Saturday, October 22, 2005

Hello in There

This blogging business can be a lonely affair, and then not. Sometimes you feel like you're writing in a vacuum--and then out of the blue a stranger writes with some exciting bit of information or feedback. So if you missed Alberto Forero's addendum to my post about David Byrne (and other subjects), you should check out his own blog, Audium--particularly if you're an Os Mutantes fan (or think you exhibit tendencies in that direction). As promised, he's posted MP3's from TV appearances by O.M. and an even more obscure early 70s Brazilian psychedelic band I'd never heard of called Secos e Molhados, whose lead singer, Ney Matogrosso, is indeed as Alberto describes him: "a fascinating mix of Perry Farrell, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, a shaman, and a cabaret singer." I'd throw in Hedwig, (all of) the New York Dolls, and lord knows what else. Falsetto, face paint, glam--it's all here, and I want to hear more, pronto.

Naturally, in full obsessive mode, I had to check out the entire blog from its inception, and I'm totally enthralled. Tne subject matter is aptly summarized as "Music, illustration, graphic design, and other interesting things," and it's all good. I love the mix, and I am eager to hear ...

... his online album (under the name Audioosports) of mashups, audio collages, and such, which is posted on the site. If it's anywhere near as impressive as the design work he posts, I'm gonna be a happy blogger. The album art above is a sample of his work. (I actually like it more than the image I think he ultimately went with for the cover.)

Speaking of album graphics, another thing I found tonight via Audiosport is this "Massive Gallery of New Wave Single Sleeves" from Endless Groove (an online record collectors' mag which also looks like something I can spend many an hour poring over some day). Here's one representative example, from a wonderful performer who never ever got the attention she deserves:

Let me just say that trying to find just one image to post here to represent the entire gallery was no easy task, given that there are FORTY pages of them (4-6 covers to a page) to choose from, and it's impossible to visit without tripping down memory lane, bigtime.

Can't seem to find permalinks on Audium, which is a shame cuz I want a way to bookmark stuff I want to examine in greater detail later on, like Audiosports' mini-manifesto/how-to on making mashups that transcend easy pop-culture juxtapositions (Nov 18, 2004) and his reprint of a 2002 speech by Milton Glaser called "10 Things I Have Learned" (posted Mar 8, 2005). Discovering goodies like these and Alberto's own work made me feel energized and inspired this evening. Hope it'll do the same for you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Gonna Love You in My Chevy, Van

I thought sure I'd already obsessed somewhere around here about Van Morrison, but according to the "search this blog" feature in the toolbar above, I haven't. Sadly, time does not permit me to do so now, either, but suffice it to say I've been a fan since that night known so well to college kids the world round, when someone breaks out a bottle of wine and Moondance and you listen to that foghorn blow for the very first time and sail into the mystic.

That was my introduction, 25 years ago or so, to the romantic/poetic side of Van. But there are so very many more: the spiritual seeker, the blues revivalist, the Irish icon, the guy who gave the oldies stations of the world "Brown-Eyed Girl," and so on and so on. But my favorite Vancarnation (other than the maker of a string of breathlessly beautiful albums in the mid-to-late 70s) is The Eccentric Coot: the guy who's put out a number of 15-20-minute-long compositions built around endlessly repeated nonsense phrases and syllables, the one who gives really scary interviews, and, best of all, the man who recorded the legendary 1967 sessions which are now archived on WFMU's blog. They're all right there on the blog waiting for you to sample them: "Twist and Shake," "Shake and Roll," "Stomp and Scream" (and mucho additional variations); a similar batch titled "Blowin' Your Nose," "Nose in Your Blow," and the like; the only known blues lament to "Ringworm;" "You Say France and I Whistle" (that's pretty much the complete lyrics, as I recall); a bunch of possible "Madam George" precursors, including "Dum Dum George" (which might not be such a bad song to revive for the current presidential administration, come to think of it); and the self-reflexive "Freaky If You Got This Far," congratulating the listener for making it through all of the above. Best of all: "Big Fat Royalty Check," in which our hero is waiting for exactly that.

