Archive for the 'Speenish' Category

08
Nov
19

Frank Sinatra “A Man Alone”

I never heard this record until recently—though, of course, I’ve heard some of the songs—but I bought a vinyl copy—attracted to the cover—a giant, blown up, close-up of Sinatra, looking sad, his head the size of a watermelon, and just this ring he has on is nearly as big as a CD. The subtitle is “& Other Songs of Rod McKuen.” I guess it’s all written by Rod McKuen—is that true? It’s a great record—this was a real discovery here in 2019. There is one thing that I feel confident about, and that’s that my life will end before all the discoveries dry up—and that’s a comforting thought. Anyway, I liked this record so much I bought a second copy (believe me, I didn’t pay much for either of them) because the cover was slightly different, and it opens up and there are some photos inside and liner notes by Rod McKuen. Actually, in light of that, I think there might be too much here for me to write about at once—maybe I’ll write a second review sometime later. Because the thing I’m going to focus on first is the one song on this record that I don’t like, called “Love’s Been Good To Me.” I don’t hate this song (though I’m not remotely crazy about the harpsichord), but it’s just that it stuck in my head one day, and I realized that it was bugging the shit out of me, and I had to ask my self why.

It’s a catchy tune, and I have nothing against that, but I think what bugged me is the first line of the chorus—“I have been a rover”—which, there’s nothing wrong with that, so why does it bug me? I mean, there’s plenty on this record that’s kind of corny, and I like that stuff—I generally like corny, kitschy, overblown shit. But the word “rover” just irritates me for some reason, so I have to examine that. Maybe it’s the concept, of a man who travels around, never settling down. I mean, not necessarily a womanizer, or a cad—it can be an honorable thing, a restless person, who never wants to settle. I don’t know why that would bother me. Except for maybe because it’s a concept that’s pretty much always associated with men, with the underlying backwards traditional belief that a woman shouldn’t live her life that way. Of course, anyone you talk to now—I mean, whose head isn’t up their ass—isn’t going to think that way. But knowing that certain sectors of society, even now, and more so in the past, believed that, I guess maybe that’s part of what rubs me the wrong way.

But still, there’s something else. Maybe it’s just the word, “rover,” that bugs me (as words sometimes do, for no good reason). I mean, it just means “wanderer,” but still. Maybe it’s just one of those words whose core is rotted by negative association—in this case, sexism. Or maybe because it’s similar to “pirate,” in that there’s an inherent double-standard, because of its long tradition of being romanticized, but if you really examine it… not so great. What else. There’s that Led Zeppelin song called “The Rover”—what’s that about? I looked at the lyrics, and I’m reminded of a warning—if you’re going to look at Led Zeppelin lyrics, make sure you’re accompanied by either marijuana or the music, and preferably both. Rover was a traditional name for a dog, like Fido, but what kind of twisted bastard would name their dog Fido or Rover these days? Oh, and one more—Rover is the name of that huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea in The Prisoner (TV show). I love that thing, it’s weird—but Rover is a dumb name for it—sorry. What would I call it? “Huge fuckin’ white ball that rises out of the sea”—I guess. Well, this is a lot of analyzing just to figure out why this song bugs me so much. Maybe it’s just that damn harpsichord.

18
Oct
19

Joy of Cooking “Closer to the Ground”

I had never heard of this band, and the cover—a stoner painting of an easy chair in the woods—didn’t exactly say, “buy me,” but the back cover—a full-sized photo of five hippies—pretty much dated it (1971)—and that’s a good date. Three men and two women, and not Fleetwood Mac. I was expecting the worst hippie folk imaginable, but figured it was worth checking out. A band name like “Joy of Cooking” could mean you have songs about making bread and lentils, or it could be a major drug reference, or it could mean, as band, you cooked, you got down, you rocked out. To my delight, for the most part, the latter is the case. I mean, there are still plenty of hippie folk elements, but even that’s not always a bad thing, and sometimes a good thing. Some of the songs are pretty hard, and some are soulful. It’s not Janis Joplin, but then, who is? There are a lot of musical influences, and the songs are kind of all over the place, kind of hard to pin down, and I don’t mind that at all. It’s a record worth listening to a few times, and what I hear of the lyrics, initially, is also intriguing. Actually, as I listen more… some really good lyrics. So, it turns out the songs, vocals, guitars, and keyboards are by the two women in the band, Toni Brown and Terry Garthwaite. This is their second LP, and from what I read, personnel has changed since the band formed (in Berkeley)—but it’s Toni and Terry’s band.

