Let’s Not Be L7! (Fri-Sun, August 3-5, Columbia and Springfield, MO)

We’re living it up a bit before “summer” ends, so I’ve been quiet here. In sum:

I.

Drove around Columbia Friday morning running errands and hanging out, and repeat-played this song that we both love as much as a song can be loved.

I have a story about it. I bought it as a cassingle prior to the album coming out, right at the point where I’d gotten dumped by a woman my relationship with whom I more or less willed into being, who I knew liked me but didn’t like me, who more or less humiliated me one evening over a wine error (I don’t even really like the shit), and who clearly wasn’t my type to begin with. BUT I was impatient with my relationship success as my thirties were approaching, and I was a touch desperate. She lowered the boom on me at a fuckin’ laundromat, then showed up the same night at the one party at which I was fairly sure she wouldn’t possibly appear on the arm of her boss (Gross! Dating your boss is for losers!). I drank myself into a stupor, then existed within a dark cloud of doom for a week or so. Even though I really knew she was no great loss.

OK, so for every one of those days, I kept the cassingle on repeat-play in my car. Every day, to and from work, the record store, and the bar (Holy Trinity at that point), this song was blasting. The music? RADICAL. Frightening, in its way–note how that main riff just won’t resolve. Surprising, too (was that a one-note sample from Stevie Ray Vaughan playing on Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”? Flav merging Tattoo into Scarface?). ENERGIZING, for certain–it creates an aural scenario that seems to propel one into acting on some life-or-death imperative. And…the rapping? Chuck D climbed into my Top 5 MCs pantheon on the strength of this performance, and I already loved him. “I got so much trouble on my mind! / Refuse to lose!” he proclaims, and that by itself was a mantra that got me through many of those days and into a positive perspective in front of my classrooms (I was teaching five classes of ninth graders!). Not just any MC could ride those rhythms and disruptions! Yessireebob, he made some eye-raising statements in that song that I wasn’t comfortable with, but, hey, it’s a free country, he didn’t exempt much of anyone from responsibility for our (still intact) Terrordome, and his critics tended to overlook his moments of tenderness (yes) and compassion (yes). “….[N]othing worse / Than a mother’s pain for a son / Slain in Bensonhurst!”? “God bless your soul and keep livin’!“? Add on to all of that the thick, exciting scratches of Terminator X and the dense mix of samples that could not be recreated for sale today by Jeff Bezos, and, well, it’s no wonder I could (and still can) listen to it on a loop.

Funny thing is, the woman I was cruising around with listening to it repeatedly Friday morning was the one whose arms I ended up rebounding into–she loves the song almost as much as I do. Thanks to Chuck–still fightin’–and PE, and thanks to Nicole, my life-long soul mate.

II.

Saturday we were stompin’ on our old grounds (the original “Terrordome” for me, now that I mention it) in Springfield, Missouri, on hand to meet up with fond ol’ friends and celebrate our great pal Jill’s birthday. She likes party buses, we like party buses, so we party-bused around The Queen City. We visited Tropical Liqueurs for some frozen dranks, we paused at her future gravesite (she and we are fans of perspective–it helps you get the most out of life), we put our heads together at a hidden lakeside, we sprawled out en masse at the Rail Haven Route 66 Motel, where Jill’d rented a room for her stay and where the young Elvis actually once slept (pause for a pic)–

Elvis 'Otel

–and we landed at The Dugout (formerly The Twilight), our favorite Springfield dive (where I used to meet a favorite English prof and my classmates for pitchers, lit discussion and wisdom dissemination when I was a mere undergrad).

But. But. One of my favorite moments of the whole evening was, well, breaking a rule. It was clearly posted up by the front of the bus: “No swinging on the poles.” Another rule that I didn’t make but which has often seemed to swirl around my brain since I became middle-aged is “Thou shalt not dance anymore.” Well, Jill–are you starting to see how heroic she is? I hope so–is an excellent DJ. She plugged her phone into the bus sound system and just You-Tubed up some tracks, which built us up to such a frenzy that, fueled by Budweiser and a Sex on The Beach snuck in there, I had to jump up, grip the pole two-handed and begin boogieing to her inspired choices. And yelling the lyrics (I’m sorry, Jill!)! Is it untoward for a 56-year-old man to be acting thus? It probably was, but it must be admitted I was joined on the pole by at least two other partygoers! If you find yourself turning away from this tableau, please first reckon with the trio of tracks that moved us off our duffs:

And the blower-off-the-topper…

You play those three in a row sober and see if you can stay put! I bet you’re UP right now if you played them! And wasn’t that last little tune prophetic? I can’t help celebrating it every time I hear it.

