From One Mourning Son To Another

My connection to Dave Navarro and his art goes back 30 years now. It was in 1988, at age 14, that I was introduced to Jane’s Addiction. Dave’s guitar playing was a perfect blend of metallic and artistic, and I couldn’t get enough of it (even to this day). After viewing the documentary ‘Mourning Son’ by Dave and Todd Newman, the connection I feel has shifted to a different gear, and it has absolutely nothing to do with music.

‘Mourning Son’ tells the story of Dave’s mother being brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend in March of 1983 when Dave was just 15 years old. Also shown in graphic detail is the way he attempted to cope with this unthinkable loss, by turning to serious drug use to numb the pain. Eventually, through therapy, art, and focusing on all the positive attributes of his mother and his relationship with her, he was able to cope in a much healthier and peaceful way. I knew about this documentary for nearly 3 years before I gathered the courage to watch it, simply because I wasn’t sure if I could face it due to my own life story.

Just 2 months after Connie Navarro’s untimely death, my mother, Fran, was confined to our couch. I was 9 years old, and I was unable to make sense of why my mother was hallucinating, speaking about nonsensical things, and looking like a shell of the Mom that I knew. I did know that at times I heard her on the phone speaking quietly about tranquilizers, and allegations of my father cheating, being seen with another woman, etc. But at that young age, I was unable to process or make sense of any of this. All I knew was that things were bad, and I was terrified.

I came home from school one day, walked through the front door, and the first thing I saw was my Mom with her eyes rolled back in her head, seemingly speaking in tongues. Everything felt like it was in slow motion. The neighbor from across the street came running in the house, carried her to his car (knocking our coffee table over in the process). I stood there, silent and stunned, with my bookbag still slung over my shoulders. That was the last time I ever saw her alive. She was in intensive care, and because of my age, I was told I was not allowed to see her. She passed away overnight.

I have never known anyone else who lost a parent at a young age. So watching Dave in ‘Mourning Son’ was, in a way, like looking in a mirror. The way he looked when talking about his mother is the way I feel when thinking about mine. And those feelings have been unresolved for all these years, simply because the way my family chose to deal with her death was to ignore everything and basically try to never speak about her again. ‘Mourning Son’ helped me realize that I am not alone. Even though the circumstances were different in terms of the way these two women were taken away, there certainly are some similarities. It also taught me to try to focus on the positive aspects of my short relationship with my Mom, rather than focus on the manner and circumstances under which she was taken away. For these reasons, I am grateful to Dave for making this documentary. I now look at him as so much more than one of my musical heroes. And as if it wasn’t already special, the guitar pick he threw to me in 2016 with his mother’s portrait on it has taken on a whole new level of importance to me.

Mike

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Top 5 Albums of 2017

There were a good number of solid albums that I enjoyed in 2017, but here are the ones that made the Top 5 cut:

#1: John 5 & The Creatures ‘Season of the Witch’

Jaw-dropping, mind-blowing playing by John 5, matched by equally killer performances by The Creatures, make this hands down my favorite album of the year. While I acknowledge a totally instrumental shredfest is not for everyone, I truly feel any music lover will undoubtedly appreciate the ridiculous amount of talent that goes into pulling off a collection of music of this magnitude. Be on the lookout for the live album that will be released in early 2018.

 

#2: Living Colour ‘Shade’

After many frustrating delays, 2017 finally saw the release of the powerhouse ‘Shade.’ This collection of songs truly span many genres, but most importantly, the Living Colour chemistry not only remained intact, but grew even stronger. This band as a unit is unstoppable, and ‘Shade’ has 13 tracks that show you why. Corey Glover has never sounded better, in my opinion.

 

#3: Body Count ‘Bloodlust’

This a brutal album, not for the faint of heart. Ice-T is a master storyteller, no exception here. When you pair that with the absolutely vicious band, featuring awesome guitar work by Ernie C, you get an album that takes no prisoners. With Ice-T, its all about versatility. He will never be pigeonholed, and he will always do exactly what he wants to do, exactly how he wants to do it.

