Friday, July 10, 2020

TODD RUNDGREN AND UTOPIA, "RA"


RA- Todd Rundgren's Uopia
Todd Rundgren is one of those aggravating rock whiz kids who can dually amaze you with his music and make you ill with his lyrics, which carry tile theme of cosmic consciousness and hayseed mysticism to more pompous degrees than even Yes' Joe Anderson. Ra, a 1977 effort with an occasional  band, the ostensibly progressive rock and sometimes brilliantly kinetic Utopia, continued the Rundgren tragedy of good music with awful lyrics. When matters are at their best when the singing stops and the band is given the room to negotiate odd time signatures and reveal, in doing so, a remarkable, amazing in fact capacity to handle any style that strikes their collective fancy. The band (Roger Powell , Kisim Sulton, John Wilcox) proceeds towards some charging, frenetic, deliciously clever music.

But Rundgren, like, Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, allows the lyrics to become full blown libretto. The merits of the extended narrative and the underlying bits of spiritualism is a debate left for those who seek truth in tea leaves and horoscopes, but the experience of having the words come at you , sun or recited in equal measure, makes this a record that does not rock you at all. Rather, it talks you into a fitful sleep, with dreams punctuated by agitated percussion.

 Most notable on side two's magnum opus "Singring and The Glass Guitar." It's an extensive parable that breaks up the music, and which is belabored at length in the narrative to make sure everyone gets the point Every time the band begins something interesting or when Rundgren is doing an impressive guitar exposition, the recited lyrics intrude again, and so on . Either Rundgren considers himself a wise fabulist, or he just employs this dreck to kill time, fleshing out and lending continuity to passages he could not otherwise connect. The discerning 'Rundgren fan will throw away the lyric sheet and let the music mitigate the intellectual vacuity. Taking his world view seriously is like reading between the lines on a blank page.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

YES, JACK WEBB WAS A FILM DIRECTOR. A GOOD ONE

RIP Los Angles: Celebrity Grave: "Dragnet" Actor & Producer Jack ...For Jack Webb, the man was a right wing law and order probable homophobic anti commie racist scum- slinger, but he had chops as a film maker, as someone capable of telling a compelling, compulsively watchable bit of propaganda. 

I wrote a paper on him in college which compared him to classic auteur hero Sam Fulller, mainly for the purpose that Webb, in his movies, met and exceeded the quantification required to be a a film "AUTHOR" and hence the single creator of a movie. 

He had a world view, he had an stylistically identifiable visible style that he a applied to specific genre conventions, his characters were variations on a number of types that serve to make the plot move along, the narratives contained a set of values that were threatened and needed to be protected, and there was an obvious morality that was never far under the surface in his story-lines.

 I chose Webb because I always found Fuller a bit arch and melodramatic, so why compare him to someone who is bit cornball and stiff but with such a righteous since of self-confident style that you cannot help but watch is films over and over. 

I've said more than once that Webb is the auteur  critics never seemed to talk about. I wonder if anyone's done a study of his film work, IE, 30, The DI, Peter Kelley's Blues, the Last Time I Saw Archie, Dragnet, Dragnet 66, The LSD Story. Not a lot of feature films, but more than Norman Mailer, who got a hefty study from a film scholar a few years ago. 

And though one is never going to get past what is unintentionally comic in the films, there are times when I just shook my head after watching the DI or 30 realizing that I just watched a movie made by a man in full expressive control of his talent.

POUTY BOY, EMPTY PACKAGE

Andy Summers Dishes About Being an 'Asshole,' Sting and the ...
Despise Sting the solo artist; art-poseur whose only gravitas is his sense of self importance. The Police were a superb hit singles band buoyed by two other excellent musicians, Miles Copeland and Andy Summers , who were more to shape the band's sound than Sting, consigned, wisely, to lead vocals, which he did rather well, and lyrics, which were poetic without being arch. 

There is always something to take these guys to task but their records from the time are on a very short list of those releases that don't embarrass the fuck out of me. And they had a short life, leaving a mere 5 studio albums for fans and new fans to glory in.  

Their oeuvre is a nice, tight package of high quality rock and roll for middlebrows such as myself. Unconstrained by the other two in the band, Sting nee Gordon Sumner might have royally made their work of big ideas crushing cute by fragile pop concepts. 

They died young before they could turn into grotesque, U2-esque parodies of themselves, full of themselves and corn syrup in equal amounts. And with out the frameworks provided by Copeland and Summers, which is to say the limits his ego needed, Sting has the most flush-able body of work by a solo artist who was formerly in a great band, surpassing even Phil Collins. Collins, at least, was a good drummer and could play some intricate stuff. As a bassist, Sting played his parts like they  it was an interferring with his best moves with the microphone.


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

O'Connor

File:Robie with Flannery 1947.jpg
photo: Charles Cameron Macauley
Paul Elie has an essay on Flannery O'Connor in The New Yorker that asks the pertinent question as to how racist the late writer happened to be. It's a matter worth investigating and doing quality speculation about, since O'Connor, a certified icon of 20th Century American literature, died young, at ate 39, and had published only three books in her lifetime, Wise Blood ,A Good Man is Hard to Find, and Everything That Rises Must Converge.  An interesting and illuminating read on a brilliant writer who died much, much too young.  As it turns out, scholars have uncovered , is that Flannery O'Connor is a problematic writer for her fans due to racist attitudes that appeared in her juvenilia , and for detectable traces of bigotry through out her life as novelist, short story writer and essayist. There's a limit to the amount of shock one ought to have because of these unpleasant facts about her, and anyone recoiling with disgust because O'Connor proves to be very human despite very great talent , with very human prejudices are, I think, not lovers of literature at all. 

