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Lou Reed, I miss you already

In Malavenda, Music, Pablo Malavenda, Pop Culture on October 27, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Lewis Allan “Lou” Reed

March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013

lou reed banner

“There’s a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out”

– Lou Reed

Velvet Underground was one of the first bands that truly BLEW MY MIND. After a short time, the vinyl disc was noticeably worn —  and I had to listen with my headphones on or very, very loudly.

Early Lou Reed scared me — in a very good way. So real — so very real — that I was not really sure if it was safe — but I liked it — a lot. Lou was singing about sex, drugs, race, religion, bisexuality, inter-racial relationships, politics, and the dark parts of our minds. He gave us permission to be unique and be proud to be freaks. Lou Reed accepted everyone but the haters. He respected us all for just being. He gave us permission to express ourselves, appreciate the incredible beauty of the world and to live for the moment. I was also starstruck that he was friends with and collaborated with Andy Warhol. To me, he epitomized New York City and made me love NYC even more than I already had.

I never heard music the same way again. Velvet Underground and Lou Reed’s music was urgent yet folksy; genuine rock music but with pop influences and melodies; stark and beautiful; fragile yet in-your-face confident. Lou was an authentic rock star, punk rocker, story teller, glam rocker, metal head, folk star, guitar god, rapper, crooner, misfit, troubadour, and pop star. I couldn’t believe that this music was making me feel so much.

I remained extremely loyal to Lou Reed through the years; and even really enjoyed some of his later works like New Sensations and Magic & Loss. I’ve bought albums just because they featured a guest appearance by Lou Reed — one highlight is “Some Kind of Nature” on the Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach album (2010). I have grown to appreciate Lou Reed, the poet — Lou Reed, the activist — the cantankerous Lou Reed — Lou Reed, the actor — Lou Reed, the supernatural artist/human being — Lou Reed, the legend, the hall of famer.

Lou Reed has had such a tremendous impact on me that I never thought about him not being here — being real — making us face our fears, face reality — making music — blowing our minds! Luckily we will always have the music — Velvet Underground & Nico, VU White Light/White Heat, New York, The Blue Mask, Transformer, Rock n Roll Animal, Peel Slowly and See…and more.

May you be at peace, Lou.

My thoughts and prayers to your partner, Laurie Anderson.

Man — I miss you so much already.

THANK YOU, Lou Reed!


Emerging Stronger

In health, life, Malavenda, Music, Pablo Malavenda, Philosophy, Pop Culture, Uncategorized, wellness on April 29, 2012 at 9:15 pm

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller

(Stronger, 2011 – Clarkson).

I believe in signs — and this week little signs were popping up everywhere. Eventually it hit me like a hammer. Here’s my story.

Sign 1:

I rarely listen to pop radio — maybe once every six months or so.  Because I am a music snob, I either listen to my iPod or NPR. Yesterday while driving across town, for some reason, I needed to hear music and hit search on the radio till I found music. The first song was the latest mega-hit by Adele, which is enjoyable. Honestly the rest of the songs have been long forgotten except the last song.  As I was pullin’ up on our house, I saw my wife and daughter; so, I cranked up the tunes and pulled in the driveway.  The song was Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson. My daughter gave me that “Dad, you’re such a dork” look but I was amused as was my wife.  This morning on my way to the gym, I turned the key in the ignition and the radio came on, still tuned to the pop (schlock) radio station.  The song was Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) by Kelly Clarkson — AGAIN.  What the heck? Although I think American Idol is evil to the core, I do admire Kelly Clarkson; and this song isn’t half bad.  It is a bit cliche but it is a catchy pop song with a great hook with the chorus; and it is enjoyable in a mindless sort of way.  My daughter loves Kelly Clarkson (it could be worse) so I listened a bit closer; and although it is an angst infused love song of sorts I was struck by the “…stand a little taller…” line. Yes — this is the first sign — a message being sent to me to get me through this week. I immediately needed to hear Kanye West’s Stronger.

Work it harder, Make it better,
Do it faster, Makes us stronger,
More than ever, Never over,
Our work is never over.

Now that don’t kill me
Can only make me stronger

(Stronger, 2007 – Kanye West).


The saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” is from Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) was a German philosopher, who was a writer, poet, and commentator on philosophy based on the foundation of values and morality as well as religion and culture of his times. His outspokenness and critiques made him so famous that he decided to publish the equivalent of Nietzsche for Dummies in 1888 entitled Twilight of the Idols.  This book was divided into several sections to make it easy to understand the most important work of Nietzsche (according to Nietzsche).  The first section the Preface set the tone by including a maxim from Roman author Aulus Gellius. The quote which Nietzsche referred to as his motto is “Increscunt animi, virescit volnere virtus” which translates into

“The spirits increase, vigor grows through a wound.”

Wow…this could be the next song by Ms. Clarkson or Mr. Kanye — or better yet their collaboration.

This section of Twilight of the Idols was aptly called Maxims and Arrows.  In Maxims and Arrows, Nietzsche shares profound statements in short-form — a list of incredibly thoughtful, mind-boggling, tidbits of philosophies by which to live. Although Nietzsche was being ironic, sarcastic and mocking in many of his entries, today we revere them in a literal manner. Number eight of the Maxims and Arrows is “Aus dem Leben der Schule des Krieges: Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker” which means: Out of life’s school of war:

What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.

