Sunday, May 26, 2013

Neil Peart ponders Rush's induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame


As many of  you know, I am a big Neil Peart fan.  The drummer for Rush has not only redefined percussion in the rock realm over the past 39 years of touring with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, but is also a noteworthy lyricist of all their songs, and an award-winning author of six books.  His blog is always a good read as well.  Entitled “News, Weather and Sports,” he gives a running commentary on his thoughts during global travel, much on his BMW R1100 GS motorcycle between concerts. Here are excerpts from his latest entry where he ponders the whirlwind of Rush finally being elected into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and many resultant behind-the-scenes escapades…

This first leg of the second part of the Clockwork Angels Tour, in spring, 2013, had been designed to be an East-Coast run. However, late last year the band was informed that our presence might be required at some little awards show on the West Coast, in mid-April.

At the time,the odds of us being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seemed unlikely-to-absurd, after something like fourteen years of rejection, but apparently we were “on the ballot.” So manager Ray insisted we had to factor it into our plans, and adjustments had to be made.

One change that suited me was that instead of band rehearsals taking place in Toronto, as usual, they would be in Los Angeles. So I would have a few extra weeks at home. In December I got a message from Ray asking me to call him. Fearing bad news (we get our share of that, like anyone else), I called him with a little trepidation. When Ray told me we were “in,” it took a while to process the mix of feelings: disbelief, delight, and a little more trepidation. There would be. . . challenges . . .

Following my own pre-tour preparations at the local Y, and at Drum Channel’s studio (two-and-a-half weeks of playing along with the recorded versions of the show, tuning up my technique and stamina), I joined the Guys at Work (Alex, Geddy, and our crew) at a warehouse in the San Fernando Valley. That was when things started to become surreal.

On our last day in the warehouse, we were joined by Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters, and our mutual coproducer Nick “Booujzhe” Raskulinecz. They wanted to rehearse their spoof of us from  . . . thirty-six years ago.

By now, the televised show in all its glory (I have faith it will retain the essence of what it was like to experience the real-time event — truly larger than life) will be widely shared. The performances, the speeches, the humor, and the overwhelming gathering of the Great and the Good are part of some kind of history now. However, the inner experience of living all that was something else again. Not larger than life, but exactly life-size.

The only way to portray even the ghost of what that few days felt like from the inside might be to jump ahead to when it was over — to a “reflective” moment.

The day following the event, I was able to bring my family with me to Austin, Texas, for a few days, for two production rehearsals and a day off before the first show there. Late on the night of the travel day, I found a moment of peace and reflection, and the next day I started writing a report to a group of friends called the “Breakfast Club for Cuties.” Brutus came up with that name for an informal email circle of four scattered Canadians (Icechuckers) — Brutus in Cowfart, Alberta, me in Westside L.A., friend Craiggie in Pasadena, and brother Danny in Vancouver, British Columbia.

All early risers, and in similar time zones, we gradually fell into the habit of exchanging notes early in the day — jokes, comments, thoughts, insults — almost daily for a while. They tapered off when one of the members had to go away on tour, but we still continued to communicate from time to time, as touring life allowed (for me, more likely late at night on the bus after a show than early in the morning).

After that night’s solitary reflections, I played the entire show the following night, and arrived home on my motorcycle feeling stimulated by both the performance and the dark ride home.

(I rarely choose to ride at night, especially in a region with so many deer, but it is certainly exciting. A milder version of Sir Winston Churchill’s great quote,  “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”)

So, tired and sore and yet all abuzz, I lounged outside on the balcony of the family condo with a large glass of the Macallan, and continued trying to put down some reflections to share with the Q-Tees™.

Subject: Aftermath

Austin, TX

Gentlemen:

Some story notes I will share with my fellow Cuties. 

Last night, I was sitting out late on the balcony of our family condo on the shore of Lake Travis, near Austin. B [Brutus] will remember it as a dam-widened stretch ofthe Colorado River (the Texas one, not the Grand Canyon one) near where the Pedernales (much more “Tex-Mex” kind of name) flows in.

