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Toto-Africa Live at The Met in Philly (10-20-19)

Toto-Africa Live at The Met in Philly (10-20-19)

This is why you go to the show. For the joy of the performance, for the joy of being there as music enters your soul and transfixes and transforms you.

If you talk to Steve Lukather, and I do, you believe Toto is the most hated band in the world. I’m not sure that’s true, as a matter of fact I know that’s not true. Their crime was knowing how to play their instruments and having a mega-successful album that was played everywhere, “Toto IV.” Mega-success will put a dent in your future career, cause a backlash, can you say Christopher Cross, can you say Alanis Morissette, even Peter Frampton? Even if you can follow up your huge hit work, people have moved on, there’s always a new big thing, and a bunch of people who are over the last big thing and want nothing to do with it, and if your first track from your follow-up album doesn’t immediately become monstrous, the only people who still care are your fans, who will keep you alive if you let them.

Now I’ll be honest, I was not a huge fan of “Hold The Line,” of the first album, maybe it was too generic, too in the mold of what had come before. Then again, I knew the players’ histories, I’d seen Luke’s name in the credits on so many albums.

But “Hydra”… I still listen to that album today. I heard “99” on an airplane, remember when we used to put on those headphones with their plastic yokes and listen to the programming as it repeated itself over and over again? I loved “99,” after hearing it two or three times, I had to purchase the LP, Toto’s second, “Hydra.” Unlike “Hold The Line,” “99” was not like anything else, the band now had its own sound, at least in my eyes.

And I became enamored of the two previous tracks on the LP, the opening “Hydra” and then “St. George and the Dragon.”

Can you tell me where I might find the Hydra
Is he wearing a familiar face
Does he still live below 7th Avenue
With the princess dripped in lace

You know how lines repeat in your head, at odd moments, when you’re not thinking of them? I’m constantly singing “Can you tell me where I might find the Hydra” whenever I think of Toto, and sometimes when I don’t.

The third Toto LP was a commercial disappointment, and I didn’t buy it, as for Toto IV,” I didn’t have to, it was all over the airwaves, especially “Rosanna,” whose inspiration was an up and coming actress, constantly in the news, part of the scuttlebutt. Then again, it was not uncommon for rock stars to date actresses.

But the Toto album I like best is “Fahrenheit,” which I found in a promo bin and played over and over again. Actually, the best song on the LP, my favorite song on the LP, the first side closer, is “I’ll Be Over You,” which Luke co-wrote with Randy Goodrum.

As soon as my heart stops breakin’
As soon as forever is through
I’ll be over you

I didn’t think Luke was that sensitive, but even if Goodrum helped, he is. And this song encapsulates the heartbreak of disconnecting, and the hope they’ll come back, better than almost all of the vaunted hit cuts in this vein, it’s here where Toto’s chops really shine.

Now Luke and I bonded after I wrote about “Make Believe,” which was on the fourth album, the one I didn’t buy. I criticized the lyrics, but positively marveled at the sound and the feel, as out of date as so much from that era, yet so right. You might call it yacht rock, but the truth is the acts in that genre could sing, play and write, what’s the problem? Is this like politics, where we let our uneducated and unskilled rule?

So Luke is scratching it out, the only continuous member of Toto, he’s keeping the act alive. And then he and the band get a gift, Weezer’s cover of “Africa.”

This is their “Don’t Stop Believin'” moment. You forget that Journey was chastised just like Toto in their heyday. But then the aforementioned song is used in the finale of “The Sopranos” and suddenly Journey is America’s band, to the point where over a decade later, they can play stadiums (albeit co-headlining with Def Leppard).

Now it wasn’t Rivers Cuomo who picked out “Africa,” it was a fan who implored the band to do it over and over again to where, almost as a joke, Weezer covered it.

And it blew up.

Can I say why? Not definitively. Except to say all these years later, like the Carpenters, like so many chided bands of their era, people looked back and said the music Toto made was great.

And now “Africa” is not quite “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but it’s close.

So, band members have died, come and gone, but Luke soldiers on, especially overseas, where Toto’s career never waned, and…

He now wants a break from the act. Oh, don’t get him wrong, Luke’s got a huge number of projects, he’s always working, but it’s time to give Toto a bit of a rest.

I knew all this.

But I did not know David Paich would come out and sing at the final date, in Philly no less. I mean in L.A…

So I read about this surprise and I pull up the video and…

I can’t turn it off.

Now usually you get a few seconds of the link and you move on, but on this one…

The groove was set, the band was movin’ and then they locked into the riff and it was…AFRICA!

