domingo, julho 02, 2006
I’m always looking to move forward,” says Lucinda Williams, “and sometimes looking back is what allows you to look ahead.”
Williams has spent most of the last year looking back. Looking back at the recordings from her 2003 tour that eventually resulted in her new album, Live at the Fillmore. Looking back in the most personal way following the death of her mother last March. Looking back at some of her earliest efforts at songwriting, attempting to rekindle some of the “innocence and purity” she worries has been lost in her work.
Not that she’s gone underground. In 2004 alone, Williams turned up singing duets alongside Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, Graham Parker, swamp-rocker
Tony Joe White, and Warped Tour punks Flogging Molly, and contributed a song to the Alejandro Escovedo benefit record Por Vida. Since then, she’s added vocals to forthcoming projects from the North Mississippi Allstars and Michelle Shocked. And, as the Fillmore album documents, she’s earned the right to catch her breath after a relentlessly productive few years—all but 4 of the 22 songs on the double-CD come from her last two studio albums (2001’s sparse, intimate Essence and 2003’s dark, groove-oriented World Without Tears), and she’s honed her band into one of rock’s most dynamic and powerful units.
Williams just returned from a month-plus road trip across the South and Southwest. After spending the holidays with her family in Fayetteville, Arkansas, she headed to Nashville for a few weeks—her first extended stay in Music City, USA, since moving away several years ago. “The New South is absolutely horrible,” she says. “They’re systematically killing off everything that’s traditional, because they’re ashamed of being Southern. It’s why I can’t live there anymore.”
And she’s been on the run since getting back to her current hometown of Los Angeles—a raucous 52nd birthday party celebrating her return was followed by several nights in a row hanging out at friends’ gigs—so she hasn’t even unpacked yet. At the landmark, ’50s-retro Safari Inn near her home in Burbank, Williams polishes off a bowl of oatmeal and settles in to talk about the process of assembling a live album, the changes in her songwriting, and why her notorious reputation as a studio perfectionist may finally be behind her.
Q. Everyone usually indentifies you as a songwriter. But what does performing onstage mean to you?
A. I’ve always thought of myself as a songwriter first, and I’ve always seen my voice as more of a vehicle to get my songs across. Looking back on it, I felt limited as a singer from the get-go, because I grew up listening to singers more in the folk realm, like Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell—all these singers who had amazing ranges and could just sing all over the place. I would try to do it and I couldn’t and I’d just get all frustrated. So I decided early on that I better become a really good songwriter, then I could be like Bob Dylan and nobody would care if I could sing that well because my songs would be really good.
Q. Why was this the right time to make a live record?
A. People kept telling me to do it, but it was never the right place at the right time. Now I have the band together that I feel comfortable with, and it felt real natural and confident. It’s an interesting project. I don’t know what I used to think—I guess that you just turn on the tape recorder and record the show and that’s it, the way bootlegs are done. And some live albums do sound like that. That’s another reason why I never have been real enthusiastic about doing it, because I don’t like most live albums. They’re usually not recorded that well, there’s so much noise and applause and stuff that gets in the way, and usually the performance isn’t as good as it is on the studio version. Like some of Bob Dylan’s live records are just horrible, you know?
Q. So what was the process of getting it done?
A. We recorded three nights at the El Rey (in Los Angeles) and three nights at the Fillmore (in San Francisco), and then we had to sit down and try to weed out the best stuff. We ended up with all songs from the Fillmore, which I was glad about for the romantic, historical implications. But I was a little frustrated because we hadn’t been able to afford to record more shows than that. I had thought we would have more songs to pick from. I wanted it to be more of a retrospective, greatest hits thing.
Q. It’s true that what jumps out immediately is how much the album is weighted to songs from your last two albums, Essence and World Without Tears.
A. Believe me, that was a huge bone of contention. I was really upset about it. When I found out that we were only recording the last two stops, I had a fucking shit fit. I was so mad and upset. Then I had to kind of regroup and say, well, this has to be more of a snapshot—like, if you went to see us play, this is the show. We actually did record some of the older songs, but I just didn’t put them on; they’re going to be on iTunes. “Passionate Kisses,” “I Just Want to See You So Bad,” “Like a Rose”—I just didn’t think they fit. And that’s part of the process, too. Just like oh, damn, I wanted to get that on there, but what are you going to do? It’s hard making a live record! You have to work with what you’ve got.
Q. When you say the older songs didn’t fit, is that because you think the new albums are so different, separate from the earlier records?
A. Yeah, I guess I do. I think that’s one of the reasons I left those songs off. My first couple records are mostly kind of ballad-y things, folky, country-folk. I didn’t have that much up-tempo, rock material. And there’s definitely a difference in the writing.
Q. More narrative.
A. Yeah, that’s something that people have been missing probably, since Car Wheels, which kind of defined me—and it’s been hard since Car Wheels. I’m so self-conscious about it, because that’s the record that won a Grammy and went gold—a lot of people discovered me with that record. And when I did Essence, all of a sudden people felt sort of let down because there weren’t more narrative songs on it. But what are you gonna do? You can’t win for losing, because if I’d done another Car Wheels, everybody would say I just did another Car Wheels. I love the Essence record—that’s my favorite record as far as the production goes, the way my voice sounds. I was trying for something a little simpler and more spacious, allowing the music to do more and not doing so much of the “singer/songwriter” thing. It was very liberating. And it did take a certain amount of courage, because I just allowed the songs to be what they were. Before I would have said there’s not enough here—like “Steal Your Love,” this is a nice little song, but it’s not good enough. I’m going through an interesting process now. I’m looking back at what made Car Wheels work, at some of those songs, and even back to the Lucinda Williams record, the one that came out on Rough Trade.
Q. Why are you going back to those now?
A. Because those records are the ones that everybody always talks about. And I think part of that is because with the self-titled one, there was a certain kind of innocence, a certain purity in those songs, and I wasn’t trying to be heavy or anything. By the time I got to Car Wheels, I kinda took the elements of the Rough Trade record but then made it a little heavier, and that’s probably why that record did so well. So I’m looking back at the roots of my writing—songs like “Jackson” are just so simple and folky, but I think that’s what people like about what I do. Actually what I’ve been doing lately is, I went all the way back and looked at a bunch of songs I wrote a long time ago, like, before the Rough Trade record.
Q. Things you wrote in the ’80s?
A. Further back than that, like back to the ’70s. I have some songs I wrote that have never seen the light of day, and I went back to those and I went, well, maybe… because there’s that purity and simplicity that people seem to respond to. I think I got kinda self-conscious about being more writerly, more intellectual or whatever, and maybe I need to loosen the reins a little bit.
Q. What do they look like now when you go back to them?
A. Really, really, really innocent. I have this one song called “Venetian Blinds,” which is a great image—peeking through Venetian blinds at someone that you’re longing after. I used to sing these songs back in Austin, back in the old days, and when I go back to Texas to play, some people remember them and yell ’em out. Like I had this one, “Song for the Jewelry Maker,” about a guy who was selling jewelry down on the drag in Austin. I’ve got this really, really old song called “Old Memories” and Nanci Griffith always asks me if I’m going to record it and I’m like I don’t know. It goes “Old memories, light up my night/Like a beacon, lights up the sky.” I mean, come on, it’s full of clichés! So I don’t know.
Q. Can you still find a way into them? Does it seem like they were written by some whole other person?
A. Well, that’s what I’m saying—they’re certainly not what I’m writing now, but does that mean they’re not good enough? I always look at them like they don’t measure up to what I’ m doing now. I even look at some of the stuff on the Rough Trade record and think I never would write a song like that now, like “Big Red Sun Blues” or even “Crescent City.” But people love those songs! I’m getting in my own way. And I think we do that as artists sometimes, as we grow and get better—and I do like to think that I’m continuing to improve as a writer and as a singer and everything. But at the same time, now I’m revisiting all that early stuff and I’m looking at what made them work. Why do people like “Crescent City?” And maybe there’s something in those songs I can tap into, that would bring me back there to some extent. So we’ll see what happens with those songs when we go in the studio. I’m going to take them in the way they are, and we’re going to turn the tape recorder on, I’m going to show them to the band, and we’re just going to record. A lot of times you get these amazing versions when you’re rehearsing because nobody knows the song yet. When we were rehearsing the songs for World Without Tears, we had a rehearsal space, we weren’t at an actual studio because we couldn’t afford it. We had a guy come in and record it, but it wasn’t good enough and we all were frustrated later—like when I was first showing the band “Righteously,” we never got that again, what it was when they first were listening and playing and learning the song.
Q. Sounds like something’s come over you—the Lucinda legend is that you can never let it go in the studio.
A. I know, but I’ve always been able to do that, I just had to have the right combination of things. And I have learned how to work in the studio better. But I’ve never been the perfectionist that people say that I am—it’s just that I’m more in control now, and this band and I just work really well together, we have a mutual respect thing happening.
Q. Have you started writing again, or are you still gearing up?
A. I’ve been writing. I started pretty much right after we got off the road in the fall, got a couple of them finished, and then I started a couple more when I was driving back. I wrote a new song driving in my truck from Memphis to LA. I’m really happy with them. A couple of them deal with my mother’s death, working that stuff out. I’ve got three songs pretty much done, a couple others started that I’ve got ideas for. Once I’ve got the seed planted, then it’s just a matter of sitting down and working. There’s no lack of inspiration here, that’s for sure.
Earlier this year, Blondie front woman Deborah Harry said the group's upcoming U.S. summer tour with the New Cars would be its last.
But don't write off Harry just yet. The iconic singer, who's also forged a career as an actress, has a few things going on.
Q. Why have you and the band decided to stop touring?
A. We were going to end it after the last tour in the U.K. [in December], but then we got the nomination to be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and then got the opportunity to tour North America again [with the New Cars]. We thought it would be nice to end here at home.
