Letters Of Note: 5/30/2016

Birthday Power Quintet Of The Day:

Nicky Headon(1955, The Clash) on drums, Geoffery Lyall(1949, aka Klaus Flouride of The Dead Kennedys) on bass, Jen Carney(ageless/timeless, The Mod, Mod Music Hour, The Vinyl District) on piano, Stephen Malkmus(1966, Pavement) on guitar and lead vocals, and Wynonna Judd(1964, The Judds) on backing vocals.

This will work! They’re gonna play my fave rave song from Exile on Main Street, “Loving Cup”, and it’s gonna be sloppy and great. I do wonder how long it will take for Wynonna to loosen up, but I have no doubt that she would eventually.

{Note: my caveat to this daily Romper-Room writing conceit is that I go with my gut on the first instinct I have for the band/song and not put too much thought in it. Admittingly, my first choice was to replace Malkmus with Tom Morello, Wynonna with Cee-Lo Green, and have the band do a “modern” cover of Clash’s “Rock The Casbah.” I know and love Jen Carney though and couldn’t subject her to Cee-Lo in a confined rehearsal space, even though it exists as a complete fantasy. Anyhoo, the choice I went with would be fucking bangin’. Happy birthday, lady.}

 

Memorial Day Remembrances Of Three People That Didn’t Ditch Out On Service Like Chickenshit Ted Nugent:

Howlin’ Wolf(d. 1976)

Jimi Hendrix(d. 1970)

John Coltrane(d. 1967)

 

Also Served, Also Dead: Elvis Presley

I wanted to post The Fakest Moment From An Elvis Presley Movie, and even though it’s an exhausting contest to have to judge, I think this is our winner: “Bossa Nova Baby”, from Fun In Acapulco.

FAKE! – The sound of dancing feet!

FAKER! – The King’s lame attempt of pretending to play the organ fill!

FAKEST! – Elvis never left Hollywood while the entirety of the rest of the cast was actually in the titular city, to keep sure he wasn’t killed my Mexican Mafia members for 1) not accepting a blank check to play at a Quinceañera and 2)inciting a national riot when a fake bit of gossip ran in a Mexican paper, claiming that Elvis said he would rather kiss black women than Mexican women.

 

The First Cut: Fulfillingness’ First Finale

1.”Smile Please”

The doldrums lasted five months this time, the longest I can remember, from somewhere roughly in November to right around the top of April. Its nature keeps me from remembering exact times, but normally it just feels like a valley; this time it felt like being under the earth. Somewhere in that space nothing tried to keep me alive, not even God, especially not God, but nothing killed me either. I would probably just call it depression if I was suicidal, as if that was the defining symptom. It’s “the doldrums” for me, and it’s bad enough.

People that know me know that I have a tremendous memory, but being in the doldrums makes everything fuzzy around the edges for me. It’s a romantic idea to begin with: that out consciousness is like a string tied to our umbilical cords at birth, the terminal end tied off somewhere in the ether a zillion miles away that we can follow along and reminisce over. In truth our lives are remembered in the roughly linear manner of a flip book; some moments inked broader than others, some actions more clearly sketched, but mainly incomplete. That’s not the norm for me; I can remember even minute details of mundane happenings when I’m leveled out. That detail attention has always been a part of how I listen to music, how I appreciate it, which may be part of why I’m just now getting these thoughts out in the open, the pages that still resonate.

Somewhere in the doldrums my foot ulcerated again, giving me a small glimpse of my corpse to tend to. Flip to me smiling through a panic attack at a seafood restaurant bathroom during a Christmas shopping outing. Flip, and I’m thinking of the raw aggression of Jamaica again, thinking of the cormorants riding thermals over Montego Bay. It’s Thanksgiving and I’ve gone manic about whether the food I had made was any good, blabbering about ingredients. I’m taking a drink of bourbon; flip, and I’m taking another. I’m losing friendships. Losing relationships. My car dies on the side of a country highway in the middle of the night. Flip.

I turned 40 years old on New Year’s Day, and I bought a new turntable. I planned to listen to Fulfillingness’ First Finale right off the bat and publish this review about it the next day, but the doldrums wouldn’t let me, and the next flip was God shrugging His shoulders and going back to work.