This famous saying has been paraphrased in several different ways, sometimes with “Whatever” or “That which” instead of “What” and “slay” or some other verb in place of “destroy.”  Today, we state “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” {And it is quite ironic that Nietzsche uses the word “Idols” in his title and Kelly Clarkson was the first winner of American “Idol.”  False gods for sure.}

Song composers and screen writers love Nietzsche.  Some mentions of Nietzsche and this famous maxim (or is it an Arrow?) in movies, music, and  entertainment news are as follows:

  • Conan the Barbarian (1982) – quote shown in opening credits
  • Steel Magnolias (1989) – stated by Clairee played by actor, Olympia Dukakis
  • The Dark Knight (2008) – a variation stated by the Joker played by actor, Heath Ledger. Joker’s line: “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you…stranger.”
  • The General’s Daughter (1999) – “Whatever hurts you makes me stronger” stated by Elisabeth played by actor, Leslie Stefanson
  • Little Miss Sunshine (2006) – Uncle Frank (played by actor, Steve Carell) looks at the banner with a drawing of Nietzsche and says, “Nietzsche, huh?”
  • Music artists who used Nietzsche as inspiration include Pink Floyd, Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, Radiohead, Dust Brothers, Mobb Deep, Manowar, Black Sabbath, the Doors, Slayer, Metallica, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Fall, Pantera, Fear Factory, The Dandy Warhols, Judas Iscariot…and of course, Kanye West and Kelly Clarkson.
  • Mel Gibson in an interview with the Telegraph (2010) reflecting on what he had learned through his humiliating experience that “It changes you and makes you one tough m*th*rf**k*r. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s really that simple.”
  • Angelina Jole’s tattoo on her hip is a Nietzsche-like Latin quote “quod me nutrit me destruit” which means “What nourishes me also destroys me.”

But seriously; Nietzsche was on to something.  All of us have (or will have) to deal with tragedy, although you may doubt that it really “makes you stronger.”  No matter what’s going on in your world that makes you feel like it can’t get worse — I guarantee there is someone worse off.

Sign 2:

Last week a travelling Broadway production of Young Frankenstein (pronounced Fronkensteen) came to town.  It was a pretty good show if you enjoy silly, sophomoric, fart, horny, pee-pee humor — but it is what it is.  During the show I recalled with amazement how many stars were in the movie version including Gene WilderTeri GarrCloris LeachmanPeter BoyleMadeline KahnKenneth MarsRichard Haydn and Gene Hackman. I couldn’t remember though the name of the actor who played Igor. I now know it was the incomparable Marty Feldman. Fast forward to Monday’s CBS This Morning — Anna Quindlen was being interviewed when she shared a story. She was stuck in a dangerous storm and her daughter was worried about her to which she replied, “I am too old to die young.” A powerful and witty quote that could mean a number of different things.  My interpretation is that once you get to a certain age (I hate that term, btw), you realized that tragedy is a part of life and you survive by how you deal with it. After another Google search — I discovered that Marty Feldman was the author of this quote. He was close to the end and quipped

“I am too old to die young, and too young to grow up.”

This was Sign 2 — and it hit me like a Hammer.

Sign 3:

This weekend I was following the tweets of my friend, Sam, who has been training for months to run a marathon, and it was this weekend. Sam did a great job of tweeting to his followers regular updates on his progress to the starting line and ultimately to finishing the race — fulfilling a lifelong goal. About the time that the marathon was about to start, one tweet caught my attention. This tweet mentioned “the reason why I am running” with a link to a post on his blog, “Making Sense of the Senseless…I Think?!” The title of the post is “Running Through Pain,” and it is a powerful and personal account of why Sam had to run this marathon.  Sam’s journey includes mentoring through Big Brothers a young man going through tough times, the loss of his grandfather last year, and remembering the loss of his cousin and best friend at the very young age of 19 — the marathon is the 6-year anniversary of his cousin’s death. All of this “pain” plus the real pain of training for and running a 26-mile marathon is the theme of the blog post.  Sam’s story is so powerful I had to read it twice — and then share it with my son (and anyone else who would listen to me). Trust me — you must read this blog post about Sam’s journey. It reminds me of our resilience. Much of what we feel is a choice. How we respond to tragedy, pain, setbacks, disappointment, and mistakes, intentional or accidental, not only determines how we feel but reflects our focus, our vision, our determination, our  patience, our forgiveness, our perseverance, our strength. You learn a lot about others and yourself when things go wrong. As Maya Angelou said,

“I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

Sam’s journey and the recent death of one of our friends due to cancer, again at the young age of 45, also reinforce that no matter how low I feel, there is always someone who is suffering more.  More importantly, be grateful for all of your blessings now, and make sure you know what is important — and it ain’t money.  I am focused on family especially my wife and kids and my friends — who are positive and supportive.  I value my home, the food in our pantry and on our table each night, my freedom, my time with my family, and the resources I give my children to become caring, loving, and STRONG servants and scholars.  It saddens me that others are suffering more and have less than I, but it gives me hope and motivates me to give and serve. It puts my problems in perspective.

And yes, you can disagree with the maxim “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” but it is hard to ignore the success stories.  Three individuals come to mind, who were severely abused but managed to rise to unbelievable levels of success. They are Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Louie Armstrong. I chose these three individuals because no one can deny their achievements have been extraordinary and their hardships were extreme.

  • Is adversity a blessing in disguise?
  • Feeling sorry for yourself is a choice.
  • Shame and guilt may be a choice but still overwhelming. As my pastor says though you should not feel Shame but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of Guilt to motivate you to change.
  • Setbacks in life give you fuel for growth, give you a way to heal, allow you to succeed on your own terms, and cultivate within you compassion and empathy.
  • I assure you the next time someone you know gets in trouble, you will not be so quick to judge, you will refrain from gossip, and you will reach out to them — with compassion and empathy.
  • Mercy, forgiveness, and grace are powerful and transforming.

