Friday, July 27, 2012

What's a Song Worth?

Last night I noticed that a musician friend of mine had posted the following quote to his Facebook…

"The devaluation of music and what it's now deemed to be worth is laughable to me. My single costs 99 cents.  That what a single cost in 1960.  On my phone I can get an app for 99 cents that makes far noises - the same price as the thing I create and speak to the world with.  Some would say the fart app is more is more important.  It's an awkward time.  Creative brains are being sorely mistreated."  - Vince Gill

I initially agreed with the sentiment conveyed here and I shared the photo on my Dirty Roots Radio Facebook page, with this comment:

“Vince Gill isn't someone I play on this show...but he IS one of the few "modern country" artists I really respect. And what he speaks here is the sad, sad truth.”

The post received many “likes” and a few comments.  One of which came from another of my good friends, Michael - also a musician, who said:

I've had an argument about this very pic before. I think he's dead wrong. A dollar a song? Does he realize the value of a dollar? Clearly he doesn't. How many people will download this asshole's song for a dollar? Thousands? Millions? Ridiculous. He has completely lost touch. I'd sell my songs for $0.50 each and hope a few hundred people bought them so I could have a little pocket money. His songs aren't that great. He's got millions of dollars of marketing behind him. At least a fart app can make your friends laugh. Well, come to think of it, so does Vince Gill's music! So I guess they should be the same price.

In fact, creative brains are being mistreated by the kind of tyranny artists like Gill represent. He has a stranglehold on the market. It's sad how far from getting it he is.

But I see why you posted this, man. I know it's because of your love for music. I just happen to disagree strongly with Mr. Gill.

A meaningful and so-far respectful debate has followed.  And Michael’s comments have caused me to reframe my thoughts on this matter a bit.

First off, I think my attraction to this picture/quote had more to do with the sentiment behind it than what Vince Gill was actually saying (I assume it’s a legit quote).

Now that I’ve had some time from my original finding/posting of it, and thought about what Michael said, of course $.99 is enough for one song.  It’s a song, not an album!

Maybe the issue is the medium.  When I saw the great Jason & the Scorchers in concert earlier this year, Jason commented, “Here’s one from our first album….Yeah, I said ALBUM.  ‘Here’s one from our first download doesn’t quite get it’.”

Another way to put it comes from Jonathan Franzen’s novel “Freedom”, and I’m totally paraphrasing from memory here.  One of the characters in the book is a musician and he’s asked about the mp3 culture.  He talks about how years ago, a Bob Dylan album was a healthy and nutritious “meal” that you could buy and that could nourish you over a lifetime.  But now, with the downloading of a $.99 computer file, or the illegal free downloading of it, it’s more like a piece of cheap gum that loses its flavor in just a few minutes and provides no sustainable benefit.

I’m not necessarily complaining about music formats here.  I was a CD junkie who reluctantly made the move to mp3s for the convenience and cost-effectiveness of it.  I’ve gotten into vinyl since then, which helps me feel like I’ve balanced that issue :-)

I love the convenience that mp3s afford me as a radio show host who tries to feature obscure music that people may not hear elsewhere. 

Just one example…

I came across a Perry Como tune a while back that I wanted to work into one of my playlists.  Was I going to buy an entire Perry Como album?  Absolutely not. No disrespect to his work, but he’s not my cup of tea and I knew that my playing of this one song on my show would be a very sporadic occurrence.

But I wanted to play it when I wanted to.  And I firmly believe in paying for the music I download.  So I happily plunked out the $.99 it took to get that one song.  It was worth a buck to me. 

Another reason I’ve grown to accept the mp3 revolution is that, let’s be honest, an awful lot of music sucks.  And the anger and complaining over buying an entire album of crap just to get one good song is older than mummy dust.

So I’m OK with mp3s.  And I’m OK with the price.  A buck is fair.  If the price of a single grew equally to the price of everything else from Vince Gill’s childhood to now, they’d be what, like $47 apiece?  That’s ridiculous.

I think my bigger point here – and the reason I initially identified with the quote in the first place – is the cheapening of art.  Vince Gill is saying that his creation is valued the same as a fart app for your phone.

Shouldn’t it be more valuable than that?

Not in terms of dollars.  In terms of intangible worth.

I get that the megabytes or whatever that it takes for your phone to play a Vince Gill mp3 and those that your phone requires to make fart sounds may be equal.  But which is truly WORTH more in the long run?

The mp3 culture has a LOT of benefits, but I firmly believe that it HAS cheapened music.

In this modern age, anyone with a computer can record a song or album and make it available for download.  Is that a good thing?  In one sense I say it is, because it’s leveled the playing field.  You no longer need a major label recording contract and a million dollar machine behind you to get your music out there.

On the other hand, an even playing field means there’s a LOT out there.  And a lot of anything means a lot of good and a lot of bad.

But, I suppose, “good vs. bad” is in the ear of the listener.

When I can download a song for $.99 it has the potential of becoming pretty unimportant to me.  What’s a buck?  If I’m a buck short on my mortgage, it’s a lot.  But you can’t buy a soda for a dollar at the gas station.  I drop a dollar or more very frequently without thinking about it.  So, when I spend $1.70 at the gas station for a bottle of soda, what am I saying about the value of a song, someone’s original creation?

When I’m standing at Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis, debating on whether or not I should go ahead and buy the Willie Mitchell 45 that I found for $1.50, I’m looking at the thing.  I’m holding it in my hands.  It’s tangible.  If I get it home and don’t like it or don’t want it, I still have to LOOK at it.  It’ll be there until I trash it, give it away, or sell it back to the record shop for trade.  I have to THINK about it.  Think about Willie Mitchell’s creation.  Think about what it means.  Think about if I’m going to give it space in my life.

