Monday, December 26, 2011

#509: Nothing but the Beast!

It's That Time again. Barring any further miracles, here R the winners of the 2nd Annual TAD Awards 4 the Best Music and Books of 2011. These awards go 2 the stuff that impressed me the most over the past year, no matter how old it is....
I know you've bn waiting 4 this, so let's get right 2 it....
* BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR -- Easy: The Beach Boys' SMiLE SESSIONS. Gorgeous, timeless music, beautifully produced & assembled, without a single let-down track. Absolutely not an anti-climax, totally worth the 44-year wait. 2 bad it's really from 1967....
* BEST CURRENT ALBUM OF THE YEAR -- I guess by default it's Florence + the Machine's CEREMONIALS, even tho I wasn't knocked-out by every song. But I don't think I listened all-the-way-thru 2 NEthing else that was current all year long, so....
* BEST NOVEL OF THE YEAR -- Also easy: Andrew Foster Altschul's DEUS EX MACHINA. Brilliant & vivid & involving from the 1st pg -- even funny -- with just a slightly weak last couple of pgs 2 mar the story. If you've ever bn wrapped-up in any kind of "Reality TV" show, you'll probly love this book. I had a brief infatuation with SURVIVOR & LOVED ROCK STAR/INXS, so....
* SONG OF THE YEAR -- Florence + the Machine's "Shake it Out," the only song all year that made me laff & cry & clap my hands & shout along. The lyrics R brilliant, the performance is amazing.
* SONG OF THE YEAR RUNNER-UP'S -- Kelly Clarkson's "I'm Already Gone," great vocals, haunting lyrics; Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain," ditto, her whole career's bn worth it just 4 this; The Launderettes' "Red River," the 1st 45-rpm vinyl single I've bought in YEARS; Sara Bareilles's "Love Song," love the choruses & the way she weighs the words "You'll see" at the end....
* BEST MUSIC BOOKS (tie) -- Will Romano's MOUNTAINS COME OUT OF THE SKY and Mark Powell's PROPHETS AND SAGES. Romano's book is beautiful 2 look at & features a pretty solid, detailed history of progressive rock with just a few minor errors. But there R a lotta people included who I wouldn't call prog (much late-'60s British Folk), & there R areas I wished were in a lot more depth. Hope Romano gets 2 write a sequel. Powell's PROPHETS is a goldmine of data on obscure & overlooked prog albums -- but it's FULL of typographical errors in what seems 2 B Bcoming a British Prog tradition. I hope Powell gets 2 write a sequel 2 -- & I've already offered 2 help him proofread it....
* BEST REVIEWS -- John Clute's 4 books of science-fiction book reviews: STROKES, SCORES, LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE and CANARY FEVER. Great, wide-ranging, cosmic, funny.
* BEST BIOGRAPHY -- Julie Phillips' JAMES TIPTREE JR.: THE DOUBLE LIFE OF ALICE SHELDON. Tho a little thin on the last 10 years of Tiptree/Sheldon's life, this is an amazing portrait of 1 of the top SF writers of the '70s, a woman pretending 2 B a man, trying 2 get her amazing stories written any way she could.
* BEST REFERENCE BOOK -- Joel Whitburn & BILLBOARD's TOP POP SINGLES 1955-2002, a goldmine of pop-music chart trivia.
* BEST REISSUES (tie) -- WALL OF SOUND: THE VERY BEST OF PHIL SPECTOR 1961-1966 and BE MY BABY: THE VERY BEST OF THE RONETTES. The Spector collection is crammed full of timeless classics, from The Crystals' "He's a Rebel" 2 Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High" -- I just wished there were MORE. The Ronettes' best-of isn't all timeless classics, but you can't do without "Be My Baby" & "Baby I Love You," & some of the other trax DO have some of the same massive impact -- especially the wondrous "I Wonder." RUNNER-UP: Neil Diamond's THE BANG YEARS. I bought this just 2 hear the great "Love to Love," which I hadn't heard since about 1974. The package also includes a dozen classic early hits from back when Neil was Really Good, from "Solitary Man" & "Cherry Cherry" 2 "Shilo," that have appeared previously on Neil's GREATEST HITS (on the Bang label), DOUBLE GOLD and CLASSICS: THE EARLY YEARS (on Columbia), which I've already worn-out a coupla copies of. Great stuff, & I'm still a sucker 4 "I've Got the Feeling (Oh No No)."
* MOST OVERPLAYED/MOST OVERRATED -- Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." I know why the rhythm locks this song in2 people's heads -- it locked in2 my head after the 1st couple of listenings & I don't even LIKE it. 4 me, the best thing here is Adele's background singers (which might B Adele herself) chanting "You're gonna wish that/You had never met me...."
* MOST POPULAR POST -- Good Lord, "Back to the Roots!" has 2wice as many viewings as NE other post I've ever done here at the Back-Up Plan. Ghod knows why....
* MOST POPULAR RECENT POST -- "Hot August Night 2!," I guess cos that's what Reality is like, sometimes.... Either that or there's a whole bunch of Neil Diamond fans out there....
...Management reserves the right 2 change these results if something really earth-shaking should alter my consciousness during the last 5 days of the year....

