Saturday, September 24, 2005

Talkin’ Bob Dylan’s Muse

It was about a year ago that the sometime reclusive and often elusive Bob Dylan
began showing another side of, well, Bob Dylan.

He published his memoir, 'Chronicles Volume One,' granted CBS-TV’s Ed Bradley
his first television interview in nearly 20 years, and has most recently become the subject
of the new Martin Scorsese picture: “No Direction Home.”

With all this talking going on, imagine what could happen if Bob Dylan gives
other interviewers a chance?

Howard Stern: 'Bob Dylan, oh man, Bobby, baby, Boob-ee ! Howard Stern here, king of all media. You have no idea how much this means to me. First, can I call you Bobby?'

Dylan: 'You may call me Bobby. You may call me Zimmy. You can call me Terry, you may call me Timmy. My name means nothing, my age means less.'

Stern: 'Bobby, I remember being like, 10 years old, growing up in Queens, and everyone was doing the folkie thing. This was back in the day when you were doin' Joan Baez, right?
And right in the middle of all this, you came to play at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.
This was right after everybody booed you at Newport when you whipped out the electric
So at Forest Hills, there were like 10,000 folk people waiting to hear 'Kumbaya,' and here
you come on stage with a full rock 'n' roll band. It was like you were giving them all the finger and saying 'This is what I'm gonna do, and I don't care what anybody says.'
Man, which was the coolest. I've been doing that same thing ever since.
You got a pair of brass ones. Before I clear out of the room and let the next guy in,
my question is this: Are they real?'

Dylan: 'Son, this ain't a dream no more. It's the real thing.'

Chris Matthews: 'What in the world was up with that last guy? Hey, never mind -
Let's play 'Hardball'.
So you just played a bunch of concerts around New England, four shows in five nights,
16 songs each night. But unlike many of your pop music comrades, you gave a different performance each night.
In Rhode Island, you started out with 'I'll Be Alone With You' and 'Tonight I'll Be Staying
Here With You.'
The next night you went to New Hampshire and came on with 'Drifter's Escape' and 'Dignity.' Then you crossed over to Massachusetts, and opened in Amherst with 'Maggie's Farm' and
'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue' and the next night in Cambridge you began with 'Rainy Day Women #12 & 35' and 'Forever Young.'
Now, a lot of people would say this shows inconsistency. They say things like: 'If you get Bob Dylan on a good night, it's great theater; but if you get him on a bad night - watch out.'
Let me ask you sir, what do you make of all these comments?'

Dylan: 'The ...'

Matthews: 'I just want to know if this is true or not. Isn't it true that you're a friend
of The Left; that songs you wrote, and these are your words, 'You don't need a Weatherman
to know which way the wind blows' and 'The Vice President's gone mad!' and that
'even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked,'
that they influenced those disenfranchised with the direction the country was going in
and inspired them to revolt?'

Dylan: 'I was ...'

Matthews: 'And then later in your career, you dumped the Left and got religion in
your life, and started putting Jesus Christ in your songs, and on your records 'Saved'
and 'Slow Train Coming,' and the whole time people were calling you a wizard, a genius.
They were going through your trash looking for scraps of wisdom.
But when you talk about that time now - about all these followers hanging on every word-
that you were removed from it all, somehow detached from that very society you helped
to create.
Can you honestly tell me that you were aloof to everything that was going on
in this country in the 1960s?'

Dylan: 'Well, I ...'

Matthews: 'I mean, isn't it true that the guy who wrote 'The Times they are A-Changin''
was in danger of becoming the person who he himself learns 'Ain't it hard when you discover that he really wasn't where it's at?'
Sir, I ask you, were the times really a-changin'?
Were you so much older then, you're younger than that now?
Do you know that for a fact?'

Dylan: 'I was ...'

Matthews: 'That's all the time we have for today. Thank you.'

Bill O'Reilly: 'Welcome, Mr. Dylan, this is a no-spin zone. We're your friends here.'

Dylan: 'You got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend.'

O'Reilly: 'Hold it, hold it, hold it. I don't know why you would say such a thing.
You don't especially like the media? Tell me, am I wrong? What do you think of the media?'

Dylan: 'You guys are like ten thousand talkers whose tongues are all broken.'

O'Reilly: 'That other guy before me might have been one-sided but here at this network,
we are fair and balanced and serve no agendas.'

Dylan: 'You may be the head of some big TV network - but you're still gonna have to serve somebody.'