When I buy a soda for almost the same amount of cash, I don’t think about those things.  I think, “I’m thirsty.”  And I quickly weigh out whether or not a drink is worth $1.70.  If it is, I drop the coin with no regret, drink the soda, and throw the bottle away, never giving it another thought.

When I download an mp3 I never touch it and can’t see it.  The little computer icon that comes with it gets lost in my windows media player, along with tiny pictures of every other album or song I own on my computer.  If I don’t like the song, I never have to think about it again and will hardly ever be reminded that I bought it. 

A fart app for my phone is much the same.  If a laugh with my buddies is worth $.99 at the moment, I download it.  I can’t see it.  It doesn’t take up any physical space in my life. I never have to think about it again.

Which is probably the appropriate approach to a fart app.  But is it the appropriate approach to music?

The price isn’t the issue here.  A buck is fine and more than fair for one song.  As Michael pointed out, many artists would be thrilled to make less than a buck.

The questions that are left rolling around in my head – and that I request you weigh in on here – are:

--Is the mp3 culture cheapening art?

--Is a level playing field better?

--How much emphasis should we put on the importance of someone’s creation?

--Is one person’s creation more valuable than another’s?

--Is it fair that Vince Gill is no longer played on country radio, just because he’s older and doesn’t sell as much?

--What can be done to help my friend who originally posted this photo have more of a chance to have his very worthy music heard when he doesn’t have a machine behind him like Vince Gill or any other number of artists?

--What about artists like John Mellencamp, who doesn’t get played on radio for the same reasons as Vince Gill, and who take to promoting their music by selling it to businesses to use in advertising?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - July 26th Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM.  Listen online from anywhere in the world at

Amy Winehouse – Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (RIP)
The Louvin Brothers/Hank III – Satan Is Real (excerpt)
Rolling Stones – Far Away Eyes (HBD, Mick Jagger)
Carl Perkins – Her Love Rubbed Off
Jim Stafford – Spiders and Snakes
Johnny Cash – Understand Your Man
Willie Nelson – Just Breathe
Pearl Jam – Leavin’ Here
Jerry Lee Lewis – Drinkin’ Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee
Robert Cage – Get Out of Here (RIP)
The Standells – Riot On Sunset Strip
The Head Cat – Big River
Bob Log III – Settin’ the Woods On Fire
T-Model Ford – Bad Man
Mike Ness – Long Black Veil
Muddy Waters – Let’s Spend the Night Together
The Clash – Wrong ‘Em Boyo
The Clash – Death or Glory
Tom Waits – Mr. Siegal
Andre Williams – Bacon Fat
Andre Williams – Greasy Chicken
Marty Stuart – Badlands
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
Keith Richards & the X-pensive Winos – Too Rude
Parliament – Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) (HBD, 7/22)
Curtis Mayfield – Little Child Runnin’ Wild
Suzi Quatro – Can the Can
Bob Dylan – Mississippi (Previously Unreleased Version)
Titus Andronicus – Titus Andronicus Forever
Steve Earle – All My Life
The Two Things In One – Snag Nasty
Hasil Adkins – Ugly Woman
Bruce Springsteen – Shackled and Drawn
Rolling Stones – Mother’s Little Helper

"Now every cheap hood strikes a bargain with the world...Ends up making payments on a sofa or a girl."  - Joe Strummer (The Clash)

"You got to tell me, brave captain...Why are the wicked so strong?  How do the angels get to sleep when the devil leaves his porch light on?"  - Tom Waits

Thursday, July 19, 2012

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - July 19th Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at

Steve Earle – God Is God
Green Day – Oh Love
Andre Williams – Swamp Dogg’s Hot Spot
The Sonics – I’m a Man
Alex Chilton – Sugar, Sugar/I Got the Feelin’
James Brown – I Got the Feelin’
Bottle Rockets – Mountain to Climb
Reverend Deadeye – Jesus Is Knockin’
Iggy Pop – Success
Black Diamond Heavies – Numbers 22 (Balaam’s Wild Ass)
Tom Waits – Way Down In the Hole
Tom Waits – Make It Rain
The Clash – Pressure Drop
Jason and the Scorchers – Days of Wine and Roses
Rolling Stones – Mother’s Little Helper
Rolling Stones – 19th Nervous Breakdown
Jason and the Scorchers – 19th Nervous Breakdown
Handsome Dick Manitoba – Ju Ju Hand
New York Dolls – Personality Crisis
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – I Hear You Knockin’
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – There’s Somethin’ Wrong With You
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Little Bitty Pretty One
Social Distortion – She’s a Knockout
Mike Ness – I Fought the Law
Lydia Loveless – Bad Way to Go
The Clash – White Riot
The Two Things In One – Let’s Get It Together
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – Hold Tight
Johnny Cash – Orange Blossom Special (live)
Izzy Stradlin & the JuJu Hounds – Pressure Drop
R.L. Burnside w/Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Snake Drive
Rolling Stones – Rip This Joint
Steve Earle – I Am a Wanderer


"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician.  I often think in music.  I live my daydreams in music.  I see my life in terms of music."  - Albert Einstein

"To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable."  - Aaron Copland

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Scourge of Tribute Albums

In the last 48-hours I’ve learned of a new upcoming tribute album and one that was just released.

The just-released album pays tribute to the music of The Black Keys.  The upcoming one features the songs of Fleetwood Mac.

First off…is it really time for a Black Keys tribute record?  Aren’t tributes supposed to honor legendary artists who have made a major impact on music in general? I mean, I like the Black Keys overall.  I loved their last record.  But have they had a major impact on all of music-dom???

