Friday, January 27, 2012

Just Shy of a Train Wreck

Ryan Adams
25 January 2012: Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square, Cleveland, Ohio

Back in the early 2000s, Tracy and I used to go to Borders after dinner-and-a-movie date nights. We’d wander through the books and CDs, often finding new music to thrill us. It was on one of those late night excursions that I discovered Ryan Adams. The cover of Gold caught my eye, which led me to a listening station, which led me to buying the disc on the strength of the first two tracks alone – “New York, New York” and “Firecracker”.

Fast forward a decade, and Adams’ prolific outp
ut is as challenging as his personality is reported to be. Of the 13 albums he’s released, Gold is still my favorite, but I like Heartbreaker, Love Is Hell, Cardinology (with his backing band the Cardinals), and his new album Ashes & Fire all quite a bit. I’ve wanted to see Adams live for years, but he always seemed to be just off my radar enough that I would miss a ticket sale or sometimes the fact that he was in town altogether.

I was telling my friend Kristin about the
Black Keys show coming up in March, and she mentioned the Ryan Adams show she’d picked up tickets for. I immediately went to see about getting tickets and realized the show was sold out. Kristin then told me her husband wasn’t all that interested in going to the show and offered the extra ticket to me. I wasn’t going to pass that opportunity up – especially since I knew Kristin had seen Adams with the Cardinals on an earlier tour and raved about the show.

After some preshow drinks and noshing across the street, we headed into the Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square. I can’t remember the last time I was in the Ohio, and I had certainly forgotten how tiny the venue is. Holding an even thousand seats, it’s the second smallest house in the district. A former Loew’s movie theatre, the Ohio retained that quality during Adams
intimate show. It was as though everyone was afraid to talk. It seemed mostly born out of respect for Adams and his music, but it lent a bizarre quality to the night. It was pin-drop quiet during songs. (I even heard someone “shushed” by another concertgoer at one point!) The atmosphere reminded me a lot of seeing Cowboy Junkies at the Phantasy Nightclub back in the ’80s, or Jake Shimabukuro at The Stage Door a few years back.

The upside to the atmosphere was seeing how Adams dazzles alone on stage, capably backing himself on piano or acoustic guitar and harmonica. His voice was strong and his personality even more so. The banter between performer and fan was sometimes awkward, but the blame for that lay entire at the feet of the audience. Not quite heckling, but clearly as restless as Adams in an ADHD sort of way, there were moments when it felt like the show might go completely off the rails. That fine line elevated the night, highlighting the reworked catalogue of hits into even darker territory, balanced and softened by Adams’ humble and playful acknowledgements of just how low-key the set list was, and humorous improvisations of songs about cats, an epic a cappella drum solo, and a tune about Danzig and hookers.

The song selection was bookended by “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and “Come Pick Me Up”, both off of Adams’ Heartbreaker debut. In between, there were plenty of highlights in the two-hour, nearly two-dozen song set. Reworking Gold’s “The Rescue Blues”, “Sylvia Plath”, and “New York, New York” on piano was stunning. The title track and “Dirty Rain” off of last year’s Ashes & Fire were just as memorable as his cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and the always amazing “English Girls Approximately”, both off of Love Is Hell.

Short on time and up against an apparent noise ordinance curfew, Adams asked the audience to play along with a faux encore exit a few minutes after 11, and closed the curtain on a wildly entertaining night.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Mid-’60s Smoker’s Haven

I remember pipes and pipe racks and ashtrays around the house throughout my childhood. I can still see the vacuum-sealed tobacco canister on the floor by the loveseat and remember my fascination with the uniquely designed mechanism to pop the lid open. There was the rubber change-purse-meets-woopie-cushion styled tobacco pouch on the end table. But more than anything else, I remember the smell of L.L. Bean cherry pipe tobacco. It was the smell of my dad and his clothes. It was the smell of the family room. It was the smell of home.

From sometime around 1964 or ’65, I found this amazing photo of my dad taken at Smokers’ Haven, a specialty tobacconist in Columbus, Ohio. My dad picked up the pipe smoking habit while attending Ohio State University, and continued to smoke until the mid-’90s. He would stop in at Smokers' Haven after he’d left Columbus and moved back to Northeast Ohio – sometimes even making special trips down just to visit the shop.

Smoking sucks. I know that. (And I don’t believe my dad’s pipe smoking had any influence on my eight-year, pack-a-day cigarette smoking habit back in the day.) I remember my sister doing a project for school, maybe in middle school, where she tried to get my dad to quit smoking. She didn’t succeed, and I don’t know why my dad ultimately kicked the habit. I do know that when he did quit he sold his pipe collection and used the money to buy my mom a tennis bracelet. It was years, however, before my mom found out that was where he got the money to buy it for her.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Archiving the Past

One of my projects for this year is to rescue all my family’s photos, organize them, and scan them into the computer. I say “rescue” because back in the ’80s my parents put our photos into those magnetic photo albums... you know, the kind with the subtly tacky pages that, combined with the static of the plastic overlays, kept your photos in place on the page. Of course, what we didn’t know then is just how damaging those pages are to photo paper. My mom and dad had five large albums with photos arranged primarily in chronological order, beginning with their wedding shower in 1962 and carrying through the mid-’80s. I was able to successfully save all but three of the photos. There was one page that just wouldn’t give up the goods. All the other photos were extracted over the course of a week with varying degrees of success – the most common violation being some portion of the backing paper staying with the album page. They are, however, in good enough condition to be saved and, certainly, to be scanned.

It was a trip for me to just see each and every photo as I liberated them from their albums. The nostalgia factor amped up considerably and nudged my creative juices into overdrive as well. I suspect over the course of the coming months, there will be more than one or two blog entries inspired by the memories evoked or weird associations with the images as I work through the long process of scanning each photo, making any corrections to it in the photo software, and organizing both the digital files and the physical photos for long-term archiving.

I’m fortunate to still have both of my parents around and geographically close for all the obvious reasons, including helping me identify people and places and dates in all these photos. Once I get through this Besenyodi nuclear family era, I will probably ask my parents for the photos that never made it into albums -- those of previous generations and those of the family after my sister and I moved on and made them empty nesters.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Science of the Seventies

In the mid-’70s, there were a lot of things wrong in America. There was an oil crisis. Nixon had disgraced the highest office in the land and resigned. And with the end of the Vietnam War, one of the biggest problems our returning GI’s faced was how to “get it all together.” Thankfully, if they were reading comic books, these guys knew the Cleveland Institute of Electronics, Inc. was there to give them the break they needed.

After earning their FCC license from CIE, servicemen were able to sit around dressed in nice suits sharing drinks with pretty blondes, and were so flush with cash they had to keep the extra dough right out on the table in front of them. Now that’s livin’, man.