A Life without Artifacts

Six months ago, I was living in a 1,600-square-foot, two-bedroom 1880 Victorian, with a formal dining room, a huge kitchen and bathroom, a foyer, a parlor and a library. A library full of books. Beautiful books, some mine for 30 years, some my grandfather’s for much longer. But after two years of dealing with the twenty-first century American Nightmare—bad loans, unemployment, short sale, foreclosure—along with a perfect storm of even more personal losses of family and friends—I’ve had to learn to let go.
So I’m letting go with a vengeance.

The Paul McCartney interview

You’d think that people would have had enough of Paul McCartney. But you look around you and you see it isn’t so. With a sold-out show at Arco Arena on Wednesday, yet another album in the Billboard Top 40 and a seemingly endless stream of books being published about his first band, the Beatles, McCartney is the object of enduring interest, especially for baby boomers who grew up with the Fab Four.

Taming and Marketing John Lennon

John Lennon been turned into a soft-focus pop icon, a pinup for peace. A driving force behind that, all agree, is Ono, who, as Lennon’s widow, creative partner, business partner and manager of his estate and legacy, has revised the man. Now, he comes across as a dreamy house husband, not as the firebrand who wrote the raw, violently emotional “Yer Blues” and “Working Class Hero.” Instead, we get the Lennon of clouds and dreams and childish doodles, widely available as lithographs – “limited edition,” of course.

Jerry Garcia, 10 years gone, 2005

From the time he first stepped on stage with the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, dubbed “Captain Trips” by his following, exhibited the kind of charisma that would make him a revered cultural figure. Even after his death at 53 from heart failure 10 years ago today, his influence echoes among the younger musicians and fans of the booming jam-band genre. The same is true for older fans who – long ago won over by the music – sport J. Garcia ties with their business suits and drink J. Garcia wines at suburban dinner parties.

Brian Wilson Wows S.F. with ‘Smile’

To say that a well-known artist was ahead of his time is a critical cliche. It might seem doubly ludicrous to say that about Brian Wilson, whose songs and productions for the Beach Boys in the first half of the 1960s virtually defined his time. But Wilson’s greatest work, largely written and recorded in 1966, got too far ahead of his time, his band and his audience, and even of Wilson himself. But Thursday night at Davies Symphony Hall, Wilson, his music and his audience finally all caught up to the music he dared not release in 1966: “Smile.”

The Dead, no longer Grateful

The Grateful Dead has always been great in theory: stylistically omnivorous, loose, improvisational and radically democratic, never doing the same show twice. But the band has at times gone to the down side of those ideals: unfocused, self-indulgent, rudderless, and sometimes just musically inept. Sunday night, returning as The Dead (the “Grateful” discarded in honor of singer-guitarist Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995), the band delivered on the theory. Its first show in the Sacramento area in nearly a decade was a triumph.

David Bowie’s last tour, 2004

David Jones has had 40 years now – his first recording, as lead singer of the King Bees, was released in 1964 – to perfect being “David Bowie.” Friday night at the Berkeley Community Theatre, Bowie, now a svelte and energetic 57, gave a sold-out audience of 3,200 the most concentrated and perfectly packaged “Bowie” that he has yet mustered.

It was 40 years ago today, 2004

It’s tempting to write off the media attention being paid to the 40th anniversary of the arrival in America, on Feb. 7, 1964, of The Beatles. People have been talking, thinking and writing about that moment for, well, 40 years. So, what’s new? A handful of stars will do a tribute to The Beatles on Sunday night’s Grammy broadcast. Books and DVDs and CDs and articles keep coming. And no matter how much you love The Beatles, you’ve got to think: Isn’t this overdoing it?

When The Beach Boys First Hit

It was no accident that the L.A.-based Beach Boys played their first big concert – anywhere – at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium 40 years ago today, on May 24, 1963. It happened because of a precocious promoter named Fred Vail, a 18-year-old Sacramento State College student who wanted to help his alma mater, El Camino High School, raise money for its graduation party.

Tower Records up for Sale, 2003

The realization that Tower, which was born in Sacramento and grew to include stores all over the world, is not indestructible has prompted many to reflect on the pivotal role Tower Records has played in area culture – and in pop culture in general. In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in particular, Tower defined cool in Sacramento – though some may have seen it as arrogance – and it provided a unique common ground for people of varied tastes and interests. No one is more surprised at Tower’s impact than the man who founded it – Russ Solomon.

The Rolling Stones live, 2002

Yes, the Rolling Stones are, as they have long claimed, “the Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World.” They proved it again Friday night at PacBell Park in San Francisco, where their latest tour began a three-night Bay-area stand that concludes Tuesday night at the Oakland Arena. But at the same time, it felt like a missed opportunity to see what the Stones can be beyond “the Greatest Classic Rock Hit Machine in the World.”

Cher’s Endless, Fabulous Farewell

When Cher says goodbye, she doesn’t get all weepy and sentimental; she wants you to see what you’ll be missing when she’s gone. Thus, it was with bravado and swagger that Cher brought her Living Proof Farewell Tour to Arco Arena on Sunday night. It was a show that explicitly aimed for Fabulous, and pulled it off in style. “Ladies and gentlemen … and flamboyant gentlemen,” she wryly said after her second song. “Welcome to the Cher-est show on Earth.”

R.I.P., George Harrison, 2001

George Harrison wrote his own epitaph: “All Things Must Pass.” He sang that song in 1970, just after the passing of the Beatles, the group that made him famous. And with his death at the age of 58, Harrison leaves behind a profound body of work in music and film. But the millions who mourn his passing mourn more than the loss of a great songwriter.

Heart Strings: Music and family

For violinist Jaime Smith, the words “family” and “music” have always been virtually interchangeable. Smith, now 24, has followed music wherever it would take her: first to the position of concertmaster of the Sacramento Youth Symphony; then to Boston, where she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music; then to Athens, Greece, on a Fulbright scholarship, where for the past year she studied and made friends and a new life, full of the Greek music she loves. And on Sept. 25, music led her into the path of a speeding car.