 

2. “Too Shy To Say”

Fulfillingness’ First Finale is an album about God, but God was different in 1974, a time before the Moral Majority decided that Jesus was a Republican. You can split the songs in this album into three groups: songs about love and relationships, songs about politics, and songs about God. The nearly didactic, almost self-righteous heft of the “God” songs tint the lyrical content of the other two groups, though, to the point that a song like “Too Shy To Say” almost takes on a “You Light Up My Life” vibe; if it wasn’t for the demurring female giggle at the beginning, “Too Shy To Say” could easily be Stevie Wonder singing directly to Jesus. “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” is obtusely about Nixon, but there’s still a feel of a spiritual airing og greviances to the lyrics. Only “Boogie On Reggae Woman” sounds 100-percent secular, and even then Wonder can’t bring himself to fully enunciate the word “naked”, in fear that Jesus is still listening to the final mix in the room next door.

At this point in his career, Stevie Wonder had near complete control of every aspect of his music, so you can rely on the spiritual intent. Musically, Stevie Wonder had become proficient enough to play nearly every instrument himself, and if he wanted it better he only got top-shelf talent; the steel guitar player from The Flying Burrito Brothers, the top Moog technicians not named Robert Moog, and the well-known backup singers The Jackson Five. Contractually, and more importantly, he had the ballsiest, biggest contract Motown had ever seen, giving him all the freedom he wanted, nearly the singular cause of the switch from the popularity of the “singles on one album” format to the near “concept” albums in the R&B world to come. For sure this album has its devotional moments, but it doesn’t sound like a gospel album. There’s plenty of pop sensibility to be found. But, down to the keyboards ascending to heaven on the cover, the spiritual center of the album is intentional.

To be fair, the cover of Innervisions has The bust of Stevie Wonder shooting the Bat Signal straight to heaven with his eyes and even has a song with “Jesus” in the title. But the themes in Innervisions seem to come together as a pastiche of scenes, from the church to the streets to the ghetto to the White House(and Nixon, again). Fulfillingness’ First Finale seem to filter all of its songs through the prism of God. God gets his shoutout in Songs In The Key Of Life, too, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a religious thread to follow, down to Wonder’s place at the center of the album cover’s incongruent and widening suns.

I wonder if the spiritual angle was as heavy handed as it was because of his near-death carmaxresdefault wreck that took place before he produced this album. Was this an exaltation for an answered prayer? An offering of humility before his masterwork, Songs In The Key Of Life, capped off his “classical period” of outstanding music? Is Fullfillingness’ First Finale his three days in the tomb? Nothing earlier in his catalog, and nothing since, ever was so heavy handed when it came to God. For me it became cloying, the more I would listen and try to kickstart my efforts to write. There were three songs in my vocal range, especially in the morning before I’d stretched out my vocal cords, and each time I’d sing them the lyrics would hit harder and harder, to the point that I would sing “Let God’s love shine within to save our evil souls/for those who don’t believe will never see the light” and even hearing my own voice muffled through the headphones I would think of God dying in the doldrums, think about how my old prayers stopped working.

 

3.”They Won’t Go When I Go”

Craig Strickland died in the doldrums, too, as bold of a page as any. He was, in as many ways as you could care to list, the exact opposite of Stevie Wonder. The band he was in, Backroad Anthem, is what the minds behind radio call country music these days, with the words “country” and “music” in the largest scare quotes imaginable. Not just compared to Wonder’s music in particular but to country music(even the music in Backroad  Anthem’s “bro-country” peer group) in general, the music Strickland made was pop and insubstantial to the point of it being vapid, partly relying on Strickland’s colloquial success as a TV personality to promote their brand, partly relying on trend and the band’s good looks. Oddly lucky and privileged, low on talent, and a child of a God as different from the God of Fulfillingness’ First Finale as Wonder was to him.

