Archive for the 'Frightening' Category

06
Sep
19

Electric Light Orchestra “Out of the Blue”

I’m pretty sure I had this record in high school—I had a few ELO records—though I can’t remember exactly which ones, now. I didn’t remember it was a double album, though, so maybe not. Also, I didn’t remember that the rainbow space station cover opened up to reveal the inside of the space station—it actually looks pretty cool, you’d think I’d have remembered that. As an insert, there’s an awkwardly vertical poster included, with these kind of creepy, black and white, almost photo-realist portraits of the band members—and I totally remember that—there’s something strangely off about the portraits—which kind of makes them both repulsive and compelling. In my memory, this was the record, or maybe the one after, when I stopped liking ELO—but now I’m thinking I was totally wrong about all this, or maybe my tastes have changed. (Obviously, both of those things are true—everyone’s tastes change, over time, and I have been wrong about nearly everything.)

Anyway, forget the past, because I’m really loving this record now, and you could even say I’ve become a little obsessed with it. I put it on kind of randomly while cat sitting, along with some others, and this became the one that defined the time there, away from home, this point in time. You never know if, or with whom, it will happen—but it’s kind of like falling in love (ha, if it [falling in love] was only that easy). Because of the space station album cover and the occasional aural buzzes and beeps, shimmering synth sounds, and restrained use of the dreaded vocoder, you kind of think it’s all a sci-fi theme, but it’s not—it’s all over the place, really, with a healthy amount of love songs. The funny thing is, when I glanced at the song titles, the only two I remembered were “Turn to Stone” and “Mr. Blue Sky” (hits)—so I’m glad I even put the record on, because those are my least two favorite songs on the entire album!

As it turns out, there’s one great pop song after another on this record—I’m not even going to list my favorites—just say, all of them but the above two. Then I noticed what I consider the most significant feature of this record—side three is kind if set off as its own thing—a mini-opera, called the “Concerto for a Rainy Day,” as there is a weather theme running through the four songs. Weather! Is there a subject I love more? So, then I had to read a little bit about it—and I didn’t find much, nor dig too deeply, but what I read was that Jeff Lynne went to a chalet in the Swiss Alps to work on this record (didn’t he ever see The Shining?) and it just rained and rained and he had writer’s block! He thought he was washed up, was likely on the verge of running amok, when the sun broke through and he began writing like a madman. Now, anyone will tell you, there’s an inherent bipolar-like thing that runs through the creative process, it’s all valleys and peaks, and sometime the low lows lead to the explosions of creativity—if you’re lucky—and he certainly was, here.

For me, though, the real find on this record is the song “Big Wheels”—with that one, I was immediately in love—so much so that I figured it had to be either a past life thing, or maybe the song was used in some really genius way by an opportunistic, manipulative filmmaker—servicing an emotional story with strong images and the enormous shorthand of this beautiful song. I looked it up but could not find any evidence that it was used anywhere, so I don’t know. I did see that “Mr. Blue Sky” was used like many, many, many times in movies and on TV. Everyone loves “Mr. Blue Sky”—interesting, because I wouldn’t wipe my ass with that song. I mean, it’s okay, but it’s jaunty as all fuck. It kind of highlights that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who like the jaunty and those who don’t. Those who like sunny skies and those who like stormy skies. Those who like happy songs—while a sad song brings them down—and those who live for sad songs. And I suppose, never the twain shall meet. Well, it’s not just sad songs I like, but sad and beautiful, and the two are often hopelessly intertwined. And this song, “Big Wheels,” is not only the most beautiful ELO song I’ve ever heard, but one of the most beautiful pop songs I’ve ever heard by anyone.

