So there’s a meme going around on FaceBook about concerts. Basically, list 10 concerts, 9 of which you have actually been to and 1 you have not. Your friends are supposed to guess which one is the false claim.
I love music. I mean, if I could I would have a soundtrack backing my daily movements. I’ve been playing an instrument, either keyboard or guitar, since I was nine, and I have been buying albums (as opposed to 45 rpm singles) since I was fourteen. I went to my first honest-to-gosh-wow concert when I was thirteen (I’ve written about that before and will not repeat it here, because it was an anomaly) and started regularly attending at fifteen.
I have not seen a lot of live acts. Compared to some, I am woefully deprived of live concert experience. But I treasure the memory of all the ones I did see, which, mulling over my list for this silly/fun meme, turns out to be not too shabby.
I have seen Yes—my standard, musically—about eight or nine times. The first time was their Close To The Edge tour back in 1972. Poco opened for them.
Opening acts are very important. I mean, we usually go to see the headliner, but those opening acts are sometimes more significant. I only saw Gentle Giant because they opened for Rick Wakeman on his first solo tour, for Journey To The Center of the Earth.
I have seen Emerson, Lake & Palmer at least five times. My other standard in terms of music.
Jethro Tull five times. And here opening acts matter. I have seen, opening for JT—Brewer & Shipley, Journey (pre-Steve Perry), and The Band.
I saw a more or less forgotten British prog group that was AMAZING opening for Yes—Gryphon.
I saw Livingston Taylor, who opened for ELP (and a sadder pairing I have never seen since—no one gave a dove’s fart about Livingston Taylor at that show).
I have seen Kansas three times, Styx once, Starcastle once, and REO Speedwagon once. Of course. I live in St. Louis and am over forty.
Cat Stevens. John Denver (thank you, Vickie).
The Eagles, once, before their whole Hotel California period, but more importantly Dan Fogelberg opened for them. He was all by himself, no band, with a single guitar and a piano and he blew the Eagles away.
Joni Mitchell. Crosby, Stills, Nash (never Young). The Grateful Dead, twice. Santana (three times?) Deep Purple.
Uriah Heep, Fleetwood Mac (twice), Jeff Beck (twice), Jefferson Starship (twice), Jan Hammer, Ted Nugent (before he decided he was more than just a good guitar player)…
Earth, Wind, & Fire.
Mark-Almond. Focus. Billy Joel (twice). Renaissance. America. Wishbone Ash. Hot Tuna.
The Moody Blues (thrice). The Beach Boys.
Harry Chapin (twice).
Genesis (thrice). Robert Palmer (opening for Jeff Beck).
Led Zeppelin. And then, many years later, the Page & Plant tour. David Bowie (once, early, the Ziggy Stardust tour).
Todd Rundgren’s Utopia.
The Who (twice).
Unfortunately, opening for the Who was Lynard Skynnard. That is one of the downsides of opening acts, from time to time you will see (and suffer through) a real disappointment. Opening for Uriah Heep I saw an outfit called Tucky Buzzard, which was the only time I preferred a Stones version to the cover. (Sorry, folks, I know the Rolling Stones are up on Olympus for a lot of people, but I can’t stand them. Love their songs—done by other people, except this time.)
Then there were a whole roster of Other Acts that may surprise. I saw Neil Diamond, who is a consummate showman. I saw Liza Minnelli. Ferrante and Teicher. Arlo Guthrie.
Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson, and Count Basie, all in the same night. Branford Marsalis.
Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis (you can Google them and then acquaint yourselves—superb jazz guitarists).
At this point I would have to go unbury all my saved ticket stubs. I have missed a few, I know. More than a few, maybe. So I’ll probably have to do this again.
But it sent me down into the archives and I came back with some terrific memories. We stopped going because the scene grew progressively less tolerable. First when the drug of choice changes from pot to beer. I’m sorry, it’s true—sitting in a crowd of several thousand beer-swilling people can be a bit dangerous. Whatever else you might say about it, marijuana makes for a much more pleasant audience. Then the security situation got ridiculous. I don’t care to be patted down just to see a concert. And to be fair, I don’t care for big crowds to begin with.
