Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Even more Really Bad Prog

- Jethro Tull: Aqualung. You know, I've always hated this, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention. I love Tull's lighter, folkier stuff, and the phased vocals, light guitar, and formal piano in the second parts of the verses aren't too far off from what I prefer. But then the heaviness picks back up again. Maybe I've just heard this too many times over the years for it to have much impact for me. And I've been tuning it out after those first few notes for a long time.... Decent show-offy guitar from Martin Barre in the middle. Too bad they then play the whole thing over....
- Jethro Tull: Cross-Eyed Mary, from AQUALUNG. And of course one of the big problems with Tull is you've got to get past Ian Anderson's voice. But some nice flute work in the opening and middle. Too bad about Ian's ugly vocal tone.... And it's all so deliberately heavy and ugly.
- Jethro Tull: Wond'ring Aloud, from AQUALUNG. This isn't bad, but it sounds just like "Nursie" on LIVING IN THE PAST. Except it's longer.
- Jethro Tull: Hymn 43, from AQUALUNG. Heard this too many times, too. They're trying so hard to be heavy. Can't see why anyone would want to hear something this ugly more than once. "But it ROCKS!" they scream. And if you think I'm gonna play "Locomotive Breath," you're nuts.
- Kayak: I Want You to be Mine, from STARLIGHT DANCER. On the other hand, ugly's better than bland. This sounds like bad early-'80s Genesis (same thing, right?). I remember this album getting a big push when it came out back in '77 -- saw a couple record stores with posters of the album-cover in their front windows. Wonder why? This isn't truly terrible, but it's way light -- dinky keyboard sound, bouncy little rhythm, and lame attempts at hooks. Perfect for MOR radio!
- Kayak: Ballad for a Lost Friend, from STARLIGHT DANCER. Rather nice dramatic guitar and keyboards up front, then a thin Phil Collins-like vocal. Then more cheezy keyboard. Guitar's not bad, though. That repeating guitar fanfare's the best part. Get this: Their music-publishing company was called Heavy Music. Haha. OK, not bad.
- Strawbs: The Promised Land, from NOMADNESS. Not bad -- the big sound the fans loved, and a built-in contrast from Dave Cousins' weedy, sometimes grating vocals. Then some VERY grandiose piano. Equally show-offy guitar. At least it's fairly short.
- Strawbs: Back on the Farm, from NOMADNESS. Hey, acoustic! Lighter, not as heavy as they often were during this period. And on the album it follows "Absent Friend (How I Need You)," so it comes as a real blessing after that overwrought piece of crap. Nice little English-country feel.
- Strawbs: Alexander the Great, from BURNING FOR YOU. Believe it or not, this seems to be the story of a has-been rocker who tries for a big comeback. Yoked to a heavier, bouncier production than on the last album. Too bad about Dave Cousins' over-the-top vocal. Some piercing heavy guitar. Kinda pushy, bad-time music.
- Strawbs: Barcarole (for the death of Venice), from BURNING FOR YOU. Pretty, simple chorale-and-keyboard piece. Not overwrought. Kind of soothing. But as precious as anything they ever did.
- Strawbs: Burning for Me, from BURNING FOR YOU. Not bad. Hushed, dramatic ballad. Could actually see playing it again sometime in the future. The best thing here.
- The Nice: Ars Longa Vita Brevis. Taking you back to 1968! ...Wow, sounds just like ELP! I really like Keith Emerson's squiggly keyboards. But what's that ORCHESTRA doing in there? ...They're not gonna mess this up by SINGING are they? Yes, they are, eventually. Nice prelude -- but they're only three minutes in, and they go into a drum solo? They were kidding, right? ... Yeezus, and it's a really LONG drum solo.... Then into a long, jazzy keybs-and-drums interlude ... then a keybs-and-orchestra movement, some of the tune stolen from Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto." Some of this is OK, especially for the time, and the production seems clear enough, which is kind of a surprise. Emerson's keyboards are really pretty bouncy and enjoyable. And that orchestra swings! If they'd taken out that drum solo, I'd be pretty enthusiastic. Then Emerson gets five more minutes to show off. Overall, not completely awful. "Art will still be there, even if life terminates." -- Keith Emerson.
- The Nice: Daddy Where Did I Come From?, from ARS LONGA VITA BREVIS. No, I'm not gonna play "America," because even with its awful muddy production, I still think it's pretty freakin' great, so it doesn't fit in here. THIS, however, is just silly. A musical bad joke, with spoken-word interjections and spacey phasing on the backing vocals. Also some nice keyboards even though they don't take center-stage. And The Question never really gets answered....
- Todd Rundgren's Utopia: Another Life, from ANOTHER LIVE. Hey, I like the wobbly three-keyboards-and-guitar sound. I like the five-minute introduction. Not sure about the group vocals, they're a little operatic. Sounds kinda like THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. Could almost be Magma.
- Utopia: The Wheel, from ANOTHER LIVE. This is way more down-to-earth. Pretty gutsy to try a simple acoustic singalong like this after that opening.... This sounds like an above-average Todd ballad. How'd it slip in here? Todd goes on a little long on the solo vocal at the end. But it had its moments.
- Procol Harum: Typewriter Torment, from PROCOL'S NINTH. Lyricist Keith Reid whines about having to write words for this overbearing classic-rock band. But he would have been happier if they'd sold more records. Very small laughs. This isn't as overbearing as I'd expected. Bit of a bluesy undercurrent, and you can hear the piano loud and clear -- organ's mixed down so it doesn't get in the way, except on the middle break. Fairly lively, not completely terrible. Produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
- Procol Harum: Eight Days a Week, from PROCOL'S NINTH. Yes, THAT "Eight Days a Week." Flattened out, not joyous like the original, almost sounds like the Strawbs. Singer/pianist Gary Brooker sounds pretty uninspired. Not the worst version of a Beatles song ever, but ... Pretty bad.

John Wetton of King Crimson, U.K., Asia, dead at 67

John Wetton, the smokey-voiced singer, songwriter and bassist for Asia, King Crimson, U.K. and other progressive-rock bands, has died at 67 from colon cancer.
King Crimson guitarist/leader Bob Fripp once called Wetton the best bassist of his generation.
Wetton also played with Roxy Music, Family, Uriah Heep, Wetton/Manzanera, Mogul Thrash and others.
My buddy Crabby has compiled some farewells to John from his colleagues Carl Palmer, Phil Manzanera, Geoff Downes and others. Radio will probably play some Asia hits as a farewell. Instead, I'd recommend hearing John's voice and bass on tracks like King Crimson's awesome "Starless" (or any mid-'70s Crimson album; their RED album would likely never have been finished without Wetton), "The Great Deceiver," "The Night Watch," "Easy Money," "Exiles," "Lament," or anything on KC's huge 4-CD GREAT DECEIVER/LIVE box set -- and on U.K.'s great "Time to Kill," "Mental Medication," or the "In the Dead of Night" suite off their first album.
And I still think somebody better get that oral history of Prog done before we lose someone else....

Monday, January 30, 2017

More new-to-me Prog

* Gordon Giltrap: Awakening, Robes and Crowns, from VISIONARY. Mildly New-Agey guitar-led Prog instrumental background music from English guitarist. "Awakening" has a flamenco-style feel to it, "Robes" is more pastoral. Nice, though the tunes aren't real distinctive. Clear production. Songs supposedly inspired by the works of William Blake.
* Gordon Giltrap: From the Four Winds, from VISIONARY. The production is stronger than the tunes. Again featuring keyboards by Rod Edwards, John G. Perry (from middle-period Caravan) on bass, Simon Phillips on drums, plus an orchestra. Unlike Giltrap's later PERILOUS JOURNEY, which seemed to highlight Edwards' keyboards, the focus here seems squarely on Giltrap's guitars.
* Gordon Giltrap: Lucifer's Cage, Revelation, from VISIONARY. "Lucifer's Cage" adds a wordless vocal at the end and picks up a little intensity. Overall, a really short side. Very pleasant and enjoyable. Nice work, though I'm not stunned by the tunes.
* Journey: Destiny, from DREAM AFTER DREAM. Opens with nice pastoral guitar and flute(?), then a thinly-mixed orchestra leaning way too far to the treble side. Then Steve Perry's airy vocals, sounding like he might have a lisp. But at least he's not looking at himself in the mirror. Then some airy choral vocals. Originally this was a high-priced Japanese import, the soundtrack for a Japanese love-story film. Then was released as a budget-priced album in America. Haven't heard this since about 1980. Doesn't sound like commercial Journey at all -- no rock progressions, no catchy choruses. For the first five minutes or so. Then the heavy bass kicks in ... and the excitement picks up. This sounds more like Journey.... Little bit of Neal Schon showing off on guitar, but it's all sparkly, glittery. Not bad, really. Clear high-tech production from Kevin Elson and the band. If you like Journey's album tracks "Daydream" and "People and Places," you'll probably like this.
* Journey: Snow Theme, from DREAM AFTER DREAM. This really does sound like soundtrack music. The orchestra takes over, except from solo passages from Gregg Rolie's piano. Pretty, but it doesn't do much.
* Journey: Sandcastles, from DREAM AFTER DREAM. Still moody, airy soundtrack music, with more light Perry vocals (though not as high-pitched as some he did on EVOLUTION), and added sax played by nobody in the band. Perry's vocals sound kind of tired, like he did on the first track. Not bad, but way light.
* Journey: A Few Coins, from DREAM AFTER DREAM. Lasts about 40 seconds.
* Bruford: Hell's Bells, from THE BRUFORD TAPES. No, not THAT "Hell's Bells." Have Bruford's best-of, but have never heard this, a concert recorded for a New York City radio station in 1979. At first the crowd is louder than the players, but they finally step it up, and Dave Stewart's (no, not THAT Dave Stewart) keyboards actually sound fairly normal and rock pretty good. Sounds a little like King Crimson with added keyboards, no surprise. Little keyboard phrases repeated over and over with minor variations -- you might almost call that a hook....
* Bruford: Sample and Hold, from THE BRUFORD TAPES. Now you can tell Bill Bruford's on here, you almost couldn't hear him on "Hell's Bells." Nobody else has that sort of boxy drum sound. Quick melodic shifts and moves, little phrases from Stewart's keyboards bounced around and elaborated on by the band. Nice, OK, very deft and athletic, not sure if the tunes ever quite grab and hold, but nice moves. Brief guitar freakouts by "the unknown" John Clark, who had a tough act to follow by having to replace Allan Holdsworth in this band. But a lot of talent on display here....
* Bruford: Fainting in Coils, from THE BRUFORD TAPES. Complex, Crimson-y, with some low-end, farty guitar and keyboards. I swear Allan Holdsworth is still playing guitar with this band.... And what is this mechanical, staccato keyboard-and-guitar riff? Thank Ghod they come out of that with more soaring guitar.... Then a silly fake-ending that gets the crowd off.
* Colosseum: The Kettle, from THOSE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE SALUTE YOU. Noise from this late-'60s jazz-rock jam-band. Heavy. But they're better when nobody's singing. Hendrixy guitar from James Litherland. Where's the sax?
* Colosseum: Those Who Are About to Die Salute You. Dated organ-and-sax jam, SO 1968. Then the fuzz-guitar comes in. Guess you had to be there. Yeezus, their "Valentyne Suite" sounds WAY better than this. Gets a little more rhythmic and a little better later on, but still....
* Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Davy's on the Road Again, from WATCH. Written by Robbie Robertson of The Band and producer John Simon. Not bad, moves nicely, Manfred shows off on keybs in the middle, apparently was a good-sized hit single in England. OK. Why had I never heard this before?
* Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Martha's Madman, from WATCH. Good moody drama, builds nicely. Chris Thompson's vocals sure made a difference for the EB. And Mann's keybs, of course. Manfred has that ghostly keyboard sound down in the middle-section here. Would have made a good follow-up to "Blinded by the Light."
* Brand X: Why Should I Lend You Mine When You've Broken Yours Off Already?, from MOROCCAN ROLL. At first it's spacey noise, written by The Phil Collins. Twinkly keybs from Robin Lumley, the usual funky bass from Percy Jones. Gets airy-er and more atmospheric as it goes. Pretty and spacey, airy wordless vocals at the end set it off nicely. A kinda washy but very pleasant 11 minutes.
* Brand X: Hate Zone, from MOROCCAN ROLL. Starts with a drum solo, then some funky bass from Percy Jones and spacey guitar from John Goodsall. Lots of activity, lots going on here, not much in the way of melody, but funky and bouncy enough.
* Brand X: Collapsar, from MOROCCAN ROLL. Spacey keyboards, pleasant but short. Sounds like a work in progress. Fades out too soon.

