Archive for the 'Excess' Category

11
Jan
18

Endless Boogie “Focus Level”

Another double album, though there are only 11 long songs, some mostly instrumental, and some with singing that reminds me a little of the Chinese Electrical Band (my first band, not at all Chinese). I can’t make out a single lyric to save my life. The cover opens up to reveal, inside, a huge painting of a party consisting of a bunch of young people in an era several centuries past; it actually looks to me like a computer generated photo collage treated to look like a painting, but I don’t know, really, and honestly don’t care; I kind of like it, but then there was always something annoying to me about albums that opened to reveal more art—you’ve got the front and back cover! And then there is one of those annoying one sheet inserts for the credits, but it’s mostly more art and tells you very little, like who’s in this band and playing what?

Or who is even in the band. I heard one of these guys—or was it two?—or is there only one?—on the WTF podcast and it was pretty interesting, but I don’t remember any of the details. I’m not supposed to remember things, that’s what the internet is for! Anyway, some of these songs make me think of an annoying roommate who you want to take the guitar away from. But then some of them remind me of the first few times I went to see punk bands in Cleveland (at the Drome) and some of them sounded more like hard rock than punk, but that was okay because it was pretty severe, and heavy, and it was live. And then some of the other songs make me think of high school, going to see a local hard rock cover band at the marina or the county fair; one of those bands who has a cobbled together, homemade “light show” and is playing stuff like that “Slow ride, take it easy,” song (Foghat?) and that “Now you’re messin’ with a… sonofabitch,” song (Nazareth?)—not that any of this is a bad thing, it’s all about positive and visceral memories. In fact, those county fair bands made a much bigger impression on me than Blue Oyster Cult at a sports arena, capacity 12 billion. I thought BOC were pretty wanky, actually, though the bad pot didn’t help, nor the fact that they followed Bob Seger and ZZ Top. Anyway, I really like a lot of this stuff. There’s a fine line between wankiness and art, and if you take the chance to be wanky, sometimes, you might be able to make art you wouldn’t have been able to come up with if you didn’t venture into wankyville.

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18
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Self Portrait”

This is a double album that—in the tradition of double albums—announces the celebration of an explosion of creativity that is unable to be contained on the traditional single LP format. Or maybe it’s something else entirely, seeing how it’s Bob Dylan, and who ever knows what he’s thinking? There is a self-portrait painting of him on the cover with no words or frame. The album opens and there’s a list of the songs, on four sides, and also a list of 50 names; on further inspection, this appears not to be a random list from the phonebook, but likely a list of musical collaborators. Quickly glancing through the alphabetical list I see: Charlie Daniels, Al Kooper, David Bromberg, all the members of “The Band,” and many more names I recognize, and many more that I don’t.

I never heard this one before. It sounds like a Bob Dylan record, kind of, or maybe a parody of one, which you arguably could say about any Bob Dylan record. It’s kind of amazing, I’ve been listening to this dude for 50 years and I keep hearing stuff I never heard—kind of like the original Star Trek broadcast. There’s a few covers on this record, including: “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” credited to a C.A. Null, who I don’t know, but I know the song as sung by Skeeter Davis, one of my favorites (she has an album by that title). The lyric goes: “I forgot more than you’ll ever know about him.” Which is a woman singing to another woman, a rival, about a man, I believe, and when you change the gender it doesn’t quite work for some reason—but I also like to think of it as a general proclamation, to anyone, about anything.

It’s interesting—I must have been aware of this record—not when it came out when I was ten—but in later years when I started listening to Dylan records—it would have been in the record store bins, maybe even in cut-out bins like Planet Waves always seemed to be—but I avoided this one like a perennial golden turd in the sun. But listening to it now, on my third or fourth time through, I realize I’ve never heard a lot of this stuff and it’s some of the best Bob Dylan I’ve ever heard. It’s kind of like BD’s “Covers Record”—though a lot of the songs he covers are Dylan songs. (Idea: BD should do an entire record of Cat Power songs.) Here lies the best versions of both “Let It Be Me” and “Blue Moon” I’ve ever heard. A lot of this is BD singing in his “Jim Nabors” voice, which I’ve grown to love. Of course, this is the post-death-Dylan, or “second” Dylan, as the theory goes, and the future (1970 thru 2016) looks bright.

