August 8, 2018
FINDING GOD WHERE I DIDN’T EXPECT HIM
I recently finished reading a book by Nadia Bolz-Weber called Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith Of a Sinner & Saint. She’s cranky, funny as hell, tatted up, and she swears a lot. I think she’s great. In the book, at the end of chapter fifteen, she writes, “The kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus talked about all the time, is, as He said, here. At hand. It’s now. Wherever you are. In ways you’d never expect.” Which reminded me of something that occurred twenty years ago, and which I’ve thought about often.
A friend of mine, Clay Vause, died of cancer in 1998.
He was the lead singer of an industrial rock band from Kent, OH, called (in small case) indian rope burn. I was, for a time, their manager. I sucked at it.
A friend of mine who spoke at his memorial service said that he himself wasn’t a Christian (I’m pretty sure he’s an atheist, actually…), and even used a few choice words during his eulogy—although he wasn’t being disrespectful, either to Clay, or even to the church we were all sitting in.
Here’s the thing. Even though most of the people there probably wouldn’t have referred to themselves as Christians, I found God in a place I didn’t expect Him. Yeah, we were in a church—the one place where you’re supposed to find God (although trying to find God in some churches might be harder than in others)—but I didn’t expect to find God in the actions of friends that I knew–for the most part–probably had no use for organized religion.
What I mean is, their actions taught me a lesson.
Even though some of the people there most likely weren’t Christians, and probably didn’t go to church regularly—if at all—what they did for Clay during his illness was, to me, a genuine example of how Christians are supposed to behave.
Taking Clay to his doctor’s appointments, getting (and often paying for) his prescriptions, making big cardboard displays of pictures of him with the band, and all the musician friends—some of them famous, like Mike Mills from REM—that he met and hung out with, for him to look at while he was in hospice, sitting with him and spending time with him, especially after it got to the point where he could no longer communicate…these are all things that his friends did for him, because they loved him and cared about him.
None of them did those things because they felt obligated. They did those things because they wanted to. Although, I’m pretty sure a few of them would have been absolutely repulsed at being told what they did was the “Christian” thing to do.
I was raised in a Christian household. My brothers are both ordained ministers. My dad was a Sunday school teacher at one point (I play drums in a rock band—what the hell happened to me? Ha!). I’ve been baptized, and those are my basic beliefs. I’m also a fairly liberal Democrat, which means I have no problem with gay rights, gay marriage, LGBT, transgender, or—for that matter—people who don’t share my beliefs. So, yeah, I’m a Christian. Or, rather, I say that I’m trying to be a Christian. Because often times it’s fucking hard to behave like one.
The point is, they helped Clay make his transition from this life to the next one—and I do believe there is one—as painless as possible. That—to me—is what real Christians do.
I found God in the actions of Clay’s friends that afternoon, and I’ve never forgotten it.
(photo credit: Mike Crooker, from a late 1980s cassette release by Clay Vause called Film Nocturnal).
January 18, 2018
Someday Man is one side of a double-A sided single from The Monkees that was issued on April 26, 1969. The other A-side is Mike Nesmith’s killer Listen To The Band, one of the best songs he ever wrote for them. As for Someday Man, it is quite possibly Davy Jones’ best vocal performance.
Most critics consider Jones to have been little more than eye candy for ’60’s teenage girls, which he certainly was. But he was also a great singer. Listening to this track, and Monkees album tracks like Hard To Believe (which Jones co-wrote) and Early Morning Blues And Greens will testify to that. Both sides of this single should have rightfully been Top 10 hits, but by 1969, no one cared about The Monkees anymore–not even their record label, which had pretty much wiped their hands of them at this point.
I remember getting this single when it came out, and I can’t listen to this now without feeling a certain amount of sadness. The picture sleeve only featured Jones, Nesmith, and Micky Dolenz. Peter Tork had quit by that point. Their show had been cancelled, and their 1968 film HEAD–one of the best, and most extraordinary (not to mention flat-out bizarre), rock music films ever made–had bombed. They would soon star in an hour-long TV special called 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee. It was a head-scratching (and, admittedly, hard to watch) spectacle that featured numerous guest stars who were given more screen time than The Monkees themselves. But it DID feature Tork, and it would be the last thing he did with them before quitting.
The following year The Monkees released their last album (in their initial run), a terrible sub-standard bubblegum record called Changes.
But not before Mike Nesmith quit.
Basically, it was over.
October 26, 2017
THINKINGS by ROBIN
I first came across the album Thinkings by Robin in the book Enjoy The Experience: Homemade Records 1958-1992. This impressive hardback collects information and graphics about artists from all over the country who decided at some point in their lives to pony up their own money, and record and issue their own private press vinyl. As it turns out, some of these artists were pretty talented. Others, not so much.
Several chapters in the book are dedicated to specific releases, including one about the infamous Philosophy Of The World by The Shaggs (if you’ve never heard of The Shaggs, go here). Inserted at various points are pages containing more basic listings of various records (artists, title, release date, etc.) and the cover art.
One particular listing caught my eye because it said the artist was from Canfield, OH (about ten miles southwest of Youngstown, for those of you keeping score at home…). She went only by her first name: Robin, and the title of the album was Thinkings. Judging by the cover art, I figured it was either a poetry reading, or an amateur piano recital. I found a link on YouTube that played all the songs from the album (see below), and I was pleasantly surprised.
Recorded in 1969 when she was 16 (across state lines, in Sharon, Pennsylvania), Thinkings features eleven original songs about such teenage girl concerns as parents, love, the sun…and rocks. Several tunes have an innocent but endearing child-like religious vibe to them and are arranged in a simple, but effective—and quite competent—folk guitar and vocal setting. This quote found during an online Google search pretty much sums up the album in a nutshell: “Thinkings is a good one—sounds a bit like Pink Moon, if Nick Drake had been a girl, sixteen years old, American, and recording in a basement.”
