Broken Halos

Broken Halos – Spotify

Broken Halos – YouTube

I could listen to this guy sing the phone book.

Assuming they still delivered those tomes to my doorstep.

We live in a distraction economy. If Jesus came back, there’s no doubt most in attendance would be glued to their mobile phones, checking up on what was happening in their personal lives. No matter how riveting what’s happening on stage might be, the audience can’t peel its eyes away from their screens. But then there are acts so riveting you don’t want to look down, you don’t want to miss a moment, not because there’s dancing or projection but because you feel you’re in the presence of genius, a musician channeling truth from the heavens. You don’t want to miss a note, because before long the act will leave the stage and you’ll be left all alone, empty.

This is the way it used to be. When music drove the culture and the best and the brightest picked up an instrument, or became A&R people, promoters or agents, just to get closer to the sound, the magic. How come Chris Stapleton can tread this path when seemingly no one else can? How can this aged overweight bearded denizen be our savior in a nation of false prophets?

It’s not like he’s been hidden. He wrote songs, he had bands, and then he hooked up with Dave Cobb and the zeitgeist was captured. Suddenly, we were all clued in. Never underestimate the power of a producer. Not someone who writes the songs, but someone who can get the act’s best self down on wax.

I’m not sure what kind of music this is. Because it sounds like nothing else, on the radio or off. What they call rock today is noisy and aggressive, it’s not so much in the pocket as an assault on your being, its purveyors caught up in the trappings, the tattoos and the leather, as opposed to the music. And the country hit parade is peopled with those stuck in the seventies, with a sound that’s a retread of that era’s AOR. And hip-hop is the sound of the street, but it’s sans melody, it’s less soulful than intellectual, sure, you feel the beat, but it appeals more to your head than the heart.
And then we’ve got Chris Stapleton.

“Broken Halos” is like Skynyrd, if that band slowed down and was more Nashville than Florida.

“Broken Halos” has got the outsider vibe of Steve Earle, but it’s closer to rock than country, it’s less something you play in a bar drinking beer than play as you’re rolling down the highway, with the windows down, nodding your head as the song provides the soundtrack to what you see through the windshield.

“Broken Halos” sounds like nothing on the hit parade, in any format, but it’s somehow more immediate and soulful and touching than any of those cuts.

What is music? Is it passive? That’s what drove Pandora, people listening in the background. Me, I want my tunes more foreground, I want them to be my life, I’m looking for life rings to grab onto as they pull me to a better land where I’m understood and happy, an alternative universe where all the b.s. of everyday life, the duplicity, the getting ahead, is nonexistent. A land where the front rows are not peopled by hedge funders because they’re out of the loop. That’s right, when music moved from AM to FM, most were out of the loop. And then MTV united us in song and now the commentators say we should love the pop, but unlike the music of yore it’s a sideshow that requires little attention.

And then you hear something like “Broken Halos.”

It’s slight. Absent the twists and turns and explosions that Max Martin employs. The song is simple. But the delivery is over the top, without trying to be so. Chris Stapleton opens his mouth and truth comes out, he’s not trying to impress us, he’s just doing what he’s supposed to. It’s the antidote to the manipulated music of today, with its multiple writers and remixes. It feels like there’s a band in the studio and they just rolled tape.

I’ve seen my share of broken halos, bands that I used to live for that sold out to the man, signed up for the sponsorships, live for the privates.

Angels came down and delivered me and then they disappeared, not only Jimi and Janis, but so many more.

And Chris Stapleton is resonating. It’s not like he’s a sideshow, he’s become the main show, he’s the most revered man in Music City, and you don’t have to live in Nashville to like him.

Is this a harbinger of what’s to come or a one-off?

I’m not sure.

But in an era where no one can follow up the hit, Stapleton is not scared by his success, he’s continuing to plow the path, going where his instincts tell us as opposed to the social media/mainstream grinder, which demands you give it what it wants, even though no one really wants that.

I can’t turn “Broken Halos” off. Not because it’s such a good song, but because it makes me feel good, alive, reminds me of what once and hopefully can be once more.

“I Wrote Six Songs That Weekend”

Maybe that’s why J. Cole is so successful.

Newspapers are functioning on an old paradigm. Wherein PR people pitch stories and what ends up appearing in the arts section is hype. There’s no news there. It’s all in the other sections, National, Business and Sports. If I want the facts, I can go to the internet. I’m looking for the spin, someone to ferret through the detritus and come up with the jewels.

But racing through today’s NYT Arts section quickly so Felice could do the puzzle, her weekend addiction, I got hooked on a story about J. Cole. Which is hype for his HBO special.

