Monday, March 30, 2009

Mill Avenue Inc.

Here's a question no one ever asks me:

What was it like back in the inception of the Tempe music scene? That must've been an exciting time.

It was. It really was. There's no way to explain, to replicate, to relay to you how special this time in the late 80s-early 90s Tempe music scene truly was: Gin Blossoms, Dead Hot Workshop, etc, infinity. In a fair and just world, everyone would be able to experience it. I'd be able to send you a link over the Internet and you'd be able to get a sense of what it was like for yourself.

Oh, wait.

Nico Holthaus and Chris Valentine, co-producers of the documentary Mill Avenue Inc., put this film together for all the right reasons. They did it to alert people to what can happen when those things that are special, like a music scene or a community, get eviscerated by gentrification when no one is looking. ("Why would anyone want to ruin this?" is what we all must've been thinking, if we were thinking anything at all.) People in power got greedy for the soul of Mill Avenue, and guess what? They got it. Boy, did they get it. You couldn't have planned it any better.

And for the people who shrug their shoulders and say, "It happens. That's the way the world works. Everything changes. You just move on," one need only walk through myriad neighborhoods in San Francisco and Portland and plenty of other places to know it didn't have to happen like it did on Mill Ave.

But in order to tell this important story, the film makers have to show us what was so damn special about the Tempe music scene in the first place. And herein lie the real nuggets.

That's why we get to see Robin Wilson working behind the counter at Rockaway Records in 1989. The Gin Blossoms' first record, Dusted, was just a month from being released, and we get wonderful footage of an overexcited Wilson bouncing around the record store, doing his best to keep pride from bursting out of his chest at the thought of the record coming out. "I just want to make records...go on tour and buy a van and stuff like that." Oh, don't worry. You'll do stuff like that.

It's why we get to watch Kimber Lanning, owner of Stinkweeds, pull her hair out trying to fathom that she lived in an area that "had the potential of being [the next] Austin. To have that and to blow it..."

It's why we get to listen to Tempe legend Hans Olsen regale us with tales from Mill Avenue's oh-so-colorful past.

It's why we get to see and hear another Tempe legend, Walt Richardson, once again prove he's the wisest man on earth.

It's why we get to see Sara Cina refer to "her bands" as she relays the story of how no band asked for pay after playing the final Long Wong's gig, despite 2,000 people in attendance.

And that's what they were. They were our bands. The Blossoms were our Beatles. Dead Hot were our Stones. Mill Avenue was our music scene, and Mill Ave. Inc is our documentary. Buy it if you were there, buy it if you weren't.

Also, if you buy and watch, you'll get to hear me quote both Brent Babb and William Faulkner. (Woo hoo!)

Yours in laying down the law,


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Friday, March 20, 2009

Another Song about Oregon

It's happening this Thursday!

I'm playing solo acoustic at Twin Paradox coffee shop in the Sellwood neighborhood of Portland. The age requirement is...none. This is an all ages show. The cover is...none. Absolutely free! Two sets of music by yours truly. You will want to be there.


Well...because this is my first gig back in Oregon, and I think it's going to be a special night.

That's great. But why would I, the Oregonian with nothing to do on Thursday night, want to be there?

Did I mention that Twin Paradox has a requirement that no artist perform covers? That's right. This place features all original music (and public works) by local and visiting artists. What a bold--and very Oregonian--thing to do. We support our artists, don't we? That might be my favorite aspect of living here.

Great point, but frankly, I've seen your schtick before, and I'd really like to know what's going to be different his time.

A fair question. I've written three new songs this past month, and each of them was inspired by our recent relocation to our fair state. (Yes, the Moss Muse has been kind.) This show will be the first time I perform this trilogy of songs live, so you're going to want to be there to hear them. When one of them becomes the Oregon state anthem, you'll be able to say you were there!

Okay, now you're getting my attention.


So, drop on by Twin Paradox on Thursday around 7:30,

7:30-9:30 PM

Get your cup of coffee,

Get your scone,

and listen to some original music.

Yours in laying down the law,


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Friday, March 13, 2009


Hey, you, Portlanders. You haven't forgotten about my big gig coming up, have you?

Thursday, March 26th. Two sets by yours truly at a very cool coffee shop in Sellwood called Twin Paradox. And it's free, for Pete's sake! Come and see me!

