Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Future: Somewhere Down the Road

Joe Ross: Somewhere Down the Road

I live in Roseburg, Oregon, the town now known worldwide for the mass shooting that took place at Umpqua Community College on October 1, 2015 where nine people lost their lives, and nine others were injured. It was in an introductory writing class that the shooting took place, and I ponder what these students and their teacher would've penned if they had been asked to compose something related to music and the future.   

The victims of this tragedy included:
* Lucero Alcaraz, 19, of Roseburg
• Quinn Glen Cooper, 18, of Roseburg
• Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59, of Roseburg
• Lucas Eibel, 18, of Roseburg
• Jason Dale Johnson, 33, of Winston
• Lawrence Levine, 67, of Glide. Levine was the teacher inside of the classroom.
• Sarena Dawn Moore, 44, of Myrtle Creek
• Treven Taylor Anspach, 20, of Sutherlin
• Rebecka Ann Carnes, 18, of Myrtle Creek

Their futures were cut short, and we carry their names in our heavy hearts. Our entire community is heartbroken and grieves their loss. In their memory and as a tribute to them, I’d like to post a song I once wrote and recorded called “Somewhere Down the Road.” It speaks to the optimism and ideals that a young person might hold as they prepare for the future.

Unfortunately, the future for these nine has put them “Through Heaven’s Gate,” another song written to describe their new home – in a glory land with jasper walls, golden bells, angel band and harps of gold. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

THE FUTURE: Leonard Cohen

By and large there is nothing like the future for making a monkey of the past, with the present being, usually, equally no less capable of second guessing what's next. But it seems us humans love nothing so much as to dreaming away the now by imagining about later, whether a simple reverie about what's for tea, or all the pillars of literature parading their visions of times yet to pass. Orwell's 1984 is the prime example, written 36 years earlier and, as we now know, getting it not quite right. But, having read it at school, even as late as 1983, aged 26, I was certainly worrying whether he would turn out to be right, helped even, or hindered, by the film that came out in the same year it was supposedly depicting. Handy timing or what! And 2001, book and film, both from 1968, also portraying the future in a way the past has failed to deliver. Of course there are rules in all of this: just as the past is always portrayed as utopian, anything about the future has to have in its byline the word dystopian. Talk about glass half empty pessimism, I wonder whether it is an automatic response to the often grim reality of the present. Is the only way to accept the now to be by assuming worse ahead?

Music is no stranger to such fantasy, and what better place to start than rocks elder, maybe eldest, statesman, laughing Leonard Cohen. Having had a share of fame as poet and novelist, then bedsitter singer-songwriter exemplary, in the later 70s and early 80s it was all going a bit quiet for him. Rather than hanging up his mitts, he came back in 1988, already 54 years old, with 'I'm Your Man', a re-invention with a much wider sonic spectrum than his earlier acoustic guitar and drone. 1992 saw 'The Future' appear as a belated follow-up, and was arguably his most counter-intuitive work yet, blowing his old persona into a distant (utopian?) past, synthesisers and massed girly vocals well to the fore. Having loved 'I'm Your Man', I well recall being a little shaken at the time. Taking no prisoners, it burst straight for the jugular with the eponymous opening track, mentioning both crack cocaine and anal sex (censored in the above video) in the very first few verses. No more Mr Nice Guy, and good bye to playing it to your parents generation. (Or his, by chaotic coincidence.) But, the audience was growing, whether old fans, auspiciously disappointed,  or those who just liked to hear a grown man talk dirty.So long Marianne, for sure. All in an unclassifiable genre, probably its main strength, or, as his biographer put it: "Classic big budget AOR, yet with lyrics by Bukowski and Lowell, sung by an old wino from skid row who really wanted to sing like Ray Charles at the Apollo." I think that's perfect, and he even became Canadian Best Male Vocalist fo this in 1993, which tickled even him, even allowing for the partisan nature of his home crowd.

                                                   "Give me crack and anal sex
                                                   Take the only tree that's left
                                                   and stuff it up the hole in your culture
                                                   Give me back the Berlin wall
                                                   give me Stalin and Saint Paul
                                                   I've seen the future brother:
                                                   It is murder."

So what's it all about? Has it come true yet? Well, I neither know, nor, actually care that much, but here's a link to one essayists thoughts that are certainly profound. I'm not sure if I buy all of it, and, anyway, what's with needing to constantly understand and interpret? It's like the infernal never ending learned resumes about Dylan versus Keats. It's pop music, fer chrissakes!

