Saturday, January 28, 2006

Whip it while you work...

Q: Are we not men?
A: We are prepubescent children.

DEVO, one of the ’80s most innovative and iconic bands, has partnered with Disney Sound to bring their hits to a new generation with 'DEVO 2.0,' a combination CD/DVD package set for release on March 14th. The original members of DEVO rerecorded ten of their old songs (some with revamped lyrics) and two brand new ones with DEVO 2.0, a group of five talented kids aged 10-13.

“The concept is about the energy and aesthetic of DEVO being passed like an Olympic torch to a new generation,” said DEVO frontman Gerald V. Casale, who directed all 11 newly created music videos on the DVD. The platinum-selling band handpicked kids Nicole, Jackie, Nathan, Michael and Kane to don the famous “energy domes” and become DEVO 2.0; unlike the original DEVO, DEVO 2.0 is a co-ed affair, with lead singer Nicole and keyboardist Jackie lending diversity to the DEVO chemistry. “I’m honored to be the new Mark Mothersbaugh!” declared Nicole.

To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut: I knew getting old would be bad, but not this bad.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Only band that matters

All in the Family Stone

The transom brings a rumor: Sly Stone's return to the world. Forerunner of funk, fusioner of Beatlesque pop with R&B groove and just about everything else besides, Sylvester Stone spun out into a lengthy drug haze and more aborted comebacks than the Whig Party. Now he may be lending his aura to the train-wreck that is the Grammy Awards.

While I don't track Sly's movements closely, it's been a solid twenty years since I heard any word of him. Back then he was supposedly clean (for the hundredth time), ready to groove and leading a new band called the One-Eyed Jacks. At that point Sly had only been gone about a decade. That was the statistically outlier for a comeback bid in the age before irony ruled and Sonic Youth rehabilitated Karen Carpenter.

Being immersed in black music at the time, I was excited. Three reasons: (1) I was young and therefore naive; (2) Sly sounded coherent during the radio interview I heard; (3) I thought maybe he had heard Prince finishing what he started and wanted back in for some of the glory.

For all I know Sly went straight from that interview to a Buick with coke in the ashtray. Whatever happened, he virtually vanished from the landscape. I vaguely remember a cameo when the band got its Hall of Fame Induction. If memory serves, though, Sly was unable (or unwilling) to perform. When PBS did its History of Rock & Roll miniseries back in the Nineties, Family Stone bassist Larry Graham—himself The Shit—sort of stood in for Sly, just as he had when he led the band through a few Family songs at the HOF.

Probably Sly's beyond performing. Still, it'd be nice to see him. Even on the Grammys.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Rating the Time-Life Informercial Stars

Barry "Greg Brady" Williams (70s Music Explosion)
The geniuses at Time-Life wisely scoured the has-bin for a representative of America’s kitschiest decade. Good thing they didn’t pick Leif Garrett. An old pro, Williams lays on the pitch with admirable enthusiasm, while at the same time subliminally expressing that he’s in on the joke that is him. He is also the most comprehensible choice for a host in the T-L stable. After all, this is the kind of gig a Barry Williams does. Bonus points for remaining long and lanky at age 50—the way he looks is shocking in a good way. No T-L host wears a better shirt, either.

Pros
• Self-awareness
• Not Leif Garrett
• Semi-dead ringer for fellow cryogenics guinea pig Lindsey Buckingham
• Excels despite being saddled with transparently disinterested sidekick

Cons
• Only peripherally a music performer
• Distracting "groovy dad" vibe
• Pretty much dogged by buff Christopher Knight in those workout informercials

Kenny Rogers (Superstars of Country)
I assume that anyone shilling for Time-Life is doing it for the money, even Barry Williams. No problem. Bald selling out is fine with me, as long as we all agree that it’s bald selling out. But how can it be possible that Kenny Rogers—the Gambler!—needs money?

