Speechless

Posted By on July 23, 2012

James Holmes looked like Bozo the Clown in his court appearance today. No wonder, since he was the easily and well armed Joker who mutilated the nation’s innocence—again—in a crowded theater in suburban Denver Friday night. Colorado seems to be a magnet for crazy.

Gnashing of teeth, words of sobriety and comfort, nuanced posturing, and a nation fatally ambivalent toward violence all add up to nothing. As long as the United States values “freedom” over community, “individualism” over society and cash over conscience, the loonies will have access to murder tools.

Look for politicians who back gun control. Help those who fight the NRA. Support them, even if that involves shades of grey. But until a national figure more powerful even than New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stands up to guns, nothing will happen. I wish I could be more hopeful, but this kind of incident leaves me in despair. I wish I could strip the quotes from freedom and individualism and trust more in the American community. It’s rusted and scary these days.

The Obama problem

Posted By on July 10, 2012

I’m worried that Mitt Romney will oust Barack Obama in November. For the second month in a row, Romney has outraised the president. The GOP ad buy will probably swamp the Dems, signaling a takeover of the country by Fox News. This is alarming.

I’ve contributed to the Obama campaign, but not as much as I did four years ago, when I had more money and a lot more hope. The Democrats don’t message well. They certainly don’t have the jackboot discipline of the Republicans, who smile and lie and make empty promises. They’re infuriating. But the GOP stays on point, no matter how vacuous and retro.

Obama supporters want me to canvass and phonebank, as I did four years ago. I probably will later this summer. I think Obama has been a decent president, in the face of ridiculous odds: a disastrous economy he inherited from Dubya, a Congress ruled by purists eager to return to the 18th century, and a Democratic party that can’t even explain its successes, let alone trumpet them. But he’s been disappointing, and his message—that progress is a slog and he’s not to blame for the country’s sorry condition—isn’t inspiring.

I hope the speeches Obama makes from now on and his debates with Romney will resurrect the man I believed in so fervently four years ago. I need mojo, not malaise.

Forward 2012

Posted By on July 6, 2012

A vague post today, like Obama’s 2012 campaign “slogan.” But forward nevertheless, if by fits and starts. I missed posting a blog Tuesday though I’d sworn to post one every Tuesday. Have to remind Siri, my iPhone helper, to remind me to do that, not to mention other tasks.

We spent the last week of June in Stone Harbor, a seaside New Jersey town we’ve enjoyed before. It was nice; only one grey day, the rest sunny, hot, perfect for the beach. The drive home was endless, but the vacation week was good. I read The Kings of Cool, Don Winslow’s “prequel” to Savages, along with Lou Berney’s Whiplash River, the sequel to Gutshot Straight. Easy, stimulating reads that strike deeper than you think. And I didn’t do any work on Invisible Soul.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve done a lot more work on that project. It has been accumulating Friends quickly, surging this past week. Seems the pictures that get the most attention are pix of old jazz scenes and of the Dazz Band. Which makes me think the page will explode if and when I post vintage pictures of the O’Jays—a possibility.

No book yet, though I’ve written several chapters. But the Facebook page has assumed a life of its own, branding the project before it’s executed. Marketing the idea via social media is working. Convincing the publishing industry to capitalize on that is another. My fingers remain crossed.

Shore thing

Posted By on June 26, 2012

It’s our third day in our house a block from the beach in Stone Harbor, the Jersey Shore town we hanker to visit at least once a year. Yesterday was stormy and grey with patches of dry, a perfect day to play tourist in tourist-savvy Cape May, down the road apiece.

On Sunday, I made my usual yearly mistake: sitting in the sun long enough to burn. Yesterday cooled me off. I’m ready for more sun and a swim. The beach is less than five minutes away.

Vacation is weird when you’re retired. I still work, and work hard, but I make my own schedule. That’s different from an office routine, which provides its own discipline. I still have work to do—I just finished a review of James Lee Burke’s latest novel for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette—but I’m focusing on relaxing. It’s not easy.

