Back in May I wrote about Stew and his album Something Deeper Than These Changes and also the soundtrack/OCR for Passing Strange, his Tony Award winning Broadway musical.
While I am thinking of it… Dear Major theatres in LA… Are you crazy for not giving us a production of Passing Strange??? What the hell is wrong with you??? This musical was created out of your fabric. the show is fantastic and would do very well here. So give us the show! Thank you.
I was definitely a little afraid putting The Negro Problem in the title, out of concern that anyone searching “the negro problem” on Google would either be a fan… Yay… or a psychotic racist thinking I was offering some whacked out theory on something or other.
It’s not easy for me to say the word knowing that it is out of date and considered politically incorrect, offensive and often inflammatory. Even when talking about the old Negro League in baseball I get a pang of uncomfortability…
But that is the name of the band, so get over it. I just did. There is a point where we become TOO sensitive and that is bad. Obviously we have to temper ourselves and our dialogue, but assuming that most of us are not secretly racist or bigoted, I think we are fine… And if we cross a line, hopefully someone will gently pull us back over it, or behind it. I like how Aaron Sorkin said that we do have a responsibility to be politically correct, just not while you are writing or creating…
So the other night I had the extreme pleasure of not only hearing Stew and Heidi speak… mostly Stew… but meeting both of them. They are so genuinely warm and open and just delights to be around. Their attitude of just commit to do something first and figure it out later is inspiring. That is how Passing Strange came to be a Broadway hit… Someone at the Public Theatre asking them if they were working on a musical and they said yes… They weren’t, but by saying they were, it forced the issue… “Lie and Deliver” as Barry Smolin said the other night!
I am way too guilty of waiting for a perfect moment to act… Not showing someone a script until it is tweaked to death… Saying I cannot act again until I lose weight or get new pictures… or blah, blah, bullshit blah. All this does is lead to years of stalling and nothing getting done. AAGGHH!
The Negro Problem – Welcome Black
This was from my original blog… “Stew is a large teddy bear kind of man… fiercely intelligent, a brilliant artist and musician and someone you just want to hug… I never would have thought for a moment that we would share such a love for classic rock and roll… but his musical upbringing and tastes are really, really similar. I guess that explains why he almost immediately became on of my favorite artists. And it goes to show you how similar we all are… or at least the common ground we all can find.”
Adam Duritz of Counting Crows said he was one of his favorite artists and that is how I first heard of him.
In 1997, after the debut album Post Minstrel Syndrome, former Wednesday Week bassist Heidi Rodewald joined the band. The impact this would have both musically and personally is huge. They discussed a bit of this the other night and the honesty and openness was amazing.
According to AllMusic: “Stew, with Rodewald’s help, recorded and released his first solo album, the critically acclaimed Guest Host, in 2000. Upon its release, Stew announced that the Negro Problem was not breaking up, but that his solo career was meant as a vehicle for the acoustic singer/songwriter-style songs on the first two Negro Problem discs, so that the full-band records could become, in his words, “even freakier.” The first test of this was 2002’s Welcome Black, a step towards baroque pop that did seem to include more ideas from the band as a whole.”
Baroque pop/rock or chamber rock brings elements of classical music to the equation, and while I do not hear the Oboe that Heidi used to play or a lot of classical instrumentation… or do I… I might have heard an oboe on “I’m Sebastian Cabot”… There are most definitely elements of this in the vocal arrangements and in the writing… I do hear rock, psychedelic rock, pop and the influences of Brian Wilson, David Bowie and songwriter Jimmy Webb. I love Jimmy Webb… I mean, who doesn’t. What a writer.
Whatever the influences, I love Stew and Heidi and this music.
It is definitely something you have to sit with… I’ve had friends love it and friends not… but if you are willing to be patient, you will be well rewarded. I highly recommend watching Passing Strange, too, which I think can be streamed on the stupid Netflix if you have that and were not among the million folks who jumped ship like us.
Happy Friday… go enjoy some Baroque Pop… I know some of Stew’s solo stuff is on Spotify… This is not. But seek and you shall find.