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Welcome to Salieri’s Line.  If you are a new reader, I encourage you to scroll down to my first post to find out why Salieri’s Line exists.  The site is designed to allow a reader to easily scroll from post to post, story to story.  Thanks for joining me. I welcome your comments and shared experiences. 

Long Live Rock.

Follow me on Twitter @SalierisLine.

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More Than a Feeling

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I am going a bit off-script here, but this just hit me in the gut the other day.

It started so stupidly: I was reading an article about Phil Collins’ latest tour, and the writer mentioned the song, “Follow You, Follow Me.” I had this weird, almost visceral response that immediately transported me back to my teenage self at a school dance. Now I liked Genesis and Phil Collins well enough – just not in my top five, let’s say, but apparently this song was played at a dance I attended in my youth. I doubt that I have even heard that song in the last twenty years unless it was playing on the muzak in the dentist’s office or while I was shopping for produce at Sprouts. But damn, it sent me back on a serious time travel trip. Here’s the weird part: if just the mention of a song title can elicit that strong of a reaction in me, then wtf is wrong with me?

When you are a person for whom music is part of your soul….. You know who you are: You must have music available at all times – preferably of your own choosing. You can think of a theme song or favorite lyric for almost any situation. You can get so lost in one of your favorite songs/albums that you are completely oblivious to life around you. You literally feel music throughout your entire body. You become so elated and energized when seeing one of your musical idols perform live, that you are emotionally and physically drained the day after the performance. You want so badly to share your experience with others in your life…and are crushed when they do not share your enthusiasm or your opinion.

I don’t think I am alone in this personality aspect across the broader population. But within the parameters of my own life, few, if any, in my close circle of family and friends share this musical mania with me. Sometimes, though, I would just love to gush to someone about a great live performance I have seen. In the words of Eddie Vedder, “I just want to scream Hello.”

In a recent New York Times Music article, Rob Tannenbaum mentioned that he would not go to see one of his favorite bands who was using a substitute bassist on tour. “If it’s weird to care that much about a bassist, well, being a rock fan is often weird.” And Robert Smith of the Cure was quoted as admitting, “I lose myself in music because I can’t be bothered explaining what I feel to anyone else around me.” So is being a music addict an anti-social attribute? It can’t be, given the way we communicate with each other at concerts and on social media. In fact, the beauty of social media, for me, is that I have finally connected with others who share my intense musical passion, and even those who have very similar musical tastes. Also, thanks to my social media friends, I have been introduced to some new artists that I most likely would not have sampled otherwise.

Musical taste is so important, in my opinion, that it should be a required field in every online dating profile: “must love the following bands: …..” In fact, maybe I’ll start a whole new dating app, just for music junkies. I make no apologies for my affectation on this front. Be honest now, how many of you initially chose your partner/spouse/friend because they shared your taste in music?

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Are You (music-fest) Experienced?

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For many years, I have avoided the big music festivals. I must admit that being able to listen to live music outdoors is my idea of a perfect day, and I love that music festivals provide the opportunity to see multiple artists, some of whom I may not have been aware of or chosen to listen to otherwise. And the fact that you only have to find and pay for parking once to see several acts is a big plus…. But I’m not too proud to admit that I prefer having a seat and a reasonably clean rest room at my disposal when attending an event. I know I am not alone on that count.

But I recently attended a music festival that was so well executed that it really changed my mind about the whole experience. Kudos to the organizers of Innings Festival 2019. Clearly, festival planning has come a long way in the last decade. It started with ticketing: no longer do you need to even show an electronic ticket on your phone for entry to the venue. Once you receive your wristband with the digital chip, you simply register it online – yes you have to identify yourself, but you can also identify your emergency contact and enter your credit card info so that you never have to open your wallet throughout the festival. Everything from gate entry to paying for merchandise is done with a swipe of your wristband. The benefits are tremendous – from a security perspective, every registered attendee can be identified. If, god forbid, you experience a safety or medical emergency while there, a simple scan of your wristband can immediately provide responders with critical information. And I gotta say that as much as I hate sharing credit card info with any site, it was extremely convenient to swipe the wristband when making food and beverage purchases, keeping the lines moving efficiently. Hydration stations were readily available throughout the venue, allowing festival goers to bring their own refillable bottles, thus reducing plastic waste. The Festival also offered two levels of VIP experiences, for the folks who wanted somewhat improved viewing areas, easy access to beverage vendors, and semi- normal rest room accommodations.