Before you answer that, let me preempt that question with one about tribute records in general….WHY????

If someone deserves a tribute record, it means they’re great, right?  If they’re great…why do I need to hear someone else doing their personal version of the original, already-great material?

The first time I remember thinking this was when “Endless Highway: The Music of The Band” was released in 2007.  Seriously…how is ANYONE going to improve on the music of THE BAND???

I will concede that there were two tracks I really enjoyed on that album; Guster’s cover of “This Wheel’s On Fire” and My Morning Jacket’s “It Makes No Difference”.  But, honestly, those were songs I wasn’t overly familiar with from the Band’s back catalog.  And once my initial love of the Guster and My Morning Jacket versions wore off, I found my way back to the originals (by The Band) and pretty much stayed there.

Cover songs are fine.  If you want to pay tribute to an artist or song you love, do it.  If you want to try and put your own spin on it…it’s a gamble, but you’re welcome to.

But tribute records just seem cheap and easy. 

The exception might be someone like Bob Dylan or Tom Waits, who craft incredible music that’s not easily palatable by the general public.  Or perhaps a well-respected artist who is off-the-beaten-path enough that the greater world-at-large might not be aware of them; someone like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, or even John Hiatt or John Prine.

But even then…it would be my hope that by listening to those cover versions, it would drive a listener back to the original source material.

Is the world any better off for having MGMT and Billy Gibbons versions of Fleetwood Mac songs?  Or Iggy Pop and Pat Travers versions of Black Keys tunes?

Some tribute albums work.  But it's a rare exception.  The ones I've enjoyed generally feature artists that are bound by a common feel or attitude.  The Kindred Spirits album that Marty Stuart produced in honor of Johnny Cash and Bloodshot Records' tribute to Bob Wills both quickly come to mind as good albums that were fun to listen to.  

The Cash album was designed to play tribute to Cash's songwriting and many different genres were represented by the featured artists (Steve Earle, Keb'Mo, Little Richard, etc.), so the gathered artists hung pretty well together; the point was to show how Cash's music could be interpreted in a variety of ways.  But I'm failing to grasp how Lykke Li, Marianne Faithful, Antony & the Johnsons, and Bill Gibbons can hang together cohesively.

In thinking about the tribute albums that work...I still keep coming back to the we NEED them?   Do they fill a void?  Are they better than the originals?  Do they benefit the tributee by driving folks back to the original?

I could go on all day.  But instead, I'll just ask...

What’s your opinion on the tribute album phenomenon?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jimi Hendrix: Was THAT the Guitar???

I’m a little late getting to this one, but still wanted to share…

This past July 4th, I was looking for some appropriate songs on YouTube to share on my Dirty Roots Radio page to mark the occasion. 

After Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of “Star Spangled Banner” came to mind, I watched a couple of different clips of his Woodstock performance, and my four-year old daughter overheard.

She loves the sound of a guitar in general and has pretty good taste in music, if I do say so myself.

She immediately came running over to hear better and said, “That guy is playin’ the blues!!!”  I was taken aback as it’s pretty well-known that Hendrix was deeply influenced by the blues.  And while Kate's got a pretty good ear for identifying various styles of music, I would have never guessed that she could hear the blues influence on Hendrix in this, of all songs.  As I was trying for formulate something to say back to her, she said, “This is BETTER than the blues!!  AND rock and roll!”

You got that right, little sister.

At one point, her eyes got real wide, and she asked, amazed by the sounds she was hearing, “Is THAT the guitar???”  Yep…and that’s the beauty of James Marshall Hendrix.

She asked me a few basic questions about Jimi.  I told her he was dead.

“He’s dead????  That’s too bad.  Well…at least we have these videos.”

Couldn’t have said it better, daughter.

SIDE NOTE: I believe the piece you just listened to qualifies as the greatest American protest song of all time.  But that’s a different discussion/argument for a different day…

Green Day Continue To Give My Rock-N-Roll Soul Some Hope...

I set this up as kind of a "follow up" to a long-ago-previous post, "Green Day Saved My Rock-N-Roll Soul Last Night", which you can read HERE.


Green Day has released their new single, “Oh Love”, the first release from their trio of upcoming albums (“Uno!” on September 25th, “Dos!” on November 13th, and “Tre!” on January 15th).

It may surprise you to find out I'm a Green Day fan.  It surprises me.

It’s no secret my musical tastes run pretty left-of-center.  There’s not much in the “mainstream” that interests me.  To be honest, I can be guilty of sometimes automatically discounting “mainstream” acts for the mere fact that they don’t swim in a…uh…more…obscure…stream.

I’ll happily acknowledge the rare exception to this case.  While I don’t listen to it a lot, I like a lot of pop music.  I respect Lady Gaga’s artistry.  I still haven’t decided yet if Katy Perry is absolutely brilliant or flat-out horrible.  I loved how huge fun.’s “We Are Young” was.  I hated myself for loving “Tonight” by Hot Chelle Rae.  It was everything a pop song should be: stupid, catchy, fun to sing along with while in a car with my family, obviously totally void of any beneficial nutrition, but a tasty fun treat. 

But, let’s be honest, these are pretty easy exceptions to make.  These are mostly novelties.  Distractions.

When it comes to rock music, I find most of the “mainstream” stuff too polished and produced for my tastes.

I think the thing I love about Green Day is…for lack of a better term…that they kind of grew up with me as a listener.

Like most guys my age, I got turned onto them when they released “Dookie” when I was 16.  I followed them a while and lost interest by the time I was wrapping up college.  I enjoyed a few of their more “grown up” sounding tracks like “Warning” and “Minority” during those years, but remained mostly uninterested. Then, around the time I was figuring out this whole “I’m a grown up and in the real world now” thing, which comes with all kinds of frustrations and disillusionments, they released “American Idiot” and spoke to many of those feelings.  They continued the run with the ambitious “21st Century Breakdown”.

