Rock’s Other Mick

Posted in Somebody's birthday on June 26th, 2007 by bill
mick_jones.jpg Mick Jones, back when everybody thought he was cool

Born today in 1955: Clash guitarist/vocalist Mick Jones. I feel badly for Mick, and not just because of his scarifying English teeth. Although he was co-leader of the Clash — once known as "The Only Band That Matters" and still untouchably hip 30 years after hitting the scene — history has cast him as McCartney to Joe Strummer's John Lennon. Conventional wisdom has it that Strummer was the band's conscience, standing firm in defense of punk-rock purity, while Jones was the sellout who craved pop success. And certainly it's true that "Train in Vain" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go" — two of the Clash's least political and (not coincidentally) most popular songs — were Mick's doing. On the other hand, when Jones was forced out after Combat Rock, Strummer's Clash proceeded to make the laughable Cut the Crap. So while the comparison may be apt, it's just as much a mistake to underestimate Jones's contribution to the Clash as it is to underestimate Paul's contribution to the Beatles. In this schematic Big Audio Dynamite is Wings, and that seems about right. Don Letts=Linda McCartney? Could be.) The Globe would be Band on the Run, No. 10 Upping Street would be Ram or somesuch...well, why get carried away with this thing. The point is, give Mick his propers today. A listening of London Calling wouldn't be a bad idea; but then again, it never is.

Pipes of Peace

Posted in Something about the Beatles on June 21st, 2007 by bill
paulanimals.jpg Paul McCartney loves animals so much that he feeds them his own fingers.

And here we are, nearly halfway through two thousand and seven. It's getting late, very late in history. With that in mind, I think it's time to finally heal a great rift that has lingered on for far too long, a tribal conflict so ancient that those involved have a hard time remembering why it started in the first place. I am speaking, of course, of the ongoing hostilities between the John and Paul camps. Not that there's really much of a Paul camp anymore — you're hard-pressed to find anyone who will stand up in public and take Paul's side in any debate of relative merits — so maybe what I really mean is, between the John camp and Paul McCartney himself. To put it briefly and clearly, it's time to give Paul a break. Because, let's face it, he isn't going to be around forever. (A full-page portrait accompanying a recent New Yorker interview shows him looking wizened, weary, and droopy, though still with a fabulous — albeit artificially black — head of hair.) And he's suffered plenty in recent years, what with Linda dying and the new wife not working out so great, not to mention having to listen to ten thousand "When I'm 64" jokes. So I for one am prepared to make an effort to forgive Paul his excesses and celebrate his achievements. Well, I can't forgive "Silly Love Songs," but I am willing to overlook it in the interest of moving past this destructive conflict. The anti-Paul forces — and I have at times counted myself among them — accuse him of being an empty vessel, a sentimental hack with no real point of view and a prediliction for the easy and cheesy side of pop music. And certainly there is no lack of evidence for these accusations. On the other hand, he was a fairly important cog in the genius machine we call The Beatles. He wrote "You Never Give Me Your Money." He played bass on "Rain." He told Charlie Manson to kill those people. What more do you want? You know who was a pretty big Paul fan? John Lennon. "Paul was one of the most innovative bass players who ever played bass," Lennon said in 1980. He was also known to be enchanted by McCartney songs like "For No One" and "Here, There, and Everywhere." And let us not forget, if it hadn't been for his desire to compete with McCartney, Lennon never would have become the songwriter he was. So I hereby, officially and in public, foreswear hating on Paul so long as we both shall live. (I'll even listen to his new album, as long as I can get it for less than $4 or burn it off somebody.) I encourage you to do the same. Then maybe one day we can all get together, sit down, and smoke the peace pipe. Afterward we'll order pizza — vegetarian, of course, for Paul's sake.

Earth to Travolta: It’s Over

Posted in Whatever Else on June 17th, 2007 by bill
061707COV-big.jpg Picked up the paper this morning and saw John Travolta on the cover of Parade magazine with this headline:
The longtime star wonders: "Am I hot? Am I over?"
Well, I hate to be the one to say it, but: Johnny, baby, you're on the cover of Parade magazine. Ironing. It's over.

