Thursday, March 31, 2011


Le Poisson Rouge, New York City

March 29, 2011

By Madeline Bocaro

Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon held two benefit concerts for Japan this week, pulling many of their famous friends together to join their Plastic Ono Band. Over two nights $100,000 was raised for Japanese earthquake relief. The first gig was at Columbia University on March 27th. The second one was really special.

While standing in line at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street, I noticed Kenny's Castaways right across the street - the club where Yoko did several performances in October 1973. Back then, at the tender age of 15, I could not legally be admitted to the show. But now, here I stood almost 40 years later, waiting to see Yoko once again, resolved that she is still the most important artist in the world, remembering all the amazing times I've seen her concerts, exhibits and lectures over the years, and that John Lennon was right.

The sold-out intimate venue held 700 people quite warmly. The immense tangle of wires on the stage was evidence that this would be a very interesting evening!

Opening was Cibo Matto, the hip-hop/jazz/funk Japanese chicks whose delicious food-obsessive tunes feature all kinds of weird delicacies. Yuka Honda, Miho Hatori and Sean Lennon reunited their band after ten years. Their four-song set included 'Sugar Water', 'Aguas de Marco', 'Beef Jerky' and 'Birthday Cake'! We bopped to their beats and insane recipes; 'Extra sugar, extra salt, extra oil and MSG!' They were joined by horn players and an increasing number of participants, including Honda's husband Nels Cline of Wilco.

Patti Smith, New York's own priestess of prose appeared raggedly yet regally with her full band, including Lenny Kaye. She spoke a heartfelt dedication to the Japanese people, and began the evangelic 'Peaceable Kingdom'. 'Beneath The Southern Cross' followed. Then from her Easter album, 'Ghost Dance' chanting it's appropriate and prophetic chorus of 'We shall live again' for Japan. A passionate 'Pissing in a River' from Radio Ethiopia followed. Then she dedicated 'People Have the Power' 'To Sean and his mom, who have done so much work for the people, and whose family has always had so much care for the people…'

Sean announced, 'Yoko Ono has entered the building!' Within seconds, she appeared, singing 'It Happened' acapella. Although the song was written so long ago, it has recurring relevance at tragic times in Yoko's life, and also in the state of the world. Her delicate singing abruptly morphed into screams of terror and convulsions, transforming into a song of redemption, 'Calling' from her latest album.

Yoko told us how the song 'Mind Train' originated. It was about 16 minutes long. John insisted on playing it for an unnamed famous musician, and Yoko expressed her regret of having this person endure the whole 16 minutes. However, I hope it was someone who was well deserving of the wrath of Yoko, and wish that it could have been myself instead. After all, one man's pain is another's pleasure! A quite lengthy 'Mind Train' ensued, taking us all aboard with another special guest, Antony Hegarty
crooning along.

Ono also performed the hopeful 'Rising', the incredible blues jam 'It's Been Very Hard' and my favourite - 'Why?' – an intense rocker featuring a free form guitar/vocal duet between Sean and Yoko, that is eerily similar to the John & Yoko version. Sean's array of guitar pedals was astounding, and he utilized every one of them, especially the fuzz box! His girlfriend Kemp Muhl played bass all night. Greg Saunier from Deerhoof was on drums just for this song.

Yoko wanted to perform 'I Love You Earth' (from Starpeace 1985) because 'the earth is angry now and needs to hear it'. Yoko allowed Antony Hegarty (who praised the song's lyrics as pure punk) to sing this one, but then the two of them got into an I-Love-You fest that just wouldn't quit.

Everyone sang and spoke something heartfelt and respectful in dedication to the people of Japan. However, Lou Reed shuffled onstage, cranked up his guitar to eleven and blasted out 'Leave Me Alone' from Street Hassle!  He brought along an iPad with a scrolling teleprompter - which was hilarious and pretentious because all he sings is, 'Leave me leave me leave me leave me leave me alone'!  (Yoko had sheets of musical notations too – when most of her songs are purely improvisational one-word mantras like 'Why?'!)

Lou's song was ear splitting. He worked Yoko's band of young Japanese musicians (and Sean) to the bone - making them play louder and harder. It was as if he was telling Yoko, 'Look! I'm even crazier than YOU are!' She stood beside him, glancing at his teleprompter, chiming in with a few inaudible screams, but she politely surrendered as Lou hijacked her band! He mumbled something about how we all must be shocked, but to the contrary, it's just what one would expect from Lou Reed. I am not saying that it wasn't great. I just hate to admit it because Lou is so damned arrogant!

