Posts Tagged ‘Gary Numan’

 

The genius of Duran Duran was to freeze The Beatles in that train station that was surgin’ with girls. Almost everything Duran Duran did in the 1980s was “A Hard Day’s Night.” They just added the clothes and the hair.

In addition to their big idea, Duran Duran’s first album debuted two months before MTV’s launch in August 1981. Their videos were ready when the new network needed material now now now now now. In the alternate universe where there was no MTV, Duran Duran is a cult act from the U.K. that tours America once a year, playing small clubs with Spandau Ballet and Flock of Haircuts and staging charity cricket matches against Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

Nick, John, Roger, Andy, and Simon lacked John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s skills and their drive to experiment, and so most of Duran Duran’s songs are filler. You only need eight of them in your life. As a public service, I here present the Essential Eight in album order:

From Duran Duran (1981):
“Girls on Film”

Social commentary on the plight of fashion models. Home-field advantage for this group.

“Is There Something I Should Know?”
No. But I cherish this song anyway.

From Rio (1982):
[The one album to own, and an excellent place to start any scholarly study of the 1980s.]

“Hold Back the Rain”
Rocks hard for five boys who were almost as pretty as me. Plus it’s danceable!

“Hungry Like the Wolf”
Duran Duran at their most swaggering. They were young and chock-full of hormones.

Jude Law is playing Thomas Wolfe in a new movie they’re calling Genius. Why don’t they call it Hungry Like the Wolfe? Am I the only Duranimal who’s thought of this?

“Rio”
This is the big crowd-pleaser, and certainly the most fun on a dance floor. The lyrics are a mess. Everyone loves to laugh at this line:

Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand

But look how good the next line is:

Just like that river twisting through a dusty land

From Seven and the Ragged Tiger (1983):
“The Reflex”

An outstanding dance number. It’s the remix you want, not the original, though both of them were hits. All the Duran Duran hits collections use the remix; that’s the only one I remember anymore.

This is another Beatles similarity, as Phil Spector remixed “The Long and Winding Road” into the version most Beatles fans know. The difference between The Beatles’ situation and Duran Duran’s is that producer Nile Rodgers’ remix of “Reflex” didn’t make Simon Le Bon so upset that he broke up the band and nobody got all mad for like forever.

“New Moon on Monday”
This is supposed to be a sad song, but the boys can’t stay sad for long!

From Notorious (1986):
Notorious”
Its closest kin is David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” (Another Nile Rodgers production. You may remember Nile for producing Madonna’s Material Girl and for creating Chic and their 1978 disco anthem, “Le Freak.”) A big change for Duran Duran, just as “Let’s Dance” was a big change for Bowie.

From Medazzaland (1997):
[I have no idea what this title means. It sounds like an abandoned amusement park in Rhode Island.]

“Electric Barbarella”
Their most successful attempt at musical innovation, probably because all the young dudes were approaching 40 (that is, the ones who were still in the band – by this point, 11 musicians had cycled through Duran Duran, and only two of the originals were left). The story is straight out of the parallel-processor world of Gary Numan & His Tubeway Army:

I plug you in
Dim the lights
Electric Barbarella
Your perfect skin
Plastic kiss
Electric Barbarella

Whatever your feelings about dating outside your species, this is an improvement on the 50-below-zero Numan, who wrote about sex only from a distance of several light years.

That’s quite enough for one day about Duran Duran. But I must warn you that an artist or artists who go by the name Duran Duran Duran released a song called “I Hate the ’80s” in 2007. I loved the ’80s. Fail!

Random Pick of the Day
M People, Elegant Slumming (1994)
Not as commercially successful as their rivals, Deee-Lite (“Groove Is in the Heart”), but far more sophisticated. If you like dance pop with a soul flair, a woman with a deep dark voice, and Schroeder’s toy piano, you might be ready for some elegant slumming. This record deserved a better fate than selling for 75 cents on Half.com.

