Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland

26
Feb
19

Randy Newman “Sail Away”

I first heard Randy Newman’s song “Sail Away” on a Warner Special Products box set LP called Superstars of the 70’s that came out in 1973 and was sold on TV. I heard a lot of music for the first time via that thing, but they placed “Sail Away” directly after Seals & Crofts “Summer Breeze” and The Beach Boys “Surf’s Up” so I kind of dismissed it as “Yacht Rock” (which wasn’t invented, or at least named, yet) and didn’t bother to listen closely enough to the lyrics to realize it wasn’t about… “sailing.” I’m sure I understood irony at the time, but at 12 and 13 I was (like a lot of kids) kind of a raging maniac, and it wasn’t until my first year in high school—when my English teacher Mr. Kimble used a lot of popular songs in his class—that I started to listen to song lyrics a little differently. It’s interesting how kids kind of mature at different rates—I mean it’s both different for each individual and each person has different parts of them maturing—so it’s all out of whack. I think this is fascinating, and can also be scary. Pretty much everyone is born into the pain of a raging narcissist, and you can even keep that childhood part of you vital—I think it’s really built into what’s necessary for “success”—and it’s possible to find a mate who supports it. It might even really not be a problem until you become a parent, or a boss, or the President. Other people keep other child parts vital, which can both make you happy, and suffer (often both simultaneously). I pretty much go by feelings more than intellect, to a fault, and my music listening often reflects that. Like, on that Warner collection, “Tumbling Dice” was my favorite song, and still holds me under its spell, and I still have no idea what Mick Jagger or the backup singers are singing. What’s it about? Tumbling dice, I guess, but also an unspeakable desire.

Anyway, this record is great, I love it from beginning to end. I feel like these songs will work on your computer, or MP3 player, at home, or while walking, but it’s nice the album has the lyrics inside—I think it’s one where you can eventually get more out of reading along at some point. I don’t know about you, but I never like to read lyrics when I first hear a song—I’d rather really get to know a song before I ever go to the lyrics. But it does have some value, I think, reading lyrics, to appreciate songs on different levels. You can find this one in a thrift store, too, but you might overlook it because it has one of the murkiest album covers you’ll ever see, of Randy Newman looking a lot like Ian Hunter—and it’s one of those that annoyingly folds out sideways—so no one ever knows how to put it on a shelf or in a bin. Opened up, it’s like a super closeup photo of him sitting at a piano wearing sunglasses and corduroy jacket in extremely low light, as if the photo was taken surreptitiously with a telephoto lens through door opened only a few inches without his knowledge. In the act, no doubt, of writing a song. Or maybe thinking about writing a song, which, I guess, is the same thing.

This is a record I’m still only scratching the surface of, and it could easily accompany me to my grave (I mean in a good way). A few years back I discovered the Randy Newman song “Wedding in Cherokee County” (from a different LP) and it became my favorite song for about a year, and an example of what songwriting can, could, should (and maybe never, for me, would) be. The twelve songs on this album are sitting there like the complete works of some (pick your favorite) writer, heavy on the shelf, but nothing but wallpaper until you tackle them with all the parts of you working as best as you can aspire to (at this point). What’s kind of amazing is 1972 is getting near half a century ago, and this music feels contemporary (at least to me). Also, several of these songs are under two minutes long and only one is barely over three and a half. The richness can’t be taken in all at once—I mean it can, it’s enjoyable—but to really get at it. I’ve got to go in for just a little bit, and then come back for more later. The title song is a complete experience, it’s just so beautiful on the surface and so angry and caustic just underneath. Randy Newman is an LA guy, but spent a lot of time in the South, has a kind of accent, writes a lot about the South, but it’s interesting there are a couple of songs on this record referencing Ohio. For one thing, he probably understands that southern Ohio is the South, and maybe he even knows, like I do, that so is all of Ohio. His song “Burn On” sounds like it’s in the tradition of southern river songs, but it’s about the Cuyahoga River which famously caught on fire in Cleveland (even much younger people might know about that). It kind of caught people’s attention about pollution, at the time, and provided fuel for those annoying environmentalists. Of course, now we’ve got a genius in the White House, who, if the river was to catch on fire again, would tweet that the river didn’t catch on fire, it was FAKE NEWS, and his supporters would believe him—shit, dude’s got it figured out.

