Tuesday, May 28, 2019
There's room for an agreement that the Bard of the Counter Culture has created a good number of impressive, moving, and subtle vocal performances during his long stay in the public eye, but that isn't the same thing as being the Greatest Singer this culture has ever produced. Slate gushes like a nervously prolix fanboy as he over rates the artist's obvious accomplishment. He undersells what was going on in the
Dylan is a more extreme example of this. His early versions of anonymous folk classics
I've argued that Dylan and Jagger were not singers, but VOCALISTS, men who could do interesting things with their voice to dramatize a lyric. What those two do is a certain singing, but the distinction is helpful in keeping one's statements about an artist's work both sober and sane.Dylan, though, is not the greatest American singer. Sinatra can , hypothetically, could sing "Blowing in the Wind" or "Just Like a Woman" with style and aplomb (the results , no doubt, would sound ridiculous), but Dylan couldn't handle a single tune from Sinatra's songbook. Many argue otherwise,insisting he could pull off the fete and change music history again.but the brilliance of this man, Dylan, lies entirely on the work he created.On his own songs, the gentleman rules without peer. "No sings Dylan like Dylan" was an early Columbia slogan for the songwriter, quite a prescient declaration as we take the long view of his career. But is less about Dylan's singing than it is about the article writer's rote hyperbole.
Sunday, May 26, 2019
Saturday, April 27, 2019
Thursday, April 25, 2019
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Monday, March 25, 2019
The more I thought about it, the less I wanted to attend the Nov. 16 Ry Cooder concert in the UC gym. Cooder, I knew, made a name for himself for the slicing slide guitar work he did on the Rolling Stones Let It Bleed album, a record I enjoyed. But word had it that Cooder was a dyed-in-the-wool folkie, someone who does songs they've learned from hillbillies, blues pioneers, sailors, and other sources. In other words, Cooder wasn't any Hollywood pretty boy stroking his Ovation guitar while singing self-penned tomes to his own sensitivity, like Jackson Browne (though Browne's stylistics their own reward), Rather, Cooder was strictly bucolic, with rough edges In both voice and guitar work, not a virtuoso but engagingly honest in presentation to an audience that I suspected picked up on folk music as part of a collective rejection of high art in general. But while my admittedly dour presuppositions could have turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy ("The old and still adolescent school of making up your mind before being in possession of facts), I realized I needed to switch off the contempt. It was a bit like culture shock in your own culture. Cooder, without the band he's been using for most of this tour, ambled sleepily on stage!! and sat in his chair and goaded the sound crew to "goose” the volume up in the monitors, finally imploring them to " crank it. Don't be afraid." The height of his performance was his guitar work. Basing his styles in rural blues inflections and country picking techniques, Cooder's approach is an enticing hodgepodge of effects that don't fall into any category, but rather rest between the boundaries. His picking is quick and firm, with the vigorous pulling of the strings, and his chord mix ragtime jazz progressions, classical chording, and blues phrasings with egalitarian ease that's positively organic. His slide work, his strongest forte, avoids the dying dog moans that neophyte players, mostly British, manage, and _ maintains a solid flow of incisively slashing riffs. The fact that he seemed affable and good-natured worked in his favor as well. He seemed to enjoy the songs he did, avoiding the sort of inverse snobbery I thought pervaded this genre and its audience. Cooder debunked that prejudicial nonsense. Opening the show was Mike Seeger, Pete's brother, who played banjo, fiddle, autoharp, harmonica, Jew’s harp, as well as guitar, set the night's mood with an amicable way of going about his job. The highlight of his set was his Jew’s harp playing, which with the utilization of the University's super fine sound system, approximated the unearthly buzz of interstellar insects, a ploy Pink Floyd might consider next time they take their million-dollar quad system on tour. It's astounding that sometimes the strangest emanations come not from smoky, sparking, colicky electronic amplifier banks, but from the recesses of man's musical past. His concert was refreshing to remember that not everything we’ve done as species is ugly and created with it in mind to stomp on the next guy.
Saturday, March 16, 2019
There are times I hate being Irish; the jokes at the expense of this culture make it obvious that White European Americans are the only ethnic group one can offend with impunity. The Holiday is a match to a conspicuously open can of gasoline
It's an excuse to drink to excess and behave badly and be a lout. Someone assumed it that because of my last name and that I made a living both writing and selling books I would be all over the Holiday and partake in the lugubrious, drunken wallow. I remember yelling at some partying moron with an Italian last name who was doing a miserable Barry Fitzgerald impersonation I had it in mind to come to his house late at night and do some patently offensive immigrant through a bullhorn if he kept up with what I thought was a cultural slander. He didn’t get what I was getting at, and I never showed up in his driveway to deliver on my promise, but the upshot is that he's never forced his face into mine after that with that wavering brogue
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
A Lifetime of Listening
to Five Mean Years
by Greil Marcus
Greil Marcus is one of the remaining first-generation Rolling Stone rock critics who, in his old age, has evolved into something of a Methuselahian sage for the artist and band's populating the Rock and Roll Canon. He is a fine writer, beautifully evocative at times, a widely read gent who brings his far-flung references of history, aesthetics, politics, and mythology into his generalized ruminations on the movement of human history and how it was reflected and caused by the emergence of pop, rock and soul music. If he has any thesis at all, his idea is that these were not merely forms of entertainment and distraction; they were cultural forces that changed the way we live. As fine a prose stylist as he can be and as momentarily persuasive as he can seem in his richer passages, Marcus puts forth little in the way of criticism; he rarely, in his late writings, spend the time to let you how songs, lyrics work internally convincingly.