O'Reilly: 'Fair enough then, that's your opinion. Personally, I am offended by your statement, but the people in this country - they wanna know about you. So let's stick to the present.
What is a normal day like for Bob Dylan?'

Dylan: 'Get sick. Get well. Hang around an ink well. Try hard, get barred, get back,
write Braille, get jailed, jump bail, join the army if you fail.'

O'Reilly: 'Uh-huh. What will you be doing for Christmas?'

Dylan: 'Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things.'

O'Reilly: 'Really. Like what?'

Dylan: 'Toy guns that spark and flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark.'

O'Reilly: 'Aw, shut up.'

Dylan: 'Then I'm gonna break the roof in and set fire to the place as a parting gift.'

O'Reilly: 'Shut up. Shut up. SHUT. UP.'

Dylan: 'Disconnect these cables and overturn these tables.
This place don't make sense to me no more.'

by Thomas Dimopoulos
Originally published Dec. 2004 in The Saratogian

Friday, September 23, 2005

Kevin Mullaney: 'Busman's Holiday' a Tall Order

SARATOGA SPRINGS - The café is crowded with a lunchtime crowd confused by the weather and trying to decide between hot soup and cold sandwiches. When Kevin Mullaney walks through the doors, even Funny Cide owner Jack Knowlton, apretty well known known fixture
in the Spa City, aims his eyeballs at the ceiling to cast a glance at the 6-foot, 7-inch musician.

The urge to lay some witty ice-breaker on him (Hey, how's the weather up there?)
is thwarted, thankfully, by the intervention of some subconscious pang of decency,
in addition to being distracted by Mullaney's intentions at the coffee counter.
Setting his frothy, milk-steamed cup on the countertop, he proceeds to squeeze
enough honey into the mug to quench the desires of a generation of bees.

'Ah, the breakfast of champions,' he laughs, taking a sip of the concoction.

Mullaney grew up in New York City, a Queens-born, Bronx-raised youth who eventually
settled down with his family on Long Island. He was raised in an Irish-American household
with a sister and two brothers.
His mother passed away while he was still a child and when the young man with a penchant for poetry grew up and headed off to college, he discovered a life-altering destiny with his muse.

'I was 21 years old and in my last year at (SUNY) Potsdam when I first picked up a guitar,' Mullaney says. 'I just became enthralled with it.'

It was at school he developed a passion for the likes of Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin and
James Taylor. Nearly a decade later, that early pop/soul/reggae influence has fused with
a healthy dose of folk and a case of the blues that Mullaney delivers on his debut CD
'Busman's Holiday.'

'It's a throwback kind of record, one where you get the best possible musicians you can and throw them all together,' Mullaney says. That formula includes guitarist Torey Adler,
Tony Markellis on bass and long-time friend Mike Miggliozzi on drums.
'With Torey, Tony and Mike, you couldn't buy a band like that,' he says.

Miggliozzi was one of the first people Mullaney met when he first came to Saratoga, a place he stumbled upon by mistake. Heading north on his motorcycle, he missed his exit and decided
to pull into town for some gas and a cup of coffee. It was July and the streets of the Spa City teemed with life. Mullaney was hooked on the area.

He spent a few years shuttling back and forth, between New York and Saratoga, vacillating between the homegrown ties of youth and a new-found independence of adulthood.
The 'In Between' is a recurrent theme on Mullaney's psyche.

'In between the glass, and the faces,
rolling fast,
I see the green, green grass
in a tinted past,

of a bar at twilight,'
Mullaney sings on 'Busman's Holiday' end-song, 'In Between.'

'I had just written that and when we went into the session I knew I wanted to put it on the record,' Mullaney says. 'I thought it capped the album really well and it gave a sense
of where I was personally.'

While half the world it seems, is busy scurrying up the mountain in search of life's highs,
and the other half runs away as if being chased by a volcano ready to explode,
Mullaney finds the style for his prose in the small details of gray matter in that twilight
he calls the in-betweens.

The goal is to keep moving forward. Mullaney cautions against believing there is some
ultimate destination. His vision of destiny is found curbside in the people and the places alongside the long and winding road.

'It's a symptom of being an artist that you can't ever expect to be 'there.' Because if you
think you're going to get 'there' - then that's where you falter,' he says.
'I see it as one long process, one with no end.'

