12.15.2011

The NEW BLOG is LIVE

Okay, I've got the new blog up and ready, though there are still a few tweaks that need to be applied.

MY NEW BLOG


Hope to see you there soon! And thanks for stopping by the Listening Room!

12.14.2011

BIG NEWS

Well, I suppose it may be big news to someone...

Though the Listening Room will remain out of action for the foreseeable future I am in the process of putting up another blog...an "Agaetis Byrjun", if you will, a "fresh start". I don't suppose it will be much different in content than this one. Probably more of a "journal" with photos and videos gleaned from crap I find on the Internet and such. More of my own pictures, scanned and all. Pictures of the dog. Old school pictures. A bunch of crap like that. And I'm sure I'll post any reviews, write-ups, fiction etc. The main change will be the design. I know I could just completely overhaul the Listening Room, toss out the links and stuff, but I really don't want to do that. I'd rather just leave it the way it is, provide a link in a prominent spot on the new blog and start anew.

As for the Wordpress blog...I don't see myself working on that one too much in the days to come. It kind of took a turn towards a religion blog and I just don't know if I'm up for writing about that subject often enough to justify the upkeep of the blog. Plus, Wordpress is SO limited in what you can do with designing a blog...it's frustrating. Of course, not all of that blog was devoted to religion. There's a tribute to REM I wrote when I found out they'd broken up. There's a lengthy piece I did about a screening of Sigur Ros' film "Inni". A reminiscence of the first time I saw U2. I will likely cut and paste those into the new blog.

I don't know when it will go live but obviously I'll come back and leave a link when it does. It would probably already be up if not for some background photo issues I came against the other day when I first decided to work on it...so it would appear that Wordpress does not have the market cornered when it comes to frustrating it's users.

See you later!

8.02.2011

The Listening Room closes it's doors.

Well, folks, after almost 10 years of blogging here at Blogger I have decided to make a clean break and leave the ol' Listening Room to the moths. It's not so much that I'm disappointed with Blogger itself...even though I really don't like the new text editor and the dashboard...but I've been wanting to do something with Wordpress for a long time anyway. This will be as good a chance as any to work out a new focus and direction for what I'm wanting to move on with. It will still be a haven of narcissism but hopefully will not get so cluttered with junk on the way. I've gone through many changes since first starting this blog, most of which were well documented in it's pages. I'm hoping to settle down now, to get comfortable with the worldview I've returned to. After all the stuff I've written about the "paths" I was taking with all the sidetracking and abandoning, I am very ready to get back to what I've believed all along...

You're welcome to visit and/or bookmark my new blog. I hope that my friends who keep up with this one will come with me. I would never delete the Listening Room because there's just too much history here...but from now on you can find me, if you so desire, at:

HALFWAY BETWEEN GENIUS & BUFFOON 

Well folks, it's been a good run. Thanks!
James Casey

7.30.2011

Pure insanity.

Trollery

On a trip to Oklahoma City a few days ago I engaged in a lively discussion with my son. He had recently written a blog post about Internet trolls for his site "Eyes On Everything" and so the subject came up as to whether it was necessarilly a "bad" thing to be one. Admittedly it had been a few days since I'd read his article, so I wasn't really prepared to talk about the points he had brought up. I think it was mainly about the definition of a "troll" and a description of the different methods they employ. It may have had a bit more to it, but we took the conversation to another level so I don't think it mattered that I wasn't up-to-speed about what he had written. In other words, there wasn't anything in the post that I didn't already know.

So...is it okay to be a "troll"? Is trolling a good thing or bad? If the former, to what ends? If the latter, why? What does engaging in trollish behavior say about the person who practices it? Does it matter? Is it just a necessary side effect of the anonymity the Internet provides?

Pretty vague questions, to be sure. Is it "okay" to be a troll? Well, you'd think it was no big deal seeing the vast armies of trolls plundering YouTube, facebook, Twitter and countless message boards/communities. The only way to avoid them is to ignore them (remember that, it's important...nay, essential). So is it socially acceptable? Does it even matter? After all, the rules have changed with the widespread cultural saturation of the Internet. Only time will tell if the intense negativity of trolls (and the vile screes of genuine haters) will become manifest in cultural indifference as time goes by.

But what do I think? Is it okay? Personally I say "no", it's not okay. It's not cool. There is nothing about trolling which benefits anyone, especially the one doing the trolling. It's a waste of time. The kind of pleasure that can be had in trolling is on the same immature level as picking the wings off of flies. It's mean and manipulative. Manipulation is what trolling is all about, everyone knows that. So who has that right? Who has the right to manipulate another human being? From where within the psyche does this urge to manipulate arise? I'd venture to guess that it's not a *good* place, and it's certainly not a method of catharsis that is healty, mentally or spiritually.

"But that's just it," says the troll. "It's catharsis. It allows me the chance to get out all my aggressions without physically hurting anyone." Sounds good, until you consider the chance that your mode of aggression therapy has the very real power to hurt another person. Feelings are hurt easily...this may not sound like such a big deal, kind of wimpy, right? People's "feelings"... they should grow thicker skin, eh? Well, they shouldn't have to. It's hard enough to deal with the bullshit life throws your way without having some idiot tell you your mother's a cow or the religion you hold dear is a pack of lies... And you never know. You could well be messing with someone who has just about had enough, who is one insult away from buying a gun and shooting himself in the head...or using that gun to mow down a few school kids before turning it on himself. You'd think that the remote POSSIBILITY of something like that happening would be a wake-up call to the trolls, that they would realize the "power" that is available to them can be quite destructive, not just some mischevious fun. But you know what? It won't. Because it's just too much fun being a troll.

What makes it so fun? My son says trolls are so into it because it lets them invent completely new personas for themselves. Of course you can do that without being a troll, and no doubt that is a very interesting experiment to conduct. But I suppose the troll aspects come into play when you try to push some buttons just to see how someone else would react to the avatar you've created. It's not you, right? So you can say anything you want. You can pick a cyber-fight. You can make someone fall in love with you, not even knowing that the screen name is not a real person at all (naive, I know, but you would be surprised...). And all of this without any repurcussions in the "real world".

So what does that say about you, my troll friend? It says that on some level you can't handle the real world and/or your place in it. The level of cruelty in your Internet jousts is in direct proportion to how frightened you are to hurl them at a real person, to their face. No integrity whatsoever. Does that matter to you? Does your anonymity change the fact that you're a coward, oh nameless troll? No, it does not. It magnifies it.

That is how I feel. I feel justified in expressing and holding these opinions because I once engaged in trollish behavior myself. For several years, to be honest. I look back on those days and I am ashamed of myself. I regret the time and effort I wasted in targeting people and waging war with them. I know why I did it, and I know how I thought it was so much fun. Those things reflect aspects of my personality that I should have left where they belong, instead of bringing them closer to the fore, giving them chance to grow. Perhaps had I not nurtured them by trolling they would be buried even deeper, robbed of the chance to do any more damage. I didn't care about the people whose minds I messed with. I said, "this person is a screen name, nothing more". That's all they were to me. I could say whatever I wanted because a screen name doesn't have emotions.

If you are a troll and happen to be reading this, please understand that I'm not judging or condemning you. Only your hobby. My only advice to you is that you consider the feelings of the people you are toying with. Go to a bar, walk up to a stranger, unleash your best troll line and stand up to the possibility that he will knock the shit out of you. You'll get what you deserve.
I had a dream last night that I worked at Wal-Mart. I had put one of my own CDs in the store's player that piped in music for the store. It was actually a copy of the podcast I made a couple of months ago and at one point it was getting very weird. I got really scared that the management would take notice and I'd get fired. I expected to see customers with stunned looks pushing their carts around, heads turning to the right and to the left attempting to find out where the noise was coming from. So I went to retrieve the disc hoping that it wouldn't be too late to save my job. But I couldn't find it. It wasn't anywhere that I remembered it being. I was starting to get a little scared. It came to mind that probably they didn't even normally play music on the store PA. In actual waking fact, they don't, but I could not convince myself of this. I eventually did find the player. It was some strange component version of Windows Media Player. So strange.

7.28.2011

A Commentary on the Sad State of Religious/Atheist Sloganeering Apparel

A couple of weeks ago I was at Best Buy with my son. I don't remember if we were there to purchase anything in particular, just walking around checking out the merchandise. Best Buy is possibly my favorite store for window shopping.

Anyway, I'm headed toward the televisions when I noticed a lady in a green shirt that sported the recognizable Mountain Dew logo. My son has one just like it. At least I thought so until I looked a little closer and saw that it didn't saw "Mountain Dew" at all. I could have sworn that the shirt said "Meant to Die".

"What in the world is that all about?" I thought. "Meant to die???" Lime green is not exactly a "goth" color, so I figured it probably wasn't some suicidal message. Besides, she couldn't have been any younger than 45. She certainly didn't look like your typical Smiths fan. I doubt she'd even heard of the Cure. So what was this "Meant to Die" business?

I decided my eyes had failed me so I sent my son to investigate. He came back with the affirmation, indeed the shirt read "Meant to Die". That's all we could read of it, but I knew at that point, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that there had to be more words on it. Furthermore I knew that there was a very good chance that those words were either a.) part of a Bible verse or b.) a pithy slogan that would identify the wearer as a Christian. Most likely a variation on the product's own tag line.

