For the last several Christmases a debate is had as to whether the evergreen “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a relic of a bygone era in which plying women with alcohol in exchange for a romantic physical encounter was totally acceptable. With what we know about rape culture and the advent of the #metoo movement, it’s become a sore point with many culture historians; some say it is indeed an encouragement of such behaviour, others think it was quite progressive for its time as the woman manages to come to her own conclusion and exercised her own autonomy in the end. Others say it’s just a song.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, I have taken it upon myself to tear down another standard associated with the holidays, Rogers & Hart’s “My Funny Valentine.”

Originally in the classic Babes in Arms, “My Funny Valentine” has been described in the past for being progressive in that the male lead assures his love that despite not fitting conventional beauty standards:

“My funny valentine…
Sweet, comic valentine…
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable, unphotographable
yet you’re my favorite work of art
Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little weak?
When you open it to speak,
are you smart?”

While this may read nicely at first glance, let’s reconsider the context: this is the male basically telling his lover that she’s chubby and stupid in a coy but obvious way. The next verse compounds this:

“But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine
Each day is Valentine’s Day.”

There are several things wrong with this passage. It reads as not only condescending, but possessive and controlling. His affection totally hinges on whether she chooses to change anything about herself. Whereas “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is a playful back-and-forth by an ultimately consenting couple, “My Funny Valentine” is an entirely one sided account of a relationship.

Look, I’m all for destroying conventional beauty standards and women embracing who they are, but “My Funny Valentine” doesn’t do that, try as it might. It serves, instead, as a monument to the toxic, controlling side that permeated male culture in the 1930s and 1940s. Be gone, vile song.


On the weekend of August 16-19, thousands will be truckin’ up to Watkins Glen, New York, for the 50th anniversary of the most well known music festival of all time, Woodstock.

For those who don’t know, Woodstock was basically the amalgamation of everything that made the 1960s’ the 1960s’: hippies, drugs, the promotion of peace and love as the ultimate virtues, and some of the best damned music ever made. (There was also mud and nudity. Lots and lots of mud and nudity. Also, one dude got run over by a tractor.) For three days, a crowd of 500,000 flower children tripped their collective balls off to the music of Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who and numerous other iconic acts of the era. Some performances, such as Hendrix’s searing instrumental version of “The Star Spangled Banner” and Joe Cocker’s cover of the Beatles classic “With a Little Help of My Friends,” are some of the most significant moments in rock and roll.

Woodstock has taken an almost mythical status in popular culture, and it’s served as the catalyst for Coachella, Bonnaroo, Warped Tour, and numerous other multi-big name annual festival events that have taken place since. There have been two formal anniversary celebrations since, one in 1994 for its 25th and again in 1999 for its 30th. The first one was pretty good; Bob Dylan atoned for not playing in 1969, and Aerosmith, Green Day, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blind Melon, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and an all around eclectic lineup of well known names turned out for a respectable, if slightly hollow, celebration of the original.

Woodstock 1999 is infamous as probably the worst major musical festival in music history. Marred by various acts of violence, destruction of property, and a lineup that seemed to have been decided by throwing a bunch of darts at names and booking whoever was landed on (how else would James Brown and Limp Bizkit be in the same vicinity?), it served more as anniversary for Altamont than for Woodstock.

According to original promoter Michael Lang, the 50th anniversary will not make the same mistakes as the 30th anniversary and will try to recapture the spirit and message of the original festival, and also feature an eclectic mix of iconic acts ranging from legendary classic rock acts to modern hip hop and pop artists. This all sounds promising, but

Dead & Company

The latest (and best) incarnation of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead seems like a no-brainer; the band still embodies the free spirited values that the original lineup promoted, and with John Mayer fronting, younger audiences will have a big name to latch onto and ultimately introduce classics like “Uncle John’s Band,” “Casey Jones,” and “Dark Star” to a whole new generation. Plus, it would serve as a mea culpa of sorts for the surviving members, as the original band notoriously put on one of the worst sets of the original festival. Just no hologram Jerry Garcia.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan wasn’t living too far from Yasgar’s Farm in 1969, but was too wrapped up in his newfound laid back family life to perform at the original festival. He eventually performed at the 25th anniversary in 1994, putting on a memorable set, and the ultimate voice of the 1960s’ counter culture would seem to be an essential choice to have on board for the seminal 50th. Just one caveat: ditch all those Sinatra covers and play “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and numerous other anthems that defined the generation.

John Fogerty

The Creedence Clearwater Revival legend is one of the major surviving participants of the original festival, so it would be disrespectful to not extend him an invitation. At 73, Fogerty’s voice is still in great shape and he puts on a hell of a show. With songs like “Proud Mary,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?,” and “Bad Moon Rising” in his repertoire, Fogerty will no doubt be a highlight who’ll have the likely thousands strong crowd singing along with every note.

Neil Young

Another notable survivor of the original lineup, Neil Young has not only cemented himself as one of rock’s most vital and influential singer songwriters, he remains one of its most exciting live acts. Constantly reinventing his own classics as well as writing great new material, a hypothetical set by the Canadian troubadour will no doubt be one of its most memorable. Whether solo acoustic or full band (or both), Neil will absolutely bring it if asked.

Foo Fighters

Even at almost 25 years into their career, the Foo Fighters still command a fresh, contemporary sound and have won the respect of not only younger crowds but of the old guard as well. Frontman Dave Grohl has cemented himself as a rock legend as much as anyone else on this list, and with an ample set list of crowd pleasing anthems, they’ll bring a youthful vitality to the festival while still maintaining the spirit of the original lineup.

Pearl Jam

Another band nearly thirty years old that somehow still feels almost contemporary, the last standing core grunge band of the early 1990s’ still packs stadiums and has amassed some of the most powerful classic rock anthems of the 1990s’. The thought of 500, 000+ naked people on acid singing along to “Betterman” already gives me chills.

Bruce Springsteen

The Boss is another legendary musician who made his mark post-Woodstock, but he’s in the same rarified air as Dylan, Young and other trailblazers in the singer-songwriter arena. At 69, he still has a seemingly endless supply energy, still putting on four hour shows with his equally spry E Street Band. Even if playing an abbreviated version of his marathon concerts, Bruce will give everything he’s got, leaving the crowd wanting more. Plus, Bruce has a history of disobeying curfews, so we’ll probably get a four hour show anyway.

The Rolling Stones

People can mock the aging rock gods as ‘relics’ and ‘dinosaurs’ all they want, they still pack ‘em in night after night and play the hell out of their hits. With a new album in the works as well as the 50th anniversary of “Let it Bleed” on the horizon, the self proclaimed ‘Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World’ has the opportunity to introduce a wide berth of material to a whole new crowd.

Kendrick Lamar

If hip hop is gonna be represented at the festival, it’s proclaimed king will need to be present. Lamar is already pretty much cemented as a legend in hip hop with two classic albums and several hit singles under his belt, and he is also an incredibly dynamic live performer. His rebellious, often politically charged lyrics mirror the attitudes of the anti-Vietnam sentiment that fueled much of the original festival, and with a similarly frought political landscape emerging now, we can expect something comeplling and controversial from him.

The Who

The only one of the core British Invasion bands to perform at the original festival, The Who’s surving members, lead singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend, are still going strong. With a new tour and album announced, they’re another band who’d benefit from debuting a wide range of material to a crowd of which many are hearing them for the first time. Also, there’ll be no Abby Hoffman to raid their set this time, so Pete Townshend won’t need to literally beat someone off the stage.

Lady Gaga

10 years ago, the idea of Lady Gaga appearing on the same stage as any of these artists would have sent everyone reading this into a flurry of blind range. However, ten years later, Gaga has solidified herself as one of the better pop artists ever. She now has wide ranging catalog of classic songs of various genres, her voice is at its zenith, and her sonic palette is wide enough to appeal to most everyone young or old. Having covered Zeppelin and the Beatles quite successfully in the past, there’s a good chance of her collaborating with any of the older artists on this list for a truly memorable cross-generational performance.

Paul McCartney

By 1969, The Beatles hadn’t performed live in three years and were on the verge of breaking up, so they too missed out on Woodstock. However, no band from the era has made a more lasting impact than The Beatles, and to not invite Sir Paul would be a travesty. He’s near 80, his voice isn’t what it used to be, but the soul and spirit are still there, and with a crowd who will no doubt know the words to every song anyway, the limitations of his age will be an afterthought.

