Rock me and roll me till I’m sick

Posted in Dancing about architecture, Somebody's birthday on July 29th, 2008 by bill
Jake the Poacher from Withnail and I would have called this "prancing like a tit."

It has only just come to my attention that this weekend marked the 65th birthday of Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger (DOB 7/26/43), prompting all sorts of hi-larious headlines about how the Mickster is now eligible for a pension. So a tip of the hat to Sir Michael Philip Jagger, who certainly seems to be enjoying his life, although he hasn't made a good album for either 27 or 32 years, depending on whom you ask (I personally give the benefit of the doubt to 1981's Tattoo You). I wanted to post something by way of tribute, and I don't know how I could do better than the following Mick tribute by Gilda Radner. A bit of setup: A couple of times on Saturday Night Live Gilda did a character called Candy Slice, a dirty punk rocker loosely but clearly based on Patti Smith. She revived the character for her post-SNL Broadway show, which was subsequently released as a movie called Gilda Live, from which this clip is taken. The song she's doing, "Gimme Mick," is a fairly simplistic punkish number, but energetically played and with great lyrics. In case you want to sing along, the chorus goes like this:
Gimme Mick, gimme Mick
Baby's hair, bulging eyes
Lips so thick
Are you woman, are you man?
I'm your biggest funked-up fan
So rock me and roll me till I'm sick
Keep an eye out for Paul Shaffer (as Candy's drummer/enabler) and guitarist G.E. Smith, Gilda's pre–Gene Wilder husband (better known as the grinning skull who led the SNL band from 1985 to 1995). Update 5/15: The clip from Gilda Live has been wiped from the internet by the forces of the Long Plastic Hallway. I fail to see how that helps anybody, but whatever. Here's the SNL version instead:

Two guys named Bill

Posted in Dancing about architecture, The sacred box on July 22nd, 2008 by bill
william-shatner-kidney-stone.jpgp23059pzrq8.jpg The filename of the picture at the left,
for reasons I won't go into here, is "william-shatner-kidney-stone."

As fate would have it, one day recently the postman brought CDs by two guys named Bill: The Transformed Man by William (Bill to his friends) Shatner and The Best of Bill Withers (Bill to everybody, as far as I know). Shatner, who is never far from my consciousness to begin with, has been especially on my mind lately because my lady friend and I have become dangerously obsessed with the TV show Boston Legal. At one time I would have had a hard time publicly admitting this fact, because BL is after all a prime-time lawyer show, and what self-respecting pseudo-intellectual watches those? But honestly, this show couldn't be more different from the CSIs and Law and Orders of the world: where they are ponderous and self-important, it is playful and self-aware; where they are stuffy and straight-laced, it is sexy and insouciant; where they revel in procedural details, it makes no pretense of realism whatsoever. Boston Legal may not be the best show in the history of television, but it is among the most entertaining. And there at the center of it all is the man himself: The Shat, bestriding the proceedings like the colossus that he is. James Spader as Alan Shore may get more screen time (and is no slouch himself in the Magnificent Overacting department) , but it is Shatner's Denny Crane who gives the show its spirit: totally over-the-top, absolutely shameless, and suffused with a lustful, ageless vitality. Like Shatner himself, Boston Legal's utter fearlessness sometimes leads it to cross the line into ridiculousness, and so what? Which leads me to The Transformed Man. Like any good student of popular culture, I was familiar with Shatner's notorious versions of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Mr. Tambourine Man," but I had never before heard the complete album from which they were taken. I can't exactly call it a revelation; even at 34 minutes, The Transformed Man is entirely too much of...well, not a good thing, but certainly a thing. A thing where Shatner, in his patented turbocharged scenery-chewing style, declaims excerpts from Shakespeare and lyrics by Dylan and Lennon over cheesy orchestral backing. It's almost impossible to listen to all the way through — in fact to do so is to risk permanent brain damage — but it is without doubt an experience unlike any other. I'm not quite sure how to segue now into a discussion of Bill Withers, who is everything Shatner is not: humbly self-effacing, effortlessly soulful, and possessed of a mind-blowing musical talent. But I guess I've just done it, so that's a load off my mind. Consider, just for starters, "Lean on Me." This is one of those songs that it's hard to conceive of anyone actually writing — it just seems like it's always been there. But before Bill Withers, this was a world without "Lean on Me" in it. Rectifying that situation by itself would have been enough for one lifetime; but he also wrote and recorded hits like "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lovely Day," and "Grandma's Hands," as well as lesser-known but equally great songs such as "I Don't Know" and "Take It All in and Check It All Out." While we're at it, it would be wrong not to mention "Use Me" or "Who Is He and What Is He to You" or "Harlem." And "Just the Two of Us," though damaged somewhat by decades of overexposure and misappropriation by Will Smith, still goes down pretty smooth. (Aside: It occurred to me listening this time just how odd, or how progressive, or how something it was that "Just the Two of Us" was a duet between two men.) "Just the Two of Us," released in 1980, was pretty much Withers' last hurrah. The compilation includes a couple of tracks he recorded in the mid-80s, and these are disitnctly inferior. It's not Bill's fault that the classic soul of the 60s and 70s gave way to synthesized twaddle during the Reagan years, but apparently he was powerless to do anything about it. Which makes me respect all the more that after 1985's Watching You Watching Me, Withers quit the music business and, except for very rare live performances, has never returned. This is quite ususual. It is much more common to see an artist whose time has passed still out there flogging the hits while desperately trying to get someone to pay attention to his latest record. Withers, to his credit, turned his back on the whole circus and walked away. This has only added to the value of what he left behind: a body of work whose warmth, humanity, and compassion transcends time and defies irony. And irony, of course, leads me right back to William Shatner. I really ought to have some neat way to wrap this up, but I don't, so instead, here's a link to a page I found that has lots of videos featuring guys named Bill: Not only Shatner and Withers, but Burroughs and (boo) O'Reilly as well: VIDEOS FEATURING GUYS NAMED BILL

