Archive for the ‘music’ Category

I hope everyone reading this is safe, healthy, and strong. In Yiddish, that’s zayt (safe), gezunt (healthy), and shtark (strong). You know gezunt from “Gezuntheit!” You may also know shtark from Starker, the KAOS flunkie in Get Smart! A shtarker is the guy who moves your furniture, not the guy who tutors you in math. My Dad always said, whenever I tried to lift anything heavier than a stack of New Yorkers, “Stevie! You’re not a shtarker!”

A shtarker would not have read the profile of the English novelist Anna Kavan that I recently plowed through. In 1967, Kavan published a book called Ice, which is beloved by Patti Smith, J.G. Ballard, Doris Lessing, Christopher Priest, Jonatham Lethem, and Brian Aldiss (who called Kavan “Kafka’s sister”). That is a literary lineup that can hurt you in a lot of ways.

“Kavan’s fiction features icy heroines, dystopian quests, and gothic flourishes,” the profile’s author, Leo Robson, writes. The last word of this piece is “doomed.” “Yeah!” I said to myself, mentally pumping my fist. There’s no telling how this global crisis is going to end. It’s definitely time to read something that’s icy, dystopian, gothic, and doomed.

I didn’t.

I’m fortunate that I still have a job. I work from my basement. Because I am of a certain age, and rapidly aging, I wrote to a friend to say that I wanted to retire from an office, not from a basement. He wrote back and said I should retire from the basement: “You know you were going to end up there anyway.”

I’ve started running. I’m still writing. I’m rebuilding my house [citation needed]. The inside doorknob pulled out of the front door like I was in a horror movie. The lockset was only installed in 1942. It’s already broken? Fortunately, the good men at Atlasta Lock & Safe told me I could bring in the knob and its attached spindle and they’d tell me how to fix it. I was masked, they were masked. They told me how to fix it. I fixed it. Now I love 1940s technology. Doorknobs, doorbells, steam irons with buttons. The battleship Iowa.

Our garden (and pizza) is helping everyone get by here at Run-DMSteve World HQ. My wife has a project. Our dog has a project. I have a project: shade composting. The one spot in the yard where I could create a compost pile never gets any sun, but through sophisticated methods I cannot reveal and against the advice of Anthony Fauci I have transformed an enormous quantity of dead dirt into loamy dark soil, well-aerated and suffused with yummy worms. The shade-composting season is short (by the end of May, my compost will have the consistency of concrete) but intense.

I’ll share my success in the manuscript I’m preparing: Shade Composting: The Secret Process That Spells Doom for Your Spin Bin. This is the sequel to my first gardening book, The Daylily Solution: Stick ’Em in the Ground, You’re Done.

We’re all watching more screens for more hours than ever before, so let’s look at something we watched here at the Bureau while sitting 6’ apart.

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
This retelling of The Taming of the Shrew has a serious moral flaw at its center, and it’s not Shakespeare’s ideas on how to manage women. The film is set in Seattle (it’s filmed mostly in Tacoma), but it doesn’t include a single band from Seattle. The soundtrack is an undifferentiated mass of bands from such Pacific Northwesty places as California, Florida, Minnesota, Sweden, and the U.K. Even the band that performs live in the film, Letters to Cleo, is from Boston; they play covers by not-Seattle artists Cheap Trick and Nick Lowe.

There’s a scene in a lesbian club where someone mentions Bikini Kill. That’s the lone Northwest music reference in this film from the Seattle music renaissance. (Cultural note: In 1999, all lesbians wore spaghetti-strap black tops and weighed 90 pounds.)

None of this crap is memorable, except for the George Clinton classic “Atomic Dog,” and he ain’t from Seattle, either. The 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack is the opposite of the Singles soundtrack: both movies take place in Seattle, but only Singles sounds like it.

Oh right, the movie: Though the script manages to be both underwritten and a mess, 10 Things I Hate About You is sufficient to keep you occupied during a pandemic. It stars the teenaged Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. We also get the annoying David Krumholtz (fans of Firefly will recognize him as Mr. Universe), Joe Isuzu as the clueless gym teacher, Daryl Mitchell (Tommy Webber of Galaxy Quest) as the angry English teacher who can rap in Shakespeare, and Allison Janney as the porn-writing guidance counselor.

