I started making these goofy holiday-themed mixtapes in 2006, inspired by the yule-mixologist Andy Cirzan‘s annual appearances on the great WBEZ radio show and podcast Sound Opinions. I was honored to interview Andy for a Washington Post piece about my mixtape several years later, and to appear with him on a Minnesota Public Radio segment that I’m glad to tell you did not involve Garrison Keillor in any way.
So I’ve been collecting and compiling weird old Christmas-themed recordings for a long time now, but I didn’t buy a turntable until the latter part of 2016. I’d refused to even entertain the possibility of joining the vinyl resurgence, because I knew my discipline would crumble and I’d feel compelled to drain my banking account re-buying dozens of my favorite albums in the most expensive, space-consuming, fragile, and heavy music-distribution format ever conceived, with the possible exception of the wax cylinder. Which is exactly what happened. I have four working turntables in my apartment at this moment. Four. If I had any reasonable estimate of how many LPs there are, I would be too embarrassed to share that number with you. Continue reading →
…wherein I join PCHH host Linda Holmes and regular panelists Stephen Thompson and Glen Weldon to talk about where the beloved hit movie fits into director Ridley Scott’s oeuvre and its fidelity to Andy Weir’s novel.
I suggested How-To Stories as a companion topic, since The Martian — in both its incarnations, albeit moreso in prose than onscreen — goes into unusual detail about the stuff its stranded-astronaut hero Mark Watney must do to survive on a planet that (so far we know) does not sustain life. We all struggled to come up with suitable examples of favorite stories in this genre, and to thread the needle between a How-To and a Procedural. I could’ve talked about several different Michael Mann films, but particularly Thief, Manhunter, Heat, or even The Insider. As is often the case, I didn’t think of that until later. Continue reading →
Last Thursday, I attended the seventh of U2’s eight concerts at Madison Square Garden, which concluded their U.S. tour. It was my 18th U2 concert since 1997. Here are my notes, assembled in mostly chronological order, which is the most boring possible method of review-writing. Let’s go!
1. Bono took the stage by himself, at the opposite end of the arena from the band. Most of the folks surrounding the B-stage on the floor where we were (though it’s called the E-stage now, being that this is the annoying capitalized iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour) were staring at one of house-right floor entrances to the arena, smart phones at the ready, from the moment Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” started playing on the P.A.
I don’t like that he enters on his own. It contradicts the “just the four of us” narrative U2 have always fostered, and it’s worth fostering. What other band has stayed intact with its original lineup for just a year or two shy of four decades?
2. My fellow superfans were really nice. We were in the G.A. line ahead of a guy named Bob Springsteen, of the Arkansas Springsteens — he showed me his I.D., unbidden. He was at the show with a pal on this evening but returning with his wife and young daughters, he said, the following night.
So Bob Springsteen was in the house the night Bruce Springsteen joined U2 on stage. (I was not.) I’d been reading rumors of a Bruuuuuce appearance on fan sites for a week, and I figured, accurately, that if he showed up he would join in on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which he played with U2 after inducting them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 10 years ago. (He was returning the favor. Bono gave Bruce’s induction speech in 1998.) He also played it with U2 at the 25th anniversary concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. So a not-especially-surprising surprise. Continue reading →
That’s The Boss’s imminent album up there, all right. Over at NPR Monkey See this morning, I ask why it — like pretty much every album Springsteen has made in the last 30 years (except for The Ghost of Tom Joad) — must have such a terrible, awful, no good, inexpressive and irreducibly goddamn fugly cover.
My love of Bruce Springsteen is not exactly news. It may no longer even qualify as infotainment. He played the single best concert I’ve ever seen anyone play, out of hundreds of bands and artists. (This is merely a partial list.) There is nothing remotely controversial about the assertion he is the greatest live performer in the history of rock and roll.
I wrote all of this down three years ago, after I saw him play his penultimate show of 2009, in Baltimore’s appealingly small and out-of-date sports area, the end of a busy two-year tour wherein he also made one of his worst albums. Basking in the glow of that remarkable show in the days afterward, I knew if I were never to see Springsteen and the E Street band play again, I’d be fine with that.
I had a Born in the U.S.A. on cassette when I was a little kid, but it wasn’t until college that I became a hardcore Springsteen fan. His Live 1975-85 album (three discs, because I got it in the CD era) and his solo acoustic, recorded-in-his-bedroom Nebraska album were the documents most directly responsible for my conversion. At the time I was discovering this music, Springsteen hadn’t toured with the E Street Band in seven years. Another four would pass before they’d announced they were reuniting.
Those reunion shows in 1999 and 2000 were remarkable. I saw five concerts on that tour. They were different from the shows Bruce and the band had played in the 70s and 80s, the ones I had heard only on cherished (and in the pre-broadband era, expensive) bootlegs. There was no intermission. Bruce’s meandering, easily parodied, improvised on-stage stories were gone, replaced by a gospel preacher schtick. The shows tended to be about two-and-a-half hours long — a generous amount of stage time from anyone but Springsteen, who had regularly broken the three-hour mark all through his twenties and thirties.
"44 years of performing experience! 30 years of psychiatric evaluation!" Photo by Erica Bruce.
Last Thursday, I road-tripped up to Philadelphia for what I think was my 15th Bruce Springsteen concert (but only my 14th with the pants-droppin’, heart-stoppin’, Earth-shakin’, booty-quakin,’ love-makin’, Viagara-takin’ etc., etc. E Street Band) since 1999. Three nights later, I saw my 16th (15th) here in DC at the Verizon Center.
For the City Paper, I wrote up some thoughts on the DC show, which differed significantly from the Philly one as you can see from the handy setlist table I have prepared below. Clip it out of your iPad’s retina display and post in your cubicle as a source of hourly inspiration! Continue reading →
One thing I brood about when I read a really great memoir, like Keith Richards’ Life, just for example, is that I have a poor memory. There is no good reason why this should be. I’m only in my midthirties and I’ve never touched hard drugs in my life, so the fact that 70-year-old Keef can write in vivid detail about his postwar boyhood after a lifetime of committed drug abuse makes me feel like I just got dealt a bad hand. (Keef takes pains throughout his book to attribute his startling longevity to the fact that all the drugs he did were of the finest quality; Merck medical-grade cocaine and so on. I have no idea if that’s a real thing or not, but it’s in his book.) Continue reading →