Tuesday, July 30, 2019

James Gang – "The Bomber" (1970)

Will I be back tomorrow
For the punchline of the joke?

[NOTE: The James Gang may the least well-known of the bands to have a song included in this year's group of inductees into the 2 OR 3 LINES "GOLDEN DECADE" ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME.  I don't know why that is, but no matter – they were one of the great power trios of that era, and their oeuvre includes several songs that are Hall of Fame-worthy.  What follows is a revised version of my original 2010 post about "The Bomber," which is really three songs in one.]

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There were some great three-member rock bands in the 1960's and 1970's:  Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were probably the best of the power trios of the era, while Grand Funk Railroad may have been the most popular.  

The James Gang was right up there with the best of them.  A great power trio had to have a very good drummer and a very good bass player, but what it needed most of all was a great guitarist.  Cream had Eric Clapton, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience had you know who.  The James Gang had Joe Walsh, who was never as well-known as Clapton and Hendrix, but he was really, really, really good, boys and girls.

The "James Gang Rides Again" album cover

The first James Gang album, titled Yer' Album, was solid.  But their second album – James Gang Rides Again – was outstanding.  "Funk #49" and "Woman" are classics, but I've chosen to feature a cut off that album that you never heard much on the radio:  "The Bomber," or "The Bomber: Closet Queen/Bolero/Cast Your Fate to the Wind" as the title is sometimes rendered.

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"The Bomber" didn't get much airplay because it's about seven minutes long.  It's seven minutes long because it's really three songs in one.  

If you put the first and last parts of "The Bomber" together, you'd have a good, three-verse, three-minute rock song.  But instead of doing that, the band took a sudden detour after the first two verses and played abbreviated versions of two very different instrumental works.

First, we get a couple of minutes of Maurice Ravel's famous orchestral piece, Bolero, which was composed in 1928 and originally intended as a ballet.  Bolero was always popular, but became familiar to millions when it was later used in the soundtrack of the movie 10, which starred Bo Derek.

Click here to watch the original theatrical trailer for Bolero.

It turned out that the copyright on Ravel's composition was still valid in 1970, and the composer's estate threatened to sue the James Gang and its record company for their unauthorized use of Bolero.  "The Bomber" was edited for subsequent pressings of the LP, but the original version was eventually restored.

Vince Guaraldi
Next, the band gives us a couple of minutes of a well-known jazz composition, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," composed and originally recorded by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.  After a TV producer heard this song, Guaraldi was hired to write and record the score for the Peanuts Christmas special.  He eventually composed the scores for 18 Peanuts television specials, plus the movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Click here to listen to Guaraldi performing "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."

After that, the James Gang circles back and wraps up "The Bomber" (your guess is as good as mine as to where that title came from) by playing the final verse of the "Closet Queen" song.  It sounds crazy but it works.  In fact, it does more than just work -- it's genius, a tour de force.  

Click here to listen to "The Bomber."

Click on the link below to order the song from Amazon:

Friday, July 26, 2019

MC5 – "Teenage Lust" (1970)

Baby, baby, help me, 
Feel like I'm gonna bust
I need a healthy outlet 
For my teenage lust!

[NOTE: Here's a lightly-edited version of my 2013 post about "Teenage Lust," which is one of this year's 2 OR 3 LINES "GOLDEN DECADE" ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME inductees.  When I wrote it, the ten-point White Panther Party manifesto that I quoted seemed like nothing more than a quaint artifact of a radical political movement that never really went anywhere.  Today, that manifesto could pass for the platform of any number of Democratic presidential candidates.]

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Sorry to hear that case of teenage lust you've got, dude.  I hate to bum you out, but that condition's been known to last for 40 years . . . or even longer!  (Trust me – I know whereof I speak.)

MC5 was formed in the Detroit suburb of Lincoln Park, Michigan, in 1964.  It traces its origins to the teenage friendship between Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith.  

Patti Smith and Fred Smith
I'm guessing Fred Smith is the MC5 member most responsible for "Teenage Lust."  After all, he married Patti Smith.  The only thing (other than severe myopia) that I can think of that would explain such an act is a terminal case of teenage lust.  Poor Fred must have really felt like he was about to bust.

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When I was in college I was one of several college students featured in a Houston Post story about politics on local campuses.  I was described by the reporter as a "self-styled liberal," which greatly amuses people who know me now.  

A lot of sixties bands were self-styled revolutionaries.  But most of them talked the talk a lot better than they walked the walk (to use a cliché that I seem to be using on an almost daily basis these days).

