Monday, December 5, 2016

Lately

Thinking of starting a new blog for music fans with short attention spans. Like me. If I do it, I'll let you know. Suddenly I'm dying to write a bunch of SHORT reviews of albums I've got here in the house, reviews that cut through all the BS. Maybe I'll try a couple of experiments here.
Books first:
Legs McNeil and Gillian McCann's PLEASE KILL ME (1996) -- An oral history of Punk Rock, amusing and involving, and I read the whole thing (sort of from the middle outward) and had a good time. Some truly appalling and hilarious behavior detailed inside. But it wasn't really my scene. Still think somebody should compile an oral history of progressive rock, and then we could see if the behavior by musicians a generation earlier was any worse. (I think it was probably just as bad, they just didn't ANNOUNCE it.)
Bill Martin's MUSIC OF YES (1996) -- Proves that it's way possible to THINK TOO MUCH about this stuff. Martin's a professor and a guitarist, and he's pretty solid on Yes's early days (when they were way more interesting covering other people's songs than doing their own) and their "main sequence" of albums in the '70s. But man does he take their work WAY too seriously. He hardly seems to know how to react when the band cracks a joke -- like they did on the title track of GOING FOR THE ONE. But what was TORMATO if not a comedy album?
Martin seems to think Yes were being absolutely sincere all the time -- when they were at their best. He seems to think their lyrics actually support a "philosophy." He's the second commentator I've read who thinks "Yours is No Disgrace" is a Vietnam War protest.
I think Yes at their best is like sound-painting -- not that far removed from the Roger Dean artworks that have adorned their album covers. Really good mood music that paints pretty landscapes in your head, but not so much to think about. And certainly not as deeply as here.
Chris Welch's CLOSE TO THE EDGE: THE STORY OF YES (1999/2008) -- Will likely tell you more about the band than you ever wanted to know, especially about the comings and goings of various band members. The best, most revealing comments in the book come from former drummer Bill Bruford. If you want to know what being a member of Yes was like, read Bruford's great AUTOBIOGRAPHY instead.
Speaking of autobiographies, Rick Wakeman's FURTHER ADVENTURES OF A GRUMPY OLD ROCK STAR (2009) will tell you very little about Yes, but will fill you in on the kind of amusing troubles rock stars can get into during their careers. An hour or two of light reading, not quite as funny or fresh as Wakeman's first book, GRUMPY OLD ROCK STAR.

I've also been listening, in bits and pieces.
Spent a couple hours awhile back digging through Tacoma's Half-Price Books' tons of "clearance" albums for a dollar or less. Found lotsa stuff I'd either never heard or wanted back in the house. More trips planned for the future. Was bummed to find lots of old Moody Blues and Al Stewart albums in the cheapies. I assume people must have outgrown them. But it also did my heart good to see lots of old Loverboy albums there....
Solution: CORDON BLEU (1975) -- A Dutch or German jazz-rock band on Elton John's Rocket Records label. Very nice sax and keyboards -- they also sing, not as impressively. Best on long instrumentals. Could be a keeper.
Automatic Man: (first album) (1976) -- Dramatic vocal jazz-rock, lots of show-offy playing, leaning towards stadium-rock. Not sure about the singing and lyrics yet.
Be-Bop Deluxe: "Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape" from LIVE! IN THE AIR AGE (1977) -- The words go right through me, but the guitar and keyboard solos are gorgeous. Gonna havta play the rest at some point, though I already know most of the other songs from studio albums....
Phil Manzanera and 801: LISTEN NOW (1978) -- Disappointing. All this talent, and all they could come up with was lame, limping disco take-offs? An all-star cast (Eno, Francis Monkman, Mel Collins, Godley and Creme, Eddie Jobson, Tim Finn, Dave Mattacks, Simon Phillips) and I haven't found any decent tunes, let alone any flashy guitar. And ROLLING STONE called them something like "the ultimate art-rock group" at the time....
Styx: "Why Me?" from CORNERSTONE (1979) -- Guilty Pleasures Department. We all have our "things." I bought a cheap copy of PIECES OF EIGHT, too....
Kate and Anna McGarrigle: (first album), (1975) -- Oh, I dunno. Seems kinda simple, even though Joe Boyd produced. Cool, distant north-country voices. "Kiss and Say Goodbye" has one cute line in it. I've been trying to figure out why Linda Ronstadt covered "Heart Like a Wheel." I'll havta get back to this....
Tim Buckley: HAPPY SAD (1970) -- His voice is deeper than I expected, somehow. "Love From Room 109 at the Islander" is certainly interesting. Makes for a pretty quick 11 minutes....
Rick Wakeman: CRIMINAL RECORD (1977) -- "The Breathalyzer" is still cute. But I couldn't make it more than three minutes into "Judas Iscariot"....
Electric Light Orchestra: "Confusion" from DISCOVERY (1979) -- I've always been a sucker for this, and for them. Second side's pretty solid.
Pete Townshend: "Zelda" and "Melancholia" from SCOOP (1983). Why weren't these on Pete's best-of?
Paul Winter: COMMON GROUND (1978) -- I swear this album has some sort of hypnotic, pounding tribal-drum piece on it somewhere. But I can't find it now and may never find it again.... The version of "Icarus" here sounds kind of thin to me....
Ry Cooder: "Fool for a Cigarette/Feelin' Good" from PARADISE AND LUNCH (1974). As a non-smoker, I find this hilarious.
Jayhawks -- RAINY DAY MUSIC (2003) -- Bought this after it played at one of my favorite CD stores, Tacoma's HI-VOLTAGE (good CD prices, some OUTRAGEOUS vinyl prices). Nice sorta country-folky-Eagles sound. Was impressed with the first seven songs and have yet to play the rest....
Argent: HOLD YOUR HEAD UP sampler (2000) -- Some nice bits and pieces here, pleasant enough without ever getting to stunning, still makes me think I should investigate them further.
Genesis: "Supper's Ready" from THE PLATINUM COLLECTION (2006) -- Not bad, kinda primitive, thin production, though the keyboards and guitars sound just like they do on the only other version of this I've ever heard, from SECONDS OUT with Phil Collins singing. I'm getting used to Peter Garbriel's voice. Wonder why they didn't remix this?
David Bowie: "John I'm Only Dancing" from CHANGESBOWIE (1990). Hmmm. He is a strange one, isn't he?
Yes: "Changes" from 90125 (1983) -- Probably my favorite "later" Yes song, nice mix of Trevor Rabin and Jon Anderson vocals and good drama.
Mum: SING ALONG TO SONGS YOU DON'T KNOW. Hmmm, this is not at all what I expected. I thought they were some kind of Icelandic choral group. This seems kind of low-key and primitive, though it's lightly pleasant....
Hollies: "King Midas in Reverse" from GREATEST HITS. I think it's funny, I love the melodramatic lyrics, and my girlfriend can't take the keening vocals.
Peter Gabriel: "Come Talk to Me" from US (1992) -- Reportedly written to his estranged daughter, this is full of drama and martial guitar, keybs and bagpipes -- the emotional open-heart-surgery I expected. Right up there with PG's devastating "Family Snapshot" for me.
...An album I passed by at a local Goodwill -- Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll's OPEN -- I now see is selling for $300 at Amazon....
More eventually....

