Friday, March 31, 2006


Hold on, this song has a little introduction to it. It's ain't supposed to be sad though you might feel it that way. It's a song about desperation. Every now and then we do get desperate.

This is a song about L-O-V-E. And if you abuse it yr goin to lose it and if you lose it yr goin to abuse it and if you abuse it you ain't going to be able to choose it cuz you ain't going to have it further on down the line and things ain't gonna to be so fine and yr gonna to be sitting there on your little machine tryin' to look and keep it clean and you're going to be home playin' bingo all night all alone and that's why you're sittin there by the telephone and you know that she ain't goin to CALL you!

So you put on the TV and you're watchin' Johnny Carson segue-wayin' right into the Tomorrow Show but that don't got the go so you turn it off ya turn on the radio, the radio don't seem to get the click so you say, "Hey Man, I can't lickety split!" You start to open up a little book and there's somethin' there you got to overlook and you say, "BABY, you know there's somethin on my mind! You say "Baby there's somethin' on my mind - I know that you're home and I know you ain't all alone!" So you start walkin' over to her house and you get over to her house and you walk over to her door and you start poundin' on her door and you say, "Open up the door bitch! This is Wooba Gooba with the green teeth, let me in!"

Well, she opens up the door and then you just kinda walk up to her and say
"Baby," (say Baby!) you look up way up at her green mascara and you say "Oh my darling, you know her and me was at the party as friends - do not believe what they say. That's only gossip that they tellin ya down the wisecracker line!"

You say, "DARLING! Take your big curls and squeeze them down, Ratumba" - what's the name of that chick with the long hair? (Rapunzel!) - I say, "Hey Rapunzel!" Heh heh... "Hey Reputa the beautah! Reputa the Beautah! Hey Reputa the Beautah, flip me down your hair and let me climb up to the ladder of your love! Because this is the Wooba Gooba sayin to ya, Love comes once and when it comes you better grab it fast cuz sometimes the love you grab aint gonn' last and I believe I MUSTA! You know I think I MUSTA! You know baby I think I MUSTA! You know I think I MUSTA!
I musta got LOOOOOST!"

"Where Did Our Love Go?"

"Looking for Love/Houseparty"

Monday, March 27, 2006

He Is the Walrus

“Is David Crosby still alive?,” asked one of my co-workers recently. It was an interesting question. One with several possible answers. Depends on how you look at it really.

There’s a lot of malign psychic energy directed at this guy, so the fact that he’s technically still kicking is sort of a marvel. Silken-voiced harmonizer. Manatee man. Balding, organ-failing rotund hippie. Weapon-toting addict. Joni Mitchell producer. Ex-Byrd. High-profile sperm donor. In my mind, DC has blurred with the Dennis Hopper character from Easy Rider.

"Laughing" is from 1971's “If I Could Only Remember My Name,” a record that - like Slouching Toward Bethelehem, the Manson Murders, Altamont - really marks the dark come-down after the '60s. An air of damage pervades. The record is a true all-star affair, with Jerry Garcia most of the Dead (minus Bob Weir), members of Santana, Neil Young, members of Jefferson Airplane, Graham Nash, Steven Stills, Joni Mitchell and others joining in.

It reminds me of another veteran of the dreamy Cali hippie scene, someone who would have fit right in at the party: Skip Spence, of Moby Grape (and the Airplane, briefly). It also brings to mind Gary Higgins' Red Hash, one more grim wake-up from the 1960s.

Sometimes the spirit slumbers.

David Crosby - "Laughing"

Skip Spence - "Little Hands"

Gary Higgins - "Telegraph Towers"

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Joni Mitchell, Badass

Just when I thought I’d had my fill of acoustic guitars and deep feelings, this song comes on my iPod. It’s Joni Mitchell singing For The Roses. She probably wrote this song about a fellow canyon-dweller like Graham Nash, but to me it seems like it could have been written years later about Kurt Cobain:

Remember the days when you used to sit
And make up your tunes for love
And pour your simple sorrow
To the soundhole and your knee
And now you're seen
On giant screens
And at parties for the press
And for people who have slices of you
From the company

There’s more to say about this. For example, Joni’s friend and colleague (and the subject of Joni’s song Free Man In Paris) David Geffen ran the company that had a slice of Kurt. Makes me want to use the I-word. But we’ll not dwell on that here.

