Friday, February 02, 2018

A Dangerous Business: from Terpander to Tom Petty, the hazards of falling off the rock'n'roll stage

They say it comes in threes. The death chime. That's what they say. When three celebrities die in a row, in terms of the news cycle, they say, that's an omen. So they say. But if you were in the insurance business, well then, let's just look at the law of averages. Getting the facts, using, for example, math, one realizes the omen was missing a digit. If you simply ask "starting when?" in discussing the law of threes, one actually actuaries it out to an endless string of celebrity deaths. In fact, death et large is always booming. Yet as the calculation narrows into evermore focus, you have to admit, in fact it's almost, just almost, beyond logic. When it comes to musicians, why do the good die so young?

The first "starting when" takes us back to ancient Greece, to a story of a famed lyre player by the name of Terpander, who was essentially the Mozart of his age. What made him unusual was his popularity. He had become a true super star in the emergent stadiums-made-of-stone industry, kept things hummable, simple, yet breaking out all kinds of new chord patterns and arrangements, making him also one of the great musical innovators of his time. Greek society had developed to the point where folks had time for songs, as opposed to fighting off natural disasters, the hordes, or, famine, and the performance venues were drawing crowds.

During his concerts for large numbers of drunk people in what can only be imagined as a new kind of bacchanlian fest among the masses, Terpander was, in addition to being the so-called "father of greek music," especially lyric poetry on the lyre, which he had basically Jack White-ed his four-string lyre into a seven-string ... Terpander was a public spectacle, introducing songs influenced by other lands, known far and wide for his drinking tunes. Summoned to play by the Delphic Oracle, he gained the big Grammy at a festival in Carneia, held in Sparta in honor of Apollo Carneus. However, as that old saying goes, then comes the drugs and alcohol and the trappings of fame. According to "Terpander is said to have died, around Skiades ("shady place"of the Carneia), by choking on a fig when the fruit was thrown in appreciation of one of his performances."

So now let's flash forward 2,700 years, and you are now back safely from a Marilyn Manson concert. Chances are you likely know the original date in September was delayed. After an accident last fall, when, during a show in London, a stage sculpture featuring two crossing giant pistols, collapsed on him after he had tried to climb it, sending him to the hospital, lights out, on a stretcher. Then, of course, there's the news of old Tom Petty. Just what is it that made that one so sad? It's more than him simply the kid that got to hang out with the grizzled Wilburys. There was a teenager in healthy rebellion with Petty that will always live on with his music, if not even his own fate, overdosing on pain killer fentanol after taking his space ship out one last time like a Ulysses who knew perfectly well what the price might be for heading out to the sea again at age 65 for one more victorious Heartbreakers tour, knowing fully well he could return home in just what kind of shape, exactly, who knew?

Looking at these two starting whens, we must ask: What is this tendancy for rock stars to have so many deaths, mishaps and other generally woeful endings?

A performer who goes by the name of Ray, a Sedona resident who leads a crack Jethro Tull cover band, Living With the Past, to the point of being good enough to gaining the attention of Ian Anderson, and after having many years of those kinds of contacts in the music industry, sums it up right down to pure physics: "Electricity."

"Over the last few years alone, how many musicians have died," he says. "And why are they always dying so young?" It's the stress of the "lifestyle," he says, "and always being around this electrical field while you are on stage. It screws their system up, which is one of the things of why weird things happen and how dangerous it is."

Certainly fits the early 1970s, when a rash of deaths to Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and the godfather of electrification, Jimi Hendrix, found a new generation of performers unable to contain the energies they unleashed, the spirit of lifting off the stage for some higher purpose, driving wild engines with ancient drums into the space age with supercharged guitars and the never-ending need to feed off heavy fuels to answer the bell, to get the Mojo runnin'.

Life on the road can be loaded with mishaps due to mere chaos theory. Bad food. Strange stages, steps, lighting situations, lack of sleep, complete lack of orientation in a city you can only make a bad guess at the name.

As Brandon Decker says, "I did have a rollover accident on tour once. Band member ejected from vehicle, broke a bone in her neck, airlifted etc. In terms of on stage never anything too crazy other than the occassional electric shock."

Mama told you not to go to the bars with guns in tow for a reason. The underworld of the rock'n'roller also makes it a dangerous business. Says another Flagstaff musician, Donivan Berube, "I've never been injured or experienced a stage collapse, but have been robbed twice on the road. Once was in Washington, D.C., when someone broke into our tour van while we were inside the venue playing the show. You can always count on losing your voice and getting sick on the road as well, traveling all day, every day, meeting new people, sleeping in strange places and exhausting your body. Once I stayed with a friend-of-a-friend who ended up being a drug dealer, and asked me to sell ecstasy at my own show. In the morning I snuck my gear down the fire escape so as to avoid talking to him."

However, these are acts of wisdom. Good suvival skills.

"Besides the regular old rickety stages and sketchy electrical systems," says Andrew Baker of Summit Dub Squad and Tha 'Yoties, "We love playing outdoor shows, festivals, etc., and more times than I can remember, as soon as we bust out the Native American flute, the clouds gather ... We've played many a set amongst monsoon rains ... technically terribly hazardous, but spiritually uplifting and rejuvenating, especially when the crowd keeps dancing in the rain!

"Also, playing anything but country music at country bars could prove dangerous, but we have been able to blast 'em with the SDS funky dub hop and Tha 'Yoties Irie-Zona Reggae Rock without incident so far!"

The sheer violence of rock, explains a lot. Not just rock, though, but revolutionary music. Since Beethoven caused riots with his early symphonies, amped up, as they were, in those orchestral days.

"Tull sold out a show at Red Rocks and people were trying to to get in and got into a riot at the gates," Ray says. "It got to the point police had to tear gas a crowd. He was singing during a show in New York when some idiot threw a rose at Ian right in the eye and ripped it open. He had to immediately go to the hospital and they had to do minor surgery." 

Here's another Ian Anderson story related by Ray, who met him in Denver at a hotel while Jethro Tull was on tour: "We are in a room and he says,'Ray, do you see how I'm standing here? With my back to the wall. I've been told by security people to do that. So you always know what's around you, and no one can come back from behind you.' "

Musicians who lead insanely clean lives, under the circumstances, are most assuredly among those who endure, including Tull's Anderson. Ray says the classic rock icon, as well as someone like Frank Zappa (who nonetheless died of cancer), "were two of the craziest musicians in the world but they were straight as an arrow."

There you have it, a 50-50 split. Guess the good insurance agent would put it all down to how Roger Daltrey started singing in the Who's "Quadrophenia": "Do you see the real me, Doctor?"

This article appeared previously in Flagstaff Live.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Blighty of the Grand Canyon: Has Disneylandification Peaked in Northern Arizona?

When Walt Disney first walked the rocks of Sedona, although says the origins of Mickey Mouse are "unclear," the inspiration for that iconic figure for the biggest media empire in the 21st century is, in fact, quite clear. It's a cactus, plain and simple. Explains the big ears. And in the time since he launched his animated film juggernaut, an entire chain of events has been unleashed, perhaps described as the dance of a sidewinder snake in and out of the dreamscape of the American imagination.

