Oh, the awe-inspiring horribleness of it all…

For as long as I remember, I have been a fan of the Beatles.

But in my youth, that love may have expressed itself…in unnatural ways.

For instance, I can remember in 1979 or 1980 watching repeatedly, almost obsessively on HBO.

Haven’t seen it in the intervening 30+ years.

I noticed at some point in the none-too-distant past that it had showed up on Netflix, and I felt compelled to watch it…you know, For Science.

I would say that it hasn’t aged well, but really, it wasn’t good from the very moment it was released. Mess doesn’t describe it—this may be the Plan 9 from Outer Space of musical movies.

Still, I will commend to you the three actual good parts: Earth, Wind & Fire performing “Got to Get You Into My Life”, Aerosmith performing “Come Together”, and Billy Preston performing “Get Back”. They all come later in the film, so I recommend judicious use of the fast-forward option.

Oh, wait, I nearly forgot! You also shouldn’t miss the utterly inexplicable group reprise of the title song at the end of the film—it includes, among others, Curtis Mayfield, Heart (though—I’m not making this up!—they only show the male members of the band; I saw these three rock-and-roll guys who seemed a little familiar, and it wasn’t until I read the credits that I realized why I couldn’t place them, because, you know, they’re the least identifiable members of that band), Stephen Bishop (as the Awkwardest White Man In The Universe—you’ll know which one I’m talking about), Rob Lowe (sorry, no, that’s a young Robert Palmer), Johnny Winter, Tina Turner, a very confused Carol Channing…and a host of others.

It is magnificent in its randomness.

Had we but world enough, and time…

I knew guys in college who, I think it’s fair to say, worshipped at the altar of Lou Reed.

The truth is, I don’t own a Lou Reed album. Not Songs for Drella, not Transformer, not New York, not Metal Machine Music or Berlin. None of them. And while I own all the Velvet Underground albums, I don’t pretend to be all that intimately familiar with them.

Still, I know so many people I am personally devoted to—that I love and admire, whose music is burned into my soul—were among those mythical thousands who started bands after hearing The Velvet Underground & Nico.

And there are songs from the Velvet Underground that I love, that will be with me until I die. Some are the obvious ones, perhaps—”Sweet Jane”, “Rock and Roll”, “Beginning to See the Light”. but I owe him for providing the platform for Sterling Morrison’s wildly abandoned and intensely beautiful guitar break in What Goes On, a recorded moment that brings me to the verge of tears every time I hear it. And if only I could erase Nico’s singing, the cacophanous swirl of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” makes me want to drown in it.

So I owe him that.

A book so good…

I saw Questlove on The Daily Show. I knew who he was in a general way—in fact, are my favorite sticks when I’m playing—but I hadn’t, to the best of my knowledge, ever heard a single thing by The Roots. Ever.

Thinking back on it, my memory of the interview was that it was a little awkward. Re-watching it just now, though, suggests that my memory is shot to shit—I mean, I didn’t even remember that it was John Oliver, and while it was a low-key interview, it wasn’t really awkwardness per se, or at least not on Questlove’s part.

Regardless, it convinced me to buy the book.

I was a third of the way through it, when I realized that I had to by a copy of it for my friend Paul for a couple of reasons.

The first is because Paul is two months younger than me, and Questlove is a month younger than that—so when Questlove is talking about his childhood, it resonated with me surprisingly strongly. I mean, no, I was not black, nor was I growing up in Philly, but we share a passion for music, and many of the musical touchstones of his childhood are ones that I remember, even if they weren’t quite as much a part of my cultural identity. I mean, I didn’t really come to an appreciation of Parliament until I was in my 30s (incidentally, I’m going to see them at the end of the month), but there are Earth, Wind and Fire albums that I have known down to the note as far back as I can remember. I remember Soul Train in the 70’s, though I mostly remember just being…baffled, it was that far outside of my experience.

Anyway, that was the first reason—we’re all contemporaries, and I figured Paul would feel a kinship with many of those same things.

The second, of course, is because Paul owned a hip-hop club in Atlanta in the 90’s. And so I sorta wondered if he had ever met Questlove. In fact, he and his wife knew the whole band. Not fast friends or anything, but they knew them.

Anyway, I think this is probably my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. It’s interesting to read his perspective on the roots of hip-hop, about which I know relatively little—I’ve always been a rock and roll baby. It’s hilarious to read his meetings with Kiss and Prince and Tracy Morgan. it’s profound to read how The Roots are grappling with trying to be a band after 40.