Strickland made a strange hunting trip during the largest winter storm of a hundred years, a trip he made with his close friend, and the reason that his story was a breath of breeze in the listness of my depression was it immediately appeared to me his hunting trip was with a lover, straight out of the pages of Annie Prouix. I’ve made these secret trips before during the holidays. Most likely it was just ill-timed platonic bonding, and I’ve made those trips, too, ill timing included. In the doldrums I made them, looking for proof that land was near, looking for olive branches. My worst problem is doubt about my worth, doubt that leads to panic, living the flip book life through a land mine. I didn’t die, but Craig Strickland did.

And God followed suit. My social media was filled with moments challenging me to remain compassionate about Strickland’s death, with each message of how miracles were possible in regard to finding him alive, prayers and exaltation for his safe return, seeming more ridiculous as the days passed. This storm was Goliath in name and in stature, and all the stones laid still under a thick coat of blizzard and ice. The Facebook prayers became imprecatory towards doubters. When they finally did recover Craig Strickland’s body, days after the body of his friend Chase Moreland was found, the people of what God had become noted not that he was dead but that his body was found with his arms outstretched, just like Christ. The bigot Ronnie Floyd gave his funeral eulogy in the gaudiest church of the Ozarks. It wasn’t the house of Stevie Wonder’s God, and I would rather God be dead than to belong to Ronnie Floyd and the Facebook Jesus police. I’ll wait for his return, but for now that stone has rolled shut.

I turned 40 in the week during Craig Strickland’s disappearance, and my plan was to listen to the Stevie Wonder album and start collecting my thoughts. I got forty-five seconds in before I heard the record skip and jump. Somehow it had warped to the point of being unplayable. I can’t remember how it could have happened but it was a time for jumping from thought to thought, where music, as good of a God to me as any, caught an arrhythmia in still waters. Flip to a Canadian Indian on 45. Flip to Terry Riley, flip to the plantar wound. You’re in your dead car with no streetlights, unplugging the aux cord and letting Katey Red finish. Flip again and you’re covered in an amber grass fire smoke, 70 miles per hour on the Tulsa turnpike, realizing that music has always saved your life but this time you’re not so sure.

Letters Of Note: 5/26/2016

Birthday Power Sextet Of The Day:

Jackie Liebesit(1939, Can) and Levon Helm(1940, The Band) on drums, Mick Ronson(1946, most of the successful British talents with highly questionable sexuality) on guitar, Verden Allen(1944, Mott The Hopple) on keyboards, Vernon Allen(1915, various jazz ensembles) on bass, and Lauryn Hill(1975, The Fugees) on vocals.

As long as Lauryn Hill shows up on time(or at all?), this would be a pretty good working group. Unfortunately for Liebesit, he’ll have to play it somewhat straight; I’m picking a typically-long version of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Please Call Home”. Other than Liebesit and Vernon Allen egging each other one to jazz it up a bit, this is the perfect group to let Lauryn Hill shine with the vocals.

(Note: the first ever .mp3s I ever, um, acquired, in the early days of WinAmp, were songs from The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. So good, miss U gurl.)

 

Belated Birthday Notes: Hal David

You would think, as a kid starved of pop culture in Eighties, Bible Belt, small-town Arkansas, that every music video offered up on TBS’ Night Tracks would be precious to me. Not so, and I can remember one of the major offenders being the too-adult and not-adult-content-enough-for-perpetually-horny-youths video for “On My Own”, with Patti Labelle and Michael McDonald.

The video is poorly aged cheese, but the actual song is… good? Am I old? God damn, I’m old, aren’t I? The music could be dismissed as double divas over vaporwave fodder synths, but listen to Big Jim Ross holler out, “Good God, that’s Burt Bacharach’s music!”

In the most important era of my musical, and social, growth, I learned to love Burt Bacharach, and by extension the lyrics of Hal David. I am old, but there’s too many great tracks to mention. I watched this particular performance live, and cried like a big liberal baby before he even picked up the harmonica:

 

I Know You Don’t Believe Me But This A True Story Of The Day:

There was a older couple in the row of chairs facing me at the doctor’s office today. When I say “older”, I mean “hearing impaired to the point that they have grown accustomed to yelling at each other to communicate”. They were talking, at a wincing volume, about all manner of both benign and personal information.

Every once in a while the office door would open, and you could hear the noise of the inner workings of your average medical office, complete with telephone rings, computer clicks, the global FM radio, and the copy machine. The copy machine was the most noticeable, but I didn’t imagine the couple were capable of hearing any of it. I was wrong.

“What in the world is that noise,” the man said, referring to the whirring of the copier.

The woman leaned right into his ear and bellowed, “It’s Journey.”

Graded Accordingly: Twitter Edition

On May 22nd, 2016, a clutch of (unfortunately yellow) party balloons floated into the airspace above the White House, causing an immediate lockdown at the residence of the most powerful man in the known universe. That’s a banner day for the Balloon Party’s influence(not a proper name for the party where the balloons were festively used, but for the shadowy political cabal known as the Balloon Party, which was formed twenty seconds ago just to make this joke work. Or so they’d have you believe).

That’s also a banner day for New German Wave’s Nena(that’s Nena the band, not Gabrielle “Nena” Kerner, the lead singer of the band, Nena. Our song was co-written by the band’s guitarist and keyboardist. Man, I bet Kerner and Debbie Harry could just chat and chat and chat…), who totally called that shit during a Rolling Stones concert in 1982 with their uber hit, “99 Luftballoons”.

This being 2016, I thought we need a new version to celebrate Carlos Karges calling his shot in West Berlin thirty-four years ago. But who should do it? I asked some Twitter friends…

Please choose your band/artist to do the 2016 “99 Luftballons” cover

… and here were the results, graded accordingly:

 

KG: “It’s a tie between Tom Waits (artist) and Mariah Carey”

I understand the Tom Waits choice, and his eventual cover was nearly completely formed in my head when I saw his name pop up… but is that a good thing?

The first theme that developed when I was thinking about the best choice was “stylized”. The eponymous Nena album is a banger, but it was for sure highly stylized to be the mainstream sound of New German Wave. To have any pop sensibility in the New German Wave scene was considered a sellout move; most of the authentic or “underground” New German Wave is random and Dadaist, inaccessible and harsh. I like both! The camp that Nena falls in is obvious, though.

So, the trap that Nena falls into, having the same “style” as many of the other late pop bands still considered New German Wave, applies in my head to a “Tom Waits” version of any song; it’s too obvious what it’ll sound like. I want to be surprised.

At least Waits could pull off the angular German language lyrics, though. Poor Mimi would have to sing the English lyrics, which are fucking awful. Plus, she doesn’t even dance when she sings, which it totally her right, but this is at least gonna take some Breakfast Club-ish retro dancing. Her talents won’t cut it.

Grade: Tom Waits(B-, but must be in German), Mariah Carey(D+, ’cause she can sing tho)

 

BW: “hmmm Pearl Jam for a live show cover, Lorde for a creepy cover for a soundtrack”

“Stylized” and “produced” are different. Lorde does write her own stuff, which keeps the horrid mechanization of pop music, the camp she clearly lives in, from grinding her individuality into a fine pablum powder. Still, I don’t hear much of the intent that comes with a high execution of style; it just sounds produced by someone with the same palette. Style demands color and shade, brush stroke and perspective. Her one album I’ve heard sounds flat to me.

I get the “creep” factor, watching her reenact the “ghost from The Ring in the throes of orgasm” routine when she sings. Can someone else produce it? ‘Cause if she gets her next album produced in a way that she can mark it with her own style, her next album will be killer. Her “99 Luftballoons” cover would be good, too, with the right backing.

I have SiriusXM radio, and now, at 40, I am more likely to stop and listen to the Greatful Dead channel,  band that I don’t necessarily like, than the Pearl Jam channel, a band that I championed along with everyone else, from Temple Of The Dog onward to some point lost on me, which brings me to the next theme and the next suggestion.

Grade: Lorde(B+, produced by Plain Pat tho), Pearl Jam(D, they would just have the audience sing during the live show and frankly I’m sick of that shit)

 

BN: “I’m going country. Jamey Johnson”

The second theme that came up was how important “stylization” is to both the best and worst that country music has to offer, and a discussion of the country music covers out there in the last couple of years is a shining example.

Here’s Lily Meola, a country musician that Jamey Johnson himself is trying to make famous, doing a cover of Lorde’s big hit, “Royals”. Take a listen, maybe two:

Did you like this? Was it because of its “style”? The wizard behind the curtain of this particular performance is really the arraignment more than anything else; Maui guitarslinger Tom Conway’s use of open chords lets the bass strings drone uninterrupted under the vocals, and it’s prefect sounding. I prefer this version over the original. In general, though, is this version relying of a style that is geared toward country? Is it relying on the sparse, but deliberate, production? Fuck, is it even “country” music?

This week Billboard finally gave up trying to pretend to know what some country music was, turning their old “Folk” charts, mixing in the more head-scratchy country and rock music out there that seems to be on a converging style path in the process, into an “Americana” chart. This is “my” music more often than not, and the chart is a glorious goddamed mess:

  1. Traveller – Chris Stapleton
  2. A Good Storm – Sawyer Fredricks
  3. Cleopatra – The Lumineers
  4. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson
  5. Rest in Chaos – Hard Working Americans
  6. Chaos And The Calm – James Bay
  7. Self-Titled – Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats
  8. Dig In Deep – Bonnie Raitt
  9. The Intro (ep) – Ruth B
  10. Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes
  11. The Things That We Are Made Of – Mary Chapin Carpenter
  12. The Wild Swan – Foy Vance
  13. Paging Mr. Praust – The Jayhawks
  14. Hope – The Strumbellas
  15. Full Circle – Loretta Lynn

This is where we are in the the battle of how “style” affects “country”; Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Loretta Lynn in a chart that can’t call itself country because of the weight of the prevailing, overproduced and shitty, radio-friendly country music that is trying to define the genre. This is where Jamey Johnson will chart next, too.

The best part of this horrible dichotomy is that the purveyors of “good” country music are content to let “bad” country music kill itself. Sturgil Simpson(who I’ll get wordy about eventually) just loved to tell all the people that said he was gonna “save” country music to kiss his ass. To him, every album he makes is “country” music, and if you don’t think so it’s your problem, not his. The difference between “style” and “production” follows the Buddhist adage that “the thing” and “the name of the thing” are two different ideas. Sturgil Simpson understands style well enough to see it in the field: in his recent podcast with Marc Maron, he admitted to not being able to listen to Jason Isbell’s albums, in fear of Isbell’s near-perfectly realized style making him record music too derivative of it. That gives me hope that he, and possibly Jamey Johnson, too, understand the importance of style, not the importance of the label.

Speaking of Sturgill Simpson… he’s the reason that Jamey Johnson probably couldn’t pull off a cover outside of his “style”. Simpson has cornered the market with earnest, stylistically-appropriate covers on his last two albums, both songs that his wife asked him to cover. Jamey Johnson has flexed his cover song chops before, though, but the covers on his albums fall pretty inline with his particular style already. A tiny peek at his cover of “You Are My Sunshine”, with some help from Shooter Jennings and, of all people, Twiggy Ramirez, though, may make you want you to look places other than Lorde for the “creepy” cover:

Grade: B+(but you’ll have to figure out if that’s “going country” or  if picking Florida-Georgia Line is)

 

JC: “The obvious choice is Rick Astley: maximum cringe”

Right in line with our discussion is the phrase, “Rick Astley, soul artist”. He was a soul artist mainly because the production team of  Stock Aitken Waterman wanted him to be. It was all production and no style: Astley had been Ringo in a Beatles cover band before.

It won’t be any more cringe worthy than his new gospel-esque single, released in April of this year, which is butt.

Grade:D+(even though “blue-eyed soul” as a phrase, not a music genre, would have probably played out well in West Berlin)

Letters Of Note: 5/23/2016

Birthday Power Trio Of The Day:

Albert Bouchard(1947, Blue Oyster Cult) on drums, Guy Fletcher(1960, mostly notable with Dire Straits) on keyboards, and Patti Labelle(1944, cocaine and soul food) on vocals.

Patti’s gonna want to have her way, and I’m not gonna stop her. No funny business here; those other two guys are just there to help her burn the fucking house down with a version of “You Turn Me On”. I’m just gonna leave this right here:

 

Let’s All Die In 2016: Nick Menza

Nick Menza’s rock and roll life had some spectacular near misses; nearly played with Slayer before Dave Lombardo showed back up for South Of Heaven, nearly lost his leg to a tumor and his arm to a power saw accident, and nearly drew the short straw, seeing two of the members of his band touring a show called, of all things, Menza: Life After Deth, die one after another in the space of a year(the second one to heart failure, the first one to Great White’s pyrotechnic disaster), just after Menza left Megadeth.

Well… not “left”. Although he was partly responsible for the sound of Megadeth’s most iconic period from 1990-1998, Dave Mustaine, whose asshole period will last to the eventual entropy destruction of planet Earth, fired Menza while he was recouperating from having the aforementioned knee tumor removed(Mustaine also re-fired Menza in 2004 after re-hiring him. He was back in Megadeth for the length of one rehearsal.).

Menza stayed close with Marty Friedman, playing on some of his first solo albums, including the weird(I know Friedman has ties to Japan, but have you heard the thing?) album Introduction, which features Nick Menza’s dad, famous tenor saxophonist Don Menza, on the shakuhachi of all things. Nick Menza stayed active in music until the very end, too, and I mean the literal, actual terminal end of his life: he collapsed on stage and died. I feel for his family, but that’s how to do it. RIP.

 

Also Dead: Elvis Presley

I almost, but not quite, got ran off the road last week thanks to the King’s mighty catalog.

There’s so much after-death garbage out there recorded, remixed, and “modernized” that I’ve never tried to listen to it in earnest. Normally I’m pretty sensitive to it and just turn the channel(SiriusXM radio has its own music/propaganda station devoted to Elvis), but this song, a slyly re-recording of “Now Or Never”, one of my favorites, arranged very subtly at first, caught me off guard. Of course, being 2016, it didn’t take long for them to muck it up(“them” being the Italian pretty-boy pop-opera Eurovision entrants Il Volo, and, to a lesser extent, Priscilla Presley, who gave her blessing to this recent recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), and when my brain snapped to attention to frown at the radio because my ears are not capable of frowning, I also noticed a Mack truck with 11 tons of fill dirt drifting into my lane. Thanks, E!

A Brief Note Pertaining To Vomit

Please note that I’ve puked to the point that all the muscles in my neck are strained, too much so to comfortably look at the laptop. Your long-form will appear after another edit, this weekend. Did Lemmy’s neck feel like this from the posture he sang in? Is this why he was always drunk/ is always dead?

 

Letters Of Note: 5/19/2016

Birthday Power Quintet Of The Day:

Jane Wielden(1958, The Go-Go’s) on guitar; Steve Currie(1947, T-Rex) on bass; and vocalists Joe Cocker(1944), Cher(1946), and Trevor George Smith, Jr., aka Busta Rhymes(1972, Leaders Of The New School).

This will work. This will work! And I’m gonna make them do a cover of “Talk Dirty To Me,” by Poison.

No no no, don’t go! Just think about it for a second: Cher and Cocker trading versus and harmonizing in the chorus, an extended verse for Busta to rhyme over, Weilden and Currie doing an almost pop-punk, churning backing… can you see it now? Holy shit this will work!

 

Head Nodders While I Cooked Banchan In My Goddamed Underwear And T-Shirt Of The Day:

Mmm…Food:

Straight Underoos, Son:

Squeezing They Spinach, Mayne:

 

 

Also Born Today: Pete Townshend

As corny as it sounds, it was actually impactful to me to hear him, in the VH1 commercial I looked to post but could not find, say out loud that he wanted to fuck a man(the man, in this case, being a Twist-ing Mick Jaggar).

Happy birthday, you old bugger. In lieu of that commercial, here’s the next best tribute for him: a video in which Roger Daltrey is reduced to doing nothing but looking like he’s a costume change away from knife-fighting the Kwisatz Haderach: