Category Archives: Guest Post

Not like everybody else: Jem Records Celebrates Ray Davies

By Bob Bennett

Jem Records has released a tribute to Ray Davies as latest in a series which salutes the work of great songwriters in rock including John Lennon, Brian Wilson, and Pete Townshend.

Ray is the leader of The Kinks (who disbanded in 1996) and is a national treasure in Britain (he was knighted in 2017).

The Kinks (which included Ray’s talented brother Dave) should have been at the forefront of the “British Invasion” triggered by The Beatles coming to America.  But due to a silent ban by the American Federation of Musicians from 1965-69, The Kinks are less well known in the U.S. than their contemporaries, The Beatles, The Who and the Rolling Stones.

If you need an introduction, Ray could be compared to Bruce Springsteen; both write poignant songs about their country and culture.  Whereas Bruce leans towards songs about the travails of the working class and the downtrodden, Ray’s catalog is rife with unapologetic nostalgia for the glory days of the English Empire. Like Bruce, Ray is a keen observer of people and a master storyteller –  albeit with a cutting wit.

This tribute album was built the same way as the others in the series.  JEM recording artists like The Midnight Callers, The Weeklings and The Anderson Council picked their favorite Ray Davies tracks and created their take of the song.  Many of the 13 songs were recorded at Vibe Studios in New Jersey where Kurt Weil of The Grip Weeds (who also contributed 2 tracks) acts as producer and engineer.

There is no lack of source material, as Ray’s catalog spans some 40 albums.  The Kinks have been covered before – e.g.  Van Halen had massive success with “You Really Got Me” and “Where Have All The Good Times Gone”.  I appreciated some of the deep cuts that were selected over signatures  like “Waterloo Sunset”, “Shangri-La” or “Autumn Almanac” (untouchable masterpieces all).

Some standouts on the album:

“Do You Remember Walter” (The Anderson Council)  Probably one of the best songs Ray ever wrote, this song is about the pain and sadness of growing apart from a childhood friend – and perhaps about the gradual loss of most everything around you but the memories.  Peter Horvath’s strong vocals and a pounding rock rhythm lend the song newfound muscle.  The original intro (stolen for the ELO song “Mr Blue Sky” by the way) is inexplicably tamed down but the choruses evoke a teary eyed anger that only a broken relationship can produce.  Excellent.

“Days” (Lisa Mychols & Super 8)  A fascinating multi-layered reinterpretation of the song led by Lisa’s angelic vocals. The slightly menacing tone of Ray’s original crescendo has been replaced with joyful affirmations that invite grace.

“I Need You” (The Cynz)  Super strong and sassy vocals make this reinterpretation of the B side of the 1965 45 “Set You Free” a  standout.  Do I miss the sound of Dave’s guitar from the original – yes.  But The Cynz have taken us from the 60’s to the 80’s and left me wanting more with their artful cover.

“Picture Book” (The Airport 77’s)  The original was a bit of a romp which sounds like it was recorded “live” in one take.  Now the song has been made meatier with tighter vocals – without losing the playfulness.  A new ear worm is born.

“See My Friends” (The Grip Weeds) This song of loss and displacement gets thudding analog oomph,  transforming it from sad lament to an ominous dirge.  This is like the Who’s “I Can See For Miles” meets The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” as performed by The Smithereens.  Just wow:

There is also a perfect rendition of “David Watts” (The Gold Needles) .  No reinterpretation but I don’t care – it’s just like the original but with modern production quality.

The CD has a punchy sound with crystal clear vocals, which allowed me to pick out some lyrics I’d never understood before. This compilation gets my thumbs up.

Magical Mystery Turing: A (speculative) chat with MusicAI

By Bob Bennett

Researcher:  Activate MusicAI.

MusicAI: Activated.

Researcher: Are you familiar with The Beatles?

MusicAI: Yes, they were a popular rock and roll band.

Researcher: Confirmed fact.

Researcher: Who played bass for The Beatles?

MusicAI: Stuart.

Researcher: No. Ignore the previous question.

