By Steve Beard
When we are born we bear the seeds of blight;
Around us life & death are torn apart;
Yet a great ring of pure and endless light;
Dazzles the darkness in my heart.
Sometimes poets drive me nuts. Despite my best efforts, poetry is not my first language. Nevertheless, my heart melts when the poetic swerve makes a complex matter sound wistfully sensible. The stanza above is from the late Madeleine L’Engle, the poet and storyteller behind A Wrinkle in Time, and it helps even a left-brainer like me to conceptualize the theological complexities of the human heart and our journey.
As I grow older, the more I love the image of eternity as a great ring of endless light. Perhaps it is because I am acquainted too well with the darkness and pettiness in my heart. L’Engle’s words conjure up the imagery of someone shouting “Hello!” into a dark cavern where the words are given the freedom to echo on and on.
Everlasting to everlasting is a mighty long time. That is a terrifying prospect to some, and sweet relief to others. Somehow foreverness seems to be etched into our DNA. “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing,” mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal observed almost 350 years ago. Is that what gives such lasting import to words such as Hope, Mercy, Grace, Love, and Resurrection?
My son John Paul just turned 18 years old. I fired off my first letter to him when he was four days old. “All of this is to simply say that you were wanted and we are so glad that you have arrived,” I concluded back in 1996. When he turned 13, family friends wrote him encouraging notes of advice as he experienced a non-kosher version of a Protestant bar mitzvah. “I don’t suppose that anything magical happened when you woke up and had officially turned 13,” I wrote. “Nevertheless, this is an important time for me to tell you again how much I love you and how unbelievably proud I am of you.” As he packs up for college, this is some of the letter I wrote to him (shared here with his permission).
Dear John Paul:
Rolling Stone recently published a fascinating profile of Annie Clark (who performs her rock ‘n’ roll under the stage name of St. Vincent). When she was young, Clark’s grandmother baptized her in a kitchen sink “with a cigarette in one hand and a martini” in the other. Her parents were not particularly devout Christians, but the baptism meant a lot to the grandmother and her parents believed “it wouldn’t do any harm.”
I laughed because of the similarities and dissimilarities between her experience and your baptism. Your mom and I wanted your grandfather to perform this ancient ritual because it is an outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible grace that brews within you. When your grandfather baptized you in the waves of Maui, those of us on the beach and the nearby sea turtles were witnesses to this sacred moment.
The difference between Annie Clark’s parents and your own mom and dad is that we actually believe that your baptism is significant, sacred, and spectacular. When times are tough, I hope you can remember your baptism. It directly links you to innumerable generations of believers before you from every culture and from every tongue around the globe.
This letter is not meant to be a trite rah-rah cheer for Jesus. You are now an adult. Your life is a runway before you. Take off. Fly. You can choose your own path, cut your own trail, and make your own decisions. Sometimes that will be sweet relief — at other times it will be exhaustingly miserable.
Brian Setzer’s gorgeous Gretsch guitar has now been inducted into the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Setzer’s guitar – which is actually a replica of his 1959 Gretsch – will be part of the stunning collection of musical instruments at the museum that includes John Coltrane’s saxophone, Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet, Prince’s Yellow Cloud electric guitar, and Eddie Van Halen’s “Frank 2″ guitar.
As a lifelong fan of the Stray Cats and the big band sounds of The Brian Setzer Orchestra, I could not be happier for the innovative Setzer. As a young rockabilly musician, I lusted after that classic Gretsch guitar – that garish orange body with those two dice that he drilled to replace missing tone knobs and the Lucky Lady, skull and crossbones, and Black Cat stickers. As to the replica guitar that will be at the Smithsonian, apparently his original guitar began to age and became unplayable. A master guitar builder replicated every detail of the original and created an exact replica in 2006 that Setzer has been playing. Congratulations, Brian Setzer! Rockabilly rules!
