Thursday, February 28, 2013

Doug Sahm -- "Catch Me in the Morning" (1974)

Catch me in the morning 
When I'm feelin' better
The gig was really hard on my head last night

For the grande finale of this year's "29 Posts in 28 Days," I'm featuring a song by one of my all-time personal favorites -- Doug Sahm.

Earlier this year, I found out that Sahm had died of a heart attack in a Taos, New Mexico hotel room in 1999, when he was 58 years old.  For some reason, it really bothered me that it had taken almost 12 years for me to become aware of that fact.  

For me, Doug Sahm was the ultimate Texas musician.  Shortly after his death, an Austin newspaper had a story about him titled "State Musician of Texas," and I think that's a very good title for him.

Sahm was a jack of all trades -- his music is a mix of rock 'n' roll, country, blues, R&B, and Mexican conjunto music, and that eclecticism is the essence of Texas popular music.  Texas is a great big melting pot of musical cultures and styles, and Sahm's records epitomized that.

"Little Doug" Sahm
Sahm was never anything but a musician.  He began performing at age six and released his first record when he was 11.  (In fact, he was on stage with Hank Williams, Sr., in Austin, Texas, on December 19, 1952.  That was Williams's last performance -- he died in the back seat of a car on New Year's Eve.)  The story goes that Sahm was offered a chance to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry, but that his mother said no -- she wanted him to finish junior high school.

Doug Sahm was never a big star.  I'm pleased to see that he still has many loyal fans, and I'm glad that he has been honored by (among others) the city of Austin, which named a hill in a city park "Doug Sahm Hill."

Sahm's friends raised money to commission this memorial marker, which they placed on the hill.  (Texas may have more than its share of rednecks, but it has plenty of hippies, too.)

The artist who created the memorial, Kerry Awn, is perhaps best known for the many concert posters he created.  Here's one he did for a Willie Nelson-Doug Sahm show:

Here's another Awn poster for a Sahm show:

Awn also did the cover of the Groover's Paradise album:

One of Sahm's most popular albums, Groover's Paradise was released the year I moved to the Boston area to begin law school.  After four years attending college in Texas, Massachusetts was a shock to my system, but this record helped.

"Catch Me in the Morning" is the last song on Groover's Paradise, which features nine Sahm originals plus the Mexican-American polka, "La Cacahuata."  The musicians who accompany Sahm on the album include Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, who played drums and bass (respectively) for Creedence Clearwater Revival.  

Clifford and Cook comprised perhaps the steadiest and least narcissistic rhythm section in the history of rock music -- they were great, but always seemed to be content to stay very much in the background.

Stu Cook, Doug Clifford, and John Fogerty
of Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Catch Me in the Morning" isn't a complicated song.  The singer -- presumably Sahm himself -- is a musician who isn't at his best after a performance.  He's tired and irritable and he's guilty because he's taking his tiredness and irritability out on his woman, who deserves better.  He knows from long experience there's not much to do in such a situation except to wait.  Catch me in the morning, he says -- hopefully I'll be myself after a little quiet time on my own.  

The music that accompanies the song's verses is country -- the drums are kept in the background, and most of the instrumental load is carried by the piano and steel guitar (shoutout to steel player extraordinaire Gary Potterton).  The chorus goes all rock 'n' roll on us -- the tempo doesn't change, but drummer Doug Clifford pounds out a driving back-beat rhythm and Sahm belts out the chorus at about twice the volume of the verses.

That's it for this year's "29 Songs in 28 Days."  I already have a tentative for next year's version -- and the 2015 "29 Songs in 28 Days" as well.  (I'm not too obsessed with my wildly popular little blog, am I?)

Here's "Catch Me in the Morning":  

Click here to order the song from Amazon:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Arctic Monkeys -- "Fake Tales of San Francisco" (2006)

He talks of San Francisco
He's from Hunter's Bar
I don't quite know the distance
But I'm sure that's far

The Arctic Monkeys are an indie group from Sheffield, a city in northern England that was known for its steel factories until foreign competition resulted in most of those factories closing many years ago.

This song doesn't really have anything to do with San Francisco.  It's about a band that claims to have performed in San Francisco and New York City, but which in reality hasn't strayed very far from Hunter's Bar or Rotherham, which are Sheffield neighborhoods.

Hunter's Bar, named for an old toll-road barrier, is a long way from San Francisco (as is noted in the lines quoted above).  In fact, it's over 5200 miles as the crow flies.  

An English friend of mine told me about the Arctic Monkeys when they burst on the scene in 2006.  The group's first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, became the fastest-selling debut album in UK history when it was released in 2006.