I read it because I know Cole’s success more than his music, I thought there might be some nuggets there.

And there were. How he retreated from fame to North Carolina, tried to become the opposite of the character so many desire, with wine, women, song and automobiles.

And they talk about him playing hoops uninterrupted.

But the cops raided his abode. Cole posits looking for drugs. He believes a neighbor tipped them. Even though essentially nothing was found.

That’s when Cole wrote the six songs.

All of Cole’s albums have gone platinum, maybe this is why.

Art is best when based upon inspiration. Talk to anybody who creates. It’s when the heavens open, the lightning bolt comes down and you’re zapped, you’ve got something to say.

But that’s not the way it’s been for oh-so-long. All the music today is massaged. That’s what made music a hotter medium that movies or TV, it’s why Warner Records built HBO, never mind the Warner cable system. Because when done right music captures the zeitgeist.

Keith Richards conjured the riff to “Satisfaction” in a dream.

Some of the greatest songs in history were written in fifteen minutes.

And the people can tell, listeners know, there’s some indescribable nugget encased that they just can’t resist, that they must get closer to.

Which the digital/internet age should foster. Not only are the means of production cheap, they’re at your fingertips 24/7, as is distribution. There are no hurdles, it’s only our minds that our restricting us.

So get out and live, raise your antenna. When you least expect it, when you think you’re just going about your business, you will be inspired.

And it’s a solo event. Kinda like the Beatles, most of their songs were not joint affairs, McCartney or Lennon just tweaked what their partner came up with.

And there’s nothing wrong with tweaks, just don’t smooth the rough edges, don’t eliminate what hooks people to begin with.

And we are just people. We’re in search of humanity. When you channel truth we resonate and feel connected in a lonely world. That’s why we love our musical stars, their ability to do this.

Do it.

“That lack of representation, Mr. Cole said, can lead to potentially catastrophic misunderstandings. In March of last year, police raided the Sheltuh; Mr. Cole believes a neighbor was fearful it was a drug den. Security footage that captures the raid is used in the HBO special, showing dozens of heavily armed men forcibly entering the building only to find, well, nothing. (A ticket was issued for a small amount of marijuana found on the premises, he said.)

‘I wrote six songs that weekend,’ Mr. Cole noted wryly – they included the powerful “Neighbors,” from the new album.’

“J. Cole, the Platinum Rap Dissident, Steps Back From the Spotlight”

P.S. This article is hype, but it’s so much more. Proving that I’m still looking, wading through the junk looking for the essence. People are still looking to be touched by greatness, inspiration, we never give up hope, we never stop turning the corner, we’re waiting for you to deliver for us.

MOAB & North Korea

Am I the only one freaked out about this?

I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was only nine years old, but I was plenty scared. I remember visiting my grandparents in Peabody, Mass., lying on the sloping porch of their three story abode, asking my mother what was gonna happen.

She said if they dropped the bomb we’d all die, and not to worry about it.

Is that the genesis of all my problems right there? Because this only made me more afraid.

And I haven’t been so afraid this century. Haven’t been afraid for decades. Yes, 9/11 happened, but that was in New York, first stop for Europeans, a bit more of a hop, skip and a jump from the Middle East, but the centralized city, Manhattan, makes a perfect target.

But if they’re lobbing bombs from North Korea, L.A.’s the place.

Don’t tell me to be unafraid. It doesn’t work. Just like in the instance of my mom above.

I laugh when I hear people in the heartland give up their rights in the name of protection from terrorism, the assailants are gonna go there last. They’re gonna start in the big cities, where they have the most impact.

So I’m driving on the freeway this morning and they’re going on about the Mother Of All Bombs. ISIS is comprised of bad guys, I get it. But aren’t we pissing them off by doing this, the ones who survive? Aren’t we imploring them to commit acts of terrorism, poison our water, kill our children? That’s the first thing that went through my mind, revenge. Some of these people have been pissed for centuries, they can hold a grudge. And the truth is no one can keep America safe, it just can’t be done.

And now comes this brinksmanship with North Korea. Just six months ago they were debating whether Trump should be trusted with the button and it seemed a distant question, we’ve had Glasnost, ABM treaties, no one’s gonna drop a bomb. But then Putin acted with impunity, annexing Crimea after an Olympics only one step away from Hitler’s 1936 edition, and then Trump fires Tomahawk missiles into Syria and all I can think of is Naomi Klein and “The Shock Doctrine.” When there’s war, the character of the country changes, the administration enacts restrictions, rams through an agenda they would not be able to do in peacetime. This is what the U.S. does around the world, Democrats and Republicans, it’s just that most Americans are so busy celebrating their belief they live in the greatest country in the world that they’ve got no idea what is happening outside our borders, what heinous acts are being committed.