I think of this stuff (which I've got on a low-cost Charly boxed set called Payin' Dues) as a precursor to both Jonathan Richman and Public Image, Ltd., if you can imagine that unholy marriage. It's all just Van and an acoustic guitar, and it was never meant to be heard by the likes of you or I, and yet here it is. Freaky!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

TV Eye

Let us now praise PBS--which is not a phrase I utter very often, by the way:

1. Has anyone else noticed how remarkably good Austin City Limits has been this year? The first show I caught this season was a full hour of Elvis Costello--easily one of the best televised concerts I think I've seen. Then came an excellent (also hourlong) Pixies reunion; a great, slightly scary Polyphonic Spree set; the Joss Stone performance that first brought her to my attention; a Wilco/Bright Eyes double bill (the latter featuring a guest spot by Jim James and M. Ward); even a perfectly fine if innocuous set by Jack Johnston, whom I find way more fun to look at than to listen to. And I have yet to see Katlheen Edwards, Gillian Welch, the Jayhawks, the Original Five Blind Boys of [one of those two states that has Original Blind Boys], Roseanne Cash, Modest Mouse, John Prine, Etta James, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Guided By Voices, Ryan Adams, Neko Case, and surely some other names I'm forgetting to drop. At first I thought this was some phenomenally great programming (in seasons past I'd typically find only 3 or 4 artists interesting at most, and most shows balanced one name act with one not-so-hot local up-and-comer), but when the Flaming Lips showed up twice in one season, I realized that this was actually some sort of 30th anniversary greatest-hits season consisting of highlights from the last several years all rolled into one, and the copyright dates on the episodes confirmed that hunch. The show seems to have veered pretty damned far from its original emphasis on Texas-based music with a countryish vibe--a description that doesn't quite seem to cover Franz Ferdinand, for instance--but I'm hardly complaining.

Speaking of the Flaming Lips, I gotta say I've never been a huge fan, but they were excellent, trotting out all the stuffed animal-people, crazy effects, and other oddnesses of their recent stage shows for their half-hour set. Then they reappeared later in the "season" (actually a few years earlier or later) as Beck's backing band. Beck, by the way, is another one of those people that all my friends love that I've never quite been that excited about, and his (hour-long) colaboration with them was another major highlight. Somehow the combo of two acts I'm not crazy about led to something greater than the sum of their parts.

2. I thought I'd missed the recent Independent Lens documentary on Parliament-Funkadelic, but my pal Richard brought a rebroadcast to my attention and I caught it after all. Great archival footage, some nice interviews with band members and later musicians influenced by George Clinton & co. (from De La Soul, Digital Undergound, etc.). I could've done without the annoying intro by Edie Falco, but I don't hold it against anyone. (Note to PBS: I know, I know, we all miss Alistaire Cooke, but it's truly not necessary to employ TV personalities to introduce your programs, particularly since they all do it in the identical, tooth-numbingly bland way.) Hearing all the accounts of how, er, altered the band was when they performed in their heavy acid days, I started thinking of them as a kind of musical parallel to the Cockettes, a comparison that never occured to me earlier but one that now makes a lot of sense.

Even if you didn't see the show, the accompanying website is plenty swell on its own. (And, hey, I scored 9 out of 10 on the P-Funk trivia quiz, thereby earning myself a "Doctor of Funkology" degree. Move over, Edie Falco! Doctor Ron is on the case.)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Things I Found While Looking for Something Else, #2

So I'm online trying to find some important fact or other, and suddenly I decide to check out what's up with the CBC. (This can only mean there was something far more important on my to-do list, mind you.) I'd vaguely heard about a walkout a while back, but I'd sort of lost touch with the whole thing.

Turns out the official site is a bonanza of time-wasting diversions, starting with this not particularly revelatory "Protest Music Mixtape," which is really just a slide show with lengthy captions concerning the usual suspects.

I would not be wasting your time (only mine) with this information if that were the only thing I found. Nope, the real treasure trove came when I stumbled upon "the Alternative Canadian Walk of Fame" (or is it "the Canadian Alternative Walk of Fame"? the website lists both options--now, that's Canadian! And alternative, too...). The thirteen inductees include Tommy Chong, the Bob & Doug McKenzie movie, John "Plunderphonics" Oswald, and Chris Dedrick, founder of soft rock sensation The Free Design (originally from Western New York, by the bye, not our neighbor to the north, but so be it).

But two names on the list outshine all the others as far as I'm concerned. First and foremost is Mary Margaret O'Hara, whose lone full-length album, Miss America, is one of my all-time faves. I was lucky enough to see a concert of hers in NYC several years ago that was one of the most amazing things I've ever witnessed: an incredible balancing act between precision musicianship and a complete plunge off the deep end.

And speaking of the deep end, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to the second all-star on the Alternative Canadian/Canadian Alternative list: Nardwuar, the Human Serviette.

I first came across this singularly talented individual 6 or 7 years ago in the pages of Chart magazine, a Canadian (natch) music publication that I used to read as part of my record-label job. (I guess it wasn't technically part of my job to read the magazine, but I can assure you it helped me in ways I cannot begin to describe.) In every issue, Nardwuar would interview some unsuspecting musician or pop culture figure, asking a bizarre mix of incredibly stupid questions and incredibly well-informed ones. Sort of a precursor of Ali G, I guess (with a big touch of Tom Green, it occurs to me now that I've heard his voice)--only you frequently feared for the interviewer's safety. One month he's offering Henry Rollins a Powerbar at the end of a conversation, next month he's getting kicked out of a room by Courtney Love.

