Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Go West Young Men! 8-7-82

Thirty years ago today. An excerpt from Chapter Four of Tangled Up in Tunes:

Doug was waiting for me in the gravelly Tennyson Park lot, leaning against his yellow Caddy and spinning a red, white, and blue ABA basketball on his index finger. The windows were rolled down, and “Casey Jones” was cranking. He said, “Howie, I got a proposition for you. You’re gonna love this idea. It’s right up your alley. The Dead are in Wisconsin next weekend at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre. We can get tickets from Ticketron. Howie, picture this: We are outdoors with Jerry in the Midwest next Saturday night. I hear this place is amaaaaazing!  Can you imagine how hot Garcia will be in the Midwest? It’s only a sixteen-hour drive. Let’s do it. Whattaya say?” 
The time had come for us to leave the Tennyson Boys behind. Our pursuit of Jerry’s next transcendent jam was paramount. I informed my parents I’d be heading West with Doug in my Chevy. My parents were fond of the Doug. They knew I was crazy, but if Doug was part of my posse, then there might be some merit to it. In the classic tradition of exploration made famous by Lewis and Clark and perpetuated by Kerouac and Cassidy —  look out, America — here comes Catfish and Schmell!
I pulled up in front of the Schmell residence before noon on Friday. We wanted to tackle the bulk of our sixteen-hour-trip in one day and cruise into East Troy, Wisconsin, triumphantly on Saturday, August 7, 1982. Doug emerged from his house with a duffel bag slung across his torso and a box of Maxell cassettes carefully balanced in his right palm like a tray with Dom Perignon. Stepping into my Chevy, he admired his precious cargo and said, “Howie, these tapes are bad news for Van Halen fans.” It was a smug remark—one that a Garcia junkie could appreciate. Comparing anybody to Jerry was comical to us. We understood Garcia’s virtuosity, and it was our mission to spread the word to non-believers. Despite the fact that the Dead’s latest studio efforts were lame, the legend of Garcia was growing, and his cult following was on the rise.  
Chuck and Paul, neighborhood Deadheads, joined us on our journey to Wisconsin. Chuck was a serious young man–Fred Flintstone in tie-dye. He was also a person of great interest to us because he had a substantial bootleg collection, but a bad reputation when it came to returning borrowed tapes. Our other passenger, Paul Blatt, was a tiny red-headed cat I met at Rockland Community College–a mini-Bill Walton, minus athletic prowess. Cordial Paul spoke in soft squeaky tones and was always willing to roll with the flow of the group.  
Charging on to 80 West, I claimed the fast lane and refused to budge—left hand steering, right hand juggling java, joints, Marlboros, and boots. Endless Pennsylvania seemed bleak – blue collar town followed blue collar town through Amish Country, insane amounts of highway construction and detours along the way. We ran into three thunder storms, or maybe it was the same one chasing after us. Sheets of precipitation rap-tap-tapped off the windshield as I raced past monster trailers and trucks on the bedraggled two-lane highway. The sky darkened by the time we reached Ohio. Feeling famished, we stopped for food at a place in Youngstown that had a menu boasting of gizzards. A grease-stained bucket of rest area Roy Rogers chicken would have to suffice. One more cup of coffee, a hit of speed and one more ’77 Dead tape; I refused to give up the wheel until Cleveland was in the rearview mirror. By 3 A.M., my comrades were snoring as I pulled into a rest area and slipped into a spot between tractor trailers.  Four Deadheads and 100 truckers were motionless beneath the stars, but they were still tearing down the road in their dreams.  
On Saturday morning, we blew by Chicago, purchased a road map, and found a quaint cabin in Lake Geneva by noon. We had stumbled upon a wonderful Wisconsin resort town, and the weather was perfect—ah-hoooo! Cotton-candy clouds in sapphire skies dangled over a crystal clear lake. This expedition turned up nothing but gold, and the impending jam was still a seed in Jerry’s mind. 

Our heroes opened with a Music Never Stopped -> Sugaree ->Music Never Stopped loop. Once again, the band had rewarded me for my dedication with a combination that was never played before and would never be played again. Garcia raged on, peppering away on the set ending “Let It Grow.” Weir shouted the lyrics at Jerry, begging him to deliver: “Let it grow, let it grow, greatly yield.” And yield, Garcia did.  It’s a guitar lover’s feast offering three separate instrumental segments, with the middle one being the longest and most complex. The band executed flawlessly, setting the stage for Jerry’s mid-summer tirade. 
I finished out the year seeing the Dead at Landover, Maryland (9-15-82), Madison Square Garden (9-20 + 21-82), New Haven (9-23-82) and Syracuse (9-24-82), as well as catching the Jerry Garcia Band at the Felt Forum (11-11-82 early & late shows) and in the Wilkins Theatre at Keane College, located in Elizabeth, New Jersey (11-15-82 early & late show). In 1983, I got serious about following Jerry around. 

Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead is available at www.tangledupintunes.com The kindle version is on sale through August 9th for $5.99.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

He Was A Friend of Mine: Happy 70th Birthday Jerry

“There's no way to measure his greatness or magnitude as a person or as a player. I don't think any eulogizing will do him justice. He was that great, much more than a superb musician, with an uncanny ear and dexterity. He's the very spirit personified of whatever is Muddy River country at its core and screams up into the spheres. He really had no equal. To me he wasn't only a musician and friend, he was more like a big brother who taught and showed me more than he'll ever know. There's a lot of spaces and advances between The Carter Family, Buddy Holly and, say, Ornette Coleman—a lot of universes, but he filled them all without being a member of any school. His playing was moody, awesome, sophisticated, hypnotic and subtle. There's no way to convey the loss. It just digs down really deep.”
Bob Dylan’s press release regarding the death of Jerry Garcia’s is one of the most poignant, and perceptive pieces I’ve ever read. It always makes me feel the immediacy of Jerry’s passing as if it just happened, and I know that Dylan gets It. In that glorious paragraph, Dylan sketches the essence of Jerry Garcia, the enlightened soul who gave us everything he had.  
I became a Deadhead on January 24, 1981, after experiencing Europe ’72 in the backseat of my friend’s Honda Civic following a New York Islanders hockey game. On that evening, Michael Bossy became the second player in NHL history to score fifty goals in the first fifty games of a season. It was a thrilling live spectacle, but hearing my first Ramble On Rose on the way home stole the show. The Jerry switch in my brain was flicked on when I heard him croon,
“I’m gonna sing you a hundred verses in ragtime. I know this song it ain’t never gonna end.”
In Jerry’s world, the music never stopped. Songs went on and on, and they melted into exotic combinations: Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia > Caution…Playin’ in the Band  > Uncle John’s Band > Morning Dew > Uncle John’s Band > Playin’ in the Band. The jams fearlessly stormed into unchartered territory, but were seamlessly balanced  like mathematical equations. It all roles into one. 
Buddy Holly, Orrnette Coleman, Eddie Lang, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan; Jerry absorbed them all, and cherished the supernatural spirit of everything that was awesome and wholesome about music. Jerry and his cosmic band mates poured sonic inspiration into a psychedelic blender at Kesey’s Acid Tests, launching a distinctive genre of music that was true its roots—The Grateful Dead.
Perhaps, nobody appreciated other artist’s music more than Jerry. Just consider the songs Jerry Garcia Band tackled: Dear Prudence, Tangled Up in Blue, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Harder They Come, After Midnight, Second That Emotion, Tough Mama, Let it Rock, And It Stoned Me, Russian Lullaby, When I Paint My Masterpiece. I suppose that’s what love will make you do.
Jerry turned me on to Dylan. When the Grateful Dead toured with Bob in 1987, I became the happiest Dylanhead on the planet. A few years later, the Grateful Dead shared the stage with Branford Marsalis at the Nassau Coliseum. That Jerry > Branford jam in Eyes of the World enlightened me to the world of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bud Powell.
Songs were sacred to Jerry. That’s why he slowed down the tempo and prolonged the jam. I know this song, it ain’t never gonna end. Every nook, cranny, and crevice in the valley was explored and magnified. When our lives are in spirit, we want to stop time in its tracks. Jerry could stop time: 9-3-77 Englishtown, 8-27-72 Kesey’s Farm, 9-18-97 Madison Square Garden.
I’ll take a melody
 And see what I can do about it.
I’ll take a simple C to G
And feel brand new about it
“He's the very spirit personified of whatever is Muddy River country at its core and screams up into the spheres,” said Mr. Dylan. Thankfully, Muddy River country still rages in these conformist times. You can hear It on the 24/7 Grateful Dead Channel, and you can see It and feel It in every hippie living the life they love at a summer festival. It’s been seventeen years since Jerry’s passing, and  every year, the big fella  looms larger than ever. I savor his angelic voice every day. And his passionately patient solos scream up into the spheres and beyond.
Thank you Dear Mr. Fantasy. Happy 70th Birthday! You know our love will not fade away. 
Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead is available on Kindle for $5.99 to celebrate Jerry's Birthday. www.tangledupintunes.com

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tangled Up In Tunes Review

This is the review of my memoir which appeared in the Books Upon Your Shelf column in issue 161 of Isis Magazine. I enhanced the text with some photos.

Its been a while since our last books review column, but this month we have four new items to introduce you to. Two of these are already available with two more due in late March and May.

