Film Review

A Million Miles Away

Take Yes for an Answer

Fred Parnes’ documentary about Peter Case is a poignant tribute to this songwriter and to the artistry of songwriting


By PAUL ZOLLO

Bravo! Fred Parnes and his team have created a beautifully poignant, dimensional  and triumphant  film about the life and work of Peter Case. It’s remarkably intimate, told not at a distance from its subject but from its very core. With the great benefit of the artist himself being still with us and capable of telling his own story – plus a surprising bounty of sound footage found from his early days as a street-singer and with his first two bands, The Nerves and The Plimsouls – this is a film about a real songwriter unlike any other.

“I wanted to get out to California, where it seemed like people might understand if you were just gonna be a musician all the time,” says Peter in the film. “I clung to my guitar like a burning piece of wreckage on a sinking ship.” 

Peter Case, as many know well, has been wild in wreckage for decades – and also remarkably prolific – and has never gone down with the ship. Though various life events threatened to bring him down (heart surgery, Geffen Records), he prevailed. And steadily, through the years, while playing with his bands or solo, he’s been creating a beautifully expansive American songbook, distinguished both by its depth and diversity.

Like all of our greatest songwriter-artists, Peter’s had to endure all the anguish of being a unique artist in an industry. But unlike so many of the greatest ones, from Hendrix through Cobain and Amy Winehouse, he survived. And he flourished. Rather then ever be derailed or destroyed entirely, he was empowered and artistically unchained by each shift, and his songwriting deepened and expanded in every direction. 

By sharing Peter’s often rocky journey with such evident love for the unbound spirit of this man and his art, the film honors Peter in a way the world rarely honors songwriters. There’s a recognition of all that goes wrong behind anything that goes right, which is rarely because of the artist. This film resounds like a love-letter to songwriters and to the artistry of songwriting itself. It affirms that great songs still matter, and that real songwriters like Peter remain fully engaged in this ancient mission, connecting with their audiences despite all the old obstacles, and the new ones.

Parnes, a writer, actor and musician himself,  has a lot of insight into the dynamic of being an artist in the world, and avoids the usual simplistic depiction of the  music world as a complete racket run by execs no better than mobsters. Sure, that is part of the truth. But a larger truth emerges, which is that, separate from the music business is the music community, the musicians, songwriters, engineers, managers and all the others. And it is undeniable, and confirmed by this film, that those in the music community are bonded by an abundance of good will, gratitude  and real-time love.

This comes across in the reverent words of Peter’s peers, collaborators, friends and even music writers. Their love for the man and his music doesn’t diminish with passing time any more than the magic of the songs diminish. In fact, the opposite is true: awareness of this songwriter’s greatness, and the power of the songs themselves, continues to expand.

The most beautiful and genuine example of this is when Peter underwent emergency open-heart surgery, yet had no health insurance. Though his life was saved, he was unable to pay the astronomical bill. That’s when Van Dyke Parks stepped in, along with other fellow songwriter-artists including Joe Henry, T Bone Burnett and Richard Thompson, and held a benefit concert which raised substantial money.

As Van Dyke says in the film about this effort, “This is what we do.”

MusiCares, the charity wing of the Recording Academy, also helped Peter substantially as they have helped countless members of the music community since their start in 1983.

This truth is rarely expressed in such films. Though the corporate music industry might exploit and abandon musicians and songwriters, there is more love and support for musicians from fellow musicians and music folk than is known. Peter’s medical bill could have easily decimated a normal man with a regular family. Not so Peter, who was back on the road, in the studio, and writing new songs, soon as he was able.

Peter Case


Fred Parnes also made the great 1994 documentary on the Persusasions, Spread the Word: The Persuasions Sing Acapella, a film Peter loved and which he said warmed him to the idea of Fred making his movie.

Parnes lovingly relates Peter’s journey with much soul, laughter, music and visual grandeur as the artist drives all over creation from gig to gig. The lyrical editing by Kate Amend and Jordan Krause propel the film powerfully, and reveal the expansion of Peter’s songwriting with passages of many of his songs wed to visuals of the man almost always on the road, in motion.

This is a road story in many ways, a Homeric journey of the eternal troubadour, the true poet of the heart and soul; the brave, mystic jokerman escaping from the strictures of his home-town to join all the other black sheep of America and beyond with the limitless, playful, hopeful, and inspirational spirit of song.

All of this combines ideally into what is the most poignant, funny and beautiful filmic love letter to songwriting to come along in some while. It stands up beautifully with the two best so far – 2012’s AKA. Doc Pomus, about Doc Pomus, and 2010’s Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?  Both of these films pay tribute to great songwriters, and to the artistry of their work, which is why their songs still matter, and still move us.

Yet this film is different in many ways, the most prominent being that the songwriter is still alive and well. The present-day Peter becomes the film’s comforting nucleus, around which the film revolves. His real-time presence brings a great warmth, humor and intimacy to the film. Even when relating dark chapters of his life, such as his struggles with his father – and those with the music industry – he injects them with much levity, and usually aimed at himself.

A rebel from the start who always possessed a powerfully resonant singing voice, he was a kid who couldn’t easily fit into the world or even view it well – for awhile he saw everything flat, as in 2D, except for a few fully-dimensional friends. Yet in art – music, literature – he found his pathway, and by writing songs began to make sense of the world.

Always he was literate, funny, passionate and driven; much more a Lennon than McCartney, brilliant with biting wit, a resonant and passionate singing voice, and no phoniness. We learn of the ways his dad would denigrate him, often assaulting his open, artistic spirit by asking, “So, what do you have to say for yourself?”

“I had nothing to say,” Peter remembers. Which is how he felt until he started writing songs, which helped him to discover what he did have to say. “I was tongue-tied,” he said, “in the face of life.”

Songwriting – the merger of words and music – allowed him the means to ascend, and he started writing what he considered “sky songs, ” which relieved the constant burden of gravity holding him down. He also actively deepened his own songwriting well; like Dylan in his early New York days who spent hours at the NY Public library absorbing all the poetry, philosophy , and even newspapers from previous centuries, Peter read his way through the famous City Lights bookstore, where he often crashed for the night.

We see him through the stages of his emergence as a musical force. First came The Nerves, a punkish power-pop trio he formed with fellow songwriter Jack Lee and drummer Paul Collins. Lee’s presence in the film – both in current interviews and in footage from the past – is compelling. (As is the odd folly of their choice of wardrobe – two-piece suits in the punk era.)

The Nerves

When that band broke up, just as at other key junctions in his life, Peter wasn’t defeated but emboldened. He decided to make his own band and do only his own songs. That was the Plimsouls . And they were great. Peter crafted great rockers for the band, and they started ascending. It’s there he broke through with the great triumph of his infectious “A Million Miles Away,” a bonafide radio hit.

Their success – and popularity – as he explains in the film, wasn’t random. They worked hard and put in serrious time to develop the singular character of the band, defining their sound and refining their arrangements and performance. It worked. The Plimsouls became beloved almost instantly, and started selling out each and every L.A. show. Signed by Geffen to Geffen Records, they made one album, and had one hit. A big one.

