Friday, August 30, 2013

The Machine Stops

Having serious computer problems suddenly.

Hopefully it will be resolved -- or I'll be able to write and post from my previous, theoretically retired, laptop -- by Monday.

Pray for me.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mary on Virtually Speaking

Tonight, I will be interviewed by Jay Ackroyd at Virtually Speaking, on Blogtalk Radio.  Tune in at 9.

You can listen here.

I'll be talking about Boys Don't Lie, reading a little, and answering questions.  I'll post the phone number to call in shortly.

UPDATE:  Call after 9pm EST:  (646) 200-344.0

Slacker Thursday

Taking a mental health break, so only light crappy blogging (yes, I stole the phrase from Atrios) until tomorrow.

In the meantime, from one of my favorite Nat Lamp albums, please enjoy Mr. Roberts (Christopher Guest) interviewing a bass player (Bill Murray).

People* always ask me "Steve, why did you ever decide to pick up the bass guitar?"

And when they do, I play them the above.

*defined as "sort of like Tom Friedman's cab drivers."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The New Number Whoever

Found these photos -- taken on the set of The Prisoner -- by accident yesterday, and for obvious reasons they blew my tiny mind.

Hey -- what the hell was I doing in there?

In any case, yes -- Patrick McGoohan really was the coolest guy who ever lived. And from 1982, here's Brit punks The Times with their ode to him.

Be seeing you!!!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

When Great Art Happens By Bad People

This is a very sad story, so please -- try not to laugh.

Okay, so a while ago (possibly a year or two) I was hanging out over at a certain political blog I frequent (whose name I won't mention, but its initials are Eschaton) and I was, as was my wont, perhaps having an inordinate amount of fun at the expense of a certain egregiously stupid and offensive regular (whose name I won't mention, except perhaps to refer to him as Sparky).

In any event, I don't specifically recall what particularly egregiously stupid and offensive thing Sparky had claimed on this particular occasion, but whatever it was, I was moved to reply "As Gertrude Stein famously observed of something else, 'interesting if true.' "

Sparky responded (and I paraphrase absolutely accurately) "Gertrude Stein was a notorious apologist for Hitler and the Nazi regime and you ought to be ashamed of yourself blah blah blah" and I replied (and I paraphrase myself) "Hey, if Satan herself had something apt and amusing to say on the subject currently under discussion, I would feel absolutely no compunction about quoting that either, and now please to be pissing off."

Sparky, who amongst his other faults is the kind of person who really can't take a hint, kept throwing up my alleged love for Gertie, She-Wolf of the SS over the next several months, and finally I responded (and I paraphrase myself again)

"Shit, Sparky, there are scads and scads of artists over the span of human history who led less than exemplary lives.

"Why, in your own classical music field alone, Don Carlo Gesualdo -- composer of the most sublime madrigals of the late Renaissance -- was a well-known murderer (who killed his unfaithful wife and her lover in their bed); Opera biggie Richard (The Ring Cycle) Wagner was a notoriously virulent anti-Semite who influenced Hitler and the Holocaust; and in the 20th century, your favorite (boring) serial composer Arthur Berger was well known in academic music circles for having never picked up a check."
(That last allegation I totally made up, but it gave me enormous pleasure for obvious reasons).

In any case, shortly thereafter, Sparky retired from the Eschaton lists; today he posts his increasingly even more egregiously stupid and offensive opinions over at his own (barely noticed by any sentient mammals) blog, which I will not link to, but if you Google I, Sparky, Against All the Liars and Phonies in the World, you might be able to find it.

As I said, this was a very sad story, so please -- try not to laugh.

That noted, it occurs to me that we are still left to deal with the central theme of all of the above, which is that if we're going to decline to partake of the artistic endeavors of all of the artists over the centuries who have been real sons-of-bitches, then basically we're not gonna have much left to divert us of a cold winter's evening.

So let us conclude then with two recorded artifacts that kind of prove the point.

From sometime in the early '90s, please enjoy "On the Shoulders of Freaks," by brilliant comic songwriter Henry Philips...

...which addresses the subject rather explicitly ("Salvador Dali's surreal paintings were God sent/You'd never know he ate his own excrement.")

And even more pertinently, from 1967, here's currently incarcerated Phil Spector's insanely gorgeous production of the Ronettes' "I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine."

That Ronettes song, if memory serves, was unreleased until the Spector Back to Mono box set came out in the mid-70s.

And I remember that the first time I heard it, I thought it was one of the most uplifting things ever achieved by a human being.

And I will stipulate that, re-hearing it today, while knowing that Spector is in fact a killer by whatever definition you care to have, I have not changed my opinion of it one whit.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Not the Just The Greatest Thing From Carteret New Jersey Ever!

And speaking, as we were last Friday, of The Smithereens -- or more specifically, as one esteemed regular was speaking about how he had remained blissfully unaware of their work, for whatever reason.

A little perspective here, if you please.

From the 1986 debut album, please enjoy "Blood and Roses"

And from the 1988 Green Thoughts here's the astoundingly riff-laden "Only a Memory."

Frankly, if they'd done nothing beyond the two singles above, they'd deserve to be immortal. Fact is, though, they have scads more just as great.