This man put together one of the most calculatedly successful careers in pop music history. He started making hits in the late 1960s, throwing down pop-psychedelia before transitioning to quiet countrypolitan. After a dry spell and a long huddle with his People, he returned as a country force, cutting hit after hit after hit. Not content with mere wealth, he made a play for Hugeness, recruiting the golden touches of Barry Gibb and Lionel Ritchie, the Midas of Mediocrity. Circa 1981 Rogers was as big as it got. Believe me, it’s no joke he performed on "We Are the World." Virtually no one else on that record could match his sales. Never mind that his manager set the whole thing up. In Kenny's case, he didn't need a connection. (Kim Carnes? Maybe.)

In other words, Kenny Rogers was so successful they named one of Neptune’s moons after him. How did it come to pass that he’s introducing a clip of "my good friend" Dolly Parton on late-night cable television? Even more embarrassingly, on CNBC? One is tempted to blame investment problems. Kenny Rogers Roasters went through the dreaded restructuring in the late 1990s despite inspiring a Seinfeld episode. History shows us that fast food empires, like car dealerships, suck down celebrity cash at a furious rate. Yet it’s difficult to believe any investment short of buying Mozambique could drain the cash reserves of a pop monster like the Gambler.

Is he trying to prove he has no shame? Didn’t Six Pack settle that?

Pros
• Still looks like Kenny Rogers
• Wriggled out of advertising the Hee-Haw boxed set
• No hot poultry involved
• Doing better than Lionel Ritchie

Cons
• Seems barely able (or willing) to stand
• Must suffer having clips of his younger self introduced by anonymous blond co-hostess.

Vanessa Williams (Ultimate Love Collection)
Though an attractive woman, I would not use Williams’ name and the word "warm" in the same sentence. If properly limbered up, she could tear out your heart and rip out your throat simultaneously. Under her regime, the Ultimate Love Collection is yours for four easy payments and if you know what's good fer ya.

A pro’s pro, this Williams performs her Time-Life duties with a slickness not even the Gambler can muster—it’s easy to imagine her buzzing through the taping on the first take if she hadn’t been forced to beat a number of the line-flubbing nonentities assigned to sit next to her. In fact she’s so cool her parts, with proper editing, could be used to sell almost anything from toothpaste to nerve gas.

Pros
• Better looking now than when Miss America or scandal-ridden ex-Miss America
• So capable she doesn’t need sidekick
• Was not sexually harassed during film shoot with now-current California governor
• Triple threat of movie actress-singer-infomercialist

Cons
• A little intimidating for 2:30 a.m.
• Under no circumstances do you believe she knows what songs are on the nine CDs

Bobby Vinton (Lifetime of Romance)
This makes sense. Not that we’re putting Vinton down. The Polish Prince parlayed a string of love songs—many featuring blue in the title—into, well, a lifetime of romance. His loyal fan base started out as women who found Neil Diamond too daring. In later years they flocked to Branson to hear "Blue Velvet" one more time, unaware that David Lynch had transformed the song forever, indeed unaware that David Lynch or films with sound existed. Proving his ethnic cred, Vinton’s freakish 1970s hit "My Melody of Love" now is played at every Polish wedding, and probably a few christenings.

Unfortunately, his Time-Life performance is undone by one of the worst hairpieces in celebrity history. Shapeless, frizzy, quite possibly a hair replacement surgery gone horribly wrong—it distracts and it compels. Come to think of it, the eyes look bad, too. Never get your plastic surgery in Branson.

To his credit Vinton seems genuinely interested in what he’s selling. Certainly he gets shown in the clips enough times, so often it suggests he had saturation airplay written into his contract. Of course he’s not as smooth as the Time-Lifers with acting experience. Then again, he has the worst of the blond sidekicks. Imagine that middle-aged woman in the elevator who spontaneously (1) tells you about her relationship with Our Lord and (2) tries to sell you real estate.

