Shots! (May 27-28, 2018, Columbia, MO)

For the past three days, I’ve had my nose in Neil Young’s 2013 memoir/journal/autobiography. I wish I’d read it when it emerged, but when you read backwards and forwards like I do, you have to leave some stuff on the shelf. On Saturday and Sunday, I repeat-played Neil’s still-classic first-decade sum-up Decade as a soundtrack (no wonder the studio version of “Like a Hurricane” sounds a little stiff and shaky–it’s the goddam run-through!). Today, I created an Apple Music playlist called Decades–First Extension, which picks up some goodies the original comp missed and moves Young’s musical story into the mid-Nineties. It was Memorial Day, and though I created it without the intention, the playlist made me think about it plenty: “Shots,” “Powderfinger,” “Cortez the Killer,” “Captain Kennedy”–those are just a few. Also, the playlist spans several hours, during no second of which was I bored (I was reading, too, of course, but I would have skipped a track). As as he testifies repeatedly in Waging Heavy Peace, Neil’s never needed a push to try new things (musical or otherwise), and though his patented wailing stomp-rock and his strangely otherworldly acoustic meditations will always ring my bell, his experiments from “Broken Arrow” to “Transformer Man” keep my attention as well–maybe it’s his way with the ol’ hummables.

So that’s the listening–what about the book? Should you read it? I’m “reviewing” it five years, several albums, and a third divorce later, but if you’re interested, three things:

1) It takes awhile to shake loose. I was kind of annoyed across the first 100 pages at his rich-guy tendency to talk on and on and on about all his stuff. The dude’s happily acquisitive, and he says straight-out that he loves capitalism, but that shit’s boring as hell to me. Fortunately, though, the book recovers.

2) How does it recover? Through Young’s committed, droll, and reflective treatment of some engaging other themes: loyalty, family, resiliency (the health issues!), technology, hedonism, the creative process, individualism, and–no surprise, but voiced in some surprising ways–primitivism. I must confess to have wanted to skim the sections on Lincvolt (electric cars), PureTone/Pono (audio files), and his film adventures, but one can’t help but admire his enthusiastic inventiveness and restless mind. Plus, he seldom lingers long on those topics (he circles back intermittently) and his self-effacement is redeeming.

3) Structurally, Young goes where he wants, when he wants to. Can you imagine that? How very Neil of him! Not only does he jump with little transition from topic to topic, from theme to theme, from musical phase to musical phase, from life event to life event, he doesn’t arrange those spheres chronologically. But it doesn’t matter. As I’ve said, he keeps chapters brief, and his matter-of-factness helps the reader stay organized. But ignore what I said; the late great David Carr wrote of it that it’s “a journal of self-appraisal,” and that it is. The form and style, I think, are also an expression of Young’s attraction to a unique primitive aesthetic, and it works for me here as a reader as “Cinnamon Girl” works for me as a listener.

Check it out.

Short-shrift Division:

Serengeti: Dennehy–The sui generis Chicago rapper’s now-decade-old record really holds up. And it’s not just the halo effect provided by this timeless classic:

Yester-you, Yester-me, Yesterday (May 2, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Just when it seems you’ve reached the age and quantity of musical acquisitions (ethereal or physical) where you can just kick back and wait for great new music, an unearthing comes along to remind you the past isn’t even past. I speak here of a 2018 Record Store Day release that confirmed the existence of something I’d just recently written off as hearsay or deteriorated tape: hardcore honky-tonkin’, ill-fated and underrated Floridian Gary Stewart’s legendary Motown-gone-smoke-filled-bar 1970 demo sessions. Worth the wait? Fuck yeah. Worth the price? I don’t do Record Store Day because I have been going to record stores regularly for 42 years, I hate crowds, and 80% of the offerings (at least) are straight-up junk, but I do wait like a fisherman with his bobber the morning after, and I snagged it for $30 off eBay–the same about Gary got paid for the 90-minute session! That’s $15 a song on this 45, and I will die happily with it in my possession.

The “A” is a cover of The Four Tops’ “Baby, I Need Your Loving” (“I Can’t Help Myself” is also listed on the session log reprinted on the 45’s back cover, but it remains vaulted). Gary’s in typically intense voice; his characteristic line-punctuating quaver hasn’t entirely come to the fore, but the desperation for which he would become famous in such singles as “Out of Hand” and “Your Place or Mine” is well-audible. The performance fades out after a half-improv/half-recitative that’s a little awkward, but Stewart’s singing, his churning rhythm guitar (I assume it’s him from the energy but there are no personnel notes available) and the punchy demo mix make the track very stimulating.

