Category Archives: road trips

A(nother) Night of Music and Passion with the Boss

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Just back from Night Two of the Boss’s two-night stand here in Our Nation’s Capitol. I was in a better position tonight, on the floor instead of Section 116 behind the stage, which wasn’t bad either — I actually like seeing the performers’ perspective, that sea of hands and smiling faces. But the sound was much better from in front of the stage, and the band’s overall energy was higher tonight. I thought Night One’s setlist was more interesting, however, featuring the rarely-performed title track from the single most underrated album in the cannon, Tunnel of Love, the still-not-appearing-regularly Magic tune “I’ll Work for Your Love,” and of course the extended encore featuring the uber-rare two-fer of “Growin’ Up” and “Kitty’s Back.”

Tonight’s set was one song shorter than last night’s, and featured five songs not performed the first night: “The Ties that Bind,” “Jackson Cage,” Patti’s “A Town Called Heartbreak,” “Backstreets,” and — it’s hard to believe this one is an alternate tune instead of an every-nighter, though I like that Bruce is giving one of the standards a rest — “Thunder Road,” dedicated “to Jann [Wenner, sez my associate J. Freedom du Luc, whose review of Night One appears in tomorrow’s Paper of Record; though I saw him at tonight’s show, too] and Pat.”

I have no idea who Pat is.

Five out of 24 set-changes ain’t bad, but I thought there might be a few more: “Lonesome Day,” “Workin’ on the Highway” and even, though it pains me to say it, “The Promised Land” all felt like the could be candidates for rotation. Some of the other tunes I know have already been performed this tour that I was hoping to hear tonight are “Brilliant Disguise” (again from the unfairly shunned Tunnel of Love) and “Be True,” a Tunnel B-side. Yeah, I love me some Tunnel, even if the production does sound quite dated now.

“Last to Die” was dedicated “to John” tonight. Yeah, that John, whose testimony before Congress in the 70s inspired the title.

My overall take on the Magic tour as I’ve experienced it these last two nights is that it isn’t as thematically cohesive as either of the E Street Band tours I’ve witnessed firsthand. The 1999-2000 tour was about reintroducing the band and was possibly the least nostalgia-reliant reunion tour ever. The 2002-3 The Rising tour was about reaffirming America’s benevolent strength after the trauma of 9/11. In the years since then, the “benevolent” part of that phrase has become seriously questionable, and even the “strength” part has been eroded by a series of . . . well, you don’t need me to tell you.

Magic reflects the darker times we’re living in, and Bruce has been playing a big chunk of the album this fall: nine songs of its 11 last night and eight tonight. The balance of the set is about exposing some worthy classics that haven’t been played to death since the E Streets got back together in 1999 (“She’s the One”), rearranging and reconsidering other tunes (“Reason to Believe,” now a bluesy stomp), and reprising the worthy new song from the Seeger Sessions tour, “American Land.”

So if the Magic setlists feel like a bit more of a grab-bag than the prior two tours’ programmes, well, it may be because they kind of are. Bruce continues to wrestle with how to serve both his muse and his loyal fan base, who are there mostly to hear old tunes. (I was one of the youngest people on the floor at tonight’s show, and I am, um, not young.) That said, Bruce is more courageous in this regard than any other artist at his level of popularity. Even U2 don’t have the balls to play nine songs from their newest album anymore. And the crowd at the Phone Booth the last two nights have responded to the new songs more enthusiastically than I would have expected, singing along to “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” and “Long Walk Home” and listening in quiet reverence to “Devil’s Arcade” and “Magic.”

On a more specific note about the music, I wish there were more singing. Patti and Steve sang backup throughout both shows, and Soozie Tyrell sang, too, but “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” particularly, and “Kitty’s Back” both suffered from a distinct lack of harmony. Maybe it’s because I just saw the New Pornographers two weeks ago, but I wanted more of that. There are plenty of decent singers among the E Street Band, so let’s hear ’em!

Also, I miss the lengthy, funny band introductions from the prior tours. Bruce just ran through everyone’s name quickly near the end of “American Land” this time. No “star of late-night television” for Max or Little Stevie, no “professor at the university of musical peversity” for Roy Bittan, no “come on up for the rising” for Patti. It’s a chance to inject a little more humor and warmth into the show. Bring it back, Boss!

But Do They Smoke Marijuana in Greensburg?

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I’ll admit I was pretty pleased with this. I got to take my old man to the Willie, Merle & Ray Price (first-name notoriety eldudes him, I guess) show; got to rub elbows there with the Man Called Freedom; and I thought the review came out really well. (The Man Called Freedom agreed.) Plus, it got decent play when it ran in last Saturday’s Paper of Record.

On Tuesday, a Post editor forwarded me an e-mail that had come in from a reader in Greensburg, PA who challenged my account of the origin of “Okie from Muskogee” from the review. It was literally just one clause in one sentence of the piece:

“Mama Tried” was a predictable triumph, but even better was a brilliantly timed walk-on by Nelson during “Okie From Muskogee” — Haggard’s immortal reflection of his dad’s anti-hippie stance, and rather at odds with Nelson’s own biodiesel-powered, IRS-taunting lifestyle.