But occasionally, you just have to go see a performer you love. So this summer we’re going to see Santana. Again.
So thanks for the meme—er, memory.
I should be working on the short story I’ve been struggling with, but instead I want to say a few words about art and talent and memory.
Greg Lake of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and (briefly) Asia has died. He was 69 and he had been fighting cancer.
The first time I heard a piece of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, it was Knife Edge, from their first album, and a bolt went through my brain. This was the “other” band that mattered to me–suddenly and thoroughly, the cadences, the depth, the compositional holism, the instrumental proficiency, the temerity of three young guys to challenge Bartok, all of this displaced the light-hearted, Bazooka Joe triviality of so-called pop music that saturated the airwaves a the time. We had that or the in-your-gut near-chaos of Jimi Hendrix and the grime-laden street patina of the Rolling Stones, and now, above it all, musicians who not only had the chops but the historicity and grasp of the psychological possibilities of infusing contemporary rock idioms with the incision and deep-boned depth of what we often mistakenly call classical music and make it speak to a new generation. They elevated what was in so many ways a toy in musical form to something that could take us out of ourselves in the way Beethoven or Mozart did for people so many of us neither knew or respected at the time.
The period lasted from about 1967 till 1975 or ’76. In that less-than-a-decade near geniuses made musical pronouncements we are still responding to if only to try to deny or reject, and the best of them were represented by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Condemnations that they were “pretentious” mean little in an era where pretension is embodied more by attitude than talent. A major “star” styles himself by not smiling and mouthing polemical inanities better known than the music he produces, this is a form of pretension, but one that elevates nothing, reifies nothing, establishes nothing beyond a sullen narcissism. Perhaps ELP was pretentious, but those who criticize them for that understand little about real pretension, which is a mask hiding an empty space. Maybe ELP were pretentious, but if their pretension masked anything it was a room filled to bursting with ideas and exuberant joy in musical experimentation. It contributed. If it made some feel inadequate or small, well, that was not ELP’s fault.
Greg Lake, in his ELP years, possessed a magnificent voice, a gift for phrasing that bordered on the operatic, and deftness of interpretive innovation that was a match for Keith Emerson’s volcanic expressionism and Carl Palmer’s controlled hyperkinetic rhythmic adventures. They were evenly matched and magnificent and I am ever so grateful to have grown up to the soundtrack they provided.
Take note. Brilliance has moved on.
Worldcon is over, I am home, weary and pumped and amazed and frazzled. So much happened, it is difficult to sort it out and deal with it cogently.
This may have been the best worldcon experience I have ever had. Barring the first one, way back in 1984, in L.A., when Donna and I roamed around gawking at all the startling stuff and sitting in panels listening to the writers we were reading and finding books in the dealers’ room Walden and Dalton just didn’t stock, the worldcons in between have been mixed bags for us, often fraught with my anxieties of trying to become a pro writer and feeling alternately despairing and enthusiastic. Whipsawed.
Not so this time. Almost from the minute I set foot in the convention center I found myself treated with a collegiality I’ve experienced before but never so thoroughly and consistently.
Over the course of five days, I interacted with peers and pros and fans at nothing but high levels of sometimes ego-boosting wonderfulness.
The best part was finding old friends I didn’t expect to be there. One in particular, a man I met way back at the very first convention I attended, Archon 6, and with whom I’ve had almost no contact for several years, was standing in the dealers’ area. Like a mirage or a ghost, I stared at him a few moments before realizing that, yes, Ed Bryant really was there.
Ed is a short story master. He has several collections to his name and the stories are wonders. He was kind and patient to a young wannabe who often did not know how to take advice. He’s been suffering poor health for some time and I never expected him to show up at a worldcon, but we spent several hours together in conversation, a now cherished experience.