The album's title is a quote from Alan Sillitoe's 1958 "angry young man" novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which was made into a celebrated movie starring Albert Finney in 1960.  Here's the trailer for the movie:

I have the album, but this is the only song on it that I really warmed to.  The song shifts into high gear at the 1:40 mark, and then goes into overdrive about 30 seconds later.  (A very heavy bass line kicks in at that point, and that -- to paraphrase Robert Frost -- makes all the difference.)

I love this verse, which makes it clear that the band that is the subject of the song are not only a bunch of phonies, but crappy musicians as well:

And as the microphone squeaks
A young girl's telephone beeps
Yeah, she's dashing for the exit
She's running to the streets outside
"Oh, you've saved me," she screams down the line
"The band were f*cking wank
And I'm not having a nice time!"

Saved by the bell -- or by a ringtone . . .

Here's "Fake Tales of San Francisco":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Kid Rock -- "Cowboy" (1998)

I'm not straight outta Compton
I'm straight outta the trailer

Kid Rock (who was born Robert James Ritchie in a Detroit suburb in 1971) became a rap music fan at a very tender age.  When he was a teenager, he spent many nights attending hip-hop shows in Detroit.  Often he was the only white kid in the audience.

Detroit has not only generated many great popular musicians (several of whom are featured in this month's "29 Songs in 28 Days"), but also has generated popular musicians who remain loyal to Detroit -- despite the fact that Detroit is probably the most unattractive and uninviting major city in the United States.

White residents began to desert Detroit for the suburbs more than four decades ago, and many black middle-class residents have followed them.  Today, Detroit has more than 30,000 abandoned houses, but doesn't have the money to tear them down.  

Nor does the city have the resources to hire enough police to effectively patrol the worst neighborhoods.  One policeman told a local TV station that when he joined the Detroit police department 13 years ago, he was responsible for patrolling a 3.6-square-mile area, and bumped into another officer every 20 minutes. Now he covers 22 square miles and crosses paths with other officers about every two hours.

Body found frozen in ice in
abandoned Detroit warehouse
As a result, the abandoned and neglected neighborhoods in Detroit have become dumping grounds for dead bodies. Criminals don't need to drive miles out into the country to dispose of murdered bodies -- there are plenty of deserted blocks in central Detroit where it's safe to dump corpses.

Click here to read a Detroit News story about the dead body in the above photo.

Kid Rock can afford to live anywhere he wants.  But he maintains two residences in the Detroit area -- one in an outer suburb and one near downtown.  He is hugely popular in Detroit.  (He also has a house in Malibu and a house on the east coast of Florida.)

Kid Rock's first three albums were only mildly successful.  But his 1998 album, Devil Without a Cause, was a huge success.

Devil Without a Cause is often described as "rap rock" or "rap metal" music.  Perhaps the original rap rock/rap metal record was the 1986 remake of "Walk This Way" by Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C.  Other bands that are often classified as rap rock/rap metal artists include Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, P.O.D., Cypress Hill, and Insane Clown Posse.

I remember when the first track from Devil Without a Cause -- "Bawitdaba" -- was released as a single.  It was a real attention-getter.  I had never heard anything like it, and neither had you.  

The chorus absolutely demanded that you sing along -- assuming you could figure out what the hell he was saying:

Da bang da bang 
Diggy diggy diggy 
Said the boogie
Said up jump the boogie

"Cowboy," the next single from Devil Without a Cause, was a slightly more traditional-sounding song.  The protagonist of "Cowboy" declares his intention to move to Los Angeles and become a successful pimp, which will provide him with plenty of money and sufficient free time to pursue his hobbies -- especially drinking and checking out women.

"Cowboy" gives a shout-out to Heidi Fleiss, the infamous "Hollywood Madam," who claims she made a million bucks in her first four months as a 24-year-old madam to the stars.  Fleiss's pandering conviction was overturned on appeal due to jury misconduct, but she served 20 months in a federal prison for tax evasion.

Heidi Fleiss and friend
Fleiss later moved to Pahrump, Nevada, where she once planned to open a legal brothel but settled for owning a laundromat (the aptly-named "Dirty Laundry").  She kept as many as 25 parrots in her Pahrump house.  

Fleiss was one of the substance abusers filmed for Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.  Based on brain scans, Dr. Drew Pinsky concluded that Fleiss had significant frontal lobe dysfunction that explained her affinity for birds instead of people.

The lyrics quoted at the beginning of this post reference the groundbreaking N.W.A. album, Straight Outta Compton, which was the first true gangsta rap album.  Of course, Kid Rock -- a white guy from Detroit -- doesn't come straight outta Compton, a city in southern Los Angeles County that has more than its share of gang violence.  Kid Rock comes straight outta the trailer park.

