Posts Tagged ‘19’

It’s about fucking time I said this, so here it is, plain and simple, because I am through holding back:

I love Rick James!

I first met the late Mr. James in a parking lot in Boston. In that summer of 1978, when I thought punk was a joke because I believed in something lasting (disco), I lived near the urban campus of Northeastern University. One hot, humid evening I walked past the parking lot where a black fraternity had set up a fortress of boom boxes. At that moment all of them were playing James’ “You and I” from his first album, Come Get It.

I was funkedelicized!

Later on they played A Taste of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” but come on, I’m being serious here. That night I learned that Rick James knew how to make you shake your moneymaker. Even when his albums are stupid – and there’s enough stupid in his collected works to suck the salt out of the Great Salt Lake – there’s usually something I want to dance to. What that man couldn’t do with a guitar, a cowbell, and thigh-high boots!

(Just don’t get trapped in the tar pits of his ballads. What’s that, Rick? You’ve been hurt by love before? How long is this going to take? This must be how the dinosaurs died.)

I saw him in concert the following year when he was touring after his second album, Fire It Up. “Love Gun” and “Come Into My Life” are the worthwhile numbers on that disc. I kept finding one or sometimes two songs on each album that could turn a dance floor into the disco inferno that The Trammps promised but couldn’t deliver. On Bustin’ Out of L7, that song is “High on Your Love Suite/One Mo Hit (Of Your Love),” which begins as more “You and I” but burns holes in your superhero underwear by the end of its 7 minutes.

By the end of the ’70s, it was clear that Prince had ambitions greater than James’, but it wasn’t at all clear that Prince had the talent to make that happen. In fact, Rick James in 1978-79 was one of Donna Summer’s few worthy adversaries.

Here comes Rick James’ ultimate, amazingest, most awesomest album
James stumbled into the new decade with Garden of Love, which was overrun by his ballads. If you enjoy scraping barnacles off a hull, this is the album for you. Meanwhile, Prince released his first good album, Dirty Mind. How would James respond?

He counter-punched with Street Songs and that immortal study of human sexual response, “Super Freak”!

No disco comp can receive the coveted Orthodox Union Kosher Certification if it doesn’t include “Super Freak.” But Street Songs is so much more than this stupid song. I’m lying. Most of these tracks are dull, including “Fire and Desire,” James’ duet with his former girlfriend Teena Marie. It doesn’t have the fire and desire of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell or June & Johnny Cash or even Daryl Hall & John Oates.

But the album opens with the impact of Hillary Clinton plowing into a bar fight while waving a bicycle chain over her head. If you heard “Give It to Me Baby” and “Ghetto Life” in a club you’d knock over your table and your date to get to the dance floor. “Give It to Me” even has the “Thriller” bass line, and Michael Jackson didn’t release Thriller until a year later. These two songs are in the starting lineup in the World Series of Funk.

You could explore James’ catalog past Street Songs, but why take the risk? As with Duran Duran, you only need a few of Rick James’ songs. And you do need them. You know I’m right. Don’t get all super freaky on me.

Come Get It, 1978
Fire It Up, 1979
Bustin’ Out of L7, 1979
Garden of Love, 1980
Street Songs, 1981

Oh yeah: Please vote for Hillary.

Random Pick of the Day
Funkadelic, Maggot Brain (1971)
George Clinton, the founder of Funkadelic and Parliament, knows how to get all up in your face. Maggot Brain is like Sly & The Family Stone turned to 11. “Super Stupid” is superior to the entire Grand Funk Railroad oeuvre and good enough for Jimi Hendrix. You could disintegrate Coldplay or Tears For Fears with this one song.

The mesmerizing title track was the centerpiece of this album. It has no lyrics so I can’t tell you what “Maggot Brain” means. My guess is that he was saying fuck you. That would also explain the cover photo. This is one of the most unappealing jackets in the history of vinyl record jackets.

The guitar solo on “Maggot Brain” would make doves cry.

Random Pan of the Day
Adele, 19 (2008)
Come back when you’re 25.

Oh shoot, she did!


Deborah has for many years wielded a white feather boa that she named White Fang. She wore it at dances. She wore it for New Year’s. She wore it to see Lady Gaga. She wore it with Esmerelda and Maybelline, two of her killer party dresses.

In the company of White Fang
I won’t say when this photo was taken. However, I
can confirm that we posed after the last man walked on the Moon but before the first rover drove on Mars. The dark lighting here altered reality: Deborah’s hair is red, her dress is purple, and I am 7’ tall.

But there comes a time in a woman’s life when she knows that, though it’s been a long time coming, a change is gonna come. Oh yes it will.

Deborah and I rarely go to Fangable events these days. Society is less formal, and people don’t like me. For these reasons, and because she understood that White Fang should now be warming the bare shoulders of a younger woman, Deborah decided to give the boa to our friend Kristin. The effervescent, ever-youthful Kristin is approaching a milestone birthday, so what better time than now?

Last Friday night, at a gathering of friends, Deborah made the presentation. I was standing in the backyard under the stars – this was a gathering of women, and though I hadn’t been banished, I wouldn’t have added much to the conversation. I was playing tug of war with our lucky dog Lucky. I could see through the large picture window at the back of the house as Deborah, deploying White Fang one last time, demonstrated the poise, confidence, and good posture a boa demands (along with various show-stopping moves).

While I watched I noticed that Lucky, who is not yet six months old, was also watching. You could see the exclamation point over his head. A huge white bird was loose in the house, flapping its wings all over Mom! The fight-or-flight circuit closed in the little corgi’s brain and without a thought for his own safety he thundered through the dog door like a 20-pound cannon ball and burst into the party.

Kristin was serenely sitting with White Fang arrayed around her. Now that he was face to face, or face to feathers, with this unknown, shape-shifting creature, the avenging Lucky threw on the brakes. He remembered that he was a puppy. This was obviously a superior being. His ears melted against the sides of his head, his belly hit the carpet, and he awaited orders. Note to Kristin: Adult men will do this, too.

I admire my wife for making this decision, and I will admire her just as much without the boa as I admired her within the boa. As for Kristin, when I drove her home that night, she expressed some anxiety about being the new Bearer. I thought about that later and realized she has nothing to worry about. She already has everything she needs. All that was missing was something to wrap it in.

Random Pick of the Day
Cat Power, The Greatest (2006)
The closest comparison to Ms. Power is Tom Waits, but only their vocal delivery is similar. Cat Power is more introspective and not at all funny. She never approaches anything resembling the structure of a pop tune. None of her songs sound finished, either. I find her interesting and even cathartic (“Living Proof” is stunning in its quiet, waltz-time way), but it’s taken me a while to appreciate her.

Random Pan of the Day
Root Boy Slim & The Sex Change Band, Root Boy Slim & The Sex Change Band (1978)
This is the one with “Boogie ’Til You Puke” and that solemn study of forbidden love, “I’m Not Too Old for You” (“Step on my love and it’s like dropping an egg into the carpet”). “I Used to Be a Radical” rocks relatively hard and includes a funny line about trying to assassinate Spiro Agnew with an ice cream truck. “Mood Ring” sounds like ZZ Top at band practice. The whole thing sounds like ZZ Top, but lowercase. The occasional humor in the lyrics makes Root Boy (who was born Foster MacKenzie III) a distant ancestor of Flight of the Conchords.