16
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid”

This is apparently the soundtrack record for the movie Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) which was directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by Rudy Wurlitzer—a movie I’m sure I’ve seen, but don’t remember too well (like, I didn’t even remember that James Coburn was in it, but there are credits on the back album cover. I love James Coburn). There is a scene I remember from a movie—and I’m not sure if it is this one—so maybe someone can help me out. A guy gets shot, and before he dies, his last words are something like, “I wish… wish…” Not sure if those are the words, or this is the movie, but it’s something that made a huge impression on me, that scene, and I hope to clear this up someday.

A lot of this is the usual kind of wanky western soundtrack stuff I can do without, with fiddles and “traditional instruments”—there is even something that sounds like the dreaded “pan-flute.” The first song, “Main Title Theme (Billy)” is the kind of music that sounds like it’s celebrating the grandeur and mythology of “The West”—which just strikes me as so much bullshit. I guess I’m not much of a fan of the western genre, as the lies jump out like all political lies, and I don’t believe there was anything good about the old west, just a lot of slaughter, rape, and pillaging, bullies and blowhards, and disgusting behavior all around. I’m guessing Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man gets about halfway closer than any other western. Anyway, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is a great, great song, and there’s a couple more here with Dylan singing (“Billy 4” and “Billy 7”) that make this record almost worthwhile.

13
Dec
17

Leonard Cohen “Songs of Leonard Cohen”

The album cover says “Songs of Leonard Cohen” but the label simply says “Leonard Cohen”—I believe this is his first album. It’s the one with the back cover drawing of a naked, chained woman enveloped in flames and not so subliminal skulls. This is an old, scratchy copy of this record, constant scratchy record sound, which sounds very beautiful to me. Maybe it’s just that it sounds so good, the record, as opposed to the digital version through my computer speakers. If you cannot appreciate the scratchy record, however, I have no use for you—go listen to your digital half-life version, and if you claim to have a superior digital system, well okay, I realize my computer speakers suck, and yours are good, but you could also be spending that money on a half-decent record player and it would sound great.

This record is so much Leonard Cohen upfront that I can imagine thousands or even millions of people who can’t handle it, like oysters, or okra, and also some of these songs are amongst the most over-played songs ever, but if you are lucky enough to get hit by a low branch or something and your perception gets a bit realigned and you can hear the record a-new, you are very lucky indeed, because this is the most amazing collection of great songs on one record maybe ever. Any songwriter could call it a career with any ONE of these songs, and here they all are on this one record. The recording sounds at once very young and very old, like they were a little too much 20-something in their giddiness of recording (it was 1967, after all), but Leonard Cohen’s voice overpowers all of the instrumentation, which is a good thing, and he’s right there in your room. He was that odd person who seemed fully mature at a very young age and then just seemed to get younger from there (maybe we’re all like that, but it’s just not so much on display).

25
Nov
17

Alice Cooper “School’s Out”

If you’re anything like me, you played the title song loudly, repeatedly, each year, junior high and high school, on that glorious day in late May or early June… to the point that the lyrics, the tune, the nuances are ingrained in your mind like your social security number. And you might think there’s nothing left here for you to listen to. There you are wrong, as this is a great album, not just some filler backing up a hit. First of all, the song “School’s Out” is a lot better, hearing it again, than you remember—it’s one of those things that fades in your memory, but actually listening to it fresh is kind of a revelation. But because I’ve heard it like one million times, everything else on the album is more enjoyable to me—and it’s all pretty excellent, starting with the next song, “Luney Tune,” which starts out: “Slipped into my jeans/they’re hard and feelin’ mean.” I think that was the thing that turned me on to blue jeans. I don’t know about the rest of you kids out there, but that was it for me. Then it gets even better with the opening to “Gutter Cat vs. The Jets,” just a killer song.

