Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 10

94) T. Rex, The Slider: Originally a part of a duo called Tyrannosaurus Rex, Marc Bolan was discovered sitting barefoot on a club stage by legendary producer Tony Visconti. The folky duo played on instruments found in dumpsters. T. Rex's sound was imbued with a quintessentially British skew, something that always appealed to my inner anglophile. Marc Bolan's voice had the quality of being both boyishly innocent and strangely otherworldly while also remaining completely unpretentious in a kind of pretentious way. This quality also explained his pseudo-psychedelic lyrics (I could never understand the wind at all/was like a ball of luh-uh-ove). Tony Visconti's production constructed a monstrous sound––layers of compressed fuzz toned guitar, strings, Flo and Eddie's superb background vocals, with a vibe and tempo that whispered of too-many-tokes and crisps. If this was the British 70s version of bubblegum pop, then the Brits were spoiled. For me, The Slider is a miniature symphonic masterpiece.

The Slider by T. Rex on Grooveshark

95) The Stooges, Down on the Street, Dirt: If you, like me, were a kid reading Creem magazine back in the day (it's long gone now), you were informed of its constant hagiographic praise of the Stooges. Had you heard the first album you might've also been left a little baffled. It had moments, to be sure, but there was still a long way to go. With Funhouse that hagiography was justified. This record is a sonic Michaelangelo mud pie. The guitar is crude and right on the mark, the lyrics were imaginistic and inchoate in that middle-school-dropout-savant kind of way, and no band of the punk era had a rhythm section even worthy of wiping this one's hessian bottom. If you've ever seen Iggy live then you know that he operates almost entirely on ecstatic impulse, a quality that could describe the band's compositional style too: An amazing album of dirty and dumb magic.

Down On The Street (Remastered LP Version) by The Stooges on Grooveshark

Once, there was talk of a post-Morrison Doors with an Iggy replacement – a flippin' genius idea, but alas. Here's a sprinkling of some fake Manzarek keyboards on top to give a hint of what might've been.

Down on the Street (bonus single mix) by The Stooges on Grooveshark

And a cover version that's pretty good too:

Down On The Street By The Stooges by Rage Against the Machine on Grooveshark

 And Dirt, another masterpiece of the defiant low self-esteem category:

Dirt by The Stooges on Grooveshark

96) The O'Jays, For the Love of Money: It'd be easy to let Donald Trump throw piss all over this, a song about the evils of money lust that The Donald would hold up as a business model, but don't do it. If for no other reason because it has the funkiest, rocked up plectrum bass line you'll ever hear and a breadth of production genius that's wider than the lapels of the group's pimp-style suits. And their voices were some of the best rasps in the business: Much too good for even Trump to abuse away the charm.

For the Love of Money by Love and Money on Grooveshark

97) Thelonious Monk, Rhythm-A-Ning: Probably the most apt song title ever bestowed. Monk's chords are like little tonal explosions that might happen if you were hitting the keys with a cluster of chopsticks. And nobody perforated a rhythm with a funky hundred little tonal bullet holes like Monk. His playing is the quintessential demonstration of the innovative possibilities when the sophisticated collides with the crudely simple and all the while respecting the succinct in a way jazz rarely does. He may be banging the grand instrument of the salon but it still sounds like he's dancing in front of the bonfire. You most definitely don't have to be a jazzer to dig what this cat was blowing.

Rhythm-A-Ning by Thelonious Monk on Grooveshark

98) Ennio Morricone, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and others: It's impossible to imagine Sergio Leone without this tweaked Italian voice rising in the background. A voice that could sing beautifully––like Cinema Paradiso––or absurdly––like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly––and kill both with equal skill. It's his more absurd work that made him the darling of the cool avant garde. But at the bottom of it all was that sound, a stridently tuneful siren tainted with our own nightmares and always immediately recognizable of its creator. See also The Sicilian and The Man with the Harmonica.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly by Ennio Morricone on Grooveshark

99) Dwight Twilley Band, Sincerely album: Rock, as much as any form of music, at its most successful is a kind of alchemy; a few basic chords––some version of I-IV-V, generally––and finding a melody within that straw that only a few true wizards can spin into gold. Melody being that elusive element that true Olympians can use to tase us directly into our auditory cortices. Dwight Twilley was one of those Olympians. Over the expanse of his long career he's written many an earworm worthy tune but the initial two proper Dwight Twilley Band albums, those with Phil Seymour and brilliant guitarist Billy Pitcock IV, were the stuff of the purest gold. Twilley and Seymour's voices together were honey with a bite and Pitcock's guitar always found some invention in the spaces of the songs he inhabited. Their power pop may've weighted a little too heavily on the nostalgia for the kind of massive appeal they deserved, but even all these years later this ca. 1975 album hasn't withered an iota. The truest wizardry is always ageless.

