“Last Man Dancing”

I’ve had this article on my hard drive for many years. I can’t recall exactly where or when I found the essay but I do know who the author is – it’s written by a man named Patrick Runkle. I couldn’t find too much about him on the Internet, other than he is a music producer/composer from the U.S. and is a founder of Cohaagen Music. He is also a member of the electropop group Ganymede. Patrick has written this interesting but sad and wistful article about the electronic music scene of the late 70s/early 80s in San Francisco, its effect on gay liberation and culture, and the toll AIDS has taken on many of the performers.


In the dusty back rooms of dance music stores and in cardboard boxes stored in attics all over San Francisco, there are indigenous records in worn sleeves with titles like Menergy, Cruisin’ the Streets and Die Hard Lover. These records — like their creators — had short, brilliant, tragic lives.

The names on these records are unknown to most people, even those who follow San Francisco music. To others, the names are fading memories from a dead era. But to a few people, like music lawyer and former nightclub owner Steven Ames Brown, the disco stars who made records in San Francisco during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were friends who died too young.

Brown sits in his Franklin D. Israel-designed modern mansion on Grand View Avenue overlooking the city. “At 49, I’m an elder statesman of San Francisco dance music. It’s an eerie feeling,” he says.

He pages through Tribal Rites, a book from 1987 by David Diebold containing first-person remembrances of the gay music scene in San Francisco, and finds a picture of himself from 1981 posing with drag queen Sylvester.

“Look, I had brown hair. And I was thin,” he says, even though he’s currently in incredible shape.

Brown pages through the book some more and then closes it.

“God, all these people are dead.”

The cover of Tribal Rites is a collage of faces from the era. The men are buff, young and virile, all with full, perfectly trimmed mustaches and huge smiles. They seem to be frozen forever in the blinding afternoon sun of Castro Street.

“Every night was another party,” Brown said. “It was an incredible time to be a jet-setting homo. The music was fun; life was fun. There was someone for everyone to go home with.”

“People don’t remember why there were thousands of men marching in the gay pride parades. Nobody gave a shit about the political speeches,” Brown said. “The music was the glue that brought the community together. It was because people like Sylvester were on the floats that we marched behind them.”

Sylvester, San Francisco’s first breakout disco star, was a soul singer who enjoyed success in the early ’70s as a member of the Bay Area transvestite group the Cockettes. His outrageous performances won him a large local following and a solo contract on the Fantasy label. A series of hit disco tracks followed, including “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” both from 1978.

Members of the same nightclub and disco culture from which Sylvester emerged started to see the possibilities for the gay community to produce its own music without the interference of major labels.

“It became possible because of advances in recording technology in the disco era to produce tracks for a lot less money than before,” Brown said. “Also, and most important, the music didn’t need enormous distribution to be popular.”

Brown came to the city in 1974 to study law at Hastings after working as a disc jockey for a Michigan radio station and studying film at USC in Los Angeles.

“I happened to acquire some property in South of Market in one of my first cases here as a lawyer,” Brown said. “Because of my experience in the music industry, I decided to open a nightclub. And it did so well that I opened another.”

“Disco music had re-invigorated dancing and nightclubs, and the clubs went from being dirty, back-room swill holes to being fun, bright, gay places. After pressing only a few thousand records and playing them in the right clubs, you could have a major hit.”

Musicians in San Francisco’s gay nightclubs started to make music of their own. Bill Motley was a charismatic but frustrated disc jockey in the Castro who had big dreams.

“Bill was a man whose inside didn’t match his outside,” Brown said. “On the outside, he was a large, burly guy who looked like the kind of person you wouldn’t want to run into in a back alley.”

“But on the inside, he was Diana Ross.”

Motley’s experience was mostly as a lighting consultant for local nightclubs, but his musical intuition was sharp. Although he wanted desperately to be a star, he knew his talent was for production.

His idea was to record a disco version of the Ashford-Simpson soul classics “Remember Me” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” He borrowed money to do it from his friend Victor Swedosh, owner of the Moby Dick bar at 18th & Hartford in the Castro.

Taking inspiration from the Village People, which was essentially a front band for producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, Motley created a fictitious band called The Boys Town Gang to realize his vision.

“Bill found some kids in the city who could sing,” Brown said. “He designed a stage show for them, and started recording with them in the studio.”

The track that resulted was a 6-minute suite, “Remember Me/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Motley, Swedosh, and another friend from the Castro, Stan Moriss, formed Moby Dick Records in 1980 to release and distribute the Boys Town Gang recordings.

The first track went out on a 12-inch EP called Cruisin’ the Streets, which hit #5 on Billboard’s dance music chart and made enough money for the fun to continue.

“Remember Me/Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is a joyous burst of soulful disco that, while not incredibly progressive, shows an incredible ear for production. It was a great answer to all the vapid, soulless corporate disco albums that caused the national ‘disco sucks’ backlash in 1980.

Elsewhere in the Castro at the same time, Patrick Cowley, a synthesizer player and former nightclub lighting technician, was preparing his first solo release.

Cowley had studied music and synthesizers at City College before landing a spot in Sylvester’s band in the late ‘70s.

