Where Mobile Steel Rims Crack (May 13th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Today’s listening was inspired by my terrific experience with the above book. I needed a push to read it; there have been a plethora of books lately that look like this but end up having scant meat on the bone. Thanks to my friends Jeffrey and Ken, I was given no choice but to check it out from the local library and get crackin’, and let me tell you true, it’s a trip worth taking. I’m a bit tired of Van the Man, I’ve read deeply about ’68, and I wasn’t sure I needed to read an entire book about the city of Boston written by a rock musician, but I’ve learned something new and exciting every page, my mind has actually been blown a time or five, and Walsh’s tone and style are right up my alley (why the hell am I always lining up strings of clauses???). What’s the dealio? This is a book that deserves to have nothing spoiled, so let me just say that Walsh pulls back the skin of that year and reveals what very much appears to be a nervous system of imaginative radicalism (in lifestyle, in media, in art, in more) that made Beantown twitch, vault, and sometimes crash. The number of interconnections between innovators and visionaries, between locations and events past, present, and future, was almost enough to drive me to superstitious thinking, something which Walsh definitely doesn’t indulge but finds other reasons for. Who you gonna meet? Besides Morrison? Timothy Leary, Mel Lyman (if you don’t know him, you’re gonna), Michelangelo Antonioni, Howard Zinn, The Velvet Underground, James Brown, The Boston Strangler (perhaps), Bruce Conner, Edgar Cayce, Ram Dass, MLK, Peter Wolf, The Black Panthers…ok, that’s all I’m offering…it’s a must-read, so get on it.

Oh, yes–the listening! Pretty simple: I listened to Morrison’s Astral Weeks–for the 2nd time since I started the book. As a young man, it gripped me tightly, before and after I read Lester Bangs’ essay on it, which has been known to convert a listener. The searching mood, mysterious and poetic lyrics, and enigmatic and sensitive singing spoke directly to my 18-year-old soul (I think it ’80 when I first dug it). In addition, it seemed to tap into a world far, far different than I was used to in its concrete description, but very similar to what I’d been feeling emotionally (I may be repeating myself)–particularly what was being brought on by a sharpened awareness of mortality on my part. Over the last 15 years or so, though it’s one of those “fine wine albums” you reach for when you need them, the lyrics and singing haven’t really reached me like they used to–I’m less miserable and more rational. When I have selected it, I’ve listened to it with jazz ears (Richard Davis, Connie Kay, Jay Berliner and even John Payne always reward that approach), and focused on its very personal forms. However, cranking the album up and getting into Morrison’s vocals anew, I was reminded of one reason I’ve always been amazed by him: who else do you know who can not just get away with so many modes of singing, but actually sell them, masterfully at that? You name it: punk (that’s what many of his performances with Them are: “One Two Brown Eyes”?), rock and roll, spirituals, jazz, blues, poetry (singing that is like walking in a creek on slippery rocks), soul, rhythm & blues, ballads (both traditional and invented), incantation, vocalese, pop (bubbly damn pop!), dream texts, chants, country & western, hell, Sesame Street! Ok, maybe he can’t MC, and I don’t want him to take that as a challenge, but you get my point. And on Astral Weeks alone–is there another classic album in history that sounds least like both its immediate predecessor and follow-up?–he effortlessly shifts from mode to mode, though beyond “ruminations” I don’t really know what to call any of ’em but “The Way That Young Lovers Do,” which he just self-covered this year on his neat album with Joey DeFrancesco. Might I suggest you may be due for some fine wine listening yourself?

Short-shrift Division:

The Story of Them–Though on these records they are not really a band, for British Invasion punks I often prefer Them to the Stones. Note: Morrison’s early multi-mode acumen!

Lost Bayou Ramblers: Kalenda–Have I mentioned how great this daring Cajun record is? Yes I have. And guess what, in case you were wondering? It’s got legs.

