Monthly Archives: December 2007

A glance back, as I walk forward

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So, 2007? Not my favorite year. Too many people lost, too much pointless violence and idiocy, too little love.

But the one thing on which I can always depend, live music, came through yet again.

In that spirit, I’m going to share my personal favorite live music experiences of 2007, in hopes that it will make you take a moment to remember your favorite shows, or the things that did shine through and make your year past worthwhile.

Here’s the list shows that saved my ass in 2007:

Greg Dulli and friends – ‘A Drink for the Kids’ benefit at the Triple Door, 2nd night 10/4: I never thought I’d get to see Mr. Dulli in such a setting, and still can’t believe that I have. The second night was the raucous one, where everything came together musically and energy-wise, and I was thrilled to get the chance to hear “Front Street” both nights, a song off of the forthcoming Gutter Twins record, which I strongly suspect will be my favorite record of 2008.

Queens of the Stone Age – Bakersfield 7/23, Boise 7/27, Portland 12/17: Yeah, I know, that’s cheating, putting 3 shows in one. Frankly, I don’t give a crap. These are my boys, and I miss them like mad when they’re not on the road, so their return with a new record was one the highlights of my whole damned year. I saw the whole West Coast leg of “The Duluth Tour”, so why’d I pick these shows? Well, there was just *something* special about Bakersfield. It was the first of the small venue shows, and the looks on the guys’ faces during the first few songs was relief/amazement, as they realized via the crowd’s reaction that the small venues were the absolutely right choice to make. Boise was memorable because everything had come together: a enthusiastic but not brutish crowd, all cylinders were finely tuned and firing perfectly musically, and even the environment (both club and weather outside) just seemed suited to this band. The show was loose, crisp, and solidly fun (an appearance by Mr. Hughes didn’t hurt that at all). Finally, Portland is near to my heart for having one of the best Queens’ crowds I’ve seen yet (I haven’t met a PDX crowd yet that I don’t love), for finally getting to hear “In the Fade” again (it’s not nice to make a girl cry on her birthday, but this time, it was certainly okay), and for the generally snarkiness and playfulness happening on stage and with the audience. (Though I’m *still* laughing at the Rick Astley lyrical nod from the Seattle show.) And somehow, I managed to hear “Fun Machine” live at least 5 times, each version miles better than the previous.

Bjork – Sasquatch 5/26: Stellar. There are few words adequate, really. I’d been told by folks whom I admire to see her for years, but only got my first chance this year. She’s now on my “must see whenever possible” list.

Bad Brains – Sasquatch 5/27: One of the bands that I’d always wanted to see, but figured I’d never get the chance to experience. Have never been more glad to be wrong. Now, if I could only see them in a club (though this festival experience had a crowd that really got into it and made it feel like a smaller club show).

Goon Moon – Chop Suey 12/6: Having only had one other opportunity to see Mr. Chris Goss play live (as part of Desert Sessions at Coachella a few years ago), this was one of my most anticipated shows of the year, and it was *amazing*. I mean, just fucking astounding. Getting to watch Mr. Goss, whose work I have admired for years, and figuring out how he coaxes a certain sound out of a guitar as his voices soars, was one of the year’s finest pleasures. It was also very edifying to see Jeordie White step into the spotlight on his own, a circumstance in which he truly flourishes, and it’s something he needs to do more often. Come back, Goon Moon! We’ll make sure the club is packed to the rafters this time, as you deserve.

Common Market – Sasquatch 5/27, Neumo’s Mamafest 2/26: Simply put, the Mamafest show was my most surreal show moment of the year. Girls in ski gear, hula hooping to Common Market’s political flow, was one of the few moments I’ve wished I had a video camera with me at a show. And yes, local and now national media have been talking about it for a over a year, but in one moment at Sasquatch, shooting the show from the rail and turning around and seeing the whole crowd, as far as I could see, hands raised and completely involved, was when I knew that Seattle hip hop had arrived.

