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Friday, January 30, 2015


I want to thank Jeff and Rick and Alan for manning the fort and doing such a superb job of it all while I was dealing with some stuff.

I usually give a new year until July before I write it off, but January has been a bastard.

I'll be taking it slow, as I'd like to see how things progress over the next week or so.

For now, please enjoy some music, inspired by one of the events from one lousy fucking month. I can laugh about it now...almost.


Roll Away the Stone- Mott The Hoople
World Of Pain- Cream
Crying, Waiting, Hoping- Buddy Holly
Stones In My Passway- Eric Clapton
Pissing In A River- Patti Smith
Stoned Out Of My Mind- The Jam
Valley of Pain- Bonnie Raitt
Pass The Peas- James Brown
Small Stones- Michael Chapman
And It Stoned Me- Van Morrison
Rollin' Stone- Johnny Jenkins
Sister Morphine- Rolling Stones
Passing Through- Marshall Crenshaw
All Things Must Pass- George Harrison


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Today's Guest Blogger...Alan Walker (aka BuzzBabyJesus)

I so enjoyed Jeff’s posts last week that I wrote Sal:

ME:  I volunteer to write something for you and would even consider an assignment. Review something you know I'll hate, or something you know I'll like.
Sal:  Wanna do something for Wednesday? I have an idea for an assignment. How about I give you three records, two faves of all time and one current that I love and you give them your unabashed takes.
ME: Love to.

The last time I did anything like this was in 1978 when I screened records and wrote capsule reviews for my college (SDSU) radio station. They gave me about a dozen albums to take home. Since I was the new guy, I got all the stuff no one wanted. Fortunately the first record I tried was “Cheap Trick”. I threw on the side starting with “Hot Love”, thinking it might be a T-Rex cover. Thirty seconds in, I stopped it, and put in a cassette.
What followed is still, to me, an astonishing mix of hard rock and melodic craft. I only got through about four of the other records. There is never a shortage of bad music.
Cheap Trick represented the most elusive of beasts. Smart hard rock. It might be splitting hairs to talk about the difference between them and KISS, but for me the chasm is great. They both might be Rock N Roll, but one is art and the other deliberately artless.

Which brings me to part one of my assignment

I’m the least loyal of all fans. I received QUEEN, “Sheer Heart Attack” in 1975 as a high school graduation gift from a friend. We’d heard “Killer Queen” which was getting airplay. They looked like T-Rex, but sounded like 10cc.
I loved the album and played it a million times until “A Night At The Opera” came along. When the one after that turned out to be the same album in a black cover, only slightly worse, I didn’t bite. How can you follow up “Bohemian Rhapsody”? You can’t. By then I was onto other things. I lost touch with Queen.

A few years ago I downloaded 8 Queen albums from some blog I was pillaging. I cherry picked a “Best Of” mix. I was in the car with my then ten year old daughter who kind of liked the Beatles. After 8 minutes, she asked who was playing. “Queen”, I said.
 “Please Dad, never play that music again,”  her reply so adamant,  I didn’t bother asking why.

 “Sheer Heart Attack” is one of a handful of records I played to death, and then not at all until after I learned to play guitar. I was amazed how much influence it’s had on me. Brian May is a guitar god. He built his guitar and conquered the world with it. Nobody has better riffs or tone, just ask Jeff Beck.
This album is brilliantly conceived, and paced like a setlist by a working, touring band, when concerts sold albums. “Brighton Rock”, the hard charging opener, has an extended ensemble jam taking up 2/3 of it time.   I’m sure this was epic on stage. They can really play.

The finger snaps announce the arrival of “Killer Queen”. They get your attention and hold it all the way to the guitar orchestra at the end. The musicality and attention to every detail shows a band at the top of it’s game.  This laid the groundwork for the immense success of “A Night At The Opera”.

They re-wrote “Tenement Funster” for that album as “I’m In Love With My Car”, which is also track 3.
The lyrics, “Yes”-like in their gobbledygook sound like they could mean something, which is good enough for most, but Dylan, it’s not. This is pure artifice, it’s not really about anything. Who cares what Freddie’s singing during “In The Lap Of The Gods” as long as Dr. May keeps dropping those guitar bombs?

“Now I’m Here” is one of the best, most original riff songs I know. It gives “Black Dog” a run for it’s money.
The first time I heard this after 35 years left me speechless. After I picked my jaw off the floor I played it over and over. I ripped it off for a song my band (Foglizard) titled “60% Queen” when we rehearsed it one night.
Again this is paced so everyone gets a rest during “Misfire”, and another view with a chuckle during “Leroy” Brown”, (gee those guys can play anything), setting up the finale with the majestic “She Makes Me” and then “The Lap Of The Gods Revisited”, a big dramatic ending which they took to next level stylistically with “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and here ends with a singalong and an actual bang.

“Sheer Heart Attack” aims pretty high, and scores big. Nothing stopping Queen from here. Bravo, guys! It’s musical theater, like the best Alice Cooper. 

To further illustrate how little loyalty I have, while The Beatles are at the top of my musical heap, The only Paul McCartney albums I know, owned and played all the way through, are “McCartney”, “Ram”, “Band On The Run”, “Venus And Mars”, and “Flaming Pie”.

At the same time, his influence runs really deep. When I was 13 and mowing the lawn I plotted learning to play guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards well enough to record by myself, which I still do.

I downloaded “New” when it came out. I try to nab something every day so at any time there are dozens of things I need to get to. That’s why I make so many mix cd’s. An attempt to sample everything, and know how to file at least.
I often brag about giving a song only 30 seconds, which I know is stupid, yet it counts for something. I don’t think it’s asking too much to be grabbed within that time span. On this basis I selected the title song for inclusion on the still unfinished  “Now That’s What I Call Bullshit 61”. It was the most beatleesque on the surface, which was a mistake. Repeated listening sounded derivative and a little tired.

Another song that drew me in precisely because it sounds different by looking forward. “Appreciate” has programmed drums and processed vocals. For months that’s the only song I listened to, and usually two or three times in a row. (Full disclosure: I have a cd by The Fireman, and also “The Liverpool Sound Collage”, so I know Macca has an interest in EDM) I came to realize that although the drums aren’t live, the fills were somehow familiar, and that’s because they’re mine. I learned them from Ringo and so did Paul!

Anyway close inspection reveals a great artist taking risks and having fun.  According to wiki he played most of the instruments, including  drums on “Appreciate”, and that cool cigar box he played with Nirvana at Madison Square.
The album rocks out of the box with “Save Us”, but it’s a little unfortunate that the opener is the only throwaway. The verse and chorus are sub-par musically, and frankly pedestrian, until it mercifully pauses before repeating it all again. Skip this one, especially the first time. “Alligator”, produced by Mark Ronson (four producers were used on NEW) is the first great one. It’s dark as “Everybodies got Something To Hide Etc”, and just as clever.

He’s an “admitted road dog” and this is his latest set-list, so it rocks up front, just like “Brighton Rock” on “Sheer Heart Attack”.

“I want someone to save me, when I come home from the zoo/I need somebody who's a sweet communicator/I can give my Alligator to"
I’m not really a word guy, I mostly listen to the voice as another instrument, and I like it if I think it’s telling me the truth, or lying masterfully. I notice a phrase if it’s really good and that lyric is Paul at his best. It does a lot with a little.

I listened, and took notes on Saturday, writing: “Did Macca just use “on my way to work” two songs in a row? Lyrics are a bitch sometimes”

Mellotron becomes “Queenie Eye” and with it’s driving piano surely recalls that band before Wings and it’s obviously deliberate because he pulls “O-U-T spells out” from 1967’s fanclub release “Christmastime Is Here again”. 

“Early Days” is about John Lennon. At first you can really hear his age, because the voice is a little rougher than we want, but it actually ends up making it resonate emotionally. By the time he got to “Turn the pain into laughter” I was weepy eyed. One critic complained, saying it was  "marred by McCartney's longstanding preoccupation with ensuring everyone knows he was John Lennon's equal".

That little bit of insecurity is essential to his art. John was eternally jealous that Paul’s tended to chart higher. With songs of questionable rockability as “Michelle”.
This time around “New” makes more sense. This is where the art is deep. He puts the big poppy psychedelic beatlesque tune after the weepy John valentine, which in fact contains some genteel bitchiness. I love the Beach Boys homage at the end. Paul famously chomped vegetables at the beginning of “Vegetables” for “SMiLE”.

On “Everybody Out There”, a counter melody in the chorus evokes “Thank-You Girl” for a moment.
The closer “Get Me Out Of Here” is Buddy Holly, blues, and gospel all mixed into a toe tapping smile inducer followed by a hidden track, an introspective piano ballad full of regret and sadness. It’s very moving, he’s either a tremendous liar or telling the truth.

“NEW” is worth the time. Paul is fully engaged and in many ways coming into his own in the 21st Century. I’d say it’s one of the best of his career, and we should all be looking forward to what this monstrous talent comes up with “NEXT”.

While working on this I wondered what would happen if Paul worked with Brian May. Add Dave Grohl on drums and there’s a power trio I’d pay to see.

Sal and I agree on many things. Safe to say everyone reading this probably agrees that The Beatles are great, but as soon as the discussion digresses to John or Paul? Which album? Which song? Consensus becomes more elusive.

Where we seem to differ is that he has a much greater tolerance for pop music and hit records. He’s loyal like a perennial Mets fan. He’ll back a losing team like The Rolling Stones to the very end.
We’re well aware of his fondness for all things Todd. Enthusiasm is infectious, so I try to hear what Sal hears in groups I have just insulted in a comment here on Burning Wood. Sal made me a custom Todd compilation I’m afraid to listen to because I don’t want to tell him how much I don’t like it. That said, today I downloaded yet another version of “Runt” because this supposedly mirrors an earlier version of the album which was inexplicably pulled after a small number had already been delivered. I know this because Sal’s written about it.

I’m an only child, so I didn’t have an older sibling’s records to go through. All I knew was AM radio. When I was about 15 I sent away for “Looney Tunes and  Merrie Melodies”, 3 record Warners “Loss Leader”, to, you know, get “hip” to what the kids were digging. Sure, it had Faces and others familiar, but it also had “Lick My Decals Off, Baby”, by Captain Beefheart, as well as music by Frank Zappa, Ry Cooder, and Randy Newman. It had the opposite effect. Instead of digging what the other kids had I went off into Weirdsville, and have never come back.