So what about the music line-up? With Eddie Vedder headlining, I have to admit that it would not have mattered to me who else was on the line-up. (see my previous post about him, “Can’t find a Better Band.”) And holy shit his solo performance was outstanding! He played three different guitars, two ukuleles, and an organ while covering songs from everyone from the Beatles to U2, from the Clash to Jason Isbell, and throwing in a couple of my personal favorite Pearl Jam songs. There was a 20-something young man standing next to me during the performance, and we had a chance to talk a bit before Eddie took the stage. He was clearly a Pearl Jam fan – he knew all of the history and every song. But he had never seen them (or any other band) perform live. This was his first experience….and he got to see Eddie perform solo!  It was irresistible to witness his excitement at seeing one of his rock idols. I am hoping it was the start of a lifetime of live music performances for him.

The overall line-up for Innings Festival was actually just perfect for the setting. Lots of funk, brass, hard rock, 90’s rock, something for most every taste and demographic. A couple acts that stood out to me were G. Love & Special Sauce – so much fun to dance in the sunshine to his highly entertaining hip-hop/funk/blues. And St. Paul & the Broken Bones were a positive surprise with an enormous voice and southern blues/soul/gospel sound, complete with full brass accompaniment. Guster’s set was fun and upbeat, and included a gravity-defying fence rail walk by lead singer Ryan Miller!  It was terrific to see Blues Traveler again – I have not seen them live since about ’96, I think. John Popper is a bit slimmer but still has his big voice and killer harmonica licks. And my favorite act from day one of Innings Fest was Cake. I don’t know how I have never seen them perform live before. They delivered an absolutely perfect set.  If you have the chance to see them live, take advantage of it. Many other noteworthy acts were on the ticket, including Sheryl Crow, The Baseball Project, Liz Phair, Jimmy Eat World, and Incubus. Oh, and I have to mention that I got to meet MLB legend Roger Clemens at the baseball-related events. It was a thrill for me – I remember watching him pitch his award-winning ’86 season with the Red Sox at Fenway Park!

I was glad to read that Innings Festival will be back again next year, and so I will again be in attendance. Who said that people can never change?

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Supra Genius

Stream of consciousness poetry. Perfect syncopation. Heavy jazz influence. Funky dance beats. Imaginative hip hop. Noisy experimentalism. A sampler of sound and creativity. Have you ever heard any other band’s music characterized with such seemingly diverse terms? They have been described as having a cult following. I have never considered myself to be a follower of anyone or anything, but if I am a cult member for loving Soul Coughing, I will proudly wear the title.

When most Gen Xers think of 90’s music, they think of Nirvana, Counting Crows, Everclear, RHCP. When I think of 90’s music, I think of Soul Coughing. They did not sound like anything else in the music world at that time. They were truly original and their music transported me to another dimension. While the band was relatively short-lived, the three albums they published during their 8 years together were extraordinary – Ruby Vroom, Irresistible Bliss, and El Oso. El Oso remains one of my absolute favorite albums of all time – probably in my Top 5, in fact. To my musician and music aficionado friends, if you have not experienced the genius of Soul Coughing, please do yourself a favor and listen to their catalog. You’re welcome.

The band’s music has been featured in television shows, movies, and video games. In fact, after the band split up in 2000, Mark Degli Antoni who masterfully played keyboards and sampler for Soul Coughing went on to compose several film scores, and worked with another of my favorite musicians, David Byrne. The lyrics and vocal identity of Soul Coughing were the brain child of genius lead singer and front man Mike Doughty.  Preferring a simpler sound for the band, he employed a drum-and-bass foundation, while his vocals were punctuated by his sharp and often exaggerated articulation of specific syllables. While every Soul Coughing song is a work of art in my opinion, Doughty wrote some of my favorite lyrics in “Maybe I’ll Come Down”: “I knew the gas was gone, but I had to rev the motor.” and “freezer burn….all else is only icing.” Thankfully, he remains active as a solo artist.