Stevie Wonder’s “Yester-You, Yester-Me, Yesterday” is more like it! Titularly, you’d suspect an ill-fitting wince-inducer, but…history shows when Stewart was matched with material in which the persona was reflecting on the past from a point where he was neck deep in ashes, Sally bar the fuckin’ door. On this song, you’re hearing transmissions from the room in the Tower of Song right between Hank’s and Jerry Lee’s.

I also received the Cincinnati band Wussy’s new EP, also a 45, in the mail. They are, with Yo La Tengo, the epitome of a critic’s band, but in spite of that, the group’s so very human writing and singing, plus their tendency to rock on out, places them in my pantheon. Unfortunately, the lead Beatles cover here sucks left hind tit, and their run on Jennie Mae Old’s “Runaway” only a shade better. Taste only gets a critic’s band so far.

Fortunately, the B is, weirdly, one of my favorite rock and roll responses to Trumpism so date, even if it wasn’t designed that way. It leads with an old recording, of The Seedy Seeds’ “Nomenclature,” one of the greatest songs ever about identity, and leaps and bounds better than the original–only now it seems to get at something defiant and real about gender fluidity that’s under attack. And the cover of The Afghan Whig’s “Retarded”? Well, I probably won’t willingly listen to the original again, but I can just repeat-play this one by virtue of Lisa Walker’s delivery of the line, “Who’s retarded now?”

As far as other burning questions go, do you need Neil Young’s newly-available 1973 live recording of Tonight’s the Night, performed at The Roxy in Hollywood? No. It’s really good, don’t get me wrong: after a month of recording the studio release, Neil and band showed up to play it for folks (prophetic of a current and tiresome tour gambit), and they’re sharp. The stage banter’s a bit cynical; I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you need to pay for “Roll Out the Barrel,” ironically positioned though it may have been. Personally, I really miss “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” which would have blazed live–Nils was right there, man!–and “Walk On”‘s presence doesn’t quite make up for its absence. You’re fine if you simply have the studio release, which is live’er than this could possibly be.

Short-shrift Division:

I know The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society is legendary, but it’s also a quarter marred by insipidity. Just sayin’.

“What If You Knew Her?” (March 8th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

You’re sitting in a restaurant having lunch, staring into space, trying to organize your mundane day. The restaurant has a satellite radio subscription, and oldies–comfortable, rockin’ oldies–are blasting out into the space. The other diners are working on their taxes, fiddling with phones and laptops, complaining about their days so far, asking a server why mustard’s on their hamburger when they clearly didn’t ask for it. The cooks pick up the tension and nervously, clandestinely, dart glances at that table. There’s a silence as a song (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy”?) ends. That silence dovetails with the coincidental sudden pause in patron chatter.

Then, a lurching, threatening, familiar guitar figure, and:

And:

What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground?
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.

The anguish that rolls out across the melody behind those first three lines would have seemed impossible for us to tune out. The anguish–and the awful familiarity–shot through the words would have seemed to command our attention. The truth of that fifth line? A confirmation we could surely recognize.

From the first note, I’d been sitting bolt-upright. In Macbeth, a knocking at the palace gate and an ensuing comic hellscape imagined by a commoner snaps us out of murder-induced shock. In this tableau, the horror should have snapped us out of a routine-induced trance. I looked around, into every nook and cranny of that restaurant, and nothing had changed. So I resumed eating.

But those lines echoes all day, and all night, and this morning, and assuredly, horribly, tomorrow.

 

On the brighter side, in honor of International Women’s Day, I put together the following YouTube playlist. Enjoy, if you’re curious, but beware a couple of full albums I mischievously dropped in, and be vigilant for an appearance by Diamanda Galas.

 

Short-shrift Division:

The Clash: Sandinista!–I can still remember, as a college freshman at the University of Arkansas, and already-avid Clashaholic, snapping this triple-LP up the day it showed up at White Dog Records some 37 years ago. I, um, liked it, but–Clash fans will understand. On impulse, I slapped it on, and–as it has been doing to me for the past two decades–it rendered up new favorites I hemmed and hawed through as a young man. I wasn’t ready. Thankfully, not only do we never step in the same river twice, but we also should stop stepping into the river, period. Tracks I repeat-played yesterday: “Something About England,” “Somebody Got Murdered,” “Crooked Beat.”

