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Posts tagged ‘live music’

Remembering Elliott

Those souls who have left this earth for heaven, or whatever we believe is beyond are missed and remembered by those close to them. But there are those souls who leave us that were able to affect a great number of people by their time on earth, and Elliott Smith is one of them. He touched us with his music; words creatively brought together that often spoke of heartache, of sadness, of anger and even hope in the midst of despair, paired with achingly beautiful melodies that often betrayed the mood of the words. He was able to get us to listen to the sad reality of life that it is sometimes, in the guise of musical notes that danced with joy. In doing this he created a following of listeners who empathized with him and felt that Elliott understood the pain in their own lives.

During his many live shows, Elliott brought himself even closer to his followers, as they hung onto every word and every note he played in utter admiration and devotion; all eyes and ears completely focused on the lone man  playing his sweet and precious music. Elliott had a gracious way of making his audience feel so involved in every show, so appreciated; never putting himself up on a pedestal. Song requests were shouted out, or oftentimes Elliott would ask what the audience wanted to hear. He would tell little stories that fed the camaraderie he had with his fans, and they felt as if they knew him intimately.

Despite all the drama and despair that was his lifetime – dealing with depression, addictions, and a sadly violent death – Elliott Smith gave all he could to the career he chose as a musician. He crafted his music with a perfectionist’s touch, and toured extensively to bring that music to all who wanted to hear him play. He showed us the qualities he possessed of hard work, integrity, generosity, and compassion in the man that he was, not letting his struggles in life hold back the gift he gave to us of amazing music, created from his very soul.

Elliott Smith would have been 43 years old today, and he would still be blessing us with lovely songs. In this world he is lovingly remembered by the timeless legacy he left of music, but he will also be remembered as a sweet and gentle soul who just wanted everyone  to enjoy his gift of song.

Memorial plaque of Elliott Smith that hangs in Lincoln High School in Portland, OR

Artwork done of Elliott Smith that hangs in the Crystal Hotel in Portland, OR

Their Friend

 

Every venue he plays

Becomes an intimate setting

As if he sits

With the audience

In their living room

He greets them with a shy “hello”

Then sits in the chair

The small man and his guitar

Swallowed up by the stage

He nervously picks at the guitar

And a song starts to emerge

The crowd cheers

Then a hush ensues

He holds them in the rapture of melody

The song ends

They cheer once more

A quickly spoken “thanks”

Is shared with his followers

They talk to him

Asking him questions

He politely answers

Someone shouts “I love you!”

“I love you too” he replies

And this exchange of love

Is what endears him to them

To every face in the crowd he is

Their friend who sings

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School of Rock really rocks!

Listening to new music that I buy is a huge rush for me, as I wrote about in my last post. But the ultimate high in listening to music has to be hearing it live, and that is just what I did last night. As I was paging through Portland’s alternative weekly newspapers, I happened to see that the students from the School of Rock here were putting on a show just a few blocks from my home at a wonderful place called the Mission Theater, performing the music of Stevie Wonder. What a great chance to hear some awesome music, and at the same time support the up and coming musical talent in my city that is nurtured through this inspiring school of music. Last night’s performance consisted of 27 students taking turns playing various instruments and singing vocals on 26 different Stevie Wonder songs. And believe me, if you ever really listen to any of Stevie Wonder’s music, you’ll realize that it is complex and not that easy to perform. It is full of key changes, rhythmic changes, hyperactive bass lines, inventive keyboard playing and room for lots of vocal improvisation. But this group of eager young musicians gave it their all, and their hard work showed in amazing renditions of these challenging songs. By the end of the night most of the crowd was on their feet dancing, my friend and I included – what a blast! Music is a drug, and how great to see these young people becoming addicted to something that gives their souls a natural high.

Admiration from the stage – music story #3

I remember watching the movie “The Doors”, about the rock group of the same name. And there was a scene in the movie where Jim Morrison serenaded his girlfriend with a song. That scene has stuck with me for years, a little fantasy I harbor, that I may find someone who will sing to me in that way. To me that is the joy of music; poetry with a melody, the perfect combination of words and sounds. This story is a twist on the usual scenario of  the fan who watches and admires an artist – sometimes the artist can also become the fan. I am also including a poem about how deeply music touches my soul, how moving it would be to have a private audience with an artist that I admire, wanting to almost melt into them as they perform.