I saw Soul Coughing perform live in ’96 when they opened for The Dave Matthews Band. That may seem like an unusual combination of acts, but DM was a huge fan of the band. The performance remains on my Top 5 Concert list. I had front-row seats, although I know that I was standing/dancing in front of the stage, intently watching Mike Doughty for the entire show. (I challenge anyone to try not to dance when listening to Soul Coughing.) It was a spectacular set, and so much fun to experience. A few years back, I had tickets to see Mike Doughty perform solo at an intimate local venue, but was unable to attend at the last minute. So I am incredibly excited to be seeing him soon on his current solo tour where he will perform Soul Coughing’s first album, Ruby Vroom, in its entirety. I have so much respect for this guy – awe, really – for his musical artistry, sure, but maybe more so for his truly independent creative approach.

So far, he may not have found the science, but he has certainly found the art.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

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I received the invitation to my High School reunion today. It scared the hell out of me to see it – has it really been that many years since high school? Let’s just say, it is more than 10… Of course, I immediately started thinking about music from that era. High school was such a critical time for me in forming my own musical tastes, as I’m sure it was for everyone else. While I previously had the influence of older siblings to shape my rock music foundation, when I got to high school age, they were all long gone. I had the house to myself and could play whatever music I chose to play, not what they dictated.

Unfortunately, despite residing in the Rock and Roll Capital of the World, the musical tastes in my small rural suburb were not so well developed.  I won’t even tell you what the theme song to our Senior Prom was….it’s too embarrassing. Needless to say, I was NOT on the Prom planning committee. I was listening to The Clash, Talking Heads, Pretenders, The Police, Blondie, The Ramones, U2. Clearly, my musical tastes were not shared by most of my teenage friends at the time, so I couldn’t wait to leave for college.

You know how hearing an old song can instantly take you back to that time in your life with perfect recall? Anytime I hear The English Beat “Save it for Later”, I think of the girls who lived across the hall from me in my college dorm who played it non-stop.  If I hear Fine Young Cannibals “She Drives Me Crazy”, I remember being at a beach party on Cape Cod drinking Absolut and Lemonade.  When I hear Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” I recall seeing the movie of The Wall with a musician friend (whose band was called “The Generics” and they wore white industrial jumpsuits with giant barcodes printed down the leg), and watching Bob Geldof play the lead role to perfection.

I am not one who likes to linger in the past, so those memories are brief. Learn from the past, don’t dwell there. And as for the High School reunion, I have never attended one, so I will probably skip it once again, despite the urging of my best friend. I am sure that the small town of my youth has grown and changed, hopefully for the better. Time instead to think about the next concert on my calendar…..

Postscript:  Perhaps I will curate a Playlist as my contribution to the Class Reunion….  Man, am I gonna have fun with this one….

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His Aim is…… Perfect

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I have always been attracted to interesting voices. Human voices that have that certain quality that makes them unique – and instantly recognizable. Whether raspy or nasal, calming or deep, or smooth like butter, I am fascinated by them. I call it the “Sam Elliott Factor.” You know his voice as soon as you hear it. It is equally attractive to women and men. It is so recognizable, his voice is used to sell beer and consumer products. Personally, I love to listen to his voice. I am not an audio book user (but am an avid reader), but I would probably purchase one that Sam Elliott narrated, just to hear his voice. James Earl Jones, Vincent Price, Carol Channing all have their own distinct qualities as well. In the music world, a few of my idols are on the list, but none that has interested and entertained me more than Declan MacManus, aka Elvis Costello.

I became a fan with his first album, My Aim is True. He had a sound all his own, with incredible lyrics, melodies, and brilliant story- telling. His music can’t be pigeon-holed to a single style – with intelligent lyrics and punk/pop rhythm and bluesy undertones, it has wide appeal. And he had so much great material, he was releasing an album almost every year back then, most notably Armed Forces that included multiple hits – “Accidents will Happen,” “Oliver’s Army,” and Nick Lowe’s “(What’s so Funny ‘bout) Peace Love and Understanding”. Perhaps my favorite Elvis Costello album is Spike with one of my favorite songs, “God’s Comic”. And you just gotta love his look: the black-rimmed nerd glasses, often a colorful vest, and almost always a signature hat. Who among us has not dressed as Elvis Costello for Halloween at least once?