And then there’s the involvement of Russia in our elections, and irrelevant of whether Trump’s election is valid or not, it makes you wonder who is in control.

As for Trump’s supporters, the Republican voters, I’m coming to believe the rank and file’s defense of him has little to do with policy and everything to do with hatred of Hillary. Give the right wing credit, they’ve spent decades denigrating Clinton and the “New York Times” and the end result is both have been neutralized, they’re holding the losing end of the stick. And I don’t care whether you’re a lefty or a righty, but the issue isn’t fake news, but the fact that we can’t agree on the facts, whatever they might be. We’ve all got different news sources, that’s the story of the election, which also taught us not to trust the techies, who got it all wrong, their statistical modeling told us Hillary would win and she didn’t. So it’s every man for himself in America these days, and that’s positively scary.

For years I avoided television news. For years I skimmed through the international section of the newspaper. Now it’s like a wreck on the highway, I can’t peel my eyes away. And I wonder if the attention is warranted. And I wonder what impact I can have. Are we in a national crisis and it’s all hands on deck, fighting the administration’s takeover? Or is it worse than that, and we’re skewing towards military rule? After all, Trump defers to his Generals.

And don’t get your knickers in a twist, don’t make this us versus them, right versus left, we’re all people and we’ve got more in common than that which separates us. We all want opportunity and community, we all want the pursuit of happiness. But we’ve been so busy looking for points of difference that we are divided and no longer communicating while a Washington, D.C. that was out of touch to begin with is now circling the wagons and taking over.

Or is it?

My grandfather came from Russia. He escaped the czar. Some of his brothers and sisters went to Palestine, one left behind ended up in the Russian army.

He got a job in a tannery. He joined the Workmen’s Circle, because he believed in the power of the laborer, the power of the people, he believed the average working Joe should be heard and understood.

And with the money he saved he purchased two three story apartment buildings that his son ultimately labeled slums. But he and his wife continued to live there. They put a son and a daughter through college. Another son O.D.’ed after getting hurt in the factory and never recovering from back pain, he overmedicated himself.

And my father’s father lost a hand in a railroad accident. And one of my dad’s brothers got run over in the driveway, a sister committed suicide. And the truth is we’ve all got potholes in our stories, twists and turns that we’d rather forget but bond us. We’re imperfect people with checkered histories. All we want is to be able to survive and live in peace.

But suddenly that’s challenged. Suddenly the Chinese say they find Kim Jong-un uncontrollable. We pushed Saddam Hussein, who refused to back down even though he had no nukes. These are not rational people, they’re power-hungry overlords, who are more worried about their image than safety. That’s what we’re up against.

We’re privileged, we’ve grown up in the relative safety of the United States.

But now opportunity has faded here too. Desperation is rampant. You may not experience it, but if you open your eyes you can see it. We thought we were above the fray, that we were a better people with answers, living behind an invisible curtain of impenetrability. But the last few months have shown we’re no better and no different from everybody else. The pedestal has been torn down. Our leader is just as unpredictable as theirs. We too are driven by religion.

But even more we’re driven by ignorance and power.

And that’s just positively scary.

I know, I know, I should relax. Just dial up Netflix. Zone out.

But I can’t.

S-Town

S-Town

Have you listened to this?

I’m worried about the national consciousness. We listen to different music, watch different TV shows, many people don’t even go to the movies and we all get our news from different sources…how are we supposed to have a discussion?

It’s like we’re all speaking a different language. And even on topics we have in common, we quote different “facts.” There’s no cohesiveness, no glue. As a result, there’s no unifying factor.

The top five tracks on Spotify are by Kendrick Lamar, Future, Lil Uzi Vert, Drake and Ed Sheeran. Forget having heard them, have you even HEARD OF THEM?

We used to be unified by our art. Now we’re all siloed. And told we’re incompetent and out of it by acolytes of that which we are uninformed about. But we just shrug off our ignorance, we’re too busy in our own niches. You can criticize someone all you want for their choices, but no one cares. Used to be you were either an AM or FM person. Imagine, just two choices! You either were hip or you were not. Now you’re uninformed or you’re not. But it’s a full time job trying to keep up, and still there’s so much you don’t know.

