Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Oh, Boo

RIP to the rip-roaring shitkicker Molly Ivins, one of my favorite writers. Articulate, principled, funny, what was not to love?

My fave Molly Ivins moment was, once when I saw her interviewed, someone asked her what she thought of Ann Richards. Ivins replied with this:
Molly Ivins told this story about Ann Richards. They were at a dinner in one of the better neighborhoods in Austin with many leading political types, including a notoriously sexist state senator. He was regaling the crowd loudly with the tale of a fabulous set of jugs he'd seen that day, how they jiggled and bounced as their owner walked down the street, so fetching in fact that he drove around the block just to get another look. As he finished this story, Richards asked loudly, "So, girls, seen any good dicks lately?"

Godspeed to a smart, funny woman.


I see over at Lawyers, Guns and Money that we passed an interesting anniversary this week:

On Oprah Winfrey’s 25th birthday, 29 July 1979 {sic, should be January}, a 16-year-old girl named Brenda Ann Spencer shot eight children and three adults at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego. She fired the shots from her house -- located just across the street from the school -- with a rifle her father had gotten for her for Christmas. (She later claimed to have waned a radio instead and took the gift as a sign she should kill herself).

Remarkably, none of the children at Cleveland were killed, although the school's principal, Burton Wragg, and the custodian Mike Suchar died trying to protect the kids. Asked to explain her motive after the six-hour seige at her house came to an end, Spencer told police that she didn’t like Mondays. "This livened up the day," she added.

As I noted when this was mentioned to me by my esteemed other half, what struck me about the story is a little different, and says a lot about how Americans are perceived outside America. Bob Geldof tells us in his autobiography that they were touring to support Tonic for the Troops in January of 1979, and sitting in a radio station waiting to be interviewed when this came over the telex machine. He saw the story and her defense, and was inspired. But, according to the book, he never thought for a moment that anyone would know who it was about. He claims he just assumed that sort of thing happened all the time in America.

h/t Thers

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Brains in Concert

...last weekend. From Lost Bands of the New Wave Era:

The guys plan a one-off gig at Club 29 in Decatur on Saturday (1/27/2007) that will feature Tom Gray (the brain behind the Brains) singing five or six Brains songs, with backing by the Swimming Pool Qs (fellow exiles from the 1980s Atlanta rock scene), with guest appearances by ex-Brainsmen Charles Wolff (on drums) and perhaps Rick Price (on guitar). Gray, who lately gigs with his chamber blues ensemble Delta Moon, is perplexed but pleased about the redux. “The Brains’ site on MySpace, run by our former fan club president, has more ‘friends’ than Delta Moon does,” he said in a recent e-mail. “Somehow forces I don’t understand are converging.”

It's a pretty good MySpace page, I have to say.

I'm looking for reports on the show and will update later.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Attend the Tale of Spocko!

A lovely fellow who did nothing more than point out to a few advertisers that their money was being sent encouraging callers to say "Allah is a Whore" to prove they weren't Muslim, or openly wishing for the death of all Indonesians.

Lots of posts on the Spocko saga here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday Babyblogging.

No theme, just the 7YO jumping, the 10 month old teething, and Rosie's new haircut.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lyricblogging: Won't Take Yes for an Answer

From Jeff Murphy's new solo CD, Cantilever, which I received yesterday. Look for reactions here soon.

(Jeff Murphy)
Copyright 2007 Nerk Twons (ASCAP)-Administered by Bug Music Group

You win with your Cheshire grin but you won't take 'yes' for an answer

You believe you're seen as the master
It's total control that you're after..after all.

Even though you've achieved your goal you still won't take 'yes' for an answer

You avoid life's little disasters
As you tip-toe through like a dancer…'til you fall.

You've got an advantage over me
But that can be gone so easily

You win, again but you won't take 'yes' for an answer

No, I'm not spellbound by your laughter
If you don't achieve what you're after…then you'll fall

You've got an advantage over me
But that can be gone so easily


Monday, January 22, 2007

Best. Cartoon. Ever.

With many thanks to my friend Jim, who will always be "Brother Jim" to me.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Partridge Interview

Many thanks to JeffCO, who hipped me to this excellent interview with one of my all-time favorite musicians, Andy Partidge.

