my search for jules shear and pal shazar

We all have songs and albums and artists that connect with our souls in a unique and spiritual way. Whether as a writer or simply as a friend, when we try to share  and convey why it feels and sounds so special to us, it is a task that doesn't quite line up as one would hope. Because music and art is a solitary and emotional transactional commitment as distinct as a fingerprint and as fleeting as a snowflake. And yet, as daunting the task, we bloggers and writers and reviewers and critics and fans and followers and keepers of the flame...we still try to get the story out of the bottle. 

I know web attention span is short. I'll try to be brief. I'll most likely fail. Please stay with me. 

Jules Shear is a songwriter you know. And if not, you know some of his songs. Huge hits for other artists. He has been in groups, but mostly released solo albums that are full of wonder and joy. I first knew of him back in the seventies as a member of the Funky Kings (along with occasional No Depression peaceful and easy community blog person Jack Tempchin), and of course he was the Jules from Jules and The Polar Bears. But it was his 1998 release Between Us that turned me into a stark raving fanatical fan. I'll come back to it in a sec.

Jules did something else in his past that you know him for. He was the creator and host for MTV's Unplugged series. In my mind it was a game-changing shift in the musical cosmos, especially for those of us who grew up on rock or punk but now wanted to hear our music acoustically with wood and strings rather than amps, electricity and volume. And as this website is the Roots Music Authority...thank the man for laying a part of the foundation that still resonates today with what we call the genre of Americana.

Between Us. This album came out two days after I turned forty-six when I was working at Capitol Record's distributor and one of my staff threw it at me over my desk and said, "You're going to like this shit. Too fucking quiet for me." Fourteen original songs, fourteen duet partners. Acoustic. Susan Cowsill, Paula Cole, Patty Griffin, Freedy Johnston, Roseanne Cash, Margot Timmons, Ron Sexsmith to name but a few. A top five desert island disc for me. Every single song, every single word, every single note. I played it every single day for seven years.

This was the album that pushed me to where I reside today. It's the album, along with the other four of my top five, that is my gold standard for listening. And you buy his music, you wait for each new album, you tell everybody you care about to check him out. And those albums both before and after...each one was a sparkling diamond on a jewelers black velvet tray. 

End of story? No. 

Ten years after Between Us, Jules became Jules Mark Shear and released More, an album of mostly rockers with a few softer songs. It was 2008, he did some touring, radio and press interviews. He promoted the record. It's a hard album for my old ears to listen to, but if we accept the roads travelled by Neil Young, we can certainly do the same for Jules. I would just wait for the next one. And wait. And wait. And wait.

Gone....

About two years ago I got a little itchy. Where was Jules? What was he doing? He wasn't anywhere one would look these days. No active website, no Facebook, no Twitter account. Hiding in plain sight or just taking it easy. Enjoying the fruits of his work or not. Who knew and why was it any of my business?

I knew his wife was Pal Shazar, and she was much more internet-active. An amazing woman with a music and art background who met Jules back when she worked at LA's Troubadour. She was one half of the band Slow Children along with Andrew Chinich. If you have a good memory, their song "President Am I" was something of a...gasp...New Wave cult record. In LA, KROQ used to bang the heck out of it. Since then, Pal has released seven solo albums with various collaborators, she's painted, wrote a novel of erotic fiction, founded a clothing line, performed sometimes and moved and moved and moved. Boston, Woodstock, Topanga Canyon, Ojai, Asheville. 

Where was Jules?

There was a moment when I almost contacted Pal through her website last year to ask about him. But I stopped myself. When someone these days doesn't make an effort to be found, why would I attempt to intrude? So I didn't. Quietly, I asked some friends who might have access to check around, and I kept hitting up the internet. Here's what I eventually learned:

-Pal and Jules did a show in 2011 in Malmo Sweden. I once ate at the Burger King there.

-In September of this year they did another show together in Rahway New Jersey. I've not eaten there.

And today...for reasons I can't explain...I looked around again and found something amazing. There was a Jules Shear fan Facebook page. And there is a new website up for Jules and Pal...click it here. And finally...for the first time in all the decades they've been sharing their lives, they have recorded an album together. 

I reached out to Pal this afternoon and for an hour or so we traded emails back and forth. The new CDs just arrived yesterday and I'll soon have one to hear. I'm on the edge of my seat. I've found Jules and Pal. Outside of the new Martin I bought myself a few months ago, with Steve Earle hanging out at the shop and us talking a spell, this is the best day of the year.

Not my favorite day, but my best.

*****There is a woman from Ohio named Sherry Wallace who has taken Jules and Pal's songs and created her own videos. I've linked her You Tube page and will share some music below. Enjoy*****

From 1992's Great Puzzle with Jules and Pal:

From 1998's Between Us with Suzzy Roche:

Between Us again...with Roseanne Cash:

Pal and Jules...date unknown:

And finally....here's the original video from Slow Children..."President Am I":

Views: 1438

Tags: Between Us, Easy Ed, Jules Shear, Pal Shazar, Sherry Wallace, Slow Children

Comment by Kathy Sands-Boehmer on January 2, 2013 at 5:11pm

I shared this with my Todd Rundgren friends on our list serv.  Many of us loved the work that Todd did with Jules.  Thanks for such a good read.

