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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Finding fiction

A tip on reading more books that I’ve found useful is to just embrace having more than one on the go at a time. Prevents any one book from feeling like a slog that is stopping you from moving on to your new, shiny books.

Personally I aim to have at least one fiction and one non-fiction book in progress. Non-fiction isn’t so hard to line up—just go with subjects I’m interested in. Fiction is tougher. I now see why so many people love genres of fiction: makes it easier if your aim is to have a bunch of mysteries, romances, or sci fi novels at the ready.

But if your genre is, basically, General Fiction? Quite a bit tougher to narrow that down. I seek inspiration everywhere.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Source: Spotted it in a book store (but later bought the ebook)

A love story, of sorts, between an eccentric owner of record store—as in LPs, at the time when everybody was buying CDs (and maybe cassettes)—and a mysterious young woman who swooned outside the shop one day. She claims to know nothing about music. He agrees to teach her about it.

That’s the best part of this book, to me—the in-depth discussions of great exemplars of different types of music: jazz, rock, classical, R&B… Makes you want to rush out and listen to what’s being discussed. Fortunately, the book comes with a Spotify playlist:

I do not know what the book’s main character would have thought of Spotify…

An American Marriage by Tayah Jones

Source: Barack Obama recommendation

A novel about a recently married couple in which the husband is wrongfully convicted of sexual assault. The wife has no doubt of her husband’s innocence; nonetheless, he faces a long incarceration away from her. How do you manage that?

Much of the novel is told as a series of letters. The story does not proceed on a predictable path, but it is plausible one. Thanks, Obama.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Source: Kobo (ebook seller) recommendation

A work of fiction built around the story of a young woman who has an affair with the older, married, male Senator she’s an intern for. Shades of Monica Lewinski, yes, though that affair is mentioned in the novel as the news that drives her own story out of the headlines.

What’s interesting is that the story is told exclusively from the point of view of the women involved: the intern, her mother, her daughter (the story covers many years), and the Senator’s wife. And you’re not always sure who is who, at least not right away. I loved the approach and really got caught up in this novel.

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Source: New York Times best books of 2018

This one didn’t work out!

The novel is in three parts. The first two seem unrelated. The third is supposed to bring them together. I read the first part, about a love affair between a young woman and much older man (a writer). They were interesting characters, but they didn’t really do much. There wasn’t much plot happening.

Before proceeding, I look into other reviews. They said that the second part was less interesting than the first, and that the supposed connection you find out about in the third is tenuous, maybe unfathomable. So, I gave up on this one.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

Source: Recommendation from The Washington Post

Cassandra Bowden, a flight attendant and a binge drinker, wakes from drunken stupor to find that the man she spent the night in Dubai with has been murdered. What to do?

If there’s one genre I do tend to return to, it’s the thriller, and this one is somewhat reminiscent of The Girl on the Train. Unlike that novel, however, it’s clear early on in this story that Cassandra did not murder her lover. But her lack of memory about what happened complicates her situation. And her frequently poor judgment often makes things worse.

This was a pretty fun read. I got it as a library ebook and had to binge read through the last parts because someone else had put a hold on it and I wanted to know how it ended.

Non-fiction

I’ve been in a bit of a rut here, of musician bios.

Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite is Roger Daltrey’s breezy, easy-reading autobiography. You can tell that it was built from Roger telling his story to the writer he worked with, who assembled the pieces into a coherent narrative.

It is an interesting story, starting in the deprivations of post-war London and continuing up to closing out the Olympic Games, making a triumphant return to Hyde Park, and nearly dying of viral meningitis. With many entertaining anecdotes on the way, from Keith Moon’s antics to the many women in his life (and a number of surprise children) to The Who’s financial challenges and musical triumphs.

I can recommend this one as being appealing even to more casual fans of The Who, as Jean and I listened to the audiobook version (read by Roger Daltrey) and Jean was approving. He had a much higher opinion of Mr. Daltrey by the end of reading this than he had going in.

Unlike with Roger Daltrey’s book, which I preordered and read pretty promptly, this one has been sitting on the bookshelf for a while. I ended up quite enjoying it, though.