III.

A somewhat bleary state of being met us as we arose Sunday morning. Even when we find ourselves up pushing the dawn, we usually awaken right on the other side of it. Nicole arose temporarily; I am seldom ever able to go back to sleep once I awaken. I sat down under a lamp in the corner of the room, cracked a book (Issac J. Bailey’s sad and revelatory My Brother Moochie, if you’re curious), and put in some headphones to listen to a new purchase. Simply put, it’s the best free jazz record I’ve heard this year, and there have been some gooduns (including one by the main man here). It’s out of Portugal, which has an amazing scene, and you should give it a whirl. It’s mos def not a dialogue of the deaf; this band listens and responds in sensitive and creative and sometimes visionary fashion. The driving force, that main man, is Rodrigo Amado–remember the name. He’s been around, but in another way, he’s just getting started:

IV.

What goes up must come down, but the comedown was euphonious–that should always be a Sunday goal, shouldn’t it? When we returned to Columbia, we had to scramble to an event we’d bought tickets for somewhat optimistically, but also under the influence of our wise and cosmopolitan friend Jackie. Columbia’s “We Always Swing” Jazz Series is a near quarter-century-old blessing on our town that, through the hard work of Jon Poses and his staff, brings some of the finest musicians to us to hear. Sunday night was the 2018-2019 kickoff event, a three-set performance by local heroes the Columbia Jazz Orchestra. Sounds very neat for a final night of the week, eh?

Well, a clear sky, a 101-degree early evening, and a bit-too-posh-for-us rooftop venue initially discouraged me. I muttered, “We could call it a donation.” However, Nicole rallied me and I’m glad she did. We got to hang out with Jackie, her mischievously-witted and historic husband John, our old friend Brent, and his wife, the drinks were nice, and the band played rowdily but splendidly, with selections from Thundercat (“Them Changes”) to Ellington (“Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” and they ain’t).

Columbia Jazz Orchestra

I’ve reached a conclusion. On New Year’s Day, I vowed to post an entry here every day. Not so difficult, because I listen to music every day. But, folks, when you’re really living it’s sometimes hard to squeeze in some huntin’ and peckin’–and, admittedly, some days I’ve somewhat forced these entries. So…if you’re keeping score at all…I’m going to post when I can. I will strive to every day. It’s not like millions are hanging on my every word, but I enjoy it, it’s good for me, I’m goal-oriented–and maybe a couple of you do look for me to chime in daily. But I’m gonna live first!

(Note: realize that final sentence is written as an urging to myself, not as a command to you. I’m sure you all are doing fine.)

Square and Straight (April 26th, 2018, Columbia, MO)p

I believe today was the third time I’ve listened to to this record in 2018. I’ve worn it out over the years, and 36 years since I first was able to lay my hands on it–it was out of print during my formative years–my enthusiasm for it is undimmed. For a time, it was my least favorite of the four regular-issue “true Velvets” studio albums (plus the deep, deep desert-island-pick 1969 Velvet Underground Live): I used to feel Nico’s presence and the last two tracks really marred it, as well as that Lou’s writing was far improved by The Velvet Underground and Loaded. In fact, I wondered why it seemed to be the most famous VU album of them all–they clearly got better, right?

My love for The Velvet Underground and Nico has evolved. Though my musical tastes are very wide-ranging, and though I have a hunger for any work of art about unexplored and taboo territory– epater la bourgeoisie, bring it on!–I am honestly one of the squarest, straightest dudes on the planet. The mere existence of BDSM culture makes me giggle; I’d never shoot anything into my arm (gimme a beer!); I’ve never encountered a dealer except for a few brief seconds up the street from Poe’s old walk-up in Baltimore (I giggled and waved him away); my gender and sexual identities might as well be birthmarks (for the record, sometimes I think they actually are for us, but sometimes most definitely not). I guess what I’m saying is, though I love Lou’s writing in general, and on this album appreciate its expressions of remorse, compassion, insecurity, desperation, catharsis, and epiphany, I’m definitely not as stimulated by the subject matter he presents on this album as I used to be. I also used to think his artistic persona was the pinnacle of cool, and that the personae he created for his songs were pure genius; just engaging with those inventive illusions was extremely exciting, since I had a slim chance of meeting such folks in reality. I am not demeaning these past enthusiasms–they are the output of genius, a genius I still think had more amazing creations ahead.

What I go to The Velvet Underground and Nico for these days is the noise, from Cale’s celeste on “Sunday Morning” to Nico’s three drones (I don’t hear them as singing, I hear them as pure sound) to my favorite rhythm guitars in music history (true for me throughout this group’s recordings) to the breaking glass and vacuum cleaner-like sounds in “The Black Angel’s Death Song.” Threaded throughout: that ominous Cale viola–on “Venus in Furs,” it sounds as if it’s advance fanfare for Yeats “rough beast” slouching toward Bethlehem. It’s the sound that’s most exciting, and most original, especially since its abrasions, distortions, and explosions are integrated into palatable pop structures (for the most part), including a Motown rip. I usually get up to turn up the stereo when “Death Song” and “European Son” approach; I admit I used to skip that pair fairly frequently, and now they’re fave raves.

More than anything else on this immortal record, the noises are what meaningfully jolt me out of myself these days. Pure pleasure might be counterrevolutionary; does that mean impure pleasure is revolutionary? In this case, the impurities are those committed against euphony, an artistic crime I’ve come to treasure that reminds me of the limits of a square and straight ear.

Roky

I also spent some time with Restless Records’ You’re Gonna Miss Me: The Best of Roky Erickson. Though it does not include Roky’s groundbreaking work with The 13th Floor Elevators, it’s a neat, well-selected single-disc tour of the man’s demented but often moving solo work. I’ve said it before, and I know I’ll say it again: Erickson is in the top strata of history’s white rock and roll singers–yep, he belongs with Jerry Lee, Elvis…name your own top four and just add this Austinian. His range extended from blood-curdling screams to sweet, lullabye-like Hollyisms; in the spaces between, he could drive an uptempo number to a Little Richard-level intensity, and always present was a hint of his Texas drawl–don’t you like to hear place in a singer’s attack? None of those qualities would have mattered much if he didn’t also write indelible, dream-invading songs that would have occurred to no one else. I imagine most folks would chalk up their unique strangeness to mental illness; I have no research to support this, but I’d like to believe that, at least on some level, Erickson was engaged in a conscious, intentional creative process that had nothing to do with his psychological state or the drugs that might have been in his system (at the time of creation, or prior). I might have actually reached for this compilation because its contents tend to make better sense in Trump’s America:

Hmmm…maybe not so loony after all, eh?

Short-shrift Division:

Called upon on my Facebook wall to “explain” Wayne Cochran, I got caught up in some clips of the mightily-coiffed Sixties stage-shaker, who mos def was James Brown-influenced (to say the least, perhaps) but definitely had his own kind of thing. Enjoy this quick Cochran playlist, and pass the hairspray:

Made in Chicago / Made in a Mad Mind (January 23, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

At the end of 2015, I listed Jack DeJohnette’s Made in Chicago as the album I considered the very best of that year. I believed it, yet at times I have wondered if my biases toward older artists, toward free jazz, and toward historic occasions had too much to do with my choice. Yesterday, I broke out the album for some deep listening in The Lab (my truck’s cab), and can confirm that the music therein was easily worthy of that top ranking. I’ve listened to it several times in the past two years, but it had been awhile, and distance has a way of clearing away the fog of prejudice.

Made in Chicago is more a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Windy City’s legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) than it is a DeJohnette album, though the on-stage drummer’s leadership is clear throughout: on piano, the late Muhal Richard Abrams (ship’s captain and co-founder of AACM); on alto saxophone, bass flute, bass recorder, Henry Threadgill (playing more horn, and playing more scintillatingly, than he has in years); on soprano and alto saxophones, wooden flute, Roscoe Mitchell); and on double bass, violoncello, Larry Gray.  Those jazz fans who have a passing knowledge of the work produced by the AACM over the past half-century might expect this live show, part composed and part improvised, to be difficult, cacophonous, and/or cerebral (at the cost of its emotional impact). To the contrary: the five performances–especially the opening three–are a treat for the ears, directly evoking a wide range of conscious states (meditation, serenity, trance, wakefulness, joy), progressing–thanks to these wise septuagenarians’ expert ears and quick minds–with exceptional coherence and logic, and communicating great depth of feeling. Abrams and Threadgill in particular are in great form, the former often playing hypnotic, repetitive figures that bring to mind birdcalls or early morning rain-patter, the latter letting loose a dazzling variety of breath-length vocalizations. Maybe my favorite music of the entire set is the laughter and delight the men share at the end of each piece: considering they have proven to be musicians with exceptionally high artistic and intellectual standards, their happiness with their work confirms for me that I am hearing something grand. Also, you’ll seldom hear such an impassioned reaction to this kind of music by a live audience.

Verdict: yes, this is a great record. If you’ve heard of the AACM and want to dip a toe in its broad and deep expanse, this is a wonderful point of entry.