I resist and oppose on principle the idea of regarding poets, novelists, playwrights or any artist at all as saints, philosophers or messengers of moral instruction; beyond the work itself, I regard their lives as subject to the same slings and arrows we all face and have to surmount, and regard their creation of art as having the sole duty of expressing their experience in the world with metaphors, symbols, whatever means and style it requires to make that expression memorable. It's a good idea to judge artists on what they share with the rest of the world, that they are part of the vaguely defined mass of "suffering humanity", but it's unwise, stupid even, to use what offends one's sense of moral order , the sins of the bohemian , as grounds to condemn and dismiss. Doing just that makes me ponder why many would bother reading literature at all.

What is the writer, the poet, the painter, the musician has to express is always imperfect and contains things and issues that reveal the creator's skull contains ideas, whims and notions that are , in fact , ugly. O'Connor, a Southerner, a spiritually restless fallen Catholic who doubted the perfected the redemption of humanity through any measure of grace, and more than likely politically conservative, is , as the saying goes, a product of her time and the surrounding cultural and regional connections around her as she developed as a person and as a writer. 

To refer back to Flaubert, we need to trust the tale, not the teller, more or less because the facts of a writer's life prevents too many readers, struggling with their own issues, from reading the work and getting the benefit literature provides. I bear in mind is that O'Connor died when she was 39, had published only three books before her death; we were robbed of the chance to read a longer lifetime of books that would have revealed, more than likely, an increasingly broadened and nuanced way of investigating fictional territories. By all means examine the life and investigate the real energies in a person's life that a scribe brings to their narratives, but we ought to examine to understand the problems of genius, not to condemn it.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

A PRETTY FINE BASKET BALL MOVIE

The Way Back review: Ben Affleck finds redemption in sobering ...A pleasant surprise, I watched THE WAY BACK starring Ben Affleck last night. Turned out to be solid film, a story of a grieving father with a drinking problem presented with a chance to redeem himself by becoming head coach for his old high school basket ball team. All the expected moves are here given that alcoholism is the basis for the fiction-- scenes of the gloom and despair and ruinous drinking, the lies, the family squabbles, the bitter meetings with the former wife, the chance for a new leaf, the encouraging progress on all the characters' issues, the Fall,the climb back up. The director does not glorify the gloom, wallow in the despair, preach about the cure as one might expect given the creaky cliches that threaten to capsize this film, but rather maintains a sturdy hand in developing characters, filming some excellent game sequences (that brought a smile to my face when the fictional team started winning), and allowing a certain amount of space between lines of dialogue or interactions to have scenes have a naturally laconic, realistic edge. The cast is universally strong, though one should look for any deep diving into character analysis; matters of the heart and soul are sufficiently laid out on the surface , more than adequately diving us pretext and context for this well handled drama. It's not giving anything major away to mention that the wayfaring coach and problem drinker is shown here getting a handle on his sobriety and commences to live a life with guarded optimism and realistic expectations--remember, genre movies behave in predictable ways--but I do find it a relief that the film makers side step the whole support group element--AA sharing, the God talk stuff--and stay with the narrative at hand. Though the story isn't as efficient as it could be, it is wisely lean in the telling, which is not to say it's skimpy. Especially for a film with a Catholic School and priests figuring largely through out, all the spiritual awakening issues, if there are any , are off screen. There is a quibble with some inconsistency with the narrative pace and flow, though, as the film gets distracted with scenes that are not needed, or followed up upon, but Ben Affleck's performance, sullen, gloomy, melancholic with convincing bits of better moods and motivations , is rather masterful and cumulatively powerful, one of his career best.  Worth a watch.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

WEASELS RIP MY FLESH --The Mothers of Invention

Weasels Ripped My Flesh - WikipediaFrank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, along with King Crimson, are my two favorite bands from the "prog rock" school of making things busy, although my appreciation of both bands is that they are both outliers from the form. Before anyone was aware of it, there seemed to be a dozen bands that sounded like Yes, ELP and Genesis, so many of them with similar riffs, oddly regimented time signatures, fantasy, sci-fi or cosmic muffin levels of grandiose lyric baiting. I admit the truly committed prog partisans could tell the difference, as could I in most blindfold tests, but the really issue was what exactly the point of all that repetition of effort was. 

The answer was clear, which was sales of  records and tickets, no less than the disco movement. It wasn't all mercenary , as it's unlikely anyone begins to play music of any kind without a love of making instruments produce sweet sounds, but the idea was that prog rock was selling and that despite the protests that maintain that it was a new art form, or a natural expression from musicians who'd grown up listening to the ref ined stuff, which  it was in both cases, choosing to be in a prog band was a commercial move, not an artistic one. Zappa and KC, though, had other things in mind, a certain kind of monomania that made the music, morphing, argumentative, diverse and truly "out there" in both bands, than anything else. Weasels Rip my Flesh is my favorite Mothers/Zappa release simply because it pretty highlights the leader's astounding range, from gritty atonal classicism, free jazz cacophony, old school rhythm and blues, electronic skroinksterism  and a good amount of Zappa's flying dagger guitar improvisation. 

