Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Back on the Chain Gang"

I went off 2 Air Force basic training in Dec 1982, after 5 years of pretty great dead-end jobs, & after a year of total unemployment with no sign of things improving in the future. I'd bn married less than a month. The new wife & I agreed that this was something I could do that might get me closer 2 my chosen career (writing) + bring in a little $$$.
So away I went. I was almost looking 4ward 2 a Great Adventure. I knew all about basic training horror stories -- I was pretty sure nothing would come as much of a suprise. I was wrong.
After 1 of the worst airplane flights I've ever had -- I was absolutely CERTAIN the plane was somehow flying sideways, & later that we were skidding down the runway out of control ... as we flew thru a thunderstorm an hour B4 we landed at San Antonio -- I arrived 2 7 weeks of non-stop screaming, total regimentation, & Bing marched everywhere 24/7.
I wasn't worried about some of it -- I didn't worry about my hair (which was down below my shoulders) all being cut off. I Xpected that. I didn't Xpect the total rush-rush all the time, being screamed at 4 the slightest minor infraction, the unnecessary heavy stress that made summa the guys in R 50-bed open-bay dorm talk or scream out in their sleep.
I thot I handled it pretty well -- better than some, even tho I got "recycled" 6 days, graduated with a whole diffrent group of guys than the 1's I'd gotten 2 know, & at 1 point was forced 2 use crutches 4 a coupla days when a badly-fitting pair of combat boots crushed the nerves across the top of my foot.
But it wasn't totally bad. The food was actually pretty good -- I GAINED 12 pounds during basic, Bcame addicted 2 breakfasts & the fresh slices of fruit pie the chow hall constantly served up.
Some of the classes weren't bad, tho I hated the way we were force-fed some stuff as gospel. 1 sergeant defied us 2 name 1 person who'd "made it" in life without 1st "making it" in the military. The only guy I could think of was Jimi Hendrix, but I wasn't gonna suggest him 2 that crowd. Now I'd know at least a couple of others -- Robert Mitchum ... & I'm sure there R others I've forgotten....
San Antonio wasn't bad -- the little bit of it I got 2 see during basic. & it was good that I felt that way, cos I'd B spending mosta my next 3 years there. Waking up B4 dawn wasn't so bad either -- there was breakfast 2 look 4ward 2, & seeing the 50-man flights of trainees Bing marched 2 the chow hall with their AF-issued flashlights making little circles of light pooling & flashing across the ground....
We were sometimes given A LITTLE free time 2 clean the dorm or shine shoes or write letters home -- letters from home & VERY occasional phonecalls held us all 2gether, & we all Oooh'ed & Aaah'ed at pictures of each others' wives & girlfriends....
1nce in a very great while we were allowed 2 have music in the dorm. I remember hearing Toto's "Africa" & The Who's "Athena" & maybe some Hall & Oates. A buncha guys did a great impromptu performance of "The Message" 4 those of us who were on KP duty during Christmas Day. But that was about it....
Finally it came 2 an end & we all survived & graduated, & we were allowed as a group 2 visit the nearby "Shopette" 2 bag essentials B4 we were shipped out the next day. & as I circled around the tiny store looking 4 shoelaces & Dr Scholl's air-cushion insoles & shoe-shining stuff & Ghod knows what, I heard the store's sound system & Chrissie Hynde's voice singing something new....
"The powers that be/That force us to live like we do/Bring me to my knees/When I see what they've done to you...."
Knew it was Chrissie -- I'd played the 1st Pretenders album 100's of times -- it had gotten me thru 1980 in 1 piece. & the best parts of their 2nd album had certainly helped brighten up 1981. But I hadn't heard them lately....
"And I'll die as I stand here today/Knowing that deep in my heart/They'll fall to ruin one day/For making us part...."
It was like a letter from home. It seemed 2 sum up how I felt about my situation, & about being separated from my new Mrs. But in its bittersweetness it also seemed 2 say that things would B OK, that things would get better & life would go on.
It was just what I needed 2 hear at that time, in that place.
I went on 2 the Armed Forces Journalism School at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana, in early Feb, & soon got sucked in2 a wide-ranging, demanding 10-week journalism & public-affairs course that I thot I would flunk out of EVERY SINGLE WEEK.
There was more good music I heard there that helped hold me 2gether until I graduated in May -- Bob Seger's "Even Now" & Stevie Winwood's "Still in the Game" & "Valerie," & Genesis's "You Might Recall," & Dire Straits' LOVE OVER GOLD album, & Modern English's "I Melt With You" & their AFTER THE SNOW album. & Michael Jackson's "Beat It" was all over the radio. & Men at Work's "Be Good Johnny," Fleetwood Mac's "Wish You Were Here," & more I can't even remember now.
I heard "Chain Gang" again on the radio a few nites back. I hadn't heard it in awhile, but every time I do it takes me back 2 that time -- hearing it 4 the 1st time in that little store at basic training, & how it seemed 2 sum-up what I was living thru at that time, & how it still sums-up parts of my life, looking back:
"Like a break in the battle was your part/In the wretched life of a lonely heart...."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Florence + the Machine

I'm Bhind the curve again as usual on this 1, Bcos apparently Florence + the Machine's 1st album LUNGS got nominated 4 a Grammy & topped the British charts.
But CEREMONIALS (2011) is the 1 that grabbed me -- 1st thru "What the Water Gave Me," which I heard a coupla wks back on 103.7 FM "The Mountain" (which has weirdly Bcome my fave local radio station, & they don't even play oldies....).
Got the CD a coupla days back, & thru a 1st listening of about 1/2 of it (I'll Xplain), I'd say that Florence & the army that's Bhind her sound (at their best) like what I'd always hoped Clannad woulda turned out 2 B -- heavily-atmospheric British/Celtic-flavored folk-rock that actually ROCKS, with lotsa drama & passion ... & with an occasional mood-changer thrown in so everything doesn't sound the same (no matter how good it is).
When I 1st heard the moody "What the Water Gave Me," I thot it WAS Clannad -- because of the dark atmosphere & the moody female vocals & the chant-like construction. I thot it was very nice, haunting, intense, guaranteed 2 grow on me.
Then a few days later I heard "Shake it Out," & it stopped me in my tracks at work.
It's a wondrous, defiant, powerful, joyous "shake-off-the-demons-of-your-past" number with LOTS of drama & pounding drums & great chanting vocals -- & it makes me laff & cry & clap my hands & shout & screech along. It's amazing. The lyrics R freaking great. I have a new nominee 4 Song Of The Year.
In fact, the reason I'm only 1/2way thru the album is cos I keep going back 2 hear "Shake it Out" again. I played it about 1/2adozen times Sat aft & hoped the radio would play it again Sat nite while I was at work. (They did, but I missed it by a coupla seconds.)
I can report that there R some other good things here, & that musically Florence + the Machine R really something.
"No Light, No Light" has some of the same power & force of the above 2 songs, in a slightly more conventional lovesong-type story. & the lyrics R Xcellent. Hope it gets some airplay.
"Breaking Down" & "Lover to Lover" come across as almost "normal" keyboard-based pop in contrast 2 summa the stuff here. "Only if for a Night" is an OK opener, but they coulda opened with "Shake it Out" instead & knocked people out.... (it's the 2nd track instead).
Florence Welch, who wrote or co-wrote all the songs & does all the lead vocals, has something of an obsession with the idea of drowning -- she admits this in the liner notes -- & that does add a dark undercurrent 2 this stuff. It's the subject of "What the Water Gave Me," & probly others.
& man, can she sing.
I would think any fans of Clannad, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Fairport Convention, British folk-rock, or just plain great music would enjoy this.
...I'll add 2 this 1nce I get thru the rest of the album. But in terms of current stuff, this is the 1st CD 2 knock me out on 1st listening since Fleet Foxes' 1st. & I couldn't wait 2 talk about it.
I only have 1 complaint, & it's not about the music.
The CD package comes with a booklet that features a dozen photos of Florence lounging around in lingerie at some mansion. Her backing band -- which includes at least 5 members -- doesn't even get mugshots, tho they R mentioned repeatedly in the performing credits, which take a pg & 1/2. There R EZer ways 2 get that information across....
I'd've traded the shots of Florence 4 a lyric sheet. It's not that she's unattractive -- tho I think the photographer tried 2 hard -- it's just that I don't get what the photos have 2 do with the music. & I wonder who wanted them? If I'd created something this good, I wouldn't want it plastered with cheezy high-priced photos of me.... Better yet, Universal/Republic coulda made the booklet shorter & charged a lower price....
Forget the pictures, get the CD or see if NE of your open-minded(?) local radio stations R playing NE of it.
More soon....