So, now go read Sam’s blog post: “Running Through Pain,” cue up Kanye’s Stronger and crank it up.

Stand a little taller; and Believe that we will be BETTER, FASTER, STRONGER — ’cause our WORK is NEVER OVER.

“Lord, please let them accept the things they can’t change; And pray that all of their pain be champagne”

(Otis from Watch the Throne, 2011 by Jay-Z and Kanye West).

Prologue – More Signs:

Bizarre Random Signs of Nietzsche since the post was published:

  • April 23, 2012 – Dances With the Stars: I was working on the first draft of this post while watching DWTS and Bruno said to Urkel, “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” {Spooky}.
  • April 30, 2012 – Late Night with Jimmy Fallon: In a comedy bit called “Don’t Quote Me,” Nietzsche’s quote “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” was featured with a lesser known Nietzsche quote (here’s the comedy part) — “A fourth bong hit is always a bad idea.”  Click HERE to see the Jimmy Fallon “Don’t Quote Me” video: Nietzsche is the last quote in this segment and may be seen about 4 minutes into the video.
  • May 19, 2012  – GLEE marathon on Oxygen network. GLEE cast covers Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You). Originally aired on Fox network during the GLEE winter finale episode “On My Way” on Tuesday, February 21, 2012.
  • August 22, 2012 — found this quote online — “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” – Walt Disney

READ more about Choosing Your Attitude — PCPop blog post:

Under My Umbrella – Creating a Happy Place

In color, dolly parton, dollywood, Fashion, rain, rainbow, smoky mountains, umbrella, Uncategorized, WHUS on April 5, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Red Heart Umbrella

The way I see it, if you want the Rainbow,
You gotta put up with the Rain

If you take the time to find the perfect umbrella, choosing one with a bright and bold color, you will love the rain — and have a much more joyful life with plenty of rainbows. Here is a guide to Creating a Happy Place – Under My Umbrella (Ella Ella, Ay Ay Ay).

On our recent Spring Break Trip to Eastern Tennessee, we took our kids to Dollywood.  I must admit the first time I went to Dollywood, I was not expecting to enjoy myself. A self-proclaimed New England snob, what could Pigeon Forge, Tennessee have to offer me by way of entertainment and thrills. Our first visit to Dollywood was pre-Kids and was a day-trip with the in-laws. I must admit we had a blast at Dollywood. I now triple love and admire Dolly Parton from Nine to Five to Dollywood. So, recently when we were discussing our options for Spring Break 2012, we realized our kids had not ever been to Dollywood, Gatlinburg or the Great Smoky Mountains.  Of course the kids only know her from her role as Aunt Dolly, Miley Stewart’s godmother, on Hannah Montana. Since our first (pre-Kids) visit to Dollywood, the park has grown and grown and grown.  Plus — the week of our designated Spring Break 2012 was also the week of the first public launch of Dolly’s new rollercoaster, the Wild Eagle. After a week of exploring all of the “must-see” attractions in Eastern Tennessee, I can honestly state that our Spring Break trip was a big success, and the kids loved Dollywood.  Our kids shared that they were surprised that Dollywood was way better than they thought it would be and they admitted some initial apprehension. I would call that —  Success!

Laurel Falls -- Great Smoky Mountains

Even though it was only the sixth day of the 2012 Dollywood season, the park was ready to go and filled with beautiful flowers, blooming trees, wildlife roaming freely or in natural habitats, and the weather was perfectly delightful.  It was a sunny, breezy, spring day.  Until the thunderstorm moved in, that is.  The storm passed through quickly but it did force us to be creative during that time (and my mother-in-law decided to head home). It would have been so easy to be angry with the rain and thunder for ruining our afternoon, but we chose a positive outlook instead.  It was then that I noticed a quote, from Dolly Parton herself, craftily painted over the threshold of one of the many theaters on Dollywood’s Show Street.

The way I see it, if you want the Rainbow,

You gotta put up with the Rain

(Dolly Parton)

I read it to myself and reread it and smiled.  Dolly Parton strikes again.  You may not believe it but try as I might to dislike everything associated with country music and (the University of) Tennessee, I admire Dolly Parton — and here she goes again.  This quote was what I needed at that very moment. This experience and this quote reminded me of a theory I developed years ago as to why most people hate the rain.  Regular listeners to my weekly WHUS radio show, PC Pop with Pablo, heard the theory often — as often as it rained, actually.  Not to be confused with my stories about how college students, when they get wet from the rain, smell very much like wet dogs — the theory has to do with your choice of umbrellas.

As you know from my previous PC Pop blog posts, I see that the moods and behaviors of us all have to do with a phenomenon referred to as self-fulfilling prophecy.  We choose our attitudes and we use self-fulfilling prophecy to prove and justify our negativity, impatience, anger, and moodiness — including behavior that is hateful, bigoted, intolerant, and disrespectful.  Some of us are so bound and determined to be miserable that we create an environment for it to thrive. We want the rumors to be true so badly that we wait for and find justifications and information to support our lies.  I have met individuals who would not know what to do if they didn’t have something about which to whine or someone about whom to despise; and others who direct every conversation and every situation to how they are the only true victims in this world. How utterly exhausting. Remember — we have complete control over our attitudes and our moods. Furthermore, only you can give others the power to put you in a bad mood and ruin your day and hurt you. You choose your attitude, and you choose your umbrella. (See how I brought you back to my theory about rain — clever, aren’t I.)