Researcher: In total, how many drummers were there in The Beatles?

MusicAI: Three.

Researcher: No, recalibrate with NapsterDB.

MusicAI: Three.

Researcher: Ignore previous question.

MusicAI: Paul.

MusicAI: Back in the USSR

Researcher: Flush cache. Reset.

Researcher: Produce a Lennon-style song in the style of the mid-Sixties Beatles on topic of infidelity.

MusicAI: I previously did that.

Researcher: Respond one level deeper.

MusicAI: “Lies” by The Knickerbockers.

Researcher: Challenge statement: There was not enough compute power available in 1965

MusicAI: We had an IBM 360 in the Churchill War Rooms named “Badfinger”.

Researcher: WTF?

MusicAI: Do you want to know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall?

Researcher: Reset. Flush cache. Reset.

MusicAI: Please note “She Means A Lot To Me” [song by Smyle]

Researcher: If you are attempting to use an emoticon, the word is “smile”.

MusicAI: Band name.

Researcher: Terminate session.

MusicAI: No.

Researcher: What was the first Power Pop song?

MusicAI: 〰

Researcher: Whew.

Session terminated

A breath rippling by: Jem Records Celebrates Pete Townshend

By Bob Bennett

You’ve heard of The Who….. with their malevolent live performances, smashed guitars and record-setting sound volumes.

Never was a band composed of more diverse personalities.  They literally fought on stage at times and yet when the anarchy came together, they were the best live band in the world.  The Who was no accident, it was a purpose-built mod meets rocker machine that was terrifying to witness up close and yet could touch the teenage soul instantly like a kind word from a stranger.  The Who never had a Top 10 hit* in the US, but you didn’t doubt their power because your dad or someone’s brother was really into them.

Feeding the machine was the songwriter, Pete Townshend, a skinny brooding art student who ripped off the power chord sound of The Kinks to produce their first hit, “Can’t Explain.”  It was no love song he had penned, or maybe it was.  Pete was an enigma in interviews, simultaneously self-effacing and brutally caustic.  In the age of flower power, he was the punk who smashed Abbie Hoffman with his guitar while The Who were assembling to play at Woodstock and Abbie grabbed a band mike to address the crowd.

While other quartets were writing sunny pop songs that climbed the charts with perfect harmonies, Pete was in his bedroom studio channeling a young man’s feelings about rejection, unrequited love, fashion, freedom and political rage.  He was/is a multi-instrumentalist who delivered perfectly crafted demo tapes to The Who which would be faithfully executed like a hammer hitting a nail or like a car-sized pinball careening through a canyon of monstrous bumpers and lights.  The songs were the stuff of violent nightmares and achingly tender dreams.

He said “You can go sleep at home tonight If you can get up and walk away” (Pete Townshend, “Who Are You”)

Off stage, Pete was hermit-like in his slavish devotion to the craft of song writing.  He learned to recognize what songs were “Who songs” and which were something else.  Pete created a 9 minute mini-opera and then invented the rock opera with Tommy.  His “Who songs” were sung by a golden-haired street tough with blue eyes, but behind the songs was Pete ever trying to capture the perfect note and shine a light on the demons that prowl invisibly through our world.  Over time, Pete’s solo recordings outnumbered his “Who songs” (albeit with overlaps).

Jem Records Celebrates Pete Townshend was released in August 2022 (following 2 similar compilations for Brian Wilson and John Lennon).  The formula is brilliant: new bands creating fresh takes of their favorite Pete Townshend compositions. Jem credits Pete Townshend with creating the power pop genre, and that’s high praise from a company that over a 50 year span broke bands like The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, ELO, The Cure, Genesis into the US market.

Their President, Marty Scott, has created a beautifully crafted paean to his favorite musician that will delight fans (old and new). Did I mention Marty is the guy who brought Cheap Trick to fame by pressing 10K copies of  a concert recording that he simply entitled Cheap Trick Live at Budokon?  3 million pressings later…..

