Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Every year on my birthday, my grandparents sent me cards with cash in them. My father’s parents, Rose and Sam, sent me $5. After Sam died, and as Rose came to depend more on her children, my Aunt Edith took over this birthday chore. She sent me the card, tucked in the $5 bill, and signed her mother’s name. I once asked her to stop. “I know it’s you behind this, and not Grandma,” I said. Aunt Edith repeated this to my father as further proof that I was a mensch. She thought I was adorable. By the way, I was 22 when we had this conversation, not 12. Edith sent the cards until Rose’s death and I kept raking in the $5.

My mother’s parents, Bella and Sol, were more affluent. They started me at $5 but through various cost-of-living adjustments raised me to $25 by the time I got to college. There I remained for many years after Grandpa Sol’s death, an early victim of contemporary capitalism’s rule that no one should ever get a raise. When I married the woman with whom I share a mortgage and put on parties, Grandma Bella sent her $25 on her first birthday in the family. I was outraged. She should start at the bottom and work her way up! Bella’s curt ruling: “Tough luck!”

It’s been many years since I received a fresh-from-the-bank $5 bill or a check written in the penmanship of someone who was born in 1904. But every year on my birthday, my current employer gives me a $10 gift card roguishly tucked into colored tissue paper inside a festive bag.

Last year my card was good at an upscale supermarket, New Seasons. I bought a fried chicken lunch and some stickers. This year the card was for the Pacific Northwest department store chain Fred Meyer. What the heck was I going to do with $10 at Fred Meyer? Buy socks? The closest store to our office doesn’t sell lunch, unless I wanted to buy something wrapped in plastic and vacuumed into a skinny box printed in primary colors. But I was up for the challenge. “I’m leaving now for Fred Meyer,” I told the boss at noon. “Don’t be surprised if I don’t come back.”

It was a beautiful day here in Portland and I drove with the windows down and my music playing. Though I am a man of a certain age, I felt ageless as I walked in, and I realized I was thinking of my grandparents and their birthday gifts and all the useless stuff I bought and how much fun it all was. I’m not saying my job is my family, but I am saying thanks for the free money.

I bought 18 colored pencils and I still have $1.02 remaining on the card. The sky’s the limit.

To my readers in the United States (what’s left of it): Happy Fourth of July! I hope you’re enjoying our nation’s birthday as much as I am. It’s late in the day. Soon I shall be drinking the Bloody Marys of Liberty. I don’t expect Trump to send me a card with five bucks in it, either.

Random Pick of the Day
Smashing Pumpkins, Pisces Iscariot (1994)
My father-in-law used to say about dogs, “They only have one thing to say and only one way to say it.” Billy Corgan’s voice is about as versatile. He usually sounds as if he has a grievance, if he could just remember it. The rest of the time he sounds like his voice just changed, or maybe he’s feeling faint.

Despite this handicap, when Smashing Pumpkins starts to move, they’re a blend of Cream, Hendrix, and Led Zep in a Nirvana shot glass. They can be unexpectedly quiet, too, as on the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Corgan doesn’t have much of a voice, but I can forgive him for his guitar-playing (“Starla” and everything else).

Random Pan of the Day
The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome (2016)
Their first album since A Bigger Bang in 2005. This time around we have 12 covers of old blues songs. They did this in 1964! Eric Clapton helps out. He could’ve helped out in 1964. Yawn. The only person who triumphs on this record is Mick Jagger. His voice and his harmonica are in excellent shape, plus Mick still weighs less than a wet hobbit in a bathing suit.

 

What a confounding time this is. I’ve been running and lifting weights to prepare for the war with Canada. Fox News claims it will be “a mere matter of marching.” Trump promised me I’d be making love to Celine Dion at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa by Labour Day.

But instead of decimating Canadians with my fabulous hair and sense of irony, the invasion is on hold while the total resources of the United States are focused on locking kids in wire cages. If we don’t want to import kids, waiting until they cross the border before locking them in wire cages is a waste of time. Why can’t we keep them out before they ever get here by slapping tariffs on them? Works with everything else.

While I try desperately to hold onto what’s left of my soul as a U.S. citizen, I want to remark on the passing of the poet Donald Hall, who was 89. Hall wrote one of my favorite books, Life Work, which he published in 1993. The 2003 edition has a new introduction. This is only partly a book about being a writer. It’s mostly about work. Working. Work to do.

