Thursday, December 15, 2005

Thursday News Wire

Dylan uses newly found power of comprehensible speech to host radio show. He'll join the XM roster with a weekly show featuring music "apparently selected by himself." I don't know what this means. Unrelated: I took the link from the Independent, and the top story on the sidebar concerned the very British issue of badger control.

Excommunication now hip again—rock and roll! Start a breakaway sect that ignores celibacy rules and the ban on same-sex nuptials? A tribunal meets to throw your ass into the fires of hell. Molest a dozen boys? You know the answer. Will the burning be broadcast live on Fox News? You know that answer, too.

Google debuts music section today. Tired of heating up that search engine and getting Michael Stipe fan fic? Burgeoning nuclear superpower Google wants to help. A new feature points the brave searcher to lists that tell you what song is on what album and to legal downloads, should one be so inclined. Yes, this is our contribution to the mindless hype. Christmas season is the time for it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Monday News Wire

"Unchained Melody" lyricist not rich enough to buy Denmark. In fact he had to work a real job in engineering. Warning if you love this song: it was written for someone named Cookie. Here in Chicago that means in ugly, ungainly TV clown. Maybe it doesn't have such negative overtones for others, though.

High IQ File: Brill Building Confidential. Ah, showbiz glamour:

The process by which the songs happen remains mysterious even when the circumstances are laid out. Consider one day in the collaboration of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, in the fall of 1960: somehow, between Carole looking after their six-month-old baby and taking Don Kirshner's call about how he needed a song for the Shirelles by tomorrow morning and then going out to play mah-jongg, and Gerry doing his day's work at the chemical plant and meeting up after work with the bowling league and then coming home late to find Carole's message on the tape recorder along with the rudiments of her melody, somehow—separately, and then by the end of the evening working together—the two managed by 2 AM to produce a song called "Will You Love Me Tomorrow." The Shirelles recorded it, with the violin and cello backup that been added as an afterthought, and it went to number one, the first record by a black female singing group ever to do that. The record has not stopped playing for forty-five years; a good enough day's work. The matter-of-factness of the process is belied by the slow-burning passions that the song has continued to release.

Warning: Tony Orlando is quoted. Worse, so is Theodore Dreiser.

Postmodern Mind-Fuck #8814: Barbeau to play Judy Garland Off-Broadway. In Des Moines, if there's any justice. Granted, we all want to stretch. And frankly, I'd pay Broadway prices to watch Adrienne Barbeau model sweaters for two hours. Let's face facts, though. However enchanting the Barbeau pipes (not a euphemism), the leap from playing a cable TV snake dancer to one of the most distinctive voices in American pop music history may be, mmmm, overly ambitious. Not that we doubt! But perhaps the intermediate phases of evolution should be explored first. Just saying.

Floyd's Gilmour to play depressing music for appreciative Germans.

Apple cultists turn iPod Mini into collector's item.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Sunday News Wire

Gurdjieff boxed sets hits this universe. No doubt the greatest Armenian mystic-hypnotist in rock history, The Gurdj played a mean harmonium, too. When not bedding female acolytes he channeled the music heard at Jesus's monastery during the Son of Man's lengthy lost years (from childhood to age 30). No, seriously. For those who won't read the story, we provide the lede:

I once owned David Koresh's Voice of Fire, but I sold it because Koresh sounded like a second-rate Jackson Browne. However, the same cannot be said of Charles Manson. His Lie: The Love and Terror Cult contains some truly great '60s folk-pop, such as "Cease to Exist," a tune the Beach Boys did a gorgeous rendition of and renamed "Never Learn Not to Love."
"Second rate Jackson Browne"??? How do these assholes get followers?

When boxed sets go bad. Or, how Rhino lost its touch. We'll return to this topic at length soon. But this story almost convinced me to scoop up the Sire Records box. Don't read if you can't resist owning a collection that ranges from Depeche Mode and Talking Heads through Echo & the Bunnymen and on to the late, lamented (by me, at least) Throwing Muses. And if you can't resist, uh, burn me copies, okay?

Richard Pryor RIP. The word "genius" gets overused in America. Here's the rare time it applies.

Satan Is Strong: Eagles pull in $38 mil touring California only. "Hello, Salinas! Any Steinbeck fans here tonight?"

Bob Mould has a blog. Get ya some Sugar.

Contemporary blues often competent, rarely transcendent. But we could say the same about Christgau.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Tate Gallery

We have our idols in youth, others in adulthood. I need not yet contemplate those for middle-age, but I do so anyway, in case that passage occurs during a week when I’m too busy to find a replacement for Speed Racer.

The first man on my list: Larry Tate, Darrin’s boss on Bewitched, played by the aptly-named David White.