“We didn’t even know Patrick could play music when we met him,” Sylvester recalled before his death in 1988. “He was designing the lighting for some of our shows, and he played us a tape of his music. I asked him to join us.”

Patrick Cowley & Sylvester

Indeed, Cowley’s unique analog synthesizer flourishes showed up first on Sylvester’s Step II album in 1978, and he contributed two songs to Sylvester’s Stars album a year later.

But Cowley had personal problems with some members of Sylvester’s band, and decided to go solo in 1980. Cowley became friends with the owners of the Automatt studios at 11th & Harrison, and they would let him use the studio during off hours.

“Patrick was a short guy, very passive,” Brown recalls. “All he did was make music, get screwed, and do drugs.”

Cowley and business partner Marty Blecman, a former disc jockey, put together an album of electronic disco music, heavily influenced by the European synth sounds of Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Giorgio Moroder, which was to feature a title track called “Energy.”

“One day, while we were recording,” Blecman wrote before his death in 1991, “We got high and I added an ‘M’ in front of ‘Energy,’ and we came up with all these completely gay lyrics for it. In the end, that’s what we used.”

The song “Menergy” was born. The album Menergy, released on the Fusion label, became an international dance smash in early 1981. It went to number one on Billboard’s dance charts and set a new high-water mark for electronic music.

The title track owes a great debt to Giorgio Moroder’s production of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” Like Cowley’s best work, it makes no apologies for its sexual orientation, but maintains an eye-winking charm, without
being explicitly about sex. “The boys in the back room are lovin’ it up / Shootin’ off menergy,” the joyous female chorus sings. What exactly this menergy is that the boys are shooting off is left to the fertile imagination of the listener.

Moreover, Cowley’s electronic arrangements had a fantastic, almost sci-fi quality that tied into the drug-induced club experience of the time.

The success of Menergy allowed Blecman and Cowley to form a company of their own, Megatone Records. In the same way, sales of the Boys Town Gang’s first record ensured more recordings from the Moby Dick label.

The two companies were run from Victorian homes in the Castro, and the performing stars that the labels created enjoyed notoriety both in San Francisco and throughout the worldwide cosmopolitan gay community.

“There was a point where you could fly to any city in the world, and the gay bars and nightclubs were playing the same songs.” said Brown.

People loved “something which was homegrown. It wasn’t marketed to you by faceless corporations. It was the allure of quality music from the community.”

“They were producing a cultural commodity, if I can put those two words together,” Brown said. “They created a business that was both self-sufficient and gay, an underground economy. This was also around the time that we saw an explosion of gay lawyers serving gay clients, gay doctors serving gay patients, and so on.”

In mid-1981, Megatone Records had its first official release, Patrick Cowley’s Megatron Man LP, the title track from which was another huge hit for the company.

Meanwhile, Moby Dick put out a Boys Town Gang LP, Disc Charge, as the follow-up to Cruisin’ the Streets. That album’s disco cover of the Gaudio-Crewe standard “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” was a monstrous worldwide hit.

The parties lit up the city every weekend. Thousands of men converged on dozens of nightclubs to hear the latest tracks and see the stars perform.

But it wasn’t to last.

After Megatron Man was released in 1981, Cowley fell ill with a mysterious illness.

The disease, first called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) or the AID Syndrome, would soon put an end to it all. Cowley was among the first victims in San Francisco.

“Patrick was the first person I saw who was really sick,” Brown said. “They wheeled him onto the balcony of the Palladium. It was too upsetting to watch.”

After fighting the disease for a year, Cowley died on Nov. 12, 1982.

“In the year leading up to his death, Patrick was either in the studio or the hospital,” Blecman told the San Francisco Chronicle upon Cowley’s death. “He left his legacy on tape.”

After Cowley’s death, but before panic over AIDS spread throughout the nation, the two Castro-based labels remained profitable.

Megatone released posthumous Cowley-produced material throughout 1983, including vocalist Paul Parker’s #1 hit “Right On Target” from his LP Too Much To Dream, and Cowley’s reunion with Sylvester, another #1 single, “Do Ya Wanna Funk?”

Moby Dick released another Boys Town Gang album, as well as a huge hit single from vocalist Frank Loverde, “Die Hard Lover,” which was a collaboration between Cowley and Motley.

But everyone knew the end was near. “By late ’83, HIV had scared everyone out of the nightclubs, especially the straight suburban kids who spent so much money,” Brown said. “People thought it might be transmitted through the air.”

“After that, they didn’t have any hits.”

Other problems plagued the fledgling companies. In-fighting among the personalities in the scene over performances, disappearing royalties, and record sales stunted their growth.

“None of these people knew how to run a record company. They created an overhead that they couldn’t possibly maintain,” Brown said. “They had to pay for marketing, pressing, packaging, administration, everything. When their sales started to slip, it was all over.”

“These guys didn’t want day jobs, and they were attracted to the allure of show business.”

“Their lives were bleak. These guys didn’t have any stage presence whatsoever, they couldn’t perform,” Brown said.

Michael Garrett, a disc jockey from the era and current owner of the CD Record Rack, a Castro district dance music store, remembers a performance from artist Frank Loverde:

“Loverde had a hit record in ’82 with ‘Die Hard Lover.’ There was a show at one of the clubs downtown where he was supposed to perform. He came out on stage and saw all the men in the audience, and he fainted. They had to carry him off, and I don’t think his career ever recovered.”