More than Just a Fan

Maggie saw him there in the crowd – she had just finished her first song, mumbling a quick “thanks” to the audience – she was always so nervous until she got that first song out of the way. She had her head down, with the heavy red curls that made up her hair, draping around her face. As a performer she was one of the quieter ones. She usually didn’t watch the crowd too much but he kept gazing at her, and not in a creepy kind of way but with a genuine look that pulled her in. Maggie knew that a lot of her fans identified with the music she sang; her songbook was made up of songs about love in all its different forms – the joy, the heartache, the roller coaster ride that love could be. The word that came to mind as she tried not to stare at him was captivating. This man in front of the stage, in his plain black hoodie and baby blue stocking cap that covered his shoulder length brown hair – certainly not anything fancy but there was just something about him, a feeling every time she caught his gaze. Get a grip – she told herself, as she started in on the next song. Soon she found herself lost in the music, but the thought of meeting the man in the crowd just would not go away.

After finishing her set and the requisite encore, Maggie went backstage and set her guitar down in the corner of the dressing room. Normally she would sit down and unwind a bit, gathering her thoughts about how the show went. But this night her thoughts weren’t on the show she had just played, they were on the captivating mystery man – she had to meet him! Maggie walked through the backstage throng of people that always seemed to assemble after a show – a mix of music people and those who were hangers-on – the ones lucky enough to get back there past the bored security guy. She hurried out to the bar area of the club she had just played in, scanning the crowd for the baby blue stocking hat. The club she had just played in, Cacophony, was one of the smaller venues in town. But it had a warmth that seemed to embrace music, with posters pasted up on the walls from different people and bands that had played there since its opening in the late 70’s. The diminutive size of the club made it easy to find him. There he was! She found him sitting at the bar with a friend of his she assumed, and she breathed a sigh of relief to see it was a male friend. She walked up to the bar, standing in the empty space next to him, on the pretense of ordering a drink.

“Hi – I saw you there, in the front by the stage – did you enjoy the show?” Maggie asked him, trying to stop the quiver in her voice.

“Yeah, you were great! – just like the last time I saw you play,” the stocking hat stranger replied.

“My name is Maggie – well duh, I guess you already knew that. And what’s your name?” Good lord, she was coming off like a complete idiot!

“My name is Nathan – and I really love your music,” he replied in an understated fashion; but it was so lovely, Maggie thought to herself.

“Where did you see me play before?” Maggie asked him.

“I saw you a couple months ago when you played at Bohemia – you were wonderful. But with my crazy work schedule I don’t get out as much as I’d like.”

“Well thank you,” Maggie replied. “What do you do for work that keeps you from getting out?”

“I’m a firefighter – I love what I do, even with the odd hours – it gives me a lot of free time to work on what I really love,” Nathan explained.

“And what would that be?” Maggie queried.

“Well, I write and play a bit of music myself – but mainly just for me. I don’t know that any of it is good enough to see the light of day outside my window,” Nathan told her modestly.

“Would you consider playing something for me? It’s been so long since I’ve had anyone play for me – I’ve been so busy playing for everyone else. Please, come backstage with me – if you don’t mind – I would love to hear your songs.” What in the world had gotten into her – Maggie had no idea if this person was single, taken or just didn’t care, but she wasn’t going to let him get away without finding out.

“Sure, why not – if you’re sure you don’t mind. Sometimes I think my friends get tired of having to listen to me play all the time, but I love to play for people when I get a chance. But it’s been awhile, so I may be kind of rusty,” he said in a shy and humble manner.

What a refreshingly genuine person Nathan seemed to be – so many artists seemed to be full of ego and pretentiousness, especially around other artists – as if they were always competing against each other. But Maggie sensed none of this in Nathan. She was very anxious to hear what he had to offer in the way of his music; would it fit his down to earth demeanor, she wondered?  She was hoping so bad that it would, and soon she would find out.

They walked to the back of the club and through the backstage door. Maggie’s manager, Theo, was standing there and started to say something like “who the hell” before Maggie gave him the evil eye to shut the hell up. Even though she wasn’t big news on the national scene, she had gathered quite a loyal fan base in Minneapolis, and bringing a fan backstage was sure to cause a ruckus once the news got out. But Maggie didn’t give a damn what the local music papers said, she was captivated by Nathan already. She felt like he understood her; call it women’s intuition but they had some kind of connection – she felt it every time they locked eyes.