This Ray Davies’ second autobiography. Though it does some moving back and forth in time, it’s told in a much more straightforward fashion than his first, which employed a faux, third-party narrator. Here, Ray just writes his own story, focusing on The Kinks relationship with America, and therefore covering the period starting in the early 1970s when the band’s work ban was lifted. It includes the whole 1980s “arena rock” period during which I discovered The Kinks and became a fan, so was of particular interest.

Ray discusses some of his relationships he was in during this time, but with considerable discretion, so if you’re hoping for dirt on his volatile relationship with Chrissie Hynde, you’ll be disappointed. It’s mostly about the music, the band, and his uneasy relationship with the US itself—culminating in his shooting by a mugger in New Orleans. Getting shot is no joke, it turns out…

Another book with a soundtrack (yes, there’s also a Part 1; I just prefer Part 2)


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Ticketmonster

I was on vacation in Seattle, and awake before Jean was, for some reason, when I got an email about a pre-sale for a Who concert in Toronto nearly a year later. Buying a concert ticket on a tablet while on vacation isn’t the ideal scenario, but I had the time, so I figured I might as well see what I could get.

As anyone who’s tried it knows, buying tickets from Ticketmaster is a roll of the dice. Who knows what seats it will cough up for your consideration, and at what price, at any given time?

But this time the dice landed landed on: Floor seats! In the front centre section! And at the normal price, no VIP / resale nonsense!

Stunned, I started the checkout process…

Only to lose the connection partway as the flaky hotel wifi conked out.

Cue the swearing. (Quiet swearing, as Jean was still sleeping.)

Wifi returned, I tried again, and… So did my luck! I was still able to get front center floor seats at the normal price! And this time managed to complete the purchase. (The show was great.)

View from the floor was pretty good!

I have no idea how or why that happened or how I could possibly replicate it. I don’t recall who I got  this presale offer for, except that it wasn’t the fan club and it wasn’t American Express (I’ve never had an American Express). Was it just that the sale took place so far ahead? Did The Who just decide not to hold back that many seats as “VIP”?

We know the deal with Ticketmaster, that it’s exceedingly difficult for any human to beat out the resell bots—that, it turns out, Ticketmaster is in cahoots with). And that presales (and even the general sale) only have a subset of seats on offer, giving a constant impression that they are going fast.

I have had great, even front row, seats at other rock concerts, but that involved either not dealing with Ticketmaster (Bob Geldof in Ottawa, Roger Daltrey at Casinorama), or paying for VIP (Adam Lambert, who, as a solo artist, at least has moderate prices. If you don’t count the expense of getting to Berlin.).

Views from the front row

But for big shows in arenas, I think that Who concert was my once-in-a-lifetime good ticket-buying experience that won’t come around again. Especially since Ticketmaster keeps finding ways to make things worse.

Their latest ploy is to not tell you what the ticket prices are ahead of time. I don’t buy tickets often enough to know when this changed, but I’m certain that in the past you could look up ahead of time what ticket prices would be at different levels, so you could plan. They seem to not do that now.

I thought their main motivation must be that, in the frenzy, people might spend more than they otherwise would had they been able to plan ahead. But according to the CBC report on Ticketmaster, it’s also because they sometimes raise the prices a few hours after they initially go on sale.

They’re taking their queue from the airline industry.

Then there’s the new “Waiting room”. Admittedly, it wasn’t ideal before, sitting on the ticket buying web page waiting for the on-sale time, then refreshing and hoping nothing crashed before you could get in there to roll your dice.

So now, about an hour before the on-sale time, you can click to go into a “waiting room”. At on-sale time, it refreshes and you are “randomly” assigned a place in line.

I had over 2000 people in line ahead of me. The only other person I know who’s tried this also started with over 2000 people in line ahead of her. Make of that what you will.

There’s a little animation of your place in line that moves along as the number of people in front of you drop. You daren’t go anywhere else, but it’s not the most compelling viewing. (I can’t find a screen cap of it. Everybody must be too stressed while waiting to take one.)