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Footnote

About halfway finished reading Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's PLEASE KILL ME (1996), "the uncensored oral history of Punk" -- it's hilarious and horrifying, and there is some truly appalling behavior outlined in this book along with some great funny stories....
And a couple days ago it popped into my head that somebody should compile an oral history of progressive rock. There are several histories of prog out there, of various levels of reliability -- but no history yet from the people who made it happen.
Folks like Keith Emerson of ELP and Chris Squire of Yes have died, and most of the other big names are getting up there. Some of them have written autobiographies (Emerson, Bill Bruford and Rick Wakeman of Yes), but it seems like an oral history of prog is overdue. It would recount an era and would undoubtedly be useful and valuable as a document of How It Was.
I'm probably on the wrong side of the Atlantic to tackle this -- but SOMEBODY should do it. I'm surprised there wasn't a prog oral history out already. If I were still in the newspaper business and a subject like this smacked me upside the head I'd already be off and running with it. Hmmm....

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thinking too much

Been reading a pile of books on music, progressive rock, etc., most of which have been disappointing in some way.
During that Portland trip back in August, picked up three of 33-1/3rd's series about classic albums -- on the Beach Boys' PET SOUNDS and SMILE, and on Van Dyke Parks's SONG CYCLE. I figured maybe the three could shed some light on each other.
Well, not really. Didn't learn much new from Luis Sanchez's SMILE or from Jim Fusilli's PET SOUNDS, though Fusilli maybe made me appreciate a few little touches on PET SOUNDS a little more. Sanchez's book unfortunately came out before the SMILE SESSIONS box-set. I'm sure he could have written a better, stronger book with that box in hand. But this is all pretty well-covered ground.
Did learn a few things from Richard Henderson's SONG CYCLE. I remember the Van Dyke Parks album as being so insubstantial it barely seemed to exist even while it was playing on the turntable. But that was a long time ago, and I might feel differently if I stumbled over a copy today.
I do know that it was too arty to be rock and roll. And that was back when I thought I was open-minded. While I'm still open to musical experiments today, they'd better have a point and a goal -- and I lean much more toward a catchy tune with a memorable chorus. I barely have the attention span to sit through a 20-minute experimental opus today.
Did learn more about Parks's subsequent career, and those of the folks around him who helped make his first album happen. And it's always good to reread the stories about Stan Cornyn's hilarious print ads for Warner Brothers albums back in the day -- about how the WB spent $35,000 on Parks's album ... and only about 200 people heard it.
But overall, 33-1/3rd's series seems kind of thin. I always want MORE. The books should be longer, more detailed, something. The books seem better when the best sections are featured in 33-1/3rd's GREATEST HITS volumes.

Ah, progressive rock. After YES IS THE ANSWER and PROG ROCK FAQ, I couldn't stop myself. Went ahead and ordered Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell's BEYOND AND BEFORE (2011) and Stephen Lambe's CITIZENS OF HOPE AND GLORY (2013), both of which try to be prog-rock histories. Maybe should have stopped.
Hegarty and Halliwell's book is scholarly and distanced -- they are more likely to tell you about the cultural and social impacts of prog rather than whether the music is any good. I'm not sure that I WANT to know that Yes's "Yours is No Disgrace" is a protest against the Vietnam War. (How could they tell?) But there is a nice long section on Kate Bush and other prog-rock women singers and songwriters.
This book will take a heckuva lot more heavy reading before I can come to a final judgement about it. Enjoyable, but....
CITIZENS OF HOPE AND GLORY is more down-to-earth -- even though Lambe thanks Jerry Lucky of THE PROGRESSIVE ROCK FILES and Charles Snider of THE STRAWBERRY BRICKS GUIDE TO PROGRESSIVE ROCK, two of the weaker prog books out there, for their research in getting him started.
Lambe charts prog's course through a bunch of notable albums -- some of which he doesn't even like, some of which aren't even a band's best work. And a bunch more albums are noted in passing. There's a section on how and why prog fell out of fashion, a section on neo-prog, prog-related artists (Roger Dean, etc.), prog-associated instruments (the Mellotron, etc.), and a coda on prog's rebound today.
I don't buy Lambe's assertion that prog peaked in 1971 -- too much good work came after that -- but I like that his definition of progressive rock is wider-open than some, and I enjoy his capsule album-reviews and wish there had been more of them.
Though this one will also take more in-depth reading, of these two books a knowledgeable prog fan should start here.
My own book on progressive rock may get finished one of these years real soon now -- but I keep thinking I haven't quite heard ENOUGH to be a real authority yet....

