Friday, January 30, 2009

No Cure For Cancer, But There's Remedies For Assholes

You wouldn’t normally consider David Letterman to be an asshole, except towards those who deserve it, but fifteen years ago, Letterman was an asshole to Bill Hicks. For reasons only known to Dave, he removed the entire comedy bit that Hicks had performed on the October 1, 1993 show.
Hicks passed away less than half a year later.
This slight was unusual as Letterman was generally supportive of comedians and Hicks had performed on his old NBC program on several occasions. Letterman, it seemed, was a fan of Hicks, and when he transitioned over to CBS and a higher profile time slot, Bill was one of the comedians that was asked to return.
After learning that his entire routine was removed from the October 1st broadcast, Hicks became rightfully irritated. He wrote a scathing review of the account and both the Late Show and the network itself denied that they had anything to do with the removal.
They were right: the censor came from Letterman himself.
It’s unclear whether his regret was immediate or a result of Hicks’ passing five months later, but Letterman did express it and it was apparently deep enough for him to continually refer to his disappointment with himself that he recalled the incident regularly. Tonight, Letterman finally made amends to himself and the Hicks family by inviting Bill’s mother on the program to formally apologize and to air the missing segment for the first time in over 15 years.
It was clear that Mary Hicks did not think the world of Letterman for what he had done to her son and Dave, in a moment of humility, acknowledged this and did what so many politicians fail to do, take responsibility for the event and sincerely apologize for it.
“It says more about me as a guy than about Bill because there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Indeed, watching the bit you wonder what the fuss was all about. The only explanation was the one that Dave somewhat provided. Having recently been offered the time slot that NBC failed to give him, Letterman was trying to avoid any controversy that would create public backlash or increased scrutiny from the CBS executives. Of course, now that he’s proved his worth to the network, he’s less inclined to fret over such things, but back then, he wanted to sock it to his rivals over at the Tonight Show. An offending Bill Hicks might create enough of a stir to have a few advertisers pull their ads and enough high-strung do-gooders to switch over to Leno.
It was an edited Hicks, by his own doing for television, but he does manage to voice contempt for right-to-lifers and encourage the murder of Michael Bolton, Billy Ray Cyrus, and other celebrities that most rational people would agree swift, violent action is necessary.
To provide Mary Hicks with this forum for a public apology is major. There were no other guests (aside from a musical act), so the entire show was devoted to making amends. It was clear that Dave felt like a heel about it, particularly since Hicks already knew he was dying from cancer at the time of the original taping. And while he didn’t tell anyone except his family about his health, I’m sure the harsh reality played heavily on his tone when he learned about being removed from the final broadcast.
This was a man dying from cancer, and even in the face of death, he was forced to contend with the bullshit of uptight censored.
It surprised me that Letterman was one of those uptight assholes, but the bigger surprise was the way he acknowledged it and tried to redeem himself.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

OCD Chronicles: Snakefinger-Trashing All The Loves Of History

The first time I heard Snakefinger’s “Trashing All The Loves Of History” was from a friend’s Buy Or Die sampler that he got through Ralph Records. It was taken from his Greener Postures album from 1980.

I didn’t know what to make of it at first; it’s a very unusual sounding song. Snakefinger wasn’t blessed with the most talented of voices, and it was striking to hear an English accent coming from him, particularly since the most identifiable voice from The Residents came from the dude with the southern accent.

Snakefinger always had special billing on those Resident records, so you knew he a.) wasn’t one of the eyeballs and 2.) probably had his own career outside of Residents’ recordings.

There is a similarity between the two in terms of aural weirdness. It’s quite possible that Greener Postures was cut at the same studio as some of the Residents’ late 70’s material. The guitar tones…while fluctuating throughout the song…sound similar to the tones that Snakefinger creates with his masked friends.

“Trashing All The Loves Of History” literally snakes around with strange, off-kilter riffs that can only be memorable through repeated listening. His vocals are processed through heavy amounts of echo, occasionally giving way to squirrelly effects at the end of a verse. It’s as weird as anything the Residents have made with curios guitar chords, rhythms and sounds that are obviously indebted to Zoot Horn Rollo from Captain Beefheart fame. In other words, if you listen through the weirdness, there’s a lot of difficult shit going on.

Snakefinger died of a heart attack on stage in Austria. Shortly after that, I dropped a few tabs of acid and painted a picture in his memory.

Here's a live video of Snakefinger taken shortly before he passed. Yes, that's Eric Drew Feldman of Captain Beefheart fame on keyboards.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Silver Jews - Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea

“No I really don’t want to die/I only want to die in your eyes.”
“How To Rent A Room”
David Berman wrote those words a little more than a decade ago, and I was one of those that considered Berman’s most depressive period to be his best creatively. There was a certain amount of guilt with that, given the circumstances, as you never want someone to actually harm themselves just for the sake of your own record collection.
Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is one of those “happy” David Berman albums, and one that I disliked the first time I heard it. But after seeing them live, I got a different perspective. The songs came off a lot less polished than on record and I could actually see Berman’s happiness. The interaction with other band members, the obvious love of his wife, and the energy that he fed off of from the audience.
A live setting and the sterile confines of the studio are two polar opposite locales. And if Lookout Mountain suffers from anything, it is the sterility. The sense of playfulness is occasionally lost and there are times when the lighthearted nature of the recording overshadows any hint of Berman’s wordy humor.
What a shame, as there are more than a few tracks that are slyly hilarious and one cut, “San Francisco B.C.,” which is one of the best songs Berman has ever written.
In it, David creates a tale of criminal activity, infidelity, and mystery. It’s plot is as exciting as any screenplay and you’re glued to the proceedings like any good movie.
Unfortunately, it’s not good enough to place Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea alongside such greats as American Water or The Natural Bridge. It is, however, good enough for me to consider Berman’s bright side and not get sad when he’s feeling so good.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Dry Docking The Party Barge

