Thursday, December 28, 2017

Show some grit for the MC5

(In the spirit of Lester Bangs, exaggerated even by his standards, I wrote this fever dream as a tirade demanding the induction of the MC5 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It occurs to me that the 5, in their prime, could give a damn about such a corporately bestowed honor. Still, I thought this should have a home on this blog as  well.-tb)

Image result for mc5This is important shit , folks: To this day , the MC5 are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite the impressive argument that they have been one of the most influential and , ergo, most important rock and roll bands in history. In any event, here is a choice cut not discussed much even my 5 aficionados , James Brown's "It's a Man's World". Agreed, the song is more than patronizing and winds up placing women on the damnable pedestal and back in the kitchen at the same time, but you have to hand to these guys for their odd choice. They loved black music and their choice of a song only JB could pull off is a classic punk gesture: "Fuck you guys, we're gonna play this goddamned song because WE WANT TO." Vocalist Rob Tyner did not, as has been remarked around a trash can full of burning rubber, give a FLAT FUCK if he sang worse than a horse thief gagging at the end of a dirty rope of justice. Rob Tyner sang like a man who had his head wrapped in a thick sheet of bubble wrap and then had his noggin stuffed into a burlap bag that reeked of diesel stained wagon timber and mildewed hemp. He sounded like he'd swallowed his fist in a freak accident that might have occurred when he he was chewing on his knuckles in machomechanical panic while watching an astroid streak a fiery, smoky path to Cobo Hall. When he wrapped his crackling squawk to  It's A Man's World, satellites stopped broadcasting and Gabriel drove over his trumpet in a huff of overriding despair. His was the voice of percolating whiteness, personified grieving love handles with a microphone. There was a time when an attitude like that would inspire otherwise stoned and clueless teens , all of them too late for the absurd counter-culture vanities of Haight Ashburyand Greenwich Village, to yell "fuck yeah" and babble their rendition of dumb cliches about offing the pigs and serving the people. So yeah, the MC5 were really punks, macho black bad boy wannabes and crazy mofos in their right who were willing to stick it in your eye." Hah. Hit me again." The rest of the guys crammed their guitars into the cones of their amps and ground their strings against the microphone stands.The drummer, Dennis Thompson, rattled on over the snare, performed an encyclopedia's worth of imagined sexual amnesia drills over the head of the snare drum and punched a hole in the base drum with nothing other than a random disease he picked up for kicks at the last Room Temperature Ale House he was located  within. Some one in the middle of what was left of the audience that wasn't yet unconcious, bleeding or deceased hooted. "SUCK MY DICK" countered Tyner, "GAG ON MY GOODNESS, JARHEAD." After that, it started to get weird.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Name Brand Kvetching

Image result for street hassle lou reedLou Reed’s Street Hassle or David Bowie’s Station to Station, which album do prefer, love more, pick if you were going to be stranded on a desert island? A question to that effect appeared on one of the odd corners I visit on the internet looking for intelligent conversation on art and matters of concern that cannot be calculated by conventional metrics of worth. So, an interesting question, even if the choice between two superb albums makes one asks why these two, which are wildly dissimilar in their respective greatness. Compare and contrast? Perhaps Reed’s album New York, his inspired two-sided screed against the insoluble cruelty that inhabits the deeper and darker corners of a great city, compared and contrasted against Bowie’s Tin Machine project, an angular, Cubist kind of hard rock rage highlighting Bowie’s theatrical pronouncements against human creation of a misery index set against and appealing assault of shrapnel percussion and blood splatter guitar work? A more focused conversation, perhaps, but I remained with the question that was posted.I would choose Street Hassle if one desires street credibility and genuine amounts of poetic brilliance, both of which Reed despite his well-known habit of overestimating his overall musical genius. His musical punch was from his words wedded with the simple, scraping movement of his chords wedded with his especially acute and minimalistic detailing of lives in the streets, the doorways, the alleys of New York and its vast underbelly of fallen souls. Reed, at his best, had a feel for the characters in these unapologetic environs--sympathetic but not glorifying, poetic but not conventionally "beautiful" by more timid sensibilities--and on Street Hassle his greatest virtues, as such, are in full force.  Reed was a writer before anything else, living in the shadows of a city that punished its geniuses with poverty, drug addiction and the contempt of the public, the authorities, and even the cast of good souls charged with taking care of them. This was fine with Reed and many of his cohorts; he was a man in the city, a maker of an invisible scene where the atonal heart of the experimental arts were in a social sphere so on the outs with whatever the hip community imagined itself as being that even the most vocally revolutionary of the millionaire rock and rollers and painters and filmmakers of the period wished they would simply evaporate and vanish in a dissipating gust of steam. Reed, Herbert Huncke, Burroughs, Henry Miller, in the belly of the beast, writing poetry, drinking, talking, painting at the outskirts of high towers of a city that provided with cold water flats and long, cold shadows to hide within. This is what Reed saw, wrote about, live amongst.