Dan Lancelot of Gloritone fame was kind enough to put up a MySpace page for an old band of ours called the Solemines. The band included Jim Gerke, Tim Anthonise, myself on bass, and Dan Lancelot manning the skins. We roamed Tempe circa 1990-91, and we played all the local haunts in those days: Long Wong's, the Sun Club, Chuy's (although I remember this being a tough nut to crack) and Anderson's Fifth Estate (strangely, the only one of the above-mentioned still around). We led off for a Flock of Seagulls at Anderson's once. (No, the dude didn't have the hair thing going on.) That was probably the most famous band we played with. We also played with the Sand Rubies (Sidewinders), but the gigs we most looked forward to were the ones where we led off for the Gin Blossoms.

These usually happened at the Sun Club. Dan would get with Laura Leiwen, then the Gin Blossoms' manager, and get us booked to lead off on a Friday or Saturday night for Tempe's greatest draw. These shows would have roughly 150 to 250 people in attendance, and there was nothing better than getting paid ($75 to lead off for the Gins) to play for people as they trickled in to see the headliner, hopefully turning a few on to our music, then staying all night and watching the Blossoms do their thing until 1 AM.

The thing about Blossoms shows that drove us crazy were the dancers.

No, not belly dancers. People who came to see bands because they wanted to dance.

I remember playing the Sun Club, leading off for the Gins. We did our thing onstage and watched the place fill up. By the end of our set, the place would be overflowing with people, except for the dance floor, a 10 by 20 foot rectangle right in front of us with nary a soul on it. Sometimes our girlfriends would take pity on us and shake their booties during a cover song or two, but the majority of folks didn't find the Solemines groove conducive to dancing. Go here and see if you agree.

Then, we'd clear our stuff off the stage, load out the side door and straight into our cars, come back in and inevitably, when the Blossoms hit their first note, the dance floor would fill instantly with well-lubricated and boogie-ready patrons.

We so wanted dancers of our own, but I suspect we knew that our groove wasn't lanky enough for big-time gestulating. It is what it is.

Still, a cool groove nonetheless. I loved the Solemines, and I love the way this music sounds, even today. Lancelot and Anthonise fueled the rhythm, some natural compliment between Lancelot's hi-hat playing and Anthonise's picking hand. Tim also had this amazing-sounding Fender Bassman amp and a vintage Stratocaster. I was Tim's roommate for much of our Solemines tenure, and I was always blown away by what he could do with a guitar. His style was fresher than most, kind of an American version of Johnny Marr, and his playing and tone more than anything fueled the songs we wrote together as a band.

Jim Gerke was and still is a unique and soulful singer. He could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge with his voice. Jim and I shared much of the lyric writing. There were song lyrics that just Jim wrote ("Never Pass Away") and ones just I wrote ("Wake me when it Rains") but most of them had lyrical contributions from both of us--or all of us. It was the only time in my life I've been in a band when all four members were songwriters. Everyone contributed, and no one got a big head. We were all pretty happy to be there.

Three of the four of us sang, too. I wish I'd sung--then I could say we all sang--but I was very happy writing lyrics and playing bad bass lines in an original rock band on Mill Avenue. I was the youngest of the four, and my bass playing--still heavily influenced by Geddy Lee--shows it much of the time.

So, come become a Solemines friend. You'll be glad you did.

One final note: I've discovered the name of my next project, Belching Pineapple.

I don't know what Belching Pineapple is, or what it will be, but it will be something, and that something will be so monumentally cool Katie Couric's gonna want to interview me.

Yours in laying down the law,


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Friday, March 6, 2009


Hey, you, Portlanders. You haven't forgotten about my big gig coming up, have you?

Thursday, March 26th. Two sets by yours truly at a very cool coffee shop in Sellwood called Twin Paradox. And it's free, for Pete's sake! Come and see me!

In other news, Jon Grayson commented over on my Facebook page: "Obviously you're not a golfer."

What Jon was referring to I have no idea, but I think it's important--nay, essential--that my readers know whether I am a golfer or not.

I'm not.

I was, but I'm not anymore.

I started golfing when I was 16. That summer I worked at Indian Bluff Golf Course in Milan, IL, washing golf carts, filling the soda machines and doing whatever else they could dream up for me.