I'm On Fire by Dwight Twilley Band on Grooveshark

I'm on Fire was a radio hit that should've ignited a string of 'em but unfortunately the disasterous business practices of the record company seemed to sabotage them at evey opportunity. Below, the brilliant title tune from the album below: Dig the backwards Beatlesesque guitar.

100) Benny Goodman, Sing Sing Sing (with a Swing): This is rock and roll about 20 years too soon, a 1937 recording of the Louis Prima tune played by a Goodman's star-studded band that included a 17 year old Gene Krupa on the tribal drums. It may also be the era's 12 inch version as this one clocks in at near Free Bird length of over eight minutes which apparently was something not typical of the time. Here, the length only gives more time for the dynamics to build. The quality of the recording may sound a little bronze age-ish but this is swing turned up to 11.

Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing) by Benny Goodman on Grooveshark

101) Jimi Hendrix, Loose Ends: Hendrix has probably been the victim of more vault rape that any other artist in the history of recorded exploitation. Fortunately, there doesn't seem to have been much junk left behind in his unfinished canon as his posthumous releases have been mostly good. This record is especially notable because of the sort of behind the scenes snapshots it reveals of the dude himself. Hear him goof on Heartbreak Hotel and then give drummer Buddy Miles some ill-fated instructions that are contradictory at best. And nobody did throwaway jams for the ages like Hendrix. If there is a heaven, they would've pitched their lyre harps and heraldic trumpets for a Strat and Marshall stack when Hendrix arrived. And if there's no Hendrix in heaven, I won't go.

The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam's Dice by Jimi Hendrix on Grooveshark

102) Phil Manzanera, Miss Shapiro: An Eno/Manzanera collaboration from 1975 that sounds like both and neither which I suppose is what a good collaboration should sound like. A great opening guitar riff by Manzanera and quintessential Eno lyrics (Dalai llama lama puss puss/Stella marls missa nobis/Miss a dinner Miss Shapiro/Shampoos pot-pot pinkies pampered/Movement hampered like at christmas/Ha-ha isn't life a circus) buffed up with some sprinklings of prog shellac and a thick miasma of a future New Wave yet to come. It's also curious to see how much more interesting a guitar player Manzanera was when he wasn't  punching the clock for Bryan Ferry. A long neglected gem, this one is.

103) X, Los Angeles: The harmonies here can be jaggy and askew up––off by a mile and yet just where they ought to be. Billy Zoom's guitar is a smiling travel-sized version of Link Wray and at the time I wasn't entirely convinced his old school playing was the answer for X, but to me now it sounds perfectly appropriate. It provides a nice foil to John Doe's three chord seizures, Exene's feline wail, The Doors references, and a lyrical anger that was far more sophisticated than your typical punk era band. Also, X takes the traditional country duet, straps on some harder chords while jacking the tempos up and in the process brings it to a new, hipper urban space. One of the best band's of the punk era.

Los Angeles (Dangerhouse Version) by X. on Grooveshark

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Best Coin Ever Spent"

It's been argued that flash mobs are played out. They're passé and overdone to the point of irrelevancy. This point of view suggests that nothing is legitimate once it trends: Bull pucky. The Ode to Joy segment of Beethoven's 9th is such an essentially simple yet ultimately beautiful, poignant, and uplifting piece of music, to see it played on the street for the commons and not in some elitist salon or concert hall makes it all the better. The fact that Ludwig could only imagine this music and never had the ability to hear it in the atmosphere only makes it a more of a dewy-eyed experience.

Sure, maybe the whole idea "Best Coin Ever Spent" is quaint and corny, but this is corn of the highest quality, popped and candy-coated. It also suggests that maybe with a whole lot more corniness the world could be a much better place.

I'd like to think so.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Patti Smith: The patron saint of leaving home

Rock and roll was the canopy of our cultural voice. [It was] striving to be a universal language... To be an artist was to see what others could not. Patricia Lee "Patti" Smith

Years ago, Robert Fripp did a solo signing event for King Crimson in the record shop of his family village of Wimborne Minster, Dorset. Two lads from a fledgling band brought him their demo and were eager for suggestions on how to make it in the business. Fripp's advice: Have you considered moving to London? Nobody goes trawling through the village greens looking for new talent, he said. They're not coming for you; Go to them.

