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....

Sunday, August 28, 2016

News flash: YES IS THE ANSWER!

I'm reading YES IS THE ANSWER ... AND OTHER PROG ROCK TALES (2013), a collection of 21 essays about progressive rock, edited by Marc Weingarten and Tyson Cornell.
And it's freaking HILARIOUS.
Because these writers UNDERSTAND. They know what a great, gorgeous, hilarious, nonsensical Guilty Pleasure prog was, and they all love it.
Just from a quick browse, I've already found several sections of this book that guarantee it will never leave the house. So far, I think it's the best book on music I've read in YEARS.
Because they are all so affectionate about prog, the writers are willing to admit its many flaws right up-front -- pretension, horrible lyrics, self indulgence, showing off, long-windedness, you know the list. And they admit that's part of what attracted them.
The essays are so direct, down-to-earth, open and honest -- that they make me laugh like a loon. This could happen to you too.
So far, I've loved Wesley Stace on Canterbury bands and lame lyrics (and why those same lyrics are also great), Matthew Specktor on the many wonderfulnesses of Yes, Jeff Gordinier on how Styx made him give up on progressive rock, Peter Case on the attractions of the Incredible String Band, Marc Weingarten's hilariously honest and direct introduction, and more. Rick Moody trying to defend Emerson, Lake and Palmer will have you laughing with the first sentence.
This book also tells me some things I need to investigate. Like that Gryphon has ANOTHER album out there somewhere: PAWN TO GRYPHON FOUR ... ? Really?! What??!! Have to confirm this....
It also points out some stuff I clearly missed while listening to Soft Machine, Hatfield and the North, National Health, Matching Mole, Robert Wyatt and others. And makes me wonder what ELSE I missed while I was allegedly listening closely.
If you're not a Prog fan this probably won't work for you. Or maybe it WILL if you need some good laughs. And there's nothing wrong with that.
I'll be back eventually with more about this. Meanwhile, there must be a cheap second-hand copy you can find somewhere. It'll be worth it....

Saturday, August 27, 2016

SMILE again

Hey, I read a book! Yesterday!
Luis Sanchez's SMILE (2014) is a look at the Beach Boys' "lost classic" album of the mid-'60s, one of 33-1/3rd's ongoing series of short books about classic rock albums.
The series has varied in quality. Some of the books are Everything You'd Ever Want To Know about a classic album -- Warren Zanes' DUSTY IN MEMPHIS is a pretty good, solid peek behind the scenes with lotsa details you probably never heard before. Gillian Gaar's IN UTERO is pretty-much a moment-by-moment recap of how that Nirvana album got made. I found Andrew Hultkranz's FOREVER CHANGES pretty frustrating -- it takes a look at Love's 1967 psychedelic classic and makes a bunch of speculations based on ... not much, I thought.
Some of the books are straight history, others are reminiscences, some are about what an album meant to the writer. In some, the writer just sort of dances around the album for his own entertainment. You might not be entertained by this.
Sanchez's book on SMILE has been slammed by some Beach Boys fans -- which is one of the reasons I wanted to read it. Sanchez treats SMILE as a finished album, a finished fact -- both as a complete artwork and a significant rock achievement, apart from the fact that its release was delayed by 45 years. He treats it more as an Artistic Object or a Cultural Artifact than as an album. His book is sort of an overview of What SMILE Means, Why It's Important.
He's taken some beatings for this. This is not straight history -- much of the SMILE story is here, though not all of it. There's almost nothing on how the SMILE SESSIONS album finally got released, how the folks behind the scenes pulled the parts together to give us the box set that came out in 2011. And if you're looking for a song-by-song analysis, that DEFINITELY isn't here.
Other books do that -- David Leaf's THE BEACH BOYS AND THE CALIFORNIA MYTH tells most of the story, Dominic Priore's LOOK! LISTEN! VIBRATE! SMILE! pulls together lots more bits and pieces in incredible detail, and Priore's later SMILE tries to give a historical overview. Lewis Shiner's novel GLIMPSES has a clear, idealized view of what the SMILE adventure must have been like. Much of the story has come down to Beach Boys fans as Brian Wilson's personal adventure in the wilderness. The story's so well known, is there much need to repeat all of it? Only if you can add something new.
Sanchez picks out the pieces he wants to illuminate, and adds comments from lyricist Van Dyke Parks and others who were around for these happenings. He adds a TON of Beach Boys history, more than was really necessary, I thought. Any serious fan already knows most of that stuff. The section on SMILE itself takes up maybe 30 pages of a 118-page book. The rest is background and overview.
That doesn't make the book bad, or weak. I think Sanchez's writing is pretty solid for what he wanted to do. There are a lot of different ways to approach this story, and the long history of this album. Relating the history of the Beach Boys' music and SMILE's place in American pop-music history is as legit an approach as any. While this book doesn't tell me Everything I Need To Know about a great album, I'm OK with what it DOES tell me -- even if I didn't learn much that's new.
I have other problems with the book, and they're technical. The book shows signs of being rushed. The proofreading is hideous in places, especially toward the end. One of Bob Dylan's best-known albums is mis-named HIGH 61 REVISITED. You might want to look that album up, could be fun. Comedian-actor-writer-director Mel Brooks's last name is spelled wrong. These should have been obvious, easy, simple fixes. Words are dropped here and there, sentences are mangled. The folks who proofread this book did the writer no favors. Usually you can infer what the writer intended from what you're reading. Here you can't always.
At the end, Sanchez is shocked that if SMILE were this good and this close to being completed back in the fall of 1966, why didn't Capitol Records just go ahead and release it? Couldn't they have insisted? Surely they wanted the money -- and they expected the album to be BIG.
But Brian said releasing the album then would have killed him and tore his family apart, and clearly he didn't want to be responsible for the emotional pain and potential economic impact if this experimental album flopped -- like PET SOUNDS basically did just a few months earlier (it just barely reached the Top 10).
That sorta sounds like Mike Love talking, don't it? "Stick to the formula, Brian -- girls and cars and surfing, catchy simple upbeat songs that I can sing and the fans can dig."
SMILE might have changed the musical landscape at the end of '66, coming after PET SOUNDS and "Good Vibrations" and BLONDE ON BLONDE and REVOLVER, and before SGT. PEPPER. But there's no way to know. It might have gone right over the heads of the audience. There were lots of BB fans who thought PET SOUNDS was "too weird" at the time: "You can't play it at parties. You can't dance to it. Where's the songs about cars and girls and surfing?"
SMILE's still a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind musical experience. As for what might have been ... well, maybe it's about time someone wrote an alternate history in which SMILE came out on time and the world DID change....
PS -- This is one of three 33-1/3rd books I grabbed at Powell's Books in Portland -- the other two are on PET SOUNDS and Van Dyke Parks' SONG CYCLE, all recorded in roughly the same era. Maybe they can shed some light on each other....

Friday, August 26, 2016

An Interruption In Service

Jeez, where to start?

WORK: First 2 nights of Marathon 4 have gone very smoothly. No complaints from me. And at least the AC is still working, as it remains hot here -- in the mid-to-upper 90s. The Girlfriend has me relaxed and thinking about work differently. Like it's OK if I can't fix something in the next 30 seconds, maybe the world won't end. Only 10 more nights to go. And at least two of those 10-hour nights will be ALL OVERTIME....

MOVING: It's Official. I will be completely moved-in with The Girlfriend on Labor Day. Talked it over with The Old Roommate -- he knew it was coming, wasn't surprised, even had a replacement already lined-up. I'm ecstatic, and The Girlfriend is thrilled, and this is actually going to happen within our lifetime. I know where I want to be, and it's right here. The Old Roommate even offered to let me use his truck so I can get the move done all at once, rather than carting a few boxes over now and then and fighting with the furniture. He's really a pretty great guy. Life is really good. I'm so happy I hardly know what to complain about....

TRIP: Portland is the Future! Well, maybe not, but it was a great break -- and I brought back a TON of CD's and a half-ton of books, all of which I'll probably be reporting on here, eventually. Powell's really IS the biggest bookstore I've ever seen, and within an hour I'd easily blown my modest budget.
Also visited one very nice CD shop -- Everyday Music, somewhere on Portland's west side -- and could easily have spent the rest of my life THERE, too.
There were lots of other things I liked about Portland: The pace somehow seems much slower there, MUCH slower than the Seattle area. In two days, I didn't see a single instance of road rage, horns honking, people screaming at each other, anyone driving anyone else off the road, etc. -- stuff I pretty much take for granted in this neighborhood. When we were stuck on the freeway in 90-degree heat, it was just The Girlfriend and I who were getting cranky. And a break for dinner took care of that.
I'm not naive -- there were a number of homeless people, but they weren't aggressive like they are here -- I wasn't held up for spare change. I only saw one meth freak, at the end of the second day, who began shouting threats for no reason and was immediately bounced from the restaurant we were sitting in ... and 10 seconds later the police arrived. I was impressed. It seemed almost ... civilized, there.
I'm not an idiot about stuff like this. And I can be miserable anywhere. But it sure was a nice break. Just getting out of town for awhile maybe did me more good than my vacation awhile back. I sure am relaxed, now. I'm hoping it lasts....

LOVE: Well, it's freakin' great. I have never felt so relaxed and at-ease with anyone, a woman who really GETS me, who has many of the same interests and obsessions, even some of the same hang-ups. We can talk for HOURS and laugh like loons and it's freakin' great. It seems like we've always known each other. She's my best friend. We've been seeing each other for four months -- together pretty-much 24/7 for the last three, and there hasn't been a cross, angry, ugly word between us. So THIS is what all those lovesongs were talkin' about. I recommend it heavily. Five stars.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

More laffs!

The Firesign Theatre: SHOES FOR INDUSTRY! (1993). Two CD's, 31 tracks, excellent liner notes/interview stuff by Steve Simels of STEREO REVIEW, lotsa laffs, some filler.
OK, The Beatles Of Comedy. No argument. This two-CD set pulls together some of the best of the Firesigns, including 11 minutes (not quite enough) from DON'T CRUSH THAT DWARF HAND ME THE PLIERS, the greatest comedy album of all time, more like a mind-movie than a comedy record.
What else do you need to know? Maybe you need to know that back in the day, Columbia Records sometimes sold the Firesigns' albums at bottom-budget prices -- $2.99, so cheap the record didn't even come with a paper sleeve! That's how I got my first copy of DWARF, back around 1978.
Then to take it home, play it and discover it was this psychedelic comedy trip -- well, quite a surprise. DWARF isn't perfect, it takes awhile to get going -- but once it gets rolling it's a dark, daring look at life NOW, now that everything's fragmented, you spend half your life switching channels on the TV, and nobody delivers pizza after dark up in the hills or to Sectors R or M anymore. In the end, along with being screamingly funny and even kinda scary, DWARF is surprisingly moving.
*Ahem.* Sorry about the raving. On here you get just enough of DWARF to make you want to hear the rest. There's lots of other good stuff too. "Temporarily Humbolt County" is a hilarious and brutal Native American history lesson. "Beat the Reaper!" is a hysterical game-show parody. "Ralph Spoilsport Motors" is surreal and twisted -- and check out the talking roadsigns. They sound just like the announcements that come out of the walls at the Atlanta airport. "The American Pageant" is a deeply twisted American history extravaganza. All the stuff from the Firesigns' radio show excerpted from DEAR FRIENDS is hysterical.
I can't take "Nick Danger," but I'm sure that's just a failing in me. The stuff from I THINK WE'RE ALL BOZOS ON THIS BUS leaves me kinda cold -- the sci-fi/clone setting of the story never really worked for me. DWARF is weirder and more surreal.
All the stuff with Reebus Caneebus is hilarious. The "Army Training Film" is sick. All the later solo stuff is lame -- how about the rest of DWARF instead?
There is filler here -- there are whole sections that bore me. Some of them are listed above. But the good stuff is SO good, so funny, words fail me. If you've never heard these guys, you owe it to yourself to check this out. Or just get DWARF and dive in deep. Worth expanding your mind for, either way. Four stars.
And thanks to Crabby for mentioning this package on his blog, or I never would have noticed it was out there!

Woody Allen: STANDUP COMIC (1978/1999). One CD, three different comedy "sets," 25 "routines," recorded 1964-68, minimal liner notes.
This was originally released in '78 as a cheap United Artists Records twofer called THE NIGHTCLUB YEARS. And though I hadn't heard this stuff since at least 1980, I played it all the way through awhile back and remembered all the jokes from 35 years ago and still laughed like a loon. That might happen to you, even if you know this material already.
Should note that this stuff was recorded before Woody became a movie star and an Academy Award-winning writer/director, and long before his adventures in court. He seems here to be taking himself much less seriously than he does nowadays.
Best moments? Well, anything regarding dating, sex, marriage, stuff like that. "The Vodka Ad," "Mechanical Objects," "The Moose," "The Great Renaldo," "Eggs Benedict" -- they're all great. Back in the day, I laughed 'til I cried. It's still pretty freakin' funny. Four stars.