The former home of Really Bad Prog

Hey, recent news got you down? Worried about the fate of the world? Thinking about emigrating to Canada? Need some laughs? Check out The Progressive Rock Hall of Infamy, here. If you're a big Prog fan, these guys are freaking hilarious. And even if you're not.
At their blog, you'll find hilarious (and REALLY long-winded) reviews of some of the worst Prog albums ever, their readers' choices for The Five Worst Prog Bands Ever (and the bloggers' 20 nominees for this ultimate dishonor), long reviews of obscure Prog albums no one's ever heard of, lots of hilarious cheap shots, and even reports of death threats the writers received for their reviews. Really great fun, and they're even from Seattle.
Only one problem -- they stopped writing in 2010. But don't let that stop you. Their blog shows clearly that being devoted to Prog is A Mission. And it's amazing how much crap they listened to in order to carry out a public service.
Plus they're funny as hell, besides.
Yes, they love King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator. Yes, they hate Yes. And ELP. And Styx. And Camel. Don't let this stop you. If you're a Prog fan, you need to check 'em out. And you can thank me after you finish laughing. That may take awhile....

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Your daily birdcage-liner

It shouldn't be a surprise, and I'm sure someone's pointed it out way before me, but it's really pretty amazing how quickly the Internet has replaced the morning newspaper -- in just the way science-fiction writers predicted that computers would Totally Change Our Lives, years ago. These days if I'm too groggy even to try reading a real book, I can still pop open the laptop and suck up the latest news feeds.
Makes me wonder how I ever thought "published on the Internet" was a contradiction in terms.
Now, by the time I see a newspaper at work, I hardly ever look beyond the headlines. I've usually heard all the front-page stories on the radio or seen all the latest updates over the Internet.
Of course, newspapers can provide some DEPTH to the big stories -- or provide some opinions and humor with their columnists -- but thanks to blogs and all the people expressing opinions or joking around on-line, the Net's pretty-much got newspapers beat there, too.
So I wonder how long it'll be before all newspapers go on-line only, like the SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER did, and NEWSWEEK magazine.
Probably not long.
I can't remember the last time I read something in a newspaper that really surprised me. Not in this 24-hour world, where you can get The Latest on your TV, smartphone, laptop, through texts, etc etc. Really pretty amazing. And addictive.
This past week I got back on Facebook after figuring it wasn't worth the trouble six months ago. And now that I've finally discovered (and figured out how to work) the SHARE button, I'm spending a few minutes each day trying to find OUTRAGEOUS news stories to share with my seven(?) Facebook followers worldwide.
It's addictive.
And luckily, outrageous news stories haven't been that hard to find lately.
It's pretty amazing, this multi-media behemoth we have all around us these days. Word about happenings spreads quicker than ever before, reactions come in faster, the hype builds up bigger. It's hard not to get carried away by all of it. Even if it would be better to sit back and take a breath and try to figure out what it all means.
I'm as guilty of this as anyone, and Ghod knows there's a lot to talk about these days. (Still haven't found any evidence that there are demonstrations and riots in Seattle EVERY DAY -- though it must sometimes SEEM like it, if you live there. If there's something to protest, Seattle people will hit the streets to do it. And there's been lots to protest, lately.)
...No deep thoughts here, just surprising to me that things have changed so quickly. Sometimes you get pushed into the High-Tech Space Age before you're even aware of it.
...By the way, have you re-read 1984 lately...?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

"You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet"

There was always a push for More Gas. If you wanted to go cruisin' with Jay in the Impala, you had to pony up some cash for More Gas. Any girls who went riding around with Jay would be asked to contribute to the Gas Fund. I tossed in the lunch money I got from Mom and Dad. Jay dropped out after three days in high school, and had a job for a few weeks as a car-detailer, but after he quit that job it was a constant scramble for More Gas Money.
And there were other ways to get gas for the car....
During our aimless drives around west Boise, we started looking for gas cans. We'd grab jerry-cans off the sides of Jeeps or out of the backs of boats. If Jay found a car without a locking gas-cap on a dark side-street, he'd get out and try to siphon some gas out of it with his "Oklahoma credit card" -- a beat-up hunk of old garden hose. This was back when locking gas-caps were still pretty uncommon. I'm sure we boosted the sales of them through our efforts.
If the little needle was pointing to "E" on the gas gauge, sometimes we got more desperate. We'd cruise around looking for open garage doors, and would slow down while looking for gas cans to grab.
This may sound kind of desperate -- it actually wasn't that bad a time. The radio was always going, playing great '70s stuff like BTO's "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," the J. Geils Band's "I Musta Got Lost," Eric Burdon's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood/Nina's School," Mike McGear's "Leave It," Wings's "Junior's Farm," various Al Green hits, and lots more. There were almost always girls around, who wanted to go cruising with the outlaw with the long black hair and the hot car. They were always charming, even if they were hanging all over my brother.
Sometimes Jay sent me to investigate the gas-can situation a little more closely. Hey, I had to do something -- I wasn't old enough to drive.
Cruising slowly through a subdivision, we spotted a five-gallon gas can sitting right at the front of a dark, open garage. There was only one light on in the house. Seemed pretty quiet here, so Jay sent me to grab the gas can. He rolled the car slowly down the street, saying he'd circle back to pick me up.
I tiptoed up across the lawn to the side of the garage, grabbed the gas-can by the handle on top, and lifted. And I started laughing uncontrollably when I realized how heavy it was. The can was FULL. This was going to make Jay so happy. I'd done something worthwhile, for once.
Turning away from the garage, I thought I heard a low growl behind me....
Laughing out loud, heavy gas can in hand, I ran across the front yard to the street. I couldn't stop laughing. Jay was gonna be so proud of me! Maybe he'd get off my back for awhile....
I didn't know it, but behind me lights were coming on in the house.
The street was empty as I made my way across the lawn, but suddenly the Impala pulled up in front of me with a SCREECH.
Jay was leaning across the front seat and opening the passenger-side door.
"GET IN THE CAR!!!" he yelled.
Laughing, the gas can clanging and sloshing against my legs, I climbed in the car and we screeched down the street.
We all screamed and laughed as Jay tore through the subdivision, much faster than usual. A few blocks away, he turned a corner, pulled over, shut off the car and turned off the headlights.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Ssssh," he said. "I'm listening for the sirens."
There weren't any.
"Jesus," he said, turning to me. "You scared the SHIT out of me. Right as I pulled up in front of the house, a light came on in the garage and some BIG GUY came out.... And there was a BIG DOG in the garage...."
I started laughing hysterically. "I didn't see any of that."
"I KNOW," he said. "You were just tip-toein' across the lawn like you were walkin' in the park, everything's cool ... ya fuckin' dumbass. But you done good."
That full five-gallon gas can would fuel cruising sessions for at least the next couple of nights.
Later on, things would get a lot uglier. Jay would stop coming home -- and when he did come home, when no one else was around, he'd steal money from our folks. Then he started breaking into our friends' houses, looking for more gas money....