Partridge is the very definition of affable, a chatterbox with a wicked sense of humor -- equal parts erudite and ribald -- and charmingly clever. One minute he'll be telling Paul McCartney-Heather Mills jokes or talking about Walt Disney's (supposedly) cryogenically frozen head, and the next he'll speak with authority on the Fleischer Brothers' 1940s Superman cartoons or imitate the lothario French cartoon skunk Pepé Le Pew.

But it's interesting that Partridge uses the term "blunder" to describe his motivations, since that's hardly the adjective that conjures XTC's meticulously orchestrated albums -- from the calculated lushness of the Beach Boys-esque Skylarking and political new wave of Black Sea, to the taut post-punk mania of Drums and Wires and the complex instrumentation of Apple Venus, Volume 1.

Fuzzy Warbles Collector's Album, Partridge's latest endeavor, is even more ambitious: a lavish compendium of eight previously released volumes of outtakes, demos, rarities and half-formed thoughts. (A bonus disc, Hinges, is worth it for the jaunty soundtrack rarity "Happy Families.") It's a must for XTC completists and those obsessed with found sounds. For every nearly fully formed single ("Chalkhills and Children," "Earn Enough for Us") or beatific discovery (the watery folk strum "Mermaid Smiled"), there's plenty of silliness (a one-minute skiffle version of "Dear God"), lost gems (the disco-silly "I Defy You Gravity") and glimmers of beauty (Partridge's lovely instrumental snippets for the late TV show Wonderfalls).

In contrast to most collections, though, Fuzzy's songs aren't arranged from earliest to most recent, so it's hard to tell what era each came from.

"People have said, 'Why didn't you do it chronologically?'" Partridge says. "And that's very easy: The reason I didn't do that [is] 'cause all the crap stuff would be at one end, and people would've thought, 'Oh, my God, what am I wading through all this primitive, badly recorded stuff for?'

"Constructing a listening experience is something I enjoy doing," he goes on. "It's like planning a meal: You have great openers, a little palate cleanser; you have spicy things followed by something a little bland so you can appreciate the spicy thing you've just had."

Partridge's insistence on sequencing and arranging reflects his perfectionist tendencies as much as it does his traditionalist, old-school bent. He laments the death of the vinyl gatefold and has tape recorders scattered around his house for immediate access when ideas strike. But Warbles is also a throwback to simpler times in other ways: It's lovingly modeled after a children's sticker book and comes decorated with ornate drawings, pictures of smiling children and a sheet of stickers.

"I love packaging! I'm a complete packaging slut!" Partridge exclaims. "I love it all. I lay there with my legs in the air, saying, 'Fill me with packaging!'" (There's that ribald British humor again.)

As he talks, his voice betrays an obvious grin. "I just love the stuff. As a kid, I actually cut out the mustache from Sgt. Pepper's, the sheet of stuff you were sort of supposed to cut out but nobody in the world did. But I did. I had the little picture of Sgt. Pepper by the side of my bed. I cut out the mustache, and I clipped it on and looked at myself in the mirror."


"We're much more appreciated in America than we were in England," he says. "In England, we were considered this joke group. That was rather tough for us."

Still suffering the effects of this today clearly frustrates Partridge, but it's something he's unfortunately gotten used to (if not resigned to) after more than thirty years making music in the spotlight. And while it's more than a little criminal that he gets no respect for his deft lyrics, crisp melodies and dazzling wit, he does have his music, his guitars, his racing mind -- and, perhaps most important, balance.

"I'm not rich, but I'm occasionally happy, and I think that's the best you can hope for," he says. "I think anyone who's happy all the time just needs locking up. People will say, 'Oh, I'm always happy!' No you're not! You must be insane if you're always happy!

I admit I have only heard some of the Fuzzy Warbles stuff--well, there's a lot of it. Now that my life is settling down somewhat, it's something I mean to catch up on.

Tinnutus and broken tendons--ouch. But how can you not love this guy? It sounds like he's creative and happy, and that's all that really matters.

(Look for more on The Shebeats later in this space.)

And just because I can:

Videoblogging: Is This a Cool World or What?

I loved this song!

If it's content you want, help Sadly No! with their list of wingnut welfare queens!

Friday, January 19, 2007

RIP: Denny Doherty

We here at PowerPop mark with sadness the passing of Denny Doherty of the Mamas and Papas.
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Denny Doherty, one-quarter of the 1960s folk-rock group the Mamas and the Papas, known for their soaring harmony on hits like "California Dreamin'" and "Monday, Monday," died Friday at 66.

His sister Frances Arnold said the singer-songwriter died at his home in Mississauga, a city just west of Toronto, after a short illness.

Denny was the hapless workhorse of the group, a nice guy who happened to hook up with a whole set of complete loons. Talented loons, but loons. He was always the regular guy along for the ride.

Rest in peace.

The Beatles, By Way of the Smithereens

I came across this the other day, and I have to confess, it sounds pretty interesting .

Obviously, this is something of a comparison between apples and oranges: we first heard the Beatles’ music on their own recordings, whose sounds are imprinted on our memories and are definitive. Our first encounters with, say, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony were through performances that, however spectacular, have no direct link to Beethoven himself. Yet Beethoven’s score of the work is a detailed blueprint of how he expected it to sound, and any performance will be governed by that, allowing for interpretive leeway that may be subtle or dramatic. A cover band, hoping to reproduce the original recording, has less flexibility.

But a new album by the Smithereens shows how much interpretive leeway a rock band can have even when it intends to perform faithful covers. The disc, “Meet the Smithereens!” (Koch), which comes out next week, reproduces the track lineup and, to a great degree, the original arrangements (at the original tempos and in the original keys) of the Beatles’ 1964 American breakthrough album, “Meet the Beatles!” But it does more: the 12 songs are filtered through the Smithereens’ own crunchy New Jersey bar-band sound, a quality likely to come through even more strongly when the band plays the album live at the B. B. King Blues Club and Grill tonight.

The Smithereens made their name playing their own material, but they have recorded Beatles songs before, and they have always had a soft spot for the concision and zest of British Invasion bands. So they approach this music as fans who know it intimately, but also as composers who know what makes a great song durable.


This is what I like about “Meet the Smithereens!”: it bridges the extremes of note-for-note fidelity and pure interpretation, offering the best of both worlds. The band has treated “Meet the Beatles!” as a symphony, a complete cultural artifact, to be heard intact. It barely matters that “Meet the Beatles!” was not quite the album the Beatles intended, but rather a compilation made by Capitol Records, using 9 of the 14 songs from the group’s British album “With the Beatles,” as well as three songs released as singles. For American listeners who discovered the Beatles at the time, as the Smithereens did, “Meet” has an emotional resonance that “With” does not.

The arrangements on “Meet the Smithereens!” have all the vibrant energy and directness of the originals, and even minor details like the keyboard glissandos in “Little Child” and the overdubbed handclaps on “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “I Saw Her Standing There” are faithfully preserved.

Yet you wouldn’t mistake it for the Beatles, as you might with a tribute band. If Jim Babjak’s guitar solos follow the contours of George Harrison’s, they aren’t slavishly identical.

Good review, from a classical music reviewer who takes pop seriously. Looks like something worth checking out.

You can buy Meet the Smithereens here.

(And yes, in case you're curious, a certain bereted regular who frequently regrets his errors and has recently returned to his ancestral homeland of New Jersey, did in fact sit in with The Smithereens on drums.)

Exhuming the Big Bopper

I thought I knew this story pretty well, but I guess there's a lot for me to learn.

Son seeks answers in Big Bopper's death

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee -- The son of the Big Bopper has hired a forensic anthropologist to try to answer questions about how his father died in the 1959 plane crash that also took the lives of early rock 'n' rollers Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.

Jay Richardson, who performs tribute shows as the Big Bopper Jr., hopes an examination of his father's remains will settle rumours about a gun that might have been fired on board the plane, and tell if the Big Bopper might have survived the crash impact and died trying to go for help.

"I'm not looking for any great bombshell, but then again you never know," Richardson said in a recent phone interview from his home outside Houston.

J.P (the Big Bopper) Richardson is buried in Beaumont, Texas. After his remains are studied they will be reburied and a life-sized statue put up beside the grave.

Jay Richardson never knew his father, who soared to rock fame with his late '50s hit, Chantilly Lace. His mother was pregnant with him when his father died.

I can certainly understand how a survivor--even a posthumously-born survivor--would want to know the truth about how his father died, or if he survived only to die of injuries later. I can see why he might want to know if there was foul play involved.

But I can't help but think that this is, at least partly, an attempt to redress the representations of that tragic crash in film. In both The Buddy Holly Story and La Bamba, the death of the Big Bopper is an afterthought, somehow less serious or less tragic because he was slightly older (28 to Holly's 23 and Valens'18) and, you know, not the protagonist in either film. In both, he's represented as being kind of loud and annoying, even being portrayed by Hee Haw regular Gailard Sartain in the Holly film.

So I can definitely understand why Richardson would be anxious to restore his father's reputation and possibly find something redemptive in his death. If, as it turns out, he was going for help, that would transform him from clown to hero, no? If he was shot, he becomes a victim. In either case, he ceases to be an afterthought.

But it's also true that Richardson appears to perform professional tribute shows as The Big Bopper Jr. Slightly creepy, I guess, but hey, it's a living. Adjusting his father's reputation would certainly affect his earning potential. Which isn't to say this isn't a genuine quest for truth, just noting that it might have some other effects.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Babyblogging Two: Electric Boogaloo

Oh. My. God.

What happened to my baby?

Yes, she had permission, and yes, I was with her all the way. But wow. I'm a bit floored, I admit.

She now looks a lot more like me (if I were, you know, younger. And taller. And thinner. And more beautiful.), so I guess that's something.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sunday Babyblogging: Laundry Edition

For the snarkerific watertiger, I give you: the rats on laundry day. Note the piles of unsorted but clean clothes on the guest bed.

Sean is cutting a new tooth, his third. He likes to chew shoes.

Dig the cookie monster tee!

Got this pic of Rosie as she attempted to snatch the camera away. Evil, evil child.

UPDATE: bedtime!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Okay, I admit it.

I am both freaked out and fascinated by the story of the giant bunnies.

OT, I know. But wow!

UPDATE: left rev. makes an excellent point. How do we know he's not one of these?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Videoblogging: GBV!!

I'm Krazy Busy (originally typed "busty," but no matter) getting ready for my new semester--my first as a full-time, tenure-track, Assistant Professor! I'll get back to regular blogging soon, but until then, enjoy these GBV videos. (h/t to Powerpopulist, who got me grooving on this again.)

Good to see that solo Pollard is still doing the GBV tunes.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Reflections on Digital Music

Regular readers know that one of my side interests is how commodification shapes our experience of music. Sometimes it's just a tirade about an underappreciated band, sometimes a reflection on how technology has changed music.

I recently read this interesting reflection from David Byrne's blog.

Later Katz says that the length of 78s (and later or 45s) determined some changes in writing style. Those recordings, being limited to fewer than 4 mins (more like 3.5 for 45s) prodded songwriters to limit their composing to that length. To me a song length between 3 and 4 minutes seems natural, inevitable; I can hardly conceive that it could have ever been otherwise, but maybe it was. I dunno, though — even folk songs and blues, most of them don’t have too many verses — the old transcriptions and collected lyrics wouldn’t run much longer than that. So maybe this is an example where the technology happened to fit one existing form like a glove.

However, with jazz and classical it made a huge difference. Jazzers obviously would stretch out a tune or theme, and had to then limit themselves in the studio — they became more concise and jazz became more “composed”. I’d offer that for some jazz musicians this was not a bad thing — it became a restriction that forced rigor and creativity.
What is also new and old is that MP3s return music to experience rather than being things, commodities. To some extent this technology also returns music to the social experience it always was, maybe not in the way Microsoft would like to link to in their ads for Zune, and not entirely about file sharing either, but somehow. It’s information, communication, as it once was.
But is there a composing response to the MP3 and the sound of digitized compressed and private music listening? I don’t hear it yet. One would expect that private listening habits would result in a different kind of music being written — maybe a flood of ambient moods as a relaxing way to decompress, maybe dense and complex compositions that reward many replays and close listening, maybe intimate and sexy vocals that would be inappropriate to blast out in public. If any of this is happening I am unaware of it.

