The new year—and decade—is off to a pretty good start, although I would have preferred if I sent this out a couple of weeks ago. The big news is that (fingers crossed), for the first time since 2017, a half-marathon race is going to be run in Trenton, NJ, in 2020. Also, I was able to see two favorite music acts of mine, China Crisis and Midge Ure, at an intimate venue just 15 minutes from my house.
Read on to find out what else has been going on since mid-December…
For a third straight year, I am taking part in the Eagles Autism Challenge on May 16, 2020. This time, I’m participating in the 10-mile bike ride to raise funds for innovative research and programs to address autism. I hope you will consider making a donation towards my fundraising goal to help transform the lives of those affected by autism—like my youngest son, Benjamin—today and tomorrow. Thank you!
A half marathon returns to Trenton, NJ!
For the first time since 2017, New Jersey’s capital city will host a half marathon race this year…hopefully.
NYCRUNS has added a Trenton Half Marathon to its 2020 calendar. However, a little over a month after a mid-January social media post announcing the race, NYCRUNS has already had to move the race from its original date of May 9 to Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020.
“Putting together a new race for the first time is a challenging endeavor and part of that process is building a relationship with the host city and the community,” NYCRUNS said in an email sent February 19 to those who registered for the Trenton Half Marathon. “We’re just beginning to get to know Trenton, we’ve made some good friends quickly, and we’re still very excited about this event.
“However, while our preference was for this to take place in the Spring, it makes more sense to do it in the fall. Stick with us, it will be worth your while.”
Following the announcement of the date change, NYCRUNS also labeled its Newport Liberty Half Marathon in Jersey City, N.J., on September 20 and the Trenton Half Marathon as the NYCRUNS New Jersey Series, with runners finishing both races receiving special medals that are still in the works.
As with the old Trenton Half Marathon, which was run by a different race organizer from 2012-2017, the preliminary course features a “Delaware Double-Cross” with runners crossing the Delaware River from Trenton to Morrisville, Pa., via the Lower Trenton (aka, “Trenton Makes”) Bridge, and then returning to Trenton via the Calhoun Street Bridge. The proposed course then heads up Route 29 and eventually through historic Cadwalader Park before coming down West State Street back to the finish line.
The biggest difference between the previous incarnation and NYCRUNS’ proposed version of the Trenton Half Marathon is the start/finish area. The start/finish line will be in front of the State House on West State Street in Trenton, according to the preliminary course map. The old race started in the parking lot of Arm & Hammer Park—home of the New York Yankees’ Class-AA affiliate Trenton Thunder—and finished at home plate inside the ballpark itself.
This race means a lot to me. The original Trenton Half Marathon also featured a 10K, which was my first 6.2-mile race in 2013. I moved up to the half marathon the following year, marking my first 13.1-mile race. I ran the Trenton Half Marathon each year from 2014 to 2017.
More importantly, the race means a lot to Trenton, a troubled city that has a great history and still has great potential. Losing the race after 2017 was just another blow to the city’s psyche. New Jersey’s capital city deserves to host a major race and I’m hopeful NYCRUNS can produce a successful race in 2020 and for many years to come.
Back to the 80s at Randy Now’s Man Cave
I made the short trip to Bordentown, N.J., twice in a span of less than three weeks during late January/early February to see two of my all-time favorite music acts, China Crisis and the legendary Midge Ure, at Randy Now’s Man Cave.
First up was China Crisis on Tuesday, January 21.
To say China Crisis had its heyday in the 1980s is kind of an overstatement. They were always overshadowed by contemporaries like Tears For Fears, Spandau Ballet and Simple Minds. In fact, I never heard of them until MTV started playing the video for “Arizona Sky” from their 1986 album What Price Paradise. That was already their fourth album by that point.
But I immediately loved “Arizona Sky,” a masterpiece of quirky lyrics, jazzy horns and new wave goodness. It still gets stuck in my head at least once a day.
