Sunday, April 17, 2022

Don't Knock the Boogie

Last night we saw Mike Campbell and The Dirty Knobs play at the Independent, San Francisco, and it was noteworthy (or blog-worthy) for a number of reasons.

First off, it marked a long-awaited to return to live music for Leslie and me. Our tickets for this show were originally dated April of 2020. Then, when the world shut down three weeks ahead of the show, it was changed to October 2020. Then changed again. And again. For two long years, we've been waiting to see if it would ever happen before buying any more concert tickets that would just be sitting and waiting. And now, the wait is over.

The entire night was magic, beginning with getting into the City and parking. 

Okay, maybe some folks don't get why that's worth mentioning, but those of you who have driven (and parked) around SF know what I'm talking about. We sailed right in and found a free, legal, street parking space just two blocks from the venue without even circling the block. Amazing.

We checked out the theater, and there were only a dozen or so people in line, so we had time for a great dinner at Nopa, snagging one of the last available sidewalk tables without a reservation. Then back to the Independent, where we were now about 30 people back in line. Kudos to the Independent for going through the line to check vaccination cards, IDs, and tickets, and stamping our hands efficiently while out front to get us through the doors quickly when they eventually did open.

The doors opened, and we encamped about the front right corner of the stage (the venue is standing only, with limited ADA seating on the sides). Opening act was Sammy Brue, a brilliant, young singer-songwriter who put in a short, but vibrant set.

And then the moment we'd been waiting for for two long years. Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs. Was it worth the wait? I wish it hadn't have been so long, but yeah. If any band was worth the wait, and if any show could break the pandemic frame of mind, this was it.

From the opening bars of Lightning Boogie through the final crashing cords of You Wreck Me (the final encore two hours and ten minutes later) the show was pure rock and roll perfection. Even if there had been seats, we wouldn't have used them once Mike and the guys came out on stage.

This is the first time we've seen Mike as the lead-man for a whole show. He's certainly stepped out front and shown his stuff as a member of the Heartbreakers or Mudcrutch, but he was always supporting his friend, Tom, in those roles. 

Now it's up to Mike to carry the whole show, and he does it with ease. He's as generous a front-man as TP was, letting Jason "Ape" Sinay trade off guitar solos, and letting the rhythm section shine too. The band was tight and rehearsed and having as much fun as the audience was.

Mike leads with grace as well, with the soft-spoken and self-deprecating southern charm we've come to know so well from his home-bound videos shared to Facebook over the two long years of pandemic-related tour delays. 

Mike is generous with the audience with audience too. During one song Mike asked somebody up front if she was shooting video (yes) and was she going to post it to Instagram (yes). Mike then got down on his knees in front of her and sang directly into her iPhone giving her a shot for the ages. He then asked for his guitar tech to grab his own iPhone and get behind the drums to get some video of the band with the audience for Mike's Instragram account. All this without missing a note of the song they were in.

The set (2+ hours) mostly consisted of material off the two Dirty Knobs albums (Wreckless Abandon and External Combustion), plus six Heartbreakers' songs, a cover of Route 66, and an un-recorded Dirty Knobs song called Shake These Blues.

While some of this might be the same each night of the tour, there was definitely a lot that's left to chance and Mike's mood. At one point he referenced making a set list, "but that's no use to us now," and a couple of times he thanked his band members for keeping up with him because, "they never know what I'm gonna want to play next."

I loved all the Knobs material (Sugar and Southern Boy stand out), but have to admit that the highlights were a few of the Heartbreakers songs.

Southern Accents was especially moving with the subtle change of two words, "mother" to "brother" and "she" to "he," transforming the song from a memory of Tom's childhood, to Mike's elegy for Tom.

Before that could bring down the mood of the evening, however, the band immediately launched into a rocking rendition of Fooled Again (I Don't Like It), a gem from the first Heartbreakers' album.

You Got Lucky was never my favorite Heartbreakers song, but last night's extended nine minute jam on it was an amazing tour of Mike's mind and his influences as he inserted solos and licks in tribute to Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana, and others.