Derek B.
Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead

by Howard Weiner

Pencil Hill Publishing

            Reviewed by Derek Barker

Howard Weiner's "Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead" is a memoir of a ramblin'  man who  has  followed Jerry Garcia, the Dead, and Bob Dylan for three decades. It's an American road rhapsody that  maybe  should  have  been  titled "Heading for Another Joint". After all, that's where the story ends.
Weiner, or "Catfish" as he's known to his friends, seems to have spent much of his life rambling   around   the   States, sometimes for his job, but more often to attend concerts, firstly to see Jerry Garcia and later Bob Dylan (100 Dylan, and 200 Dead and Jerry Garcia Band shows). The man might ramble but the book certainly doesn't, and I found it to be a good read.
There could maybe have been more analysis or commentary on the concerts- that would have made the book more informative, but probably less easy to read. And anyway, I guess song analysis is not the aim of the book.
Just when he thought his road days were over, Weiner witnessed the horror of 9/11 first-hand from a street corner in Downtown Manhattan. That night he decided to quit his day job and revisit his road-tripping Glory Days; pursuing his muse like never before.
The book opens in 2008 with Weiner in Minneapolis to see Dylan's November 4, Election Day concert. "Dylan's voice was gruff like an old carnival barker at the end of a double shift," Weiner writes. "Either you were drawn to the rumbling or you were repulsed, but everyone listened. Dylan's mysterious web of charisma hypnotized the audience." The book's real beginning starts with Chapter Two, "It's Alright Ma (It's My Life Only)". The best way to provide a flavour of this book is to let Howard Weiner take up the story:-
"I'd been born eighteen days prior to JFK's assassination and given up for adoption immediately," Weiner writes. "My new parents, Lenny and Doris Weiner, picked me up in Cheverly, Maryland, and drove me back to Brooklyn-my first road trip. By the time I was three, my adopted mother had died of an illness on December 31, 1966, and my father and I moved into my grandmother's shoebox apartment on Walton Avenue in the Bronx. My earliest memories, however, are not of grief or longing for my mother, but of the sounds of my father's records ... Infatuated by the soundtrack of West Side Story, I could see the jets and Sharks rumbling on a city playground, and I dreamed of a girl named Maria."
' ...I was turned on to The Beatles by my teenage cousins, the Baskin boys-Jeffery, Seth and Keith. They lived with my Uncle Murray and Aunt Ruth in a yellow house surrounded by a healthy yard with enormous trees. It was the last home on a dead-end street in Deer Park-an unpretentious high-rise ... I was amazed that they each had their own bedrooms-I was holed up in a single bedroom with Dad and Grandma ... I nagged Dad until he bought me my first two Beatles records: "Let It Be" and a 45rpm single of `All You Need is Love' with `Baby You're a Rich Man' on the fipside. The plastic inserts that had to be placed in the record holes of 45s were funky. Yellow, red, and green, the inserts resembled flattened ship steering wheels with gaps on the outer rim. It was as if their sole purpose was to forever lodge themselves in our memories so we would never forget 45s after they were passe."
"...Dad remarried, and we relocated ... Weekend road trips with the family became frequent. I didn't ask my parents for much, but I demanded respect; the radio must be playing. Sometimes I successfully negotiated sitting shotgun so I could  scan  the  dial.  Music  and motion became  an intoxicating combo Icould never shake. The names of the bridges and roads sang sweetly like a rhapsody..."
"The first station I tuned into was 66 WNBC New York. Some of the jingles that made an indelible impression upon me were: `Indian Reservation,"Love Train', `Crocodile Rock', `Song Sung Blue', and a song sung nasally-'Lay, lady, lay; lay across my big brass bed.' I was drawn to Dylan's nasally twang, but he didn't receive much exposure on the AM dial. I began to dig more of Zimmy's stuff after receiving an eight-track tape of Dylan's "Greatest Hits Volume II" as part of a larger shipment from Columbia House. Cost? Only 99 cents! Enrolment was a breeze and membership was bliss. Busting open a piggybank? Unnecessary. However, due to a seemingly innocuous stipulation in my relations with Casa De Columbia, I had to purchase seven new albums or tapes at inflated club prices over the next three years. Gotcha, cha-ching! Welcome to the American Dream-fantasize now, pay later, or defer forever. And enjoy those groovy tunes."
By  Chapter Three, "The  Golden Road  (To Unlimited Devotion)", Weiner has been introduced to the guitar playing of one Jerry Garcia:- "Hip to FM ditties like `Casey   Jones' and `Ripple', I used to think of the Grateful Dead as   just another good-time group with a Grate name ... Gripped by  "Europe  '72" the Grateful Dead's triple album, I surrendered my mind to the mysterious sounds. The Dead garnered country, bluegrass, jazz and Delta blues, tossed it in a psychedelic blender, and served it with rock and roll sensibility. These  songs  exuded a strange American presence. No simple label could do them justice. I'd cracked a musical language barrier.
Those with absolutely no interest in the Grateful Dead should be aware that Bob Dylan doesn't arrive in Weiner's story until  Chapter Seven (page 83 of 256). Weiner discovers Dylan quite by accident or, as the chapter's title states, by a "Simple Twist of Fate". It all starts for Weiner when he pushes home a tape in a friend's car. The tape is "Blood On The Tracks":- "I knew an epiphany when I was in the middle of one," writes Weiner. "...I wanted to rewind the tape and absorb what I'd heard so far ... The Dylan switch in my brain was flicked on." Weiner's revelation was superbly timed:- "My universe was perfectly aligned," Weiner continues. "I had found Dylan, and Garcia had bounced back from his coma and was finding his stride again. In May of 1987 it was announced that Dylan and the Dead would tour together again-except, this time, Jerry and the Boys would serve as Dylan's backing band, in addition to playing their own show. I could hardly believe it. Lady Luck was my soul mate."
Weiner had this to say about the July  12,1987  East Rutherford concert- "The Giants Stadium concert was an affirmation of my faith in the creative powers of Dylan and Garcia.  Nobody  could  have  grasped  the historical repercussion that this concert would have on Dylan's career, but I knew something was happening. I'd witnessed Dylan busy being born again, his career resuscitated by the Dead, in the swamps of East Rutherford"
After working as a travelling salesman, and moving home for what seems like the hundredth time - always taking his music collection and his three cats along for the ride -Weiner headed back to New York City. It was 1997 and his father and Jerry Garcia had both recently passed away. Weiner got a job selling copiers and rented a duplex in the desirable Yorkville neighbourhood on the Upper East Side. Things were going well until 9/11. Life would never be the same for New Yorkers after those two planes hit their target. The event would   provide the catalyst for a change in Weiner's life:- "I decided to leave my day job," he wrote. "I could better serve the world spreading music, even if it was karaoke." Weiner began spending a great deal of time on the Internet back amongst the Dead community and he very soon "pined for [his] glory days of touring with the Dead". On November 19, 2001, Weiner saw Dylan play at Madison Square Garden. When Dylan sang "'You can't repeat the past. I say, 'You can't? What do you mean, you can't? Of course you can." Weiner saw this as a "call to action". He writes, "My vision wasn't clear, but I knew it involved Dylan's Never Ending Tour and a road map." And so his Dylan road trip was about to start.
Still living in NYC and working as a karaoke host, Weiner began attending Dylan classes at The New School, New York. The classes, called "Discussing Dylan", were run by my old friend and ISIS subscriber Robert Levinson. In May 2005, near the end of the first Dylan semester, Weiner attended  a  clutch of Dylan concerts. The shows he witnessed were so good that he decided this was it; he was going to write a book about Dylan's Never Ending Tour. "Tangled Up in Tunes" is the result of that notion. However, as I've already stated, the book is not solely about Dylan, as the subtitle "Ballad of a Dylanhead" suggests
In May 2008 Weiner was accepted into The New School MFA Creative Writing program and in 2010 he received his Degree. The story ends on September 1, 2009 in The Joint, Las Vegas, with the author's 100th Dylan show. "It would be a confirmation more than a celebration-a continuum of my existence," writes Weiner. "I love the life I live, and I'm gonna live the life I love. The lights went out and Dylan appeared on stage. "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way...Selah
Howard Weiner  created and hosted the radio show "Visions of Dylan" for WBAI 99.5 FM, New York,2006 - 2008. In 2010, he received an MFA Degree in Creative Writing from The New School, New York. All passages quoted in the above review are used with the permission of the author.
The book, a 6" x 9" Trade Paperback, was self-published by Pencil Hill Publishing on January 6, 2012. It is available direct from www.tangledupintunes.com at $14.00. "Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead" can also be bought from Amazon.com (both  physical  and  Kindle)  and  from
Amazon.co.uk (in Kindle format only).

Friday, April 6, 2012

April 6, A Day That Will Live In Epiphany

4-6-82 (30 years ago today) driving through a blizzard for my first road trip to see the Dead in Philly
4-6-87 (25 years ago today) Listening to Blood on the Tracks for the first time

Excerpts from Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead

As I awoke in my bedroom, I sensed an unseasonable chill in the air on the morning of April 6, 1982. Opening the drapes, I was stunned by what I saw—marshmallow mounds of snow reflecting the amber glare of the sun. A day earlier, the trees were sprouting leaves, but now they sat like flagpoles on an Alpine ski course. Without much warning, Nanuet was blanketed by eighteen inches of powdery precipitation overnight. The freak blizzard may have delayed the arrival of spring, but it would not deter my plans to see the Grateful Dead in Philadelphia.

I called the Zolottlow brothers to ensure we were pressing on. The vote was unanimous: we would rendezvous with the Dead in Philly. Doug had planned on joining us, but he was stuck in Albany with the April blizzard blues. Waiting at the foot of my driveway with my flannel shirt billowing in the howling Nor’easter winds, I wondered how many hours the 118-mile journey might take. Seymour’s tiny white Honda sputtered up Carnation Drive, appearing smaller than ever in the only partially plowed street, glinting against the wintry landscape. 
Slip-sliding our way south, Seymour navigated us through a treacherous twenty-mile stretch of the Palisades Parkway. The insanity of traveling in these hazardous conditions was an intense rush. Once we reached the New Jersey Turnpike, all roads ahead were clear. Mother Nature had spared the Garden State—smooth sailing to Philadelphia. I let out a vigorous, “Yeeee-haw!” This was my first road trip anywhere without my parents.

Slicing through the swamps and industrial wastelands of New Jersey, we passed the Oranges (East and West) and the Amboys (Perth and South) on our way to Exit 4, where the Walt Whitman Bridge and the City of Brotherly Love beckoned in the near distance.
Part II: http://visionsofdylan.blogspot.com/2012/02/deadhead-born-this-morning.html

4-6-87 Blood on the Tracks
There was something peculiar about stepping into the driver’s seat of Phil’s light brown Chevy Impala. I felt like I was cheating on my beloved Chevy, which was in the shop receiving an overdue tune-up. The seat and mirror of Phil’s car were aligned out of my comfort zone. I also forgot to bring a Dead tape along for the ride. Heading towards the village of New Paltz for my morning caffeine fix, I pushed in Phil’s tape, hoping I’d hear some Jerry. The tune was familiar. Dylan was singing “Tangled Up in Blue.” I pulled into the lot of McPeady’s, the local ma and pa shop, and scored a pint of dirty java that should have been served in a cup with a skull and crossbones warning label. Two sips could make you want to start training for a decathlon . At the time, I was masquerading as a student at SUNY-New Paltz. I had lots of spare time.

Heading home on Route 32 North, a familiar chord riff flowed gently to my ears. Dylan’s voice interrupted the serenity, “We sat together in the park, as the evening grew dark.” Oh my. This was my first rendezvous with the real “Simple Twist of Fate.” Up to this point, I’d only heard JGB’s unhurried cover. Dylan’s singing was sharp. The words were delivered with an intense poetic cadence. The acoustic accompaniment was spacious and lush at the same time—absolutely hypnotic, like leaves floating from trees. Dylan’s essence filled the car. This version was superior to the JGB version that I was fond of.

The next song had the same mesmerizing qualities of the first two. Dylan’s voice was filled with sorrow: “Oh, I know where I can find you, in somebody’s room. It’s a price I have to pay. You’re a big girl all the way.” Nothing had struck me like this since I discovered the Dead. My life was about to change.

I wanted to rewind the tape and absorb what I’d heard so far, but a wounded Dylan attacked: “Someone’s got it in for me; they’re planting stories in the press.” Each succeeding thought swallowed the previous one in magnitude until the final chorus climaxed with Dylan venting, “You’re an idiot, babe; it’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.” No Punches were pulled—this was as real as it gets.

The Dylan switch in my brain was flicked on. What about those other albums—albums  that gave birth to “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Mr. Tambourine Man?” There had to be plenty of gold in those mines. I also realized that I’d reached a traffic circle in Kingston, New York, eighteen miles past New Paltz. Phil was probably wondering where I had disappeared to with his car, but I knew he’d be psyched about my epiphany. I rewound the tape and listened to those four brilliant songs on the way back.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Barb Jungr Returns Man in the Long Black Coat to New York

Barb Jungr, the fabulous British singer, is back in New York City to perform her widely-acclaimed Bob Dylan show, Man in the Long Black Coat, at the elegant Metropolitan Room for a three-week run starting on April 10th. Barb's unique interpretations of Bob's songs are absolutely Dylanesque. On her latest CD, Man In The Long Black Coat, Jungr seamlessly mixes Dylan's best known songs with offbeat offerings like "Trouble in Mind," "Sara," and "High Water."
Jungr reconstructs "Trouble in Mind," slowly building it from something that sounds like Peggy Lee's "Fever" to a resounding and inspiring gospel hymn—the type of performance that can only be pulled off by an artist that understands the subtleties and nuances of Dylan's rarest compositions. Her rendition of "Man in the Long Black Coat" is sublime. In one verse she snarls like Dylan, then her voice soars like Joan Baez. The arrangement captures the suspenseful tone of Dylan's original with dynamic, rich texture.
In addition to her ten-year affair with Dylan's oeuvre, Jungr is known for her daring interpretations of compositions by Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, David Byrne, Neil Diamond, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. Jungr is a dazzling live performer who delivers an indefinable X-factor with each show. This style mirrors what Dylan does with his own songs in concert.
Time Out New York rated Man in the Long Black Coat the top cabaret show of 2011. Adam Feldman wrote, "The extraordinary English singer didn't just cover Bob Dylan's songs, she uncovered them and discovered them with exuberant musical insight."
If you love Bob Dylan's music, or if you love the thrill of a great live performance, Barb Jungr's show is a must see. Barb serves up the all the iconic songs with fresh twists: "Like A Rolling Stone," The Times They Are A-Changin'," It Ain't Me Babe," "Blind Willie McTell." Man in the Long Black Coat performs a total of 15 times: Tues-Fri April 10, 11, 12, 13, all at 7pm; Sat April 14 at 9:30; Tues-Fri April 17, 18, 19, 20, all at 7pm; Sat April 21 at 9:30pm; Tues-Fri April 24, 25, 26, 27, all at 7pm; Sat April 28 at 9:30pm. The music charge is $25, plus a two-drink minimum.
For reservations call 212/206-0440 or order online www.metropolitanroom.com
For those attending the shows on Saturday, April 14th and April 21st, join Barb and prominent Bob Dylan experts for two intimate pre-show Fireside Chats at 8 PM. The shows start at 9:30.There's no additional charge for the Fireside Chats for the first 30 persons who purchase their tickets online. Just use the password Dylanchat .
In addition to meeting Barb, you'll be able to participate in revealing stories, gossip, and gospel with Q 104's KEN DASHOW (April 14) , Dylan author Howard Weiner (April 14 & 21), and another special guest who will be announced for April 21st.

People don't live or die/ People just float
She gone with the man in the long black coat


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Facebook Induced Flashback: Alpine to Ohio

A friend posted this photo on Facebook today. This is the earliest known photo of me on tour. Doug Schmell is on the left, Howard "Catfish" Weiner on the right. It's 6-25-85 and we're at the River Bend Music Theatre in Cincinati prior to a Grateful Dead concert. Here's an excerpt from Chapter Six of my road memoir: Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead.


Grateful Interventions…A preview of the 1985 NBA Draft in the style of Moses Malone…The pros and cons of hitchhikers…Sweating bullets in Cincinnati…Ominous clouds in Buffalo…The party’s over at RFK…

The Alpine shows were tight, welcomed consistency after the Helter Skelter Spring tour. On the second night, the “Saint of Circumstance” jam raged, and The Boys opened the second set with the Derek and the Dominoes classic, “Keep on Growing,” featuring Phil Lesh on lead vocals. Lesh had recently emerged from a ten-year singing hiatus. A new Deadhead chant was born: “Let Phil sing.” I wanted to chant: “Bad idea.” The beloved bassist, who wore tie-dyes and looked like a chemist, had a distinct vocal style—awful as can be. This didn’t matter to Deadheads. Tight-knit crowds crave simplistic mantras to chant. In Yankee Stadium they yell, “Boston sucks,” and in the Boston Garden they holler, “Beat L.A.” When Phil Lesh sang, I cringed.

June 23, 1985, was a travel day. Our crew fiddled around Lake Geneva all day and then started the journey towards Cincinnati by sundown. We picked up a hitchhiking Deadhead who looked like a young Rodney Dangerfield in a Hawaiian shirt. His name was Steve Miller. His sticky bud made us fly like eagles, and his stinky feet made us roll down the windows. We had an intervention and ordered him to put his boots in the trunk. Doug’s Alpine Masters sounded sensational as I pressed on for five hours before pulling over to sleep in an Indiana service area.

Sunshine was beating upon my forehead as I awoke in the front seat of my Chevy. My clothes were heavy with perspiration, and I was steaming like a burrito that had been slowly baking all night. Doug was snoring and schvitzing in the back seat. Steve Miller restlessly rolled on the trunk. Phil and Paul had been napping in sleeping bags on the grass, but I found them having coffee in the cafeteria. Their sleeping quarters were invaded by a bivouac of ants at dawn.
The mid-morning heat was relentless, and there wasn’t a cloud over the Midwest. Our spirits were bolstered again as we headed down the highway with the AC cranking. We reached the River Bend Music Theatre at noon, way too soon—we had seven hours to kill on a 100-degree day.
“Iko Iko,” the righteous party song, kicked-off the second set. Behind the stage, a steamboat slowly sailed up the Ohio River. Look out, mama, there’s a white boat coming up the river. The enormous Grateful Dead twentieth celebration banner dropped down behind the band as they slammed into “Samson & Delilah.” River Bend buzzed below the setting sun.

For their Twentieth Anniversary concerts in Berkeley, the Dead broke out “Cryptical Envelopments,” an Anthem of the Sun beauty that had been sitting on the shelf since 1970. In Cincinnati we were treated to a Cryptical Loop:  Cryptical Envelopments  -> Drums -> Space -> Come A Time -> The Other One -> Cryptical Envelopments. A la 1985, Garcia’s voice crackled through this segment, but the loving intent was palpable.

Driving away from River Bend, I gushed about Garcia’s nifty fretwork on “Let It Grow.” Had I been looking at road signs, I might have been warned about the winding pavement that veered sharply to the right. Without time to stomp on the brakes, I snapped the wheel to my right in a desperate attempt to save myself and my crew from flying off the mountainside. The tires screeched louder than a bullhorn, and my Chevy Caprice was airborne—cups, cans, tapes, pipes, and sunglasses in orbit. I stuck the landing on the road like a gold medal skier in the downhill, still cruising at a 60 MPH clip. My crew was silenced with acute shock syndrome. 

Tangled Up in Tunes is available at www.tangledupintunes.com This 1978 Chevy Caprice is a dead ringer for my tour mobile.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thank You John Hammond

Happy Anniversary Bob!
I'm out here a thousand miles from my home
Walkin' a road other men have gone down
 Few men have walked down as many roads as Bob Dylan. Those lines sung at the beginning of "Song to Woody" capture the essence of the twenty year-old artist, and as Dylan prepares to launch the twenty-fifth year of his Never Ending Tour in Brazil next month, those words still ring true. Dylan's got that restless fever burning in his brain 50 years after his debut album for Columbia Records was released on March 19, 1962.

Fortunately, John Hammond had the audacity to sign an unproven folk talent to a major label, because this self-titled album gives us yet another side of Dylan. With its breathless mixture of folk and blues, the album is a snapshot of an artist in a state of becoming at breakneck speed. In those days Dylan did everything quick. He thought quick, sang quick, learned quick, played quick and recorded quick. Bob Dylan was recorded in two sessions in November 1961.

 "Song to Woody" is the masterpiece that emerged from those sessions. Oddly, this fabulous tribute never made an appearance on any of Dylan's  greatest hits albums. It's one of the first songs that Bob wrote, but it's the heartfelt performance that makes "Song to Woody" come alive. The singing is honest and attentive. This is a twenty year-old kid paying tribute to his dying idol straight from the heart. It has a timeless feel. A heightened sense of excitement strikes me every time I hear it. In that regard it reminds me of "Mr. Tambourine Man."
"You're No Good," the opening track of Bob Dylan, is a freewheeling blues blast that sets up "Talkin' New York," Dylan's account on his first year in The City. In reality, New York was very kind to Dylan, but that doesn't work in the talkin' blues format. However, through his own experience, Dylan tuned into the universal struggle of the hungry artist arriving on the island of  Manhattan. Whether it was his intention or not, Dylan already had a knack for expressing thoughts for the "countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse."

The rest of the album is a hoot. Dylan's singing and harp playing on "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" is delightful. I hear shades of what's to come  on Nashville Skyline. On "Highway 51" we hear the classic blues riff that Dylan would use on "It's Alright Ma." Throughout this record Dylan's passion for the blues is on display, a passion that would dominate every album since Time Out of Mind."House of the Rising Sun" and "Man of Constant Sorrow" are  intense performances that confirm Dylan was a master student of American Roots music at the age of twenty.

 Happy anniversary Bob! Thank you John Hammond.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Feel Like A Stranger

3-9-81 My first show 31 years ago today

Three months after John Lennon was gunned down by a madman, I hopped on a bus headed from the Nanuet Mall to the Port Authority. Howdy New York, howdy Grateful Dead. My first show was a blockbuster, although I didn't realize it then. I walked into MSG as Jerry ripped his way through a most exotic Feel Like a Stranger jam. Althea was next followed by a long blues jam after which, Weir screamed, C.C.C...C.C. Rider, Hi! I was vaguely familiar with these songs, but I hit pay dirt with "Ramble On Rose," a rousing version of my favorite tune. Garcia's guitar screeched and  squealed, tuned into an unusual frequency, for just this night. I couldn't appreciate the nuance at the time for it was my debut as a critic.

