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Drugs and rock and roll (no sex)

Bill Altreuter writes in with this thoughtful email about drugs and music.
Miles Davis fired John Coltrane because Coltrane was deeply heroin addicted (actually, Miles, who had his own substance issues, fired a lot of people because their drug use interfered with their work). Petty firing Howie Epstein seems sensible enough when viewed in that context. Trane kicked his habit, Miles took
him back. Petty might or might not do likewise.

Drugs are a big part of the music scene, it seems to me, for a few reasons: a big one is that when you are a musician a large part of your day can be pretty boring: you play the gig, you get on the bus, you go
to the next night's gig. When you get there, you are sleep disturbed, and it's hours until sound check. You or I might go to a museum, or read a book, but not everyone is into that. It's boring on the road,
even for avid readers, and it is easy to fall into bad habits, particularly if the bad habit in question has been glamorized by the legends surrounding musical heroes from Charlie Parker to Keith
Richards. Lots of jazz musicians found their way into serious problems because they thought-- mistakenly, that Bird's genius came from his addiction. Lots and lots of rock musicians have fallen into the same trap.

Band leaders often carry these guys for a long time, but in the end, if Howie Epstein can't get his shit together, keeping him in the band isn't doing him any favors. Besides, he made Nick Lowe sad, so I'm not wasting any sympathy on him.
Nice thoughts, Bill. And a nice analogy with Davis and Coltrane. Yes, Miles did his fair share of drug abuse. So, also, has Tom Petty, a guy who had a Top 20 hit that featured the chorus, "Let's get to the point/let's roll another joint." (I'd even make the argument that Petty's work in the last ten years has been aversely affected by, at the very least, steady marijuana use. In fact, I think I have made that argument here before.)

posted by Anon. 9:47 PM



The wire is carrying a story that Howie Epstein, bass player for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers since 1982's Hard Promises, has been kicked out of the band for personal problems.

Epstein, you might remember, is the long-term unmarried love of Carlene Carter, who is, take a deep breath, the daughter of June Carter Cash, the stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, and the ex-wife of Nick Lowe. Last year, Carter and Epstein were pulled over by authorities in New Mexico, who claimed both that they had stolen the vehicle they were driving and that they had black tar heroin and paraphenelia in the car. Uh oh.

The charges were dismissed. But so, it seems, has Epstein now been dismissed from the band. Epstein, aside from being one of rock and roll's most prominent members of The Tribe, was also responsible for producing John Prine's fantastic Missing Years album, as well as its more spotty follow-up, Lost Dogs and Missed Blessings.

This would seem to leave the Heartbreakers as just Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, and omnipresent master organist Benmont Tench. (Drummer Stan Lynch was fired in 1994, and he was never replaced by a permanent drummer.) You would think. But no, here's where things get stranger: apparently on the Heartbreakers' next tour, bass will be played by... Ron Blair, the bassist of Petty's first three albums, who amicably left the band after either Damn the Torpedoes or the one after that, I forget.

The strangest thing about both Lynch and Epstein's departures is that both of them had logged in a ton of years in the band -- it's strange that they'd be kicked out like that. It's one thing for Bruce Springsteen to part ways with Vinnie "Mad Dog" Lopez after his first record or two, but what Petty's done is essentially similar to if Bruce suddenly kicked, I don't know, Danny Federici or Gary Tallent out of the band after all their years of service.

posted by Anon. 6:50 PM

Though my posting has been remiss of late, I've been receiving many juicy emails from loyal Palmermix readers. On the subject of TV theme songs, Stanton Swihart offers these thoughts:
First, you're right about Mike Post on all counts. Rockford is also my personal favorite (Quincy Jones' theme to Sanford & Son, though, almost trumps it in terms of funk quotient). And, yeah, he's something of a genius for gritty, hard-boiled tunes. His other TV credits include Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, Magnum P.I., The A-Team, Law & Order, Quantum Leap and NYPD Blue. He also was once musical director for The Andy Williams Show, backed such stalwarts as Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin, played guitar on Sonny & Cher's "I Got You," worked with Dolly Parton and Wanda Jackson, and produced First Edition's wretched "I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" (but for that the blame sits squarely on the brawny shoulders of Kenny Rogers).

Other winners for me (though it's difficult to separate aesthetic from nostalgic reasons): Dallas, Dukes of Hazzard, Fat Albert, Hawaii 5-0, Max Headroom, Quincey M.E., The Electric Company and The Streets of San Francisco (my favorite Mancini). As for current favorites, there is the punkish Buffy theme for pure energy, but even more fetching is Angel, with its dark, broodingly lyrical cello opening. I have no idea who is responsible for either one.
Quincy Jones' "Sanford and Son" theme is great, and great enough that it was included in the recent anthology of the history of African-American music that Rhino released a year or two ago (Say It Loud may be title, I forget) that Craig Werner did liner notes for. Hill Street Blues and Quantum Leap are my favorites of the ones that Stanton mentioned.

I had no idea that Mike Post played on "I Just Checked In," which, of course, serves as the backing track for one of The Big Lebowski's most memorable scenes. You learn something new everyday!

posted by Anon. 11:55 AM
Political Boss

Springsteen Says No To Candidacy
The Associated Press
May 16 2002 1:34PM
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Bruce Springsteen decided he wasn't born to run for political office after all.

Doug Friedline, a consultant who helped professional wrestler Jesse Ventura win the Minnesota governor's race in 1998, had hoped to recruit Springsteen to run as an independent in November's U.S. Senate race. The Boss would have faced off against incumbent Sen. Robert Torricelli, a Democrat, and whichever Republican emerges from the June 4 primary.

However, a spokeswoman for the 52-year-old singer told the Asbury Park Press of Neptune on Wednesday that he had no desire to seek office. In a statement sent to the newspaper, Springsteen paraphrased a rebuff by Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to the GOP convention of 1884: ``If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve.''

Friedline, who also served as campaign manager for the unsuccessful New Jersey gubernatorial bid last year of then-state Sen. Bill Schluter, said volunteers from Schluter's campaign thought of drafting Springsteen because they think the current contest is boring.

The coalition calling itself ``The Independence for New Jersey'' had launched a petition drive to get the 800 signatures of registered voters required by June 4 to place Springsteen on the ballot.

posted by Anon. 11:00 AM

Light posting these last few days has been due to having my mother in town. Good times have been had. She leaves to go back to DC today at 11 AM. Frequent posting will resume soon after.

A friend in the Springsteen camp reports that if there hasn't been already, there will soon be a statement explaining that Bruce has "not even a remote interest" in running for office. If nominated, he will not run; if elected, he will not serve. Though I have to say, though I like the image of Springsteen telling Don Nichols and Mitch McConnell off, I like the image of Bruce on tour or in the recording studio much more. And also like the image of Bob Torricelli, easily my least favorite non-Southern Democrat, out on the street.

posted by Anon. 7:19 AM


Senator Bruce

The strangest news of the morning is this news from the Reuters wire, taken from CNN.com:

Was 'The Boss' born to run...for U.S. Senate?
Some in New Jersey put out call for Sen. Springsteen
May 14, 2002 Posted: 11:47 PM EDT (0347 GMT)

TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) -- A group of New Jersey political activists fed up with the usual crop of political candidates announced a plan Tuesday to draft rock star Bruce Springsteen to run for the U.S. Senate as a true representative of the state.

With guidance from Doug Friedline, a former 1998 campaign aide to heavyweight-wrestler-turned-Minnesota-Gov. Jesse Ventura, the group called "Independence for New Jersey" launched a signature drive to put Springsteen on the general election ballot.

They need only 800 signatures. But there is a big problem: No one has talked to Springsteen about the idea.

Friedline was not discouraged. "It took us seven months to get Jesse Ventura to run," he said. "If Bruce Springsteen threw his hat in the ring and made a real serious run at this, I think you'd see thousands of volunteers coming out from all over the place."

Political analysts said the announcement was less a grass-roots groundswell of support for Springsteen as native son than it was an attempt by Ventura supporters to set up a third party in New Jersey.

The state Senate race currently features incumbent Democrat Robert Torricelli and three Republican candidates -- millionaire businessman Doug Forrester and state senators Diane Allen and John Matheussen -- who all face each other in the June 4 primary.

Springsteen, known as "The Boss" among rock fans, would offer a number of advantages as a political candidate, including name recognition and popularity among younger voters.

Springsteen, whose songs often celebrate the blue-collar spirit of his youth in Freehold, New Jersey, now lives in the upscale community of Rumson near the northern end of the Jersey shore. The committee tried to reach him as long ago as December but has heard nothing.

Bob Torricelli should be very worried. But not too worried -- I don't see Bruce having any interest whatsoever in the Senate. And to compare Jesse Ventura to Springsteen....

posted by Anon. 7:53 AM


Baby baby baby

Speaking of Robert Bradley, another fine track from his catalog is "Baby." There are a lot of great songs in the history of popular music that make much use of this term of endearment. "Baby I Love You" by the Shirelles, possibly my favorite song of the Phil Spector school. "Baby I Love You," no relation, the Aretha Franklin song, with one of the better grooves that Aretha ever set to acetate. The Pretenders' "My Baby," one of Chrissie Hynde's most upbeat numbers. "Santa Baby," the classic soul Christmas song, later redone by Madonna on the first Very Special Christmas record. "Baby Mine," everyone's favorite elephant lullaby, covered by Bonnie Raitt on the Disney Stay Awake record. "Baby I Love Your Way" by Frampton; "Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears.

And a gajillion more. One of my favorite Lester Bangs' pieces -- preserved in Psychotic Reactions and Carubrator Dung, the back-in-print anthology that Greil Marcus edited a few years after Bangs died -- is his review of a Barry White concert, where he describes the corpulent Mr. White coming out and just muttering "baby" a hundred million times into a microphone.