By contrast, the MC5 most definitely walked the walk.  They talked the talk, too.  Actually, it would be more accurate to say that they shouted the talk – or even screamed the talk.

You think Rage Against the Machine was politically radical?  The MC5 made RATM look about as radical as your local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

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Cambridge and Berkeley were full of left-wing crazies in the sixties, but Ann Arbor (which isn't that far from Detroit) had more than its fair share of young radicals.  For example, the Weather Underground – a hardcore revolutionary group that specialized in bombing government buildings and banks – was founded on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.   

The MC5's first manager, John Sinclair, was a co-founder of another far-left Detroit-Ann Arbor group, the White Panther Party.  (When asked by an interviewer what white people could do to support the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton had said they could form a White Panther Party – so Sinclair did just that.)

Here's the White Panthers Party's ten-point manifesto, which they titled the "White Panther State/meant" [sic]:
  1. Full endorsement and support of the Black Panther Party's 10-point program and platform.
  2. Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and f*cking in the streets.
  3. Free exchange of energy and materials – we demand the end of money!
  4. Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care – everything free for everybody!
  5. Free access to information media – free the technology from the greed creeps!
  6. Free time & space for all humans – dissolve all unnatural boundaries!
  7. Free all schools and all structures from corporate rule – turn the buildings over to the people at once!
  8. Free all prisoners everywhere – they are our comrades!
  9. Free all soldiers at once – no more conscripted armies!
  10. Free the people from their phony "leaders" – everyone must be a leader – freedom means free everyone!  All Power to the People!
I think you will agree that this is a fascinating document.  I've been trying to decide which of these demands is the most outrageous and unlikely to be attained, but I can't pick just one.  

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The White Panthers were accused of bombing the CIA office in Ann Arbor and throwing a Molotov cocktail through the window of the Selective Service office in Portland, Oregon.

White Panthers chapters remained active in San Francisco and Berkeley well into the 1980s.  In 1984, the San Francisco White Panthers led a petition drive to recall Mayor Dianne Feinstein after she proposed to ban handguns in the city.  (The White Panthers and Black Panthers opposed gun control for the same reason that many right-wingers do today – because they view the Second Amendment as the last defense of the citizenry against government tyranny.)

Dope is mentioned twice in this "State/meant," while sex is mentioned only once – which tells you something about John Sinclair's priorities.  Sinclair was sentenced to ten years in prison in 1969 after giving two joints to an undercover narcotics officer.  

A number of musicians (including John Lennon – who later recorded a song titled "John Sinclair" – Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs, and Bob Seger) joined an all-star cast of counterculture figures (including poet Allen Ginsberg and five members of the "Chicago Eight") appeared at a "John Sinclair Freedom Rally" in Ann Arbor in 1971.  

Three days after the rally – the timing was purely coincidental – Sinclair was released from prison when the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state's marijuana statute was unconstitutional.  

John Sinclair now
The MC5 eventually split up with Sinclair because not all the band's members agreed with his extreme political beliefs.  But they agreed with Sinclair that marijuana and LSD were peachy-keen.  

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"Teenage Lust" has nothing to do with radical politics or marijuana.  It's an unapologetic paean to premarital sex.  It's also as misogynistic as any rap song out there:

Surrounded by bitches 
Who just wouldn't give in
Who thought that getting down 
Was an unnatural sin

The singer tries every trick in the book to get some stank on his hang low, but the women he approaches prove maddeningly uncooperative:

Moved into the city 
To improve my chances
I chased them at the bars 
And grabbed them at the dances
They'd huggy, snuggle, kissy 
But they'd never go all the way

Finally, the proverbial light bulb goes on over the singer's noggin, and he turns the tables on all those uptight little b*tches who have refused to give it up to him:

Then one day I had one perfect plan
I shake my ass and scream in a rock 'n' roll band
From now on there'll be no compromising
Rock 'n' roll music is the best advertising
"Baby, I can help, you know I got the guts
I'll be your healthy outlet for your teenage lust"

Click here to listen to "Teenage Lust."

Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Kinks – "Shangri-La" (1969)

The gas bills and the water rates
And payments on the car 
Too scared to think about 
How insecure you are 
Life ain't so happy in your little Shangri-La 

[NOTE: The Kinks are perhaps the least appreciated of the great British Invasion groups, but you best believe that 2 or 3 lines doesn't underrate them.  Any number of Kinks songs would have been worthy of being inducted into 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME, but I've chosen to bestow that honor on their 1969 tribute to everyman, "Shangri-La."  What follows is a revised version of my original 2012 post about "Shangri-La."]