The first half of the book is all about Hall’s best imaginable day – spent at his desk, working, of course. (He also walked his dog in the woods and that evening watched two baseball games on TV while dictating letters.) From this I learned that you can’t just have a best day. You have to earn it, grow into it, survive long enough to grab it. “Contentment is work so engrossing that you do not know that you are working,” he writes. “You are only content when you have no notion of contentment.” He quotes the artist Auguste Rodin: “To work is to live without dying.”

Hall’s career might not be possible today. In 1993, he could pay for a typist for a year by selling one extra essay or book review to what he called a “periodical.” He sometimes employed several typists simultaneously, each working about four hours a week. Essays and book reviews must’ve been lucrative in 1993!

Hall provided his own epitaph in the last line of the book: “There is only one long-term project.”

I’m looking forward to the day when I can stop slinging words for The Man and do nothing but my own work. Until then…at the rate we’re going, I might not get to Celine before Boxing Day.

Random Pick of the Day
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless (1991)
MBV was yet another British band that was going to be the next Beatles. On Loveless, they lather on distorted guitars and distorted keyboards and distorted road graders until you get an out-of-focus Smashing Pumpkins or an experience not unlike listening to David Bowie through soup.

They occasionally spawn a mesmerizing melody, and the boy-girl singers are excellent at sighing and singing drawn-out, disconnected syllables, but most of this record sucks. Why is it a Pick? Because if Loveless had been a four-song EP instead of the 11-song equivalent of Shackleton’s struggle to survive the South Pole, this review would be a rave rather than a rant. If you were listening to alt radio in the 1990s, those four songs would be a chunk of your life’s soundtrack: “Come in Alone,” “I Only Said,” “Only Shallow,” and “Soon.”

They’re not good at song titles, either.

Critics noticed that MBV performed while staring down at their shoes and dubbed them “shoegazers.” This was a band that was never going to lose the ball in the lights.

Random Pan of the Day
MC Hammer, Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em (1990)
I found this at a yard sale. It’s as monotonous as I remembered. However, this time around I realized that any spot in any song where Hammer is quiet immediately improves. Also, his cover of “Have You Seen Her” (a hit for The Chi-Lites in 1971) completely gets away from him. By the halfway point of “Have You Seen Her,” Hammer is trying to squeeze himself past his backup singers, who don’t notice that he’s there. With no one else to talk to, he asks himself if he’s seen her. Turns out he hasn’t. He gives up in the final 15 seconds, and the song takes off, with a surprising and effective ending.

I was saddened to learn that Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em is the biggest-selling rap album in the history of everything. Hammer hurt us.

 

Everyone loves the drums. We love them in marching bands, we love them in the 1812 Overture, we love them in our language. We talk of beating the drums and drumming up business. We admire anything that’s tight as a drum. When we’re at the top of our game, we never miss a beat.

Other instruments have evolved from the drums: the xylophone, the harpsichord, the piano. Other art forms, too: tap dancing. My bets on the first technologies humans invented are: fire, singing, painting, how to julienne a mastodon, and drumming.

Drumming – good or bad – is hard work. What if you tried to drum and sing? Picture yourself behind your Ludwig Black Oyster Pearl drum kit. You and the band are playing “Louie, Louie.” You’re moving your left hand. You’re moving your right hand. You’re moving your left foot. You’re moving your right foot.

Algernon the junior scientist reporting on his procedure as he tries to electrocute Ringo in Help: I’m moving my left leg…I’m moving my right leg…

Can you imagine singing “Me gotta go now” while you simultaneously move your other body parts? As Ringo once sang while doing exactly that, “You know it don’t come easy.”

Which brings us to my list and the #1 drummer on it:

1. Ringo Starr
Not the greatest drummer or the greatest singer, but he doesn’t have to be. Ringo created the template for the modern singing drummer: A little of-kilter, a little bit of a loner, witty in an understated way. He also has the best nickname.

Ringo was such a force of nature that A Hard Day’s Night and Help were both about him. Ringo is the only singing drummer who is happy to spend the day with somebody else’s grandfather, who is too nice to betray a rich American widow or embarrass a sheila with his cool appraising stare, and who is always ready to sacrifice himself to save England from a racist-stereotype cult. Only Ringo could become a grandfather and a great-grandfather while still playing the drums, and only Ringo could create a band to give underemployed rock gods a paycheck, a band that’s so insanely popular, it’s been touring for 29 years.

He’s the best.