Sure enough, a Google search turned up a similar garment on eBay which confirmed not one, but both of my suspicions. "Jesus MEANT TO DIE for you!" accompanied with the text of John 15:13 ("Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends"...I have no idea what translation it's from. Probably "The Message").

I've seen these shirts. I guess everyone has by now, but I've actually shopped in a Mardel so I've seen a LOT of them. And every single one is as hoaky and corny as it gets. I'm sorry if I offend anyone with my opinion of them but I cannot for the life of me understand why ANYONE, Christian or otherwise, would want to wear them. Okay, it's parody. Parody can be very funny so there's always the chance that people who buy them do so because they think they're humorous. I can even understand why folks would want to display a Bible verse or something important to them. But the verses are always associated with something really dumb.

For instance, there is a shirt that looks exactly like swag from the movie "Twilight", only it reads "theLight" with John 8:12 attached. How about the Subway deli logo mutated to read "HisWay" with the "slogan" beneath, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life".  Or perhaps you'd rather have the shirt that sports the Allstate Insurance logo altered to read "Allfaith. You're in good hands. Providing the best life insurance since the birth of Jesus Christ". How can it get much more inane than "King of Kings" placed between the familiar buns on the Burger King logo. And this isn't even the tip of the iceberg.Though it's not a product rip-off, one of my favorites simply reads "Get STONED like Paul! Acts 14:19-20. Stand your ground for CHRIST!" I include it because it's such a fine example of just how stupid these things can get.

It was actually kind of difficult to track down a photo of the "Meant to Die" shirt. It was there in the links but when I clicked them it was apparent they had been removed. I can only assume that the good people at Mountain Dew were a little miffed at the theft of their intellectual property and took measures to save their brand from ridicule. It's a real wonder that more companies and corporations don't follow that lead. Then again, I suppose even a reminder of their ad campaigns and logos to the general public is worth a few cringes.

What makes a person want to wear one of these things? Do they think it's some kind of witness to the lost who just might happen to see it and be curious? Surely not. I cannot for the life of me imagine any non-believer stopping and asking about someone's t-shirt... Besides, you're supposed to reach out to them, not hope they come to you. If I, as a Christian, see these things for the kitsch they are, how much more so an atheist? People aren't laughing at the shirts. At least not in the way they might if the designs were actually funny. They're laughing at how pathetic they are.

Keith Green, whose ministry was defined by integrity and straight-forwardness, called the shirts and the other trinkets that go with them "Jesus Junk". And this was in the early 80s, can you imagine what he would think if he saw the pervasiveness of this trash now?

It IS junk, and it's a waste of money. It's an embarrassment to Christendom and a sad, sad testimony to just how irreverent Christians have become. Maybe I sound like Judas chastising Jesus for allowing the woman to pour expensive perfume on his feet...he was upset that money was being wasted, money that could be better used to feed the poor and help the needy. Jesus called Judas' bluff on that one, but I don't think there's a lot in common between anointing from adoration and spending twenty-five bucks on a Hane's XXL Beefy-T ruined by a ridiculous design that actually gives the impression that the wearer is only trying to "fit in". Yes, I do believe that is a motivator for people who get this crap. Everyone wants to be a part of something, and when they are it is only natural to want everyone to know about it. But come on! This is the church we're talking about!

$25 ain't much, but you'd do better to give it to a panhandler than the guy who owns the Christian bookstore in the mall (though I guess he has to eat, too...that's a whole different post). Let's all get together and agree to put an end to this cultural enigma. Let's get serious.

Okay...I've said some really, really harsh things about goofy Christian t-shirts. And I'm 100% sincere that they are a negative thing to the church. In that Google search I spoke of earlier I was led to an atheist blog where the blog owner and the majority of people leaving comments were saying basically the same thing (though not quite as civilly). It was clear that they disapproved, but I was surprised at the level of hostility the topic seemed to stir in many of them. Almost as if it were an affront, a personal insult to them that someone would wear a shirt proclaiming and/or associated with a religion. I wasn't surprised at all, because these militant atheists seem to be very touchy about the subject. In fact, I have noticed, in my travels through cyberspace, that there is a lot of hatred directed at religion and the people who don't share their worldview (funny, but it seems like the majority of these "attacks" are directed at Christians and Christianity in general). So it's only natural that atheist scorn for something as wacky as Jesus Ts would be expected.

The word "hypocrisy" began running through my mind. No doubt anybody would have figured it out, so it was strange that they didn't see it.

Let's do another Google search, shall we? And this time we'll enter "atheist t-shirts" in the search field. Or just go straight to "a theists online" (or don't, if you're easily offended). Here you'll find t-shirts, mugs, trinkets and other crap sporting these nice designs (warning: these are in extreme bad taste):

```The universally recognized yellow diamond that usually reads "Baby On Board", only here it's suspended above the Lord on the cross and says "Christ on Boards".

```"WWJD" = We Won, Jesus Died

```"Haven't you forgotten about Jesus? Isn't it about time you did?"

```"I Heart Roman Lions"

```"There's a sucker BORN AGAIN every minute!" (beneath a drawing of Jesus laughing condescendingly).

```"Silly Christian, Myths are for Kids"

Okay, that's enough. More than enough, actually. My point is obvious and surely it has been made. It's true that these things are not all derivative of company logos, but that's neither here. These are not meant to promote atheism so much as to offend theists. Is that what atheism is about, I have to wonder? Nothing better to do than try to bully people who don't happen to agree with you? See who can wear the most offensive clothing?

Friends, that is HATE, pure and simple. I don't put all atheists in that box, just like I know that most Christians aren't wasting money on useless garbage. But it is interesting to compare the stuff some Christians would wear on their chests as opposed to their unbelieving neighbors.

I'll take goofy over mean any day.


7.08.2011

Skype Laughter Chain

I love to hear people laugh. Odd, you say, for such a cantankerous old fart? I cannot disagree, though I may not be as grumpy as all that. This video is the funniest thing, I do believe, that I've ever seen in the 49 years I've been roaming this planet. It's the only one of it's kind, although there are some videos of people cracking up watching THIS video...it's just not the same. This one shows how laughter is contagious by a continuous chain of people laughing at the video of the person you've just seen (and that person only, so it's not a cumulative effect. I could watch many, many of these and not be bored. On the contrary, I would look forward to the next because the only sound more awesome than an orgasmic moan is a belly laugh. And that's a fact.

7.06.2011

...and for crying out loud, LISTEN TO THE PODCAST! I would say that I put a lot of work into it, and I guess it did require a lot of time and effort...but I enjoyed every minute. It's a chance for you to hear some music you likely have not heard presented in a format that is unique and original, if I may say so myself.

No Video of the Week...

 Sorry, folks, but I won't be putting up a Video of the Week this time around. There are way too many videos as it is on the home page and it's causing lengthy page load times. I'm planning on posting several more VHS-Digital videos so I can use all the space I can get. I realize that the omission of only one video won't help things too much, but I'll take what I can get. I may well not do any MVotWs for some time until I have more text to even things out.

I know this is difficult news to hear, but together we will get through it. Thank you.

6.30.2011

Music Video of the Week: Bee Gees

Better late than never and I love this song. My favorite Bee Gees song. Well written, well produced, well performed, they did it all just right on this one. Especially love Robin's vocal. No joking, I am not the biggest BG fan...I like some of their songs alright...but this one, in my opinion, is stellar.

"Alone"
Bee Gees

6.27.2011

I sit in the waiting room, hoping that my wife will be with the doctor at least long enough for me to write down a few things again. Not that I want her to spend too much time in there, and it is lunchtime, so my belly is growling (hoping for some pizza at the CiCi's we passed on the way here), but I've only now resolved to type out these observations after being detained for at least an hour anyway.

The room is not too full at the moment, and I can reasonably assume that this is the result of appointments being scheduled around the physician's meal breaks. Seven people, other than myself, are sitting quietly. An overweight woman in a loud bright green t-shirt has just now been called in. She was reading a paperback novel. From the distance I could not make out the name of the book or the author. Which is too bad because I have an ability to tell alot about a person by the books that they read.

In front and to my right is a young woman texting messages from her iPhone. She seems quite adept at it, as her thumbs glide quickly and effortlessly across it's screen. I can't see her face but her hair is a pretty, dirty blond that's been ironed to an almost unnatural straightness. She sits with her legs crossed and when she finishes texting she puts her hand up to her head as if to hold it, like a person deep in contemplation. It's a gesture that I can be found in often.

To her right, and up a row, is a guy sitting almost unnaturally still. He has medium length curly hair and wire frame glasses. He reclines in what appears to be a comfortable position and watched the television in the upper corner of the room. They have it tuned to the History channel, but that's all I can tell you about it. Usually they have it set to the 24 hour local news loop. No doubt this is much more entertaining, if not as informative. It doesn't matter to me, as I have my headphones on and have been listening to Sun Kil Moon's "Admiral Fell Promises" since long before I started writing this.

The girl with the iPhone just got called back, leaving one more empty chair for the crowd that will surely storm the place when 1:00 comes around. Chairs will be at a premium around that time. I already miss her.

But even as she saunters into the doctor's waiting room another texting female arrives. Unlike the last girl, I got a chance to see this one's face. She's relatively pretty, and I get the initial impression that she's a fun person to be with. Her purse is enormous. She could carry around an entire change of clothes in that thing. She is oblivious to the programming on the History channel, even though the TV is directly in front of her. Her texting is more important to her, which is obvious, but her technique doesn't appear to be nearly as advanced as her predecessor's.