Finally, your turn comes up, you copy in your presale code, you see what seats come up! And how much they are!

My target this time was yet another Queen + Adam Lambert tour. It was awful. I switched between seeing what was available for general sale and what the “cheaper” VIP offered. You couldn’t seem to look at both options at once, and of course, every time I went back to one or the other, the available seating was less. (Also, the Best Available sorting? Really wasn’t in that order!)

I finally picked something. I winced at the total, but smiled at the seating chart.

I don’t have a solution to this. If you want to see a big rock concert at an arena, Ticketmaster and resellers are your only option. Queen + Adam Lambert are encouraging use of Twickets, where people aren’t allowed to sell the tickets at higher than the price they paid. So that’s nice, but they currently have 0 tickets on offer. (Admittedly, there’s a lot of time for people’s plans to change.)

In Europe, they seem to have many more places where you can still buy general floor seats, then end up with a good spot if you’re willing to wait in line for them. Not all that helpful for North Americans.

So, I’m just glad there aren’t that many artists for whom I’m willing to go through this.

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One of the few


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Sing-along musicals

The KW Symphony recently presented “Sing-Along Musicals”! I got tickets even though Jean is not so big on “singing along”. When I saw the program, I wasn’t so sure how much of that I would be doing, either. South PacificOklahomaThe King and I? Those are some old-timey musicals! Did I even know any of the songs from those?

Turns out I did, at least somewhat. “I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Outta my Hair” has not always been a shampoo jingle, it turns out. Oklahoma includes “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”, “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”, “ I Can’t Say No”, and “People Will Say We’re in Love”. The King and I has “I Whistle a Happy Tune”, “Getting to Know You”, and “Shall We Dance”. And they projected the lyrics, so you didn’t need those memorized.

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The second half got a bit more modern, with “Defying Gravity” (done as a solo, mind you), selections from The Sound of Music, and a surprise encore of “Let It Go” from Frozen. The whole evening was fun, the concert featuring a youth choir, two talented young singers leading the sing-along (when they weren’t solo-ing), and young dancers making an appearance during some numbers. Conductor John Morris Russell, of the Cincinnati Pops, was lively as usual. So Jean enjoyed it also.

It got me thinking, though: What would be my picks if programming a sing-along musicals concert? Excluding any musicals based on the works of great rock and pop artists (such as We Will Rock You, Tommy, American Idiot, Mamma Mia, and Jersey Boys), because that would be cheating. And I guess that also excludes Moulin Rouge, though kudos to Baz Luhrmann for truly re-imagining all those pop songs in that music.

But merely having mentioned Moulin Rouge, I can now include this Virtue and Moir dance video, right?

First up, musicals with multiple great numbers in them, so we could do a bit of a singalong medley with those. In no particular order…

1. Jesus Christ Superstar

The first collaboration between Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber, and maybe the best. The songs from this are so good, if lyrically a little weighty, given the subject matter. I loved the Stratford version of this play (which later went on to Broadway).

Roger Daltrey’s take on “Heaven on Their Minds” (because, why not Roger Daltrey’s take)

2. Grease

I believe that sing-along versions of the movie Grease actually are a thing. And it is a bunch of great songs. Even if the gender dynamics of the whole movie are a bit troubling, at this point. (“Did she put up a fight?” “She’s a real pussy wagon”)

But Rizzo, women are under no obligation to have sex just because they batted their eyes and danced close! (Still a nice tune, though.)

3. Hamilton

Sing-along-wise, all the rapping sections would be problematic. I think we’d all have to stop at that point and leave those bits to a solo rap artist. There’s also the issue that only the privileged few have managed to see Hamilton at this point (me not among them)—though anyone can listen to the soundtrack on Spotify (just sayin’). And it’s such good music.

4. Rocky Horror Picture Show

Creepy, wonderful fun here—I’m planning to see the Stratford production this summer. Everyone knows “Time Warp”, but it also has “Hot Patootie”, “Touch-A, Touch-A”, “Superheroes”, and the theme song:

Adam Lambert was the only good thing about Fox’s Rocky Horror TV remake, however

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More with Feeling

Once upon a time, there were live showings of the Buffy singalong, whereupon this season five episode in which all the characters magically found themselves singing, as though they were in a musical, played on a big screen with subtitles, while people sang along. But the poo-poo heads at Fox shut it down before I could get myself to one.