I enjoyed this film, but I would’ve enjoyed it much more if it had been about the English teacher and the guidance counselor and the music was by nerds in flannel shirts and maybe Sir Mix-a-Lot. (But not Kenny G.) As we said in Seattle in 1999, let’s call for pizza.

Hello, fellow pandemicians. I know you were all stunned by the decision on March 26 to stop the Candidates Tournament for the Men’s World Chess Championship. I certainly was. The games were exciting and one of the Russians got so cranky and insulted so many people that he was briefly trending on Twitter.

How weird is it that the last sporting event on earth was chess? See, I’ve been right all my life.

I hope you’re doing OK, and that you’re getting your facts from the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and not from uncredentialed idiots. Tying garlic around your neck or balloons to your ankles or eating 44 tons of plankton a day will not protect you.

Here in Oregon, I’m working from home, which I don’t like – work is work and home is home, and I prefer that they not meet – but at least I still have work. I have my wife and my dog. I’m learning how to talk to them and not just walk absently past them. I’m planning my July retirement party – we’ll be on Zoom or GoToMeeting, each with our own cake. This is not my idea of a good time, but I do like the idea of my own cake. Assuming anyone will be baking cakes.

It’s my task to distract you and help you find alternatives to chess, so here’s a movie I made starring a bird. Here’s the DJ whose live stream is boosting my morale. If he’s not on the air – his hours are unpredictable – here’s a recording of his show at the Slam! Quarantine Festival. This is whom I want to be when I grow up. That is the correct use of “whom.”

Let’s return to 1989, a year when the only things we had to worry about were invading Panama and finishing the World Series following the Loma Prieta earthquake, and listen to some music you older teenagers paid good money for.

Depeche Mode, Depeche Mode 101 (1989)

This double-record set gives us Depeche Mode on the night they ruled the universe, their 1988 concert at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena before 60,000 mesmerized DeModers. It took the Seattle Mariners 12 years to pull 60,000 fans into the Kingdome – and that was the day in 1989 when they promoted the teenaged Ken Griffey, Jr., from the minors.

It took me a long time to engage Depeche Mode in a committed relationship, which seems counterintuitive given my status as a synth-pop artifact. In fact, I panned Depeche Mode 101 in this blog in 2016: “…the songs don’t budge a centimeter from the studio versions. Sorry, boys, but a concert is more than a crowd screaming with joy because you blew up a firecracker. AC/DC would’ve fired a cannon out of a bagpipe.”

But I wrote that after enduring the third Star Trek reboot, which made me angrier than the Hulk trying to play toilet paper bride during a pandemic. Further spins of 101 gave me a different perspective. Sure, Depeche Mode (a former co-worker innocently called them Pesh de Mode) take few chances on these tracks, but overall the drumming is much more muscular and the songs generate far more revolutions per minute.

The audience eats this stuff up – this is the concert where the show ends with the fans still singing the chorus to “Everything Counts” 30 seconds after the band stopped playing. The effect is electrifying, but to give anti-Depeche Mode voices some space here, I’ll quote another former co-worker: “If I went to a show and the band stopped playing and they expected me to sing, I’d want my money back.”

I give Depeche Mode credit for including in their set list one of their earliest hits, “I Just Can’t Get Enough,” from their salad days playing bright poppity pop-pop-pop. That was when the band still had Vince Clarke, who left early on rather than be vacuumed into the gloom machine envisioned by Martin Gore. Clarke did pretty well for himself, founding Yaz (“Situation”) and Erasure (“Chains of Love,” “Who Needs Love Like That?”). By 1988, “I Just Can’t Get Enough” didn’t sound anything like Depeche Mode, but on their big night they played it, and they played it well.

Yaz Fact! The band was called Yazoo in Clarke’s native England, but in the U.S. they were Yaz in honor of former Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Yastrzemski.