2. Karen Carpenter
Not the greatest drummer, but what a voice. She was Annie Lennox without the sex. If only I liked her music. Ten minutes of The Carpenters’ ultra-smooth, impenetrable sweetness makes me want to unplug my internal organs. If I go to a yard sale this summer and they try to give me We Only Just Began: The Complete Works of Karen and Richard Carpenter plus a corgi puppy, I will say no.

[Editor’s note: My wife just informed me that if I go to a yard sale this summer and they try to give me We Only Just Began plus a corgi puppy, I will say yes.]

In her short career, Karen Carpenter faced two challenges that most of the drummers on this list did not: the music industry’s hatred of women and the eating disorder that killed her. She was a pioneer and a role model. Easy pick for #2.

3. Maurice White
Maurice White seemed destined for a career as a solid jazz studio musician and a sought-after sideman. Most of us in the creative arts line would be happy with a description like that. But White had a vision, and that vision was not to see his name buried in the liner notes of other people’s records. He wanted to rule the world – the world of pop.

It took a few years, but his band, Earth, Wind & Fire, became one of the dominant bands of the 1970s. No other jazz musician has ever crossed over to pop and scored such a success. (I’m not counting jazz-fusion hybrids or novelty jazz hits such as Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” or Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate Upon the Winds.”)

Several people, including his guitarist and at least one of his co-writers, have claimed that White told them “Don’t let the lyrics get in the way of the groove.” The quote’s source might be a mystery, but not its truth. Just listen to Earth, Wind & Fire’s lyrics. They are not in the way of anything.

4. Roger Taylor
Roger Taylor of Queen could sing a falsetto that made The Four Seasons sound like obstructive lymphoid tissue. He made The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean sound like Darth Vader with a mouthful of socks. That’s his suborbital vocal on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Only Jimmy Somerville (Bronksi Beat, The Communards) could puncture the same octaves. (Donna Summer and Minnie Riperton could do this in their sleep.) Taylor is a Hall of Fame hard-rock drummer as well as a prolific composer. He should probably lead this list, but, except for a couple of cuts from the Flash Gordon soundtrack, I dislike Queen.

5. Phil Collins
I dislike Queen but I hate Phil Collins. Su-su-sudio! For several years you couldn’t avoid him. He was bearable when he was playing the drums in Genesis behind Peter Gabriel. But then Gabriel left and Collins took over. He’s an excellent drummer and singer, but wow, I hate him.

When you have a population of just 14 singing drummers, you have to expect that some of them will bear an unfair weight of disapproval.

[Editor’s note from the far future (almost two months later): I heard Phil Collins on a This American Life broadcast, in an episode called “Dr. Phil,” and I am so impressed by his genuineness, his compassion, and his intelligence that I will have to reassess my opinion of the man. He’s the guy you want to hang with. I’m not going to listen to his music, though.] 

6. Buddy Miles
A good drummer and a sweet soul singer whose legend is forever entangled with Jimi Hendrix and the California Raisins. His bands: Electric Flag, The Buddy Miles Express, Band of Gypsys, and on and on. His nickname: Buddy, for Buddy Rich. His signature tunes: “Them Changes” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” His signature contribution: Injecting funk into the heart of rock. His Afro in 1970: Like a Russian ushanka on the head of Dr. Zhivago.

7. Sheila E.
Sheila Escovedo was Prince’s most talented apprentice. Her drumbeats are all over Sign ‘O’ the Times. She was a drummer from an early age as all of these folks were. When she grew up, she drummed while wearing high heels as none of these folks did. (That we know of.)

Her solo career is disappointing, though I like tracks from The Glamorous Life and (how can you not swoon over this) Sex Cymbal. The music on Sex Cymbal is not exactly immortal, but if Sheila E. and her band performed this set at your New Year’s Eve dinner and dance, you’d be ecstatic even if you weren’t taking Ecstasy. And guess who gave her a job when she needed one? Ringo Starr!

8. Levon Helm
He sang “The Weight” on The Band’s first album, Music From Big Pink, and for me that’s enough to land him on this list without considering the next 10 Band albums or all of his folk recordings that I’ll probably never listen to. If Helm had not been a musician, he would’ve recorded William Faulkner audio books. Another Ringo Starr employee.

9. Grant Hart
Hüsker Dü is one of my favorite punk bands. I don’t look to punk for technical excellence in drumming. But Hart’s ability to play at punk speeds and sing well with the speakers set to punk volumes was worth an invitation to join the X-Men.