Now that I've found,or maybe re-found, his official website, containing not only written transcripts of the interviews but audio and sometimes video documentation of them, I may never be able to leave my computer again. There are years of these things to catch up on. Naturally I started with a 2005 interview with Dave Allen of Gang of Four, but the list of subjects/victims in the archives includes Geddy Lee, Gene Simmons, Gerald Ford (!), and Glenn Danzig--and that's only the letter "G." Enter this madness at your own risk. I cannot be responsible for the hours you are about to waste.

Oh, and that walkout?

Guess it's over now, but I completely forgot to look into it on the CBC site.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Many thanks to my pal Broady for passing along this recent news item about a new David Byrne installation in Stockholm, in which he's transformed an abandoned factory into an enormous, audience-activated musical instrument.

That in itself was pretty interesting, although I'm mostly excited because the story inspired me to revisit Byrne's own site, which now features a really interesting radio station he's programming/curating. The streaming content changes every month; as I write, it's all Missy Elliott, all the time, which is A-OK in my book. (I missed last month's all-Dylan program, alas.)

From the main site I also found this Oct. 2004 New York Times article about the past and present of Nonesuch Records, the label which is of course home not only to Mr. Byrne's recent solo albums but Smile, many of Caetano Veloso's 80s/90s/00s U.S. releases, Steve Reich, the last few Wilco albums, a whole cool Explorers series that was my intro to non-western music back in high school and college, and so much more stuff that I really like.

I still have my beefs about Byrne (not that excited about the solo albums, perpetually annoyed by his self-appointed Cultural Arbiter role, etc.), but I have to admit once again, as I have ever since the late 1970s, that in terms of personal significance, Talking Heads was pretty much my Beatles, so I guess a part of me will always pay attention to whatever he's doing next, whether it moves me or not. (To continue the analogy, the Clash were my Stones, Costello my Dylan, and, uh, I guess that's as far as it goes.) And, face it, few of us in the States would have heard much post-bossa Brazilian music if it weren't for his Luaka Bop compilations, Tom Zé and Os Mutantes re-releases, and so on. There's something about his curatorial stance that just plain bugs me (a big part of it is probably plain old jealousy, I confess), but at the same time I can't deny that I really like a lot of the stuff he's promoted, and you can bet I'll probably be checking out that online radio station every month from now on.

Monday, October 10, 2005

You say it's your birthday

Wow, so John Lennon would have been 65 yesterday. Or perhaps I should say: it's been 65 years since JL was born. (What's the etiquette here?) I'm celebrating by listening to this remarkably disappointing radio special. I guess it's supposed to be "impressionistic" or something: just a scattered batch of familiar and unfamiliar sound bites, no chronological order, no logic of any kind. (Part One is a completely free-form collage, while Part Two focuses on people's memories of the day Lennon died.)

By chance, I almost watched Imagine, the video assemblage from a decade or so ago that I pseudo-TIVO'ed several months back, last night, unaware of this latest opportunity for mass reflection. Maybe I'll catch it tonight instead.

But something tells me I'll get more out of visiting The Johnny Bacardi Show in search of a tribute, and sure enough, he does not disappoint. Okay, so it's just a list of favorite songs, but that seems appropriate.

Between this, the Dylan documentary, a PBS quickie history of the sixties, a 2004 video biography of Howard Zinn, and some other stuff, I've been spending quite a bit of time revisiting the sixties for the last week or so. Lots of the same footage and same songs over and over again, which is to be expected, but I think I'm seeing a lot of it differently. I was too young to be directly involved in that legendary decade in any significant way beyond learning to read, avoiding neighborhood bullies, and watching The Beverly Hillbillies. In the late Seventies, I took a "History of the Sixties" course in college (the overriding theme of which was "the death of liberalism," a concept that was ongoing at the time of the class, though I couldn't quite grasp that at the time), which introduced me to the political issues beyond the music, the clothes, and the TV series of my childhood. In both cases, the major players were all older than me. Now, as a guy in my mid-40s watching all this on TV again, it dawns on me that I am 20 years older than the various rock stars, hippies, activists, and college students waving peace signs on my television screen. It's a weird form of time travel. I look at the faces onscreen and wonder, why did you people let go of all this? You thought you were making the world a better place, and you were. And for about 20 years now--since around the time Lennon was shot, come to think of it--we've been backsliding like mad. And I look at current-day college students (and rock stars, for that matter) and wonder what the hell is wrong with you people? And of course I ask the same of myself, stuck in the middle between two generations. The sixties provided a template--good points and bad points alike--for the massive grassroots anti-war movement we desperately need right now, but something's just not clicking. I'm definitely NOT saying we should or can attempt to rehash what happened in those hazy crazy bygone days; I'm just suggesting that there is precedent, and no shortage of documentation of what happened then, and analysis of what worked and what didn't. (Some of it is a matter of framing, of course: after all, 100,000 people took to the streets of DC a few weeks ago and it didn't seem to register as more than a blip on the 24-hour news channels.) As the Zinn doc in particular makes clear, we have history as a guide when writing the future, and we owe it to ourselves and our predecessors to at least do a little retrospective investigation in the process.