Random Pan of the Day
Various artists, When Pigs Fly: Songs You Thought You’d Never Hear (2003)
When Pigs Fly pairs 12 pop hits with 15 unlikely artists. The disc stumbles off the starting line with Jackie Chan and Ani DiFranco crippling “Unforgettable” and doesn’t stop until Lesley Gore lets all the air out of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”

Good thing the guy who wrote “Unforgettable” is dead.

I actually felt sorry for AC/DC.

Most of this album sucks the chrome off a trailer hitch. So why spend two seconds on When Pigs Fly when you could be listening to Shatner torturing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”? Because of Herman’s Hermits and their supernova reimagining of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.” Far better than the original. And hey, all you screaming female tweens from the ’60s: Peter Noone is as good as ever!

 

1999
Prince
1982

Is there a better way to open a prom, a wedding, a bar mitzvah, an election, a Supreme Court hearing, the Ring cycle, or yet another Christmas production of the Messiah than with “1999”? You’re smiling just thinking about it, just like you do when you hear The Rolling Stones start up “Start Me Up.” We humans have been wired to be happy when we hear “1999.” How can we not? The first words on the record are spoken by God! That’s a God I can get behind.

“1999” is going to be huge forever, but I predict a surge in 2099. In case I don’t make it that far, I want one of you to grab your personal anti-grav fanny pack and hit the dance floor in my memory.

Prince names his third album in a row after the opening track and each time the opener gets better. How do you follow an overture like “1999”? Before we answer that question, let’s take up another: What makes Prince’s records sexy? I have a theory, which I will illustrate by comparing him with two of his peers, Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson.

My theory, which is mine: Why Prince is so Lovesexy
1. Funny guy who makes fun of himself: Prince yes, Mick says who, Michael no.
2. Really wants to have sex with you: Prince yes, Mick yes, Michael not applicable.
3. Really wants you to enjoy it: Prince yes, Mick says what, Michael not applicable.
4. Willing to be vulnerable: Prince yes, Mick just left with a groupie, Michael yes*.

* When he was younger. Way younger.

The first half of 1999 is the house party
“Little Red Corvette” gives us a breather after “1999.” The macho narrator at the song’s conclusion who wants to tame your “little red love machine” started far short of that:

I guess I should’ve closed my eyes
When you drove me to the place where your horses run free
’Cause I felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures
Of the jockeys that were there before me

The sweet-sounding “Delirious” comes next, with plenty more car imagery. “1999” is my favorite Prince song, but so is “Delirious,” and also the next one, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.” It takes almost a minute for that one to get going because the man knows he’s got us.

The second half of 1999 is the private-club rave
Five and six tracks in and we’re still smoking. “D.M.S.R.” (dance, music, sex, romance) and “Automatic” are some of the best funk ever recorded, but these songs are long – 17 minutes together. (“Let’s Pretend We’re Married” runs seven minutes but feels shorter.) After the headrush of the first four songs, they bog things down.

“D.M.S.R.” is an amalgam of Johnnie Taylor’s “Who’s Making Love,” Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Till You Get Enough” (without the string section), everything by Ohio Players, and of course Prince. The synthesizers are the stars, but everyone’s playing them in the ’80s, including The Rolling Stones – listen to what they do the following year on “Undercover of the Night.”

“Automatic” takes on the computer-chipped Gary Numan at his own frigid game. David Bowie of the Station to Station/Low/Heroes period would’ve killed to write a dance groove like this one – but Bowie would never have let it run loose for 9 minutes.

A pause while we consider a sex act
Could it be that Prince was writing 8- to 9-minute rhythmic dance songs because he wanted to create a soundtrack for the average length of intercourse? Or what men think is the average length of intercourse?

Now stop considering a sex act
The air leaks out of this album with “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute),” which is like a serious version of The B-52s, which is like a terrible idea, and “Free,” which offers no surprises, which for Prince is a surprise. Teddy Pendergrass, Rod Stewart, and even Supertramp could’ve recorded “Free” while they were walking from their car to the front door of the studio.

Prince tries to seal the leak but gets mixed results with the final three tracks. “Lady Cab Driver” (this being a Prince album, you know how the ride went) rocks, but not over the entire 8 minutes. “All the Critics Love You in New York” is a dues song; at least he held off for five albums before birthing one. But “International Lover” is a strong finish. The spoken word ending, which includes the title of this post, is funnier and sexier than Mick Jagger’s knight-in-shining-armor shtick at the end of “Emotional Rescue” (1980).

Wanna be startin’ something
1999 was released just one month before Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the biggest-selling record since the invention of the sackbut. I said a while back that I’d take Prince over Michael for career performance and Michael over Prince for peak performance. Thriller is Michael’s peak, and it’s Mount Everest. Prince has to settle for Mount Rainier. No shame in that; Rainer has many neighbors and dwarfs all of them.

1999 is my favorite of the two, but Thriller is the better album.

Rolling Stone’s best albums of 1982:

Winner (tie):
Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen
Shoot Out the Lights – Richard and Linda Thompson

Runners-up:
Imperial Bedroom – Elvis Costello
1999 – Prince
The Blue Mask – Lou Reed
Marshall Crenshaw – Marshall Crenshaw

Random Pick of the Day
The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers (1971)
The Beatles are #1. The Rolling Stones are #2. Why is this? Because The Beatles were original. The Rolling Stones are not. The Stones excel at other people’s genres (including disco but excluding punk). They didn’t invent hard rock, but Sticky Fingers is the best hard-rock album this side of Paradise. It’s easily worth the entire Pearl Jam catalog. Take away “You Got to Move,” a blues cover (oddly, for them, it’s not a good one), and this record is almost perfect.

Random Pan of the Day
The Rolling Stones, Undercover (1983)
By this point the Stones were well on their way to becoming the Christmas fruitcake of popular music. The only salvageable song on Undercover is “Undercover of the Night.” It would’ve fit well on their last good album, Some Girls (1978). The rest is crap.

A few years ago, I set out to listen to every Rolling Stones record in chronological order. After I listened to Undercover I was so annoyed that I dropped the project.

Compensation: If you type in “Undercover” on Rhapsody, you also get an electronic dance trio by that name. They play dancified covers of big ’70s pop hits, including Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” and Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You.” They’re not bad. They’re better than Foreigner!

 

“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.

In our last, very exciting episode, I watched The Doors, listened to The Doors, and was floored. I then set out on a quest to find the Best Debut Albums of the 20th Century By Newcomers Who Aren’t Somebody Stupid Like Foreigner. I restricted the contestants to albums named for the band (as in The Doors by The Doors). This squeezed out some worthy discs. Here are my favorites.

The Beatles, Please Please Me (1963)
There are two amazing things about this record. One, The Beatles recorded Please Please Me in, like, a day, even though Paul was dead, John was a walrus, and Yoko had already broken them up. Two, rock ’n’ roll went from holding your hand to sleeping in your soul kitchen in about three years. Shake it up baby now.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced? (1967)
I have two connections with Jimi Hendrix. According to Wikipedia, “Hendrix’s first gig was with an unnamed band in the basement of a synagogue, Seattle’s Temple De Hirsch. After too much wild playing and showing off, he was fired between sets.” In 1981, I played in Seattle’s Jewish softball league for Congregation Beth Shalom. Playing Temple De Hirsch was like playing the New York Yankees. They had the money and the manpower – their congregation was five times the size of ours. One of their rabbis searched their roster until he found half a dozen men who had played minor-league ball and then persuaded them to join the temple’s team. You could not hit anything past that infield. And all of those guys had visited that basement.

My other connection comes from the 1997 marriage of my friends Liz and Mitch. While speaking to the bandleader between sets, he confided in me that he had known Hendrix as a kid and had taught him “everything he knew.” I wanted to ask him why the man who taught Hendrix everything he knew was playing weddings 30 years later, but then the bride and groom handed out bubble blowers and I got distracted. Anyway, I shook the hand of the man who taught Hendrix everything he knew.

If Jimi Hendrix were alive today, he’d be cutting discs with Wynton Marsalis, Danny Elfman, and Yo-Yo Ma, but not, I hope, with Coldplay.

Elvis Costello, My Aim Is True (1977)
This jet-propelled collection of songs gives you absolutely no clue to the musical continents Costello would explore over his career. Even so, he’d still be remembered today even if he had just recorded this disc and his follow-up, This Year’s Model.

The Cure, Three Imaginary Boys (1979)
The normally dour Robert Smith must’ve been on antidepressants when he made this zippy little record. The cover of “Foxey Lady,” once it finally gets going, is hilarious.

Gary Numan, The Pleasure Principle (1979)
When I was 24 I wanted to be an android and I’m sure you did too. Numan isn’t as frightening as he used to be – he’s on The Muppets’ soundtrack. (If you’re curious, The Muppets is Prairie Home Companion with better jokes.)

Echo & The Bunnymen, Crocodiles (1980)
Crocodiles is haunting and dreamlike, which makes it the closest thing on this list to The Doors, emotionally. Echo and all those bunnies don’t rock as hard as The Doors, but they do pretty well with “Read It in Books” and “All That Jazz.” Their lyrics are fun to sing but mean just about nothing. The first few notes of “Rescue” somehow tell the story of my life.

The Dream Syndicate, The Days of Wine and Roses (1982)
In the 1960s, the Philadelphia Phillies had a double-play combination of Bobby Wine and Cookie Rojas. No headline writer of that era could resist the headline “Days of Wine and Rojas.”

The Dream Syndicate was a major influence on what is today called “alternative.” Don’t ask me to tell you what “alternative” means. But I can tell you that this is a terrific rock record, especially the title track. Steve Wynne sounds just like Lou Reed, who initially tried to sound just like Bob Dylan. No one wants to meet the guy Dylan has been imitating.

Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine (1989)
One of the best records of the ’80s, with a title that will always describe my first dog, Emma. Trent Reznor, who recorded almost everything on this album by himself and then formed a band, is not a happy man:

Hey God
Why are you doing this to me?
Am I not living up to what I’m supposed to be?
Why am I seething with this animosity?
Hey God
I think you owe me a great big apology.
(“Terrible Lie”)

If you’re feeling euphoric and you want to tone that down a little, Pretty Hate Machine is the album for you.

Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (1993)
Ms. Phair can’t sing, and when she tries she’s consistently flat, maybe because her mouth is shaped funny. But she has an interesting voice, and she writes piercing songs in the manner of Chrissie Hynde, though she’s more vulnerable:

And the license said you had to stick around until I was dead
But if you’re tired of looking at my face, I guess I already am
(“Divorce Song”)

Liz Phair emerged from the lo-fi indie world. (“Lo-fi” and “indie” are code for “We are so not Steely Dan.”) Exile in Guyville reflects her origins – it sounds as if it had been put together in her living room. It’s one of the landmarks of the ’90s, even though it doesn’t include her big hit, “Supernova,” which is about me. Many of these songs throw structural tricks at you, such as “Johnny Sunshine” – the first minute of that song is the best minute on the album. Like The Doors, Phair has never hit this personal standard again.

Beck, Mellow Gold (1994)
Jim Morrison may have acted like he was a shaman, but Beck actually is. The ubiquitous “Loser” leads off this monster, but it’s nowhere near the best song – just listen to “Beercan.”

Veruca Salt, American Thighs (1994)
You read it here first: Veruca Salt and Soundgarden are actually the same band. Chris Cornell was the voice of Soundgarden; Louise Post and Nina Gordon were the voices of Veruca Salt. You could swap them and the music would be almost the same. I’d love to hear Louis and Nina sing “Fell on Black Days,” with Chris singing “Seether.” Soundgarden released Superunknown, their fourth album, in the same year, which just proves that these are people who get a lot done in a day.