O Superwoman

Posted in Somebody's birthday on June 5th, 2007 by bill
ff_laurie_anderson_BW.jpg A rare shot of Laurie Anderson with a normal haircut.

Musician, performance artist, and all-around intimidating brainiac babe Laurie Anderson turns 60 today. That's right, 60. I found this hard to believe, but I double-checked and found it to be true. Yet more proof that Time Is Passing at an Alarming Rate. I've been a fan ever since I heard Mr. Heartbreak, released in 1984, which featured Anderson's trademark mix of cerebral detachment with strong senses of humor and melody. It also was my first exposure to the droll voice of William S. (Uncle Bill) Burroughs, who is heard intoning lines like "The sun's coming up like a big bald head" and "It's driving me crazy, it's driving me nuts." It was only later that I went back and listened to Anderson's debut and probably masterpiece, Big Science. Derived from her five-LP epic United States Live — which, a quarter-century later, I'm still scared of — this album propelled Anderson from avant-garde obscurity onto the pop charts. Viewing it at this remove, it's hard to see why. Not that Big Science isn't great; although strongly redolent of the 80s, it has not dated over the years so much as fermented. What's hard to understand is how it ever found a mainstream audience. "O Superman" — ethereal, arthymic, and over eight minutes long — somehow became a hit single. Could that happen today? You never know, but my inner old fogey (who sounds an awful lot like WSB) is muttering "I don't think so." I have to admit to not being hep to what Laurie is up to today. I only recently acquired her 1994 album Bright Red/Tightrope, so I'm running roughly a decade behind. There's still time to catch up, though, and hopefully time to see her live, which I regret not having done up to this point. In the meantime, please join me at 7:27 tonight for a synchronized listening of "Sharkey's Night" as — wait for it — the sun goes down like a big bald head.

The Sopranos, end minus 1

Posted in The sacred box on June 4th, 2007 by bill
tony.bmp Since viewing last night's penultimate episode of The Sopranos (and how often do you get to use the word "penultimate," accurately anyway, in your daily discourse?), I have been mulling over a theory that is as yet half-formed, or maybe half-baked. But here goes. There is no escaping the fact that in this run-up to the end of the series, David Chase has been wrestling with questions of morality at the highest level. Tony Soprano is a lifelong criminal, a multiple murderer, a serial adulterer, intermittently abusive to his wife and son, and on the whole a menace to society (as emphasized by lingering shots of asbestos being dumped into a lake on Tony's authority). The question is, do Tony's human elements — his affection for his family and friends, his self-awareness, his philosophical bent, his love of ducks, for Chrissake — balance the negatives to make him worthy of some sort of redemption? Or is he just a charming con man who uses those human elements to justify his bad behavior to those around him — and to himself? Chase's answer seems to be the latter. It has been verrrry interesting watching the dissolution of Tony's relationship with Dr. Jennifer Melfi, who has finally come to accept that she is a sort of accomplice, helping Tony feel better about himself so he can continue his sociopathic ways. It occurs to me sitting here just now that Dr. Melfi is and always has been a stand-in for Chase himself, his way of conducting a dialogue with the monster he's created. And if that's so, Melfi's final rejection of Tony represents Chase distancing himself from the character that made him rich and famous, and Melfi's acceptance of responsibility represents Chase accepting responsibility for what he's put into the world. Because, let's face it, despite it all, we love Tony. We sympathize with him and root for him and don't want him to die. And if it came right down to it we couldn't explain why except to say that on some level we would like to be him. He has fun, he does as he pleases, and he gets away with murder, quite literally. Most of us aren't going to imitate Tony in any major way, but the idea that it's alright to do things you know are wrong because they feel good is a seductive and dangerous one. By accepting Tony we accept the idea of selectively swtiching off our consciences, and that's a slippery slope. Which is why this last episode is going to be so important. Will Chase let Tony — and by extension us, the audience — off the hook? Or will Tony finally be called to account for his crimes? We shall see, we shall see. But once viewed through this lens, The Sopranos in its entirety becomes a critique not just of gangster stories, but of the whole human tendency to revel in the bad deeds of others. We love to watch Scarface or The Godfather and we tell ourselves it's OK because "it's not real." Or we read about Al Capone or John Gotti — or Jeffrey Dahmer or Charlie Manson — and get off on it, and it's OK because "I didn't do it, they did it." I think the whole point of The Sopranos may be to say no, it's not OK. You may not be responsible for it, but you are affected by it, and it's important to be aware of that. It's not that we should avoid depictions of crime and violence — that would be impossible, and pointless. But we should resist getting so swept up in the thrill of it that we forget who we are. Or maybe I'm overanalyzing. That seems like am ambitious agenda for a TV show, but then The Sopranos is nothing if not ambitious. Your thoughts, dear reader(s)?