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Many American homeowners know exactly how the fictional Arthur – the middle-aged, middle-class British man who is the title character of the 1969 Kinks album on which this song appears – feels.

The cover of "Arthur (Or the Decline
and Fall of the British Empire)"
Arthur has purchased a modest house in the suburbs, not to mention a car and a TV set.  But to be able to buy his "Shangri-La," he had to go into more debt that he really feels comfortable with. 

The little man who gets the train 
Got a mortgage hanging over his head 
But he's too scared to complain 

A few years ago, many Americans were taking advantage of low interest rates to buy houses they really couldn't afford.  When interest rates started to go up and housing prices started to drop in 2006-2007, defaults and foreclosures started to increase.  The bubble burst, the house of cards came tumbling down, the chickens came home to roost – feel free to use the cliché of your choice.

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Mr. Micawber
Remember what Mr. Micawber said in David Copperfield?

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditures nineteen [pounds], nineteen [shillings], and six [pence], result happiness.  Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditures twenty [pounds], ought [shillings], and six [pence], result misery.

For those of you who never mastered old-style English currency, let me help you out.  There were 20 shillings to the pound, and 12 pence to the shilling.  So according to Micawber, the difference between happiness and misery is the difference between spending half a shilling (six pence) less than your 20-pound income, or spending half a shilling more than your 20-pound income.

Half a shilling is 1/800 as much as 20 pounds – that's not much.  But what matters is whether you're running a surplus or running a deficit.  When you have money in the bank – that is, the bank owes you – all is well.

But when you owe the bank, watch out.

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Micawber didn't have the advantage of advanced instruction in economics, so he didn't understand how debt allows you to leverage profits, how it's a good thing when governments operate at a deficit, and so on.  He was operating on the very old-fashioned principle that you should live within your means, and avoid becoming a debtor at all costs.  (Soooooo passé!)

The biggest asset of Americans as a whole is home equity – the value of their homes less mortgage debt.  At the beginning of 2006, total home equity was valued at $14.9 trillion.  By the end of 2010, it had fallen to $6.3 trillion.  Almost a quarter of American homeowners are underwater on their mortgages – that is, they owe more to the bank than their houses are worth.

I was fortunate enough to make the final payment on my mortgage earlier this year.  We bought our first home in 1984 (I was 32 years old) with the help of a 30-year mortgage.  When we moved five years later, we signed up for another 30-year loan.

But when we moved to our current house in 1997, I was wise enough to switch to a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage.  Low interest rates made that decision feasible, and I didn't want to be paying off a mortgage when I was 75 years old – which would have been the case if I had opted for a new 30-year loan at that time.

Those of you who own your home free and clear probably agree that not having a mortgage hanging over your head is very comforting.  Even if worse comes to worst, you'll always have a place to lay your head at night if you've paid off your mortgage.  (Assuming you can handle the taxes, of course.)

Given how low mortgage rates are right now, it's tempting to refinance a house and take out cash to spend or invest elsewhere.

That may be a very profitable strategy, but I don't care if it is.  I like having my house all paid off.  I can't imagine what would make me change my mind and go into debt every again.  

(Actually, I can think of one thing.  I have 25-year-old twin daughters.  It's probably only a matter of time until I have two weddings to pay for.)

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"Shangri-La" is one of those rare rock songs that was written for adults, not teenagers.

I know at least a thousand songs that are about how much it hurts to be in love (or in lust, as the case may be), but I know of no other song which has as its subject the angst of the middle-aged suburban homeowner.  (I personally think it's the best song the Kinks ever recorded, and that's saying something.)

Calling Arthur's modest suburban home "Shangri-La" – the name given to the fictional Himalayan utopia in James Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon (which Frank Capra turned into a movie) – is pouring the irony on pretty thick, of course, but this is a song that is essentially sympathetic with the concerns of what used to be called the silent majority.

It doesn't trash the middle class for worrying more about the next mortgage payment than about poverty in third-world countries, or global warming, or animal rights, or all the other causes that some so zealously advance.

Instead, "Shangri-La" says "There, there – life's not so bad.  At least you've got indoor plumbing – more than your ol' granddad could say, eh?"

A London suburb
Living on a street where "all the houses . . . look the same" and spending your time washing the car, watching the telly, or simply sitting by the fire in your slippers after dinner may not sound like heaven on earth.  But for many of us, that's the highest "reward for working so hard" that we will attain.  