Sean stood between Lou and Yoko, watching in awe, as if he'd bought a ticket to the show himself and forgot that he was in it. He was amazed at organizing and pulling off yet another spontaneous, chaotic, and enthralling Plastic Ono Band event.

Sean introduced the final song as a great one written by Neil was his dad's 'Give Peace A Chance'.

As we exited the venue, we each received a cool gift from Yoko – a piece of sky (jigsaw puzzle piece) in a drawstring pouch with a card inscribed:


The sky is cracked now above Japan.

Let's come together in our dreams

to heal.


A dream you dream alone is only a dream

But a dream you dream together

Is reality.


I love you!



Spring, 2011

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Tampering With Perfection - Lou Reed's Perfect Day
By Madeline Bocaro

 ‘Perfect Day’ is a perfect song from a perfect album - Lou Reed’s Transformer, 1972. Lou always had a knack for clearly illuminating urban underbellies, mainly New York and Berlin. Reed could eloquently condense the personalities and saga of a subculture into something just short of Haiku. He was a master of this - because he lived it. 

Transformer was the popular precursor to Reed’s early career killer – the ghostly, ghastly, beautiful and uber-depressing album Berlin, which concerned drugs, betrayal, abuse, suicide, sexual depravity, apathy - the whole gamut of his former band, The Velvet Underground’s song topics converging in the lives of two wretched people in a decadent city. 

Transformer was a portrait of early 1970s New York City. Andy Warhol’s superstars (Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis) are name-checked on the timeless track, ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. The album was released on RCA’s orange label Dynaflex, made with re-ground rather than virgin vinyl - so flexible that you could practically see through it. Transformer was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson. Ronno especially outdid himself on piano, and the poignant string arrangements on ‘Perfect Day’.

The song has a contrasting duality – a lovely, serene melody with seemingly innocent lyrics. But, being a Lou Reed song, it’s really about a nasty guy having a nice date. 

‘Such a perfect day, you made me forget myself
I thought I was someone else, someone good’

Further, we must question; is the date with someone dear, or with a substance of choice? Should the line, ‘I’m glad I spent it with you’ read, ‘I’m glad I spent it with drugs’? Could this be why his day is so perfect? One might think that Lou would be more blatant, as usual, and title the song ‘Heroin’ (again). The line ‘you just keep me hanging’ on’ must be about addiction, right? But Reed insists that the song is about an obsessive ex-lover wanting revenge after having been dumped. 

1995 - Duran Duran covered ‘Perfect Day’ on their album Thank You, reaching No. 28 on the UK Singles Chart. Lou Reed famously went on record saying that this version was his favorite and much preferred it to his own. Kirsty MacColl and Evan Dando recorded the song as a duet.

1996 - The song was used in the movie Trainspotting when the protagonist overdoses on heroin.

1997 – (Re-released in 2000) ‘Perfect Day’ was exploited for the BBC Children In Need Appeal video. Lou Reed joined the likes of  29 artists, including Bono, Elton John, Bowie , Tammy Wynette and a host of other unworthy folk, who over-sang and over-stepped their boundaries, amid sunny-day backdrops. It was sickening. However, it became the UK’s No. 1 single for three weeks. 

2001 – It appears in the soundtrack of the independent film Prozac Nation, starring Christina Ricci.

2002 - Reed joins Luciano Pavarotti on ‘Perfect Day’ in May for his Pavarotti & Friends concert in Italy. Reed talked, Pavarotti sang. Lou was great. Pavarotti was another story.

2003 - Reed re-recorded the song for his album The Raven.

2007 – Patti Smith included the song on her covers album Twelve.

2010 - An AT&T commercial featuring snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler during the Winter Olympics featured the song.

2010 – Jamacian group The Jolly Boys did a cool reggae version on their album of cover versions, The Great Expectation.

My perfect day was ruined again in November 2010, when I heard that Britain’s Got Talent winner Susan Boyle was recording one of my favourite songs of all time. It is the lead song on her 2nd album, The Gift.

First there was some confusion when Reed supposedly refused Boyle permission to perform the song on live television (American Idol) at the last minute. Good for him, I thought. Boyle described Reed as "childish" during a UK TV interview.