Postscript: No way am I choosing two obvious debuts, R.E.M.’s Murmur (1983) and Pearl Jam’s Ten (1990). These bands are way overrated, plus look how boring the album titles are. And now Eddie Vedder is giving ukulele concerts! The B-52s warned us about what could happen if parties got out of hand. R.E.M. and Pearl Jam are Exhibits A and B. Puny humans.

Stop Making Sense
Talking Heads
1984

I’d like to have a few words with you today about the value of friends. And I don’t just mean how much money you can borrow from them. My friends have more than once straightened me out about music. Today I’d like to tell you about my friend Donald and the gift he gave me: Talking Heads.

Donald was a great guy, but there was this one thing about him. He was weird. He was bookish and hyper-intellectual, a guy who, in 1983, when this story begins, listened to King Crimson, Yes, Neil Young at his most cheerful (“Cortez the Killer”), and contemporary classical – a subgenre of classical music that most people avoid because it makes their teeth fall out. One of Donald’s heroes was Béla Bartók. Have you ever spent any time with Béla Bartók? You can easily reproduce Bartók’s most renowned music by cranking up an orchestra inside a revolving cement mixer. However, I once heard something melodious by this man. I was eager to tell Don about it:

Run-DMSteve: I heard something I liked by Bartók!
Donald: What was it?
Run-DMSteve: It was called “Hungarian Sketches.”
Donald: That’s wimpy Bartók!

Everyone is trying/to get to the bar
The name of the bar/the bar is called Heaven
And you thought I was a snob. Later Donald was sorry that he didn’t encourage rather than disparage me. Let me add right here that in addition to the millions of books he’d read and songs he’d listened to, most of which I wouldn’t touch on a bet, Don was one of the best defensive centerfielders I’d ever seen. He could chase down fly balls that were barely in the same area code.

Don was the person who made me a fan of Talking Heads. Until I met him, I hadn’t thought much about this band, except to turn their songs off when they came on the radio. When I heard Talking Heads on commercial radio in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I didn’t hear much I cared for: The insipid “Love Has Come to Town,” for example, and the incomprehensible “Psycho Killer.” In fact I mainly knew “Psycho Killer” from the parody by The Fools, “Psycho Chicken”: “I plucked him once/why pluck him again?”

The band in Heaven/they play my favorite song
Play it once again/Play it all night long
I understood why Donald loved David Byrne, the main creative force behind Talking Heads, because Byrne was weird. And that voice. Where have I heard that voice? On a Saturday morning cartoon, perhaps. Byrne’s voice is otherworldly (like David Bowie, Lady Gaga, and Gary Numan) and comical (like Weird Al, Fred Schneider, and the guy who did the yodeling in the Dutch prog-rock band Hocus Pocus). At any moment you expect him to de-materialize. Or else say “Well fuck it then” and pull out an accordion.

It didn’t help that Andy Warhol did some early radio commercials to support the band in which he a) acted like a total nerd, and I don’t think he was acting, and b) basically said that he liked Talking Heads because they were nerds. And those of you who have met me and are now asking why I couldn’t get down with a heightened degree of nerdiness can just shut UP.

Heaven/Heaven is a place/A place where nothing/nothing ever happens
When Talking Heads came to Seattle in 1983, Don insisted that I go with him, his wife, their precocious grade-school daughter, and a couple of his fellow hyper-intellectuals (minimalists, surely). Don might have even bought my ticket. If he didn’t, he should have.

The concert wasn’t what I expected. The songs I had previously disliked or had never heard were accelerated and deep-fried in funk. The concert followed a storyline, with Byrne opening the show alone and welcoming his bandmates singly and in groups as the songs progressed. By the time Byrne climbed into his Big Suit to sing about his girlfriend with bows in her hair (and nothing is better than that) and suggest that we stop making sense, I was banging my face into the stage. I never felt that way in a synagogue.

