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So Long, Leonard Cohen

It was the sort of autumnal, oh, what the hell, apocalyptic, week that Leonard Cohen could’ve written a brilliant verse about, in one of his many black-hued, black-humored songs. All about how a coarse, over-moneyed, totalitarian type, who should have been locked away years ago, somehow appealed to peoples‘ worst instincts, and improbably, was chosen to become the most powerful man in the world. Leonard Cohen would’ve made it much more succinct, melodic and metrically-precise than I just did. But you will have to accept my poor take on the hellish period we have just entered. Leonard Cohen can’t sit down and write something suitably grim and narcotically-funny about it all.

Because Leonard Cohen has died. He was 82.

And as incisive, fearless and oddly-comforting a songwriter as the world has ever known. But before we deal with the music, first, a brief bit of the man’s literary history.

Born in 1934, in the ritzy area of Montreal known as Westmount, Cohen came from a distinguished family, that was openly, proudly Jewish and he seemed headed for a more traditional, bourgeois career than the one he finally found in his 30s. With a gift for verse and a fine education, he published his first book of poems, Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956. No doubt his loving, smothering mother (his father died when Leonard was a boy) figured he would eventually become a professor, or maybe a rabbi. But more books of poetry came. Then two novels. Drugs, travels, beautiful women. In other words, beatnik yearnings. Soon it was clear that Cohen was not going to settle for the life of a nice Jewish boy. Things went well for him, except in that all too impossible-to-understand world of money. The prose and poetry were praised, but they didn’t “pay the rent,” as Cohen put it. Having always written songs and sung them (even if many, many, many people who heard him wished he hadn’t), Leonard discovered Bob Dylan one day, figured you didn’t have to be Caruso to make it as a vocalist and headed to the states to join that strange new tribe of hybrids: the singer-songwriters.

After a little starving in Manhattan, Judy Collins finally heard Cohen’s song, “Suzanne,” and recorded it and a couple of other songs by this darkly handsome, brooding artist. Who sort of resembled Dustin Hoffman’s more mystical brother. And who no matter what stage he was in his career, was simply irresistible to women.

John Hammond, the man who signed Bob Dylan (the two Jewish hep cats would eventually develop a deep, mutual respect), sat on Leonard’s bed in The Chelsea Hotel one night, heard this almost tuneless singer, who nonetheless wrote great tunes, sing several of them, and exhorted, “Leonard, you’ve got it!”

Cohen said he wasn’t sure if that meant talent or a contract with Columbia Records. Both, of course.

He was, at 33, sort of an old dude for the youth-obsessed hippies, when he released his self-titled debut in 1967. But somehow, Cohen connected with the counterculture. The record featured his version of “Suzanne,” with its hypnotic visions of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a woman both seductive and dangerous and Cohen’s lifelong obsession with the suffering and loneliness of Jesus Christ. It also sported “Sisters of Mercy,” which was used to bleak perfection in Robert Altman’s masterpiece, McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

It was a strange, paradoxical situation at first. Cohen was popular, he developed a devoted cult following, but rock critics of the time, most notably the usually insightful Greil Marcus, simply hated the guy. They thought Cohen too precious, precise, sad, hypersensitive, annoyingly erotic. In other words, everything that had nothing to do with rock and roll. By the ‘70s, the audience seemed to agree with these simplistic assessments. He seemed, like, oh, Donovan. A indulgent little trifle from the past, an embarrassing artiste, who was only good to listen to when you were stoned and had incense burning, or as background music when you were about to slash your throat. Still Phil Spector made an odd, wonderful record with Cohen in 1977, that had to be one of the weirdest collaborations in music history.

Then, in the ’80s, on his way to obscurity, something very strange happened. Cohen’s spiritual children, who included Nick Cave, Morrissey, Michael Stipe and others, began to sing the praises of this sex-and-death obsessed, deep-voiced avatar. They loved his dark take on things, his wicked wit, his tailored suits, his openness about being suicidally depressed, his periodic stays at a Zen monastery in Northern California. With his 1988, synth-drenched I’m Your Man, Cohen started having….Dance hits (like “First We Take Manhattan”) and he became exceedingly hip. Not long after that, a song he had recorded in 1984, “Hallelujah,” was covered by Jeff Buckley and John Cale. When it was used in Shrek, it became a global sensation. Then, years later, the bane of American Idol judges and Bar Mitzvah attendees everywhere.

By then, it didn’t matter. Big fame affected the Zen-calm Cohen about as much as his faltering cultishness had. He went about his business and made several more superb records, the most recent (and, most likely last) You Want It Darker, just about a month ago. Although Cohen was rumored to be be quite ill, he insisted there would be another disc or two. Still ‘Darker,’ has the the feeling of a valediction. Or would, if our man from Montreal hadn’t been literarily preparing for his death since he was a boy.

It’s become a terrible, imprecise cliche, back in the day, to call every singer-songwriter who can warble a bit about love or drugs or the moon, a poet. But Cohen really was one. When he wrote his poetry or when he sang it. His sense of cadence, his startling rhymes, his wisdom, his profundity, have now affected millions of people. There are many examples of these traits. But what keeps playing in my ears today, are a few lines from “Sisters of Mercy” — a song Cohen wrote about two teenage girls who slept in his hotel room one snowbound night. And one which he wrote uncharacteristically fast, finishing it by morning.

Coming at the end of this heartbreaking, infuriating, stupid, tragicomic week, these lines seem so healing:

If your life is a leaf / That the seasons tear off and condemn / They will bind you with love / That is graceful and green as a stem.

It’s not just this stupid fucking election, of course. Life tears us up, pulls us off our vines and scatters our leave-like selves no matter what is happening in the world. But you know what makes up for it? Leonard Cohen’s words. Which gracefully put us together, and allow us to grow and blossom once more. At least, until the next rough season, when we are windblown and ravaged once again. But don’t worry. Leonard Cohen has a song for when that time comes too.

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So Long, Leonard Cohen

It was the sort of autumnal, oh, what the hell, apocalyptic, week that Leonard Cohen could’ve written a brilliant verse about, in one of his many black-hued, black-humored songs. All about how a coarse, over-moneyed, totalitarian type, who should have been locked away years ago, somehow appealed to peoples‘ worst instincts, and improbably, was chosen to become the most powerful man in the world. Leonard Cohen would’ve made it much more succinct, melodic and metrically-precise than I just did. But you will have to accept my poor take on the hellish period we have just entered. Leonard Cohen can’t sit down and write something suitably grim and narcotically-funny about it all.

Because Leonard Cohen has died. He was 82.

And as incisive, fearless and oddly-comforting a songwriter as the world has ever known. But before we deal with the music, first, a brief bit of the man’s literary history.

Born in 1934, in the ritzy area of Montreal known as Westmount, Cohen came from a distinguished family, that was openly, proudly Jewish and he seemed headed for a more traditional, bourgeois career than the one he finally found in his 30s. With a gift for verse and a fine education, he published his first book of poems, Let Us Compare Mythologies, in 1956. No doubt his loving, smothering mother (his father died when Leonard was a boy) figured he would eventually become a professor, or maybe a rabbi. But more books of poetry came. Then two novels. Drugs, travels, beautiful women. In other words, beatnik yearnings. Soon it was clear that Cohen was not going to settle for the life of a nice Jewish boy. Things went well for him, except in that all too impossible-to-understand world of money. The prose and poetry were praised, but they didn’t “pay the rent,” as Cohen put it. Having always written songs and sung them (even if many, many, many people who heard him wished he hadn’t), Leonard discovered Bob Dylan one day, figured you didn’t have to be Caruso to make it as a vocalist and headed to the states to join that strange new tribe of hybrids: the singer-songwriters.

After a little starving in Manhattan, Judy Collins finally heard Cohen’s song, “Suzanne,” and recorded it and a couple of other songs by this darkly handsome, brooding artist who sort of resembled Dustin Hoffman’s more mystical brother. And who no matter what stage he was in his career, was simply irresistible to women.

John Hammond, the man who signed Bob Dylan (the two Jewish hep cats would eventually develop a deep, mutual respect), sat on Leonard’s bed in The Chelsea Hotel one night, heard this almost tuneless singer, who nonetheless wrote great tunes, sing several of them, and exhorted, “Leonard, you’ve got it!”

Cohen said he wasn’t sure if that meant talent or a contract with Columbia Records. Both, of course.

He was, at 33, sort of an old dude for the youth-obsessed hippies, when he released his self-titled debut in 1967. But somehow, Cohen connected with the counterculture. The record featured his version of “Suzanne,” with its hypnotic visions of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a woman both seductive and dangerous and Cohen’s lifelong obsession with the suffering and loneliness of Jesus Christ. It also sported “Sisters of Mercy,” which was used to bleak perfection in Robert Altman’s masterpiece, McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

It was a strange, paradoxical situation at first. Cohen was popular, he developed a devoted cult following, but rock critics of the time, most notably the usually insightful Greil Marcus, simply hated the guy. They thought Cohen too precious, precise, sad, hypersensitive, annoyingly erotic. In other words, everything that had nothing to do with rock and roll. By the ‘70s, the audience seemed to agree with these simplistic assessments. He seemed, like, oh, Donovan. A indulgent little trifle from the past, an embarrassing artiste, who was only good to listen to when you were stoned and had incense burning, or as background music when you were about to slash your throat. Still, Phil Spector made an odd, wonderful record with Cohen in 1977, that had to be one of the weirdest collaborations in music history.

Then, in the ’80s, on his way to obscurity, something very strange happened. Cohen’s spiritual children, who included Nick Cave, Morrissey, Michael Stipe and others, began to sing the praises of this sex-and-death obsessed, deep-voiced avatar. They loved his dark take on things, his wicked wit, his tailored suits, his openness about being suicidally depressed, his periodic stays at a Zen monastery in Northern California. With his 1988, synth-drenched I’m Your Man, Cohen started having….Dance hits (like “First We Take Manhattan”) and he became exceedingly hip. Not long after that, a song he had recorded in 1984, “Hallelujah,” was covered by Jeff Buckley and John Cale. When it was used in Shrek, it became a global sensation. Then, years later, the bane of American Idol judges and Bar Mitzvah attendees everywhere.

By then, it didn’t matter. Big fame affected the Zen-calm Cohen about as much as his faltering cultishness had. He went about his business and made several more superb records, the most recent (and, most likely last) You Want It Darker, just about a month ago. Although Cohen was rumored to be be quite ill, he insisted there would be another disc or two. Still ‘Darker,’ has the the feeling of a valediction. Or would, if our man from Montreal hadn’t been literarily preparing for his death since he was a boy.

It’s become a terrible, imprecise cliché, back in the day, to call every singer-songwriter who can warble a bit about love or drugs or the moon, a poet. But Cohen really was one. When he wrote his poetry or when he sang it. His sense of cadence, his startling rhymes, his wisdom, his profundity, have now affected millions of people. There are many examples of these traits. But what keeps playing in my ears today, are a few lines from “Sisters of Mercy” — a song Cohen wrote about two teenage girls who slept in his hotel room one snowbound night. And one which he wrote uncharacteristically quickly, finishing it by morning.

Coming at the end of this heartbreaking, infuriating, stupid, tragicomic week, these lines seem so healing:

If your life is a leaf / That the seasons tear off and condemn / They will bind you with love / That is graceful and green as a stem.

It’s not just this stupid fucking election, of course. Life tears us up, pulls us off our vines and scatters our leave-like selves no matter what is happening in the world. But you know what makes up for it? Leonard Cohen’s words. Which gracefully put us together, and allow us to grow and blossom once more. At least, until the next rough season, when we are windblown and ravaged once again. But don’t worry. Leonard Cohen has a song for when that time comes too.

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Joe Franklin Made Boredom Beatific

If ever asked, most insufferable snobs would probably credit fey, whey-colored genius Andy Warhol for turning boredom into an art form. Especially those movies of his where nothing happens for, like, nine hours. But New Yorkers of a certain age might voice a different choice. Yes, my friends, it would be Joe Franklin, who died on January 24 at age 88, who made boredom beatific.

From 1950 to 1993, this brilliantly bland man, always beautifully turned-out in a serious suit, hair combed and sprayed into impressive stillness, would hold forth on The Joe Franklin Show on WOR-TV, in the wee-wee hours. He had a penchant for the puffball question, gushed over every guest, and time, always our mortal enemy, stood still when Joe was on.

His set was minimal. He spoke in a soft, utterly unctuous tone that reminded some of us of our rabbis, who gave the same sermon every Yom Kippur. Your nana loved him. So did everybody he had on his show, from aspiring, talentless geeks to giants from Frank Sinatra to Joey Ramone. Everybody loved Joe. There was a time when a quiet little man from the Bronx could lure in viewers simply by being soothing. But that was the intangible charm of Joe Franklin. He was Valium in human form. Asking about the seemingly obvious, fawning frequently, and constantly sticking in pitches for his sponsors, Franklin would have the biggest podcast in America if he was coming up today.