Oddly enough, the characteristics the attracted me to China Crisis’ music were those that reminded me of Steely Dan. Gary Daly’s distinctive voice, the melding of jazz and pop, and their interesting lyrical choices made China Crisis sound like Steely Dan if they had started up in England during the rise of New Wave. As it turned out, that wasn’t an accident. When I purchased their 1989 album Diary of a Hollow Horse, I saw that it was co-produced by Steely Dan’s Water Becker and was very “Dan”-influenced (in fact, it would be called their “most Steely Dan-like album” by one publication). It wasn’t until a few years later when I started to get into their older albums that I discovered that China Crisis’ best album, 1985’s Flaunt the Imperfection, was also produced by Becker, who was listed as an official member of the band in the liner notes.
You can really hear the Steely Dan influence on “You Did Cut Me” from Flaunt the Imperfection.
Anyway, the China Crisis show in Bordentown was great, aside from a crackly speaker. The set spanned their entire discography, including some newer stuff. Vocalist Gary Daly is a different kind of frontman, in that his between-songs banter is mostly him complaining about stuff, but in a very funny and often profane way. His stories about working in the studio with Becker were a personal highlight. Another entertaining moment came when Daly took requests from the audience and decided they would play “Arizona Sky” AFTER they did another song. But then Daly went into a long story about writing “Arizona Sky” so guitarist Eddie Lundon switched to his acoustic guitar for that song. Suddenly, Daly ended his story about “Arizona Sky” and introduced the other song, leading to a hilarious reaction from Lundon, who was completely confused—and a bit frustrated—as he switched back to electric guitar.
Next up was the legendary Midge Ure on Sunday, February 9.
Although Midge Ure is not a household name here in the United States, he most certainly should be. He’s been a member of popular UK-based bands Slik, Rich Kids, Visage and, most notably, Ultravox. In addition, Midge was approached to join the Sex Pistols as lead singer in the mid-1970s before Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) joined the seminal punk group. Also, Ure joined Thin Lizzy for a stint when their guitarist left the band during a 1979 U.S. tour. He did some studio work for Thin Lizzy and toured with them again in 1980 before taking his place as frontman and guitarist for a revived version of Ultravox, which had temporarily disbanded following the departure of Ure’s predecessor John Foxx. Interesting side note: Ure was technically a member of Thin Lizzy, Visage and Ultravox concurrently for a good deal of 1979 and 1980.
Anyway, Ure took Ultravox to new levels of greatness with their classic 1980 album Vienna, with the title track—released as the album’s third single in early January 1981, about a month after John Lennon’s murder—peaking at No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart for four weeks. Lennon’s “Woman” kept “Vienna” from the top spot the first week, while Joe Dolce’s novelty track “Shaddap You Face” blocked it the following three weeks. In 2012, “Vienna” was voted as the UK’s best No. 2 song of all time in a BBC Radio 2/Official Charts Company poll, and was awarded an “honorary No. 1.”
In 1984, Ure was with Ultravox getting ready for an appearance on the TV show The Tube, hosted by Paula Yates, the then-girlfriend of Bob Geldof. Geldof had just watched a BBC report on the famine in Ethiopia and called Yates. He then asked who was on the show that night and she told him Midge was there. After having Yates hand Midge the phone, Geldof asked him if he would write a song to raise money for famine relief. And that’s when Band Aid was born. Geldof gave Ure some lyrics and a melody of an unused Boomtown Rats song, but Ure wrote most of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and went on to produce the record. He also helped Geldof get Live Aid off the ground and, to this day, is Geldof’s partner and trustee for the charity.
I knew of Ultravox in the 1980s, but didn’t really listen to them. However, after seeing Ure open for Howard Jones in 1989, I became a huge fan of Ure and, later, Ultravox. That was the only time I had ever seen Ure in concert until January 2013, when I saw him with a band at World Cafe Live in Philly. The following year, I saw him again with a band on the RetroFutura tour. Last Sunday night was my second time seeing Ure as a solo acoustic act at Randy Now’s Man Cave, after a previous show in June 2018.
