Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Somewhere in Rock Turtleneck’s humidity-controlled archives lies a VHS tape with this dynamite 1984 performance by X on Late Night with David Letterman, promoting their then-new fourth LP More Fun in the New World.
X was one of my favorite bands at the time, and their boozy mix of L.A. literary decadence and Sun Records rockabilly has held up remarkably well. Not for nothin’ that, in addition to their great new song “Hot House,” the band plays a rollicking cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless.”
In addition to fine music, X also had great stage presence: husband and wife John Doe and Exene Cervenka (since divorced) have the requisite sexual chemistry, DJ Bonebrake lays down an authoritative beat and smirking guitar wizard Billy Zoom has a wider stance than Sen. Larry Craig.
I had the good fortune to meet the band in 1991 or so when they played a reunion show in the post-punk crucible of Norwalk, CT. They were very friendly and Exene in particular was gracious and polite. X is still on the road, headin' for another joint, both in band and various side solo incarnations.
More Fun in the New World was remastered and reissued by Rhino along with the rest of the X catalog in the early 2000s, but for some unknown reason More Fun is now completely out of print. The rest of their records, including my favorite, Under the Big Black Sun, are readily available and well worth your time.
Buy X on iTunes here.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
In an era when the term “icon” gets thrown around to include people like Demi Moore and Britney Spears, Elizabeth Taylor truly was one, right up there with Frank Sinatra as a 20th century paragon, a person whose life was arguably their greatest work of art.
In addition to being a Helen of Troy-worthy beauty, able to launch ships and epic wars with her violet eyes, Dame Liz also was a classy lady and a filthy-mouthed broad who loved to have a good time and never took herself too seriously.
Rock Turtleneck is primarily a music site of course, and we struggled with how to pay homage to her, until we saw this Beatle-backed tribute on YouTube, whcih pretty much says it all.
R.I.P. and TCB, ET. If you haven't seen Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, I suggest you do.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
These days, whenever R.E.M. puts out a new record, I listen to it pretty much non-stop for a couple of weeks, looking for glimmers of their magic. Then I go back to their old stuff.
In this case, I have found myself enoying their faux country classic “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” from my favorite R.E.M. LP, 1984’s Reckoning.
The tune was written by bassist/pianist Mike Mills as a plea to a ladyfriend who was moving from R.E.M.'s home base in Athens, GA to her parents’ place in Rockville, MD.
Every state seems to have a Rockville. When I was a student at the Universtiy of Connecticut, the local courthouse was in the neighboring town of Rockville. When someone woud get arrested or do something that could get them arrested, we would say “Don’t go back to Rockville and waste another year.”
“(Don't Go Back to) Rockville” was part of R.E.M.’s live set as far back as 1981. Back then, they did the song as an upbeat rocker (pretty much the way they did all their tunes back then) which you can hear here:
During the sessions for Reckoning, they cut it as a country tune as a lark for their manager Bertis Downs, who was a fan of the genre. Lyrically, it certainly fits the George Jones/Hank Williams mold of hard livin’ and lost lovin’:
At night I drink myself to sleep and pretend
I don’t care if you’re not here with me
‘Cause it’s so much easier to handle
All my problems if I’m too far out to sea
But something better happen soon
Or it’s gonna be too late to bring you back
Don’t go back to Rockville
And waste another year
Here are the boys doing a very countrified, very funny version in 1984 on the MTV late-night show The Cutting Edge:
In 1992, at the height of R.E.M.'s popularity, Mike stopped by the Regis & Kathie Lee show to plug their mega-selling Out of Time CD and and played a solo version of "Rockville." Take it away, double-M.
Get the must-have Deluxe Edition of Reckoning here:
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Much new music flows over the Rock Turtleneck transom. Recently I was struck by the sounds of The Bright White, a Chicago four-piece that's forged an identifiable sound and songs despite being together only a few months.
Listening to their single "Red Summer Rose," it's easy to imagine them going places far and wide beyond the WIndy City to lands inhabited by The Killers and Kings of Leon.
You can download a free mp3 of "Red Summer Rose" right here.
Tonight The Bright White is playing the Mercury Lounge in downtown NYC - it's a great, intimate venue. A good friend of mine had a life-changing experience when he saw a Chicago-based band called Wilco do a transcendent show there in 1997 or so.
Rock Turtleneck got in touch with The Bright White's singer Matt Kayser and asked him some pithy questions and got some provocative answers.
RT: In your press materials you mention the influence of the Beatles' Revolver LP. One way you are Revolver-esque is that each song seems to be of a different genre than the one before it. Is that something you plan to expand upon in the future?
MK: It’s interesting that you say that. I hadn’t thought of the songs on the EP that way. We’ve only been together for four months, so it’s possible that we’re still trying to find our style. We have a ton of songs that we’ve accumulated as individuals, so we’re constantly trying to sift through them to find the jewels.
I hope we develop a reputation for writing great songs that people can connect with and sing to. If they end up not sounding the same, as you mention, then even better.
RT: I hear some other influence in your music beyond the Fab Four, such as The Jam and Jakob Dylan. Who would you name as your major inspirations?
MK: We are inspired as much by the approach of certain bands as we are by their sound. The bands that really move us to write and perform share a certain drive and spirit, and I can hear it in their music.
Bands such as U2, Oasis, and The Killers think big. We, as a group, work so well together because we are all equally drawn to that way of thinking. I’d like that same spirit to be seen and heard in everything we do.
RT: The Bright White sounds remarkably tight and polished despite having only been together a short while. How did you guys form?
MK: Thank you. We met via Chicago’s Craigslist. Joe and I met last year, so we had already sketched out some song ideas before we did a serious search for our rhythm section this winter. Doing it that way prevented us from wasting time auditioning the wrong people. We knew exactly what we wanted, and we were determined to make clear what we are all about. It worked, as Steve was the first drummer who responded to our ad. We were hooked in about ten minutes. Pete had previously played with Steve, so we really got lucky. We all immediately hit it off.
With as much fun as we have, the thing that I love about this band is our work ethic. I’ve never met musicians who get things done like these guys. There is zero flakiness and 100% commitment to the cause. That’s likely why people seem to think we’ve been together much longer than we have. Be it recording an EP a month after forming, selling out our debut, or getting a prime slot in NYC, we get things done.
RT: In one of your publicity photos, your drummer Steven Zelenko is smoking. How do you plan to circumvent Mayor Bloomberg's draconian anti-smoking laws?
MK: I am a native New Yorker, so I keep up with all that is happening there. Having recently peeked at the Mayor’s approval ratings, I believe it won’t be long before he joins us for a smoke.
You can hear more from The Bright White here.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The ridiculous institituion known as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted an interesting cast of characters this year, including Alice Cooper, Dr. John, Darlene Love, Leon Russell, Neil Diamond and Tom Waits.
Tom Waits is an artist I have been meaning to get to know better, as I am a huge fan of just about everyone even remotely related to him on the rock family tree - Dylan, Young, Cohen, etc. Like Dylan, Waits filters his music through the guise of a well thought out alter ego. Whereas Zimmerman seems to shape-shift his persona every few years (or albums), Waits has found the gravelly voiced barfly suits him well and has refined it over four decades. I like to imagine that when he gets offstage he turns into a Tony Randall-style dandy.
Put-on or not, Tom Waits has delivered a steady stream of great records and modern standards that puts him in contemporary songwriting’s highest ranks
My favorite Waits tune (admittedly I don’t know that many) is “Step Right Up” from his 1976 LP Small Change. It’s a brilliantly strung-together litany of sales terms one might hear from a used car salesman, Atlantic City boardwalk shyster and/or Ron Popeil. As someone who writes advertising copy for a living, I appreciate the ease with which he spews claims he has no intention of backing up with anything like facts or information:
Step right up
Please allow thirty days for delivery, don't be fooled by cheap imitations
You can live in it, live in it, laugh in it, love in it
Swim in it, sleep in it,
Live in it, swim in it, laugh in it, love in it
Removes embarrassing stains from contour sheets, that's right
And it entertains visiting relatives, it turns a sandwich into a banquet
Tired of being the life of the party?
Change your shorts, change your life, change your life
Change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy, get rid of your wife,
And it walks your dog, and it doubles on sax
Doubles on sax, you can jump back Jack, see you later alligator
See you later alligator
And it steals your car
It gets rid of your gambling debts, it quits smoking
It's a friend, and it's a companion,
And it's the only product you will ever need
Follow these easy assembly instructions it never needs ironing
Well it takes weights off hips, bust, thighs, chin, midriff,
Gives you dandruff, and it finds you a job, it is a job
And it strips the phone company free take ten for five exchange,
And it gives you denture breath
And you know it's a friend, and it's a companion
And it gets rid of your traveler's checks
It's new, it's improved, it's old-fashioned
Well it takes care of business, never needs winding,
Never needs winding, never needs winding
Here’s the great Tom Waits doing “Step Right Up” in 1977 on the German TV show Rockpalast.
Congrats and TCB, TW.
Buy Small Change on iTunes here
Friday, March 11, 2011
Between the thawing of the foot or so of snow in my front yard, this week’s bookends of huge rainstorms and the tragic tsunami in Japan, I feel flooded with water and water imagery. No wonder the new Decemberists song “Down by the Water” has been playing in my head non-stop.
Over the years I have admired the Decemberists’ brand of Anglophile folk-rock more than I have actually enjoyed it. But “Down by the Water” had me instantly. Perhaps its becuase it is so immediately remeniscent of Lifes Rich Pageant-era R.E.M.
Sure enough, the 12-string guitar arpeggios that anchor the tune are courtesy of R.E.M. jangle-master Peter Buck, who lives in the Decemberists’ home base of Portland, OR.
The song also features a straight-from-the-heartland backup vocal by Miss Americana Gillian Welch, who mixes nicely with singer/songwriter/visionary Colin Meloy. Here are the band with Welch but without Buck doing “Down by the Water” on a recent edition of Conan O’Brien’s show.
“Down by the Water” hails from their newish record The King is Dead. I’m not sure if the title nods to some overarching album concept or is simply a nod to The Smiths’ 1987 high-water mark The Queen is Dead.
Here’s another track from the record that actually does remind me of The Smiths: “This is Why We Fight,” played live in the studios of NPR -- remember them?
By the way, if you don’t know what a Decemberist is (I didn’t), here’s what Wikipedia has to say:
"The Decembrist revolt or the Decembrist uprising took place in Imperial Russia on 14 December, 1825. Russian army officers led about 3,000 soldiers in a protest against Nicholas I's assumption of the throne after his elder brother Constantine removed himself from the line of succession. Because these events occurred in December, the rebels were called the Decembrists. This uprising, which was suppressed by Nicholas I, took place in the Senate Square in Saint Petersburg. In 1925, to mark the centenary of the event, it was renamed as Decembrist Square, but in 2008 it reverted to its original name.”
Buy The King is Dead on iTunes here
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
R.E.M. records tend to alternate between sustained mood pieces (the Southern goth of Fables of the Reconstruction, the heavy meditation Automatic for the People) and stylistic grab bags (Green, New Adventures in Hi-Fi). Collapse Into Now, their 15th studio album (16th if you count the great EP Chronic Town), falls squarely into the latter category. And it's certainly their best record since the sad departure of their drummer Bill Berry in 1997.
After making two of the limpest albums of the 21st century (Reveal and Around the Sun), R.E.M. took stock of themselves and decided ‘twas time to rock again. 2008’s Accelerate did rock indeed, but sometimes it felt like they were over-rocking. By going from one extreme to another, it was sort of like someone who gave up sweets for Lent diving into a vat of hot fudge Easter morning.
With Collapse Into Now, the band resettles in the zone where they do their best work - a land populated with acoustic stringed instruments, soaring melodies, aching harmonies and fun rockers.
I have only listened to Collapse Into Now a few times, as it just came out yesterday. But several songs already stand out. First is “It Happened Today” a mid-tempo insta-classic in the vein of “Man on the Moon” featuring backup howls from Eddie Vedder in the “Hey Jude”-like extended coda:
“It Happened Today” would have made a great closer for Collapse Into Now; instead we get what is possibly the worst thing I’ve ever heard R.E.M. do: “Blue” featuring and certainly influenced by Michael's dear friend Patti Smith, who brings out Stipe's most pretentious, least enjoyable musical instincts.
“Blue” ends with a reprise of Collapse Into Now’s opening track “Discoverer,” an upbeat number that recalls “Finest Worksong” from 1987’s magnificent Document. I get the feeling that Mike Mills and Peter Buck said something like, "OK, Michael you can put this piece of stream-of-consciousness BS on the album — but there’s no way it’s going to be the last thing people hear."
"Blue" aside, Collapse Into Now is a fine record and the closest thing one can expect to a return to form from artists who have been doing their thing for 30 years.
Buy on iTunes: Collapse Into Now
Saturday, March 05, 2011
Friend and neighbor Lena Roy has a certain aura of epic greatness about her and for a while it was a mystery. Perhaps it was because she is the author of a best-selling young-adult novel Edges. Or maybe it was because she is the granddaughter of A Wrinkle in Time author Madeline L’Engle. All good guesses, all flat wrong.
It turns out that many years ago, Lena went on a blind date with none other than Jon Bon Jovi, who turns a hair-metal hunkalicious 49 today. Recently, on her engaging blog lenaroy.com, Lena recounted her blind date with the poor man's Springsteen in 1985, when Jon was making the artistic leap from “Runaway” to “Livin’ on a Prayer.” She was gracious enough to share it once again with Rock Turtleneck. Take it away, Lena!
My Blind Date with Jon Bon Jovi
by Lena Roy
It was the end of 1985. My pal Jodi needed to bring a "friend" on her date with the lead guitarist from a metal hair band in New Jersey, because he was also bringing a "friend" - the singer for the band. Would I step in?
Groan. Hair-Metal bands were so not my thing, but it was Jodi - she was older and cooler, and she could have asked anybody else, but she asked me, and I was just a senior in high school. It was right before Christmas vacation and I was flying out the next night to see my parents in San Francisco. I lived at the YWCA in Greenwich Village and they had a curfew, so she said that I could sleep over at her house in the East 20's.
Jodi was 23 - a Wall Street broker by day, and a hair-sprayed Mohawk diva by night. We had met the year before at Danceteria, both of us attracted to this idea of a double life: the good girl/bad girl. I don't know why I didn't think metal was cool, but I didn't. And I don't think I even asked the name of the band because I wouldn't have known anyway.
We went to a party in Chelsea to meet the guys. I wore a black vintage flapper dress that I had bought at Unique Boutique, my red hair sprayed into a flat-top, pale face, red lipstick. Jodi had sprayed her hair into a mohawk, and looked like a dominatrix.
I was nervous walking into the party, I must admit. Everybody was so much older than me! There was no mistaking them - two tall skinny dudes in black leather pants and tremendously big hair. Jodi's date (who went on to become Richie Sambora) had black hair, and mine sported the dirty blonde shag that became famous in the '80's. Jon put me right at ease. He was warm person, and didn't feel the need to put on any act. We didn't stay at the party very long - they wanted to go to the hot new club - The Palladium.
I remember thinking to myself that their band must be pretty successful because they splurged on lots of champagne. Jodi and her date separated themselves from us and Jon and I talked the whole evening. We didn't even dance - just found a quiet corner. I don't think I'd ever talked to a boy that much before! He had just seen The Young Sherlock Holmes and loved it. Perhaps that is my strongest memory . . . just a really nice, down to earth guy.
We all went back to Jodi's in the middle of the night and I felt safe with Jon - we just cuddled - and I got on the plane to see my family in San Francisco. Of course, all that week I thought about Jon 24/7. Maybe we would go out again!
In January I ran into him at Danceteria, with another girl on his arm - but the look he gave me was so sweet and apologetic, I forgave him instantly. It wasn't meant to be - I was only a senior in high school, and I started dating the lead guitarist for a ska band, which was mush more my style of music, really. At some point that year - 1986 - I was watching MTV and a video came on - "Livin' On a Prayer." Could that be? No! I reached for the phone and called Jodi - were those guys we went out with - were they Bon Jovi? She laughed and said yes.
HB & TCB, JBJ!
Buy Lena Roy's book Edges on Amazon:
And remember, 100,000,000 Bon Jovi fans can't be wrong:
Thursday, March 03, 2011
Theodor Greisel, aka Dr. Seuss, would have turned 107 yesterday. One of the most beloved authors of all time by all ages, his freewheeling imagination and love of wordplay were rivaled in the 20th century only by Bob Dylan. Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if you put them together.
One cat who deceided to put Seuss’ chocolate in Dylan’s peanut butter was Kevin Ryan, a Houston-based music producer.
In 2007, the 33 year-old Ryan had a great idea (and apparently, an incredible amount of free time) and did a mashup of sorts wherein he sang Dr. Seuss words to Blonde on Blonde era Bob Dylan, doing an incredible impersonation of Dylan and playing all the instruments himself, magically capturing what Zimmy called the “thin, wild mercury sound” of that LP.
Ryan's attention to detail in the music is stunning, but I personally find the joke gets a bit old after “Green Eggs and Ham.” (A lot of people feel that way about Dylan.) Apparently Ryan did not think so and made a 7-track long-player called Dylan Hears a Who, which includes cover art, liner notes and his "(Sooner or Later) One of Us Must Know"-ish take on the tale of the Zax.
Dylan Hears a Who was a viral hit and received a lot of coverage, but it was quickly taken down due to a threat of a lawsuit by the Seuss camp in a carefully worded statement:
Of your music we are not fond!
Dr. Seuss has just been conned!
And you sound like Bob on Blonde on Blonde!
Take it down!
It makes us frown!
It makes our underpants turn brown!
We’ll sue your ass!
We’ll sue en masse!
We’ll sue your gallstones when they pass!
You can read about the Dylan Hears a Who saga in a fine 2007 Salon.com artcicle called “Tangled Up In Seuss” (wish I’d thought of that title). And you can probably find the album online somewhere if you look/in every cranny and every nook!
HB & TCB, Dr. S.