Thursday, May 31, 2012

Instant Amnesia

Yang to the Yin

There's something about this song.

It always seemed half-finished to me -- incredibly catchy, but not quite coherent. Not quite all there.

Like the difference between a great song and a classic song.

And whenever I find myself thinking things like this, I wonder if I'm asking too much.

If this song came from anyone else, I'd be thrilled. I'd remember it fondly and tell you a story about a girl who loved the song.

But the bar is higher for some musicians.

And that's not fair -- I know that.

We shouldn't judge someone harshly because they caught lightning in a bottle more than once and created true classics that will last for generations.

Maybe we should just concentrate on the feeling and try to capture the zen essence of things, letting the rest of it just blow away.

And yes, if you've been watching, there has been a new post up on this blog every single day in May -- plus a bonus of 2 posts on the 21st. There's no particular reason for this -- I just wanted to post more frequently this month and gave myself a challenge of putting up a new post every day.

Thanks for hanging out.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Yep Roc

Lots of cool things happening in Yep Roc land

Yep Roc, one of the coolest record labels that still exists, is throwing itself a 15th anniversary party with concerts and special events October 11-13 in Carrboro, NC.

Concerts will be held over three nights at the Cat's Cradle featuring Yep Roc artists like Robyn Hitchcock, Fountains of Wayne, Dave Alvin, John Doe, Nick Lowe, the Sadies, and John Wesley Harding.

In addition, the label is giving away free unreleased music from its vaults every month between now and October.

How cool is that?

For more info, click here.

The first free Yep Roc giveaway is from Robyn Hitchcock, a beautiful song called "There Goes the Ice" that you can download for free here.

Robyn's description of the track:
"There Goes The Ice" was written in October 2008 off the coast of Greenland on board the Grigor Mikheev, the Russian ship chartered by Cape Farewell to take a collection of artists and scientists up to Disko Bay where we visited a region of the imperilled Arctic. The photographer Chris Wainwright, had just filmed me spelling out Here Comes The Sun in semaphore, silhouetted on deck against the sunset. Surrounded as we were by icebergs 'calved' from the rapidly melting Arctic ice-cap, I found myself writing There Goes The Ice as a mournful echo of George Harrison's song.

I took the song fresh to KT Tunstall and her husband Luke Bullen in the cabin next door: KT obligingly sang harmony and Luke recorded us. Back in England the following June, Luke recorded KT and I performing this version, in their tent. KT also plays guitar on this and appears here courtesy of EMI/Virgin records.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Run Run Run Run Away

Because, really, what's more punk rock than a tuba?

Presented for your approval, as they used to say in the Twilight Zone, via "Pittsburgh's finest ukulele/tuba band. With dancers, too. And an accordion. And a saxophone. And a banjo."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Live from Triceratops Park

Cult Figures

Sometimes you discover a band or a singer that just speaks to you.

And that singer or band has a strong cult following.

But seems on the verge of breaking through.

And you think for years it's about to happen.

Meanwhile, if you're lucky, the singer or band, releases a shit-ton of amazing music. (And if you're unlucky, the singer or band flames out.)

Robyn Hitchcock should be a superstar.

He's been putting out fantastic records for more than 30 years.

For a lot of that time, it seemed like he was weeks (months at most) from being a superstar.

But it hasn't happened. Not yet anyway.

And at this point it seems unlikely.

Which sucks. But at least we have 30-plus years of great music. And, in this universe, that might have to be enough.

Robyn Hitchcock from the unaired Jon Brion Show pilot:

And Robyn Hitchcock & Grant Lee Phillips covering "Across the Universe" (audio only):

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Don't Need a Watch To Waste Your Time

This is the beauty of the internet.

Just when you think you've seen everything -- or at least you've seen everything from 35-plus years ago, you stumble across something old/new.

So here's a video (which I'd never seen before today) that animates some John Lennon drawings (yes, including the copulating rabbits) to his 1974 single "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" (with the fantastic saxophone work of the great Bobby Keys):

By the way, is it just me or does the theme from Saturday Night Live want to be this song (or at least the sax parts of this song) when it grows up?

And speaking of "official" videos I'd never seen before today, here's one for "Slippin' and Sliding" from the Rock 'n' Roll album, which came out in 1975:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I Believe I'm Gonna Rain

Haven't Done A Bloody Thing All Day

The sleepy/druggy music fits in well with the sleepy/druggy video, which gives up about halfway through in favor of a bunch of still pictures.