It sounds so cliché to say that a band has grown up.  But, really, how often have you seen a band or artist successfully do that?

When they release a new album, the Rolling Stones are still playing the same three-chord rock and roll as always.  It’s not bad.  But it’s not “Exile on Main St.”  And, be honest, Mick Jagger’s calculated preening and dancing started pushing the limits of embarrassment way back on the Steel Wheels Tour.

You could say U2 has grown up with their fans, but they’ve aspired to such huge heights throughout their career, that it’s hard to imagine a time when they weren’t already grown up.

This whole thing of a band maturing is especially tough when you’re talking about a punk band.  My favorite band of all time, Social Distortion, managed to grow old (Mike Ness is 50 now) gracefully with their last record, “Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes”, but they’ve struggled to make the transition live in concert.

Understandably so.  Punk is supposed to be snotty music.  It’s supposed to be angry.  It’s supposed to be a rallying cry for the have-nots.  It’s supposed to scare and offend and piss off old people.

So, what’s a punk band to do when they become “old” (yeah, yeah, in the grand scheme of things I know…Mike Ness at 50 and Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day at 40 are NOT old….but, keep in mind, we’re talking “punk rock years” here)?  What are they to do when they become successful and don’t have as much to protest against?  Just look at what happened to The Clash.

Billie Joe has made references to the glorious “Nuggets” compilation and the Stones’ “Exile on Main St.” when talking about Green Day’s new records.  He’s also alluded to the fact that some of these songs were intended to be recorded by Green Day’s side project, The Foxboro Hot Tubs; a garage-rock outfit made up of exactly the same members as Green Day, with a little more raw and stripped-down sound.

This tells me the sound is a little different from what some might expect from Green Day.  That, combined with the references to “Nuggets” and “Exile”, tells me that maybe it’s a little more raw sounding.  Both “Nuggets” and “Exile” drew from primitive rock, blues, and other raw forms of roots music.

That’s the good stuff right there.  And if you got the good stuff, why play it safe and put it out under a side project band name that no one has any real expectations for?  Be who you are, put it out yourself and let the chips fall where they may.

Kudos to Green Day for not being afraid to take chances, to grow up, and to keep it real. 

The video for “Oh Love” is below.  Based on this, I’m excited for “Uno!”, “Dos!”, and “Tre!” to drop over the next several months.  It’s been a LONG time since I’ve been excited for a popular mainstream artist to release an album.  Looks like Green Day may just save my rock and roll soul once again.

Green Day Saved My Rock-N-Roll Soul Last Night

Here's an oldie...A review from 2009.  I'm posting a new Green Day review momentarily and wanted to link to this.  I was surprised only to find it on my personal Facebook page.  These were the days before blogging (and I'm sure as I go back and read through this it'll fall into the "I can't believe how crappy I wrote three years ago" and the "I said such stupid, embarrassing things three years ago" categories...

Written August 12, 2009...

My wife and I saw the Green Day Show at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis last night.

I’d heard it was woefully undersold, so I had hoped we’d be bumped up into better seats. We were – front and center, one tier off the floor.

My musical tastes run pretty far left of center, so I don’t attend many “popular/mainstream” concerts. Quite in fact, the last “big” show I remember going to was the Rolling Stones in 1997 or ’98. Since I bought the Green Day tickets, leading up to the show, I’d become fond of saying that I hadn’t been this excited about a mainstream concert since I was a teenager with disposable income and bad taste in music.

Upon arriving at the show, my first thought was, “I’m the oldest guy here”. Then I realized I wasn’t in fact the oldest in the entire room. There were plenty older than me. Of course, they were all chauffeuring 13 year old kids!

From the get-go, Green Day made it known that they were there to rock. As I figured, they opened with several songs from their new album “21st Century Breakdown” and included a few from American Idiot.

The graphics used in their stage show were easily the best I’ve ever seen at a concert. They didn’t make much use of the jumbotron in the typical sense. Normally, the big screen is just a large-view version of what’s happening on stage. Not this time – this screen was filled with images, photos, graphics, and videos, setting the tone for every one of their songs.

The first third of the concert was filled with Green Day’s recent “message” music. If you’re not in the know, their first “rock opera”, “American Idiot”, dealt with the frustration, anger, uncertainty, and fear facing war in the age of George W. Their second rock opera (By the way…how many modern rock and roll bands do you know – other than the Who – who can pull off TWO ROCK OPERAS IN A ROW??? I suppose it could be argued that “American Idiot” was more of a concept record than a rock opera, but I digress…), “21st Century Breakdown” deals with the frustrations and disillusions of living in the early part of the 21st century.

From a rock show standpoint, Billie Joe Armstrong personally carried the show for over two hours. He’s one of the best front-men I’ve ever seen. He did call-and-response chants with the audience through the whole show and implored everyone to stay on our feet and keep our hands in the air. We did. We ALL did. Even the moms and dads of the 13-year olds.

Everyone knows Green Day as a trio, and I’m not sure how they’ve presented their music on past tours, but for this tour, they had two extra guitar players, a keyboard player, and incorporated occasional saxophone and accordion, which all added up to a HUGE sound.

Given the powerful sound, the visuals, the energy, and Billy Joe’s wild front-man antics, it was impossible not to get swept up into the frenzy.