Patti Smith knew this. And if even in that moment when she boarded the train from South Jersey to New York City she wasn't sure what the question was, she knew that to be in the throbbing heart of the dirty city was the only answer. Her Catholic girl's version of the Siddharthrian tale of leaving home is as much at the heart of her National Book Award winning Just Kids as her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Despite the difficulties and privations she would inevitably encounter, including sleeping on the streets, she never considered going back. This aspect of Just Kids makes for the much more interesting story.

Whether you have any interest in Patti Smith, her music, writings, etc. or not––or even Robert Mapplethorpe––it doesn't matter; anyone who's ever wanted to leave the stifling cozy of the 'burbs for the big dirty city will understand. If you need celebrity markers, she's got 'em: she drops marquee names like starvation pounds––Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol––and her own little black book of exes is equally impressive––Jim Carroll, Allen Lanier (Blue Öyster Cult), Sam Shephard. As both artist and muse her ability to be in the right place at the right time proves nearly preternatural. Though, as readers will learn, every door the universe pushes open for her was earned by extreme dedication. This is one of the book's two most important lessons; The other: To never make a Plan B.

Interestingly, for young travelers of today Smith advises not to bother with New York. The Disney-fied city is not the place it once was for artists. And speaking of Disney-fication, she's presently developing Just Kids as a screenplay. As for the book itself, the story begins somewhere after high school and ends as Smith's legitimate musical career begins when she's signed by Clive Davis. Beyond the celebrity names and its supplement to the lore of the 60s and New York City, it was at Mapplethorpe's urging that she write the story. Mapplethorpe, for his part, was mostly a rake. The fact that he stayed back at the apartment while she paid the rent is another retelling of the drummer's girlfriend tale. The fact that he could love her without all the messiness of sexual attraction is his only saving grace. That, and his apparent talent. Had he not been such an early casualty of the AIDS era, it's possible that Mapplethorpe's star may've burned brighter, certainly longer. Now, 30 years later, his work still holds its market value. In the visual language of his photographs, the bleeding testicle and the calla lily are aesthetically equivalent. Content-wise, his particular brand of celebrity portraiture, fascination with S and M and drag, and his tonally obsessed nudes may all be a little footnote heavy (a mix of Edward Weston, Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Baroque era still lifes, and classical statuary). The trail he is most credited with blazing is in his treatment of sadomasochistic subject matter. He pulled it out of the aura of spectacle and approached it as clinically and affectionately as any Baroque painter's still life. Many critics, like The Guardian, have gushed over him. His flower pictures are certainly fetish beautiful and he definitely deserves full credit for elevating the image of Smith's unsmiling visage to the iconic.

Of the many pre-rock goddess jobs Smith held, perhaps most significant was her scribing for CREEM magazine. Many of CREEM's writers have since become legendary––Lester Bangs, Cameron Crowe––and others would come to define the form itself––Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, Richard Meltzer, Lisa Robinson. Just about anybody who was anybody among the critic-arati appeared in its pages (even Smith bandmate Lenny Kaye). Anyone reading CREEM in the 70s would've seen gallons of unctuous ink spent on Smith. The release of Horses was practically heralded in its pages. Though, their zealotry may've had an element of the self-serving purpose of aggrandizing one of their own (other of its writers would join bands themselves, notably Richard Meltzer [VOM] and Lester Bangs [Birdland, The Delinquents] with far less promising results). What Smith did offer the world, and what the critics may've loved most about her, was not just her passion and commitment for her own work but her healthy respect for the tradition of rock and roll they were writing about.

As an artist, Smith borrowed heavily from this tradition as the basis for her own music. In the book she explains how she sees rock standards as the lingua franca of our time. As side one of Horses begins with the stunning opening line "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine" which she then alloys onto Van Morrison's much familiar Gloria chorus as if she were sourcing Shakespeare or the Bible. It was a trick Smith would employ often, revisiting songs like Hey Joe, Land of a Thousand Dances, Time Is on my Side, So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star, My Generation, and Smells Like Teen Spirit and treating them all like a foundation for the rebuilding of the rock temple while adding new lines of her own. Despite the hallowed praise from the press, some of her own heros were less sanguine: While Smith often spoke eloquently of the significance of The Rolling Stones, The Stones didn't repay the favor––Mick Jagger would famously say he didn't care much for her.

Patti Smith may've been our truest psychedelic professor, our deepest poetic rock and roll encyclopedia, and one of the best theorists from the inside we've ever had. Just Kids formally establishes Patti Smith as one of her generation's elder statespersons and an invaluable cultural resource. Fortunately for us, she survived to tell the tale.

I can't wait for the next book.

