Tag Archives: Rock and Roll

Robertburkewarren.com, Perfectly Broken, etc.

Dear Faithful Readers,

Perhaps you’ve wondered where I’ve been. I see eight months have passed since my last post, so if I do not see you in “real life,” you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking I’ve been idling.

I’ve not been idling.

In June, my big brother, Britt, took me to Peru. It was my 50th birthday present.

Peru

 

In the picture above, Britt and I are at 16,000 feet, in the upper reaches of the Vilcabamba pass. (If you click on the pic, you’ll see the whole album on Flickr.) Because of the clouds, you can’t see the massive glacier behind us. Ascending that mountain was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically, and I almost did not do it. But Britt convinced me I could. We had some adventures. You can see some in the photos. I will write more about it all before too long. (I promised Britt I would.)

Upon returning home, I got a full time job as Program Director for the Roxbury Arts Group, a nonprofit in rural Delaware County, NY, about a 40 minute drive from my house. I’ve been booking performers, administrating, and helping bring the arts to a particularly underserved segment of the population. It has its rewards.

The publication date looms for my novel, Perfectly Broken. At this writing, it is a mere three weeks away. Advances went out a few months back and I’ve received a handful of very kind reviews on Goodreads. You can read them HERE.

How, you may I ask (I hope you do), may I get a copy of Perfectly Broken? Simple! You can order it from your local bookseller (be sure to say it’s by Robert Burke Warren, as there are a couple other books with that title), or you can order it from amazon.

In fact, for the rest of this month, there’s a sale on the Kindle version. SIX BUCKS! And be advised: pre-orders encourage corporate overlord amazon to promote my book. Just sayin’.

Lastly, I’ve been writing a lot. A couple short stories, more posts for the Weeklings, and the odd piece of journalism. I’ve collected some of that on the WORKS page of…

My new website! That’s right: robertburkewarren.com is LIVE. It’s got a lot to offer, I daresay. The aforementioned collected works (I’m adding to that daily), my bio, an EVENTS page (lots of readings planned for my book) and NEWS, which will keep folks up-to-date on radio interviews, features, reviews, etc. Also, the SOUNDTRACK page features songs from and inspired by Perfectly Broken. You can stream and/or download them for free. Several of the songs are plot points in the book. Play them loud.

I will still be blogging here, but as you can see, I am more consumed with work – of both the day job variety and my creative endeavors – so perhaps not as much. But I’m glad to say I’ll be traveling to promote my book and working on its follow-up. You can keep up to date with me either at robertburkewarren.com or my Facebook page. I also tweet on occasion.

Thank you for reading me here, and for the very inspiring comments and encouragement. All helps me get my work done.

Speaking of which, I am off to do just that.

sound as ever –

RBW

 

 

 

 

 

Not A Misspent Youth, Part 6: Fleshtones, Somewhere In France, 1988

Once again, someone has posted a scene from my youth on YouTube, and it’s a doozy. (Thanks to Fleshtones biographer Joe Bonomo for bringing it to my attention.) This is the Fleshtones, circa 1988, somewhere in France, performing the 2-minute super rock “In My Eyes You’re Dead” on a local program, no doubt promoting a gig. Why Peter Zaremba is sitting at a desk in the beginning I cannot tell you. Please enjoy:

This song appeared on the LP The Fleshtones Present: Time Bomb, The Big Bang Theory. The album featured the band’s many side projects, including the Peter Buck-produced Full Time Men, in which I also played bass, my own short-lived Cryin’ Out Loud, Zaremba’s Love Delegation, a few other side projects, and some Fleshtones tunes that hadn’t made it onto LPs.

“In My Eyes You’re Dead” was inspired by graffiti Zaremba saw somewhere in NYC. An angry soul had spray-painted the song’s title on a wall, and it stuck with Peter. He and Keith wrote the tune. They sang a lot about partying and girls, but they also really loved digging into what they called “the revenge motif.” “In My Eyes You’re Dead” is one of three Fleshtones recordings on which I played bass in my two-year tenure with the band.