Lots of audience participation: During “East Jesus Nowhere”, Green Day’s critique of organized religion, he brought a six year old girl, Allison, out of the audience, to “save” her. She led the audience in rock ballad hand-waving and received special instructions from Billy Joe during an instrumental section…leading up to a massive pyrotechnic explosion. Allison, in perfect timing, collapsed to the floor with the explosion, having received the spirit. The poor girl, who was six, was booed heartily by the audience when she told Billy Joe she was from Chicago. He made up for it, declaring her an official St. Louis citizen. After her “salvation”, he sang her an impromptu version of Elvis Costello’s “Allison”.

Kids were called up to sing, stage dive, and help Billy Joe shoot the audience with water guns. And on their song “Longview”, a girl was brought up to sing the first part all by herself. Then he brought a goofy teenaged punk-rock boy up to sing the second half. This dude OWNED the stage – no fear at all. He knew the words and he knew how to put on a show. He sang with his arm around Billy Joe, climbed the drum riser, used all the cliché rock poses, etc. At the end of the song, the kid timed a stage dive perfectly to the music. But without advance knowledge of his plans, the audience clearly panicked. They separated and the kid did a total face-plant on the concrete. Seriously. Billy Joe’s sympathetic response? “You stupid mother-F’er”. Punk rawk.

Billy Joe did come to the audience’s defense a few times – most notably during their second song. He stopped the band cold and accosted a security guard for trying to stop a girl from taking a picture. Cameras were banned – clearly not a priority of the band.

The second third of the show was the requisite “hits” package…including everything Green Day had been known for between about 1990 and 2005. I preferred the “message” portion of the show, but the kids clearly preferred the old school hits. The band did a great job of incorporating lots of classic rock songs and party anthems (Shout) into this portion – a kick for the older folks, I’m sure, and hopefully an education for the kids.

They ended with more “message” music and really took it up a notch for the “American Idiot” encore.

I really hope the 13 year olds got the message. For a long time Green Day were known as booger-flickin’ punk rock jerks. They have something to say now. And while they are definitely trying to incite a “riot” among the youth, it’s not a booger-flicking, senselessly angry riot. It’s one in which the kids righteously question authority and fight the power. Which, after all, is what being young is SUPPOSED to be all about. Now kids, I’m not saying to disrespect your parents and be immoral. You can question authority and fight the power without that.

I do think you should play music that disturbs your parents at excessively loud volumes, though. And you can tell ‘em I said so.

“Let fury have the hour…Anger can be power…D’you know you can use it?”
-Joe Strummer, the Clash

While I obviously appreciate Green Day’s revolutionary message and rebellious stance, I took another good lesson away…Billy Joe talked about the recent town hall meetings “where people have been bickering and fighting”. And said we were there that night to have a good time. But there was still the message. A revolution doesn’t have to exclude fun. It doesn’t have to bear the weight of the world in total seriousness.

In the words of V, from “V for Vendetta”: “A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having”. Here-here!

May we all question authority. May we all shake things up. May we all rebel against things we think aren’t right. May we all fight what we know is wrong. May we all not settle for apathy.

“I want to be the minority…I don’t need your authority…Down with the moral majority…'Cause I want to be the minority”
-Green Day

I pledge my allegiance to the minority. The minority that doesn’t listen to corporate media. The minority who chooses righteous anger and peaceful action over apathy and hopelessness. The minority who reaches out to take care of people rather than propagating corporate greed. The minority who doesn’t believe I need something just because my TV tells me so. The minority who doesn’t believe I should be scared just because some politician tells me I should. The minority who looks out for others and tries to make sure we’re all taken care of. I’ll throw my hat in with them.

Oh yeah…And may we all destroy our hearing with aggressive rock and roll music that scares the establishment.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Thoughts on "The Ledge"

A spoiler alert of the highest order... 

Based on a surprising recommendation by my dad, I watched the movie "The Ledge" last night.  Not "Man On a Ledge", mind you.  "The Ledge" is a little independent picture that was released last year to some critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival, but not much of any other kind of reception.  Which is why it was surprising my dad recommended it; he's a gearhead, not an indie/art-house movie buff.

But he knows the journey I've been on and thought the movie would be a good fit.

It was.

To the point that I watched it and loved it, yet felt sick at my stomach over it and sat up for a good long while after the flick was over, staring at the blank TV screen in the middle of the night, unable to wrap my head around what I was even thinking.

“The Ledge” is a character driven movie that focuses on the story of the following people:

Gavin (played by Charlie Hunnam)
Gavin is our anti-hero.  He’s cool and charming, but obviously troubled.  He cares for the underdog (we find out right off the bat that he’s living with a homosexual friend who was terminated from his job when it was learned he had HIV).  He dislikes “the system” and hates religion.

Chris (played by Christopher Gorham)
Chris is Gavin’s roommate.  A gay man who strives to find his place in a local Kabala temple. 

Hollis (played by Terrence Howard)
A detective, a family man, and a devout Catholic.

Shana (played by Liv Tyler)
Shana is a quiet and unassuming young woman of faith, married to Joe.  She is subservient and obviously suppressing something deep inside.

Joe (played by Patrick Wilson)
Shana’s super-religious husband.  Joe is very structured.  He is friendly, but clearly motivated by things he doesn’t always share.  It is obvious that he is hiding something big.


The movie opens with Hollis sitting in a fertilization clinic, finding out that he cannot donate his sperm to a friend at work and his wife who are unable to conceive on their own.  Hollis is informed that he has a birth defect that has made him sterile from birth.  As the father of two kids, this obviously troubles him.  We later learn that Hollis’s children were fathered by his little brother, whom Hollis’s wife had entered into an “arrangement” with, because Hollis desperately wanted children, his wife didn’t want to lose him, and she wanted to ensure the kids looked as much like Hollis as possible.