For the flight here with the Guys at Work on their Falcon (nice — like the one B ’n’ me shared with them in Germany one time), with Carrie and Olivia, I dressed in Cowgirl Olivia’s honor — my “cowboy clothes.” Hat, shirt, and the boots I bought here in Austin last December (my first cowboy boots EVER!).

So, settlin’ back on the comfy outdoor sofa, I had my boots up on the table. The night was a little chilly, so I had a blanket around my shoulders.

From what must have been a bar at the marina across the water, a pretty good blues-rock band was playing (Friday night).

So, I was settin’ there, looking out at the dark water dotted with pretty colored lights, digging the band’s groove, and treating myself to a little extra rations of The Macallan. It was then I finally had a chance to reflect a little on the past night.

That thought flashed into my head, thinking — that was only LAST NIGHT!

The contrast between that frenetic state of mind and my present peaceful equilibrium was a complete polarity.

It’s going to take a week or so of reflection to sift through that entire overwhelming experience —just processing the data, as it were, slowing down the replay to remember moments in isolation and string them together into some kind of . . .narrative. Even my own interior narrative.

However, for me, the all-important part of last night’s reflections was the mood that colored all of my scattered memories — bathed in a glow of satisfaction.

Not for the honor and glory — but basically just because I had “done my job” properly. The key elements of that satisfaction were simple: I had spoken and played well.

Not only on our songs and the “Crossroads” jam, but even laying down a (hopefully) funky groove behind a pair of full-on master rappers. (Michael witnessed the “rehearsal” for that, just an hour before showtime, and he wished he could have filmed it. Geddy and I met in a backstage room with Chuck D from Public Enemy (“911 is a Joke in Your Town”) and the “DMC” of Run-DMC. They described the rhythmic feel, and where we should come in, and on what line we should stop. We nodded.)

There was also the star-(guitar-) studded “Crossroads” jam, for which I was also responsible for laying down the foundation of tempo and feel. So . . . my state of mind leading up to “all that” might best be expressed by “yikes!”

Just moments after it was over, as Geddy and I met in the quick-change tent at stage left (just like Madonna!), he said, “We laid it DOWN.”

And, shockingly, we did.

During the previous night’s rehearsal (our hip-hop brethren did not attend), after the “Crossroads” jam (do you believe that lineup of guitarists? Whoa!), one of the “presiding geniuses,” some rumpled-looking guy in a suit and tie, came up to me onstage and suggested that the tempo should be slower. I knew I was playing it the way we had recorded it, modeled on Cream’s version, but — I am a professional.

So I pulled it back anotch, and we played it again. It felt fine to me either way, but the boge[our slang for “square”] said it felt heavier and better for the soloists to breathe. I could see that. Then he suggested even a notch slower yet, and I said, “Okay.” There was no time to rehearse that, but I fingered out [how Brutus always says“figured”] a proper “feel” for a slightly slower tempo in my brain (’cause it ain’t just math, eh?). I also asked the geniuses to pass around to all the other players that I would be playing it slower.

(If nothing else, I wanted them to know it was on purpose!)

Well . . . Geddy wrote back in response to that report with, “That boge was Jann Wenner!”[Founder of Rolling Stone, and co-director of the Hall of Fame.]
Ha ha! — Perfect!

The world’s most powerful Rush-hater, rumored to have personally kept us out of the HOF all these years!

[Taylor Hawkins told me later that at that moment he had to walk away so he wouldn’t hit him­ — and when I wrote about it to another mutual friend and fellow drummer, Stewart Copeland, he wrote back that he wished he had been there, so he could head-butt the guy! Nice to have the support of my drum-brothers, but I didn’t see it as an insult, but a challenge. I am Canadian, and “We aim to please.”
The only problem was . .. doing it.]

But on the night, once again, I delivered just what I had wanted to, nailing exactly the tempo I imagined and holding it there — playing by the K.I.S.S. technique [“Keep It Simple Stupid”] — with what felt to me like a good solid groove.