Comment by Jack Tempchin on January 3, 2013 at 12:10am

Enjoyed this... Thanks!

Comment by photo cowboy on January 4, 2013 at 5:26am

i too love jules' work but when the artist wants to be left alone let them be - because i am interested in jules i read the story and now wish i hadn't - i was hoping to read something about jules and not about your fascination with him - your handle is easy ed and yet you it seems to be a nick name given to someone from the opposite side of the coin - such as calling the fat man 'slim'- 

Comment by Pete on January 4, 2013 at 6:31am

convincing and inspiring...i remember Vin Scelsa playing "Between Us" and other Shear's chestnuts...you can still hear Vin on wfuv.org, 90.7 fm in nyc or sirius channel 30 the loft...may this year augur a fecund muse...

Comment by Easy Ed on January 4, 2013 at 8:12am

@photo cowboy: Thanks for taking the time to read and reply. Sorry this wasn't what you expected, but I titled it "my search..." because it is a first-person story about my interest and respect for this artist. If it was a profile or a review, that's how I would have identified it as. Although guilty of curiosity, this was only written after I had communicated with Jules' wife and partner and after they put up a new website to promote and sell the new album. Had they not wanted me to do this, I wouldn't have. As far as my handle being "easy", there's an ex-wife out there who would concur with you that I'm anything but. Anyway...I'm off to lunch. Can't decide between the jumbo shrimp or baked fried chicken.

Comment by Cynthia on January 4, 2013 at 9:28am

Ed, I had the opposite response to that of photo cowboy....your piece is so clearly respectful and loving and about exactly what it is titled. Best....

Comment by Kathy Sands-Boehmer on January 4, 2013 at 9:34am

Exactly.  the "search' is what drew me into the piece.  Good job, Ed!

Comment by Kyla Fairchild on January 4, 2013 at 12:21pm
I too fell in love with the album Between Us. Can't remember how I ended up with a promo of it back when it came out but I was completely unfamiliar with Jules at the time. It's a masterpiece. Reminds me I need to dig it out and listen to it.
Comment by Matthew Wester on January 4, 2013 at 12:27pm

Wow, I don't know too many people who have even heard of Jules Shear.  I got turned on to his music in the early 90s with The Great Puzzle.  About half of that album is some of my all time favorite songwriting.  I love that he writes these incredibly catchy and intriguing songs and sings them in an eccentric voice that puts him in the realm of Bob Dylan.  I checked out some his earlier stuff, which didn't really do it for me, but I loved his next album The Healing Bones almost as much.  After that I stopped working in the record store and I lost touch with Jules' music.  I'm glad to hear he's  active again and there are a few records of his I've not heard yet.  This is great news, Ed, thanks for letting us know.

I have a hunch you probably are a fan of Freedy Johnston, too, am I right?  If you aren't familiar with his music check out his album This Perfect World.

Comment by Easy Ed on January 4, 2013 at 2:15pm

Of course I'm a fan of Freedy. He cut a live album at McCabes in Santa Monica that is exquisite. His most recent project from the past year: The Hobart Brothers with Lil’ Sis:  Susan CowsillJon Dee Graham and Freedy Johnston.  The CD, “At Least We Have Each Other”, is available here.  Vinyl version is available from Freedom Records.

This is Jules full discography:

Funky Kings (1976)

Jules and the Polar Bears

  • Got No Breeding (1978)
  • Fənĕtĭks (1979)
  • Economy Package (EP) (1980)
  • Bad For Business (1980) (not officially released until 1996)

Jules Shear (solo)

Studio albums

  • Watch Dog (1983)
  • Jules (EP) (1983)
  • The Eternal Return (1985)
  • The Third Party (1989)
  • The Great Puzzle (1992)
  • The Trap Door (EP) (1992)
  • Unplug This (1992)
  • Healing Bones (1994)
  • Between Us (1998)
  • Allow Me (2000)
  • Sayin' Hello To The Folks (2004, Valley Entertainment
  • Dreams Don't Count (2006)
  • More (2008)

Compilation albums

  • Demo-Itis (1986)
  • Horse Of A Different Color: The Jules Shear Collection (1976–1989) (1994)

Reckless Sleepers

  • Big Boss Sounds! (1988)

Raisins in the Sun

  • Raisins in the Sun (2001) ***This is a collaboration with Jules, Chuck Prophet, Jim Dickinson and Harvey Brooks.

Pals' Discography:

Slow Children

Pal Shazar CD albums:

  • Cowbeat Of My Heart - 1991
  • There's a Wild Thing In The House - 1995
  • Woman Under The Influence - 1997
  • Safe - 1999
  • Shazar No. 5 - 2002
  • The Morning After - 2006
  • "Psychedelicate"- 2009
  • "Janitor"- 2011

Pal Shazar CD EPs:

  • The Requiem Tapes - 1994
  • Promo CD - 1995
  • Penny For Your Thoughts - 1996

Other:

Jules wrote "All Through The Night", recorded by Cyndi Lauper which hit #5 on the charts. "If She Knew What She Wants"....shown above with him and Michael Penn...was a hit for the Bangles. He's charted on his own ("Steady"...co-written with Lauper), and with songs written with Aimee Mann when she was in Til Tuesday, The Jitters, Alison Moyet, The Reckless Sleepers and Tommy Conwell.

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.