The Plimsouls, “A Million Miles Away”


It became a hit, and more. Chosen for inclusion in the film Valley Girl, in which Peter and his Plimsouls are seen in a club performing, the song was propelled in a bigger way than any of his others. But one hit alone, unlike in previous eras, was not enough to inspire the label to sustain him. As detailed by Peter as only he can, after being signed to Geffen Records by Geffen, he decided to go solo and made a great album.

In one of the film’s most telling, tragic and comic scenes, Peter relates a meeting with Geffen which says everything about this business and these times, ending with the remarkable phrase which became the film’s subtitle, as spoken by Geffen to Case: “Peter, for once in your life, just take yes for an answer.”

But Geffen essentially abandoned him by offering little distribiution or promotional effort. As he says in the film, “I just wanted to get out, while everyone else just wanted to get in.”

He soon got his wish.

Peter Case on Alhambra Street, 2006
Photo by Paul Zollo

But, again, rather than being diminished by this struggle, as he film reveals, Peter was inspired by his ultimate liberation, and it deepened his artistic soul. He went acoustic, and evolved naturally from rocker into folkie.

The scope of his songwriting expression – which was already expansive, blossomed in new, unexpected, wonderful ways. Unchained from a major label, he wrote every kind of song there is, and each with soulful authority: bluesy epics, matched to great open-tuning guitar parts; beautiful, melodic ballads, great rockers , and those songs that are as great as great gets.

His albums were still wonderfully produced – the best of all worlds – and always featured great musicians, who were also his friends.

Peter, not unlike Elvis Costello and a few others, has created such a vast body of work and in so many styles, that it can be overwhelming. And people have a real hard time with anything overwhelming, as Dylan said while discussing Shakespeare. Because of this, the fullness of Peter’s body of work, although unified by his voice as a writer and singer, has rarely been appreciated by the world. His fans, and also fellow songwriters get it. It’s why so many legendary songwriters, such as Springsteen and John Prine, not only recognized his greatness, but spread the word. In this film Ben Harper proclaims that Peter is our greatest living songwriter. (Ben joined Van Dyke Parks, the late great Don Heffington and other luminaries onstage at McCabe’s for Peter’s great 65th birthday concert, portions of which are included in the film. )

Peter Case, “Beyond The Blues,” Live on Folkscene
Written by Peter Case, Tom Russell & Bob Neuwirth

But now, because of this film, that fullness of his work – his remarkable musical and stylistic range – is now being fully embraced. Parnes and his editors brought home this understanding by beautifully weaving a bounteous array of Peter’s lifetime of songs into the soundtrack, which veers through punk, power-pop, rock & roll, folk, blues and, as he wrote, much that is beyond the blues. Far beyond.

To bring home this truth, the film includes a wonderfully inspirational performance of Peter’s stunning “Two Angels” as a tremendously soulful and empassioned duet by Lady Blackbird and Chris Pierce. Produced live by Chris Seefried (who can be seen in the studio playing guitar along with Mitchell Froom on keys, and other luminaries in the band), it shows that Peter’s songs have a life far beyond his own recordings. “Two Angels” was previously covered by Alejandro Escovedo and was featured in HBO’s “True Blood.”

Peter Case, “Two Angels,” 1989.


As the movie progresses, we learn not only of the general resistance and anguish this songwriter – and all – must endure, but the bigger lesson: that for a songwriter to persist in modern times, and to remain plugged into that source from which the greatest songs come is more than impressive. It is heroic. It is, to paraphrase the great Van Dyke Parks, a triumph of the human spirit.

And just when we were about to give up hope, this happens. That Fred Parnes and his team honored this triumph with such a beautiful film is a great reason to rejoice.

Peter Case


In Memory of Human Sunshine:

Barbara Morrison

September 10, 1949
– March 16, 2022 


There was nobody else quite like her. Whether on the stage of a giant concert hall or a small club; whether performing solo with her band or backing up the countless giants with whom she harmonized, she always cooked up a mighty gumbo of jazz, blues and classic song, ladled out with loving generosity for all in attendance. Whether to a sold-out concert hall, or to more empty chairs than people, she sang with as much momentous spirit, love and delight as if she was at Carnegie Hall.

In fact, she did perform at Carnegie Hall many times over the years, solo and with others. But whether she was there, the Sydney Opera House, or the hip but decidely non-royal Pip’s on LaBrea, she never dialed down. That’s who she was. It didn’t matter who was in the audience, or if there was an audience at all. What mattered was the song. The music. And the bond between musicians.

Barbara Morrison, 2022.

Barbara Morrison. A champion of song, if ever there was. A vocalist of genuine soul and grace, unbound power, purity and passion. Born in 1949, she died two weeks ago on March 16, here in Los Angeles.

It’s also here in L.A. that she performed her final show. It was at Vibrato, the beautiful jazz club owned by Herb Alpert, which up at the top of Beverly Glen at Mulholland.

Although we hadn’t planned on it, my son Joshua and I were at that final show.

We had dinner at Fabrocini’s, the great Italian restaurant also up there in Beverly Glen Circle, just blocks from my beloved new home in Beverly Glen. During dinner I told Josh about how much I loved being so close to Vibrato, where I’ve come several times. Most recently to the great show givien by Paul Simon’s longtime African bassist of multitudes, the great Bakhiti Kumalo. So Josh suggested going in for a drink after dinner. We didn’t know she would be there.

I had never experienced the greatness of one of her live shows, nor did I know much about her. I knew the name, and knew she was an esteemed jazz singer and deliverer of standards from that Great American Songbook.

Yet it seems that Providence (or God, if you will) wanted my son and myself to experience this greatness first-hand, and guided us, gently, quietly, without our knowledge, to what was her final performance ever. It was February 13, 2022. Two weeks later she went into the hospital and her earthly life came to an end.

Yet we happened to be there for the last show, without even knowing of our great good fortune.

Was this an accident?

No.

A mere coincidence?

Nope.

Was it confirmation that our lives are never random, and as long as we keep our hearts open with loving trust, we will be guided to the exact right place and time?

Yes!

And that’s exactly what happened. Joshua, who is 22 now, a very recent college graduate and now a full-time producer-plus for Tom Segura’s great Your Mom’s House podcast, was back home after his recent move to Austin to work on YMH at their new Texas home. After dinner we walked over to Vibrato.

When we entered, there was a small crowd there, but it was mostly quiet. We got some good cocktails, and sat at the lovely bar feeling happy, as it’s hard not to feel happy there. Nobody was performing, and I figured there would be no live music on this night.

I was wrong. There’s music there seven nights a week. Suddenly a small ensemble took stage and readied their instruments: piano, bass, electric guitar and drums.

Then we heard the words which surprised and thrilled us:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome – Barbara Morrison!”

“Barbara Morrison?!” I didn’t know this was her night, though I had noticed her name on their calendar regularly.

Suddenly she was rolled onto the stage in a wheel-chair. The joy she projected was monumental, though her physical presence had been diminished; alhough she beamed with tender joy and gratitude, her physical body was small and bird-like, and seemed incapable of containing such capacious, unbound talent. Her voice was still strong – and joyfully and poignantly expressive. Though illness had stolen much of her physical self, it didn’t steal the music in her, and her ability to share it with us.