I could just leave it at that, but I can’t—I need to listen again and look at it a little more closely—why does this particular song affect me like it does? And what’s it about?—sitting there in the middle of this mini-opera, as it is, in-between songs about weather and love? First of all, what does “Big Wheels” mean, anyway? And why don’t people love this song? First of all, it doesn’t refer to the plastic toy that the kid’s tearing through the hallways of the mountain chalet where Jeff Lynne’s trying to write. My first thought is, because of the album cover, is it’s the space station, as the music has that smooth, slow-rolling feeling, but I don’t know—then what does the space station mean? I suppose it’s the Earth turning, and, you know, “I let the Earth take a couple of whirls,”—the patience that comes with maturity, knowing that things will change. I suppose the song does have a lot of sadness in it (“It was not enough for you” / “It’s rather sad” / “I think I’m gonna have to start again”), plus, there’s the silent tear, cold dark waiting days, and lots and lots of pouring rain! Plus, my favorite: “no one knows which side the coin will fall.” There is the sense of not being in control—that your fate is in others’ hands. And that the other side of “tomorrow is another day” might be, no matter how good things are going, it’s no guarantee they’ll continue. Most sad songs start with the sadness, but has anyone ever written one that says, tomorrow will likely bring heartbreak—it’s as inevitable as death. I guess this one. The more I listen to it, the darker it becomes—it really is kind of an amazing force of nature, the sadness in this song, right up there with the weather. But it’s just so beautiful.

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23
Aug
19

Dave Major & the Minors “Second Record Album”

I did not expect much from this one, just based on the cover—which consists of the band name printed repeatedly in a sports-bar font with bright colors—so bright, in fact, that I would have guessed it was a few years old—but it’s 1972! On a tiny local label, and recorded in Milwaukee. Inside the sleeve there’s also a couple of color glossy band promo photos with the management company on the bottom—one fairly close-up, the other a wide shot of the band surrounded by a music-store-worth of musical instruments. They are wearing dried-blood-red, wide lapel blazers, and matching ties big enough to use as curtains. It’s so perfect that I also assumed this was contemporary—and also ironic—but no, it’s the real thing. Before even putting the record on I looked them up on the internet and the first thing I find is this story about how, later—not sure when—band leader Dave Perry broke into the house of an ex, shot her husband and his mother, and then tried to shoot it out with the police and was killed. That just depressed me so much I didn’t even want to put the record on. And then I noticed one of the photos is signed by Dave Perry, which frankly kind of creeps me out. I don’t find homicide the least bit interesting (or whatever even more fucked up qualities people attribute to heinous acts—entertaining?)—and it really makes it hard to write about this record. These were real people, with their lives ended stupidly, and there were kids involved, and a tragedy like this partly shapes your life, whether you want it to or not.

But still, I had to listen to it—I figured maybe once, and then to the thrift store—but it turns out the record is so fascinating, I’m kind of instantly obsessed with it. So I’m going to try to pretend I never heard about these tragic events. After all, I only saw this story one place online—maybe it’s one of those obscure urban legends made up by some neo-dadaist smart-ass like that one about Morrissey drinking Rolling Rock with kids in Ohio. Still, though, it’s probably going to color my experience—but it really is an interesting record. First of all, it’s kind of schizo and all over the place—a good example is in a two minute version of “Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah” which is pretty hot while also being corny, and listenable, except for the Uncle Remus impression at the end. This is a lounge act, after all, and on some songs they sound like it, just in the cheesiness of the approach and the absolute erect jauntiness. But on the other hand, the playing is all not only tight and accomplished, but also really pretty inspired. If you were going out to see this band at some supper club, consider yourself not only lucky but also probably spoiled for all time. This is the kind of band that musicians like, I think—you’d have to, unless you were just jealous. But also, the casual fan, or Saturday nite dancer, or Friday fish fry eater—everyone’s going to like this band. From what I read, and a few online videos, the band put on a great show—they’d have 40 or 50 instruments on the stage with them, then keep switching off instruments—right in the middle of songs, even—with well-rehearsed choreography and highly entertaining and sometimes humorous showmanship.

