Sunday, June 26, 2011

Our best stuff? (A biased view)

Our best stuff? As I've said before, I think I'm too close to be the best judge of our best work -- in most cases I just see what doesn't quite work as well as we wanted it to, for whatever reason, or I just remember the circumstances a piece was recorded under. But here's what I remember best after almost 30 years....
OUT OF THE MIST -- It would be tough to forget your first album, but what I notice most here now is Melissa's haunted voice and gorgeous piano -- and half the songs here were hers. She was especially good on "Everywhere You Go," "Songbird," the brokenhearted melancholy of "In the Winter," "Blue Eyes," "Always Make Me Cry," "Everyday," "Midnight" and "Wish You Were Here." Also great guitar by Jim (with the classic opening meltdown of "Errr....") and Jeff (positively explosive on "Chained"), solid keyboards from Don (with a great hook on "It Wasn't Me," which Richard sang the hell out of), and luminous backing vocals from EVERYBODY.
THE BLACK ALBUM -- This is the loudest and most extreme we ever got, sort of the flipside of OUT OF THE MIST, all the way to the other end of the spectrum. Great crashing, explosive guitars from Jim and Jeff, superb drumming and weird percussion from Miles, demented violin and viola from Thom and Al, and Don's usual solid keyboards. If Melissa dominated our first album, Don and I took over on this one -- in fact, M doesn't have a single lead vocal here. But Richard's vocals are pretty amazing in places -- must have been tough for him to growl through all that noise. Best tracks: "Wreckage," "Drum Talk," "Nightmares," "Fractured," "Deceiver."
CHECKMATE -- Backing away from the extremes of THE BLACK ALBUM, I think this is our most charming work -- we sound so cute, like a wind-up-toy band ... that just happens to have some great tunes. Don wrote most of the songs here, and anchors them with great keyboard work, but all the heaviness from THE BLACK ALBUM is gone. Al lightens up the mood with spritely flute, recorder and krumhorn, and her old boyfriend Paul keeps things earthy with sax and bassoon. And Lee's occasional lead vocals keep this sounding like a fantasy-land album. LORD OF THE RINGS music. Best: The title track -- my choice for our best song ever -- Don's epic suite "Mushrooms," "Ploughboy's Dream," "Unrealion," "Raindance," "Curse the Cat," "A Little Hellraising," "Summer Song," "Leaf Fall," "Minor Disaster."
TAKING IT IN -- Trying to find a compromise between BLACK ALBUM and CHECKMATE, this mixes it up pretty well with solid vocals from Lee and Richard, solid keyboards from Don and Melissa, and occasional soaring guitar from Jim. Picks: "Memory Lane," "Surprise," "Be Alright," "Verging on the Ridiculous," "Place of Your Own," "Out on the Ranch," "Here We Are," "Heart of the Storm," "Heart's Desire," and Don's haunting "Spirit on the Water."

(COMING SOON: "In Concert," brand new.)
((ALSO COMING SOON: New music & books, Great Scary Stuff, & more as I try 2 get Back To Reality....))

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Those were the days....

"We used to say
That come the day
We'd all be making songs
Or finding better words
These ideas never lasted long...."
-- Richard Thompson for Fairport Convention, "Meet on the Ledge"

Apart from the music, we in The Zoo used to have great ARGUMENTS -- staying up all night drinking coffee in any coffee shop that would let us lock up a booth or two for hours on end, facing off against each other, starting off with The Purpose Of Music And Art and then seeing where our discussions would take us, everybody talking at once, talking over the top of each other, trying to force a word in edgewise that would make everybody else laugh or maybe shut us all up for a second.
Good luck getting ANY of us to shut up. We were young and energetic and full of ourselves, and had that confidence young people have when they think they know everything that's necessary, even though they haven't really been through all that much.
I always used to believe back in those days that music at its very best was a powerful and mystical force that should be allowed to do whatever it wants. Don, Thom and Allison tended to agree -- they all felt that music was Art first, and who cared if it was "popular" as long as it was Good. Allison and Thom were busy crashing up against the tough works of avant-garde classical composers in the university's orchestra, and their listening tended to follow that direction. Don tended to go as far out as he could when listening to music for pleasure -- the weirder it was, the more he liked it.
As for me, while I agreed with experimentation for our group and for music in general, actually LISTENING to experimental work I often found disappointing. I was dismayed to learn that I needed a melody I could hum or whistle along with and clever lyrics I could sing along with and think about. Comedy was always a plus. All such stuff appealed to me unless I was really angry or REALLY depressed -- then whatever loud, obnoxious noise was handy would usually Do The Job. It took me YEARS to figure all this stuff out, though....
There were others in the band who felt our music had to at least TRY to be popular, appeal to the widest possible audience, otherwise who'd care what we were doing and we'd all end up starving to death really quick. Melissa, Jim, Richard, Miles, Lee and Robyn all pushed for keeping communication as direct and open as possible.
Those positions are where most of us stayed, musically. Don and Thom would often play Devil's Advocate, switching from side to side to keep the argument going, Thom making fun of the whole thing by throwing in some off-the-wall lyric routine from Frank Zappa that none of the rest of us had ever heard, cleverly making his point while the rest of us fell on the floor laughing.
I found over the years that the best music for me is the kind that juggles a strong melody, lyrics I can sing along with and think over, strong group vocals and instrumentation, and occasional musical freakouts -- all at the same time. The artists I followed closest and seemed to get the most from were all like this: Caravan, Camel, Providence, Nick Drake, Euphoria, the Moody Blues, Renaissance (when they weren't being too prissy and stuck-up), King Crimson, early Yes, Gentle Giant, Boston, early Journey, Kansas, middle-period Genesis, later Fleetwood Mac.
The Zoo's music perhaps ended up a combination of all of these, since Don, Melissa and myself wrote the vast majority of our pieces. We went from Melissa's singer-songwriterish confessions at the piano to Don's multi-keyboard freakouts to my insistence on snappy tunes with catchy choruses, to Jim's molten guitar-feedback cascades (as on "Errr...." and "Afraid" on our LIVE album), to Miles's fondness for using every kind of oddball percussion instrument known to man, from woodblocks and cowbells to aluminum siding....
Not to mention Allison and Thom's battling violins and violas, Allison and Bob's massed-chorale backing-vocals.... And Jeff was always somewhere nearby, just in case we needed even MORE heavy guitar....
But back in the early days, all these late nights out were just strategizing, trying to figure out how much of the music we heard in our heads we could fit into one reasonable-lengthed song, or one album. We were all ambitious and energetic back then -- we all burned with what we wanted to do.
Half the guys in the band were in love with Melissa, though only Thom had been her lover at that point. Jim wouldn't fall for her until a few months down the road, and the two of them would break Don's heart in the process.
It was tough not to at least ADMIRE Melissa -- she could paint, draw, play piano and guitar, write poetry, design jewelry, keep multi-media writing/drawing/painting journals that made me and Don's eyes bug out. Melissa and Allison were best friends at that point, though there was some jealousy there too -- Al could play guitar, piano, flute, violin and viola, plus draw, paint and act. But she looked down her nose at most people and heaped contempt on Melissa when M would treat Thom or Don badly.
Don pretty openly lusted after Melissa, though he met Robyn shortly after the band formed and would marry her a couple of years later. In the group's earliest days I was slowly getting over Allison, my highschool sweetheart who'd broken my heart just before Christmas to take up with Richard -- but I had yet to meet Don's old girlfriend Tina, and was four years away from meeting Cyndi, who I'd later marry and spend 17 years with. Tina would later marry Miles.
Thom would leave the band after his bitter breakup with Melissa, and Allison would leave in 1982, after breaking up with Richard. The rest of us hung in there and added more members, complicating the picture even more.
All these romantic entanglements became subtext for songs on our albums. If you want to know what we were all doing and thinking between late 1977 and 1982, the music explains it all.
But I can still clearly see us the way we were back then, back when all the guys still had hair: Thom with his long, precise violinist's fingers and his long, flowing brown hair, looking like a young Niccolo Paganini and having some of the same demons inside him, no doubt.
Miles with his long, curly black hair and his always-grimy glasses, always worried about something, always having to smoke a bowl to decompress -- why he married Tina to double or triple his anxieties I'll never be able to figure out.
During those long nights out, sooner or later Miles would slip into his monologue about "Leveling" -- his theory that modern American society was structured to make sure everybody who experienced public education graduated from high school or college as "basically the same," with the same narrow range of experiences and interests.
This monologue meshed amazingly well with Jeff's hour-long routine about "The Machine" -- how modern American society was structured to grind everyone down into unthinking gray oblivion....
For comedy relief, at this point Thom would slip into reciting something from Frank Zappa -- "Billy the Mountain," or maybe a chorus of "Cheap Thrills" or "Montana" or "Dinah Moe Humm"....
There were also, as always, various sexual intrigues going on. Most of these centered around bearded, mysterious Richard, who it sometimes seemed had slept with every woman on the planet. Allison and Tina both fell for his dark good looks and deep voice, but Melissa thought he was a fraud and a dork -- which made Don and I CHEER! Melissa used to have HUGE arguments with Richard over the offhand way he'd sing the lyrics she used to slave over.
Then there was lecherous Lee, who used to pant over any woman who had a pulse, who wanted Tina badly, but never got her -- unless nobody ever got around to telling me about it....
Tina -- cheery and composed and always happy on the surface, but underneath a dangerously impulsive psychotic. Always with a hidden agenda.
Allison -- bitchy and pushy and overbearing and stuck-up on the surface, but underneath a scared child, dying to be liked and pushing away almost everyone before they decided they didn't like her.
Don -- who tried to stay aloof from all these entanglements when they got their ugliest, but who would just laugh ruefully about it the rest of the time -- nothing The Zoo could do could ever surprise him. He was my best friend, but he didn't hold back: When I once suggested that maybe Tina and I should get married, he looked right at me and said "You're FUCKED!"
...As for me, I'm a little too close to be able to decribe me the way I was back then. I'm pretty sure I was hell to put up with. Don said once that I ALWAYS thought things were worse than they really were, and I'm sure that hasn't changed much.
So maybe things weren't as strained and chaotic as I remember. Our hottest, most creative period together totaled about five years, and it all flew by in a messy, complicated blur.
One thing's for sure: Whether in a coffee shop, in a studio or on stage, the seven to 10 or a dozen members of The Zoo (depending on who showed up) were magic together. There was nobody else I wanted to spend my time with more. And that's what I remember most.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The cost

When I try to listen now to the music we made, it's still too close to me, even though some of it was recorded over 30 years ago. I can't separate it from the things we did, the places we went, the arguments and laughs and good times we had. Too much of my life is wrapped up in it. It's too tough for me to judge what our best work was, or even if any of it was any good. I didn't just play it, I lived it. I have my favorites of course, but too often our songs are too connected to the memories I have around them.
With other performers I don't have that problem. So much music from the '70s and early '80s and even into the '90s sounds so DATED to me now, even if it doesn't really seem like it was that long ago. It's hard to believe that so many people were listening to THAT, and even enjoying it. But I wonder if other musicians feel the same way: Hey, this is what we DID. This took WORK. This was part of our LIVES.
God knows we could all have wasted our lives in dead-end jobs. Far better to work on something we could all get obsessive about, something that not only earned us money but built-up a body of work that we could all point to with pride and say "See, I really DID do something with my life!"
But as with all jobs there were hidden costs. So many years seemed to go by in a blur. Most of the '80s and '90s are just GONE for me. I can usually tell you where I was and what projects I was working on at a given time, but I may not be able to tell you what ELSE I was doing.
To be so wrapped-up in your work that the rest of your life comes in a distant second -- for YEARS -- could be considered a tragedy, or at least a waste. I've certainly come to see it that way. I got so wrapped up in my "job" -- making music, providing an income -- that I lost my marriage, lost my kids, nearly lost my health. It started out as fun. It was supposed to BE fun. I never thought I was a workaholic. But I might have been wrong.
I'm sure Frank Zappa would disagree about my outlook. In one of his last interviews he said "As long as you're obsessed with SOMETHING creative in your life, what else is there to miss?" But then Frank thought he was an excellent husband and father. I definitely was NOT -- at least not while I was obsessed with work.
I have two grown children, a son and a daughter. My son is 23 and is out somewhere driving semi-trucks across the country. I hear from him every few months if I'm lucky. I like to think we're still close, but I still think I failed him in a lot of ways. My daughter is about to turn 20 and just finished her second year of college. I see her once a year if I'm lucky. I think she's a lot like me.
But thanks in part to my work, I lost both of them over 10 years ago when my marriage finally fell apart. It had been crumbling for years by then, and my kids likely took all of the anger and frustration I was feeling back then. I regret the 10 years that I never had with them, and the fact that I'm just barely in their lives now.
And of course all of this, along with everything else, went back into the music.
All of us in The Zoo have grown up, we've all suffered, we've all grown apart. Don has two children and was about to become a grandfather, last I heard. In the last couple of years he's fallen completely off the map. Melissa has two kids. Her autistic son graduated from high school a year ago. Allison has a son. Tina had at least two boys, last I heard. Jeff finally got married in his late 40s. No children, though.
Life just kept moving on with all of us, no matter what else we were doing at the time, no matter how deep into it we were -- and for those of us in the core group, The Zoo was our lives 24-hours-a-day for almost 20 years. I'm still amazed we were able to hold it together that long. But.
Only Melissa has managed to keep her marriage together. Allison's marriage turned into a joke pretty early -- and she'd agree with that assessment. Don's marriage collapsed after 15 years. Mine lasted 17 years -- somehow. Tina's life has been unstable since she was 10 years old. The rest of us have all been divorced at least once, and sometimes gone through other unsuccessful long-term relationships as well.
Many of the friendships haven't lasted either. I lost touch with Thom, Richard, Lee, Miles, Tina, Bob, Robyn and Jim YEARS ago. Don has been stone silent for the last three years. I have no idea how to reach him. It's like he's vanished. I talked to Jeff on the phone a few months back and exchanged letters with him for awhile -- but somehow I think I scared him off.
Thanks to the music, at least we've all got SOMETHING to show for our frustrations, neuroses, broken marriages, long-distance families, and children-juggling inter-relationships.
I just wonder if it's ENOUGH.
Was it worth it? To be so obsessed? To be so SELFISH?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Our OTHER guitarist's audition....

Jim was a good ENOUGH guitarist for The Zoo, even if he wasn't always "inspired." And of course we had Jeff available if Jim was unable to deliver the required "heavyness."
Jim was tuneful, was happy to play in support, could handle electric or acoustic, could write songs, and seldom showed-off or tried to call undue attention to himself -- in our bunch that was practically a GUARANTEE of being overlooked.
We never found anyone more reliable or consistent, and God knows we tried. Partly because of that, it probably took Jim awhile before he felt completely comfortable in the band. For a lot of reasons.
One was his involvement with Melissa after her and Thom's rather violent break-up. Though Thom's feelings were hurt (not to mention Don's), Jim and Melissa seemed well suited to each other. And though they seemed to get along better than Melissa and Thom did, that doesn't mean there were never any fireworks. There WERE -- Jim and Melissa just kept them hidden better....
The best, most passionate playing we ever got out of Jim was on a night when he'd just had an argument with Melissa. We'd been working on a vaguely Middle-Eastern-sounding instrumental Don and I had come up with called "Errr...." I'd already laid down a simple rhythm line with Miles, and there wasn't much keyboard stuff left for Don to do, so he was in the booth with me when it was time to add Jim's guitar.
We had Jim hooked-up and ready in the studio, with Miles lined up to add some additional fills and punctuation. Thom was on hand to screech his violin a little and add some dementia to the whole thing, and Jeff was standing by to add his patented "heavy guitar." I figured two or three heavy explosions at the end would top things right off.
Turned out we didn't need Jeff after all....
Don and I were a little cautious about having Thom and Jim in the studio at the same time, and apparently we had good reasons to be concerned. On the way into the studio, Thom had said something mild to Jim -- probably just "Hey" or "How 'ya doin'?" and certainly not "So what's it like sleeping with The Love Of My Life?" Thom needed bad feelings firing at him first before he'd come out with something harsh. Anyway, Jim cut him off sharply, and through the control room window Don and I saw Thom raise his eyebrows at us as if to say "What's up this guy's ass?"
"Guys, are we ready to do this?" I asked over the intercom.
"Fuck off," Jim snapped. "Let's get this fuckin' thing over with."
Don rolled the tape. Thom and Jim came in about a third of the way through the piece, Jim following Don's insistent main melody and Thom adding wistful little counterpoints in a higher register. But it didn't stay that way for long.
Jim took off, pounding the main theme directly out at us, then lifting above it in a screech, his fingers flying across the strings and around the neck of the guitar.
The music just seemed to boil up out of Jim like an explosion. And once he started burning, we couldn't stop him. We didn't want to.
He leapt with a scream of frustration onto the chord that started his solo, leading away from the main melody line. I remember Don and I laughing because it was JUST LIKE something Jeff would have done, and did. But we weren't laughing for long.....
Not with Jim's fingers flashing in a blur across the strings, feeding back in screams, conjuring up images of flames in his frustration, Miles smashing and bashing along with him at first, then being left behind as Jim's fingers seemed to get caught in the strings, then recovered to explode with huge smears and blurs of clogged sound as his fingers slammed and flew across the strings and up and down the neck of the guitar.
He started duetting with his own feedback, reaching up the neck while his right hand blurred across the strings below. The guitar screamed.
The tune LEANED hard, first one way and then another, queasy with seasickness -- or rage. I thought Jim was going to strangle his guitar. He choked another scream out of it....
That's when I noticed that Jim was playing all alone, wrenching the guitar seemingly in half, bouncing it off his knee so it reverberated and rang: BOM-ba-ba-ba-ba-BOM, bop-bop-ba-dop-BOM, and his rocketing fingers took the theme up into the stratosphere again.
Thunder growled and exploded in the studio. Lightning strikes came down right in front of the control booth. I jumped, and Don laughed.
And Jim kept playing. He kept soaring. I had visions of the monitor speakers melting, the control board erupting in flames, the tape frying, and us losing this one-of-a-kind take. But it didn't happen.
And Jim just kept going. Thom had stepped back from his mic in awe, just dazed. The thrashing, crashing drums Miles had added to the track earlier had gone silent -- now he just sat on the drum stool, watching, hands and sticks folded across his chest, his trademark cigarette dangling forgotten from his lips and a huge smile lighting up his face below his usual dinner-plate-sized eyes. He was nodding along in time with Jim's solo.
And it went on. Jim burned. He screamed and stomped, his face scrunching up in anger and frustration as he pulled impossible squeals and cries of pain out of his guitar. Don and I laughed some more at this, and that just made Jim play louder and angrier. He leaped from a rumble to a scream, expressing whatever anger and frustration was in him, exorcising whatever it was that HAD to get out.
There was a smear -- a blur of sound as Jim's fingers slammed and flew. A flash -- a rumble and a detonation. A splash of acid in the face and a scream of anguish.
Don and I looked at each other, dazzled, stunned. Thom just shrugged his shoulders -- there was nothing he could add. And Miles just followed along, grinning, his huge eyes missing nothing behind his glasses.
As the song wound up, Jim came down out of the stratosphere and landed precisely on the final phrases of the melody, just as practiced, punching in a few last notes before the tune vanished.
There was probably a 10-second feedback-filled gap between the time Jim finally touched down and when Don finally drew a breath and exclaimed "Wow!" And that's the way we left it on the disc when it was finally released -- along with the round of applause we all gave Jim right after that. Thom shook his hand.
Talking it over afterward, Don and I agreed that Jim's solo had pulled the song right up out of itself. We'd looked at the piece originally as almost a space-filler, something that maybe somebody would bash-up some lyrics for eventually and then we'd figure out what to do with it. Instead, Jim's solo forced us to lead off THE BLACK ALBUM with it. And then we did the only other thing we could do -- gave Jim a composing credit. There wouldn't have been a tune without him.
It wasn't until MUCH later that we learned why Jim had been so angry that night. Just before he came to the studio, Melissa told him that she was going to get an abortion.
Melissa said much later that God got even with her for that decision. A dozen years later her son was born with autism.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"The Creature"

I remember when I first realized the band could actually work:
It was during a very early practice session in the Music Room of the guys' dorm at BSU. We'd gathered just to hear how we'd all sound together -- we had nothing planned, nothing written down, we weren't even sure where any of this was going -- it just seemed an obvious thing to do with the friendships we'd formed and the musical talents we had.
All the members of the core group were there, all our equipment was laid-out in a rough circle. We were all kind of nervous -- none of us wanted to be first to jump off the diving board alone, even with all the big egos that were in that room.
Miles and I started things off -- slowly -- with just a simple 4/4 rhythm, nothing fancy, not really a blues, Miles just sort of tentatively bashing away at his drum kit and me loping along behind on the bass, just trying to lay down some kind of foundation and see what would come next. Just sort of vibing along....
Don started jumping in playfully on the organ, just little abstract runs and phrases to lighten things up. Then Melissa would embellish Don's work on the piano, sort of trailing after him, seeing where things might go.
Jim sprinkled in a few guitar chords here and there, just a few runs up and down the neck. Just stray thoughts, not connecting to anything.
What we had was starting to sound like a pulsing sort of beast, just waking up, flexing its muscles, seeing if it really wanted to crawl out of a warm bed and stumble to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee....
Allison and Thom joined in on viola and violin, adding a few screechy little phrases into the lurching creature, adding a little more dementia to the proceedings.
The beast's eyes were clearly open now. It was staggering out of bed, bumping off walls as it made its way down the hall, hoping there was some leftover coffee from the night before that it could warm up in the microwave.... And if there WASN'T ... heads were gonna roll....
This lurching, jolting, unpracticed creature was actually already fun to play. I was having a pretty good time just jamming along awkwardly, and when I looked around everyone else seemed to be enjoying it too. Miles was smiling as he made a quick run around the drum kit followed by a heavy cymbal crash -- boom bum-ba-boom-SMASH, and his eyes popped wide open each time he came to the SMASH.
Don was nodding his head along with the weird, slightly-off-kilter rhythm, Allison was bouncing along with the Halloween soundtrack, and Thom had a devilish look on his face -- always a giveaway with him that Things Were Good.
Melissa was singing along wordlessly with the silly gallumphing creature that had returned from the land of the dead, and she knew that -- as in any ghost story -- he had no good news to pass along: "Wo wo wo, oh no no no...."
And there was something else: There was a look on everyone's faces, a look of surprise and delight at how easily these first steps had fallen together. The realization went around the circle that THIS IS FUN! and THIS DOESN'T SOUND SO BAD and THIS COULD WORK and EVEN SOMETHING AS STUPID AS THIS MIGHT AT LEAST MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH....
That's where we started, with the creature the seven of us teamed up to create. We added the other singers -- Lee and Richard and Tina and Robyn -- a little later, and we added Jeff's extra heavy guitar when he was available. But basically we were The Zoo from that moment on.
Of course we practiced a helluva lot -- constantly, it sometimes seemed -- and got sharper and flashier, better able to tackle the kind of music we were hearing in our heads -- there was almost too much ambition in this band. And we soon got to a point where we could lock-in with each other a lot quicker.
But the creature lived on. We kept using him as a warmup, as the touchstone we could all fall back on when everything else failed. And he staggered on -- off and on -- for the next 20 years....

