Wednesday, January 01, 2020

It's New Year's Day and I'm Feeling... I need to get things in order. Though I'm not sure where to start. That particular brand of agoraphobia is the thing that cripples my brain on a regular basis: "It's a day off and there's a lot that I want to do around the house. Let me figure out what to do first. I'll put on some music. Oh, I don't know what to put on. I should listen to something I want to write about. But I don't want it on in the background......" Half an hour goes by and I haven't gotten anything done and I put on some album that I played from my college days.

But anyway, 2019 is over.

There was good stuff that happened to me. After trying for over a year to get something together, I'm finally part of a new band, the Harry Von Zells. We played our first show the day after Thanksgiving, and it went really well.

I transferred back to the Whole Foods where I worked for 11 years until I got laid off. In early 2018 I came back to company via the South Hills store but the commute started to kill me. I was also missing out on shows that I alternately wanted and needed to see. (Biggest regret of 2019 was missing Bob Mould. I was always a casual fan of his solo career but that recent album hinted at a great show.) So I'm literally right back in the place where I was 15 years ago. But I'm okay with that. Work is fine.

Pittsburgh Current continues to chug along. The paper is small but it's mighty.

Then there is that batch of albums that I bought over the summer. I know that one should not find their life affirmations in material objects, but records can do that for a person.

But there were definite downsides to the past year. For one thing, this year had the smallest number of blog entries since I started doing it. Even less than the year my son was born. I'm realizing part of that is related to how I approach writing now - feeling like I can't dive into it without a significant amount of preparation. When it comes to albums, that means I need to do a lot of listening (four or five spins) and usually taking notes. Listening to music, sadly, is not what it was in my 20s where it was easy for me to sit in my bedroom and just get absorbed in music, liner notes and any press releases that came with an album. Now listening is something I tend to do on the fly. In the car, where I've realized the sonic range can be pretty limited. I'll listen on the laptop but that usually means being trapped in a seat for a long period of time, which makes me restless. I want to hear everything through the good speakers on the full system at home. (I don't know what you call that anymore. I like Hi-Fi, though.) It all sends me a vicious circle where nothing gets done.

I resolve to be a better listener, who isn't too neurotic and is able to write without over-preparing.

Maybe that will help me discover me more music too. I looked through the list of Best Albums of the Year in JazzTimes and felt out of touch. I didn't know any in the Top 10. None of albums on my list showed up until about #14. Just in case anyone wonders, no I'm not that type that intentionally lists obscure albums for the sake of throwing a monkey wrench into the tally. This is what I like.

One really big downside to the year was the number of musicians who died. Yes, we've all got to go sometime and many of them were up in years, but jeez oh pete, it was a rough one. I paid tribute to my late friend Ed Boytim in a post during the summer, but I will raise my mug to him again.

I was again reminded of Ed because we were both serious fans of Neil Innes, who died on Sunday, December 29 at the age of 75. Innes is up there with the Beatles, Minutemen and Charlie Parker as someone who had a profound musical impact on me. It all started when I saw All You Need Is Cash the mockumentary about the Rutles, a Beatles parody in which Innes played the John Lennon character and wrote all the songs. I was in fifth grade at the time and the Beatles were all I lived for. Rather than seeing the Rutles as a band that made fun of my faves, I picked up on the humor of the whole thing.

A few years later, I bought a compilation of the Bonzo Dog Band's career, and discovered where Innes came from. Half the time, I wasn't sure what was going on with that band, which sounded like a collision of 20s jazz and Monty Python humor, which of course it was. In addition to Vivian Stanshall's zany frontman performance, Innes would jump in with a song or two that had excellent pop sense with a lyrical outlook that could be charming or dryly hilarious. He wrote the band's one hit "I'm the Urban Spaceman," but as good as that one was, he wrote several that were even better. Also, it became a hit in part because the song's producer, Apollo C. Vermouth, was none other than Paul McCartney.

One more word about the Bonzos and Ed. Ed was always coming with ideas for songs or shows, many of which were just pipedreams. When Viv Stanshall died in 1995, he joked about doing a Bonzos tribute show. That was all I needed to hear. I recruited a bunch of horn players and started transcribing Bonzos songs from the records as best I could. Ed and Rob Rayshich, who had a duo called the Minimalist Love Gods, were the rhythm section. At the time I had a copy of the Bonzos' Gorilla album that was warped and could only be played on my '70s turntable that was normally reserved for 78s. But I used it to figure out how to play "I'm Bored" and "The Equestrian Statue." Everyone was into the project, which fueled my obsessive nature.

The first time we staged the Vivian Stanshall Memorial Orchestra it didn't go that well, mainly because things started late and we got cut off after just about five songs. That was also the night of the final Bone Of Contention show. But a few months later, when the Minimalist Love Gods released their CD, the Orchestra opened the show and played a whole set. It was the first time I ever pulled off some big project and, as my first real band was organically wrapping things up, it gave me the courage to pursue other things. It also gave me the bandmates with which to do it, as future Mystery Date members Aimee DeFoe and Bridget Jakub were in the Viv Orchestra.

Speaking of future endeavors, it's time to figure some out now, which means this is a good place to stop. Actually I have to get ready to work today, but that's usually when I remember things I want to do anyhow. So I'll just try to keep my calendar book nearby and make lists for myself.

Happy New Year everyone.

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