There is a party/everyone is there
Everyone will leave at/exactly the same time
The following year this tour was immortalized by Jonathan Demme in Stop Making Sense. I saw this film three times when it was released and I saw it again on the big screen with a younger generation of nerds in 2009 when it was rereleased. It was every bit as powerful in 2009 as it was in 1985 and I was surprised at how well I remembered it, whereas I don’t remember much about the concert at all and in fact I don’t even connect the band I saw live with the band I see in this film. (One of the few things I do remember from the concert is that everyone on Don’s side of the family brought a book.)

If you’ve been to a rock concert, you know that musicians who have been on the road a while forget what city they’re in and sometimes what song they’re in. They forget the words, make up new ones, hit the wrong key, crash into an amp or the bass player. Guitar strings break. Drums fall over. On The Clash’s From Here to Eternity, Joe Strummer croaks “Take it from me” to Mick Jones in the middle of “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” because his voice is shot.

It’s hard to imagine that/nothing at all
Could be so exciting/could be so much fun
There are no mishaps or indecisive moments in Stop Making Sense, a record of a concert that never was. It was filmed by multiple cameras over three nights. The sound was run through a studio the way milk and ice cream are run through a blender. It makes Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones look crude and The Last Waltz look stagy. Bob Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara is a pebble on its shoe. Stop Making Sense is so powerful that I hate to think what my life would’ve been like if Demme had decided to make his movie about Queensrÿche or Kenny G.

Writing in The New Yorker in 1984, Pauline Kael said she loved the film but that the songs all sounded the same to her. What makes Stop Making Sense irresistible? Is it the way the tension builds in the first half as the band multiplies and the black-shirted roadies wheel out the equipment? Is it that supreme moment in “Once in a Lifetime” when the two female singers with outstretched arms rise behind the ranting David Byrne? It is all the quotable lines?

–       Same as it ever was
–       You may ask yourself, how did I get here?
–       I feel like talking to someone/who knows the difference between right and wrong
–       This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around
–       Changed my hairstyle so many times now/don’t know what I look like

I have the answer and here it is in one sentence: Stop Making Sense is to a real concert what high-end pornography is to real sex.

Table 1. Shared characteristics of Stop Making Sense and high-class porn

  • Lengthy Bolero-style build-up
  • Everybody knows where everything goes
  • Everything is illuminated
  • Everything is audible, too
  • No time-outs
  • No encore

Stop Making Sense is a fantasy that musicians and audiences can all aspire to. And no one has to take their clothes off.

When this kiss is over/it will start again
It will not be any different/ it will be exactly the same
I play the Stop Making Sense soundtrack a lot but only a few of Talking Heads’ other songs: “Cities” (which was cut from the film), “(Nothing But) Flowers,” and “Sax and Violins.” One of Byrne’s collaborations with Brian Eno produced a gorgeous song called “Strange Overtones.” But mostly it’s Stop Making Sense for me – one of the pillars of my musical universe.

In 1984, Donald walked into a costume party at my house wearing a suit and a tie and carrying a guitar and a boom box. He placed his boom box on the floor and announced, “Hi. I have a tape I want to play.” Wherever you are, Don, I thank you again. If it weren’t for my friends I’d still be listening to Three Dog Night. In my parents’ basement.

It’s hard to imagine that/nothing at all
Could be so exciting/could be so much fun
Rest in peace, Amy Winehouse. I have rarely heard a voice like yours.

Heaven/Heaven is a place/A place where nothing/nothing ever happens.

Sweet Oblivion
Screaming Trees
1991

Unemployment has so many advantages that I hardly have time to list them all in. For example, I never got dressed today. I’ve been wearing my pajamas since last Monday. Or maybe the Monday before. For another example, I get to listen to as much music during the day as I want.

Yesterday I listened to Rhapsody’s Baroque channel for about four hours. The Baroque period ends with Bach’s death in 1750. I guess you can take it with you. The music of the Baroque era features clarinets, flutes, viols, lutes, and theorbos, and don’t tell me you don’t know what a theorbo is. Pete Townsend smashed one into his amplifier onstage at Leeds in 1966. I’ll bet Bach never did that.

