Monday, July 20, 2009

Fan Voyeurism of the Highest Order

I recently received an email from one of my all-time favorite bands, Marillion. They have been playing their own style of rock - some would say it ranges from progressive to pop - for over 30 years. While not an stadium-filling kind of ensemble, Marillion are undoubtedly popular and fill venues worldwide with music-hungry fans.

Fifteen million albums sold, sharing the stage with Queen, a catalog with literally scores of songs, and more world tours than you can shake a stick at is nothing to look down upon.

After being introduced to the band in Tucson in 1986 by Herman Brau, a guy Rob Schumacher and I met the previous year in London whilst back-packing through Europe after college, I quickly fell in love with the style, the lyrics and the cadence (if you will) of the band. They drew upon influences like Genesis, Camel, and the Beatles; later Radiohead and others. They are on their second singer, who joined the band in the late 1980's. Singer Steve Hogarth took some getting used to, but brought a more "poppy" influence and certainly a greater sense of social and environmental sensitivity that did their previous singer Fish.

Still, the standout for me has to be Steve Rothery, one of the most soulful rock guitarists of his own right I've ever heard. Read an interview from Classic Rock Blog here. Plus, he races Porsches in his spare time! Seriously though, his solos are to die for. Click here for a listen to a great song called "Neverland" that features the full measure of the band.

KLR and Pete Trewavas (bassist) & Steve Rothery (lead guitarist) at the LA "listening party"

I've seen Marillion a few times, interviewed their keyboardist Mark Kelly, attended a "listening party" in LA, joined their "Front Row Club", and even participated as an early contributor to the Internet fund-raising North American fans conducted in the late '90's to help fund the band's tour here in N.A. All of it - including the fan-funded tour - has stretched into a marvelous experience and I think perhaps the inspiration for their forward-thinking approach to using the Internet to connect directly with their fans. As such, over the years they've added some great staff like Lucy Jordache and Erik Neilson (to name but two) to handle the website, promotions, tour planning, ordering, etc. and well as linked up with video producers The Boom-Boom Boys to create some killer DVDs.

Which brings us back to the aforementioned email announcing Episode #1 of "Racket TV" (Play now on the Marillion YouTube channel) The bands' homespun practice place and recording studio is called the Racket Club. This first episode begins the chronicle of the making of their next album, which will be an acoustic "re-rendering" of many of their earlier songs (and maybe a few new ones) called "L=M" (or Less equals More).

I, for one, am hoping for a band rendition of "Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney). The interview with bass guitarist Pete Trewavas is cool as are the clips from the studio floor filled with all manner of interesting musical goodies.

L=M is promised this fall; you can bet this rabid fan will be checking out every Racket TV video and will be most assuredly pre-ordering!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"It's All Fer Me Grog..."

Anytime someone asks for a campfire song, I can't help but think back to one of the more formative times of my youth: Outward Bound Colorado.

The time was the summer I graduated from Sabino high school and to commemorate the achievement my mom and dad asked if I wanted anything special. In very short order, I'd replied that going to Outward Bound would be a terrific life experience. Plans were quickly set in motion to attend.

I hopped a flight to Denver the day after school ended and was off on a strenuous trek where we spent some 3-weeks above 14,000 feet in the Rockies. One of the trail songs that I recall we sang a lot went a like this:

Well it's all for me grog, me jolly jolly grog
It's all for me beer and tobacco
For I spent all me tin with the lassies drinking gin
Far across the western ocean I must wander

The trouble is, I'm sure there were more lyrics but can't for the life of me recall any. I mean, we sang that bloody song for days on end! Maybe it's time for a deep hypnotic trance, or... GOOGLE!

A ten-second search on the first line of the song and I'm listening to "It's all for me grog" on the site Well... blow me down! Unbelievable. Click here to listen to a lo-fi streaming version of the whole song below... Thanks Google (and Marc Gunn) - I'm complete now...

"It's All For Me Grog"
Background: Traditional sea shanty and a rousing drinking!
Chords: KEY D

Well it's all for me grog, me jolly jolly grog
It's all for me beer and tobacco
For I spent all me tin with the lassies drinking gin
Far across the western ocean I must wander

Where are me boots, me noggin', noggin' boots?
They're all gone for beer and tobacco
For the heels they are worn out and the toes are kicked about
And the soles are looking out for better weather

Where is me shirt, my noggin', noggin' shirt?
It's all gone for beer and tobacco
For the collar is all worn, and the sleeves they are all torn
And the tail is looking out for better weather

I'm sick in the head and I haven't been to bed
Since first I came ashore with me slumber
For I spent all me dough on the lassies movin' slow
Far across the Western Ocean I must wander

Where is me bed, me noggin' noggin bed
It's all gone for beer and tobacco
Well I lent it to a whore and now the sheets are all tore
And the springs are looking out for better weather.

Where is me wench, me noggin' noggin' wench
She's all gone for beer and tobacco
Well her (clap) is all worn out and her (clap) is knocked about
And her (clap) is looking out for better weather.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Red Barchetta

Those of you familiar with the Canadian powerhouse trio Rush will no doubt recall a sonic gem of theirs from 2 decades ago called “Red Barchetta.” The name refers to a famous classic sports car built by Ferrari, but later was also the name for a lame Fiat drive. The former car earned its stripes by being fast and sexy.

The lyrics of most all of Rush’ songs, penned by drummer god Neil Peart, have often strayed – strike that – plunged into glorious sci-fi epics, which endeared the band to many free-thinking youth over the last 30+ years. Red Barchetta was a song on their "Moving Pictures" album about one such young man living in a distant future age where socialism at least and fascism at most reigned. It was also, as an entry in Wikipedia described it, a “post-petroleum future in which the ‘primitive’ gasoline-burning sports cars are prohibited by ‘the Motor Law.’” A controlling society, the youth were compelled to rebel in ways that the State could only hope to contain by vigorous use of the police.

This particular boy would escape to his “Uncle’s country place that no one knew about” and drive a perfectly preserved Ferrari every few weeks. One such time took immense effort to realize a narrow escape from the robotic “alloy air car” minions of the totalitarian society in which he was irresistibly trapped.

While on vacation in Ohio last week, I was delighted to learn that my father had his own version of an older exotic foreign sports car – red, of course – for me to drive: a well-preserved, daily driver of a convertible 1991 Jaguar XJ-S, V-12. Huzzah! This baby purrs… but also roars when pressed.

The ’91 makes 318 horsepower under a longish hood, replete with muscular lines arcing down to a fine pair of headlights. The switchgear, I would say is customarily British…which is to say that a reasonably intelligent American driver can figure out about 95% of what is needed; the other 5% is anyone’s guess.

To fire up that glorious 12-cylinder engine, one turns the key and an array of lights glow up the walnut wood dash. After a few seconds electric fuel pump whine, the engine roars to life, then settles into a soft exhaust burble directed with authority out two gleaming tailpipes.

My wife Kim and I had the pleasure of taking the Jag to Amish country, where the car drew an unexpected amount of attention amongst mini-vans, Honda sedans and – dare I say? – buggies. The weather was not too cooperative, raining off and on during the day; just enough to force top-up driving. Still, even at speeds approaching 100mph (dancing with a Mini Cooper S), the cabin noise was minimal.

Handling was good for a heavy luxury-touring convertible, but compared to my Miata M of a few years ago – a veritable go-kart – it was heavy to steer and rolled over on bulbous tires.

We capped off a day of driving on twisty two-lane country roads and antiquing with a pretty good Italian meal at a restaurant in Zanesville, a town made famous as the birthplace of famed Western author Zane Gray. Now Zane would have appreciated the risks our futuristic youth took to escape the suburbs of his youth for the wide-open countryside in his Uncle’s Red Barchetta.