10. Pete Rivera
The Rare Earth drummer and vocalist is the tallest drummer here at 8 feet even, a foot taller than Don Henley and 4 feet taller than Sheila E., Levon Helm, Ringo and myself. Similar to Buddy Miles, in that he was a good drummer and a soul shouter. He even has his own signature songs: “Get Ready” and “(I Know I’m) Losing You.”

11. Don Henley
A passable player. I wouldn’t hire him to play my birthday if I could get Sheila E., Roger Taylor, or, if everyone else canceled, Phil Collins. Henley played drums and sang with The Eagles, then played guitar and sang in his solo career. I prefer his solo music (“All She Wants to Do Is Dance” narrowly defeats “Hotel California”), which is why he’s ranked way down here.

12. Jimmy Marinos
Jimmy Marinos of The Romantics put muscle into his drumming. He did the same with his singing, which was a step short of shouting. Marinos is a sentimental pick, as we’ve danced to “What I Like About You” about a billion times.

The Romantics had fabulous hair.

13. Mickey Dolenz
Mickey Dolenz was an enthusiastic if unskillful drummer with a solid, likeable voice. He knew how to sell this stuff. I don’t think it’s an accident that almost all of the songs by The Monkees that are any good were sung by Dolenz:

“The Girl I Knew Somewhere”
“Goin’ Down”
“(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”
“Last Train to Clarkesville”
“Pleasant Valley Sunday”
“Porpoise Song” (the theme from Head)

Davey Jones sang “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” The rest of their catalog is car seat stuffing.

My wife has fond memories of the young Mickey Dolenz in the title role of Circus Boy, where every week he saved the circus with the assistance of his avenging pet elephant, Bimbo.

14. Peter Criss
It’s a sad day when I am forced to write about Kiss, but I knew this job was dangerous when I took it.

If you didn’t love Kiss when you were a teenager, and I didn’t, you sure as hell are not going to love them as an adult, and I don’t. Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Paul Stanley, and Peter Criss were four of the biggest sexist pricks in rock, and that is a very high bar to clear. The critic Mike McGuirk put this better than I can: “You know damn well that if they didn’t have both eyes on maximum commerciality they’d call themselves Blow Job.”

Compared to Kiss, AC/DC is leading the #MeToo movement.

I’m not sure how good Criss is as a drummer, because he often plays the same thing and sometimes his drums are mixed way behind the rest of the music. A producer can do a lot to inflate or deflate a drummer’s reputation. But Criss has a booming rock voice, he anchored a super successful band of his fellow pricks, and he wrote a lot (including that horrible ballad/dues song “Beth,” which was at least a break from the full-on misogyny of Destroyer). I can’t ignore him, but I can stick him and his Love Gun behind The Monkees.

Thus ends my list, not with a bang but with the cymbals falling over. Alert readers will notice that everyone here is either a) old, or b) dead. Are there singing drummers in their 20s and 30s? Please send me a mix tape and an autographed cowbell.

 

For Christmas, my dear and honored friend Joy was given a $300 gift certificate to the best record store in Portland, Oregon: Music Millennium, home of new and used CDs, vinyl, and tapes. They also host concerts by bands that are so cool, they won’t tell me when they’re coming to the store.

If someone had given me a $300 gift certificate to the best record store in Portland, Oregon, I would’ve shoved the 10 essentials into my backpack and disappeared for the day. Not Joy. She had the store divide this bounty into six equal parts, one of which she gave to me. She may have been trying to teach me a lesson.

People say the compact disc is dead. Fuck you.

Or at best on life support, according to Fivethirtyeight. OK, statheads, tell that to the barbarian armies, with an average age of 30, who every day reenact the sacking of Rome at Music Millennium. I had to compete with them as I flew through the store with my want list in one hand and my wife in the other. We had to stay longer than I’d planned because the refs gave me 2 minutes for tripping, 2 minutes for elbowing, 2 minutes for slashing, 2 minutes for high-sticking, 2 minutes for charging, 2 minutes for holding, 2 minutes for cross-checking, 5 minutes for board-checking, and a 10-minute misconduct.

(This happened in December, so it doesn’t count toward my improved behavior in 2018.)

With Deborah’s help, I found six CDs and went over my limit by only $4. An average of 67¢ per CD beats yard-sale prices, plus I can finally use the ¢ symbol. Here’s what I hauled home!

The Bad Plus, Prog (2007)

I dug this one out of the jazz section. I never made it as far as the classical bunker. Prog was the only record I bought that day that I hadn’t heard something from, and the only one that the hip Portlandia cashier was thrilled by. After one spin, I was thrilled, too. I love Prog, even the parts I don’t understand.

Their cover of Rush’s 1981 epic, “Tom Sawyer,” smacked me like a sneaker wave. And I’ve been smacked by a sneaker wave. Forgive me, Bob and Doug McKenzie, because I know Rush is your favorite band, but The Bad Plus’ decision to strip “Tom Sawyer” of its substandard lyrics and Geddy Lee’s puny human vocal improved this thing 1,000% before they even started playing.

There are only three musicians in The Bad Plus – Reid Anderson on bass, Ethan Iverson on piano, David King on drums – and yet they produce a ferocious attack. David King must’ve been spitting sticks in the studio. If Gene Krupa and Keith Moon came back to life and listened to this tsunami of beats, they’d drop dead. To paraphrase my Grandma Bella, “They’d drop dead twice.”

I haven’t heard drumming like this since Buddy Rich battled Animal on The Muppets.

Consumer warning: If you hate jazz, nothing on Prog will change your mind, particularly the piano break at the 2-minute mark of “Tom Sawyer,” which almost sent me to the ER.

This disc is screamingly good…minus a few misfires. Like their cover of Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You.” The music never detonates or even fizzes. Frankly, any song traveling this slow should have a damn stripper in front of it.

Diana Ross, Icon (2012)

A greatest-hits album masquerading as a studio album. I fell for it. What strikes me about this set is how it showcases Ross at her very best (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Remember Me”) and her very worst (“Touch Me in the Morning”) in the years 1970-1981. The difference between the highs and lows is about as far as from my desk to Star Base 12, but Ross’ voice and delivery are magnificent throughout. (Maybe not on “Love Hangover.” Disco was the record company’s idea, not Diana’s.)

Some of the best writers of the era wrote for Ross – Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Gerry Goffin, Carole Bayer Sager, Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers…and Lionel Richie (“Endless Love”). Too bad they couldn’t swap that joker for Springsteen, Bowie, Gil Scott-Heron, Joan Armatrading, or Patti Smith.

Happy Mondays, Double Easy: The U.S. Singles (1993)

If you haven’t already, watch the definitive account of the Manchester (“Madchester”) music scene of the late 1980s/early 1990s, 24 Hour Party People. The title comes from a Happy Mondays song. If you’re too proud to admit you like electronic dance music and that you’d like to go to a rave and not come back, Happy Mondays are the band for you. They take that rave aesthetic of dance beats, Ecstasy, and waving your hands in the air like you just don’t care and camouflage it with rock ’n’ roll. Top-notch driving music, too.

(Editor’s note: Run-DMSteve hasn’t been to a rave since the week after Thomas Edison invented music.)

Beck, Mellow Gold (1993)

I stand by my statement that Beck is a god, but when I listen to Mellow Gold I wonder if he’s also a moron. On this disc, words mean whatever Beck thinks they mean, and the music is not so much composed as dumped in a blender. Still, you can’t argue with “Beercan,” and then there’s that thing about a loser, and anyway, Beck was right when he said, “You can’t write if you can’t relate,” so there we are.

Gary Numan, Savages (2017)

I haven’t listened to a Gary Numan album since Replicas and The Pleasure Principle, both from 1979. I don’t know why. I guess I got busy. I play both of those a lot, though.

Then I read a review of Savages on Verian’s blog, Thirty Three And A Third, where he reviewed every album released in 2017 from every continent and at least three planets. Verian. Don’t you have a job? Is this your job? How do I get your job?

Gary Numan 40 years on is a revelation. Gone is the interstellar frostiness I fell in love with in the ’70s. Now he sounds as if he has lived among humans. He also sounds as if he’s accepted Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails as his personal savior. Savages is repetitive, but the repetition builds into something so dark and dramatic, a killer burger topped with mushrooms and doom, that when I arrive at the office after listening to this on my commute I want to make a music video in the conference room in which civilizations collapse and are reborn, not trade anecdotes in the kitchen about what we did this weekend.

You could get drunk on this record – drunk as in too much bloodwine at a Klingon funeral – and yet in the midst of songs such as “My Name Is Ruin” and “When the World Comes Apart” there’s an honest love song, “And It All Began with You.” Oh My God of Love.