I am fortunate to have seen him perform live several times over the past 3 decades, probably more than I have seen any other band, including Pearl Jam and the Pretenders. Whether performing solo, with The Attractions, The Imposters, or otherwise, each performance is special in my memory. While he may have been promoting a new album release for some of those tours, he always plays some of the fan favorites. And he has so many hits, he could easily play those all night. I recall him performing “Allison” in duet with Sting at one show. And the tour for Spike was terrific, with the pop beat on “Veronica” getting the fans moving. Most recently, sometime after the release of his memoir, Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink, I saw him perform solo, while sharing photographs and stories of his early life. It was a bit risky as a rock musician to stray from a straight concert format, but with his extremely dedicated following and his artistic genius, only Elvis could pull it off. It was simply captivating.

Consider the longevity of his career as a predominantly solo artist and the sheer volume of his work – I don’t know of any other artist who has been so prolific and productive with such consistently high quality material. He is simply amazing, and is still going strong. Let’s hope he continues writing the book for many more years.

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Commencing Countdown…

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It’s that time of year for Top 10 or Top 100 lists. And of course, I have one, too….or had one anyway. I have hesitated posting this piece for quite awhile. I considered the public shaming I might receive from some of the avid music lovers out there if my picks were too mainstream or common or did not align with theirs. Honestly, we have all been there, right? We are so particular about our musical tastes and try to out-do our friends by “discovering” some avant-garde or little known band or obscure forgotten album or B-side lyric. We judge and often dismiss their tastes because they cannot compare to the depth, insight, and coolness of our own. A kind of music snobbery, really. And kind of contrary to exactly what most musicians and fans want to achieve through music – expression of their feelings without judgment. We can be jerks sometimes in our intense enthusiasm for art and artists. It’s rather funny, isn’t it, since art is completely a matter of personal taste.

I tried really hard to come up with a Top 10 Albums list, but I just could not stop at ten. There are simply too many great albums and too much outstanding music that has shaped my life. Truly. In so many ways, the music has defined me. I was able to whittle down the list to 25 or so. My list includes everything from the Beatles to The Pretenders. From Steely Dan to Pearl Jam. From Talking Heads to Jeff Buckley. From Warren Zevon and Elvis Costello to Soul Coughing. The Kinks. Bowie. From Neil Young to The Clash and Dire Straits. Queen. And from Tom Petty to Live, Counting Crows and Everclear.

So screw it. I am going to post this, and many of you may smirk at my picks. But I am forever grateful to the artists who have contributed so much to my joy and my sanity throughout the years. Another one bites the dust…

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Can’t Find a Better Band

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I just gotta say it: I LOVE Eddie Vedder. His voice, his looks, his manner, and his societal engagement. I do have to admit, though, that I was late to the Seattle Grunge rock music scene. In the 90’s when Nirvana and Pearl Jam were popular, I was listening to Everclear, Live, RHCP, and Soul Coughing. But I came around. Once I started listening to Pearl Jam, I quickly understood their musical integrity and became a fan of both the band and of lead singer Eddie Vedder. Yep, I still have a crush on him…so attractive, and that voice that I could listen to endlessly…singing ANYthing….

The first time I saw Pearl Jam perform live was at Neil Young’s annual Bridge School Benefit concert in the San Francisco Bay area. It was a freak occurrence: I was in Silicon Valley for a job interview and heard an ad for the concert on the car radio. I had completed my interviews and wasn’t flying home until the next day, so I decided to head over to the outdoor venue (still in my interview outfit!), and was happy to discover that they still had tickets available. Boy am I glad I did….the show was one-of-a-kind. While it was a bit uncomfortable sitting on the lawn in a business suit – by myself – the concert goers were friendly and kind-spirited, especially when they heard my story…and perhaps because of the excellent performances. The line-up included Neil Young, Pearl Jam, David Bowie, Billy Idol, Patti Smith, and the Cowboy Junkies. Oh, and a surprise appearance by Pete Townshend! It was primarily acoustic, so the sets were phenomenal – all about the music with none of the stage hype and lighting displays to distract the artists or the audience. The stars were definitely aligned and shining on me that day to give me the unexpected opportunity to see such a fine group of musicians live. Oh, and I did get that job.