 

Almost True: The Real, Realer, and Realest of the Music Movies

The wonderful Weeklings published my essay, Almost True: The Real, Realer, and Realest of the Music Movies  in which I cite Almost Famous, That Thing Your Do!, Georgia, and Sling Blade (yes, Sling Blade) as getting as close to the experience of being in band as a film can. Bonus rockin’ video clips. (There are more films that get pretty close, but those will have to wait for Almost True, Too.) Click HERE to enjoy.

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Alex Chilton, A Personal History

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Alex Chilton, RBW, Jack, outside Alex’s Treme, New Orleans, cottage, spring, 1998

A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, my wife Holly George-Warren‘s biography of Alex, hits bookshelves this week. (You can keep up with events and enjoy videos and reviews at the Facebook page.) In advance of that auspicious occasion, Paper magazine commissioned me to write an essay about how Alex and his music and life impacted my family. I’ve pasted the first paragraph below, with a link to the rest of the piece. Please enjoy!

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Technically, my wife Holly George-Warren worked on A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton for about three years, but she’d been talking about it for almost two decades. A fan since the ’70s, she met Alex when he was washing dishes in New Orleans in the early ’80s. He was in the “rags” part of his riches-to-rags-to-riches arc, scraping jambalaya off tourists’ plates to make ends meet. Holly and Alex hit it off. A couple years later, he produced her band Clambake, an early step on his winding path back to musical activity. I came on the scene in 1987, when Holly’s band Das Furlines and my band the Fleshtones shared a bill. All I knew of Alex was that he’d been the 16-year-old white singer of The Box Tops, a kid who’d sounded like a 40-year-old black man on the 1967 smash “The Letter.” I’d heard-tell of his ’70s cult band Big Star, but I’d not checked them out. I learned more — a lot more — via Holly’s stories of Alex, and her expansive record collection, which included Box Tops LPs and the Big Star oeuvre alongside Alex’s eclectic, occasionally slapdash, intentionally confounding solo work. Holly also possessed The Cramps classic debut LP, Songs the Lord Taught Us, which Alex produced. I am partial to Big Star, but Holly loves it all.

                                                                                                                         Read more HERE.

Gammie and RuPaul

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Wee Wee Pole, 1983. From left: David Klimchak, RBW, Todd Butler, RuPaul

In 1983, I was a teenage bass player in a funky Atlanta band called Wee Wee Pole. Our lead singer was a magnetic, six foot four, black, gay man named RuPaul. Ru would go on to international fame as a drag queen, singer, and TV star, but in the early 80s he was running with the scrappy “new wave queer underworld.” These were my people, a group thick with gender bending children of absentee parents. I’d fallen in with them around the time I started shaving. Many, like me, were the spawn of exhausted, former flower child single moms. Because of a laissez faire “trust in the universe,” these moms often let their kids twist in the wind. The only adult keeping tabs on me was my maternal grandmother, Gammie, a southern belle in her 70s.

 Wee Wee Pole was popular, due in part to RuPaul’s tireless self-promotion, which included wheat-pasting provocative flyers everywhere, in neighborhoods both sketchy, like his own, and respectable, like Gammie’s. The posters always featured a Xeroxed image of a near-naked RuPaul, and his name in boldface. On a leisurely walk down her dogwood-lined street, Gammie encountered this image on a telephone pole: Ru in a loincloth, a feather boa wired into his Mohawk, his arms outstretched like Jesus on the cross.

 I’d told my grandmother I was in a band with a guy named RuPaul (“Tell me about your new band!” she’d asked, always interested). I’d omitted crucial details, however, and she’d not seen Ru until that day. I was, as usual, home alone when she called and curtly asked me to come over. I figured she needed help with my Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandfather, but upon turning onto her street in my VW Bug, I saw the “Wee Wee Pole featuring RuPaul!” poster. My heart sank.