According to this piece in the New York Times Magazine from this past Sunday, Mr. White now has a competitor to the Baby throne. Yes, young soul singer Ashanti apparently sings Baby on her latest record more than anyone has ever sang/said it before on a single CD. Now that's an achievement.

posted by Anon. 6:53 PM
Kid Rock

Jon Pareles takes on Kid Rock in the New York Times today. I don't like Kid Rock's own records, but he did some great work producing the second Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise record, Time to Discover, particularly the song, "Tramp." I've always found Roebrt Bradley to be the jam band set's Ted Hawkins, without near as interesting a voice, but "Tramp" is a very, very good song.

posted by Anon. 6:42 PM
50 States of Rock and Roll
South Carolina

50 States! 50 Songs! 50 Musicians!

Okay. Let's head down South. South Carolina. Now, the problem with Carolina songs is figuring out which one they're singing about. North? South? You have to listen for the little clues -- a mention of a highway, or town, or topography. Maybe do a little research as to which state the songwriter hailed from.

Or you can be lazy, and just choose as your song o' choice a song that makes it damn clear which Carolina it's talking about. I have just the song in mind.

"In South Carolina, there are many tall pines. I remember the oak trees that we used to climb," sings Gram Parsons in his most famous song (which, this being Gram Parsons, isn't very famous at all), an evocative memory piece called "Hickory Wind." You can find "Hickory Wind" on the Byrds box set, or on Gram's solo records, which are available on one disc.

Or you can find Gillian Welch and David Rawlings' pretty and stark version (which pretty much are the adjectives one usually uses when describing Welch's music, pretty and stark) on the Return of the Grievous Angel tribute record of a couple years back.

Alaska: "Anchorage," Michelle Shocked
California: "California Stars," Billy Bragg and Wilco
Indiana: "Goin' Back to Indiana," Jackson Five
Kentucky: "Paradise," John Prine
Massachusetts: "Dirty Water," The Standells
Nevada: "Viva Las Vegas," Elvis Presley
North Dakota: "North Dakota," Lyle Lovett
Oregon: "Alameda," Elliott Smith
South Carolina: "Hickory Wind," Gram Parsons
South Dakota: "Day of the Locusts," Bob Dylan
Utah: "The Promised Land," Bruce Springsteen

posted by Anon. 12:15 AM


No, Luciano

In case you hadn't heard, Luciano Pavarotti is coming under huge fire for failing to show up for two performances at the Met in NYC. The tickets are non-refundable; the audience and the opera community are, understandably, angry. Luciano claims he has the flu.

You know you're on the outs though when the New York Post takes you apart on their cover. "Fat Man Won't Sing," read the headline.

Luciano, in a desperate bid to mobilize publicists before he becomes known as public enemy number one (too late) released this letter to his fans:
I am writing, because today I have influenza, a common disease which would mean nothing were I not a tenor.

This virus has unfortunately forced me to cancel two performances of ``Tosca'' scheduled at the New York Metropolitan Opera, a theater and audience which are very dear to me and that have provided some of the most unforgettable emotions and experiences of my whole career.

From some of the newspaper reports, it seems almost as if my cancellation were considered something of a betrayal or a weakness, not to show up on that stage and undertake the profession to which I have dedicated almost my entire life.

A proper vocal condition is the basic rule for any singing performance; without it, no matter how much willingness, talent, discipline or passion there is, it is simply impossible to offer the public the performance for which they have paid. With influenza, your vocal skills are dictated to and you have no control over it.

I was looking forward to this ``Tosca'' with so much excitement and, as always, with a little trepidation: I have performed the role of Cavaradossi an endless number of times, but every performance is like a box where you discover a unique treasure of emotions, leaving invaluable memories.

The media seems to imply that the New York opera public will not forgive my cancellation. But forgiveness assumes that one has made a mistake; no matter how much I regret with a passion not being able to sing at the Met on this occasion, catching the flu was certainly not a willful mistake I made.

Yours sincerely

Luciano Pavarotti
I don't think that's going to be good enough. Me thinks some free Luciano concerts are in the future.

No word yet as to whether Luciano will be releasing a public statement apologizing for Yes, Giorgio!

posted by Anon. 8:00 AM

Took my mother yesterday to mass at St. Agatha's down near South Central. Beautiful homily all about Mother's Day, and the choir proved the theory that a gospel choir can make anything sound good when they took the awful Celine Dion/Diane Warren song, "Because You Loved Me," and turned it into something rather nice. They also did "You are So Beautiful," in a version that would make even Joe Cocker stand still.

There's a nice piece on the wires about the Blind Boys of Alabama. Their Spirit of the Century of last year is a pretty good record, especially their cover of Ben Harper's "Give a Man a Home."

But the best thing I've ever heard them do is "Dimming of the Day" on a Richard Thompson tribute record which is, unexplainedly, out of print.

posted by Anon. 7:54 AM