Incidentally, their self-proclaimed template has always been "AC/DC meets the Beatles." I think they pull it off rather regularly.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Your Friday Moment of Self-Congratulatory Ego Tripping (An Occasional Series)

Long time and/or attentive readers (not to mention members of my immediate family) may be aware that Floor Your Love, the vanity CD I compiled by my early 80s skinny-tie band The Floor Models, has, perhaps inexplicably, been picked up for legitimate release later this year by a very cool Austraan indie label -- ZERO HOUR RECORDS.

I know, I know. This strikes me as moderately unbelievable too. Nonetheless, it's true.

In any event, by way of an update, I want to assure those of you who were irrepresible enough to download the earlier album at iTunes or Amazon (or purchase a physical copy at CDBaby) that those are now collector's items and will doubtless fetch top dollar at record fairs in the future. Probably on the Bizarro World, but still.

Also, the Zero Hour reissue will feature vastly improved sound quality -- thanks to a superb remastering job by my old chum Steve Schwartz -- and significantly slicker packaging.

My understanding is that the original cover -- art-directed by my brilliant/beautiful girlfriend (who works cheap) will be retained...

...but the CD label, done as an amusing homage to the Epic Records of the Sixties --

...will probably be jettisoned.

Hey, whatever my Australian mogul wants to do, I'm down with it. Seriously -- in case I haven't mentioned it, Zero Hour Records is the greatest record company in the world, and I have pledged them my eternal fealty.

Okay, all that said, please enjoy the reissue liner notes I recently penned at great expense to myself.


In everyone's life there's a Summer of '42...or so said the tag line in the ads for the movie of the same name. But in my case (self-indulgence alert!) such a summer lasted for almost two years, circa 1982-83 (metaphorically, of course). When The Floor Models, the 12-string pop band I played bass for, had a more or less uninterrupted weekend residency at the Other End Cafe on Bleecker Street in fabled Greenwich Village.

A little back story: The Floor Models got together in 1979, primarily as a result of seeing the (then unsigned) Smithereens countless times at Kenny's Castaways, a bigger club down the street from the Other End, and thinking -- hey, that looks like fun. Our initial template was sort of similar to what the 'Reens were doing -- i.e., short concise 60s influenced songs, with three part harmonies, a lot of jangle, and a mix of classic folk-rock with New Wave energy.

It should be noted, at this point, that when we started we became part of what was then being called the Bleecker Street Revival, which was a sort of parallel phenomenon to the punk thing happening further downtown on the Bowery at CBGBs (and indeed, several bands -- the aforementioned Smithereens, for example -- were known to migrate back and forth between the two scenes). The principal venues for the Bleecker Street Revival were the aforementioned Kenny's and a rejuvenated (by new and more receptive to contemporary rock management) Folk City, which was around the corner on West 3rd. There were a ridiculous number of ridiculously talented people on the scene; not all of them got famous -- in our case, for example, the Man With the Big Cigar conpicuously failed to offer to make us stars -- but the list of performers who got signed to major labels out of Kenny's and Folk City is pretty impressive: Willie NIle, Carolyn Mas, the aforementioned Smithereens, Chris Whitley, Patty Smyth (Scandal), Suzanne Vega and Shawn Colvin.

But back to the Floor Models saga.

The short version is that pretty much every Friday and Saturday night during that period we -- myself, singer/guitarist Gerry Devine, Rickenbacker 12-string ace Andy Pasternack, and fab gear drummer Glen "Bob" Allen -- would arrive at the Other End, which was a classic hole-in-the-wall dump, and bash out three hour-long sets (shows at 10pm, midnight and 2am). Essentially, it was our equivalent of The Cavern, and though the schedule was grueling, it never once felt like work, this due to the fact that a) the four of us enjoyed each other's company almost as much as the music we were playing; b) we were rather handsomely paid, if you can believe it; and c) thanks to the weekend traffic on Bleecker Street we almost always wound up performing for an elbow-jostling and appreciative crowd (around 200 well lubricated NYU kids and tourists crammed wall to wall on an average lively night) even when our friends were otherwise engaged.

It was a ridiculously ideal environment for a young band getting its shit together, and as I said, it never felt like work; I look back on the whole experience these days as pretty much the most fun I've ever had with my clothes on.

I should probably also mention that I lived across the street from the club, which meant that moving equipment was a breeze. And that between-set, uh, refreshments and after-hours carousing were rather ridiculously hassle-free as a result.

As I noted earlier, we used to do three hour-long sets an evening, which meant we necessarily had to do a fair number of covers; given that our idea had always been to do the songs that had inspired to us play in the first place (especially ones we'd never had a chance to essay in other bands) this was hardly an odious task, and so we'd bang out everything from The Monkees to Television. (Doing The Hollies "Bus Stop" -- and well, I think -- was something of a dream come true for me.) We also had a lot of musician friends from the neighborhood who'd help us out by dropping in for the late sets; we'd work up little guest spots for them and some of those occasioned among my absolute favorite moments during our run. Floor Your Love includes a live rendition of the Records "Hearts in Her Eyes," a song we did so often that everybody on Bleecker Street thought we wrote it.

We finally packed it in in the late 80s (although a different incarnation of the band carried on till the mid-90s) but I think the music holds up. In any case, Floor Your Love finally collects just about everything we ever recorded, in a variety of settings; it is, for all intents, The Album We Never Made. -- Steve Simels

P.S. You may have noticed that the opening song on the CD --"Spin Cycle" -- features personnel other than the classic Flo Mos lineup. In point of fact, although the song was written and performed (often) during the Floor Models original run, no recording of the song from that period has survived. However, given that three of the people playing and singing the late 80s version included here were, in fact, Floor Models (Gerry, Glen and me on keyboards) I've decided that it's a de facto Floor Models track despite the absence of Andy. In more or less in the same way that "The Ballad of John and Yoko" is a Beatles track despite the absence of George and Ringo.

P.P.S. If you go to YouTube and type in "The Floor Models," you'll find a very cool (complete) video , with fantastic sound, of a typical club set of ours from the period (1982). It was not, however, taped anywhere in the Village, but rather at an upper East Side industry dive/drug den called JPs. We played there a bunch of times, which was the closest we ever got to working out of town.

Incidentally, just because I love you guys, here's the aforementioned version of "Hearts in Her Eyes."

The remaster, of course, is much better, so you'll have to pay to hear it, bitches.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Yes, We Have No Bananas!

My old college chum Tony Jannelli -- and it was he you should be thanking for yesterday's Springsteen video -- passed this poster along to me the other day. It's from a 1965 rock show he attended at his old high school.

Note the second support act (the small type at the bottom).

From Ritchie Unterberger's book on the Velvets:

White Light/White Heat: The Velvet Underground Day-By-Day:

1. Summit High School Auditorium, Summit, New Jersey, December 11, 1965: Commonly regarded as their first concert with Maureen Tucker on drums; possibly the first concert at which they were actually billed as the Velvet Underground; and probably the first at which they were actually paid, instigating the resignation of original drummer Angus MacLise, who didn't want to stand for anything as commercial as showing up at a scheduled time and accepting money for the performance. Supporting the Myddle Class (who feature future Carole King husband/collaborator Charles Larkey on bass and future Steely Dan singer Dave Palmer), they played three songs—"There She Goes Again," "Venus in Furs," and "Heroin"—to an almost wholly uncomprehending and unappreciative audience of adolescents. "The band just emptied that auditorium," says Sterling Morrison's wife, Martha.

In a word -- wow.

Incidentally, Tony -- who became a bigshot DP in the years since this show -- informs me he is making an animated short about it; as further details unfold, I'll be sharing them here.

P.S.: Here's the sort of regional hit single by the aforementioned Myddle Class.

As you'll doubtless notice, this was later appropriated to better effect by The Blues Project as "Wake Me, Shake Me."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Your Wednesday Moment of Hole E. Shit (An Occasional Series)

From sometime in 1973 or 1974, please behold in breathless wonder Bruce Springsteen and (the original) E-Street Band -- with, unless I am very much mistaken, Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez on drums and David Sancious on piano -- and an astounding live version of the widely bootlegged "Thundercrack."

Not too long after the above was taped, an engineer I knew who did some occasional work for Springsteen's then manager Mike Appell gave me a reel-to-reel of a whole bunch of unreleased Springsteen stuff, including "Thundercrack," and I practically wore the magnetic oxide off the thing over the next year or so.

In any case, when people -- and I'm one of them -- talk about seeing God when Springsteen played small clubs at the beginning of his career, this is the kind of thing they're talking about.

BTW, anybody recognize where this was shot? My first thought was Max's, but the more I look at it the less I think so.

[h/t Tony Jannelli]

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Clinton Heylin is a Big Fat Idiot

So I picked up a copy of Brit rock scribe Clinton Heylin's history of the bootleg album biz (largely due to recommendations by a couple of folks here) the other day, with some trepidation.

I say trepidation because I'd read Heylin's From the Velvets to the Voidoids some years ago, and found it well-researched but otherwise insufferably pretentious and full of shit.

Anyway, like I said, I just started reading the Heylin bootleg book and I should have guessed it was going to irk me after the opening chapter began with a history of the various original pirated editions of Shakespeare's plays.

But even before that, when I got to page 8 of the intro (let me repeat that: page 8!!!) I found myself reading the following words (which were arranged sequentially, but I won't dignify them by calling them a sentence)...

"The Beatles excepted (and they essentially stank as a live band)..."

...and I immediately thought: Is it too early to start drinking?

Yeah. The Beatles. Lousy live band. Also: Ringo Starr -- worse than Hitler.

Jeebus, what a dope.

Anyway, here are The Fabs live at the Hollywood Bowl, blow-torching their way through "Long Tall Sally" in 1964.

To paraphrase Crow. T. Robot on MST3K: And in conclusion, Clinton Heylin -- bite me.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Closed For a Hangover

No posting today, due to a necessary period of decompression after yesterday's 3rd annual C.W. Post (mostly theater department) College reunion, which if memory serves -- and if it does, I hope it washes its hands -- was an absolute gasser.

The "25" figure in the above cartoon, of course, is...well, not completely accurate. However, as it turns out, we were quite an attractive bunch.

In any case, regular music and stuff posting resumes tomorrow, beginning with my diatribe against a certain pretentious twit of a Brit rock crit. (Look ma, I'm rhyming!)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Chris Collingwood Explains It All

I'm always tickled when one of my heroes makes the NYTimes.  Here's a great column by Chris Collingwood on songwriting.

