Posts Tagged ‘Art

10
Oct
19

Thelonious Monk “Underground”

I got ahold of a nice copy of this record somewhere and it makes me happy to own it and to listen to it. I am not a collector, nor do I spend much money on records. As big of a superstar as Thelonious Monk was and is, you don’t see a lot of his records, and when you do, you have to pay for them. It’s kind of crazy he was so well-known because I don’t hear his music as at all mainstream, and I don’t personally know that many huge fans of his. A lot of his music is too challenging for the average person, even the jazz fan. I’m not a big jazz fan, generally—well maybe I am, but I can’t talk about it with too much knowledge. But there is something about all of this music—all Thelonious Monk recordings—that just connects with me on an almost subconscious level—or unconscious, or preconscious level—like from before my birth, if that holds any water for you. I have said, and publicly, that Thelonious Monk is not only my favorite musician and recording artist, but my favorite artist, period. That might sound like hyperbole, but then, who else would it be? I am writing this brief mention, of this 1968 record, Underground, one of his later ones, on the eve of his birthday, October 10, which for me is the major holiday of the year. They always play Thelonious Monk all day on his birthday, on WKCR in New York, and I can’t think of a better day to call in sick, stay home, play the internet radio, and draw or something.

There are seven songs on this record, none of them near my favorites by or recorded by him, but I like them all. I have never really heard a Thelonious Monk recording I didn’t like, I don’t think, which makes me feel like maybe I’m not a very sophisticated listener, which maybe I’m not—or maybe he just never made a bad recording. Of course, I haven’t heard them all, so I guess in that way I am somewhat unsophisticated. “Ugly Beauty” is on this record, which is actually one of my favorite Monk compositions, and this is a fine recording of it. That song could be the theme song to pretty much anything—in fact, just start with that song and build a world around it. I guess all the songs here are Monk compositions, except for “Easy Street,” which is a song I love and have heard a billion versions of. It’s funny, it really doesn’t matter if he plays standards or his own compositions—they all end up sounding like his songs. The band here includes Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on drums, as well as Charlie Rouse—sax on about half the songs. I’ve mostly only heard Charlie Rouse with Monk, but he’s one of my favorite horn players ever—there are some recordings on which he almost makes me forget to listen to Monk’s piano. An odd thing here, for a Thelonious Monk record, the last song, “In Walked Bud,” has vocals by Jon Hendricks. It’s a great song, and though I can’t say I like it better than some earlier versions without vocals, I love ending the record with this song, and I love Jon Hendricks.

I imagine people made a big deal out of this album cover, and even the goofball liner notes on back are mostly about the cover. It’s a photo shoot somewhere that’s dressed up to look like a French Resistance hide-out, with a piano, lots of weapons, bombs, and wine, and Monk and a woman in a beret with machine guns, a Nazi tied to a chair, a cow, and quite a lot more. The cow might be a live cow. This was some art director person’s dream day at work. It makes me think about how the album cover size is the absolute perfect format for certain art, it really is. Thelonious Monk had some great album covers, I mean a lot of them, and this one is right up there, and it’s right up there with all album covers ever, really. He always looks great, too, which seems to be effortless to him, but was it? I mean, his playing sounds effortless, too, and I’m sure it was not. I’ve lived in New York a couple of times, and like most people, it’s kind of exciting for me to see a celebrity, but imagine running into Thelonious Monk walking down the street—back when he was walking down the street—that would have been like the thrill of a lifetime.

31
Jul
19

Neko Case “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You”

That’s the kind of title, I admit, that I wish I had thought of, for anything, I suppose, but really, it’s best for a pop album, or maybe a novel. Could be a song or a short story, I guess. Maybe a song on this record? We’ll find out. It’s a sentiment easily understood on first hearing it, but when you think about it a little further you realize that “you” and “things” are inextricably linked. And who is “you?”—could it be, in this case me? I may be wrong about this, but I think I follow Neko Case on Twitter, and I might of replied to something she tweeted, and she may have replied to my reply. So in my mind, that means we’re like this far from dating. Oh, boy. Someone come up with a better term than “social media”—please! The only thing that saves me, in this case, is that I’m not sure. I maybe fabricated that whole exchange. She’s got a great singing voice—certainly one that inspires ones heart to stop, or whatever that metaphorical heart does when confronted with beauty and clarity. The songs are catchy, compelling, and I can understand the lyrics (no lyric sheet) even if I can’t understand what they’re about. I mean, maybe I could, if I really worked at it, but I’m short on time and wine and cool dry air. I will vow to come back to this record, by and by (make a note). I don’t know if I can afford to buy it, as it looks like it was quite a production—the extra thick cover has imagery that is both flat back and glossy black. Also, color, including someone I would naturally presume is Neko Case, with a cartoon sword and no pants. There is also a lot of art, and some temporary tattoos, and an extra record that has a few songs on one side and some etched art on the other! (It won’t play music, the art won’t, so don’t even try.) The first “bonus” song is one I recognize—it’s “Madonna of the Wasps” by Robyn Hitchcock—a good song, and this is a nice version. Overall the record is solid and pleasant and thought-provoking—but that doesn’t sound like love to me. It’s hard to put my finger or, I just feel like once removed from the entire enterprise, like I’m a ghost trying to hear with ghost ears. I need more, I guess, when it comes down to it… but I’ll keep trying.

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.

25
May
19

Mickey Newbury “Heaven Help the Child”

This is a particularly intriguing album cover—it’s a rustic, matte surface, suggesting something real, with a larger than life, full face photo of Mickey Newbury on back, which, while artfully partially obscured in shadows, also exposes pores, divots, blemishes, and misplaced hairs—and remember, this is far before the days of hi-def, when many careers were ended voluntarily, while others just had to say, what the hell, here’s my zits. It immediately says that Mickey is going to open his heart for us. The front cover is trickier—it’s a 7 ½ x 5 ½ inch glossy photo of Mickey sitting on an old chair next to an old lamp in a room that could be a study, or could be a bedroom. This is essentially a cropped photograph, though, because as we remove the inner sleeve, we discover that this is actually a 12 x 12 inch photo that has been framed by the smaller, die-cut opening in the external cover. Now we see the larger room —which still could be a study, a bedroom, a living room, or a rec-room—or is it now too big for a bedroom? Now you can see the expanse of the old carpet, a stained glass window behind him, a couple of large photo albums on the floor, and that he’s wearing cowboy boots. When you remove the inner sleeve, which has lyrics on the other side, there is a smaller, more atmospheric, blurred version of the cover photograph behind—printed on the inside of album cover! You don’t see that too often. What does it all mean?

Mickey Newbury was a respected Nashville songwriter and recording artist who put out a couple dozen records. Even though his music is somber and his lyrics are dark, he’s good-looking in a way that probably appeals to in-laws and pets, as well as people his own age, and you feel like you could leave your kids with him, or would be comfortable in a car he’s driving. This record, from 1973, is not his first, and a company like Elektra doesn’t spring for the die-cut nonsense if they don’t think you’ll sell a few. There are only eight songs—two are three and half minutes, but the rest are long, quiet, pretty, and melancholy. I like them all, and pretty much everything I’ve heard by him, but I don’t know how passionate I’m going to get about the songs on this record—there is an overall flavor of the mainstream—even if it’s not what I’d imagine as “popular.” The other weird thing is there is a dedication scrawled on the large space at the bottom of the album cover in a red pen that matches the red frame around the die-cut hole, leading me to believe that this is part of the cover—yet when I look up images of this cover on the internet, it’s not there. It seems to say, “To a friend”—though I’m not entirely sure—and then a name—it could be Joe, or José, or Lori, or Josie, or even “you.” If you were giving this record as a present, that is not where you’d write a greeting—it’s so front and center—which leads me to believe this was written by the artist, himself. Mickey Newbury passed away, far too young, in 2002. You can find his records. I wonder what happened to the “friend” to whom he presented this record—which will likely outlive me, and find its way into another haunted record shop.

17
May
19

Television “Marquee Moon”

When I started writing about my record collection back in 2006, I was determined to go from A to Z, so like, I was never going to get to Television—but with this new random system I have, it’s sure taking a long time to get to certain albums, anyway—but maybe that’s good. This one is kind of hard to write about, actually, because it’s maybe one of my favorite 10 (meaning 100) records of all time, and it’s kind of like a force of nature, so it’s a little like you’re photographing the Grand Canyon and expecting someone to pay attention to your snapshot when people have done time-lapse, panorama, satellite, helicopters, drones, parasails, jumping it on a motorcycle, and as they died falling in. So, if you’re reading this, and it’s the highly unlikely case where you’ve never heard this record, either you are going to have such high expectations that it will necessarily stumble, or you’ve hit the jackpot in life—you get to hear it for the first time, and you can only do that once. And then the second, third, etc…

It’s from 1977, I suppose the best year of punk rock, and it comes from the New York punk rock scene, but it sounds nothing like any of the other bands from that place or time, or really anywhere. There had to be a lot of people who hated this when it came out; I bet some were then won over, some weren’t, still aren’t. Bands were playing fast, short songs, for one thing, and these songs are long (longest is almost 10 minutes!) and there are extended guitar solos. It’s complex; it’s practically jazz. It’s weird to think this record came out the same year as Steely Dan’s Aja, but you can’t imagine them on the same plane, much less the same year—but the same people were buying them—and in a way, they are quite similar. Eight songs only, four per side, and one could make a strong argument that if you ranked the songs from best to worst they would line up in the exact order they are on the album—which might seem kind of dismal, except for the fact that they’re all great songs. I’ve definitely listened to side one more than side two—but the one nice thing about that is that I feel like I might still be able to discover something on the second side. The first side is so ingrained in my head nothing less than brain damage is ever going to allow me a fresh listen.

I’ve never paid much attention to the lyrics—though, and I’m not likely to at this point. That’s not true, there are a few lines that stick with me—it’s just that I couldn’t tell you what any of these songs are about. But I love the line: “Richie said: ‘Hey man, let’s dress up like cops…’” And a few others. I’m not going to talk about the guitars, okay? It just struck me that this could be the ideal record for a rainy Saturday afternoon, and if you wanted to spend a few excessive hours while giving it a few listens, use the internet and try reading all the ways people have used words to try to describe what those guitars are doing. I’m going to make this quick, though, by mentioning the cover photos—first there’s the kind of classic band photo, them all looking like they want to be the next one to make love—but it’s this high-contrast color that makes their hands look really crazy, kind of like one of those early Aerosmith records. I never bothered to look at the photo credits before, and it says Robert Mapplethorpe—I guess that guy knew his way around a camera.Then on the back there’s a photo of something that I’m guessing is abstracted by contrast—it’s credited to Billy Lobo. I think it’s supposed to represent the near death high you get, supposedly, from heroin, but I’m just guessing. Then, the inside sleeve band pic is very odd—it’s a great b&w photo, really, but printed weirdly, so the drummer and bass player have turned into shadows, while the inside of the drums are lit up. That the two guitarists are siting on kitchen chairs facing each other probably says more than bucket of liner notes could. And then, for as much as the photo is obscured in darkness, kind of amazingly you see all these details in hardware, chairs, amps, and shirts—really, it kind of simultaneously demystifies these guys as just regular schmoes, while elevating them to some kind of god love. Depending on who you are, you might focus more on Richard Lloyd’s guitar, or Tom Verlaine’s shirt, or everyone’s hands. I’m torn.

22
Mar
19

Pete Rugolo “The Sweet Ride”

You might expect that the soundtrack of my favorite movie of all time would not be my favorite record of all time. Of course it isn’t. But part of my love for this the movie, The Sweet Ride (1968), is that the score is pretty great, as is the opening title song (which is also the end credits music). The score is by Pete Rugolo, who did tons of great scores, was an arranger and composer, made lots records, was all over the place. I’ll pick up any record I see his name remotely on. Also, this record is kind of two-for-one, because the title song (which sounds nothing like the score music) is by Lee Hazlewood and sung by Dusty Springfield—it would be worth buying even if the rest of the record was unlistenable, which it’s not. It’s a great title song, with really funny lyrics, and has been running a loop in my brain for the last 50 years. I mean that in a good way. The score has, what seems like, a deliberately trashy feel, which is appropriate, since it’s an exploitation movie. It kind of sounds like the score for one of those 1960s Tony Curtis movies where he plays a major sleaze, like one of those stories where a character from the Fifties rubs up against characters from the Sixties, and kind of comments on both eras, and the changing times, while trying to simultaneously sell itself with sex. But the score also rises above that—to a great degree, too—almost sounds experimental at times and, I think, is great art. This is appropriate because, in my opinion, the movie does the same thing. I mean, it rises above the exploitation movie, the trash movie, and is great art. Did I say it was my favorite movie of all time? (It isn’t, really, but it’s definitely tied for first.) It’s impossible to listen to this record without it recalling scenes from the movie—which is fine, and maybe it makes me like it more. But I would also say, as groovy as this record is, I might like it even more if I had never seen the movie. There’s my one word review: groovy.

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.”




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