A couple years later, I got to see Pearl Jam in their full stadium performance glory, opening for the Stones. (Funny to remember that we thought Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were old then…and that was 20 years ago!) While I admit that I do not have full and complete recollection of that show, I was definitely chanting “Eddie” very enthusiastically throughout the PJ set. But I think my favorite show was a few years ago. It was the Lightning Bolt tour, and while not my favorite album, they played such a long set and included all of the fan favorites…. How could anyone NOT enjoy it? And the arena was so loud – the crowd of all ages truly appreciated the band and their music. Pearl Jam often covers Neil Young and Who songs, so it is no wonder that I am a fan, knowing that Eddie and the band share my deep admiration of both ( see my previous post on Pete Townshend and The Who, “The Man Behind Blue Eyes”.)

The social activism and engagement that PJ has demonstrated is well documented and another contributing factor to my adoration and respect for the band. I have too many favorite PJ songs/lyrics to recognize only one from the vast library, but I do have a couple on my playlist for my long-in-the-future memorial service. Eddie Vedder’s voice is the perfect send-off to eternity.  Can’t find a better man….

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Man Behind Blue Eyes

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One of my all-time favorite rock songs, and my favorite song by The Who is “Eminence Front.” That lyric resonated with me, “they’re hiding behind an eminence front.” In my defiant youth, it hit the right chord, and today it probably has even greater significance. Once again, I owe it to my older siblings for introducing me to The Who when I was a toddler. But later, I discovered the brilliance of Pete Townshend. And then I started really paying attention.

Of course I loved all of their rock and roll anthems like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Riley, and their rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia were ground-breaking and brilliant. I remember seeing the movie of Tommy (with my Mother) at the only big screen theater in the area, and it completely brought the music to life for me, and created a brand new way to experience rock music. To this day, I love that album.

It surprised me that they later sold so many of their songs to car manufacturers and to television studios for use in ads and as crime show theme songs….but even defiant rock pioneers need to accept the business of music.  It likely created a whole new market for them and introduced their music to a new set of listeners and viewers.  Admittedly, I was absolutely mortified when I heard “Eminence Front” used in a Cadillac ad – I am not sure if I was more upset with Pete for selling out or with Cadillac for almost ruining my favorite Who song for me. I will never buy a Cadillac.

When they came to town several years ago, I HAD to go to the concert. Once again, I was too young to see them in their prime years, so this was a milestone event. I was curious to see how a band who had been popular forty years earlier would sound, would relate to the audience, would perform. Silly moi. Of course it was an excellent show! Okay, so Roger’s voice faltered a bit on some of the high notes in “See Me, Feel Me”, but Pete was as dynamic as ever on guitar. His signature windmill arm motion and split jump did not disappoint – especially for a guy in his late 60’s! And with Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr’s son) on drums and Simon Townshend (Pete’s younger brother) on guitar, it was an all-star performance.

They played all of the crowd-pleaser classics, and several from an album they had recently released (Endless Wire) which was not a huge seller, but had some interesting songs, the best of which was “Man in the Purple Dress.” One of the coolest aspects of the performance was that it appealed to all ages – as I scanned the arena, I could see 4 generations of fans in attendance, including kids with their parents and grandparents. Not many rock bands can claim that wide of a demographic!

As an aside, I also met Alice Cooper at this show… Before the show, actually, at his restaurant near the arena. I am guessing that he was hanging out with the band until the wee hours that night.  Best part is I can re-live that performance whenever I want, because they recorded the show and sold the CD’s to benefit various charities. I had floor seats near the sound booth, so I can actually hear myself screaming (shrieking?) enthusiastically on the recording. I have a living memory of the show, and I checked off another rock icon from my live performance bucket list that night. LONG LIVE ROCK!

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He’s Not Like Everybody Else

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With recent talk of a possible (probable?) Kinks reunion, I feel compelled to share my experience with one of my all-time favorite rock icons, Ray Davies. He is one of the handful of rock artists who has mastered multiple mediums – music, performance, writing – and who brought his own style of defiance and craftsmanship to each one.

My older sister was a Kinks fan, so I had been exposed to their music when I was very young. I recall hearing her play 45’s of “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”. Good beat and you could dance to them. Some people recall events or places from their early childhood…I remember music.

