Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

Machine Head
Deep Purple
1972

The biggest sin of “Sins of the ’70s Week” was the sin of omission. I forgot Deep Purple! Yeah, yeah, yeah, the freaks said/man those cats could really swing (“Space Truckin’ ”). Some of these songs do have a sort of big-band swing to them, but most of them are having a bad night in Suck City. Jon Lord’s organ sometimes sounds like a harpsichord. So does Richie Blackmore’s guitar. And yet this band has a good claim on the invention of heavy metal.

I loved this album and spent many hours tormenting my parents with it. These days I smile as each song begins but after a couple of minutes I want them to end. I have no patience with the berserk Bee-Gees falsettos, the alleged lyrics, and the solos, which are always Blackmore first, then Lord, unless they decide to mix it up and have Lord go first, then Blackmore. (Improv jazz bands that always give you the tenor sax solo followed by the trumpet solo followed by the piano solo, or the piano solo followed by the tenor sax solo followed by the trumpet solo, make me feel like Ricardo Montalban as Kahn. I grow fatigued.)

Of course you can’t discuss Deep Purple without tripping over “Smoke on the Water.” Duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, DUH-DUH. It’s slow, it’s turgid, it takes forever to end. It’s like building blocks for beginning guitarists. You can’t get to “Stairway to Heaven” without first mastering “Smoke on the Water.”

“Smoke on the Water” is also a rarity among rock songs in that it reports on an incident that happened to the entire band. You don’t get a lot of journalism in this genre. If you’re paying attention to Deep Purple’s lyrics you’re in trouble, but while forcing myself to pay attention this evening I was surprised by the stripped-down Hemingway ending:

We ended up at the Grand Hotel.
It was empty cold and bare.
But with the Rolling truck Stones thing just outside,
making our music there.
With a few red lights, a few old beds,
we made a place to sweat.
No matter what we get out of this,
I know, I know we’ll never forget
smoke on the water
and fire in the sky.

In the 1940s, legendary editor Maxwell Perkins said that there will always be a new class of sophomores who will discover Thomas Wolfe and be entranced by him. There will always be a new class of middle-schoolers who will discover “Smoke on the Water” and be entranced by the damn thing. This year at our chess club, one of my middle-school girls told her BFF, “I just heard the most awesome song.” I asked her what it was and she handed me an earbud and pressed Play. Duh-duh-DUH, duh-duh-DUH-DUH, duh-duh-DUH, DUH-DUH.

Longest instrumental lead in a song that actually has words
Here’s something else about Deep Purple. In this contest I just dreamed up, they smash their puny human opponents with “Lazy.” “Lazy” begins with a jazzy riff that doesn’t open the door for the singer until 4:22, daringly late for a song that ends at 7:22.

First runner-up: Boston, “Foreplay/Long Time,” Boston (1976)
Boston owes a lot to Deep Purple’s influence (check out “Never Before” on Machine Head). “Foreplay/Long Time” is almost exactly the same length as “Lazy” (7:47), but Boston only strings us along until 2:45, when the singer enters and declares that he has to keep moving along so he can keep chasing that dream. Tough luck, honey, I can’t stay and commit to a healthy relationship.

Second runner-up: The B-52s, “Planet Claire,” The B-52s (1979)
And we’re still in the ’70s. Fred Schneider doesn’t start singing until the band has run through all of their outer-space sounds at the 2:30 mark. The song ends two minutes later. (The Foo Fighters do a cover of “Planet Claire” that clearly show this song’s debt to the Peter Gunn theme.)

Worth mentioning: Love and Rockets, “Body and Soul,” Hot Trip to Heaven (1994)
The actual singing begins at 2:20, but throughout the song a woman sighs suggestively every four seconds. “Body and Soul” runs a mesmerizing 14:14 and, as the reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine notes at Allmusic.com, “they [Love and Rockets] sound like they’re trying to figure out what the hell is going on.”

Note: As you can see from the comments on this post, the first and second finishers are actually Mike Oldfield for “Tubular Bells” and Pink Floyd for “Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-5).”

