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Friday, May 30, 2008

I have to say that this has been one of those weeks where I fantasize about having enough money to wall myself away from the world and do drugs and desserts until I die.  So today, I was trying to remember something/someone music-related that made me laugh when I recalled this interview with O.D.B. on MTV where he pulled up to the welfare office in a limo to pick up his check.  I’m not going to parse out the man’s ethics late on a Friday when I’m counting the seconds until my first Mexican Martini.  But he was a hilariously interesting character, both for having more aliases than a C.I.A. passport and in his fairly adamant refusal of most social graces.  His lyrical abilities had a miraculous Wesley Willis quality about them, somehow managing to penetrate our reality from a galaxy far far a way and usually delivered like a gravel mouthed old dude yelling from a cracked cellar door.  And just to make myself smile that much wider I absolutely had to dig up my favorite Dirt McGirt couplet:


“You can call me dirty, and then lift up your skirt
And you want some of this dirty, god made dirt and dirt bust yo ass”


How did this work?  The lyrical rhythm is pausing and parenthical (oh yeah, and dirty bust yo ass, son), but it still sounds amazingly stammered out.  A great man has been taken from us while my list of ungreat ones that should go in their stead remains ignored.  I guess God needs all the good people to work in the Angel mines.


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Thursday, May 29, 2008
Aside from the requisite stints in rehab, the Botox and the damage done, and the increasingly profitable reunion tours, not a lot of memorable music gets made after age 30.

Nothing gold can stay, wrote Robert Frost. And believe it or not, he wasn’t actually talking about the Greasers and the Socs, or even Ralph Macchio’s ability, post Outsiders, to convincingly play high school kids well into his mid-20s (making the other ageless wonder, Family Ties era Michael J. Fox look like Methuselah by comparison). Frost, of course, was speaking of more poetic matters, like springtime and flowers and innocence and all that CliffsNotes crap.


What he was not talking about, since it had not yet been invented, was rock and roll. So he could not have known that he was providing a very prescient epitaph for what is often the rule and seldom the exception with every great rock band: they age poorly. Aside from the requisite stints in rehab, the Botox and the damage done, and the increasingly profitable reunion tours, not a lot of memorable music gets made after age 30. Consider how many groups have blazed like fevered comets into the public consciousness, then flamed out, leaving a body of work—and sometimes their bodies—behind.


Not counting the careers cut short by death (think Hendrix, Morrison, Cobain or Clapton…wait, Clapton didn’t die? Never mind), and not cherry-picking the no-brainers like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and the Who, it’s actually easier to identify the groups that have managed to produce work worthy of their salad days—much less work that is worthwhile. The very recent efforts by Portishead and the Breeders, as well as the fairly recent masterpiece by Sleater-Kinney (please come back!) prove that it can be done. The fact that those three bands are fronted by females is noteworthy, and fodder for further discussion: women rock harder and make better music, after 30, than men? It would seem so. Then again, King Buzzo might have something to say about that, although he is probably too cool to even be considered human, much less a man.


But why is this so rare? Certainly the impetus of lean and hungry desperation (not to mention drugs) inspires rock music in ways not especially amenable to other types of art, like literature. Robert Frost was 49 when he dropped Nothing Gold Can Stay; Pete Townshend was 20 when he wrote “I hope I die before I get old”. By the time he was 49, The Who were already recycling their better days on the arena rocking chair circuit.


There are still some legends thrashing about in the mud and the blood and the beer: Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, for instance. Their best days are undoubtedly far behind them, but at least they’re still trying. And yet, the issue isn’t really about trying, it’s about an end result that passes the smell test (mosh pit or mothballs?), regardless of intent or integrity. Perhaps it’s appropriate that one elder statesman who is defying the trend is the golden god himself, Robert Plant. While the world waits to see if the mighty Zeppelin will glide again, Plant paired up with the beguiling Alison Krauss to create Raising Sand, an effort that, not so ironically, sounds better with time. In fact, it surpasses just about anything Plant’s peers have been able to manage since John Bonham died (doing his part to ensure that the best band of the ‘70s would not embarrass themselves in the ‘80s). Granted, Raising Sand is not (nor is it pretending to be) rock music. Perhaps that is the entire point. To be a rock and not to roll? Perhaps this is what Plant meant, way back whenever. Or perhaps it is just the forests, echoing with laughter.


TO BE CONT’D.


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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I’ve always loved this song even if Dwight Twilley was probably the poor man’s Cheap Trick with many more misses than he ever had hits.  Even though this is more properly categorized as power pop, I love tamped down glam aspects of the song, particularly the flirtatious mouth movements, batted eyelashes and scrawny boy hip swivel. Not to mention Susan Cowsill barely breaking a sweat in her shades as she blasts out “Free, Free, Free” like Queen singing songs from “Hair”.  Even though they were contemporaries of T. Rex, they’re clearly avoiding the tarted up look that would soon overtake and eventually undermine glam rock.  Nothing says we’re power pop like your mom’s sweat shirt.  Still, the song has some absolutely soaring moments even if you can’t tell if it’s a straight-up come on or an insult wrapped in a come on.  Essentially, it’s a riotously harmonized chorus telling the object of his affection that she/he doesn’t have a love, so, well, why not?  And, if I’m not mistaken he also seems to suggest that he couldn’t wait to be single, but now he’s “on fire”.  Of course, this pre-dates the hair band days where everyone’s eyes were suddenly “on fire” and the metaphor became duly limp.


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Tuesday, May 6, 2008
If Jack Tripper was running for president, which candidate would you rather have a beer with at The Regal Beagle?

The last thing I want to be accused of is venerating the same sitcom that, it seemed, virtually everyone who was not a teenager in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s felt certain signaled the end of the world as we knew it. But we felt fine. Hey, I lived through those dangerous days and survived. I watched Three’s Company and not only enjoyed it, then, I certainly don’t regret it, now. I regard that show kind of like I view my Catholic upbringing: it was probably not necessary and it’s likely that those hours (in church, in front of the TV) could have been better spent. But, for better or worse, they helped make me what I am, so I’ll make no tardy attempts to excommunicate Cardinal O’Connor or Jack Tripper from my memory bank. In this much-maligned shows defense, and unlike the Catholic church, it never pretended to be something it was not: an enterprise that puts profit above product and always answerable to a higher authority.


Not sure, in hindsight, if Father So-and-So’s sermons gave me more nightmares than Joyce DeWitt’s curious allure, or who was the worse actor—my divorced CCD teacher or Suzanne Somers (I’m pretty sure Somers wins purely on aesthetic points). We can point to Don Knotts’s (R.I.P.) floral crimes against fashion, but at least he was a product of the times, unlike the enduring sartorial styles still in vogue at the Vatican. And let’s get real: if Jack Tripper (R.I.P.!!) were, well, real, and he was running for president, which candidate would you rather have a beer with at The Regal Beagle?


But special props must be set aside for the immortal (yes, I said immortal) Norman Fell (R.I.P.!!!). If there was ever a “sixth man” award for TV shows, Mr. Roper would be a lock. In fact, it should henceforth be known as “The Norman Fell Factor” when a minor—but indispensable—character is given props by fans in the know. His sardonic asides to the camera were revolutionary in their own understated way; breaking the fourth wall to make inside jokes with the audience, edging toward something approximating postmodern long before, say, movies like Ferris Bueller or subsequent TV shows like Moonlighting made it an almost obligatory—and far less subtle—device. Of course, this strategy already existed on TV, dating as far back as stories have been told to audiences, and are recurrent in Cervantes, Shakespeare and Sterne, not to mention Melville (call him Ishmael) and the late, great Kurt Vonnegut. In other words, Fell was neither the first nor the most effective practitioner of this tactic—he was simply one of the funniest. In his relatively quick moments on screen, he could throw the audience, and himself, a bone each week—his antics would not have been nearly as amusing if his role were larger.


Maybe it’s a guy thing. Check that: did any women ever watch Three’s Company? Stanley Roper’s self-satisfied mugging was a highlight of each episode, and while the mere name Ralph Furley prompts a chuckle, by the time that bug-eyed, pants suit wearing rascal came on the scene, the shows best days were behind it (bet: that is the first time the words “the shows best days” have ever appeared in any appraisal of Three’s Company). And don’t kid yourself: I’m not about to forget our favorite used car salesman, Larry Dallas. Larry was more than just Eddie Haskell grown up and acid-tested; in many ways he anticipated both George Costanza and Cosmo Kramer (in other words, he was the original poor man’s Larry David). Okay, that’s stretching it, but one thing is for certain: while the Ropers got their chance to grasp the brass ring, the biggest crime Three’s Company ever committed was not spinning off Larry’s character for his own series. Just kidding. Sort of.


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