Perhaps I was a distant fan of the Kinks, or a fan of the familiar, much as I was a Beatles or Jimi Hendrix fan. But I still knew the lyrics to all of their hit songs and sang along when one came on the radio. We all know “Lola” and “Celluloid Heroes”, right? While many of the popular rock bands of the era are forever locked in that time period, Kinks music endures.

But I guess it was because of my idol, Chrissie Hynde’s relationship with Ray Davies that I became interested in learning more about Ray and his music as I came into my own.  (See my post about Chrissie below:  “She Called the Shots and They Followed”)  When they released “To the Bone” (live recording/compilation) in the mid 90’s, I bought the CD set for my older sister who had introduced me to the Kinks, and also bought a copy for myself. I must have listened to that CD hundreds of times, singing along with all of the classics, and learning some songs that were new to me. I decided that “I’m not like Everybody Else” was going to be a theme song for me.

Spring forward twenty years when Ray does a solo tour and he actually stops in my city. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see him live for the first – and probably the only – time in my life. (Although if the recent rumors are true, I may well get another chance!) I was fortunate enough to get front row seats, and Alice Cooper and his wife were sitting right next to me – how cool is that?! I even got to shake Ray’s hand. The show was great – very intimate and he played all of the fan favorites. Of course, the encore was “Lola”, and he brought the opening band back on stage to jam with him. They completely rocked the song, and it was a blast – perhaps even cathartic? – to be dancing and singing along with them. It was a milestone show for me, as Ray Davies was the last rock icon I had on my wish list to see perform live. He was well worth the wait.

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The Voice of an Angel

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When I first heard “Last Goodbye” on the radio in the mid-90’s, I immediately fell hopelessly in love with Jeff Buckley. That other-worldly voice…or as I have always described him, “the voice of an angel”… sang directly to my soul. To this day, I am grateful to alt rock DJ Rick O’Bannion from WENZ 107.9fm in Cleveland for introducing me to Jeff Buckley and ensuring that his music got local air play. Yes, Rick, wherever you are, YOU are personally responsible for my infatuation with the gorgeous and insanely talented singer. No singer in any genre has ever come close to the perfect pitch, extraordinary expression and expansive vocal range of Jeff Buckley. I wish I had met him. One of my big regrets in my musical life is that I had tickets to see him live in 1995. But the show was on a week night at a small venue in a not-so-great neighborhood, and the show didn’t start until 10pm. I had to be in the office early the following day, so I passed on what would have been one of the best live music performances of my life…

I bought “Grace” soon after its release and listened to it over and over again, each time picking up on a certain facet that I had not heard previously. “Grace” remains on my personal Top 10 list of Best Albums, as EVERY song is spectacular. And if I could invite my favorite artists to a dinner party, Jeff Buckley would be on the short list. I remember hearing of his death in June, 1997. It hit hard; I did not want to believe the news. How could a person who brought so much beauty and joy to this world be taken from all of us…? I have it written into my final wishes that Jeff Buckley is to be played at my memorial service (if there is one), as I can’t think of any better way to be sent off than with the Voice of an Angel…

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He’s Always Doing the Right Thing

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Stop Making Sense is on my Top 10 list of all-time favorite albums…as it is for many other people, I’m sure. My big bro introduced me to the Talking Heads when I was in high school, and while I enjoyed their music, I did not fully appreciate the artistry and genius of David Byrne until much later in my life.

The Talking Heads had it ALL….great music, distinct percussion, lyrics, performance art, and his unique voice. And Byrne’s collaboration with Brian Eno combined two of the greatest musical genius minds and talents of our time. Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall during one of their conversations? Can you even imagine the ideas that they must toss around?

Stop Making Sense was my initiation to Byrne’s artistry. And since I never saw the live show, experiencing it through the Jonathan Demme movie was the next best thing, and maybe better because in those days I could not afford the good seats at concerts. I still listen to that album often as it remains one of my all-time favorites and I always prefer live recordings – it is also the perfect accompaniment for a good workout at the gym. Little Creatures was released not too long after that, and it was quickly added to my play list. I can listen to both of those albums now, and they still sound contemporary and interesting – not like much of the music that came out of the 80’s. Talking Heads music is just so…timeless.