The musical guest list is only one element of making the event a success; there also logistical factors and other components that are crucial in making it go off without a hitch. Here are just five:

  1. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT LET ANY PERFORMERS USE FUCKING HOLOGRAMS. If I see Hendrix or Jerry Garcia or John Lennon out on that stage, I want it to be because of some good fucking acid, not cheap technology.
  2. Security: it’s a festival, shit happens. People get drunk, high, or just lost in whatever the moment seems to bring about. Hire security that is going to be vigilant and fair with festival goers. However…
  3. No Narcs. It’s a festival. People are gonna do drugs. People are gonna drink alcohol. Someone smoking a joint, swigging cheap vodka from an Evian bottle, or even doing a line in the confines of their camper, isn’t inherently going to harm anyone.
  4. A diverse lineup. Don’t make it a lineup of just classic rock acts and mainstream pop stars. I know, my list is exactly that, but I confess to not listening to a great deal of modern music. With three non-stop days of music, there is plenty of room for indie acts, current megastars, and elder statesmen to peacefully coexist.
  5. Bathrooms. For the love of God in Heaven, have a humane bathroom system. I’m not digging a hole.

All in all, I have no reason to doubt that Woodstock 50 will be at the very least enjoyable, but it has every chance in the world to be a spectacular gathering of the vibes to honor an era whose spirit still lingers brightly today.

We Can Forgive Our Favorite Characters for Saying Awful Things. Why Can’t We Forgive the Same Behavior in Reality?

maxresdefaultA few months ago, Kevin Hart became the latest celebrity to have a series of very old social media posts come back to haunt him, as several homophobic tweets from 2011 forced him to step down from hosting the 2019 Oscars. Hart responded by issuing a confusing and arrogant non-apology where he called out our culture for being too sensitive (an excuse that turns out to not be exclusive bitter white male Trump supporters), and also stated:

“I just got a call from the Academy…they said ‘Kevin, apologize for your tweets of old or  we’re going to move on and find another host…I chose to pass. I passed on the apology.”

Hart later tacked on a half assed apology to the LGBT community, but it was too little, and way too late. He was persona non gratta, at least up until yesterday, when he was interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres ostensibly to promote his new movie, The Upside; however, America’s most well known openly gay celebrity wasn’t afraid to confront him about his statements, forcing Hart to issue his most sincere and self reflective apology to date. Whether he meant it or appearing on Ellen was just a PR move, it worked: the Oscars have re-opened the possibility of Hart hosting, and

What Kevin Hart said was wrong; even in 2011, the attitudes towards the gay community had already been rapidly progressive and stating that he’d beat his son if he were gay is horrifying. Hart deserves the consequences he’s facing, not just for what he said, but for the arrogance with which he approached his response.

Before Hart, we had Guardians of the Galaxy franchise director James Gunn get fired from helming future installments for a series of posts in 2009 in which he made off-color tweets about child molestation that were apparently intended to be funny, although not a single one had a discernible punchline. Gunn’s tweets were disgusting, but unlike Hart, he approached the issue with a sincere apology and acknowledgement of how his words were offensive. Gunn was still fired.

In the days before social media, we had Mel Gibson’s infamous homophobic and racist rants against the Jewish, LGBT and African American communities. Gibson became persona non grata for nearly 10 years and still bears the mark of Cain from his actions. However, even Gibson did his damndest to rehab his image by meeting with members of these various communities and tried to gain an understanding of how his actions and words were so hurtful.

I’ve been watching The Office a lot lately – a bizarre segue, I know, but hear me out. These days, Michael Scott is a beloved icon whose progression from insensitive jackass to good friend and father figure to his employees is seen as one of the best instances of character development in any sitcom. I love Michael Scott, too, but let me remind you all something: Michael was a fucking jackass until about the end of Season 4. He made comments that were racist, homophobic, fat shaming, and sexist. The ‘Diversity Day’ episode alone would have been reason for Michael to never land another job had he existed in our objective reality. At the end of day, Michael really just went from a hopelessly clueless, offensive idiot to a far more self aware but still slightly clueless and offensive idiot.

Now, Michael Scott was not a hateful bigot. He was just ignorant and wanted to be liked. It’s well established that he loves standup comedy, and it can be argued that he approaches his jokes with the same intent as Mel Brooks or Don Rickles – to point out how absurd prejudice is and that we all need to laugh at ourselves. Of course, Michael doesn’t have the edge or intelligence of either those characters, as his “jokes” lack a punchline and dive right into the puddles of ignorance. Still, if someone in the office called Oscar a f***ot or Stanley or Darryl the n-word, he’d likely recognize why those words are wrong and defend his employees is his own ridiculous ways (that actually would’ve been an interesting episode – how Michael would confront actual prejudice in the office).

Going back further, there’s maybe television’s most famous example of the loveable social ignoramus, Archie Bunker. Of course, Archie was deftly written and portrayed, to the point where we all knew we were supposed to be laughing at him and not with him. Still, Archie ultimately was a protagonist, who learned to love and respect those who were different than him, albeit begrudgingly.

So, if we can forgive our fictional characters, why do we find it so hard to forgive real life figures? Is it because there is a controlled narrative where the creators can dictate their redemption in exactly the right way? Do we just find it easier because they are not real? I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a repentance process – they do need to really show that they’re sorry. And there are some transgressions that are unforgivable (Weinstein, Cosby, etc.) But we are so quick to demonize for an indefinite period of time that we lose sight of the fact that a person can evolve and realize their errors. A few months ago, Samantha Bee interviewed former neo-Nazi’s who committed to changing their lives around and advocating against white supremacy. The social media outpouring was largely positive, as many were genuinely moved by the segment, including myself. Still, why can we forgive people who at one point openly advocated violence towards minorities and may have even committed such violence themselves, but we struggle to forgive mere words stemming from immaturity and lack of experience and self-awareness?

I’m not trying to speak for the gay community on this issue; their anger is valid and there have been far more eloquent points made about why Hart should continue to face a certain level of scorn. I’m genuinely curious as to why we seem to have a double standard when it comes to fiction vs. reality, and if the endless news cycle of revealed transgressions of beloved figures guilty of far worse has made us cautious in that if we forgive people for mere words, they feel they can get away with worse.

I wish I knew the answer.

REVIEW: Elton John at Madison Square Garden 11/8/2018


A wave of emotions and memories flooded my mind as Sir Elton John sang the final chorus of “Your Song,” his signature hit that grew from a simple love song to a touching benediction to his fans over the years:

“And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple, but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.”

How wonderful indeed. Perhaps more than any artist I’ve loved over the years, Sir Elton has been a constant in my life almost since birth. I remember growing threw my parents’ cds when I was three or four and being transfixed by the album cover of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and immediately wanted to see what was inside. I remember listening to each song while reading the lyric booklet, with its corresponding animation that made them come alive before my eyes (imagine a four year old visualizing “Sweet Painted Lady” – or don’t). My appreciation for Elton grew over time, and he was the first concert I ever saw when I was eight years old.

Last night’s show could not have been more different than my first show. The 1999 show was Elton alone at the piano, with no band, with a set list largely featuring deep cuts from his lesser known albums and rearrangements of his biggest hits to accommodate the setting. Last night’s show was ‘wall to wall’ hits, with Elton backed by a six-piece band that included longtime sidemen Davey Johnstone on guitar, Nigel Olsson on drums, and the most animated tambourine player in the world Ray Cooper on percussion.

The show kicked off with the familiar thump of “Bennie and Jets,” and closed with a 1-2 emotional gut punch of “Your Song” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” In between, we got “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Rocket Man,” Daniel,” and about a dozen more classics that anyone who’s owned a radio for the last 45 years would know in an instant. On paper, it looks like a pretty boring and predictable show; in execution, the exact opposite.

This is Elton’s farewell tour, and these are the songs worth saying goodbye to: the ones with which he forged a bond with his fans, and the ones that have stood the test of time and become of the cultural fabric. Almost every song had a little something extra, whether it be an extended intro, improvisational jamming, or Elton just putting a little extra embellishment in the vocals to show how much fun he was having. In the case of the night’s best song, “Levon” was given a barnstorming coda that turned the gospel tinged ballad into a searing rock and roll assault with Elton tickling the ivories  with the energy of a man half his age, while Davey Johnstone displayed why he is one of the most under-appreciated rock and roll guitarists.

The few times Elton went off the beaten path with the song selection were all very well received, and did nothing to quell the momentum of the show. Early on, he dedicated “Border Song” to Aretha Franklin, who covered it shortly after its release on Elton’s self titled American debut in 1970. A few songs later, the ultra rare “Indian Sunset” brought the stadium to a haunting silence, as Elton performed the song largely solo except for some thunderous percussion from Ray Cooper during the song’s intense instrumental breaks. In addition to its four biggest hits, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was represented by arguably its two most well known non-singles, the sapphic rocker “All the Young Girls Love Alice” and its epic opening suite, “Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding.” Last but not least, the “Tumbleweed Connection” favorite “Burn Down the Mission” served as the night’s other musical highlight, with Elton hitting the keys of his piano on the ‘burn down finale’ as if each one owed him money.