MP3s, which is how many of us hear music now, are in a way like virtual music. The compression that allows their smaller file size eliminates what the software decides are redundant frequencies and sounds the ear probably doesn’t hear and won’t miss. Maybe. There is less “information” on an MP3 than on a CD, and less on a CD than on an LP. Where does this road end, and does it really matter that sheer information and recording quality is going down?

One thing Byrne doesn't address here is that the age of the LP largely confined music to certain spaces, like home, and yes, if you had a fab system with kickass subwoofers and what not, you probably do hear a huge difference between an LP and a CD.

But what we've traded off in quality, we've gained in quantity, accessibility, and presence. I can (and often do) listen to music--my music, not that chosen for me by a deejay--almost all the time. I can listen on a stereo at home, on my ipod in the car, on my computer at work.I often choose silence, but that's obviously a choice, much more so that it would have been thirty years ago. I've recently seen products where you can dock your ipod in a desk lamp or a clock radio, so you really would be on your own soundtrack all the time. Of course, this all but eliminates the happy accidents of discovery which were once so common, but hey, that's what your friends are for.

It's possible now for a band with very little public presence to make a big splash, as Couple did recently in the Rolling Stone's "Best Bands on MySpace" contest. (I've got another whole rumination on MySpace, but later.)

Isolation--either geographically from the centers of production or just from the centers of distribution and marketing--is no longer an issue. Powerpop fave Jeff Murphy has a new CD coming out, Cantilever, which is, in noble Shoes' tradition, a complete DIY operation, but also points to early Todd Rundgren, McCartney's first album, even Emmitt Rhodes. The difference is that then, one needed access to a distribution network; now, you just need access to a computer.

You can order Cantilever here.

In short, I can see Byrne's point, but I think he's missing the new democratization of music, which I can't help but see as a good thing.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


Many, many thanks to all who donated to the Liberal Mountain Christmas Fund. We were able to make the holiday merrier for the whole huge brood, and our good news just before the holiday will make this the last such time anything like that is necessary.

(Knock wood.)

And a huge roar of thanks to the divine watertiger, who came to Liberal Mountain bearing many many cool gifts, including this.

Cracked me right the hell up.

And NTodd cemented his role as The Coolest Adult Ever with the 7YO. He won Rosie over as well; she woke at 4am saying "Miss Todd! Miss Didi!"

We know some truly wonderful people.

Videoblogging: Punjabi MC

I'm obsessed with this song, even though it's not powerpop.

Thers prefers this one:

They also have a song in Bend It Like Beckham, which I just saw for the first time this week. I dunno, I guess I liked parts of it, but I found the wacky "ha! Her mom thinks she's GAY!" part kind of offensive. Anyone else bothered by this?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Friday Babyblogging: Jack Sparrow Edition

In case you've ever wondered what Jack Sparrow's infant daughter would look like, enjoy me hearties!

Rosie's been a bit under the weather, so the 7YO graciously agreed to share his Pirates of the Caribbean playset with her. What a good big brother!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Brian May Pursuing PhD in Astronomy

Well, this is pretty cool.......

JB: That was guitarist Brian May of the band Queen.

DB: May is returning to his Ph.D. studies in astronomy. And he’s helped write a book called Bang! The Complete History of the Universe. It traces the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to a future long past when our sun becomes a red giant and consumes the Earth.

JB: Brian May told us how our universe can be something that is finite, but also not have any boundaries.

Brian May: We have a neat little analogy in the book, which is an ant crawling on the surface of a football, I don’t know if you’ve come across this. It’s a fairly crude analogy, but it gives you some idea. This ant, assuming it can’t jump off, it’ll crawl over the surface of the football as long as it likes, and it will never come to a boundary. But the surface that it’s crawling on is nevertheless finite. And that’s kind of the view, translated into three dimensions of space, and one of time. That’s more or less the view that most cosmologists have of the universe at the moment.