Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Joey Ramone (and Others) Do John Cage

John Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. He was also a pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments. Some of his compositions include playing 12 radios at once tuned to different stations (Imaginary Landscape No 4), sitting at a piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds and playing nothing (4'33"), and a piece that used the sounds of shells and water (Water Music). Here is the composer playing an amplified cactus and other plants with a feather. One critic likened the experience of listening to John Cage's music to chewing sand. Having experienced a performance of a Cage program at MoMA one summer and watched as someone slapped different locations on a closed piano with their hands, I'd say silly could be another description. Some of his more conventional music can be beautiful if challenging. The pleasures tend to be rather subtle and his pieces lengthy. Cage does not write songs.

Explaining his art, Cage suggested that music as traditionally practiced is a sound—an art of space rather than time a la Duchamp—that is self-consciously manipulated to "speak" to us." "I don't need sound to talk to me," Cage would say. Cage was influenced by the work of Anton Webern, Marcel Duchamp, and James Joyce. A 1950 performance of Webern piece so enchanted him that immediately thereafter all his compositions would be composed by chance using a process that included the I ChingCage said he never knew what a piece of music would sound like until it was finished. For more, Wiki explains

In addition, Cage was also an avid and pre-eminent amateur mycologist, a collector and consumer of mushrooms. Some of his very short fungal stories here.

Joey Ramone was, of course, one of the Ramones, a punk rock singer, songwriter, "counter culture figure," and the visual definition of lanky.

Joey Ramone along with Debbie Harry, Jello Biafra, David Byrne and others take turns at interpreting the wiley work of Cage. Hear them and download here.

Debbie Harry, In Just-Spring
Jello Biafra and Eugene Chardbourne, Overpopulation and Art

The day after my post went up, Open Culture posted this "surprisingly moving performance":

Thanks to the Facebook page Music Lovers for the referral.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Music that Matters, Pt 12

114) Bryan FerryLove Me Madly Again: For you young 'uns only acquainted with Ferry through his dubious pop cultural references of late—including receiving the Commander of the British Empire (pictured above, an honor David Bowie refused as well as a knighthood)—he wasn't always the dry-voiced, pervy git he is now. While his classic period may've ended at least 30 years ago, there may still be plenty of life in the old git yet. 

During a Roxy Music hiatus following their first U.S. hit with Love Is the Drug, Ferry produced two of  the best solo albums of his career: In You Mind (1977) and The Bride Stripped Bare (1979). Of In Your Mind's treasures was the seven minute plus opus Love Me Madly Again. A song with the kind of songcrafty layered grandeur Ferry usually eschewed: The tasks of layering he usually left to the band. Ferry constrains his usual vocal idiosyncracies and allows guitarist Chris Spedding––easily one of Britain's best sidemen––the space to take an achingly languid and balanced Speddingesque turn on slide guitar (hear a slightly different turn on the live version below). And of course Ferry's voice never sounds quite as good as it does with Roxy's drummer Paul Thompson bangin' behind him. The highlight for me is the long string-glazed, bass and electric piano dry hump refrain on the fade out. In the vid below see how Ferry's face shapeshifts between excruciating flexes and a kind of narcotic ecstasy echoed in his awkward posturings––in other words, quintessential classic period Bryan Ferry.

A performance in Tokyo from 1977 – Love Me Madly begins around 14:30:

From the 1999 remastering of In Your Mind (you must first be logged into Spotify for the player to work):

115) Bob Dylan, Maggie's Farm from the live Hard Rain: An album not well received in 1976 but one that seems to be gaining favor in a long retrospect. (Critics!) Hard Rain is certainly one of my favorites and its line-up is one of Mr. Zmmerman's best––which may be blasphemy to the Dylan hardcore. (The Band was cool too.) The roster includes guitarists Mick Ronson and T-Bone Burnett and bandleader/bass player Rob Stoner who puts a silky thong on his fat bass bottom. Some of the songs undergo deep tissue changes, most rock much harder, and Dylans' voice goes from his traditional seasick style of folky impertinence to a growling animal revealing power no one had any right to expect. Not to mention that Maggie's Farm may be one of the most subtle and ingenious indictments of capitalism, its abuses of its labor, and the hollow institutions that hold it up, ever written: like a much sexier musical Richard Wolff lecture.