I was horrible at this job. I didn't like washing the carts, was constantly reminded by my employer how much better the last guy was, and the "pros" upstairs didn't like me. I couldn't wait for golf season to get over with so I could come up with a better way to earn beer money.

The one thing this job afforded me, however, was an opportunity to play golf for free whenever I wanted.

I played whenever I could, maybe a couple of times a week, with the earnestness of someone hoping to cultivate a life-long hobby.

Unfortunately, no matter how many rounds I played, I never quite got the hang of it. I was very inconsistent, found the choice of clubs superfluous, and my focus would always drift on the back nine, making for a nightmarish second half. That summer, I averaged a score of about 55 for nine holes.

(For you non-golfers out there, this is pretty bad, but hey, I was just a kid.)

So when winter came, I put my clubs away and concentrated on laying down the law instead.

When I turned 26, my life in the Refreshments was in full swing. I was making a living as a musician, which meant I was up late every night with not a lot to do during the day to keep me out of trouble.

PH, our new drummer, was a whiz at golf, and we started to entertain the crazy notion of playing a bit to pass some afternoons.

Naturally, I was a bit concerned, but I was an adult, right? Ten years separated me and my last failed attempts on the links. Things could change, I could learn something, I could get better. So I gave it a whirl.

We played the Dobson course all summer, and I averaged a score of about 55 for nine holes.

So, I put my golf bag away and went on tour.

Then, at 36, an artist friend of mine in Ashland, Oregon, Steven Birnbaum, asked me to play golf with him. Steven used to be on his college golf team, and is quite good.

So, I played golf with him all summer that year, and I averaged a score of about 55 for nine holes.

16, 26, 36, my age didn't matter. I average 55 for nine holes. That's the kind of golfer I am.

So, what's my problem with golf? Why can't I get a better score?

I did, after 20 years, figure this out.

The answer is divots.

When a golfer swings his club on many, if not most, swings, it is customary that the golfer rip a divot, or a large clod of grass and dirt, from the ground.

It's part of the game. You swing the club, you hit the ball, you launch a divot. Then you repair the divot and go find your ball.

Whether unconsciously or not, I didn't want to create a divot.

Something about hitting the head of the club into the ground with this big swing and digging up a piece of earth just didn't appeal to me. It wasn't that I didn't want to repair the divot. It wasn't that I had some environmental angst about digging into the grass. I just didn't like the idea, didn't like the way it felt hitting the club into the ground, didn't like the "mess" of it all.

Why make a divot if you don't have to.

And unconsciously, during my swing, I would pull up at the last second, making sure I didn't create a divot. It happened every time. If I swang a golf club right now, I would unconsciously pull up a little bit so I wouldn't create a divot. It's in my wiring. There's no fixing it.

So, no golf for me, please. I don't like divots.

Now, ball washers. That's a whole 'nother story.

Next week, we'll talk about my inability to open a potato chip bag without getting potato chips all over the floor.

Yours in laying down the law,


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Monday, March 2, 2009

25 Albums

This week I list my top 25 albums of all time, as commanded by a few of my Facebook friends. As you will see, I spent way too much time on it.

I opted for a chronological order of the albums as they made their impressions on me, thereby avoiding a futile attempt to rank them against each other. I only mention one album per band to avoid having to choose between equally loved efforts, and to cover as much ground as possible. In most cases I chose the album that first charmed me, even if I later preferred other albums. I had to delete albums by bands like Minor Threat, Negativland, etc., knowing in my heart they didn't affect me quite to the extreme that those by REO or Cheech and Chong did. Scroll down to the bottom if you'd like to start at #1, but either way works.

One final note, Abba somehow didn't make the list. Just slide "Super Trooper" in somewhere around Journey and Kiss.

25. Rufus Wainwright -- "Want One" - A CD that will forever be associated with a very pleasant five years I spent in Ashland, OR.

"I just wanna be my dad/With a slight sprinkling of my mother/Work at the family store/Take orders from the counter."

24. Sun Volt--"Trace" - I listen to it every road trip, and I take a lot of them.

"Walkin' down Main Street/Gettin' to know the concrete/Searching for a purpose/On a neon sign."

23. Joni Mitchell -- "Blue" - The Bob Dylan of the West Coast.

"We don't need a piece of paper from the city hall/Keeping us tried and true."

