Phoebe (2/14/2002 – 10/11/2014)

The last 18 months living with our eldest dog Phoebe have not been easy. Watching a dog you love suffer.  And yet not being able to really do anything about it. Not being able to just ask her how she feels.  The last two months harder still. But today was the hardest of all.

She came to us in April 2002. Just four weeks old she had been dropped off at the local animal hospital. She had been abused. We met her and though we had two other large dogs at the time, Casey and Kilgore, we thought about it, and decided we would give her a home. But before we could pick her up, another family said they wanted her. We stepped back thinking she’d found a perfect home. But then a week later she was returned to the hospital, again abused. We picked her up that day.

It was April 1st, 2002. And though we didn’t really know know what her birthday was, we decided it would be Valentine’s Day.

A photo that was shown to us of Phoebe before we even met her.

A photo that was shown to us of Phoebe before we even met her.

Kris came up with her name.  I actually wanted to call her Winona Ryder.  (No joke.)

My favorite memory of Phoebe was of course when she misbehaved.  I had been in LA shooting a film and was home for a few days.  All I wanted was some amazing New Haven brick oven apizza.  We sat down to dinner.  Because we eat so late, we almost always do so sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table and TV.  I had my first four slices on my plate.  I ran back to the fridge for a beer, but when I returned only three places sat on my plate.  Casey and Kilgore looked mortified.  Despite the food being right at their level, they knew better.  But there was Phoebe munching down that piece of pie.  She was young.  She hadn’t learned the rules yet.

She’d always been our difficult dog. Moody, often times bitchy, and certainly neurotic, she was also loving, loyal, and, well, our 75 pound lap dog. She was the best blanket in the world on a cold New England night. And damn if she didn’t love having those floppy ears scratched.

Casey certainly loved her as if she were her own pup. They would have epic races in the yard as to which of them could get to the tennis ball or frisbee in our back yard first. Casey would usually win, sometimes I think towards the end it was because Phoebe let her. Kilgore would rarely partake. If he did if was usually to snatch the toy away, go lie under a tree, and chew it to pieces.

I will always remember the night Casey died in March of 2006. Kilgore was barking his head off at 3 in the morning. I came downstairs to find Phoebe cowering under the table, and Kilgore running to me, then running into the living room, and back again. He brought me to Casey, who had passed without warning.

I know they both missed Casey in their own way, but Phoebe especially turned into a loner dog. Kilgore didn’t have much patience, and by this time he was a grumpy old man. And when his turn came in October 2008, I honestly think Phoebe truly enjoyed her life most for a few months there as an only dog.

Always my favorite photo of Phoebe.  Feel it really captures her personality.

Always my favorite photo of Phoebe. Feel it really captures her personality.

Then we brought Springsteen home, and the epic races for the tennis ball started up again, and once again the younger dog would let the older dog win.

Phoebe was definitely a people dog. Not all that fond of other animals, she just wanted attention. She just wanted a treat. She just wanted to play ball. She was a lab/hound mix, gangly and beautiful.

Springsteen (front) and Phoebe

Springsteen (front) and Phoebe

In recent months, though she could barely walk, she’d still bring you a tennis ball out in the yard and drop it right at your feet. I would always toss it lightly. And despite her trouble in retrieving it, she’d bring it right back and wait for me to toss it again. The joy she received from playing ball outweighed any pain she might have been feeling.

I even played ball with her out in the rain this morning.  One last time.  Though after bringing the ball back to me twice, she gave up.  The pain was finally winning out.

I hope she can chase balls for eternity on the other side. With Casey once again running by her side. And hopefully Kilgore will wait a bit, enjoying the reunion, until he snatches away the ball and chews it to bits.

I hope we came through for her and gave her the life she deserved.

I hope she’s not suffering anymore.

R.I.P. Phoebe.

Phoebe earlier today.  (It has already been a very long morning.)

Phoebe earlier today. (It has already been a very long morning.)

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Who is Lydia Loveless?

Today a musician friend asked me, “Who is Lydia Loveless? Is it a singer or is it a band?”

If he had asked that question back in July, right after I had seen her as an opening act. playing a big dreadnaught guitar, with Benjamin Lamb on mostly acoustic bass, I would have answered simply, and honestly, “Lydia Loveless is the greatest singer on the face of the planet.”

And yes, I do believe that down to the core of my being. She could sing the list of ingredients from a bottle of Newman’s Own Lite Caesar dressing and break your heart. Every note is a novel of emotion, vulnerability, power, and ultimately confidence. Every note is David slaying Goliath. She straps you onto an emotional roller coaster of love, lust, drunken mistakes, a little stalking, a lot of heartbreak, and you’re left breathless, stunned, happy to have taken the ride. Wishing it would begin again, right freaking now.

