Saturday, February 26, 2011

Attack of the 45's!

It's been awhile since I played any music around here, so Fri aft I broke-out the big box of 45 RPM singles. Was a good day 4 it, the sun was out after the snowstorm earlier this week -- definitely not WARM outside, tho. But bright & sunny, put me in a pretty good mood. Didn't have as much time 2 play as I'd hoped, but I slammed in some stuff I haven't heard in awhile.
The playlist:

5 Man Electrical Band: Absolutely Right.
Sutherland Brothers & Quiver: (I Don't Want to Love You But) You Got Me Anyway.
Chris Hodge: We're On Our Way.
B.W. Stevenson: My Maria.
Bullet: White Lies, Blue Eyes.
Nicolette Larson: Radioland.
Joni Mitchell: Raised On Robbery.
The Clique: Superman.
Doobie Brothers: Nobody.
Dave Edmunds: Girls Talk/Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Austin Roberts: One Word.
Donna Summer: I Love You.
Rickie Lee Jones: We Belong Together.
Easybeats: Friday On My Mind.

Opened with "Absolutely Right," like any decent early-'70s DJ would have if he had a drive-home radio show. Pure adrenaline rush, with Les Emmerson's great horn-like guitar runs, good early-'70s keyboard fills, & Xcellent group vocals. Pure 1971. & they get it all done in under 2-1/2 mins. A classic.
"You Got Me Anyway" opens with Tim Renwick's sneaky, understated guitar -- no hint of some of his stinging later fills. Seems kinda dark, but by the time you get 2 the lads' singalong choruses you'll B hooked, & Muff Winwood's solid, punchy production helps. This got some airplay in Boise, Idaho in Fall '73, shoulda bn a bigger hit. Don't know much about the Sutherlands -- they had a killer '75 ballad called "Arms of Mary," & wrote Rod Stewart's "Sailing." Renwick did guitar work on a lotta Al Stewart's albums & later Bcame a tour guitarist with Pink Floyd....
"We're On Our Way" sounds like a T. Rex-knockoff with its silly, spacey hippie-love lyrics, & Hodge's "Oooh! Ah!" vocalisms pre-date Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham by 5 years. Some nice gtr, but it's too short.
I've bn a sucker 4 "My Maria" since late-Summer '73, when I thot radio never played it enuf. Great choruses. Brooks & Dunn's version a few years back wasn't even close.... Co-writer Daniel J. Moore wrote Three Dog Night's "Shambala." Rest in peace, B.W. ....
"White Lies, Blue Eyes" is pure AM pop trash -- you can't understand mosta the words & it doesn't matter -- great choruses, great vocals, a marvelous rave-up finish where the fuzz gtr is lost in a wall of sound, marvelous (tho brief) gtr & keyboards & swelling strings at the end. My only complaint is it's 2 short. But ah, 1972. Is it true 2 guys from Atomic Rooster teamed up 2 do this? & why didn't it sell millions?
I don't care if nobody liked Nicolette Larson much, if she was 2 Southern California/corporate pop -- I've bn a sucker 4 "Radioland" since she premiered it on Johnny Carson's old TONIGHT show in '80. & she KNEW how cynical & sarcastic the lyrics were: "Tryin' to get a PIECE/Radio junkies want a new release...." Close yr eyes & it could B Linda Ronstadt. Nice tho brief Waddy Wachtel gtr solo in the middle break, & catch that little hint of Bruce Springsteen's E-Street sound at the end of the 1st verse. & Warner Bros couldn't sell 4 copies of it. RIP, sweetie....
"Raised on Robbery" is a total blowout, high-speed bliss from the squiggly keyboards up-front 2 Tom Scott's great sax solo in the 1st break, not 2 mention the silly lyrics. Joni shoulda had fun like this more often.
"Superman" -- B-side mania! Great singalong vocals, rudimentary bass, the drummer has all the thump-thump-thump intelligence of a marching-band drummer -- doesn't matter, it's a knockout, with a great crashing finish. I hear REM covered this a few years back -- is there NE way they could possibly have done it BETTER?
"Nobody" opens with some Xcellent sneaky guitar -- it could almost B "Black Water"'s cousin. Tho this Tom Johnston song definitely does the job, it's a little streamlined, modest -- mayB it needed something 2 set it off other than the electric gtr solo in the middle....
"Girls Talk" still sounds great, & the silly "Creature from the Black Lagoon" has a nice electric gtr break & some great bass backup vocals 2 go with Edmunds' funny lyrics.
"One Word" also hasa nice sneaky opening gtr riff. The gtr & vocals make the song sound a little like Johnny Rivers circa 1966. But the choruses R just a little cheezy, with that tinkly showbizzy piano. This isn't quite as good as I remembered; it went Top 10 in Boise in the Fall of '73, but it's EZ 2 C why it didn't break nationally. But I wonder who was on gtr?
I shouldn't havta Xplain "I Love You" -- 4 me, it's by far the best thing Donna ever did, the (forgive me) climax 2 her disco-fairy-tale ONCE UPON A TIME. It's irresistable & shoulda sold millions. So great I hadta play it again.
"We Belong Together" is WEST SIDE STORY told inside of 5 mins. Absolutely gorgeous, & SO lonely. I tear-up every time I hear it.
Went out with a bang with "Friday On My Mind," the weekend classic -- great trebly gtr, great singalong vocals.
More attacks coming soon!

Monday, February 21, 2011

More American Prog (updated)....