So "sit back in your old rocking chair."  You've "reached your top and you just can't get any higher."  It may not seem like much, but it's "your paradise," "your kingdom to command." 

Feel better now?  No?

Me neither.

Click here to listen to "Shangri-La."

Click here to watch Ray Davies of the Kinks performing the song with the Crouch End Festival Chorus.

And click on the link below if you'd like to buy Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) from Amazon.  It's a remarkable album.

Friday, July 19, 2019

King Crimson – "21st Century Schizoid Man" (1969)

The yellow jester does not play
But gently pulls the strings
And smiles as the puppets dance

[NOTE: The 2 OR 3 LINES "GOLDEN DECADE" ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME wouldn't be worthy of that somewhat overblown moniker unless it included a song from the ne plus ultra of progressive rock albums, In the Court of the Crimson King.  Here's a lightly-edited version of my original 2010 post about the title song of that album.]

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King Crimson's 1969 album, In the Court of the Crimson King is an album that I heard countless times as a college student.

Here's the album's cover, which is certainly one of the most distinctive and unforgettable album covers you've ever seen:

I spent much of the past summer remembering high school and writing about some of the songs that conjure up memories of those days.  But summer's over.  It's late September and I really should be back in school.  

This post kicks off a series of posts about the albums that I will always associate with my college years – my college madeleines, if you will.  Over the next few months, I expect to do at least a couple of dozen posts featuring songs from the signature albums of my college years (1970-74).  

Don't expect more than a few of those to feature the most popular songs from those albums.  I'm not going to focus on the tracks that got a lot of radio play, but rather on some of the longer and less famous cuts.   You see, we didn't have iPods with "shuffle" options in those days – or satellite radios, or Pandora.  You usually started at the beginning of a record and listened to at least a whole side.  What a concept!

I've started the process of selecting the individual songs, and I must say the experience has been much more intense than I expected.  I don't have many of these albums on CD or my iPod, and because I'm picking mostly the songs that aren't played on the "classic rock"-type stations, I'm hearing music that I haven't heard in 20 or 30 years.  It's a lot like what I felt when I went to my 25th college reunion and saw my college campus and the surrounding neighborhood for the first time in a couple of decades.  I'm having what I can only describe as hot flashes.  

She's a BIG King Crimson fan
Everyone seemed to have a copy of this album, which was King Crimson's first.  I firmly believe that In the Court of the Crimson King was always playing on at least one dorm-room stereo every single moment of every single day I was in college.  I'd hear snippets of it as I walked to our dining hall, and it was usually one of the albums that accompanied our late-night spades games.  No album was more ubiquitous on my campus in the early 1970's than this one.

It is arguably the quintessential progressive rock album.  (That's a musical genre that has a lot to answer for, but there are some great progressive rock albums, and nearly all of them were released during my college years.)  Pete Townshend of The Who called it "an uncanny masterpiece."

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King Crimson has had 19 principal members over the years – there were seven different basic lineups for the band.

Guitarist Robert Fripp is the only current band member who was around for In the Court of the Crimson King.  In fact, a couple of the original members left only two months after that record was released.  

Vocalist and bass guitarist Greg Lake departed for Emerson, Lake & Palmer (more about them later) a couple of months after that, although he did agree to sing on the group's second album.

I was startled a few weeks ago to hear Kanye West sample the first track of the album, "21st Century Schizoid Man," in his new song, "Power."  (You can click here to listen to an abbreviated version of "Power.")

Given how hot this song is now, I probably would have gotten more hits if I had blogged about "21st Century Schizoid Man."  Live and learn.

Click here to listen to "The Court of the Crimson King."

It appears that the songs from this album are not available for purchase in digital form.  Below is a link you can use to buy a pretty good live version of the song:

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Led Zeppelin – "How Many More Times" (1969)

Now I've got ten children of my own
I got another child on the way
That makes eleven

[NOTE: Led Zeppelin was notorious for "borrowing" from other musicians without giving them credit.  "How Many More Times" contains elements borrowed from not one, but several other musicians – but that doesn't disqualify it from being inducted into the 2 OR 3 LINES "GOLDEN DECADE" ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME.  Following is a lightly-edited version of my original Father's Day, 2012 post about "How Many More Times."]

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Today is Father's Day, so 2 or 3 lines is saluting of one the most prolific fathers in history: Antonio Cromartie.