Saturday Knights – Havana 6/16, Oktoberfest 9/22: No one, and I mean NO ONE, is bringing the fun like this anymore, especially in Seattle. They are the breath of fresh air for which this town has been waiting. It’s supposed to be fun people, and the Saturday Knights will not let us forget it for a second. Look out, world, they’re coming soon, to an everywhere near you.

Spoon – the Beach House and then The Showbox (with Black Joe Lewis), 9/5: Though I’ve listened to Spoon since the beginning and really fell for them right around the time of Girls Can Tell, the tour for Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga has been the first time I’ve been truly drawn into their live shows. Something’s shifted, somehow simultaneously tightened and loosened, and now going to see them has become irresistible. This is another band that I saw several times last year, but two shows in one day stand out. They played a quick, informal radio station set at the the Beach House about 2 blocks from my apartment, and they were sharp, funny, effortless pros that just rocked the few people there back on their heels. Then, I walked home, hopped into the car and headed down to the Showbox, where I ran across the soul sensation that is Black Joe Lewis, an introduction that leaves me eternally in Spoon’s debt. (I just learned that Jim Eno is currently producing Lewis’ next record, which makes me inexpressibly giddy.) Then, standing amongst people from an array of Seattle bands and scenes, I watched Spoon take the stage and simply dominate with their crisp, undeniable, take-no-prisoners style, and knew that there would be no going back — they would now, finally, be huge, in the new and best sense of the world. The other bands present saw it too, and I wonder if there wasn’t a little paradigm shift that will become evident in some of 2008’s local releases as a result. And leaving the venue, I found myself more than a little sad, knowing I’d likely never see them in such a small venue again, and would now have one hell of a time watching the genius that is the drumming of Jim Eno.


The Cops/The Whore Moans – High Dive 4/7
: How many times did I see The Cops this year? Have lost count. This show stands out because it was such a marked contrast with the live radio broadcast that they did earlier in the evening. While that performance for radio was controlled and sounded fine, it was the raucous release of the late show that revealed the band I love — and I suspect that the craziness of the Whore Moans set preceding played a key factor.


Tall Birds/The Cops – Comet Tavern 6/7
: Again, these two bands together, at The Comet? Rock ‘n’ roll chaos on the best way. Stacks were climbed, pitchers were spilled and thrown, and eardrums were decimated in the most delightful way. More shows like this, please!

Nine Inch Nails – Blaisdell Arena, Honolulu 9/18: I was thrilled to get to see the one and only North American date of the Year Zero tour, and only regret that I didn’t get to see the YZ songs played live more than just once. The main attraction of this show for me was getting to see this specific line-up play together one last time, and I can’t help but feel that even though Trent no doubt has fascinating music in store for us, he’s going to miss the sound and fury this combination of guys created, and hope he reconsiders and reconvenes them at some point in the future.


Crowded House – Pabst Theater, Milwaukee 8/17
: Crowded House was the first band that I found all on my own growing up, and they hold a tremendously dear place in my heart. I loved, loved, LOVED them, always will, and when I missed their last London shows by a few days over 10 years ago, I was heartbroken. I held slim hopes that I’d ever get to see them live, particularly after Hessie passed, so that when this tour was announced, I just sat down and cried. A trip back home fortuitously coincided with their Milwaukee show, and never has seeing a show felt more perfectly timed. A band that I loved but thought I’d never see, playing a show so close to the place where I grew up dreaming of seeing them, in a venue that holds lovely memories — unthinkable. And to arrive, and find a fantastic audience and the band in rare form? I didn’t believe moments like that existed, or at least not that they existed for me. But they do, and I finally get it: patience can actually be rewarded.

Neil Young – WaMu Theater 10/23: Finally, Neil. Going into it, my expectations were a bit low. A tour in a venue that I find barn-like, at best, full of a corporate crowd that were there because they got a discount on tickets and thought it might be a fun night to get out of the house, have some drinks and talk with friends…and oh yeah, there’d be this legendary guy playing. When I got there and made my way to my pricey seat, things weren’t looking up: my 7th row seat was much further back from the stage than I’d ever seen, with an inexplicably huge 20 foot gulf between the front row and the stage, a seat mate to the right with what sounded like a miserable, painful cold, and a seat mate to the left talking loudly on her cellphone until the guy behind and I finally got her to hang up and shut up. But I stayed and kept paying attention, because I knew it would be worthwhile, because it’s Neil. And of course, it was. The solo set offered songs I’d never imagined I’d hear live, and his voice cut through the cavernous sound and the constant murmur of the chatty idiots, to ring truer than any other sound I heard all year. The second set is where things suddenly became electrifying (no pun intended), as a small group of us were listening to the the band rock out and looked around, then at each other, and simply walked into the space between the chairs and the stage and for the first time that whole evening actually felt like I was at a Rock Show. A whole crowd of people quickly filled in the rest of the open space, singing and dancing all, and the crowd and band could finally interact and feed off of each other, the way it must be to allow a show to work. If you know me, you know that Neil is like food, water, air to me, and to finally, after countless times seeing Neil, to be that close and get the chance to examine Old Black and try to figure out how the hell Neil gets the sound he does…well, it was a life-defining moment. I don’t know that I’ll ever get a more gratifying Neil moment than that one. I still feel privileged to have been there.

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Peace on Earth, can it be?

Happy Christmas, everybody.

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Interview: Lucinda Mellor

An interview with Lucinda Mellor from the Independent last week:

http://arts.independent.co.uk/music/features/article3229244.ece

It’s nice to finally hear a more from her…it’s been too long, but then again, I appreciate how private she is, and cannot imagine how, once you’ve found your true other half, you could get by day-to-day without him.

*****

Joe Strummer was the leader of The Clash and a spokesman for his generation. Five years after his death, his widow Lucinda Mellor speaks for the first time about his life, love and legacy.

Interview by Clare Dwyer Hogg

Published: 08 December 2007

Lucinda Mellor: My life with Joe Strummer Joe Strummer on stage in California in 1983. © AP

The day is dank, with clouds threatening rain, and a small woman in the lobby of the Groucho Club – which is not particularly blinding – is wearing sunglasses. The old trick of appearing not to want to be recognised in order to be recognised, is not, however, Lucinda Mellor’s style. Blonde, wiry, and looking younger than her 45 years, she is deep in conversation with a friend. Snippets of their interaction float above the noise of the busy reception area: whether they can hook up for a lift … what stops her train takes … how annoying it is to leave your mobile phone at home. Distinctly un-rock’*’roll. But she has spent the last 14 years of her life being known as “Mrs Joe”, the wife of Joe Strummer, so she’s never felt like a celebrity in her own right. And Strummer himself, as Lucinda will explain, was not one to milk his fame.

The staff, however, treat her like a very important guest. They alert her that the photographer is upstairs, setting up. Where does she want to go? What does she want to do? Does she want to set up in the snooker room? Or is the bedroom upstairs more to her liking? Would she like to take down their picture of Joe and use that in the shoot? “Anything you need to take with you?” a diminutive and personable man behind the desk says, with familiarity. “Can I take you?” she replies, blowing a kiss, with a smile more reserved than her words. “You’ve already got me!” he shouts as she makes for the stairs, assuring that really she doesn’t mind at all where the photographs are taken. “Joe and I used to stay here all the time,” she says, climbing the winding staircase. “It’s great – it meant I could come up to bed when I wanted, instead of saying, ‘I want to gooo hoooome’.” She affects a whiny voice, and juggles her bags and mug of green tea to push her way into the bedroom where the photographer is waiting. Is she used to having her photograph taken? “No. No, not at all.”

Lucinda met Joe in 1993, when she was staying with a friend, and they were introduced on a trip to a Hampshire funfair. “We pottered around this rather dismal little fair as Joe successfully won an assortment of cuddly toys,” she says. “We laughed and laughed, and I was bowled over by his charm and sense of fun. I was madly in love by the time we came home.” It was 1993, Joe and his long-term partner Gaby (the mother of his two girls) were unhappily living together, and Lucinda and her husband James had a 15-month-old daughter, Eliza, but were “trundling on in that no man’s land of co-existence”. The funfair was the catalyst; soon the pair were living together in Somerset, and planning for their own marriage.

Although the final incarnation of The Clash had disbanded in 1986 – almost a decade before Joe and Lucinda met – Strummer was still trying to shake the band’s legacy. Finding a new role is easier said than done, when you’ve been heralded as the voice of a generation. Harder for the fans – youth thirsty for rebellion who greedily drank anything Joe gave them – to let go of him as the living symbol of punk. Yet when Lucinda and Joe crossed paths, she wasn’t even particularly a fan of The Clash, a fact that probably infuriated female followers around the world, but was a breath of fresh air for Joe. “I knew such a tiny, tiny part,” she says, eyes direct, shaking her head. “I wasn’t around for The Clash years. I wasn’t a part of all the… ” She pauses to rephrase, a little ruefully, “I never knew him when he was being worshipped or hung out to dry.” The tacit understanding is that this is what enabled their relationship. “I knew a much quieter, much humbler man really, a mature man.”

Lucinda Mellor doesn’t usually give interviews. This is not to say she hasn’t had offers since Joe died – suddenly, at home in Somerset after taking their dogs for a walk, of a heart condition that no one knew he had – on 23 December 2002. He was 50. “Literally the day after he died people were ringing up saying: we’re doing a book, we’re doing a film, will you talk to the press, will you this will you that,” she remembers. “I had e-mails from people two days after he died saying, ‘very sorry but I’ve been floating this idea about doing a book’ – it was horrible.” The thought of reminiscing about a husband she hadn’t expected to lose was too painful. Worse still, she says, was when the rush to create retrospectives resulted in histories that she couldn’t agree with. “You come to the realisation that you have no control over those things,” she says, choosing her words carefully. “People can make films, write a book, say what they want – they have done – and, erm, you know, the family have been very upset by a lot of it, and there’s nothing you can do.” She later qualifies, without mentioning any names, that “everyone’s entitled to their own opinions. What a writer saw in Joe was not how the family saw it so … you can say you don’t like it and they need to change it, and they can say fuck off and that’s life…” Her relatively measured words belie the flash in her eyes, but she is deliberately discreet.

For these reasons, there was a certain amount of relief on her part that one of the people who suggested making a documentary about Joe was his close friend Julien Temple. Temple — who had won acclaim with two films about The Sex Pistols in the late Seventies and the retrospective documentary, The Filth and the Fury, in 2000, had known Strummer in the days of The Clash. But they hadn’t seen each other for 25 years until one day Lucinda brought Joe along to meet an old school friend who was a Somerset neighbour, and they discovered that she was married to Temple. The friendship between the two men was quickly renewed. “He really knew Joe,” Lucinda says. “He understood him, knew where he came from. He didn’t see him through rose-tinted glasses but wasn’t jealous or envious of him either.” The result was The Future Is Unwritten, a biopic with reams of old footage of Joe interspersed with stories from friends, told around campfires. There are old friends from his hippie days, ex-friends who were kicked out of The Clash – Topper Headon, Mick Jones – who became friends again near the end, as well as celebrities (Bono, John Cusack, Johnny Depp) who Joe had picked up along the way as fans. All had a story to tell.

“The idea of the campfire appealed because it was fun and it was what Joe loved,” Lucinda says, with a little smile. Nights around the campfire were something she’d witnessed a lot, especially at festivals, where Joe was in charge of the fire and the tunes (which he’d blast out from a stereo – he could just about stretch to using CDs, but iPods were a no-no). “It was informal, and party-time really,” she continues. “It could all be done in the atmosphere of gaiety and the spirit of Joe.” Yet while Lucinda does appear in the film, the raw emotion so soon after his death was too much for her to handle. “I found everything absolutely fine until the first campfire,” she says, suddenly looking fragile. “Everybody began to talk about Joe the whole time and it just smacked me in the face – I wasn’t over him in any shape or form, and it was very painful. So I sort of stepped back and just let them get on with it.” This trait – stepping back, not assuming a role just because it was there to take – is something of a thread in the stories she tells. She is hyper-aware, too, of how relatively short the last decade of someone’s life can be when you’re looking at the whole, and she was anxious not to claim anything that wasn’t hers. “I felt when I sat in, it was like I was intruding,” she admits, “because people were being very honest about their memories, being very pertinent, painful and poignant…” And although it is a warm documentary, it isn’t a eulogy. Lucinda shrugs. “He was far from perfect, so it would have been very wrong if you’d just had adoration the whole way through.” But it was the avalanche of unheard stories, rather than any unfavourable comments, that encouraged her to keep her distance. She had been married to a man who made it his business never to tell an anecdote more than once. When Lucinda sat down to watch the first run of interviews, she was enthralled – “suddenly to hear about the wilder side, the ego, the fun, the escapades, the dramas, was fascinating” – but overwhelmed too by the thought of all the people Joe had come into contact with. Despite the fact that he’d regaled her with tales every day, here “suddenly there were thousands more”.

Strummer’s charisma, by all accounts, was a powerful force. And not least for Lucinda, when they first were married. “In the beginning I was certainly very absorbed in his life – I was,” she admits. “We went on tour together, I went to the studio with him, we saw each other all the time. All the time, all the time, all the time.” Joe formed Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros in 1999, and Lucinda toured America, Japan and Australia with them. “When Eliza was younger we used to take her out of school and take her with us,” she continues, biting her lip, half guilty, half pleased at the illegality of it. “I think she loved it.” But then Eliza needed more stable schooling and Lucinda had to make more of a life for herself at home. “In the beginning it was a bit of a wrench and I did resent it,” she says, with no qualms about how this might sound. “But I became extremely grateful,” she continues. “It wasn’t like the Mescaleros had a private jet. It was tour buses. Roughing it.” And back home in Somerset is where it seems that Lucinda, used to being backstage, found something of her own. “I felt the last year I was with Joe that I was happy and confident in myself, that I knew who I was,” she says. “I could let Joe go and I could welcome him back.” Then, quietly, “We did have it good”.

There was a point earlier, during the photo session, when the photographer, to put Lucinda at ease, asked her what she does. “I ride a horse,” she said, a little self-consciously, “and I’m a mother, so…” She is keen that Strummerville, the charity she set up, is not seen as a solo project. There are other trustees, including Damien Hirst and Joe’s daughters, Jazz and Lola. Perhaps this is why she doesn’t bring it up as a job; but the project – to buy rehearsal and recording time for young musicians – is now such a big affair that they employ a full-time charity manager, and she has stepped back.

Later, she elaborates about working, when talking about her life before she met Joe. “I lived in London, yeah,” she says, pausing. “And I worked, never with much… ” there is another pause, and she trails off, looking into the middle-distance. “I found I was very happy in the country… I was happy walking dogs, I was happy doing school runs. I was just happy pottering.”

That quiet life she says they had between tours was, of course, shattered with Joe’s sudden death. With death, too, came the duties of those left behind: sorting out the possessions of the departed, working out what to do with the bits and pieces they had accumulated. And although Lucinda knew that Joe would write ideas down on anything he could find – old napkins, the back of envelopes – she had no conception of what she’d been left with. There was a room in their home which was used for nothing other than to store his suitcases when he came back from tour. Each case contained about 30 plastic bags. “Months and months after he died, we decided this had to be tackled,” Lucinda says. Her immediate reaction was to go through the bags and put everything in piles – lyrics, cartoons, random thoughts – but soon came to an abrupt halt when she had an epiphany of sorts. “I suddenly realised that each bag was pertinent to a week on tour or a session … each bag had a sharpener in it, each bag had cigarette papers, a matchbox, endless bits of napkins, kitchen roll, receipts. Each bag told a story which was amazing.” She covers her mouth, looking guilty but a bit delighted in her unwitting mischief-making. “I had done quite a bit of sorting before I really realised…”

After some intensive work, feeling out of her depth and worried that what she didn’t understand would hinder the process, she called in reinforcements, including the artist Gordon McHarg. All the material found in plastic bags – and some Clash lyrics unearthed in mouldy tea chests – have now been put on file, photographed, carefully stored between acid-proof paper and catalogued. It’s all archived now, waiting. “One day we will do an amazing book,” Lucinda says. “With Damien Hirst. But it’s a long time off and it’s going to take many, many… ” She slows herself down, obviously excited. “It’s not something that’s going to be rushed into; it’s going to be beautifully done – it’ll be like an art book, with photographs, lyrics, drawings, maybe unreleased songs, rarities. It’ll have CDs in it, rare Joe stuff – we’ll see what we’ve got.”

She already has experience of putting out her late husband’s music. Streetcore, the album he was working on with the Mescaleros when he died, was released posthumously in 2003. She didn’t lightly step into Joe’s shoes. “It was absolutely terrifying,” she says. “It was also terrifying when the band members came to me with what they’d done and I went, you know what? I don’t like it. And who am I to tell musicians I don’t like it?” she asks, as if she still can’t quite believe, four years later, that she uttered those words. “And then I didn’t like their track listing. I knew it had to be changed. I knew what song had to go last. I put my foot down and then when I heard it all the way through – yes.” Despite her outward fragility, there’s a sense that resolve is a much stronger, if more hidden, characteristic. She seems to share more than a bit of the “bloody-mindedness” she acknowledges was part of her late husband’s character. “You just know, don’t you?” she says. “And I knew him so well that I knew what he would have liked and what he wouldn’t.”

She says, with a funny frank smile, that she and Eliza, and Joe’s daughters, are trying to keep his legacy, trying to keep what he stood for as important in their lives, but move on too. And that one of her “dearest and loveliest allies” is Gaby, Joe’s ex. “He was such fun,” she says, brightening. “Just the most charismatic incredible man. A line in one of his songs says, ‘We’re alive – that’s the one.’ I mean, we’re alive. Each day was a celebration.” Has she been able to keep that sense of fun? “I think so. I mean, God there have been times when I’ve been utterly distraught, but today I can think of him with a smile and…” she trails off, smile still there, but too many words to fill the pause, and a train to catch back to Somerset.

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NME Video: Queens of the Stone Age

Never a serious moment, nor a dull one, either. Always sharp.

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40 years gone

Forty years ago today, the plane carrying Otis Redding and some of his band members crashed into Lake Monona on the way to their show in Madison, Wisconsin, not far from where I grew up.

After far too long a silence, the city had a fitting celebration of the man and his music last week, including appearances by Otis’ wife Zelma, and the lone survivor of the crash, trumpeter Ben Cauley.

I didn’t know that the owner of the one my favorite bookstores in the world was the promoter for the show, or that a member of one of the opening bands (the unfortunately named The Grim Reapers) was none other than one of my favorite guitarists, Mr. Rick Nielsen, who went on to form Cheap Trick.

What I do know is this: it’s about damned time that Mr. Redding is honored in a larger fashion. Since Monona Terrace was built, I’ve been sure to go visit the meager plaque commemorating the man and his band ever single time I’m back in town, even for just a few moments, and when I was living in Madison I could frequently be found sitting there with lunch and just looking out over the water, thinking about what was, and what could have been.

And I know that I can’t imagine my life without “Cigarettes and Coffee”, or “Try a Little Tenderness”, “These Arms of Mine”, or “Ole Man Trouble” shaping it, running into my bloodstream and becoming part of who I am. For that, I say thank you, Mr. Redding. It’s not enough, but it’s all I’ve got.

If you’ve got a few minutes today, spare a thought, and throw on some vinyl — Otis’ voice sounds better on vinyl than just about any other singer in the world.

I promise, your soul will be better for it.

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If Only…

I’m going to be a 90 year old guru. Phil, I’m going to write your history, so be careful.”

–John Lennon, speaking to Phil Spector in the studio
(thanks to SF for reminding me of this earlier today)

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