Archive for the 'sublime' Category

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!

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23
Dec
17

The Band “Music from Big Pink”

I can never keep track of the relationship of this record and The Basement Tapes—which came first, or why—which songs are on both records—I think exact same versions, right? It’s way too tiring to look it up and read about it all, even if I did have use of the internet, but I believe this is their first record, and it’s maybe their best—even though I think they were incredibly young at this time—in the pictures on the inside cover they look like teenagers (except for Garth Hudson, who was probably born looking old)—they sound like mature old-timers, which I think was kind of their thing—and they kind of are taking on that look, too—not quite pulling it off—which was kind of the hippie thing of the time.

Anyway, every single song on this record is so incredibly strong that it’s kind of mind-blowing; could these guys possibly have come from another planet, or just Canada? The playing is pretty amazing, too, and the way it’s recorded. It’s one of my favorite records ever for the drum sound. The singing is otherworldly. What did people think when this album came out? Did they think it was put on Earth by angels? I bet it was not thought of highly enough… I bet decades had to pass for it to be fully appreciated. I bet it’s still not fully appreciated. I bet it’s terminally underrated. Not by me. On a list of the 10 best rock and roll records of all time, this one comes in at like number one.

Yet, in spite of having the most pretentious band name of all time, they are terminally under-appreciated—why? I have a few theories. One is: they forever have confused people; they are all from Canada, except for one guy, who is from the South. They are all songwriters, but you can’t really guess which songs they wrote, because they’re not necessarily the ones they’re singing. Three of them are good enough singers to front their own band, but maybe the best songwriter, Robbie Robertson, can’t sing (yet, there was an Andy Warhol 15 minutes there, at some point, where he was the coolest person on Earth). They are more known for being Dylan’s backup band than they are for being “The Band” (but every time I see old Dylan footage, I’m always looking for the fleeting images of these guys). On one hand, it’s a HUGE plus to have songs written and co-written by Dylan on your debut album (not to mention the cover painting)—but as well, they’ll always be in the shadow of Dylan. I’ll always be in the shadow of Dylan. You, reader, despite your lofty aspirations, will always be in the shadow of Dylan. That motherfucker casts a bigger shadow than Jesus and Godzilla combined.

20
Dec
17

Bob Dylan “Bringing It All Back Home”

I would have been too young to appreciate this record when it came out, I suppose, though I kind of wish my parents were Dylan fans and I would have heard all this. Or maybe not. This has to be a lot of people’s favorite Dylan record, it’s got some of his best songs and maybe a better overall early rock’n’roll sound than any of them. I’ve always just kind of ignored it, I don’t know why. Just read the liner notes on back, written by Bob with minimal caps and punctuation—surreal and cryptic but pretty good. The cover photo is BD and a woman in a red dress holding a cigarette, sitting with a bunch of records and magazines in front of a fireplace. BD is holding a grey kitten. They’re all staring right at the photographer with remarkably similar expressions. I wonder whatever happened to that cat. Or that woman. Or that fireplace.

I wouldn’t want to have to say what my favorite Dylan songs are (or maybe I would like to, and I should make one of those favorite 100 songs lists—but I’ll have to listen to them all, some rainy day)—but “Maggie’s Farm” has to be one of my favorites. Is this the record that marked Dylan’s shift to electric rock’n’roll and rejection of the folk scene? It does have “Mr. Tambourine Man” on it, but then ends with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Who is playing on this record, anyway? There is no listing of musicians.

There is, folded up inside, a huge poster of that classic BD drawing (is it by Milton Glaser?—that’s the name in the upper corner)—it’s his head in profile, with big multicolored hair. The colors are lovely pastel shades. Did this come with this record, or just happen to get stuck in here? It’s never been hung up—there are no holes or tape-damaged corners. I bet I could sell this for some serious bread on eBay, and the people who own this cabin would never notice. (I’d just have to remember to edit this before publishing it.) Does some cafe around here have wifi where I could run my sale? Could I make enough for gas money back to civilization? So many questions, today, and so few satisfactory answers.

15
Dec
17

The Dave Brubeck Quartet “Newport 1958”

It’s kind of amazing to me that we live in a time when you can pick up a record like this for nothing, and because it’s been produced on an indestructible format, it has not only survived but is superior to anything that’s come along in the last 60 years. I just put this record on like it was no big deal, and holograms of this jazz quartet popped up in my room (not all see-thru and distorted like in a sci-fi movie, but indistinguishable from my memories, and me). The extensive liner notes pinpoint Thursday, July 3rd, 1958, and a salute to Duke Ellington (some of these songs are his compositions). This is a nice record. If the hologram strikes you as a little too real, you can focus on the album cover, which is a slightly expressionistic painting of the quartet (or else four guys with glasses playing piano, bass, drums, and sax). The painting’s by Bob Parker (somewhere, someone has the original) and I’m going to make a note of his name, because hopefully I’ll see other work by him. Can you take the A Train all the way up to Newport? When it’s a time machine, you can, and that’s what this record is.

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).

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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