Maggie's Farm by Bob Dylan on Grooveshark

116) Mandrill, Fencewalk: Fencewalk starts very Meters-like with a greasy New Orleans groove, morphs it into a classic Funkadelic style guitar throw-down, before returning to a bead-bedecked Bourbon Street strut for the finish. The three Wilson brothers that made up Mandrill's horn section may've been one of the most criminally overlooked funk horn sections ever. Proof is in the subsequent and shameless sample looting that has since visited their catalog––and this song in particular––by later generations of laptop pretenders. These are the horn lines that have provided caches of archaelogical raw material for hip hop—they'll be the stone edifices still standing long after the sample cloners have all turned to dust. I hope the Wilsons and company at least getting some residuals out of it.

Fencewalk by Mandrill on Grooveshark

117) The Meters, Just Kissed My Baby: The Meters were groove masters who, like James Brown—and the Birthday Party even, didn't mess much with chord changes or musical fripperies—those would've only been speedbumps on their otherwise ecstatic groove highway. The Meters provided the shoulders for many a latter day funkmeister to stand on. Their era of the early 70s was funk's golden age, and despite the abundance of stone cold funk of the time, only God and crate-digging fanatics know there names today: Not so with The Meters, their family legacy includes The Neville Brothers––two of which were Meters. Non-Meter brother Aaron would even go mainstream by the 80s (and then there was Tell It Like It Is). As a rhythm outfit, The Meters were easily in the same orbit as their more glorified contemporaries The Funk Brothers and The Wrecking Crew, but have (so far) not gotten their due. (There's been no Hall of Fame induction, not that that means s**t.) But, if sampling is respect, then the sample looters, at least, have wet their feet with kisses. 

Just Kissed My Baby by The Meters on Grooveshark

118) My Brightest DiamondGolden Star: On Golden Star, MBD—essentially singer/songwriter Shara Worden—sings with the voice of angel, at least how I'd want to imagine an angel to sound: Sexy, self-assured, and a little incorrigible. Her trained technique tends to leak out all over the place, but its a good leakage. The muscle and range of her voice are like a more steroidal and less Topanga Canyon-ial Joni Mitchell without any of the master's sometimes whiny tone. Despite her abundant technique she is savvy enough not to be limited by it—a rare quality. When her voice does go into the stratosphere, she has the sense and taste to know which is the right elevation, never cloying or self-indulgent without a purpose.

Golden Star by My Brightest Diamond on Grooveshark

119) Drive Like Jehu, Luau: A head-on guitar crash that starts loud at the first verse, takes a few breaths along the way, and ends even louder while managing a dynamic that builds like an inverted pyramid. I promise you that Luau will be the heaviest, most clamouring and cathartic waltz time (or 6/8, whatever it is) you're ever going to hear. This is nine plus minutes of guitar gestalt and screaming figures that weave together like a barbed wire Persian rug. IMHO, this is Sonic Youth territory navigated even better.

Luau by Drive Like Jehu on Grooveshark

120) Joe Cocker, Cry Me a River: Cocker's is the first version of the song I ever heard—and it's a monster—but you can strip the body off of this coupe and even down to its chassis it's still a great ride. That chromatic ascension going up from the fifth in the verse gets me every time. The Beatles stole this gimmick more than a few times, the chorus of Hey Bulldog being one example. Then there's the great chorus and bridge, Joe Cocker's orchestral rasp of a voice, a deep chorus of spirited female back-up, a Leon Russell arrangement (which completely removes the aforementioned acsension) and a pop standard goes archetypal.

Cry Me a River by Joe Cocker on Grooveshark

Ella Fitzgerald throws down some of her own inimitable vocal palimpsest:

Cry Me a River by Ella Fitzgerald on Grooveshark

This version may give you nightmares.

121) Randy Newman: Gone Dead Train, Performance Soundtrack: Easily the greatest take on male performance anxiety ever written. From the 70s Nicholas Roeg, Mick Jagger-starring film and written by prolific behind-the-scenes legend Jack Nitzsche (with Russ Titelman)The title is borrowed from a 1932 King Solomon blues (listen here) and nothing in Nitzsche's résumé would prepare you for such a brilliantly dense and transparently innuendo-soaked classic lyric he might have up his sleeve: Shootin' my supply through my demon's eye...When the fire in my boiler/Up and quit before I came/There ain't no empty cellar/Need a gone dead train.... Also features the slide sound that had The Stones offering Ry Cooder a spot that was eventually filled by Mick Taylor, rhythm guitar by Lowell George, and the great yet-to-be-Byrds drummer Gene Parsons.

Gone Dead Train by Randy Newman on Grooveshark

122) Ornette Coleman, Lonely Woman: Initially recorded in 1959 and considered one of the few standards of the Bebop/Free Jazz era—no chords, a brief melody, and some restrained noodling interplay between Coleman and trumpeter Don Cherry. Coleman's original serves that plaintive melody best—his lonely woman could've had a razor at her wrists—but it's John Zorn's Naked City version has its own charm, strutting over the repeated bass groove. Either way, it works beautifully.

One of the distinguishing aspects of New Wave rock of the 80s was its anorexic use of harmony: monophonic synths, flangey single-note guitar lines, and straight on eighth and quarter bass and drum patterns. This was favored over chordier sounds of the 70s and its syncopations (think Keith Richards full open-tuned chops). The space in the 80s songs, it could be argued, was underutilized—its unsyncopated rhythms over thin-as-stratospheric-air harmonies demanded effects and vigorous production. (There were exceptions, The Police and Reggae being two.) Beboppers and New Jazzers like Coleman also eschewed chords, but in their music harmonic complexity was implied all over the place. In some cases, for better or worse, to the point of abstraction. In Lonely Woman, the just so balance reaches transcendence. This is where skill and understanding can't be faked with rawness: Picasso and Matisse understood this; The Human League and Flock of Seagulls didn't.

Lonely Woman by Ornette Coleman Quartet on Grooveshark

Lonely Woman by John Zorn on Grooveshark

123) John Lennon, I Found Out; Yer Blues: There are probably only few instances in the history of the world where songwriter and performer scaled such depths of rawness and grief as expressed in these two ditties. Call it Inverse Blues: No boasting or braggadocio, just one person's crippled humanity exposed and hung on a line like virgin's sheets after her wedding night. Blues may be the only vehicle to scrape out such pieces of the soul, but even rarer is the blues this authentic. Lennon here is both brutal and beautiful, the skeletal arrangements only add more depth. As Perez Hilton knows, there's a beauty in those moments when the matador gets gored. Hear I Found Out here.

Yer Blues R'n'Roll Circus live by philprank

124) Urzula Dudziak, Future Talk: A jazzy Polish singer hitting her stride in the late 70s whose mostly wordless singing more resembled lead guitar lines than vocals: The title track from her 1979 album Future Talk being a great example. Her work without a band was the more interesting, much more world traveled and ethereal than that of the more technical Bobby McFerrin, and she did it first. (In fact, they would later work together. McFerrin owes here a debt.):

Otherwise, if not for her input the work with the band would be mostly exercises in generic funky fusion, though with a definite European skew. Her contributions make the fusion meatier than most and give it too much twist for the kind of fare usually heard on the Lite FM jazz stations playing in your dentist's office (like The Wave). The band work starkly contrasts with the avant gardisms of her solo outings. Here's one of the better ones, something worthy of kicking the much better known Jan Hammer's ass.

125) Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark: Mitchell has been lauded by everyone from Robert Plant to Elvis Costello, was listed only two slots down on Rolling Stone's All Time Greatest Guitarists from Eddie Van Halen (and two above Johnny Winter), and has been justifiably described "as her own species," musically speaking. In the trajectory of her career she has gone from squeaky, unctuous folky to the kind of searing, smokey-voiced jazzy avantist that'd leave the squeaky folky lovers cold. Court and Spark may be the moment where she turned on her musical heel. This is slow, quiet grown up music with a rapid heartbeat and a disquieting tone. There's a subtle melancholy here that requires an adult to break the code. While I always appreciate Mitchell's talent I don't always love what she does, but this song can't be denied. By anyone.

Court And Spark by Joni Mitchell on Grooveshark

The Roxy Music Covergirl and Bryan Ferry's Shaggers Gallery

Roxy Music cover photo session outtakes:

Apparently, Ferry shagged them all (except maybe one of the two Germans on Country Life, the three on Flesh and Blood, and Olympia's Kate Moss, maybe). See more of the pics at Dangerous Minds and check these two posts from elsewhere (here and here) for some info on the various models.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Generic, Viral, Exploitive, and Career Making: #Thicke

From time to time, as a public service, I post viral videos that most of us in the, ahem, grayer demographics are most likely unaware. Most of my tips come via my teenage daughter and other millennials (as was Gangham Style and Fatty Boom Boom).

Such is the case with Blurred Lines (below). Watch a snippet of the first vid below—the YouTube edit—for comparison purposes and then go to the second version. (When the distance between the G and R rated versions is only a click away it does seem kind of silly.) What would a culture look like if it'd been raised on free and easy porn and Seth McFarlane grade humor? The second video could be the answer. It's a place, apparently, where subtlety has no currency. Why don't we do it in the road seems abstract by comparison—the do it leaving too much room for interpretation.

Oh, and Robin Thicke says he has a large package. Just in case you're interested. (He's apparently a dick in real life as well.)

And what about Feminism and the Objectification of Women? What year is this? Ah well, that's another discussion. Otherwise, the exploitative video did exactly what it was designed to do: So far 46.1 million hits on YouTube alone (clean version) and counting. The Daily Beast explains why the song and video are actually kind of rapey.

Honestly, the boobs are the video's only redeeming feature. It was probably made on their lunch hour. (Though, stylistically it looks more like Happy Hour.) The video was recently brought to my attention by a young Frenchman. Hearing it for the first time I said, "It sounds awfully generic." He didn't understand the word so I explained: "It sounds like Pharrell has a machine that makes these." Apparently, this confectionary earworm was assembled in the studio on the fly by Thicke and Pharrell in about an hour. Paul McCartney claimed he took as long on Live and Let Die, but even C-level Sir Paul this ain't.

Of course, none of that matters. The song is going mad viral (the 20-teens version of a hit record) and is apparently blowing up Robin Thicke's career. It'll probably net Pharrell another sick stack too. The song is catchy, I'll give you that. Pharrell is probably nearing the crest of his peak now. He's 40. If he's as smart (I think he is—his blog is cool too) he should be banging this muse for all she's worth. Soon, she may be too dry to hump out those destined-to-go-viral one hour songwriting sessions.

It's trending: Justin Timberlake's "Explicit" video for Tunnel Vision gets approved for YouTube despite it's similar displays of feminine baggage. Here, the frontal nudity was deemed "artistic" and tasteful. The degrees of separation are at best slight, the main difference being that Justin Timberlake isn't drooling over the models in proximity. 

Both are essentially the aesthetic equivalents of titty bars but with better lighting. There's your artistry. 

And this just in: A "feminist" remake:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Romanian Sexy

Romanian Sandu Ciorba has his own vision of sexy and he's going to show it to you.

Apparently, his sexy is also going viral. Check YouTube and you'll see that his video output is loaded with similar lycra-wrapped cheesecake. On this one he seems to have gone slightly more pansexual with the addition of some tattooed beef to go with the cheese. Musically it sounds like a low-brow mix of the Middle East and Mexico which may have something to do with his native Romani culture (it was the Romani that brought us Flamenco). The music of the Romani (also more derogatorily known as Gypsy) contains strains of India, Turkey, Greece, and Eastern and Western Europe. Slurring notes are a trademark (technically called glissandi). The ponytailed Ciorba's particular aesthetic—equal parts Borat, MTV, and telenovela—would be right at home in the trailer parks of middle America (though I suspect rednecks would find his rhythms about as acceptable as a black president).

The Gipsy Kings Ciorba it ain't but I'll take Dalibomba over a Flamenco Hotel California anytime.

If only she could...

From The Sourpuss and Dangerous Minds.