Browsing Tag

noise the column

Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, Music, News, Opinion

Superlatives, The Column

February 2, 2015

I’ve read the data: my readers respond when I insult icons, dissect shabby and rotting pop phenomena, or reel off subjective but very vocal ‘best of’ lists.  So, as much as I enjoy tumbling into great downy word-beds influenced by Ginsberg, Pound, and Joseph Mitchell, today I am giving the people what they want:  I’m going to list some of my favorite (and least favorite) rock-type things, culminating in the crowning of The World’s Douchiest Artist.

Now, let me note this list is ENTIRELY SUBJECTIVE and completely based on my personal experience, and I make ZERO claims otherwise. When I list my favorite songs, shows, or records, I recognize that my world-view is relatively limited; for instance, I don’t know very much about jazz, so Oscar Peterson or Keith Jarrett or even Miles could have made something that would shake my musical foundations to their very core, but I was too busy listening to Hawkwind, Fu Manchu or the Kinks to discover it.

So as you go on this little journey with me, remember that I’m not pretending any of this is absolute (though a lot of it probably is).

What was THE best show I ever saw?  If I could go back in time and see ONE band on ONE night again, who would it be?  Easy.  Hanoi Rocks.  At Danceateria in 1983, I saw them define soaring, leaping, splitting, snarling, rock’n’roll; they combined thirty years worth of rock memes into one glitter-metal-punktastic night, taking the most acrobatic, cartoonish, and extreme aspects of the Who, Stooges, Dolls, and Damned and blending it (literally) perfectly into one loud, tight/loose, hissing, sassy, sashaying beast of PURE JOY.   Honorable mention:  The Clash (any/every show I saw ’79 – ’83), Stiff Little Fingers (1980), and R.E.M. circa ‘82/’83.

Hanoi Rocks, circa 1983.

What was THE live performance that turned me into a Puddle on the Floor and Changed My Life? Young Marble Giants at Hurrah in NYC in November 1980.  The show was an exhilarating master class in expanding the possibilities inherent in a rock combo; these three unassuming, pale people walked on stage and introduced to me the idea that quiet and shocking, hushed and gigantic were compatible.  YMG were a tsunami of tension wrapped in beauty, punk rock power tucked in a pocket of a cloud.

Hey, I was at this show.

This painting by Hitler instantly brings to mind “Karn Evil 9″ by ELP, obviously.

What is the Worst Song of the Rock Era?  (N.B., the work of any and all jam bands is exempt, for reasons I explain here)  Recently, a friend was attempting to explain to me that the loathsome, artistically venal and conceptually corrupt ELP were not all bad, and they directed me to the songs “Lucky Man” and “Hoedown.”  I explained the following:  Hitler was a pretty decent landscape painter, but that hardly matters, does it?  Now, let’s assume “Lucky Man” is a reasonably charming painting of the Vienna Opera House. “Karn Evil 9” is the London Blitz.  46,000 civilian dead.  Does one nice watercolor make me forget 46,000 civilian dead?  No, I don’t think so.

If I had only ONE song to listen to for the rest of my life, What would it be? “Hallogallo” by Neu! (please note, as always, the exclamation point is part of the name).  The first track off of Neu!’s first album consolidates the spacious, gorgeous, revolutionary open-mindedness of Krautrock, the nearly-sinister power and maxi-minimalism of the Velvet Underground, the lessons of 20th Century avant-garde composition (like LaMonte Young, Schoenberg, Cage, Reich, Riley, etcetera), the wah-joy heaviness of Hendrix, and A LOT OF DRUGS into one EXTRAORDINARY song.  In addition, EVERY musician should be COMPELLED to listen to “Hallogallo” – it is an extraordinary lesson in harmony, power, and patience, and it serves as a sweet, sweeping enema for all bad musical habits.  Honorable mention:  Nothing.  “Hallogallo” is THE BOMB, figuratively and literally.

The Three Albums You Must OwnPet Sounds by the Beach Boys, Metal Box/Second Edition by PiL, and Ramones by The Ramones.  Each of these are aesthetically nearly perfect, conceptually extraordinary, monstrously influential, and of unquestionable historic value. Honorary Mention:  The Beatles by The Beatles (The White Album).

I know what you’re thinking at this point:  “Tim, I have always been confused by the fact that during the Civil War there were Slave-Owning states that REMAINED part of the Union.  I mean, Tim, we were always told that the Civil War was this slave vs. non-slave kind of thing.  So are you telling me that Lincoln and his honchos actually ALLOWED states where slavery was still LEGAL to stay in the Union?”  Why, yes, that’s true.  The CSA was made up only of stated that SECEDED from the Union; if you were a state where slavery was LEGAL but you DIDN’T join the Confederacy and stayed in the Union, Lincoln and the U.S.A. was perfectly happy to have you.  HISTORY IS FULL OF GRAY AREAS, you see.  Remember that.

Michael Des Barres.

Who is The Nicest Rock Guy Ever?  Easy.  Michael Des Barres.  Not only is he one very talented and charismatic dude (and, if you recall, his song “Grim Reaper” landed in my ten-greatest riffs of all time list), he is also consistently kind and gracious without being superficial and patronizing, and he makes every fan feel like a friend.  Everyone in the freaking business should learn from him; being nice in no way compromises the intensity of your work or your ability to be deeply artistic or rocking.

Finally, Who is the Douchiest Artist of All Time?

Once again, I issue the caveat a) that this just reflects personal experience and b) I never personally interacted with either Paul Simon or Lou Reed, both of whom, I understand, are likely candidates for this honor.  Having said that…

The Douchiest Artist I ever met was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  I present this honor without comment, other than to say the singer was okay, kind-of.  Runner-ups are Jesus and Mary Chain and Ric Ocasek.

This guy was unnecessarily a rude prick to a 16 year-old fan 37 years ago and I have never forgotten.

I want to say a few words about Ric Ocasek, because there’s a lesson in there that I never, ever forgot:  I encountered Ric Ocasek when I was a wide-eyed 16 year-old.  And he was a total dick to me, for no discernible reason.  And I have never, ever forgotten the fact that a “rock star” would actually make the effort to be rude to an excited young fan.  A musician – either in a live situation or off-stage – has only one chance to make a first impression on a fan/listener, and the impression you make will stay with them for life.  Most of the people you meet and most of the people who see your band will only see your band that one time. So never throw away a show, never be rude to someone who just wants to acknowledge that they enjoy their work.  I mean, of course this doesn’t apply to stalkers or people who interrupt you during meals or personal conversations.  But you get the idea.

Godfather of Slocore OUT.  

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, Music, News, Opinion

Tim Sommer’s Letter to Blink 182 Fans

January 29, 2015

I understand that Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 has written a long and heartfelt letter to his fans, explaining and apologizing for his group’s dysfunction and inactivity. I respect that kind of outreach.  In fact, I respect it so much I thought I would write my own letter to Blink-182’s fans.

Dear Blink-182 Fans: 

I have never really listened to Blink-182, but I respect them.