Basic Black UmbrellaNext time it rains take a look at everyone’s umbrella.  You will see what I have for years; and agree that it is no wonder we hate the rain. Most umbrellas are black. Now don’t get me wrong — I like black but I also like color.  I have never been afraid of bright, bold colors — especially in my wardrobe.  In fashion, black has its proper place.  Most of the time when you wear black it is a very solemn, serious moment.  Whether it is a formal evening function, a serious business meeting, or a funeral — black is not typically associated with cheerfulness. And even when you must wear basic black or formal black you usually have the option of adding a smattering of color. But a black umbrella is a black umbrella.

So when it rains — and it is a given that you already hate the rain — you can really make sure that it is a miserable experience by covering your heads in a black canopy — the Umbrella. How absolutely and utterly depressing.  It makes sense that we end up dreading rainy days — even harmlessly delightful, misty rains. Imagine the next time it rains if everyone was smiling, smirking, giggling, laughing, joyful, exuberant — making others wonder what’s up and what they’re missing. My theory is that you can get this done simply by picking a better umbrella. Now Degas Umbrellathere isn’t going to be one umbrella that works for everyone.  So, first you must know what personally makes you giggle and smirk.  Once you have a list of giggle-irresistible characters, images, animals, and colors; choose those that would make you smile in your private umbrella-place without being too corny (like a photo collage of your family). Then the fun part — finding the umbrella. I would suggest starting with a quick internet search — but if you prefer the social experience of the good ole brick’n’mortar, then go shopping. Be creative — think unique, colorful, bright, and funky. Some of the best umbrellas can be found in the most unlikely places like candy stores, museums, ice cream shops, bakeries, amusement parks, comic shops, toy stores, art collective studios, book stores, garden shops, and even pet stores.

Remember what you’re looking for is an experience and an attitude — an umbrella that you can’t wait to use and makes you pray for rain. Be forewarned that once Pink Flower Umbrellayou get excited for the next opportunity to strut around town with your new umbrella — it won’t rain for days. But when it does rain, you will be ready. The first few times, I would suggest choosing that parking space that’s farther away to give you the maximum impact. And how will you know you have succeeded? When you push that button, pop open that umbrella, and swing it over your head — you will have succeeded if you get lost in the joy of your new private umbrella rain space. Ka-POW!

You probably know where I am going with this.  Yes. It is about your attitude toward Mickey Mouse ears umbrellarain or rainy days.  We all know (April) showers bring (May) flowers and also give us life — and rainbows — but we still dread seeing rain in the local weather forecast. We blame rain for a lot like ruining our entire day, canceling the parade, flooding our basements and giving us mold, destroying our vacation, giving us rain delays, and dangerous driving conditions with blinding conditions and hydroplaning. BUT — the deeper meaning is about more than rain. If we can laugh and sing and dance in the rain merely by choosing a colorful umbrella — just imagine how we can make many of the clouds we create in life disappear.

The concept is best described in the book, the FiSH! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results (2000, Lundin).  FiSH! Philosophy is basically a Fish!: A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results (2000, Lundin)leadership and customer service model but the concepts transcend the workplace. The four principles of the FiSH! Philosophy are Be There, Play, Make Their Day, and Choose Your Attitude.  All of them are powerful concepts and collectively, if practiced consistently, can transform a team. The one that really impacts me day to day though is Choose Your  Attitude.  According to the FiSH! Philosophy, Choose Your Attitude means taking responsibility for how you respond to what life throws at you. Once you are aware that your choice impacts everyone around  you, you can ask yourself, “Is my attitude helping those Lady Umbrellasaround me? Is it helping me to be the person I want to be?”  (2000, Lundin).

The power is within all of us.  The power of choice. Choosing to love the rain. Choosing the best umbrella. Choosing a positive attitude. Choosing to give ourselves permission to giggle, to smirk, to laugh, to smile, and to be exuberant.

So the next time it rains — grab your umbrella and join me Under My Umbrella – Creating a Happy Place. We’ll laugh and sing and experience life and joy — looking forward to that rainbow and enjoying those (May) flowers.

Lundin, Stephen C. (2000). FiSH! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results. New York: Hyperion.

For a list of some of the better Leadership books, check out the PC Pop blog post: Leadership Books – Recommended Reading.

Bonus — Enjoy Rihanna’s “(Under My) Umbrella” Orange version featuring Jay-Z

I Wish I Was Him — Ben Lee Interview — 1997

In Ben Lee, Brad Wood, Claire Danes, Concerts, Ione Skye, Iron Horse Music Hall, Liz Phair, Malavenda, Music, Pablo Malavenda, Pop Culture, UConn, WHUS on February 24, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Ben Lee Interview

From 1991 to 1998, I hosted a radio show at WHUS Radio, UConn student-run radio station, called PC Pop with Pablo. For over seven years, every Thursday morning from 8 to 10 a.m., PC Pop was on the air featuring music as well as commentary about pop culture, campus events, music and general absurdities. PC Pop music included a wide range of new, funky, pop, independent, punk, hip-hop music and spoken word.

Anything involving Ben Lee was a part of the musical line up.  It started in the early 90’s with music from the legendary band, Noise Addict.  Soon after Ben Lee’s solo work became an obsession of me and the show.  When Ben Lee announced a tour date in New England on June 18, 1997, I contacted our “person” at Grand Royal Records and arranged an interview.  The tour was in support of Ben Lee’s sophomore solo LP, Something to Remember Me By.

I took the road trip from Storrs, Connecticut to the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts with my radio show engineer, Kristin Curry.  Being a radio host and a fan I was excited and really, really prepared.  My goal was to make sure it was a fair interview and that Ben Lee knew that I was no joke.  We got there early, found the club, were able to gain entry, and were escorted to the “green room.”  To our surprise, Ben Lee was with his new “partner” — Claire Danes.  I’ll admit I was excited but also a little bit more nervous now that it was Ben and Claire.  The interview was a wonderful experience.  Ben Lee was as personable and funny as he seems to be in the media.  I was there for Ben so I was respectful to Claire Danes but did not really focus on her during the interview; and she stayed a distance a way from us.  As the interview progressed, Claire Danes became more vocal and became more comfortable being in the room.

