Monday, August 29, 2011

Sadly Ecstatic

It's a million degrees in L.A. today.

Guess that's as good a time as ever to dust off old records...

Q: Are you a Mod or a Rocker?
A: I'm a Mocker.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Calm in Your Eyes

Late August, Grasping Onto the Last Vestiges of Summer

And sending out best wishes to everyone on the East Coast.

BTW, I've written about Neil Young and this song once before... check it out.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Whenever You're In Trouble

If the sky that we look upon...

In the early 1970s, Paul McCartney was vilified for recording and releasing a series of wimpy songs (and insanely uneven albums).

During that same period, John Lennon struggled to find his own voice, careening from the stark primal scream of Plastic Ono Band to hopeful hippie anthems ("Happy Xmas"), unashamed rockers ("Instant Karma"), odd anthems ("Imagine"), and sappy mystic anthems ("#9 Dream"). Not to mention Sometime in New York City, about which the less said the better.

When the Beatles broke up, Lennon was freed from the need to compete with Paul McCartney for leadership of the biggest band in history. But he drifted, trying to find his voice (which, he famously tried to disguise in whatever way he could because he didn't like the sound of it).

So tonight, with wispy clouds passing overhead and a cool breeze blowing in off the water, I find myself thinking about a John Lennon song. It's not his best song, not his biggest hit, and not even a song he wrote.

But, somehow, while recording an album of oldies with Phil Spector, Lennon was able to shrug off the need to be the voice of his generation long enough to deliver his most relaxed and confident vocal performance since the Beatles broke up.

RIP Jerry Leiber, who wrote (with Mike Stoller) classic songs like "Kansas City," "Charlie Brown," "Ruby Baby," "Jailhouse Rock," "Searchin," "Love Potion #9," and of course "Stand By Me."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Used A Little Too Much Force

Right outside of Delacroix

There's a bar outside of Boston I went to a few times.

They had a crappy beer selection, floors that hadn't been washed in decades, and three-dollar cheeseburgers that weren't so horrible if you had enough crappy beer.

And they had a jukebox.

Where every single record was by Bob Dylan.

"You wanna hear Hendrix do 'All Along the Watchtower' you go somewhere else," the bartender explained. "You wanna hear the Byrds sing Dylan? You go to Cambridge and go to one of them bars there. You wanna hear the classics -- this is your home."

His dad started the bar in the 50s, and he took over in the early 70s. "First thing I got was the jukebox," he said. "Some of the regulars moved on, but we got new regulars who kept coming back."

The bartender held court some nights at the bar. Entertaining us with stories of his travels, the women he'd met, and the jealous men who'd chased him out of more than a few towns.

One night, the bartender said, Dylan himself showed up. There's a photo of Dylan by the jukebox, he told me. But he never put the photo up.

As the years went by, the regulars got older. The late-night stories grew more infrequent. And the jukebox (still stocked with Dylan) was silent more often than not.

For years, I'd drop into the bar whenever I was in town just to see that nothing had changed (except the price for the cheeseburgers, which started to creep up).

Last time, I was there, the bar was gone. It was an Applebees now.

No jukebox, no stories.

And while there are Applebees all over the place, there's no Dylan in Applebees.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Some Kind of Happiness is Measured Out in Miles

Don't look at me, man. I've already got grandchildren!

The PowerPop blog recently lamented that there haven't been more cover versions of the Beatles' "Hey Bulldog."

Just to remind you, that's the one that goes like this:

So in the interest of not wanting the week to actually start yet, here's a few cover versions.

Ween live in 2006:

The French band Les Shattels:

Cyndi Lauper (she's still so unusual) at a John Lennon tribute concert in 1990:

Dave Matthews:

Toad the Wet Sprocket (listen to the intro on headphones):

The Crash Kings:

Miles Kane:

And Elvis Costello with the Fab Faux -- embedding's disabled on this one, so you have to click here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

To the Nines

Left my wife and my kids and land, so the story goes...

The future slid in from the mountains like a vaguely threatening fog.

Nothing to see here. Just water particles gathering slowly in the atmosphere.

SUVs, station wagons, compact cars. All packed with the teen ideas of what you'll need in a new life.

All missing the most important thing.

The music then was heavier. Literally. Packed on big heavy discs (and then smaller lighter disks).

Now all virtual. On a hard drive that could crash and vanish in an instant.

The cars slice through the fog, parting curtains of humidity and rainstorms.

Drivers and passengers in the same place -- one only looking forward, one only looking back.