Maybe that surprises you.  Well, a long time ago, I learned there was an unspoken brotherhood amongst musicians and music geeks.  Whether you are a member of Bon Jovi or Lightning Bolt, chances are you were the guy or girl in your high school who had the coolest record collection, who new insane and arcane details about your favorite musicians, who followed about fourteen weird bands for every one group in the pop charts.  Seriously, it’s an odd secret, but I guarantee it’s true: Pretty much anyone who’s put the time and effort into learning an instrument, pursuing a career, and putting up with all the bullshit surrounding the music business is bound to be a serious lover and student of music. So, regardless of any personal relationship I may or may nor have with Blink-182’s music, I respect them as brothers, people who cared deeply about music, and who made that obsession into a lifelong career.

And I respect their fans.

See, I am not going to play that game where I look down on you because you like Blink 182 but don’t like hipper, older, more obscure, or more credible bands.  For instance, I enjoy 20th Century neo-classical music; I like, oh, Aaron Copland, Krzysztof Penederecki, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Iannis Xenakis, etcetera.  But there’s definitely someone out there who will go “That guy is a douche!  He doesn’t know any Morton Gould or Benjamin Britten!  What a Neanderthal that Sommer cat is!”  Now, the fact that I can’t name any compositions by Benjamin Britten doesn’t mean I love or enjoy Terry Riley any less.  And the same goes for you.  Just because you can’t name any songs by, oh, the Dils or Crass or the Weirdos or the Pointed Sticks doesn’t mean that you aren’t as moved when you hear a song by Blink-182.  If a song reached your heart, if you heard something and thought “I cannot wait to share that with my best friend!” or “Looking forward to hearing that song got me through class today,” that’s all that matters! What possible difference does it make how famous or how obscure it is.  Shit, I spend a lot of my time listening to music you probably couldn’t even spell, but it still makes me deliriously happy to hear “Ray of Light” by Madonna, and I have no trouble screaming that fact to the world.

I am not going to look down on anything that moves anyone, provided it doesn’t espouse any hurtful or hateful bullshit or dogma.

See, there’s nothing wrong with popularity, nothing wrong with liking the popular.  Regardless of whether you listen to the most obscure noise from Brooklyn or the most mainstream pop, you probably listen to it for the same reason:  it moves you, it distracts you, it makes your day better, it gives you something to talk about with your friends or the people you want to be friends with, it says something for you that you cannot say yourself.  I feel that way when listening to “Fiery Jack” by the Fall or “Brando” by Scott Walker; someone else may feel the exact same thing when listening to Nickelback or Darius Rucker.  The messenger may change, but the listener’s motivation and heart stays the same.  A song that creates an amazing shared memory for someone is a spectacular gift, and I am not going to ridicule it, whether it’s by the Mekons or Miley Cyrus.

Now, as long as I have your attention, let me tell you a little about punk rock.

To me, more than anything else, punk rock means the freedom to be yourself and have your own opinion, and dream big dreams and love those dreams with all your heart, despite the naysayers; I believe punk rock is literally the opposite of conformity and bending to peer pressure.  More than a “sound,” it is just the idea of an unfettered, un-tethered imagination.  I also believe it is essentially a simple art form, where you discover and express beautiful, strong, powerful, intensely creative dreams that others might say are “too obvious” to express; in other words, people looked at the work of Picasso, Mondrian, and Pollock and said “My kid could do that,” or they heard the Ramones and said “Shit, anyone could play like that.”  But NO ONE had painted like that, no one had played like that. If you could do it, why didn’t you do it?  If your kid could have done it, why didn’t you encourage him or her to do so?  Often, beauty, genius, and invention are as obvious as the air we breathe. Punk Rock artists discover a new country, the one that was in front of us and under our feet and in our dreams the whole time; the one whose beauty and power was so obvious, it was like discovering a delicious, nutritious fruit just sitting there hanging from a low branch of a tree, and everyone else said “If it’s that easy to pick, why hasn’t someone already eaten it?  It must suck.”

Having said that, consider your love for Blink 182 a doorway.  Let that door lead you to the soul, spirit, joy, compassion, simplicity, artistic adventure and discovery, and immediate magic of Punk Rock.  Don’t mourn the demise of your favorite band; instead, celebrate what you loved about them and let that door lead you…

To the truth:  Punk rock, first and foremost, is an expression of what moves you, without the shadow of peer pressure.

To the visceral:  punk rock is about discovering the beauty and power of the obvious and everyday; the hum of a refrigerator can be punk rock; the ticking of a signal indicator can be punk rock; the one-chord passion of an old rockabilly song can be punk rock.

To the adventurous:  blow it all up and put it back together any damn way you want, any goddamn way that has the power to move you; and if it moves you, there’s a very good chance it will move someone else. That strange sound you want to hear over and over?  I bet someone else wants to hear it, too. Trust your ears and heart.

Perhaps you have the desire to be a “real” punk.  If so, please note:  A lot of the visual and iconic language of your “movement” is borrowed from the language of rebel politics and the battles of the disenfranchised to gain equality and socio-economic power.  Go to the roots of this iconography:  Don’t just “say” fight for your rights; actually fight for your rights, and other peoples. Literally nothing is “more” punk rock then helping those who have less, those who have no power, and protecting those who are in harms way. It’s not enough to “give the wrong time/stop a traffic line” as the brilliant Johnny Rotten wrote in “Anarchy in the U.K.”  Ideally, a punk should give the right time to someone who can’t afford a watch, and clear traffic in front of an abortion clinic.

Oh…if a band you like has ever done anything intentionally racist, sexist, homophobic, or refused to condemn any section of their fans that have done the same, then none of this applies.  Any band that doesn’t defend the disenfranchised, that is the artistically, economically, socially, sexually, politically disenfranchised, are just posers.

Good luck to you.  Timothy A. Sommer

P.S. Here are some records you might like:  “Teenage Kicks” or “My Perfect Cousin” by the Undertones; “Where Were You” and “Memphis, Egypt” by the Mekons; “Into the Valley” and “The Saints are Coming” by the Skids; “Babylon’s Burning,” “Staring at the Rude Boys” and “West One” by the Ruts; “Hurry Up Harry” and “Hersham Boys” by Sham 69; “Endangered Species” and “New Barbarians” by the UK Subs; anything at all off of the albums Damned Damned Damned, Machine Gun Etiquette, The Black Album, or Strawberries by the Damned; “Nobodys Hero” or “Alternative Ulster” by Stiff Little Fingers; “One Chord Wonders” by the Adverts; “The World the Day Turned Day-Glo” by X-Ray Spex; the entire Pink Flag and Chairs Missing albums by Wire; “This is the Modern World” by the Jam; and a thousand and eight more, especially the Metal Box/Second Edition album by Public Image Limited, the greatest and most creatively brave punk rock record of all time.

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, News, Opinion

NYC Drive: The Best Show In Town

January 28, 2015

Without a doubt, one of my favorite television channels is NYC Drive.  It features only one program, continuous but ever-changing: an endlessly compelling movie about the City of New York, told via static aerial views of the highways, bridges, parkways, and rivers that disfigure and delineate the great town.

24 hours a day, 7 days a week the NYC Drive Channel (Channel 72 on Time Warner cable) cycles through about two dozen live traffic cams, posted at various places in the five boroughs.  The shots are all taken from a reasonable distance, allowing you to take in a healthy slice of the landscape (along with the roads and the anonymous automobiles moving rapidly or flaccidly along them).