Will Romano's MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY asks if America can export progressive rock, then Xamines only work by the bands Kansas & Styx, perhaps dropping discussion of any other American prog acts due 2 space restrictions.
Well, I have no such space limitations, + I'm going 4 a personal record 4 most blog posts in a month, so here's some quick capsule reviews of some other American prog-rock albums that Romano could've discussed in his book. (A couple of them R included in his list of "Top 300 essential prog-rock listens" at the book's end.)
I'm repeating myself with some of these, but whatthehell. Some of them R at least as good as Kansas's LEFTOVERTURE:
* Group 87: (1st) (1980) -- Gorgeous all-instrumental album headed by guitarist Peter Maunu, trumpeter/keyboardist Mark Isham, bassist Patrick O'Hearn, & drummer Terry Bozzio. Every track's a winner, especially the gorgeous life-affirming closing anthem "One Night Away From Day," thru the hypnotic "The Bedouin," the frankly mechanical "Future of the City" (fades out just as it's getting REALLY good) & "Magnificent Clockworks," 2 the great sleeper "Moving Sidewalks." Every piece flows with layers of sonic gorgeousness, even the stuff that 1st seems like background music. Unfortunately, their later album A CAREER IN DADA PROCESSING isn't even 1/2 this good.
* Happy the Man: CRAFTY HANDS (1978) -- Almost all-instrumental & nearly as gorgeous, & with tons of energy from the Xplosive opening blowout "Service With a Smile" 2 the REALLY mechanical rave-up "Wind-Up Doll Day Wind." Some of the trax R simply beautiful mixes of keyboard, gtr & sax, like "Open Book" & "Morning Sun." The jumpy "Steaming Pipes" & "Ibby it Is" also have sections of pure beauty. The 2nd side tends 2 trail-off, tho. Their (1st) album (1977) is mostly good background music, tho it takes a step up from the gorgeous & moving "On Time as a Helix of Precious Laughs" (track #7 of 10) thru 2 the end.
* Glass Moon: (1st) (1980) -- Sorta a Genesis-soundalike, this Florida band turned Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" in2 the shoulda-bn-hit it was always meant 2 B. & that's not all their good stuff: From the dramatic opener "Blue Windows" thru the silly "Killer at 25" (with some hilarious lines about Paul Simon's folkie-singer-songwriter angst), a cover of former-Stories-member Ian Lloyd's "Follow Me," thru the hit-single wanna-be "I Like the Way You Play," & thru some rather more-avg stuff on Side 2, to Jamie Glaser's thunderstorm-like gtr solo on the closer "Sundays and Mondays," this is a great lost prog-pop album -- better than what Genesis was doing in the same period. Their 2nd album, GROWING IN THE DARK (1982) was supposedly more commercial, & all I ever heard off of it was a kinda-good cover of the old Hollies hit "On a Carousel."
* Providence: EVER SENSE THE DAWN (1972) -- The best Moody-Blues-style album ever, produced by Tony Clarke & released on the Moodies' Threshold label. Crossing Xcellent vocal harmonies with lite keyboards & autoharp(!) & a nimble string trio, this Pacific Northwest sextet scored singalong classics with "Fantasy Fugue," "If We Were Wise" & "Neptune's Door," & trax like "The Stream," "Mountain" & "Island of Light" wouldn't have embarrassed an FM station of the period. & they go all Moodies-cosmic on the closer "Behold: A Solar Sonnet." They were sposta have released a 2nd album, HEAVENLY HARMONIES, but the master tapes were stolen & the group broke-up soon after....
+ Dixie Dregs: DREGS OF THE EARTH (1980) -- Tho I think the Dregs only had about 4 tunes that they kept shuffling-up 2 fill-out their albums, EARTH has no overtly stupid barnyard instrumentals on it, & the good stuff is REALLY good: "Hereafter" may be their best piece ever, "The Great Spectacular" is nearly as great, "I'm Freaking Out" stretches out & spaces-out 4 more than 9 mins, & "Old World" is a refreshing closing acoustic gtr & violin piece. Their earlier WHAT IF? (1977) also hasa few great trax: the lengthy gtr showcase "Night Meets Light," many Dregs fans' fave piece "Take It Off The Top," bassist Andy West's memorable "Travel Tunes," + "Odyssey" & the punchy "Ice Cakes." I'm still not sure about the rest of their albums, tho....
...+ a few I forgot:
* Steve Tibbetts: YR (1980) -- Some of this Minnesota guitarist's later albums veer toward a more New Age/Jazz sound; SAFE JOURNEY barely rises above a low murmur. But this 1 rocks, especially on the gorgeous, stunning opener, the Xplosive, speaker-melting "Ur." Play it LOUD & it just gets better. None of the other trax R quite as great, but they've all got some nice tunes & moods & textures that keep this all-instrumental album intresting. Especially good: "Three Primates," "You and It," "The Alien Lounge," "Ten Years," "One Day," the folky/acoustic "Ten Yr Dance," & the percussion workout "Dance of the Sphexes."
* Grace Slick: DREAMS (1980) -- Well, I thot it was Prog. Not only does Grace SOUND great, but there's LOTsa great flashy gtr from Scott Zito, & Ron Frangipane's production & string arrangements R HUGE. There's only a coupla letdowns along the way, & summa the songs R just great. Melodramatic, sweeping, soundtrack-like, almost over-the-top. & it didn't sell diddly. Best: "Full Moon Man," "Let it Go," "Garden of Man," "Face to the Wind," "El Diablo," "Dreams," "Angel of Night."
+ Synergy: SEQUENCER (1976) -- "Synergy" is Larry Fast, who plays a multitude of electronic keyboards. This 2nd album features a pretty-great 1st side, opening with a really great fast-paced # called "S-Scape," moves thru some rather more leisurely pieces, & closes with a pretty-good cover of Mason Williams's "Classical Gas." Side 2 opens with an Xcellent electronic version of the haunting "Largo" from Dvorak's NEW WORLD SYMPHONY, moves thru a rather good version of the jazz classic "Icarus," then brings on the 11-minute epic "(Sequence) 14," which doesn't quite work 4 me. Fast's earlier ELECTRONIC REALIZATIONS FOR ROCK ORCHESTRA (1975) includes 1 absolute killer, the eerie & moving 13-minute "Warriors." Fast went on 2 release a series of synth albums thru the end of the '70s & in2 the '80s.
& if you feel brave....
+ David Sancious and Tone: TRANSFORMATION (THE SPEED OF LOVE) (1976) -- Sancious was Bruce Springsteen's keyboard-player 4 The Boss's 1st 3 albums, but this sounds NOTHING like Bruce. Closer 2 a jazz-rock-fusion album, but with a coupla strikingly gorgeous tunes, especially on the piano showcase "The Play and Display of the Heart," & on the 18-minute side-long title track, in which Sancious & his band take a brief, gorgeous theme & elaborate it clear in2 outer space. At 1 point a choir of angels heralds the moment when Sancious apparently Sees Ghod ... & then after a series of synth screeches, squiggles & breakdowns, the band returns 2 that gorgeous opening theme. The album's worth it just 4 these 2 trax. There's also some virtually unlistenable Hendrix-like gtr Xplorations on "Sky Church Hymn No. 9" -- perfect 4 emptying your house of unwanted guests....
...& if I ever stumble over any albums by Starcastle, Ethos, Cathedral, Babylon or Fireballet, or if I ever get all the way thru any albums by the early, proggy version of Utopia, I'll review them here....

Update 21

Andrew Foster Altschul's rock&roll novel LADY LAZARUS has arrived, & she's freaking huge -- 555 pages. If I can get thru it, it'll be the longest novel I've read in years.
So far, 50+ pgs in, it's a bit of a Kurt Cobain/Courtney Love-type story, as seen thru the eyes of their mythical daughter, who grows up 2 B a poet/rockstar/performance artist herself. & there's a nod 2 the life stories of poets Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes.
Not as "easy" 2 read as Altschul's new DEUS EX MACHINA (see review below), but vivid & intense & clever, horrifying & laff-out-loud funny. More soon....

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Last Word (maybe....)

OK, 1 last bash: Will Romano's illustrated progressive-rock history MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY is worth getting. It's worth keeping. In terms of the artwork & graphics & overall attractiveness of the package, it's the best coffee-table-style book 4 ooohing-&-aaahing-at that I've seen since Hipgnosis's WALK AWAY RENE & Roger Dean's VIEWS.
But I wish some1 had proofread the gol-darned thing. There R MANY proofreading/typesetting errors, some fairly major. Many words are mis-spelled ("scared" gets turned into "sacred"), at least 1 band member has his name mangled, 2 composers have their names messed-up, album titles R botched or mis-identified, many small words R left out ("and," "of," "in," "to," etc.), there R punctuation errors, & Romano doesn't help when his sentences go on&on trying 2 cram-in more data.
& then there's my favorite typo in the entire book, a reference 2 famous English science-fiction writer "H.G. Well," author of THE TIME MACHINE & WAR OF THE WORLDS. Well....
I hereby volunteer 2 proofread the next edition of this book. Romano has said in a discussion at that he may get a chance 2 update & Xpand this book at a later time (if it sells enuf copies, I assume), & I hope he gets the chance. & if you want somebody who will actually READ your book & catch the mistakes, Will, drop me a line....
& 2 prove this.... Well, I said I didn't want 2 nit-pick this book 2 death Bcos it's so much better than NE previous attempts 2 cover the same ground. But here's a list of positive & negative impressions I've picked-up from 3 weeks of reading this epic:
* An index (of band names, band members, song titles & album titles) would have helped immensely.
* Rush gets 15 detailed pages of history & analysis of their songs. Only King Crimson gets more. Not that Rush doesn't deserve it -- at this point they've probly sold more albums than anybody else in the book Xcept Pink Floyd. But it seems just a bit 2 much in a book that's only 245 pgs, especially when the entire "Canterbury scene" only gets 12 pgs total.
* There's LOTS of detail on Pink Floyd, Yes, ELP, Genesis, Crimson, Jethro Tull, Rush, & good histories on all. Crimson's 1st album gets 2 pgs of detailed analysis of its songs. There is MUCH less detail on some other bands. Some acts get their entire careers summed-up in 2 paragraphs (Nektar, Henry Cow). Can gets 4 paragraphs. Tangerine Dream gets 7 paragraphs. Kraftwerk & Neu! get mentioned, & that's all. Hawkwind is never mentioned in the text, tho they R mentioned in Romano's "Top 300" "essential prog-rock listens" at the end of the book.
* Romano has a big blind spot 4 prog's "poppier" side. The Moody Blues R ignored after DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED, Genesis is glossed over after 1977, Procol Harum is ignored after "Whiter Shade of Pale." Also ignored: later Camel, Supertramp, ELO. The Alan Parsons Project gets a "sidebar" write-up.
* The chapter on American prog profiles only Kansas & Styx. No mention of Happy the Man, Dixie Dregs, Utopia, Starcastle, Group 87, Glass Moon, Providence....
* Some of Jade Warrior's album artwork is used; they're not in the text.
* Some of Nektar's album-cover art is blown-up big 4 the Krautrock chapter -- they get 2 paragraphs at the end.
* Gryphon R briefly mentioned & their album-cover art is used, but their music isn't discussed.
* Fairport Convention gets more than a page. Pretty great folk-rock band. Was the Incredible String Band prog?
* 1 of Illusion's album covers is included, they get 2 paragraphs of history.
* Van der Graaf Generator is listed 3 times in the Top 300, & their music isn't discussed in the book. Romano has said at that VDGG's chapter was cut.
* Steve Howe & Steve Hackett's GTR is discussed in a late chapter on "commercializing prog" -- but tho Asia is mentioned, their music is never discussed ... tho Romano sez 1 of their songs was an inspiration 4 his book.
* Histories of the Strawbs, Tull, Gentle Giant, ELP, Genesis, Yes & Crimson R all solid & detailed. Camel's history is solid up til 1978 when the band got "poppy;" their proggy NUDE album is virtually ignored. Their STATIONARY TRAVELER album art is used, but the album isn't mentioned in the text; Romano notes their sound was moving closer to that of the Alan Parsons Project.
* Kevin Ayers is mentioned (as a member of Soft Machine), & 2 of his album covers R used, but his music isn't discussed.
* Mike Oldfield is basically ignored after TUBULAR BELLS. He's done many more albums since then, & at least a couple R worth hearing. But Oldfield also tried 2 go "poppy" in the late '70s....
* Curved Air is mentioned sevral times, but their music isn't discussed.
* Henry Cow is mentioned & they get 2 paragraphs of historical detail, but their music isn't discussed.
* Solo keyboardists R virtually ignored, other than Rick Wakeman. Basically overlooked in the text R the music of Patrick Moraz, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Synergy, Bo Hansson, Edgar Froese. Klaus Schulze gets a 6-paragraph sidebar in Krautrock.
* U.K. gets 3 detailed pgs, almost all about their 1st album.
* Kansas's history is better than the 1 included in their best-of box-set. The Strawbs' history is better than the 1 included in their HALCYON DAYS best-of.
* Included in the "Top 300" but not discussed in the text: Ethos, Cathedral, Jade Warrior, Gryphon, Magma, Procol Harum's SHINE ON BRIGHTLY, Utopia, Todd Rundgren, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Happy the Man, Amazing Blondel, Van der Graaf, Hawkwind, Family, Traffic, Stomu Yamash'ta, Mahavishnu Orch., Curved Air, Focus, Patrick Moraz, Uriah Heep, Saga, Wigwam, The Band's MUSIC FROM BIG PINK (under the rationale that The Band were doing in America what Fairport was doing in Britain, taking American folklore & melding it 2 rock&roll), Dixie Dregs, Kayak, Spooky Tooth with Pierre Henry, King's X, Hawkwind, Supertramp, Roxy Music, Be-Bop Deluxe, Jimi Hendrix's ELECTRIC LADYLAND, ELO, Queensryche, Captain Beefheart, The Enid, Bowie's LOW, Bo Hansson, Asia's AURA, Jean-Michel Jarre, Tool, Aphrodite's Child....

Friday, February 18, 2011

My brother from another mother

I have a step-brother named Jay who lives in Michigan, my Dad's son from a previous marriage. I assume he's still alive -- a Google search of his name brings up a court appearance a year ago, where he got fined $1,000 & spent a day in jail 4 what sounds like a domestic violence incident. That sounds like him, & the age & location is right.
My Dad thot he might be dead, or in prison. Neither of us know 4 sure. I don't really WANT 2 know Bcos it would take me back 2 somewhere I don't want 2 be. I haven't heard from Jay in almost 35 years.
He lived with me & my family 4 almost 9 months back in 1974-75, when I was 15 years old. He taught me a lot when I was at an impressionable age -- most of it bad. I'm sure my parents wouldn't be suprised 2 learn that the 1st few times I smoked pot it was with Jay, under pressure, surrounded by people I didn't know & didn't feel comfortable with, & all it did was give me a headache & make the power-line poles along the side of the road come at me in slow motion during the ride home.
But despite the ugly temper he got from my Dad & the fact that he got all the girls, there were times when Jay was actually fun 2 hang around with. He was a big music fan 2 -- but it had 2 B the right KIND of music, stuff he could get stoned 2, mostly: Black Sabbath's 1st, Rare Earth's ONE WORLD, Foghat's 1st, Bob Dylan's BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, Pink Floyd's A NICE PAIR -- most of these on bootlegged 8-track tapes. (Remember 8-tracks? Remember cheapo bootleg 8-tracks? You could get them at any convenience store for awhile....)
He had pretty good taste in cars, 2. Ghod knows I had no objection 2 Jay picking me up from highschool in a '62 Impala Super Sport with big wide tires on the back & the radio blaring. It sure beat walkin'.
Later he got this huge old "ticket-me red" Dodge panel van that dated back 2 about 1952 & got about 3 miles 2 the gallon. You could sleep in the back, there was MILES of space back there. But there was NO insulation in there, it was just a bare metal shell with a coupla benches along the walls, & it got COLD in there at night. ...& when the local cops 1st saw the van, the 1st thing they did was pull my brother over....
The girls loved him. With his long dark hair & dark complexion & big nose, & a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his short-sleeve shirt (at age 17) -- he looked like a hood. He had no trouble attracting attention & getting dates. While I was lucky if I could squeak out 2 words 2 any attractive girl my age. I could see how it was gonna be real quick-like. We still had some good times, tho we were very diffrent people. I was the obnoxious, innocent, worthless Little Brother. The girls hated me -- unless I could pass on a message 2 have Jay call them.
I was pretty innocent when Jay came along, & somehow stayed that way 4 a coupla more years. But he taught me a lot thru example, most of it bad: How to treat women badly, how to lie & take advantage, how 2 steal. When we were just hangin' out & workin' on his car & staying close 2 home, or going out 2 the Meridian Drive-In 4 a night of movies with the girls, it was all good fun.
But he dropped outta highschool, he couldn't hold a job, he'd clash with bosses. Money was always tight, & he couldn't leave the house without gas money, & with no job there was no gas money. So we started stealing gas. In the late summer we'd just cruise around neighborhoods at night & take gas cans outta open garages or outta the backs of boats.
This seemed pretty ballsy 2 me, the few times I did it or helped Jay do it. 1nce I remember grabbing a full gas can outta some1's garage & breaking in2 snorting laffter as I walked down the street carrying the can -- I couldn't believe innocent little law-abiding ME was doing this. & then Jay ordered me in2 the car Bcos the light had come on in the garage behind me....
The group of girls we hung-out with -- all Jay fans, of course -- often coughed-up gas money or helped scrounge 4 gas cans, just 2 have his company, just 2 get outta the house & have something 2 do.
We never got caught. It was a long time ago, & I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out on this stuff by now.
But Jay started staying away from home more -- weeks went by when my folks didn't know where he was. I assumed he was hanging out & getting high with his friends whose names I'd never bothered 2 learn. & meanwhile, things escalated. Jay came back 2 the house when no1 was home, & took money. Much later I learned he'd broken in2 the home of 1 of our friends & taken anything he thot he might be able 2 pawn-off.
When Jay crashed his car thru a big cube-shaped electrical junction box, the power company called my Dad, because Jay was still a juvenile. The damage was estimated at a couple thousand dollars. & when Jay came home the next day, my Dad THREW him up against the outside wall of the trailer we were living in & SCREAMED at him.... & Jay went back 2 Michigan the next day.
My Dad & I don't talk about Jay much. Last summer Dad said he'd heard Jay had done some prison time, then after he got out he seemedta B heading in a good direction when he got in2 an ugly motorcycle accident that supposedly burned most of his face off. He hadta have plastic surgery & now apparently looks completely diffrent.
Why am I telling you all this? Not sure. I think about my teen years a lot, but I don't think of this period 2 much, cos I did a lot of stupid things. I was an idiot. A 15-year-old who thot he knew everything -- don't they all?
What outrageously stupid things did YOU do while growing up?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Update 20(?)

Holy crap, This Just In: Bookstores are closing all over the place -- Borders has filed for bankruptcy & is planning to close some 200 stores in the next few weeks, including 1 15 miles down the road from me in Gig Harbor, a store that was just built a coupla years ago.... Course I've only been in that store 1nce, so it's not like I'm gonna miss it a whole lot. But still....
I've written here B4 that I used 2 spend enuf $$$ on books & music 2 run a small 3rd-world country. Tho not so much lately. I have 1 pretty good used book store about 2 miles down the road that I visit 1nce or 2wice a month & have been supporting 4 the last 5 years or so -- I've found some very good, suprisingly rare stuff there, & I often drop by just 4 an impulse buy.
But I haven't traveled 2 Tacoma -- where all the really good used book & record stores are -- in over 2 years. Lack of $$$, lack of reliable transportation, not wanting 2 B stuck 30 miles from home if the car breaks down, etc. There's a really great Half-Price Books store there, & 6th Ave. is lined with pretty good used record stores.
But I haven't been able 2 get there. So a lot of my buying has been done thru & a lotta the stuff I review here has been obtained from They're fast, they're cheap, & I know they'll get stuff 2 me. & only 1nce have I ever had trouble getting stuff I've ordered. & if you don't mind getting stuff 2nd-hand (which I hardly ever mind), their prices often can't B beat.
They don't have everything -- VULTURES OF THE VOID, Philip Harbottle's history of bottom-end pulp science-fiction writing in Britain, isn't available (2 bad, with a title like that you KNOW it can't B bad); & the price they asked 4 Algis Budrys' OUTPOSTS was WAY 2 much -- so if you've got copies of either of those, drop me a line. But this isn't intended as a commercial 4 Amazon....
Do I feel guilty about this? No, not really. I'm on a limited budget, I'm always looking 2 get stuff cheap. & I would love 2 go browse 4 a day in Tacoma if I could afford it & could get there & back reliably.
But it suprises me that Borders would close a brand new store in Gig Harbor, a sorta snooty suburb of Tacoma where there otta B LOTS of people with lotsa discretionary income. At least there seemed like a lotta well-off folks around when I worked there -- lotsa people driving Hummers & BMW's & Escalades & Audis & etc.
Course I know when the economy's down the tubes discretionary spending goes down 2 -- & I know Nobody Reads Anymore, specially not those people driving Hummers & Beamers & Escalades. They're 2 busy working 2 pay off their bills....
But if this trend continues I'm gonna miss that comfortable feeling I useta get walking in2 a Barnes & Noble or Borders or B. Dalton or Waldenbooks -- or any good used bookstore -- that feeling that there were lotsa treasures waiting there, if I could just find them.
Guess I'd better make that trip 2 Tacoma & see how many of those 6th Ave. used-record stores are still open....

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wine, Women & Songs

Well, I don't drink, so....
I think it was Rastro at La Historia De La Musica Rock who touched on the idea of couples having "their song" awhile back. I know lotsa couples have their own "special" song, even if 1 of the parties doesn't particularly LIKE the song in question. 4 many couples, 1 particular piece of music seems 2 sum-up events or recall the time & place of their meeting, attraction, their struggle 2 B together, how good it was when everything worked, etc.
I've been thinking about this ever since, thinking this subject was perfect 4 Valentine's Day. But this post has been delayed by windstorms, rainstorms, 6-hour power-outages, rotten weather in general, bad Internet connections, & a partial loss of nerve.
I don't know about any other couple's special songs, but I know of a few dozen that still conjure up memories of the women I've been attracted 2, married 2, lived with. & here they are....
The 1st girl I remember ever declaring my love 4 was a cute, short, funny brunette named Connie, in Boise, Idaho, in 1975. She was 13. I was 15 at the time. She was sharp -- she seemed to see right thru people, knew everything that was going on, but wouldn't say a word until you asked. I could make her laugh 'til she stopped breathing with my stupid jokes, & I was touched that she thot I was un-dorky enuf 2 laff WITH rather than AT.
When I finally got up the nerve 2 tell her how great I thot she was, she waved me off, saying she'd only hurt me. I couldn't see how, but obviously Connie did: She ended up with my step-brother Jay (I'll write more about him someday, he's more like the subject 4 a book), & after that failed 2 work, less than 3 years later she wound-up pregnant & married. & not to me.
The J. Geils Band's "Must of Got Lost" was the theme song 4 R failed relationship. Tho Connie dodged me 4 my step-brother, she didn't want me 2 B alone -- she tried 2 stick her sister Debbie with me, & that didn't work either....
1 night early in April about a year after I stopped seeing her, Connie called my house claiming 2 B pregnant & implying that I was the father. I was speechless. I'd never even held her hand. The silence stretched until she started laffing & let me in on the April Fool's joke. But I guess the joke came back 2 get her later....
A coupla years later I met Allison, my highschool sweetheart. We made eyes at each other in Newspaper class 4 a coupla months, then she invited me 2 her 17th birthday party over the summer, & B4 that party was over I knew I was in love. & I was scared 2 death. So I wrote her a long letter proclaiming my adoration, then went on a week-long vacation with my family.
When I got back, Al dragged me out 2 talk about this further. She hadta work pretty hard 2 get thru 2 me -- I was painfully shy, I'd never kissed a girl, never held any1 close. She worked thru all that -- Ghod knows why she had the patience. 2 the 17-year-old innocent me she was like a goddess. She pointed out that Simon & Garfunkel's "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her" sorta summed-up the fragility of the early part of R relationship.
Al was a big music fan -- if the music was up 2 her classical-based tastes. She could be awfully picky. We both loved the Moody Blues & Providence's EVER SENSE THE DAWN, but most pop music of the day she thot was mush. When running around Boise in her poky '62 Ford Fairlane we'd try 2 sing duets on lite stuff like the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B." She was a big Paul Simon fan, 2 -- out of nowhere she'd start singing "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." While driving around she'd sing the lead & I'd do the echo-vocal on Simon & Phoebe Snow's "Gone at Last."
& 2 years later when she dumped me, she bequeathed 2 me Gentle Giant's "On Reflection." Probably a good thing she never heard the Giant's "Funny Ways."
Tina followed a few months later. The X-girlfriend of my best friend Don, Tina's life was a mess. I thot I could rescue her. I was an idiot.
She adopted summa my strange music. Renaissance's "Ocean Gypsy" seemed 2 especially appeal 2 her -- a gentle portrait of a woman overcome by disaster. That was her, alright. She was also a big fan of Renaissance's "Northern Lights."
I thot Journey's "Feeling That Way/Anytime" made a good theme song 4 her, & 4 the football-team's-worth of lovers she apparently tried out while she was supposedly "with" me. Arguing constantly & spending R emotions on other people, we made it thru 3 chaotic years B4 she dumped me & married a friend of mine who'd been sharing R apartment....
Cyndi came along next, when we were both tired of dating & just wanted some1 2 talk 2 & relax with. We ended up getting married & lived with each other 4 17 years. Some of those were kinda happy, & we got 2 marvelous kids out of it.
When we 1st met R theme song was the Go-Go's "Vacation" -- I guess because after I met her, we spent the next 10 days 2gether & I never even bothered 2 call home & tell my family where I was. Later R theme song was Chicago's "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" -- I guess because it was hard 4 me 2 say I'm sorry about some things.... Cyndi put up with a lot 4 a lotta years. I know I'm a moody guy 2 live with. & I know I was way worse back then.
It took Cyndi a long time 2 figure-out what she wanted 2 do with her life. When she finally decided what she was going 2 do -- at age 40 -- the next thing she decided was that she didn't want to do it with me. When she'd decided she was going 2 move out but hadn't left yet, the only music she'd play was Melissa Etheridge's album BREAKDOWN -- over & over, at top volume. That album actually has some pretty good stuff on it. But it was so loud neither the kids or I could sleep thru it -- I was 2 stressed-out & sad 2 even ask her 2 turn it down. When she finally left, she bequeathed 2 me Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know."
Deb's theme song at 1st was Mary-Chapin Carpenter's "Passionate Kisses" -- I was listening 2 a lot of women country singers then, & it reminded me of her: "Shouldn't I have this...?" Much later her theme song was Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You," which I thot summed-up our very brief relationship: "I don't know who you are, but I'm with you...."
Mary is Nick Drake's BRYTER LAYTER, Caravan's "All the Way," & Rod Stewart's "Handbags and Gladrags," which I never woulda heard if Mary hadn't turned me on 2 it.
"You Oughta Know" reared its ugly head here, 2: After 1 of R early fallings-out & make-ups, Mary gave me a stuffed cross-eyed bear as a symbol of R relationship. 2 me the bear stands 4 being able 2 love some1 no matter what their faults, no matter the history the couple shares. I've still got the bear, its silly face is beaming at me right now from across the room. & of course the bear is based on a mis-hearing of 1 of Alanis's lines from the song: "The cross I bear that you gave to me...."
Mary has put up with more crap from me over the past 10 years than Cyndi EVER did. But I'm still 2 close 2 this relationship 2 know if there R other songs that fit as well -- Mary's a big Pink Floyd fan, but I think you'd havta go a long way 2 find a Floyd song that's suitable 4 couples. Definitely not "One of My Turns" or "The Trial." Or "One of These Days," "Comfortably Numb," "Run Like Hell".... "High Hopes," maybe? "Wish You Were Here"?
Happy Late Valentine's Day!
...& you & your Significant Other's special song is...?

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Don't know if this means anything 2 any1 other than me, but if you count the 225+ posts I did at my old dead website + the 175 or so I've done here (a couple have been deleted along the way), that makes just over 400 ... in a little over 2 years.
I don't believe it. I thot I was pretty-well written-out last summer, that I didn't have a whole lot left. But somehow stuff keeps bubbling up....
If I hadn't been down 4 2 months awhile back with no computer, I mighta gotten here even sooner. This is still just as much fun 4 me as it ever was, & sometimes even more compulsive. At the end of some posts I've been tempted 2 add "Powered by Caffeine" rather than "Powered by Blogger" or whatever -- this is possibly 1 of them....
Anyway, I hope some of you out there at least laugh 1nce in awhile when you read this stuff, or think of some piece of music you haven't heard in 30 years. If any of that happens, I've done something worthwhile.
My thanx 2 the folks who read & comment here regularly -- especially Rastro & Crabby, & Drew & Gardenhead & Adam & Perplexio & the few others who comment now & then. You guys keep me going.
& apparently SOMEone else is looking at this stuff: Blogger claims I'm getting 800+ pageviews ("hits"?) per month lately, & the #'s keep going up -- if you can believe Blogger. Not sure if I do. Apparently folks from all over the planet stumble in here by accident. I'm really big in Bolivia & Latvia. Ghod knows what they must think....
OK: If you're crouched in a yurt out on the Mongolian steppe somewhere & you ended up HERE somehow, will ya 4 Chrissakes COMMENT & let me know what led you here, what you think, etc? It's making me crazy....
In the future I hope 2 drag-in more nostalgia, more music writing, more odd experiences from my Air Force & newspaper-reporting career, more embarrassing personal stuff, moremoremore. Maybe I'll do some more rough drafts 4 a critical guide 2 Strange Music, a book I've wanted 2 write 4 more than 20 years. I'll keep going as long as the World's Smallest Laptop holds out.
4 now, I'd just like 2 thank the Academy & every1 I've ever met in my entire life....
Thanx 2 my son ADD who set-up my 1st website & gave me the best Xmas present I've ever had, the gift that keeps on giving. Thanx 2 Mark Prindle, who immediately & without hesitation started pointing people in my direction; & 2 Don Ignacio, who dived in soon afterward; & 2 Drew, who's sent me more visitors lately than any1 else.
Thanx 2 Gardenhead, who encouraged me when things got dark; & 2 Mary, who got me 2 TALK 2 somebody when things got REALLY dark -- I think she probably still reads this stuff & might be wondering what I'm thinking these days: I don't know, sweetie. Did I ever?
I remain amazed by what this Internet can do: When I posted that review of Andrew Foster Altschul's DEUS EX MACHINA yesterday, within 30 minutes after it was up somebody found the post thru a Google search. Amazing. It's the closest thing 2 James Blish & Ursula K. LeGuin's instant communication. Or as close as I want 2 get, anyway....
& I'm still surprised by how much this has come 2 mean 2 me. This right here is how I deal with the world, how I relax, un-stress, de-compress. Writing about music & books is WAY easier than trying 2 figure out why there was a double-fatality shooting in the Wal-Mart parking lot a mile down the road from my house. & a helluva lot more comforting. If I were 2 lose this, I'd feel like I'd had something amputated.
Hope it's working 4 you, 2. Thanx 4 reading....

Friday, February 11, 2011


(Or: "A Place in the World III.")
If you've ever been sucked-in by the sociological complexities of SURVIVOR, or by the flash & glitz of ROCK STAR: INXS, or by any other "Reality TV" show 4 any reason, against your will or otherwise, Andrew Foster Altschul's DEUS EX MACHINA is the book 4 you. & it's brand new.
DEUS follows the producer, technical crew & cast thru a disaster-plagued season of THE DESERTED, a sorta SURVIVOR-From-Hell. Tho things start out fairly "normal," slowly the weirdness & brutality of The Deserted's desert-island scenario spirals up & up, out of control. The Guys In Charge at the Network feel that the wilder the situation gets, the better the show's ratings, so the situation evolves in2 lethal craziness.
The Producer realizes what's going on & feels that his show -- which he originally thot would portray an honest look at human nature under tough conditions -- has now become perverted & twisted, appealing 2 the lowest possible audience, far away from his original plans.
The Producer tries 2 re-assert his control, 2 get the show back 2 something closer 2 real behavior & genuine emotion. But The Producer has his own baggage & issues 2 deal with....
So far, not 2 suprising, right? But things get way ugly. No form of human behavior is 2 brutal 2 televise. The show's contestants stop caring about each other VERY quickly, just as in the "real" thing. People die -- in the ugliest possible ways. & it all gets fed in2 the cameras, which see all, know all, have background interviews ready 2 handle any possible situation.
While The Producer tries 2 set-up a finale that will return some real human emotion 2 the show, people behind the scenes R taking his scenario & cranking it up as far as it will go. & the real finale turns out 2 B a horrifying quasi-mystical Xperience no1 can Xplain. But the crew keeps on filming.
Altschul might B suprised 2 think he's written a science-fiction novel, but I think he has. The technology the crew uses 2 get the show on the air is just 1 step ahead of what Xists right now -- I think. The use of e-mails, tweets, blogs, cellphones, & the way they IMMEDIATELY have an effect on the production is very up-2-date. Scarily so. & the Control Room scenes R as vivid, high-tech, tense & believable as the best work by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson....
I was pretty disappointed with the ending, even tho it was 4shadowed as early as Page 6. It's sorta borrowed from Dan Simmons' brilliant '80s short-story "Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds," if that doesn't ruin it 4 ya. It coulda been better if Altschul had actually borrowed MORE from Simmons.
In the book, the owners of the island B4 the TV people took over R listed as Ballard Metals Corp., & I think the late English writer J.G. Ballard coulda written this book, with his overarching theme of how Big Media is 1 of the controlling forces of R lives. But Ballard hardly ever got as close 2 his characters, & was almost never as warm 2 them, as Altschul is here.
Ballard is also echoed in summa the distances evoked in this book. Big disasters happen, but R shown 2 have little real effect. A magnitude-8 earthquake hits near the island, & a tsunami floods the production compound -- but there Cms 2 B little REAL damage & the show continues without a hitch.
This event & the reaction 2 it sorta echoes Real Life -- like the Sumatra Xmas earthquake a coupla yrs back, or Hurricane Katrina: The disaster is huge in R perceptions 4 awhile, but by a week or 2 later we're on2 something else. Rebuilding after the disaster may take years -- but who notices, who cares about that? Other than the people at Ground Zero....
This Bcomes even clearer as Altschul winds the book down: Near the end he slips in2 Lecture Mode about what other atrocities Reality TV has 2 offer, as long as you DON'T CHANGE THE CHANNEL. As if by then U haven't quite gotten the point. But believe me, by then U have.
But I don't think U should read this book 4 the ending. There's a lot of other good stuff U'll find along the way. Some of it's pretty outrageous, even funny. Some of it's also pretty brutal. Tough 2 read. But worth it.
Near the end, 1 of the contestants who gets hauled off the island early sez the publicity he received after being on the show & the little bit of $$$ he earned didn't make a whole lot of diffrence -- what he was really looking 4 was a place 2 fit in. No matter how badly he was treated, at least he felt like he had "a family" 4 1nce, a place where he could fit in "just so." A place where he could B useful & content, "which is what everybody's always trying to sell you anyway."
& tho there R multiple "winners" of the show, Altschul makes clear that winning doesn't make them happy.
I think Altschul's book has a pretty firm grasp on how contemporary society works -- what we seem 2 care about, & what slips right by us. & he gets his story told quick, in just over 200 pgs. & I think I spotted Xactly 1 typo.
Now I'm gonna havta track-down Altschul's previous book, LADY LAZARUS, which is sposta B "a rock & roll novel"...!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

New Wave fan?

Oh yeah. Even with being such a Prog Guy (which I was back then & obviously still am), the best thing about working in a record store from 1979-82 was that it Xpanded my horizons even more -- I learned there was even more great music out there by people I might normally have never heard or mighta turned my nose up at. (I was that kinda guy, & sometimes still am.)
The 1st coupla years of Punk Rock, I had absolutely No Use 4 the stuff. Ramones? They can't play! (In 1979 I hadda chance 2 C the Ramones LIVE in a small club in Garden City, Idaho, 4 FREE, & I passed on the chance, took the free tickets 2 Blue Oyster Cult instead; what was I THINKING?) Sex Pistols? Aren't they all just spitting & safety pins stuck thru yer cheek & bondage clothes? Who the hell needs that?
Instead, I stuck my nose up at all that punk stuff & was suprised when the stuff I seemedta prefer got blander & blander -- Genesis's AND THEN THERE WERE THREE and DUKE, Supertramp's BREAKFAST IN AMERICA, which I thot was pretty dull at the time & hasn't really aged very well....
Well, I was an idiot. My new co-workers at the record store (especially a cashier named David who trained me) gently persuaded me that there was a LOT of really good New Wave/pop music out there that I was never gonna hear on the radio. & I knew that, but.... I'd always been a sucker 4 '60s-style pop bands like the Raspberries & Badfinger, so in a way this turn toward New Wave pop was kinda a return 2 my musical roots of 9 years earlier, when I 1st started listening 2 the radio....
The 1st New Wave album I remember buying was The Records' 1st, & that was after grabbing their 1st 2 singles, "Starry Eyes" & "Teenarama." With their funny lyrics & punchy guitar riffs & great group vocals, this all seemed like pretty innocent stuff, with just a twist of modernism & cynicism. The 1st side of their album was so good I don't think I ever got 2 Side 2....
This musical punchiness perhaps led me 2 the Headboys' 1st album -- a cross Btween sweet pop lovesongs & deranged late-nite trash-culture lunacy, with great songs like "The Shape of Things to Come" & "Changing with the Times," endless piano ballads like "Silver Lining," screaming weirdness like "Experiments" & "Kickin' Over the Cans," bouncy Farfisa-organ-fuelled oddness like "My Favorite DJ," & horrors like "The Ripper." All of this set 2 lite, upbeat bouncy off-kilter pop. Kinda a clash, but pretty neat.
Headboys' producer Peter Ker was also responsible 4 the (Bay City) Rollers' best album, ELEVATOR (1979), which mixed gorgeous pop lovesongs like "Hello and Welcome Home" with majestic keyboard rock like "Stoned Houses #2" & nostalgia pieces like "I Was Eleven" & what-is-it's like "Washington's Birthday." Not really a New Wave album, but pretty close, & it shoulda sold millions.
I also got intrested in early Gary Numan, especially his #1 British hit "Are Friends Electric?" -- sorta Bowie-style trance music -- & a later # called "I Die, You Die." Thot he had potential, but then he got Too Popular....
1 that REALLY got my attn was the Jam's brilliant SETTING SONS (1979), an angry, bitter, disillusioned snapshot of life in Thatcher-era Britain -- practically a concept album about high unemployment, working 2 hard, getting fired, sleeping in the streets, joining the Army cos you've got no other choice, etc. All the original songs were great, especially "Private Hell," "Little Toy Soldiers," "Thick as Thieves," "Strange Town," "Wasteland," "Eton Rifles" -- an angry punk album you could scream along with. Oh, & also the worst cover version of "Heat Wave" ever recorded. & a record pressed so thin you could see thru the black vinyl....
Even this brilliance was overshadowed by 1 of my fave albums ever, the Pretenders' 1st (1980). I was prepared 2 hate those folks after the silly "Brass in Pocket," but the album was a much deeper, darker thing. THE PRETENDERS got me thru 1980 alive, cos I knew no matter how bad a day I had, no matter how angry or frustrated I sometimes got, that was nothing compared 2 the crap Chrissie Hynde went thru -- & just knowing that cheered me up. Loved all of it, from the doomy gtr meltdown in "Lovers of Today" 2 the personal putdowns of "Private Life," the creative struggle outlined in the great "Mystery Achievement," 2 the sweeter lovesongs like the gorgeous "Kid" & Ray Davies' "Stop Your Sobbing," 2 Chrissie's apparent recounting of being a biker chick (or something) in "Tattooed Love Boys" & "Up the Neck" -- jeez, I even loved "Space Invaders," a sorta "Peter Gunn Theme" 4 those days of video-game arcades on every streetcorner. 4 me, it was the best album of its year.
I followed the Pretenders 4 quite awhile, bought their 1/2-disappointing 1/2-great II ("Message of Love," "Birds of Paradise," "Talk of the Town," "Pack It Up"), their comeback LEARNING TO CRAWL ("Back on the Chain Gang," "Time the Avenger," "2000 Miles"), even GET CLOSER ("Hymn to Her," "Don't Get Me Wrong"). It was good just 2 know Chrissie was out there still blasting away.
There were lots of others that didn't sell as well, like the Shoes' great PRESENT TENSE (1979), full of gorgeous, breathy lovesongs like "Too Late," "Now and Then," "Every Girl" & "In My Arms Again," + plenty of great gtr work. But by the time the band's videos actually got played on MTV a year or 2 later, the album had already been deleted....
Or there was Holly and the Italians' THE RIGHT TO BE ITALIAN (1981), which 2 me sounded like the Ramones led by a woman singer/songwriter/gtrist -- lotsa great cheerleading EZ-2-remember riff-songs like "I Wanna Go Home" & "Youth Coup," & 1 absolute killer brokenhearted rocker, "Miles Away."
I was pretty infatuated with Blondie 4 awhile, sorta against my will, sucked in by the great hooks & Debbie Harry's smooth vocals on "Heart of Glass," & then locked-in by the great 2nd side of PARALLEL LINES ("11:59," "Will Anything Happen?," "Sunday Girl," "Just Go Away"). EAT TO THE BEAT was in some ways even stronger & farther out, with the screaming of "Victor" 2 offset gorgeous pieces like "Union City Blue." But they couldn't hold the quality, following-up with the mostly-wretched AUTOAMERICAN, which I keep 4 1 song, the marvelous ghost story "Angels on the Balcony." Oh, & "Rapture"'s still pretty funny....
Something about matching a woman's smooth voice 2 these simple, bouncy rhythms & tunes really worked 4 me. I even mostly liked Linda Ronstadt's fake-new-wave album MAD LOVE, especially 4 the Elvis Costello tunes (the brilliant "Party Girl," "Talking in the Dark"), & "I Can't Let Go," 1 of Linda's best songs ever & it didn't sell diddly. Took me a few more years 2 B able 2 hear Elvis the C Himself, & was knocked out by his rolling "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding," which shoulda sold millions.
Dave Edmunds was pretty great when he was on -- I was 1 of the only people I know who bought his "Girls Talk"/"Creature from the Black Lagoon" single -- can you believe that got radio airplay in Idaho? Maybe Bcos it was 2 good 2 ignore.... But I couldn't hear Dave's REPEAT WHEN NECESSARY, it seemed 2 same-y 4 me. I might feel diffrent 2day. Also loved his later singles "Information" & "Slippin' Away" with Jeff Lynne's high-tech production. But the stuff Lynne didn't produce....
There were lots of others. Loved the Police's REGGATTA DE BLANC & couldn't understand why it didn't sell millions, even if just 4 the laffs on trax like "Does Everyone Stare?" & "On Any Other Day." Followed them thru the disappointing ZENYATTA MONDATTA & the better GHOST IN THE MACHINE -- still love that closing trio, the brilliant screaming "Omegaman," "Secret Journey" & "Darkness." & later bought SYNCHRONICITY, which I thot was REALLY uneven, some brilliant ("Synchronicity II," "King of Pain"), some just kinda pointless....
We urged people in Boise 2 buy U2's BOY, certain we were gonna hear a LOT more of those guys -- but outside of the folks who worked at the record store who bought it, I don't think we ever sold more than 4 copies of the album. Couldn't people HEAR? Who could resist that brilliant 1st side ("I Will Follow," "Twilight," "An Chat Dubh," "Into the Heart," "Out of Control")? Followed U2 thru OCTOBER (which sold even less) & later bought WAR, which I wasn't that thrilled with, then lost touch with them as they Bcame the biggest band in the world -- the hits on JOSHUA TREE were amazing, but I don't think I ever got any farther in2 that album. Only started hearing them again a few years back when they did "Beautiful Day" & "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own."
My old record store buddy Loren Clements hadta play the 1st Cars album over&over&OVER B4 I grudgingly agreed they might have some talent. I loved "Just What I Needed," but it took me 4 YEARS 2 hear "Bye Bye Love" & "All Mixed Up" & the rest. Still bought their 2nd album CANDY-O just 4 "It's All I Can Do" & "Dangerous Type." Played the heck outta HEARTBEAT CITY a few years later, & even went 4 their COMPLETE GREATEST HITS awhile back....
Back 2 women singers -- I was a sucker 4 the Go-Go's early, playing their BEAUTY AND THE BEAT 2 death, overplaying the rather soft & weak VACATION, & going thru sevral copies of TALK SHOW, 4 me their best & punchiest album -- the best songwriting, the most drama, great singing, songwriting, great gtrs & terrific drumming by Gina Schock.
When the Bangles came along later they sounded 2 me like the Go-Go's with even fewer rough edges. But I played DIFFERENT LIGHT 2 death, & later worked my way back 2 the underrated ALL OVER THE PLACE. EVERYTHING was mostly a disaster but there's a few good things on it NEway ("I'll Set You Free," "Glitter Years," "Be With You").
I was even a sucker 4 Cyndi Lauper, who's SHE'S SO UNUSUAL was 1a the great pop albums of the '80s, pretty adventurous 2. I'm sure you know the titles: "Money Changes Everything," Prince's "When You Were Mine," etc. Katrina and the Waves came later, & tho they were closer 2 mainstream, they hadda few great songs like "Walking on Sunshine," "Game of Love" "Que Ti Quiero," "Mexico," "Red Wine and Whiskey" & a few others. & Katrina Leskanich's enthusiasm was amazing. Or how 'bout Missing Persons, with refugees from my fave band Group 87, fronted by the loopy vocals of Dale Bozzio. Their SPRING SESSION M included the great fame-bio "The Noticeable Ones," "It Ain't None of Your Business," "Destination Unknown," "Walking in L.A."....
We useta play the heck outta Side 1 of Patti Smith's WAVE album in the store, but I was never able 2 get in2 much of the rest of her stuff (other than "Because the Night"). But WAVE was worth it 4 the shoulda-bn-hit "Frederick," the mysterious "Dancing Barefoot," & the intense "Revenge."
I was also a sucker 4 REALLY silly stuff -- Split Enz's WAIATA was practically lighter-than-air, with some wonderful shoulda-bn-hits like "Hard Act to Follow" & "History Never Repeats," silly stuff like "Clumsy" & "I Don't Wanna Dance," ravers like "Wail," & even soundtrack music like "Albert of India." Every song was a winner. But I arrived 2 late on the scene 2 hear the earlier TRUE COLOURS & it took me until their HISTORY NEVER REPEATS best-of a few years later 2 hear what I'd missed....
Squeeze was big with the record-store team, especially ARGYBARGY & EAST SIDE STORY, worth it for great songs like "Pulling Mussels from the Shell" & "In Quintessence."
I was also a sucker 4 a lotta Men at Work's stuff, thot their 1st album was pretty charming, especially "Be Good, Johnny" & "Down by the Sea." But their 2nd album CARGO was almost TOO lite, Xcept 4 the brilliant "No Sign of Yesterday."
Some later stuff grabbed me 2. Modern English's AFTER THE SNOW helped get me thru journalism school in 1 piece, especially the great 2nd side, which featured the classic "I Melt With You" (which you can now hear in candy commercials), the spooky "Carry Me Down," the moody title track & the rockin' "Tables Turning." After the 1st side's opener "Someone's Calling," the record sorta disappeared in2 arty mood music. But still, intresting....
Lotsa New Wave-ish stuff in the early-2-mid '80s grabbed me: 'Til Tuesday's VOICES CARRY (with the overlooked drama of "Maybe Monday" & "Don't Watch Me Bleed"); Tears for Fears' mostly-great SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR ("The Working Hour," "Head Over Heels," "Broken"); A Flock of Seagulls' gorgeous "Wishing" & their other hits (also the worst live band I've ever heard, opening 4 the Go-Go's in San Antonio around '85); The Church's Kevin Ayers-ish "Under the Milky Way" & sorta-David Bowie-ish "Reptile"; & New Order's "True Faith," which I 1st heard coming outta the car radio in Cheyenne, Wyoming of all places....
There was other stuff I liked by bands I never Bcame devoted 2. I liked the Clash's "Train in Vain (Stand By Me)" & "This is Radio Clash," but I never have heard NE of their earlier angry, rabble-rousing stuff. I thot the Boomtown Rats' "I Don't Like Mondays" was pretty brilliant, but no suprise it wasn't a hit in America & I don't think I ever heard NE of their albums. & there's probly bunches of other good stuff I'm 4getting....
I even found great songs by the Ramones & the Sex Pistols, eventually. The Ramones hit the mark when I saw their movie ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL & heard "I Just Wanna Have Something to Do." Brilliant!
& when I was finally able 2 hear the Pistols' "God Save the Queen" I had 2 admit it was pretty freakin' great -- & the sound of it still echoes 2day in songs like Green Day's marvelous "Holiday" (which I somehow left outta my "Best of the '00s" post awhile back). I even found a song that worked 4 me by Public Image Ltd. -- "Rise," which I also 1st heard on the car radio in Cheyenne. Wish I could remember what open-eared local station was playing that stuff....
Your views on Punk Rock, New Wave, etc?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Part 3....

Will Romano confirms in a discussion at that "a good deal of info" was cut from his prog-rock history MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY, including a whole chapter on Van der Graaf Generator. This mayB Xplains why some sections of his book seem cut-off short in places. & why there's no more discussion about VDGG, Be-Bop Deluxe, Procol Harum, Can, Gryphon, etc. Like many fans who discuss the book at ProgArchives, I'd agree the package coulda used an Xtra 50 pgs of space.... But that apparently wouldn't go along with the commercial/publishing/pricing realities 4 the book....
A visit 2 ProgArchives also shows that I'm getting in very late on this discussion. As usual. Ah well....

On Reflection....

The further I get in2 Will Romano's MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY, the more my opinion of this book changes. Already some of the initial impressions I had about this illustrated history of progressive rock have been proven wrong.
Yes, Romano makes some mistakes. Yes, the book coulda been proofread better -- I think that about MOST books, these days. Yes, at least 1 band member's name is wrong. Yes, Romano has his blank spots. & his sentences do sometimes go on & on when he tries 2 cram 2 much data in -- I'm the last person in the world who should complain about that.
Yes, there R things I woulda done diffrently. But I don't wanna knit-pick this book 2 death 4 small errors, cos I think the effort involved was worth it, Bcos the interviews alone musta taken MONTHS of work, & Bcos it's so much better, so much more solid on facts & Dtails -- & so much closer 2 Bing in Real English -- than some previous attempts in this area (STRAWBERRY BRICKS GUIDE TO PROG, PROGRESSIVE ROCK FILES).

PLUSSES: Some of the sections on individual bands R pretty great. The section on Jethro Tull is really well done & quite Dtailed -- I learned some things -- even tho Ian Anderson's quotes R VERY formal -- they sound like they came from a prepared statement, rather than a face-to-face interview. & it was good 2 hear from original guitarist Mick Abrahams & keyboardist/strings-arranger David Palmer.
The section on Kansas is outstanding -- lotsa history & Dtail & depth. The whole section on "Prog Folk" is very well done -- good attn 2 the big names as well as the obscurities, even those who I don't really think qualify as "prog." I also learned a lot from the section on Gentle Giant.
The section on the Strawbs is a better history than that included in their HALCYON DAYS best-of, including info on why they left A&M Records, which leader Dave Cousins calls "the stupidest thing we ever did."
The graphics & artwork R superb. Summa the album covers Romano dug-up R great 2 C. Actually, there coulda bn more album-cover art.
Romano often names his chapters & sections after well-known prog song or album titles ... like I sometimes do here. It's a little thing & it's silly, but I like it.

MINUSES: Romano has a real blank spot with the "poppier" end of prog, "prog-pop" or "symphonic pop" if U want. Alan Parsons Project gets a write-up in some Dtail, but the Moody Blues R ignored after DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED, Camel is basically dismissed after RAIN DANCES, & there's a chapter that looks at the "commercializing" of later Genesis & Yes in not-very-positive terms. I think you can miss a lot of good stuff by ignoring the pop side -- the Moodies did a lot of great "pop" stuff that was still a ways out there; Camel's later more "commercial" albums hava lotta hidden gems, & their NUDE is 1 of their best albums ever, quite diffrent & proggy, & Romano ignores it.
A section on Barclay James Harvest is fairly Dtailed, but unfortunately focuses mainly on their 1976 album OCTOBERON, which is 1 of the worst albums of theirs I actually made it all the way thru (some of theirs, such as XII, I NEVER got thru). The only member of BJH interviewed is keyboardist Stuart "Wooly" Wolstenholme, who complains he could never record anything angry, bitter or cynical with the band -- but his songs with them always struck me as the most sentimental & mushy of the group's 3 songwriters. Romano also ignores the occasional great stuff BJH did after 1977 ("Hymn," "Spirit on the Water," "Ring of Changes," "Poor Man's Moody Blues," "Play to the World," "The Song They Love to Sing").
Gryphon is mentioned but their music isn't actually discussed. (Kraftwerk & Neu! R mentioned in the section on Krautrock, but that's all.) Actually, there R sevral bands whose album-cover artwork is included, but whose work is never looked at. & I'm not sure about the wisdom of blowing Nektar's album-cover artwork up big 4 the Krautrock section, but giving the band 2 paragraphs of Dtail buried at the Nd of the section.
MayB Romano had 2 cut some of his book. A coupla sections seem 2 Nd in mid-thot, as if the essay continued but we don't get 2 C it, as with the Nektar write-up above. Mike Oldfield gets 3 pgs just Bcos of the success of TUBULAR BELLS, & tho his other albums R mentioned, I think Romano coulda done more.
Procol Harum is ignored after "Whiter Shade of Pale."
The section on American prog bands asks whether the US can compete w/ Britain & Europe, then profiles only Kansas & Styx. Other US acts make it 2 Romano's "Top 300" list at the end of the book, but they're mentioned nowhere else in the text: Happy the Man, Dixie Dregs, etc.
The book doesn't make 2 big a point of directing you toward great bands you've never heard-of before. Outside of the sections on Germany & Italy, I'd heard mosta the names B4. It's not until that Top 300 list that some unfamiliar names pop up: Ethos, Cathedral, etc. You won't find Providence, Group 87, Sky, Glass Moon....
Some1 else will havta judge if the book's last section on neo-progressive & current prog bands is accurate -- I've hardly heard NE of the music, tho it was neat 2 C Coheed & Cambria mentioned. & 2 Tool albums R included in the Top 300, but they're not in the book. But then, lotsa artists listed in the Top 300 Rn't in the book.
In fact, that Top 300 list kinda bugs me. No way do I think Camel's MOONMADNESS is the #5 prog album ever -- I don't think it's even among their best 1/2-dozen. I wish Romano talked less about albums & more about the songs & pieces that R ON them....

Does this mostly sound like bitching & whining? MayB. How I woulda done it diffrent? MayB that 2. But I still think this book is worth getting. Score a copy & have fun disagreeing with Romano yourself.....
...I'm probly not done with this.

...Realizing that I've been writing a LOT on books & not much on music lately, I was going 2 get up early Friday & totally music-out ... but I woke-up late instead & then Real Life got in the way.
But: I'm losing a roommate soon, which should mean I'll B able 2 play strange music more often without scaring people out of the house, so there should B more music-reviewing appearing here soon. Hope U'll stick around 4 that.
Attack of the 45's!
Really Bad Prog!
Camel's RAINBOW'S END best-of -- I mean it this time....
...& possibly, if I can go thru with it, "Wine, Women and Songs," possibly just in time 4 Valentine's Day, if I don't lose my nerve....
Thanx 4 reading....

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A solid prog-rock history?

Wow, this could be it. I've only had a few hours 2 look it over, but Will Romano's recent MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY (2010) seems to hava pretty good shot at being the 1st above-avg, almost-complete prog-rock history. & it's gorgeous 2 look at.
With lotsa photos & flashy graphics, + new interviews with key band members, producers, engineers, etc., there's a lot 2 digest here. It doesn't appear lazy, sloppy or wrong-headed up-front, which is a relief. It's potentially a 1-stop shop, with almost everything U could ever ask 4 -- Xcept an index.
The coupla reviews posted at about this book indicate that it's full of errors. It's early yet, but just in skimming thru it I've only found a few proofreading/typesetting errors, & none of them R major. Classical composers Dvorak & Janacek both have their names spelled wrong. 1 album title is botched. Little words R left out here & there ("of," "and," "in," etc.). & in 1 graphic, 6 Pink Floyd albums R mis-identified as being by Porcupine Tree (or the other way around) -- that's either 1 big error or 6 little errors, depending on how you count. But I've found no major errors-in-fact in the actual text, so far.
There R some other minor issues: Some of Hawkwind's artwork is used, but they aren't discussed in the text, near as I can tell. Tangerine Dream gets 7 paragraphs in a chapter on Krautrock. Nektar gets 2 paragraphs. Kraftwerk, Neu! & Faust Rn't mentioned at all.
But the bands who R in here include all the usual suspects (Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Moodies, Canterbury bands, Kansas, Rush, etc.), + a ton of other good & often overlooked folks. Crap, Gryphon's in here. Jade Warrior. Illusion. Amazing Blondel. Happy the Man. I'm impressed with the completeness. Or at least the effort. So far.
There's even a whole section on "Prog Folk" that includes people usually left out of prog retrospectives: Strawbs, Renaissance, Incredible String Band, Gryphon, Amazing Blondel, Illusion, etc. Fairport Convention's even in here, I assume Bcos of their tie thru Sandy Denny back 2 The Strawbs....
It's worth noting that this isn't a critical history -- Romano passes no critical judgements on mosta these artists. He calls Yes's TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS "mostly misunderstood," makes some other comments about the careers of Genesis & Camel that R hard 2 argue with. But mostly he just lays-out the evidence & history & lets you the reader Dcide if you want 2 investigate further.
The closest Romano gets 2 a critical outlook is at the very end, with a list of nearly 300 "essential prog-rock listens," leading off with DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, of course.... Hawkwind is listed here (with SPACE RITUAL), if nowhere else. But this list is a little odd: The Beach Boys' PET SOUNDS is included -- great album of course, but prog? Perhaps a sorta precursor 2 prog.... & The Band's MUSIC FROM BIG PINK. I don't get that 1 at all.
I promise more on this as I get further in2 it. But, unlike other previous prog-rock histories, this may take me awhile.... For now, I'd say if U're a prog fan & can get ahold of a copy cheap (thru the usual sources), it's well worth browsing thru....
More soon.

PS -- I see copies of David Sancious & Tone's TRANSFORMATION (THE SPEED OF LOVE) R going 4 as much as $300 at It's well worth hearing if you're a jazz-rock fan, there's a coupla beautiful melodies on it. But it's wildly inconsistent. & it's not worth THAT much. In fact, I'm not sure what album WOULD be worth that much. An original demo copy of the Beach Boys' SMILE, maybe?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Legendary music, & some tragic stories

Legendary late-'60s/early-'70s record-producer Joe Boyd got in2 producing British folk-rock acts almost by accident. He started out as a big jazz & blues fan.
"I got into folk against my own best interests," he says early in his memoir WHITE BICYCLES (2006). & after having a front-row seat at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, where Bob Dylan 1st "went electric" on stage, Boyd was convinced he'd been present 4 "the birth of Rock."
But as he sez, folk-rock came back 2 get him....
What follows is a recounting of what it was like 2 work with some of the biggest British folk-rock stars of the period -- Fairport Convention, the Incredible String Band, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, John and Beverly Martin, Mike Heron, old American college friends Geoff & Maria Muldaur, & many others.
Even more, Boyd writes about what it was like 2 work with these folks AS PEOPLE, with their own individual, idiosyncratic, often difficult ways of dealing with the music business & the world.
In some ways, the book could B viewed as the recollection of a whole series of missed opportunities. Boyd didn't get rich producing nearly 40 albums between 1966 & 1974, many of them now considered folk-rock classics: Fairport's LIEGE AND LIEF & the rest of their 1st 5, ISB's THE HANGMAN'S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER & 1/2 a dozen others, Nick Drake's BRYTER LAYTER & FIVE LEAVES LEFT, etc. + his artists didn't necessarily go on 2 massive success: Boyd's biggest hit was "Duelling Banjos" from the movie DELIVERANCE, & his name wasn't even on the single as producer. His 2nd-biggest hit was Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis."
Tho they stood the British folk world on its ear, Fairport's early career was full of tragedy & strife, & as Boyd points out they never got much of a chance 2 Njoy their acclaim. Sandy Denny made a series of bad career decisions -- in part, Boyd claims, 2 try 2 keep her late husband Trevor Lucas happy -- & died after a series of (possibly drunken?) falls. Nick Drake died after an overdose of pills & shortly after angrily demanding of Boyd why -- if Drake was such a great talent -- he wasn't rich & famous yet? The ISB, after creating their own mystical, witchy folk-other-world on their 1st 3 albums, got drafted in2 Scientology & their talents & music seemed 2 head immediately downhill....
The book ends in sadness. Boyd has 2 sell his Witchseason production company because his great productions just Rn't paying the bills. He leaves London & Bcomes head of movie music 4 Warner Bros. This move costs him years of 2nd-guessing. Denny begs him 2 stay in London & help guide her career -- she even breaks-up her band Fotheringay, which she had been financing out of her pocket, 2 try 2 hang on2 him.
Boyd wonders at the end of the book if things might have been diffrent if he hadn't taken the Warner Bros job. But clearly he needed a break -- he claims 2 have produced 16 albums in 1970 alone. At the end of the book there's a list of his productions thru 1974 -- I was suprised there weren't more. & he did a few things after that date as well, at least the 1st 2 albums by Kate & Anna McGarrigle (if I remember correctly), possibly 1 4 The Roches (?), & a few other things here & there (REM, 10,000 Maniacs, Natalie Merchant). But he doesn't talk about them, & I think he's left room 4 another book. I hope he writes it, or mayB he already has....
The whole book isn't sad. Boyd writes vividly of what it was like 2 B in London in the mid-'60s, of what it was like 2 B present 4 1 of his "happenings" at UFO, how he got squoze-out of producing the early Pink Floyd. & the 1st part of the book, about Boyd's earliest Xperiences in the business, helping jazz & blues legends tour Europe, includes some great stories & hilarious 1-liners.
Boyd got some great, legendary music out of people. The fact that it didn't make him or them rich, or that some of the folks he worked with came to some bad ends, certainly isn't Boyd's fault. Like he sez, many of the Xcesses of the time were lost on him. He never got TOO stoned 2 remember what happened.
You might like this book. But it clearly shows that music-making, even in the supposedly glorious free-thinking freewheeling '60s, wasn't all high times & good times.
I finished this book wishing there was MORE -- more depth, more stories about Sandy Denny & Nick Drake & Syd Barrett & Richard Thompson (who had his own adventures in the wilderness) & the ISB & Nico. Boyd gets all these stories, & many more Bsides, told in less than 275 pgs -- U can read the book inna coupla days.
But I think there's room 4 another book at least as long. & I hope Boyd writes it. 4 some of the folks listed directly above, he may B the only guy left who can tell these stories....