It is no small thing to look at a cactus and envision a mouse. It's positively anthropomorphic. Heat stroke will do that. Altitude, too, if you are not careful. The Diz was an ambulance driver in Europe by Armistice Day during World War I, and there are legends of morphine use. He was a drinker and a heavy smoker. But that could hardly explain what he did in the making of Disneyland, thinking of it as a kind of futuristic embodiment of what is now a global meme for the implied perfect experience of getting away from it all. By absorbing the entire American experience and bringing it right back home to you. On a zillion or so acres of electro-kinetic fun with moving parts, plus plenty of room for parking. You get the trains moving through Victorian age architecture, old gold and silver mining cars gone wild, the log flumes, the daring exploits of gravitational overload, ducks and dogs that talk, bears that jamboree, dinosaurs that blink, the biz!

Can we just set aside the overculture of Disney now as a symbol of American imperialism? Let's just let the French think that for the time being.

Few things, however, can be more dizzying than simply standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Which is more to the point: Disneynification was at first, to the very naval core of the idea, northern Arizona-ified. The theme park that truly exists is natural. The Disney crossover from dream into reality essentially morphed the experiential history of the Western United States onto the vast acres of Anaheim, California. But in recent years the mind set of the Diz is bouncing out
 into the boonies again.

One can only guess what hallucinogens were in play to even consider putting an escalator from some isolated high desert plateau down thousands of feet to an even now cold and ravaging river. It was a remarkable idea, to say the least. But the public debate got it right, for once. It was a very Disney thing to imagine. No small thing, most assuredly. Considering they had the funds and backers to build it: Wow, do people have money to burn. And it was a very practical thing to dismiss 
by resounding no vote.

But before Walt Disney wrought all of that which the tide is now turning on, there were already things like the Verde Canyon Railroad. By the time Disney was a teen that world was well beyond mere imagining and almost passe as the 20th century became the century of the automobile. Snaking back into the Verde Canyon, there is only one railroad there for a reason. Lowell Observatory, on the other hand, was most certainly the seed of Disney's futurism, at least in the broad swathe of his times. The tram up the slopes of Snow Bowl are yet again an example. The rush of rafting through the canyons, another.

There comes a point the number of amenities available on these delicate landscapes, fragile ecosystems, such as they are, to human intrusion, are now sufficient. No more are needed. Hard enough, in fact, to keep the ones available up and running (see ski industry). 

Nothing less than great fabled Flinstoneland of "Bedrock City," which has been out there where the streets have no name to the left of the San Francisco Peaks since 1972, stands as a monument and testament to the American idea of building it and they will come. Just 30 miles from the Grand Canyon's South Rim, the 6-acre tourist attraction, including concrete houses suitable for Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series from the 1960s, a giant brontosaurus slide and statues of the shows characters. The owner Linda Speckles put the place up for sale at $2 million, but so far no takers. With the owners intent on preserving the roadside attraction, still doing brisk business as of last weekend, remain a hold out for the right buyer.

The fact is, northern Arizona is pretty Disneylanded out.

President Theodore Roosevelt, on the importance of the national park for preservation, stated in using executive power to preserve it, "I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, or hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. you cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."

Obviously, that advice wasn't followed. But it's time to print it again. In case the current Administration reads it. As the late Edward Abbey wrote, "Growth for it's own sake is the psychology of the cancer cell." Maybe mother nature is theme park enough, with those bells and whistles just whispers in the much bigger winds of change.

This article originally appeared in Flagstaff Live, the arts and entertainment weekly for the Arizona Daily Sun.

Friday, December 29, 2017

I am Flobot: By the time you get this message, the zombie apocalypse will be a little less real

Danger! Danger Will and Wilma Robinsons! Danger! This warning is being sent to you in order to maintain truth in advertising since the system is so unforgiving. Should you receive this message just know, fair readers, spinning on the planet known as Earth, currently moving through space at 75,000 miles per hour, Johny5 of the Flobots was there, is there, will be there, moving for all eternity. In fact, current conditions indicate the situation at hand is, in some small, perhaps even large part, his fault.

The year is 2008. Barrack Obama is not yet president of the nation at the time known as the United States of America ... blink. We have transported you to Denver, Colorado, where the band is based, in order to show you some reasons to be thankful during the holidays. Do not adjust your set. We have assumed control.

Denver. A half-year, perhaps, before the Democratic National Convention. Up and down Colfax Street, the longest and straightest street on American soil, all of the good people are a-hub-bub about the new Flobots album, "Fight with Tools," which offers the track, "Handlebars," currently on the classic rock playlist all of the way to Star Date 2223. The circular play device called a CD could be purchased in indoor spaces Earthlings called record stores. Words sung from that title track for the album were as follows:

"Echo, echo, one-nine
Hear the call through fault lines
Smoke signals, old rhymes
Shorted lights in store signs
Spelled in a broken code
Find that it is time to
Breathe, build, bend, and refine you
We sky tenants
Give it all but won't give up
Radio soul antennas
Radio to lift spirits
Call sign commando
M.O. is independence
Scream 'til the walls fall
Dissolve all the limits"

And then, the chorus:

"We need heroes
Build them
Don't put your fist up
Fill them
Fight with our hopes and our hearts and our hands
We're the architects of our last stand"

And dissolve they did, indeed. In the cafes and bars and restaurants along that main long row heading east or west on Denver's compromised plain at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, there were all kinds of forms, or lack thereof, of authority. In fact, "Question authority" was the biggest bumper sticker of the age. It was time to Re-Recreate '68, as one of that town's main grass roots advocacy groups called themselves. 

The album cover features artwork of the members of the band wearing red, white and blue bandanas covering their faces, very much like the revolutionaries of southern Mexico. Now, as Oscar Wilde once said, "If a man puts on a mask he will tell you the truth." And so, this Flobots album is visceral and intense in its truthiness. Definitely not the kind of music you wanna play on a date.

"There is a war going on for your mind," Johny5 sings, and that's not the kind of thing you want to say if you want a kiss. That's the kind of thing you say when you are trying to ignite a revolution. The music starts with the crackles of an old analog record player, the plaintive violin brandishing swords of anger, insurgency, and most of all, a tragic sensibility. Then the hip hop of it all is throwing words at the listener, as the form is now taking on a kind of symphonic complexity, much in the same way that Camper Van Beethoven turned the three-minute college radio ditty into a sprouting organic lotus flower 20 years before.

In the time since then, well, truth has become an adjective instead of a noun. And the tools for fighting seem to be running the show.

Just one example is the song "By the Time You Get This Message," where he sings:

"The stars I see aren't even there.
It's only light in the air."

The track has a muscular bass line as the band rips through a rumination about the passage of time when using those tools providing communication across great distances in real time. Johny5 says the song is about how the message he had just sent might be received by a woman he was seeing at the time, but was about to leave the country, and he was trying to convince her not to do so.