She sang like someone in love with her fellow musicians, with songs, and with the songwriters who brought them to us. She felt every line, and we felt it, too. She sang in a voice was resonant and clear, and she delivered every melody note, and every lyric, with such absolute heart and soul, and with such engaged lyricism, that it was stunning.

Every song was a delight. But none was so powerful, beautiful and sad as when she sang what is perhaps Cole Porter’s greatest and most poignant song, “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” Its poignancy was both sweetened and deepened immeasurably by a force we didn’t recognize then, but do now. Time. Her’ time here was coming to an end. It was her final show ever. Days after that performance she went into the hospital, and from there left this realm to start her next adventure.

But when she sang that song – and every song – it was genuinely beautiful. Only a smattering of audience members were still there, but that didn’t matter – she sang as if she was singing before a packed audience at Carnegie Hall. She so expressed the fullness of the lyric – the shared humanity of each phrase -, and always with a smile bigger than the whole room, as if to say: Listen now and hear me : this is what matters. Love. And it lasts forever. Yet while still in this realm, divided from each other in so many ways, it is easy to dismiss the fullness of our blessings, and the power of love which has enlivened us forever.

But she she sang those words, and with that singular soul of purity, and honored the songwriter, the song and all who could hear and feel its message of joy and sorrow forever entwined:

“Ev’ry time we say goodbye
I die a little
Ev’ry time we say goodbye
I wonder why a little…”


And then the great final verse, with its musical symbology in perfect rhyme and meter:

There’s no love song finer
But how strange the change
From major to minor
Ev’ry time we say goodbye

Barbara Morrison concert, streamed live on November 14, 2020

We knew that night how lucky we were to have walked in for a drink, not knowing she would be performing. But since then we’ve recognized it was more than luck they led us there on that night, the last show of her life; it was a blessing, and our gratitude has deepened.

I learned of her death from my old pal Sal Guitarez, a songwriter-musician-teacher and great dad (to musician-producer Jason Gutierrez) if he’d heard of her, in advance of relating my lucky tale of wandering in there with my lad just in time for her full set.

He said, “Yeah, sure. Barbara Morrison.” Then he added, “I heard she’s gone.”

“No, she’s not,” I said. “I just saw her last week–“

“No,” he said. “She is gone. She just died yesterday.”

Yesterday ? I was hoping he was wrong. He wasn’t.

I called Vibrato to ask if that was her final show that we saw. It was. I thanked them for that night, and every night of great, real-time music.

Herb Alpert’s Vibrato * 2930 Beverly Glen Circle
Los Angeles, CA 90077 * (310) 474-9400

Barbara Morrison, “I Love Being Here With You,” 2010

Her life reads like a good song lyric: Born in Ypsilanti , she was raised in Romulus. Which is Michigan, where she first emerged on September 10, 1949.


Her father was a professional singer, and she followed in his footsteps soon as she could walk. By ten she was already recording and performing, after making her musical debut on a Detroit radio station. She started singing and recording in the service of others singers. That long list of artists begins in 1977 with Johnny Otis, who featured her on many albums, as well as Dizzy Gillespie, Tony Bennett, Count Basie Orchestra, Ray Charles, Etta James, Doc Severinsen, Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell, Keb-Mo, Terence Blanchard, Joe Sample, Cedar Walton, Nancy Wilson and Joe Williams.

When she was 22, she moved to L.A., and joined the band of Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s Band. Once she started, she never stopped. Till now.

She always let us knows that songs mattered. Lyrics when sung by others could seem hackneyed, and disconnected from real life. But from her deep soul, songs became real conversations with a friend. And no ordinary friend, but a spirited, inspirational friend, one radiating joy.

So direct onstage was her delivery that often she’d be answered, as when she lifted up a room already soaring on the combined energy of Santana and Buddy Guy by igniting Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler’s “Stormy Weather,” with her own brand of authentic soul. Written for Ethel Waters in 1933, she easily tapped into its timeless realm.

Barbara Morrison with Buddy Guy & Carlos Santana, “Stormy Monday.”

Her band was made up of four great musicians. Happy ones, even. Maybe not always, but on this night they were jamming like at a party. She encouraged this. Her patter between songs was less about performance and more about our great good fortune to hear songs at this level played by great musicians. Every song soared, and the band rejoiced in their recognition of her sheer candle-power. Her joy was infectious, and lit up every song she sang.

Her voice was always warm and friendly. Smiling, she’d bring the song with loving sweetness and generous clarity, like a great teacher sharing the most beautiful poetry of man to her students. She didn’t take liberties with songs, careful to deliver the beautiful lyrical wisdom and melodic beauty undiluted, while preserving the sanctity. In her singing there was always the undeniable bridge to the eternal.It was about now, but also always about forever.

Barbara Morrison, “What A Difference A Day Made,” 1986.
Written by Stanley Adams and Mariah Grever

Here in Los Angeles she devoted her life to enriching and expanding the musical community, and giving new talent a chance to develop and emerge. In 2009, she opened the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in Leimert Park. Two years later, she founded the California Jazz & Blues Museum in the same hood.

Barbara Morrison in concert at the California Jazz & Blues Museum, which she founded.
This is a full show which she gave on New Year’s Eve, 2021 to usher in 2022.

She also served as an associate professor of jazz studies at UCLA. The university recently launched the Barbara Morrison Scholarship for Jazz.

When sung by her, a song came alive in all its fullness and glory. All its aspects were celebrated in the heartfelt joy she’d bring to every melody note, and lyrical phrase. She sang the famous lyrics of standards with a an exultant authority, as if this was the premiere of this miraculous song. In every line, she sang with a depth of gratitude and adoration for the songwriter’s genius and deep artistry that allowed tsomething so brilliant and tender at once; an expression of love so sad and real, reflecting in its aching sweetness the eternal human conundrum, the soul’s journey of love eternal and unbound, though forever bound to a humble, human life, a “brief candle,” as Shakespeare wrote:


“…to the last syllable of recorded time,
and all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow…
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
and then is heard no more.”

But some voices are heard long after the singer is gone from our realm, just as some songs are sung and last forever, far beyond the life-spans of its songwriters and singers. Songs, when she injected them with her full soul power and love, were like lit candles that could burn brightly forever, illuminating our human hearts with everlasting incandesence.



There’s no love song finer
But how strange the change From major to minor
Ev’ry time we say goodbye

She is survived by her brother, Richard Morrison; two sisters, Pamela Morrison-Kersey and Armetta Morrison; and 10 nieces and nephews.

Flowers and donations will be received at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, located at 4305 Degnan Blvd. #101, Los Angeles, CA 90008.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Rescinds Bob Dylan’s Induction Due to Alleged Use of “Creativity-Enhancing Drugs”

APRIL 1, 2022 Edmund Martifice, spokesman for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, announced today that the 1988 induction of Bob Dylan into the Rock Hall has been rescinded permanently due to “alleged use of creativity-enhancing Drugs.”

All Dylan memorabilia, paraphenalia and assorted writings now in the museum’s collection, he reported, will be auctioned off, destroyed and/or “left out in front of the museum.” Mr. Dylan will be banned from the museum, as will any of his bandmates, collaborators, former wives, present and ex-girlfriends, children, grandchildren or lawyers. All his songs will be deleted from any museum-generated playlists.

