and a sax part that I can only describe as perfunctory. “Livin’ in the Future” is maybe my favorite track so far: Livin’ in the future and none of this has happened yet. But of course it has, the nightmare is here. But we can still dance and groove. The song is light, almost a cross between old J. Geils and Bruce’s own composition “Out of Work.”

Unfortunately, too many of the tracks that follow seem to drag. This is particularly true of “Your Own Worst Enemy,” and the Beach Boys style song “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” which had my brother commenting that “for this song half the crowd will be snoring and the other half will be sending their husbands out for beer,” and while that may add up to one half too many, it’s not yet easy for me to envision that one working live. The low point for me so far is “I’ll Work for Your Love,” in which the Catholic imagery is overdone to cringe point.

A few years ago, my dad told a story of traveling from his Army post at Fort Ord down to Los Angeles to see Benny Goodman play. He’d never told me he’d traveled for his favorite artist, but now I started to understand a kinship. I asked him, about how many times did he see Benny Goodman. “About 19.” Not 18 or 20? “Nineteen.” There was nothing more to say. I just smiled.

“Gypsy Biker” starts off with a harmonica wail that sounds like the studio version of “Empty Sky,” always a highlight. “Magic” is one of the few tracks that depart from the classic E Street sound, and it’s among those that work best: Leave everything you know and carry only what you fear. It reminded me a bit of “Nothing Man” and “Further On (Up the Road).” The other more topical songs – “Last to Die” and “Devil’s Arcade,” also worked well for me.

I don’t know that I’m ready to see this tour. I won’t try for tickets when they go on sale this weekend. Maybe later, maybe when I’m more ready.

I watched a video today, my own wedding. At the end of the chair dance, when we put him down, the video shows him coming over to me and hugging me. Maybe the only time, ever, at least like that. I had forgotten that little detail. And part of me wants to yell at him again, but I can’t, not quite. So I’ll sit here a little more, listen again, and try to come to terms.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

November 25, 2006

Yesterday one of my best friends and I were having an email discussion on some things, including my ailing dad. He ended one email by saying, "it’s always sounded to me like there was as much affection as respect between the two of you and that is a very good thing. And he kept the Chevy."

Yes, he did. Not that he kept it in perfect condition, but he did keep it.

So I wrote back:
Did I tell you about our last trip to NJ as a family? Aaron always asks to go for a ride in the Chevy. So, last day home, he convinced my dad to start it up. After a couple tries, he got it running. It wasn't exactly stable, but it ran. Then he said to get in, I figured he'd take it around the block. But, noooooooo!! He goes past the school. and out to Millburn Avenue. Holy shit, we're all going to die. And the kids aren't even scared! Then he turned on to Vauxhall Road! My dad was never much of a driver anyway, and I'm wondering if he's totally lost his mind. Then he kept going! Out to Librty Avenue, and on to I-78!! I'm basically gripping anything I can now; the car doesn't have seatbelts. He took it halfway to the airport before getting off the freeway, and then coming back home. Whitest knuckle ride of my life. And Aaron wanted more. So I took over behind the wheel, and drove it around the neighborhood, feeling my pulse return to something approximating normal.

So, last night, I went in to iPhoto and found the photographic evidence. Here it is, from November 25, 2006, Millburn, NJ, and some scary places nearby:

It starts with Dad driving Aaron around the block. This part isn't so scary.

Now Elianna has gotten in, and I'm in too, and we are all trapped!

I won't swear it, but I think this was on I-78. I figured there might as well be some evidence in the aftermath...

I think Aaron enjoyed it more.

And somehow, we all made it home in one piece. I'm in the reflection of the garage window.

Two final pictures:
November 23, 2006. When we went in for Thanksgiving, Aaron loved a chance to use the electric knife on to help carve the turkey.

November 26, 2006. The last full family photo.

If you have any remembrances, please comment.
Leo Orel, 1920-2007.