Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Where Is The Love?! Venice.

These are some crazy times, Man. Every day some new crazy thing/s happen to make you shake your damn head and wonder how we got here. Wonder what is wrong with people? Wonder where in the world is the LOVE anymore?! I'm thinking all that on my walk this morning, when I noticed that someone had done a little tag on a Canal bridge ... and then I zoomed in ...

Where is the love?!?! Right?!?! It's nice to know I'm not the only one wondering this - and what we can do about it. That was on my mind as I kept on trucking, and turned down Altair to head back. Well, THERE was some love! A cute little bungalow dweller put it right there in front, letting us all know that at least here, it's still Love Street. Phew.

Easing on down the road over to the French Market for my morning coffee, I saw that there was more big LOVE to be found, right there on Venice and Abbot Kinney. In rainbow colors and everything! So, the next time you think or hear the very important question of "Where is the love?", know that you can always find it in Venice. Better yet, you can always find it in your own heart to give, and in your own mind to receive.

Love you.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The French Market Celebrates Bastille Day With World Cup Championship!

The French Market was like the happiest place on Earth yesterday, when on the very day they had long planned for their annual Bastille Day celebration, France played in the World Cup final - and won! You've never seen more happy Frenchmen and women - except for maybe in actual France.

I was a bit torn as to who to root for, as I love my Frenchies, but my dearest friend back home is married to a Croatian man, and when I was home for a visit recently, we were cheering for Croatia all the way - like wearing the merch cheering. I looked at it as a win-win, because I'd really and truly be happy either way ... and let's face it, it's really a bunch of men kicking a ball around, so the world would still continue to spin around, whatever the outcome.

The French, however, were all in. Because it was also the Bastille Day shindig, the stage was already set with the tri-color bunting and flags everywhere. There was a t.v. set up inside and outside, to better watch the riveting match that really was not reflected well in the final score of 4-2. Croatia played wonderfully, but France got the ball in the net two times more and that was that. Venice erupted in cheers (in French) and cars waving flags drove back and forth between The French Market and Zinqué, with French happiness at a zenith. You couldn't help but share in their joy as people were lifted off of the ground in ecstatic embraces between countrymen/women. The elation was truly infectious.

Champagne flowed as people got their faces and bodies painted in the red, white, and blue of France, and French Market owner, Agnes Martinez, beamed at the sight of so many of her friends and fellow French folk went crazy with that special kind of jubilation that seems to only come from winning soccer games ...

... and maybe Can Can girls! When the Moulin Rouge type girls made their entrance to the French Market patio, the people gathered erupted in cheers again, and rowdily cheered on the dancers kicking up their heels to the classic French anthems. It was about as close as you could get to Gay Paree without actually being there, and everyone was loving it.

Bastille Day is already a packed to the rafters affair each year at The French Market, but to have it coincide with the World Cup Final - it was super extra tight squeeze in there. They had all the French specialties going (Croque Monsiuer, etc ...), as well as non-stop refilling of the celebratory bubbly, and they did it all with smiles - and berets on! Kudos to the hard workers that are there ever day, but especially in the mad house that was yesterday! Love you guys!

French Toast (The French Market mascot) was there to oversee it all, and perhaps played the good luck charm role that was needed to lift France over Croatia, without the extra time that Croatia had been forcing the whole tournament. Whatever it takes!

I was so happy for my French friends, looking around at how over the top happy they all were. It was a doubly special day for them all, and it was a delight to celebrate with and for them on a perfect Summer day on Abbot Kinney!  Vive La France!!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Brandi Carlile In Conversation At The Grammy Museum

I first heard Brandi Carlile about a decade ago on KCRW, and immediately looked her up after hearing her gorgeous, career-making song, "The Story". I was obsessed with that album in 2007, and then life got all busy and I lost track of what she was up to pretty much since. The Grammy Museum invited me to come to an evening of conversation with Carlile last night, and now I'm all back to being a super fan.

Slicked up in a black and red suit, Carlile took the stage to have a sit down chat with The Grammy Museum's artistic director, Scott Goldman for what turned out to be an extra insightful conversation that they allowed us all to listen in on. The audience was stocked with absolutely dedicated fans, who responded ultra-enthusiastically for everything Carlile said and played. With good reason. When Goldman introduced the Grammy nominated Carlile as "One of our very favorite people in the world", an audience member yelled "Ours too!" The admiration in the room was palpable.