 Gammie and I were close. My dad had been dead eleven years, killed when he drunkenly drove at high speed into an embankment, and my mom was often otherwise engaged, so Gammie had co-parented me for over a decade. She nurtured my rock star ambitions. Showbiz, in fact, was part of her life; my grandfather, Sam Lucchese, was the retired entertainment editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and had been the publicist for Gone With the Wind. Gammie had tagged along on junkets, and, judging from the photos and frequent stories, she loved glamour. Lucille Ball, Natalie Wood, and Jimmy Stewart, seated with my beaming grandparents, smiled down from framed 8 x 10s on the walls of Gammie’s house.

 In thrift store regalia and a sloppy new wave haircut, I walked in, my hands sweating. I found Gammie in the den, where I’d eaten many meals from an indestructible TV tray as I watched All in the Family with my grandparents. Gammie, a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, cheered Archie Bunker’s bigotry, and I knew I was due for an earful regarding RuPaul.

 “Sit down,” she said, unusually terse. I did so, across from her Civil War library, which included The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government by Jefferson Davis. She loomed over me in a faded housecoat. My grandfather mumbled incoherently in the next room.

 “Robert,” she said, drawing a deep breath and clasping her hands, “I know you are going to think I am just a crazy old lady who doesn’t know things. But I do. You listen to your Gammie. Robert, you… are a type.”

 “A type?”

 “You are a type that… an older… homosexual man… would want to… lead… astray.”

 The clarity of the moment stunned me. This was how she saw me? I babbled denial, to no avail. Little did she know I was en route to my latchkey girlfriend’s, where, quite frankly, hetero sex would ensue. I wanted to blurt this out, but didn’t dare. I sat mute while she leaned into her fantasy.

 “Your grandfather and I know… gays,” she said. “We met all kinds of people in show business. I know how it is. I’ve seen it, and I want you to know what I see with you and your… band. You are naïve, you need to know that. No one else is going to tell you this.”

 I protested feebly, and she finally let me go, her lined face clouded with doubt, her hug harder and longer than usual. As always, she said she loved me. But I was embarrassed for both of us. Wee Wee Pole would not last, and much of my teenagerdom would fade with time, but this intense episode stayed with me. It was the only time Gammie and I discussed anything sexual.

 Fast-forward a decade. I’m living in Manhattan, and, to Gammie’s delight, I’ve married a North Carolina woman. When RuPaul appears on Arsenio, my grandmother, pushing 90, calls to make sure I’ve seen this career-making performance-and-interview. I tell her I have, and I’m happy for my old bandmate. She says she imagined I would be. I hear her smile down the line, and I smile back. Our long-ago conversation has morphed from cringe-worthy memory to a reminder of when she, alone, was looking out for me. Even when it was unnecessary, Gammie had shown up. She wants me to remember it like that, and I do.

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Jack, RBW, Gammie, on Gammie’s Etowah marble bench in Atlanta, 1999

John Lennon Turns 73, Hosts SNL with McCartney, Sir Elton


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photo credit: http://www.freakingnews.com/Old-John-Lennon-Pics-70603.asp

“It’s official TweetTwits!” John Lennon Tweeted to his 10 million followers yesterday. “Winston Legthigh hosts SNL w/ Lady MacDonna and Cap’n Fantastic 2 celebrate 73 trips round the sun.”

“It was Elton really,” says a potbellied-but-wiry Lennon from his cluttered Soho office, where he recently devoted a month’s worth of weekly podcasts to anti-fracking screeds that, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard. “He and Sean and Julian really wore me down, bastards. I know I said I’d never host, but the planets have aligned and I’ve changed me mind. And yeah, Paul, with another fucking silly love song about Mother Earth, which, I will freely admit, is catchy, especially with my harmony on the chorus. And fracking’s something we actually agree on, me and the old sot, and Sean’s very active in that arena. And when that kid bootlegged and remixed me podcast into the most popular YouTube video since that Korean geezer, I just got all Buddhist and 12 step and said, ‘Let go and let God.’ Hosting the show will raise a lot of awareness. And it’s me birthday!”