Q. What happens if you want to tour again?
A. A lot of people say it's their last tour and then continue on for the next seven or 10 years. I really want to be in a group that has full participation by everybody. We're not in that position. We have members that are not totally active. It's not the same ensemble as it once was.
Q. What's next?
A. I'm doing a play called ''Achilles Heels.'' I hope to do another play Off-Broadway, more film work, a solo work in music. We'll see what comes up.
Q. What did it mean to you turning 60 last year?
A. After I guess the initial shock of it, I just went on with my life. I'm a very lucky person and I enjoy life and I'm reasonably healthy.
Q. Coming from the downtown punk scene, how does it feel now having all these corporate tie-ins with the tour?
A. I think it's a very difficult business. The nature of the business has changed radically. I'm not a merchandiser, and I'm not an agent or a promoter. These people are doing business and I'm a musician and an artist. I like to stay there. [Laughs.] I'm not a terrific businessperson. Perhaps you should ask Madonna.
Q. Speaking of which, I read an interesting quote from Shirley Manson saying that nobody could out-cool Debbie Harry.
A. Shirley's awfully nice, isn't she? Or maybe she's on some awfully strong drinks.
Q. Do you agree with that, that no one's been able to out-cool you in the pop arena?
A. Some days I feel that way and some days I don't. If they only knew.
Q. What perks do you get now that you are a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer?
A. I found that a lot of people that normally would never say anything to me are very congratulatory and are taking notice. It's elevated Blondie to the level of beyond being a cult band. It's put us into a bigger margin of understanding with the general public.
Q. If you could redo any performance over the past two or three decades, which one would it be?
A. That last two or three decades? You want me to remember? [Laughs.] Nothing. It's all a blur.
Q. How has your stage performance changed over the years?
A. Now I concentrate on singing well when at one time I was much more physical and would throw myself around and was completely breathless. Now I focus on the vocals instead of all that fury.
Q. What's the most important thing to bring on the tour bus?
A. My makeup! My computer. A good book -- I'm reading East of Eden. I suddenly realized that I had never read it, and I love Steinbeck.
Q. What is your diva request for things that you always have to have backstage?
A. Throat Coat tea. Lemon and honey. I don't think I was ever much of a boozer. I'm a cheap date.
sexta-feira, junho 23, 2006
Sem querer comparar, mas já comparando, cada disco dos Flaming Lips é uma espécie de “Se um viajante numa noite de inverno”. No livro de 1979, o escritor italiano Italo Calvino demonstrou toda a sua mestria iniciando uma dezena de histórias fascinantes e largando-as no meio, em prol de uma trama maior, tão logo o leitor se encontrasse incondicionalmente rendido. Pois a banda de Wayne Coyne faz o mesmo. Cada faixa de cada um de seus 11 trabalhos – como as 12 do recém-lançado “At war with the mystics”, que sai no Brasil pela Warner – traz idéias o bastante para grupos menos talentosos fazerem um álbum inteiro.
De maneira geral, contudo, os Flaming Lips hoje soam como se Neil Young estivesse cantando com uma banda de rock progressivo italiano, tipo Le Orme. Escute “My cosmic autumn rebellion”. Como? Se isso é possível? Só sendo os maluquetes que garantem ter começado, em 1983, tocando instrumentos roubados de uma igreja num clube de travestis em Oklahoma City. Daquele tempo, permanecem na banda o vocalista e guitarrista Coyne e o baixista Michael Ivins. Entre álbuns e mudanças de formação, eles sempre se mantiveram como uma banda alternativa – apesar de desde 1992 gravarem por uma grande gravadora.
Os Flaming Lips permaneceram nesta condição não porque seu som, a um tempo pop e experimental, seja difícil de ouvir e sim porque a sua criatividade é inapreensível: não há rótulo capaz de dar conta da cabeça hoje grisalha de Coyne. Num determinado ponto da vida, ele praticamente teve de reinventar a banda. Foi em 1996, quando o então guitarrista Ronald Jones saiu ou numa viagem mística ou por não agüentar mais o vício em heroína do baterista e faz-tudo Steven Drozd (os autores divergem). Três anos antes, o quarteto havia chegado o mais próximo do mainstream em toda a sua história, com o CD “Transmissions from the satellite heart”, puxado na MTV pelo clip de “She don’t use jelly”.
Não bastasse a partida de Jones, no mesmo ano Ivins se envolveu num acidente de carro (o seu foi abalroado por uma roda que se soltara de outro) e Drozd quase perdeu a mão (depois de ser picado por uma aranha). Nada tão bizarro quanto o projeto de Coyne de gravar 40 automóveis com seus toca-fitas sincronizados tocando uma mesma música. O chamado “Parking lot experiment” nunca foi adiante, mas o primeiro álbum dos Flaming Lips após a inhaca geral refletiu, digamos, um décimo desta idéia mirabolante: os quatro CDs que compunham “Zaireeka” (1997) eram para serem tocados todos ao mesmo tempo.
Como um trio, Coyne, Ivins e Drozd lançaram, depois de “Zaireeka” e antes deste “At war with the mystics”, dois discos delicados e solenes, “The soft bulletin” (1999, o melhor de todos, na minha opinião) e “Yoshimi battles the pink robots” (2002), ambos só lançados no Brasil no ano passado, pela Warner. Os três formam uma espécie de trilogia. Sob capas que remetem a gibis de ficção-científica da década de 50, eles imaginam histórias surreais – nas quais, porém, a concretude da morte é principal tema de meditação, como na faixa “Mr. ambulance driver”, do novo CD – e as contam de maneira suave e serena.
No caso de “At war with the mystics”, o mote é (ou seria) um mágico que parte para o espaço sideral em busca de um agrupamento de estrelas supernovas que assumiu a forma perfeita de uma mulher... Com as pernas abertas. Adiciona estranheza ao já estranho saber que Coyne, este Frank Zappa hodierno, dá um jeito de associar tal trama à Era Bush.
Nem o mago nem o bruxo tem lá tanta importância. “At war with the mystics” é, como seus dois predecessores imediatos, encantador já a partir da faixa de abertura, “The yeah yeah yeah song”, um chiclete-de-ouvido que propõe algumas perguntas incômodas ao ouvinte (“Se você pudesse tomar todo amor sem retribuir/ Você o faria?/ E assim nós não podemos conhecer a nós mesmos ou ao que realmente faríamos...”). Melodioso e inteligente, este rock seria um estrondoso sucesso radiofônico caso vivêssemos noutra dimensão.
Segue-se “Free radicals”, um funk esperto e espacial que parece, sim, dirigido tanto ao presidente americano George W. Bush quanto ao homem-bomba muçulmano que surge no seu enorme subtítulo (“A hallucination of the Christmas skeleton pleading with a suicide bomber”): “Você pensa que é um radical/ Mas você não é tão radical/ Na verdade, você é apenas fanático! Fanático!” Satisfeito? Não. Na faixa seguinte, “The sound of failure”, sobra para Britney Spears e para Gwen Stefani... E, mais adiante, na bela “Pompeii am Götterdämmerung”, as referências sonoras são, exato, Pink Floyd e Richard Wagner.
“At war with the mystics” não acaba sem que surja uma segunda candidata a sucesso radiofônico, claro, no planeta de onde vêm os Flaming Lips, planeta que evidentemente não é o nosso: “The W.A.N.D.”. Título que se explica por “The Will Always Negate Defeat” e se traduz por algo como “O que sempre negará a derrota”. Sobre um riff poderoso de guitarra, Coyne desafia: “Vez após vez aquelas mentes fanáticas/ Tentam dominar o mundo/ Dizendo-nos a todos que mandam em tudo/ Eu tenho um truque, uma varinha mágica que vai fazer todos caírem”. Na cabeça dele, a arte pode derrubar preconceitos e virar o jogo. Ao menos durante a audição de “At war with the mystics”, na nossa também.
Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint hold a rambunctious fete (by Laura Emerick for the Chicago Sun-Times)
New Orleans always has embraced the spirit of "laissez les bons temps rouler," and even after Hurricane Katrina laid the city to near ruins, the good times have continued to roll, at least musically, in the Big Easy.
That was the message conveyed by Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint in a rambunctiously joyful, emotionally fulfilling, nearly three-hour concert Sunday night at the Ravinia Festival. Accompanied by Costello's regular band the Imposters and Toussaint's signature Crescent City Horns, the two celebrated New Orleans' inherent bonhomie but also aimed barbs at the governmental incompetence that almost allowed the Pearl of the South to float away.
Their just-released disc, "The River in Reverse," pairs the seemingly mismatched Odd Couple in lesser-known songs from Toussaint's huge catalog and new tunes written jointly for the project. While indignation wells up on songs such as the accusatory "Broken Promise Land," the tide turns to hopeful resilience on bluesy party anthems such as "Wonder Woman." Though Costello has been called a serial collaborator, "The River in Reverse" actually cements a bond established in the '80s when Toussaint joined forces with him on "Punch the Clock" (1983) and "Spike" (1989).
So their performance Sunday displayed the easy camaraderie of longtime brothers-in-arms. Costello's free-wheelin' music hall vibe, typified by "Get Happy" (1980), finds a happy partner in Toussaint's born-on-the bayou boogie. When Toussaint strolled onstage and sat down at the piano on "Monkey to Man," the moment had the feeling of a long-delayed reunion. The good times continued to roll on Toussaint standards such as "There's a Certain Girl," with the pianist adding delicately shaded Professor Longhair-style filigree, and on Costello favorites such as "Clown Strike," which benefitted from Toussaint's funkified arrangements.
As producer, composer, arranger and performer, the 68-year-old Toussaint of course has come to embody New Orleans R&B and soul. Known best for hits such as "Working in a Coalmine" and "Yes, We Can" (which he offered Sunday), he also has displayed a strong sense of social consciousness that sometimes has gone unacknowledged. One of Sunday's many highlights was his impassioned version of "Who's Gonna Help Brother Get Further?," which asks: "What happened to the Liberty Bell .../Did it really ding-dong?/It must dinged wrong."