The years of the AIDS crisis destroyed the San Francisco disco community. As the artists watched their friends and colleagues die, the music changed.

“The mood was different,” Brown said. “It was about mechanical sex.”

Moby Dick dissolved soon after Bill Motley left the company in 1984. He retained the rights to the Boys Town Gang, but got sick soon after and died in 1986. Brown was in charge of selling the company’s assets.

“The only they had that was worth anything were the Boys Town Gang masters,” he said. “I still have those, and I won’t part with them.”

Megatone sputtered along under Blecman throughout the ’80s, releasing regurgitated hits, unremarkable dance music and pathetic aerobics compilations. When Blecman got sick in 1990, Brown brokered the company’s sale to a Canadian company, Unidisc.

Patrick Cowley, Marty Blecman and Sylvester share square number 2795 of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Frank Loverde, who died in 1987, is memorialized on square 1791. Bill Motley, who died in 1986, is on square 4152.

“This music was part of a transcendent force of gay liberation,” Brown says. “The community has lost the memory of how important this music was. I think these artists won’t ever, ever get their due.”

Star Wars & The TSO

You’ve probably read the title of this post and thought: “Whhaaaaa??”. It’s an unlikely combo at first glance: the film Star Wars: A New Hope coupled with the TSO (Toronto Symphony Orchestra). Not so weird actually.

What a brilliant idea. Over the span of the next couple of years the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is performing the John Williams-composed Star Wars soundtracks live while the movies are projected larger than life in the background. These concerts take place in the still-somewhat-elegant Roy Thomson Hall.

Starting with the 1997 re-release versions of the “original three” (as I like to call them), the first concert up is Star Wars: A New Hope; this is the production we went to last night. It was fantastic to hear that amazing John Williams soundtrack *really* brought to life by the TSO.

img_1195

You don’t realize how much music, both prominent and incidental, there actually is in a Star Wars film; this concert really brought the music to the forefront. The TSO were absolutely superb and every musical detail was faithful to the original motion picture soundtrack (except the “Cantina” scene in the Mos Eisley bar – the filmed version was played here). Sarah Hicks did a brilliant job conducting the orchestra, who played to an absolutely packed and very enthusiastic house. No less than three encores were called after the performance/film completed.

Here’s a few shots from last night’s performance. These were taken before the performance began and during the 15-minute intermission at the movie’s halfway point:

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The audience during Intermission

Performance Schedule

Star Wars: A New Hope played on the nights of January 23, 24, 25, 26, 2019. The rest of the Star Wars Film Concert Series is scheduled as follows:

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – March 20, 21, 22, 23, 2019
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – October 2, 3, 4, 5, 2019
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – May 6, 7, 8, 9, 2020

I’m sure more are to follow as time goes by, and I can hardly wait.

– Very well done, TSO and Sarah Hicks! –

SARStock / Toronto Rocks

There were two memorable events in Toronto during the summer of 2003: one was the massive power blackout covering most of northeast North America and the other was SARStock.

Crowd shot

Held on July 30, 2003 at Downsview Park (previously a former military air base in the north end of the city), the event was a gigantic, marathon rock concert to benefit Toronto’s economy and help it recover from the SARS epidemic. The concert was organized in about a month upon the suggestion of concert headliners The Rolling Stones. The Stones, by the way, love Toronto – they have played in our city many times and, utilizing small clubs like the Phoenix or the Palais Royale, they frequently practice and perform here prior to setting off on their major tours. Toronto has some not-so-fond memories, though, for Keith Richards; this is where he got busted, tried and sentenced for heroin possession way back in early 1977.

This massive concert in Downsview Park went by many names – Toronto Rocks, Stars 4 SARSMolson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, SARSfest, SARS-a-palooza, the SARS concertThe Rolling Stones SARS Benefit Concert – but I affectionately call it SARSstock as it seems the most apropos. The Rolling Stones donated 50 percent of the proceeds (an estimated $1.3 million) from their merchandise sales to two relief funds set up for the event, and $1 per ticket was also donated towards the funds. The net proceeds of official merchandise was also donated towards the relief funds.

Official crowd estimates put the number at 500,000 people attending the concert, but it felt (and looked) like far, far more than that. The unofficial crowd estimate was over a million people so I don’t know who to believe. Regardless, SARStock made the record books as the largest outdoor ticketed event in Canadian history, and one of the largest in North American history.

It was an all-Canadian event: vendors sold Alberta beef in support of the Canadian beef industry, which had recently suffered because of a case of mad cow disease. In gentle, polite, mannerly, well-behaved Canadian style, there were no major security incidents that day, which was amazing given the crowd size.

Co-hosted by Canada’s own Dan Ackroyd and Mike Bullard the band lineup was a mish-mash of Canadian (English & French), American and English talent, mostly retro acts but good retro acts if you know what I mean. The day’s lineup was:

The Have Love Will Travel Revue
Sam Roberts
Kathleen EdwardsPlaybill
La Chicane
The Tea Party
Blue Rodeo
Sass Jordan
The Flaming Lips
The Isley Brothers
Justin Timberlake
The Guess Who
Rush
AC/DC
The Rolling Stones

And all of this for only $21.50.

