Monthly Archives: November 2009

Bubblegum. Still Like It.

Some Bubblegum retains its flavor

Nine years ago, I contributed a couple of features to Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, a collection of essays, lists and features on the genre and its artists. Edited by Scram magazine’s  Kim Cooper and David Smay, it was the first book to take an in-depth look at the artists, writers and behind the scenes operators of the bubblegum universe. 

 When I was growing up, AM radio featured a melting pot of musical styles, from British Invasion rock to garage to soul to folk. And, yes, bubblegum. The fact that I could enjoy Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy” for what it was – a simple, catchy, sing-along pop tune – didn’t mean I was unable to appreciate Jimi Hendrix reinventing guitar rock, the poetic imagery of Bob Dylan or the not-quite-white blues that The Rolling Stones were channeling. I’ve sometimes seen people admit they like bands like The Ohio Express or The Archies only under the guise of guilty pleasures, as if somehow you need to apologize for what you enjoy. Peer pressure sucks; ignore it.

Exposure to a wide variety of music was a good thin. I sincerely believe the death of the individual DJ and the birth of music consultants and formats did serious damage to the music audience. It’s pretty hard to like something when you rarely get a chance to hear it. Between restricting musical styles and limiting the number of tracks in rotation, at least one generation has had a big hole in their musical education. Now at least people can at least surf and sample to their heart’s content, if they have the drive to do so.

But back to Bubblegum…one of the best bands was The 1910Fruitgum Company. I’ll admit that “Goody Goody Gumdrops” was a little hard to take, but “1-2-3 Red Light” was a deceptively filthy pop song, and “Indian Giver” is still one of my favorite singles from that era. So when asked to write about a couple of bands for the book, they were my first choice…

When today’s artists issue a new release every two years they are dubbed “prolific”. In the late 60’s, however, a band could have a six-album career in that twenty-four month span. And if you consider that the 1910 Fruitgum Company was just one of the several bands springing from the minds of Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz during that time, you begin to understand what an incredible feat the kings of bubblegum pulled off in tandem with Buddah Records mogul Neil Bogart.

Bubblegum music was little more than stripped-down rock and roll with a unique marketing spin, and the Super K boys spat them out as fast as they could put them together in their Bubblegum Factory. The 1910 Fruitgum Company was arguably the duo’s biggest success… (continue reading at the Bubblegum University site)

Now do you like it?

Bubblegum is the Naked Truth at Amazon

1910 Fruitgum Company wiki

Scram magazine

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PPC Tributes Strikes Back

Oh my god, he’s done it again.

Earlier this month Power Pop Criminal$ assembled yet another volume of their incredible tribute series, their first in fifteen months. Powerpop artists covering other powerpop artists. A Whitman’s Sampler of ear candy. (The three earlier compilations are available here).

Covers of  legends like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, T Rex, Nilsson, Elvis Costello, Badfinger, The Replacements and many more. Covers by esteeemed genre arttists including Superdrag, Dwight Twilley, Matthew Sweet, The Romantics, Teenage Fanclub and Cheap Trick – to name but a few.

Angelo and crew do incredible work putting these things together. Despite their site name, they are crystal clear that if any out-of-print albums they post become commecially available, they will pull them from the site (and I’ve seen them do it).

December alert: Pay attention to their site for the 2009 PPC Advent Wall of Sound. It works just like an Advent calendar where you open a compartment each day from December 1-24 to find a picture or treat. In this case we’re talking treat – a new powerpop rarity appears daily and only for one day. There are also some twisted holiday comps on the PPC site.

Hope you discover some new artists in the process, and if/when you do, please support them by purchasing their CDs and merch. It’s tough to survive in this business, and every dollar counts.

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Stand Up Wit…Whitney Cummings

Careful...she'll cut a bitch.

Against all conventional logic, the glass ceiling in the comedy world remains intact. One would think that if Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller could achieve great success almost half a century ago, we’d be flush with popular and successful female comics in 2009. Instead, the woman with the biggest draw is Lisa Lampanelli, who has extrapolated “I’m fat and I bang black guys” into a large venue following. Meanwhile, the brilliant Maria Bamfordeasily one of the ten best comics working today regardless of gender – is better known for her recent commercials for Target than for her consistent excellence as a writer and performer. Don’t blame her for that.

Over the years we’ve seen Roseanne Barr and Ellen Degeneres and Whoopi Goldberg find tremendous success, and during the 80’s comedy boom there were several that were household names. So what’s wrong in 2009? There’s no shortage of strong current female comedians worthy of adulation, but fewer are breaking through at the level that many of the male comedians attain. Try asking a friend to name five current female comedians. You’ll likely get LampanelliSarah Silvermanand a blank stare

Maybe they’ll come up with Wanda Sykes or Margaret Cho or Kathy Griffin, all of whom have had wider exposure thanks to multiple television shows. I doubt many would come up with Whitney Cummings, but after laughing my ass off listening to her first album (Emotional Ninja) I predict that will change very soon.