Nathan found a chair in the dressing room and sat down, while Maggie got her guitar from the corner of the room where she had left it.

“Would you like something to drink? It’s on me – they don’t charge me anything you know.” Oh for crying out loud, there she went again, sounding like a schoolgirl with her first crush.

“Thanks, that would be great – I’ll just have a beer – whatever they have on tap that’s the cheapest is fine with me,” Nathan told her.

He was so polite, in a quaint sort of way and he certainly wasn’t taking advantage of her hospitality. “Okay, I’ll be right back – that’ll give you time to tune the guitar the way you like.” Maggie walked out of the dressing room and almost ran to the bar; afraid that Nathan might sneak out while she was away. But he was still there when she got back, in the same chair, lazily strumming away on the guitar.

“Did you decide what you wanted to play?” Maggie asked him.

“Yeah, it’s a song called I Part the Sky – I wrote it for a friend of mine who’s gone now.” Maggie sat in the chair across the room from him and settled in – and she began to hear the most beautiful melody coming out of her guitar – how could he be so modest about this lovely music? He sang out a song with heartfelt, yet introspective lyrics – not like so much of the superficial songwriting she heard, even from some of her friends. Nathan finished his song and Maggie excitedly clapped her hands in appreciation.

“That was wonderful!” she cried. “How long have you been doing this and why haven’t you tried to put your work out there?”

“I’ve been writing songs since I was a teenager – I learned to play guitar and piano when I was a kid. I guess I just do it for the sake of doing it, you know. I never thought about doing it as a career but I love to play for my friends when they let me,” Nathan said.

“Let you!” Maggie exclaimed, “They should be begging you to play! You’re good – and I’m not just saying that – would you play something else for me?”

“Alright – here’s a song I love, and I really love playing it.” With that, Nathan played the familiar notes – the beginning of the song that Maggie remembered so well, playing it so often when she was still a member of Wildflowers, the band she used to be a part of until she decided to go solo. It was a song called Moon Love, and she had written it for a lover from so long ago – it was her song of loss; her love having died two years ago. Nathan strummed the last chord and Maggie was surprised to find tears in her eyes.

“I’m sorry – that was lovely. It’s just a very personal song about someone I lost too – I miss him – we both loved the moon so much and I had forgotten that.”

“I didn’t mean to upset you. I miss my friend too – she was my best friend and funny thing is, we loved to try and find the moon at night – like hide and seek, you know?” Nathan reminisced.

Maggie wiped her eyes. “Well, enough of sad songs. You really need to bring your songs somewhere so they can be heard – if you want, that is. I’m good friends with the owner of Metronome Records, the label that released my solo album. If you want me to, if you have anything recorded, I could bring it over there and see what they think. But I have a feeling that you could be looking at a possible album in your future.” Nathan had real talent and Maggie liked to think she had a good ear for talent that deserved to be heard.

“Well, I have been recording some stuff on the 4 track equipment I have at home. It sounds a little rough around the edges, but if you really want I’ll get a copy of what I have so far. This is so nice of you – helping out someone you just met like this,” Nathan quietly told her.

Oh my God, he was so genuinely nice – Maggie was smitten! But besides that, he played such pretty music – he was a natural – why did people hide such talent away? Well, she was going to take care of that. But first, she had an idea.

“Here’s my number – please give me a call and let me know when that demo tape is ready and I’ll take it to my friend at Metronome. And before you go, would you do me one other favor?”

“Sure,” Nathan said, “what is it?”

“Would you walk outside with me so we can play hide and seek with the moon?”

Nathan gave her the most beautiful smile as she reached for his hand; Maggie knew, she just knew that Nathan was going to turn out to be more, oh so much more than just a fan.

May I?

 

When I hear your music

I am mesmerized

It pulls me in

I glide along with the melody

Your songs touch my soul

They sing to me

Others sing yet I feel nothing

I only feel your passionate voice

You play your guitar

Caressing so gently

I am awestruck watching

May I touch you while you play?

You stroke the piano keys

Melodies so angelic

Floating

May I touch your fingers while you play?