Often I’ll gussy up something real until it isn’t. This is true of “Amity Gardens,” a forgotten track from our second album. The name comes from a housing project I lived in when I was a baby. I don’t remember living there; the images in the song come from photos my grandmother showed me many years later. There were two of them: one of a shiny Buick in a suburban driveway, and one of a man with a phone to his ear, my 2-year-old brother sitting in the background. That man was my biological father, whom I’ve never met.
I had the chorus for a long time and I must have toyed with 20 different ideas for the verse. There was no story in either picture, really, unless the story was me staring at things I had already seen, hoping to jar something loose. I did the second verse first:
It isn’t very much, but for now it’s home
A room in the shadow of a funny looking man
On the phone to the bank about a default loan
I thank you very much
Tata, we’ll be in touch

I imagined he was fighting off creditors and planning a getaway, which may or may not have been true. My grandparents had given me certain ideas about the man, which played in my head like a blurry crime re-enactment video. I guess the verse felt like its soundtrack. The chorus, “If you knew now what you knew then/You wouldn’t want to go home,” is a more general sentiment that I imagine someone somewhere might relate to. In the end, if it doesn’t make a lick of sense to anyone but my immediate family, I’m O.K. with that. I like the drum part.

(Nerd Score: I've been noting that FOW songs were Raymond Carver stories for years, and he name-checks Carver here, says Billy Bragg writes like him.  So does Collingwood.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hey, I'm so Macho That When I Have Muscle Aches I Use Ben-Butch!!!

I got yer Shoes huevos right here, pal.

"Your Devotion," my pretty much all-time fave Shoes tune rendered absolutely live, from the Fret Buzz album.

Wimpy? I don't think so. And that guitar solo, which slices the song neatly in half like a scythe, is absolutely killer.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thursday Book Club: Special Shoes for Industry Edition

As you may have heard, the proprietor of this here blog has written a quite brilliant rock-band bio of Shoes.

I was lucky enough to make a small contribution to it, and here -- with Mary's permission -- it is.


If truth be told, when the lovely and talented Mary Donnelly asked me to contribute some introductory words to the book you now hold in your hand (or whatever the phrase is if you're reading it via some sort of digital device). I was more than a bit hesitant. For a couple of reasons.

The first, of course, is that I consider Mary a good friend. Secondly, if you've read any of my poor scribblings about rock music and pop culture over the last couple of years, it's almost entirely due to the fact that Mary trusted me enough to give me a spare set of keys to the car, metaphorically speaking, over at PowerPop, the website she created in 2004, and I am thus eternally in her debt on a professional level. Both of these facts, of course, might lend a certain credence to the idea that anything nice I have to say about Boys Don't Lie would fall into the category of what SPY magazine used to refer to as "logrolling in our time." You know -- a little, uh, self-serving.

Another, and probably the more important, reason I was initially reluctant to contribute to the project is that the greatest foreword to a music tome of all time has already been written, so, like, what's the point? I refer, of course, to the work of legendary Irish playwright and pub crawler Samuel Beckett, who in a prefatory note to the first (or maybe third) edition of Nick Tosches' Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll called it "the only book about rock 'n' roll that knows what it's talking about", a claim (and essay) that while almost certainly actually penned by Tosches (the Great Man himself being probably dead at the time) is unlikely to be bettered any time soon, at least not by a white suburban punk like me.

All that said, however, the fact remains that Boys Don't Lie is an exemplary rock-band bio and then some. On the most basic level, it's brilliantly researched, to the point where one suspects its subjects learned all sorts of stuff about themselves they didn't know. It also puts Shoes' now decades-long saga into a historical/cultural/music-biz context in a way that nobody's had the wit or temerity to do before, which is to say that apart from a passionate (and convincing) critical argument for just why these guys' music is important, it also makes clear where it came from along with the real-world strictures that led them to creating it. In other words, this band may have been hermetic and out of step with the pop mainstream on some level, but in fact none of their albums were, as Robert Christgau famously suggested, written and recorded by elves.

This is also a book about pop obsessions, by which I mean there are cult bands, there are Cult Bands, and then there are Shoes. Shoes have been a life changer for a lot of people (Mary included, obviously) over the years, but it's not exactly news that they've never sold a lot of records (at a level, say, commensurate with their critical accolades) since their debut LP Black Vinyl Shoes appeared to a world in equal parts baffled and delighted by it. The subtext of Boys Don't Lie is how that process works, how three guys working in a sort of provincial-but-not-really isolation (their Zion, Illinois roots turn out to be far more important and interesting than I for one had realized) came up with the equivalent of a secret language that spoke first of all to themselves and then, in ways that must have surprised them, to a small subset of humanity that got the message in an instant.

Which means, now that I think of it, that Christgau's elves formulation was not completely off the mark, and that what makes Shoes unique -- for those who also speak that secret language -- is that they sound, simultaneously, like nothing you've exactly ever heard before and something you seem to have heard heretofore only in your head. Last summer, discussing the work in progress over a Japanese dinner, Mary asked me, "Have you ever turned anybody on to Shoes by playing the albums for them?" It seemed a silly question, at first, until I realized -- no, in fact, I never had; the people I knew who loved the band had, to a person, discovered them on their own, without prompting from me or any other fans. And I was reminded of what Jules Feiffer said about the pop obsession of his youth -- the first generation of American comic books. "When Superman at last appeared," Feiffer wrote in The Great Comic Book Heroes, his definitive history of the all-in-color-for-a-dime stories that changed his life, "he brought with him the deep satisfaction of all underground truths. Our reaction was less 'How original!' than 'But, of course!'"

If ever there was an "of course!" band, Shoes is it.

But enough, as it were, of my yakking; the band's story, and much, much more, awaits you. In Boys Don't Lie -- which, despite what that probably-dead drunken Gaelic lout had to say earlier, actually is the only book about rock & roll that knows what it's talking about.

-- PARIS 2013

Delightful as that is, if I do say so myself, the rest of the book is way, way better. Trust me.

Also -- order a copy over at Amazon HERE.

And in case you were wondering what the fuss is all about, (and in which case, I can't imagine why you're currently haunting this here blog) please enjoy the 1979 video for Shoes' "Too Late."

You're welcome.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

We All Have the Voice, But This Babe Has the Mouth!!!

"Total Eclipse of the Heart" as sung by everybody from Adele to Julie Andrews.

I hadn't heard of Bianco before -- in fact, I didn't know that there was such a thing as a diva impersonator -- but she's obviously a very funny and talented woman.

[h/t Geor3ge]

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

CBGB (the Movie Trailer)

This looks pretty good, IMHO.

Alan Rickman as Hilly? He actually kinda has him down.

Logrolling in Our Time

Our good buddy Sal Nunziato posted this yesterday over at BURNING WOOD, but in case you missed it there you're gonna hate yourself, so I'm reposting it.

The once and future Boss and a cover of Der Stingle's "I Hung My Head" that quite beggars belief. From a Sting tribute concert in NYC some time in the not so distant past.

Forgetting the fact that Bruce's guitar solo both kicks ass AND names names, all I can say is that this is the kind of performance that ultimately made it impossible for me to be a lapsed Springsteen fan anymore.

Sweet Jeebus, but this is great.

Monday, August 12, 2013

He's Going For Notes That Aren't Even on the Drum Kit!!!!

The Pretty Things on German TV, 1966. Absolutely live.

It is something of a cliche that in terms of image and attitude these guys made The Rolling Stones look like The Budapest String Quartet, but it is nonetheless true, I think. Although their hit singles (in Britain -- they made absolutely no impact in the States, for reasons I've never quite figured out) were as slick as anybody elses at the time, especially when compared to the above performance.

Also, re the drummer:

To paraphrase The Bonzo Dog Band -- wow, that cat is really expressing himself.

Friday, August 09, 2013

For a Good Cause

Friend of PowerPop Dan Pavelich, of the terrific band the Bradburys (I heard them open for Shoes this spring) is running a fundraiser to produce a CD: Christmas Without Cancer.

You can donate here.

I lost my mom in 2000 after a years-long battle with lung cancer: the long hospice days are some of the most vivid memories of my adult life. After she was gone, I kind of fell into a funk, which was disrupted only by stern and repeated applications of power pop.  I personally can think of no better way to fight the scourge than indie pop. (And, you know, science and all.)

Thanks to Dan for this project! Also good for Hannukah (which comes early this year)!

In the Immortal Words of Noel Coward -- Extraordinary How Potent Cheap Music Is

From the just released (and conceptually unlikely, at first pondering) tribute album Drink a Toast to Innocence: A Tribute to Lite Rock...

...please enjoy awesome Antipodean pop guy Micheal Carpenter and his update of Cliff Richards' "We Don't Talk Anymore"...

...and former Merrymaker David Myrh and his take on 10cc's forever gorgeous "The Things We Do For Love."

Obviously, tribute albums are at best dicey propositions -- if your cover of a familiar song is totally faithful, who gives a shit? and if you're re-imagining the song just for the sake of re-imagining it, who also gives a shit? But this album is particularly interesting, for me anyway, because with a couple of exceptions (like the 10cc) most of the songs being covered here are either guilty pleasures or genuine irritants. And in the case of several of them -- the Cliff Richards song, for example -- I had never really considered that there might be, to paraphrase Gerty Stein, a there there.

The bottom line, of course, is that your take on the album will probably be different than mine on a song to song basis, but I think overall its well worth hearing.

You can order it over at Amazon here.

And mad props to my new chum (and most gorgeous Hungarian since Ilona Massey) power pop auteur Elizabeth Racz for associate producing it.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Worst Person in the World

Oh fuck it, the Absolutely Worst Thing in Any Category in Human History.

Gods of Heavy Metal (in Canada) Thor with their 1977...whatever it is..."Keep the Dogs Away."

Have I mentioned that these guys were Canadian?

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Let Me Be Frank About Frank

[Just to clarify a bit on my "I don't think Frank Zappa is funny" remarks as per yesterday's radio show appearance -- herewith my interview with the prickly auteur behind The Mothers of Invention, as it originally appeared in the April 1979 issue of The Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Review.

Like I said at the time, as a comedian he's a great guitar player.]