Cummings doesn’t have a schtick or a character, and her material is pretty much old school observational comedy about sex and relationships. But while she can be crude and vulgar, she’s also ferociously funny. She’s strong with a quick one liner but also has well-structured longer pieces that pile one laugh on top of another. She’s able to play both ends of the men vs. women card in such a way that you laugh at all of it regardless of your gender…probably because you realize most of what she’s talking about is absolutely true.

Cummings doesn’t talk down to the audience, she places herself within it, so we’re on her side even when we’re the butt of the joke. She’ll humble herself with a self-deprecating stinger, but she’s no victim. She might launch some vitriol towards the losers and bad dates, but she’ll also admit to being a sneaky manipulator. Basically she’s showing that we’re all playing games…so let’s get those cards on the table and laugh at how shallow and absurd it all is.

The bits that aren’t about relationships are topical but universally funny, like the banality of social networks, the true definition of yoga and wondering why we reward our friends’ biggest mistakes with gifts. I won’t spoil the punch lines, but my favorite bits – her breast exam, sleeping her way to nowhere, how women snoop on and argue with men – had me rolling. She excels at stringing together a wealth of material with exceptional timing and delivery, adept at a pregnant pause before a punch line or punctuating a sarcastic retort.

I’m not exactly going out on a limb here by praising her work. In the past couple of years her profile has soared; she’s been tagged as a rising star by Entertainment Weekly, Variety and Alternative Press. Her panel time on Chelsea Lately is usually brilliant, and her breakout performance on the Comedy Central roast of Joan Rivers was a logical next step (she had been writing for them for a couple of years). Cummings is only in her mid-twenties, yet she’s already proven to be a prolific writer and a strong performer. She’s attractive, she’s very smart, and she is fearless.

There are thirty-three tracks on Emotional Ninja, most under two minutes, and there might not be a clunker in the bunch. This is truly one of the funniest comedy CDs of the year – go get it.

Buy Emotional Ninja online

Whitney on Showtime’s Live Nude Comedy

Her killer set on Comedy Central’s Roast of Joan Rivers

Compilation of panel bits from Chelsea Lately.

Whitney Cummings website.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Mitch Moments

I miss Mitch Hedberg.

I don’t know how his brain worked (or didn’t) to make so many unique oddball thoughts come out of it, but I’m glad I got to see him live a couple of times. I’m also happy that there are a few recordings available for posterity so that people will always have the chance to get a little bit of Hedberg magic in their ears.

Next year will be the fifth anniversary of his death from a heart attack at 37. It still seems like yesterday. Would he have been able to keep up the pace had he lived to a ripe old age? Would he even have wanted to? We’ll never know. Like the old adage, he left us wanting more.

Mitch Hedberg on Letterman

His stoner demeanor and seemingly random thoughts were really a combination of brilliant writing and nervousness. His cadence and delivery were unique, and once you got into the flow he had you. Mitch made it look effortless but there was a lot of work behind the act, and although he skyrocketed once in the public eye he didn’t just happen overnight.

I imagine that a artist wants their work to live on. Although Hedberg’s body of work was cut short, people will be quoting his one-liners for a long, long time. Here are ten of my favorite Hedberg bits:

*Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s the only one you can get yelled at for having. Goddamn it Otto, you are an alcoholic. Goddamn it Otto, you have Lupus. One of those two doesn’t sound right.

*Rice is great if you’re really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something.

*I tried to walk into a Target but I missed. I think the entrance at Target should have people splattered all over it.

*I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.

*An escalator can never break. It can only become stairs. You would never see an “Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order” sign, just “Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.”

*I bought a doughnut and they gave me a receipt for the doughnut… I don’t need a receipt for the doughnut. I give you money and you give me the doughnut, end of transaction. We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this.

*I bought a house. It’s a two bedroom house, but I think it’s up to me how many bedrooms there are. Don’t you? “Fuck you, real estate lady, this bedroom has an oven in it!”

*My friend was walking down the street and he said, “I hear music.” As if there is any other way of taking it in. I tried to taste it, but it did not work.

*On a traffic light, green means go and yellow means yield, but on a banana it’s just the opposite. Green means hold on, yellow means go ahead, and red means where the fuck did you get that banana?

Bonus: The Restaurant Waiting List bit

***

Mitch’s site – updates on memorial shows, buy his albums.

Old interview from Shecky Magazine that proves Mitch was a smart guy.

EW Article that ran after his death.

Hedburgh – excellent Mitch tribute site.

Montreal Just For Laughs 2004

Rest in Peace, brother.

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Thankful

It's not about fame

Thankful for my parents, who knew that transistor radio was under the pillow but let it slide.

Thankful for my friends, who engaged in thousands of musical discussions over the years, especially the ones who said “you know, you really should write this down…”

Thankful for the countless comics and artists and musicians I’ve met or talked to over the years for sharing their gift and allowing a peek inside their world.

Thankful for the opportunities I’ve had inside and outside the industry, the people I’ve met and worked with and the ability to connect and share the inspiration that art brings to those who let it.

Thankful for having a sense of humor to deal with the rough times and the absurdities of life.

And above all, thankful for my familyfor everything.

Life is short and we take things for granted, sometimes despite best intentions. Slow down a minute and take a good look around.

Even during times of personal loss and sorrow, there are truly things to be thankful for…so that’s what I’m going to do today. I hope if you are in that space, you will find that peace as well.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Stand Up Wit…Moshe Kasher

"It's almost odorless!"

Everyone You Know is Going To Die (And Then You Are…Unless You Die First) is a mouthful of a title for a debut album. And while it also references the least funny bit in his live show, it does hint at the absurdist approach of Moshe Kasher. His material is an intriguing combination of cerebral humor and crude imagery, but it’s his precision with language that sets him apart from the pack – he’s a great writer who’s also a talented performer.

I’ll admit up front that mixing studio cuts within a live performance (as done here)  is a concept that usually doesn’t work well for me. When the live show is clicking – and this one is – the inserted bits usually break up the momentum of the show. These stand-up bits are all short and imaginative, and I think running them together followed by the set pieces would have made a stronger presentation, especially since the live show is relatively short (approximately twenty-five minutes). But that’s a small nit to pick.

His stage show is very funny, with good takes on familiar topics like religion and sex and great routines about the consequences of mistaking one French phrase for another, the myth of LA/SF turf wars, and how to possibly compliment the female privates. His material is lean and tight (nothing is longer than a minute or two) and Kasher is as expressive with his voice as he is with physical gestures. You lose very little by just hearing it on an audio CD.

As for the recorded monologues, “An Open Letter to Modesto, California” probably works the best because it’s an increasingly bitter and vulgar rant against some homophobic pinheads at a prior show that immediately follows two routines about gay-bashing. It’s also incredibly well-written, a slow volcano of seething anger and frustration heightened by subtle sound effects that are also very funny (the spit-take from the imaginary Yefet character – and Moshe’s subsequent exchange with him –  is hilarious). It’s almost nine minutes long without one weak moment.

Two of the other studio monologues (“White Pube” and “Getting out of Speeding Tickets”) are funny enough, Kasher reciting twisted thoughts in his best NPR voice, but they’re not natural segues where they are placed within the live show. (“Speeding Tickets” sounds like a Jack Handey routine gone off the rails). A fourth piece (“Emails I Have Received”) wears thin after the first minute, but the concept was a good one.

I’d go see this guy in a heartbeat. And selfishly, as much as I enjoy the audio monologues, I’m hoping his next album contains a longer live performance.

Moshe Kasher‘s site and MySpace site.

Rooftop Comedy Productions

Video: “Adventures in France

The "Gitler" haircut

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Louie – Lucky Again

On a roll. Like buttah!

Louis C.K. is on fire this year. Still rolling through his most prolific period of writing and performing, he’s recorded a two-disc version of his 2009 show Hilarious earlier this year. That’s coming out soon even though people are still discovering 2008’s Chewed Up and 2007’s Shameless. That’s three solid new shows in three years while managing to juggle all his other activities.

And as previously announced, Louis signed a deal for a new show on the FX network. It’s never going to be as permissive as pay cable, where Louis was able to float scenes like this classic on Lucky Louie. But damned if FX hasn’t been pushing the boundaries of basic cable as far as they can stretch with Sons of Anarchy and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. (FX has to be my favorite network right now when you factor in Damages and six seasons of Rescue Me. Even The League is growing on me a bit, and the upcoming Archer looks great!).

And today, Louis launched his own plug for the show. This is just too funny. Warning: NSFW (of course).

HBO never should have cancelled Lucky Louie. But now that Louis C.K. is lucky enough to have another shot, here’s hoping FX has bigger stones than HBO did. I can’t imagine the new show having a better cast than he did before, but he has the golden touch right now and I would not bet against him.Watch for Louie in the Spring of 2010 on FX.

Three Men and a Babe

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