Monday, August 28, 2006

The Angry Samoans-Back From Samoa

Clocking in at less than 18 minutes total, The Angry Samoans “Back From Samoa” is hardly an “album,” let alone an essential one. It’s an album that doesn’t pretend to be an actual album, just like the band doesn’t pretend to be more than they actually are. And what they are is a highly credible, offensive punk rock band from Los Angeles.
Completely misguided and completely lacking that part of the brain that tells you “You shouldn’t say that,” The Angry Samoans remain a band that few have heard, but once you have, you want everyone to hear it with you, if anything, just to see the reaction on their face.
I’m not talking offensiveness in the sense of The Mentors or G.G. Allin, I’m talking about a bunch of guys that can write a riff and then, just because, decide to throw in some lyrics about Hitler’s cock. It works, for at least 18 minutes, and the world is a better place for it.
“Back From Samoa” remains the only real Angry Samoan “album” that you need, and, trust me, there are days in which you need this “album.” Take the song “You Stupid Jerk,” clocking in at a mere twenty three seconds and featuring the following lyrics:
“You stupid jerk
I can’t take it no more
Your face makes me wants to puke
And your Mother’s a whore
You stupid jerk”
Screw taking a deep breath and counting to ten; play this song whenever someone has pissed you off and I guarantee better results.
Or take my personal favorite “The Ballad of Jerry Curlan.” Mr. Curlan, apparently is “nice,” “sensitive” and “goes to Sacramento.” But what happens next is inexplicable. The song literally goes from an off-key ballad into a verbal diatribe that can only be described as full-on hatred towards the subject matter. Jerry, through the aid of increased distortion and faster tempo, is then chastised as a man who “buttfucks his dog,” and who “licks his sister’s pussy” among other even more disturbing tirades. It’s a believable tirade; there’s no doubt in my mind that The Angry Samoans hate Jerry Curlan with a passion. Who Jerry Curlan is remains a mystery. And its better that it remains that way.

So how did a teenager from Iowa discover such a landmark album? Three words: New Wave Theatre. This show, which aired as a segment during USA network’s “Night Flight” program, provided me and (assuming) countless other tolerant youths across the country with a world of strange and exciting music. With the show’s “Ghost Host” the late Peter Ivers, I had my first exposure to the Samoans, Fear, and tons of other second wave L.A. punk.
The Samoans appears (the actual footage appears above) and it features a live performance from them. Afterwards, the band discusses the reason why they seldom performed live (financial reasons) even within the SoCal area. The interview is then cut short with lead vocalist Metal Mike Saunders’ declaration of “Billy Squire!” Thankfully, I recorded “New Wave Theatre” religiously, and the Samoans’ bit became a favorite until I found the album one weekend in a record store. If I recall, most of my friends were pretty enthusiastic about this record.
So can this record be recommended? If you’re a white, straight American male with a firm sense of irony, then perhaps. For anyone else, there’s a good chance that you wouldn’t get the joke and an even better chance that you’d be offended.
By “irony,” it’s important to understand that a few of the band members were, in fact, rock critics and that one member, in fact, later received a doctor’s degree. It’s also important to note that some of their most notorious swipes came towards members of the L.A. music community. By demanding that legendary d.j. Rodney Bingenheimer “get of the air” and calling a recently deceased Darby Crash a “homosexual,” the band managed to burn every bridge imaginable. If not for a few thousand people (Lester Bangs was among them) who got the “joke” and admired the band’s apparent lack of self-restraint, the Samoans may have ended up as a forgotten shock outfit. Amazingly enough, they continue to (occasionally) perform live as a working unit and “Back From Samoa” remains in print to this day. Which is fortunate, because there are not very many bands around that can be as intentially offensive as The Angry Samoans and, in this day and age, we could really use some more intentially offensive bands around.
You stupid jerk.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The 53rd Annual World Series Of Drag Racing

