Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Springsteen’

Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. (Colette)

When I was a pre-bar mitzvah sprout in Hebrew school, I was at the mercy of a teacher who came from the Old World with some old skool Old World characteristics, including teeth and fingernails yellow from chain-smoking and a tendency in any academic situation to fall back on his main teaching tool: violence.

I’m not going to tell you this man’s name, or the nickname we children gave him, or the songs we sang about him, because I don’t want his descendants to track me down and torture me the way he did. And anyway, maybe he behaved so badly because he had survived the Holocaust and journeyed to America and in his declining years ended up marooned in our declining, uninteresting city, teaching Hebrew to a bunch of youthful dumbshits. Whatever his motivations, when he called one of us up to the front of the class to recite and we couldn’t deliver, he always screamed, “Go back to your seat and study!!!”

This evening at the end of my Write-a-thon hour I wanted to send myself back to my seat to study. What I wrote was definitely not worth reciting at the front of a classroom or anywhere else. There’s a character I have yet to understand, and my subconscious writer brain refuses to let him walk through these pages as valiant, virtuous, and virtually flawless. Unlike my former Hebrew school teacher, who is long gone, I can figure out what makes this guy tick and why anyone should care.

Maybe that was my old teacher’s real problem. He cared too much.

The 10-year-old inside me just ducked and covered.

Random Pick of the Day
Three Dog Night, Cyan (1973)
Loyal Reader Accused of Lurking has pointed out my math error. Before I so blithely skipped to the Dave Clark Five, I should’ve stopped at Three Dog Night! I also skipped 4 Non Blondes. I’m rectifying the first error tonight.

I find Three Dog Night interesting because almost everything they sang was written by someone else. The original was practically unrecognizable after 3DN finished rearranging it. Look at their first record, Three Dog Night (1969). The composers on this disc include Tim Hardin, Stevie Winwood, Harry Nilsson, Lennon & McCartney, Randy Newman, Neil Young, and Johnnie “Guitar” Watson. Their second album, Suitable for Framing (also 1969), adds Laura Nyro, Dave Mason, Sam Cooke, and Elton John. I wish 3DN had lasted as far as 1980 because I would’ve loved to have heard what they did with songs by, for example, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Joan Armatrading, and Michael Jackson.

Other than the fact that I flee from any room where “Black & White” or “Joy to the World” is playing (the latter being the “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” song, which Hoyt Axton wrote to showcase the melody – the lyrics were a nonsensical placeholder), I’m OK with this band. They fit well on a road trip in-between the harder stuff. My favorite 3DN songs are “One” (Nilsson), “Eli’s Coming” (Nyro), “Easy to Be Hard” (the team that wrote Hair), and “Liar” (Russ Ballard). Except for “Easy to Be Hard,” these treatments are tougher than usual for them. They’re all from the first two albums.

Cyan (which includes the hit “Shambala”) is not 3DN’s best album (that would be their debut), but it’s their closest to the blue-eyed soul of Rare Earth. There’s also a gospel flavor to some of these tracks. (“Celebrate,” from Suitable for Framing, could easily have appeared on a Rare Earth album exactly as it is.)

For a few years back there in our rearview mirror, Three Dog Night was more powerful than the Van Allen radiation belt. According to Google, they ran up a string of 21 hit singles from 1969 through 1975. I’d rather revisit their music than that of their contemporaries Grand Funk Railroad, a band that rocks very hard for very little reason.

Snoopy 2 rejections at once

There are 11 days left to go in the Write-a-thon and though I wrote again today I have to admit that my original goal of hitting 50,000 words by August 2 was just a wee bit optimistic. I’ll be lucky if I get to 30,000. I do wish I wrote fiction faster, but I don’t. Marketing writing – that I can do fast. Advertising, editorials, web copy – I’m a speed merchant. These blog posts? Warp factor 6! But when I have to invent characters and situations and see how they play out, I move one. step. at. a. time. Sort of like the way the first primitive Mariners played baseball.

My hero, John Updike, wrote that “There’s a kind of tautness that you should feel within yourself no matter how slow or fast you’re spinning out the reel,” and though I gave up fishing in 1967 when my brother took three bass and all I hooked was a lousy starfish, I take heart from these words.

Right now there’s a kind of tautness in the back of my brain, or a bubbling. All day long, and often just before I wake, something back there is working on this book. Objects and actions bubble to the surface, things I can use on a page I’ve already written or one I have yet to write, like a bird finding the right-shaped stick for its nest. (We saw an osprey nest on Cape Cod that looked as if the occupants had built it out of firewood.) I’m mixing my metaphors here but I’ll trust that you get what I’m driving at. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Esteban esta caliente, but I do feel kinda warm.

Random Pick of the Day
Paul Van Dyk, In Between (2007)
In my house we have this divide over anything that isn’t rock ’n’ roll. Trance (or techno), for example, is not only not Special D’s thing, she classes it with The Thing, The Thing From Another World, The Thing with Two Heads, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Thing. Despite the constant scorn I live with, I like this stuff. The dance-floor anthem on this disc is “Far Away.”

Random Pan of the Day
One Direction, Up All Night (2011)
Boy bands sure have deteriorated since The Beatles. Today they’re all strip-mined from the same barren earth. Bruce Springsteen could use One Direction for dental floss.

I’m going to start Randoming bands with numbers in their names. We’ll see which one becomes the first to move from Pan to Pick.

 

Q: What happened to the end of 1986 Week?
A: It collided with the weekend. Party!

Q: Aren’t you too old to party?
A: You’re never too old to party. You might have to party at 12 frames per second instead of 24, but you’re never too old to party.

Q: Well, how would you rate 1986? What kind of year was it musically?
A: It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls of independent means.

Q: Since you were writing about 1986, why didn’t you mention The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead? It’s supposed to be their best album.
A: I’ll end with them. Sort of. Like it’s any of your business anyway.

Q: Looking at your tag cloud, I see that the biggest name is Bruce Springsteen. You mention him a lot, but you don’t write about him very much.
A: You have to form a question in the form of a question. Don’t be a sports journalist.

Q: Right. Bruce – WTF?
A: Springsteen has been around so long and recorded so much that it’s impossible not to notice him. He’s a handy measuring stick. Dylan has been around even longer and has recorded even more, but he doesn’t have the same impact on our culture. Bruce has remained relevant, or at least topical. Bob has not. Plus I don’t like Dylan’s voice. But to answer your question, I don’t know what I could add to the existing mountain of Springsteen music journalism that would make a difference or sound original by even one gram. So I’ll go on referring to him and trying not to refer to Dylan. Or Donovan.

Q: How are you getting along in the novel-writing sector?
A: I’ve written 15,000 words.

Q: Is that a big number?
A: If I keep them, yes. If not, no.

Q: Would you say that writing a novel is an iffy proposition?
A: I’d say I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Q: What did you listen to today? Sweatin’ to the Oldies?
A: Today I listened to M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011). The radio hit, “Midnight City,” sounds like vintage Depeche Mode. I’m still wading through the rest of this two-disc set. This French band is kinda arty, like Arcade Fire but without the beat. I might have to counter with Oingo Boingo. I might spend this week listening to M83, blink-182, Haircut 100, Matchbox Twenty, Heaven 17, Maroon 5, The Dave Clark Five, The Bobby Fuller Four, 3 Doors Down, and Fun Boy 3.

Q: Fun Boy 3?
A: I bet I’ll be able to dispense with some of these guys in a song or two!

Q: Where’s Deadmau5 on your list?
A: I just learned that the 5 should be pronounced as an s. I feel as ridiculous as the day someone busted me for pronouncing R.E.M. as “rem.” Which reminds me of something I read recently. What a way to begin a review: “I don’t ordinarily like to think about sex and R.E.M. at the same time…” I don’t even care what the rest of the sentence is! (Review of the film Fourplay in Portland Mercury, 27 February 2013)

Q: Let’s get back to The Smiths. Are you hating on them?
A: As if. I like half a dozen of their songs very much, but they’re scattered across their four studio albums, so their 1986 disc, The Queen Is Dead, didn’t move me.

I have tons of respect for Johnny Marr, their guitarist, but not much for Morrissey, even if he’s still being treated like a god. If all bands can be explained by The Monkees, then Johnny Marr is Mike Nesmith and Morrissey is Davy Jones.

Nevermind all this Q&A BS. Here’s a real interview for you. In the April 9 Seattle Weekly, Duff McKagan, the original bass player in Guns N’ Roses, interviews Marr. (Marr has a new album, The Messenger. It has some surprisingly strong tracks for a guy whose heyday was in 1986.) The interview is not only fun, it produced this gem:

McKagan: You were sort of the anti-guitar hero. I’m just so fascinated by your guitar style. I try to picture you guys in 1979 or whatever. I don’t know what he was listening to to get that sound.

Marr: Joy Division were rehearsing in the room above my band. They were scary guys just to look at because they wore old man’s clothes. With haircuts like they just came from the second world war. And that was much scarier than looking at someone who looked like the New York Dolls, or one of the Rolling Stones.

A: Everyone have a good week. Sweat to the oldies all you want, but don’t sweat the small stuff.
Q: I didn’t ask a question!
A: Deal.

 

True Stories
Talking Heads
1986

Every album Talking Heads released after Stop Making Sense (1984) was a disappointment. How could it have been otherwise? How do you top or even equal a record like that? Only The Beatles created a pop cultural icon and then came back to create a second: Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road.

(The only Beatles competitors I can think of are Bruce Springsteen for Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. and Pink Floyd for Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. Doubt me on that last one? Even Special D, who would rather go bird-watching in the Mines of Moria than listen to Pink Floyd, just had “Leave those kids alone!” pop into her head.)

True Stories is the music from the film of the same name, directed by David Byrne. It appeared two years after Prince tried to pull off the same trick with Purple Rain. I haven’t seen either of these movies even though my TV remote has a Netflix button. However, I’ve heard all the music. On True Stories, Byrne’s vocals seem cold and detached, but his original plan was to have his actors sing the songs so I won’t subtract points here. But the various ballads and songs of love on this disc turn me off, which is kind of a problem if you’re writing ballads and songs of love, and the closer, “City of Dreams,” drags on like a really boring dream you want to finish so you can get out of bed already and get some breakfast.

On the plus side, I mostly like “Love for Sale” and I would’ve loved “Puzzlin’ Evidence” if it had been an instrumental. I get tired of hearing “puzzlin’ evidence” over and over. And over and over. The one track that broke into the Top 40, “Wild Wild Life” (which shot all the way to #2 in New Zealand), is infectious but might’ve worked out better for Wang Chung.

True Stories is not a bad record – I give it a solid B – but it suffers because of what went before it. That’s not fair but I get paid to be unfair. OK, I’m only pretending that I get paid, but I’m definitely unfair.

As for Purple Rain, for all its faults, it’s more exciting than True Stories and light years sexier. True Stories doesn’t have a Darling Nikki, who enjoys a good grind.

Random 1986 Could Go Either Way of the Day
The Mission U.K., God’s Own Medicine
They were called The Mission in the U.K. and The Mission U.K. in the U.S. I don’t know what they were called in the U.S.S.R. Their music was perfect if you were a moody teenager who came home from school and locked yourself in your room so you could be all moody.

Rhapsody calls them “goth’s answer to The Monkees.” Allmusic.com describes them as “pompous, melodramatic, and bombastic.” Why are they being so mean? The answer is right at the beginning of this record, when singer/guitarist Wayne Hussey intones, “I still believe in God, but God no longer believes in me.”

If you like The Cure and The Cult, two moody English bands that hit it big, you might like their younger, less-talented but moderately OK brethren, The Mission.

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
The Dead Milkmen, Eat Your Paisley
This album’s a snore, but the Milkmen had a knack for titles, from the name of their band to “The Thing That Only Eats Hippies.” R.E.M. could only dream of being so witty.

Get Close
The Pretenders
1986

Pretenders (1980) is the kind of album that runs you over with a cement mixer then shoots you in the head five or six times for insurance. Bracing. Pretenders II (1981) is more of the same at a lesser pitch. Disappointed? Nah – that formula worked just fine for Led Zep I and II. On the Pretenders’ third at bat, Learning to Crawl (1984), they changed course and gave us a pop album with an edge. Though Learning to Crawl came nowhere near the sales of its contemporary, Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982), it’s aged a whole lot better. Keeping Vincent Price off your record always helps.

But by Get Close, Chrissie Hynde’s original bandmates had either overdosed, or were fired and then overdosed, or had simply walked away. The session musicians on Get Close are good but they’re not James Honeyman-Scott, Pete Farndon, or Martin Chambers. Ms. Hynde doesn’t give her best when she’s not pushed by independent talents. Eric Clapton has the same problem. I do, too. There. I just wanted to put myself in the same paragraph with Chrissie Hynde and Eric Clapton.

Get Close is listenable, but it’s not exceptional. And Hynde’s new tendency to produce leisurely, sonically bloated, overly dramatic songs results in “My Baby,” “Hymn to Her,” “Tradition of Love,” and “Light of the Moon,” which is a lot of territory to give to the leisurely, the bloated, and the overly dramatic. This is not, after all, a Yes album.

(I should admit right here that I really like “Tradition of Love” and “Light of the Moon.” I even like the synths-gone-wild Jimi Hendrix cover, “Room Full of Mirrors,” which Hynde turns into a song with big hair and shoulder pads.)

There was a hint of this tendency on Pretenders (“Lovers of Today”), but back then Hynde had a band that swiped like a scimitar. This band swipes like a credit card. Many of The Pretenders’ contemporaries could’ve recorded the songs on Get Close. The letter D alone gives us three candidates in Depeche Mode, Def Leppard, and Duran Duran. Get Close’s one hit, “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” would’ve suited The Bangles just fine.

Special D, in that way she has of concisely cutting to the bone, says Get Close sounds “blurry.” Special D should have her own music blog, but she’d never write more than 10 words per post.

Random 1986 Pick of the Day
Steve Earle, Guitar Town
Mr. Earle is a country Springsteen. Guitar Town, his first album, intersects at times with Nebraska, though Springsteen fans who don’t like Nebraska will be relieved to hear that Guitar Town is much brighter.

I almost like this album. That may read like an insult, but country music normally gives me the hives (and I don’t mean The Hives). Even I can’t resist “Hillbilly Highway,” “Good Old Boy (Gettin’ Tough),” and especially “Fearless Heart.” Mr. Earle’s guitar playing on this album evokes Tom Petty and Mark Knopfler. Those are worthwhile evocations.

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
The Housemartins, London 0 Hull 4
The Smiths with sleep apnea.