While he’s toned it down from the feathered boas and glitzy outfits of his heyday, Elton still has flare for lavish production, and the show was as much a visual spectacle as a musical celebration. Each song had a corresponding collage of visuals to fit the mood, and for the most part they were tasteful and unobtrusive (though the Asian Target ad during “Philadelphia Freedom” was…something); the best was during “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” which featured fight scenes from various movies ranging from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Airplane!,” culminating with Elton’s own showdown with a bumbling henchman in 2017’s Kingsman sequel, “The Golden Circle.” Also of note was “I’m Still Standing,” which fittingly touched on Elton’s many career highlights over the years, featuring everything from legendary concert appearances to his cameos on “The Muppets” and “The Simpsons.”

The whole show truly felt like a celebration; Elton John has never been subtle, and he’s not going out quietly. I’m so glad I got the chance to see this show, both for how exciting it was in the moment and for the flood of memories it brought back. It’s a powerful reminder of the best of what music brings out in us best: a sense of community between artist and audience, as if we knew the former as much as we know ourselves. Each song felt like a conversation with an old friend; I just wish it didn’t have to end.


Bennie and the Jets

All the Young Girls Love Alice

I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues

Border Song

Tiny Dancer

Philadelphia Freedom

Indian Sunset

Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to be a Long Time)

Take Me to the Pilot

Someone Saved My Life Tonight


Candle in the Wind

Funeral for a Friend / Love Lies Bleeding

Burn Down the Mission



Sad Songs (Say So Much)

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me

The Bitch is Back

I’m Still Standing

Crocodile Rock


Your Song

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road



DIRECTOR: Marc Forster

CAST: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Matt Gattis, Jim Cummings (voice), Brad Garrett (voice), Peter Capaldi (voice), Nick Mohammed (voice), Toby Jones (voice), Sophie Okonedo (voice)


GENRE: Family

I was both excited for and nervous for Christopher Robin, director Marc Forster’s new, live action take on the classic world of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Winnie the Pooh and his friends are my favorite out of all my childhood characters, so my girlfriend and I both approached the film with open minds, and were absolutely delighted by what we saw.

Ewan McGregor stars as a grown up Christopher Robin, a World War II veteran who is now a prominent executive at a company that designs suitcases for the wealthy. He has become so wrapped up in his job that he has neglected time with his family, wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) and daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). He is successful and respected in his firm, but his home life has suffered greatly due to his gruelling schedule; his concern with Madeline going away to boarding school just as he did has taken precedence over her having fun and developing her imagination, and his relationship with Evelyn has grown cold and distant. Only when tasked with the job of having to make a 20 % cut to his company’s budget by his boss, Giles Winslow (Matt Gatiss) do we see that Christopher Robin hasn’t grown entirely chilly and cynical, as he wrestles emotionally with the idea of having to fire the employees who love and respect him.

Meanwhile, back in the Hundred Acre Wood, there is a darkness since he broke his promise to never leave his friends behind; the weather is a persistent fog of rain, and the presence of heffalumps and woozles always seem to lurk in the shadows. One day, Pooh ventures out to find that his friends cannot be found; while in search of them, he transports himself into modern day London, where he and Christopher Robin meet for the first time in years. Pooh, saddened by his friend’s newfound stoic and bitter persona, sets out to help him bring joy back into both their as well as his own and his family’s lives, through a series of hilarious misadventures and heartwarming gestures that have long defined the series.

The characters themselves look and feel authentic; they lose none of their warmth in the transition from animation to live action. They move and speak fluidly and look absolutely beautiful. The voice cast is outstanding across the board; I don’t need to give Jim Cummings an introduction as he is his usual perfect Pooh, but Brad Garrett and Toby Jones are inspired choices for Eeyore and Owl, respectively. Garrett, in particular, delivers some of the film’s best one-liners.

The live actors are equally delightful. McGregor is perfectly cast as the adult Robin, and one of the great joys of the film is watching him interact with the characters. You can tell he had a blast making the film, and his performance has depth and nuance. I loved watching his initial frustration with Pooh’s eternal absent-mindedness grow into a newfound fondness for his kindness, and the scenes where he embraces his inner child by fighting an imaginary monster with an umbrella is irresistibly endearing. Atwell is fantastic as Evelyn, providing a commanding yet sympathetic presence as his forsaken wife, and Carmichael is charming as Madeline.

The film manages to hit all the right notes without being overly mawkish; Robin’s transition over the course of the film feels very natural and believable (or as believable as a man talking with living stuffed animals could be), and doesn’t try to reach for an emotional pull that’s not there. It’s the perfect film to escape the current turbulence of the outside world, briefly transporting you back to the most magical moments of your childhood, renewing a sense of wonder we’d all do well to hold onto.


The late 1960s’ is remembered for being a most turbulent period: race riots, Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy, and the subsequent election of Richard Nixon all had cataclysmic repercussions that reverberated throughout the country. It was the age of protests, with young men and women rising up to assert their desire for equal rights and to not be used as expendable pawns in a war with no moral basis.

By 1969, The Temptations had moved on from the sunny pop sounds of “My Girl” and “Get Ready” to a grittier, edgier sound that was reflected in records such as “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Cloud Nine,” and “Runaway Child (Running Wild).” The sound was known as ‘psychedelic soul, combining traditional R&B backbeats with the effects laden, spacey guitar sounds pioneered by Hendrix and Sly & the Family Stone. In addition to a headier sound, the lyricism of their songs had moved towards a more social conscious mindset, best exemplified in their 1970 single “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today).”

Written by the legendary team of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, “Ball of Confusion” is one of the most meticulously constructed records I’ve ever heard. The thumping bass and swirling guitar line that spirals out of it in the beginning of the song feel like a breaking news story: urgent, out of nowhere and demanding of your attention. Your gripped from the first few seconds of the song, and you know you’re in for a dark ride.

It begins with an observation on racial inequality in housing and the general permeation of racism in facets of everyday life:

People movin’ out
People movin’ in
Why, because of the color of their skin
Run, run, run, but you sho’ can’t hide

Right away, it’s very easy to draw parallels between 1970 and 2018; just last week, Trump’s own HUD dept. (led ironically by an African American) voted to kill the significant Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, not to mention the lawsuits filed against him and his father in the late 1970s’ for discriminatory practices.

One of the most striking aspects of the lyrics is that “Ball of Confusion” is a largely apolitical song; it does not take a liberal or conservative stance, in fact it speaks to indecision or disillusionment with both sides insofar as who truly has their best interest in mind:

An eye for an eye
A tooth for a tooth
Vote for me, and I’ll set you free*

The concept of populism in politics – appealing to a specific demographic with outlandish, often unattainable or unfulfilled promises – obviously rings true with Trump, but if you are operating from a more conservative mindset, you might apply the same criticism to someone like Barack Obama or even Bernie Sanders.

A creeping dread sets into the music as we build towards the chorus, frustration growing at the rampant inaction beyond those who are obligated to act:

Well, the only person talkin’
‘Bout love thy brother is the preacher
And it seems,
Nobody is interested in learnin’
But the teacher*

The song’s rapid fire crescendo by Dennis Edwards is a white knuckle, teeth grinding affair, his voice filled with the tension as he lists a myriad of various social ills:

Segregation, determination, demonstration,
Integration, aggravation,
Humiliation, obligation to our nation*

The instrumental explosion that hits the chorus feels like a release, like being let off a roller coaster.

While almost all of “Ball of Confusion” feels eerily relevant today, the song’s second verse is the where most striking comparisons can be drawn:

The sale of pills are at an all time high
Young folks walkin’ around with
Their heads in the sky
Cities aflame in the summer time
And, the beat goes on*

Air pollution, revolution, gun control,
Sound of soul
Shootin’ rockets to the moon
Kids growin’ up too soon
Politicians say more taxes will
Solve everything*

With the epidemic of illegal prescription drug abuse, the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, global warming and the controversy over the recent tax reform bill, this passage bowled me over in how frighteningly prescient it is. We’ve seemed to have learned nothing in 50 years. Our collective indifference is summed up at the end by these four words:

And the band played on.

Eagle eared listeners may recognize this as the title of a famous play about the inaction towards the AIDS crisis.

There’s still a lot to unpack in the song’s final verse:

Fear in the air, tension everywhere
Unemployment rising fast,
The Beatles’ new record’s a gas
And the only safe place to live is
On an indian reservation*

In the wake of the Dakota Pipeline controversy at Standing Rock, I derived a great deal of irony from the ‘indian reservation’ line, as even those are no longer a safe haven today.

Eve of destruction, tax deduction
City inspectors, bill collectors
Mod clothes in demand,
Population out of hand
Suicide, too many bills, hippies movin’
To the hills
People all over the world, are shoutin’
End the war*

The mentioning of the Beatles and fashion trends represent the skewed priorities and distractions we build for ourselves. Replace them with Lady Gaga and Twitter and you basically have today’s mirror image.

