Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Chills - Green Eyed Owl (Live)

I had written previously of my experience of being blown away by The Chills live, and feeling like their albums never quite lived up to my memory of that experience. This live track, which was originally the b-side of a 1987 single, gives a fair representation of their live capabilities. This is close to the sound I remember from the band that performed live at CBGBs in 1988, although for all I know the line-up had turned over twice in the year between the release of this single and the show I saw. It would be a shame for something so beautiful to simply be forgotten.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Arthur Lee - Self Titled (1981 Rhino Records)

Arthur Lee, released in 1981 by Rhino Records, is Arthur Lee's second solo album, or possibly his fourth if you count the unreleased Black Beauty (1973) and More Changes (1977), or his eighth if you consider everything after Forever Changes to be solo Lee. Whatever it is, it isn't very good.

It had been seven years since Lee had released his last album, 1974's under-rated Reel To Real, and it would be another eleven years before he would release anything else. Seven of the songs were intended for More Changes, and another five are unique to this album. All of it sounds half-baked.

Lee is featured with various musicians, some of whom had been featured in previous editions of Love (George Suranovich, Sherwood Akuna) as well as some newcomers (Velvert Turner, Joe Blocker, John Sterling). While all involved are decent musicians, the bands sound under-rehearsed, and the tracks under-produced. A little more effort on Lee's part would have gone a long way toward making this a better album.

The most puzzling thing here is the remake of "7 & 7 Is." This is a song that reputedly took the original Love upwards of 60 takes to get right due to Lee's perfectionism, but here it sounds as if it was re-recorded in a single take without rehearsal. It is almost as if Lee's intention is to tarnish his legacy. I don't generally go in for armchair psychoanalysis, but it would be easy to interpret this as an act of self-loathing.

Neverthless, there are some decent songs here. We now know that "I Do Wonder" had been an outtake from the Forever Changes sessions, so it's no surprise that it is the strongest song here. This take from 1977 with John Sterling, George Suranovich and Kim Kesterson, sounds much rougher than the string and horn laden Forever Changes outtake. "Stay Away From Evil" sounds like Lee's warning to himself, which--as he confides in the liner notes--is exactly what it is.

There is also some genuinely awful stuff here as well. The lead off track, "One" is a sad rip off of Bob Marley's "One Love" that takes Marley's simple, heartfelt sentiment and transforms it into something merely simple-minded. Like a lot of people between 1974 and 1981 Lee had clearly discovered reggae music, which can also be heard on "One And One" and his covers of The Bobbettes' "Mr. Lee" and Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers To Cross." When Lee sings he's been "licked, washed up for years,” he sounds like he means it, and it lends a certain poignancy to the song. But rather than make me forget Jimmy Cliff's version, Lee's rendition sent me searching for my copy of The Harder They Come. The reggae influence is a direction that might have been promising if Lee had only applied himself, but the lack of rehearsal/production really hurts this material.

In a nutshell this is Arthur Lee circa 1981, still talented, but extremely lazy and ultimately frustrating. Dave DiMartino's 1981 Creem interview with Lee just before this album was released is essential reading for anyone interested in Lee's career.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Arthur Lee - Vindicator

I want to continue with a re-assessment of each of Arthur Lee/Love's post-Forever Changes albums. Conventional wisdom dictates that after the original Love's breakup Lee's career was characterized by progressively diminishing artistic returns. Sales figures and what remains in print would tend to bear that assessment out. But my re-examination of 1974's Reel To Real suggested to me that such opinions are based at least in part upon misplaced critical expectations. I suspect Lee's fans and critics were wishing so hard for another Forever Changes each time out that they never listened to the new albums on their own terms.

Today I want to take a second look at Arthur Lee's first solo album, Vindicator. This album, released by A&M in 1972, came on the heels of a failed CBS/Columbia deal. It was also the first of Lee's albums not to chart. As Wayne Robins noted in his largely positive November 1972 review of Vindicator for Creem magazine:

"There's an overwhelming obsession with death on Vindicator, with explicit lyrical references in at least half the songs."

