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Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Social Distortion’s Mike Ness – Punk Survivor

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Riffs, Rants & Rumors, a new weekly column where we’ll survey the sweet and the sour, the sublime and the ridiculous, the tragic and the triumphal, from all across the rock and roll landscape. To kick things off, we caught singer Mike Ness for a conversation about his long-lived band, Social Distortion, who have spent the last three decades becoming punk legends by combining their hardcore roar with country, rockabilly and other influences. Social D are touring from now through March in support of a brand new album, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, that puts a well-directed twist on the LA punk trailblazers’ signature sound.

A while back, the band had stated that their next project would be a radical departure, an acoustic-based album. “I wanted to take some older songs and recreate them in an acoustic, more intimate type of setting,” explains Ness. “In our live set right now we take a song like ‘Cold Feelings’ and slow it down, and we have acoustic guitars and an accordion…it’s real quiet and haunting. I wanted to record that way with the same [Social Distortion] songs that you’ve been listening to for years, but a different approach to them.” Ultimately, though, the ever-increasing amount of time since the last album, 2004′s Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll, led to a different plan. “That would have been great maybe two years after the last LP. But because so much time had gone by, that got put on the back burner. It wasn’t that we changed our minds, it’s just that we haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

Instead, Ness and company went to work on an album full of raw, rocking energy that pays tribute to the band’s ’70s punk roots while still tossing in the country flavors that havebecome a Social Distortion trademark. For instance, there’s a cover of Hank Williams’ bleak classic “Alone and Forsaken” that’s given a powerful, punky update. “When I heard [the original], it just slayed me,” says Ness, “That’s how I always pick the covers. It’s a song I’ve been playing alone in my house for five or ten years, now it’s time to take it to the stage.” Meanwhile, Ness describes his own “Bakersfield” as being lyrically “an homage to Buck Owens, but musically it’s an homage to the Stones.”

So how did a bunch of young punks at the start of the ’80s wind up introducing rootsy elements into their music in the first place? “My mom had the Smithsonian Folkways set, my dad had Johnny Cash, and The Dillards, and bluegrass, and Merle Haggard,” reveals Ness. “By the time I got into punk, when I was 17 years old, I couldn’t sit through a five-minute Muddy Waters song, I didn’t have the patience. I wanted something fast, hard, and loud to get me revved up for the night ahead, of craziness.” But by the time  Social Distortion cut 1988′s Prison Bound, Ness had come back around to those earthy sounds. “That’s when I was really just painting houses for a living, listening to oldies all day long on the radio, and just really felt like this is where it all began.”

Eventually, Ness would earn the admiration of another artist with deep roots in Americana—Bruce Springsteen. Over the last several years, Ness and The Boss have popped up at each other’s shows, joining in on each other’s songs. How did this friendship begin? “In 1992, when Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell came out, I believe he was quoted in Rolling Stone magazine [saying] that he thought that was the record of the year or something like that. It seems like the people I gravitate to are the storytellers, whether it’s Woody Guthrie or Johnny Cash or Hank Williams, people who tell stories in their music, and he’s absolutely one of them.”

So does Ness still consider the Social Distortion of Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes to be a punk band? “From my perspective, I look at the word ‘punk’ as the beginning of something. Ultimately that’s what it was. It was the beginning of what is now. So that’s why I say yes, I still consider us a punk band. It’s as much a part of us as anything. I do think [punk] was kind of a runaway train. It was a revolution, but unlike the revolution of the ‘60s, at least the hippies kind of had an objective and a goal, where punk was very narcissistic. At least the hippies kind of got off their ass and did stuff. Punks just thought you had to destroy everything, with no thought into the future—you can’t just destroy, you’ve gotta have a plan to do something better.”