Our introduction to Gavin comes as he climbs the fire escape of a building and prepares to jump from the ledge.  Hollis is the detective assigned to “talk him down”.  Hollis quickly learns that Gavin was forced up on the ledge and that if he doesn’t remain there until noon, then jump, someone else will be killed.  The two strike up a conversation and the back story unfolds.


The back-stories…

Gavin meets his neighbor, Shana, and ends up hiring her to work as a housekeeper for the hotel he manages.  Shana and her husband Joe invite Gavin and his roommate Chris to their apartment for dinner.  Joe promptly asks the men if he can pray “for” them and goes into a plea to God that the two would turn away from what God sees as abominable.  Gavin explains that he isn’t gay, but stands up for Chris who would rather just let the matter slide.

A lengthy dialog/debate develops between Gavin and Joe.  And a love interest develops between Gavin and Joe’s wife, Shana.

Through the course of the movie, we learn that Shana was a drug addict and prostitute before she met Joe.  One night, her pimp set her up with a john who liked to secretly have sex in churches.  What the pimp didn’t tell Shana was that the guy also liked to beat up the women when he was done with them.  She was beaten near death and when she came to, she attempted to steal something from the alter, only to find that it was Sunday and people were beginning to arrive for services.

That was the day she met Joe who “rescued” her from what she’d become.

Joe himself had a dark past, including gambling, drinking, illicit sex, and drugs.  After he lost his family, his job, and hit bottom, he attended a church as a last resort.  He found the forgiveness and meaning that he’d been seeking, as well as a place to belong.  A year later he met Shana and knew immediately that he loved her.

Two years before the movie takes place, Gavin was married with a daughter.  One day, while taking her to school, the two were involved in an auto crash that took his daughter’s life.  A truck driver had a heart attack and came into Gavin’s lane.  He tells Shana that he doesn’t know “if it was instinct, a bad guess, or the will to survive”, but he somehow turned his vehicle in a manner so that his daughter’s side was the one that sustained the impact with the truck.  His wife was unable to forgive him and they divorced.  Following battles with his own personal demons, Gavin begins working at the hotel and putting his life back together.


The theme...

The main theme of the movie is faith.

Joe blindly clings to his religion as a way to escape what he calls a “disgusting world”.  He remains closed-minded to any other opinions and calls those who have differing opinions “closed minded”.  Shana clings to Joe and to religion to avoid being who she was.  She obviously no longer believes in the religion/faith, but feels indebted to Joe and figures this is better than the potential alternative.

Chris seeks meaning at a local Kabala temple, but after he enters into a relationship with another man and asks the rabbi about marriage, learns that the temple is only so accepting.

Hollis desperately clings to his faith, hoping and pleading, as his world crumbles and he attempts to talk down a suicide jumper, all in the same day.

Gavin picks a fight with every one of them.  He is an atheist and while he acts as though he’s open to others having differing opinions, he isn’t tolerant of them, criticizing and condescending at every opportunity.



Overall, this isn’t the best movie I’ve ever seen.  Many of the plot developments are overly-convenient.  For example, what are the odds, in a real world situation, that Hollis would leave the side of a potential suicide jumper to take cell phone calls from his wife who just informed him that his children were in fact his little brother’s children?

Another flaw is the over-simplification of characters.  Particularly Joe.  I’ve been on my own faith journey as of late, have many issues with religion, and – even when I considered myself a Christian – I was never a “conservative” one.  I wish Joe wasn’t portrayed as black-and-white as he was.  He was obviously the bad guy from the get-go and it was obviously because he was a conservative Christian, which is what made him the bad guy. 

However, these issues are forgivable in most instances and necessary in some, to tell the greater story.

The great part about this movie is that you don’t just identify with one particular character; you identify with each of them.

Like Joe, I lived a life of sin, and learned to put that behind me when I got serious about my faith.  While Joe is obviously the villain in this film, there is something to be admired about guys like him (minus the murderous stuff you’ll learn about later).  I’m too liberal, lazy, and casual to be as devout as Joe is about anything.  But when I see people approach their religion with his kind of devotion – even when the dogma turns me off – I admire their dedication and discipline. 

Like Hollis, as I struggled through challenging times in life, I leaned desperately on my faith for the strength to continue.  From my perspective now, that kind of hope doesn’t offer much….but to watch someone who has that kind of genuine hope is a beautiful thing. 

Like Shana, I feel indebted to my former faith for the relatively good life I’ve lived up to this point and often feel like it would just be simpler to go along with it, even though I don’t believe it in my heart.  I fear for my daughter’s future that if I don’t give her a similar foundation, that she won’t have “a good life”.  Can I teach her to be moral without the dogma?  For fear of the alternative, sometimes it seems easier just to go along with something I don’t believe – just for her sake.  But I feel bad for Shana.  She obviously doesn’t believe in the life she’s living, which isn’t fair.  She’s a musician, but at her husband’s urging, she’s going to college to become an accountant.  Her spirit longs to be free dogma she doesn’t believe in.

Like Chris, I’m seeking.  I’d love for there to be meaning, but in my heart – at this stage of my life – I simply don’t believe there is any greater meaning.  However, I’ll keep searching for the best parts of faith and attempt to draw strength/inspiration/etc. from them.

Like Gavin, I’m simply at a place where I don’t believe.  I believe people are good, but I don’t think that’s because of anything bigger than us.  At the same time, I see how big the universe is (he points out that the light from some of the stars that he and Shana are looking at took over 200 million years to reach earth), and recognize that all at once that makes us completely insignificant and not at all special – like any other animal...but at the same time, makes us incredibly fortunate to be able to play our tiny little part in all of this.  Gavin obviously believes in love and though my journey of the last year-plus, I’ve continually come back to the phrase, “I may not know what I believe for sure…but I do know there is love”.