The speech thing also got complicated. We had planned to be brief and improvised, with some remarks about family, business people, and fans — but then were told “Rash” needed time between the induction and their performance to change into their . . . kimonos . . .
They needed at least five minutes — yikes again!  
  
So . . . I made some “point form” notes. Then heard that we couldn’t use the teleprompter for OUR speeches. (I loves me some teleprompter.) All the presenters used it, and even the rappers, but I guess the geniuses had some idea about keeping those of the inductees “natural.”
(And oh — wait until you guys up Nord see the Flavor Flav show. Oh my, eh Craiggie?)

So I wrote out my speech in full, and printed it out LARGE — hoping I wouldn’t have to use my glasses.

Then midway through the show, we heard that our speeches would be on the teleprompter. So . . .good.

That worked!

[I began my speech with an improvised remark about how for years we had been saying this was no big deal — then followed with a turn-of-phrase typical of my friend Matt Scannell, “Turns out, it kind of IS!”]

Now — back to business-as-usual for us Rushians. First full-production rehearsal tonight, then again tomorrow night, then a day off, then the first show.

Then some more shows . . .

For our Hall of Fame speeches, the three of us chose “themes” that each of us would focus on — families for me, fans for Geddy, and for Alex, well . . . blah-blah-blah. (What a moment that was, when he hadn’t warned us what he was going to do. Geddy and I couldn’t see him “acting,” and thought he was going all Flavor Flav [no doubt that poor soul’srambling, embarrassing, endless blather, under Chuck D’s stern, arms-folded scowl, will be trimmed for the broadcast]. Geddy muttered to me, “How can we make him stop?”, and I raised my heavy “trophy” behind Alex’s head as if to brain him. The two of us have long declared Our Lerxst to be “The Funniest Man Alive,” and of course his performance was a huge comedic success. But he should have warned us.)

Another special facet of the event (perfect jewel analogy) was to meet some artists I had long admired, and just knowing them, right away. Taylor Hawkins had been a friend for a few years (my band mates appeared onstage with the Foo Fighters in Toronto, playing one of our songs with Taylor), but I had never met Dave Grohl, Tom Morello, or Chris Cornell.

When I traveled in China many years ago on a bicycle tour, I met another cyclist who had visited Tibet, and he told me about the greeting namaste. He defined it as, “I recognize the spirit within you.” It was like that with Dave, Tom, and Chris, appreciating and respecting their work, and them as artists of integrity. Meeting face to face for the first time, I felt I knew them — felt openness and trust, and saw it in their faces.

Perhaps less expectedly, I felt the same communion with Chuck D. Our music couldn’t be more different, but it seemed the spirit of it was the same. After the show, the three of us stood in a back hallway with him for a few minutes, and he told us a story.

“I grew up in Roosevelt, Long Island, near Nassau Coliseum. I had a friend who worked there, and one time I went to visit him, and you guys happened to be playing. I looked out through the doors at the audience, and saw like twenty thousand people completely focused on what you were doing. You were playing something quiet, and I said something about that dedication to my friend — and people in your audience ‘shushed’ me. That’s when I thought, I want to be part of something like that.”  

Again, it comes back to appreciation not of us, but of our fans. (Whether we earn that or not is something else —but I know we try.) One reality that impressed me greatly that night was that not only had our fans clamored for years to get us inducted into that Hall of Fame (one of the directors joked that he didn’t know what he was going to do with all his free time now that he didn’t have to field the constant protests from Rush fans), but they took the time, trouble, and expense to be there. Right from the beginning of the show, everybody in the house knew that our fans ruled that place. That was pretty sweet. They were proud of us, and we were proud of them.

But, in“normal” life (there’s that word again), people can always keep you grounded, too.
In my pre-tour preparations in February and March, going to the Y three times a week for my fitness regime, one day I was on the cross-trainer, pumping through the endless cardio routine with grim determination. Exercise, for me, is an exercise of will. It may be science, but it is not sweet.