"That's from a moment when I was in college and there was this wonderful woman I had a brief connection with," he says. "I was at the airport during a six-hour layover and I was considering how far it was to where she was going. The first verse is imaginary, and has her actual voice on the song explaining why this isn't going to work. And then there's this delayed response, with me saying, 'I don't know when you will get this.'"

Another example of this trouble with tools, "technical difficulties" at the Flobot station made the first shot at a telephone interview.

"Technology and the internet ... we are being driven mad by them," says Johny5 from Laramie, Wyoming at 9 a.m. while on tour. "We are actually training ourselves to not be able to focus or think in depth."

To correct that imbalance, the new Flobots album, "Noenemies" is a prescription for bringing the people of dissent into clearer focus. Released earlier this year, it encourages "community singing, collective singing." Indeed, many of the new songs have an anthemic quality. Stuff to be sung together, in least in the choruses, by those within listening distance.

"'Noenemies' has the feeling of a lot of group singing, but it takes a different form whenever it appears," he says.

This style of performance brings Johny5 back to his roots as the son of a Presbyterian minister in Denver.

"The First Presbyterian Church, that was part of my upbringing," he says. "A whole lot of songs we did came from hip hop worship services. We wrote songs for church services that embraced our own art to express lamentation, a sense of vision."

It's a question of balance. He says there is a difference between the outrage of the band's musical style, and how he is the rest of the day. The Flobot is merely the mask.

"It's something you can see on stage, the urgency, but then there's daily life," he says. "We have tried to look at ourselves as a part of a social movement and there's a kind of spectrum of emotions you go through. You are expecting to change everything one day, and then it seems like at that point it's going to change, but then it doesn't change that day. We try to deal with all of those things on the new album. It's about the full spectrum of these kinds of emotions."

Because dammit Jim, he may be a Flobot, but the man is not a robot.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Money for something, kittens for free: Austin-based Free Kittens and Bread serve up DIY ethics and a bracing sound

You have to admire the utilitarian nature of Chase Sprueill of Free Kittens and Bread. This is an Austin-based post-punk band patched together for a purpose, hard as it might be to grasp. As their latest straightforward single and video "Brainless" so faithfully expresses, it's pretty hard to see meaning in a universe amidst the fog of war called "life." Are women and alcohol to blame? Well of course they are!

Sprueill is a found art guy. He collects random things. And the interesting fact about their randomness is that, if that found thing catches on, you really have to wonder just how random everything is. For example, he says he found the name of the band from a sign alongside the road: It stated "Free Kittens and Bread." He appropriated it, kept it for a few years, and then he and his mates (Mark Hawley, guitar; Gabe Garca, drums and backing vocals; Kaci Taylor, bass and backing vocals) thought that would be a good name for the band. So as the years roll on, you might go, 'Wow, that sounds so like Free Kittens and Bread,' when the fact is the moniker had absolutely nothing to do with anything.

"You know how it goes: One person's trash is another person's treasure," Sprueill says. "I've done my fair share of dumpster diving ... About eight or nine years ago I was in a really shitty punk band. Mark and I were driving around in my hometown (Denton, Texas), and I saw this sign, 'Free Kittens and Bread.' They had kittens all around and loads of free bread on a table. I stole one of the signs and I still have it."

The song "Brainless" doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel. It's loud and penetrating once the guitars and voices kick in. It's about a drinking binge, very college radio. But it's undeniably catchy, true to form, especially if you want to blow out your eardrums and lose all sense of what's going on around you.

What's going on around Sprueill these days is Austin, a music capitol of the world. A place so ubiquitous with musicians and all the rest, one might think Stevie Ray Vaughan was merely describing overpopulation with the song, "Texas Flood."

As Sprueill puts it: "There's a saying here that goes something like: 'If you toss a nickel, you're bound to hit a great musician.' Something like that. Another good example: I've been on roughly nine or ten tours so far, and every single time I'm on the road, I always meet someone who asks me about a band that they know from Austin. I've been around here for a bit, and I know a lot of bands here, but every single time, I have never heard of the band that they know. The kicker is that the band is always a popular band that seems to be doing well (when I look them up later). That happens on the road a lot. Also, with food in Austin  ... The music thing has gone on here pretty much the way I imagined it would. I would go to all of the open mics, go to the shows and there would be maybe 34 people in the audience. I would go, 'Okay, that's the level of talent I'm up against. I will work toward that.'"

If you see a tall person, don't ever ask them if they played basketball. But, if you must, ask Sprueill, of German and Irish descent, so he's got that razor wit and engineer's capacity for getting the broken spaceship back into working order. He's six-foot-seven and was a large point-guard in high school in Denton, eventually getting a scholarship at Southern Arkansas University, where he studied film and "didn't really take music all that seriously."

His music endeavors began in a "half-built" shack in his father's back yard. Sprueill became interested in the DIY music movement, studied the subject all that he could, and bought a guitar, amp and microphone, hooking it all up into his laptop. He started recording using

The new Free Kittens and Bread album, "American Miserablist (," was shaped by a breakup, as well as a kind of sadness about the world situation at large. "It was a little bit of two things: Working my way out of a relationship; I was drinking a ton and was trying to figure out how to deal with it."
If it's all so miserable, why even pursue it? Where and when does it all make perfect sense?
"Pursuing a career as a band doesn't really make sense at all, if you want to live comfortably, anyway," he says."But I would say touring. Touring tests you as a person and as a band. It makes sense to honestly challenge yourself in whatever you choose to pursue in life. It's the only way to find out if you truly want to pursue it."

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Impact Church musical all-stars: If they aren't the best unheard of band in Arizona, you are unforgiven

Maybe 100 yards from the Impact Church complex, you can hear the music. It's in the wind. But then another jet goes by, zoom! When that din dies again the audio broadcasted through speakers placed outside get more and more audible as you get closer. It sounds like more than one track is being played at once. Then you go by greeters, people handing out the flyer for the day, and then, after maybe coffee of many kinds from a machine, more donuts available than recommended safe by the FDA, you enter the main auditorium and are led to a seat, like you have just arrived just a tad late for the opera.

Sure, the vanilla cappucino is gone. Tapped. Kaput. So are the men who were all quite here the weekend before. But the Arizona Cardinals are playing on the road right now. That means the crowd this weekend, mainly female, is hardcore present. Which is good for that messianic, not-part-of-this-world vibe. There's fruit too to pick from this tree. Apples, bananas ... as well as Scottsdale Police officers in full body gear, hanging out ... but the main thing at the beginning of this last set of four shows is the 10-piece band, drums. two keyboards, bass, three guitars and three background singers. Then pastor Travis Hearn moves in for the kill with some vry basic, tree-stump humorist-slash-preacher rael sang for the common man.