This doggerel, which crystallizes the genius of Allen Toussaint, sums up the plight of a post-Katrina South, and takes on added resonance given the current national debate on immigration.
Costello also kept the focus on the political, with between-song swipes at the Bush administration, and more significantly, with the vocal conviction he brought to anthemic pleas such as "Freedom for the Stallion" and "Ascension Day" (a minor-key reworking of "Tipitina"). Accompanied by Toussaint's solo piano, Costello transformed the latter into a soulful cry of redemption.
Before digging in for an hour of encores, they closed out with deliriously giddy takes on "High Fidelity" and "Pump It Up." And when Toussaint tipped his hat to his old mate Dave Bartholomew, on the encore "That's How You Got Killed," you really knew what it means to miss New Orleans.
In 1942, when James Paul McCartney was born in Liverpool, the average life expectancy of a British infant boy was 63 years. Notwithstanding those expectations and the greatly exaggerated rumors of his death decades ago, Mr. McCartney turns 64 on Sunday, Father's Day.
He was a teenager when he wrote the tune for "When I'm Sixty-Four," and only 24 when the Beatles recorded it in 1967 for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." But just as George Orwell's "1984" proved to be an abiding prophecy of a dystopic future for so many impressionable readers, Mr. McCartney's lyrics delivered to a self-consciously youthful generation an enduring if satirical definition of what their golden age might be like "many years from now."
Today, many of those who embraced that quaint vision of enduring love, caring, knitting and puttering in retirement — "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?" — couldn't have been more wrong.
And judging by his personal life, Mr. McCartney missed the mark, too. The song's promise of retirement with a longtime partner has proved, at best, bittersweet for him. Last month, he announced his separation from his second wife, Heather Mills, who is 38. "Will you still need me?" indeed. Since 1967, American divorce rates per capita have more than doubled (three-quarters of men married in the late 1950's celebrated their 20th wedding anniversaries with their first wife, compared with about half who married in the early 1970's).
A smaller proportion of Americans older than 65 are poor today, but more delay retirement because they want to, or have to. More of the better-off own their vacation homes outright (never mind renting "a cottage in the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear"), while the less well-off who own homes have the newly popular option of reverse mortgages.
Americans live longer today (technically, no one has died of old age since 1951, when the government dropped that official cause). They also age more slowly, or so they say. Half the over-65 population define themselves as middle-aged or even young, though a greater proportion today are likely to be perilously overweight.
Yet the song still resonates. Julian Lennon, John's son, sang it in an Allstate Insurance commercial in 2002. When Paul Simon turned 64 last year, Mr. McCartney called and serenaded him with it.
According to most accounts, Mr. McCartney wrote the lyrics for his father (his mother had died of breast cancer when he was 13) and the song was recorded not long after the elder McCartney turned 64.
"While it may have been done tongue in cheek," said Bruce Spizer, a Beatles biographer, "life began to imitate art."
Mr. McCartney's first wife, Linda, died in 1998 at 56, of breast cancer; they had been married 29 years. "The bliss of being with a lifelong partner, as expressed in 'When I'm Sixty-Four,' was shattered by Linda's tragic death," Mr. Spizer said. "The little things expressed in the song, such as working the garden and going for a Sunday morning drive, were part of his life with Linda."
The writer Gail Sheehy, who, at 68, is still guiding readers through life's passages, said today's 64-year-olds have a "360-degree view of life." They may believe in yesterday, but they also can't stop thinking about tomorrow. Thanks to seasoning (and Viagra), males are not necessarily half the men they used to be.
Mr. McCartney, who recently appeared on the cover of AARP magazine, does not appear to be losing his hair yet, despite the song's augury. He has three grandchildren (not the song's "Vera, Chuck and Dave"). He is also the father of a 2-year-old daughter. And while he may not be living his own lyrical vision, Mr. McCartney seems closer to fulfilling Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" than Pete Townshend's "Hope I die before I get old."
Now a billionaire, he has said he has no plans to retire, either as a rock star or as an animal-rights advocate (although, at 65, he will be entitled to a basic pension from the British government, at least $156 a week, and a free transit pass).
This year, the first baby boomers turned 60. About 2.7 million other Americans observe their 64th birthdays in 2006, including Muhammad Ali, Erica Jong, Larry Flynt, Garrison Keillor, Michael Bloomberg, Harrison Ford, Ted Kaczynski and Barbra Streisand. (Ringo Starr, the only other surviving member of the Fab Four, will be 66 next month; John Lennon was murdered at 40 in 1980; George Harrison died of cancer at 58 in 2001.)
"The slogan back then was 'Never trust anyone over 30,' " recalled Jeff Greenfield, the CNN commentator, who is 63. "We thought people would be dead or in a home by their 60's."
Today, on average, 64-year-olds can expect to live more than 16 years, about 4 years longer than 64-year-olds could expect in 1967, according to government statisticians (and, hey, an editor of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Jude Rutledge, was named for another of Mr. McCartney's songs).
"The new 64," Ms. Sheehy said, "is more like 84."
quinta-feira, junho 15, 2006
Arlo Guthrie and his tribe carry forward a tradition woven from luck, loss and a legendary arrest (by Paul Lieberman for the Los Angeles Times)
AN hour before Arlo Guthrie is to go on stage, a reminder of life's serendipity walks into the old church here.
A volunteer doesn't recognize the man at the door, and she can't find his name on the "comp" list of invited guests, either, so she calls over Guthrie's longtime right hand, George Laye, and tells him, "There's a Mr. Wilcox…."
Laye confers briefly with Richard B. Wilcox, laughs and says, "Oh, of course. I'm sorry. Go right in." Then as soon as the new arrival has stepped into the onetime sanctuary to await the concert, Laye announces, "That's the chief of police of Stockbridge!"
Everybody has a good laugh at that, for this church in the Berkshires would not be the Guthrie Center today had it not been for Stockbridge police. And Arlo himself … well, had not those cops arrested him four decades ago for the crime that began right on this spot, he might have gone on to be a forest ranger, as he'd intended as a kid, and not followed his doomed father, Woody, into musical storytelling.
The tale of that absurd life-changing encounter became the entire A-side of his debut album, "Alice's Restaurant," the 18-minute, 20-second song relating how, as a teenager in 1965, he had Thanksgiving dinner in the church — then a commune of sorts presided over by Ray and Alice Brock — and thought he'd do a good deed by carting away the truckload of trash that had accumulated at the place … except the dump was closed on the holiday, so he tossed the stuff down a hillside, where the cops found it and took their "27 8-by-10 color glossy photographs" of the scene and threw his young butt in the slammer.
The catch was, all those glossies were of little use as evidence when his case came before the local judge — the blind judge — and then came the real twist, in Arlo's song's version of history, when the misdemeanor arrest prompted a New York draft board to toss him aside with the other rejects, the mother stabbers and father rapists, thus sparing him a trip to the front lines of the Vietnam War or, more likely, flight to Canada.
"Garbage has been very good to me," sums up Arlo Guthrie, who was resting up, that hour before his "Spring Revival" concert, in the old bell tower of the church, now the green room lounge of his nonprofit Guthrie Center.FOR years he owned a farmhouse a half-hour away, in a hill town with no traffic light, but he did not get the church until 1991, when he was brought here by a TV crew filming what he calls a "whatever-happened-to-him?" feature. The deconsecrated church, which dates to 1829, had been through a number of owners since the Brocks had it and was not in the best shape. But the owners at the time must have seen him coming, for that story has them peering out the window exulting, "Oh, there's Arlo Guthrie, he'll buy it," and he did, with the help of donors, whose names now adorn a wall of the Guthrie Center.
Today, there's still no heat or air conditioning in most of the structure, but that doesn't stop the crews of volunteers and one paid staffer, the 64-year-old Laye, from offering free community lunches every Wednesday, with health food (lentil soup, rice dishes) provided by a nearby yoga center. Thursdays there's "Hootenanny Nite!" with an open mike for local musicians in the 100-seat performing space that has tables set up nightclub style where the pews once were. Summer weekends, the professional acts take over in a "Troubadour Series." And on two or three weekends a year it's all Arlo, in fundraising concerts that help keep the operation afloat.
His annual spring weekend has spawned another tradition, a "Historic Garbage Trail" walk to combat Huntington's disease, the hereditary neurological ailment that killed his father. Participants trek 6.3 miles from the church to Stockbridge, the scene of other "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" landmarks, the tiny restaurant once run by Alice and the Stockbridge police headquarters. The cops no longer have cells there ("liability issues," Chief Wilcox says), but the front of one has been preserved for posterity and was displayed on a platform for this year's Sunday hike, May 21, so the walkers could pose behind the same bars that once confined the littering Arlo. In the spirit of the '60s, they also were given pens embossed "This pen has been stolen From Stockbridge Police Department," courtesy of the chief.
As a child, the 57-year-old Wilcox was a model for a Boy Scout painting by the local chronicler of Americana, Norman Rockwell, and he later served two tours in Vietnam. But the chief long ago came to embrace Arlo and that contentious era as slices of Americana as well, even if a church volunteer did almost diss him and his wife at the door that evening. "They try to keep the riffraff out," Wilcox reasoned, "but we snuck in."
The Garbage Trail walk alone brought in $8,500, but the weekend was more than a fundraiser for Arlo, who took the revival theme seriously, for the time back home was his bridge between two long forays on the road: The one just finished was a 40th anniversary tour commemorating the Alice's Restaurant incident, an occasion to dust off the rambling story-song he normally eschews these days; the one upcoming is a "Guthrie Family Legacy Tour," which was to begin in Alaska, of all places, and which takes him to downtown Los Angeles on Saturday for a free 3 p.m. concert at California Plaza, part of the Grand Performances series there.