There’s seriously a lot of interesting stuff going on here. I’m kind of surprised they weren’t a much bigger band—but then, they are on a major label, and I bet they have their enduring fans. I’m going to check out the lyrics more, now. The record folds open, and there are lyrics and black and white photos inside. Also, there’s a separate lyric sheet—I’m confused for a moment, then realize it’s to their first record. No doubt some shelving confusion with the record’s previous owner. Maybe that means I should make a point of finding their first record. Anyway, not much about lentils or bread, and as a band, they do pretty much cook. One song in particular stands out like a sore thumb, or should I say, the opposite. There are not any bad songs, but this one, called, “Sometimes Like a River (Loving You)” was somebody’s (Toni Brown’s) very good day on the songwriting magic path—it’s so good, it’s the song when the record is over, you go back and play that one again. I may be wrong (1971 was a weird-ass time), but I’m guessing when they played live, this was the song where a few notes in, the audience would be hooping a hollering, people would get up to dance, people would sing along—that love-making thing between the band and the audience. Excellent lyrics, too, check out this line: “Sometimes like a new wind you touch my hand / And I can feel the sudden pleasure in not knowing.” That makes me want to cry. I feel like I’m being kind of annoying, loving one song so much more than the others, but then, for me, songs are what it’s all about. All songs were not created equal. Everyone knows that, but we tend to forget it when we’re bored on uninspired. It takes a truly excellent song to remind you that, yes, music is the best thing there is, better than love, sex, hash brownies, and even bank accounts.

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.

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.

04
May
19

Kris Kristofferson “Jesus Was a Capricorn”

It’s not my favorite Kris Kristofferson record, but it’s got the best title and best cover of any record you’re probably going to see in a thrift-store for a dollar, so there’s really no excuse not to own it. Plus it’s a good record. My favorite songs are, “Nobody Wins” and “It Sure Was (Love)”, but they’re all okay—I especially like the ones that Rita Coolidge is singing on. I guess that’s her on the cover, kind of outdoing KK at the cool look, not any easy thing to do, and I read that they were married not long after this record came out. The back cover is either a clever art department fake of photos pinned to a bulletin-board, or else it’s just a black and white photo of the real thing. The thing is, I didn’t think push-pins were invented yet in 1972—but then, what do I know about history, apparently? There are also some pretty literal liner notes, handwritten and tacked up there, too. It reads as pretty genuine, and one would presume written by KK, but then, the one time I contributed liner notes to a record they claimed to be written by someone else, so who can say what is legit in this slippery show business world? Kids growing up now, who learn how to use Google before they even smoke or cuss, must live in a very different world. For the longest time, when younger, I thought Kris Kristofferson was a fake name or stage name, because—well, he was already larger than life, and it’s kind of a goofy name. But now, he was born Kristoffer Kristofferson. (One wonders if one of his kids is named Kristofferson Kristofferson.) When my parents admitted to considering naming me Russell Russell (Russ) Russell, I thanked them for not saddling me with a Looney Tunes handle. Anyway, it was many years until I took Kris Kristofferson seriously—also, maybe, because there was a time when the only guys with beards were Fidel Castro, Charles Manson, and Santa Claus. Eventually, of course, I realized Kris Kristofferson, who was born the same summer as my mom, was like the coolest dude who walked the Earth, and as of the writing of this, continues to do so. I don’t know if he’s a religious man, but I might consider buying all nine of his records from the Seventies, just because I think it’s interesting that the titles include, besides the name Kristofferson, the words: Devil (twice!), Lord, Jesus, Spooky, Bless, Surreal, and Easter. It may be hard to tell exactly where he’s coming from, but it’s definitely not the vanilla frozen yogurt counter of the Boring, Illinois Safeway.

20
Feb
19

Jefferson Airplane “Bark”

The art department did a good job on this album cover—it totally fooled me. I am not that familiar with Jefferson Airplane’s discography, so when I saw this odd album cover with a fish head, I thought that someone had scrawled “BARK” on the cover just so they’d remember what it was—but it’s actually the album cover—very good job of replicating a black marker scrawl. (I was not, however, fooled into thinking it was an actual fish wrapped in paper—if that was the case I would have smelled it long before seeing it.) So apparently the original album cover looked like a shopping bag (or was a shopping bag) brown paper, with a “JA” logo meant to replicate the “A&P” grocery store logo—which would mean very little to people now—I barely remember that logo. Or maybe they still use it? Are there still A&P stores? Anyway, it’s a weird choice, but these were out-of-control San Francisco hippies and releasing an album in a shopping bag is probably very mild compared to the ideas they probably did have but someone with relative sanity stepped in. So I don’t know when this glossy replica of a fish wrapped in paper came out, but it’s a really good album cover, and even better is the lyrics “flyer” inside (in pink, what is meant to be, I guess, butcher paper). Each song title gets a different font (this is long before “font abuse”—and subsequent font sanity). It’s nice to have the lyrics, very readable (it folds out to 12×24 inches)—but then even better, on the other side is a kind of concrete poetry thing, titled with crudely cut out paper bag paper letters: “What you can do with the bag”—below which are about 100 or so suggestions about what you can do with the bag. I can’t type it all out since I don’t have the “good speed” they had when they composed this thing, but I’ll read over it quickly and tell you my favorite(s).

Fans of this band’s history will probably correct me, but this seems to be a later version of JA—some band members changed, I guess—but still well before the dreaded “Jefferson Starship.” I’m wondering now if they’re really dreaded (my memory, of back then, was dreading them—but now I do like a lot of stuff I once hated). But what I’m wondering is if they almost called themselves something else, like what’s between an airplane and a starship? Maybe a dirigible? Could they nearly have been temporarily named Jefferson Zeppelin? I was playing this record the other night and I felt like either it was really fucked up (the recording, or the actual vinyl) or my stereo was fucked up, or my needle, maybe, or maybe it was me because the apartment was 80 degrees. Or maybe a young Tom Cruise was in here fucking with my equalizer. It seems like every song was written by a different band member, but I’m not going to go through them one by one. I’m not going to say life it too short for that—it isn’t—but February is too short. The one song that kind of freaks me out though is “Feel So Good”—and I can’t really put my finger on why, but it seems to bring back these strong memories of how intimidating the Seventies were—when everyone over the age of 12 had a moustache, and people wore hats and scarfs, and the cool guys had little leather satchels tied to their belts—and what was in them? Suddenly everyone was several inches taller (shoes and hair) and you could see the ocean in their blue eyes, and they knew something they weren’t going to tell you, and somehow there just seemed to be more people than ever with wide gaps between their two front teeth. All that from that one song, for no good reason, either.

I really do like this record—I don’t mean to be negative about the fucking up sound—I actually like that, a lot. Just to be clear. (But is she singing in German on this one song, over a background of tortured ghosts?) And I like the all-over-the-place-ness of the record—which maybe has something to do with all the songwriters present—it’s like everybody gave it a shot. Maybe there’s a song by the guy who brings the acid over, and one by the guy at the deli. Some day I’ll put all these JA names together, in a proper order, and associate them with faces and instruments. I love the scenes of them playing at Altamont in Gimme Shelter (1970)—they are all both really intense and like just normal cats. Plus, didn’t one of them get punched by one of the Hell’s Angels? And then I’m especially fascinated with Grace Slick—even through all the concert footage, records, and reading about her, I could never get a sense of what she’s all about—like she’s just outside any kind of personal reference (comparison with another person). Maybe I’m wrong about that, and she’s just kind of like a cross between someone and someone else, but I guess I want to believe she’s alone in Grace Slick-ville. This record is kind of growing on me, actually—I might have to write about it again, later, and I can do that, because I make the rules here. Here’s a fine example of what you can do with the bag: “Call it Chester… call it loose… call it nester… call it Goose.”

19
Feb
19

David Bowie “Diamond Dogs”

Pretty much the first 14 years of my life I was dead-set on a future career as either an engineer or a manager—it was all studies, math, things in their place, doing what they were supposed to do—I didn’t waste time, wore socks to bed, pajamas tucked into them. Then I got this record and the next thing you know I saw something in the night sky—and after that, there wasn’t going to be any life for me in which I wasn’t some kind of an artist. That story isn’t exactly true—in fact it isn’t true at all—I really don’t know what happened to me, when, or why—that prevents me from having any kind of normal happiness. I’m just struggling here, thinking about how to possibly write about this album that even comes close to expressing how much I like it. I can say that I love it even more than snow on my eyelashes, sex, beer, and five o’clock on Friday, but all I ever hear from anyone is that it’s not even in their Bowie top five, and the album cover seriously freaked them out, and they like “Rebel Rebel” okay. Bowie fans are probably the hardest to convince, actually. And what do I care? I’m not trying to make people agree with me, after all, and everyone has their favorites here and their particular problems with this and that. Like the way the record ends with, “RockRockRockRockRock”—I mean, kind of embarrassing to me, even. And that opening, mutant wolf howl, and all that sci-fi bullshit. Well, I like that, of course—whenever I take a photograph of a weird landscape that reminds me of the inside album cover, I post it on Instagram and then recite “Future Legend” to Siri and see what she does with it. I mean, I even named my band Love Me Avenue—and don’t tell me there’s another band called Love Me Avenue out there—and if there is, you can speak to my attorney.

But how do I express why I love this record so much? That question has a lot of similarities to trying to explain why a good song is a good song. Maybe I should take a few minutes to see what a few other Bowie fans say about this record (I mean the ones who love it). Is there a 33 1/3 book about this one yet? (Not that I would want to attempt one of those books about this record—I don’t feel like I’m up to that task, and I don’t mind admitting it.) I know someone wrote one of the 33 1/3 books about Bowie’s album Low (which makes me, now that I think of it, want to read that book and revisit Low). I don’t think there is… I look it up, and holy shit! There is a book on Diamond Dogs! It’s only fitting that I listened to this record, just now, sitting under this insane February full moon, and it sounded better than it ever has—and now I see there is a book about it! It came out in… November 14, 2019. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that approximately nine months in the future? Insane. It’s by a guy named Glenn (with 2 n’s) Hendler (with an “e”). What the hell, Hendler? How can you do this to me? Oh, well… that’s okay, and kind of fitting, in a way. I have always felt—and always known—that there is something freaky and special about this record—and it’s almost as if the weird cover, the dystopian sci-fi lyrics, the whole package really, is some kind of smoke-screen for something even more weird below the surface. If we could say what it was, it wouldn’t be below the surface—elusive, unknowable, and mysterious—but, you know, the thing. The reason we’re here. Anyway—so, it’s just kind of fitting that this hopefully groundbreaking and vital text about this record (no pressure, Hendler!) has come out… in the future.

I wish I could remember the circumstances around buying this record, but 1974 is a confusing jumble of memories, a confusing time for sure. Maybe a record that I didn’t understand was the perfect thing. I didn’t understand the cover, with the steel and bronze dog-people. The album folds out and it looks like a scene from Blade Runner, which hadn’t been made yet—there is plenty of room for lyrics, but the only thing printed are the lyrics to the first song, a goddamn poem! (Though I recited “fleas the size of rats…” at every opportunity, for years.) Then I was confused by the song “Diamond Dogs”—why did it sound like the band was playing waist deep in a swamp, and why did I like that so much? And then why did the record shift to a slow song, that sounded like it was from a musical? And then why a song called “Candidate” (not into politics at the time). And then why a (reprise)? (I’m not sure when I was first aware of the pretentious prog-rock bands I listened to around then putting a song reprise on their records, but I’m pretty sure I pulled that same shit in my first band, somewhat ironically.) I liked “Rebel Rebel” (how could you not?)—but why two rebels?

I was pretty much worn out by the first side, and wore out the first side, going back again and again, trying to figure out what it was about this record. Why did Bowie drop the “David” and play guitar, saxes, Moog, etc.—so many instruments—and what in the hell was a Mellotron? Was the bass player really named Herbie Flowers? Finally, after many, many plays, or maybe days, (the days felt like months), I flipped the record, and side two was just so disappointing after side one. It starts with a ballad love song, yuck. But then, a few months, maybe years later, something happened and I liked side two more than side one! This might have coincided with the change in my life where I suddenly liked beautiful songs—was it drinking? Weed? Love? Maybe just the progression of music in my life. A song like “We are the dead” (even slower) was making an impact on me, even though I could only make out about 10% of the lyrics. And then “1984” is like a straight-up disco song (I hated disco, remember?) but there are these little parts that drop out, little lyrical parts, where I’m thinking, how does he even think of stuff like that? And then the song “Big Brother”—which maybe my brain couldn’t even handle at that point. Even now, like 40 some years later, after listening to this record thousands of times, I still can’t even comprehend, put my finger on, even describe, much less figure out, what happens in that song, musically or lyrically. It ends abruptly, too, just blending into, you know, the chant of the ever circling skeletal family. Nothing unusual there.




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