Say what you will about NASCAR; there’s a world of difference between the Talladega set and the folk that frequent the local drag races. Sure, the mullet quotient is up there in both, but the drag racing crowd seems closer to the idea that there are dreams to behold in the ’78 Trans Am sitting on blocks, rusting away in their back yard and that disputes can be settled by seeing who can travel a quarter-mile the fastest. It’s a simpler crowd, for sure, but they have a better understanding than some of the elite as to what constitutes “fun.”
Fun is, watching a Peterbilt semi truck powered by three airplane jets.
Fun is, watching a crane, disguised as a dragon, destroying a 1990 Pontiac Grand Am.
Fun is, watching a Chevy Van barrel down a stretch of concrete on nothing but the rear wheels…at speeds of over 120 miles an hour.
Let there be no misunderstanding that these things are indeed very fun. And I feel sorry for you if you feel that you are somehow above it.

There are no curves on a drag strip. It’s a straight line with two lanes. Two cars start at the same point at the same time. Only one of those vehicles makes it past the finish line first.
Vehicles are paired accordingly; you won’t see a jet car going against, say, a funny car. It’s an ultimate test of horsepower and driving ability. By driving ability, I mean that it takes a lot of effort to keep a vehicle with that amount of power on the road, headed in a straight line.
And it’s a profession not for the faint of heart. These are some of the fastest accelerating vehicles on Earth, even faster than a Space Shuttle launch or a catapult-assisted jet fighter. They’re also deadlier; there are numerous examples of vehicles exploding and/or catching on fire when taking off from the starting line.
The biggest score settled last Saturday night during the 53rd Annual World Series of Drag Racing? A challenge to all drivers to be the first-ever to hit a 300 mph run. The record (290 mph) was broken by Tony Pedregon who piloted his Nitro Funny Car down the strip in only 4.935 seconds and a top speed of 300.53 miles per hour.
With over 10,000 fans packing an Illinois village too small to be called a town, racing began shortly after 5:00pm on Saturday night. By midnight, they were just starting the second half, thanks to a couple of first heat crashes at the end of the strip.
There is an unbelievable roar every time a car takes off. I’m talking a painful noise that easily destroys eardrums without adequate protection. It’s to a point where you can actually feel the power of the vehicle within the grandstands lining the first half of the quarter-mile track. This is a profession that ignores catalytic converters and any other type of gas saving/ecological compliance. The fuel used to propel some of these vehicles runs about $30 a gallon and it’s indeed used at a fantastic rate. While I’m a firm supporter of low-emission/high mileage consumer vehicles, it’s refreshing to see performance vehicles that have an ultimate goal of loud/fast rules, irregardless of the impact.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of drag races of this magnitude is the public address announcer. This is the same guy that does the obligatory “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” radio ads you’ve heard on the radio or television. While these ads are comedic and fun to imitate, they belie the sheer work that the announcers do. Not only do they posses an encyclopedic knowledge of the machines, drivers, and history of the sport, they are continually “on,” and to maintain that energy level for upwards of 8, 9, 10 hours, is simply admirable.
What I like about this all is the sport’s total lack of pandering to novices. You either get it or you do; there’s no apparent goal to grow the fan-base through means of “dumbing down” the sport. NASCAR, on the other hand, has done a tremendous job in doing just that and, in the process, making it one of the most popular and lucrative sports in America. It’s more marketable, for sure, because of the personalities involved and the corporate sponsorships. But in drag racing? You’ll get the obligatory automotive sponsors but few mainstream ones. Madison Avenue may view the sport as too segmented to actually promote mainstream companies. But the “rednecks” that frequent drag races know a little something that Madison Avenue probably neglected in their research: the cars move too fast to even see a fucking logo.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Just Between You & Me: April Wine's a guilty pleasure

