It’s been a week…

I mean, aside from being busy writing the third act of Queen Ophelia and working on a major fix-up of Theadia and not having much time to focus on blogging this week, you might say I’ve been a little…irritated at a certain political party these last few days. A party that blocked a major voting rights bill last night and has been spending the last several weeks sending out anti-trans and anti-mask and anti-knowledge bills left and right for who the fuck knows what reasons. I could say they’re a party in their death throes as the shittiest of the members of that party have set fire to their own house with everyone still inside (and blamed someone else for it) just to prove a point, but…

I’m fine. Frustrated and angry and irritated as fuck, but I’m fine.

And hoping something changes soon.

Fly-by: long weekend respite

Apologies for the lack of content here again! We enjoyed an extended weekend here and did all sorts of walking, then we caught up on a few streaming shows we really enjoy, and I just…well, didn’t even think about writing all weekend! I’m allowed that every now and again, yeah?

In the meantime, here’s an REM song that’s been in my head this morning. I’m thinking I should probably do an overview of the band, partly thanks to a very humorous tweet by Julia Serano the other day, but also because I’ve always been a fan. More of an IRS-era fan than a WBR-era fan, but I suppose I can expand on that in the overview. Heh.

Fly-By: Happy Holidays

Taking this week off from the music blog because why not? I felt like relaxing on the days leading up to Christmas. The shopping is done, the boxes are put away, and the nog is mixed in with my morning coffee. Life is good.

In the meantime, here’s the London Symphony Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. We went to see San Francisco Ballet’s performance on the 12th — we go every single year (and streamed it from their site when there were none due to Covid) — and I’ve come to love this work from one of my favorite composers.

Happy holidays! See you next week for the year-end mixtape and best-of lists!

Everybody Had a Hard Year

It’s been a long year of confusion, change, loss, frustration, wonder, perseverance, and pretty much everything in between. Living in a pandemic will do that to a person. I’ve tried to keep a positive and open mind during it all, even when I’d log onto the news sites and social media and see people making terrible decisions based on fear, ignorance, greed or outright hate. I sometimes have to remind myself that this is part of life, and it’s happened before and will happen again in the future. I dearly hope not as a constant onslaught, of course. As long as I remain true to my own wishes, desires and hopes, with minimal distractions.

Here’s to hoping that 2022 goes in the right directions, at least.

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part IV)

The official reformation of ELO came in 2000 when Jeff Lynne worked on creating the box set Flashback, a three-disc retrospective covering the entirety of their career and including a number of unreleased rarities. It also included a new version of the song “Xanadu”, formerly a 1980 single with Olivia Newton-John on vocals. This is the one you want if you’re looking for a great selection with the addition of excellent deep cuts as well.

Lynne would follow this up in 2001 with the first new ELO album proper since 1986 entitled Zoom. This was essentially an all-new lineup (although original keyboardist Richard Tandy does show up on a track) and included many guest musicians, including Ringo Starr and George Harrison. Though it was not a chart hit, their fans did indeed welcome them back, especially as they did tour for this record. Also in 2001, Lynne worked again with Harrison on his final album recorded shortly before his death, Brainwashed. He would honor his friend’s passing in November 2002 at the Concert for George.

Lynne however went quiet for the rest of the decade, focusing instead on a major remaster/rerelease project of all of ELO’s studio albums via the Harvest and Epic Legacy labels. Many of these contained extra tracks, including outtakes, b-sides, and unreleased songs. Several best-of compilations were also released over the years, many of them unfortunately so similar in tracking to the point of redundancy that they’re interchangeable.

But in 2012, Lynne okayed a new collection called Mr Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra, in which his best songs have been rerecorded mostly on his own. While this could have been a throwaway, or done as a song ownership/copyright measure, this was purely done out of Lynne listening to some of his own classics and realizing he improve on them, now that he had better technology. The end result is a twelve-track curio that might not be essential, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

This led to several live shows and a new interest in ELO’s music, and a few years later in 2015, Lynne reformed the band once more, this time under the moniker Jeff Lynne’s ELO, and set about recording completely new music. The result was the absolutely stellar Alone in the Universe, a record that perfectly captures their late 70s heyday with dreamy melodies, smart songwriting and even the occasional ‘Beatlesque’ hook. The preview single “When I Was a Boy”, a song (and video) that essentially tells his life’s musical story, and would fit perfectly on Out of the Blue. The album was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and paved the way for a major tour.