Bowie wanted some of that, to be all of that, but he was a tourist and didn’t stop being a mere borrower until Station to Station. Bowie coveted that kind of brutalism, evident in his band Tin Machine, which tried to be street, noisy and savant gardish in the shrieking sense of the Velvet Underground but which were undermined by Bowie's autodidactic habits and Anthony Newlyesque vocalisms, reminding you that he was, above all else, an actor. Bowie’s overt theatricality often made me roll my eyes, but he was a man who knew how to turn what can be used against him critically into an asset that elevates his art when his inspiration moves him to do so. He was a far superior synthesizer of many styles and moods and texture and had a genius for texture and color in the studio. Philip Glass, Brian Eno, funk, disco beats and plenty of chomping, comping guitar made this a revolutionary fusion masterpiece; Bowie, as well, reined in his persona to a dimension that suited him, that of a post WW2 soul,,, weary unto death, a witness to yet another large and irreparable crack in the foundations of a great and honored culture and attending traditions. Bowie was always musically more ambitious than Reed. That's pretty self-evident and not really worth the bother to point out unless your preference is competence over the kind of brutalism Reed specialized in. Reed's lyrics, in my view, have a substantial edge over Bowie, who was plagued by a prevailing sense of who wanted to sound like. 

The atmospherics and production garnishes of Station to Station did free Bowie from any obligation to sound like he was trying to say anything that could be interpreted as philosophical. His words became more diffuse, full of associative leaps, ellipsis, images that were and remain private mysteries so far as what they reference but which provide a rich and vaguely mystical and definitely European tone to the inspired constructions he released from this point onward. As a lyricist, as a writer, as a storyteller, Reed was the authentic genius here; he was a blend of a mind that made equal use of his library card and his street smarts and provided a skill to be expansive while maintaining a hard, stripped-down veneer. Bowie the tourist became Bowie the innovator with Station to Station and, in his way, achieved parity with Reed as an expressive artist.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Zsa Zsa Gabor Deserved all her Close Ups

One year ago today actress, comedienne, professional celebrity Zsa Zsa Gabor died at the age of 99. Although my memories of her are mostly for being a go-to punch line for nearly six decades, she was in Orson Well's noir masterpiece "A Touch of Evil" and in John Huston's "Moulin Rouge". Not bad at all. And she had a solid grasp of her own absurdity as a Professional Celebrity. She wasn't just the punch line of jokes about her, she created the set up. If someone wanted to insult Gabor by citing her many marriages, her superficiality, her rampant materialism and heedless self -regard, she likely would make a move worthy of Cyrano and turn the game around, insisting that slights and curses at her expense be at least as good as as though she'd furnish herself. She was tougher than the public suspected. We tend to lavish praise and critical analysis of performing celebrities who create personas on which they could hang and adjust their aesthetic, whether that be Madonna, Lady Gaga, Bowie or Prince. Zsa Zsa Gabor certainly deserves some of that.Her self-creation is worth a tip of the hat and a round of applause.

Saturday, December 16, 2017


for Jill Moon 

"Well yes", I said to her," I do dwell on the absurd in life, but mostly I like the problems our use of language gives us to solve . Things we say that are meant to clarify the metaphysics latent in awkward pauses in small talk, or worse, where there is no trivia left and a sense of embarrassment starts to come over us, as if we're naked, are concepts invented on the fly, with the perspiration still burning our nostrils, word structures that have terms enjambed to the degree that the brain , the outer periphery of the human capacity to feel ashamed and to blush, stops digging itself deeper into a metaphorical hole and instead convinces itself the world is more a cartoon, something rendered by an unseen hand and the will that guides it, than cartoons themselves." 

She tilted her head, her shoulders arcing in the same direction, her posture a hard question mark of unconvinced arms and ready hand gestures of another version of this same moment, saying finally, but not finally "I cannot consider myself as a badly drawn and poorly scripted caricature of stammering awkwardness.I am a painter and I paint things that are not there , even in spirit. " She picked up a pencil and drew an apple, making it appear fresh and shining under an undisclosed ray of sunshine or tolerant light bulb.

