Monthly Archives: May 2011

I May Not Be Mr. Right…

…but I’m Mr. Right Now.

New music from The Howling Diablos!! From the forthcoming album Ultra Sonic Gas Can; dropping this July on Funky D Records. A perfect blend of blues, funk, rap and rock by some seriously talented musicians (Johnny Evans – sax/harp; Johnny Bee – drums; Mo Hollis – bass; Erik Gustafson – guitar; Tino Gross – vocals).

Video: “Mr. Right Now” (New Link as of June 1!)

Lots of great guests on this album including Jimmie “Bones” Trombley (Kid Rock), Robert Bateman (Marvelettes/writer ‘Please Mr. Postman’), Kymberli Wright (Mary J. Blige), Detroit axe legend Jim McCarty, Motown Ron and many more. Can’t wait!

Now excuse me for a minute…gotta do me some howlin’.

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Memorial Day

Never forget.

I was lucky; my Dad came home. He’s still there for me today.

I missed the draft by a year; we got a supplemental number just in case. It wasn’t about your heritage or religion, the draft violated you by your birthday. Like the lottery from hell, they would pick a calendar day from one bucket and a lottery number from another. The lower the number, the closer to the top of the list you were; people with number one would be the first called to serve.

I got number two.

I guess that’s ironic, because I think I almost shit myself when I heard that announcement over the radio. But they never needed to draft anyone from my year, so I never had to decide whether to become a Canadian or not. Some of my older friends did. Some served with pride and dignity. Some never came home.

I guess Memorial Day is like Christmas; a holiday where people forget the original intention. Yes, there are sales in all the stores, and celebrations and road trips where families get together. Yes, there are cookouts instead of Christmas dinner. But Christmas is more than a fat man in a red suit. And Memorial Day is more than a backyard grill and a tub of beer.

Because of brave man and women no longer with us, we have that grill and tub of beer…and the ability to relax and enjoy it.

Never forget.

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The Rock And Roll 500

The windowless white van rumbled eastward on Route 90, soon to take a dogleg right and hook up with its brother highway, The Mass Pike. A six-hour trek that normally would clog at one end or another, but on the two interior days of a four-day holiday, traffic was pretty much non-existent. Most people were already where they wanted to be. I was just going back and forth, as usual.

When I was her age, I moved a few times, and always with the help of friends. Someone always had a truck. Everyone would focus on the beer and pizza at the end of the run, and were it not for my abnormal amount of vinyl albums, we could probably have been in and done in a couple of hours. But I forgot what it’s like to live in a major city where public transportation is the norm, where not only do you not have a car, but no one you know does, either. And besides, isn’t this what Dads do?

The rental van was reasonably priced but came with its limitations. No power locks, so each of the five doors had to be constantly checked. No power windows, either – do they really still make hand cranks? And much to my horror, just a radio. No CD player, not even a cassette, and certainly no input for a digital device to be plugged in. Nope, the front end of the trip would be a hollow metal can bouncing down the road (what, you expected soundproofing?) and me alone with my thoughts, unless I could find something decent on the radio. I had given up trying to do that years ago.

But it’s Memorial Day Weekend, so rock stations across the country are broadcasting their own version of the Rock And Roll 500, a countdown of the five hundred greatest rock songs ever made. And although I constantly have to hit the scanner, as signals fade and ebb between markets or on each side of a mountain pass, sooner or later it’s there. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Cream, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Cars, The Who, The Police, The Ramones…song after song that I know like the back of my hand, whether I like them or not. It’s a bit 60s and 70s heavy, but rightfully so, because that’s when the apex took place.

I remember selling my Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin albums in a used record store, not so much because I needed the money but because radio had played “Free Bird” and “Stairway To Heaven” so often that I couldn’t bear to hear either band again. This egregious life choice was eventually recanted, of course, even though those two particular songs have long worn out their welcome. But the punk ethic of the time was to burn the past, and somehow I got caught up in the moment. I mean, really – I have never disliked the first four Led Zeppelin albums, they are incredible…but there they went across the counter.

It was a mistake I would not repeat; the day my senses came back to me and I repurchased them was also the day I realized that there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. I like what I like, period. I don’t owe you an apology for that just because you disagree.

I thought of that a lot during the six-hour drive as I beat rhythms on the dashboard and heard my voice echo through the empty metal canister (reverb!), singing along as a large part of my childhood was played out for me one track at  a time. I remembered the boxes of 45s that I meticulously catalogued, the first albums I listened to over headphones, juggling prog and pop and glam and blues in college. Even the glee with which Roger and I would pore through the new punk singles arriving at Record Theatre – usually one scooped up by him and one by me, leaving none to be placed in the racks for sale. There was always an insatiable taste for great songs, and there was always the bedrock of what had come before.

I thought of the music I wasn’t hearing on the trip; were there really no J. Geils Band songs, even on the Boston station? And Tom Petty, who quietly went from ignored to elder statesman just by never stopping – would I hear “American Girl“? I already knew that The Dictators, Billy Bremner, Dwight Twilley, John Hiatt, and other lifelong favorites would probably not be heard from, but how was I not hearing a Kinks song?

Heading westward was a different story; the stations seemed less numerous and the song selections started to get downright odd. Even Eli turned to me at one point with her face scrunched up as a Candlebox song came in at number 168. I was incredulous. “The entire Kinks catalogue is better than that song“, I told her, and as “Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic” followed at #167 I imagined Sting sighing, relieved that when the great books were tabulated, someone gave the nod to his fine effort to move ahead – just ahead – of the mighty Candlebox.

Eli and I talked about many things on the way back, and the conversation turned to Lady Gaga. I don’t really care for him/her in the same way that I was never a Madonna fan – I’m much more centered on the music than the spectacle. Eli grew up listening to her own music but also getting the aural second-hand smoke of mine. My rule was and is that the driver picks the music, not the passengers. “I don’t think it’s great music per se“, she said, “but when I feel like dancing in a club it’s really fun and gets everyone going. It’s great for what it is, and I like it for that.” No guilt, just pleasure. A chip off the old block.

The sun had long set and we still had a couple of hours to go when “Going To Califormia” came on the radio, and I let it wash over me. I wasn’t going anywhere but home, but I must have channeled a dozen road trip memories in my mind. Had Eli turned to her left she would wonder why I had a shit-eating grin on my face after the long day, but someday she’ll do that herself. If there’s a better song to hear when you’re in a pensive mood on a long car trip, I can’t think of one right now.

And to think I once sold that album for a dollar. What fools these mortals be.

Led Zeppelin: “Going To California

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Frank Sinatra Has A Cold

Forty-five years ago, Gay Talese redefined essay writing.

I came across this yesterday – hadn’t seen it in years – when I was writing about Harlan Ellison. Ellison plays a small role in the story, a then lesser-known writer who just happened to be sharing a poolroom with Frank Sinatra when Frank was in one of those moods. It’s a scene in a film-length story about Talese trying to get access to Sinatra for an article assignment from Esquire. Sinatra declined to be interviewed. So Talese wrote around him.

I don’t know if it lives up to its reputation as one of the greatest article ever written, but it is damned good, with a pulse and cadence that combines humor, pathos and even a bit of suspense here and there.

Read the article here.

On a much smaller level I had to do the same thing once, when assigned to cover The Hives on their first tour. Although a band member did pick up the phone, they were so disinterested in participating, every question was answered with two or three words. No comebacks. No tangents. No plugs for new material. In fact the only time there was any exchange was when I asked them about their fictitious Svengali, who they purported wrote all their material and choreographed their every move. But even after that two sentence retort, there was nothing. So I tossed it and wrote around them, angling the piece as if I were a paparazzi eavesdropping on “a day in the life”.

Another favorite, although there was probably no interview scheduled, was Joe Queenan’s toxic Mickey Rourke For A Day. Now I’m as big a Rourke fan as you’ll find – never abandoning him even through the really bad days – but I could appreciate the observance of a train wreck from Queenan’s perspective.

Talese is correct – our media culture today is a machine that gobbles up rumor and gossip and innuendo and regurgitates it as news and fact, only retracting and apologizing when they need to. Society is fascinated with observances of the rich and famous, especially when they falter. That appetite has always been there, but the line between fact and fiction is now murky. Most blur the line purposefully, because they are sensationalists.

Gay Talese did it artfully, because he has talent.

===

And R.I.P. Jeff Conaway, dead at 60 from pneumonia and bacterial infections after being comatose for over two weeks.  He played Kenickie in Grease but was more famous as the struggling actor and part-time cabbie Bobby Wheeler in Taxi. He left the show after three years – in fairness, they had run out of things to do with his character – and never really landed anything else of significance. That void led to depression and substance abuse, as it does for many who lose the limelight.

I abhor reality shows, and the lowest in the slime pit are celebrity rehab shows; they are sad and parasitical events that prey on desperate subjects for the entertainment of worthless people. Conaway had been a regular face on shows like these. I prefer to remember him from the glory days, when I was watching the man’s craft, not his public evisceration.

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T.G.I.F. – Happy Birthday, Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison is not warm and fuzzy.

And neither are his stories. Ellison caught my fancy when I was a young man with a vivid imagination and ample time to read (oh, for those days!); he’s a master of speculative fiction who most often tills the ground between Rod Serling and Issac Asimov. Ellison’s scope embraces short stories, screenplays, novels and scripts, and his ideas and concepts about humanity and social conscience have influenced a sea of followers, as well as his contemporaries.

I was fascinated by this man who joined a street gang in Brooklyn as research for a story, whose prescient takes on space travel and future societies were as pensive as his religious allegories and tales of authoritative madness. And while everyone was using a typewriter forty years ago, I’m intrigued that this self-described curmudgeon still steadfastly refuses to write his stories any other way but banging them out in his trusted Olympia, even in 2011. Not a big fan of social media, computers or the Internet, either…

“Why do people keep insisting that I join the 21st Century? I *LIVE* in the 21st Century! I just don’t want to be bothered by the shitheads on the internet!”

Must be working – he just won the 2011 Nebula Award – his fourth – for his short story “How Interesting: A Tiny Man“. But awards are nothing new for Ellison; he’s the world’s most honored living writer.

So this week’s TGIF wishes a Happy 77th Birthday to Harlan Ellison with Ten Terrific Tangents you must check out. Thanks for a lifetime of mind-blowing words, HarlanI even forgive you for The Oscar.

(01) – The Glass Teat: Television reviews in his unique style

(02) – Web Of The City: Gang days. Also see Memos From Purgatory

(03) – Angry Candy: From the late 90’s, one of his best collections.

(04) – Ellison Wonderland: The early anthology that made a huge mark.

(05) – Shatterday: Title story was an 80’s Twilight Zone episode

(06) – The Essential Ellison: A fifty-year retrospective of his work.

(07) – I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream: Even better than the title.

(08) – Harlan Ellison’s Watching: more biting criticism

(09) – Deathbird Stories: Dark, sinister, and amazing.

(10) – Dreams With Sharp Teeth: a wonderful documentary.

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Kickstart The Standells!

Out of the garage and back into your lives.

Far too often we dismiss a band as one-hit wonders because that’s all we ever hear. I was collecting singles when “Dirty Water” came growling out of the transistor radio in the mid-60s, and the chorus of that song was as much a part of every weekend party as “Shout” was in the 80’s after Animal House revitalized frat parties.

People who never even lived in Boston swore allegiance to The River Charles, but since FM radio hadn’t yet found its footing, The Standells disappeared from view as quickly as The Count Five or Crazy Elephant. Of course, they were making great records before that hit and afterwards as well. But for most people, they were one and done, albeit a great “one”.

Video: “Dirty Water

Now, forty years after their demise, the band is heading back into the studio to record a new album including original songs (click here for a rehearsal video) and a re-recording of one of their vintage tracks that never saw the light of day. Founder Larry Tamblyn and long-time Standell John Fleck are joined by Greg Burnham and Adam Marsland. Tamblyn (yes, Russ’s brother and Amber’s uncle) is pragmatic in his approach to keeping the spirit alive.

The band promises that the new songs will capture the raw, driving sound The Standells were known for back in the ’60s. But in order to accomplish the mission, the band is reaching out for support through Kickstarter.

From the pitch page:

In order to do the music justice, the band wants to record it in the right studio situation – one that is not only state-of-the-art but also has the capacity to lay down tracks both digitally and on tape.  Plus, The Standells will be using an authentic Vox Continental.  The funds raised here on Kickstarter will be used towards those studio costs, tape stock, engineering, artwork, design, CD duplication and vinyl pressing expenses for all those who still love their 45’s and 33 1/3’s

The Standells have learned from experience – No major label suits will be allowed in the recording studio and no producers will be dictating to them what to record. That is why The Standells are using July 4th as their funding deadline.  Independence Day for an Independent Group!

Sounds like a plan! Click here to join the Kickstarter mission!

Video: “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” (2011 tour!)

The Standells on Facebook

I love that Dirty Water

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Fountains Of Wayne is Back!

Pop lovers rejoice…FOW is back!

Fountains of Wayne are now aligned with Yep Roc Records artists, readying their fifth full-length LP titled Sky Full Of Holes, due for release this summer. The first single is online and available to stream or download (free!).

From the website: “Richie & Ruben” leads the charge, a sunny, character-driven jangle-pop track about a pair of inept knuckleheads with a talent for blowing seed money on questionable enterprises (a bar called Living Hell, a fashion boutique with a kid from FIT who lied about graduating).

Click here to stream the single

You can sign up to FOW’s list through email or Facebook to get a free download.

Sounds like another classic chestnut to me. I cannot wait to hear the whole album, and I’m especially geeked that they are on Yep Roc – a label that has proven time and time again that they are artist-friendly and audience-aware.

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