Seen for a few moments or seen for a few hours (believe it or not, it invites continuous viewing), NYC Drive is luxurious, elegant, sublime, moving, revealing and hypnotic, yet strangely frantic (the shifting of the images seems to defy a clock, and no image is ever the same twice, even if the camera is perfectly still); it is like the great New York movie Wim Wenders never made, a perfect, objectively dry yet subjectively wet conjuring of a city whose evocative power is so extreme it defies the almost brutal, robotic stillness of the cameras.

The images – each identified in some kind of effective shorthand (LIE & Van Wyk,  FDR and 115h, Maj Deegan & 167,  Bowery & Canal, QB Bridge & York, and so on) each have a compelling charm, and each (with the single exception of Times Square) feature virtually no human figures (the Times Square camera is also returned to like a refrain, far more frequently than other cameras, and it is held on screen far longer, almost as an identifying tag).  Every one of the many cameras also broadcasts with (sometimes dramatic) differences of clarity and tone, and this further adds to the effect of the piece when seen as a whole, since there is just enough similarity to create a hypnotic effect, but more than enough difference between images to keep one alert.

During the day, these strange, sometimes faded images, scarred oddly and intermittently by color (the Brooklyn Bridge shot would appear to be entirely black and white, except for the blurt of orange in a yield sign), seem timeless, having both the slightly herky-jerky quality of an old 8MM film and the majestic sweep of an early Technicolor movie  whose colors have faded into something strange, old and new; the tiny rumors of color also recall the chips of paint found on old Roman and Greek statues, something to be investigated further by experts, or filled in by people with either experience or imagination.

This is New York as palimpsest and blank page, both a history to be written over and a story to be filled in.  The New York City of NYC Drive is lonely, surreal, colors muted or mystical, saturated and sensational; it is both sooty and heavenly, toy-like and almost Soviet-era brutal.  This city is ready to be filled with souls and dreams and transients and travelers, it is the definitive image of New York City as tabula rasa.

Watch the damn thing (especially if you like the glacial, gorgeous films of Wenders or Tarkovsky). For me, NYC Drive is the story of a place, a great place, ripe for imagination and self-fiction (for largely gone are the questions of commerce, gentrification, phony Elmos and real landlords);  it is all I ever wanted the city to be:  a canvas for the possible, a treasure box to hold the weight of the past, a surface and safe for  all the dreams of glory and mammon and even repose the city is built on.  Staring at the endless but constantly changing pictures of NYC Drive, I realize these images recall my very earliest hopeful impressions of the city: the muted, promising, swelling skylines and speeding headlights of the Million Dollar Movie intro, and the quick flickers of the city as the effervescent, unpredictable, and romantic place you would see in the openings of newscasts, sitcoms, or sporting events.

I only wish there was music – perhaps the spacious,deeply emotional instrumentals of Roedelius or Satie, or maybe the motorik-motor-ticking pulse of Neu!, Kraftwerk or the Feelies; or maybe some mix of cool, candle-lit instrumentals by Air or Dave Brubeck; and, of course, the sinuous, gently satanic majesty of “Rhapsody in Blue.”  But the silence works, too, because your heart fills the quiet in with memories, hopes, and even fragments of just the right music.

NYC Drive is a very slowly pulsing, ever-moving, shiver-happy and shiver-sad movie loaded with the images of childhood dreams and distant hopes; and the glorious nighttime feed is bound to remind you of that one perfect night when the Checker carrying you and your date passed through a cloudy stack of man-hole steam, and the Subway Inn neon broke bright and wet on the windshield.

Because at night is when the feed really comes alive.  The Manhattan-based shots dissolve into vivid, almost lurid golds, blues, whites, and oranges. Aspects of the images seem to become clearer with the night, whereas other factors dissolve into beautiful blots of almost-churchlike bronze and gold; and in shots where the rivers creep in, the water shimmers with 800 shattered split-moons.

Outside of the Manhattan cams, the more color-less night images look barely defined but compelling and identifiable, like fantastic pin-drawings; or they wobble like kinescopes; or they are cool and full of graphite-grays and bursts of white, like old spy images of Eastern Europe (at times oddly splashed with a spot of color on the horizon, like a distant Cathedral seen from a train window at night).

I really can’t say enough about the magic of watching NYC Drive, either as an interstitial curiosity to be clicked to during commercials of another show, or to be watched at length, with the attention you would give to a great art film.  I don’t know whether the enchantment of NYC Drive is intentional or accidental, but the effect is real; it is the story of the city and your hopes, fast, static, full of gravity, full of lead, hazy and precise, colored bright and modern and ancient pencil-gray.

And I have to imagine – it has to be intentional, right, because who is watching the TV to figure out what roads they should avoid?

And perhaps, most importantly, I have actually used the word Palimpsest into a column.

P.S. Sting is a tool.

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, History, Music, News, Obits, Profiles

Happy Voyages, Joe Franklin

January 25, 2015

When his city hummed with radio waves, autumn colored incandescence heating up bakery brown Bakelite, He lived to be lit by the stars of the golden radio city, He lived to find relics in the smoky shade of the old Rialtos.

He lived to recall the pre-atomic radioactive shadow of Jolson.

Baby faced in Ballrooms actual and imagined, he had been bitten and beamed at by Banjo Eyes and found his one true church:
Wintergardens where the sacrament was the croon and cry of immigrant America, slippery with Yiddish and leaping with long Italian syllables.

And this was his world, the world created by Jews and minstrels and men of gossip and kings of jazz. On shellac and magic Philco, they were more perfect to the heart than sloppy reality. Life in Newsprint was always better than the newsprint-colored world, and what truth, sepia sad, could compete with the cartoon curve of a Dagmar’s hip?

When the winter-white bathtub-colored sky above his city hummed with terrestrial television waves (and the bunny ears bent to catch them), the pictures from the Motorola fluttered and hissed and he knew: there was no love, no laughter, no tears greater nor more authentic than those we would find when persistence of vision fooled our eyes and made us think the flicker was real.

When his city was full of Robert Moses modern, and the Zenith was tube-heated and so sexy-warm to the touch, and in the TV Guide there was a big C next to the talk shows and summertime fun hours; when the children sat Indian-style in Great Neck dens and overheated Chinatown flats and Grand Concourse kitchens and Captain Jack taught us, all of us equal in his eyes whether we be belly-full or belly-empty, about Hal Roach and Moe Howard.

And behind a desk and a cool, Canada Dry he reminded us, like a Buddha, that everything old was alive in the new; and that Tony Pastor knew Weber & Fields and Weber & Fields knew Lillian Russell and Lillian Russell knew Ziegfeld and Ziegfeld knew Fanny Brice and it went on and on and eternally returned to the beginning and the middle and it could not be more beautiful.

When his city hummed with the slap and jaw of the three Card Monte men in a Times Square shattered and burst and smelling of ammonia and weed, everything yellow like old Scratch’s stucco and the vials crunching crisply underneath hurried feet, he insisted we make time for King Vidor and Johnny Ray and a self published author from the Tuckahoe, and it could not be more beautiful.

I looked through a window in his building once (true), a building full of Bialystocks and tragic hopefuls and hope-nots huddled by dairy-creamer creased coffee machines, and I squinted through wire’d windows, dark with soot at any time of the day, out to the Deuceland below; and if you looked through half-closed/half-happy eyes you could see his city, as he saw it, clocks clicked back and El Morocco black and white, a pigeon-colored world turned at dusk to Roxy Rainbow light fogged by camel smoke rings and a Canadian Club just within reach.

I looked into his eyes once, true, and saw Phil Silvers and Cantor and even sweet Veronica Lake in the shark’s teeth tick of the sassy iris.  Pass me your world, dear friend of so many nights, of every age of my life; give me your century, your hungry, sassy Jews, your prat-falling Irish, your Midwestern Cleopatra’s and Neopatras curved of plenty, your crooners, your jugglers, your tin pan beggars and boastful losers, your soon to be’s and once weres; give me your century, the last century, when the arc lights were high and the overture started at 8:05, sing me the song of your century, give me the paint with which you touched up tense reality and made it tender and alive with song and silent film.

And he is the last of this world, and I love him so.

And to love him without irony is to love the hope felt when you were a child and you lost a breath when the blue lights caught the star on stage.

Joe Franklin March 9, 1926 – January 24, 2015

Suis Generis

And apropos of nothing/everything:

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, Music, News, Opinion

Kraftwerk’s Incredible Invention (and Where It Came From)

January 23, 2015

“The simplest description of emptiness in the Buddhist teachings is this sentence: This is because that is. A flower cannot exist by itself alone. To be can only mean to inter-be. To be by oneself alone is impossible. Everything else is present in the flower; the only thing the flower is empty of is itself.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

Where do we find the origin of the profoundly original?

Earlier this week a Kraftwerk Symposium took place in Birmingham, England, and frankly, THAT’S FANTASTIC.  Kraftwerk are INARGUABLY the second most influential band of the past half century, and a concentrated academic examination of their work is not only long overdue, it makes me happier than a peanut butter cup wrapped inside a larger peanut butter cup.  I wasn’t able to make it to the symposium because I had a previous commitment to, uh, have a life (not to mention that my time is consumed pressuring the International Court at The Hague to charge Dick Van Dyke with Crimes Against Humanity for his English accent in Mary Poppins).

Now, Kraftwerk are not my favorite band – they’re not even my favorite krautrock band – but that has nothing to do with their importance.  In 1973 and ’74 (on their 3rd LP, Ralf und Florian and coming to fruition on the legitimately historic Autobahn album), Kraftwerk replaced all elements of the pop/rock rhythm section with a pulsing, throbbing, quantized synth; in other words, they replaced the drums and the bass, without exception, with simple yet satisfying synth burps and nothing but simple yet satisfying synth burps.  Make no mistake:  although other artists had experimented with using the synth as a defacto drum or bass supplement or substitute (for instance, the Beach Boys on “Do It Again,” even the original Doctor Who Theme, remarkably devised by Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire in 1963), no artist had said this is our sound; this our body and our soul, and we now challenge you to accept that a complete pop music rhythm section can be created by the quantized  synthesizer.

Every synthetically thumping rhythm section you have heard since then – from the obvious Kraftwerk homages like “Funkytown” and Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” to the ubiquity of the modern tsk-and-burp/boots’n’pants beat in virtually all modern pop and dance music – can be traced, without fail, to Kraftwerk’s amazing invention.  NO other moment in pop is as absolute and viscerally fundamental as “Autobahn.” I’ll be honest:  I am a fairly avid student of this shit, and I am hard-pressed to find a moment in post-World War II mainstream pop history that is as absolutely new and defining.  There have been plenty of other remarkable scene changes in the last 70 years  (Hardrock Gunter and Ike Turner’s use of distorted electric guitar in r’n’b and hillbilly music in 1950 and ‘51; Bo Diddley replacing the old pick and slap of hillbilly rock with fat ham slabs of rhythm roar half a decade later; Dave Davies invention of the modern bar chord riff in 1964; the Ramones massive, massively original, and massively glorious reduction of all existing rock memes in ’74; and so on), but Kraftwerk’s invention of the totally self-contained synth-generated rhythm section is likely the biggest purely musical scene change in the history of rock/pop.  I mean, the Fabs are, no doubt, the most influential band of all time, but Kraftwerk are a very, very close second, and very likely number one if you drop long held generational prejudices against dance music.

Having said that…one must acknowledge that the basic roux that flavored Kraftwerks’ gumbo had to come from somewhere (please re-read the quote that begins this piece – only a fool or a fundamentalist Christian believes in Virgin birth).  Now, the foundation of the Kraftwerk sound was a pulsing, metronomic beat that mesmerized with a steady tick and minimal chord changes.  Keep that in mind. Perusing the program for the symposium, I’m not sure this point was actually addressed:

Circa 1971, after their release of their peculiar, anti-jazz, anti-pop, bongo-and-flutey first album, Kraftwerk briefly had a three-piece line-up, comprised of Florian Schneider (flute and synths), Klaus Dinger (drums), and Michael Rother (guitar).  Video and audio of this short-lived line-up reveal a band playing intense, punching, pulsing jams with minimal chord changes, resembling precise mongoloids playing “Sister Ray,” or perhaps you could say they sound like some stoned, happy, and aggressive Germans trying to blend Stooges/Hendrix shrrrroarrr-wang-wang with the mono-chord jams of early NYC minimalist composers like LaMonte Young and Tony Conrad.  The music of Schneider, Dinger, and Rother is vastly original – it reduces the idea of “jam” to John Cale drones married to a caveman surf beat.  This sound reached it’s fullest fruition when Dinger and Rother split off to form Neu!, a band whose phased, ticking, rumbling, endless one-chord explorations made for some of the most original, powerful, and influential rock ever recorded.

(the Incredible Schneider/Dinger/Rother Kraftwerk, late 1971)

But Neu! wasn’t the only child of the brief and brilliant Schneider/Dinger/Rother Kraftwerk.  The future, commercially giant Kraftwerk was Neu!’s remarkable twin. It is clear – very goddamn clear – that when Schneider reunited with Ralf Hutter (who returned to the band he co-formed in 1972), there was a conscious decision to leave the odd, dumbed-down proggy thumps, bells, and whistles behind (again, the early Kraftwerk sound resembles a very stoned, very, minimalist free jazz group doing collegiate exercise in interpreting Stockhausen), and instead attempt a sound that IMITATED Dinger and Rother’s ultra-minimal motorway beat (the actual name is “motorik”) that hinted at long highways, minimal variation, and maximum energy.

So I posit – shit, I barely need to posit it, there’s plenty of evidence to back it up – that the “Autobahn” sound that reinvented pop was “just” an attempt to replicate on synths the sound that Dinger/Rother had brought to Kraftwerk during their brief time in the band.  Now, NONE of that is to minimize the invention; and there is great, ENORMOUS, radical genius in Hutter and Schneider’s decision to reinterpret Dinger and Rother’s motorway drive with synths and synths alone – but I am anxious to give credit where credit is due.  I will add, for the sake of accuracy/completion, that an academic-type could make a fairly strong case for the sound of the Schneider/Dinger/Rother Kraftwerk being a more simplistic, driving, spacious exploration of the herky-jerky seizure-on-the-railway sound that the Schneider/Hutter/Dinger Kraftwerk had explored on a first-album track called “Ruckzuck” – remember, “Everything else is present in the flower”.

Now back to those emails to the International Court at The Hague.

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, Music, News, Opinion

Tom Petty’s Tiny, Muppet-like Feet, and Other Observations from the Life of a (Sometimes Assholic) Music Journalist

January 22, 2015

I had the extraordinary good fortune to begin a career as a music journalist when I was barely 16. In the spring of 1978, Ira Robbins, one of the inventors of Modern New Wave/Punk culture, hired me as an office boy at Trouser Press magazine, and for some reason began running some of my stories. Actually, I had begun interviewing some pop figures for fanzines and my high school paper even before then.

Until that time, musicians were people who existed only in the heated sibilance thumping and hissing out of the Korvettes-bought stereo set; and they lived only in posters on my suburban bedroom wall, and the pages of the NME, Melody Maker, Sounds or Trouser Press (the only magazines an anglophile teen like me would deign to read); and they were only seen from the balcony of the Palladium, through a blue haze of sweet weed smoke and an array of dull yellow, red, and green lights. But once I began interviewing these cats, they began actually appearing in front of me in real life. The first musicians I recall interviewing were Johnny Fingers and Pete Briquette from the Boomtown Rats and Paul Weller from the Jam, followed quickly by the Bay City Rollers, the Yachts, and the Sinceros; then the floodgates opened when I started hosting the interview show on WNYU (and I began getting additional journalistic assignments from the aforementioned Sounds, Smash Hits, the Daily News, and other publications). Soon, I was thinking of these people as peers, not Gods, and I even formed some long-lasting friendships with people I first met during interviews, like Martin Atkins, Michael Stipe, and Robyn Hitchcock.

The excitement never wore off, and I always considered myself very lucky to be doing something so gorgeously ridiculous and (usually) getting paid for it; but sometimes – especially when I worked for MTV and VH-1 in the 1980s and early 1990s – the interviews were done out of obligation, and my sense of reverence wore off. In fact, I often found my professionalism challenged, for one reason or another, and often had to fight the urge to act completely ridiculous.

Tom Petty around the time I found myself disturbed almost to the point of hysteria by his tiny Muppet feet (not pictured)

While at VH-1, circa 1990, I once interviewed Tom Petty, and was hugely disturbed by his tiny little feet. Yes, he had teeny little feet, the kind you’d see dangling from a Muppet. It was terribly distracting. I was genuinely afraid I would say, “Now tell us what was it like working with Jeff Lynne on your new album, titled Tiny Little Muppet Feet?” And I had to fight the urge to follow up that question by saying “Let’s talk about your new video for the track ‘My God, I can’t help thinking those tiny little feet would look great in a pair of 1979-style Capezios, like the kind the theatre girls would wear in high school. Seriously, man, I can’t stop staring at your feet and wondering, ‘Why aren’t you wearing Capezios, perhaps in pink or puce or some suitably 1979-ish pastel color, on those tiny little Muppet feet?’ And who will be directing that video?”

Once, in a non-interview setting, I was introduced to Roger Daltrey. Nothing had prepared me for how short he was. I had assumed, based on the low-angle shots in the Woodstock movie and The Kids Are Alright film, and all the imaging of him as a flaxen haired, laser-halo’d Rock God, that he would be, well, a lean and solid giant, about the height of Michelangelo’s David (or at least as tall as Ed Koch). But he stood in front of me, like something about to be trotted out in the Toy Group at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Years earlier, I had met Angus Young and Malcolm Young from AC/DC, who really are as small as under-nourished 6th graders, but I was prepared for that. No one had forewarned me or sent me a memo that said “Oh, Roger Daltrey will be in your office in 5 minutes, he is only slightly taller than a G.I. Joe with Kung Fu Grip.” I should have been warned, really.

G.I. Joe with Kung Fu Grip

Speaking of Kung Fu grips, I had a slightly different encounter (again, in a non-interview setting) with Sinead O’Connor. We were introduced by a mutual friend outside a trailer at some event – I think it was 1990 – and she shook my hand. She had literally the strongest handshake I had ever felt. Genuinely – I am not making this up – my hand hurt for three days afterwards.

Sometimes, I lost the fight to maintain decorum. During my VH-1 years, I interviewed Genesis. Let me (briefly) explain that we were “faking” a two-camera shoot – that is to say, this was all being taped with one camera, and would later be assembled to make the viewer think we shot the thing with two cameras (i.e., one camera on the artist, the other camera on yours truly, asking questions and sagely nodding his head while listening to the band’s stupefyingly uninteresting and unrevealing responses). As part of the this process, once the question-asking part of the interview was over, we positioned the camera over the band’s shoulders, and ran tape of me fake-listening and doing the afore-mentioned sage nodding. So, we set up the cameras for this shot – again, you’d see the back of the heads of Phil Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford and you’d see me, sitting in front of them, clipboard in hand, acting all Morley Safer-ish (or at least Charles Osgood-ish). And I just couldn’t help myself and acted like a disrespectful prick. When the cameras rolled, instead of pretending to listen astutely to the band like I was supposed to, I actually pretended to nod out and fall asleep. Then, when we re-set the shot for another take, I acted like I was gently weeping, overcome by the sadness of hearing the band recount the tales of recording the We Can’t Dance album. I should underline that the band were three feet away from me, staring me in my arrogant, insouciant faux-weeping gob, as I was doing this. Genesis was not amused. Then again, very few people were in any way amused by the We Can’t Dance album.

Very shortly afterward I left VH-1.

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, LGBT, Music, News, Opinion

Reconsidering Elvis Presley

January 16, 2015

Somewhere in the sun-dulled suburbs clinging to Memphis, bleached yellow by the low, bright winter light and dotted by Super 8 signs on alien legs and baby-shit colored buildings labeled Dental Plaza, lies one of the Rosetta Stones of rock’n’roll.

There are many of these stele all over the Western World, some half-buried, some fully revealed, some forever lost; they can be found in the bricked up doorways of alleys in East Hollywood, in Hamburg cellars long-ago wiped clean of piss and beer, in New Orleans shotgun shacks where the Gods themselves were treated for cruel Gleet.

This particular stone, our Memphis Stone, has sat in plain sight for 60 years.  It is not so much that the words are unreadable as there are those who refuse to read them; some would say they are heresy, they not only defile the legend of the Poor Truck Driver but they also insult his fans.

The message, so obvious that it has defied revelation, reads like this:

Elvis did not succeed because of the myth that he was the first white boy who sang like a black man.  Elvis succeeded because he was the first white boy singer who looked like a pretty white girl.

In the 60 years (!) since Elvis debuted, we have become so used to the idea that pop stars are pouting man-girls that sexual ambiguity and the idea of rock has become synonymous.  Think of the Rolling Stones’ Lips logo, think of teen doe McCartney, think of all those narrow, serpentine singers pregnant with licked-pussy lips and lissome hips, think of rough-trade aping Jim Morrison virtually begging for a man-fuck, think of Botticellian Bolan or Stipe (and that’s before we ever address the more deliberately ambi-sexualists like Bowie, Dee Snider, power bottom Rob Halford, or Marilyn Manson).

We are so used to all this that it’s a bit hard to believe that the concept once didn’t exist.  Pre-Elvis singers might be handsome, but nobody outside of the eccentricities of vaudeville displayed femininity, or looked pretty and hard. Caucasian male vocalists, band leaders, and pop stars were wiry, beefy, bovine, beaming, brilliantined, priestly, aquiline, avuncular, handsome, lantern-jawed, gawking, agape, owlish, even fey; and in the realm of hillbilly music, they were either doughy or carried the withered, sunken, accusing faces you see in old Civil War photographs.

But none had been pretty like a girl, and certainly none had combined it with an absolutely assured male presence that was virtually palatable in every photo or recorded yelp and hiccup.

By re-inventing the male pop star as half-animal, half-girl (and becoming a unicorn-beautiful Satyr/ louche sex fiend in the process), Elvis Presley not only made the white world safe for his feral (albeit compact) r’n’b/Cajun-Appalachian-Opry crossover, but perhaps more importantly, he spoke to the un-voiced wish of millions of American girls: that their objects of desire did not have to resemble ManBulls like Vic Mature, but rather the ones they wanted to fuck could actually look like the best part of themselves.  The fantasy a young girl saw (or wished she saw) when she looked in a mirror – the heart shaped face, the fucked-to-bliss almond eyes, the wet liver-puff lips – could now be pinned on a Real Boy, and that real boy played real sex music, barely hiding a half-masted woody while drizzling innuendo and cat-in-heat howls over lyrics about trains and milkcows and momma.

Girls could now dream of fucking someone prettier than they were;  girls, many of whom were drawn to that lonely long-lashed angel who promised them a sensitivity the Shop Class boys could never offer, now had someone who embodied their romantic hopes, as opposed to their romantic fears.

The lasting aspect of the cultural tsunami triggered by Elvis the Pretty was threefold:

Elvis made it safe for mainstream American girls to desire the sensitive.  Brando and (to a greater degree) Tony Curtis hinted at this, but Elvis bought it home; he had the same gently sculpted, edgeless face that you saw on the humanized bunny dolls that Sharon, Ruth, Beverly, and Gloria had been snuggling with in their beds since before they could speak (or squeal).  Like McCartney a decade later, his almost unfinished face was only a half-step away from the quickly-drawn hearts a girl might scrawl in the margins of her Social Studies textbooks.  Now, contrast that to Sinatra; Sinatra was very nearly beautiful, but he had a roughly hewn gob that was more Rushmore than David.

Secondly, Elvis cast the template for the look of rock, and by that, I don’t mean the obvious rockabilly rebel pose or ghoulish quiff; by introducing that gender bend, by asserting that the masculine and the feminine, bundled up in one lithe and saucy package, could sell sex and song (and all the ancillary marketing that goes with the exploitation of teens damp and engorged), Elvis announced that the rebellion, the break from the past, would not just be musical, but sexual.

And finally and most importantly, by introducing the feminine into the mainstream cultural vocabulary, Elvis drew the line in the sand that identified the battleground for the future culture wars.  From that moment forward, from the first Wynonie-esque honk that lanced from his lopsided lady-lips, it would be freaks vs. straights.  The spirit of the 1960s, including its fullest blooming in the frippery of Haight Ashbury, the fervor of Stonewall, and the fuming junk-drones of the Velvets, begins when Pretty Elvis bursts on the consciousness of mainstream America in 1954 – 56.  The delineation of the Shirts and the Skins in the Culture Wars would not have been possible without Elvis’s absolutely brilliant and adamantly natural ability to be a true man and a true man-girl.

Now, having said all that, does the music matter?

Of course it does, and much of it is brilliant, but most of us can find more satisfying (and savage) r’n’billy with our eyes closed. Sure, his music was a great ticking-and-shaking shriek across the landscape, but it was the shattering, shuddering specter of the gorgeous man-woman/woman-man shaking his hips like a belly dancer on a State Fair Midway that made America, especially the little girls who had been seeking an ideal companion who shared their curves and kitten-gentle eyes, buy into the revolution.

Now, Elvis isn’t as big as he used to be.  See, if you came of age in the 1970s (or earlier), Elvis was a slurping, onyx-haired Golem of cool and kitsch whose name was synonymous with rock’n’roll.  At one time in the Land of Rock, Elvis Presley was considered the supernova against which no sun block could provide adequate protection.  I am just old enough to remember this time, when all roads led back to Elvis, and no conversation about the history and creative shape of rock music could be had without Elvis being referenced.  A silhouette of Elvis at the microphone (or Elvis holding his guitar, splay-legged, or even merely an un-detailed rendering of his profile) could literally represent the idea of rock’n’roll.  As late as, say, 1979, it was unimaginable that you would have a generation of music fans – knowledgeable or casual — who barely gave a shit about Elvis.

But relatively quickly – by, say, the mid or late 1980s – Elvis’s ubiquity dissipated.  There are a lot of reasons, and we can address those elsewhere.

And I miss him.  And it’s time to reconsider him and honor him for what may have been his greatest achievement:  as the father/mother of the feminine in rock, and it was the gender blend/bend that made rock what is:  the language of the anthem of all outsiders.

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, LGBT, Music, News, Obits

Lance Loud: The First Real Boy On The Sun

January 12, 2015

In 1973, I was unarguably a child, arguably pre-sexual, and extraordinarily curious about the world around me.  I was also constantly aware that I was being conned. I knew that the people I saw on television were strangers; not just strangers to my way of life (full of the usual oppressions, limitations, disenfranchisements, and handicaps of pre-pubescence), but also strangers to reality: these characters, these Bradys, these Partridges, these summertime replacement sketch comics, they were caricatures that reflected reality no more – and often far less – than cartoon characters did. 

Very few eleven year olds are free.  Not only are they almost completely dependent on family and parents, but their worldview is defined by available and accessible media (and their generational peers vomiting up the same).  At that age, in any era (not just the rotary phone/terrestrial television world of the early 1970s), even in this era, young people are a grotesque and addlepated mofungo of their environmental influences; we don’t know who we are, but we try to form an image of ourselves based on the slivers and shards of a thousand funhouse mirrors the world throws all around us.  In fact, virtually none of these mirrors reflect our actual selves in any functional or useful way. Each child is full of great depth, in many ways the same depth they will presume and assume as adults, yet we have to construct a world out of the largely one-dimensional residue of what adults presume to be our usefulness as consumers.

The list of the fears that shadowed my 11 year-old world was long and common:  the end of the world; the mortality of my parents; the thick shadows of the bullies or the lock-jawed disapproval of the teachers; the terror caused by lifts home from Hebrew school that never came; not to mention the foreshadow of sex, mysterious almost to the point of being otherworldly.  Honestly, not a single minute of any television show spoke to any of these issues, yet television was our world, our refuge from screaming families and fall-out drills and all the aforementioned everyday terrors.

I was aware, when I watched anything except for the news (Vietnam!  Spiro Agnew!  John Lindsay!  Mario Biaggi!  The Columbo Family! Joan Whitney Payson!  Aristotle Onassis!) that I was not watching reality; I was not watching anything that told me about who I was and who I might become.

Into this world, this world of fear and fakery, stepped Lance Loud. 

He was light, he was beautiful, he was an angel, he was utterly unlike anyone I had seen on television (and I watched a lot of television, being lonely, strange, and chubby), the world to him seemed to be a suitor to be charmed with a flip of your hair and a sly comment.  Even within the documentary format of the show that featured him, An American Family, he seemed hyper-real, like the birdsong heard for only eight seconds that is more beautiful than any recorded composition.

I immediately fell in love, even though I knew nothing yet of sexual desire, much less the mechanics of homosexuality.  I fell in love with his joy, his lithe, rubbery spirit, this person who seemed free and real and so strange yet so utterly familiar; he was the dreams I had not yet had (but only suspected); and what was most important about Lance Loud wasn’t that he was the first openly gay person on television (more on that in a moment), but he was the first utterly real person on television, the first person who reflected us at our most sensitive, at our most truly silly, at our most casual and cavalier and intense and introspective, at our most flippant or flirtatious; he, alone of anyone on the Empire of Television, seemed to understand that we might dance in front of a mirror and be someone we never could be (or precisely the person we would become!), he alone seemed to understand that while riding a bike down a suburban street we might pretend, for 48 seconds, to be the king of an empire that had the same name as our street.  In other words, he was the first person on television with an interior life.

When I looked at Bobby Brady, I saw no interior life; and when we are children, when our lives are full of the most beautiful secrets (mostly the secrets of our strangeness, for every child is strange, for one minute an hour, or one hour a day, or for one year of a life, until the strangeness is hyper-normalized out of them!), when our lives are full of the belief that the world is full of infinite possibilities and infinite miracles and a million ghosts and a million stars, we are ALL interior life; and Lance Loud, long and grinning with  lips that split the screen, clearly not only had an interior life, his interior life looked like ours, and he wore it on the outside. 

Now, that’s just my personal perspective.  In a more universal sense, let me state this clearly:  Lance Loud was the first announced gay man on American television.  Do you know how fucking huge that was?  He was Jackie Robinson, he was Louis Armstrong, he was Neil Armstrong, he was Chaplin, he was Crosby, he was that important.  In our revisionist perspective, we see the world of the 1950s and ‘60s as being full of visible gays:  but not only were these gays unannounced, they were often broad caricatures, easily dismissed, objects of fun or ridicule.  Paul Lynde, Liberace, Truman Capote, these gentlemen were caricatures, and deliberately ridiculous, and the source of ridicule, and if they waved any flag, it was the flag that their sexual predilection was like the name of a Hebrew God, not to be spoken aloud, and thereby easily denied and easily mocked.

But here was Lance Loud: Lance Loud might have been gay, but he was also our brothers, our sons, our neighbors, our schoolmates; he was a part of us (and if we were deeply a fantasist, like so many of us were, he was most of us, he was the best part of us!), he was gay, he was on television, he was real, he was not a figure of fun or ridicule, he was gay and the on television and more realistic than any boy next door; which is all to say that Lance Loud wasn’t just the first gay on television, as deeply important, indeed historic, as that is; he was also the first real boy on television. 

He was complicated, shaded, confused, arrogant, funny, tragic, he was everything we suspected a sensitive soul such as ourselves might be, but we had never seen one before outside the shadows of our own hopes!

He also carved the idea, somewhere in the willing, supple, and soft balsa-wood of my brain, that our fantasy self, our fantasy I, so private, so lonely, could one day be a we, we might meet others like him, like us, we might meet Morrissey or Michael Stipe or Dean Johnston, he instilled the idea that we were not overly sensitive, but appropriately sensitive; Not overly artistic, but appropriately artistic; Not overly bookish, but appropriately bookish; Not overly fey, but utterly beautiful in our own true boy skin.

Lance Loud was the first true boy on the sun, which is to say, he was real, he reflected a thousand and eight hopes and flaws and realities and shades of masculinity, and the sun was the television, beaming his brightness all over America.


From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, Music, Opinion, poetry

A Visit from St. Grohl

December 24, 2014

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the hall
Not a creature was stirring, except for Dave Grohl.

Others may be dreaming of Santa and his sleigh,
But for the Concierge of Rock, ’twas another busy day.
As children were nestled all snug in their beds,
Visions of interviews danced in Dave’s head:
Some director wanted to ask him about BTO
He didn’t know much, but it would be on HBO!
A TV host wanted Dave’s thoughts about Kanye
(His answer would be broadcast on Sabado Gigante).
Before Dave could even consider what was to be said
Jeff Lynne called up, he needed some cred.
Could Dave show up in the studio at nine?
They were cutting an all-star version of “Telephone Line.”

Then Brad Paisley texted, just as it started to snow
Would Dave be able to back him at an awards show?
Then Nickelodeon called, would he help salute Starsky & Hutch?
Of course! When it came to TV, there was no such thing as too much!

Then suddenly came a knock at the door
It was Mission of Burma, to discuss a reunion tour.
They already had a drummer, but that wouldn’t get in the way
Dave could sing back-ups and play djembe.

Then the phone rang with a terrible clatter
Dave sprang from his chair to see what was the matter.
The voice on the receiver said something crass
Jann Wenner needed Dave to come help wipe his ass.
Jann barked “Get here soon! I need to go badly!”
It was one of the services the Concierge provided gladly.

Quickly, Dave summoned his ‘copter via his phone
So he could attend to the hygiene of his master at Rolling Stone.
More rapid than eagles the whirlybird came,
Then Dave whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Taylor! Now, Pat Smear! And Nate and Chris, too!
We need to assist ol’ Jann with a poo!
To the top of the porch! With all due speed!
He said he’d put me on the cover anytime I need!”

So high over the housetops the Foo Fighters flew
With a trunk full of Charmin, and some sani-wipes, too—
On the way they stopped briefly to see Stevie Nicks
For a ballad she was writing, Dave had promised some licks.
Oh, they also had to drop by the house of Bob Mould
Dave had to pay him for all the Husker Du songs he stole.

As leaves before a hurricane did they fly,
And before long they had arrived at Jann’s penthouse in the sky.
Ol’ Jann was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
“Sorry for the mess, Dave Fricke and I had a fight,
Let’s get going boys, I don’t have all night!

“Now, I’ll sit and do my business, then I’ll bend over the tub,
And then Mister Dave can give me a rub.
Be gentle and soft, and as thorough as you can,
Because, you must remember, I can always find another band.
Why, just one rough scratch, and you’ll be back where you started
And I’ll hand the TP to my ol’ pal Chris Martin.
Oh and Dave, please don’t forget how you got here
Future Islands are simply dying to clean up my rear.”

Dave reassured his master with an eager grin,
And spoke these words while wagging his tiny chin:

“I’ll polish, I’ll dab, I’ll powder you, too,
Please don’t desert your most loyal Foo.
Oh, sadly, it’s true, all your warnings and stories
If poor Kurt hadn’t died, I’d just be Tico Torres.
Last week I had a nightmare, I awoke with a start,
And realized I wasn’t half as talented as Grant Hart.
So that’s why I keep wiping, and working ‘til I fall over
I don’t know the meaning of over-exposure.”

Jann was chubby and plump, jolly and full of sass,
And laughed when he saw Dave wiping his ass.
“You’ve done well tonight, and don’t mind the stench
Now hurry along, you just got a call from Benmont Tench.
He’s working on a track with G.E. Smith and Liz Phair
It’s not very good, but cameras will be there.”

With a wink of his eye, Jann rose from his throne
And beckoned Taylor and Pat to quickly go home.
Of course Dave had to stay, even as it neared 12 O’clock
A call had just come in from 30 Rock.
Dave shouted after his friends, as they sped into the night
“Happy Christmas to all, Fallon needs me for a cameo tonight!”

From the Web

Arts and Entertainment, Brooklyn Bugle, Existential Stuff, Music, Opinion

Our Five Favorite Christmas Songs

December 22, 2014

For me (and, I suspect, others of my generation) Christmas will always be the Yule Log on WPIX, the muted glow of midnight mass televised live from St. Patrick’s, and the commercial with all the Channel 4/Live At 5 people singing in the Rockefeller Center Skating Rink

(Speaking of which Sue Simmons will have her Revenge on Seattle!)

Oh I am so confused.

Christmas does that to me, raised a barely-practicing Jew but one who was enchanted by the rituals associated with the birthday of the king of compassion. I always loved the solemn songs and the prayers, like adamant whispers, booming sibilant in the high-ceilinged cathedrals of Manhattan and Rome, and the enforced hush of the hours before midnight on Christmas Eve. I love how Christmas is a ritual of kindness; other holidays enforce thankfulness or remembrance or underline history, but for one day, we are asked to be kind, even the gravest and/or the most greedy are compelled to consider compassion; and it seems that this quality is most present on Christmas Eve (and not the grabby, shouty, often lonely day), specifically in the hours between, oh, and ten and two, and I love the stillness that falls in that time.   Those are the hours of the anti-shriek, as the eve folds into the still-small day; it is the year’s most pure moment of reflection, especially for us Americans, who know not of Poppies or Armistices and other foreign occasions when reflection is the rule.

Sue Simmons

Aside from that, for some reason Christmas will always remind me of local TV, the lost, shambolic glory of regional news and local commercials and crummy re-runs, for some reason I see Bill Mazer’s face and I hear the Chock Full O’Nuts theme song, which is all, I suppose, to say Christmas makes me think of the past, but not the bad parts.

I am not a great lover of Christmas Music, but there are some seasonal songs I hold very dear; a few of these make me smile, and a few bring true chills.  So here are my five favorite Christmas songs, more or less. Oh, when you click on these links, it is likely you will have to see those one of those freaking ads for that Sting musical, Trouble At The Mill or Workin’ Class Boatman or Capeman or whatevertheflip it’s called. I apologize in advance for that — those things can be a real mood killer. But back to Christmas:

Jona Lewie Stop The Cavalry

My absolute favorite.  Lewie blends a deeply somber lyric with a jaunty two-step beat, mixing loneliness, an anti-war message, and Christmas into one dark yet utterly irresistible package.  True, the political message here is a bit, oh, soupy – the First World War musical setting plus lyrical references to Churchill and a nuclear fall-out zone make this a bit like walking out of the room a few too many times during a Doctor Who episode – but there’s something just, oh, perfect about this song, perhaps because it touches on the two central feelings endemic to the season – missing a loved one, and hoping for peace.  When you add to that Lewie’s absolutely original Cajun-meets-Kraftwerk musical style, and his affecting everyman vocals, you have a treasure that never, ever fails to get me right here. 

It’s probably worth noting that although this might seem like some new wave oddity to Americans, in the UK “Stop the Cavalry” has ascended to become the seasonal standard it deserved to be.


Although this song is essentially the alternate national anthem of England (in much the same way, say, “God Bless America” is here), it is still largely associated with Christmas (and major sporting events, where it is sung as a nationalist chant).   Based on an extraordinary poem by William Blake and set to music in 1916 by Sir Hubert Parry, it is likely one of the prettiest melodies ever recorded, married to some of the most graceful and evocative words ever written; from this short poem alone, three common and extraordinary powerful phrases have entered the English lexicon:  “This green and pleasant land” (as a description of England),  “Bring me my Chariot of Fire!” (tho’ originally found in the Bible, let’s just say Blake/Parry’s use popularized it), and most striking, “Dark Satanic Mills,” three words that evoke the Industrial Revolution better than many multi-volumed books on the subject.  Now, there are literally thousands of versions of this song I could have showcased, but I have chosen this version by Fat Les, both for it’s clarity and drama (Fat Les is the recording alter-ego of British comedian Keith Allen, who Americans know best as the father of singer Lily and Game of Thrones actor Alfie).

Also, did you know – speaking of Jerusalem – that actress Marcia Gay Harden is a 32nd-generation descendent of Herod the Great, the Roman King of Judea?

Christmas Night in Harlem

There are a lot of goddamn good reasons to include this one, not the least that it gives me a chance to showcase Louis Armstrong, the artist who is the cornerstone of the American Pop Century.  It’s a strange, beautiful, boppy tune that takes you to a land that might never have been, but it’s a helluva song.  Raymond Scott, the extraordinary composer/electronic music pioneer who virtually invented the weird collection of hyper sugar-jazz we have come to know as “cartoon music,” wrote it in the 1930’s and it’s totally worth hearing his version, too, which can be found here.

Also, that Marcia Gay Harden thing isn’t remotely true, but why not, right?

Paul Sanchez I Got Drunk This Christmas

Paul Sanchez’s name belongs alongside Springsteen, Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, Joe Ely, Steve Goodman, Kinky Friedman, and other great lyricists/melodicists who use story-songs to tell us the bittersweet legend of the American dream and its’ dreamers. I MEAN THAT, DAMMIT.  He gets a little better known every year, and that is a very goddamn good thing.  There are a lot of reasons Paul’s one of my all-time favorite songwriters, and this song is one of ‘em.  “I Got Drunk This Christmas” is deeply funny, deeply dark, and should be a classic.  Now, I wish I had access to a better recording of this track, but this one will do the trick.

Pogues Fairytale of New York

Because you have to, right, and in many ways it’s an excellent compliment to Paul’s song.  It also showcases the spectacular Kirsty MacColl – BOY, does this song come ALIVE after she enters! — one of the most expressive and absolutely riveting vocalists of her era, and her too-early death only makes this song more melancholic.  Oh, and also my old friend Peter Dougherty, a true prince of New York, directed this video, something I actually didn’t know until I wrote this column.

Bonus Track: Hugo Largo Angels We Have Heard On High
Recorded about 26 years ago, this is my own contribution to the world of Christmas music, and an example of the magic I made with three of my favorite people, Mimi Goese, Hahn Rowe, and Adam Peacock.  I am very proud of this indeed. Oh, this fades up, so don’t be confused if the audio takes a while to get, uh, going.

Merry Christmas to you all, from the Godfather of Slocore.



From the Web