Friday, January 27, 2017

Trump's biggest fans

I might be better able to handle Donald Trump, more willing to give him time to mess up on his own, if it weren't for some of his followers.
I used to rent a room from one, and I've met several more through my job. I went to a concert with one last fall -- before I realized he was a Trump-backer. Before that I thought he was just a rock and roll fan like me.
Some of these men -- and they're all aging middle- or lower-class white men -- are even more disconnected from Reality than Trump is. And they think he's going to be their savior.
All these men think there's something really wrong with America -- something that's been wrong for years. They look around and see minorities getting breaks they were never offered, getting help they never asked for, getting opportunities these men squandered when they were younger -- and they think that's wrong. They think Trump will help get them all the things they never had or were too lazy to go after. Trump will balance things out, give America back to real Americans.
Trump will make America great again. And put aging white men back in charge.
One of these guys came into work last night, threatening to run over protesters in Seattle if they get in his way when he's over there today. I told him nobody'd get in his way, he didn't need to worry. The only protests were a week ago, after the inauguration.
He said "There are protests every day in Seattle. People are setting fires and damaging businesses -- and the liberal Media LibTards won't cover it."
I called bullshit on this, asked him where he heard this. He said his brother lives in Seattle and sees this rioting happening EVERY DAY.
Now, Seattle-area media's pretty solid -- and I've never met a reporter who WOULDN'T cover a riot if there was one going on close by. So I don't know what to think, except that this guy's deranged. And so's his brother. Of course I could be wrong. And then I started wondering about how much I don't know and never hear....
This guy said he'd already talked to the Seattle Police about his intentions toward LibTard protesters. Well, at least the police know he's coming....
Back before the election, I had another guy come into the store late at night -- in his 60's, heavy, tired, grumpy, probably a little achey. While I was ringing up his purchase, he started announcing: "You know, Donald Trump's gonna make this country great again! He's gonna take us back to when things worked RIGHT! You know, like when kids could pray in schools!"
And I wanted to ask: What year was that? Because I started school in 1965, and we sure weren't praying then. And do you know any schoolkid who'd make a prayer any more complex than "Oh God, please let me pass this test"? Or maybe "God, please don't let me get bullied again today."
I wanted to engage with this guy, but I let it go -- because I could tell by his ANNOUNCING that he was just looking for someone to argue with.
My old roommate and I used to argue for HOURS about the world's problems, and about which political party could best help the country tackle them -- or whether either party made any difference, whether it was too late for ANYONE to rescue the country from its many difficulties.
If my old roommate could have been bothered to vote, he would have voted for Trump -- because Trump was in favor of all the things my roommate went on about: Put women back in their place (at home, in the kitchen), no more breaks for minorities and immigrants, too many people on food stamps, too many slackers getting free food and money when they've done nothing to earn it, women getting money and food stamps just for having kids, none of these slackers ever work, they should all be drug tested, etc. etc. etc.
You have no IDEA how wearying it got hearing this stuff day after day....
The guy who took me to the Tedeschi-Trucks Band concert last September (it was a present, because I notified him they were going to be back in Seattle) seemed like a rock fan just like me -- 10 years older than me, former drummer, played in bands when he was younger, partied heavily, slept around a lot, almost went to Woodstock. A big blues fan. He even still listened to Savoy Brown!
The concert was great -- but on the way home I got a 45-minute lecture about what's wrong with America and how Donald Trump's going to fix it. I didn't see this coming.
This guy was CONVINCED the Black Lives Matter people were going to kick down his door and take his guns away. SOON. And he wasn't going to let that happen -- in fact, he had a loaded pistol right there IN THE TRUCK, just in case someone messed with him.
He was POSITIVE that Trump was going to take us back to the glory days of Ronald Reagan, "back when you could feel proud to be an American." He knew Trump had the answers to all of our problems -- starting with establishing law and order above all, putting the slackers to work, and cutting off the border so those Mexicans stop taking real Americans' jobs.
I tried to be polite -- he'd taken me to the concert, and it would be an awfully long walk home. I didn't want to engage this guy, or offend him. But he kept hammering on that only the Republicans had the answers, and all the answers involved a sharp turn to the Right.
I suggested maybe if large groups of people could sit down and set aside their differences and TALK OVER our problems, maybe we could reach a consensus that would work for everyone....
"We don't have TIME for that!" he shouted. "Don't you know that blacks and Hispanics are already rioting in all the big cities...?"
Oh. I wanted to ask what happened to him -- what changed him. How he'd gone from the partying drummer who wanted to go to Woodstock, to this scared little old man who thought Black Lives Matter was going to break down his front door at any second. But I also didn't want to walk home.
We ended up shaking hands when he dropped me off, and I've only seen him a couple times since. He's had some health problems. The last time I saw him was just after the inauguration. "Trump's picks for Cabinet posts," he told me, "absolute cream of the crop. Best of the best. We are gonna get some work done."
Hey, I think a lot of things are wrong with this country. But I don't think we're going to fix it by putting guys like these in charge. Because they'll only fix it for themselves.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

More new music with no coffee!

OK, so I see that the wall Trump wants to build between us and Mexico could cost U.S. taxpayers $15 billion! You KNOW Mexico isn't going to pay for it. So if this proceeds, we'll have something ELSE in common with the Russians. Remember the Berlin Wall? There's ANOTHER country that spent billions on Protecting The Homeland and building weapons, and comparatively nothing on its people and upgrading its infrastructure.
But who cares about all that political stuff, right? On with the music!
* Gordon Giltrap: Quest, from PERILOUS JOURNEY. Pleasant, lite, bouncy guitar-based progressive-rock instrumentals. Even more than Giltrap's guitars, the star here seems to be Rod Edwards' keyboards. John G. Perry, formerly of Caravan, on bass. All-star Simon Phillips on drums. Pretty and lively. Not real distinctive. Gets mellower and more ... lyrical(?) at the end. Only Giltrap album I've heard much of is THE PEACOCK'S PARTY, which is pretty great -- but I found JOURNEY and VISIONARY dirt-cheap at Half-Price Books in Tacoma, so what the hey....
* Gordon Giltrap: The Deserter, from JOURNEY. This focuses more on Giltrap's guitar, and has a stronger tune. It's also orchestrated. Nice.
* Gordon Giltrap: "Pastoral" and "Marbio Gorge" from JOURNEY. Well, these start off pastoral. Then the instruments kick in, and "Marbio Gorge" almost rocks. Classy soundtrack music. or, as they say in England, "One for the late-night wine-and-cheese-and-good-friends crowd." Nice, though. Different. No wonder he never made it in America.
* Colosseum: Walking in the Park, from THOSE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE SALUTE YOU. Late-'60s/early-'70s jazz-rock keyboards-and-horns jam-band from England. Swinging big-band sound not too far from WATERLOO LILY-era Caravan. production's a bit primitive. They've got the energy, though. Series of brief solos from the two keyboardists, sax, and guitar. Dick Heckstall-Smith's sax stands out most. Least attractive is whoever's doing the singing.
* Colosseum: Valentyne Suite, from THOSE WHO ARE ABOUT TO.... Ok, we'll see how far I can get into this 15-minute three-part thing. Opening has nice mystical keyboards and lots of energy. This ain't no laid-back New Age stuff. More good sax from Dick Heckstall-Smith. Riffy, with lots of activity -- drums, vibes, that sax, guitar and those double keyboards, all busy doing something. Jon Hiseman's a good drummer, too. They sound way better when no one's singing. Kinda dated organ sound, but I don't care. The organ really takes off in the second part, then the heavy riffing starts. I'm reminded a bit of Caravan's "For Richard." Then Keith Emerson comes in and shows off! Shocking! These guys rock! ... Then a sorta chorale section for contrast, then more riffing. If there's gotta be jazz-rock, it should all sound like this. Then there's a mellower closing section that sounds vaguely like "A Whiter Shade of Pale".... Then a noisy ending with LOTS of sax. Not bad, could grow on me. Probably will, thanks to the heavy riffing.
-- Maggie Roche of The Roches died over the weekend. She was 65. I bought the first Roches album back in '79 -- was convinced as soon as I heard Bob Fripp's guitar in the middle of the gorgeous "Hammond Song," which Maggie wrote. Fripp's guitar was what sold me, but it's the luminous vocal harmonies that mean the most to me now. Maggie also wrote a couple other highlights on that album -- "Quitting Time" and "The Married Men." Linda Ronstadt and Pheobe Snow teamed up to sing "Married Men" on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE around the same time. Only other Roches album I heard much of was NURDS, which was pretty loopy. No suprise they never got really famous. But "Hammond Song" is amazing -- you should try to track it down.
* Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Get Your Rocks Off, from GET YOUR ROCKS OFF. Bob Dylan wrote this heavy riffer with the crude lyrics? Shocking. Sure it helped him win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Nice guitar from Mick Rogers.
* Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Buddah, from ROCKS. Dreamy verses, heavy choruses, then it gets spacey in the midsection and manfred shows off a little. What did I expect? Nice keyboard sounds. Gains momentum in the middle as it goes. OK, but somehow I expected more.
* Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Pretty Good, from ROCKS. This is a John Prine song. Nice guitar work, and a catchy chorus. Manfred messes around just a little in the middle, but overall pretty straight-forward for these guys. And the chorus'll grow on ya.
* Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Messin', from ROCKS. They sure were heavier when Mick Rogers was around. This has an ecology theme, sort of a mantra for choruses. Ten minutes of this? Time for lunch! ... The midsection starts spacey, then leads into a long Mick Rogers guitar freakout, which is worth hearing. Doubt if anybody got the ecology message -- they were probly too busy gettin' off on the heavy sounds, man.
* Argent: Lothlorien, from RING OF HANDS. Though not as great as their mantra-like "Dance in the Smoke," this has lots of excellent show-offy keyboard, and the vocals are nice. Melodic, too. I still think these guys are underrated.
* Argent: Cast Your Spell Uranus, from RING OF HANDS. Uh, er, um, hang on. I might've spoken too soon. This is just silly. Both the song and the lyrics are worthy of Klaatu. More nice keybs from Rod Argent, though.
* Argent: Celebration. More nice keyboards from Rod Argent, and a catchy chorus.
* Intergalactic Touring Band: Love Station, from their only album. Gimmicky sci-fi disco, with Ben E. King on vocals as intergalactic DJ Romeo Jones. Some nice playing, but the album package and concept is more entertaining than the music.
* Intergalactic Touring Band: A Planet Called Monday. OK, a low-rent Alan Parsons Project. Not terrible, but pretty light.
* Intergalactic Touring Band: Approach. Synergy's Larry Fast on keyboards and mellotron, backed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Cosmic enough, I guess. A real oddity. Recommended to 55-year-old STAR WARS fans.
* John Tropea: The Funk You See is the Funk You Do!, from SHORT TRIP TO SPACE. More sci-fi disco, tho way funkier. Tropea's a jazz guitarist, played on Deodato's hit "2001," among many other sessions. Starts out sounding a little like Earth, Wind and Fire, then gets lighter. Nice guitar solo. Too bad about the singing. "Can't Hide Love," which follows, was an EWF track first, and sounds just like them, I recognized it right off ... so what's the point?
* John Tropea: Short Trip to Space. This is more like it. Spacey, but bouncy, so it moves and doesn't get boring. Nice keyboards by Don Grolnick, good trumpet solo from Mike Brecker, and Tropea ain't slouchin' around either. OK background music. Yes, I admit I bought this album because of the outer-space cover....

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Truth ... or bullshit?