Also please understand I don’t want to praise Joni for being a sensitive hippie goddess or any of that. Instead I just want to say how much I love Joni for being a badass. She was the most talented of her ilk in the early 70's. She had a way with alternate tunings, fresh instrumentation and unmistakable singing and lyrics. Her music and words were simply better than anyone’s in her style of music. Legend has it she intimidated Led Zeppelin, for god’s sake. They wrote Going To California about her. Later in the decade she got restless musically and moved on, as Mr. Poncho illustrated for us in an earlier post. For some reason I think of the rapper Jay-Z when I think of Joni, and I think it’s because they were both on the top of their respective games for a time, and everyone knew it.

When Jesus Calls

Buck Owens was a great singer. He had this way of swooping, dipping, puffing out a syllable, adding a wiggle to a long vowel sound, arching the pitch and then dropping it right at the end of line. It always seemed to me that he was mimicking the slow swell of the pedal steel. And then there were those vocal harmonies – a mix of Nashville, Mexico and Dust Bowl.
Owens wasn’t a genius songwriter. People who complain about song lyrics being too stupid (a specious complaint) won’t appreciate Buck. But with his vocal instrument, the sweet harmonies and the righteous backing of the Buckaroos, Buck Owens’ simple lyrics worked just fine.
This is from "Dust On Mother’s Bible" (not to be confused with the Blue Sky Boys’ "Dust on the Bible"), which was Owens sole record of country gospel, re-issued a few years back in Sundazed.
Buck Owens and his Buckaroos - "When Jesus Calls All His Children In" (recorded in 1965).

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Rock Phenomenology

I want to take you to a place you've never allowed yourself to really be before. You've gone there, but you never gave your ears full permission.

Part of the point of this site, it’s always seemed to me, has been the passionate defense of the indefensible. It’s sort of like being one of those ACLU lawyers who go to court for the right of the KKK to hold a march. Only it's music. And it's really not important. Still, it’s the tough cases that put your beliefs to the test. Here are two. But before even mentioning the names, I think some rock phenomenology is in order. These names have been damaged by the accreted scorn and derision heaped on them over the years. Try and empty your mind of all the associations you might have. Strip away the layers of presupposition, the prejudice, and remember: something can be wrong while still retaining a truth value.

Journey - "Stone in Love"
(If you're actually downloading these, the links are a little different this time.)
I saw a little bit of Journey live on VH-1 Classics a while back. It was devastating. So many great songs. So many troubling thoughts. Visionary hair violations. Steve Perry has mamary glands (I hear he's Portuguese, which is cool). The sleeveless shirts (SP was fond of one with leopard-skin print). The high-rumped tight jeans. SP’s inimitable stutter-step stage run, almost tripping sideways, the male Victoria Principle look. Neil Schonn rocked the Les Paul with a whammy bar, and on this track he had a little arena-rock move where he'd play those opening chords, and in the short gap between notes he'd hold his picking hand up high in salute. Dear god it was majestic. I recommend burning a copy of this one and playing it on your stereo - no dinky futuristic earphones, or crap computer speakers.

Bad Company -"Silver Blue and Gold"
A little more of a slow burner. This one deserves your love and admiration because it contains the line "My rainbow is overdue."

Unfortunately, both of these songs suffer from what I call the "Fleetwood Mac 'Chains' Disease." It's an ailment of excess musical vampage at the end of a tune. A kind of windbaggery usually instigated by a frustrated member of the rhythm section; it's also known as "the bass player's big moment." When it stops feeling good, you can stop paying attention.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Most Giving Man in Rock