I have so many good ideas

Posted in Whatever Else on July 18th, 2008 by bill

And so many of them go unused. For instance, I think that someone should start a band that does electro-pop covers of old blues songs, and furthermore I think that this band should be called "Robot Johnson." That idea is free if you want it.

…and we’re back (again)

Posted in Whatever Else on July 17th, 2008 by bill
So last week it seemed the Great Silence had come to an end. Everything was up and running, I had some good momentum going, it was like a train on greased rails, and then...silence again. It's still unclear exactly what happened this time, but reports out of Mediajunkie HQ are implicating an Ethernet cable detached by a clumsy cleaning woman. And I think we all know how that makes me feel....

A Tony Danza Moment

Posted in Whatever Else on July 11th, 2008 by bill
A weird little moment on the way to work today: I was flipping around the radio and alighted for a moment on KFRC, which plays soothingly predictable rock and soul hits. Apparently today is "Aloha Friday," and the chirpy DJ announced that he had a caller on the line: Tony Danza, who was listening online from LA and wanted to play the ukelele on the air. We were then treated to a brief — apparently improvised — ukelele tune from someone who may or may not have been Tony Danza, during which he transposed the station's call letters to "KRFC." The only thing that would have been stranger is if he'd played "Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza."

Black Is Back

Posted in Dancing about architecture on July 10th, 2008 by bill
I appropriated this image of Charles Thompson in Dublin from Diary of and Up and Coming Sociopath.

My town had a visitation last night from someone who, until recently, was thought to be long dead: Black Francis, rock star. The circumstances of this happening were less than auspicious. It took place in a little hole-in-the-wall Oakland nightclub (the Uptown), on a weeknight, after all present had had their vitality drained by two underwhelming opening acts and long stretches of sweaty boredom in between. Some members of my party didn't even stick around to see the headliner, and I can't say as I blame them. I was questioning my own sanity when midnight came and went and there was still no sign of His Blackness. The sound check was dragging on interminably; a cadre of hipsters stood around the drum kit gesturing and nodding glumly, like doctors agreeing on a terminal diagnosis. Finally, though, one of them gave a signal that looked to mean "Fuck it, let's go ahead anyway." The house music went down and there he was: Our Hero, the stocky, balding fat man in a black shirt and black shades, faithful bass player and drummer at his side. There was a moment of awkwardness as the band tried to settle in, some feedback and rattling noises, and I thought we might be in for a bumpy ride. I was picturing Francis playing half a song, declaring this place unfit for performance, throwing down his guitar and storming off, leaving us to try to collect a refund from the hapless promoters. But then they kicked into "Your Mouth into Mine," and within a couple bars you knew you were in the presence of Professional Rock Musicians. The doubts and fears disappeared, the extraneous sounds were forgotten, overwhelmed by the sheer force of what was being produced by the three men onstage. I was reminded of one of my favorite things about live rock'n'roll: the way the feedback from the guitar and bass rattles the cymbals, as if the instruments were playing each other. The second song was "Threshold Apprehension," one of the standouts from the 2007 release Bluefinger. This, I remember, was the song that served notice that Black Francis was back. He had been unseen and presumed dead since the Pixies broke up in 1993. The guy who took his place, Frank Black, produced a series of albums that started out fantastic but over the years became less and less vital. I pretty much gave up on him after 2002's Black Letter Days; he still wrote the occasional great song, but produced way too much music with way too little quality control. When the Pixies reunited for a profitable reunion tour in 2004-05, he became Black Francis again, and apparently remembered that being a rock star was fun. He stuck with the name for Bluefinger, which not coincidentally contained the most Pixies-esque music he'd recorded in years, angular rockers full of odd twists and turns that sounded wrong on first listening, but after a few repetitions revealed themselves to be beautifully right. When he uncorked his trademark howl on "Threshold Apprehension," the hearts of Pixies fans everywhere were gladdened. Those that were listening, anyway. BF's audience has dwindled a bit since he used to play the Warfield, and there was plenty of elbow room even in the narrow confines of the Uptown. The mosh pit that used to be hundreds strong is now reduced to a few hardy souls. But still, there was a decent smattering of people in the crowd who knew the words and sang along, and that was somewhat heartening. The songs—almost all of them taken from Bluefinger and its follow-up, Svn Fngrs—sounded great in a live setting: noisy, droning, and propulsive but still melodic. But that didn't stop my old knees and back from complaining, so I did something that woud have been unthinkable in the old days: Left before the encores. If there were any. But let it be known, let it be told: Black is back. If he comes to your town — especially on a weekend — take your medicine and go check him out.