But the band is tearing it up right now. It barely matters what the lyrics are since all rock'n'soul comes from gospel and the blues, anyway, all going back to Africa. But the visuals, oh, it's all so overwhelming. Two large video screens on either side of the stage, blasting the message of this medium: That God rocks. Jesus loves the Beatles. You rock for being here. Please broadcast that to the rest of the world, via social media. The images and messages keep coming as the lyrics sung go by on the screen, then more prompts "Instagram your #Impact Church" or "Culture Shock," or watch this at "" And then, there's the red star, as opposed to a cross with Jesus on it, to focus the mind's eye on. Yeah, Impact Church is well named. This is some kind of new set of sensory overload commandments. Enter, and try to resist its power and glory.

"It's all very missional," says band leader Jordan Coleman. "We are aimed at people who are unchurched, or people who were burned by the church. We are trying to help people who haven't been there for a while."

Kept very simple, it is. People only have some much time, so much bandwidth left, by Sunday each week in America. It's just good communications theory. Story old as ... let's face it, the Christians took over the Mediterranean region due to one important fact, superior marketing and the kind of motivational ethos causing one to go out and conquer the world, burn down libraries, fight lions, vanquish evil doers, with swords or words, even go out and live on some desert island, making a prisoner of thou-out-of-this-world self, eating only locusts, hummock bread, and pouring water on oneself to keep cool and refreshed so you can scribe historically inspired texts now treated as prophecy since it's all so poetic and timeless ... Jeesh, maybe just the explanation of what inspired the star logo on the stage and in the media material will suffice, from Phillipians 2:15: " that you may become blameless and pure, 'children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.'Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky."

This is heady stuff for any generation, but for one raised on everything from Hal Lindsey's doomsday prophecies to the millenials hatched by "American Idol," you put the good news in front of someone with music played by puritan angels -- for example, Coleman has never had a sip of alcohol in his life ("I have never tasted alcohol. At communion we only did grape juice") -- and what you've go is an army of all kinds of people in the Valley with bumper stickers that say "Impact Church" in white lettering and black backgrounds.

"We are not trying to have church," Coleman says. "We are trying to be the Church."

At the age of 31, Coleman was born in Page, up in the stark expanse of broad waters, sand-carved stone and incredible cultural isolation, the son of an Assemblies of God pastor. "We were raised Pentecostal, but I was only there as a baby," he says. "We kept moving every two years, spent seven years in Ohio, a couple of years in Tennessee, then we moved to Austin, Texas." And so, his path followed the soul train of the heartland sound, and therefore, in terms of being a musician, he says, "I never really had any choice."

So when the lights go down at noon in the stagey cathedral, the musicians come out first. Coleman wears a blue shirt, baggy plack pants, white sheakers with black straps. These are clothes for aerobics. And rock stars. After a straightforward Christian rock song, most likely an original from some member of the band built on collaboration, they play a truncated version of the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life," and it works. He sings in a high tenor and his comment on what can best be described as a Van Morrison-like channeling leaves one to be amazed at how self-critical artists can be: "I joke that I have the voice of a woman," Coleman says.

Naturally, the woman singer follows next with what takes on a lioness power reminding one of Florence and the Machine. Especially when she raises her hand in the air, a real Bonoism, and that hopping on her feet as if she could get airborne right along with the Lear Jets unheard outside. That is his wife, Manuela Coleman, up there, and anyone can see how married they are, emotionally and musically. One happy couple, yes they are. And the band, with four shows like some Las Vegas act, is tight.

"We collaborate with the arrangement of the songs," and then he pauses when asked about his management style, "I have the final say. I try to encourage the musicians to do their own songs. They are all better at their instruments than I am. They are so gifted. And we have a rotation of (maybe 30 people). The crazy thing about Arizona is its the most musician-connected place I've ever witnessed."

~ A shorter version of this article can be found in the October 2017 edition of The Scottsdale Airpark News.

Friday, November 03, 2017

The loneliest number: New Donivan Berube single represents one man living to tell love's hellish tale, then moving on

 Blessed Feathers, a popular band in town, has fallen apart, but its passing should not be mourned. Here's why: The past is a trickster heavy with karma anyone can fix, given the right frame of mind, as well as perseverance and the will to endure. And the future? Loaded with both good and evil in ample supply. Fish in the sea, so to speak. Some are loaded with Mercury to the gills while others can really swim. And in the present moment, there is just this ... Donivan Berube.

Far as he's concerned, the worst has already happened. Several times over, in his case. As someone who has seen a lot of success locally and internationally with Blessed Feathers, and with so many musicians in Flagstaff, what would he share with folks to know if they want to do the same thing?
"Just write better songs," says Berube, the pain warrior, having already lost his family, and then, more recently, the love of his life and creative partner. "That's the best thing you can do for yourself. All else is distraction."

So, for the living in the moment thang, let us not dwell on what's her name (Jacquelyn Beaupre, who according to her Facebook account, is living in Wisconsin now).

After all, most of the compositions are sung and performed by Berube. Even those Beaupre once sang. Has he considered just having someone else perform the old partner's parts on the Blessed Feathers?

"We wrote songs independently, but collaborated in their recording and performance," he says. "So, yes. Many of the Blessed Feathers recordings feature me singing and playing all of the instruments, even on some of the songs that she wrote. I have a live band now, though (Flagstaff locals Eric Dovigi and Jasper Komassa). I play drums while singing and sampling, and they're playing the guitar parts."

Now Berube is the last man standing.

"It's just me now," he says. "In addition to writing and performing the songs, I also acted as our booking agent and touring manager, getting shows and record deals and handling all of the business aspects that come along with making records and touring on them. So in a way, nothing's changed there. I've lost a partner, but I'll still be performing several of those old songs and handling the business on my own accord."

The new single has a full album's worth of ideas behind it. Indeed, Berube took all of that torment of loss and threw it up there on the screen, all of the way to the drop-dead, I'm-still-alive video of "Love is a Dog From Hell/Who Do I Turn To?" First of all, his sound is updated candy chrome, with the guitar sounding like sonar bells and ambient arrangements scuffing it all up. He sings with a world-weary plea. It's catchy, with his voice launching into the song from different directions as the instrumentals are harshed-out, but of light, as opposed to gloom, like it's coming from some crystal cave beneath the sea.

"I really don't know who is looking out for me," he sings, in ache. And then the song ends with him coming to the conclusion, in that classic Bob Dylan sense of things, telling the lonely one, "Trust yourself." In the video the music ends and he sits on his musician's stool for a while, staring at the screen, and you know it's no act. You can see the car lights going by through the window in the background. Wide is the world, and cold. This is a forlorn look for one person, and one person only. 

This is as authentic as authentic gets, in any art form. The muse, be it for a man or for a woman, is the same. Old as Robert Johnson singing blues about "Love in Vain" or just about anything put out by Ryan Adams, with the words "love" and "pain" a cry out to the lost lover or the entire universe. It's all so interchangeable.

On his feed, the Blessed Feathers tracks are still there. They are Berube tracks now. Part of a pretty darn impressive catalog. Why not, he put so much into the "brand." But Berube sees a need to clear the deck, so to speak, from his former musical landscape.

"I spent five years building that up, yes, so it's discouraging for it to have ended," he says. "But most people thought Blessed Feathers was a Christian thing, so the name unfortunately turned people away who assumed some sort of religious context. We also literally pulled that name out of a hat, so it felt kind of meaningless. How can you stand behind something if it doesn't mean anything to you? Moving forward under my own name means that no one can take it from me. Except myself."

What has yet to be mentioned is his background, an adventure both romantic and, in hindsight, a melancholy paradise lost. It's so well written in the standard press release form offered on his web pages, there's no reason to change it: "A month after turning 17, Donivan Berube left home and disassociated himself from the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses, thus saying goodbye to his entire family and all of his friends, forever. Then he met his dream girl, Jacquelyn Beaupré, and together they took off to travel the continent and live out of a tent. In the time since, he’s worked as an English teacher in Peru, a librarian in Big Sur, California, and ridden his single-speed bicycle across the country, aside from touring the continent while releasing records on small labels."

Next thing, for Berube, is to figure out the rest of what-the-hell.

"I'm not necessarily too stoked about this city," he says. "Not only did my love partner split, but I'm twice removed from anyone I used to know."

He says half of the first full album is recorded, but he's letting the single fly to test the waters.
"I just started putting singles out on the Internet," he says, "Like the Beatles would do. Then I'll put the album together and it will all occur organically."

The bottom line, for this meditation of loss and rediscovery of his own artistic prowess, is Berube has found what it takes many of the masters of rock a lifetime to learn regarding what makes a song work for the listener.

"You either have it and it's good, or you have it but you lost it and it's bad," he says."I left my life behind to be with her. Now that she's gone, there's nothing I can go back to."

But before we go any further telling sad stories about poor lost blind Donivan, the reader should know he has a new girlfriend, all the right equipment and skills, a solid audience, and connections to such things as National Public Radio, as well as everything that was gained with Blessed Feathers.

"There's healing in the process," he says. "There really isn't any other way I can go about it. It still hurts, though. If I do a song about my family that doesn't exist that doesn't change the fact I still don't have one. That's all to be determined, I suppose."

This article originally appeared in Flagstaff Live

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Arizona's 'rugged individualism' is actually on life support due to the military industrial complex

   (Editor's note: This one is brought back from the dead with Jeff Flake's announcement he won't be running for Senate. Methinks he's got something in mind, don't you? The governor's race? Maybe.)  

     Exposing a myth is easy enough to do. Just takes a little research. But to eradicate it from the state of Arizona's group-think, liberating the masses into a real-world view, well, that's really pissing in the wind. This comes to me after creeping all over the web for research on Arizona's bad ol' political argument between members of the GOP who want to be governor. It's a nasty fight. The weapons are idiotic campaign commercials, usually aired around the "news" hour, that period of the day when television viewers are dipped into the shallow waters of the local newsreaders, and then, fully prepped, sent into the slick furies of the national network news.
     In between, as if the actual reports aren't propaganda enough, viewers have been inundated all summer with pretty much the same campaign commercials, over and over, with little variation ... let's face it, neo-cons aren't real well known for having a lot of imagination, variety not being the spice of conservative life ... and even the GOP party boss in the state has had enough, asking the candidates to cut it out, the negatives are too amplified. Guess he was afraid the voters might be hard to deprogram after months and months of this, and the presumptive Democrat, Fred DuVal might win.
     The point is, one Republican candidate, Doug Ducey, is accused of getting a government bailout due to the failure rates and financing, in general, for his Cold Stone ice cream franchises. Another candidate, Christine Jones, is on the commercial repeat mode over sending "Obama the bill" for border enforcement. And how either political advertisements jibe with the truth hardly matters in this, the age of repeat something often enough and it becomes true. This Orwellian reinvention of the past, over time, can get a little maddening. For myself it got so bad, it didn't even take a political commercial to put me over the edge (that is, to inspire an extended commentary). Nope, it was an ice cream commercial that boasted Arizonans are "fiercely independent."
     That's a load of crap. A common mistake about the West, in general. The American Southwest owes its very civilization to the federal government. And Arizona is completely on life support in myriad ways. For example, without water from the Central Arizona Project, a federal project carrying water from the Colorado River to Phoenix and Tucson, such cities would have never grown to blob status. Before that was built, before Arizona was even a state, the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 set up the possibility of raising federal funds for irrigation projects across the West. Because the Southwest is a drought-dry desert, and anyone who lives there is essentially receiving only slightly less life support than what's needed on the moon.

     But you really have to worry when the Washington Times, founded by a strange South Korean cult leader, and  is therefore as cranky and dilute, intellectually, as an inflatable pig, starts to pay attention to western politics. Such was the case when the online opinion editor Monica Crowley wrote on July 16, 2014, that the American West is "a region that remained most faithful to the nation's founding principles of personal freedom, rugged individualism and economic freedom." Clearly, as she raised the ghosts of Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, and their rejections of "Big Government," the opinion editor for has seen too many John Wayne movies. Arizona born, but raised in New Jersey, her vision of the West is nothing short of infantile. In addition to being legally blonde for the right-wing newspaper in Washington D.C., Crowley also is a "foreign affairs analyst" for FOX News. Analysis, off these shores, no doubt inspired by Rambo fantasies. Because the truth is, regardless of the Orwellian pipeline of the right, leans more toward the reality that politicians will pretty much kill for their piece of the federal pie.
     For example, in 2011 reported "Federal funds flowing to Arizona have doubled in the past 10 years." Citing the U.S. Census Bureau, the report states "Arizona residents, governments and businesses received $64 billion in federal money in fiscal 2010, more than double what the state received in 2001 ." (This year it was reported that Arizona ranked 10th in the nation for federal funds.)
      That amounts to $10,080 per person in Arizona. The national average is $10,460.
      "The biggest increase in federal funds to Arizona over the past decade was not in salaries or welfare payments, but in federal grants to the state and to local jurisdictions, which grew from $5.4 billion in 2001 to $14.4 billion (in 2010)," the report states, a 164 percent increase that occurred while the state's population grew 20 percent, from 5.3 million people to 6.4 million. The very notion that Arizona is "fiercely independent" doesn't score very high when, according to, the state is No. 8 in the nation in terms of federal aid to state budgets, more than Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The very notion that these staunch tax resisters live out in the boonies, far from the corporate city enclaves of Phoenix and Tucson must be dispelled when seven of 14 Arizona counties are above the national average in terms of receiving federal funds. The largest is Cochise County in southern Arizona, which receives $23,531.74 per capita.
      How this could be is the root of the myth of the West as somehow being some kind of island of do-it-yourself virtues, and also helps to explain why Arizona continues to breed such weird political animals. All kinds of ironies persist. State residents, consisting mainly of conservatives and so-called "independents" are unhinged from the truth by politicians playing either a pretty cynical game, or, are so dyslexic over the state's real history they have merely swallowed the Kool-Aid. The truth is out there, somewhere far in the southwestern deserts of the state, waiting to explode like some kind of unexploded ordnance on the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, 1.9 million acres of bomb targeted rock and dust roughly the size of Connecticut (so be forewarned Yankees). Yes, Arizona's elected are pretty strong on defense, the largest portion of the federal budget, and, a huge part of Arizona's economy.
     When asked about why Cochise County receives $23,531.74 per capita, the finance director for the county, according to the report, "attributed the disproportionately high federal purchases and salary payments in the county to the Fort Huachuca Army Base there." In addition to that southernmost point surveillance and communications post, the cities of Phoenix and Tucson are also on the life support systems offered by the military industrial complex, And it has come to the point that it's more than just doing what's right for national defense. For example, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did gymnastics to land the $1 trillion F-35 aircraft training site at Luke Air Force Base, despite once calling the program's price tag "one of the great national scandals."
     McCain was in no mood for mythmaking when he told AZ Capitol Times that "potential defense spending cuts could cost thousands of jobs and $3 billion to the state's economy." Yes, it takes a little manure to make the grass green, and rainmaker McCain did all that he could to plow the field. He inserted $14.3 million in a 2003 defense bill so Sun Cor Development could get its way to buy 122 acres around Luke Air Force Base. At the time, McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers explained the senator "wanted to prevent the Pentagon from closing Luke." (That worked out okay, but Sun Cor went belly up in 2012.)
     Indeed, pork knows best. According to Forbes, as a percentage of GDP, Arizona is among the top 10 states (ranked No.8), receiving nearly three percent of all defense spending, $2,321 per resident. Tucson is among the top 10 for military spending or contracts, receiving $4.9 billion per year. The entire state accounts for 96,000 jobs, $9.1 billion in annual economic output and $401 million in state and local taxes. It's no wonder that politicians (even democrats) defend this militaristic welfare system even when, for example, the brass is saying it doesn't need the aging A-10 Warthog attack planes anymore, they will lobby and legislate to keep the funds coming in for another year.
    Yes, the myth is easy to dispel but hard to eradicate. As Phoenix Business Journal political reporter Mike Sunnucks wrote, "Despite its conservative politics, Arizona has always been a huge beneficiary of federal spending."
     Show us a candidate who believes success in business entitles them to an elected post and I'll show you a politician who has found ways to make government work for themselves. And show us an opponent opposed to Big Government, and I'll show you a politician afraid to speak out against the defense budget. Yes, when the mists of myth clear, the storm still rolls on.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Build a Parking Lot and They Will Come