The beauty of singing along with this is—some of these actors don’t sing a whole lot better than you do, probably, so it’s much less intimidating. And the songs are surprisingly catchy.

Spike’s big number in the musical, the rockin’ “Rest in Peace”

Then a few individual pieces from musicals.

1. “Seasons of Love” from Rent

Maybe Rent has a bunch of other good songs, but I only know this one, the most famous one.

“Seasons of Love” from Glee, where it was used in tribute to Finn / Cory (and it still kills me)

2. “I Got Life” from Hair

We’re allowed to sing about “tits” and “ass” in these days, aren’t we? Especially as it’s not in a sexual context here?

Treat Williams was amazing in this movie

Actually, with “Aquarius”, “Good Morning, Starshine”, and “Where Do I Go”, Hair almost qualifies for the medley treatment—though a lot of its other songs are considerably more problematic, lyrically, than “I Got Life” (once taken out of context of the play / movie, at any rate).

[I’m being all serious here, as if I’ve actually ever going to program a musical concert.]

3. “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie

Look, it’s a beautiful song, and it’s been covered by everybody.

4. “America” from West Side Story

West Side Story is a brilliant musical and I love it. But I don’t find myself listening to the soundtrack much. Except for “America”.

5. “Dogs in the Yard” from Fame

Leaving the obscurest for last, this is a song from the 1980 movie Fame that I think was just played over the credits. But I had the soundtrack LP, and I’ve always loved this song.

You wild man—you go and play poker! Live a little!


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Sounds of 2016

My opinion of this year’s top music? That I probably didn’t hear most of it. Last year, under Adam Lambert’s Spotify / Twitter guidance, I actually heard a fair amount of the top 40. This year Adam had other priorities (tours, movies, TV shows), so I reverted to more typical behaviour for someone my age, and listened more to older stuff.

Still, some audio releases of 2016 managed to grab my attention.

Albums

The Hamilton Mixtape

We went to New York this year, but did not see Hamilton, the Broadway musical. I tried for tickets, but without really knowing much about the play, other than that it was super-p0pular. We did see the New York Library exhibit about Alexander Hamilton’s life, however, and it certainly was a colourful. So on my return, I finally listened the musical soundtrack, and really liked it. I definitely got into the story line, and a lot of the songs are just catchy. They’re not all hip-hop, but I liked those ones, too, generally.

So The Hamilton Mixtape, a collection of covers, re-imaginings, and out-takes from the musical, was the only album I got my hands on the day it came out. It did not disappoint. It just highlights why this story of someone from so long ago resonates today.

Favorite track: “It’s Quiet Uptown” by Kelly Clarkson, though it always makes me weepie

People are already weeping over Lin-Manul Miranda’s Hamilton Mixtape

Carly Rae Jepsen: E*MO*TION Side B

It actually took me a few listens to really get into the original E*MO*TION album, but I had no such trouble with Side B. Why these particular tracks didn’t make the original cut is a mystery, as they seem as strong as those.

Favourite track: “The One”

The Queen Extravaganza: A Night at the Apollo Hammersmith Live

The Queen Extravaganza are the officially sanctioned Queen tribute band, and on this outing they tackle the entirety of A Night at the Opera—something the original band never did. The do an impressive job of it. And then we get some other Queen hits.

What’s particularly striking about this band, though, is just how much singer Marc Martel sounds like Freddie Mercury. You’d occasionally swear this is a new recording by him, which is a mix of awesome and weird. The album is not available for streaming, but must be acquired from Pledge Music.

Favourite track: “The Prophet’s Song”. I dare you to not be impressed by it.

Queen Extravaganza – Seven Seas of Rhye – Live at the Apollo Hammersmith

Alysha Brilla: Human

Not every song is a home run, but this is an uplifting, positive release from this hometown artist.

