Saturday, May 9, 2015

Darkness: After Dark

After Dark, by Tito and Tarantula


Tito and Tarantula: Wikipedia describes them as an "American Chicano rock/stoner rock band".
But you would mostly recognize them as the house band in Quentin Tarantino's "From Dusk To Dawn". And really, could there be a better band to pull of the sleazy, blues-drenched soundtrack to Salma Hayek in what is probably the best albino python laden vampire/stripper routine ever in a movie?
These guys are low down groovy and play a pulsing Tex-Mex influenced blues rock. The stoner descriptor comes from the moody atmospherics, with the acoustic and electric mix of guitars vibing in strange ways. Their albums are pretty varying in style and sounds, yet each one contains a strange sense of something different, close to identifiable but perfectly odd and sonically unique. It's hard to quantify their sound, but it goes good with beers and driving late nights. Perfect cool.

Check 'em out here  

...And take a listen to "After Dark" Live
and the studio version...

 And, then, there's this...I really can't ever hear this song without seeing her...

Friday, May 8, 2015

Darkness: The Dark Knight

Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Dark Knight [purchase]

Today is Harvey Day. That means that Matt Harvey will be pitching for the New York Mets tonight. As a baseball fan, there are some pitchers whose starts cause excitement, and it isn’t just because they are good pitchers. There’s something else, an X factor that creates the extra anticipation. Although the Mets have had good pitchers in the intervening years, and even finally had one pitch a no-hitter, it really hasn’t been since Doc Gooden’s first couple of seasons, in 1984 and 1985, that we have had someone like Matt Harvey.

Now, I will be the first person to say that press coverage of Harvey, whose career began only in 2012, and who sat out an entire season recovering from “Tommy John” surgery, has been over the top. Where he would rehab. What sporting events he attended, and what supermodel he was dating. And whether or not he would eventually break Mets fans’ hearts and sign with the Yankees, the team he rooted for as a child, and which would, traditionally, provide an even bigger spotlight than the perennially overshadowed Mets. And yet, here he is, after sitting out a year, and apparently not missing a beat. Undefeated, dominant and scary. His dark complexion, intimidating intensity and powerful pitching has led him to be dubbed the Dark Knight of Gotham, and in an era in which colorful sports nicknames have become scarce, it seems to have stuck. Thus, the Sports Illustrated cover above.

I’ve been a Mets fan all my life. I’ve referred to it as my longest relationship other than with my family, and like a family relationship, it has its ups and downs. Unfortunately, it has mostly been downs for us, but as I have said too many times, being a Mets fan builds character. One of my earliest memories is going to a Mets game with my father in 1968, when I was 6 or 7 years old. My strongest recollection of that day, though, is coming home in the car with my first yearbook, with its picture of Gil Hodges on the cover. I’m sure that I didn’t realize that the Mets were a bad team that year, and had been bad, even historically bad, every year of their existence since 1962 (just a year after I was born). But the next season, 1969, was the first year that I followed baseball as a fan, and the Mets rewarded me with a Miracle. I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch them clinch the pennant, and even watching post-season games in school (when they still had day games). I was hooked, but unfortunately, it was downhill from there for a while (with a slight blip in 1973 when they surprisingly made the World Series, but lost).

And yet, I persevered. Every season, I started out with hope, but usually I found myself disappointed. When I went to college, my roommate and I handed in our senior theses a day early so that we could drive up to Shea Stadium for the home opener in 1982, even though the team stunk. But shortly after that, we got the swaggering, fighting, dominant Mets that went wire to wire in 1986.

Since then, though, it has mostly been disappointment. Occasionally, we have been good, but have fallen short (1988, 2000, losing the World Series to the hated Yankees, to boot). But mostly bad, making even mediocrity seem good. And then there was 2006, when, in a packed, deafening and shaking Shea Stadium, I sat with my father, son and brother, and watched the Cardinals snatch victory, and the NLCS, away from us. We were there again at the last game in 2007, when the Mets completed an epic collapse and were eliminated from the playoffs, and again, in 2008, in the last game ever at Shea, when they were again eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the season. But despite the heartbreak and another stretch of awful baseball, I keep watching, confounding my wife.

Yet being a Met fan is also something that my father, my son and my brother bond over. Like my family, there may be times that the Mets anger, annoy or even disappoint me, but I remain loyal. Maybe, the Dark Knight of Gotham will lead the charge to greatness again. Based on history, it isn’t likely, but if it happens, that would be pretty amazin’.

Branford Marsalis comes from a prominent musical family, to say the least. His parents, Dolores and Ellis are musicians, and his brothers, Wynton, Jason, Ellis and Delfeayo, are also musicians. Wynton, of course, is maybe the most famous contemporary jazz musician, and is considered to be a purist. Branford, on the other hand, while also an incredible player and composer, is a bit more flexible, having played with Sting (which led to well-publicized tension with Wynton), fronted the Tonight Show band and led a jazz/funk/hip-hop band, Buckshot LeFonque. He is also the subject of this very odd song by Dan Bern, also a huge baseball fan, in which Bern equates seeing Marsalis in a club in Prague with, among other things, seeing Babe Ruth in Yankee Stadium.

This song, “The Dark Knight,” is from the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s Crazy People Music, recorded in 1990, right around the time that Matt Harvey celebrated his first birthday, and was written by the group’s bassist, Robert Hurst. It is a long, straight ahead jazz piece featuring, not surprisingly, the bass. I have no idea if this song has anything to do with Batman, but I know that it has nothing to do with Matt Harvey, even though Marsalis is a Mets fan. I also know that all Mets fans will be anticipating tonight’s start against a weak Phillies team. And, unfortunately, I know that due to an important family event, I will not be watching, although my phone may get a workout when I can get away with checking the score.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Darkness: Black is Black

purchase Los Bravos: Black is Black

It doesnt get much darker than black. Black, as when your baby's gone. When you are so blue that everything is black. And black is bad - at least that's what the lyrics say.

I recall first listening to this piece on a portable transistor radio with short-wave band. It would probably have been Radio Luxembourg in the mid/late 60s, and the signal strength, coming from 1/4 of the way around the world, meant that it was like listening to everything filtered thru a wah-wah sine wave, and you would have to re-tune the radio as the frequency drifted in and out.

Los Bravos didnt have many other hits, but they made it big for a while - at least in the fall of '66 with Black is Black - even in the US. The band was originally from Spain, the lead singer being German, what success they had came about when they moved to the UK.

For what it is and for when it was, the song is fairly effective. Compare with other hits of the same year: Paperback Writer, Groovy Kind of Love, Strangers in the Night, Green Green Grass of Home ... Consider the state of the art and the state of the equipment.

For some reason - probably the "dark" message, the song ignominiously appeared on the Clear Channel list of songs that would best be avoided for airplay after 9/11: deemed a little too dark for a grieving nation.

Segue to "Their Satanic Majesties Request" the following year for more darkness...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

DARKNESS (= NOT LIGHT!!!): The Dark Side of the Moon

 photo Back_side_of_the_Moon_AS16-3021.jpg

Eeek, what have I done? What was I thinking? Without even the excuse of living in the arctic, where light and dark have a different modus operandi, I seem to have sneaked some light into the expected stygian gloom required this fortnight. I just got muddled up, sorry, forgive me. By way of penance I will post some of the blackest, darkest anti-light and anti-white I can find.......... Is the dark side of the moon dark enough for you?

DSOtM has sold a trillion zillion copies since it's first release back in 1973, making it far and away the biggest seller by UK warhorses, Pink Floyd, the template of expectation for all they produced after its wake, with possibly all the albatross that might suggest. I certainly bought it back then, but became swiftly frustrated by its ubiquity. It was everywhere and everyone had it. I sold it. OK, with hindsight I can respect its value. The use of synthesizers and loops, the use of spoken word snippets, the acceptance of non-band contributions, all of these elements were unusual for their day, as was, give or take Tommy, there being but one broad theme over the course of the album. (Quite what that theme actually was might be another story, though it was generally accepted it might come under the broad brush of what makes you mad, rather than madness per se. That was certainly the aim of the prime architect, Roger Waters, still then the unacknowledged leader of the band.)

My favourite track was always this one. The melancholy of the openining piano motif, enshrouded by the archetypal waves of Gilmour slide, a "tu-tup" from Mason and the vocal kicks in, a shock to anyone expecting the usual plaintive close harmonics of the bands main voices. Weaving wordlessly up and down, in and around the arrangement, blowing hot, then cold, then cooler still, Claire Torry shakes the tune from pillar to post, before a final period of exhausted reflection. To me it has always given the image of a strait-jacket being violently disturbed to the extent of escape therefrom, which might fit very well within the metaphor desired. I fact, as I muse, I wonder why I got rid at all, feeling a warm glow of reminiscent nostalgia.

But it is not all there is to this song, as other voices/players have found:

I love this version! Easy Club All-Stars have a bit of a track record in covering entire albums, but this was their first, later covering Radiohead, the Beatles and Michael Jackson. More a collective than a band, Kirsty Rock covers the vocal over a somewhat livelier cadence than the Pinks.

Less well known than the above, as played by Poor Man's Whiskey, it was always going to be a challenge to find any bluegrass in this quintesentially english music. Perhaps wisely eschewing the vocal for keening fiddle, this almost works, until, thinking better of that, some lack-lustre crooning does appear, almost momentarily.

Just in case you wanted to know how it might sound in the hands of a conventionally trained violinist. In fact, a full blown classical troupe, Vitamin String Quartet, give it the whole works, and a very convincing job of it too. No vocals at all. Whereas........

All voices? Maybe not. Apologies to Voices on the Dark Side, but that's where you should have remained.

Finally, the Flaming Lips, arguably true to form, initially draw you in with an idyllically sweet intro, ahead of Peaches kicking the bejasus out of any joy the tune might hold, the two aspects then taking turns to attract and dispel any appreciation remaining. One for thieir fans only, methinks.

(One I am not going to put up is an almighty clunker, produced by a whole bevy of prog rock musos who should have known better. There seems an alarming trend for this sort of thing, virtually always including Dweezil Zappa, who should stick, I feel, to the legacy of his father, than spoiling that of others......)

Purchase the Floyd, Easy Club All-Stars, Poor Man's Whiskey, Vitamin String Quartet, Voices on the Dark Side and/or Flaming Lips

Monday, May 4, 2015


Trawling back thru' the archives of SMM,  I am struck by how little attention has been given to both the band and it's frontman, (Steven) Morrissey, wondering whether it's a brit thing, finding only this, but, nonetheless, I'm sure it is time to set that straight.

This song was first released on their 3rd record, "The Queen is Dead", in 1986, later becoming better known as a posthumous band release, as a single, in 1992, reaching 25 in the UK charts. I don't think it then bothered the US equivalent, but it is, with the passage of time, that both the song and the band have entered a greater consciousness, not least as the cult of Morrissey has been ascending. Indeed, as front men go, I have always seen somewhat of a Michael Stipe-like ambience to this truculent and unapologetic iconoclast, lead singer as totem, if you will.

Steven Morrisey has had a mutual love-hate relationship with the media almost since day one, simultaneously courting and rejecting exposure. His upbringing in Manchester to an emigre irish family and his first hand experience of teenage loneliness and depressive illness, with pop music being his only constant, delivered a keen lyrical attention to urban discontent and disillusion, illuminated by the flickering TV screen in the corner. Obsessed by music, he is documented as an avid devourer of and contributor to the music press of the day. Later, after a brief spell in various punk bands, he wrote several books about maintained passions, James Dean and the New York Dolls, both of whose current listed prices suggest a far greater demand now than when first published!

The Smiths, astonishingly, lasted only five years, 1982 - 87, and, following a boost from legendary DJ, (the late) John Peel, swiftly ascended the british musical meritocracy, becoming a regular on Top of the Pops, the weekly chart round-up programme, exciting and alienating viewers both by his affectations, bunches of gladioli and a (false) old-fashioned hearing aid being regular props. I confess I was an original nay-sayer, feeling the band were let down by this tone-deaf buffoon, hooting out tuneless songs of despair and denigration. But somewhere, around this song, it all fell into place. (OK, this was helped by a contemporaneous interview with guitarist, Johnny Marr, claiming their riffs were all based upon speeded up Fairport Convention songs. I cannot confirm any truth in that, but it was enough for me!) I was now a fan.

I remain one. OK, since then there has been the highs, the lows and the slightly lower-stills of Morriseys solo career; cancelled tours, health scareslitigation, always litigation, dropped by labels, inflammatory remarks offending all, if not now, then undeniably later, yet always, always bouncing back. Bigmouth indeed fights back, every time. Currently is is cresting yet another wave, another tour, another album. His 2013 autobiography , published in Penguin Modern Classics, no less, at his insistence, remains a best seller, and a rollicking read.  May he be definitely not be the first of the gang to die.

More music, to reflect that final statement, although that would finally put to bed any further discussions around the unlikely re-formation ever of his old band.........

What to buy? So much to choose, but you could do worse than this or this, but they will probably prove but starting points. Oh, and the book!