It was with a considerable sense of amazement and outrage that I read, in the Sept. 20, 2017, edition of the Scottsdale Independent, an article by Terrance Thornton under the headline, "Updating the Lynchpin: Downtown spark may come from stadium upgrades," detailing the need for upgrades for Scottsdale Stadium, where the San Francisco Giants play their spring training games. At first, my reaction was shock and awe. Actually, still is. However, in doing my due diligence on this topic, despite my chagrin a single piece of front-page journalism could lack one single dissenting voice to this supposed need for a stadium upgrade, I have done a complete feedback fruit loop on the whole damn thing.

Now, I think Mr. Thornton is some kind of true literary genius. But that term gets tossed around even more than "love one another," "money sucks" and "mattress sale." Surely, some divine providence is at hand in this piece by the so-called "Independent." As my old high school baseball coach, Jerry Dawson at Chaparral High School used to say, "Even a blind bat catches a squirrel every now and then."

There's a lot to go through here, so bear with me.

My initial reaction was based on pure baseball logic.

Forget, for a second, how the term "lynchpin" ever became popular in America, if you can. We all know why that is, but let's move on, holding tightly to the guiding hand of what baseball has done for race relations in this country, and, with a simple prayer stating: God bless Jackie Robinson. Forty two, man. Forty two.

OK, baseball logic ... right ... My thinking was, fuck the Giants! Why should a metropolis in dire need of a winner ever want to make it so comfy for a competitor as badass rich as the San Francisco Giants, or, the Los Angeles Dodgers, for that matter? According to a recent article in Forbes, the Giants are one of the most financially set up franchises in not just baseball, but sports. If not for the crack in the cosmos called 2017, they would probably be in the World Series again this year. So, my gut reaction was, send them to Florida. Give them the raw time zone of the Citrus League for a couple of months, then let them try to catch up on their sleep as the season rolls on. Make them eat alligator, sprinkled with crushed mosquitoes. All baked in a hell fire of swamp-hick-con-man DNA and apocalyptic humidity. If you want to really drive the economy, let's give the Arizona Diamonbacks all the breaks, perks and, yes, here it comes, parking, that franchise will ever need.

I know, I know, as far as that last DNA part goes, Scottsdale, Arizona is no better. It's what my daughter likes to call "Alabama with celebrities." And as far as the Diamondbacks go ... sheeee-it ... how boosterish am I being? That it has taken me this long to get into the confessional batter's box is no small miracle itself. Because, you see, I used to work for the Independent in Scottsdale, in a building once owned by Charles Keating. Ran three newspapers at once as a managing editor and that place back then pretty much reduced me to a man laying flat on his back, unable to move, mumbling to myself like some kind of lost street mystic gone soft on french fries left on a park bench near the local McDonalds.

In hindsight, I can hardly blame the Independent. The place was simply overrun by history at the time, its poor internet server and e-mail clogged by Republican-based jamming techniques in response to the release of the Michael Moore film, "Fahrenheit 911." By the time anyone came into the office on the morning of that deadline day, I was smoking like a fool and staring into space, maybe saying something about how I had a vision of Gila monsters crawling across the desert. They were nice enough to give me the rest of the day off, and as soon as I got out of there, retreating into a nearby book store, I was fine. Better than ever. It's just the smell of books, I guess. One of the best forms of aromatherapy I know. So God bless my friends at the Independent at the time. Thank you for carrying that load for me, who simply had a bigger picture filling my mind at the time, and that picture was a flood of colors that had more paint than my gallon-can mind could contain. Pedro just couldn't pitch that day, thassall. Things are different now. It all makes perfect sense to me. Hope ya'll are equally recovered from the experience of those dark days.

Whew. I know I feel better. You?

OK, so where's the "we" in this? Please help me, O great memory of Jerry Dawson, the cyber cybernetic truth of team and the collective winning spirit needed by all great conquerors and religion-establishing mystics. Right, take a strike. Let us call on the current patron saints of independent thought: I.F. Stone, the late-great Hunter S. Thompson and Bjork (the Icelandic singer, not the former U.S. Supreme Court nominee).

Now the count is 0-1. I still have two other pitches, at least. Readers at this point? Eh? No matter. I gotta figure the Googlewhack at this point, with all of the references, is going to more than pay for itself.

The pitcher then is this story by the Independent, which states: "While downtown Scottsdale is made up of quaint shops, a robust gallery district and a vivid nightlife scene many say the true straw that stirs that economic cocktail has always been Scottsdale Stadium ... As times change, so do the desires of municipal partners as Scottsdale City Council Tuesday, Sept. 12 voted to allow up to $900,000 stadium facilities capital improvement fund to reconstruct portions of Scottsdale Stadium including: ... Reconstruction of the stadium's outfield parking lot ..."