How cool, how sexual, how winsome, how loving can one imaginary best friend be? Marc Bolan plays the bliss with the blues.
When he turns it on he makes you want to strut and laugh, sharp as the dark park: TENEMENT LADY, SOLID GOLD EASY ACTION
He opens up and aims the rays of the sun at you til you close your eyes and feel the warm glow of life on your forehead, o god, life is good: LIFE IS STRANGE, HIGHWAY KNEES
He can break your heart as he sits at your feet, having his way with his guitar: ELECTRIC SLIM & THE FACTORY HEN, ELEMENTAL CHILD
He fills in the space between all of us with his intimate, infinite love: BROKEN HEARTED BLUES, JEEPSTER
Cuz he's got the universe reclining in his hair.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Shlameel, Shlamazel, Hasenfeffer Incorporated

As I've spent the entire week bed-ridden with a severe flu, idle upon the couch, emptying my nose of unspeakables and fighting off fevers (yesterday's temp: 103), the highest intellectual pursuit for which I've been capable is obvious: TV.

The thing about night sweats, chills and fevers is you start experiencing weird psychic phenomenon, hallucinatory dreams, bizarre fixations. The thing about watching TV for three days straight is...exactly the same.

So I've been watching a whole helluva lot of "Laverne & Shirley." It's taken me 30-odd years to realize this was just a vaudeville show. Yesterday, Lenny and Squiggy went duck hunting with hand-puppets for decoys - ha! Granted I'm biased by the precision nostalgia this particular show captures for me. I think the theme song is maybe the best one ever written for TV. That's saying a lot considering "Welcome Back, Kotter," "WKRP in Cincinnati" and "Good Times." But having watched the show for the last few days on TV Land, I noticed how the song sounds really upbeat and ennervating at the beginning of the show ("I'm happy! This is fun! Yay!"), then brings you to tragic tears at the end because you're so frickin' sad that the show is over ("NO! NO! DON'T BE OVER! DON'T FADE OUT! OH GOD!"). It's a perfect happy-sad song. Is that just the fever talking? Dunno. "Making our Dreams Come True" was written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, sung by Cyndi Grecco, who apparently is known for little else. As far as I'm concerned, she's golden.

Anyway, this "Laverne & Shirley" fan fiction site made me feel like i'm not alone in the world. But am I delusional enough to buy this? Answer: Maybe! The samples on this site are encouraging.

Earlier this week I noticed that some DNA from the "Dallas" theme song had made its way into a song by a Montreal postrock trio called Torngat. "Alberta Song" is a beautiful instrumental with a plush French horn melody starting at minute 1:03 that immediately conjures images of J.R. Ewing. Not sure this serious French-Canadian ensemble is prepared to concede this. But there is a French "Dallas" fan site detailing "La Saga des Ewing." That said, listen to the original and imagine removing the wah-wah guitar and piercing synth note -- interesting!

Then there's this Decemberist song "Los Angeles, I'm Yours," which at minute 2:08 begins to take on a distinct 1980s TV theme song riff -- in the spirit of "Dallas," although I've not yet pinpointed the exact reference. But I want to! Can anyone target it? It's something about the harmonica or recorder or whatever it is. Then the cascading string section. Hmmm...fevers...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Nihilist In The Back Seat

Max: So that’s the reason?
Vincent: That’s the “why.” There’s no reason. There’s no good reason, there’s no bad reason to live or to die.
Max: Then what are you?
Vincent: Indifferent. Get with it. Millions of galaxies of hundreds of millions of stars and a speck on one in a blink. That’s us. Lost in space.

Can I say a word or two in praise of Michael Mann? Set aside your feelings about Miami Vice and Heat. Collateral is a great film. It’s philosophical conflict as an action movie. I doubt any other film will ever use the latent menace of Tom Cruise as well. Aside from working out competing philosophies (one too dark, one too dreamy, as Mrs. West pointed out to me) Collateral has a great look and feel to it, with the signature Mann blend of music and mood. It’s a dark new take on Los Angeles isolation.

Speaking of music from the film, listen to Groove Armada do Hands of Time here. Put it on your iPod and ride around LA on the MTA trains alone, lost in space.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

LSD Is Not For Me: The Intentional Fallacy, Part 2

If you've not seen Off the Charts, the documentary about song poems, you should put it on your Net Flix queue. Rodd Keith -- who fell to his death on an LA freeway in the early 70s, possibly a suicide, or drug-induced accident -- is probably the most famous practitioner of the genre. WFMU, John Zorn and Yo La Tango all honor the man's work. Keith may have meant for his mail-order collaboration songs to emulate the pop tunes of the day. Or he may have been having a laugh doing what he considered hack work to pay the bills. Doesn’t matter. What it means, I can’t say, but you can tell that it's more.