Pros
• More alive than most of the people on this commercial
• Probably knows good stories about Bobby Darin

Cons
• This is a step up from Branson

Peabo Bryson (Classic Soul Ballads)
Though I offer no opinion either way on Peabo’s singing, he has a fine voice for infomercials. Fate and Time-Life have cast him to dispense nine CDs of get-laid music. There ain’t no Perry Como here, brother. I find Peabo pleasant but forgettable—nice to have on the TV, but not really able to pitch with Vanessa Williams’ intensity or Rogers’ superstar cred. That said, he puts off a pillow talk vibe I can see appealing to viewers. Whatever the effect of his singing voice, his speaking voice has plenty of bed in it. On the one hand that’s not a bad thing when you’re on heavy rotation after midnight. On the other, the sociopathic loners watching don’t have anyone to share the sheets with.

Peabo also benefits of a tightly-focused product. Longtime viewers know the songs on Lifetime of Romance range all over the place, from Andy Williams to Stan Getz to Charlie Rich to something called Mr. Acker Bilk. Not the case here. Fortunately, viewers only get five seconds of each song, for such highly-concentrated blasts of Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and Luther Vandross—the Murderer’s Row of the missionary position—are too much for most of us. I’m frankly surprised T-L can dispense this product without a license.

Pros
• Excellent voice
• Non-offensive
• Somewhat strikingly bald

Cons
• Music will only make you feel lonely
• Non-offensiveness due in part to charisma deficit
• Somewhat strikingly chunky

Monday, January 16, 2006

Monday News Wire

Gene Simmons adds race car obsession to history's longest midlife crisis. The KISS bassist/glam freak is ambassadoring for IRL (Indy cars, as in Indy 500). For Zod's sake. This is akin to Rundgren joining two-fifths of the Cars. You're Gene Simmons! You're cool! Don't adulterate it!

Flaming Lips new album imminent like an onrushing meteor. Will they play cruise ships again? Bonus: Wayne Coyne promises an on-stage space bubble.

DeFranco opens primo performing space... in Buffalo. The city, not the animal.

Pollard promises drunkenness, two or three dozen songs. Rock's most legendary beer cooler to tour.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Madden File

Correspondent Chrispy checks in:

You probably already know this detail from the Dave Madden file, but Danny Bonaduce in real life saw Madden as a sort of fun uncle figure. I guess to help get him away from Bonaduce's dire family situation, Madden would let him stay over on weekends, get drunk with him, hangout. Lest you imagine a Neverland Ranch situation, all participants say nothing below the belt occurred and that Madden didn't play that way. Bonaduce said later that Madden probably saved his life. Ten points.

[Oh, man. And you freakin' KNOW Madden had a wet bar in the house, possibly in place of a kitchen. Madden's drink of choice? I'm thinking Canadian Club, maybe Jim Beam. I'm guessing the Duce drank whatever was in the cabinet. —KC]

Ask the Bolshevik



Dear Bolshevik:
Last night I had a double-celebrity dream: Telly Savalas and Ellen DeGeneres. Despite an obsession with Telly, he'd never entered my subconscious before. Fortunately, this appearance featured not only him, but his brother George (aka Demosthenes). During the dream I went to an apartment where Telly and George appeared to be going over some accounting figures. Both looked just as they do on Kojak reruns, right down to the clothes (spiffy for Telly, rumpled for George). We shot the shit awhile. Then Telly said he had to leave to go work on a case.

I expressed to George that it was great his brother still solved mysteries at his age. George replied that it was "unofficial" police work. I got the idea he meant Telly was just a crazy old guy acting like a police detective. That made me sad.

The Ellen DeGeneres part of the dream is too sexual to share here, and involves me losing her to a much-younger Latin or Indian guy, but let's just say that my subconscious believes she has a hairy butt—downy white hair but hairy—and leave it at that.


Thoughts?

A: The Savalas Brothers—band name alert—what an awesome subconscious duo! I'm convinced that the Telly archetype was still active when you moved into the Ellen phase of the dream. There was a symbolic connection between his bald head and her hairy butt—a.k.a. the head-butt dichotomy. The head should be hairy, the butt should not. And yet the symbolism was reversed, and in some sense it was in real life too: Telly's bald head was a symbol of power and masculinity in the 70s, when virtually every pop icon was resplendent in flowing locks. As for Ellen, she might not really have hair on her buttocks, but there's something different going on down there.