Favourite track: Bigger Than That (“You put up a wall, but I’ll climb it like a cat. Cause I am bigger than that.”)

(David Bowie’s Blackstar is also worth noting, but you all knew that already.)

Songs

You’ll notice a prevalence of artists of a certain vintage here…

  • Bonnie Raitt: Need You Tonight—Sexy cover of this INXS song
  • Beyoncé: Formation
  • Roger Daltrey: Let My Love Open the Door—Who singer takes on this great Pete Townshend solo track, for charity
  • Brits 2016 Bowie Tribute, featuring Lorde—Fantastic job
  • Paul Simon: Wristband—So funny . Rest of the album is rather good, too.
  • Tanya Tagaq: Rape Me—Haunting cover of the Nrvana song. Her album has made many “best of the year” lists, but I haven’t listened to it all yet.
  • Lady Gaga: Grigio Girls

And I also liked everything Adam Lambert released this year:

  • The two dance track collaborations: “Can’t Go Home” with Steve Aoki and “Broken” with Tritonal
  • The cover of George Michael’s “Faith”
  • His Rocky Horror songs; Hot Patootie (Bless My Soul) and Science Fiction
  • And his single, performed on American Idol and featured in numerous sports broadcasts: “Welcome to the Show”

Gorgeous official video for Welcome to the Show

Concerts

Did pretty well with live shows this year, and since I blogged about each at the time, I don’t have it go on about them again. In order of greatness:

  1. Adam Lambert: Original High Tour (Berlin, Germany)
  2. Tanya Tagaq, Intersections concert with KW Symphony (Kitchener, Canada)
  3. The Who: Who Hits 50 tour (Toronto, Canada)
  4. Alysha Brilla: Album release party (Waterloo, Canada)

(You know it’s quite the year if on my favourite bands of all time is third!)

Via semi-legal webcast, I also enjoyed the Queen + Adam Lambert Rock in Lisboa, and by totally legal national broadcast, the Tragically Hip’s last show of their tour.

Podcasts

It didn’t occur to me to compile a list of particularly good podcasts, but I did spend part of the Christmas break working through Wired’s recommendations. Good list, though I have concluded I’m not really a fan of fiction podcasts, even if well done.

Audiobooks

trevor-noah-book-born-a-crime-stories-from-a-south-african-childhoodEasy, because I only finished one (not enough road trips this year): Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. This book has been well-reviewed and I can assure you, it’s deserved. His life is fascinating, and he tells it well.

Trevor Noah was born in South Africa, during the Apartheid era, of a black mother and a white father. Their relationship was illegal; hence, “born a crime”. He spent much of his early childhood indoors. When out with either of his parents, a ruse was necessary. He’d walk with a lighter-skinned friend of his mother’s, and his mother pretended to be maid. He walked across the street from his father.

Apartheid ending just changed the complications of figuring out where he fit in.

Though it’s his life story (and does not include the tale of how he became a successful comedian in South Africa, and ultimately star of The Daily Show), his mother is the real star here. What amazing woman, to be so strong and independent in a society that gave her no training or support for being so.

Noah does narrate the book himself (unabridged) and does a great job of it. It’s fun hearing him read out the various African languages and to get the proper pronunciation of everything. It wasn’t a very easy life, but as comedians will, he pulls many funny moments out of it nonetheless. One of the best things I heard this year.

 


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A most terrible year?

The year-end reviews certainly are gloomy this year. A sort of consensus that it’s hard to find anything good to say about 2016.

And for residents of some countries, that was certainly true. Poor Haiti had yet another earthquake. Syria! A daily dose of tragedy, made all the worse because our countries were involved in trying to stop it. And the Venezuelans—suffering under an incompetent President, their economic situation already bad and getting worse daily.

But as a global aggregate, the fact is that a lot of things are improving. (These charts don’t all include 2015—and can’t include 2016 yet, as it’s not done!—but the trends shown did not reverse themselves last year.)

Extreme poverty is down, and real incomes are up.

share-world-population-in-extreme-poverty-absolute

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This one is for Canada specficially

People are healthier.

