Tag Archives: white gold scorpio

Sean Madigan Hoen’s ‘Songs Only You Know’


Title: Songs Only You Know: A Memoir (SoHo Press, 2014)
Author: Sean Madigan Hoen

I occasionally review albums here, but this the first dedicated to a book. And while I’m not out to review it per se, I do want to highly recommend it to all readers of this blog. Songs Only You Know is the debut memoir of Sean Madigan Hoen, a now good friend of mine whom I met through music and mutual friends two years ago. Sean has appeared on this blog a couple of times but not by name – see mentions of his projects White Gold Scorpio and Your Skull. On top of his writing talents, he is also a tremendous songwriter and musician. (See albums under his own name and otherwise, including the bands Thoughts of Ionesco, The Holy Fire, Leaving Rouge, White Gold Scorpio, and Your Skull.)

Sean now resides in Brooklyn but he’s originally from Detroit, which provides the backdrop of Songs Only You Know. The book chronicles a ten year span from Sean’s late teens to late twenties, during which time he became a fixture of Detroit’s hardcore rock scene while, separately, he and his family dealt with the devastation caused by his father’s crack addiction. Throughout the story Sean details his struggle not only with the two aforementioned scenarios, but also in doing his damnedest to keep both worlds separate. On its surface, one could write the book off as being either a tale of rock music debauchery or a quasi-self help pamphlet chock-full of advice. There are plenty of debaucherous anecdotes, but they’re neither glorified nor condescended upon. Instead, Hoen’s lucid narrative and unwavering honesty about his family, friends, and himself, give the book a lot of heart. This isn’t a “rock book” or a “drug book,” but rather a compelling story about family, music, and growth.

The book is more a series of scenes connected by the threads of family strife and musical conquest than a grand narrative. The musical struggles are about rock in this instance, but the aspirations and challenges transcend style: staying true to (and sometimes failing) one’s aesthetic principles, endlessly driving from gig to gig, alternately playing to packed houses and empty rooms, navigating interpersonal connections with bandmates. Regarding the music, poet Diane Wakoski said it best in her discussion with Sean at a reading in Lansing, MI: that while she still dislikes that style of music, the book helped her to better understand the music’s appeal and scene/lifestyle. Similarly, the tale of his family’s struggle isn’t just for those who’ve experienced addiction or depression firsthand. No family is perfect, and learning how to grow alongside – be it away from, toward, or both – and understand and empathize with family is universal. It’s a dark book, no doubt, but it’s not cynical. It’s hopeful throughout, and the catharsis one feels at the end is quite moving.

Songs Only You Know is a taut, lean 384 pages. Sean’s economical writing leaves no fat, and in turn he packs in a lot of substance. Because of that, you’ll have a hard time putting the book down. A number of people I know – Sean’s friends and otherwise – read it in very few sittings, myself included. So do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s available at independent book stores nationally, all Barnes & Nobles locations, and of course Amazon.

2012 Recap & 2013 Preview

*Dusts cobwebs off*

…and the blog returns. It’s been a quiet couple months for this site, mainly because the last part of 2012 was pretty intense away from the computer. Teaching, gigging, working, etc., aside, my wife and I bought and moved into our first house. (Hence the last MTH-V post.) While it obviously wasn’t unexpected, it was much sooner than we had anticipated. At any rate, 2013 is now in full swing. But more importantly, the battery has been recharged and most unpacking is complete. I know there are some readers out there – this isn’t completely in a vacuum – so expect regular posts to resume.

2012 was a great year musically and personally. (Since this is a music-centric blog, and not a personal one or otherwise, I’ll stick to musical highlights.) Looking back:

Playing: I played a wide variety of gigs throughout the year, as usual, but a few projects are worth special mention.
• Ongoing collaboration with Matt Borghi — Matt and I continued our somewhat schizophrenic musical quest. I don’t say that as a pejorative, but with pride. We have too many interests to stick to just one bag of tricks. (Longer discussions here and here.) We played a number of shows and also released a single under our acoustic rock moniker Teag & PK. And we also continued our ambient explorations. The latter yielded a full album, Convocation, that is to be released in the coming weeks. More details quite soon as the official release nears. We’re very excited about it.
The Fencemen — I met and started playing with The Fencemen last year. I contributed some sounds to “Rented Rooms” (on Times Are Alright – my review here) and have been playing live with them since April. Gritty rock and roll…check it out.
• White Gold Scorpio — I laid down some tracks for Halloween Island (specifically “Throw Myself At You” and “Scare You Like I Do”). This was purely studio work, as the group is based in Brooklyn. It’s a real good album and I’m glad to be a part of it.
• I bought a piccolo. 🙂 (For pit work for Annie.)

Concerts: Regular readers (and those who know me personally) know that I attend a lot of performances. Every year I see shows that especially stand out. Here are a few, a number of them being firsts:
• Einstein on the Beach — “Would it get some wind for the sailboat?” Let’s face it: I started 2012 with more than a bang. Being fortunate enough to see this live really was one of those “once in a lifetime” experiences. It’s been just over a year and I still think of it almost everyday. (And occasionally dream about it, but that’s another story…) It had a profound impact on me that I can’t really put into words. (Though I tried to gather my immediate reaction here.) Alex Ross said it best: “ecstatically dumbfounding.” No other 2012 musical experience – and few ever – even compared to this one.
(Photo by Lucie Jansch)
• Charles Lloyd’s New Quartet — I finally saw Mr. Lloyd in Ann Arbor in April. I’ve been a longtime fan of his, so that was a real treat. I can’t think of any other musician whose lines float over the ensemble quite like his. His rendition of “Go Down Moses” still haunts me. Some thoughts here.
• James Carter, Spectrum Road, and Neneh Cherry & The Thing at Montreux Jazz Festival — Although I was initially disappointed that Tricky dropped out, this lineup blew me away in three very different ways. Furthermore, it was great to attend the Montreux Jazz Festival. But even though my show was in Miles Davis Hall, I still wish I could’ve seen the real thing, particularly this 1973 performance.
• Radiohead — Finally. They gave an impeccable performance. I was worried that my years of wanting to see them would raise the bar too high, but shattered my very high expectations. Extended thoughts here.
• Pat Metheny Unity Band and Wayne Shorter Quartet at Detroit Jazz Festival — Technically two first, but not completely. I saw part of Metheny’s Detroit show during his Orchestrion tour (I was playing at the bar downstairs, so I snuck up for a bit), and I saw Wayne Shorter with Herbie Hancock’s quartet in 2004. (The latter show was really something special.) But this was my first Metheny experience with a backing band and I hadn’t yet seen Wayne’s powerhouse quartet with Brian Blade, John Patitucci, and Danilo Perez. Both were stellar. Metheny and Chris Potter were face-meltingly good, whereas Shorter’s quartet successfully opened my third eye for a time. I’m very excited for WSQ’s soon-to-be-released third album.
• Marcus Miller — Another technical first. I saw Marcus Miller as a sideman for Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters 2005 at Bonnaroo, but this was my first time seeing his solo band, which pretty much sticks to the coasts, Europe, and Japan. (That Headhunters 2005 performance was a killer band, and one of the best things I’ve ever seen: Herbie, Marcus, Terri Lyne Carrington, Kenny Garrett, Roy Hargrove, John Mayer [as guitarist, not lead singer], Munyungo Jackson, and Lionel Loueke.) Miller’s solo band didn’t disappoint. It was funky, crunchy, and high-octane from start to finish.
• DMB (various) — Of course. 🙂 Considering there were two separate tours, I was only able to catch four shows in Saratoga, NY, Chicago, and Toronto. (Teaching abroad got in the way of a few others I would’ve seen, and I took 2012 off from The Gorge.) Many of the new songs were really gaining steam by the last time I saw the band. They never disappoint.

Albums: I need to just list them at this point – in no particular order other than the first two – or this post will never end. Again, just some highlights that were released in 2012. (NOTE: These are albums I purchased and listened to…I realize there are some I haven’t gotten around to yet.) But take note: it’s no surprise that my beloved ECM (in bold) is well represented…
Away From The World — Dave Matthews Band
Manu Katché — Manu Katché
Sleeper: Tokyo, April 16, 1979
 — Keith Jarrett & Jan Garbarek
Oceania — Smashing Pumpkins
Live at the Moody Theater — Warren Haynes
Fly — Lettuce
For the Good Times — The Little Willies
The Well — Tord Gustavson Quartet
Spectrum Road — Spectrum Road
The Cherry Thing — Neneh Cherry & The Thing
Unity Band — Pat Metheny
All Our Reasons — Billy Hart
Within A Song — John Abercrombie Quartet
Swept Away — Marc Johnson & Eliane Elias
Gesualdo: Quinto Libro di Madrigali — The Hilliard Ensemble
If Grief Could Wait — Giovanni Pessi & Susanna Wallumrod
Filia Sion — Vox Clamantis

Good thing I didn’t start down the path of albums purchased (but not released) in 2012…


Looking ahead, there are some musical items worth noting:
• Convocation, my album with dear friend and partner Matt Borghi, will be released in the coming weeks. More on that soon.
• Look for some new music coming from The Fencemen.
• 2013 = 1813+200 = Wagner’s bicentennial. Yes, Richard Wagner – a “complex” figure, to put it lightly. Horrible personal qualities aside, he’s by far my favorite composer. I’m sure he’s been referenced occasionally here. (Don’t let that fool you; the love runs deep.) For instance, one of the only musical experiences comparable to my seeing Einstein on the Beach was when I saw Der Ring des Nibelungen in Chicago in 2005. Expect regular mention of him, his music, and his legacy throughout the year. I’m celebrating by going to see Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Chicago Lyric Opera next month, and hopefully another jaunt to Bayreuth while abroad this summer.
Chris Potter will be releasing The Sirens, his first ECM album as a leader. I’m very intrigued to hear what he’s like as a leader under Manfred‘s umbrella. Beyond that, ECM always releases great record, so I’m sure this year will be no exception.
• The blog will resume regular posts over the next couple weeks as this semester’s schedule settles in.


Summer Recap

*Dusts keyboard off*

Well, my return to the blog at the beginning of August turned into my return at the beginning September. It’s been a great couple of months filled with music and travel, and it was far busier than I had anticipated. (And I expected a lot.)

This year’s study abroad program was another success, course-wise. Classroom business aside, I saw some great music while abroad. I saw Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier again, this time with an even better cast. I also saw the world premiere of Detlev Glanert‘s Solaris. Until this year I was unfamiliar with his music, but I must say I’m fond of both his style and that opera specifically. (I’d like to cover my thoughts on that work more in depth at another time.) Both of those performances were part of the world-renowned Bregenzer Festspiele.

While in Europe, I also trekked to Montreux, Switzerland to attend an evening of jaw-dropping performances at the Montreux Jazz Festival. I’d never been, and fortunately the weekend I went included a great lineup: James Carter Organ Trio, Spectrum Road, and Neneh Cherry & The Thing. I initially planned to see Spectrum Road and Tricky share a double-bill, but Tricky backed out last minute and the other two bands served as replacements — it was better than the original lineup!) I’m a long-time Carter devotee, as has been described on this blog a time or two (MTH-V here), so seeing him for the seventh (?) time was a lovely surprise. Especially with his organ trio, he knows how to get the audience to its feet within just a couple minutes. (A couple choruses into his first solo, the audience was going nuts.) Spectrum Road – the fusion supergroup tribute to Tony Williams made up of John Medeski, Jack Bruce, Cindy Blackman Santana, and Vernon Reid – was ear- and mind-blowing. (It’s why I never travel without my earplugs.) They performed what I considered to be a near perfect blend of hard rock and jazz. It was the epitome of fusion. And if that wasn’t enough, John McLaughlin joined the band for the final two numbers. (!!!) The recent collaboration between Neneh Cherry and The Thing closed the show (and cleared the hall of those attendees with weak constitutions). They showcased a sublime blend of the avant-garde, spoken word, and groove. It was Pharoah Sanders meets trip-hop. I couldn’t get enough.

The last month has been busy with getting back into the groove, including a fun gig with The Fencemen just a couple days after I returned home. I don’t usually plug my dates and projects on here, but I figure every now and then can’t really hurt…

Recording-wise, White Gold Scorpio‘s new album Halloween Island is now available for free download until the official release on 10.31.12. WGS is a Brooklyn-based “noir”-rock project I’ve had the pleasure of contributing some tracks to. You can find me on two songs: “Scare You Like I Do” and “Throw Myself at You.” I really dig the album and encourage you to check it out.

Furthermore, Matt Borghi and I are wrapping up a full-length album for Teag & PK, our longtime collaboration, and we couldn’t be more proud. All of the recording, etc., is complete and we’re now just dealing with the logistics, prose, and visuals. I’ll discuss it more when it’s ready for release. It’s a series of ambient improvisations, and we think it’s some of the best stuff we’ve recorded in that regard. We can’t wait to share it with everyone!