There’s a big block of liner notes on back that, if you just read, you’d probably say, holy shit, and then dismiss it as someone’s manic attempt at a band description parody. I mean, it just goes on and on about the band members and all the instruments they each play. As impressive as this bit of writing is, it’s even more impressive when you believe it’s all true—and then some. They can sing and they can play! “Proud Mary” almost sounds like a typical lounge band cover, but on subsequent listenings you hear more, there. Most stunning is their version of the “Theme from Fistful of Dollars”—done well enough that it could have been used in the movie. Also, there’s a cover of a favorite of mine, “Sonny”—a fine version. But most notable of all are the original numbers by Dave Perry (one’s co-written by Steve Joyce)—there are five originals interspersed with the covers—that’s half the record—and they’re all good—all reminiscent of other stuff, naturally—but good, compelling songs and performances. In fact, as you listen through the record, each of the originals is better than the previous one—they kind of oddly build on each other. I’m really loving this record by this point, and I’ve listened to it a dozen times! But then, it occurs to me—do I really like it that much, or am I being seduced by the lore of the tragedy—the very thing that initially put me off? I know that sounds contradictory, but then contradiction is the foundation of appreciation, of infatuation, of desire, of love. Can you really ever trust your feelings about anything—even a 47 year old LP by a local lounge band? Oh this world.

14
Aug
19

Sharon Van Etten “Tramp”

The black and white photo of presumably Sharon Van Etten on the cover of the LP is blown up so much you realize it’s almost abstract, maybe only makes sense with a little distance. Her head is about twice as big a normal person—in effect, you’d never see her this close up, even if you were making out with her. It’s a very beautiful photo, and album cover, but it really accentuates the quality of her eyes—it’s hard for me to describe—it’s more of a feeling, but for some reason I never feel like I can trust someone with eyes like that. My feelings like that are usually wrong, which becomes evident within one minute of meeting a person, and longer meetings further prove that, but since I’m not meeting SVE anytime soon, I’m just going to make the assumption that I’m wrong and chalk it up to the powerful—and often totally misleading—quality of photographs. There’s a lot of musicians and collaboration going on, but especially with a guy named Aaron Dessner (I’ll have to look him up), and there’s a picture of SVE and a guy (might be him?) on the inside cover, sitting on a bench, presumably outdoors, neither winter nor summer, pleasantly blurry and smiling, slightly disheveled, wearing every tasteful shade of blue known to man, their white hands looking like alien beings. In tiny white letters at the bottom it says, “for John Cale.” That could lead me to many, many more words, or I could just let it go.

The initial sound of these songs is, to me, entirely unfairly, off-putting, even though I like the sparse, subtle, and tasteful instrumentation. Maybe too tasteful. And sometimes blatantly eclectic, some with annoying arcane sounding instruments that only exist in Civil War museums and recording studios in Brooklyn. Sharon Van Etten’s voice has this liquid quality, both thick and thin, that just pours between the edges, and fills all cracks, sounding like it’s desperate to cauterize not only her wounds but those of everyone she comes in contact with. It’s a bit much, and I can’t say I’m enjoying it, but I know from experience that that’s a hasty, first-impression opinion, and I really need to listen to each song more closely, and listen to the lyrics, as well, before I make any judgment. So I’ll do that, and also, it seems at first glance that a lot of these might be love songs, and sad songs—and that’s something I’ve been kind of into lately. That’s a joke—for those people who know me.

The first song is a love song, a sad song, addressed to “you”—unless it’s a metaphor for a political situation, but I’ll leave it be. The next song, also addressed to “you,” has a tragic tone to it, along with this kind of devastating lyric that we can all relate to: “You’re the reason why I’ll movie to the city or why I’ll need to leave.” Another song addressed to “you,” called “Serpents,” even more fraught, and this time she hopes “he” changes. Don’t hold your breath, SVE. Next is “Kevin’s”—which is the only use of a possessive version of a name without an object as a song title I can think of. No mention of Kevin’s what?—in the song—or Kevin—unless he’s “you” (in which case maybe means that she belongs to Kevin—in which case I hate him). Anyway, it’s a beautiful sad song, with some nice “ooohhhs”—long, drawn out—that sound like “yous.” Next is one about “Leonard” who eventually becomes “you” by the end of the song. I may be wrong, but it sounds like this Leonard was a pretty okay guy, but she fucked it up this time. So it goes. Finally, “In Line” is quite a haunting song, and I don’t just say that because the word “ghosts” is in it. I have no idea what it’s about, but it’s not about domestic bliss and talking about your future while in line at the Court Street Trader Joe’s.