I identify most with Gavin, as so much of my worldview is being reframed through a non-religious perspective.  Like him, I want to be able to stand on my own and do the right things because they’re the right things – not because most people do them and most people claim to be religious.  Like him, I recognize the beauty and fragility of life.  As he says, when you remove the possibility of life after death, you’re left with a finite number of years here on earth in this lifetime and it makes you not want to waste a minute of it.

Unlike Gavin, I never want to be such an ass-hat when debating and discussing religion.  I’ll fully acknowledge that I could be all wet (however I’d hope for the same consideration in return) and I strive to understand and appreciate everyone’s unique beliefs. 



As you can guess, Joe quickly finds out about Gavin’s affair with Shana – just as Shana makes up her mind to leave him for Gavin.  Joe confronts and threatens Gavin, but lets him go.  Gavin is shortly thereafter notified that Joe has Shane tied up in a hotel room with a gun to her head.  Joe gives Gavin the instructions about how and when to jump off of the building across from the hotel he’s holding Shana in.  As long as he can see Gavin take his own life, he promises to spare Shana’s.

Hollis notices the activity across the street in the other building and sends other officers over to check it out.  He begs and pleads with Gavin not to jump, going so far as to say that he’s had the worst day of his life and if Gavin jumps, it will haunt him (Hollis) for the rest of his life – a weight he’s not sure he can manage.

Gavin, being unable to bear the thought of his love Shana being killed, jumps as the clock strikes twelve, while looking at a picture of his late daughter.  The beauty in an obvious tragedy being that this man, who didn’t believe in a higher being, got to give his life in the name of something bigger; love.

The detectives break into Joe’s hotel room just as Gavin jumps and rescue Shana.  Joe is arrested and Shana is urged by Hollis to stay with some friends that night.  Before she leaves, Hollis delivers Gavin’s final message – a message that Hollis, in an attempt to talk Joe out of jumping – adamantly refused to deliver, and told Shana that Gavin said he loved her.  (Following Hollis’s refusal, just before jumping, Gavin said with a smile, “Of course you will”.)

Shana stays the night with the accepting Chris.

And Hollis – after being continually urged to do so by Gavin who insisted that Hollis’s wife acted out of a place of love – goes home to his family.  He arrives in time for dinner and is greeted by “his” children.  They’ve heard about his day and what happened and give him hugs.  As they sit down to eat, the son begins to offer a blessing for the meal and Hollis informs them they won’t be “saying Grace” tonight.  “Why, Daddy?”  “Because I’m your father and I said so.  That’s why.”  And with eyes locked on his wife’s eyes he says, “OK?”  With a look of understanding she agrees.  “OK”.


One of my very favorite phrases comes from the title of a hideous country song: Awful, Beautiful Life. 

This life is awful. But it’s beautiful.  Sometimes at the same time.

Life isn’t one or the other.  It’s not black and white.  It’s confounding and complicated; seldom simple.   

Hollis’s wife did a bad thing because she loved her husband and wanted to make him happy.  Was he wrong to go back?  Back to the children that he’d raised and loved?  Were they still “his” kids?

Even when I was a religious person, I recognized that religion could be one of the most dangerous things on the planet.  When someone like Joe is motivated by religion, the consequences can be dire.  But Joe was a troubled and sick individual and not representative of all religious people.

His religion became justification.  Religion should be a guide.

But can you have a guide without the dogma?

Can you believe and still acknowledge that you could be completely wrong?

Can a person who doesn’t believe in a higher power still live a good and “moral” life?

One of my issues with the movie is the adultery.  While it’s central to the plot and necessary for the story, adultery is one of the most disgusting things in the world to me and it’s hard for me to see it depicted in movies.  Most religions forbid adultery, but my views on it have remained the same with and without my religious views; that’s MY sense of morality.  But, as a non-believer, can my set of morals the same for someone like Gavin?

Ultimately, I suppose, I’m the only person that I can truly worry about.  I’m the only one that can hold me accountable.  I can talk with others, learn from others, and respectfully disagree with others.  But they are them.  I am me. 

This is an awful, beautiful life.  The world is huge.  In the grand scheme of things, I mean absolutely nothing to it.  But this makes it even more remarkable that I get to be involved in it, even if only for a short while.  The thought of no life after death makes me want to live this life to the fullest.  I don’t want to live like Shana and be bound by something I don’t believe in.  But I don’t want to be like Gavin and run amok in my lack of guidelines.

Life doesn’t make sense to me without some kind of design or purpose.  But the explanation of a design and purpose that I was raised with and lived my life with doesn’t make sense anymore, either.  No answers offered by a religion satisfy me.  I don’t know the answers.    So I suppose I’ll keep seeking.  I’ll keep living.  I’ll keep acting out this role that I’m fortunate to be able to play.

No matter what – no matter how little I matter to the greater universe – I know how much I matter to my family.  And I know how much they matter to me.  Likewise for my friends.  And my dog.  And the music I love.  And the things I love doing and sharing with people.   And all the little things that make life wonderful.

Despite the awful, it’s a beautiful life.

That's How the Light Gets In...

A few years ago, I started a non-profit whose mission was “to empower individuals with the knowledge that one person can make a difference and to provide our community with opportunities to be involved in making that difference.”   It was a good thing; a grassroots effort that grew organically from discussions among a group of college students about a genuine desire to do good in the world and make a positive difference.  It grew into a respectable little “movement” for a while. 

The charity played on the concept of revolution; asserting that anytime someone performed an act of kindness for another person, no matter how small, the world was genuinely changed in a positive way.  If enough of those tiny positive changes were made, momentum would build.