The "Legacy Tour" looks to the past too, obviously, embracing the work of Arlo's father, the voice of the Dust Bowl Okies and other underdogs, who penned "This Land Is Your Land" as a response to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." But it's also a showcase for new songs written from lyrics Woody Guthrie left behind — and for newer musical Guthries, who are in no short supply, thanks to Arlo. The bushy-haired hippie kid of the Woodstock Festival is now, at 58, a father of four and grandfather of five. THREE generations of Guthries are milling about the church bell tower on this Sunday night. As Arlo himself relaxes on one sofa, a harmonica ready around his neck, his youngest daughter, Sarah Lee, 27, plops in the sofa across from him, cradling her own little girl, Olivia, who is not quite 4. Between them, a small table supports three lighted candles, while another to the side displays a drawing of St. Francis, a small skull ("to point out that the body is fleeting but the soul is forever") and a bottle of sacred oil given to Arlo by his spiritual advisor Ma Jaya, a onetime Brooklyn housewife (Joyce Green Difiore Cho) who now heads an ashram in Florida.
Ma also provided the interfaith dedication that hangs over the entrance to Guthrie Center's main room: "One God, Many Forms/One River, Many Streams/One People, Many Faces/One Mother, Many Children," and above her words is a portrait of a somber Woody Guthrie with his guitar, pointing into space. Someone has made sure the message does not seem too heavy, however, by adding a cartoon-style balloon that has Woody saying, "He went that way…."
There's another portrait of Woody in the bell tower lounge, beside one of Jesus. All faiths get equal billing here, even as Arlo says, "I'm still a Jewish kid from Brooklyn."
There's no experience that compares to the first time the blues get to you. The hairs on your neck stand up and an uncanny churning sets up between your heart and your stomach. It's the universal experience that unites the blues world.
Today that world is wide open. The fences are down. The boundaries have been extended to take in the music's lovechild, rock & roll, and through the disciples of Muddy Waters and B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, the experience continues, though with the accent on a battering-ram intensity of sound, not nearly as convincingly as it might. But the important thing is that it keeps on happening.
Right now, across the Atlantic, a unique blues experience is taking place--the Jimi Hendrix Experience, a marriage between a couple of British rock merchants and an American Negro.
Although he has been adopted by the British faction of the flower-power syndrome as a kind of high priest, guitarist Hendrix, through the screaming bravado of his music, belongs to the other side of the love generation coin. Violence is, for him, an integral part of the blues of today, and so he feels free to play the guitar with his teeth, set his instrument on fire, hurl it against an amplifier.
"Our music is getting uglier," he has said, and it rages like an angry torrent, almost overpowering at times because of the amplification. But unlike so many of the loudness-is-synonymous-with-excitement groups, Hendrix's sound is not only highly electrified, but electrifying too.
From out of the musical maelstrom, the howl of the leader's guitar comes leaping like a thing possessed, lashing with the anguish of a stricken giant. In contrast to a fair proportion of rock guitarists, whose lack of an individual conception is shown up by the aimlessness of their playing, Hendrix is in firm control of his direction. In his use of feedback, for example, he stretches the notes over several bars, occasionally accompanying the harmonics emanating from this device with a highly developed melodic line.
He claims to have soaked up influences from "everyone from Buddy Holly to Muddy Waters and through Chuck Berry way back to Eddie Cochrane," and one an hear just about everything from sitarlike riffs to crying delta blues from his screaming strings.
"Cats I like now are Albert King and Elmore James," he said, "but if you try to copy them, want to play something note for note--especially a solo or a certain run that lasts over three seconds--your mind starts wandering. Therefore, you dig them and then do your own thing."
When the thin, stooped, sad-eyed young guitarist came gangling into London in September 1966, he gave the floundering local scene a much-needed injection and with his unkempt mane of busy hair started a fashion unprecedented since the heyday of the Presley sideburn. His hair style had already made him an outcast in Harlem, and when Chas Chandler, former bass guitarist with the Animals, and the group's manager, Mike Jeffery, first heard of him, he had taken refuge from the Uptown jibes in Greenwich Village. As Jimmy James, he was playing with his own combo of two months' standing, the Blue Flame.
"We just didn't feel like trying to get into anything because we weren't ready," recalled Hendrix, (his real name, incidentally), but for the two Britishers, he was saying something.They foresaw a place for the shy young man with the despair-drenched voice and the reverberating electric guitar on the London scene and persuaded him to try his luck there.
"I said I might as well go because nothing much was happening," recalled the guitarist. "We were making something near $3 a night, and you know we were starving."
Hendrix was born 22 years ago on the wrong side of the tracks in Seattle, Wash. He brought with him to England an aura of mystery concerning his origins and musical experience and a tailor-made line of hard-times-and-poverty stories. His colonial version of how he traded the life of an itinerant guitarist for a place in the Isley Brothers' backing group was widely quoted in the British musical press: "Yeah, I'll gig. May as well, man, sleepin' outside between them tall tenements was hell. Rats runnin' all across your chest, cockroaches stealin' your last candy bar from your very pockets." (On his current U.S. tour, he was given a gala reception in his home town, and presented with the keys to the city by none other than the mayor himself.)
After a spell with the Isleys, the guitarist wandered to Nashville, Tenn., where he joined a package show starring B.B. King, Sam Cooke, Solomon Burke and Chuck Jackson and paid his gigging dues until one day he missed the band bus and found himself stranded in Kansas City, Mo.
"When you're running around starving on the road, you'll play almost anything," and Hendrix ruefully. "I was more or less forced into like a Top 40 bag. Playing the things that I'm doing now would have been very difficult in that area."
In Atlanta, he found a job with the Little Richard tour, and on the West Coast he played with Ike and Tina Turner. Then Richard's show took Hendrix to New York, where he played with people like King Curtis and Joey Dee's Starliters.
"Oh man!" Hendrix exclaimed. "I don't think I could have stood another year of playing behind people. I'm glad Chas rescued me."
The guitarist has the restless nature of the itinerant bluesman. "I get very bored on the road," he admitted, "and I get bored with myself and the music sometimes. I mean, I love blues, but I wouldn't want to play it all night. It's just like although I like Howling Wolf and Otis Rush, there are some blues that just make me sick. I feel nothing from it."
The chance to improvise is, he said, of prime importance in his playing. "I love to listen to organized Top 40 R&B but I'd hate to play it," he said. "I'd hate to be in a limited bag; I'd rather starve."
When the Experience was formed on Oct. 12, 1966, three very different personalities were more or less thrown together. Hendrix was united with rock guitarist Noel Redding, who switched to bass guitar, and the explosive drummer Mitch Mitchell. Said the drummer, a devotee of Elvin Jones, "I wasn't at all interested in blues. I was more interested in a sort of pseudo-jazz thing. Noel was very interested in the rock 'n' roll scene of two or three years ago, and so it could have clashed like mad. Instead, we all threw in our ideas, and now we play individually to make one sound."
The first thing that struck Hendrix on his arrival in Britain was the high quality of many of the local musicians and their awareness of "soul."
"One of the first people I ever heard was Eric Clapton with the Cream," he recalled. "I had a couple of his records, but in person he really knocked me out. I didn't know quite what to think, but I guess that if they can dig a cat like Ray Charles, who's one of the all-time greats when you're talking of soul it isn't too surprising if they come up with that soulful feeling. It just shows that they're listening."
It is obvious from Hendrix's eclectic guitar style that he has not only been influenced by people like Waters, James, King and, in particular, Buddy Guy, but has done a complete turnaround in Britain, listening to the local synthesizers of blues guitar--people like Clapton, Peter Green and Jeff Beck.
"I really don't know about that!" he said, smiling. "I listen to everybody, you know, and a lot of the people now are British. But whatever you do, you have an open mind. You don't necessarily take things, you just listen and accept."
Declared Londoner Mitchell, "I don't think this country has anything to teach Jimi, because basically he hasn't changed since he came over. Maybe his outlook has changed a little bit and he's got more scope, but what he is doing is just an extension of his original ideas."
From his viewpoint, Hendrix said, "When you have people to work with who will work with you, quite naturally, you're going to start moving. If you're really interested and really involved in music, well, then you can be very hungry. The more you contribute, the more you want to make. It makes you hungrier and hungrier, regardless of how many times you eat a day."
Hendrix has slipped fairly easily into the British rock scene, and his attitudes are, at times, surprisingly un-American. Nevertheless, at such times he also seems to be rather uncomfortably straddling the fence between his own blues tradition and the Beatles heritage. It seems safe to assume that had he stayed in the United States, he might have been forced to cut his hair and dress less outrageously than he does in Europe.
As for smashing up instruments on stage, the group has been criticized for following in the path of The Who, the first pop group to introduce auto-destruction to the music. To this, Mitchell has a reply:
"Some nights we can be really bad. If we smash something up then, it's because that instrument, which is something you dearly love, just isn't working that night. It's not responding, and so you want to kill it."
Hendrix further likened the process to the love-hate relationship: "It's just like maybe you feel at times when your girl friend starts messing around. You might feel that you wanted to do that but you couldn't but with music you do, because an instrument can't fight back."
The Experience has an enviable reputation for the comparative ease with which it records, one of its singles having made the grade on the second take, something almost unheard of in contemporary rock. This stems largely from group rapport. Hendrix is such a magnetic figure that the two sidemen are stimulated by him, and they, in turn, free him from the restrictions that less intelligent musicians would impose.
"You've got to be musically one jump ahead to completely interpret what Jimi wants and put yourself into it," Mitchell said. "Certain times you might feel his equal, and then he comes out with something that stimulates your mind quite a bit.
"I don't know if the public realizes this, but we could make a damn sight more money by going out doing one-nighters than by recording. When we record, we pay for the studio ourselves and waste a lot of time finding out the different sounds and things. It's easy to go into a 12-bar nothing and put it on a record, but we spend so many hours trying to get new effects, it should be obvious that we're not trying to con the public."