I also give Depeche Mode credit for transforming “Pleasure Little Treasure” – a song with a subtle message: If you’re looking for a reason to live, I’ve got one right here for ya – from filler into a dark, howling rocker.

I love this disc now, but there’s an odd moment when someone in the band asks the audience, “Are you having a good time?” This strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of what they’re selling and why people are buying it. Listening to Depeche Mode, you can have an epiphany. You can have an emotional release. You can have a nervous breakdown. But to have something as light-hearted as a good time, what you have to have is Yaz or Erasure.

Greetings! I hope you are well, well-washed, and well-stocked with the essentials of life: shelter, food, water, toilet paper, coffee, music, pets, family, friends, and access to Chessbase.com, which is covering the candidates’ matches for the men’s world chess championship in Yekaterinburg, Russia. (The eight candidates are playing face to face, but without spectators.)

Here in Portland, Oregon, the supermarkets are full of stuff no one wants. The only frozen vegetables I can find are cauliflower and gefilte fish. My neighborhood center has stopped:


6 p.m., Tuesday, March 17. I stood on the center line for almost two minutes.

But I found the silver lining!

Here’s a list of all the things for which we can thank Covid-19:

  1. Renewed attention to the study of corvids, especially crows, ravens, rooks, jays, magpies, and nutcrackers.
  2. Donald Trump has a bad case of Sudden-Reality Shock Syndrome.
  3. Young people are asking old people if they need help. What I don’t like is that they keep asking me.
  4. I haven’t received a rejection from an editor since March 13.
  5. My commute to work is a breeze.
  6. The next chessboxing championship is still scheduled for April 18 in Paris.

 

Year 9 (2019) of Run-DMSteve was a bumpy ride

Here’s an index to what I managed to post:

Retirement

RIP Run-DMIrving

RIP Peter Tork

More tilting at windmills

Forgotten bands:

Attention must be paid

The Beau Brummels

Gene Clark

The Flamin’ Groovies

Ashford and Simpson

The Beat

Bonnie Hayes

Take care of yourselves. Wave from a distance at everyone you love. Special D just made curtains for my new home in the garage.

Random Pan of the Day
Empire Records (1995)
This unremarkable film is set in a record store in the 1990s. No one is tattooed, no one has phones, and the black customers have been locked outdoors. The 15 songs on the soundtrack are mostly easy-listening alt rock, with a few heart-pounders by obscure acts: “Here It Comes Again” by Please, “Sugarhigh” by Coyote Shivers, “Circle of Friends” by Better Than Ezra, and “Ready, Steady, Go” by The Meices. They’ve got an edge, though all of these bands have dumb names.

The only truly memorable song is “This Is the Day” by ’80s romantic synth stalwarts The The. (Their cousins are And And And.) “This Is the Day” plays over the final scene. It’s the only song from Empire Records that gets any airplay today. Naturally, it’s not on the soundtrack.

The pretty, interchangeable young people who work at Empire Records spend most of their time hurting each other’s feelings. I don’t know how I got through the whole thing. Because I was waiting for something better? With Renée Zellweger, an 18-year-old Liv Tyler, a bald Robin Tunney (a year before The Craft and 11 years before The Mentalist), and Tobey Maguire (whose scenes were deleted). Avoid. But don’t avoid The The’s album Soul Mining (1983).

Good Clean Fun

Bottom line:
Forgotten bands finishes with Bonnie Hayes, who emerged from the San Francisco punk scene of the 1970s and with Bonnie Hayes & The Wild Combo produced an ’80s landmark that was buried by bad breaks and marauding girl groups.

Moment of glory:
Hayes has supported herself as a musician, songwriter, record producer, and songwriting teacher since she left high school. She has written for Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray, but she’s also written for Cher and Bette Midler. OK, a girl’s gotta eat.

The one album to own:
Good Clean Fun (1982). If you don’t like this record, you don’t like yourself or your so-called life. There are just as many hooks, high spirits, and musical chops on this platter as on the debut efforts by her ’80s competition:

The Go-Go’s, Beauty and the Beat (1981)
“Our Lips Are Sealed”
“We Got the Beat”

Bananarama, Deep Sea Skydiving (1983)
“Shy Boy”
“He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ ”
“Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)”

The Bangles, All Over the Place (1984)
“Hero Takes a Fall”

Book of Love, Book of Love (1986)
“I Touch Roses”

Salt-n-Pepa, Hot, Cool & Vicious (1986)
“Push It”

I like The Go-Go’s, Bananarama, The Bangles, Book of Love, and Salt-n-Pepa. But Bonnie Hayes was just as good and in most of these cases probably better.

Talk about bad breaks:
Yeah, let’s talk about them. Hayes’ record label lacked the muscle to promote her disc. They couldn’t even give her a decent album cover (exactly what happened with The Flamin’ Groovies). What the heck is that cover supposed to be? Bonnie doesn’t even look like herself. She looks like Elizabeth Warren.

On top of this inability to execute, the director of Valley Girl (1983) chose two of Hayes’ songs for the movie – “Girls Like Me” and “Shelly’s Boyfriend” – but the soundtrack wasn’t released until TEN YEARS LATER. And when it was finally released, Bonnie Hayes wasn’t on it!

(These two songs finally appeared on More Songs from Valley Girl. Who buys a record called More Songs from Valley Girl? Would you buy More Songs from 2 Fast 2 Furious?)

“Shelly’s Boyfriend” is a 300-word story about teenage love that beats the crap out of anything these other groups dished up all those years ago:

Girls will be girls
And boys will be boyfriends
You go around the world
Shelly, in the end you will see
It is not all that they led us to believe it would be

Good Clean Fun is not just a good record from a forgotten band, it’s a forgotten minor masterpiece. It’s catchy, it’s fun, it’s musically and lyrically advanced, and if you listen to or buy just one of the records I’ve been writing about in this series, I hope you’ll make it this one.

Other Bonnie Hayes records worth listening to:

Brave New Girl

Brave New Girl (1984)
Show me the woman who doesn’t look good dressed in an American flag! The perfect title for an album released in 1984. Shorter and not as good as her debut, with way too much reliance on the synthesizer; “Wild Heart” sounds like a Prince outtake. But it rewards multiple spins, especially the title cut, the Cyndi Lauper-like “After Hours,” and “Night Baseball.”

Love in the Ruins (2003)
Uneven, but Hayes rocks harder than I’ve ever heard her. It’s a very ’90s kind of hard rocking, built for people who never liked grunge. Don’t miss “Keeping the Hum Going” and “Money Makes You Stupid.”

What’s next:
What I realized as I was writing about forgotten bands is that I could extend this project into forever. It’s a black hole for human attention. We already have the internet for that.

Where, for example, do you draw the line? (A former boss, who never mastered his native language, used to say to us, “Where do you cross the line?”)

If I had continued this series, I would’ve backtracked to the early ’70s and Fanny, which may have been the first all-woman band. Then I was going to get into some cage matches:

  • ESG (“UFO”) vs. EMF (“Unbelievable”)
  • ABC (“Poison Arrow”) vs. MFSB (“T.S.O.P.” and “T.L.C.”)
  • The Jaggerz (“The Rapper”) vs. Fischer-Z (“Remember Russia,” theme music of the Trump administration)

I would’ve tackled the free-for-all of funk bands from the early ’70s, particularly any band started by George Clinton. I would’ve untangled that amorphous blob of English New Wave bands that all begin with a C: The Chameleons, The Charlatans UK, The Church, Crowded House.

And then there’s the ultimate question about U.S. band The Call: political rockers or secret Christians?

I was planning to end with Diesel Park West, a British band of the ’80s and ’90s. There’s only one point to make about them, so here it is. At first hearing, they don’t appear to be of much use to anyone. You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? You sure have: They are U2 without The Edge and with Bono turned down about 50%, just like your microwave.

But this, it turns out, is Diesel Park West’s strength. DPW produces the perfect background music when you need the front part of your brain for thinking. It’s all the comfort of U2 without having to engage with U2.

Achtung, babies. Thanks for reading and see you next time, hopefully with exclusive Run-DMSteve news.