While I wasn't looking a man came in and sat in front of the guy with the curly hair. He's filling out paperwork so odds are he is a new patient. That's a big hassle, having to do that. He's just wrapped it up and places his eyeglasses into his pocket. Apparently they are just for reading, seeing as how he has a pair of sunglasses perched atop his pate. He's drinking from a bottle of water and appears to be much more interested in the television program than the girl he's next to (the one I just described).

6.26.2011

Nine Stories "Calling Her Name"

I know I've posted a lot of video here lately...probably too much. But as I may have mentioned earlier I got a VHS-DVD converter and there are a lot of old band performances I'm moving to digital. Here's one of them. One of my favorites. We called ourselves Nine Stories back then...and this was before Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories, so I say it's OURS. This is sort of a punk rock type thing I wrote about an ex-girlfriend. "When I see her walking down my street it makes me think about the times we had...I know I ought to feel depressed or something but it really kind of makes me feel glad...to hear 'em callin' her name..." oh, baby. Those were the days I could bust out a killer lyric.


6.22.2011

Music Video of the Week: Hot Chocolate


"You Sexy Thing"
Hot Chocolate

...and a bonus video of one of my bands (King Tongue) basically trashing the song.


6.19.2011

Clarence Clemons 1942 - 2011



Clarence Clemons
January 11, 1942 - June 18, 2011

Not too many rock star deaths affect me deeply. But watching Clarence play his solo in "Secret Garden" on this video pulled a tear or two from my dry eyes. I wish I had the words to say how much I admired his musical ability, the way he was able to play simple lines that would blow away even the most skilled jazz musicians because of the passion he put into them. Though it's true that there aren't too many rock bands traveling the world with a full-time saxophone player on board, I feel it's safe to say that Clarence would have been the best of them all. As a sidekick he was irreplaceable. Like Dean Martin losing Jerry Lewis or Oliver Hardy losing Stan Laurel. The comedy references are apt, as well, since there was always a light-hearted and humorous rapport he shared with Springsteen. Man, I can only imagine how Bruce has felt the last couple of days, because it's obvious to anyone who has followed the E Street Band for even a short time that Clarence and Bruce were closes as brothers. Family. That's a hard one to get through.

His solo in "Secret Garden" has come to be my favorite. The top of a long list that I think of as definitive sax breaks in rock history. He really was the best. This one, however, NEVER fails to give me goose bumps and chills. It's like a ghost floating into a room, hovering, taking in all there is, like a sweet fog that surrounds everything, barely perceptible before it wafts back out... It's a lonesome sound, but not a lonely one. It echoes the tone of Springsteen's voice with all the innocent wonder of discovering a lover's inner world. The realization that, as much as your heart desires, you will never have ALL of her. The place that sets her apart from masculinity. That makes her a woman. It is a treasure worth all the gold in the world, but a man can never have it. What Clarence Clemons does with his tenor sax on that song is mourn the loss of something we men can never have. "Where everything you want...Where everything you need...Will always be...a million miles away"...then there's Clarence. Tenderly sending us off on that first mile.

I can't really explain why I like that solo the best. I think part of it is because it's so "Un-Clarence" like. Most of his playing is exuberant and/or anthemic. But in "Secret Garden" he takes an entirely different approach. Settled down, laid back, no longer stealing the spotlight up front...any man that can steal the spotlight from Bruce Springsteen has got major talent...but this time he's almost hidden in the music. His melody slowly twists through the simple synth lines that permeate the song from start to finish. He masterfully controls the dynamics throughout the entire arrangement, oh, it just takes your breath away. It's like every once in a while he'll blow a quiet whole note that augments the lyrics...and then he takes that whole note and stretches it when the solo kicks in. He stretches it and weaves it masterfully, letting that magic whole note branch off into hushed tones like threads in a tapestry.

I know "Secret Garden" is one of Springsteen's more commercial songs. I still have a tad bit of a music snob in me, I guess, because I feel I must apologize for picking a favorite Clemons solo from such a successful Springsteen song. Oh, not saying that he didn't have quite a few hits, but this one is kind of in the same vein as "Born in the USA", "Glory Days", "I'm on Fire"...you know, the Springsteen songs that just about EVERYBODY knows and likes. Even the people who have never heard another note of music from the Boss but maybe have "Dancing in the Dark" on a homemade mix tape, sequenced between Kool & the Gang's "Cherish" and that song by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam (I am still in the same decade, aren't I?). "Secret Garden" is surely a fixture on many "love-themed" playlists on the back of it's appearance in Cameron Crowe's film "Jerry Maguire". And that's cool. Because it kicked ass in that movie. It was placed in the perfect spot and it's no accident that Crowe didn't cut the soundtrack before Clarence's solo, because it conjured up the atmosphere so completely, if not even better than the lyrics...certainly with as much emotive power.

But yeah..."Secret Garden" is my favorite. I do, however, appreciate the wealth of Clarence's great performances in the E Street catalog. And it was a HARD decision, too. There were, however, a few Big Man moments that I want to acknowledge as some of his very best.

"Night" (from Born to Run)...jumping in after the machine gun blasts that open this track, Clemons gives this under-rated song a book-end hook that only shows up at the start and the conclusion. It's a clever trick...I mean, the riff is so exubarent, so catchy, a fantastic sax line that you expect will come back around in the form of a solo in the middle of the track. It doesn't. Springsteen's song structure teases, as if purposefully holding back...until the end. And there it is, every bit worth the wait, making you want to take the needle off the record and put it right back on.

"Drive All Night" (from The River)...okay, maybe I was wrong. Maybe "Drive All Night" is Clarence Clemons' best solo. Let's just call it a tie for number one, okay? It's just that the first thing I usually think of with this song is the Boss's wailing "heart and soul" outburst. The sax solo kind of gets lost, but only because I'm so smitten with the last couple of minutes. Clarence sounds like a horn man playing in a roadhouse some time in the 50s with a serious rhythm and blues act. He rips into the middle of the song with so much passion that there's no mistaking the meaning the narrator is trying to convey. An aching, somewhere in the guts, that hurts almost as much as it feels good. He digs into that place, gives it a sound for a moment, then moves over to let Springsteen do what he will (and can) with the inspiration he's just been given. I've always maintained that "Drive All Night" is one of the best love songs ever written. Proof? "I swear I'd drive all night just to buy you some shoes and to taste your tender charms"... You hear a lot of people sing about how much they love their woman, but few are so perceptive and brilliant that they know the value of shoes in a woman's world. This is a man who really has been in love and has learned the valuable lessons.

"The Promised Land" (from Darkness on the Edge of Town)...One of the marks of a great musician is that they are immediately recognizable to anyone who has heard much of their music. Not so much "recognizable", I don't guess, but more of like "That could only be Clarence Clemons!" And the middle section solo here has "Big Man" stamped all over it. I'll never forget the show of love the audience displayed for CC when he stepped up front to play this solo at the Tulsa show a couple of years ago. He had said that the last tour the E Street Band did, which included this show, were "pure hell because of the pain". We all knew that he was in ill health. You could tell. Even so, his playing was fantastic. When "The Promised Land" came around he didn't miss a note. It was an empowering thing, almost, if that makes any sense. Like a glimpse of that Promised Land Bruce sings of and an affirmation that yes, we can get there if we only believe in it.

"Jungleland" (from Born to Run)... EPIC. This might as well be Clarence's signature solo. It's almost like a song within a song, sandwiched between the beginning and end of it's namesake. He starts out with a melody that could have come straight from West Side Story and slowly, almost imperceptibly adds more texture to it until by the end of his part it's become something majestic. Yearning. Much as I love the other songs on this list, I would still tell anyone who has never heard Clarence Clemons play that the place to start is "Jungleland". When I was a kid - 16,17 years old - I played saxophone in my high school's stage band (basically a big band jazz thing). I wanted to play improvisational solos and the way I learned how was to play along with records. I got pretty decent on a few, but the one I played the most, the one I liked the most and the one I eventually played better than the others was "Jungleland". Such an incredibly cathartic song to play. I wish all of you could know just how awesome it is to play along with Clarence Clemons, even if it's only a recording of him.

"Badlands" (from Darkness on the Edge of Town)... I include this as an example of how well Clemons' playing complimented Springsteen's. Bruce is not a "show-ey" guitar player. Still, if you listen closely you will find out just how good he is. The Big Man shared that same quality. He wasn't a flashy player. He wasn't the kind of player that traded in "how many notes can I fit into this bar?". He knew what the song needed, and that's exactly what he gave it. "Badlands" is a perfect example where you can hear Bruce turn over the reins and let the Big Man shine.

"Born to Run" (from Born to Run)... I don't think I even need to say much about Clarence's contribution to this song. Let's just say his playing constitutes a high percentage of why it is possibly the greatest rock and roll song ever written. Listen to that rumbling baritone sax blast at the start...there's the foundation of the Wall of Sound Springsteen was going for. CC's solo is a tad faster than what he usually played but his signature is still intact. Listening to the song right now and I'm struck by just how prevalent his playing is throughout. Nothing but texture and shading. Exactly what the track demanded. "Born to Run" is classic not only for the song itself, but for the sound. I've only now realized how much Clarence Clemons contributed to that sound.

Okay, there are many others..."Thunder Road", "Bobby Jean", "The Ties That Bind", "Rosalita", "New York City Serenade" among others. But there are only so many hours in the day. Though I see Clarence Clemons' passing as a major loss, I never realized how much I really enjoyed his playing. I mean, of course I love it and always have, but I don't think I ever gave him nearly as much credit as he deserved. I would like to correct that here and now.

I think it was the Righteous Brothers who had a hit with "Rock and Roll Heaven". I'm sure you've heard it. "If you believe in forever then life is just a one night stand - If there's a rock and roll heaven then you know they've got a hell of a band." That band has grown bigger and bigger ever since Buddy Holly died, but one thing is for sure: yesterday they got as good a sax player as they could have dreamed of.

6.15.2011

Music Video of the Week: ME!!!

I've been wanting a VHS-to-digital file converter for a long time...yesterday I finally got one. I imagine there will be lots of posts coming up that will be culled from the hours of tape collecting dust on the shelves. Here's the first one I uploaded to YouTube: a performance of Hank Williams Jr.'s "Born to Boogie" which was recorded March 5th, 1998. Jeez, lots of stuff happened between then and now, I tell ya. The venue was Charie's Palace in Shawnee Oklahoma, where I was the bass player in the house band. $50 a night, three nights a week. Not great, but better than what a lot of podunk country bands get paid on the local circuits in these parts. It was a fun gig, but that may have been because I was never "in my right mind" when I played there. Not a single show, if you know what I mean. I do know this: my ability to play bass pretty much reached it's peak while I was playing there. I mean, I was very good a couple of years later with King Tongue, but the Charlie's gig was what made me get to that level. I can't play worth a damn anymore.

"Born to Boogie"
JACkory w/the Charlie's Palace House Band

6.01.2011

Music Video of the Week: Sade

"By Your Side"
Sade

GaGa: Meat dress for dinner

I'm sick to death of seeing Lady GaGa all over the place. On magazine covers, on TV, on the Internet, everywhere you turn. You can't get away from her. Why has she struck such a chord with the American people? I mean, I have seen Facebook profiles of women well into their middle ages listing Gaga as a music favorite.

I saw her first video on MTV when it first came out (please don't ask what I was doing watching MTV, I assure you it was a 'WTF' pause in an otherwise boring channel surf). I thought it was campy and not really all that original. As her popularity increased I became convinced that her whole schtick was a combination of Marilyn Manson and Madonna. Both of whom have courted their fare share of controversy. Both of whom have also trotted out a penchant for deliberate controversy. Not necessarily to make up for any lack of talent, whether I particularly care for their work or not. But Lady GaGa, as a musical artist, hasn't enough talent to take 3rd place in a karaoke contest at a small town dive bar. It's entirely possible that she would agree, although not going quite so far with the analogy.

She has described herself as a "performance artist" and of course that's what she is. I'll even concede that she is a very good one. But the thing is: your average Joe Blow hasn't a clue what a "performance artist" even is. I don't mean that as an insult to anyone. I'm only saying that "art", to the majority, isn't nearly as important as what's on TV (precious little "art" to be found there), or who won the ball game last night or just hanging out shooting the bull with friends. That's all fine and good, nothing wrong with it. But these same people are the ones who have elevated Lady GaGa to the exalted position she is currently enjoying.

Which brings me to the other tool the Lady uses to increase her fan base: her fans. Or I should say her devotion to her fans. I have rarely ever seen a performer use so much PR time thanking and praising fans. No matter how outrageous she gets (meat dress, anyone?), no matter how hard she tries to be controversial (and maybe piss off a few squares in the process) she will always be embraced by her admirers because she has gone out of her way to make them feel like they are an integral part of who she is and the success she has enjoyed. And they are, I'm sure. That's the way it should be done, in my opinion. You have to become a part of your own fan base without kissing their asses. GaGa has come dangerously close but so far I don't think she's pandered to them.

She just doesn't, in my opinion, give them much substance to work with. Not that I would know. My exposure to her act has been about as limited as I can make it be. That's not why I started writing this, anyway. I am not really concerned with the quality of her music, and as I have already stated I do think she's a brilliant performance artist. I just get sick of seeing her picture everywhere and I guess it miffs me a little to know that I predicted a short, sweet future for her when I first saw that video. Now she's on the cover of this week's Rolling Stone (again). Such hype, such overexposure, surely can't be good for her. The American public, fan or no, is extremely fickle and you have to wonder just how long it will be before those loyal GaGa-heads jump ship for the next fly-by-night. Or maybe she'll actually succeed in taking things too far, so far that she'll lose a significant chunk of her supporters? The question isn't IF it will happen, but WHEN it will happen.

I wish her luck, I really do. I hope she saves her money and invests it wisely so she can live high on the hog for the rest of her post-15 Minutes life. She'll never be forgotten, I guess that's saying something. But Milli Vanilli will never be forgotten, either.

Which is not a fair comparison, I know. Maybe what I mean is that performance artists don't fare too well in the "where are they now" category. This is only natural. It's the PERFORMANCE that takes center stage for a performance artist (duh), while the artist creating it inevitably is forgotten. And the performance comes to an end when there is no one left who cares about watching it. Like a movie or a rock opera it can't last TOO long, else it's impact is consumed by the inevitable, essential boredom that is only natural when something goes on for too long. So maybe, for the sake of her art, Lady GaGa would do well to close down shop before she wears out her welcome.

All of this, admittedly, coming from the pen of a man who has given up hope for popular music several years ago, who won't be one bit offended if his readers tell him he's full of crap, that he isn't qualified to write about the topic. That's very likely true. But I did. I wrote about it. I wrote it because I was bored and noticed Lady GaGa on the cover of Rolling Stone and couldn't help but think how sick and tired I am of seeing her picture plastered everywhere. So that's really all I have to say. Cut me some slack, o ye gods of superstardom and forgive my apathy.

I'm discouraged at how I can see only absurdity in this phenomenon that so many people think is so "cool". I see her decked out in some weird half-naked batman outfit on Letterman and the first thing that comes to my mind is not "How outrageous", but "how ridiculous". And I think this transition I've undergone is a confirming sign that tells me I am starting to show my age. I am becoming less and less able to give a damn about the new and exciting. I'd rather listen for things I never heard before in the music that has shaped my taste for the last 40 years. You'd be surprised at how much there is. Either I've never noticed it or I've forgotten it. That's much more satisfying, to me, than pick and choose out of a new stable of bands, most of which are playing out a formula that was made popular by the music I've been listening to for years. I've already heard it, boys. Good luck to ya, because most folks out there HAVEN'T.

(note: I have, throughout this essay, spelled the subject's name thusly: "Lady GaGa". As I wrote the part about being so out of touch with pop culture I realized that my use of two capitals in her surname was possibly, maybe even likely, incorrect. Upon further investigation my suspicions were confirmed. Why did I think it was GaGa instead of Gaga? Hell if I know. But I wasn't about to go back and correct it, because hey, who really cares, right? Besides, I think GaGa is much better. If she'd exploded onto the glam scene in the early seventies you can be sure it would have been GaGa. My apologies to the regal Lady and her loyal posse of fans.)

5.29.2011

Empire Bottling Works spruce beer

Found this at Pops yesterday. I don't know what it tastes like, but I'm fitting to find out right now.


Oh, great God in heaven, this spruce beer is NASTY. I could only take a few sips and I'm done with it. It's very strong and has a taste that is very, very familiar, but try as I might I can't think of what it is. It's not too sweet...or I should say that if it IS real sweet the other flavor covers it up.There's a very slight hint of birch beer in the aftertaste, but not enough to make up for the spruce, which I'm assuming is the agent from which this rancid nectar is derived. I LIKE birch beer, and this, my friends, is no birch beer. It's a shame I'm gonna have to pour this down the drain, because it sure ain't cheap. But nobody else around here is gonna drink it. Oh well, I still have a birch beer and a bottle of Ski left.

5.18.2011

Music Video of the Week: New Order

Close your eyes...doesn't Barney sound exactly like Ian Curtis?


"In a Lonely Place"
New Order

5.17.2011


Roy Orbison: The Monument Singles Collection (1960-1964)

Well, I'm having a pretty good stretch over at Vintage Rock. First my Cars review made it to the front page and now the piece I wrote for this new Roy Orbison collection is the feature review. What's next? I'll tell you what. I'm posting it here. That's all I'm up for right now. :) (There are a couple of grammatical errors, but I haven't had the chance to contact my editor yet...hopefully I won't forget...)



Roy Orbison
The Monument Years (1960-1964)

One of the first musicians I ever played in a band with had a serious appreciation of Roy Orbison. He might have mentioned it, I don't remember, but I had no idea at the time who Orbison even was. Looking back I can hardly believe that I was ignorant to the man's existence, let alone his singular contributions to pop/rock music. Chalk it up to a fanatical devotion to the Psychedelic Furs, the Clash, Talking Heads, Devo and that whole lot who were changing the landscape of modern music. I guess I got so caught up riding the "new wave" that I didn't have the opportunity to really delve into the masters who laid the ground work.