Among the songs of the 10-song CD is the imagery of that endless road. It is in the lonely cross-country rambles of 'Miles from Somewhere,' and in the two-chord folk bop
of 'Fate's Arm' and 'Melancholy Skip.'
There are the soul churning, sorrowful grooves of the blues-inflicted 'She Like Ripe Mango,'
as well as the funky rasta-fused rim shots that define the tune 'In the Streets.'

Mullaney credits the talent of the musicians for the ability to take a song and make it swing or bop, screech and skronk or just lay pure blue melancholy across its skin.

'I went into the studio with the best musicians this area has to offer, so I felt really lucky,'
he says. 'If you stay in a comfortable spot, you don't get any better. As a songwriter, I try to take my experiences and open them up a little bit,' he says.
'If it hits you, if it resonates with you, than that's a really good thing. That's when I'm doing my job and that's what I hope to do with the songs.'

By Thomas Dimopoulos / published in The Saratogian, April 2004

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Jes Hudak: Shy Voice, Big Dreams

Jes Hudak sat on the edge of the stage at an empty Caffe Lena one afternoon three years ago. The 20-year-old was excited about the release of her second full-length album, “Tiny Dream.”

The legendary café, home to many storied songwriters, was the scene of Hudak’s first staged performance, during one of the cafe’s open mic nights.
“I love performing on stage. I thrive on it,” she says. “The only time I get nervous is
when I’m not on stage.”

Hudak has been performing her own material since she was 13. She already was a diligent
piano student, taking lessons - finally, she says - when she was in the second grade.
"I couldn’t wait for the daythat I was tall enough to play the piano.”

On this day, a Yamaha acoustic guitar lies across her lap, an instrument that is a relatively
new toy in her musical arsenal.
“I recently started writing on the guitar,” says Hudak, explaining the enjoyment of novice simplicity, while idly strumming away on newly discovered chord progressions.

She dreamed of being a singer since the time she was a kid, growing up on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. As a teen, Hudak moved to Saratoga Springs, attending classes at the local high school before going on to study at Skidmore. Her focus of study has always been on music.
“Playing is what I really want to do and my parents have always been very supportive of me. My father reminds me to be positive and to stay positive. He comes to all my shows,” she laughs, “he’s my roadie, my chauffeur and my video tape-er.”
Despite her age, it is a mature songwriter with a rich voice who comes through on her second CD, “Tiny Dream,” - so much so - that it’s a little disconcerting to many when they come face-to-face with the skinny kid with the shy mannerisms.

“When people hear the songs their reaction is usually ‘That’s not you,’ and I have to remind them that ‘Yeah, it really is,’ “ she says.

“How did I catch the rain and hold on?” she sings on “Two Bodies,” one of 13 tracks on “Tiny Dream.”
The songs are a time capsule of her life, she explains, marked by “interpersonal relationships” and viewed by introspection. The CD is a document concerned with the themes running through everybody’s life: love, loneliness and a longing desire to make the human connection.

Pieced together in a linear fashion, “Tiny Dream” is a running narrative of a great human drama - one whose characters are blessed with strength, yet grapple with constant insecurity:
“Now I have to put my head down, look at the ground and wish I could tell you everything,”
she sings.

Most dramatic is the music itself.
“Tiny Dream” is a portrait of a singer and a piano, alone in a vast and holy cathedral
illuminated only by candlelight. When morning breaks over the dark horizon, the light
prisms flooding the room through stained glass bring the promise of a new day, and with it, another chance to fix all that went awry in the night.

It is Hudak’s inner psyche that is offered up for public consumption on the CD as well as on stage, and is a sparseness that works, mostly because the quality of her song writing is high,
as is the level of sincerity and compassion she brings to the performance.

By Thomas Dimopoulos / The Saratogian

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Kamikaze Hearts : Awake at Dawn

Most everybody else at that hour is either sleeping or floating between worlds on a cloud of dreams.

The Kamikaze Hearts’ Matthew Loiacono is wide awake and at work before the dawn even threatens to crack the night-time darkness. He is surrounded by gunny sacks filled with
coffee beans from Guatemala and Antigua, the softer side of a John Coltrane CD plays
in the background.

"You have to be able to think with your head,” he says, looking through the coffee shop’s front window that faces Broadway.
“You have to have business savvy. This we figured out two or three years ago," he says
about his other work, playing the mandolin, banjo and guitar with ‘The Hearts,’ as he calls them.

Loiacono reckons one of things that separates his band from most is talented songwriting.
"In the band, we have two members who are real good songwriters, very different kinds of songwriters," he says, laughing, "And I'm not one of them."