We’ve gone out to eat, bought great key lime pie, and watched a few movies. The Grey was depressing and contrived, despite the performance of Liam Neeson. Drive was better: a brutal psychological thriller starring Ryan Gosling, with great turns by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, a man of incredibly long face.

My great friend, Rich Roberts, is coming to visit Thursday. It will be a too-rare opportunity to hang with him. Next week I’ll post a pic or two of our New Jersey sojourn. Excuse me while I get back to my time off.

Soul rising

Posted By on June 19, 2012

Last Friday, I sent off a chapter about Motown and its relationship to Cleveland soul music. It went to an editor at an academic press in the South who said he’d get back to me about it first week in July. Here’s hoping.

Motown’s Fateful Shadow is the longest chapter I’ve written yet, and it’s largely about near misses. That’s too often the story when it comes to Cleveland music, no matter the genre. But in Invisible Soul, the book I’m writing, race underlines that pattern of failure. Black music simply didn’t cross over much in this city despite Motown’s calculated, successful and memorable product.

Leo’s Casino was the main intersection of the races, and local acts did well there too, opening for Motown stars like the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder. It ran from 1963 to 1972, roughly the heyday of Motown. By all accounts, it was a fantastic place. I plan a separate chapter on Leo’s.

The great Gray and Company publicist Jane Lassar just blogged about writing blogs and/or developing Facebook pages. She still does great by my Grayco book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories. Now she cited my Invisible Soul Facebook page as a vehicle for developing a market. I’m happy to say it’s growing steadily, with Friends and Likes from all the world.

Mentions like Jane’s really help. Nice when social media actually work.

Worries and opportunities

Posted By on June 13, 2012

Missed my blog entry yesterday. Woke up midway through the night anxious about it, so here it is. Just read a story about how Romney is seizing on Obama’s misspeakings, painting the president as out of touch. No matter that gaffemeister Romney is genetically out of touch himself. What matters is that Romney’s turning the tables, simplifying and ridiculing Obama’s complicated, non-linear and apparently ineffective messaging. I’m worried for Obama, who’s beginning to smart from the relentless GOP slams and that narrow party’s mindless obstructionism. And media are buying into the GOP’s Citizens United-fueled distortions.

I think Romney would be a bad president because he’s a reactionary like Reagan, the jingo with the smiling face so revered by Republicans who’d like the country to go back to the values of the Revolutionary War era. Obama’s still by far the better choice. The main reason he hasn’t delivered on various promises is that all of the GOP and many in his own party haven’t even attempted to work with him.

On the up side: I’m putting the finishing touches on an Invisible Soul chapter I’m due to send that publishing house in the South this week, along with a revised outline including sources I’ll use for each chapter. This one is very long and has been hard to craft. Thanks to my fine editor Karen Sandstrom for the love and mercy she shows in helping me put this together.(Be sure to look at her blog entry on “Your Daily Newspaper.”)

In addition, Great Lakes Review, a journal of writing from Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto, Milwaukee, and Buffalo, has accepted an Invisible Soul chapter to publish in its inaugural issue this fall—both online and in print. Invisible Soul is beginning to see the light.

Keeping in rhythm

Posted By on June 5, 2012

So I don’t miss my commitment, here’s my weekly blog. Believe it or not, it’s again about Invisible Soul. On Sunday, I headlined a two-hour program of Invisible Soul tracks largely based on Boddie Recording Company, the three-CD set Numero Group released in November. I, Shari and Jeff also included some tracks friends have given me over the past year and a half I’ve been developing the project: one cut by the Quails and two by Ruby Carter and the Exceptional Three.

The show at WRUW went well. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from it and hope the three of us do a sequel or two, particularly now that Lou Ragland and the Hesitations (and, I hear, the Chosen Few) are going to perform at Beachland Aug. 24. In addition, the Happy Dog may be interested in doing Invisible Soul nights—or at least a night.

So the project is moving ahead. I’m closing in on finishing a chapter about Motown and its relation to Cleveland; by midmonth I have to submit that and a revised outline to the press I’ve been talking with since last fall. Whatever happens with that press, I’m going ahead with a project that continues to gain momentum.

Soul DJ

Posted By on May 29, 2012

I spent most of this afternoon listening to tracks from Boddie Recording Company, the three-CD box Numero Group released in November. I’m selecting ones to play this Sunday afternoon over WRUW (91.1 FM), the Case Western Reserve radio station.

Shari Wilkins and Jeff Bishop, who DJ there, asked me whether I’d head a show based on recordings waxed at Boddie on Union Avenue near 122nd between the late ‘50s and the early ‘90s. No problem; the Boddie material is at the core of Invisible Soul, the book I’m developing on underground Cleveland soul music.

I’ll also play some non-Numero stuff; I’ve collected a gang of bootlegs, private pressings and burns of material from that era, including way-cool vocals by the Quails, the hard-edged ghetto funk of S.O.U.L., the ethereal doo-wop of the Fabulous Five Flames, and the eerie pop of the Elements. Not to mention CDs by Lou Ragland and Kim Tolliver, hot local performers that made occasional seminational noise.

The idea is to present a show that will focus on Invisible Soul, the underground Cleveland soul music of 30, 40, even 50 years ago. Shari and Jeff recently came across the Boddie box, and they’re hooked. For people in the Cleveland area, the show will run from 2 to 4 p.m. June 3 over WRUW.

I’ve also been going over my interviews. Lots of material there, all beginning to become of a piece. I can see this book taking shape. It’ll be fun to play the music at its heart, music that should have been a hit then. Maybe now’s the time.

Pushing out

Posted By on May 22, 2012

I’ve been poring over the interviews at the core of Invisible Soul all week, trying to see what’s common, what themes to earmark for the book’s sectioning. It’s coming slowly; naturally, most cover a variety of topics that have to be separated out and organized. But some also lend themselves to standalones because stories they contain are so exciting.

On a related front, I just submitted a chapter on what you could call the geography of Invisible Soul to the Great Lakes Cultural Review, a non-profit magazine gearing up for its debut issue this fall. GLCR will feature writing of all kinds from Cleveland, Buffalo, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Toronto, with editors from one city processing submissions from another.

Word is the bigger cities have submitted a ton of material, but Cleveland’s falling short. Which gives me a better shot but gets me wondering what’s with the lack of drive here.

The first trimester

Posted By on May 15, 2012

My book, Invisible Soul, has been in gestation for nearly a year and a half now, but I still feel as if it’s in the earliest stage. I’ve written (and revised and rewritten) several chapters, at one time up to six; now there are about three, and I’m not totally satisfied with any of them. I also like parts of them a lot.

Apparently, the material is enough to stir ongoing interest. My discussions with an academic press in the South are progressing nicely. Just today, I mailed the editor I’ve been communicating with since last fall the core of the raw material I’ve accumulated: notes from more than 50 interviews with Invisible Soulmen and women. And by June 15, I’ll send him a new outline, along with another chapter I’ve been cobbling together for the past several weeks.

And this morning, George Hendricks of the Hesitations floated the idea of an Invisible Soul Revue featuring players from that era who are still making good music. I like it, I like it. I think it could draw a really motley crew of fans seeking the authenticity of local music, soul-style.

And on June 3, I’m tentatively scheduled to DJ a two-hour broadcast over WRUW, the Case Western Reserve FM station. Topic #1: the Boddie Recording Company. I hope to be able to feature other, non-Boddie material from the era, too.

So Invisible Soul is beginning to come together on several different fronts. On the book and e-book front, all I have to do is think it out, map it out, and produce it. By mid-July, I should have a pretty good idea of its timeline. This is exciting.

About the author

I'm a veteran critic and business writer who reads and listens and writes about music, books, hotels and travel. I've been in the business for many years and still enjoy it. My pride and joy is my book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories. Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/CarloWolff