At a recent rehearsal, where proceedings were held up for a couple of hours, the restless Hendrix sat down at the drum kit and tried his hand with the sticks.
"Gotta keep it moving," he commented. "You don't care what people say so much--you just go on and do what you want to do. You never do it quite--I always try to get better and better--but as long as I'm playing, I don't think I'll ever reach the point where I'm satisfied."
In spite of the fact that Hendrix has no particular wish to be hailed as the new king of the blues, he is a unique contemporary interpreter of the genre and a musician whose impact on various areas of the scene has been considerable. The blues, in spite of the intrinsic resignation of much of its subject matter, has, as a musical form, an enduring optimism.
"The blues will never die," the bluesmen repeat with reassuring regularity, and it's probably true. In their own peculiar ways, people like Hendrix are carrying on the tradition.
In a vast cemetery stretching along Airline Highway in New Orleans lies the unassuming grave of Gram Parsons. Fans make pilgrimages to the site looking for the spirit of the "cosmic cowboy" whose life and death make up a tragic chapter in the American songbook.
During the more than three decades since Parsons' death, the short life of the country-rock poet has developed a legendary status that refuses to die. Dead at 26 from drug and alcohol abuse, Parsons was an imaginative performer and songwriter who united the worlds of rock and country at a time when country music was considered only the domain of hillbillies.
And while this is a true American tale, it took a German punk rocker and country music fan to make the definitive documentary on Parsons' life. The magnetism of Parsons' story has not been lost on Gandulf Henning, who spent 15 years working on the new documentary "Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel."
"It was about 1990 when I first heard his music and couldn't stop listening," Henning recalled. "It was so heartfelt, so pure and highly emotional. I knew that existed in soul music, but I didn't have that connection in white music. It's an understatement to say it changed my life."
Henning, with help from writer Sid Griffin (Gram Parsons: A Music Biography), created a film filled with commentary from those close to Parsons -- people who have never before talked in public about their feelings and memories. Friends such as Emmylou Harris, Chris Hillman, Phil Kaufman and Keith Richards join in the conversation, as do fans Peter Buck, Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam.
"I was astonished a film didn't exist about him," Henning said.
Henning produced a music video for his own band as a means of moving from performing into film production. In the beginning, interest in his documentary was non-existent, until two German television stations and eventually the BBC came on board.
Parsons, whose discography consisted of just five recordings (one with the Byrds, two with the Flying Burrito Brothers, and two solo albums), commands a degree of respect and influence these days that's far greater than the modest success he enjoyed before dying.
And that point -- his premature death at the Joshua Tree National Monument in 1973 -- often is the introduction to his story for many people.
While at the Joshua Tree Inn for some R&R, Parsons succumbed to a lethal dose of morphine and tequila. Following the request of his stepfather, Parsons' body was to be flown to New Orleans for burial. But his road manager, Phil Kaufman, stole the coffin, drove to the Joshua Tree desert and cremated the body. Supposedly, this was Parsons' wish.
Henning feels this bizarre scenario continues to haunt those close to Parsons, including his wife Gretchen, daughter Polly and half-sister Diane. Initially, they all refused to take part in the film but eventually came around.
"Doing these interviews, I realized there is another side to the story," Henning said. "You can't deny the legend of Gram Parsons got ignited by that match, but it also started a growing pain in the family that they never really got over."
Decked out in flashy Nudie suits, Parsons, a big fan of Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzel and Buck Owens, gave country music new meaning for a generation paying attention to it for the first time. His musical vision has influenced performers from Elvis Costello to Tom Petty to the Long Ryders, from the Mekons to the Jayhawks to Uncle Tupelo.
Uncovering all the strengths and destructive demons of Parsons' life has given Henning, who now lives in Nashville, a new perspective on his subject -- one that was not always pleasant to confront.
"You start as a fan, and then you find a Gram Parsons that is quite different than the Gram Parsons you were looking for. He was obviously flawed and troubled. But yet he didn't leave people untouched. Thirty years later there are so many tears and so much anger directed at him. He had a way of getting into people's hearts, and maybe he took advantage of them sometimes."
Quem conhece os discos que Cassandra Wilson gravou na última década sabe que ela já tinha pouco a ver com Diana Krall, Jane Monheit, Michael Bublé e outros vocalistas da cena atual do jazz, que insistem em cantar os standards dos anos 30 e 40 que Ella Fitzgerald e outras divas do gênero interpretaram tão bem.
Agora, com "Thunderbird", Cassandra deve chocar mais ainda os conservadores. Se já tinha abandonado o repertório tradicional do jazz, a intérprete e compositora rompe de vez com as sonoridades convencionais do gênero, num álbum carregado de guitarras, teclados, efeitos eletrônicos e doses de experimentação e estranheza.
A primeira faixa já provoca um certo susto. Estruturada a partir de um "sample" da Wild Tchoupitoulas (divertida banda de Nova Orleans), "Go to Mexico" é uma canção dançante de formato pop, com um leve sabor de hip hop. É possível que, ao ouvi-la, um desavisado até se pergunte: "Isso é jazz?"
"Closer to You" (de Jacob Dylan), a faixa seguinte, também é uma canção tipicamente pop. Tingida por teclados e bateria programada, surge em um arranjo frio que esquenta com a voz grave e densa de Cassandra. Algo semelhante acontece em "It Would Be So Easy", um R&B sombrio, que ganha substância com os sofisticados vocais da cantora.
No fundo, não importa que se trate de uma balada, um funk ou um reggae. Com duas décadas de estrada e muita inquietação, hoje Cassandra é capaz de injetar essência jazzística em qualquer gênero musical. Basta ouvir como ela traz um novo frescor à tradição do blues, gênero ancestral de toda a música popular dos EUA, presente em quatro faixas do álbum.
Como a versão da clássica "Easy Rider", que começa de modo etéreo, só com voz e a guitarra de Marc Ribot, para desembocar em uma performance de alta voltagem. Já na versão "funky" de "I Want to Be Loved" (Willie Dixon), que conta com a participação do bluesman e guitarrista Keb Mo, Cassandra dá um show de sensualidade. Claro que alguns méritos desse álbum, especialmente quanto à sonoridade nada convencional e ao aspecto meio sujo dos arranjos, devem ser creditados ao produtor T Bone Burnett, conhecido por gravações das bandas Wallflowers e Counting Crows.
É provável que os jazzistas mais ortodoxos acusem Cassandra de ter se vendido ao pop, mais ou menos como fizeram no lançamento do inovador "Blue Light Til Dawn", que marcou outra guinada radical da cantora, em 1993.
"Thunderbird" é um álbum meio estranho e desalinhavado que cresce a cada audição. Pode não agradar a todos os fãs da cantora, mas é um marco de seu compromisso pela criação de um jazz com a cara dos dias de hoje.
With its principal sponsor gone and a talent lineup that screams "belt tightening," the Chicago Blues Festival opens Thursday in Grant Park amid a surprising spirit of optimism among artists, organizers and Sweet Home Chicago's blues cognoscenti.
The city announced a record attendance of 775,000 for last year's festival, which dodged the spring deluges that accompany most blues fests. But without a Thursday night blockbuster act to kick-start the festival or a Saturday headliner that will compel the large afternoon crowd to hang around, it may be tough to top that turnout this year.
The 23rd annual blues fest is a breed apart from other similar events in San Francisco and Long Beach, Calif., as well as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, in that those fests charge admission of $30 and up per day. Chicago's fest is free to the public -- and always will be, says Barry Dolins, who coordinates the fest for the Mayor's Office of Special Events.
The event remains self-supporting even though giant retailer Best Buy, which for a decade ponied up nearly as much funding for the fest as all the other corporate donors combined, has dropped its sponsorship this year. But if Dolins has had to cut any corners because of the pullout, he's not saying so. »See BLUES, Page 9D
Before the 2005 fest, Dolins said his talent budget had been increased from about $175,000 to $250,000 through "creative bookkeeping." Asked for a figure this year, he says, "I'm still balancing the books. It's a million-dollar event [including setup, security and cleanup expenses]. There hasn't been a cutback, but in the past we did have help from corporate sponsors in getting a Buddy Guy [in 2005] or a Bonnie Raitt [in 2003]. To tell you the truth, I wouldn't want to book Bonnie Raitt again. When we had her, it wasn't a blues show."
For good or ill, it all comes back to Dolins' definition of true blues. He uses the fest to educate the public about the music at its roots, creating daily themes ("Drivin' Wheel," "St. James Infirmary," etc.) that reflect some aspect of blues history. This year, the fest celebrates the centennials of Little Brother Montgomery, Roosevelt Sykes and Chicago street performer Blind Arvella Gray.
Dolins bristles at criticism of the fest, stating, "Everybody in the world appreciates the story that's being told except for the Chicago media. The New York Times called it 'the granddaddy of all festivals' for the second year in a row."
While some genre-bending artists complain privately that they're being excluded, most tip their hats to the city for honoring its musical heritage and showing respect for its elder statesmen through repeat bookings.
Tinsley Ellis, who's back for his second stint on Chicago's Alligator Records, expresses no bitterness despite never being booked in Grant Park. The closest he came was for Alligator's 25th anniversary late-night after-fest concert at Navy Pier in 1996.
"When it comes to blues, I'm kind of a purist myself," Ellis says. "I'm a blues-rocker, and I look at a festival like this and say, 'That's great that they're celebrating indigenous blues people.' My time will come. Most of the festivals I play are rock festivals operating under the guise of being blues festivals. That's to attract a crowd. If you give people in some places the real thing, they don't come out in numbers. If you give them something more rockin', all of the sudden it's a rock 'n' roll show.
"After all, it's not the Chicago Blues-Rock Festival. Places like Rochester, N.Y., bring people like me in."Chicago brings in people like traditional acoustic bluesman Fruteland Jackson, who has performed at five previous fests but is touring Iceland this week. Jackson says a spot in the Chicago lineup is a major goal of all blues artists.