If we really want to honor Lennon's legacy, then we might all want to commit our own lives to putting his best ideas back into action. Instead of playing "Imagine" for the umpteen millionth time, we might want to actually carry out what he's imagining in those oft-quoted lyrics.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I was so much older then...

Some will surely call it a midlife crisis, this recent behavior of mine,but not me. Still, let us consider the symptoms: There is my fondness for the young, barefoot Joss Stone, which, for the record, in my case is not that of a middle-aged heterosexual man lusting after a nubile nymphet more than half his age but rather a middle-aged gay guy respecting her taste in cover songs and her ability to deliver them well. Then there is the whole thing with Death Cab for Cutie, a band I like every bit as much as the pimply college kids in their target demographic. (More on them sometime later.) And the whole Adult Swim business...

Those are not the behaviors of a 45-year-old. Neither is buying albums on their release date, something I have never cared about in my entire life. I was not even aware of the significance of Tuesdays in the music-lover's universe until I worked at a record label and somebody told me that was the day new albums come out. To me, release dates are about the commodity side of music/movies/books--and every release date implies an accompanying expiration date.

And yet. And yet. Three times in recent years I have made a point to go to a record store on a certain day to purchase a certain fresh new commodity at its very freshest and newest, starting with a midnight sale, of all things, to get Hail to the Thief the moment it was available. (Okay, so that wasn't so recent, but at the pace I move it could have been only yesterday.) I looked around the crowd and realized I was old enough to have given birth to most of them. Then came Smile--but how could any right-thinking person NOT want this the second it hit the atmosphere, after almost 40 years of mystery? I mean, really now!

And then today, the new My Morning Jacket album, Z. I figure, okay, if they're my official Favorite Rock Band of the Present Moment, I might as well behave like an obsessive fan. Listened to it three times in a row at work, just like I once did with new Talking Heads albums, and my initial response was:

Oh. Okay.

Do you hear the disappointment in those words, or must I amplify it with some sort of emoticon? After the glories of It Still Moves, the live show earlier this summer, and the various odds and ends from miscellaneous EPs and compilations (confession: there are still at least two earlier full-length albums I haven't heard yet), my expectations were sky high, and I felt less than blown away. Some high points, to be sure (first stand-out: "Knot Comes Loose"), but the melodies didn't seem as catchy, the production not as swoony, that sort of thing. The band has always had a silly/oddball side, and they seemed to be indulging that one a bit more than their more majestic side this time around--or so I thought.

Then came Listen #4, motivated by the need to fill a couple of paragraphs in the magazine I work for with an album review of some sort. It dawned on me that, hey, I had an album right on me that I could write about, especially since I was planning to do so here anyway. And holy smokes, suddenly the damn thing kicked in. Strike everything I just said: Z rocks! (Note ingenious pun, which also quotes an early Hamell on Trial song title. Smooth, huh?)

To be more precise, it rocks on occasion ("What a Wonderful Man"), but it does plenty of other things, too, like abandon lyrics for sheer soaring loveliness (the aptly named "Wordless Chorus"); deconstruct and rebuild the theme from "Hawaii 5-0" ("Off the Record," the only new song I remember from the show in the Albright-Knox parking lot a few months ago); and so on. I'm pretty sure it will grow on me with the passing of time--and since only about four hours have passed by this point, I'll cut them some slack. To return to that Radiohead reference for a sec (and musically it's not so far off base this time, BTW), I remember my initial disappointment over Amnesiac, whose subtleties I now prefer to Kid A, the album that first got me interested in the band.

Ah, band talk! You don't find much of that here, given that I've pretty much lost interest in a lot of the new-fangled rock, and also the roll, since around the time that Cobain kid sprung up. But I can still haul it out when need be. And MMJ is a band I can get excited about, no matter how old I am or they are or anybody is. No expiration date on this one, I'm predicting.