The statement read: “Mr. Dylan has been involved in an illicit system of acquiring illegal and/or formally illegal substances, which he used regularly when writing his songs. Our investigation has revealed that many of his most famous songs were written when under the influence of a drug or a combination of drugs, alcohol, caffiene and cough syrup.”

Dylan was also accused of providing drugs for other bandmates and/or friends.

We emailed Mr. Martifice at the Rock Hall for further details. He declined our request for a spoken interview, but did answer in email. Asked if other famous inductees were suspected of also using drugs to fuel their music, and in danger of being deducted from the Cleveland institution, he said he had to first confer with his advisors before responding. Six hours later we received his response.

“As far as we know,” responded Martifice, “no other Rock Hall inductees are suspected of drug usage. Fortunately, this sad and insidious scheme belonged only to Bob Dylan. All in a tragic attempt, evidently, to defraud the public into belieiving he was some kind of creative genius. Now, sadly, we know the truth.”

We contacted the Recording Academy to ask if Dylan’s ten Grammys would be revoked.

Their response was concise: “What? Is this some kind of joke?”

If only.

We also contacted the Nobel Foundation to inquire about the status of Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature. They have not returned the call.


Bob Dylan

the eternal wheat field

By John Kruth

a poem for vincent van gogh
on his 169th birthday

Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, 1887
Vincent Van Gogh, Wheatfield with Cypresses, 1889.

everything was alive

in your absinthe-green eyes

when only deep shades of blues

could still sooth your black moods

and red vineyards cloaked you

from the darkness

of the ever-encroaching winter

some say it was glaucoma or lead

poisoning that caused you to see

halos around everything

but maybe you were

just closer to heaven

than that drab bunch of potato

eaters who lived next door

everything you witnessed

breathed electricity

the shape of the wind

and clouds spinning in turbulent skies

as gray clouds like dark birds rose

from your pipe and sunflowers danced

with delight in the vase on your table

all the colors we knew

turned a different hue

when you painted them

and the wheat waved back in gratitude

so drop that pistol vincent,

the paintbrush will always love you better

nobody saw the world through your eyes

for another hundred years or so

and by that time, you were long gone

never knowing your paintings

— John Kruth, 2022

La Berceuse (Woman Rocking a Cradle);
A Portrait of Augustine-Alix Pellicot Roulin, 1851–1930) 1889

Vincent Van Gogh, Nursery on Schenkweg
April–May 1882

GREAT NEW SONG ALERT: The Black Keys, “Wild Child”

From the new album Dropout Boogie, out later this month.

By PAUL ZOLLO

A brand-new classic by the Black Keys – Dan Auerbach & Patrick Carney – arrived on March 10, of this year (2022) – “Wild Child,” from their new album, Dropout Boogie, which will emerge on May 13.

The Black Keys are Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach, two old tuneful pals from from Akron who teamed up in 2001. Similar to the way the duo of Becker & Fagen were Steely Dan, around which other satellites spun and which signified songwriting and record-making greatness always, Dan & Pat have united in a musical mission that has deeply enriched these times. Their songs and records shine always with the warm purity of two seriously singular songwriters in harmonic and spiritual sync with each other, and in love with the unbound power and potential of song.

And like Steely Dan – not stylistically, mind you, but in terms of their aim – their work is always reflects the ambition and diligence to make real-time, timeless, rocking records out of these songs. Classic, soulful, rock and roll, analog and digital both, dimensional, and expansive. Built to last,

They will embark on a new 12-show tour this year (see below). Like their legions of fans, I am thankful for each successive brand-new classis they’ve created over these past years. Somehow they remain plugged into the source, and connect with the real-time rock, roll, soul, whimsy, wisdom, irony, passion and fire. Few other bands, for this writer, consistently create new music that I genuinely want to keep listening to over and over. That’s what it’s all about. Their music makes me feel good. It feeds a hunger that very few new records ever feed. And they keep doing it.

And it is needed – and appreciated – now more than ever, as the foundational ideas which guide this kind of work have been dismissed, abandoned, forgotten and/or lost by so many.

And, like Tom Petty and others who kept doing it, they make it look easy. Also fun.

They also make compelling, unexpected and great videos like this one below, the official music video, starring Dan & Pat, of “Wild Child.”

The Black Keys, Patrick Carney & Dan Auerbach,
“Wild Child”

Black Keys forever, bitch.”

So ends this video with these words. We agree.

Forever. That’s what it’s all about.

On behalf of rock & roll and those who live in its forever realm, allow us to say to Dan & Pat: Thank you! This world would suck even more without you.

The new album, Dropout Boogie, Out May 13

“Wild Child”
By Daniel Auerbach & Patrick Carney

I’m just a stranger
With a twisted smile and I’m wondering, ah
Your heart is in danger
Come close now, let me tell you a lie

Wild child
You got me running through the turnstile
Baby, come with and I’ll make it worthwhile
You’re gonna get my love today, yeah

You are a sweet dream
With a tender heart and beautiful smile
But things aren’t what they seem
So I’ll let you go and dream for a while

Wild child
You got me coming outta exile
Baby girl, you know I’m liking your style
You’re gonna get my love today, yeah

I just wanna hold you at the end of every day
Girl, I wanna please you, oh, I’m needing you to stay
The sun is gonna shine if you would just come out and play
Baby, won’t you show me your wild child ways

Wild child
You got me running through the turnstile
Baby, come with and I’ll make it worthwhile
You’re gonna get my love today, yeah

Wild child
You got me coming outta exile
Baby girl, you know I’m liking your style
You’re gonna get my love today, yeah

Wild Child lyrics © 2022 Wixen Music Publishing

The Black Keys have officially announced their 32-date Dropout Boogie North American Tour. Dropout Boogie Tour begins July 9 in Las Vegas with special guests Band Of Horses. Ceramic Animal, Early James, & The Velveteers for select dates.

Fans can join the FREE Lonely Boys & Girls Club for more.



Presale codes can be found once signed up and logged into your Lonely Boys & Girls club profile starting Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 10 am ET.

A limited number of VIP packages will also be available starting Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 10 AM local time. VIP packages include premium seats, sound check visit, an autographed lithograph and more!

Great New Song Alert: Trombone Shorty, “Come Back” .

A brand-new timeless soul classic by Chris Seefried, Derrick Thomas, Sam Plecker & Trombone Shorty

By PAUL ZOLLO

It’s one of the most infectiously uplifting soul singles to emerge in a long time. If Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Isaac Hayes, all of Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Tower of Power horns were to team up to make one record, it might sound something like this. But maybe not as great.

From his first album in five years, Lifted, which arrives on April 29, this is Trombone Shorty with “Come Back.”

Trombone Shorty

The song and album were produced by Chris Seefried, who has written and produced great music for many bands and artists (including Andra Day, Lady Blackbird, Joseph Arthur, Counting Crows, Fitz & The Tantrums, Vintage Trouble). He co-wrote “Come Back” with Derrick Thomas, Sam Plecker & Trombone Shorty. Chris has been steadily establishing himself as one of the most soulful and savvy songwriter-producers making music now; like Mark Ronson, he ‘s got a gift for easily merging the real-time, soul magic of the analog past with the new sonics and grooves of our digital age. Usually a little more hip-hop than rock, these grooves propel timeless melodies that never fail to touch the heart, even while you are dancing.

Both romantically tender and anthemic, “Come Back” is built around an undeniably killer hook. It ‘s one of those which makes you feel happy the first time you hear it, and happier with each listening, as all its facets coalesce. It’s brand new and timeless at the same time, all about now but without abandoning those ancient elements which combine to make songs soar forever .

Since you've been away
I've been hurting
Since you've been away
Come back baby
Since you've been away
I've been hurting
Since you've been away
Come back and stay

Does it get better? This is new, true and it’s 2022.

“Come Back”
℗ Blue Note Records; ℗ 2022 UMG Recordings, Inc.
Released on 18 February 2022

Producer, Arranger, Composer, Lyricist: Chris Seefried
Mixer, Mastering Engineer: Mikael “Count” Eldridge
Background Vocalist, Trombone, Trumpet, Vocals: Trombone Shorty
Drums: Alvin Ford
Bass Guitar: Mike Bass-Bailey
Guitar: Pete Murano
Hammond Organ, Rhodes: Brandon Butler
Tenor Saxophone: BK Jackson
Baritone Saxophone: Dan Oestreicher
Background Vocals: Chris Pierce, Derek Thomas, Trombone Shorty
Recording Engineer: Charles Smith
Engineer: Seth Atkins Horan
Mastering Engineer: Bernie Grundman

Chris Seefried. Photo by Majoryabo

Great New Song Alert: “Magnificent Hurt” by Elvis Costello & The Imposters

From his new album The Boy Named If, which burst forth in January, 2022 (it didn’t simply drop).

It comprises a song cycle which, according to Elvis, spans from “the last days of a bewildered boyhood to that mortifying moment when you are told to stop acting like a child—which for most men (and perhaps a few gals too) can be any time in the next 50 years.”

This is the single, and is perfect for this series in which we celebrate great songs which are brand new. This is a brand-new brand-new classic, written by Elvis, produced by him with Sebastian Krys, and recorded during lockdown with The Imposters (AKA The Attractions).

This is new, this is timeless, also charged, passionate, fun, mysterious, visceral, danceable, delicious, in funkified, unbridled B minor, and delightfully delightful.


“Magnificent Hurt”
Words & Music by Elvis Costello

After talking in tongues, I began to preach
What falls from the branch is an apple or peach
Hold on to me, there’s a red alert
It’s the way you make me feel, magnificent hurt

I took a little walk, I took another stimulant
I shed a single tear for my predicament
Don’t act surprised or insolent
It’s the way you make me feel, magnificent hurt

When we first met, I knew you were beautiful
You fit like the seat of a blue mohair suit
And the pain that I felt let me know I’m alive
And I opened my heart
To the way you make me feel, magnificent hurt

I speak low and intimate
Like a cardboard sophisticate
What if this is true love?
Not some town hall certificate
It’s the way you make me feel, magnificent hurt

I stood at the door, and I almost went through with it
Tight as the angle of my amen
And I swore, there and then, as I feign and I flirt
I unbuttoned my shirt
To the way you make me feel, magnificent hurt
To the way you make me feel, magnificent hurt

Behind the Song:

“My Old Man,” by Steve Goodman

STEVE GOODMAN,
“MY OLD MAN”

By PAUL ZOLLO

When it came to writing a song about your father, even John Prine knew that nobody ever did it better than his pal, the late Steve Goodman. Prine had already written a great song about his own father, “Paradise.” It was a song that moved his father more than any he ever wrote. But that was about more than his dad. It was about coal-mining in America, and the little town of Paradise where it happened. It was about America, and how swiftly it has changed.

But this one. “My Old Man” by Steve Goodman. It’s a song long beloved as among the greatest ever written from a son to his dad. For so many reasons. But more than anything, because it’s genuine. From the heart. The son, the father, the love, the regret, the tune. All of it. When Stevie wrote a song, he wrote a song to be remembered. More than forty years since it first emerged, it still is pure and perfect.

Steve Goodman at Wrigley Field

It’s also a perfect example of the songwriting wisdom that the more specific a song is, the more universal. Although this is as specific as it gets, with the true details of the life of his dad, known as Bud Goodman, a used car salesman in Chicago, it’s a song about all dads, and all children of parents who have dealt with the grief of losing their own dads.

JOHN PRINE,
“MY OLD MAN” BY STEVE GOODMAN

Anthology: No Big Surprise
Steve Goodman
Buy from Amazon

“He wrote it for his father, Bud,” said John Prine, who has performed this song more than any other by Steve Goodman, his best pal, “It was after Bud died of a sudden heart-attack. Took about six months for it all to sink in, He kept telling me he was wondering when it would soak in, but he didn’t know it would turn into a song.”

Prine heard this one long-distance, and in the middle of the night.

“Usually when he finished a song he’d get on a pay-phone, wherever he was, and call me, and wake me up, and say, `Prine, I got one.’ That’s how I heard this one the first time. I always thought it was a really pretty one.” 

Steve Goodman’s dad didn’t work in a coal mine. He was a used car dealer. But as Steve sings in the song, never was there a more charming guy on this planet. Even when he’d look you in the eye and sell you a used car. And never was there a more sweet and poignant song about a father than this one. Written in 1977, it was on Steve’s album Say It In Private, produced by Joel Dorn.

It’s got his dad’s real character – the corny jokes, the cheap cigar, his greatness at selling used cars. But also the history – time in the war, marrying mom, and then, becoming a dad. Then the fights with Stevey and his brother. The guy was human, not a saint. And Stevey also was human, and hardly a perfect son – admitting to tuning out his father – and the regret:

“And I’d give all I own to hear what he said when I wasn’t listening.”

Plus the sad and ironic humanity of father and son reflected:

He was always trying to watch his weight/but his heart only made it to 58…”

And then the key line, which is about the songwriter, and about all humans having to somehow accept a loss so deep that it’s hard to fathom. Yet it’s a necessary acceptance, though heartbreaking, before singing the inevitable song of grief, the one which never really ends. But it begins.

“And for the first time since he died/late last night I cried/I wondered when I was gonna do that for my old man…”

In concert he introduced it with a smile, saying, “This song is for Joseph Bayer Goodman, my father. I asked my grandmother why she named him Bayer, cause there were no Bayers in the family. Anywhere. She said she had her reasons.”

He then shrugged to the audience, as if to say, “Who knows what that is all about?”

In 2006, Steve’s daughter Rosanna Goodman produced a tribute album for her dad called My Old Man, featuring many artists doing songs by Steve, and not the usual ones. But the highlight is her own beautiful version of the song. 

ROSANNA GOODMAN,
“MY OLD MAN”
Written by her old man, Steve Goodman

Like many songwriters, when I first heard Steve’s song about his dad, I abandoned any idea of ever writing one of my own for my father. Because he’d done it so well. It’s simple, funny, poignant and beautiful. It doesn’t get better really. After knowing this, what could I write? It’s a dilemma never resolved.

John Prine felt the same way. Usually it was Steve Goodman who sang John Prine’s songs, as he sang Prine’s praises to everyone and anyone who would listen. It was Goodman, and those in the know already know well, insisted Kris Kristofferson hear him, which led to Prine getting signed but Atlantic.