It can't be easy these days to be a White House reporter. It's hard enough to do the job when you work in a small town. But at the top level the pressure must be so much more intense -- either you get The Story or you could lose your job.
It must be even harder when the people you're trying to get your story from are clearly nuts.
It's one thing when the new President refuses to let a reporter ask a question and calls the reporter's news agency "fake news." It's another when the President's press secretary admonishes the media for pointing out that the crowd at the new President's inauguration was noticeably smaller than the attendance at the previous President's inauguration.
Now the new administration is trying to place a gag order on federal agencies. Staffers for the Environmental Protection Agency have been told not to express their opinions on social media -- possibly because the EPA's facing a shake-out under the new administration. Today, researchers for the Department of Agriculture were told to stop issuing news releases about any studies they're working on. A senior official with the Secret Service may face some sort of punishment for allegedly saying on Facebook that she wouldn't be willing to take a bullet for Donald Trump.
Awww, did my OPINION hurt the President's feelings?
Couldn't have. I'm not convinced that he HAS any feelings.
Here's the thing that bugs me most about our new President:
He lies. Almost every day.
He overstates. He makes claims that he knows aren't true. Constantly.
And he seems to expect that we're so dumb, or so involved with our own lives, or have such limited attention spans, that we either won't REMEMBER the facts he's distorting or we won't be bothered enough to go track them down.
Like when he said he won the election by the biggest margin in history. Just for an example.
Like when he compared the CIA releasing information -- on a dossier of compromising behavior the Russians apparently compiled about him -- to something the Nazis might have done. And then a few days later he denied that he'd said it. Apparently there's never been a rift between Trump and the intelligence agencies. That was something the media cooked up.
That media. Man, those guys are a pain in the ass.
So here's what we'll do. Anytime we don't like a question the media asks, we'll call them out as fake news. We won't take their questions. We'll have them thrown out of the press conference.
The other reporters will get the message quick. Either they play nice ... or they lose access to the White House. They won't be able to do their jobs. THAT'll shut them up. Either they'll publish the news we want ... or they'll have no news at all.
THAT'll keep 'em in line.
Cut off the media, dumb down the public, and keep that rock rolling downhill. And pretty soon we'll be getting all our "news" from the Ministry of Information.
In Newspeak.
To keep us all from thinking Unthinkable Thoughts.
That would be Double-Plus-Ungood.
I didn't vote for Trump. I voted for Hillary. I wasn't thrilled about it. But that's water under the bridge. So's the election. Hillary lost in the wrong states. Apparently.
But we've got bigger fish to fry now.
I was -- maybe until tonight -- still leaning 60/40 toward giving Trump a chance, seeing what he was going to do, seeing if he could maybe grow into the job, giving him time to mess up on his own.
I didn't watch the inauguration, but I read Trump's speech later, and heard parts of it on the radio while I was working. I read the media's analysis of the speech the same day, and was kind of shocked. Actually, I thought some of the media kind of went apeshit crazy.
Chris Matthews of MSNBC compared the speech to something Hitler might have said. George F. Will -- who's been covering politics for places like TIME Magazine for more than 40 years -- called it the worst inauguration speech in American history.
The speech was pretty short. And Trump used some fairly dark imagery in it. But he used that imagery to illustrate where he thinks America is RIGHT NOW -- NOT where he wants to take it.
I thought.
I didn't think his speech was that bad. But it wasn't an obvious attempt to unite the American people, or even to encourage us to pull together for the good of the country.
He could have done better. He could have made an appeal to the people who voted against him. He could maybe have shown he's not as bad as some people think, that people have no reason to worry. But he didn't even try.
He blew another chance at the Women's March on Washington a couple days ago. He could have embraced that huge, concerned audience. He could have said "I see you, I hear you -- and I'm with you."
But he was mending fences with the CIA at the time.
Now I read that Trump may order that border wall -- you know, the one Mexico's going to pay for -- to start construction on Wednesday. And you know who's going to pay for it -- we are.
That wall will be built for NO REASON. It will be built as a symbol. To keep illegal immigrants out so they won't take our jobs? How many of you Out There have lost your job to someone from somewhere else? Most jobs being done by immigrants are jobs Americans are either educationally unqualified for ... or jobs Americans refuse to do for less than $15 an hour. ...And by the way, where are YOU from?
Faced again with an administration that clearly feels the media is The Enemy, just like Nixon did, I hope the media will get tough, stand up for each other, hold Trump's feet to the fire, hold him accountable for everything he says. So far they've done OK. We need them to keep doing it.
It shouldn't be hard to hold him accountable. He'll say something stupid again tomorrow. Or there will be some fresh new outrage that he'll try to twist and spin to suit his own purposes.
As for me, I'd still like to see him grow into the job. Don't we all hope for the best for our country? I'm still willing to give him a chance.
But if -- no, WHEN -- he REALLY messes up, then I'll be jumping on him, just like the reporter I used to be.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday afternoon Strange Music blowout!

* Billy Cobham: Moon Germs, The Moon Ain't Made of Green Cheese, Sea of Tranquility, all from TOTAL ECLIPSE. Upbeat mid-'70s jazz-rock from the Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer and a backup band full of stars. Nice keyboards and sax, actually better when it's quieter. Reminded in places of David Sancious, Soft Machine. And Mahavishnu, or course. The sparkly parts are nice. Cobham's band included Mike Brecker on saxes, John Abercrombie on guitar. Never heard of the keyboard-player, Milcho Leviev. "Sea of Tranquility" runs almost 11 minutes and gets pretty loud. OK, not offensive -- it all moves nicely despite the lack of tunes.
-- Read at Sid Smith's POSTCARDS FROM THE YELLOW ROOM website that Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit died today. He was pretty propulsive. He really made early Can tracks like "Father Cannot Yell" and "Yoo Doo Right" MOVE. Amazing, complex, hypnotic rhythms. On some of their later stuff I get lost in the noise, but the early tracks really do it. Some of their best stuff is on their 2-disc ANTHOLOGY.
* Billy Cobham: "Last Frontier" from TOTAL ECLIPSE. Uh oh, here comes The Dreaded Drum Solo. Think I'll probably make it through this side anyway....
* Mahavishnu Orchestra: A Lotus on Irish Streams, from THE INNER MOUNTING FLAME. Always had a soft spot for these guys' softer moments. If they'd done more stuff like this, I woulda been a bigger fan.
* Mahavishnu Orchestra: Awakening, from INNER MOUNTING FLAME. And here's the big beast coming to life again, with lightning-fast runs on the guitar and torturous high-speed unison riffs. And as pretty as Jerry Goodman's viola was on the last track, here he screeches along with everybody else. The mix of Goodman and Jan Hammer's keyboards grates a bit. Then John McLaughlin comes in and out-screeches everybody, Billy Cobham thrashing all over the drum kit in the background. What are those -- 67th notes? This is played in 67/4 time. At least it's over fast.
* Brand X: Born Ugly, from UNORTHODOX BEHAVIOUR. Starts out pretty funky for a bunch of English white guys. They play the same riff over and OVER for so long that after the 97th repeat I was CONVINCED the record was stuck -- and it wasn't. Tricky. That made me laugh out loud. Nice sparkly keyboards from Robin Lumley. The drummer hardly sounds like The Phil Collins we came to know and ... uh.... Then a nice spacey, dreamy midsection. I'm actually enjoying this more than Mahavishnu. Nice guitar from John Goodsall, more blinding-fast runs. Nice unison riff at the end. Very nice. A quick eight minutes.
* Brand X: Euthanasia Waltz, from BEHAVIOUR. More sparkly keyboards, with very active drumming behind. These guys are very lively, and don't mainly seem worried about how fast they can play, like Mahavishnu did. A light touch, with varying moods on display in each song.
* Brand X: Smacks of Euphoric Hysteria, from BEHAVIOUR. Despite the title, this is a little more standard jazz-rock, though nice. Punchy bass from Percy Jones, standout guitar from John Goodsall. More sparkly, atmospheric keybs from Robin Lumley. You can tell The Phil Collins drums on this, he brings a little more attention to himself. But these guys work well together, and everybody gets a bit in the spotlight. Nicely balanced. Not worried about being pretty, not afraid to be abrasive.
* Matrix: King Weasel Stomp, from WIZARD. This is way-lighter jazz-rock, from a nine-man band with lots of horns. Very lite keyboards. OK background music, not actually that far from Brand X. In the midsection, the horns pick it up and it starts to sound like something by Maynard Ferguson. Or Chuck Mangione. Six horn players, no guitar. But ... not bad. Hmmm.
* Peter Bardens: The Answer, from THE ANSWER. Nice dreamy keyboards lead into some hot guitar allegedly played by Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green under a pseudonym. Then some maybe-too-passionate over-the-top vocals that certainly aren't by Bardens -- he was much more laid-back than this. He might be doing the murmured backing vocal. The words mean nothing. This was done back around 1970, before Bardens helped form Camel.
* Peter Bardens: I Don't Want to Go Home, from THE ANSWER. More nice guitar, some pretty good flute, laid-back vocal, later a girlie chorus joins in on the vocals. The guitar's pretty good, I don't hear much of Bardens' keyboards on this, though there is a LONG flute break -- which made The Girlfriend's dog howl. The singing pretty much sucks.
* Renaissance: Jekyll and Hyde, from AZURE D'OR. The Return of Really Bad Prog? This is too streamlined, there's no contrast between the verses and choruses, they relied too much on Annie Haslam's vocals to carry the song. It sounds like they're rushing it, caught up in the New Wave. Where's their sense of drama? First time I've heard this since about 1979....
* Renaissance: Forever Changing, from AZURE D'OR. Co-written by drummer Terry Sullivan. This is actually pretty, though it's way lower-key than they usually were.
* Renaissance: The Flood at Lyons, from AZURE D'OR. The Big Finish? Starts off all complicated like Gentle Giant. Then Annie Haslam's voice used for color. If the keyboards had more depth, the choruses might have a little majesty to them. Then back to the jumpy verses. Doesn't build much, because the production has nowhere else to go. Was any band ever LESS prepared for the invasion of the barbarians?
* Mott the Hoople: Death May be Your Santa Claus, from BRAIN CAPERS. OK, this keeps trying to turn into Kiss's "Rock and Roll All Nite." Guy Stevens' production is muddy, but the choruses are kinda funny. There might be some cool things going on here, but the sound's so bass-heavy, how can you tell? Some nice keybs from Ian Hunter, but that Kiss hook keeps coming through....
* Mott the Hoople: Your Own Back Yard, from BRAIN CAPERS. Dion's anti-addiction song. Moving, but it would help if the production was clearer, so I could actually HEAR what all's going on....
* Dory Previn: Lady With a Braid, from MYTHICAL KINGS AND IGUANAS. Sounds a little like Janis Ian.... Pretty direct-though-light seduction song. Produced by Nik Venet, who allegedly produced the first few Beach Boys singles, among other things.
* Dory Previn: Her Mother's Daughter, from MYTHICAL KINGS. Now THIS is twisted.
* Curved Air: Vivaldi, from LIVE. Genuinely noisy. You should check it out if you like screechy violins. But it got the crowd off. Sonja Kristina's bluesy voice comes in about halfway through. I've never liked her much. Not sure a blues singer actually works in this arty context. Then some noise from my hero Francis Monkman's synthesizers. This is weird -- Sky does a superior version of this piece with no violins, and Monkman plays on that. But he started out here. Ferociously fast in places. Then it gets faster. More Really Bad Prog. I've yet to hear one good song by Curved Air. Heard they were popular back in the day....
* Kayak: Turn the Tide, from STARLIGHT DANCER. Pleasant, almost straight pop. Sounds vaguely like 1978-era Genesis. Some mildly arty lite keyboards. Attempt at a hit single?
* Kayak: Irene, from STARLIGHT DANCER. Instrumental. Lightly pretty. A little nice guitar toward the end, but still. Very light background music.
* Jade Warrior: WAVES. Two full sides of mostly VERY mellow flute and guitar music, with fake environmental sounds (instrumentally-imitated whale songs, etc). A low-key vocal or two by Steve Winwood. Gets funky near the end of Side 2, then drifts off. Very pleasant and enjoyable mood music, but not high-energy.
* Flash: Lifetime, from IN THE CAN. Instrumentally, sounds very much like early Yes, where lead guitarist Peter Banks came from. Lead singer Colin Carter's voice is lower and gruffer than Yes's Jon Anderson. Some nice guitar work, as you might expect. Not bad. Keep hearing sections that tune-wise and development-wise remind me of Yes's general sound. Might be more impressive if this album-opening track didn't last 10 minutes.
* Flash: Monday Morning Eyes, from IN THE CAN. Shorter, at least, and not so Yes-like. OK, but not distinctive. Forgettable. Ends abruptly.
* Synergy: On Presuming to be Modern, from CORDS. Ice-cold synthesizer tones from keyboard whiz Larry Fast. Like looking out over a glacial landscape.... Nice, dramatic pounding-drums ending.
* Synergy: Phobos and Deimos Go to Mars, from CORDS. More fun.... Rather bouncy, with bits of a nice tune.
* Synergy: Sketches of Mythical Beasts, from CORDS. This is kind of icy and gothic. Synergy usually features synthesizer works that are actual TUNES. I especially recommend "Warriors" on ELECTRONIC REALIZATIONS FOR ROCK ORCHESTRA, and "S-Scape" and "Classical Gas" on SEQUENCER.
* Synergy: "Disruption in World Communications," from CORDS. This is tricky and sneaky, and mildly annoying. But at least there's more going on here than icy musical landscapes. Has a vaguely Middle-Eastern tune buried among the shrieking keyboards....
* Synergy: On Presuming to be Modern II, from CORDS. And I just sat through an entire side. Fairly melodic. Been awhile since I'd heard any of Mr. Fast's work. This is not bad, if you're into synthesized stuff.