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Life expectancy is also up, globally

Education rates are much higher.

literate-and-illiterate-world-populationHomicide (and other crime rates) are down, even in gun-happy US.

homicide-rates-in-the-united-states-1950-2010-and-canada-1961-2009-pinker-2011-jpg

I think the source of all this gloom is the US election and its highly unfortunate result. Had Hillary Clinton won the Electoral College, Brexit would seem a weird mess the Brits got themselves into rather than part of an alarming global trend. We could celebrate the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement and some actual action on the front (carbon pricing in Canada! Mon dieux!) instead of feeling it’s all a bit for naught now. The loss of beloved celebrities, some at alarmingly young ages (had not realized just how contemporaneous George Michael and I were), would be just a sad thing that eventually happens to us all, and not a pile-on when we don’t want more bad news (on Christmas Day? Really?).

However… while the mood is understandable, it’s still troubling. Because it’s pessimism, and a nostalgic belief that things were better before, and a denial of the inconvenient fact that things are actually pretty good right now—that the President-Elect ran on and got himself elected with.

It’s not a good place to settle in, mentally. It leads to hopelessness, and inactino. This one bad event didn’t make all of 2016 terrible. (And not to bring down the room, but won’t it be worse once he’s actually in office?)

But in 2016, the US had a great President.

barack-obama-computer-wallpaper

The 2016 Olympics were fun and kind of inspiring.

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The number of women of colour elected to the US Senate in 2016 has quadrupled.

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After a serious health scare last year, Roger Daltrey came back with a Who 2016 tour.

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In 2016 the Canadian federal government and its gender-balanced cabinet made significant progress on trade with Europe, climate change, safe injection sites, assisted dying legislation, pipeline approvals (and rejections), and improvements to the Election Act.

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The Hamilton Mixtape, released December 2016, was awesome.

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And Saturday Night Live (and other satirical programs) provided some catharsis.

“I’m not giving up. And neither should you.”


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Chasing the original high

Just let me feel the rush like the first night
Wanna breathe it out cause I’m going out my mind
Gotta feel the touch like the first time
Cause I’m
Chasing the original high
….
I’m trying to buy a fix but there ain’t no price
I try to feed the hunger that keeps me up at night
We were on a trip trying to replicate
But the highs I hit just ain’t doin it for me

Remember back in Hollywood?
The medication flowing through my veins was you…

— “The Original High”

The Original High: Adam Lamber

The title track of Adam Lambert’s new album The Original High suggests that we spend much of our adult lives in a possibly fruitless quest: To rediscover the rush and excitement of the first time we experienced something great, whether that be drugs, sex, love, applause, success, or what have you.

It’s an interesting idea, particularly when considered in light my own Adam Lambert fandom. Why am I obsessing over this guy? What am I gaining from it? Am I chasing some original high here…?

”Remember back in Hollywood?”

Before there were actual boyfriends in my life, there were celebrity crushes. Those were much safer. You could have the thrill and excitement generated by reading about, listening to, or watching these famous strangers, without the risks of real conversations and physical contact with actual, unpredictable people.

Then of course, there were the boyfriends. And that could be very exciting, often in unexpected ways.

And then I found the one, who eventually transitioned from boyfriend to husband. The love and passion I feel for him hasn’t died with the passage of years, but it has changed. Improved, in many ways. But what hasn’t lasted is that initial, mind-blowing, almost insane obsession. That overwhelming high of falling in love.

Because you can’t live a whole life in that state. You wouldn’t want to. Remember that Pepsi commercial? “Is there anything else youthful you’d like to experience?” “Yeah, I’d like to make out like we used to” And then:

Make out like we used to Pepsi ad

“On second thought…” Exactly!

But you can certainly retreat to your harmless old pastime, the celebrity crush. For that safe, remote facsimile of the thrill of a new relationship.

“Just let me feel the rush like the first night”

Adam Lambert posing

The current style

Adam Lambert performing

Performing

In this limited capacity, Adam Lambert is fulfilling the chase fairly well. For all my recent defending of old rockers, it is nice to be into a young, healthy guy. I love his recent style, with less makeup, a more natural hair colour, the torn skinny jeans, the great shirts and jackets. The man always looks amazing, whether arriving an airport, doing a radio interview, performing, or all dressed up for the red carpet.