New paragraph, second side, this is vinyl. I didn’t mean to go on this long with this, but once I committed to it, I was kind of sunk. That’s commitment for you—when you don’t have it, you’re sunk, and you’re sunk when you do. The first song is killer, one that probably sold me on this record (as if I needed to be sold, or anyone cares). It starts out quiet and slow, and then just builds in volume and intensity, with the line “we all make mistakes” running through it like veins of gold through the darkness. “We Are Fine” is an interesting title to a song, especially where the sentiment is “I’m alright”—another pretty and harrowing one, which could be about hypochondria, or hypochondria as love metaphor, or the other way around. “Magic Chords” just confuses me—it sounds like a funeral march, with the repeated lines: “You got to lose sometime” and then “Nothing to lose.” That’s too general—I mean, we’re all going to die, but I need to focus on something else, occasionally. “Ask” makes my stomach hurt, and I mean that as a compliment, as in, SVE can land a punch. Addressed to “friend” and “man” and, it feels like, me, the line, “It hurts too much to laugh about it” hurts too much to laugh about it. “I’m Wrong” asks to “tell me I’m wrong.” I don’t think you’re wrong. With a line like, “tell me all the miles that you put on your car,” I’d have to say you’re probably right, as sad as that is. The last song is slow and haunting, and I guess I want it to leave me with a positive note, at this point, sucker that I am, soft in my old age, wanting things to work out between her and one of these “you’s.” I think: “I could do better, couldn’t I?” In the romance department. Men are little boys, with tantrums, and egos, that want everything, but are just destined, you know, to either be kicked under a shed, or else allowed to be a monster. Anyway, it ends on a grim note, but it feels like truth, at least, and the light dims.

17
Jul
19

The Doobie Brothers “Minute by Minute”

This record came out certainly after I had stopped liking The Doobie Brothers—1978—by that time, it was punk rock for me, not these lame, saggy-ass hippies. The kind of classic b&w band photo cover with the six of them posing like a soccer team is nice. Which one would you make out with? If you said anyone but Michael McDonald, you’re just being contrary, because you know he’s the only one without skunk-weed breath. Though I am a “Skunk” Baxter guy from way back. There is an inner sleeve with a giant blowup photo of a roach—no, not a cockroach!—a nearly consumed marijuana cigarette—I’m guessing it’s blown up X10. Just in case you thought “Doobie” referred to a high school track coach, or a submarine sandwich, or someone’s pet, or dick—well, here it is, spelled out in plain English. Or maybe that’s not a roach at all (squinting), but an artist’s rendition of an alien craft, from the school that believes UFOs will not be all sleek, smooth, and symmetrical, but all fucked up. It actually looks like some alien vessel from Lost in Space, the original TV show, the early episodes from 1965, which were in black and white and sometimes truly frightening (and first introduced me to the idea that when we, Earthlings, are traveling out there, Space, then we are the aliens).

On the other side is a lyric sheet! I am so excited! Now I can finally find out what they are singing on “What A Fool Believes”—something that’s been driving me crazy now for forty years. It starts out, “He came from somewhere back in Malongo.” Where in the hell is “Malongo?” Well, it’s not Malongo, it’s: “in her long ago.” But what does that even mean? And then, “As she rises to the Apocalypse, or the Acropolis”—what’s that about? But no, it’s “her apology.” Actually, when I really listen, I can’t understand any of the lyrics. Is that the key to a number one song? I’m here to make that statement: the key to a hit song is to sing the lyrics so no one can understand them. Anyway, this is after Michael McDonald pretty much took over this band, at least on paper. Who knows, really. I’ll look forward to watching that 12 hour Doobie Brothers documentary, that’s got to be out there, or being made, on a double feature with a Yacht Rock documentary, which of course features Michael McDonald. I used to hate the guy; maybe I associated him with the lame side of the late Seventies, you know, that horrible beard and football jersey combo look. Or maybe I associated him with that most heinous of all hamburger chains. But now I pretty much love the guy, which I suppose says something about me, not him, or time, or the sewer flowing into the river, and the river flowing into the sea.