Each band (full concert setlist below) performed for about 15 to 20 minutes but stage/equipment teardown and setup for each act seemed to take forever. There was a lot of people scenery between acts, however, to keep anyone occupied. The Stones and AC/DC sets each took over 90 minutes, so you could certainly tell who the headliners of this gig were.

This was one of the best and most fun days of my life. My memories of that day are:

THE CROWD

In my entire life, I’ve never been in a crowd this large – that in itself was an experience. You can imagine the chaos of over a half-million people sprawled pell-mell on the grass with no organization whatsoever. If you had to leave your group for whatever reason, the only point of reference for your return were the numbered speaker stacks in the audience. If you failed to notice the number on your speaker stack there was little chance you’d ever find your group again. I remember it taking me over an hour just to get to the water and toilets – I missed Justin Timberlake’s set entirely (oh noooooo!) while I was gone, so I failed to witness firsthand the legendary water bottle-throwing incident (more on that, below).

Crowd shot

THE WEATHER

It was one of those rare summer days in Toronto where, instead of haze and humidity, the sky was absolutely clear and deep blue, not a cloud in sight, and it was HOT, very hot!

THE VIBE

Party. Absolute, sheer party. Period.

MY FRIENDS

I spent this day with my good friends Janice, Richard and his son Pete. What a great time we had. I’ll never forget Janice smuggling in her bottle of vodka. The security line we were in at the entrance gates was conducting frisk-searches, so Janice hopped over one line and – as luck would have it – they bypassed her for a frisk search. Happy days.

Here we are as we stepped out of Downsview subway station to make our way to the concert grounds:

our gang arriving at sarstock - july 30, 2003
Some of the Molson crew were taking Polaroid pictures of people arriving from the subway and we happened to get our mugs shot as we made our way to the concert grounds.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

Justin Timberlake was booed by the crowd, who were anticipating the harder-rocking second half of the concert. Throughout his performance he had to dodge water bottles, toilet paper, muffins, and other items thrown by the audience. This was definitely a hard rock/classic rock crowd and Timberlake was the odd man out with his lightweight pop styling. He later returned to duet with Mick Jagger on Miss You; at that time the crowd was scolded by a visibly pissed off Keith Richards for their earlier treatment of Timberlake.

THE GUESS WHO

Guess Who
Randy Bachman, Garry Peterson, Burton Cummings

So awesome to see the original lineup back, if even for a precious few numbers. To me, the Guess Who is synonymous with growing up in the early 70s on the Canadian prairies – their music was everywhere and was entrenched in our culture. My older brother was a big influence in my memories and impressions of the Guess Who; he had a few of their earlier records and played them often around the house (strains of Albert Flasher, No Time and New Mother Nature drift through my mind when I think of those days).

THE FLAMING LIPS

The Flaming Lips invited artists from backstage to dance on stage with them dressed in fuzzy animal costumes. I, for one, was never a Flaming Lips fan… I just don’t get them…

AC/DC

I am not an AC/DC fan by any stretch of the imagination (OK, OK, I owned a copy of Back In Black as a teenager… who didn’t?), but they put on a show like the city has never seen; they absolutely stole the entire concert. AC/DC played a balls-to-the-wall (as they used to say in the ’70s) 70-minute set. Most of the crowd were there expressly to see ACDC & crowdAC/DC and didn’t really care so much about the previous acts. AC/DC were onstage just before the headlining Rolling Stones, but the AC/DC set absolutely blew away the crowd, driving them into a frenzy. I’ll never forget Angus Young dropping his pants and mooning the audience with an enormous Canadian maple leaf emblazoned on his shiny boxer shorts.

When the Stones finally did take the stage it was anticlimactic, almost bordering on disappointing, compared to the live bolts of lightning that was AC/DC. It was truly an odd thing: a huge amount of people began to leave during the Stones set (sorry, I can never get this thing of leaving in the middle of a performance to beat the traffic home – such an annoying Toronto thing).

Here’s a YouTube that shows the intensity of AC/DC as they played for the massive audience that day:

CLOSING OF CONCERT & THE JOURNEY HOME

As you can imagine, it takes quite a while for a crowd of half a million or more people to disperse. People were slowly drifting away halfway through the Stones’ performance but Richard and I stayed until the very bitter end to see the last cannon fired, so to speak. I believe it was somewhere around 1:00AM when we made our way out in the departing wave of humanity (Janice and Pete had left earlier in the evening, long before this mass exodus). It was absolutely impossible to get back on the subway at nearby Downsview station, so we walked all the way across Sheppard Avenue West from Downsview Park to Yonge Street where we somehow were able to get on the Yonge line with tens of thousands of other people heading home.

I’ll never forget that walk Richard and I took across Sheppard Avenue with so many of the other concertgoers who also decided to walk to Yonge Street. It was a crowd tens of thousands strong, and there was such a crazy party vibe in the air – absolute jubilation, with everyone still on a high from the heat and music of the day. When we did finally reach Sheppard station on the Yonge line it was jammed beyond comprehension, so we waited in queue for about another hour until we could stuff ourselves on one of the trains (the TTC had arranged to run all night that night in order to get everybody home). We finally got out of the packed subway at Yonge and Bloor and made our way home across Bloor Street East. All told, it was about 3:00AM when I stumbled through my front door. Luckily Richard and I both had the next day off work, which was a Friday.