Social Distortion US tour dates:

1/27 – Los Angeles, CA – Hollywood Palladium – SOLD OUT

1/28 – Los Angeles, CA – Hollywood Palladium – SOLD OUT

1/29 – Los Angeles, CA – Hollywood Palladium – SOLD OUT

1/31 – Modesto, CA – Centre Plaza

2/1 – Davis, CA – Davis Freeborn Hall

2/3 – San Francisco, CA – The Warfield

2/4 – San Francisco, CA – The Warfield

2/8 – Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom – SOLD OUT

2/9 – Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom

2/11 – Seattle, WA – Showbox SoDo

2/12 – Seattle, WA – Showbox SoDo – SOLD OUT

2/15 – Reno, NV – Grand Sierra Theatre

2/16 – Fresno, CA – EOC Gym Events Center

2/19 – San Diego, CA – House of Blues – SOLD OUT

2/20 – San Diego, CA – House of Blues – SOLD OUT

Lemmy Laughs Last: Heavy Metal Hero Revels In His Renaissance

The flurry of activity currently surrounding legendary Motörhead frontman/rock & roll survivor Lemmy (Ian Kilmister if you’re writing him a check) has lately put the man with the most famous mole and muttonchops in the music biz under a white-hot spotlight. With a documentary, a new Motörhead album (drops today!) and a tour all in the offing, the man who made metal cool— in the heyday of hardcore, punks nicknamed Motörhead “the only metal band that matters”— is getting so much exposure one almost expects to find him helming his own reality show (HBO, are you listening?).

Photo by Robert John

Lest we forget, though, Lemmy traveled a long, hard road to the icon status he enjoys today. Like a lot of first-generation metal men, he started out in psychedelia—after a short stint humping gear for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in England, he worked with late-‘60s UK psych outfit Sam Gopal. His first taste of fame came in the early ‘70s with space-rock cult heroes Hawkwind, but when he formed Motörhead— remember, it’s not metal without an umlaut—in 1975, his place in heavy-rock history was assured. The grizzled guardian of all things bone-crunching turned 65 on Christmas Eve, but the word “retirement” doesn’t seem to be in his vocabulary.

The subtitle of the new documentary Lemmy — 49% Motherf**ker, 51% Son of a Bitch— says it all about the man whose attitude is as uncompromising as his face-melting music. The disparate cast of characters who pop up to chime in on the topic of Lemmy’s uncontested awesomeness is a testament to Motörhead’s outsized appeal; everybody from Ozzy and Metallica to Clash axeman Mick Jones and New Order’s Peter Hook is part of the onscreen cheering section. The film, directed by Greg Oliver and Wes Orshoski – will be wending its way around the country over the next couple of months, bringing some heavy metal heft to the art-house circuit, and the double-disc DVD version with a whopping three hours of extra features is unleashed on February 15.

But don’t let the historical perspective that comes with the rockumentary treatment lead you to believe that the Motörhead story is a closed book. February 8th sees the unveiling of The World Is Yours, produced by Cameron Webb, who tellingly has overseen as many punk outings (Social Distortion, Pennywise) as heavy-rock recordings. Full of the blazing riffs and need-for-speed demon drumming that have become the band’s trademarks—not to mention Lemmy’s raw-throated roar and apocalyptic bass lines—the album shows that even after three-and-a-half decades of destruction, the Motörhead machine grinds on relentlessly. If any further proof of that fact is required, Lemmy, Phil Campbell, and Mikkey Dee are storming stages from Austin to Asbury Park throughout January and February to hammer the point home. Of course, if you want to have a little Lemmy you can call your very own, you can always snap up a collectible action figure cast in Mr. Kilmister’s unmistakable image (Yes, for real).

Cold War Kids: The Next Stage

Just five years ago, the soul- and roots- influenced howl of Nathan Willett and his band Cold War Kids was a sound only heard by a tiny group of LA thrift-store in-kids. But in the rapidly-moving world of indie-rock, that half-decade’s a near-eternity, with the Cold War Kids’ story reading like a near-saga: the band’s full length debut, Robbers and Cowards was lauded by bloggers and scored two modern rock hits (“Hang Me Up To Dry” and “Hospital Beds”). It’s follow-up, 2008′s Loyalty To Loyalty suffered sophomore slumpiness, a hodgepodge of ideas that didn’t capitalize on the debuts’ angular, hooky appeal. Today marks the release of their third record, the decidedly bigger, poppier, more anthemic Mine Is Yours—an album whose mainstream sound (realized in part by Kings of Leon producer Jacquire King) may have some crying sellout while others turn their volume knobs to eleven.