On the album cover, Numan is dressed like a resident of a desert planet who’s about to steal the Millennium Falcon. What else do you need to know?

David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)

Bowie took the glam-rock rage of his era (Mott the Hoople, Queen, Marc Bolan, New York Dolls, Elton John), added it to his hard-rock bag of tricks, and then performed everything as if he had just fallen to Earth. Ziggy Stardust is one of the more difficult classic albums to listen to. The highlights are “Moonage Daydream,” “Starman,” and “Suffragette City,” but there’s plenty to enjoy or puzzle over. The Ramones got their one guitar riff from this record, and if you wasted your teen years playing Space Invaders, you can sacrifice a lamb to Bowie, because this is where he invented the name.

Thank you for so much fun, my dear and honored friend Joy. Inspired by your good example, I’m going to start right now being a better person in 2018. (I gave myself January to gear up for this.) Let me begin by saying to whatever low-life borrowed my Ziggy Stardust CD years ago and never gave it back: I love you, man!

 

In the past few years, someone I loved, someone millions of people loved, died in January. Sadly, this January is no exception. Ursula K. Le Guin died on Sunday.

Unlike the other gods who have left us to muddle through life as best we can here on Earth Prime, I knew Ursula, a little. Deborah knew her far better than me. If our first corgi, Emma, was still around, she might be able to add something, as she once took a nap on Ursula’s feet. I’m upset, and this will take me a couple of days to find something intelligent to say. Until then, I leave you with the paper of record.

Here’s your guide to Run-DMSteve: Year Seven. What Year Eight will hold for this blog, I can’t imagine, but I thank you as always for reading along and for not accusing me of sexual misconduct.

Bands

Chuck Berry

The Righteous Brothers

Level 42 and P.M. Dawn

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, R.E.M., The Killers, Ray Charles

Jazz ghetto

U2 and The Beatles

Movies

Blade Runner 2049

Thor: Ragnarok

Absent friends and ancient family

Karrie Dunning

My Dad and the Kennedys

All the rest

My brilliant career

Ask Run-DMSteve returns after five years

Ask Run-DMSteve returns after one week

Ode to Half.com

Random Pick of the Day
Joni Mitchell, For the Roses (1972)

Joni Mitchell is one of pop music’s best writers, but her stratospheric soprano voice makes it difficult for me to understand her words. Compared to For the Roses, Kurt Cobain is giving elocution lessons on Nevermind.

The instrumental backing on For the Roses is spare, mostly Mitchell on the piano, but not as spare as on her previous release, the unsparing Blue. “You Turn Me on I’m a Radio” and “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” got the airplay. Those are great songs, but over the years, I’ve gravitated toward “Blonde in the Bleachers”:

She tapes her regrets
To the microphone stand
She says, “You can’t hold the hand
Of a rock ’n’ roll man
Very long
Or count on your plans
With a rock ’n’ roll man
Very long
Compete with the fans
For your rock ’n’ roll man
For very long
The girls and the bands
And the rock ’n’ roll man”

Forty years later, Pete Yorn tried to explain the rock ’n’ roll man in “Rock Crowd”:

Rock crowd throw your arms around me
I feel glad when you all surround me
It’s you, it’s you who grounds me
When you’re done put me back where you found me

There’s no hint on For the Roses to the direction Mitchell would take on her next release, Court and Spark, the album that defines her as surely Tapestry defines Carole King.

Random Pan of the Day
Marvin Gaye, In Our Lifetime (1981)

The title has nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time.

By this point in his career, Gaye was singing all the parts, playing most of the instruments, and writing most of the songs. But he wasn’t in a happy state of mind, as he was fighting with his ex-wives and trying to compete with upstarts Prince and Rick James. He was living in exile in Belgium. No offense to Belgium, but that’s my idea of an anonymous country. The man’s mood was reflected in the cover art: Angel Marvin and Devil Marvin face off above exploding A-bombs. I guess Prince really pissed him off.

The songs are non-stop party jams. Slow party jams. You can’t dance to them unless you’re one of these arrhythmic people who always go to the same dances I go to and who spend the night swanning around as if somebody had injected them with Lorazepam. If you played this at a party, you’d only get about three tracks in before somebody swapped it for a more exciting set. This is a clear case of the parts not adding up to a whole. You’ll remember some of the grooves days later, but none of the songs.