Friday, January 20, 2017

"Overnight Sensation"

There I was, 15-year-old me, knocking on 15-year-old Debbie's front door again for my 18-year-old brother Jay. Making sure it was "safe" so Jay and Debbie could get together.
I hated this, and it had gone wrong before. One night Debbie had invited Jay over to her house, and instead her father had answered the door when I knocked.
"Who the hell are YOU?" he grumbled.
"Is Debbie here?" I asked shakily.
"Get off my porch you fuckin' long-haired little SHIT!" he roared.
"I'm sorry," I said, always polite. "I must have the wrong house." And I freakin' disappeared.
But this night it was safe. We'd scoped the house out for 15 minutes just to make sure there were no parents lurking. Debbie answered the door. "It's OK, come on in," she said, and I turned and waved at Jay to come inside.
Debbie was babysitting some toddler who'd already been put to bed. Debbie was trying to relax -- the smell of pot was in the air.
I didn't like Debbie, but that was OK because she didn't like me either. She just wanted to see Jay, and I understood that. I was the third wheel here for other reasons.
Lots of girls liked Jay, and even an antisocial virginal dummy like me could figure out why. With his long wavy black hair reaching down below his shoulders, his big virile nose, the pack of Marlboros rolled up in his black short-sleeve T-shirt, leaning back against his black '62 Impala SS with the big wide tires on the back ... LOTS of girls fell in love as soon as they saw him. His appearance just screamed BAD BOY. I got that.
Debbie had been one of them. Debbie had long wiry brown hair and was a little big on top. She'd been in some sort of accident that messed up her neck, and she'd had to wear some kind of complicated neck brace for awhile -- and she was grateful that "the cage" didn't keep Jay from talking with her. Though I'm not sure how long they talked. I was the guy who got tossed out of the car whenever they wanted to "talk."
The cage was gone now. But the only time I saw Debbie was when she wanted to pass on the message that she wanted to see Jay -- that her folks would be gone or that she was babysitting somewhere else and she hoped he'd come over. I hated being the go-between for them. And it got to the point where if I ran into her in the crowded hallways at school, I wouldn't meet her eyes, I'd just keep walking. And I'd hear her yell "STUCK UP!" from somewhere behind me.
The only time Jay would see Debbie was when we had no gas money for the Impala and there was nowhere else to go.
That's why I was there. While Jay and Debbie were kissing or Whatever back in the bedroom, I'd be ransacking the rest of the house. Under orders from my brother.
I received these orders early. The first time he and Debbie got together while she was babysitting and started breathing heavily and grabbing at each other, then disappeared to the bedroom, I LEFT. Twenty minutes later, Jay appeared at the front porch at our house, where I was waiting, not wanting to go back inside and face our parents without him.
"Man, don't DO that anymore," he said. "Don't leave me ALONE with her like that."
I started laughing. "Why not?" I asked. "You didn't seem to be in any trouble."
"But man, I WAS," he said. "She wanted to FUCK! ... But I figure while I'm busy with her, you can dig around in stuff, maybe find us some money or something we could sell."
Jay was always desperate for money to fill the gas tank. So if I wanted to go cruising with him, I had to help find ways to put gas in the car. And I didn't have a job. I was still in 10th grade.
So since then, I'd been helping Jay steal gas cans, and looking through cabinets and drawers in the houses where Debbie baby-sat. I'd found a few dollars and some small change, nothing too big. And nobody ever complained about stuff being taken. At least that we heard about.
On this night, Jay and Debbie vanished almost immediately, so I started snooping. I found a few dollars rolled up in one drawer, and some pocket change inside an old incense burner. There wasn't much else, so I started looking at their album collection. The full catalog of Moody Blues albums, a few records by Spooky Tooth (knew nothing about them), some Jefferson Airplane, some Allman Brothers, the Beatles of course.
By this point, I felt kind of distracted, a little airy. I wondered if it was caused by the leftover pot fumes in the air. I wasn't happy to be there, and I was nervous about Debbie's folks coming home unexpectedly -- but suddenly I was relaxed and nothing seemed to matter too much. Strange -- pot had only given me a headache before.
The radio was playing, Casey Kasem's "American Top 40." The Raspberries' great "Overnight Sensation" was playing at Number 29 -- I was confident it'd sell millions. It was the best thing I'd heard in ages. How could it miss?
I drifted into the kitchen, started looking for snacks. Was it The Munchies? Started opening cabinets. Didn't find much. What, no snacks here? These people only eat Real Food?
Jay and Debbie reappeared at some point, quicker than I expected. Jay sat in the living room where I'd found the cash, and lit up a cigarette. I was still looking through cabinets.
Slowly, Debbie crept up behind me and put her arms around my waist. I REALLY hadn't expected THIS.
"Hello," I said falteringly.
"HI," she said warmly. "How are YOU doing out here?"
"Uh ... I'm kind of woozy. Really relaxed, you know? Not quite here."
Debbie laughed. "Could be the pot. You ever been high before? Could be a contact high."
"He usually doesn't toke," Jay told her.
The music was still playing, something else now. I couldn't focus on it. Debbie was swaying against me now, in time with the music. I liked it, even though it was Debbie. I turned to face her. Her arms were still around me.
"That's nice," I said.
"...You know what, you're a LOT NICER when you're stoned," she said. "...Do you want to come to the bedroom with me?"
"What?" I asked. I could NOT be hearing this.
"Do you want to come to the bedroom with me?" she repeated. "I think you might be a lot of fun."
"You SHOULD, man," Jay said helpfully. "It's pretty good." That must have made Debbie happy.
I did think about it for a second. But I'd never been anywhere NEAR bed. I had no idea what to do, what to expect. And I was pretty sure Debbie DID.
"...Uh... I don't really think I could HANDLE that right now...," I murmured, sort of drifting away from all this.
"That's too bad," she said. "Because I think you're really nice right now...."
I was still drifting. But I knew how I felt about Debbie. I still didn't like her.
"...But you're still a slut," I murmured.
"What?" she said, as if from a thousand miles away. She turned to Jay. "Do you think he meant that?"
"Probably not," Jay said. "You said yourself he's stoned. Look at him. He doesn't even know where he's at right now."
Debbie kept her arms around my waist until Jay finished his smoke, then pulled her away for a return trip to the bedroom.
I went and sat in the living room, the radio still playing, I couldn't tell what. I thought about what she'd offered, and I knew I wasn't ready for it. I hadn't even kissed a girl yet. I had NO IDEA what would happen if I went to the bedroom with Debbie, and it scared me. Besides, what if Something Happened and Debbie got pregnant? I knew she'd never blame Jay, and I didn't want to be the fall-guy for any accidents.
I don't think the idea of following my brother yet again ever occurred to me. It was buried by the idea that a girl -- no matter how stoned -- had said I was nice and expressed an interest in going to bed with me. That was an absolute first.
But I was certain that if I was ever going to go to bed with a girl, I wanted it to be someone I was in love with, someone I cared about -- not someone I could barely stand to see
After about half an hour, Jay reappeared and we left. On the walk home, Jay asked me "Were you really that stoned?" I didn't know. But it wore off after we left Debbie's house. And Debbie never got close to me again. And I didn't mind.
It was more than two years later before any other girl got that close.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The mission continues

