Another Side Of Keith Richards (He’s A Genius Inventor!)

When my cell phone rang in my bedroom a week ago Monday at 4:30 AM, I bolted up from the deepest sleep I’d been in since I don’t know when. Shit, I’d forgotten to leave the phone out of earshot! Double shit, the jolt was so dangerous I came this close to reaching the end of my Earthly days. Hallelujah though, my wife Sandy continued to sleep the sleep of babies. Grabbing the phone, I tiptoed out of the bedroom and down the stairs to the living room sofa.

“What the f*ck’s wrong with you, man?” I said to the caller. “Don’t you know what time it is here? It might be late morning in Ireland, but I don’t live in Ireland!”

Photo by Mark Seliger

“Calm down, bro,” said Keith Richards. “I forgot about the time difference, ya know? Gimme a break. And by the way, it’s good to hear ya voice.”

I put my hand over my heart. It still was beating like a big bass drum, but overall I felt alright. I put on a happy face and resumed the conversation.

“Keith-o, what’s happening? How are the rehearsals going?” He was in the Emerald Isle with the rest of The Rolling Stones, preparing for their latest tour. It opens next week in Dublin. And yeah, damn right that Keith and I are buds. You can learn a bit of the backstory by clicking here.

“Ah, man, I don’t know. I mean, the band’s still got it. We’re smokin’ hot, but I’m feelin’ blue. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right career choice. I mean, I like writin’ songs and playin’ on stage and all, but is that all there is to life? Neil, I shoulda been an inventor. I’ve got lots of great ideas. There’s one that I’ll call the Bravo Toilet if I decide to try and bring it to market. Did I ever tell ya about it? Here’s the deal: After ya finish doin’ your business — it don’t matter if it’s number one or number two — and push the flush handle, two big mechanical hands pop up from behind the tank and start applaudin’ real enthusiastically! And they don’t stop clappin’ till the tank has refilled. Not only that, a recorded voice keeps yellin’ ‘Bravo! Bravo! A magnificent performance!’ over and over. Ain’t that the coolest?”

I had to agree. Keith had a very brilliant idea there. I was more than impressed. “Yo, Keith,” I said, “this is a side of you I’ve never known about. What other genius notions have you been keeping secret from me?”

“Well, how about this one? Chewing gum, Neil. Its potential is almost untapped. Think about all the flavors of gum that nobody makes. Brussel sprouts, prunes, kale, quinoa. Oh, and I forgot to mention turnips and parsnips. I tell ya, the list goes on and on.”

“Keith, my man, your future is bright. Very bright. You’ve got more lightbulbs going off in your head than I have strands of hair on my head.” And that’s when a lightbulb went off inside my head for a change.

“Good buddy,” I said, ‘‘you need to turn your attention to finding the cure for baldness. Come up with that one and your legacy will be unmatched. You can do it, Keith, I’ve got total confidence in you.”

“Neil, after this tour is over, curing baldness will become the heaviest item on my plate. I’m gonna tackle that problem with laser intensity. You’ve got my word.”

“You rock, Keith-o! Listen, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to pay a visit to the little boys’ room. I wish I had a Bravo Toilet installed, because my impending dump is going to be majestic. But I have to ask you one more thing: I have a blogging buddy who lives in Scotland. Andrew Ferguson is his name. Andrew and his musical partner call themselves Tribute To Venus Carmichael. They play great songs that Venus composed over the years. Thing is, nobody knows where Venus herself is these days. She’s been performance-shy for forever. You remember Venus, don’t you? She was part of the L.A. music scene in the 70s.”

“Holy crap, Neil, I can’t believe that you’re bringing her up. Sure I remember her. We were an item for a nano-second back in those days. Gorgeous girl. Excellent songwriter. And you won’t believe this, but I’m pretty sure that I saw her in Manhattan last month. I was on my way to a recording studio — me and Mick were working up some new songs there — when I swear she walked right past me. I wouldn’t bet my life on it, but I think it was her.”

‘‘ ‘Venus, baby, it’s Keith,’ I said. ‘It’s fantastic to see ya again.’ But the girl didn’t give me a glance. What can ya say? Maybe it was Venus, maybe not. In any case I’d love to know what Venus’s been up to all these years.”

“Okay, Keith. I’m going to let Andrew know about this. And I wasn’t kidding about what I said a minute ago. Nature is calling me in a deep, powerful voice. See you, Keith-o. You can start applauding in a few minutes. And don’t forget to yell bravo. I’ll hear you from across the pond.”  