Cromartie is a defensive back for the New York Jets.  More importantly for our purposes, he is the father of ten children by eight different women who live in a total of six different states (California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Texas).

Here are Antonio's baby mamas and their offspring:

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What explains this kind of behavior?  To answer such questions, I like to turn to the experts – namely, the scientists on the staff of Men's Health magazine, who had this to say on the topic of male monogamy (or the lack thereof):

Why is monogamy so tough for men? . . .

Blame it on biology.  According to Darwin, life is just DNA working like mad to reproduce itself.  Our sex drive is the vehicle for spreading our genes.  We're in thrall to a biological imperative, hard-wired to want anybody who might carry our double helix down the line.

Aha, cry the women.  We have DNA, too.  How come we don't mount anything with a blood pressure?

Darwin has an answer women hate: Women are more finicky because they've only got a few hundred eggs in a lifetime.  Can't afford to waste one on a loser.  Since we have a billion sperm in a nanosecond and remain fertile till we die, there's no need to hold our fire.  We've got tons of ammo.

When someone who really knows his stuff takes the time to explain things in plain English, a science lesson can be almost fun.

I appreciate the way Men's Health doesn't do a lot of preaching – they realize that a leopard can't change his spots, and refuse to play the blame game.

All men wrestle with the call of the wild.  Some will argue this proves all men are pigs.  Wrong.  It proves all men are brothers.  Those thoughts about Myrna at the FedEx place don't make you a bad guy.  They just make you a guy.  Are we clear on that?  Lust is not a virtue.  Lust is not a vice.  It's just a fact.

How can you argue with science?  Tell it like it is, Men's Health!

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I hope you understand now that Antonio Cromartie isn't a bad man – he's just a normal guy trying to live up to the Darwinian imperative.  Of course, he is an NFL star, which may partly explain why he was able to spread his seed over a broader geographical region than Johnny Appleseed. 

(John Chapman – better known as "Johnny Appleseed" -- planted apple seeds in only four states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.  For religious reasons, Chapman objected to grafting apple trees.  Apple trees grown from seeds usually produce sour apples, but since many early settlers grew apples in order to make hard apple cider and applejack, they didn't really care.)

Like the singer of today's featured song, Cromartie can say "I've got ten children of my own."  He can also say "I got another child on the way – that makes eleven" because his wife is pregnant.

In fact, Cromartie's wife, Terricka Cason, is pregnant with twins – so that makes eleven and twelve, doesn't it?

As this photo demonstrates, when you are pregnant with twins, you are PREGNANT:

Mr. and Mrs. Cromartie
"Identical twins run in my family," Cason tweeted recently.  Terricka apparently knows as much about biology as she knows about keeping her legs crossed – fraternal twins may run in families (sort of), but identical twins do not.  Identical twins are a completely random event, so the fact that a mother has identical twins doesn't mean that any of her offspring are more likely to have identical twins than you or me.  (Well, more likely than me, because I'm a male.)

Once the twins are born, Terricka will have borne four of Cromartie's children, making her the leader in the clubhouse.  (None of the other mothers have more than two children by the redoubtable Mr. Cromartie.)

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Cromartie's seven baby mamas have become friends.  A TV production company recently came up with the brilliant idea of doing a reality show about Cromartie, his wife and baby mamas, and the ten children.  The baby mamas were all for it, but the fertile footballer wants no part of it.  I can't imagine why.

One of the baby mamas is Rhonda Patterson, a corporate attorney and former Miss Black North Carolina who says that Cromartie cancelled their wedding a week before the ceremony -- when she was six months pregnant.  I can only imagine what the young lady's parents had to say to her.

Baby mama Patterson wrote a book about the whole thing.  (You know what they say about a baby mama scorned.)

Did I mention that Cromartie is only 28?  By my calculations, he'll end up with a couple of thousand kids if he keeps going at this rate.

Thanks to my friend Kerri Griffin, the creator of the "Naptime Huddle" blog, who first brought Mr. Cromartie's off-field exploits to my attention.  Click here if you'd like to read what Kerri has to say about the legal problems of professional athletes who father children out of wedlock.

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"How Many More Times" is the final track on Led Zeppelin's eponymous debut album, which may be the G.O.A.T. when it comes to rock albums.  

The song runs about eight and a half minutes, but the album jacket says it is 3:30 -- apparently Jimmy Page thought radio stations might play it if they didn't know how long it really was.

Click here to listen to "How Many More Times?"