Lennon’s ex-wife but still-frequent collaborator – their most recent LenOno Free Arts Center just opened in San Francisco – also points a finger at Sir Elton John. “Elton is a rock and roll miracle worker, definitely,” she said in an email. “But when John gets passionate about something and the right outside influence gets involved, he can make things happen. That’s always been true.”

Indeed, after narrowly escaping death in 1981, when an assassin slipped on a gob of Lennon’s spit and shot himself in the crotch – an incident immortalized in Lennon’s execrable, ill-advised, 1982 synth-heavy “Ball-less Chap Man” – the Smart Beatle surprised many by heading to what he calls “the trenches,” where, over time, he has affected more change and raised more money than any rock icon, doing for gun control and the Green Party what Bono has done for famine and AIDS relief in Africa. You may not care for his sporadically released, increasingly dark albums, and he’s taken considerable flack for refusing to contribute to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” (“Awful, awful song,” he said, unapologetically.) But one cannot deny his power. He gleefully cites his enemies: gun rights advocates and what he famously referred to (again and again – you’ve seen the meme, of course) in a 1990 Charlie Rose interview as “Imperio-Fascists.”

“But all that – gun control, war protests – doesn’t mean anything if we continue raping the Earth,” he says over Tetley tea and Chocolate Olivers, served by his fourth wife, the transgender icon, hemp fashion magnate, and mainstream media irritant Maddy Wilde. Wilde, freshly shorn, pops in an out in various ensembles throughout our interview. Indeed, insiders say Wilde’s oddly effective – some say witchy – influence on both conservatives and right-wing-leaning Democrats effectively shut down the Keystone pipeline, and influenced Lennon immeasurably. But, as usual, considering yours truly is from an “official” media outlet, s/he will not even acknowledge me. But s/he kisses her husband at least five times while I’m there.

Those kisses seem to have both an energizing and calming effect on Lennon, who grows expansive, speaking on record at last regarding the very public dispute with David Geffen and Paul McCartney over the now-classic 1992 live acoustic album Lennon-McCartney at the Living Room. After a debacle on Good Morning America, which Lennon has blamed partially on McCartney and partially on “a bad prescription,” he swore (again) he’d never collaborate with McCartney (again). Yet here they are, making nice (again). Now, he says, with a beatific smile, “Maddy’s got me on the right track these days. It’s like with the Buddha, y’know, when he was enlightened, his main fear wasn’t that the people wouldn’t get it ’cause it was complicated, he worried they wouldn’t get it ’cause it’s so simple. We are all connected. Fucking act like it. Stop whining.” He can’t resist a dig: “Don’t ‘Live and Let Die,’ ha ha, live and let LIVE.”

The SNL episode is expected to be the most-watched in history, with viewership exceeding the 1995 Beatles reunion episode, which Lennon will not discuss in depth except to say, “It was shit. I had flu. Wasn’t gettin’ on with Paul, of course, since the GMA thing. Ringo was the best thing about that. And George, rest his soul, that guitar solo was bloody brilliant, yeah? But Paul and me, we look like fuckin’ Angela Lansbury and Larry David, and we sounded like crack whores who’d been up all night screaming at each other. I can’t watch it.”

For the upcoming episode, Lennon says he’ll appear in a skit or three, which fans of his various cameos in indie films will appreciate. But he will not give details. Lorne Michaels says he’s not been this excited about a musical performance since Kurt Cobain’s 2000 comeback appearance with Rasputina. The trio of Elton John, McCartney, and Lennon, backed by Sean Lennon on bass, Julian Lennon on Hammond B-3 organ, and Ringo’s son Zak on drums (on loan from The Who) is, of course, expected to play McCartney’s irresistibly catchy, return-to-form “Love Your Mother,” which has already raised 125 million dollars for the Green Party and changed the way people download music. The second song, Lennon says, will be a live version of his famous podcast chant, but instead of looping the phrase, “You will not rape the Earth, not while we’re watching, AND WE ARE WATCHING!!!”, he’ll sing it – and shout it – live, with 15-year-old Hudson, NY remix master Terra Byte (aka Heather McShane) creating a soundscape.

