Monday, March 31, 2008
Happy April 1st.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
I've always followed the rhythm section more than the lead in any band. I'm just built that way. While Diana Ross crooned away, I was singing along with the Supremes in the background, completely ignoring her emotional pain. The Supremes just sound more complex, interesting and rhythmic to me. Same thing happens with nearly every critically acclaimed guitar solo I've ever heard. I start spacing out after a few moments and instead groove to the bass and rhythm guitars, chugging along underneath all the soaring wank. Wow, I always end up thinking, they're so steady--ROCK steady.
Some people have the unique talent to provide us with melody as a form of percussion, keeping everything going and setting the tone for the flashier musicians to do their thing. Here's a few that I hold in great esteem. Feel free to comment on your favorites to add to the list.
Nile Rodgers has done great production work with Diana Ross, David Bowie, Deborah Harry and Duran Duran, among others. But when he and bassist Bernard Edwards first teamed up in Chic, rhythmic magic occurred. Edwards was a genius, but check out Rodgers' guitar here--like a metronome with a heart--bright, happy, perfect.
Chic - Le Freak, 1978
Rodgers plays the Le Freak riff on French television. The French revere artistic talent. Look how thrilled they are, thinking to themselves, "Le Freak, C'est Chic!"
Roger McGuinn was the only band member who lasted the lifetime of The Byrds. From 1964 to 1973, he anchored one of the most influential American rock bands with his trademark 12-string Rickenbacker. It's hard to pick a single Byrds video from YouTube. The Byrds have so many amazing songs, performances, styles and line-ups. Some of their harmonies and melodies bring tears to my eyes; they're so good. I'm going to go with this one for the excitement factor. I'm really becoming an old fart.
McGuinn plays a really beautiful solo version of Eight Miles High on a 7-string acoustic guitar here. The original with David Crosby adding the crazy is here. Let us celebrate the birth of "country rock" here.
The late Curtis Mayfield sang so soulfully over his understated guitar. Even when covering the dark themes of poverty, addiction and drug dealing, there's a persistent, soothing, hopeful quality to his voice. Little Child Runnin' Wild, live from the Superfly soundtrack:
Here's a Byrds fan. If you've never seen Peter Buck play live, you really should. He has his own thing going on, which I'm not musically educated enough to describe. Words like "bell-like tone," "jangling," and "hyper-melodic" don't really cover it. You don't have to go see R.E.M. either, because he plays around with other bands on a somewhat regular basis. Sometimes he wears cleats and a casual blazer. I'm not sure why. Cleats are pretty uncomfortable unless you're standing on a grassy field, but that's just one aspect of his "uniqueness."
More fabulous rhythm guitar links:
Even if he had retired in 1966, Pete Townshend would still be known as a rhythm guitar master for Can't Explain.
Wanda Jackson, the queen of rockabilly, toured with (and dated) Elvis. She still tours and Hard Headed Woman is still a swinging good time.
Wild card: does anyone remember Mitch Easter in Let's Active? My friends and I were in awe of Faye Hunter and Sara Romweber who could sing while playing bass and drums, respectively (we were still figuring out how to do that). Easter produced R.E.M. and a bunch of other jangly 80s pop, but he could really play too; Every Word Means No.
Friday, March 28, 2008
The thing that stuck with me was that she decried the promise of the Internet as mainly a storehouse of junk knowledge. I can't argue with her there (especially since I can't remember who she is), but critics have been saying that about television for decades, and probably radio too. Oh the promise of the media to turn us all into intellectuals and failing miserably as we tune in each week to "Rock of Love."
Except it's not entirely true. Jackson watches PBS every day and he can now spell "mouse," with no help from me, thanks to the fairytale superheroes of "Super Why." We dance to techno music during the spelling segments of "Word World," which makes spelling more fun these days. And "Word Girl" completely rules. She comes from the Planet Lexicon and has a staggering vocabulary. Her pet monkey, Captain Huggy Face, taught Jackson the meaning of the word "flabbergasted" by doing the Macaulay Culkin Home Alone face. Then he launched into his patented giggle-inducing martial arts dance. Word Girl is a combination of Veronica Mars, Batgirl, and that smart girl in your fifth-grade class who turned out to be funny and nice once you got to know her. I wish these shows had been on when I was a kid--it would have been great to relate to superheroes as smart people instead of getting teased and beaten up in school for being smart. There's that anti-intellectualism coming out again.
Here's some links that fed my brain this month. Now that I think about it, I realize I read all these articles in their paper formats. But they live here too. It's all an informational mish-mash; let's give the Internet its due.
Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris wrote a very detailed and creepy account of what went on at Abu Ghraib in The New Yorker. What turned low-level U.S. military police into oppressors, torturers, and in the case of specialist Sabrina Harman, cheerfully photogenic digital journalists of the entire war-crime scene? This is pretty much an overview of hell on Earth.
I love The Oregonian and actually look forward to reading its opinion page each morning. Associate editor David Sarasohn can be counted on for thoughtful, well-researched columns. Today he wrote about the costs of the Iraq war in money and lives, and the lack of policy that put us there and keeps us there; not an easy topic for one column, but it's all in there.
The Oregonian regularly publishes Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column from The Miami Herald. Today he thanks Mike Huckabee for showing empathy for Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And he thoughtfully criticizes the media for over-doing the coverage of Obama's church leader, when past presidents and presidential candidates have made equally racist statements with barely a news-lead blip.
Keith pointed me to Peggy Noonan's column in today's Wall Street Journal on Hillary Clinton's history of lying and thuggishness while campaigning. Her "memory" of landing in Bosnia is really character-revealing. Noonan blasts her most harshly.
If you want to be informed, subscribe to Discover Magazine. Every issue is a mind-boggling accumulation of science news from around the world. April's edition has a really interesting interview with Wade Davis, a sort of Indiana Jones of natural psychedelic substances. He's famous for figuring out the secret ingredients of Haitian zombie poison (key component: puffer fish). The History Channel will air his two-hour special, Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey, on April 20th. I cannot resist a title like that; can you?
Also in Discover, an article on Bodie, California, one of the best preserved ghost towns in the nation. And how to find a ghost town near you. If you use a PC, you can download the Orbiter Space Flight Simulator and pilot spacecrafts around our solar system (without leaving the house). More entertainment: the best science photos of 2007, and 20 things you didn't know about sex. Hey, it's important stuff. I can barely get through my Discovers but they're always fascinating. I can feel my brain expanding as I thumb through the articles, written for regular people like me. I have a goal to read the entire Einstein issue before summer. Discover titles it, "Albert Einstein, Rock Star" to spark our interest, because you know Americans--we're all like, "DUH..."
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Their only album Philosophy of the Worldwas not a chart-buster but upon reissue in 1982, it attracted some interest from the media and college radio people. Frank Zappa and Lester Bangs were fans. "Rolling Stone" and "The New Yorker" wrote profiles on them. I first heard The Shaggs, like many people, at my college radio station.
A typical introduction to the group went like this: mischevious, usually male DJ would whip out the album and ask, "Have you heard this?" Nod no, cautiously--will this cost you cool points? Look at that cover--probably not. DJ would then throw the record on and watch your reaction with an open-mouthed half smile; the same look my sociopathic childhood friend gave me the day she convinced me to eat nail polish because "it tastes just like strawberries." She even ate it first to prove her point (I told you she was a sociopath). After listening for two or three moments, you hold your hands over your ears, yelling, "Aaaaah! Why have you done this to me?! I will kill you!!!" By then the bandy-legged speedfreak would be out the door, cackling mercilessly.
But whoa, hold on there, if you managed to listen a bit longer, you would experience something close to being haunted. There is something troubling yet innocent within the Shaggs sound. Their attempts at music are primitive like Grimms fairy tale folk. Folk who live deep in the forest of...somewhere...early dawn of time perhaps? There's no denying it: The Shaggs have soul. They continue to repel, astound and inspire.
I Love (this is a Tom T. Hall cover)- video by hemablokker
My Pal Foot Foot - video by mrsticker2
My Pal Foot Foot note-for-note cover by Play from kazak0914
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
James Page playing in a skiffle band at either age 14 or 15, depending on the arguments among YouTube commentators. So the date is approximately 1958 or '59. Quiet James did not follow the pursuit of biological research and so far skiffle has not made a come-back in the public consciousness. We await the Christopher Guest mock-doc on the subject: Hidy Ho! Skiffle Me This with Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, and the rest of the wacky gang.
Page became a celebrated session man, playing guitar on a lot of would-be hits. Here he plays on Nico's first single "I'm Not Sayin'" (1965) before she came to the States and joined The Velvet Underground. Will we ever crack the mysterious code that was Nico? What was going on beneath that beautiful icy exterior? She definitely wasn't sayin'.
Page was asked, or begged, depending on who's writing the history, to join The Yardbirds after Jeff Beck quit. Here, guitar maestros are gimpsed briefly in the trailer for Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup.
Antonioni wisely forgoes the pursuit of "realism" when shooting a rock show. Those scenes never look real anyway because movie-making is the opposite of a rock show--rarely does anything spontaneous or even exciting happen on a movie set--it's one long lighting set-up and extras-blocking session. So he goes for heightened realism to show the apathy and destruction inherent in 60s London. I guess. I wasn't there, obviously. One thing we know for sure: The Yardbirds were so awesome man.
So when are we getting to the LED ZEP? Okay, okay, here's "Whole Lotta Love" with Led Zeppelin giving you every inch of their love.
And finally, the cello bow guitar solo from "Dazed and Confused" at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970. How many of us enjoyed this scene in The Song Remains the Same while sitting in suburban movie theaters at midnight, bombed out of our minds? I would guess at least several hundred thousand. Jimmy Page, session man, blues man, ax man, innovator, Zoso-pants wearer: he just never gets old.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I believe this is the first Nirvana song I ever heard, or at least took any notice of, through the wall of my flat in San Francisco. My roommate Eleanor was a member of the now defunct Sub Pop Singles Club and she started listening to Nirvana like, right away, when they actually first released a record. I think she paid $27 a month to Sub Pop and they sent her a bunch of singles (meaning, 7" records) from then-unknown bands on a monthly basis. So she had first dibs on buying "Bleach" or something, and I started noticing an interesting bass line filtering through our typically un-insulated San Francisco walls.
I politely knocked on her door before barging in and asking "Who's this guy singing? He sounds like he's yelling into a shoebox or something." She kindly lent me all Nirvana vinyl in her possession and I started roping my friends in with it. "Hey listen to this guy singing," I'd say. "He has a really good voice." My friends listened with puzzled expressions on their faces. A year later, I became known as "the girl who turned her friends on to Nirvana."
But I want to set the record straight now. My roommate was cooler (and younger) than me. I never would have forked out money to a tiny label from Seattle in the hopes they would send me any good music. Yes of course now, in retrospect, I would LOVE to own some rare singles from Nirvana, Mudhoney and L7. Hand them over. But it's too late and I just want the world to know. It wasn't me, world. It was Eleanor. I was just listening in.
video source: wade7677
Monday, March 24, 2008
Here's another hint:
It was only a matter of time before it would be Valley of the Dolls time around here. For me, this movie never gets tired. Before you roll your eyes and get all Lovey Howell on me, saying, "Oh PLEASE!," hear me out: Yes, it's got the bad screenplay, terrible dialogue, ridiculous situations, god-awful showtunes (I own the soundtrack), bizarre-o 60s glam costumes, sky-high hair, and mental institution-grade acting; yes, yes, of course, all those things and more. But it's got that extra special something that makes it eternal: not a single moment in Valley of the Dolls is real. Not one!
It wants you to think it's real, but it's completely artificial from the moment we enter Anne Welles' forever snow-covered New England town, to Neely O'Hara's high-decibal curtain call to herself in a garbage-strewn studio-lot alley.
Of course the badness makes it so good, but it's the artificiality that makes it special. Broadway legend Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) really tanks on stage, listing to one side like a unbalanced mannequin and croaking out her number in the Broadway sensation, "Hit The Sky" ("My tree will not be just one in a row...") while easily upstaged by a giant mobile. Yet the audience is rapt and Helen commands top billing and major back-stage grovelling by all who encounter her. As played by Patty Duke, Neely O'Hara is definitely not especially talented, charismatic or appealing, yet her storyline follows the Judy Garland lifetime arc anyway. Barbara Parkins' Anne Welles goes from secretary to cardboard cut-out supermodel in nanoseconds upon arrival in New York.
But why am I gabbing away here, when you can just see for yourself? Let us embrace the wonder and misguided madness that is:
Meet the girls (and completely ignore their weak-willed, smarmy, ineffectual love interests). Anne Welles - a vision in beige.
Broadway legend and head beotch, Helen Lawson.
Neely O'Hara, the up-and-comer--she's got spunk, moxie, a voice like gargled Lysterine.
The lovely and untalented Jennifer North.
And lest we forget—Miriam. Lee Grant certainly has presence—ominous presence.
Show business is a cruel business, as evidenced here.
There's the tedium of bust exercises.
The hard physical work, resulting in seeing trails while cartwheeling.
I just like this lamp.
The onstage triumphs, overshadowed by ridiculous stage craft.
There's the audience.
What follows are way too many screen shots from the Gillian Girl Hairspray ad campaign, but I just can't help myself. Have pity on me. Barbara Parkins would understand.
Yes mother. I am doing my bust exercises. The beautiful and tragic Sharon Tate.
Trouble in paradise.
It's too damn HOT!!!
I'm fond of the coat rack on the left. Urban Outfitters has a similar one in three colors for only $68.
The bitterest line in all of film history: Sparkle Neely SPARKLE!
How DARE you! You have SOME nerve! Contaminating MY pool with your FILTH!
The completely straight Ted Casablanca.
Suspicious with vinyl pillow.
Broadway doesn't go for booze and dope.
Dhrr shee prirr dee perrr firrssz.
NEELY! NEEEEEELY O'HARA!!!!
Oh for fuck's sake.
The special edition of Valley of the Dollscontains two DVDs of excellence, including screen tests, commentaries by Barbara Parkins and E!'s Ted Casablanca, photo stills, lobby card reproductions, karaoke with bouncing pills, and two short films; a vintage documentary about author Jacqueline Susann and a new documentary featuring the story of Theater-A-Go-Go's successful theatrical production of the movie. Clumsily titled, Gotta Get off this Merry-Go-Round: Sex, Dolls and Showtunes; it should be called, How 'Valley of the Dolls' has Been Read and Enjoyed by its Gay Audience Throughout the Years. Just as clumsy but more telling, and it's as funny as the film it reveres. Entertaining a cult following since 1967.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
I only saw one show there and I wish it had been this one. I like the interactive yet off-putting aesthetics. It's now, it's happening, it's XBXRX.
I must mention here that 94.7 is such a great resource to have in the car or at home. The DJs are low-key and almost berefit of ego. They love music and they're respectful of their audience. They play a lot of Ziggy Stardust and promote local music, featuring bands with men AND women. The emphasis is not on angry-male cock rock, which is not always the case with alternative music stations. KITS, San Francisco, I'm talking to you. I do wish they'd ease up on The Police. I've had enough Police to last a lifetime, but that's a minor quibble. 94.7--you know it's true; you rule.
Official Fastball site.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Chris Robinson, 18, says dancing gives him the holy spirit.
Chris from Oregonian News on Vimeo.
Joshua Dudley, 20, says the dancers don't connect with the beat but make the beat follow them.
Josh from Oregonian News on Vimeo.
William Ylvisaker, 16, says people think he can't dance because he's white so he likes winning them over. To those people I have one name for you: Donald O'Connor.
Will from Oregonian News on Vimeo.
Actual quotes and more video on OregonLive.com.
Link to the movie trailer for Rize, the 2005 documentary on krumping by David La Chapelle (why does that ONE guy get to narrate every movie trailer out of the U.S.? You know that guy--whether it's for Armageddon or Mighty Ducks 2, he narrates every trailer in that tense, going-to-war voice. So even though this film is all about a dance-off featuring residents of South Central, Los Angeles, we have to hear this desperately intense-sounding white-guy voice narrating the action. There' a disconnect and it's a dumb marketing move.)
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Daft Punk - Around The World, 1997
The Pipettes - Because It's Not Love (But It's Still a Feeling)
Strawberry Switchblade - Since Yesterday, 1984
Quiet Riot with Randy Rhoads - It's Not So Funny, 1977
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Is America ready for a thoughtful, intelligent, eloquent President? I hope so. Discussions about race can be very uncomfortable, heated, awkward, emotional. I had some in Oakland with my African American neighbors and those conversations were all those things and more, but talking about it is better than ignoring it. And sometimes those discussions evolve into something really cool: understanding--hopefully. Long speech, but it's a home run.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
We always hated if someone had a "0" in their phone number because "0" took a long time to spin back round the dial. "1" was best for quick calling. Later when push-buttons phones became popular, we received copies of The Pushbutton Telephone Songbook: Volume 1 and called our friends and played push-buttoned versions of "Row Row Row Your Boat" for them on the phone.
When someone called you the bell rang (because it was an actual bell): ring-a-ling-a-ling! And if you weren't home or didn't answer, it just kept doing that until the person on the line hung up. And that was that. The telephone inspired some pretty intense emotions when it came to human relationships and attempts at communication. There used to be this thing called a busy signal and if you were trying to call someone and the person you were calling was on the phone, that signal would blare in your ear. It sounded like this: EHH! EHH! EHH! EHH! EHH! Pretty annoying; not as annoying as call waiting, but pretty close.
We used telephone directories, called Information and the Time Lady, and searched our pockets for dimes and a working phone booth.
Here are some songs from the distant past, all inspired by the telephone. You can sense the seething emotions in these performances. Will she call? Should I call? Will he call back? Why don't you answer? For God's sake, answer the goddamn telephone! Our current technology has not inspired such pop soulfulness.
The Jags - Back Of My Hand, 1979
Tommy Tutone - 867-5309/Jenny, live on "Fridays" 1983
Blondie - Hanging On The Telephone, 1978
Photo credit: John Carson collection at TelephoneTribute.com
Portable Cellular Phone Booth
The Payphone Project - Telephone Booths and Payphones From Around The World
Jim Pallas - PhoneyVents Telephone Art Project