Gaye redeemed himself in 1982 with Midnight Love and his last hit, “Sexual Healing,” and then he was murdered. We can’t know what his third decade in the music business would’ve given us, but I’m sure it would’ve been worth hearing.

Mercy mercy me. Things ain’t what they used to be.

 

Everyone is always looking for the next Beatles. From The Monkees to The Arctic Monkees, we salivate over any upstart new band that threatens to upset the world as we know it.

They never do. We ain’t gonna see anything like The Beatles and Beatlemania again. There will never be another moment in the Earth Prime timeline as there was in 1963, when unlimited talent met universal need and when there were so few media channels that one message could smack every human in existence.

However, there has been one band that’s come close: U2.

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman!

I’m not suggesting that The Beatles and U2 are equivalent. They are nothing like each other. The Beatles, for example, displayed more humor on any afternoon in 1964 than U2 have in their entire career. The Beatles, for another example, never tried to be rock’s answer to Wagner.

What I am suggesting is that the two bands have similar career trajectories. Here’s my evidence. Ready Steady Go!

The Beatles 1963-64
The Beatles’ catalog in their early years is like the cellar of my parents’ house: Good luck finding two things that match. Different Beatles albums with different lineups of songs appeared in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Sea of Tranquility, etc.

Here in the U.S., we had Introducing…The Beatles, then Meet the Beatles! even though we’d already been introduced, then The Beatles Are on the Grass, The Beatles Are in My Hall, The Beatles Are in My Head, etc.

Get rid of all these random collections of songs, hold off on the two soundtracks, and you’re left with Please Please Me, With the Beatles, and Beatles for Sale. This is where The Beatles reimagined pop and changed the world.

U2 1980-83
U2 released Boy, October, and War. This is where they reimagined arena rock and tried to change the world, one cause at a time.

The Beatles 1964-65
A Hard Day’s Night: The perfect soundtrack.

U2 1983
Under a Blood Red Sky: The perfect live album.

The Beatles 1965-66
Rubber Soul and Revolver were a great leap forward.

U2 1984
The Unforgettable Fire was a great leap forward.

The Beatles 1967
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: Their masterpiece.

U2 1987
The Joshua Tree: Their masterpiece.

The Beatles 1967
Magical Mystery Tour was a serious expedition into psychedelia.

U2 1993
I have to mix up U2’s chronology by one album to make this work. Zooropa was a serious expedition into electronica. You think if The Beatles had lasted into the 1990s, they wouldn’t have explored electronica? Tell that to Paul McCartney, one of the two men behind Strawberries, Oceans, Ships, Forest (1993).

The Beatles 1968
The White Album was a lab puppy that doesn’t know how to work all those legs.

U2 1988
Rattle & Hum was a lab puppy that doesn’t know how to work all those legs.

The Beatles 1969
U2 has nothing like Yellow Submarine. Since there were only four new songs on this disc and of those I only like “It’s All Too Much,” I don’t see this as relevant.

The Beatles 1969
Abbey Road demonstrated a new maturity. It’s probably their best album after Sgt. Pepper.

U2 1991
Achtung Baby demonstrated a new maturity. It’s probably their best album after The Joshua Tree.

The Beatles 1969-70
After Abbey Road and Let It Be, the Beatles ceased to exist.

U2 1995-97
After Original Soundtracks and Pop, which were not as good as This Is Spinal Tap or Meet the Rutles, U2 almost ceased to exist.

That is the theory that I have and which is mine, and what it is too.

Bonus: U2 go into extra innings

U2 is a fading empire that refuses to die without a fight. As a service to my loyal readers (all three of them), and because I did the same for Duran Duran, here’s my guide to the 10 essential U2 songs since Zooropa. You can conveniently forget everything else they’ve done since 1993.

“All Because of You”
U2’s version of playing “Get Back” on the roof of Apple Studios. Bono kisses a girl!

“Beautiful Day”
This song belongs in a temple to a new religion. Features the first-ever Bono double. He’s good-bad, but he’s not evil (see “Elevation” below).

“Do You Feel Loved”
Curtis Mayfield funky. This is one ballpark I didn’t think they could play in.

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”
The first cut from the Batman Forever soundtrack. If you love comics, you’ll swoon over this video. The music could knock your croquet ball over the house and down the street.

“Elevation”
Good U2 battle Evil U2 while The Edge tries to survive in a Tomb Raider movie!

“Magnificent”
One of their bombastic anthems. Awesome.