Until this year, I had never seen David Byrne perform live. The closest I had ever gotten was viewing his Big Suit from the “Stop Making Sense” tour at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But I recently saw his “American Utopia” show at my favorite local Arts venue – and it could not have been a better “first time.” The performance was simply extraordinary. Staging, music, choreography, percussion…. Continuous motion, no breaks. And above all, his VOICE. Perfect pitch, strength, clarity. That single show provided me with enough joy to last for months in the future. In a recent interview, DB noted that American Utopia is his most ambitious production since the Stop Making Sense tour. And ambitious it was!

It was a performance like none other I have ever seen….. just as Mr. Byrne intended, I am sure. While I do it a dis-service by even trying to describe it (and many others, including my favorite local music critic, have already given excellent accounts of the show), to help with visualization, it was a combination of full-ensemble dance performance mixed with a drum line, a graceful marching band, outstanding vocals, story-telling, musical theatre. The entire company wearing gray suits (normal size, not BIG) and bare feet as they maneuvered around the empty stage, ever so smoothly.  The graceful ensemble carried their drums, keyboard, guitars, untethered by cables, as they moved in synchronized motion. Each performer was highlighted at some point, and all demonstrated their collective talents as musicians, dancers, and singers throughout the performance. Above all, Byrne’s inimitable strong, clear, engaging voice that stays with you. And the percussion….oh, the percussion. The audience could not help but move with the beat, whether sitting or standing, although most were standing throughout the performance. The new album, American Utopia, may take a couple of listens to comprehend, but it is outstanding and most of the tracks were included in the show. Several Talking Heads favorites were also peppered throughout, including Once in a Lifetime” (my personal fave), “Slippery People”, and “Burning Down the House”. The show’s finale was a powerful rendition of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” that left the audience members feeling that they had just experienced something much bigger than any one of us. And we had. Collective joy.

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A Wizard, A True Star

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Yes, he is a wizard, a true star, but he is also one of the few true artists of rock & roll who have innovated music delivery. Is there anything that Todd Rundgren CAN’T do? He is a successful singer, writer, composer, producer, technologist, entertainer. There does not seem to be a medium that he hasn’t conquered. I wish that I had just a speck of his talent. I grew up listening to Todd… my older sister was a fan and introduced me to his AWATS album when I was just a little kid. That album was ground-breaking at the time. His use of electronics to create unique, peculiar sounds and his blending of several songs into a medley without a cut made it an interesting listen. I have to admit, I did not fully appreciate the artistry of Todd until many years later, after I was old enough to see him live in concert.

I saw Todd perform locally a couple years ago. It was a real thrill for me since I had not seen him live since I was in high school. He played an intimate venue and as I discovered while talking with the people sitting near me while waiting for the show to start, Todd still has MANY avid fans and groupies who follow him to shows all over the country! Not bad for a guy who has been active in the rock world for 50 years! He had captioned the show “An Unpredictable Evening with Todd Rundgren” and he must have had a blast coming up with the surprises he mixed into the set. In fact, he started the show with a completely unpredictable cover of…. wait for it….. “Muskrat Love”! I think it took us a few bars to figure out what he was playing, but always the musical master, only Todd could make pop drivel from the 70’s sound cool. You just know that he would be fun to hang out with.

His production work is vast and if you aren’t a Todd follower, you may not be aware of the long list of bands/albums he has produced. One of the most notable from my teen years was Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell”, a top-selling album of the decade. Todd also produced music for pop artists Hall & Oates, XTC, and The Psychedelic Furs, to name just a few. He did a brief stint with The New Cars several years ago. And in terms of backstory, he has links to John Lennon and Liv Tyler. But it is to the delight of his lifelong fans that he has been back on the road these past couple years with some of his longtime Utopia bandmates and pals….shout out to Kasim Sulton! I still get a jolt of happiness each time I listen to Todd’s music and I have a feeling I always will. Thank you, Wizard Todd.

