Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Past is a Foreign Country -- They Do Things Differently There

So the other day, I was at some download site or other and I chanced across a link to a CD by The Roosters, a 60s California folk-rock band that I'd never heard of, and who made a couple of singles that are apparently well thought of by the sort of folks that are into obscure 60s California folk-rock bands.

So I downloaded said singles, and my immediate reaction was -- meh.

No big surprise there, of course; I've discovered a lot of really terrific obscure music since I've been toiling in these precincts, but the vast majority of the obscure stuff out there tends to be obscure for a reason, i.e., it isn't as good as the stuff that people actually liked at the time.

Anyway, that said, a listen to this Roosters a-side proved to be an eye-opener. In the "Block That Metaphor!" sense.

So take care when you're picking your women
Because you know
When you try to touch or squeeze them
They'll seem like a rose...bush!
Hey -- they were kids, and 1966 was a long, long time ago.

And let's be honest -- it's still a lot better than this piece of shit from two decades later.

I mean, seriously -- what was their fricking excuse?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wish I'd Said That (An Occasional Series)

From an interview with always amusing original Rolling Stones manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham in the February issue of MOJO:

You tweeted about Pussy Riot -- "Don't get me started on the pussy group." Was this seriously meant or were you being mischievous?
"Both. If the Sex Pistols were a less musical, but still relevant, version of the Stones, then Pussy Riot makes Bananarama sound like the Three Tenors."
Boy, that's gotta be the greatest Compare and Contrast ever.

UPDATE: Let's actually compare and contrast.

Pussy Riot -- "Punk Prayer"

Bananarama -- "Robert De Niro's Waiting"

The Three Tenors -- "O Sole Mio"


Monday, January 28, 2013

Why Didn't I Get the Memo? (An Occasional Series)

Ladies and gentlemen, from their 1985 album 12 Jealous Roses, please enjoy NYC alt/indie should-have-beens Dancing Hoods and the instantly indelible "Pleasure."

I must confess to having never heard of these guys until last week; apparently, one of them went off to somewhat greater success in Sparklehorse (who at least I've heard of, if not actually heard).

In any event, this song is, as they say, the shit.

I.e., rock 'n' roll as nature intended.

And man oh man, did this lyric --

“I danced on ledges a hundred flights up / I drank dirty water from a jagged cup / And I smashed my own bones just to hear them crack / You think this is pain, honey, this is the pleasure.“

-- deserve classic status.

Also -- may I just say, and for the record, that lead vocalist Bob Bortnick's wonderfully snot-nosed delivery of the line "ride 'em, cowboy" right before the guitar solo made me grin from ear to ear.

[h/t Willard's Wormholes]

UPDATE: I have just learned, via the Intertubes, that the aforementioned Bob Bortnick is currently toiling as Senior Vice President and A&R for Warner/Chappell Music. Words fail me.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Garage Bands of the Gods (Special Chicago Metro Area Edition)

If you were with us last Friday, you may recall that my old college chum Eric Boardman sang the praises of local heroes (in 1965) The Riddles.

Permit me to indulge in nostalgic gush for my days at The Coffee Break in Elmhurst and The Cellar in Arlington Heights, the two clubs where I dined on rock and roll. The Riddles were the house band at the C.B. and they covered the first three Beatles albums beautifully.

Apparently, said house band never made an album, and no audio of their Beatles covers has surfaced on the intertubes. However, they did cut one single, which was a local hit -- a version of the oft-covered Searchers cover of the Drifters "Sweets for My Sweet" -- and its b-side, a band original called "It's One Thing to Say" is apparently highly regarded by garage rock afficionados. So I got curious and looked it up.

And here it is, in all its original vinyl glory.

I think it's pretty average, actually, but I'm sure it sounded better at the time.

In any case, if you're so moved, you can find out more about these guys over here.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Garage Bands of the Gods (Slight Return)

[I originally put up the following back in December of 2009, but given our discussion last Friday of certain bands that ruled the teen club roosts in the vicinity of Arlington Heights, Illinois circa 1965, it seemed like a good time to repost it. If you missed what follows below the first time around, please enjoy, if possible. -- S.S.]

Our younger readers will have to take this on faith, but unlikely as it now seems, it is ineluctable fact that in the immediate wake of The Beatles and the original British Invasion, every town, village or municipality in this great land of ours also boasted at least one garage band formed in emulation of the English and American acts we were seeing on TV. Some of these teen combos -- which seemed to spring up almost literally overnight -- were pretty good (and some of their members would go on to real musical careers), some of them were mediocre, but most important, some of them -- if they had affluent parents -- were able to sport the same clothing and equipment that the bands on The Ed Sullivan Show were wearing and using.

