Saturday, June 30, 2007
Rock Turtleneck will be on vacation next week celebrating the birthday of our great nation. And as he has done for over 30 years, our dear, dear friend Willie Nelson will be hosting his annual 4th of July picnic. For the first time, this year's show will not be in the Lone Star State but in the Washington State, at the Gorge. Friday's New York Times had a wonderful article about this time-honored tradition: great music and cold, cold beer, with Willie and Family taking the stage somewhere around midnight. If you have never had the privilege of seeing Willie do his thing live, clear your calendar and see him as soon as possible. If you are in the New York metropolitan area (or even if you are not), catch him when Farm Aid comes to Randall's Island on September 9th.
Beyond his status as a legendary singer and songwriter, Willie Nelson is one of the most badass guitar slingers who ever walked the earth. With the possible exception of Paul McCartney's Hofner bass, Willie's battered Martin guitar "Trigger" is probably the single most iconic instrument in popular music. In honor of Willie, America and everything they stand for, here's a clip of that perrenial workhorse of an opening, "Whiskey River/Stay a Little Longer" from the '74 picnic. Grab a brisket sandwich, crack open a frosty bottle of Dixie (Or this year, an Olympia) and enjoy.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
I am He as You are He as You are Me: Are Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld the Lennon/McCartney of Comedy?
One of the most striking things about Paul McCartney’s new CD Memory Almost Full is that Sir Paul seems to be incapable of being unmelodic. For half a century, he has been an insatiable songbird, creating cascades of melodies flowing upon countermelodies, with yet more melodies on his bass or guitar running under and over like puppies on a pot belly. Just think of "For No One," “You Never Give Me Your Money,” “I Will” or, on the new record, “Ever Present Past."
His stunning facility in creating melody – one of the most elusive of all creative talents – brings to mind the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry realizes that he can’t be unfunny no matter how hard he tries. In fact, the harder he tries to be “serious,” the funnier he gets.
Seinfeld’s prodigious gifts and his phenomenal success at making potentially controversial material palatable to a mainstream audience make him the Sir Paul of comedy. Fittingly, his comedic foil Larry David is startlingly Lennonesque: angry, acerbic, biting, brilliant and bespectacled.
This raises the question: Are Jerry Seinfeld & Larry David the Lennon & McCartney of comedy? With the help of a multimillion dollar government research grant, Rock Turtleneck has compiled the following comparisons betwixt the two famed duos. Sure enough, the deeper you go, the higher you fly.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
The White Album
Keith Hernandez two-part episode
Gloriously over-the-top farewell:
Side 2 of Abbey Road
Bitter, brilliant solo project:
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Syrupy sweet solo project:
"Ebony and Ivory"
Wacky, annoying spouse you wish would just go away:
Public Relations Nightmare
"The Beatles are more popular than Jesus"
The comparisons don’t end there. Like the parallels between the Lincoln and JFK assassinations, this is bigger than all of us.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Memory Almost Full
Sir Paul’s new record Memory Almost Full is, famously, the first new album to be released on Starbucks’ Hear Music Label. I picked up my copy with a pound of Caffé Verona® and a complimentary iced coffee.
If Memory Almost Full were a Starbucks drink, it would be a Macca-chino™ — smooth and sweet and easy to swallow, yet surprisingly complex, with an undertow of earthy robustness and a finish that stays with you long after you’ve consumed it. (And like a Dulce de Leche blended Frappucinno®, it would cost about 15 bucks)
For while we find our beloved 65 year-old Liverpudlian at his most (seemingly) effortlessly tuneful, his lyrics are full of gravitas and big themes: getting older, regret and even his own death. This is terrain more closely associated with fellow septuagenarians like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. But Macca tackles them with aplomb.
In the bouncy “That Was Me,” the most successful songwriter in the history of the world flips through his mental photo album, justifiably amazed that he’s lived the life he has.
The same me that stands here now
But when I think that all this stuff
Can make a life
It’s really hard to take it in
“Ever Present Past” addresses the ghosts of memory as well, with production that happily recalls his quirky 1979 holiday single “Wonderful Christmas Time.”
Elsewhere, in "Only Mama Knows," Macca fondly recalls shagging a bird in a Nowheresville airport lounge (to music very reminiscent, appropriately enough, of “Jet”). Here McCartney isn’t merely trying to rock like he did in the old days. He actually does rock that way. And for this rocking, I am most thankful.
Memory Almost Full wraps things up with an absolutely heartbreaking ballad called “The End of the End.” Herein McCartney lays out very specific plans to be followed upon his death. And God forbid, when Paul does indeed pass on, you can look for this one to emerge as his “Imagine.”
On the day that I die I'd like jokes to be told
And stories of old to be rolled out like carpets
That children have played on
And laid on while listening to stories of old
Listening to it you can already picture the news and YouTube montages of the Cute One’s many iconic images: Hamming it up with John and George in the Cavern Club, the Meet the Beatles cover, Shea Stadium, standing tall for Sgt. Pepper, marrying Linda in a London courthouse, crossing Abbey Road, Wings mullet, Angela Lansbury doppelganger. As he did on with “Her Majesty” on Abbey Road, McCartney takes the edge off this one’s heavy ending by adding on a cheeky throwaway, in this case the overdriven “Nod Your Head.” Come to think of it, the opening track “Dance Tonight” serves the same function. But both are irresistible.
Like his previous album, the Nigel Godrich-produced Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Memory Almost Full is chock full of interesting, unique and melodic tunes that remove any doubt that this genius still has much to offer the listening public. Next time you walk more than five feet and find yourself in front of a Starbucks, duck in and treat yourself to a tasty, bold, rewarding Macca-chino™. Cheers.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Favourite Worst Nightmare
No doubt about it, Rock Turtleneck lays it on heavy with coverage of geriatric rock: Dylan, Macca, Keef. But RT is equally enthusiastic about the exciting music young whippersnappers are making these days. So today let us pause to hail the Arctic Monkeys, whose new, sophomore album Favourite Worst Nightmare is one of the best records in recent memory.
It's full of the piss and vinegar of the first British new wave: The Jam, Elvis Costello, Pretenders, Joe Jackson. Angular guitars, sharp melodies and brilliantly strange turns of phrase abound.
Take the first verse of “Fluorescent Adolescent” about a bored housewife contemplating a knee-knocker with a younger bloke:
You used to get it in your fishnets
Now you only get it in your nightdress
Discarded all the naughty nights for niceness
Landed in a very common crisis
Everything's in order in a black hole
Nothing seems as pretty as the past though
That Bloody Mary's lacking a Tabasco
Remember when he used to be a rascal?
This closely observed portrait of the middle-class English life would be right at home on Imperial Bedroom, Sound Affects, East Side Story, or for that matter, Something Else by the Kinks.
The Monkeys made a big splash with their brilliant first record Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, and showed the world they were far more than more than the Britpop du jour with their adrenalinized performances of hits like "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and "Fake Tales of San Francisco."
While both albums are full of great songs, Favourite Worst Nightmare is more enjoyable as an album experience than their debut – it demands your attention from the very first second of the first song "Brianstorm" (that's not a typo) and never lets up. Yet the whole CD has real ebb and flow that is very rare in this age of single-song downloads. As "Fluorescent Adolescent" ends, for example, it gently gives way to the dreamy ballad “Only Ones Who Know.” You're reminded of the sense of pace you get at the best live shows. And realize how long it's been since you've gotten this from a new band.
Keep your eye on this gaggle of pimply Brits. Like Beck or IRS-era R.E.M., singer/songwriter/guitarist Alex Turner and his mates from the suburbs of Sheffield have some exciting twists and turns ahead of them. One would be well advised to hop on for the ride.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Rock Turtleneck took an unexpected hiatus May 16 when a freak windstorm caused two giant oak trees to destroy much of my suburban New York home. Miraculously no one was hurt, even though my wife and three children were in the now-nonexistent living room when the trees hit.
No one got hurt. We have insurance. Everything can be replaced. Those are the important things. Soon we will be in a very nice rental home owned by a very nice family, and will not return to our true abode for a good eight months or so.
It would be tempting to begin transitioning Rock Turtleneck into a home improvement blog, but fear not. There is rocking to be done, and rock we will.
That said, here are five songs that have helped me get through these traumatic few weeks. And if, God help you, your abode should be destroyed by a freakish act of Mother Nature, visit Rock Turtleneck immediately and print out this post. The following songs may be a source of comfort and or inspiration.
Wilco, “Sky Blue Sky.” Wilco's new CD was released the day before my house was hit, and it has served as an unofficial, much-needed soundtrack. As he seemed to anticipate 9/11 on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics for the title track are also eerily prescient to my family’s situation:
With a sky blue sky
This rotten time
Wouldn’t seem so bad to me now
Oh, I didn’t die
I should be satisfied
That's good enough for now
Wings, “Mull of Kyntyre.” Our house is not a mist-covered Scottish retreat, but a cape cod about two miles from the train station. Yet I feel as never before Sir Paul’s sense of longing to return to the homestead in this beautiful bagpipe-infused Wings ballad. It’s aging remarkably well. And you can get it and lots of other cheeky Macca bits on the Wingspan compilation.
Frank Black, “My Life’s in Storage.” Losing your home teaches you many things. One is how weird it is to live without knowing where any of your stuff is, but how much of it you really don’t need. Anyway, even though I don’t know what crap is in which box, I still miss it. This fine song hails from Frank Black's countrified CD Honeycomb, which ironically is now – you guessed it – in storage.
Led Zeppelin, “Misty Mountain Hop.” Not about house destruction or home repair in any literal sense. But the Hammer of the Gods took our home down, and if anything can bring it up it’s the mighty spirit of Zeppelin, exemplified in this flower-power fairy tale from ZoSo/Zep IV/Runes album/Untitled.
Bob Dylan, “The Ballad of Frankie Lee & Judas Priest.” “If you see your neighbor carryin’ something, help him with his load,” goes the final stanza of this John Wesley Harding yarn, “And don’t go mistaking paradise for that home across the road.” Right again, Bob. In the past three weeks, my friends and neighbors have cooked us meals, given us clothes, held our hands, given us shelter from the storm and helped us with our load, and it’s made all the difference in the world.