Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Smiths - The Smiths

Here's the album in which I first discovered The Smiths, but not in the way in which you think.

It was from a review in Rolling Stone magazine-back when things like print music magazines mattered, and when reviews could expose a band to a wider audience. As much as I hate to admit it, Rolling Stone magazine prompted me to explore new music unseen, and the results were rather mixed, even though the intentions were good.

I didn't buy The Smiths debut from that review.

And none of the words had any impact on that decision.

In fact, I can't even remember if the review was positive or negative, but I'd venture a guess that the folks at Rolling Stone have re-written their own history enough times to call the Mancunians' debut a "landmark" and to heap plenty of 20/20 praise on its arrival, even if their first glance was indifferent.

What struck me was the artwork-this was during a period when Rolling Stone's reviews all featured the record artwork-and  how it was different that any other album cover at the time. It was clear that this band paid careful consideration to their image, or at least the sleeve in which it came in. It looked edgy, mysterious and somewhat iconic. Even the font looked clean.

It also looked gay. And to a young man growing up in the Midwest, "looking" gay was something that young boys were instructed-either directly  or indirectly-not to  appear. These were the instructions of the same dude who also advised against wearing pink or getting only your left ear pierced, because an earring in the right ear meant you were gay.

Both ears? You were bi.

All of this hopefully sounds ridiculous to anyone now, but ask any Midwestern man over 40 and I'm positive that you will hear similar nonsense.

I would like to think that The Smiths are somehow responsible for the cultural shift that made it possible for young men to not have to worry about such things, because to not purchase a record simply because the cover might suggest that you were somehow a homosexual is entirely the wrong reason for not buying it.

At the same time, had I actually been brave enough to purchase The Smiths, there is a distinct possibility that I would not have re-examined the band until much later than I actually did. That's because The Smiths' debut is not the infectious and Earth shattering record I needed to hear in order to begin to not give a shit what other people thought about the fucking cover.

But having the luxury to look back upon the band's debut after the fact provides its glaring deficiency: the horribly dated mix. The band could be a tightly wound monster, but The Smiths sounds like it was merely pieced together by a few dedicated musicians, a meticulously-inclined producer and an unlimited amount of studio time to make it all stick.

The drums sound thin and Morrissey hasn't quite found his fey swagger, coming across as the bummed out bastard who just happened to land the gig of vocalist because he was the only dude that brought lyrics to rehearsal. Guitarist Johnny Marr and bassist Andy Rourke give spirited performances, but when a pair of tunes feature Paul Carrack, you tend to wonder what other musicians the producer might have been able to call up after a full evening of studio tracking.

The sequencing is a complete downer too, even by Smiths standards. Nearly every song could be the soundtrack to a child abuse nightmare, and even though the band is somewhat famous for being morose, it can be a fairly grim process getting though The Smiths without wanting some sunlight or a mindless cartoon after a complete listen.

The American issue squeezed in the delightful "This Charming Man" single at the end of side one to brighten things up, but its placement on the debut is made redundant with the much-better Hatful Of Hollow compilation, and is apparently becoming phased out of future issues of The Smiths.

True fans are going to (like me) get here eventually and I must acknowledge that some of the themes and arrangements within The Smiths will probably be close to the hearts of the fans that began here. There is no doubting this record's ultimate influence, but for me the debut sounds like a band developing not only its footing, but also their own authority. They surely must have known that they sounded much better than what producer John Porter presented on this record, as every record the band self-produced afterwards reflects some superior musicianship and real prowess compare to the tracks found here.

What works best is the lyrics, a point that Morrissey no doubt realizes and can use as an example whenever he attempts to diminish the roles of his other bandmates. The irony of The Smiths failure is how it doesn't represent the entire band's strengths, and probably would have rendered them an eccentric cult curio if they hadn't pressed on to do much greater things in an unbelieveably short amount of time.

It's not the record that you should start with, but by discovering the band through other albums, you'll soon end up here anyway.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Blue Cheer - Outsideinside

Identified as one of the loudest albums in rock history, but even that has an asterisk. The story goes that during the recording of Outsideinside, Blue Cheer was kicked out of the studio for being too loud. So, the band decided to record the remaining material on Pier 57 in New York, and even then, ships miles away could hear the racket.

Of course, none of this eardrum breaking sonic overdose is that prevalent on Outsideinside. What remains is a thick, viscous sludge.

Fans of garage rock, early heavy metal, psychedelic freakouts and headache-inducing stereo panning will be pleased with the mucky results. It is 36 minutes of lysergic bliss, bashed out by a trio of grubby bikers who asked members of the Hells Angels to coordinate the art direction. The resulting package is an enjoyable time capsule in which Dickie Peterson is perched on a mushroom with drummer Paul Whaley and guitarist Leigh Stephens also sporting wide smiles as 5 bikers bring weed to the power trio.

The novelty of the packaging, the recording sessions and the band’s unhinged personalities all pale when those first moments of fuzz hit. Outsideinside was the second album from Blue Cheer in 1968 and its predecessor Vincebus Eruptum is the release that tends to get higher recognition.

By record number two, Blue Cheer had undoubtedly logged a few highway miles and they sound a bit tighter on the final results. But I’ll be damned if I can hear any real intricate detail in this sludgefeast, and there are still plenty of moments where the band occasionally falls off the rails, giving the entire thing a sense of legitimacy.

Which is just another way of saying “It’s awesome.” With covers of The Stones “Satisfaction” and Albert Kings “The Hunter” put into the line-up as some kind of reference point-but it hardly matters: You can hear the tape catching speed at the beginning of “Satisfaction” while “The Hunter” starts of fairly innocuous before slipping into another acid casualty by the guitar solo.

How this record ever got made it a testament to the free spirit of the record industry at that time, where even a power trio of limited competencies with loud amplifiers could get signed.  The end result is a wonderful time capsule, a soundtrack to your scrambled eggs hangover and a perfect reminder that rock and roll music was once a dangerous place, performed at dangerous volumes and fueled by dangerous substances.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Grace Jones - Nightclubbing

Being a fan of The Police back in the day - particularly the driving “Demolition Man” from Ghosts In The Machine - I was not too keen on hearing an androgynous Jamaican woman named Grace Jones unleash her own version of the song In fact, Jones was so completely off of my radar during the time of her original releases that I only remember her stunning look and not a note of her music, except that lone Police cover.

A reissue reminder of Nightclubbing prompted a new consideration-this time where I followed the album as it should have been absorbed originally. From it, I learned that Jones’ version of “Demolition Man” predates The Police’s version-so it really isn’t fair to claim that Jones’ cover is somehow sacrilegious to the original, since it is the original.

And any mention of her look failed to consider just how artistically creative it really was. The androgyny, the sharp angles of her clothing and hair, all of these divisive visuals now appear as groundbreaking, breaking new ground for other artists that also use provocative appearances to get noticed.

But back then, there was nobody like Grace Jones, and I suppose you could still say the same thing today. What I failed to learn then is the backstory to her career. Her musical career came with some pretty intense personal sacrifices, specifically how her controversial looks created friction with her father, who was attempting to become a church bishop. He was under the impression that his religious desire was becoming by his daughter’s look and musical content. The decision to distance himself from his daughter’s fame meant that he also would need to distance himself from her. While most parents would be proud at their kid’s success, Grace would be forced to appreciate her own independently.

Even the music itself was becoming more challenging. Jones had originally transitioned from a successful modeling career to music by means of disco. By the late 70’s, she had abandoned the genre that gave her a certain amount of success and began incorporating different styles of music into her own repertoire as well as toying with the idea of what women should look like.

To facilitate this, Jones traveled back to her native Jamaica and enlisted the help of Sly & Robbie to initiate her “Compass Point Trilogy,” of which, Nightclubbing comes in as the second installment. It is her most well-known work and it is more influential than originally thought.

The Compass Point Allstars go beyond the early 80’s reggae vibe that they had already consistently mastered by this point. Instead, they bring genres like disco, electronica, new wave into their island grooves, leaving Jones to use every song as a new role with the only thread becoming Nightclubbing’s danceability.

The deluxe edition expands Nightclubbing into two discs, but it’s the original one that you’ll want to focus on. Disc two is filled with redundant extended versions that offer little over the original album versions, with the exception of two unreleased tracks “If You Want To Be My Lover” and a great cover of Gary Numan’s “Me! I Disconnect From You” which suggest that Jones’ adherence to reinterpreting cover songs is a very worthwhile strategy, as was her unconventional appearance.