Saturday, November 26, 2011

2 years in Turkey! (NOT as in "gobble-gobble"....)

The 2 worst years of my life! That's how I felt about my 2 years in Turkey, at the time. Sorta still feel that way.
But 2 good things came out of it: My daughter was born there. & I wrote some of the best work of my life.
After 3 years in Wyoming telling every1 I'd stay permanently if they wanted, the Air Force sent me 2 Ankara, Turkey, a city of 4 million people located in a bowl in the middle of hilly Anatolia.
The X-wife & I were Xcited about going. Prices there were CHEAP -- we were told we could take a "luxury" bus from 1 end of the country 2 the other 4 $10. There were lots of ancient ruins 2 crawl around on & "Oooh" & "Ahhh" at, plenty of neat stuff 2 see. All that history! A whole diffrent place! A totally new Xperience! So much 2 learn!
We flew over early in Dec 1989. Practically right after we arrived, the 1st Gulf War started. So most of R plans 4 touring the country went right out the window....
The 2nd big shock was Ankara itself. We landed in the middle of winter, & the Turks use coal 2 heat their homes & the MANY apartment bldgs around the city. & in the winter, the smoke from that coal -- along with the Xhaust from a coupla million cars -- hangs in the air, & stays there until the temperature warms up.
We noticed during R nighttime ride from the airport in2 town that the air was BROWN. In the daytime it was more of a gray-white, but the smog was so thick we couldn't clearly see the apartment bldg NEXT DOOR. At night there'd just B squares of lite from other people's apartment windows, seemingly hanging in the air....
Ankara Air Station itself was tiny -- a few blocks wide by mayB 6 blocks long -- home 2 a couple hundred Americans. Home away from home. We had a grocery store as big as 2 7-11's stuck together -- with great milk from Germany, & my 1st-ever Xperience with bottled water, since the public water supply wasn't considered really safe. We had a small base exchange -- like a tiny WalMart, the 1st place I ever saw CDs.
We also had 1a THE BEST bookstores ever. The Stars and Stripes Bookstore was crammed full of the latest paperbacks & LOTSA newspapers, cos 1 thing most of us DIDN'T get every day was News From Home. Most of us didn't have access 2 the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, which showed lotsa reruns, tape-delayed sports events, & 5 mins of AF-approved news each nite.
So the S&S Bookstore carried the weight. It had LOTS of war-fiction, + TONS of science fiction, horror, mysteries, thrillers, romances, bestsellers, lotsa Tom Clancy & Stephen King. Oh, & lotsa porn, 2. The owners knew who their audience was....
There was also a ton of books from Great Britain -- stuff like the great PENGUIN GUIDE TO POPULAR MUSIC, & M.H. Zool's GOOD READING GUIDE TO SCIENCE FICTION.
There would B something new & cool on the shelves there every week. It still amazes me how many books we brot back from Turkey. A partial list: Thomas Harris's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS & RED DRAGON, Kathe Koja's THE CIPHER, Gael Baudino's GOSSAMER AXE, Jesse Sublett's ROCK CRITIC MURDERS, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling's YEAR'S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR, Gardner Dozois's YEAR'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION, Karl Edward Wagner's YEAR'S BEST HORROR STORIES, Edward Lee's over-the-top COVEN, & LOTS more....
Books & newspapers & letters were about R only connection with Back Home. After a year, when we got an apartment that had actual TV, the X & I Bcame Major League Baseball fans just so we could see something CURRENT that was actually happening in America!
We didn't know what THE SIMPSONS was 'til late in our 2 years -- when I saw the 1st couple episodes I laffed til I cried, & then I laffed til I about threw up. America was a mystery that was 10,000 miles away 4 us -- Rosanne Barr sang the National Anthem at the World Series?! What the hell is GOING ON Back Home...?
It's hard 2 Dscribe the sense of isolation we felt. All of us who were there felt it, I think. So we tried 2 have some fun with it, have some good times. You never knew when the electricity would go out -- possibly sevral times a day. You never knew when the water would stop running, or if the toilets would flush.
But the work never stopped. 1nce I settled in I was a 1-man-band on the newspaper, which kept me hoppin -- & eventually Xhausted me. I got 1 week off in 2 years.
The paper itself looked like a little magazine, which was cool -- it had photos & cool graphics & everything. & there was room 4 me 2 write personality features & comedy & off-the-wall stuff if I wanted. & somehow I Bcame a sportswriter -- I guess Bcos of the freedom it gave me compared 2 just-the-facts reporting. & base intramural sports were a blast 2 cover. 1 of the 1st big stories I wrote after arriving was on the base basketball championship game -- which went 2 quadruple-overtime!
While doing all the other stuff I could just have fun with sports -- I wrote stories about the base's 2 worst baseball teams, including a team from the British Embassy that went winless all season but laffed all thru it. Their captain assured me they'd B back next season: "We might even know the rules by then."
I also wrote about the base's worst volleyball team -- fielded by the base Clinic: doctors & nurses & paramedics & admin people -- some of whom went on leave rather than face losing another match....
Pieces like this won me U.S. Air Forces in Europe's Sportswriter of the Year Award in 1991, & I was runner-up 4 the command's Journalist of the Year Award. I was thrilled. Speechless. & it was the freedom I got thru sportswriting & comedy that got me that recognition.
Probly my fave story in 2 years was the Dog Bone Awards, about the ways the base's Finance Office kept morale up during tough times. The Dog Bones were presented every Fri 2 the Finance troop who did the most embarrassing thing all week. I attended 1 of these blowing-off-steam sessions, thot it was hilarious, wrote it up 4 the paper -- the story wrote itself, only took about 30 mins -- & the week after the story appeared, the Finance folks gave ME a Dog Bone. & the plaque is still hanging on my wall....
It wasn't all fun & games. Elsewhere in the country Americans were getting shot at by terrorists. Not all Turks thot it was OK that we were bombing Iraq. We were told 2 "dress Turkish" -- wear dark clothes, don't speak English, go without a shower 4 awhile, blend in, take diffrent routes 2 work.
1 morning in late October 1991, a friend of mine -- a computer Xpert who'd bailed me & the paper outta computer problems 100 times -- got blown-up by a car bomb on his way in 2 work. Everybody at the base went in2 shock. The X & I spent R last month in Turkey in a daze. & we left in Dec 1991. I haven't bn back. I don't really miss it that much.
Ankara Air Station was closed a few years back as a cost-saving measure. It feels weird that a base where I spent 2 years of my life isn't really there anymore. I can still see it....
Don't let me give you a bad impression of the Turks, either. Mosta the folks we met were Xtremely nice, & they were especially kind 2 my son & my golden-haired newborn daughter.
& if you were 2 visit Turkey today, you might like it. The southern coast is gorgeous -- the little I saw of it. My daughter was born in Adana, & that place was like Florida with Turkish roadsigns. There were even palmtrees!
It all depends on where you're at, what you see, & yer attitude. In the middle of that 2 years I spent 3 weeks in Athens, Greece, helping close-down another base. The Greeks think Athens is a toilet -- totally polluted. I thot it was so dazzlingly bright I hadta buy a pair of sunglasses.... It was like California only with what looked like Russian roadsigns....
After we left Turkey, the Air Force sent me 2 San Jose, California, 2 the smallest base in the entire AF. Where the biggest building was a 4-story Blue Cube that 1,000's of people drove by every day. & the base had a mission that I Couldn't Talk About....

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tay-jazz and other adventures....

