Sunday, October 26, 2014


Just finished my 19th consecutive night at work. If I can get through Sunday night, I'll actually get two days off. I plan to spend at least the first day in a coma.
I asked for this. One of my co-workers had her leg operated on earlier this month and needed time to recover, so I told the Boss to throw nights at me until I begged for a night off.
She believed me. And now I'll be grateful when my co-worker comes back Monday night. Or I would be grateful, but it would get in the way of my coma.
Not that this is a world record or anything, but it's a new record for me. I haven't worked this many days in a row in years. Five years or so back, the Afternoon Guy and I used to trade extra overtime-days every other week because we both needed the $$$. But I'm not the 35-year-old I used to be....
The extra $$$ is supposed to go toward a trip back home next summer. Assuming I don't get stupid and blow it all on music and books before then, which could happen.
It's been worth it, and I've learned a few things. I've learned how easy this job CAN be if you just KEEP UP WITH IT, do the work and don't put things off for someone else.
Also, I'm a LOT more relaxed when I'm tired. Back around night number 7 or 8 I was really starting to feel it and everything seemed like too much trouble. But since then I've been too tired to care. I don't have enough energy left to stress-out.
Stuff that would have put me in orbit normally I just laugh off now. A few nights ago a kind of scraggly, homeless middle-aged hippy couple came into the store and cooked their dinner in the microwave, then hung around eating it as if this was a snack bar. They never bought anything. And I just laughed and rolled with it.
I also make a lot of stupid mistakes when I'm tired. A couple nights ago I was $30 off -- the money was there, but I couldn't make it add up right. Two nights in a row I cashed-in $20-winning scratch tickets and rang them up as $2,000 -- normally I catch stuff like that right off, but both times I didn't notice the mistakes until after closing.
Of course the right music helps.Lately I've been playing the same old '60s/'70s Soul and R&B and old Motown stuff that I've been addicted to for the last couple of months. I started to get a little bored with it all a few days back, but nothing else works as well to keep me up and moving. And on weekends I've got KPLU's "All Blues," still doing great work.
New-to-me greats I've heard on "All Blues" in the last couple weeks include the Tedeschi-Trucks Band's "Made Up Mind," the Neville Brothers' "Hey-Pocky-a-Way," Joe Bonnamassa's new "I Gave Up Everything for You Except the Blues," Lowell George's "Two Trains," Irma Thomas's "The River is Waiting" and ... get this ... the Dixie Cups' "Iko Iko." KPLU "streams" over the Internet at, and on Saturday and Sunday nights from 6 p.m. to midnight Pacific Time they are well worth your time.
The weather's helped, too. Summer's over. It's been chilly and rainy here, with highs in the 50s and rain almost daily, occasional gusty winds as the fall storms start rolling in. Good sleeping weather. My problem is, without the store's magical hot chocolate, I'd never wake up. And no amount of sleep seems to make much difference. The rain and storms have made some nights in the store pretty quiet.
I've been reading in the afternoons while downing pots of coffee and trying to wake up -- lots of Paul Theroux, and right now I'm reading Nicholas Shakespeare's biography of writer Bruce Chatwin. Non-fiction and travel writing seem to work best for me, these days.
Just feel in a fog, like I usually do when winter gets rolling here. Only this time I blame it on work.
Tonight was busier than normal -- wind and rain knocked down trees and power lines, lots of people with no lights or heat. Being at work was a good place to be tonight -- we usually don't lose power.
But now I've got to drive home in it. And come back tomorrow for one more night....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Are all writers pompous arrogant assholes?