Altogether, an excellent show with no off moments or songs that didn't belong. The Dirty Knobs started as a side project for Mike between Heartbreakers LPs/tours more than ten years ago, so the band is tight and professional and doesn't miss a note. This is not a Heartbreakers show, but it's probably the best rock show you'll see this year, and maybe this decade.

Was it worth waiting two years for? Oh, hell yeah. But I'm so glad the wait is over.

Don't knock the boogie. It will set you free. It'll work for you. Last night it worked for me.

  1. Lightning Boogie
  2. External Combustion
  3. Pistol Packin' Momma 
  4. Route 66
  5. Between Two Worlds
  6. Anna Lee
  7. Loaded Gun
  8. Fuck that Guy
  9. Refugee 
  10. Rat City
  11. In This Lifetime
  12. Sugar
  13. Southern Accents
  14. Fooled Again (I Don't Like It)
  15. Don't Knock the Boogie
  16. Southern Boy


  1. Shake These Blues
  2. You Got Lucky (extended jam)
  3. You Wreck Me 

Gear Notes:

Mike relied on just three guitars from his massive collection: two different but nearly identical white Gibson Firebirds (one with Johnny Winter's autograph prominently on it) and a white Duesenberg Starplayer.  

"Ape" mostly relied on a standard Stratocaster, with a few switch-outs to a Les Paul, another white Firebird, and what looked like a Clapton "Blackie" model Stratocaster with a Telecaster neck.


Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Stand With Ukraine

Do I feel a connection to the Ukraine, and the troubles happening there today? Well, it's complicated.

Two of my grandparents were born in Ukraine. My father's father, born in 1898, emigrated to Canada in 1904 (then to the US in 1923), and my mother's mother, born approximately 1905, emigrated to the US in 1911.

Each family branch left Ukraine not simply to find a better life in America, but to escape the violence of anti-Semitic pogroms, and increasing regulation of Jewish lives in the Pale of Settlement. (This also goes for the branches of our family tree from Belarus and, to a slightly lesser extent, Lithuania.)

I don't think either ever thought of themselves as "Ukrainian." On census and other forms they were often identified as "Russian" because Russia was "administering" Ukraine at that time. But they certainly never thought of themselves as "Russian." They thought of themselves as Jews, and indeed, there are a few forms where I see their ethnicity/race listed as "Hebrew."

Of my grandfather's family that remained in Ukraine, at least two of his uncles (my great-grand-uncles), and several of their children (my grandfather's cousins, my 1st cousins 2x removed) all perished in 1941 following the Nazi invasion.

So my history with the Ukraine is troubled, to say the least. And yet, I feel a connection still. And, with the election of President Zelenskyy, a Ukrainian Jew, it seemed possible that I might someday be able to travel there and learn more about my family's origins. 

While the Ukrainians of 120 years ago were certainly no great friends of my ancestors, the Russians were far worse. The entire point of the "Pale of Settlement" (roughly Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, parts of Poland) was to keep Jews out of Mother Russia. It was a dumping ground for the Tzar's undesirables, and a buffer zone between the "real" Russians and Europe. Russian domination there was never anything more than imperialistic resource consumption and defensive strategy. 

It's no different today. Putin is just plain wrong, and we cannot accept his arguments and excuses. To do so would set a dangerous precedent that would endanger all of eastern Europe, and many regions beyond.

Sunday, December 05, 2021

I Was Bob Dole's Wingman - In Memory of Bob Dole

 "Senator Robert Joseph Dole died early this morning in his sleep. At his death, at age 98, he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years," according to a statement from his family.

I hated Bob Dole. I loved Bob Dole. A staunch conservative, he defended the criminal Nixon till the end. He fought for the people of Kansas, including the farmers and the hungry, as a good liberal should. He was uncompromising, and he knew when to compromise. None of these are contradictions. Bob Dole was a great American.

I had the honor of meeting Senator Dole in about 1997 or '98, not too long after his final run for president in '96. I was in Washington, DC, at a conference for nonprofit folks working on issues of hunger and food insecurity. After the first long day of sessions, there was an evening reception and into the midst of it all walked a familiar face, as casually as anybody else in attendance.

Others came up to greet him and awkwardly tried to reach out with their right hands for a proper handshake and failed to understand when he responded with this left (good) hand. When it was my turn, I somehow had the presence of mind to reach out with my left. I think he appreciated that, because I was swept along with him into the next conversation.

Bob and I were then in a group of several of college interns, mostly female, who were working the conference. Rather than talk about food policy, Bob wanted to know what universities everybody attended, and how were their football teams doing. I guess I was still fresh enough out of college (grad school, at least) to participate and chat with the young women and my new best bud, Bob. If neither of us were married, we might have gotten lucky.

Before too long, however, Bob went home to his wife, Elizabeth, and I went up to my room (alone) to call my wife, Leslie, and tell her who I'd been hanging out with.

There was a time in America, not all that long ago it seems, when political opponents weren't seen as the enemy. We could disagree, grumble, and fight, and still find common ground to stand on. There was a time when somebody with a different position than ours could still earn our respect for standing up for what they believed was right. Not every difference was considered proof of evil intent, and it rarely was.

Senator Bob Dole died early this morning. May his memory be for a blessing.

Friday, May 28, 2021

In Memory of J.D. Chandler

My good old friend, John, known professionally as J.D. Chandler, passed yesterday, while in the hospital following his fifth heart attack.

We met in Jr. High School, 1975. John and Crazy Tom were budding film-makers, and they asked Dave and I, future rock stars, to create a soundtrack for their upcoming epic of the Spanish Civil War, The Unknown Soldier. It would take me several more years to catch the Hemingway reference there.

John and Tom would come by my house where Dave and I would set up in the garage and play our latest addition to the soundtrack. We'd ask how the script was coming, and if there were any pages we could see so we'd know what kind of a groove we were looking for. "Any day now," was always the answer. "Any day now."

At one of these garage sessions, my brother Miles stopped in to listen. After everybody had gone home, Miles asked who that older kid with the full beard was, somebody's older brother? No, just our friend John, fourteen like the rest of us.

After Dave moved out of town I joined with John and Tom in the film making and we created Ogilvy Cinema Productions. A Quiet Place to Live was the first major production under John's direction, and filming commenced in a room at the Vagabond Hotel rented for the project. The star was Shelly, who would be the star of nearly all of Ogilvy's productions, and my on-and-off sometime girlfriend through much of High School. But we met in a room at the Vagabond on Ventura Boulevard.

Other Ogilvy films directed by John in that period included Dismembered - a ripped from the headlines story of a jilted wife who dismembers her wayward husband, stuffs him into a trash bag or two, and takes him for a cross-country road trip - and Today is Friday - from Ernest Hemingway's one act play of the crucifixion (I played 1st Roman Soldier). 

Our final major Ogilvy effort, co-directed by John, Tom, and I, was Road Time - a documentary about the Small World Band, a San Diego group ready to burst out of the local scene and hit the big time (and, coincidentally, my brother, Steve's band). Our vision was to make a film that would book-end nicely with Martin Scorsese's Last Waltz, about the Band giving up the road and going their separate ways.

For John's eighteenth birthday we arranged to see eighteen films. We started with some early matinees of current releases, cheated a bit with a mid-day showing of that year's Oscar Nominated Shorts at the Nuart just to boost our numbers, and finished with the midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Tiffany on Sunset. It was a fairly typical Saturday for us in those days.

Not to even begin to talk about all the concerts: The Kinks, Warren Zevon, The Kinks, Arlo Guthrie, The Kinks, Tim Curry, The Kinks, Flo and Eddie, The Kinks...

Then, just like that, our teenage years were over, some were off to college, others to work, John entered the Army, and Tom was in protective state custody. 

Not that the good times ended, they just slowed down a bit.

There was the time that we were all gathered at Bill's place just outside the Cal Poly SLO campus for a bout of heavy drinking, but were disturbed by the noise of traffic outside with horns blaring and people screaming. John, always one to take control of a situation, went out and, though he was barely able to stand, somehow got on top of a mail box or a trash can and began directing traffic and cleared up the situation in no time.

There's the story of the Morro Four (John, Dave, Bill, and I) and our arrest and trial for endangering the Peregrine Falcons nesting on Morro Rock while on our way to visit Tom (in protective state custody).

There was the time that John was stationed at DLI (Defense Language Institute) but on leave down in L.A. At the end of the visit he said it was time for me to drop him at the Greyhound bus station. I refused. He said it was either that or take him to DLI. I weighed the options: 20 minutes to North Hollywood or seven hours to Monterey? The answer was clear: one never turns down the opportunity for a road trip. We kidnapped Dave and Bill from their respective dorms along the way.

Visits back and forth slowed down as life and all the complications it brings came upon us, but we were never out of touch for very long.

The Morro Four held a reunion many years later in Reno, with a horseback ride along the Truckee River and visits to Virginia City (where you can see Mark Twain's commode) and some of the locations from The Misfits.

In 2010, John and I made a trip together to Hawaii to visit Pearl Harbor on December 7 (and go back on the 8th), crash every beach-side hotel bar in Honolulu, and still get up for the free Ukulele lessons each morning.

My wife, Leslie, and I visited John in Portland probably three or four times in the last decade and enjoyed his walking tours of Portland's most notorious murders, burials, and hauntings (view my videos of John's Portland tours here...).

John had succeeded as a writer, finding his niche in the lesser known - some might say seedy - history of the Portland area, publishing several books on the subject. Like me, he also continued the film bug with occasional short videos to YouTube, and he did a bit with Podcasts and blogging as well. He'd just recently picked up a guitar and was finally starting to learn that as well. I was looking forward to jamming with him on my next trip up.

And then, earlier this week, he posted to Facebook that he was in the hospital following his fifth heart attack. Last night his sister-in-law posted that he had passed that morning.

Of course, it had to be in a week when I was re-reading the short stories of Ernest Hemingway, and right in the middle of The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

Farewell J.D. Chandler. He loved my Nana's knishes. May your memory be for a blessing.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Swizzle Stick Inheritance

So, I've created a new website to share photos of my swizzle stick collection. Except that it's not my collection; it's my late parents' collection. Yes, the swizzle sticks were my inheritance. That was my choice.

After my parents had each passed, it was time to start cleaning out the house. My brothers and our wives gathered to start dividing things up, and one of the first things I said was, "I need the swizzle sticks."

I remember, as a small child, being fascinated by the designs and colors and shapes, and how these little pieces of plastic were somehow representative of memories of places and activities of past years. And they were just fun to play with.

Now, looking through them, it brings back those memories, but also keeps alive the memories of where my parents traveled, where they ate (and drank), and the lives they lived. It keeps their memories fresh and alive. And they're good for stirring my drinks.

Enough already with the introduction. Here's the links you need:

Friday, July 10, 2020

Why I Unfriended You on Facebook

This afternoon I was called out for un-friending somebody over a Facebook post I found to be racist in a gas lighting, passive-aggressive sort of way.

Just to be clear: I do not un-friend for differences of opinion. I value hearing different points of view. I enjoy a debate. Racism is not debatable. Both sides do not have equally valid points to consider. There’s good and there’s evil, and this is one place I draw the line. If you support racism I will assume you are a racist and out you go.

Here’s the response I sent to the person in question:

If your post were simply to honor Officer Anthony Dia, who was killed in Toledo on July 4, I would have wept with you. But your post didn’t even mention his name. Did you even bother to find out his name?

A meme honoring Officer Dia would tell his name and his story without the passive aggressive references to street memorials, protests, NBA/NFL stars, etc. Honoring Officer Dia was clearly not the point here.

The point of the meme (whether your intended point or not) is to make a comparison between this awful murder and the Black Lives Matter movement, and shame anybody who doesn’t share this meme as a means of defending and/or denying the systemic racist violence that makes BLM necessary.

But the worst part: your chosen words in sharing this meme were, “All lives matter.” At one time, this phrase could have been taken as a positive one, and your meaning would have been appreciated. But it’s popularity these last few years has been in response to BLM, as a means of silencing protesters, and demeaning their message.

You’ve not been living under a rock. You surely know this. You’re a smart person. You surely know that “Black lives matter” doesn’t mean “only Black lives.” It means that a large portion of our citizenry has been told over and over that their lives don’t matter, and they’re standing up to that (and many of us are standing with them).

Responding to cries of Black Lives Matter with “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter” is a repudiation. It’s saying Black lives really don’t matter. It’s simply telling Black people, “Shut up and get back in your place.” It's saying that those murdered by official police violence deserved what they got.

Denying racism in the face of overwhelming evidence and testimony is itself racism.

Responding to racism with “we’ve all got problems” is to support a racist system, and is also racism.

I didn’t “condemn every cop” as you claim. I said nothing about Officer Dia (frankly, you didn’t say anything about him either).

I unfriended you because I’m tired and depressed and I thought it would be easier to say “goodbye” than to have to explain your racist post to you. I guess I was wrong.

 - - - - - - - - - -

For the record, here's Officer Dia’s story: Fallen officer's letter: 'I hope I died with bravery' - Please read it and take a moment to honor him properly. May his memory be a blessing.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Reflections on a Week of Action in a Life of Action

I've never been one to shy away from a good protest. I've been going to protests and rallies and marches and sit-ins and vigils and celebrations for a very long time. I've walked, I've shouted, I've sat silently holding a candle, I've signed petitions, I've passed petitions, I've written letters, I've written blogs, I've made phone calls, I've knocked on doors.

In High School, in the late '70s, it was mostly anti-Nuke and No War in Central America. Then No War for Oil, No More Wars for Oil, Not Yet Another War for Oil... Clean Air & Water, Gay Pride, No On 8, Occupy, Overturn Citizens United, Women's Rights, Memorial for the Pulse, Memorial for the Tree of Life, No Kids in Cages. I'm sure I've missed a few here, even from just the last few years.

This last week has felt a bit different. How do you protest in a pandemic? How do you go out when you're supposed to stay in? How do you shout when you're winded from the non-stop horrors? But then again, how do you not? How do you remain silent following the murders of George Floyd, Brionna Taylor, and Auhmaud Arbery (and so many more), and just say, "I'm doing the pandemic now. I'll get with you later"?

I took my cues this week from the Movement for Black Lives "Week of Action" website. Each day had a demand, and suggested actions for each day broken down by Safe (yes, you can do it from home, during a pandemic), Medium, or High Risk. I've taken actions each day - some private (such as donations, petitions), some public (social media), and some truly public: yesterday, I did join a rally and march with hundreds of my neighbors.

Today (Saturday)'s theme is Making Meaning from Crisis. This reflections blog is part of my action for the day.

Now I've written this part before, but let me say it again: My life has been probably 98% privilege. I've had my share of incidents with anti-Semites - a lost job (or maybe two), a bloody nose (or maybe three) - but these are rare. In school days, long ago, my preference for longer hair and lack of skill or interest in sports led to a certain amount of anti-gay bullying (despite my not being gay).

But overall, my life has been one of middle-class, white privilege. I've driven away from traffic stops with only a warning and never thought "this is how I die" when I was being pulled over. When shop owners have kept an extra close eye on me I've had the luxury of thinking "what a paranoid ass" instead of "what a racist."

But I also know that justice cannot exist, that all lives will not matter, until we all stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors - even in a damned pandemic - and say loudly Black Lives Matter! And say their names: George Floyd, Brionna Taylor, Auhmaud Arbery...

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