14
Jun
19

Jimmy Swaggart “I’ve Got Nothing To Lose”

I used to have a lot of Jimmy Swaggart albums, believe it or else, because they were easy to find at the thrift-store, and I can listen to them. It’s solid gospel music with—as I hear it—an interesting edge. This record’s official title is: “I’ve Got Nothing To Lose Featuring Jimmy Swaggart and His Golden Gospel Piano.” On a lot of these songs it sounds like Brother Jimmy is barely reigning it in, about one shot of rye away from transforming into his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, right before our eyes. Good and Evil, or “two sides of the same coin?”—I say the latter. This is not meant, at least in this context, to be an indictment—I’m just saying there’s some hot music on Swaggart albums, and there’s a lot of them. I lost all mine—in the move, the flood, the bankruptcy. I think all or most of his records are on JIM records, one of my favorite label names. (Maybe I should start a record label called Randy. Wait, someone already did.) They all have pretty good covers, too, but maybe I managed to hang onto this one because it’s just the best. A fairly young Jimmy (no date can be found, but I’m guessing it’s got to be near 1960) is sitting at the piano, on a little raised stage protected by a tacky wrought iron railing, no doubt in a church. Behind him is an enormous, floor to ceiling, shimmering mauve curtain. And below him, and WAY in front (it’s framed as if by someone who loved this carpet more than Jimmy) is kind of a ratty looking (at least in the photo) carpet—in the identical shade of mauve! There seems to be a lot of disagreement over what is the color mauve, and it’s often used incorrectly, but if you want to see mauve, this is fucking mauve, baby! (Obviously I feel kind of strongly about it.)

This might be a good time to bring this up. A number of years back, like a pretty big number (I’m guessing 25 yeas ago, but I’m not even sure), someone anonymously mailed to me a videotape that was simply titled “Camp Meeting” and on it was the most amazing segment of Jimmy Swaggart’s television gospel ministry that I’ve ever seen. This is the one where he goes on a long tirade about, who else, The Lord, that ends with the claim, “He can unscramble scrambled eggs!” Why I didn’t immediately market a T-Shirt, I have no idea. There still may be time. The segment was featured in my 6 hour epic video, Seafood, so you may (not) have seen it there. It’s probably on youtube—I guess there’s very little that isn’t. But anyway, if it was you who sent me this gem, now’s the time to own up! That was pretty much the best mystery mail I’ve ever received (not counting the videotape of The Sweet Ride (1968), that arrived at Franklin Street, in Kent, that historic autumn of 1987 (homebrew, The Sweet Ride, MAMA art movement, the Browns were watchable). Could it be possible the same person sent The Sweet Ride and “Camp Meeting?” Lot’s of questions, and as time passes there will be more, like What’s videotape, and What’s mail?

31
May
19

Fuzzhead “LSD”

Due to my “Speenish” reputation, readers might expect me to express my opinion about whether this 1993 LP, provocatively titled LSD, in some way portrays or evokes an “acid trip”—and you know what, I’m not going to do it, because that’s your trip, I mean if you want to go there, and you can decide that for yourself. This isn’t an educational record, it’s an album of music, broken into songs, and it does that very well, with primarily guitars, bass, drums, and voices. These few elements are far from sparse, as there are a lot of them, going on at the same time. Listening to this again, I had a bit of an impression that it could have been quadraphonic sound—that is, if I had four speakers—so I’m almost getting the impression of four speakers coming out of two, or even two different stereos playing almost the same two records at almost the same time. Which probably makes it sound more chaotic than it is… it’s actually quite coherent, compelling, easy on the ears, brain, nose, throat, what have you. There is no centrally defined singer, but multiple ones coming in from here and there, one of them a woman’s voice that makes me think of Grace Slick enough to make me think of Jefferson Airplane, as well. Not that that is a comparison, I’m not doing that, and other comparisons would be more apt, but I’m not going there, and I’m not going to use the word “psychedelic” more than once, and I just did it.