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Top 5 Concerts

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It wouldn’t be social media if I didn’t pepper in a few Top 5 or Top 10 lists along the way.  I have gone to a lot of shows over the years that cover a lot of genres.  But here is my list of my favorite live performances to date:

  1. David Byrne: American Utopia 2018
  2. Bridge School Benefit 1996 (Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Billy Idol, David Bowie, Cowboy Junkies, Patti Smith)
  3. The Who 2007
  4. Soul Coughing 1996
  5. Todd Rundgren: An Unpredictable Evening 2014

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She Called the Shots and They Followed…

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And so to get this rolling, I have to start with my own rock idol, Chrissie Hynde – the coolest female on the planet. Period. Chrissie is the only person, other than myself, that I ever wanted to be…. Actually, I did not want to have her life – I just wanted to have her persona. Coolness. Confidence. And one hell of a voice.

For those of you millenials out there who have not yet discovered the best female rock star, I urge you to listen to the debut album of The Pretenders. I fell in love with the Pretenders the first time I heard them on the radio. They had a sound all their own that made perfect sense to me – edgy, defiant, challenging and non-conformist. At times harsh and biting, at times a bit vulnerable, but never a victim. Each time I listen to “Precious,” Tattooed Love Boys,” “Mystery Achievement,” “Stop Your Sobbing,” I remember my own desire to break free of my middle-class, Norman Rockwell-esque upbringing. In fact, Pretenders music was a big factor in my relationship with my now-ex. I was just out of college and we met in a bar and immediately starting comparing musical interests, which were very similar. He had recently seen the Pretenders play an intimate venue – a show that I had wanted to attend but was unable to for one reason or another – and he shared the experience and the set list with me. That was it – I was hooked. The “Question Authority” bumper sticker on his car only reinforced my admiration.

I grew up in Cleveland, and although Chrissie left Ohio to pursue her musical career in England, she was still considered a local hero. I have seen her live several times through the years, starting in Boston in about 1984. Each performance – regardless of who the replacement band members were – was one that only the Pretenders could deliver. Never any doubt who was the leader of the ensemble, with Chrissie’s self-described “f— off attitude” always in evidence.

I was always interested in her back-story, too. Not just because she was a northeast Ohio native, but her relationship with Ray Davies also captured my attention. I am a Ray Davies fan as well, and I can fully understand her attraction to another artist who refused to play by the industry rules. (I will share my thoughts on Ray in a future post.)

I have seen Chrissie perform live a couple times in recent years, and I have to say, the girl has still got it!  Ever my idol, not only for her extraordinary musical talent, but also for her unwavering and unapologetic ability to be true to herself and live on her terms.  Thank you, Chrissie Hynde, from the bottom of my heart.

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About Salieri’s Line

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Music is AIR to me….a necessity for life. I am a rock music lover. Well, let me qualify that. I am a selective lover of rock music – mostly alt rock. Always have been. It helped that I had four older siblings who played a big role in shaping my musical tastes at an early age….I had no choice but to listen to their music – they controlled the radio and stereo. As I came into my own and was able to make my own musical decisions and was old enough to attend concerts, I discovered a whole new world – my own utopia. There are few things in life that have given me more pleasure than great, live rock and roll music.
So why “Salieri’s Line?” One of my favorite movies is “Amadeus,” not only because I adore Mozart’s music (not hardly alt rock, I know), but because it was perfectly cast, beautifully staged, and sublimely performed by Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham. And because I have always thought that Salieri was describing my own inner struggle in one of his lines as he made his confession to the priest: “He gave me that longing – then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn’t want me to serve Him with music, why implant the desire, like a lust in my body, then deny me the talent?”* Religious inference aside, I have always felt that I possessed such a deep appreciation for music – arts of all kinds, actually – but none of the talent to partake in it, other than as an adoring observer. I would have loved to have been a rock singer or musician (god knows, I fantasized about it enough!), but I simply did not have the talent or the voice. In order to live my passion, I probably should have pursued a career as a writer for Rolling Stone, or as an arts critic, or perhaps in arts management, but like so many of my peers in the 80’s, I got a business degree instead……
The good news is that I have been able to pursue my love of rock music as a fan. And I am proud to report that I have seen all of my rock idols perform live (with the exception of John Lennon – I was too young)!
My purpose in writing this blog at this point in my life is to express my deep appreciation to all of the artists who have provided so much enjoyment …and AIR….to me over the years.
I welcome your thoughts, comments, and shared experiences.

*Source: “Amadeus”, Screenplay by Peter Shaffer

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