Born Joseph Fortgang, in the Bronx, in 1926, Franklin followed around legendary Jewish entertainers, the likes of Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, eventually selling them jokes. At fourteen, Franklin wrote skits for The Kate Smith Hour. His best boyhood buddy was a handsome older kid named Bernie Schwartz, who later became known as Tony Curtis. Clearly, this gentle-souled, soft-spoken kid was destined to be a legend in showbiz. He became one. One of the strangest, but still. He was arguably the most uncharismatic talk show host in history. But therein lay his charm. Especially when it came to rock musicians.

David Johansen once told me that the best way to unwind after a gig was to watch hapless Joe, and that his shows were all “pretty much the same,” so it didn’t matter whether you caught a rerun and or came in midway. You weren’t going to miss anything. Then there was the night, in the midst of their hard-won fame, when the entire J. Geils Band appeared. They presented Joe with a huge trophy and two Playboy Bunnies. Franklin then (as was his custom) asked lead singer Peter Wolf what the “word of the day” was. Wolf looked lasciviously at the two hot young ladies and replied, “It’s not ‘VD,’ is it?” The other band members burst out in giggles. Joe sat still, unperturbed. The remark apparently sailed right over Franklin’s head.

But perhaps the most surreal sight was that night in 1988 when Joey and Marky Ramone were on the show. Franklin, who repeatedly called them the Ray-mones, asked Joey burning questions like, “How tall are you?” Joey responded graciously. It was quite unlike the night, in animated form, when da bruddas were on The Simpsons and said to Mr. Burns, “Happy birthday, you old bastard!” No one ever said such a thing to Joe Franklin.

He was one of those wonderful anomalies our city has always produced. In a town that is jackhammer-loud, Franklin was a serene source of quiet. In New York, full of the hippest musicians, poets, and painters, all from other areas, Joe, native-born, was as square as Richard Nixon. But he was beloved for simply being himself. In the world of showbiz, where everybody has a hook and the next person has to be twice as outrageous as their predecessor, Joe Franklin never demanded attention. It was strangely magical.

If you need any more proof, look no further than Woody Allen. In Broadway Danny Rose, his love letter to Manhattan and talent-impaired comics and crooners, his impresario gets his biggest client, Lou Canova, a spot on — what else? —The Joe Franklin Show. Joe plays himself, brilliantly. Turning to this hapless, second-rate Tony Bennett, Franklin says, “And I am very, very honored to announce that one of America’s, uh, great singing legends, a cherished musical legend, is making part of his, uh, comeback on The Joe Franklin TV Show. And, uh, I — I hope my, uh, enthusiasm is generating, because I love this man. I really, I mean, if you can love a man, I love Lou Canova.”

Joe Franklin spoke this way about everyone who was ever a guest on his show, from Bing Crosby to the guy I saw one night, as child, who played “Malagueña” on fifteen water glasses. So I say to you, now, my friends: Do you need any further proof as to why we loved him?

[Send your feedback to news@villagevoice.com]

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Joe Cocker Became One of the Greats He So Admired

There was a terrible disease that was visited upon the white man in the 1960s. It was deemed as deadly as cholera and as easy to catch as mono from a kiss: If a dude loved a black singer, he felt compelled, in his suburban, self-conscious, sappy way, to imitate him, to appropriate that style as his own.

As a 10-year-old listener, I was subjected to plenty of these deluded Caucasians. If you require visual evidence, watch the film Woodstock and look for the band Ten Years After. Lead singer and guitarist Alvin Lee, born in Nottingham, England, tried so hard to sound like an African American (“Gawn home, baybuh!”) that after his set he was probably dosed with antipsychotics, slapped, and told, “Yer from England, you stupid git!”

On that same bill, and in that same superb film, was a man named Joe Cocker. As, uh, animated, as he was that day — he conducted wildly with his hands and moved his frame like a Tasmanian devil — it was the voice you really noticed, rising above the visual insubordination of his writhing physique. Unlike Lee (or his demonic offspring, Blood Sweat & Tears’ David Clayton-Thomas), Cocker, for all his spastic motion, sang his r&b as though he’d borrowed Ray Charles’s voice, promising to give it back in the same condition. Cocker’s great galvanic rasp came from somewhere deep inside. And by the time it reached his vocal cords, they were so ridiculously ripped, shredded, so rent by unearthly suffering, that Ray probably didn’t care that Joe returned the voice the next day, totaled.

Cocker, one of the finest, most fully committed soul singers of the rock era, died December 21 of lung cancer at his home in Crawford, Colorado. He was 70.

Cocker was one of those rare vocalists who seemed to know what every syllable in a song meant and how to convey it so you’d get it, too. As early as the 1970s, his range was compromised from wailing and substance abuse. But even if he only hit a bit of high note, as in his classic ballad, “You Are So Beautiful,” he could make you feel more emotional than any American Idol contestant with great equipment and perfect pitch. Joe Cocker possessed something most of those clowns couldn’t purchase from Satan himself: magic.

Unlike today’s instant stars, who usually last as long as one of Joe’s sets, Cocker came up like his contemporaries: He began gigging in Sheffield clubs in the early Sixties, calling himself Vance Arnold. He started in 1964 with a cover of the Beatles’ “I’ll Cry Instead”, which went nowhere. It seemed that this solidly built, Ray Charles-loving professional gas fitter was looking at a similar fate. But destiny had other plans for Cocker.

In 1968 Cocker hooked up with a custom-tailored quartet called the Grease Band, led by a skinny, stringy-haired pianist named Chris Stainton. The group garnered a tad of attention with the tune “Majorine.” But what cracked it for Cocker was a mind-blowing gospel overhaul of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” that made listeners step back in awe. Cover versions of Beatles songs weren’t supposed to make the original sound like the house band at the Elks Lodge. After Cocker’s remarkable, circusy remake of Lennon-McCartney’s “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” likewise crushed the original, it was time for Cocker to tour the United States.

The Grease Band’s tour climaxed at Woodstock. You need to remember: This was the Age of Cool. Bob Dylan, the Band, Crosby, Stills, & Nash — they all thought it beneath them to so much as move any recognizable body part. (They were artists, after all.) They had forgotten that worrying about your dignity in rock ‘n’ roll was as profoundly wrong as the New York Philharmonic doing the shing-a-ling and throwing the peace sign. Cocker didn’t care about humorless propriety. He went onstage in Bethel and sang with the urgency of a man whose house was burning down, all the while shimmying, shaking, and stumbling like someone who’d just been electrocuted. In a single performance, Cocker made graceless moves and shredded vocals as beautiful as a rising sun.