So it’s not I like was accusing Merle of having ripped off the bassline of “Under Pressure” or anything. Still, it was enough to get this know-it-all to write in with a contradictory, and completely unsourced, account of how Merle came to write “Okie” with Strangers drummer Eddie Burris, who shares Haggard’s songwriting credit:

“Okie’s” origins are well-documented. Haggard’s tour bus was
cruising through Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1969 when Eddie Burris, drummer for Haggard’s band the Strangers, remarked offhandedly, “I bet they don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.” Overhearing Burris’s remark, Haggard turned it into a song he viewed as no more than a tongue-in-cheek novelty (both men share composer credit). “Okie” nonetheless became a huge country hit, viewed by 1969’s equivalent of red-state America as a repudiation of the whole hippie counterculture though longtime, long-haired Haggard fans Jerry Garcia and Gram Parsons, seeing it as Haggard did, shrugged it off. Today, it’s a period piece.

The story must be “well-documented” indeed, since the letter’s author doesn’t bother to source it, which is pretty remarkable considering he intended this letter for publication. It gets better: It turns out the author of the letter is himself a journalist and historian who boasts (in a follow-up letter, after my editor had replied to his) that he’s been writing about music for a living since the seventies. In other words, somebody who really ought to know to cite his sources, especially when accusing another writer of not having done his research. (Admittedly, I didn’t cite a source for my account of “Okie” ‘s origin in the review, but that was due to the fact that I had a strict 15″ limit on my piece, which was, after all, a concert review, not an exploration of the influences on Hag’s songcraft.)

The guy ends his letter like this:

Concert reviewers needn’t have encyclopedic knowledge of the acts they evaluate, but it helps to have done some homework first. Klimek, unfortunately, did not.

Not much ambiguity there, huh? He doesn’t say, “The way I always heard the story is . . .” He doesn’t phrase his objection in a way that allows for the possibility that there could be more than one version of the story. He just goes straight for the jugular, stating matter-of-factly that I didn’t do my homework.

Anyway, two days after the letter came in, my editor at the Post asked me if I could back up my account of how “Okie” came to be. Since the great Drive-by Truckers song “The Three Great Alabama Icons” probably doesn’t count as a primary source, I sent my editor this Haggard profile by Brock Ruggles, published in 2002 in New Times Phoenix, wherein the Branded Man himself reveals all:

Most people did not realize (and some still don’t) that “Okie From Muskogee” was a social commentary that did not necessarily reflect Haggard’s personal worldview. “Ya know, I’m like an actor, and whatever role you see an actor in shouldn’t have anything to do with his own personality, but it does, of course,” he says. “That song typecasted me for a long time.

“‘Okie From Muskogee’ was written about my father, and it was my intention to try to see things from his viewpoint. Had he been alive at that time, I think he woulda said, ‘We’re happy with the way things are here in the middle of Oklahoma, and we’re really not wantin’ to get out in the street and bitch like the people in Frisco.’ The song was a contrast to what was going on, and there was nobody speaking up for [people like my dad], and I thought I’d jump out there and write a song for him.”

Bada-bing! Well, not entirely. It turns out Hag himself has told a lot of differerent stories about how and why he wrote “Okie from Muskogee” over the years, as mentioned in this 2004 L.A. Times profile by the great Bob Hilburn.

After my editor replied to the letter-writer (“It turns out Chris was correct”), the guy responded with a lot of bluster about how he knows Bob Hilburn, and how he’s interviewed many legends of country music in his three-decades-plus of writing on the topic, and actually says he’s glad he never got to interview Hag because the conflicting accounts of why he wrote probably his most famous song would drive the letter-writer crazy.

But he never apologized for having accused me of not doing my research.

Thanks for clarifying. With 32 years under my belt, I’m always learning
something new.

Maybe after 33 years, he’ll have learned that a false accusation warrants an apology. You think?

Organs, Pummeled.

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My buddy Joe recommended the review simply read, “Manson. Slayer. Fuck, yeah!” He wasn’t at the show, but it turns out he was at least half-right.

FACT:  This was the loudest show I have ever attended.

Thanks to Capt. Miller (Ret.) for fellowship, transportation, ear plugs, and research assistance.

Muddy Buddies!

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Just back from Richmond for my second Muddy Buddy and my first since 2004. When my partner, the lovely Ms. Tracy Webb, had to drop out earlier this week, you didn’t need to have seen more than one Meg Ryan movie to know that Miss Crooks’s partner would bail, too, leaving the two of us to do the race together. We finished — well, we weren’t the last finishers in Heat 6 (coed, combined age 56-65). She’s an actor and director, dammit; not an athlete. And I’m proud of her.

Pretty lame swag at the race this year compared to when I did it in San Dimas, CA in ’04. Trail socks? Gee, thanks. But the race shirts were Under Armour’s moisture-wicking mofos (TM) this time. It’s nice to have a race shirt you can actually run in; when you sweat like I do, cotton doesn’t cut it. You gotta get something for that hefty race registration fee, especially when the official race photo costs — wait for it — $49.99 for a freaking download.

I bought the 8″x10″ print for “only” $23.98. I’ll replace the low-res proof in this post with a scan when it arrives.

THE NEXT DAY . . .

Another photo arrives. I had been puzzled by the fact that the three different claim codes we were given all linked to the same shot.

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The mud-coat makes us look kind of like the cast of the nude MacBeth.

AND THE DAY AFTER THAT . . .

Miss Crooks finds this one in the Muddy Buddy Gallery.

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