Indeed, the specter of death hangs over the album, and not solely because of the sometimes-morbid lyrical content. Early in his career Lee was often accused of mimicking Mick Jagger ("A black man trying to sound like a white man, trying to sound like a black man.") Here he sounds like a black man trying to sound like a dead black man: Jimi Hendrix. So strong is the Hendrix influence on Vindicator that it sounds like the sonic equivalent of necrophilia, and whatever the album's strengths, I have a hard time listening past that.

The cover art is very much worth examining in light of the Hendrix influence. As Robins notes:

"Arthur Lee is very much involved in the Sly-Hendrix equation, which states that black rock 'n' rollers working for the white masses tend to self-destruct. The proof of the pudding here is the cover. Lee, head shaved, carrying broom and janitor's suit, slapping palms with himself, in blonde wig, carrying an electric guitar, looking over his shoulder."

It's clear that Lee is making some kind of statement here about his position as a black man operating in a white man's music world. I suspect he's describing the options he felt were open to him, and the stereotypes society allowed him to occupy. Either present himself as an outrageous "super spade" in the mold of Sly Stone or Hendrix, or fall into the anonymity of menial labor. There is no small irony in the fact that Lee would be earning his living as a house painter within four years of this album's release.

I don't consider this among Lee's stronger post-Forever Changes releases, but it has its moments, especially if you can listen past the huge the Hendrix influence. This is probably Lee's hardest rocking release, and it lacks the subtlety of his better albums. "Love Jumped Through My Window" and "Busted Feet" are two of the better songs, although the Hendrix influence is perhaps strongest on "Busted Feet." It's not a bad album by any means, but it didn't grab me the way Reel To Real did.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Neil Young - Live At Massey Hall 1971

Neil Young has more unfinished or unreleased projects than Brian Wilson and Orson Welles combined, so it is good to see him follow through on his long-promised archival series. His most recent archival release, Live At Massey Hall 1971, is a good one. I recommend splurging on the CD/DVD version if for no other reason than to hear the better sound quality of which DVD is capable (CDs sample music at 44.1 kHz/16-bits, while DVDs can sample at 96kHz/24-bits). Young himself has long complained about the sub-par quality of CD sound.

The Massey Hall concert material was originally considered for release between After The Gold Rush and Harvest, but Young was keen to release Harvest first. It would have been unusual to release a live LP that previewed music from an upcoming studio release, but why the album wasn't released in the wake of Harvest's enormous success is a mystery. My best guess is that Young was eager to alienate the middle-of-the-road audience "Heart Of Gold" brought him, and releasing this album then would have been at cross purposes with that aim. (The cause of alienating his audience was much better served by Time Fades Away, the live album he did release after Harvest.)

The sound of the DVD is amazingly good. Turn off your TV, close your eyes and you will feel like you have been transported to Massey Hall circa 1971 to listen to Neil Young at the peak of his creative powers. I listened to this last night, and by the time I was done I almost felt like I had gotten a contact high from the second-hand marijuana smoke at Massey Hall--that's how realistic this sounds.


Amazon has a video for "The Needle And The Damage Done," and "Old Man" and "Ohio" are available on YouTube.

Sonic Youth - Tribute Contributions

When I posted last week on tribute albums I said that many of Sonic Youth's contributions could be found on their recent compilation CD, Destroyed Room: B-Sides And Rarities. I was wrong about that. So here are a couple of their tribute covers that are worth hearing.

"Electricity" comes from the Beefheart tribute LP. It's a relatively straightforward cover that finds the band sounding rather psychedelic. Thurston Moore isn't capable of the kind of vocal gymnastics Beefheart was known for, but the band does capture much of the menace of the original. Moore sounds more sincere than I would have thought possible on "I Know There's An Answer," which comes from a Brian Wilson tribute LP.

