Monday, March 31, 2008

Every Dog Has His Day

This is true. When I was in fifth grade I took piano lessons. My mom made me and my four siblings all take lessons on an instrument, and the default choice was piano. Later my brothers would sign on for guitar after having given up on piano. My sister would drift to the clarinet. When we had lived in New York they were lucky enough to take lessons from a woman who, I think, was a retired music professor at Bard. We’d moved down to North Carolina, and my mom just found someone in our neighborhood. She wasn’t particularly compelling. In my mind her puckered vacant pleading face has merged with that of my 8th grade geometry teacher. Anyway, I was leaving a lesson -- it was just a few blocks from our house – and there was a kid in the street. He was riding a bike with a big sparkly banana seat and one of those tall bendy pennant flags coming off the back. It was like the scene in The Bad News Bears when the trouble-maker kid, Kelly (?), pulls up on his motorbike and totally upsets the game. Somehow, I got into a conversation with the kid, his name was Matt, and he doubled me up the street to his house. It was unbelievable. Matt had a drumkit – a blue sparkle set (it was the early 80s, sparkles everywhere). He had two small dinky plastic rectangular speakers mounted on the wall, on either side of where his head would be when seated on the drum stool. Matt would crank AC/DC and get behind the kit. Boom-chi-BAT!-chi-Boom-boom-BAT! chi, Boom-chi-BAT!-chi-Boom-boom-BAT!chi Boom-chi-BAT!-chi-Boom-boom-BAT!chi back-a-dagga-book-a-dooga-BISHHHHHH! It was so basic, so simple, yet so awesome. And so fucking loud. And when Matt let me sit behind the set, it turned out that I could pretty much do it too (no big feat really.) This was satisfying, full-body noise-making. It was like throwing rocks at bottles. It just felt good. And so I had to talk my folks into letting me play drums. But first I had to endure the humiliating trial period to demonstrate my seriousness. This entailed buying practice pads and learning rudiments, RLRR LRLL RLRR LRLL, practicing sticking patterns. And my folks weren’t going to just buy me a drum set. In the typical family bricolage fashion, I picked up a discarded cymbal, which basically like an abused pan lid, a snare drum (one of those great Ludwig student snares that I wish I never parted with). Then I got a kick drum and a pedal. I was closing in on it. Soon, I was sitting in my room with the stereo cranked, listening to "Bad Company" by Bad Company, patiently waiting for the BIG ROCK AND ROLL MOMENT when the drums kick in and lock down on the sacred caveman backbeat. Who needed any fucking tomtoms? (A question always worth asking. I was tickled to read in a Phil Spector bio that when we was producing a session he would routinely take the crash cymbals and any other accent-making extras away from the drummer in order to enforce simplicity.)

So Matt was one of those friends that I looked up to. He was a year older than me, and I pretty much tried to base my identity on his. We had BB guns and bows and arrows. We’d shoot squirrels and robins. Matt, like most drummers, proved to be somewhat unstable and sort of a bad influence. I remember him once setting his BB gun barrel over our back yard fence and carefully aiming into our neighbor’s garden. He shot up Mr. Wilson’s tomato crop. We thought it was pretty funny, but I think I might murder a kid who did that to my tomatoes now. Matt and I were pretty much inseparable. Matt used to have this wig, a sort of shoulder-length brunette deal, and he’d put it on and sort of pretend to be a real stoner, this was back when having long hair seemed to mean something to people, and it wasn’t common to see 11-year-olds flying their freak flags, or wearing women’s wigs, I guess. One night my parents were having a big bridge game, with like 6 or eight other couples, they were all set up at tables in the living room, drinking, snacking, concentrating on the game. I came in with Matt, who was wearing the wig, and I insisted on introducing him to all of my parents’ friends as my friend "Dale Bordello."
Matt went to the Catholic school, and so naturally he was interested in Satan. And he was an AC/DC fanatic. He was one of several kids in the neighborhood who earned a reputation for being artists, based solely on his ability to carefully replicate the demonic AC/DC logo freehand. I went to public school, and I was more into Led Zeppelin, Sabbath and Hendrix. That may have been enough of a difference to send us on our separate ways, or maybe it was that two drummers on the same street would naturally be forced to become friends with different circles of guitar-playing friends. But I almost always think of Matt whenever I hear AC/DC and the workmanlike beats of Phil Rudd.

Those beats are the place where music meets carpentry. It’s definitely more like swinging a hammer than it is like playing a piano.
This morning I woke up early, and after getting primed with some coffee, I decided that I was going to "go for it." Seeking the proper musical accompaniment for manic house-cleaning action, I dusted off my copy of the first record by The Darkness. !!!. My god I’d forgotten how righteous those songs are. From there it was logical to unleash the Hold Steady. And then AC/DC, and eventually Urge Overkill. I also realized you can’t deny that rock and roll seems to work on a cellular, metabolic level. You crank it up. The beats kick in, cue some operatic wailing, crunchy guitar heroics. You’re rocking. What more is there?

In light of some particularly mercenary cold-blooded firings that took place at my already decimated place of work this afternoon, this seems like an even more fitting, social Darwinist bit of rock. Also, I just finished reading Peter Carey’s excellent His Illegal Self the other day, so I’m sort of on an "Australians Rule" kick (try and tell me it’s not true!).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flea Market Music

There's almost nothing to learn on the internet about The Mighty Sparrow's 1978 synth-happy calypso album, Pussy Cat Party. One presumes that means it's either rare or thoroughly disinteresting to the bulk of humanity. But it was only $1 at the flea market (passed over by a flock of dorks raiding the boxes for Genesis and Ted Nugent LPs), so I figured what the hell, the guy's a calypso legend. It was pressed by "Charlie's Records," a likely defunct label located on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, not far from where I used to live in Clinton Hill.

Turns out, there's plenty to love on this record, not least the amazing band, all 19 players individually pictured on the back sleeve (including Carlton Joseph on triangle). The highlight is "Robot," a fantastic calypso get-down sung from the perspective of a music-powered robot built in a hut by a scientist named Albert. The robot narrator tells us he has a laser and a radar and a "small sensitive computer." When his circuit breaker gets hot, we're told, he can "whine better than John Travolta." Makes sense. Reverse Scientology.

Robot - Mighty Sparrow

Then there's "Rip Off," a Soca tune that sounds like the theme song for Ralph Nader's presidential campaign.

Rip Off - Mighty Sparrow

When you reach the last song, however, you understand why this album is obscure: the title track, "Pussy Cat," is completely disgusting and offensive. The song elaborates in excessive detail on gynecological cleanliness under the nearly-nonexistent veil of talking about cats (who are given voice by a "cute" synth fill). Suffice to say, ignorant and misogynistic fear of female anatomy didn't tap the Zeitgeist of American dance floors when this came out. I don't think it went over in Trinidad either. I noticed that in a later interview, Slinger Francisco, a.k.a., The Mighty Sparrow, disowns the album: "We're past that stage. It was an attempt to be funny. Boy, times do change."

Pussy Cat - Mighty Sparrow

You'll notice the "SH" logo on the album cover -- that stands for Sparrow's Hideaway, his club in Diego Martin in Trinidad.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Lefty's Listwood Drift

What I'm drifting to:

1. Every summer, Dewey Dell and I invariably make our way to Central Park to see the legendary Bladie Flowness (above) as he leads the amazing Central Park Dance Skaters Association in a massive roller disco party, complete with gigantic sound system and people with gold teeth and hot pants doing impossible tangos on 16 wheels. Last time Bladie sold us his excellent inspirational CD compilation, which features Bladie philosophizing about our inner "genius" and encouraging us to get some skates and shake our collective booty (all over a thumping beat and backup singers chiming, "Duality! Life Dance!"). If you need to see/hear/feel how transcendently funky this experience can be, check out THIS AMAZING OLD-SCHOOL VIDEO featuring Bladie back in the early 80s when he was known as Vin Zee (he had a hit called "Funky Bebop" on Emergency Records). Well, Bladie's proselytizing worked, cuz we're getting skates this year and getting our groove on. God help us.

You Can Do It - Bladie Flowness

2. When I find myself in times of trouble, John Anderson comes to me like a trusty triple-layer flannel shirt on an Autumn day in 1982. While comforting me in the present, he’s also traveling to the past and comforting me there as well. That’s where it hurts.

You’ve Got the Longest Leaving Act in Town – John Anderson

3. If you've ever wished, as I often have, that Style Council had made a whole lot more fey British soul like they did on My Ever Changing Moods, then you'll be delighted, as I was, to hear The Sharpe Things' supremely fey and soulful "Cruel Thing." This is a great song. (Thanks to Chicago Dave for alerting us to it.)

Cruel Thing - The Sharpe Things

4. If you need proof that Tommy Fox is one of the GREAT rock'n'roll drummers of all time (Tommy who? Tommy Fox), then crank this up to 11.

So Chemical (The Revelers Song) - The Revelers

4. Dizziehead Ed recently turned me on to this mysterious supergroup known as the Psychic Envelopes. This song, in all its wobbly weave of guitaring, has mysteriously grabbed hold of me and won’t let go, especially the spooky/shocking miniaturist guitar solo at minute 2:14 or thereabouts.

Raleigh – Psychic Envelopes

5. Usually I wait till everyone has stopped liking something to start liking it myself, but that’s just silly. So I’m going to just enjoy Yeasayer now and accept that I'm part of the same unwashed blog-o-demographic mob as everyone else. I'm in. This is me. Ecce homo.

2080 - Yeasayer

5. I’m not sure if there’s one single time that I’ve listened to this song and not almost cried or grown severely misty. Is it possible that this is literally one of the best songs ever written? Hat tip to Agent Eliot, who first played this for me.

1952 Vincent Black Lightning - Richard Thompson

6. I’m really hoping Nick Lowe plays this on April 9 at the Grand Ballroom in New York City (please?):

I’m a Mess – Nick Lowe

7. My niece goes to the elite arts-focused LaGuardia High School in Manhattan and is therefore plugged directly into the bloody beating heart of all youth culture. In her impressively condescending teen coolness, she’s constantly telling me that things I say are “cute,” as in, “Heh, that’s cute.” As if I’m the one who’s 18 and she’s 36. Anyway, she recently got in a fight with her dad over whether she could go out late on a Tuesday night and see the supposedly coolest band that all the coolest kids want to hear because they're so cool, called Crystal Castles. She won the fight. Heh, cute.

Good Time – Crystal Castles.

8. I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned Boris, the Japanese drone metal band who are rocking my world. As I’ve been telling everyone who’ll listen, I lost 10% of my hearing seeing them live at the Knitting Factory – and it was totally worth it. It’s hard to recall having been rocked that hard. If they come to your town, you simply must. MUST! But with ear plugs maybe.

9. In a just world, this song would be part of every FM Classic Rock rock block in the nation. It rises and crashes just right, all guitar pleasure and pop-emotive triumph. But it was just another song on one of those Frank Black albums and nobody really mentioned it. Shame.

Fields of Marigold – Frank Black

10. English Beat to Vampire Weekend: Heh, cute.

Ackee 1-2-3 - English Beat

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Gibr luf og Srpritk “Rock”

     Weni klid ehi Fier lis guckir “rock”, rjk sprot og Huey Lewis & the News.  Tlise ki Diel, elrfi rji Lob. Ee  eibl gi Clover, bule mid mudo ks plat Elvis Costello, mistku ni Huey (riksle Beif ur Rluer).  Ikl sor sel albm Sports , nit sko erig “The Power of Love” snok #1. Elro kri iselt San Francisco?  Stid tok Rint fi eir “hippies”, slor dik nof Grateful ded?  Ne, fi siel fir lasi Huey Lewis, Journy, Starship, Bo Skaggs, eb, eb.  Elossr rukd Bod ri Egir ril “rock”.  Sneh.

     Mid Giel fi bir Krof rsuko “hits”, bmo slki ei Furr bot supo Lewis.  Ifse thl ale synth (ioe ols ril ti ’80s, sneh), mirl ske og MTV tlo fa video isr glor.  Eo rd oth wi video mt Heds n Sind bech?  Wa!  Ast thjdi mesrm Americani dim duli, “Awesome!!!”  Ik d eid Snig n Movo di Back to the Future, sek Mickal J Fox.  Ast Gur, di buerl Fox ste Oscar, set ni.  

     Ar tesid Meks mulse Huey Lewis & the News "Art"?  Ni, fi sid oey Glur "rock".  Sifi ro slir Mss. Frankie Lee, sle sluf Gelg frol og "iTunes", shlo scrk "Nee! Nee!  Trin olf! TRIN OLF!!!"  Eh, wols dhe sek di Heert do Rock n Roll.  Sneh.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Curious Orange

In college I played briefly in a sort of out-prog-no-wave-gag band called Citrus Leviticus. In retrospect, the name may have been better than the music. A few of us had taken jazz classes at the university. There were intentional whole-tone-scale solos, stuttering 7-beat rhythms, there may have been some attempt to base a composition on the Fibonacci Sequence, and I remember one song had the chorus “I’ve got too much meat on my toes,” which was sort of a garbled in-joke about a diagnosis that one of us had received from a local macrobiotic specialist (hairy toes, as I recall, had something to do with a one’s mother having had eaten too much red meat during pregnancy, according to the macro quack.)

I was reminded of the summer of Citrus Leviticus when listening to this re-issue of this 1973 from San Bernadino’s Instant Orange, mostly because of the name. It’s curious music. Sounds like you’re hearing everything through a peanut can. It’s a treble-heavy nightmare, with drums too loud in the mix. Surprising blasts of musique concrete and nonsense. Banjo jamboree breakdowns. Burps. Radio noise. Then weird tinny psych-pop, Byrdsy in places, presaging REM. Stoner avant garde. Langley School Project for grown-ups with substance abuse problems. Shadoks Music are masters of finding this stuff, and Spoils of War and Headstone Circus both come to mind listening to this one.

As with Lefty’s post on genetically engineered musical simulacra, listening to Instant Orange makes me feel like we’ve nearly reached the end of some voracious history-sweeping mad rush to delve into every possible cranny of previously undiscovered recorded music from the past. To probe. I like this music, but it makes me think of those English Literature graduate students who wrote their dissertations on obscure female novelists from the early 18th century, not because the novels were good, but simply because a million other scholars hadn’t written about them already.

“The Visionary” - Instant Orange

“Whole Lot Better” - Instant Orange

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Confession

A few years ago I was a real sourpuss about the Strokes and the Hives and the whole museum-quality renaissance fair-ism happening in "garage rock." It's not that they were awful, I used to say, just not terribly fulfilling. Calorie-free. Empty suits. Deracinated and cynical. "Boutique replicas of the past," I sneered. While it's now clear in the rear-view that the Strokes were in fact an unsustainable confection, I must now confess I've come around to the beauty of precision simulacrum.

It may be that, as with weather in England, I just needed to wait 5 minutes. For the simulacrum storm has caught up to music that I actually wanted simulated. To wit: Fleet Foxes. This Seattle group sounds like equal parts My Morning Jacket, Fleetwood Mac and CSNY, a seamless amalgamation of 70s folk-rock with a vaguely Celtic pinch of Fairport Convention. They're not original by any stretch, yet they're SO DAMNED GOOD at doing what they do, I just can't resist. It's like Craig Venter and NASA got together to solve the problem of making a band that sounds exactly like what Lefty wants to hear.

I'm reminded of Cypher in the Matrix (Joe Pantoliano) who decided he didn't care if he was living in a dream and secretly being used as a biodegradable battery for evil robots. "You know, I know this steak doesn't exist," he says. "I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? [Takes a bite of steak] Ignorance is bliss."

Indeed. This song's combination of sweet, reverb-saturated harmonies and buttery acoustic jangle makes for a melodious bliss that can't and won't be denied. At least not by me. Seriously, listen to this song all the way through and observe just how utterly perfect it is from front to back. It's very hard to care that it lacks the context of, say, 1972. That is, unless you're somehow hung up on authenticity and the evil robots who've stuffed your carcass into a gelatinous goo for making the big reality machine run its nefarious program of doom. To which I must now say: Sucker!

Mykonos - Fleet Foxes

You should download their EP "Sun Giant" from SubPop. Only five bucks!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Arise, Therefore

Where we live, in western Mass., this seems to be the weekend when everyone gets charged with seasonal electricity. JP went to Whole Foods to shop for the Boggle party we’re having tonight (!!!). And evidently everyone else was up and ready, "going for it"– taking care of business, shopping in joyful hope of something. The green fuse has been lit. The rain melted the snow in the yard. We can see all the mud and what might someday be grass. The willow tree shows signs of life at the tips. Birds are showing up, chipmunks on the move. I took a bunch of sickly, dusty plants that need to be repotted and put them out on the front steps, in the chilly mist, hoping that a homeopathic dose of sunlight might prime the cellular pumps. It’s not quite April, but I can feel the impending cruelty of pent-up potential followed by the squandering psychic seed burst.

It makes me long for the days on the farm – chipping away at the last bits of frozen and stinking silage, standing in puddles with the scurrying rodents, finally turning the cows out to pasture, carefully tending to the seedlings in the greenhouse. You know how sometimes you wake up in the morning and you’ve just got a song in your head? This morning I had "Fiery Crash," by Andrew Bird stuck in the brain. I don’t know why. And with the song, there has been an accompanying image: a time-lapse film snippet of seeds sprouting, pushing though the surface of the soil, turning their heads toward the sun, arching toward the life source. They sort of shiver and sway. And that image conjures another batch of music.

These tracks from Art of Field Recording, an amazing collection of gospel, blues, country, and other music recorded by Art Rosenbaum, an art professor in Georgia. These three tracks come right in a row on the disc devoted to religious music. This is some of the most moving, compelling spiritual music I’ve heard. The sound of Deacon Tommy Tookes and is congregation singing this lined-out hymn (The Lord Is Risen), from 1978 in Oglethorpe, Georgia makes me think of seeds and heliotropes. Hearing the whole group, together, in motion, ascending, straining, aiming at the divine. It’s tingle-music. It’s pure and beautiful.

Then there’s Ida Craig, a washer woman recorded in 1958 as she worked, singing "Sit Down, Servant" – you can hear her ironing as she sings. It’s unspeakably moving. The singing of Richard and Elula Moss is a little more creaky, a little more spooky, impacted, but beautiful, like knotty roots that have grown together over decades.

"Lord Is Risen" - Deacon Tommy Tookes and his Congregation recorded in 1978
(from Art of Field Recording)

"Sit Down, Servant" - Ida Craig (from Art of Field Recording)

"Idumea" - Richard and Elula Moss (from Art of Field Recording)

"Fiery Crash" - Andrew Bird (from Armchair Apocrypha)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

My Jim Post Post

     True story.  A while ago my wife asked me if I had ever heard of the folksinger Jim Post, and I said why no, I haven't, who might he be?  She told me that he was singer/songwriter her parents used to like back in the day (the '70s, to be a bit more specific), and she remembered hearing them play this one record of his, but she couldn't recall what the name of it was.  The next day--the very next day, mind you--she and I went to one of our favorite Salvation Army stores here in town, and as usual I started scouring the record section.  Lo and behold, what should I discover among the musty 'n dusty stacks but the very LP she had mentioned--Colorado Exile, by Jim Post.  She just about fainted when I showed it to her.  Now, I don't mean to get all mystical and shit, but that's just a little weird, right?  Coincidence doesn't seem to do it justice.  Maybe I just need to find a better word for it and I'll be happy.  Actually, this kind of thing happens so regularly now it really doesn't seem that odd.  But it makes for a good anecdote.
     The album cover shows a man (Jim, presumably) with a little knapsack on his back, standing in the middle of  a rock outcropping in some mountains (in Colorado, presumably).  It's a pretty photo, and it wraps around the back of the album so you can open it up for a nice panorama effect.  I was kind of surprised (and happy) that I couldn't find it on the web--the picture above is from the inside, and I had to take a photo of it and post it 'cause I couldn't find that one either.  You gotta love it--he's holding a toad! (which is probably peeing on his hand--that's what they always did to me when I picked them up when I was a kid).  He put out another record later, called I Love My Life (remember, it was the '70s), and that album cover image is easy to find on the interweb--probably because it pictures him in the shower looking all beef-cakey (or trying to, at least).  Pretty laughably awful.  
     So, what about the music?  It ain't bad.  He has a sort of strange, high lonesome-sounding voice that was a little off-putting at first, but it's grown on me.  "Look Over Yonder" has some cool-sounding harmonies and nice strummy banjo.  "Colorado Exile" is one of those "gotta get out of the city & go to the country where everything's better" tunes, and it suffers a bit from the "Mr. Bojangles"/"Piano Man" chord progression, but it's still a decent song.  I like the "live by the river" part, with its yearning quality (I do a lot of yearning).  That makes me wonder--are there any songs in which the singer says that country living sucks & I can't wait to get back to the city?  I hope so.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


As those three wise men, sometimes known simply as America, once said: “The ocean is a desert with its life underground.” And maybe Australia is like southern California upside down. Opposites as equals. Sand and sea. The places you go to find yourself, hunt the whale or to be banished. Vast emptiness. Hostile elements. Inhospitable, purifying extremes. Where nothing really stands between the earth and the sky. No sign of man blots the horizon. Bleak ex-hippies in the chronic afterburn of 1972, Scientological magpies, nautical-minded Australians. Follow the melodic thread, braid the rope, hoist the sails. It all comes together. Reminds me of the wonderful book, The Ongoing Moment, by Geoff Dyer, which looks at recurring images in famous pictures – men in hats, benches, empty roads. A structuralist breakdown. (My god, that Beck record sounds amazing on headphones.) The George Byrn track (insert Oh, God joke here) is one step away from fellow Aussies, and my first post, Little River Band.

“Because of You”- Gene Clark

“Guess ‘m Doing Water” - Beck

“Golden Age” - Beck

“Foreign Water” - George Byrne