[Reader Tony providing voice of The Bolshevik.]

Friday News Wire

Salon writer sings praises of Jack. More signs that the once-vital webzine needs to pay for better writers. I won't lie. Our local Jack franchise surprised me this morning with a play of the Beatles' "It's Getting Better," stuck right where they usually play their third Billy Idol song of the wee hours ("Mony, Mony," usually). But that was a rare moment of pleasure.

Before the evisceration, a quote from the story:

It's been so long since I turned on the radio and felt any element of surprise; I don't even mind that as often as not, the surprise isn't a good one. One moment I'm putty, wailing along with Patti Smith or Led Zep, the next I'm spanked back with a dose of Huey Lewis. But when I tune in and he offers the playfully erotic call-and-response teaming of "Brick House" and "I Want Candy," I think, I don't care if it's just a random, computer-generated thing. Jack, you get me.
This paragraph doesn't really show what Jack provides in, say, a given hour. It's more like impressions culled from a week's worth of radio listening, with a memory block on the unending plays of already exhausted format mainstays like "Roxanne." More and more it seems to me—and I admit I listen less and less—that the format has a base playlist as restricted and boring as any other oldies station, but jazzes things up a bit by tossing in, say, two songs an hour, from out of nowhere (that would be the Patti Smith mentioned above).

We'll be live blogging us some Jack soon to prove these and other points. If they ever go an hour without playing Genesis, that is.

Fripp of King Crimson fame making sounds for your software. Everytime you download an attachment you'll get an eight-minute guitars-synth raga.

iPod in yo' pants make you need to dance! A control panel on the right hip kind of rocks. Pricing Levi's at $200 seems kind of antithetical to what the company has always represented, but no doubt they look at the absurd prices others get for the People's Fabric and want a piece of the pie. Sure it's an item guaranteed to show up on I Love the 00s, when the iPod seems novel to Americans able to download music directly to their head, but as blogger John Carroll points out, a bigger point is that the iPod has spawned an ecosystem (his term) for allied products and accessories. Why not Levi's? My question: laundering such jeans. Will the iPod become a Nano if you use hot water?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Kill the redhead

We have a sort of low-rent version of TV Land here in Chicago called Me TV. Shows spontaneously run backward, or stop altogether, or you see the black screen with "AD #1" just before one cast of Mission: Impossible is replaced by another, or—particularly vexing to me—another Starsky & Hutch comes on when I'm ready for Kojak.

Last week I landed on The Me and like a revelation, like a diamond bullet right through my forehead, I found another of my role models for middle age.

Reuben Kincaid. Dubious swinger, Partridge Family booking agent, and of course, constant tormentee of PF bassist Danny Partridge. As played by sitcom pro and Laugh In alum Dave Madden, Reuben lived the dream as a swinging single, jumping from hotel room to hotel room, always with a stewardess on his arm and a turtleneck-sports coat ensemble the color of a condiment. Best of all, Reuben wore the bitching eye covers to bed, a strange detail that caught my attention as a kid and still made me laugh last week.

Reuben had it hard, too. When Danny wasn't interrupting Main Man's sleep, he was always dragging him out of bars. Was a 10% cut worth this shit? You know, maybe. Chicks dig a man in show business, especially a player.

Virtually no TV show pushing empty entertainment calories passed without a Madden guest shot. Being a familiar face, he did all the anthologies from Love, American Style—tell me he wore the flannel pajamas—to Fantasy Island. But he excelled at sitcoms, though to my knowledge never played another character named after a deli item.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Ah, the smell of it!

While out in the world I caught a pleasant whiff of a forgotten odor: after shave. Mind you, I live in one of the gayest areas of a major American metropolis, and am thus used to males what smell purty. But this was after shave, not cologne—the commoner's scent. Or perhaps I should say commodore’s scent, as I believe it was Old Spice.

Whatever happened to after shave? Is it still widely used? Or does it belong to that part of the consumer economy we refer to as Old Man Products? Time was—I continued in my thoughts, clearly trying to avoid work—when after shave companies went in for saturation TV advertising, particularly during manly programming like cop shows and sporting events. Though I don’t watch nearly as much TV as I did in my youth, most of what I do watch consists of cop shows and sporting events. On the rare occasions I see an ad for a scent it is for a young men’s cologne, all of which have EXTREME or an X in the name.

Anyway, within forty-eight hours of all these thoughts, I saw a TV ad for Lectric Shave.

Lectric Shave! The glow-in-the-dark liquid that looks like alien blood but smells sweet as manhood itself. Then I remembered… Lectric Shave didn’t even come close to controlling the market. Joe Namath peddled Brut, or as Broadway Joe said, "the great smell of Brut." Meanwhile, the strangely Japanese-themed Hai Karate suggested its users would be transformed—into chick magnets, yes, but also into Popeye, as they became unaccountably aggressive. Bruce Lee died for this?

Of course the champion was Old Spice. What great commercials. Some male model in a turtleneck wanders the streets in a temperate port—never a hellhole like Calcutta or a city of stews like Hamburg. As he walks he turns female heads with his scent and dimples. Where did this foxy, clearly unbuggered yachtsman set sail from? the women asked, as the familiar flute or other sea-pipe tune played in the background. He’d throw the jacket over his shoulder, forego the tests for parasites, and head over to Her Place for, heh heh, shore leave. That Old Spice could cover the odor of a man long at sea proved its amazing powers.

A search of the Internet points out that Old Spice remains on sale, that Brut has outlived Namath’s dignity and is a cologne, not an after shave.

By the way, not much has changed. Like the after shave ads of yore, the new Lectric Shave promises sex as well as poor spelling. It would be more pungent (yet more truthful) to say it promises the first name of Auric Goldfinger’s pilot, but we’ll settle, for a post about Lectric Shave is pungent enough. And, being newly alerted to men’s fragrances, I soon noticed that ads for a new cologne called Axe (note the X) crib Hai Karate’s gimmick. The latter once hinted its customers needed martial arts to fight off the women; and sure enough the guys in the Axe commercials are pursued as if they’re Beatles. This in addition to the mental connection—chop with hand, chop with axe, and so on. Weak.

Monday News Wire

Howard Stern debuts; world survives. Not a joke: he has hired George "Sulu, Master Navigator" Takei as his announcer.

Woman steals to fund Elvis obsession. Amateur! Others would kill for him! He is your king, ingrate!

David Lee Roth replaces someone else for once. Howard Stern, if you haven't heard. What's less likely, and you must choose one: Diamond Dave touring anew with Van Halen, or the fact he's delivered three babies as an EMT?

Will Strokes survive the third album test? We don't know, either.

Black people fail to succeed in country music, settle for dominance everywhere else. I'm white, and I'd feel silly in those hats.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Friday News Wire

Stunning: Cowsills singer a Katrina casualty. Barry Cowsill's body was fished out of New Orleans in late December. For those unaware, the Cowsills were the late Sixties Rhode Island pop band—Barry, five siblings, and their mother—that inspired the make-believe Partridge Family. Hits included "Indian Lake" and the theme from "Hair," plus "The Rain, the Park, and Other Things," a rare example of what might be labeled bubblegum psychedelic music.

Lou Rawls, RIP.

Barry Gibb buys Johnny Cash's house. Will he redo the kitchen?

New York AG probes download prices. And we all now how painful that can be. The sooner the Internet destroys record labels, the better. For God's sake, they've had years to get a handle on downloading, to make money from it, to absorb it into their Borg collective. Miffed with Apple? Quit bitching and, you know, compete.

Slate on forgotten 2005 album gems. I'd forgotten there was a group called Fannypack.