According to a story about him in the November 19, 2012 New Yorker, Kid Rock "recently invested in a luxury trailer in southern Alabama."  I guess you can take the boy outta the trailer park, but you can't take the trailer park outta the boy.

Mr. and Mrs. (briefly) Kid Rock
You may not be a fan of his music, and you may not approve of his behavior (which includes drinking to excess, a brief marriage to Pamela Anderson, an appearance in a sex tape, and several arrests for assault and battery  -- one of those arrests followed a 2007 brawl at a Waffle House, which is sooooo perfect).  

But you have to admit that Kid Rock was listening when Polonius said "to thine own self be true."  He is perhaps the least affected of all rock stars.  From what I've read, he doesn't have a phony bone in his body -- and you can't say that about too many other recording artists who have been as successful as he has. 

Here's the music video for "Cowboy," which features cameos by the late Gary Coleman (star of Diff'rent Strokes) and porn star Ron Jeremy:

Click here to buy Devil Without a Cause from Amazon:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart -- "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight" (1968)

But I tell myself I didn't lose her
Cause you can't lose a friend you never had

There's a lot I don't get about the way teenagers are today.  But there was a lot I didn't get about the way teenagers were when I was a teenager.

What the hell is going on in this song?  It begins with the singer (a male) telling a girl that he doesn't love her -- that he just wants to be her friend:

If I had told her that I loved her
She would have stayed 'til who knows when
But I guess she couldn't understand it
When I said I want to be your friend

It seems that the girl reacted to his statement by going out with another guy -- motivated (at least in the boy's mind) primarily by a desire for revenge.  In the singer's mind, this constitutes a betrayal, and they aren't friends any more:

I tell myself I didn't lose her
'Cause you can't lose a friend you never had
'Cause a friend won't say it's over
And go out just for spite
And now I wonder what she's doing tonight

But he was the one who said it was over -- not her.  And why would he give a rat's ass what she's doing tonight anyway?  After all, he doesn't love her -- he just wants to be friends. 

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart
I don't get it.  (Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.)

This assumes that there is something to get, of course -- a risky assumption when it comes to pop lyrics.  

I could give you example after example of perfect pop songs that have trite and simplistic lyrics, or have lyrics that make no sense at all.  And you know something?  It doesn't matter!  They are still perfect pop songs!

The 300 or so songs that Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart wrote together sold more than 42 million records.  The partnership wrote songs for Chubby Checker, Jay and the Americans ("Come a Little Bit Closer"), and Paul Revere and the Raiders.  They also wrote the theme songs for Dick Clark's "Where the Action Is" variety show (which was a hit for Freddy Cannon) and the long-running soap opera, Days of Our Lives.  

But Boyce and Hart are best known for the songs they wrote for the Monkees -- 22 altogether, including "Last Train to Clarksville," "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" (originally recorded by Paul Revere and the Raiders), "Valleri," and the theme song from the Monkees' TV series.  ("Hey, hey, we're the Monkees!")

(A little-known fact about "Last Train to Clarksville": when I was one of the three student managers for my junior high school's undefeated 9th-grade basketball team, one of my fellow student managers and I persuaded the third manager that we had written "Last Train to Clarksville," which was a #1 hit single at the time.)

But Boyce and Hart saved their very best song for themselves.  "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight" (which appeared on the album I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite) was a top ten hit for the duo in 1968.  If there was any justice in this world, it would have reached #1 -- it's that good a song.

I think the best moment in any sixties pop song ever recorded is when Bobby says "Come on, now!" after Tommy sings the lines quoted above.  That feels like an ad lib -- like Bobby is so caught up in the musical moment that he just can't control his excitement.  But that apparent ad lib was probably carefully planned and executed.

I just read a wonderful history of pop music in Los Angeles titled Waiting for the Sun, by British author Barney Hoskyns.  Hoskyns believes the difference between the music "scenes" in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the sixties is obvious:  San Francisco had a rock sensibility and Los Angeles had a pop sensibility.

The NoCal types thought the SoCal types were phony and plastic -- the Monkees (a/k/a/ the "Pre-Fab Four") were the symbol of all that was wrong with the Los Angeles scene.  But the SoCal types expressed their distaste with NoCal's holier-than-thou self-righteous attitude and hippie "style" (or the lack thereof).

Surprisingly, most of the real crazies of the era defended Los Angeles.  Frank Zappa observed that everyone in San Francisco dressed the same way -- in Los Angeles, the freaks were much freakier.  Andy Warhol and his posse also preferred the isolated degenerates of Los Angeles to the hippie communitarians of San Francisco: "If you didn't smile a lot in San Francisco," said Paul Morrissey, the Warhol collaborator who discovered the Velvet Underground, "they got very hostile."

Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop
The famous Monterey Pop Festival, which took place in June 1967, brought some quintessential Los Angeles and San Francisco groups together.  From SoCal, you had the Mamas and Papas, the Byrds, Johnny Rivers, the Association, and Lou Rawls.  (Lou Rawls?)  From NoCal, you had the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin), and Moby Grape, among others. 

The Monkees were not invited to play at Monterey Pop, although Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork both attended.  (Tork actually introduced the Buffalo Springfield.)  The Monkees took a sharp turn musically after Monterey Pop -- their next album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd., featured a Moog synthesizer, which was introduced to the pop music industry at Monterey Pop.  

(In case you're curious, Mickey Dolenz was a Pisces, Peter Tork was an Aquarius, and Michael Nesmith was a Capricorn.  Davy Jones was also a Capricorn.  In fact, both he and Nesmith were born on December 30.  By the way, did you know that if there are 23 people in a room, it's more likely than not that two of them will have the same birthday?  Of course, there aren't 23 people in the Monkees.)

Guess who opened for the Monkees on their U.S. tour that kicked off in Jacksonville, Florida, on July 8 -- less than three weeks after the Monterey Pop Festival?

None other than the star of Monterey Pop, Jimi Hendrix.  That's right, boys and girls -- Jimi Hendrix touring with the Monkees.  Imagine that!

The odd coupling actually made sense for both parties.  Hendrix had become something of a star in the UK by this time, but was largely unheard of in the U.S.  His management wanted to cash in on the notoriety he gained by setting his guitar on fire while performing "Wild Thing" at Monterey Pop -- and who was going to draw bigger audiences in the summer of 1967 than the Monkees?

The Monkees wanted to prove to the world that they deserved to be taken seriously as musicians, and there was probably no other opening act they could have chosen who had more critical credibility than the cutting-edge Hendrix.

Hendrix appeared with the Monkees seven times in nine days -- he made way for other opening acts after he and the Monkees did three shows at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium on July 14, 15, and 16, 1967. 

Boyce and Hart released three albums.  (The third one was released in Canada under the name Which One's Boyce and Which One's Hart?)  They had a couple of other Top 40 hits, and appeared on episodes of Bewitched, The Flying Nun, and I Dream of Jeannie:

(Yes, boys and girls, that's legendary record producer Phil Spector playing himself in that clip.)

In the mid-seventies, Boyce and Hart teamed up with Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones and went on the road to perform Monkees songs as Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart.  (Catchy, no?)

Hart was nominated for an Oscar in 1983 for the song "Over You," which was featured on the soundtrack of the Robert Duvall movie, Tender Mercies.  

After living in the UK for a few years, Boyce returned to the U.S., where he suffered from depression and had a brain aneurysm.  He committed suicide in 1994, when he was 55 years old.   

Here's Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart lip-synching (badly -- really badly) "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight" on an episode of The Hollywood Palace variety show.  Their host is Herb Alpert (of Tijuana Brass fame). 

Click here to order the song from Amazon:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Talking Heads -- "The Good Life" (1978)

A straight line exists
Between me and the good things
I have found the line
And its direction is known to me

Zadie Smith is a young mixed-race London writer -- her mother was Jamaican, her father British -- who has written four novels that have been praised by critics. 

In a recent essay in the New Yorker, Smith writes about how she once found her friends' admiration of Joni Mitchell's music incomprehensible, but now loves Mitchell -- especially her famous 1971 album, Blue:

How is it possible to hate something so completely and then suddenly love it so unreasonably?  How does such a change occur?

Zadie Smith
Smith's New Yorker piece is about a lot more than Joni Mitchell's music.  She makes Kierkegaard's  discussion of the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac (which is in his book, Fear and Trembling) sound so intriguing that I actually want to get the book and read it, and that is something that I never thought I would say about anything Kierkegaard wrote.

Smith also touches upon De Brevitate Vitae ("On the Shortness of Life"), an essay by the Roman philosopher Seneca, which takes the form of a letter of advice to a friend of his.  

Seneca's friend has complained that life is too short, and Seneca sets him straight.  "It is not that we have a short time to live," he says, "but that we waste a lot of it."  (Were truer words ever spoken?)

Seneca tells his friend to spend less time socializing, drinking, whoring, and seeking wordily advancement, and more time studying the works of the great philosophers and thinkers.  We can't choose our parents, Seneca observes, but "we can choose whose children we would like to be."

Smith agrees with Seneca's basic premise, but admits she has applied it "haphazardly" in her own life.  Because Smith's "ruling passion" is reading fiction, she has chosen to be a child of the novel.  But she has neglected other intellectual pursuits -- like sculpture:

I should be loving sculpture!  But I have not gone deeply into sculpture.  Instead, having been utterly insensitive to sculpture, I fill the time that might have been usefully devoted to sculpture with things like drinking and staring into space.