And in case you don’t know, “S-Town” is the new podcast from the producers of “Serial” and “This American Life.” Traditional media has been hyping its success, but no one has mentioned it to me and whenever I bring it up I get blank stares. This is unlike the original iteration of “Serial,” wherein we were all addicted. But is that just the new paradigm, we care when it’s new, when you repeat the formula we tune out and move on? That’s what purveyors don’t understand, that it’s nearly impossible to keep our attention. And every time you fail the greater the chance people won’t even bother the next time. Which is why you should strive for greatness, especially if you put out product infrequently. Kinda like the new Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie track. It starts so slowly, the verse is blah, but then the chorus is a home run. Couldn’t anybody sit down with Lindsey and tell him the new rules? That you’ve got to grab us immediately, changes are key, we don’t have time to listen ten times, our lives are fast-paced, didn’t he read the Max Martin interview? I mean old farts can rarely recapture the magic, but listening to “In My World” you discover there’s still something there, if you haven’t clicked on to something new before you get to the sauce.

Kinda like the second season of “Serial,” the one about Bowe Bergdahl. How many episodes did you listen to before you moved on? Me, only two. But the reviews of “S-Town” were so good.

It’s not that good. And while you’re listening, you start to realize, like in a French film, there’s going to be no payoff, there’s going to be no a-ha moment, there’s going to be no resolution.

There, I ruined it for you. But you probably weren’t going to listen anyway. Or you’re not quite through the entire seven episodes, which were released all at once, which I give kudos to the producers for, we live in an on demand culture and there it all is.

And it’s not like it starts off strong and hooks you. It’s not boring, but your eyes don’t bug out, like with the first “Serial.”

But you want to know what happens.

We all want to know what happens.

America is hooked on story.

Meanwhile, we keep being fed ever-smaller bite-sized content, with a media falsely telling us we have a short attention span and this is what we desire.

No, we desire humanity. That’s what’s missing from the movies and so much music, there are no PEOPLE there. Especially in flicks, where it’s literally superheroes and zombies. And in music, it’s all about boasting or platitudes, nothing that soothes the soul. But in TV… There are long arcs where images are secondary to plot. We live for plot. Hell, too many film directors are into image, we live for story.

Then again, Instagram is king, can you explain that to me? Looking at pictures of people essentially bragging, what is the hook here?

I’ll tell you what it is, a desire to belong, to feel part of the club, to feel connected in a world where disconnection is king.

And when you stop listening for the smoking gun, when you stop waiting to find out what happened to the gold and focus on the characters in “S-Town” you do get rewarded. But it’s not what they’re selling in the hype.

John B. McLemore is a self-educated genius who cannot get along. Living in a backward town he wants to leave but just cannot. His is a life of failed relationships, even though he has so many admirers. But he’s his own worst enemy, he alienates those closest to him. And he gets jealous if he’s not your number one.

People are complicated.

But not online. You’re either a Democrat or a Republican. The lines are clearly drawn. But there are people who believe in abortion and not a welfare state and vice versa. Where do the chiaroscuro citizens play?

So, if you’re interested in character study, “S-Town” is genius.

And now they’re debating Mr. McLemore online.

But only if you look for it. Otherwise, you’re clueless.

So do we have an overhyped mediocrity or evidence that our national soul is hurting and we cling to anything with a shred of humanity?

I’ll tell you this, I couldn’t turn “S-Town” off, I got hooked, because in a world of obligations, where you’re made to feel inadequate every damn day, it was great to retreat to a world where people were not trying to get ahead so much as living. Where personality and upbringing had consequences. Listen to “S-Town” and see if you don’t find yourself in there somewhere.

We’re all looking to find ourselves reflected to us. We’re all lonely. We put on a brave face and try to belong but the truth is we’re looking for soul sustenance and it’s rarely evident. Don’t show any weakness, fight to get ahead in our coarse society, he who is not your friend is your enemy.

The purveyors have blinked. No one tries to make art for everyone. No one tries to unite the public consciousness. I’m not sure any one artist with any one song could grab everybody’s ears. But I do think if all the artists aligned they could. That’s what it would take, a “We Are The World” with better music and better lyrics. Because today we all are not members of the club, but we’re yearning to be. But you get no eyeballs unless you achieve greatness.

And “S-Town” is not great.

But podcasts are winning because they’re everything terrestrial radio is not. They’re not fake, playing to a theoretical audience that does not exist. They’re not brief. They’re not disconnected. When done right, podcasts are the heart and soul of America. Just talk to anybody who listens, they’ll testify! No one is wishy-washy about podcasts. There’s something happening here. A tapping into the desire of America to dig down deep and belong.