And click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, July 12, 2019

Arthur Lee and Love – "You Set the Scene" (1967)

You look so lovely
You with the same old smile
Stay for awhile

[NOTE: Arthur Lee and Love's 1967 Forever Changes belongs on pop music's Mt. Olympus along with Pet Sounds and a very few other near-perfect albums.  It's lovely from start to finish, but "You Set the Scene" – which closes the album – is particularly breathtaking.  What follows is a lightly-edited version of a 2010 post about "You Set the Scene" – I was tempted to edit it much more severely after I read it, but we eschew all temptations to rewrite history at 2 or 3 lines.  Once a post is published, our policy is to leave it alone – even if it produces douche chills upon re-reading.]

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I started writing this one night just after I finished dinner.  These days, that means I've had a glass of red wine – just following doctor's orders, of course. 

As the philosopher said, "In vino, veritas."  So perhaps I was a little more uninhibited and unguarded than I usually am when I started to write this.

Especially because the glass that night was not the usual six ounces, but more like eight – maybe even nine.  (I'm driving to Cape Cod tomorrow for a well-deserved vacation, and I needed to finish off the magnum of Barefoot shiraz I opened a couple of nights earlier before I hit the road.  Waste not, want not!)  

The extra vino would have meant some extra veritas if I had finished the post that night.  But I didn't, so this has a little less veritas than it might have.  That's probably just as well.  

Anyway . . .

I listened to this song while I was biking last weekend.  The lines quoted above brought to mind a number of women I knew in high school (some well, some barely at all), but hadn't seen for  many years until recently.  This is my little tribute to all those lovely girls of 40 years ago who are now what the French call femmes d'un certain age – "women of a certain age" – and still lovely.

When I see one of those women, I don't just see her as she is now – I see her as she was 40 years ago as well.  She's really the same person deep down inside, after all.

You may all look your age.  (So do we men, of course – heaven knows I do.)  But that's fine.  It's better than having plastic surgery or otherwise trying too hard to turn back the clock.  

Hey, I like women my age – actually, I much prefer them.  It's a lot easier to talk to them than women who are 20 or 30 years younger, and they really do look just as good – they look different than younger women, certainly, but that's OK.  It would be awful if all women were lovely in exactly the same way.

One final thought before we go to the music.  I was absolutely clueless about women when I was in high school.  Actually, that's an overstatement – I wasn't completely clueless, just mostly clueless.  I really would love to go back 40 years and do some things differently.  Knowing me, of course, one chance to go back and follow a road not taken wouldn't be enough.  I'm guessing I might need a dozen or so do-overs to get it right.

Aren't you glad I waited until I was perfectly sober to write this post?  Just think how much more incoherent it might have been if I had sat down at the keyboard immediately after pouring that supersized glass of red wine down my throat.

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A brief word about the music.  Arthur Lee and Love are one of my favorite groups of all time – eccentric, eclectic, and wonderfully all over the place.  They are everything you want from a sixties band.

And Arthur Lee was everything you want from the frontman of a band like Love – he was Jim Morrison (the Doors were big fans) before Jim Morrison was Jim Morrison.

Or maybe he was Jimi Hendrix before Jimi Hendrix was Jimi Hendrix.  (Lee claimed that Hendrix stole his style of dress from the Love frontman.)

Arthur Lee and Jimi Hendrix
Whichever it was, you've gotta love a guy who wears glasses with one lens tinted red and the other one tinted blue in order to purposely screw up his vision and see the world like no one else sees it.

"You Set the Scene" is one of Arthur Lee and Love's more complex songs in terms of both the music and the lyrics.  It's really two songs in one.

Click here to listen to "You Set the Scene."

Click here for a stunning live performance of the song.

And click on the link below to buy "You Set the Scene" from iTunes:

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

13th Floor Elevators – "Slip Inside This House" (1967)

One-eyed men aren't really reigning
They just march in place until
Two-eyed men with mystery training
Finally feel the power fill
Three-eyed men are not complaining.
They can yo-yo where they will
They slip inside this house as they pass by

[NOTE: The music of the 13th Floor Elevators is uniquely weird stuff.  Like most of the band's music, "Slip Inside This House" sounds like nothing else you've ever heard, and that's one reason I chose to include it in this year's group of inductees into the 2 OR 3 LINES "GOLDEN DECADE" ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME.  Below is an updated version of my 2012 post about "Slip Inside This House."] 

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The next time you're in a tall building, check to see whether it has a 13th floor.  Odds are that it doesn't.