 

Greetings, Honorable Ones! It’s Christmas, so naturally I’m thinking about Pearl Jam. They have a new album, Lightning Bolt. Do I have to listen to more of their repetitious, snoozy arena rock? I haven’t liked a Pearl Jam album since their debut, Ten, and that was in 1991, before we had phones implanted in our heads. Why did they call their first album Ten? There are 11 songs on it. Why not 1 or First or We Wrote 11 Songs or Hey Hey We’re Pearl Jam? Ten has “Jeremy,” “Even Flow,” “Black,” and “Deep,” and that about does it for me. Aren’t they just AC/DC, except that they’ve read some books since leaving high school?

But it’s Christmas, and I don’t want to be visited by creepy ghosts, so let’s be positive here, OK? What is it with you people? Stand up right now, face in the direction of Seattle, and bow because Pearl Jam is the only band that ever went head-to-head with Ticketmaster over that company’s greedy service fees. The good guys lost, but they fought the law.

While I’m on the topic of Christmas, it’s equally natural that my thoughts would turn to Lady Gaga, who also has a new release, Artpop. Lady Gaga’s third album has been lauded for being “autobiographical” and “mature.” Stefani Germanotta is only 27 – how much autobiography does she have? As for the maturity of these songs, she started in a hole. She has a long way to go before she writes anything of interest to adults.

Artpop comes nowhere near the dance-floor success of The Fame Monster or Born This Way. The best songs on Artpop, “Applause” and “Gypsy,” are good, but they sound like refugees from Flashdance.

But it’s Christmas! Forget Artpop. I’ve been listening to “Born This Way” for two years now, and I have to say that this song is FN awesome. It’s the biggest pop anthem since “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” plus it’s easier to understand. (Both songs were wickedly parodied by Weird Al.) So wrap yourself in your feather boa to honor Lady Gaga’s achievement.

Did you know that it’s Christmas? It is, and that can only mean one thing: Boston! They have a new album, Life, Love & Hope. No no no no, I don’t care that it’s Christmas, I refuse to listen to anymore Boston. So how about instead: Paul McCartney!

McCartney has a new album. He calls it New. Come on, Macca, you could’ve done better there. On this release, Sir Paul imitates all the bands from the ’80s and ’90s who imitated him. Which is pretty much everyone. This exercise is pleasant, but on a handful of songs – “Queenie Eye,” “I Can Bet,” “Get Me Out of Here,” and especially “Hosanna” – he reminds me that this is Paul Fucking McCartney of the Major Fucking Leagues I’m listening to.

New was released in October, so it doesn’t qualify as holiday music, but this is the season for gratitude. Sir Paul is 71 and his voice is shot, but let’s give our Beatles bobbleheads a pat on their bobbly heads and be thankful that this man is still around to remind us that rock ’n’ roll is supposed to be fun, dammit.

I see by the calendar that it’s Christmas, and when it’s Christmas, who is never far behind? You’re right: Eminem! Et voilà: The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Poor little white rapper! Perpetually outraged that he’s gotten rich by making his life harder than it has to be. Yo, loyal readers around the world: If you can’t handle Eminem at Christmas, how about R. Kelly, who sets out his philosophy of life on the sensitively titled Black Panties. R. Kelly is a sex “Genius.” How do I know? Silly rabbit, he says so right in the song. Is “Genius” the kind of slow number where you hold your baby close and think of what you mean to each other? No.

Well, it turns out it’s the holidays, and because I don’t believe in making war on Christmas I give you: The Everly Brothers! Yes, though Don and Phil haven’t released any new material since 1989, they’re still just what the season calls for.

If you like The Everly Brothers, you’ll love the Everly Dad
I can’t claim I’m an Everlys fan. I like “I’m Not Angry,” “Burma Shave” (a rockabilly “Wipe Out”), and “Lord of the Manor,” their mid-’60s attempt at psychedelia. It was news to me that, in 1958, while riding the success of their 1957 debut (which featured “Wake Up Little Susie,” “I Wonder If I Care as Much,” and “Bye Bye Love”), the brothers returned to their roots and recorded Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.

The Everlys performed these songs with just their acoustic guitars and other-worldly voices. These are not songs I would play often; they’re Appalachian blues verging on gospel and country, in which the characters are bound for death or something close by. The one song I’m likely to replay is “Roving Gambler.” The first time I heard it, I felt I was listening to the birth of Springsteen’s Nebraska.

Meanwhile, here in 2013, we now have Foreverly, Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones’s loving tribute to Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. What attracted them to this set? The subject matter, surely; Armstrong is the son of Okies and Jones grew up in rural Texas. “These are songs about family,” Jones said in an interview. “Dead family.”

