Archive for the 'Speenish' Category

25
May
18

Richard Harris “The Yard Went On Forever”

First of all I’ve got about five Richard Harris albums, which is four or five more than normal people. It’s hard for me to explain his appeal to me—I guess it starts with him not being afraid to be way over the top, even ridiculous, and without irony, or if there is irony, a very convoluted version of it. Part of it is Jimmy Webb—it’s probably more accurate to call this a Harris/Webb collaboration than a Richard Harris album—but R.H. does almost equally as well with Tony Romeo (but that’s another record). This one is Jimmy Webb, sounding like he’s trying to recreate the MacArthur Park glory on the very first song here, “The Yard Went On Forever”—of course it does’t come close—but perhaps what it is is an allusion to it—indicating that this record is a continuation of MacArthur Park—for all those people (like me) who, as epic as M.P. was, wanted more. I believe this was R.H.’s second album, the first being from earlier the same year (1968, a half century ago!)—A Tramp Shining. There are those who found MacArthur Park the “pinnacle of human achievement” (that was me), as well as a fair continent who, if time travel was invented, would get around to eradicating that song only after assassinating Hitler.

For some reason I’ve listened to this Richard Harris album less than the other ones I own, so I’m happy my random system chose it on this evening. I’ve probably been mildly scared off by it because it’s so confusing, pretty much on every level. After I write this, I’ll be curious to see if anyone on the internet has tackled it. Just the cover makes no sense at all; I won’t even try to explain it. Find a thrift store and see for yourself. In the gnarly profile photo on back, R.H. looks like he’s been rolling in the dirt with several layers of historically accurate movie rolls (remember, he’s even more well-known as an actor). If that’s not enough, the cover opens to reveal a giant-size portrait of R.H., full cop-look, and the photo is so huge I got out my tape measure to measure his ear—over eight inches! I wonder how many people got high, over the years, and focused in on that photo? The ear is one part of the human body that you really don’t want to isolate and think about too much.

No printed lyrics, but maybe that’s just as well, as it lets me off the hook a little, interpretation-wise. You can understand them anyway—this guy enunciates like someone with theatre training. The songs are apparently all by Jimmy Webb, who is also the producer; he’s a great songwriter, as you know, and even his non-hits sound like they’re probably hits somewhere, or should have been. This record has full arrangements, backup singers, strings, horns, and a lot of atmosphere. Only four songs per side—I love how they used to do that—there’s enough space between the grooves and the label that you could grow crops there. I can usually listen to a record once through and pretty much get it, but this is going to be a two day project—and I’m going to go song by song. This mammoth achievement deserves that, and it’s fun to do that once in awhile. Plus, I’ve always loved, as an expression, “the yard went on forever”—without knowing what it means. I borrow it, as a non-sequitur, from time to time.

The title song is first (I like when they do that) and it starts with an angelic choir sounding kind of ominous (“Has everybody got a place to hide?”) and then R.H. sings “Can you hear them singing, the women of Pompeii, with Kansas City housewives…” If that doesn’t baffle you, the song fades to silence, two minutes in, and then starts up again with him singing about “The volcanoes and tornados on doomsday.” Then the angels again, but now R.H. is standing with the Nagasaki housewives. Then the angelic choir singing something I can’t understand—is it Esperanto, or Latin? This is not a song, it’s an art film! “Watermark” then is equally hyper-dramatic, with full strings, and I have no idea what this is about either, but this line jumps out: “I keep looking through old varnish at my late lover’s body.” This is heavy stuff. Then “Interim” which sounds like a convoluted lover’s lament (addressed to “you”) with lines like: “We were wound about so tightly that we couldn’t touch each other with a straw,” and “I have several lives to live/and each one of them continues without asking/it’s all that I can do to count my skeletons/and take my paid vacations.” Insane. Finally, “Gayla” which I believe is a woman’s name (not “Gay L.A.”)—the song starts out quiet and sentimental, and then turns on a dime and goes into another show-stopper chorus (for the fourth song in a row), then back to being quiet—then again to an even bigger finale, singing “God damn you, God damn you, and your dirty joke.” Somewhat bitter and sad? And then a reprise of the angelic choir: “Is everybody safe”—all this in three minutes.

If all that wasn’t enough drama for one LP, the second side starts off with a monster nine minute epic called “The Hymns from Grand Terrace.” It’s another movie, a love story, lush and emotional, that begins with, “He married her…” and he’s not speaking in the second person, if you know what I’m saying. That’s interrupted by a jaunty western traveling sojourn, then some truly happy imagery of happier times: “Cars would pass, we were out of gas, and didn’t care.” Then a total fade-out followed by a kind of song-length bridge with a really cool guitar part that could have been the foundation of a hit song if it wasn’t in service of this monumental epic. Then back to the drama, of course: “If I could face the fate that waits to cast me into shambles/and sit across the velvet boards from God, then I would gamble.” And when the song ends you’re not sure it’s over, because the next one, “The Hive,” starts right in like it’s part of the previous song. I’m listening closely, trying to figure out what this “hive” is—it’s not real happy. “And now they’ll all get roaring drunk/pretending they’re essentially alive,” and “God blessed our happy cubicle/keep it safe and sanitized/homogenized and pasteurized/there’s no place like numb.” There’s an orchestral segue into “Lucky Me”—a sad song masterpiece: “Lucky me, there’s no more we,”—that post-breakup justification that it’s better now—“No more I love you’s I could not return”—not fooling anyone, of course. Maybe one of the purest expressions of misery known to man, how much happier he is now, without her. And we end with “That’s the Way it Was”—a totally corny lament about a past time, a far off town, an idealized childhood, with each image punctuated by “And the honey bees would buzz”—which—after just a song ago, sinking into the horror of the hive—is hardly convincingly happy. And it ends with an overlapping of the angels, now singing part of the chorus from the first song, while R.H. barely holds back the tears with, “There once was a town… where a man could fall in love,” and finally, “And the yard went on forever.” At which time it’s supposed to all make sense. And it does!

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08
May
18

The Byrds “Younger Than Yesterday”

I have spent my life trying not to have to try to figure out The Byrds; it might have been different if I’d started way back, maybe not from the beginning, but maybe when this 1967 album came out, their fourth. I could have joined the cult, been indoctrinated, socialized, whatever. It’s kind of like with any cult, if you’re brainwashed from childhood, the belief is second nature, and of course even inescapable. But it you’re not, none of it ever really makes sense. The Byrds have had so many members come and go over the years, they may as well be a group with a history like the Masons, and in fact, there could be arguments made that The Byrds and the Masons are one in the same. This brilliant, groundbreaking album comes off the tracks at the end of the “CTA – 102” when we hear the simultaneous forward and tape reversed voice of Satan (which sounds suspiciously like the garden gnome episode of “Night Gallery”)—and the album then starts traveling in reverse (the next song is “Renaissance Fair”).

I was finally coerced to approach this record by my ex-employer, Anthony Franciosa (not the actor, but the editor of The Moss Problemon which this review is simulcast), and even though the compensation is minimal, Tony convinced me over breakfast at his regular hangout, Foxy’s Restaurant, in Glendale (part of the greater Los Angeles). One of his arguments was that the song “Thoughts and Words” sounds exactly like a Bob Lind number (who I just wrote about) and then goes into a chorus that sounds exactly like someone else (on the tip of my tongue—I’ll think of it and fill it in here later). Then it uses the backwards guitars, which never sounded good to me, but still, I like the idea. That technique is taken to an extreme with “Mind Gardens,” which is one of those hippie numbers that drugs (LSD?) allow the artist to dispense with harmony, melody, rhythm, structure, rhyme, story, or any narrative sense at all. Long live 1967! The funny thing is that I always thought the song was called “Mings Garden” and was about Moo Goo Gai Pan.

“My Back Pages” is another one of those Bob Dylan songs that is much better than he played it. And I’m not one of those Dylan haters, in fact I’m writing the first book ever about him, and he’s sitting across the table from me right now, and I’m only interrupting our interview to write this quick review. What many people don’t realize is that The Byrds were actually several groups at once, and one piece of evidence for that is the cover of this record, with images of them in the future, after having passed away, returning as ghosts. All dead before their time, they did return, were accused of inventing “country-rock”—but never convicted. Actually, I’m not sure if the back of this record, with a badly done collage of old band photos (or someone else’s high school yearbook, perhaps), was actually like this (it looks like drawn on goatees, red lipstick, and bleeding tears) or if some punk kid altered it with marker. Because it may have been the inspiration for The Rolling Stones “Some Girls”—if the latter is not true.

The Byrds are and were Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Clark, Gene Clark, Gene Clarke, Mitchel Clark, Gene Clarke, Michel Clarke, and identical twins Jim and Roger McGuinn. An earlier incantation of the band was known as the Yardbyrds, and here they’ve revived their hit, “Have You Seen Her Face.” The song “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” so ingrained in the culture it won’t come out even with Formula 409 at least satisfies the “song with ‘rock’n’roll’ in the title” requirement for consideration for inauguration into the Rock Hall o’ Fame, in Cleveland, Ohio. Another odd fact is that the band’s name upside down and backwards is “Spjh8.” Someone has released a record called “Older Than Tomorrow”—but it violated the conditions of its parole before it could drop. All other facets of this record and band, including the songs I haven’t touched on, the concept, the attitude, and the execution, can only be described as seminal. If not kaleidoscopic.

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.

27
Dec
17

Michael Hurley “Parsnip Snips”

Normally I would never put on a record called Parsnip Snips, but seeing how this is a Michael Hurley record and I’m a big fan of Michael Hurley, I know that it will more likely be the naked, dirty, hippie with a sense of humor experience than the deadly serious, naked, dirty hippie experience, which pretty much sums up why I like some hippie shit and not others. A sense of humor is crucial, and that goes for all entertainers, as well as dentists, co-workers, friends, family, and countrymen. Not that Michael Hurley isn’t serious sometimes, and that’s when he’s better, but humor is the foundation. It says these songs were recorded on a Wollensak between 1965 and 1972—that would have been a portable, open reel tape recorder. So, naturally, it sounds like he’s over there on the other side of the room, right now. That’s even before I started recording, at age 12. (This is how old I am: my first tape recorder was a portable, open reel recorder (pre-cassette)—not sure if it was a Wollensak.) Too bad this guy wasn’t hanging around the neighborhood—he’d probably been a better mentor than the old guy who got us to shoplift for him. If I recall correctly, he’s lived all over, East and West, out in the sticks, mostly. This LP is on Mississippi Records, which would sound Deep South except the address is 4007 N. Mississippi, Portland, Oregon, which, if I recall correctly, is Deep Hipster.

Michael Hurley used to play at the bar across the street from where I lived in Portland (he probably still does—I’m the one that moved away). By the time I realized I should go see him, I could no longer tolerate being in a bar, in the evening, at all. For me, nighttime is not the right time. You’d think I’d be able to deal with it, for a guy like this, who is the very opposite of the spectrum of BluesHammer, but no. Bars have evolved, but it’s still drunks, just a younger generation drinking much better beer, which is also much stronger, and much sweeter—essentially the craft beer movement has given us a new generation of sweet wine alcoholics—it’s just now, instead of Night Train and Thunderbird, it’s Flying Raccoon Butternut Squash Porter. This album is really, really good by the way; don’t mind my diatribes. I pretty much love Michael Hurley (except when he’s cawing like a crow; I don’t even like crows when they’re cawing like crows; but I suppose that’s his version of Bob Dylan’s harmonica). I’ve gone semi-colon crazy in this review, the influence, perhaps, of the first song on the record, “You’re a Dog; Don’t Talk to Me”—maybe the only time I’ve seen a semi-colon in a song title, and it works!

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.

23
Aug
17

Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin IV”

I’ve got a new random number system for picking out records to write about, by the way, so there is no other reason for me putting this one on than that, though I still do thoroughly enjoy it—one of the more overplayed rock records of all time—every time I hear it. I don’t really need to talk about the songs or the music with this one, do I? My dream would be to meet someone who has never heard this record, then play it for them a few times while we talk about it and I take notes. But in what cave am I going to meet this person? My favorite song, no hesitation, is “Misty Mountain Hop”—one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs—especially the, “Baby, baby, baby do you like it,” part.

One of the funniest things is the disagreement over the title of this 1971 LP, the band’s fourth. I’m calling it, here, Led Zeppelin IV, as that, I think, is the most common way to refer to it, and what Wikipedia calls it. Discogs, however, insists that is has no title, which I guess is technically correct, but to call something “Untitled” strikes me as asinine, and that goes for anyone who has an artwork or something without a title, because then “Untitled” becomes the title and it’s no longer untitled. So please, people, title your shit. It just occurred to me, that since I’m writing about this now, in 2017, I may as well assign it a new title, and maybe it will catch on. I’ll think about this as I proceed.

I’m sure the album cover is considered some kind of a classic album cover, but I never liked it (except for there being no words on it), but when you open it up and look at the entire composition—the bleak landscape on the left, and crumbling wall with the painting hung on it in the foreground—it’s really pretty great. So I guess in that sense, I like it, which is more than I can say for the stupid stoner drawing on the inside, with a wizard standing on a rocky cliff looking down on a town (or maybe on a small, ragged figure of indeterminate gender, in the foreground). So little have I ever cared for this drawing, I feel like this is the first time I’m really looking at it. How many bags of weed have been consumed while the intricate, unrealistic rocks have been examined for hidden images and meanings? However, I just noticed, for the first time, that little white goat, grazing on an elevated plateau. I’m pretty certain the answer to the mystery lies there.

Okay, I’ve got it. Since this might be the most “Speenish”—(i.e., my last name, as an adjective, meaning the distillation of the R. Speen essence (sometimes, though not to be, confused with patchouli and burning sage))—of all popular rock ‘n’ roll records, I’m going to officially, as of this date forward, name this record: Led Zeppelin Speen.




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