SARS-Relief

CONCERT SETLIST

Here then, for posterity’s sake, is the setlist for the entire day. I’ve tried to be as complete as possible but there may be one or two songs missing here and there. I compiled the setlist from my own DVD copy of the concert and several miscellaneous Internet sources, so there could be some inconsistency. For the most part, though, the day’s music ran as follows:

The Have Love Will Travel Revue (Dan Ackroyd, Jim Belushi & supporting band)
Intro With Skybox Ballroom Pump

Sam Roberts
Don’t Walk Away Eileen
Brother Down
Where Have All The Good People Gone?

Kathleen Edwards
One More Song The Radio Won’t Like
Mercury
6 O’clock News

La Chicane
Viens Donc M’voir
Le Yâb De St. Nitouche
Le Fil

The Tea Party
Temptation
Sister Awake
Heaven Coming Down

Blue Rodeo
Trust Yourself
Hasn’t Hit Me Yet
Lost Together

Sass Jordan
High Road Easy
You Don’t Have To Remind Me
Brand New Day
Make You A Believer (with Jeff Healy)

The Flaming Lips
Race For The Prize
Do You Realize?

The Have Love Will Travel Revue
I’m Gonna Dig Myself a Hole

The Isley Brothers
Fight the Power
I Want to Take You Higher
It’s Your Thing
Put Yourself In My Place
Who’s That Lady
Summer Breeze
Shout

Justin Timberlake
Señorita
Cry Me a River

The Have Love Will Travel Revue
Time Won’t Let Me

The Guess Who
Hand Me Down World
No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature
Takin’ Care of Business (BTO cover)
American Woman
No Time

Rush
Tom Sawyer
Limelight
Dreamline
YYZ
Freewill
Closer to the Heart
Paint It Black
The Spirit Of Radio

AC/DC
Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be
Back in Black
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
Thunderstruck
If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)
Hells Bells
The Jack
T.N.T.
You Shook Me All Night Long
Whole Lotta Rosie
Let There Be Rock
Encore: Highway to Hell

Rolling Stones
Start Me Up
Brown Sugar
You Got Me Rocking
Tumbling Dice
Don’t Stop
Ruby Tuesday
You Can’t Always Get What You Want
It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
Miss You (with Justin Timberlake)
The Nearness of You (Keith Richards, lead vocals)
Happy (Keith Richards, lead vocals)
Sympathy for the Devil
Rock Me Baby (with Malcolm & Angus Young from AC/DC)
Honky Tonk Women
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Encore: Jumpin’ Jack Flash

A DVD of the day’s concert was released later in 2003, although it has omitted quite a few of the original tracks. I assume this is to fit the concert on a 2-disc DVD release. That’s a pity, as I’d like to relive the concert as a whole, regardless of how many physical discs are required. The DVD is probably no longer produced and marketed, so it remains a keepsake item for me.

Toronto Rocks DVD cover
SARSTock Concert DVD

There has never been a crowd and concert like this in Toronto, before or since. It was truly a unique experience and I’m so very glad I was a part of it. I’ll never forget that hot, cloudless, wonderful day in Downsview Park.

My “B-List” Songs

I hesitate to call these tracks the “B-list” of my favourite music, as the term is slightly derogatory. These are all special songs to me and remain some of my favourites, but they don’t quite merit a place on my Desert Island Songs list. Like my other lists, this one remains a work in progress.

Here then, is more of my life’s soundtrack:

Moments Of Pleasure – Kate Bush
Only You – Yaz
Boy – Book Of Love
Il Mio Cuore Va – Sarah Brightman
Minuet in G Major – J.S. Bach (comp.)
Suddenly Last Summer – The Motels
I Want You Back – The Jackson 5
Safe And Sound – Capital Cities
Lady Marmalade – Labelle
Nothing But A Heartache – Freemasons (feat. Sylvia Mason-James)
The Sailor Song – Autoheart
Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers (with Coldplay)
Unfinished Business – Boy George
The Last Song – Elton John
The Power Of Love – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
No Promises – Icehouse
Breaking Us In Two – Joe Jackson
Shadow Man – David Bowie
Pavane – Gabriel Fauré (comp.)
It Couldn’t Happen Here – Pet Shop Boys
Man On The Moon – R.E.M.
Crying Out Loud For Love – The Box
Canon In D – J. Pachelbel (comp.)
Life On Mars? – David Bowie
Half-Light (Day Version) – George Fitzgerald feat. Tracey Thorn
Every Bit Of Love – Ken Tobias
Be My Number Two – Joe Jackson
Old Money – Lana Del Rey
Caroline – Concrete Blonde
Oh Yeah – Roxy Music
I Want To Wake Up (Breakdown Mix) – Pet Shop Boys
Girlfriend In A Coma – The Smiths
Driver’s Seat (12″ version) – Sniff ‘n’ The Tears
Love Is Everything – k.d. lang
I Can Hear Your Heartbeat (12″ Club Mix Maxi Version) – Chris Rea

George FitzGerald’s “Half-Light (Day Version)”, feat. Tracey Thorn

A new artist I’ve just started to follow is George FitzGerald. At the moment I don’t know too much about Mr. FitzGerald other than he’s an English Dance/Electronic musician, producer and DJ. Initially he resided in Berlin, Germany to cut his teeth in the electronic music scene there but has since returned to England. Electronic music critics are heralding him as the up and coming one to watch.