Friday, June 17, 2011

Our guitarist's audition

Here's how we learned that Jeff was the perfect "heavy" guitarist for The Zoo:
Back in the very earliest days of the band, Jeff, Don and I shared a tiny three-bedroom townhouse-style apartment in Boise's old "Sergeant City" neighborhood, built back in the late '40s or early '50s. The apartment was small enough that during a year in the same house we learned things about each other that we didn't really want to know. There was only one bathroom. The insulation in the walls was thin, and the heat vents carried more sound from one bedroom to another than any of us felt comfortable with. We felt like we were in our roommates' rooms almost all the time. Stereos were essential to block-out the occasional noise from the room next door....
But this wasn't one of those occasions....
One night, Don and I were coming home from the grocery or the record store or SOMEWHERE, not knowing Jeff had a surprise waiting for us. Jeff was always a real spontaneous guy, unpredictable at almost all times. You never knew what he'd say or do next, but you could always count on it being funny.
While we were out, Jeff had attached a long lead to his electric guitar and sat his amplifier at the top of the flight of stairs that led up to the second floor of the apartment.
As soon as he heard us come in the front door and step into the front hall, he hit a huge, crashing chord on his guitar and leaped ALL THE WAY DOWN the flight of stairs, landing on the carpeted hall floor right in front of Don and I, missing us by inches, and windmilling his arm through the end of his guitar chord just as he landed -- and just before crashing into the wall across the hall from the foot of the stairs.
He left a huge dent in the wall -- which we yelled at him about ... much later. Right then we were too busy trying to take in the Pete Townshend-like entrance he'd just made. And I was wondering if he'd broken anything, if there'd be blood or a trip to the hospital. I'd seen Jeff do some amazingly silly things before -- seen him put his skinny, cartoon-like body through activities that would cause anyone else immediate trauma -- so I knew he thought that he was pretty-much indestructible, but....
His amp must've been turned-up somewhere beyond "MAX," because I never heard the sound of Jeff crashing to the floor in front of us, or the thud as he slammed into the wall, or his scream as his right forearm and elbow were crushed into the wall by the weight of his body.
All I heard was the huge crash of that guitar chord, reverberating down the stairs and through the hall. It was still humming in the air as Jeff moaned at our feet. It was deafening, and I swear to God that the walls shook, that Jeff rearranged the building's foundation.
But it faded away, and then all I could hear was the laughter from Don and I as Jeff lay before us in a heap, moaning. We'd dropped the groceries in our shock and hilarity at his sheer balls and nerve -- we probably broke a few eggs, but we didn't care about that. We were too busy laughing and checking to make sure Jeff was still alive, that he was breathing and had a pulse -- and assuring him that he'd won the job.
It was a stunning entrance, never to be topped. We all laughed about it for years afterward....

...Later on, Jeff was probably a little disappointed by the way it all turned out.
There really wasn't all that much room for heavy guitar in The Zoo. We never really drifted that much toward the heavy, raunchy, bluesy stuff that Jeff preferred back then. So we kept him handy mainly when we needed outrage or anger expressed -- which Jim could also do, but only if we got him really angry. You needed to sort of warm him up. A little later, when they were living together, we usually let Melissa take care of that.
So Jeff's recorded work for The Zoo was actually fairly minimal. But Don and I will never forget his audition....

Monday, June 13, 2011

From that rock-group novel I'll never finish writing....

