This is unusual for a number of reasons, the first of which is that not many people outside of the Roots, New Orleans natives or aspiring back-pain sufferers decide at the age of 8 that they want a tuba (although it’s happened to much younger ones). There is also the matter that prior to 36 hours ago I had no idea the 8-year-old could identify the tuba out of a lineup consisting of one tuba and six baseball players, let alone announce that he wanted one with the kind of authoritative third-grade sureness he usually saves for luxuriously priced Legos, the watching of “MythBusters” or slow-rolling his eyes when I tell him to brush his teeth for real, and not just chew on the bristles for 20 seconds.
This is what I like about 8-year-olds: Flitting, volatile images and activities are constantly colliding for space in their brains, like atoms banging around some complex and yet-fully-formed molecule. Many of these ideas fly off into space, never to be heard from again, like the time we tried baseball (boring) or his brief interest in his school-project mealworms, which was not something I was sad to see evaporate, as mealworms turn into beetles and I have a pretty strict limit on the amount of beetles I purposefully invite into the house. I vaguely recall having this ability — not only the time but also the focus to discover something and throw myself into investigating it — but I’m pretty I expended most of mine on the collection and nomenclature of minor “Star Wars” bounty hunters and a not-inconsiderable interest in professional wrestling, which has really paid off on a professional level.
So that the tuba is 1. something that exists in real life and 2. could increase the amount of second-line music in my home are two notches in the “explore further” column. Moreover, it’s been about three days and the tuba molecules have yet to dissipate, which means we’ve gone from entry-level interest to asking Siri where to buy a tuba in South Carolina. (“Not many places, Jeff. Are you sure you weren’t asking about grain alcohol or obstructionist senators?”)
Men’s Health — ONE OF KENNY CHESNEY’S BREEZIEST songs has the comforting title “Be As You Are.” It’s basically what would happen if you folded up the island of St. John and slipped it into a cassette deck—an acoustic carpe diem about finding an idyllic Caribbean harbor within yourself. This is a nice sentiment, and elements of Chesney’s life mirror the song. He spends an enviable amount of time in the tropics, and even when landlocked he seems to fully embody life in paradise. No man is an island? Tell that to Chesney.
On his epic summer tours, he creates a tiki-bar atmosphere on football fields in places like Indianapolis and Kansas City. He makes 50,000 people think they’re at a tin-roofed beachside canteen that seats nine. He preaches simplicity and oceanside afternoons in songs that hit a demographic sweet spot: folks young enough to feel free and old enough to reminisce about easier times. This recipe has made Chesney really, really popular.
GateHouse — Despite growing up in a reasonably comfortable Indiana suburb, I never really got into the music of Tupac Shakur. This put me in direct conflict with my younger brother, Dave; while I would spend my formative Camelot Music-stalking time making important purchasing decisions about Tesla and the “Wayne’s World” soundtrack and, God help me, that Styx album with “Show Me The Way” on it (I KNOW, I ALREADY KNOW), Dave was able to leverage his good grades and positive attitude, as well as our parents’ divorce, into permission to buy pretty much anything with a parental advisory sticker and an Intro on it between the years 1991-1994.
I bring this up because none of the girl-pantsed losers I listened to in high school would ever remotely be considered for immortalization in hologram form; you cannot be baked enough to clamor for an all-projection version of Tesla’s “Five Man Acoustical Jam,” which I owned in both CD and cassette form and which may be an inaccurate reference, as I’m pretty sure no one is Tesla has died yet. I should probably fact-check this point before emailing this column to my editors, but Siri is all the way downstairs. Hang on. “SIRI! CAN YOU COME UP HERE AND ANSWER A QUESTION ABOUT TESLA?” Ugh, nothing. These phones are so buggy.
Thrilled and honored to contribute to the relaunched — and slick-looking! — official site of Bruce Springsteen, as part of a team that includes such Bruce luminaries as Chris Phillips, editor of the legendary Backstreetsmagazine, Caryn Roseand Glenn Radecki. The site’s a treasure box for Bruce fans and features blurbs for albums, tours and videos, which feature my contributions throughout. If you’re interested, I also wrote a handful of band bios, including those for Springsteen, Stevie Van Zandt, Nils LofgrenandSoozie Tyrell. Check it out!
Twice now, through no appreciable talent or skill of my own, I’ve been lucky enough to fly to New York City— at not very many moments’ notice — to stalk Bruce Springsteen. I did it last year when he performed on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” thanks to the success and unprovoked generosity of an old friend who books the musical talent and is inexplicably gracious to inveterate obsessives. On that first tripa buddy and I found ourselves, suddenly and without adequate warning, in a conversation with Bruce Springsteen about children, parenting and the community of siblings, a three-minute galactic improbability that sort of resulted in the birth of my second son. (Long story.)