But, it ended abruptly.  An ending that I couldn’t do anything about, ordered by higher ranks than I could stand up to, initiated by a proven lie.

The experience was a lesson in inspiration; many good things came of it.  It was also a lesson in what not to do.  I threw myself into it more than I should have and sacrificed too much in doing so; a common problem among people who attempt such endeavors, I understand. 

It left a bad taste in my mouth and changed how I look at making a difference.  It profoundly altered my understanding of power.  It played a role in my journey to rethink faith.

“I feel like there is a battle going on all the time between light and dark, and I wonder sometimes if the dark has one more spear.”   
- Tom Waits quoting Fred Gwynne

Even though I don’t look at things the same way anymore, when I see someone deliberately send a little good out into the world, I still see it as an act of revolution.  It’s easy to be cynical and skeptical in this world.  It’s easy to let the darkness in and take over.  It’s a tough place, this world.  But I’m always amazed at how powerfully the light shines when it’s let loose, even for a little while.

Me and some friends did something like that once.  The college students I worked with that led to the formation of the charity in question took a trip to a neighborhood bar and grill in St. Louis.  We each brought an extra $5 bill with us.  We pooled our money and looked around the restaurant to pick our unwitting victim.  We found a family with about three kids who were enjoying a Saturday night meal and asked the hostess at the restaurant to take all of our $5 bills and cover their tab, giving whatever was left as a tip to their waitress.  When she came back, she had tears rolling down her cheeks and told us it had “made the family’s night”.  She said it also made her night, too. Well worth a mere $5.

And just yesterday, my daughter and I went on one of our dates to St. Louis.  There is major construction happening on Highway 40, the main road around the city.  Traffic is continually backed up for miles.  As we crossed the bridge from Illinois to Missouri, cars are forced to merge from four lanes to two.  In those situations, I try to remember that it will go faster if we all let a car or two in front of us, so when I saw a car waiting to pull in, I waved the driver in.

An elderly African American woman dressed in her Sunday morning best and with panic on her face, turned and looked at me, waved when she saw I was letting her in, and joyfully blew me a bunch of kisses.  She had two lanes to cross and needed to get over to an exit.  As she made her way into the second lane, I was able to pull up next to her, and she yelled “God bless you!” repeatedly through her open windows.  She blew more kisses.  I blew some back.

It was obvious that she was very nervous – almost panicky – about crossing two lanes of traffic on the busiest highway in St. Louis, especially when drivers were zigging and zagging everywhere, trying to get ahead.

I didn’t think anything of letting her in front of me.  But it obviously totally made her day.

And her joyful response of “thank you’s” and blown kisses more than made my day.  It’s 36 hours later, and I still keep thinking about it and smiling about it.

I know it’s petty, but I don’t like it when you let someone into your lane and they don’t even acknowledge you.  That’s almost as bad as the ones who force their way into your lane without being waved in.  But this old lady reminded me that some people are still nice.  And I needed that reminder.  Maybe I reminded her of that, too.  Maybe she didn’t need that reminder, but for all I know, maybe she did. 

And this mean ol’ world we live in got a teensy bit brighter for both of us yesterday.

I may not bang the drum of world-changing positive revolution like I used to, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still exist.  I may look at the world differently and think differently, but good is still good.  And it’s universal. 

On those days that the world’s out to get you, try and remember that.

“Ring the bells that still can ring.  Forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack…a crack…in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”  
 - Leonard Cohen

Thursday, July 12, 2012

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - July 12th Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
Dr. John – Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
Jason & the Scorchers – Shop It Around
Jason & the Scorchers – Absolutely Sweet Marie
Jason & the Scorchers – Moonshine Guy/Releasing Celtic Prisoners
Rolling Stones – Before They Make Me Run
The WhiteTrash WhipLash – Spodie Odie Hey!
Willie Nelson – Whiskey River
The Renegades – Ghost Train (Unissued)
Bruce and Jerry – I Saw Her First
The Heavy – Short Change Hero
Tom Waits – Raised Right Men
Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers – Do You Love Me
Andre Williams – Bacon Fat
The Everly Brothers – Gone, Gone, Gone
Neil Diamond – Thank the Lord for the Night Time
The Staple Singers – The Weight
Screaming Lord Sutch – Bye Bye Johnny/Johnny B. Goode
Reverend Deadeye – Drunk On Jesus
The Persuasions – Buffalo Soldier
Baby Huey – Listen to Me
Ron McMaster – Acid, Pot Or Pills
Eugene McDaniels – The Lord Is Back
Tom Waits (w/Keith Richards) – That Feel
Rolling Stones – Happy
Pearl Harbour & the Explosions – You’re In Trouble Again
Bonnie Raitt – Million Miles
Johnny Cash – Thunderball
Sammy Davis Jr. – I Got a Woman
Elvis Presley – I Got a Woman
Ray Charles – I Got a Woman
Possessed by Paul James – Feed the Family
Woody Guthrie – Riding In My Car (Car Song)
Woody Guthrie – Ranger’s Command
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – This Land Is Your Land
Billy Bragg & Wilco – All You Fascists
Billy Bragg & Wilco (feat. Natalie Merchant) – Birds and Ships
Peter Case – Kokomo Prayer Vigil
Willie Nelson – Sad Songs and Waltzes
Cake – Italian Leather Sofa
The Jaynetts – Sally Go Round the Roses
John Lee Hooker – The Motor City Is Burning
MC5 – The Motor City Is Burning
Southern Culture On the Skids – Meximelt
Donnie and Joe Emerson – Give Me the Chance


"Life without music would be a mistake."  - Friedrich Nietzsche

"Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music."  - George Carlin

"Play it fuckin' loud!"  - Bob Dylan