By Steve Beard
At the age of 77, the righteous Queen of Rockabilly is still tearing it up with 60 to 80 concerts per year. Considered to be one of the first women to record rock and roll, Jackson is a sassy music legend who toured with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and, most recently, Adele. It was her boyfriend, Elvis Presley, who convinced Jackson to migrate from country music to rockabilly.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Jackson growled out hits such as “My Big Iron Skillet,” “Tears Will Be the Chaser for your Wine,” and “Fujiyama Mama.” Ten years after their marriage, Wanda and her husband Wendall began attending church and dedicated their lives to Christianity in 1971. “We were headed down a pretty rocky road,” she told Smithsonian Magazine. “The main thing that God does for you when you really sell out to him and want to live for him is he sets your priorities up right.” Over the next decade, she recorded half a dozen gospel albums and devoted their talents to churches and revival meetings.
When the rockabilly revival of the 1980s was launched, Jackson was recruited to tour all over Europe. With her legendary status as a rock pioneer, she was periodically invited to play at music festivals and to collaborate with other artists such as Rosie Flores and The Cramps.
If ever an opening song on a debut album could set the tone for the entirety of a band’s career, it was “Blitzkrieg Bop,” off the 1976 self-titled album by the Ramones. Lean, fast and propelled forward by a low-to-the-ground-beat and no-fuss lyrics (“Hey! Ho! Let’s go!”), the 2-minute, 13-second song doesn’t waste any time in putting the listener on high alert.
Today, it’s a rallying cry at sporting events the world over. Almost four decades ago, however, it served for many as the introduction to four leather-wearing men who looked as if they had emerged from a gutter in New York (in reality, from a well-kept neighborhood in Queens).
The anchor of that song — the first of many underground flags that the Ramones would cement in mainstream America — was Tom Erdelyi, better known as Tommy Ramone. The Ramones’ drummer on only its first three studio albums, Erdelyi served later as the band’s producer and was forever a principal in shaping the sound of one of America’s most beloved punk rock outfits.
Ultimately, Ramones songs such as “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Teenage Lobotomy,” “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” and “Beat on the Brat” were more personal stamps on forceful individualism than the politically charged U.K. punk later made famous by the Sex Pistols and the Clash.
To read the rest of Todd Martens’ article in the Los Angeles Times, click HERE.
Rightly, the PA at the Roxy on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip blasted nothing but Ramones records in the hour before showtime. But on a day, July 12th, charged with the news of the passing of that band’s last, surviving original member, drummer Tommy Ramone, it was fitting – and heartening – to hear and see another foursome from punk rock’s first golden wartime, L.A.’s X, intact and in searing-rebirth form, on home ground.
Full-album gigs are now a common enough celebration among bands of a certain vintage. X have the catalog to carry that conceit and their greatest hits in the same show. Their summer tour will include more full-album runs – in New York in late August, then Chicago and Cleveland in September – as well as acoustic shows later this month and the usual, electric one-night stands. Still whole, still strong, X are playing, deep in their fourth decade, like a band in renewal – and poised, if they choose to write again at this level, for renaissance.
To read the rest of David Fricke’s piece in Rolling Stone, click HERE
By Jason Micheli
I’ve been listening to Jack White’s new album, Lazaretto, incessantly over the last two weeks.
Running, reading, driving.
In case you’re one of those cretans who only listen to pop music or, worse, are still listening to the same 11 Steve Miller Band songs you did in high school, Jack White is the auteur garage rocker behind the White Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather.
In the early aughts Jack White took a plastic guitar and a 2-man garage band and made blues relevant again. As White truthfully said in Rolling Stone last month (and got crap for it), without him there would be no audience for popular bands like the Black Keys.
As the world gets more pop, an article recently described him, ‘the more rock Jack White strives to be.’ White’s music consistently goes against the grain of what we’re told people want in today’s culture, but as with any good gift- or should we say grace- White’s music points out wants we didn’t know we had prior to the gift.
To read the rest of this blog, click HERE.