From the third tier, sitting next to me were my non-Deadhead high school friends who were sleeping. I was confused by quick-picking numbers like Deep Elem, El Paso, and Birdsong. The set ended most abruptly with a hot Minglewood. Very strange. We also had tainted weed, the kind that gives you a headache, makes you cough, but doesn't get you right.

During the second set, I identified  China Cat >Rider > Samson, Estimated, UJB, Good Lovin' and U.S. Blues, but I couldn't  connect with the never ending spiral jams. That was a shame because the Grateful Dead would never play a hotter Cat > Rider. The Cat is long and wonderfully understated, and the Rider seethes,  but I'd yet to crack the Dead language barrier. After worshipping the tapes a few months later, I also realized that Stranger, Althea and Rose were all time great versions.

Well at least I was there. It twas a legendry night in the Garden.
Tangled Up in Tunes available at www.tangledupintunes.com

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Best of Dylan in the Style of Garcia

Jerry's Top Ten Dylan Covers

1. Tough Mama Legion of Mary 7-4-75
2. Tangled Up in Blue JGB 5-28-83
3. All Along the Watchtower GD 3-26-88
4. Quinn the Eskimo GD 12-31-85
5. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry Jerry and Merl 2-6-72
6. Positively 4th Street JGB 12-21-79
7. It's All Over Now Baby Blue GD 4-12-83
8. When I Paint My Masterpiece JGB 2-29-80
9. Desolation Row GD 9-23-87
10. Simple Twist of Fate JGB 8-11-84 

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hampton Here We Come!

Excerpt from Chapter Four of Tangled Up in Tunes

 The Music Never Stopped

Seagulls with massive wingspans glided around us; other seagulls were perched on the rail preparing for takeoff.  Brilliant sunshine bounced off the Chesapeake Bay as the Dead thundered in my Chevy. Doug rocked back and forth—a devotee in a contented trance. As the velocity, pitch, and poignancy of Jerry’s guitar intensified, Doug’s mug glowed–stunned admiration. Pointing at the tape deck as if Garcia was in our presence, Doug said, “This is deranged. How does Jerry think of this stuff?”

I wondered when we might see land again. We’d been on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for fifteen minutes, and there was just water, road and birds ahead and water, road and birds behind. I was driving straight into an Alfred Hitchcock sequel. It then occurred to me that I was, in fact, driving. I was so stoned I forgot I was captain of the ship.

There were three hipsters in my backseat—Doug’s Deadhead companions from SUNY Albany—Stempel, Genowa and Beehaw. They were quiet cats. Their very names seemed to do all the talking for them. Our destination was Hampton, Virginia: Waffle House, Holiday Inn, hippie chicks, Grateful Dead. Paradise Waits.
Hampton was usually the first stop on the Grateful Dead’s spring tour. For some people, spring begins when the first pitch is tossed from the mound at Yankee Stadium. For Doug and me, and thousands of other Deadheads, crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge signified the commencement of spring.

There are few pleasures commensurate to roaring down the road while the tunes are-a-thundering. Audio transcendence is possible as long as your car can rev up to seventy without rattling, and the windows are rolled up. Yes, the windows must be sealed to bounce the sound around so you eardrums are filled with nothing but rhythm and melody. You breathe in guitar and exhale staccato bursts of air, in an attempt to echo the singers. The bass rattles your bones as the organ sweeps through the pores of your skin. A tiny portion of our brains can handle driving while all this goes down. Accessing that nugget of my mind, I delivered us to the Hampton Coliseum safely on April 9, 1983.

As the boys tuned up for the second set, I identified the sacred twangs from Jerry's guitar. Doug and I grabbed each other and yelled, “Help on the Way!” hugging and jumping in time to Phil’s thumping bass. The rest of the band continued to doodle aimlessly. If this turned out not to be “Help on the Way,” our premature celebration would have looked pretty silly. Luckily, it was the tune we craved. It had been six long years since the Grateful Dead played "Help on the Way" on the East Coast. These were glorious times.
Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead www.tangledupintunes.com

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Soy Bomb Revisited

Fourteen years ago on this day in 1998, Bob Dylan scooped up his first Grammy for Album of the Year, and he immortalized a party crasher with the words Soy Bomb painted in block letters on his bare chest. Just like so many times before,  this was a mind out of time moment in Dylan folklore.
Seven years before Soy Bomb, as American bombs rained down on Iraq, Dylan bombed on the Grammy stage. Sure, “Masters of War” was a gutsy song choice, but regardless of the spin that any Dylanologist puts on it, Dylan’s 1991 performance was abrasive.  On that night, Jack Nicholson presented Dylan with a Lifetime Achievement  Award.  Dylan’s improvised acceptance speech was a hoot, but it was obvious he had seen better days.

After six more years of touring, and overcoming a freak heart ailment, Dylan released Time Out of Mind to the thunderous roar of writers, critics, and loyalists. Dylan was a shoe in to win at the 1998 Grammy Awards. The only suspense was the live performance: what would Dylan play, and what did the Grammy Gods have in store for him.
Dylan looked dashing in a gray suit as his band broke into “Love Sick,” the tune I was pulling for. A funky crew of hired cool cats circled the band as the Hibbing Hipster let it rip: “I’m walking, through streets that are dead; I’m walking, with you in my head.” Dylan was in the hypnotic zone. TV land was at his command until Soy Bomb burst upon the scene—a half-naked man  with his arms a-flailing. Dylan noticed him from behind and shot him a look of absolute bewilderment.
It took security over a minute to remove the intruder, but the bomb was lit. Dylan laced into the best guitar solo of his career.  Dylan’s focused performance became sublime, the adrenaline rush  elevated the drama for everybody. Dylan’s band was smiling in unison.  Bob closed “Love Sick” with a poignant verse filled with attentive  vocal inflections. By itself, the audio track is a Dylan classic.
 With the Eyes of the World watching, this became one of the most riveting moments in history of live entertainment. And we were yet to hear that gripping acceptance speech where Dylan talked of how he was inspired by Buddy Holly’s spirit during the recording  of Time Out of Mind because of a vibe Dylan had picked up on when he saw Buddy in Duluth as a young man.

Dylan keeps on keepin’ on.  If Soy Bomb hadn't existed, somebody would have had to an invent a Soy Bomb Theory  to explain Dylan's career renaissance that is still raging fourteen years later.

Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead
available at www.tangledupintunes.com  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Deadhead Born This Morning

Philly Spectrum 4-6-82

I sought The Holy Grail, “Morning Dew.” A rarely-played jewel, The Dead only played the Dew when they had IT going on.  A cyclone of psychedelic sound was unleashed in the jam between “Truckin” and “The Other One.” I hollered and yodeled approval; the band was ripping. Now I had mental telepathy working: The Dew, Jerry. For the love of God, please play the Dew. Weir sang, “Cowboy Neal at the wheel, the bus to never ever land; Coming, coming, coming around; coming around, coming around; coming around.” The time had come.

A fractioned second of silence framed the moment. Jerry struck the magic Dew chord.

            Oh, the humanity! I grabbed Scott by the waist and proudly hoisted him over my head like he was the Stanley Cup Trophy. A young lady standing in front of me let out two primal, erotic screams. Pandemonium in Philly! Folks were crying, hugging, kissing, and squeezing each other.
Jerry’s solitary voice emerged: “Walk me out in the morning dew my honey; walk me out in the morning dew today.” The tempo was dirge-like, almost still. Jerry appeared egoless, just standing there in black t-shirt and jeans. He poured his soul into each syllable, seemingly stopping time, freezing the moment, connecting with the raw emotion of the masses: “I thought I heard a baby cry this morning; I thought I heard a baby cry today!”  
            Jerry compressed a screaming tirade of notes into his solo, punctuated by a resounding blast from Phil’s bass. Jerry’s solitary voice returned, more solemn than before, repetitiously crying, “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway.” Silence filled the arena. Deadheads prepared for takeoff.
Garcia began his sermon deliberately, plucking strings with surgeon-like precision. He was immobile nobility—his bearded mug intense, his brain boiling. Each note radiating from his fret board did so with intimacy. Each note was crucial. The band followed in a trance, adding layers and waves of aural sensation. As the foundation solidified, the velocity and volume of Jerry’s playing spiraled until the steam valve blew. Each musician was engaged in the spectacular display—they scaled the pyramid of transcendence together.  The wall of sound crashed down. Jerry mournfully wailed, “I guess it doesn’t matter, anyway ay ay ayyyyy!”
Overwhelmed by the Dew, I didn’t care what was next. I let out a lunatic’s laugh as the band burst into “Sugar Magnolia.” Sweat poured as Deadheads bounced off the Spectrum floor like it was a trampoline. This was the exclamation point for a historic set. The boys delivered my wish list: Shakedown Street, Terrapin Station, Morning Dew, Sugar Magnolia. It was the only time in Grateful Dead history that those four songs appeared together in the same show. Just once in 2,314 concerts. Was it a coincidence, or was my presence part of the equation? 
Much like the sports fan who goes to his favorite pub week after week and roots for his favorite football team, and wears the same dingy sweatshirt, and sits in the same wobbly stool, and orders the same pint of beer from the same bartender until his team wins the Super Bowl or flops and he realizes the folly of his ways, I believed my presence in Philly inspired the band.
Returning home, we felt sensational. There was something heroic about it all. I was an active participant in the musical process. I knew I’d soon land a bootleg tape of the show and, if I listened close enough, I might even hear myself howling. Musical recordings are breathing snapshots of life and emotion that pass through time and endure in a way that no other art form can.
Cruising along the Palisades Parkway, fifteen minutes from my twin mattress, Seymour suddenly lost control of the wheel. His pillbox Honda hit an ice patch and went spinning like a sock in a dryer.  When the whirling ceased, we were ensconced in a snow drift, a few feet from the towering pines that might have mangled the car. A tragedy was narrowly averted. Miraculously, there wasn’t a scratch on the car or anybody in it. I pried the door ajar, looked up at the star-cluttered sky and pumped my fist into the night. Standing knee deep in snow while waiting for help to arrive, I cut loose with a “Yee-haw, yippie yah-hoo, Jerry is God-od-od-od.” My crazed voice echoed through the valley.
Thirty minutes later, a tow truck yanked the tiny vehicle from its snowy trap. Three teens were on the road again. Scott and Seymour were subdued and shaken. I'd found my calling, and seeking more days like this would dominate my foreseeable future. I was dropped off at my parents’ house, but there was no going home. My heart and soul were on the road with the Grateful Dead.
Tangled Up in Tunes Ballad of a Dylanhead is available in paperback or on kindle www.tangledupintunes.com

GD 9-15-82

  9-15-82 Cap Centre was my eleventh Dead show. Earlier in the year I was fortunate to see the spectacular 4-6-82 Philly and 8-7-82 Alpine...