Download: Hey Joe (A-side of Piss Factory single, 1974)
Download: My Generation (Live @ the Bottom Line w/ John Cale, 1975)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Robert Fripp on the mystery:

For me art is the capacity to experience one's innocence. Craft is how you get to that point. Maturity in a musician would be the point at which one is innocent at will. At that point the relationship between the music and the musician is direct and reliable. 

The relationship with the music is always mysterious. When it works you can never tell, you can never guarantee that it's going to work. You can only put yourself in a place where it's more likely to happen.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"The strange story behind 'Strange Fruit'"

The story behind Strange Fruit––one of my favorite songs of all time (I make a brief case for it here)––despite its subject matter, is a rather sweet one. Go to the NPR page here:

If you haven't seen the video of Billie Holiday singing this make sure you do, it's moving. (See it at the above link.) The way she snarls her lips at the right moments and absorbs some of the pain of the lynched into her face, it's something. Holiday fan Joni Mitchell said, "many of the so-called great singers love their notes more than their text..." Maybe, but Billie loved them both.

Here's another story NPR did on the emotional power of a Billie Holiday song:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bryan Ferry and Shameless

The song title may be a little too apt when considering this. In any event at 66, Ferry's voice, while completely transformed into something other than what it once was, sounds magnificent––ragged and restrained and cooler than ever.

In an interview Ferry gave in the years before his most recent marriage (and after his £10 million divorce, the most expensive in British history––#2 was Jagger's payout to Jerry Hall), while he was dating a 21 year old dancer from his stage act, he spoke of his good fortune of being in a business like music that allowed him access to people from various age groups. As it turned out, he preferred not to hang with other 60 year olds like himself.

Thank heavens for those little blue pills.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 9

83) Roxy Music, Remake Re-model: The first Roxy album was something special. Back then Ferry's croon contained some actual spit and wasn't the pomaded warble we'd later come to love. Eno and Andy Mackay added layers of uniquely fruitful tension––Eno with his Dada science fiction (his flourishes are particularly brilliant here) and Mackay with a touch of a-yob-goes-to-Cotton-Club lacquer (and no one, NO ONE, brought the oboe like Mackay)––after the first two LPs and Eno's departure things got smoother: more great records would follow but thicker polish replacing raggedier edges. And then smoother still for the 80s output. Still, every corner of their sound was uniquely theirs all the way down to the fabulous beats of Paul Thompson and their take on girly record covers. This is what sexy eccentricity should sound like.

Re-Make/Re-Model by Roxy Music on Grooveshark

84) Can, Mother Sky: A salty German sound experiment beginning in the late 60s that'd turn hipster namecheck by the 80s (don't hold it against them): Yoo Doo Right e.g. providing hipster cred to a number of alt bands wanting to prove the coolness of their record collections. I stumbled on Can as their record blared from one of those now long gone Sunset Boulevard elephantine record outlets. I was hooked immediately. Their cool-bordering-on-cold sound is like a breeze coming down the German Alps. Their improvised ditties drip with a healthy serving of psychedelic barbecue sauce and a hint of jazzy phrasing but not too much. It's a formula that other bands, like ELP, could clone into bloated run-throughs of self-indulgent bombast but Can manages with self-restraint. Mother Sky may be long but it earns every second of its length (probably owing to their German efficiency) and may also contain the epitome of cool psychedelic melody lines. Their lyrics sometimes read like movie dialogue in Chinese-English translations but that's OK, it only makes their brand more Dadaesque. My nine year-old daughter heard this playing in the car recently and remarked that it sounded like old time music––1970, actually, which for her may as well be the ice age. Yeah, well call me a neanderthal. I dig it.

Mother Sky (from Deep End) by Can on Grooveshark

Here's a "blistering" live version from German television in 1970.

85) The Geraldine Fibbers, Toybox: The Fibbers were described as a fusion of "American roots music and blues influenced punk" and "alt country," which is probably correct in some cases but not here. Nels Cline's guitar takes the wheel and strapped in for the ride is Carla Bozulich's hairy vocal rendering and a few well sculpted screams that together turn this glittering nugget into a rage of fearsome power. I love this song––love love love it––and the album Butch from whence it came is as classic as it was unnoticed. The jittery lyrics tell of a pubescent girl torn between the new obligations of a changing body and a daddy falling apart. (Listen to the whole album here and ask why didn't I know about this before?) And I can't say enough about the phaser-set-to-kill of Nels Cline's guitar. There could never be a Butch II. This was an unique moment in time, un-reenactable, kind of like that angry sex you had with your ex-girlfriend when you're really hating each other and yet somehow yields a tantric-length orgasm. Just be glad it happened once and move on.

