Don Messerli’s Blog |

An exercise in self-indulgence.

Leonard Cohen Live - Hallelujah!!!!

Tuesday Nov 24, 2009

I never thought I would get to see Leonard Cohen perform in my lifetime. Until February of this year he hadn’t toured in the U.S. since 1994. I didn’t hear about the date in Nashville until the start of the week. I don’t know what happened with that. To say this was a big deal for me is a huge understatement. Going to see Leonard Cohen to me is like a Catholic going to see The Pope. No, I didn’t just compare Leonard Cohen to The Pope; just like John Lennon didn’t compare The Beatles to Jesus Christ.

He performed at The Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC). The sound was perfect. His performance was spectacular. Regine and I have seen some legendary singers in the past few years; but they’ve been disappointments. Bob Dylan was almost impossible to understand and picked a poor grouping of songs to represent his career. Van Morrison was more concerned with the placement of instruments on the stage than his performance and didn’t perform any of his hits. Conversely, Leonard Cohen performed virtually all of the songs a die hard fan would want to hear. He didn’t sing “Jazz Police”; but I’m probably the only one who missed that one.

His voice was deep and sultry. Even better than it was on Leonard Cohen Live in London (CD and DVD). Not a hint of scratchiness which was evident on the recording. We were both amazed at how long he performed. Two full sets with an intermission in between; followed by at least 3 encores. He had quite a bit of energy for a 74 year old. He went down on his knees and then back up several times. I’d be sore after all of those lunges.

The show was very polished. This was to be expected considering that he has been touring almost non-stop since May 2008. He surrounded himself with a stellar group of musicians. Sharon Robinson, his long-time collaborator, and The Webb Sisters on backing vocals. Roscoe Beck was his musical director and stand-up bass player. Spanish multi-instrumentalist Javier Mas played the 12-string guitar and many traditional Spanish instruments. Neil Larsen played keyboards and Hammond Organ. Bob Metzger played guitar and steel guitar. Rafael Gayol on drums. Dino Soldo on keyboard, saxophone and various wind instruments. They all combined to provide a perfect musical experience.

Seeing Leonard Cohen live was a dream of mine. Now that it has been fulfilled, it is something I will never forget. A huge thanks to Regine for finding out about the concert.

The Wrecking Crew

Tuesday Jun 10, 2008

Tommy TedescoBack in April, Regine and I attended several films at the Nashville Film Festival. We especially enjoyed a documentary called “The Wrecking Crew”. It is about a group of about 20 studio musicians in Los Angeles in the 1960s. They played on so many different records that it is almost impossible to count. They played for solo artists who didn’t have a band (i.e. Nancy Sinatra), groups that needed a little added help in the studio (i.e. The Beach Boys), groups that didn’t exist until AFTER a hit song was recorded (i.e. the Marketts, Routers, and T-Bones) and groups that were fabricated and couldn’t play their own instruments (i.e. The Monkees).

Regine came away feeling that she had been duped as a child. I knew this was going on. I just didn’t know it was the same group of musicians in every instance. Musicians like Tommy Tedesco, Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Plas Johnson and Don Randi.

The film was a labor of love by Denny Tedesco (Tommy’s son) and took him several years to complete. The movie was a lot of fun and I learned a lot. I really enjoyed seeing Carol Kaye, bass guitarist extraordinaire, play some of the riffs that we all grew up with. One of the difficult things about producing the movie was getting clearance to use the over 100 songs in the film. Since the same thing would have to be done again for a DVD release, it is highly unlikely there will be one unless a distributor with a department dedicated to that task decides to get involved. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

You can check out information about the film, see where it’s playing and sign up for notifications at The Wrecking Crew Film website.

Texas Trip Part I - San Antonio

Tuesday Apr 15, 2008

The AlamoWe arrived around 1:00 PM on Thursday. Our flight from Houston to San Antonio was delayed because the plane we were supposed to board was late arriving from Austin. Might have had to do with the bad weather. We didn’t get any of the bad weather. The pilot from Nashville to Houston deliberately flew south of the usual route to avoid it.

We got our rental car and went to a place I had found on the Internet for lunch. It was called the Madhatter’s Tea House. They had great sandwiches and 50 different kinds of tea. They also had about 6 kinds of gourmet iced tea. That’s what I had. Some kind of green tea with ginseng. Then we went to our hotel. It was the Wyndham St. Anthony which is downtown. It’s within walking distance of the Alamo and Riverwalk. The hotel was nice. Small rooms; but then again, we were only really using it for sleeping. We relaxed for about 30 minutes before setting out.

We went to a town called Gruene (pronounced “Green”) which is about 39 miles from San Antonio. We noticed that there are a bunch of streets and towns with German names in this part of Texas. New Braunfels, Gruene, Shertz and Schumannsville to name a few. Gruene has a little historic district with antique and craft shops and some interesting little restaurants. We only stayed there about an hour. The drive took longer than we thought because we hit a lot of traffic.

Back to the hotel to wash up and put on some nice clothes. We had a reservation at the Chart House restaurant which is on top of the Tower of the Americas, a 750-foot tall tower with observation deck, revolving restaurant and 4-D theater ride. Regine’s mother told us we had to eat there; so we did. The management of the restaurant has recently changed ownership after more than 30 years. The restaurant was under the previous ownership when Regine’s mother ate there. The food was fantastic and the prices were a bit high. The rotating restaurant was cool. It takes about an hour and a half to make a single rotation. It gave us a great opportunity to see the entire skyline at night. When I needed to go to the men’s room, I had to ask a server where it was. I said, “Can you tell me where the men’s room is? It keeps moving.”

The next morning we slept in a little bit and had pop tarts in the room. Went to the Alamo. Couldn’t find the basement.

Younger people may be more familiar with “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” in which the goofy man-child in the too-small suit embarks on a cross-country odyssey to the Alamo to retrieve his lost bicycle from its basement. Once here, he gets the bad news: “There’s no basement in the Alamo!”

David Stewart, the Alamo’s director, says he hears the Pee Wee question all the time, and that by now he can tell when someone is about to bring it up again.

“They get this little smile on their face and say ‘You know what I’m going to ask,’” he said. “And I always say, ‘No, we don’t have a basement.’”

It was interesting. Don’t remember the whole story. I hate reading all those little information cards below the exhibits. Unfortunately, they don’t allow you to take any photos inside the buildings.

Next was lunch. I’d done my research ahead of time and picked a Mexican restaurant that is very highly rated. Made sure they had “Enchiladas Mole Poblano” which is my favorite. Haven’t had it since moving to Nashville. None of the Mexican restaurants here have it. The restaurant was called La Fogata and was a little outside the city. The parking lot was rather large and I know why. This place draws them in from miles around. The food and service were both excellent.

We headed back toward town and stopped at Market Square. “El Mercado is the the largest Mexican market outside of Mexico. The outdoor market sells all types of Mexican crafts, including pottery and ceramics, turquoise jewelry, leather goods and colorfully embroidered clothing. The plaza has restaurants, pastry shops, specialty shops and craft galleries.” We bought a bunch of little things.

The next stop was La Villita which is right next to Riverwalk. “In the center of downtown San Antonio sits the preserved and restored remnants of the original “Little Village” of San Antonio, La Villita. Built by the Spanish in the 1700s, the historic riverside settlement is now home to artisans, small shops, and restaurants.” There was a lot of cool stuff. We bought two small watercolors at a coop for local artists. Talked to the ladies there for quite a while. Was fun.

Went back to the hotel and freshened up before walking to and around Riverwalk. Sure has been built up since my family and I were there in 1971. Not sure it’s for the better. Ate at an Irish pub on Riverwalk. Food was good; service was terrible. Went back to the hotel; we had to be up at 6:00 AM the next morning for the 2 hour drive to Cuero.

Hyundai Sonata? Probably not!

Monday Apr 14, 2008

This is the first of what will probably be many posts that come as a result of our trip to San Antonio this past weekend.

My Mini Cooper S is approaching 100,000 miles and, although it’s not ready to be replaced, I’ve been thinking far in advance about what make and model of car I want to replace it with. Don’t get me wrong. The Mini is one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. I WOULD replace it with another; but change is good. I’ve been thinking much more conservatively about cars lately.

I’ve always liked Hondas and owned a CRX in the 80s. It was great car. Only one minor problem I can think of. I sometimes kick myself for not replacing it with another Honda; like an Accord.

I’ve always liked the Accord, so it is a logical choice to consider for “the replacement”. But then the part of me that doubts my gut feelings kicked in and told me I should look at the Hyundai Sonata. Same price range as the Accord; but with a much better warranty. Hyundais have been considered good cars for years.

Well, on our recent trip to Texas, our rental happened to be a Hyundai Sonata. I really liked the car. Nice fit and finish. Comfortable. Easy to drive. Enough power for my needs. I could drive one of these on a long-term basis. On the third day, I found a few annoying things. First of all, the car has a tire pressure monitoring system like my Mini has. When we picked up the car at the rental agency, I noticed the light was on; indicating that one of the tires was low. I checked all four tires and they were fine. I asked the attendant if he knew how to reset the light and he said he didn’t; but as long as the tires seem OK, I shouldn’t worry about it. I didn’t worry about it until the third day when Regine had to check the manual for some other annoyance and found that the light cannot be reset in the field. You have to take it to the dealer and have them do it. On my Mini, there’s a button you can press when the car is idle that “calibrates” the system and tells it that the current tire pressures are optimal and should be used as a baseline. Yes, I’m over-simplifying; the system actually works based on the rotation speed of the wheels and not the actual tire pressure. That’s a subject for another blog post which I assure you I’ll never write.

I’m sure Hyundai has good intentions and since the car has a very long warranty (I think it’s 10 years/10,000 miles) it probably wouldn’t cost anything to take the car to the dealer to have them reset the light. But the auto manufacturers don’t seem to realize that people’s time is also very valuable; just like money.

The other annoyance was why Regine cracked the manual in the first place. There is a light in the dash between the climate control and the radio that tells you that the passenger airbag has been disabled. The manual states that the car basically makes a decision to disable the airbag based on the weight of whatever/whoever is in the seat when the car is started. It further states that if this light comes on by mistake, to stop the car, shut it off, have the passenger sit properly in the seat, and then restart the car. Rinse and repeat if necessary. There is no switch to manually turn on/off the passenger airbag. The car has made the decision. You, the driver, are too dumb to make the right decision. No airbag for you!

These are really more than just annoyances. They are instances of where Hyundai thought I was too stupid to make my own decisions and the dealer or the car are smarter than I could ever be. Basically, insulting my intelligence. I know a lot of people would think these are really cool features. To these people, ignorance is truly bliss.

The whole thing made me wonder. If I found this many annoyances in less than three days, how many others will there be with this car?

Now, the Honda Accord might have the same exact annoyances; you’ll be sure I’m going to check for them when the time comes.

Roger Clemens STFU!

Friday Dec 14, 2007

Yesterday, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell released the findings of his investigation into steroid use in Major League Baseball. That report named names and one mentioned quite a bit was that of Roger Clemens. Clemens’ lawyer, Rusty Hardin, says that “He is really, really concerned and upset that he has been named in this report. It’s based on the allegations, apparently, of a trainer that he’s had in the past. … That’s not a standard someone should be held out in public to have done something as serious as using steroids in baseball.” Mitchell’s office contacted every player that was to be mentioned in the report letting them know that they would be named and offered them the chance to meet with him personally, be presented with the evidence, and explain or refute the facts. Only a few, and definitely not Clemens, decided to take Mitchell up on his offer.

Roger Clemens knew he was going to be named. Don’t act like you’re surprised. Don’t act all upset. You chose not to meet with Senator Mitchell and instead have your guilt or innocence tried in the court of public opinion, where I guess you think you’d have a better chance of clearing your name. Well, guess what. You don’t.

It makes me wonder about that AT&T Wireless commercial…

Roger Clemens is on the golf course contemplating another return to professional baseball. He calls his wife at home to see what she thinks about the idea. She is less than enthused about it but the call is dropped before she can express her feelings about the situation. Roger takes the silence on the other end of the phone to be her becoming speechless because she is so excited by the proposition. Thinking his wife is on board he agrees to play baseball again.

Is his wife upset that he’s going to be spending time away from her and his children when he resumes his baseball career? Or is she upset because he’s going to have to go back on steroids causing his dick to shrink even more?

The part of the lawyers’ statement about where the allegations came from are ridiculous. Mitchell didn’t have subpoena power and the Players’ Association chose not to provide any help in the investigation.

Roger. You had your chance to clear your name. You chose not to. Now STFU!

Goodbye Nickel Creek! I Hardly Knew Ya

Friday Nov 30, 2007

Nickel Creek PosterI was driving into work about 3 weeks ago listening to Lightning 100, a radio station recommended to me by a co-worker. They did one of those “on this day in history” things and then proceeded to pose a question that you could call in and answer to win something. On that date in history, Al Gore called George W. Bush to concede the 2000 election only to call him back a few hours later and retract his concession. The question was something like, “What voting technology caused the confusion in Palm Beach County Florida during the 2000 presidential election?”. Having lived through the whole thing from a few counties away, I knew the answer. It was the Butterfly Ballot.

I thought there was no way I would win for two reasons. 1. Everyone knows the answer to that question. 2. I’ve never called Lightning 100 before, so I’d have to dial the number manually not having it on speed dial yet. I dialed the number and got a busy signal. Redial. Busy signal. I surmised that if the line was still busy, nobody had the right answer yet. I redialed a total of about 15 times and it started ringing. The DJ answered. I expected her to say that someone had already gotten the answer. Instead, she asked what my answer was. I said, “The Butterly Ballot” and she said “Thank God! You don’t know how many idiots called in and said ‘The Hanging Chad’”. The conversation continued briefly alternating between her ranting about the general ignorance of people and welcoming me to Nashville. She took all my information and told me I could pick up the tickets at their studios and should do it soon because the concert was on November 29th.

To tell the truth, I didn’t know what I had won tickets to and being hesitant to be yet another ignorant idiot in her eyes, I didn’t ask. I went to their web site and saw that a group called Nickel Creek were playing at The Ryman on the 29th. It was later confirmed by a few co-workers that I had won tickets to see Nickel Creek. They heard my name announced on the radio. One of them was the same co-worker that had recommended the radio station to me. I didn’t even hear the announcement as I went into Publix right after handing up the phone.

I looked up Nickel Creek on Wikipedia to see what I should expect. I found this part interesting…

In late summer 2006, via Billboard and their official website, Nickel Creek announced that at the end of the year they would no longer be recording together as a group and their tour scheduled through 2007 would be their last for an indefinite period of time. According to Thile, “It’s always been so natural, but lately it hasn’t been quite as natural and we’re running the risk of actually having to break up. We would rather leave it for a while, while it’s still intact and healthy.”

I also saw that the last two dates of their tour were the two dates at The Ryman and my tickets would be for their final show. A rare opportunity albeit a sad one. I have a curse when it comes to adding new (to me) artists to my musical horizon. Either I get into someone who releases albums about as often as Haley’s Comet comes around: Daniel Lanois, Peter Gabriel, Marc Cohn, Lindsey Buckingham. Or, I get into a group that is no longer together: The Band. Or, I get into someone who is dead: Harry Nilsson, Jeff Buckley. I got into Jeff Buckley in 2003 later to find out that he’d been dead for six years.

The concert was great! If you labeled their music as Bluegrass, you’d be missing what they’re all about. It’s a conglomeration of styles (Rock, Folk, Jazz) with Bluegrass influences. A mandolin, violin, guitar and stand-up bass make up the band. The lead singer, Chris Thile, is an amazing mandolin player. He can play the Bluegrass and Celtic styles of mandolin very well but then he takes it to the next level and rocks out on the thing. He’s the Jimi Hendrix of the mandolin. He didn’t set it on fire; but it wouldn’t have surprised me. They played a lot of their songs and I can’t say there was a bad one in the bunch. They also did covers of I Want You Back by the Jackson 5, Taxman by The Beatles and The Weight by The Band.

One really cool aspect of the concert were the guest appearances by Béla Fleck, Chris’ father Scott Thile (on stand-up bass), Benmont Tench, Tim O’Brien, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

After their last song, Nickel Creek came back on for an encore. And what an encore. They brought back on all of their guest performers and it pretty much was a bluegrass jam session that lasted the better part of 45 minutes. Phenomenal!

The end got a little emotional. They sang a goodbye song a cappella and you could feel the emotion both from them and the audience. They’ve made a lot of people happy with their music and the feeling, at least from the fans, was that this was the end. I tend to look at it in a different way. It gives them the freedom to branch out and work with other musicians more than they’ve done in the past. The output of good music and happiness from these three gifted musicians will be multiplied as they go their separate ways.

Colin Hay Concert

Tuesday Oct 16, 2007

I’ve always thought Colin Hay, the former lead singer of Men at Work, is underrated. Most people only know of him from his days with Men at Work. They were very popular in the 80’s and were known for very catchy pop tunes. Who Can It Be Now? and Down Under were big hits. They capitalized on the popularity and style of The Police and added their own quirkiness. The reason Hay is underrated is because people only think of him in terms of these popular catchy tunes. First of all, if you just take the lyrics to these popular songs and remove them from that context, you start to see their depth.

If you listen to Hay’s later work, including his latest album Are You Lookin’ At Me?, you start to see the true brilliance of his songwriting. Very deep and introspective, yet simple. You won’t see a lot of silly love songs among his works. That’s a good thing if you ask me.

He has a great sense of humor. A lot of people remember him for his lazy eye. It was very prominent in the MTV era. Well, he released a CD called Company of Strangers on his own label, Lazy Eye America. His latest album is titled Are You Lookin’ At Me?. Both self-deprecating references to that lazy eye.

His sense of humor was fully in force during his concert a few weeks ago at The Wild Horse Saloon here in Nashville. Regine and I had VIP tickets and sat at a round table that literally touched the stage. Hay told funny stories about his life and the ups and downs of his career. He even made fun of Bob Dylan, having been at his concert the week before.

He played most of the songs he is known for as well as new stuff from his latest album. He switched from solo acoustic to full electric with his band. The show was thoroughly entertaining. I left with an even bigger appreciation for Colin Hay and his work.

Bob Dylan At The Ryman

Tuesday Oct 2, 2007

Regine and I went to see Bob Dylan at The Ryman Auditorium a couple of weeks ago. Here are some notes I sent to a friend of mine…

OK, so now I can say I’ve seen Bob Dylan in concert. Don’t have to do that again. Given the fact that the man is 66 years old and spent about 10 years in a drug-induced haze, I have to give him props. He played a fairly long set. I kept saying to myself, “This sucks”. But then I would say to myself, “But it’s Bob Dylan”. A thought kept coming into my mind that he could croak at any moment right there on stage - and I could say I was at his last concert.

Amos Lee, the opening act, was good but generally uninspiring. Might have been different if I were familiar with his music. Always tough to be introduced to someone’s music for the first time at a live event.