I miss my friends.
I still have a photo of all of us together, the only photo ever taken of us all together as we were back then, shot in the winter of 1977-78 at about 3 a.m. in the glass-walled lobby of the guys' dorm at Boise State University. It's a grainy black-and-white photo, with the darks turning to unrecognizable mush, but the brights still come through, and the faces jump right out at me.
All my friends, lined up against the glass wall at the dorm and shot: Instant history.
Almost 35 years later, I can still remember the feelings that were in the air that night. We'd just finished a session for our first album, OUT OF THE MIST -- doing me and Don's "Everywhere You Go" or maybe Melissa's "Songbird" -- and I was starting to think we really had a handle on something. And the feeling that was in the air can be seen on the faces of everyone in the picture.
I'm all the way at the left, leaning against a wall. I look happy, relaxed but tired. Though I'm smiling, there are big, dark circles under my eyes, as always. I'm slumped, as usual, against the wall, my ever-present coffee cup in my right hand, my left arm wrapped around Tina, who leans in next to me. I actually had long hair, back then....
Tina also looks tired, but her eyes are wide with that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look she was famous for. She doesn't have an arm around me -- both her arms are crossed over her chest, as they always were when she was uncomfortable, nervous, or just didn't know what to do. Which was often. Usually whenever Don was around. She is Don's former girlfriend. Because she's leaning into me in the picture, as if she's going to let me wrap her up in my arms, she almost looks happy.
She isn't. Within six months she'd start sleeping with an army of other guys. Within two years, our drummer Miles would marry her -- God knows why -- and she'd leave The Zoo completely.
Next to Tina, even shorter than she was, is jaunty French-Canadian exchange student Lee, who introduced me to Scotch. He's trying to look macho, with his hands curled into fists on his hips. He's grinning, but his eyes look shifty, like he isn't sure whether to keep an eye on Tina -- who he always had a thing for; when he got near her he'd almost purr -- or to focus more on the woman seated to his left, who is:
Melissa. Of all the people in the photo, she's the only one who's glowing. She is positively beaming into the camera, with a big smile and a ton of self-confidence. She's young and brilliant and energetic, positive and confident, probably the best pure musician (and artist) out of all of us. It's mostly her songs we've been working on, her arrangements, her lead-singing. She is on fire. She's the star of these sessions, and she knows it. Her energy has lifted us all up.
Several of the guys in the photo are in love with her. With her grinning face and perfect teeth and waterfall of dusty-blonde hair, the spotlight naturally drifts to her. As do the eyes of several of the guys in the band. And none more than....
Don, who sits to Melissa's immediate left on a packing crate. He's smiling too, but it's more of a long-suffering smile than one for being so close to a woman he absolutely adores. Don's been alone for awhile. His soulmate Merlene won't come along until the summer of '78, and then she'll be killed in a head-on car crash in the spring of '82. She'll die in his arms. Of course he doesn't know any of that yet. He doesn't know yet that his future-wife Robyn even exists.
He looks lonely, like he wants nothing more than to wrap his arms around Melissa and hold on forever. It's all over his face that he loves her, as he sits there gazing at her. But Don didn't move quick enough. And Don is stopped from reaching for Melissa by the man standing to his immediate left....
Thom is tall and skinny, his thick, curly brown hair falling below his shoulders, his arms drawing the bow across his violin, "Panache." Thom has always been better with instruments than he is with people -- women, at least.
He and Melissa have been sleeping together for six months, and they fight constantly over what Melissa says is stupid, meaningless stuff. Melissa says Thom is too jealous, too possessive....
Thom must be furious in this picture because Don is sitting next to Melissa rather than himself. But Thom hides it well. He always did. Only 20, and he's already bitter about women. And his slashing wit cuts into Melissa, Tina, Allison -- any woman who crosses his path. All the guys in the band think he's screamingly funny. The women usually just scream. When this photo is taken, he's facing-off with....
Allison, our "group mother," who holds onto her viola in a pose mirroring Thom's. She is uncomfortably heavy and wears loose jeans and long, baggy shirts to cover up her weight. I think she's too sensitive about her weight -- it was never a problem for me. She's my ex-girlfriend.
It is 18 months since Allison dumped me for her new boyfriend Richard, who's also in the band; six months since Allison learned about Tina and I; we are still close, she expresses concern for my future. It is a couple of years before we take each other to bed because there's no one else better available for us. For now she's involved -- and she also expresses concern for the futures of all the other guys in the band: our diets, our jobs, our love affairs.
She is destined to retire early from teaching and doomed to an unhappy marriage with a husband she'll hardly ever see, living in the half-finished Dream House he promised to build for her. But at the time this photo is taken, she's wrapped up with....
Richard, a dark, hairy presence staring straight into the camera, acting forceful when he's plagued with self-doubt from too much self-analysis. In another year or so he'll come out of the closet and break up with Al, destroying her dreams of being head-over-heels in love with an intense young Psychology major. After all her bragging about what great sex they have together, Richard will dump Al for an astrologer in his early 60s. That after trying to live with Tina for a month. Of course, Tina could make any guy turn gay. Tina will eventually end up marrying....
Miles, who duplicates Tina's deer-in-the-headlights stare behind his big round glasses near the right-hand side of the photo. A cigarette dangles from his lower lip. Though a little wooly-headed because of his constant search for his next marijuana cigarette, Miles is the best drummer any of us have ever worked with. Besides, when you put Miles's philosophical musings together with Thom's misogynistic rantings, the results are hysterical. Too bad he chooses to ignore all of our warnings about marrying Tina. They last less than five years together. Which is almost twice as long as Tina and I lasted....
At the far right side of the photo, looking like he's wearing his favorite monk's outfit, is our manager and background-vocal arranger, Bob. Perhaps following in Richard's footsteps, within four years Bob will also proclaim that he's gay. That will be after convictions for forgery and embezzling, and the first of several hitches in the Idaho State Penitentiary.
Heavy-guitarist and cartoonist extraordinaire Jeff can't be in this photo because he's off attending college in Texas. Merlene, Robyn, Cyndi, Deb and Mary haven't come along yet. Behind the camera is our guitarist Jim, Melissa's future boyfriend -- a tall, skinny, intense young man with a nose like a knife, who probably had no idea when he pointed his camera at us that he was going to catch us so intensely being ourselves.
But this is how I remember all of us back then, just like this, with the emotions and memories that are awakened in me every time I look at this picture. The photo was used as the back-cover for our first album.
Don once said that we were all "united by the awful things we've done to each other." Allison said around the same time that we were "a very incestuous little group." And at the time this photo was taken, things hadn't EVEN become as intertwined as they would be by 1982.
But I don't care much about the bad things, most of which I can't even remember 30+ years later. I miss my friends, and I miss those times, when most of us still had hope for the future. When we knew clearly that we were put here to do something great, and we thought we could DO it, if we could just get all the details pulled together and the right feeling was in the air. The creativity and brilliance were there, if we could just give a shape to it.
I miss the energy and confidence and optimism that almost all of us seemed to have.
It wasn't until later that things got hazy and confusing....

(...So, whadda ya think? There's more if you want to read more....)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Numbers and other weirdnesses....

Like some of you out there, & as I've noted B4, I can't stop messing with Blogger's "Stats" function that tracks visits 2 yer blog, who's reading what, etc. I'm still not sure I BELIEVE the numbers, but they R intresting. Course there's no way 2 know if anybody's actually READING this stuff or if they stumbled in here by mistake -- I assume a post or 2 looked at is accidental; some1 who looked at 10 or 20 posts musta found SOMETHING of intrest -- or they can't Blieve I'm doing this. Sometimes I can't Blieve it either....
Just 4 laffs & cos I think it's neat, here's how Blogger's tracked visits here over the last year:
July 2010 -- 405.
August '10 -- 306.
Sept -- 444.
Oct -- 605.
Nov -- 490.
Dec -- 711.
Jan 2011 -- 828.
Feb -- 700.
Mar -- 655.
Apr -- 396.
May -- 678.
...So far in June I seem 2 B avging Btween 150-200 hits per wk, so I figure if I keep posting stuff I might set a new record 4 the blog. 4 whatever that's worth. What I really wanna know is if people from Madagascar & Russia R actually finding something of worth here, & if so, what? Folks allegedly from both places have supposedly bn looking things over quite a bit lately....
Other oddities: Back in April when I was Mostly Down, apparently there were more folks from Iran(!) visiting here than Americans -- what the heck is up with THAT?
& back B4 that what seemed like the entire country of the Netherlands allegedly visited here over a period of a coupla wks. They still come back 4 a look-see now & then. & apparently there R folks out there from Canada & the U.K. & Australia in addition 2 the folks from Russia & Madagascar popping in & staying 4 awhile. Again, I figure a pg or 2 looked-at is an accident -- 10 or 20 pgs viewed means some1 was around 4 awhile.
IF this is all true, I'm flattered. The only thing better would B 2 HEAR from some of you folks....
So 1nce again, if you're reading this in Madagascar, drop me a line! Tell me how you found your way here & what you thot. Cos summa this stuff boggles me....

I'm also boggled by who reads what. Thanx 2 The Regulars (you know who you R) 4 figuring out that the 1 thing I left outta that recent big long list of albums was asking what you guys started out with back in the days when you were 1st buying music.... I know I was tired by the time I got 2 the end of that list, but you guys knew what I was trying 2 do & I appreciate your response. & I even remembered some stuff I 4got in the 1st go-round....
I'm boggled that a post I did almost a year ago about my very 1st musical memories is apparently still Bing viewed by 1/2adozen folks each week. The post about my vacation last year still gets looked at. That rant I did awhile back about the 2-fast pace of modern life still gets looked at. & all the lists of Recommended Strange Music I've done get looked-over more than almost anything else. (I can pretty-much figure that 1 out.) SOMEBODY must be reading this stuff....
If there's something you wanna see, lemme know. Something you want me 2 review, say the word. I've got a BIG stack of mostly-new-to-me CD's lined up by the player, & I THINK I might actually get 2 them tomorrow. Maybe. They've bn waiting 4 awhile....

1 last thing: 4 some reason, I can't currently comment in response 2 comments on this blog. Not sure why the heck this is, but it's like Blogger's system doesn't recognize it's me when I go 2 comment. Blogger knows it's me when I visit other people's blogs, but at my own it either wants me 2 B anonymous or won't let me comment at all. Not that I always WANT 2 comment in response 2 y'all's always-brilliant insights, but.... I guess this means you can Have At It. As Ted Nugent 1nce said, it's a free-for-all. Anybody got any advice...?

Friday, June 10, 2011

The 1st 150 albums (?!)....

Here we go again. Here's a list of the 1st roughly 150 albums I can REMEMBER buying from Fall 1971 thru Spring 1979, from the time I was 12 years old & begging 4 $$$ from my folks 2 buy music, 2 the period when I was 1st out on my own & bought music & books B4 I bought food....
My intent here is not so much 2 show off as 2 give you some idea of the musical wacko you're dealing with. This list is more-or-less in chronological order, near as I can remember. I've probly forgotten a few items along the way, but I still have most of these. See how many of these you know, or have never heard of, or can laff at me 4 being willing 2 admit I purchased....

The Osmonds: (1st). Ah well, at least it wasn't my FIRST purchase. & there was actually some pretty good stuff on it....
Three Dog Night: HARMONY.
Neil Diamond: GREATEST HITS (on Bang Records).
Carpenters: SINGLES 1969-1973.
Mike Oldfield: TUBULAR BELLS.
Neil Diamond: JONATHON LIVINGSTON SEAGULL soundtrack, DOUBLE GOLD best-of (on Bang).
Beatles: 1962-66, 1967-70, WHITE ALBUM, ABBEY ROAD.
The Who: WHO'S NEXT.
Tommy James & the Shondells: GREATEST HITS.
Beach Boys: GOOD VIBRATIONS best-of.
Justin Hayward & John Lodge: BLUE JAYS.
Rare Earth: ONE WORLD.
Hollies: ROMANY.
Paul McCartney & Wings: VENUS AND MARS, BAND ON THE RUN.
Blue Oyster Cult: AGENTS OF FORTUNE.
Boston: (1st), DON'T LOOK BACK.
Jackson Browne: THE PRETENDER.
Manfred Mann's Earth Band: THE ROARING SILENCE.
Fleetwood Mac: RUMOURS.
Beach Boys: PET SOUNDS, SURF'S UP, SUNFLOWER, FRIENDS/SMILEY SMILE, WILD HONEY/20-20, SUMMER DAYS AND SUMMER NIGHTS. (I was fascinated with the SMILE story & investigated these guys in-depth 2 C what all the fuss was about; they were pretty great.)
Incredible String Band: THE HANGMAN'S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER. (The best musical-comedy album ever.)
Kraftwerk: AUTOBAHN.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer: WORKS I.
Pat Metheny Group: (1st).
Barclay James Harvest: GONE TO EARTH.
Steeleye Span: ORIGINAL MASTERS. (It took me YEARS to get around to Fairport Convention....)
Lindisfarne: NICELY OUT OF TUNE.
Sally Oldfield: WATER BEARER.
Happy the Man: CRAFTY HANDS.
National Health: (1st), OF QUEUES AND CURES.
Soft Machine: THIRD.
Hatfield and the North: AFTERS best-of, (1st), THE ROTTERS CLUB.
The Roches: (1st). (Produced by & featuring the rockin' guitar work of Bob Fripp!)
Kevin Ayers: ODD DITTIES, THE CONFESSIONS OF DR. DREAM. (DITTIES is former-Soft-Machine-guy Ayers' best album, a collection of singles & outtakes that's pretty charming. I don't remember a note of DR. DREAM....)
Barclay James Harvest: BEST OF's I & II, OCTOBERON.
Grobschnitt: ROCKPOMMEL'S LAND. (Don't remember much of this Krautrock classic Xcept 4 "Anywhere," a pretty 4-minute single that really stood out when the resta the trax were between 10 & 20 mins long....)
Buffalo Springfield: RETROSPECTIVE.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: SO FAR best-of.
Gentle Giant: GIANT FOR A DAY. (At the time I thot this was in the running 4 Worst Album Ever....)
Led Zeppelin: IV.

Thot of a few more overnite:
America: HISTORY best-of.
Gordon Lightfoot: GORD'S GOLD best-of, ENDLESS WIRE, SUNDOWN.
Camel: MIRAGE.
Electric Light Orchestra: OUT OF THE BLUE.
CHARISMA FESTIVAL various artists sampler.
"V" Virgin Records' artists sampler.
THE STORY OF THE WHO best-of import.
HARVEST 20 GOLDEN GREATS various artists sampler.... then I was working at my favorite record store, & buying halfadozen albums & singles a week, before I even bought food, & veering towards New Wave sounds because that's what everybody else in the shop was listening to.
...Tho I still have most of the above, some of them were traded off over the years because I got bored with them or didn't listen 2 them much or never really gave them much of a chance -- I can get bored really easily sometimes. Those I let go R the 1's I'd most like 2 have back, of course -- Kevin Ayers, Grobschnitt, GIANT FOR A DAY, the Barclay James Harvest best-of's, etc. I might track them down again someday after I win the lottery....
Looking back.... Jeez, I spent way 2 much money. Enuf 2 support a small 3rd-world nation, I'm sure. But if I could do it all over again, I'd probly SPEND MORE! & the 1 thing I'd do 4 sure is HOLD ONTO everything....

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Top 40 singles....

I know I've written about this stuff B4, but not lately, & as a memory Xercise, well whatthehell....
Here's a list of the 1st 40+ 45-rpm singles I bought from Fall 1970 onward, thru mid-1977. I only hadta peek at The Collection briefly 2 finish this list; most of it I was able 2 jot down off the toppa my head 2nite at work, so mayB I'm not COMPLETELY gone in2 Alzheimer's yet....
I've done this B4, but we all know each other so much better now, that I thot You Out There might B much more likely at this point 2 critique my musical taste as an 11-year-old. So have at it. Some real crap follows. But what I REALLY wanna know is: What music did you start out with?
Take a deep breath. Here goes, in sorta-chronological order:

Ernie (from SESAME STREET): Rubber Duckie. (& what did YOU start with...?)
Anne Murray: Snowbird.
R. Dean Taylor: Indiana Wants Me.
Partridge Family: I Think I Love You, Doesn't Somebody Want to be Wanted, I'll Meet You Halfway. (No Xcuses here, but it took me a dozen years 2 bag their 1st 3 albums -- which I LOVED at the time -- & finally found at a garage sale in San Antonio, Texas around 1983....)
Dawn: Knock Three Times. (I plead peer pressure on this 1.)
Jackson 5: Maybe Tomorrow.
Rare Earth: I Just Want to Celebrate. (Still can B heard in TV commercials today....)
Neil Diamond: I Am I Said.
Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds: Don't Pull Your Love. (Sounds like a TV commercial....)
Bread: Mother Freedom.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Some of Shelly's Blues. (Written by Monkee Mike Nesmith. These guys were great! Ever hear their rockin' version of Kenny Loggins' "House at Pooh Corner"?)
Bobby Russell: Saturday Morning Confusion. (Hilarious!)
Ringo Starr: It Don't Come Easy.
Three Dog Night: Joy to the World, Family of Man. (With "Joy to the World" my parents pretty-much stopped listening 2 the stuff I brot home....)
Five Man Electrical Band: Signs.
John Lennon: Happy Xmas (War is Over). (On green vinyl. Still 1 of my fave John songs....)
Don McLean: American Pie.
Lobo: Me and You and a Dog Named Boo.
Todd Rundgren: I Saw the Light.
Gladstone: A Piece of Paper. (Sorta a folky protest number by a countryish acoustic duo who never had another hit, & this wasn't a very big 1....)
Mal: Mighty Mighty and Roly Poly. (Just a bouncy little ditty about school friendships, it never made the Top 40....)
Carpenters: Goodbye to Love. (Worth it just 4 that great guitar solo at the end....)
Raspberries: Go All the Way.
Lighthouse: One Fine Morning. (Don't they sound like they coulda bn Chicago...?)
The Guess Who: Rain Dance.
Mouth and MacNeal: How Do You Do?
David Cassidy: Could it be Forever?
El Chicano: Brown-Eyed Girl. (Van Morrison's old hit given a joyous only-slightly-Hispanic-flavored new arrangement, & it never made the Top 40....)
Paul McCartney & Wings: Give Ireland Back to the Irish.
Michael Jackson: I Want to be Where You Are.
The Who: Join Together.
Gary Glitter: Rock and Roll Part 2 (?!).
Raiders: Birds of a Feather. (Beats me....)
Mocedades: Touch the Wind. (Well, at the time I thot it was gorgeous....)
Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells.
Chicago: I've Been Searchin' So Long.
Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run. (Grabbed me by the throat the 1st time I heard it. I was the only person I knew who grabbed a copy....)
Bob Welch: Sentimental Lady.
...A couple years after that I started buying singles every week at my fave record store, & soon I found myself WORKING there....

I don't even remember WHY I bought some of these -- Dawn; Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds; the Raiders; Gary Glitter; I guess they seemed like a good idea at the time.... I still have most of these, in some form or another. "Saturday Morning Confusion" is long gone, & a few others....
Looking back, I'm also not sure why I bought almost no singles thru most of 1973 -- maybe cos my parents got tired of me buggin them 4 more $$$ 2 buy music? Maybe Bcos I'd Bcome obsessed with taping Good Stuff off the radio & mistakenly thot tapes would last 4ever -- I figured-out the reality Bhind that 1 fairly quick, but cassette tapes were cheaper & U could fit a lot more music on them.... MayB Bcos when I wasn't taping I was reading, & thru late 1973 & in2 '74 almost all the spare $$$ I had got spent at the closest used-bookstore.... Certainly it WASN'T Bcos I wasn't hearing anything good coming outta the radio.... & what about that weird veer in2 non-hits in '72? I got bored & then strange pretty early....
If I could do it all over again, there R other things I woulda grabbed in place of summa these: The Stones' "Tumbling Dice" & "Happy," Van Morrison's "Wild Night" & "Jackie Wilson Said," Cat Stevens' "Peace Train" & "Moonshadow," Boz Scaggs' "Dinah Flo" (first released in '72, a minor hit 7 years later), Badfinger's "Day After Day," Yes's "Your Move," Neil Diamond's "Walk on Water," The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" & "Behind Blue Eyes," & probably lots more ... & all those great singles from '72/'73 that I've never heard since & can't find: Billy Lee Riley's "I've Got a Thing About You Baby," Jonathan King's "A Tall Order for a Short Guy," Kracker's "Because of You," etc. In some cases I spent years tracking down some stuff from this period that I missed buying at the time: Casey Kelly's "Poor Boy," Chris Hodge's "We're On Our Way," The Wackers' "I Hardly Know Her Name," etc.
...& what did you start YOUR music collection with? You can Confess All below....

Next: The 1st 40 albums....

Monday, June 6, 2011

Great oldies/Some of the best of LA HISTORIA....

4 the past few months, my roommate & I have occasionally been listening 2 a new local Oldies radio station, KMCQ 104.5 FM based in Covington, somewhere 2 the northeast of Seattle. They just appeared on the dial without warning awhile back, Ghod knows who's responsible 4 them, & still the only commercials they seemta run R public service announcements. Nobody ever talks.
They play a LOT of music. Nothing's ever identified. & tho there R occasional lapses, they don't play a whole lot of The Same Old Stuff. With all my past bitching about radio, this comes as a suprise. They've suprised me a few times.
Not always in a GOOD way. B4 listening 2 KMCQ I can't remember the last time I heard Perry Como's "Seattle" on the radio (1970?). Or Frank Sinatra's "Come Dance With Me."
& I think any station that'd play "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" & "What's New, Pussycat?" is maybe a station I could live without.
But somebody at the station has a diabolical mind ... or is a pretty adventurous listener. The 1st shocker 4 me was hearing The Small Faces' "Lazy Sunday," which was never even close 2 a hit in America. It took me 'til the chorus B4 I could even place it, which doesn't happen 2 me 2 often with a station that's sposta B playing '60s & '70s hits. That's when I started thinking mayB they were Up To Something. There've been other songs they've played that I can't ID AT ALL.
That happened a coupla times on Sunday afternoon, the 2nd or 3rd "real" day of summer here, as temperatures FINALLY got close 2 80. I sat on the front porch wakin up, nursing a cuppa coffee while the roommate washed his cars & the radio blared. I got up occasionally 2 turn it up louder when stuff like "Be My Baby" & "I Wonder What She's Doin' Tonight" came on.
It's always a shocker 4 me 2 hear songs that weren't hits come outta the radio. I'm sure a lot of music bloggers have been programmed this way. There was a '60s R&B/Soul number I know I've never heard before, "That's the Way Love Is," possibly. They followed that with a sorta generic '70s soul/big-band number -- & it took me til the chorus 2 ID it as Earth, Wind & Fire's "Serpentine Fire," which I hadn't heard since about '79. I hadda pretty good idea WHO it was from the joyous vocal&horns sound of the thing, but couldn't ID WHICH EWF # it was.
Then the tricky programmers pounced: Springsteen's "Growin' Up" followed by Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns and Money," & then the fake-Springsteenesque over-the-topness of something from Meat Loaf's BAT OUT OF HELL -- "All Revved Up and No Place to Go," maybe?
I'd heard NONE of these before, hadta wait til the choruses 2 guess the titles. It wasn't tough 2 figure out WHO it was, but WHAT was another matter. An oldies station that plays album trax! Great! Something diffrent!
They also played Jefferson Starship's "Play on Love" -- knew it was Grace Slick's voice right off, hadta wait 4 the chorus 4 the rest, never heard it B4. It was OK -- but I was mainly impressed by the station's adventurousness -- not just the same old crap!
Course they played some crap, too, tho I usually try 2 block that stuff out, find something else 2 do, hit the bathroom, etc. "Delta Dawn," no. "Witchy Woman," nah. I'd rather wash the dishes. Hadn't heard Robin Ward's "Wonderful Summer" since about 1972, & who cares? & "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" ... my roommate sez he's not a Beatles fan, but he liked that 1. & he knew every word of Lynn Anderson's "Rose Garden."
They do slip up & play some stuff 2 often: I've heard "She's a Lady" & "Baker Street" 2wice without even trying, & I don't listen 2 radio that much. No complaints about either, really, especially "Baker Street" which still soars thanx 2 Raphael Ravenscroft's sax & Hugh Burns' guitar.
They nailed some good summer stuff on Sunday with "Sugar, Sugar" & "Who'll Stop the Rain" & "The Show Must Go On" & "Tumbling Dice" & "Signs" (tho they cut-off the guitar&keyboard intro) & "Donna the Prima Donna" & "Walk Away" & others. & they can keep playing old Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell hits as long as they want, & "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted," & "Bad Luck."
& I'll B hoping 4 more great suprises. I even like 2 hear Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling" now & then 4 a good laff.
But please, no more "Behind Closed Doors."
I've also noticed that these days I'm not so much enjoying the song (tho that happens 2), as thinking about who I was & what I was doing when the song was popular. The songs still bring back clear & vivid memories. I can't remember what I did last week, but I can still remember what year & what time of the year a song came out. I can still ID songs after a note or 2 or a word or 2. More useless information. But I'm not complaining. I'm happy 2 have something new 2 listen 2....

I'm sure all of you out there have joined me in reading & enjoying Rastronomicals' work over at LA HISTORIA DE LA MUSICA ROCK. He's always knowledgeable, insightful & funny.
He also has great taste.
I hadda chance awhile back 2 hear summa the music Rastro's written about over the last coupla years at LA HISTORIA, & I can tell ya -- a lotta the music he raves about is a lot more direct, more energetic, & more ALIVE than a lotta the stuff I've bn raving about here.
This at 1st suprised me & made me feel sorta old & outta touch. Which I am.
But then I just turned the music up.
I hope you've been paying attention 2 his writing, & among the many songs he's written posts about over the past 2-1/2 years I'd especially recommend Bailter Space's crashing "Retro," Cat Power's hypnotic "He War," The Sonics' rockin' "The Witch," Ween's marvelous twisted-Genesis-like "Buckingham Green," & Pee Shy's sweet "Little Dudes."
Rastro, Ghod bless him, also connected me 2 some other things he hasn't written about (yet?) -- like Argent's Xcellent "Circus," The Fall's fun-filled cover of The Kinks' "Victoria," The Pixies' hushed "Wave of Mutilation," The Groundhogs' powerful "Cherry Red," & more.
There were some things that maybe didn't grab me by the throat but that I still thot were intresting: Modeski Martin & Wood's "Whatever Happened to Gus?" is a sorta jazzy rap about Jazz & The Meaning Of It All; The Velvet Underground's "I'm Not A Young Man Anymore" sounds like some kinda forgotten stone-age blues; Hawkwind's "Silver Machine" sounds JUST LIKE them, it was nice 2 finally hear it; Songs: Ohia's "Blue Factory Flame" reminded me of summa Bruce Cockburn's spacier stuff; Bob Dylan's "Catfish" is a hilarious number about the famous Oakland A's/NY Yankees pitcher of the '70s....
Summa the stuff Rastro writes about is a lot gutsier, a lot more spontaneous, & takes a lot more chances than mosta the stuff I usually listen 2. Which shows me I've got a lotta listenin' still 2 do.
This music brightened-up my April & May when things got a little tough. & I just wanted 2 tell Rastro Thanx in print.
& if you're reading this, R -- I'm still looking forward 2 that free-verse poem you were gonna write about Soft Machine's THIRD album....

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Non-fiction "also-rans" (Part 4)

I'm sure you'd all like me 2 get back 2 reviewing off-the-wall music or forgotten singles, & I'd like 2 as well, but I gotta get this stuff outta my system 1st....
4 this last time around, here's a batch of music histories & encyclos + some SF-criticism that maybe don't deserve the description "great" 4 whatever reason but R still worth having around. Some of you might like 'em a whole lot....
+ THE ROLLING STONE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF ROCK AND ROLL -- Close but no banana. There's some really superb writing by Greil Marcus on The Beatles & Van Morrison; + Xcellent work by Lester Bangs & Dave Marsh on Punk Rock, Elvis & various Motor City acts. But the same old bias against Art Rock is still present. & there R other biases. No can do....
+ THE ROLLING STONE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ROCK AND ROLL -- I recently picked up a used copy of this "updated for the new millennium" version of the encyclo from my favorite local used bookstore (BOOK 'EM in Port Orchard, Wash. -- free plug!) & was suprised 2 find that it's MUCH BETTER than the thin, bland & frustrating original version published back in the mid-'80s. This 1 attempts 2 make some critical judgements, which livens things up. But I'm bummed about all the people who've bn dropped from the book over the years....
+ ROCK MOVERS AND SHAKERS, edited by Barry Lazell -- Follows in detail the careers of 100's of rock & rollers, tracking their activities, releases, tax problems & jail terms in page after page of teeny tiny type. If you're a fan of obscure chart info (The Left Banke's gorgeous & cluttered "Desiree" single peaked at #98; Ike & Tina Turner's cluttered & gorgeous "River Deep, Mountain High" peaked at #88), this is the book 4 you.... This is where I learned the Four Tops once recorded a version of the Moody Blues' "Simple Game" -- I'd still like 2 hear that... Warning: This book is tougher on the eyes than THE ALL MUSIC GUIDE TO ROCK....
+ THE PENGUIN GUIDE TO JAZZ, Richard Cook & Brian Morton -- There's some wonderful writing here about albums by jazz greats Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Billy Holliday, Lester Young, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, etc. & the book is HUGE, & hugely detailed. But man, do they hate most jazz-rock.... & New Age? Don't get them started....
+ ANATOMY OF WONDER, edited by Neil Barron -- Reviews 100's of science-fiction novels & short-story collections, in alphabetical order by author. I read an earlier version of this while in Turkey around 1990 & thot it was the best collection of SF reviews ever. But the version I have is the later 5th edition (2004), which has some reviews dropped from earlier versions. There's still some good stuff in it, tho I'm suspicious of their recommendations about newer SF -- I picked up a couple fairly recent novels they RAVED about & was disappointed both times. Editor Barron sez in his intro that this will be the last edition of the book he'll edit; weirdly, he was found dead in Las Vegas a year or so ago....
+ THE SCIENCE FICTION SOURCE BOOK, David Wingrove -- Some good VERY brief reviews & overviews of 100's of writers works. Some good insights about authors' strengths & weaknesses. But there's also an absurdly overcomplicated rating system. & Wingrove jumps on the bad stuff real hard....
+ MODERN FANTASY: THE 100 BEST NOVELS, David Pringle -- Not quite enuf detail on 100 highly-rated fantasy novels published since WW2. I've read about a dozen of them. Does include a laudatory review of Stephen R. Donaldson's CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT, & I was suprised 2 find Michael Moorcock's THE WAR HOUND AND THE WORLD'S PAIN here -- didn't realize while I was reading it that it had such depths. Gene Wolfe's BOOK OF THE NEW SUN is also here -- maybe if you can get all the way thru it it's worth such high praise. Overall, Pringle just skims the surface of many of these books. This book coulda bn 2wice as long....
- THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ROCK, POP AND SOUL, Irwin Stambler -- Oh no. Possibly the worst ever. I've never seen so many errors & cliches piled-up in 1 professionally published book before. & it's gone thru numerous re-printings. Don't believe a word....

COMING NEXT: More music. I promise....