Not that it was my favorite cut back then, but if you were alive in the eighties, you know it, it’s in your DNA, whether you like it or not.

And David Paich…that’s the sound! And sure, all these years later, it’s not perfect, but very little is, one thing’s for sure, it’s alive, it’s present and so are you!

And when everybody steps up to the mic for the chorus, you feel the joy. And then the audience sings along at the top of their lungs and you just wish you were there.

And then the tinkly keyboard solo you know so well. But this take has more energy, it’s more upbeat, it’s a celebration!

And then, just when the song is fading, when you think it should be over, there’s a percussion solo? I’m on another webpage at this point, I click back to the video and learn this is a twelve minute version! But instead of turning it off, I’m still in the arc of the groove, it’s still there, underneath it all, after all, like classic Toto, Lenny Castro is a virtuoso, the kind who used to play sessions all day, who was too busy to go on the road back in the day.

And after about four minutes, Joseph Williams picks up the mic, goes into call and response with the audience, and Paich is dancing in his top hat like he’s 25 instead of 65, and then the audience sings the groove and everybody’s having a peak experience, no one cares what the critics have to say, this is the essence, this is it!

And then it all comes to a close and you’re clapping as loudly as you can, in tribute to the band and yourself, and when it all goes quiet, you’re completely drained and…

Can’t wait until you can do it again.

David Byrne’s American Utopia On Broadway

Is this the white “Homecoming”?

Yes, Beyonce stunned Coachella with a huge production featuring the ethos and activities of historically black colleges.

David Byrne stuns Broadway with a big production featuring the ethos of the Caucasian art school experience of the last century.

Now the Byrne story is not new, he’s been trooping this show around the world for over a year now, hell, he even did it at Coachella.

Now Coachella is the dominant festival in the U.S., and it leads the summer festival circuit but…it has now switched generations, it has gone pop/hip-hop (of course with EDM, a constant, in the Sahara tent). The days of reuniting old rock bands that even most baby boomers don’t care about are gone. Now it’s all today, every day.

But David Byrne is positively yesterday. I remember going to KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas in 1992 and the girls in front of me wondering who this guy was on stage.

But Byrne kept pontificating and making music and art instead of becoming defeated and stopping, or going on tour as an oldies act. He’s kinda like Robert Plant, but with a whole lot less attention. Yes, Byrne’s a critic’s darling, the “New York Times” and other sophisticated outlets keep featuring his words and reviews of his art, but it’s been for an ever-dwindling audience until this.

While his contemporaries are going on the road in a final dash for cash, Byrne has reinvented what once was and is adding in new flavor to boot. Furthermore, unlike the music of yore, like the music today, the show is an experience, you cannot get it on wax, not even a streaming service, you have to be there!

But, for some reason they did not include Yondr sleeves at previous shows, so you can see what it’s actually like.

Then again, Byrne isn’t Springsteen. Byrne is cold whereas Springsteen is hot. Springsteen wants to shake your hand and get in your blood whereas Byrne wants to keep you at a distance, marveling. You could talk about your life if you met Bruce, about Asbury Park, guitars and cars, if you met David…you’d probably keep your distance, you appreciate his art, but you’re not sure you’ve got anything in common.

Now Beyonce batted you over the head to convince you. She was about domination.

Byrne believes if he just does his act, you’ll come closer, you’ll have to see it, like a moth comes to a flame. It’s like Byrne is inside a snow globe, and Beyonce is working out with you at the gym. They’re both performances from their world, but they’re very different.

Now if you go to Byrne’s site and click to buy tickets, you’ll be stunned that there seem to be ones available for nearly every show:

David Byrne’s American Utopia – Hudson Theatre

Then you click through and you see there are singles, not two together. Or just seats available here and there. This show is a success (although it’s hard to make money on Broadway). Furthermore, tickets are reasonably priced, at least by Broadway standards. Sure, you can go on Saturday night and pay $329 to be up close and personal, but after the first ten rows the tickets on the side are all under $200, and to sit that close at the show of a baby boomer superstar in a typical venue, you’d probably pay even more.

But still, most people don’t know.

Beyonce is one of the biggest stars in the world, she gets blanket coverage in all media. But David Byrne? It’s slow, baby boomer word of mouth. Furthermore, people have to overcome their bias, believing they’ve seen it all before.

But they haven’t. “American Utopia” is a great leap forward, kinda like “Stop Making Sense.”

