Retrying Hated Things

on Tuesday, April 22, 2008



When I was in second grade the art teacher would put us to work on a project, like wrapping paste laden string around balloons or working with tempera paints, and while we were busy working she would turn on the record player. In my memory we only had two records, one was Little Willie Won't Go Home by Sweet, the other was Killing Me Softly (with His Song) by Roberta Flack. Every day we had art class we listened to those two records over and over again. I learned to despise those two songs and for years afterward would turn the radio to a different station upon hearing the first few notes.

Every once in a while I like to force myself to retry something I don't like, every couple of years or so I try a bite of raw tomato on the off chance that maybe my tastes have changed. I still don't like them. I do the same with music. If a song comes on the radio that I previously didn't like, I will force myself to listen to it to see if I was right about it the first time.

I remember driving back from somewhere up in Northern Minnesota and Little Willie Won't Go Home came on the radio. I resisted the urge to change the station and listened to it. I can see why it became popular, it has a great "hook," but it's still a stupid song. So I was right about that one, for me at least.

I was playing my guitar the other day, strumming songs out of the Real Book, when I came across the song I Feel Like Makin' Love as sung by Roberta Flack. I played it, sang it a little and had some fun putting my own spin on the melody. That got me thinking about Killing Me Softly, so I looked it up online. I was way off on that one, it's not a shitty song at all, I just got tired of it through sheer repetition. I bought it off iTunes.

That has lead me into the world of Roberta Flack, who I had never really listened to at all, for obvious reasons. Turns out that Killing Me Softly won her a whole curio cabinet full of Grammys for song of the year (1971), album of the year, female performer of the year, etc. (Hmmm, kind of like Amy Winehouse at this year's ceremony.) I looked her up online, half expecting to find either an obituary or a "where are they now?" article, but she looks young, healthy and beautiful and she's still performing and recording.

So retrying hated things has paid off this time. But I don't think I'll be trying tomatoes any time soon.

RIP Chris Mitchell

on Tuesday, April 15, 2008



I received news tonight that Chris Mitchell died on Friday the 11th of April. He was one of the people who first interviewed me for my job at KVSC, waaaay back in 1983. In recent years he had formed his own marketing business and employed a friend of my roommate's. He left behind four children and one grand daughter.

Back in the mid-80's, there was a power struggle at KVSC between the folks that wanted it to become a Top 40 station and those of us who wanted it to be an alternative source of music and news. Chris was in the middle. Ultimately, he sided with the alternative camp and was therefore indirectly responsible for what KV is today.

Chris was 44 years old. I just turned 44 a couple of weeks ago. Man, if that doesn't put the frailty and temporary nature of life into sharp focus... it is really a sobering thought and it makes me think of the people I would leave behind if it had been me in that accident instead of him.

George, Richard, Scott and Ann who have been at the very heart of my musical adventures for the past umpteen years, and who share my love of creativity. Jeff, who is my counterpart, business partner, friend and confidant. Nathan and Cari, who take care of me and love me. Ken, Gretchen, Erin & Lauren, my newest family, who consistently amaze me with their immense talent, creativity and warmth. My nephews, Robb, Mike and Tyler who are such a source of comfort and wonder. My brothers Mark & Brian, and my sister Kathy who are such a wonderful source of encouragement, support and love. Jewel, my dearest friend for almost 25 years...

And Kate, my dearest, who I love more than anything.

The bond I feel for each of them is very special and very important to me.

I am deeply saddened at the death of Chris. Even though I hadn't spoken to him in years, I respected who he had become and his obvious love of what he did and, more importantly, the people in his life.

RIP, Chris. You will be missed.

Bridge Over Troubled Water, part V: the End

on Saturday, April 5, 2008



Well, it's over … for 2008, at least. We closed the show in Zumbrota last night in front of a sold out house in a 90 year old theater. We had a really good show, the audience was very responsive and everything sounded really good.

Last week's mini-run of Pet Sounds took a lot out of Jeff and me. Nature seemed just fine, but we were both tired and over-extended, vocally speaking. That morning was the first time in a week that I actually felt good, up until then I'd had a very strained set of vocal cords. Those of us who know him realized that Jeff was really holding on for dear life whilst singing the title track. He said he concentrated on every vocal lesson he'd ever had so that he could remain in control. He did and it was great -- not his best, but great nonetheless.

It was so nice to come back to such a comfortable show. Pet Sounds is like playing some kind of orchestral piece, everything has to be note for note and perfect. BOTW, on the other hand, has a lot more rock-n-roll to it, despite the fact that it is a folk album, and rock is a lot more forgiving of small errors. The title track, So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Boxer and Song for the Asking all require great concentration, glossing over any part of them would make the performance suffer. But on the rest of the album you can relax and have fun!

The run at the Pioneer Place was wonderful, of course, but the State Theatre in Zumbrota has a charm about it. In both places, seventeen musicians and a multitude of instruments take of a lot of stage space and we are jammed in pretty tight, but I could hear things in Zumbrota that I couldn't hear in St. Cloud. The strings players singing backups on The Only Living Boy in New York were just wonderful, I had seen them, but couldn't hear them in St. Cloud. Although I heard it every night of the run, Richard's backstage "So long, already!" during So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright was particularly clear at the State.

I am amazed, once again, by the level of musicianship of the people I know. None of the albums we've done have been walks in the park and each one presents its own challenges. It is our job to rise to that challenge and I am astounded by the lengths we will go to in order to achieve our goal. Gretchen played the trumpet and Erin played the trombone (shit, Erin learned the trombone just for the show!), I learned the charango, Al Asmus dug up a bass saxophone, everybody wore multiple hats, from multi-instrumentalist to background singer ... and at the end of the night everybody stuck around and helped the sound guys wrap cords and load out. They commented to us that nobody does that. It just seems to be the right thing to do, I think.

It will feel good to have a few days to decompress, we've all been concentrating pretty hard for the last month or two and a little down time is very welcome. The next challenge is to re-learn Abbey Road and to try to make it even better -- we've learned so much since we first did that album! But I hope we revisit BOTW, that album is such an old friend to me! I'm sure this isn't the end, but only time will tell.