The Year in Philtration

Posted in Whatever Else on June 3rd, 2007 by bill
poston.JPG A young, bug-eyed Tom Poston molests an also young, but already crinkly-looking, Bob Newhart The Philter just turned 2, which means it's time to review the last year's posts and issue updates, corrections, and clarifications. So without further ado: • Abe Vigoda has defied the odds again by remaining alive for another year. Among those whom he's recently outlived are Tom Poston of Mork and Mindy and Newhart fame. Only after Poston's death did I learn he had been married to Suzanne Pleshette, who had co-starred in a different show with Bob Newhart — although Poston's show turned out to be a dream contained entirely within Pleshette's show. I don't know what it all means, and I've already spent entirely too much time trying to figure it out. • Speaking of the dearly departed, I am sad to report that my favorite laundromat, Bud's Suds, is no more. Bud's — in 2005 the subject of a brief photoessay on the dangers of dryer abuse — is mourned by all who knew it. • The Wu-Tang graffiti that I photographed on College Ave. has of course been subsequently painted over, and don't I feel clever for having captured it? • I did not win a Pulitzer for my pithy prose-poem "If I Had a Hammer...." But I should have. • No one has yet invented software that will let you hear any artist performing any song. Too bad, but I remain hopeful. • No aliens—be they Martians, Lectroids, Xists, Betelgeusians, or others—have contacted me yet this year. But the 60th anniversary of the Roswell Incident doesn't roll around until July 8; so, again, I remain hopeful. • Hector Maze remains in limbo and is likely to remain there for the foreseeable future. But one thing I can finish is the dictionary top-of-the-page project, which I left off at piña colada. pleasure dome to plethysmograph (1)
point blank to poker face
police dog to pollen tube
potlatch to pound sterling
prescription to presidency
pretty to prickly
promoter to propaganda
queer to quicksilver
radio telescope to ragweed
receptionist to recluse
regressive to reincarnation
reversed collar to revolution
ring finger to ripple effect
robber to rocket scientist
sabotage to sacrifice
Sasquatch to Saturday
scrap heap to screw conveyor
self-deception to self-motivation
senility to sensualism
sextodecimo to shadow cabinet
shiver to shoot
slow cooker to slush fund
spaceman to Spanish Armada
Spock to spoon
stroke to struggle for existence
Sugarloaf Mountain to sulfur
swagger to swastika
tepee to term insurance
terminus to terrorize
token payment to Tom, Dick and Harry
tome to tongue twister
transaxle to transformation
twaddle to twine
ulcerative to Ultrasuede
Uncle Tom to undefined
undergrad to understand
understandable to undressed
unquestionable to unscathed
uphill to upside-down cake
uttermost to Uzi
validity to Van Buren
velour to venial sin
Volgograd to voluptuous
warm-blooded to warship
waterworn to waxwing (2)
weaver to ween (3)
whiffet (4) to whirlwind
whithersoever (5) to whoops
wire agency to wish filfillment
woodwaxen to Wordsworth
wordy to workload
yin and yang to Yoshihito
zebra crossing to zeugma (6)
zygospore to ZZZ (7)
(1) n. a device for measuring and recording changes in the volume of the body or of a body part or organ
(2) "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain..." –J. Shade
(3) v. to think; suppose
(4) n. an insignificant person
(5) conj. Archaic to whatsoever place
(6) n. the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words when it is appropriate to only one of them or is appropriate to each in a different way, as in to wage war and peace or He caught a trout and a bad cold
(7) (used to represent the sound of a person snoring)