Contemplate his genius. Though handicapped by spongy hair, a hilarious ‘stache, and an obvious drinking problem, Larry Tate runs a successful ad agency with the help of crack staff like Darrin Stevens. What I love about Larry is that he’s a perfect sitcom boss. He just shows up at Darrin’s home, announces he has a problem, this account is collapsing or that never-addressed issue with the wife is exploding.

Needless to say, Samantha Stevens is the perfect sitcom wife—nay, perfect, period. First, she’s a witch, so the bills will always get paid. Second, she’s Elizabeth Montgomery, a stone-cold fox. Third, and this is most pertinent, whenever Larry shows up in a lather, Sam’s first words are, “Can I get you a drink?”

Does Larry ever say no?

My hero.

Postscript: the universe is in a Larry Tate cycle right now. I had verbally expressed my admiration for Tate after I caught five minutes of Bewitched on a local “oldies TV” station. Mere days later, I was channel-surfing and stumbled onto an antique episode of The Untouchables. A gangster planned to get out of the rackets—a gangster played by David White! Looking just like Larry Tate, by the way.

It gets weirder. His ambitious gun moll girlfriend? Elizabeth Montgomery.

One more level of weird—stick with me. Tuesday night, I stopped for perhaps the first time ever on The Gilmore Girls to find Ma Gilmore preachifying on the lameness of Nicole Kidman's Bewitched remake—a lameness she blamed on the fact the movie left out Larry Tate. She did a solid sixty seconds of outrage on this.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

December 8, 1980

John Lennon’s death was the first random culturally significant misfortune I can remember. In those days my sound system was a cheap tape recorder, my medium of choice the static-filled Top Forty stations out of distant Chicago. I came home from a friend’s, cued up the recorder to maybe get the latest Blondie or Journey tune—despite the fact any song I wanted was played three times an hour—and heard unending Lennon.

I was familiar with the man. My parents were Boomers. Mom’s Andy Williams records aside, the family listened to rock and pop all the time, focusing on the debut Dire Straits album under the headphones or singing along to Air Supply in the car. But Beatlemania predated me. Only by hearing entire radio stations turned over to Lennon’s music—and the stunned remembrances of the otherwise vacant disc jockeys—clued me in to the fact a Big Event had taken place.

When I rushed downstairs I saw my dad hunched in front of the television. I told him what happened. He didn’t even respond. Very atypical. Few things had an effect on him that he allowed the world to see. Sons sense the inner lives of their fathers more than they understand; indeed one of the necessary tragedies of fatherhood is that you cannot explicitly share that inner life while a son is young (a tragedy compounded in many cases when this becomes a habit and you cannot share it even when he grows up). Dad never mentioned what he thought of the news. Never has. Never had to.

Thursday News Wire

Don Ho alive after putting life in hands of mad scientists. If stem cell procedures prolong the life of Don Ho even one day, surely the technology is worth looking into. As well as being an institution, Ho is a treasured historic relic, a living link to that fabled and strange subculture called Show Business. Let's not make the poor man travel to Thailand when it's time to clone him.

Paul McCartney and the curse of being the only grownup in your band. You have to give Paul credit. He loved being a Beatle at a time when Lennon had visions of artistic transendence, when George was four years into despising it, when Ringo was, well, Ringo. Without his enthusiasm for being part of the Biggest Thing Ever, the Beatles might've collapsed after the death of Brian Epstein, instead of just having a collective midlife crisis (to which Paul, it must be said, contributed the Apple fiasco and a bit of the India madness). It's always seemed to me one of the major tensions was that John had abdicated leadership at the same time Paul's skills came in line with his ambitions, changing the band's dynamic. Paul took the reins. John never thought he relinquished them while at the same time he wanted to be free, the kind of contradictory behavior that makes Lennon forever fascinating as a troubled person. And George! Meanwhile, here he is, on the road to enlightenment and seeking to make the Big Two a Big Three.

Anyway, the link offers a working musician's view. Recommended.

Speaking of Beatles, are we out of things to say about them? Apparently. Not the Cute One's new solo album, though.

High IQ File: Peas' mega-hit not just bad but evil. Certainly it's aggravating and ass-obsessed. But it's also interesting in that the song became a huge hit before being released as a single thanks to downloading (revolutionary medium) and, incredibly, radio (mummified medium). A little sample insight:

For all the brow-furrowing about the precise, Pavlovian engineering of hit singles, pop music is a wholly unpredictable, unstable enterprise. Lazy artists catch lightning in a bottle, bizarre throwaway jingles are greeted as bursts of quirky ingenuity, and puffy bits of melodrama accidentally become the catchiest thing ever. This is the weird appeal of the radio (or however you get your populist fix): Anything—good, bad, or otherwise—can sound genuinely perfect for a summer. If an Awesomely Bad pop song survives a few years and enlivens a party sometime down the line, so much the better.

Pretty much everything this blog stands for, in other words.

Sinead serious about reggae. As she is about everything. A little late on this story. All apologies for the staleness. Thirty seconds in the toaster should help it.