The band formed in late 1999 and has enjoyed success in the Capital Region music scene ever since. In 2003, the group's self-titled CD caught the ear of CMJ - the national college music scene's Bible - and began a steady climb up the magazine's charts, listed alongside
a number of the music world's most notable pop luminaries. It is pretty much an
unparalleled achievement for an unsigned band from Saratoga.

More than 100 College radio stations across North America picked up on the Kamikaze Hearts and started giving the band airplay, an even higher achievement for the group whose sound doesn't easily fit into any one preordained radio category.
It is a unique style that also affects the venues where they choose to perform.

"We're not quite loud enough to be in the rock clubs, and just not quiet enough for being
in the folk clubs," Loiacono says. "But there are those places in between that we are successful."

Some of those places have included The Iron Horse in Northhampton, Mass., the Palace Theatre, and the Linda Norris Auditorium in Albany to promote a show for radio station WAMC.

Their niche is the result of a sound that draws as much from the straw-sewn tumbleweeds
of the bluegrass farmlands as it does from mournful and lonely asphalt blues.
"The most important thing about getting together in a room to play is that when you come see us on stage, you're going to get an honest experience," he says.
"It's very loose, very human. You want the audience to go away from it having a really
good night”

"There's a ton of songs that we haven't released and we're figuring the best way to put them
out there," Loiacono says. "The last (self-titled CD) is about 28 minutes long, and it's perfect. You just put it on and it doesn't get in the way of anything, and it's nice to listen to."

"Tired of fields, I march through the building," the Hearts sing on the track "Beverly Hills," while a mandolin plays high-pitched counter-rhythms to the drone of acoustic strums, all enveloped in the band's multiple layers of voices.
There is also the uprooted rave-up of the REM-like "War Horse," the open prairie wrangling
of "Secret Handshake," and the acoustic rocker "Five Point Turn," which depicts a harmonizing reminiscent of the classic hums of the song "Eight Miles High."

The CD finale, a tune called "In My Way," starts out like a campfire prayer started by Neil Young before it vaults into a rapid momentous VU-type crescendo that ends with the
lonely pounding of a single fading drum.
Loiacono will have none of the comparisons though..

"A lot of people peg us as Wilco fans," he offers by way of an explanation. "But really - we're not."
The Kamikaze Hearts have been putting together songs for a new album in between performances. “We continue to chip away at the album,” the band offers, “we promise
that it will be released - sometime this decade.”

by Thomas Dimopoulos / published in The Saratogian

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The EXTRAS: Ugly American

They were hot. They were happening. Then they were gone.
One Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1982, Albany-based punk band the EXTRAS
visited a Schenectady recording studio and laid down their entire set list -
16 blistering tracks. It was the last time the power trio would ever perform.

By the time Monday rolled around, the band’s lead singer, bassist and songwriter Mark DeForge was serving prison time. Drummer George Lipscomb and guitarist Eric Van Sleet
got on with their respective lives.
After being released from prison, DeForge relocated to Taiwan, where he lived and worked as a teacher for the next 15 years. The songs that the band recorded have gone unheard, until now.

Disappearing from sight for more than 20 years ago, the tapes have been secured, digitized for CD, and issued by Last Vestige Music as The EXTRAS: “Ugly American.”
Most of the songs are DeForge-penned creations, from the MC5-inspired title track to the catchy Monkees-gone-haywire sounding ditty, “Down the Drain.”
A Ramones-ian lobotomized treatment is granted the traditional tune, “Erie Canal” - the first ode to the western waterway since The Weavers paid homage to it in the mid 20th century.
The sustained guttural attack applied to a second cover song, “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?” is so sonically frenzied it renders Jayne/Wayne County’s notorious version lame in comparison.

Van Sleet’s guitar style borrows from the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones’s book of crunching tones, while Lipscomb’s beat is a steady reminder of the heavy metal ‘70s cymbal ride.
The band as a whole brings back memories of groups like Boston’s La Peste, New York City’s Dictators, and The Cramps.
It also sends home the message that no matter how far audio technology has come in the past 20 years - or for that matter where it may go in the future - nothing can quite duplicate the aural essence captured live between the garage and the grunge eras.