But the next day, it was reported that Lou didn’t pull the plug at all. It was some other red tape issue. According to a Sony Music rep, SuBo took ‘creative direction’ from the Velvet Underground legend himself when shooting the video, so Lou Reed has been given co-director credit on the clip, which shows Boyle singing through the mist of Loch Lomond in Scotland.

How imperfect it all is! I’ll just stick to my pristine vision of the song - Lou at the zoo in the park, shooting heroin.

Reed's version has never charted, but it was on the b-side of his single, ‘Walk On The Wild Side’.



Just Kids

Patti Smith


By Madeline Bocaro

As a child, Patti's mom takes her to a park where she sees a swan for the first time. She is tongue-tied when trying to express the beauty of the magnificent bird. There were no words. This was the presage to her becoming an artist. Robert Mapplethorpe, was her catalyst.

Patti has written a poetic autobiography and elegy for her dear friend, lover and comrade, Robert. It happens to take place in an exciting time and location – 1969/70s New York City, and encompasses the endless summers of their love. The city looks as it does in the film Taxi Driver. Scum on the streets, hookers, pimps, rampant crime, triple X movie theatres. But there is nowhere else these two innocent bohemians would rather be.

Robert and Patti met by chance in Brooklyn - a couple of Coney Island babies. They were astral twins - stumbling amidst the 'gritty innocence' of the fading arcades, freak shows and crumbling rides. Robert, the shepherd boy in his angelic curls, sheepskin vest and myriad necklaces - Patti in her gray raincoat and shades.

They soon moved in together, sharing poverty and artistry. Their combined collections of religious artifacts, talismans, crafts, ribbons, beads, art supplies and their own creations are strewn about the pages. They kept sacred treasures in their room – a shrine to art itself, 'draped in Moroccan silk'. Robert and Patti's stretches of desperation, hunger and lice-ridden angst are nonetheless romantic, as they paint, draw and write side by side in a with a vow that 'There will always be us.'

Patti questions her worthiness and her aims before entering the realm of art. 'Are we animating God? Are we talking to ourselves? And what was the ultimate goal? To have one's art caged in art's great zoos – the Modern, the Met, the Louvre?' Robert continually struggles as a collage artist and painter, before settling on photography. The former altar boy also grapples with good and evil, and with his homosexual identity. Their mutual support and love for each other is unyielding.

One of my favourite lines in the book; "I listened to recordings of the beat poets and Oscar Brown Jr. and studied the lyric poets like Vachel Lindsay and Art Carney." Patti finally reveals the master of phrase – the true bard of Brooklyn – Ed Norton! 

The pair soon reside in the mythical Chelsea Hotel. 'The Chelsea was like a doll's house in The Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe.' The hotel is filled with hallowed names from the past and present - ghosts and sages, poets and rock stars. Patti and Robert feel right at home.

References abound from old Hollywood, French literature, Victoriana, Rock n' Roll. There is lots of vintage product placement; Kooks, Nescafe, Remington, vintage eateries; Child's, Benedict's, Nathan's, Hong Fat, in Chinatown. Patti meets Allen Ginsberg (who thought she was a boy) at Horn and Hardarts automat. Straightening the tipsy William Burroughs' tie and hailing him a cab as he leaves the Chelsea Hotel became 'our unspoken routine'. Salvador Dali calls Patti a gothic crow.

Patti constantly describes her style in meticulous detail. 'I approached dressing like an extra preparing for a shot in a French New Wave film.' 'My East of Eden outfit', and a walk she copped from Don't Look Back.

There are several lines of unrequited love to Patti's heroes; Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Jean Genet, Jimi and Jim Morrison (She reminisces about her visits to their Paris graves), Brian Jones, and Bob Dylan. Her affairs with Sam Shepard, Alan Lanier, Jim Carroll and Tom Verlaine are recalled. She hops from Electric Ladyland studios to Max's Kansas City, to St. Marks Church and CBGB as her poetry readings/music career takes off. Robert, meanwhile moves into higher social circles in the art world, where Patti feels quite uncomfortable. This never separates them though.

In the poignant ending, Robert requests that Patti write their story, just minutes before his death from AIDS in 1989. She fulfilled that promise beautifully. An updated paperback edition includes a magical story of a young writer who had read this book. Her mother had acquired Mapplethorpe's old writing desk at auction.