Where's the button for the 13th floor?
Can you believe that it's the year 2012, and superstition still has sufficient sway over our hearts and minds that building managers skip from 12 to 14 when labeling the buttons on their elevators?  Remarkable, isn't it?

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The Dutch Renaissance author and theologian, Erasmus, is credited with coining the saying, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."  That seems to be the inspiration for the first line of this verse – "One-eyed men aren't really reigning" – but who the hell knows?

But first things first.  When you listen to "Slip Inside This House," you're going to hear a weird little musical line that sounds like nothing you've never heard – think wibble wibble wibble wibble.

You've probably seen old-timey bands that had a guy who played a gallon jug by blowing across the opening at the top of the neck, producing a bass note.

Tommy Hall, electric jug virtuoso
The sound on this record that I'm talking about is made by an electric jug.  Honest to God, folks.  Tommy Hall, who was one of the original members of the 13th Floor Elevators, played electric jug.

Hall was a world-class LSD user.  He told the author of a book about the Elevators that he took LSD something like 317 times between 1966 and 1970.  And he kept on taking it for decades.

Tommy Hall in 2009
I feel an artistic connection to Hall because I played bass jugs for a fife, jug, and bottle band in high school.  We were strictly acoustic, however – no electric jugs in our band.  (No electric nothin', as a matter of fact.)

I could have used an electric jug.  Maybe then I wouldn't have hyperventilated and almost fainted during every song we played.  

Here's a video of the Elevators that shows Hall playing his electric jug.  As far as I know, he is the only person in the history of the world who played an electric jug, as you can see from this old American Bandstand appearance by the band:

(The 13th Floor Elevators on American Bandstand?  Maybe Dick Clark was on LSD, too.)

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Roky Erickson, the lead guitarist and lead singer for the 13th Floor Elevators, was a brilliant musician.  He was also mad as a hatter.  

In 1968, when the band was performing at HemisFair – which was sort of a mini-world's fair held in San Antonio that year – Erickson began speaking gibberish.  He was diagnosed as being a paranoid schizophrenic and was subjected to electroconvulsive therapy (a/k/a/electroshock therapy or "shock treatment") at a psychiatric hospital in Houston.  

The Elevators were major drug users and advocates of drug use, and the fuzz kept a close eye on them.  In 1969, Erickson was arrested and found to be carrying a single joint.  Facing a possible sentence of as much as ten years in prison, Erickson pled not guilty by reason of insanity and ended up at a state hospital for the criminally insane, where he had more electroshock and was dosed with the antipsychotic drug, Thorazine, until his release in 1972.  

In 1974, Roky formed a new band named "Bleib alien," which combined an anagram and a pun and was supposed to mean "remain alone" but in German.  He then released two aptly named albums (I Think of Demons and The Evil One) before announcing in 1982 that a Martian had invaded his body.

Roky Erickson in 1967
Here's how Wikipedia describes what happened next:

[Erickson] came to feel that, due to his being alien, human beings were attacking him psychically.  A concerned friend enlisted a Notary Public to witness an official statement by Erickson that he was an alien; he hoped by declaring so publicly he would be in line with any "international laws" he might have been breaking.  Erickson claimed the attacks then indeed stopped.

(It gets worse, boys and girls.)

Beginning in the 1980s, Erickson began a years-long obsession with the mail, often spending hours poring over random junk mail, writing to solicitors and celebrities (dead or living).  He was arrested in 1989 on charges of mail theft.  Erickson picked up mail from neighbors who had moved and taped it to the walls of his room.  He insisted that he never opened any of the mail, and the charges were ultimately dropped.

Erickson has always been revered by fellow musicians – especially Texas musicians.  In 1990, Sire/Warner Brothers released a tribute album featuring covers of Roky's songs by R.E.M., ZZ Top, the Butthole Surfers, Doug Sahm, and others.  In 1995, Henry Rollins published a collection of Erickson's song lyrics.  

Here's how Rolling Stone described the 1995-vintage Erickson:

[A] man falling apart at the seams, his teeth rotted to stumps, his hair wild and matted, and his house blaring with multiple TVs, radios and police scanners, apparently a strategy to block out the voices in his head.
Rollins took care of Roky's dental problems, paying for him to get a full set of dentures.  But the credit for most of Erickson's turnaround belongs to his kid brother, Sumner – a former classical tubist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Roky Erickson in 2012
In 2001, Sumner was granted legal custody over Roky, and helped him get his finances in shape.  He also made sure he took his meds.  Since then, things have been much better for Roky.

A documentary film about him was produced in 2005, and he appeared on stage (with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons) for the first time in a long time that same year.  In 2007, he played in New York City for the first time, and also travelled to the Coachella Festival, London, and Finland.  In 2010, he released his first new album in 14 years, and in 2015, he and several of the band's original members reunited at a music festival in Austin.

Roky Erickson died earlier this year.  He was 71 years old.

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"Slip Inside This House" is the first track from the Elevators' second album, Easter Everywhere.  The song is over eight minutes long, and it is a true psychedelic masterpiece.

I had never heard the song until recently.  I'm still prone to fits of slack-jawed drooling every time I listen to it.  You'd best believe me when I say it is far-f*cking-out.  Just look at the verse I quoted above, with its one-eyed men and two-eyed men and three-eyed men.  (To quote Inspector Gadget, "Yowser!")  

And that verse is only one of ten verses in this song, each of which is more bizarre and obscure than the last.  Here's the first verse:

Bedouin tribes ascending
From the egg into the flower
Alpha information sending
States within the heaven shower
From disciples the unending
Subtleties of river power
They slip inside this house as they pass by 

Click here to listen to "Slip Inside This House."

And click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Friday, July 5, 2019

Cream – "Tales of Brave Ulysses" (1967)

How his naked ears were tortured
By the sirens sweetly singing

In June, 2 or 3 lines announced the second group of inductees into the 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” HIT SINGLES HALL OF FAME – each and every one of them an all-time great.

This month, my wildly popular little blog will present the members of the second group of inductees into the 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME.

You remember the rules for the 2 OR 3 LINES “GOLDEN DECADE” ALBUM TRACKS HALL OF FAME, don’t you?  

First, the song must have been released between 1964 and 1973 – which was the golden decade of rock music.

Second, the song must have NOT been a top 40 single – possibly because it was too long for AM radio.

Last and certainly not least, the song must have been A STICK OF DYNAMITE!

This year’s group of inductees is being presented in chronological order – today’s featured song was the first of them to be released.  

[NOTE: 2 or 3 lines originally featured “Tales of Brave Ulysses” in February 2018.  What follows is a lightly edited version of that post.]

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The story goes that the late Martin Sharp, an Australian artist and cartoonist who was visiting London in 1967, told a musician that he met at a nightclub about a poem that he had just written.  The musician told Sharp that he was looking for lyrics for a new song he had just written, so Sharp wrote his poem down on a paper napkin and gave it to him.

Martin Sharp
The musician turned out to be Eric Clapton, and the song turned out to be “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” – which I think is Cream’s best song.

Sharp later invited Clapton to move into the building where he was living.  (Other residents of that building included Robert Whitaker – the photographer who took the infamous “butcher” photo originally used for the cover of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today album – and Germaine Greer, who wrote The Female Eunuch while living there.)

At Clapton’s request, Sharp did the cover art for Cream’s Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire albums.

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There were a lot of great “power trios” in the sixties and seventies – among the best were the Jimi Hendrix Experience, James Gang, and Grand Funk Railroad.

Cream: Baker, Bruce, and Clapton
But the ne plus ultra of power trios was Cream, which consisted of drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce, and guitarist Eric Clapton – each of whom is usually ranked as one of the ten best of all time on his respective instrument.

The group’s second (and best) album, Disraeli Gears, included “Sunshine of Your Love.” “Strange Brew,” “SWLABR,” and the mesmerizing “We’re Going Wrong” in addition to “Tales of Brave Ulysses.”

The “Disraeli Gears” cover
Here’s famed rock critic Robert Christgau’s take on Disraeli Gears:

Cream's best album distilled their prodigious chops and rhythmic interplay into psychedelic pop that never strayed far from their blues roots.  Except for the electricity, “Outside Woman Blues” is nearly identical to Arthur Reynolds’ 1930s original.  And the riff to “Sunshine of Your Love,” written by bassist Jack Bruce, is Delta blues in jab and drive.  But Disraeli Gears decisively broke with British blues purism in the ecstatic jangle of “Dance the Night Away,” the climbing dismay of “We're Going Wrong” (driven by Ginger Baker’s circular drumming) and the wah-wah grandeur of “Tales of Brave Ulysses.” 

Click here to listen to “Tales of Brave Ulysses.”  (PLEASE pay attention to Martin Sharp’s lyrics, which are nothing like those of any other rock song I’ve ever heard.)  

And click below to buy the song from Amazon: