Sunday, September 30, 2007

Loose Ends Pt. 2

Bearing down on the new book this week, with hopes of having it finished before the next millennium, so blogging will be sparse for awhile (or should I say even *more* sparse?), except for another One Book and Beyond entry which I intend to post later this week.

Some other odds and ends:

+ Paul Guyot messaged me earlier this week to ask why I didn't acknowledge Bruce Springsteen's 58th birthday (Sept. 23) on the blog that Sunday. I guess I figured anyone who cared already knew, and those that didn't know didn't care. However, on Monday I did attend the first of two rehearsal shows for Springsteen and band's "Magic" tour at the beautiful, historic (but non-air conditioned) Convention Hall on the boardwalk in Asbury Park.

Springsteen has held rehearsal shows for most of his recent tours at the venue (or in the adjoining Paramount Theatre, both built in the 1920s), and it's always a special experience. In addition to being walking distance from my front door, Convention Hall is also a fairly intimate venue for a rock show. Seating only about 3,000 (fewer for the Springsteen shows), it's a lot smaller than the arenas he generally plays, and is roughly equivalent to a high school gymnasium. Reportedly, only 1,500 tickets were sold for each night, making the occasion even more intimate.

However, despite its rich history, CH is essentially just a big concrete box. As a result, the sound has never been good there, and Monday's rehearsal show was no different. Springsteen brought a full arena stage and sound system and it was almost too much for the venue. I was shoving bits of tissue paper into my ears seconds into the opening song, "Radio Nowhere." The combination of the sound coming from the stage and then bouncing off the wall directly behind me was physically painful - and I have been to a *lot* of shows.

Performance-wise, the show and setlist were a little rocky too, but the new songs are terrific and it's always a wonderful thing seeing Springsteen at CH. Some of my favorite concertgoing experiences have been at the venue, especially the truly great series of charity holiday shows Springsteen and the Max Weinberg Seven performed there in December 2001. After the events of the previous months, those shows felt like a collective tension release. And never has "My City of Ruins " - which he performed each night - seemed so heartbreaking.

+ For those interested, the podcast of "Deadly Secrets" that I narrated for The Star-Ledger is now available - for free - as a 3-CD set. The 15-part series - tracing the life and crimes of suspected serial killer Robert Zarinsky - is also available as a tabloid-sized reprint. You can find information on both here.

Above, from left, Danny Federici, Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen on stage at Convention Hall in Asbury Park, Sept, 24, 2007. Associated Press photo.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The definition of Soul

A lot of activity this week, so I've been remiss with blogging, but a quick interim posting here:

I don't think I've heard a more affecting piece of music lately than N.J. soul singer Bettye LaVette's version of Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia," recorded for a new three-CD compilation called "Song of America" (31 Tigers/Split Rock Records) just out this month. The anthology is a collection of folk and contemporary songs that offer a musical history of America, featuring artists such as John Mellencamp, the Mavericks and others (it features a second Springsteen track as well, Matthew Ryan's minimalist electronica take on "Youngstown"). But LaVette's "Streets" is the gem of the bunch. A Detroit native, LaVette was a popular soul singer in the 1960s and '70s whose career went awry. At the age of 60 (and now living in N.J.), she's staging a comeback of sorts, releasing a new album, "The Scene of the Crime" (backed by the Drive-By Truckers) this month, and scheduling some performances as well.

I've heard a lot of different versions of "Streets," including a duet Springsteen and Elton John performed at Carnegie Hall in 1995. But none of those - including Springsteen's original - come close to LaVette's. She nails the song so perfectly it's almost frightening, not unlike what Johnny Cash did with Trent Reznor's "Hurt." iTunes has the track available as a download, so give it a listen. It's the real thing.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Loose Ends

Been off the radar a bit lately, finishing up with the Star-Ledger's "Deadly Secrets," series and the accompanying podcast, as well as work on the new book. But there are few things worth noting that have arisen in the meantime.

First, if you haven't already heard "Radio Nowhere," the first single from the new album by that band pictured above, it's still available for a limited time as a free download from iTunes. I first heard a leaked mp3 version of it about three weeks ago and liked it a lot, though on those first few listens, I kept hearing Tommy Tutone's "867-5309," mixed in with a little bit of BOC's "Don't Fear the Reaper" (which reminded me of the first time I heard "Dancing in the Dark" and thought it sounded *exactly* like Rod Stewart's "Young Turks").

However, if you really want to get a taste of the album, due out Oct. 2, stop by here, which has a 30-second snippet from each of the songs, linked together into a single file. Or at least it will until someone pulls it.

After watching and enjoying - but not being overwhelmed by - AMC's MAD MEN pilot, I did finally catch up with the first four episodes this weekend and I'm beginning to think it's quite brilliant. Hard to believe HBO let this one get away. For an in-depth discussion of each new episode as it airs, knock on this door. That's also where you'll find a well-considered and cogent argument about why THE FRENCH CONNECTION isn't such a great movie after all, though I'm not sure I agree.

And finally, Paul Guyot, guest blogging over at Murderati, has written a real keeper about navigating the television pitch process. It's the first of a series and a near-perfect blend of humor and solid information.