 It's a resume album, you might say, a release of what had not made it yet to album release, outtakes they used to call them, music from both studio sessions and live dates sublimely edited together in such a way that it becomes a jaw dropping realization that the styles and moods this record masterfully presents, the crankiest avant garde experimentation coexisting with humdinger fanfares,  an obstacle course of rapid and bizarre meter changes, the sustained scream of a deranged arrangement for reed instruments, you begin, perhaps, to appreciate the genius Frank Zappa was. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Sexually Aroused Gas Mask, Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue, My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama, Oh No--these titles provide a good idea as to the peculiar landscape that is Zappa's imagination, which is satirical, vulgar, entirely surreal using the commodities of consumer capitalism rather than the convenient mythos of  psychology to poke a sharp sick into the vulnerable and obese sides of  our collective American fetishism for gadgets, fads and trends. An admirable facet of Zappa's work as a librettist is that he has no interest in creating poetic/philosophical/spiritual constructs that operate as Fire Exits for the consumer who wants a safe space for his psyche to believe, however fleetingly, that everything is okay and that he's doing just fine. No such luck, as Brother Zappa distorts the chaos you're already in and aware of and makes it his goal to give you the shock of recognition. That is , what am I laughing at?  With the disconcerting variety and collision-course eclecticism  the Mothers of Invention so brilliantly maintained, it would seem to have been Zappa's goal to shame a few folks in his audience, at least, to recognize the softness of their thinking , turn off the TV and get a library card.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK --King Crimson

Revisiting King Crimson's Sorta Live 'Starless and Bible Black'Historical revisionism is a beautiful thing in matters that don't involve public policy or the fate of humanity, and the last few years has emerged a movement among able-voiced factions of the 70s music audience, fan and writer alike, who have become emboldened to say great things about Progressive Rock. I won't argue the point, although I was not the most enthusiastic listener of the stuff. As a sucker for instrumental competence leading all the way up to virtuosity, tricky time signatures, dissonance, and bold eclecticism appealed to me greatly. 

However, my tastes have changed course significantly toward jazz improvisation, a more expansive, less calcified field where virtuosity is put to the service of improvisation. In this area, you do something unique, your own and the likes of which cannot be exactly duplicated by any means. Prog, in the brief time it owned the FM radio band and record charts, soon became self-parody --everyone sounded like everyone else playing overly arranged music, although adherents will claim the immediately distinguish-ability of Yes from ELP from Hatfield in the North from ...--and much of the lyrics were so much mush, Tolkien by way of Dungeons and Dragons. But Starless and Bible Black by King Crimson?  Though starting at the beginning of the Prog Rock ordeal, KC never really sounded like anyone, and anyone trying to say like them did so at the risk of being ridiculed, reviled, rejected. 

This record is densely layered, putting forth fetching, entrancing segments of gamelan percussive improvisations, a somewhat angular approach to Heavy Metal atonality, atmospherics for processed electric guitar and violin, breakneck Mahavishnu temps, and firestorm soloing. Robert Fripp, who I would consider the Miles Davis of Rock as he is the only constant member of this band in its fifty-plus years of existence and who made sure that the contributions of new members changed the sound and direction of KC--leads an outstanding troupe this period, especially Bill Buford on drums, David Cross on violin and John Whetton on bass and vocals. Whetton, I believe, is one of the forgotten bass heroes in the rock domain. Atmosphere, frenetic ensemble playing, exploring texturing. What more does one need? And the lyrics by Robert Palmer James are first-rate, real poetry that does not embarrass your senses or offend your more entrenched notion of how a compelling set of rhymes should be composed and presented. James merits a more extended discussion.

Friday, May 8, 2020

LOLITA


Lolita 1955.JPGIt's odd to imagine that Vladimir Nabokov's serpentinely sensual  1955 novel Lolita is 65 years old. Oddly, you come across younger readers who think writers began writing about sex until the mid 60s; I have no desire to ask where they've been or how they might have recieved (or not) their information. But oh well. On topic, it's a little more  unnerving to realize that I am the approximate age of that tale's cringe-causing protagonist, Hubert Humbert, that sad, grey character who wooed the twelve year old title figure with such a beautiful and odiously applied poetry. Re-reading it, I feel Humbert's physical aches and pains and even some measure of his longings for the touch of a women's skin against mine--I remain a romantic sensualist when all my protesting about the the course of the world are said and done with--and yet there is a horror, trepidation in a minor key as Humbert's fanciful seduction of the girl proceeds. I remember reading this in my early twenties thinking it erotic and wonderfully alive with what it made my young soul  yearn for, but thirty seven years hence the same novel is a little unnerving. I have lived long enough to have experienced a bit of the adult obsession that our author put to page in 1955, and it's not nostalgia or another manner of euphoric recall. Lolita is Nabokov's peculiar masterpiece that indicts us along with Humbert in the foul pursuit of young Lolita's virtue.
 