Smith wishes she knew more about sculpture.  But her greatest regret is that she hasn't spent more time listening to music.  "Nowhere do I have this sensation of loss as acutely as with music," she writes.

Recently, Zadie Smith found herself in a Vancouver record store:

I wandered through that shop, as I always do in record shops, depressed by my ignorance and drawn toward the familiar. . . . I was preparing to leave when I spotted an album with a wonderful title: More Songs About Buildings and Food.  You will probably already know who it was by -- I didn't.

More Songs About Buildings and Food
It came as a surprise to me that someone as smart and sophisticated as Zadie Smith didn't know More Songs About Buildings and Food, the 1978 album by the Talking Heads.

But Smith is only 37 years old.  She was not quite three with that album was released.  So I shouldn't have been surprised after all.

 "Once in a Lifetime," from the 1981 Remain in Light album, may be the signature song of the Talking Heads (who are a quintessential New York City band -- their music is smart, eclectic, and above all weird).  The singer of that song is a man who can't imagine how he came to be where he is: 

And you may find yourself 
In another part of the world 
And you may find yourself 
Behind the wheel of a large automobile 
And you may find yourself 
In a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife 
And you may ask yourself, 
"Well . . . how did I get here?" 

Smith's essay turns that question on its head.  She knows very well how she got where she is today.  What she wonders about is the road not taken.

As I stopped to admire [the album], I was gripped by melancholy, similar perhaps to the feeling a certain kind of man gets while sitting with his wife on a train platform as a beautiful girl -- different in all aspects from his wife -- walks by.  [He thinks to himself,] There goes my other life.  

(I take the subway to my job in downtown Washington, DC, almost every day, and every day I find myself looking at one or two or three of the women riding in my car and thinking to myself, "There goes my other life.")

I don't think it's quite accurate to say that Smith wonders about how her life would have been different if she had known the music of the Talking Heads.  What she really wonders about is what it would have been like to be the kind of person who would have been a Talking Heads fan -- some one who was, say, 26 years old when the album came out (like me).  Someone who was white and an American, like the Talking Heads themselves and most of their fans are (like me).  Someone who had the kind of intellect and sensibility and personality that responded to the music of the Talking Heads music (like me).

In other words, what Smith is really wondering about is what it would be like to be . . . me.

Joni Mitchell's Blue album
J. Alfred Prufrock wondered if he dared to eat a peach, or part his hair differently.  Zadie Smith wonders if it's too late to follow Seneca's advice and choose to become a child of David Byrne as she has chosen to become a child of Joni Mitchell and certain other musicians:

Is it too late to get into the Talking Heads?  Do I have the time?  What kind of person would I be if I knew this album at all, or well?  If I'd been shaped not by Al Green and Stevie Wonder but by David Byrne . . . What if I'd been the type of person who had somehow found the time to love and know everything about Al Green, Stevie Wonder, David Byrne . . . ?  What a delight it would be to have so many 'parents'!  How long and fruitful life would seem! 

Steppenwolf has this advice for Smith in the song, "It's Never Too Late":

Tell me who's to say after all is done
And you're finally gone, you won't be back again
You can find a way to change today
You don't have to wait 'til then

Steppenwolf was right.  Of course it's not too late for Smith to get into the Talking Heads.  Of course she has the time.  She's only 37 years old, for cryin' out loud.  (Dum spiro, spero -- right?)

Here's my advice, Zadie.  Fire up your computer, navigate to your local public library's website, and reserve every Talking Heads album you can find.  (Pronto!)

David Byrnes and his famous "big suit"
To the extent that there is such a thing, "The Good Thing" is a typical David Byrne composition -- quirky, twitchy, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  The lyrics sound like something you might hear out of the mouth of a speaker at a self-improvement seminar.  "Cut back the weakness, reinforce what is strong," Byrne says.  "Skill overcomes difficult situations."

From the final verse of "The Good Thing":

As the heart finds the good thing, 
The feeling is multiplied
Add the will to the strength and it equals conviction
As we economize, efficiency is multiplied
To the extent I am determined
The result is the good thing

Sounds good to me!

Here's "The Good Thing":

You can use this link to buy the song from Amazon:

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Loretta Lynn (ft. Jack White) -- "Portland, Oregon" (2004)

Well, sloe gin fizz works mighty fast 
When you drink it by the pitcher 
And not by the glass

Portland, Oregon is not one of the American cities whose music is being featured in this year's "29 Songs in 28 Days."  Nashville is, of course, and "Portland, Oregon" is a Nashville song despite the title.