Apparently George has been active in the electronic music scene since the early 2010s and has released several EPs and extended mixes during that time. It looks like he’s also been on tour through North America lately and did a Toronto gig in early October this year. George FitzGerald released his first full-length album (Fading Love) in 2015. He also has albums Update and All That Must Be under his belt. His latest album is All That George-FitzGeraldMust Be (Remixes), and this is the one that grabbed my attention.

I stumbled across George’s single Half-Light (Day Version) and was instantly blown away by the texture and dreamy, hypnotic quality of his sound. Leading me to this George FitzGerald track was the fact that vocalist, musician and personal Goddess Tracey Thorn is featured on the vocals. Where Tracey goes I follow willingly – she’s an amazingly talented woman with an incredible, heavenly, haunting voice.  Ah, those lovely soaring notes of Miss Tracey… always a treat:

Half-Light (Day Version), feat. Tracey Thorn

If you’re not familiar with Tracey Thorn, she was one half of the duo Everything But The Girl. Along with her husband Ben Watt they had enormous success as singers, musicians and songwriters in Everything But The Girl, first in Europe then in North tracey-thorn-by-edward-bishop-aug-2012-ref_mg_5212_hiAmerica, from the mid-1980s to 2000. It was their monster hit Missing that finally broke them in the North American mainstream market and propelled them forward over here; great commercial success followed for them after that hit. Since disbanding after an impressive group career Ben and Tracey have each gone on to many successful solo projects. Ben produces other groups in the studio and has a successful career as a musician, singer, songwriter, author, DJ and radio presenter. Tracey has released several excellent solo albums and written an autobiography called Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up & Tried To Be A Pop Star (love that title). In 2015 she published her second book, Naked at the Albert Hall: The Inside Story of Singing, and her third book, Another Planet: A Teenager In Suburbia is scheduled for release on February 7, 2019, followed by a UK book release tour. Tracey also writes a regular column for the New Statesman, which is a British political and cultural magazine. Tracey took a few years of respite from the music scene in the early 2000s, during which time she and Ben had three children. This is one busy woman!

I hope to do a future post on Tracey Thorn & Ben Watt, aka Everything But The Girl, so stay tuned for that.

Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Strauss and… Falco

In September 2015 we journeyed to Vienna, Austria. That city is simply too amazing to describe in this short space, but I’d like to share a few shots I took when we toured Der Wiener Zentralfriedhof (or, in English, The Vienna Central Cemetery).

It might be somewhat crass to call this part of the cemetery the “famous dead composer” section, but… well, it is:

Beethoven's Grave at The Zentralfriedhof
Beethoven’s grave

Brahms's Grave at The Zentralfriedhof
Brahms’s grave

Franz Schubert's Grave at The Zentralfriedhof
The grave of Franz Schubert

Johann Strauss's Grave at The Zentralfriedhof
Johann Strauss’s grave

BUT…

The grave I really wanted to visit was none other than that of the beloved Falco. Yes, Vienna’s Central Cemetery is the final resting place of that famous Austrian pop star Falco, real name Hans Holzel. His grave marker is kind of hard to see in these shots as it’s made of curved, clear glass with etchings:

Falco's Grave at the ZentralfriedhofFalco's Grave at the ZentralfriedhofFalco's Grave at the ZentralfriedhofFalco's Grave at the Zentralfriedhof

Thank you for the beautiful music, gentlemen.

Good Songs Covered By Extremely Inappropriate Artists

Culled from my own music collection, Spotify and Rolling Stone “worst of” lists, here is my compilation of songs that have been covered by a completely inappropriate artist or are simply a bad cover of the song.

Some of these covers are funny, some are marginally bearable, some are nauseating and some are so abjectly, abysmally awful they make you lose your will to live.

What were these people thinking??!!


Life On Mars? – Barbra Streisand
Help! – Diana Ross & The Supremes
I Love Rock ‘n Roll – Britney Spears
Might Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo) – Julie London
Happy Together – Mel Torme
When A Man Loves A Woman – Michael Bolton
A Hard Day’s Night – Peggy Lee
Respect Yourself – Bruce Willis
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds – William Shatner
American Pie – Madonna
Baby I Love Your Way/Freebird – Will To Power
Mrs. Robinson – Guy Lombardo
Funky Town – Pseudo Echo
I Am The Walrus – Jim Carrey
All By Myself – Celine Dion
Sugar, Sugar – Kurt Russell
Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? – Tiny Tim
It’s My Life – No Doubt
Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) – Wayne Newton
Stairway to Heaven – Dolly Parton
Ring of Fire – Olivia Newton John
Piece of My Heart – Faith Hill
Big Yellow Taxi – Counting Crows & Vanessa Carlton
Everyday People – Peggy Lee
Live and Let Die – Guns N’ Roses
Cat’s In The Cradle – Ugly Kid Joe
More Than This – 10,000 Maniacs
MacArthur Park – Waylon Jennings

Sadly, this list has a lot of growth potential…

“…The Serious Moonlight”

What a night…

Without a doubt, the best live concert I’ve ever attended in my entire life was David Bowie’s Serious Moonlight, here in Toronto on a hot, humid September night waaaaaay back in 1983 at the good old CNE Stadium, (remember that place?). Although I also went to his Glass Spider tour in 1987, it didn’t quite have the electrical spark that Serious Moonlight did. There was just something indescribable about that night, that performer, and the super-charged audience that sent Serious Moonlight over the edge and into Toronto concert history (folklore, even?).