I was in Greece for three weeks in 1991, thanks to the Air Force. Doing a very small part to help a base in Athens close, I was surrounded by one of the oldest, most gorgeous countries in the world -- and it was so expensive I couldn't afford to see any of it.
The hotel the AF stuck us in cost $50 per night -- for a TINY room. The most modest dinner in the hotel's dining room was another $50. The cheapest meal I could find close by was the $17 dinner special at the charming dirt-floored taverna down the hill from the hotel: a pork chop, a salad and a Coke -- and all the Greek atmosphere I could absorb. I loved it, but at $17 per meal I was still going to be broke soon.
There was a book stall next to the taverna -- cheap paperbacks imported from England. With costs to take a taxi downtown or a bus around the area so expensive, the only traveling I was going to do was in my head. So I grabbed a copy of Paul Theroux's RIDING THE IRON ROOSTER, about taking a train trip across China.
I got to stick my toes in the Aegean Sea and saw the Parthenon out the window of a bus, but the only other parts of Greece I saw were the dramatic coastline, blinding-white houses, the sheer rocky cliffs and the palm trees. It was like California with Greek road signs.
The rest of the time I was traveling across China on a train. IRON ROOSTER was so vivid and detailed that I went back to the book stall and grabbed two more of Theroux's imports -- a lurid sex-change murder mystery called CHICAGO LOOP (I admit I was attracted by the purple woman on the cover), and a collection of short stories, SINNING WITH ANNIE. I don't remember anything about the stories.
But I had a great time with Theroux's China trip, though I thought it was absurd that I should be reading about China while lounging in Greece.
Later, I picked up Theroux's novels THE MOSQUITO COAST (vivid and fun, and hero Allie Fox is outrageous, but the movie's better) and MY SECRET HISTORY, which is full of brutal, intense relationship problems. It might be his best novel. MY OTHER LIFE features a wish-fulfillment alter-ego hero named "Paul Theroux" and is nearly as intense and successful as SECRET HISTORY.
Theroux's travel writing gets better as he goes on. THE GREAT RAILWAY BAZAAR, his first travel book, seems to me thin compared to his later adventures, though he had a big success with it. THE HAPPY ISLES OF OCEANIA is a non-stop joy, as Theroux paddles between Pacific islands in a kayak, dodging headhunters and cannibals.
A month or so back I read two of his travel books in a row -- THE PILLARS OF HERCULES, about a trip around the Mediterranean Sea, and DARK STAR SAFARI, about a trip south across Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. Both painted vivid pictures of the areas he covered. I read HERCULES because I wanted to see what Theroux thought of Greece and Turkey. Theroux loved Turkey, and thought Greece was too touristy and fake -- exactly the opposite of my experience. SAFARI is at its best when Theroux returns to Malawi and Uganda, where he lived as a Peace Corps volunteer and teacher in the late '60s and early '70s. He is shocked to find that things there have gotten worse.
Several of Theroux's other books are well worth trying. THE KINGDOM BY THE SEA is a vivid, sometimes hilarious walk around the coast of the British Isles. FRESH AIR FIEND is mostly a collection of longer travel pieces, with some profiles of memorable friends and excellent reviews of other travel books thrown in. SUNRISE WITH SEAMONSTERS is a collection of shorter pieces and includes some bits of pure gold -- hilarious pieces on going home for his high-school reunion, hanging out with his entire extended family on Cape Cod ... and riding New York City's subways for a week to see how bad they really are. They're pretty bad.
Right now I'm halfway through Theroux's HOTEL HONOLULU, which reads more like a long series of excellent character sketches rather than a novel.
This is all back-story. I just finished reading Theroux's SIR VIDIA'S SHADOW (1999), about his 30-year friendship with Nobel-Prize-winning (but difficult) Indian/Trinidadian writer V.S. Naipaul. Theroux takes nearly 400 pages to show what an ass Naipaul can be. We catch on much faster.
They met in Africa, when Naipaul was guest writer at a university in Uganda where Theroux taught. Naipaul urged Theroux to keep writing, told him not to downplay anything, told him to always Tell The Truth, whether he's writing a novel, short stories, essays, reviews. Pull no punches. Naipaul eventually introduces Theroux to book-publishers and editors.
Naipaul may be a great writer and a good friend, but he's also an eccentric, overbearing pain in the ass. From the beginning, he's absolutely sure of his own genius and brilliance. He has no time for most people, thinks he's above almost everyone (he calls most people "infies," for inferior). He claims to hate all music. He treats his wife harshly, passes instant sweeping judgements on people, dismisses almost all writers, seems on the surface to be disgusted by women.... And he NEVER PAYS FOR ANYTHING! Even when he invites Theroux out for lunch. He's as outrageous a character as Allie Fox in THE MOSQUITO COAST.
While poor-mouthing, Naipaul travels the world, owns a house and an apartment in England, takes long tours of India, Africa, and the American South. While his wife is dying of cancer, Naipaul spends his time and takes his long trips with another woman. Then, two months after his wife dies, he marries some other woman who's 20 years younger. Long-suffering Pat Naipaul is the saddest person in the book.
Finally their friendship ends at least partly because Naipaul's new wife hates Theroux. And Naipaul just walks away.
Theroux admits he can be a bit of a know-it-all too. Interesting that two such difficult men should have such a long-lasting friendship. But by the end, Theroux is seeing all the flaws in his friend, too.
As with Theroux's travel books, VIDIA is easy to follow, involving, and laugh-out-loud funny. I devoured it in about three days.
It also made me think about writers -- about what I act like when I'm writing, about how I treat people. I don't want to treat people like V.S. Naipaul. About the only way you can get away with that crap is by being a genius.
I don't want to be an "infy," either.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Live blogging from Work!