The cover of this record is all white except for an enlarged typewriter font “lsd” and “fuzzhead” and a large gray hand (bigger than actual size) protruding from the left, holding what one presumes is some kind LSD delivery device on the end of the middle finger. For some reason the hand makes me think of a squid, probably one big enough to destroy cruise ships. The acid makes me think of an impossibly small drive-in movie theater screen. Small movies for small people. It seems like yesterday when this record came out, yet it was like a quarter of a century ago. And what’s a quarter of a century?—besides the time it took for the drive-in theater on the end of the finger to become a reality.

Fuzzhead is a band started by Bill Weita—though I suppose I could be wrong—it could have been started by any number of the names equally divided in the album credits. But I think it was Bill Weita, a guy I lived in the same house with, in Kent, Ohio, 1987 into 1988. There were six or seven of us in that house and WE ALL GOT ALONG. We made homebrew in the basement, started an art movement, and watched a videotape of The Sweet Ride on TV. Bill would disappear into the basement for hours, weeks at a stretch, make a lot of noise that could only be described as repetitive and annoying. Then he’d eventually come out with cassette tape with music that might have come from Berlin in the Seventies, or a basement in Kent. He’d make a finished product, on cassette, with a typewriter and crude drawings. This record is much along the same lines, though it’s vinyl and on someone else’s label (Father Yod). I moved away, never to return, and Fuzzhead was born, not, I don’t think, long after. When I lived there, however, we, the roommates, called Bill “The King of Rock’n’Roll”—he didn’t self-apply that name, in case anyone is wondering. But I’m here to say, that R&R museum up north on Lake Erie is necessarily a failure and travesty until Bill has been at least asked to be freeze-dried and on permanent display.

19
Apr
19

Allan Sherman “My Son, the Folk Singer”

I never heard of Allan Sherman before playing this 1962 record, but apparently he went through a period of widespread success and popularity, which is why this record exists and I was able to pick up a copy for nothing. According to the internet, his popularity declined after the JFK assassination 1963—is that true? Did the masses lose their taste for frivolous humor after that time, and if so, does that partly explain why I grew up only occasionally cracking a smile—I wonder. Anyway this is essentially a comedy record comprised of goofy folk songs with lyrics that are sometimes pretty obvious and sometimes rather obscure. Kind of typical of me, I find myself annoyed by the stuff I understand, and intrigued by the stuff I don’t. I supposed if I understood the stuff I don’t understand I’d be annoyed by that too. The overall tone is that kind of humor that says “this is humor”—but I actually really like the singing style of Allan Sherman, I guess because he sounds like an urban Jewish guy to me, like the kind of co-worker who cracks you up daily. Let’s see, where is he from? Chicago, moved around a lot. I guess a lot of these songs are parodies, where you have to know the thing it’s parodying to make sense—but again, I’m wondering if I personally like stuff that doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, it’s a live album, and the audience is finding it all hilarious—from the individual, tittering laugh, to bursts of uncontrolled laughter, to the full on roar. For me it’s pretty much torture to hear people laugh like that. Now that I think of it, I don’t much care for live recordings, in general, but live comedy is the worst. I mean, if you’re there, then it’s live, and when it’s a recording of something live, it’s not live anymore, is it—it’s just annoying. I don’t like recordings of live “specials” either, or podcasts that are recorded in front of a live audience—I can’t listen to them. The audience on this album is recorded really loudly, too, it’s just unbearable—I mean, just torture me, okay? The cover, though, is great—well, not that great, but there is a woman in a black dress holding a dead chicken, and a bagel lying on the floor, it’s goofy, and, yeah, it’s almost a good album cover.




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