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For some reason or other, the memories of that concert came into my mind the other day and I thought – hey! – what a great post this would make for the blog. I won’t, though, attempt to write a review for the Serious Moonlight concert; rather, I’m going to simply reminisce about it. All these years later I still cannot put into words what that concert meant to me; the intensity of the crowd, concert and performer all fused together to create a magical night.

I went digging in my memorabilia and found the concert program, carefully and lovingly preserved, from that night lo these many years ago. As is my way, I had meticulously scotch-taped my original ticket to the inside front cover of the program for safekeeping. The critical details of the ticket read:

David Bowie – The Serious Moonlight Tour
September 3, 1983, 8:30PM
CNE Stadium
General Admission (floors), $22.50

Wow! – “General Admission” seating! Who could ever forget that mad dash across the playing field to the front of the stage as soon as the gates would swing open. I believe “General Admission” seating has long been abolished in concert-going as, to be honest, it was kind of dangerous (it’s that old fear of being crushed to death in the rush of 10,000 rabid fans all trying to reach the front of the stage at the same time).

There were two Serious Moonlight shows in Toronto that year – Saturday, September 3rd and Sunday, September 4th – and they were both sold out with 60,000 fans in attendance each night. The opening act was Rough Trade, and I remember Carole Pope and Kevan Staples absolutely blowing the crowd away with their performance. I still remember how dynamic they were that night, with Carole Pope strategically grabbing and working her crotch during that key lyrical moment in Highschool Confidential (if you’re Canadian and were even slightly plugged in to music during the late 70s/early 80s, you know exactly what I’m talking about here).

When I went searching on the Internet for a little more info on the Serious Moonlight concert tour in Toronto, I was shocked at how much these two shows have been discussed and documented over the years by other Torontonians. Several bloggers I found in my search have documented extremely in-depth reviews and impressions of those two nights. Apparently the show on the following night (September 4, 1983) had a surprise appearance and performance by Mick Ronson, Bowie’s longstanding collaborator from the early days. By all accounts I’ve read, the crowd went absolutely ballistic when Ronson came onstage and joined the band for some numbers.

In her autobiography Anti Diva, Rough Trade’s Carole Pope talks about their opening for Bowie at this concert:

When Bowie hit the stage, I stood riveted in the wings… David stood at the lip of the stage singing ‘Modern Love’ shaking one leg like Elvis. The show was an amalgamation of music and theatre. While performing ‘Cracked Actor’, Bowie was seated in a director’s chair, wearing dark glasses; like a new wave Hamlet, he sang a soliloquy to a skull… Bowie grossed $2.3 million from that show.

Bowie with skull

It has been 35 years since that concert so only parts of it remain sticking to my brain cells. I recall, though, certain “snapshots” and short segments of that incredible powerhouse show. I remember, quite vividly, Bowie hovering over the crowd on an elevated cherry picker machine singing Space Oddity, and I remember the Cracked Actor segment (pic above) with Bowie singing to a skull. He also did a great job on Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat, and tore the place up when he kicked into Rebel Rebel. It took two encores before the crowd would let him leave the stage for the night.

This is the concert setlist for the Serious Moonlight concert tour. It was the same setlist for both nights of the Toronto shows, as well as for other Canadian dates:

Look Back in Anger
Heroes
What in the World
Golden Years
Fashion
Let’s Dance
Breaking Glass
Life on Mars?
Sorrow
Cat People (Putting Out Fire)
China Girl
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Rebel Rebel
White Light/White Heat
Station to Station
Cracked Actor
Ashes to Ashes
Space Oddity
Young Americans
Fame
TVC 15

Encore 1:
Star
Stay
The Jean Genie

Encore 2:
Modern Love

The performers that night were:

David Bowie – lead vocals, guitar, saxophone
Earl Slick – guitar
Carlos Alomar – guitar, backing vocals, music director
Carmine Rojas – bass guitar
Tony Thompson – drums, percussion
Dave Lebolt – keyboards, synthesizers
Steve Elson – saxophones
Stan Harrison – saxophones, woodwinds
Lenny Pickett – saxophones, woodwinds
George Simms – backing vocals
Frank Simms – backing vocals

David Bowie On Serious Moonlight Tour

Here is the original Toronto Star article and concert review by Peter Goddard (who, if memory serves, covered just about every Toronto concert of any importance in the 80s and beyond):

60,000 berserk over Bowie

60,000 go wild for Bowie - Peter Goddard concert review

Sadly, Mr. Bowie left us a couple of years ago, but what a legacy he left behind! It is staggering. Over the course of 40 years, possibly more, he changed music and pop culture as we know it.

