First Lines: Born to Run

It is taking me way too long to formulate some coherent thoughts on Bruce Springsteen’s auto-biography, Born to Run. And that is probably because I am still not sure what to make of it. Is it the definite, tell-all, hold-nothing-back account of Springsteen’s rise to Bossness? No. Is a fun read? In all its rambling, chronologically challenged, adjective pumping, stream of consciousness flowing, self-reflecting, over several albums glossin’ and CAPS LOCK ROCKING glory, well, laws yes, it is a fun read.

Well, there are quite a few chapters with him philosophizing on the nature Man and Woman and Family and The Big Concerns of Life, and those I did not enjoy as much as the parts about how Springsteen gets to be Springsteen. When he talks about making music, about how the art is made, that is when it lifts off. When he talked about Clarence, you feel the love. When he talks about the Super Bowl halftime show, you feel the excitement. You could take shots at the writing style and get away with it, but it reads like he speaks.

Born to Run is, I guess, about as close as we are going to get to Springsteen. And while I would not have minded more insights into his writing and songs — I am way more invested in the music than in the man — it was a good, fun read.

Obligatory Boss Time: Land of Hope and Dreams / Born to Run (March Madness Music Festival 2014, Reunion Park, Dallas, TX, 6 April 2014)
Book read
Bruce Springsteen — Born to Run
First line
I am ten years old and I know every crack, bone and crevice in the crumbling sidewalk running up and down Randolph Street, my street.

Seen Live: a balladeer

The 24th a balladeer gig I saw was in my brother’s living room. It was the smallest crowd I have been part of yet. Myself included, there were just fourteen people there. And yet, the concept of shutting up in such an intimate setting didn’t occur to some of them.

A funny thing happened: I was surprised to find myself tearing up over the first verse of “Robin II” and the line I’m not the boy I used to be in “Superman Can’t Move His Legs”. And while I have heard these songs a gazillion times before and don’t mind a good cry every now and then — somehow, I am not as emotionally stable as I used to be — but that hadn’t happened before.

a balladeer – Robin II (live at Blokhuis, NPO Radio 2)
Seen live
a balladeer in a living room in Rotterdam on April 7, 2017
Set list (on Spotify)
Wishes, Horses / A Little Rain Has Never Hurt No One / Plan B / Robin II / Oh, California / A Wolf at the Door / 10 Things to Win You Over // All I Wanted / My “I’m Sorry” Song to You / Swim With Sam / Mary Had a Secret / When a Law’s Been Broken / Superman Can’t Move His Legs / Trust Fall / Incompatible // Jolene (Dolly Parton cover)

Paul O’Neill

Paul O’Neill, songwriter and producer for Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Savatage, has died. And even through I have bitched a bit here and there about TSO swallowing up my first-ever favorite band, this blows. O’Neill helped make Savatage what they were (theatrical, symphonical, over-the-top-rock-opera-metal awesomeness), he co-wrote all music and wrote most of the words, and he introduced me to the glorious counterpart vocal madness in a few of my favorite songs. At 61, he definitely had more music in him. Hopefully TSO can and will carry on.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra (with Paul O’Neill) — Sleep/Help! (live at the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam on March 26, 2011)

I’ve also compiled a Spotify playlist with my favorite Savatage/TSO tunes.

First Lines: Explaining Chtulhu to Grandma and Other Stories

Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories is a collection of short stories and flash fiction by Alex Shvartsman, editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthologies. It came to me as part of the UFO5 Kickstarter, and having read the titular story online already, I looked forward to diving in.

Like the UFO series, Shvartman’s own collection is filled with humorous stories, ranging from sci-fi space opera to time-travel funny business to fairy tale re-imaginings to more or less straight fantasy and everything in between. The quality is high throughout, and I can’t really give favorites, but the two tales poking fun at religion (“Bedtime Story on Christmas Eve, 1,000,000 AD”, which is an irreverent Christmas tale told to androidy beings in a faraway future is absolutely delightful: Jesus loved presents and parties very much. And so humans gave each other many presents, and somebody named Carol sang holiday hymns in her honor, and everyone was happy.; and “Manna from Heaven”) got a more than light chuckle out of me.

And then there was one story — “You Bet” — which reminded me of a concept that has been running through my head for a long time: Somewhere in the multi-verse there exists a bar where the archetypal, cardboard characters of bad fiction gather to blow off steam. Now that I know this story is out there, I can finally let that go.

Book read
Alex Shvartsman — Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories
First Line
I just made the deal of the year and I couldn’t wait to tell to tell grandma.

Seen Live: Ellen Foley

So we saw Ellen Foley perform live twice in the same weekend. We didn’t quite plan to see the show in Hoogland (a mere 5 kilometers from our home), as we had other plans. No, we were going the next night, to Zoetermeer. But as things happen (they sometimes do) and we were able to obtain some tickets at the very last moment, well, hey ho, let’s go.

Ellen Foley

While both shows were great, it was interesting to see how the setting can influence a show. In Cafe De Noot in Hoogland, there was a low, small stage in the corner of a crowded, hot bar, filled to capacity with nearly 200 people there. In De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, there was a full-size stage in a hall that can hold 750 people, with roughly the same head count. In Hoogland, we could barely see Ellen on stage, and it seemed like the band was too loud for her. In Zoetermeer, we could see her fine, and while the PA was louder, the balance seemed to better. The larger stage also showed how damned good she is. Ellen owns the stage. That casual strutting around and waiting for her cue, she got that down to a T. Also, if she hadn’t mentioned that the Hoogland show was only the second time the band played together, I wouldn’t have know.

The set list — a couple of tracks of both her first (Nightout, 1979) and last (2013’s About Time) albums, along with a bunch of covers — was nearly identical, with only “Sad Song” not making it to Zoetermeer. My personal highlights were “We Belong to the Night”, the Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers cover “Refugee” (although I only really know Melissa Etheridge’s version, that song rocks) and, of course, “Heaven Can Wait”, dedicated to its songwriter, Jim Steinman.

Ellen Foley — Heaven Can Wait (live in Zoetermeer)

Seen live
Ellen Foley at Cafe De Noot, Hoogland on March 18, 2017
Ellen Foley at Cultuurpodium De Boerderij, Zoetermeer on March 19, 2017
Setlist (Spotify playlist)
Stop Right There!” / Worried Woman / What’s a Matter Baby / Stupid Girl (Rolling Stones cover) / Irene Wilde (Ian Hunter cover) / All of My Suffering / Guilty (Randy Newman cover) / We Belong to the Night / Madness / Refugee (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers cover) / Don’t Let Go / Sad Song (not played in Zoetermeer) / If You Can’t Be Good / Sway (Rolling Stones cover) / Boys of Summer (Don Henley cover) / Nothing Compares 2 U (Sinéad O’Connor/Prince cover) // I Found a Love (Wilson Pickett cover) / Heaven Can Wait (Jim Steinman cover) / Should I Stay or Should I Go (The Clash cover)