Tag Archives: My Aim Is True

Not Even Almost Famous

I’ve gotten quite a few emails over the past two days about the Todd Snider piece, some from long time fans glad to high-five another, some from people who hadn’t heard anything of his later stuff and were thankful for the kick in the ass (you’re welcome!).

Emails like that always put a smile on my face. Although I’ve been writing for years I’m not delusional enough to think that my words set off beacons across the globe. I’m not even almost famous. But I do know that a lot of people are followers and loyal readers; some comment publicly while others drop a private message. And I do it not for the money or the fame, but because this is just another format in which I get to discuss music and film and comedy that I like, just like I’ve done all my life with my friends.

And it’s a passion I will most likely take to my grave. I still participate in mixtape swaps and share tips about new discoveries. Emailing a link to a great video in 2011 is almost as much fun as showing up at Brian’s house with the first Black Sabbath album, or the day Phil, Larry and I sat around the living room at Bristol Place getting our minds blown by My Aim Is True.

I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of artists over the years, and with the better ones – the ones who have conversations, not just talk to plug product – the subject often turns to collecting music and favorite artists that are underappreciated. I’ve found that in almost every case, that spirit of discovery still looms large in their heart, and the child-like enthusiasm for sharing the passion has never left them.

I thought this exchange from a 2002 interview with Peter Wolf captures it about as well as it can be. Despite worldwide game, Pete still loves to have friends over and spin records in an effort to turn someone on to a new song or artist. He lives for it. Me too.

Peter: The thing is, I don’t consider myself a historian or a record collector. I just consider myself a fan. There are people who will expound on this or that, but I just consider myself a fan. I still go see bands do this or that, grab the new Beck record, keeping up and seeing what’s coming down the pike, be it The White Stripes or The Hives, or going to see James Cotton. I’m interested in all of it.

Me: Well, that’s like why I started writing. I had this need…it wasn’t so much that “I know more about music than you do and I’m going to write about it to prove it.” More that I dig music so much and I love to write about it in hopes that someone reads it and gets the charge that I’m getting. Maybe they’ve never heard of who I’m writing about but the way I describe it gets them interested, and they play a record that they wouldn’t have played, and they get that same…bolt that I did when I first heard it. And then they turn somebody else onto it, and it goes on from there. That’s the big thing. I don’t get that immediate feedback that an artist gets through applause, or the validation that might be measured in sales, sometimes it’s just out there in the void. Did anyone read that? Did anyone give a shit? Or did somebody’s life change because they picked up a John Hiatt record or a Del Lords record after I wrote about it and say “Oh my God…

Peter: Did you like the movie Almost Famous?

Me: I thought that was about my life.

Peter: Yeah, yeah…I was surprised that it wasn’t more popular than it was. I thought it really kind of focused in, for somebody who would be fifteen now, on a mythic era. Or for someone who’d be thirty-five now, or fifty-five! I thought it really captured…it was a sort of valentine to the whole love of music and the records and the sacredness of it, and the innocence of it. And the exploitation of it! I thought it was a really well put-together movie.

There’s a lot of people who bitch about the current state of music and how there aren’t any good bands anymore. I don’t think that’s true, but I do agree that the shifts in popular culture mean that many bands don’t have the outlet that they once did. There are probably some great bands trying to get a foothold, and the radio doesn’t care about them nor does the record industry. But somewhere, a bunch of people are groovin’ to them every Friday night.

So you have two choices. Bitch about the past and do nothing about it…and sound like your parents when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones came out. Or follow Peter Wolf’s example, and share your knowledge and your passion and your information as much as you can. Have an old school record party. Write a blog. Make some mixtapes.

Pay it forward.

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Filed under Editorials, Music

Happy Birthday, Elvis Costello

Miracle Man.

Today we celebrate the birthday of one Declan MacManus, better known to the world as Elvis Costello, among other aliases over the years. Bursting onto the scene with what is arguably the best ever 1-2-3 punch of albums (My Aim Is True, This Year’s Model and Armed Forces), Elvis quickly grabbed your attention with short catchy songs, a rapier wit and his secret weapon, The Attractions.

For as good as this sneering, scrawny Buddy Holly caricature was – and he was great – Steve Nieve on keys, Bruce Thomas on bass and Pete Thomas (no relation) on drums were as formidable a rock band as you could hope for. They weren’t as spacial as The Police would become, nor were they thunderous like the then-still powerful Who, but they were so tight you couldn’t slip an ant’s ass hair through them.

But before Elvis Costello and The Attractions became one, it all started with an iconic debut; tracks laid down with session musicians who weren’t initially credited, total recording time adding up to less than one day.

People listen to records differently these days, especially if they are digital downloads. No tactile sensation of an album cover, liner notes, lyric sheets. Earbuds instead of walls of speakers. Sigh.

I remember the day my friend Phil showed up at my house with My Aim Is True; import version, of course. My roommate Larry and another friend were already hanging in the living room, music on as always. We had heard about the album coming out that day and planned to go grab it in a couple of hours. Phil was no procrastinator; he snagged it and came over where he knew there would be other willing participants to share the magic with. (Yet another earbud problem – isolation instead of the communal experience).

It was astonishing.

Two of the songs didn’t even hit the two-minute mark. The opening rocker “Welcome To The Working Week” somehow jammed a boatload of hooks, wry lyrics and choruses into a minute in a half; “Mystery Dance” sputtered and tumbled much like the clumsy lover the narrative depicted. There was fury and sarcasm, and there was great wit and wordplay, and the band (preAttractions musicians from Clover and The Rumour, among others) snapped everything to attention.

And maybe it was because it stood out with its winsome melody and broken heart, but “Alison” was an instant classic. The chink in the armor was there for all to see; this snarling wise-ass had feelings after all. When not long after I heard him nail this live it sent chills up my spine.

We were gobsmacked; I can’t tell you how many times we played this album over and over and over that day. It was all we would talk about with friends for days after, and whenever someone came over that album would come out and they would get indoctrinated. Not long afterwards some friends in a band worked up three of his songs so that I could duck out from tending bar and play lead singer for ten minutes. (We were the first Syracuse band to play Elvis Costello songs, and yes, I’m proud of that!)

Of course, Costello continued to floor us with one great album after another, and thanks to him and Rockpile and Graham Parker and Joe Jackson there was a new, fresh volley of literate songwriters serving up an alchemic stew of influences and flushing the distaste of disco and flaccid pop out of our ears. 

The trend wouldn’t last of course – none do – but the music proved timeless. On Friday I’ll celebrate Costello’s career with an Elvis-themed TGIF.

And yes, I know that today is also the birthday of Gene Simmons, Ruby Keeler, Tim Burton, Rob Halford, Wayne Shorter, Walt Kelly (Pogo), Regis Philbin and several others…as well as the tenth anniversary of Jack Nitzsche‘s death and the first for Ted Kennedy. But today, I must honor the Elvis who has been a part of my musical life for over three decades.

No offense, Mr. Presley.

Elvis Costello  wiki page

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Today also marks the 35th anniversary of Born To Run, when a talented performer, a crack band, a savvy manager and an all-too-eager mainstream press joined hands to crown the new King of rock and roll. Bruce Springsteen has since earned every jewel in that crown and then some, but it’s yet another reminder of how fractured the entertainment industry has become. It’s no longer possible to make the stars align on that kind of scale, and with very few exceptions, those things never happened organically.

But that can’t and won’t tarnish the memory of a time when it seemed like a blue-collar bar room rocker grabbed the brass ring and pulled down the whole damned curtain with it. Rock concerts would never be the same.

Could that really have been thirty-five years ago?

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Filed under Editorials, Music, Reviews