The novel endures because Humbert's interior-designed arousal has not been mitigated by the art of the writing nor a change over time about what is allowable between the sexes. The novel is a joy to read for the rare genius of Nabokov's writing, and the grime-crusted salaciousness of Humbert's game is still revolting. This the novel's great achievement, a comedy that indicts the reader as being likewise culpable in the seduction of a seeming innocent.I think it's more a matter that Lolita has aged well because the subject of a middle aged man's infatuation with a very young girl continues to give us the creeps fifty years since publication, and that Nabokov's writing remains musical, full of light, and wonderfully seductive in it's conveying of sensation.Nabokov was not an optimist in thinking that his characters would rise above their instincts and desires and do something selfless and noble, and with Lolita he hands us a masterpiece that is ageless because it retains the capacity to corrupt the reader and leave them feeling less certain in their moral stance for the pleasure they've just taken from the author's artful description of gamy undertakings.The tension is purposeful, I think, to the end that Nabokov's comic pessimism was directed not to instruct a moral lesson, but rather to show that our personalities are problematic things in that we acknowledge what is wrong and what is bad for us and yet pursue our worst inclinations with sweetly rationalized zeal. We are entranced with Humbert's poetics as he waxes about the authority of his senses , and it is there we find ourselves seduced, willingly surrendered to beauty created to describe what is morally unsettling. This is Nabokov saying "Gotcha"!Where Nabokov got his inspiration for his  "gotcha", but all the twists and turns in his relationship (or lack of relationship) with  his wife Vera is academic in the most anemic sense, since what we continue to have finely diced ambivalence toward is what he finally imagined in the novel Lolita, as alluring fiction. It remains the job of the indexer and the hagiographer to draw the precise and mathematical formulations as to the relations between the author's failings as a human being and the deceitful decorum of his elegant and untrustworthy narratives; for the reader seeking a distraction and an amusement the important matter is the complexity of our response to Lolita's seamless pulling from two directions. This isn't the only fiction where he's artfully drawn situations and casts whose multiple duplicitous all create mischief of varying degrees of transgression in the erstwhile pursuit of a mutating Ideal.Pnin, Pale Fire,Ada, Look at the Harlequins are all wonderful deliberations on bad faith. I am willing to accept that Nabokov was a personal bastard himself to be able to write so richly and so well of so many spoiled, privileged and vainly deluded creatures; his moral lesson , if there was one he presented, was that one ought not assume that there are firms moral lessons or insights to deep seated truths from the exposure to beauty and elegance; beauty is only a condition of our need for pleasure, and in itself does not make the gamier stuff in this life--the lying, the cheating, the ill will and violence we do toward one another-- sympathetic or defensible merely because it happens to be filtered through an attractive lens.
 
Humbert is a man of self-made pathologies and lacks anything of the Tragic Hero, a great man who, despite great deeds and good works, offends the Universe with exclusionist pride. He is perhaps a Pathetic Figure, someone objectively without redeeming virtues or qualities who willfully and blissfully contrives a habit of thinking to make their pursuit of gratification seamless and undisturbed by an intervening conscious. Tragic Heroes who started out as individuals who have the potential to make the world a better and more just place, but who have a fatal flaw that will ensure their demise. Humbert is all Fatal Flaw, a ruinous example of errant humanity. The novel is a unrelenting study in sheer pathology, made more disturbing by Nabokov's willingness to grace certain thinking with a sweet music.
 

MICHAEL McCLURE

Beat poet , playwright and essayist Michael McClure has passed away at the age of 87. I had the honor of getting to know him sometime back in the 90s when he read at D.G.Wills Books , when we had the great fortune of having a string of great Beat writers, at different times, grace us with a reading. Along with Michael, the bookstore also featured readings by Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Ted Joans and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Michael was an especially affable fellow in the days he spent with us; of calm demeanor but intense feeling, gracious, curious about those around him, willing to suffer what I thought in retrospect were naive questions. What he spoke of during our brief chats, and his remarks during his reading , was what I had always marveled at with respect to several writers and their ilk, a seamless integration of the moral,the political, the spiritual, and the artistic. He as a strong,restless poet who had a riveting, muscular lyricism that pierced untouchable mysteries and allowed light ,wisdom and humor to bear on the darker corners of the soul. He was interested in a myriad of things that have no reason to be connected other than the vivacity of McClure's interest and imagination. His body of work, his poems, had a broad range of subject matter, expression, musical and of the well phrase, and then it could be explosive, declarative, oracular, even anthropomorphic, the giving of human traits to animal figures. His interests were varied, and those varieties ran deep, and were deeply felt/ Again, a longer tribute to him is warrented because the wealth of his writing deserves better than a cramped and generalized description of what he did as a poet and spiritual seeker. But I will this to my musings: Michael McClure's life as a writer, revealed in his many books of verse, plays, novels, essays, memoirs and collaborations was an admixture of rigor and intuition. And McClure wore these elements like a loose fitting garment, a man completely at peace in his own skin. Here's a poem I rather like he wrote about trying to make note of the world as it speeds by .


THERE ARE HILLS LIKE SHARKFINS
                                  and clods of mud.
The mind drifts through
in the shape of a museum,
in the guise of a museum
dreaming dead friends:
Jim, Tom, Emmet, Bill.
—Like billboards their huge faces droop
and stretch on the walls,
on the walls of the cliffs out there,
where trees with white trunks
          makes plumes on rock ridges.

My mind is fingers holding a pen.

Trees with white trunks
             make plumes on rock ridges.
Rivers of sand are memories.
Memories make movies
             on the dust of the desert.
Hawks with pale bellies
             perch on the cactus,
their bodies are portholes
             to other dimensions.

This might go on forever.

I am a snake and a tiptoe feather
at opposite ends of the scales
as they balance themselves
against each other.
This might go on forever.
--  Michael McClure,
"Mexico Seen from the Moving Car"from Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael McClure.  Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael McClure.  Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.

Of course I plan to write something longer and more concrete in a few days, but this note is say thank you to a great poet, a grand man, for a measure of fellowship and credible consul.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

GREATEST ROCK GUITAR ALBUM OF ALL TIME

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High impact,yes it was, but I need to say that in decades that followed this followed genius's death, I've come to be weary of Hendrix when his name comes up in conversation. It's a matter of those from my high school graduating year all over the world turning this innovative musician into a deity, making him less an artist and more of a fetish item. Hendrix more or less gave us five studio albums of finished work --I am including Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge , both released posthumously, because the songs there upon are as good as the ones released during his lifetime. I think these songs are heard by us more or less (that phrase again!) as Hendrix intended. His body of finished work is a little broader than we might remember.ELECTRIC LADYLAND IS, in my view, the best double record studio release from a rock musician. It's often guessed at what Hendrix might have expanded his guitar sound into had he not gagged on his own wretch while asleep--jazz? cosmic funk? jazz fusion with Miles Davis? electronic music? orchestral material with larger ensembles? 

Ladyland gives us indications that the power trio format would not long hold Jimi-- the variety of styles, the shimmering brilliance of the production and mixing, the exhilarating guitar improvisations and the multi-tracking of guitar parts to produce a nuanced weave of sound, textures and short riffs and counter melodies playing tag in in even the strictest arrangement. And Hendrix was about to emerge as one of the most important songwriters of his generation, not just a windup guitar hero, but an actual auteur. His lyrics had by this time taken the street grit of the urban black experience, combined it with equal doses of Muddy Waters, Miles Davis, Sun Ra, Bob Dylan, The Impressions and, yes, his good friends in Cream and created a vibrant, always engaging eclecticism that remains, soothing, bracing, energizing, whatever you need it to do all these decades later. Burning of the Midnight Lamp, House Burning Down, Crosstown Traffic, Gypsy Eyes, 1983 (a mermanI should be)...These songs were the work of a writer coming into his own as both melodist and lyricist. Yes, lets give credit for his interpretations of Dylan and Earl Hooker, but the attraction of this album is as much about Hendrix's own compositions as it is his guitar prowess. And make no mistake, I am one who thinks that this is a rock guitar record that is unlikely to be equaled by anyone at any time. This album makes me think that the loss of Jimi Hendrix is about the only instance where the world was robbed ; we lost fifty years of genius with his departure.

Monday, April 27, 2020

ROCK AND ROLL EVEN THEIR MOTHERS HATED




  • Tilman Thomas were a bunch of guys trying for some odd hard rock, Black sabbath /Alice Cooper fusion and, from what I remember , did their own shows from an east country VFW hall. They had original tunes, none of them memorable, all-riff and glutted with  repetitive chord changes that sounded like a garage band of average amateur skill levels trying to add the illusion of prog-rock density to their flat-lined barrage. They were not horrible musicians--some showed chops, others did what they could--they were just persistently and insistently mediocre, the kind of aggravating experience when you see a performer who are convinced of their genius. lead singer was a fellow named Rico X, who wore blouses that looked like they were bought while drunk in a consignment show. he had long curly hair, was flamboyant the way only off-key sociopaths can manage, and a voice that was yet another karaoke imitation of Ian Gillian’s degendered vibrato. The band's tagline was "mindless rock and roll”. It was good to see at least one band live up to a promise they made. the hall was one of those large rooms you grew up in watching your parents and friends get drunk in, on the 4th of July especially. there was a low rise stage, less impressive than the ones that were standard issue in high school gymnasiums all over the country, amps, lighting and PA were abstract, post-cubist renditions of electricity being put to use to underscore a forthcoming storm of mung with sparks and static. the crowd dug it the most, though, everyone dressed up in some variation of groupie baby doll eleganza or long-haired biker trash self-loathing. it was a wonderful scene


Sunday, April 26, 2020

LIVING IN A GHOST TOWN by The Rolling Stones

Coronavirus: Rolling Stones release lockdown-inspired new song ...
Living in a Ghost Town,the first new music the Stones have released in decade is certainly news. But it doesn't do much for me.The tune seems like a less inspired 'Waiting for a Friend"--hardly my favorite Stones song--but instead of a spry Sonny Rollins saxophone solo, we get Jagger's harmonica. At this point it's a bit of a sham for anyone old enough to have known this great band at their height to pretend that Jagger is a musician worth concentrating on. This would have been a great song for Sugar Blue to elevate. It perhaps is fitting and ironic that they produced a topical song that's as empty as the city they're singing about.Lest anyone understandably mistake me for a Stones basher who thinks they are not  just relics of a better past but actually the dust all old bones eventually become,  I think the Stones have been one of the very few 60s acts who've managed to continue to make good rock and roll as they've aged and found themselves in the 21st century. A Bigger Bang, their 2005 album and the last full disc of original material, I consider one of the best of that year.  Steel Wheels, Bridges to Babylon and Voodoo Lounge were entertaining and credibly rocking. I have nothing against their age; they are a band of longstanding achievement, and they continue to tour (until recently) because that is what musicians do, perform live. But I have never been a big fan of the band's slower, more "philosophical" tunes--Jagger may be first rate wit and world class cynic with talent for creating a convincing persona to carry a tale, his gentler side has never convinced me of anything other than he's attempting a role he's not cut out for. Jagger is a remarkable vocalist and front man who’s sold me on a dozen poses he’s proffered over the many decades—droogy punk, bisexual drug addict, street fighting man, serial killer/rapist/ aristocrat/ blues shaman—but the reflective , the contemplative, the softly ironic muse role is something he is not suited for. The actor’s mask suddenly cracks.

MURDER MOST FOUL by Bob Dylan

Murder Most Foul is the best set of stanzas Dylan has written in decades, and  they indeed cover a lot of ground as to where he's been strategically in taking pen to paper, starting off with the kind of burned-out , cracker barrel chattiness that has made much , if not most, of his eighties, nineties and yes, 20s output a slog through the long grass of intensification, but Murder Most Foul rapidly morphs into an the kind of acerbic acuteness that made his late folk and early electric work so damn satisfying. Less fingerprinting, let us say, softer, but there is a compassionate irony here, something found in the third person omniscience of John Cheever and John Updike, something all seeing, interested, sympathetic to unsatisfactory results of best laid plans and the best intention ed art, but resolutely detached all the same, the Kierkegaard God remaining silent and unmoving in the wake of our dire consequences and continued mediocrity, the sort of  irony that contains no message other than pose the question concerning what our next move is. 

This song is a welcome, if sadly belated companion to the Phil Ochs masterpiece The Crucifixion, which is among the best rock-poem lyrics ever scribed and which handily beat Dylan at his own rock-poet game; this is prime Dylan, I believe, older, older, wizened and wiser, but a man aware of his own legacy and reputation as an artist who needs to put life into perspective, the ways in which he emerged after the Fall From Grace, meaning the assassination of JFK and the end of the myth of an American Camelot, a sprawling attempt to reconcile what seemed to be promised by the Presence of John F. Kennedy under who's direction a country could transcend the differences that separate us and have us join together in common cause of a creating a more perfect union and the witnessing and not wholly disguised disgust toward the same culture that, in the current climate, is drunk on personal pronouns and the assumption that gross materialism and mythological entitlements come with the words that refer to oneself as the only agent of action that matters.
bobdylan.com (@bobdylan) | Twitter

Dylan's finds himself in a universe crueler, stupider, more self-seeking than when he first started, and finds himself spoken of as deity, philosopher, poet, all manner of seer, sage and prophet who is supposed tell what to do and how to think about a reality does not yield its activities to the dictates to personal whim or the mythology of immutable laws of history. The only law of history is that there is no law of history. The undercurrent in Murder Most Foul's seventeen minute reach is that for Dylan, a man who has been alive long enough to see the major movements of American life, that nothing has changed in terms of what American feels it needs, which is the belief that we as a Nation are number one in the history of all things, that we are a nation of men with unlimited liberty , that self-seeking is a virtue that cures every perceived ailment; we find that the passage of time has changed the fashions , the furniture, the architecture of appearances, but the stupidity remains. This stupidity is not an element that goes deep but rather THE WHOLE THING  we base all we tell ourselves on. Murder most foul is loopy, long, prolix, an overstuffed set of luggage filled with name checks and the like, and likely could have benefited had it been cut to , say, ten minutes, but it is the work of a fine poetic mind that has woken up, or at least discerned a way to discuss what's been brewing in that brain these so many years.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

JOHN PRINE, AMERICAN AS PLAIN SPEECH


John Prine Tribute - John Prine Was Always There, the World Didn't ...


I’m very sad by the passing of John Prine, a wordsmith who  managed the hardest of all lyricist obligations, managing to be plain-spoken, colloquial, unafraid to be Stories would take. His best songs have an authentic, unaffected quality, that of someone talking to about some odd thing that happened them, recent or in the past, setting a scene, establishing an attitude, a personality at the beginning of the story, giving you an idea of where he was going with it all, an idea of what the moral of the tale would be, but then he concludes or at least stops his story at some point you didn't expect.He could be colloquial without being unclear, idiomatic without resorting to cracker barrel cliches; this was someone you knew perhaps not intimately, but who you knew well enough to have an ongoing conversation about the weather, sports, women, bad jobs, celebration and tribulation and come away with a feeling that you had just tapped into a larger Life Force. This writer wasn't, though, a preacher or a saint or an expert, or at least not an expert on anything beyond his experiences and the blessings or consequences of them. He didn't "drop knowledge", he didn't advise, he didn't moralize. He just told you what he knew and admitted what he didn't know and leave you a strong inclination to lean closer and observe longer and perhaps glean some incidental insight as to how to remain teachable after you've learned all the answers. That was a huge part of my attraction to his music and lyrics, their complete lack of pretension . 

Prine was less a poet, capital "P" than were some of his contemporaries, than he was story teller, but with the sense of structure of a great short story writer like John Cheever or Raymond Carver. John Prine  was a romantic with good sense of the hard , real ground even the dreamers have to walk.  He was a fatalist who could accept either a good or band hand dealt him by a world that paid his expectations no mind. But wouldn't dive into a murky, sticky self-pity, a critical flaw in many a singer/songwriter's work. Jackson Browne, for example. His music was such that it revealed a well balanced ambivalence to circumstances and outcomes.  He kept a sense of humor, allowed the events of his life to mature into a genuine wisdom. He continued, to pursue his calling.  Prine wasn't  a happy-go-lucky naif, he wasn't cheery when matters hit the skids or if his expectations weren't met.  He acknowledged his feelings, he would pause and rise to his feet after a while and continued on his path. An element of his tales, his loves and heartaches, is this mastery of the  Long-View, the unexpected but welcome shift in perspective that provides what the lesson was of experience , if there was any. Nothing preachy, nothing of the old-man attempt award wisdom drawn from travels and travails. Pine sounded like he was talking to you, in a living room, over lunch, at a bar, over a backyard fence. And, as I said, he had a sense of humor. He has a song called "When I Get to Heaven" from his 2018 record THE TREE OF FORGIVENESS:

When I get to heaven, I'm gonna shake God's hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I'm gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band
Check into a swell hotel, ain't the afterlife grand?
And then I'm gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah, I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
'Cause this old man is goin' to town Then as God as my witness, I'm gettin' back into showbusiness I'm gonna open up a nightclub called "The Tree ofForgiveness" And forgive everybody ever done me any harm
Well, even invite a few choice critics, those syph'liticparasitics Buy 'em a pint of Smithwick's and smother 'em with my charm
'Cause then I'm gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin' to town
Yeah when I get to heaven, I'm gonna take that wristwatchoff my armWhat are you gonna do with time after you've bought thefarm?
And then I'm gonna go find my mom and dad, and good oldbrother Doug
Well I bet him and cousin Jackie are still cuttin' up a rug
I wanna see all my mama's sisters, 'cause that's where allthe love startsI miss 'em all like crazy, bless their little hearts
And I always will remember these words my daddy said
He said, "Buddy, when you're dead, you're a deadpecker-head"I hope to prove him wrong... that is, when I get to heaven
'Cause I'm gonna have a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
Yeah this old man is goin' to town
Yeah this old man is goin' to town
This is the greatest of all American literary personas, the knowing hick, the bucolic philosopher, the country ironist, a figure that is from Mark Twain straight up to Richard Brautigan and Kurt Vonnegut, an unlettered man, apparently, with an indefatigable self-confidence and Panglossian who, aware that he is dead and in the clouds with his Creator, shakes His hand and sets out to do what a heaven of his imagining would be, to have his favorite cocktail, smoke copious amounts of cigarettes , stick it to his nettlesome critcis by compelling them to sit through his nightclub act, reunite with this family not for tears and regrets but for good times and real love... You can go through his catalog of songs and parse his lyrics any number of ways and marvel at the sweet subtleties he created with such clear, unmannered and un-fussy language. He was an Everyman who was appealing because he wasn't trying to impress anyone or blow them away with Big Stories with Big Message, messages that were rather hackneyed, ala Harry Chapin.Prine's ambition seemed not much more than to be the best songwriter he could be , someone surprised that a great many others over the years admired his rich body of work

Monday, March 30, 2020

Woody Allen Memoir anyone?



Woody Allen's Memoir Released, Denies Molesting Dylan Farrow ...
The little I've read about Allen's memoir Apropos of Nothing gives further confirmation that brilliant artists are  often awful people, creeps in fact , and underscores the wisdom of having realistic expectations from such bright lights of talent when observing them behave in matters separate from the art they make for our distraction. Being an artist, whether poet, novelist, painter or musician, is not a priesthood by any means. Without diving into the weeds about the allegations that Allen had molested his daughter Dylan , I will step back and say that it’s a family feud with no jackpot, a large pile of reeking results of separate streams of bad faith. In any event, I will satisfy myself with reading a half dozen book reviews because other matters, more interesting and crucial, have bled the subject of Allen, his career, his successes and his sins dry of any allure. The matter is a dead, dry husk of wretched old flesh under a sun lamp of scrutiny.  The characterizations I've read, quoted with glee with reviewers anxious to soil his name a little more, does indeed cause the writer-director-comedian appear to be an unseemly prick. 



I will leave it at that and trust that he is yet another artist I admire who likewise suffered the indignity of being human, too human, despite an element of extraordinary talent and achievement. At 84, I suspect Allen doesn't care what others think about he thinks of everybody else and expects his reputation as a genius film maker to outlive the predator allegations. It's certainly the case with Frank Sinatra, who survived the storm over Kitty Kelly's fantastically damning biography HIS WAY in 1986. Sinatra sued to stop publication but later dropped the suit, and the contents of the book revealed an ambitious , insecure , raging man gifted with a beautiful voice and attendant charisma who was in actual fact a monster. 



Thirty three years later, the Kelley book and the deeds it recounts are safely back in the shadows and the general view of Sinatra, his reputation, is a glorification of a legend, an artist, a genius, a true romantic, a profound American success story. At this stage of the game, Allen believes the same will be his fate, that his many successes as a film maker and humorist will outpace that gamier aspects of his life. Americans prefer to believe their legends.




RIFFING THROUGH THE MUDDLE



The 1976 Mahavishnu Orechestra release Inner Worlds is the one of the few of the many  John McLaughlin albums I have no use for. It seems a case that JM had a bunch of new guitar synth toys and had not yet figured out a way to make them remotely attractive in their modulations, and that he had to put a band together pronto with little rehearsal time. Especially the compositions, which recycle riffs from the previous two studio albums or spend time abruptly moving from tonal muddle-headedness, ersatz classicism, or the dreariest of vocal chorusing . The band was not ready for prime time, distressing considering the talent in the band, with Stu Goldberg (keyboards), Ralph Armstrong (bass) and Narada Michael Walden (drums); all these players are superb in executing the roles the sessions require of them, but no one shines here, which is a shame. 

See the source imageI saw this line up of musicians in 1974 for the tour supporting the orchestral Apocalypse album (another least-played disc in my JM collection) with the addition of Jean Luc Ponty (violin) and Gayle Moran (keyboards), and experienced a wholesale blitzkrieg of fusion brilliance. It was a refreshing reminder how often the musicians achieve  those levels of ad lib brilliance in live settings, especially from a studio effort that collapsed under it’s own portentous weight. This is a note that McLaughlin is a worth composer of small ensemble composition, but lacked, at least at the time, the where with all to score a piece for full orchestra.  

 None of that was evident on the 1976 release Inner World, and even JM seemed overwhelmed by all the noise that resulted. Fortunately for the world, McLaughlin is one who liked to move from style to style has remained an inspiring artist. To this day, decades after he first rattled my tooth fillings, it still takes one of his guitar solos to put me in touch with that instinct that wants to transform rage and fury into a heady, fast thinking lyricism. He has been that brilliant.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

finding good music

Image result for Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt


n the seventies, while a young man appropriately bored with the slamming two-dimensional dynamics of late-period jazz-rock (which had morphed into a stylized arena of tick-rock riffing termed "fusion" that was monotony incarnate), I ventured forth into older jazz forms, bop, swing, big and, Ellington, Davis, Mingus, people who swung over unpredictable tempos and fantastic chords. It was a love affair that never hasn't stopped yet. Curiously, though, I formed jazzbo attitudes about artists I hadn't heard, a phenomenon not uncommon among some of us desperate for a hip reputation. You followed the herd-thinking. What I heard was that alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt was nothing but a low down Charlie Parker imitator, technically adept and adroit in extemporizing over a 6/8 time breakdown of a popular tune, but he was a technician only, without a soul. I went with that for years and dug into my Miles Davis phase, a long binge over a the late eighties and nineties on as Much MD as I could afford, everything from what he'd done as a sideman with Bird and through his various labels as band leader, from the hard bop session he'd done, through the modal experiments and into the blistering jazz-rock he created., noting , as well, the history of his saxophone players, a fine fettle of reed geniuses: George Coleman,Cannonball Adderley,Gerry Mulligan,John Coletrane, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Dave Leibman. Nothing but the best for Miles. 

I was one of those who scoured the used CD bins, looking for my preferred artists and one day, lo! I came across a record titled "Walkin':A Jazz Hour With Miles Davis" on released on the now-defunct economy label Laserlight. Featuring a previously unavailable live performance in Europe in the Fifties, this was not the classic earlier studio album "Walkin'" (a one of MDs many masterpieces) , but so what, it was Davis live and on sale. Reading the personal, all seemed worth the purchase despite the misdirection of the title, as it highlighted, worthies like pianist Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers on drums, Jimmy Cobb on drums, on saxophone...Sonny Stitt?? The plagiarist , the rip off artist, the Parker wannabe? The man I relegated to the minor leagues without endeavoring to hear what he played like? With Miles? 

This wasn't so earth shaking a revelation as I might want to make it sound and , of course, I didn't ask myself that sequence of disbelieving questions presented in incomplete sentences. I was curious and bough the record. I was more than pleasantly pleased with the hard bop brilliance of the band--Miles Davis of this period is essentially flawless as he applies to his muted, modulated, middle register approach to the hard charging changes this fine band challenges him with--and came to the conclusion that Sonny Stiff had been given the short shrift as a musician. The resemblance to Parker are there, undeniable, and it's understandable how jazz snobs of the time, wanting to consecrate jazz as America's art music in opposition to the tradition of European classicism and establish both canon and criteria for our best gift to the world, would deride particular players, diminish them in stature without fair estimation in an effort to create standards for an emerging aesthetics. 

Understandable and unfair, because what I discovered was a musician of envious fluidity and lyric invention within his scope as an improviser who could negotiate steeple-chase tempos and obstacle course chord progressions with precision and yet never, or at least rarely lose a song's melodic nuance ; for all the high-velocity bravura bop-related jazz musicians are known for, Stitt had a ribbony, sweetly undulating method of teasing notes and shading their sounded presence with variations within the pitch, a legacy from the blues that maintains a vocal quality, a sharp note of surprise as the solo unfolds. 

Stitt, however, wasn't a soulless technician.Whatever debt he owed to Charlie Parker is nearly besides the point; the style is something Stitt took possession and made it his means to express something that, in itself, was beyond race, economics and the general ugliness mere existence weights us with; it is simply beautiful and exciting music made by a musician who deserves to be reexamined for his best recorded moments.

B


Monday, March 2, 2020

IMMIGRATION COMES TO A FULL BOYLE

THE TORTILLA CURTAIN
a novel by T.C.Boyle
Culture clash is the theme in Tortilla Curtain, and leave it TC Boyle to go beyond the abstract curtain of statistics, policy wonkery and three-hankie tragedy mongering and provide the reader instead with a contradiction that is harshly comic; well off Southern Californians, nominally liberal in their politics, are forced to deal with an illegal couple who are in the most dire situations. California is the Big Blue state of liberal leaning, fat with left-leaning delegates and electoral votes, and with a state legislature that manages the most progressive state laws extant in our union; given that this over populated state is filled with liberals and progressives of a particularly privileged sort, the ones who offer not deeds but coin and bumper sticker cliche, we have a target rich environment for Boyle's satire. Plainly, what would happen if your memorized principles slam up against the very problem you've paid lip service to solving? It works to the degree in that the suburban pair preferred to have their causes at several layers of removal , preferring safe memberships in organizations forever raising money for non controversial progressive causes; a check or a credit card donation was the exercise of their social responsibility, an acceptable penance for what is largely a consumerist lifestyle. Boyle does not sugar coat, euphemise nor glorify the awful trials and fate of the Mexican couple that had stolen over the border looking for a better life. Against a backdrop of a terrain of sunshine, opulence and the saturation of Conspicuous Consumption, Boyle tenders life at the margins, at the edges of glittering downtowns and cascading suburbs.Boyle is stinging and blunt in the way he describes the ordeals economic desperation that drives good people, and he is unsparing at offering up a priceless, painfully recognizable banter of a privileged psychology that inspects the hard facts of injustice and responds by trying to worm their way out of any sense of responsibility for others less well endowed.