Oh, and (of course) many of these groups also recorded one-shot singles, featuring their own songs, for local labels, which is why there are now something like five zillion CD compilations with titles like Wails From the Crypt: Fulton County Garage and Punk 1964-67.

Anyway, like I said, almost every town in the country had a band like I've just described, but for me the one that best exemplified the ethos (or the movement, or what have you) is the one that ruled the area around Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois, when I was a college freshman. To wit: The Bryds. As in The Byrds, but with the letters cleverly reversed so that it was pronounced The Brides. Heh heh.

Not to mince words, but these guys were pretty much considered gods in the neighborhood, and when I finally went to see them -- at a dance at Waukegan High School (Waukegan being Jack Benny's old home town, BTW) sometime in late '65 I was pretty much blown away. The Bryds had the hair, the musicianship, the attitude, the Vox amplifiers, and -- have I mentioned? -- the attitude; they may not have been The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, but as far as the several hundred kids crowded into that high school gym that night were concerned, they might as well have been. Like I said, I was blown away -- and yes, jealous as hell, given my own participation in a bunch of rather not so great bands at the time.

In between sets, I also bought a copy of the band's indie 45 (see below), which I believe was getting airplay on AM radio powerhouse WLS at the time, although I may have dreamed that. Alas, I lost my copy sometime in the late 70s; I have since learned that it's fetched between five and eight hundred bucks on eBay.

As you can hear, the song makes all the right obeisances to The Kinks and Paul Revere and the Raiders, which is the game that was being played at the time; in any case, I remember that a live version of it went down a storm at the show I attended. I also remember that half way through the band's set, a circle of kids suddenly formed and in the center were two angry teenage girls going at it on the floor tooth and nail. This was the first time I ever saw what they used to call a cat fight, actually, and to say I was somewhat taken aback by the experience would be an understatement. Incidentally, I had always assumed The Bryds were, in fact, from the extremely well-to-do suburb of Lake Forest, but Jim Stanley, brother and sometimes bandmate of Bryds frontman Bob Stanley, has informed me that this was the not exactly the case.
"So far, everything I've read about the Bryds has had wrong information. But NO, they weren't from Lake Forest. The original 5 piece group had two guys from North Chicago, one from Waukegan, one from Deerfield, and one from either Libertyville or Lake Forest."
I stand corrected. Okay, for more information on The Byrds and their various off-shoots over the years (and it turns out that there were lots of them, and some pretty interesting ones at that), check out the official homepage over here. Jim has also asked me to mention that you can listen to a few tracks from Bob's new CD Roadman's Hammer -- and order the whole thing, of course -- over at his myspace page.

Done. And thanks for the memories, guys. You totally rocked.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My New Least Favorite Band (An Occasional Series)

The Lone Bellow.

Who -- according to a piece in the Times yesterday -- are expected to save the music business.

Okay, as earnest lame folk rock bands go, these guys actually may not be so bad.

I mean, compared to Mumford and Sons or The Lumineers, these guys are...well, pretty good.

Maybe not Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers good, but possibly there's something here that might be worth paying attention to.

I should add that they're from Brooklyn, so I may be cutting them some slack.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My New Least Favorite Band (An Occasional Series)

The Lumineers. Who you may have caught on Saturday Night Live this weekend, stinking up the place.

Jeebus, first Mumford and Sons and now these guys. Is there something in the water all of a sudden that's causing really lame earnest folk rock bands?

[h/t Glen "Bob" Allen]

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Blues Came Down From Dutch Indonesia

The Tielman Brothers, totally live on Netherlands TV. January 23, 1960.

These guys may just have been the greatest live rock band of all time.

Okay, the greatest live rockabilly band for whom English wasn't a first language.

And here's a download link for some of their recordings from the same period.

As I'm wont to say -- words fail me...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Let's Hunt Down and Kill Diane Warren: An Occasional Series

Ladies and gentlemen, please endure the opening credits to Enterprise, the last Star Trek TV spin-off to date, and courtesy of the deeply satanic Diane Warren, not just the Worst Song Ever Written, but the Worst Song That Will Ever BE Written.

I don't even know where to begin in describing the sheer awfulness of that, although I will say that the phrase "faith of the heart" may be the most clueless use of four otherwise straightforwardly understandable words in the history of the galaxy word salad. I should add that in the last two seasons of the show, they replaced this version with a more power-ballady mix that's actually even worse, but I won't inflict that one on you at this point.

I should also add that Diane Warren is the most successful songwriter of all time who's never written a song of any value other than to her bank balance, with a string of hit songs several pages long -- and each and every one of them is a) skull-crushingly annoying and b) totally lacking in any quality that makes them otherwise stick in your memory.

Seriously, read this list of her songs here and tell me you recall any of them enough to hum them.

UPDATE: I just discovered that Simon Pegg -- who plays Mr. Scott in the new J.J. Abrams flicks -- totally agrees with me on this.

"I think that the theme music to Enterprise was probably the most hideous Star Trek moment in history. I couldn’t believe that they had this great idea of sort of pre-Kirk/Spock Star Trek, and they gave it a dreadful soft-rock music start. It just seemed so ill-advised. I mention Admiral Archer [in 2009’s Star Trek]—it isn’t struck off because of the terrible music. Scotty actually mentions him. But [the theme music] is terrible. I’ve never seen Enterprise, because I couldn’t get past that music. It would still be ringing in my ears when the show starts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Beatlemania Changed History!

I admit, I am kind of a history geek. I have spent many hours buried in archives, looking at books that few people have perused, trying to tease events out of figures and think through the narrative of an area or a people.

So maybe I am more geeked than most people about this find:

In the spring of 1964, the Department of Labor, worried that American-born entertainers were facing unfair competition, tightened the rules allowing foreign talent to enter the United States.

The actual law allowed for entertainers of special talent to apply through the Immigration and Naturalization Service for exemptions, so the Beatles weren’t shut out of the United States forever. Unfortunately for Labor Secretary W. Willard Wirtz, several poorly worded newspaper articles led teenagers to believe otherwise. Adolescents from across the United States wrote to the Labor Department in protest.

Janelle Blackwell’s arguments in this letter rested mostly on her own health and wellness. (“I and three other girls were so upset we couldn’t go to school today.”) Blackwell asked that her letter be treated as a business letter, though she acknowledged that she wasn’t quite sure how to write one: “This letter I know is not in good form of any kind … but I feel terrible. I’m 15 and I feel like 80.”
How cool is that?

The Greatest Ringtone in History

The opening ten seconds of "Party Line."

From The Kinks 1966 classic Face to Face.

The wonderfully snooty voice on that belongs to Robert Wace, then one of the band's co-managers, and somebody the band apparently took great pleasure in caricaturing as an upper-class twit.

Food for thought: Aftermath (April), Pet Sounds (May), Revolver (August) and Face to Face (October), all came out during the same seven month period. Has there ever been another year when four major bands released four album masterworks within a comparable short span of time?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Present Day Shindigger or Shindogger Refuses to Die!

I'm pretty sure I've referenced my old college (Lake Forest) chum Eric C. Boardman in these precincts on numerous occasions, but if the name isn't ringing a bell for you, let's just say that he's forgotten more about the kind of American music this blog concerns itself with from time to time than I ever knew, and that he has really small-c catholic tastes that have been hugely influential on my own. Beginning with that long ago day in September of 1965 when I first heard The Who's epochal "Can't Explain" blasting from his dorm room stereo.

Since then, Eric's been a member of the legendary Chicago improv troupe Second City, co-starred in the 1988 film Paramedics ("The Citizen Kane of wacky medically-themed sex comedies" -- Andrew Sarris), and if you live in L.A. you'll recognize him as a local TV fixture for lo these many years. (That's him on the right with Laugh In announcer Gary Owens.)

He's also a terrific writer, and for the last couple of years he's been e-mailing, on a weekly basis, his thoughts on pop/rock/soul and such to selected friends and colleagues for a series which he calls Thursdays with Boardy. These have pretty much made my day(s) since he started doing them, and there are times frankly when they're so good I hate him. This is unfortunate, since I already hate Eric for having had the good fortune to be around the Chicago area for one of the greatest teen rock scenes of all time (about which more later below).

In any case, Eric's most recent post began as a review of a recent rock movie which I can't recommend too highly, but which I was never gonna get around to writing about myself because of various real world constraints I'm dealing with this month. So I asked Eric if I could repost the thing chez moi, and he graciously consented.

Herewith, then -- Thursday with Boardy #156

It's been a long, long, long time since I saw a movie so good I wanted to stick around the theatre and watch it again. Did it for "Bonnie & Clyde", "Five Easy Pieces", "The Graduate", "Help", "Hard Day's Night," and "American Graffiti." And Monday night I would have gone for seconds on "Not Fade Away", the new one from David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos," if I wasn't old, tired, and cursedly pragmatic.

A sucker for almost any coming-of-age picture, I was knocked out by this mash note to the music---and the power of the music---of my/our youth. Every beat of my adolescence and college days was on the screen. From the battles in the kitchen with parents-who just-don't-understand to the sanctuary of basement parties with the latest records on the hi-fi. And, yes, oh, yes, I wanted to be in band and let my hair get good in the back and get girls and make bold statements about rock and roll as art and be in synch with the roar of pop culture and get the hell out of Square Heights, i.e. DuPage County, IL, but unlike the hero of the film, I was devoid of talent and decidedly un-cool. (Though I did have a great pair of suede Dingo boots!)

"Not Fade Away" has made little noise at the box office, but every frame will echo in the noggin of anyone sentient from 1962-1971. And what a soundtrack: Bo Diddley, James Brown, The Rascals, the Stones, The Left Banke, The Small Faces, Dylan, The Sex Pistols, Mother Earth, Lead Belly, Elmore James, even Johnny Burnette & The Rock and Roll Trio (see Boardy #25, April 8, 2010). How great to hear all that loud. I could almost hear my Dad in the theatre next door bellowing, "You woke up the neighbors, now you wanna try for the folks in the cemetery?"

And it's not just the music, it's what it means. One reviewer nailed it beautifully:

"For David Chase, the writer and director of Not Fade Away, rock and roll music has a seductive yet combustible allure. It's a thing that can build and destroy relationships with equal, effortless fervor. It can hypnotize as easily as it alienates. It's the greatest thing ever invented, yet the hardest to recreate; it can aggravate you, but it can also be your salvation. Rock and roll — can't live with it, can't live without it."

Permit me to indulge in nostalgic gush for my days at The Coffee Break in Elmhurst and The Cellar in Arlington Heights, the two clubs where I dined on rock and roll. The Riddles were the house band at the C.B. and they covered the first three Beatles albums beautifully.

The edgier Shadows of Knight called The Cellar home.

Sunday through Thursday, it was the downstairs meeting room of a church, but on Friday and Saturday nights it was rock and roll heaven. They loved the grittier Brit bands, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and were the first to cover "Gloria" from Van Morrison's Them stretching it out for a frenzied five or six minutes each set. If I could go back to any moment in the past, it might very well be a scorching August night with 150 kids in madras shirts, Weejuns, and white Levi's screaming our lungs out as front man Jim Sohns spelled out his mythic girl's name.

Attached you will find that anthem and one more that anchored 1965 in the western suburbs of Chicago. (BTW, the guys from the McCoys hailed from Indiana, but "Hang On Sloopy" is the official rock song of Ohio.) And, yes, though these records (according to Bibletruths. org) "call to all the baser inclinations of man: riots, rebellion, sexual sensuality and selfish gratifications," they are a helluva lot of fun.

Shadows of Knight -- "Gloria"

McCoys -- "Hang On Sloopy"

"Not Fade Away" arrives to remind us there was a time when a stack of 45s and a crowded dance floor could launch a night of adventure, discovery, maybe a little danger. I recommend the movie, it's a got a good beat and you can dream to it. -- Eric.

Have I mentioned that I hate this guy?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Yet Another Thing Arcade Fire Needs to Answer For!

My new least favorite band. Mumford and Sons.

Okay, to be fair, they're not really terrible. And at least on paper they should be precisely the kind of 21st century folk-rock I would normally dig.

I dunno, though. Maybe it's just me, but they seem awfully pretentious about trying to be unpretentious.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hole. E. Crap!

The good folks over at CD Baby have just informed me that Floor Your Love, the Grammy-winning home-made CD by The Floor Models (featuring a bass player whose name rhymes with Sleeve Nimels), sold two copies on Friday -- to people totally unknown to me. Complete strangers, in fact.

Even more incredible, I just discovered that the album received a very nice review by jangleholic fan Eric Sorensen over at Pop Geek Heaven, the very cool website run by Not Lame Recordings founder Bruce Brodeen.

You have to register to read all the cool stuff on the site, but it's free and it only takes about half a minute.

In any case, at this rate, Floor Your Love is sure to appear on Billboard's sales chart at some point in the future era predicted by H.G. Wells in The Time Machine.

Just imagine -- the Morlocks rocking out to the album. Words fail me.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tales From the Mystic East (An Occasional Series)

From sometime between 2004 and now, please enjoy Japanese power popsters Tokyo Jihen and their Hello Budokan! smash "Atarashii Bunmei-kaika PV."