There are other things, but let's just pull the car in right there.

Is there anything going on in this town that isn't all to the service of the automobile?

Sure, there's the Green Belt for flood control, but that's only so people can golf and cars won't wash away during a monsoon flash flood. And they don't. It's a beautiful world the mad architects of Scottsdale have created, with nooks and crannies only a pedestrian with a sense for accident and adventure will notice. But this isn't a new parking lot. It's a reconstructed parking place.

Let me reveal, Oh here's the secret: I have a "source." This person knows more about baseball than anyone possibly can. In fact, this person is the actual straw who stirs the mystical drink of the game, which is why he's always knows where to be when that 500th home gets hit, or, when the earthquake ruins the World Series. This is only a slight exaggeration. Anyway, what he says is the drift in new spring training parks is out along the freeways because, let's face it, that's where the cars go ... and there's more room for parking.

Let me bow to this wizard of the game. Let me not waste his baseball research. I will just be the first base coach or something. So yeah, if that's what Old Town needs to compete before it is left nothing but a tomb of empty retail spaces, get some more parking in there.

As Chuckles says, "Build a parking lot and they will come."

Douglas McDaniel is the former managing editor of The Diamond (the Official Magazine of Major League Baseball), a former contributor to USA Today Baseball Weekly, the former editor of Harnett's Sports Arizona, and the publisher of baseball poems in numerous sport-based literary journals, including Spitball, which may in fact still be around. As a junior in baseball at Chaparral High School, he hit .420 as a member of the so-called "Jerry's Kids." But then, like an idiot, played football his senior year, and wrecked his knee ... a limb that isn't getting any better as the years roll on. He can walk okay, though, most days. As long as he keeps moving. He bats right. Throws right. But as anyone can see, he's a natural lefty.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Is Arizona Immune from the Apocalypse? Don' Think So

I may not be a rocket scientist, but the word on the street is people here in Scottsdale, Arizona don't need to worry about other disasters spreading like contagion across the globe. On the day of the earthquake in Mexico, however, I did some low-tech scientific readings. Based on these readings, the ground was rolling. Later that day, I sat at the bus stop, not even playing my harmonica to mock the honking vehicles like I often do at Scottsdale and Shea. I just sat there, staring, taking it in, in a kind of simple-minded bliss, thinking to myself: "Hmm. This stuff all around me all looks pretty damn solid to me."

But that is falsehood. Everything is porous. Everything. It's all atoms and molecules, brothers and sisters, and the world we see is a mere illusion based on our limited censors perceiving it as stable.

The late Edward Abbey once wrote he lived in Arizona for, among many other reasons, this one: Nothing bad ever happens here. It's solid as a rock. Wrong, Everything is in flux.

Things change. Perhaps because of this: Experts in the field will tell you there are no natural disasters, only human errors. Build by the sea, pay the price. Build on the desert, make sure you have enough water. And in the heat, in Arizona? C'mon man, just look at what happened to this place in June, with temps going over 120 and records going out the window. Live on a mountaintop, look out for lightning. You get the picture. But let's set that aside, for now.

Nuclear war is a kind of cheap answer to this question of immunity from the apocalypse. Mostly because of its unthinkability. There is no rational reason for their use, since mutually assured self-destruction is always going to be the posture. But a nuclear accident? Yeah, that's out there. So are acts of terrorism with nuclear materials. Worrying about that, though, is the job of highly paid paranoids in the fear-is-security-industrial-military complex, and I'm just going to let those folks stew in their own sweat, hatred and self-loathing of all of the mosquitoes out there looking to bite us, hitting America where it ain't.

Arizona is, nevertheless, about as safe as it gets in terms of all thing militaristic. The economy depends on the military. War is Arizona's lifeline, courtesy of the U.S. government. I won't bore you with the stats (So here they are). But from end to end, this state is armed to the teeth, with everything but a navy. Air assets. Ground assets. Space assets. Probably even men-who-stare-at-goats assets. If war comes, the Southwest is bank.

In addition to that, for example, just Scottsdale alone is loaded with human shields. The international elite mutton here like locusts. They drive drunk, do their coke, bring their slave women here. It's party, party, party in Scottsdale for the uber rich. Which is what inspires this little sermon, I suppose. Watching their dance of indifference on these days when earthquakes, hurricanes and all the rest are turning the planet inside out, I ask myself, what do these people know that I don't? They are building a new Egypt in Scottsdale, and the architecture is state of all arts. The masters of the universe, as Tom Wolfe called them in "Bonfire of the Vanities," have big plans for Arizona. They have access to all the data. The ears of the governments and the corporations. The run the big money seas as they swell and burn. Why?

Well, that one thing not being considered is this: Human error. And arrogance. Incredible arrogance. See the greed? Yep, arrogance.

So I know this couple. Two of the smartest, hardest working, motivated, tuned-in people you can possibly ever know, and they are ready to book, as in flee Phoenix because they are completely convinced the gig is up ... in a matter of days. They are getting survival gear. They are dialing up both mobility and wireless techno. They are thinking about food and water and where is the best air to breathe when the shit goes down. Their conviction is infectious. And I look at this and go, well, where do you run, really, when you don't really know what's going to happen from moment to moment, much less tomorrow or the next day or month or years to come. I think about such films as "Mosquito Coast," with Harrison Ford taking his family to some far off place in South America, all geared up to build their new Jerusalem. All I can think is, you wanna take all of that off-the-grid American know-how and take it where, to make what part of your lives and the world better? With that kind of approach, aren't you just bringing the Beast with you?

But like Roland Emmerich, who did all of those disaster films like "2012," "San Andreas" and "Independence Day," I will now consider several Arizona-based scenarios because hey, it's fun to think about.

Numero Uno: Did you know the San Francisco Peaks, mainly Sunset Crater to the northeast of Flagstaff, are still active volcanoes?

Numero Dos: Public officials in Flagstaff live in fear of what might happen to the downtown area if a 100 to 500 year flood were to come, since even during the monsoons right now the amount of water running through there is unreal.

Numero Tres: The Grand Canyon. Period. One big gash in the earth capable of doing anything, at any time, it wants. Floods. Earthquakes. Dinosaurs or new races crawling out from beneath the Earth. Anything.

Numero Quatro:  Native American legends tell of biblical floods. It is glued to their beliefs, and even if some of it was morphed into by the Spaniards and the Jesuits "civilizing" the Southwest. They say the white band on top of Superstition Mountain is from that flood. They say the Apache Mother landed in a little hollowed out log after the great flood in Boynton Canyon, outside Sedona, Arizona.

Numero Cinco: Dinosaurs. All over the place. Bones. Tracks. Dead. Quite Suddenly, it seems.

Numero Six Six Six: Trump.

