Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Only in New York does one stroll out for lunch and run into U2. (Well maybe in Dublin too, but you get the point.) The Irish lads touched down in the Big Apple to sign copies of their new book U2 by U2 at the Union Square Barnes & Noble. Before going in the back entrance, they graciously signed books and body parts to a small coterie of savvy fans waiting outside, including Rock Turtleneck's intrepid Steve Walsh.
In the 80s and 90s, rock artists staked their claim for posterity by issuing a lavishly appointed, multi-CD box set with previously unreleased demos, live cuts and alternate takes, plus a 72-page book with detailed track notes and analysis by Kurt Loder, Cameron Crowe or David Fricke. Now the self-congratulatory medium of choice seems to be the ten-pound, scrapbook-style oral history coffee table book. Not surprisingly The Beatles got the ball rolling with their Anthology, published in 2000. Just as they did in the 60s, the Stones lagged a year or two behind, and put out their own According to the Rolling Stones. As is his wont, Bob Dylan put an interesting spin on the medium with his Bob Dylan Scrapbook, featuring facsimilies of handwritten song lyrics, pop-ups, stickers, flyers and the like. “U2 by U2” is identical in size, format and tonnage to the Beatles & Stones tomes. It’s full of previously unseen candid photos, and extensive, fascinating interviews with all band members. As this trend works its way down the rock & roll food chain, we can surely look forward to Green Day’s “Green Years” and “On Jovi.”
Perhaps Bono’s strategy to erase third world debt starts with creating it in the “first” world. The handsome, deluxe book retails for $40. But for fans of the longest-running supergroup without a lineup change, it’s a bargain.
Friday, September 15, 2006
In celebration of R.E.M.'s I.R.S.-years retrospective, here is perhaps their all-time classic clip. It's their first-ever national TV appearance on Late Night with David Letterman in the fall of 1983. Murmur was starting to make a big splash. After playing "Radio Free Europe" they play a newly written track, one which would be perhaps the greatest R.E.M. song of all. Enjoy.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
They broke their promise to break up if anyone in the band left, and their most recent single “Leaving New York” makes Air Supply sound like Iggy & the Stooges. But there was a time many moons ago when R.E.M. was the coolest band in all the land. Champions of integrity. Masters of melody. Arbiters of arpeggios. Emperors of enigma. Purveyors of Southern Eccentricity. And that era has been captured finally, joyously in the new compilation And I Feel Fine… The Best of the I.R.S. Years 1982-87. Be sure to spring for the 42-track special edition, featuring a bonus disc of rarities and hidden gems. It’s a must.
To sensitive music geeks who attended college in the Reagan era, R.E.M. were Beatlesque in stature, if not popularity. It was a late-August ritual to arrive for a new year of college with a crisp pair of dungarees, a suitcase of Busch, several Cups O’ Noodles and the new R.E.M. album. Like the Fabs, their albums followed a natural evolution. Each release had a distinct personality and aura of inevitability. And like no band before or since, they had an uncanny ability to evoke the uncertainties and euphorias of youth without directly singing or playing about them. It was a welcome contrast to the heavy-handed arena rock of Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp. To paraphrase a good friend, “I have no idea what R.E.M. is saying, but I know exactly what they mean.”
“And I Feel Fine…” was compiled by all four members of the band, even retired drummer/sushi chef Bill Berry. And they clearly took great care in selecting and sequencing the songs. So in addition to the obvious “Radio Free Europe,” “The One I Love,” “So. Central Rain” and “Fall on Me,” we also get “Perfect Circle,” “Cuyahoga” “7 Chinese Bros.” and “Welcome to the Occupation.” And the bonus disc has some real treats. A slowed-down version of their creative breakthrough “Gardening At Night” has the closing-time vibe of their Dead Letter Office trilogy of Velvet Underground covers. As Mike Mills says in the liner notes, “a good song will shine through completely different recording techniques.”
Also included are a 1983 trilogy of live tracks from the Paradise Club in Boston, and a couple others from their legendary 1987 show in Utrect, Holland. The time is clearly ripe for an archival full-concert release along the lines of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series. There are also some interesting cutting-room-floor tracks, like “Theme From Two Steps Onward,” which the band calls their soundtrack for a movie that never was.
They said it couldn’t be arranged. But the time to rise has been engaged. “And I Feel Fine…” is the compilation that Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe — and their fans — have long deserved. It’s a pistol-hot cup of rhyme. Put in on and you are young — despite the years.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
The deluxe version of the epic new Bob Dylan album Modern Times comes in a nice hardcover package with a bonus DVD of videos that’s a must for Bobophiles. First is “Blood in My Eyes” from World Gone Wrong, his stately 1993 album of blues and folk chestnuts. It shows a Chaplinesque Dylan walking around the streets and saloons of England in top hat and cane as strangers stop, point, shake hands, ask for autographs and exchange pleasantries. It’s surprisingly poignant. Also included is the video of the Oscar-winning “Things Have Changed” from Wonder Boys, featuring stars Michael Douglas, Robert Downey Jr. and pre-abduction Katie Holmes. There’s also a hot run-through of “Cold Irons Bound” from Bob’s film Masked & Anonymous, featuring Bob’s best-ever guitar combo of Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton.
Best of all is the famous performance of “Love Sick” from the 1998 Grammy Awards. This is when a shirtless male emerged from the Gap-ad-ish dancers in the background and contorted grotesquely next to Bob for 30 seconds or so, before being escorted offstage and promptly shot. Cryptically painted on his chest were two words: SOY BOMB. There was much speculation at the time as to what SOY BOMB meant, but the best anyone could come up with was that it was half-Spanish for “I AM THE BOMB.” (You go, girlfriend!) In spite of the flamboyant distraction, “Soy Bob” and his crack band missed not a beat and delivered a brilliant performance. Mr. Bomb’s 15 minutes have clearly run out, however, as he has been completely cropped out of the Modern Times DVD clip and relegated to the dustbin of popular culture curiosities, where he joins the rainbow-wigged “John 3:16” guy and Wham’s Andrew Ridgeley. Here is your chance to see Mr. Bomb doing what he does best: act like a complete jackass.