I’m old enough now to admit to my guilty pleasures, probably because I can justify them out the ass and have more examples of credibility to weasel out of them. Take April Wine, for example.
I like April Wine. Admittedly, they only released about three good albums (notice how I didn’t say “great”) and none of those managed to change a thing on the rock and roll landscape. And I don’t expect anyone to rush out and actually buy an April Wine record because I suggest it, nor would I expect you to change your opinion about them (provided you even have one) just by simply reading this.
You don’t need an April Wine record.
It’s understandable that you’ve never heard of them.
If you have, it’s ok not to like them.
This is my guilty pleasure, not yours.
It started on shaky ground anyway. In the late 70’s/early 80’s, my musical knowledge was limited. It was formidable. It was impressionable. It was in the learning stages. To give you an idea of where I was, this would have been the time of middle school. I remember being a huge fan of The Cars, The Knack, Cheap Trick, Rush and Van Halen. I had a deep affection for “classic rock,” because it was new to me then and there was a shorter amount of distance between a Led Zeppelin cut then than the distance between a Nirvana cut today, if that makes any sense. Yes, The Beatles and The Stones were up there too, but they were Gods; a V.I.P. club that everyone respected because, well, that’s what the radio told us to do.
Radio was huge to the young, fragile eggshell mind. I remember staying up later than I was supposed to, listening to A.O.R. radio stations. Occasionally, they would play new released in their entirety, and I recorded them onto a cassette straight off of the radio. I got Van Halen’s “Women & Children First” and Black Sabbath’s “Heaven & Hell” this way. For a kid with limited allowance, you did what you could to get new music. In my opinion, this was, logistically a much more complicated task than downloading music; if Mom or Dad caught you staying up late, they would knock on the door, thereby ruining the recording, which essentially was just putting the cassette microphone close to the stereo speakers. Fidelity wasn’t much of an issue. Being able to say you had the new Van Halen album was.
Friends would become big influences on actual music purchases. I remember one such friend telling me that the new April Wine album, “Harder…Faster,” was the shit. He praised the track “Say Hello” and told me that I needed to get the record. I did. I told another friend that he needed to get Devo’s first album. I hope that this eloquently explains how fucked up I was musically.
So I purchased “Harder…Faster.” I liked “Say Hello.” I really liked “I Like To Rock.” It didn’t blow me away or anything, but it was what it was: competent classic rock designed to move the rock boat ahead rather than rock the boat.

It was good enough for me to snag a couple of tickets to go see April Wine, 38 Special, UFO, and The Outlaws in concert. This would be my first real rock concert. The first concert was actually The Spinners at Six Flags with my parents, but I didn’t count this because we went to Six Flags to ride the Screamin’ Eagle and not to hear “Rubberband Man.”
April Wine sounded just like they did on record, aside from a few extra guitar solos and a lengthy drum solo from their bald headed drummer. I was completely sober, which may have lead to my increased appreciation for April Wine; I’m not sure if the older boys sitting directly behind us smoking weed had the same impact. All I knew was that I had attended my first fock concert with the dude I recommended Devo to. The band that I went to see was April Fucking Wine. That’s my justification for this guilty pleasure.
Their performance was in support of their “Nature Of The Beast” album; the only album to chart high in the states and produce a hit single here in the States, “Just Between You And Me.” I suppose the track qualifies as one of the first power ballads, but that’s hardly groundbreaking.
The album was, again, merely good. Lots of hooks, some decent guitar work, but several songs were plagued with dorky synthesizer effects that ultimately diminish the “rock” quotient and prevented it from being referenced later on among the critical elite. Even at that age, the idea of having laser sounds during their track “Caught In The Crossfire” seemed a bit contrite. Thankfully, they had a song that featured the lyrics “the man in the back/smokes a pack and a half” to offset this type of studio defects. Because when you’re fourteen years old, smoking is cool.

The Wine made another appearance during my senior year of high school. A full four years after it charted, the school voted “Just Between You And Me” to be our Senior Prom theme. By this time I had outgrown my April Wine phase, because their follow-up to “The Nature Of The Beast,” an album called “Power Play” featured even more synthesizer noodlings and even shittier material. The band was tapped out, and I had moved on to more aggressive forms of rock music that, thematically, fit the teenage angst better than this one-notch-above-bar-band outfit from Canada.
April Wine made one final appearance in my life. In the mid-nineties, the band played, literally, in a field in the middle of nowhere minutes away from where I lived. Steppenwolf was the headliner, and I was able to score a pair of tickets to revisit a band that was a small, yet important, part of my own youth. I’d guess that well over a thousand people attend the event, and I’d guess that the majority of them were drunk. To my surprise, the Wine performed well: their set contained extended guitar solos and, yes, another drum solo from the same bald headed percussionist. It was a time-machine moment with only the performers looking a little worse for the wear.
For good reason: from the moment I started to distance myself from them, they released another, even more keyboard laden effort (“Animal Grace”) that managed to put a wedge between leader Myles Goodwyn and the rest of the band. Another album appeared (“Walking Through Fire”) which contained only Goodwyn surrounded by horrid 80’s production value and an obvious intention of fulfilling the contract obligation he had with Capitol Records. This was not an “April Wine” record, it was a Miles Goodwyn and the label-hired producer record that understood nobody would by a Miles Goodwyn record but a few might be inclined to get a new April Wine record. It didn’t work, of course.
If you’re wondering, the band (Goodwyn managed to make up with some former Wine members) continues to tour and release albums, some 35 years after they began. For a few of those years, they reached me and created some memories, so they’re a guilty pleasure only in the sense that I’ve got to explain why I have a couple of their albums in the collection and justify the decision.
In layman’s terms: because I like to rock.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Kuyahoga Music Festival-Live Review

Kuyahoga Music Festival
Hold Steady
Sonic Youth
Death Cab For Cutie
Flaming Lips
Cuyahoga Falls, OH