“Mofo”
The rhythm sections rips your garage door off its hinges and paints “Mama never loved me” on your car.

“Original of the Species”
The horns are straight out of Magical Mystery Tour. Unfortunately, the video is dull and, well, pretentious.

“Unknown Caller”
The only U2 song I know where they chant the lyrics. Kind of pretentious, but that’s their natural habitat. It’s grown on me.

“You’re the Best Thing About Me”
It’s not a great song – it sounds as if it were recorded by four guys who’ve listened to a lot of U2 – but I include it because it’s the happiest U2 video of all time. And almost none of them are happy.

Dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Judy, whose ambition in her 50s was to jump out of a cake on The Edge’s birthday.

 

Life in the 90s

Posted: November 17, 2017 in music
Tags: , ,

We just visited my parents in the little town in Massachusetts where I grew up and learned not to trust the Red Sox. You have to make some adjustments in Massachusetts. A regular coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts is coffee, milk, and two sugahs. A milkshake doesn’t have ice cream, but a frappe does. If you go down Cape, you’re heading north on Cape Cod, but if you go up Cape, you’re heading south. Traffic circles are called “rotaries,” a sub is a “grinduh,” and my name is forever Stevie.

My Mom lives in a nursing home. My Dad is still hanging on in the house they’ve lived in since 1957. These are the real adjustments.

While we were there, the town put on their annual breakfast to honor veterans. Every place in Massachusetts that can hold itself together long enough to form a government and print pahking stickuhs for the beach is required to have a Veterans Service Officer. Our VSO did a fantastic job with this breakfast. Five hundred veterans and their friends and families filled the hall where I attended my high school prom back in 1493. We had speeches, commemorative pins, a fire department honor guard, and food that beats Army chow any day.

Dad is 90 and increasingly immobile, but he was game to go. After all, he served in World War II. He came home with medals for good conduct and sharpshooting and one he never showed us that he claimed he got for goldbricking.

It took Deborah and me awhile to organize and transport him. By the time we arrived, there was only one table with available seats. Fortunately, our tablemates were Miss Bristol County and Miss Bristol County Teen and their mothers. The four of them were delighted to have a World War II veteran drop in. This gave the two beauty queens a chance to represent. They brought Dad his breakfast from the buffet line and made a fuss over him.

BC2

Our featured speaker was Rep. Joe Kennedy III. He’s the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a politician work a room with greater enthusiasm. After his speech he went to every table, looked everyone in the eye, listened respectfully, spoke sincerely. I was impressed. He meant it.

As the event ended, people began to leave the hall, and we were concerned that Joe 3.0 wouldn’t make it to our far corner. Deborah sought him out and asked him if he would come to our table and say hello to her father-in-law, who served in the Army Air Force and kept Texas safe for democracy.

Kennedy said he would, and though he still had a gauntlet to run, he soon appeared at Dad’s side. (Deborah said she had never had anyone reassuringly touch her arm so many times as he followed her while simultaneously greeting people.) Kennedy realized that Dad couldn’t stand, so he took a knee beside him. Dad took his hand and cried as he talked about meeting John F. Kennedy in 1960 when he was running for president.

K5

After Dad calmed down, they had a good talk, and then Dad made a prediction: “Joe, you’re 37 now. In 15 years, you’re going to run for president, and you’re going to make it.”

K4

Kennedy replied, “Don’t hold your breath!”

K6

At that moment, my father closed a circle. The circle began on a blustery winter day in early 1960 when Dad, younger than Joe Kennedy is now, was walking into his favorite hardware store and met a hatless JFK striding down the sidewalk, the whole world and Schwartz Lumber in front of them.

There’s no lesson here, just a family that’s lucky enough to make a new story after so many years together. Mom has Alzheimer’s, but she still can still follow a five-sentence narrative, and when we saw her next she laughed when she heard that Dad had cried. “Of course!” she said. She would’ve expected nothing else.

Dad is in the hospital as I write this. He’s 90, so who knows. Mom is dreaming in her nursing home, waiting for Dad’s next visit. Until they meet again, here are two photos of the honeymooners taken 50 years apart.

The Honeymooners 1964

1964

Happy cat roommates

2014

In case youve read this far: Miss Bristol County Teen is a freshman at the high school. When Dad told her that I had gone there, she asked, Did you know my grandfather? He was a math teacher. I thought, come on, kid, how old do you think I am?! But then she told me his name and I thought, shoot, I did know him.