09
Feb
19

Bernie & The Invisibles “All Possibilities Are Open”

There was a time some years ago when if you asked me what my favorite band of all time was, I would have said Bernie & The Invisibles—mostly based on the memories I had of seeing them live in the late Seventies, I guess it was—though I seem to have failed to document, in writing, much of this time. Around when my friends and I started our first punk band, we used to drive to Cleveland kind of regularly to see the punk bands who were playing at, as I recall, the Phantasy, Hennessy’s, and Pirates Cove. The bands that stood out were were the Adults, the Pagans, the Kneecappers, and Bernie & The Invisibles. I don’t remember The Invisibles all that much (I guess the drummer, the late Peter Ball is responsible for preserving some of this stuff)—but Bernie (who is Bernie Joelson) is just ingrained in my memory—I was pretty entranced with him. More than the other bands, you got the sense that if it wasn’t for punk rock, Bernie wouldn’t be doing this—but he HAD to be doing this. He had songs that needed to be unleashed on the world. His songs and his personalty were coming from some unique, impossible to understand by anyone but him place—and we were just getting this glimpse into his world. I looked forward to seeing him at every opportunity, and I got to know some of the songs, like “Eventually” and “Chinese Church.”

I’ve had some of his music on cassettes over the years, from live shows, I guess, but this is the first I’ve heard on vinyl—put out by My Mind’s Eye Records from Cleveland. (And thanks to Jeff Curtis for sending this to me!) If you’ve never seen Bernie live, this record might not do much for you—the sound quality it rough—and his style is fairly primitive. But it’s a good reminder to me of that time when he was my favorite in the world. There is a zine style insert with some writing and art by Bernie, old fliers, and liner notes by Mike Hudson who was the lead singer of the Pagans, and later a journalist—sadly, he passed away in 2017. I read his book, Diary of a Punk, and I’d highly recommend it. There are some good Bernie & The Invisibles stories here, and he expresses his appreciation for Bernie better than I could. I’ll excerpt part of one paragraph: “(Bernie) would wind his own personal experiences in with the views of Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Buddha or Jesus Christ to create brilliant lyrics that hinted at the cosmos and the meaning of life while, at the same time were filled with good humor and a genuine sweetness I’ve never forgotten.” You might have to be a real detective to make out all of the lyrics on the songs, but it’s worth trying. I’d love if there was a lyric sheet. There is, at least, a brief tape review by Jim Clinefelter, a good zine excerpted interview, and some writing by Bernie that’s well worth squinting to read.

15
Sep
17

Phil McLean “Small Sad Sam / Chicken”

I guess this is considered a “novelty record”—it’s a humorous, story song, backed with music. It seems like if you just pick up 45’s at random, like at yard sales and thrift-stores, you’re as likely to get novelty records as anything (like with Christmas records, for LP’s). Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound good and is not funny enough for me to have even focused on the story. I’ll try again. Okay. It’s the boring tale of a small guy who didn’t do something heroic. The B-side is called “Chicken”—which would normally be more promising, but it’s corny music with an annoying harmonica, and just going on and on—sounding like a musical interlude in a redneck moonshine and smokey movie—and then it pauses and Phil McLean’s low voice says: “I say you’re chicken.” It’s not funny and not weird enough to be interesting. On the other hand, there are much worse novelty records out there. The internet says it’s from 1961, and Phil McLean was a DJ on WERE radio in Cleveland, and this was put out as a parody of Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John.” I suppose if you heard this on the radio when you were little, this might strike you as nostalgic—or it might just bring back annoying memories. If anyone wants this, I’ll fling it in your direction.




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