"Computer World" from The Bridge: A Tribute To Neil Young, and Plastic Bertrand's "Ca Plane Pour Moi" from Tannis Root Presents Freedom of Choice, a tribute to "New Wave" music are also worth hearing. Both of those albums are still available, and the compilations benefit worthy causes, so there is no way I am posting tracks from those. Actually, they are two of the most consistently good "tribute" albums available and worth picking up for the other contributions as well. Freedom of Choice is worth it for the gnarly cover alone.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Yoshimi Broadway Bound

The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne announced today that he has teamed up with "West Wing" producer Aaron Sorkin to turn Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots into a Broadway musical. Tony Award-winniner Des McAnuff (who directed The Who's Tommy) will be overseeing the show.

I have to say I never would have predicted this would happen when I first heard the band on Oh My Gawd...The Flaming Lips 20 years ago. In fact, I wouldn't have predicted the Flaming Lips would be still be around 20 years later.

Salt Water Taffy - Loop De Loop

"Loop De Loop" by Salt Water Taffy has almost all the ingredients necessary to be a great bubblegum pop single: Catchy, repetitive chorus? Check. Simple three-chord structure? Check. References to children's nursery rhymes? Check. The only ingredient that is missing is the leering, borderline inappropriate, sexual innuendo disguised through double entendres that made so many of the great bubblegum songs great.

Beyond the "here we go loop de loop" chorus, the band references Little Miss Muffett and the cow jumping over the moon, but one never gets the sense that they're doing anything naughty. They really should have gotten some help from Joey Levine on that. Most nursery rhymes have some sort of psychosexual subtext to them anyway. I mean was Little Miss Muffett really just a little girl who was afraid of arachnids, or did the spider represent something altogether more sinister?

Anyway, the absence of sexual innuendo in this song doesn't seem to bother my four-year old son--he's been dancing around our house singing this recently. It's pretty catchy.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cassettes In My Closet

I have probably constructed a narrative with this blog that tells the story of a person who has always been into "cool" music. There is probably a kernel of truth in that narrative: My high school yearbook lists The Velvet Underground and Love among my "likes," and a Residents concert among my "most memorable experiences." While I regard my one time infatuation with The Residents as a bit embarrassing today, it still suggests that I was the kind of music fan on the lookout for something "different" and outside the mainstream.

If The Residents were the most embarrassing thing I used to like, I could probably collect my trophy as the lord of all things hip and go home. But any such narrative of perpetual coolness could only be constructed by selectively filtering out key facts. There is much more embarrassing music than The Residents lurking in my past: In Junior High School, I owned, listened to, and enjoyed music by the likes of Journey, Foreigner, Asia (I think I even owned their second album, Alpha), Toto, Duran Duran, Hall & Oates, Culture Club, Billy Joel, and even Air Supply.

Now I could argue that this is entirely forgivable considering I was 12-14 years old at that period in time, and by 15 I had completely purged such lame music from my collection. But owning an album by Asia or Journey (even if only on cassettes obtained through the Columbia House Music Club) is not a sin any right-minded hipster could easily forgive. Any person who once owned such music, no matter how long ago, should relinquish any right to be an arbiter of coolness. I hereby relinquish any such right.

What cassettes lurk in your closet?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Telly Savalas "If" Video

This is the most horrifying thing I have ever seen in my life, and I have seen a human being bleed to death.

Love - Reel To Real Again

I don't usually post on the same album twice, but I wanted to follow up briefly on my previous post about Love's 1974 album, Reel To Real. In that post I focused mostly on my own initial negative reaction to the album and how differently I reacted to it upon hearing it again. Some of the questions that this album raises for me are central to what I think I am trying to accomplish with this blog in general: Why do we like certain kinds of music and not others, and why do our preferences change over time? Why do certain albums achieve "classic" status and remain in print for years, while others are discarded and forgotten almost immediately? Is there anything worth recovering in the things we have discarded? How does music affect our memory of the past, and how does our memory of the past affect the way we listen to music? Of course none of these questions have definitive answers, I see them as merely jumping off points for discussion.