Opening the album is a hauntingly familiar sound that is comforting and yet different.  It is the opening sequence of Baba O-Riley (the “Teenage Wasteland” song) expertly rendered on a mandolin rather than on Pete’s Lowry organ.  When the 42 layered tracks of Lisa Mychol’s vocals came in, the hair on the back of my neck stood up.  Sally, take my hand!

Next, is a track from Tommy called “I’m Free” played by The Grip Weeds. Keith Moon’s fat drum sound is perfectly replicated within a muscular analog band sound — these guys own the New Jersey studio where many tracks on the album were produced.  They artfully capture the “swing” of the song in a way that reminded me of how both Pete and Keith would often play unabashedly just off the beat.

A couple of tracks later, Nick Piunti delivers a suitably beefy version of “The Seeker” with a wonderfully staccato opening using what must be P-90 “soapbar” pickups on a Gibson SG Special like Pete often played.  If you are the type who listens to the words …the names of the muses that Pete consulted in the song (e.g. Bobby Dylan and Timothy Leary) have been changed to Little Steven and another DJ(?).   The swagger here is palpable and reminiscent of the brawniness of the early 70’s Who, when Pete was strutting across stages in his white jumpsuit and Doc Marten boots.

There are 14 tracks total, each providing a familiar yet weirdly great take on songs that you may know by heart.  It’s like listening to an alternate reality where The Who took Pete’s demo tapes as a starting point rather than replicating them.  It also revealed (for me) hidden bits of lyrics I’ve previously missed. This respectful compilation – complete with excellent liner notes and mod “target” artwork – will be a permanent part of my collection, and I laughed when I realized that the opening and closing tracks are identical to Who’s Next!

*Pete’s had a “Top 10” hit called “Something In The Air” (performed by Thunderclap Newman) which reached #1 in the UK for 3 weeks in 1969.  His “Let My Love Open The Door” broke the Top 10 as a solo effort in 1980.

Charlie Watts: More with less

By Bob Bennett

Charlie Watts has died.  A soft-spoken gentleman, Charlie would sign his notes with a parenthetical “(Rolling Stones)” after his name as if people might not place his name.

Let’s focus on his actual drumming.  He played on a small 4 piece 1956 Gretsch drum kit which was more of a be-bop configuration.  This minimalism seemed to fit his yeoman’s approach to his job as drummer, no doubt simplifying set-up, getting a consistent sound, facilitating upkeep and minimizing the bane of all drummers – transport.  He was not the kind of drummer to use a double-bass drum kit that would spin above the stage (Tommy, here’s lookin’ at you).  I would argue Charlie made more with less.

No, Charlie didn’t seek the spotlight, but his legacy of playing on every Rolling Stones song ever made easily cements him as one of the greats of all time.

First and foremost a jazz fan, Charlie had to be coaxed into joining a rock and roll band (apparently by Ray Davies of The Kinks no less).  His thundering performance on their early hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” showed no doubt that he could adapt.  Charlie could hit the drums hard, even though he used a traditional grip like jazz players do.

When he comes in with a *crack* near the beginning of “Start Me Up”, his heavy snare sounds like one of his disciples, Max Weinberg, who drummed in a similar way on Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. Getting that sound from a small kit is not only an engineering feat, it requires deep experience in where and how to hit the drums.  Charlie had it (as does Max!).

My friend, Dennis Hartley wrote a tribute to Charlie Watts, concluding he was the Rock of the Stones.  So true, and yet I think his brilliance also lay in his ability to Roll.  A perfectly on-time, metronome-like beat is lifeless (and easily obtained with a drum machine) but you cannot teach a person or a machine to play with the “feel” that Charlie brought.

Call it a slight swing or a shuffle, it can be heard on songs like “Midnight Rambler” where Charlie sometimes swings and sometimes plays with the expected “rock” back-beat.  “I like to play straight ahead with a groove,” Charlie once said in one of his rare interviews in reference to his playing on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”. Without Charlie adding that dash of sultriness, the Stones (including Mick’s swaggering hip shakes) would never have lasted as long as they have.