The X-wife & I spent 3 years living in San Antonio, Texas, in the mid-'80s, while I was assigned to the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service -- my 1st Air Force job, where I ruined my eyes coloring forms with yellow & purple markers so other people could turn that highlighted information into news stories 2 B sent 2 servicemembers' hometown newspapers -- stories about promotions & awards & being sent overseas & such. So much 4 being a journalist -- that came a little later.
Meanwhile, San Antonio was a great town -- plenty to do, great food, friendly people, always something happening. Once we found somewhere 2 live, we carefully Xplored the area. You could get lost 4 DAYS in the malls there -- & it was amazing how much unspoiled pastureland & rolling hills were inside the city limits, & all you had 2 do 2 find them was get off the main roads. I had my favorite backroads 2 work, 2 my favorite dry-cleaners (4 my AF uniforms), 2 all the decent 2nd-hand book & record stores.... 1 backroad led up the highest hill in town & you could see SanAn sprawl 4 MILES in every direction from atop it....
We started R adventures by trying out the local food. Of course SanAn is great 4 Tex-Mex & Hispanic foods of all sorts -- but weirdly we were homesick 4 Chinese food, & made an ongoing tour of summa the WORST Chinese restaurants ever opened. I mean, REALLY bad. Like the 1 where a young Oriental mom was CHANGING HER BABY'S DIAPER on the front counter. She looked up, saw us, smiled welcomingly ... & we turned around & walked right back out....
The search 4 cheap books & music went EZer. Wasn't hard 2 find used book & record stores in a city of 1-million+. The best was a HUGE sprawling 2nd-hand store somewhere near downtown -- we took the backroads 2 get there. In this dusty, ramshackle assembly of what seemed like 3 or 4 diffrent houses I tracked down/discovered great albums by Fairport Convention (CHRONICLES), Van Morrison (MOONDANCE), Amazing Blondel (FANTASIA LINDUM), & more. & in the used books section I found stuff like a complete run of Damon Knight's far-out ORBIT series of paperback anthologies, back in the days when you could get them 2nd-hand CHEAP.
Next door 2 my dry-cleaners was an even dustier & darker 2nd-hand store, where I stumbled over a copy of Nick Drake's BRYTER LAYTER. Up til then all I'd heard by Nick was "Northern Sky," so I figured the resta the album hadta B pretty good 2. & it was -- amazing, really. All this music has bn with me ever since.
Meanwhile, the X & I were listening 2 then-more-current stuff like the Go-Go's TALK SHOW (we saw the girls live in concert in SA in something like '85, they were GREAT), the Bangles' DIFFERENT LIGHT, & the Moody Blues' THE PRESENT. These Bcame my daily soundtrack as I drove 2 & from work, & we used most of these as backing music as we drove around SA & the area Hill Country. + we threw in some others -- Tears for Fears' SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR, Pat Benatar's PRECIOUS TIME, Pete Townshend's ALL THE BEST COWBOYS HAVE CHINESE EYES, Dan Fogelberg's THE INNOCENT AGE and PHOENIX, the Pretenders' LEARNING TO CRAWL, Cyndi Lauper's SHE'S SO UNUSUAL, etc. All this stuff is still with me, 2....
I also got addicted 2 Aaron Copland while in Texas -- listening 2 Eduardo Mata & the Dallas Symphony's versions of "Rodeo" & "El Salon Mexico" & the "Simple Gifts" section of "Appalachian Spring" -- cranking that HUGE American-folksong-flavored symphonic stuff WAY UP as we buzzed down the highway or thru the Hill Country. Still the best versions of Copland's work that I've heard....
1 winter while we were in SA, 18 inches of snow fell overnite & the city STOPPED 4 about 3 days. People thot the X & I were nuts as we walked 2 the store in T-shirts while everybody else shivered in big, heavy coats. We thot it was a nice break from the usual 99-degrees & 99-percent-humidity ... with occasional thunderstorms & torrential rains thrown in.... Heaviest, hardest rainfall I've ever seen was in Texas, along with lightning storms that would crackle & zap across the sky 4 HOURS without a drop of rain falling. The X & I would sometimes sit out on R apartment's backporch just 2 watch the lightning zap around....
I also got addicted 2 1 of my heroes, writer John McPhee, while I was in Texas. Co-worker & Army Sgt. Ron Pruitt got sick of me asking questions about his home state of Alaska, & tossed me a copy of McPhee's massive COMING INTO THE COUNTRY, which paints as clear a picture of Alaska as you're ever going 2 get from a book. Since then I've read at least a dozen more of McPhee's books, all of them well worth tracking down. I still wish I could write 1/2 that well....
My job did NOT involve working on a Air Force base newspaper as I was told I would B doing, so after 3 years of wrecking my eyes the AF transferred me to Wyoming (see previous posts). It was probly 4 the best -- I already felt like a robot or zombie at work, even tho I later got 2 PROOFREAD the news stories we sent out 2 newspapers around the country. But it wasn't reporting -- it was fill-in-the-blank stuff on a production line, & we hadta keep crankin' out the numbers....
This robotic feeling got worse 1 morning when I played Philip Glass's KOYAANISQATSI Soundtrack in the car on the way 2 work -- suddenly EVERYTHING became mechanical, everybody was a robot, all the cars on the freeway were on their own machine-determined tracks, nobody had Free Will, everybody was an android ... until I got 2 work & switched the music off ... & realized I didn't remember the drive 2 work AT ALL. I don't think I've played the album since (tho the movie is a real spacey time if you ever get a chance 2 see it -- & with Glass's music you don't need any other conciousness-expanding assistance....).
NEway, SanAn was great & I do sometimes miss it -- never been back. But I did have my consciousness raised there: My 1st job out in the Real World, 2,000 miles away from home. The X & I showed we were grown-ups & could handle life on R own.
But we about died from homesickness. Something that never happened in Wyoming....

Monday, November 21, 2011

Boycott Black Friday!

So, Thanksgiving's coming up pretty quick, & then -- Black Friday. The biggest retail bizness day of the year.
The day when MILLIONS of consumers climb outta bed WAY TOO EARLY after barely sleeping-off their Turkeycosis from the day B4, pile in2 SUVs & race hurriedly 2 their nearest mall 2 B there at 4 am when WalMart or Target or Macy's throw their doors open 4 the massive totally-Byond-Blief never-2-B-repeated Xmas-kickoff sales -- when HUGE 72-inch thin-screen plasma TVs sell 4 $99, when the latest videogames R slashed down 2 $5, when the latest in smartphones & other high-tech goodies R cut 2 the bone in massive across-the-board never-2-B-repeated UNBELIEVABLE sale prices....
The day when hapless minimum-wage WalMart Mployees get trampled just trying 2 get the front doors open, when every year dozens of assaults R reported Btween shoppers trying 2 elbow or punch their way closer 2 that 1 big bargain that just CAN'T B resisted, when millions of people go even further in debt trying 2 get a jump on the Xmas gift-giving season, trying 2 take advantage of prices that will NEVER -- NO, WE MEAN IT THIS TIME! -- NEVER B repeated....
What sane person would do this? What normal, thinking human being would want 2 take part in such an ugly, mindless rat race?
Actually, my X-wife useta get up way 2 early the day after Tgiving & go hit the malls, thinking she'd get the jump on something Really Good. (I don't know if she still does this.) Sometimes she took the kids with her. She said she tried 2 make it "an event."
Yeah, that's some event, all right. Driving 4 an hour or more in freezing temperatures with no sleep so you can stand outside some big-box retail store, freeze some more, & then beg 4 crumbs when they "run out" of the bargains you were hoping 2 score. That's a great Family Tradition 2 pass down 2 your kids. Tiredness, drudgery, stress, frustration, Xhaustion. What a way 2 open the Holidays. It always brot the X home stressed-out, angry, frustrated, Xhausted. & broke.
What thinking person would do this? & why do so many millions do it every year? Has no1 figured out that big retailers have plenty more goods Byond just the "unbeatable-bargain" 1s they use as bait 2 entice you 2 the store with? Does no1 remember those after-Xmas sales where prices on the same goods you fought 2 get at a month B4 R slashed 50-, 70-, 90-percent off? Does NE1 remember anything anymore?
Is it somehow more fun 2 race 2 the malls at a given day & time like lemmings, & then fight the crowds, like rats running thru a maze? You know there's some cheese in here somewhere, but you don't know Xactly where it IS, do you, Mr. Jones?
It's insanity.
The ads R all thru your junk mail, in all the newspapers, all over the TV, & it's only gonna get worse. Shit, I'm getting unwanted Black Friday Sale ads in my e-mail!
There's only 1 thing 2 do:
Boycott Black Friday.
Stay home! Sleep in! Imagine all the chaos you'll miss out on, the screaming & crying & physical violence, the car wrecks you won't have 2 witness! Sleep off that huge turkey dinner. You've earned it.
Talk your kids in2 waiting 'til the After-Xmas sales. Those new tennies or that new smartphone will B just as great then -- even better, cos they'll B 75% OFF! Tell your kids they'll get MORE presents if they wait 24 hours longer. Your kids won't fight you very hard -- they know MORE is BETTER.
Bsides, who the hell wants 2 fight all that mess? Who wants 2 deal with the General Public? I make it a point never 2 deal with the General Public when I'm not working. & then I havta deal with them every day. & believe me, they R a beast. They never stop Wanting. & Demanding.
If this avoidance therapy works 4 you, there's other steps you can take 2 reduce the hassles in your daily life. Try shopping during off-beat hours when you can avoid the crowds. I remember back in the day when I could go grocery shopping at 2 am at my favorite local 24-hour grocery store. You'd B suprised how EASY it is 2 get your shopping done then, how fast you can burn thru that place -- it sure ain't crowded then, & the same stuff is on sale.
Yeah, there's some weirdos out at 2 am. But they're out in the daytime, 2. You just can't tell. Bcos there's SO MANY of them these days.
In case you're wondering, yeah, I have a bias. I work retail. & I've worked a few Black Fridays. They're No Fun 4 NEbody. The last 1 I remember working -- at a Gig Harbor, Wash., Target store back in 2002 -- was a screaming chaotic blur from the time I got there til the time I went home. I was told I did a good job & actually helped people, & that some customers told my bosses how cool & helpful I was under pressure. But I know I never stopped talking & pointing & moving & running & sweating, never caught my breath & never hadda chance 2 relax ... all day long.
So, do your part 4 the economy, do right by yer kids & loved 1's. But save yourself the stress.
Boycott Black Friday. It ain't worth it. Those great, unbeatable, never-2-B-repeated deals will B back again. The day after Xmas....

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cold weather music!

Winter's arrived in Western Washington, somewhere Btween 25 & 30 degrees outside right now -- pretty cold 4 us -- & every nite this week has bn colder than predicted. But we've dodged the snow so far, somehow. R more usual winter weather -- pouring rain -- hit earlier this week & is Xpected 2 return Mon & Tues, with highs in the 40s, heavy rain & potential flooding.
Which doesn't sound so bad compared 2 what it's like outside right now....
It's not bad INside -- the pellet-stove is keeping up with the cold pretty well, tho my feet sometimes get cold. In an attempt 2 warm things up, a little bit of everything follows:

The playlist:
Spinners -- I'll Be Around, I'm Coming Home.
Left Banke -- She May Call You Up Tonight, Desiree.
King Crimson -- Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With.
Gong -- Oily Way.
Rare Bird -- Epic Forest.
Fruup -- The Seventh Secret.
Curved Air -- Back Street Luv, It Happened Today.
David Sancious and Tone -- Ever the Same, Prelude #3, Interlude, Matter of Time.
Can -- Oh Yeah.
It Bites -- The Old Man and the Angel.
Os Mutantes (The Mutants) -- Ando Meio Desligado.
Sugarcubes -- Birthday, Delicious Demon, Mama, Motorcrash.
Cocteau Twins -- Lazy Calm, Throughout the Dark Months of April and May, Feet-Like Fins.
King Crimson -- ProzaKc Blues.

NOTES: This overview is liable 2 B brief & brutal so my hands & feet don't get frozen. This should B fun 2 read, at least. 10-word reviews, NE1?
The Spinners trax R both classics -- even after 40 years I still think "I'll Be Around" is pretty hypnotic, it seems simple but there's so much going on -- even tho I still can't figure out summa the words cos of the way Phillippe Wynne enunciates. But I don't even care. No problems with "I'm Coming Home," which shoulda bn a bigger hit & includes great backing vocals. From THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION.
"She May Call You Up Tonight" is prime mid-'60s pop & shoulda bn a hit -- apparently was never even released as a B-side. Not so much of the classical, ornate sound the Left Banke useta specialize in, just a really nice gloppy love song with sweet vocals. "Desiree" of course is closer 2 a concerto 4 voices, harpsichord, strings & horns -- & they all crowd in2 John Abbott's dense, cluttered production. A knockout, of course, & a little clearer on CD than the old 45.... From ALL THE SMASH HITS.
Crimson's "Happy" is better & funnier live, but the lyrics R still great.... From THE POWER TO BELIEVE.
Gong's "Oily Way" is a brief slice of their Radio Gnome Invisible Trilogy that features great-as-usual sax&flute from Didier Mahlerbe, OK singing from Daevid Allen & some decent backing vocals. Jazzy & spacey, even funny -- but not 2 silly like I think summa their stuff was. If all their stuff was this good I'd B a fan 4 life....
"Epic Forest" is a 9-minute multi-part psychedelic suite about The End Of The World ... only there's a pretty, happy ending. Great keyboards, guitar, vocals & mood -- the ending is especially nice, but the whole thing is worth it. Sounds VERY 1972, but these guys shoulda had more success. I've bn a fan of this track since I fished the album, EPIC FOREST, out of a bin at Goodwill 10 years ago 4 $2. There's only 1 other good song on the album, but it's Xcellent: "Birdman." & if 2 great songs Rn't worth $2, what is? Probly available at a Goodwill store near you....
"Seventh Secret" is a brief narrative that sounds like it's delivered by a Hobbit. Kinda silly. Hobbit fans might like it.... (These last 3 R all from WONDROUS STORIES: A COMPLETE INTRODUCTION TO PROGRESSIVE ROCK.)
"Back Street Luv" is the longest 3-1/2 mins I've sat thru in a long time. It's just dull. "It Happened Today" has OK guitar & keyboards, & Sonja Kristina's throaty voice isn't bad, but she doesn't do much with it. Darryl Way's violin -- supposedly 1a the focal points of this band -- can only B heard in "Today"'s coda. Disappointing. Possible candidates 4 Really Bad Prog. Sorry.... From WONDROUS STORIES and SUPERNATURAL FAIRY TALES: THE PROGRESSIVE ROCK ERA.
Ah, David Sancious. Whatta guy. I've written here B4 about how the former E Street Band keyboardist's wild jazz-rock TRANSFORMATION: THE SPEED OF LOVE was 4 years my FAVORITE album in the world 2 clear unwanted guests outta the house -- & there was some REALLY GORGEOUS piano & synth stuff on it, 2.
In 1978 Sancious released his follow-up, TRUE STORIES, & I remember Bing disappointed Bcos it didn't have NE of the outrage of DS's earlier work -- almost like he'd tried 1/2way 2 "go commercial."
The CD reissue of TRUE STORIES includes brief notes from Sancious about how The Dummies at Arista rejected the original album -- which was made-up-of 4 9-to-15-minute instrumental jazz-rock suites -- & instead asked DS 4 songs that "might somehow find their way onto a playlist in some format, somewhere." There was probly some great stuff on that earlier album, but we'll never know.
That said, musically this album ain't bad & ain't that diffrent. Sancious bowed just a LITTLE 2 commercial pressures. Minus Alex Ligertwood's not-that-bad lead vocals, "Ever the Same" sounds VERY much like the Sancious of previous albums -- the same sweet-yet-jagged melodic phrases with sudden stops & turns. "Prelude #3" is an especially good Xample of this, tho it's closer 2 lite instrumental jazz-rock. "Interlude" is VERY lite jazz, with rainfall & flowing-water sounds -- almost New Age. Brief & pointless. "Matter of Time" has some nice instrumental interplay (with bassist Gerald Carboy & manic drummer Ernest Carter) in the midsection, & some brief wild guitar near the end -- but the lyrics R kinda silly. As a big album-closer it's disappointing.
Can's "Oh Yeah" opens with thunderstorm noises, but it's far from New Age. Then it's Jaki Leibezeit's typical propulsive drumming, & Damo Suzuki's backwards(?) vocals -- I don't know what Damo's saying, but it works really well with the rhythm. Also nice tinny gtr from Michael Karoli & good washy keyboards from Irmin Schmidt. Why wasn't this on their best-of? From SUPERNATURAL FAIRY TALES.
"Old Man and the Angel" has Dcent choruses & OK group backing vocals, but that's all. It's not very suprising. From WONDROUS STORIES.
The Mutants R late-'60s Brazilian psychedelia -- they sound like a stranger Sergio Mendes & Brazil '66. There's some nice organ, & it gets louder & freakier toward the end. A little dated, & not that strange. But this was just my 1st taste. They've got a pretty good reputation.... From EVERYTHING'S POSSIBLE!
It must get awful cold & isolated up there in Iceland. Was The Sugarcubes why Bjork was a big deal? "Birthday" features her howling & screeching, but I actually like Einar Orn's Germanic-sounding voice better. This stuff is OK 4 a break 2 clear-out your head, like a walk in the cold Icelandic air. & summa their lyrics R ... intresting, especially on "Mama." From LIFE'S TOO GOOD!
Cocteau Twins ... pleasant, washy, pastel ... gtr&keyboard & female vocals, good going-2-sleep music ... "Feet-Like Fins" breaks in2 a pretty Indian-flavored chant with voice & gtr ... that doesn't go on long enuf.... From VICTORIALAND.
"ProzaKc Blues" features Adrian Belew's ugly low-treated vocals, but the lyrics R funny. I just thot it was better & funnier LIVE, as most of KC's comedies R (see "Happy," above).... From THE CONSTRUCTION OF LIGHT.

Coming soon, I hope: More new stuff....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sometimes I feel so uninspired....

Probly not the best title ever 4 a post. But NEway...
Nothing much on my mind currently. Course I've bn writing my ass off 4 the last 6 weeks or so, so mayB it's time 2 cool off a bit.
Have bn wondering how many of you Out There R listening 2 LITTLE STEVEN'S UNDERGROUND GARAGE, still my favorite place (currently) 2 hear new rock as well as great forgotten overlooked classics. A couple weeks back they aired their 500th weekly show. & I understand they have a show (or channel?) on Sirius XM satellite radio, if NEbody has that....
Sun nite's show was a tribute 2 movie director Martin Scorsese & played summa the songs Scorsese has used in his films over the years -- opening with the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" & moving thru classics like Badfinger's "Baby Blue," Mott the Hoople's "All the Way from Memphis," The Who's "Bell Boy," The Beatles' "I Need You," Cream's "Those Were the Days," & The Searchers' "Ain't That Just Like Me?" (Why didn't those guys have more hits...?)
Along with the oldies, Steven threw in the show's latest batch of faves, including Michael Monroe's ferocious getting-high-on-life rocker "Trick of the Wrist" (sounds kinda like AC/DC meets Meat Loaf ONLY WAY BETTER!), Tom Morello's "Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine" (great timely lyrics & great harmonica!), Sir Reg's hilarious Irish-punk "Bolloxology," Christian McNeill & the Sea Monsters' driving horn-propelled "Zero," Blondie's "Mother," J.P. Soars' silly R&B "Doggin'," & Butch Walker & the Black Widows' "Day Drunk." All great stuff.
This on top of recent great oldies like the Yardbirds' "Heart Full of Soul," Cream's "Deserted Cities of the Heart," & Frank Sinatra's HILARIOUS version of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" featuring radically re-written lyrics -- the funniest thing I've heard in a long time.
(The 2 Cream songs listed above have convinced me that maybe there R more than 3 good Cream songs -- previously I just thot "Badge," "I Feel Free," "I'm So Glad" & maybe "Crossroads" qualified -- & that mayB WHEELS OF FIRE is an album I should check out. I know 40+ years later is a little late 2 get this news, but ... hey, it's a new record 4 me....)
Have also, thanx 2 local oldies station KMCQ-FM, had repeated chances 2 appreciate how great Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" was back in 1975 & still is. You can sing along with it, it's got great semi-mysterious lyrics & an easily memorable chorus ... probly also not news 2 big music fans....
Lately have also tried 2 let a few fairly "current" (4 me) songs play out B4 changing the station -- heard a pretty, intense version of Lou Reed/Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane" by the Cowboy Junkies, & Jessie J's nice hip-hop piece "Price Tag." I like the lyrics about wanting to make the world dance & not caring about money.... & why is everybody so serious? This is not my usual sorta thing, but I like the optimistic message.
Other fairly recent stuff that's grabbed me includes Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody," & Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis" -- which sounds a little like Michael Bolton ONLY BETTER ... & I see now that it came out in 1991.... & Everlast's "What it's Like," which is only 13 years old.... Obviously, I hava lotta catching up 2 do....
Here, 103.7 FM "The Mountain" seems 2 have the most wide-open playlist (they also air Little Steven every Sun nite from 10 pm-midnight & have made my Sun nite at work a lot EZer 2 get thru), but they still play the same songs over & over. Meanwhile, KJR FM 95.7 in Seattle really DOES play the same 100 oldies over&over EVERY NITE. I wonder if they realize people may listen more than 1 nite in a row -- but probly not much longer than that....
Finally got thru KT Tunstall's "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" without changing stations -- it's only, what, 6 years old? -- but otherwise there's still 2 much overwrought-young-depressed-girl-with-piano-type stuff playing on the radio in my neck of the woods.
& you...?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Really Gloppy Love Songs!

My X-wife useta give me a tough time about getting all emotional & caught-up in gloppy old "girl group" songs like "Be My Baby" & "Baby I Love You." Obviously she didn't have a romantic bone in her body. Of course, she thot ABBEY ROAD was a comedy album, 2....
I've always bn a sucker 4 a good gloppy lovesong, as long as it's not COMPLETELY over-the-top, as long as it doesn't try 2 bury me in strings & orchestration & melodrama. There's no defense 4 liking some of the songs listed below, but I don't care. Let it roll....

The Playlist:
Ronettes -- Be My Baby, Baby I Love You, The Best Part of Breakin' Up, I Wonder, Do I Love You?
Stylistics -- You Are Everything, Betcha By Golly Wow.
When in Rome -- The Promise.
Celine Dion -- Nothing Broken But My Heart.
Paula Abdul -- Blowing Kisses in the Wind.
Earth, Wind and Fire -- After the Love Has Gone.
Bonnie Raitt -- I Can't Make You Love Me.
Fifth Dimension -- Wedding Bell Blues.
Sting - Fields of Gold.
Mamas and the Papas -- Dedicated to the One I Love, Twelve Thirty.
Lovin' Spoonful -- You Didn't Have to be So Nice.
Pam Tillis -- When You Walk in the Room, I Was Blown Away.
Mary-Chapin Carpenter -- Passionate Kisses.
Bread -- Everything I Own.
Pat Benatar -- We Belong.
Vanessa Williams -- Save the Best for Last.

NOTES: Hey, there's no Abba in this list....
NEway, what can I say about the Ronettes that my (suddenly much more easily workable) CD player didn't say a coupla weeks back? I can again point out that "Baby I Love You" shoulda bn a MUCH bigger hit. #24 just doesn't cut it. "The Best Part of Breakin' Up" sounds kinda like a rewrite of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," only with a great fake ending. "I Wonder" is a classic that shoulda bn a hit & apparently was never even released on a single -- what was Phil Spector THINKING? "Do I Love You?" was kinda disappointing -- the best parts R the instrumental sections.
Did you know the Ronettes' "chart life" only lasted a little over a year & they only had 1 #2 hit? "Baby I Love You" peaked at #24, "Walking in the Rain" at #23. Wonder why? I guess because the Beatles came along & Phil found other things 2 do, other acts 2 produce. 2 bad. NEway, all the Ronettes trax R from BE MY BABY: THE BEST OF.
The Stylistics at their best were SO SMOOTH. Later on they got a little TOO smooth. "You Are Everything" & "Betcha By Golly Wow" R classics that bring back the winter of 1971-72 pretty clearly 4 me -- even if I could never hit the high notes like Russell Tompkins Jr. did.... From THE BEST OF.
"The Promise" is a gorgeous piece of electro-dance stuff that I NEVER would've heard if I hadn't seen NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, still The Ultimate Idaho Movie.... From the ND SOUNDTRACK.
"Nothing Broken" is the only Celine Dion song that's ever grabbed me. If every artist (even Whitney Houston) has 1 song they were MEANT 2 do, that was Celine's. Paula Abdul's was "Blowing Kisses," a gorgeous symphonic # that I thot peaked a pretty useless career. I still think it's breathtaking. My only complaint has always bn that the ending just trails off.... After hearing it, I even started liking her earlier hit "Straight Up"....
EWF's "After the Love Has Gone" I was a sucker 4 back in my record store daze. Great horns, & really nice laid-back group vocals. 1 of my local radio stations plays it almost every nite, & that's overdoing it, but still....
"I Can't Make You Love Me" is the best thing I've ever heard Bonnie Raitt do. & it's gorgeous. But I admit I haven't heard much by her.... & why'd it only peak at #18? Can't people HEAR? (These last 4 trax were from homemade tapes....)
"Wedding Bell Blues" is a giant embarrassing piece of cheez -- which went 2 #1, of course -- but I love it 4 Bones Howe's old-timey production, the backing vocals, & the way Marilyn McCoo emotes all over the place. The late Laura Nyro wrote it, + 4 other hits 4 the 5D's.
...But why R the 5D's so uncool? "Aquarius" is cool, & "If I Could Reach You" is freakin' gorgeous, & I love a couple of the others ("Carpet Man"). But maybe it's cos they sound SO 1970. Not enuf soul? Gorgeous vocal blend tho, really underrated.... From THE GREATEST HITS ON EARTH.
"Fields of Gold" isn't gloppy? I think this nostalgic, vivid, possibly remorseful peek in2 the past is the best thing Sting's done solo. It's gorgeous. & I only just started noticing it a few weeks ago.... From THE VERY BEST OF STING & THE POLICE.
I'm a sucker 4 "Dedicated," a prayer I've loved since highschool. & "Twelve Thirty" has always bn my fave Mamas&Papas song, even more than "California Dreamin'" -- I've adored it ever since it had a little revival in Fall '73 on KFXD in Boise, where it got played a ton 4 all the kids who missed it back in 1967, I guess. Why did this gorgeous hymn only peak at #20? Both from GREATEST HITS.
"Nice" is my fave Spoonful song. I like "Do You Believe in Magic?" & "Darling Be Home Soon" & "Summer in the City," 2. But I can't stand "Nashville Cats." Or "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" Lotsa good-timey stuff there, also underrated.... From GREATEST HITS.
"When You Walk in the Room" is perfect & shoulda bn a HUGE hit. Jackie DeShannon wrote it, the Searchers almost hadda hit with it (#35 in '64), & radio programmers musta bn deaf not 2 play this 1 on pop stations. Great vocals, great guitars, really punchy. "Blown Away" is guaranteed gloppy, but there's some great -- tho brief -- guitar work during the middle break. & there's Pam's sweet vocals. Both from SWEETHEART'S DANCE.
"Passionate Kisses" is just about perfect & still makes me bounce around the room. From COME ON COME ON.
Bread did lotsa great stuff & they're still underrated. "Everything I Own" was my absolute fave back when I was 13 years old, & it still sounds great all these years later. I love the way it builds in drama. From THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION -- which includes a lot of their REALLY GREAT B-sides & album trax, which you really should check-out -- Xcept 4 the absolute classic "Been Too Long on the Road," which some dummy left off the 2-disc set....
"We Belong" is the best thing Benatar ever did, tho I still like hard-hitting "Hard to Believe" & "Precious Time" & her cover of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" & a coupla others.... From TROPICO.
I always thot "Save the Best for Last" was a lump-in-the-throat masterpiece -- gorgeous piano, the hushed mood, & Vanessa's great vocals. & I like the story the lyrics tell. From THE COMFORT ZONE.

...I probly left some things out. Most pop songs R lovesongs, so there's probly something obvious I listen 2 all the time & just didn't play on Sat. Like Abba. Which means there'll havta B "Even MORE Really Gloppy Love Songs" -- Coming Soon!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Where are the laffs?

These R grim times.
As any look at a newspaper or any random 5 mins of CNN will tell ya.
Now more than ever, we need laffs.
& I don't mean in silly movies or in TV situation comedies or in comedy clubs or on "Reality TV."
I mean in the very media that bring us down every day:
TV news & newspapers.
About the only time TV news & newspapers R the slightest bit funny these days is when they're covering the latest screw-up on the Republican presidential campaign trail. (Did you see Herman Cain's latest act on Tuesday? Oh my Ghod! Couldn't stop laffing!)
Things R getting so freaking serious that we NEED SOMETHING 4 a break. When the GOP fields the Usual Gang Of Idiots as potential presidential nominees, when there R STILL 10 million people out of work, when Congress is useless & the President is helpless & the US teeters on the brink of becoming another 3rd World country....
We need SOMETHING to help us lighten up. About the only time that happens these days is if the media MAKES A MISTAKE (Ghod forbid!). Or if some soundman or camera guy accidentally farts during a press conference.
(Of course you'll never hear THAT on the 6 o'clock news....)
4 Ghod's sake, at least give us another Republican debate 2 laff at....
(If Herman Cain would just ADMIT that he's got a thing 4 white women, we could all have a big laff & then get on with our lives....)
Things didn't useta B this serious. & the media useta have a lot more fun with covering the news. These days the only reporters I see REGULARLY making fun of what happens out there in The Real World each week are Jeanne Moos at CNN & Craig Wilson, who writes a weekly lite-humor column called "The Final Word" 4 USA TODAY. (Is Dave Barry still writing his syndicated humor columns 4 newspapers? I haven't seen them in quite awhile.... Maybe he gave them up 2 write books?)
& there is NOBODY in my immediate local area writing topical humor 4 any of the newspapers -- that I've noticed. Almost all the reporting & commentary is viewed straight-on. There's an editorial columnist 4 the TACOMA NEWS TRIBUNE named Peter Callaghan who occasionally does screamingly funny Q&A columns about hot statewide political issues. But he otta write them every week. His newspaper could use a little more life.
It didn't useta B like this. Back in my newspaper days it seemed like every paper had somebody who could write comedy. When I was working on Air Force base newspapers in the '80s & '90s I went outta my way 2 try 2 find some lite & funny stuff 2 counteract all the dead-serious & sleep-inducing stuff we hadta print.
I remember writing columns about "Air Force Medals You Don't Want To Win" (like the infamous "Air Force Condemnation Medal"), an Air Force "Glossary" (in which a bureaucratic phrase like "alcohol-related incident" was decoded into its real meaning: "A drunken brawl"), & "Air Force Bases You'll Never Want to Serve At" -- an atlas of fictional bases located in desolate West Texas, desolate Southeastern Oregon, & desolate Western Wyoming ... 2 go along with the real bases we already had in Greenland, Iceland, Korea, the Aleutian Islands, North Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana & other Ghod-forsaken places....
I also wrote an off-the-wall sports feature on an AF doctor named Joe Kenny who competed in stair-climbing races during his off-duty time -- a hobby that got his name in2 the GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS. Not Xactly yer standard AF-newspaper-type sports coverage....
When I left the AF & started working 4 civilian papers, I discovered real-life comedy was all around, all I had 2 do was notice it. & it practically wrote itself.
I wrote silly lite-comedy features about a married couple who used multi-colored carpets 2 replace their front lawn after their grass died -- & about how many traffic jams & car wrecks in front of their house this led to; about how a computer glitch led 2 3-dozen turkeys being delivered 2 a local Senior Citizens' Center just in time 4 Thanksgiving; how a small-town council had 2 subpoena a pot-bellied pig 2 a council meeting 4 a discussion about the town's livestock ordinance; how some packets of Holly-brand sugar got a 5-second close-up during an episode of THE X-FILES (there was a Holly Sugar factory in the Wyoming town where I lived); how a local highschool senior wanted 2 impress President Bill Clinton during a National Honor Society visit 2 the White House -- so the boy performed a gorilla impression....
...& lots more. Some of this stuff got picked-up by the Associated Press & sent 2 newspapers all over the country. & it was an absolute BREEZE 2 write, like a gift from Ghod. It was a great break -- & a great RELIEF -- from my usual straight-news reporting about council meetings & car wrecks. Most of these silly stories I could crank out in 30 mins or less, & it was like every word flashed in2 my head perfectly from beginning 2 end.
It was my favorite part of being a reporter & the 1 thing I miss most about the newspaper business.
& I knew that after writing a story like that -- after sharing a laff with readers on the front page -- I knew I'd done my job & a whole lot more. I'd earned my paycheck ... & hadda great time doing it.
You can't fake comedy. It's either good or it isn't. & you know when it's good. Not just because you're laffing. You get that sorta glow....
I really miss that.
& even tho these R grim times, we could use a lot more real-life comedy. Fun stories. I know they're out there, even at the worst of times. Because people still have a sense of humor -- & still use it 2 get thru their days -- no matter how bad things get.
I don't know if newspaper & TV reporters' hands R tied or if everybody's just 2 tense these days 2 try 2 crack a joke....
But it's the 1 thing I hardly ever see anymore on TV news or in newspapers. & it's the 1 thing I would most LIKE 2 see.
We could all use some laffs. LOTS of them....

Saturday, November 5, 2011

All SMiLEs

Jeez, this is GORGEOUS.
The Beach Boys' brand-new SMiLE SESSIONS is amazing, beautiful, & only 44 years overdue. It sounds GREAT. It makes 4 Xcellent early-morning wake-up music -- I'm listening 2 it right now. & it really will make you smile.
There's no point recounting the history -- if you're reading this you likely already know at least the "high points" of the story Bhind this, the most famous unreleased album in rock history. Bsides, books have been written about this album. I'm not gonna try 2 add 2 that here.
4 me, this package has bn worth the wait. I've bn waiting since about 1974, when I 1st read about this mysterious Beach Boys album that never appeared. I went 4 the 2-CD "highlights" version of the sessions. 4 1, Bcos I was afraid if I went 4 the 5-CD box with all the added attachments, I'd disappear in2 it 4ever.
Bsides, I couldn't afford the $140 or whatever....
It all sounds wonderful. But there's a catch here, of course. If you're a big enuf fan of this stuff 2 have grabbed all the late-'60s/early-'70s Beach Boys albums that the bits & pieces of SMiLE came out on over the years, + you bot the Boys' THIRTY YEARS best-of back in 1993 (which included 1/2anhour of SMiLE trax), & grabbed Brian Wilson's reconstruction/update of SMiLE that came out in 2004 ... maybe you even found summa the vinyl & cassette bootlegs of these sessions that came out over the past decade or so .... then there is very little of this music that you haven't already heard. On 1st listening I noticed maybe a new keyboard part & some vocal sections I hadn't heard B4.
The diffrence is that here it's CLEAR & DETAILED & LOUD & UP-CLOSE, & it doesn't sound like a fuzzy/goopy 5th-generation re-recording of some badly-recorded scratchy old acetate floppy-discs. & of course having it ALL TOGETHER & in 1 place, well....
It's freakin gorgeous. Crystal clear & airy & cosmic & happy. You can hear why Mike Love mighta gotten nervous about the "commerciality" of it all way back in '67. It sounds VERY diffrent even from PET SOUNDS -- & the most out-there sections sound even more out-there than "Good Vibrations" did back in the day.
But it's all of a piece. Even "Good Vibrations" fits right in. & THAT still sounds great.
There's a basic 19-song SMiLE album here that flows 2gether nicely. There's "Heroes and Villains" section mixes & "Parts 1&2" that R pretty great -- including that vocal section that sounds like The Muppets got 2gether 4 a Group Orgasm session.... There's a backing vocal montage that's as hypnotic as summa the songs. & the parts interweave & could go on 4ever as far as I'm concerned.
I still think that if the Boys had bn able 2 piece all this 2gether back in '67, the strongest songs woulda carried it Dspite Mike Love's worries -- there's no arguing with "Good Vibrations," "Heroes and Villains," "Cabin Essence" & "Surf's Up." Even the stuff I've never liked much -- "Wonderful," "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" -- sounds pretty great here. Even the instrumentals -- "Do You Like Worms," "Look," "Holidays," "Love to Say Dada" -- sound great, & fans of previous BB instrumentals like "Let's Go Away for Awhile" & "Pet Sounds" & "Trombone Dixie" should enjoy these.
Capitol/EMI knows what they've got here. They oughta, after 44 years. Look at the way the album's packaged -- check the cover: It's packaged as SMiLE. That "SESSIONS" subtitle is a bit of an afterthot. There's also some proof of how absurdly optimistic Capitol was the 1st time around: As a special "bonus" bonus track, there's a Capitol sales promo spot from '66 boosting the original album: "With the happy cover and the happy sounds inside, we're sure to sell a million units ... in January." Maybe THIS time, guys....
There's also some other bonuses, some funny comments from the Boys & session musicians scattered thruout the last 1/2 of the 1st disc & all of the 2nd, some funny "playlets" here & there, great session talk among the Boys during the "Our Prayer" sessions & at the end of the "Good Vibrations" session highlights.
But that's all 2ndary 2 The Good Stuff -- 19 trax that make up the Real Album, + 22 bonus trax. It's as close as we're ever gonna get. & if you're a fan, it's worth it. Go get it.
Great, cosmic, gorgeous vocals, beautiful music, the best. Words fail me. I've got my SMiLE button, & I'm wearing it.
Album Of The Year, obviously. 2 bad it's from 1967. Hope Brian & the Boys get a Grammy or somethin, tho....

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Boogie Monster and other adventures....

At the end of May 1986, the Air Force transferred me from San Antonio, Texas, to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where for the 1st time in my 3-year AF career I was finally gonna get the chance 2 write 4 a real base newspaper.
To celebrate, my then-wife & I took a 2-week "great circle" tour thru the Plains & the Intermountain West -- across west Texas, thru New Mexico & Arizona, then north up thru Arizona & Utah, across southern Idaho 2 see our folks in Boise, then back east across Idaho & thru the wilds of Wyoming 2 Cheyenne.
We stopped at every National Park we could find along the way -- the Grand Canyon (which is really stunning), Bryce Canyon (which isn't really a canyon), Zion (which was as awesome & as much like going 2 church as Grand), Craters of the Moon, Yellowstone, etc.
By the time we got 2 Yellowstone we were pretty tired & pretty bored with the whole thing: "What, another scenic climax...?"
When we finally got 2 my new base -- Francis E. Warren AFB on the western outskirts of Cheyenne, then the biggest intercontinental ballistic missile base in the country -- the folks at FEW put me & the Mrs. in temporary housing til we found somewhere 2 live. Their temporary housing was more like a huge cabin -- over a hill from the main base, down by a creek, surrounded by trees, quiet -- like still being on vacation.
The cabin had all the essentials -- beds, couches, TV, radio, kitchen, etc. Naturally, I turned on the stereo the 1st evening 2 C what kinda music I'd B forced 2 put up with in Cheyenne. I was dreading that it might all B Country, something like being back home in Idaho.
Instead, 1 of the 1st stations I found was (I think) KOA AM outta Denver, playing some rare R&B track from the early '60s. & then the DJ came on. He called himself The Boogie Monster.
At 1st I thot he was some kinda 2nd-rate Wolfman Jack -- same deep voice, same kinda jive come-on, a little cheezy, in a good way. But soon I realized he wasn't 2nd-rate at all. The stuff he played I'd never heard anywhere B4. & he sure had a lotta fun with it.
In fact, it soon Bcame clear that listening 2 The Boogie Monster was like some kinda lunatic had escaped from the asylum & locked himself in2 the studio with a pile of ABSOLUTELY GREAT previously forgotten records, & he was gonna play EVERY ONE OF 'EM, & you were gonna LOVE ALL OF THEM. & that's how it was gonna B 'til the police kicked down the door.
Now here's the catch: I don't remember 4 sure ANY of the stuff he played. I didn't keep any lists like that back then. I know it was all great. I think I mighta heard Brewer & Shipley's brilliant "Witchi-Tai-To" 4 the 1st time on his show, & some long but intriguing number by a short-lived late-'60s "supergroup" called Sweet Thursday. But I might B wrong. It mighta bn some other syndicated "forgotten oldies" show.
I know I listened 2 The Boogie Monster sevral times during the 3 years we lived in Cheyenne. But I know I also kinda took him 4 granted, figuring he'd always B there, & that I'd always B around (I told LOTS of people I'd stay in Wyoming til I retired if the AF would let me), that I'd have plenty of time 2 listen 2 more at my leisure. But it didn't Xactly work out that way.
Besides, I had other things on my mind, like how 2 write in English for an Air Force newspaper, how 2 run the whole thing myself, how to write, photograph, layout, & distribute the thing all over the base on Friday morning. Usually alone. Sometimes in 2 feet of snow.
Sometimes I had help. I invited 1 of my co-workers & his wife over 2 the house 4 dinner in an effort 2 make the office/work atmosphere more comfortable. Then I stumbled over the issue of What Music To Play? My co-worker & his wife were rather fundamentalist Christians, & I had no gospel or sacred music in the house. But I wanted something that rocked a LITTLE.
So I tried 2 turn them on 2 Fairport Convention -- which they said was "too morbid." That'll teach me 4 starting out with "I'll Keep it With Mine." Shoulda opened with "Listen, Listen," or "Come All Ye." Or maybe tried something else instead. The Moody Blues? Hey, if they wanted morbid, I shoulda put on Nick Drake. Or I coulda played King Crimson & just scared 'em the hell outta the house....
We also hadda couple of broadcasters in the Public Affairs Office (at 1 point we had 3, Ghod knows why), & they moonlighted with off-duty jobs at local radio stations. 1 of 'em invited me 2 drop in on him while he worked at 1a the local Album Rock stations.
So I drove over 1 nite after work & watched him do his thing as "Steve Cheyenne" on the air 4 a coupla hrs. It was pretty cool. We both cracked up about how obvious his on-air name was, & we were both frustrated by how tight the station's playlist was -- because the ramshackle studios were CRAMMED with albums -- there was vinyl piled & scattered EVERYWHERE. It was a freakin treasure-house of tunes & there were only maybe 200 songs on the station's playlist.
Just being IN the station was cool, especially at nite -- it was not at all the brightly-lit high-tech place I Xpected -- in fact, the rundown dark-shadows condition of the place was almost an Xact match 4 the station described in Gregory Nicoll's spooky 1989 horror story "Dead Air," 1 of my horror faves.
While I was in Cheyenne, a co-worker dragged me along 2 a writers' workshop in Denver, where I got 2 meet a couple of my favorite science fiction writers, Edward Bryant & Connie Willis. I found out that pro writers put their pants on just like every1 else. I raved 2 Bryant how knocked-out I'd been by his great Wyoming story, "Strata." I was pretty incoherent tho, probly sounded like an idiot. He said only a couple of people had ever noticed that story before....
Tho there was some job-related stress, I didn't realize til later that I was Living The Good Life. The X & I were no longer homesick 4 Idaho (like we had been in Texas), & despite the brutally cold winters, Wyoming was pretty great. We were pretty happy. Our son was born in Cheyenne in 1988.
But I made the mistake of telling 2 many people I'd stay permanently. & the AF sent me 2 Ankara, Turkey, at the end of 1989. That was also an adventure, but it's a whole diffrent story.
When I left Cheyenne, The Boogie Monster was still on the air. But I've never been back there, or NEwhere close 2 Denver, so I don't know if he's still on the air 20+ years later & still crankin out those great forgotten tunes. In these days of the Internet where nothing is ever forgotten, The Boogie Monster doesn't have a Wikipedia page, & I'm not even sure I got the KOA call-letters right.
But I remember. Sort of. I remember....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Don't quit your day job....

Yeah, well, I know y'all weren't Xpecting -- or even WANTING -- this, but ... I've written another song. My 1st since last January's "My Degeneration," & I just couldn't wait 2 share it all with you.
This was inspired by last Friday nite at work (I'll "celebrate" 8 YEARS on the job as of Nov. 7), & it's dedicated 2 the energy-drink-fuelled Younger Generation -- those 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds who are ALWAYS in a hurry, always on their cellphones, always rushing 2 get SOMEWHERE, never have time 2 B polite or catch their breath or even let you finish a sentence -- got 2 B somewhere, 2 many things 2 do, I'm already LATE, Goddammit, hurry it UP!
Oh, I'm starting 2 sound like an old fuddyduddy. Well, 2 hell with that.
The following should B delivered in a series of angry shouts, as quickly as possible, with accompanying HEAVY guitar -- something like The Ramones meets 1 of those obscenely-loud heavy bands with the low growling vocals, only BETTER.
It's called "Whatever We Want." I think it's hitbound. You write the "music" (Haha) & we'll split the massive profits 50-50. Here goes:

We fuck whoever we want!
We drink whatever we want!
We steal whatever we want!
We do meth whenever we want!

'Cos that's all we wanna do!
And who the hell are you?!
To tell us we can't do
Whatever we wanna do!

We speed whenever we want!
At least we'll look good in the ditch!
Your sister's a stupid little bitch!
And so's your mama!

So who are you to tell me?!
I can't do what I want -- I'm free!
To kill myself as quick as can be!
'Cos I hate everything I see!

I don't care about you!
You all can just go screw!
I know that I'm a physical wreck!
'Cos we're the children from Heck!

(Repeat 1st 2 verses.)
(Followed by massively-loud total-feedback guitar solo with huge explosions....)

NOTES: This could B done in a hip-hop version, complete with a breakdown & room 4 variations B4 the final repeat of the 1st 2 verses. There could B an emo version with lots of high-pitched screaming vocals. I still see more of a heavy/death-metal-meets-Ramones sorta vibe, but as the composer, you could create the (in-)appropriate musical setting. I'm just the lyricist here.
Think it was Pete Townshend who said all rock lyrics should B written as quickly as possible -- just whatever shit comes right off the toppa yer head. Well, I think it's obvious that's the approach I used here.
Maybe I could throw-in a couple more verses with some refrences 2 dope-smoking or lying-around whining or being unemployed or collecting foodstamps or playing videogames til my eyes bug out, or some other topical refrence? Ghod, I feel like Paul Leka throwing more cliches in2 "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" just cos I KNOW it's so goddamn good that it's going straight 2 #1 within a month....
I'm sure this will get as many rave reviews as "My Degeneration" did back at the turn of the year. Damn, I feel inspired. My true talents R going 2 waste in my current career. Lemme know what you think?!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Even MORE schlocky #1 hits!

Because you asked 4 it, & because I couldn't resist, here comes Part 3 of Musical Junk Through The Years, an embarrassing compendium of huge #1 hit singles (according 2 BILLBOARD magazine) -- mosta which should never have bn released ... or which supposed "rock&roll fans" never should've bought....
...Don't know how I missed some of these in my researching -- I plead poor eyesight, or it could B because I actually LIKED a couple of these. Nevertheless, here's another list of embarrassing not-very-rock&roll hits up thru about 1992, which is when I started seriously tuning-out most "current" stuff....
We'll start with some stuff from the early-to-mid '70s that I somehow overlooked. Comb thru yer collection & see how many of these you own -- & then recycle them IMMEDIATELY!:

* Guess Who -- "American Woman."
* Beatles -- "The Long and Winding Road."
* Three Dog Night -- "Black and White."
* Elton John -- "Crocodile Rock." (wore out pretty quick....)
* Bee Gees -- "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" (a pretty pile of cheez....)
* Barry Manilow -- "Mandy."
* Elton John -- "Philadelphia Freedom," "Island Girl."
* Tony Orlando & Dawn -- "He Don't Love You Like I Love You."
* Paul McCartney & Wings -- "Listen to What the Man Said." (So SLICK & meaningless. But the album it's from is pretty great....)
* Neil Sedaka & Elton John -- "Bad Blood."
* C.W. McCall -- "Convoy."
* Diana Ross -- "Theme from MAHOGANY (Do You Know Where You're Going To?)."
* John Sebastian -- "Welcome Back."
* Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta -- "You're the One That I Want."
* Frankie Valli -- "Grease."
* Player -- "Baby Come Back."
* Commodores -- "Three Times a Lady."
* Donna Summer -- "MacArthur Park." (& "I Love You" barely got in2 the Top 40....)
* Exile -- "Kiss You All Over."
* Olivia Newton-John -- "Magic."
* Sheena Easton -- "Morning Train (9 to 5)." (& "You Could Have Been With Me" barely made the Top 20....)
* Air Supply -- "The One That You Love."
* Blondie -- "The Tide is High." (Tired!)
* Christopher Cross -- "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)."
* Steve Miller -- "Abracadabra."
* Toni Basil -- "Mickey."
* Men at Work -- "Down Under." (Wore out REAL quick.)
* Stevie Wonder -- "Part-Time Lover," "I Just Called to Say I Love You."
* Wham! -- "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." (Is this the most annoying #1 song of all time?)
* Whitney Houston -- "The Greatest Love of All." (George Benson's version is better....)
* Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald -- "On My Own."
* Bananarama -- "Venus." (Shocking Blue's original was Great Trash, & also went 2 #1 back in 1970....)
* Phil Collins -- "A Groovy Kind of Love." (Jeez, Phil's had 7 #1's?! & yet "You'll Be in My Heart" only peaked at #21...?)
* Beach Boys -- "Kokomo."
* Bangles -- "Eternal Flame." (Yes, I loved them too, but this was as much cut&paste hackery as anything by Barry Manilow....)
* Bette Midler -- "Wind Beneath My Wings."
* Whitney Houston -- "I Will Always Love You." #1 4 14 weeks in Winter '92.

...& justa quick note 2 say thanx 2 every1 4 making October my 2nd-best-read month ever with 850 page views. The 17 posts I bashed-up were the most in quite awhile 2, but I hadda lot I wanted 2 tell you about.
If you're still out there crouching in a yurt somewhere on the Mongolian steppe -- & I can tell by my readership statistics that some of you ARE -- please let me hear from you.
I still can't tell how many of you R actually READING these ravings & how many of you have stumbled in here by accident. You don't havta comment, but feel free 2 click on those immediate-response buttons at the end of this post & all the other posts. Don't be strangers....
Up next: Something new, I hope....