Wednesday, April 27, 2016

CHILD: I AM A CHILD/Neil Young


I have loved Neil Young ever since I was a child myself, the problem often being as to which Neil I like the best, the melodic acoustic troubadour or the feedback-drenched electric maverick, let alone all the shorter term infatuations he has dabbled in, from brass-heavy blues to wacky contract-breaking electronica. I guess like so many I came in around Heart of Gold, backtracking then to the glory of the After the Goldrush album, destroying many a pair of jeans to evoke the multi-patching of his distressed denim. I was at a single sex boarding school at that time, all short hair and uniforms, with Young, all straw hair, sideboards and the scruffiest wardrobe ever, being the man I most wished to be. Indeed, I fear this version of basse couture has remained the template for me, even now, to the despair of wives and partners to this day. (Hell, if ol' Shakey still dresses like a derelict in the dark, why shouldn't I?)


As stated often here before, I was an odd boy, and one of my eternal quests has always been the whys and the hows of music, with a liking to burrow back into the beginnings. This led me to my hardly original theory that all (white) popular music arose from the 4Bs: the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. What about the Stones, I hear you say, to which my response is that they are black music, or the Blues. Jazz? That's Blues too. And I will allow the B of Bluegrass to encompass the whole of Country music, itself morphing into some of the style of the Byrds and the Buffalo, anyway, which is where I began. OK, it's trite and simplistic but I will defend it defiantly and devoutly (until some smartass says so what about Kraftwerk then?) But my point is that I thus obtained a copy of a Buffalo Springfield best-of in about 1973, hearing a whole different Neil. This was how he sang pre-whine, and I here mean whine as a compliment, being unable to think of a less damning description of his style, unless anyone can come up with a better name. Almost angelic, clear and smooth at this stage, as much a shock as it was later to hear his strangely low speaking voice. And, on this song, surprisingly or, probably, intentionally childlike, with only rudimentary guitar. This was a trick he was able to later return to, on Sugar Mountain, similarly faux-infantile and just as fetching.


So, how is the child now? Roll forward from 1968, the Buffalo Springfield recording, a full 46 years to 2014, his annual Bridge School concert, the school he set up for his own, now deceased beloved child. The clothes remain the same, the hair, well, a bit thinner on top, but the voice, less childlike but unmistakeably his, present and correct. And the child, listening in 1973, is still listening now.

There are a dozen or so recordings available over the decades: go buy!!


Monday, April 25, 2016

Child: The Replacement's Kids Don't Follow





 Kids Don’t Follow is the first track off the Replacement’s first release, the EP Stink.  It’s a bold statement from a band that would go on to make many statements. The Replacements are a band that took on a far greater prominence than the drunken shenanigans of Stink would promise.  But, then, this is the Replacements and their influence, lazy ambition, sneaking brilliance, and pure, astounding genius and capacity to bring the shock and awe (or one good dose of thunder) made them one of the greatest bands ever to never really make it. Starting with Stink, and hopping along like an exposed electric wire for a total of 6 more albums and a few lifetimes of madness, what the ‘Mats did for music is almost immeasurable. Even if they would deny it. Then or now. Which they do.

I like to talk a lot about firsts in music. First tracks, first times a song was played, first time one heard a band, what must it have been like to see a legend in the making when they first started out. Kids Don’t Follow is another first, an opening shot of punk muscle that would start a career that would morph and go in unexpected directions, but never lose that ‘fuck you’ attitude that in retrospect was so essential.

One of the best parts of Kids Don’t Follow is the opening recording of a party being broken up by the Minneapolis Police. Amid the ambient noise comes out a clear, angry, “Hey fuck you, man!” to the otherwise kindly, Barney Fife-kind of sounding cop politely asking everyone to please disperse. It’s such a visual moment. Supposedly it was recorded at First Avenue. Supposedly, the kid who yells the expletive is Soul Asylum’s Dave Priner. Supposedly the cop was Danny Murphy’s father. Supposedly, the Replacements put their original demos in the river and set them adrift, hoping Prince would discover them, ala the infant Moses in the Nile in a reed basket…There are a lot of what ifs with a band like The ‘Mats. And a lot of could have been...But what they left behind is like a great promise that might still come true.