I haven’t much to say about Norah Jones, other than that she’s talented, sings beautifully, makes music too mild to interest me, and is pretty good in an interview.

Billie Joe Armstrong, I thought, was a typical singer in a punk band: a strong voice (a nasal voice), limited range, often resorts to shouting. I wasn’t into him or Green Day until they released their rock opera, American Idiot (2004), which is now a musical. (Those last five words are the most unreal words I’ve ever written.) I admit I’m a sucker for a rock opera. I still remember how excited I was after reading about Tommy in Rolling Stone. I remember bringing the LP home. I remember my Dad threatening to punch multiple big holes in it.

Tommy didn’t disappoint me and neither did American Idiot, though both suffer power failures in the middle. The highlight of American Idiot, for me, is “Jesus of Suburbia.” Green Day spends the first half of the song pretending to be a punk version of the ’50s, a punk version of Queen, and then they briefly do something horrible to Deep Purple. Starting at the 6:30 mark (this song is 9 minutes long) they swing into the tune from “Ring of Fire,” with their own words –

To live
and not to breathe
is to die
in tragedy
To run,
to run away,
to fight
what you believe

– and with a nod to “My Way” and a hint of Ravel’s Bolero, topped off with a guitar lick they stole from Yes. Jesus! Why don’t I ever hear this at Christmas instead of all the stupid Christmas songs written by Jews like me?

On Foreverly, this odd pairing of punker and crooner is dynamite on a china plate. Unlike the Everlys on Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, Armstrong and Jones bring a band to the studio. This gives the songs hope to go with their innate despair. (Some of the songs, anyway.) Their version of “Kentucky” is haunting, but now also with a touch of calypso, or maybe Los Lobos in their quieter moments. They turn “Oh So Many Years” into a hoedown, “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail” into a funeral march (OK, that’s not hopeful), and “Barbara Allen” into a track from Songs of the Civil War or a Camper Van Beethoven outtake.

There’s a lot of heartache in the love affair in “Roving Gambler,” a song that may be unique in having three points of view, the gambler, the mother, and her daughter:

Mother, oh dear mother, I’ll tell you if I can
If you ever see me comin’ back, I’ll be with the gambling man.
Be with the gambling man.
Be with the gambling man.

But in their performance, Armstrong and Jones give it an unexpected buoyancy. You finish the song thinking, sure, the gambler is goin’ down to George to gamble his last game, but maybe this will work out!

“Rockin’ Alone (in An Old Rockin’ Chair)” is a manipulative tear-jerker no matter how you slice it (“It wouldn’t take much to gladden her heart/just some small remembrance on somebody’s part”), and “Long Time Gone” and “Lightning Express” are way too country, but overall I rate Foreverly as a Buy – but ONLY if you also buy Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. Happy holidays, Don and Phil, and I hope you liked this gift from Billie Joe and Norah.

As for me, I’m still waiting to hear “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” on the radio, plus I suspect that R. Kelly is bluffing. I think I might give Norah Jones another try. Why not? I hear it’s Christmas.

RIP: Lou Reed, who I hope is taking one long walk on the wild side.

Postscript, 3 Jan 2014: RIP Phil Everly. Bye bye love.

 

Write every day

I subscribed to The Writer when I was in high school. I remember reading about a writing couple, Borden Deal and Babs Deal. (They don’t make names like that anymore. Can’t get the stuff.) They always said to each other, “Well, I’ve hit 50 pages, looks like I’m writing a novel.”

Well, I’ve hit 50 pages. Actually, 56. Looks like I’m writing a novel. I’ve put together a notebook of reference material and I even have a vague sense of where I’m going. I hope to show some real progress by the time this marathon ends on August 2. I’ll report in every day on what I’m up to.

Today Special D and I went to some garage sales, met some interesting people with interesting junk in their garages, and then I wrote a cover letter and answered three essay questions for a job I want. This is one of the weirdest forms of writing, making yourself sound like the greatest thing since Kim Kardashian met Kanye West. After a creative nap to rinse my brain, I worked on my book for an hour and a half. I hope my 300 fellow Write-a-thonners had good luck as well!