The Beat

The bottom line:
I’m stretching the forgotten-bands rules even further this evening. I originally wanted to nominate only those bands with track records – that is, more than one good album. But not tonight’s guests. Though they produced just one superlative album and one underwhelming reprise (and some forgettable tracks with a different lineup of musicians), they are the only forgotten band I can’t forget because I went to one of their concerts.

Until 1978, when I saw them, my most transformative cultural experiences were seeing Herman’s Hermits (The Who opened), The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Harlan Ellison, and Kurt Vonnegut (Donald Barthelme opened). I thought this LA power pop quartet was playing in the same league as Springsteen et. al. and obviously destined to change the world.

There’s no way to prove that they didn’t, unless you can compare notes with your twins from Earths 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Vital personnel:
Paul Collins, singer, songwriter, guitarist. Collins came from a band called The Nerves. His Nerves bandmate Peter Case formed The Plimsouls, who had a hit, “A Million Miles Away,” on the Valley Girl soundtrack, which has an odd connection with the next band in this series.

Their story:
Their story is about the same as that of every other grouping of cisgender Caucasian males who formed a band so they could drink, catch and release girls, and avoid gainful employment. They just happened to be better at it (better at the music part, I don’t know how they fared with these other factors) than 85% of the other cisgender Caucasian males who tried the same thing.

Their story is completely uninteresting, except for a comment from a Mr. Jerry Kaufman of Seattle, Washington, who notes that The Beat were, for a brief time in 1979, enough of a force to make a band in the U.K. change their name from The Beat to The English Beat when they toured in North America. In 1982, when The Beat from the USA belatedly returned for their follow-up, The Kids Are the Same (turns out they weren’t), they had fallen so far behind The English Beat that to stake out new territory they called themselves Paul Collins Beat. That didn’t help.

I can think of only one other artist who had a three-year gap between her first and second albums – Cyndi Lauper: She’s So Unusual (1983) and True Colors (1986).

My story:
Once upon a time in 1978 (all I recall about the season was, it was dark), in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I went to a show at a boxy space that may have been called the Box or the Space or the Square Brick Thing. It was near the Central stop on the Red Line, if anyone from that era or any time-travelers among my subscribers can enlighten me. The opening band was a local favorite, The Real Kids.

The Beat came on late, about the time I collapse in bed these days, and they were raw, vulnerable, biting, aggressive, love-sick, and swaggering. They had a dual mission: Force everyone onto the dance floor and say kaddish for all the rock ’n’ roll that had come before them. They lit each song off the last one like a chainsmoker.

As far as I can remember the set list, you can find it all on the one album to own, The Beat. “Different Kind of Girl” and “Rock N Roll Girl” got some play on the nascent alt-rock stations of the day, but not enough to propel either song anywhere near any list kept by Billboard.

The Real Kids were also good, though they complained a lot about the sound. They startled me because they looked to be my age. Until then, guys in the bands I saw were older than me. They played a song called “Just Like Darts,” which in Boston is pronounced “Just Like Dahts.”

Jonathan Richmond of Jonathan Richmond & The Modern Lovers was on the floor with the rest of us. (One of the Kids had played in his band.) Richmond is a New England legend, author of that immortal ode to Boston and teenage drivers, “Road Runner,” which you may know from the Greg Kihn cover. I always thought Richmond was insane (have you ever listened to “Road Runner”?), but in 1978 he had the charisma of Bill Clinton or George Clooney, or Bill Clinton and George Clooney. That night, he was lost in the music. He was also lost in the embrace of my best friend’s girlfriend. That’s how good this show was.

At the end of the show, I walked out of the Square Brick Thing with my ears ringing and the cold air hitting my flushed skin and feeling as if I’d been to the moon and back. I’d like to report that my girlfriend and I had sex in a car in the parking lot (someone else’s car), but while this plan was considered it was also rejected.

Final word:
The Beat were the U.S. version of their Irish contemporaries The Undertones, but nowhere near as funny and with far less success. It’s a compliment to be mentioned in the same sentence as The Undertones. Not bad for a forgotten band.