You breathe out the words

Full of passion

Full of meaning

May I touch your lips to taste the words?

You live and breathe

The beauty of music

Take me with you

I am carried away

A very cool hotel, some great live music, and some delicious food

Who says you have to travel many miles to find new and exciting things? I walked seven blocks from my home and had a wonderful adventure. It started with discovering that Goldenboy, a band that I love, were playing at Al’s Den, a small bar in my home of Portland, Oregon. Now seeing as how I don’t like to walk alone at night, and they were playing in the evening, I decided what the hell and booked myself a room at the Crystal Hotel, which is right next to Al’s Den – perfect! Besides, I had wanted to stay there because it is quintessential Portland – arty, quirky and eccentric. The whole “theme” of the Crystal Hotel is music – so perfect for a music lover such as myself! Each room has a name, the name being a song title by a variety of musical artists . I checked in, and was given room #411, and the words painted on the door proclaimed it to be the “Liquor, Beer and Wine” room – the title of a song by Reverend Horton Heat. Maybe it was a sign to indulge myself a bit, seeing as how I didn’t have to drive anywhere. I opened the door to my room, and found myself taken in by the dark blue walls,with song lyrics wrapping around all four of those walls, and the headboard of the bed a work of art in itself. And what a cozy, sensual atmosphere for a hotel room! With European style bathroom facilities (meaning no actual bathroom in the room itself), I was not distracted by the mundane sight of a blow dryer, nor a coffee pot, mini-fridge, or even a television. And as I walked the halls to check things out, I found amazing works of art lining the halls – imaginative rock posters, and colorful paintings of various musical artists. After a scrumptious meal at nearby Ringler’s Pub -I had a spicy but not mouth burning Jamaican bowl, followed by a shot of sweet and smooth coffee liqueur, I headed downstairs to Al’s Den to take in the music I had come to listen to in the first place. Now this is the kind of place that I love to hear live music at – small and intimate, with just enough room for enough people to come and listen but not too many, so that my view of the band is unobstructed. Goldenboy did not disappoint, as I found myself singing along with the familiar songs I loved to hear at home. What a sensation to hear those songs live! The music pounds, the players are enthused to bring their music to you, and in between songs stories were shared. And one of the things I like best about these small venues is being able to connect with the members of the band, to talk to them as the people they are, seeing them outside of the hype of being an entertainer. I had a delightful conversation with Shon Sullivan, the founder of Goldenboy; not just talking about music but talking about everything else under the sun. After talking with Shon I looked at my watch and found it was already 10:30! I hadn’t stayed up that late for years it seemed! No wonder I was feeling a bit tired. So, off to bed in my room of musical delights. I awoke the next morning, and put the next phase of my adventure into motion. I wanted pancakes! And I knew exactly where to go, to Sugar Mamas’! Sugar Mamas’ is a small restaurant in Portland, only a couple blocks away from the Crystal Hotel. I had walked past it many times, and perused the menu – now was my chance to try out some of the mouth watering offerings. I walked into the restaurant, with the floor done in old fashioned black and white linoleum tiles, and only enough tables and chairs to seat perhaps a dozen people. But the atmosphere was like being transported back to Grandma’s house, waiting for a delicious home cooked meal, with a full view of the kitchen in sight. A customer asked about the food, was all of it really made from scratch? And the waitress, who was one of the owners replied, “this is a mix-free zone” – meaning, no food would be coming from a packaged mix, all of it was truly made from scratch. I helped myself to a cup of bottomless coffee, picking out a coffee mug from the unmatched selection that was offered – I chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was just like being at Grandma’s! And the food? Sorry Grandma, but you never made pancakes like these! I had decided on banana-pecan pancakes. I was brought a plate with two of the fluffiest pancakes I had ever seen, with a side of real whipped cream, real butter, and some maple syrup. I took a bite and found myself in pancake heaven – so light, so tasty, and the pecans added a crunchy texture that I could not have anticipated would take my breath away. And the portions were also “Grandma-like” – I ended up with a take-home container – there was no way I was going to waste a morsel even if I couldn’t finish it in one sitting. Then it was back to my hotel room; time to check out and end my adventure. But as I walked home, I smiled to myself; happy in the fact that I always keep my eyes open close to home, so I don’t overlook any of the wonders that are so close by.

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