Numero Seven: Solar storms. Let's just say the same kind of solar storm that hit America in 1859 struck again. Lights out. Electronics bursting into flames. Even paper caught on fire. Imagine the Valley of the Sun with known of its wonder-tech in working order. Fountains running on electricity, done. Traffic lights, dull, leading to panic and gridlock. Looting. Shooting because the place is loaded with both guns and economic disparity. The polarities of social and political angst are just as on edge in the Valley as it is in Los Angeles or New York. A powder keg. Take away that one thing holding it all together, electricity and communications, and, well, could get pretty wild around here.

Numero Eight: Water. This is a fucking desert. When is this place going to get serious about its usage, now that yet another huge influx of refugees are headed here after the torments on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico?

Numero Nine: Aliens

Ten: The Great Wall. Interesting thing about walls. While in Mexico, heading north, they are mere impediments to be gone around. However, in Arizona, going south, We the Sheeple aren't so well-trained in getting through them, if, for any reason the need to go southbound were required, en mass.

Yep, This One Goes to Eleven: Boy, Arizona is really becoming such a diverse place. People from all over the world come here. In fact, I think I caught a cold from one of those people who came from someplace else. Good thing it wasn't anything worse. Like some zombie plague or anything. Whew!

OK, that's all for now. Personally, I like what the Buddhist monks once told me. There is no need for an end-of-the-world myth or story or fable or prophecy. As long as we are at one with the Creator, all else is irrelevant.

Happy dancing, Scottsdale.


Friday, September 08, 2017

Sol Drop: Flagstaff Trio Leads Vibrant Crop of Groups Forming in a Vibrant Music Scene in Northern Arizona

Dare we say it? Flagstaff, Arizona. Senior Class. Northern Arizona University. Great band, Sol Drop is. Could probably beat ASU's best senior class band. That's a wild guess. But it's possible. Need to do more research on this. Yet Flagstaff is a separate cultural being from the megalopolis of Phoenix and Tucson. That breeds originality. A real "music scene" in northern Arizona? Maybe. Maybe.

The high-tech interview on Facebook Messenger with two of the three members of Sol Drop is growing dark and difficult to see as the two stand at the Conoco Station at San Francisco and Butler. First they are backlit in the sunset, then it goes all grainy blue, then, nothing but black and it's time to go. These are busy people. They have to go to class, among other things, since they are seniors at NAU.

"It has almost been a year since we released an album," Sean says.
Says Kathryn, "Since we've been together now we are a lot more solid."

In the past year the band has played SWSX for its spring break vacation, and they currently have the goal of releasing another album in May as a graduation present for themselves.

Just how prepared can three seniors at Northern Arizona University be? While the new college semester began with the annual arrival of daily parties and all the young dudes shouting over the din of giant stereo speakers, as well as the rivers of people running in and out of the bars downtown, the members of Sol Drop, a band that’s three years old, has been carefully hatching a plan.

A year ago they released their first CD, "It’s Alright," at an album release party at the Firecreek Coffee Co, where they just played another successful show on First Friday this month. In a carefully thought out marketing strategy, receipt of the new work was included in the cost of attending the event and now according to the members of the band agree other groups from the area are doing the same thing, After U2 rankled the world of Apple users by automatically depositing their last record, "Songs of Innocence," into their music player files, the incident, even if it did tee-off some music fans who simply didn’t like (hated) the band, did highlight the crisis of the ongoing search for some kind of new distribution paradigm in the age of the Internet.

In response to these kinds of issues, Sol Drop’s lead singer, guitarist and NAU honors student Kathryn Meyers, who is “leaning” toward marketing in her studies at NAU, decided to draw from the past.

“We are forcing people to buy the CDs by including it in the cost of admission,” she laughed exactly one year ago during a person-to-person interview at Fire Creek. “I know Prince would do it back in the day. He’d give his new CD to people at his shows, and then by doing that he’d make it No. 1 on Billboard."

Sol Drop is a power-trio described by its members—Meyers, Sean Buechel (bass) and Brian Dorsey (drums)—as fast-blues. Meyers’ vocals are drawn from a kind of ’80s female punk weirdness, with snarls and yelps and extended phrasing reminiscent of anyone from David Byrne, Wendy O. Williams or to her several years of listening to the “Riot grrrl” genre of music of Sleater Kinney and Bikini Kill. But her playing is inspired by Jimi Hendrix. Meyers says she started listening to Hendrix as a young teen growing up in the Arcadia district of Phoenix/Scottsdale. From there she moved on to learning to play guitar by listening to blues standards by B.B. King and other blues masters.

“I was into Joan Jett and all of those women who came out,” she says. “That interested me, those women inspired me that way. A lot of people tell us that I sound like the singer for the B-52s, but I’ve hardly ever listened to them other than hearing the song “Rock Lobster.” I certainly don’t try to sound like the B-52s.”

As far as the “how-we-got-together” story goes for Sol Drop, it’s one of the better stories you could ever hear.

Meyers, who clearly came to NAU with the idea of starting a band in mind, had noticed Dorsey walking in a dorm hallway with a drum key on a carabiner. Then she asked if he was a drummer. He was, having played in various bands in Santa Rosa, Calif. She got his number with the idea they would later jam, then sent him a text message several months later. He didn’t realize who it was at first, but then remembered the connection.

The problem was, even if they wanted to play music together, they had nowhere to practice. It was pretty impossible in the dorms they were living in.

But then one day Meyers found a power outlet on the top floor of a parking garage on campus.

As Buechel describes it, “We took our stuff on the top of the parking garage and found a common place where we could play. We did it just loud enough with the drum set to where we could hear each other playing,” says Dorsey. “From just doing that we got some fans who came by to listen, and many of them have been coming to our shows ever since. Nobody told us to stop, for some reason. People really enjoyed it, which was cool.”

Meyers says that within a week of playing on the parking garage, they had their first gig at Firecreek.

This summer they went on a DIY tour up and down the West Coast, first starting in Phoenix, then going from Southern to Northern California, finally ending up in Las Vegas, where they played at a deli.

“We did 10 shows in nine days,” Meyers says. “We did one in a party room in a bowling alley. That was an interesting story. The owner cut the power on the band playing after us because they were too loud.”

During the band’s short time together, they have played at least 60 shows, many of them in Tempe, Phoenix and Scottsdale. Their new CD was recorded in Chandler, at an independent studio called Clamsville and run by John Herrera, who Meyers says has given the group “a lot of good tips.”

Standout tracks on the new seven-track CD include the opener, “Fake,” which starts out with striking punk guitar then leads into a very Hendrix-like section. Her vocals are bratty in the punk form. Another good song is “Rewinder,” in which Meyers’ pursues a bluesy chord progression, then sings in a snarling melody laced with sarcasm. Indeed, the seven-song release is a showcase for Meyers’ brilliance as a new young talent in Flagstaff.

Working the social media, especially using Facebook and Snapchat to keep in touch with their emerging following of say, 100 people, the band is trying to do all of the right things. For Sol Drop, there is a plan: To graduate, and then survive, as a band.

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