But after seeing Ms. Loveless play live with a full band twice this weekend, first at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Massachusetts, and then at the Studio at Webster Hall in New York City, my answer could just as well be, “Lydia Loveless is the best fucking rock band on the planet.”

And I don’t mean the typical singer/songwriter with guitar backed by a bunch of great studio musicians making every note sound like the record. I mean a fucking band. Every member sweating in sync with the other, creating a chaotic Irish car bomb of beautiful noise. Each player an integral wire without whom the entire conceit might simply never detonate.

Sure, that voice is still there. But now the acoustic has been replaced by an old G&L electric with P90 pickups that growl like a feral dog. Or a Fender Tele that looks a little frightened every time she straps it on. Now she gets lost in the songs in a complete different way, her hair whipping into her face, her eyes fluttering strobe-like, she’s possessed, a punk rock shaman. And when she holds onto a note now, you feel the gut punch. You can see your own soul leaving your body. On the song “Mile High” she asks, “Can I have one taste of every breath that you take?” But in the breakneck live version, she doesn’t ask nicely. She literally takes your breath away, and leaves you gasping at the end, you chest heaving from the heartbreak that please no, the song can’t be over.

There is something about that song which kills me. Released as a Record Store Day 45 this past April, it’s become to me the song of the summer, the song of the year. Honestly the song of the half-over decade.   And live there’s an unexpected urgency. An anger not on the single. When she sings the best line from any song in years, “And my heart’s breaking faster than my will not to call you,” at the start of the second verse, it’s ramped up now, piercing, her anger turned inward. The sexy playfulness of the first verse also takes on different meaning. She’s pulled the rug out on our very belief system that we might have known what the song was about. When it was over I wanted her to play it again. Then again after that, as I do so often in my Jeep. I want her playing it right now in my kitchen as I write this. Like a piece of art, you pull back a layer every time you hear it thinking there can’t be more. This is it. But like any great piece of art, there’s always more. The artist smirking, daring you to read the fine print on their soul.

Her stage banter also felt different when she was wielding an electric guitar. Self-deprecating, sarcastic, funny-flirty. It’s her party, though she might be having second thoughts as to having sent out so many invites. And the middle-finger salute she gave to the hipster boys with their cellphone cameras held high during the New York City show certainly made this old man smile.

Lydia Loveless at the Studio at Webster Hall.  Photo by Brendan Welsh-Balliett

Lydia Loveless at the Studio at Webster Hall. Photo by Brendan Welsh-Balliett

But as I’ve said, in this incarnation, Ms. Loveless is a pack leader. This is a real band. I cannot stress that enough. This is The Replacements with Bob Stinson on that stage. And you know I don’t use that comparison lightly. But I think even Mr. Stinson would be pleased with Todd May playing his the part.

Mr. May is a category 5 hurricane on stage, wrestling an over-driven noise from a beat-up G&L with a neck so black Springsteen’s old “Born to Run” Tele would be jealous. He’s the living breathing example of playing all the wrong notes so beautifully at the right time. He’s Quasimodo, hunched over in his little corner of the stage, stomping and suddenly glaring, his eyes going wide as if he had sold his soul to the devil, and now was the time to pay up. He’ll lean over his old Fender Bassman amp, stealing from it whispers of distortion to feed to his leads, his fills. Teasing, taunting every note with it like a piece of meat to a junkyard dog.

On the opposite side of the stage is Jay Gasper on pedal steel and 12-string. But he ain’t your granddad’s pedal steel player. He’s Freddy Kreuger. He’ll lure you into submission with the lilting open of “Somewhere Else” and then shatter your perception of what that instrument is supposed to be. When he picks up his Danelectro 12-string things really get strange. No one is supposed to get those sort of sounds from a 12-string. I think they’re illegal in many states. The prettiness has been tattooed and pierced, the fishnet stockings ripped.

Watch Mr. Gasper play and you understand the joy behind every note this band plays. He is truly having an out-of-body experience on stage. Sometimes making comments that will crack Ms. Loveless up. Sometimes just talking to no one. But always grinning from ear-to ear. It’s a beautiful thing.

Behind the drum kit is George Hondroulis. And though drummers rarely get any credit unless they’re Neil Peart, or someone of that ilk, let me state for the record a simple fact, there are no great rock & roll bands without great drummers behind them. Chris Mars was a great drummer. Mark Price is an amazing drummer. Tommy Ramone, you try keeping that beat. That’s the group I put Mr. Hondroulis in. He’s the engine which drives this gloriously dented Dodge Charger with 470 HP under the hood.

And then there’s Benjamin Lamb, who probably looks as if he’d be a better fit in Metallica, playing a stand-up bass, the only thing on the stage taller than he is. But though he might look heavy-metal, the playing reminds me most of Bruce Thomas of Elvis Costello’s band The Attractions. Who was always in my opinion the greatest bass player of all time. Mr. Lamb does more than just add a bottom note to the band’s sound. He brings to the table a alternate melody. He’s playing a lead bass of sort, never getting in the way of the vocals or guitars, but adding yet another layer.

Take for example “Boy Crazy,” which the band closed their raucous tour-ending set with Sunday night. Mr. Lamb puts down the stand-up bass, straps on a fretless electric, and takes position at the lip of the stage. As the ending of the previous song “Crazy” subsides, he rips into this song’s bass line, and suddenly it’s 1977 all over again. The members of the band flailing and wailing, seemingly unaware of each other, yet so perfectly in snyc.  And by the end Ms. Loveless is on her knees swigging beer, battering her guitar. Then, as Mr. Lamb uses the overhead pipes connected to the ceiling as a bow against the strings of his bass, Ms. Loveless leans over her Blues Junior amp, now twisting the controls as if lost in the middle of the ocean and trying desperately to get a signal. Her Tele now just a casualty, lying at her feet, as she stomps on its strings with the heel of her boot. No wonder it looked frightened.

They’re a band. They’re a band. They’re a fucking great band.

(This is a YouTube video by Joe Castrianni of the “Boy Crazy” performance of which I speak.  It will give you an idea of the glorious mayhem at the end of the song.)

And of course this takes nothing away from Ms. Loveless. Did Stinson, Stinson and Mars take anything away from Paul Westerberg? We know the answer to that question all too well.

On stage she is the center of the storm, stomping her left foot backward, an angry tick in time to whichever song. Or pulling her take on Costello’s classic “My Aim Is True” pose, twitching to the music, vibrating with an energy I haven’t seen since Joe Strummer. She’s a guitar string about to snap. (She’s playing hard enough that she broke a string two songs in on Saturday night, and towards the end of her set on Sunday.)

Even when she slows it down, as she did both nights on the haunting new composition “Out On Love,” which brought her to tears in Northampton, there’s a raw poignancy. It’s not a ballad, it’s a slow rocker. She fingerpicks that Tele laced with distortion, as her voice cuts through leaving the crowd stunned and speachless. On Sunday she also played a another new tune, “Real.” Both haunt me now. I want to hear them again. I want to know every word. I want to know how they’ll sound on the next record.

Regarding sets, the Saturday show was shorter due to the venue’s time constraints. The band rocked through most of her new record “Somewhere Else,” changing every song up just enough, adding even more of a whallop. As if the songs themselves had grown up and weren’t afraid to challenge the audience. She ended the set with “Steve Earle” from her “Indestructible Machine” album, the song now slow and bluesy. The words, about a stalker of sorts who looks like Steve Earle, not as light-hearted as on the record. The tone making them menacing now. While she used to be amused, now she’s most certainly disgusted.

In New York they mixed it up more, playing ninety minutes plus. And as charged up as they were on Saturday, this set, the last of their current tour, seemed to explode. “Really Wanna See You Again,” especially had such a punk rock force, from Ms. Loveless counting up out loud right before the vocals kick in, to her spitting out “I really wanna kiss you again right on the mouth and tell you all the things I should have told you then,” with such a vengeance that you were left wondering if it weren’t as much a threat as a letter of desire.

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Lydia Loveless at the Studio at Webster Hall. Photo by Brendan Welsh-Balliett

One of the greatest aspects of rock & roll is not knowing what comes next. And even seeing them back-to-back on consecutive nights I was still surprised on Sunday. The set completely changed up. No rehearsed banter. (I always detest when I see a band a few times and the stage banter from one show to the next is identical. That ain’t rock & roll, that borders on Broadway musical.) No rehearsed moves. The energy they themselves create is what drives Ms. Loveless and company. The spontaneity of the moment seems to be the constant deciding factor as to how a line will be sung, a chord will be strummed, what lick will be played where on the neck. She is a vision to watch as the chaos explodes around her like a nighttime air raid on some war torn city. She’s telling the story, the story behind each song, in the moment with stunning urgency. If she doesn’t make it through the night, at least she will have been heard.

And if I were to compare these two shows to the acoustic performance I saw a few months back, I would simply say “Lydia Loveless, in any incarnation, is the closest thing rock & roll has to a future right now.”  Which I guess is the true answer to my friend’s question.

She deserves the keys to the kingdom. Give them to her now, or better yet, let her and the band storm the castle and take them. I’ll gladly sit back and enjoy the mayhem.

That’s what rock & roll is all about.

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Slim Dunlap benefit at Parkway Theatre in MPLS on All Replacements Eve

Two weeks from tonight, on the eve of the national holiday to celebrate The Replacements (and their St. Paul gig)…we’re throwing a benefit for Slim Dunlap at the Parkway Theatre in Minneapolis, featuring a Scott D. Hudson podcast, two sets of Slim and Mats tunes from a bevy of amazing musicians moderated by Jon Clifford, and a completely different version of Color Me Obsessed, edited just for this night.  (I’m calling it “The Editing Room Floor Edition,” and it doesn’t so much tell the story of the Mats but instead is a collection of many smile-inducing tales, many of which never made it into the film.”)

Plus we will be raffling away tons of cool items all night, including a signed copy of Amanda Petrusich amazing new book on record collecting, a gorgeous Erica Bruce Mats still photo, signed CDs from Lydia LovelessMatthew Ryan, and others, a signed copy of Jim Walsh‘s photographic history, a few dozen DVD’s from my distributor MVD, and so so so so much more…(yes, even some of my crap.)

And all profits are going to help cover Slim’s medical expenses. If you’re in the Twin Cities area…well, you know what you have to do! There will be many great surprises. This is the Mats party everyone will be talking about.

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/719166908137828/

Tickets here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/841675

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Filed under paul westerberg, replacements, the replacements, Uncategorized

Every Everything coming to DVD

Just making sure everyone knows that EVERY EVERYTHING: THE MUSIC, LIFE & TIMES OF GRANT HART will be released on DVD on August 12th. The DVD comes with a boatload of extra interviews with Grant Hart on the following 20 topics:

1. 2541
2. analog vs. digital recording
3. bare ass beach
4. funkytown
5. grant on songwriting, part one
6. grant on songwriting, part two
7. hipsters
8. influences
9. joan rivers
10. mpls vs. saint paul
11. music vs. art
12. rose garden
13. the baby song
14. the collage in real time
15. the hüsker dü logo
16. the loss of the record shop
17. the marx brothers
18. uncut tour of his house
19. what was saved from the fire
20. zen arcade

And yes, his hipster rant is as great as you think it might be!

Order your copy HERE

Every Everything POSTER-final-small

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Filed under documentaries, dvd extras, filmmaking, Grant Hart, Husker Du, rockumentary

Lydia, oh, Lydia, oh, have you heard Lydia…

Everyone who reads this blog has to realize I’m a huge music fan. It’s one of the driving forces in my life. I’ve often said, I don’t believe in god, but I believe in The Replacements. Well, the same can be said of Archers of Loaf, or Patti Smith, or Wilco, or Lucinda Williams, or the Clash, Ida Maria, Neko Case, or even early Rod Stewart, and early Elvis Costello. The music released by these artists are my personal bibles, holy passages that somehow make me understand, and help me survive, and make it all worthwhile. I find solice, I find energy, I find life in these songs.

But why these bands? Sure, there’s something about the song writing. The play on words, the chord progressions, the blessed distortion on the guitars, the wrong notes at the right times. But the one thing all of the above have in common, the singer has a voice unlike any other.

I always compare every voice to Billie Holiday’s. And I think of hers as a fine piece of china. A cup, wise and fragile, with hairline cracks blanketing the surface, making you wonder if the glass will shatter if you touch it the wrong way. But its stronger than anyone can imagine, wise beyond its years. Its survived personal wars and heartbreak, 18-year-old Scotch and the cheapest ripple, piss and vinegar. It might not be the prettiest piece of glass on the shelf, but it’s the one you turn to time and again because its drenched with emotion, and every sip from it makes you feel.

That’s Paul Westerberg’s to me. Or Eric Bachman’s. Patti’s. Lucinda’s. Joe Strummer’s. Jeff Tweedy’s. They are all beautifully damaged pieces of china on my musical shelf. But while one can growl, and one can go blissfully out of tune, and another can go from a whisper to a scream, and another can fill a room with a note so perfectly balanced that Philippe Petit listens in awe, I’m not sure any combine all of the attributes like the young woman I am adding to my list.

I came to Lydia Loveless a little late in the game. I missed her first two albums, the EP, and even purchased her latest, the transcendent “Somewhere Else” a few months after its release on the suggestion of my friend Agatha Donkar. (On the day of its release I was flying to Missoula, Montana for a film festival. New Release Tuesday was not on my radar that week.)

I was immediately addicted. No, I want to go even farther than that. I became a crack whore for anything and everything Lydia Loveless. I bought every album, ordered the two blissful Record Store Day singles on ebay, then repurchased both the new album, and her previous “Indestructible Machine” on vinyl. And as my wonderfully patient wife Kristine will attest, I have played no other music since. No other new releases have even piqued my interest. In fact, all other new music seems to annoy me because, well, it’s not Lydia.

Now normally I get bored very quickly with music. It takes a lot for me to continue playing a new record for more than a week or so. Those albums that get long-term play are few and far between. Something on the record has to sink its claws into me. I want to hear something new every time I listen to a song. Decades later, ten thousand plays later, I still want to hear something new. That is the mark of great art. That is the mark of a masterpiece. And that is everything that Lydia Loveless sings.

Hers is a voice that can soar, that can break, that can swagger and scream, that can whisper and seduce, that can smirk and laugh out loud. She is the china cup from which Billie Holiday would want to drink.

The only thing left was for me to see her perform live.

Last night, in a small venue in Fairfield, Connecticut, Lydia opened for someone whom we did not even stay to see. She was accompanied only by her husband Ben Lamb on a standup bass. It was a seven song set. Thirty minutes. Pretty much what I expected, as she was the warm up. And honestly, I would have been there even if she were playing only one song.

Her voice has such confidence on record, I wondered how it would translate live. But from the first strum of her guitar, it was like we were in the hands of a southern punk rock preacher, who would cure us of the disease which has so sickened rock and roll. And once she opened her mouth, the demons were exorcised, and like a smirking pied piper she would sing to us everything we needed to hear, all the while taking us to the promised land we envisioned the first time we ever heard Westerberg and company.

Each of her songs took on new life, as if perhaps on this night she were singing for the friend she mentioned at the end of the set who had recently passed. Singing every line as if it were for the first time, as if she too were always finding new meaning in her words. New wonder. And when she pulled way back from the mic during “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” and sang “I just wanna be the one you love,” I doubt anyone in that room would have denied her that request.

The highlight for me, if I could pick one, would have been “Crazy,” which I not only rank as one of the best five or so songs of this half-over decade, but as a song that rivals Patsy Cline’s classic of the same name. It kills me. And I’m not even sure I can put into words why. Perhaps it’s just that feeling when something touches us so completely and we can’t explain why, and the inability to explain makes us feel crazy. Sort of the way I feel about Lydia’s voice, I guess.

And to even call it a highlight sells short the unreleased song she closed the show with, a song dedicated to her friend who’d passed, and called “High Life.” She sang it alone. It was sad, it was beautiful, it made me smile. And I couldn’t help but think that wherever her friend is now, he quickly became the envy of those around him. Perhaps even god, listening for those few minutes thinking that damn when he got it right, he really got it right.

And no, nothing’s changed in that respect. I still don’t believe in god. But after last night I certainly, wholehearted, believe in Lydia Loveless.

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a music video for the theme song for BROKEN SIDE OF TIME

And you can buy the DVD with over 90 minutes of extras (including a featurette on how we made the film for $15K…it’s like a master class in no budget filmmaking) but clicking HERE.

Also, you can now pre-order my third rock documentary EVERY EVERYTHING: THE MUSIC, LIFE & TIMES OF GRANT HART by clicking HERE.

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Filed under broken side of time, filmmaking, matthew ryan

Love them DVD extras!

Those who know my viewing habits know I love DVD extras. If the movie speaks to me, I will devour those deleted scenes, commentaries, etc. Call me a movie geek. It’s a title I’ll wear proudly. (It’s why so many of the movies one my 100 films to watch list a few months back were Criterion releases. Criterion knows extras!)

Because of that, I like to make sure my own releases are loaded with extras. The Broken Side Of Time coming out on May 20th has 90 minutes of extras, including:

But even some extras fell to the cutting room floor. Here’s a little NSFW extra extra that did not make it onto the upcoming DVD release of BROKEN SIDE OF TIME…it’s goofy, and more safe for work than not.

And please order the DVD by clicking HERE.

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Filed under broken side of time, director's commentary, dvd extras, filmmaking