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(P.S. Andrew Ferguson is real, as is the musical duo Tribute To Venus Carmichael. Is Venus Carmichael herself real? You’ll have to check out the TTVC website to find out. Is anything else about this story real? Well, the Stones begin their latest tour next week in Dublin. As for the rest . . . )

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Philadelphia, Here We Come Again

Some days begin badly and then turn out fine and dandy. A week ago Friday, for instance, I spent several hours pouting and moping after realizing that there weren’t any fresh blueberries in the house to dump into my breakfast bowl of Wheaties. I’m certain I’m not alone when I say that Wheaties sans blueberries ain’t no Breakfast Of Champions. I might have continued bemoaning my fate until who knows when were it not for the deserved and perfectly aimed slap upside my head that my wife Sandy administered. “Snap out of it, you fool!” she urged me for the umpteenth time this young year, adding “let’s go to Philadelphia and have some fun.” Right as rain once again, I looked through the arts and entertainment listings in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s weekend section and assembled a plan. Before long we found ourselves on a train heading from the burbs into the big city. Arriving in Philadelphia’s central section around 3 PM, we embarked on our expedition of discovery.

Now, Philadelphia’s a cool place in a lot of ways. For starters, it’s swimming with good restaurants and swell arts establishments and nifty Colonial era streets and gorgeous public parks. You can walk for miles and miles taking in the sights. Or, as Sandy and I did on the Friday in question, you can confine yourself to a small chunk of territory and do just fine. Everything we did took place between two blocks on the east-west axis (11th to 13th Streets), and four blocks on the perpendicular plane (Arch to Sansom Streets). We spent five hours within that rectangle before hopping a train back home.

img_1464It was a Friday defined by art, music and food and drink. My kind of day, in other words. First stop was Fabric Workshop And Museum, a non-profit arts institution that has been on the scene since 1977. I’ve been aware of FWM for nearly all of its life, but didn’t get around to scratching it off my to-be-visited list until the other day. Mister Right-On-Top-Of-Things strikes again!

img_1423img_1435FWM is a busy organization, with various arts-making and educational programs going on behind the scenes (click here to find the official website). Its more public face is the galleries where changing exhibits of, natch, art are displayed throughout the year. The items in the first floor gallery didn’t grab me. But I got big kicks from the handmade textiles that set the huge, warehouse-like eighth floor space aflame with colors. There, mounted side by side in four long rows, were large and beautiful silkscreened fabrics produced over the last few years by teens and young adults in FWM’s Apprentice Training Program. Half of the works stuck strictly to blacks and whites, while the rest went crazy with other members of the palette. Black and white . . . multi-colored . . . I couldn’t decide which family I liked best. Hell, why bother deciding? Both approaches were A-OK.

img_1451img_1455Bright, jubilant  colors, though, were destined to take precedence over their more dignified siblings as the afternoon segued into evening. From Fabric Workshop And Museum, Sandy and I ducked into a neighboring building and rode the elevator up to Fleischer/Ollman Gallery where we spent 20 minutes getting drenched by rocking blues, reds, yellows, you name it. Man, I started feeling dizzy from the wild vibes at FOG, and I liked that. “Yo,” I almost said to Sandy, “it’s time to add some life to our frigging living room. I’m going to buy that one and that one.” By which I meant Marc Zajack’s loopily loveable oil titled Stoned Bust and Nadine Beauhamois’ Circus Escapee, a plaster/wire/papier mâché beast in eye-popping hues. But I didn’t take out my wallet. I think I should have. And maybe I yet will.

img_1472On we marched, our final destination to be Fergie’s Pub, a two story joint where you go when you’re in the mood for bohemian funkiness and friendliness. The air outside was incredibly warm for a February 24, about 72° F, which enhanced Sandy’s and my good spirits. It also resulted in an unusual sight — slews of jacketless diners chowing down at sidewalk tables strung all along a stretch of 13th Street, one of The Little Apple’s restaurant rows. Cool. I mean, warm.

 

 

img_1475img_1478Ah, yes, Fergie’s Pub, a spot that totally agrees with me. Sandy and I had been there four or five times before, but not in the past two years. It’s a good place. The food is straightforward, tasty and fresh. The beers flow like wine, and vice versa. And on some Fridays, starting at 6 PM, a tight and soothingly rocking country-and-folk-flavored band that goes by the unlikely name John Train holds sway (click here if you’d like to be directed to JT’s website). John Train played two sets, each about 45 minutes in length, and had the jam-packed second floor room eating out of the palms of its sweaty hands. The group delivered a bunch of original tunes and some by Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams and the like (click here to watch a John Train performance at Fergie’s from earlier this year). The repertoire was powered by drummer Mark Schreiber’s low key but insistent beats and flourishes, and sent soaring by the wistful sounds flowing from Mark Tucker’s steel guitar and guest member Jay Ansill’s fiddle.

John Train is led by lead vocalist Jon Houlon, who sounds like a cross between Jerry Garcia and Arlo Guthrie, and who can banter with and throw goofy barbs at audience members like nobody’s business. The guy is a natural riot. He told a joke that I feel obligated to pass on to my readers. Between songs near the end of the second set, as Sandy and I finished up our turkey burgers, suds and vino, Jon Houlon said this to the audience: “You know The Rolling Stones song Get Off Of My Cloud?  . . . ‘Hey! You! Get off of my cloud’ . . . Well, did you ever hear the Scottish version? . . . ‘Hey! McCloud! Get off of my ewe.'” In my book, that’s a very good one.

You know, I’ve been dancing and prancing in Philadelphia for over four decades, which is most of my adult life, and I’ve yet to get tired of the routine. The day may come when I will, but I’ll worry about it then.

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Is Keith Richards About To Become Boring?

Last week a reader took a look at an article that I launched into cyberspace during the first month of this publication’s life. Which was April 2015. I know this happened because WordPress, the genius company that provides the software for my and millions of other websites, gives statistical information to bloggers, letting them know, among other things, which stories have been looked at and how often. The aforementioned reader was the first to have set eyes on the piece in many a moon.

Photo by Cameron Brown
Photo by Cameron Brown

Likewise, the Moon had slid around Planet Earth mucho times since last I’d thought about that story. Weighed down with a way too long title (Are We Just Boring As We Get Older? Jackson Browne And I Say It Ain’t Necessarily So. Click here to read the article), it’s a short contemplation on aging that I was inspired to write after listening to a conversation that Jackson Browne had with a radio host a few months earlier. The interviewer, David Dye, and Jackson are well into their 60s. That sobering fact must have been the reason for David’s asking Jackson “are we just boring as we get older?” Jackson, an amazingly thoughtful and insightful guy, gave some reassuring comments in response to the query. To sum them up, what he said is that being absorbed in music, as a listener or performer, is a swell way to slow down Father Time’s advances.

Well, maybe that’s true in general. But in my case Father Time has been gaining on me, despite my being a music lover, faster than a speeding motherf***er bullet. I was powerfully reminded of this the other day when I forgot not to swallow the pits of the 15 prunes that I down daily to keep my engine lubricated. I should listen to my wife Sandy when she tells me that I need to buy pitted prunes. Next time I’m at the store I’ll pick up the no-pits variety. If I remember.

Anyway, being reintroduced to my April 2015 story made me take a good, hard look at myself.  My physical and mental declines were, alas, a given. But how was I, on the cusp of the big 7-0, measuring up in the boring department? Was the meager supply of coolness that I’d been lugging around all my life on the decline? Just thinking about the possibility that this might be the case started to bring me down. That’s when my phone began to ring.

Photo: Ruven Afanador
Photo: Ruven Afanador

“Matey, how’s life been treatin’ ya?” my longtime friend Keith Richards asked. “Haven’t spoken to ya in ages. I’ve been on the contemplative side lately and figured my chum Neil is who I should talk with. How’s Sandy? How’s your blog comin’ along?”

“Sandy’s fine, Keith. Thanks for asking. And my blog? Man, it’s a struggle. The writing’s going OK, but finding people to read the stories is a battle and a half. Speaking of which, Keith, how come I get the feeling you never take a look at anything I write?”

There was a moment of silence on the other end. Then Keith, who is 73, spoke. Somehow his voice was even lower in pitch and growlier than usual. “Sorry about that, pardner. It’s true. But that’ll be changin’, along with a lot of things. Neil, I’m gonna start cuttin’ back soon. Downsizin’. Once I get my life all nice and streamlined I’ll have time to read your stories. Don’t ya worry about that, bro.”

“Downsizing? You, Keith-o? What are you talking about? You’re ageless, man. You’re the guy the rules don’t apply to. Keith, what’s going on?”

Is this where Keith plans to move?
Is this where Keith plans to move?

“Neil, I gotta tell ya I wouldn’t have believed any of this even a month ago. But I’m gettin’ tired. I don’t feel like makin’ records no more. Don’t feel like tourin’ with The Stones no more. Don’t feel like stayin’ up all night partyin’ and gettin’ stoned, for the love of Mike! Yeah, I’ve had enough of fun and games and complications. I’ve got houses all over the world and I’m gonna sell ’em. Too much upkeep and bother . . . who needs it? Patti [Keith’s wife] and me, we’ve given this a lot of thought. We’re gonna move into a 55-and-over retirement community in Connecticut. Not sure which one yet. Life’ll be easier. A lot easier. That’ll be good for me, and it’s what I want.”

“Holy crap, amigo. Are you kidding? This is ridiculous. The world needs heroes and idols, Keith. You’ll be letting millions of people down.”

“My mind’s made up, chum. My perspectives have changed. Neil, I wanna live simply and quietly, just like you do. Describe one of your typical days for me. I’m takin’ notes.”

I heard the sounds of pen upon paper as I did what my pal had asked. By the way, I went into the genesis of our friendship in a previous article that you can read by clicking here. “Well, I get up around 7. In the morning, needless to say. I tidy up in the bathroom, put on some clothes and go outside to pick up the newspaper from the front lawn. Then I drink juice and coffee, eat 15 prunes, read the paper, do the crossword puzzle, take a nap on the couch. Keith, before I know it it’s one o’clock and time for lunch. After lunch I turn on the tube to watch The Bold And The Beautiful and General Hospital. Wouldn’t miss them. Then another nap and before I know it it’s dinner time. After dinner I lay out my clothes for the next day, play a few rounds of Go Fish with Sandy and work for a while organizing my collection of empty cereal boxes. By then it’s 8 PM and I’m ready to turn in. I’m busy, Keith. But simply and quietly, as you mentioned.”

“My man! Neil, you’re livin’ the dream and I’m gonna join ya in it. People will laugh, but I won’t care. ‘Booring!’ they’ll say, but screw ’em. You and I know better, don’t we, pal?”

“Keith, when you and Patti move into your new place, let me know. I’ll drive to Connecticut and we’ll hang. We haven’t done that in years, what with you flying all over the globe with The Stones. It’ll be nice. And maybe that’ll inspire me to write a story about you for my blog. The New Keith Richards is what I’ll call it.”

“Yeah, man, it’s a deal. Gotta go now, Neil. The laundry needs to be done and the trash needs takin’ out. Patti’s gettin’ me trained for my new way of life. Peace out, brother.”

Indeed, indeed.

 

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Stoned Again And Again (A Semi-Obsession With The Rolling Stones)

jumpin-jack-flash-coverIn the summer of 1968 I did a stint as a counselor at a boys’ sleepaway camp nestled in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. It was a good gig. I liked the kids in the bunk that I oversaw. And for some reason they seemed to like me. The air up there in the mountains was fresh, the water in the camp’s lake was clean and inviting and the female counselors in the nearby girls’ camp were cute. Like I said, a good gig. The best thing of all during that summer, though, was completely camp-unrelated. It was a tune that I heard for the first time ever while lying one evening on my bunk cot. A new song, it exploded from my teeny-weeny radio, and for the rest of my Berkshires sojourn I flipped that radio’s dial as often as possible each day, seeking out the music that had blown me away. Whenever I found it, which was pretty often, I shook my head in disbelief and let it rock me anew unmercifully. And you know what? To this day, a mere 48 years later, the tune has just about the same effect upon me. We’re talking The Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash, birthed in the era when those British lads were idolized, really mattered and were flabbergastingly creative, writing and recording amazing new songs prolifically and seemingly with ease.

Stones on stage in 2016. Photo by Nelson Almeida/AFP -- Getty Images
Stones on stage in 2016. Photo by Nelson Almeida/AFP — Getty Images

In 2016 the Stones are still idolized, at least by some. But really mattering and in possession of creative zing? Those days passed the Stones by long, long ago. Sure, the boys, who range in age from 69 (guitarist Ronnie Wood, a longtime but not original Stone) to 75 (drummer Charlie Watts) haven’t broken up, and for each of the last five years they’ve toured a decent amount, rocking ferociously on stage (meaning, they remain fairly active and haven’t lost their chops). Problem is, though, in concert they are nothing more than rehashers of their own well-worn classic material. And that’s because, when it comes to composing and then recording new songs, they’re plenty constipated. Guys, I’m going to ship 20 cases of prune juice to your manager’s office. You need it.

Hey, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, all of whose tree rings number about the same as those of the various Stones, continue to gift the world with albums of original material. But the Stones? Nah. The only album of new bonbons they produced this century was 2005’s A Bigger Bang. And in 2011 they managed to record and release two more original songs. The well dried up after that. They do have a studio album coming out next month, but it’s filled strictly with cover versions of old blues numbers. Apparently they had entered the studio to try and crank out an album of newbies, but got nowhere with that. Trying to salvage the sessions in some way, they fell into a blues groove, jamming on numbers composed by Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf and other blues guys, and ended up with enough material for an album. I bet the record (Blue And Lonesome) will be good. But me, I’d much rather have the Mick Jagger-Keith Richards songwriting team on fire like they were looong ago. Who knows? Maybe it’ll happen again. Prune juice works.

Right, it’s kind of weird that I know about all of this Stonesy stuff. But I do. And the reason is that, in my wondrous dotage, I am, as I’ve been for nearly forever, a dopey fanboy of the Stones, though far less fervent than I used to be. I rarely play their albums at home anymore, something I once did religiously. But I keep my Stones jones alive by regularly checking up on their musical and other escapades on Google News. Did you hear, for instance, that Wood became the father of twins earlier this year? Or that Jagger will become a dad for the eighth time, at age 73, when his decades-younger-than-him girlfriend gives birth soon? Ah well, small news items like those fit comfortably into my small brain cavity. Decades ago I probably wouldn’t have thought my semi-obsession with the Stones would continue this far into eternity. Similarly, Jagger, when he was in his twenties, used to say that he couldn’t imagine performing rock and roll beyond age 30. So I guess I don’t feel too goofy about following him and his bandmates on their continuing trip. We spit at Father Time’s wrinkled face!

the-rolling-stones-we-love-you-london-3My best Stones moments in a while came recently courtesy of WXPN, a Philadelphia radio station adept at playing just about every style of music you can name. The morning DJ announced that she was spinning songs that originally had come out together on seven inch 45 rpm vinyl singles. In other words, she was playing sides A and B from a bunch of singles. When I heard her offer up the Stones’ Ruby Tuesday/Let’s Spend The Night Together something sparked in my head, turning my thoughts to another Stones 45 that I’ve always thought of as one of the ultimate singles, and whose two tunes I hadn’t heard in at least a few years. Released in 1967, during the Stones’ brief foray into psychedelia, We Love You and Dandelion found their most meaningful home on that single, as neither ever was part of a regular studio album. They did, however, eventually take up space on some of the greatest hits and compilation discs that the band is talented at issuing unnecessarily often. Great, great songs they are, despite being among the group’s lesser-known efforts.

I used to own the seven inch We Love You/Dandelion single. No more. My collection of 45s, unlike that of my vinyl albums, long ago found new abodes and/or an assortment of landfills in which to reside. Therefore, thank the stars above for YouTube, to which I turned to please my ears soon after the tunes popped into my mind. They sounded as good as I remembered them. Blessed with catchy-as-hell melodies, swirling and cascading vocals and pulsating instrumentations, We Love You and Dandelion set my head a-boppin’ and my mind a-floatin’. As always, shivers ran up and down my back as the songs’ high harmony vocal interweavings kissed the sky.

We Love You arrived in the wake of Jagger’s and Richards’ 1967 drug bust, short-term jailings, trials and, in the end, very light sentences. It was both a thank you to Stones supporters and a poke at the British legal system. Dandelion is less heady, a harpsichord and drum-driven relative of children’s songs aimed at anyone who likes to smile and groove. Both songs swell with musical daring, panache and beauty. I can’t recommend them enough. Such being the case, clicking here is what you’ll want to do to listen to the former, and here for the latter. I accept your thanks in advance.

 

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OJR Will Tour With The Rolling Stones (Keith Richards Assured Me Of This)

My cell phone rang in late afternoon on a recent Sunday. I answered and an unmistakable phlegmy voice said to me: “Yeah mate, how ya doin’? I’m OK. Just sittin’ here in my hotel room watchin’ the telly. Drinkin’ milk, munchin’ Oreos. They go good together, ya know?” It was Keith Richards calling from Sao Paulo, Brazil, where The Rolling Stones had played a show the night before.

“I know, Keith, I know. Every time you call it’s the same old thing. Milk and Oreos. Milk and Oreos. Come on, amigo. Switch it up once in a while. Didn’t you ever hear of Chips Ahoy? Vienna Fingers?”

He guffawed. “I’m hooked, son. I can’t switch. I won’t.”

“Okay, Keith,” I said. “So what’s the scoop? How was the show last night?”

Keith Richards. (Photo by Mark Seliger)
Keith Richards. (Photo by Mark Seliger)

“Cool, man, cool. We had fun. Ya got a minute?” As though I didn’t. Before the phone rang I had been cutting coupons for half an hour. And before that, working on a story idea about celebrities’ genomes that I plan to pitch to Science Magazine, I’d spent 90 minutes meticulously plotting the Kardashians’ family tree. I was pooped. I was ready to have a relaxed phone conversation. “Spill your guts, partner,” I said to my old friend, whom I’d met and instantly bonded with in 1978. This was at a Bingo parlor in Philadelphia the day after a Stones gig in that fine city. Keith’s a Bingo man. He has wandered into Bingo halls all over the world.

“What’s the Stones’ signature song?” Keith asked me. “Ya know, the one we’ve played ten thousand times. The first letter is an S. Here’s another hint. It starts like this: dum dum da da dah da da da da da.”

“Let me guess,” I said “Is it Smoke Gets In Your Eyes?”

“I wish,” my friend said. “I’d like to play that one. I’ll run it by Mick. But I got a problem here, bro. No joke. Every show we hafta play Satisfaction. Last night I almost couldn’t do it. I f – – kin’ hate that song. If I hafta play it again I’m gonna plotz.”

“Relax, chum, relax,” I said. “You’ll get through this. You’re a pro. Drink some more milk.”

“C’mon, pal. I need a boost. Talk to me. What’s good? What’s new and happenin’? Clue me in.”

Oliver John-Rodgers. (Photo by David Salay)
Oliver John-Rodgers. (Photo by David Salay)

“Okay, laddie,” I said. “There’s something really good that I checked out the other day. Great music by a young guy named Oliver John-Rodgers. Calls himself OJR. His YouTube videos have gotten about as many views as my blog articles, which means that just about nobody ever heard of him. But I think that’s going to change. For him, I mean. Not for me. His new album is fantastic. I ain’t Nostradomus, but I predict that he’s going to be big.”

“Hold up, Neil. Someone just tapped on my door. It’s Mick, no doubt. I can tell by the secret knock . . . dum dum da da dah da da da da da. You heard that, didn’t ya? He’s been doing that to me for the last 50 years. Gotta go, compadre. Send me an email about OJR. Peace, brother.”

With that, Keith hung up. Before I’d forget I sat down and composed my message to him. Here’s what I wrote:

Hey, boyo. Thanks for calling. OJR’s new album, Nashville Demos, rocks like a mother lode. Catchy melodies, nifty lyrics, guitar licks that wrap themselves around your brain. He recorded the album in, believe it or not, bedrooms all over the world. I guess he’s sort of a vagabond. Played most of the instruments himself. I found out about him from WXPN, a Philadelphia radio station I listen to sometimes. OJR has a song called Numb, and it’s in XPN’s rotation. The song’s a monster. OJR put the whole album up on his website (Keith-o, click here to listen to the album). And I found a primo YouTube video of OJR and his band playing Numb in a slowed-down head-warping version (Keith, my man, click  here to watch it). That’s all for now. It’s almost 7 PM, my bedtime as I’m sure you remember. Talk soon, matey. Oh wait, one more thing. Please ask Charlie, Ronnie and Mick to look at my blog. There’s a chance they might like my stuff. Peace out.

A few days later, at 8 PM, my phone rang. I’d been asleep for an hour. Thanks, Keith, for waking me up. He was calling from his hotel room in Lima, Peru. The Stones would be on stage in Lima the next night. “Yo, what’s up, cool guy?” he asked. “You were right. OJR is the friggin’ bomb. Best rock and roll I’ve heard since the end of the Ice Age. Or maybe it was the Cold War. I forget. Anyway, the boys and me had our managers get in touch with him. OJR’s a sweet dude, they said. And you know what? . . . We’re gonna have him open some shows for us later this year. Thanks for the tip, Bingo Boy.”

“No problem, Keith. Glad to help. How about my blog? What did Ronnie, Mick and Charlie say?”

There was a long pause. I knew the news wasn’t going to be too good. “Well, buddy, I sent them the link to your blog. Sorry mate, let me tell you straight — slow and snoozy are a couple of the words they used about your articles. What can I say? But I’ve got a great idea for ya. You’ve never written a story about Bingo. I think ya should.”

“Thanks, Keith. Maybe I will.”

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Ashes: Lindi Ortega’s Great Song Heard In The Great Outdoors

This is a story about life’s little surprises, about how one thing leads to another. In this gentle instance an unexpected impulse to relocate my duff from indoors to outside resulted in my hearing a song that I can’t get out of my head.

There’s something naturally relaxing about sitting outdoors when the weather is pleasant. Some people sit in parks, some on beaches, some a few feet from doors to their homes. One of my pals lives in Philadelphia in an old comfortable house, a sprawling place with a front porch. On evenings when the Philadelphia Phillies are taking the field, my friend positions himself in a porch chair, balances a small radio on a table beside him and turns on the Phillies station. He remains there till the game is over. This routine helps him stay calm.

A scene at dusk: Cheez-Its, iced tea and portable radio on the deck table behind my house. Photograph by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin
A scene at dusk: Cheez-Its, iced tea and portable radio on the deck table behind my house.
Photograph by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin

I should emulate my friend’s fresh air example more often. I used to sit outside frequently, mostly on the deck behind my house, but haven’t much in the last few years. Most of my sitting and downtime in that stretch has taken place on the sofa in my living room. On a recent Monday night, however, a powerful urge to visit the great outdoors came out of nowhere, and so I stepped onto the deck as dusk was settling in, and sat at the deck table. The temperature was ideal, the evening peaceful. At least ten houses are within 100 feet of the deck, but they became less and less visible through the trees as blackness approached. These were conditions that agreed with my inner yearnings. That is, I felt isolated, away from it all. And three things made the scenario even better: Food, beverage and music. Munching on Cheez-Its,  sipping iced tea and, most important to this story, listening to my portable radio, I was as relaxed as I’m capable of becoming. The radio was tuned to WXPN.

In the Philadelphia region WXPN is the go-to station for rock, folk, blues and nearly any other non-Ariana Grande musical genre you can name. XPN plays everything from The Beatles to Mavis Staples to Caetano Veloso to Laura Marling. And the station makes it a mission to keep up with the continual avalanche of recorded music from established and never-heard-of-them-before musicians. Airing on XPN as I sat beneath the stars and amidst pulsating fireflies was a program showcasing nothing but new songs. And the tune that issued from my radio at about 9:00 PM swept me from my state of relaxation to a much higher plane.

There are certain songs over the years that infatuated me from the moment I first heard them. In 1968 it was Jumpin’ Jack Flash, by the Stones. To this day it stirs me up every time I hear it. California Stars, by Billy Bragg and Wilco (and lyrics by Woody Guthrie), brought me to my knees in 1998. I’ve added another number to the list of instant infatuations, all praise to WXPN’s new music show. The song is Ashes. Its singer and writer is Lindi Ortega. Ashes overwhelmed me on my deck. I think that the calm within and without me had unlocked fully the doorways to my emotions and ushered Ashes in. From its opening notes, Ashes in a good way made me shiver and melt. It went straight to my truest spaces.

I had come across Lindi Ortega’s name in print in the past but wasn’t familiar with her music. As I’ve learned, she’s a Canadian now living in Nashville and plays and composes smart country-hued material à la Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin. With Ashes she and her production team have created a wonder, a stirring song about the need for love, the pain of loss. The heartbeat bass lines, the steady tension-inducing drumming, Lindi’s pleading and impassioned vocals that grow as the song develops, the soul-gripping guitar solo at the song’s three minute mark . . . Ashes to me is perfection. “Darling, this is madness, why don’t you come back to me?/Don’t leave me in the ashes of your memory.” Indeed. Indeed. When Lindi next appears in or around Philadelphia I’ll be at the show. For now, I’ll listen to Ashes on YouTube, where Lindi has gifted it to the world in advance of its release next month on her album Faded Gloryville. I recommend that you do the same. Here is Ashes:

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