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by Matt White

21 Jan 2009

The scream is blood curdling. It sounds like something from a horror film. But it’s not. It’s Jerry Lott, better known as the Phantom, and that scream is the first thing you hear on one of the most ragged, raw, frantic songs my ears have ever heard. “Love Me” was recorded live in one take in the summer of 1958 and is an explosion of out of control ramshackle energy. Lott was a country singer who turned to rock ‘n roll after hearing Elvis Presely for the first time in the mid-‘50s. Calling himself the Phantom and wearing a lone ranger-style mask he apparently spent three months recording his first song “Whisper Your Love” and decided he wanted to do something quick and loose for the other side of the record.  Thus, “Love Me” was born.

After Lott’s opening howl the guitar starts playing a sinister-sounding rockabilly riff and Lott makes an unintelligible noise before commanding to his bandmates “Let’s go!” The bass slides in, then the drums and the Phantom starts his Elvis-like singing. When the music stops and he moans the title he sounds desperate and out of breath. At forty-three seconds in we’re already halfway done and a guitar solo starts off unassumingly, sounding like it could be any other rock ‘n roll solo. Is it possible Lott’s noticed too that it was somewhat formulaic and tepid? Because just after the solo starts you can hear him away from the mic yell “Come on, let’s go!” and suddenly the band is tearing into their instruments with such intensity that they seem to fall out of your speakers. “Keep going!” Lott calls out as the drummer wails on a cymbal that sounds more like a garbage can lid. On the last verse Lott is barely able to get the words out and when the music stops he’s breathing like he just ran a marathon. As he repeats the title the “love” simply becomes a grunt and only the “me” remains.

Tragically, the Phantom’s music career was cut short in 1961 when he sustained severe injuries in an accident that sent his car tumbling 600 feet down a mountainside in South Carolina. “Love Me”, however, lives on as an example of ferociously fun, chaotic, rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form.

by Jason Gross

21 Jan 2009

I’ll return to the New Kingpins series soon but I couldn’t resist this excellent summation of the now (thankfully) former head of the FCC Kevin Martin, explaining how he was not only a failure but also a scumbag who demoralized and fragmented his group too.  No wonder he’s being compared to Bush.

by David Pullar

21 Jan 2009

Six months after it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, I’ve finally managed to read Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole.  When I first came across it, I had no particular interest, suspecting it of being overlong and a little pretentious.  Over time, I began to question my snap judgement and I’m thoroughly glad I did.

A Fraction of the Whole is big, it’s true, but not excessively.  Despite involving two separate narrators and spanning forty-something years and three continents, it maintains a remarkable cohesion.  That’s probably because narrators Jasper and Martin Dean, the father-and-son duo at the novel’s centre, are far more alike than either would like to recognise.

Attempting to draw but one theme out of the book (and it’s stuffed full of the things) is a challenge, but it’s probably the power of inheritance and the difficulty of escaping its influence.  Sure, that’s two themes, but they’re closely related. 

Jasper commences the novel as a young man, imprisoned for reasons unknown.  At a loose end, he begins to reflect on the curious legacy of his father Martin and Uncle Terry, Australia’s most hated and most admired man respectively.  We’re not initially told how this eccentric rural family managed such notoriety, but it all comes out in Toltz’s discursive and rambling narrative.  If Jasper is a little bit prompter as an autobiographer than Tristram Shandy in reaching the event of his birth, it’s still a long way into the book.  There’s a lot of family history to cover.

The picture that emerges is of an intelligent boy completely denied a chance of normality by a brilliant but unhinged father.  Martin Dean’s equally strange childhood has left him conflicted by powerful urges—a tendency to megalomania and an overwhelming cynicism about the entirety of human endeavour.  Jasper is really just trying to stay out of trouble.

Toltz’s creations are brilliant.  They are true to life, unpredictable and likeable in spite of their visible failings.  Subtly, Toltz is nudging us towards the question “Is normality all it’s cracked up to be?”

The dysfunctional Deans’ abnormality often looks like good fun.  They create publishing scandals, build mazes, join the criminal underworld, break hearts and have their hearts broken in return.  There are precious few “ordinary” people in A Fraction of the Whole and they’re not nearly as fascinating.

While creating a portrait of a family, Toltz almost accidentally assesses a half-century of Australian history.  There’s our love of outlaws and “larrikins”, our obsession with sport and our tendency to cut down achievers or “tall poppies”.  There’s also our uneasy place in the world—both our fear of cultural inferiority and our fear of refugees in leaky boats.  It’s a lot to cram in, but Toltz manages it easily.

For all my scepticism about literary awards, there’s often good reason for their selections.  A Fraction of the Whole is an amazing achievement.  Spending time with the Deans and their skewed view of the world will make your life a little bit richer.

by Sachyn Mital

21 Jan 2009

After being postponed a week due to snow, the NEXT Music Charity Concert Series (in support of Big Brothers and Big Sisters) at Rack ‘n’ Roll in Stamford kicked off January 16th with a performance by Jukebox the Ghost. While the name Jukebox the Ghost doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, the trio’s infectious songs got the patrons grooving whether they came to see the band or were just there shooting pool. Having been likened to Ben Folds, Jukebox perform similarly fun, piano-driven indie-pop that gets fans enthusiastically clapping and dancing along with the music and their nuanced lyrics. The D.C. based band even contains a Ben, the lead singer Ben Thornewill plays piano, and is accompanied by Jesse Kristin on drums and Tommy Siegel on guitar.

After Chris Bro, a DJ on 107.1 The Peak, made his concert series introduction, Jukebox the Ghost took the stage encouraging the mixed audience to draw closer. Several girls, who seemed a bit too young to be in a bar, appeared to be loyal fans of the band (or perhaps of boys in a band). And then there were folks intrigued by the sounds of the warm-up piano-tinkling who pulled away from their billiards table to listen. Jukebox performed several songs off their album Let Live and Let Ghosts, as well as a couple of newer ones. The second song, “Hold it In”, got people clapping along to the particularly catchy piano melody punctuated by Ben’s “whooo”-ing. “Victoria”, which might lyrically hint at a Ben Folds song with its inclusion of the word ‘bitch’, had even more people shaking to its drum stomp sound.

Before the encore new song of “Nobody”, Jukebox dove into an enjoyable rendition of The Beatles’ “Golden Slumber/Carry that Weight/The End” - a song whose broad familiarity appealed to a good many in the bar. This Ben and the band engaged the crowd all night, cracked jokes with each other, noted the irony that they had only one song about a ghost (and home foreclosures) and gave a spirited little shout for Obama. If one is comparing the studio tracks to the performance, a lively concert from Jukebox the Ghost is much more satisfying. Demonstrating their admirable spirit, Jukebox’s first show of 2009 earned them many new fans—they have an auspicious future ahead.

by Zeth Lundy

21 Jan 2009

On tonight’s episode of Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… (airing Wednesdays at 9pm EST/PST on the Sundance Channel), Costello brings together Rosanne Cash, Norah Jones, Kris Kristofferson, and John Mellencamp for an old-fashioned songwriters’ circle, the kind that Rosanne’s father, Johnny, used to host back in the day. (Indeed, at one of those Cash-helmed circles, Kristofferson played “Me and Bobby McGee” for the first time, as he remembers at one point during the episode.) This format is slightly different than the first seven episodes in the series, as it focuses more on performance than discussion—a total of ten songs are performed over the course of the hour, by far the most songs featured on an episode of Spectacle yet.

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