And this could be the only way to sell new music. If you’re not in the Spotify Top 50, it’s almost like you don’t exist at all. People are overwhelmed, they won’t even find you even if they’re interested. But chances are they’re not, interested in your new music, that is.

So you take it on the road, to where people can see it.

Word of mouth is gonna be incredible. As the shows play, the story will get bigger and bigger. This is the opposite of dropping it, hoovering up cash and moving on. This is about long term. Everything’s about long term these days, even “new” stuff, how long did it take Lizzo to break?

But what is most fascinating about the Byrne show is the conception, as in how did he come up with this?

That’s the essence of art. People think it’s all about execution, but that is wrong. The Ramones were a concept, that pushed music in a whole new direction. Even better is the abstract impressionist painters, you say you could do that, but you didn’t and couldn’t come up with it!

Byrne’s visual art background seeded this show. He’s demonstrating his roots, where he comes from.

And that’s just as important as where Beyonce comes from.

Then again, if you’re white…

Oh, don’t get me wrong, but with the self-cancellation of whites, with everybody talking about “white privilege,” many don’t want to acknowledge the breakthroughs of those not of color.

But this is one.

“I Zimbra”

“Burning Down The House”

Olive Again

Olive, Again: A Novel

What if you’re just not that important?

A tear literally came to my eye as I finished this book. Which completes the story of Olive Kitteridge, the protagonist of Elizabeth Strout’s book of that name back in 2008. Yes, they made a mini-series of that book back on HBO five years ago, but Frances McDormand, as great an actress as she is, could never be Olive Kitteridge, who is large and imposing and…

A creation of your mind.

You read these books and you can see them. Not that I have a fully-developed picture of Olive. She’s tall and she’s large, but I’m not sure of her shape, she’s imposing, but she’s not beautiful, like most people in the world, she’s just living her existence, in small town Maine.

I’ve lived in small towns, I never want to do so again, because everybody knows your name and they develop a notion of who you are which is nearly impossible to change. And you keep bumping into them, saying hi to people you haven’t talked to in eons, or avoiding their gaze. That’s what I love about the city, the anonymity. Furthermore, no one in Los Angeles cares who you are because there are real stars all around.

But everybody is hustling to make it in the City of Angels, they’re trying to become famous.

But this didn’t used to be the case elsewhere.

But now, with the internet, with social media, seemingly everybody wants to become known, and hopefully rich. There was this story in the “Times” about school TikTok clubs. Yup, trying to go viral. The platforms may change, but everybody today wants to reach beyond their circle.

Of course there are oldsters who are left out, who tell you they use a flip-phone and don’t go on social media, but most boomers, and they are the old people these days, have a Facebook account, Instagram too, they want to know what their peers are up to, and they want to post the highlights of their lives to burnish their image and make other people jealous. Every picture tells a story, but not necessarily the true one. You never know what goes on behind closed doors, you never know what is truly going on in someone else’s relationship.

“Olive Again” is a set of linked short stories. The only thread is Olive herself. But, at the end, even characters from Strout’s first book appear, but that’s just the cherry on top as opposed to the essence.

We get a picture of lives in Maine. Have you been there? I’m not talking Portland, but beyond. The towns get ever smaller and smaller. And the weather gets worse and worse. And you either stay or you leave. Either you like the nip in the air or you can’t wait to get away from it. Yes, there is something to being hearty, to enduring the elements, it makes you feel alive! I don’t get cold weather in the city, with its concrete canyons, but in the hinterlands? A brisk winter morning, with the sun shining, it can only make you smile, it invigorates you. As does a day with precipitation. When a blizzard pulls a shade over visibility, when flurries set your mind a-thinking. When rain makes you feel warm and cozy inside.

Olive stayed in Maine. Her son moved to New York City, but she held fast.

But there are others who go from the city to the country, usually retirees, they paid their dues and now they want a slower lifestyle, they want to retreat from the hustle and bustle.

Like Jack Kennison.

At some point you become over-the-hill. Sure, you can get plastic surgery and try to fool yourself, as Lowell George sang, but most people know the score, that you just can’t let go. But letting go is freeing. That’s another point in this book, a woman reaches a certain age and she goes unseen, which is also freeing, the catcalls are history, yet so are the favors. And since Olive’s scribe is a woman, Elizabeth Strout, she can utter truisms, depict women’s thoughts in a way men no longer can, for fear of backlash, for fear of being me-tooed. Strout talks about one women’s enormous breasts. A waitress’s huge behind. This is how women think. As much as men scrutinize women’s bodies, women do so even more. With men it’s a pecking order of money, with women it’s a pecking order of looks. Women are constantly comparing themselves to each other.