“So What If I Did?” (February 21, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

“‘So what if I did?’ she said / ‘So what if I did? / I don’t want to account to you– / I don’t wanna account to no one!'” That’s the opening line of the Thelonious Monster album Stormy Weather (coupled on a great two-fer CD with its predecessor Next Saturday Afternoon, linked above), which I hungrily revisited yesterday. There’s something about Bob Forrest’s gutter-snipe whine that’s always struck me as tough, and oddly soulful, and something about his best lyrics that reflect a preoccupation with being held accountable. Sure: in many of his early songs (I’d prefer to forget “Why Don’t You Blow Me and the Rest of the Band?”), his sentiments are punk-callow or worse. But a broad and deep listen, which this CD facilitates, reveals a singer and writer who doesn’t want anything that comes easy, who likes honest admissions and the problems they set up. The response he puts in the mouth of the persona of “So What If I Did”? “I guess you don’t remember what we had / Maybe–maybe–you forgot.” Later on down the records, there are problems not just anyone wrote about: a wayward son fathered in a moment’s passion and ready to square off; a relationship gone very bad but not over yet (“We’ll both feel so relieved / When I walk out the door!”); a parent blithely writing off uprooting a family to “property values”; the fact that Lena Horne is still having to sing “Stormy Weather”; the realization that maybe Paul Westerberg didn’t walk on water. Those are just a few of the conundrums Forrest posed for himself to grapple with. Even when he wasn’t coming up with his own, he didn’t mind covering Tracy Chapman (not the cool move for a Cali punk rocker in the mid-Eighties–not the easy move!), who provided for him a conundrum of her own: two weeks in a Virginia jail for her lover. Even when confronting the emptiness of rock (and maybe of America’s promise to underclass kids), like Forrest does behind the seemingly easy humor of “Sammy Hagar Weekend,” he’s not only cold-eyed, but ultimately compassionate. I’d argue there’s an empathetic ache behind that chorus of “We’re gonna drink some beer / Smoke some pot / Snort some coke / And drive / Drive over 55!” That’s all there is? Maybe–and maybe we thought so, too.

In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to understand how Forrest gravitated toward counseling others as they strove for sobriety: no chance of it happening any easy way.

I love Bob Forrest’s writing and singing. They just don’t age, to my ear, and they never fail to…inspire me. I mean, I’m not sure many folks would place these albums (especially Stormy Weather) next to Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits on the shelf you reserve for your never-fail restoratives, but I’ve drunk deep and keep coming back.

I am dedicating this blog post to my friend Eric Johnson, who is the only person I know who is as much a fan of Bob as I am, and without knowing it has encouraged loyalty to the man.

Short-shrift Division (Bandcamp “Let The Music Do the Talkin'” Edition):

Winner of my award for the 2017 Album That Just Won’t Quit. I can’t say enough how terrific it is. Guest starring Spider Stacey, Dickie Landry, and some strange and beautiful textures.

I am sure there’s bad music that’s been (and is being) made in Brazil, but there’s a whole lot more that’s irresistibly quirky, attractively off, and eminently danceable. One more in that seemingly inexhaustible tradition.




Strictly Alphabetical (February 12, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I was all over the map yesterday, and today’s action-packed, so am simply using a time-honored method to bring order to my musical wandering:

Ain’t That the Way / Gorbza – Hardcore holdouts wailing against the dying of the light. Like a cattle prod in these dead-meat times.

At the Finger Palace/ Evan Parker – Not your gramma’s “Fingerprints, Pt. 1 & 2.” Parker’s intense repetitions on this solo sax record can produce micromelodic hallucinations.

Bags and Trane / Milt Jackson & John Coltrane – Just discovered they teamed up; would seem oddly matched–but then there is the blues.

I Remember Harlem / Roy Eldridge – Absolutely poured-gold trumpeting from Little Jazz’s prime–and he wasn’t a bad singer, either.

“Kalenda” / Lost Bayou Ramblers (w / Spider Stacey and Dickie Landry) – The Ramblers proving once again that Cajun music is fairly adaptable, with a Pogue and an avant garde saxophonist not just present, but integrated.

Let It Bleed / The Rolling Stones – I say this for my pal Whitney Shroyer, who only needs to hear me say it (his mind and ears are right): aside from the performances being titanic, this record is a marvel of rock and roll sound engineering, crisp but full-bodied, clean but magnificently, malevolently dirty, balanced but highly defined in its finest parts. Damn.

“Needed Time” / Lightnin’ Hopkins – An addendum to the New York Times’ recent kumbaya story.

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert / Hurray for the Riff Raff – This ain’t my meat and taters, but Alynda Segarra doesn’t take no for an answer, and that’s a stance I admire.

Top of the Mountain / Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers – It’s pronounced DOOP-see, baby, and it’s remarkable how durable the Creole take on r&b has proven to be. Inevitable: the above Hendrix cover.