Tag Archives: New York

Exclusive Q&A With New York Songwriter Edward Rogers

British-born, New York-bred songwriter Edward Rogers has announced the release of his fourth solo album, Porcelain, on November 8, 2011 with the premiere of the title track and a new video.  Early last week, Blurt Online premiered the title track on their site ( http://blurt-online.com/news/view/5401/).  The new video is for another track off Porcelain, “The Biba Crowd”, and set to footage from Jean Luc-Godard’s 1964 film Band of Outsiders (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoSSUSH_T4o).  “The Biba Crowd” will also be featured on the free November CD from the UK’s Word Magazine.

Rogers, who has been extremely prolific, began his career playing drums in several garage bands.  When a subway accident in October 1985 left him without his right arm and right leg below the knee, he turned to songwriting and found that he enjoyed singing and writing more rewarding than playing drums.  In addition to his four solo albums, Rogers has also released two with Bedsit Poets, a folk/Brit-inspired trio whose name was given to them by The Zombies’ Colin Blunstone.  He has played extensively in New York, Los Angeles, London, Canada, and along the East Coast both solo and with Bedsit Poets.

 I recently caught with Rogers, who discussed his new album, working with Roger McGuinn, and influences such as David Bowie and Ray Davies.  

 

Music has been such a dominant force in your life – you turned to songwriting after your accident.  Do you still find it as powerful and encouraging now as you did then?

 Both listening to and writing music are two of the most fulfilling ways to spend my time. I think since the accident, I’ve become much more aware of how precious life is, and this encourages me to spend more time on writing. There’s an amazing feeling when you write a song, finish it and feel that it’s good. I still love to hear new music of all types, currently The Horrors, Noel Gallagher, Laura Marling, the new Glen Campbell, as well as going back and rediscovering classics from the past and vibing to the sounds of old T.Rex, Martin Newall, Sandy Shaw.

 Though you had been doing songwriting for a long time – why did you suddenly decide to delve into a solo career in 2004? Was this something that you been thinking to do for a long time?

 I always saw myself as a member of a group, but when I met up with singer-songwriter, George Usher, he encouraged me and generously devoted his time to helping me discover my own songwriting potential. So writing and recording my first two solo albums were a learning process for me, with George as a great musical partner and mentor. I had the luxury of having a lot of my musical heroes join me on those records, such as Roger McGuinn, Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent and Marty Willson-Piper, just to name a few.

You also have released two albums with the Bedsit Poets – what’s your role in that group and how does it differ from your solo work?

 I started Bedsit Poets as a way of working on a collaborative project with Amanda Thorpe. Our British backgrounds and sense of humor were very similar. We later added Mac Randall. I was the driving force in the group and one of the principle songwriters. We had a lovely time together, releasing two albums with a third set of demos, but there came a shelf life and we just took different directions. Bedsit Poets (who got their name from Colin Blunstone) still remains one of my favorite musical projects. That group enabled me to learn harmony singing and opened me up to another type of songwriting, mainly British acoustic, folk-pop.

 “Porcelain” recalls the albums you grew up with as a kid.  My first thought was that many sounded like a lost-Kinks songs.  Where they a major inspiration?  

 Funny you picked up on that. My last album, “Sparkle Lane”, was definitely intended to be a nod to  (The Kink’s) Village Green Preservation Society/Arthur from being a kid growing up in Birmingham, England to arriving in the U.S. of A., whereas Porcelain is a more guitar-driven, forceful album, with a few soft diamonds, reminiscent to me of the music I listened to during the period of 1972-1975. This album is actually more influenced by writers like Ian Hunter, John Cale and Kevin Ayers, so you are not far off the track. Ray Davies is obviously a major influence on my work.

 You’ve been busy over the past decade, releasing several albums.  Porcelain seems to culminate everything you’ve done so far.  Would you agree that is a fair assessment?  

That’s very perceptive. Each of my solo albums has been a learning process, trying to move myself forward. With this album, I feel I have finally reached a new level and something I’m going to have to work hard to match next time through, but I’ve got about 20 new songs waiting to be demoed. I think a large part of the difference comes with the musicians who were kind enough to play on Porcelain and also give their creative input. You really can’t go wrong when you have people like Don Piper producing, James Mastro, Don Fleming, Pete Kennedy, Sal Maida, Konrad Meissner, Ira Elliot and Joe McGinty and many other friends giving their time and support.

You’re British-born but currently live in New York City.  Your music seems to pick the cool vibe of New York with the sonic textures of England. Does that combination come naturally to you?