The Kinks: The Kinks’ Greatest Hits, Face to Face, disc one of The Kinks Kronikles–Mick Jones’ fragile, plaintive singing on “Something About England” flipped my Kinks switch, and based on past experience I will be in their England for the entire coming weekend.

Neil Young (Almost) Ruined My Life, Part Two: Getting Blown Away

Despite my extreme shyness around girls, it took me until my junior year to pull a classic adolescent move: using a song to try to communicate tortured emotions. Looking back, remembering how much music meant to me and how frequently I’d had communications issues with girls up to that point, I can’t believe I hadn’t used that tactic in fifth grade! However, I was always about 10-12 steps behind the crowd romantically—too bad, because I was usually a few steps ahead when it came to tunes.

Yet even then, when it occurred to me to maybe do a Say Anything (still a few years in the future), I wasn’t trying to seduce—I was trying to get revenge (did I mention I was an Elvis Costello fan then, too?). A very cute young lady had stood me up for a dance date, after I’d hammered enough emotional wedges under my fingernails to summon the courage to ask her out, then showed up at the dance anyway on an upperclassman’s arm.

The next Monday morning, I bribed her locker partner to let me tape something on the inside of their locker door: the lyrics to Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street”! Even though I am certain she understood the entirety of the lyrics just a little less than I did, the choruses rendered up the desired result. She cried! I saw her, right after she eyeballed the lines! Bob ‘65: “Master Prick” (at the time, though, I simply considered him “The Godhead”). She tore it down, wadded it up, threw it at me, and turned on her heel. Amidst confused fellow students, I picked up the wad from the floor, smoothed it back out, and re-read it. I didn’t have these words then, just the feeling: perhaps the gesture was a bit out of proportion to how badly I was wronged? You be the judge, but I ended up feeling guilty.

Later that year, a new student arrived from New York City. She was provocative to me for several reasons. She was the first South Asian person I’d ever met. She was smart, extremely outgoing, witty, and painfully attractive. She was extremely comfortable having boys for friends—so comfortable that, to me, it intensified her painful attractiveness. Her mom was cool and cooked amazing curry. And, most important (well, looking back across these reasons, maybe not), she really loved music, and, besides forcing anybody who came to her house to listen to Teddy Pendergrass, she’d brought a gen-u-wine “Rapper’s Delight” 12” with her from The Big Apple. By the time my junior year was over, I had Teddy and that Sugarhill Gang single memorized—a requirement if you showed up for one of her weekend dance parties.

She was also dating my immensely more sophisticated and assured best friend, of course, but being two years older than him and a year older than her, I felt that by magically transforming into a golden senior by the opening of the next school year, I might gain a level of prestige (cue up “Status Back”) commensurate enough for her to ever-so-easefully separate from my pal and—come to me. I wasn’t even worried that, should that fantasy materialize, I would have to deal with the permanent fact of her dark skin, and my parents’ discomfort with that—my mom had freaked the first time the young lady had swung by my house to hang out, begging me to consider what we would be putting our children through! My mom was already at home plate; I was just trying to get out of the damn dugout!

(It’s funny how melanin has a place in both sections of this story, testament, I think, to music’s power to guide you through superficial things. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

The first semester of my senior year was already over. I’d had and discarded, without a shred of grace, a very nice girlfriend. Our Lady of The Magic Records was holding steady with my pal. She remained supernaturally charming in my presence; I suspect she knew she was torturing me, but had the good manners (and talent?) to keep me very gingerly at bay without resorting to cruelty. However, when Key Club, of which we were both members, had an overnight something-or-other to do something charitable for something-or-other, our proximity over extended time (sounds like a physics equation, and it might be, actually) was more than I could bear.

I had striven, virtually since I’d met her, to just maintain my dignity, with a 95% success rate. I had over-imbibed one night down at the creek—on, of all things, sloe gin (never sampled since, dear reader)—while watching her have a smashing time with her boyfriend, again, one my most prized pals. The party migrated to someone’s house, but, before I got there, driving, very very sadly, alone, I had to pull over at the local McDonald’s and yak into the parking lot. Otherwise, though, I had contained my mute aortal agony. I had but a few months before I would graduate and be jettisoned somewhere where I would not have to be bewitched, bothered, and beguiled by her on a daily basis—if I could just keep it together during a 16-hour sleepover/do-gooder/social Iron Maiden of a situation.

I ask you, how many of you have ever mounted a song in your brain that is someone you cared about? Note: that’s a metaphor, not a simile. The song becomes them, in more ways than one.

I know I am not alone. And I know this is not really a good thing. I’d very briefly been on the other side of the metaphor as a seventh grader, when this sparkly-braced cheerleader said that whenever she heard Paul Davis (why me, Lord?) sing “I Go Crazy” (couldn’t she have picked James Brown’s?), she thought of me. I was underwhelmed. But that memory did not come to the fore on this particular night. Since we’d been advised to, I’d arrived at the sleepover site armed with an eight-track. That’s right, one eight-track. I think I had about 20 at the time, and about 20 LPs (compared to a total of 8,900 at time of typing).

Would you like to guess what I brought?

Come on, you can do better than that! “Positively Fourth Street” was strictly last-year, baby.

That’s right! Neil Young’s Live Rust!

Already the serrated-edged musical instrument of my social destruction during basketball season! As well as a big nowhere on the cool-kid charts of early-1980 southwest Missouri!

Like Neil (you ever paid attention to his love songs?), I was not only a slow learner but also a bit (a bit?) of a romantic—in the worst sense, the sense that a romantic doesn’t really try to even learn a lesson.

But. But. No “Sugar Mountain” this time. No barkers and colored balloons. I was pushing all of my chips out, ahead of a tailwind that Keats might have respected, on the strength of one song that, from its opening, isolated guitar-bolt, wastes no time making its pledge:

Once I thought I saw you in a crowded hazy bar,
Dancing on the light from star to star.
Far across the moonbeam I know that’s who you are,
I saw your brown eyes turning once to fire.

You are like a hurricane
There’s calm in your eye.
And I’m gettin’ blown away
To somewhere safer where the feeling stays.
I want to love you but I’m getting blown away.

I am just a dreamer, but you are just a dream,
You could have been anyone to me.
Before that moment you touched my lips
That perfect feeling when time just slips
Away between us on our foggy trip

You are just a dreamer, and I am just a dream.
You could have been anyone to me.
Before that moment you touched my lips
That perfect feeling when time just slips
Away between us on our foggy trip. 

Bars? Only across the state line in Kansas for us, with 3.2 pisswater and not a lot of haze—plus she didn’t go with us that often. I always thought it was “Far across the movie”—obviously because my desire was ushered several rows away, at a safe distance. She did have brown eyes—they weren’t fiery, but they danced like licks of fire. The chorus is the meat ‘n’ taters: calm as hell, she was blowing me away without trying. That “somewhere safer where the feeling stays”? Couldn’t have been more true. That’s where I was keeping them—until I forced her, at about one in the morning at the sleepover (with an attentive audience; unfortunately, I had had more than a few moments like these, and I swear I never even saw the audience), to…well, here’s how it started:

“Hey, I got one, listen to this—this is how I feel about you, I’ve been wanting to tell you, but this is better!”

Pushed play.

I felt triumphant within the first couple of minutes, though her face was frozen, incomplete for all time (in my memory, at least) like the Crazy Horse Monument. But she was attentive.

Then I realized: this fucking song is seven minutes long! At the three-minute mark, she started to laugh. Not charitably, either. At the five-minute mark, she was joined by the audience. At the seven-minute mark, they were in the kitchen looking for snacks. I, in grave contrast, was staring straight ahead into the abyss of the far wall, not hearing the song anymore, but the clatter of a gibbet being carefully erected. I also had another seven fucking hours of the goddam do-gooding overnighter to endure, since I’d been dropped off.

I’d like to be able to say that, in those following excruciating hours, I’d had my romanticism burned down to ash, but it would take a few more acts of self-destructive and deluded emotional arsons (and a more than a few years in a solitary wilderness without a match, or even rocks to spark) before I got it.

I did, finally, get it. At least. And, every time I put on Live Rust, I’m reminded that, inasmuch as certain blindnesses force you to construct vivid but deeply flawed worlds inside your own skull, only by pushing the worlds of your imagination into contact with the real one are you ever going to make any kind of meaningful progress. Neil, I know you weren’t really trying to communicate that, but hey.

Postscript: Last week, my wife was listening to Live Rust in her car. As we headed out to grab a bite, I’d brought Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, a signpost record for us, with me to celebrate our 26 years of being together. I started to eject Live Rust and replace it, but she, brown eyes shining, shooed me off, saying, “I love this song.” Wanna guess the song?

Good to My Earhole: May 5-9 – What? NEW Rekkids?

Good to My Earhole: May 5-9 – What? NEW Rekkids?

The huddled sandspeck of humanity who regularly visit this blog no doubt have discerned a certain propensity of the author’s for looking backwards. Always said I never would, now I seem always to be. I’ve made the “dustbins of cyberspace” argument, and I am indeed left slot-mouthed in response to “new music,” but, to be fair, one needs a little perspective (in addition to 42 years’ worth of listening to records) to evaluate art accurately. However, two new albums by established giants came through the mail slot this week, as well as one from a local hero who‘s just sailed from between Scylla and Charibdis scarred but not scared, so I cannot resist taking a shot at ’em.

rollins

Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Volume 3 (Doxy) For the 83-year-old Rollins, both the road and the show seem to go on powerfully forever, and together. The third volume in this highly recommended and expertly compiled series mixes three Rollins originals–he is an underrated composer–one solo flight, and two of the American-songbook chestnuts Sonny was seemingly born to explore the contours of for an approximation of an epic performance (the tracks actually date from four different appearances, 2001-2012). Though his solos may not forge and unfurl unbroken like in days of old, his tone, invention (though he claims not to think and play at the same time), sense of humor, and grace are still beyond the reach of mere mortals–aka “the living body of jazz players.” Case in point: the majestic “Why Was I Born.” As my man at The Stash Dauber, Ken Shimamoto, has eloquently suggested, there are worse predicaments on Planet Earth 2014 than having the grammar of world popsong (that is, of the HISTORY of popsong) at your disposal. Give your man props while he’s living. Don’t wait ’til the heartbeat stops.

LetterHome

 

Neil Young: A Letter Home (Third Man) Honestly, I haven’t attended Uncle Neil for awhile, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on him. He’s always had one eye on the hands of time, so he’s a sure bet to still have plenty of artistic life in him as he ages. Which brings us to his newest release, one, conveniently, that plays with time by virtue of its recording circumstances. You can go elsewhere for the specific technical details, but Young recorded a set of very thematic O.P.s (“other people’s”) in a contraption that spits out “forest-fire” audio, complete with pops, crackles, lo-fi gauze, and unreliable pitch, that is reminiscent of both a very primitive demo and a much-abused 78 from the ’20s. It’s not a new trick–among major artists, Tom Waits has had it up his sleeve in the past–and I am not sure I like it. At first glance, I thought the song selections were chosen with inconsistent imagination, and would end up being my major complaint; after two listens, I actually like even “On the Road Again” and “My Hometown,” and the concept speaks the way the artist intended it to. It’s even moving. However, I don’t see the point in intentionally make it sound like crap (PRIMITIVE I will take in a minute–not the same thing!); maybe it’s just me, but that would seem to compromise the emotional power of the project: the deliberately “antique” production not only creates an unnecessary barrier for the intimacy of Young’s performance to penetrate, but it also raises my suspicions about Neil’s sincerity, if the record had to be thus fiddled with. And if he’s NOT being sincere–man, gimme my money back to spend on some Pono thing. I confess to being highly sensitive to the taint of Jack White’s hand in matters–he’s screwed up other projects for folks with his gimmickry (most notable past victim: Wanda Jackson) after having largely built his own reputation on gimmicks. It’s something I’d never have thought Neil Young would fall for. So…caveat emptor, if you’re going to spend your hard-earned dough. Try this, which is the highlight, to my ears:

 

Glen David Andrews: Redemption (Louisiana Red Hot) What would a blog post of mine be without some New Orleans flavor? Unbeknownst to outsiders, Mr. Andrews, a talented trombonist, songwriter, and singer, as well as progeny of a royal music family line, has spent the good part of the last fifteen years putting great music down in the studio, traveling the country testifying to the continued vitality of Crescent City traditions, and putting his feet in the street and squaring up to authorities as an activist for multiple local causes. Unfortunately, he did all of that while wrestling with substance abuse, which finally brought him down during the first years of this decade. Redemption is one of the most musically and emotionally powerful sobriety albums since Stevie Ray Vaughan’s In Step; Andrews himself says, “This is a record about my journey back from the living dead.” Glen is one of the finest brass band and NOLA trad jazz players alive, but the music here is brawny, funky rock and roll. This is not only an accurate projection of Andrews’ personality, but also an expression of spiritual joy buoyed by rebirth and a product of the man’s muscular support: Ivan Neville, Galactic’s Ben Ellman, and local guitar hero Anders Osborne. If you’ve never heard (of) him, time to get on board. Special guest appearance from beyond: Mahalia Jackson.