Friday, December 23, 2011

#508: Retrophobia

I'm a sucker 4 nostalgia, so you'd think a book like Simon Reynolds' RETROMANIA (2011) -- about how popular culture & especially pop music celebrates & wallows in its own past -- would B right up my street. But it wasn't.
Doesn't mean you shouldn't track down a copy & read it tho -- especially if you're 1 of those people (like me) who finds that most newer music doesn't seem 2 hit very hard.
Reynolds' thesis is that a majority of pop-music artists R busy getting their inspiration from the past -- & making music that SOUNDS like it's from an earlier decade -- Bcos no1 can imagine a workable future that's NE diffrent from Right Now.
You might want 2 think about this the next time you hear Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" or NEthing by Adele on the radio. What was "Rehab" but an old Aretha Franklin R&B number with updated lyrics? Replace the lyrical content & it coulda come straight outta the '60s. Adele seems almost a throwback 2 those sensitive singer-songwriters of the late-'60s/early-'70s -- Carole King or Laura Nyro, say. Janis Ian, maybe?
Reynolds doesn't critique any particular artists. He's not zinging NEbody 4 some kinda massive artistic Failure Of Nerve. He'd just like 2 hear Something New. & he hasn't heard it lately.
& the problem isn't just in pop music. It takes Reynolds a pretty in-depth, fairly Ntertaining 430 pgs 2 outline this. Along the way there's side-trips in2 other popular art forms showing that EVERY1's stuck -- no1 can imagine a real future anymore. He looks at fashion, filmmaking (endless re-makes), modern classical music, fine art, architecture, even science-fiction writing (more obsessed with what's happening right now than with NE imagined future)....
He also Xamines in-depth dozens of diffrent genres of pop music -- everything from hip-hop 2 techno 2 New Wave 2 rave & punkabilly & something he calls "hauntology" -- which sounds like some of that droning, decaying, spooky stuff that my buddy Gardenhead sometimes writes about over at ASLEEP ON THE COMPOST HEAP (
Reynolds finds Xcellent works & talented artists everywhere he looks. But he fails 2 find what he calls "the rush of the New."
This is a little frustrating, even tho I agree with him & you probly do 2 if you've ever shut off the radio in frustration Bcos "everything sounds the same" or Bcos they're always playing the same old stuff....
But tho Reynolds finds good work in every genre he looks at (& if nothing else this book will give you a list of new artists 2 check out), at times he sounds like those music fans & critics who were eagerly awaiting "The New Beatles" even B4 Elton John came along....
Reynolds stops short at the end of the book from saying that the whole world is "stuck." But that's the picture his book paints. Nobody in the arts seems able 2 break on thru & find something Totally New on the other side. & after the economic collapse of the past couple years, it seems even LESS likely that pop music will Xplode with some new sound.
If something Totally New were 2 arrive 2morrow, I'm not sure I'd B able 2 hear it. & I'm sure I wouldn't B alone. Some might nominate Lady Gaga 4 this; Reynolds refers 2 her as a "cyborg diva." Again -- it's not artists he's critiquing, it's the structure of pop music -- & by Xtension the rest of Reality -- as it is 2day.
There's LOTS more -- how the Internet & YouTube have helped create a reality where pop's complete past is available at the click of a mouse, & how musicians & artists have used that EZ access 2 further borrow & scramble sounds & influences.
There is a GREAT chapter on record-collecting as hobby, obsession, neurosis -- how it can become an anxiety sink, a way 2 shore yourself up against (or block out) the things in life that bother you, how it becomes a place 4 yer mis-directed energy & anxiety 2 go. Reynolds coulda written a whole book on this. I unfortunately have no trouble at all relating 2 this stuff.
There R also some laff-out-loud moments -- Reynolds cracks a great music-related joke on the 1st page that will have all of you out there shaking your heads in agreement. But there shoulda bn more moments like that. Reynolds' side-trips in2 other art forms help bolster his thesis, but the book gets long & kinda dry in places.
I kept reading hoping there'd B a big summation at the end. There isn't.
Hey, the world's a grim place right now. Nobody knows what's ahead -- nothing but big ugly questions nobody wants 2 face. Maybe the 2000's Rn't what we dreamt of when we were growing up. No suprise so many people would rather look backward. Ghod knows I do.
I don't much care if the music I listen 2 is "Totally New" or cutting edge. I'd just like 2 hear some more great new songs. Something that'll stick with me & maybe haunt me 4 awhile.
If you feel up 2 a lengthy, pretty serious, in-depth cultural study, check RETROMANIA out. If nothing else, you'll come out with a long list of new artists 2 track down.
I found a copy of Reynolds' RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN -- a history of late '70s/early-'80s post-punk -- & plan 2 dive in2 it soon. Reynolds sez it's 1 of his favorite musical periods, & it's 1 of mine 2. More soon.

Monday, December 19, 2011

#507: "If We Were Wise"

Can't believe I haven't reviewed Providence's classic 1972 album EVER SENSE THE DAWN in-depth in the 2+ years I've been here at Blogger. Know I reviewed it at my old dead website, & I've mentioned it in passing a coupla times. It's 1 of my all-time favorites.
So, in celebration of Simon Reynolds' RETROMANIA & his pop-music-devours-its-own-past thesis, Merry Christmas....

Providence's EVER SENSE THE DAWN is a sorta kinder, gentler Moody Blues album, released on the Moodies' Threshold label back in 1972. It's the only album by this classical&folk-based Boise, Idaho band -- who strangely enuf have their own Wikipedia page. SOMEBODY out there musta bought the album back in the day....
I'd heard OF the album & band, but I THINK all the music I'd ever heard from it prior 2 1977 was the last 30 seconds of one song, "Fantasy Fugue," played over Boise's KFXD-AM at the end of 1973. But the memory's hazy. I could B wrong about the time. I remember the DJ saying at the end of the track, "I love those people...."
Flash-forward to mid-1977. The 1st time I ever walked in2 the record store where I later worked 4 3 years, I asked the manager if they could order this album. He told me no, it was out of print -- but I could buy his copy ... for $2,000!
Flash-forward 6 more months: My highschool sweetheart gets a spot in the Boise State University orchestra -- where it turns out she's playing viola next 2 a former member of the band! & he tells her he doesn't know where she can find copies of the album either....
A friend of ours named Thom West has a copy of the album -- Mt. Hood on the cover, photographed thru what looks like a sailing ship's porthole. The 6 members of the band R on the back, photographed with their instruments in Boise's Julia Davis Park.
Thom lets me tape the album -- along with some Wings & Who & Wackers trax I don't have -- & the music is way diffrent, not Xactly rock&roll, kinda soft & folky, but with some great group vocals & cool guitar. There's even 1 track that sounds a little like the Moodies. Not bad, definitely something diffrent.
Then there's a rumor that a TINY hole-in-the-wall record store on the east edge of Boise's then-nearly-deserted downtown MIGHT have a coupla copies of the album 4 sale. I go there, & the store is smaller than the 8x40-foot trailer I later end up living in. But they've got lotsa vinyl all right, & after a bit of digging, I come up with halfadozen copies of the album -- at $2.19 each! I keep 1 & give the rest 2 my friends as Christmas presents. Thom gets a new copy, so does his girlfriend Melissa, my soon-2-B-X sweetie Allison, & my best friend Don. I don't remember where the other copy went.
Soon I'm playing the album constantly. Along with Gryphon, it's 1 of my 1st "Strange Music" discoveries. It suits my mood a lot -- laid back, not 2 intense, kinda folky & poetic, & with a little formal classical flavor provided by the group's violin-viola-cello trio.
Tho it's all pleasant enuf, 4 trax R immediate standouts, & I think all coulda bn radio hits. "Fantasy Fugue" is a catchy singalong travel-song that starts with autoharp(!) & builds until everybody in the studio is apparently singing along. "If We Were Wise" is a stark poem about human nature that starts with Bart Bishop's moody vocal accompanied by cello & develops in2 some great group-vocal choruses. Bassist Bob Barriatua's lyrics R the album's best. There's also a great "string break" in the middle section.
"Neptune's Door" is a spritely number about taking things 4 granted when wonders surround us -- it seems like a throwaway at 1st, but sneaks up on you. "The Stream" is another brief, dramatic number with simple lyrics & an Xcellent string arrangement.
"Mountain" is also very pleasant, & in its placement at the start of the record, seems like an Xcellent "settling in" track. There R also a couple of instrumental "sketches" featuring the string trio -- "Sketch Number Two" that leads in2 "The Stream" is especially good.
Only 1 track seems 2 miss what it aims 4 -- the closing "Behold: A Solar Sonnet" seems like an attempt 2 move in2 Moodies territory, with a little more drama, more electric guitar, & a touch of what sounds like a Mellotron. It actually succeeds pretty well until the disappointing early-Bee Gees-like ending.
The songwriting credits were pretty evenly shared. Tho Bishop dominates, Barriatua, guitarist Andy Guzie & the string trio all get multiple credits. The result is a light, airy record that never gets 2 heavy. But there's some obvious talent at work here.
Produced rather sparely by Moodies producer Tony Clarke, the album got a very brief review in ROLLING STONE. I don't know how well it sold -- apparently well enuf 4 Providence 2 get a shot at recording a 2nd album. In an on-line interview a coupla years back, Clarke said Providence recorded an entire 2nd album, scheduled 2 B called HEAVENLY HARMONIES. But he said the master tapes were stolen & never recovered.
Providence was then apparently left 2 beat themselves 2 death on the Pacific Northwest's "boogie" circuit. Their string section -- violinist Jim Cockey, cellist Tim Tompkins & his brother violist Tom Tompkins -- played on vacationing Moodies Justin Hayward & John Lodge's Xcellent 1975 album BLUE JAYS.
Not sure what happened after that, or how quickly. Barriatua went on 2 Bcome a doctor in Portland, Ore. Bishop apparently stayed in music. Not sure about the others.
All I know is I played the album constantly 4 the next few years, say '77 thru '82. If nothing else, it made great background music 4 R group's Xtremely informal get-2gethers. I still put it on now & then & play the high points -- "Fantasy Fugue" & "If We Were Wise" & "Neptune's Door" & "The Stream." I give "Behold" a listen now & then 2 -- I still think it gets across about 8 out of 10 times.
The last time I was back home in Idaho a coupla summers ago, I saw my old buddy Melissa 4 the 1st time in 30 years. She had a copy of this album propped-up on a shelf in her living room. I noticed it at the time, tho I don't clearly remember mentioning it. I think 4 both of us this album summed-up that whole '77-'78 period we went thru. I know it did 4 me.
You may have thot I didn't notice it. But believe me, M, I noticed....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

3 years/500 posts?!

Somewhere around this time about 3 years back, I started posting "shorthand" reviews of off-the-wall music & books at my old dead website.
My son got me started, as a way 2 keep me writing when I was sorta missing my old reporting career -- & possibly just as a way of keeping me writing so that my dream of 1 day writing some kinda Great Novel wouldn't completely die.
After about 8 months, when my old website started developing Major Issues, I moved over here to Blogspot, where things have bn mostly pretty smooth ever since -- despite 1 computer dying (knocking me out 4 2 months), & me being unable 2 connect 4 parts of last March & April....
Along with reviews, I posted some other off-the-wall stuff at that old website -- nostalgia pieces & silly autobiographies, fictional album reviews, & a long rant about Michael Jackson's death & the way CNN reported almost nothing else 4 the next 2 weeks....
Some of that material has bn fiendishly recycled here, heh heh heh. & summa the nostalgia pieces (especially the 1's about early-'70s Top 40 AM radio) I might try re-writing from scratch in the future.
Somehow, I posted somewhere around 225 pieces at the old website in the 8 months I was there. Still not sure how. My all-time record is still 6 reviews posted in 1 day. & when the 7th got sucked in2 the Internet Twilight Zone never 2 B seen again, I knew it was time 2 take a break.
Add those 225 2 the 280+ I've posted here with Blogger, & I'm somewhere past the 500 mark -- closer 2 about 506, I think. I've deleted some updates & other short-term stuff along the way, so this is my best guess. (I might number them from now on....)
Anyway, all this is just an Xcuse 2 say Thanx 4 Reading. I'm still having fun with this, still learning ways 2 mess with the "review" format, still adding stuff 2 the blog. It's still as compulsive 4 me as it ever was. If I don't post something new every couple of days or so I start getting twitchy.
I hope it's fun 4 You Folks Out There sometimes, 2.
It's weird, because I thot I was All Written Out about 18 months ago. But that hasn't bn much of a problem lately....
Thanx 2 all you who read here, & especially 2 The Regulars -- Crabby & Drew & Gardenhead & Rastro (who seems 2 have vanished since he started doin' his Xtremely popular Tumblr site), & Perplexio & all the others who stop in now & then. & 2 ADD, of course, who maybe Knew Not What He Started.
Thanx 2 guys like Mark Prindle & Don Ignacio who set me up with links from their sites early & FAST, Ghod bless 'em both. & again 2 Drew, who's sent me more readers than I can even believe.
& thanx 2 every1 who helped make November my best month ever, with a freaking 1,160 pageviews. Jeez.
I still don't know how many of you folks out there R actually READING this stuff & how many sorta stumbled in here by accident. I'd like 2 hear from more of you.
& then there R all those folks in Germany & Denmark & Russia & the Ukraine & the Netherlands & the U.K. -- somebody over there is sure looking at a lot of stuff. Can't ALL B by accident. There was even some1 from New Caledonia who dropped-in very briefly a few days back.
I'll get back 2 the usual reviews & oddball stuff next, just wanted 2 say thanx 4 making this all worth it. It's nice 2 know there's people out there who R as weird & passionate about this stuff as I am.

COMING BEFORE THE END OF THE MONTH: The 2nd Annual TAD Awards 4 the best Strange Music & Books of 2011....

Monday, December 12, 2011

"December Will be Magic Again"

We here at the Back-Up Plan R THRILLED that R local radio stations Bgan seriously playing Christmas rock&roll favorites this past week. The best of these songs R marvelous oldies & it does yer soul good 2 hear them at least 1nce a year. They really light us up.
Don't know if we've got the Christmas Spirit yet -- it's bn a long time since we felt "Christmasy," possibly as long ago as 1971, but still. If we've gotta choose Btween "Hotel California" & Xmas oldies, we'll take the Christmas songs every time.
Local radio started Thurs nite with Elton John's whirlwind "Step Into Christmas," 1 of his greatest hits -- love the bells & chimes & synths & the cool acoustic guitar. & the whole thing's a great production.
Then we heard John Lennon's classic "Happy Xmas (War is Over)," 1 of the 1st 45-rpm singles TAD ever bought, on green-Apple vinyl, way back in 1971. John was a sentimental guy, tho he denied it, & "War is Over" still sounds great. & how bout that huge Phil Spector production?
We were shocked on Fri nite 2 hear Peter, Paul and Mary's 1962 "A'Soulin," a magical Christmas classic from their album MOVING -- the same album that had "Puff the Magic Dragon." "A'Soulin" is pretty dark & mysterious 4 an Xmas song, but it's also hypnotic & a lotta fun. & the vocals R -- do we have 2 say this? -- just freakin great.
We've even heard Andy Williams' "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," 1 of the best things HE ever did. His voice is so rich, from that '50s "crooner" background he came from -- & the song conjures up images of happy shoppers & good-natured holiday bustle ... so you KNOW it's a fantasy. But it's a good 1....
Also heard the Carpenters' heartwarming "Merry Christmas, Darling," a real classic from 1971. Their Xmas album, A CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT, has a lotta great stuff on it, if you can get past the fact that it's THE CARPENTERS. Best of all is "It's Christmas Time," which starts as a wonderful intimate Karen Carpenter-with-piano miniature & then turns in2 a huge production with chorus & orchestra. It's really moving. 1 of their best ever.
Our local classic rock station also played Cheech and Chong's hilarious "Santa Claus and His Old Lady" -- not a song, but freakin great anyway. Tell your kids Mom & Dad (or Grandma & Grandpa) useta talk like this sorta....
& on Sun nite, 1 station unXpectedly bashed out Darlene Love & Phil Spector's glorious "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." You've heard it even if you don't think you have -- it played under the opening credits of the movie GREMLINS some 30 years ago. It's from Spector's acclaimed CHRISTMAS ALBUM that we here have never heard. But if that's a sample....
Haven't yet heard Kate Bush's gorgeous "December Will be Magic Again," & don't really Xpect 2, but it would do the American public a lotta good 2 hear it. Also haven't heard the Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy's Christmas," a terrific 1967 masterpiece that -- in its 6-minute long version -- was to us the 1st real "rock opera."
When TAD was a kid, his favorite Christmas carol was "Carol of the Bells," possibly Bcos when those choral vocals start building up it sounds like some kinda wild windstorm comin on. But he's heard so many versions of it since then that it's kinda lost its attractiveness.
These days he leans more toward the almost supernaturally beautiful "O Holy Night" -- when it's done right it puts a lump in his throat & a tear in his eye every time.
Hope yer local music-providers R playing something good 4 the holidays.
NEbody out there heard Barbra Streisand's hilarious version of "Jingle Bells"?
...& we personally don't care if we ever hear "Jingle Bell Rock" or "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" EVER again....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Awds and Enz