Song poems are like some accidental American huckster audio version of the Surrealist game The Exquisite Corpse in which a group of people contribute different components of a figure without looking at each other's addition. The end result is an intentionally hodge-podge bit of disjointed bricolage. Evidently Duke Ellington and his songwriting partner Billy Strayhorn would occasional practice something similar -- Duke would write the first few bars of a tune and pass it along to Strayhorn to finish, but the two weren't going for any kind of weird stitched-together effect (and the result was seamlessly smooth). Song-poems also bring to mind the Borges essay "The Enigma of Edward FitzGerald" about the trans-temporal collaboration between the 11th century "Rubaiyat" poet Omar Khayyam and FitzGerald, a 19th century English translator. The idea is that neither of the two were capable of achieving the level greatness on their own that they achieved together through a collaboration distanced by centuries and continents.

Here’s "Don’t Be a Dope," "Lost Vein of Love" and "Ravens" off of Saucers in the Sky on Roaratorio. The first is an anti-drug rant. The second is a sort of lover-mineral parable. The third sounds like some kind of lost death-folk ballad. Presumably the lyricists are three different song-poem patrons. The music is all Rodd Keith.

I Never Thought It’d Come To This

I think it was Paul Westerberg who said rock ‘n’ roll is about making mistakes. There’s something to that, as you’ll hear about one minute and 58 seconds into Louie Louie by The Kingsmen. The singer comes in too early, but the drummer covers his mistake and they press on to finish the tune. This take becomes the smash hit single. This is the beginning of the smashing and hitting associated with Louie Louie.

Then The Sonics do a version of the tune. For my money this is the definitive version of Louie Louie. It has the swinging fun of the Kingsmen version, but it adds that signature violent edge of The Sonics.

I remember an acquaintance hearing The Sonics and describing them as so “Pre-Iggy.” True, and Iggy Pop has his own history with Louie Louie. His live version is here, taken from the last gig of Iggy and the Stooges as heard on Metallic KO. This performance takes place right after Iggy was beaten bloody in a confrontation with a huge Detroit biker during the show.

Here’s what Iggy said about it in the book Please Kill Me: “We went back on and played Louie Louie. If all else fails, do Louie Louie, right? That’s what you learn playing in a fraternity band for five years. Play Louie Louie and it will always get you outta anything.”

There must be some magical protective powers to Louie Louie, because the hostile audience threw everything from wine bottles to vegetables at Iggy, but he survived the onslaught, taunting the audience after the song ends: “Thank you very much to the person who threw this glass bottle at my head. You nearly killed me but you missed again so you’ll have to keep trying next week.”

My own theory is that Iggy was given supreme protective powers because he sang the dirty lyrics to Louie Louie, which he clearly enunciates in the song. No wonder the FBI worried about this song when it first came out. The lyrics of course are not obscene in the hit version by the Kingsmen, but they were slurred, and thus they became a kind of Rorschach test for the horny and the pious. Yes, it’s quite obscene in the hands of the Iguana.

Sometimes when I hear Metallic KO I think of it as one of the many deaths of rock ‘n’ roll. The fun of Louie Louie is gone on this record. It doesn't swing. It's just brutal punishment for everyone involved. Creem magazine called it the last rock ‘n’ roll concert. But maybe not. Maybe Iggy just made a mistake by confronting savage bikers and then something great happened.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Niezidentyfikowany Obeikt Latajacy

"Polish prog rock." It's not a phrase that inspires immediate confidence or unrestrained enthusiasm. High-concept suites of concentrated consonants and impossible time signatures? Not so much. But consider Cold War curiosities Breakout. Slavic funk and Eastern Bloc-rockin' beats. Consonants, and lots of'em. I think they demonstrate how sheer ambition can give even a weird, Leggo-like song like "Taki Wiatr" a certain something. It's as if a haywire translation of Fleetwood Mac yielded a Sega video game soundtrack from 1998. But in a good way!

I found this record at a stoop sale in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in 1995. A Polish immigrant was expelling youthful indescretions from a faraway time and place. I like imagining the potato-derived-liquor parties this song got started back in Warsaw. The name of the 1976 record is "Niezidentyfikowany Obeikt Latajacy," which the online Polish-to-English translator translates as "Unidentified Flying Object." Of course! The song "Taki Wiatr" seems to mean "Strong Wind." There's definitely something unidentified and windy about the keyboard solo.

Continuing on the theme of lost oddities from my record collection: In the winter of 1992, I happened into Enterprise Records in Portland, Maine, and heard what, to my ears at the time, was the best LSD music I'd ever heard. It was The Bevis Frond. The album was "Inner Marshland," which has the best psychedelic cover art ever. After hearing a lot of psychedelic rock over the years, I've decided while many pay lip-service to drug use, few truly, deeply, madly love acid quite like Nick Saloman. And I've always loved him for that. It's hard to isolate a single sample of the Frond's music and really get it.
I've melded a couple of tracks together: A bit of trippy guitar-impersonating-a-creaky-floorboard special effect, which segues into "Minsmere Spagnum," a short piano element, which launches the unrestrained lysergic windfall of "Midievel Sienese Acid Blues."

And then the wind comes in from the Western sea
And brings with it ... acid rain.
Yeah, let it rain on me.

I'm a big fan of the double-tracked guitar solos that follow. The Lime-juicer element is about as thick and sour as it gets, but there's hardly a single hint that this music was made in the 1980s. Chalk another one up for British eccentrics puttering in the garden ... with the mushrooms.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

You Got the Wrong Intent

The lesson of The Intentional Fallacy is that we don’t have control over the ultimate meaning of our utterances. Artists, no matter the intent, can’t dictate the meaning of their work. Meaning requires interpretation and context, two ungovernables. The artistic inspiration may be lofty or crass, comical or earnest, but in the open air that all gets flipped around. It’s the problem of creation. Free will in the world.

And so it is that the Nugrape Twins (heard here on American Primitive Vol II from Revenant Records) may have thought they were recording a soda jingle. No one really knows what they were thinking when they made “I Got Your Ice Cold Nugrape.” It’s possible that they were mimicking the hawking technique of a soft drink seller, or maybe they were hired to make a catchy song to sell soda. On the one hand, it’s obviously about so much more than soda pop. It’s about the capitalist blues: What you’re longing for is a product to make you happy. But it’s beyond all that, too.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Have You Seen The Other (Guy) Baby?

He’s standing in the shadow of the genius in the band. He’s the other singer, the other songwriter. We’re talking about bands, yes, made up of distinct individuals who bring their own musical talent to the group. But usually there is the one main guy, the singer/songwriter/frontman/leader guy. The guy who gets most of the glory. For example, Guided By Voices was Robert Pollard’s band. If you just scratch the surface of the group you could say GBV = R. Pollard. But Pollard did make room for a song or two from the other guy. In the 90's the other guy was usually Tobin Sprout. Let’s here it for the other guy in GBV right here. This one’s called Atom Eyes.

The same dynamic went on in the band Pavement. It was a Stephen Malkmus production most of the time. But don’t forget about Spiral Stairs. I have to warn you I don’t know exactly who wrote what in Pavement. But let’s just say Spiral probably wrote Kennel District. It’s a song that’s been going through my head for a few months now. It’s from the densely packed album Wowee Zowee, yet it stands out like a single.

Let’s now go back in rock history to the band Big Star. Alex Chilton was the main man, but there was also the other guy, Chris Bell. I’m not a real Big Star historian, but it seems they were creative equals in the early days of the band, circa 1972. Then Chris left the group but maybe still had a lot of input on the second album. I don’t know. Alex had a musical life before and after Big Star, and it’s pretty well known. He had a hit in the 60's called The Letter. The Replacements wrote a song about him. Yeah. But check out Chris from his solo work after leaving Big Star. He is the cosmos.