Modern Life Is…

Posted in Dancing about architecture on July 9th, 2008 by bill
...for one thing, pretty weird sometimes. I was just reading an AP story headlined "Iran Test-Fires Nine Missiles, Warns It Will Retaliate." Serious business, that, with ramifications that could affect the future of the entire world. But the Internet doesn't know that; it just picks up on the word "Iran" and on the right side of the page I get a picture of a pretty Middle Eastern girl and the words "Meet Persian Singles Online." Or maybe I'm not giving the Web enough credit...maybe there's a subtle "make love, not war" message being sent by Skynet's future ancestors. I'm feeling very modern today, listening to Beck's new album Modern Guilt, which I downloaded last night and transported into work on my memory stick. (Note to self: Someday record Ian Dury cover called "Hit Me with Your Memory Stick.") So far I'm digging it. The first song for some reason reminds me of "You're So Vain." A lot of this album sounds about like what I would have expected a Beck/Danger Mouse collaboration to sound like, somewhere between Odelay and Demon Days. The last song, "Volcano," is a keeper. Sample lyric: "I've been drifting on this wave so long, I don't know/If it's already crashed on the shore." Hmm...they've definitely done something here, but it's going to take a while to figure out exactly what.

…and we’re back

Posted in Whatever Else on July 8th, 2008 by bill
ba-fire08_ph3_0498753111.jpg I support our firefighters. And yet there's something about this photo that I find irresistibly hilarious. Three dollars to whoever can supply the knee-slapping caption that is eluding me. . Well hello blogosphere! How have you been? Yes, you don't need to tell me: It's been much longer than a week. Circumstances have conspired to keep us apart for two whole months, and so much has happened that I scarcely know where to begin. For instance, it appears that pretty much every part of California except for the block I live on is currently on fire. Every morning when I step outside to get my newspaper the air smells like a campground, and by mid-evening the sun has dwindled to a tiny orange dot because of all the smoke in the air. They say something like 1800 fires are burning in the state today, and you have to wonder how long that can go on before they start joining forces. I expect Arnold to come on TV any minute now and say: "I have some good news and bad news, Cal-ee-fornia. The good news is the number of fires has declined steeply from the high of 1800. The bad news is the entire state is now one big fire from Nevada to the Pacific Ocean." Speaking of plagues that beset our land, this summer finds Oakland once again overrun with Canadian geese, our least wanted import from the north since Celine Dion. Every spring, we have a nice variety of pleasant birds; every summer, it's just geese, geese, and more geese. These are not your cute-type birds, more web-footed hoodlums who shit everywhere. When I look at the teeming masses of geese that ring Lake Merritt, you know what I see? A good source of protein going to waste. Speaking of things going to waste, George Carlin recently passed away. Wait, he hated euphemisms: In fact, George Carlin recently died, with a suddenness that was shocking despite his moderately advanced age. George said a lot of things in his time, many of them funny, some of them wise, others just silly. Here's one that says a lot about the times we're living in: "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that." Speaking of stupidity, I pretty much missed my chance to weigh in on the whole "terrorist fist jab" brouhaha, which is probably just as well, because those scumbags at Fox News wanted to get us talking about it so it would stick in people's heads. You'd like to think there aren't that many dim bulbs who will walk into their polling places scratching their heads as an inner voice mutters "Obama...terrorist...fist jab...bad...must vote for other guy." You'd like to think that, but you'd probably be wrong. I did want to say one thing, even though Dave Barry has probably gotten there first: "Terrorist Fist Jab" is a terrific name for a rock band. ("Hello Cleveland...we're Terrorist Fist Jab, and we're here to rock you half to death!") Oh, and by the way, Cloud Atlas turned out to be pretty great. An unusual combination of breathless page-turner and Literature with a cap "L." Well worth a read.