I have no idea how many copies were pressed, but as far as I can tell, this is the singer’s one and only release. It is extremely rare and long out of print, although copies have popped up on eBay for the unbelievable price of a helluva lot of money.
Lovers of late 60s-early 70s psychedelic folk would be hard pressed not to be charmed by the tunes on this album. Junipper is a self-consciously amusing song about a rock (“It may seem weird to write a song about a rock/but when I consider all the other stuff I write about, I said, “why not?”). For My Parents & Everyone Else Over 45 talks about forgetting the problems of the adult world and trying to remember the innocence of being a child for an hour or so. And check out the singing and the harmonic string bending on Yesterday’s Sun. Impressive stuff.
Fans of home-made recordings by lost femme folk artists like Syblle Baier and Connie Converse (who has been missing since 1974), or even the late Molly Drake (Nick Drake’s mother), will find much to love in this private press gem. I really hope this album will someday get an official re-release, but until then you can listen to all of the songs here:
And if anyone knows whatever happened to Robin (is she still around? Did she make any more recordings?), drop me an email at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you.
July 23, 2017
This past Friday night I was lucky enough to see Queen and Adam Lambert at the Q in Cleveland.
Despite having to park six blocks away (because parking anywhere around 9th St. is $40…), it was an incredible evening. Adam Lambert strutted around the stage like he owned the place, which he did. He didn’t try to act like Freddie Mercury (who died of AIDS in 1991, and made a few appearances, via video, later), and didn’t try to sing them like Freddie. He did a short little speech about Freddie which was obviously heartfelt, and followed it with the new song Two Fux, which, while not great, went over well enough live.
Hearing and seeing drummer Roger Taylor sing I’m In Love With My Car was fantastic. I’ve always loved Roger’s raspy vocals. And guitarist Brian May was in top form all night, coming down front for a couple of extended guitar solos.
Brian also sang an acoustic solo version of Love Of My Life, with Freddie making an appearance on video on the last section of the song. At the end, Brian wiped away a few tears. Yeah, I did too.
There were a few reminders that these guys are getting on in years, with Roger looking a bit like Colonel Sanders with his bushy white beard, and Brian (who recently turned 70), walking a little slower than he used to.
I would like to thank my wife Kathrynn for insisting I go, and basically pushing me out the door. I’m glad she did. Seeing Queen, even if only technically half of them (bassist John Deacon retired, and recent pics of him make him look for all the world like Walter Brennan…), fulfilled a life long dream for me. They may never come around again.
July 18, 2017
My wife’s grandfather Arnold Sandmann passed away early this morning at the age of 100(!!). Despite the fact that he thought rock and roll music was more or less the downfall of western civilization, we got on like a house on fire.☺
Several years ago he asked me to copy some of his records onto cd-r for him. Assuming he meant his Arthur Godfrey collection, I was intrigued when he handed me two stacks of home-made lacquer recordings he cut with a consumer home version of a record making machine in the 1950s. Some of them were things like church services, but there were also recordings he made on Christmas morning in 1952 and 1954. My favorite being the 1954 recording featuring my wife’s father (age 4 at the time), receiving a train set for Christmas. You can listen to that recording here. I have since developed a hobby of collecting home-made records wherever I might find them–in thrift stores, antique shops, and yard sales.
I will always cherish these records, and I am grateful and honored that he trusted me to keep them for the family. Arnold Sandmann (auto-correct insists his last name is Schwarzenegger…) lived a long and fruitful life. I will miss him. He was a good man.
Oh…and I did wind up copying his Arthur Godfrey records…
May 25, 2017
My parents were married on this day in 1957. Were they still alive, they would have been married 60 years.
I have much to be thankful for because of them. My dad was a WWII veteran who, as a school kid was kind of a bully, but returned from his stint in the Marines as an almost complete pacifist. When my older brother Jay and his wife Barb lived in Jacksonville, Florida in the early 1980s, we often all went to the beach when we drove down from East Canton, OH to visit them. My dad never liked going. Jay asked him once why he didn’t like going to the beach and my father replied, “because all I see are dead bodies”. My dad loved swing music, and, believe it or not, the country rock that Mike Nesmith wrote for The Monkees, and the harmonies of The Mamas And The Papas. My dad also loved eating popcorn and Nestles Crunch bars. He loved having people over to their house, but didn’t necessarily feel the need to interact with them. That was Mom’s job. My father was kind, soft-spoken, and very patient. He rarely ever lost his temper. I find myself being more and more like my father every day.
My mother was a total music freak (gee, wonder where I got that from…). She saw dozens of popular artists perform live in the early 1950s, including seeing Elvis at the Akron Armory during one of his Louisiana Hayride appearances. She loved The Beatles (again—gee, wonder where I got that from), and had all of their early albums, although she stopped buying them when Rubber Soul came out. She was a music lover all of her life, and very patiently let me take over the stereo whenever I wanted to listen to whatever solo Beatles albums were current at the time. I played snare drum in junior high school band, and of course, my mother was a very proud parent who gave the band a standing ovation after EVERY song we played (I, of course, was thoroughly embarrassed). I was also a drummer in various rock bands over the years (still am), and she and my dad came to as many gigs that I played as possible.
My wife Kathrynn and I were married six months after they passed. We left a pew empty in their honor.
They died within three weeks of each other in late 1997. They will have been gone 20 years this fall, and I miss them more than I could possibly tell you.