In writing my original post I had to consider the possibility that my judgment might be clouded by the fact that I paid a lot of money to obtain the album. I think on the whole I assessed it as honestly as I could, and I stand by that assessment completely. I have been listening to the album regularly for the past couple of weeks. I've enjoyed it, and so have my wife and son. While I do not believe that Reel To Real is a consistently great album like Forever Changes, I do think it is pretty good with some excellent tracks. It is also far, far better than its critical reputation suggests. It sounds like what could have been an exciting, and potentially commercially successful, direction for Arthur Lee. Unfortunately that was not to be; the album tanked commercially and within two years of its release he was earning his living painting houses with his father-in-law. It would be six years before he released another album, and he would never again record for a major label.

So just how bad is Reel To Real's critical reputation? In short, to the extent that it is not forgotten completely, very bad. Colin Larkin, editor of The Encyclopedia of Popular Music lists Reel To Real as one of the 80 or so worst albums of all time, in the company of The Country Side of Pat Boone, Merry Christmas With The Smurfs, Telly Savalas' Telly, a Milli Vanilli remix album, and LaToya Jackson's From Nashville To You. Of course Colin Larkin has as much a right to his opinion as I do to mine, but I would strongly argue that the album does not belong in company like that, and that the negative critical reactions to the album are colored by preconceptions about what a Love album is supposed to sound like and not by the music itself.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Tribute to Tribute Albums

Tribute albums have a long history dating back to at least the start of the LP era. But the tribute album phenomena as we know it today probably got started in the late-eighties. I first became aware of the phenomena with the 1987 release of Beyond The Wildwood: A Tribute To Syd Barrett on Imaginary Records. Imaginary must have been happy with the sales of the Barrett tribute, because they followed it with tributes to Captain Beefheart, The Kinks, The Byrds, The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, The Bonzo Dog Band, The Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix. Other labels big and small released tributes to Neil Young, The Rutles, The Beatles, Richard Thompson, Gram Parsons, Kiss, Brian Wilson, and many, many others.

On the surface tribute albums are a win-win proposition. Ideally, the recordings by newer artists expose younger listeners to classic, possibly under-appreciated, older artists, while the built in audience for the old masters gets exposed to the music of the new generation.

But of course these albums have their flaws, and Beyond The Wildwood and Fast 'N' Bulbous: A Tribute to Captain Beefheart are fairly typical in that regard; they feature a few songs from well-known indie or alternative acts (Sonic Youth, XTC, That Petrol Emotion, Plasticland, Opal, etc.) and a lot of tracks by bands so obscure that even I had never heard of them (The Kings of Luxembourg, The Dog Faced Hermans, SS-40, The Lobster Quadrille, and inevitably The Mock Turtles). On the plus side, some of these unknown-to-me acts like The Paint Set (featuring future members of Velvet Crush) turned out to be quite good, on the minus side, some of them turned out to be The Mock Turtles. But there are deeper flaws with these albums that make them resistant to repeated listening; even the best of the tracks are unlikely to make anyone forget the originals, and it is all but impossible for a single person to enjoy every song on one of these albums.

In any case, I think the tribute album phenomena started innocently enough. But at some point around 1990, the floodgates opened. Suddenly we had tributes to relatively minor talents from the recent past. Our musical past was either being cannibalized before our eyes or cleverly deconstructed (depending on your point of view). Then something went horribly wrong. Indie rockers started recording tributes to each other. Shonen Knife got the double LP tribute treatment. Albums like Fortune Cookie Prize: A Tribute To Beat Happening with Beat Happening covers and original songs like "I Love Calvin" were the sound of a scene collapsing into itself, demonstrating that indie-rock had become too insular and cliquish for its own good.**

A lot of the blame for this obviously lies with Sonic Youth. There was clearly no artist they were unwilling to pay tribute to (I can hear Thurston Moore answering his phone now: "Yes we would love to be a part of your tribute to April Wine!"). In all fairness, Sonic Youth's tracks were frequently the standouts on tribute albums, and their terrific versions of "Computer World," "I Know There's An Answer," and "Electricity" are once again available on their recent rarities CD [Update: I was wrong about that, those tracks are not on that Sonic Youth CD]. But perhaps that was the problem, the few standout tracks by acts like Sonic Youth were the only reason anyone bought these albums in the first place.