Jack taught at Harvard. But he was blown out in a sexual harassment case and he’s gotten fat, with a huge belly, and his wife has died and he’s no longer a looker. What happens when you no longer count? Where does that leave you in the world?

Pining for Olive Kitteridge.

Elizabeth Strout’s depiction of Jack is genius. His self-knowledge, his attitude. We’re all prickly about something, we’re all getting away from something, we’re all wondering where we fit in this world, and almost all of this goes unexpressed, it’s in our heads, and it’s in this book. That’s the glory of fiction, getting inside one’s brain, their thoughts, hopes and failures. Kinda like Elton John says what attracts him to music is melancholy. Yup, he said that in yesterday’s “New York Times” Book Review. I resonated. Those are the songs that get me most, that touch my soul, that’s why I constantly play Reg’s “Sixty Years On” and “The King Must Die.” As well as “Where To Now St. Peter?” and so many more. Sure, there’s fulfillment in the upbeat, but it’s these melancholy tunes that touch our soul.

And these melancholy books that reach us too.

Oh, you can read self-help, bios… All the successful write them, as if you could follow in their footsteps, as if the only thing lacking in your quest for success is a blueprint from someone who’s been there. But as much as we are alike, we are even more different. Your life is your own, you’ve got to figure it out for yourself. The key is to not be burdened by the viewpoints of others, worrying about what they’ll say, how they’ll tell you to be. Which is why when your parents die the silver lining is the freedom from judgment, now you can do it your way, I hope. Not that you can completely unburden yourself from the past, as the book says, “The things that happen in childhood do not go away.” Unfortunately that is true. Our whole lives are tainted by our upbringing.

And characters in the book say they’ve been bad parents. That their kids are bad children. Reach a certain age and you can own the truth, even speak it.

And not everybody came from a happy home. And you lose your job and then your identity, never mind your income. And those who make it might be unhappy. That’s the thing about life, at best you can know your own.

Not that the book is full of aphorisms, the truth is in the characters’ lives.

But I loved when Jack accuses Olive of being a snob. He’s old and wants to fly first class. Olive can’t do that, she sees it as a waste of money, she judges anyone who ponies up the exorbitant fee. And then Jack says:

“You think being a reverse snob is not being a snob?”

Eureka! People are so proud of being poor. As if it covers up for lack of motivation, as if it proves to those who’ve succeeded that they’re flawed.

I’m not talking about billionaires here. But Olive struggles in coach, on the way back she flies up front and realizes how wonderful it is.

Kinda like Olive chastising Jack for eating from the minibar.

My father died and my mother could finally make a phone call from her hotel room, my dad always went downstairs and used the pay phone.

Olive is not really likable, and that’s one of the things that makes the book so great. We constantly hear in art that there’s no character people can relate to. Well, can you relate to everybody, anybody, in real life? Sometimes everybody’s a villain, everybody’s a loser. And the truth is, everybody makes mistakes, does bad things, they may not own them, but they do them.

And as you get older, after you’ve earned your money and raised your kids, then what? Do you get along with your spouse? Did you have an affair? What do you tell and not?

And the reason all these people interact is because they live in the same small town, or its environs. That’s one thing you do lack in the city. Move away, and nobody cares, your absence is not noted, but in a small town…

Despite Strout’s rep, despite the HBO show, you cannot feel “Olive Again” in society yet. Let’s put it this way, “Olive Again” has 74 reviews on Amazon, its predecessor, “Olive Kitteridge,” has 1,940. The newspapers come and go, the hype is here then gone, what remains? Bob Iger’s book has been featured everywhere, but not “Olive Again.” Oh, the ink is coming, but the point is a book permeates society slowly, it gains steam, it becomes a point of discussion.

And most men are left out. They’re too macho to read fiction. It’s got to be bios and business, all the time. But the truth is you learn more from fiction, from real people. Think how to sell to the people in Crosby, Maine, as opposed to Iger and Dalio and the rest telling you how to do it.

So, as time goes by, you’re going to hear more and more about “Olive Again,” the train has just left the station. You can get on now and be ahead of the curve.

But that’s not really what it’s about.

Reading “Olive Again” is a singular experience. It’s just about you and the book. It’s about how you feel while you’re reading it. And the story. If you’re from the Iowa school, style trumps plot, and that’s topsy-turvy. You don’t have to wade through a slew of description, fancy words, to get “Olive Again,” the story keeps flowing, the time keeps passing.

Like life.