Apparently, there are huge areas of the world where these folks were household words. Deservedly, I'd say, but I really wish I'd gotten the memo before yesterday.

I mean, I really like the song, but Jeebus -- this is like watching Lisa Loeb front the Jonas Brothers in a performance of a Marilyn Manson album. Or something.

Words fail me, in any case.

[h/t Tommy Stewart]

Thursday, January 10, 2013

(Post) Holiday Video Gaggle: Attack of the Killer Criterions (and One More)

Okay, this roundup of memorable DVD and Blu-rays that have crossed my desk recently was supposed to go up before the holidays as a buying guide; unfortunately, between my over-indulgence in Egg Nog and a series of unexpected reversals in my mail-order gefilte fish business, I couldn't quite get around to writing it.

Mea culpa, obviously.

In the meantime, the following all make lovely birthday gifts for the discriminating cineastes on your list, so no harm done, right?

And of course, if you're so moved, they can all be ordered over at Amazon or -- save for number 3 -- over at the Criterion website.

You're welcome.

And in no particular order, here we go.

1. Quadrophenia (Criterion)

Here's a film that asks the cinematic question -- "What the hell ever happened to director Franc Roddam?" Seriously, the sadly unprolific Roddam's 1979 film, based on The Who's double album of the same name, is an absolutely brilliant evocation of a milieu and place -- the Mod/Rocker era of Brit pop culture, circa 1963 -- that seems as remote and exotic as the Pleistocene. It's also a quite astounding meditation on the erotic nature of violence and one of the best rock-and-roll flicks ever made; a pre-Tantric Sting makes a memorable cameo as the heppest cat on the dance floor. Just about every previous video version of this has, not to put too fine a point on it, sucked; Criterion's new DVD and Blu-ray versions, fortunately, do not. In fact, they look great (in a new transfer of the original director's cut, supervised by cinematographer Brian Tufano), and the 5.1 surround remix of the Who's music is guaranteed to rattle your plaster. Essential.

2. Purple Noon (Criterion)

This is the first -- and for my money, the far superior -- filming of sui generis psychological thriller novelist Patricia Highsmith's perversely intriguing The Talented Mr. Ripley, with the impossibly beautiful Alain Delon in the role that made him an international star in 1960; let's just say that Matt Damon, in the 1999 remake, lacks a certain je ne sais quoi by comparison. It's also a ravishingly beautiful film, visually; director René Clément made gorgeous use of his Italian locations, and Criterion's new widescreen transfer (from a newly restored print) renders them to perfection. Bonuses include archival interviews with both Delon and Highsmith.

3. Peter Gunn: The Complete Series (Timeless Media)

Blake Edwards' groundbreaking private eye show (which ran from 1958 to 1961) was the last gasp of authentic film noir (great b&w cinematography, and evocative sets from the backlots at Universal and MGM), and its familiar Henry Mancini music launched a thousand twangy guitars and the teenagers who played them. How does it hold up today? Pretty well, actually; the plotting is not always believable, but it has atmosphere to burn, the supporting cast is a veritable Who's Who of film and TV character actors of the era, and the chemistry between stars Craig Stevens and Lola Albright is great; they were the only couple on TV at the time who were obviously sleeping together, and the banter between them still sizzles. This new set features all 114 episodes of the series on 12 DVDs, and almost all of them have been transferred from prints that are in pristine shape or reasonably close. Terrific nostalgic fun, in other words, and you'll probably watch it like most people eat popcorn, which is to say compulsively and in spurts.

4. Heaven's Gate (Criterion)

I have long been a member of that small subset of humanity which has always insisted Michael Cimino's epic and legendarily reviled 1980 western was a misunderstood masterpiece.

Or as I said back in 2008:
This isn't the time or the place to go into a longwinded defense of the thing, which in any case, speaks for itself, but the short version is that the reason the critics went after it back in the day had little to do with the film per se or the fact that Cimino went over budget (you can see every goddamn dollar on screen, BTW), but rather with its defiantly left-wing politics (the story is about dirt poor farmers being murdered by greedy Ogligarchs,a deliberate parallel with what was going on in Central America in the Age of Reagan). The irony, of course, is that Cimino had earlier drawn the ire of the Left with his unflattering portrayal of the Vietcong in "The Deer Hunter," but that too is a story for another time and place.

In any case, the film -- gorgeously shot by the great Vilmos Zsigmond in an approximation of period sepia tone -- has been mostly butchered for home video.
I based that last assessment on what was then the most recent DVD version (2000), which apparently derived from the same crappy transfer familiar from the early 90s laserdisc edition; both were hideously washed out and all but unwatchable.

Criterion's new version, however, is all but perfection; a gloriously restored version of the director's cut (which is actually a minute or two shorter than the original theatrical version, since the intermission has now been excised at Cimino's request), and presented in as visually gorgeous a transfer as I've ever seen of anything. Trust me -- you need to get this. Both the DVD and Blu-ray versions feature new interviews with star Kris Kristofferson and an audio interview with Cimino, and I can now die happy.

5. Children of Paradise (Criterion)

This is often referred to as the Gone With the Wind of France, which is to say it's a sweeping and much beloved historical costume drama with a romantic triangle at the heart of it, although its milieu -- the theater world of early 19th century Paris -- is obviously way different from the antebellum South. In any event, it's a great film on every level, and this new version -- I lucked into the Blu-ray -- is a stunner. (By comparison, I pulled out my old Criterion laserdisc version from 1991, which was absolutely state of the art back then, and this is an improvement on every level, beginning with the transfer based on a gorgeous restoration job from 2011). Tons of great bonuses, including a brace of making-of documentaries, in particular one from 1967 featuring interviews with director Marcel Carné and stars Arletty (swoon), Jean-Louis Barrault and Pierre Brasseur.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Department of "Words Fail Me" (An Occasional Series)

And speaking as we were yesterday of Los Shakers (the Beatles of Uruguay) and their absolutely gorgeous 1965 Latino-Meets-Merseybeat classic "Always You," please enjoy this absolutely astounding modern (from last January) almost one-man band (everything but the drums) remake by the heretofore unknown to me and the larger world Nick Martellaro.

Found this over at YouTube the other day, and it frankly blew my tiny mind. Martellaro is, apparently, a twenty-something kid obsessed with 60s pop, and he's been posting covers like this one, of rather less obscure songs, for a while now (he also has an album available over at CD Baby here).

I've haven't heard them all, but most of the ones I have heard are simultaneously impressively faithful to their sources and a little lacking in...something. Which is to say they have a certain K-Tel quality to them, if you know what I mean, although to be fair, that may have more to do with the over-familiarity of the originals than with Martellaro's impressively played and sung recreations.

This one, however, is just great; the twelve-string stuff actually improves on the Los Shakers record, and the song shines through as nature intended.

If words were not to fail me, I think the one I'd come up with is "wow."

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Okay -- So Does This Make the Guy in the Tux the Ed Sullivan of Latin America?

Still a little bit overwhelmed by my sudden career change -- I am now acting as Kato, Oriental Houseboy™ for a convalescing shady dame of my acquaintance -- so here's yet another re-post about a subject dear to my heart.

From 1965 and the motion picture La Escala Musical, please enjoy the absolutely brilliant Los Shakers and their sublimely Beatles-esque (specifically, the Fabs from the Help! album period) "Always You.

These guys really were the Beatles of Uruguay, BTW. I mean, they were really that good, and really that popular. (Although apparently they were even bigger in Argentina.)

I should add that of all the songs heretofore unknown to me that I've discovered as a result of the blog you're perusing, this is the one that has meant the most to me.

Seriously -- when that 12-string guitar comes in at the top of the second verse, I absolutely lose it. Still.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Where's Casey Kasem When You Need Him?

Well, as you may know, I've been kind of busy for the last couple of days, so I'm just catching up with some interesting and/or alarming news items; perhaps you've been out of the loop as well, so I'll share them with you.

1. On Friday, the world learned -- via a full-page ad in the New York Times -- that Cigar Aficionado (a magazine whose cover has been graced by the cherubic visage of Rush Limbaugh, among other worthies) had announced the winner of it's coveted 2012 Cigar of the Year award. I am not making this up, obviously.

2. And on Saturday, via the intertubes, I (along with many others) was reminded that it was the 40th anniversary of the release of Bruce Springsteen's debut album "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J."

This, of course, did not make me feel in any way old. At all.

In any case, I'm still kinda busy, so in celebration of that anniversary, I thought I'd repost a piece I did about Springsteen for the Barnes & Noble website back in the late 90s (the occasion was the release of that huge coffee table book of Bruce's collected lyrics).

Enjoy, if at all possible.

That Bruce Springsteen changed a lot of lives is both a truism and a cliché, although at this moment, if one is feeling uncharitable, it may be a rather naive and adolescent cliché. After all, 25 years after his first album, "Greetings from Asbury Park," Bruce is an institution (he's now eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if you can believe it), and his music has changed in ways few of us expected (although we probably shouldn't be surprised about it). Springsteen now resembles a plainspoken populist like Merle Haggard far more than a generational spokesperson/poster boy like, say, Kurt Cobain. And the people whose lives Bruce most radically affected are, of course, now comfortably middle-aged, with more on their minds, understandably, than rock dreams. Face it: To paraphrase an early Springsteen song, it's hard to be a saint in the city when you're worried about making your mortgage payments or finding a good preschool.

Still, cliché or not, Bruce did impact more than a few lives, and if you want to know why, at least part of the reason can be found in the just-published Bruce Springsteen: Songs, a massive coffee-table tome featuring the complete lyrics to every song found on every one of his albums (save the simultaneously released "Tracks"—more about that later) as well as Bruce's reflections on what he was thinking at the time. What's most surprising about Songs—for me, at least—is just how well the stuff holds up on the page. It's a given, of course, that Springsteen is a great storyteller. Back in 1981, I noted, in a review of his "Nebraska" album, that the song "Highway Patrolman" would probably make an interesting film someday, so I was not exactly shocked when Sean Penn adapted it as "The Indian Runner" a decade later. Still, given Springsteen's penchant for overheated, fuel-injected romanticism, I was pleasantly struck, seeing these lyrics in cold type after all this time, by how even the least of them are redeemed by flashes of humor and wordplay. I was particularly taken reading "Thunder Road" (from "Born to Run"): Bruce has gotten a fair bit of feminist flak over the years for the line, "You ain't a beauty but hey, you're alright," but such complaints seem misguided in light of the line that immediately follows: "Oh," he adds, in what strikes me as an ineffably funny, apologetic attempt to deflect that very criticism, "and that's alright with me." What a gentleman.

But we were speaking of life changes. My own Springsteen moment was in early 1973. At the time, I was a baby rock critic at the old Stereo Review, and "Greetings from Asbury Park" had just come out, accompanied by reams of Columbia hype, the gist of which was that Bruce was (what were they thinking?) the latest New Dylan. Little did I know, of course, that for the rest of the more jaded rock press, this tag had the sort of negative connotations associated with phrases like "serial killer" or "record company weasel." In any case, in my naïveté I gave the disc a spin, and sure enough Bruce was spewing the sort of freely associative lyrics that could most charitably be described as Dylanesque (if not, more accurately, verbose and in need of a good editor), and I recall being mildly unimpressed. And then suddenly: Boom! A drum beat and Clarence Clemons's near-mystic sax wail announced "Spirit in the Night," and I was a goner.

The music was perfect, like much of Bruce's stuff to come: a sort of Proustian mix of half-remembered licks from rock and R&B oldies that may or may not have actually ever existed, the whole thing sounding simultaneously sublime and absurd, like Van Morrison at his most uplifting, jamming at a South Jersey pizzeria. And the song's lyrics were—and are—the most dead-on evocation ever of what it felt like to be a post-Woodstock 20-something with no direction home. I personally had the eerie feeling that Bruce had been reading my mail, and I later found I was far from alone in that perception.

As it happened, Bruce was making his semiofficial New York debut that week, on a double bill with the similarly debuting original Wailers. (To put this in perspective: This was at Max's Kansas City, a club that sat fewer than 200 people. I don't want to say, "Those were the days," but frankly, they were.) Every rock critic in New York showed up for what would be their first exposure to live reggae, and yes, the Wailers' opening set was rapturously received by all (few bands have ever had two front men as charismatic as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh). After intermission, however, I realized that the aforementioned highly jaded press contingent, having already had their tiny minds blown by a bunch of Rastas turning the beat around, were not about to fall for any "New Dylan" hype and had beaten a hasty exit. This left me in the odd position of being alone in the back of Max's with 30 or 40 of Bruce's buddies from the Jersey Shore. I was, literally, the only stranger there.

And the show was everything I'd hoped for, and more. Bruce and his E Street Band opened with a version of "Spirit..." that made the album take sound anemic. He went on to preview the far richer material he had already written for what became his sophomore masterpiece, "The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle," going so far as to use a mellotron on a gorgeous "New York City Serenade" that sounded like a Phil Spector record made flesh. Most memorably, though, I got to witness an early incarnation of the sort of interactive, fan-friendly stagecraft that would soon establish the Cult of Bruce. "Any requests?" Springsteen asked at one point. "It don't have to be one of ours." I blurted out "Route 66," having been listening to a lot of early Stones that week, and to my amazement, Bruce and band immediately launched into the best rendition of that chestnut I had ever heard. Who'd have thunk it: On top of everything, these guys were the bar band of my dreams.

You know the rest of the story, of course. Bruce's live show became legendary, his fans became famous for their missionary zeal (the sort of people who bought tickets for unbelieving friends), and eventually the kid from Asbury Park made "Born to Run" and wound up, simultaneously, on the covers of Time and Newsweek. Around this time, Bruce also became the second most widely bootlegged solo artist in the history of recorded music; most of those fan favorites are now, finally, officially available on the four-CD "Tracks" box set, with the conspicuous and peculiar omission of "The Fever," perhaps the most mesmerizing performance Bruce ever committed to tape. So what's the bottom line? Even if you're a lapsed fan like me (mortgage payments and all that), Songs is going to remind you that, yeah, you weren't crazy. Maybe the guy didn't literally change your life, but he sure as hell enriched it. Thanks, Boss.

I should add that I've become a Born Again Bruce fan in the years since I wrote that.

Friday, January 04, 2013

I Don't Need No Doctor...

...but unfortunately, a certain shady dame of my acquaintance does.

In fact, she's going into the hospital for routine (or as routine as these things get, more accurately) surgery on the morrow, and I'll be pretty much occupied in waiting rooms and such for the next couple of days.

Which means that I probably won't be posting here again till Tuesday.

Wang Chung in my absence, obviously.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Our Talented Readers (An Occasional Series)

Jeebus, this is good.

From England -- and please don't hold that against him -- please enjoy Ballard and his stunningly low-fi "Pretty Colours."

This crossed my desk (my e-mail, actually) last week and it kinda got lost in the New Years shuffle until I read this self-description...

I'm a one-man lo-fi bedroom outfit and am inspired by the British Mod sound of the Sixties - The Who, The Kinks, The Move (probably my favourites).
...which obviously piqued my interest. Especially after it turned out the music actually lived up to the billing.

If you'd like to hear more -- and you definitely should -- head over to his official website here.

Have I mentioned that Jeebus, this is good?

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year's Day: Special Kiss What's Left of My Street Cred Goodbye Edition!!!!

This is, as I have been wont to say here on many previous occasions, a very sad story, so please try not to laugh.

It also has a certain relevance to today's festivities, which will be revealed later in the narrative. Please be patient.

Anyway, so the other day I was in a cab heading down the West Side Highway in a snowstorm, and the driver had the radio tuned to whatever soft-rock Lite FM station they inevitably have on when they don't have WINS News Radio blasting or some guy from Queens yelling about sports.

I wasn't particularly paying attention, but suddenly some soft-rock Lite FM staple song came on, and immediately I knew three things.

1. I had definitely heard it before.

2. It was probably from the 70s or the 80s, although I couldn't rule out the possibility that it might have been more recent, and it had that whole California soft-rock vibe, which I usually detest, in spades.

3. I had no idea who the guy or the group singing it was, although I was painfully aware that when and if I found out I was gonna kick myself. Because pretty much everybody in the world, at least of a certain age, would have been able to recognize it instantly.

The truly insidious part was that there was something about the damn thing that grabbed me. Yes, the vocals had that laid-back L.A. Mr. Sensitive shtick that usually makes my gorge rise. But the tune was charming, the voicings of the harmony parts in the chorus were really quite lovely, and -- try as I might to deny it -- it was getting under my skin.

Fortunately, because of the roar of traffic, I couldn't really hear the lyrics, although one word -- "architect" -- jumped out. "Hmm," I thought. "There's a word you don't hear in a pop song everyday."

Anyway, I then went about the rest of my weekend, but I knew with an absolutely dread certainty that I was gonna break down sooner or later and look the song up on the Intertubes.

So, late on Monday, I googled "Soft Rock song with the word architect in it" and up it popped.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...and my fingers are shaking as I type these words....Dan Fogelberg (the horror, the horror!) and his 1980 smash (which I had apparently put out of my mind, probably deliberately, ever since its original vogue) "Same Old Lang Syne."

Well. In case you're wondering, no -- I have no interest in revisiting the rest of Fogelberg's body of work, and yes, I still basically can't stand the whole genre he represents, but goddamn it -- this damn song works and it gets to me. Like I said, it's melodically quite charming, and now that I've actually deciphered the lyrics, it turns out that -- despite a certain smugness that kind of rankles -- they actually make a pretty good little short story.

And the record's not even a new guilty pleasure, to be honest, because I don't feel particularly guilty about liking it.

Sticks in my craw a bit, though.

As I said, this is a very sad story, so please try not to laugh.

Happy New Year, everybody.

And fuck you, Dan Fogelberg, for your pernicious influence. Wherever you are.

Thank you.