This most recent show was interesting in that Ure didn’t really play that many songs. It was billed as a “Songs, Questions and Answers” tour and that’s exactly what it was. Fans asked questions and often requested certain songs, and Ure answered and fulfilled those requests. My highlight of the night was when Ure was talking about touring the U.S. completely on his own this time out—doing his own driving, packing and setting up/breaking down. He mentioned stopping in Hays, Kansas, on his way east. And strangely enough, I’ve also stopped in Hays, Kansas…when I was driving a one-way rental car back to New Jersey from Denver in the wake of 9/11. I was supposed to fly back that afternoon and knew flights would be a mess when they started again later that week. Plus, I wasn’t really looking forward to getting on a plane at that point, so I decided to rent a car to return home. I stopped in Hays for a late lunch. I think the reason I chose that exit was because there were roadside signs saying “Mall” and I took that as a sign of civilization. As it turns out, the mall in Hays back then was simply called The Mall (and had “The Mall” in big letters on its roof), because I assume there was no other mall within 100 miles with which you could confuse it. Also, The Mall wasn’t really much of a mall at all. Apparently, it was rebranded as Big Creek Crossing in recent years and is still dying.
OK, enough about Hays. The only thing anyone needs to know is that Midge Ure and I have both been there, which is kind of cool to know.
Nobody appears to have posted video from the February 9 show at the Man Cave, but here’s Midge performing Ultravox’s “One Small Day” when I saw him there in June 2018.
Now contrast this acoustic performance in front of a cramped audience of 25-30 people in a tiny record/novelty store to this Ultravox performance of the same song in front of 70,000-plus people at Wembley Stadium in London for Live Aid in 1985.
Oh, and about that Live Aid performance…after Ultravox’s set, many in the media and in the crowd were buzzing about it being the best of the day. That was still the case for about five hours, until Freddie Mercury and Queen took the stage and put on a performance for the ages.
Dave makes powerful statement with “Black” at BRIT Awards
Thanks to my interest in UK pop culture, I was vaguely familiar with rapper-songwriter Dave before Tuesday, February 18. However, that was literally all I knew about him—his name and what he did.
That all changed while watching the international livestream of the 2020 BRIT Awards, which—honestly—I was only watching to see the debut live performance of Billie Eilish’s new James Bond theme, “No Time To Die.”
But, before that happened, Dave took the stage to perform “Black” from his 2019 full-album debut, Psychodrama, which won the 2019 Mercury Prize and would go on to win the 2020 BRIT Award for British Album of the Year.
It is not hyperbole when I say it may have been the most amazing, inspiring and important performance I have ever seen. This was an artist I didn’t know performing a song I didn’t know about the black experience—specifically, the experience for blacks in the UK—and by the end, I was absolutely floored with tears in my eyes.
This was raw, emotional and provocative—music in its most powerful form.
All the bars that come after the 3:30 mark of the video were newly crafted for this particular performance. Over the next minute, Dave calls out British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a racist (which is correct) and British media for their treatment of Meghan Markle vs. Kate Middleton. Dave also pays tribute to 2019 London Bridge attack victims Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, calling Merritt his “brother in arms” for his work on prison reform. Before he’s through, Dave touches on environmental issues, the UK government response (or lack thereof) to the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, and reparations before literally dropping the mic for an emphatic closing.
Back when I was 14 years old at Giants Stadium for the Amnesty International Conspiracy of Hope concert in June 1986, I watched Peter Gabriel perform “Biko” and my worldview changed. That performance opened my eyes to how powerful music can be. I’ve never had that same feeling again…until watching Dave’s performance of “Black” at the 2020 BRITs. And I wasn’t in the venue this time. I was watching on my phone…alone. And it still moved me the same way.
In an opinion piece that appeared in The Guardian, Kehinde Andrews, a professor of black studies at Birmingham City University, wrote the performance was “a landmark moment for the music and politics of black Britain.”
I haven’t stopped thinking about this performance, and probably never will.