I know I’m supposed to be happy for David Berman’s recent announcement that he’s disbanding the Silver Jews and going to focus on writing. I’m an only child, so forgive me for being a bit selfish when I say that I pouted for most of today.
He is a man of enormous lyrical talent that faced addiction and suicide before finding love and consistent recorded output. He was supposed to keep going. He promised Iowa City that he would come back.
In retrospect, especially now, the Joos ticket that Costello scored for me was a great and memorable show. Here is a public “Thank you” for that evening as I left it a bigger fan of the Silver Jews than when I walked in.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it sure seems now that the entire festivities…the lengthy set, the endless thank yous, the courteous hand-shakes that Berman provided to fans after the show…was indeed some kind of a farewell. I’m still holding him to his promised return, only now it will be minus a guitar. It now looks like it will come at a book signing/reading or some other means.
Personally, I think its bullshit. I think that his recent announcement is more like a self-imposed exile, one that allows him a chance at dealing with the issues surrounding his father. Once that’s dealt with and he’s gotten a few words under his belt, he’ll miss the music and, fortunately, he’ll have a spouse still in it that can round up a few Jews and begin again.
Like they say, nothing stops a party barge.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mudcrutch - Mudcrutch

Let’s be honest: Tom Petty has released some innocuous records for nearly a quarter-century now and we’ve allowed him to do it. After battling his record company in Hard Promises, the most vitriolic we’ve seen him is to urge us to “Take back Joe Piscopo” (“Jammin’ Me”) and “Roll another joint” (“You Don’t Know How It Feels”).
His attempt at trying to regain that image of a corporate monster fighter, The Last DJ, fell short. It’s one thing to sing about evil corporations and how they’ve destroyed music, but to deliver that album on a major label (Warner Brothers) one on hand and then agree to perform the hits on the biggest corporate sponsored event on the planet (the Super Bowl) afterwards, it kind of deflates that everyman image you’re trying to present.
At the same time, Petty is a guy who’s hard to hold a grudge against. Even at his most complacent, he’s enjoyable. I won’t promise to buy anything that he’s done with Jeff Lynne, but I won’t hold Petty accountable for wanting to work with the over-produced bastard either.
I was rather tickled at the notion that Petty decided, after a thirty-year plus layoff, to get his old band, Mudcrutch, back together. And by “old band”, I mean, essentially, the Heartbreakers with Petty playing bass, Tom Leadon on lead guitar and Randall Marsh on drums. Keyboardist Benmont Tench, who wasn’t in Mudcrutch’s early configuration, joins in along with guitarist Mike Campbell.
One would then think that, with the majority of the same old players in the line-up, we could expect the same old Tom Petty album. Seriously, there isn’t much difference between a Tom Petty solo record and a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album, is there? Nonetheless, the Mudcrutch idea intrigued me and the result is probably the most enjoyable Petty album in recent memory.
Perhaps I’m supposed to downplay Petty’s role as Mudcrutch tries hard to project itself as a band project. Indeed, the first vocals you’ll hear aren’t Petty’s, they’re Leadon’s. Leadon also gets a hand at contributing his own song (“Queen Of The Go-Go Girls”) while Benmont Tench delivers the vocals and songwriting credit to one of his own too (“This Is A Good Street”).
But the rest of the record is clearly Petty’s project, but one where he allows the occasional meandering to become the overall vibe. The vibe being a clear descendent of The Byrds Mach III (in fact, they cover “Lover Of The Bayou” from Untitled) and other early 70’s SoCal country rock alumni. It’s a good thing hearing Petty represent a different coastal scene; the move from Florida to California is a good fit and, had they continued down this path during their initial musical forays, it would be surprising if they didn’t make a name for themselves in that region.
To that point, the idea that it’s taken Mudcrutch three-and-a-half decades to finally release their debut album is actually part of the appeal here. Amazingly, it sounds frozen in time, a lost artifact from the early seventies of a forgotten band pushed out of the spotlight thanks to the tepid offerings of the Eagles first few albums.
Not only is Mudcrutch better than those albums, it’s different. Melody and vocal harmonies are replaced with Leadon and Campbell’s guitar interactions. The two gunslingers patiently wait for each another to heat things up while Petty stands on the sidelines to watch their unpretentious playing.
Nowhere is this clearer than with the album’s centerpiece, “Crystal River,” a nine-plus minute opus that’s as mellow as a beach fire joint. Four and a half minutes into the song, the band begins to scale back, seemingly looking for someone to end the song. Leadon and Campbell keep going, lightly playing off each other until the rest of the band follows while letting the two casually jam on. Had they filled out the rest of Mudcrutch with songs like this, we would surely have a wonderfully capable jam-band ready to make a living among the American patchouli set.
The rest of the interplay on the more economically timed songs is imperceptibly delivered with only a few songs truly rollicking forward. The reason for this has more to do with mood rather than age. It seems that Petty’s mid-life crisis has more to do with returning back to take care of some unfinished business rather than trying to relive his youth. And for those of us who weren’t around for it during Mudcrutch’s initial forays, it’s good to be able to hear Petty flip through his yearbook. This return back to the bars is certainly a better fit for him than the Super Bowl halftime show.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