New York City seemed like something of a second home to him. Or he made it feel like home to the rest of us. As a little kid, wearing my Brooks Brothers jeans and my designer work boots, I went to see Cocker’s next incarnation, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, at the Fillmore East in the spring of 1970. There were only about five fewer people onstage than there were in the audience. Led by boogie-woogie pianist Leon Russell, this band had a huge horn section, a small cadre of backup singers, great guitar players, and an actual bunch of dogs wandering the stage.

Cocker in 2010
Cocker in 2010

After his grand peaks, Cocker, nearly flattened by drugs and work, disappeared. His reemergence, though more low-key than his entry, was moving, and successful. He and Jennifer Warnes won a Grammy for “Up Where We Belong,” and Cocker toured and charted a hit every few years. Perhaps his biggest, which steamrolled past the subtlety and character-driven nature of the song, was a cover of Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” which Cocker turned from a perv’s lament into a carnal celebration. He later took a star turn, performing onscreen in 2007’s Beatles-centric musical Across the Universe.

Joe Cocker in the March 1, 1976, issue of the <I>Village Voice</I>
Joe Cocker in the March 1, 1976, issue of the Village Voice

And we loved him in New York.

Perry Meisel wrote in the Village Voice in 1976 that Cocker’s voice “remained thick and lustrous” as he belted out tunes at Manhattan’s late, beloved nightclub Mikell’s. In 1982, writing about Cocker’s now-classic Sheffield Steel, Jeff Nesin wrote that the album “has quickly become as dear to me as his debut, dearer perhaps.”

Anyone who saw the man, so often in the summertime sheds of yuppiedom, will attest to the fact that to the end, Cocker, who loved all the greatest r&b singers, didn’t merely do them proud every time he stepped on stage, his crazy fingers moving in a strangely balletic fashion. No, he became one of the greats he so admired. You watch: In a few years, people will be listening to some youngster in a Manhattan bar. Some un-self-conscious kid who really feels the music and has no need to impress the judges on The Voice. And from somewhere in the back, an old geezer will smile and say, “You know something? That kid sounds like Joe Cocker.”

 

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Ten Feel-Bad Christmas Movies to Cure You of Holiday Cheer

Just ask any grinch, grouch, or garden-variety depressive. They’ll tell you that Christmas isn’t only about togetherness, great gifts, and happy endings. For many, this holiday can be pretty bleak — or, at the least, blackly comic. That also applies to Christmas movies. For every film featuring Bing singing, there’s one with Kevin Bacon punching out the plastic Wise Men. Want to watch some films on the 25th, but hate all of that force-fed happiness and feel-good bullshit? Here are some other choices, all of which should sate your inner Scrooge.

The Ref (Directed by Ted Demme, Touchstone Pictures, 1994)

This hilariously hateful film is one of the most mordant little Christmas movies ever made. Miserable marrieds the Chasseurs (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) might just murder each other by Eve’s end. Their visitors include their son, freshly booted from military school; smarmy relatives; and Glynis Johns as Rose, a mother even Santa would strangle. Add Gus (Denis Leary), their sarcastic kidnapper, and you’ve got one sensational celluloid F-U to the Big Day.

Bad Santa (Directed by Terry Zwigoff, Miramax Films, 2003)

When Billy Bob Thornton is your department store Santa, you’re already screwed. Now, add his angry elf-sized partner, Marcus (Tony Cox), who helps him rob said store, and you’ve got a holiday movie Evangelicals wouldn’t piss on if it was on fire. For everyone else, this film is wonderfully sacrilegious. Nobody learns anything. Nobody’s redeemed. And Cox even says to Thornton’s Santa: “You’re an emotional fucking cripple. Your soul is dog shit. Every fucking thing about you is ugly.” Any questions?

Gremlins (Directed by Joe Dante, Amblin Entertainment, 1984)

The Christmas gift Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) gets is so adorable — a warbling gremlin — you almost look forward to the inevitable mayhem. The gremlin spawns kids so violent, they transform the town from a paradise into a hellscape. Even Mom (Frances Lee McCain) forgets there’s a holiday. She’s too busy sticking a gremlin in the microwave and watching it pop. This movie is every believer’s worst nightmare. And a dream for the rest of us.

It’s a Wonderful Life (Directed by Frank Capra, RKO Radio Pictures, 1946)

Don’t be fooled by its lovable reputation. A sizable chunk of this Christmas standard is downright bleak. And the transformation of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), from happy hayseed to an unhinged madman, borders on terrifying. Plus, the utter degradation of Bailey’s beloved Bedford Falls makes it clear this is a Godless universe. As for the “happy” ending? Just tearing up that summons doesn’t make it invalid. Ask your lawyer. Bailey is probably going to jail right after his final eggnog. Sorry, Zuzu.

Black Christmas (Directed by Bob Clark, Warner Bros., 1974)

You think you’re having a creepy Christmas? At least you’re not wondering if you’re the next to get whacked, which is more than the sorority girls in this cult classic can say. With tension hot enough to roast chestnuts, this is a wonderful movie for anyone who doesn’t feel sanguine this season. However, if you relate to the creepy guy who keeps calling? Seek treatment — immediately!

Six Weeks (Directed by Tony Bill, Universal Pictures, 1982)

You like morbid more than murderous? Then this maudlin little movie is just your cup of cider. Charlotte Dreyfus (Mary Tyler Moore), whose daughter has six weeks to live, takes the girl to New York City for wondrous fun. Now, as us residents know, that’s a questionable idea. Manhattan usually shortens your life by about two weeks — not great when your time is running out. Moore underplays nicely, but daughter Nicole (Katherine Healy) is so pasty, she looks like she’s gonna kick off at any moment. In other words, this makes Black Christmas look like a screwball comedy. Offbeat and tasteless, this film has earned itself a cult following. Why not join them?

Roger and Me (Directed by Michael Moore, Warner Bros., 1989)

Flint, Michigan, has more to atone for than just giving us Grand Funk Railroad. The GM plant has just closed, and 30,000 workers are jobless at holiday time. Then things get really bad. Like the family that’s evicted from their house on Christmas Eve. This is a film to make even the most hardened cynic grateful. At least you have a home where you can watch it.