He is fun to look at.

And having listened to, read, and watched a ton of promotional interviews these past months, gotta say that Adam Lambert also seems to be one of the sweetest, most charming people on the planet. Many of the interviewers are great, but he also handles the uninformed or intrusive questions with a lot of grace, humour, and intelligence, And he’s a good sport about the many absurd little quizzes and activities he’s asked to participate in (Juggling! Dancing like Carlton! Giving the weather forecast! Drinking cheap tequila!)

Adam on Alan Carr Chatty Man. Not necessarily the best interview, but certainly one of the funniest

“But the highs I hit just ain’t doin’ it for me”

So have I achieved celebrity crush nirvana? Well, hmm. I just wish… I just wish… I loved his new album.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the new album. The songs are very catchy. The lyrics have some intelligence. He’s never sung better (on a studio album). The production—the sound quality—is great, crisp, well-mixed. There aren’t any songs I actually dislike.

It’s just that… I don’t really love too many of the songs, either. It all feels a bit… light to me. Lacking in angst, maybe. In emotional power, somehow.

And it’s very odd for me to have this disconnect between the artist and his artistic output. I like listening to The Who’s music every bit as much as I enjoy looking at Roger Daltrey’s pecs. I appreciate Spike’s cheekbones and snark in the context of one of my favourite TV shows of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sure, a song here, an episode there isn’t as great, but overall… Awesomeness.

Whereas a week of listening to Adam Lambert music and I’m like, wow. I need some Elvis Costello, or something.

“Cause I’m chasing the original high”

Now, I really want this album to be a success (though I don’t know what success is in this age of limited music sales), because if it is, he’ll tour. And I feel absolutely certain that I would love seeing him in concert, even if he doesn’t do a single cover song.

Because I do have considerable fondness for his second album, Trespassing. It’s true that the lesser songs on it are weaker than anything on The Original High. But the highs (there’s that word again)… “Trespassing” is probably my favourite song of his ever, an exuberant gay anthem with lyrics ambiguous enough for many other interpretations, and always a lovely ingredient in a remix. And I’m almost as fond of dance-oriented “Pop that Lock”, of angsty ballad, “Outlaws of Love”, of the beautiful, haunting Underneath, and of dark yet rousing bonus track Running.

But as for The Original High, it does contain “There I Said It”  the big ballad, and the one song in which he does seem kind of angry and defiant. (“I won’t apologize to you anymore!”) I do love that song. I’m also rather fond of the sexy, R&B infused “Underground” and I must say that if I’m not sick of single “Ghost Town”  after so many listens (and I’m not), there’s gotta be something to that dance track, also.

And I feel I should end with this blog-post inspiring song, “The Original High” which, yes, I do like very much. It’s an absolutely infectious pop song with smart lyrics.

This is a fan video—with bonus Hungarian subtitles!


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Rock of ages

At a recent dinner with friends, the opinion came up again that aging rock bands should just give it up, already, by age 60. This is a pretty popular opinion, with a long history (starting with the rock stars themselves, who once viewed anyone over 30 with suspicion). I once thought that way myself.

But I’ve changed my mind. For one thing, it is a pretty obnoxious opinion: Just because you don’t want to see older performers, everyone else should also be denied the experience? Musicians can’t decide for themselves how best to handle their own legacy? But beyond manners (and ageism), my own concert experience tells me it’s wrong. I dispute the notion that younger rock performers are always better than older ones.

Musical ability doesn’t disappear on one’s 60th birthday.

Barring a physical condition that affects manual dexterity, it doesn’t necessarily even decline for guitarists, bass players, keyboardists, horn players, and drummers.

Case in point: Queen. On his current tour, Brian May (67) feels he is playing better than he ever has. Certainly he sounds great to me. And while I’m no guitar expert, Brian May is, so I’m going to trust his opinion on this. (He is very smart, after all, what with the PhD in astrophysics.)

Brian’s opinion of bandmate Roger Taylor.(65) is equally high. Can Roger’s playing stand up to that of a younger’s player’s? You judge for yourself as Roger faces off with Rufus (his son):

Taylor on Taylor drum battle

What’s that sputtering I hear? That Queen doesn’t count because they tour with amazing singer Adam Lambert, who is only 33?

So this argument isn’t about guitarists, bassists, keyboardists, horn players, and drummers? It’s just about singers. Singers need to retire at 60?

Well, I do grant that everyone’s voice changes as they get older. It lowers, range is reduced, along with ability to sustain notes. It might become more raspy. However…

For some singers, the changes of age are an improvement.

And here I give you, Leonard Cohen, who is 80! And to me — though I love his songs — his own original recordings of them, recorded when he was young, are completely unlistenable. To me, that voice is awful, whiny, nasal.

Yet it has matured into this amazing thing, this low rumble of pure… sex, frankly. I could listen to that man all day (and go home with him later).

Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man (Leonard is admittedly just a child of 75 here.)

Is that more sputtering? That Leonard Cohen doesn’t so much sing as chant, and that his music is not rock, anyway, so that doesn’t count?

For some rock singers, voice quality is irrelevant, because they never had any.

Like, say, Bob Geldof, who is most definitely a rock performer. He can hit the notes, but nobody in the history of the world has ever said he has a beautiful voice, because he doesn’t. It’s sort of nasal and whiny (and come to think of it, if he ever sang Leonard Cohen, I would probably hate it).

So his musical career (still going!) has never been based on vocal quality. He’s an incredible songwriter. He’s an unbelievably charismatic performer. I love his songs despite his lacking vocal tone, because the lyrics are amazing, they are musically well constructed, he works with talented musicians, and he always sings with passion and meaning.

And Bob Geldof gives the best concerts I’ve ever seen. And the one he gave in 2012, when he was 60, was every bit as good as the one I went to in 2002. And just as good as Boomtown Rats shows from the 80s I’ve seen on DVD.

Bob Geldof live in 2012, Ottawa (Mudslide)

Bob Geldof live in 2012, Ottawa (Mudslide)

Even great rock singers don’t necessarily and always give their best concerts at a younger age

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Who. Unlike Cohen, or Geldof, Roger Daltrey had a great voice as a young man: powerful and with huge range. He could sing high, beautiful, affecting emotional notes, then slide down the scale with the most macho growl. His vocal work on the 1973 Who album Quadrophenia could be used a lesson in “how to be a great rock singer.” And coming off the Tommy and Who’s Next tours, The Who were widely regarded as the very best live band in the world,

And yet, The Who Quadrophenia tour in 1973 was a disaster. In his biography, Pete Townshend calls those shows “the most shameful performances of our career.” Under-rehearsed, over-drugged (except Roger), and exhausted, they simply could not put the complex songs and stories of Quadrophenia across to the crowd. Audiences were bored and left unsatisfied.

In 2012, what remained of The Who toured Quadrophenia once again, performing the entire album. Roger was 70 (Pete 69). Some of the songs had to pitched down. He adjusted the phrasing to reduced ability to sustain. In terms of pure vocal technique, he wasn’t as good he was in 1973.

But nevertheless, by all accounts, those concerts were better than the 1973 ones (that I have seen footage of, and it is pretty painful). The band was large enough, sober enough, and well-rehearsed enough to convey the power and complexity of the album, now reconceived as a tribute to the past, and to The Who themselves. (And for me personally, I thought Roger sounded the best he had in years at the Quadrophenia show I saw. “Love Reign O’er Me” gave me chills.)

The Who: 5:15, 2012 tour

Rock is old (and middle-aged) people’s music.

This might be a painful realization, but rock is no longer the music of youth. It started in the 1950s and has had a great, long run. But who was the last big rock group–Foo Fighters? Founded in 1994? Look at the current charts;  it’s all pop, EDM, rap, funk, and R&B. Nobody young plays rock anymore!

If the old coots don’t get out there and play it, then rock really is dead, Are you sure that’s what you want?