Posts Tagged With: Neil Young

George Lawrence, fare thee well

GeorgeL.jpgWriting is a mostly solitary pursuit that involves a lot of what Stephen King (among others) calls “ass in chair time.” But there are times when other people do enter into it and leave their mark, especially when they turn up at a particularly opportune moment. That goes for George Lawrence, a former News & Observer co-worker of mine who passed away in his sleep Monday morning at age 58.

Not quite six years ago, I was slogging through the obligatory horrible first draft of “Losering” and doing what one does: trying to convince myself it would be worth the agony while dealing with the usual cocktail of insomnia, insecurity, self-loathing and various other emotional goodies induced by book-writing. In the midst of all that, I bumped into George at a Neil Young show in Durham that I was reviewing for the paper.

I hadn’t seen George in a while and we got to talking about Ryan Adams, who he’d known well enough to be one of his local party buddies back in the day. And as soon as he found out I was writing a book about Ryan, George perked right up and provided just the dose of enthusiasm I needed to get over the hump. George wound up being one of my best sounding boards as I worked to wrestle “Losering” to the ground, which earned him a place of honor in the “Acknowledgements” section on page 202:

A special few went truly above and beyond the call of duty: Dean Dauphinais, Tracy Davis, and George Lawrence for being extra eyes, and voices of enthusiasm when I was at my lowest ebb.

rsglLong before all this, George was an N&O fixture by the time I got there in 1991, holding multiple editing and managerial jobs in the newsroom. What I remember most about George back then was him being the life of the party at out-of-office gatherings or pickup softball and basketball games, always quick with a quip and a backslap.

Eventually he left journalism to go into PR and consulting, but it was a choice he seemed to regret. I’d hear from him intermittently, and he’d talk wistfully about how much he missed writing and wanted to get back to it. He’d send me the occasional piece of rock memorabilia, too, like this vintage framed Rolling Stones album cover (which I’ve got hanging on the wall right next to my record collection at home).

George did have his struggles in recent years, and he was in and out of the hospital repeatedly with a lot of health problems. But he’d still pop up now and then on Facebook, to lob a song lyric my way or ask a question about some band or other. Several times over the past year, I had the thought that I really ought to check in on him; right now I’m feeling a little guilty for not making more of an effort to follow up.

Of course, if George were here, I expect he’d brush that off with a self-deprecating joke — or maybe he’d drop another lyric. His last words to the world on his Facebook page came a few weeks back, a quote from the late great Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt’s epic of betrayal “Pancho and Lefty”:


Somewhere in the great beyond, I picture George seeking out Townes to have a word about that.

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Ryan Adams at The Bridge: No shoes, no shirt, no service

NoShirt1Ryan Adams was one of the performers at this past weekend’s Bridge School Benefit concert, a shindig that Neil Young puts on every year with a star-studded lineup. And what Ryan seemed to get the most attention for afterward was a minute-long song improvised on the spot: “No Shirt,” inspired by a shirtless dude out in the crowd. The complete lyrics are below, and you can take a listen here. Feels kind of like a beat-poet take on the 29 song “The Sadness”

This gentleman standing in the crowd
He’s got no shirt on!
Look at him! He’s so proud!
What’s next? He won’t wear no shoes
He has nothing left to lose.
OH! No shirt!
He has no shirt on today!
I said, this man has no shirt!
He was just running in place.
What’s next? He’ll have no shoes.
Actually what’s next he’ll have probably some more booze.

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Ryan Adams on Neil Young: “Old Man,” verily

NeilFestI was busy this past weekend seeing this and that while covering the Hopscotch Music Festival that happens in downtown Raleigh every September. Another festival started up on Sunday in New York City, Neil Fest — a multi-act tribute to the great Neil Young at the Bowery Ballroom with Jakob Dylan, Sharon Van Etten, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney and lots of others. But by most accounts, our man Ryan Adams was pretty much the star of the first night. Check out his very fine versions of “Cinnamon Girl” and “Old Man” (accompanied by Norah Jones).

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On the shelf Down Under

Earlier this week, when I posted about “Losering” turning up in a few far-off spots in Australia and New Zealand, I asked for anybody in the vicinity of the University of Western Sydney’s Penrith Campus to send me pictures of it in the stacks at Ward Library there. And while I was hoping someone might eventually do that, I sure didn’t expect it to happen this fast. But God bless Danielle Roddick, senior media officer of the university’s office of marketing and communication, who was kind enough to follow through and do just that.

So here it is, in the company of tomes about Neil Young, Velvet Underground, Pete Townshend, Yo La Tengo, Freddie Mercury, Australia’s own AC/DC and other luminaries. Very cool to know that it’s on a shelf somewhere more than 9,641 miles away from home. Thanks, Danielle — maybe someone down there will check it out!

AustraliaLibrary1   AustraliaLibrary2

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More nice company: Uprooted Music Revue

Here’s another nice little Christmas present, placement on the year-end list of the 15 top books of 2012 as determined by Uprooted Music Revue (which also ran a nice interview back in November). “Losering” appears alongside books by and/or about Willie Nelson, David Byrne, the Louvin Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Alan Lomax, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Gram Parsons, Woody Guthrie, Bettye LaVette, Doc Watson, Pete Seeger and Jonah Lehrer. Journeyman that I am, I’m darned glad to be keeping company like that. Check it out.

ADDENDUM: Chris Mateer was also kind enough to make me one of his top 25 interviews for the year.


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Top-10 love: No. 7

No7In my capacity as a music critic, I’ve been doing year-end top-10 lists for close to 30 years (and I’m long overdue to get going on this year’s model). But I’ve never been on one myself — until now. The roots-music blog Engine 145 was kind enough to include “Losering” at No. 7 on its 10-book listing of “Best Music Books of 2012,” saying that it “brilliantly chronicles Adams’ rise to fame.”

Yay! Maybe I’ll sneak onto another year-end list or two. In the meantime, now is also the time of year when newspapers and magazines are running gift-guide roundups. “Losering” appeared on one that ran over the weekend in the Oakland Press, alongside tomes about Neil Young, Bettye LaVette, Tony Bennett and a bunch of others. It was penned by Gary Graff, who calls the book the “definitive bio.”

Alas, I also recently happened across another few reviews that were not-so-yay, on One two-star review there describes “Losering” as “little more than a recitation of names and places of employment” and another brushes it off as “mostly a bunch of name-dropping.” Oh well, at least somebody there liked it.

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