Ben Lee and Claire Danes were together until about 2003.  In 2008 in a Hindu wedding ceremony in India, Ben Lee married Ione Skye, best known (by me) as the woman in the movie Say Anything who was serenaded by John Cusack with a boombox blasting Peter Gabriel‘s In Your Eyes in true Romeo & Juliet style.

The interview was edited and produced by Kristin and me and aired with selected songs on June 26, 1997 (one day before my birthday).  The transcript of the interview was posted on my website and was linked from Ben Lee’s website for a few years.  I recently found a copy of the interview and thought it would make an interesting Blog post.  I decided to share the interview again for all of Ben Lee’s fans new and old.  Ben Lee is still recording and producing great music.  In 2011 he released Deeper Into Dream and has a few US tour dates in 2012. I hope you agree that this interview is an entertaining and rare glimpse into the history of Ben Lee’s career and the history of rock-n-roll.  It is a experience I will treasure forever (as a rock historian).

Here is the interview.  Enjoy.


Wednesday, June 18, 1997

The Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Massachusetts


AIRED:  Thursday, June 26, 1997

on the

P.C.Pop Show, WHUS Radio, Storrs, Connecticut, 91.7 FM


Tell us how you got signed by Fellaheen Records.

I can’t even believe you’ve heard of Fellaheen Records, this is my favorite radio station.  There was this record company in Sydney called Waterfront Records — had Sydney punk rock bands.  When I was in the band, Noise Addict, I sent them a demo tape.  At that stage, Waterfront was finishing and one of their guys was becoming Fellaheen.

One of the guys who started Fellaheen….actually one of the guys was from Waterfront, the other guy was running a promotions company called Golden Sounds.  He came to see me play at this library-book-sale gig that my dad hustled me in on.

Have your parents been supportive of your music career from the beginning?

Yeah, pretty much.  In the beginning it was just in a fun way.  Not with anything serious.  Now they are pretty supportive genuinely in good ways.

Do your parents now believe that music is your career?

They probably figure it’s a living but they hope it’s not all I do just because our family has a big intellectual history.  They are very interested in that kind of SHIT — so am I.  They are happy for me to do music but they would also like for me to change the world.

Since you just graduated high school, is this year going to be devoted to touring and promoting S.T.R.M.B.?

Yeah, maybe two I don’t know what I am doing.

We’re going to go to the music now.  Tell us about “8 Years Old” and ”16.”

I find personally, both those songs are pretty defining moments.  I’ve recorded a lot of songs where certain things have been uneasy about.  I really feel for me saying what I wanted to say.  I’m not saying this to be arrogant or anything, I’m the only one that could have written them.   But I don’t think I could have written them any better.  And don’t thing anyone else could either.  Like I think I did something that was the best I could have done at the time and I could do those songs now, either of them.  But “16” I listen to that song and I’m like FUCK, thank God that song was written, by me too.   I’m so proud I wrote that because why don’t people write songs like that anymore and why don’t….  And I think I captured something I’m gonna be grateful for later in life, you know.  And you know “8 Years Old” it’s just a true story.


PLAY “16”

Tell us how you go about writing a song.

I used to write a lot of songs just all over the place and so now on purpose I’m gonna write less songs and try and write better songs just to change it because I wanted to challenge myself.

How often do you write now?

I am writing once in a month.

Is it more of an intentional process?

Yeah, yeah.

Your producer on Grandpaw Would and your latest S.T.R.M.B., Brad Wood seems to always be bragging about his basketball skills.  Does he always beat you on the court?

He’d have you believe that.  We only really played “H-O-R-S-E.”  He kept spiking my drinks and stuff and there was a ghost in the studio that was throwing off my game.

Was this in Chicago?

No, in L.A.  There is a ghost there.  We had heard all about this ghost, right, ‘cause it used to be a ballroom, this studio, and I went in to record, I went into the corner, and I heard out of the headphones someone go, “Argh, Argh, Argh,” like an old drunk man.  I turned to Brad and I went to the mic and I said, “was that you?”  He wasn’t even in the control room.  I told him about it and he said it was a cheerleader ghost, “Rah, Rah, Rah.”

Did you know of his work with Liz Phair before you began working with him?

Yeah, that is pretty much why we got him because after we heard that record, we were like, “yeah, that will be good for my songs.”

What was it like meeting Liz Phair for the first time?

It was cool, you know.  I’ve never really been like, I mean I’m a huge fan, but I was never really like, I don’t really get intimidated by people.  I was just hoping she was a cool person, and she was, and we hung out a bit and played Scrabble and Hangman.  She used the word “stucco” for the first time in a sentence.  I’ve never heard anyone use that in any reasonable context.

Are you going to work the word “stucco” into a song?

I am planning on it.

We’re going to go to the music now.  Tell us about “Ketchum.”

Ketchum, I was really getting into Hemingway.  This was like last year when Margot died and I just read Across the River and Into the Trees which just blew my mind.  And I was reading and there was this big article about Ketchum.  I wanted to say with that, I don’t know if it came across, some people think I was being sad, you know, being like morbid talking about death.  What I really meant by that song was Hemingway died such a beautiful and tragic death.  He moved to Ketchum to die and he said, “that if life has meaning for you then life can cease to have meaning.”  And he killed himself.  It was so perfect in a way.  Really sad but really perfect in a very romantic way.  And I’m talking like in the whole song, I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna make my life have a perfect end and a perfect beginning.  But then I realize that it’s not in me to do that.  But if the world’s gonna take me it’s gonna have to wear me down.   You know, I’m gonna fade away, I’m not gonna burn out.


