Posts Tagged ‘Music’

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Reliving “The Day The Music Died”

October 28, 2011
“A surprise makes life worthwhile.”
The great playwright and director Arthur Laurents said that to me when I interviewed him a couple of years ago. I realize again and again how true it is.
A surprise last week led me down a few country roads that I never expected to travel, but what a worthwhile journey.
 On October 21st, I found myself in Clear Lake, Iowa, a town plopped between expansive farm fields along the aptly named Clear Lake. The area is home to some of the most fertile ground in America and to one of the great legends of Rock And Roll: Clear Lake was the last place Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson performed before the plane crash that took each of their lives.
The Surf Ballroom where the “Winter Dance Party Tour”  stopped that February night in 1959 is still in Clear Lake. In fact, it’s a thriving venue (ZZ Top will play to a sold out crowd of 2,100 tomorrow night). And it looks much as it did when the brightest stars in the rebellious new genre of Rock And Roll pulled into town more than 50 years ago. It’s unlikely beach club motif (this is north Iowa, not Miami) with ocean murals along the sides of the ballroom still welcomes dancers.
But the ballroom isn’t just for concert goers. Anyone who wants to relive “The Day The Music Died” is welcome to walk through at any time and as I did, sit down in a booth and imagine watching Buddy Holly performing “Peggy Sue,” or sit for a moment on the very stage where those pioneers of rock sang their hearts out for the last time.
I would never have made this trip if not for something that happened one week earlier in New York. I saw the reading of a promising new musical by Charles Messina, “The Wanderer,” based on the life of Dion DiMucci. He was the only headliner of the “Winter Dance Party Tour” not on the chartered plane leaving Clear Lake, and so the only one who survived.  Messina digs deep into the tensions, dreams, hurt, self destruction, soaring triumphs and unbearable losses that only a Rock And Roll life can provide.
And after seeing it, I had to get closer to the moment that crystalized all those feelings for Rock And Roll’s first generation.
A trip to Clear Lake and to the crash site memorial in a field  just five miles north of town gave me the education I was seeking. And,  a personal connection to an event that happened long before I was born yet is the most enduring and heartbreaking tale of “what might have been.”
As I drove down the gravel road leaving the crash memorial and thinking about what I had seen and learned that day, I started clicking through the radio.  At the fourth station, my heart skipped a beat. It was another little surprise to make the moment incredible. “Peggy Sue” was on.
You couldn’t script a better ending.
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Baron Wolman And The Rolling Stone Years

August 6, 2011

I know it’s been a great interview when I feel lighter after we’ve finished. It happens when I interview an artist for “ON THE SCENE” who inspires me, or makes me laugh, or just happily shares their insights and passion for what they do. That’s what I experienced today when I interviewed photographer Baron Wolman.

Wolman was the original chief photographer of “Rolling Stone” magazine in the late 1960s.  He photographed the genesis of musicians who became rock icons including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia and Tina Turner.  Wolman is a natural born storyteller, animated and willing to vividly take you inside his photo sessions like they happened yesterday.

I interviewed him in a break from his book signing in Westwood, New Jersey for his just published, “The Rolling Stone Years,” 175 pages of photographs but what I love more, it includes the story behind the picture.

Wolman and I lamented how difficult it is between artist management and publicists and sometimes restrictive venues to get access to properly document and produce  unique artist portraits (in my case, journalistic profiles).  Then he asked me, “let’s see, how should I sign your book?” I thought for a minute and answered, “how about ‘here’s to all access?”  He loved it and that’s how he signed it, I guess that is our common ground.  Can’t wait to take it all in page by page.

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The Tragedy Of Amy Winehouse

July 23, 2011

I am looking all over for my copy of “Back To Black.” I can’t find the cd anywhere. It’s been a couple years since  I played it last and with the death of Amy Winehouse today I want to give it a deeper listen.

I love the fusion of  sound that came out of her…rock, blues, pop, a sound which was mature beyond her years. She channeled Dusty Springfield, I thought, with her husky Brit soul vocals and that sky high beehive hairdo.

The body of work she leaves behind is not a large one, just two albums, right?  And one hit, Grammy winning anthem that sums up her life sadly and brilliantly, the autobiographical “Rehab.” It’s the place she went to often but never stayed long enough.

She will be more remembered I’m sorry to say, for the train wreck performances that are oh so well documented on the internet: staggering, incoherent, paranoid, and agitated. In watching clips of her meltdowns she seems to twirl round and round in a drunken haze, barely aware of her fellow musicians and the audience that seemed inevitably to lose its patience and turn on her. She was booed off the stage at the opening concert of her comeback tour in Belgrade this summer. The rest of the tour was immediately canceled.

That alone showed what dire shape she was in: launching a “comeback” tour at age 27, when she already seemed too far gone.

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Did Beyonce Really Sing That? Steve Martin’s Bluegrass And Fireworks Memories

July 5, 2011

Channel surfing the July 4th fireworks celebrations right now in Washington and New York (plus the ones my neighbors are blasting off in the yard).