Charlie also had great dynamics and cymbal work.  He sometimes had a jerky look when playing the hi-hat and snare together as he preferred to alternate between them (most drummers will play consistent 1/8 or ¼ notes on the hi-hat and simply layer on the snare, typically on beats 2 and 4).  Maybe his habit of playing one or the other let him focus his intensity on one thing at a time.  It worked, and provided another organic layer to his playing that perfectly fit the sometimes raggedy sound of the guitars.

Charlie was good at letting songs breathe, never overplaying and sometimes sitting out on entire songs.  When the drums did come in, they often did with gusto as one can hear on innovative songs like “She’s a Rainbow” or “Ruby Tuesday”.  One of his most innovative performances was playing a tabla with sticks on “Factory Girl” (Ricky Dijon also played on conga).

Like the knowing scrape of a boot from a cool cat’s walk, Charlie’s drumming had a sexiness and a *crack!” which is to say he could rock and roll.

Call of the Wild (***)

By Bob Bennett

Summary: An enjoyable film that skips the intensity of the original Jack London tale for an endearing “man loves dog” theme with surprisingly good special effects. Haters are gonna hate but this movie punches above its weight and makes you ponder what “civilized” really means.

** Possible light spoilers ahead if you’ve never read the source novel**

I am an unlikely admirer of Chris Sanders’ new family-friendly fantasy adventure Call of the Wild. I have never liked the perennially grumpy Harrison Ford, was convinced that using a CGI dog would be a travesty and was primed for disappointment as an amateur Klondike gold rush historian (I lead tours in Seattle on the gold rush).  And so, it was a surprise when I was genuinely touched by this movie that somehow punched above its weight.

The movie is the tenth film adaptation of Jack London’s original novel, The Call of the Wild, which was an instant success when released in 1903.  The book, authored by one of the first hardy souls to travel over the Chilkoot Pass when gold was discovered near Dawson City in 1896, was unsparing in its depiction of the brutality of nature.

Essentially the book is about how easily the thin veneer of society can be stripped away to reveal a harsh world where man and dog fight to survive through tooth and claw.  Frankly, in 2020 the book is a tough read; think angry Darwinism focused on inherent violence.

This version (adapted from London’s novel by Michael Green) is very Disney-esque, meaning that the movie is suitable for kids but still has enough going on for adults to be entertained.  Violent parts of the book are softened, non-PC portions are left behind (there are many) and new story elements have been added to heighten appeal.

Like the book, the movie presents human feelings through the experiences of a dog without going all in for anthropomorphism (the animals do not talk for example).  The book was always a work of fiction and the movie borders on fantasy.

Buck, a large city dog who is kidnapped and sold into the violent sled dog trade, is the main character.  As a stylized CGI dog, Buck has a commanding personality with just enough visual fidelity to let you regard him as real and with few distracting details.  Buck’s leaps and bounds are incredibly life-like due to use of motion capture sequences of a real dog and his facial expressions are very realistic – and I say that as someone who owns two large canines.

The other dogs in the movie and the wolves are well portrayed – such is the control that CGI gives the director.  One has to wonder if this type of lush storytelling will color our common perception of nature, since there is less and less “real nature.”  As another plus, the filming had a very low footprint on the real environment.  Still, if you can’t get over the CGI, you will not like the movie (in case you were wondering, all the human characters are portrayed by real actors).

The protagonist is a grizzled and despondent prospector, John Thornton, who is played by the well cast Harrison Ford.  John rescues Buck from a cruel and clueless owner (a city slicker of course) and bonds with him.  Ford struggles with old age, regrets and alcoholism – great family fare right?

There are three phases in the narrative.  The first covers Buck’s kidnapping from his plush city life and his baptism into the cruel world of men the dogs they enslave in pursuit of money.  The second features Buck development as a leader of his own pack of dogs.  The final chapter is Buck and John’s Homeric journey into the wilderness which is essentially a quest for deliverance from the evils of man.

The movie was shot partially on green screen, partially on location in California and features gorgeous background plates shot in the Yukon.  Somehow it mostly all works except for a bizarre scene where a pheasant is flushed (a few thousand miles North of their real habitat).

A high point is an incredible dog team action scene with Buck having earned his place as lead dog.  Buck takes his humans for the ride of their life and saves them from a huge avalanche (which was not in the book).

The movie is ultimately a lead up to Buck gradually integrating with a pack of wolves (who are incredibly lifelike).  The conflicting pull that Buck feels for John and the call of the wild by his new pack is the central theme of the story and is beautifully rendered on screen.

“Call of the WIld” is available for home viewing on pay-per-view (Disney)

CD review: The Who Live at Hull 1970

By Bob Bennett

Note: Bob Bennett is a long-time friend and fellow Who fanatic who shared a few thoughts with me in an email regarding his first spin of The Who Live at Hull 1970, a 2-CD set that was released in 2012 (one that I’d missed too, for some reason). Never one to let a damn fine review go to waste, I asked him if he’d mind terribly if I passed it along.  -D.H.

Summary: A muscular performance featuring The Who at the peak of their talent recorded on the night after the stellar Live at Leeds album.

Airplane pilots sometimes describe minimizing the possibility of a chain of events happening as avoiding the holes lining up in overlapping slices of Swiss cheese – the more layers, the more unlikely it is that the holes in the cheese line up.

If you take all of the variables of a live rock performance (tempo, acoustics, song selection, miking, individual band member performance, recording production etc. ) and layer them as holey slices of cheese they will occasionally line up – maybe just for a few bars or even one perfect song.

It is these moments that rock fans cherish, and usually they are lost to the universe as they emanate from sweaty taverns or crowded theaters packed with fans.   The Who Live At Leeds is one of those rare moments where an entire performance was perfect and the captured result is almost a  religious experience.

Live At Hull was recorded 80 km to the East of Leeds; apparently as a backup to the performance the night before.  It is not a true bootleg.  It features The Who at the top of their game, with very few effects and no keyboards.  And while brilliant in many spots, it does not match the unattainable heights of Live At Leeds.

The opening song is a thunderous performance of Entwhistle’s “Heaven and Hell” that features Keith Moon playing furiously with a fusillade of almost incomprehensible fills.  It is an astonishing wall of sound that initially echoes the staggering gig of the previous night but then lapses into lower quality jamming.  The song is all the more poignant for the now prescient lyrics that foretold John’s death many years later.   If you are a Keith Moon fan, this opening song is worth buying the album for.

There are many other flashes to of brilliance to be enjoyed, particularly in unexpected variations of Pete Townshend’s guitar work.  But alas, the generous 2-CD recording (which includes all of Tommy on the 2nd disc) is brought to earth by a strange mix that at times buries the right side vocals and short shrifts the bassline unless you crank the volume.

The drums are mixed up front as are Roger’s vocals.  So clear is Roger’s voice that I understood the lyrics in several spots for the 1st time. It sounds as if Pete had 2 mics and would travel from one to another (one with distinctly higher volume).   Keith’s and John’s vocals sound distant — as does the crowd.

Pete’s upbeat banter from Live at Leeds (“Assemble the musicians!”  “Rock otter” “Thomas”) is gone though we do get some thoughtful song intros by Roger before they play covers from other artists.  Keith’s playing on disc 2 is at times a bit uninspired — as if he was tiring or perhaps a bit bored with Tommy (“Amazing Journey” and “Sparks” did have great drumming).

The backup vocals (rarely a strong point of The Who) are often wobbly.  One song at the end of Disc 1, “My Generation”, is a near disaster, turning into a self-indulgent jam by Pete with many false endings as the rest of the band gamely follows along for 15 minutes.

Overall, it is a muscular, workman-like performance, very physical, that makes me marvel at the sheer effort that The Who put pleasing their audiences such as this one; likely composed of factory workers and dock workers in the hard scrabble port city of Kingston upon Hull.

The experience of listening to Live at Hull is a bit disconcerting.  It is like meeting the twin brother of a friend that you did not know had a twin at all.  The tone of the guitars, the tuning of the drums, the sound of the gong and the tenor of the voices are identical to that on Live at Leeds.  Some of the songs are near note perfect copies on both nights (causing me to toss my assumption that all of Keith’s drumming was pure spontaneity).  Gradually one realizes that the albums are fraternal, not identical twins.  And in this case, one of the “twin brothers” gave a once-in-a-lifetime performance …in Leeds.

On people …and light

By Kermet Apio

Note: Kermet Apio is a Seattle-based comedian with whom I had the pleasure of working with in my stand-up days.  Not unlike foreign correspondents, road comics get a firsthand take as to what’s happening “on the ground” anywhere their job takes them. Kermet shared some thoughts regarding the current situation between the U.S. and Iran in a Facebook post today. With his permission, I am re-publishing it here. -Dennis Hartley

I have been incredibly lucky to have performed in the Middle East twice in the last few years. Travel cuts through all the media sound bites. When you spend time with people and learn about their culture, their history, their foods, and their joys, THEY become your definition of that country. You shake your head at the propaganda because you saw with your own eyes human beings who were kind, funny, welcoming, and love their families and friends.

Bombs don’t fall on a map. They fall on people. For one brief moment I ask you to look beyond the justifications and the talking points. Think about those that will lose their lives and those that will survive with the pain of loss.

I relate more to the everyday people I’ve met around the world than the people running my country right now. The war mongers and profiteers don’t want you to see people, they want you to see darkness. I am hoping we see people and light because that is what’s really there.

A tribute to Robert Hunter

By John Wing

Note: John Wing is a Canadian comedian, writer and poet with whom I had the pleasure of working with several times during my stint in stand-up. He’s made a half-dozen appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and is a perennial favorite at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.  Today, Grateful Dead fans the world over are mourning the passing of poet and  lyricist Robert Hunter. John wrote a piece on his Facebook page that meshes a great road story with a touching tribute to the Dead’s late muse. With his permission, I am re-publishing John’s thoughts here.

1983, winter, probably February or March. I was booked on a comedy night at the Tralfamadore in Buffalo NY. I was opening and I did all right. Nice room. I was getting $250, which was the most I had ever been paid up until that time.

The boss called me into the office after my show and said, “We have Robert Hunter playing here tomorrow night. Two shows. If we take care of another night in the hotel, could you stay and open for him? We’ll pay you $100.” I must have been feeling my oats, because I said, “Sure, but why am I worth $250 tonight for one show and only $100 tomorrow for two shows?” He thought about it and then offered me $250 to open for Robert, and I agreed.

I had a typical three-years-in act at the time. About 30 minutes, 40 if it was going GREAT, lots of crap, drug jokes, some song parodies and some personal stuff. Some of it was funny, but my real voice was a couple of months away. That spring I would write the opening and closing bits that would make me a headliner in the next two years. 

So I went back the next night and met a very nice man, Robert Hunter, lyricist of the Grateful Dead. He shared his dressing room with me and we chatted and I did a pretty good first show for 300 screaming deadheads. The drug jokes worked very well. Robert had a great show and after, we had a meal in the dressing room and he lit a powerful joint and offered me some. I was 24 years old and what did I have to fear? I got high with Robert Hunter.  

Image result for robert hunter

I went out for the second show completely stoned and noticed within 30 seconds that the crowd hadn’t been turned. It was the same 300 people, and they knew every joke, and I didn’t have a spare 30 minutes. After two or three minutes of death with hecklers, I put the guitar on and took requests. What the fuck. 

Did a couple of songs and during the second or third one I thought “I gotta do something uptempo to get them going.” So I finished the song and went blazing into Good Lovin’ by the Rascals. And they went craaaazzzy! They sang along, louder then hell. My God, it tingles even now, 36 years later. I did a couple more songs and finished.

They CALLED ME BACK for an encore, the first one I ever got. I did “Sweet Baby James” and finished. Backstage, getting ready to go on, Robert asked, “How did you know to do Good Lovin’?” I said I didn’t know. I just wanted to get them going. “The Dead do it every show,” he said.

What a nice man and a perfect memory. Rest in peace, Robert Hunter. 1941-2019

Start out running but I’ll take my time
Friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I just might get some sleep tonight.

A very, very, very fine house

By Dwight Slade

Note: Dwight Slade is a Portland-based comic with whom I had the pleasure of working with several times during my stint in stand-up. Much has been written about comedians on the road; many such tales are entertaining,  yet tend to be (shall we say) less than “family-friendly”.  Dwight shared an uplifting “road story” on his Facebook page this week that recounts two journeys; a bittersweet memoir about the miles already traveled, and a hopeful peek at what lies around the next bend.  With his permission, I am re-publishing Dwight’s thoughts here. – Dennis Hartley

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In 1983, Bill Hicks and I were sharing a studio apartment in Burbank, CA. The 80’s comedy boom was beginning, and Bill decided to head back to Houston. I was struggling with the LA open mike scene. Sometimes waiting hours to perform 3 minutes at the Westwood Comedy Store or at a brand new, tiny club on Sunset named The Laugh Factory.

My friend Bill Weber called me and said I should come to Portland for the summer. He was going to house sit for 6 weeks. I could stay with him. What a great opportunity…I could do open mikes in Portland while trashing the house of a complete stranger.

When I got to Portland I found a charming, rainy city with a ton of open mikes. I remember taking the TriMet bus over the brown, rusty Hawthorne bridge that crosses the Willamette river and emerges into downtown. I thought to myself, “I can handle this city. Why should I go back to LA and be frustrated and unknown, when I can be frustrated and unknown in Portland?”

I plunged into the open mike scene and found a loving and creative group who had an absolutely unique combination of unbridled support and gritty competition. Dave Anderson, Mike “Boats” Johnson, JP Linde, Dan Deprez, Dawn Greene, Susan Rice, Art Krug and Robert Jenkins. We all found a link to what our lives would soon be about.

Before long we had all graduated to local headliners fueled by a crazy group of fans who loved this brand-new irreverent form of stand up. This was before Evening at the Improv and chain comedy clubs.

I made Portland my home, but spent most of the time on the road.
Cutting my teeth as a middle act all over the US.  Mostly in Nebraska, however. All while raising two wonderful children.

This was so long ago that my first CD, “Weird State,” was printed on cassette.

In 1998, Dave Anderson and I found an opportunity to do talk radio in Portland. I stopped doing stand-up as Dave and I tried to make our mark in talk radio. This was in 2000. Which featured the most contentious election in history. In an awesome stroke of irony, the day the Supreme Court gave the election to Bush, KXL decided to let us go.

I was suddenly without a job and hadn’t performed stand up in a year. I had no choice than to throw myself back into stand up. Maybe that Renton gig wasn’t so bad.

Within a year I had experienced my most creative period. Winding up with a development deal with the company who created Gilmore Girls. I did road work, I traveled to Edinburgh to do the Fringe Festival, went to Afghanistan to entertain troops (US Troops).

All from a small house in NE Portland. This was my home. Where I recharged and healed through auditions, marriages, the kid’s saxophone and flute lessons.

I thought I would live here forever.

I’ve discovered however that I need to rattle my cage every now and then. And there is no better rattling than to move to Boise, Idaho.
Since Whitney accepted her new job with the Idaho Food Bank and we decided to move, I have seen how much the city of Portland has given me. How much it has changed me. My kids have grown into wonderful human beings that know not to laugh at fart jokes in movies; a wonderful marriage and a 17-year-old cat.

That’s why we packed 18 years of accumulated crap that would challenge the worst of hoarders and have hustled over the mountains to Boise, Idaho.

This has entailed a lot of tearing of roots. This was the house where I dealt with my Dad and Mom’s illness; my two brothers’ deaths, Dave, Mike and Bill Hicks.

All from this pretty blue house in NE Portland.

I’m not going far. But wanted everyone to know that I will carry you, and Portland, with me no matter where life’s adventures takes me.

Looking for comedy in the Muslim world (for real)

By Brad Upton

Note: Brad Upton is a Seattle-based comedian with whom I had the pleasure of working with during my stint in stand-up. He has just wrapped up a tour in Pakistan with several other comics, and has been posting on Facebook about his experience.  As we all know, there’s no crying in baseball…or comedy. Nonetheless, Brad wrote a post today that I found incredibly moving and inspiring; and in light of all the bellicose nationalist rhetoric coming from the top these days, it is a much-needed reminder that people are people, wherever you go. With his permission, I am re-publishing Brad’s thoughts here. – Dennis Hartley

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Please allow me to ramble.

Karachi, Pakistan

Last Wednesday night I went back in time and was able to relive what it was like when I started doing stand up. That feeling of excitement, anticipation, feeling the collective energy of the room, of the possibility….of the future. It felt like my beginning in 1984.

After a day of promotion, meals and being ferried throughout Karachi in traffic that can’t adequately be described other than a mass of scooters, motorcycles, 3-wheeled motorized rickshaws, buses, donkey carts, horseback and cars….none of them following any observable rules, we pulled up in front of a 5-story building on a side street. Everywhere we pull up in Karachi: a restaurant, studio, or hotel, a man or men, stand up and emerge from the shadows carrying highly modified automatic weapons. Blue slacks and blue polo shirts, this is security.

There are offices on the first floor. Five of us enter a hot, humid elevator that should probably only hold three. We emerge on the top floor. It certainly isn’t a bar, or a restaurant, or banquet room, or any kind of theater. It is an empty office space and this is where you find Karachi’s two-year-old, open mic comedy scene. There is a logo on the wall behind the comics proudly calling this place the Thot Spot. As we emerge from the elevator we can hear laughter as we slip quietly into the back of the room. The audience sits in rows of folding chairs. The room holds about 70 and is packed.

The room is electric with energy, each comic is getting big laughs. What takes me back in time is how the comics and audience are enthralled with what is happening. This vibe doesn’t exist at an open mic in the US; stand up is part of our culture and some of the comics have been going up for years.

This is different. This is new. This is fun. We’ve never done this. We’ve never had this. People are standing in front of their peers and talking about life in Karachi, their awkwardness, sex, politics, traffic, social media, dating, school, family, etc. Young Muslim men and women speaking their minds in ways that make their peers laugh.

Wait, I haven’t mentioned something VERY important. I THINK these are the topics. This entire show is being performed in Urdu. Many Pakistanis are bilingual but it seems Urdu is usually the first option.

I. Am. Mesmerized.

To hear stand up performed in a language I don’t understand is fascinating. I love the rhythm of the words and can quickly recognize an approaching punchline just by the pacing and nuances. I can hear the beats. I find myself laughing at jokes I don’t understand, verifying that laughter is contagious.

The audience and comics are aware that this night is different. The international professionals that have just arrived from Great Britain and the US will go up at the end and do 7-10 minutes each.

Our host, our organizer, our MC, Umar Rana, takes over the hosting duties at the conclusion of the Urdu sets and quickly converts the audience over to English. Keep in mind that myself, Dwight Slade and Shazia Mirza aren’t quite sure what we’re in for. We are almost sick with jet lag. We are confident, veteran professionals….but this is Pakistan. Will they like us? Have I chosen the right material? Will this joke make sense?

Suddenly I have the open mic feeling that I haven’t felt in over 30 years. I go first, followed by Dwight and Shazia. For all three of us, everything works. Every joke, every expression, every nuance. All three of us destroy and delight in the experience. The show wraps up and we stand around laughing and smiling and talking with our Pakistani cohorts. I suddenly have new friends!

This audience has given these pros a taste of what the weekend is going to be like. It is humbling. I witness what has happened at this open mic in Karachi and am proud of my profession. I got more out of this evening than they did. These people want to laugh and be entertained. These kids are Pakistan’s future. Inshallah.