Do you think there is any danger to singing such personal songs?

Yeah, but that is what I do.  It is like saying to a skydiver is there any risk in it.  That is part of the job.  It’s complete exposure, what ever that means.  It is equally thrilling and scary.

Some of your fans feel as if they have known you for years, that you are a close friend.  Does this ever scare you?

It scares me sometimes when like I’m just having a bad mood or I had a bad gig or sometimes you’re not in the mood to really hang out and someone comes up to you feeling like you owe them to hang out because you have been with them for years, you know, and like you owe them something.  I find that hard.  And I didn’t like it when someone came up to me right when I was about to walk on stage with the guitar and I was like, “I can’t sign this now.”  I was just warming up and said I would do it after.  But after, I just didn’t see him, I don’t know what happened.  And they posted this huge thing on the internet saying I was a PRICK and I’m only in it for the chicks and they were all down on my records and stuff.  That really bummed me out because, you know, I mean, the thing is that people in the public eye is that everyone has these ideals, everyone’s got a certain amount of romanticism that they want the world to be like, you know, and when they find that they can’t live up to those ideals in life they project them on other people.  People project these ideals onto you that you’re incapable of living up to all of the time.  So, that’s what depresses me sometimes.  But equally it’s good to be able to connect to so many people in just a short time.

Do you think about how many people you are speaking to and speak for in your songs?

I don’t know, I mean, I know I am speaking for….  You know why — I’m just trying to connect to something that’s human.  So, in a way I am speaking for everyone.  But I’m surprised that people that really like me are quite fanatical about it — that’s cool.  I want it man, I’m ready to speak for the generation.

Sometimes you just like….  You’ve read Catcher in the Rye, right?  You know when he’s talking about how he knows it’s a real good book is when after he finishes it he just wants to just call up the author and just talk about life.  When you feel like you’ve become friends with him, that’s what makes good art.  It’s impractical for the person making it to really, to do that kind of thing because that’s what makes a good thing.

We’re going to go to the music now.  Tell us about “Household Name.”

Searching for immortality through art in a time of pop culture.



We just heard the song “A Month Today.”  Tell us about that song.

That’s also pretty self explanatory, that song.

Why did you record it a capella?

I wanted to write an a capella song.  And it just seemed like I just started writing some words and I didn’t need any music.

Do your artistic talents go beyond music?

I mean, I dabble in everything.  I’m a jack of all trades.

Do you think someday you will pursue an acting career?

I would do it.  Me and Julianna Hatfield went on this tour in Australia and we toured movie theaters because we both like, it was just a way of projecting our failures.  I was an actor.  Have you seen the movie, Salute to the Jugger, a Rutger Hauer movie, have you heard of it?…with Joan Chen and Rutger Hauer.  I was in that movie.  Sa-lute to the Jug-ger.  I was an extra in that movie but you can’t really see me because it’s really dark.  I swear to God that I was really in that movie.  Secondly, I was in this advert for Nutrasweet.  I was a cowboy.  I was in this tree house and there was all these Indians, and one of them was my friend, Pixie, who I wrote, “Away with the Pixies” for.  She was running around the bottom with a dog and another boy.  And I was in the tree house looking with binocular and stuff and that was the end of the ad.  It was really strange and didn’t really boost Nutrasweet’s commercial appeal much through that particular advertising campaign.   Other work I’ve done, I was in an advert for Charge laundry detergent but I also ended up on the cutting room floor on that one.  Another one I also got cut out on, another movie, a movie called Black Rock, an Australian movie where I was actually playing myself and I was basking in the street.  I was playing and these kids come passed me and they go, and I’m sort of serenading this girl ‘cause she’s pretty and it’s making fun of me I suppose.  So, I’m serenading this girl and she turns around to her friends and says, “give him some FUCKING money” and they throw these coins at me.  But I got cut out because the movie was too long, so there you go.  My mom was in Murder, She Wrote.

Tell us about your collaboration with film maker Tamra Davis, Mike D.’s wife.

I’ve done a song for her next movie.  I’ve done it, I’ve recorded it.

Will you be acting in the film?

No, I’ve just recorded a song for it.  It’s called, “You Have to Burn to Shine.”  Yeah, and I’m gonna play it tonight.


What happened to your song that was supposed to appear on the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack?

There’s all these politics.  You know the problem, I don’t know if I should talk about this.  Like with record companies, with major labels, they seemed to be a bit less supportive of the people coming up on their roster.  They would just put on Everclear which is cool, they’re a good band.  But I mean I wrote a song.  I personally wrote this song, you know, for that movie.  That’s cool.

Will you be releasing it soon?

No.  No.  It’s not even mine, I’ve forgotten it.  It had one good verse in it:  “I have two fantasies to occupy my head, simply your beauty and the hour of my death.  I heard that death and love never leave each other’s sight but I never knew the meaning ‘til tonight.”  It was from a Keat’s thing, where he said, “I’ve two fantasies that bleed on these walls, your beauty and the hour of my death, oh that I can have possession of these two things at once.  That’s love.”

Do you study literature?

No, I just dabble.  I like it all, I love it all.

What do you think of the U.S.?

I just like it.  It’s easy with sexuality.

I don’t let him make fun of our country (Claire)

Yeah, she’s so patriotic.  It’s like, um, you know what I like about it?  It’s very….you’re in a country…you see, the country I’m from is a bit old fashion in a way.  I’m living in a country where a man can still win over a woman on the dance floor which is a thing I really respect.  If you have a disagreement, you actually shoot each other in my country.  You go out and you do a quick draw.  And we don’t have any property or we don’t have fences, you just like, and we have baby taking day, I don’t want to go into it.  But it’s like, um, this country it’s really backwards and forwards.  I like it here how people are encouraged to excel.

What do you dislike about this country?

I don’t like how people are encouraged to excel…because it makes them like, um, no, really I like and dislike the same thing.  Because everyone thinks they’re going to have an empire here and everyone wants to run a talk show…I say here as I’m holding this mic.

We’re going to go to the music now.  Tell us about “Shirtless.”

That was just a funny song I wrote.  Just during puberty, you know, you have a little problem with showing your body in public places.

It’s just a fun song, you know.  It seems people really like that song because people can really relate to it.  I mean it’s not that extreme, you know, like as I say in the song but it’s just a point I’m making.  I just like that idea of like if you let someone see enough of you physically they can take a lot of you emotionally.  It’s a pretty bad recording.  I like that song.


Do you think that the music industry will ultimately save you or destroy you?

Both.  You know what my problem is?  I don’t even know if it’s a problem but the way I am is I really didn’t have a hard life.  I got things I wanted.  The way in my psychological make up is I need a lot out of life.  I need to take a lot from it and every problem I’ve ever had has stemmed from that.  That I’ve tried to extract more than the world can give me.  It’s not that I’ve been…some people go through things where they get a bad family situation.  I’ve just…I just need a lot to be happy, you know, and so, and I’m very passionate about life, so the music industry gave me something and music gave me something but you also lose so much in it.  I don’t want to get to deep on you.

Talk about your recent collaboration with T-Bone Burnett.

That’s it, “You Have to Burn to Shine.”  How did you know about that?

This is the song for the Tamra Davis film?

Yeah, I recorded that song.  Jim Kelpner played drums on it, who played drums on “Imagine,” and Greg Cohn who plays bass for Tom Waits, he played stand up bass, Money Mark played piano, Ben, I forget his second name, he plays for the ‘Stones now he played organ, and Russell Simmons played percussion.  And we recorded it live in a circle and T-Bone conducted.

It’s just like my song and I just brought in these people to play with me.

Was your work with the Australian band, Gerling, a one shot deal?

I did two shows with them.  Gerling are really funny, right, because they encouraged a lot of the way I handle life.  Like this interview, a lot of this wouldn’t be going down if it wasn’t for Gerling.   Because they really encouraged my whole attitude towards like portraying myself as an individual.  Like I interviewed Gerling, and I interviewed one of them and I said, “tell me some stories about recording” and they told me a story about Jarvis Cocker from Pulp.  He came into the studio and they said they’re going to a rumble and they punched Jarvis Cocker in the stomach and Michael Jackson right hand glove came out.  I mean, if you can’t see the genius in that.  And so after I heard that story my life changed.  So, I played guitar when the guitarist left for two shows then they’ve got a permanent guy now, Burke.

Should we expect to see a U.S. release from Gerling?

They’re not even big in Australia.  No one’s heard of them.  They’re pretty cool though.  They have a song called, “Slut Pinacle” which is my favorite song.  It goes, “driving down the street in your slut mobile, you’re a FUCKIN’ slut and everybody knows.”  It’s so good.  And like for me to play guitar on that was amazing.  And they have another one called “Jimmy Wore a Crowbar” and another one called “Jack Pallance Naked in His Lounge.”  It’s true.

We’re going to go to the music now.  Tell us about “Trying to Sneeze.”

I didn’t remember.  I wanted to write a song that was really abstract.

Claire: I love that song.  That’s one of my favorite songs.

Really?  I had that line in it, “my street filthy as it may be is still my street.”  I don’t remember, man, that was like three years ago.  I was but a lamb.


If you look at rock’n’roll history, there have been individuals like Paul Westerberg, Alex Chilton, Evan Dando, J.Mascus, who all worked in a band and eventually either went solo or took greater control of their groups.  Their solo work never really measured up to their earlier work with their original band.  What about Ben Lee the solo artist?

Personally, whatever.  If they’re happy making their music then, just because you decide to make a mellow record or something, you’re not losing your edge.  I would say that, OK anyway, that doesn’t really matter.  But what I have to say about that is that I don’t think of myself in terms of those guys.  I’m not trying to be a singer/songwriter or whatever.  I’m not trying to be anything.  I’m just trying to like tell you how I feel exactly right now….NOW, you know what I mean, right now.  And I’m sorry, if  I keep doing that, what does it mean “I lose it.”  If I’m actually telling you how I feel right now that’s my mission.

We’re going to go to the music now.  Tell us about “Away with the Pixies.”
I just wrote that for my friend.  Yeah no, she’s a great friend but she is called Pixie.  Her name is Amelia, really.  She looks like a pixie admittedly and everyone calls her a pixie and they still do.  And she went through a bit of a craze where she was like, “man, I’m 16, 17 years old and I don’t want to be called this little baby’s name anymore.”  And I just wanted to write that song like away with the pixies, off with the fairies.


Are you really thinking about writing a rock opera?

It was a joke.  I said two things in my bio.  I said I was going to do a rock opera and I was going to do an album with Fiona Apple covers.  Neither of them are happening.

 It was supposed to also include Tom Waits songs.

And Tom Waits covers.

A rock opera with Fiona Apple and Tom Waits covers.

That was the idea, right.  It was going to be a call and response thing between boy and girl about love in the ‘90’s.

So, you lied.

It was an idea.  I wouldn’t call it a lie.

Would you ever be interested in becoming the next Andrew Lloyd Webber?