Recently, I admitted that, if forced into a choice, I’d take Dion over Elvis. Perhaps this declaration is a bit less controversial, but I’d also argue that the greatest non-melanated American rock and roll singer of all-freakin’-time is none other than Austin, Texas’ own Roky Erickson. I don’t have to be nudged too firmly on any day of the week to put on an Erickson platter, from the ground-breaking psychedelic garage rock of his mid-Sixties units The Spades and The 13th Floor Elevators to his post-acid / schizophrenic-breakdown, post-prison-stint solo work in the early Eighties, a period I chose to visit yesterday. The Evil One, originally issued in 1981 on 415 Records and nicely reissued by Light in the Attic in 2013, is, simply put, a landmark of the decade, with at least 10 of its 15 songs being among the best 20 Erickson ever wrote (present are “Two Headed Dog,” “Stand for the Fire Demon,” “The Night of the Vampire,” “Creature with The Atom Brain,” “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer,” and one of his rare Buddy Holly-styled yearners “If You Have Ghosts”), and featuring some of the most transported yowling ever recorded. In the best Roky howls, you can hear a whirring bandsaw blade’s edge, as well as an aching vulnerability hidden deep in his keening Texas twang, and his guitar could and did rhyme with all of that. The lyrics? Best not thought about too deeply, but in today’s political and social environment, Erickson two-headed dogs, demons, zombies, vampires, ghosts, and atom-brained creatures might just take on new meaning for folks just getting their feet wet. The thing is, as late-night sci-fi-corny as his scenarios can be, the best of them can’t conceal and don’t distract from the excitement, inspiration, and depth of feeling Roky invests in his singing. If you love Little Richard, I don’t see any reason why you won’t, don’t, or shouldn’t like Erickson. They’re both uniquely mad, they’re both still breathing, and, while Richard may have gotten his fair share of acclaim, we need to break Roky out of the cult ghetto before it’s too late. Recommendations: very obviously this record, Don’t Slander Me (from 1985), and the career-summing two-disc comp I Have Always Been Here Before, released by Shout! Factory, now out of print but certainly worth the hunt and obtainable at a reasonable price.

Dedicated to my friend Dave Gatliff: An YouTube playlist that should serve as a decent introduction to Roky’s work!

Short-shrift Division  (courtesy The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel):

Ricky Nelson, “Be-Bop Baby”

The Coasters, “Yakety Yak”

Blossom Dearie, “The Gentleman is a Dope”

Charlie Parker, “Bird of Paradise”

 

Four Sounds I Really Like

Roky Erickson’s rock and roll cry:

For all Roky has been through–undiagnosed mental issues, hallucinogens, Texas cops, unjust incarceration, whacky custodial care, unhealthy fan worship, self-rigged residential clamor, the sheer ravages of time and The Road (which he is still rollin’ down)–his voice has proven extremely durable. Even in full-throated rave, as in the above, close listeners can hear not only a fetching Texas curve or two but also a vulnerability that, when he’s doing a ballad, makes him seem like he’s channeling Buddy Holly.

Johnny Hodges’ seductive, fluid alto sax:

As one writer whose name I cannot recall once wrote (I am paraphrasing), his sound is like honey pouring out of a jar. Note: I wanted to find a clip of his intro on Ellington’s early-’40s version with Ivie Anderson on vocals, which is almost unbearably erotic, but no luck. The Jeep could jump, but he could really ease back and beckon.

Natural Child’s unselfconscious, appealingly homely…groove:

I just started this blog three-four days ago and I have already mentioned this happy-go-lucky band of Nashvillians three times (plus posted an old article about them in the archive), but, dammit, they have their hooks in me. Whether they’re rockin’, bluesin’, hoein’ down, shufflin’, they lock in like The Rolling Stones’ little brothers, and they can catch up short with their acumen. I was hooked from the first note I heard and saw ’em play in 2010 at The Scion Garage Rock Festival, and I think this was the song. The bass is weirdly in the lead, and they love to yell-along. Perfectly unfashionable.

Anita O’Day–in flight!

Easily one of the most–if not THE most–underrated jazz singers ever, at her absolute peak. She looks smashing (and by her own admission in HIGH TIMES, HARD TIMES she was smashed), the band swings, the crowd projects the best (and quirkiest) aspects of the coming New Frontier, but Ms. O’Day steals the show. The lightness and fetching quality of her timbre (sorry for the fancy word), her absolute mastery of rhythm, her humor and sexiness, her DEFTNESS–OK, I’ll stop, just play it over a few times, OK?