I originally planned to write about some imaginary tribute record in order to parody the genre; Heat of the Moment: An Indie-Rock Tribute to Asia on K Records, or The Mocks Get Props: A Hip-Hop Tribute To The Mock Turtles on Tommy Boy, or something along those lines. But the actual existence of albums like In The Chamber: A String Quartet Tribute To Linkin Park and The Piano Tribute To Iron Maiden, ensure that the genre now defies the limits of parody. I find it impossible to imagine the consumer that is driving the market for releases like this, but clearly someone is buying this stuff. And when I see releases like An 80s Metal Tribute To Journey, it is hard to escape the feeling that we have reached the end of the line for rock music as a culturally relevant art form.

Because of the their many flaws, the tribute albums I didn't sell outright have been filed away in the deepest recesses of my record collection for years. But the iPod era--with its playlists and increased ability to control what one wants to hear at all times--seems like the perfect time to take a second look at some of these.

**It was all for a good cause, Fortune Cookie Prize raised over $15,000 for Sacha Bruce Youthworks.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Innocence Mission – What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?

I can say with a great degree of certainty that years ago I never would have predicted that a band who started as a group of friends who met during a catholic high school production of Godspell would go on to make music that stands as some of my favorite in my collection.

But thankfully musical taste doesn't have to be predictable and is probably best if it isn't. I suppose in my younger years I would have found the albums of the Innocence Mission a bit too precious and perhaps even been turned off by the devotional aspects of their songwriting before even hearing it. Which is odd because for a long time I've listened to plenty of spiritually-based music from gospel to country to classical – Bach is a long standing staple at our house – it's just that I don't have much in the way of ... well, Christian rock. So why is this? I suppose it goes back to a single artist in the mid 80s – namely Amy Grant – whose music, packaging and promotion of a Christian message through rock music could never sit right with me. Obviously millions of people would disagree with me and based on her huge and continued success, I could be the one missing something here. So this is again I believe a case where labels probably do more harm than good – at least for me anyway.

But husband-and-wife songwriting team Don and Karen Peris, who along with bassist Mike Bitts make up the current line-up of The Innocence Mission, create distinctive music that could almost be described at times sounding like Astrud Gilberto singing with Simon and Garfunkel. Their music has gone through a transformation over the years since beginning in 1989 and has become more sparse, starting with the stripped down sound of 1999’s Birds of my Neighborhood (which had been sadly out-of-print on RCA but was re-released last year). Now working as a trio, having little to no percussion and a foundation based largely on acoustic instrumentation, their sound became more focused and intimate. And at the same time their songwriting began to explore strongly contrasting themes of melancholy, hope, personal loss and faith. However as great as Birds of My Neighborhood is, and it’s a favorite of mine, I believe they are currently making some of the best music of their careers.

Today marks the release date of their ninth full-length LP We Walked in Song, which is gratefully being released on vinyl, as was Befriended, through Badman Records. Being the vinylphile that I am, my LP copy is on order and hopefully will be arriving shortly. But if the track "Into Brooklyn" which features harmonium and nylon string guitar along with some beautiful lyrical imagery is representative of the album as a whole, it's going to be another quietly understated masterpiece.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Freakwater – "War Pigs"

I won't bother writing how labels like "alt-country," "americana," "roots music" or "rural contemporary" (how's that for a contradiction of terms?) don't really apply to Freakwater's music -- because in the end it really doesn't matter what you choose to call it. As a matter of fact with all these silly terms floating around, I think it would be downright embarrassing to have anything to do with the creation of "y'allternative" or "twang-core," wouldn’t you?

When considering all the crap that's written about music and the efforts made to categorize and label artists, I'm always reminded of the words of Duke Ellington: "There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind."

So true.