My thanks again to the three people who have pledged actual money to support Clarion West and see me through this thing:

Karen G. Anderson
Mitch Katz
Laurel Sercombe

My book is set in the summer of 1947 in what’s called the Intermountain West. I’ve been reading books from that era and earlier to help put me in the right frame of mind. I didn’t get far with John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (his descriptions of the Salinas Valley are beautiful, but his characters are like sermons). Right now I’m reading Hal Borland’s Country Editor’s Boy, a memoir set in Colorado in the teens and ’20s. The writing can be kind of earnest, but this is a man who even in middle age could recall his boyhood and put it in words. Like Ray Bradbury, without the airborne prose.

Borland wrote When the Legends Die, which was made into a film with Richard Widmark. He also wrote a memoir called The Dog Who Came to Stay. The title sums up that book so perfectly that I probably don’t have to read it.

BTW, Special D has also entered the Write-a-thon, but we refuse to be called Babs and Bord.

See you tomorrow!

Not-So-Random Pick of the Day
Boston, Boston (1976)
I am not Boston’s fan, but today is Accused of Lurking’s birthday and he definitely is. Lurk holds a special spot in my life, and so out of friendship and love I listened to all of Boston for the first time since the Normans invaded New England.

I am still not their fan, but I credit computer wiz Tom Scholz with creating not just one of the best-selling albums of all time, but a debut album that could easily stand in for his greatest hits. Scholz had all the talent he needed from the first note of the first track, and how many musicians can make that claim? In fact, in the beginning Boston was solely Tom Scholz. The only person I can think of who made a similar splash all by himself was Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine, 1989).

But there’s more to Boston than the music. In the summer and fall of 1976, I could not go to a party without hearing this album. Thus the songs on Boston will always conjure for me my old joie de vivre, my youthful hopes, and the geometry of certain females.

Random Pan of the Day
3OH!3, Omens (2013)
Boston may not be my style but it beats the brains out of this thing. Not only did these derivative snore masters from the 303 area code choose a name as stupid as Fun., !!!, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Portugal. The Man, they’re responsible for Kei$ha. Tom Scholz never did any of that to us.

R.I.P.: Slim Whitman, multi-octave country yodeler, who wanted to be remembered as a nice guy. “I don’t think you’ve ever heard anything bad about me, and I’d like to keep it that way. I’d like my son to remember me as a good dad. I’d like the people to remember me as having a good voice and a clean suit.”

“I am what I am. Thank God.” – Jimi Hendrix, “Message to Love”

A co-worker entered my humble cubicle one day late in 2012 and said, “Flashback!” He was looking at the two shelves above my desk, which held a row of CDs, a display of old postcards, and the Pets.com Sock Puppet Spokesthing. While he gushed about these ancient cultural artifacts, I saw my possessions through his eyes. I realized that I could’ve decorated my space the same way at the job I had in 2000. In fact, I know I did.

I’m stuck in time!

In an email later that morning to this co-worker, after stating that I didn’t care what he thought of me, I wrote without even thinking “I’m through being cool!” and hit Send. Then I thought, Oh no, it’s Devo! I’m really stuck in time.

Rather than consider what all this says about me, let’s use it as an excuse to go back to the future. Welcome to 1986 Week, commemorating that stellar year when, as Paul Simon sang on Graceland, “I was single/and life was great!”*

Most of the artists I loved in the ’80s released nothing new in 1986. Echo & The Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, U2, Prince, and Bruce Springsteen held off until 1987 (when Prince gave us Sign ’O’ the Times, his equivalent of The White Album, and U2 gave us their masterpiece, The Unforgettable Fire**).

The B-52s didn’t record again until 1989, but in 1986 The Rolling Stones dressed up just like them.

Dirty Work

By 1986 Romeo Void had broken up. David Bowie and Michael Jackson had left the bulk of their best work behind. Gary Numan had left all of his best work behind. Robert Cray debuted with Strong Persuader, though I prefer what he did later. Duran Duran released Notorious, which was notorious for being awful. I refuse to listen to Madonna’s True Blue or Boston’s Third Stage. I can’t decide which is funnier, The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill or Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I’ll get to Depeche Mode, The Pretenders, Paul Simon, Talking Heads, and Siouxsie & The Banshees as 1986 Week progresses.

What was the best song of 1986? Yo, pretty ladies around the world: Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care for Cameo’s “Word Up!”

Don’t expect 1986 Week to last all week. Don’t expect a comprehensive survey. Don’t get all army-foldy on me, either.

As we used to say in the peculiar slang we employed back in 1986: See you tomorrow!