I did the same last week (fly to New York, not have a son), due to a second lightning strike of luck and babysitting, and found myself once again in the lobby at 30 Rock swarmed by a buzzing mass of Bruce people and happily dazed tourists. As it turned out, one of the swarming people in our ticket line looked a lot like Seth Avett of the Avett Brothers, a band that I’ve stalked a fair amount as well (my Billboard review of “I And Love And You,” and me interviewing them at Bonnaroo in 2010). You know that thing where you stare at somebody like an idiot, trying to see if it’s really that guy, but you can’t tell, and the wifi doesn’t work so you can’t Google image him so you stand there like a hopeless yokel until someone else confirms the identity for you? You do? Great.
The show, of course, was a delirious joy. Springsteen made a babushka joke, which, as a dutiful Slovak, I’m pretty sure was written just for me (thanks, Boss). The ’80s-bandanna/LMFAO sketchwas a perfect sequel. There was a bit during a commercial break in which the zipper on Springsteen’s black leather jacket got stuck, and the short version is for three minutes off-air two women struggled to free a fake-panicking Bruce Springsteen from his clothes while Jimmy Fallon impersonated Bruce’s preacher-man persona and the Roots laid down what I think was polka music. I very much enjoyed writing that sentence.
Florida Times-Union — Jimmy Buffett has scored unimaginable bank as king of an empire that encompasses music, restaurants, apparel, shrimp, tequila, casinos and whatever industry puts blowup pools in the back of pickup trucks.
But before he was able to convince untold thousands of concertgoers in suburban amphitheaters and basketball arenas they were actually watching the sun drop in someplace like Tahiti, Buffett really was a struggling, easygoing and fairly well-lubricated storyteller from the Gulf Coast, a guy who came up in the early ’70s singer-songwriter golden age of John Prine, James Taylor, Steve Goodman and countless others.
It’s tougher to find that side of Buffett onstage after decades of sold-out cheeseburger parties, but it’s not impossible: For decades he’s ended his beach blanket blowouts with a solo acoustic number (we call it the Let’s Get The Hell Out Of Here Before These People Get In Their Cars song), his best chance to retune his guitar, rummage around in the song trunk and revisit some of the softer, simpler corners of the catalog. If you’ve gotten your fill of the songs you know by heart, here are a few lost treasures worth digging up.
Island Packet — Mick Jagger has Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen had Clarence Clemons. Jimmy Buffett’s onstage foil/sidekick has for decades been a very large, congenial ginger named Mac McAnally.
With a massive helmet of Hagar the Horrible-thick hair, dry-rubbed Southern wit and considerable tallness, McAnally does not exactly fit into the Caribbean-escapist vibe conjured up by Buffett’s beach blanket blowouts.
But since the 1990s, the Mississippi native has served as Buffett’s onstage counterpoint, guitarist and producing and writing partner. (He also has, during performances of “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere,” served as Alan Jackson.)
Metromix — Gillian Welch is a band, one that features Gillian Welch on vocals and guitar and partner Dave Rawlings on guitar, and that is how Gillian Welch has worked for years.
It’s the honey voice of Welch that usually first pulls listeners into the duo’s spare, warm songs. But nearly two decades into a friendship forged at the Berklee College of Music over a shared love of very old music, Welch and Rawlings have evolved into an extraordinary duet machine, one that blends crackling acoustic music, Appalachian folk traditions and bluegrass into an effortlessly rich rural sound.
Such synergy is hard to maintain in real life and harder to maintain in music (we’re still not entirely sure if Simon and Garfunkel like each other). But part of Welch and Rawlings’ persistence as a duo comes their perfectionism and pragmatism. “We’re perfectionists of a certain stripe,” she says. “We’ll take all kinds of haphazard and accidental things in recording, but with the songwriting I feel like we inhabit this really sparse, almost puritanical world, and there just isn’t very much that fits in that world.”
Metromix — “You won’t be around next year,” growled Craig Mack in one of hip-hop’s best-ever boasts. While the history of hip-hop is littered with abandoned careers, failed promise and like three separate attempted comebacks by Ma$e, it turns out hip-hop artists, despite their apocalyptic imagery and crushing self-importance, are as susceptible to the whims of the marketplace (and their creditors) as anyone. Here’s a list of 10 hip-hop acts who, though you may not be aware of it, are currently quite active, and may even be around next year. Read the full piece at Metromix.
I'm a a writer for such outlets as Men's Health, South Magazine, Nickelodeon's NickMom.com, Billboard, brucespringsteen.net and Paste, a syndicated humor columnist for GateHouse and a father of two (the younger of whom has been personally approved by Bruce Springsteen) on the coast of South Carolina. Even longer bio/clips.