Maybe that’s why I’ve never heard a single Hall & Oates album until Friday morning when I downloaded “War Babies” (1974, their third). We were in a hurry to get out of the house and drive up to Connecticut to visit my mom. I had just enough time to find it, download, burn, and get into the car.

I explained my “assignment” to her while we gassed up, and as we drove over the Meadowlands on 95 I put in the cd. Not only had I never heard any of their albums, I was pretty sure I hated what I knew about as much as I could. When I was on college dance floors, “Rich Bitch” bugged the shit out of me, as it was definitely not Rock N Roll, the only music that mattered at the time. And from what I could tell they had a kind of blue eyed Philly soul sound, which to me means lush, and slightly jazzy, a little more “adult” and sophisticated for my taste. I did not follow Bowie into “Fame”, or buy another one of his records until “Low”. I didn’t “get” soul until I “got” Bob Marley and Reggae.
When “War Babies” came out I was deep into “Country Life” by Roxy Music, “The Land Lies Down On Broadway” by Genesis”, “Starless And Bible Black” by King Crimson, and “Here Come The Warm Jets”, by Eno, and there was no escaping “Dark Side Of The Moon”. All pretty art damaged, really.

I used to say that my all-time most despised song was “Jinglebell Rock” until an epiphany a few years ago. While in an appliance store I came face to face with a wall of Hall & Oates trying to kill me with my worst nightmare. I snapped, and found the performance pitch perfect and utterly charming. I even found love for Christmas music in general as a result.

So I put my convert’s ears to the test with “War Babies”. It begins with dissonant guitar and cymbal splashes, something I’d expect from the Who until it kicks into territory somewhat anticipated. Blue-eyed Philly soul.  I like the song at first and think, “this is going to be okay”, but then realize “Can’t Stop The Music” is about someone forgetting the ending and playing the song too long. Funny. Until the third time around. About 2 minutes in I’m reminded of all the music I didn’t like in the ‘70’s.

“Is It A Star” splits the difference between Pink Floyd and “Mystery To Me” Fleetwood Mac. It’s obvious everyone can really play as it turns into what has to be called “prog” rock.
It is here I make the observation that there are entirely too many keyboards of indeterminate lushness. This is a description I invent for this music. There is not an inch of space here. I’m finding it hard to breathe.

“Beanie G. And The Rose Tattoo” has a bit of melody in the verse which too closely resembles someone else’s which I can almost sing over it. I start to notice bits and pieces of everything popular at that time and wonder who produced this piece of shit?

“You’re Much Too Soon” starts and I’m thinking it’s a cover of “Hello It’s Me”. That’s when I remember seeing something about Todd and Utopia being involved while downloading and it makes perfect sense.

I respect Todd’s musicality and talent. He’s another plays everything guy. He produced “Skylarking”, one of my favorite records, and from what I’ve read can take a lot of credit for that.

I used to subscribe to Stereo Review, and a feature their reviews had, which I haven’t seen anywhere else, and was probably a holdover from reviewing classical records for gear heads, at the top, before the body began there would be two categories:

Performance: (example) Energetic
Recording: (example) Bright
They could get pretty snarky. I remember “Cheap Trick” got “Expensive Trash” for Recording.
My review of “War Babies” would read:
Performance: Tries too hard
Recording: Off-putting

But I can’t say it’s a bad record, just deeply flawed. I listened to it with headphones five or six times yesterday and dammit! The refrain from “War Baby Son Of Zorro” stuck in my head this morning. That title suggests I’m lucky not being a “word guy”.This is the yin to “Skylarking”s yang. That is a brilliant combination of elements seamlessy incorporated. This sounds like the mixture didn’t gel properly.

“Better Watch Your Back” is my favorite song because it breathes. It actually has moments of silence in it, with a fine Bo Diddley beat and slide guitar.

“Screaming Through December “ defy’s description. Except in a nutshell it’s everything wrong with this album. It exemplifies “Tries Too Hard” and “Off-putting”. It begins with piano and vocals slathered in so much processing and useless electronics that every time a new sensory assaulter appears I want to say, “Really, Todd, can’t you just leave well enough alone?”

I can’t ignore the first few lines of sub-Springsteen character study, which remind me just how bad story songs can be. I blame Bob Dylan. Soon enough the ballad gets all jazz rock funk with guitar bouncing back and forth between speakers and it reaches a crescendo topped with a ludicrous bit of spoken word. I’m wondering “where are the sound effects?” There’s got to be a radio broadcast or bombs or something. Here it is. It ends with the sound changing speeds like someone dragging their finger at the edge of the record. The sound effects are on the next song.

I’d love to get hold of the session tapes and strip out the bullshit and see if there’s a decent album under all that processed cheese.

I have no clue what “Johnny Gore and the “C” Eaters is about, but except for the irritating production flourishes spends time as pretty good glam-rock, and is a decent closer, almost allowing me to forget the previous mess. Although it clearly owes a great deal to “Diamond Dogs” in an awkward way, like Todd’s infamous feather costumes from this era.

Apparently “War Babies” was such a departure it alienated many of their “blue eyed” soul fans, but it was also their first to chart, reaching number 86 on the Billboard 200.

If you are a fan, this is probably not your favorite Hall & Oates album, that is likely H2O, but maybe it’s your third. You appreciate the quirks and the opportunity to hear like minds throw everything but the kitchen sink at a project.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Today's Guest Blogger....Richard Elson

The idea for this playlist came from a remark made by someone hearing “Jack Straw” by the Grateful Dead playing in my office. “Ugh,” she said. “The Dead: they’re so chauvinistic.” “How so?” I asked. “’We can share the women/we can share the wine’!?!” she replied. I explained as patiently as I could that the song is a story about two shady characters named Shannon and Jack Straw and that it’s the characters who are talking, not Jerry and Bob and Phil…which got me thinking: which are the best story-telling songs I could think of? To pass muster, the songs would have to introduce characters and there would have to be a plot, or as much of one as could be developed in the relatively short time span of the song. A lot of songs come close, a lot seem story-like but in fact are actually more autobiography (or worse: confessionals) or slices of personal life so that the first person narrator seems indistinguishable from the songwriter himself or herself. For the moment, I’m interested in character, setting, conflict, and resolution; and in the really good ones, the music itself can play some key roles in creating a mood, developing the setting, even offering some foreshadowing (for example: think of the change of key before the last verse in “Kid Charlemagne” by Steely Dan: the guitar sounds foreboding, the shit is about to hit the fan, and then sure enough Owsley and crew are clearing out as fast as possible: Is there gas in the car?/Yes, there’s gas in the car). So, no rock operas here; just short story-songs.
Many of the good ones are set in the South, as are many great American short stories. Faulkner had a theory about this. He said (and I paraphrase): ‘It’s because it’s so fucked up down here!’ The South and the cowboy West.  John Cheever set his short stories in the suburbs, though the only song I can think of that stands out from that setting would be Billy Joel singing, In a town known as Oyster Bay, Long Island…. Even there, he pulls it off by comparing/contrasting the NY ‘burbs to the wild wild west of Billy the Kid.
So here goes, with a small disclaimer (or two): Sal has already forgotten more about music than I’ll ever know, so writing this is a bit intimidating; and I confess to a certain degree of musical arrested development: I’m kind of stuck in a time period from long ago and far away, and know very little about more contemporary music, so I’d love to hear about other more recent story songs. This list is by no means definitive, just some that I really appreciate both musically and as narratives. In no particular order:
1.”Me and My Uncle” by John Phillips: Horse ridin’, card playin’ in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, headin’ to West Texas. There’s a true plot with conflict and resolution. The best part of the story, of course, is the plot twist at the end (I loved my uncle, God rest his soul/Taught me good, Lord, Taught me all I know/Taught me so well, I grabbed that gold/And I left his dead ass there by the side of the road).
2. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band. Virgil Kane is the name/and I served on the Danville train: wow, an opening line that’s like the rock version of ‘Call me Ishmael’. The drama of the music, Levon Helm’s voice, the story line that lends sympathy to the Confederacy (he was just 18, proud and brave/but a Yankee laid him in his grave: those fuckers!): it’s pretty damn remarkable. Another good song set during the Civil War, again from the southern perspective, is “My Father’s Gun” by Elton John (I’d like to know where the riverboat sails tonight/to New Orleans, well that’s just fine, alright/’cause there’s fighting there and the company needs men…) Both songs are so evocative of the time period, and it’s a real tribute to Elton John’s voice that he sounds Southern when he sings it. And we know it’s a character who is telling/singing his tale, because we just can’t picture dear Elton marching into battle.
3. “The Dutchman” by Michael Smith (popularized, if you will, by Steve Goodman) This song touches on the issues of enduring love and aging and even Alzheimer’s, before we even knew what Alzheimer’s was:
The Dutchman still wears wooden shoes
His cap and coat are patched with love
That Margaret sewed in
Sometimes he thinks he's still in Rotterdam
He watches tugboats down canals
And calls out to them when he thinks he knows the captain
'Til Margaret comes to take him home again
Through unforgiving streets that trip him
Though she holds his arm
Sometimes he thinks that he's alone and calls her name
Softie that I am, this song is still capable of making me cry, even after 40 years of knowing it. It’s one of those songs that makes me think: Damn, I wish I’d written that…
4. “Red Dirt Girl” by Emmy Lou Harris. The music creates the mood for this remarkable story about a childhood friend named Lillian whose brother dies in Vietnam and whose life spirals downward through bad relationships, drugs, depression. That kind of story line sounds a tad too cheesy and soap operatic, but the deft lyrics and insistent rhythm save it from being a mess:
Me and my best friend Lillian
And her blue tick hound dog Gideon,
Sittin on the front porch cooling in the shade
Singin every song the radio played
Waitin for the Alabama sun to go down
Two red dirt girls in a red dirt town
Me and Lillian
Just across the line and a little southeast of Meridian.
The plaintive acoustic guitar (backed by an electric guitar that is used ever so sparingly) creates such a strong impression that you can almost feel the humidity and hear the crickets chirping in the background. This song makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
5. “Madame George” by Van Morrison. I’m stretching it when it comes to true plot; it’s more like a dreamscape or a Fellini film, but some stories are like that: fuzzy-edged, swirling with some uncertainty, ending with no definite clarity. Chekhov’s “Gooseberries” is like that: wait,  what just happened? I better read it again. And again. I can listen to this song again and again. It’s a glimpse into a small underworld corner of Belfast with a mystery woman (drag queen?).
6. “Rocky Raccoon” by Lennon/McCartney. Now somewhere in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota there lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon. I love how so many of these songs lay out the setting in the very first line. Crisis, conflict, rising action, resolution, falling action—this song has it all, plus some piano playing straight out of a saloon in a western. A sympathetic, flawed character…and a plot in which the bad guy wins the gal, the good guy goes home defeated, though the last line gives the listener hope that things will eventually turn out better for our fallen hero.
7. “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” by Bob Dylan. Wow, where the hell did this song come from? Dylan just flexing his artistic muscles again? Another wild west setting. This song has the most complex plot and most extensive set of characters of any I know. The plot relies on a series of coincidences and card game symbolism, with a lot of quick cuts from one character to another then back again, to let the story unfold. The tempo of the music moves the action along very swiftly, and as many times as I’ve listened to it, there’s still plenty of room for interpretation on what exactly happens and what it all means.
8. “Sammy’s Song” by David Bromberg. A chilling coming-of-age story, set ‘somewhere in the south of Spain’ for 16 year old Sammy. His uncle takes him to a brothel to be with a woman for the first time. When the young woman reluctantly removes all her clothes at Sammy’s insistence, she reveals a body badly scarred from a fire. His first experience becomes memorable in a way neither Sammy nor his uncle could ever have anticipated. It reminds me of something out of a Cormac McCarthy novel.
9. “Ode to Billy Joe” by Bobbi Gentry. Okay, this one is a little corny, but I love how the plot is revealed. We learn unfolding details in a family dinner conversation, while the girl in the song, the singer, sits silently, her appetite gone, unable to join in the conversation because, unknown to her family, she played a role in the events that led to Billy Joe’s decision to commit suicide. And I love how the opening line not only sets the scene, but actually pins it to a particular day: It was the 3rd of June, another sleepy dusty Delta day. As if the singer is saying, ‘This is the day my world got turned upside down, I will remember it for the rest of my life’.
10. “Me and Bobby McGee” by Kris Kristofferson. A memory of lost love, plus some reflection on the trade-offs involved with so-called freedom. Another opening line setting, though this song gradually travels all over the country: Busted flat in Baton Rouge/Waitin’ for a train/ feelin’ near as faded as my jeans. We learn right off the bat not just where the two characters are, but how they are: flat broke and emotionally washed out. Plus, one of the all-time great lines: I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday/To be holdin’ Bobby’s body next to mine…really good stuff.
A few Honorable Mentions: “Daniel and the Sacred Harp” by The Band; “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel; “El Paso” by Marty Robbins; “Wharf Rat” by the Grateful Dead; “The Holdup” by David Bromberg. And one curiosity: in thinking about which songs to put on this list, I kept dwelling on “She’s Leaving Home” by Lennon/McCartney. How old is this girl? She’s not really young because the lyrics mention, She’s leaving home after living alone for so many years. So if she’s adult, why does she have to sneak out? Why doesn’t she just tell her parents she met somebody? If it was written today, the parents’ response would be, ‘Finally! We thought you’d never leave!’ These are the questions that haunt me in the middle of the night. And in “Norwegian Wood” does he actually set fire to her furniture?