 You really have been listening! Again, very perceptive. That’s exactly the vibe I was looking for during the making of Porcelain. Sonically, the music is New York City and lyrically, it combines experiences I’ve had in the last 18 months. Yes, I’ve lived in NYC most of my life but my roots are still in England. If you listen to “Porcelain” the sax solo was definitely an attempt to channel the energy of Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay’s sax solo from “Virginia Plain.”

 “Tears Left in the Bottle” is such a beautiful song.  Is that an autobiographical song?

 Thankfully, the song is not written about myself, but about several really good friends of mine who have bottomed out and have had to fight the battle to get their lives back in order. It seems the environment surrounding music and the creative process often gives license to indulge whenever and as much as you can or can’t handle. There’s even a mythical element to that indulgence. Look at all the people we’ve lost at the age of 27, most recently Amy Winehouse.

 “Silent Singer” is a great way to the end the album. It’s got one of your best vocals and melodies contrasted with a biting guitar line.  How did that song come about?  It sounds like a David Bowie song.  

This song is really special to me as it was inspired by my late Dad, who I lost last October. As he was fighting for his life with lung cancer, he kept telling me about the singer who was taking him to a bar at night. And, he could hear the songs in his head. That’s what inspired the demo, with very soft vocals. Again, I must credit the producer, Don Piper, and musician Don Fleming for transitioning the song into a “Spiritualized”-like ending to the album. Thanks for your musical reference to David Bowie, another major influence.

“Porcelain” comes out in November. How are you going to celebrate its release?  Any plans after that?  

I just booked a record release show at the new Cutting Room in NYC on November 17th with all the musicians on the album. Before that, I’m going over to London in October to do some promotion (the album comes out there in January). For the New York show, Syd Straw, who did some backing vocals, will be on the bill, as will my producer Don Piper with a don piper situation. After that, depending on how the album is received, we will continue to play live dates. I would love to get this band to play in Europe, as well as the United States! Always have to have the aspirations and dreams to make the reality happen. Thanks for listening to the record. For those of you reading this, give it a spin. Cheers.

http://www.edwardrogersmusic.com/

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5 Songs About New York

I’m in the middle of Patti Smith’s fantastic memoir Just Kids which recounts her early years in New York City with Robert Mapplethorpe.  I’ve compiled a mix of songs about New York as a soundtrack while reading it.  Here’s a few of the songs I picked.

Leonard Cohen – “Chelsea Hotel #2”

It seems like every artist that lived in New York during the 1960s resided in the Chelsea Hotel for a period.   With its sparse guitar and Cohen’s naked lyrics – “giving me head in the unmade bed” –  present a heartbreaking portrait of his affair with Janis Joplin.  She tells him that she prefers more handsome man, but she’d make an exception for him.   “We are ugly but we have the music” seems to represent not just Cohen and Joplin, but rather all of the artists that lived there.  For many artists the Chelsea was a mecca for artists looking for their muse.

The Clash – “Koka Kola”

At first, “Koka Kola” might seem like the weakest song on London Calling.  It’s short and concise.  But in under 2 minutes, Strummer manages to attack stock brokers, advertisements, and businessmen’s love for cocaine and party-girls.  “The money can be made if you really want some more,” Strummer muses.  London Calling was released in the December 1979, so in its own way “Koka Kola” could be seen a song that foreshadows what some saw as a decade of corporate greed.

U2 – “The Hands That Built America”

U2 has written several songs about New York.  Some are great (“City of Blinding Lights”) some are not (“New York”).   “The Hands That Built America” falls into the “forgotten” bin.  Written for Martin Scorcese’s under-rated “Gangs of New York”, the song recalls the trials of immigrants and how they shaped the US and specifically New York.  The bridge contains some operatic singing from Bono – a theme he would explore on “Sometime You Can’t Make It On Your Own” a few years later.  The final verse contains references 9/11 – “it’s early fall, innocence dragged across a yellow line”.  One of U2’s best songs in the past decade.

Simon & Garfunkel – “The Boxer”

I could probably write a whole post on this song – which remains one of all time favorite songs.  Largely known for its chorus, “The Boxer” contains some of Simon’s best lyrics, a first person account of struggling to find his way in New York.  There’s also some pretty fantastic guitar picking courtesy of Fred Carter, Jr. Urban legend had suggested that the song is an attack on Bob Dylan, however Simon said that the song is mostly an autobiographical account.  If you’ve ever heard Dylan’s version released on Self Portrait – it’s one of the worst things ever put to record.

John Lennon – “New York City”

One of Lennon’s best “rockers” from his solo career.  With its fast-paced lyrics recalling tales of wandering around New York, in some ways its similar to “The Ballad of John and Yoko”, except less serious.  There’s also hilarious lyrics as well: “the pope smokes dope everyday”, and “up comes a preacher man singing, ‘God’s a red-herring in drag.'”.  Lennon seems pretty animated throughout the song and sums up his feeling about the city at the end with: “New York City – what a bad-ass city!”

 

 

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Christmas/Holiday Theme Week: “Fairytale of New York”

The Holiday season is a magical time, and for many New York City is one of the most magical places during this time of year.  It’s supposed to be a time of coming together.  A time of “gifts and giving”.  Naturally, The Pogues would be the ones to deconstruct their myth with their classic “Fairytale of New York”.  It’s a song about two ex-lovers (most likely immigrants) remembering the happy times they had in New York, only to see it blow up in their face.

The song weaves in and out of the past and present, each part of their relationship represented by events that occurred on Christmas Eve.    There’s MacGown lying drunk at the beginning on Christmas Eve sometime after their relationship failed.  He then remembers a past Christmas Eve which found the two lovers wandering around New York City, hand in hand.  At first it seems like McColl’s appearance in the song is a conversation between the two.  But it’s more likely that it is an internal monologue.  MacGowan is probably slipping in and out of consciousness reflecting on real conversations and events, and later what she would most likely tell him if she saw him lying in a drunk-tank.

Sometime before, the two lovers came to New York City in search of a better life.  The lure of New York City during Christmas had a profound effect on them.  MacGown promised that Broadway was waiting for her.  They listened to Sinatra, held hands and walked around Manhattan on Christmas Eve.  They built their dreams around each other, as many lovers do.  And then the fall-out happens.  He finds her overdosed “lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed.”  It’s likely that she threw him out calling him a “scumbag, a maggot”.  “Happy Christmas your arse!” She tells him.  “I pray God it’s our last!”

And it was most likely their last.  In the drunk-tank MacGowan is forced to reconcile with himself.  “I could have been someone,” He laments. Real or imaginary, McColl tells him, “well so could anyone.  You took my dreams from me, when I first found you.”  “I kept them with me babe,” He says, perhaps more to himself than to her.

 

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Lil Wayne, MTV and Hypocrisy

Yesterday, after spending 8 months for gun charges at Rikers, Lil Wayne was released. The music industry is probably happy to have one of its biggest stars free, even though his latest album I Am Not Human released last month, is selling well.  MTV.com spent the day with round the clock news and updates about Wayne’s release.

Flashback to 2003 when Jay-Z released the “controversial” video for “99 Problems”.  In the video, Jay is shot to death (which was supposed to symbolize his “death” and retirement from rap.)  Before it was aired, MTV flashed PR videos about gun violence and John Norris went on to explain something about the “artistic merit” of the song and video, lest anyone get any ideas.

And here they are 7 years later, practically praising Lil Wayne for his stint in jail.  Once again, MTV is showing its hypocrisy.  The channel is notorious for its shows glamorizing sex (“Jersey Shore” in particular), and fights (“The Real World”, and once again “Jersey Shore”).  Yet, during an episode of Teen Mom they placed ad for Domestic Abuse Centers, and also have been advocating the anti-cyberbullying movement.  While I do agree with the message, you can’t tell me that the cast of “Jersey Shore” as they slam each other into walls, and Lil Wayne with his gun charge are getting the message that MTV so clearly wants its audience to hear.

(And for the record, I do like some of Wayne’s music, and I hope that he gets his act together after his sentence.  Unlike TI.)

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Bob Dylan & New York: “Spanish Harlem Incident”

When I first looked at the track-list for Another Side of Bob Dylan, and saw the title “Spanish Harlem Incident”, I wrongly assumed that it was a topical song about Spanish Harlem.  This was back when I didn’t know much about Dylan, and had yet to realize what  Another Side of Bob Dylan was about.

It should come as no surprise that Dylan would be attracted to such a girl.  He’s always had a fascination with the exotic nomadic lifestyle – he’s romanticized his travel from Minnesota to New York.  The Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975/76 was a sort of circus/gypsy touring extravaganza.  And “One More Cup of Coffee” is another song about gypsies.

“But now destiny was about to manifest itself,” He wrote in Chronicles Volume One. “I felt like it was looking at me and nobody else.”   Is this why he wandered up to Spanish Harlem, to confirm what he already thought might be true?  “Let me know babe, about my fortune,” He tells the mysterious woman.  “Down along my restless palm.”  Perhaps that was his original intention, but as the song goes on, he is seduced by the gypsy girl’s powers.  “You have slayed me, you have made me,” He tells her.

While on the surface, the attraction is purely sexual – perhaps Dylan felt a subconscious connection as an exile with her.  In the 1960’s Dylan had not only abandoned his home in Minnesota for a better life and opportunity in New York City, but he also abandoned his life as a Jew, adopting Dylan as his last name versus his surname Zimmerman.  Both Gypsies and Jews were targeted by Nazis in the Holocaust, so perhaps Dylan and the “gypsy gal” both saw themselves victims and exiles trying to make it in New York City, where all different kinds of cultures and races came together for a better life.  “I’ve been wondering all about me,” Dylan admits in the song.  Could he be referring to his new found identity as “Bob Dylan” versus “Robert Zimmerman”?  Did he think that this woman he found on the street could help him?

At the song’s conclusion, Dylan wants to know if he is real.  Is this referring to his legitimacy as a songwriter, or if making the move to New York was in fact the right move?  A year later, on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” as his narrator wanders through Mexico in a drug-haze he answers this question by stating: “I’m going back to New York City, I do believe I’d had enough.”

“Spanish Harlem Incident” – The only version I could find on Youtube was this cover by James Mercer:

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Bob Dylan & New York: “Positively 4th Street”

1965 has often been described as the year when Dylan was an “angry young man”.   There are many songs during that period where Dylan cut down ex-lovers (“Like a Rolling Stone”), journalists (“Ballad of a Thin Man”), and society in general (“It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”).     While “Like a Rolling Stone”‘s attack was visceral and sadistic its intent was covered in word-play and drugged out literary images.  This of course ensured that its meaning and lyrics could be deciphered for years to come.  But it’s “Positively 4th Street” that is downright nasty – Dylan eschews his surrealistic imagery that he was custom to at the time.  It’s so direct and simple, that there is no question exactly how he’s feeling.

For years Dylan had been living in Greenwich Village – (4th Street may be a reference to where he once lived) and cut his teeth performing at the coffee-houses in the area.  “America is changing,” Dylan wrote in his memoir Chronicles Volume 1. “I had a feeling of destiny and I wasd riding the changes.  New York was as good a place to be as any.”  Dylan was always good at picking up on change.  He came into New York just as the folk-scene was beginning to explode, and in the mid 1960’s he released followed the cues of the Beatles.  Of course his version of amplified music, would send ripples across the counter-culture.

It was inevitable that there would be a backlash once he decided to go electric.  The famous performance at Newport got the most press, but back in Greenwich Village, some of his supporters viewed him a sell-out.  The topical songs were gone.  Just as everyone else was trying to catch up to Dylan, he quickly moved the opposite direction.

“Don’t you know, it’s not my problem”, He declares near the end of the song.  Dylan wasn’t just being apathetic here – he had moved on, and felt that the scene was also moving on as well.  The Folk Scene in Greenwich Village might have started out as progressive, but sometime between 1960 and 1965 it seemed to become very constricted its own ideals. Dylan used to live on 4th Street in Manhattan (there’s also suggestions that 4th Street refers to his time at the University of Minnesota, but I find this doubtful) so he makes it clear from the beginning his targets in the song are those who used to come to his shows, old friends journalists, and anyone else who was now crying foul on his new direction.

“You got a lot of nerve,” Dylan says in the song.  As if to reinforce the idea, he says it twice (although it’s followed up with a different reason.) Dylan calls out his “friend” for talking behind his back.  He knows his target is guilty, because he used to do the same thing, and hang out with the same people.  This line reminds me of the chorus of “My Back Pages” – “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” – Dylan is realizing how pathetic the “scene” is to him.

In contrast to the song’s light tone, and an organ that you can almost whistle to, Dylan imagines that his friend would rather see him paralyzed.  “Why don’t you just come out once and scream it?” Dylan demands.  The weight of the song is put upon this line.  In his mind, much of the folk-scene complained and bitched about what was taking place, but very few actually made the change themselves. They couldn’t come up and “scream it”.   Dylan did in more ways that one, and that’s why much of the scene was pissed.  It wasn’t about Dylan being a sell-out.  They knew the change had come, and missed their opportunity.

 

(For some reason, Youtube only has covers of “Positively 4th Street”.  Sorry that there’s no video/audio.)

 

 

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Bob Dylan & New York

I’m going to New York City this weekend, so this week’s theme is going to revolve around New York.  I was going to do a full week of my favorite New York songs, but I came to the conclusion that once I posted it I would be pissed, because there would probably be a song that I should have profiled.

So, to celebrate the release of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol. 9 – The Witmark Demos (which was a publishing company based in New York) I’m going to look at Dylan songs about New York.

More later.

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