“I’ve been so blessed,” Lennon says as his Pilates instructor arrives. “And with every good thing that’s come my way, I’ve felt an urge to give back, which I thought meant I didn’t deserve everything, but now I see in a different light, y’know? Of course I’ve failed a lot. I’ve made mistakes, just ask my loved ones. Big ones that still hurt, y’know. But I’m still here, and Maddy and me kids and me lovely ex and me geezer friends have all helped me to this point. I will not go quietly into that good night. I’ve still got work to do, and me friends and I, we are still full of surprises. And hope. All you need is hope.”

“Hey,” he smiles that Tetley-stained smile again. “That’s catchy.”

Farewell to my Rabbi, Leonard Cohen

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September 10th, 2016

I originally wrote this in commemoration of Leonard’s birthday. I’ve edited it a little, but kept it in the present tense, where it will remain.

If it be your will that a voice be true

From this broken hill I will sing for you.

From this broken hill, all your praises they shall ring

If it be your will to let me sing.   

My rabbi Leonard Cohen passed away today. I am bereft and weeping.

Your rabbi? you say.

Let me explain: A couple decades ago, I was faltering, making a mess of my life. During this time, I awoke from a dream in which Leonard Cohen was my rabbi. I recall no images, but just before my waking reality and timeline clicked into place, I thought, “Leonard Cohen is my rabbi.”

I am not Jewish – I prefer the terms evangelical agnostic and/or possibilian – but, as a fatherless kid brought up with no particular spiritual discipline, I’ve sought out older male figures to help get me through life. Leonard occupies a significant place in that pantheon, especially since that dream. Prior to that, I was a fan, but the dream altered Lenny’s and my relationship, took it beyond mere fandom. He is my spiritual authority figure, his songs (well, a lot of them) are my sacred texts. Prayers. Affirmations. Codifications of gratitude or even vindictiveness. Yes, vindictiveness. There’s a lot of that in the Bible, too, FYI.

Leonard is also the man I consult over matters carnal and practical. And he has not let me down. Threaded throughout his greatness are some awful songs and some questionable decisions regarding presentation and production, but that’s fine. His imperfection – like Dylan’s, Neil Young’s and Patti Smith’s – humanizes him.

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.

I initially came to Leonard Cohen in his late-80s phase. Remarkably, my conversion happened when I was playing bass in garage rock titans The Fleshtones in 1988. I was 22. I’d heard “Suzanne,” and maybe a couple others from his 60s-70s period, but his dense lyrics, lecherous-hippie troubadour attitude, and keening, nasal voice annoyed me. I was a rocker, and his sensitivity made me feel vulnerable, embarrassed. 

The Fleshtones had finished our soundcheck at a roadhouse-type joint in New Jersey. It was springtime, and much was afoot in my fevered brain; I was considering leaving the band. I wanted to write songs, front my own group, play solo acoustic, not be a sideman. The prospect of actually doing these things made me both anxious and excited, a combo that most often manifested as inarticulate crankiness. Leonard arrived and gave me clarity.

If you want a lover, I’ll do anything you want me to

If you want another kind of love, I’ll wear a mask for you.

If you want a partner, take my hand

Or if you want to strike me down in anger, here I stand.

I’m your man.

The Fleshtones had dispersed after soundcheck – lots of time-killing between soundchecks and gigs in those days – and I wandered alone into a nearby cafe, in full-on Fleshtone mode: dyed black pompadour, skintight red twill jeans, Chelsea boots, and a biker jacket with Mardi Gras beads hanging from the epaulets. The TV over the bar was on PBS (!!) and a new Lenny documentary had just started. He was  playing “Bird On A Wire,” and suddenly I was a goner. I ordered a double espresso – perfect, right? – and sat, transfixed as the Bard of Montreal spoke at length of songs, poetry, and his remarkable life (which would only get more remarkable in the coming decades). He also sang live, songs both old and new, and I recognized him at last. It was a Saul-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment, one of only a few I’ve experienced. 