The tour itself would include a stay at the Wembley Arena in London, and its June 2017 show would be filmed and recorded for the film and live album Wembley Or Bust. While live albums and films can be hit or miss, this one’s very entertaining and well worth checking out. [NOTE: This live album was another on heavy rotation during my writing sessions for In My Blue World, and its version of “Xanadu” was the impetus for the story itself.]

Two years later in late 2019, he would follow up with a second album, From Out of Nowhere. This was to be followed up by another world tour, but was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. The record may not have had as much of the lasting strength as the previous studio record had because of that, but it did gain favorable reviews and did hit the top of the charts in the UK.

*

ELO has received many honors over the years including their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017; and in 2020, Jeff Lynne himself was honored an OBE for his contribution to music. And now in 2021, many online streaming services are celebrating the band’s fiftieth anniversary with several new unique playlists to enjoy (including one playful set featuring songs that use the vocoder!) and rereleases to buy.

This band may sometimes be dismissed as cheesy and dated, too much of a late-era Beatles clone, or worse, but they have a long and extremely broad legacy to back them up. Their songs have been covered, sampled, riffed, used in soundtracks, and their classical-meets-pop style has inspired many other bands past and present. And the Birmingham boy with the guitar, the shades, the falsetto, and the unruly poof of dark and curly hair is instantly recognizable to everyone. They’ve inspired so many musicians that critics will describe some songs as having an “ELO style”. They’ve been around for a lifetime, but their songs are ageless and amazing.

No Longer Riding On the Merry-Go-Round

This past weekend was the twice-postponed Outside Lands festival in Golden Gate Park, and we managed to get through all three days with somewhat reasonable weather enjoyed, lots of local food eaten and around a dozen bands seen. We walked around thirteen miles over those days total (we live less than a mile away so we walked home at the end of the day), so it was probably for the best that we took Monday off to rest.

And, we seem to have both come to the conclusion that that was probably our last music festival.

Why, you say? Well, a few reasons. We admit we’re getting on in years (I am the ripe old age of 50, after all) and it’s just getting too exhausting. Then there are the crowds. We’ll also admit that though most of the festival goers are chill and fine and don’t bother us in the least, there are those who are just the most irritating people imaginable. These are usually the college/post-college kids who stand/sit either behind us or in front of us and proceed to entirely ignore the band we’d been wanting to see, talking super loud about getting wasted in the SOMA Tent before leaving three songs later. Or the vapers and the pot smokers that decide that smoking right beside and upwind of us is totes fine. Or the frat bros. Or the “I have no concept of walking around others” people, which I swear is a California thing. [And then there was the woman behind me at The HU show that, I kid you not, said “I would enjoy them better if they sang in English.” This is a band that sings in Mongolian, mind you.] [I could go on, but I’m veering very close to Get Off My Lawn territory here, so I’ll stop.]

Anyhoo — we’re calling it, at least for now. We’ve finally accepted that both of us can only people for so long before it gets irritating and exhausting and we need to back away. And getting from one stage to another while trying to navigate shifting crowds is starting to wear on us.

Am I bummed out about this? Maybe, but not really all that much. Before we went to our first Outside Lands in 2012, the last festival I’d gone to was Curiosa in 2004. And even then I’d bailed near the end of The Cure because I had a long-ass drive home. Anyway, I’ve made my peace with it. We find we prefer streaming the festivals these days. It’s a lot more fun and so much cheaper.

That’s not to say we’ll never go to rock shows again. We’ll be seeing Motion City Soundtrack in Berkeley in February — interestingly, the very same band we saw live just a few months before the pandemic kicked in — and one of these days I’d like to see a band at the Fillmore or the Independent, both places I can easily get to via public transportation. (And of course we’ll still be going to see the symphony and the opera.)

I just don’t think I can handle another year of super large crowds and losing energy before the sun goes down.

Rain

The Bay Area is finally getting some precipitation! It’s kind of making me nervous about some of our plans over the next couple of weeks, but I can’t really complain all that much considering that it’s been very DRY these last few years. I remember when we first moved out here the winter months were always wet — when we moved out of our old place in October of 2009 the ground floor had suffered a bit of flooding from bad drainage — but after a few years it lessened. Here’s to hoping that we can turn that around in the future, yeah?

So may we (re)start

Still adjusting to getting back into my daily schedule after spending a week and a half away from it! Our vacation was very relaxing and I even managed to get some great photography in as well. The drive there and back was a bit exhausting (150 miles north, about half of it on extremely twisty roads) but everything else was totally worth it.

I’m focusing mostly on my novels at the moment so the blogs have slipped into secondary position for the moment. Pretty sure I should be back to normal by next week. See you then!