Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Arthur Penn, the director of Bonnie and Clyde, a truly revolutionary film and perhaps Rock Turtleneck's favorite film all time, passed away yesterday at the age of 88.
Released to confused and finally enraptured audience in 1967, Bonnie and Clyde was the first to do many things filmgoers today take for granted, mixing sex, violence, comedy in a way that had never been done before. It also used the tale of Depression-era outlaws to make comments about modern times, such as the Vietnam War, the government, the farming and banking industries and the nature of fame. Working with the producer and star Warren Beatty, Penn brought an art-house sensibility to American popcorn pictures and created a massive hit film.
As Penn's New York Times obituary notes, "Many of the now-classic films of what was branded the New American Cinema of the 1970s — among them Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather — would have been unthinkable without Bonnie and Clyde to lead the way."
Interestingly, before casting himself as Clyde Barrow, Beatty considered having Bob Dylan play the role. Dylan was also looking to the past (from the Depression all the way back to the Old Testament) to shed light on the present with his masterpiece of the same year, John Wesley Harding.
In addition to kicking off a bold brilliant golden age of American Cinema, the lives, crimes, myths and legends of Bonnie and Clyde also spurned several musical tributes. Georgie Fame had a hit across the pond in 1968 with "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde"
And Serge Gainsbourg, the French prototype for Austin Powers, recorded a brilliantly sleazy tribute song and video to Bonnie and Clyde with his girlfriend at the time, a rather pretty bird named Brigette Bardot.
Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot - BONNIE and CLYDE
Uploaded by benporkofer. - Watch more music videos, in HD!
Perhaps inevitably, Jay-Z and Beyonce brought Bonnie & Clyde into the bling age with their 2003 musical tribute to the glamorous outlaw lifestyle.
R.I.P. and TCB Mr. Penn.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Retired high school gym coach Leonard Skinner passed away this week at the age of 77.
Normally, the passing of a physical education teacher, while poignant, would not be grist for the Rock Turtleneck mill. But Mr. Skinner was the gym coach at Robert E. Lee High in Jacksonville, FL, where, in the early 1970s, he enforced a strict dress code on a long-haired guitarist named Gary Rossington, and subsequently had him suspended.
As revenge, Rossington's singer and bandleader Ronnie Van Zandt appropriated a twisted version of Skinner's name and thus Lynyrd Skynyrd was born. (You can read a nice column about Skinner from the Orlando Sentinel here.)
Had I been in a rock band named after a cruel misspelling of my high school gym coach's name, that band might have been called Dugg Roobyn.
Lynyrd (pronounced "Leh-Nerd" not "Linnerd") Skynyrd is by far my favorite southern rock band. (For whatever reason, I've never been able to get into the Allmans.) They took the southern boogie genre and infused it with a grandeur, wit and sense of fun that raised it to art.
For all the notoriety Skinner attained upon Skynyrd's success, he never let it get to his head. Sounds to me like he was a simple kind of man.
So let's pay tribute with my favorite Skynyrd tune "Simple Man," from their first album Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd and the sadly out-of-print 2-LP Gold & Platinum collection, where I first heard the tune as a simple teen.
R.I.P. Coach Skinner. You're as free as a bird now.
Buy Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd on iTunes here
Monday, September 20, 2010
The dream team of Neil Young and Daniel Lanois is a match made in Rock Turtleneck heaven. Young is one of the world's true mavericks, following his moral and musical compass on a thrilling journey wherever it leads him with no explanations or apologies. Lanois is one of the premier producers of the past two decades, helping create spooky, rootsy masterpieces including U2's The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, Peter Gabriel's So, Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind, Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball and Willie Nelson's Teatro.
The fellow Canadians have joined forces for Neil's new record Le Noise (a clever entendre alluding to both producer and producee), coming your way next Tuesday. And it promises to be Neil's most interesting at least since his 1994 Kurt Cobain elegy Sleeps with Angels.
The record features Neil playing solo, but not acoustic. As befits a record with the Lanois imprimatur, Neil's Gretsch White Falcon guitar has been treated with any manner of effects, textures and delays. As the lead track "Angry World" demonstrates, these bold new "sonic landscapes" as Lanois calls them, only add to its authenticity.
As the following making-of doc attests, Lanois set aside the songs Neil brought to the early sessions and pushed him to dig deeper for songs that reflected how Neil was feeling circa 2010. They were recorded in a big old house over a series of four full moons-when Neil has traditionally done his best work. Looking forward to this one.
Pre-order LeNoise on iTunes here
Monday, September 13, 2010
For his follow-up to Raising Sand, his multi-everything collaboration with Alison Krauss and T-Bone Burnett, Robert Plant is teaming up with some of the musicians from that album such as Buddy Miller and bringing in new folks like singer Patty Griffin to play his latest spin on Americana called Band of Joy.
True Percy fans know that Band of Joy is the name of the group that Plant and John "Bonzo" Bonham were in before they got the hen-picked by Jimmy Page to join Led Zeppelin.
The 2010 edition of Band of Joy played an intimate showcase show Sunday night at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC to promote their eponymous new record, which comes out today. One lucky attendee was "Super" Dave Walsh, who in addition to being my brother, is one of the preeminent Zeppelin authorities on the East Coast. He filed this dispatch:
I got to The Bowery Ballroom at about 7 pm, about 30 minutes before the doors were supposed to open. There were about 100 or so people in front of me. At about 7:50 they let us in. After hanging out in the bar, I grabbed a spot just to the right of the stage five or six feet away. What an intimate venue. It was a bit cramped, but to be expected with Standing Room Only seating and an artist of The Golden God's stature.
Robert Plant and Band of Joy came on just after 9 pm and played for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. He was in incredible voice. His band was quite tight and Patty Griffin complements the band greatly with her vocals. Robert opened with Low’s "Monkey" They played a wide range of songs — from the current Band Of Joy album, Raising Sand, past solo efforts, plus four nicely reworked Zeppelin cuts: "Misty Mountain Hop", "Houses Of The Holy", "Rock And Roll" and "Gallows Pole":
While introducing "Harm's Swift Way" "by the great Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt," Plant mentioned the great American music from Tennessee, Texas etc. I shouted out "Memphis!" He said "Memphis is good too". Pretty cool - not the kind of thing that happens at MSG.
The Band of Joy closed with the standard "And We Bid You Goodnight," a tune the Grateful Dead used to close with sometimes as well. All in all a great show and memorable one.
After the show, I made my way downstairs to the bar. I was there for about ten minutes when Band of Joy members Darryl Scott and Buddy Miller entered the bar area. I told them how much I enjoyed the show. I mentioned to Buddy about my Memphis comments to Robert during the show. He said it's quite tough to hear anything up there. Then he said Robert would be down in a few minutes, so I was psyched that I was probably going to meet Robert Plant himself.
A minute or two went by and a Bowery security man comes up to me and asks me for my badge. Well, I didn't have one and didn't realize that this was an after-show party for Rounder Records guests only. It was so easy to access this area and there was no notice of this being private. I was kindly escorted from the area. Oh, well. I didn't get to meet Robert, but at least I got to talk with Daryl and Buddy for a bit. TCB.
Buy Band of Joy on iTunes here.
Here's a nice version of "Houses of the Holy" from the Bowery:
Thursday, September 09, 2010
On one of the most inscrutable LPs ever recorded, R.E.M.’s Murmur, one song stands out for its relative inscrutableness: “9-9.” It’s a textbook example of a college-rock deep album track, largely unknown to all but diehard fans. But since today is September 9th, or 9-9, let’s take a closer look, shall we?
Oddness and mystery permeate every facet of the tune, starting with the title. Is “9-9” the date the song was written? The time signature? Bill Berry’s prediction for the first-half score of the 1983 Georgia – Georgia Tech homecoming game?
Meanwhile, Peter Buck's off-kilter guitar lines seem descended from a certain type of angular rock developed by The Beatles on Revolver and adopted by subesequent R.E.M. influences like Neil Young, Television and Gang of Four. Everything about the song seems like a filter to weed out all but the most dedicated R.E.M. fans. It sounds like it was played before it was written.
Despite having heard “9-9” 999 times or more, the only words I can make out are “right on target” and “conversation fear.” According to the indispensible R.E.M. Chord Archive, here are the complete lyrics, starting with Michael Stipe’s spoken-word intro. You could have put a gun to my head and I wouldn’t have recognized them.
Steady repetition is a compulsion mutually reenforced.
Now what does that mean?
Is there a just contradiction?
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, hesitate.
Got to punch
Right on target
Gotta stripe down his back
All nine yards down her back
Give me a couple,
Don't give me a couple of pointers
Turn to lies and conversation fear
Listening to “9-9” in the context of Murmur is like a foraging your way through a forest of kudzu darkened by an overcast sky and a violent undertow and running into a wildebeest. It’s a perfect song to transition us from summer to autumn. Here are the boys digging into a fine version of “9-9” in 1984, at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ, which is particularly lovely this time of year.
Buy the Deluxe Edition of R.E.M.'s Murmur on iTunes here