Friday, July 3, 2015

Fireworks: Naked, If I Want To

Moby Grape: Naked, If I Want To

I was at the gym the other day, trying to distract myself from how much I don’t like being at the gym by thinking about something to write about. And then this song came on my iPod, with its lyrics about “fireworks on the fourth of every single July,” giving me a topic.

Moby Grape. If ever there was a name that immediately brings to mind the psychedelic era, it is Moby Grape. Despite the fact that their self-titled debut album, from which this song comes, is generally considered a masterpiece, and at least one critic has stated that it was better than any album released by their better known temporal and geographic contemporaries the Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead, they are all but forgotten today. (But not at Star Maker Machine.)  Unfortunately, if Moby Grape is remembered at all, it is for singer/guitarist Skip Spence’s LSD induced mental illness, or for their failure, for a number of reasons, to ever record a worthy follow up. There’s also an unfortunately all-too-common history of record company bumbling, band strife and litigation, none of which is as interesting as the music.

“Naked, If I Want To” is a short, countryish song, 55 seconds long, written by guitarist/singer Jerry Miller, and it is about the irrationality of certain laws. The band released an electric version of the song on its second album, Wow, but I kind of like the original.

You’d think that such a short song by an overlooked band would be forgotten, and you would be wrong. None other than Robert Plant has covered it:

And Cat Power has done both a slow version:

And a fast version (in which she sounds more than a little like Grace Slick, who joined the Airplane after Spence departed):

In both cases stretching the song out well beyond its original concise confines.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


Buy B.O.C.

Well, I thought my limited interest in fireworks may have been dissipated by my sour grape juice, but, lo and behold, I learnt a new thing this week, just in the nick of time.


Tell me all you know about Darwin Day? (Sorry, that's February 12 and all about Charles.) I meant, of course, Territory Day, which is about Darwin, Australia, and was yesterday, 1st July, and which commemorates the day that the British Commonwealth gave self-rule to the Northern Territories in 1978, which seems somehow astonishingly recent. A big day up (down?) there, celebrated as 'Cracker Day', and seemingly the one day when fireworks may be set off without fear of litigation. Here's an article about this year's celebrations. So how/why do I know all this? Actually courtesy of a message board blog I belong to, the Afterword, the bereft survivors of erstwhile UK mainly music mag, the Word, largely, not exclusively, men of a certain age, sharing the bonds and bondage of music addiction, poor souls. This motley camaraderie is spread worldwide, factions existing as far apart as Oz, Sweden, Thailand and Ohio as well as in Blighty, revealing that the UK is perhaps the premier firework capital of the world, who knew, bangers banging on a nightly basis, with the slaughter of horses thereby a daily occurrence. Whereas Texas, gunworld capital of just about everywhere, comes down ever so hard if that precious powder is wasted on the fripperies of light, sound and magic, except in publicly curated display. Don't believe me? Check it out.

I guess we need a song. Searching long and hard I found one where the lyric seemed to suit the dangers, being apparently all about what happens when a firework explodes in your face. I think. Unless it's allegory. Who care's, it's a catchy Blue Oyster Cult number, from Spectres, 1977. Work it out for yourself.

Join the blog

Fireworks: My Bloody Valentine


On the 4th of July, fireworks are anticipated and still their sudden shellacking ignites tremors, right before sonic boom and crack blooms into flowery light. The first time I heard My Bloody Valentine's "Only Shallow" was like being assaulted unsuspectingly with fireworks. Pounding snare into crashing wave of dense guitar, whammied into horrific bluesy afterglow. Viscous honey-sweet vocals are spread in the mix rather than forced on top. 

MBV is called shoe gaze due to their shy, frozen live performance style, but sonically and visually, their style is more like Stargaze. The groundbreaking Dublin group's Loveless (1991) must be listened to all the way through. And turn it way up. For ultimate firework effect, close your eyes and let the imagery unfold.  Although the guitarist and chief writer Kevin Shields was too fastidious to put the final touches on a new album until 2013, they did do a few shows to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Loveless. Earplugs were handed out at the doors. At the Roundhouse show in London, I counted three people collapsing to the ground, hands covering their ears in the first 10 seconds.

California's Medicine was another shoegaze band with equal amounts psychedelia and creative use of distortion. Their music is a wedding of ugly and beautiful. On stage, they're the same: members of an Otto Dix painting, although there is physical beauty behind the grotesque. In Minneapolis, 2001, during a 15-minute version of "The Pink", the gaunt drummer beckoned a cleanly-dressed young girl on stage, just curling his finger creepily. After two minutes she went up. He put his hand on her neck and pulled her into wide-mouthed French kiss. 30 seconds. Snare still snapping. Black, red, dark purple fireworks.

courtesy of JB (who should be doing his own thing here soon)