Did Beyonce really sing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA?” Did she? Just now on NBC? I have never heard anyone sing that song besides Greenwood. It’s just not a song I’d expect her to sing.

The Macy’s fireworks in New York is spectacular, but watching the PBS show from Washington D.C. brings back more memories for me. I was there one year, in the 90s when I was just out of college and living in Washington. I don’t remember who performed that night , I was just so awed by the massive crowd and then the incredible fireworks on the National Mall. I still can see the Washington Monument with blazing fireworks cascading around it. It was the most patriotic moment I could have ever imagined.

I think “The Capitol Fourth” show is an important showcase for America’s musical talent and I like the marriage of patriotic music with other American genres…Broadway, Steve Martin’s bluegrass set, and rock n roll.

If you’re a performer a July 4th concert is not the time or place to take risks. But that’s as it should be. July 4th is about everybody else who took risks so that we can all be here, watching the fireworks.

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An E Street Band Original

June 21, 2011

I spent the day reporting on the death of Clarence Clemons including a visit to the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey where a memorial has sprouted in honor of Clarence. I met fans from New Jersey but as far away as Colorado and Illinois who stopped to share memories and to  grieve with people who share their loss.

And I had an interesting visit this afternoon with Vini Lopez. He’s the original drummer of the E Street Band. We taped an interview on the front steps of his house,  tucked away deep in the woods down a gravel road.

Lopez left the band in a money dispute in 1974. But in those early years he was roommates with Clemons. And Danny Federici. Of those three E Streeters Lopez is  now the only one still living.

He told me about remembering playing for as little as five bucks a gig, going fluke fishing so Clemons could fry fish for the gang come dinnertime, of Clemons’ humor, and how he built up his strength as a sax player by practicing on the bag pipes. Which presented some trying moments around the house.

I’d never met Lopez before and I’m glad he agreed to an interview on just an hour’s notice today. He was the there at the very beginnings of a musical dynasty.

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Remembering Clarence Clemons

June 19, 2011

A larger than life figure has left the stage. Clarence Clemons has died.

Tonight I’m thinking not only about the incredible sound he gave to the greatest songs of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, but about the times I interviewed Clarence.

The last time I interviewed him, in the fall of 2009, the signs were unfortunately apparent that his body was failing him. I remember waiting for him to arrive at a book store, where he was signing his memoir. I was scheduled to interview him before the signing. As he walked in I was shocked at the change in his appearance in just one year since I’d interviewed him last. Clarence had a hard time walking, moving carefully with a cane and was much thinner than I had ever seen him.

We shook hands and like he did with everyone,  he greeted me as if we were old friends…he had a warm familiarity with the whole world it seemed.  But the short distance he stepped to the space to the locations for the interview had left him very short of breath and I remember getting concerned how he could keep up the hectic schedule of a book tour.

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to interview him..once backstage at a concert and then at the book signing. It is impossible to imagine the E Street Band without him. Impossible. But knowing the dedication of E Street Band fans they’ll find a way to keep him alive when Bruce Springsteen decides to take the band on tour once again.

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A Moment With Clarence Clemons

June 14, 2011

I’ve interviewed Clarence Clemons twice and today I’ve been thinking a lot about those moments after I heard he’d suffered a stroke.

I first met him in 2008, backstage, the Meadowlands, right before going on stage to join Bruce Springsteen and the rest of the E Street Band, which was in the midst of a world tour.  He pulled up in a golf cart, I remember him glimmering in a black and gold stage ensemble that included an enormous hat and cape,  with a smile so wide it seemed to stretch from the New Jersey Highlands to the southern shore..and then he slowly rose from the cart and sauntered up to shake my hand. I’m six feet tall,  so I’m not used to anyone towering over me, but he did.

“What’s it like to be in front of a home state crowd,” I asked.

“It’s like the everything we’ve done all over the world was leading up to tonight.  You always want to look good, but you especially want to look good in front of your own people.”

The next time I interviewed Clarence was in the fall of 2009. His memoir was just out and I talked to him before a book signing. His appearance had changed in the short time since we first spoke. He’d lost weight, was walking slowly with a cane and seemed short of breath. He’d recently had knee surgery I was told, and he wanted to reassure the fans that he was alright. He said he knew people were worried about his health but asked they please not be.

There’s a moment in that 2009 interview that I love, because it says so much about Clarence.  He’s been interviewed a million times and I wanted to throw a curve, I wanted to get Clarence into a spontaneous moment. So I asked a question in a lighthearted way, with a little laughter, “do you ever come off stage (with the E Street Band) and say, ‘God, there was a clinker in there tonight?”

“Never!  This band does not make mistakes. There are no clinkers in the E Street Band.” A pause and then, “and if something does happen on strange notice we call it jazz and move on.”

To me that answer shows his humor, his belief in the quality of his group’s musicianship,  and his unflinching pride in the legacy of an incredible rock n roll band, which he helped shape from the very start.

And I know millions of people tonight are wishing The Big Man a full recovery.