Ultimately, it’s what is found inside the packaging that reaffirms Jones’ musical output: challenging, endearing and influential. Ironically, the same qualities that are found on her album covers.

Monday, June 16, 2014

John & Yoko Interview Box Set

For any Beatlemaniac out there, there is a new box set featuring extensive interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono during a period of enormous creativity from the former Beatle. If you've ever immersed yourself in the finer details of the Beatles history, this sounds like it would provide some excellent material for your geeky little head. Details on the box set including its content are found below.

This eight CD box set features John Lennon & Yoko Ono's five iconic conversations with Village Voice journalist and radio personality Howard Smith. These in-depth discussions about music, love, creativity, peace and politics illuminate the couple's transformation from Beatles into revolutionaries.

These interviews have been mastered from Smith's original audio recordings, which had been buried in the back of his West Village loft for 40 years. Never before released on CD.

May 28 - 29, 1969 - Live phone interview, the Bed-In Montreal (35 min)

Smith speaks on the phone with John & Yoko, who are in their suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Among other things, they discuss selling Peace as a commodity, the Activist Movement, and Lennonʼs denial of being, nor intention of being, a leader.

Dec. 17, 1969 - Ronnie Hawkinʼs Ranch, Ontario Canada (89 min)

Smith traveled to Ronnie Hawkinʼs Ranch outside of Toronto to interview John & Yoko. While eating shrimp tempura, they discuss the ins and outs of recording with the Beatles, the bandʼs uncertain future, Woodstock vs. Altamont, and the impact of the Youth Movement.

Dec. 12, 1970 - Regency Hotel, NYC (86 min)

Smith interviews John & Yoko the day after the Plastic Ono Band albums are released, and they are in the midst of shooting 2 art films. They discuss the emotional process of their music including specific songs from the albums, their time in Janov therapy, how they handle fame, and whether the Beatles will ever get back together.

Sept. 9, 1971 - St. Regis Hotel, NYC (71 min)

Smith interviews John & Yoko on the day Lennonʼs album Imagine is released. They discuss the album, Onoʼs upcoming artist retrospective, Paulʼs, Georgeʼs and Ringoʼs own individual albums, the mediaʼs criticisms of their relationship, Johnʼs "working class" nature, and future plans.

Jan. 23, 1972 - The Lennonsʼ Bank St. apartment, NYC (86 min)

Smith drops by John & Yokoʼs West Village apartment on the day of a WPLJ Beatles marathon which can be heard at times playing in the background, often inspiring and directing the conversation. They discuss the experience of being a Beatle (and a Beatle wife) and the break up, stage fright and the emotional rollercoaster of performing, breakthroughs acquired in Janov therapy, love, and Revolution.

About Howard Smith:

Howard Smith is an Oscar winning film director, journalist and broadcaster. As a writer for more than 30 years, his articles have appeared in, among others, Playboy and The New York Times. Smithʼs weekly column "Scenes" in the Village Voice helped cement the paperʼs position within the emerging counterculture.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Yngwie Malmsteen Begins Guitar Gods Tour

You can practically smell the ego rising from the press release of Yngwie Malmsteen's Guitar Gods tour. I mean, why is it necessary to point out that Malmsteen got his own signature Fender model before Eric Clapton?

Because Yngwie has never been as universally revered as Clapton has and when you're as narcissistic as Malmsteen, you tend to point out every minute detail of your legacy, even the ones that really don't mean anything. Same thing goes for the Guitar Hero references. Who gives a shit?

Yngwie does. That's all that matters.

I won't be in the area during the time the Guitar Gods tour rolls around, otherwise, I'd be all over this. To see Yngwie and Uli Jon Roth (who may rank as one of my favorite guitarists ever) on the same stage would be pretty amazing, even if Yngwie's epic ego only allows him to log 9 dates to show off his six string prowess.

Here's the release:

(New York, NY) - The king of neo-classical shred guitar, legendary guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen, will soon return to stages across North America this summer for the first-ever "Guitar Gods" festival tour. Bringing together such accomplished axemen as Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions, Electric Sun), Gary Hoey ("Hocus Pocus") and Bumblefoot (Guns N' Roses), Malmsteen will headline an epic celebration (6+ hours!) of the instrument for a full evening of guitar pyrotechnics. Each show will also feature special surprise guests. The "Guitar Gods" tour is created and produced by April Malmsteen, Yngwie's wife and manager and is presented in proud partnership with Guitar Center. Please see below for the itinerary; more dates to be announced.

Of the upcoming tour, creator and producer April Malmsteen commented, "Being able to put together this festival has been a lifelong dream of mine. I sincerely believe that "Guitar Gods" will bring tremendous value and enjoyment to not only the guitar and heavy metal enthusiast, but also to anyone who loves music." Yngwie Malmsteen's most recent studio album, SPELLBOUND and his first book, the autobiography, Relentless: A Memoir, are both available now. Malmsteen was recently profiled about both on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday; that segment can be heard here. In other news, the Yngwie Malmsteen premium artist signature series by Fender is now available. The series features a full lineup of Malmsteen-endorsed accessories such as guitar strings, instrument cables, gig bags, electronic tuners and more.

For nearly three decades, Grammy-nominated guitar icon Yngwie Malmsteen has been amazing audiences with dazzling technical speed and ability. Malmsteen's signature style of playing, which combines elements of seemingly disparate styles of music - metal and classical, spawned the now commonplace genres of heavy metal known as "shred guitar" and "neo classical" and earned Malmsteen the title "the Paganini of heavy metal". Malmsteen was the first guitarist to have his own Fender signature guitar model (even before Eric Clapton). He has graced the cover of more than 200 magazines worldwide, has won every guitar award imaginable and to date, has sold millions of records. Time named Malmsteen one of the "Top Ten Greatest Electric Guitar Players", an honor he shared with the likes of Les Paul, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. "Guitar Hero" enthusiasts know they have arrived when they are bestowed with the Yngwie Malmsteen award in the Xbox 360 version of "Guitar Hero 2". The award signifies a 1000+ note streak in succession.

Held in the highest regard in his own right, Uli Jon Roth brings the very special 40th Anniversary Scorpions set that he has been playing to audiences from Europe to North America, embracing his history with the band and digging deep into their catalogue for this tour.

Acclaimed for his accomplishments for perfecting his playing in multiple genres (rock, blues, surf), Gary Hoey performs his radio hits such as the Billboard Top 5 smash "Hocus Pocus" along with other favorites. 

Bumblefoot, best known for his work with Guns N' Roses, embarks on his first solo tour, playing songs from his entire critically-praised recorded history.

Yngwie Malmsteen/Guitar Gods North American tour 2014:


13 Huntington, NY Paramount Theatre
14 Sayreville, NJ Starland Ballroom
17 Englewood, NJ Bergen Performing Arts Center
20 St. Charles, IL Arcada Theatre
21 Toronto, ON Phoenix Theatre
26 Seattle, WA Showbox Theatre
27 Portland, OR Roseland Theater


3 Beverly Hills, CA Saban Theatre
8 Tucson, AZ Rialto Theatr

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Beth Orton Central Reservation Gets The Reissue Treatment

One of my favorite records from 1999, Beth Orton's Central Reservation is a stunning glimpse into the vocalist's raw talent and abilities. For anyone who may have missed its impact when it was originally released 15 years ago (what?!), you now have a chance to catch up with the reissue treatment it receives. For reals: "Sweetest Decline" with its very first line of "She wears secrets in her hair/The whispers are not hers to share/She's as deep as a well" are the things that classic records are made upon.


Beth Orton's Central Reservation album will be re-issued by 3 Loop Music as a 2CD expanded edition to be distributed in the US by MVD Entertainment Group. Released in 1999, the album received a Mercury Music Prize nomination and helped Beth earn a BRIT Award in 2000 for Best British Female. The follow up to Beth's acclaimed debut Trailer Park, Central Reservation featured the hit singles "Stolen Car" and "Central Reservation" and spent 56 weeks in the album charts, selling over 500,000 copies. The album is also featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

Re-issued for the first time with a second disc of bonus material compiled by Beth, the album contains key b-sides, including the "Spiritual Life Ibadon" remix of the title track plus unreleased live recordings and demos. The expanded packaging includes brand new sleevenotes and a new interview with Beth. She recalls, "Listening back to the record now, I enjoy hearing the melodies and how I played with them and the words. The making of records is often a period of redemption for me and the recording of 'Central Reservation' was the actualising of all my most positive hopes and wishes."

CD1 (Original Album):

1. Stolen Car - 5:25
2. Sweetest Decline - 5:39
3. Couldn't Cause Me Harm - 4:48
4. So Much More - 5:41
5. Pass In Time - 7:17
6. Central Reservation (Original Version) - 4:50
7. Stars All Seem To Weep - 4:39
8. Love Like Laughter - 3:07
9. Blood Red River - 4:15
10. Devil Song - 5:04
11. Feel To Believe - 4:04
12. Central Reservation (The Then Again Version) - 4:01

CD2 Sessions At West 54th Street:

1. Someone's Daughter - 4:02
2. Sweetest Decline - 4:38
3. Blood Red River - 5:05
4. Pass In Time - 7:26
5. She Cries Your Name - 4:04
6. Devil Song - 5:30
7. I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine - 4:55
8. Stars All Seem To Weep - 2:19

9. I Love How You Love Me - 2:36
10. Precious Maybe - 4:02
11. Stars All Seem To Weep (Shed Version) - 2:59
12. Central Reservation (Spiritual Life Ibadon Remix) - 8:50

Demos and Rough Mixes:

13. Love Like Laughter - 2:08
14. So Much More - 1:51
15. Central Reservation Band Demo - 4:33
16. Couldn't Cause Me Harm - 6:44

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Washed Out Announce New Round Of Paracosm Dates

They're weeknight dates, but at least Iowa finds a pair of visits from Washed Out's tour after they wrap up their opening slots with The National.

Here's the promotional spin:

Washed Out has premiered a new long-form video for “Weightless,” the latest offering from his acclaimed album, Paracosm. Directed by David Altobelli (M83, Sia, Conor Oberst), the mini film, presents a "gorgeous tale" of unrequited love with dreamlike sequences throughout. Altobelli says of the video, "Unrequited love is a universal emotion. In this case, the emotions are heightened because there exists yet another wall between the protagonist and the object of his affection. It's heartbreaking and inevitable, but it's also just part of being a kid in love(see Pitchfork News Story June 4th)."

Washed Out has added August and September to his 2014 tour schedule in support of Paracosm. The tour now spans June 4th in Richmond, VA at The National and currently ends on September 14th in Tampa, FL at The Ritz Ybor. Tickets for the August and September dates go on sale Friday, June 6th at 10a.m. ET.

 Festival highlights for the tour include: June 6th in New York, NY at The Governors Ball; June 8th in Toronto, ON at Field Trip; June 15th in Manchester, TN at Bonnaroo Music Festival; June 20th in Dufur, OR for WTF?! What The Festival; June 22nd in Dover, DE at Firefly Music Festival; August 29th in Chicago, IL at North Coast Music Festival; and September 6th in St. Louis, MO for Lou Fest. Please find a complete list of tour dates below.

Washed Out’s Paracosm is available now on CD / LP / DL in North America via Sub Pop and Europe via Weird Word.

Tour Dates
Jun. 04 - Richmond, VA - The National*
Jun. 05 - Washington, DC - 9:30 Club*
Jun. 06 - New York, NY - The Governors Ball / Randall’s Island
Jun. 06 - Brooklyn, NY - Brooklyn Bowl (Late Show)
Jun. 08 - Toronto, ON - Field Trip / Historic Fort York and Garrison Commons
Jun. 09 - Pontiac, MI - Crofoot Ballroom*
Jun. 10 - Cleveland Heights, OH - Grog Shop*
Jun. 11 - Columbus, OH - Newport Music Hall*
Jun. 12 - Lancaster, PA - Chameleon Club*
Jun. 15 - Manchester, TN - Bonnaroo Music Festival
Jun. 20 - Dufur, OR - WTF?! What The Festival
Jun. 22 - Dover, DE - Firefly Music Festival
Aug. 25 - Knoxville, TN - Bijou Theatre
Aug. 26 - Norfolk, VA - The NorVa
Aug. 27 - Millvale, PA - Mr. Smalls Theatre
Aug. 29 - Chicago, IL - North Coast Music Festival / Union Park
Sep. 01 - Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
Sep. 02 - Iowa City, IA - Blue Moose Tap House
Sep. 03 - Des Moines, IA - Wooly’s
Sep. 05 - Lawrence, KS - The Granada Theatre
Sep. 06 - St. Louis, MO - Lou Fest / Forest Park
Sep. 07 - Tulsa, OK - Cains Ballroom
Sep. 08 - Dallas, TX - Granada Theatre
Sep. 09 - Austin, TX - The Mohawk
Sep. 10 - New Orleans, LA - House of Blues
Sep. 12 - Orlando, FL - The Plaza Live
Sep. 13 - Fort Lauderdale, FL - Culture Room
Sep. 14 - Tampa, FL - The Ritz Ybor
* w/ Wunder Wunder

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Doors - L.A. Woman: The Workshop Sessions

If the chief complaint against L.A. Woman was its lazy interpretation, then the rehearsals leading up to that recording session can only be described as a feast of stoned immaculate friends.

The Workshop Sessions find The Doors in a particularly amiable mood, in a recording that was never intended on seeing the light of day. I suppose, in that respect, we can't complain too much about how sloppy John Densmore's drumming is, or how Robby Krieger plays with such half-assed concentration that he completely stops playing in some areas. Even Jimbo remained seating during some of these takes, which may or may not be indicative of whatever role he might have been pondering at this point in the Doors career.

To be honest, The Workshop Sessions sound more like an opportunity for session bassist Jerry Scheff to learn the material-and most of the evidence presented here demonstrates that the tunes don't present him with any trouble whatsoever.

Even Ray Manzarek is in fine form, dutifully making sure the songs remain on a start/stop schedule and staying close to the patterns that everyone is by now familiar with from the final product of L.A. Woman.

The Workshop Sessions may signal that there is very little left in the band's archives to milk their posthumous output, but its quality is enough to capture the curiosity of their loyal fans-and for them, this release will be warmly received.

Firstly, the sound quality is tremendous. Those flubs and studio banter are crisp and full of fidelity. You're a fly on the wall to their inner sanctum-and there were enough of those moments for me to appreciate this release.

The only other item that will sway Doors fans is the unreleased track "She Smells So Nice/Rock Me" which is not so much a lost song as a pretty simple blues jam who's only claim to fame is the ad-libbing that Morrison does at the end, marking the first appearance of the "Mr. Mojo Risin'" line into the rock and roll lexicon.

It's more of a spontaneous utterance rather than a "Eureka!" epiphany, and the fact that it comes well after the jam has run its course signals that "She Smells So Nice/Rock Me" was included with this release solely on the novelty of capturing one of the most well-known lines in rock history rather than providing us with a lost gem.

The Workshop Sessions qualifies as being both the cash-grab that cynics will label it as while being an indispensable recording for serious Doors fans who would have purchased any bit of material laid in front of them. With the packaging and source material as good as it is on this release, The Workshop Sessions makes it a worthy issue but hardly one that will appeal to anyone beyond the already devoted.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Doors - L.A. Woman

To the Doors faithful, L.A. Woman was a continuation of the band's peak moments, a picture of the white bread blues the would carry the band through the 70's, with short bursts of jazzy blends and the peaceful, easy feelings that would saturate the scene for the rest of the decade.

Of course, the Doors faithful could also be incredibly wrong, and the mantra "take it easy" could also be seen as "spoiled laziness" among other observers, and The Doors certainly had a track record of taking the path of least resistance.

The reality of L.A. Woman is somewhere in the middle. There are moments of true brilliance, mostly contained within the epic sprawl of "Riders On The Storm" and the title track, both lengthy offerings in the band's penchant for drawn out dramas. The difference being that both of the tracks that ended up closing out sides one and two on the original release sounded nothing like their track record of over-seriousness, where charming film school boys could get away with a few moments of poetry recall and pouty snapshots.

For L.A. Woman, those boys were fat and fuzzy, wallowing in the notion of new directions and the new found grittiness that the Sunset Strip had gone from seedy to scary ("Motel, money, murder, madness").

By the time they called up L.A. notable Bruce Botnick, who took over after original Doors producer stood firm in his belief that "Love Her Madly" was a piece of shit. Botnick simply documents the band, so the hints of new directions and the reliance on the band's continual assertions that they are perfectly capable of playing the blues are found throughout L.A. Woman.

The fact remains that The Doors weren't the best interpreters of the blues, but at least Morrison's transition into middle-age (from a physiological standpoint) makes such blurts like "Well I've been down so goddamn long" sound halfway legitimate.

I say "halfway" because Jimbo is the weakest link throughout L.A. Woman. He farts around the same four or five notes throughout the entire record and his delivery is as lazy as its ever been.

If you get the sense that Morrison wanted to be somewhere else, then you'd be pretty spot on. While the rest of the band were busy plotting their ways to remain relevant in  the new decade, Jim was thinking about a new life in Paris, where he would be able to focus on his poetry without the distractions of being in a rock and roll band.

The argument could be made that L.A. Woman is less about being required listening and more about being the last recorded documents of Jim Morrison. As an admitted fan, I can't subsribe to that cynicism because the record also contains some of his best work as a lyricist.

Those aforementioned long players are classic rock radio royalty, but there's a few under appreciated gems like "The Changeling," "Cars Pass By My Window," and "The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)" finally gets a proper release for its "stoned, immaculate" imagery.

Morrison even works up a bit of mysterious foreshadowing with "Hyacinth House." He revisits a bit of Greek mythology just like he did with "The End," (even quoting from the song itself, at one point) and in the very first line of the track, Jim visualizes his final resting spot ("I see the bathroom is clear") and gives fans a clear link to where he wants to go next.

Unfortunately, that next step would lead him to leaving this world entirely, and it's not exactly clear if The Doors would have continued on with additional success in the 70's had Morrison lived, or if Jim would have found an audience receptive to his poetic proclamations.

What is clear was how L.A. Woman became linked to greatness on the sheer fact that it followed tragedy.

While it is a fine Doors release, it is nowhere near the heights of  their debut or even the band's first attempt at defining lazy SoCal blues with Morrison Hotel. It may not have been the album that made Morrison's passing more tragic, it certainly contains enough moments to warrant appropriate mourning-particularly among the remaining band members  who were willing to risk tainting their legacy with a pair of records after his departure.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

King Diamond - Abigail

Jesus Christ.

Or should I say "Hail Satan!"

Whatever God you subscribe to, the correct answer is that you should be worshipping King Diamond instead.

And Abigail will become your Holy Bible.

Like most non-believers, I dismissed King Diamond records when they were first issued. The falsetto was humorous. The face paint predictable. The music wasn't compelling enough for me to focus on. And on top of it all, there was a guy I used to work with at a radio station that thought the world of them.

Come to think of it, the guy kind of looked like King Diamond, minus the white face and plus a hundred pounds. His hair was receding and he wore these creepy glasses. But other than that, he kind of looked like King Diamond.

And who am I kidding? The guy was a creeper, glasses or contacts, and he said lots of inappropriate things to women.

He was in his early 30's, and what the university would call a "non-traditional" student. He wore sweatpants and track pants a lot, but he was by no means athletic. He drove a brand new Yugo (no shit) and lived in the basement of his mother's home.

If it seems like I'm painting a very unflattering portrait of this man, it's because I am. I invested some time in him and overlooked a tremendous amount of faults in order to be swindled somewhat, and I don't take too kindly to things like that.

Initially, our relationship began with metal. I was coming off of it, but this cat was in the full swing of it. In a way, his advancing age and reluctance to dismiss metal like a proper adult was inspiring. Plus, he had an incredible amount of knowledge about heavy metal and hard rock.

On top of it all, he had a great  radio voice, so I put him in charge of the station's heavy metal program that we had just scheduled into the format for Saturday nights. Prior to it, we had a show called "Saturday Night Live," where we played nothing but live albums for three hours straight. I argued that nobody is going to want to listen to a bunch of live records if they're looking for a soundtrack to their Saturday night.

But metal fans? Fuck yes.

I got a kick of watching him work. He smoked cheap cigarettes, but other than that, he was a teetotaler. He'd shut off most of the lights in the studio, have his entire show booked in advance-starting with a trippy, twenty-minute long mix of creepy metal and sound effects.

It  was cool.

Anyway, King Diamond, Judas Priest, Queensryche, that  kind of shit, typically lead off his Saturday Night metal show.

He'd get animated with his discussion and he rightfully challenged me in my newfound contempt of the genre. He could tell I was cracking, that there was no real logic behind why I turned my back on metal.

And he was right.

Nonetheless, I wasn't ready for King Diamond, and whenever that falsetto hit, any attempt to try and sell me on his art was 86'd.

He'd break out in a  Diamond falsetto at  the drop of a hat, just to get my goat. It was all in fun, and he gave good conversation. As a result, I lobbied hard for the guy, got him out of the weekend schedule and put him on  the sales team during the days-where he began to STEAMROLL some accounts for the station. This success suddenly put him in the position of General Manager to my roll as Program Director-thereby leapfrogging him above me in terms of hierarchy.

Not that it mattered, because we were friends.

The success went to his head, and that's when the inappropriate comments towards women started. Staff members began to avoid him, and their uncomfortableness made me uncomfortable, particularly since I had vouched for the guy, yo.

When I confronted him about it, he shut down. He isolated himself in his office. He went a little bit nutty.

After a few months of this nonsense, I backed a talented young woman to replace him, and this made more of a distance between us. We went for long period of not speaking, and then suddenly his attire began to improve. Before long, he was wearing tied. Crazy shit.

Finally, the mystery was too much for me. I asked him about the getup. He flat out told me that he had given himself "to the Lord Jesus Christ." There was a hint of craziness in his eyes, or maybe it was just that creepy big man fucking with me. I didn't know, by that point.

He told me that he had met a woman at his mother's church. She was an attractive blonde, clearly out of his  league, but she was on the rebound after a breakup, and he put away his crude commentary long enough to string him along into believing he had a shot with her.

But the first thing he needed to do to win her heart was to get rid of those pesky Satanic records.

By the next week, motivated by the time when I finally broke the silent treatment and spoke to him, he called me into his office.

"Todd, would you be interested in buying some of my cd's?"

"Which ones?"

"Oh," he paused for dramatic effect. "All of them."

I asked why. He told me the story. I said, "Are you sure?" It was pathetic as all get out, but this was a time when compact discs were like little pieces of silver, and they retailed for nearly as much.

He was offering sweeeeet deals, so I drove over to his mother's house in Waterloo and he walked me down to the basement where he kept a bachelor pad motif, that is if you can ever really have a bachelor pad in the basement of your mother's house.

He lobbied hard for King Diamond, but I stuck out for a bunch of Marillion imports. This really bothered him, as he searched the synapses of his grey matter to go over the lyrical content of this British progressive rock band.

He determined that there was indeed some evil within Marillion. As well as Aerosmith's Get Yer Wings, Guns 'N Roses Appetite For Detruction (he wanted too much for the original vinyl pressing, so I stuck with the standard cd version) and a copy of AC/DC's Highway To Hell. There were a few other titles as well-more cds than vinyl-and I made my way home with the booty.

Not more than a month later, he was back to wearing sweatpants, bumming cigarettes, and becoming a bit more social. But it was too late. Bridges had been burned. Metal shows hosted by another (not as good) host. Advertising accounts had been left unattended, only to be hustled by other stations.

And religious girlfriends will typically put the dumpy King Diamond guy out to pasture, the moment their ex-boyfriend calls again, promising to conform.

"Hey Todd," the deflated man said before he exited my life for the final time, "Would  you ever consider selling back those Marillion albums back to me?"

I'd actually be quiet interested to see how he's doing, but I needed to write out this long-winded introduction to a King Diamond review to remind myself why that would be a bad idea.

The stories intersect only on the two minor details that 1.) The radio dude kind of looked like a fat, balding version of King Diamond and 2.) he really liked King Diamond.

I'm sure he told me all about the concept of Abigail, just as I'm sure as I ridiculed it, deeming it not worthy of further consideration. But if the years have made me more nostalgic, they've also made me wiser and more tolerant of such topics as theatrics-specifically, the kind that originate in Europe.

Diamond, a Dane, lifts heavily from classical scales and operatic drama in his work. With Abigail, he creates a lyrical Victorian nightmare-its plot a detailed story arc of murder, ghosts, and some obligatory seven horsemen.