We caught up with Willett last week, and spoke with him about self promotion, the realization that it was time to talk with his band about their new largeness — and why he’s embarrassed around Win Butler.

JM: Doing press can always be stressful for some artists, but for others it’s almost theraputic, talking about yourself all day. How are you feeling about it right now?

NW: The bizarre, theraputic side of press is that I learn why things are the way they are by talking them out. When you’re working, you don’t really think about why things happen exactly, but when you talk about them—the veil is lifted in a way. There are so many [ways to look at] the place that we’re in, and this record is evidence of a lot of change and growth. [Pause]. So many good things.

JM: Was it a new revelation to you that the record was a departure from the last two, or was that something you knew as you were recording it?

NW: My role definitely changed for this record. I stepped up and was was more the band leader. I think it helped everybody be less afraid to be critical of each other, and opened some lines of communication. Also, just the style and the approach of working on a record where we were in the studio for a few months, and actually working things over,  really for the first time, and surrendering ourselves to not knowing how it was gonna go—we didn’t come in with done songs, so everyone had a lot of trust in me as far as working on lyrics, and allowing me to guide things. Sometimes we didn’t come up with good things. We allowed for the whole process, as opposed to the previous two records where we wrote songs at our rehearsal space and recorded them in a couple weeks.

JM: It sounds like you had to acknowledge that you’re becoming a much larger, more popular band.

NW: Yeah—I think that had a lot to do with it. I think coming from the second record where we never had the conversation of, “How do we think differently holistically?”—we never had that conversation. It’s because we didn’t have that conversation then that that record (Loyalty to Loyalty) is more flawed and has less of a cohesive direction. I put that on my shoulders: after that record was done, I needed to be more vocal about where we needed to go, and needed the trust of the guys with how to go there. Having that conversation was about lets artistically do something that goes a different direction, but also, let’s be more ambitious—let’s play to bigger rooms, let’s play songs that take us in a different direction.

JM: Your aesthetic’s always been so identifiable that I’m surprised you’ve never had that conversation before…

NW: That is part of what is bizarre about it. So many things about what we did came so naturally. We didn’t want to tinker with it because it worked so well.

JM: There’s a line in one of the songs on the new album that really hit me: “hold the fire alarm and block the exit” – I love that...

NW: There’s a Cassavetes quote in the artwork from [his film] A Woman Under the Influence. It’s a movie about relationships, and misunderstandings, and communications. That line seems like a Cassavetes movie to me—about the need for clear communications, but the bizarre disfunction that happens when trying to attempt that.

JM: You and your new-ish wife recently moved to LA from Orange County. Is there anything that travels with you as a reminder of your bachelor days?

NW: Since college I’ve moved so many times, and lived with so many people. Through touring, I am the worst. I lose everything. Because of it I am precious with so few things.

JM: As you’ve gotten bigger, you must have come across some insanely devoted fans…

NW: There was a time when we were in Manchester, England and this girl wrote us a note — she was talking about the song “Dreams Old Men Dream.” She was taking care of her sick father on his deathbed, and she had heard that song, and related it to her life.  I feel extremely grateful for those kind of things happening. It’s that weird thing that people interpret things so many ways you could never anticipate. In many ways you’re not really responsible for the thing this person is telling you that are. On a more literal level, people are talking about “Hospital Beds:, and having a brother in Iraq that loves the song— real emotional situations that people want to talk about. It’s endearing and cool, and, “Whoa, man—you got that from that?” Most of the time I like that—I like to hear people’s interpretations.