PARANOIA can be a lot of fun, especially if it turns out to be justified (or as A. J. Weberman, the guy who used to poke around in Bob Dylan's garbage, observed, "Just because you don't think they're out to get you doesn't mean they're not"). That, it seems to me, is why the children of the Sixties, who responded to their parents' paranoia (There's a Commie Under Every Bed) by growing one of their own (There's a C.I.A. Agent in Every Woodpile), have become so blasé about the sensational revelations of the Seventies – from Watergate to Chile to the Bullet from the Grassy Knoll – that they shrug off each fresh outrage with a bored yawn and a dip in a hot tub. After all, what could possibly, at this point, surprise a generation that has endured persecutions worthy of Jean Valjean in an attempt to make the world safe for cannabis sativa, only to discover that red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy was not only a morphine addict (!) but got the stuff personally from Harry J. Anslinger (!!), the Federal Narcotics Bureau chief responsible for the whole "Assassin of Youth" PR campaign? I may have a limited imagination, but I can't see how even the most lurid hallucinatory vision could top that one for paranoid surrealism.

Not only is paranoia fun, but in its lesser manifestations it's also an eminently useful commodity, producing some great comedy of both the intentional and unintentional varieties. Jackie Mason, for example, once remarked that he didn't like to go to football games because when the players huddled he was positive they were talking about him; Woody Allen has practically based his entire career on the idea that the Universe is rigged; and New Yorkers in particular have gotten mucho yucks out of a variety of paranoid graffiti artists, from the anonymous wacko who spray-paints warnings about leprosy in Times Square to the great William H. Depperman, the ex-Yippie who plasters the subways with hand-lettered posters linking the Rockefellers and Hong Kong film mogul Run Run Shaw as prime movers behind both the Kennedy assassinations and the death of kung-fu star Bruce Lee.

In other words, not only is paranoia my generation's own brand of slapstick, it's our birthright. We're paranoid, by God, and proud of it. But what has any of this got to do with Frank Zappa, whom I interviewed (for want of a better word) recently? Quite a bit, probably; the politics of paranoia go a long way, I think, toward explaining both his work over the last fifteen years and the special relationship he has with his extraordinarily loyal audience. Zappa is both a child of the times, obsessed with technology and with the elimination of the distinctions between pop and serious culture, and a fascinating throwback to the nineteenth-century stereotype of the eccentric genius. In fact, if there is anyone, upon sober reflection, he reminds me of, it's not his beloved Edgard Varèse, or even a charming weirdo like Erik Satie, but rather the ever unpopular Max Reger, who was brilliant, iron-willed, and convinced that he was beset from all sides by enemies and fools. Like Reger, Zappa is capable of being pointedly amusing and abrasive (his favorite word for other people's work is "swill"), but he seems constitutionally incapable of redirecting the mockery back toward himself; he gets off lots of good lines, to be sure, but never at the expense of Frank Zappa.

The following excerpts from our conversation, alternately witty, scathing, scatological, and thoughtful, should give you an idea of what I mean. I should add, by the way, that although we did not get along particularly well – at one point he called me a pinhead and I'm sure he meant it – I still respect the man as much as I respect anyone in pop music. After all, he plays a mean guitar.

On just having hosted Saturday Night Live:

"It's a very difficult thing to do; they never make it easy on anyone who hosts the show. All the direction and attention goes to the sketches. They're not called skits – they become incensed if you call them skits – and it's all designed to accommodate the people who are regulars on the show, so anybody who goes on there to host is at a severe disadvantage. Because they never tell you what camera is on, and you're not supposed to memorize your script because they're rewriting right up to air time. And so you're looking at the cue cards, and unless you're used to acting live on TV, you haven't got a prayer, you'll be looking at the wrong camera. It was really hard.

"And the other thing that happened was – and I didn't find out about it until the day after the show – that the first day I went there for the meetings with them they didn't like me and wanted to get rid of me. But no one said anything to my face while I was working on the thing. So they had written dialogue for me to say that I wouldn't normally say; they wouldn't let me write any of my own stuff.

"I think I'd be a fantastic television personality. I think I'd be a real good interviewer if I had a talk show, or a variety show. I'd be really good at it. But just to get up there and be the dumbbell in A Night on Freak Mountain . . . . I mean, sure, I'll do that for a laugh, but I'm not gonna build a life on it."

On starting his own label, distributed by Phonogram:

"There's a certain amount of advantage to it because then I don't have to take any responsibility by identification for the other normal stuff they release. If they do something that's in bad taste in my eyes, then I don't have to be identified with it.

"One of the reasons for going with Phonogram is that they have a huge catalog of contemporary music and it needs to be repackaged. I've already had discussions with them; if they'll let me take all that stuff and release it on my label, I think I could help make the stuff sell.

"Last year, when I first had the discussion with the president of the company, he thought it would probably be a good idea, but after making so much money on 'Saturday Night Fever' it sort of slipped his mind. When I brought it up again after the deal was actually signed, he said, 'Did I say that? Well, if I said it we should probably do it.' There's really not much interest there.