The arrangements are just as detailed, with loads of fingertapping flourishes and speedy scale runs, all punctuated by drummer Mikkey Dee's impressive kit work.

But it's Diamond's vocal strategies-alternating from a metallic bark to an operatic wail, even in mid-verse. His performance verges on pure insanity in some moments, while other times it sounds as those there may indeed be someone else behind the wheel of Diamond's twisted art.

Abigail is straight-up frightening if you let the album take hold and allow Diamond under your skin. To merely point out his attention-grabbing appearance and over-the-top vocal performance is only a lazy observation. The reality is that somebody spent an awful amount of attention to detail to come up with this nonsense, while we let bands with substantially less vision rule the roost in the American arenas.

Abigail proudly uses the metal vernacular to execute a very credible concept album that still sounds like nothing else you've ever heard. It's an album that many generations will continue to namecheck, but very few of its worshippers will be have the same royal bloodline that King Diamond has fathered with this near metal masterpiece.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Ghost Live

The culmination of my 8-month obsession with the Swedish pop-metal band, Ghost

I purchased tickets to this Chicago date months ago for myself and another friend who took the plunge into the band at the same time. We both entered this fascination with a certain awareness of how utterly ridiculous this band appears on the surface. With a frontman who dresses like a bizarro-world Pope and a line-up consisting of five "nameless ghouls" who wear generic Darth Vader costumes, it's clear from this visual eye candy that the band is attempting to initiate interest in the band before a note is even played.

Usually, such attempts are received by younger music fans quickly, which is why-as someone in their mid-40's and another man in their early 30's-may have approached Ghost as a guilty pleasure at first. We were keenly aware from the start that this was a band that probably wasn't designed for our age group. 

Yet my ticket purchase was immediate. The prospect of seeing Ghost in a theatre, bellowing their Satanic message on Easter eve became almost an impulse decision when tickets for the show were first announced. To be honest, I wasn't aware that the date coincided with the Holy weekend, but it later became a perfect alibi for me to excuse myself from any Easter family activities taking place at my in-laws when the date drew near.

Of course, the Easter date sounds more sinister than it actually was. As I've mentioned before, Ghost's image is intentionally provocative and their Satanic message is nothing more than a bunch of grown men cobbling together Anglican phrases that appear evil on the surface. A closer examination only reveals how English is the band's second language and how lifting bits of the Book of Common Prayer can provide a career full of source material and controversy, provided that there are still a few folks who manage to stroll in for Sunday service.

Is all of this lost on Ghost's fans? Hard to say, as the line to the sold-out show circled around the block of the Vic Theatre featured a wide array of audience members. There were the obvious heavy metal fans in jeans and black concert tees alongside Goths who lined up behind middle-aged men who seemed to be channeling bits of (I'm guessing) their previous devotion to KISS towards their new Swedish masters.

Besides, everyone knows that KISS stands for "Kings In Satan's Service" anyway.

We took up behind a couple at the end of the line who were quietly waiting for the doors to open. The man, a balding gentleman wearing a ratty trench coat and looking like Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. His companion sported long, green hair and leggings tucked into a pair of Doc Marten boots. She had taken the time to paint the logo and an image of the band's debut album on her footwear. He smoked cigarettes and didn't say a word to her the entire time we waited for the doors to open.

The line moved quickly as the doors opened and we made our way to the balconies as soon as we entered. One of the perks of being older is knowing that the general admission floor would quickly fill with younger folks who are capable of standing for extended periods of time and who don't mind jockeying for position the entire duration of the sets of both the opening band and headliners.

Speaking of, King Dude-a trio of Seattle folk-rock naysayers with similar religious criticisms-opened for Ghost, in an attempt for thematic consistency, but delivering nothing short of a complete train-wreck of styles. I looked over at my friend and noticed that he was in the middle of a short nap, which  is pretty close to my own opinion of King Dude's performance.

To pass the time during their set, we struck up a conversation with an attractive and inked woman who had noticed my friend's nap time and also felt it was amusingly appropriate. She was at the show with her partner, who happened to be one of the head honchos at Kuma's Corner-a Chicago eatery known for their upscale burgers named after heavy metal bands.

A few months ago, the restaurant introduced the "Ghost Burger" in honor of the band: a white cheddar cheeseburger with ghost pepper aioli, moistened with some red wine  reduction (the "blood" of Christ, if you're seeing where this is going) and topped with a communion wafer. I remember reading about this last fall and immediately thinking "That sounds remarkably tasty!" without even considering how others would react to having a stale, tasteless cracker sitting on top of this carnivorous gem.

But apparently, a lot of Catholics didn't appreciate having "the body of Christ"crown a patty of beef named after such a notorious band who regularly sings a song with a chorus that reads, "Hear our Satan prayer/The anti-Nicene Creed." Protests were swift and decisive, and after a week or so of trying to patch things up, Kuma's Corner pulled the burger from the menu and the matter was forgotten.

Our concert neighbors told us that the band had actually visited the location earlier that day, taking pictures with children and their parents who presumably know about the band's history, and that Ghost's frontman usually ditches his normal hat, robe and skull make-up when roaming around with the band off stage. For these moments, he dons what appears to be an old man mask, nicely touched up with make-up and wearing a tailored suit. He speaks with a phony baloney Italian accent, perhaps in an attempt to convey an aura of legitimacy to the role he is playing.

The band wasn't talking today, hitting a local record store for photo opportunities but no discussion. The restaurateurs told us that they brought back the "Ghost Burger" especially for the event, and that several fans-including a few families-dropped by on their way to the show. Sure enough, we noticed a few parents who had brought their kids to the show, a questionable decision if you asked me.

It's not necessarily the fact that Ghost are purported Satanists, it's more of an issue that the children I noticed were young enough to have no real understanding of the complex history of religion, let alone a discussion of the nuances of good and evil.

While most of us in attendance were in on the joke and aware of the humor that goes into building the characters that serve as the members of Ghost, there were a few who took this shit way too seriously, chief among them King Dude.

After his set, a few audience members blurted out a few "Hail Satan(s)!" or "Satan rules!" while the road crew dutifully put together the stage set. For the most part, our section was made up of a large portion of the older crowd and, as expected, the floor area was filled with the younger contingency, including one dedicated young lady who came dressed as a nun in white face.

There were the obligatory church windows in back of the stage, but other than this minimal religious imagery, the rest of the band's visual arsenal relied on smoke and lighting. There were no amplifiers present and stage risers held the keyboardists on stage right ("Nameless Ghoul"- Keyboards) and a very basic drum kit on stage left ("Nameless Ghoul" - drums) which featured on bass drum and floor toms only.

The load-in music consisted of various religious chanting, which may or may not have prompted those aforementioned outbursts. Prior to the dramatic shift in music, classic rock and metal favorites had been playing over the p.a., including a spin of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," which had a large portion of the crowd singing very un-ironically with it.

The lights went out and five nameless ghouls made their way on stage to the pre-recorded choir of the opening moments of their second album, Infestissumam.

There are moments of this record in which I adore, but there are many more that I'm still not fond of. Thankfully, a big chunk of Ghost's recent set list continues to pull from their debut, the far-superior Opus Eponymous as well as the title track of the band's last e.p. and an eerie cover of The Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun" which features a baby crying during the recorded introduction.

While there were many moments of taped portions (the acoustic ending of "Genesis" were lifted directly from the album version) it wasn't as intrusive as the fact that not being able to see the faces of the nameless ghouls seriously inhibits the ability to really get into the band's heavier moments. With no facial expressions, the guitar shredding becomes uneventful; the showmanship lost.

Which means it's up to Papa Emeritus (II) to carry the weight of the crowds attention. And that's easier said than done, particularly when your frontman is restricted by a Pope's hat and a religious robe. He would slowly pace the stage, using his hands to either dramatically gesture to the crowd or "conduct" the nameless ghost guitarists who were soloing.

The crowd would get quiet whenever Papa spoke in between songs, which was only a few times and nearly impossible to understand ("What'd he say?" was a common question from my friend next to me). During some of the musical interludes, Papa would exit the stage, leaving the rest of the band to execute a very precise and unwavering performance. The mix was balanced and the sound was surprisingly comfortable without hearing protection in the front of the Vic's balcony.

There is very little deviation between the set on one night verses another, suggesting that the show may be extremely choreographed and well paced. But the reality is that Ghost display a very minimal stag show at this point in their career-which may or may not be akin to the package that KISS used to roll into town with such proficiency early in their career, just before the floodgates open.

Whether or not such success is building behind Ghost is anyone's guess at this point, as the verdict is out on how successful an outfit with a Satanic pop metal band  from Sweden will be in puritanical America-particularly one with a surprisingly blues-free foundation. We tend to like our anti-religious venom to be housed in long hair aggression with ample amounts of testosterone and guitar mutilation.

There's none of that going on here-and to top it off, Papa Emeritus' voice (when he isn't talking in character) is filled with more fey notes than any real deep balls worship or tortured soul wailing. It's a pop construct at this point, where Ghost's most heaviest of moments have a very prevalent undercurrent of camp and twisted enjoyment of yanking on people's rosaries.

Leading all of this was Emeritus, who was either way too into his character to adequately deliver his lines or was genuinely flabbergasted at the devotion demonstrated by a bunch of very admiring fans who showered their affection whenever the band silenced in between songs.

Admittedly, he is quite a sight. You literally can't take your eyes off of him during the show-even if some of that reason is because the rest of the line up is purposely lacking any human acknowledgement. Regardless if Emeritus was doing very little in terms of adding to the material from its original performances or from a crowd interaction perspective, he was at least giving off the appearance of some kind of evil deity throughout the evening. Arms would extend up to the stage the moment he leaned forward, eyes would seek out his with intense admiration when he gazed into the people and gifts of roses were presented  to him at the end of the set when the air of finality began to creep into the set.
"Hail Satan! Welcome Year Zero!"

I suppose in a way, these were the ones who really needed presiding over-the disenfranchised who would knowingly take up with a clever pop metal band with dark overtones and an amplified image that's to die for. The pun in that statement is intended  for the rest of us-the ones who "get" the  fact that all of this is a carefully constructed agent provocateur. The audience members that didn't understand that were already in need of some spirituality to begin with, and given the alternate options of Satanic metal offerings, we should probably be thankful for the fact that they've aligned themselves with such philosophical lightweights like Ghost.

One thing the band does remarkably well is to translate this image into a marketing juggernaut. The merchandise table features a wide plethora of t-shirts (most of them working off of a movie poster, like Scarface or Jaws) and moving up to such high-end items like vibrators with Papa Emeritus' likeness on the end ($100). As awesome as the merchandise was, the novelty of them is probably best left to the younger bums as even my thirtysomething friend made the comment later on after purchasing  a t-shirt, "When am I ever going to be able to wear this?"

In this regard, Ghost are operating on the same level as any other religious institution: using the pulpit to motivate parishioners to pull out their wallets and feed the offering plate. The difference is that Ghost is a helluva more captivating than most religious services and I'd much rather be in the clergy of "Ghuleh/Zombie Queen" (the stunning first number of the encore) than the lame rendition of "My Redeemer Lives" that seems to find its way into contemporary Christian services across America.

And based on the articles I've read about the band's namesake hamburger, a lot more tasty than the communion wafer they service at my own church.


Per Aspera ad Inferi
Prime Mover
Jigolo Har Megiddo
Con Clavi Con Dio
Body and Blood
Death Knell
Here Comes the Sun (Beatles cover)
Depth of Satan's Eyes
Stand by Him
Year Zero
If You Have Ghosts (Roky Erickson cover)


Ghuleh/Zombie Queen
Monstrance Clock

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Peter Criss - Let Me Rock You

There was a bit on controversy when the original line-up of KISS could not play nice and dish out a few songs together during the band's induction ceremony into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And while the decision not to perform was petty and a slap to the face of many KISS fans, Paul Stanley or Gene Simmons could have easily pointed out  Peter Criss' solo albums as the reason why they would never want to perform with the Cat Man ever again.

If you're keeping track, we're only up to the third Criss solo record (the second since his departure from KISS) and already there is a huge pattern emerging. Criss had ample time-and one would assume, ample resources-to piece together a coherent ensemble of musicians and songs in his slow pace of solo releases.

Coming off two years since his abysmal Out Of Control release, Let Me Rock You finally shows Peter without any hint of his KISS past on the cover, but within the grooves it finds him to be continually haunted by his past while having no plan as to how he can escape it and no clue of how what kind of artist he'd like us to view him ass.

Instead, Criss teams up once again with producer Vini Poncia, an enabler of rock drummers (see Ringo Starr) and the man who is also complicit in reducing KISS into disco-chasing poseurs who completely disregard the impact it would have on the band's overall credibility. With his help, he demonstrated how far the band was willing to go in terms of sacrificing their wobbly credibility for the sake of a chart topper.

Poncia was Criss' suggestion, so it's not as if there isn't plenty of blame to go around here. But what's interesting is how Criss continues to use Vini even after he's logged some pretty disastrous results previously. Even stranger, Poncia was hired back by KISS for  some additional shit-flinging in the studio later on during the 80's, hinting that the band's camp is pretty limited on networking and even suggests how willing they are to tolerate mediocrity over someone who would come in an challenge the band and compete with their egos.

The thing is, there should be no ego left in Criss at this point. By 1982, he was largely forgotten, except for the ever-present KISS fans, and he rewards this diminishing base with songs that alternate between  half-assed hard rock songs devoid of any bite right next to Criss' and Poncia's history of Brill Building devotion. It's a mess of competing styles and lazy execution, seemingly suggesting that it is our responsibility to find the  hooks within this clusterfuck and credit Criss for being more talented than he actually is.

The Cat Man only contributes to the creation of 2 of Let Me Rock You's 10 selections, and he utilizes a pair of session drummers for the proceedings too, all of which begs the question: "So what did Peter Criss actually do for this solo record?"

Evidently, not much. With no drumming, no character in his vocal abilities and no actual songs that have any sort of personal relevance, Let Me Rock You is, at best, contractual obligation, serving no purpose other than to continue his former band's penchant for socking it to the wallets of their fans and further damaging Criss' reputation by forcing these schmucks to eat  his shit.

The irony of allowing the Gene Simmons song "Feels Like Heaven" into his third record is a great example of how little Criss really cares about his own quality control. He even lets Russ Ballard (again, another KISS enabler) add a few tracks to the cause and even a young kid named Steve Stevens (of Billy Idol fame) gets a shot and showing off his own shiny turds with one of the worst tracks on the release, "First Day In The Rain."

But the absolute worst is Criss cover of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," which is riddled with an abundance of echo that try to cover up Peter's lack of vocal abilities and which are delivered at such an awkward pace that you'd be forgiven if you questioned the man's ability to keep tempo.

Let Me Rock You is Criss' third dud in a row, so pathetic that it makes Gene and Paul seem brilliant in their hiring of the tiny lapdog known as Eric Carr. It also provides some legitimacy in the notion that KISS fans will buy nearly anything related to the band and how Gene and Paul may have had the right idea in keeping Criss away from the reunion proceedings over thirty years after this hairball was first released.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Choking On The Ashes Of The Inevitable: 20 Years After The Death Of Kurt Cobain

For 20 years, I knew this day was coming.

It was foreshadowed on April 8, 1994, my "official" date of the death of Kurt Cobain - the day they found his body laying on its back on the second floor in the greenhouse of his 171 Lake Washington Boulevard residence.

This is the day that I recognize the death of Kurt Cobain.

I'm serious. One of the things I remember about that date was how weird it would be revisiting it twenty years later. At that time, it would have been a little over twenty years since the death of Janis, Jim and Jimi. I don't exactly remember those dates, so the only death I could really compare it to was the death of John Lennon as both seemed to provide me with an overwhelming sense of sadness. And while I was despondent over the murder of John Lennon, I clearly remember my sadness being mixed with heavy amounts of anger at the news of Kurt Cobain.

I shit anywhere I please...
I was working in small market radio and having a great time. Part of that happiness was due to Nirvana. They had turned a very formulaic format into infinite possibilities, and it was a great time to be a part of that. For my money, 1991/92 would stand out as one of the high points of the rock and roll timeline, ranking next to such infamous dates as 1967 or 1977. It was our moment, and maybe that's why it's hard to look back on it now.

Cobain had  been missing for several days at this point, and  the rumors of a suicide attempt in Rome were prevalent. I had  purchased a bootleg CD called Roma that documented a live performance from around this time. The music was obviously from a soundboard recording as the fidelity is great and even the performance - recorded on February 22, 1994 - is surprisingly stellar considering he was just a few weeks away from his first suicide attempt and just a few weeks more away from his eventual execution of it.

The packaging of Roma was very professional in appearance, but the content was clearly slopped together. The photo collage is an orgy of Cobain shots, including a disturbing and prophetic band shot with Kurt holding a shotgun to his mouth. Again, this was released just a few weeks prior to his suicide.

An author with a very limited vocabulary penned  a few paragraphs about the band's notorious struggles during the first few months of 1994. "A near fatal accident in Rome has brought our the vultures hungry for a corpse" wrote the uncredited author, before adding a few swipes at  Eddie Vedder and soliciting sympathy for Kurt, Courtney Love and the other members of Nirvana. "It's going to take a lot more than this to knock down Nirvana's wall" continued the brief declaration, unaware that the wall was just about to be demolished with a quick shotgun blast to the head.

A representative from Elektra Records had called me and told me the news. I was in my office, obvious to the events. I went to the news room and began to scour the AP wire for information. "A body has been discovered at  the residence of Kurt Cobain" began the initial results. By the time of the start of my 2:00 pm airshift, the body was confirmed as Cobain's. I started every hour of my airshift with a Nirvana song and dutifully reported the news at any available break.

I heard the afternoon's news person talking to someone in the newsroom. "What an asshole! Committing suicide when there's a baby involved. How selfish!" It was hard to argue, yet hard to accept. This was the first musician of my generation that I explicitly related to, and the first one to explicitly disappoint me. I went into the room off of the station's studio where we kept a shitload of vinyl singles for years past and cried while "All Apologies" played. The news person came in and brought back all of the commercial carts that were used for her top of the hour news broadcast. She noticed that I was crying in the other room and seemed to understand that the words I heard her say moments before were probably left unsaid, given the circumstances.

"Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld"
I had semi-broken up with my girlfriend at the time, as she had taken a job close to the Minnesota border and moved out of our apartment. I moved back into my parent's home for a temporary residence, the entire event serving as an end to the salad days of my radio career, Cobain's suicide then serving as an exclamation point to its finish.

The event served as a clarion call to end any youthful aspirations of music, broadcasting, or anything related to the industry of both. I began to lift myself out of my limited economic resources and fell into a "straight" job where I began to earn a legitimate living, later realizing that the decision came at a price. I put the Nirvana records away and made little attempts to revisit them.

After my airshift that night, I went home to my parent's house. My mother had heard the news and quietly approached me in their sunroom as I watched the live MTV News feed of the suicide. "I'm sorry that the singer of the band you liked died" she offered. "I know you were a big fan."

"I was."

That weekend, I drove the five hours up to my ex-girlfriend's place and we watched the ongoing reports of Cobain's death on MTV. She cried continually and this bothered me as she was initially dismissive of Nirvana and chastised my enthusiastic support of them.

Everyone is entitled to a chance to change, I suppose, so I kept my own callous opinions about what I considered to be her carpetbagging support to myself. We had seen Nirvana perform in a basketball gymnasium just months prior, and now that event would be sealed with his death. I relayed how the phone lines at the radio station lit up when school let out from lots of kids calling in to confirm the news. She began to cry again.

Months later, we went and saw Hole play at First Avenue in Minneapolis. Looking back, it served as our own funeral of sorts for Cobain as well as an end to our relationship. The day after the show was the last time I ever saw her. In another example of my own about-face, I later hooked up with the news reporter that was initially so verbal about her thoughts on Cobain's death. We married a few years later in Las Vegas with an Elvis impersonator officiating.

Even though my life is light-years away from that moment 20 years ago, I remember the event vividly. Coming into 2014, I was reminded that today would be coming, and I avoided acknowledging the subject until now and the inevitable articles that commemorate the event.

Newly released photographs of the death scene?

Fuck you.

Courtney Love hinting at a potential Hole reunion?

Fuck you, too.

Nirvana being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

"Corporate magazines still suck."

Instead of looking back on this day of Cobain's violent conclusion, I'd like to discuss why no band has been able to tap into the same level of cultural significance as Nirvana did even though two decades have come and gone.

Or maybe Cobain's shotgun ended that notion along with his life as well.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Nina Hagen - Nunsexmonkrock

Released in 1982 - the same year as Kate Bush's landmark album The Dreaming was issued - Nina Hagen's Nunsexmonkrock is probably best described as the crazy German cousin of that Bush offering. It is a widely epic statement that uses genres as its personal bitch, executed by an artist with a stunning, non-traditional vocal range that bounces between terror and beauty in seconds.

And it starts that way with the very first song, "Antiworld," featuring tribal drums beats and Middle Eastern tones, all while Hagen bounces off reverberated versions of herself-each one a demonic and terrifying force. Compared to The Dreaming's opener "Sat In Your Lap," Hagen gets the nod for straight up intimidation. It's unlike anything you've ever heard, and it's the first song on the fucking album.

Cut two "Smack Jack" begins with polite early 80's rhythms and it sucks you into its familiar spaces of synthesizers and cleanly strummed guitars. All good until Hagen begins singing like an elderly Eastern European Jewish grandmother with throat cancer and possessed by the devil. She howls underneath in another overdubbed voice and by the chorus she speeds up the tempo to a gallop and begins screaming "Shoot it  up, smack jack!" It's incredible drama, and even Hagen agrees with yet another voice appearing from the corners with the observation, "Junkies...are very sentimental."

"Taitschi-Tarot" channels Yoko Ono excercises quite nicely as thoughts on reincarnation. It leads into Hagen's tip-toes into the heavy metal arena with wails that are an octive higher than Maiden's Bruce Dickenson and run right next to an opera Hagen that's dubbed on top of the whole mess.

By the end  of Nunsexmonkrock, we've been professionally introduced to her infant daughter Cosma Shiva Hagen, an array of childlike voices, an eerie male demon, and five minutes on the subject of UFOs ("You are not alone!! Remember, it's true!!") underneath a mechanical syncopated beat.

Yes, Nunsexmonkrock can be an overwhelming barrage of voices, noises, and genres all lobbed together in a package that questions both Hagen's sanity and her own place in the world of recorded music. Because, quite honestly, the only other person I can think of who's accomplished this level of uncompromising music has a last name of Beefheart or Ubu. Shouldn't we be placing Hagen in the same breath?

Nunsexmonkrock makes a great case that we should.

"1968 is over!" Hagen reminds us, before screaming "Future is Now!" and some thirty years later, it still hasn't arrived, even when the spaceshit can be found right in the grooves of this warped masterpiece.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Kate Bush Returns To The Stage After 35 Years

"I'm coming back to his side...to put it right"
During my formative dating years, there became a point within the relationship where I would introduce the young woman to the other love of my life: Kate Bush.

It could be a very daunting moment because, admittedly, Kate is  an acquired taste, and she sometimes wasn't received with the same amount of enthusiasm as I possessed. From this point, depending on the reaction, a few ladies were taken farther into this woman's work. These ended up becoming weirdly significant in terms of how deeply I felt about the person in the relationship. To love Kate was to love a part of me, I suppose, and if they could somehow see the brilliance of Kate then they could somehow relate to me better.

And they always understood that I would leave them at a moment's notice if Kate ever called up to propose.

Midwestern Top 40 radio (yes, the region makes a difference) was an unexciting mix of uninspired hits and Wonder bread melodies. Sometimes you would hear a track bubbling under the Top 20 songs, but these spins were restricted to evenings and  overnights. There was very little space provided to chance and anything deemed too "urban" for these stations was avoided like the plague.

Bush managed to crack the U.S. Top 40 with "Running Up That Hill," a song that did ease its way into the area radio stations before quickly retreating once again. A few girlfriends vaguely remembered the track, but admittedly, this song was somewhat of an anomaly compared to her album tracks.

Moving backward reveals a weirder muse working with Bush, and those earlier records also add a touch of youthful flamboyance. It's in full view on the Live At Hammersmith Odeon concert, a video released in the early 80's that remains as the only recorded document of her 1979 Tour Of Life shows. For a few "lucky" ladies, I would whip out a shitty vhs dubbed copy of this performance and wax on and on about how great of an artist Kate was.

The Tour Of Life is getting a lot of attention lately, thanks to the huge news that Bush would be returning to the stage this Fall in a 15 date tour being called Before The Dawn. Trouble is: these 15 dates are in London, as the reclusive Bush is reportedly not a fan of flying, making the idea of a world tour highly unlikely.

So if you want to get a pair of tickets for the shows, you're left with this option: try to find them at one of the four dates in August or any one of the dates until September 19th at a venue in London that only holds about 3,600. The servers to Kate's website crash when news of these new live dates went public, so I would imagine that these 3,600 x 15 seats will go insanely fast. Edit: They sold out within 15 minutes. They've now added 7 additional dates to the initial 15, but those have also sold out.

This proves to be an issue for a fan like me, from Iowa, and without suitable resources that I can drop everything this September and fly over to London to catch a show, never mind the near impossibility that I could even get a ticket to begin with.

The murmurs about Kate's return to the stage began a few years ago. It was believable to the point where I could actually see how the current state of the music industry may the idea of Bush performing again a reality. I'm guessing that her semi-retirement and loonnnggg stretches in between records was funded by consistent record sales, sales that have all but shriveled up.

While I certainly don't expect Ms. Bush to divulge her bank ledger to the world, I can't help but wonder if this entire project is financially motivated. But whatever. In the end it's prompting Kate to work in a medium that hinted at enormous potential the last time she graced the stage.

Which begs the question: Why did she leave the stage after her promising debut?

The rumor was the death of a young lighting crew member during one of the tour dates caused her to avoid live performances, but there was very little supporting this theory.

In 2011, she cited "exhaustion" to The Telegram, which if you've seen the Hammersmith-Odeon video, you can clearly understand how plausible  the explanation is. There are numerous costume changes, ridiculously theatrical choreography, and a sprite Kate utilizing a microphone headset while running around the entire stage for a solid 90 minutes. It's both hard to watch and hard to look away from, but when you consider it's the warped vision of a 20 year old woman and compare it to the hyper-sexual theatrics of a Miley Cyrus concert, you tend to appreciate it more. Kate is clearly working from a more advanced inspiration during these shows.

Ironically, the attempt to promote or report on the sexuality of her performances was another reason Kate walked away from live performances. Her early records are filled with songs of sex, lust, menstruation and pregnancy-all very striking statements from someone just barely of age. The live performances don't exactly exploit these topics as they do visualize them, and more recently she's cited the uncomfortable feeling she had with that focus on her sexuality as another reason she's isolated herself in the studio ever since.

Looking at the output she's provided since that tour from 1979, I'm fine with that decision. But I'm also hugely intrigued at her return to the stage and hope that it's not a retirement set. I'm also hoping that the reports of her fear of flying don't prevent her from coming to America at some point, but I'm realistic and understand that this will probably never happen.

I've already begun to formula a dream set list for the London dates, but even the title Before The Dawn seems to indicate there's something special afoot. Of course, that's always been the case with Kate. And if I ever want to be reminded of that, I can always return to the color-saturated video of the Tour Of Life that still resides in the few vhs tapes that have made it this far.

I couldn't let it go.

Unlike all those former girlfriends who were treated to a showing of this flawed relic, I'm still true to my first love.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Big Dumb Love Of My Husband's Stupid Record Collection

Oh yeah, the other thing...

The last few weeks have produced a buttload of hits for Sarah O'Holla, a librarian who has thankfully understood how awesome her last name is while probably enduring a lifetime of continually canned lines like "Yes, that's my real name" and "Yes, I'll give you a 'holla' back soon."

Sarah is married to a guy named Alex Goldman and he has about 1,500 pieces of vinyl which, as anyone who has a record  collection and has had to move into a new abode know, can be a real pain in the ass during moving day. After one such move, O'Holla pondered "What the fuck is with these things?" while Goldman probably didn't even bat an eye as he carried milk crate after milk crate of such  titles as Adam Ant Friend Or Foe (I'm partial to Strip) and Anthrax's Among The Living.

But rather  than complain about how stupid it is for lugging up all of these pieces of antiquated technology, O'Holla decided to learn a little bit more about the man she married by digging into those crates and checking out the records-one at a time-and record her thoughts on them for her website, My Husband's Stupid Record Collection.

The title alone got record geeks across the country a bit pissed, in a way where I'm almost embarrassed to acknowledge it. Believe me, any record fan with a hint of self-awareness has uttered these same words every time they've lugged up another box of these things, contemplating the need to have a document of something that has already burned a hole in their memory.

For some, just the hint that their passion was "stupid" brought out the fangs, and soon message boards were full of comments suggesting that O'Holla had no right to write about such things, particularly when she doesn't even get the vernacular right. On one post, she's lambasted for calling a gatefold sleeve something other than "gatefold sleeve" and another she's chuckled at for getting transfixed by a locked groove.

Within days of  this, the online media caught wind of the kerfuffle and began reporting on it from a variety of different angles. One of the most prominent was how the record collecting culture is very male driven, to the point where the entire "teacher/student" aspect of how male music nerds attempt to "school" potential ladies into the club. Of course, then the entire notion of how men  never really want the ladies into this exclusive club is introduced and supported by several examples of female critics dishing out examples of how men totally discount a woman's opinion of something, based entirely on their gender rather than their knowledge of the subject matter.

I began to think about my own interactions with women, and I can attest to contributing to  some of this same behavior. I have a  history of trying to "teach" people about new music, and I was probably less subtle about it when I was younger than I am now.

I can think of several examples of relationships  where I made instructional mix tapes, promoting an agenda of music that I thought  was cool, in an attempt to change the person away to whatever music they may have enjoyed previously.

The problem is, as I considered beating myself up over coming across as a snob abuser, was that I didn't exert this kind of behavior  exclusively to women. In fact, there are probably double the number of examples of the teacher/student role within my own gender than any kind of condescending attitude towards music based  on the other person's sex.

In fact, any kind of music instructions towards the ladies was coated with plenty of things like accessibility and lyrical hints, because, let's face  it, a lot of this behavior was based on an idea that you're beginning a  soundtrack of a potential relationship.

Any woman who possessed a modicum of interest in music or displayed a knowledge of facts regarding it was  almost immediately placed on a higher level than any other woman. Think of that scene  in High Fidelity where the bald  dude hooks up with that chick from Roseanne and you've got a good idea of how men tend to melt when faced with a musical equal. It's what we're all secretly striving for inside.

But the Internet is a much different place, and definitely a much crueler one. I can't imagine the amount of straight-up anonymous hatred that O'Holla has  probably endured already, feeding the idea that this discussion is legitimate one, even when it should be nothing more than a defense mechanism created by a bunch of uber-defensive babies with retarded social skills.

Because at the end of the day, that's what a bunch of us music geeks really are.

I looked at O'Holla's blog and thought, how lucky this man is. Not because of  Sarah's physical appearance-she  looks like a normal 32 year old woman and her and Alex seem to make a perfectly adorable couple. No, I was jealous at the fact that his wife took a harebrained  idea over a  few drinks and totally dug into the project.

Her words are wonderfully touched with the ears of a novice, but they also suggest that she possesses a certain amount of passion about the topic. Maybe not  in the same manner that her husband seems to have a penchant for Adam Ant records, but ones in the sense where she considers every title with open ears.

What kind of man or woman wouldn't want a  partner like that? Doesn't every one of us strive to find a partner who loves both the person that we are as well as the road that brought us there? To love  Alex Goldman is to also love Prince Charming.
Photo courtesy of the My Husband's Stupid Record Collection blog.

From a personal standpoint, I would love it if my wife or other partner ever thought of such an idea, and even the thought of their amateur opinions on the subject matter increases the appeal. I love the idea of such observations as being fixated on Adam Ant's guitarist rotund appearance and the white tennis shoes of Anthrax, thereby eliminating any perceived threat of violence, despite what their lyric sheet might suggest.

I'm reminded of the women in my life who taught me a thing or two about music, holding their own with the other snobs to the point where their gender wasn't even a factor because their authority washing away any of the same nonsense being tossed around in O'Holla's direction.

Who knows. Maybe by the time she reaches the "G" section we can move beyond the dialogue of the walls that are needlessly put up because of O'Holla's gender and focus on her reaction as she discovers more about the life of her husband and the music that provided the soundtrack to it.

And from that freedom, we may be able to learn about some music that can become a part of our own lives in the process.

I'm happy to say that, because of the blog's review of The B-52's debut album, there is a metal version of "Rock Lobster" floating around that I music get my hands on.