Next was a very pleasant surprise. Even though he is touring with Dylan, Elvis Costello was not listed for the Ryman dates. He came on unannounced and played solo acoustic guitar for about 40 minutes. At one point he broke into a rendition of “Suspicious Minds” and then back into one of his songs. I wouldn’t have taken the time out to see him had he been playing alone; but I’m glad I got to see him. Regine, my wife, is too young to know much about Costello and her first impression from last night was, “He’s weird”. I don’t think she realized the musical genius of someone who could stand there with just a guitar and a microphone and play any song he wanted, make it his own, and fill the auditorium with full rich sound.

As I said, Dylan was almost impossible to understand. He didn’t do much of the stuff he is famous for. The highlight was when Jack White, who lives here in Nashville and seems to be our shining star, came on stage and first did a duet with Dylan and then did “One More Cup of Coffee” without Dylan butting in. He tore the place up with his guitar. It’s good to know that rock isn’t dead.

The $4.99 Clock Radio

Friday Mar 9, 2007

Since I’m in the process of moving, I don’t have all of my stuff here in Nashville yet. One of the necessities I just didn’t have room to lug up here was my alarm clock. It’s a Sony that lets you set two alarms. I like it and don’t plan on replacing it anytime soon.

I was walking through my local Target looking for an alarm clock. Walking past the Dyson Root 6 and trying not to drool, I ended up at the digital clocks. I found a little Sony for $24.99. It was basically a smaller version of the one I have. I didn’t want to spend 25 bucks on something I wouldn’t be using for more than a couple of months. Yes Regine, we could put it in the guest room when I’m done with it. I picked one up and decided to see what other fun electronics they had. Something strange caught my eye, a price marker for $4.99 in the middle of all the higher-priced alarm clocks. My curiosity was piqued.

What kind of clock radio could you possible get for 5 dollars? Some of you might be remembering the 5 dollar milkshake from Pulp Fiction. But an alarm clock is supposed to last more than 30 minutes. I picked up the box and looked at it. It was cute. Sort of looks like a Mac Mini albeit smaller and made out of cheap gray plastic.Clock Box AM?… check. FM?… check. Alarm?… check Numbers?… check. What is missing? I’ll tell you what’s missing. The extra digit in front of the price. I decided to buy one and see if it really worked.

What really amazes me is how anybody, Target or the manufacturer can make any money selling an “FM/AM Clock Radio” for $4.99. If Target pays 50% to the manufacturer, that’s $2.50. There must be more than that in parts here. An LED display, a power cord, a wire antenna, some dials, some buttons, and a speaker. Not to mention the slow boat to get it from China to California and the truck to get it from California to Nashville. Somebody is making very little money here. You know who it is? It’s Sony. They didn’t make one penny.

ClockI took the clock home, plugged it in, set the time, set the alarm. It has kept perfect time and woken me up reliably 4 days in a row. A part of me expects the thing to just stop working one day. But every day it does work is one more day that I’m amazed.

I’ve Been Busy

Monday Mar 5, 2007

OK. So I haven’t posted yet this year. I have an excuse. If you’re in my email address book, you probably know why. I’ve been busy changing jobs and moving from Miami to Nashville. Many people think that it’s a crazy move. Most of them don’t live in Miami. Yet another city on my list that’s a nice place to visit - but you wouldn’t want to live there.

But what about the weather? It’s so good. Again, the vacation mentality. It’s good if you’re wearing a bathing suit, sitting by the pool, drinking something cold. It’s not so good if you’re going to/from work or running errands. You’re constantly running between your air-conditioned car and an air-conditioned building; trying your best not to turn into a human wet sponge. I prefer to have more than one season per year; even if one of them is a bit cold.

But what about the night clubs? I’m 44 years old. I gave that up a long time ago.

People in South Florida are rude and generally oblivious to the fact that there are other people on this planet besides themselves. I’m glad to now live somewhere where people are nice, pleasant and courteous. It was a bit of a culture shock at first. Now, it’s just nice.

I am in the process of learning Southern as a second language. I can understand it fairly well; I just can’t speak it yet.

I honestly can’t think of anything I’ll miss about Miami.