Tag Archives: Rock and Roll

I Was There, Edition 1: Tom Jones at the Friar Tuck, Catskill, NY, 1992

In which I record an event of which Google has no accounting. 

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Tom Jones, 1992

 

I’m pretty sure it was summer, 1992. Google says Tom Jones played New York’s Westbury Music Fair in ’93, so I assume he would not also have visited the Friar Tuck in Catskill that season. Plus, at the Friar Tuck, he played two songs that came out in ’91, so it couldn’t have been before then. Thus my deduction.

In any case, the Welsh Soul Brother was still riding his 1988 worldwide hit, a fabulous rendition/re-invention of Prince’s “Kiss” masterminded by Trevor Horn/Art of Noise and Jones’ son, Mark, who’d become dad’s manager in ’86. Mark had summarily instructed his old man to ditch the leather trousers for well-cut suits, and record something cool, fer fook’s sake! Genius move.

On a weekend away from our Manhattan home, Holly and I heard about the show at the Friar Tuck’s “Buckingham Palace Theatre,” and conspired to venture to Catskill. We’d bought TJ’s 60s and 70s LPs at yard sales, and enjoyed them both genuinely and ironically, and we loved his irresistible “Kiss.” In those days, we were always angling for a road trip down the two-lane blacktop to some adventure (or misadventure). This plan seemed promising, and if memory serves, it wasn’t expensive.

At the city limits, a faded sign proclaimed Catskill as Mike Tyson’s early 80s home, where he’d trained with (and been adopted by) local legend Cus D’Amato. The terrain was sadly common depressed blue collar Upstate NY, land gone to seed, a sense of barely hanging on, of cheap real estate. Until we rounded a corner and saw the line of cars turning onto to the long drive leading to the Buckingham Palace Theatre at the Friar Tuck Resort & Convention Center.

 

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This was old-school, down-at-the-heels glitz, echoes of bygone Borscht Belt days. Like Vegas, Jr. Chandeliers, folding chairs, stonework, etc. The 2000-capacity Buckingham Palace Theatre was quite full, if not a sellout; an audience of excited middle-aged ladies, original TJ fans I presume, and some game husbands, plus the odd 20-or-30-something rocker clique. Of course, I heard the odd joke about girdles being thrown onstage. An elder woman proclaimed, to the amused distress of her friends: “I’m gonna scream when he does ‘It’s So Unusual’! (sic)” I’d never been in a space with that many women, that much unabashed lust.

The lights dimmed and a quintet hit the stage. They were serviceable, all with ponytails or mullets. One blew into a heinous synth programmed to “sound like a horn section.” (Early 90s digital tech almost always awful.) But they were fine. Tom strode out in a green silk suit and, to our amazement, launched into a stunning version of Richard Thompson’s “I Feel So Good.” Despite furrowed brows, and a palpable sense of confusion at this very current choice (previously unheard by them, I’m betting), the elder fans were civil and appreciative. I envision them trusting Jones wouldn’t leave them unsatisfied. Above all, I am absolutely positive they were transfixed by that voice.

His voice was astounding. One of those artists whose instrument has never been fully represented on record, via analog, digital, whatever. (I am reminded of Glen Campbell at Mohegan Sun on his farewell tour, voice undiminished by time or illness.) I have tried out a few of his tunes, and they are fucking hard to sing well. (“Delilah,” “What’s New Pussycat,” and “Thunderball,” for instance. No recordings exist of me trying to sing these songs, and never will.) At fifty-two (a year younger than I am now), he hit every note, just filled the room, commanded it, wove a spell with those pipes, transported all of us from the Friar Tuck in Catskill to… Heaven? But he also came off as nice, approachable. Not dangerous. Powerfully sexy. His own, very distinctive thing. He could rock, but he possessed a finesse few rockers can claim, a mastery of sound. Although no undergarments of any kind were thrown onstage, it would not have surprised me if there had been.

Other contemporary tunes he slayed: Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis,” and EMF’s “Unbelievable.” (Neither of which seem to be in his discography, sadly.) He chatted with the audience, said he was “so happy” to be at the Friar Tuck. In the middle of the set he sang all his hits, back to back (including “Kiss”), with admirable gusto, and the crowd went nuts.

Having done his due diligence with those chestnuts, he closed with another surprise: Johnny Winter’s “Still Alive and Well.” Which he and the mullet-y band KILLED. Frankly, at that point, he could’ve sung the theme to “Scooby Doo” and everyone – the older women, the husbands in tow, the cooler-than-thou rockers – would’ve loved it. To this day, Tom Jones remains one of the best singers I have ever seen, certainly in my Top 5.

I’ve been talking about that show for 25+ years. And now that I have written this, it will finally be searchable on Google.

More to come.

RBW, 4-8-18

Postscript: Curious to see images of the Friar Tuck? Click HERE What became of the Friar Tuck? Click HERE.

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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.”