No disappointment here: Alan Reder and John Baxter's LISTEN TO THIS! (1999) (great title, I was gonna use it myself) interviews more than 100 rock, blues and R&B performers from Gregg Allman to Robert Wyatt and gets a list of their all-time favorite songs and albums, plus their picks of the best of their own work. This is a lotta fun and you'll be surprised at some artists' faves. Hours of browsing here. A good book to wake up with.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Two prog-rock keepers

Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell's YES IS THE ANSWER (AND OTHER PROG ROCK TALES) (2013) is a collection of 20 essays, mostly hilarious, mostly about classic progressive-rock acts and why we still love them so much. Or not.
Not all the essays are great, and some of them are only distantly connected to prog-rock. But the spirit of the book -- the deep affection that most of the contributors have for prog -- make it hard to stop reading in one big gulp. It's awfully tough to put down. I laughed all the way through it, and if you're a prog fan, you'll probably love it too. Even if you still keep your weakness for prog locked in the closet.
FAVORITE PARTS -- Novelist Rick Moody is hilarious from the first sentence while trying to defend the MANY ego-driven excesses of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. At the same time, he shows why those same excesses made ELP ... pretty great. For awhile. Rock critic Jim DeRogatis contributes a long, affectionate remembrance of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. Wesley Stace is hilarious about prog's biggest weakness -- its silly lyrics -- and also shows why some of those lyrics are pretty marvelous. Joe Meno writes about why he STILL can't listen to Rush while driving -- because he was involved in two life-altering car wrecks while Rush songs were playing on the radio. (This essay is funny too, believe it or not.) Jeff Gordinier talks about how seeing a Styx concert converted him overnight from prog to punk. (Which seems a perfectly legitimate response, to me.)
There are several essays about Genesis -- one made me consider again why I had problems with Peter Gabriel's gravelly, guttural voice back in the day, something that's always been a blank spot for me. Several writers also talk about Rush -- how geeky they are, how there seem to be NO WOMEN in their universe, and yet we love them still. At least sometimes.
Many other bands and genres are also discussed -- Be-Bop Deluxe, King Crimson, Soft Machine, Hatfield and the North, Caravan, Robert Wyatt, the Canterbury scene, Focus, Pink Floyd, Steve Howe, Peter Banks, The Nice, Todd Rundgren and Utopia, the Incredible String Band, Henry Cow, Magma, and lots more.
The least successful essays are those that are farthest removed from prog. I admit I didn't finish all the essays. But I got a lot of enjoyment out of YES IS THE ANSWER. And it was especially nice to read a bunch of writers whose hearts were in The Right Place about this stuff. They know that some of the things that make prog embarrassing are also some of the reasons why we fans love it so much and hate to see it abused. That's pretty uncommon to find in writing about this genre.

Will Romano's PROG ROCK FAQ (2014) doesn't include everything else you'd ever want to know about prog after you've tackled DARK SIDE OF THE MOON and THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY. I think much of FAQ reads like a sequel to Romano's prog-rock history from a few years back, MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY. And that's a good thing.
There are chapters on early prog-rock pioneers I guarantee you've never heard of, and some later chapters that read like they were dropped from MOUNTAINS. (There was a rumor that at least one chapter dropped from the earlier book was about Van der Graaf Generator, left out because they were just a little too obscure. There's a long interview with their great saxophonist David Jackson that talks about WHY VdGG were never much more than a cult act.)
FAVORITE PARTS -- There are long looks at prog-rock "epics" (THE LAMB, DARK SIDE, "Echoes," TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS, RELAYER, THE WALL, etc.), concept albums that really aren't (AQUALUNG, THICK AS A BRICK, etc.), interviews with prog-rock designers and artists (album-cover art was a key part of the package), a long history of Happy the Man (one of the great overlooked prog acts, their CRAFTY HANDS still sounds great), why prog went out of style, prog's intense bashing from critics (Romano missed some great putdowns, and even critic Lester Bangs sorta liked ELP), and much much more. Hey, there's even a chapter on Asia in here. But not Styx.
I'd be thrilled to read a whole lot more of this kind of stuff....

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Tedeschi Trucks Band LIVE!

They're awesome.
Saw the Tedeschi Trucks Band at Seattle's McCaw Hall last night, and they were pretty freakin' great. There was a lot of instrumental showing-off, and that's what the audience seemed to want. But it was all good fun.
TTB did several songs from their last album LET ME GET BY -- they opened with the great "Anyhow," still the best thing I've heard this year -- and all those songs sounded stronger live than they did on the CD. "Things Ain't What They Seem" and the title song are still going around in my head.
The rest of the show was covers and unusual choices. Their cover of B.B. King's "How Blue Can You Get?" featured an excellent gutsy vocal from Susan Tedeschi. Susan and two backing singers did a sweet old George Jones tune whose name I've forgotten -- it was a break for the rest of the band, performed as a vocal trio with just Susan's guitar.
The band also did a nice version of George Harrison's hypnotic "Isn't it a Pity?" and two Beatles songs -- the silly "I've Got a Feeling" (the opening section was dramatic and effective, took me a long time to ID the song), and the closer: Susan doing a great Joe Cocker on "With a Little Help From My Friends." Brought tears to my eyes, seriously. Brought the house down. The crowd LOVED it.
The live setting allowed the band to stretch out, and that's a good thing. But after a couple of extended numbers, it became expected that guitarist Derek Trucks was going to take the extra room to play as lightning-fast and high as he could. He can really PLAY that thing. And though the fans loved it, it got ... a little predictable. In a good way. But a couple rounds of that would have been enough.
Extended guitar-keyboard-and-drum excursions became the rule for the middle part of the show. One piece developed into a sort of Santana-like jam, ending up sounding a bit like "Soul Sacrifice." Another piece ended with a pounding, hypnotic, Cream-like guitar-and-drums duel -- this was effective, but (I hate to complain about this) it was SO LOUD I sort of went deaf for a minute and my mind wandered.
There were other, lighter moments. Each of the horn-players had a brief solo spot at the end of "Things Ain't What They Seem" -- this included the saxophonist freaking out in an Ornette Coleman-style barrage of squonks, looking like he was going to short-circuit. I THINK this was meant to be funny. I laughed a lot. And the woman trombone-player NEVER stopped moving in time to the music throughout the show. A couple of the backing singers got quite into the music, too. A long keyboard flight midway through another song convinced me that these folks would also make a pretty good progressive-rock band.
But there was so much more I wanted to hear by them -- "Made Up Mind," "Down in the Flood," "Wade in the Water," "Come See About Me," maybe a couple more songs with Mike Mattison singing lead, like "These Days are Almost Gone"? Maybe TTB have Too Much Good Stuff to choose from. Less instrumental showing-off would have made room for some of these songs, but....
Don't know if you could call this a blues band. Sounded like good, loud rock and roll to me. A huge, clear, powerful sound. At their best, this is what a great rock band should sound like. And they knew their audience well. They played for more than two hours. I didn't see anyone who went home unsatisfied.
About that audience: You could almost have posted a sign at the front door that said NO ONE UNDER 35 ADMITTED. Though there were a few young folks in the crowd, most were in their 40s, 50s, or older -- there was lots of white hair, bald heads and wrinkles. And they all got into the music -- there were lots of heads bobbing, and a few brave souls found a little room to dance down on the floor in front of the stage. For the rest of us, if you felt like dancing you had to remember that this was an old opera house with narrow seats and tight spaces between the rows of seats. If you slipped and fell behind the seat in front of you, nobody would hear you scream.... The house was only about half-full at 7:30 p.m., but by the time TTB came on the place was packed.
Openers Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers (yes, you read that right) were also good -- more country than bluesy, with a few good dramatic songs and a heckuva lead guitarist. Nicki's voice was sweet but strong, and the band gained confidence as they went. Best songs were (I'm guessing at titles) "Gimme Something Good" and "The Lie," "Jetplane" really took off, and anything with ominous heavy guitar worked really well. They were friendly and informal with the audience and weren't afraid to have fun with their performance. Vocal harmonies were solid too. Lotta potential with this band. Worth seeing all by themselves.

COMING SOON -- Detailed reviews of two books about progressive rock, Will Romano's PROG ROCK FAQ and Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell's collection of prog-inspired essays YES IS THE ANSWER.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Late-Summer Strange Music Fest!

* Waylon Jennings -- Lonesome On'ry and Mean. From GREATEST HITS. Wow, does he sound like Merle Haggard, or is it just me? Nice guitar.
* Billy Joel -- Vienna. From THE STRANGER. Heard this on the radio awhile back and it sounded pretty good. But maybe I just didn't pay attention the first time around. Why wasn't this a bigger hit?
* Queen -- I'm Going Slightly Mad. From INNUENDO and CLASSIC QUEEN. Haven't heard this since 1991. Still sounds pretty great, with some extra drama I could hear even back then. Slowly builds in tension and momentum, ending's a bit of an anti-climax. Do you realize Freddie Mercury would be 70 years old now?
* Queen -- The Show Must Go On. Now HERE'S some drama! This is a helluva vocal performance from a sick man. And the band's in great form. Nice but brief guitar from Brian May. Weak ending. I still think INNUENDO's one of Queen's solidest albums.
* The Brains -- Money Changes Everything. From NEW WAVE GOLD. Wow, this sure ain't Cyndi Lauper. Sneering new-wavey lead vocal by leader Tom Gray, good driving choruses, not as many melodic hooks as Cyndi's version. It rocks, and it's over too quick. Kinda sounds like a blueprint for Cyndi's hit version.
* Adam Ant -- Goody Two-Shoes. From NEW WAVE GOLD. Good Lord, haven't heard this since 1983. Hilarious lyrics, great guitar and horns. Lotsa fun. Where's "Stand and Deliver"?
* Tears for Fears -- Change. From NEW WAVE GOLD. Haven't heard this since '83. Not bad. Haunting choruses. Better playing than writing or singing. But these guys have potential, could go far.
* Yes -- Something's Coming. From the YESYEARS best-of. Good Lord, seven minutes of this? Starts with a dull-but-brief Bill Bruford drum solo, then the band joins in squonking, elaborating all over this tune from WEST SIDE STORY. Maybe they shoulda done "America" instead. Then they get to the theme, and it's not bad. Jon Anderson does his Frank Sinatra impression on the lyrics, and the group vocals sound young and excited. Kind of charming.
* Yes -- Everydays. BBC session from YESYEARS. Stephen Stills wrote this. I've always liked early Yes's fresh, young, excited sound -- I thought YESTERDAYS was full of great songs, though the selection from their first two albums could have been even better. Jon Anderson sings in a lower vocal register on some of this earlier stuff, and they sound just "progressive" enough.
* Yes -- The Gates of Delirium. From RELAYER. OK, The Big One. I've been putting this off long enough. Opening's rather pretty in a sort of heavy-ornate way. Then the singing starts -- and this is a million miles away from "Something's Coming." Nice guitar break from Steve Howe before things start moving faster -- this is the ferocious speediness I've heard about? It certainly MOVES. Patrick Moraz joins in on lightning-fast keyboards -- this must be the "battle scene." It SOUNDS like a huge, ugly battle. You can hear cannon-fire and swords clashing. Some very far-out guitar and keyboard work in a long and stately middle section. Then a break.... The "Soon" section has an especially beautiful melody at the end. ...But that's all? Where's the rest of it? ...I guess that's proof that it's all over too quickly. Hmmm, far out, but not as noisy as I'd expected.
* Cat Stevens -- If You Want to Sing Out Sing Out. From his CLASSICS best-of. Haven't heard this since I saw the movie HAROLD AND MAUDE sometime toward the end of highschool. Charming as always, and way light.
* Cat Stevens -- Remember the Days of the Old Schoolyard. Synthesizer on a Cat Stevens song? Wasn't this almost a hit? Light of course, but Cat was trying to lighten-up on purpose back in '77.
* Cat Stevens -- Katmandu. No, not the Bob Seger song. Definitely. This is Cat with acoustic guitar, keeping it simple back in 1970, before the production started taking over.
* Cat Stevens -- Oh Very Young. I pretty-much hated this back in the day, but it sounds like a classic now.
* Gentle Giant -- Think of Me With Kindness. From OCTOPUS. Still think the ping-ponging vocal midsection is lame, but the rest is pretty freakin' great. One of their best, and simple enough it coulda been a hit.
* Go-Go's -- La La Land. From GOD BLESS THE GO-GO'S. Opens with as big a rush as their great "Head Over Heels." They sound great! And of course this was 15 years ago. Why'd I never hear this?
* Go-Go's -- Unforgiven. As gutsy as anything on their great TALK SHOW, which is still my fave Go-Go's album. This is alive and energetic and pushy, driving. Great stuff.
* Go-Go's -- Kissing Asphalt. OK, not as impressed here. The lyrics are kinda dumb. But the energy level's still high, and it's over with quick.
* Steely Dan -- Only a Fool Would Say That. From VERY BEST OF. Light jazzy keyboard sounds and some tense lyrics.
* Steely Dan -- Show-Biz Kids. The "You go to Los Wages" backing-vocal chant has always annoyed me. And there isn't much else here. Though they did sneak the F-bomb into the lyrics once, if I'm hearing things right. To make room for this, I don't get "Berrytown" on their VERY BEST OF?
* Steely Dan -- Any World That I'm Welcome To. OK, this makes up for it. Not quite as great as "Any Major Dude Will Tell You," but in the same time-zone.
* David Bowie -- Heroes. From the CHANGESBOWIE best-of. My hero Bob Fripp's on guitar, somewhere in the heavy, loud mix. And though I was never much of a Bowie fan, I don't doubt that he means it here.
* Hawkwind -- Assault and Battery Part 1. From WARRIOR ON THE EDGE OF TIME. Moves nicely, nice washy synths, and Nik Turner's light flute adding just enough melody to separate them from your average sludgy heavy-space-rock band.
* Hawkwind -- Kings of Speed. Sounds like a Motorhead song title. And not unlike a Motorhead song -- simple and almost catchy. All it needs are vocals that stand out a little more....
* Hawkwind -- Motorhead. Speaking of which. This is bassist Lemmy's baby, before he was asked to leave this band. "Motorhead, remember me now...." Best part is actually Simon House's screeching violin. And it's over too soon.
* Jethro Tull -- Requiem. From MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY. One of Tull's lighter, folkier, more reflective pieces, much like "One White Duck" on the same album. I've always liked their lighter stuff more. This is the only thing on the first half of MINSTREL that I can get all the way through.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Now I'm Here

Coming to you live from my new home with The Girlfriend, where I've been blogging from for the last three months. But now it's Official.
Got all moved-in on Monday and Tuesday, getting all the furniture and endless boxes transferred on Monday, and going back for the cleanup and leftovers on Tuesday. Woke up on Wednesday with aches in places I didn't know I HAD, but was happy I got it all done. Took longer than I thought, and it was messier than I expected, but. Now I'm here. And this is where I want to be.
The worst part was the books. Yeezus -- 19 big boxes of books (and clothes and etc). Awhile back my Old Roommate asked me why I had SO MANY goddamned books. And on Monday I told him that RIGHT THEN I didn't KNOW why I had so many goddamned books.... And I meant it.
Good thing I'd already moved a good-sized pile of them over here.... Good thing all the CD's were already here....
Right now all my stuff is sitting in The Girlfriend's garage, and I'll slowly be moving it into the house -- once we figure out where to put it all, and once I make sure all my body-parts still work like I thought they were supposed to. Luckily, the garage is pretty dry -- even with the fall-starting rain we got in the last few days. I don't think it will hurt stuff TOO much to sit in the garage for a couple days. Besides, we're supposed to have a stretch of 70-degree sunshine here for the next week....
It's a lot quieter here. More time for me to mull things over or play music or read, or blog at my leisure. Who knows -- I might even have time to finish another book, since I haven't gotten anything new out there in the last 18 months, not that my worldwide legion of fans is screaming for more RIGHT NOW or anything like that.
The Girlfriend and I are happy. We've been talking about me moving in since June. And Ghod knows her house is quieter than the Old Roommate's. We sit and cuddle and talk and laugh like loons, and because of our sometimes clashing work schedules, we spend a lot of time wishing we had more time together. But we cherish the time we have.
With the move and all, I haven't had much time to listen to music, though I'm slowly taking in that batch of new stuff I grabbed in Portland (see last installment).
Am almost finished with YES IS THE ANSWER, and I recommend it. I've read all but a couple of the essays, laughing all the way. Only a couple pieces don't quite seem to fit the concept of the book -- one is about how a Prog fan immediately converted to Punk after seeing a Styx concert. Seems like a totally legit reason to me.
A couple other pieces are either personal reminiscences or are more into Metal than Prog. But they're still enjoyable. There are even -- shocker! -- WOMEN Prog fans in the book! Amazing! And all the writers have such affection for progressive rock that it makes the book a helluva lotta fun to read.
Just got in Will Romano's PROG ROCK FAQ (2014), part of that FAQ series I've become hooked on -- I reviewed their volumes on Pink Floyd and The Who back around April, I think. Romano wrote the solid Prog history MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY a few years back, and I'm glad to see someone wanted him to write more about the subject. Though I gotta tell ya -- just browsing through FAQ, I think the book is less about What Else You Need To Know About Prog than it is a platform for introducing you to overlooked Prog artists. And I'm OK with that.
There's also a recommended list of LONG Prog compositions ("Close to the Edge," "Gates of Delirium," "Echoes," etc.), and a long look at Prog concept albums. So I can see this book is gonna take awhile to digest. And that's OK. I got nothin' but time....

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Still more short takes!

Hey there. It's a beautiful day, my 12-day marathon at work ends tonight, tomorrow I Officially Move In with The Girlfriend. So to celebrate, let's play a ton of mostly-new-to-me music and see what wild off-hand first impressions I get....
* Grateful Dead -- Passenger. From TERRAPIN STATION. Probably my fave Dead song ever. It rocks, it has some drive, it's over with fast, and having Donna Godchaux sing with them helped immeasurably. Nice Garcia guitar, too. Coulda been a hit. Don't know why it wasn't. Maybe they took too long to get to the first chorus. And I've got no idea what the lyrics mean.
* Cab Calloway -- Minnie the Moocher. From his ARE YOU HEP TO THE JIVE? best-of. Friggin' awesome! The rockin' High Priest Of Hi-Dee-Ho! Not only are the lyrics hilarious, Cab really belts 'em! It's so silly! And the sax is pretty ... uh .. avant-garde...? Is that the right word? Great backing chorus, too!
* Cab Calloway -- Who's Yehoodi? Great clarinet on the middle break. Isn't this about Yehudi Menuhin? Who cares? Great manly debonair vocal by Cab. So sophisticated. Funny, too.
* Ry Cooder -- 13-Question Method. From GET RHYTHM. Hilarious. Not only are Chuck Berry's lyrics funny and clever, it's worth it all for Ry's collection of silly voices. And he's awesome on acoustic guitar. A freakin' classic.
* Hawkwind -- The Demented Man. From WARRIOR AT THE EDGE OF TIME. Shocking, acoustic-guitar-led ballad to the space aliens. Sound effects, washy keyboards, and guitarist Dave Brock's droning voice. Not bad for a change of pace.
* Hawkwind -- Magnu. OK, now THIS sounds much more like Hawkwind, complete with Nik Turner's droning horns and Simon House's nicely screeching violin. Mildly spacey and heavy. Could've come off of HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN GRILL, which is still my favorite Hawkwind album. Question: Why did Hawkwind have TWO drummers? Couldn't be because one couldn't keep up...? Their songs were all in 4/4, right? No, there's a little bit of polyrhythmic goings-on toward the end of this....
* Hawkwind -- Standing at the Edge. Sounds like Robert Calvert sitting in on the declaiming vocal here, could be the direct sequel to his great, hilarious "Sonic Attack," though it's not as threatening and ominous. Lyrics by science-fiction writer Michael Moorcock.
* Hawkwind -- Warriors. Moorcock does the reciting here, and he sounds like Calvert. Spacey, but a little bit of this stuff goes a long way....
* Hawkwind -- The Wizard Blew His Horn. Moorcock again, this time sounding like he's got a head cold. But at least he doesn't sound like Bob Calvert. If the spoken "poems" were your least favorite parts of Moody Blues albums, you won't like this. At least it's over with quick.
* Magma -- Weidorje, Dondai. From SPIRITUAL/LIVE. *deep breath* OK, the one song I heard previously by Magma I described here awhile back as "a goblin opera." That was perhaps a bit unfair. After the Nazi-like chanting and martial sound at the start of "Weidorje," it settles down into a nicely bubbling, rolling piece with some nice keyboards. The almost-pretty "Dondai" almost seems to MEAN something, even though these folks made up their own language to sing their songs in. Nice piano here, too. But some of the vocals are VERY far-out and silly. When their lead singer moans "Monday Monday Monday Monday" (in their made-up language, Kobaian), they come THIS CLOSE to being understood. You'll relate. They do create their own bouncy, silly world. And they're better at it -- catchier, more involving -- than the original Gong was back in the day. If this is a cult, I might have to join....
* Magma -- Hhai. Wow, this is actually pretty good. The group-vocal chanting still kind of puts me off, but a lot of this is taken up by some great keyboard soloing that sounds like it coulda come straight out of National Health or Hatfield and the North. Especially the Health -- wonder if Dave Stewart sat in with these guys? The vocals are silly and meaningless, but....
* Magma -- The Last 7 Minutes. Well, they certainly sound upset about SOMETHING. The vocals veer from Hitler-like pushiness to an extremely fruity falsetto that it's impossible to hear without laughing. The liner notes refer to this song as "a rampant roar," and I sure don't hear THAT here. But I'd like to strangle that lead singer. If that hasn't happened already....
* Magma -- Lihns, Udu Wudu. I GET IT! It's a comic opera, like something by Mozart. "Udu Wudu" has a bouncy melody and NICE group vocals. And it MOVES -- the start sounds kind of like Blondie's "Heart of Glass" on speed! Nice keyboards and horns, too. "Lihns" is CUTE, starting with the way the singer mimics the twinkly keyboards. I wouldn't say I'm COMPLETELY convinced, but it's DEFINITELY Something Different. A pretty good return on the money for $4.
* Kevin Ayers -- Clarence in Wonderland. From the BANANA PRODUCTIONS best-of. This is the MUCH shorter original version of "Connie on a Rubber Band," which was on my long-traded-off copy of Kevin's ODD DITTIES -- now available for Big Bucks at Amazon.com. ...But I missed ODD DITTIES and because eight of the songs on ODD are also here, I bought this as a $3 replacement. But I prefer "Connie," which is much more relaxed and bouncier and sillier. Havta look into some re-purchasing options that won't require me to mortgage the house I don't own. THAT'll teach me....
* Kevin Ayers -- Soon Soon Soon. Ah, this is more like it. Sounds freakin' great, too. Kevin is backed by Soft Machine here.
* Kevin Ayers -- Singing a Song in the Morning. This silly lighter-than-air singalong is so simple it's impossible to resist. Kevin is backed by Caravan here. There was a rumor that Syd Barrett played guitar on this....
* Kevin Ayers -- Irreversible Neural Damage. Lotta intense acoustic strumming here before Kevin finally starts singing, then is joined by the distant Nico (formerly from the Velvet Underground and her own solo career). Psychedelic, phasey, twisted. Then it lightens up into some good guitar and violin(?) jamming that unfortunately doesn't go on long enough. Hmmm. Best, huh?
* Kevin Ayers -- Song From the Bottom of a Well. Lotta dorking around on phased electric guitar before Kevin's creepy vocal starts. This is also Very Different, not at all like his light-hearted stuff I'm used to. Could that be Mike Oldfield's guitar making that ungodly racket? And then it cuts off in mid-screech!
* Gentle Giant -- The Power and the Glory. Haven't heard this in years. Briefly released as a single and only available previously on the Giant's GIANT STEPS best-of. This rocks, and it's direct. Forceful guitars, bouncy tune, pushy vocal by Derek Shulman, coulda been a hit. And it's over too soon.
* Fats Waller -- T'ain't Nobody's Bizness if I Do, Everybody Loves My Baby But My Baby Don't Love Nobody But Me. From PORTRAIT OF. Cab Calloway's next-door neighbor. Great hammy vocals, nice sax, jumpy piano from Fats. Good stuff.
* Beatles -- Two of Us. From LET IT BE. This is nice, intimate, friendly. Not major. But I can see why it led off the album.
* Beatles -- I've Got a Feeling. Now THIS is noisy....

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Invasion from within!

Sounds like a David Cronenberg movie title, don't it?
OK, after the last invasion by the Russians a month ago, things have just gotten weirder here at the Back-Up Plan. This seems a very small thing to complain about, but....
Clearly influenced by that notorious world-grabbing international terrorist conspiracy Procol Harum, a group of misguided underemployed Americans has been bombing this blog every three or four hours, 30 or 40 simultaneous "hits" at a time, for the last four days.
It seems they only stop to sleep. And maybe not even then.
God Only Knows what they're looking for, but it ain't here. Probing for weaknesses, perhaps? Trying to dig out hidden debit-card information? Trying to empty my already pathetically-empty bank account? Trying to catch a look at my gorgeous girlfriend? Dream on.
Are there really Americans who are so bored all they can find to do is bomb lame and harmless music blogs in search of hidden weaknesses that might (dream on) somehow let them get their hands on more cash? If it was me, I'd be out enjoying life. While I'm young.
What they HAVE been doing is bumping up my "pageview" numbers, so now I really DON'T know how many people visit this blog to read every day. Thought I was averaging about 15 to 30 looks at each new blog post. Now I have to take whatever total Blogger gives me, divide by 20, subtract 10, add 15, cross my fingers, spit into the wind, and take a guess.
According to Blogger, I'm now getting more than 200 visits a day here. That's wonderful, but I'm sure it's not because all those new folks who are visiting are all such big Van der Graaf Generator fans. Maybe they just can't wait to read my deathless prose about VdGG's 1971 cult classic PAWN HEARTS? Right....
Blogger has never responded to my paranoid e-mail about the last attempted Russian takeover, so clearly they're not too worried.
Guys, there's nothing here other than me ranting and babbling. With the 200 hits a day and all, I'm flattered. Really.
But I'm not really this good. Or this popular.
Gimme a break.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Marathon 4 not that bad