"It's the place to be, the festival you want to play," Jackson says. "There are real blues fans there. And Chicago has a blues month [leading up to the fest] where every day there's something going on: a photography exhibit, Blues in the Schools programs, something special in the clubs. That's what makes the Chicago Blues Festival just so magical. When you play the festival and finally get to play on the mainstage -- I haven't yet -- it's something to live for."
In Sweet Home Chicago, you need deep blues roots to realize that dream. Four of the most frequently booked artists -- David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Homesick James, Robert Jr. Lockwood and Henry Townsend -- are more than 90 years old. Those legends will be doing two sets together next Saturday afternoon.
None of these artists, though, is likely to build on the blues fan base by drawing younger, more rock-oriented audiences to the park.
"You need to bring some of the blues-rock stars to the fest, because those are the ones who brought the masses to the blues," says Tony Mangiullo, proprietor of Rosa's Lounge, a West Side blues club that books the city's most traditional blues acts along with blues-rockers such as Melvin Taylor. "I got interested in blues through Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and other rock stars.
"I think it would be great to try to bring U2, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton ... you need these guys. This is one of the biggest cities in the world; I see it as a tribute to the blues and kind of a payback. It's the approach that counts [in recruiting such talent]. If it's restricted to a money transaction, they'll say of course not. If you say, 'This is Chicago blues, it's a dying art, and we need your help,' people who know their history, when they hear those words they'd be willing to do something about it."
Local bluesman-author-educator Fernando Jones has his own theory of how to keep the music alive. He has set up blues combos in Chicago public elementary schools in the past, and he's now teaching a blues course at Columbia College. Thirteen of his students will perform as the Chicago Blues Ensemble on Thursday at the fest, where Jones and-or his Blues Kids of America have had an annual presence since 1990. Jones has also served on a festival committee that met regularly in the past but now informally submits booking recommendations by e-mail.
"I think the festival services every type of blues fan, whether you're a fan of stand-up singers like Bobby 'Blue' Bland [next Sunday's headliner] or guitar slingers or acoustic guitar players, or groups like my ensemble, the first collegiate blues ensemble in the country. And it's free.
"It's a Super Bowl, the type of place where somebody who's making $75 a night in the clubs can make $150 as a sideman." The fest has helped to jump-start the careers of several veteran artists, notably the late Luther Allison, the expatriate Chicago bluesman who made his triumphant return from France at the 1995 fest, and Bettye LaVette, the Detroit soul-blues diva who wowed the crowd on a frigid night in 2002 with her high-energy act.
"My saving grace that night was that it was so cold and I was so naked," LaVette recalls with a laugh. "That seems like 25 years ago. So much has happened since then."
Shortly after that appearance, she signed with the high-profile Rosebud Agency and used her CD "A Woman Like Me" as a major comeback vehicle. LaVette, who has a popular new album on Anti with "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise," returns as Thursday's opening-night headliner.
The husky-voiced singer finds herself playing to a different audience these days than during her first go-round in the '60s.
"My black fan base is about my age," says LaVette, who just turned 60. "That base has always been very strong in Chicago. Those people aren't even hearing me now. Those aren't the folks who came out to hear me the last time I was in town at FitzGerald's."
Regardless of its significance to the performers, the blues fest has "incredible historical importance," says harmonica ace Corky Siegel, who returns to the Petrillo Music Shell mainstage Saturday night with the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band, his reunited Chicago blues group of the 1960s and '70s. Siegel also has worked for 40 years to merge the blues with classical music.
"Even though I'm a non-genre person, I still have a great deal of respect and see the importance of certain festivals focusing on a specific genre, as long as there are other festivals that don't focus on a specific genre," Siegel says. "If you're playing great music, whatever it is, that's going to be recognized. The music itself can break down these false boundaries." Bruce Iglauer, whose Alligator label is represented at the fest only by Siegel-Schwall and Saffire the Uppity Blues Women, praises the fest for its authentic approach to the blues, but recommends booking "a few more artists who have more name value to draw in new people. I'd like to see artists who have crossover appeal in a number of new directions."
As examples, he cites the 2002 booking of the popular blues-rock jam band the North Mississippi Allstars and this Friday's set by Duwayne Burnside, the son of Mississippi Hill Country legend R.L. Burnside. "And maybe he's not strictly blues, but Ben Harper would bring in a younger audience."
With an eye toward developing younger talent, the fest will feature its first-ever Jam Station, where budding musicians can join three top local bluesmen -- guitarist Dave Specter, bassist Aron Burton and drummer Kenny Smith -- for a couple of hours each afternoon on the Mississippi Juke Joint Stage.
"The idea is to seed it with bona fide blues legends and give people an opportunity to do a tune with them if they have the ability," says Dolins, who quotes an old saying from bluegrass festivals: "The best pickers are in the parking lot."
He might add that some of the most devoted fans are at the airport. Dolins says interest in this fest is high among European blues lovers.
Anders Sunden and his wife, who came from Umea, Sweden, last year in a group of 15 members of a local R&B society, plan to return this year by themselves.
"The atmosphere of the festival area was friendly and relaxed," Sunden writes. "And it's free of charge, but to be honest we would probably come even if there was a charge. And I find it hard to believe that any other festival/city can offer as much good music as Chicago can. It's not just the festival there, it's also all the clubs."
RHCP & Pearl Jam : Middle-Aged Bastards and Still Monsters of Rock (por Joe Donnelly para Orange County Weekly)
I’m telling you, listening to 28 Red Hot Chili Peppers songs in one session isn’t easy, and not just because the top-secret review discs of the just-released double album Stadium Arcadium were encrypted to such a degree they wouldn’t play in anything (not my home stereo, not my computer, not my car) except my boom box, which was out on my back porch and, well, it was cold out, and what I’m trying to say is nothing makes sense right now. I mean, I laughed, I cried, I danced, I did my best impression of Crispin Glover on the Letterman show, and sometimes I even think the songs were intended to have that effect. What a freaking mess. The record’s kind of a mess, too.
But I gotta give the boys, er, middle-aged men credit: It’s a beautiful, sprawling, ambitious mess, a no-holds-barred, fuck-’em-if-they-can’t-take-a-joke and fuck-’em-even-more- if-they-don’t-get-that- we’re-not-a-joke mess. And after more than two decades marked mostly by steady growth, they’ve earned the right to it, if you ask me. The two discs composing Stadium Arcadium — the first called “Jupiter” and the second “Mars” (I guess they were on their way back from Saturn) — are epic in reach and sometimes even in grasp. But more to the point, and more to the band’s credit, Stadium Arcadium doesn’t feel forced, but rather like the inevitable climax of a band on an unprecedented and, let’s face it, unpredicted creative run.
In trying to come to terms with what’s going down here, I kept scrawling one word on the wall in red crayon (held between my big and second toes): Tusk. Yes, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Bear with me. Tusk, released in 1979, was also a double album, finishing off a trilogy that a reconstituted Fleetwood Mac — bringing on nutty professor Lindsey Buckingham and his muse, Stevie Nicks — began with the eponymous Fleetwood Mac and followed with the landmark Rumours. Tusk was a glorious shambles, too, a kitchen-sink affair in which every idea the band had, many good and some not so good, was thrown into the mix (including the USC Trojan Marching Band), but somehow held together (barely) by sheer momentum, prowess and chutzpah. Like its predecessors, Tusk was made for and by Los Angeles — both in its lush pop sound and thematic concerns of dissolution and survival. But, unlike Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, Tusk got jiggy with it, let it all hang out, and went haywire in the process. It wasn’t the best album of the three, but it is probably the best testament to what the band was capable of at its creative peak. It was a 1970s Californicated White Album, as much Didion in essence as Beatles.
Likewise, a reconstituted Chili Peppers — in the form of back-from-the-dead nutty professor John Frusciante, reunited with his muse, Michael “Flea” Balzary — set off on a path with 1999’s Californication that marked a creative turning point for the band, showing off a newfound musical prowess and a newly outward-looking maturity in their song writing. That path continued with the excellent By the Way, the Chilis’ most focused and realized record to date, and has now reached a kind of semi-loony apotheosis with Stadium. As with Fleetwood Mac, the Peppers trilogy is a mostly plaintive ode to the broken hearts and lingering promise that mark life in Los Angeles, and, like Tusk, Stadium also pays homage to the band itself, reading like a monumental mural depicting its own past, present and future. For better, and sometimes for worse, it is their own haywire White Album.
For better are the lilting ballads, the soaring rock anthems and the spaghetti-Western guitar lines (not to mention Rumours-era Lindsey Buckingham leads) that first made their presence felt on Californication and came to fruition on By the Way. “If,” a gorgeous love song modestly tucked midway through the second disc, is the most laid bare Anthony Kiedis has been at any time excepting By the Way’s “Venice Queen.” And like that song, “If” benefits greatly from the singer getting real instead of plying the mysto-cosmic jibber-jabber or mofo-funk mojo that can get him into trouble as a lyricist. “And if I saw it all so clear/I’d write it down and bend your ear/If I were the clearer of the two.” “Wet Sand,” on the Jupiter disc, and “Desecration Smile,” which leads off Mars, build slowly in minor keys before reaching heroic climaxes à la “Midnight” and “Minor Thing” from By the Way. These songs, and others, show off the band’s growing strengths: Kiedis’ surprising sense of melody and improving vocal range; Flea’s seductive, snaking bass lines; Chad Smith’s nimble drumming; the band’s lush vocal harmonies; and, of course, Frusciante’s deal-with-the-devil, postmodern guitar genius.
By way of most overtly paying homage to themselves, the Chilis have brought back the funk. Sometimes it’s with a vengeance, as in the super-heavy “Readymade” on Mars, and even the No. 1 single, “Dani California,” on Jupiter; sometimes it’s with a kick and a smile (you’ll be laughing and dancing on Jupiter’s “Warlock” and “Hump de Bump”), and — this is where the for worse comes in — sometimes with the bad-old freaky-styley, as in Mars’ plain silly “So Much I.” But throughout there are references to past characters (“Dani the girl” from “By the Way” gets her own song) and concerns (death, sobriety, sex, love), and to the band’s own history (almost every Peppers phase is sound-checked). The record, when it’s on target, is colored with folks, sometimes real people, sometimes the band members themselves, trying to overcome their flaws and be better, whether that means getting clean or getting humble in the face of impending mortality. When it’s off target, as in the clunky ballad “Strip My Mind,” it’s a reminder of how painful the Chilis’ growing pains often were.
I’m not gonna pretend I have a complete grasp on all this. There’s just too much Arcadium in this Stadium for me to fully come to terms with in a listen or two. I’ll need another year or three, and, truthfully, I might have other things to do with my life. But I can tell you what it feels like fresh off my boom box. It feels like a mad-hatter cruise down Mulholland with the top down and the beautiful and broken scenery of Los Angeles speeding by. And while the whole thing could have benefited from Rick Rubin occasionally turning around and telling the guys in the back seat to settle down for a minute, amazing moments abound. Foremost among them are the weird and wonderful “Animal Bar” and “Death of a Martian” off the Mars disc. These songs alone show that the Chilis have bottled some magic that I can’t imagine any other band in the world conjuring right now. I wonder what they’ll come up with next. Hopefully, not Mirage.Aside from next to nothing, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam have a lot in common. Musically, they are as far apart as rock gets, but they share some serious back story: Both bands suffered through the heroin ODs of seminal figures (Andrew Wood of Pearl Jam precursor Mother Love Bone; founding member Hillel Slovak of the Chili Peppers), both broke out in 1991-92, with the help of the second Lollapalooza tour; hell, Jack Irons, who used to drum for the Chilis, introduced Eddie Vedder to the other members of Pearl Jam and later did a stint as P.J.’s drummer.
After that, though, they go their own ways. One of the main differences being that Pearl Jam’s first record catapulted them to megastardom almost immediately, while BloodSugarSexMagic was the Chilis’ fifth album.
So, if the Chili Peppers can be said to have been building to this moment, Pearl Jam came out of the gates so fast and furiously — each of their first three records (Ten, Vs. and Vitalogy) is the kind of statement most bands would spend a career trying to make — perhaps the only thing they could have been building toward was a crash. Instead, they simply slowed down. Some would say they withdrew — into somber, downbeat, sometimes frustratingly (for many) iconoclastic records like Binaural and Riot Act that shed a lot of their casual fans but also slyly shed the overbearing expectations that came with entering about a dozen songs into Rock & Roll Evermore so early in their career.
Now, though, their eighth release, on career-resuscitator Clive Davis’ J Records, tellingly titled Pearl Jam, is being almost universally hailed by the media (including Newsweek, Billboard, Rolling Stone) as a return to form — their best album in years. But “returning to form” can be a dangerous thing. The same thing was said about U2’s last couple of records and there’s precious little on them worth talking about, let alone remembering. It’s especially dangerous for an inherently restless group like Pearl Jam, who sound like no one else, despite the legion of bland, platinum-selling imitators they spawned, but who also have no two records that sound alike.
Until now, that is, because Pearl Jam sounds like a lot of Pearl Jam records. It’s almost as if they’ve been leafing through photo albums trying to figure out who they are and where they belong after coming home from years in exile. The frenetic, punkish opening tracks — “Life Wasted,” “World Wide Suicide,” “Comatose” and “Severed Hand” — could have been culled from the Vs. and Vitalogy sessions. Meanwhile, the more anthemic numbers, like “Unemployable,” “Gone” and “Inside Job,” would have fit comfortably on 1998’s stirring and largely underappreciated Yield.
Though I happen to be a fan of the band’s recent lost years, and the endearingly world-weary and wizened Eddie Vedder that came with them (perhaps the result of various tragedies like the trampling deaths of nine fans at the Roskilde Festival in 2002, and the breakup of his marriage, and the Bush ascendancy), the return here to something obviously intended for wider appeal isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That’s because, well, Vedder has things on his mind, and if there’s one thing he can be counted on to do, it’s to say what’s bugging him loudly and to say it proudly. On Pearl Jam, he’s back on the attack, and, well, that suits him and the band just fine, too.
The object of his ire is the war in Iraq and the dire state of the union, not surprising since Vedder has been one of rock’s first and most consistent opponents of Bush and the calamity of his presidency, railing against it before it was safe to do so. It would be wrong to call this a concept album. It’s not all war all the time — the soulful R&B-flavored love song “Comeback” is Vedder’s most affecting vocal performance in years, and “Big Wave” is about, yes, surfing. But the psychic toll of war drenches the record like blood on a bayonet. And it’s not all in-your-face numbers like the now-ubiquitous single “World Wide Suicide.” Character-driven storytelling in songs like “Army Reserve” (“Her son’s slanted/always giving her the sideways eye/an empty chair where dad sits/how loud can silence get?”), “Unemployable” and “Gone” are more persuasive than a dozen rants along the lines of Riot Act’s sophomoric “Bu$hleaguer” could ever be.
Thankfully, the record’s tone never drowns in the stormy waters — the compositions throughout range from energetic to elegiac, and the band seems to have learned that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. The playing is, as expected, top notch. By now, these guys could smoke most rock bands with their guitars stuck permanently behind their backs. And the sound will be comforting to those who yearn for the straightforward Pearl Jam of old. If you listen closely, however, they do sneak some of the key changes, countermelodies and time-signature shifts they’ve been experimenting with recently into as many of Pearl Jam’s tightly wound songs as they can get away with.
I’m not sure, though, that there’s anything for the ages on this record. As a piece, it sounds whole and it sounds good and, several listens in, many of the hooks stick in your brain — you just might not be able to name the songs that go with them. But Pearl Jam is a much-appreciated kick in the ass to the complacency and triviality that plagues music, and culture in general, from some of our most reliable rabble-rousers. Which is another way of saying it’s kind of refreshing to hear songs that are about something again. Wolfmother, are you listening?
Um dos discos mais esperados do ano na senda pop/rock verá a luz na próxima semana. Trata-se de “Stadium arcadium”, o aguardado novo trabalho da banda californiana Red Hot Chili Peppers. E a expectativa se dá por ser o primeiro disco da banda após um hiato de quatro anos. Por isso, o álbum virá duplo. E já vazou na internet, para desgosto da banda, que divulgou esta semana uma carta aberta reclamando do fato, não da maneira agressiva como fez o Metallica, mas num modo choramingas, lamentoso.
Curioso notar, na perspectiva do tempo, que uma banda que apareceu em meados dos anos 80 com uma certa pecha de maldita (formada por um bando de punks-skatistas-doidões) ter agora o status de um nome de respeito. Em tempos de vacas magras para a indústria fonográfica, os RHCP ainda são das raras bandas que garantem, pelo menos, um bom disco de platina para a sua gravadora (no caso, a Warner). Nada como o tempo.
E levou tempo para eles chegarem nesse estágio. Desde cedo o RHCP foi respeitado pela galera alternativa e pela crítica em geral por fazer uma fusão muito bem amarrada de punk, funk e psicodelia. Eles eram a perfeita tradução do lado menos glamouroso de Los Angeles, como os Z-Boys de Dogtown. Representavam a geração que veio depois dos hippies. Por isso, a sua música e estilo de vida são indissociáveis do California way of life . Assim, meio que como o Planet Hemp está para o Rio, por exemplo. Mas isso não era bem aceito pelas rádios e pela MTV, só pelo underground.
No caldeirão de influências dos pimentas vermelhas, entravam desde Stevie Wonder (do qual regravaram “Higher ground” com grande propriedade e sucesso), o Funkadelic/Parliament de George Clinton (que produziu um disco deles) e o punk-hardcore da Califórnia, pós-Black Flag, Circle Jerks etc. Isso tudo reunido provocava uma combustão lindamente perigosa, porque, sem o fogo que ela produzia, não havia beleza.
E pelo fogo (além de “Fire”, hit de Jimi Hendrix que também foi o primeiro sucesso deles), foi a trajetória da banda em sua primeira fase. No meio do caminho perderam o guitarrista original, Hillel Slovak, para as drogas (morreu de overdose de heroína em 1989) e por pouco o vocalista Anthony Kiedis não foi pelo mesmo caminho. Para driblar a morte, Kiedis pegou o caminho para Katmandu e viveu uma fase zen/espiritual viajando pelo Oriente, e hoje se diz livre das seringas no braço.
Independentemente dos problemas pessoais, só no começo dos anos 90, quando lançaram o campeão de vendas “Bloodsugarsexmagik” (1991), o RHCP passou para o outro lado da cerca, chegou, de fato, ao mainstream . Daí vieram as turnês mundiais (já estiveram três vezes no Brasil) e a consolidação de um estilo que influenciou milhares de bandas mundo afora. A última camada veio com o álbum “Californication” (1999, que marcou a volta de John Frusciante), que foi complementada por “By the way” (2001), que adicionou à fúria um toque meio zen, de canções mais contemplativas e com melodias menos agressivas. Os RHCP estavam perdendo a sua chama?
Os dois lados, o sol e a lua do RHCP, estão muito bem representados em “Stadium arcadium”, embora não distribuídos uniformemente. O primeiro CD, batizado “Jupiter”, traz o lado mais ensolarado, das guitarras mais fluidas (de Frusciante), dos vocais mais relaxados (de Kiedis) e aquele jeito RHCP de ser, que, mesmo quando suave, não perde o groove (como em “Hump de bump”, um funkão de primeira). Mas essa divisão não é tão certinha assim. A primeira faixa do CD 2, batizado “Mars”, “Desecration smile”, lembra aquelas canções hippies dos anos 60, inclusive pelo instrumental. Mas, depois, o disco segue um caminho mais suingado, onde a bateria firme de Chad Smith e as intervenções do baixo (e trumpete) do agitado Flea dão o tom.
Ou seja, Marte até pode ser o deus da guerra, e Júpiter remeter a Zeus na mitologia, mas em “Stadium arcadium” o RHCP cria a sua própria representação para os planetas e deuses, e não há propriamente momentos de escuridão ou de danação. Provavelmente eles jamais serão tão inflamados quanto nos tempos de “Freakey stiley” ou de “The uplift mofo party plan” (dois discos únicos e influentes lançados nos anos 80), mas eles nunca deixaram de ser os pimentas calientes que são.
E, expectativas à parte, “Stadium arcadium” preenche todas. Ao longo de suas 20 faixas, ele prova ser realmente um disco pelo qual valeu a pena esperar. O primeiro single , “Dani California”, nem faz jus ao todo. O que espera o ouvinte é muito mais do que uma continuação dos últimos discos, mas um resumo de tudo o que os RHCP já fizeram (ainda que passado a limpo) numa carreira que já chega quase aos 25 anos. E quicando.
Não existe – e nunca existiu, e talvez nunca mais venha a existir – nada na música popular americana que se compare a Bob Dylan. Em grandeza poética, existencial, musical…não adianta, qualquer comparação com qualquer outro artista se revela inútil nesse caso.
Nasceu em Hibbing, Minnessota, em 24 de Maio de 1941, há 65 anos. Desde criança já era bem diferente de seus colegas de escola. Na adolescência, gostava de motos, Marlon Brando, literatura, rock and roll, e virava as madrugadas cometendo um pecado mortal para um judeu caipira americano: ouvindo estações de rádio negras de Chicago especializadas em blues, cujas ondas alcançavam a distante região de Minnessota graças ao fabuloso espelho d’água dos Grandes Lagos do Meio-Oeste americano.
Não demorou muito até ele perceber que Hibbing não era grande o suficiente para ele, e zarpou para Nova York, onde começou a cantar em bares no Greenwich Village ao lado de alguns grandes heróis musicais seus – mestres do blues como Lonnie Johnson, Sonny Terry, Little Junior Parker e Jimmy Reed, e do folk moderno como Fred Neil e Dave Van Ronk.
Enquanto seus dotes como músico floresciam, sua poesia ganhava força, e esses dois fatores unidos acabaram chamando a atenção de John Hammond, o grande descobridor de talentos da Columbia Records, que não sossegou enquanto não arrumou um contrato para ele gravar um disco.
Seu primeiro disco, de 1961, apresentava canções de vários artistas, principalmente de Woody Guthrie, com certeza a influência mais forte naquele momento de sua carreira, e foi um sucesso estrondoso nos círculos folk. De um momento para outro, Dylan virou uma estrela no gênero, Isso aconteceu de forma mais intensa logo após o lançamento de seu segundo disco, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, só com canções próprias, e ficou mais forte ainda após o lançamento do terceiro, “The Times They-re A-Changin’”.
Por volta de 1964, não havia na América um cantor folk mais sintonizado com sua época e com uma poesia tão forte e imagética quanto ele. Daí em diante, sua fama passou a seguir bem além dos círculos folk. Aos poucos os limites estreitíssimos desse gênero começaram a virar uma prisão.
Foi quando que Bob Dylan ensaiou a grande virada musical na sua carreira – a mais contundente de toda a a história da música popular americana. É um pouco difícil para as novas gerações entender a importância desse ato naquele momento histórico, mas Dylan resolveu que estava na hora de deixar o violão e os palcos do Village de lado, e pegar uma guitarra elétrica para se comunicar com o público do rock and roll, que crescia absurdamente na América por conta da explosão da contracultura em meados dos anos 60.
Ao contrário das platéias folk, que abominavam o rock and roll, Dylan adorava – cresceu ouvindo Elvis, Chuck Berry e Little Richard. E, à revelia das expectativas das platéias folk, resolveu de uma hora para outra virar um artista de rock and roll.
A reação dos velhos fãs foi extremamente truculenta. Dylan entrou empunhando uma guitarra Fender e acompanhado pela Paul Butterfield Blues Band no Newport Folk Music Festival, em 65, e levou as primeiras grandes vaias da sua vida. Vaias intermináveis, seguidas de uma debandada geral na platéia, inconformada com a transformação radical de seu grande herói.
Mas, na medida em que as platéias folk o abandonavam, as platéias roqueiras ganhavam o porta-voz dos anseios de toda uma geração e de toda uma época. Ele rapidamente se transformou no artista de rock and roll número um da América, com discos magníficos como “Bringin’ It All Back Home”, “Highway 61 Revisited” e principalmente “Blonde On Blonde”, que traziam canções poderosíssimas como “Subterran Homesick Blues”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, “Rainy Day Women” e “Just Like A Woman”.De repente, Dylan some da cena novamente. Motivo: um acidente de motocicleta, bastante grave. Sua recuperação foi muito lenta. Por conta disso, ele seguiu para a cidade de Woodstock, no estado de Nova York, alugando uma casa cor de rosa com um porão enorme onde montou um estúdio de gravação. Que acabou virando um hotel para músicos amigos que passavam os dias tocando com ele.
Como o engenheiro de som e produtor Rob Fraboni havia se mudado para lá, e gravava tudo o que rolava, o resultado dessas sessões foi selecionado e enviado à Columbia Records, que recusou os tapes alegando que eles eram pouco comerciáveis e rústicos demais.
Curiosamente, essas gravações vieram à tona no início dos anos 70 em discos piratas disputadíssimos, que venderam um milhão de cópias, o que deve ter matado os executivos da Columbia de ódio. Dylan não se importou com isso. Achou ótimo. Até porquê daí em diante a Columbia nunca mais iria recusar nenhum disco dele, fosse o que fosse.
Depois desse período de reclusão, gravou uma sequência genial de LPs -- “John Wesley Harding”, “Nashville Skyline” e “New Morning --, onde flerta abertamente com a country music, e, de quebra, com várias outras modalidades musicais americanas tradicionais. E então fez questão de embarcar num projeto do cineasta Sam Peckinpah, o filme “Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid”, onde estreou como ator e como compositor de trilhas sonoras.
Por volta de 1973, ele, que não fazia uma tournée há cinco anos, caiu na estrada novamente. E o melhor de tudo: conseguiu convencer seus velhos companheiros das sessões de gravação na casa cor de rosa em Woodstock a ser novamente sua banda de apoio numa longa tournée. Detalhe: esses velhos companheiros, ilustres desconhecidos em 1968, eram agora The Band, a banda mais prestigiada da América, e eles toparam a brincadeira.
Primeiro gravaram um disco belíssimo de estúdio juntos – “Planet Waves”—e depois brilharam nos palcos da América – e essa tournée vitoriosa está registrada no magnífico album ao vivo “Before The Flood”. Com isso, Dylan fez mais uma grande reentrada na cena musical americana. Gravou discos belíssimos como “Blood On The Tracks”, “Desire” e “Street Legal”, e passou a engatar uma tournée na outra, levando uma vida nômade.
Essas tournées eram louquíssimas. A “Rolling Thunder Revue”, por exemplo, correu a América toda em 1976 com um elenco de grandes estrelas passando só por cidades pequenas, com shows mambembes montados em cinemas e praças públicas.
Já na tournée seguinte, Dylan veio acompanhado por uma pequena orquestra de soul music, para trazer aos palcos o clima carregado do belíssimo disco "Street Legal".
E depois disso teve ainda o flerte de Dylan ao cristianismo, que deixou a comunidade judaica americana perplexa por dois anos e 3 discos de temática gospel, decorrente de um perído extremamente sombrio em sua vida pessoal.
O mundo inteiro aplaudiu o retorno de Dylan ao ceticismo judaísmo habitual em discos brilhantes como “Infidels”, Ëmpire Burlesque” e “Oh Mercy”, e novas tournées acompanhado pelo Grateful Dead e por Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.
Dez anos atrás, Dylan teve uma doença no coração que quase o matou. Do balanço dessa experiência, ele produziu o disco mais sombrio e mais denso de sua carreira. “Time Out Of Mind” é uma descida ao inferno com passagem de volta, onde o personagem principal se vê diante de toda a fragilidade e de todas as contradições da condição humana. Uma pequena obra prima, com a produção climática e a "musicalidade orgânica" de Daniel Lanois.
Cinco anos atrás, Dylan voltou à cena fonográfica em grande estilo com um disco leve e de altíssimo astral, na contramão de "Time Out Of Mind": “Love And Theft”, repleto de canções delicadas e assoviáveis, pequenos clássicos instantâneos de um artista magistral que vive se perdendo por aí, mas sempre consegue voltar para casa renovado. Quem leu "Chronicles", seu primeiro livro de memórias, lançado ano passado, sabe do que estou falando.
E agora, depois de brilhar à frente de "Theme Time Radio Hour", um programa de rádio absolutamente eclético que estreou dia 3 de maio na rádio por satélite "XM", Dylan anuncia que tem um novo disco pronto para lançamento mundial no próximo dia 28 de Agosto. O nome do disco é "Modern Times", e pouco se sabe sobre ele, a não ser que traz 10 novas canções gravadas de forma bem despojada com sua banda habitual em algum estúdio em algum lugar misterioso no início deste ano, em pleno inverno.
Enquanto isso, ele segue em frente com sua “The Never Ending Tour”, em cartaz há dez anos pelo mundo todo, sempre alternando apresentações em casas de porte médio em grandes cidades com apresentações em clubes no interior, como já havia feito na lendária "Rolling Thunder Revue", em 1976. No melhor estilo cigano. No melhor momento de sua longa carreira. Aos 65 anos de idade.
Isso é Bob Dylan. Dele, esperem sempre o inesperado.