Recent visits from old friends:
- Willie Nile at City Winery Boston, 12/29/18
There were a bunch of these guys, Willie, Elliott Murphy, David Johansen, Bruce before he became mega-famous, where if you lived in the tri-state in the late 70’s and were interested in rock and roll at all, you knew them and loved them. It was back when the radio would play such stuff, and I remember if I heard Willie’s “Vagabond Moon” I’d be doomed to spend the rest of the day singing it to myself, usually in an even more exaggerated Dylan-esque inflection than Willie. (I tried this out the other day and it still holds true.) We were certain they would all go on to be superstars.
Well, we know now that except for Bruce they didn’t, but as I’ve remarked previously it does the heart good to know that some of them are still out there rocking away despite it all: the record company ripoffs, legal problems, band problems, substance abuse problems. Willie put on a terrific 2-hour nonstop show, and a measure of how good it was is that I recognized one song in the first 45 minutes but still enjoyed myself. Bass-drums-guitars, a few piano ballads, rousing choruses…this still, miraculously, works! I wish more people did it.
The best of the new, a bit-too-politically-conscious for my taste songs was called “Children of Paradise.” He did “Sweet Jane” and a rocking version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” as the last two songs in the set, both great. He had enough of a sense of the moment to play a rocking version of “Auld Lang Syne.” He was generous but not over-generous with giving his much-much younger band solos, and brought on an old bandmate who lives in the area to play on a few songs. The old bandmate looked like someone’s accountant but wailed on guitar. And I got to show my son that a 70-year old guy with talent and attitude and I assume a good physical therapist (those kicks!) can still bring it. Not dead yet!
2. “Big City Cat,” Steve Forbert (memoir)
Steve was another one of those late seventies tri-state area legends, and it’s funny looking back that we didn’t think twice about hearing “Going Down to Laurel” or “It Isn’t Gonna Be That Way” alongside the Ramones or Talking Heads on the radio. In this book, which I devoured over Christmas week, Steve writes about hearing those bands and loving them, feeling like he deserved a place at that and not just the folk music table, going down to CBGBs and auditioning. You feel like Steve, even after the record company ripoffs, legal problems, etc. recounted here, still feels like he deserves that place, has never not felt it.
The trajectory of the book is escape from Mississippi, immediate NYC buzz, too early stardom with “Romeo’s Tune,” never being able to match that success but continuing to persevere. Steve spends a fair amount of time providing back story on what went wrong. Blame is spread around and he takes a fair share himself but frankly I came out at the end thinking that the real problem was probably the alcohol issues he sideswipe mentions pretty frequently. So many of those what-turned-out-to-be-bad decisions sound like they were made in drunken fits of petulance or grandiosity: “I know what I’ll do, I’ll fire my whole management team and start over!” “The producer of my best-selling album is getting too much credit that should be mine, no way I’ll use him for the followup!” “I could wait and put out an album with twelve strong songs on it but no, the ones I have are good enough to rush out now!”
Which is to say, although I enjoyed the book, I came out of it liking Steve Forbert less. Still love “Alive on Arrival,” and still think he’s written wonderful songs since that should have been heard more (“Search Your Heart,” “Lay Down Your Weary Tune Again,” there are a lot of them). Still would check him out the next time he comes through town. Don’t think I’d want to have a beer (or six) with him.