Friday, August 25, 2006
Rolling Stone hails "The Genius of Bob Dylan” this week with a freewheelin’ interview and five-star review of Modern Times, which is out next Tuesday. Bob has been on his Never-Ending Tour since 1988, playing well over http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifa hundred nights a year at Honky Tonks, Hockey Arenas, Jai Alai Frontons, State Fairs, Tupperware Parties, Pig Roasts, Corporate Christmas Parties and currently, Minor League Ballparks. But since 1997, with the release of Time Out Of Mind, he’s also been on a Never Ending Comeback. There’s the best-selling memoir Chronicles Volume 1, the Martin Scorsese documentary No Direction Home and several of his most legendary concerts released under the Bootleg Series banner. According to Rolling Stone, his old-fogey trifecta of Time Out of Mind, “Love and Theft” and Modern Times is on a visionary level with the 1965-66 Bringing it All Back Home/Highway 61 Revisited/Blonde on Blonde trilogy. Granted, the new albums took nine years to make and the 60s ones took 18 months, but still. As fine as the recent “comeback” albums by the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney were, no one ever seriously compared them with Beggar’s Banquet or Revolver. He says in the interview that he has “no retirement plans” but see him while you can.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Many of us were stunned and saddened to learn the great comic actor Bruno Kirby passed away last week at the age of 57. Many obituaries downplayed him as someone who tagged along on Billy Crystal comedies like When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers but that’s not giving the man his full due. First of all, Kirby is much funnier than Crystal in both films. Secondly, Bruno had many classic moments sans Crystal. There was true comic genius in his performance as Tony, the Sinatra-worshipping, rock-hating limo driver in This is Spinal Tap. Almost as tragic as his passing is the fact that our featured clip was left on the cutting room floor. Peace out, Bruno.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
With two pop tunesmiths fronting a punkish attack, XTC were one of the best, most prominent bands of the late 70s New Wave. Yet in philosophy and practice, they could be relatively old-fashioned. For example, leader Andy Partridge took great care in making sure each album had a distinct theme, so that Mummer and Skylarking felt pastoral, whilst The Big Express evoked Industrial Era machinery, soot and low-wage labour.
But after years of dipping their musical toes into flower-power homage, in 1987 they dove right in, knickers and all. And they did this by, like their heroes the Beatles, adopting an alternative persona, which freed them from the reigns of popular expectation. (Not that they were all that popular.) XTC released 2 EPs (remember those?) under the nom de tune of The Dukes of Stratosphear: 25 O’Clock and Posnic Psunspot. They were collected into a single CD called Chips from the Chocolate Fireball. And it just might be the best XTC album of them all.
Some have said that every song on Chips is a specific homage to a late-60s band. True or not, it makes for an interesting music dork parlor game. For example, the Colin Moulding’s “Vanishing Girl” sounds exactly like the Hollies. And “Bike Ride to the Moon” is a direct descendant of “Bike” by Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Clearly “Pale and Precious” is a tribute to the Beach Boys I-feel-a-mental-breakdown-coming-on masterpiece Pet Sounds. “You’re a Good Man Albert Brown” feels like one of Paul McCartney’s melodic tearoom singalongs. And “Mole from the Ministry” proves that the mole is indeed related to the Walrus. (Goo Goo Goo Joob!)
Musical in-jokes and laughing gnomes aside, the important thing here is that the above tracks and many others are among the best the band ever wrote. And they are passionately played and immaculately produced. This is the work of great songwriters/musicians/satirists who know their stuff forwards. And even if you play it backwards.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Elvis A(a)ron Presley passed away on this day in 1977. Or so the mainstream media would have you believe. (Notice the curious use of the word “apparently” above.) Everyone who knows anything knows that the King still lives upstairs at Graceland. That’s why you’re not allowed up there during the tour. Elvis, wherever you are, hope you’re enjoying some well-deserved peace and quiet. Anyway, dead or not, I recommend everyone listen to the Sun Sessions (also released as the 2 CD Sunrise), some of the greatest music recorded by anyone ever. TCB.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Recently I was the lucky recipient of a Virgin Megastore gift card. What to do with this newfound windfall? Ashlee Simpson was between albums, so I decided to spring for the new Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, written by esteemed Dylanologist Michael Gray. This 736-page, anvil-sized tome is exactly what it sounds like: an alphabetized, cross referenced guide to all things Zimmerman; full bios on band members, Village idiots and influences, reappraisals of previously dismissed albums, and literary allusions buried deep beneath the waves of his lyric sheets. It represents both the best and worst of the thriving Bob Dylan industry. On one hand, it is absurdly academic and pretentious, spewing thousands of words on the significance of, say, the song “Dignity,” — lyrics that Dylan most likely hacked out at the catering table after some pre-show lemon chicken. But there is some fascinating information in there, if you’re willing to look for it.
Take the entry Paul McCartney entry. The two master songwriters have never been especially chummy. However, according to the BDE, in 1966 McCartney, Dylan and John Lennon sat down in a London hotel room and attempted to write a song together. Chain-smoking Dunhills and surely under the influence of many “cups of tea,” the three blinding geniuses of the age took turns trading lines on hotel stationary. But they only got as far as a few stanzas of a song called “Pneumonia Ceilings”:
Words and phrases right
Cigarette ash keeps me up all night
How come your mama types so fast?
Is daddy's flag flyin' at half mast?
Pneumonia ceilings, pneumonia floors
Daddy ain't gonna take it no more
Elephant guns blazing in my ears
I'm sick & tired of your applesauce tears!
Thermometers donat tell time no more
Since aunt mimi pushed them off the 20th floor
So say goodby to skyscrapers
You'll read about it in the evening paper
I picked my nose & i'm glad i did
Thinking it rubbish, the young icons crumpled the lyrics in the hotel wastebasket. A chambermaid found it and sold it to a fan for a few quid, and the fan has the lyric sheet to this day.
In today’s hypercompetitive environment, the average suburban 11 year-old spends a typical afternoon learning a third language, brushing up on their calculus or discussing harmonic theory. But in the 1970s, it was often spent watching the Mike Douglas Show, getting cooking tips from Harvey Korman, learning what’s next for Joyce DeWitt or finding out what makes Vic Tayback tick.
By 1970s standards, Mike Douglas was hopelessly square, and not in the ironic way of say Weezer or that “Bueller” guy. Day in, day out, he did a variety show in the classic tradition – bangin’ out a couple of standards at the beginning of the show, followed by some lighthearted showbiz chat with the stars of today and yesteryear. And when you were done with your segment, you simply slid down the couch, lit up a Kent or Viceroy and bantered with the next guest. Good times.
This past weekend, at the age of 81, Mr. Douglas “slid down the couch,” so to speak. He is missed.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
URGE OVERKILL were one of the most underrated, hardest-rocking bands of the 90s rock renaissance. Laypeople may know them for their unironic cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon." But there was much more to the Urge than Brill Building cover tunes. They were major players, along with Liz Phair and Smashing Pumpkins, in the 90s Chicago music scene. They were lauded by the Rock aristocracy, including Kurt Cobain and Chrissie Hynde. The Urge reached full supernova with their watershed album SATURATION.
If you know Saturation, you know it as one of the strongest CDs of the entire decade. Nash Kato (guitar/vocals), "King" Eddie Roeser (guitar/bass/vocals), and Blackie Onassis (drums) were a power trio in the truest sense, writing anthems in the classic rock tradition and played them with unbridled abandon. From the minor hit "Sister Havana" to the hook-laden "Positive Bleeding" (their finest moment in my opinion) to the closing ballad "Heaven 90210," Saturation was one of those ultra-rare Perfect Albums, with nary a dud. They also cultivated a distinctive style, dressing in matching suits, wearing "UO" medallions (I am a proud owner of one myself) and sipping Cavett-dry martinis.
When asked to describe the UO philosophy, Kato told Rolling Stone, "We have an insatiable urge to rock. Rock very hard."
A strong follow-up could have put them near the top of the rock hierarchy. Sadly, the aptly titled Exit the Dragon, while containing several excellent tracks, including "Somebody Else's Body," did not fulfill that promise and the group never made another album. Blackie Onassis became a heroin addict and was dismissed from the group.
The Urge is all but forgotten now -- in fact, Saturation, is out of print. But there are 97 "used & new" copies available on Amazon.com, starting at a whopping 40 cents. I suggest you buy them all.