A relatively hard to come by b-side of the Freakwater "Your Goddamn Mouth" single from 1991 is a cover of the Black Sabbath and all around heavy metal staple "War Pigs." Interestingly enough I remember hearing that Catherine Irwin had never heard the song before partner Janet Bean brought it in as an addition to their otherwise traditional list of cover songs. Their version seems to achieve a most difficult task -- it does the remarkable feat of erasing images of Ozzy and Iommi jamming in zoom vision, not to mention making their anthem against the Military Industrial Complex something quite delicate and beautiful. And that outro --- just plain spooky.

Also, here’s a Freakwater video of "Drunk friend" that looks like it could have been lost in an old Panoram jukebox, complete with poorly synced sound and an evocation of Lonnie Johnson.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Vinyl Record Playback - In Living Stereo!

Now that you know how vinyl records are made, here is a nice primer on the principles behind stereo playback. Avoid the temptation to laugh at the tone of technological triumphalism that pervades this video, because the RCA "Living Stereo" LPs produced in the late 50s and early 60s still offer some of the best sound available. The film was produced by, Jam Handy, the king of industrial filmmaking.



Here is a little something fun from RCA's famed "Stereo Action" series, which was intended to show off the benefits of stereo reproduction.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

How Vinyl Records Are Made

Unless you work in vinyl mastering/record production, I think you will find these videos educational. I've read dozens of articles explaining the art of vinyl mastering and production, but none of them helped me understand the process as well as watching these short videos.

Part One:

Part Two:


While I may not be one of the "enthusiasts who refuse to buy into the digital revolution" I do believe that vinyl records done right are a "cut above" CDs. For a variety of reasons the LP record is still my favorite music delivery system.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Love - Reel To Real: Lost Classic or Bummer In The Summer?


Reel To Real might be easier to understand if thought of as Arthur Lee's third solo album (after Vindicator and the never-released Black Beauty) rather than as a Love album. Certainly it has little in common with Love's best-known work, Forever Changes, or their final Elektra album, Four Sail. It does share some common ground with the Hendrix-like hard-rock of Vindicator, but rather than psychedelia or hard-rock, Reel To Real is predominantly soul music, harkening back to Arthur Lee's earliest work with The American Four and LAG.

Reel to Real is easily the rarest album released under the Love moniker, selling few copies upon its initial release on RSO in 1974, and never having been released on CD. I first heard this album back when I was in high school and my friend Peter picked it up in the "bargain bin" at the Annapolis Record Exchange. It seemed like a major score . . . until we actually heard it. This wasn't Love! This was more like disco! I think we both concluded that by 1974 Arthur Lee was a sad drug casualty who had completely lost his way musically.

Peter later sold his copy, but after reading about Guy's initial bum reaction to Forever Changes, I found myself getting curious about Reel To Real again. Was it really as bad as I remembered all those years ago, or had I simply approached the album with the wrong set of preconceptions? So when a still-sealed copy popped up on eBay, I bid on it. Then I was outbid, so I bid again. And again. And again.

So the 46 dollar and 33 cent (including shipping) question is: was it worth it? Well, I paid more for it than I should have, but listening to Reel To Real with fresh ears in 2007, I think it is mostly terrific. The easiest way to describe the album is as a cross between the Hendrix-inspired hard-rock Lee aspired to post-Forever Changes and the greasy soul music of Lee's Memphis birthplace.

No matter what you think of the music, it's undeniable that Lee assembled a crack band--in terms of technique, perhaps the best of his career--the band is tight. "Time Is Like A River," "Good Old Fashion Dream," and "Who Are You?" are genuinely funky with soulful vocals by Lee. "Which Witch Is Which" and a cover of William DeVaughn's "Be Thankful For What You Got" sound a bit like Cadet-era Terry Callier, and "Busted Feet" is a compelling amalgam of Hendrix and Memphis Soul.

And while the fact that Lee recycled three songs from previous releases may suggest creative exhaustion, "Everybody's Gotta Live" and "Busted Feet" sound better the second time around. Sure, the album is not perfect; I could have lived without the remake of "Singing Cowboy," and the "We got the power, we're gonna make it right on" sloganeering of "With A Little Energy" sounds overly facile even without considering that it comes from the man who brought the world "A House Is Not A Motel" and "Bummer In The Summer." But the band locks into a solid groove and Lee sells the positive message with a genuinely enthusiastic performance.