But of all the songs by Steve Goodman, this was one Prine performed more than any other. He knew Bud, Steve’s dad, so he could see into the song as if he wrote it himself. He also knew and loved Steve Goodman, who died at only 36 years old in 1984. John outlived his best pal by 26 years, and kept Goodman’s spirit alive always. Prine’s performance of this song was always poignant and great, paying tribute to his absent pal with this song Steve wrote about the death of his dad. He wrote as a way of making sense of his own grief, and poured into it the loving, gentle whimsy that was his essence.

STEVE GOODMAN. “THIS IS A SONG FOR MY FATHER, JOSEPH BAYER GOODMAN.”

My Old Man”
By Steve Goodman

I miss my old man tonight
And I wish he was here with me
With his corny jokes and his cheap cigars
He could look you in the eye and sell you a car
That’s not an easy thing to do
But no one ever knew a more charming creature
On this earth than my old man

He was a pilot in the big war in the U.S. Army Air Corps
In a C-47 with a heavy load
Full of combat cargo for the Burma Road
And after they dropped the bomb
He came home and married mom
|And not long after that
He was my old man

And oh the fights we had
When my brother and I got him mad
He’d get all boiled up and he’d start to shout
And I knew what was coming so I tuned him out
And now the old man’s gone, and I’d give all I own
To hear what he said when I wasn’t listening
To my old man

I miss the old man tonight
And I can almost see his face
He was always trying to watch his weight
And his heart only made it to fifty-eight
For the first time since he died
Late last night I cried
I wondered when I was gonna do that
For my old man

Steve Goodman & John Prine together

THE BEST STEVE GOODMAN BOOK EVER!!

For more on the timeless greatness of Steve Goodman, look no farther than Clay Eals’ tremendous book Steve Goodman: Facing the Music. It’s one of the best books ever on a songwriter. It’s a book as great as Steve was great, and as loving. It’s the comprehensive, untold story of a young man whose hilarious, touching and heartening music — “City of New Orleans,” “You Never Even Call Me by My Name,” “Banana Republics,” “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request”, “Go, Cubs, Go” and many more stellar songs — uplifted millions.
All books ordered from this site will come with a special postcard, autographed by the author, and a CD (or CD-R) of 18 songs written after Steve’s death that pay tribute to him, and one track of interview clips with Steve himself.

Click here to purchase the book:



www.storerevenue.biz/clayeals/order.asp

Steve Goodman: Facing the Music
By CLAY EALS
Steve Goodman

In Honor of the 80th Birthday of a Great Songwriter, Poet & Friend, Stephen Kalinich

Featuring Stevie’s own remembrances of writing the beloved Beach Boys’ song “Little Bird” with Dennis Wilson

By PAUL ZOLLO
Photos by Paul Zollo/Tremolo Ghost


Happy Stevie Day! Today, remarkably, is the 80th birthday of the great songwriter-poet-painter-pacifist-visionary-mensch Stephen Kalinich. AKA “Stevie” to his friends, of which there are multitudes. I am proud to be a lifetime member of the FOS (Friends of Stevie), which is an expansive coalition of artists, musicians, poets, actors, writers and also civilians: those who love artists, musicians, poets, actors, writers and all they bring to our world

Happy Stevie Day! Today, remarkably, is the 80th birthday of the great songwriter-poet-painter-pacifist-visionary-mensch Stephen Kalinich. AKA “Stevie” to his friends, of which there are multitudes. I am proud to be a lifetime member of the FOS (Friends of Stevie), which is an expansive coalition of artists, musicians, poets, actors, writers and also civilians: those who love artists, musicians, poets, actors, writers and all they bring to our world


He was the closest and most trusted friend of the late great songwriter P.F. Sloan, known as Phil to his friends, of which I was one. It was Phil who first introduced me to Stevie, and let me know – without words – that Stevie could be trusted. That he was one of the good ones. Real good.

But it was at Phil’s funeral at the South Pasadena library that Stevie and I bonded. I gave the eulogy and Stevie read his beautiful poem, “If You Knew.” And I knew. This is a man of real-time heart and soul. A man of peace, as was Phil, in a world of war. A man of poetry and song in a world of dissonance and fury. A man of love in this sorrowful war-torn world. A man of hope and light always, even through these long seasons of darkness and despair.

He’s the rare poet who has always reflected the joy of life and art. He loves words, and he knows all the traditional structures and frames. He also knows truth. But what matters most, as we learn from his art, is the human connection. His message is to feel the joy. Don’t worry about life. Love the journey. And remind others just how finite and fleeting it is, so don’t get too distracted by the shiny things, or the darkness. Better to light your own light, and with it to illuminate the pathways for others hoping to make it through.

He is, as one friend said, someone “who will always show up.” Whether physically or with spirit, Stevie is well-known for letting others feel his love, and know they are not alone.

Happy Stevie Kalinich Day! - American Songwriter
Stevie Kalinich at Book Soup, 2020.
Photo by Zollo.



Often he does beautiful, magical things for his friends. He does these usually in semi-secret, so as to deliver the joy without any hint of self-glory. No doubt most of these remain unknown, but one recent one surfaced, and stands as a great symbol of Stevie’s tender heart and gentle benevolence:

When our friend Zak Nilsson, the son of Harry, was fighting a long and devastating battle with the cancer that took his life in March, 2021, Stevie reached out to a famous friend to let him know what Zak was going through, and maybe inspire a few words from him. That friend was Paul McCartney. (Paul sang on the beautiful “A Friend Like You,” which Stevie wrote with Brian Wilson.)

McCartney immediately sent off a letter of love to Zak. Zak, in turn, moved by McCartney’s expression and also his identification of the man who triggered it, posted a message about it online:

“I got this letter from Paul McCartney the other day,” wrote Zak. “He heard I had cancer and sent me this note. I was very touched that Harry’s friendship meant this much to Paul.”

In the letter, Paul wrote this:

“Paul McCartney here. Steven Kalinich wrote to me to let me know that you are about to have chemo, so I am sending you this note to encourage you to be strong and positive.I was privileged to know your Dad whom I knew as a lovely guy and a great talent. I wish you the very best of luck with the treatment. My wife, Nancy, went through it years ago and stuck with it even though she hated it. She is now better and well, except for the fact she is married to me!!

Sending the very best vibrations to you. Be well. Love Paul.”

Paul McCartney’s letter to Zak Nilsson, requested by Stevie, February 4, 2019.


Stevie has long embodied the beautiful symbol in his most beloved song, “Little Bird,” which he co-wrote with Dennis Wilson. It’s on the Beach Boys’ 1968 album Friends,  and was produced by Brian Wilson. Brian also wrote the music for the bridge section, though chose to be uncredited for it, perhaps to shine more light on his brother Dennis, and also Stevie.

“`Little Bird’ blew my mind,” said Brian Wilson, “because it was so full of spiritualness.

It is a magical, wonderful song. It’s not as famous as the big hits, which seems right, as the subject is delicate and small, yet makes a timeless impact, because it is genuine. Stevie always wrote from his heart, informed by his unbound love of language and poetry and song, and sweetened by love itself: for life, for Dennis , for art, music and beauty.