When I decided I was about full up on theorbos, I switched over to what Rhapsody calls Essential Classical. The first artist was Beethoven. After four hours of Baroque serenity, Beethoven sounded like I was running for my life in a bowling alley. I still had writing to do and it was getting late. It was time for the Power-Thru.

Write like the big boys
The term “Power-Thru” was coined by Odd Todd, who literally wrote the book on unemployment: Hard Times, Soft Couch. Todd was referring to the common problem of how to finish a bag of chocolate fudge-striped cookies when you’re already full. I use Power-Thru to describe the process I undergo to kick-start whatever I’m writing.

In 1995 I went to work for a company that made computer games. Software deadlines were far more onerous than what I’d known in newspapers. I often had to lock myself away in my monk’s cell at midnight to get anything done, and when I did I came to rely on certain albums played very loud to ignite my creativity (which, in stubborn moments, felt as if I were thawing a glacier). One sure-fire fire-starter was Sweet Oblivion.

Describing Screaming Trees won’t make you want to listen to them. They popped up in Seattle during the grunge era. Critics said, “Screaming Trees are not grunge,” but if they’re not I sure can’t tell you what they are. Like most grunge outfits, their lyrics make no sense. I mean sometimes you get a song by Soundgarden or Alice in Chains and you can sort of tell what they’re on about, but you can dip into almost any Screaming Trees song and fall right through the looking glass, even on their one hit, “Nearly Lost You”:

I nearly lost you there
And it’s taken us somewhere
I nearly lost you there
Let’s try to sleep now

There’s a reason why Screaming Trees’ best-of collection is called Ocean of Confusion.

It won’t help to say that I can’t remember if I ever saw Screaming Trees on a stage. I remember a show I went to about 1990 where all four men in the band were wearing unbuttoned flannel shirts, but that could’ve been anybody. Two guys were rather large and one was kinda skinny; I couldn’t tell about the drummer. That fits their profile. The show was in Seattle. I want to say it was at the Gorilla Room, but that place had closed years before. So it could’ve been at Gorilla Gardens, except I’m pretty sure I never went there. This is starting to sound like one of their songs.

These caveats aside, let me state unequivocally how much I love this band and this record. The individual songs never attain greatness, but the overall effect of listening to Sweet Oblivion is like listening to Baroque all day and then getting hit in the face with Beethoven, except I know exactly what’s coming. Bowls me over every time. Gary Lee Connor’s guitar playing is not too little and not too much but just right. Mark Lanegan wields a baritone voice that, like Perry Como’s, never seems to work too hard but always makes itself known. (Lanegan has released several dark, spare solo albums. They remind me of Tom Waits without the laughs.)

Whenever I’m stuck on a project, I can go to half a dozen albums guaranteed to set me free. Sweet Oblivion leads the pack.

Cover of the week: The Slits, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
The three women in The Slits made up the weirdest rock act of 1979, and that’s saying something. For competition they had Gary Numan of Tubeway Army. Gary Numan pretended to be an android. He made David Bowie look like an investment banker.

Their first album, Cut, has two excellent tracks; one is their cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” A ton of artists have covered this one; Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and Creedence Clearwater Revival had early hits with it, and of course there’s Marvin Gaye’s version, which is a landmark of Western music. The Slits’ interpretation is not just a whole lotta fun, it’s…how can I put this…singular. Of all the covers I know of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” nothing sounds like this one.

I would’ve remembered these women if I’d seen them in person.

More me in The Nervous Breakdown
In my push to totally dominate this online zine, I’ve posted my second humor column. This time I take on Thor and other superheroes, tools, and general musings on life. When I posted yesterday, my neighbor on the front page was a woman writing about bondage and discipline. I suspect she got more readers than I did with my stupid puns about Thor.*

The Nervous Breakdown now has a contributor who is 16. The competition out there is fierce. I hope you’ll stop by and run up my hit count!

* I couldn’t work this one into my column: For Halloween this year I’m going as Thorsten Howell III.