...The Replacements, one of rock’s closest near-miracles...Kids Don’t Follow. A song like this makes sure they never will… 


Saturday, April 23, 2016

Child: The Who, The Kids Are Alright




From their first album, and though it wasn’t a hit when it came out, it is now a title that has become ubiquitous with the band. They are the kids. Were the kids. But, if you love them, they still are the kids. The original punks, angry, playful, bombastic. Revolutionaries in stripes and sneakers, dippity-doed hair, mod before mod was a thing.

Who? The Who.

The Kids are Alright set a great standard. The standard for rock greatness. Greatness was Keith Moon’s frenzied, nuclear motored drumming. It is still the greatest drumming I’ve ever heard. Townshed’s spectrum spanning guitar, crunching, driving, melodic, a full on range of sound from a mere six strings.  He wielded chords with an orchestral strength. Daltry sang like he had a brass pair. Entwistle rolled thunder like a Greek god.

1965. They looked so clean cut, so reserved. Yet in this amazing song one finds their personas of greatness, rock gods in waiting, like Clark Kent behind his glasses - almost there, bursting at the seams to do what they were destined to do. There are two versions, but the UK album version has a glorious instrumental break that personifies Townshed’s ability to spin melodic gold.  

The original promo video was filmed in Hyde park at the water’s edge, while holiday makers rowed past. A number of them have stopped to watch the band play, unamplified and lip-synching to a pre-recorded track. Moon is his usual self—a ball of energy, barely able to stay in his seat. Entwistle is straight knife-fight nonchalant, playing his bass with fingers the defied the limits of the bones under the skin. Townshed is reserved, but breaks into a genuine smile, a goofy grin that is unmistakable joy, then he throws in his classic windmill, forever changing the way we would all play guitar thereafter. Daltry is sullen, looking away from the camera rather than giving any of himself to it. He looks off to the side, this way and that—later you see all the girls that had gathered just the side of the band, and the boys on their bikes.  Do you think they knew what they were watching? The very evolution of rock ‘n roll…the kids were definitely alright.

The song is still as fresh as it was in 1965, still packs the same raw, punchy joyous power. It’s a retrospective on youth now, but the song itself is still young, still invokes and evokes the joyousness of abandon and the joy of not knowing any better and not needing to. T
he assured swagger that comes with knowing everything will be fine.

In 2000, at the Royal Albert Hall, they extended the song, and Townsend took the opportunity to sing a new interlude:

"When I wrote this song I was nothing but a kid, trying to work out right and wrong through all the things I did. I was kind of practicing with my life. I was kind of taking chances in a marriage with my wife. I took some stuff and I drank some booze. There was almost nothing that I didn't try to use. And somehow I'm alright."
 
the kids are definitely alright, still. 


 

Child: Bettie Serveert's “Kid’s Alright”


Purchase Bettie Serveert's Kids Alright

Back in the bushes we find a cat
Beat him up with a baseball bat
And grandma says we’ll turn out bad
And go straight to hell just like dad



I grew up in a sweet neighborhood where I could almost touch the window of the house across from me. But when you live that close, you can hear all the fighting and crying on the block. The loudest kids are seen as the worse. I remember listening to my quiet and boring neighbors next door try to make my mom crap on the loud boy across the street who ran out of his housescreaming at his parents. Shouldn’t we be more curious about the quiet houses where nothing seems to happen?

In “Kids’ Alright” Bettie Serveert has some fun with adults who get off on predicting doom for kids. Well these kids ain’t so nice actually, beating up cats and all with Louisville Sluggers and yet you cheer for them against their grammie through the line “But don’t you (grandma) get your hopes up high, The Kid’s alright.”

Bettie Serveert is from the Netherlands but played a lot more like an alt-country act from Missouri with some Dinosaur Jr guitar worship thrown in. Carol Van Dijk’s mumbles and snarls, the guitar twangs. “Kids’ Alright” is the fastest tune off their 1991 debut Palomine. In fact, you have trouble listening to this slow album straight through because “Kid’s Alright” is so catchy you want to hear it again and again. Yeah, maybe like a nude scene in a slightly above average film.

Bettie Serveert caught a good buzz early on, even opening up for Counting Crows on a leg of their tour (which made me respect Counting Crows a lot more) and then they fell. I thought Bettie Serveert had broken up shortly after their second album “Lamprey” and the Crows tour but I learned they made another 8 albums. So I dove into Youtube and came across a lot of playful pop which is pretty good but neglects the guitar chops of Peter Visser. Listen to them live and Visser’s work comes through.

Living in Istanbul where you can reach into the house next to you and grab the spoon out of a person’s hand, I always find it eerie how few kids I hear and see.