Toybox by The Geraldine Fibbers on Grooveshark

86) Booker T. and the M.G.'s, Hang 'em High: The M.G.'s were always smooth, suave, succinct, not too spicy but always right to the point. They were the model of unpretentiousness. This song, though, is a little out of their usual range. The melody is more narrative and Booker T.'s organ is like a zen calliope running Wagner rolls. No one massages the Leslie speaker better. The melody is short but the band makes every refrain count. The Hammond has too often been the instrumental vector of musical misdeeds but I can promise you that Booker T. will make you love it again.

87) Earth, Wind and Fire, Mighty Mighty: My memories of this song begin the day my best friend and his two brothers jumped up from the floor when this came on the radio and proceeded to dance their fool asses off. (I didn't join in.) My friend and his brothers were black. I mention this only because I tried to imagine anyone else and their brothers jumping up to dance so ecstatically together and I couldn't. Even if they were preparing for an audition for the revival of Oh! Calcutta!, it still wouldn't happen. Cultural proclivities aside, it's easy to imagine how this song might inspire otherwise manly men to dance like fools: it's one nasty groove. Plus, Philip Bailey's voice goes into some mad whistle tones that could crack Mariah Carey's ovaries––I kid you not. In its pre-disco days, EWF's marriage of ecstatic funk lite and R&B juiced up with horn and rhythm sections tighter than Cee Lo's cummerbund was the sh*t. It didn't get anymore ecstatic than Mighty Mighty. I've seen its potency firsthand and it can shoot some serious dilly voodoo straight into your onion.

Mighty Mighty by Earth, Wind & Fire on Grooveshark

88) Billy Preston, Outa Space: Always loved the language of a cool instrumental and sadly the instrumental golden age is now way behind us. Only very rarely does one ever sneak into our pop music consciousness anymore (La Valse D'Amelie probably being the only recent example). Preston is arguably the grandmaster of the Clavinet and legend has it that Outa Space was an improv that he was calling out the changes to the band on the fly. One of those rare moments where the thumbnail is the masterpiece. For its full effect the Clavinet demanded a plucky kind of technique which gets a turbocharge with a wah-wah and it's a technique that Billy nails with a railroad spike. Still as fresh and space age as it ever was.

Outa-Space by Billy Preston on Grooveshark

89) Eno, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy): Eno may've been a forefather of electronica but his 70s output was comparatively organic and live. His process, utilitzing a philosophical trick bag he called Oblique Strategies, involved chance and random conceits to force creative solutions, something completely foreign in the age of Pro-Tools. For his greatest glories, Eno's electronics only added color and texture and maybe some vibe but were usually part of a larger collaboration. To wit: Third Uncle is gizmo free and the vibe is all real time and carbon space; Back in Judy's Jungle is also loaded with ingenious analog layers in a completely different way. The strategy paid dividends in his lyric writing too. The whole album is an explosion of subtle brilliance. Eno's output includes much greatness but it was never so concentrated as it was on Tiger Mountain.

Back in Judy's Jungle by Brian Eno on Grooveshark

Third Uncle by Brian Eno on Grooveshark

90) The Lounge Lizards, Do the Wrong Thing; Big Heart, Stink (from the Get Shorty soundtrack): This is jazz played by cats who grew up with rock and roll, or more precisely No Wave, movie soundtracks, various avant garde scronk, and probably some Can and Beefheart. Fake jazz is what the maestro John Lurie called it which is close enough: more jazzy than jazz. Whatever it is, it's a downtown Dagwood sandwich chock full of strange meat of unknown provenance. Lurie's sax isn't technical but his astute ear always finds some little pocket of wonder that holds a few golden coins. A currency that carries through all his work, be it the Lizards or his soundtracks. If such magic requires an outsized personality––of which this article makes an exhaustive case (if it's to be believed, Lurie and his friends say don't), as does his quirky and short lived show Fishing with John––then Lurie has got it in spades.

The Lizards never got their due. That's a shame.

Do The Wrong Thing by The Lounge Lizards on Grooveshark

Big Heart by The Lounge Lizards on Grooveshark

Stink by John Lurie on Grooveshark

91) Santana, Everything's Coming Our Way: Hippy dippy latin uplift from 1971 with ladlefuls of conga grease and deep fried together in a batter of smooth organ and Santana's long-tone guitar. Here the band eschews the Tito Puente and goes for a kind of paisley Hendrix with the maestro singing (and, surprisingly, his falsetto kills). Sure, Santana's sound is so much a part of the furniture of industrial rock radio its practically archetypal, but archetypal like a burrito––you could eat it a thousand times and still want another one tomorrow. And this one is just so damn full of optimism––the musical equivalent of a couple of uncut lines.

Everything's Coming Our Way by Santana on Grooveshark

92) Dizzy Gillespie, Night in Tunisia: Sure, it's like the "Stairway to Heaven" of jazz for popularity, written in 1942 in kind of pasteurized milky version of bebop with a little Afro-Cuban pepperiness––simple and safe but colorful jazzers might say, as if there's something wrong with that. Let the geeks quibble, this tune is so cool it's almost impossible to mess up, even through countless reworkings. No matter who does it, it seems to bring out the best in everyone. It's a democratizer and that's pretty cool if you ask me.

Jazz Masters by Dizzy Gillespie on Grooveshark

93) Artie Shaw and his orchestra, One Foot in the Groove: This is what rawked the bobby-soxers ca. 1939. My dad was a Shaw fanboy until his dying day, having dropped the needle on Shaw's records since the time they were 78s (about 60 years). As for this song, I'm a sucker for repeated phrases spread out over chord changes. It's an elemental vibrational buzz that probably goes back to our cave dwelling days––one dude carves eight holes in his flute while the other guy's mud god told him it was more righteous with one and, voilà, jazz was born.

The song also may also be the essential showcase on what was best about the big band era: Listen as each reiteration of the song gets a different color treatment along the way––trombones one time, saxes the next, some sexy low grooving followed next by some growling love-call brass. They could blow 100 choruses and change it up every time.

And then there's the cat of Shaw himself. He must've oozed some kind of cool because this guy who looked like an insurance salesman managed to marry two of the butteriest omega babes of the swing era, Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. (His bedpost was notched with "an array of America's best sexual trophies.") This eight-time married swinger could also be an abusive a**hole. (He allegedly drove Lana Turner to a nervous breakdown. Babes love their bastards, don't they?) And he treated his audience no better, famously calling them a "bunch of morons."And just to prove that old age could soften no edge on this rough diamond, he'd accuse clarinet colleague Benny Goodman of basically being retarded. Along the way this middle school dropout studied advanced mathematics, became the #4 ranked marksmen in the US, hung with the communists during the McCarthy years, wrote three novels (Terry Southern was a fan), fronted one of the first small combos with electric guitar, was said to be "one of the greatest musicians that has ever lived" by no less than Ray Charles, was one of the first to bring latin sounds north (FrenesiCarioca), and just generally freebased on his own stubborn awesomeness. As a bandleader and player he's considered one of the best of the era––and most erratic which may explain why he abruptly stopped playing forever in 1954: He was an inveterate perfectionist, a self-described "difficult man," as much Axel Rose as da Vinci. His claimed reason for giving up music was because that after attaining mastery, what could he do but slide downhill? (Goodman for his part died with a clarinet in his mouth.)

Like so many who're abandoned by their fathers at an early age, Shaw would return the favor by walking out on his own kids and everything else he loved. Fortunately, he blew the clarinet long enough to bring my dad some happy.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I Got You Babe

From a time when our planet just had more:

Bowie at the peak of his hair and Marianne's voice newly ravaged.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Alvin Lee and the Conservative Top 10

Alvin Lee, founder and figurehead of Ten Years After, died recently. He was 68. The only information available so far has been on his website: "With great sadness we have to announce that Alvin unexpectedly passed away early this morning after unforeseen complications following a routine surgical procedure." Indeed, as the old joke goes, a hospital is no place for a sick person.

In the era of blues guitar gods Lee was certainly one of the pantheon, AKA "Captain Speed Fingers." Ten Years After enjoyed considerable success from the period beginning with their appearance at Woodstock in 1969 until the departure of Lee in 1974. Some of their re-workings of blues standards are arguably definitive and many of their originals are near facsimiles of standards themselves. Lee remained musically active until the end. His latest album was released in 2012.

Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (Live) by Ten Years After on Grooveshark

One of These Days by Ten Years After on Grooveshark

Love Like A Man by Ten Years After on Grooveshark

Ten Years After recorded their signature I'd Love to Change the World following a change of record labels and musical direction. It turned out Lee would prefer their previous bluesier direction and soon left the band after. All around I'd Love to Change the World is their magnum opus: It contains one of the great guitar riffs of the era, is redolent with the counterculture gloss, and its interplay of acoustic and electric guitar with a hard finish is masterful. What it wasn't was an embrace of new world liberalism. In fact, I'd argue for its inclusion in any honest Top 10 of Conservative anthems. Look at song's first verse:
Everywhere is freaks and hairies
Dykes and fairies, tell me where is sanity
Tax the rich, feed the poor
'Til there are no rich no more
I'd love to change the world
But I don't know what to do
So I'll leave it up to you

I'd Love to Change the World by Ten Years After on Grooveshark

Not exactly a paean to tolerance and brotherly love one would expect of the era. For some reason, the media never took Lee to task for his Nugent-like sentiments. Even the song's chorus seems to resigned to a cynical "why bother?" (So I'll leave it up to you.)

For a comparison look at National Review's Top 50 of Conservative anthems. Scanning the list, it'd be easy to think that Conservatives, at The Review anyway, don't do irony. Take the example of Springsteen's Born in the USA used at various Republican rallies (until The Boss offered a cease and desist) as a case in point. In fact, the list's frequent misreading of the songwriter's intent may seem to border on the delusional. Like in the choice of Tammy Wynette's Stand By Your Man: Most likely included for inspiring the ire of feminists (also a fave among drag queens). They must've missed the song's up-to-the-neck ironic contrast to the realities of four-time divorceé and spousal punching-bag Wynette's actual life. (A serially abused wife suggesting stand by your man? What next––relationship modeling from Rihanna?) You might forgive them their naïveté since rock really isn't Conservative's territory anyway––that, of course, would be country. 

So in that light, here are some suggestions for an Alternative Conservative Top Ten;  (Blue is where The National Review's and my choices agree.):

1) I'd Love to Change the World, Ten Years After

2) Give Me Back My Bullets, Lynyrd Skynyrd: An anti-gun control anthem that offers a laundry list of a dead end job working man's angers and makes the case: as long as you can shoot those who'd piss you off, there's reason to live. The narrator argues for guns as the low-life's great equalizer (which is pretty much Wayne La Pierre's argument) after admitting to drinking enough whiskey "to float a battleship around" and wanting to shoot a "pencil-pushing" bureaucrat as much as look at them. This isn't exactly the most compelling argument, but to the zealous gun advocate, it's probably as good as any.

Give me Back my Bullets by Lynyrd Skynyrd on Grooveshark

3) Dog Eat Dog, Ted Nugent: It's a scary, scary world out there with different skinned people who would tear apart our society. Which, if you believe the Liberal Media, isn't happening at all. The Nuge has the 411.
Honorable Mention: Symphony of Destruction, Megadeth

Dog Eat Dog by Ted Nugent on Grooveshark

4) Bodies, Sex Pistols: About as virulently anti-choice as it gets: She just had an abortion/She was a case of insanity/Her name was Pauline, she lived in a tree/She was a no one who killed her baby... She was an animal/She was a bloody disgrace. A song about as forgiving as the name Rotten would imply. (Jeez, Johnny, she lives in a tree!)

Bodies by Sex Pistols on Grooveshark

5) Speak English or Die, Stormtroopers of Death (S.O.D.): Said to be written in the tongue-in-cheek voice of a character, Sargent D, and though I hope that's true it could get sticky for those not fluent in subtlety.

Speak English Or Die! by S.O.D. - Stormtroopers of Death on Grooveshark

6) Chapel of Love, The Dixie Cups: Let's see––Gee, I really love you; check, traditional marriage between opposite gendered people; check, wedding in a church (and not synagogue, mosque, ashram, temple, or tabernacle); check, all in the service to the Lord's only sanctified scaffolding for creating proper families––all check. Surely this must bring a tear to the righteously reactionary eye.

Chapel Of Love by The Dixie Cups on Grooveshark

7) Victoria, The Kinks: Though the first verse gives advanced warning that what follows could be satire, literalists might miss that and go directly to the sentimentally jingoistic view of an evergreen empire and monarchy. (As I've mentioned before––see the bottom of this post––too often a lyric's social critique is missed by the chorus's catchy headlines, as in Brown Sugar and Blitzkrieg Bop.) Americans have their own brand of empire and exceptionalism and Victoria fits right into that.
Honorable Mention: Twentieth Century Man, The Kinks (I'm a twentieth century man but I don't want to be here/you keep all your smart modern writers, I'll take William Shakespeare...)

Victoria by The Kinks on Grooveshark

8) 99 Problems, Jay-Z: The language here, while obviously being more urban slangy, isn't much different than the patriarchal tone of much of the Christian Right punditry including its overheated acquisitive capitalism. Aren't the various Conservative Christian discussions regarding keeping women in their place and the role of "gentle" corporal discipline for wifely transgressions (Hey, Sean Connery agrees!) just another way of saying bitch? It's a worldview we can only hope no longer suits Beyoncé's husband and Blue Ivy's dad.