That Metal Show

I’m a retarded music fan, so that means that whenever I get to use the television remote it’s usually on VH1 Classic if it ain’t on HBO. Since it’s on VH1 Classic a lot (read: Friday nights after the kids and my wife go to sleep) I get to get a concert film and a shitty little show that the channel premiered late last fall called That Metal Show.
Hosted by Eddie Trunk, the dude that did prank phone calls on Crank Yankers and some other guy I never heard of, the trio talks about very little, barely interviews the one-guest-per show allotment they get, gives away free cut-out cds to the crowd (the new Winger cd, anyone) and acts like Metal stopped after 1987. And when they do get around to mentioning something post ’87, it’s usually by a band whose career ended ’87 or before.
I’m being harsh of course, because some of the bands that are discussed/featured I do enjoy. But I think it’s a little presumptuous to call it That Metal Show and not acknowledge the last two decades of the genre and to pull out Lita Fucking Ford and pretend that she’s fucking metal.
On the slim occasion that the discussions do heat up, the three hosts do absolutely nothing to facilitate it or provide interactive dialogue. One episode featured two members of Twisted Sister, a band I’m not fond of by any means, who actually began to rail on Kiss. Jay Jay French honestly and accurately badmouthed Gene Simmons, stating that he had almost singlehandedly run the “brand” into the ground. All three hosts looked at French, neither agreeing or disagreeing with him and doing little to add to the tirade, even though it was the most entertaining part of the evening. It was almost like the three (or the producers) were too afraid to go on the record to say that Gene was a douche because he might get offended to the point that one day he’d refuse to be a guest.
The dialogue is weak, the jokes are lame, the fact that there are three fucking hosts to contend with is just confusing, and particularly considering that none of them really has much to say. If the idea was to create some makeshift den of three metal dudes, what VH1 got instead were three dudes that came off looking like the most important thing in metal was wearing a cool black t-shirt. Some of the shirts were cool, but since the others (besides Trunk) didn’t seem to know jack shit about anything, you came off thinking that they didn’t even deserve them.
They just finished airing a “best of” episode, which is stupid particularly considering there were under ten episodes to choose from anyway. And judging by the vague ending the Trunk gave, it doesn’t appear that VH1 picked up another season of this hastily put-together talk show.
If it is indeed cancelled, it’s probably because VH1 green-lighted a project that was too tame and too segmented to appeal to anyone that may have caught it. And those that may have been one of the show’s targeted audience probably would have gotten more enjoyment by staring at the cover of Stay Hungry than anything that was discussed on That Metal Show.
If it is cancelled, metalheads won’t shed a tear. True metalheads already know the real That Metal Show is called Metalocolypse.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Just Sit Right Back And Hear A Tale Of Concrete Blonde

I was at home doing laundry. “Home” was in fact an apartment off of Magnolia Street in Cedar Falls. It was a non-descript complex featuring about 10 two bedroom units with the obligatory laundry room in the basement. I’d go down to do a load and come back and watch television. It was the afternoon which meant that there was nobody using the washing machines. Everyone was at work. Everyone except me.
Gilligan’s Island was on, and as I waited for the load to end, I would watch a little bit of the episode. It happened to be one of my favorites, “Don’t Bug The Mosquitoes,” the one where a Beatlesque band shows up on the island.
The phone rang, interrupting my bliss of Gilligan.
“Why aren’t you at work?” the female voice asked.
“Uh…Because I’m at home. Who is this?” I inquired, my interest peaking particularly because it’s a lady.
“This is Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde.”
“No way. Really?” I asked, considering the possibility that it was a prank.
“Yup.” She answered assuredly, laughing a little at my obvious disbelief. “We tried getting you at the radio station but you weren’t there. Some girl there said that you’d be pissed that you missed the call, so she gave us your number at home.”
It was at this point that I knew this wasn’t a prank. You see, I was a fan of Concrete Blonde’s second album, Free, and played it obsessively at the station. In fact, it was the number one album in our rotation and Lori Blumenthal at I.R.S. Records had been very appreciative of our support of the record.
So supportive, in fact, that she encouraged the band to give me a call.
If only she would have scheduled it…
But no worries: I was talking on the fucking phone with the lead singer of Concrete Blonde!
“So what are you doing right now, Todd?” she asked.
“Um…I’m doing the laundry and watching tv.”
“Very exciting day, huh Todd?” she asked. It was obvious that she was on a speakerphone and that a few other members of Concrete Blonde were also present.
“So what are you watching?” she asked.
“Gilligan’s Island.”
“Which one” she continued.
“Um…It’s the one where that band finds their way on the island…”
“The Mosquitoes!!” They all yelled in unison.
I was totally impressed that they knew the ornate details of this…and other…Gilligan’s Island episodes.
In fact, for nearly 10 minutes or so, we did nothing but talk about Gilligan’s Island, the lunacy of their predicament, the heartlessness of those who fell upon this deserted island, managed to get off, only to never speak of the castaways whenever they reached civilization, and the homoerotic relationship that Gilligan seemed to have with the Skipper.
I’m sure that I fawned over Free during the conversation and I’m sure they were appreciative of my station’s support of it, but the bulk of the conversation was nothing more than an analysis of a mid-60’s comedy, a conversation that could have easily taken place among friends over a loaded bong and a dope fueled imagination.
Life can indeed be funny at times: one moment you’re alone with your laundry, watching a show of an episode that you’ve probably seen a dozen times or more. The next moment, you’re talking on the phone with some quasi-famous band from L.A. about….well….about that same goddamn rerun.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Phone Call From Peter Cortner

I was thinking of Brian Baker the other day. Brian is/was the lead guitarist for Minor Threat. Then Dag Nasty. Then Junkyard. Then Bad Religion. I’m not into Bad Religion that much. And I vaguely remember a few Junkyard tunes that I enjoyed, mainly off the first album. I thought it was weird that he was on that record, given his punk roots. But what I really like was his work with Dag Nasty and Minor Threat. Now those were my cup of tea.
For the record: Brian wasn’t the guitarist of Minor Threat until later on, right around the time they split. He was the bassist for the early days…the “Salad Days” if you will…and he looked fairly geeky with these big huge eyeglasses and blonde hair.
He and Lyle Prescott, the lead guitarist, looked totally out of place…”Out Of Step” if you will…for the way that they ultimately sounded.
I don’t know why I began thinking about Brian Baker. But I do know that it got me thinking about Dag Nasty, the band that he formed after Minor Threat split. I liked them, and I even got a chance to talk to Dag Nasty’s lead vocalist, Pete Cortner.
Peter was the band’s second vocalist and had already cut an album with them, Wig Out At Denko’s. Prior to this, the band was fronted by Dave Smalley, and Dag Nasty’s debut album Can I Say is generally regarded as a punk rock classic. Once Smalley left, Cortner faced tough criticism from fans who didn’t like the more melodic approach that he brought to the fold.
On top of this, it was around this time that the band left Dischord and recorded for another indie, Giant Records. It was there that they released their third album, Field Day.
Here’s the thing: I’d never heard those first two albums. I came around during Field Day and I liked it. It wasn’t until afterwards that I sought out the first two, and I liked those too. But for most people, the ones that actually started with the first two, Field Day was the epitome of “selling out,” even though is probably only moved 5,000 copies when all was said and done.
I worked at the student radio station and we played a few cuts off of Field Day. Someone from their record company must have given Cortner a list of those stations that “supported” the record, because he called me…unannounced…one day while I was hanging out at the office. I was surprised at the call and, more embarrassingly, totally unprepared for an interview. Having no formal background with Dag Nasty, I asked probably the most retarded questions known to man. There’s no record of the interview (thank God), but I can only imagine how dumb they must have sounded. They probably consisted of me looking at the record jacket while on the phone with him and saying something like “Hey! I see Brian Baker is in your band! He was in Minor Threat, right? Do you like Minor Threat? Yeah, I like them too. They’re real good. Tell me about “Song X” from your new album, Field Day, that’s a real good one.”
Thankfully, Cortner was very cool and he provided me with softball-like cues as to where to go next. Judging by the length of time he spent with me, it sounded like he really had nothing better to do. Like the punk rock establishment had turned their back on Dag Nasty because of the softer tones of Field Day, so all he could do now was spend his time talking to some schmuck from Iowa.
After about twenty minutes, I was looking for a way to end the call…possibly to end the embarrassment that I felt…and Cortner politely reminded me that he was able to do some station liners for me if I wanted. Station liners, for those of you not familiar with radio terminology, are essentially when someone famous identifies themselves, says something witty, and then mentions that whenever they’re in the area they listen to that particular station. Cortner recited a line or two from “Can I Say,” to which I thought he said something remarkably clever, something that had nothing to do with what he actually said.
No,” he explained, “That was part of “Can I Say.” It’s the title of the first album.”
It was the album that he wasn’t on, but the one that the band was best known for. Even then, the punk contingency made up the bulk of their audience while on tour and Cortner knew, even while trying to lead the band in a more dynamic direction, that he still had to cater to this contingency just to get people in the door.
The band broke up about a year later, unable to successfully make the leap from punk rock to college rock. Which is probably why it was for the better that Minor Threat called it quits when they did. The band wanted to grow up while the fans wanted them to stay the same. Dag Nasty was one of those bands that tried to grow up, but the fans wouldn’t let them.
Can I say that I admire them for trying?
And can I say that Peter Cortner was cooler than he needed to be.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Big Dipper - Supercluster