Posted by LaRay Gun, for Mr. Becker



Friday, April 22, 2016

Child: Steve Martin's A Holiday Wish

[purchase]

From the beginning, what made Steve Martin great was the way he turned expectations on its head. Martin first burst into public consciousness at a time when comedians were moving away from the buttoned-up look to a more 60s counterculture appearance. Yet, he was known for performing in white suits, virtually the dictionary definition of “uncool.” His routines were based on unexpected juxtapositions, and ironic goofiness, like putting a fake arrow through his head. Or interrupting his set with some banjo playing. He is a true comic genius, and isn’t bad as an actor, playwright, musician, author, and art collector.

For some reason, despite the huge number of possible songs that I could have written about, this routine from the 1986 holiday episode of Saturday Night Live immediately jumped into my head. It is a classic example of Martin’s way of twisting expectations. It starts off with Martin, in a stereotypical “sincere television” Christmas setting, with soft music playing behind him, stating that if he had one holiday wish, “it would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace.” A beautiful sentiment, but not particularly funny, and we know that SNL at least tries to be funny.

Of course, Martin actually has other wishes, and by the end, “the crap about the kids” gets shunted behind what people would really want for the holiday, even if they wouldn’t ever admit it, and certainly not as part of a sappy ‘holiday wish” TV segment, including a month-long orgasm, unlimited power over every living being in the universe, $30 million a month, and that his enemies “should die like pigs in Hell!”

Then, of course, the children joining hands and singing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Child: Child of the Moon



purchase [Child of the Moon]

Without children ... we don't continue.
I've got one, only one, and that's not "replacement" level. At my reproductive level, if we all do this over time, we'll end up with no one on earth.
Without children ... well ... you know.


But, to zoom in on this week's theme: Here's a trivia question for you to answer: What is the B side of Jumpin Jack Flash?
Of course, to answer that, you need to know what a B side is. But if you're following SMM, you already know. That would be the flipped side of the Jumping Jack Flash 45 RPM vinyl disk that came out in 1968. (The "hit" went on the A side, and the B side had some kind of filler.)
So ... Child of the Moon is "filler". Of sorts. The song "backing" Jumping Jack Flash.


Among my limited collection of early LP albums were two from the Rolling Stones. The year being about 1967, the albums would have been <Between the Buttons> and <Aftermath>. Whereas Jumping Jack Flash appeared on album in the late 60s, Child of the Moon was left for later albums - kind of an obscure Stones song. Interesting to me is the fact that a Google search of <Child of the Moon> brings up a multitude of other references. I would have thought that "Child of the Moon Wikipedia" would resolve/result in the Stones as the first link. (They are - after all - the first) Not so. Child of the Moon, while not a major musical hit, has taken on a life of its own beyond the song: TV episodes and such riding on the name/fame.


Someone else said:
... [the song] actually feels closer to pagan curse than lyric poem, a mixed-bag mojo potion invocation of a dream lover pushed to ritualistic nightmare by the hoodoo “Rain” beat of Charlie Watts’ drums, Brian Jones’ hypnotic saxophone drone, Jagger’s own fixed-pitch chant vocals and Jimmy Miller’s deeply unsettling shouting in those murky opening moments.

[www.mojo4music.com/11843/rolling-stones-child-moon]
OK. Wow.

The song does appears to be a part of the Stones' acid journey - belonging more to the late 60s Satanic Majesty or Beggars Banquet than the mid 60s, when it came out. Must have been fast-lanes/ fast times in 1967-8.

As for lyrics:

Give me a misty day, pearly gray, silver, silky faced,
Wide-awake crescent-shaped smile
... child of the moon

Friday, April 15, 2016

HISTORY/AGAIN: Babbacombe Lee



Fairport Convention are way more than a mere convention, being more an british institution, now a year shy of their half-century. Some may be surprised to hear they are still going, seeing them as a band time locked in the late 60s and cusp of the 70s, others stalwart fans of their ever changing line-ups. I am sort of within the latter camp, but my custom and appreciation has flagged and faltered over the years. Of course, the received wisdom is that they are a mere shadow of their earlier glories, but I am uncertain they were ever much more than a well thought of cult niche. A highly regarded cult niche, maybe, but it is the eye of retrospect that is needed to see that, and if all the people who so now highly rate the Sandy Denny/Richard Thompson years had done then, well, maybe the story would have been different. But it isn't their history I have come to discuss, more their penchant for a good historical narrative.

Starting as the UK's answer to Jefferson Airplane, they reasonable swiftly moved folkwards, arguably inventing folk-rock. The folk canon is full of tales of derring-do, real and imaginary, and the band have littered their output with historical narrative from the english civil war to WW1, from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Napoleon. But the most ambitious historical set-piece was Babbacombe Lee, the 1971 concept album, telling the true story of John "Babbacombe" Lee, the man who could not be hung. Lee was an ex-navy ne'er do well and petty criminal, who, in 1885, was convicted for the murder of one Emma Keyse, his then employer. Sentenced to hang in Exeter prison, the trapdoor bizarrely refused to function, despite testing, 3 times leaving him standing not dangling. As a result his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, the story building up layers of mystic significance year on year. He was actually released in 1907, for a while sustaining himself on the strength of telling his story, but later years, between the wars, are somewhat shrouded in uncertainty, he seemingly having died in the USA, during the mid 1940s, giving him a lucky bonus of extra 50 odd years longevity. 



1971 had seen Fairport lose most of their more celebrated band members, shrunk to the quartet of Dave Swarbrick (fiddle/vocals), Simon Nicol (guitar/vocals), Dave Pegg (bass) and Dave Mattacks (drums). Swarb had found some old newspaper stories extolling the tale and the idea for an album was born. It is actually not a half-bad LP and has stood the test of time, perhaps better than some of their later output, possibly the reason why the current band, still including Nicol and Pegg, resurrected it for both a tour and a live recording, released in 2012. Here is the high point, the failed execution, in song, the 2 versions near 40 years apart. See which you prefer.

1971:


and 2012 (filmed in 2009):


Next year is Fairport Conventions 50th. They hold a yearly festival, Cropredy, in Oxfordshire. I was there for the 20th, 25th and the 30th birthday celebrations, unable to quite believe that last was nearly 20 years ago. I hope to return in 2017. Any of you be there? It will be history unfolding in itself. Again.

Buy 1971 or 2012

Thursday, April 14, 2016

History/Again: The Brando's Gettysburg





Back in high school, I lived in Northern Virginia. When I got my driving license, in addition to cruising the McDonald’s parking lot and feeling full-on superior to everyone without a license, I started making long drives to various Civil War battlefields. Not the hippest thing for a 16 year old to do, but there was so much history, so close, I didn’t see it as strange. It was an easy way to get on the road and feel that ineffable sense of freedom that comes with being behind the wheel. I was Kerouac, but, I didn’t have that far to go. Of course, I went a lot of places I shouldn’t have (Washington, DC in the late ‘80s was like a lurid, dangerous movie set), but getting out into the ‘country’, on my own, driving back roads, seeing America (I’d read On the Road early in my teens, so I was ready to roll)…it was an amazing experience to disappear from the suburban safety of my parent’s home and into the reverie of history and my own romantic notions of being on the road. There were a lot of places to go: Fredericksburg. Bull Run. Harper’s Ferry. Winchester. Further afield, Antietam and even Gettysburg.  I was into Kerouac, but I was also into history, so proximity to the remnants of history was exciting.

I was on my own particular beat extravaganza. One chapter in the tale of my own history, personal, but epic (in the small sphere I walk).

About the same time as all this was going on, my musical education was expanding exponentially due to a radio station out of Lanham, Maryland, called WHFS. 99.1. If you’re from DC , Maryland or Virginia (the DMV) and are of a few certain generations, “ninety-nine-one” is a phrase that brings up many memories, both at once warmly nostalgic and sad. But, mostly sad in a way that something great is gone.  

‘HFS has been around since the 1960s and has spanned multiple genres over at least three different FM frequencies and digital platforms. It still exists, but, not as the traditional ‘HFS I grew up with—the weak signaled (it came it good at night) humming little broadcaster of funky, alternative musical oddities. ‘HFS was the place to tune into to hear everything from Springsteen to P-Funk to Dylan to punk - beautiful sounds. Back then, we called it college rock, or progressive, and ‘HFS was amazing because it brought into tune a musical world that was bubbling on the horizon of my budding musical tastes. Strange sounds from the ether, pointing me in great new directions. I could do a lot of posts of bands I heard first on 99.1’s golden airwaves. A few? REM, The Cult, The Plimsouls, Chuck Brown, Fugazi, The Feelies.

And there were lesser known, one off bands, half-a-hit wonders that while they weren’t making musical history, were laying down a solid foundation for what would become my musical pedigree, my own personal musical history.

One of those unique bands that ‘HFS brought me into contact with was called The Brandos. The Brandos are a New York rock outfit that worked in a interesting nitche: dudded out in bolo ties, high collared shirts, sharp black suits, they played a gritty, guitar driven, late 80s rock with a historical flavor. Their 1987 album Honor Among Thieves had a sound appeal that was at once college-rock guitar but also grounded in historical theme and detail. 

Their highest charting track was “Gettysburg”, a smoldering, first-person account from a long dead soldier, looking back on the battle and horror that took place there.  The song is structured around the narrator seeing his name on a plaque, and at Gettysburg, the names of the dead are endless. It’s not clear if it’s a ghost, or someone having a visceral experience from standing on hallowed, horrored ground. The song spirals back on an image-laden tour of the nightmare that battle was, and it is full-throated and angry. As any song about the horrors of war should be. When I was a kid, first hearing this, there was no irony, no wonder at how a great rock song could be about a Civil War battle. The Brandos probably never took off because their dead serious take on historical themes (with matching sounds) made them seem like a gimmick. There was something strident and serious in their presentation of themes concerned with the past, going so far as to make the whole of their look, sound and feel to be a living recreation, and not in a way that celebrates the anachronistic, but a truly informed embodiment of the past.

The Brandos struck me as band that presented the same strident energy and raw emotion of self-serious bands such as U2 or the Alarm, but sang about hundred year old battles, factory fires, and the immigrant experience. I think perhaps they didn’t take off because people sought the irony, waited for the Brandos to take of the bolo ties and start singing about contemporary problems. Maybe they came across as a band your history teacher would like? There is something about a band with such an intense thematic focus that makes them seem odd. Or perhaps, worse, uncool. But, what is it that kept the Brandos, with their intense, historical bent, from making it big, when other bands, like say, KISS, with their whole…thing…get huge. Or Motely Crue and their post-apocalypse leather and fire and Satan motif, or Slayer’s Hell come to Earth appeal? Some bands with an overwhelming motif seem to work, while others don’t. Most bands with a gimmick – be it subtle or over the top – make it, somehow. Gwar? No…they are a thing unto themselves. What to call the brilliant Brandos? Did they make genre music? Is it reenactment? I don’t really know. They are more akin to a band like the Pogues, who invoke old forms and traditional structure, mix it with modern sounds and instruments, and present it without...again, I use the word, becuause I think it fits - irony.  It’s interesting. And damn good. The kind of music you’d hear and say, “Whoa – who is that?” I don’t know why they weren’t more popular.

I do know that the Brandos, like a lot of bands, were far more popular in Europe than the States. I wonder if that is because in Europe, the focus on nostalgic ideas and sounds didn’t come across as an anachronism, but was more appealing in that way that American cultural exports are so meaningful in foreign culture. Think about: the Western, the Yankee symbol, NBA jerseys, Marilyn Monroe, old school military garb, even the Stars and Stripes…these are images and ideas that have taken on symbolic resonance well beyond their original meaning. Historical symbolism invokes notions, romantic ones often, about another culture, about a history that we may not be connected to, but are fascinated with nonetheless. Here’s an example: cowboys are cool. Clint Eastwood made sure the world would always think that. The Brandos and their focus on the Civil War and the era of immigration were perhaps focusing in on a part of history that had a shared aspect to it. They wrote about an era when a lot of people from Europe came to America. But, more so, The Brandos sound was seriously, unequivocally American. So, it’s not surprising they took on a life and found a fan base in Europe.

The Brandos’ most recent release was 2010’s Live in Europe, which was recorded in 2004. It’s a great showcase of their ferocious, guitar-driven sound, but also highlights their equally distinctive mandolin-fronted folk pedigree. Equally brilliant, sonically and otherwise, is Town to Town, Sun to Sun, which can be heard of Spotify – and serves as the band’s sole entry in the Spotify database.

The album is interesting. From a musical standpoint, it is a document of a tight, hard-driving rock band, and one that makes you wonder how you haven’t heard of them before. And yet, it works to showcase the unique, near museum-like sound The Brandos created. Perhaps it is here, more than anyplace else, that you can kind of get why the band never made it - the niche they worked in just didn’t have a broad enough, or universal enough appeal. But, it doesn’t make it any less sad when you realize what a great band they are. That gritty, decidedly un-modern sound was never really able to find purchase, but perhaps that has more to do with trends than with talent. I’m sure it does, actually…