The other face I did not expect to see was that of Daryl Gregory. Daryl has over the last few years become something of a Big Deal, though he would probably dispute that. It wouldn’t matter to me in any case, as we are Clarion classmates and I know whence the droids are buried.
He was in company with his new companion, Liza Groen Trombi, who is top person at Locus Magazine these days. It was a pleasure to make her acquaintance. We all went out one evening for dinner, ending up in typically dramatic fashion almost caught in a thunderstorm. One of those evenings when I glance about for the camera crews and wonder who is in charge of special effects.
The principle motivation for my attending turned out to be one of the best parts. As I said in an earlier post, I had not intended going. But then my agent, Jen Udden, told me she would be there and wanted to meet, so plans changed again.
I am especially glad about this. You can work with someone long distance a lot and work perfectly well, but a face-to-face makes a difference. It adds a layer and validates opinions. I have no idea what she came away with, but I am even more confident that I’m in excellent hands.
We met for lunch at a Kansas City great, Jack Stacks BBQ. I’d never been before. It’s in the freight yard area adjacent to Union Station. I had a bit of a scramble getting there, but made it almost exactly on time (I hate not being punctual). They seated us on the patio and we proceeded to overeat on some of the best barbeque around.
We cabbed back to the hotel and she introduced me to some of her other clients. I reconnected with Maurice Broaddus, whom I’d met several years ago in Ohio.
My panels were all well-attended and produced the kind of discussion I look forward to. The Generation Starship one in particular, in company with Gregory Benford and Pat Cadigan, was a learning experience as well.
I am, as it has turned out, getting too old for the party scene. For one thing, my hearing is not what it once was. If the crowd is too large, I have difficulty sorting out individuals. This was especially hard at the TOR party, which was thunderous. (Someone had a decibel meter app and said it was about 110 db.) But I had to go to Roomcon and hear Bradley Denton in his role as Bland Lemon Denton, play along with Caroline Spector, with extra vocals by Sherri Dean.
The Marriott bar was watering hole central. Meet-ups for dinner and other excursions most often took place there. The SFWA suite was also in the Marriott and it was trhere that I saw the live feed to the Hugo Award ceremony. Though not all, I came in late. But I saw enough to feel very positive about our field. The rockets went to deserving writers for exemplary work. Despite the bellyaching of certain factions in the genre, this year’s winners show how much the work has grown and developed and, if I may say so, matured.
However, George R.R. Martin’s Hugo Losers Party was still the place to be afterward. George had rented a restored movie palace, The Midland, nearby. Attendance was invitation only. I managed to get in (thank you, Paul Burns) and stayed through George’s handing-out of the “Alfies”—Hugo substitutes for those works which had, by some lights, been unfairly pushed off the final ballot this year by the manipulations of a disaffected element.
The Midland is incredible. George spared no expense. The bar was open (courtesy of Random House) and the attendance was…well, let’s just say that no one was sorry to see that element mentioned above be offered a rising finger of salute.
All in all, it was a great party.
The band provided for the night’s festivities was new to me but apparently a K.C. fixture, the Black Crack Review. I asked someone what kind of music they played and was told it would be a blend of George Clinton and Sun Ra. They did not disappoint.
Sunday, like every other last day of a worldcon, was both pleasant and melancholy. I did a podcast interview for SciFi4Me, ran around saying bye to too many people to name, did my autographing session—which was another egoboost, as I had a queue waiting when I arrived—and my last panel, on interstellar colonies (which complemented the earlier one on starships, though the consensus this time was generation ships simply will never happen). I did not stay for closing ceremonies, but instead return with my hosts for a wind-down dinner at their house.
Monday morning I hit the road for St. Louis and made good time.
There are several takeaways from MidAmeriCon II, which was not without its controversies. I will discuss one of those later. But one of the biggies for me was a renewed sense of welcome and excitement. The possibilities of doing new work and being part of what I’ve always considered the best kind of fiction. I’m pumped. Just wait for this new novel.
Forgive the “ads” but there’s not much I can do about them. Please…enjoy.
I cannot adequately tell you how I feel right now. My insides are being roiled by a gigantic spoon.
Chris Squire, bass player, co-founder of in my estimate one of the greatest musical groups to ever grace a stage, has died.
A brief report of the particulars can be read here.
I have been listening to, following, collecting, and appreciating YES since I first heard them late one night on my first stereo, a track being played as representative of an “underappreciated” band. That status did not last long. A year or two later, they were a major force in what has been called Progressive Rock, a label with some degree of oxymoronicalness in that, not a decade before their advent, all rock was progressive.
Rather it was transgressive and altered the landscape of popular music. By the time YES came along, divisions, subdivisions, turf wars of various arcane dimensions had become part and parcel of the scene, and there were those who found YES and others like them a transgression to some presumed “purity” of rock music that seemed to require simplistic chord progressions, banal lyrics, and sub par instrumental prowess. As Tom Petty once said, “Well, it was never supposed to be good.”
Well, I and many of my friends and millions of others, across generations, thought that was bullshit, and embraced their deep musicality, classical influences, and superb craftsmanship. They were a revelation of what could be done with four instruments and a superior compositional approach and as far as I’m concerned, Punk, which began as an intentional repudiation of actual musical ability, was a desecration of the possibilities in the form.
Chris Squire and Jon Anderson met and created a group that has since become an institution, with many alumni, that challenged the tendency of rock to feed a lowest-common-denominator machine. Nothing they did was common, expected, or dull. Some of it failed, most of it elevated the form, and all of it filled my life with magic.
The ache felt by many at the loss of George Harrison is the ache I now feel at the loss of Chris Squire. He was brilliant.
There may be more later, but for now, here is an old piece I wrote about YES.
On Thanksgiving, we spent the day with my parents. While there, they handed me a stack of prints and a pile of negatives I had completely forgotten about. Most of them are crap. They’re from 1971 for the most part and I was in the early stages of trying to learn photography. I was shooting a LOT of film and about 99% was ultimately junk. But this is the way I learn. I dive in and do a great deal of whatever it is I’m trying to do, largely ignoring instructions and books, which I consult only when I’m so hopelessly lost that I admit to needing expert help. It’s an absurd way to go about it, but when I do finally learn something it stays learned.
Anyway, among the negatives I found a couple shots my dad took of me at the keyboard. At this time I still hadn’t made up my mind what I wanted to do or be. Music was always a possibility, a big deal, but it turned out not to be. However, I had aspirations. (When you’re that young, you think you can do it all. At one time I simultaneously wanted to be an actor, a musician, a photographer, and a writer, and saw no reason why I couldn’t. The acting has, subsequently, faded completely from my list of ambitions.)
So, here I am being…well, I was getting my Keith Emerson on, clearly, as well as the serious composer bit.
Seems I couldn’t read my own notation…
This is purely personal pique on my part, but in the recent round of nominations for the rock’n’roll hall of fame, YES was one of the bands being put forward. I would like to be able to say “much to my surprise” they didn’t make it. But I’m not surprised, just disappointed.
Which is silly, because I could not care less about the hall of fame. I know what I like, a lot of it was at one time on the fringes of mainstream, things I choose now still tend to be under-the-radar kinds of things (though much less rock than in previous decades), and I still have my loyalties. To be sure, there are bands I kind of listen to now, having at one time been massively devoted to (for a week or a year), and wonder what I found so wonderful about them.
But there are a handful I never tire of, especially not the work done in their heyday. And YES is one of them. I fell in love with that sound four bars into the first song I ever heard of theirs and even though they’d recorded some duds, made a couple of records of incomprehensibly bombastic ambiance, by and large, overall, I still love them and when they release a new album I buy it, unheard. Even in their worst, I find things of transcendent beauty scattered throughout.
I’ve written about them before, most notably here , and I don’t really have anything new to say.
Except that I found, here and there, some commentary on the intraweebs concerning their nomination that was mean-spirited and depressing. I thought, are we still doing that after over four decades?