Big Dipper played an important part in my young adulthood. They were with me on the day I cut off all my hair. It was the late 80’s and I was sporting what could be described as the ‘Duff McKagan,’ a mass of long blonde locks that was obviously manufactured to look more “rockin” than what my coif would naturally attain.
I got tired of the ‘Duff’ look and decided to start over. The night of the big trim, I went to see Big Dipper play in support of their second album Craps. There was a nice size crowd, bigger than the other times the band had played previously. You got the sense that Big Dipper was on the verge of bigger and greater things.
After the show, a few friends approached me while I attempted to talk with the members of the band. In between the comments of “Great show!” and “What happened to your hair!” bassist Steve Michener signed the insert of my Heavens cd and added “Your hair looks good!”
Those aforementioned bigger and greater things turned into a major label deal with Epic records while my hair transformed into the “Mark Arm.” I’m not sure what Big Dipper transformed into with that album on Epic. Slam was an agonizing mess of polish and half-baked ideas while managing to tone down every goddamn great thing that made them so awesome. Gone were the punchy guitars that occasionally drowned out the sugar-sweet power pop melodies. They were replaced by overweight arrangements and lyrics that pointed to a complete lack of effort.
Not only did that change in direction cause me to lose interest, it practically secured Big Dipper’s destiny to become one of those forgotten bands that should’ve reached a larger audience than they ultimately did.
Apparently, there are a few nostalgic souls over at Merge records that remember how good Big Dipper’s first two records were and made the welcomed decision to re-release them with the obligatory bonus tracks for those of us that still have those original Homestead releases.
The result is Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology, a generous 3-cd collection that includes the band’s debut ep Boo-Boo along with the first two full lengths Heavens and Craps. The third cd (thankfully) dismisses that ill-advised third album Slam and contains the unreleased material the band worked on after being unceremoniously dropped from Epic.
The draw though is those first two and a half records. After being out of print for some time now, it’s great to have these titles available again, ripe for re-discovery and just as electrifying as when they were originally issued twenty years ago.
Even at a ridiculously low list price (3-for-1!), I can understand how some readers would be dismissive of a band that has been inactive for nearly two decades and, even during their time of original potential, failed to crack the mainstream strata that other indie rockers achieved.
Consider this: the band itself was a veritable “supergroup” formed from a trio of notable bands, Dumptruck (bassist Michener), The Embarrassment (vocalist and guitarist Bill Goffrier) and Volcano Suns (vocalist and lead guitarist Gary Waleik). All of these bands are good enough to warrant an additional research (Dumptruck’s For The Country being another lost treasure that is worth seeking out, particularly if you’re a fan of that Rickenbacker jangle rock so prevalent throughout much of the 80’s), but the culmination of members of these two bands proved to be a great decision.
Their sound could best be described as power-pop with intense guitar interplay, Big Dipper bridged a gap between the 3-minute single with the guitar heroics of bands that normally like to push the total track time to at least five or six ticks.
Inside these concise and melodic gems were songs about (you guess it) outer space, Abe Lincoln, alien visitations, the Harmonic Convergence, and a party that literally ends with the house getting destroyed by the tenant.
There are three songs that point to Big Dipper’s enormous potential: “Ron Klaus Wrecked His House” (Craps) is about that previously described party where Klaus, a member of the Embarrassment with Goffrier, decides to have a house destroying party after learning of his impeding eviction. The song is as catchy as all get out, but it was the party itself that managed to receive the headlines.
The other two certifiable lost classics, “She’s Fetching” and “All Going Out Together,” come from the album Heavens. It’s a little rougher around the edges and even got a few positive mentions in the mainstream press back in the day. “Fetching” boasts one of the best chorus lines in 80’s indie rock ever (“She’s fetching/She may not know it now/Oh, but if she finds out…”) while “Going Out” is perhaps the greatest song about nuclear annihilation that ever was.
Let these three songs alone be your motivation and the strength of the rest of the album(s) will surely secure your admiration. As far as the lost “fourth” Dipper album is concerned (labeled as “A Very Loud Array”), let’s be honest and say that it isn’t as strong as the first two, but it certainly would have stopped the fan exodus that Slam helped initiate.
There are no plans for a reunion album or extended tour. In fact, this package itself is limited to just 5,000 copies, which ultimately means that Big Dipper will remain an unheralded artifact, ripe for your own mix-tapes and condescending references. The sad fact remains, however, that the band deserves an audience as big as their stellar namesake.
Another sad fact is that I no longer have enough hair to pull off the “Duff” or the “Arm,” but I now have certifiable proof that Big Dipper was just as good as I remember them twenty years ago.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

ABC - The Lexicon Of Love

What happens when you mix Roxy Music, producer Trevor Horn, and the synthesizer indulgences of the early 80’s?


Known for a handful of hits and stupid music videos, the band started out infectiously awesome, thanks to the look and vocal stylings of only constant member, vocalist Martin Fry. Martin reminds me of that dude in American Psycho (“I have to return some videos”): impeccably dressed ladies man, and a voice of gold. O.K., so Patrick Bateman didn’t really croon in the movie, but his and Fry’s (perceived) shallowness seems cut from similar cloth: Brooks Brothers.

For their debut, ABC incapsules everything great about the British New Romantic movement. Stupid lyrics that occasionally brush against cleverness, overwrought production values and perfected musicianship…it’s all here in their first album, The Lexicon Of Love.

No wonder they couldn’t follow it up.

For real, Fry and company sound like they shot their wad completely with the eleven songs here. He whelps and wails over everything, including Santa Claus not visiting on Christmas, while producer Horn spends every last dime on shit like strings and horns in addition to the thousands of synthesizers that peak out of every nook and cranny. It’s an album that goes to waste on an MP3 file; Lexicon Of Love needs to be experienced on a shiny aluminum disc through a decent set of speakers.

For example: towards the end of the album, “The Look Of Love” is reprised as a minute long instrumental. This may seem like over indulgence…or filler if you will…before you listen and hear every nuance of the instruments you miss on the original. Strings, horns, Christ, there’s a fucking harp rising and ebbing throughout it, it’s as if the band or Horn tacked it on to point out that this isn’t the work of some punk novice.

No. Lexicon Of Love is the work a heavy-handed producer, an underrated vocalist, and a bunch of top-notch musicians (the bassist, in particular, is fantastic) who shared a common goal of making a modern pop masterpiece.

I’ll be damned if they didn’t succeed and they’re forgiven that they were never able to get the stars to align in quite the same way again.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Fall - Imperial Wax Solvent

While Reformation Post TLC was impressive in the sense that it’s coherent despite impossible odds (recorded with a last minute band after the original line-up abandoned our hero, literally, in the middle of the desert), Mark E. Smith returns with yet another Fall line-up and another impressive offering.
His wife, Eleni Poulou, remains in the fold on keyboards and vocals as does bassist Dave Spurr. The rest of the band is newly comprised of native English sons. But you’d have no way of guessing it from the sounds of things on Imperial Wax Solvent , probably their twenty-seventh album. Like with any Fall album, the music on their latest is drenched entirely with the open frame walls of the American garage.
How ironic that it hasn’t been offered an American release date then. But even in an elevated import-priced package, Imperial Wax Solvent is wonderfully satisfying, deserving more than just a passing nod as it’s another high-caliber, late career offering that’s as startling for its consistency as it is for its challenging aura.
The noteworthy item here is “50 Year Old Man,” an eleven-minute long celebration of Smith’s cantankerous five decades with clear hints that he has no plans at curtailing his day job. “I’m a 50 year old man!/What’re you gonna do about it?” he slurs, pausing a few times to insult younger curmudgeon Steve Albini and advising the ladies that he’s “got a three foot rock hard on” before admitting that he’s “too busy to use it.”
Instead of the female form, his attention has been placed, it seems, on loading Imperial Wax Solvent with a higher degree of studio folly than what one would expect from a notoriously grumpy old codger. The album bounces between stereo and mono mixes, levels rise and fall inexplicitly, and abrupt left-turns abound. Take “50 Year Old Man” again: four minutes into the track, the band suddenly stops for a minute long banjo exercise.
Throughout Solvent, Smith’s lyrics are in top form and downright playful (“I believe the pink IPod is spewed out”-“Strangetown”) and the performances are inspired, ranging from traditional two & three chord minimalisms, Krautrock explorations, to post-punk grooves. There’s a real sense that Mark E. Smith is, gasp, having fun as he slides into the last half of his existence.
Considering Solvent in the late-period Fall catalog would place it near the top while not managing to reach the lofty pinnacles of such universally acclaimed Fall material like Hex Enduction Hour or This Nation’s Saving Grace. But there are a few songs here that are of equal caliber to songs on those albums. In fact, there are more than enough to provide evidence among Fall fans like myself to preach how Mark E. Smith remains as one of the brilliant elder statesmen of rock. What’s even more impressive is how he’s able to achieve this even after passing through the chaos that he intentionally creates. We really shouldn’t be referring to him in such lofty prose, all things considered. But we do, because this is exactly the type of nature we hope to sow when the aches and pains become more prevalent in our own lives. We want to be able to bash and pop, to hurl insults at the spoiled younger generations, and top every story of overcoming adversity with our own, better story. We want boners without Viagra, hipper-than-yours record collections, and bloody fistfights with dudes in our band that are half our age.
We all want to be as cool as Mark E. Smith, and with each new album, we get to live vicariously through him.
The honest truth is that we will never be as cool as him and your favorite band of the moment will never really be as good as The Fall. Like Smith himself declares on the final track (“Exploding Chimney”) “Believe me kids/I’ve been through it all.” Considering this, we’re probably all too chickenshit to really live out that type of lifestyle anyway. So it’s a good thing that, judging from the sounds of Imperial Wax Solvent, Mark E. Smith is just now getting his second wind.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Pat Benetar

Do I admit to you that I owned not one, but each one of Pat Benatar's first four albums? It's true, I loved Pat Benatar as a kid, from In The Heat Of The Night all the way to Get Nervous. By the time she did "Love Is A Battlefield," I had enough.
I belive she had, what music experts call, a "mezza soprano" range. All I know is that it kicked ass.
The moment she took her four octive range and began putting it to use on trip like "Battlefield" and the tune from The Legend Of Billy Jean was the moment that I stopped caring.
Were the albums any good? That's a matter of debate. Crimes Of Passion was the best of the four. It had "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and at least an album side worth of good tunes. The others probably had just a few decent tracks with a bunch of filler thrown in. I remember thinking this too when I originally was hip to everything Benetar.
Mrs. Geraldo is 56 years old today, and she still has huge teeth.
Before she struck it big in music, Pat Benatar killed Nazis.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Phish and The Dead Announce 09 Tour Dates

I’m counting to ten and keeping my hands away from my privates as some recent news in noodleland has given me a boner. Of course, one of the problems in noodleland is having your hands grope around your penis for constant wanking.
Phish has decided 2009 is a prime opportunity to reform, go back on the road and have thousands of Phisheads fork over $49.50 for tickets.
I would be one of those considering it.
Perhaps you don’t remember Trey Anastasio solo career…I sure don’t. In fact, I remember more about Trey’s run-ins with the cops than I do any of his recorded output.
But I do harbor fond memories of the band that was poised to jump right into the “king of the jam bands” title after Garcia died. They did, for a while, before a few band members figured out that being the king of the jam bands was kind of a buzzkill.
Anyway: “Fuck you!”…Billy Breathes is an awesome album and I’d dig another live shot of “Wilson” any day of the week.
I just finished reading Phil Lesh’s autobiography Searching For The Sound and performed a recent run-through of the Grateful Dead’s mid-70’s output. You know, before they signed to Arista and released their shitty late-70’s output. It (the book) gave me a better understanding of Garcia’s addiction and why he kept singing “Black Muddy River” and “Stella Blue” all the time towards the end.
The spins of Blues For Allah got me missing a live version of “Franklin’s Tower” and, whadya know, The Dead just announced a 09 tour. I’m sure “Franklin’s Tower” wouldn’t be on the set list since it is a Jerry tune, but it would be nice to see the four surviving members again.
I’m totally interested in Rocking The Cradle: Egypt, 1978 when the Dead secured the necessary US and Egyptian approvals to perform a concert in front of the pyramids. This is exactly the kind of pointless hippie idea that makes me love this band. It was a concert that ultimately lost money, created only because someone got high and thought, “You know what would be awesome? To do a show in front of the pyramids, man!”
In Lesh’s book, he talks about how a few nomadic desert dwellers stopped by to listen to the jams, but ultimately, the band wasn’t really firing on all cylinders. That’s another thing I love about the Dead: whenever they were faced with the big shows (Woodstock, Altamont, the Pyramids), they managed to fuck them up somehow. Yet even afterwards, they pushed on, allowing their stoned synapses to forget these failures before moving on to the next harebrained idea.
“You know what would be awesome? To do a show from the moon!”
Here’s a short clip of a silly hippie (actually, one of the original Merry Pranksters, George Walker) desecrating one of the seven wonders of the world with a Steal Your Face flag.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

R.I.P. Ron Asheton

Ron Asheton was the shit. Pretty much invented punk rock, when you think about it. Sure, Iggy was the frontman, but he was an animal. Ron caged the beast, gave Iggy some structure to monkey with, and managed to invent a fucking genre in the process.
There were tons of guitarists that could play Asheton under the table, but there’s his brilliance. While others were decorating their shit with flowers, liquid light shows and cheesy sitars, Ron took his primitive approach and ran it through a combo amp as loud as he could.
Ask The Ramones who the common denominator was and they’d tell you “The Stooges.”
What was the last song the Sex Pistols played at Winterland? The Stooges.
Name the band where you need to have every single proper album that was released? The Stooges.
Of course, we’re not talking about The Weirdness and we’re admitting that Iggy moved Ron to bass for Raw Power. But the groundwork for everything was founded on a few chords this man knew and an everyman notion that even a geeky looking kid from a shitty Midwestern town could play rock and roll.
And every once in a great while, that same geeky kid managed to change the face of the genre that encouraged him to pick up the guitar in the first place.

One of the best Ron Asheton memories for me is one that he wasn't even at, but his spirit was. A few of us gathered to dick around in my basement years ago looking for something to play. My cousin suggested "No Fun," and within thirty seconds he showed me the chords and we began to play it for nearly a half-hour. Some girls came down from upstairs (read: our wives) and asked us if we knew any other songs. The point is, we didn't need to know any other songs. Ron probably knew that already.

Another Ron Asheton story...and another basement. A few of us gathered in the basement of my old house in Cedar Falls. Again, we were seeking inspiration and again someone suggested a Stooges song. This time it was "I Wanna Be Your Dog." The chords were learned, but still, one guitarist continued to struggle with it. Without naming names, this particular guitarist went on to prove to be a very good guitarist and still performs to this day. Anyway, on this night long ago, he had challenges with keeping time on a song that is, essentially, three chords repeated over and over. After resigning with my own "Oh come on!" with more exasperation than what Iggy does on vinyl, we resigned ourselves to the sloppy performance before the song truly began to make sense. "I Wanna Be Your Dog" wasn't really meant to be "perfect" or to be "perfected." The song is just a vague blueprint for us to follow. Twists, turns, and fluctuations in time are merely part of the journey.

Two stories, each one very telling: his guitar work was easy enough for the most amateur of players to learn in just a few minutes, yet tough enough for even the best of players to figure out.

Ron Asheton embodied that spirit and after only sixty years, he's left us alone in the basement to figure it out for ourselves.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Todd Totale Inside The Actor's Studio

So now that you've learned a little bit about what's drawn people to Glam-Racket, here's a little bit about me, the dude that spends way too much time maintaining this therapy-recommended outlet. If the questions seem familiar, you can thank James Lipton.

1) What is your favorite word?

2) What is your least favorite word?
Squat thrust

3) What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Afghani Sativa

4) What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
John Tesh

5) What sound or noise do you love?
Electric guitars through overdriven amplifiers

6) What sound or noise do you hate?
Semi air brakes

7) What is your favorite curse word?

8 ) What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Airplane Pilot

9) What profession would you not like to do?

10) If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Grab those drum sticks, Hendrix, Entwistle and Lennon need a drummer for their gig tonight.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year From Glam-Racket!

So Happy New Year and all of that shit. The reality is that this was written well before New Year's Day and I'm probably sleeping right now, so what is it that brings you to these neck of the woods?

This blog started as Brave Battles In The Mixing Place, the name of an album I did under the moniker Stover and was the result of a few years of counseling in which one of the therapist told me that I should start a journal. So I did, the wife (at that time) found it, freaked, and then we got divorced. I then began doing the journal thing again, except this time on-line (brilliant) to which the ex-wife (at that time) found it, freaked, and then I had to do a huge purge of the majority of the posts because (and don't tell her this) I did agree that it wasn't entirely ethical of me to have a blog where the vast majority of the posts were essentially rants against someone who couldn't defend themselves against.

Plus, I had gotten over the entire thing and the "venting" that was the majority of those posts served their purpose, but I was mentally in a different place at that time.

The blog renamed to "Glam-Racket" after a kick ass song by The Fall and because I was totally into T-Rex at the time that this place opened up shop. I decided to turn it into more of a music oriented stop, whereby I go a review albums in my collection (an endless task), opine about music (ditto) and occassionally throw up a review of a new record that has come across my world. You'll notice that the total post counts from the first two years are way low, and that's the result of my purge of more personal related posts. It is true that the post counts have increased yearly, and I guess the idea was to do at least 15 per month on average. Some months more, some less, as I have a life outside of this.

Speaking of...

Last year, I started doing more personal posts again because 1.) People wanted to know but couldn't figure out how to use the phone (or I let it go to voice mail..I'm on the phone all day, so I prefer face-to-face chats, dig) and 2.) I don't have to maintian a second blog on some douchebag social network site and 3.) It was kind of the original intent all together.

With that being said, it's kind of a scatological place around here. To clue you in, here's a Baker's Dozen of the most popular posts here at Glam-Racket:

  1. The Baker's Dozen Greatest Rock Drummers Of All Time-You'll notice two things about this list: One is that readers of Glam-Racket love lists (who doesn't?) and they are opinionated about drummers. I can't find any links to this particular post that explain the high view rate, but apparently people just type in "Best Rock Drummers of All Time" and end up here. Then they read the list and get pissed at me. According to the comments, the who Moon/Bonzo thing is a healthy topic for arguing while my inclusion of AC/DC's Phil Rudd was not welcomed.

  2. The 2006 Baker's Dozen-The year end lists are popular, but for some reason the year 2006 was more popular among readers than other years. Personally, it's the one that doesn't sit well with me and I've made a few revisions of it. Why I included TV On The Radio's Return To Cookie Mountain on there is beyond me. Don't bother looking for it. I knocked that fucking this off of there.

  3. The Smiths-Live Review-It was nearly a quarter-century ago, but people apparently enjoy my accounts of a Smiths show from Southern California. I recently scored by locating a bootleg copy of the show on Soulseek. It's totally surreal hearing a show that you saw so long ago and being able to recount many of the same emotions you felt when you were there. But the reality holds true: you had to be there.

  4. Lou Reed-The Bells-Lou Reed fans are a strange lot. They're as douchey as Lou himself it seems and don't like it when you criticize him. This wishey-washey review drew the most hits and the most angry replies. Most of them didn't comment, but a few went out of their way to point out that I'm a fucking idiot. Never mind that if you check my profile, you'll notice that the title track "The Bells" is the most spun Lou Reed track around here. I love that song but thought the album was one of Lou's lesser efforts. Strangely, I raped Mistrial more, but people didn't give a shit about that one.

  5. Planet P Project-Pink World-Yes, this cult curio from the mid-80's draws a lot of views, and many of them get angry at what they see. Fuck 'em. It sucks.

  6. Spoon-Live Review-If I recall, this took place about a week before the actual tour began, and a lot of people wanted to check out the setlist, the demeanor, and what to expect from the band before seeing them for themselves.

  7. Rush-Live Review-I originally did this for Glorious Noise and then reposted
    it here. Rush fans followed.

  8. 2007 Baker's Dozen-People love looking at lists. It's science.

  9. Jani Lane Tells Las Vegas "Let's Go Get Some Fuckin' French Toast"-I just thought the story....posted one month after the event happened...was hiliarious. People didn't seem to mind that this blog was late to the game on Jani Lane's drunken exploits. Perhaps it was the post title that captured the hearts of Googlers across the globe.

  10. H.O.L.S.-Live Review-There are a few readers from Iowa, or perhaps ex-pat Iowans, that stumble across here. Statehood pride aside, House Of Large Sizes were one awesome band that were actually quite unique in a sea of alternative sameness.

  11. Baker's Dozen Best Rock 'n' Rolls Films-This list was total bullshit. I literally just started writing down a bunch of rock films down in the order that I liked and posted it. I'm sure the list will change the moment that I begin watching some of the recommendations that people comment on. Believe it or not, I had a companion list(s) of fictional rock 'n' roll films and another one that listed the worst rock 'n' roll films ever. The latter began an internal debate, one along the lines of "Is the Sgt. Pepper movie really a rock 'n' roll film? After all, it has fucking George Burns in it." These internal debates cause me to lose interest and forget about posting it. Maybe one of them with resurface next year.

  12. Todd vs. Todd -People like Todd Rundgren. No, I mean really like him. All I have to do is post something like "Todd Rundgren is a fag for agreeing to join the New Cars" and people will respond in kind. This post documents my dealings with the other Todd, and a few folks apparently read it.

  13. Rush - All The World's A Stage-Further proof that there's a bunch of Rush fans out there. Making out with a chick in my bedroom after school when my parents aren't home while a Rush live 8-track plays in the background. That's right, I said "8-Track." It's the American dream.

  14. Honorable Mention:

    To The Paramedic Who Saved Nikki Sixx-This one ranked high on the old blog, but then I removed it for this one as it also contained some personal information on there. Essentially, I chastised the paramedic, a Motley Crue fan, who saved Nikki Sixx after he O.D.'ed on smack. Then, we all had to listen to the story over and over again. A few Crue fans didn't think it was too funny and commented accordingly. I did another post, one that maid fun of Tommy Lee and a Crue fan got bent out of shape on that one too. Is any member of Motley Crue fair game? Come to think of it, I'm sure I posted some mean-spirited shit about Mick Mars and not one goddamn Crue fan came to his defense.

So there you have it, a few of the posts around here that have caught the eye of friends, relatives, rock fans, and internet surfers from around the world. Stop by often and click some of those ads so that I can get some additional revenue from them.
Oh wait....