With so many festivals this year (Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, Bonnaroo, etc.), it’s easy to overlook a few. So you’re forgiven if you’ve heard of “Intonation” before “Kuyahoga (sic) Music Festival.” I’d never heard of it either. All I knew is that I was faced with choosing between a “reunited” Germs concert and Billy Idol (with Gary Numan opening, I would have been more excited to see him, actually) during a visit to Cleveland. The trouble was: a Germs “reunion” is kind of hard considering the state of Darby Crash these days, and Billy Idol cried “More! More! More” with his $55 ticket price. So I got my own whiplash smile when I noticed, literally a few days before I left for Ohio, that a concert featuring Death Cab For Cutie, Sonic Youth and The Flaming Lips would be in effect during my stay. And from what I could tell, there were tickets available, unlike most festivals that I had heard about.
So what of this Kuyahoga Music Festival? I’m not really sure and I think the promoters are still trying to figure out an identity other than “we’ll have three stages, some beer, and a few vendor booths (including one for the Marines) around this amphitheatre in central Ohio.” That’s fine, actually, because the Blossom Music Center is a fine location with excellent acoustics in the pavilion area and plenty of “cheap seats” lawn area to stretch out on whenever your favorite jam bands decide to pass through. No sir, I came for two things: Sonic Youth and The Flaming Lips, two bands that I had seen before and had no hesitation about seeing again.
Let me show my age by saying that Ohio was unbearably hot for much of the time I was there and on the day of the show the heat gave way to showers which meant that there was no way I would be dragging my ass around to see a few second stage acts. The rain and 45 degree angle incline saw to it that I found my reserved seating in front of the main stage (the show was nicely attended, but far from sold out) and stayed there for the duration. I’m sure the acts on the other stages were just fine, and I probably would have seen a few of them in more suitable conditions, but remember kids; you’ll get to be middle aged too someday.
The Hold Steady. Well, we arrived later than expected and we missed them. I’m actually kind of bummed about that.
Sonic Youth. Here we go! It’d been nearly twenty years since I saw them last and I’m happy to report that both Kim and Thurston look about the same as when I saw them last. What’s funny is that twenty years ago, I remember thinking “Man, Kim looks really old.” And now my reaction was “Wow, Kim looks really good!” Whereas before she looked really pissed off to be playing in another shitty punk club (ah, Gabes!), tonight she looked happy to be playing an outdoor music festival sponsored by 92.3 K-Rock. She jumped around and danced, which may explain S.Y.’s decision to have a touring bassist. I have no idea who he was but I am positive that he wasn’t Jim O’Rourke, which means the dude was pretty cool in my book.
Lots of material from “Rather Ripped” which is fine, because that album totally rules. What’s changed in the past twenty years is that S.Y.’s punk roots were very apparent then, but they’ve changed into an almost alternative tuning jam-band, which is fine, because jam bands totally rule.
Now, before I lead you to believe that they played “I Know You Rider” or “Dark Star,” there were several moments of distorted bliss and, indeed, by the time they were into their third or fourth song in the set, Thurston found himself falling into the crowd, with guitar in tow, while a gray-haired Lee Renaldo performed six-stringed exorcisms on stage.
Steve Shelly remains as one of the most understated and competent drummers working in rock today. It would be so easy for a band like Sonic Youth to have a heavy-handed drummer, but they made a brilliant choice with Shelly’s propelling rhythms. They’re subtle, effective, and criminally overlooked.
They played “Schizophrenia,” just like they did twenty years ago. And I smiled again, just like when I was 21.
Death Cab For Cutie were up next, and I was fairly underwhelmed about seeing them a second time this year. The ladies, as usual, did not share my lack of enthusiasm, and they danced to “When Soul Meets Body” and all of the other “hits” in the D.C.F.C. arsenal. Admittedly, I may be a little bit harsh on the fellas, but admittedly, their set hasn’t changed that much in the past five months. A few things deleted, a few things added, all performed like a good major label artist would.
Then, a surprise.
Wayne Coyne stepped on stage and performed a song with the band that had been running through my head the entire day: a note-for-note cover of R.E.M.’s “Cuyahoga.” I gave in a sang with the remaining Death Cab set along with the thousands of young ladies in attendance.

Which leads us to the band that I’ve been particularly harsh with as of late: The Flaming Lips. Oh sure, I think “At War With The Mystics” is a fine album and I would encourage each and every one of you to witness a Flaming Lips show at some point in your life. For me, the crux of the problem remains that I have seen them more than any other band in my life and I was growing tired of the band’s lack of spontaneity. It’s been a few years and a few lifetimes since I’d seen them last and I was in need of another Lips experience to bring me up. They delivered in spades. I’m sure the set didn’t deviate much from the last stop, but then, I’m not on a mission to follow them like I was during “The Soft Bulletin” or “Yoshimi.” I’m content with this one stop until the next album hits and I think that’s the key. Sure, there was the obligatory “Race For The Prize” and “She Don’t Use Jelly” and a lot of the same stage tomfoolery was used. But given the current state of the world and dismal outlook of some performers, it was a joy to see others experience the spectacle firsthand, including the special lady friend.
There was a heavy anti-war element present, but not to the point of self-righteousness. Wayne delivered sermons that, paraphrasing here, simply asked people to put the drama of their lives and the world at the gate, and focus on transcending the issues they arrived with through music. It’s a simple message and in the hands of a cynical person, could be seen as a tad hokey. But Wayne Coyne is far from hokey; he has a tremendous work ethic and a very admirable outlook on life: this is all we have, so let’s make the most of it for the next 90 minutes. And for 90 minutes, Santa danced, confetti fell, people danced, and faces smiled.
The spontaneity factor was addressed at the first an only encore, a stunning rendition of Sabbath’s “War Pigs” delivered true to the roots and close to the bone as static images of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld were projected on the screen. I wondered how the boys in the Marine information booth were handling such an obvious rejection of their profession.
The contemplative moment was cut short with the reality that, because this was a festival, we had to make the obligatory trek to search for the rental car that, from what we last remembered, was parked on grass somewhere well outside of the amphitheater. As we walked, refrains of “War Pigs” were heard from the walking, along with updated lyrics to “Do You Realize?” (‘do you realize, that we can’t find the car”). It struck me that the Kuyahoga Music Festival may not have been the first on the minds of rock fans this summer, but for those that attended, it was one of the best ways to end the season.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Beatles-The Capitol Albums Vol. 2