Honorable Mentions: One Less Bitch, N.W.A. (the unrighteous gots to die, especially those Babylonian style 'hos); It's a Man's World, James Brown makes the same point if a bit more politely but no less troglodytically; Under My Thumb, The Rolling Stones; You Could Be Mine, Guns & Roses; and pretty much anything by KISS

Here's a 99 remix that's way better than the original:

9)  Momma Said Knock You OutLL Cool J: Bravado on overdrive, talking large trash like Fox News, and absolutely convinced of his own righteousness – doesn't that just about sum up the Right's approach to foreign policy and military spending? There was a poet who did a piece on the idea that when we say God Bless America the subtext is God Damn Everyone Else (or at best asking for divine indifference toward our neighbors). Walk not so softly and carry evermore big sticks – the message of American exceptionalism. Also, LL embodies the idea of stiff pecs as a career move a la Schwarzenegger, and shout outs to his jammy (handgun): LL could be Schwarzenegger II and, unlike his predecessor, he's American-born and a doable candidate for prez. Don't be surprised to learn that LL was a 2004 Republican convention attendee.
Honorable Mention: We Are the Champions, Queen; I'm the Greatest, Ringo

Momma Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J on Grooveshark

10) Lapdance, N*E*R*D: Politicians sound like strippers to me (ooh baby you want me?), That strippers could give politicians a run for their money in the false promise department I suppose is fair enough, though, all the damage strippers can do is to the wallets of a few selected chumps. Lapdance also argues for superiority through firepower and then like everything else on this list above, is rather short on the bleeding hearts and spiritual growth. Love the song, though.
Honorable Mention: Master of Puppets, Metallica; Government makes you an mindless, hobbled,  addicted drone of dependency, or something like that––an indictment of the welfare state, I guess. Metallica has been accused of being more anti-government before they got rich. Or maybe it was Napster.

Lapdance (feat. Lee Harvey & Vita) by N*E*R*D on Grooveshark

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pure Sweet Hell: Forgiving Sinéad O'Connor

Are Americans really more batsh*t than everyone else? There are, apparently, statistics:

Rates ranged from 26.4 percent of people in the United States to 8.2 percent of people in Italy. While Nigerians appeared to have the lowest prevalence of mental illness — 4.7 percent — the researchers think the actual number is likely much higher since residents of the violence-prone West African nation may be hesitant to confide in strangers.

We are not only the most religious culture in the first world––an aspect making us more like the third world––the U.S. also has one of the lowest thresholds for pseudoscience and alternate realities in the industrialized world. If anything you'd hope this would make us more compassionate but, alas, that is not human nature. Instead, Americans find lotsa LOLz in the humiliating public struggles of the unbalanced and mentally ill, especially when it comes to our public figures. While Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain––hell, even Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer––turn on the spit of their unburying pain (even as they attempt to re-inter it through drug use, overconfidence, whoremongering, or whatever the poison), we can only point and laugh. Sure, better them than us, but instead of opprobrium maybe the more appropriate response should be one of compassion.

And then there's Sinéad O'Connor: LiLo is but a rosebud compared to this sister. In addition to famously struggling with disorders, public ridicule, and a horrid upbringing that made her life and career a Roman-scaled struggle spectacle, O'Connor has had the burden of raising four children as a single parent. (If you recall, Sheen and Love had theirs taken away and Cobain couldn't be bothered.) And, remember all the grief O'Connor got for tearing up that image of the John Paul II? Seems kind of prescient now, don't it?

Anyway, she's lived her life authentically and unashamedly, if tragically. If anything she deserves a heap of our respect. The girl's proven herself a courageous warrior. Nothing in her life has kept her down for too long. We should all be so strong. A very detailed and highly recommended overview of her life can be seen in this excellent blog post at The Writer's Life. Read it and feel the added layers of heartbreak and overtone it brings to a song like this:

Thank you for breaking my heart
Thank you for tearing me apart
Now I've a strong, strong heart
Thank you for breaking my heart 

Oh man, if that ain't a potential bag o' tears. Whatever she lacks in technique she surely makes up for in encyclopedic subtext. You'll never hear an eyes downward, introverted whisper of a song given as much affecting magnitude as it is here. Even in a hush the emotional scars of her voice don't compromise any emotion. Her face and those voluminous eyes––the epitome of a travelogue composed on a very hard road indeed.

My hibernophile parents, who in their lives spent all of a week in Ireland, named their second son (i.e. me) Danny––and this is where any resemblance between the song and me ends. They've also been known to get slobbery when Danny Boy's high notes ring. Of course, with all of its sentimental woe and death and loving you so it's no doubt what the song was designed to do. My dad loved the Ray Price version but here O'Connor gives it her powerful signature understatement:

They still won't cut her any slack. I say, bless you sister and fer cryin' out loud fare thee well. You've earned it.