WXPN Free At Noon with Steve Forbert
I was able to get to a WXPN Free At Noon show at World Cafe Live in Philly on December 20 to see the legendary Steve Forbert—who I discovered a few days after the show has been living in Neptune, N.J., for close to 20 years now—with his band, The New Renditions. Forbert’s classic “Romeo’s Tune” is a favorite song of mine from my childhood, and I have come to admire him as a songwriter in more recent years. Alison and I actually saw him at an XPN Festival a few years back, so I figured I’d take advantage of free time and my XPN membership to see him again.
Of course, Forbert & Co. put on a great show, which you can listen to here.
And you can watch a performance of “Good Planets Are Hard To Find” from the show below.
And what kind of monster would I be if I didn’t include “Romeo’s Tune” here? Here’s a live version from a session at the SiriusXM studios in NYC late last year.
Sing Street is headed to Broadway!
Alison and I saw the movie Sing Street toward the tail end of its U.S. theatrical run in 2016. The film, written and directed by John Carney (Once, Begin Again), told the story of a Dublin teenager who forms a band to impress a girl during a time of great economic strife in Ireland back in 1985. I loved the movie not only for its story and for the fact Carney sought out kids who could actually play (although you only hear bits of their performances…most of what is heard in the film are professionally recorded versions of the songs, with the implication that this is how lead character Conor hears them in his head as a finished product), but also for the fact that Carney (a former bassist of Irish rock band The Frames in the early 1990s) and former Danny Wilson frontman/creative force Gary Clark (you may have heard Danny Wilson’s signature song “Mary’s Prayer” while watching There’s Something About Mary) wrote most of the original music performed by the on-screen band.
While it wasn’t a commercial success, Sing Street received much critical acclaim and a devoted cult following. It was actually up for Best Movie—Musical or Comedy at the 74th Golden Globe Awards in 2017.
Anyway, the day after we saw the movie, I had to spend an entire Sunday at work for George Street Playhouse’s annual gala. All I talked about that day was Sing Street and how, like Carney’s Once, it was destined for Broadway. Well, after a short off-Broadway run at the New York Theatre Workshop that ran late last year into early 2020, Sing Street is indeed headed to Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre, with previews starting March 26 and an opening night set for April 19.
Obviously, the film had to be adapted for the stage so the story deviates from the film a bit, from what I understand. Most notably, the play’s synopsis says it takes place in 1982, while the film was set in 1985. That may not seem like a big deal, but I’m curious as to how the band’s song “A Beautiful Sea”—which I know is in the musical because the cast have performed it at promotional appearances—comes to be when the film portrays it as being influenced by The Cure’s “In Between Days,” which was released in 1985.
Also, like the stage musical version of Once, the cast members play their instruments live on stage every night and even recorded their own parts for the original cast recording slated for release. The first single and video is for the song “Up,” which is my favorite song/scene from the movie. For anyone who was ever in a band in high school, that scene captures the two main creative forces of the group—Conor and Eamon—meeting one night to listen to records and write a new song. As they run through it for the first time in Eamon’s living room with Conor singing and playing acoustic guitar, and Eamon adding some piano, the camera swings around to the other side of the room as night turns to day, revealing the rest of the band is now there going through the song. It’s the moment where the band comes into its own, and you feel the bond between Conor and Eamon as songwriting partners. It’s also one of those rare times where you actually hear the band performing. It’s really not until the song goes into its delightful “middle 8” that the polished soundtrack version kicks in.
Here is the video for “Up” featuring the Broadway cast of Sing Street.
The big set piece in the film Sing Street, though, was for the song “Drive It Like You Stole It.” The band shoots a video in their school gym with just a handful of kids dancing badly. But in Conor’s head, it would have looked like a dance in an American school like in Back To The Future (which, again, is apparently not mentioned as an influence in the stage musical since it takes place three years before that movie was released), so that’s what the video morphs into. This promo video features a lot of that scene, but with others from the movie (as well as some outtakes).
And, yes, that is Lucy Boynton as Raphina, the girl Conor is trying to impress. You may have seen her as Mary Austin in a little film called Bohemian Rhapsody. It was recently announced she would be executive producing and starring as singer-songwriter-actress Marianne Faithfull in the upcoming biopic Faithfull.