By The Way, I Forgive You was the latest album (and her 7th) being promoted by Carlile, and though I've not yet heard it in its entirety, after what I heard last night, it's a must-own. Produced by my old pal, Shooter Jennings, and his old friend, Dave Cobb, the songs I heard simply soar. Carlile and her identical twin partners, Tim and Phil Hanseroth, have created something very special yet again.

Goldman kicked things off by asking Carlile about the genesis of the new album, and she shared that it all started with a memory that had haunted her since she was a teenager. She had attended a Baptist church and really wanted to be baptized. She did all the studies, invited all her family, wore her bathing suit under her clothes, and on the Sunday she was to be dunked, with all her family waiting in the pews to observe, the Pastor told her he couldn't perform the rite due to the fact that she was out as gay. Her wife told her she should forgive him for that pain he had caused her so she could let it go. So she did, via this beautiful new piece of work. She spoke to how the concept of forgiveness should be more than just a White America hashtag like "#blessed" as it's really "An emotionally radical concept ... I think it cures cancer." I think she's right.

"I had a lump in my throat the whole time I was writing this album, but now that I'm a mom, everything makes me cry." I'm not a mom, and everything makes me cry too, so I get it. Life is especially emotional these days, every time you hear the news, so this talk and music is also very timely.

About working with Jennings and Cobb, Carlile said, "They were like two kids in the basement building a spaceship - with my stuff." She added, "There was a lot of drinking." They allowed her to expand her notions of what is possible when recording, and she very seriously said, "I'll never be the same ... and we'll do it again." (That garnered a whole bunch of happy shouts).

Goldman dug into some individual tracks on the album, and asked about "Fulton County Jane Doe", which is the true story of an unidentified body in Fulton County, Georgia that was found in a field and never i.d'.d in 30 years. She had a tattoo of Jesus on her hand, and it haunted Phil Hanseroth until he had to write her a song. And it's a beauty.

"Sugartooth" is about the opioid crisis, and another true story about a friend the band lost to addiction. As a mother, Carlile now looks at everyone as someone's baby, and this man that didn't make it also needed a song. It's lovely that people who probably thought they'd be forgotten are actually now remembered through song for always. And they were someone's child.

Carlile is also an activist - thank you - and is very involved in depoliticizing children, and wants to "Bring compassion to the free movement of displaced people. I want to humanize people ... I want to make a mark and have my kids be proud of me." Mission - accomplished. She cracked people up when she added, "And I know how to make things rhyme."

Joni Mitchell was on constant rotation while Carlile and the Hanseroths were making this album, and Carlile put all her songs to the "Joni Mitchell Test" that referred to a quote from Mitchell who had said that if you hear her songs and wonder about her life, she wasn't doing her job. If you heard them and thought about your own life, that's the goal (I paraphrase). Well, another mission accomplished.

"Mother" is about becoming a mother to her daughter, Evangeline, and the feelings that went along with not carrying her own child, and also not having any real "Gay Parent Template" from which to work from or glean advice. She didn't feel worthy of the word "Mother", then embraced those feelings and wrote about them ... resulting in a song that for sure passed her Joni Mitchell Test.

"The Joke" was inspired by Freddy Mercury, and "We Are The Champions". She said that Mercury was shameless in being a drama queen, and though every sports team has co-opted that Queen anthem for themselves, Carlile always saw it as a song of triumph for the LBGTQ community - and now I see that classic in a whole new light.

In talking about her partnership/friendship with the Hanseroths, Carlile said that "We even live on the same property now, so it's gotten weirder and weirder." Though they all three take a different approach to song writing, she said the relationship is a very fulfilling one ... and the results are clearly awesome. Goldman asked about Carlile working with the legendary string composer/arranger, Paul Buckmaster, and found out that a young Carlile even had a poster of the dude on her teenage bedroom wall! She got obsessed with him while doing a book report at 11 on Ryan White, the young AIDS activist who was close friends with Elton John ... whose music turned her on to Buckmaster. When they finally met when she was 16, she played him a song and he cried (and he also cried about Bach ... about olive oil ... he was apparently a very emotional cat. I get it.). He told her he'd arrange her songs when she grew up, and he held true to that promise ... and By The Way, I Forgive You was the last album he live-conducted before he passed away last year. "The song 'Party Of One' is all him." Chills. And a lump in the throat for good measure.

When asked about the album's cover art, Carlile admitted to having a massive crush on its artist, Scott Avett (of the Avett Brothers, who is also an excellent painter, judging by this cover). "Have you seen his face?! He's BEAUTIFUL!" swooned Carlile, adding that "He paints earnestness." She also admitted that flying to North Carolina to be painted found her renting a car for the first time in her 37 years, as the Twins have always taken care of hauling her around the country. But she did it!

The conversation then veered from her admiration for Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Patti Smith on to her Cover Stories project where artists as diverse as Kris Kristofferson (!) to Pearl Jam, Jim James, and Dolly Parton covered songs from The Story in a career-affirming achievement. That album alone shows the respect that Carlile has earned since bursting on to the scene in the Aughts.

Goldman opened things up for questions, which ranged from how does she find the time to write ("Songwriting just happens to me, usually at really inconvenient times.") to when she knows a song is done ("I get my affirmation from an audience ... they tell me when it's done. The songs don't come alive until I perform them.") to how drummers change the meter of things - from a drummer in the audience who hinted that she was available. Questions asked and answered, Goldman invited Carlile and The Twins to play some songs for us, and the room hooted and hollered its excitement.

"By The Way, I Forgive You", the title track from the album was first up, and truly beautiful with its harmonies and acoustic guitar picking - as well as its sentiment. "I'm doing just fine, except any time I hear that song" ... instantly relatable (passing that Ms. Mitchell test again).

"Cool, Man.", was Carlile's response to the thunderous applause they got for that one, then intoduced the next one by saying, "Here's a Freddy Mercury song", as they launched into "The Joke". Carlile just BELTED this one out, and I found myself with the lump in my throat that Carlile alluded to when writing it. SO good ... especially when the last lyric rewards the whole song, with the line, "The joke's on them." Awesome.

"Mother" was preceded by an anecdote about Carlile's young daughter, Evangeline, having a current obsession with death. After a dog and some chickens died, and being explained about death to, the little girl said to her baby brother, "Elijah, I love you, but you'll die too." Out of the mouths of babes! The song was tender and touching, and full of throat lumps, and great lines like, "When we chose your name, we knew you'd Fight The Power too." C'mon. That's great stuff.

The band closed the evening with "Whatever You Do" ... and its hard truth about life and love, singing, "I love you, whatever you do, but I've got a life to live too." We've all been there, and as Carlile's voice soared to the Heavens to finish it, the room collectively rose to our feet, almost involuntarily. It was just that good.

They took their bows, waved, and were off to catch a plane. I've slept on Carlile's career for a while, but I'm back, and grateful to know that there are still really good musicians that are also really good people. A rare combination, which Carlile embodies in thought, song, and deed. Treat yourself to her new album (and listen to it as an album, how it was meant to be listened to), and do go see this super talent any chance you get. Prepare for lumps in your throat.

By The Way, I Forgive You is available everywhere.

*Photos Courtesy of Rebecca Sapp/ for The Grammy Museum

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Sorry To Bother You ... But You HAVE To See This Movie!

Boots Riley was already one of my most favorite, most creative, most cool dude I've ever known from having toured with him on Tom Morello's Justice Tour back in 2008 ... and then I just saw his absolutely brilliant new film Sorry To Bother You. WOW. Now I bow down all the way to the floor. Again ... WOW.

Though being presented as a comedy, it's really more of a whip-smart social satire, and I actually felt super emotional when leaving the theater. Some of that was pride and admiration for my old friend, but a lot of it was more like American shame, of which there is a whole lot to go around these days.

I don't want to say any more about it really until everyone has seen it - and EVERYONE should. THIS weekend, so the box office for it explodes and more actually smart movies can be made as a result. I fear that many of the biting points being made will be lost on the audience that goes in thinking it's like a Dumb And Dumber comedy ... but that's exactly who needs to get it.