I am so grateful I was there in that 60,000-strong audience on that hot, humid night in 1983-Toronto. Years from now, when I’m sitting in my rocking chair swaddled in an electric blanket or some such heat-producing device, I hope I will still retain some of the special memories of that incredible night.

Desert Island Songs

Without music, life would be a mistake.
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

What is a desert island song?

A desert island song is a special song. It makes you feel the sheer joy of living. It brings you to tears of joy or heartache with a minute of the start, sending goosebumps to your arms.

A desert island song infuses you with a feeling of power, energy and well-being. It transports you intensely and succinctly back to a time and place in your life that was moving, important or meaningful.

A desert island song makes you feel totally centred and existing in the moment; it gives you an overwhelming feeling that all is well.

Music has always been my refuge – it’s there when there’s nothing else. Through all the difficult times and crap that life can deal out, music has always been my sanctuary and strength.

The following songs are part of my life’s soundtrack. If I were given advance notice I were to be marooned on a desert island, this is the music I would bring with me:

Perfect Day – Lou Reed

The Ghost In You – Psychedelic Furs

Golden Brown – The Stranglers

Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again – The Fortunes

True To Life – Roxy Music

Whistle Down The Wind – Nick Heyward

Reasons For Waiting – Jethro Tull

I Want To Wake Up (Breakdown Mix) – Pet Shop Boys

Don’t Leave Me This Way – Thelma Houston

Lovers In A Dangerous Time – Bruce Cockburn (I’ll accept the Barenaked Ladies version in a pinch)

This Time I Know It’s For Real – Donna Summer

Never Can Say Goodbye – Jimmy Somerville

I Will Go With You (Con Te Partiro) – Donna Summer

Nightswimming – R.E.M.

Sukiyaki – Kyu Sakamoto

Adagio For Strings – Samuel Barber (comp.)

Only You – Virgin

Getting Away With It – Electronic

Under The Milky Way – The Church

Only The Lonely – The Motels

Cry For Help – Rick Astley

When Love Takes Over – David Guetta (feat. Kelly Rowland)

Strong – London Grammar

King’s Cross – Pet Shop Boys

Born This Way – Lady Gaga

Rescue Me – Fontella Bass

Downtown – Petula Clark

Heroes – Icehouse/Iva Davies

Crazy (Midnight Mix) – Icehouse

Iva Davies

Passing through my bedroom the other day (where SomaFM’s Underground 80s channel is frequently playing), I heard Icehouse’s Electric Blue. This caused me – inescapably – to think of Iva Davies.

Iva Davies (born Ivor Arthur Davies) is an Australian singer, songwriter, composer, musician and record producer. Most importantly (in my world at least), Iva is known for his distinctive singing voice… Oh God – that voice, that incredible, beautiful, emotive voice…

If you’re not familiar with Iva Davies, just take a listen to any of the old Icehouse albums and singles. There, you will find that remarkable voice, haunting you. His music career spans more than 40 years, and he’s also made music for TV series and films, most recently composing the soundtrack for the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Some of his most recent, and best, tracks are on the soundtrack album The Berlin Tapes with Icehouse.

Icehouse Videos

Check out some of Icehouse’s videos. Once you get past the bad mullets and ridiculous 80s fashion and focus on the voice, these are great songs:

The Berlin Tapes

If you’ve made it this far, you must listen to Iva’s version of David Bowie’s Heroes on The Berlin Tapes album to fully appreciate this man’s voice. Goosebumps are guaranteed. This is my absolute favourite track of Iva Davies/Icehouse and is on my list of Desert Island Songs.

Being Boring

One of my absolute favourite songs from the Pet Shop Boys. It’s a wistful look back at times past and the friends and lovers who have passed through our lives. There’s a lot going on in these lyrics; this is pop music at its most brilliant:

I came across a cache of old photos
and invitations to teenage parties
“Dress in white” one said with quotations
from someone’s wife, a famous writer
in the nineteen-twenties
When you’re young you find inspiration
in anyone who’s ever gone
and opened up a closing door
She said we were never feeling bored

’cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
and we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought then thought make amends
And we were never holding back or worried that
time would come to an end

When I went I left from the station
with a haversack and some trepidation
Someone said if you’re not careful
you’ll have nothing left and nothing to care for
in the nineteen-seventies
But I sat back and looking forward
my shoes were high and I had scored
I’d bolted through a closing door
and I would never find myself feeling bored

’cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
and we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought then thought make amends
And we were never holding back or worried that
time would come to an end
We were always hoping that, looking back
you could always rely on a friend

Now I sit with different faces
in rented rooms and foreign places
All the people I was kissing
some are here and some are missing
in the nineteen-nineties
I never dreamt that I would get to be
the creature that I always meant to be
but I thought in spite of dreams
you’d be sitting somewhere here with me

’cause we were never being boring
We had too much time to find for ourselves
and we were never being boring
We dressed up and fought then thought make amends
And we were never holding back or worried that
time would come to an end
We were always hoping that, looking back
you could always rely on a friend

– Neil Tennant, Chris Lowe