This is kind of like the little brother of the Abbey Road medley -- great on its own, but always worried it's just a shadow of what might have been.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Gotta Keep My Head Down Low

My foolish error was to care too much...

The delusional girl made a record.

Years ago, that would have been amazing. It would have required hundreds of thousands of dollars, hiring studios, paying musicians.

Now, you can do it with a laptop. And a few hundred bucks of hardware and software.

These days, essentially, anyone can make a record.

So she did.

But then she thought the world owed her something. Even though her songs sucked. Even though her singing was horrible.

But she looked good.

And she'd seen the shows on TV. And she thought that she was better than some of the people on those shows. (Not even better than all of them, just better than some.)

No one would listen.

So she signed up for something online. Paid a lot of money. Got someone allegedly in the music industry to listen to what she'd recorded.

And they sent back word to her: Can you even hear how bad this record is? Because it's just horrible. Erase it from your hard drive. Destroy all copies.

She blamed them. They couldn't hear her genius.

So she stalked the people who'd listened. She threatened them. She pulled a knife.

And one of them laughed. "Go ahead and stab me," he said. "Your music still sucks."

Shocked, she dropped the knife. And started to cry.

And ran away.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The World Spins On Regardless

Best Mick Jagger Impression Ever

Lots of people have been talking this week about how great Mick Jagger was on the season finale of Saturday Night Live last weekend.

Which reminded me of when Mick put out his first solo album. And I heard "Private Revolution" by World Party and was convinced it was Mick Jagger.

These days, no one remembers Mick's solo work.

But I'm still listening to World Party.

(And yeah, that's Sinead O'Connor singing backup in the video. But most everything else on the record came from Karl Wallinger -- despite the stop-motion photography and the "band" playing under the tree...)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Double Kick Drum By the River In the Summer

Playing Kiss Covers

The railroad bridge wasn't in use anymore.

But there was a small park.

And a friend of mine had rented a room on the top floor of an apartment building on a hill.

It looked over the park. And a river. Or maybe an inlet. Or an isthmus. Or a channel.

In any case, it overlooked the water.

And one weekend there was a block party. With loud bands playing songs everyone knew.

The bands weren't good.

But they were okay.

And one by one, the neighbors came out into the street.

It wasn't officially closed, but someone had traffic cones. And someone else had a sawhorse.

And they blocked off two blocks. By the water.

Hibachis followed. And small charcoal barbecues. And coolers with beer.

And we wondered around for hours. Everyone wanted to feed us. Everyone wanted to drink with us.

All the immigrant girls with the home-dyed blonde hair wanted to talk to us.

It was fantastic.

And then, as if on cue, everything shut down. People cleaned up. Families took away the sawhorse and the cones.

The bands packed their gear.

10 minutes later, the cops arrived. Said they were investigating a report of an illegally closed street. A block party with no permits.

And the blonde girls flirted. The cops could smell barbecue but could see nothing.

So they left.

And the street seemed normal again.

Except the neighbors all smiled at each other. As if they shared a secret.

Which, I guess, they did.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Searching for Some Kind of Elusive Truth

I Guess No One Can Imagine A Future Anymore

The moon-faced girl with the imaginary friends glided through the hotel lobby.

She was on her way somewhere, imagining her life. I caught her eye for a second.

And that was all it took. She had it all planned.

The who, what, where, and when.

But it didn't lead anywhere. It wasn't any fun. It wouldn't help her. Or anyone.

And later, when I met her through a friend and we went to the see the fireworks on the Fourth of July, she couldn't remember the hotel. Or the plans she made. Or the places she wanted to go.

But I knew.

And that knowledge wasn't something that came lightly. Or something I could forget about easily.

And that made all the difference.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bonus World Groove

God's Gonna Love Ya... 'Cause God's Pretty Funky

The B-side of World Party's hit song "Ship of Fools" (in the U.S. anyway) was a great 60s-style organ groove track called "World Groove (Do the Mind Guerilla)." It wasn't on their first record and wasn't a bonus track when the album came out on CD.

It wasn't available on CD until about a month ago, when it surfaced on Arkeology, a 70-track collection of unreleased tracks, B-sides, demos, and live recordings.

And now it's on YouTube, ripped from vinyl.

So enjoy:

And I've always liked to think that the lyrics here are a nod to John Lennon's "Mind Games" song, which talks about "playing the mind guerilla, chanting the mantra peace on Earth."

Go Here, Read This, Listen to That

Rare, Unavailable, and Hard to Find has video of World Party at a local Record Store Day event.

There are a couple of great Peter Yarrow (from Peter Paul & Mary) posts up at Echoes In the Wind (here and here).

And JB from The Hits Just Keep on Comin' eulogizes Donna Summer. As does Holly from The Song In My Head Today.

And finally, Barely Awake in Frog Pajamas talks indie record stores & mall girls.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Craigslist Ads And the New Wave Songs That Love Them #12

The World Makes Its Rotations

You were in Griffith Park, endlessly spinning around until you fell down.

I asked if you were okay an you smiled and said I should spin with you.

I couldn't because I was on medication.

But the medication is done. So I'm ready to spin.

Meet me in the same place. Sunday at noon.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

East Side Story Squeezed Down

31 Years Ago

The original plan was for a sprawling double album that genre-hopped (in the same way the White Album had down 13 years earlier).

Each side would have a different producer: Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, and Paul McCartney.

But the Edmunds and Lowe sessions each produced one track and Paul McCartney begged off to do his own album.

So Costello mostly produced the sprawling genre-hopping record that squoze down to the amazing single-record classic East Side Story.

Still, I can't help but wonder what might have happened if Squeeze and McCartney had actually gotten together -- especially since the press was tripping over itself to declare Difford & Tilbrook the new Lennon & McCartney.

Guess we'll never know.

So I'll have to be content with this:

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Late Great Mick Ronson

Some say Mick Ronson cowrote Bowie's best songs from his Ziggy Stardust heyday for some money and arrangement credits.

Here's Bowie with Ronson on Ronson's posthumous album Heaven or Hull:

Lots of people say Ian Hunter never could have hit the heights he hit without Ronson.

Here's Ronson and Hunter from 1975:

And here's Ronson from his 1975 album Play, Don't Worry:

Ronson also played on a John Cougar album and gave him the hook for "Jack and Diane."

But no one's perfect.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

From the West Down To The East

Every Distance is Not Near

There's a steeple. It's hidden. She probably hasn't seen it.

But it's there. Up the hill. Behind the park.

Years ago there may have been a congregation. Weddings. Celebration.

Now, it's just a building. With a steeple.

The sun was blinding that day. She probably doesn't remember it.

But it was blinding.

And it reflected off the stained glass.

I saw it that day.

There was waiting.

In the lobby.

And there might have been tea.

And I didn't know why I was there.

There were other places to be. Other things to see.

And maybe in that way I was like the steeple.

Up the hill. With many other things going on. Maybe she didn't notice.

She may have been looking somewhere else. Or shielding her eyes from the sun.

Or drinking tea.

And the phone rang. Shrill. Interrupting.

There may have been flowers that day.

I don't quite remember.

I may have to go back up the hill. And ask the steeple.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You Were Standing with A Bootleg In Your Hand

What in the world is he on about anyway?

Here's the essential, existential problem with Paul McCartney:

He can be so effortlessly brilliant that it seems like he's not even trying.

Or he can be so annoyingly sloppy that he seems like the worst kind of hack (albeit a hack with the most amazing sense of melody you've ever encountered).

For example:

When I met you at the station, you were standing with a bootleg in your hand...

Maybe the problem isn't getting Hi-Hi-Hi, it's that you were already Hi-Hi-Hi when you wrote this.

Sweet Banana.

Or should I call you "My Salamander."

Which, incidentally, doesn't rhyme with "oh no, don't answer."

Just saying.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Sing The Weirdo Electric

Nobody's Business But the Turks

Standing at the corner of Cool and Bizarre, waiting for a busload of hipsters.

The toned and the tony stand under a bus shelter. Not because it's raining. Not because it's hot.

But because it is there. And ultimately that might be the only reason anything gets done in this world. The rest is an excuse, an attempt to funnel irrational behavior in a bacon-rasher's worth of meaning.

But confronted with the truly random, we rebel.

We want order. Crave it. Pine for it.

So we tell ourselves. We shout to ourselves even when we're not listening:

There must be a reason.

When we find it, we'll be sure to report back to you.

Monday, May 14, 2012

RIP Duck Dunn

Donald "Duck" Dunn, extraordinary bassist who played on hundreds of hit records and was a member of Stax's house band (as well as Booker T. & the M.G.s) died this weekend.

Known to many as the pipe-smoking bassist in the Blues Brothers band, Dunn's bassline anchored most of the classic Memphis soul records of the 1960s.

In 1970, Booker T. & the M.G.s released McLemore Avenue, which featured instrumental versions of songs from the Beatles' Abbey Road album. McLemore Avenue was the home of the Stax recording studio.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Do You Know Now, Mister Show?

Attracts Me Like A Pomegranate

The Beatles working out an arrangement and the words to "Something."

I want to hear the alternate-universe version with the cool harmonies this hints at (around 1:20 to 2:00).

"Just say whatever comes into your head each time, 'Attracts me like a cauliflower,' until you get the words."
-- John Lennon

A promotional film for this song, directed by longtime Beatle confidant Neil Aspinall, features separate footage of each of the four Beatles (with the four Beatle wives). The musical closeness and shorthand in the session is nowhere to be seen in the clip, which hints that the band had basically already broken up (but couldn't yet be bothered to let anyone know).

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Women Are Smarter in Every Way

Except sometimes in song choice

Arguably, the classic song "Man Smart, Woman Smarter" should sound like this:

And you could make a case that it sounds as good like this:

Or even this or this or even this.

But only in the coked-out late '70s could anyone have thought it was a good idea to spring Karen Carpenter's beautiful voice on a song that relied so heavily on a sense of rhythm and gritty integrity.

The problem with campy earnestness 35 years later is that it just starts to seem sad...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Frightening Lies From the Other Side

We're Talking About Your Freedom

So President Obama came out (um... so to speak) for marriage equality.

There's been a lot of hand-wringing about this. But I don't see how it's a problem for anyone.

To put it more directly: If you're against freedom, you're on the wrong side.

And 20 years from now, everyone will be ashamed of you.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wild Rumpus

When I was a kid, two of my favorite books were Chicken Soup with Rice and Where the Wild Things Are, both products of the wondrous imagination of Maurice Sendak.

I'm told that when I was two or three, after being read Chicken Soup with Rice for the millionth time as a bedtime story, I declared that Chicken Soup with Rice comes out of a can.

The movie version of Where the Wild Things Are (directed by Spike Jonze with a script by Jonze and David Eggers) a few years back was polarizing. I know a lot of people who completely hated it -- some thought it was too on-the-nose and filled with psychobabble. Others were shocked by how unhappy the monsters were.

For me, the blending of id-filled adventurousness and the growing awareness of loss was heartbreaking.

The loss of Maurice Sendak this week at age 83 was a sad occasion.

And I'm sure I'm not the only one who was reminded of childhood -- with all the excitement, amazement, and danger that entails.

Thanks for so many decades of great stories and pictures (not to mention sets for plays and operas).

You will be missed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Better Brush Up On How To Tie A Windsor Knot

Stop The Hands of Time

She was holed up in a small motel room at the edge of the desert, drinking heavily and watching numbers flick by on her laptop.

I waited patiently. In years past, brilliant and powerful men had paid her millions for her insights and opinions. I wondered how she'd downsized from her previous life to a single suitcase, a laptop, and a 19-year-old Ford with a dented fender.

Finally she closed the laptop. And slowly stretched out the word "shit" until it sounded like it had 14 syllables.

"Follow the money," she told me.

So I did.

Here's what I found:

There is a completely unregulated pool of Credit Default Swaps that is gigantic. It's hard to know exactly how big since there's no regulation (and no requirements for reserves and no way to accurately set prices), but experts estimate it's between 800 and 1,200 trillion dollars.

That amount is hard to fathom.

So let me put it another way.

The total annual value of everything in the world is about $50 trillion.

So the amount of outstanding Credit Default Swaps is 16 to 24 years worth of everything in the entire world.

So what happens if someone has to start paying off large numbers of those Credit Default Swaps?

I couldn't imagine, so I went back to the motel room. I'd ask her. Certainly she'd know.

The Ford with the dented fender wasn't there. And her door was open.

Empty liquor bottles littered the floor. But the suitcase wasn't there and she was clearly gone.

All she left behind was a small note. It read "We are all fucked."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

And Transmit Thought Energy

The public scoffed "It's far too crude."

By 1976, music fans were desperate to think the Beatles had gotten back together.

How desperate?

This desperate.

If all of this seems silly now (and it does), it was a big deal back then.

And, if you were a fairly good Canadian pop band desperate for publicity of any kind, why wouldn't you be happy about something this completely and totally ridiculous?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Go to the Place that's the Best

Try not to be cynical.

Grace comes in unlikely places.

There, outside a cheap falafel place, a modestly dressed young couple paused. On the table in front of them were two pitas wrapped in white paper. And two cups of water.

And as the lunchtime crowd raced around them, they were oblivious.

Not because they were in love (although they might have been).

Not because they were a rock-solid partnership taking their stance against an indifferent world (although, again, they might have been).

But because they bowed their heads.

And they both whispered long-memorized phrases of prayer.

Phrases that visibly brought them comfort and peace.

And a moment later, it was done. And they looked up and they smiled. And bit into the pitas.

I'm sure many of my atheist friends would mock them mercilessly, would tease them for believing in fairy tales, things that are clearly untrue.

But maybe that's not the point. Maybe it's not the truth that's so wondrous and magical.

Maybe it's the act of concentration, the bringing of Grace into a world that so desperately needs more.

They looked up and caught me staring. And they both nodded at me. Not wanting to convert me or preach to me, but just wanting to let that moment of Grace radiate out from them.

Norman Greenbaum sold two million copies of this record 42 years ago.

His previous band had broken up after scoring one minor novelty hit ("The Eggplant that Ate Chicago") a few years earlier.

And then one night Greenbaum (who was raised as a fairly conservative Jew) was watching TV and saw Porter Wagoner singing a gospel song.

And Greenbaum thought it would be fun to write a gospel song with psychedelic rock leanings. It took him 15 minutes.

You could claim this was an act of pure cynicism on his part. Or you could claim it was pure divine inspiration.

Whatever the case, the song (with its unmistakable fuzz-guitar) struck a nerve.

A small spot of Grace in a cynical world.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Puffy White Clouds with the Face of Mitchell Froom

It would be too cynical for words just to post Glenn Tilbrook's song "Hot Shaved Asian Teens" in an attempt to drive more traffic to my blog, right?

Good thing I like the song then...

Lyrics and link to Glenn Tilbrook's "Hot Shaved Asian Teens".

I guess the cynicism goes with mentioning the title ("Hot Shaved Asian Teens") three times.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Holding Hands While the Walls Come Tumbling Down

So Sad They Had To Fade It

The road into the desert seems to stretch out forever.

And you're stopped at a stop sign.

To the left is a storm cloud. Gathering winds and thunder rolling across the empty spaces.

To the right is a small shack, selling fireworks.

Amazingly, the shack is open. Even though it's got to be 100 degrees.

So you park for a moment, peruse the fireworks.

The clerk tries to chat you up.

"These are the most popular," he says.

And you nod. You're not there to talk. You're there to wait out the storm.

But then the clerk looks up at the sky, apologizes, closes everything down, hops into his car, and speeds off.

And you get back behind the wheel. And slowly drive forward.

Into the rain.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Living Proof of All Life's Contradictions

You can only find them in the deepest silence...

"I'll be at the Bodhi Tree," she said. "In the astrology section."

So I asked what sign she was.

"Pisces. I'm a fish."

And I nodded. She looked nothing like a fish. And I don't believe in astrology.

"We're compassionate. And sensitive."

I like to think the same of myself. We all do.

"We have a strong strain of mysticism and spirituality."

Me too.

I wanted to know more about the Pisces. I can't tell you why.

That's not strictly true. I know why, but I'm reluctant to say.

It was because of her. I still didn't care about astrology. I still didn't need to learn about Pisces. Except as it related to her.

"We fish live in two worlds. The spiritual world where our true selves flow and flourish. And the everyday world, which is often too much for us to take."

Yes. That sounded about right.

And the spiritual was constantly at war with the material. This sometimes made for great art -- and often for horrible conflicts.

"We're the fish who survive on land only because we carry with us a memory of the water. And a certainty that we'll get back there someday."

And I nodded. Because I could see flashes of it. And wanted to see more.

These things were long ago. In this world, anyway.

Perhaps it's just a blink of a third eye in the spiritual realm, where there's an unbounded ocean of bliss.

I know that time flows differently there.

And back here, the Bodhi Tree is closed.

I'd hoped to find the answer there. Maybe in the astrology section. Maybe even find that elusive fish.

The one that got away.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Compare and Contrast

It's Hard to Keep Them Straight. I Know.

This is John Paul Young:

And this is Paul Young (with the Fabulous Wealthy Tarts):

This is Paul Young with leather pants, a band, a propeller plane, and horseback riders with masks and capes:

Any questions?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A New England

Possibly the best version ever of this song.

The late, great Kirsty MacColl duets with Billy Bragg from 1991.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happy May Day

Money speaks for Money...

I'm once again reminded that the title Talking to the Taxman About Poetry has to be one of the greatest album titles of all time.