The mention of suicide was one I had often glossed over until last week, with the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. We tend to think of suicide as such a personalized issue, that the reasons leading to it are insular to the person’s personal experiences, without considering the overall impact of the overall social climate at large.

Amazingly, “Ball of Confusion” ends on a relatively quiet note, circling back to the opening bass / guitar tandem that opens the song. It’s almost like a resignation; there’s no solution to this madness.

Though there are many great protest songs from this era that still resonate today, few feel as ominous as “Ball of Confusion.” More than any song I’ve written about thus far, I feel a sense of exhaustion when I break down how well it aged, for all the wrong reasons.

*All credit goes to Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management US, LLC

RECAP: The 2018 Tony Awards

The 2018 Tony Awards have come and gone, honoring the best and brightest in modern theater over the last year. My girlfriend and I watched the whole thing, giddily herding out at the sight of legends such as Bernadette Peters, Patti Lupone, Billy Joel, Tina Fey and numerous other luminaries sprinkled in the auditorium.

The big winner of the night was “The Band’s Visit,” and deservedly so. I had the privilege to see this beautifully acted, written, and staged, I saw  this musical at its very first preview back in October with my girlfriend, and it was clear from the get-go that it would be a force to be reckoned with. Some have argued that its pointed plotline – about an Egyptian jazz band that is taken by an Israeli family due to a scheduling snafu and wind up finding common ground – would automatically give it an advantage due to modern political implication, but even if we lived in a more harmonious time, “The Band’s Visit” would still be brilliant and worthy of its dominance at last night’s ceremony.

Other big winners of the night include the revival of “Angels in America,” which won Best Revival of a Play as well as Lead and Featured acting awards for Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane (this is Lane’s third Tony), as well as “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which won several technical awards. There were some surprises too; the struggling “Once on this Island” beat it out the heavily favored “My Fair Lady” for Best Revival of a Musical, and Laurie Metcalf won her second Tony in a row for Featured Actress in Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women,” beating out “Angels in America”’s Denise Gough among others.

Performance wise, there was plenty of love, as each of the featured musicals were represented by their most lively song selections. In particular, the performance of “Mean Girls”’s “Where You Belong” was a blast, as was “Once on this Island”’s “Mama Will Provide.” I also had to marvel at the technical expertise that went into Spongebob: The Musical’s performance of “I’m Not a Loser.”

There were some truly beautiful, touching moments as well: a special award was given to Marjory Stoneman Douglas music and arts teacher Melody Herzfeld, whose students then performed a touching rendition of “Rent”’s perennial “Seasons of Love.” Bruce Springsteen, still going strong with his self titled one-man show, received an honorary Tony that was augmented by a touching solo performance of “My Hometown,” which was preceded by a lengthy but touching recollection of Bruce’s homelife in Freehold, New Jersey, and his connection to God through his community (unfortunately, time constraints allowed Bruce only one verse of the 1985 classic, ending just as it was getting good).

Speaking of The Boss, he was an indirect part of the evening’s most controversial moment, when his presenter for his performance, Robert De Niro immediately began his intro with a censored “Fuck Trump” followed by a bizarre preening of his muscles. De Niro’s sentiment was certainly shared by many including myself, but the execution has drawn criticism for taking attention away from the evening’s winners.

Perhaps the evening’s biggest success story, however, were the ceremony’s hosts, pop music superstars and recent Broadway leads Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles. While it wouldn’t be hard for anything other than a block of wood to improve upon Kevin Spacey’s wooden, forced, outdated (a Johnny Carson impression in 2016) stint from last year, Bareilles and Groban pullled out all the stops for one of the most entertaining hosting gigs in recent memory. Their opening number was spectacular, and their chemistry throughout the evening was on fire. Whether donning each other’s costumes from their respective Broadway gigs (Groban in a Waitress uniform, Bareilles donning a fake beard for “The Great Comet of 1812”) or showing off their pipes during a tribute to Lifetime Achievement Award winners Andrew Lloyd Weber and Chita Rivera, the hosts were unrelentingly likable from beginning to end, with enthusiasm to spare.

Overall, this year’s Tony Awards were excellent. Unlike most awards show, the Tonys mostly don’t feel biased or self serving. There’s almost none of the back patting elitist smugness you occasionally see at the Oscars or the Grammys; it’s the most straightforward, genuine celebration of the arts of all the major award ceremonies in entertainment. I truly hope next year manages to capture this year’s energy and excitement, because this was the best ceremony in recent memory.

  1. Working on a Dream


Without a doubt, Bruce’s weakest effort. Some flashes of inspiration in the melodies and production are overshadowed by the insipid lyricism of songs like “Outlaw Pete,” the title song, and “Surprise, Surprise.” There’s also “Queen of the Supermarket,” a song whose subject matter is almost surreally bad, in that you really have to wrack your brain to convince yourself if Bruce really did write it, and if so, why? The rest of the record is largely uninspired, with even the best songs (minus “The Wrestler,” which is more of a bonus track anyway) barely rising to the level of ‘good.’

Best Songs: “What Love Can Do,” “This Life,” “The Last Carnival.”

Worst Songs: “Outlaw Pete,” “Working on a Dream,” “Queen of the Supermarket,” “Surprise, Surprise.”

  1. Wrecking Ball


“Wrecking Ball” came on the crest of a wave of hype, with Bruce touting it as his angriest album in years in its portrayal of the trials of the recession. Unfortunately, “Wrecking Ball” turns out to be quite flacid, only slightly more inspired than “Working on a Dream.” The production boasts some interesting sonic choices, and a few songs have some fire in them (“Shackled and Drawn,” “Death to My Hometown”). Once again, however, Bruce’s lyricism is largely lacking, with little of the cinematic detail or memorable, easily visualized characters that decorate his most beloved material.

Best Songs: “Death to My Hometown,” “Shackled and Drawn,” “Rocky Ground,” “We Are Alive.”

Worst Songs: “Easy Money,” “Jack of All Trades,” “This Depression,” “You Got It.”

  1. High Hopes


“High Hopes,” when solely analyzing its tracks individually, really isn’t a bad album. The problem with it lies more with is conception and execution, as it’s really just a hodge podge of outtakes with no real structure or theme. Still, the record has a lot going for it; the new studio takes of “American Skin” and the Tom Morello-fied “The Ghost of Tom Joad” manage to carry the emotive qualities of the live versions, and it’s a crime that songs as fantastic as “The Wall” and “Down in the Hole” took so long to find a proper home. There’s also the obscure cover “Just Like Fire Would” and “Frankie Fell in Love,” two charming throwbacks to the sound from “The River,” as well as the majestic “Hunter of Invisible Game.” Of course, there’s some weak material to sift through, particularly the repetitive “Heaven’s Wall” and the corny “This Is Your Sword.”

Best Songs: “Just Like Fire Would,” “Down in the Hole,” “Frankie Fell in Love,” “Hunter of Invisible Game,” “The Wall.” (I’m not coungting “American Skin” and “Joad” because they had been released before in several formats.)

Worst Songs: “Heaven’s Wall,” “This is Your Sword.”

  1. Human Touch


It’s long been discussed how there’s a great single album lying in the “Human Touch” / “Lucky Town” pairing. “Human Touch,” as the weaker of the two, is also the easier one to pull material from for a hypothetical hybrid. The hit title song, “With Every Wish,” “Roll of the Dice,” “I Wish I Were Blind,” and “The Long Goodbye” are all top-notch Springsteen. “Cross My Heart”  and “Soul Driver” are also very good, if not quite as worthy of inclusion. Of course, there’s “Real Man,” the worst song Bruce had written up to that point, as well as the bland entries such as “Man’s Job” and “Gloria’s Eyes.” This is to say nothing of the tragedy that is the album version of “Real World,” a masterpiece of a song executed horribly on record. Be sure to check out both of the soulful renditions from the recently released Christic shows in 1990.

Best Songs: “Human Touch,” “With Every Wish,” “Roll of the Dice,” “I Wish I Were Blind,” “The Long Goodbye.” [Honorable mention: “Real World,” which is just recorded poorly.]

Worst Songs: “Gloria’s Eyes,” “Man’s Job,” Real Man.”

  1. Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.


Bruce’s debut album, like most, is a bit of clumsy affair, but there’s still a lot of youthful charm and some damn good songs. “Growin’ Up,” “Spirit in the Night,” and “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” have all stood the test of time as early classics that helped establish the E Street sound, and his laid back original take on “Blinded by the Light” beats the horrific Manfred Mann cover. “Lost in the Flood” also has significance as his inaugural take on issues such as racial tension and the plight of U.S. veterans, both of which he’d write about with far more depth and nuance later on. The only truly bad tracks are “Mary, Queen of Arkansas” and “The Angel,” both utterly foolish songs that even Bruce hates.