"This," she continued, placing pencil down, "represents an idea of a fruit that does not exist. It is a lie , posing as a portrait of a fresh apple. But there is a lie in this thing that is already a fabrication, which is that this apple is extraordinary for being an apple and that it is a thing for all time and will always be as such. But this apple is already rotten , shriveled with skin like snake hide, or it is eaten , conceptually,and made into another idea of energy, an expression on another note pad, configured, perhaps, as a box of cherries or a glass of wine , or perhaps a dung heap, a representation that fails as representation...." She paused and lit a cigarette while I check for messages on a phone I paid too much for. She pointed t the phone. "There's no one out there" she whispered, "there are no messages from your friends. They are ghosts of conversations you only dreamt...of..."

There's too much cogitating in here said Romulus, who'd been in the corner doing a Sunday crosswords before realizing he didn't knew enough angry words to fill all the boxes. 

"What's a ten letter word for Migraine?"

The melting pot, Euro style

A Droite!--Big Boss Bubeleh
Yael Gmach and Vlady Yarovinsky, a North County duo performing and recording under the rubric Big Boss Bubeleh, are a flavor quite apart from what one would expect from local original music. Avoiding the obvious choices of styles, flavors, and stances that local original artists might assume, these two dig into the roots music they obviously love, an intoxicating alchemy of Gypsy jazz, torch songs, blues and swing, as well as calypso and assorted Latin references. And, to be sure, the grainy textures of American music one recollects from the Ozark Mountains to the Mississippi River.Their new release, A Droite! (a French phrase, “on the right; to the right”), brings this myriad of influences to fruitful perfection, a selection of 14 original songs that, through uncluttered instrumentation and a natural feel for the varied grooves and uncommon weave of genres, makes it easy to willingly suspend disbelief and imagine, for a while, being in an Bohemian cafe on a side street of an East European capital, getting lost in the tales and bitter sweet melodies.
Especially effective is Yael Gmach’s wonderfully adaptable vocals, at once making one think of a Dietrich-like chanteuse from the film Blue Angel, a playful, bubbling style with eccentric elongation of syllables and vocal emphasis where you don’t expect them. Her voice is a low, seductive rumble, a hook that brings you for a full measure of Old-World emersion, particularly on the song “Recalling,” an ironic recollection lessons learned in an enticing minor key, wonderfully supported by Vlady’s precise guitar work and the lyric, ironic musical elaboration by guest violinist Marguerite-Marie Sort.“Coffee” continues the sweet otherness of this duo’s marvelous world view, a more traditionally folkie number with Yael—in another gloriously alluring accent—lists the tribulations and work ways of doing what one must do on a daily basis only to come to the reward for one’s efforts: a cup of coffee and the caffeine therein. The epiphany of this odd lyric is that a cup of coffee, for all the energy and nervousness it might jolt the nervous system with, is merely coffee, a drink over which the life’s lessons, if any, can be pondered. Again, Sort’s violin commentary over Yael’s wide-eyed vocals lures you even deeper, closer into this unique world.
Relateably exotic, honestly off-beat, funny, and ingratiatingly wise in ways that suggests a intimate sharing among friends, Big Boss Bubeleh’s A Droite! has an effortless and persuasive eclecticism that makes this one of the most delightful entertainments I’ve encountered for a good while.
(This originally appeared in The San Diego Troubadour. Used with kind permission.)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

from 1978, MY AIM IS TRUE by Elvis Costello

Image result for my aim is true elvis costello ted burke
MY AIM IS TRUE--Elvis Costello
Among the miscellaneous debris The Seventies have given rock and roll is the chance for a new artist to regurgitate and , at times, imaginatively retool the many over-incubated cliches of Pop and rock music .Older critics who long for their heyday (first cigarette, first sexual encounter, first visit to the doctor’s office without informing one’s parents) as something in the vanguard of the movement, a ...fresh and invigorating voice that outlines the future of rock and roll.. ." We seem stuck in a state, perhaps permanently, where we have given way to unavoidable nostalgia and have taken to wallowing in recollections of an Ideal Past. This is Fall-From-Grace stuff, a perverse funk for a generation that barely has the right to call itself middle age; as it has for some years now, we continue to search for the next Dylan, the new Hendrix, the next Beatles; overpraise and hyper critical rejection are the two polarities the new blood is greeted; the middle position did not hold in these surmising discussions. Bruce Springsteen combines elements from Phil Spector records, old rhythm and blues tracks, and basic 4/4 backbone of rock and roll ,wrapping a Dylanesque ,free-associating surrealism around it.

 The result is a pastiche of styles that sounds forced.The motivation is obvious to a disinterested observer, but Springsteen’s movements do not move me beyond recognizing that his is influences will remain hipper than he could hope to be. What constitutes the ephemeral, mystically conferred essence of hip on someone, I admit, is a mystery that is and will remain the subject of engrossing discussions and debates that will not find resolution. But I know it when I see/hear/read it, and Bruce Springsteen appears fated to remain an earnest hipster, another face in the chorus protesting the same hard knocks and cold soup. Patti Smith wants to merge early Sixties rock, ala Stones and "Louie Louie" with the legends of dead poets, sounding in the end merely silly. 

Tom Waits combines black jazz hep jive with Jack Kerouac, and sounds stupid.From this parade of pretenders, the more jaded among us are leery of anyone trying the same thing. My Aim is True by Elvis Costello, takes one by surprise. Like Springsteen, the backbone 01 Costello's music is old rock and roll. But apart from that, they differ radically. Springsteen has a tendency to stretch his material to the breaking point, pouring crescendo upon toughness, and Costello's sing• crescendo. verse upon verse, ing, similar to Springsteen's trying to create an epiphany but more tactful, is full of that never culminates into pro- bouyancy, emotion and conviction. Costello, though, is without any overkill. What he loves about tin pan alley, the Brill Building , the hack songwriters of all callings, genres, convictions, was their mastery of craft. Mr. Costello knows when to weave narrative elements and spare details that contain a beginning, middle, and end. His sense of poetic irony, though influenced by Dylan and John Lennon, is entirely his own. He doesn’t mistake a song's verses occasions for wildly opaque analogies. or repeated and ineptly expressed philosophy. Instead, his stanzas are vivid items that logically follow one another in tone, temper, plot.  One leaves these songs understanding the situation. What is understood is that Elvis Costello is angry with many people and that these songs are his chance to let them and the world know why he's ticked. It's an exhilarating feeling,  seductive and alluring.

The stripped down to a vernacular (songs number twelve in all on the disc, unusual for a rock disc, and each exist as polished lyrical gems of a cynical, penetrating working class intelligence. Costello's strength, a virtue that Springsteen, Smith and Waits lack, is his ability to use rock cliches for their full value. Instead of brandishing them like a set of museum pieces that one is supposed to bow to in historical awe and respect, Costello gets the heat to the meat. The make takes ownership of them and does with them as likes.The rockabilly stuff is done with a verve that equals Buddy Holly, his use of reggae captures the required anguished, sinister mood, and his boogie material does a lot more than plot the course for the band. His lyrics, though, are imbued with a seventies sensibility, an awareness of absurdity , works minor miracles with the clichés. Though not notable for originality, My Aim Is True is honest work where the songwriter makes innovative use of what he's borrowed. Elvis Costello has an intelligence that can develop into something more complex and rewarding. My Aim, for now, suffices as an excellent example of how old forms may be revitalized, even reinvented from scratch, with the basic elements and energy renewed, if for a time, and be metaphorically capable of making the vulgarity , self-seeking and tangible afflictions that make life a cruel waiting room all melt into air and make you happy for the voice you hear next to you and the voice he or she is singing, grateful for the breath your taking, and feeling fully alive , if briefly, knowing that you and yours are not the only ones seeking transcendence. That is what great art does, if briefly.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Two short tales of two snap shots with no moral of the stories (so far)

This, I believe, is the best photograph I have ever taken. A black and white photo of a tv screen with the sun-glassed mug of the late George Michael toothfully smirking into the drive-through vacuity of a southern California Mexican restaurant isolates the compulsive idiocy of our look-at-me ethos that will have us all buried in the walls of suburban condos, with only a thin sheet of drywall separating us from the waiting hell of dry donuts and porno jazz soundtracks in an empty food court.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and indoor
Over the years I rode the bus several times a week with this fellow, who, I realized, was bit of bore who liked to engage in a form of passive-aggressive bragging, dropping odd things about himself in conversations he lured other bus riders into. This included exaggerating his abilities absurdly. He wrangled me into listening to one of his bits of grandiloquent self-praise once and mentioned he was multilingual. I said "Really", honestly not caring. He went on, offering more non-essential information,'Well actually, I sing in 6 languages." 
"Do you speak and read 6 languages?" He paused, then continued, seeming annoyed. 
"No , I sing opera and I sing in Latin, Italian, French, German..."
"And you don't speak or write or read in those languages?"
 "No, but what I do is an unusual skill..." Now i wanted to end the conversation. "So you're singing phonetically is what you're telling me..."
"Yes". "Well good for you, that must be hard t do, but it's not so special. Kinda so what?, in fact. " He rose out of his seat a little. 
"Sit down, Mr. Souffle" I said. 

He sat , I got off the bus. In the intersection two guys had gotten out of their pick up trucks during the red light and we punching and grabbing each other awkwardly. When the light changed, they got back into their trucks and sped away, presumably to the next traffic light for round two.