Tonight is a snoozefest. The first major rainstorm of the fall is passing through, and I've seen about half a dozen paying customers in the last two hours.
So, at the possible risk of my job if my boss should suddenly appear, I thought I'd babble here for awhile.
This is my seventh work night in a row. One of my co-workers had her leg operated on, and may be out for the next two weeks or more. I volunteered to cover her shifts as well as my own, until I beg for a day off. So far, this unexpected extra work hasn't been that bad, and I'm sure I'll enjoy the paychecks.
But tonight, I'll bet we're barely paying the electrical bill.
More in a bit....
..Is anybody out there? Have had ONE more customer since I started typing this. The rain has lightened up a little, was POURING an hour ago. Not so much now. Seems like most of the storm hit central Puget Sound and the hills to the east. That happens here sometimes. When it snows, THEN we get hit....
...Rain's coming down steadily, though not thundering down like it was for awhile. Little more like a shower, now. A few more people out, most apparently scared away by storm forecasts....
We normally have some Regulars come in for beer between now and midnight -- we'll see if they show up tonight.... I haven't worked a Monday night in so long, I don't know what to expect, don't know what "normal" is....
Any questions from the audience about this weird work I do...?
...OK, in the past 10 minutes have sold 2 Scratch tickets & one pack of smokes. Really burnin' it up tonight, folks!
...Have not played any music tonight -- want to have as much advance warning as possible if the boss should drop by. With no noise, can hear cars drive up in the parking lot, etc., and can get the jump on people. Am I just being paranoid? Probably....
...Have both the front doors wide open and it's 68 degrees in here -- for the first time tonight, I feel comfortable. All my work is done, or I wouldn't be typing this. I'm just waiting for midnight so I can lock up. A few minor chores to do before then.
We all got new corporate-logo work shirts a couple weeks ago -- they're comfortable, but they're WARM. It can be raining and 60 degrees outside and I'll still be sweating like a pig as I run around inside the store getting my work done. Hey, I'm a hot guy. Can't wait 'til summer comes back around and I'll be sweating off 10 pounds a day.... But I don't have that much weight to lose....
So, yes, I'm officially a corporate kiss-ass now, and have the shirt to prove it.
...The rain has stopped. But it's still quiet out there.
Hey, somebody got second-prize in tonight's Powerball drawing. Was it you? That's a cool million dollars for someone. I'll take it, if it goes unclaimed....
...If this continues, this is going to be our worst business night since last winter -- we might even break my personal all-time night-shift record-low of $650....
...OK, sold a couple beers and some gas....
...Here's a great one -- I heard from somebody who's mentioned in my record-store-memoir e-book! Over at the Back-Up Plan's Facebook page, my old record-store manager Robin said she downloaded the FREE first 20 pages of GUARANTEED GREAT MUSIC! and enjoyed it -- but she said I got a few facts wrong....
I wouldn't be surprised, knowing my faulty memory. Ghod knows what she'd think of the rest of the book.... I think it's cool to hear from her, since I haven't heard from her since late 1981. And I'm also kind of dreading what else she might tell me is wrong with the book, if you know what I mean....
...OK, sold some bottled waters, a couple sandwiches, and some energy bars -- still right on track to have the slowest business night here EVER....
...OK, just helped a guy break his steering wheel loose so he could start his car. You know how steering wheels sometimes lock up if you turn 'em too far one way or the other? Like that. Good thing it was nothing more complicated. Cos I sure ain't no mechanic....
Now 11:10 p.m., Pacific Time. Gotta count Scratch tickets here in a bit....
...Had the radio news on for awhile earlier, but it's nothing too surprising. Ebola outbreak, now an American nurse infected, etc. I was glad that they at least mentioned that you can't get Ebola unless you have contact with an infected person's bodily fluids.
Worried about Ebola? Go read Richard Preston's THE HOT ZONE, copies are available at for a penny -- and it will scare the SHIT out of you....
OK, sold some gas and some more scratch tickets. Need to count scratch tickets now....
...Have started doing stuff so I can close down the store at midnight -- counted scratch tickets, emptied a coffee pot, took out this morning's old dead newspapers, brought in squeegees, took apart the soda fountain....
Still on track for this to be the quietest business night ever. Tonight definitely has been nothing to Write Home about.... This has been an experiment that probably won't be repeated. But at least it kept me awake. And if I'd been busy, I wouldn't have had TIME to write about it....
...12:40 a.m. -- OK, it's OFFICIAL: The worst, slowest business night here EVER, $535 total. Unbelievable. I wonder what scared everybody away? The weather wasn't THAT bad. Is it because it's the 13th? It couldn't have been ME, right?
Thanks to everybody who dropped in ... and don't be expecting this again in the future....

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Soul/R&B/Blues playlist

OK, here's a long list of MOST of what I've been inflicting on unsuspecting customers at work for the last couple of months. Many of these came cheap from my local Goodwill store -- a great source for music if you don't mind diggin'.
Especially Great Stuff is marked with a *. Notes follow....

Tower of Power -- *So Very Hard to Go, *You're Still a Young Man, *Down to the Nightclub, *What is Hip?, You Got to Funkifize.
Earth, Wind and Fire -- *September, Shining Star, That's the Way of the World, *Sing a Song, *Serpentine Fire, *Fantasy, Kalimba Story, *Getaway, *After the Love is Gone, Boogie Wonderland (with The Emotions).
Bill Withers -- *Ain't No Sunshine, *Grandma's Hands, Use Me, Who is He and What is He to You?
Al Green -- Tired of Being Alone, I Can't Get Next to You, *Let's Stay Together, *I'm Still in Love With You, *Call Me, Let's Get Married, *Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy), *Take Me to the River, *Love Ritual, *L-O-V-E (Love), Full of Fire, *You Ought to be With Me.
Aretha -- *I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Respect, *Dr. Feelgood, *Chain of Fools, *Think, The House That Jack Built, *Since You've Been Gone, Spirit in the Dark, *Spanish Harlem, *Rock Steady, Oh Me Oh My (I'm a Fool for You Baby), *Day Dreaming, *Until You Come Back to Me.
Otis Redding -- *Mr. Pitiful, I've Been Loving You Too Long, My Lover's Prayer, *Shake, *Respect, Satisfaction, Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa (Sad Song), *Try a Little Tenderness, The Happy Song (Dum-Dum), Tramp (with Carla Thomas), Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay.
Commodores -- *Machine Gun, *Brick House, *Sail On.
Parliament -- *P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up).
Bonnie Raitt -- *I Can't Make You Love Me, *Angel from Montgomery, Finest Lovin' Man, Give it Up or Let Me Go, Women be Wise, Love Me Like a Man, Love Has No Pride, Guilty, What is Success?, Sugar Mama, others....
Booker T and the MG's -- *Time is Tight, *Hang 'Em High, Green Onions.
Isley Brothers -- *That Lady.
Dramatics -- *Whatcha See is Whatcha Get, *In the Rain, *(Gimme Some) Good Soul Music.
Junior Walker and the All-Stars -- *I'm a Road Runner, *I Ain't Going Nowhere, *Pucker Up Buttercup, *Anyway You Wannta, Probe Your Mind, *Nothing But Soul, Take Me Girl I'm Ready, Shotgun, *Moody Junior, *Shake and Fingerpop.
Spinners -- *I'll Be Around, *I'm Coming Home, *Rubberband Man, *Could it be I'm Falling in Love, *One of a Kind Love Affair.
Stylistics -- *You are Everything, *Betcha By Golly Wow.
Curtis Mayfield -- *Freddie's Dead.
Average White Band -- Pick Up the Pieces.
Brothers Johnson -- *Strawberry Letter 23, *I'll Be Good to You, Get the Funk Out Ma Face.
Wild Cherry -- Play that Funky Music.
Cheryl Lynn -- Got to be Real.
Emotions -- *Best of My Love.
Ike and Tina Turner -- Proud Mary, *River Deep Mountain High.
Funkadelic -- Super Stupid, *Can You Get to That?
B.B. King -- The Thrill is Gone, Nobody Loves Me But My Mother, How Blue Can You Get? (live).
Ray Charles -- Busted, Georgia on My Mind, Let's Go Get Stoned, Night Time is the Right Time, What'd I Say?, Hit the Road Jack.
Nina Simone -- *Funkier Than a Mosquita's Tweeter, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues, Suzanne, Sunday in Savannah, Mississippi Goddam.
Motown's HITSVILLE USA singles collection/Various artists -- *He Was Really Saying Something, *Nowhere to Run, *When I'm Gone, *First I Look at the Purse, *Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me), *This Old Heart of Mine, Greetings (This is Uncle Sam), Function at the Junction, *What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, *Uptight.
K.C. and the Sunshine Band -- *Shake Your Booty, *That's the Way I Like It.
Wilson Pickett -- *Land of 1,000 Dances, Mustang Sally, Funky Broadway, *Don't Knock My Love, *Fire and Water.
Stevie Ray Vaughn -- *The House is Rockin', Cold Shot.
Timmy Thomas -- *Why Can't We Live Together?
J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound -- Baltimore is the New Brooklyn.
King Curtis -- *Memphis Soul Stew.
Solomon Burke -- Cry to Me.
Billy Paul -- Me and Mrs. Jones.
Labelle -- *Lady Marmalade.
James Brown -- *I Got You (I Feel Good), *Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, Soul Power, Night Train, It's a Man's Man's Man's World, Cold Sweat, America is My Home, Prisoner of Love, Ain't That a Groove, Try Me, Get on the Good Foot.
...All this in addition to the usual Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Motown and Sly hits I've been playing at work for years....

NOTES: Some of these songs I'd never heard before. Others I hadn't heard in 35+ years.
Tower of Power still sounds great. I think "So Very Hard to Go" and "You're Still a Young Man" are both classics. The surprise was "What is Hip?" which has hilarious lyrics and should have been a big hit.
Why weren't EWF's "Fantasy" and "Serpentine Fire" bigger hits? "Fantasy" is just about perfect, especially on the edited single, where one musical intrusion smack in the middle of the song is removed so the flow isn't interrupted. "Serpentine Fire" has a great groove that I'd missed for years....
I've already babbled about Al Green, but the song I missed on his imported best-of was "You Ought to be With Me," which definitely speaks to me these days, in light of personal-relationship issues that have been ongoing since late June. Almost brought tears to my eyes, and after not hearing it since the early '70s, I still remembered the words!
Bill Withers was master of the seemingly simple, compact song. I HATED "Ain't No Sunshine" in 1971, but it sure sounded great 20 years later, and still does now. "Grandma's Hands" shoulda been a hit too -- and it's only 2 minutes long!
Great a singer as Otis Redding was, what I remember most from his songs are the instrumental parts -- the horns and guitars -- except for "Shake," which is a total scream ... and the very different approach he had to "Respect." And Otis wrote it.
Bonnie Raitt strikes me as a great voice with mostly second-rate material. "Angel from Montgomery" is one of the best things I've heard all year, and I already knew about "I Can't Make You Love Me." As for the rest....
I was thrilled to find a Dramatics best-of CD because my old tape with "Whatcha See is Whatcha Get" was about dead. "In the Rain" is also nice though very different. The real lost classic is "(Gimme Some) Good Soul Music," which has the vocals and sound of a big hit. But I can see where a song hooked with the phrase "Gimme some...." might have some trouble getting airplay.... But it's sure worth hearing....
I'd forgotten how annoying Cheryl Lynn's "Got to be Real" was.
Finally heard some Funkadelic. "Super Stupid" is just about the heavy-guitar and frenzied-vocals thing I'd expected, but "Can You Get to That?" is something more -- almost black-harmony-group-meets-folk-music. It's a lotta fun, shoulda been a hit. Gotta find more.
I want to like Ray Charles, but I'm having trouble with the orchestra that so often backed him. It seems so old-fashioned.
Nina Simone was worth hearing just for the acapella/drums "Funkier than a Mosquita's Tweeter," an old Tina Turner song that MUST have been written about Ike. It's a scream, and it's pretty bitter. Another lost classic.
HITSVILLE USA is a multi-CD set of Motown's first dozen years of singles. Somebody broke up the set and left the parts at my local Goodwill. Each disc does not ID the artists, though I knew some of them. "He Was Really Sayin' Something" should have been a huge hit. "First I Look at the Purse" is hilarious. "Greetings (This is Uncle Sam)" is a real oddity -- an apparently pro-Vietnam-draft song that I'll likely never play again. "When I'm Gone" is good girl-group Motown; "Function at the Junction" is OK second-string Motown. Also the first time in years that I've listened to Stevie Wonder's "Uptight," actually heard the words. It's pretty great, another song of adoration.
I bought the Wicked Pickett's best-of for "Land of 1,000 Dances," "Don't Knock My Love" and "Fire and Water." The latter two I hadn't heard since '72, and they both still sound great.
"Baltimore is the New Brooklyn" is another oddity -- nice heavy guitar and lyrics about how Baltimore's just a short train ride from NYC, and at least it's better than New Jersey.... They coulda done a sequel: "Cleveland is the New Chicago"....
"Memphis Soul Stew" is a great almost-instrumental that I'd never heard before.
Wow, even "Me and Mrs. Jones" doesn't sound bad now, and I HATED it back in '72 or whenever....
There will likely be more of this....
This is a weird place for a white progressive-rock fan from Idaho to go, but at least I'm not bored....

P.S. -- Hey, I forgot to mention ... each post since late June has been a late-night rush-job ... that customer reaction to all this stuff has been REALLY GOOD ... as long as the tunes are good. Radio stations please note....

Sunday, October 5, 2014

CLAPTON: A progress report

I'm about two-thirds of the way through Eric Clapton's CLAPTON: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY (2007). I don't know if I'll be able to finish it.
With all the rave reviews this book got, the reviewers left out one very important thing.
It's dull.
Now Eric would probably be the first person to tell you that he's not the most exciting guy in the world. But still....
The chapters on The Yardbirds, Cream and Blind Faith are all pretty thin. The chapter on Eric touring with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends is actually pretty good.
The chapter on Derek and the Dominoes is short, but Eric did at least mention the fatherly talk Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun gave him about drug addiction, and about how Atlantic almost lost Ray Charles that way....
Clapton does talk about making little homemade recordings of his guitar playing during the years he lost to heroin -- indicating that there was something inside him that was trying to get out.
He mentions Bobby Whitlock of the Dominoes sending him a tape of some guys in Tulsa that Whitlock thought Clapton might want to play with -- that led to 461 OCEAN BOULEVARD.
But Clapton never mentions crazy drummer Jim Gordon coming to Eric's house after the Dominoes fell apart and screaming for hours for Clapton to come out....
I've followed Clapton through his pursuit of Patti Boyd, to the point where it's obvious that even though they're finally together and should be happy, she isn't going to change his life either ... and so, after pursuing her for YEARS, after dedicating an album to her, he keeps sleeping with other women....
Now I'm into his heavy-drinking and seeking-treatment phase.... The years he lost to drug abuse and drinking get more pages in this book than his bands.... Clapton did keep a diary through at least some of these experiences, so the thinness of things can't be blamed on his bad memory....
Right now I'm going back through his chapter on playing with John Mayall on the BLUESBREAKERS album, because the whole "Clapton is God" thing was really starting to cause Eric and his band problems by the early '80s ... but up to then he hadn't mentioned the whole "Guitar God" thing anywhere else in the book. At least I didn't notice it before....
...OK. There's no reason for anyone to expect Clapton to bare his soul in his memoir when he's already done it in "Layla," right? But then, why write a book if you've got nothing that interesting to say?
If you want to know where songs like "Badge," "Let it Rain," or "Let it Grow" came from, this book won't tell you. He does explain what triggered "Presence of the Lord." You might be surprised. "Badge" isn't mentioned at all.
I'm gonna try to at least get through his marriage to Boyd and when he lost his son.... but if I never update this review, you'll know I couldn't finish the book. It's an easy read, but I wish there was more depth here.
Thanks to a Regular at work, I've been listening to Clapton and Steve Winwood's live album from Madison Square Garden -- some of it's pretty great. Their version of Hendrix's "Little Wing" is gorgeous. "Can't Find My Way Home" sounds really good. Even "Dear Mr. Fantasy" is OK. And even "Glad," one of the few Traffic songs I liked, sounds OK -- and I didn't think you could do that piece without Chris Wood's saxophone.
They do a good version of Buddy Miles's "Them Changes." "Forever Man" sounds pretty great. Buddy Holly's "Well All Right" is excellent. And what a band! And Chris Stainton helps out on keyboards!
It's a lot better than Clapton's book.

Friday, October 3, 2014

"Talented, but a piece of shit"

Mark Ribowsky makes '60s/'70s record-producer Phil Spector look like quite a creature in HE'S A REBEL (1989, updated 2000), and the book was written BEFORE Phil was convicted of murder.
Ribowsky makes a case for Phil being a screwed-up genius due to Phil's messed-up family life, including a crazy, overbearing sister and a father who suicided while Phil was young. As a result, Phil can't connect or empathize with anyone.
Maybe this explains why Phil uses and takes advantage of just about everyone in the book, from the record companies he works for at first, to the members of the "Wall of Sound" he assembles in the studio.
Ribowsky shows Phil constantly wheeling and dealing, from the time of his first huge hit "To Know Him is to Love Him" (the epitaph on Phil's dad's gravestone), through work with Imperial, Atlantic, Liberty, Warner Bros., and A&M before getting his own show rolling at Philles. Through it all, Phil is described as a shameless hustler, totally without conscience, always looking out for Number One.
There is LOTS of detail about the great songwriters Spector worked with, and PAGES of what it was like to be in the studio with the Wall of Sound, the Wrecking Crew, the greatest studio musicians of the '60s. Tons of folks from those days are quoted -- and a lot of them talk about the HOURS Phil spent blending musicians in the studio, adding and subtracting, pushing the recording gear until the flooding, overlapping sound of those '60s records was just what he wanted.
There's also plenty of detail about Phil's later less-successful adventures with the Beatles, John Lennon, George Harrison, Leonard Cohen, and the Ramones.
It's too bad nobody proofread this book. There are lots of typos and the writing's sometimes awkward. Ribowsky sometimes tries to cram way too much information into one sentence, and his sentences sometimes go on way too long. One more read-through could have smoothed those problems out.
But that's my only real complaint. It's interesting to see how many people in the music business had grudges against Phil -- there were a lot of them. Only some of the women are able to make Phil sound human -- like Brill Building songwriter Beverly Ross (who got used), and Phil's ex-wife Annette Merar, who clearly still loved him.
Of course, Phil's ex-wife Ronnie Spector isn't quoted, except through her divorce filings against him. Phil isn't quoted, either. He refused to participate with the book.
But LOTS of other famous names spill the details -- Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun, producer and record-company executive Lester Sill, producer Jerry Wexler, Nedra Talley of the Ronettes, producer Russ Titleman, songwriters Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil, Doc Pomus, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, singer Ben E. King, Sonny Bono, Nino Tempo, songwriter Vini Poncia ... but not Carole King or Tina Turner.
This book also reminded me how freaking awesome songs like "Be My Baby," "Baby I Love You," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and "River Deep, Mountain High" really are. Course I didn't need much reminding to play them again at work over the last couple nights.
Ribowsky does NOT include my favorite Phil Spector story ever, which is the one where Bobby Hatfield (the higher voice in the Righteous Brothers) asks Phil what he's supposed to do while bass Bill Medley carries the first two verses practically acapella in "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'."
"What are you supposed to DO?" Phil asks incredulously. "You're supposed to go directly TO THE BANK, that's what you're supposed to do!"
Not sure how Ribowsky missed that one -- it would have humanized Phil a little bit.
Oh, the title of this post is a direct quote from one of the many Big Industry Names interviewed for this book. You'll have to figure out who it is. It's worth the read....

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Who's 100 best?

At least I got this cheap. Goodwill's a really good source for cheap rock and roll books.
VH1's 100 GREATEST ALBUMS (2003), edited by Jacob Hoye, is a little CD-sized gift book published for Hallmark by Pocket Books. Inside you'll find essays on what are supposedly the 100 greatest rock albums ever, which VH1 compiled by polling musicians, rock critics, etc.
After ROLLING STONE's various shots at creating an "All-Time Best" list, VH1 probably felt they had to do this. They probably made an hour-long TV show out of it, too. Or a mini-series.
Wow, that's 21 albums already. You could probably come up with a "100 Best" list off the top of your head.
First thing that jumped out at me is that LED ZEPPELIN 4 isn't here. Which is strange, because 1 and 2 and PHYSICAL GRAFFITI are.
The second thing is that I didn't learn much. Most of these albums have been written about SO often that it's difficult to bring anything new to them.
In many ways, the best essay in the book is editor Hoye's introduction, where he talks about hearing ABBEY ROAD as a 5-year-old -- and how it sounded to him like a child's wonderland. Who wouldn't want to go with Ringo to the Octopus's Garden?
And though many of these are life-changing albums, few of the writers write like their lives were changed. They just aren't that enthusiastic.
There are other signs of a lack of enthusiasm. Musicians' names are spelled wrong, or spelled differently the second time they're mentioned. The punctuation and grammar aren't always real solid. This might have been a rush-job.
There is too much Eagles/James Taylor/Carole King/Joni Mitchell/'70s California rock included. But it could have been worse -- at least there's no Jackson Browne. Or Linda Ronstadt. Neil Young isn't here -- except as a member of CSNY on DEJA VU.
It was nice to see The Pretenders' first album here -- a record that really did change my life. And I would have been surprised if PET SOUNDS wasn't here. But only a couple of the other records that changed my life are here.
The best line in the book, the one that gets closest to why anyone would buy and read a book like this, comes from Mac Randall. Writing about BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME, he says: "What a song means doesn't matter much. What matters is that it makes you feel."
If you're a real beginner, this is an OK place to start. If you've been around for awhile, you're not gonna learn much new from this.
I don't think a book like this is very USEFUL. It's not even authoritative -- too many minor errors.
A useful book would be a list of the 100 WORST rock albums ever -- like a warning to stay away or else risk your sanity. Somebody should write a book like that.
Maybe even me.

COMING NEXT: Phil Spector -- Talented, or just a piece of shit?