Friday, August 31, 2007

In Memory of Diana

It has been ten years since the tragic death of Diana Frances Spencer, former Princess of Wales. Yes, it was a tragedy. Look up the definition and try to tell me otherwise.

Diana never thought she was special; she never thought she was important. She was told she was dimwitted, shallow and common by her own family—those who should have given her nothing but unconditional love. But happily, she had the support of several key people who made her believe in herself, and you could see the transformation happening before your eyes. All at once, she knew who she was, and the world was a better place for it.

Because she had come to believe that her calling was to help people. She discovered that she had an enormous heart, a deep compassion for others that came from her own sense of what it was like to not feel loved. She could be manipulative and melodramatic—she lived in a world not of her own choosing, a media hell that she sometimes responded to less than admirably. But she made a choice to put her power over the media to good use. She forced them into places they didn't want to go—AIDS hospitals, minefields, hospice facilities—and made people see what she knew and understood intuitively—that everyone—everyone--deserves love and respect.

So say what you want about her sometimes petulant nature, her narcissistic tendencies, her mood swings and manipulation. There were so many good things about her that far outweighed her flaws. She taught the world how to truly live, to be present and alive and in the moment. To look deeper and give more. She was so much more beautiful on the inside than she was on the surface, and no one can take that away from her.

Diana's death is still an open wound for many. It still hurts, not because of the "glamour," or because she was a princess. It hurts because she loved without judgment, because she reached out without fear. A previous generation looked up to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy as a kind of heroine or role model. But Diana was from my generation. She was my age; we went through so many similar things in parallel lives, and I felt a deep kinship with her, a tremendous sympathy and understanding that are difficult to explain even now. I never met her, but she was my hero for so many reasons, and I still miss her every single day.

So R.I.P. Miss Di. Maybe we'll meet someday.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Things I Like Vol. 40

Ten People/Places/Things That Rock My World:

1) Made in the Shade - The Rolling Stones. Yeah, I know it's a cheesy collection and not a proper album, but the song selection is pretty badass.

2) The Washington Nationals. Say what you want, but we Washingtonians had baseball taken away from us and then waited 30 years to get it back. You think you're a baseball fan? Try not having a hometown team to root for, pal...

3) Backbeat - dir. by Iain Softley. Damn, I love The Beatles.

4) Status Green - the best new band on the Jersey Shore, and a bunch of great guys too.

5) Federico's Pizza, Belmar NJ. Best pie on The Shore.

6) Da Vinci chianti. Wine doesn't have to be expensive to be good.

7) Oh Brother Where Art Thou? - dir. by Joel and Ethan Coen. Brilliant and subversive and cool.

8) The Terror - Dan Simmons. How have I never read this guy before?

9) Two Cow Garage. The best band you've never heard of. Like Westerberg and Black Flag rolled into one, Ohio-style.

10) Lakewood Blue Claws. Baseball, single A style. Who needs Shea when you've got it in your backyard?

Hero of the Week: Terry Magovern - R.I.P, brother. Also that guy who jumped in and rescued the school kids from the bus in Minneapolis.

Villain of the Week: Barry Bonds, Bud Selig, Michael Vick, and all the other morons ruining professional sports. Oh, and that guy being a d*ck about A-Rod's home run ball. And I don't even like the Yankees...

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I Got Soul

You may not have noticed it but—be very quiet—there’s a soul revolution goin’ on. It’s not making headlines—yet. Yeah, I know, there’s Amy Winehouse and—eek—Joss Stone. But that’s not it; they’re not there yet.

No, I’m talking about SOUL. The kind that makes you wanna get up and shout, the kind that lifts you up, that hits you in your stomach and your throat and your hips, the kind that that sends shivers down your spine and makes your feet move and your butt shake and your spirit soar. SOUL. It’s hard to define, but you know it when you experience it.

There are lots of cheap imitations out there, lots of wannabe Dreamgirls. But soul isn’t something you can manufacture—you either have it or you don’t. Otis Redding. Sam & Dave. Wilson Pickett. Aretha Franklin. Ryan Shaw.