Suddenly it's fall here. Pouring rain, windy, temperatures down around 50 at night. And just two weeks ago it was 95 degrees. Ah, global warming. This is the new normal.
Marathon 4 at work hasn't been so bad. My feet are numb, but the work itself hasn't been too terrible, and my two long days this past Monday and Tuesday were actually a nice break -- just enough to disrupt my routine in a good way. Tonight will be Night Number 10 out of 12, so maybe I'm just delirious by this point. Sometimes that's not a bad place to be. But sleeping in late today sure helped balance things out.
I've been pretty cheery and haven't had to raise my voice at work in a week ... but I had a real challenge in the store last night. Good thing I was in a good mood.
He came in at 10 p.m. with a hoodie over his head and a backpack on his back -- clearly he was either homeless or had been thrown out. He angrily demanded that I sell him two packs of smokes. Didn't tell me what KIND of smokes -- it took three more questions to get that information out of him.
Then he about broke our card-reader when he discovered we didn't have a chip-reader to speed up his transaction. He about tore the bottom off of the machine while trying to force it to work.
"I am SO FUCKING PISSED OFF!" he shouted.
"OK," I said, "easy, easy -- we don't have a chip reader, just slide your card down the side."
He didn't tell me if he preferred debit or credit. That took three more questions to get out of him.
Then he needed a lighter. We agreed a couple free packs of matches would be better, so he didn't have to fight with the card-slider again.
Then he left, and began circling around the building, shrieking into his cellphone. Clearly he was upset about something. But he wasn't done.
A few minutes later, he returned with an empty beer can he'd found in the parking lot.
"I want to pay for this," he said.
"You don't have to pay for that," I said. "It's empty. But thanks for picking it up for me...."
"No, I want to BUY this. Will you just SCAN IT so I can PAY you for it?!"
No point arguing. So I scanned it. And naturally, the cash register came up with the six-pack price of almost $6 after tax.
"Normally we charge 99 cents for a short can like this," I told him. "You don't have to pay me six bucks for an empty beer can. You don't have to pay me AT ALL. I'm not gonna charge you for this."
"YES YOU ARE!"
He forced $7 cash into my hand and left. And I took his money. Because there's no point arguing with a deranged person over something this silly.
I thought he'd left, but he wandered back in at ten minutes before closing and asked if there was somewhere he could sit down for a minute.
"I've been on my feet all night and my feet are burning up," he said.
So I gave him our step-stool to sit on, and he set it up back in the corner next to the soda machine. I went back to closing up the store and the next thing I knew he was trying to get water out of the soda machine.
"That machine's already closed down for the night," I told him. "If you try to get water out of it, it's going to spray everywhere."
"I just want some water," he said.
"I can fill it up for you quicker here behind the counter."
"I'll get it HERE."
"It's going to spray everywhere...."
No point arguing. He was already trying to fill an ugly-looking plastic gallon bottle with water, and it sprayed all over him and the machine and the floor.
And I sighed and went back to work.
A couple minutes later he shrieked "I just want some WATER!"
"I can fill it for you in the sink here behind the counter. Only takes a minute."
"I'll get it HERE!"
OK, no point in arguing. He got his water bottle filled and I cleaned up the spilled water after he left.
But as it got closer to midnight, I wondered if he was going to be a problem to get out of the store so I could close. It's happened before, though not in a long time.
I thought maybe he was finished, but I was wrong. I had the news playing on the radio, and maybe that set him off.
He walked over to where I was perched on the edge of the counter.
"Hey, have you seen it before?" he asked.
I wasn't sure I'd heard him right, so I turned the radio down. "What?" I asked him.
"Have you SEEN it before?"
"Seen WHAT before?"
"The MACHINE! Have you seen the MACHINE before?!"
He seemed to be referring to something outside. But there were no machines or vehicles out there. The parking lot was empty. What machine was he seeing?
"I'm not understanding you," I said. "...And I have to close this place up in about three minutes."
This deflated him. "Oh. OK." And he slowly gathered up his stuff and shambled out the door. He was no trouble at all. I told him to be careful out there, and I meant it. And I was grateful that he was no serious trouble while he was in the store.
Now this was clearly a person in distress. And there wasn't much of that distress that I could help with. Or that he seemed to WANT help with. He was already furious when he walked into the store. I sure couldn't help with THAT. All I could do was be careful with him.
But I wonder about these homeless folks -- where they come from, why they always seem to come out more when the rain starts pouring down, what kind of weirdness has messed them up so badly. I wonder why so often they seem to be guys who don't know when to shut up -- guys who've gotten into ugly fights with their Significant Others and then been tossed out. There's a lot of weird, ugly, knee-jerk behavior going on out there these days. Doesn't anybody ever relax anymore, or is everything grounds for an ugly argument?
Did you know Washington is among the Bottom 10 in the U.S. when it comes to mental-health services and funding? The feeling is that if folks who need help can deal with Reality, they should be out there dealing with it 24/7. And maybe that's why there are so many people roaming the streets here. And most of them don't seem to want any help.
Coincidentally, our famous former Regular "Bike Guy" (also homeless) met me in the parking lot when I got to work Thursday afternoon. The last time I saw him, a couple of winters back, he had a BAD case of shingles and was WAY distraught about Everything. You couldn't ask him a question without him freaking out.
After that, he disappeared. I was pretty sure he'd died. He'd refused to go to the emergency room or see a doctor at a free clinic. He refused to go to a homeless shelter. He said all they'd do was mess with him.
Yesterday, he looked WAY happier and healthier than I'd seen him in years, maybe ever. He'd moved to a town 10 miles up the road and was WAY more hopeful about his future. He agreed he'd been in bad shape, but things were MUCH better now....
But I wonder about the future for Bike Guy and that guy last night ... and even for me in five years if things go wrong. I have no idea of the challenges homeless people face every day. I have no idea what I can do to help. Most of those I've met don't seem to WANT any help.
There are no safety nets for anyone. Not really. We shouldn't kid ourselves. We never know what's going to happen. And winter's coming soon....

Happier things, now. I have a ton of new-to-me music in the house, mostly from the recent Portland trip, that I've barely had time to even sniff at. I'll be listening to and reviewing it in the near future. Artists include Hawkwind, Magma, Camel, Gong, Cat Stevens, The Strawbs, Gentle Giant, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Grateful Dead, The Go-Go's, Bob Seger, The Drifters ... and some guy named Frank Sinatra.
More soon....