Best Songs: “Growin’ Up,” “Spirit in the Night,” “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City.”

Worst Songs: “Mary, Queen of Arkansas,” “The Angel

  1. Devils & Dust


The third of Springsteen’s moody, stripped down acoustic records, albeit lacking much of the darkness of “Nebraska” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” There isn’t much bad here, but there’s some achingly dull moments, such as “Silver Palomino” and “All the Way Home.” The title song, while good, doesn’t hold up to his earlier veteran epics. Still, there’s plenty to appreciate here, such as the Orbison inspired “Leah” and heartbreaking “Black Cowboys,” the latter tackling the effects of a mother’s drug addiction on her young son in devastating detail. “Jesus Was an Only Son” is a beautiful, touching look at Christ in the context of being Mary’s son, and how she felt as a mother watching her son die. And finally, there is “The Hitter,” a gripping story-song that has all the hallmarks of Bruce’s best character study-type songs. Even the somewhat controverisal “Reno,” with its line about anal sex with a prostitute, is a potent tale of loneliness.

Best Songs: “Jesus Was an Only Son,” “Leah,” “The Hitter,” “Matamoros Banks.”

Worst Songs: “All the Way Home,” “Silver Palomino”

  1. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions


A loose, relaxed and charming collection of old folk and gospel songs. Bruce sounds like he’s having a lot of fun here, and the band here is a jumpin’ swingin’ unit that serves them well. Some songs are stronger than others, some are quite goofy, but the record is a consistently enjoyable listen thanks to the production showcasing how much of a blast Bruce and the band are having.

Best Songs: “Mary, Don’t You Weep,” “Jacob’s Lader,” “Shenandoah,” “We Shall Overcome.”

Worst Songs: “Pay Me My Money Down,” “Froggie Went A-Courtin'”

  1. The River


Probably the album I have the hardest time ranking. “The River” is obviously a well known, well regarded and hugely successful record in Springsteen’s catalog. It’s also a rather trying affair, being a double album spanning 20 songs. Bruce’s workaholic tendencies during the recording of it are well known, producing a series of outtakes, both released and unreleased, that fans have swapped out in favor of some of the released tracks to make their own definitive version of “The River.” While it’s a strong record, it does have some issues with consistencies; songs like “Crush on You,” “I Wanna Marry You,” and even “Two Hearts” are incredibly weak by Bruce’s standards, and should’ve been excised in favor of gems such as “Roulette,” “I Wanna Be With You,” and “Loose Ends.”

Even so, any album that boasts “The Ties That Bind,” “Jackson Cage,” “Independence Day,” the masterpiece title song, “Point Blank,” “Cadillac Ranch,” “Stolen Car,” and several other classics is worthy of a fairly high ranking; even “Hungry Heart” still holds up as a great slice of pop music. Bruce also builds off the newfound maturity he found in his writing on “Darkness,” most notably on the chilling “Stolen Car,” as haunted a song as he ever wrote, and one that sets the stage for the morally and spiritually conflicted figures of “Nebraska.”

Best Songs: “The Ties that Bind,” “Jackson Cage,” “Independence Day,” “Hungry Heart,” “The River,” “Stolen Car,” “The Price You Pay,” “Wreck on the Highway.”

Worst Songs: “Two Hearts,” “Crush on You,” “I Wanna Marry You.”

  1. Lucky Town


“Lucky Town” finds Bruce largely context and relaxed, largely free from the shackles of insecurity and depression found on “Tunnel of Love” and adjusting to his newfound family life quite smoothly. “Better Days,” “Lucky Town,” and the heartfelt tribute to his firstborn son, “Living Proof,” are all about Bruce’s journey during this time, with lyrics that veer between cynical, hopeful, and redemptive, but always honest and often quite touching. Bruce still some darker themes as well; on “Souls of the Departed,” he sings about his experience with the L.A. riots and general violence in his then newfound home of California, analyzing his newfound caution and responsibility in ensuring his son is safe and turns out alright. “If I Should Fall Behind” is a classic Bruce track, a plaintive ode to sticking together when the ride gets rough, and one that has received various different treatments and interpretations over the years; it’s one of his most fluid tracks. And the album’s closer, the soaring “My Beautiful Reward,” has Bruce admitting that while he’s happier than he’s ever been, he still has a long way to go.

Best Songs: “Better Days,” “Lucky Town,” “If I Should Fall Behind,” “Living Proof,” “Souls of the Departed,” “My Beautiful Reward”

Worst Songs: “Book of Dreams.”

  1. The Ghost of Tom Joad


Bruce’s second acoustic album isn’t as compelling or unique as “Nebraska,” but it’s still pretty damn good, great even. The title song is an enduring modern classic for Bruce, with some of his best lyrics, and “Highway 29,” “Youngstown,” “Sinaloa Cowboys,” and “Across the Border” all rank among some of his best material of the 1990’s. What occasionally hurts the album is that it occasionally lacks musicality, with current events-inspired songs like “Balboa Park” and “The New Timer” reading more like a newspaper article than an actual, fleshed out song. Still, the record is largely filled with excellent work, making it his strongest album of his most overlooked decade.

Best Songs: “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” “Straight Time,” “Highway 29,” “Youngstown,” “Sinaloa Cowboys,” “Across the Border.”

Worst Songs: “Balboa Park, “The New Timer,” “My Best Was Never Good Enough.”

  1. The Rising


Inspired by 9/11, “The Rising” has Bruce handling a delicate subject with unflappable grace and nuance. Bruce leaves no stone unturned when it comes to the various subject matters and characters that could be drawn from the event, singing from the perspective of a firefighter approaching his death while honoring his responsibility (the title song), a surviving police officer with a case of survivor’s guilt (“Nothing Man”), a loved one trying to make sense of the tragedy (“Lonesome Day,” “Empty Sky”), and even a suicide bomber contemplating the possible futility of his actions (“Paradise”). The album also includes the aching “You’re Missing,” as devastating a portrayal of grief you could possibly find, and the alternatively heartbreaking and uplifting closing hymn, “My City of Ruins.” It’s a bit bloated and includes some weak fare, but “The Rising” holds up as one of his most significant achievements.

Best Songs: “Lonesome Day,” “Nothing Man,” “The Fuse,” “Empty Sky,” “The Rising,” “Paradise,” “My City of Ruins”

Worst Songs: “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)”

  1. The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle


The first great Springsteen album! Courting a uniquely urban sound, “Wild & Innocent” is drenched in the vibe of early 1970s’ New York and New Jersey, an album filled with street walkers, night owls and party animals with their own agendas and ambitions. Bruce’s writing takes a big step forward here, establishing the skeletons of his core songwriting motifs. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” is the first of Bruce’s boardwalk ballads, as well as one of the first where the characters and locales of the song seem to truly come to life in the listener’s head. “Incident on 57th Street” and “New York City Serenade” are sprawling, piano driven narratives of hustlers and moral dilemmas that set the stage for “Jungleland” and “Backstreets.” In the center of it all is “Rosalita,” still his ultimate party anthem and first live show stopper. The album’s jazzy, Van Morrison-esque sound further gives its own singular identity in Bruce’s catalog, as evidenced by the title song and the thrilling “Kitty’s Back,” the latter a future vehicle for some of the E Street Band’s most exciting live performances.

Best Songs: “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” “Incident on 57th Street,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight,” “New York City Serenade.”

Worst Songs: “Wild Billy’s Circus Story.”

  1. Born in the U.S.A.”


Forget the hype, the oversaturation of the album’s big hits, the ridiculous Rambo look and the onslaught of annoying fair weather fans who never listened to Bruce before or since; “Born in the U.S.A.” is a great record with some of Bruce’s best songwriting. The title song, even with its misrepresentation over the years, is still Bruce’s best and angriest tale of the disillusion and mistreatment of Vietnam veterans, its anger punctuated by the ferocity of Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg’s playing. “Glory Days,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “I’m Goin’ Down,” and “I’m on Fire” are simply fantastic pop songs, while “My Hometown” is still devastatingly relevant. The unsung gem of the album, however, is “Downbound Train,” as dark and hopeless a song as anything on “Nebraska,” sung with chilling precision by Bruce.

Best Songs: “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Downbound Train,” “I’m on Fire,” “Glory Days,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “My Hometown.”

Worst Songs: “Darlington County,” “Bobby Jean.”

  1. Magic


It will be a glorious day when Bruce makes a record as good as “Magic” again. Some thirty or so years into his career, Bruce scored a late career near-masterpiece with his subtle yet hard hitting attack on the sins of the Bush administration. Like “The Rising,” “Magic” is not dated by the specificity of the events that inspired it, as Bruce’s writing is universal enough to be applied to similar situations in the past or present; the album’s title song, all about dirty tricks and manipulation, could just as easily apply to Trump as it could to Bush. “Long Walk Home” speaks powerfully of an America values have been warped beyond recognition, and the long path forward in restoring the core tenets of our country, and “Devil’s Arcade” is another notch in Bruce’s long swath of great veteran songs, this one focusing on Iraq instead of Vietnam, as a soldier fights his way back to life both physically and spiritually as he returns home. The whole album is powerful and still painfully relevant, and may well go down as the last truly great Springsteen album.

Best Songs: “You’ll Be Coming Down,” “Girls in their Summer Clothes,” “Magic, “Long Walk Home,” “Devil’s Arcade,” “Terry’s Song.”

Worst Songs: “Livin’ in the Future,” “Your Own Worst Enemy.”

  1. Darkness on the Edge of Town


His first record after a three year lay-off, no record in Bruce’s catalog balances triumph and tragedy so delicately, often in the same song. “Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” and “Prove It All Night” are some of Bruce’s most defiant, hopeful song, yet a close listen to each reveals a hidden sense of futility beneath them, one that is amplified on bleak tracks such as “Something in the Night,” “Racing in the Street,” and the title song. It was on “Darkness” that Bruce demonstrated his staying power, making good on the promise shown on “Born to Run” for Bruce to become an essential voice in popular music history.

Best Songs: “Badlands,” “Adam Raised a Cain,” “Racing in the Street, “Prove It All Night,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”

Worst Songs: “Streets of Fire.”

  1. Nebraska


One of Bruce’s 3 ‘perfect’ albums, “Nebraska” is wholly lacking in subpar tracks, and is arguably the most influential Bruce album after “Born to Run,” its low-fi acoustic sound and dark subject matters influencing artists such as Ryan Adams, Arcade Fire, and My Morning Jacket. None, however, have come close to the haunted, almost nihilistic aura Bruce achieved. Almost every character Bruce embodies on them is either a good man dealing with an avoidable moral decision (“Atlantic City,” “Highway Patrolman”), or has crossed the line between good and evil to a point beyond redemption (the title song, “Johnny 99,” “State Trooper”). More personal affairs come to light on “My Father’s House” and “Used Cars,” in which Bruce recalls seminal events from his own destitute upbringing in the form of the wealth and status longed for by his parents, and on “My Father’s House,” a chilling tale of Bruce’s inability to reconcile his father’s demons with his own. It’s all wrapped up by the endlessly cynical “Reason to Believe,” a sniping, condescending vignette of a jilted lover, the owner of a dead dog and other hapless figures clinging to hope to a pathetic degree. It’s not an easy listen, but that’s what makes it such a masterpiece.

Best Tracks: “Atlantic City,” “Highway Patrolman,” “State Trooper,” “My Father’s House,” “Reason to Believe”

Worst Songs: none.

  1. Born to Run


“Born to Run”…in second place? Yes, it seems silly, even sacrilege, and I debated whether or not to put at the top just to appease the inevitable critics, but I decided to listen to my gut. Its ranking is not a criticism of its quality or its significance. From the warm, inviting harmonica of “Thunder Road” to the closing howls of “Jungleland,” “Born to Run” still offers a ride like no other Springsteen album, and each song is a classic. I really can’t say enough about this album that hasn’t been said better, honestly.

Best Songs: “Thunder Road,” “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out,” “Backstreets,” “Born to Run,” “Jungleland”

Worst Songs: none.

  1. Tunnel of Love


Bruce’s long awaited follow-up to “Born in the U.S.A.” was a complete 180. He could’ve gone down the route Michael Jackson took with “Bad” and try in vain to recreate the magic of his biggest hit record, with a solid but somewhat hollow, forced collection of songs designed almost solely to be hits. Instead, he churned out the most mature, beautifully written and composed album of his career, chronicling the trials and tribulations of relationships and romance in a sensitive, intelligent manner rivalled only by “Blood on the Tracks.” From the joyous, ‘head in the clouds’ romanticism of “All That Heaven Will Allow” to the soul probing honesty of “Brilliant Disguise,” to the sheer devastation of “When You’re Alone,” “Tunnel of Love” tackles every possible situation and emotion love throws at all of us, making it alternatively his most accessible and relatable as well as most challenging listen, and thus his best.


Best Songs: “Tunnel of Love,” “Cautious Man,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Brilliant Disguise,” “One Step Up,” “When You’re Alone,” “Valentine’s Day.”

Worst Songs: None.



I’ve been really diving head first into the Grateful Dead lately. This is quite an undertaking; one could argue that each major era of the Dead is practically a different band altogether, in their approach to the music and the jams.

The Dead are best experienced by their live shows; free from the length and production related limitations of their studio record, the Dead were truly able to explore and expand their sound with their endless yet never tedious jamming, stretching two minute songs into half hour (or longer) brain movies meant to inspire, terrify, delight, and anger. The Dead ran the gamut.

One of my favorite live periods for the band was 1989. At this point, this particular incarnation of the Dead (the surviving core members plus Brent Mydland, who joined the band as keyboardist in 1979) had been a unit for 10 years, and had grown into an inconceivably tight unit, putting on some of their absolute best shows throughout the year.

There are a few shows that can contend for best of this year – the two RFK shows as well as all three Alpine Valley shows in July, the legendary two nights at the Hampton Coliseum on October 8th and 9th, and the focal point of this entry, their second show at the Miami Arena.

What start off as merely a typically strong 1989 show suddenly veers into maybe the spookiest hour or so of music the Dead have ever played. The first set starts off rather innocuous, with particularly solid renditions of the opening “Foolish Heart” and “Little Red Rooster combo, as well as a mournful “Brown Eyed Women” that gets an extra dose of world-weariness from Jerry’s death stained vocals. The first sign that things are going to get interesting come with “Victim or the Crime,” a sharp, lurching meditation on the dark side human nature sung by Bob with taut vocals, its edgy lyrics punctuated only by the instrumentations: Brent’s piano spikes are something out of a haunted house and Jerry’s guitar circles around the music like an angry mob at a witch burning. Heady, heady stuff, dark stuff, but some of the finest music they ever played. The last two minutes of the song is some of the creepiest, nastiest soundscapes the Dead have ever created, relief coming only in the form of a jaunty “Don’t Ease Me In.”

Set 2 is where things get interesting; while “Estimated Prophet” is not necessarily a dark song, its slow, lurching pace and references to death and fire and all that good stuff always gave it a rather ominous aura. It was a song that the band often took it into some crazy, creative areas during the jams, this version certainly no exception. Brent Mydland’s angry “Blow Away” was always one of his stronger contributions, and this version features some of Jerry’s best ‘late in the game’ wailing on the coda, leading beautifully into…well, let me set this one up first.

Up until now, there were hints the Dead were going to take the show in a bit of an edgier direction, perhaps because of Halloween approaching and them not having a show on or closer to the the 31st (it was the last show of the Fall tour). “Victim Or The Crime” kind of set the wheels in motion, but other than that the Dead kept things on a relatively easy going – if not entirely light hearted – keel.

Then comes “Dark Star.”

It’s often hard for me to write about different versions of “Dark Star”; while almost every version of “Dark Star” (at least up until 1991 or so) is immense in its own way, it’s lumbering lengths and different styles, jams and textures become hard to keep track of, so much that they often blend together in memory (at least for me). Hoo boy, not his one. About two and a half weeks earlier, “Dark Star” had been busted out for the first time in five years at the band’s second of two nights at the Hampton Coliseum (both shows beautifully captured on the Formerly The Warlocks boxed set), so it was a pretty big deal when this version washed over the crowd. Miami was not only blessed with only the second version of the tour, but arguably the best post-1978 version ever. The song begins normally (or at least as normally as a “Dark Star” can be described), with the band riffing on the main theme, and Jerry singing the first few couples of verses (though his previously mentioned ragged vocals make the song creepier than usual). At around 8:29, Brent punches in with piercing chime effects, an ominous preview of what’s to come. The true eeriness comes around the 16-minute mark, when the second verse comes into play. After this, “Dark Star” truly becomes ‘dark.’ This is ‘River Styx soundtrack’ shit right here, not to be handled lightly. It’s not a polished version. It isn’t as thought out or as tight as 8/27/1972 or 9/21/72 or 10/18/74. It never coalesces into a truly tuneful rendition at any point. And yet, this “Dark Star” totally succeeds as a mood piece, conjuring an almost demonic soundscape, with each member playing their part in its construction. If you’ve ever seen the movie Event Horizon – about a rip into the space continuum that allows for a rescue ship to be possessed by a demonic force, killing its crew – this version could easily be its soundtrack. (To make matters all the more creepy, that movie has a character named Weir for its leader, a position Bob had acclimated to once Jerry’s health really plateaued.)

I have to admit, I would’ve loved if somehow, by some odd turn of events, this “Dark Star” segued into something like “Sugar Magnolia” or (as on Sunshine Daydream), “El Paso,” just for the sheer mind-fuckery of it all in terms of mood and atmosphere. That said, the band was probably just as overwhelmed as the audience was, leading Bill and Mickey to hold down the fort with the usual “Drums” piece. Things aren’t getting done getting really, really fucking weird, though, with “Space” retaining the most frightening elements of “Dark Star.” The reviews on the Internet Archive (a.k.a. The Mecca for Dead Collectors) mention how large swaths of the audience – no doubt on some form of a hallucinogen or another) – departed the arena, looks of sheer terror plastered on their faces. It was a dark ride, and some Deadheads just wanted off. The tempo, if not the mood, brightens significantly as “Space” fades into “The Wheel,” which is a solid if not top shelf rendition. The typically gorgeous “Stella Blue” follows, Jerry singing and playing with all the sensitivity in the world, leading into a raucous “Not Fade Away” that finally gives the crowd much needed relief from the ‘arsenic and hellfire’ trip they’ve been on.

The show ends with a touching “We Bid You Goodnight,” a song that serves two masters: on the one hand, it’s a celebratory farewell as a brother bids his kin a safe journey into the arms of the Lord, complete with close harmonies and handclaps. However, with all the ensuing chaos established by the second half of the show, I often envision “We Bid You Goodnight” sung by those unaware of what had occurred previously, with the rest of the show being some freakish deathbed fever dream by the departing brother.

It is not every day I am this bowled over by the atmosphere of a live concert. With live recordings, I close my eyes and imagine myself in the communal glow of the crowd, which adds warmth, comfort and excitement no matter what I’m listening to. Not this show, by any means. I listen to this show and see myself running for the exits. I’ve not even been high listening to this show, nor did I need to be: it’s a trip without actually having to take one.

This show is available in pristine sound on the 80-cd 30 Trips Around The Sun boxed set.



Yesterday, March 8, was international Women’s Day. First off, I’m sorry for being a day late on this. Secondly, what an important day; there have been few times in history where the presence and power of women need to be lifted up and celebrated, as well as encouraged.

Women have long held a crucial spot in the arts; they are painters, actresses, directors and producers. Perhaps most significantly, they are musicians. Music is the universal language, and while I don’t want to speak for women definitively, I think it can be argued that it’s the medium where so many inspiring women have most vividly expressed their independence, power and determination to a mass audience.

This is by no means a complete list, but as a music nerd and supporter of women’s rights, I wanted to highlight some of my absolute favorite female music superstars who continue to inspire both women and men around the world to pick up a guitar, put pen to paper, and sing subtle or blunt ‘fuck you’s’ to anyone who stands in their way.

Without further ado…


The First Lady of Jazz was one of music’s most influential figures and one of its most unique: Holiday did not have a technically sound method of singing nor a conventionally pretty voice, but she defied the odds and became a legend thanks to her emotional deliveries and unique sound. More importantly, perhaps, she sang arguably the first politically charged song to break into the mainstream: her bone chilling version of “Strange Fruit,” a sinister look at the lynchings in the South that were all too common back then.

MOST BADASS SONG: “T’aint Nobody’s Business if I Do”


Jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald’s soft, breathy soprano and scatting skills are second to no one, and she was also one of the first African American performers to ever do shows in Las Vegas (due to a protest by their biggest draw at the time, Frank Sinatra). While Ella’s skill set isn’t as varied as the others on this list, nor did she really have moments in her music that were aggressive or challenging, her influence and talent alone is enough to warrant her a spot on this list.

MOST BADASS SONG: “The Lady Is A Tramp”


Carole King truly needs no introduction when it comes to groundbreaking women in music. King was hired as a writer in the famous Brill Building when she was just sixteen, met husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin soon after, and the rest is history. As a songwriter, she’s literally written hundreds of music’s most popular songs, including “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and “The Locomotion.” As a performer herself, she has one of the most successful albums of all time (Tapestry) and her own string of hits, including “I Feel the Earth Move,” “It’s Too Late,” and “Jazzman.” King was hired as a writer in the famous Brill Building when she was just sixteen, met husband and writing partner Gerry Goffin soon after, and the rest is history. It is not a stretch to say every female musician and songwriter who followed King were directly influenced by both her work and her spirit, as she is a truly towering figure in her field, regardless of gender.

MOST BADASS SONG: “I Feel The Earth Move”


Every artist on this list has faced adversity, be it physical, artistic, or emotional. Perhaps no one’s story is more well known, harrowing, or ultimately triumphant as Tina Turner’s. You can’t talk about Tina’s legacy without her marriage to Ike Turner, who left behind a legacy of addiction and abuse that nearly cost Tina her life more than once. It is her tumultuous relationship, with him, however, that planted the seed from which Tina grew into one of the most dynamic, ‘no holds barred’ performers of any era, one fully in control and focused on every aspect. Already considered a ‘has-been’ by the time she left Ike in 1976, Tina used every ounce of her strength to regain and eclipse her previous success. It took nearly ten years, but 1984’s Private Dancer was a mammoth success, spawning major hits such as “You Better Be Good To Me,” the title song, and her signature hit, “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” Tina continued to have hits throughout the 1980s’, as well as growing into an absolutely intense live performer whose shows were often more exhausting for us to watch then her to perform. Tina remained an active force well into her 60s’, and while she’s firmly cemented her retirement as she nears 80, her influence has not withered at all.



My girlfriend would kill me if I left Cher off this list. That aside, there’s no argument she belongs here. In terms of both commercial success and general longevity, Cher needs no introduction. She had a Top 10 single in every decade from the 1960s’ to the 2000s’. She’s performed sell-out shows all over the world. She has an Oscar. It would honestly be easier to list what Cher hasn’t accomplished at this point. In her 70s’, she performs with the same energy as she did at 25.



The Queen of Soul needs no induction. Mariah, Whitney and numerous others owe a debt to her. She changed the game in how a song could be delivered, what styles and genres could be blended, and the expectation for what topics female singers could handle in songs. During both the race riots of the 1960s’ and the peak of the feminist movement, Aretha was recordings songs like “Respect,” “Think,” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” that asserted her power as both a female and an African American. Her career really never slowed down, scoring Top 40 Hits well into the 1980s’, and being regularly awarded laundry lists of awards and accolades to this day. Long Live the Queen.

MOST BADASS SONG: “Respect” / “Think”


Joan Baez is unfortunately best remembered today as the woman whom Bob Dylan had a rather tumultuous relationship with, and indeed, Dylan naturally casts a huge shadow on anyone who associates with him. Still Baez definitely had her own niche, writing incredible songs such as “Diamonds and Rust.” What Baez’s legacy is really defined by is her activism: she’s been at the forefront of everything from racial justice to LGBTQ rights to environmental protection, and she’s been arrested, outcast, banned, investigated and ultimately rewarded for her efforts.

MOST BADASS SONG: “Diamonds And Rust”


In her short life and career, Janis Joplin left a career kill for. As one of, if not the first, major female front women for a rock band (Big Brother and the Holding Company), she immediately became a sensation with her distinct booze and cigarettes-enhanced rasp and powerful, emotional vocals. Once she embarked on a solo career (which included a legendary stint at Woodstock), Joplin cemented her legacy and influence, even though her demons cut her life short at the infamous age of 27.

MOST BADASS SONG: “Piece Of My Heart”


When one thinks of the singer-songwriter movement of the 1960s’, one’s mind jumps to names such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Leonard Cohen. The Canadian songbird Joni Mitchell proved to the world that female songwriters could be just as thoughtful, provocative and versatile as their male counterparts, penning classic songs such as “A Case of U,” “River,” and “Help Me” as well as dozens of other incredible classics still covered to this day. Beyond her influence on everyone from Madonna to Prince, Joni played by her own rules, defying commercial expectations by dabbling in everything from jazz to R&B to New Wave; while not every experiment produced top shelf albums (her 1980s’ period is quite fallow), it is impossible to not admire Joni’s ambition.

MOST BADASS SONG: “Free Man In Paris”


The 1970s’ were a watershed period for the female songwriter, and it was Carly Simon who led the charge. Her first hit, “That’s The Way I’ve Heard It Should Be,” questioned the idea of traditional female relationship roles, including the idea of settling into marriage and motherhood; the record company was decidedly against initially, but Carly had her way and it became a Top 10 hit. It was her signature song, “You’re So Vain,” that put Carly on the map as the premiere songwriter of her day: a stinging, intelligent and thrilling put-down to a still unnamed Lothario who got his kicks out of being self-absorbed and cold. (It’s been rumored to be about everyone from Warren Beatty to Mick Jagger, the latter of whom provides backing vocals). It shot to the top of the charts, and became one of the most iconic songs of the 20th century. Carly continued to have major hits throughout the 1970s’ and even into the 1980s’, winning an Oscar in 1988 for “Let the River Run.” She’s slowed down her output since the early 1990s’, but her legacy is one of great importance and continued influence.

MOST BADASS SONG: “You’re So Vain.”


The roles of ‘lead singer’ and ‘lead guitarist’ were almost exclusively male-occupied in the ‘classic rock’ era – Page & Plant, Jagger & Richards, Daltrey & Townshend, Tyler & Perry, and a host of others. The Seattle bred sister due of Ann & Nancy Wilson stormed the gates and changed that perception forever: with Ann’s seismic voice and Nancy’s signature guitar riffs (“Barracuda”), they propelled Heart into a massive success and influenced a generation of females to not only join a band, but know that no role in one was strictly ‘boys only.’



The lead singer of Blondie looked like the girl next door but sang like she could kick your ass. Using her aggressive sex appeal to her advantage, songs like “One Way or Another,” “Call Me,” and “Rapture” flipped the accepted sexual dynamics of ‘submissive vs. dominant,’ something even few female singers had ever attempted. Debbie’s visual style, which combined 1950s’ glam with punk, was equally influential, inspiring the aesthetic of many female rockers afterward.

MOST BADASS SONG: “One Way Or Another”


If you don’t know who Kate Bush is, you should. The English born singer-songwriter was and is a true original. Bush began regularly writing and recording music when she was 13, and before she was 20 she had already been discovered by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. At age 19, she scored the biggest hit of her career, the majestic and mysterious ballad “Wuthering Heights.” Throughout her career, Bush released a series of masterpiece albums and songs, but struggled to find success in America. Even so, her avant-garde visual style and unique sonic palette – spanning everything from Celtic to New Wave to cabaret – paved away for Cyndi Lauper, Tori Amos, Lady Gaga, and numerous other strong female entertainers of a similar vein.

MOST BADASS SONG: “Wuthering Heights”


Prince intentionally formed his groundbreaking backing band, The Revolution, as an extension of the image he presented in his music: a world full of people not bound by religion, race, or gender, only by compassion, talent, and sexual freedom. Wendy & Lisa embodied that goal better than anyone else in the band: they were accomplished musicians, they were prominent women in a band otherwise filled with men, and they were a lesbian couple (they split up in 2001). Well aware of his controlling tendencies and social aloofness, Wendy & Lisa also had no problem putting Prince in his place, both professionally and personally. The film Purple Rain even makes direct acknowledgement of their dynamic, as Prince is constantly at odds with them and their desire to have a more direct contribution to his music, before finally giving in and recording the song they wrote for him (that song was “Purple Rain”). After splitting with Prince in 1986, Wendy & Lisa had a nominally successful solo career before turning to composing, winning Emmys for their score for the show Heroes. Currently, they’re keeping Prince’s legacy alive on tour with the newly reunited Revolution.

MOST BADASS SONG: “Computer Blue” (a Prince song, but it’s Wendy and Lisa’s sapphic  intro that gives it its identity).


Sheila E. quite literally has followed the beat of her own drum, and remains an inspiring and active figure in the music world. Her instrument of choice seemed to predetermined by her family background (her father Pete Escovedo is a percussionist himself, and the godson of freaking Tito Puente), but her talent and resilience were and are her own. Her initial meeting with Prince in 1978 led her to become arguably his most well-known protégé; while Prince wrote her biggest hits, it’s Sheila’s charismatic vocals and incredible musicianship that gave them their appeal. In addition to influencing many women to take up what is arguably the most male-oriented musical family of them all, she helped spearheaded the Latino pop movement that came about in the 1990s’, inspiring names such as Gloria Estefan and Jennifer Lopez.

MOST BADASS SONG: “The Glamorous Life’


It’s impossible to do this list without mentioning Madonna. Her impact can’t be overstated: she burst onto the scene with an overt blend of mainstream pop music and dance, a visual component that made people take notice instantly, and a controversial hybrid of the sacred and profane highlighting much of her music. Her biggest songs (“Like a Virgin,” “Vogue, “Like a Prayer” and about 40 or so others) would’ve been hits without their iconic videos, but it was her chameleonic visual persona that made her a pioneer and a living legend. Beyond that, she’s a shrewd businesswoman like few have seen, with an incredible ability to market and reinvent herself hundreds of times over.

MOST BADASS SONG: “Vogue” / “Express Yourself”


Pop music didn’t know what to make of Cyndi Lauper initially, because Lauper was truly an original. Her distinct high voice (one of the most versatile and powerful of any singer), songwriting abilities and colorful, eccentric image made her a worthy opponent to Madonna, as both encouraged a generation of women to express themselves via styles and attitudes they were previously taught to suppress. Her debut album, She’s So Unusual, yielded five Top 10 hits, and bought her instant notoriety. (Among the album’s biggest hits was “She Bop,” a defiant ode to female masturbation that was both controversial and empowering). She had massive hits throughout the 1980s’, and while she sort of fell off the musical A-list by 1990, Cyndi has kept busy: she is a songwriter, actress, producer and forceful advocate of LGBTQ rights. She wrote the music for one of Broadway’s biggest shows, Kinky Boots, and is a member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, all while still performing fairly regularly.

MOST BADASS SONG: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”


Amos is America’s version of Kate Bush: a sort of spritely figure whose music and image are impossible to categorize. A grippingly honest songwriter with tremendous piano skills, Amos released a series of incredible albums throughout the 1990s’, the best being Little Earthquakes, which features classics such as “Winter” and “Me and a Gun,” the latter a devastating account of Amos’ very real life rape. Amos’ music isn’t always accessible or catchy, but it’s also some of the best you’ll ever hear in terms of originality and depth.



Also known as the woman who tainted Uncle Joey from Full House forever, Alanis was probably the most memorable and vital female singer of the 1990s’. Her ass kicking debut album, Jagged Little Pill, is a benchmark for any artist’s inaugural release, a strikingly strong collection of aggressive anthems of female independence mixed with sensitivity and vulnerability. She continued to have hits throughout the 1990s’, and even played God in Kevin Smith’s classic religious satire, Dogma. While her commercial prospects dried up by the mid-2000s’, Alanis’s status as both a musical force to be reckoned with as well as a feminist icon are both quite secure.

MOST BADASS SONG: “You Oughtta Know”


Beyonce has solidified herself as a living legend. There is no denying that. Whether it’s her stream of hits, her ever changing visual style, explosive live performances, or controversial political activism, she has already entered an impenetrable realm as an artist, once that not even some of the other women on this list occupy. Like Madonna, Beyonce isn’t just an artist, she’s a cultural phenomenon: women (and men) don’t just aspire to her sing or dance like her, they want to be like her. They want the confidence and power she has, and it’s led to a new wave of artists as well as women of all stripes and colors to empower themselves and take charge.



No one defines word ‘attitude’ like P!nk: you’d be hard pressed to find a song of hers that isn’t built around a ‘spit in your face’ defiance of the barriers put around her, whether it be my the government or an unfaithful lover. Listening to P!nk is like getting hit by a bulldozer in the best way: she sings with more conviction than a court house. Her songs are venomous, humorous and loaded with muscle that men wish they could conjure. Even when she reveals her more vulnerable side, P!nk never loses sight of the ‘blood and guts’ passion and defiance that has won her an extraordinary career.



It’s hard to believe it hasn’t even been ten years since Lady Gaga released her debut album; she’s engrained herself into the cultural zeitgeist so solidly, you’d think she’s been around for 30 years. That Gaga has cultivated such a legacy in a relatively short period of time is a testament to both her talent and her attitude: Gaga is a ‘take no prisoners’ artist’s artist in the same vein as Madonna, unwilling to compromise or care what the ‘powers that be’ think about her or her image. Barely in her 30s’, Gaga unquestionably will only grow and mature as the years go by, doing what all great icons do and keep us guessing and admiring her staying power.


This is by no means meant to be the definitive list; there were tons of artists I left off that I wish I could write about more thoroughly and thoughtfully. This is merely a primer guide to show appreciation for the indelible mark these artists have made on pop culture. Not only have they empower women to take charge and be their own boss, they have challenged men to to look deep within, take a step back and reassess our  behavior and our place in society.

ARTISTS I WANTED TO INCLUDE BUT HAVEN’T THE KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR OUTPUT TO DO THEM FULL JUSTICE: Diana Ross, Janet Jackson, Joan Jett, K.D. Lang, Adele, Alicia Keys, Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone, Maria Callas, Edith Piaf, Sarah MacLachlan, Liz Phair, Indigo Girls, and tons more.