JM: As you’ve gotten bigger you must have had similar experiences with your idols…

NW: We went to go see Arcade Fire at a tiny show in Big Sur. It actually was the most insane thing, where it was a small town, and they were just hanging out there. Everywhere we went—We’d go to a restaurant and see them. We’d go to a beach, and they’d be walking around. I started talking to Win, and he knew who we were. I was really on the border of seriously wanting to fan out on him and say some weird stuff. I can’t think of the song title, but the line is, “Working for the church when your family dies”. For my experience in my life, my dad worked in churches at times, my parents split up, I felt like that line was written for me, or it came from my mind. I wanted to ask Win, “What does that mean to you?” But when you have those extreme things, it does get weird. I know there are things that I’ve written that people might feel that strongly about. I wanted to ask him about that, but I withheld. He was really cool, and I talked to him for a long tim—but I didn’t ask him that.

JM: You’re playing a bunch of festivals with Arcade Fire this summer —you’ll have another chance.

NW: Yeah, but— finding the right time where it’s not creepy and strange and inappropriate? We’ll see if that happens.

Check out Cold War Kids’ upcoming shows here.

Soundcheck: Is Kanye’s Bad Rap Overshadowing G.O.O.D. Music?

After Coachella announced Kanye West as their 2011 headliner, fans responded with disappointment and outrage, many claiming they would rather forego the festival than support the controversial superstar.

Despite West’s less than stellar public persona, I was admittedly puzzled by the magnitude of fans’ fury. Considering that his latest project—My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy— is arguably one of the best albums of the year and the charts are currently cluttered with Kanye-tinged hits like “Monster” and “H.A.M.”, it was surprising that amid the banter people failed to notice the impressive quality West’s art. His slated 2011 release with Jay-Z, Watch The Throne, is one of the most highly-anticipated projects in a while, and West’s label, G.O.O.D. Music, had an impressive year of releases from Kid Cudi, John Legend and The Roots and Kanye himself.

We got a preview of the G.O.O.D. Music roster during a 2010 BET AWARDS segment that featured Kanye and his talented team. In it, we saw Pusha T, John Legend, Big Sean, CyHi Da Prince, and Common delivering some serious verses and debuting a sophisticated, intriguing Rosewood Crew style. The black and white spit-session peaked my interest at what Kanye and the G.O.O.D. Music family has up their sleeves for 2011; and made me wonder why I didn’t already know more about the six-year-old label with such a famous head hancho. Below, a glimpse of the G.O.O.D. Music bench, a probable force to be reckoned with:

Pusha T: The younger half of the Clipse, signed up with G.O.O.D. to release his first-ever solo project (sans brother Malice), making his comeback during Kanye’s MTV VMA performance in September. The Virginia-bred rappers had been struggling with pushed projects, an incarcerated manager and other setbacks for years, making us wonder if they would ever resurface. Thankfully, Kanye picked up on the prize-horse— a decision that reaffirms my inclination that he truly knows what he’s doing. His biting lyrics on West’s “So Appalled” have had critics’ tongues wagging since the albums release.

CyHi Da Prince: Not much is known about Kanye’s newest protégé, but his inclusion in the Rosewood Crew has certainly peaked interest. He heats up West’s “So Appalled”alongside Jay-Z, Swizz Beatz and RZA; and his Royal Flush mixtape scored high marks on the street. He’s also featured on Bobby V’s latest single, “Gotta Get Dat Money” and is expected to make a mainstream splash when his time comes.

John Legend: The six-time GRAMMY winner has released power-house projects on G.O.O.D, with his most recent release, Wake Up!, a collaboration with The Roots, is up for five awards more this year, including “Best R&B Album”, “Best Collaboration”, “Best R&B Song” and “Best R&B Performance”. He will be headlining the upcoming Jazz Fest in New Orleans along with Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Bon Jovi. His current Kanye collabo, “Blame Game” is one of the most hypnotizing tracks on MBDTF.

Kid Cudi: The 26-year-old rapper burst onto the scene in 2009 when his debut single, “Day ‘n’ Nite” broke the Top 5 on Billboard Hot 100 and made Rolling Stone’s list of Top 25 Songs of 2009. His debut album, Man On The Moon: The End of Day received three GRAMMY nominations including “Best Rap Song”. His sophomore release Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, debuted at Number 3 on The Billboard Top 200 Chart and prompted praise from critics across the board.

With such a promising line-up, it’s a wonder why this label doesn’t seem to have the credibility it deserves. Can the strength of the music overpower the negative press of the label president? Only time and tempers will tell.

BMI: Bringing Musicians Income With New “Live” Program

It’s no secret these are tough times for the music industry. Musicians, labels and songwriters alike are struggling to make ends meet in a devastating financial climate that’s only made worse by the accessibility of illegal downloads. But the minds behind performing rights organization BMI introduced a program last week designed to help. BMI Live allows performing songwriters to submit their set lists from live performances and actually get paid for it. With the tagline “From soundcheck to royalty check,” Live promises to pay out royalties to both headliners and opening acts.

In a press release from the company, BMI Senior Vice President of Repertoire and Licensing Mike O’Neill says the program will help musicians at all stages in their careers, regardless of the size of the stage they are on. “Small venues and clubs are the lifeblood for songwriters and bands,” he explains. “These venues support live, local music as well as touring artists, and are the cradle of tomorrow’s stars. We’re committed to helping songwriters get paid for their music in these venues, which provide a vital stage for their music.”

Royalty payments have always been a classic “rich get richer” scenario, with BMI and other performing rights organizations writing big checks to artists who already garner significant radio play. While smaller acts have always been able to register with BMI, the new initiative should help them to actually reap the benefits offered by the organization.

According to BMI, the Live program is as easy as five simple steps: Join, Login, Perform, Report, Get Paid. It sounds easy, and it is. Artists will be able to enter their performance information as frequently or infrequently as they wish, and payments will be doled out quarterly beginning in June 2011. There’s even an incentive for eco-friendly artists: BMI says it will offer direct deposit into artists’ accounts, and will issue paperless bank statements.

If you’re looking for more info about BMI Live, check out the program’s Web site here.

Sets And The City: Adult Lullabies, Chris Garneau Delivers Somber Strokes for Rowdy Folks

Hello and welcome to my brand spankin’ new weekly column Sets and the City. I’d be bluffing if I claimed fictional character Carrie Bradshaw wasn’t an inspiration. She waxes wise about all things sex- and relationship-related, while I attend the dopest shows in New York and report back to OurStage. Practically twins, right? Not only are we both writers, but also we both rock curly locks and share an adoration of (read: obsession with) Manhattan. But seriously, this column is intended to illuminate the live music experience of both well known and lesser-known bands based in or passing through NYC. (In addition to reviewing local concerts, I’ll be reviewing forthcoming record releases on occasion as well.)

Despite the alarmingly frigid temperatures, the Chris Garneau-headlined lineup drew a comfortable crowd to Hudson Street’s intimate 92YTribeca Friday night. (So comfortable in fact that my main complaint was the chatty bar-dwellers who refused to quiet down and settle into the show.) The 27-/28-year-old (Garneau was supposedly 26 in May 2009 so that’s what I’m working with) Brooklyn-based indie singer-songwriter performed 13 tracks, kicking off his set just after 11 PM and playing ’til midnight. Garneau, dressed casually in a baggy grey tee, skinny stonewash grey-black jeans and black boots, stuck to the piano mostly, with an intermittent switch to electric guitar. Sporadic accompaniment provided courtesy of Caralee McElroy (backup vocals, synthesizer keyboard and electric guitar) and Lacey Post (backup vocals).

Photo by Santiago Felipe

The stage arrangement was such that, when at the piano bench, his back was to the audience, lending a mysterious air to the poet. And a poet he is indeed, delivering somber but achingly beautiful songs in a manner that at times approaches sheep or goat. I intend this in the best possible sense, implying that his voice trembles here and there, quivering to impressive – and deliberate – effect. Even beyond his piano prowess, his vocal chords are his chief unique quality. Pixie-like with his dainty appearance and delicate demeanor, Garneau’s sound proves far from meek. While he himself is soft-spoken, his lyrics and multi-instrumental talents are sucker-punch powerful. A passionate and emotive tour de force.

Focusing on love, loss, longing and nostalgia (oh, and death), the evening’s soundtrack took on a melancholy tone, Garneau’s more whimsical ditties omitted for the most part. Missing, to my mind, were “Fireflies,” “No More Pirates” and, to my great dismay, “Dirty Night Clowns.” It’s wicked and wonderful numbers like these that truly soar. All tracks twinkle, but these playful pieces are audible manifestations of antique wind-up toys, the classic jack-in-the box with a pop! All three hail from his latest record, El Radio, which dropped in July 2009. I was particularly bothered by the absence of “DNC” because, more recently, Garneau collaborated with ROCK*iT FiLMS to create a luminous and intricate video involving marionettes and deserted carnival grounds. The dark but quasi-comical masterpiece posted, aptly, the day before Halloween and can be watched on YouTube and Vimeo. To date it has been viewed over 500,000 times between the two.

I was happy to hear a few recognizable songs plucked from El Radio, among them “Cats & Kids” and “Hands on the Radio.” The former is stripped of some subtle nuances when transformed to live venue version, such as the sparkling music box sampling, but, as with every pause between tracks, it commanded ample applause and warm-hearted heckling from friends. And, despite being about some strain of abandonment, the overall vibe is accepting of said departure. Others, like “Not Nice,” off of his debut Music for Tourists (2006), would have made me maudlin had I not stuck with water. Lyrics like “You’re not nice. I’d rather leave you alone. I’m gonna leave you alone,” hit close to home, further reinforcing Garneau’s laudable ability to capture the human condition within his work.

Overall, it proved a successful and satisfying show. The tunes were flawlessly executed (especially loved the harmonies), the listeners were receptive (albeit a bit juvenile with their harassment, however well meant) and the space was perfect. Brownie points for a haven safe from sweat; chairs and tables and decorum trumping the all too common raucous rock show. Still more props to a young man with a seemingly old soul who can bring it without the bells and whistles oft relied upon by other acts. The cherry on top? Garneau is gracious and appreciative, and a witty brand of emo who knows how to evoke a laugh here and there without trying too hard. My advice? Catch him if you can. Wherever his music takes him next, I recommend you lock down a ticket if he’s in your area.

The Beat Generation: Electropop Playlist

Consider this a companion piece to last week’s article (if you’re new to what The Beat Generation is about, it’s a good place to start). After mapping out the connections between electronic and pop music, it feels natural to showcase some OurStage artists that straddle the line. The genre these guys fall under even has a nifty name, electropop. Seems rather apropos, no? The formula for songs like these is pretty simple: start with a cup of synth, add two parts chorus, a dash of hooks and garnish with some winsome vocals and you’ve got it. Great electropop is sweet without being too saccharine, light without being insubstantial. It also has to be fun, but that’s a no brainer. Check out the playlist below to hear twelve artists who all fit that description in spades.

M C Reilly? Funk Master Ferrell? Step Brothers Stars Plan Rap Album

Looks like more actors are making the jump from the silver screen to the mixtape. Who knew that Joaquin Phoenix was such a trend setter? Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are probably going to be releasing a rap album sometime in the future. Details at the moment are hard to come by, with the “official announcement” coming from director Adam McKay via Twitter (where else?). McKay directed the pair in Step Brothers and works very closely with Ferrell at

Adam McKay Updates Us Via Twitter

From McKay’s feed: “Are we currently working on a Step Bros rap album? Yup.” McKay also makes mention of getting a hold of, “a crazy big time producer” and even invites Mos Def to drop a verse on the album. The news isn’t completely without precedent as Ferrell and Reilly have played rappers before; in Step Brothers they formed Huff N Doback and even made a video for their song, “Boats N Hoes“, beating The Lonely Island to be the first parody rap group to make a boat-themed song. No easy feat.

Already 2011 is shaping up to be an interesting year for rap. The real question is, which duo is going to produce the better collaboration, Kanye and Jay-Z or Ferrell and Reilly?

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein debuts sketch comedy “Portlandia” with SNL’s Fred Armisen

Carrie Brownstein may have stepped away as singer/guitarist for seminal rock band Sleater-Kinney in 2006, but that doesn’t mean she’s through with entertaining. Brownstein’s comedic chops are on full display in IFC’s new sketch comedy series “Portlandia,” which also stars SNL’s Fred Armisen. The show uses the city’s socially conscious, granola-guzzling population as inspiration for hilarious skits on organic farming, adult hide-n-seek leagues, and public bathrooms laws. The series debuts tonight, but if you can’t wait that long you can see all 22 minutes below.

Cee Lo Green interviews Cee Lo Green

Taking makeup cues from the Wayan Brothers in White Chicks, psychedelic-soul singer/rapper Cee Lo Green transformed into James Lipton to interview himself for Spinner. Is he as creepy as the real James Lipton? We’ll let you decide.

The Bad

Broadcast’s Trish Keenan dies

This week brought sad news for fans of British electronic band Broadcast. Singer Trish Keenan passed away due to complications arising from pneumonia. She was 42. To see a collection of Broadcast videos, head over to Pitchfork.

Kanye makes joke, joke bombs, Kanye is saddened

You know when you tell a joke and you get stony silence, then someone else tells the same joke and the audience roars? Kanye West feels your pain. Despite the fact that everyone in the Twitterverse was plundering West’s infamous “Imma let you finish” sound bite, when the rapper tried to reclaim the quote for himself, tweeting “Yo Britney, I’m really happy for you and Imma let you be #1, but me and Jay-Z’s single is one of the best songs of all time! LOL,” some folks didn’t see the humor. Soon magazines like Us Weekly were accusing West of starting a war with Britney Spears. “I thought LOL signified a joke,” he grumbled in a long Twitter rant. Sorry, Yeezy. Forget trying to be funny and stick to writing the best songs of all time.

The Ugly

Vince Neil busted for drunk driving

Motley Crue singer Vince Neil was arrested at 11:15 p.m. on Sunday for drunk driving after being pulled over in his Lamborghini on the Las Vegas Strip. Sounds about right.

Christina Aguilera passes out in Jeremy Renner’s bed?

In an epic party foul, Christina Aguilera reportedly crashed Jeremy Renner’s 40th birthday party and then passed out drunk in his bed. This makes us feel infinitely better about anything we’ve ever done.


Your Country’s Right Here: Rodney Crowell Takes Us On A Wild Ride Through His East Texas Childhood

Growing up playing board games and listening to country music with my older sister, I had a pretty fair idea of what the genre was all about. Or so I thought. Little did I know that country is — in many ways — the foundation of rock and the wellspring of rich subsets including bluegrass, alt-country, and Americana. Join me in conversations with both established and up-and-coming artists as tell us about themselves, their music, and how it fits into today’s country sound.

A vicious belt slap across the bare stomach of a woman who had miscarried thirteen times. A five-year-old so terrified that violence would erupt at an alcohol-fueled New Year’s Eve party that he shoots a gun to disrupt the scene. An ugly fistfight in a honky tonk between two women— including one suffered severe epileptic seizures for decades—over one of their husbands.

These are among the real-life images that much-honored singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell recalls from his East Texas childhood in his just-published book Chinaberry Sidewalks. Although it’s easy to assume the verbal and physical violence in the book means the story is one step away from reality television, nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead Crowell, a member of Nashville royalty who has written, produced, and otherwise collaborated with Vince Gill, Bob Seger, Emmylou Harris, Chely Wright and many others— including his ex-wife Rosanne Cash— centers the story around his parents’ love story that started and ended (in the book, anyway)

with the couple’s love of country legend Roy Acuff.

“To write something that personal I had to walk a fine line,” said Crowell from his Tennessee home just before the book’s January release. “I wanted its nature to never be cloying, never [appear that I was] trying to get sympathy. As a friend of mine said ‘It’s not who took the worse beating, it’s how they look standing.’”

And thanks to the brilliant writing and vivid details brought to life by Crowell, the couple that physically lived in Jacinto City, Texas, but emotionally dwelled in the music of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, look pretty darned good.

Just before the book was released, Crowell spent some time talking with OurStage about his parents—Addie Cauzette Willoughby and J. W. Crowell— and just what their loves story means to him. Here’s some of what he had to say:

OS: Why did you choose to write this story about your parents and part of your childhood instead of writing something about your career?

RC: When I got the idea to write it, I pretty quickly I realized I’m a songwriter and there are people that know about me, but I’m not a personality that people would be interested in knowing about my career. Really, from the get go I was interested in writing something that would have to stand and create an audience based on the quality of the writing and not what I [have done professionally].

OS: It had to be difficult to write something so raw where you talk about violent encounters your parents had, your dad’s drinking and the verbal abuse.

RC: Occasionally I would get a little cold sweat and think “Wait a minute! My mom and dad aren’t living and they are not here to defend themselves.” Then I thought “Good!” (laughs). But I know my mother would have approved, and probably my father would have, too. I wrote a song “The Rock of My Soul,” that pretty much exposed in song form what this book is about. When my mother heard the song—at the end of the song I use poetic license and the narrator goes to jail—her remarks were “I don’t mind what anyone knows about me in this song but I don’t want anyone to think you went to prison.” I said “If I didn’t have a guitar and your gift of gab, I would have wound up in prison.”

OS: You’ve always been revered for your vibrant writing. How did writing this book differ from songwriting?

RC: The process was continually peeling away, revisions, revisions, revisions, revisions.

A lot of what I understand about the English language is guess work until I use the key and unlock something that clarifies the images I’m trying to chisel out. The process I love. It’s daunting and exhausting but by the same token I’m very happy in that routine. I’d work six to eight hours, ride my bike a couple hours, then my wife and I would figure out what we were going to eat. That process and routine suits me fine. I’m a strange character…I enjoy the solitude and I enjoy getting out on the road and performing. I think it’s a pretty healthy schizophrenia I hone.

OurStage: How did you choose the segments of your life—and your parents’ lives—that made it into the book?

RC: Part of it was when I thought the arc of the story was really that of my mother’s and father’s love affair. I’ve said to people “If we were standing in this room right now and sending my 18- and 19-year-old mother and father out into the world, we’d both say they’d never make it.” That was the arc for me—I considered myself narrator, referee and participant.

Although they were self destructive, hitting myself over head with Dr. Pepper bottle was a really sound way to break up their fight [as told in one story of the book]. That’s pretty extreme but also in service of the arc of their story in that something as drastic as me cold cocking myself stopped them for a moment. If they had not stopped, the arc of the story wouldn’t be the same.

OS: Did you share pieces of the book with others as you wrote it?

RC: I read it aloud to a few friends. I’d call a friend of mine and read a paragraph or read a chapter aloud if I had one. It took seven years of writing to figure out how to write it and then over a couple years I produced a manuscript that my editor received and we worked on. GREAT credit goes to my editor. He really helped me raise it to a level I couldn’t achieve on my own. I had some superb help.

OS: As you reviewed your childhood, did it make you think about how you raised your own children?

RC: Isn’t that true with each generation? Lo and and behold, come to find out with my grown children I did things worse. I think it gets thrown at you—part of the slings and arrows of parenthood are that eventually it comes back to you what a shitty job you did and also what a great job. I think parenthood is like a drive-in-movie-size mirror reflecting back.

OS: One of the most personal parts of the book to me was reading about your wife and daughter preparing your mother for the funeral. I felt a bit like a bit of an intruder reading something so personal. Why did you choose to include it?

RC: I included that because it was about sisterhood, about my daughter and my wife. In my contribution to that scene I’m sort of bouncing around nervous as the undertaker keeps coming down to check. Yet these two women had dropped into this genetic memory or this midwifery that has been passed down for ages and ages. My wife and daughter were dressing and bathing this woman. My mother had given [my wife] Claudia instructions for what she’d want. It is part of the female archetype. They were channeling that archetype that dress bodies of loved ones to send them into the afterlife.

Fans will be able to find out even more during Crowell’s “Chinaberry Sidewalks Tour” that combines his music with stories from the book and beyond. The tour began January 18th. You can order the book and get a complete list of tour dates and venues, here.


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