No kidding, folks, this kid Ryan Shaw is the greatest raw talent I have ever seen. I’m not talking about polished professionalism; I’m talking about untapped ability, limitless possibility, star quality. This kid from Decatur, Georgia is the real deal. He came to New York to appear in a gospel musical a couple years ago and did some gigs on the side, including a regular slot at the Motown CafĂ©. He eventually settled in Brooklyn, and was soon recruited into Johnny Gale’s Fabulous Soul Shakers. The rest, they say, is history. His debut disc came out earlier this year and has received excellent reviews, and he just completed a major tour opening for the aforementioned Ms. Stone. But that’s not the whole story.

This kid is on his way somewhere, and he’s moving fast. Shaw made his debut headlining appearance at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan this past Monday, and more than lived up to the hype. Now, the Highline is not my idea of a warm friendly room. This place has the B.B. King’s money grab gouge going on from the minute you walk in the door. We’re talking they serve ice cream on a plate with garnishes, people. So it took some doing for Mr. Shaw to warm the place up, especially because the folks running the show made us wait close to an hour after a tepid opening set on acoustic guitar by Atlanta singer/songwriter Anthony David.

But this kid has balls. He walks onstage and opens the show with “A Change is Gonna Come.” It probably wasn’t the right Sam Cooke song—“Let the Good Times Roll” might’ve been a better choice—but you have to give the kid props for trying. He had me. And then he proceeded to knock the show out of the park. Shaw has style and power and charisma. He doesn’t just hit the notes; he feels them way down deep. He’s a gospel singer, and he sings the only way he knows how—with his soul.

The set was brief because he doesn’t have much material yet. The record, comprised of soul almost-weres and near misses like Bobby Womack’s “Lookin’ For a Love,” sounds like the great lost Stax record that’s missing from your collection. His originals sound like classics, and it’s hard to tell them apart. Interspersed with songs from This is Ryan Shaw (even the title is retro!) were several jaw dropping covers, including a gospelized “Let it Be” and, of all things, a sing-along to the folk standard “If I Had a Hammer.” Introducing it as a song he used to sing with his mom, Shaw performed it as a rousing testament to the power of love to change minds. And before you could pick yourself up off the floor from that, he was on to the dance portion of the program, “Mish Mash Soul,” calling the audience down front to join him. Closing the set a few minutes later with a rousing “Do the 45,” (which kind of sounds like “Shotgun” with different lyrics), he had everyone up and dancing again (I defy anyone to sit still when this man is onstage). And then he was done. It was short, sweet and to the point. It was energizing and joyous and deeply satisfying in a way you can’t get from rock’n’roll (well, except when said rock’n’roller performs soul shaking gospel-influenced material--that his fans hate…but I digress.) Nope, I love rock’n’roll as much as the next guy, perhaps a lot more, but this music is different. Soul gives you hope. It makes you see life’s possibilities, gives you the strength to go out and face the world. It’s not “head” music, it’s “heart” music. It’s muscle and power and nerve. And it’s uniquely, profoundly American.

Whew. It was 90 minutes of pure unadulterated joy. And the best part is, like all great soul music, it’s sensual without being dirty, it’s spirited but not obscene. It’s life affirming. It makes you feel like dancing and shaking your groove thing, like moving your hips and shouting to the rafters, “I am alive!” This kid Ryan Shaw has resurrected the true soul magic of yesteryear. He’s all about love and hope and positivity, a one-man self-help seminar—and it's all genuine. Midway through the show, he introduces one of his songs by prowling the lip of the stage proclaiming, “I want you to think about that heartbreak, that bad break, that bad job and scream ‘It’s OVER AND DONE!’” This would be cheesy in lesser hands, but it’s clear he believes so strongly, his faith is so deep and pure, that you are carried along with him, and so you shout “Over and done!” right along with him. And just like that, your pain is washed away, your frustration is exorcised.

The show was not perfect; Shaw needs to work on smoothing out the set list, developing his onstage persona, and most importantly, learning and/or writing new material. But his natural talent, his ability to silence a room, is something that you can’t teach. You either have it or you don’t. So go see him now, before you have to pay $100 to sit in the back of Radio City or something. Cos this kid’s not stickin’ around the $10 rooms for long…