"It's from all their European branches, and old Mercury stuff; there's some Penderecki, some Roger Sessions, all that kind of stuff. And I think that the audience that buys my records would probably give it a whirl. Whether they'd like it or not is another question, but they'd give it a try if it was brought to their attention in the proper way. What I was gonna suggest was packaging the stuff in covers that look a little more intriguing to that particular market. Maybe racking the stuff in a special section of the store, so that maybe twelve selections that were gonna be released all at once in repackaged covers could be identified in one part of the store, and tie that in with ads that show all twelve items. And spend some money to advertise it as contemporary music. Because they never do."

On the English music press and rock criticism generally:

"If I were to be a bigoted individual, I would probably select the English as the target of my bigotry. The English press happen to be the most loathsome group of people I've ever had to deal with in show business. It's not just trendiness; they're so fucking twofaced and snotty. The concept behind what they write, the motivations for writing, and the whole attitude they have toward the people they write about – I really could live without it. They make me sick.

"People who write about me don't know anything about me. And to make matters worse, they don't know anything about writing either; people should be licensed to operate a typewriter. And so the image of me that goes out is all through the eyes of these nerds who have only one thing in mind: how to make themselves look good.

"They could [sic] care less for the people who make the music, or do the actual work of touring. And there's always this attempt to make it look like, ` Oh well, this is all shit really, and since I'm dealing with a really pure art form, then fuck all these guys who play rock and roll. Like, I'm an intellectual, and of course you're an intellectual too; you read. You're not just sitting in a hockey rink listening to rock-and-roll, you're a reading person. So we'll just communicate with each other and bypass all this musical swill that's going on because the printed word is Where It's At.'

"This kind of subliminal attitude that permeates all of rock journalism is one of the things that makes me sick. Because these guys aren't even competent to do it; the people that write that stuff aren't competent to pull that gag off. When was the last time you read anything in any of those [rock] publications that dealt with the music? It's all peripheral.

"I am a multidimensional person. I have a great respect and admiration for r-&-b, and dumbbell music, and electronic music, and symphonic music, and all that stuff. It appeals to me. I like to function in all those media. I feel comfortable in each and every one of them, and I'm just going to go ahead and write the music to suit me, and it is what it is. If it's "Louie Louie" one day, and something else the next, what's the difference? It's there for me to enjoy it, and after I enjoy it, if there's anybody else that happens to like it, that's a bonus."

On charges of thinly veiled condescension toward his public, especially in his early albums:

"Nothing that I've ever done is planned to be misinterpreted. And I always know before I do anything, including this interview, that it's subject to misinterpretation, erroneous transcription, and editorial tweezage. The final ultimate blow is when the guy reads it and doesn't know what the fuck I'm talking about.

"Now let's take it point by point. `Freak Out' [his 1966 debut effort with the Mothers of Invention] was never an instruction manual for anyone to go out and behave in a weird way. If you take all the lyrics on the album and see what they say, as opposed to what the liner notes say, then you find that you don't have anything to talk about. Because what you're referring to as the contents of the album is really a reference to a definition of the term 'Freak Out' as included on the jacket cover.

"Now in terms of the third album [' We're Only in It for the Money,' with the infamous 'Sgt. Pepper' cover parody] biting the hand that feeds, and 'oh! the ingratitude' – here's the way it goes. Anybody who turns into a hippie instead of a freak is not doing anything suggested by the 'Freak Out' album. By 1967 the hippie movement had been so mediated and tweezed that ... I mean, Flower Power was a sham, it was a merchandising thing by then, with poster shops and bimbos walking around with acid-glazed eyes and fistfuls of any kind of green object with a flower on the end of it they could get hold of waving it at a policeman, and they thought they were the Brave New World. Now I thought that was stupid, and I would be the first person to tell them it was stupid, and when I did that, I lost a large segment of the audience we had accumulated from the first two albums.

"If you stop and think about it, putting out an album like that would be a very courageous thing in the middle of hippie hysteria. I did two things that were definitely a no-no then. One, making fun of the Beatles, and you couldn't do that; and two, I made fun of hippies, and you couldn't do that either. All the other satirical comments in the first two albums had been directed toward their parents, and none of those kids wanted to hear anything about themselves. Looking at it now, maybe it was an easy target. But you try it in 1967."

On orchestral writing:

"I started writing orchestra music before I started collecting r-&-b, when I was fourteen. I've still got all that stuff. But the problem with writing orchestra music is the people that play it. There's never enough money to have proper rehearsals, so that a new piece can get as good a performance as an old piece the orchestra already knows. I mean, there's plenty of good versions of Beethoven's Fifth, because the fuckers have been playing it for hundreds of years. But there aren't that many good performances of new pieces because usually the rhythmic difficulties exceed what was required by the older repertoire, and if there's one thing that musicians are always bad at, it's rhythm. I swear to God, they can't count. If you can find an orchestra that plays together, it's a miracle.

"I still like to hear orchestra music, and I still write it; in fact, I have two copyists on yearly salary who are copying my stuff, and I go around delivering scores to orchestras. I'm available. But let me give an idea of what that entails. They attempted to commission me in L.A. one time like this: 'If you will buy two concert grand pianos and donate them to UCLA, then we will commission you to write some music for these instruments, and we will condescend to play it.' Real crass, when you stop and think how much two concert grands cost, and how they figure `Well, we'll give it two rehearsals and get this shit out of the way, and get the pianos and run with it.' That pisses me right off.