22. The Smiths -- "Louder than Bombs" - The Smiths got me through my short-lived 9 to 5 life.

"I was looking for a job/And then I found a job/And heaven knows I'm miserable now."

21. Cake -- "Motorcade of Generosity" - The best in irony rock, enjoyed all the more for its shoestring production.

"You've got your grand piano/And you don't even play piano/I'm the one who plays piano."

20. Camper Van Beethoven -- "Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart" - No band has ever sounded this unique and this melodic at the same time.

"And this here's a government experiment/And we're drivin' like hell/To get some cowboys some acid/And to stay in motels."

19. Bob Dylan -- "Blood on the Tracks" - The most gifted songwriter I've ever heard.

"Jewels and binoculars/Hang from the head of a mule/But these visions of Johanna/Make it all seem so cruel."

18. Gin Blossoms -- "New Miserable Experience" - Hard to imagine a more pleasing, or more heartbreaking, pop rock record.

"But what the hell did you expect to find?/Aphrodite, on a barstool/By your side?"

17. Dead Hot Workshop -- "River Otis" - All the melody and pain of the Tempe music scene wrapped in six lovingly written, powerfully performed and gorgeously produced songs.

"But the rich will be dead and gone/Their bones will be scattered all over my lawn/And all their trials and carryin' on/Will go when I cut the grass."

16. Minutemen -- "Double Nickel on the Dime" - King of the punk concept albums, and hookier than you might expect.

"Don't use shower/Don't use shower."

15. Talking Heads -- "Naked" - How do you write a Talking Heads song? Tell me. I've been listening to them for 25 years and I still don't know.

"If this is paradise/I wish I had a lawn mover."

14. Replacements -- "Pleased to Meet Me" - Loved for their shot-to-the-foot business strategy, remembered for their songs.

"If you were a pill/I'd take a handful at my will/And I'd knock you back with something sweet as rum."

13. Husker Du -- "Warehouse: Songs and Stories" - Melodic love songs sung over surreally distorted guitars with punk attitude and punctuated by majorly cool screams. Where did Nirvana ever come up with it?

"It was his aluminum/That attracted her to him/And quite a day there did unfold/Turning garbage into gold."

12. R.E.M. -- "Life's Rich Pageant" - Their "Brian Adams record" was my perfect introduction to a world where a rock singer didn't need to be 6' 6", sport ass-length blond hair, and grab his crotch every ten seconds.

"The whiskey is water/The water is wine."

11. Violent Femmes -- "Violent Femmes" - This was the record that brought new wavers and metalheads together where I grew up.

"Ten is for everything, everything, everything, everything."

10. Led Zeppelin -- "II" - Plant was window dressing for the best gtr/bass/drum combo ever.

"We all know what your name is/So you better lay your money down."

9. Rush -- "Moving Pictures" - Try to tell an adolescent bass player in the Midwest that Geddy Lee isn't God. See how far it gets you.

"Catch the spit."

8. Van Halen -- "I" - Ah, the metal years finally arrive, and I find my inner male.


7. REO Speedwagon -- "Hi Infidelity" - See #4.

"Well in your letter/You said you didn't love me/You said you're gonna leave me/But you coulda said it better."

6. Journey -- "Escape" - See #4.

"Those crazy nights/I do remember/In my youth."

5. Kiss -- "Destroyer" - At ten, I had no defense against Gene Simmons, and I offered none.

"God of Thunder/And rock 'n' ro-o-oll."

4. Grease Soundtrack - I grew up with two women in the 70s-80s. It was bound to happen.

"You know that ain't no shit/When we're gettin' lottsa tit."

3. Village People -- "Macho Man" - My first album I purchased with my own money, along with "In the Navy." And this record is deeper (no jokes, please) than the title track.

"Hey, hey, hey-hey-hey!"

2. Cheech and Chong -- Los Cochinos - As a five years old, I was clueless to the drug references, but I still found something completely hysterical about the funny voices and noises.

"Oh, feely me boney bellose dominoes fobisku sellus all his dominoes."

1. Jim Croce--Greatest Hits - I used to beg my dad to play it.

"Every time I try to tell you/The words just come out wrong/So I have to say I love you/In a song."

Yours in laying down the law,


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