There is a lot of magical realism going on in this film, stuff like "That could never happen". Then you watch the news yesterday, and a one year old baby is brought alone to an immigration court and expected to understand ANYTHING that is going on, and you start to think events happening in Sorry To Bother You might not be so far-fetched after all.

I enjoy movies the most when I don't know anything about them going in, and that applies extra to this work of art. Just go. And let's please talk about it after, as it warrants a real conversation on a national, if not global, level.

Riley already killed it as the frontman of The Coup and in Street Sweeper Social Club (his band with Morello), as a heavy, meaning it activist, and as the coolest dancer around, but now he can add film auteur to his excellent resumé ... and expect to reap all the rewards that go along with that. I'm so So SO impressed. Heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to Boots - and to everyone involved in this film that will definitely be THE most talked about film of Summer 2018. Thank you, Boots ... this country really needs you, now more than ever.

Sorry To Bother You opens everywhere this weekend. GO!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Minnesota ... Always In My Heart

Home ... every time I return home to Minnesota, it's a re-boot for my soul, and a literal breath of fresh air. Going home this time was not just about fun, though ... it was about family and friends, and a loss that will be felt for always.

The patriarch of the Hendrickson family, Larry, passed away on June 15th, and I was going home to say goodbye, and celebrate an extraordinary life with my lifelong friends.

What began as very, very sad turned into one of the best funerals I've ever been to - maybe THE best. From the minister at the church opening the service by saying, "We'll begin with the hymn, 'We all hail from Richfield High'!" (our school's fight song), the ice was broken and we felt free to laugh and to truly make it a celebration of life. Darby and Danny Hendrickson gave fantastic eulogies that cracked everyone up, and the entire affair felt like an All-Richfield class reunion.

The reception at the Richfield American Legion turned into an all out stag dance, the kind that Hendrickson's company, Spirit Unlimited, used to spin for. We were all there until 2 am, and then it still kept going ... on through the next day at the Hendrickson "Richfield Pool". What a sendoff for what a guy! I'll never forget it, and though it is a massive loss, it was also wonderfully special to all be together, in the name of love.

Minnesota really shows off in the Summer, and this trip was an embarrassment of stately riches. I've had an obsession for seeing our state flower, the Pink Showy Ladyslipper, in the wild, as I never have. Nor has anyone I know. So, my Mom and I jumped in the car and took off on a whirlwind road trip to go hunt for this elusive state symbol. With major success!

The Ladyslipper Scenic Byway near Cass Lake and the Leech Lake Indian Reservation (we listened to Pow Wow radio the whole trip!) is called that, but there really aren't that many blooms ... like I almost crashed the car in excitement when I saw the first one!

I got choked up, even. What a flower! It was so satisfying to look for something, and then to actually find it. Mom had never seen one either, so it was extra special to share it with her.

During our search, we even saw the start of the Mississippi River up near Itasca, MN ... and that felt special too. It begins as a little trickle, so narrow you can nearly step across it, and as it winds down south becomes the monster of a river that ends in Louisiana. Nature is awesome.

We couldn't linger over the Ladyslippers, however, as we had a five hour drive to the place I'd booked us to stay - without consulting a map. But WOW, was it ever worth it! The Naniboujou Lodge in Grand Marais, MN (20 miles from the Canadian border - like I thought about defecting) is something else. We arrived too late to get a look at it in daylight (even with the sun not setting until around 10 pm!), with the door left open and a key in an envelope for us - because Minnesotans are nice.

A great sleep with the sound of Lake Superior waves lapping against the shore outside our window and a fireplace in the room gave us the energy to go mega-sightseeing the next morning, and the sights began with the spectacular dining room of the Naniboujou!

Painted with Cree symbols. the ceiling was so gorgeous that I would find this place if they had told me it was in Egypt or somewhere ... but it was in Minnesota! After a wonderful breakfast, Mom and I set out to see as many state parks as we could before we had to get my rental car back in the city before 6 pm! And we did it!

Morning rain made for spectacular waterfalls, and the fresh scent of pine and lake was abundant in the air.

Just breathing felt like therapy, and I find myself daydreaming about it all again today. Wow.