What has troubled me, though, in times more recent, is how the singer has chosen to bowdlerise himself, the anal sex of the 90s now sung as careless sex, somehow altering the impact, not to say the cadence. Has the now octogenarian become a pussy? Or is there regret that his dystopian future failed to warn him of his own journey to follow, whereby he effectively retired to his cave whilst an errant manger spent his nest-egg, necessitating a return to the greasepaint and trappings of performance, a 3rd rebirth, possibly his most successful yet. And who, in 1992, could possibly have foreseen that, with new work appearing still, in his ninth decade? So. What's next for Cohen. Slippers and commode? Don't bet on it!

Studio or Live, buy it down the links!

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Future: In The Year 2525

Zager and Evans: In The Year 2525 [purchase]

The theme now is The Future, so, of course, I need to start by looking at my past.

I think that most music obsessives have a story about learning about music by listening to their parents’ records, or from an older sibling or a friend. I don’t really have that. My parents, who claim to have gone to some of the legendary Alan Freed shows in Brooklyn in the ‘50s, were not interested in rock music by the time I was old enough to pay attention. To my memory, they mostly listened to the Sinatra-heavy WNEW-AM, and news radio. And I’m the oldest child in my family. Instead, my first real musical education came during the summer of 1969, listening to top-40 radio station WABC-AM, in the station wagon that took me to day camp. Listening that summer was, for me, Rock Music 101, and my professors were the distinguished faculty members Harry Harrison, Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy and Cousin Brucie. It was an era in which top-40 singles could actually be great songs (although not always), and I remember soaking them up. It was like I had found something that was mine, an interest in something that was different from my parents.

In retrospect, of course, the summer of 1969 was a huge year for rock music, much of which completely passed me by at the time. Woodstock and Altamont. The Beatles’ last live performance on the roof. Dylan and Elvis returning to live performance. The sheer volume of music released in 1969 that is still considered classic today is staggering. Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II. In The Court of The Crimson King, The Gilded Palace of Sin, Kick Out The Jams, Goodbye. Dusty In Memphis, The Velvet Underground, Nashville Skyline, With A Little Help From My Friends, Chicago Transit Authority. Hair, Stand!, Clouds, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Tommy, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Meters, At San Quentin, Trout Mask Replica, Aoxomoxoa and Live/Dead, The Soft Parade, What We Did On Our Holidays and Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief, Green River and Willie And The Poor Boys, My Cherie Amour, The Stooges, Blind Faith, Santana, The Band. Abbey Road, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, Hot Rats, David Bowie (Space Oddity). The Allman Brothers Band, Ballad of Easy Rider, Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2) and Let It Bleed, Okie From Muskogee, Volunteers. And that is far, far from everything released that year that is still remembered and played today.

But the song that really gripped my 8 year old ears—the first song that I can remember caring about, was “In The Year 2525,” by Zager and Evans. The song, about the post-apocalyptic future, seemed so serious and “heavy” and the music was so dramatic, that it was impossible not to be struck by it. It was a vision of the future gone wrong, as a result of over-reliance on technology, lack of care for the environment, and passivity struck a chord with adults, too (or at least the record buying public) because its themes were certainly much discussed during that year. “In the Year 2525” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on July 12, and held the spot for six weeks, during the bulk of my summer camp season. Which meant that it was played over and over again on WABC, and I heard it in the car, and on the AM radio in my room (also used to listen to the Mets’ march to the World Series).

I’ll never forget how disappointed I was when the song was dislodged from its lofty perch on top of the charts by some weird song with lyrics I had trouble understanding—“Honky Tonk Women.” This inferior song only held the top spot for 4 weeks, when it was knocked off by the classic Archies’ confection, “Sugar, Sugar.”

As Wikipedia notes, “It is unusual for a recording artist to have a number one hit and then never have another chart single.” In the Year 2525" actually gave Zager and Evans this status twice; they remain the only act to do this in both the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart.” Their attempt to follow up their big hit was a song (which I have no recollection of) called “Mr. Turnkey,” a pleasant ballad written from the standpoint of a rapist who nails his own wrist to the jail wall as punishment.  And that, was, pretty much that for Zager and Evans. Zager stopped performing and started a company building “E-Z Play Custom Guitars” and Evans retired to New Mexico.

Listening to the song now, I’m kind of horrified by how much I liked it. But my love and devotion to that song was the gateway to my life-long interest in music, and you can draw a line directly from that station wagon, to my first radio experiences in sleepaway camp, to my high school years listening to WNEW-FM and pawing through records, to my WPRB years, through the mixtape era, to downloading and more recently, music blogging.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Summer Clearance: 1965

The year, 1965. It’s a magic charm of sorts. Say the year, summon the mystical brilliance of one of the greatest years in musical history—great in the sense that so many bands and songs that would become contributors to the canon were born in these 12 fortuitous months. So many great entries, so many great authors, at the forefront of this beautiful revolution that keeps turning, keeps revolving, keeps innovating, despite the modern trends that seem so bent on working against its progress. Rock is dead, they say? Daltrey sang it so in 1972—he wasn’t the first; he won’t be the last.

If rock survives, it should be in spite of all those whole take such joy in declaring it flat lined while celebrating the latest trend and innovation that take music in some new, misguided direction. If rock survives—and seriously, stop bitching about it—it will be by virtue of a strange alchemy of swagger, sex, rebellion and a whole host of attitudes and behaviors. It will not depend on the older generation's disapproval and the sneering reaction of the younger one--rock will always be frowned upon by ‘polite’ society. How many times has the press declared rock’s heartbeat to have ceased and insisted on putting it in the ground, ignoring the funky, beautiful rhythm of the dirt falling on the casket? Rock dies and comes back to life in the same ragged breath. How many times? Too many. And none of them have ever been right. Look at this year, look 5 years, 10 years, 20 years back. Rock is rebellion, rock is pure eff you attitude, rock is refusal to be labeled, dead, alive, whatever.

Look back as far as you want--rock music thrives off being the anti. But look at the year 1965 if you want to get a historical frame of perspective—so many songs that would be exemplars for what was to come, and what the rest of rock ‘n roll history would always have to live up to came out in one simple year. It’s hard to believe. It’s a bit of magic, and with that kind of mojo working in it's favor, you have to admit, rock ‘n roll has got all the odds beat, and while it might go through fits and spurts and change its appearance, maybe get a little silly, a little bitchy, and little funny at times, might even need a smack to set it right, it will never die.
Not with this kind of pedigree…

Rather than linger any longer on this sermon I present a small sampling of a few of the sacred verses from that blessed year, of 1965. Imagine hearing these songs for the first time? Did those kids have any idea of the history making moment they were listening to?

Dominus Ominous, pass the wine, hit the chords, turn it up, Long live rock…
In 1965, The Who released I Can't Explain, from their debut, My Generation. Power chords and madman drummers. The Who is rock 'n roll. pure, simple. Rock 'n roll.
Bob Dylan abandoned his acoustic, to a very well-documented collective howl of betrayal from his folk-purist fans and put out Highway 61 Revisited . the lead track? "Like a Rolling Stone What else can you say? Nothing has been the same since.

The Tracks of My Tears, by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles has always been one of my favorites. Immortalized in Oliver Stone’s Platoon, “Tracks” is soul at it’s best: smooth vocal harmony, bittersweet lamentation, pure groove, all all right.

Van Morrison defined badass cool so much better, and earlier, than anyone else with his band, Them Baby Please Don't Go" still sounds like the toughest tough guy you know showing just a little bit of vulnerability in the face of losing the hottest girl you’ve ever know. Or wish you did. Switchblades included with purchase of this 45.

("I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones. Seriously. If you don’t understand the absolute holy place this Keith Richard’s riff holds in the very echelon of rock’s greatest, absolutely greatest, moments, than you’ve missed the whole point. A few notes, a bit of fuzz, and everything—EVERYTHING—changed. Amazing what a hard snare-driver beat, a thumping base, and repeating riff can do to stir the soul of a few million kids looking for a brand new way to give the finger to the generation before, and the one to come.

Oh yeah, and there was also this little group called The Beatles. They released a lot of music between 1964 and 1965. Help, Ticket to Ride, Eight Days a Week—The Beatles. What else can you say?

Rubber Soul…Released December 3, 1965. One of the greatest pop/rock albums ever recorded. Nice way to end one of the greatest years rock will ever know…
1965—what would rock be without it?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Summer Clearance (1965): Herman's Hermits

Hard to believe - and I confess that I actually purchased this 1965 album - Herman's Hermits had 3 of the top 100 hits of 1965 - No, wait ... Wikipedia says 4!
I'm even more contrite about the fact that I collected this stuff after listening to the clips below, but ... that's what it was back then. Top 10.. gotta buy it. The power of the media - AM radio was the media venue we all followed and it (in retrospect) appears to have dominated not just the air waves.

Be that what it may, Herman's Hermit's were hot. Top of the Pops.

We've got Peter Noone (aka Herman) doing vocals with a bit of a put-on accent - see Mrs Brown, Derek Lekenby on lead/solo guitar - see Henry the Eighth. And- apparently typical of Mickie Most's production style - some additional musicians doing things like keyboards that aren't visible in the stage versions below.

The ones I recall [purchase links embedded]:

Mrs Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter

Henry the VIII

Wonderful World

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

BBQ/Grill: Mixed Grill

purchase Ray Charles: Mess Around
purchase John Mayall :All Those Heroes
purchase Peter Gabriel :And Through the Wire

Andy La Ray Gun and I are neighbors. His digs are an apartment; mine a secluded house with its own garden. And a decent charcoal grill. As the designated cook of the household, I used to be considerably more dedicated to the grill method, but we’ve cut down on the meat consumption. Well, red meat, that is. The grill for us is primarily a variation for our fish, and the city where Andy and I live is famous for its seasonal fish such as the palamut and the lufer as they swim south through the Bosphorus starting in the fall. Fish season here starts after summer is over, so … it’s grill season for me.

That said, as others here have noted, I belatedly found that although I was able to research and come up with a list of hundreds of songs that include grill or BBQ in the lyrics, there is no small number of them that are actually about teeth grills – and most of them are not familiar to me. Says something about our times or my musical knowledge, I guess.

On the other hand, a little digging produces a number of classics (classics partly by dint of their age) in which the grill we originally meant to feature is a … er, feature … of the song. None of the below are songs about grilling, per se. They just happen to mention that grilling is a pleasant part of life: Take for instance the Ray Charles tune called “Mess Around”. Based on a boogie tune from the 30s/40s, Ahmet Ertegun is credited with writing the song. (Atlantic Records, and a man who would have been well versed in the art of grilling the palamut): “You can talk about the pit barbeque, the band was jumpin’ …” just watch them jump!"

Or, you might relate to John Mayall’s “All Those Heroes …”. You’ll have to listen closely or dig a bit to his tangential reference to “Barbeque Bob Blind Fuller”, but you are sure to relish the man’s ability to transition between vocals and mouth harp. At that age! I was left breathless.

One more similarly tangential reference to grilling pops up in Peter Gabriel’s “And Through the Wire,” where he sings “ barbeque parties on blood red sands…” – your interpretation ... belongs to you.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

BBQ/Grill: "Texas Cookin'" and "Hot Dog"

I will admit straight off: I had to go searching for a song to fit our theme this month. Much as I love grilling, I really couldn’t think of any song in particular that dealt with tossing burgers, brats and steaks on the bbq… And, in looking around for tunes to use, and reading about grilling, I realized how much I  miss my grill. I live in the middle of mega-city, all concrete and asphalt, and I can’t really grill here without 1) causing a fire on my balcony, or, 2) smoking out my neighbors. This city of mine isn’t really good for the outdoor kind of cooking I dig. It’s much more about little hobo fires on disposable grills over charcoal on the side of the road…that’s something I suppose, but I dig a nice propane fueled, six burner Weber that I can drive like a tank commander, steaks, sausage, chops and more, all guns blazing, ice cold beer in one hand, tongs in the other. Damn…maybe I need to move to a place with a back yard…? I googled a lot of songs about meat. I also googled “grill” and came up with a lot of pics the look like this…

…uh, yeah…that’s not what I was looking for…

Funny, there are tons of websites that list songs about BBQs, but those lists are all about songs that will make for a great BBQ, aural party favors so to speak. And of course, good tunes do make the party—but, party songs, floor filling sing-alongs, are usually not about eating. Drinking? Yes. There are more rock songs about partying and boozing it up than almost any other topic, but eating seems to take a secondary as a theme to drinking in the anthology of rock n rock lyricism.

That being said, it was kind of fun to seek out food references in music. What comes immediately to mind is Howlin’ Wolf’s brag that he can “ more chicken than any man ever seen…” in the classic blues staple “Back Door Man.” That’s a hell of a claim. He talks about “pork ‘n beans”, too. And now I’m getting hungry… So, where else do we find food in our tunes? North Carolina's deep fried rockabilly throw back rockers Southern Culture on the Skids do food well a few times, particularly with "Fried Chicken and Gasoline", but if your drumsticks taste like gasoline, you are doing it wrong, amigo... (SCOTS is a hell of a band, deserving of their own time, perhaps)

How about a song that chooses from the whole menu? Guy Clark’s “Texas Cooking.” I'm going down to save my soul/ Get that barbeque and chili…" Texas is a strange strange, with its strange ethos and self-referential tendencies and seeming dislike for the rest of the country. Politically, I can’t really take the place, but Austin has given the world a great many musical gifts, and while I’m sick of hearing how great the state is, how above the rest of the union the place is, I could very happily eat my way from the gulf to the top of the pan handle and go back for seconds. BBQ, Tex-Mex…? Almost makes you forget about the whole “Don’t mess with Texas” silliness. Clark’s tribute to Texas cooking hits on all the menu options: white gravy, big ol’ sausages, “enchiladas greasy…steaks chicken fried”. It’s pretty much a soul saving journey, with Texas food being the communion that will deliver:  “I'm going down to Austin, Texas/
The course says it all, summing up what all the good ‘ol cooking is going to do: Oh my, momma ain't that Texas cookin' something/Oh my, momma it'll stop yo' belly and backbone bumpin'/ Oh my, momma ain't that Texas cookin' good/Oh my, momma eat it everyday if I could alright 

For a guy like me who lives in a country that doesn’t believe in sausage, and has never really heard of enchiladas, let alone nachos, Clark comes across as preaching Gospel, stomach-rumbling truth…and when one hasn’t had a taco in far too long, Texas cooking just might save a soul.  Hallelujah, and pass the beans. And the rice. And whatever else you got. Guy Clark, "Texas Cookin'"
 Watch, live from 1975 And because I’m getting hungry for grilled fare that is distinctly American, I’m going to throw in a bonus track from one of my old time faves, Buck Owens. Twangy rock-a-billy finger popping tunes, Owens is credited with creating the “Bakersfield” sound. And that sound was really just an electric, buzzed up country which borrowed elements from early rock and roll, especially  flashy rhythm guitars and a steady go go go backbeat. Nashville, at the time, was orchestral and overproduced, (kind of like today) and the "Bakersfield" sound, even at an early stage, was looking back to the roots of rhythm. 

Later on, Owens would be associated with the related and refined “Honky Tonk” sound which featured raw finger picking,  twanging Telecasters and pedal steel guitars, but still with that great backbeat and sense of what we would eventually call country rock. Buck is also known for and associated with the TV show “Hee Haw”, but the less said about that, the better… For obvious reasons, I’m including Owen’s 1956 rock-a-billy strutter, “Hot Dog.” (He went by Corky Jones at the time). Starting out with a stair stepping bass line and a roadhouse piano line, “Hot Dog” might not be profound in its lyricism, but it’s got that sweet tangly guitar and the thumpy backbeat that I always think must have been the greatest sound ever heard when rock music first hit the airwaves. I know I’m not talking about food anymore, but what must that have been like, to hear that thumping cadence, drums simmering, guitar and bass ready to pop, leading to a blow up like a burst of fireworks? Must have been amazingly cool to hear that sense of joyful abandon for the first time. “Hot Dog” the song is only called so for the fact that the protagonist’s girl, while totally hot and one of hippest hep cats around, happens to work at a hot dog stand.  She’s a looker, she’s a dancer, she’s an all around teenage dream. And her cumulative effect on the singer is too leave him dumbstruck and incapable of uttering anything more than, “hot dog!” every time he sees her…I can relate. What pretty girl didn’t leave me stumble-dumb and tripping over my own two feet when I was that age?  Buck Owens "Hot Dog"  

Alright, then…I wish you fond listening and hope your kitchen and your grill is hoppin’ tonight with good tunes, juicy treats and if you’re on a diet—which is so not rock ‘n roll!—I hope this post doesn’t make you as hungry reading it as it did me writing it…bon appetite! <