Don’t Let the Smoke Get in Your Eyes

Posted in Dancing about architecture on September 21st, 2015 by bill

So yesterday I read an article celebrating the 30th anniversary of Love and Rockets’ Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven. That means that the following are also 30 years old:

Camper Van Beethoven: Telephone Free Landslide Victory
The Cure: The Head on the Door
The Jesus and Mary Chain: Psychocandy
LL Cool J: Radio
Meat Puppets: Up on the Sun
Minutemen: Three-Way Tie (for Last)
New Order: Low-life
Run-DMC: King of Rock
Shriekback: Oil and Gold
The Sisters of Mercy: First and Last and Always
Sonic Youth: Bad Moon Rising
Talking Heads: Little Creatures
Tears for Fears: Songs from the Big Chair
Tom Waits: Rain Dogs
After Hours
Back to the Future
The Breakfast Club
Desperately Seeking Susan
Into the Night
Jagged Edge
Runaway Train
The Sure Thing
Weird Science

And here we have hard evidence, in case anyone needed it, that time is passing entirely too quickly. In 1985 – the year I started college – 30-year-old music would have been things like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and so on. Ancient relics, so we thought at the time.

And yet 1985 doesn’t seem so long ago. I can well remember the feeling of Friday afternoon in Santa Cruz, when after my last class ended, I would put Seventh Dream on the stereo, indulge in certain substances, and sit looking out over the Pacific Ocean in the distance. That marked the beginning of the weekend.

There were some good weekends back then. But this last weekend was no slouch either, featuring good company, ample food and drink, and a wiffle ball game for the ages that ended in a final score of 33-32. I can’t tell you where I was, but it rhymed with “Bite Nub” (and that’s probably what Buckwheat would have called it). As always, being back in workaday reality is a bit of a shock to the system, but I shall bravely carry on. Over and out for now.

The Going Gets Weird, the Weird Turn Pro

Posted in Dancing about architecture on September 2nd, 2015 by bill

It's Weird Al's world, the rest of us just live in it. Baby deer included.

Last night found me in the audience for Weird Al Yankovic’s show at the Van Duzer Theatre, and while I feel like my younger self might have had some snarky things to say about that, at this point in time I have nothing but respect for Al. He knows who he is and what his audience wants from him, and he gives it to them. Perform “Fat” in vintage fat suit? Check. Sing “Eat It” to the tune of that acoustic version of “Layla”? Check. Two songs about “Star Wars” as the encore, closing with “Yoda”? You wanted it, you got it.

After more than 35 years in the business, Weird Al has carved out a niche that is entirely his own. Song parodies are still his bread and butter, and he still plays the accordion, but he has become an all-around entertainer who puts on a solid, professional show from beginning to end. His entrance was inspired: the band started the first song with Al nowhere to be seen. Then he appeared on the projection screen, singing with a recognizable part of the HSU campus behind him. The camera followed him as he made his way across the quad and into the building, where the crowd, of course, went nuts.

The energy level stayed pretty high throughout, the songs interspersed with video highlights from Weird Al’s career that covered the many costume changes. Highlights for me were the Devo-inspired “Dare to Be Stupid” – for which Al and band wore yellow radiation suits and red energy domes – and “I Wanna B Ur Lovr,” which despite its goofy intent achieved an impressive level of genuine funkiness.

If I was going to sum up this show in one word it would be, perhaps surprisingly, “triumphant.” Weird Al has outlasted all his detractors and many of those he’s parodied, he has a loyal and adoring audience that covers a wide spectrum of demographics, and as the flaming wreckage of the music business falls around him, he is laughing all the way to the bank. It’s inspiring, in a funny sort of way. The old saw from William Blake says that “If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.” Weird Al is not a fool, but a foole, as in a jester; and by persisting he has become, in his own particular world, the king. Long may he reign.

The Thrill Is Gone…

Posted in Dancing about architecture on May 15th, 2015 by bill

…is what every article about the passing of B.B. King today at the age of 89 will be headlined. And who am I to quibble?

B.B. will be missed, but he had a hell of a good run. I assume that Lucille will be buried with him, as is only fitting.

This is one of my favorite B.B. tunes, clocking in at an economical 1:29, and containing the immortal couplet:

Nobody loves me but my mother
And she could be jiving too

And isn’t that just the blues in a nutshell?