It happens every year around this time... so maybe someday it will be less of a surprise.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Red Hot

You ever wake up from a dream where multiple versions of the same song are dueling for your attention?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

And Yet There's No Good Reason Not To...

If You Don't Know the Story, You Should

(Major h/t to Peter's Power Pop, which everyone should read every day.)

The Zombies were a great English band in the early to mid-60s. They had a couple of huge hit singles ("She's Not There" and "Tell Her No") and were pushed heavily as a singles band by their label Decca. But when other singles failed to perform, the record company lost interest.

Meanwhile, the band wrote and recorded an entire album that Decca rejected because they couldn't hear a single.

Eventually Decca let them go and they signed to Columbia, where they recorded Odessey and Oracle, then broke up before it could be released. The record was a baroque masterpiece anchored by "Time of the Season," a song so amazing it seems like it must have always existed (perhaps buried deep in the earth's magma and waiting for the right tool to free it and allow it to travel over the world).

Despite the record's success, the band had no interest in regrouping, so several different groups of Zombies were recruited to tour the U.S. and Europe.

Fast-forward 43 years and Melbourne-based singer/songwriter Ben Mason has recorded covers of every song on that record (calling his work The Odessey Odyssey). Mason says he did it to improve his recording techniques and teach himself to play piano.

And while there's no good reason for anyone to re-record a classic album (even as a one-man band exercise)... there's no good reason not to either.

Mason's versions are faithful to the originals, but not so slavish that his personality gets lost.

You can read Ben's notes about the process of making this record.

Take a listen here:

I don't know much about Ben Mason, but I know if I ever make it out to Melbourne I wanna buy him a beer!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fate Up Against a Whale

Too Late To Beg You or Cancel It

Sun shines in like a crack through the fog.

And the gentle sound of trees swaying in the wind carries over the rooftops.

You look up, mesmerized. This could be a perfect moment.

Struggle to remember it. You'll need the perfection later. When all the flaws return.

And you go to the tree, press your palm against it. Somehow the atoms shift and the memories from the tree and the molecules that have touched it enter your body.

She'd hug the tree. But not you. You just press your palm onto its bark.

Hoping for wisdom. Searching for the sun as it disappears again.

In the fog.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

With a Neon Light for a Visa

This post was written in black & white... for artistic reasons

Delia worked at the small convenience store on the corner. They sold milk and stale sandwiches and overpriced deodorant sticks and razor blades. And troll dolls at the register.

Steve worked for an industry that would all but disappear in a few years, but he didn't know that. He knew that Delia worked at the store and that was enough for him.

Steve took to coming in several nights a week, making excuses to buy stuff he didn't really need and work up the courage to talk to Delia.

She'd sit behind the counter, reading the tabloids, glancing at her watch, counting the minutes until she'd get off work, get high, and go out dancing.

Steve didn't think she should go out dancing. He wanted to take her for long walks by the ocean. Even though the ocean was hundreds of miles away.

Delia noticed Steve, but didn't think much about him. She thought he dressed funny, not realizing that he would try on 6 or 7 shirts before deciding what he'd wear to go to the convenience store.

Delia would throw on whatever she touched first when she reached into her closet with her eyes closed.

One night, Steve had a few drinks before he went to the convenience store. He walked around the small space, gathering cans of whipped cream and packages of Polaroid film. He plunked them down on the counter and smiled.

"Big plans for the night?" Delia asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Yeah. With you," Steve blurted out before the thought was even fully formed.

"Thanks," Delia said. "But I'm busy."

Steve paid quickly and left. Embarrassed, he stayed away for weeks.

Finally, he found his way back to the convenience store. Delia was smiling and flirting with a customer. Steve watched her for a moment, then turned and walked away.

He stopped halfway down the block and turned back. He could do this. He could walk in and say something and make her love him. He could do it.

He took a few more steps, saw Delia look both ways, lean across the counter and give the customer a quick kiss.

And he stood on the sidewalk for a very long time.

Balancing his knowledge that surely Delia would be his if he said the right thing with the intense desire to slink down between cracks in the sidewalk and melt into the earth and down to the magma deep at its core.

Eventually a woman walking a small dog approached. The dog yapped and jumped up on Steve, bringing him back to reality. "Sorry," said the woman, pulling her dog away from Steve. Humiliated, Steve walked away and avoided going near the convenience store until he moved away.

Because of this, he never talked with the woman who was walking the dog... even though she was so taken with him that she returned, night after night for months, tying the dog up so she could go into the convenience store to buy whipped cream and Polaroid film from Delia, hoping she'd catch a glimpse of Steve and sure that he'd fall madly in love with her if she could just think of the right thing to say.