The next day was the 4th of July, and I got to attend my hometown parade for like the first time since I was in it back in the day. Though much smaller now days, we all sat out in the rain and cheered for the current Richfield Spartans, and swelled up with pride of place. Go Big Red!

I am constantly running when I'm home, trying to get all the things in that I feel like I'm missing out on when I'm away. Seeing friends, their kids growing up, the latest restaurants and bars, and getting as much time to commune with the beautiful Minnesota nature as I possibly can.

The Cities are also abundant with nature, with all of the lakes, and my beloved Woodlake Nature Center.

Everyone is so happy for it to be hot out and Summertime, that the paths around the lakes are full of people day and night. It's awesome.

I was there for the Basilica Block Party this year, and it was so fun to get down once again with The Revolution - even without Prince. Other highlights were The John Butler Trio, Fitz & The Tantrums, and Jason Isbell on the big stage in front of the Minneapolis skyline, just as the sun was setting. Minneapolis is the best.

No trip home in the Summer is complete without an excursion aboard the Croixation Sensation, my bff Christine's (Larry's daughter) family boat. After a Croatian victory in the World Cup game (watched at Treasure Island Casino!), we celebrated by taking the dinghy out at night on the now Mighty Mississippi to a bar on the Wisconsin side, the Nauti Hawg.

The annual locust plague of May Flies was on this day, and was extra disgusting - and kind of fascinating. The stars outnumbered the flies though, so the boat ride remains a happy memory. The sun set on my trip home, and saved its best colors for last.

I love home so much, and am always torn, because I also love Venice so much. I'm back West today, with memories for a lifetime, and the renewed strength of heart and character that I always get from visiting my roots - both the people and the place. I'm a better person for having - and loving - both.

Thank you, wonderful Minnesota. I carry you in my heart every day.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Freedom On The Fourth!

 *I'm gone fishing/on vacation but ... Happy 4th of July, wherever you are!

Independence Day  ... but I haven't been feeling very patriotic this year ... I mean, UGH, things are bad now in this country. Embarrassing bad. But I'm in my hometown, hit the Fourth of July parade (in the rain!), and once again felt the love for the people and traditions that are the real things that ever made this country cool in the first place. I like to listen to "Freedom" from Richie Havens every Independence Day - because that really is what this place is supposed to be about ...

... plus the whole "Liberty and Justice for all" thing. What we were founded on (by immigrant invaders, if we're honest). One of the most heart warming things about today's parade was when a little yellow Volkswagon Bug (with both Mexican and American flags decorating it) drove by honking, and got an even bigger reception than any of the bands or politicians or floats. Just like when everyone stayed even when the rain, thunder, and lightning started ... because we realize we're all in it together.

Let's remember what we're about ... and act accordingly.

Happy 4th!

AND Happy 113th Birthday, dear Venice!

See you soon. x

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Father John Misty At The Hollywood Bowl - Spellbound

There was another enchanting evening at The Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night, when Big Thief, Gillian Welch, and Father John Misty took over the venerable Los Angeles landmark to weave musical spells under the moon and stars. To say it was utterly gorgeous in every way would still be an understatement of this sublime gift of a night.

I'm sorry to say we missed Big Thief due to the always congested journey to the Bowl - and that I was told they only played three songs in their set. Our box neighbors described the band as "Like a female Father John Misty." I could get into that. Will definitely check out, and apologize for missing their Bowl debut.

Gillian Welch is an Americana treasure, and she and her musical partner, David Rawlings, wove their tunes together in such a natural groove that you could close your eyes and imagine yourself on a porch swing in the country somewhere, just listening and loving as the stars came out and completed the perfection of their set.

We wondered why the crowd was so sparse in the picnic areas when we arrived, and it was because nearly everyone was already seated and raptly taking it all in. This is rare at the Bowl when it's still light out, and once seated, we understood why. I'd never seen Welch (looking rather like Joni Mitchell) and Rawlings (looking rather like Dwight Yoakum) live before, and it really is something. The duo perfectly compliment one another, and with highlights like "Look At Miss Ohio", "Hard Times", and "Revelator" featuring such deep musical prowess you really were left with mouths agape and minds pretty much blown. Welch's playing of banjo - and even knee-slapping - are just as great as her lush harmonies, and Rawlings guitar picking is the glue that holds it beautifully together. Their final song was a cover of Alfred E. Brumley's classic, "I'll Fly Away", and the sky was such an unnamed, perfect dusk color at that moment that one really did want to fly away right into it. I'm now an even bigger fan of these ultra-talented songsters who perfectly bridge the past to the present, bringing us all together. Wow.