Here is the Broadway cast recording of “Drive It Like You Stole It.”
Anyway, I love Sing Street and everyone who can should go see the stage musical adaptation on Broadway.
New Demo/Work In Progress: “What A Time To Be Alive”
This latest work of mine was quickly written and recorded over a few days in late January. The phrase “What A Time To Be Alive” came to me while improvising during the chorus and decided to write around that lyric. The phrase is used ironically on social media, and I think there’s something to it. It should be an amazing time to be alive, but our fears of change and evolution are holding us back. Doesn’t mean it’s too late, but we need to wake up pretty damn fast.
New Music Discoveries
There has been a ton of great new music released in the past couple of months. There are quite a few videos below this time around, and—quite honestly—there should be a few more. But these are the songs I really want to share right now.
A Girl Called Eddy – “Been Around”
A Girl Called Eddy is actually the alias of Neptune, NJ’s own Erin Moran, who released a debut solo album in 2004—when the better-known Erin Moran, Joanie from Happy Days, was still alive—and has spent years collaborating with other artists. The single “Been Around” was actually released in late October 2019, but it’s the title track of her long-awaited second solo album, which was released January 17 of this year. And the video is a beautiful scrapbook of memories and places she has resided, including the Jersey Shore. Note that there are two album covers next to the turntable in the video thumbnail. The one at right is her new album, Been Around, but the one next to it is Prefab Sprout’s classic 1985 album Steve McQueen (released as Two Wheels Good in the U.S. due to threatened legal action by the estate of the late actor). I assume that album is a favorite of Moran’s, which is highly likely because it’s freakin’ brilliant and everyone should listen to it at least once.
Anyway, Been Around is a beautiful, nostalgia-drenched album that you should check out. Here’s another track from it, “Jody”.
The Innocence Mission – “On Your Side”
Somehow, The Innocence Mission have continued to consistently craft amazing, evocative music for over 30 years. And 2020’s See You Tomorrow, the band’s 11th studio album, is no different. The video above is for the album’s first single, “On Your Side”. The band—headed by lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Karen Peris and her husband and guitarist, Don Peris—formed in Lancaster, Pa., in the late 1980s with their self-titled debut album released by A&M Records in 1989. Produced by bassist (and then-husband of Joni Mitchell) Larry Klein, that first album—which also featured bass player Mike Bitts and drummer Steve Brown—drew comparisons to The Sundays and 10,000 Maniacs, while Peris’ vocals had an ethereal quality reminiscent of The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler and often ventured into Kate Bush territory—explaining a lot of my initial attraction to their music. Eventually, The Innocence Mission’s sound became what one could describe as cinematic folk, especially by the time of their fourth album, 1999’s Birds of My Neighborhood, which featured the band in their current three-person form after Brown left drumming behind to become a chef. Even though the band has pretty much disowned its 1989 debut, I still to this day consider it one of my personal top 50 albums of all time. Once again, this entry gets a bonus video with “I Remember Me” from that first Innocence Mission album in 1989. It’s a lament on Anna Anderson, who had persuaded people she was Anastasia Romanov, the sole-surviving tsarina. So, yeah, they knew how to rock out back then, but eventually The Innocence Mission found their true musical selves a few years later. And I still love them.
Tennis – “Need Your Love”
Tennis is another band that is essentially a husband-wife duo, Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley, who spend their days sailing and writing quirky, catchy pop songs (doesn’t that sound like a great life?). I’ve been a fan of theirs since catching “I’m Callin'” from their 2014 album Ritual in Repeat on SiriusXM Radio. “Need Your Love” is a tempo-changing track from their latest album, Swimmer, that was built from a simple drum beat and wound up symbolizing the chaos of Moore’s mental state while writing the song.
Nicole Atkins – “Captain”
The latest video from Nicole Atkins, originally from Neptune, N.J. (lots of references to Neptune in this issue), and now based in Nashville, for “Captain” from her upcoming album Italian Ice is a bit difficult to watch. It’s designed to look like an old VHS tape that has degraded and started glitching. But here’s a fun fact: the phone number displayed on the screen takes callers to a voicemail. Not sure if it’s still active, but Nicole posted on social media a few days after posting the video that she would be going through the messages and highlighting some of the better ones. “Captain” has a beautiful, nostalgic country music feel to it.
Vagabon – “Water Me Down”
“Water Me Down” by Vagabon (the stage name of Cameroonian-American singer-songwriter-producer Laetitia Tamko) doesn’t sound like a typical WXPN song, but for some reason they’ve been playing it a bit and I just happened to catch it in my car one day. And I am so glad I did. Such a unique sound that I’m still getting around to discovering.
Lianne La Havas – “Bittersweet”
WXPN introduced me to the amazing Lianne La Havas back in 2012, when they played the heck out of the title track from her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough? She came back with 2015’s Blood, which featured the ridiculously catchy “What You Don’t Do.” Five years later, La Havas has finally released new material in the form of the single “Bittersweet,” an emotional song that sounds a bit more like laid-back R&B than her previous edgier stuff. Whatever…I am there for it. Also, she’s a runner and recently completed a half marathon!
Still no word on a new album, but she did play some new material, including “Bittersweet,” at some festival shows last summer so hopefully that is on the way.
Christine and the Queens – “People, I’ve Been Sad”
Christine and the Queens (or simply Chris), another artist WXPN introduced me to in 2018, surprised everyone a few weeks back by releasing a new single, “People, I’ve Been Sad.” Well, to top that surprise, Chris dropped an entire EP/short film, La vita nuova, on February 28 (today, if you’re reading this fresh from your inbox)…which you can watch below.
Billie Eilish – “No Time To Die”
It took me awhile to get Billie Eilish. It wasn’t until her Carpool Karaoke segment with James Corden that I realized how talented she really is. And then, of course, just before she won five Grammy Awards, it was announced she would be the youngest artist to ever write and record a theme song for a James Bond movie. This stunning live performance debut of “No Time To Die” came during The BRIT Awards on February 18 and featured her brother and collaborator Finneas on piano, The Smiths’ Johnny Marr on guitar, and Hans Zimmer on keyboards while conducting an orchestra. Oh, and of course, Eilish later beat out the likes of Lizzo, Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello and Lana Del Rey for Best International Female Artist at The BRITs—and was presented the award by Melanie Chisholm, better known as Sporty Spice of The Spice Girls. Not a bad night, eh?
A reminder that Billie is 18 years old. If she wins an Oscar for “No Time To Die,” she will be halfway to EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) before she’s 20. Some kind of TV special can get her an Emmy at some point. The Tony Award may be tough, but a future musical based on her life or a well-written jukebox musical using her songs can’t be ruled out.
But, really, who is going to be against her?
One final thing…after weeding out my initial list of videos I wanted to share this time around, I only had two male artists/male-focused bands on there, so I crossed those off and decided to just go with all female artists and bands fronted by or prominently featuring women (although Chris has identified as genderqueer or non-binary). I looked back at my recent updates and realized I was sharing way too many male artists. I’m going to try to be a little more balanced going forward.
2020 Scheduled Races
Broad Street Run
Sunday, May 3, 2020
Eagles Autism Challenge
10-mile bike ride
Saturday, May 16, 2020 – 7:30 a.m.
Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa.
Click here to donate!
Rock ‘n’ Roll Atlantic City Half Marathon
Saturday, May 16, 2020 – 6:00 p.m.
Bader Field, Atlantic City, N.J.
Atlantic City Triathlon
Olympic distance: 1mi. swim, 22 mi. bike, 10K/6.2 mi. run
Saturday, August 1, 2020
Bader Field, Atlantic City, N.J.
Crest Best Run Fest 10 Miler
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Centennial Park, Wildwood Crest, N.J.
Trenton Half Marathon
Saturday, November 7, 2020 – 8:00 a.m.
Sunday, November 22, 2020
Eakins Oval, Philadelphia, Pa.