What’s Blowing My Mind, 2015 Edition (Part 4)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on May 8th, 2015 by bill

“Your mind…blow it, blow it.”
-David Bowie, “The Gospel According to Tony Day”


For a few months in 1983 there was a station in Philadelphia that played quote unquote Modern Rock, and for that brief period it was like a window onto a whole other world had opened. Despite the fact that it is a large city on the Eastern seaboard, Philly is a bit of a backwater burg whose musical tastes run toward the Springsteen end of the spectrum. (With some notable exceptions — for instance, Philadelphia absolutely loves Bowie, for reasons that no one has been able to fully explain; he has opened several of his tours there, and David Live was recorded at the Tower Theater.) So it was a bit of a shock to the system when suddenly there was a radio station that would play New Order, the Cure, and other more obscure post-punk artists.

It was at this time that I was introduced to Shriekback, whose debut album Care appeared in 83. The song that got airplay was “Lined Up,” which was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I could try and describe it to you, but in this age of the YouTube, I can just embed it right here instead, so I think I will:

This song employs what I now know as the classic Shriekback strategy of deploying the tools of funk for different — more sinister — purposes. This kind of stuff hits me right where I live, so I started looking for more Shriekback, but it was not easy to find. Care was released by Warner Brothers in the U.S. but deleted almost immediately; I did not see a copy of it until many years later. It was not until a trip to Cambridge, Mass. with my senior class in 1985 that I ran across a copy of Shriekback’s second album, Jam Science (and I am talking, of course, about a real, old-fashioned vinyl record here). I wore that motherfucker out over the following months, and introduced it to everyone I could. As always, it was very satisfying to be into a great band that no one knew about.
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Album of the Year 2014

Posted in Dancing about architecture on April 8th, 2015 by bill

It has taken a while, partly through indecisiveness, mostly through laziness, but I am finally ready to name my album of the year for 2014: the self-titled LP by Benjamin Booker.

I use the term LP advisedly, as this music would sound right at home on scratchy old vinyl. It is a gloriously analog production — just guitar, bass, and drums, and of course Booker’s voice, which has the raspy authority of a grizzled bluesman though he is only 25 and this is his debut album. He just sounds like an old soul, sort of like Amy Winehouse did; hopefully he will be around longer than she was.
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The Serve of the Thin White Duke

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on March 31st, 2015 by bill

Poking around Chris O’Leary’s Pushing Ahead of the Dame today, I was struck by the following passage about David Bowie’s 1999 sessions with the band Rustic Overtones:

The band had wanted to invite Bowie for a [ping-pong] match during the sessions but thought better of it: this was a serious rock artiste, after all. Later, they read that Bowie was actually an avid ping-pong player and once had an epic match with Lou Reed.

Sadly, I was unable to find any photographic evidence of a table tennis match between Messrs. Bowie and Reed, but I did find this:

And this:

And this, which I believe is from The Man Who Fell to Earth:

Which was enough to make me pretty happy. Note the Batman symbol on David’s kimono. Awesome.

The Golden Age of Hype

Posted in Dancing about architecture on March 13th, 2015 by bill

Is it vinyl, CD, or wax cylinder in there?

We are not living in a golden age of music right now. Sure, there is good music being made; always has been, always will be. But there’s nothing like the depth and breadth of the 60s and 70s, or even the 80s and 90s. You could come up with a thousand reasons why, from the decline of Western civilization to the rise of downloading and the vegetative state of the music business, but it hardly matters at this point. We all have access to so much music, no one now living will ever run out of new things to explore. So in a sense, who cares if not much great stuff is being recorded these days? We don’t really need much more.

But one place where the boundaries are still being pushed, and new summits still being reached, is in the area of hype. Last week, for instance, the Wu-Tang Clan held a public event at a museum in Queens, New York to preview their new album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Why would people crowd into an auditorium and consent to have their phones confiscated to hear 13 minutes of music by a group whose previous release – A Better Tomorrow, still just a few months old – did not exactly set the world on fire?

Because according to

The sole existing master of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, of which all backups and digital files have been destroyed, is available through the New York auction house, Paddle 8. It is presented in a hand carved nickel-silver casing designed by the British Moroccan artist Yahya and accompanied by a 174 page volume containing lyrics, credits and anecdotes on the production and recordings of each song.

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The Journey of 10,000 Songs

Posted in Dancing about architecture on January 21st, 2015 by bill

About two and a half years ago I bought a new MacBook Pro. Unlike my previous laptop, it didn’t come with any music preloaded, so this was a chance for me to start from scratch with an empty iTunes library.

At first, I loaded only albums from 2012 to force myself to listen to recent music. Then I added stuff from 2011, and then 2013 when the time came. Then I wanted to have staples like the Beatles and the Stones, so I relaxed the rules, and from there things started to get out of hand. Around this time I discovered that it’s pretty easy nowadays to take your laptop to the library and burn to your heart’s content, without bothering to check stuff out and return it. My friend Robert gave me a memory stick full of Sly and the Family Stone and Madlib mixes. I got 8 CDs’ worth of both Johnny Cash and James Brown. You get the picture.

Fast-forward to today, and I just reached the 10,000-song mark. This seems like a good time to step back and reflect for a minute. Of course, 10,000 songs represents only the merest fraction of my total collection, but that’s still a lot of music; to be precise, 26 days, 5 hours, 4 minutes, and 56 seconds’ worth. So I could still theoretically listen to all of it during the month of February, as long as I didn’t sleep. If I just made a job of it and listened to 8 hours a day, it would take me 79 days to get all the way through, assuming I didn’t add anything more in the meantime. Which is unlikely.
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Nothing Has Changed – Part 3 (Disc 1)

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on January 8th, 2015 by bill

“I’m exhausted from living up to your expectations.”
—Jareth the Goblin King, Labyrinth

One of the perks of being David Bowie, with a long and distinguished career behind you, more money than God, and an inexhaustibly deep well of heavy heavy cool to draw from, is that you can do whatever you want.

Last year, what David wanted to do was release a career retrospective that includes greatest hits, unreleased tracks, and songs he felt were insufficiently appreciated. He also recorded two new songs, one of which (“Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)“) leads off the three-disc, reverse-chronological-order version of Nothing Has Changed. (There are also double-vinyl and single-CD versions, each with different track listings and sequencing.) I must admit that despite my best efforts I have been unable to find a way to enjoy this song; it does not seem to be designed with enjoyment in mind.

“Sue” is perhaps best viewed as the latest step in the pas de deux between Bowie and Scott Walker, which has gone on for 40-some years now. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around but it’s quite possible that, as great as we all think being David Bowie must be, what David Bowie really wants is to be Scott Walker. My theory on this is that despite his artistic adventurousness, Bowie has always been somewhat constrained by his desire to please his audience. In doing so he has become rich and famous, but I wonder if he has in some respect felt hemmed in by what people expect of “David Bowie,” and wished for the freedom afforded a Scott Walker, who seemingly cares to please only himself. In the last 20 years Walker has abandoned all commercial considerations and explored completely alien territory that challenges what we think of as music. I don’t personally care for albums like Tilt and Bish Bosch, but there is no denying their integrity.
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Nothing Has Changed – Part 2 (Disc 3)

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on December 31st, 2014 by bill

David Bowie: Artist and athlete

Disc 3 begins in 1975 with “Fame,” which may be the first Bowie song I ever heard; it’s certainly the first one I remember. As with so much of the innovative music of that era that I ended up loving, I initially found it disturbing and frightening. At that point I was not yet a person who controlled his own musical environment; I just soaked up whatever was around me, mostly from the radio, and there was nothing else on the radio like “Fame.” For one thing, it was hard funk when the charts were dominated by soft rock and first-wave disco (funky enough, in fact, that James Brown ripped it off wholesale for a song called “Hot (I Need to Be Loved, Loved, Loved)”). For another, it had that bizarre descending vocal line near the end; surely nothing like it had penetrated my tender young ears before.

But now “Fame” is a comforting old friend, ditto “Young Americans,” which follows it on Nothing Has Changed. Like “Heroes,” “Young Americans” is lyrically ambiguous, to say the least, if not downright grim (consider: “Well, well, well, would you carry a razor?/In case, just in case of depression” or “We live for just these twenty years/Do we have to die for the fifty more?”). But as with “Heroes” that tends to get lost in the sheer sonic bliss and forward momentum of the music. There is a sense here that the Young Americans are maybe not all that bright, that they’ll gladly swallow any poison pill wrapped in tasty candy. And I have to admit I’m right there with them; I love this song regardless.
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