Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A gift of Henry

Whatever it is Henry Rollins does as a performer, TV or radio host, actor, or writer  his essence embeds with it all: He is Henry Rollins. It's all he can be. And each endeavor comes with a preternatural integrity that doesn't change, for better or worse. He's an entertainer, foremost. Some artists bristle at such a description, it doesn't give full expression to the depth of what it is they believe they do. But whether your profession involves straddling a stage before crowds of thousands or simply joining the family at the Thanksgiving table, being entertaining may be our highest purpose. It's the gift of ourselves to others. It's generous, it's compassionate, and though it may come from a deep well steeped in pure ego selfishly expecting something in return, at it's core it's gift. That's undeniable. Becoming evermore so if the person receiving has less to give in return.

Anyway. Henry gives gifts. Here's one of my favorites:  

“If you hate your parents, the man or the establishment, don’t show them up by getting wasted and wrapping your car around a tree. If you really want to rebel against your parents: outearn them, outlive them, and know more than they do.” 

More Rollins quotes and pics here. As you may've heard, Rollins has a radio show on KCRW and a column in the LA Weekly. Both document a record geek's zeal and his search for paradise through extreme collecting and the stories that go with it. Well-told stories may be one of the greatest gifts of all.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Paperback Writer, unabridged and un-neutered

According to Wiki, the studio version of Paperback Writer was the loudest recording The Beatles had done up to that time. The bass was also turned up in the mix in order to, as John Lennon said, sound more like Wilson Pickett records. But it's the vocals that we care most about: The repeated chorus we first encounter in the song's introduction sounds as if the three voices were double tracked. It's also possible they used vocal triple tracking as they'd done on Because.

But here, they do what they can with just the three.
Note: I've reposted the video. What I posted previously apparently no longer exists. This version appears to be of a lesser quality but you get the idea. The entire Tokyo concert can be seen here

An impressive display of skill especially when considering the often lackluster results of other bands who try to ape the complicated arrangements of their recorded versions (Bohemian Rhapsody leaps to mind). It's also a testament to how tight and polished this band could be (even with Paul's errant mike). The dues paid in their early days playing the clubs show well here. They don't even appear to be breaking a sweat: Note how John tries to make George laugh. Even with the distractions of a screaming audience it takes no toll on the quality of their performance.

Another reminder of the shame that their performance career was so brief. (The Let It Be movie being another glaring example.) The lads had no equals.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Captain Beefheart's 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing

1. Listen to the birds.
That's where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren't going anywhere.
2. Your guitar is not really a guitar. Your guitar is a divining rod.
Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you're good, you'll land a big one.
3. Practice in front of a bush.
Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush dosen't shake, eat another piece of bread.
4. Walk with the devil.
Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the "devil box." And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you're bringing over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.
5. If you're guilty of thinking, you're out.
If your brain is part of the process, you're missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.
6. Never point your guitar at anyone.
Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.
7. Always carry a church key.
That's your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He's one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song "I Need a Hundred Dollars" is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf's guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty-making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he's doing it.
8. Don't wipe the sweat off your instrument.
You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.
9. Keep your guitar in a dark place.
When you're not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don't play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.
10. You gotta have a hood for your engine.
Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can't escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.

The above shared from a blog worth visiting often: http://blog.wfmu.org/

Said he: "Van Gogh made work so good that upon walking out of the museum I said: 'The sun disappoints me so....'"

Friday, October 21, 2011

Billy busts, Jackie slides

Billy's keyboard credentials are unimpeachable. But you already know this. (I've gone on about him before.) Never was there a more hallowed sideman. (Check his credits here.) You also know that he had a handful of hits, wrote a standard, was more than a capable singer, a dynamic performer, and he could dance.

Yes he could.

The exuberance goes practically viral here. There's an explosion in his nerve center that splatters out to his hands and feet. It's a dance like James Brown trying to move a scorpion through his shirt without getting stung. A move Jagger might've tried if he only had Preston's chops. (Or course, Jagger would process Brown's moves into his own spastic brand of monkey steez®. 40 years later, that steez gets a song. )

That yellow suit is fly, too.

Master showman, "Mr Excitement", the O.G. singer of soul, Jackie Wilson was the pivot that moved R&B into Soul. Wilson's career began at the same time as James Brown's but it'd be Wilson who'd find his mojo first. He'd a succession of singles hit beginning in 1957. Though Brown was recording and performing extensively at this time, his funk wouldn't ripen until at least 1963 which was just about the time Wilson's faded. Brown's "hardest working man in show business" stage style was the yang to Wilson's cooler and more subdued yin. Brown for his part was a dance genius. (Some proof here.) Much of his signature style follows a thread through a history of various stage dance styles, mostly tap (although a more sexed tap than any tap you'll ever see anywhere else). Wilson for his part seems to sweat confidence. Throughout his entire performance above his face has the distracted look of a guy who believes his night is going to get better later.

It may be difficult to decipher exactly who was first; it's been argued that it was Wilson who copped Brown's moves. Maybe. But whoever was first, it's clear they both reached deep into the same trick bag. Though they both added their own stuff to the bag, the bag was deeper than both them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Death, Drugs, Devilry, Disfigurement, & Dirty Louie

1) Casey Kasem: Remember him? You'll be withering away somewhere in your forties (at least) if you do. His was the popular nationally syndicated radio show American Top 40 (1970 - 1988; 1998 - 2004) where the masses came to hear their favorite popular songs before they joined the dustbin of future Trivial Pursuit questions. (Another blog's waggish take on the show here.)

I'll admit it, as a kid I'd listen in from time to time. I, like teeming millions of others, was a sucker for the show's shtick, a formula both simple and effective: Countdown each week's Billboard Top 40 backwards while larding up the introductions with teases and juicy nuggets to hang the audience up through commercial breaks. (And as it was AM radio, there were many.) It didn't hurt that these infotainment gumballs were dispensed from the depths of Kasem's unctuous baritone, a sound as smooth as pureed frog. For one particularly memorable edition, in June of 1971, the #1 was Indian Reservation (a take on
Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)) by Paul Revere and the Raiders. In his introduction Kasem served up a story curious enough to hike even the most seasoned eyebrows: The song's composer was taken prisoner by Cherokee Indians and released only after promising to write a song dramatizing their plight. American Top 40, as it turned out, had all the fact checking vigilance of your average reactionary political blog. The story was a ruse and a good one as it went undetected for years; John D. Loudermilk (who also wrote Tobacco Road) made up the tale on the spot in response to being awaken by a late night call from a writer from the show. Writers looking to dig up juicier information might do well to call interviewees in non-prime time hours: This might explain Weekly World News.

2) Legend was that Robert Johnson's prodigiousness on the guitar and a voice capable of such wretched depths of human experience could've only wafted straight up from the smoke of Hell. As a younger man Johnson was reputedly a journeyman blues musician at best. After disappearing for a year or two (to hone his new found Hell-sprung skills) he'd return as the full-fledged King of the Delta Blues Singers that history now remembers. (A schlocky version of the tale was told in the 80s film Crossroads with much added narrative prostheses.) As an original member of the Forever 27 Club Johnson wouldn't have much time for legacy building; what he left behind was a compact canon of 29 songs. The truth is, everything we know about the man and his life is limited to those 29 songs. The rest is, as they say, marketing. 

3) The Paul Is Dead Myth and the birth of backmasking: Surely, everyone is familiar with the manufactured legend of Sir Paul's untimely demise. Though the legend began independently of The Beatles, the Fabs would quickly embrace it for themselves. Their records, beginning with Magical Mystery Tour, would come salted with clues. Besides being the likely progenitor of the many Is he really dead? tabloid myths to follow — Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, Andy Kaufman, Jimmy Hoffa, et al.it's also the starting point for that ne plus ultra of legend-seeding tools, the backwards messaging of backmasking. (An exhaustive list of examples is available here.) 