I would do that.  And I actually lied to a magazine in Australia who totally believed me.  He asked me about the rock opera and I said I was asked to play the main part in this English rock opera called “Lysergic World” and its about Albert Hoffman’s discovery of LSD.  And he totally believe me.  I guess it’s believable.

Another lie?

I don’t lie, I’m just creative.  I’m just trying to make this interesting for me and you, you know.

Would you ever perform on Broadway, say in Grease?

Which part?  Sandy, Sandra Dee?


No, I wouldn’t do something like that.

Where would you draw the line?

I’ll do anything if she’s like written in blood.  You know, if people want me to be a part of something, if it’s for real or if it’s like an opportunity for me.  Like I’m gonna go on tour later this year with some people, I can already see it, someone’s gonna find it a little dubious, you know.


Maybe.  But I’m gonna do some big things like that and it’s like for me I don’t have time for that because it’s just me.  I want to get to play for as many people as possible.  And it’s still me no matter who else is on the bill and where I’m playing, it just still me and my guitar.  Whatever, you know.

We’re going to go to the music now.  Tell us about “Mouthwash.”

That song I really had the line first, “maybe the fields don’t want to play me.”  Because these two people who were friends of mine who were going out, they were talking about getting married and he said I want to go out and play the field a bit.  And she was like what if the field doesn’t want to play you?  I just thought that was a cool line and so I just wrote that song.

Where did the letter in the liner notes come from?

That was a real letter and that girl, my friend, Melanie has, um, I actually…she was out of town when I was doing the artwork.  And I thought I’ll ask her about it but I didn’t I just put it in and she still hasn’t seen it.  And I don’t, I totally forgot about that until you reminded me.  What does that say?  You know what that was, it was an essay for like her SAT equivalent like we call the HSC.  She, um, oh you’ve got it damn.  Me and her, sort of like had a little, we liked each other, you know.  And she wrote about me.  That was her final English essay.  My friend, Melanie, she had to write about, I forget what the subject was, but she chose to write about me.  And then she send it to me.  This was like she had school assignment, it was so weird.  And it bummed me out when I got that, so much.


Are you looking for that big MTV break?

Some people think that.  I didn’t even make a video for this record.  I made one where I just went basking in the street.

You did one video in which you were in a Gulliver type role.

Yeah, that was “Away with the Pixies” but that was my first record so I wasn’t really selling out.

Did your videos get air play?

MTV played a bit of all of them.  But the new one is just me basking in the street with live sound.  For people to talk about that’s like MTV playing it is me selling out, I don’t even give justification to those arguments by responding to them because they’re so retarded by my point of view.   I played a song in the street and MTV chose to play it.

Can MTV give too much exposure too quickly  to up and coming bands?

You know what I say, “If the people like it’s good and it’s good if the people like it.”

We’re going to go to the music now.  Tell us about “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away).”

I love the Motley Crue.  That was my first rock concert.

No, I just like that song.  “Girl, don’t go away mad, just go away,” what a great line.


What was it like working with the members of that dog?

I’d never heard that dog at that point.  I’ve heard their new record now.  It was fun because I think they’re a pretty hard working band from what I understand.  Mainly, I got to work with them because Brad knew them.  He just made their record and they were very, um, talented musically.  For me it was like I felt good about giving them something to do that was that relaxed.  Because I’ve now read interview where they’ve been talking about me saying it was like insane, where I thought it was really normal.  They came in and we were hyperactive and jumped around and played music but I didn’t think that’s how they work.  But for me, it’s like I love working with different people.  They’re so talented, you know, all of them.

Who are some of your favorite collaborators?

I loved playing with Money Mark.  He was really amazing.  I only bring people in if I already love them.

We’re going to go to the music now.  Tell us about “Gramercy Park Hotel.”

If there was anymore of it that would of made it more clearer, I would have said it, but it doesn’t, so I won’t.  It’s just to say that the power of song, you know.


Does it surprise you how you have been embraced by artists the indie rock scene like Lou Barlow, Julianna Hatfield, and Thurston Moore?

Yeah, it does.  I don’t really think about it much.  I mean, now I’m just trying to do something that no one else is doing, that’s what I’m trying to do.  And what I have ended up doing is something that no one else is trying to do.

What are your days like?

This, This right now.  Just sitting around doing stuff, you know.  Just trying to explore new territory, push the envelop.

You have developed into a powerful singer/song writer, where does performing live fit in?

I used to not really be much of a live performer pretty much until about half way through last year.  I just made up my mind.  I’ve seen a lot of people play like Richard Thompson and Loudon Wainwright who are really amazing live performers and I was just like FUCK I should get my SHIT together.  I should go further, you know what I mean, I should take it further.  I wanted to create magic, you know what I mean.  So, last year I just decided that I was gonna do it and I started.  The songs I was writing, before I even recorded them, I worked them into the set and stuff, so, it became a lot about playing live and, um, I got good at it.

How do you feel about having to perform live to promote S.T.R.M.B.?

I was always interested in doing it, I was just never happy with it because I wasn’t very good at it.  It is just a line you pass where someday, I mean, you just feel confident, and you’re like, “wow, I get it now.”

We’re going to go to the music now.  Do you have a favorite song?

A song I’m sort of getting into again, an old song, is “The Loft” off Grandpaw Would.   I just starting to play that a bit now and then.  And I am really getting back into that song.  Like, it’s so the time I wrote it.  That’s about staying with Brad the first time I went out to, you know, Chicago in his place, the Loft.  And it so sums up the time, exactly.  And it still applying now.  I’ve still got to come to terms with what I’ve found.  That’s the aim of my existence.


Thank you’s

Retweet from Ben Lee – February 24, 2012

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