With age novelty fades. Substance survives. And so the wheat is separated from the chaff. The "new wave" is long past being anything that even closely resembles "new". The end result being a relative handful of artists, who were always worth remembering, right up there churning out the stuff with faddish combos so weak that even they knew it was a 15 minute party (if even that). No way these groups were going to find their way into the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll...even seeing their name in a list of 1980s new wave bands on Wikipedia makes you wonder if someone might have slipped some bogus information in there as a prank. I mean, everyone knows that the "second Elvis" is Costello. But, pray tell, who can share memories of special moment spent listening to Crash Course in Science? The Sex Pistols, like 'em or loathe 'em, are still rightfully respected for wielding considerable influence in the justification of the "anyone can do it" ethos of punk rock (albeit 10-15 years after the Velvet Underground made everyone want to pick up a guitar and start a band). But the Blow Monkeys? Dolly Mixture? Human Switchboard? Pasta ZZ? Wow, all you had to do if you wanted to play in a new wave band was think up some kooky, surreal moniker and jump into the fray with the other groups who had little more going for them than even goofier names. I ain't makin' this shit up, people. Sex Pistols? That's kick ass. Rubber City Rebels? Weak. Weaker than watered down iced tea.

So, getting back to my band mate...I don't know that I would call him a "buddy" although I did enjoy his company. He had a volatile temper that was not helped by the bottomless glass of Canadian Mist/Mountain Dew that he perpetually sported. It wasn't hard to tell that he had been imbibing for the better part of his years. Legend had it that he was given the opportunity to play with a respected country and western entertainer and had even recorded a single featuring a couple of his original songs. But, as is so often the case, for every door that opened for him there was a barroom just down the hall... He always chose to walk on until eventually he was too drunk to stand and they shipped him back to the small podunk town he'd come from. I don't know if he ever hoped for that level in the game again, but it was always clear that he never learned his lesson.

Which is all a roundabout, pointless way to tell you how I came to be familiar with the genius of Roy Orbison. This guy I've been talking about, let's call him Bobby. Not to protect the innocent...but because that was actually his name (ha ha). Bobby liked to sing, and in this particular band he was our lead vocalist. Unfortunately he didn't have a whole lot of talent for that gig, but there weren't too many people wanting to front our band at the time. He got it. We played a lot of country songs, and he had this warbly tone that just didn't work well with that genre. We knocked out some solid rockers from the ouvre of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, even Elvis Presley. They all seemed to be missing something crucial. Oh well, what the hell, it's not as if we were being paid the kind of money that would allow club owners to be demanding. We had a good time, Bobby had a good time, if we made it through an entire night without having to pick him up off the floor we considered it a successful gig.

So we're up there on the stage playing, having a good time even though the fear of a potential alcoholic breakdown from Bobby loomed large. The people on the dance floor don't seem to notice, or to care about Bobby's less-than-stellar voice. A goofy old Johnny Lee tune winds down, a moment to get a drink of water (or whatever), then Bobby takes the microphone... "I was alright...for awhile...I could smile for awhile..." The whole atmosphere in the building changed. "Then I saw you that night, you held my hand so tight...when you stopped" (pregnant pause) "to say hello..." A few couples saunter onto the dance floor, the others finally paying attention to Bobby, as if they know he's gonna pull a rabbit out of a hat. "Ah, you wished me well, but you could tell..." Here we go, this is where it all begins. "That I'd been crying...over you...crying...over you". Bobby's not even getting started yet. Even so he's got them all in the palms of his hands. "You said 'so long,' left me standing all alone...alone and crying." Those of us on the stage have seen him do this before. The total transformation of a man with just enough spirit left in him to entertain a forsaken dream even if only for the duration of one single song that obviously meant a lot to him.

"I thought that I...was over you...but it's true, oh so true..." No, none of us had taken the time to dig into his past deep enough to know the real story of why this song was able to bring him back from the brink. "I miss you even more than I did before..." Yeah, she had to have been one hell of a woman to pull off that job. "But darling, what can I do? For you don't love me...and I'll always be..." As the song had affected him, so his performance of the song seemed to affect the people in the crowd. I can't speak for them, but it definitely left a mark on me. "Alone and crying...crying...crying...” By the time he'd reached the majestic climax there were few dry eyes in the house and everyone who had written him off as "just another wanna-be, long fallen from favor," suddenly saw him in a completely new light.

Now, that's all fine and good. What does it have to do with Roy Orbison, you might ask. Other than the fact that it was a Roy Orbison tune he was singing. He must have sang it well, maybe it was the highlight of his performance. Right? He must have loved the song so much he felt like he should go the extra mile.

Maybe. But here's the deal...he couldn't sing that song any better than he could anything else on our songlist. He still teetered a little from the booze. That "warbly" aspect of his voice was still present and accounted for. Of course he loved the song. The audience picked up on that, maybe his high opinion of the number was infectious? Or maybe... Maybe it was the song? Now I'm not suggesting that any bozo with high hopes can knock it out of the ballpark like Bobby did. Somehow Bobby met all of the criteria that qualified him to do it justice. Don McClean, famous for what I think is one of the most loathsome songs ever ("American Pie"), sported the same credentials and his version was even better because he actually COULD sing. I've only heard K.D. Lang's version a couple of times, but the word on the street is that she does it justice as well. Still, and I truly belive this, it's the song that does the trick, all by itself. The song, that is, and the impact of Orbison's performance. "...like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays...Roy Orbison singing for the lonely...hey, that's me and I want you only..."

It could only have been Roy Orbison on the radio that day when the Boss came to sweep Mary away. Elvis could do "lonely", but never as deeply haunting as Roy, never as yearning. A whole slew of the great vocalists of all time can do "lonely", but Roy Orbison's voice has a quality to it that makes it universal, as if the whole world were suffering all at once. As if the collective consciousness were collectively blue and conscious of nothing else. At least for the duration of a short song.

Let's roll out the barrel and see what the other rock gods had to say about "Brother Roy." We'll start out with the big daddy of 'em all, Bobby Zimmerman:

“Orbison transcended all the genres. With Roy, you didn’t know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. He kept you on your toes. [He sang] his compositions in three or four octaves that made you want to drive your car over a cliff. He sang like a professional criminal. His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like, ‘Man, I don’t believe it’. There wasn’t anything else on the radio like him.”

Like a professional criminal...heh. I like that.

“From watching Roy, I learned how to sing a dramatic ballad," says Mick Jagger (you know, the one with the big lips who dances like a 70 year old stripper when he's onstage. Orbison's wife, Barbara, has related the Stones' admiration for Roy, expressed when he toured Australia with them: “Keith [Richards] said everyone called him ‘Keith’ and they called Mick [Jagger] ‘Mick,’ but they called [Roy] Mr. Orbison."

Keef weighs in as well. In his biography Life he writes, "Roy Orbison! It was only because we were with Roy Orbison that we were there at all. He was definitely top of the bill...What a beacon in the southernmost gloom. The amazing Roy Orbison."

Top of the bill... that was the story when he toured with the Beatles just before the advent of Beatlemania. When all hell broke loose, when the teenyboppers screams threatened to drown out the music the promoters switched the line-up to focus on the fab four. The story goes that the crowd greeted Roy, now relegated to opening act status, with such exuberance and enthusiasm that the Beatles worried that they wouldn't get to perform their set. They stood backstage and jokingly taunted, "Yankee, go home!"

"Roy's ballads," says Bruce Springsteen, " were always the best when you were alone in the dark. They were scary. His voice so unearthly...I always wanted to sing like Roy Orbison." Scary in more ways than one, if you ask me. I mean, to this day I cannot hear "In Dreams" without thinking of Frank Booth, the ultimate pervert in David Lynch's classic "Blue Velvet". Scary, as in super creepy. But I'm sure that's not what Springsteen was talking about.

There are scads of rock legends who will step up to the plate and stand up for Roy Orbison. If you're classy enough to be reading a website like Vintage Rock I daresay I have told you nothing you did not already know about him. For he is, indeed, a legend and rises above the majority of his contemporaries. Still, I can't help but toss out this quote from the most verbose man in all of rock music, Bono... "Roy, the singer, people talk about him all the time, everyone curtsies to the voice, and so they should. The thing people don't talk about enough as far as I'm concerned is how innovative this music was, how radical in terms of its songwriting. As I become more interested in songwriting, you hit a wall where Roy Orbison is standing."

Yes, we know all that. Even if you've never even heard a note from Roy Orbison you feel compelled to hold him is high esteem, figuring that if Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones and the Boss think so highly of his music, well, it must be pretty damn good. Still, if you are not as enamored of pre-Beatles rock and roll classics (like yours truly) you may have been content to leave Roy to the ones he inspired. Maybe come back later and check him out, see if he lives up to the reputation. I'm not saying you should be in any big hurry, or that the pay-off from such investigation will blow your mind the likes of which it has not been blown since first hearing the lead-off to "Won't Get Fooled Again". And I certainly won't say that a good chunk of it might strike you as "dated". Hell, the music is over 50 years old, what else would you expect? Even a lot of early Elvis' records sound that way. No doubt "Tommy" sounds dated to a teenager only now falling in love with music. Years and years down the road, if he really does fall in love with music, he will figure it out.

Will that kid ever come around to checking out Orbison? If he gets so lucky the experience will be akin to finding a golden needle in a haystack.

I've passed that stage of first discovering Roy Orbison. But don't think for a minute that I have done any more than skimmed the surface. I've never owned any of his records. Not because I didn't think they were worth owning...but because there was a new Talking Heads album out...or R.E.M....or Sigur Ros... I won't say that I feel as if the substitutions in these cases were worth the switch. Then again many was the time when I COULD have bought a Roy Orbison album but opted for some piece of shit the band name and title of I couldn't even recall for you. It all works out in the end, I suppose. I've come to loathe this attitude that if a "serious" music fan doesn't get into "***insert seminal rock artist/band here***", then he can't really call himself "serious". For instance, the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds". I almost feel guilty for admitting that I simply cannot stand it. There's not much to it that I find appealing, but if I were in a crowd of music hipsters and that opinion leaked I would be ostracized worse than Mel Gibson at a synagogue. You know what I'm saying..."If you don't like Nick Drake you must not be too deep into music", and the whole room will chime in their agreement, all the while at least 50% of whom have never heard a note of music outside of a couple of forgettable television commercials, and even if they liked what they heard they still hadn't a clue who the artist was.

Which is to say that I don't play that "music snob" game anymore, and if you tell me I don't know my shit because I haven't listened to Roy Orbison's entire catalogue, well you can go play a game of Kama Sutra solitaire. Because I ain't gonna lie. I hope you wouldn't want me to. I've never owned a Roy Orbison album in the 40 years I have been passionate about pop/rock music. Hell, I've never bought a 45 from the man, although I do feel like a doofus for that. My exposure to Roy O has always been via the radio...you remember those? Nifty little gizmos. I've tuned into my share of oldies stations in my day, and you're not gonna spend any serious amount of time hunkered down in one of those frequencies without hearing "Working for the Man,""Dream Baby" and "Oh, Pretty Woman" for starts. The majestic "Running Scared" like a three-minute movie sandwiched between "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" and "Great Balls of Fire." "In Dreams"..."the candy covered clown they call the sandman...tiptoes to my room every night"...I know the song is about lost love but it might as well been on a double bill with "Dracula," as creepy as that intro sounds. Riding high on that FM Oldies vibe, I'd sometime get a little rowdy, rocking around the clock, chastising hound dogs, feeling so loose like a long necked goose, because, oh baby, that's-a what I LIKE! Just in time to keep me from crossing the edge into irreversible rockin' mania, the DJ would slap "Crying" onto the turntable and twist the knob that sent it's sobering message through the airwaves. She's gonna leave you. She's gonna find another man. She's gonna make sure you see her with her new man. And then she's gonna walk away and leave you..."Crying." Love's a bitch. You can get angry at it if you want to, but when the last brick in the wall has been torn down, this is what it feel like. That moaning voice, trying to find a way to express the crushing birth pangs of loneliness. The hurt that rises up inside and seems to consume you, and the Herculean effort it will take to bust it out before it becomes as heavy and hopeless as Sysypus' stone.

You'll find that catharsis about 10 seconds toward the end of what I consider Roy Orbison's greatest song. The one that Bobby showed me, the one that he loved. Maybe I've stumbled upon the key to why it was special to Bob. He'd never been able to overcome the loneliness. Though he tried to get some help from Jim, Jack and Johnny, thinking they could pull him through, their efforts, well-intentioned as they were, did not have the power it took. So Mr. Beam, Mr. Daniels and Mr. Walker moved on, leaving him behind to roll the stone on his own. He couldn't do it. It left him a hollow shell of a man, but every weekend, when his band was on stage, he was able to draw a little hope from the well...hope, at least, for 3 minutes of reflection. A chance to remember, not only the crying, but the reasons the crying hurt so much. As if remembering the tears made it easier to look back from that point of heartache into a world that could have been. As if the exorcism of the soul-pain, for a few precious seconds, brought it all back again.

What an awesome song it is. One of the absolute greatest examples of "tension and release" in rock history. Right now, writing about it, remembering all these things...it makes me want to hear it so bad I'm tempted to take the time and effort required to queue it up on a Project Playlist player...ha ha, just joking there. It's nothing to find a song on the Internet. It just takes a minute and, best of all, it's free. How can you beat a deal like that?

Well, if you really want to know the answer to that question and you're in the mood for some Roy Orb or maybe haven't heard him and want to check it out, I would direct you to the new release of his definitive recordings on the Monument label, released as a new edition to the historical Legacy collection, entitled The Monument Singles Collection (1960-1964). It's a very handsomely designed two-CD set, with a bonus DVD that includes rare live footage of Orbison in concert. The CDs are divided equally between all of the singles and each of their respective B-sides. As is so often the case, the B-sides aren't quite as strong, but that may well be my own skewed perception from listening to "only the hits" all of my life. There's a very good chance that a seasoned listener would find them every bit as interesting and entertaining. As for the art design, in my opinion it is so cool as to render downloading the set pointless, or at least a considerable loss in overall value. A lot of people say that the CD format is a dying breed, and much as I hate to agree, it certainly looks like it. But this Orbison package is definitely worth putting on a shelf instead of your hard drive. Or maybe in addition to it. The disc art on both CDs is a faithful replica of a 45 RPM single with the Monument label. The DVD art looks like a film can. How can it get much cooler than that? The booklet contains detailed information on the personnel on all recordings...me? I had no idea that Floyd Cramer ("Last Date") played on so many of these Monument sessions. And I didn't know that Scotty Moore played guitar for anyone other than Elvis. Pictures of the disc's sleeves, recording dates & locations, all you could want to know about the 45s themselves, right down to the release dates and label numbers.

Rounding out the package is a 25-minute DVD featuring The Monument Concert, which is basically the Monument songs taken from an hour-long performance recorded for a television show in Holland. You could swear, from the audience shots, that it was filmed in a high school gym. Practically everyone there is a young pup and they may as well have been instructed, on pain of swats, to maintain their composure because they are a still lot, well behaved with a "respectful demeanor that would have suited Perry Como or Mantovani. Some tentatively nod their heads to the beat of the music. A couple even shyly mouth the words to the more popular songs. But you can tell they are enjoying themselves (all except for one guy, who stifles a yawn as the camera sweeps by).

Roy doesn't give them any reason to perk up. He stands stock still like a mannequin, with his backing band sequestered in a small corner, crowded on a stage that at least gives them an excuse to stay put.

On its own, the show is phenomenal, life-size stick figures or not. In fact, without gymnastics and stage show ephemera the attention gravitates to his rich, expressive voice. It teases at times, making you think that it won't be able to hit a high note or two, then shows you what it's capable of. Roy plays with the melodic lines without changing the melodies. Instead he uses inflection and a remarkable command and understanding of what he's capable of to add another color, a different shade, a new dimension to the actual sounds of the notes. You may have heard "Dream Baby" a thousand times, but hearing him sing it live is a very new experience, and I understand that this is the case with just about any great performer, but it seems to be more so with Roy Orbison, who could switch between a raver like "What'd I Say" to the mournful "It's Over" with such grace and ease.

The film is grainy and shows it's age. As far as I'm concerned that makes the DVD all the more enjoyable. Aged? Well, here's what I thought as I watched. Yeah, maybe most people are going to dismiss the footage as ancient and arcane. But if I were to extract "Running Scared" from the show, shop it around as a video from a new band, maybe embellishing things a bit by saying how popular they had become on the West or the East coast, or over the pond or whatever...I could sell it and it would fly, "cool" as any other modern ensemble with a gimmick. Of course, it wasn't a gimmick in it's day, but you really didn't have to have one back then. The Monument Concert is a hoot to watch.

All of that makes The Monument Singles Collection (1960-1964) worth owning. It may be the only Roy Orbison album you'll ever need in your collection. and there is a strong chance that your credentials will be reinstated by the music snobs based solely on your purchase of this set. I hesitate to say that the newcomer will be a fan even before the first disc is halfway through. There's even something for the Roy Orbison connoisseur: six previously unreleased bonus tracks that will do just fine as the cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae.

My friend Bobby passed away a couple of years ago. I realized that I didn't know him as well as I thought I did, or hoped I would. To my shame I confess that I didn't know him well enough to talk about his alcoholism as I have done here. I barely knew him at all. How well do we really know anybody, what with the hours spent apart? But I will never forget his enthusiasm for the music of Roy Orbison. And the song that might as well have defined him for me. So maybe it's strange, but I feel like this: I won't remember Bobby every time I hear "Crying"......but I will think of "Crying" when I do.




5.11.2011

Bonus Music Video of the Week: Pere Ubu

Sorting through the YouTube muck I found this little gem of Pere Ubu-ness. I would have made it MVotW but they've already been given that high honor (with "Birdies" from "Urgh! A Music War"). This was so awesome I couldn't just let it sit, so here you are, a second flash of genius to make you smile.

"Breath"
Pere Ubu

Music Video of the Week: Bob Mould

"It's Too Late"
Bob Mould

5.10.2011



My review of the new Cars album (posted a couple of days ago) made it to the front page of vintagerock.com. I wasn't expecting that. Thanks, Shawn!

5.04.2011

Music Video of the Week: The Cars

Inspired by my review below, I have taken the liberty of giving The Cars the dubious honor of this weeks Music Video of the Week. This is one of their less than popular numbers from the criminally under rated "Panorama" record.

"Touch and Go"
The Cars

Okay, now I'm reminiscing about how great "Panorama" actually was. Gotta throw in this bonus:




The Cars: "Move Like This"

This will be appearing on the vintagerock.com website shortly. I'll do a slight bit of tweaking before it goes live, but I decided to go ahead and post this original draft.


The Cars: "Move Like This"

The Cars are a band that seem to be stuck in time. That span of years, for them, was relatively short but certainly helped define the musical atmosphere on the cusp of the late 70s and early 80s. Some people liked to call them a "new wave band". I don't want to go into my reasons (call me a coward or call me lazy) but I never considered them a part of that genre. There was an accessibility to their songs that was purposefully lacking with the new wave groups. Furthermore, the new wave pioneers seemed to understand that they were part of an important movement (which they undoubtedly were). The Cars, on the other hand, gave the impression that they only wanted to make music without pretensions of a future induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Most of the people I knew had never seen a picture of the band, had no idea what they looked like, and for that matter were completely unconcerned with movements within music history. It was nothing but the music, for them. Sure, it was originality, but that's something my "9 to 5 get home drink some beer watch some ball go to sleep" buddies didn't know a lot about, at least not consciously. For them the Cars was just another really, really good band that had somehow found it's way into rotation on the playlist of The KATT (which was once, long ago when rock ruled, the premier innovative FM radio station in Oklahoma). If it was on the KATT it had to be good, and there damned sure wasn't any new wave on the KATT...for some reason Okies never cottoned to that stuff, let alone punk, which was shunned and ostracized like a prodigal son..."hey, Jim, you know what a 'punk' REALLY is? Heh heh heh." The Cars were on the KATT, by God, so they COULDN'T be THAT!

But for all that the fact remained...the music was awfully good. Catchy melodies. Lyrics tailor made for horny adolescent boys and the girls, just as horny in secret, they lusted for. Ric Ocasek's voice was just quirky enough for the class geek to identify with. Ben Orr's singing, the polar opposite of Ric's, gave a much needed balance to the over-all vocal atmosphere. Yin to the other's Yang, and it worked well, breaking up any monotony that might have crept in if they had gone it alone. The beats, the bouncy synth lines, the crisp, quick, spare guitar stabs...it all added up to a fresh sound that made you want to dance...more specifically it made you want to dance with the same exuberance as a wasted punk slam dancing at a Pistols show. Oh, you would never do that. But hey, no reason not to get wild during the chorus of "Let's Go". "'I like the night life, baby, she said"...Oh yeah. There you go. Ain't that what you wanted to hear from the girl who sat across the room in Spanish class? The one that made you squirm, so bad that you had to devise new ways of getting out from behind your desk without being embarrassed. "She's got wonderful eyes"...many were the times you thought you'd caught those eyes, that they'd turned to you and lingered for more than a second. "...and a risque mouth"...ah, but aren't those the best kind? Ric Ocasek has been around, baby, I don't care how goofy he might look in those Roy Orbison shades and the jet set mullet. When he wrote this stuff he knew the score. "I don't want to hold her down, don't want to break her crown, when she says: LET'S GO!!!" There it is! Kicking off one of the most powerful brainworm melodies ever recorded. LET'S DO THIS! This woman sure ain't tellin' me to take her downtown for a bag of chips, get a move on, I'm hungry and in a hurry, so let's go...Nope, Jackson. She's all about getting away and out of the house for the night. She may be hungry, but it ain't for a bag of chips. She is, however, in a hurry. She can't wait to take it all in, to bask in the electricity of the night life until the time comes when she says "Let's go!" again. Only this time she's wanting to go to MY HOUSE. Or, at least somewhere to be alone, God knows my parents would be waiting for me and they would not approve of what we have on our minds. Who knows how many more times she'd say "Let's go" by the time I have to drive her home?

Ah, the scenario I constructed in my mind as the visual accompaniment to "Let's Go". I can't be the only one who sees it like that, but then again you read the lyrics after all these years and it seems a little more tame. Still great visuals for the imagination but somehow not so charged with illicit sexuality. I saw what I wanted to see in the song, and it gave me no reason to take it for anything else. It's kind of like the scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, when Phoebe Cates (oh, did I have a crush on her!) turns towards the camera and removes the top portion of her bikini to the soundtrack of the Cars' "Moving in Stereo". I loved the song long before I saw the movie. I thought it was one of the more eccentric tracks in their ouevre and I liked that kind of diversion (as I had adored "Shoo Be Doo" on Candy-0). But now, forever seared into my memory, that incredible moment of voyeurism will inevitably be what my daydreaming mind will see when I hear those opening bars of "Moving in Stereo". In my opinion such association of visuals with songs in rock music videos is a bad thing and kind of ruins it for me. But in this case I have made an exception.

A Cars reunion was something I never saw coming. Even before bassist Benjamin Orr passed away I had doubts that such a reunion was, or would ever be, in the cards. Oh, but there actually WAS a Cars reunion. MINUS OCASEK AND ORR!!! The two integral figures in the group absent and missing, leaving only guitarist Elliot Easton and keyboardist Greg Hawkes. Not to take away from their input and influence upon the band's sound, but that's like the Stones touring without Mick and Keith. I'll be honest and admit that I have not heard the album, "Door to Door" that was the fruits of that project. To it's credit, AMG did give it 3 & 1/4 stars. Moreover the two had the common sense to name the ensemble the NEW CARS, so maybe I'm just blowing smoke even thinking of them as an actual "reunion".

But now, so many long years since their advent, Ocasek is back with the other guys with an actual Cars reunion. Well, as much a reunion as can be had without a key member, but at least they have an honest excuse. Ric tells Rolling Stone magazine, "This is not a reunion, it's more like a conjunction". Now I don't know what the fuck he means by that, but I'm sure it makes sense in some context or another. It sure looks and sounds like a bona fide reunion. Every band that gets together after many years on hiatus wants to start a few paces away from where they left off, trying to be as relevant to the new audience, the new generation, as they were to their own. Sometimes it works. Most often, in my opinion, it does not.

"Move Like This" is the title of the new Cars reunion album (and I'm ALREADY sick and tired of using the word "reunion"...sad enough, I'm sure I'll have to use it again before this is all over and done). It's a well produced effort, sporting all the digital technology that was still a dream back in the days of "Candy-O" and "Panorama". The bass parts have that gut rattling effect you expect to hear blasting from high-end car stereos dragging the strip daring the cops to pull them over on a Disturbing the Peace complaint. Ric Ocasek's voice has mellowed a bit, and this development serves the quieter moments well. But when the trademark Cars rock sound swings around you find yourself missing that quirky edge he used to have. Don't get me wrong, there's no way anyone even remotely familiar with the Cars will mistake that voice as coming from anyone other that Ric Ocasek. I'm very surprised at myself for liking this album LESS because of the glossy production. The Cars style is preserved, but it would appear that, for me at least, one aspect of their trademark sound was the actual sonics. Like maybe would "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" sound so awesome if it were produced by Will. i. am? Still a great song, but it wouldn't sound right. Would that even fly with today's music lover were it their first introduction to the Beatles? I highly doubt it, but I hope I'm wrong.

The songs themselves have less of an edge to them. Not only musically but lyrically as well. That's to be expected, however, when you consider that the lead songwriter is 62 years old. Time and age does that to a man, makes him a bit more introspective, gives him some wisdom that can't be contained and finds it's way into his creative process.

"Blue Tip" kicks off the collection of 10 tracks, and makes it glaringly obvious that, yes, this is really the Cars you're listening to. No one else. Not even the New Cars. It's one of the most "Cars-esque" tunes here. "Too Late" follows, with an introduction that almost conjures U2. It may not sound like Bono's crew throughout, but to my ears it doesn't sound a whole lot like the Cars, either. "Keep On Knocking", on the other hand, kicks in hard and takes you back to some of the band's heavier songs. They could turn the guitars up a little, if you ask me, and squelch that synth that hovers over the chorus progressively getting louder as if to say, "Hey, we're the Cars!" Yeah! I noticed that! Great song.

4 songs into the record and we come to the inevitable "Drive" sound-alike. It's pretty obvious. So much so that I want to hear it as a reflection on the friendship between Ocasek and Orr, who was the original singer on that song. It may be there, actually. I may just not have been able to invest the time required with the song to catch the deeper, read-between-the-line meanings. On the surface it's actually quite a beautiful love song. "Soon" is a perfect example of what I was talking about earlier, how Ocasek's lyrics have reached such a level of maturity that it very well may be the case that he will never be able to pen a Cars song that displays the essential youthful exuberance of the bands earlier material. Young at heart maybe. "When the starry night has led to dawn the thought of you keeps me dreaming on..." Oh, ain't that a long ways away from "The Dangerous Type"? Not saying that's a bad thing, but...

"Sad Song" is up next and, despite the hangdog title, it kicks in like the twin sister of "Let's Go". It's a strong track on it's own merits. May well have fit in perfectly on Shake It Up, but they would have been accused of copying their own sound from Candy-O if that had happened. But for a reunion it's perfect. "Free", another of the album's highlights, might as well have been an outtake from Heartbeat City. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it would probably even be one of the best songs on that record. "Drag On Forever" sounds like one of those songs where the band wants to move into a different direction, maybe to be more relevant. I'm not impressed, though. It's sluggish. I won't throw in any obvious jokey nonsense about the song living up to it's title, but there you go....

I don't want this review to come off as if I only give the thumbs up to the songs that sound the most like the Cars did in their hey-day. I don't think that's a dishonest way to view them, though, seeing as how this is a reunion album and is marketed, to a lesser or greater extent, to it's old fan base (because face it, how many in the iTunes generation have even heard of the Cars?). Still, I had hoped to be able to listen to "Move Like This" with a more objective point of view, as informed by what I know they're capable of. The last three tracks, "Take Another Look", "It's Only" and "Hits Me", are the ones that sound the least like the good ol' Cars we knew and loved. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely flourishes of the old style here, but the group sounds more like it's looking for a new direction, not resurrecting an old vibe. They are a decent trio. You don't really notice the million dollar production so much. Probably helps more than hinders in these cases.

All in all, a good album worthy of your consideration. Die hard Cars fans are gonna think they've kicked the bucket and wound up in heaven. Casual Cars fans aren't likely to cross the line into the realms of the die hard as a result of hearing Move Like This. But they'll probably enjoy it, even if they only listen to it once. As for myself, somewhere in between those extremes, I'll give the band good marks. Reunion albums don't generally turn out too well in many cases (have you ever listened to Vanilla Fudge's Mystery? You know what I mean). This one does. It rocks when it needs to rock, albeit without the same arrogance and cockiness as the band once did. It flirts with the new wave style,even though it's a subgenre that has practically been forgotten, and they get away with it. They still know how to piece together a beautiful ballad. Who can say what this record would have sounded like with the addition of Ben Orr, to make it a full-fledged reunion? Would it have pushed it over the edge into true classic Cars territory? Unfortunately we'll never know. But Move Like This is a trip down memory lane that takes you just far enough to remember how it used to be while still being able to appreciate the ones taking you there.





4.28.2011

4.24.2011

Keith Green



It's very obvious what, and who this song is about. It's fitting for the occasion. Keith Green wrote it in the late seventies and over the years it has become a fixture in many churches songbooks. It's not the only one of his pieces to have achieved that status, but it may be the first. These days you see it happening a lot, but where most of the "new breed" of "praise-and-worship" songwriters just slap a couple of lines from the Bible onto a pretty melody, Keith was able to conjure the same responses with his own lyrics. That's really saying something, if you ask me.

So we know who the "Easter Song" is about. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to tell you a little bit about Keith Green, not that I knew him personally, but his ministry and music meant an awful lot to me back when I was a just finding my way out of adolescence.

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a phony, plastic, "God-as-a-hobby" Christian. And they're everywhere. You don't have to look very hard or too far to find one. I despise charlatan snake-charming televangelists who twist the words of the Bible into one big advertisement for their ministry, targeting the sincere, if somewhat naive, seeker, hoping for the chance to dig into their pockets for spare change (or life savings). There aren't too many things in the world that bug me more than a person who forfeits their own personality because they think it's not "Christian enough". Then they walk around pretending that they are capable, on their own and by their own power, of loving everyone they meet. You know...the kind that think it's their business to point out the hypocrisy of others without even realizing that hypocrisy, to one extent or the other, is a big part of the human condition.

Keith Green wasn't that kind of "Christian". I'm sure he had his faults, as we all do. I'm not saying he was perfect or even necessarily a "model Christian" for everyone. But he was to me. Between Keith and Brother Larry at the United Methodist Church I thought I had a pretty good handle on the things not of this earth.

Keith was a "no bullshit" evangelist and songwriter, not afraid to speak out against what he saw as the lethargy of what the church had become. He wasn't the kind to "court controversy", but how could he not take flack for lyrics like this: "The world is sleeping in the dark/That the church just can't fight/'cause it's asleep in the light/How can you be so dead/When you've been so well fed?/Jesus rose from the grave, and you?/You can't even get out of bed."

The song, "Asleep In The Light", wasn't meant as a mean spirited condemnation of organized religion. It was a stern admonition, from one of their own, that the job it had been given was not being done to it's potential. Not only that believers had become content to fall into routing and ritual, but that it had discouraged interested people based on irrelevant things like social status and other inconsequential factors, up to and even including race. Maybe none of this rings true at this point in history. But I assure you it was this bad and worse in the days before the "Jesus People" and the charismatics came along, in the late seventies.

Maybe this was part of what drew Bob Dylan to Keith's music. Just after Dylan's conversion to Christianity he knew he wanted to make a gospel record. He'd listened to a lot of them during that time, but the one that he liked the most was Keith Green's first album, "For Him Who Has Ears To Hear". He held it such high esteem that he even wanted his record to sound similar, with the same production and everything. This didn't happen, for better or worse, as "Slow Train Coming" took much more of a blues direction, with deep gospel thrown in the mix. Even so, Dylan spent several days with Keith and his wife, Melody, talking about the project and no doubt reading the Bible a lot. Keith made a point NOT to let it be known that he'd hung out with Bob Dylan. He knew what kind of attention that would garner, most of it for himself and precious little (if any) for the message he wanted to preach.

Now what does that say about the man? Is that not a worthy example of a man whose heart is in the right place and who lives by the maxim "He must increase, I must decrease"? How different from the Paul Crouchs of the world who pay pseudo-celebrities to appear on their television shows so they can drum up what they think of as "credibility". And with that "credibility" comes wealthier "prayer partners" whose bank accounts they hope to raid. How different from the stages at a lot of churches these days with the smoke and lights, the $10,000 sound systems, the musicians with their huge monitors at their feet (God forbid they not be able to hear themselves when they're praising God), spotlights, flashy guitars, rock star poses from the bass man (the old Johnny Thunders/Sid Vicious look), bobbing and dancing to the rhythm of the pulsating "praise" music, switching gears turning on the tears for the "worship" music...and all of it cries out ME ME ME ME ME. Oh sure, they're singing about God and even TO God, but you might as well be at a rock concert. Nothing wrong with rock concerts, mind you. I like 'em as much as the next guy. But concerts are SPECTACLES. Like carnivals or circuses. Is that what church is supposed to be about? To each his own, I ain't judging.

But Keith Green only had a piano and a microphone. Though he used musicians on his records, to my knowledge he never performed live with a band. He never thought of his performances as "church services". For that matter, he never thought of them as "performances" at all. He saw them as nothing more than a chance to spread the gospel. I could be wrong but I don't think he ever played in a church. He did, however, play in some bars.

When his records began to sell well he decided to pack up his belongings and take Melody to Texas, where they set up an organization called Last Days Ministries. They used their money to offer food and shelter the homeless. Melody set up a counseling center for single pregnant women, where they were encouraged to re-consider having abortions. Both Keith and Melody were the most adamant anti-abortionists but very compassionate about it. They weren't afraid to call it as they saw it. No matter what your stance on abortion may be, you have got to give credit to people who are so passionate for their cause, who will not resort to attacks or foolish protests.

They also set aside funds to publish and distribute their ministries monthly periodical "The Last Days Newsletter". Not only was Green a talented songwriter, he was a powerful writer in general, and his articles for the newsletter were well researched, to the point, and most often right on the money. He also used the platform to publish articles by Winkie Pratney, Leonard Ravenhill as well as the old standards like John Wesley and Charles Finney. Some of these articles were so popular that he would print them up as gospel tracts and send them to you, in bulk, for free to distribute.

He did a lot of things for free. Including "selling" records. Long before Radiohead made news by offering their latest record, "In Rainbows", as digital download "for whatever you thought it was worth", Keith Green made his third album available "for whatever you can afford". Down to, and including, NOTHING. And it was a great album, too. Entitled "So You Wanna Go Back To Egypt" it was, in my opinion, his best yet. Perhaps his greatest song, "Grace By Which I'm Saved" is from that one. Needless to say his record label was having none of that. They were, understandably, in the business to make money (which is not the same as TBN or Daystar Network...at least, not IMO...I don't think the CEO of Sparrow records is being flown around in his own private Lear Jet). So Keith made his own record label, Last Days Records (I really don't know what it was he had with all the "Last Days" stuff, because they certainly weren't yer typical End Times alarmists). "So You Wanna..." got good reviews and he was able to release another record using the same "pricing" code. "Songs For The Shepherd"...I was so impressed with this album that I wrote a review for it in my music column at Seminole Jr. College (right along with reviews by the Psychedelic Furs, the Pretenders, Bruce Springsteen. that whole lot). His rendition of "Holy, Holy, Holy" is the most powerful I have ever heard on record. And you just know that he's giving out a LOT of these suckers for free, whether the people recieving them can "afford them" or not. No doubt Keith would have thought of it as a worthwhile investment even if it didn't make a profit. But it did, and so he released another one in similar fashion. "Jesus Commands Us To Go" was his sixth album and the third he was offering as basically free if you didn't want to pay. I wasn't as impressed as I had been with the last few, but I may have just been recoiling from the message, as it had become extremely geared towards all Christians being missionaries to some degree or another. I'm sure he was Biblically correct with his viewpoints, but I just knew I couldn't do missionary work, even on the local level.

On July 28, 1982, Keith was on board a small plane scoping out land on which he could do some expansion on the ministry, which was growing substantially. He was there with two of his children. They had one more and Melody was pregnant with a fourth. I don't know if an actual cause was determined, but the plane went down. There were no survivors.

That's that. And I guess that IS that for all of us, man and woman, young and old. When it's done it's done. Keith Green ain't coming back. He's left a legacy that's helped many people come to grips with what they believe. Look at the guy in this video...can't you just tell that something's happened to him? I mean, that's one of the things that really kept me believing when I was young. People who had very obviously really been changed. Maybe that's why I'm so intolerant of people who work it the opposite way, who try to change themselves. I'm not saying people shouldn't do what they can to be obedient. But I'm looking for authenticity, for genuineness. It's hard to find sometimes and sometimes it's there but I just don't or can't see it. Still, I know it's out there. It has to be.

I hope y'all have a very nice Easter holiday.