Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I just saw the following performers play live two nights ago, in the same space, on the same stage (but not all at once, thankfully):

Faith Hill
Iggy and the Stooges
Ronnie Spector
The Hollies
Rob Thomas
Jimmy Cliff
Wyclef Jean
Eric Burdon
Peter Wolf
Chris Isaak

Was I at the most fucked up, surreal rock festival ever devised?

Sort of. I was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC. Never before have I attended such an event, so swank, so exclusive, so rich with music industry self-congratulations. And yes, you're damn right I felt privileged to be there, even though a part of me felt like the geek academic in the corner soaking in all the weirdness around me.

That said, the people I was sitting with were a cool bunch. Holly George-Warren was the leader of the proverbial pack, a veteran music writer who was gracious enough to invite me to contribute an essay to the induction ceremony program, which is how I got to attend the event. (I wrote an essay on prog rock, in connection with Genesis' induction into the Hall of Fame.) Also on hand were Anthony DeCurtis, longtime Rolling Stone writer; Bob Gruen, one of the great rock photographers; Ashley Kahn, who has written some very fine material on jazz history (books on John Coltrane and Miles Davis, among others); Jaan Uhelszki, one of the founding figures at Creem; Rob Bowman, a fellow academic and good guy who teaches at York University in Toronto and wrote an excellent book on Stax records; and many others who were gathered together at the "writer's table" (actually two tables, side by side). Good company indeed.

Needless to say, the highlight of the evening for yours truly was the Stooges. Iggy came out in fine form, dressed for the event in a clean white dress shirt, and duly flipped off the audience with both hands when he came onto the stage to accept the band's induction. But, as he spoke and reminisced about recently deceased former Stooge Ron Asheton and the others who've fallen along the way he seemed to get genuinely emotional and even on the verge of tears. An emotional Iggy soon gave way to the mischievous Iggy we all know and love though.

While James Williamson and then Scott Asheton gave their speeches, Iggy unbuttoned his shirt and swayed behind them, knowing he was the center of attention even in the background. It was like he was getting into character. And then, the Stooges played a too-short set that was totally killer. "Search and Destroy" followed by "I Wanna Be Your Dog." The latter was especially great, with saxophone by Steve Mackay and that awesome one-note piano line filled in by Scott Thurston, both of whom have been Stooges collaborators for almost as long as the band has been together.

Iggy jumped into the audience, which was comprised of a weird mix of rock star celebrities and music industry moguls, and while I can't say there was a palpable air of danger or anything, the band rocked the house more than you would ever have expected in a room full of folks in tuxedos. As the song proceeded Iggy was joined on stage by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day (who inducted the Stooges into the Hall), then by the rest of Green Day, Eddie Vedder and a bunch of other folks from the audience and came close to generating something like real chaos. Back at the writer's table me and a couple others damn near started a mosh pit we were so excited. It was a damn fun time.

Nothing else quite matched the Stooges for sheer coolness, but I have to give props to Jimmy Cliff, the reggae star who was inducted that night. He sang three songs, all from the landmark The Harder They Come album - "You Can Get It If You Really Want It," "Many Rivers to Cross," and "The Harder They Come," the last with Wyclef Jean - and his voice sounded great. "Many Rivers to Cross" was especially awesome, like some reggae/gospel hybrid, and Jimmy was wearing some of the coolest duds of the evening, including some super fine shades.

I'm still processing the whole experience so am not even going to try to do justice to the entirety of the event (and given that I was at the Waldorf for about six hours that night, doing the whole thing full justice would take me a long time). It was a trip to be in a room with so much money and celebrity circulating, and at the same time part of the trippiness of it was how mundane so much of it was, with the overlong acceptance speeches and other things that we all know from watching awards shows on TV, except that I was there in the room. But seeing Iggy and the Stooges made the night worthwhile. If only it had been some evening in 1970...

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As a sad, unrelated postscript to the above, I just saw the news on Pitchfork that Alex Chilton died today. Hero of indie rockers everywhere, Chilton made his biggest artistic mark with the much-revered power pop luminaries Big Star in the early 1970s, but had a long career that stretched back into the '60s with the Box Tops and years forward as a solo artist. I saw him play a show in the late 1980s that was charmingly idiosyncratic and packed a good bit of rock and roll punch. He will be missed. For more info and some videos of Chilton performing, click on the following:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

So I don't know what happened, but somehow it seems that Blogger made all the comments disappear from this blog. Actually, it's weirder than that. All the archived blogs say they have 0 comments but when you click on them, the comments that were there before are still there. I do not understand this problem and have fussed with my settings a good bit to no avail, so if you've left a comment before please don't think I went through and erased it. Technology be damned!

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I recently traveled to Cleveland, and while I was rushing to get off the plane I forgot to bring the book I had been reading with me, so it was lost to the airline. This was a particular bummer because the book was one I was particularly enjoying and definitely wanted to keep around: Joe Carducci's Enter Naomi. The book is one of the most unique I've read about punk, and the great Southern California punk scene of the late '70s/early '80s in particular. It was also a signed copy I'd happened upon while up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where Carducci had apparently done a reading not long before I passed through town.

As some readers may know, Carducci worked for SST records back in its heyday, and after leaving wrote one of the most spirited, incisive and downright cranky books about rock ever written, Rock and the Pop Narcotic. This newer book, Enter Naomi, is quite different in tone. Partly a memoir of his years with SST, it's also an effort to reconstruct the experience of one of Carducci's SST comrades-in-arms, photographer Naomi Peterson, who took many a great shot of bands from L.A. and elsewhere, did tons of SST publicity photo work, but years later died an untimely death before she even hit 40 years of age, seemingly due to years of alcohol abuse.

What makes Enter Naomi so distinctive is its reflectiveness regarding the place of women in the testosterone-fueled SoCal punk scene. Sure, there are other books detailing women's place in punk, but none that are written from Carducci's peculiar point of view, as a not-quite-feminist guy who nonetheless wants to recognize the really meaningful contribution that women made to the scene of that time and place, and also wants to be sure that people recognize the particular contributions of his lost friend who never quite received the credit she deserved. The book is chock full of great examples of Peterson's work as well as a bunch of other candid shots that document the ins and outs of SST and its peculiar cast of characters. All the more reason that I'm bummed the book got left behind.

And for what it's worth, Naomi's story particularly resonated for me because she attended my high school, Simi Valley High. She was a couple years ahead of me, enough for our paths to never have crossed, and as Carducci tells it, she felt trapped by the conservatism of Simi Valley as much as I did but found a much more interesting escape route. Naomi, I'm sorry I never knew you.