Tuesday, October 31, 2006
The new Bob Dylan Broadway show, The Times They Are A-Changin’, opened last week and was universally panned. At this rate, its run promises to be shorter than “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”
The show was Dylan’s idea, and he brought it to famed choreographer Twyla Tharp, who came up with the idea of staging Dylan's tunes in a traveling circus. Twyla had also done the Billy Joel “jukebox musical” Movin’ Out. Unlike the Dylan show, Movin’ Out was a hit with critics and audiences alike. No wonder: Joel’s songs, like “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and “Piano Man” were already show tunes. They just needed a show. Yet a Dylan epic like “Desolation Row” which is featured in Times, has lyrics to flummox even the most flamboyant choreographer:
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
How does one translate this to the stage? I suppose said choreographer would start with a trip to the local Party City to pick up some Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot costumes (if they aren’t sold out), swing by the florist, pick up a raincoat and a fishing rod, then have your cast gyrate violently across the stage somewhere in the vicinity of a captain’s tower and some laughing calypso singers. I smell Tony!
The last thing Dylan fans want from his songs is some old-fashioned Broadway razzle-dazzle. We want our Dylan wise, road-weary and a little cranky. We don’t want our tragicomic imagery spoon-fed to us, we want it to take 3 verses to figure out what song he’s singing, even though we’ve heard it hundreds of times. We want Dylan with a guitar (or these days, piano) and the harmonica around his neck, not “interpreted” by refugees from the touring company from Hairspray.
Anyone who knows anything about Dylan knows that there is no more horrific synthesis in the arts than Dylan music and interpretive dance. Didn’t Soy Bomb teach us anything?
If Broadway is looking for a rock legend to bastardize, how about Meat Loaf? Bat Out of Hell III just came out. There’s an over-the-top, long-running Broadway show waiting in the Loaf. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light: held over for six more weeks! Now starring Horatio Sanz!”
Thursday, October 19, 2006
The Sir Paul-Heather Mills divorce started out as sad but not-very-surprising, moved to nasty, ugly and bitter, and has now crossed the transom to cringe-inducing.
According to papers filed (and presumably leaked) by Mills and her attorney and reported in the UK Daily Mail, Sir Paul was “a domineering and abusive husband, frequently drunk or high on illegal drugs, who made no allowances for her disablility.” Among the allegations are that he didn’t want her to breastfeed their new baby, saying her breasts belonged to him. (Perhaps he wondered how she managed to feed the rest.) Sir Paul denies the allegations of course, and the recent Mills autobiography contradicts virtually every one of these recent allegations as well.
Remember the good old days, when the worst thing rock wives did was join the band? Check out the above outtake from the Let it Be sessions. Compared to Heather Mills, Yoko, with her fingernails-on-the-chalkboard vocals, is a delicate songbird. Nice catch, John.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Happy 80th Birthday to Chuck Berry, far and away the oldest living rock star. Even Elvis is (excuse me, I mean "would be") only 71 today. Berry's style of guitar playing is the bedrock upon which all further rock is built. Both the Beatles and Rolling Stones spent their early careers as virtual Berry cover bands - damn good ones mind you - before forging their own sounds. And though he bears little-to-no resemblance to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell or even the great Dan Fogleberg, Chuck was one of the original singer-songwriters, combining brilliant lyrics with unique guitar stylings and a singular worldview. Now would be a fine time to visit your favorite online or brick-and-mortar music retailer and pick up some Chuck, such as the single-disc Great Twenty Eight, two disc Anthology or the recently re-released DVD of the 1986 Keith Richards/Berry project Hail! Hail! Rock N' Roll.
For your viewing pleaure: a classic clip of personal favorite “Memphis, Tennessee” (great town, great tune). No word if the TV camera seen here is the same one he later used to secretly tape women "freshening up" in the ladies room at his St. Louis restaurant in the late 1980s. Hey, nobody's perfect!
Friday, October 13, 2006
Beck Hansen is the most greatest musical chameleon since David Bowie (or maybe Madonna, but Beck & Bowie have much better songs.) Just as Bowie spent the 1970s whorishly hop from Cabaret to Bauhaus to Philly Soul (hey, who didn't), Beck tries on genres like overalls and mixes them up like Ovaltine. Mutations and Sea Change leaned heavily on Beck’s gifts as a singer-songwriter. But his most recent albums Guero and the new The Information are brilliant Beck Bouillabaisse in the tradition of Mellow Gold and Odelay.
Nausea, the first single, throws down a heavy funk beat over a Delta Blues guitar line and a punk delivery. The above video (available on a bonus DVD with the CD), is lip-synced by a band of look-alike marionettes. In this day and age, no one has time to listen to a James Brown, Skip James or X record in its entirety, much less watch an episode of Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Beck is kind enough to give them to you all at once. God bless him.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
In '65, he "went electric." But Bob Dylan has also gone agnostic, born-again Christian and practicing Jew. Judging by this surreal clip from the 1989 Chabad telethon, he still needs a lot of practice. When you've been in show business for 45 years, it's only a matter of time before you find yourself at a telethon with a jolly Rabbi, your neo-folkie son-in-law (Peter Himmelman) and Harry Dean Stanton, blowin' "Hava Negilah" on your harp. Happy Yom Kippur!