KISS made it. Good for them. They worked hard, they have a large fan base. I can’t stand them myself, but it’s a big world, room enough for everyone. If I wanted to, I’m sure I could get downright eloquent about how I feel that sort of music did nothing but lower the general I.Q. and bring down the standards of music. But it wouldn’t be just about KISS and it wouldn’t be just about certain strains of rock music.
But YES seemed to have made enemies back in the day, people who believe any attempt at elevating the genre above anything more than the old 3-chords-and-a-bridge formula was somehow a betrayal of “authenticity.” People who turned to rock because they despised classical (or more likely because they didn’t “get” classical) and not only tore at the reputations of YES but at the very idea of progressive rock as a movement. It doesn’t make sense to me, but…
But music is too personal for the kind of total condemnations or complete annointments it often elicits. I love YES but I also love Santana. Not only that, but I’m inordinately fond of Mozart, Schubert, and Howard Hanson. Not only that, but I’m a devotee of Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Joe Pass. I love Vangelis as well as Jimi Hendrix, and Joe Satriani is to my ear as much a virtuoso as McCoy Tyner or Immanuel Ax.
Such are the inductees into my own hall of fame, of which YES has been an honored member since 1970.
Thank you for indulging me in a brief declaration of personal taste.
I’ve seen this a few times now and each time I am taken somewhere wonderful and know what it is to be inside joy. I’m in tears every time. It makes me feel so damn good to be human!
This is where it’s at for me.
So recently I turned 59. It doesn’t feel much different from 58, or that from 57, but since I often still feel 35, it occasionally jars. I have little to complain about, save for a nagging sense of lack of time.
I’d been toying with getting an electric guitar for years. A frivolity I could not quite talk myself into for a long time. I have a terrific acoustic guitar which I do not play as well as I should, but which gives me a great deal of pleasure pretending to play well.
There are some things you just can’t mimic on an acoustic, though. It’s like trying to play Deep Purple on a spinet pianola. It lacks gravitas.
So an opportunity came my way and I threw common sense to the wind and bought a delightful Epiphone Les Paul. Not the one I’d had my eyes on for many years, but it’s a Les Paul. (Yeah, yeah, I hear the purists kvetching over in the corner, but it ain’t a Gibson, like that makes all that much difference. Well, it does, by several hundred dollars.)
Which necessitated getting an amplifier.
I have a good friend in Jefferson City who is something of a musician (actually, he’s a very good musician and graces me with a willingness to jam on our infrequent visits) who knows people. Sound people. I told him what I’d gotten and he said “Come on out and we’ll fix you up.”
Fix me up indeed.
I’ve been out of the music biz too long, I didn’t even recognize the name—a Line—but it’s a gem. 50 watts, all the bells and whistles (well, at least more than I’ll master in the next several years) and by pure serendipity the color scheme matches my axe. It came with a pedal board, too, which, for the price I paid, astonished me.
I have every intention of getting down to it and learning some songs. I’ve been playing it almost every day since I brought it home. It is loud. We have installed it in my office, so I can close the door, and Donna can enjoy it through the walls and floor. It’s more than I need.
I did not buy the Ferrari. I’m having a much more modest midlife, er, crisis. More a midlife ruffle, really. Despite my complaining, I’m a reasonably happy guy. Hell, I’m still alive, which after last year’s little contretemps is a very positive thing.
I’ve been finding online lessons. Stumbled on a guitar player of some considerable merit who does instructional videos, although I can barely keep up. (He tends to assume you already know the rudiments.) So I thought I’d put one here just to show you how far out of reach my aspirations go.
Till I started surfing for this kind of thing I’d never heard of this guy. (Told you I’ve kind of been out of it for a while.) Turns out he did a turn with Asia. Yeah, Heat of the Moment Asia, but an incarnation with only one original member, Geoffrey Downes. I’m trying to imagine what they must’ve sounded like with this guy.
Anyway, I’m dipping into his how-to vids. He reminds me a lot of Ian Anderson.
Anyway, I must now get back to the start-up of my second half-century. Stay tuned.