He Is Your Slice of Life

Posted in Somebody's birthday on July 31st, 2007 by bill
Appropriated from Burkhart Studios

Turning 50 today: one of my musical idols, Daniel Ash of Bauhaus/Tones on Tail/Love and Rockets fame. Although not what you could call a household name, Ash has had a long and illustrious career that lifts him up high into the pantheon, just one notch below his obvious role model, David Bowie. Bauhaus hit the scene in 1979 with "Bela Lugosi's Dead," a nine-minute-long slice of idiot-savant strangeness from a band that barely knew how to play. For its first half, "Bela" consists of Peter Murphy's moaning vocals riding a stuttering, bat-echo rhythm. The second half is all Daniel Ash and his effects pedals putting on a fireworks show. It's freaky, off-kilter, borderline ridiculous, and oddly charming. "Bela Lugosi's Dead" remains a much-beloved underground chestnut to this day; when I saw Bauhaus in 2005, they played it as an encore and people went nuts. Bauhaus released four albums and various singles after that, developing a signature sound that was a perplexing mixture of arty effeteness and metallic aggression. Ash increasingly added acoustic guitars to their music in later years, bringing a textural richness to such lovely numbers as "All We Ever Wanted Was Everything," "Kingdom's Coming," and especially "Slice of Life," which was his first and only lead vocal on a Bauhaus song. It's a curious footnote to the Bauhaus saga that Daniel Ash, who except for "Slice of Life" was limited to backing vocals, turned out to have a truly great and unique singing voice, at once sweet and smoky, not as powerful as Murphy's baritone but much more versatile. After the demise of Bauhaus he became the frontman of Tones on Tail, whose variation on the Bauhaus sound — equally dark but more electronic and less angular — blew a lot of minds in a short time. They made only one real album (Pop) before morphing into Love and Rockets with the departure of Glenn Campling and the return of Bauhaus bassist David J. Love and Rockets, in turn, mutated into a gen-u-wine pop band, adding elements of glam, psychedelia, and Beatley melodicism to the mix. They made several albums that stand high on my all-time list, including Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, Express, and the self-titled album that finally put them on the charts with "So Alive." Showing an unexpected sense of humor, they sometimes appeared in costume as "The Bubblemen" (even releasing a Bubblemen EP in 1988), with Daniel Ash occasionally dressing in drag. The last time I saw Daniel, he was looking pretty butch, playing guitar for a reconstituted Bauhaus and sporting surprising biceps. Although known to be fond of motorcycles and recreational chemicals, he apparently intends to go on living, which is good. Maybe we'll get an L&R tour sometime before his 60th birthday. Perhaps my favorite Daniel Ash moment comes from a show at the Berkeley Community Theater circa 1989. The Lovely Rockets — who started off shaky as a live band but improved steadily over the years — had just played a scorching set. Never exactly raconteurs, they had said barely a word during the proceedings, but after it was over, Ash put down his guitar, adopted a Preslyish sneer, said "Never be an old fart!" and exited stage left. He's stayed true to his word, and we should all be so lucky.

Death of a Tour

Posted in Tour de France on July 26th, 2007 by bill
The robots who analyze everything I do are wondering why I haven't written a word about the Tour de France since 2005. There are two reasons. One is that I burned myself out writing about it every damn day for a month. The other is that it's getting harder and harder to care about Le Tour. Last year, a doping scandal on the eve of the race forced many of the contenders, including Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, to drop out. Floyd Landis appeared to redeem the event with a superhuman comeback leading to a triumphant victory, then got caught up in a drug controversy of his own. This year, things have gotten ridiculous. Just in the last three days: • Alexandre Vinokourov got thrown out over a blood transfusion. This resulted in the withdrawal of his team, Astana, including Andreas Klöden, who was fifth overall at the time. • Christian Moreni tested positive for testosterone and got the boot along with his team, Cofidis. • And to top it all off Michael Rasmussen, who had been in the yellow jersey for a week and looked virtually certain to win the Tour, got kicked off his team for hiding his whereabouts, apparently to avoid a drug test, earlier in the summer. As of today, only 142 of the 189 riders who started remain, and they're dropping like flies.* The champion-apparent has vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving rookie Alberto Contador atop the general classification. And with three days to go before the Tour ends, we still don't know who won last year's race, because no definitive decision has come down on the Landis situation. I've been trying my damndest to give a crap, but I don't think I can keep it up. French newspapers have been saying that the Tour is dead (only in French — "Le Tour Est Mort," something like that). Of course, they love to be dramatic, and I'm pretty sure they've considered the Tour dead since Lance Armstrong started winning every year...but this time, they may be on to something. . . * Since I started writing this, I've learned that Rabobank leader Denis Menchov up and quit the race halfway through today's stage. The Web site cyclingpost.com says: "No crash was reported to have happened prior to the abandonment, which makes it likely that the rider retired due to a lack of motivation following the Rasmussen scandal."

Daydream Nation

Posted in Dancing about architecture on July 20th, 2007 by bill
Apparently, Sonic Youth was
institutionalized for a while last
year. But all is well now.

Last night I had the opportunity to see Sonic Youth at the Berkeley Community Theatre — always a favorite venue — playing their historic recording Daydream Nation in its entirety. Despite the obscene heat, a good time was had by all. Highlights: ● That lovely, chiming cascade of notes that kicks off "Teenage Riot." This is one of those great album openings that the album itself can't quite live up to. Truth to tell, I've always thought Daydream Nation was overrated. It's uneven, overlong, and at times willfully obnoxious; but for the duration of this guitar intro, you're charmed into believing that this time, everything will be perfect. ● The chugging riff of "Total Trash." They could have jettisoned three or four of the lesser songs and just played this again instead, and I would have been happy. ● Thurston Moore's hair. Although he must be at least in his mid-40s by now, Thurston still has top-quality rock'n'roll hair, which he whirls about joyfully while torturing his guitar. ● Seeing Pavement bassist Mark Ibold toddle onstage for the encores. Apparenly he's found gainful employment filling in for Kim Gordon while she sings and dances, and good for him. ● The encore of "Do You Believe in Rapture," an exquisite song from SY's latest album, Rather Ripped (named, I just learned — and I can't believe I didn't know this already — for the much-loved, long-defunct Berkeley record store). It had been awhile since I went to this kind of rock concert, where everybody mostly stands and looks, with the occasional headbanging thrown in. Having been away from it for awhile, it struck me as odd; there was this quality of "Let's all stare at these strange animals who make music." As if Sonic Youth were howler monkeys or something. It made me kind of understand the opening act, an enigmatic group who played an endless, ethereal drone while seated in a circle, paying no attention whatsoever to the audience. This is worthy of further thought; but my available time for today is at an end.

In Praise of Television

Posted in Dancing about architecture on July 17th, 2007 by bill
BGR-13.jpg Someone took this picture of Television, and I thank them for it.

I stand here before you today to sing the praises of Television. Not the medium — though, yes, I love that too — but the band: Tom Verlaine (gtr/voc), Richard Lloyd (gtr), Fred Smith (bass), and Billy Ficca (drums). I specifically wish to single out for praise their debut and masterpiece, 1977's Marquee Moon. Their second album, Adventure (1978), and self-titled comeback album (1991) are both worthy in their own ways, but Marquee Moon stands alone. Ye Olde Jeffe Greene introduced me to this album some years ago via old-fashioned audio-magnetical cassette tape, and I was amazed at its sublime balance of aggression and precision. This year, Marquee Moon turns 30, and it has not dated one iota. I pulled the CD (well-scuffed and due for replacement) out of the stacks last week and haven't been able to stop listening to it. I am listening to it right now. From the first hammering chords of "See No Evil" to the last wistful notes of "Torn Curtain," this is that rarest of treasures: a full-length recording without a single weak point or misfire. All killer, as we used to say, and no filler. Because they were part of the New York/CBGB/late-70s scene, Television are often lumped in with the punk and new wave bands of the era, but this is mostly an accident of history. Nothing against bands like Blondie, the Ramones, or my beloved Talking Heads, but Television's brand of virtuosic, cinematic rock is a different animal altogether. Marquee Moon, with its whipcrack rhythms and strategically intertwining guitar lines, may be the most structurally perfect guitar-based music ever made. Some people find Tom Verlaine's voice — technically suspect and borderline whiny — to be an obstacle. I think it fits the music perfectly, and anyway, with a different singer Television would have been a different band. And that would have been unfortunate, because no one was qualified to take their place.