So my revised verdict is that Reel To Real is one of Arthur Lee's strongest post-Forever Changes releases. It is a far better album than I remembered. In 2007 Reel To Real sounds more like an artistic re-birth for Arthur Lee than the last gasp of a spent creative force. Had the album met a better fate commercially it might have provided a blueprint for bringing Lee's music to a broader audience during the 1970s. Now if someone could just explain the cover art to me.

It was tough picking which songs to post from the album, in the end I tried to strike a balance between presenting the best quality songs, and representing the overall sound of the album, which is very much unique in Lee's career. If you approach this music without the baggage of this being a Love album, I think you might dig it.

Funky Denim Wonderland: In 1974 Arthur Lee had one of the best bands of his career, but the music never found an audience.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Tommy Keene

There are many enduring mysteries from the 1980s. Why did people like Ronald Reagan? What did he know about Iran Contra and when? Was The Safety Dance a real dance like The Twist or The Mashed Potato or a metaphor for nuclear war? Who let Bruce Willis record an album?

But perhaps the greatest mystery of all is why Tommy Keene--a man who wrote some of the catchiest pop songs imaginable--failed to break through to a mass audience while acts like Mr. Mister were able to rule the charts.

I was lucky to be exposed to Tommy Keene through a local "progressive rock" radio station, WHFS in Annapolis, MD. Tommy Keene was a D.C. area fixture, and WHFS played his music alongside Elvis Costello, Marshall Crenshaw, Nick Lowe, and others.

Back in 1993 Alias Records did the world the favor of compiling some of Keene's pre-Geffen material and some unreleased material on The Real Underground CD. "Nothing Happened Yesterday" was originally released on the excellent Places That Are Gone EP, while the wonderful cover of the Who's "Tattoo" first appeared on the CD. Keene's latest release is a collaboration with Guided By Voices' Bob Pollard.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Nobody Bothers Me Either!


It's funny, this commercial popped into my head the other day for no reason in particular. Then a couple minutes ago I clicked on a link to Whitney Matheson's Pop Candy blog at USA Today, and she has a link to it on YouTube. Apparently it was one of her favorite commercials as child too. I think I really believed that martial arts could make a person nearly invinsible.

This brings back memories of being home sick from school watching Captain 20 run monkey races between the violent, non-educational children's programs I enjoyed so much as a child during the 1970s on WDCA, Channel 20.

The Wishniaks

The Wishniaks were one of the few indie-rock bands to hail from Philadelphia during the late 80s. Back in 1989 I booked them to perform at Dickinson College through WDCV, the student-run radio station. Unfortunately, the show never happened because it was blocked by some rather uptight fellow students who ran an on campus organization known as CAB (Campus Activities Board).

The nominal issue for CAB was that the radio station intended to let "townies" attend the show (although the deeper issue was that they didn't want their stranglehold on campus entertainment challenged). So they complained to the administration that the building we planned to use for the show--a new venue dubbed "The Lumberyard"--had been zoned for use by the College only. I pointed out that by that logic, CAB wouldn't be able to admit the mimes or ventriloquists they hired to perform into the building either, but to no avail. The administrator in charge of student life sided with CAB, and told me the show could only go forward if I agreed to refuse admission to non-college students. I had no intention of refusing admission to anyone on the basis of something so arbitrary, so I cancelled the show. In retrospect, I should have gone directly to the President of the College who would have been much more sympathetic to my argument than the low level key-swinger who ended up having the final say.

It's remarkable that so much fuss could have been made over such a charming, unassuming pop band. The people who objected to the show reminded me of the tyrannical preacher portrayed by John Lithgow in Footloose ("dancing leads to sin!"), except that their idea of good music was the Footloose Soundtrack. I have to admit, I thought these people were idiots at the time, but I imagine they are now fabulously successful, most likely working in the Bush administration inventing specious legal arguments as to why it's okay to torture people. And no, I don't think 18 years is too long to carry a grudge.