We're all agreed that Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" is the most overplayed, most overrated song of 2011, right? It's also the most downloaded song of the year, according 2 iTunes. & it'll probly clean-up at the Grammys, which I think is 2 bad.
There's no question Adele can sing, & I can understand why the rhythm locks the song in2 people's heads -- it locked in2 my head after a coupla listenings, & I don't even LIKE it.
4 me, the best thing in the song is Adele's background singers going "You're gonna wish that/You had never met me...."
BUT. Has NE1 heard what I assume is her follow-up, a little number called "Set Fire to the Rain"? I heard it 4 the 1st time Fri nite at work, & it's pretty great. I was grabbed immediately by the drama, & it's got great choruses. I'm looking 4ward 2 hearing it again.
It even makes up 4 "Rolling in the Deep"....

Seattle-area radio has Bcome a little more boring. Over Thanksgiving, the good folks at "The Mountain" 103.7 FM -- which had Bcome my favorite local station -- went from their fairly-wide-open lotsa-new-stuff format 2 Bcome a 2nd-hand album-rock/oldies station just like the rest. I haven't heard the Cowboy Junkies do "Sweet Jane" in a coupla weeks. But I've heard LOTS of what the Other Guys play. 2 bad.
So instead I've stumbled over Seattle's "Click" 98.9 FM, which claims 2 play "Modern Music" -- which can B NEthing from Coldplay's latest stuff (yeccch) 2 Adele 2 Florence + the Machine (including something that I assume is from their 1st album LUNGS, a kinda raucous number called "Dog Days Are Over"), 2 Mumford and Sons ("Little Lyin' Man," "The Cave"), 2 "oldies" from Third Eye Blind & Fall Out Boy & All-American Rejects.
It ain't all great, but some of it ain't bad, & at least they IDENTIFY everything they play, so.... I might get dragged in2 current music yet, kicking & screaming all the way....

Currently re-reading rock critic Robert Christgau's ANY OLD WAY YOU CHOOSE IT (updated edition, 1973/2000), a collection of his early writing that I wasn't that impressed with the 1st time around. But coming on top of David Browne's FIRE AND RAIN (see review below), it has some nice critical counterpoints 2 Browne's work. Good pieces on the Monterey Pop Festival, how much Christgau hates the Eagles, Wilson Pickett, Tom Jones, Captain Beefheart, Bob Dylan, Carole King, Jethro Tull, the Beatles (2gether & apart) & lots more. Worth tracking down.
Am also re-reading Frederik Pohl's THE WAY THE FUTURE WAS (1978), a memoir of his life in science fiction up 2 that time. Great stories about editing the old GALAXY magazine, being an agent 4 most of the SF writers in the field back in the '40s/'50s, editing a magazine at age 19(!), etc. Also a diffrent sorta look at The Futurians than Damon Knight did in his Xcellent (tho 2-short) book on the group (reviewed elsewhere on this blog).
If you wanna C what the 92-year-old Fred is up 2 these days, his blog is at

Be-Bop Deluxe -- Maid in Heaven, Kiss of Light, Sister Seagull.
Gong -- Master Builder, Radio Gnome Invisible, Flying Teapot, The Pot Head Pixies, Zero the Hero and the Witch's Spell.
NOTES: More & more "Maid in Heaven" sounds like a lost classic that cuts off 2 abruptly. If you're a fan of flashy guitar & Roxy-like group sound, you should like this.
By the time of "Kiss of Light," Be-Bop had apparently smoothed-out a little, away from the flashiness. "Sister Seagull" has some nice stratospheric gtr, but not enuf of it. All these R from RAIDING THE DIVINE ARCHIVE/THE BEST OF. Why Rn't "Heavenly Homes" & "Crying to the Sky" on this CD, instead of the clanking & chugging "Ships in the Night"? (Best thing on that is the sax solo.) At least they included the brilliant "Sleep That Burns," the best thing Be-Bop ever did. I assume if they'd tossed in NE of these, then you'd have more than 1/2 of the SUNBURST FINISH album -- & then they wouldn't B able 2 sell you that 1. SUNBURST FINISH is well worth tracking down NEway, if you're in2 flashy gtr & lotsa drama....
"Master Builder" & "Radio Gnome Invisible" R both good waking-up music, nice sax by Didier Mahlerbe & spacey synth from Tim Blake on "Builder." "Flying Teapot" is a very nice riffy-jazzy-floaty 11-minute piece with silly chanting vocals that get really rhythmic & catchy, taking off from the phrase "Hava cuppa tea, now have another one...."
By the time I'm into "Pot Head Pixies" & the 9-min "Zero the Hero and the Witch's Spell," the silly lyrics & vocals start 2 make a kind of sense -- I'm starting 2 LIKE the silliness rather than Bing faintly annoyed. "Witch's Spell" has a nice long, spacey closing riff that unfortunately cuts-off abruptly. All these R from ABSOLUTELY THE BEST OF GONG.
These guys ain't bad. I kinda like this. My Ghod, R the drugz finally kicking in?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bill-paying music!