Friday, January 23, 2015

"By Request": The Weekend Mix

I want to thank Jeff Kisseloff for a stellar run. Great work. Thank you.

The following is a collection of songs put together from a list of many, at the suggestion of a long time reader and friend. I think it works. Or at least I hope it does.


"Heroes"- David Bowie
Stop & Think It Over- Mary Weiss
Maybe The Universe- Jason Falkner
Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy- Queen
Wild Horses- Rolling Stones
A Whole Lot Better- Brendan Benson
Stargazer- Rainbow
Comfortably Numb- Pink Floyd
Throw Your Arms Around Me- Neil Finn & Eddie Vedder
The End- Pearl Jam


Thursday, January 22, 2015

With This Post, It is Happy Trails to You

WARNING: Potential Old Hats Ahead

Is there a more boring exercise than using a rowing machine? Really, it is more mind-numbing than a Justin Bieber concert, but if you live in Portland, Oregon and you need to get the heart moving and you don't feel like getting soaked, there aren't too many options in the winter time.

Fortunately, when we bought one I had the good sense to put the damned thing in front of the TV and invest in a pair of wireless headphones, so when I row I can watch a game or a movie, and suddenly the rain outside ceased to be a pain in the ass.

By far my favorite accompaniment has been the five-disk collection of The Beatles Anthology. I remember seeing the movie when it aired on TV, but they've filled out each disk with more footage and added a disk of extra material on top of that. You can get it on Amazon for not too much dough, and it's worth every penny.

A couple of neat tidbits that I'd forgotten or hadn't seen before: In "Hard Days Night," the great scene of Ringo wandering about came to be because one morning during the filming he showed up so hung over from a night of partying that he told them he was no good to do any of the scenes that were scheduled for that day. He suggested that instead they take a camera out and follow him while he gets some air.

* When the Beatles met the Queen, she thought that Ringo was the one who formed the group.

* George's interviews for the film are great. I'd forgotten that despite all his Hindu, give me peace awareness, the guy was as acerbic as hell. And when the three of them get together to chat you can see the tension between George and Paul. It bubbles up to the surface as Paul is explaining how John virtually invented feedback when he left his guitar in front of an amp and it started to vibrate on its own (used first with "I Feel Fine"). George tries to say something but Paul interrupts him, and you can just about see the steam coming out of George's ears. And that scene in "Let it Be" where George gets pissed off when Paul tells him how to play? Apparently Paul had been doing that since George joined the band.

* Another Ringo: One of the reasons why he hated touring was that they would only play a half hour a night, and the reason why he joined the band was because more than anything he loved to play live, and the Beatles were the best live band in Liverpool. He simply lives to play with great musicians, which puts the annual All-Starr tours into perspective. He also said if you watch them live, he's purposely barely doing anything on the drums because the screaming was so loud the other three couldn't hear him, so he had to stick with the basics in a desperate effort to keep them all together.

That's one of the things about the film that is rather sad. Here's a band that achieved everything the four of them could ever have hoped for and more, and yet their live shows were really a "what if." Can you imagine what they would have been like live if they had been allowed to extend themselves to even an hour and a half or if they had had even the basic sound equipment that would have let them hear their own music? Of course, they played extended sets in Hamburg as kids, but imagine "Helter Skelter" or even some of the songs from Revolver live with great sound and the freedom to play as long as they wanted.

Of course, they could have ended up ingesting enough LSD or smoking enough weed so that the songs went on too long. For example, give this take of "Revolution" a listen.

But there are also some great examples of what a terrific live band they were, even while being confined to shorts sets and the expectation that they only play their hits. For example, watch John and George, free from vocal duties, having a blast while Paul earnestly plugs away at "I'm Down" during the Shea Stadium concert.

And wow could they play fast. This version of "Can't Buy Me Love" during the NME Awards program smokes. The anthology also has a good chunk of their Paris show from 1965, and here's their version of "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" with George's phenomenal live guitar work, all the more remarkable because due to the noise they could only figure from memory what the others were playing and singing.

As for Ringo, even with the constraints that they complain about, the 1964 Washington concert should dispel any notion that he was anything less than a brilliant drummer. Youtube has most of the show, but watch Ringo at about twelve minutes into the film. He's incredible. But can you imagine, they played that concert in a theater in-the-round. After every song they had to turn the drum kit 90 degrees. You also see the police patrolling the aisles. God forbid someone would get up to dance, they end up in the can.


With this post, I hand the reins back to Brother Sal. After just three of these, my energy and ideas are exhausted. How he does this six days a week is beyond amazing.

Ok, one more before I go. The Paris clip reminded me of a great tale that I tend to tell at the drop of a hat. Oops, there goes my hat, so here's the story. I have a cousin who is a London cab driver. He was raised on rock and roll in the 50s. If you ask him about a hit song from that era he can tell you the label it was recorded on, who the musicians were and how high it landed on the charts. Whenever he'd get a famous musician in the cab, he'd ask for an autograph (and sometimes get one for me).

I remember one story about this little old man who got in the cab with his wife. The whole trip she was screaming at him for this and that reason, and the guy just kept shrinking further and further into his long overcoat to escape the abuse. At one point, David took a close look at them through his rear view mirror and realized the poor fellow was Charlie Watts.

Anyway, David's favorite singer was Carl Perkins. He loved Perkins so much that he saved up his money for months so he could come to the US and take a Greyhound bus to Jackson, Tennessee just to visit the Carl Perkins museum. We put him on the bus in NY, and he rides overnight to Jackson, but when he gets there, the museum is closed! Not only closed, but it's empty. Completely miserable, he goes next door to a bar. Hearing his accent, the owner engages him, and David tells him his sad story. The guy says to him, "I'm so sorry. I own the museum, but I closed it and cleaned it out because we're moving it into a larger building. I'd show you what we have, but everything is in storage."

Well, that doesn't raise David's spirits, so the guy then says, "Look, Carl is out of town. Why don't I at least take you on a drive by his house so you can see where he lives."

David sorrowfully agrees. The guy disappears for a minute and comes back with the keys to his car, and they drive over to a nice little suburban house. But it's just a house. Then suddenly, the door opens and Perkins himself comes down the path. He walks right up to the car and says, "Hi, David, welcome to America."

Of course, when the bar owner had left to get his keys he had called Perkins to tell him David's story, and for the next half hour or so, David and Carl just stood there and chatted about music, and from what David told me Perkins couldn't believe how much David knew. He even gave David a pick that he said he used to record "Blue Suede Shoes" (my guess is he had a hundred of those).