One example of note would be Judas Priest and their cover of the Gary Wright-penned Spooky Tooth ditty, Better by You, Better than Me (from the 1978 album Stained Glass): The song made national news when the mother of a depressed Priest fan, someone who'd botched his part in a double-suicide attempt, sued the band for claims their music drove her son to do it. Following the successful suicide of his friend from a shotgun blast to the head, 20 year old Reno NV resident James Vance would only discover the further depths of life's tragedy (the results at left). Besides leading the boys into morbid hopelessness, the lawsuit alleged that the band, through one backmasked phrase in particular ("do it, do it"), provided the teens their suicidal tipping point. The story and all its parties were covered in the excellent 1992 documentary The Dream Deceivers: The Story of James Vance vs. Judas Priest. Before the judge ultimately dismissed the case, James Vance would make another suicide attempt: In 1988 he ended his life with an overdose of prescription drugs. (For a more detailed view of this story, check here.)

 4) While on the subject of musical suicide inducers: Long before Judas Priest began darkening young minds, there was the once and still all-time body count champion: The Hungarian Suicide Song, or as it was better known in its English translation, Gloomy Sunday. A song thought to be so crushing in its hopelessness, many feared it could bring the dispirited multitudes into lemming waves of self-annihilation. It was reported that in Hungary alone the song was responsible for 17 deaths (see more on this here), and eventually, 200 worldwide. The song was first recorded in 1933 in its original form, Vége a világnak (End of the World), by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress, lyrics by László Jávor. As Snopes.com notes in its breakdown of the legend, for many years Hungary had the highest suicide rate of any other country. It may be that this song was just one expression from a grand tradition. At any rate, by the time World War II had spread through Europe, it's likely the tragedies of war would've far overshadowed any such lachrymose song styling. The song would find its greatest popularity in Billy Holiday's 1941 version (English lyric by Sam Lewis). If anything, Holiday's version only deepened the legend and many broadcasters at the time banned the song from the airwaves in the interests of public safety, including the BBC.

One verified suicide of note: Composer Rezső Seress took his own life in 1968.

5) Newsweek magazine ran a cover story in 1964 (as best as I can tell from googling) making claims on the rampant coded drug messaging going on in rock music. Infamously caught up in this generational hysteria was the otherwise contemporary and future children's favorite, Puff the Magic Dragon. Recorded in 1963 by Peter, Paul, and Mary and written by Peter Yarrow (the Peter of PPaM) and Leonard Lipton (based on his 1959 poem written while in college), the song would achieve great success on both sides of the Atlantic (a song still collecting royalties and recently turning up as a children's picture book). Those looking to indite made much hay over the use of words like paper, dragon (draggin'), and puff. Both the group and Yarrow vigorously denied any such intentions. Even 47 years later the association hasn't gone away. It continues to find its way into pop culture like a flashback contact high, including a more recent reference made in an episode Lie to Me).

6) There may be no song that comes more loaded with pop cultural mystique than Louie Louie: Not only the primogenitor of the over-driven three-chord rock roundelay — which, considering the history of rock that followed, is saying a lot — it is one of the most covered songs ever recorded. It has also been reputed to be the filthiest song to ever get mainstream airplay. Originally released in 1955, Louie Louie was "composer" Richard Berry's response to a Cuban Cha-cha he'd heard on the radio, likely stealing its theme from Calypso and more than a healthy wad from Chuck Berry's Havana Moon. Richard Berry's version achieved some modest regional success and gained cred from other musicians who'd added the song to their own stage repertoires. By 1963 at least one of these incarnations had brought the song to the attention of Portland band The Kingsmen. As the legend goes the song was recorded for a $36 studio fee in one extremely fortuitous, unedited take (note the singer's flub after the guitar break). It's inauspicious radio debut would be on a Boston station as "The Worst Record of the Week." Fortunately, listeners of the station didn't agree and the song would ascend all the way to #2 on the Billboard chart (denied its #1 by both the Singing Nun and Bobby Vinton). Even without the prurient legend, The Kingsmen's shambolic, proto-garage rock sound should've been enough to raise their Louie to classic status on its own: A sound as funky and booze-soaked as a bartender's rag. But the song's real kernel of genius came from singer Jack Ely's energetic, slurred, and to the song's great fortune, indecipherable reading. Even still, the song was banned by the governor of Louisiana. When questioned about the song's lyrics the band was instructed by their manager to offer only "no comment." It was that mystery that launched many fan-penned revisions of the song's lyrics based on wishful obscene mishearings. As a result, the song would be subjected to a 31 month long FBI investigation (the grand jury convened for White Water lasted only 30 months). The stain of obscenity would prove to be a stroke of (maybe not so) inadvertent marketing genius. Listen for yourself:

An interesting note: According to Dwight Rounds, author of The Year the Music Died, 1964-1972, the FBI tried to track down Richard Berry, The Kingsmen, and various record company executives in their investigation (it's not clear whether they were successful). But one person they chose not to interview – the most obvious source – was singer Jack Ely. 

Anyone who's been in a band themselves will appreciate this dynamic: Shortly after Louie Louie became a hit, Ely was relieved of his singerly duties. Drummer Lynn Easton's mother had registered the name The Kingsman and as a result owned the band's brand. Easton would use this as leverage to leave his position on the drummer's stool and take on the singer's duties. Ely and the band's bassist quit in protest. Louie Louie was Ely's only lead vocal and contemporary live versions of the song on YouTube feature only Easton's voice. Watch and note that Easton was no Ely: Not even close. Ely for his part would later attempt to capitalize on Louie's success by releasing a series of songs with pandering titles like "Louie Louie 66," "Love that Louie," and "Louie Go Home."

To hear a performance of the smutty version you'll need to check out The Stooges (from Metallic KO).

As for the lyrics themselves, first, the dirty version:

Louie, Louie,
grab her down low.
Louie, Louie,
grab her way down low.

A fine little bitch, she waits for me;
she gets her kicks on top of me.
Each night I take her out all alone;
she ain't the kind I lay at home.

Each night at ten, I lay her again;
I fuck my girl all kinds of ways.
And on that chair, I lay her there;
I felt my boner in her hair.

If she's got a rag on, I'll move above;
It won't be long, she'll slip it off.
I'll take her in my arms again;
tell her I'd rather lay her again.

And this, the actual Jack Ely version:
Louie, Louie,
me gotta go.
Louie, Louie,
me gotta go.

A fine little girl, she wait for me;
me catch a ship across the sea.
I sailed the ship all alone;
I never think I'll make it home,

Three nights and days we sailed the sea;
me think of girl constantly.
On the ship, I dream she there;
I smell the rose in her hair.

Me see Jamaica moon above;
me think of girl constantly.
On the ship, I dream she there;
I smell the rose in her hair.

Me see Jamaica moon above;
It won't be long me see me love.
Me take her in my arms and then
I tell her I never leave again.

And for the sake of completism, here are some antecedent Louie versions The Kingsmen would've no doubt been familiar:
The first video includes three versions performed by these artists, 1) The Richard Berry original; 2) Rockin Robin Roberts and The Fabulous Wailers; 3) Little Bill and the BlueNotes:

And The Kingsmen with spotlight stealer Lynn Eastman frontin':

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Fall: Olden and golden

Operating since '76, The Fall was at the beginning of the so-called "post-punk" era. Since then, they've released 28 studio albums (among many others). Mark E. Smith — the band's svengali and only consistent member — along with whoever can stand him at the moment, may now resemble your grandfather, but only if your grandfather might smell like the back bar at The Tattle Tale. (Though, lest you get the wrong idea, one of the comely female bandmates in the video is in fact his wife, his dissolute appearance not withstanding.) He once played a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed Jesus on the BBC (fans might consider that type-casting). The Fall was said to be John Peel's favorite band. In the band's heyday their sound was described as abrasive and repetitious, as was Mark E. Smith. Despite Bury's comparative mellowness from aging, its power is none the less for it.

I think it's brilliant.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Daryl Hall sings Fripp without Fripp

You might think a pairing of Daryl Hall he, the blue-eyed Philly soul savant and would-be pop megastar — and Robert Fripp — the King Crimson mastermind whose delicate thunder may've given Prog Rock its paternity (i.e. before it went Yes-sy all over FM radio) — is a totally absurd idea. Like most marriages, such a bond could only lead to a tense and unhappy nowhere. And, as it turned out, you'd be absolutely right. Their storied relationship was probably doomed from the start for several reasons, not the least of which Hall's record company and Hall himself. But, for a moment, it yielded some angular magic.

But first: Here's Daryl Hall taking a recent crack at North Star on his monthly web show Live from Daryl's House. The song was originally released on Robert Fripp's 1978 solo album Exposure (composed by Hall and Fripp with lyrics by Fripp's then girlfriend Joanna Walton – she'd later perish in the Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie crash) and may've represented, for Fripp anyway, the beginnings of a long and fertile collaboration. While producing Hall's first solo album in 1977 (Sacred Songs), Fripp's enthusiasm might've gotten giddily overworked. How else can you explain the suggestion of a Daryl Hall fronted King Crimson? They became fast friends, by the admission of both parties, and would come to be quite close. Hall even lived at Fripp's house in England for awhile. You can imagine the two sharing a candlelit dinner one evening as Hall speculates over the lobster bisque how their musical pairing could be interesting. Fripp, like many an over-unctuous new lover, may've heard only he wanted to hear and took this speculation as a sign of true love for the concept.

Thus began Fripp's long walk up the side of heartbreak's volcano. Later, of course, he'd have to face the awful truth when Hall chose not to jump off the gravy train of Hall and Oates Inc. Even worse, you can imagine poor Robert's plunge into the lava after hearing the news from his answering machine or, worse, mentioned in the press (Hall acting a la Rudy Guiliani).

Woe to the days before texting and e-mail.

Anyway, Fripp would lick his wounds and go on to collaborate with luminaries like Peter Gabriel, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, Blondie, et al. on his way to rebuilding a successful
new Adrian Belew fronted Crismo. After this brief experimental interlude, Hall would go on to even greater success in the H & O hit factory and rule the mainstream with a chain of mega-sellers throughout much of the '80s.

From an interview with Hall posted at Pitchfork, was this Fripp quote:

As for Hall & Oates, they are a very profitable group. They limit their format and possibilities on purpose as part of a commercial compromise they accept.

To which Hall responded:
Yeah. Robert was being a girl. He got very burned by this all. We had a very close relationship, and my manager at the time, Tommy Mottola, came into it, and Robert got really hurt by it.

(Hall, clearly, sees himself as a top.) Anyway, if you ever wondered what a proggier Daryl Hall might sound like, this'll probably be your best chance.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tina Turner 1969

This excerpt is from the doc Gimme Shelter; More input from The Stones early experiments with avant cinema. Ike and Tina joined the tour as openers. Take special note of Tina's hands here. Her tongue is also used to good effect. I think she sings a little, too.


Anyway, IMHO Tina may be the best all around female rock and roll singer that ever was. It's arguable, sure, but her voice probably had more range, power, and versatility than anyone's. Plus, she danced like a hurricane. And there's other stuff, like what she does above. She was unstoppable. Janis Joplin was great too, she even had the much better material. (Tina was always a little too Vegas.) And both probably owe a debt to Etta James and others. But, for me,
all added up: Tina was it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Rolling Stones and Robert Frank and Rocks Off

If you remember when fuzz-covered needles scratched disks spinning under abusive turntables loaded in consoles the size of mini vans, then you might also remember when The Rolling Stones were The World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band.

Well, so we were told. Most of us didn't doubt it. That meme, it turns out, was artificially bestowed on them during their nightly introductions on their tour of 1969. The iPod generations, on the other hand, are less convinced. Q magazine's 1998 readers poll of the Greatest Albums of All Time (presumably, their readers still listened to albums) put Exile on Main Street, generally considered by everyone
including The Stones themselves — to be their best work, at #42. By 2003 it didn't even make the top 100. (The gray heads at Rolling Stone magazine gave it a #7 on their The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. As news of The Beatles music released on iTunes was being shouted from billboards all over town, the Y, Z, and Millennial generations were boarding The Stones onto the bullet train to oblivion.

Ah well, the vagaries of time: Be that as it may, remembering back to a time when they did matter, Rocks Off was one of the betters of their best.

Exile would prove to be the final issue of The Stones classic period. As a result of flowering heroin addiction, it'd also be the last album to feature Richards as a dominant force. (Even his role on Exile has been under some dispute as guitarist Mick Taylor claimed his own guitar and songwriting contributions were never fully acknowledged.) The period that followed, what I would call their post-classic period — from Goat's Head Soup to Some Girls — would be an era ruled by Sir Mick. Under Jagger's direction, the band moved away from the rootsier blues material. (Though, by the time of Some Girls in 1978 the shock of punk would force them to pull out Chuck Berry riffs once again.)

And as to whatever happened to the band's records after that, who cares?

As to Rocks Off: Groove-wise, it's one of the hardest in The Stones canon; Lyrically, the song is more like a 12 year old's idea of smut used as a thin disguise to obscure its theme of heroin use. In the context of those LSD waning, cocaine ascending days of 1972, radio was already loaded with boundary-pushing vulgarities: The same year as Chuck Berry's comeback hit My Ding-a-Ling (Don't you want to play with my ding-a-ling?), The Isley Brothers's Pop That Thang (If my balloon goes down/Fill it up with wind), and Lou Reed's smorgasbord of eye-brow hoisters, Walk on the Wild Side. In that context, Rocks Off is like one more dirty word in a Tarantino script.

On Robert Frank: He was the Swiss-born photog who in 1958 began a sojourn through United States with the help of a Guggenheim grant. Along the way he took 28,000 photographs, met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and was arbitrarily thrown in a Southern jail. From these two years on the road comes a book of 83 photos he called Les Américains (with text by Kerouac). The book proved to be something of a sensation and would remain as the seminal photo document of America in the fifties. It's renderings of the South were especially poignant. (It's Frank's photo of a wall from a tattoo parlor that graces the Exile's cover.)

By the time
Les Américains was published, Frank had already moved into filmmaking. As a filmmaker, he'd be most famous as the guy hired by The Rolling Stones to shoot their 1972 tour, a film the band would later refuse to let anyone see. This mostly unseen film would be called Cocksucker Blues and even in its non-release it has only added even more layers to the band's thick mystique. (See some edited bits of it here.) For the band that'd eventually become the very model of musical corporatism, in the seventies their heads were still in a cool place: Not only in choosing Frank, but also French New Waver Jean Luc-Godard four years earlier for Sympathy for the Devil.

A court would order that the film be limited to only one showing a year and then only with Frank in attendance. Now that the maestro is well into his eighties the likelihood of any of us ever seeing the film in a theater are more remote than ever. The clip above is about as much as most of us will ever get to see. I stand corrected; See comment below.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Old School Beatbox: "Love Me Tonight"

"Love Me Tonight" was a musical minted for the height of The Depression in the summer 1932. It's songs are by Rodgers and Hart, its stars are Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette McDonald, and Myrna Loy (for young 'ens who don't know: all were boffo box office in their day), and its director was Imperial Russia-via-Georgia born, Armenian-American Rouben Mamoulian. (A director as famous for what he didn't do as what he did, he was fired from the films Cleopatra, Porgy and Bess, and Laura. He did direct Silk Stockings with Fred Astaire, Dr Jekyll with Fredric March, as well as The Mark of Zorro and Blood and Sand.)

In the scene above you'll discover some the film's notable innovations in both music and film editing. Most remarkable is its complex and sophisticated music editing, presaging the digital age by nearly an eon. Looped rhythms, which are now so de rigueur in this age of Pro-Tools, may've gotten their debut here. This scene not only predates Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon by 41 years (drum looping first came of age in the Disco era), but also preceded Musique concrète by 10 to 15 years, at least. (And as far Hip hop is concerned, even its progenitors' great-grandfathers were yet to be zygotes.)

Credit to the blog where I discovered the film: http://connormartinsmith.blogspot.com/

Friday, March 18, 2011

For those whom the "he" is always lowercase

In a world of stories, the wags always win:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The indiscreet charm of Billy Preston

He was the child prodigy who played with Mahalia Jackson at age 10, Nat King Cole at 11, portrayed W.C. Handy as a child in film at 12, backed Sam Cooke and Little Richard by 16, and then had that little stint as the "Fifth Beatle" at 23.

That's the résumé; The legacy of Billy Preston we can write for ourselves. Mine would include his Clavinet-standard studio improv "Outa-Space," those iconic electric piano performances from the "Let It Be" sessions, his surprisingly creative piano work on the Stones' career-twilight albums, a canon of hit-worthy compositions under his own name, and the countless other classic contributions he made across the rock and roll era.

But playing is only part of his story: It's been argued that his gregarious and infectious personality was at least partly responsible for holding together the centrifugal egos of John, Paul, and George during the "Let It Be" sessions. You don't get to play with as many greats as Preston unless you've a substantial personality. But what resonates most about the legacy of musicianship, I believe, is his obvious and deep love of playing; It's the irreducible component of truth in all great musicians' art. See this in action along with a jubilant and manic energy that rises to escape velocity levels in this 1969 performance from "The Concert for Bangladesh":

Also on the bill were Dylan, Clapton, George Harrison, Leon Russell, and Badfinger. It was often written that Billy stole the show; That was probably an understatement.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Loves Metallica, hates self

If you're a Metallica fan, low self-esteem may not be your only problem: Add social awkwardness and a predisposition for slacking into the mix as well. (For this, you may not want to wear your fading "Tour 1998" shirt to your next job interview.)

The source: A study out of Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University in 2008 looking to gain insight into our musical tastes and how the content of our iPod may correlate with that of our character. The study also claimed to have collected data on the largest sample ever taken: 36,518 subjects were queried on 104 different musical styles before taking a personality test. If you can imagine the legions of marketers drooling over this bumper trove then you won't be surprised to learn researchers already considered the possibility. The study's author Professor Adrian North notes:

"If you know a person's music preference you can tell what kind of person they are, who to sell to.
There are obvious implications for the music industry who are are worried about declining CD sales." [Facebook users have already seen this in action.]

Also: "One of the most surprising things [discovered in the study] is the similarities between fans of classical music and heavy metal. They're both creative and at ease but not outgoing.... The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and of being a danger to themselves and society in general. But they are quite delicate things."

Take that fans of Slayer: You fragile flowers. (As, apparently, are also fans of Chart Pop and Soulsters but the Prof. seems to single out Metal in particular.)

If you're into Radiohead, according to the Prof. you're no better than the Metallica fan: I.e., if you overcame the unlikelihood of snagging a girlfriend then you're probably living off her as well (socially awkward and loath to work). And while your self-esteem may be pitiable, you're not as delicate as the Metallica fan; Instead, in the parlance of the study, you're "not gentle" (whatever that means).

Country fans, on the other hand, besides leaning overwhelmingly Republican (that's my own bit of data, the study doesn't mention political affiliations), they're hard working and outgoing. (This could partly explain the popularity of the Southern mullet.)

And though most Jazz fans are known for their musical snobbery, the study claims they have high self-esteem, are creative, outgoing, and at ease. Classical lovers are shy and just about every musical category gets credited for having fans that are "creative." All, i.e., except one: Chart Pop. (Sorry little Gaga Monsters!)

As to why a slacker is drawn to Metal and a hard worker to Country will,
alas, have to wait for another study. Also no mention of how music tastes inform dress or what your chances of joining a terror cell
are if your ears delight in maqâmât modes. Or: What to make of our iPod playlists larded up with music that crosses genres? (Heaven forbid!) Can't wait to see those studies. In the meantime, we'll have to suffice with the exploitation of our shopping habits.

For a list of some of categories and how they stack up go here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Jethro Tull Story

Tights + flute =
Rock & roll?


The Jethro Tull Story is a poem by Steven Caratzas, 2005.
See this and other eight word works by the author here: The Blog of Lewd Enlightement.

Once, Ian Anderson made a generation of guitar-worshipping teens respect the flute,
truly. The same kids who might've thought a flautist was someone who just spurned convention. The author of the poem above notes that you'd probably have to be at least 45+ to know who Jethro Tull is. Maybe. (Younger for those who didn't hate their parents or their record collections.)

[Sigh.] Alas, my culture is dying. (Now, the devil doesn't bother with guitars; It's all Auto-Tune.)

As you may remember, Jethro Tull was a band that'd amassed respectable chart and touring success as well as several hit singles. Many of the albums from their early period are considered classic. In 1970, early in the careers of both bands, Jethro Tull toured with The Eagles. At the time "We Used to Know" was a regular feature of their set. According to Anderson, the two bands didn't get on much together, musically or otherwise. Later, The Eagles would write and record the not dissimilar "Hotel California." In the beginning Anderson discounted the resemblance saying there's no such thing as a new chord change and any similarities between the songs were likely coincidental. In later interviews, perhaps after the "Hotel" composers collected their first billion, Anderson was less sanguine.

Scroll the video to 2:05 for the song to begin.

In a 2009 Guitar World interview Anderson implied that though the melodies are different, the verse chord sequence of "Hotel California" and "We Used to Know" is identical. As we know, long before there was electronic sampling, borrowing and outright stealing was a time honored tradition of song composition. (Only recently have lawyers made things more complicated.) But chord changes alone do not a song make. Then again, when you see your chord sequence cruise by in a Bentley while you're still riding the bus of pop chartdom, well, I suppose it's easy to be bitter.

Maybe all Anderson was asking for was a little inspirational gratitude.

"We Used to Know" is a wonderful song in its own right; "Hotel California" clearly took a chunk of it, added a different melody, a chorus, and a bit of florid guitar noodling in the beginning and end. It'd be these changes that would inspire the mainstream hordes to open their macramed wallets and allow a couple of laid back, bell bottom-wearing savants to snatch a vulgar fortune.

Ain't those the breaks?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Greatest Live Performance in the History of Rock Music!

If measuring such a thing were even possible.

This bold claim was made according to the votes of more than "60 artists, journalists and music industry executives" based on this performance from Live Aid in 1985. Utterly "Dionysian," according to one critic. But what must've really piqued their pointy heads were the sheer numbers of clapping hands and ringing voices from this audience of 75,000. Watch as they go ga-ga along with Freddy in this video compilation of some of the greatest moments from the Greatest Live Performance, etc:

I myself saw Queen onstage during their Day at the Races period. Hearing Bohemian performed to a taped chorus, even with Freddy fronting, was less of an experience than I was hoping for. I thought that even a truncated version of the song would've been the better choice (which they did above). Other bands of the period that would tour with large ensembles, such as orchestras, found themselves quickly going broke. Taped, quasi-Karaoke presentations pale in authenticity even when compared to Vegas jukebox fare like "We Will Rock You". In doing this Freddy presaged generations of canned performances soon to follow: e.g. the mall tours of Debbie Gibson and Tiffany and the virtual singers Britney Spears and Kanye West. By then onstage spectacle obliterated the musical shorthand. A couple of years after my Queen experience a friend would drag me to see Beatlemania. (For those who don't remember: Beatlemania was a live re-creation of Fab Four music played by four musically inclined actors/acting inclined musicians in period costumes all standing before a projected back drop of dated newsy memes. The version I saw even had Paul look-alike playing left hand bass.) The lesson of Beatlemania's success was that however off the mark the show was musically, it was a live performance first and foremost. In Beatlemania's case, it was as close to the real thing as most of us would ever get. The live performance aspect also gave the music a certain amount of heart, however forced, which was just enough for audiences needed to buy the premise. Not long after, MTV's Unplugged would offer even more proof: Audiences crave authenticity, even if it comes by standards less than they remembered. (The post-classic Rolling Stones figured this out a long time ago.)