Let it be known that Capitol Records was run by fucktards forty years ago. Let it be known that Capitol Records continues to be run by fucktards in 2006. Here’s how I’ve come to this conclusion.
In early 1963, Capitol Records passed on signing The Beatles. The douchebag that made this decision later helped “produce” some Beatles albums. And by “produce” I mean he helped carve up British Beatle albums, re-sequence them, and then repackage them (at the rate of four albums a year) to American audiences.
So Americans were treated to vastly different versions of Beatles albums, and it wasn’t until 1987 when Capitol decided to re-issue the Beatles albums on compact disc that most of us learned that there was no such thing as “Meet The Beatles,” “Beatles ’65,” or “Beatles VI.” Instead, we were greeted with The Beatles “With The Beatles,” “For Sale,” and some album that had the same photograph as a greatest hits compilation album released after they broke up. Confused yet?
Here’s the rub: a lot of us grew up on the American versions. We loved those shitty sequenced things with their echoey “new improved Capitol full dimension simulated stereo” mix; it’s completed badassed to have all of the instruments on one speaker and only the vocals on the other. Hell, you could even turn the balance on your stereo and prove to the world you sang better than Ringo.
I thought that Capitol got it right in ’87 when they made (with the band’s and George Martin’s direction) the decision to let the American versions fall entirely out of print and only release the British counterparts from then on.
Beatlemaniacs are funny. They’ve been bitching ever since then that they can no longer get the albums that they grew up with. Knowing that Beatlemaniacs will buy a turd if was in the shape of John, Paul, George, or Ringo, Capitol re-issued all of the early American albums in a God-awful priced box set. In April of this year, they released the second installment of this series, and this is where it gets interesting.

As with “The Capitol Albums Vol. 1,” Volume 2 contains the stereo version followed by the mono version. Within an hour of “Volume 2’s” release, a Beatlemaniac noticed that the mono version of “Rubber Soul” wasn’t the original mono version of “Rubber Soul.” And it wasn’t just one person. Within hours, message boards devoted to the Beatles were blazing with angry fans that knew there was a huge difference between “Rubber Soul” mono circa 1965 and “Rubber Soul” mono circa 2006.
For those of you who don’t know the difference, here it is:
-->The 2006 mono version of the song “I’m Looking Through You” has a false start at the beginning of it. The original mono version doesn’t.
-->On the original mono version of “Norwegian Wood,” you can hear a cough 38 seconds into the song. On the latest version, there’s no cough.
That’s pretty much it.
Now, in defense of the Beatlemaniacs, it’s pretty cool that they figured those two very minor things out. Hell, I would have totally missed it. But they didn’t and they created such a stink on those boards that hundreds of ‘em contacted Capitol Records and asked “What are you fucktards doing?” Capitol responded and said that they essentially just bounced down the stereo mixes of two of the albums (“accidentally”) and didn’t used the original mono mixes. Then the Beatlemaniacs asked Capitol: “Well, what are you fucktards going to do to make it right?”
Knowing that Mark David Chapman was once a Beatlemaniac, Capitol records provided the fans with a recall plan that is easy to find on Beatlemaniac message boards, but nearly impossible on both the Capitol Records website and on the Beatles official website.
I won a contest at work that included a gift card and I, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, decided to buy “The Capitol Albums Vol. 2” with it. The reasons are entirely nostalgic, just as they were when I bought “Volume 1” earlier this year. Well, that and I really didn’t have to pay much for either one of ‘em, unlike a real Beatlemaniac who probably pre-ordered the shit and has a Japanese copy of the same thing
And wouldn’t you know it: my copy has a false start and doesn’t have a cough. And wouldn’t you know it: I’m totally going after those fucktards at Capitol to get my correct version of “The Capitol Albums Vol. 2.” I mean, I’m totally obsessed with this; it’s the first thing I listened for when I opened the fucker up. I blame the message boards for this as they, literally, devoted more words to this topic that the total number of words in our Constitution. And you know how riled up things got after that was written.
So the nostalgic reasons are 1.) I completed ruined my parent’s copy of “Beatles VI” as a kid, but not before playing the piss out of it and 2.) I grew up listening to, and fell in love with, the American version of “Rubber Soul.” It’s slightly different than the British version: George’s “If I Needed Someone,” Ringo’s “What Goes On,” and the opener “Drive My Car” are gone, replaced with “It’s Only Love” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” In fact, I think that it’s actually better than the British version; it’s a more folk-rock approach that perfectly demonstrates a watershed in the band’s career while maintaining a thematic consistency from start to finish. And while I’d still give the British version five stars, after all, it’s “Rubber Soul” we’re talking about here, the American version remains the only bastardized version that is just a hair above what was available across the pond.
The original motion picture soundtrack to “Help” is included, and it’s a dandy if you enjoy hearing Beatles songs interrupted with “exclusive instrumental music from the picture’s soundtrack.” About ten people on those Beatles-fan message boards that I referred to earlier, actually admitted to liking these fucking things. Me? Not so much.
“The Early Beatles” disc is essentially the “Introducing The Beatles” album that was released by Vee Jay records a week before “Meat The Beatles” hit the shelves, which pissed off Capitol to the point where they eventually got the rights back from this small Chicago indie and re-issued it under their own packaging. The music is swell, but all you’re really talking about with “The Early Beatles” is a different cover on the front.

I’ve got to point out that these Capitol discs are, currently, the only versions that have been recently re-mastered. They sound great, fake stereo echo and all, and they remind us that someone needs to get off their ass and re-master the “proper” Beatle albums. This is a tough thing when you consider someone who may not actually own a Beatles album and want to; I couldn’t recommend to them spending the bones for either one of “The Capitol Albums” and I couldn’t suggest dropping down a few bones on a product that, essentially, hasn’t been touched with state of the art mastering techniques in nearly twenty years. The word is that it will happen shortly, so hold on to that wallet Shorty, and wait for Johnny Appleseed, the head of Apple Corps, to figure out that those Beatlemaniacs have got money just burning a hole in their pockets.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

A vacation to Cleveland just sounds funny. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to go there. I liked the idea of having people ask me: “Where are you going on vacation?” and having my response be “Cleveland.” Most people looked at me funny. Some didn’t miss a beat, “Oh, you’re going to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?” Hell yeah, I’m going to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’m a big fucking fan of rock and roll, you understand.

There’s one obvious point to the Rock Hall that needs to be mentioned. Like the definition of Rock itself, the Hall is pretty much all encompassing. But let’s be honest, the “Pop Music Hall of Fame” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Then there’s the whole debate as to why a city like Cleveland would be considered a suitable home to the Hall itself. You’ve got the notion that disc jockey Alan Freed coined the term “Rock & Roll,” but that’s a debate in itself. I say: give the town a fucking break. Over half the city’s population has left during the latter half of the 20th century and, admittedly, there’s not a lot of draw left to potential tourists. So fine, put the Hall on the edge of Lake Erie in a town that’s otherwise known for the Browns, the Indians, the Cavaliers, and not much else. Detroit may be the only other city in America that’s probably more deserving of self esteem boosting museum draw, but studies have shown that the majority of Americans think of Detroit as the place where people go to get shot at. So Cleveland it is and it is Cleveland that I went on vacation.
Let’s get to the point of this: if you are a fan of rock music (we’ll use this generalized term) you need to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Seriously, devote a weekend (Cleveland deserves at least a weekend) to go there and explore this very meticulous shrine to a musical form that was considered to be nothing more than a novelty for the first decade of its existence.
Speaking of: there’s plenty of novelty housed within the Rock Hall, I’m guessing to accommodate the youth that pass through the doors alongside the parental units (Boomers) that pay the twenty bucks a head to validate the music of their own generation. As any fan of rock will tell you, there’s really no need to “validate” this era at all. Its importance is obvious. It’s the righteousness of this generation that really needs checked, but the Hall does a fairly decent job of conglomerating the phases of popular music while avoiding a “holier than thou” preference on one particular decade. The criteria of requiring an artist reaching the quarter-century mark before being eligible for induction does leverage the playing field a bit, but we don’t really need to hear, nor believe, that the importance of Green Day has been fully realized, do we?
So the kids have their interactive Ritalin exhibits, their Christina Aguilera costumes, and their references to 90’s “old school.” But the real find is for anyone with a hint of musical knowledge and, as expected, a treat for anyone that houses more than the usual amount of rock pedigree.

I image that if you fall into that latter category, the Hall can be a little overwhelming, particularly if you’re with someone who has less interest in you. Consider this observation from a family; I put the married couple to be in their early forties, and their pre-teen daughter and early-teens son. The Dad was completely taken with the artifacts and understandably wanted to take every moment in. The young daughter, on the other hand, really had no interest whatsoever in learning more about the importance of Les Paul and the development of the electric guitar. She started to fidget and whine. The father’s frustrations became obvious. “Why don’t you want to see this?” he asked, literally dumbfounded at why his daughter was bored. He finally reached a point where he didn’t care “why” his daughter was becoming winded. As any real fan of rock music would do, he stopped caring, declaring “I want to see this!” before letting his wife handle the child-care duties. The Mother and daughter went elsewhere to entertain themselves, leaving the son in Dad’s care. He took him to the exhibit that showed the progression of music technology, from Edison cylinders to Jobs’ Ipods. I heard the father explaining the concept of 8-tracks to his son. The son looked confused, and he had every right to be.
The 8-track tape player defies all logic.
If you’re a fan of both rock and guitars, then you’re doubly occupied. The Hall is overrun with them, to the point where you’re exhausted just trying to keep up. There are those that require some comments: the end result of “London Calling” coverboy Paul Simonon smashing his Fender bass, Howlin’ Wolf’s electric guitar, virtually all of Jerry Garcia’s Doug Irwin guitars, and countless others. There are some glaring omissions (we get Michael Anthony’s Jack Daniels bass but not one Eddie Van Halen six string) but give the Hall credit for not throwing up a bunch of autographed shit and calling it memorabilia. You can get that at any local Hard Rock CafĂ©.
There was a couple of special exhibits while I was there: a section devoted to Roy Orbison (pretty cool, particularly Roy’s handwritten action plan for himself, detailing what he was going to do with his career from that point forward) and another one for Bob Dylan’s “American Journey”, documenting his life from 1956 to 1966. This one was a tad mediocre, overflowing with interactive spots that essentially mirror the “No Direction Home” documentary and provide little additional insight. It was, however, somewhat eerie seeing Woody Guthrie’s Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital t-shirt that he wore while housed there, dying from Huntington’s disease.
Other notable artifacts (for me) included John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to “In My Life,” childhood drawings from Jimi Hendrix, the mangled airplane skin from Otis Redding’s last plane ride, Jim Morrison’s report card (where he received a “D” in citizenship) and, fuck it, there are way to many things for me to list here.
Whatever your feelings about Jann Wenner, Dave Marsh, Cleveland, or that the whole idea of a rock and roll hall of fame is indeed a “piss stain,” you will find yourself humbled and attentive once you make amends and go there.