Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Somehow I don't think we're in Kansas anymore....

Sometimes I hava hard time separating the memries from the music, don't ya know. I 1st heard Kansas's LEFTOVERTURE at a party in early 1977, which I attended w/ my highschool sweetheart Allison. The party was 4 a coupla Newspaper-class friends of R's, Cheryl & Cathy, who we'd worked w/ 4 2 yrs trying 2 get the school newspaper out on-time.
The party was LOUD & there was a lotta talking & I couldn't hear the music 2 well, tho I recognized "Carry On, Wayward Son." None of the resta the record made an impression on me -- I'm not sure I really heard it. But I wasn't myself -- Allison had screamed at me in the car when I couldn't find the party & wouldn't stop & call 4 directions (why do guys do that?), so we arrived an hr late & I wasn't happy. & when the other partyers started passing around the Green Smoke, Allison turned 2 me & said: "I think we're too square for this party." & she was right.
I started hearing "Carry On" on the radio more often & liked it. My best friend Jeff Mann bot the album, probly looking 4 something 2 add 2 the pantheon of Beatles, Elton John, Wings & Queen albums he'd bot & played over&over. At 1st we both thot LEFTOVERTURE was 2 arty & pretensious, especially the self-absorbed lyrics about the Meaning Of Life. "Carry On" was OK, but we'd play the rest & laff at the silly words -- most of it was just 2 concerned w/ The Meaning Of It All 4 us 2 take seriously. (A coupla yrs later we all started 2 talk like this, taking everything Very Seriously. Jeff got 2 the point where he could do 2-hr raps about The Meaning Of Life & how The Machine crushes everybody....)
We even briefly talked about writing R own Meaning Of Life concept album in which all the lyrics would Dgenerate in2 meaningless gibberish. All we hadta do was find some1 who could PLAY -- neither of us could play a note.
Now I wonder what we were laffing at. We realized pretty fast that it wasn't all garbage -- very quickly we picked-out the vivid, cinematic epic "Cheyenne Anthem," which was good enuf 4 me 2 buy the album 2. But at 1st a lot of it just didn't work 4 me, like the airy "Opus Insert," which I've never liked much. Then there was "The Wall," which Cmd 2 speak directly 2 my situation but which was just 2 obvious & self-conscious. & I hadn't yet Ntered in2 my heavy Art-Rock-worshipping phase, which was about a yr away.
By then, R friend Don Vincent had bot the album & loved it. & repeated listenings revealed much 2 Njoy -- along w/ "Cheyenne Anthem" there was the loopy keyboard hook on "Questions of My Childhood," the glorious drama of "Miracles Out of Nowhere" (I sure didn't mind the Meaning Of Life lyrics THERE), the more streamlined rockin' of "What's on My Mind," which I resisted at 1st, & even "The Wall" grew on me. When the music was this strong I could almost ignore the lyrics.
Don also bot SONG FOR AMERICA, which is how I heard the magnificent title track. Parts of the rest were OK 2, sections of "Incomudro -- Hymn to the Atman" (what was up w/ these Deeply Significant titles?), & the ghost story "Lamplight Symphony." But the heavy rock on "Down the Road" & "The Devil Game" turned me right off. (Later I heard MASQUE & thot the simple, brief "Two Cents Worth" was the best thing on it, just 4 its simplicity. & tho "The Pinnacle" had some neat imagery & music ... & more self-indulgent Meaning Of Life lyrics, "Mysteries and Mayhem" & others continued the boogie I found undistinctive -- loud, thudding heaviness & mysterious lyrics I could get from NE heavy-metal band....)
Tho I came 2 love LEFTOVERTURE, Don was an even bigger fan, & bot POINT OF KNOW RETURN the wk it came out, eating-up those Meaning Of Life lyrics. I thot the title-track single was pleasant but simpler than the great stuff on LEFTOVERTURE. I didn't want Kansas 2 get simpler. "Dust in the Wind" was Dpressing & self-absorbed, & a big hit. The album as a whole didn't grab me, but there were parts that weren't bad -- "Portrait (He Knew)" was kinda intriguing tho 2 heavy, & the slide in2 boogie noise at the Nd didn't thrill me. The opening of "Closet Chronicles" was promising, but I didn't think the rest Dlivered. I was disappointed w/ Kansas's stylistic drift, but I still liked them overall & I still thot they were better than Styx....
Don't think I ever heard a note of TWO FOR THE SHOW, tho I'd bn something of a sucker 4 live albums previously. Just another delicate studio band playing 2 loud on-stage, I thot.
By the time of MONOLITH I was convinced about Kansas's drift in2 simplistic boogie. "People of the South Wind" was an OK single, tho I thot "Reason to Be" shoulda bn an even-bigger hit, even tho it almost sounded like Kansas-meets-Styx. "On the Other Side" was OK, but I can barely remember "A Glimpse of Home," & I couldn't get thru overdone stuff like "How My Soul Cries Out for You" & "Stay Out of Trouble."
AUDIO VISIONS had mayB 3 Dcent songs. My local FM station played the heck outta "Relentless," which was almost memorable. "Hold On" Cmd like a standard ballad, reaching 4 something more but not making it. "Got to Rock On" was a pedestrian rocker, confirming their slide in2 mediocrity. I thot the best of all was the closing "Back Door."
Then came the solo albums by songwriter/keyboardist/guitarist Kerry Livgren & singer/keyboardist/songwriter Steve Walsh, which I barely paid attn 2. Then the "comeback" albums w/ new singer John Elefante -- I thot the singles were OK but inconsequential, & I never cared enuf 2 buy or play the albums.
When Kansas's 2-CD best-of box set came out in 1994 I was living in Wyoming & grabbed the package 4 Old Time's Sake. & I learned a few things. Like "Journey from MariaBronn" offa their 1st album -- just as magnificent as "Song for America," & w/ a better Nding. & the demo of "Can I Tell You?" beat the version on their 1st album.
& then there were the liner notes, which downplayed the guys' Deep Thots & Dpicted them as a buncha jokers from Topeka w/ a really odd sense of humor, who loved 2 rock out & mayB show off 1nce in awhile....
But mosta the live trax included in the box did them no favors. "On the Other Side" was OK, but "Death of Mother Nature Suite" was ugly, & "Incomudro" -- tho an OK per4mance -- had a continuous low-frequency hummm running thruout. Yrs after hearing it the 1st time, "The Pinnacle" sounded lots better, w/ a nice air of darkness & mystery even tho it wasn't a complete success, & "Mysteries and Mayhem" summed-up the "boogie!" side of the band that I'd never liked.
... & yet at their best I still think they were really good, & I still play LEFTOVERTURE now&then & it still sounds great. & I wonder why they couldn't keep the balance Btween the arty & the rocking going 4 a little while longer. Was it Kerry Livgren's Born-Again-ness? The calls 4 more boogie while they were touring? Did they think boogie would pay the bills if nobody was listening 2 the arty stuff? Did they just get 2 old? It's a mystery....


R Smith said...

Believe it or not, the first Kansas record I owned was Monolith and I got it of People Of The South Wind although Reason To Be should have been the bigger and better hit.

Leftoverture is probably my fave Kansas record. Carry On is overplayed but I do enjoy the B Side Questions Of My Childhood and failed single What's on My Mind although Miracles Out Of Nowhere might be the best of that album. Point Of No Return disappointed me, Portrait (he knew) and Lightning's Hand seem to be only two that I listen to off that album.

Since my best friend was a Kansas fanatic, I ended up giving him the Drastic Measures and one before that. Drastic Measures was their attempt to go Heavy metal it seems and nothing really stands out. Neither does their MCA albums with Steve Morse although they did have a minor hit with All I Wanted. But if you weren't a fan of their early 80s albums, you wouldn't like Power or In The Spirit Of Things.

drewzepmeister said...

I'm a huge fan of the original line-up of Kansas! I have ALL of their albums and Leftoverture is my favorite. (The Wall is a personal favorite tune that is close to my heart)