He’d just released his 8th album I’m Your Man. He’d not put out an album in four years, and the buzz was lively; I’m Your Man – one of the last LPs I bought – was radically different than anything he’d done before. It was brazenly synth-heavy, even occasionally Euro-disco; his baritone had dropped to the sub-basement, and slow-burned with a laid-back intensity. He’d forsaken his Spanish guitar for a drum machine and a cold keyboard, and all was digital crispness. The lyrics – pared down, concise koans of wit – were often mordant and funny, quite direct instead of the oblique, meandering, freeform stuff of the past. Those pithy, much hewed-at couplets, combined with a quiet swagger, comprised my entry point. And it was all sexy in a way that I’d not yet clocked. He was riffing on getting old(er), embracing darkness and loss, but also the glories of sensual life, with a kind of candor that struck me as particularly brave. “First We Take Manhattan” was – and remains –the finest revenge fantasy song ever written. 

Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you’re worried that I just might win

You know the way to stop me, but you don’t have the discipline

How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin

First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

What struck me was this: Lenny had been through some kind of shit, some full-grown-man drama, yet he’d come out the other side with a kind of ritual scarring, wrought into stark, tuneful art. Perhaps it finally hit me because I knew my own dark road lay ahead (I was right, and how) and this work offered a kind of emotional map, much more expansive than what I’d previously attached myself to. It wasn’t rock and roll, but I liked it. I walked out of that New Jersey establishment caffeinated and changed. I was a fan. He was my man, indeed. By the end of 1988, I’d staked out a new path.

Against the odds of time, commerce, and human frailty, he got even better. He would overcome addictions to alcohol and nicotine, and speak freely about his depression, anxiety, insomnia, etc., and he would joke about his dance with a vast array of pharmaceuticals, legal and otherwise. His song “Hallelujah” would become a standard, and, much to the chagrin of some fans, be mangled like “Stairway to Heaven” innumerable times, yet rise to be mangled anew. (Full disclosure: I am sick of that song. Still, it remains a marvel to me, technically speaking.) As you read this, it is being mangled –perhaps by me – around a campfire somewhere, and being referred to as “Jeff Buckley’s best song.”

After my conversion, Leonard would help me come to terms with loss, with getting older, feeling mean, being betrayed, betraying, making amends, and, if not making peace, then recognizing the road to reconciliation, even the sinful detours one may allow one’s self in the secret heart. His ability to crystallize moments has improved my ability to do the same. He has made me less afraid of death, but more importantly, less afraid of getting older, which is quite helpful.

My friends are gone and my hair is gray

I ache in the places that I used to play

And I’m crazy for love, but I’m not coming on

I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song.

I’ve been to see him three times, and one of those shows – Madison Square Garden, just a couple years ago – was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. (And I’ve seen plenty.) He and his band cast a spell of open-mouthed amazement, then sent us on our way. His fortune had been stolen, so he went back out on the road like a yeoman, or a soldier, and turned his loss into a triumphant return to form, skipping onstage to rapturous applause, hushing thousands with the power of song. We swooned, hooted, and threw money at him with no regrets. 

He’s enriched my life deeply. I’ve learned a few of his songs, aped him shamelessly, even recited the poem “A Thousand Kisses Deep” at a gig.  I have no idea how he celebrated his last birthday, whether on Mount Baldy with his sensei, in a VIP lounge with his girlfriend, hanging out with his kids in Montreal (a big plus that he’s tight with his adult kids Adam and Lorca), or alone in the Hollywood Hills, breathing in the sage, sneaking a smoke, and laughing. The very fact than any one of those situations is highly plausible says a lot about why I’ve loved him so.

I loved you for a long, long time

I know this love is real

It don’t matter how it all went wrong

That don’t change the way I feel

And I can’t believe that time’s

Gonna heal this wound I’m speaking of

There ain’t no cure,
There ain’t no cure,
There ain’t no cure for love.


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