"And always, if I present a score to somebody, they always want to know if there's a possibility that the group is available to make an appearance at the concert, y'know, just to put a little extra grease on it and sell a few more tickets. And then, still, all they talk about is two or three rehearsals. Like when we did 200 Motels with the L.A. Philharmonic, 14,000 people came to that concert, which was the largest audience they had that year. They were all very impressed. Well, I had to pay the copying bills. Which were ten thousand dollars. Why should I have to pay for it? I really write good.

"I'm in a peculiar position because a composer who wasn't working in the world of rock-and-roll who might not have access to the kinds of facilities that I do would never be approached by these business people. Like I doubt that they'd go up to Elliott Carter and say 'If you will buy . . . .' They don't do that."

On his future:

"Generally, I will continue to operate in the areas that I operate in, except that some of them may become more important. I can't see myself in a garret; I can see myself in a basement.

"I'm elder, that's for sure, but I'm not much of a statesman. I just do my work."

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Tuesday Programming Note

Hey: I'm gonna be on one of those new-fangled intertube radio shows -- Lost at Sea -- today.

Between 3-5pm and 5-7pm.

The link for the streaming can be found here (click on the microphone icon).

The first two hours will be my chum Captain Al, whose show it is, playing what ever tickles his fancy, with moi answering our hosts questions about how I feel about the stuff.

The second two hours -- and you can e-mail us at -- will be part II of the last show I did with Al, and the theme will be, once again, DOES HUMOR BELONG IN MUSIC?

Consumer Note: No Zappa stuff will be played, because I don't think he's funny.

Consumer Note II: I may stray from the theme in the second hour. Including playing some very cool stuff from a recent album tribute to The Records, which has just come out on a certain Australian indie label to which I have sworn eternal fealty.

Anyway -- hope you'll drop by; it should be fun.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Monday Shameless Cheap Shot Filler (An Occasional Series)

ESSAY QUESTION: Michael Bolton is the kind of singer who makes you really appreciate Darryl Hall.

Also: When Bolton sings the above song, is he actually singing it to his hair? [Ten bonus points]


[h/t Glen "Bob" Allen]

Friday, August 02, 2013

(The Triumphant Return of) Weekend Listomania: Special All These Jokes Were Predicted by Nostradamus! Edition

Well, it's Friday, and you know what that means.

Yes, my Oriental fille-de-whoopie Fah Lo Suee and I will be at an undisclosed location endeavoring not to make up any jokes referencing New York City preposterous horn dog mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner.

You know, like this prospective campaign ad: "I'm Anthony Weiner, and you'll love my package."

In any case, as a result, posting by moi will necessarily be somewhat fitful for a few days.

But until then, as always, here's a fun project for us all to contemplate:


And my totally top of my head Top Six is/are:

6. The Monks -- Black Monk Time

From 1966 -- five alienated G.I.s in Germany invent Blank Generation punk several years before Richard Hell got his first blowjob.

5. The 5 Torquays -- "There She Walks"

From 1964 -- the same five alienated G.I's in Germany (before they shaved their heads and changed their name) invent Talking Heads' version of New Wave Rock several years before David Byrne had his first anxiety attack.

4. Eddie Cochran -- "Something Else"

From 1958 -- Cochran invents heavy guitar rock before Rockabilly was even dead.

3. The Travel Agency -- "That's Good"

From 1968 -- some lost-to-the-mists-of history Texas rockers (who they were is unclear) invent New Age at least a decade or so before Yanni played the Acropolis. I should add that this album -- produced by Jimmy Griffin, of Bread fame -- also anticipates pretty much everything Dave Edmunds did a few years later too. If you can find an illegal download on the intertubes, I highly recommend you check it out.

2. The Kit-Kats -- "Won't Find Better (Than Me)"

From 1970 -- a brilliant greaseball bar band from Philadelphia --The Kit-Kats, temporarily doing business under a more hippie-ish nom du disque -- anticipate just about every piano trope of the first couple of Bruce Springsteen albums that followed.

And the number one most amazingly un-commercial (because being ahead of your time is the most egregious sin you can commit in pop music) song/album of all time clearly is --

1. Michael Nesmith -- Tantamount to Treason ("Bonaparte's Retreat")

In which one of the Monkees invents psych-country rock a la Wilco about thirty years before Jeff Tweedy blew his nose.

Alrighty, then -- what would YOUR choices be?

[h/t Sal at Burning Wood]

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Thursday Essay Question

Mary Chapin-Carpenter's "He Thinks He'll Keep Her" is one of the goddamn greatest protest rock songs ever recorded. Discuss.

Also (10 bonus points): This performance, from 1992 -- featuring Patty Lovelace, Kathy Mattea, Suzy Bogguss, Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, and the goddess-like Enmylou Harris -- is beyond awesome.

Seriously, this song -- inspired by some Geritol(!) commercials from the '70s -- just kicks ass on every level. Chapin-Carpenter may have cannily sold herself as a country artist to get signed, but as you can hear from the above, she could just as easily been a member of Fleetwood Mac or a distaff Jackson Browne.

I should add that I have long maintained that some smart alt-rocker with the Y chromosome should cover this, and pronto.

CONSUMER NOTE: I hope you're sitting down, kids, but tomorrow marks the triumphant return of -- wait for it -- Weekend Listomania. You're welcome.