David, of course, is so high for the rest of the trip he doesn't need a plane to fly back to England. A few months later, there was that special on TV, in which Perkins went to England and played with Ringo and George, Dave Edmunds and Clapton. It's on youtube. David got himself a ticket, although he had to talk his way inside because they didn't want the cameras to show any older fans.

The stage was floor level, and at intermission, Perkins was just standing around chatting. David walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. Perkins turned around and exclaimed, "My god, it's the cab driver! You follow me everywhere."

He then introduced David to the others and after that, whenever Perkins came to England, David would drive him around. Here's a shot of the two of them in front of Perkins's hotel:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I'm about to turn 60, and if my parents were alive today I'd tell them that I finally get them -- or at least one aspect of their lives. It wasn't my father's fondness for white loafers without socks or my mother's penchant for forgetting to remove the Hydrox box from the oven before turning it on (double baked cookies were a staple in our family).

I'm referring to their music and the gulf that existed between what I and they listened to and prized.

This all came about because suddenly I've become the same musical fogie in my daughter's eyes that my parents were in mine. It wasn't always this way. When Lizzie was four, my wife and I would pack her in the car on the way to a cross-country race with the Ramones blasting on the stereo to fire up our legs. For years, we'd hear her singing, "I Wanna Be 'Sezzaded' in the back seat, and when I played our special John Fogerty song we'd dance together in mutual delight.

But then somehow she turned 15. "You don't know Marina and the Diamonds?"

Um, no.

"You don't like Lana Del Rey?"

Suddenly, it's 1970, and I've got Tommy blasting on my $50 stereo, and my parents are screaming "Turn that down! How can you listen to that stuff?"

"It's a rock opera by the Who, Ma, how can you not like this?"

Now, let me just say what you're probably thinking: you can't equate Lana Del Rey with the Who or Ed Sheeran with The Beatles or One Direction (Lizzie hates them, but I'll use them as an example anyway) with the Stones. Fact is, you can't. The music of that generation was special. When I think of 1969 alone, it's just overwhelming to think of who was at or near their primes: the Beatles, Stones, Who, the Band, Joplin, Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, the Motown acts, the Dead, Airplane, S&G, CSN, CCR, the Cowsills (just testing to see if you're still reading this). My God.

But the thing is this: no matter how good it was, to a 15-year-old it is still was our music, not hers and she just has no interest. Was I any different? Nope. Sinatra, Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, they sucked! Nat King Cole? You've got to be kidding! The Mills Brothers? Don't make me laugh!

Oh, was I insufferable. At least Lizzie is nice about it, but consider this: the Beatles made their debut on Ed Sullivan over 50 years ago. When I was 15, the equivalent breakthrough would have been Paul Whiteman on the radio in 1920.

And I have to admit, my parents could occasionally show some tolerance, probably more than I show. They took us to see "Help" and "Hard Days Night." They sat through Woodstock, the movie (although my father kept referring to Ten Years After as "Ten Long Years). And in 1973, my Dad grew sideburns and liked to do the white-man's lip bite while dancing to "Tie a Yellow Ribbon." That's about as far as he got though.

Me, I've learned to love Sinatra and big band music (spent tonight playing "Choo Choo Choo Boogie on my ukulele -- hell I play the ukulele). One of the highlights of my journalism career was harmonizing "Paper Doll" with my friend Lenny Del Genio, the guy who shot Moe Green in "The Godfather." If only I had it in me to ask my parents to sit down with me in front of our record player and put on their favorite records. Who knows, they might have interrupted their golf games to play some of them for me.

Their record pile did inadvertently change my life though. Among their records were two "I Can Hear it Now" lps by Edward R. Murrow. Each track was a major news story of the thirties to the the Fifties. I was fascinated by the track about the Hiss-Chambers case. "One of these two men was the most convincing, calculating and cool liar in the history of Washington hearings." Thanks, Mom and Dad. Fifty years and 100,000 FBI files later, I've figured out the answer. The book should be done in a couple of years.

And Lizzie, I'm thrilled that she loves her music, and occasionally, even have a cross-generational breakthrough. A few weeks ago, she told me how she loves really old music, and had I ever heard of the Talking Heads. Then she pulled out her ipad and cued up Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over." You know this song, she asked me incredulously?

Now, I don't want to exaggerate our progress. That same night, she scrolled through her ipad and said to my wife, "This band's after your time, so you probably don't know them." It was Nirvana.

She thinks Elvis Presley was weird, and when I suggest she listen to "The Weight" or "Satisfaction" she just rolls her eyes. You can't win them all, or at least not yet. I still have hope though. In the meantime, O'l Blue Eyes is cued up while I think of my folks.

I will never, ever wear the white shoes though.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

If you were a baseball fan in the 1960s you might remember two characters, Dick Stuart and Marv Throneberry. Both were the subject of endless arguments about who was the worst first baseman in the major leagues. Stuart, who played for the Mets and Pirates was called "Old Stonefingers." During one game, a piece of paper blew onto Forbes Field. He bent down and picked it up and received a standing ovation from the crowd. He didn't understand until a teammate said to him, "It was the first thing you picked up all day."