This whole album, from 1972, has a high school theme, and borrows a lot from West Side Story and that whole mythology—which is very much in keeping with Alice Cooper’s overall theatricality. There’s an artifice to it all, of course, exacerbated by doing a kind of sound effects “street fight” bit—but that’s a very small part of this record. Most of all it’s great songs and some really pretty heavy duty music. I think this version of the Alice Cooper group wasn’t taken as seriously as the more blues-based musicians of the same era (that took themselves so seriously) (not that this isn’t blues-based at its core, but the theatrical element kind of dominates).

It has one of those novelty album covers that drives you crazy, not knowing which way is up, all that, as it’s a cardboard representation of a school desk, all decorated with graffiti, the lid opening to reveal a taped-in, very cool photo of the band (one—among many—strong influences on my drinking at an early age), and then a photographic representation of the inside of a school desk—which includes a switchblade, crayons and pencils, a slingshot, album credits in the form of a “School’s Out Quiz,” marbles, composition book, comics, etc. Even more impressive, the back album cover is a representation of the bottom of a desk (complete with gum stuck to it), with song titles scratched in—and die-cut legs that fold out, if you so desire.

Side two is as good as side one, starting with “My Stars,” and then what was not only my favorite Alice Cooper song, but favorite song period for probably a decade of my youth, “Public Animal #9.” This song must have been a single—at least it made its way into a jukebox at the Model-T Drive-In, a pizza place that had an old Ford Model-T high up on a pole as its sign. When I was 12 or so, first able to ride my bike on the street, my fledgling juvenile delinquent friends and I would head down there and order a pizza, and then when the waitress wasn’t looking, buy Lark cigarettes from a machine. We’d play the jukebox, and this is the song I most strongly remember. When we started our first band, maybe a year later, this is the first song we tried to emulate. It sure as hell seemed a lot easier for them than it was for us.

31
Oct
17

The Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra “Chariots of the Gods”

This is the 1974 soundtrack album for the 1970 movie by the same name, which was based on the 1968 book, Chariots of the Gods?—which was an international bestseller that, for years, you used to see wherever you’d see used paperbacks. Roughly, about the theory that extraterrestrials came to Earth in ancient times and influenced our culture (which would explain a lot, especially if they brought along cats). I feel like we might have seen the movie at some point in high school—projected in a classroom in 16mm, which we did occasionally—but I’m not sure. If we did see it, I guess it wasn’t as memorable as Highways of Agony.

But it’s the soundtrack album, by German composer Peter Thomas, that I’m interested in here. On the cover, I believe, are images from the movie poster, with an Easter Island head watching a Saturn rocket take off over the Great Pyramids, etc. It’s got 19 tracks, with titles like “Popular Myth and Destruction of Sodom” and “Rocket Science,” and is somewhat a journey in itself. It’s kind of hard to get a handle on since it’s all over the place, though that probably is a reflection of the movie. Maybe the easiest way for me to come to terms with this record is to go track by track and describe my own movie, based on the feelings each of these compositions conjures in my imagination. For simplicity’s sake I’m not going to name each track, but go by number, and we’ll call the movie: The Chariot of Speen.

Side A, Track 1 finds our hero waking up with a wicked hangover, complete with flashbacks of the time he fell in love with the neighbor girl who was four years older (he was 12). A2 sounds like he’s at the dentist, and it must have been pulling wisdom teeth because a radical shift in tone takes him crossing the desert with Peter O’Toole and camels, and every time someone hits that gong there is a human (or camel) sacrifice. A3 is much lighter, thankfully, maybe riding a bike, at least until the post-traumatic flashbacks kick in. A4 has us looking out over the plain, maybe counting windmills or oil-wells, or maybe just mirages. Yes, it was all merely an illusion. A5 begins with graduation day and tricks us, because it ends there, too. A6 is that ephemeral space between remembering and not remembering that you’re not remembering. A7 evokes that feeling of being in a public place with absolutely no connection to humans. A8 is walking music, when everything is groovy, people in your neighborhood respect you, and you occasionally stop to tie your shoes (way too often, actually). A9 is driving music, and it would have to be in a convertible, with blue skies, and above the blue Mediterranean, on those twisty roads that people survive in movies but not always in real life.

Side B, Track 1 gets us back on track with the main theme, in this case soaring overhead, presumably in some kind of contraption and not just disembodied. B2 evokes the nightmare of the Industrial Revolution, or it might just be enduring a night of indigestion. B3 finds our hero in love, naturally all too fleeting. B4 is that always hilarious joke, “I think we should see other people.” B5 is more either eternal life or eternal nothingness, which I guess are two sides of the same coin. B6, for whatever reason, has us shopping in a sunny market, maybe with a Warren Oates character, exploiting our superior exchange rates. B7 is walking among the unburied dead, wiping away sticky cobwebs that block the path, and the horror is acute but brief. B8 is that one scene in the movie with “the man with no name” (who eventually kills everyone) where he isn’t killing anyone, but rather finding innocence and beauty in the unblemished face of a ravishing international starlet who is unfortunately underage and about to be (in the movie) brutally raped and slain. B9 is the same guy, heading off to meet his destiny, on horseback (minus the destiny). B10 is our hero (who never sailed a day in his life) piloting a sleek sailing ship, staring off over the blue horizon, thinking about dinner.

22
Aug
17

Tom Waits “Foreign Affairs”

This is the first Tom Waits record I ever heard in my life (though I’m sure I must have heard a song or two, here or there, somewhere, but I don’t remember). It was in the attic of 4 Costley Court, Kent, Ohio, sometime in 1983, and I put the record on but little did I know the turntable was on 45, instead of 33, and I listened to the entire first side without realizing it was on the wrong speed. So my first conscious impression of Tom Waits as a singer was that he did kind of an offensive, comic impersonation of a black, woman jazz singer. I soon realized it was the wrong speed, but even so, it took me a long time to get used this record on the correct speed. At the time I thought Tom Waits’ singing voice was among the weirdest things I’d heard on a record.

The record belonged to Tom Strange, and I bought it from him. The other thing I bought from him was his acoustic guitar, and after countless moves across and back the country, I still have and engage with them both. I’d take them both to the ends of the earth, if there was such a place. Maybe it means something, those two things. Maybe I should be dedicating my life to playing songs like these. All great songs on this record. For a long time I called it my favorite Tom Waits record, and though it no longer is my favorite, it will always have a warm place in my heart because it was the first.

The noirish black & white cover photo is TW and a mystery woman, enveloped in shadows. She’s got more rings than fingers, a cigarette, and a passport. For some reason, I realize now, I thought for years it was a bottle of Passport Scotch. I guess that just shows that my head was more into traveling via liquor than streamer ship. The back is just TW, taking over the cigarette, and in a cute pose, looking like a 25 year-old heart-breaker. The record came out in 1977, so do math if you want to. There’s a lot of really nice nightclub sounding jazz playing on this record, and Bette Midler sings on one number. The lyric sheet is typed out with no caps, and even though you can make out every word he sings, you could read the lyrics like a pulp novel if your record player was broken. “Licorice tattoo turned a gun metal blue scrawled across the shoulders of this dying town…” You get the idea. I could probably benefit by typing out the entire lyrics—it would likely be a more fruitful next few hours than the sick dreams I’ve been suffering with, through long, terrible nights. I can only hope some of this record will go into my dreams.




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