If you care about music even a little bit, why haven’t you already read this book?

It was all a horrible dream…

This has been a post a while in the making—one of the problems with writing the software that lets you post to your blog is that it puts you on the hook if something changes, and I wasn’t timely about handling that, so I’ve got some posts that have been stewing.

Anyway, It’s not without slight embarrassment that I admit that I like the new Van Halen album. It’s not great, mind you—it’s no Fair Warning, or frankly even a Van Halen II (what I think to be the weakest of their Roth-era albums)—but there’s a swagger, coupled with a wink and a grin, that is really fun to witness.

And I’m realizing that the reason is unequivocally David Lee Roth.

When 5150 first came out, I liked it a lot. And I suppose it’s not a bad album even now. And OU812 and even For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge are similarly not bad albums—but they lack a spark. Listening to them now, while the musicianship is great, the actual songs are…I dunno. They’ve become smaller than life; pedestrian; humdrum.

I guess at some level I recognized it even then. I never bought their last album with Sammy Hagar, Balance, or their one album with Gary Cherone, Van Halen III,

A Different Kind of Truth, on the other hand has plenty of flaws, but it also has lyrics like:

How many roads must a man walk down before he admits he’s lost.
And do you really, really drive this way
just to piss me off?

It’s inconsequential, but it’s not without a certain cleverness. The Sammy Hagar era was trying to be significant (one need only look at the lyrics and/or video to Right Now for confirmation), but David Lee Roth, if he tries at all, is happy to undercut it with a good laugh:

Like the ancient immortals said Don’t want ’em to get your goat
Don’t show ’em where it’s hid
But that’s just what I did

I’m not going to have it on infinite repeat for months on end, but it’s a fun little diversion, and it’s almost like the intervening 25 years never happened.

Walking the Dead

Where Are We Now? is not my favorite David Bowie song. Really, not by a long shot.

Favorite or not, though, I’m happy to see him making new music—I had all-but given up hope of ever hearing the words “new music from David Bowie” used in a sentence together, and that made me sad.

It’s interesting to see him revisiting Berlin, the site of the creation (with some involvement of Tony Visconti, who is being credited as producing the new album) the three of his albums (Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger) that would seem to most effectively bridge the gap between the avant-garde leanings he’s always shown and the trim, effective pop songs he’s always been so good at producing. So I’m interested to see where it all ends up.

Incidentally, I am amused by the mention of KaDeWe in the lyrics of the song. I remember the one trip my family made to Berlin when we lived in Germany, back in 1983. My grandfather bought a pair of Zeiss binoculars in KaDeWe. It’s interesting to note that that same trip came up in a post here almost 10 years ago (and that on the 10th of February of this year, this blog will be 10 years old).

Of course the only thing that could be cooler…

than an all-female Iron Maiden cover band (seen here performing Aces High)

would be an all-female Metallica cover band. Oh, what’s that? There is one, you say?

Of course, any cover of “Master of Puppets” has to be judged by the sheer heaviness of the lead-in to the big guitar solo (in that video, seen at 5:36), which should sound like it is about to roll over you and crush you under its wheels.

And, sadly, that’s where the one shortcoming both Mistallica and Iron Maidens suffer from is on full display—although their instrumental prowess is significant, even with Bruce Dickinson’s famously large vocal range, most of Iron Maiden’s tunes generally skirt the low low end of most female singers vocal ranges. It’s even worse with James Hetfield, to has spent most of his career barking more than singing.

Buffalo Stance

So twice in as many days I’ve found myself channel surfing to the video for Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance”—a song I hadn’t heard in at least a decade:

Incidentally, did you know she underwrote Massive Attack‘s first album? I didn’t.

Anyway, that reminds me of one of my few regrets from college—the time I didn’t go see Michael Hedges. This would have been in 1990, right after the release of Taproot—my favorite of all his albums.

There were plenty of good reasons not to see the show, like 1) I didn’t really have the money for it, 2) I didn’t hear about it until the day of the show, and couldn’t get tickets 3) it was more than an hour away in Birmingham.

The stupid reason that I actually ended up not going was because I was too cheap to pay for parking so I could go see if there were any tickets or scalpers. Yes, I drove all the way to Birmingham, circled around within a few blocks from the arena, couldn’t find a space free space, gave up and drove back to Tuscaloosa.

When Mike Nix got back the evening, he told me that, in addition to a number of other covers he was well known for doing, Michael had performed “Buffalo Stance”.

Well, 20+ years later, I’ve heard his rendition:

It’s a little heavy on the piezo quack, but otherwise pretty wonderful. For good measure, I leave you with him doing The Who’s “Eminence Front”:

It’s good, though I don’t think it’s quite as good as the real thing:

This guy makes beautiful guitars

I have to say, I also agree with his tagline redefining custom—some of his guitars are pretty damned strange, though still beautiful.

But what I really like is that he’s done a series of videos on youtube taking an absolutely beautiful guitar from start to finish. It is fascinating.

Tosin Abasi

Mostly, I’m having one of those, “How have I not heard of this guy?” moments.

Anyway, I was, no kidding, looking through some Guitar Center catalog I got in the mail, and saw an Ibanez 8-string guitar being endorsed by this guy whose name rang absolutely no bells at all. And I kind of wrote him off, because it seemed like senseless “more is better”-ness.

And then he, and his band, Animals as Leaders started showing up in my YouTube feed.

So, what the Hell, I watched one. And then another, and then a third. And for the last week I’ve been doing occasional bits of spelunking around.

I’m not going to pretend that everything he does interest me—a lot of it would have appealed to me more 20 years ago, when I was more interested in stuff that carries a lot of aggression. But he’s wickedly articulate:

And some of the things he does solo I do find sometimes startling and beautiful (the first bit he runs through in this clinic is wonderful, the rest of it interesting but not entirely compelling to me):

And finally, he can also operate well out of his usual milieu very comfortably:

He has an album that he describes as more jazz-oriented that I’m thinking of—in the hopes that it will have more of what appeals to me and less of the noisy-double-bass-at-180bpm of Animals as Leaders that leaves me cold.

Given sufficient time…

I’m sure I could come up with a jazz cover of a rock song that seems more unlikely than this cover of Queens of the Stone Age‘s “Hanging Tree”. But it might take a while. Of course I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it, especially as the saxophone is stating the vocal line in the first verse.

Update. OK, maybe this cover of Soundgarden‘s “Black Hole Sun”. But I think “Hanging Tree” still wins, just because is a more obscure song.

Apparently Brad Mehldau is making something of a career of this sort of thing. Here’s him covering Radiohead‘s “Everything in its right place”. There’s a beautiful moment in it right at 2:18:

Needless to say, youtube has links to many others.

TV on the Radio

I am, at this moment, kicking myself for not having made the time to go to Moogfest so I could see them live.

When I have five minutes, I sit at my drumkit and play *Golden Age*, because it is currently my favorite song in the whole universe:

And yes, that is the weirdest, most fucked-up video I think I have ever seen. Isn’t it glorious?

But what I love is that this is not a band that is static, that is just reproducing a record. Consider, for instance, these three performances of “Will Do” (which I find a lovely song by any standard):

First, the album version:

Then a performance from Letterman, (just a few days after their album was released and just six days before their long-time bassist died of cancer) which is obviously the same song, but not a reproduction of the album by any means:

Then, this version from SXSW, a few months later:

Even this song off their just-released album, is still evolving. They’re in no rush.

Or, even better, a song off an older album, “Dirtywhirl” (which gets points in my book for being about Durga), which in this 2006 performance starts with them looping Tunde Adebimpe beatboxing:

Versus the original album version:

I am in awe of their brilliance.

Jeff Beck, Live at Ronnie Scott’s

I’ve just TiVO’d and watched this for a second time in about nine months.

I have to admit to knowing a fair bit _about_ Jeff Beck, while knowing almost none of his music.

The performance here convinced me to pick up some of his best-known albums…which mostly disappointed. I guess part of my mistake was getting some of the “Jeff Beck Group” albums, because while those are certainly well known, I wasn’t particularly interested in his work with Rod Stewart. But even with the solo instrumental work, it seemed sometimes a little sterile.

But in the live context, I was blown away by his tastefulness, his craft, his absurd command of dynamics. For instance, not only is his solo on this track admirably restrained, but his backing during the the verse is amazingly rich.

And he had “Vinnie Colaiuta”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinnie_Colaiuta of “Catholic Girls” fame playing drums for him. And “Tal Wilkenfeld”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tal_Wilkenfeld is both adorable, and able to keep right up with him.

Black Sabbath press conference video

There’s really not much of particular substance here, but I just wanted to call out that when you see the table with Sabbath and Rick Rubin, against all odds, Rick Rubin is the oldest looking guy there.

TV on the Radio

So, I posted about my feeling that “pop music today was a retread of stuff that wasn’t even the best there was the first time around”:/2011/05/13/the-pop-music-of-my-youth-isnt-getting-rehashed/. I got some pushback on that, to the effect that I, being over 40, would have to be an exceptional specimen to appreciate music that wasn’t of my youth, and of course I thought things might sound like other stuff, but that was just a natural consequence of having listened the first time around (tell me if you think I’m mischaracterizing your argument, Chet).

(That South Park “did an episode making pointed commentary about this very thing”:http://www.southparkstudios.com/guide/episodes/s15e07-youre-getting-old a week or three later was hilarious–and I’ll have you know I’m not just a cynical old bastard.)

Still, I will hold up as a counter-argument to the suggestion of simply rampant old-fogeyism, my growing infatuation with _TV on the Radio_.

I first caught them on Saturday Night Live, actually, which is funny since these days–you guessed it–I mostly complain about SNL’s music choices, because, seriously, Ke$ha? I’m *not* supposed to sneer at her?

Anyway, I probably ordered the CD from Amazon the next, day *despite* the fact that “the sound on the performance wasn’t all that great”:http://www.brooklynvegan.com/archives/2009/02/tv_on_the_radio_23.html. Here was a band that didn’t sound like anything I’d ever heard before.

Still it sat in the music collection until about six weeks ago when I finally got loading of my flac-encoded music collection onto my iPod working (the price of using Free Software is that sometimes you have to write the damned patch yourself), and that was among the first album I listened to, doing nothing but listening–stretched out on the floor with a pair of headphones on, in fact.

Holy Shit, it’s brilliant.

From the opening moments of the weird lurching beat of “I Was a Lover” to it’s creepy falsetto-chorus lyrics and the looped horn samples that sound so incredibly mournful to me, I was hooked. It is noisy and discordant and has moments of spine-tingling beauty that hit you out of nowhere, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard.

I just don’t understand

Insane Clown Posse would be just another act that I didn’t care for–in a world littered with them–except for the Gathering of the Juggalos. Just watch the apparently legitimate “informercial” for the 2011 Gathering of the Juggalos:

(Incidentally, life must be rough for Vanilla Ice).

And then compare to the Saturday Night Live “Kickspit Underground Rock Festival”:http://www.hulu.com/watch/113213/saturday-night-live-underground-festival

“Everybody gets pitchforks!”

Ah, humanity.

The pop music of my youth isn’t getting rehashed

TL;DR: You kids get off my lawn!

From 1981-1986, I was a devoted listener of Casey Kasem’s “_American Top 40_”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Top_40. We were living in (West) Germany at the time, and that broadcast on “AFN”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Forces_Network was a primary means of keeping in touch with music back in the ‘States–though MTV was rising to power back home, we didn’t have it there, and besides, the alternative was hearing _99 Luftballons_ *again* (remember, Nena was German, and (rare for a Continental act) had a hit in the US. It was inescapable, and to this day that song still makes me cringe).

Anyway, I listened all the time, and with such devotion that I could remember well enough where a song I liked had been the week prior so that I could be ready to record it when it came on the next week. I have a vivid memory of being at “an airshow at Ramstein AFB in 1983”:http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flugtag_Ramstein#Flugtag_1983 (incidentally there’s a site with “pictures from the airshow”:http://www.aviatikphoto.ch/airshowsint/ramstein/ramstein1983/index.html one of which is the sort of plane my Dad was flying out of Ramstein at the time) with an “AIWA”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aiwa “walkman” that had both a radio and the ability to record, ignoring the actual airshow because I really wanted to tape a copy of “_Little Red Corvette_”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Red_Corvette (though, truthfully, I can’t quite make the chronology match up–surely it didn’t take 6 months after LRC’s release for it to make it up the charts).

(In fact, Billboard “posts their charts”:http://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100#/charts/hot-100, and has records going back to the ’70s, including “that week”:http://www.billboard.com/charts/hot-100#/charts/hot-100?chartDate=1983-07-30, and looking at the top 10 leads me to suspect that the song I was trying to record was Stevie Nicks’ “_Stand Back_”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stand_Back, which, interestingly, has Prince performing on it, albeit without credit, and was partially inspired by _Little Red Corvette_).

Other acts I remember from that time–Hell, from just that year: “Dexy’s Midnight Runners”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dexy%27s_Midnight_Runners (Hi, Chet!), “Naked Eyes”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naked_Eyes, “Taking Heads”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_Heads (_Burning Down the House_, obviously), “Tears for Fears”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tears_For_Fears, Michael Jackson, David Bowie (_Let’s Dance_, of course), “Thomas Dolby”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Dolby, “Men at Work”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men_at_work, “Culture Club”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_Club, “Duran Duran”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duran_Duran, “The Police”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_police, “Eurythmics”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurythmics

Anyway, one of the biggest acts of that time period were “Hall & Oates”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hall_%26_Oates. Every time they had (yet another) single on ATF, there would be the recitation of how they had had more songs chart in the Top-40 than any other duo and various other distinctions. I could probably have recited the stats at the time.

So I was in Whole Foods the other day and the in-store sound system played Hall & Oates’ _I Can’t Go For That_, followed by the Bee Gees’ _Night Fever_. Two songs that, 10 or 15 years ago I might have been embarrassed to admit I like, but now, hey, I’ve already got one foot in the grave, who cares what anyone thinks?

And I realized that as much as I have come to accept that half the pop music acts I hear these days sound like retreads of the ’70s or ’80s, I don’t understand why they seem to choose to rehash the mediocre stuff. I mean, _The Strokes_ sound like _The Knack_, but I don’t understand who would consciously choose to do that? Where are the people who are trying to at least copy the well-crafted pop songs of the period?

Is this the culture of irony eating itself? People choosing to copy the second-tier artists as some sort of commentary?

This is what I love to see in live performances

To say that David remakes “Andy Warhol” in this performance is kind of an understatement. I mean, I love the original, but if I wanted to listen to that, well, I’ve got the CD. This is something that lives only on this tour, perhaps only in this moment.

“Andy walking, Andy tired, Andy take a little snooze.”

ZOMG, Wikipedia truly knows everything

“Here is a link”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsters_of_Rock#1983_2 to the Wikipedia entry for the 1983 German Monsters of Rock concert, which was my first ever concert.

I have vague memories of _Whitesnake_, but couldn’t even tell you what they played.

_Blue Oyster Cult_ was what I was there to see, though I remember it being somewhat anticlimactic–I think I knew a lot less of their music than I had thought. I would probably enjoy it more now.

I remember enjoying _Thin Lizzy_ a lot, though it’s only in retrospect that I am glad I saw them in their last show with Phil Lynott.

I remember one _Saxon_ song, but I won’t name it for fear of dying of embarrassment.

I have remember “Paradise by Dashboard Light” only because the female performer ended up very scantily clad. John Scalzi recently tweeted wondering what a collaboration between Jim Steinman and Philip Glass would be like–I can tell you it would likely make my head explode.

_Motorhead_. I am sad to realize that I have seen Lemmy in the flesh and have no memory of it. Maybe that’s appropriate, though.

I suspect that I left before _Twisted Sister_ made it on stage, and I don’t have any idea who the hell _Cheeta_ were.

Thanks to my dad for dropping us off and picking us up afterward.

Jake Shimabukuro covering Bohemian Rhapsody. On ukelele. Solo. Wow.

You know, I haven’t seen any ukelele covers that have been less than respectful of their source material. Sometimes they are obviously showing off technical acumen–there’s a couple of places in this video that might qualify–but it all seems done with a lot of affection for the original.

Perhaps I should watch Animal House again sometime

I don’t think I’ve watched any significant portion of Animal House in two decades or more. But I happened across a note in “Wikipedia’s page on Robert Cray”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Cray that notes that he was the bass player in the band performing “Shout” at the party.

That, plus the always amusing scene of Donald Sutherland dissing John Milton seems worth a re-watch.

More Beatles, I suppose

So, Jack White performed “Mother Nature’s Son” at the White House. Not my favorite rendition of it ever–Jack’s voice is great in other contexts, but doesn’t quite work here for me–but still a particularly gutsy move, when you consider who’s in the audience (look to the President’s right at about 1:45):

Why hasn’t anyone done the obvious?

So Kanye West samples King Crimson’s _21st Century Schizoid Man_ for his new single power. But while I was watching a documentary about The Beatles today, it occured to me that what someone really needs to sample or borrow is the drum track to “Tomorrow Never Knows.” That would beat the famous samples from “When the Levee Breaks” easy.