As for Throneberry, I was once at a game where Roger Craig was on the mound, and he had two guys picked off first by a mile, and both times Throneberry dropped the ball. The story goes after one game, there was a birthday party in the clubhouse and Marv (known ironically as "Marvelous Marv") complained that he didn't get any cake. Casey Stengel said to him, "We were going to give you a piece, Marv, but we was afraid you'd drop it."

This afternoon, I was just reading an interview with Brandon Bostick, the backup tight end who helped blow the game for Green Bay yesterday when he dropped an onside kick that my mother could have caught with her eyes closed. Fact is, Stuart, Throneberry and Bostick were/are all talented athletes, capable of being awful. Isn't it the same for music? Writers, musicians who are a hundred times more talented than I could ever hope to be, still put out stuff like "Seasons in the Sun" or "Catfish" (an abomination for which Dylan actually had a co-writer, Jacques Levy).

Why do bad songs happen to good people? I was thinking about that recently after watching a few snippets of "City Slickers" and thinking that it was a pretty funny movie, but Billy Crystals's career in terms of quality went into the dumper pretty quickly after that. Why? I'm thinking that after the success of "City Slickers" Billy Crystal started producing his own films and was such a big star, there wasn't anyone who could say, "No, Billy, a comedy with Gheorge Muresan doesn't work." Everybody, including the Bard, needs an editor. I listened to a couple of cuts of Dylan's upcoming Sinatra album, and it made me wonder whether there's anyone who can say no to him. My guess is there isn't. (Bob, if you need someone I'm available, drop me a line here).

It's not just a problem with music or movies. I mean John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate. FDR sent thousands of decent Americans to concentration camps, and hell, Richard Nixon's entire political career was predicated on the fact that one ever said no to anything he ever did or said. Just today, I saw that Jane Fonda finally acknowledged that posing for a photo in which she is pretending to shoot down an American plane, might not have been the wisest thing to do. If only, she had someone next to her, saying, "No, Jane, how about just a picture of you eating noodles?" On the other hand, I had a friend who was a Vietnam Vet who was active in the antiwar movement during the early 1970s. One night Fonda spent the night at their protest site and went to bed wearing a shorty, completely see-through nightgown. You can bet he was glad no one was there to say no to her that night!

What does all of this have with today's post? Nothing, whatsoever. Why? Because there's no one to say no to me. If there is a perfect illustration of what happens when some desperately needs an editor but doesn't have one, this post is it.

I just wanted to get a few things off my chest before I got to the real business of the day: it's Tuesday, a traditional day for noting some new music floating around that might be worth listening to. Below, however, is not a lot of "new" music — since I don't have an editor, I don't have to stick to the topic at hand, but the songs below represent some of my great tunes and albums that I have found while poking around the web the last few months. Nearly all of them are from albums that are excellent, and while they might not be the most challenging of music, what they do have in common, at least to my ears, is that they are all the kinds of songs that drill into your head. Feel free to disagree but if at all possible, let's keep it above the belt.

So without further ado, in no particular order are a few of this year's finds:

"Salvation Town" by Jonny Two Bags (normally of Social Distortion) was probably my favorite album of the year. I wouldn't know the one song to play from this fantastic record, so here are two: "One Foot in the Gutter" and "Wayward Cain".

First time subway announcements have ever been sampled on a song, at least that I can remember. This is a bit of NYC funk by a band called Mad Manoush from their album, "Train to New Orleans". The song is appropriately entitled "NYC."

Paul Heaton was the lead singer and songwriter in one of my favorite bands, "The Beautiful South." I also loved his songs when he was in "The Housemartins." Here he is now as a duet with Jacqui Abbott, getting on Sting's ass with this haunting tune, "Advice to Daughters." The first time I heard this I had to listen to it twice more:

I challenge you to sit still through this romp by Jethro Burns and Don Stiernberg:

An oldie but goodie from a very underrated soul singer, Shirley Ellis who was a lot more than "The Name Game."

Reigning Sound is a terrific band from Memphis. They backup Mary Weiss on her solo record a few years ago, but their own albums are terrific. Their latest, "Shattered," is no exception. My favorite song on the album is this one, "Once More":

I'm sorry, but this is now my state, and this song, Oregon, by Oh Susanna captures Portland wonderfully:

While we wait for the next Fountains of Wayne album, we can pretend with "The Sun Never Sets Around Here" by The Electric Soft Parade's from their album, "Idiots."

He's not the world's greatest vocalist, but I don't think Benmont Tench embarrassed himself with his solo record "You Should Be So Lucky." Here's "Blonde Girl Blue Dress."

The Claudettes are two musicians who make a big sound with just a piano and drum kit. This a live recording but typical, from their album "Infernal Piano Plot...Hatched."

The first time my wife heard this song by Bart Davenport, she asked me, "Is he really singing "Fuck Fame"? Yup. It's true too. I love the little people but sometimes they can be trying:

I'll finish with this. I've been seriously ill for much of the past year, and this song when I heard it the first time nearly finished me. This is from Jesse Winchester's posthumous album. Much of the music on it is a lot of fun. This one got to me, much as he did to everyone in the audience on the Elvis Costello program a few years ago. If you've never seen it pull out a handkerchief and watch. Keep it in your lap for this song, "Just So Much."