* Special D is fond of quoting that line to me. Hey doll: “I sure do love you/let’s get that straight.”
** A tip of the critic’s pointy hat to my friend and fellow softball player Donald Keller, who put “mantlepiece” in my head whenever I want to say “masterpiece.” 

Random 1986 Pick of the Day
The Chills, Kaleidoscope World
1986 gave us albums from The Chills, The Cramps, and The Creeps. This reminds me of an evening I spent at Fenway Park in 1979 when we had three pitchers on hand named Clear, Frost, and Rainey.

I don’t know a thing about Kaleidoscope World; I just needed a Chills album from 1986 to fit my theme. The album I have heard is Submarine Bells (1990), which has two lovely pop songs, “Singing in My Sleep” and “Heavenly Pop Hit” (nice try, boys).

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
Stan Ridgway, The Big Heat
I must honor this man for rhyming “Tijuana” with “barbecued iguana” in Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio.” Sadly, on his solo debut he sounds like The B-52s’ Fred Schneider with really bad hair.

Lady Gaga in concert
The Rose Garden, Portland, Ore.
August, 2010

This summer I won two tickets to see Lady Gaga. I was trying to win tickets to Arcade Fire. You take what you can get in this life.

Her concert lasted two hours, in which she demonstrated her ability to fill 45 minutes with good songs. The evening, a drama that could only have been choreographed by Wagner and Tolkein while both were seriously faced, included a UFO, a haunted truck, a slice of subway, a jungle gym, surreal videos, blood, trap doors, platforms shooting out of the stage, platform shoes, a burial, a resurrection, taekwondo-style dancing, and enough stilettos to stake a circus tent. And wigs, including one that looked like a mushroom cap. I want one! All we were missing were bagpipes, artillery, and a miniature version of Stonehenge.

Lady Gaga and her court, when not hurling themselves into every song at Warp 6, were busy changing clothes, except the guitar player, who took his shirt off but should have left it on. (Up in our private suite, Special D wore a white feather boa, which she occasionally loaned to admiring gay men.) In the middle innings, Gaga cooled down by playing two songs solo at the piano. Someday she’ll look back at this interlude and wish she were dead. I certainly did during her inane warbling. I give her credit for setting the piano on fire, but I take it back because the piano was not consumed.

Nevermind this acoustic crap. What about the songs that made her famous? Can she write or is she just bluffin’ with her muffin? Let’s examine the thematic material in Lady Gaga’s oeuvre. No, let’s not. Let’s confine ourselves to “Telephone”:

Situation: The singer is dancing at a club.
Problem: Everyone is calling her.
Result: She’s stressed.
Resolution: It occurred to me that she should stop answering her phone, but this hypothesis was not tested or even considered.
Lesson: Stress is bad, but stupidity makes it worse.

That leaves the actual music. Lady Gaga stuffs so many happy hooks into each song that they can’t be dislodged from the fluffy insulation inside your brain. (In that respect her sound is like the seamless, vacuum-packed assembly line that was Boston, except you can dance to it.) For 24 hours all I could hear in my head was “Poker Face.” Even while I was asleep, dreaming about dinosaurs or cheerleaders, they were dancing to “Poker Face.” At least it’s her best song.

To rid myself of this neuro-plague I counterattacked with an hour of music that was the opposite of Lady Gaga’s: thoughtful, intricate, subtle, quiet. Alas, the Cowboy Junkies are too quiet. I could still hear “Poker Face” while listening to “Sweet Jane.” What’s the next notch above the Cowboy Junkies? That would be Coldplay. But I was afraid of swapping “Poker Face” for “Yellow.” I finally hit on the freeing formula: the neo-human, glacier-fed, synthesized wall-of-drone of late-’70s David Bowie. I listened to Station to Station, Low, and Heroes. Twice. Done!

We hear a lot about Lady Gaga’s influences. There are the big names, like Queen, Kiss, and Madonna, and the lesser-known but edgier bands, like Mott the Hoople and the New York Dolls. You could even make a case for Grace Jones, at least during her disco years, and for raw chutzpah her only peer is Tiny Tim.

But to me, Lady Gaga will always be Prince in a bikini.

And yes, I enjoyed her show. Especially when they fired her out of a missile silo and she landed on her 6” heels without a waver or a wobble. How I wish I had that woman’s knees! I’d put them on eBay.

Run-DMSteve