That wonderful performance led into an intermission of picnic and wine enjoyment as acid-trippy music played over the p.a. and swirled everyone into a mellow groove. I'd read recently that Father John Misty likes to micro-dose on acid these days, and this music then made sense as the prelude to his Hollywood Bowl debut.

Touring in support of his recent album, God's Recent Customer, FJM (as I affectionately referred to him throughout the evening), seems to have blossomed from a kind of sarcastic social commentator to deeply reflective pop poet. My usual photographer (and brother), Paul, skipped this show, and texted me "Father John MEHsty", to which I took umbrage. But I also got it. Misty (aka Josh Tillman) has come off as extra-pretentious to some in past interviews and performances, but I've always just found him funny. And awesome.

Which he fully was on this night at the Bowl, playing his expertly crafted numbers so fantastically that my notes are rife with words like "Gorgeous!" "Epic", "Smart!" "Awesome lyrics!" (for all of these: "Funtimes In Babylon" - "Nancy From Now On" - "Chateau Lobby #4 (In C For Two Virgins)" - "Strange Encounter" - "Disappointing Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All" - "Only Son Of The Ladiesman" - "Total Entertainment Forever"), and Misty more than proved that he was ready for this majestic stage.

Old Hollywood footage was screened behind the band, and Hollywood references are abundant in FJM's lyrics, so it almost felt like a hometown show, though he's really a dude from Maryland. "Look out, Hollywood, here I come!" was more than a lyric ... it was a statement of arrival for real. I love this guy - and wrote that several times in my notes too. You could just read his lyrics and be mesmerized, but that they're accompanied by such excellent harmonies - and even elevated with strings and horns on several tracks - makes it all simply entrancing. Yeah, I'm a fan. A gushy one.

My companion for the evening was not, however, leading into this show. Another Meh-sty type of guy (maybe it's a guy thing?), unknown to me when the invitation was extended. By the time Misty got to "Ballad Of A Dying Man" though, I got the raised eyebrows/frown face of "Impressed" and a slightly begrudged "Good one" from him. "Mr. Tillman" was more Hollywood cleverness, and then the laser-lit extravaganza "Bored In The U.S.A." was the one that really turned my friend into a real fan. His grin was ear to ear, and held the glow of the newly converted. Bless you, Father.

"Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings" kept us in Hollywood, and every song just kept getting better, until the lights and lasers and sheer mastery of showmanship crescendoed with "Pure Comedy" and the last pre-encore number, "I Love You, Honeybear" - which I still can't get out of my head. FJM said (and he rarely addressed the crowd, letting his wisdom come through lyrically), "It's been a hell of a night!" so truthfully, and again, understated. My friend just said, "Thank you, CJ", only all thanks should have gone to Father John Misty and his band. Hell of a night.

But it wasn't yet done ... the encore was even better, with FJM returning in his white-suited glory to thunderous applause and whistles (us) to give us "Date Night", "Real Love Baby" (which I was fully feeling), and the finalé of "Holy Shit" - which is exactly what I wrote in my now barely legible notes. Holy shit was exactly right. FJM finally left the stage, having given his absolute all, by saying, "Quite a night, y'all! Thank you very much!" No, Mr. Misty (now I want some Dairy Queen). Thank YOU.

It seemed as if no one wanted the spell to be broken, as folks finished up their wine and sat there in our afterglow until ushers came to kick us out. Humming and whistling together, the droves made their way back out into the Hollywood night, having experienced one of my truly favorite experiences ever at The Bowl. And that's saying a lot. I even got to see someone be freshly converted to the gospel of Father John Misty. And it was very good (Genesis 1:31).

*Press photos courtesy The Holllywood Bowl. Performance photos courtesy Iphone (sorry).