Ugly American” hits its creative peak on the final approach. “30 Secs. ‘Till” pays a safety-pinned nod to avant-noodler John Cage’s “Silence” and leads to the wonderfully pre-politically correct era’s lyrically inappropriate and equally hilarious “Italian with an I.”
The “ballad” outsmarts the Dead Milkmen at their own smarmy game and revels in the amorous tales (or lack thereof) of a particular waitress and her sister. Quipping in laughter to the very end, even as the curtain was falling on the band’s reign.

by Thomas Dimopoulos / published in The Saratogian

Monday, September 19, 2005

Michael Jerling: Musical Movies

Michael Jerling is remembering the first time he heard Bob Dylan and having a good laugh.
It is a deep, hearty belly laugh that sets his whole body in motion, as if he's releasing something that's been buried for the past quarter-century.

“I didn’t grow up in a house that played folk music,” Jerling recalls. “We watched the Kraft Music Hall and listened to top 40 music. The first time I heard folk music was through Peter, Paul & Mary, and the Kingston Trio, who became a mainstream sort of music,” he said.

“Like a lot of these things you start tracing things backwards. You’d hear “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and say ‘Who is this Bob Dylan guy?’
Then you’d play his record and think, ‘My God, that’s awful, he can’t sing like Peter, Paul & Mary,’ Jerling laughs again, then turns serious.
“You’d listen a little more and it would eventually dawn on you - wow - there’s something interesting going on here. That’s what leads you on.”

Jerling was playing some guitar and writing songs while going to school in the early ‘70s at the University of Wisconsin. In 1980, he moved east and settled in Saratoga Springs, where he became something of a regular at Caffe Lena.
“He’s a songwriter with a national career that happens to live here in Saratoga,” said Caffe Manager Sarah Craig. “Michael is one of the cafe’s inner circle of performers. He’s been in the thick of things since the ‘80s and we consider the cafe to be his home stage.”

Jerling is mindful of the progression of the singer/songwriter over the past 40 years or so, sketching a “line of continuum,” as he calls it, from Ani DiFranco to Woody Guthrie.
And, it is a seasoned voice of maturity that he provides on his latest CD, “Little Movies.”
Backed with a small army of some of the more capable musicians in the region that includes Tony Markellis, Bob Warren and Teresina Huxtable, it is an instrumental accompaniment
that is the soundtrack of America - all voice and wood and storybook travels.
Jerling’s voice is the sway that wavers between the opaque sweetness and heavy melancholia.
Embedded in his voice is a storyteller’s heart that rises to the surface as if it were the voice of a people singing from a mountain top.

I have walked your wilderness/ Climbed your Tower of Babel/ Why I lean to silence/
Only time will tell/ Only time will tell

“Normally, I’d have a theme that I’m noodling around with - a phrase, a line, a story, but on
this one, I did a lot of home recording,” Jerling said.
“I’d be working with a musical idea, using a keyboard or guitar, then I would flush them out lyrically afterwards.”
The CD’s 14 tracks are supplemented by an accompanying booklet filled with lyrics, old photographs and classic movie marquee architecture, fitting the theme of the album’s title, “Little Movies.”

In addition to issuing the full-length CD, Jerling’s song “Long Black Wall” was selected for inclusion on the Smithsonian Folkways Recording “Fast Folk: a community of singers & songwriters.” The nationally released double-disc also features performances by Suzanne Vega, Christine Lavin and dozens of prominent performers.

by Thomas Dimopoulos / published in The Saratogian

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Capital Region Noise: An Introduction

They call it the Greater Capital Region.
When I first moved here a few years ago from my native New York City,
a lot of people seemed to go to great lengths comparing the two cities.

Our version of Greenwich Village, they would say, pointing to the downtown areas fronted by eateries and art galleries. The weekly alterna-arts newspaper was the region’s Village Voice, rock ‘n’ roll clubs like Bogie’s and the QE2 – a particularly dark and noisy place ala the Bowery’s CBGB – proof of its musical scene, from the State Capitol City of Albany to the horse farms of Saratoga.

I don’t know if this was an effort to make me feel more comfortable in my new home by comparing it to the place I grew up, or, if it was something that my new friends told each
other so many times they believed it to be true, but after spending some years in this region now, I think the comparisons unfair to both.

There will never be enough people in sheer number to ever be capable of creating a scene in the way that was created in places like New York and San Francisco and metropolitan Seattle.

So let the Capital Region stand on its own, a cultural stew of musicians and poets, painters and filmmakers who do it night after night, year after year, for little more than some pocket money, some local recognition, and the art of sharing their own personal vision with anyone who cares to listen.
These are some of their stories.