Letter to George Gerdes 

I have been corresponding in recent days with the great George Gerdes, a hero of the '70s/'80s Greenwich Village folk scene and one of my biggest influences as a songwriter. After releasing a couple of major-label albums ("Obituary" and "Son of Obituary" - where do you think I got "The Little Death Rag"?) he put together a solid career as a character actor and now lives in LA.

I knew him slightly in my New York days and must have told him at one point about the summer I spent in a high-schoolers' acting…

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The 1983 Greenwich Village Bob Dylan Imitators Contest 

On June 22, 1983 I was 31 years old, married for all of four months, and somewhat thinner than I am now. I was a New York City taxi-driver by trade and spent most of my off time in Greenwich Village, playing the blues and original songs in several of the truest dives I've ever known. It was embarrassing at times to walk down MacDougal Street carrying a guitar case, a little too "my bootheels to be a-wanderin'" for someone as self-conscious as a songwriter, but much of the time it was thrilling, late at…

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My New Guitar 

If you've been to a show in the past 3 months you've seen me playing Lady Butterscotch, the brown-sunburst HJ-45 built by Seattle's own Dave Haxton that I fell in love with late last year. This is unusual. In a lifetime of dropping by guitar stores to play expensive instruments without having to buy them I have never fallen for a guitar like this. I literally had to acknowledge to myself that I was in love and must do whatever it took to make the beloved my own.

Week in and week out I would take it down…

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Computers and music 

I'm at the Vermont College of Fine Arts this week for another residency in my quest for a Masters degree. My mentor and friend Michael Early gave a demonstration last night of the work he has been doing with computers and it was a giggling, thought-provoking good time Much of the evening's music involved computer game consoles modified to alter preset software programs and loops. You stood there holding long strings attached to the console toggles and as you pulled them this way and that the volume,…

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A good guy, but complicated. I always thought the great feud with Robertson was the result of a fundamental misunderstanding on Levon's part. Remember, he left the Band for almost two years in '65-'67 and hen he came back rock had changed in ways he didn't always understand. I was touched by Robbie's account of seeing him in the hospital one last time All that aside - a great, truly profound drummer and he was always gracious and kind (in *every* way) the few times we met. The first time we met…

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here's a good read 

The Ghost of Teen Spirit Why we should let Kurt Cobain rest in peace. By Simon Reynolds Posted Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011, at 3:20 PM ET Nostalgia for the '90s—and Kurt Cobain—is in full force For the final night of Britain's Reading Festival on Aug. 28, the promoters have something unusual lined up to entertain the 80,000-plus rock fans who congregate there annually. On the alternative stage there will be a screening of Nirvana's legendary performance at Reading in 1992, when Cobain and his bandmates…

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David Crosby 

This particular rant has been sitting in my rant box for years and years, mostly because slagging David Crosby seems so much like shooting fish in a barrel. He is, after all, the archetypal self-indulgent, bloviating, undertalented rock star, to all intents and purposes the poster boy for a certain kind of apocalyptic left-wing California pomposity. Nobody needs to hear me add my voice to a chorus that grows louder and more indignant every time he opens his mouth, which he's been doing since middle '60s…

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No Hands 

I saw a guy riding his bicycle no-hands today, and decided that there is no physical attitude I've ever seen cooler than riding a bicycle no-hands. To keep your balance you need to sit back in a slight slouch, with your hands hanging loose at your sides, a posture the epitome of hang-loose. You can't turn your head sharply to look around or indeed tense up in any way. You just gotta let it slide I took some pride in my ability to ride no-hands when I was a boy - uphill, downhill, gravel roads, you name…

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Peter Serkin in Seattle 

I went to hear Peter Serkin last night in a subscription concert with the Seattle Symphony. For my money, no other major soloist equals Serkin at communicating the freshness and emotional truth of the 20th-Century modernist repertory. And he's one of the few major artists (which is to say an artist who appears as a soloist with provincial orchestras in places like Seattle) who routinely programs modernist music for middle-of-the-road audiences This involves some strategy, of which last night's concert…

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Eminem's Super Bowl 

Was I the only person surprised to find the Detroit rapper Eminem in two different Super Bowl commercials? The one he did for a sugar drink was literally a cartoon and the one he did for Chrysler was dressed up in the righteous return-of-the-American-worker schtick we've been hearing pretty much every year since the first Arab oil embargo. And is there something odd about using Eminem as an icon of tough-minded heartland unionism. The thing that made him special, to my ears, is the hurt and fear so close…

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