Portland has produced some interesting music.  The Kingsmen ("Louie Louie") were originally from Portland, and the city had more than its share of hardcore punk bands in the early 1980s -- most notably the Wipers, who were a favorite of Kurt Cobain.  (Courtney Love grew up in Portland, and Cobain met her at a Portland punk club.)

Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love
In recent years, Portland has had more than its share of highly-regarded indie bands, including the Dandy Warhols, the Decemberists, and the late Elliott Smith.

But I don't think many people would rank Portland in the top seven when it comes to popular-music cities.

Portland is also not one of the first seven cities that would come to mind if I were writing a song about a couple of barflies boozing it up to the point of unconsciousness.  I'm sure it has its share of scuzzy bars, but the prevalent image of Portland is a hipster place inhabited by young, well-educated, healthy, politically-correct locavores:

"Portland, Oregon" is from Loretta Lynn's 2004 album, Van Lear Rose, which was produced by (of all people) Jack White of the White Stripes.  (Van Lear was the mining community in Kentucky where Loretta grew up.)  The critics absolutely loved the album -- both Loretta's singing and White's production got rave reviews.

Loretta Lynn was 72 when this album was released, while Jack White was 28.  This is the only song on the album they both sing on, and it's a winner -- the best song on Van Lear Rose, hands down.

Sloe gin fizzes (made from club soda, sugar, lemon juice, sloe gin -- which is plum-flavored -- and egg white) would work might fast indeed if you consumed it by the pitcher (not the glass).  For me, I'm guessing it would stay in my stomach just long enough to anesthetize my brain, and then I would start upchucking violently.

Here's "Portland, Oregon":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mott the Hoople -- "All the Way from Memphis" (1973)

Well it's a mighty long way 
Down rock 'n' roll 
From the Liverpool docks 
To the Hollywood Bowl 
And you climb up the mountains 
And you fall down the holes -- 
All the way from Memphis!

Mott the Hoople doesn't really have anything to do with Memphis, but they were a great band and this is a great song with  a great piano part -- so what the hell.

Record producer Guy Stevens gave the band its name, which is the title of a 1966 novel about a sleazy guy who works in a carnival.  Stevens had read the novel when he was in prison.  (Stevens, who produced the Clash's London Calling album, named the band Procol Harum after a friend's cat.)

Mott's most famous song is "All the Young Dudes," which David Bowie wrote for them when he heard they were about to split up.  (Bowie was a big fan of the group.)

"All the Way from Memphis" tells the story of a rock guitarist whose instrument is mistakenly shipped to Oriole, Kentucky.  By the time he catches up with it a month later, it's just junk.  The song was inspired by an airline's losing a guitar belonging to lead guitarist Mick Ralphs when Mott was touring the U.S.  

If there's a message here, it's that life on the road can be a drag for rock 'n' rollers.  (The same is true for authors of wildly popular blogs, boys and girls.)

"All the Way from Memphis" is featured in the opening scene of Martin Scorsese's 1974 movie, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, a chick flick which is nothing like Scorsese's previous movie (Mean Streets) or his next movie (Taxi Driver).

Here's the opening scene from Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, with Ellen Burstyn (who won the "Best Actress" Oscar for her performance) trying to keep the peace between her bully of a husband and her teenage son, who insists on playing Mott the Hoople at maximum volume while dear ol' dad is trying to read the newspaper:

Alice had a remarkable cast.  In addition to Burstyn, it featured Diane Ladd (who was nominated for the "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar), Kris Kristofferson, Harvey Keitel, and Jodie Foster (who was 12 going on 21 when the movie was filmed).  Vic Tayback reprised his movie role as a diner owner who hires Alice as a waitress in the CBS sitcom based on the movie than aired from 1976 to 1985.

Here's "All the Way From Memphis":

Click here to buy this song from Amazon:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Butthole Surfers -- "Strawberry" (1993)

Sunday, Monday 
Got to settle down
Got to get my 
Feet back on the ground

The Butthole Surfers are a somewhat disturbing band founded by Gibby Haynes and Paul Leary (originally Paul Leary Walthall), who met when they were students at Trinity University in San Antonio in the 1970's.  

Haynes grew up in Dallas.  His father, Jerry Haynes, was the host of a long-running local television show for kids called Mr. Peppermint, and broke the story of the Kennedy assassination on local TV.  (He and his program director had been watching the Kennedy motorcade pass by.)

Gibby was the captain of the men's basketball team at Trinity and the president of his fraternity, and he was named "Accounting Student of the Year."  Here's what the Trinity 1980-81 basketball media guide had to say about him:

Haynes went to work for a large international accounting and auditing firm, Peat Marwick (now KPMG), after graduating.  He left Peat Marwick after a year to form the Butthole Surfers.

Folks, I wish I knew how Gibby Haynes, corporate accountant/auditor, became Gibby Haynes, Butthole Surfers frontman and perpetrator of various onstage outrages, including the following:

Known for taking the stage at early concerts with hundreds of clothespins attached to his hair and clothes, Haynes would often strip throughout a show until he was down to his underwear, or less, by the end.  Other attire included flasher-style trench coats over his nakedness, ridiculously home-styled wigs and cross-dressing; often enjoying a skirt made of an American flag and a large '60s torpedo-style stuffed bra.  At other times he would hide condoms full of stage blood in his clothes and repeatedly fall to the floor, appearing to bleed profusely.  

Gibby Haynes then
Some of Haynes' other favorite tricks involved throwing handfuls of photocopied cockroach images into the crowd, rolls and rolls of toilet paper tossed across the audience, as well as filling an inverted cymbal with lighter fluid, setting it (and sometimes his hand) on fire, and repeatedly hitting it with a mallet.  As previously mentioned he would sing through most anything that would alter his voice, including toilet paper rolls and megaphones . . . . [T]he whole band would often tear apart stuffed animals while on stage.

Gibby Haynes now
My sister Terri also went to Trinity -- she was in the same class as Haynes, and also played basketball.  She is still Trinity's career basketball scoring leader and became the first female non-tennis player to be inducted into the Trinity athletic hall of fame several years ago.

Here's her entry from the 1980-81 Trinity media guide:

If you'd like to see Haynes in action, here's a video of an interview he did while the Butthole Surfers were touring the UK in 1988:

The band's CDs include Locust Abortion TechnicianElectriclarryland, and Hairway to Steven.  (Think about it.)  "Strawberry" is from 1993's Independent Worm Saloon, which I purchased used shortly after it was released. 

If you think of country-western (especially "outlaw" country-western) and mariachi bands when you think of Texas music, you'd better think again.  Groups like the 13th Floor Elevators and Butthole Surfers were as experimental and weird as anything that ever came out of Haight-Ashbury or lower Manhattan.

Here's "Strawberry."  (If you have any idea what language is being spoken in the last 30 seconds or so of the song, please let me know.)

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sleepers -- "No Time" (1978)

Though I know that the world is dying
I bet you'd run away from me
Just like a chick with a problem

The epigraph of Jennifer Egan's 2010 novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, quotes Marcel Proust on how certain places have the power to elicit memories:

Poets claim that we recapture for a moment the self that we were long ago when we enter some house or garden in which we used to live in our youth.  

For Egan -- and for me -- music is one way to bring back to life "the self that we were long ago."  Is there anything that can call up old memories more vividly than an old song?

Author Jennifer Egan
One critic has called A Visit From the Goon Squad -- which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction -- a "rock and roll novel," noting that popular music is both "subject matter and key inspiration" for Egan.  The novel's main characters include fictional musicians and record producers and music fans, and the book drops the names of dozens of bands and records.  It depicts not only scenes from rock music's past, but imagines its future.

Egan was born in Chicago in 1962, but was raised in San Francisco.  She regrets being born too late to have really experienced the sixties:

I grew up in the 1970s, and my friends and I felt very keenly that we had missed the sixties. We were bummed out about it. I grew up feeling like I wanted to grow up ten years earlier . . .

While Egan was too young for the "Summer of Love," Monterey Pop, Altamont, and the glory days of the Fillmore, she was the perfect age to experience the glory days of the San Francisco punk scene circa 1979, which is the setting for chapter 3 of A Visit From the Goon Squad.

The narrator of that chapter  is Rhea, one of a group of high-school girls in "dog collars and safety pins and shredded T-shirts" who hang out with the Flaming Dildos, a punk band whose members (all male, of course) are students at the same school. 

Rhea is "waiting for" Bennie, the band's bass player.  (I take it that "waiting for" means something between having a basic crush and full-fledged love.) 

But Bennie is waiting for Alice (a rich girl who used to go to a fancy private school).

Alice is waiting for Scotty (the band's charismatic singer and guitarist).

Scotty is waiting for Jocelyn (a beautiful half-Chinese girl).

Jocelyn is waiting for Lou (a famous forty-something record producer from Los Angeles who is married and has several kids and who picked her up when she was hitchhiking).  

Unfortunately, no one is waiting for Rhea, who blames that on her freckles.

I don't know how much of herself Egan put in Rhea, but it appears from the picture of Egan as a teenager that she did have some freckles:

Jennifer Egan as a teenager
The group dreams of the day when the Flaming Dildos will be invited to perform at the Mabuhay Gardens, where the crème de la crème of San Francisco's punk bands play.  Until their big break comes along, the group goes to "the Mab" every Saturday night.

We've heard Crime, the Avengers, the Germs, and a trillion other bands. . . . During the shows we slam-dance in front of the stage.  We tussle and push and get knocked down and pulled back up until our sweat is mixed up with real punks' sweat and our skin has touched their skin.
Despite her dog collar and green hair rinse, Rhea doesn't consider herself a real punk.  When I asked Jennifer Egan about her experiences in San Francisco in those days -- like Rhea, she was in high school there in 1979 -- she admitted that she was just a wannabe punk as well.  "The closest I came to being a punk was putting on raccoon eye makeup a few times," she said.

She came closer than I did.  I lived in San Francisco from 1980 until 1982, and I never made it to the Mabuhay Gardens or any other venue where punk bands performed live.

Poster for a Sleepers appearance
at the Mabuhay Gardens
The closest I got was listening to a weekly punk radio show on the local Pacifica station.  The show, which was called "MaximumRockNRoll," was hosted by Tim Yohannon and Jeff Bale, who later started the punk fanzine of the same name, which continues to be published today.  Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys was a regular on the show.  I have about 50 hours of cassette tapes of that show, which I plan to get around to cataloging any day now.  (I've been kinda busy the last 30 years.)

Egan mentions a number of punk bands in chapter 3 of A Visit From the Goon Squad: the Avengers, the Cramps, Crime, the Dead Kennedys, Eye Protection, Flipper, the Germs, the Mutants, and the Sleepers.  Most were from the San Francisco area.

The Sleepers 1978 EP, Seventh World
Egan told me that her favorite San Francisco punk group was the Sleepers, which was one of the more distinctive bands of that era. 

The two friends who formed the Sleepers in 1978 wanted former Crime drummer Ricky Williams (he was known as "Ricky Tractor" until he was kicked out of Crime) to do vocals for their new band "because he was so awesome looking."  Here he is:

Ricky Williams (later of Flipper)
Williams couldn't be bothered to write out song lyrics, preferring to improvise the words on the fly.  Add a lot of speed and acid to the psychedelic influence of a Bay Area upbringing and you end up with music that "broke free from the punk template," according to one critic.
When the Sleepers broke up the next year, Williams help found Flipper, which was the most influential of all the San Francisco punk bands of the era.  (Williams came up with that name after going to a beach while he was high and finding the remains of a dolphin that had been mangled by a shark.)  But he was reportedly too weird for his bandmates to tolerate, and was kicked out of Flipper before they released any records.  (He died of a heroin overdose in 1992 when he was 36 years old.)

Henry Rollins of Black Flag described Flipper in these words: "They were just heavy.  Heavier than you.  Heavier than anything."  I couldn't have said it better myself.  (Actually, I probably could have said it better.  So could have you.)

Flipper's first album was titled Generic Flipper.  Here's the cover, which is certainly generic:

Classic California punk is usually pretty disaffected stuff, and the lyrics to "Shed No Tears" are about as disaffected as you can get.  Here's a sample:

Shed no tears for the suicide
He has made his choice
The pain of life is great
And some will find it sweet 
To rot beneath the earth

Not disaffected enough for you?  Then how about this verse?

Shed no tears for the nun beaten
By the children she once called her flock
How they hate their teachers
Who force the darkness upon us

Here's "Shed No Tears":

In Goon Squad, the Flaming Dildos eventually get their Mabuhay Gardens gig, opening for the Cramps and the Mutants.  Lou, the famous record producer who had picked up Jocelyn, drives up from L.A. and goes to the gig with Rhea and her -- he says he'll give the band a record contract if he likes them.  The group closes its set with its best song, "What the F*ck?"

You said you were a fairy princess
You said you were a shooting star
You said we'd go to Bora Bora
Now look at where the f*ck we are
What the f*ck?
What the f*ck?
What the f*ck?

Afterwards, the band members and the girls go to Lou's San Francisco apartment, which has walls covered with electric guitars and gold albums.  Lou shows Bennie (the band's bass player) his recording studio, explaining the function of each piece of equipment.  Bennie eventually becomes a successful record producer himself.  

Bennie and Scotty -- the band's frontman -- have a brief encounter in New York City many years later, when both men are in their thirties.  "I want to know what happened between A and B," Scotty says, and then elaborates: "A is when we were both in the band . . . . B is now." 

Scotty has abandoned music and is eking out a living as a sanitation worker.  Bennie is the very successful owner of Sow's Ear Records.  It's hard to imagine two lives that contrast more sharply, but Scotty understands something that most people haven't grasped:

[T]here was only an infinitesimal difference, a difference so small that it barely existed except as a figment of the human imagination, between working in a tall green glass building on Park Avenue and collecting litter in a park.  In fact, there may have been no difference at all.

Here's "No Time" by the Sleepers, which appeared on their 1978 EP, Seventh World: