Saturday, April 25, 2009

King and Queen

This record -- Juju Music by King Sunny Adé and His African Beats (1982) -- is amazing. It's hard to believe I've gotten this far into life without hearing it, but I got it on vinyl today for $1 at a yard sale and it's like I just heard Bitches Brew for the first time or tripped upon a bootleg of a secret jam session involving Animal Collective and Steve Miller Band. At times it sounds like drums/space for Mensa members. Other times like Blues for Allah as interpreted by a supergroup composed of Lee Scratch Perry and Yes. Or it's as if Girl Talk is blending together rare outsider funk samples from Ohio and later it turns out it's just one band playing all the samples and they're Nigerian. You get the idea. A revelation.

Sunny Ti De Aribya - King Sunny Adé and His African Beats

Mo Beru Agba - King Sunny Adé and His African Beats

Eje Nlo Gba Ara Mi - King Sunny Adé and His African Beats << If you just want to dip your toe, start here.

Samba/E Falabe Lewe - King Sunny Adé and His African Beats

The more I've listened to Betty Davis, the closer I've come to deciding that she is a major musical figure. Majorly unsung, certainly. I can't think of anyone else who sounds like her. It's funk rock stretched to near-Beefheartian looseness, the singing just wig-out, bat-shit crazy, almost 3D. She wields estrogen power like a rocket-propelled grenade. Booty will move. The bass player on this track (Larry Graham, from Sly & the Family Stone) is so monstrous, so assertive and in tune with Davis' funk, it's like they're having an affair behind Miles's back.

Don't Call Her No Tramp - Betty Davis

Monday, April 20, 2009

40 Years Too Late

"I'm So Sick of the 21st Century." Now there's a sentiment I can get behind. This song makes the case for Younger Brother Complex as indie rock attitude, guys shamelessly copping Dylan vocals and Strokes riffs, but in the noble pursuit of hating the present they've inherited. It's like they just threw up their hands and gave in to their older brother's continual arguments that the new shit sucks and it used to be better and he was there back in the day and they weren't. Ipso facto, you suck. I feel almost guilty about it now, beating on the brats, invoking fogy precedent to bolster superiority. But the honesty here somehow makes it sound fresh. I'm feeling nostalgia for things I've never known. It's funny because it's true.

I'm So Sick of the 21st Century - Radical Sons (link fixed)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dead Horses Beaten Here: Nick Lowe!

I know, I know: Enough already with the Nick Lowe! After writing 10 or so posts on him, I should take the crickets-chirping silence from my colleagues as a sign that they simply aren't on board for his idiosyncratic genius. But give him one more chance! Or in this case, five more. Five songs, below, each a polished gem from an alternate Top 40 universe where the IQ of the listening public is about 50 points higher. What's interesting about Lowe's 1984 album, Nick Lowe & His Cowboy Outfit, is that it's clear he's actually responding to the Top 40 radio of the time. In some of these songs you'll hear bits of Dire Straits, Springsteen, Billy Joel, Hall & Oates, Steely Dan, all reconfigured with Lowe's pop classicism. My read of the cover of Lowe's album is that he's saying, "OK, move over and let me show you blokes how this is done." Gotta love the hoisting of the slacks. A pub scrapper with a pop hook. In "Love Like a Glove," it almost seems like he's writing a better Billy Joel song than Billy Joel can write. In the case of "Half a Boy and Half a Man," I think there was actually a counter-response a year later with Dire Straits' "Walk of Life" and John Fogerty's "Centerfield" (listen to Nick's song: there's just no way these guys didn't hear it). The stuff from The Rose of England sounds more like his take on The Byrds, almost the blue print for Teenage Fanclub.


From Nick Lowe & His Cowboy Outfit, 1984:

Love Like a Glove - Nick Lowe

The Gee and the Rick and the Three Card Trick - Nick Lowe

Half a Boy and Half a Man - Nick Lowe

From The Rose of England, 1985:

Everyone - Nick Lowe

The Rose of England - Nick Lowe

[Note: If I don't get some feedback on these songs, I'm going to have to continue my Nick Lowe jihad for a few more weeks. Whether that's a promise or a threat is up to you!]

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New (Oxford) Speedway Boogie

     Lefty, you'll like this:  After I read your post,  Mrs. F.L. and I got into the car to go somewhere, and we turned on the radio.  Wouldn't you know:  "Truckin'" was playing, and we immediately heard the most oft-quoted line in Dead history:  "What a long strange trip it's been".  Not only that, but I was looking at the grid of photos from the NYT project you mentioned, and I clicked on one at random.  It was from the Oxford Speedway, Maine shows in July of 1988--the first time I ever saw the G.D.  Wow, man.  (No, but seriously, you gotta admit that's a little weird).  There were probably, oh, 90 thousand people at that show.  Pretty overwhelming.  I only ever saw 'em one other time, at the Cap Center outside D.C.  that same year.  I remember meeting the Rainbow People, who kind of freaked me out.  One of them was stirring a huge pot of stew or something, and he was using a canoe paddle.  (There's an image that'll stick with ya).  My friends and I were staying in a tent,  and somehow I got stung by some sort of caterpillar while I was tripping.  I remember looking down and seeing a huge welt on my arm.  (I'm serious--it really happened.  It wasn't a hallucination or anything.  Really.)...I guess that would qualify as a "bad trip".  
     I think the first time I heard the Dead was when the older of my two sisters was living at home for a while after graduating from college--she had the two-record Long Strange Trip best-of collection, and she would play it from time to time.  I must've been a freshman in high school.  I remember hearing the line "We can share the women, we can share the wine" and thinking "That doesn't seem right..." but I liked the music anyway.  Later on in my high school years a friend made a tape of Live Dead for me and I listened to it quite a bit.   I went through an anti-Dead period after getting into other stuff, but I eventually came back around and wound up really liking American Beauty and Workingman's Dead.  I have to say, "Box of Rain" is one of my faves.  I guess I've always been more of a studio-album guy instead of a bootleg-tape guy (although I do have a copy of the Oxford Speedway show somewhere).
      I like this cover a lot (it was on the Masked & Anonymous soundtrack).  Some nice guitar work from ol' Jerry.  Quite lovely, really. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dead Days

If you haven't seen it yet, you better check out this photo project assembled by the New York Times (god bless'em) in which they invite readers to send in their personal photographs from Grateful Dead shows. It takes you on this great, faded-glorious and democratic journey through the years-long subculture of space noodling and noodle dancing. If you were ever part of it, you'll invariably see some snapshot of your own youthful past. In my case, the late 80s/early 90s, before it all went kaput. In the captions, they never once mention drugs, but you can plainly observe that almost everyone in the pictures is stoned. Though I still have lingering feelings of embarrassment and self-loathing about my Grateful Dead past, I figured we should talk about this, because it's funny and we're old now. And we're all friends here, right?

I first heard the Dead when a stony, crusty friend played "Dire Wolf" on a cassette tape in my dorm room in 1989. I immediately hated it. Sounded like bad country music. Then I went to an off-campus party a week later where the first thing I saw was a sundress-draped girl putting mushrooms on a peanut butter sandwich. The guys who owned the house, Will and Dave, were campus legends for having seen more Dead shows and taken more acid than anyone ever should or could. Their black Labrador retriever was named Space. Next thing I knew I was taking my 14th bong hit in a 30-person hippie circle in a tapestry-covered living room while listening to "Going Down the Road Feelin' Bad" and I was hooked (the abundance of smiley-flirty bra-less girls didn't hurt). In any case, within six months I had my own case of bootleg tapes. I saw them for the first time at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts in July 1990. We had bought some tickets from a scalper in a McDonald's not far down the road. It was 95 degrees out and we drank beer and smoked pot and then scored some whippet balloons, which basically put me into a wobbly, tweaked-out first-man-on-the-moon condition while I stumbled around the scorching, dusty parking lot gawking at the dirty hippie bazaar. Next, we met a seedy guy in a red VW who was selling large quantities of acid. My friend bought a sheet while I kept a bloodshot eye out for the fuzz. As if. The tabs had blue unicorns on them. I took one about 30 minutes before showtime. My friend and I got in line, giddy. The ticket-taker tore my ticket to see if it was real -- it wasn't! Of course it wasn't. My head kind of imploded temporarily and I stumbled away in a confused daze, back into the now-explosively chaotic parking lot. My friend and I decided to wander around separately and meet up later. Ha! Minutes later I was offered a sandwich from a random dude sitting in a small circle of hippies next to another VW bus. I sat down and next to me was an old quasi-homeless burnout in his late 40s with a bandanna around his head. He was rocking back and forth and complaining nonstop about his miserable life and how everything had gone wrong for him. His story struck me like waves of emotions pounding on a rock. Vibes. Sad, pathetic ones. I asked him if he wanted a hug. He did. "I'm sorry, man," I said, hugging him as the smoke from tofu hot dogs burning on the mini-grill wafted over us. It was as incredibly intense as it was ridiculous. I got up and wandered around some more until I saw my car. I got in and locked the door. I wrote in my notebook for maybe an hour and a half -- drawings, poems, observations, philosophical ramblings. Eventually I went looking for my friend. When I found him, we heard tell they were about the let people into the show for free for the final 45 minutes. We rushed into the gaping coliseum door and ran up some stairs and the next thing I knew I was staring out at 90,000 people roaring and sparkling like confetti. Helicopters circled the sky shooting purple laser beams. The stage swirled. Jerry was a solitary speck. Goin' down the road feelin' bad... They closed with "We Bid You Goodnight," which I loved. When we got back to the car, everyone was wasted and I was the only one fit to drive. Me! I remember how much concentration it took to keep the tail lights in front of me from fanning together into fractal patterns. I had to slap myself and roll down the windows. We drove all night up I-95 to get home to Maine. The clouds in the dawn sky kept forming Jerry Garcia faces with long flowing beards (that's when I knew my brain was tapped out of interesting hallucinations). The boy that my parents saw the next day was sunburned, bleary, greasy, wearing beads and a dumb steal-your-face t-shirt and generally giving off a bad funk. Two days later my dad found the notebook lying around in my room and read it. Let's just say there was a crisis around the Lefty homestead until I returned to college (where my friend still had the sheet of acid and we both nearly failed out that semester as a result). I stopped listening to the Grateful Dead around 1993 and have since dipped back only briefly now and then. It's hard to separate the songs from the memories. But hearing "Attics of My Life" while peaking on acid was a highlight of my youth that I like to remember. Eyes closed, I soared through a white marble palace of multicolored windowed vortexes and was dipped in a golden lake of infinity. Felt pretty good.

You also don't want to miss this related Times article, which takes you down the wormhole of Grateful Dead taping and "best show ever" arguments among hardcore heads and how the myths of Cornell '77 and other "greatest shows ever" actually occurred because of non-musical events (when a sound engineer's home went into foreclosure, hundreds of hours of beautifully-mixed original tape were sold off, including Cornell '77). The podcast that goes along with it is four Deadhead nerds, including Ben Ratliff, geeking out in a way that is simultaneously embarrassing and awe-inspiring.

If you've got a story -- and don't lie, you know you do -- post it.

Eternal Uplift

I interviewed Brendon Massei, aka Viking Moses, not too long ago. We talked about, among other things, the saint-like genius of Dolly Parton. The Viking Moses cover of “I Will Always Love You” is a beautiful profound and skeletal thing, like he turned a Whitman’s sampler into a piece of Shaker furniture. Going back and looking through the Driftwood archives here, I’m shocked, and a little embarrassed that we’ve not featured Dolly here. I was telling Massei about “For the Love of Dolly,” a fascinating documentary about 5 super Dolly Parton fans. The film captures both the unrealistic devotion of some of Parton’s biggest admirers – a couple of whom are mentally and emotionally impaired in one way or another -- but also Dolly’s surprising humanity in dealing with must at times be creepy levels of fan obsession. I remember when they re-issued a handful of deluxe editions of classic Dolly a few years back – Jolene, My Tennessee Mountain Home, Coat of Many Colors and others – reading up on her, one was struck by how many hundreds of songs she’d written, including dozens of hits and great tunes. It’s easy to forget that Dolly is on par with Willie and Merle – don’t try to give me any attitude about that because I won’t hear it – because one gets blinded by the boobs and rhinestones. I just got a re-issue of 9 to5 recently. It’s a record I’d not listened to much, but there are gems. One thing about Dolly that always perplexed me was the way that some of her songs seem to evoke the melodies of other classic tunes – “Jolene,” for instance, always reminds me of Dylan’s “Wedding Song” off of Planet Waves, and with someone like Dylan, you never know who got where first (both came out in 1974) – and I’ve never known if she was soaking up other people’s tunes or vice versa. Don’t really care, I guess. These two tracks are mysterious. “Working Girl” reminds me of one of those weird Neil Young cromag disco/Kraftwork tunes, the plodding eighth notes in the verse with clipped vocals, the slightly out of place wailing guitar mini-riffs, and the general country template. I love the themes of uplift, the of-the-people vibe, the return to constant love. “You Know That I Love You” sounds like Brian Adams and Mutt Lang might have stewed in its juices (gross, I know) for a while.

“Working Girl” - Dolly Parton

You Know That I Love You” -Dolly Parton

“Jonas Boys” – Viking Moses

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Like the Corner of My Mind

Hey Frankie Lee, remember when we saw Willie Nelson at Tramps back in the '90s and we smoked some grass and everybody was really rowdy and drunk and it was one of the best shows ever? That's the night we realized Willie was playing jazz guitar, his riffs like Charles Mingus bass solos played on a Spanish guitar.

And, Frankie, remember when we saw Gillian Welch and David Rawlings open for Whiskeytown in that tiny club in the East Village? And we couldn't believe how great they were? How amazing Rawlings' guitar playing was? What was that place called? I think I got drunk and mooned some people in the park afterwards.

And Mr. Poncho, remember when we (again) were smoking grass in my apartment in Fort Greene and Dewey was there and we were inventing the prototype of the Drift-o-tron and Dewey put on Gillian Welch's cover of "Hickory Wind" and it was the heaviest, most devastating thing ever? And Dewey kind of won the contest?

I started out younger
At most everything
All the riches and pleasures
What else could life bring
But now when I'm lonesome
I always pretend
That I'm gettin' the feel of
Hickory Wind

Anyway, I was thinking of olden, golden days. Later, Mr. Poncho and JP Mystery and Dewey and I all went to see Willie together. More jazz. No weed though. Yesterday I was was watching a video on my iPod of the last concert Elvis gave before he died. He was bloated and puffy, six weeks from death. In it he had an assistant handing him white scarves, which he would put around his neck to collect a little sweat, then fling into the screaming audience. Imagine where all those scarves are now. In grandma's attic. In somebody's ex-brother-in-law's sock drawer. All the years combine, they melt into a dream...

Hickory Wind - Gillian Welch

Elvis Presley Blues - Gillian Welch

Young & Innocent Days - The Kinks

Stella Blue - Willie Nelson

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

At A Loss For Words

I don't know, sometimes I just...I mean, I can' know. It's just hard to...I mean, this is...oh, never mind.