Ordinary People (Directed by Robert Redford, Paramount 1980)

It’s beloved. It’s set in a beautiful suburb. It’s one blue movie. Feeling bad? Try being Conrad Jarrett (Tim Hutton), whose mother (Mary Tyler Moore) is so cold, she should be served up at Baskin-Robbins. No actor has ever conveyed clinical depression better than Hutton. Who, during Christmas week, deals with survivor’s guilt and a friend’s suicide and, worse, has to sing Pachelbel’s Canon! Redford’s depiction of a dysfunctional family is so stylish, it’s easy to forget its sentiments are as black as Sabbath.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (Directed by Charles Sellier, Tri-Star Pictures, 1984)

When you’ve pissed off the PTA and Leonard Maltin, you’ve clearly done something right. Sellier’s cult film about a kid who sees a street corner Santa whack his parents, then grows up to imitate him, is a jaw-dropper. Featuring a crazy named Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) who gores one character and beheads another, this flick is so tasteless that in 1984 it got yanked from theaters. But its cult (which must comprise the last remnants of the Manson Family) thinks it’s a masterwork. Plus, you can order it from Amazon!

The Ice Harvest (Directed by Harold Ramis, Focus Features, 2005)

What’s Christmas without some criminal behavior? In this noir sleeper, crooks Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) and Charlie (John Cusack) steal $2 million from their mob boss right before the holiday. The two double-crossers then find it’s too icy to leave town. So they spend most of the film drinking and visiting strip clubs. Hanging with drunks? Dallying with strippers? You could do worse on Christmas. Right?

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Pun Intended? Inside Willie Nile’s New If I Was a River

The pun may be unintentional, but that makes it no less perfect. With a name like Willie Nile, it was just a matter of time before the guy made an album called If I Was a River. Still, although he’s too unpretentious to underscore it, don’t let the wordplay fool you. Like his friend Bruce Springsteen’s similarly titled record from 1980, Nile’s River is deep, sometimes dark, and ultimately a sweeping summation of his four decades in music. Also in profound contrast to his last disc, the rightly rewarded, hard-rockin’ American Ride, Nile’s new release is a stark, heartbreaking work, built on his solid solo piano playing.

Aside from a little sweetening, the record’s not just superbly written and played. In these days of finding your formula and sticking to it, it’s also heartening. This is an artist who follows the muse and needed to make a record that’s as different from his last one as the Hudson is from the Potomac. You know, like Neil Young. Except instead of clunking the keys like a drunk who’s commandeered the piano at your cousin’s wedding, this artist had classical training as a kid. Primitivism has its place. But Nile’s style works better for forging his River.

Talking to Nile, I find myself flummoxed immediately, when I say I imagine that when he started to make this piano-centered record, this New York fixture had no master plan. That the songwriter penned the title tune, then figured he’d move on from there to his familiar, flinty rock sound. I was wrong.

“I’ve wanted to do an all-piano album for a number of years,” Nile says, his impish Irish sensibility clearly betraying his joy at my complete misconception. “On my records, there’s always a variety of songs. A rockin’ song, a piano song, something acoustic and stripped-down, just to mix things up. But the piano was my first instrument. From eight years old I took piano and also the drums. I made a deal with my parents. If I took piano lessons, I could also play the drums. I took lessons for a number of years, learning Chopin, Beethoven, all that stuff.”

Without resembling a pseudy noodlehead like Keith Emerson, it shows. Nile has a strong command of the keys, embellishing his songs with lovely chord voicings, but never overwhelming you with a flurry of flourishes. But this change of instrument is no stunt. Unlike his previous album, American Ride, with its rock anthems and Nile’s familiar mix of humor and outrage, many of the songs on the new album are almost unbearably poignant. Just take the title tune. In his movingly distressed voice, this aging rock warrior sings, “If I was a river I’d carry you home/And roll you in my arms so you won’t be alone/I would wash away your tears/Cut you diamonds from the stones…” All sung to a melody you think you might have heard as a child. One listen and you may find yourself using your sleeve to wipe away the tears. It’s not only lovely and deeply heartfelt, but this and other songs on the record benefit from the surprise of the sparse setting.

“I’ve been wanting to make an album like this for a while,” says Nile. “People have been asking for one. After hearing some of my piano songs, they’ve asked for more of them. It’s also nice for me to make a left turn. You know, American Ride [which was nominated for Best Album at the Independent Music Awards] was a watershed for me; a lot of my dreams were realized by that record. The singing, the playing, everything about it was like, ‘Yeah, that’s it!’ The next record just had to be stripped down, simpler.”

Coming so swiftly on the heels of the last disc, and with the feel of it being fan-based, I wonder, in this weird new world of record marketing, if Nile is going to be aiming River at his considerable group of core fans or treating it like a proper release. It turns out I’m two for two in asking dumb questions. For a guy who tours nearly as much as his friend and fan Springsteen, Nile is going out there. There are just too many people who need to see him throw down onstage. And then there’s the galaxy of stars who are also fans when it comes to Nile. People like Ian Hunter, Graham Parker, and Lucinda Williams, who calls Nile a “great artist.” And continues, “If there was any justice in the world, I’d be opening up for him instead of him for me.” You get the feeling that, indie or not, Nile has that Boss-like work ethic. He hopes that when it’s his time, he’ll “keel over onstage.”

“We’re trying to get the music out to as many people as we can,” he says. “It’ll be out digitally this week. And we’re making a deal in Europe and it’ll be a full-on CD over there, vinyl, whatever. I’m going to Italy this week. I’ll be playing some dates there and a whole bunch in the U.K. after that. They’ll be full-band shows. But in the middle I’ll do a bunch of songs solo from the new record.”

Nile will be back to do dates in the States, after his England gigs. And what seems so paradoxical about this singer-songwriter is how he can write a new song as gorgeously downbeat as “Lost” (the opening piano part sounds like Philip Glass, but, you know, melodic) and still continually sound so optimistic in his conversation.

“Without question, this is the best time in my musical life,” Nile says, like many of his peers who’ve been freed from the windblown wasteland that now passes for the record industry. “I’m writing my best stuff. And that’s a rarity as one gets older. I’m enjoying it more and I’m more relaxed about it. I’ve still got a lot to do. I’m gonna make a full-on rockin’ album with my band for the next release. But right now? Yeah, these are the glory days.”

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Is Richard Barone the Low-Key King of New York Music?

Don’t let his hipster’s raiment of tight shirts, skinny jeans, and New Wave ties fool you. Perhaps a crown and cape might be more appropriate. But not in the Village, where Richard Barone makes his home. Still, he’s worthy of such regal trappings. Because, even as he’s speed-rapping, he’s getting an email from a Beach Boy, mentioning the single he produced for Liza Minnelli, discussing his teaching gig at NYU, reminding you he’s on the Board of Advisers at Anthology Film Archives, and planning an album of “lost” songs from downtown, by everybody from Buddy Holly to Fred Neil. Mostly, though, he’s ruminating about his newest project, the upcoming A Circle of Songs. Yes, Bill de Blasio is the mayor of New York. But musically, at least, Barone is the King. Even if you haven’t heard of him.

See also: The 50 Most NYC Albums Ever

He was first noticed as leader of the Bongos, a peppy but commercially underwhelming ’80s band, based in Hoboken. Soon after, though, while nobody was watching, the baby-faced Barone took over Manhattan’s music scene in a bloodless coup. In the past few years alone, he’s recorded with that aforementioned Beach Boy, Al Jardine, produced Pete Seeger’s last single, put together a group backing Donovan, penned an excellent rock ‘n’ roll memoir, and recorded a couple of cult-adored solo discs — one with David Bowie producer Tony Visconti. Forgoing sleep, the soft-spoken guitarist has also managed to teach “Stage Presence and the Art of Performance” at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute Of Recorded Music.

But Barone’s best moment might just be coming up.

“On October 16th, we’re starting ‘A Circle of Songs,’ which I’ll be moderating,” he says. “It’ll be held at SubCulture, a hip little venue, where, each month, several songwriters will play their tunes, then talk about them with the audience. New York music essentially began in the Village, so it seems fitting we should hold the Circle there.”

It may be just the event to make this off-the-radar New York legend actually famous. Barone and his guests will play their tunes, then discuss them with the audience. The inaugural show features folkie Eric Andersen, Nellie McKay, and the Roots’ guitarist, “Captain Kirk” Douglas.

How does Barone account for his ridiculously impressive CV, while staying largely out of the public view?

Chutzpah, mostly.

“My first production credit was Tiny Tim,” he says, referring to the crystal-shattering late singer, whose head held more songs than a store full of iPods. “I was 16 when I befriended him, and just thought, ‘Why not?’ One day I simply said, ‘Tiny, I’d like to produce a record for you.’ He said, ‘That’s cool.’ That’s pretty much how I’ve done things ever since.”

Thus began the busy musical life of a guy whose body of work deserves a wider array of fans.

Barone credits the ukulele-playing oddball, Mr. Tim, as his model for the way he approaches his own career. It’s inspiring, even if its eclecticism has made it hard for a mass audience to draw a bead on him.


“Tiny taught me that pop music stretches in all directions,” he says. “As a teen, I had a pretty narrow view of things and was mostly into rock. But Tiny’s knowledge of songs went back to the beginning of recorded sound. He changed that. When you’re friends with a guy who knows tunes from 1878, your thinking evolves. Since then, I’ve stopped labeling music and learned to love it all.”

That love of music and gift for coaxing it out of everyone hasn’t gone unnoticed among rock’s giants, however. Visconti, who produced Barone’s gorgeous 2010 album, Glow, says of his friend, “In musical circles, Richard is well-known and respected. But unlike the ’70s, when everybody, mom and dad, your cabdriver, had heard of David Bowie, pop culture has changed, sadly. It’s harder than ever to get that elusive hit single played on the radio, and that hasn’t helped Richard. But what is radio? It’s YouTube hits and Facebook ‘Likes’ now.

“In any case,” Visconti continues, “Richard can be relied upon to throw a musical party when he performs live. He knows more musicians and singers than I’ll ever know, and he has an unerring gift for picking the right people for the right gig.”

Certainly “Circle” will mine that gift. The night, says Barone, was inspired by legendary New York DJ Vin Scelsa’s “In Their Own Words” series. “We’re both interested in the continuation of varied New York music,” says Barone. “The difference is, I’ll be leading this series. And I think because I’m a songwriter, that’ll give our show a different flavor.”

Barone adds that he hopes there will be no stylistic delimitation. No genre is out of bounds, he says, nailing his own musical life. “Each ‘Circle’ is just going to be about great songs, whatever the genre. In the final analysis, that’s what music is all about.”

The variety series “A Circle of Songs” begins October 16 at SubCulture. Go here for more info.

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Happy Birthday, Boss: ‘When You Listened to Bruce, You Became Cool’

One serene New York summer night a little over 40 years ago, I took a hit of acid and went to see Bruce Springsteen for the very first time. My expectations were as high as I hoped to be at around the same time Bruce and his band hit the stage. I hoped Bruce would leave me soul-shattered, in the best possible sense. The anticipation probably started in January of 1974, when I first put the needle down on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. I was in my last year of prep school, living in the suburbs and looking for something even more important than hip. Something authentic. Songs that had certainly been hinted at on Bruce’s debut, but had not quite won over a kid caught between nice half-Jewish boy and juvenile delinquent, thankfully without any of that pesky jail time.

I hadn’t yet heard Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, certainly one of this record’s antecedents. Which, in its Irish-acoustic way, mixed soul music with street poetry, even adding strings, like an old Drifters record. Songs about Ladbroke Grove, transvestites, and tantalizing jailbait on Cypress Avenue wouldn’t have worked for me at 17. But Bruce’s tunes did. From the second I recognized his Steve Cropper-style funky guitar and began to visualize his vaguely familiar but completely compelling street kids, I was a goner. The opener, “The E Street Shuffle,” was enthralling enough. But when the next track, “Sandy,” came on, the feeling was so extreme and wordless, it felt like — no hyperbole — some sort of spiritual transfiguration.

There were records before and after I may have loved as much, but with the possible exception of the Beatles’ debut, none of them made me feel like I was morphing into the guy I wanted to be. I didn’t just love Bruce’s mush-mouthed singing, his playing, his bar band; I loved the rapscallions and reprobates in his songs. As with just a few of the novels I’d read, I wanted to live in this record and be one of these people. Suddenly my jeans didn’t seem tight enough. I needed a white T, a crucifix, a leather jacket. I needed a nickname, a Puerto Rican girlfriend, a church in which to confess, a trash man who bopped along my avenue, dressed, absurdly, in satin. I wanted to live on a street with a bar on the corner and have a huge hip black best friend. If my absurdly painted Camaro got stuck in the swamps of Jersey, I wanted to be the guy who didn’t think of the towing charges; I’d just think it would be cool. “Cool,” in fact, was the operative word. Whatever your clothes, your hair, your vocabulary, your various affiliations, when you listened to Bruce, you became cool. It’s hard to think of another record in those days that gave you that illusion.

Seeing Bruce in August, at the Schaefer Music Festival with my quiet drug-dealer friend Jeff, was, unlike so many highly anticipated activities of that time (sex, for instance), actually better than I expected. Not only did Springsteen look great, with his Chuck Taylors, tight black pants and high school letterman’s jacket, he reminded lots of us of something essential that performers had been in the mid-’60s but not much longer. In the days when Jackson and James sat in chairs, when even the estimable Band had played brilliantly but stood stock-still, Bruce did something revolutionary: He moved. He did dances I hadn’t seen since my days of watching American Bandstand. He shimmied, he frugged, he did the Twist. Like a shoo-in for the Actor’s Studio, he used his body to amplify, comically, tragically, what it was like to get stuck on the Tilt-A-Whirl or to be in thrall to New York City for the first time, as he got hit on by hookers and listened to his trash man sing. Clarence Clemons, as big as a black Statue of Liberty (which he kinda was), sang his parts beautifully. The band played tightly, and unlike the Dead or Poco, wore everything from white suits and fedoras to Hawaiian shirts and blue jeans.

As a musician myself, I think what finished me off was the moment that Bruce broke a string on his beloved Fender Esquire in the middle of a song. This was before Bruce was rich. I don’t think he owned another electric guitar. A roadie brought out the string, and like a guy lacing shoes while telling you a funny story about his dog, Bruce took out the bad string, threaded the new one in (while the band comped behind him), and, performing this act like it was his thousandth time, started singing, “The E string’s connected to the B string, the B string’s connected to the G string…” I’d never, ever seen a musician change a string mid-song, like he was enjoying it, with the ease of a guy reeling a newly caught trout into his boat. This act alone was worth the price of the show.

I remember, as Central Park got dark, that aside from all the songs of his first two albums, Bruce played an epic new thing called “Jungleland.” It would be changed by the next year. But in the summer of 1974, when he was still word-drunk and Beat-influenced, it had lines like “Colored girls cry like violet angels/In Port Authority halls.” I remember thinking, at that very moment, that in three weeks I was due at college.

And now I didn’t want to go.

As you might know from Springsteen lore (including the sad bit about Anne Murray being booed off later), Bruce played his usual two-hour headlining set. He did a bunch of encores. And reminded all of us how much we had missed. “Twist and Shout” and “Sha La La” — all that fun, danceable rock ‘n’ roll — we had traded in for introspective junkies, singing ballads about their quiet walks in the countryside.

When the set was really over, my pal Jeff, in his customary tinted glasses and satin cowboy shirt, and I were too blown away to talk. At least, until we got into the actual park.

“The trees are dancing,” I said. “Shit, I think one of them is singing, too.”

“It’s the acid,” said Jeff.

“Oh, yeah.”

It hit me that the music had been so intense, so funky and forceful, that I’d probably been out of my skull for the last 75 minutes. But I saw no trails, heard no weird echoes, had no trippy thoughts. I was too busy being reconverted back to myself: an actual rock ‘n’ roller. That feeling overwhelms any drug you’ve ever taken.

So, Bruce, thank you. You’re turning 65 today. But I’m one of the folks you’ve given gifts to. This is just my way of saying thanks. You still liberated me. Gave me the thought that if you could do that crazy shit onstage, in front of 5,000 people, I could probably do what I wanted to do. Happy birthday.

One more thing. I think you played an early version that night of a new song called “Born to Run.” I don’t know if either of us, or any of us older fans, are running as fast as we used to. But we are still moving forward. So thanks, Bruce. That is due, in no small part, to you.


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David Bowie Is Lovingly Brings the Starman to Earth

It’s the kind of forward-thinking experience David Bowie himself might have predicted. Just for one day, on silver screens across the country, a movie about a museum exhibition — featuring the rocker’s groundbreaking albums, outlandish costumes, and clips from his artistic videos — will briefly tantalize the world — and be gone. All in the form of the documentary David Bowie Is, directed by Hamish Hamilton. And the film is, above all, a reminder of Bowie’s artistry, his creativity, his fearlessness. If you’ve forgotten why you loved Ziggy or that eerie experimenter bunking in Berlin, this thrilling bit of cinema will surely lure you back.

“I wasn’t the biggest Bowie fan in the world,” says Hamilton, a refreshingly straightforward director best known for TV work like The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. “I was drawn to the project because of the music. And the strangeness of the request. Since the filming was of a live event” — last summer’s exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London — “they were looking for somebody who could do live. That’s me. I was sort of a conduit between David’s creativity and the genuine passion, knowledge, and care of the curators [Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh].”

Hamilton’s movie gracefully captures the exhibit. Crisply shot, briskly paced, it features all things Bowie: handwritten lyrics, ambisexual outfits, drawings and photos of the gender-bending genius, and scores of other objets d’art. (Especially memorable is the startling image of the singer in a gaucho hat, Great Dane by his side.) Here’s lightning captured in a cinematic jar: how Bowie went from hippie singer-songwriter to the King of Glam and beyond. It’s often said about great concert movies that watching them is just like being there. That’s the case with David Bowie Is, except your being there means being in the museum, watching the kids dressed up like their hero, listening to the curators and their special guests. The film highlights excerpts from presentations dedicated to his videos and recordings — especially his scramble to make Diamond Dogs rather than the 1984 that the Orwell estate had nixed.

When he first saw the exhibition, Hamilton knew exactly how he was to sequence and shoot it. “I walked around, met Victoria and Geoff, and instantly made the decision they’d have to be the hosts of both the live experience and the movie,” says Hamilton. “The curators had done such a great job, I thought, ‘Let’s give these two their rightful place here.’ ”

In addition to Broackes’s and Marsh’s scholarly talks about Bowie, the film benefits from electric appearances of several of the artist’s acolytes. Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, playwright Hanif Kureishi, and designer Kansai Yamamoto all pay homage, all pointing up how Bowie made them feel they could accomplish anything. Kureishi claims the artist showed confused English kids that “we could have interesting lives.”

Yamamoto speaks of the night in ’72 when Bowie called Japan to invite him to a performance at Radio City Music Hall. Yamamoto was thrilled to see this gorgeous creature onstage — with one reservation. “Wow, he’s wearing my clothes,” Yamamoto had thought. Then: “I design ladies’ clothes.”


That’s how ballsy Bowie was back in those straitlaced days. He was prescient, too, as curator Marsh points out: “If you look at the video [for 1980’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’], the characters are carrying things that look just like iPads.” (Just compare clips like “Life On Mars” to the “groundbreaking” videos by Duran Duran in the ’80s — which now look like expensive beer commercials.)

For all the marvels, the unspoken organizing principle of the experience seems to be the artistic ambivalence lying at the heart of David Bowie. “On one hand, you’ve got an artist who’s unsentimental, always moving forward,” Marsh says. “Yet his archives have approximately 100,000 pieces. David doesn’t look back, yet he’s kept enormous amounts of work. If there’s one thing we tried to get at [it’s that] the man is a paradox. Also, that ‘David Bowie’ is a construct. In many ways, he’s still just David Jones. When he played the Concert for New York, he dedicated his set to his local firehouse. Part of what makes him so fascinating is he’s also a down-to-earth man.”

And the Starman was earthbound enough not to int
erfere with the exhibition dedicated to him. “We were told from the beginning,” says Broackes, “that David would not be involved. Initially we’d have loved to have had him. But, as you know, he’s fantastically controlling with what he works on. So, had he been working with us, we’d have taken second place. Bowie let us walk through his archives and choose what we wanted, construct the narratives and so on.”

The film should have a double-edged effect. If you saw Bowie in the ’70s, it should be quite moving. It’s also bound to inspire new, impressionable fans — Bowie’s oeuvre remains so modern that David Bowie Is will play as a call-to-arms to future visionaries.

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Loudon Wainwright III: ‘I Figured I’d Be Dead Before I Was 30’

With the exception of his satirical West Coast soulmate Randy Newman, Loudon Wainwright III is one of the only singer-songwriters from the ’70s still turning out tunes that are consistently well-crafted, profound, and funny. We recently spoke to Wainwright about his newest album, Haven’t Got The Blues (Yet), which mordantly tackles such touchy subjects as clinical depression, old age, and (on the shit-stirring “I’ll Be Killing You at Christmas”) the country’s demented love affair with guns. Hilarious onstage, Wainwright is actually sort of serious in conversation, though also quite forthcoming (and, OK, funny), as when he decided to discuss the superb songs on his 26th (!) album.

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“Brand New Dance” (the album’s opener, which takes on old age) rocks harder than anything you’ve ever done. Have you been listening to Chuck Berry lately?
I certainly listened to Chuck Berry as a teen. But The Big Bopper was the guy I kind of had in the back of my mind when we cut that.

Did you cut it live, with a bunch of people actually playing?
David Mansfield, who produced the record and can play anything, created the basic track. Then we brought in a drummer and a keyboard guy and I sang my vocal.

Let’s talk about the song “Depression Blues.” With all the ways the narrator tries to deal with it — exercise, religion, and antidepressants — he never does. Is the underlying theme that depression is just something you have to live with?
There’s certainly nothing in the song that provides any explanation about it. I’m a person who suffers from depression from time to time. I’ve tried all the pretty conventional stuff. I was reading Robin Williams’s obituary today, and I was struck by his comment that it’s “always there.” It’s pretty much a mystery to me, even though I’ve experienced it pretty much over my entire adult life.

The song that really struck me — and you might be the first person to write a tune about our love of guns — is “I’ll Be Killing You at Christmas.” Do you think anybody, like [free-form station] WFUV, is going to play it?
Well, I sent it to FUV and I haven’t heard back from them [chuckles]. It’s a tricky song. It was Christmastime and I started fiddling around with this idea of, “I’ll be killing you this Christmas,” thinking it could be a comedy number: “I’ll strangle you under the mistletoe,” that sort of thing. Then the Newtown shooting happened and the song turned serious. There are some grim laughs in it, though.

How has it been received?
I started performing it. In Colorado, a guy came up to the CD table — where you come into contact with your audience — which can be a good thing or not a good thing — and said, “It’s too soon to sing that song.” The Aurora shooting had happened not that long ago also. He was upset. That registered with me. And I figured I wouldn’t play the song for a little longer. But then I found myself in Blacksburg, Virginia, where the Virginia Tech shooting had happened, which had the biggest number of casualties. I thought, “This is crazy. I’ve got to sing this song.” But at that CD table, I had faculty members from Virginia Tech coming up and they thanked me for the song. One of them said, “It feels like a lament.” Which I liked. Despite the fact that it has a kind of fifties-jazzy feel to it.

Of course, there was that article recently in which some lunatic suggested we start teaching eight-year-olds to use guns and then arm them. As if school wasn’t scary enough.
Yeah, “Don’t forget your lunchbox…and your holster.”

You’ve been making albums for a long time. How do you keep it fresh for yourself?
I’m coming from a pretty subjective place, so it feels like my techniques are pretty much the same. Songwriting is like sex, now. I don’t do it as much, but occasionally something interesting happens. But I’m doing what I always did: writing about what pisses me off, what makes me laugh, what happens to me. That hasn’t changed.

And just when you think the most horrible thing in the world has happened, someone truly creative always tops it.
Yes. Another good thing for songwriting is, you always have the possibility of still being appalled.

That’s true.
I have a song, my newest song, it’s not even on the record, that’s called “It Ain’t Gaza.” It starts off being, “We had the worst night we ever had last night. We had a terrible fight. We’re at the brink. What are we gonna do?” And then: “It ain’t Gaza.”

Kind of puts things into perspective.
Yeah.

Is there anything you’ve listened to lately that has inspired you?

Musically, I still listen to the same stuff I always have, which is dead black piano players [chuckles]: Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. Usually stuff without words. Which could have something to do with the fact that I might feel somewhat threatened. I hear things from time to time that I like, like my friend [the songwriter] Gurf Morlix. But I don’t have my ear to the ground. [Loud, and comically:] Whatever you do, don’t tell my friends at FUV, but I’m not really listening to anything. But I’m sure there are tons of great songwriters out there. I hate it.

Over the years I’ve given them suggestions about what they should play, and they’ve never listened. It’s starting to piss me off.
[Long pause] It might be time for payola.

Did you think when you started that you’d still be doing this 45 years later?
No. Of course, when I was young, I was a romantic and figured I’d be dead before I was 30. But I still get excited when I write a new song or I perform. I’m lucky in the fact that I can play and people still show up. So, aside from the fact that it’s a drag hauling my ass around the airports? It’s a great job.

Loudon Wainwright III’s new album, Haven’t Got the Blues (Yet), will be available on September 9th on 429 Records.