On the neighboring machine was a middle-aged lady, maybe a few years younger than me, with ear-buds in. At one point she pulled out one of her ear-buds and leaned over to say, “I’ve got a couple of male friends who are, like, total groupies for you!”

As usual, I was a little embarrassed to be suddenly “public,” jolted out of a far-off state of mind, so I just looked over, gave her a little smile and a nod, and kept pumping.

Then she said, confidingly, “But I won’t tell them!”

I nodded and smiled again, and said, “Thank you.”

A few more minutes passed, my arms and legs working in a rhythmic cycle, breathing deep and measured, mind wandering off on its own. I concentrated on my pace and heart rate, and watched the crawling timer.

Then shepopped her ear-bud out again, and said,

“So — do you still drum at all?”



For the entire piece, including photos, go here:


Here I am after interviewing Neil for the first time in 1976 in Chicago:

Photo by Sam Smith

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dave Hope and Freddie Mercury: An unlikely pair


Dave Hope was staring intently as he took another long pull of his Marlboro Red.  He was looking down the dingy hallway at an open doorway at the end. He stood motionless, observing the person inside primping in front of a mirror.

At the time, Dave was a heavy-set, bearded, longhaired bassist for the band Kansas.  A former Topeka high school football standout, he was a no-nonsense, straight-shooting guy who didn’t suffer fools.

Kansas had been on tour opening for Queen for the better part of 1974.  Everyone got along famously, as both bands had worked through years of hardship trying to break out of preconceived notions about how rock music should sound and be presented.  These two groups exhibited a flair for the bombastic in their music, liked to break the mold with their progressive compositions, and each had exceptional lead singers.  Even though they came from vastly different backgrounds, they shared a common bond of being unique in a world of three chord boneheads.

One marked difference, however, was Kansas’ singer, Steve Walsh, didn’t exhibit the over-the-top showmanship of Queen’s Freddie Mercury.  In fact, Walsh was content to sit behind his keyboard for long stretches of their set concentrating on the intricate arrangements that needed to be delivered with precision.  Kansas generally let their playing be the stagecraft. Whereas, Mercury, with his flowing black mane, feathered boa scarf, and flamboyant, skin-tight body suit loved to prance about the stage like a toreador in a bullring.

So, here it was in that downtime between sets at some mid-level arena somewhere in the Midwest. Kansas had just finished rocking a few minutes before, and the stagehands were striking their gear and readying for Queen’s dramatic opening.  Dave had noticed Freddie from time-to-time applying his make-up and trying to get his hair “just so” before their set on other nights.  But, for some reason, he was laser focused on him this evening.

Hope took another drag on his cigarette, burning it down to the filter.  He then dropped it on the floor and rubbed it out with his well-worn Stetson boot.  He lit up another and continued to stare at Mercury as he preened at the reflection of himself, meticulously applying some eyeliner, coyly batting his eyes, and flipping his hair like a Hollywood starlet.

As I said, everyone got along wonderfully. That isn’t always the case, as often bands that tour together end up with a healthy disdain for each other.  But these Englishmen and their cohorts from the Great Plains had grown close. 

The stage manager opened the door at the other end of the hall and bellowed, “Two minutes!  Let’s go Queenies!”  Freddy continued fluffing his hair, puckered his lips to make sure there was no smudging, and leaned into the mirror yet again for a microcosmic analysis of things that absolutely no one would notice in an over-the-top rock extravaganza.

Dave had had enough.  He flicked his unfinished cig against the wall and walked five paces to the entrance of Mercury’s room.  "You know, Freddie, you can primp and doll yourself all you want," he chided with a crooked smile. “But no matter how hard you try, you’re always gonna be one astoundingly ugly, buck-toothed, son-of-a-bitch.”

Taking one last glance at his own backside in the looking glass as he walked past Dave, Freddie gave him a peck on the cheek and with his famously broad smile said, “Yes, luv, I know.  Thanks for reminding me,” and then waltzed down the hall, took the stage, and rocked that crowd into oblivion. And Dave couldn't help but shake his head and chuckle at the absurd camaraderie they all shared.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

What do Bill Cosby, mystery, yearning, "Almost Famous," transparency, tears, and Jethro Tull have in common?


My book, Embracing the Gray: A Wing a Prayer, and A Doubter’s Resolve, has elicited many Five Star Reviews at Amazon.com.  Here are some more that have come in… 

I want to get right to the point: Buy this book! It is a memoir of a serious Christian and his faith journey, but so much more. Other reviews have given you a pretty detailed view of what it comprises, so let me focus more on what it is not. It is not a conventional memoir, starting from A and ending with Z. It is more a series of vignettes in Mr. Hollingsworth's life that exemplify how he struggled and how he grew in his faith. It is not a "preachy" book in regards to faith. Rather, it describes the struggle that just about all followers of Christ experience. It does not insult the reader by talking down to them, summing up what a chapter means. Rather, one is left to decide for themselves what conclusions should be drawn. It is not a book of rigid Christian doctrine, describing a narrow path to faith. Rather, Mr. Hollingsworth shares with the reader timeless principles of faith. The chapters comprise wonderful short stories or events in his life, and regardless of the details of each, I cannot imagine the great majority of readers not identifying with his struggles, sharing his emotions, and being enriched from his telling. This book is filled with hope, doubt, sadness, reflection, joy, wonderment, yearning, questioning, affirmation, and so much more. But if I had to describe a single term for what it evokes, it would be humanity. Like I said: buy this book. You will be richer for it. 
D.A. 

Honest and entertaining. Embracing The Gray has been one of the most rewarding reads I have had in recent history. Mark has the relatable, honest, and humorous qualities of great storytellers like Bill Cosby, and manages to inspire deep thought in an honest spiritual journey all at once. I look forward to reading it again.
S.C.B. 

Treasure the questions. This book is a collection of the some of the blogs from one of the most thoughtful, insightful, entertaining and challenging writers in the blogosphere.  I have been a keen reader of his writings for a number of years and I was excited when I heard of the release of this his first book.

It does not disappoint. It is a journey into the world of a man who has lived an extraordinary life but has clearly kept his feet on the ground and so displays himself as an ordinary guy. The son of a pastor he shares the story of a boy brought up in a world where he realizes he has his own big questions about God. The book explores this ongoing journey from the trusting faith of a child through his agnostic period (whilst at bible college!) through to his acceptance that if God is God & Mark is not, then he will never have all the answers. This is the gray that is mentioned in the title.

The stories are all incredibly readable and in many cases very moving. My personal favourites were "Entertaining Angels" and "In a Highland Meadow"

If you like your faith stories and parables full of simple answers & platitudes, give the book a miss and pray really hard that tragedy never visits your door. However, most of us accept that life is full of mystery & as such this book is a welcome addition to our library. I cannot recommend it highly enough. 
G.S. 

Simply stunning. Honestly, Mark's life runs parallel to the film "Almost Famous," only it's more exciting. I won't ruin any of the surprises, but I guarantee you'll have several moments where you say to yourself "I can't believe all this happened to one person."  The only book I've ever read with a meeting with U2, and an incident with a drunken, suicidal gunman live just pages apart. And both are true. Loved it!           
S.H. 

You’ll be reading passages aloud to the nearest person. Embracing the Gray will have you reading with your mouth agape, or tearing up, or laughing out loud. You'll be inspired by the author's transparency and humor. You'll enjoy this read if you are interested in music, travel, deepening relationships or spiritual things. There is no shying away from the "hard questions" here.
S.D. 

Excellent.  I appreciate Mark's refreshing honesty about his faith, his struggles, and the joy and torment that life in general brings. I was moved to the brink of tears often. The compassion exhibited throughout is inspiring.
B.B. 

In a world where many people try to delineate the "black & white" - the "one way or the other" - it's refreshing that someone has "embraced the gray" because that's where we all live. There are too many factors involved in everything to make a clean cut decision between "this and that" - even though that's what many of us want. What is written in this book are Mark's experiences, but I'm sure any/all of us can relate somehow. If not, then I don't know..."I may make you feel, but I can't make you think..." (from “Thick as a Brick” by Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull). Either way is good by me. Get the book, read it, and come to your own thoughts as to how what is said applies to your own life.
S.H. 

I continue to be humbled by the response the book is generating.  If you have read it and wish to correspond with me, I always interact with any communiqu├ęs.   You can also read many reader reviews (97% are Five Stars) at:


Embracing the Gray is still available for a limited time as a 99 cent Kindle download at that same link, or as a free PDF download at my website (donations accepted):






Sunday, May 5, 2013

Despite Technology, life takes its own sweet time


Nashville Tennessean columnist Ray Waddle sums it up well...
Shortly before his death in 2007, novelist Norman Mailer ventured into theology, speculating that the modern world has become a bloody battle between two unpredictable forces — God and Satan. And a third rival is rising fast to match those two — human free will.
The world-bending effects of our tech revolutions tempt us now to think we can stand on our own, claiming more power than the devil and no need of God. For Mailer it was frightening to think of a future of synthetic humans, robotics and other giddy products of human ingenuity.
“If I have been ready to question God’s judgment on many a matter, I am wholly reluctant to put faith in our judgment,” he said in On God: An Uncommon Conversation. “We are far from equipped to deal with the cosmos.”
Mailer would be consoled to learn that our hurtle into the techno-utopian future has already hit a bump: We’re having trouble managing today’s information glut even at this early stage in the futuristic blueprint.
In his new book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, author Douglas Rushkoff talks about the way we experience data and media these days — as a steady-stream dictatorship of continuous email, tweets, Facebook updates and news aggregators so relentless that we never catch a breath, pull back to get perspective, or respect the linear nature of human life.
“We have a completely new relationship to time,” he says at rushkoff.com. “We live in an always-on ‘now,’ where the priorities of this moment seem to be everything.
“Wall Street traders no longer invest in a future; they expect profits off their algorithmic trades themselves, in the ultra-fast moment. Voters want immediate results from their politicians, having lost all sense of the historic timescale on which government functions. Kids text during parties to find out if there’s something better happening in the moment, somewhere else.”
Flowing from this screaming whirlwind of what he calls “presentism” are various unintended consequences. One is a renewed itch for conspiracy theories. When there’s no time to organize data overload into a larger narrative or ongoing storyline, then the only way to make sense of it is to find real-time connections and patterns so everything connects to everything else right now, no matter how implausible.
A second consequence, Rushkoff notes, is a yearning for apocalypse, a final silencing of the incessant data torrent. The urge might be post-Christian or secular, but the impulse harkens to ancient religious instincts about the end of time.
All this will be an embarrassing (or momentary) setback to can-do utopians. But to those of us who never believed human nature would change even though the technology does, it’s no big surprise. It’s a quaint piece of hubris to think we could ever collapse time, master the “now,” pull the essence from it, elude the prison house of interpretation or defy the very physics of the 24-hour day, the need for sleep and food and other people.
What comes to mind is an endearingly analog insight that still offers sanity in a culture chasing the new algorithmic deities. Writer I.B. Singer once said: “God is a writer, and we are both the heroes and the readers.” The idea implies a cosmic plot line, an “Author’s” story unfolding through the sinews of linear time, a tale requiring our patience and courage. For whatever reason, the bones of the universe include the stubborn persistence of minutes, hours and eons as well as beginnings, middles and ends (more or less in that order). “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” poet Muriel Rukeyser once said.
Books take time (as the author of Present Shock wryly acknowledges). So do friendships, marriages, civilizations, religions, children, memories, the confirmation of facts, the triumph of wisdom — a step at a time, moment to moment, bordered by blessed intervals of silence.
The enemies of these things always lurk around: arrogant impatience and fantasies of purity and human perfectibility. Technological visions of a frictionless future scrubbed clean of raggedy human limitation lead to totalitarianism, cruelty and madness. The story of the world has always said so.
Thoughts?