“It’s something people don’t talk about much, or even ask about,” Stevie said, “but I was in love when I wrote that song. Love shaped “Little Bird” more than anything.,

In honor of Stevie’s 80th birthday – and the fact that Stevie at 80 remains one of the youngest, most exultant, sweet , brilliant and funny people there is – we are happy to celebrate him here with this journey into the origins of “Little Bird.”  I

t began, as he told us, with a poem he wrote inspired by seeing a little robin outside of Dennis Wilson’s home. 

Stephen Kalinich, “Dennis”
A Poem for Dennis Wilson
Video by Paul Zollo

STEPHEN KALINICH: There was a little bird who gave me the poem, these words. The bird gave me the poem. It was a little bird, a robin with kind of a rough breast. And that bird, for me, was God’s messenger. His messenger of life for me. That is what I believe.

“Little Bird”was a miracle song for me. I felt so good about it. And my truth is I never thought of it becoming a hit. I never thought of money. I wanted to pour this kind of feeling into the world. 

Remember Jay Ward who did “Bullwinkle”? In 1966 I met a guy that worked with him at the Hollywood YMCA and he loved my poems.

Stevie with his Art
Photo by Paul Zollo

He said, “I’m good friends with Jay Ward and I’m friends with Brian Wilson.” So I would go down to Jay’s studio on Sunset there and I would sing him my folk chants that are now on the World of Peace album. I got to be friends with them and he set up meetings to go and see Brian Wilson. 

Brian was playing at the Smothers Brothers Theater on Sunset in Hollywood. The first time I met him., The Beach Boys were rehearsing there. 

Brian and I hit it off. He loved me and we just hit it off. Then the next thing I know, I had a contract with the Beach Boys as a writer and as a performer. The name of my group was Zarasthustra & Thelebeus.  It was with Mark Lindsey Buckingham, who is  not the one from Fleetwood Mac.  He was a singer/songwriter and 12-string guitar player. He and I got signed, both of us, to Brother Records as publishers and performers.

Stephen John Kalinich | Light In The Attic Records
Brian Wilson & Stevie Kalinich

Brian drew up the contracts. Nick Grillo was the one who actually had us sign the contract. I had no attorneys so it was not the fairest deal.

So then they introduced me to Dennis, and we got together to write a song. The first song we wrote was “Little Bird.” I went to his house at 14400 Sunset Boulevard. He was renting Will Rodgers’ old house.

“Little Bird” was done in that house. Dennis had a tree hut in the front of his property; a little house about 30 feet up. He and I would go up there. And that was the “Little Bird” time.

I was sitting at his piano, looking out the window, and I saw a bird up in the tree. And it’s almost like God or grace: The sun was shining. It was mid-afternoon. It was still light in the day and there was a little sunshine.

I wrote the words to “Little Bird.” I left it on his piano. He was upstairs doing something. He called me that night at midnight and had the melody done. He didn’t like one word: “stripe.” So he went right off my lyric. In fact, all my early songs with him, I did the words first. Like “Be Still.” I did the words first and then he did the music. I never wrote off a track with him.

Brian did have a hand in this but never claimed credit. He wrote the bridge part of the music: “Where’s my pretty bird? He must have flown away.”

I wrote the poem, the lyric, when I was sitting at the piano. Brian was not there, only me and Dennis. I wrote the lyric first and then in less than an hour, Dennis found it and was inspired with music. It was as if the words and melody were in him. Brian added his part in the studio.

The Beach Boys, “Little Bird”
By Stephen Kalinich & Dennis Wilson. Produced by Brian Wilson. From the Beach Boys’ album Friends, 1968.

That was our first song and six weeks later it was out all over the world.

 When I said, “the little bird up in a tree looked down and sang a song to me of how it began,” I wanted to repeat the words “how it began.” It was a lesson that the bird was giving me of life.

The little bird’s phrase was about all the secrets of all the universe, and of every song that’s ever been written, and every possible creative act. Because it all comes from the sea of divine love, or energy, if you want to call it that, if you’re a physicist. Or you can call it God, the universal music. The Sufi’s call it the one vibration where all music emanates in the stillness.

It’s also in the Bible, “Be still and know that I am God.”

All this was in “Little Bird.” Later, “Be Still” became a song of its own, but it was already in “Little Bird.” That’s why you can see out of that, the first one, how it began. And then he says, “How it began.” Which meant how all matter began.

Donovan and Stevie.
Photo by Zollo.

It’s about what Einstein wrote about: the all-encompassing universe. “Little Bird” was a microcosm of matter and energy; the creation of the solar system. And I thought all that then when I wrote it. That’s why on the next refrain, the trout in the shiny brook gave a warm and loving look. To say that you don’t need to worry about us. That’s what he said.

So I’m saying by that reflection to you out there listening: “Don’t worry about your life. Here’s all the answers. It’s in the trout. It’s in the little bird. It’s in the flowers in the meadow. ” That theme is running through a lot of my work then. Little bird might drop me a seed for a tree to grow…

It’s so magical, like a Zen moment.

A lot of people misheard the lyric, and got it wrong – and it is even printed wrong often. The real lyric is “the trout in a shiny brook gave a warm and loving look.” But often people think the trout “gave the worm another hook.”

If people sing it that way, fine. But the original thing is that instead of the hook, he gave a warm and loving look and said, “Don’t worry about your life.”

Stevie with Quincy Jones
Photo by Paul Zollo

Other writers borrowed words from other people. I tried to do it from the pure Zen of the experience with simple words that everyone could understand. It was the fashion then to be abstract. But instead of being abstract, I tried to put it in plain words. I wanted to be an effective communicator, and I hope I have become that in some areas.

`Little Bird’ was one of the greatest experiences in my life. The grace of the universe was involved and it has blessed me my whole life.”

“Little Bird”
By STEPHEN KALINICH & DENNIS WILSON

Little bird up in a tree
Looked down and sang a song to me
Of how it began

Na na na na na na
Na na na na na na
Na na na na na na

The trout in the shiny brook
Gave a warm and loving look
And told me not to worry
About my life

Na na na na na na
Na na na na na na
Na na na na na na

Tree in my own backyard
Stands all alone
Bears fruit for me
And it tastes so good

Where’s my pretty bird?
He must have flown away
If I keep singing
He’ll come back someday

Dawn, bird’s still gone
Guess I’ll go mow the lawn

What a day, what a day
Oooo, what a beautiful day this is
Ooooooooo

Little bird up in a tree
Looked down a sang a song to me
The trout in a shiny brook
Gave a warm and loving look
And told me not to worry about my life

Little bird looked down
And sang a song to me
Little bird looked down
And sang a song to me
Little bird looked down
And sang a song to me

Reason to Rejoice: Laura Nyro, Trees of the Ages

Recorded live in Japan, 1994

This new set also features beautifully
poetic liner notes by our friend and fellow-author-songwriter, John Kruth

It is the ideal moment for this album to arrive. It’s a new year again, the newest one yet. There is the joy of  liberation in America and beyond as the long season of lockdown gloom and doom is slowly fading out. Again we can rejoice at being in the sunshine again, no longer on house arrest but free to take in nature again. Trees, flowers, birds, squirrels and other assorted wildlife on the outside of our windows are all in the happy sway of June, and this album – Trees of the Ages – arrives like a celebration for our endurance. 

As devout Laura Nyro fans around the world (a club to which this writer proudly belongs) already knows, every record she made in her 49 years contains a miracle of beauty, inspiration, wisdom of the streets and of the ages, beautiful artistry, melodic splendor and dimensional love for a life spent inside songs. When she died in 1997, she’d already created enough truly great music for a lifetime. Unlike other great songwriting careers cut short, her’s did not seem incomplete. It seems likely that with a spirit so luminously enlightened, realizing her entire opus during her earthly life span was never an issue.

Her live shows, as those who were there know well, were unlike most other concerts in that she wasn’t performing the songs. This was entertainment, but much more. She inhabited each song fully, and gave it voice. Onstage she beamed with a beautifully zen state of calm, as the music – replete with her warm, jazz-fed chords, streetwise lyricism and her soul singing – shone like moonglow.   

Laura Nyro got older, but she never got old. Her songs never have aged at all. They are truly timeless. That writers often wax poetic when she is the subject to that enduring magic in the songs, and in her performances of them. Prose alone for Laura Nyro just doesn’t suffice. John Kruth’s great liner notes, which he kindly allowed us to reprint here, serve as an appropriately exultant and inspired epic adjunct to this journey. His words resonate with the luminous joy that radiate in her songs and spirit. Kruth, a songwriter, musician and music scholar, reached with real-time reverence to that realm from which her songs came, and brought back this poem.

Mr. Kruth is the author of many great books about our greatest songwriters and musicians. His newest, Hold On World: The Lasting Impact of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band, Fifty Years On, was released June 1st of this year.

Trees of The Ages
Laura Nyro Live in Japan

By JOHN KRUTH

Black hair shrouds her pale face like the night sky swallowing the moon.

Her lips are stained with bittersweet grapevine poems that beckon and seduce, as her moonbeam fingers, long and silvery, do a slow float over ivory piano keys, finding, fondling warm chords that resonate in heart chambers from Osaka to the Bronx.

A melancholy architect who, since the age of five, built a world of music that she laid stone by stone, a yellow brick sidewalk that zigzagged to her own private Oz, where Judy Garland and Claude Debussy shared a picnic in the eternal poppy fields, below a “Broken Rainbow.” Laura, the Earth Mother, tossed her sonic summer salad of gospel and jazz, with croutons of doo wop, and a zesty dressing of giddy Broadway musical motifs.

Brown earth tones that gently cradled words that can’t be expressed, no matter how playful and graceful, without the embrace of melody. Eyes distant gazing, lost in thought, listening to something nobody else can hear, like having a conversation with the divine.

A woman of the “Wild World,” Laura was never one to color between the lines. Known to drive her sidemen to the brink with tempos that shifted with her every mood. Each song, a prayer. Brief and fleeting meditations, as time hangs suspended in the moments between the last fading notes and the applause that falls like snowflakes on a hot cast iron stove. The Japanese audience so careful and polite, hoping not to break the gossamer spell she wove with the sharp clapping of hands.

Harmonies pour from the three Dianes (only Laura Nyro could have a choir of Dianas) echo her every word and emotion. “Diana,” a name traditionally associated with the Roman goddess of fertility, hunting and childbirth, that translates to “luminous,” “divine,” “fertile,” and “perfect.” As her piano pulses, she namechecks the lyre strumming poetess, Sappho, the “Tenth Muse,” who lived and died on the island of Lesbos. Louise’s Church” is dedicated to the chic Russian sculptor Louise Nevelson, the tragic jazz diva Billie Holiday, and Frida Kahlo, who painted her autobiography in brilliant hues. 

You can learn a lot from just one of Nyro’s songs. Which led me to do a bit more research beyond the usual stuff like her baby boomer birthdate: the 18th of October, 1947 (just barely two years after the war finally ended) and what her papa Louis Nigro (yes, she changed her name) did for a living: blowing jazz trumpet and tuning pianos. According to my Wicca sister Conleth, from St. Paul, Minnesota, “the moon, on February 22, 1994, (the date of this recording) was in Cancer, at 17°, in the phase known as Waxing Gibbous – a time for manifesting deep emotion, and a sense of belonging in the world. But being in Cancer, the stomach, lymph system and sexual/reproductive organs were particularly more sensitive and needed extra care.”

We human beings are constantly faced with forces both unknown and beyond our control, often feeling like the star of a movie we didn’t write, and are clearly not directing, yet always wondering when and how it will end. Laura’s gentle reading of “And When I Die” takes on a deeper significance here, knowing, as we do now, that she would soon be gone and “one child [will be] born and the world will carry on…” Like her mother, Gilda, the bookkeeper, Laura too was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. With the spring of 1997, she was gone at forty-nine, the same age at which her mom died. Her ashes were then scattered beneath “The Tree of Ages,” at her home in Danbury, Connecticut.

Everything about Laura Nyro spelled drama, from the way she tossed her head back as she belt out her lonely moon siren songs that poured from her throat, sculpting the air in Van Gogh curves that swirled and continue to undulate like waves of wind, as beads of sweat sparkled on her forehead, and ran down her neck like tears of moonlight, bursting and flowing down the cheeks of those who need her (still), think they know her, bought a piece of her soul for $6.95 at Sam Goody’s, and listen repeatedly to her voice igniting joy and beckoning them through the dark night of the soul.

And although unpredictable, she was never acting! The dark-eyed gypsy Madonna lights another cigarette in her candle-lit womb. The rituals she regularly performed to keep herself from drowning in an undertow of emotion became a lifesaver tossed to thousands of others around the world in quiet distress. Although they might not show it waiting in line to get in to see her, below the surface of their anticipating faces, down in the flat fish territory of their souls, lies a suitcase of sorrow, that freight of destiny we all lug around until it finally, effortlessly, slips off our back,
one hallelujah morning. 

In these (and those) sad/mad times, there remains the eternal hope that a song might still rescue us. “Save the Country!” “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle” … yes, indeed. Concerned about the fate of our planet, our environment, humanity, and animals, Laura Nyro became a vegetarian and animal rights activist, joined the peace movement, the women’s movement, and the movement of the soul, stirred by rock’n’roll, and R&B. She knew music was the healing force of the universe, generously offering “an invitation across the nation” and a chance to dance in the street. She smiled in the face of adversity, while flagging down “The Poverty Train,” tackling problems of racism and sexism that we already confronted (and foolishly thought we solved) with the struggles and protests of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

It’s late now. The windows are opaque with night. The moon is distant and high in the sky, its pale face shrouded by another storm of raven-black hair, as Laura sings her “Luna Rosé” songs that reverberate through the walls of time, back to when she sat alive at the piano in Osaka, clad in a silky kimono and tabi (split-toed) boots, punctuating the end of each offering with a gentle “arigato” (thank you). Time keeps spinning and flashing by like the carnival rides she once took, while laughing boys back in her broody teenage Bronx days, stood like awkward flowers, watching, joking, smoking, flicking cigarette butts onto oily, rain-puddled streets, as she sang, “It can never be the way we want it to be…”

No, I guess not. But we still have the music.

–John Kruth,
April 13, 2021

Hold On World, the new book by John Kruth