The Doors were a mixed bag for me; the first two albums are among the essential rock albums of all time, with the remainder alternating between the proverbial poles of brilliance and balderdash. As a band, they were sublime and unique, with the odd combination of blues, flamenco, classical, jazz, Artaud, and epic theater being crafted in their hands to create a sound and feel that was singular and instantly identifiable. As a vocalist, Jim Morrison was often as evocative as the most significant fans proclaim, and it fit the half-awake twilight that seemed to be his constant state of consciousness. As a poet, though, I thought he was simply awful, fragmented, crypto-mystic, the surrealism that, save for some striking and memorable lines, collapsed from its flimsy elisions and obtuse vagaries. In his posthumous collections, the pieces read too often, like the notebook jottings of an introspective 17-year-old. I say that as a thoughtful 17 year and is now a reflective 65-year-old. Morrison might have become the poet he wanted to be had he written, edited, and finesse his work as he desired when he left for Paris. I will say, though, that being the vocalist in the Doors allowed him to go through his writings and poems and select many of the more robust passages for the band's more theatrical songs. The Doors, ironically, seemed to be an institutional editor for Morrison's words, forcing the bard to decide which of his jottings was the most powerful, concise, emphatic.
The matter of craft isn't Marcus's most serious concern. With the Doors, though, he does an excellent job of explaining what I've always felt for some time that Jim Morrison was pompous, vacuous to a significant extent, a mediocre poet, a pretentious intellect who happened to have some things going for him: good looks and sex appeal, an appealing the baritone voice could bellow or fashion a slumbering croon, and that he was in a band of good musicians that compelled him, in the songwriting process, to peel away the most dreadful riffing in his poems and boil it all down to the genuinely strange, exotic, and provocative. The result of that combination of Morrison's affectations and the talents of the other band members made for several first-rate original songs. Save for the near-perfection of their first two albums. It also made for some mostly uneven records where Morrison's drunk insistence on being a drunk put his worst tendencies on full display. Marcus is bright and remarkably succinct on his subject. His judgments are shrewd and knowing, the key one being that while saying upfront than in any other life Morrison would have yet another counter-cultural tragedy left for dead and forgotten, rock and roll made him at least briefly pull his resources together and give the world something memorable beyond his pretentiousness.
Sunday, February 17, 2019
And, of course, drinking was the means with which the artist, the truly manly and mature among us handled our sorrows, those problematic feelings that are no less a part of the human drama. Would you drink if you had the same shortfalls, catastrophes, betrayals, disappointments as I had, if you lost lovers, jobs, missed opportunities, contracted fatal diseases, wrote angry letters to your father? Some of you would imbibe like I had, I suppose, but in 28 years of going without a drop of the stuff, there are millions more, from appearances, who walk past the liquor store and those taverns with the neon signs that blink and buzz with the promise of paradise and escape; somehow it occurs to the majority of the citizens to get busy and deal with the change in their fortunes.
Not everyone who refuses to drink in the face of bad times come through their rough patches in better shape, but the point is that drinking to dissolve the problems, real and psychic, is not the default resource for the majority of the population. It seems to be for romantics, though, who, as a species, are prone to wallow at times in the extremities of their emotion at the sacrifice of all else. Hemingway comes into play; we imagine the spare code of conduct, the stoicism, the terse address of external occurrences in the world around him, the obsession with the super masculinity in which one is expected to bite the bullet and be honorable to an insane degree.
Suffering in silence, writing poetry about drinking to make the disillusionment with the human condition tolerable and as a means of keeping hope and joy alive. There was a time when I was part of this culture of self-reinforcing romanticism; life is a hardship, you drink to cope and soon enough your other coping skills vanish as you rely more on drinking in order to cope. Soon enough your hardships increase because of the drinking and the pressure from family, peers, and enemies for you to straighten out is too much, so you drink more to not just cope with the hardships of old and the new ones created by inevitable tragedies alcoholic drinking creates, but to make the world disappear. You become bitter, morose, morbid, cynical, continually inveighing against big and vague forces that destroyed your dreams.
The world becomes a small, sad place for you to be in. Most the world around sees a sad case of someone who is the grip of some malady, some soul-shredding scourge who will die alone in the trash of his own making unless something resembling a miracle occurs. If you're a poet, a songwriter, someone who has made a reputation extolling the hard life and the hard-drinking that goes with it, you bear witness to what your romantic filters tell you is the Truth of the world and regard your rattled, besotted self as the price to pay for being so deep a reservoir for the boundless emotions of the human race, that a soul who feels so deeply the wounds of all humanity would have to drink in order to keep something like sanity and a sense of self wherein one can reside. A long, agonized spiral of self-fulfilling prophecy.