Oh, those tough fiscal days of the month, when you're bashing onna calculator & scribbling figures in yer checkbook, hoping you'll have enuf $$$ left after paying the bills 2 actually buy food. Or, this month, 2 squeeze-in Christmas.
Might wanna put some music on. Loud is good. Something 2 drown-out the sound of your checking account emptying with a flush -- a giant sucking sound like the entrance 2 a black hole. Fast is good, so you get it all over with quick. & silly is good, so you can maybe avoid facing the fact that you have a grand total of 29 cents left 2 yer name til next payday.
Or maybe you'll start laffing & look up & realize that as long as you gotta roof over yer head, food in the fridge, & heat in the house, the rest of it doesn't really matter that much....

Florence + the Machine -- Only if for a Night, Shake it Out, No Light No Light, Seven Devils, Heartlines, Spectrum, All This and Heaven Too, Leave My Body, Remain Nameless, Strangeness and Charm, Bedroom Hymns, What the Water Gave Me (demo).
Be-Bop Deluxe -- Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus, Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape, Maid in Heaven.
Gong -- The Pot Head Pixies, Tropical Fish: Selene, Flute Salad, Outer Temple, Inner Temple, Eat the Phone Book Coda.

I remain impressed by Florence + the Machine, & especially by their powerful choral vocals that save even the weakest songs on their latest, CEREMONIALS (2011) -- of which there R only a couple. "Only if for a Night" has nice choruses & the sound of church bells ringing that sounds like it was taken from 1 of my favorite movies ever, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL.
I only played "Shake it Out" 3x on Tues aft, but I still think it's the best thing I've heard in years. Course I was hooked on it as soon as I heard the line "I can never leave the past behind." Luckily, the rest of the lyrics R freaking brilliant too.
"No Light, No Light" is my choice 4 the next single -- tho it has an almost-conventional breakup-song-type structure. Some of the same power of "Shake it Out" & "What the Water Gave Me."
"Seven Devils" sounds like some kinda gothic horror-movie soundtrack, & not in a good way. "Heartlines" has nice choruses, & "Spectrum" has a great "say-my-name" chorus. "All This and Heaven Too" also has nice, powerful choruses -- it's these vocals & choruses, along with the often pounding drums, that gives these songs such power. "Bedroom Hymns" has Xcellent keyboards, good chanting vocals, more pounding drums, & almost overpowering choruses; it coulda gone on longer.
The demo of "What the Water Gave Me" is quite a bit diffrent from the released version -- some of the lyrics R diffrent, without as heavy or moody an impact. Otherwise, all that's missing is the huge, booming, gothic-spooky production.
What I get as Florence's message from all these dramatic, booming, heavy, dark songs is that life is hard & love is WAY harder -- but worth it, even if you can only connect 4 a little while.
So maybe paying my bills on-time is somehow a noble & worthwhile thing 2 do. Onward.

Have always loved Be-Bop Deluxe in theory. Flashy guitar & dreamy, futuristic topics with Roxy/Bowie-style vocals -- OK, I'm listening. I always thot their SUNBURST FINISH (1975) was 1/2 of a REALLY GOOD album.
But their early "Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus" seems kinda simple compared 2 their later stuff. "Adventures in a Yorkshire Landscape" is pleasant ... but there isn't enuf flashy guitar in it.
"Maid in Heaven" is more like it. Suddenly there's a whole 'nother level of electricity here -- sparkling electric gtr runs, & generally just LOTS more rifferama gtr. Some Xcitement! That's what I want! There's a near-Roxy sound. But it's 2 short, & it ends 2 abruptly. But I'll havta listen 2 more of this. All from RAIDING THE DIVINE ARCHIVE/THE BEST OF.
So maybe I'll just stylishly glide my way thru a check 2 Capital One. & then 4get 2 sign it....

Gong. Yes, well. I've said B4 that mayB I'm just 2 STRAIGHT 2 fully appreciate these hippie sillies. Ghod knows I've tried. & their post-Daevid-Allen almost-jazz-rock SHAMAL (1975) has some very nice atmospheric stuff on it. & Ghod knows it's more ... uh ... sober. I've had a copy in the house since '78.
But their earlier "classic" period that gets all the raves? Well, I ain't heard all that much. But I'm trying 2 fix that.
"The Pot Head Pixies" has Xcellent-as-usual sax from Didier Mahlerbe, & the group's usual silly vocals. "Tropical Fish: Selene" has more Xcellent sax & some pleasant, spacey riffing -- + Gilly Smith's spacey wordless vocals. "Flute Salad" has, of course, Xcellent flute, again by Mahlerbe, & some very spacey synth from Tim Blake. "Inner Temple" has some nice percussion effects at the end. "Eat the Phone Book Coda" has some Xcellent drumming from Pierre Moerlen & some tight group riffing.
It's tough 2 Xcerpt this stuff out, Bcos everything flows 2gether. All these R from ABSOLUTELY THE BEST OF GONG, which I'll B Xploring more of, especially the longer, spacier, jammier, riffier trax (allegedly). 4 me, Mahlerbe's great sax & flute work make this band, at least during their earlier "classic" period. That musta bn some great acid they were on, back in the day.
If I write-out a 29-cent check 2 Bank of America do ya s'pose they'll get off my back 4 awhile....?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

1970: A book report

by little TAD, age 11 in 1970


I liked this book. But that doesn't mean I think it's REALLY GREAT or anything like that.
If you're a fan of any of the pop stars that Mr. Browne's book follows, you'll obviously want to read it. There's some good behind-the-scenes information about the chaos surrounding Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's recording of DEJA VU, their second album. And you'll learn a lot about James Taylor's struggles on his way to stardom. There is quite a bit about the stresses Simon and Garfunkel went through while recording BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER -- a lot of it probably won't be new to big S&G fans.
But Mr. Browne doesn't add much behind-the-scenes info to the stories you've probably already heard about the Beatles' recording of LET IT BE.
As a recounting of what these four acts did back in 1970, this book is solid, clear, vivid, detailed and enjoyable. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments. And there is a truly unbelievable amount of drugs consumed by the people in this book.
But the ending is disappointing, and I think I know why.
How much you get out of this book will I think depend on whether you think the year 1970 itself is a "lost story," as Mr. Browne says he does in his Introduction.
I turned 11 years old in the summer of 1970 and was vaguely aware of most of the big events mentioned in this book -- the Kent State shootings, Charles Manson's murder trial, the US invasion of Cambodia, the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, the breakup of the Beatles. It wasn't really that long ago, & I think most of these events are unlikely to be forgotten by folks who were around at the time.
And if the book is intended for younger audiences, I'm not sure Mr. Browne makes connections that would make a younger audience care.
I kept waiting for Mr. Browne to find some deeper significance in these people's stories, some deep inner meaning to be found by looking back from 40 years later -- but Browne doesn't do it. He doesn't find any bigger meaning other than showing in his "October 2009 Coda" that most of the players survived it all and went on to other things. Life went on. I'm not sure that's enough. I wanted it all to mean more.
Nobody reads history primarily to make sure all the facts and details are right -- they all seem to be right here, though occasional words are dropped and one minor player is incompletely identified the first time he's mentioned.
Written history is about trying to find a context or a meaning for what happened. I don't think Mr. Browne found the big picture he was trying to show. Or maybe he did and I just can't see it. I don't get his "lost story" theory. I don't see what was supposed to be here that people might have missed.
BUT: If you're a fan of any of these artists, FIRE AND RAIN is worth checking out. There's some things in it even big music fans probably don't know:
* I didn't know early-'70s singer Rita Coolidge was one of the many factors that helped break up CSN&Y.
* I didn't know singer-songwriter Carole King got BOOED when she toured with James Taylor (usually as his opening act) while James did concerts in support of his SWEET BABY JAMES album. Despite all those great '60s hits King co-wrote ("The Loco-Motion," "One Fine Day," "Pleasant Valley Sunday," etc.), she was virtually an unknown to audiences, a year away from her own breakthrough album, TAPESTRY. King also gets one of the big laughs in the book when someone calls in a bomb threat to one of her and Taylor's shows.
* I didn't know Stephen Stills played piano on Ringo Starr's "It Don't Come Easy," one of the first 45's I ever bought.
* Maggie and Terre Roche (later of the Roches) first met Paul Simon by auditioning for a songwriting class that Simon taught. He let them take the class for free, and later produced their first album, SEDUCTIVE REASONING.
There's a lot about social and student unrest in FIRE AND RAIN, and there's a long section about the Kent State shootings. It's also interesting -- apart from CSNY's "Ohio" and Graham Nash's "Chicago" -- how far AWAY these artists were from depicting social unrest or registering protest through their music. They didn't exactly reflect the turbulent times, musically. Taylor was depicted at the time as sort of an alternative to unrest -- music to chill-out by. As Mr. Browne notes, "Not everyone was enthralled by this."
To sum up: If you're a fan of any of these acts, this book is worth reading. You may also be interested in the way the cast-members cross paths and appear on each other's songs. There's some really good writing about David Crosby recording his rather free-form first album, IF I COULD ONLY REMEMBER MY NAME. The book wasn't enough to make me a big James Taylor fan -- I still think he has maybe three great songs in his career. But the in-depth looks at the artists' various albums are valuable, and Mr. Browne nails S&G's underrated "The Only Living Boy in New York" when he calls it "one of their most magnificent creations."
FIRE AND RAIN also comes in a very 1970ish-style book cover, which I don't think does it any favors.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"The Man With the Child in His Eyes"

Back in my record store daze, I had a manager named Robyn Royball (who helped get me hired) who was a big across-the-board pop music fan -- BIG Tom Petty fan, British pop & new wave bands, 10 c.c., Ramones, Cheap Trick, Hollies, like that. Also a big booster of women artists -- BIG Chrissie Hynde fan, just like I was. Liked Fleetwood Mac but couldn't always figure what all the fuss was about. Knew a lot about a lot, like the rest of us at the store. Also a big enuf fan 2 turn people on 2 stuff that was good 4 them.
Don't know how we got on the subject, but at 1 point she tossed me a tape of Kate Bush's 1st 3 albums + stand-alone singles. MayB it was cos I picked up a copy of Kate's 1st, THE KICK INSIDE (1978), & said something about always wondering what the British child-prodigy (helped along by Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour) was like.
& Robyn said "Oh, she's GREAT. She's AMAZING. I'll make you a tape...." That would B Robyn....
Somehow Robyn squoze 3 albums (KICK INSIDE, LIONHEART, NEVER FOR EVER) + 3 uncollected single-sides on2 a 180-minute cassette (remember those? Ever have 1 that didn't break?) & I got sucked in2 it almost immediately. I was amazed by Kate's singing & keyboard-playing & her spacey adventurousness. & I ended up buying all the albums & singles anyway. Most of 'em were only available as imports.
I say I was sucked in "almost" immediately. 1 of the big knocks against Kate on this side of the pond is that her voice is "too weird" -- 2 high, sometimes almost shrieking. I think 1nce you adjust 2 her voice you don't even notice the high notes NEmore. & I think KICK INSIDE leads-off with 1 of its weakest trax, "Moving." Maybe it was the whale sounds that put me off....
But after that the 1st side coulda bn minted in gold -- with the gorgeous, moody "Saxophone Song," the upbeat "Kite," the women's-mystery "Strange Phenomena," & the wondrous, perfect, brief miniature "The Man With the Child in His Eyes."
Ah, I've got it! I wondered what Kate was like cos Robyn & I had both heard (over&over while working in the record store) Pat Benatar's version of Kate's "Wuthering Heights." If you kept Kate's sometimes a-little-loopy vocals & added Neil Geraldo's guitar pyrotechnics from Benatar's version, then the song'd B perfect! ...I thot back then. Now I think Kate's version is sorta ... modest. She coulda shrieked even higher.... & summa the lyrics were pretty great: "How could you leave me/When I needed to/Posess you/I hated you/I loved you too...."
I wasn't that thrilled with the 2nd side of KICK INSIDE -- "Feel It" was embarrassingly sensual, "Them Heavy People" sounded kinda preachy, others fell flat. But the intimate closing title track was great. & the guys from British rock band Pilot (Ian Bairnson, guitar; David Paton, bass; Stuart Eliot, drums -- also the instrumental core of the Alan Parsons Project) made sure the music hit hard; Andrew Powell's strings & production added nice studio polish.
So I listened more. LIONHEART (1979) was Kate's difficult, rushed 2nd album. She's mayB a little Mbarrassed by it now, but there were some great things on it: "Wow"'s story about what stardom is really like is pretty hilarious, & Kate's singing is great; "Don't Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake" has some nice drama; "In Search of Peter Pan" is pretty; & "Symphony in Blue" is a nice positive opener. The spooky closer "Hammer Horror" is about the only thing on the 2nd side that I can stand. But there were some nice production touches here & there. Just maybe rushed a bit.
Kate co-produced NEVER FOR EVER (1981), & it's more solid. & MUCH more adventurous.
"Babooshka" opens the album with a rush of loopy energy in a song that seems 2 B about an affair -- Kate had never bn this outgoing B4. "Delius" is 1 of my favorites -- a moody, summery picture with a lotta sound effects & neat instrumentation. "The Wedding List" is an ironic scream, if you're in2 irony. "Infant Kiss" is a bit like "Feel It" -- a bit uncomfortable. Peter Gabriel guests on "Breathing," a dramatic tale of the bombs dropping as told by a baby still inside her momma's tummy. It's pretty unnerving.
There were some things I didn't care 4 -- "Army Dreamers" is pretty downbeat, "Violin" is feverish, almost outta control. But all the songs were pretty wild. I was looking 4ward 2 more.
Robyn saved the best 4 last -- 2 of the singles made me a permanent fan: "December Will be Magic Again" is just glorious, a gorgeous Christmas song that'd make a great video -- you can almost see Kate floating down thru the sky atop a snowflake, waiting 2 land on the "icicled roofs" of her song. The stark "Empty Bullring" is Kate alone at the piano telling a brief story of a relationship falling apart. It's freaking brilliant.
From then on, I was on the lookout 4 more music by Kate Bush.
But the record store job ended. B4 that, the company had $$$ troubles & the store had nothing good or new left 2 sell, & Robyn & I both got cranky & said mean things 2 each other. I didn't leave under the best of circumstances....
Years later, I tripped over a Kate best-of called THE WHOLE STORY that features summa the above + 2 more great songs, the intense "Running Up That Hill," & the vivid & hypnotic "Cloudbusting," another song that'd B perfect 4 a video. You can already see it in your head....
While in Turkey I grabbed a copy of Kate's THE SENSUAL WORLD, mainly 4 "This Woman's Work," an intense & hypnotic piece that I 1st heard in a John Hughes movie, SHE'S HAVING A BABY. The song works as a metaphor 4 a lot of diffrent things -- I think there's a lot of pain in it, & now it's hard 4 me 2 even listen 2. When my son was 2 years old it was his favorite song in the whole world.
A few years back I got a copy of Kate's CD-era best-of, THIS WOMAN'S WORK, which features mosta the songs mentioned above. It's worth tracking down, tho I didn't like the sevral re-mixes included in the package. The originals R good enuf 4 me.
If she'd come along earlier, I think Kate woulda bn classified as "art rock" or Prog. I haven't heard much of her more-recent work. But I never woulda heard her at all if my old boss Robyn wasn't such a big music fan. I owe you, RR....

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....