Thursday, January 25, 2018

Sinking & Falling: Free Fall

Dixie Dregs: Free Fall

One of my minor pleasures is when I get to write about a band that I like, but which has never been featured here. The Dixie Dregs fit that bill. And speaking of Bill, the only time I saw the Dregs was, inexplicably, in a dive bar in Kingston, New Jersey in August, 1981, with some fellow WPRB staffers, including my friend Bill Rosenblatt. (Inexplicably, because shows that a couple of months before that show, they played Pier 84 in New York, a fairly large venue, the night after playing the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia, another large venue, and a couple of weeks later, they played the Lakeland, Florida, Civic Center, which holds 8,000 people.)

My memory of that show is basically limited to the fact that they were incredible, especially in a place the size of a large living room, and that I was able to talk with them, go “backstage” (the kitchen, if I remember) and drink their beer. Bill’s more detailed memories of the evening can be found here. We did promote some other shows at the Tin Lizzie, but this was the only “big name” that I remember being there (although the Internet has evidence that Jorma Kaukonen played there about a year later, after I graduated).

It is also fun to be able to follow my first post in this theme, about a ska-punk song, with a sunny, fusion song. The Dixie Dregs were one of the best fusion bands of the 70s and early 80s, and as is my habit when someone else has written something better than I could, I’ll quote Rosenblatt:

The Dixie Dregs were a band from Georgia that played jazzy instrumental rock in a style that sounded sort of like Kansas without the vocals, or Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Mahavishnu Orchestra.. . .Their leader was guitar virtuoso Steve Morse, who would later join Kansas and Deep Purple when those bands reached their “playing the zoo” stages. 

Although they were mostly from Georgia, they really came together as a band at the University of Miami, at a time when musicians such as Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny (and future members of his band, Dan Gottlieb and Mark Egan) and Bruce Hornsby were studying and/or teaching there. After self-releasing an album of demos, they were signed by Capricorn Records, the Allman Brothers’ label, and released their first official album, Free Fall. The title track, which leads off the album, is a good example of their music—generally upbeat, complex but not annoyingly complicated, impeccably played, and with a southern twang. And no vocals (until an early 1980s bad experiment with guest vocalists…..). I found a review of the album that refers to the song as "a jazz-country-funk breakdown with a digital synth alien laser beam effect solo, whilst a footstompingly good delay-drenched electric violin follows up with a pentatonic jam." 

The Dixie Dregs (briefly officially shortened to The Dregs late in the game) continued to release a string of similarly excellent albums, despite some turnover in personnel, until 1982, without much commercial success despite critical acclaim and a few Grammy nominations. Because instrumentals are a hard sell anyway, and certainly during the 80s. There were a few reunions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but basically, the band has been quiet. Until now—a tour of the Free Fall lineup has been scheduled, and it doesn’t look like they are playing any place like the Tin Lizzie.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Sinking and Falling: Rain is Falling by Electric Light Orchestra

Purchase Rain is Falling, by ELO.

I always thought ELO was a space age band. The strings and the crystalline keys bring to mind the same kind of spaceships and endless starry sky landscapes of their album covers. The harmonies and the choir of voices sounded like a beautiful alien broadcast, reaching us from the end of some lost nebula. Jeff Lynne is one of my favorite voices in modern pop music. His production values are the sounds of bright places in the night sky.

When I was young, the strange notions of meaning in music came to me mostly in terms of the visuals that accompanied it on pre-MTV television. This is what I saw from performance, not the abstract visual imagery of a video. It was most often from shows like Solid Gold--MTV, while amazing, kind of took some of the wonder away, as the stories of the songs were there for you, no imagining necessary. David Bowie was creepy; I wished the Buck Owens could be my grandfather; KISS terrified me; Pat Benatar made me feel strange; in the same way, so did the Solid Gold dancers... And, ELO made me think of spacemen come down to Earth for a visit. To their celestial rock and operatic roll, I watched the skies for UFOs, scratchy vinyl whirling on my pawnshop turntable as accompaniment to my hopeful survey. I was eager for an encounter. I was sure anyone that reached out to us from afar would bring good news, and even better music.

And that sound: the lilting, moon-hop harmony and extra-terrestrial chorus, still takes me back to being wide-eyed and full of wonder, not just about music, but about the whole world. Beautiful sounds coming from the radio, my parent's vinyl collection, what ever I could pick up for a nickel-a-piece at yard sales, all of it provided the constant soundtrack to my life. But music has never sounded as sweet as it did back then, when I was just a junior astronaut, floating along in the vastness of my own universe,  Jeff Lynne and his Electric Light Orchestra my mission control, buzzing endless gentle guidance in my ears.


Looking back (and watching videos on youtube), I imagine this live version of ELO's mega-hit, "Livin' Thing", had something to do with my associating the band with aliens and space travel. Snazzy silk jumpsuits and a lighting scheme from a decidedly alternative-life-style-friendly Death Star...what else would I have deduced other than there was a whole weird universe out there, entirely different from my own ?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Falling: Twin Peaks and Angelo Badalementi, David Lynch and Julie Cruise

“Harry, I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be both wonderful and strange,” says Special Agent Dale Cooper to Twin Peaks’ Sheriff Harry Truman.

After an entrancing season and a half of cherry pie, strong black coffee, the whisper of Douglas Furs, donuts spewed with parrot blood and a trip into the surreal Black Lodge, Twin Peaks presumably ended with Cooper’s own fall. The final image is of our beloved Coop smashing his forehead into the mirror and then raising his head, grinning sickly. Bob is now in the building.

After solidifying itself in its first season as the most wonderfully strange visual and psychological treat network television had ever hosted, Twin Peaks took a fall in its second season, misdirected away from its uncompromising fusion of soap opera, hard-boiled mystery, melodrama, teen drama, doo wop 50s cool and horror.

It says a lot about a character if you can say he made you a better---and more interesting—person. Coop did. What seemed banal about my hometown became creepy and full of clues. Sunday night walks in Winter Wisconsin brought me as close as lawfully and uncreepily possible to huge picture windows and dark family rooms with huge televisions flashing the Cartoon Express, professional wrestling, 20/20, Andy Griffith. Sauce and bones from chicken dinners on paper plates, half gallon ice cream containers on laps, six pack cans balanced on feet.

The opening song of Twin Peaks is the ethereal “Falling”, composed by Angelo Badalamenti. For television, it is an instrumental. Single guitar notes, warm keyboard. Bird twitches its neck, dissolves into the mill with smoke billowing up on a cold day. An airy, heavily melodramatic keyboard progression lifts the song into the air like Coop himself lifting Laura’s body up and then letting it rise and float away on its own once her killer has been revealed. Gather yourself and come back down, dissolve to a winding road, a welcome sign to Twin Peaks, the mountains, a waterfall and the forest, which houses the owls who are not what they seem. A brook.

Julie Cruise sings vocals on the alternate version of “Falling”, with David Lynch himself writing the lyrics. The chorus takes the ironic turn of rising with painful beauty as Cruise sings, “Falling, Falling, in love.” Earlier, we get a few clues that have led Twin Peaks freaks on a trail for the persona behind them.

“Don’t let yourself be hurt this time.
Don’t let yourself be hurt this time.
Then I saw your face.
Then I saw your smile.”

Revisiting the lyrics, it could either be from Laura’s or Cooper’s point of view. If it’s Laura, she’s looking down on Cooper who never allows himself to get as close to anyone as he does to a case itself. I was always touched by his integrity as he attributed his lack of taking a romantic leap to his job (bureau policy he always said). But if it’s Laura speaking to Coop, maybe she’s saying the warm distance he maintains is actually because of the pain he suffered in his last relationship with Annie Blackburn. Now I’m getting as melodramatic as the music. Or maybe it’s Coop speaking to Laura from a dream where he meets her in the Black Lodge.

I crapped my pants when news came out that Lynch and Mark Frost were bringing back their fallen show 25 years later, the same time span Black Lodge Laura Palmer had indicated would be the next time she and Coop would see each other. I’m only on episode 5, and I’m admittedly disappointed in myself for not falling in love with it again.

For kicks, here are my favorite Twin Peaks moments.

1. “Tracker?” Cooper inquiring about Deputy Hawk

2. Benjamin Horn entering the room of his bonded daughter at ONe-Eyed Jacks and reciting from Shakespeare’s the Tempest: “Such stuff as dreams are made on.”

3. Cooper admonishing Harry Truman to accept a daily gift, whether it’s a piece of cherry pie or a cup of coffee.

4. Cooper asking for the names of the wonderful trees. (Douglas Furs)

5. The boy holding cream corn in his hands at Harold’s apartment.

6. Log Lady saying to Major Briggs, “You wear shiny objects on your chest. Are you proud?” and Briggs responding, “Achievement is its own reward. Pride obscures it.” And then she asks whether Briggs has met the log and he says, “I don’t believe we have met.”

7. Leland Palmer having a fit at the Great Northern and having a fit which is then turned into a dance by Catherine Martell so as not to scare the guests.

8. Cooper giving a thumbs up to the Giant Bellhop after the Giant Bellhop delivers a glass of milk while Cooper nearly bleeds to death.

9. Hank getting his butt kicked in the dark at the diner by Josie’s handler.

10. Albert setting Harry Truman straight about what he stands for, citing MLK and ending with the phrase, “I love you Sheriff Truman.”

Monday, January 22, 2018



You have heard of Michael, I hope. I mean, you must have, he, and this album, were in everyone's best of list for 2016, weren't they? Wasn't it? (Seemingly not.) Well, it should have been, and, as we don't do naughty MP3s any more, now I can praise other than grizzled road warriors of the last century, (much as I love grizzled road warriors of the last century). Certainly 'Love and Hate', the parent record that contains this track was mine, and that of a lot of my chums.

Listened yet? Ain't that the best vocal since, well since Marvin Gaye, since you ask? So who he? A young british african of ugandan background, barely 30 years old. 'Love and Hate' is his 2nd record, following the well-received if somewhat earnest 'Home Again' of 2014. Great songs but lousy production. OK, classic production, but nothing applicable to waking anyone up. So it took Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, to pick up on the promise and give it a good kicking into shape and speed. If you can't listen to the first 3 tracks in a row and feel exhilarated, well, then you have no heart and no soul. This is track 3. You are going to have to find the first 2 for yourself. Not difficult, it's true, but I'm not spoon-feeding here today.

Whilst you dilly-dally, here he is, as am I now, Waiting' Around to Die.

(Spoon feed........)