 

#4: Juliana Hatfield ‘Pussycat’

While much of this album feels like Juliana purging her distaste for our current administration, it goes deeper than that. Her ability to paint a picture with her words and music has always amazed me, and she amps it up on ‘Pussycat.’ I tend to gravitate towards her songs that turn up the volume, distortion, and aggression. ‘Rhinoceros” is my personal favorite (and there is no question who it is about!).

 

#5: Wolf Alice ‘Visions Of A Life’

There are many elements to this album that are intriguing to me. Everything from sublime 90’s shoegaze, to dream pop, to just straight rock. Vocalist Ellie Rowsell gives the type of performance where it is jarring to hear her go from a whisper to a scream at the drop of a dime. It is a very eclectic album that is ultimately extremely enjoyable and satisfying as a whole.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: Diamante

While Diamante did not release a full album in 2017, I loved everything I heard from them this year, including seeing them live. I am looking forward to their full album in 2018, and I am predicting right now that it will be on this list come next year!

 

“All We Need Is Just A Little Patience…”

Have you ever had something unresolved in your life for many years, and you can’t quite shake it as long as it remains unresolved? Please allow me to tell you a quick story.

Back around Spring of ’91, when I was in high school, Guns N’ Roses got announced to play at my hometown arena (Richfield Coliseum) on June 4th, 1991. I was given the task of camping out to purchase four tickets for myself and 3 friends, which I was more than happy to do. I was lucky enough to get four 12th row seats on the floor, and we were good to go. Fast forward to just days before the concert, and my friend Shawn informed me that his parents were not going to allow him to go. Apparently, his parents did not think it would be a safe environment, and he was out of luck. Shawn was the only person I knew that was as big a fan of GN’R as I was, and I was devastated that he could not go. Obviously, he was not a fan of the decision either. I went to the show with other friends, had a great time, but I felt a cloud over the whole thing because Shawn wasn’t there. From that day forward, it became a mission of mine that if even a partial core of GN’R ever reformed, and came to our town, Shawn and I would be there, right up front, to make up for what we missed out on.

Fast forward to 2017, and the partial GN’R reunion. They were finally announced to play The Q Arena in Cleveland on October 26, 2017, and I sprung into action. Shawn and I are still in touch 26 years later, and we coordinated a plan to buy the elusive Pit tickets, to make sure we were up front together. Our plan worked, even though we spent more than we wanted to on the secondary market. We had to wait it out for longer than we ever imagined, but we finally get our chance in a few days.

Of course, I am more obsessed than ever to get us into the front row of the pit due to the extenuating circumstance, so I have been a nervous wreck. What if the ticket line we get into gets held up, and other lines go streaming down into the Pit before us? Scenarios like that have been flooding my brain, only because I want this to go right so we can have the best time possible. I do realize the frivolity of this compared to everything else going on in the world, but it is still very important to me. Patience is not my strong suit, but hopefully it will pay off this time.

 

RnFnR!

Mike

Review: The Revolution @ House Of Blues Cleveland

Let me start by saying I knew this was not going to be an easy night for anyone involved. This transcended your typical concert experience for both the band and those in attendance. There was really no way to prepare for something like this. It was not a matter of whether or not it would be an emotional experience, but a matter of just how emotional it would get. And would The Revolution be able to successfully navigate this ship through rough waters? In their eyes, there was no choice. They were responsible for all of us present last night, and they took the utmost care to ensure they provided what we needed from them…a night of healing with a heavy dose of fun (and funk) thrown in.

The Revolution, consisting of Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Bobby Z., Dr. Fink, and bassist Brown Mark took the stage to the sounds of the mysterious ‘Computer Blue’ intro, and I lost my damn mind, headbanging, throwing the horns, and probably scaring Brown Mark a bit (although his smile said he may have been enjoying my antics). This was just the start of the emotional roller coaster for me. When they started off ‘Take Me With U,’ that was the first instance of my emotions getting the best of me. I always loved that song so much going back to age 10 in ’84, that I was picturing myself playing the record in my bedroom, happily singing along, and I just lost it. It wouldn’t be the last time either.

Guest singer Stokley Williams helped out with killer versions of Prince classics like ‘Uptown,’ ‘D.M.S.R.,’ and ‘1999.’ The great think about Stokley was that he never tried to duplicate, only celebrate. He came across very genuine, and immensely talented. I think it was a great decision to have someone of his caliber come out and do those vocals justice. Speaking of vocals, Brown Mark did an EXCELLENT job on lead vocals for some songs. The tension was mounting up to the next portion of the show that would prove to be unforgettable.

I am just going to come out right now and say that Wendy and Lisa’s duet version of ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’ utterly destroyed me. Like complete destruction. And I was not the only one, judging by people around me. Wendy’s gentle acoustic guitar work, along with her poignant and haunting lead vocal was something I will never forget. It took about a whole 20 seconds for me to break down. It was the kind of performance that sticks with you long term, and sneaks up on you when you least expect it. From there, they had the impossible task of getting the energy level back up, but they sure met the challenge with ‘Let’s Go Crazy.’

After a few more classics like ‘Delirious,’ ‘Kiss,’ and ‘When Doves Cry,’ it was time for the final devastating blow of the evening. It literally took Wendy strumming the opening chords to ‘Purple Rain’ to turn me (and hundreds of others) into blubbering puddles. The performance was a thing of beauty. And again, the band was up to the challenge of picking everyone back up and carrying them to the finish line with ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and a frenetic ‘Baby I’m a Star.’ When the band began to come up to take their final bow, my night was made when Brown Mark came to the edge of the stage, slammed one of his picks into my hand, and held tight for a few seconds. Then Dr. Fink came running up to the edge of the stage to shake my hand. Moments like that make all the years of undying support 100% worth it. I truly hope The Revolution continues to stay together for years to come, and maybe even release some new music. As evidenced last night, they have a huge support system to back them up.
– Mike

One Year Gone: A Tribute To Prince

My connection to Prince goes way back to my childhood. For me, the one year anniversary of his untimely death is a time to look back on various experiences that involved him and his music. Internalizing this stuff does not feel right, so I will share some with you.

  • 1984 (age 10)- I rode my bike to the local record store with a pocket full of change to purchase Purple Rain on vinyl, as well as seeing the movie in the theater on a Saturday afternoon, are priceless early memories. That record and movie solidified the fact that I would be a Prince fan for the rest of my life.

 

  • 1987- Upon the release of Sign o’ the Times, I became so enthralled with that record, that I spent many hours in my darkened bedroom putting my own imagery to the sounds. Basically I was creating movies in my head based on the songs, complete with distinct characters, etc. Something about those songs kicked my 13 year old imagination into overdrive…and I couldn’t get enough.

 

  • 1997- Prince visited Cleveland for the first time since the Purple Rain tour, so this was my first opportunity to see him live. I was lucky enough to score a general admission ticket on the floor. I arrived at the venue extremely early, and when my ticket was taken, I proceeded to fly into the arena like a rocket, down the stairs, past the security guard that was trying to stop me from running, and I never stopped until I hit the barricade. When Prince hit the stage, I immediately started crying. There he was, close enough for me to reach out and touch him (I wouldn’t dare), after waiting for so many years to see him. Unforgettable.

 

  • 1998- He returned to Cleveland for another show at the same venue as the previous year, but this time, the after party would arguably be more memorable for me than the concert itself. After leaving the gig during the encore, I quickly made my way to the club that was hosting the party. I was one of the first people to arrive, and after forking over my $20, I was given a thorough pat-down and entered the club. After about a half hour, more concert-goers began to arrive. As I was watching people out on the dance floor, I turned to my right, and to my surprise, Chaka Khan was standing next to me. A short time later, I saw security guards scamper towards a door on the opposite side of the club from where I was. I quickly made my way across the dance floor to get a closer look, the door opened, and in walked Prince in his bedazzled glory, cane and all. Let me correct myself, it was much more of a glide than straight up walking. He moved right past me, no more than a few feet away, flanked by security. His presence was palpable and electrifying. He spent much of the night in an upstairs VIP area that overlooked the dance floor, occasionally reaching his cane down so people could jump up and touch it. Amazing night.

 

  • 2002- The One Nite Alone tour came to Cleveland, and I was lucky enough to get in to witness the astonishing soundcheck and Q&A session up close and personal. Prince was charming and unassuming, answering many questions about his guitars, lyrics, etc. This was one of the most surreal things I have ever experienced, and I distinctly remember not wanting it to end.

 

  • 2016- The day I wish I could forget. When I heard the news on the radio, I had the strangest sensation of my senses temporarily failing me. I felt as though I could not hear very well or see very well. I felt a sense of electrical shocks through my body. My first reaction was complete and utter denial…until I could not escape the news on every radio station, television network, and social media outlet. That feeling of shock, dread, and despair did not leave me for weeks, and I know I was not alone. What started to make me feel better was thinking about the years of personal memories I had, and how lucky I was to have shared 5 different evenings in the same building with him.

 

For quite a while after his passing, I was not hearing the music the same as I always had. The best way I could describe it is going from hearing the music in vibrant colors, to hearing it only in black and white. Something about the fact that I knew he was no longer here was making it not nearly as enjoyable to listen to. I have since broken through that, basically by coming to the realization that whether he is still with us or not, that music will ALWAYS be a part of me, and nobody can ever take that away.

Thank you, Prince…for everything.

Review: John 5 and the Creatures @ Cleveland Agora

Many times, a concert is just a concert. Other times, you get more than you bargained for. That was the case last night as John 5 brought his insanely talented Creatures to the Cleveland Agora, and proceeded to give the near capacity crowd a show they won’t soon forget. More on that in a moment…

I have attended many, many shows over the last 30+ years, and I can only recall 2 times where I stood just feet away from a person playing a musical instrument and was legitimately emotionally moved by their playing. The first was Billy Sheehan absolutely destroying his bass with Mr. Big. Second was Prince, making sounds come out of a guitar that did not seem at all humanly possible. After last night, I can officially add John 5 to that esteemed list. After pondering for a while what the common thread was between these three experiences, I finally figured it out. All three individuals had not only the highest level of talent imaginable, but also the greatest amount of passion for their instrument. That combination is something magical, and John 5 squeezed every ounce of talent and passion he had, and left it on the Agora stage last night.

They tore through a set made up primarily of songs from 2014’s ‘Careful With That Axe,’ as well as the new release ‘Season Of The Witch.’ John 5 is well-known for switching styles at the drop of a hat, but in a live setting, it is even more stunning to behold. To witness him tear through a straight metal song with fingers flying at the speed of light, to deftly picking a banjo a few minutes later, is truly something to behold. Plus we got the whole bag of tricks, including the lava lamp guitar, the LED lit guitar, his guitar being handed to the crowd to play, really something for everyone. I even got a fantastic personal experience when during ‘Making Monsters,’ John 5 came to the front of the stage, grabbed me around my head, and proceeded to still crush the song being head to head with me. Oh, and the medley to close out the show? Mind blowing. There were homages to Van Halen, Ted Nugent, Alice In Chains, White Zombie, KISS, The Police, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Marilyn Manson, and many more.

So I mentioned earlier about it being “more than a concert.” To expand on that a bit, what I mean was I walked away inspired…inspired to really nail down what it is that I am passionate about and commit myself to it. When you watch John 5 play, you are seeing someone who never wakes up in the morning and begrudgingly forces himself to play guitar. He probably dreams about guitars (in between dreams about KISS, Mad Monster Party, Planet of the Apes, etc.). His passion and joy that he exudes while being on stage and playing for people is undoubtedly contagious, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

SETLIST

Guitars, Tits and Monsters

Flight of the Vulcan Kelly

666 Pickers

Here’s to the Crazy Ones

This Is My Rifle

Jiffy Jam

Hell Haw

Season of the Witch

Portrait of Sydney Sloan

First Victim

(solo)

Black Grass Plague

Behind the Nut Love

Making Monsters

Beat It (Michael Jackson cover)

Now Fear This

(Medley)

 

 

Review: Gene Simmons (Cleveland Agora- 3/18/17)

This was a historic night for the KISS Army. Cleveland was the site of the very first full Gene Simmons solo concert (not counting the corporate gig a few weeks back). In addition, the Cleveland Agora became the first venue to ever host a solo show by both Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley (who played there on 3/2/89). But did Gene deliver the goods? You bet your ass he did!

Backed by an insanely talented group of musicians otherwise known for playing regular gigs in Nashville under the moniker ‘Thee Rock N’ Roll Residency’, Gene and his band tore through a mix of classic KISS gems, Gene solo songs, and a tribute to the late Chuck Berry, who passed away earlier in the day. It is widely known that the band members are huge KISS fans. They played these songs with reverence, but also with an intensity that made the crowd feel that they were truly witnessing something special. I truly believe the band gave Gene confidence to take a few chances with the setlist, and it sure paid off.

The set kicked off with a raucous version of ‘Radioactive,’ off the Gene Simmons 1978 solo album, and the energy kicked into a higher gear with the KISS classic, ‘Deuce.’ For the fans who wanted KISS deep cuts, Gene did not disappoint, as the crowd was treated to ‘Almost Human’ early in the set, as well as a one-two punch of ‘Plaster Caster’ and ‘Charisma.’ Another huge surprise of the night was the inclusion of ‘Got Love For Sale.’

A poignant moment in the show came when Gene preached about the importance of Chuck Berry to rock n’ roll music, and the band tore into an impromptu cover of ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ He also made it clear that he wanted the crowd to have fun, and he was clearly having fun himself. The show ended with KISS staples ‘Let Me Go, Rock and Roll’ and ‘Rock and Roll All Nite,’ in which Gene invited female members of the audience on stage to sing the chorus.

Clearly there was a very loose, fun vibe to this show. This is exactly the kind of show fans wanted, and Gene pulled out all the stops to make it a good time for all involved. This could be a stepping stone to more shows of this nature during KISS’ downtime, and I don’t think the KISS Army would mind one bit.

Setlist:

Radioactive

Deuce

Nothin’ To Lose

Calling Dr. Love

Almost Human

Cold Gin

I Love It Loud

Got Love For Sale

Parasite

Plaster Caster

 Charisma

See You Tonight

Christine Sixteen

Johnny B. Goode

War Machine

Let Me Go, Rock and Roll

Rock and Roll All Nite

Review: John 5 and the Creatures- Season of the Witch

From the opening track, ‘Book of Spells,’ which sounds like the score to a sinister horror flick, John 5 and The Creatures take the listener on a trip through hell and back, with many interesting stops along the way. The band, rounded out by drummer Rodger Carter and bassist Ian Ross, is about a tight a trio as you will ever come across. There is a freakishly strong chemistry here that even at its most manic moments, ties this record together as a cohesive piece.

Things immediately kick into high gear with ‘The Black Grass Plague,’ showcasing each band members’ insane proficiency on their respective instruments. On this track, we get a drum solo, bass solo, and John 5 doing things no human should EVER be able to do on guitar, mandolin, and banjo. Trust me, you will need many, many spins to have a prayer of taking it all in. There are literally zero clunkers on this record, so it is pointless to list standout tracks. However a few of my other personal favorites are ‘Making Monsters,’ complete with intro provided by one of my favorite childhood movies ‘Mad Monster Party?,’ and ‘Hell Haw’ where John gets to show off his country roots. In addition, the incredibly emotional piece ‘Ode to Jasper,’ dedicated to John’s beloved dog who passed away recently, is enough to extract tears from any animal lover.

There is literally something for everyone here, from searing metal to country/bluegrass. I can’t imagine a record with more variety and crossed-genres than this one. The lack of vocals really allows you to focus on the mayhem unfolding. Make no mistake, this is a true labor of love. You can hear it in every note. There is not a ton of money to be made with a record like this (although there should be, in a perfect world). This is the work of a man who wakes up every day happy to have earned this level of musical talent, has achieved a standard of virtuosity most people can only dream of, yet still looks for ways to improve his playing. As avid music fans, we are the lucky ones who benefit when an artist of this magnitude shares their work with us. We need to do our part to support it. This is a record that you will marvel at for a long time to come.

 

5 of 5 Devil Horns:

\m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

 

Mike

I Finally Found My Missing ‘Cats’

I’m sure that everyone reading this has many examples of a certain band, song, or record that they immediately equate to a certain time in their lives. Something that is probably a little less common is completely blocking out one of those important connections due to a traumatic life event. That is what happened to me, and this is a story of re-connection after many years.

Somewhere around mid-1982, when I was 8 years old, my mother suddenly became sick. But what I thought was a physical illness was really the effects of her self-medicating due to her failing relationship with my father (not her fault in the least, but that is another story for another time). With what my mother was going through came lots of strange symptoms that were quite scary…things like hallucinations. My brain could not quite process this, and the other adults in my life were too self-absorbed to realize what was happening. My escape was music, as it had been for years already, but I needed a new connection to help me get through this. That connection was made through an unlikely source. All of this came back to me recently after nearly 35 years of it being in “mental hibernation.”

My new neighbors who had recently moved in to the tiny house next door were a couple in their mid-twenties, named Anthony and Debbie. They were very friendly, and always said hello to me, which at this time in my life meant a great deal. At some point during this time period, Debbie came over to my house, possibly to check on my mom due to the fact that I was acting worried. She could see that there was something pretty major happening, and I remember her telling me that since I liked music, I could come over and play her records any time I wanted to. So I began to take her up on the offer as another small way to escape the stress of what was happening at home.

As I looked through her records for the first time, the Stray Cats immediately caught my eye. Aesthetically, they probably reminded me of the TV show ‘Happy Days,’ but when I dropped the needle on the record, I was immediately mesmerized by the sheer energy of the music. Every time I went back to their house, I immediately went for the Stray Cats records. The strange thing was, I could have bought the records myself, but there was something about going to that house and playing those records that was cathartic for me. 

Going into 1983, my mom’s condition worsened, and by May of that year, she was gone. While I still communicated with my neighbors, I don’t recall going back there to play records after she passed away. In fact, I don’t recall much of the rest of that year. I do know that those records helped me power through that time period, but after my mother’s death, I never went back to them. In fact, I never was able to remember anything about this even when Stray Cats songs were played on the radio. This all just came flooding back to me within the past year. When I hear those songs now, I have a strong appreciation for what they did for me, and I have many years of fandom to catch up on now. With the news of an impending reunion in 2017, who knows, maybe I will actually get to see them live for the first time. You already know this, but remember, never underestimate the power of music!

Your friend,

Mike

25 Years Of Lollapalooza

At 17 years old, I was searching for my identity like many kids that age. I felt insecure, misunderstood, and lacked a sense of belonging. I was having trouble comprehending where I fit in. All that began to change on August 5th, 1991, 25 years ago today.

Going into the Lollapalooza show, I recall thinking of it as “just another concert,” although the lineup boasted three of my favorite bands/artists at the time in Jane’s Addiction, Living Colour, and Ice-T. Rounding out the eclectic lineup was Siouxsie and the Banshees, Rollins Band, Butthole Surfers, and the up and coming Nine Inch Nails. As the day went on, and the more I soaked in the atmosphere, I slowly came to the realization that this was EXACTLY where I belonged. I truly feel in my heart that Perry Farrell helped create this festival not for financial reasons, but to give people like me a day where they could learn about themselves while being surrounded by beautiful art of all forms.

I recall the performances by all artists being passionate and heavy, but most of all, I recall feeling happy and fulfilled by the end of the night. Lollapalooza taught me that music, especially in a live setting, was the most beautiful art form in the world. I felt a sense of community that I was not feeling at Poison shows, or Guns N’ Roses shows. This was emphatically different. That day shaped me for many years to come, up to the present day. It affected the way I dressed, the way I heard music, and the overall confidence I had. I am forever grateful for that experience, and I will always carry with me the feeling I had walking to the parking lot that night. The feeling of knowing I was part of something special, a cultural movement. Days like that sometimes only come once in a lifetime, and I only hope my children experience a day like that in their lifetime. Thank you to everyone who performed, and who made that day possible for me and many others.

Horns Up!

Mike