Another wonderful weekend. On Monday, took all the music I was bored with and all the books I'm fed up with or will never finish reading (have a real attention-span problem with fiction right now) to Half-Price Books in Tacoma and turned it all in for cash. There wasn't actually that much to turn in, just a box-full, hardly anything compared to previous trips. And though the place was jammed -- everybody in town seemed to have the same idea, and the buy-counter was piled high with trade-ins -- it was worth the trip. Even found half a dozen good cheap vinyl albums in Half-Price's $1-or-less Clearance bin. There are some real bargains in there, if you don't mind digging and maybe getting a little dirty. However, the pickin's in the full-price music bins were kinda thin....
Then took the cash to Tacoma's Hi-Voltage Records, still my favorite record store despite their occasionally OUTRAGEOUS prices. They hadn't updated their bargain bin since the last time we were there (a week ago) -- but out in the big (and expensive) vinyl room, they had several boxes full of $3 jazz albums, and I found a few spacey things in there -- Return to Forever, Stomu Yamashta, etc.
After that, started going through the expensive-vinyl bins, which I still haven't picked clean of stuff I can afford. But the PRICES! FIFTY BUCKS for a vinyl copy of Miles Davis's LIVE EVIL?! Man, is someone gonna be disappointed. $30 for Miles's ON THE CORNER? Sure it was ahead of its time, but.... I also discovered that if I ever want to pay off the mortgage, copies of Gryphon's five imported albums run from $25 to $35. But I'm not giving mine up.
(One of the guys at Hi-Voltage's competitor a mile down the street, Golden Oldies, agreed that Hi's prices are sometimes off the charts, but he added that "If you're looking for something a little off-the-wall, there's a pretty good chance that you'll find it there." "But at what scary price?" I asked. Golden Oldies has VERY reasonable prices ... but you can browse through everything in the store in 15 minutes or less.)
Did find a few things. First two Byrds albums packaged together for $13 -- a bargain, considering they were selling separately for $15 each. First two Kansas albums cheap. Argent's first. Couple Anthony Phillips solo albums (early guitarist for Genesis). Journey's DREAM AFTER DREAM, Kayak's STARLIGHT DANCER, Jethro Tull's BROADSWORD AND THE BEAST, The Nice's ARS LONGA VITA BREVIS. Renaissance's AZURE D'OR for less than $6. (Really Bad Prog will be making its return soon.)
On the way home, listened to a blues album The Girlfriend found -- Bob Margolin's DOWN IN THE ALLEY. Some pretty rockin' stuff on there, with excellent guitar and piano work: "Boogie at Midnight" is straight out of the '50s, "Tough Times" is funny, "While You're Down There" is mildly raunchy and funny, and maybe best of all "Boston Driving Blues," which is about how tough you have to be to drive in Boston. Hilarious. I don't remember "All Blues" ever playing THAT.
After getting back home (and much of Tuesday), put some of this new stuff on the stereo. Argent's "Dance in the Smoke" is pretty freaking awesome, with a great build-up. It was so good I played it a couple more times over the evening. Best new music I've heard recently. Their "Liar" isn't too far off from Three Dog Night's cover version, either. I continue to think these guys were underrated.
Anthony Phillips's work on THE GEESE AND THE GHOST and PRIVATE PARTS AND PIECES seems to be mostly low-key guitar works, pleasant but very quiet. I had hopes for a piece called "Tibetan Yak-Music," but it turned out to be a 12-string showcase, pretty and very inoffensive. Nice background music.
The Byrds' "The World Turns All Around Her" still sounds great, and I tried a few other things I hadn't heard before -- "Oh Susanna" is kinda funny, and "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe" is fun (all the hardships you go through just make you prettier, gorgeous). But I couldn't take "We'll Meet Again" -- had to put on The Turtles' version right afterward to wash the Byrds' downbeat version away.
The first side of Genesis's NURSERY CRYME is pretty cool -- Peter Gabriel makes a good Creepy Old Man in "The Musical Box." "Return of the Giant Hogweed" is also fun -- but they were very show-offy here. I was also surprised by how clear the production was. Much less muddy than I expected. Wonder what happened on FOXTROT?
Continuing with Peter Gabriel, both "D.I.Y." and "On the Air" from PG2 are interesting -- what surprised me most on these PG tracks was I didn't mind his voice. Maybe I'm getting over it, finally.
For contrast, turned to two tracks from Genesis's ABACAB -- "Like it or Not" and "Keep it Dark," which I hadn't heard in awhile. "Like it or Not" now sounds like a blueprint for Phil Collins's whole solo career -- strange that bassist Mike Rutherford wrote it....
Then turned to Jethro Tull. The Girlfriend has a block about Tull almost as big as her block with The Beatles. But she survived "the good parts version" of SONGS FROM THE WOOD (title song, "Ring Out Solstice Bells," "The Whistler," "Fire at Midnight" and -- yes, for contrast -- "Pibroch") edited by yours truly, and she didn't complain when I followed it up with Side 2 of MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY. Of course she was blogging and maybe a little distracted by then....
I finished off with Tangerine Dream's "Monolight" from ENCORE -- still sounds great. I gotta get some more of their stuff....
(On a previous trip to Hi-Voltage, found a two-CD best-of by English folkie John Martyn -- SWEET LITTLE MYSTERIES -- that was worth $12. Despite that he was an old buddy of Nick Drake's, I'd never heard Martyn before. "May You Never" and "Solid Air" are especially nice, I like his smokey voice and sometimes-slurred vocals, and there's a nice long guitar instrumental, "Glistening Glyndebourne." There is also more nice vocal stuff that may take more listenings. Some of the later stuff gets so jazzy it almost loses form, and by the time I got to the title song, I thought John could fit in on '80s adult-contemporary radio....)
Of course, all this listening is going toward finishing that Strange Music book I've been writing in my head for 20-some years. More updates will be coming in the near-future.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The return of Really Bad Prog

...with no coffee!
- Gentle Giant: "Words From the Wise" from GIANT FOR A DAY. Wow, really bouncy upbeat Gregorian-chant-style vocal rocker like they often did, but lots more energetic. I don't remember this being so shiny and energetic back in the day. or is it the lack of coffee? This is a little too upbeat for waking-up music, but it will bring some life into the room. When this came out back in '78, me and my old buddy Don Vincent thought it was the worst Prog album ever. Little did we know there would be much worse in the future.
- Gentle Giant: "Thank You" from ...FOR A DAY. Now this is clearly an effort to go "more commercial." This is just a straight love ballad that could have fit right in on late-'70s radio. Pretty simple. No tricks. OK for what it is, but kinda dull. Lotsa mellow acoustic-guitar strumming and good(?) vibes.
- Gentle Giant: "Giant for a Day." Annoying, New-Wave-style solo-vocal opening, followed by trebly guitar and electronics. They were listening to too many skinny-tie British bands. Or maybe too much Devo. But some playful bits in the midsection. Signs of too much coffee consumption. Mechanical.
- Gentle Giant: "Spooky Boogie" from DAY. Mildly tricky instrumental, sounds like Halloween soundtrack music. Split Enz did stuff like this later. OK, but way down from what these guys could do at their best. Why does trying to reach a bigger audience automatically mean you have to dumb things down and simplify everything? At least it's short.
- Gentle Giant: "Take Me" from DAY. Another mellow love song, with possibly the best construction and catchiest choruses on the whole side. Not Prog, but pleasant enough. Over quickly. A pretty fast side.
- Barclay James Harvest: "Song for the Children" from TIME HONOURED GHOSTS. Nice sparkly guitar and OK group vocals, but kinda anonymous. Where's the mellotron?
- Barclay James Harvest: "Moongirl" from GHOSTS. This sounds more like BJH, there's more keyboards and it has a dreamy, drifty sound. Still pretty anonymous. Could be anyone. Prog background music.
- BJH: "Titles" from GHOSTS. Now this is something different -- a sludgy ballad with a bunch of Beatles song-titles strung together for lyrics! Brilliant! But not very inspired. Musically limp.
- Jethro Tull: "Crossfire" from A. Didn't Tull take kind of a beating for dropping their folky approach and trying to streamline with the New-Wave times? This isn't too far off from their previous stuff, with Eddie Jobson's keyboard twinklings here and there and Ian Anderson's usual flute accents. It's maybe a little quicker, wastes no time.
- Jethro Tull: "Flyingdale Flyer" from A. OK, maybe they got whacked for the over-reliance on keyboards and electronics. This still sounds pretty straightforward and streamlined. It's maybe missing the tricky little intricacies of earlier Tull. But not bad.
- Jethro Tull: "Working John, Working Joe" from A. This seems to be a critique of business conditions in England at the time. Hmmm. Thank Ghod for the riffing guitar and mildly catchy choruses.
- Jethro Tull: "Black Sunday" from A. Opens with icy synthesizer straight out of Tull's STORMWATCH album, provided by Eddie Jobson. Then straight into a jumpy jig. Then fast, wordy verses. Pretty proggy. Nice keybs-and-guitar midsection. Ian joins in on flute later. This song also seems to be about too much work and too much travel. Too much stress from modern life. Been too long on the road.... Overall, a pretty fast and mildly enjoyable side, if a bit jumpy in places....
- Yes: "Release, Release" from TORMATO. Good Lord, haven't heard this in years. Opens with some rather nice, jagged Steve Howe guitar. Then more simplistic rocking -- though at high speed. Jon Anderson slams in a bunch of wordy lyrics. Another band listening to too much New Wave. Too fast. LOTS going on here. Then a drum solo, with crowd noises. Faster! Too much coffee! Where'd that cheezy organ sound come from? Yeezus, what a whirlwind. These boys need to calm DOWN.
- Yes: "Madrigal" from TORMATO. Well, at least this is CALMER. This is almost TOO sweet. Rick Wakeman could almost be playing that harpsichord in your drawing room. Very delicate acoustic guitar from Steve Howe. The lyrics don't match the setting: "Celestial travelers have always been here with us...."
- Yes: "Onward" from TORMATO. Comparatively simple, tranquil mood music. In this setting, a pretty, direct love song. Pleasant, but not stunning.
- Yes: "On the Silent Wings of Freedom" from TORMATO. This is more like it. Nice long opening with spacey guitar, keyboards and bass. Inventive guitar in the verses. It's actually too bad Jon Anderson has to sing, 'cos there's some interesting playing going on. It gets much more rushed later, back into that too-much-coffee feeling, just before closing abruptly. Makes for a quick almost-8-minutes. Couple more pieces like this, and this album wouldn't have been a waste.
- Klaatu: "The Loneliest of Creatures" from HOPE. Who ARE these gremlins? Not sure why John, Paul, George and Ringo allowed their voices to be all squinched-up like this, but this sounds a lot more like Queen. A LOT. Mildly funny. Kind of operatic and overbearing. And then it gets worse.
- Klaatu: "Prelude" from HOPE. Now this really DOES sound like Queen. A kind of overbearing symphony with added electric guitar and keyboards. Seems a good time to get another cup of coffee.
- Klaatu: "So Said the Lighthouse Keeper" from HOPE. Wow, it's Coheed and Cambria! Enough.
- Klaatu" We're Off You Know" from HOPE. Still sounds like The Beatles Meet Queen. With a weaker singer. Pretty clear, solid production for the time. You can hear the orchestra and horns clear as a bell. But cleverness isn't enough.
- Triumvirat: "The Capital of Power" from SPARTACUS. Very ELP-ish, though simpler and not as ... uh ... bombastic(?). Pleasant, almost catchy.
- Triumvirat: "The School of Instant Pain" from SPARTACUS. OK, ELP-lite. They could almost pass for the original if Greg Lake were singing. But bassist Helmut Kollen doesn't have Lake's declaiming vocal style quite down. Keyboardist Jurgen Fritz does have a lot of Keith Emerson's mannerisms, though. His keyboards are the best part of this show. Uh oh, then comes The Dreaded Drum Solo.... OK lite cheezy fun.
- Steve Hillage: "Lunar Musick Suite" from L. Who is this long-haired hippy? This is not at ALL the spacey cosmick guitar stuff I expected. Ferociously fast and loud. John Wilcox of Utopia hammering away on the drums. Then it slows down.... OK, even I have limits.
- Steve Hillage: "Hurdy Gurdy Glissando" from L. THIS is the spacey stuff I expected. Nice squiggly keyboards. Weedy vocals. Wilcox again impressive on drums. And if you think I'm gonna play Hillage's version of Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man," you're wrong. I can barely stand the original. ...This almost sounds like Gong. Is Daevid Allen on here somewhere?
- Starcastle: "Fountains" from FOUNTAINS OF LIGHT. Now we have Yes-lite. Nice airy keyboards. Light vocals. Ten minutes of this? They need to punch it up. This sounds rather ornately pretty, and the words mean Nothing. The billowy nature-centered lyrics could almost be a takeoff from Yes's "Roundabout." Still waiting for them to punch it up....

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Look into the future

Not sure how much longer I'll be doing this. Not sure how much longer they'll LET me do it. I already know they're watching me. The couple in the apartment next door are spies, and I'm sure they've been using their bugging equipment on us.
I'm allowed to review Strange Music and books from the old days, but nothing TOO far-out. And I'm absolutely not allowed to criticize the government. That kind of mouthing-off is Not Approved under the new regime. Gotta keep my head down or they'll haul me off to a work camp.
Things keep getting weirder, as if they weren't weird enough already. The Homeland Security guys in the big black trucks came around last week issuing our new Official Uniform, the black pajamas -- two pairs each for me and the Mrs. It was Strongly Suggested that we start wearing the black PJ's at all times -- not just when we're out in public or going to work. We're supposed to lounge in them, sleep in them, do the gardening in them. We're never supposed to take them off. Except for the mandated one shower per week. Taking more than one shower per week is verboten. That'll get you hauled off to a work camp quicker than you can say "Clean Air Act." Water conservation measures are now fully in force. Along with all our other conservation measures.
Like conserving gasoline so the military can use it.
They came and hauled away our cars a couple of weeks ago. Since there's no gas legally for sale anywhere anymore, there's no need for cars. They'll be crushed and recycled and turned into weapons for our military to use in our ongoing struggle against our enemies.
Instead, the Mrs. and I have been issued bicycles. Not fancy 24-speed bicycles. These look like something out of the 1950's. Basic black, one speed. And they all look the same -- kind of grimy and oily.
And I imagine I look kind of grimy and oily as I peddle the bike to my job, five miles into town in my black PJ's and sandals, even in the winter. Not even allowed an overcoat -- those went to the Army, and they'd detract from the "uniform." Peddle faster, citizen, it'll help keep you warm.
I have a new job now. I work at the local office of the Ministry Of Information. The job's not bad. I take news released by official sources and censor it appropriately for my area. Uh, scratch that -- make sure it's acceptable doctrine-wise to release to my fellow citizens. That means heavily editing any news coming in from Europe or Asia -- places where they still have a free press. Any criticisms of Our Beloved Leader are of course immediately eliminated.
This is a tough job to have. Holding it means that I already know a lot more about what's Really Going On than most citizens. Which is why they now watch me more closely.
For instance, I know our former friendly neighbors up in Canada have almost finished building THEIR wall -- to keep US OUT.
I know that all minorities have either been deported or executed. Millions of them. Dissidents and artists have been sent to work camps in the Rockies and the desert Southwest. Drug addicts have been executed, sent to camps, or left to die on the street.
I know our war in the Middle East is dragging on endlessly. But by next week we could be at war with Russia. Again. We continue to drop bombs and make drone attacks on all the people we don't like.
But most of my fellow citizens don't want to hear about this stuff anyway. They're too busy trying to keep their heads down, act like they're working hard, and praying that they won't get sent to a work camp.
It's hard to remember that this is what most of us seemed to want -- more or less. This is what millions of us voted for. Back when we could vote. This is what we chose.
But we don't remind each other of that. The constant surveillance would pick it up. They are everywhere, always watching.
There are no "people of color" anymore. All I see now at my job or in the streets are white faces -- washed-out white faces. Some of them are almost gray, beaten down with the shock of the many changes over the last couple years. The changes never stop, and each new change is worse than the last. And gray goes better with the black pajamas than the ghostly white of too many shocks.
There are many things I miss. I'll miss wearing a pair of comfy worn-in blue jeans to work, and lounging in my sweats at home.
There's no more radio, so I can't even complain about how bad recent music was. I also can't hear my favorite blues show on the weekends.
There's no more TV. Those 600 cable channels have all been eliminated by the government, and now there's only one channel, UTV -- Universal Television, broadcasting only what the government wants you to know.
I can still play my Strange Music at home, quietly, but I've already started hiding it. All my weird music is stashed in a cubby-hole under the stairs, and my books are hidden in a back closet. Because I think someday those big black trucks are gonna come back to confiscate all that stuff. And I'd like to be able to hold onto it for a few minutes longer. Before they send me to a work camp or shoot me.
I guess there are good things about our new lives. There are no traffic jams anymore, because there are no cars. Though I bet the bicycles get snarled up in something like traffic jams in the big cities.
Everybody's more physically fit now, because you have to walk or ride a bike to get anywhere.
Law and order prevails over all -- because every couple hundred yards there's a police kiosk with an officer inside. And he's armed with a pistol and a rifle in case of any disturbance.
Nobody's hungry anymore. The big black trucks swing by every week with a box full of food rations. You never know what you're gonna get, and it may be far from what you'd like -- but you won't starve.
Things run smoothly, the days are orderly, people are productive, everybody has a sense of purpose and urgency. Though they may just be urgent about covering their asses so they don't get shipped off to a camp in a big black truck.
I don't have friends anymore. You never know who might turn you in for mumbling some Unthinkable Thought under your breath during times of stress. It's just me and the Mrs. now, and that's more than enough for me. Times are too strange to expect much more.
There are probably many good things about this new regime. We're never hungry, we're never cold, we both have jobs. We never worry if we're going to have enough to eat or if the bills are going to get paid on time.
And if we both keep our noses clean, that should continue.
But it sure is quiet around here.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

More Strange Music with no coffee!

OK, you know the scam by now. Let's roll.
* King Crimson: "Cirkus" from LIZARD. Starting slowly and delicately this morning because that's how I'm feeling. Then an overbearing blast from Slash Fripp's guitar! So much for waking up with light mood music. This isn't bad -- some nice sax from Mel Collins and the usual fake-Moody-Blues mellotron. This wouldn't be out of place on KC's first album, especially Fripp's ominous guitar. And intresting how singer Gordon Haskell doesn't sound that different from original singer Greg Lake. The least attractive part of this is Fripp's intrusive, brooding guitar -- which makes it sound like Crimson, of course. Collins's sax is pretty great -- he always is.
* King Crimson: "Indoor Games" from LIZARD. This is fairly twisted lyrically, with some more nice gruff sax from Mel Collins, and Fripp on some nice acoustic guitar -- who knew he had that up his sleeve? And it still sounds like early Crimson, no matter who's in the band. Nice intertwining saxes later.
* Spirit: "Silky Sam" from THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER. Nice moody verses with Jay Ferguson's usual character-sketch lyrics. Comedy-sketch mid-section with the band playing poker. Airy wordless vocalizing on the "choruses." OK, different.
* Spirit: "Drunkard" from THE FAMILY. Interesting vocals-and-strings production, maybe a takeoff on "Eleanor Rigby"? Jazzy, ahead-of-its-time production from Lou Adler. Downbeat lyrics, trippy.
* Spirit: "Darlin' If" from FAMILY. Downbeat love ballad by Ferguson and guitarist Randy California, starts quietly and builds in instrumentation and power as it goes. These guys were definitely up to something different.
* Spirit: "Jewish" from FAMILY. Sung in Yiddish, it seems. Was California Jewish? I have no idea what this is about. Nice spacey guitar.
* Spirit: "It's All the Same" from FAMILY. OK piano-guitar-vocals mood-music. With a drum solo. It's a cloudy, rainy day here after a week-plus of freezing weather. 40 degrees and rain seems like a relief. In the past couple days I've been trying to read Professor Bill Martin's LISTENING TO THE FUTURE, another sorta history of progressive rock by the guy who took Yes WAY too seriously in his book THE MUSIC OF YES that I couldn't finish and didn't quite review awhile back. LISTENING is 300 pages long, but Martin's 70 pages in before he says he wants to start writing about prog -- up 'til then he's too busy organizing and sorting and setting his boundaries. And looking over his shoulder. Then he takes on rock critics. He's halfway through the book before he starts on a chronological look at prog from 1968 to 1978. Even then, he doesn't look very deeply. He keeps spelling Procol Harum wrong. He doesn't go too deep into COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING -- he doesn't even mention that two tracks sound like a heavier Moody Blues. And his look at Caravan's 23-minute epic "Nine Feet Underground" convinces me that he wasn't listening too closely. I think Martin was impressed by prog and wanted to write something about it, but couldn't leave his scholarly outlook behind. And my mind is wandering....
* Spirit: "A Dream Within a Dream" from FAMILY. Spacey lyrics with good group vocals, loud guitar and some impact. Sounds kind of like a heavier Turtles.
* Spirit: "She Smiles" from FAMILY. Nice group vocals. Another Ferguson character sketch. A lot of this stuff is more like song fragments.
* Spirit: "Aren't You Glad?" from FAMILY. Already knew this one, from their BEST OF. Nice, extended, leisurely, sort of an exhausted kiss-off to the Summer of Love. Nice group vocals and good screechy guitar from California.
* Be-Bop Deluxe: "Stage Whispers" from FUTURAMA. Ferocious, blistering attack of overdubbed guitars! Galloping tempos! Lightning-fast changes and shifts! The whole band's on uppers! There's too much going on here! Where's the coffee??? Then it slows down into a mere flamenco....
* Be-Bop Deluxe: "Maid in Heaven" from FUTURAMA. This is more like it. Dazzling guitar runs with actual verses and just enough happening that you can actually keep up with it. Could have been a hit. And it's over way too fast.
* Be-Bop Deluxe: "Sister Seagull" from FUTURAMA. Remember this from the opening guitar riff. Nice, but is Bill Nelson singing through a megaphone, or what? Could have gone on longer....
* Be-Bop Deluxe: "Sound Track" from FUTURAMA. I actually enjoy these guys, when I can get past Nelson's voice.... And he sure is some flash on guitar.... This is OK, there's a lot of noise and drama, but it doesn't go much of anywhere....
* Be-Bop Deluxe: "Swan Song" from FUTURAMA. Nice fanfare, and a lot going on here, what with the mellotron and the phased, jet-plane-inspired guitar flights. Pretty melodramatic, all the way to the cut-off ending. But not one of their best moments.
* Be-Bop Deluxe: "Modern Music" suite from MODERN MUSIC. Very conceptual. Bill tunes-in his radio to get to his melodic guitar music. Some of what's on his radio are other Be-Bop tunes, like "Sister Seagull." This plays up his more lyrical side -- Ghod knows he needed to calm down a little. Some nice flashy guitar work in the section called "Dance of the Uncle Sam Humanoids" -- a title Donald Trump might get a laugh out of -- but the rest is pretty quick and weightless. Though occasionally charming. Maybe too many little pieces.
* Nektar: "Marvellous Moses" from RECYCLED. This is certainly lighter than I expected -- especially since the track that follows is the cosmically heavy "It's All Over," the best thing these guys ever did -- though it picks up weight and speed later on.
* Nektar: "It's All Over" from RECYCLED. Yes! They should always have sounded this good, especially on the second keyboard solo. Turn it up LOUD!
* Led Zeppelin: "Hey Hey What Can I Do?" from THE NEW AGE OF ATLANTIC. Seattle's classic-rock station KZOK has been playing this a lot lately. To me it sounds like a sort-of dry-run for "Stairway," and I love the choruses. I guess this was a rare B-side...? Zep coulda gone mostly-acoustic and pulled it off just fine.... The older I get, the better they sound.
* Journey: "Spaceman/People/Anyway/You're On Your Own" from NEXT, LOOK INTO THE FUTURE and IN THE BEGINNING. This was the early, pre-Steve-Perry jazz-rock version of Journey, with Gregg Rolie's laid-back vocals and Neal Schon's sometimes languid, sometimes crazed guitar. I think these four songs make a good listenable side, though I barely remember "Anyway," the closest thing here to a standard pop song. "Spaceman" is mildly spacey, with amusing lyrics and great jagged guitar after the choruses. "People" is smooth and moody. "You're On Your Own" has an almost-annoying, whiny Rolie vocal but still closes the side with some energy. Odd how they couldn't make any money from this stuff. It seemed like the right time....
* Herbie Hancock: HEAD HUNTERS. This is probably too funky for a dumb white kid from Idaho, but I like the airyness of it and Hancock's squiggly keyboards. And Bennie Maupin is impressive on flutes and saxes. Not too far from later Miles Davis, though it probably won't replace my copy of IN A SILENT WAY....

Friday, January 6, 2017

Nostalgia radio

Don't think I've written about this yet. Way back in the mid-1980's, when I was assigned as a base newspaper reporter at Francis E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I got my only in-depth look behind the scenes at how a radio station works. Though it wasn't quite the romantic, idealized, high-tech vision I'd always had, it was still pretty cool.
This peek behind the veil was possible thanks to Keith Gardner, an Air Force broadcaster and moonlighting DJ who must have heard me vent about boring radio and wonder aloud if I'd chosen the wrong career path. Though Keith had the ego and self-centeredness to think his nighttime DJ job was pretty cool, he was also down-to-earth enough about it to see it as something of a joke.
At the time Keith and I worked in the FEW Public Affairs Office, he was also nighttime DJ at a local FM station -- not the leading album-oriented-rock station in town, but maybe the number two or three station down on the list. It was surprising enough to have more than one album-rock station in a town of 50,000 people where you'd think the only two types of music on the radio were Country and Western.
After hearing me rant and express my preference for "Strange Music," Keith invited me out to the station one night after work to watch him at his "other job" for a couple of hours. I thought the experience would be pretty cool. Keith urged me to not get my hopes up too high -- that to him it was really no big deal.
The station was located on Cheyenne's west side, set back off of one of Cheyenne's main drags, back in a field full of tall weeds. It was nearly dark when I pulled up to the place at the end of a long dirt-and-gravel driveway. I wasn't absolutely sure I had the right place, even with the tall transmitter tower directly out back. I was expecting something ... a little more impressive.
The building itself looked like three or four small tool sheds sort of smacked together. In no way was it marked as a radio station -- there were no glowing neon call-letters posted out front or anything like that. There were garbage cans around the only door and lots of trash seemingly everywhere. There was only one other car in the dirt "parking lot."
I slowly made my way inside, through a long poorly-lit hallway littered with shipping boxes, promotional albums and other music-industry paraphernalia I could barely see in the dark. I seem to remember lots of empty pizza boxes and other evidence of food being consumed sometime in the previous 20 years.
I turned around a corner to the right and faintly heard distant trebly sounds that could almost have been music. I called out Keith's name, and eventually his head popped out a door into the hall. "Hey," he said, "I'm down here."
The tiny booth he was in could have been a chicken coop. It was absolutely NOT plush. He had a desktop made out of unfinished plywood, with a couple turntables on it that I never saw him use. There were a couple of (eight-track???) players he popped "cartridges" into that had both the music he played and the commercials he had to run. He had a pair of headphones and a mike, and that was all the equipment. There wasn't even an engineer. I got the impression the place practically ran itself.
At the center of Keith's "desktop" was a diagram that was of central importance to his job. It showed how much music he was allowed to play each hour -- in 15-minute blocks -- and showed the places where he had to plug-in commercials. The stack of "carts" on his left were the commercials. The stack on his right were the songs he was "allowed" to play. As he went along, Keith logged on a notepad each song he played and each commercial he ran, and at what times.
After he explained the set-up, I was a bit disappointed. There wasn't much freedom here. It all seemed pretty regimented. Didn't Keith ever make his own musical choices?
"Sometimes," he said. "There's the music library down the hall that we can pull some tracks from."
Naturally, I had to see this music library. What I found was a room no bigger than most bathrooms, with a ton of vinyl albums filed on shelves from floor to ceiling. There were lots more albums piled and scattered on the floor, and down the hallway.... I was surprised there weren't more. It was a pretty small room.
Keith agreed there wasn't much room for free-form experimenting on the job, that it was basically the same 100 classic-rock songs over and over. But he said there were other bonuses about the job -- it was easy, not demanding, he could order a pizza and eat it at his leisure ... and he even had fans. A couple of them even called up while I was there, and gabbed with Keith in his on-air persona as "Steve Cheyenne" -- such an obvious fake-name that we both busted up laughing. Strangely, Keith didn't actually SAY much on the air.
There were some high points -- Keith played Blue Oyster Cult's "Astronomy" for me (off of IMAGINOS), the best thing I'd heard by BOC in years (didn't know then it was a remake of one of their old songs) ... and after awhile I liked the quiet, distant, separated-from-everything atmosphere that surrounded the place. Maybe during the day it was different, but at night it was quiet, no one else came in, no one bothered Keith while he was working.
After a couple of hours I got tired, thanked Keith for the tour, and went home. It had actually been pretty cool to be there, even if it hadn't been exactly what I'd expected. It also reinforced my theory that sometimes it doesn't take that many people to make what appears from the outside to be a big production -- like most of the newspapers I've worked for.
So now, whenever I hear radio, the first thing I think of is that tiny tool-shed/chicken-coop set-up on Cheyenne's western outskirts in the middle of a wheat field, blasting classic rock out into the Wyoming night, where maybe a dozen people were listening....

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Big listening parties set for 2017!

Happy New Year. Due to Factors Beyond My Control, I couldn't get out of bed early enough to do any music-without-coffee sessions this weekend. However, over the last few weeks (thanks to a Christmas bonus, etc.) I've been piling up lots of Strange Music for listening in the near future, almost all of which is brand new to me. And there will likely be more in the future. These intended targets for further investigation include:
King Crimson: LIZARD.
The Move: SHAZAM!
Mahavishnu Orchestra: THE INNER MOUNTING FLAME, BIRDS OF FIRE. (yes, again....)
Matrix: WIZARD.
Klaatu: HOPE.
Solution: CORDON BLEU.
Peter Gabriel: 1 through 4.
Argent: IN DEEP.
Jane Siberry: NO BORDERS HERE.
Triumvirat: SPARTACUS.
Passport: SKY BLUE.
Billy Cobham: TOTAL ECLIPSE.
Kansas: MASQUE.
Wishbone Ash: ARGUS.
Automatic Man: VISITORS.
Jean-Michel Jarre: OXYGENE, EQUINOXE.
Synergy: CORDS.
Steve Hillage: L.
...and there's more. All this listening-work is intended to help me finish that "Strange Music" book I've been working on for 20 years. We'll see how far I get....
I couldn't have piled up this stuff without the help of Tacoma's HALF-PRICE BOOKS' $1-or-less vinyl clearance bin, or the clearance section and other occasionally-cheap vinyl prices at Tacoma's HI-VOLTAGE record store. I recommend both of them, and also Port Orchard's NEW 2 YOU ANTIQUE MALL, Tacoma's GOLDEN OLDIES and the GOODWILL stores in Port Orchard and Silverdale. Also Port Townshend's QUIMPER SOUND. If you're in the Tacoma-Gig Harbor-Bremerton area, those stops will keep you busy for awhile. They still have stuff I wish I'd grabbed that I now want to go back and pick up.
More soon....