Friday, February 28, 2014

Have Three Chords, Will Stomp: The Sonics at the Double Door

DOWN AT THE ROCK & ROLL CLUB—Cinderella Money Dirty Robber Shot Down He's Waitin' Boss Hoss Have Love Will Travel Louie Louie You've Got Your Head On Backwards Keep A Knockin' Psycho Strychnine The Witch. 29 words that ought to be enough to summarize last night's Sonics show at the Double Door in Chicago. Those titles indicate just how potent, influential, and bedrock is the Sonics' song catalogue, a roster of rock and roll classics the band tore through with cool gusto and the confidence of elder statesmen. (With a little "Are You Ready To Rock?!" Pre-Irony corn tossed in.) Looking like retired History professors, the Sonics—original members Jerry Roslie (vocals and keyboards), Rob Lind (sax and harmonica), and Larry Parypa (guitar), with Freddie Dennis (bass) and Dusty Watson (drums)—took the stage on time, sipping waters and tall cans of Heineken, wearing relaxed, accordion-bottom black jeans and black western-style shirts. The overall look: the uncles are getting the band back together! Though the Sonics did vanish for much of the last quarter of the twentieth century, they've emerged, unlikely, as a tight outfit blasting the three-chord, 12-bar stomp of their glory years. Fans of rock and roll—especially ageists open to surprise—are all the luckier for it.

This was the second time I saw the Sonics; I caught them a few years ago at the terrific Norton Records 25th Anniversary revue in Brooklyn, and my expectations of the band, admittedly, were low then. Mea culpa. Happily, that night the Sonics elevated the prospects for this, their first visit to Chicago. The band was better, louder, and—despite Roslie's occasional lost-in-place panics; it was the band's first gig of the tour—tighter. Parypa held his jet-black Ibanez as if it were alive and bucking; watching him strike the chords to the Sonics' iconic songs is exhilarating, his brutal shards meshing with Dennis's and Watson's sure rhythm bed, over which Lind loudly blared his frat-house sax and Roslie and, more often, Dennis howled and shrieked about girls, cars, money, poisons, girls, girls, and girls with the phone number "666." The Sonics opened with "Cinderella," and soon had a pleasingly-youngish crowd grooving to "Money"—the real test of whether the crowd would acknowledge the rocking exuberance of an over-played warhorse (and also, later, "Louie Louie" during which, despite Parypa's savage riffing, the band looked a bit distracted). Song after song, the Sonics lay claim to the heartening value of playing spirited rock and roll in your early 70s as though you were still the grinning 20-year-olds who wrote the songs.

Definitions of "garage rock" and tiresome discussions about "Who came first?" aside, one can draw a direct line from the Sonics to the Stooges to the Ramones. The songs the Sonics wrote, and the covers they make their own, amount to a staggering, wholly original cannon of hard, primal, R&B-infused punk rock and roll. That the band is alive and kicking and sounded last night as they did in 1965 is testament to their songs' transcendence and plugged-in Platonism as much as it is to the guys' stamina, wherewithal, and late-career desire to play sold-out clubs. I've never seen the Double Door so packed and lively—everyone, it seemed, had smiles on their faces. I stood up front all night, weathering some pretty intense though good-natured jostling and pushing, and left coated with beer, my ears ringing. The Sonics, those old gents, were off to Cleveland for the next stop on the tour. Professor Emeritus Jerry Roslie will again adjust his readers, squint at his lyric sheet, sip a Heineken, and let it rip. Long live the Sonics.

I ran into a former student of mine, Lauren, who was knocked out and afterward gushed to me, "Can you imagine how cool it'd be if one of those guys were your Grandad?" Exactly.

l-r, Dennis, Lind, Watson

Here's a taste of what the Sonics are up to in the studio; a new album is scheduled for release this summer. I'm especially stoked to hear their cover of Persian Rugs' "Be A Woman." Rob Lind announced last night that the goal was to get back to the Sonics' roots. Turn it up:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Baseball and Bedlam

I recently watched a documentary on MLB Network about the tumultuous 1977 baseball season, one my favorite campaigns. Inspired, I turned to the fantastic MLB Classics and now-defunct
ClassicsMLB11 channels on YouTube. On the latter I found several full (likely unauthorized) This Week In Baseball episodes that brought me back to many air-conditioned Saturday afternoons of my youth when I'd catch up on the week's shenanigans, heroics, and pratfalls via Mel Allen's good-natured narration and comic theme and incidental music that said, All's right with the world, baseball's being played and school won't start again for years.

Bronx school before Game Two of the 1977 World Series
I also watched and savored in its entirety the legendary Game Six of the 1977 World Series when Reggie Jackson smacked three home runs on three consecutive pitches against three different hurlers. The feat inspired Howard Cosell to some pretty laughable, lovable heights of rhetoric, and the memory of the game is embedded in me; I jumped up and down with my brothers and dad in our rec room when Reggie knocked his third homer into the scarily black bleachers of Yankee Stadium. What I watched especially closely this time around was the game's conclusion, because I wanted to witness again in real time the madness of a Championship-clinching game as celebrated in The Bronx in the late 1970s. Among the complaints leveled against baseball during this era was the increasing drunken unruliness of fans and the sport's inability or unwillingness to guard against their recklessness. Though I remember the night clearly, it seems remarkable to me now that such on-field chaos was allowed to occur with abandon, so dulled are we now to the battalions of somber cops and their enormous horses ringing an outfield pre-festivity, prepared to halt any and all unrest. The image of Reggie, futilely holding his helmet out in front of him as a shield, darting from right field toward the dugout like a halfback with time ticking away, is remarkable, and prehistoric.

Inspired by Roger Angell's astonished, "frame by frame" recap of Yankee Chris Chambliss's pennant-clinching home run of a year earlier, and the mayhem it subsequently set off, I grabbed a few images of a petrified Reggie dashing for safety, heartily laying out a couple fans along the way. The number one hit on Billboard the week of October 18, 1977 was Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life." For spit-take inducing contrast, hum along to Boone as Mr. October runs for his life. Reggie might've been thinking, rollin' at sea, adrift on the water, could it be finally I'm turning for home, but in far saltier and more panicked terms.

Yay! Chaos!
For a more appropriate soundtrack, here are the Dead Boys at CBGB, filmed the same month the Yankees won the Series. Their debut Young Loud And Snotty had just been released on Sire. "Don't touch me tonight I'm a high tension wire." That's more like it.

Top photo via Stacy Gittleman's Blog. Screen shots taken of video at MLB Classics.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Once More for Paul Konerko

I've written about coming late to the Chicago White Sox as a fan. I'm certain that if in an alternate reality I'd been born in Illinois in the early 1990s and raised a Sox fan I'd be a huge, gushing admirer of Paul Konerko. As a kid, I gravitated to players who weren't superstars; I loved Freddy Lynn, Pete Rose, and Reggie Jackson, but my heroes were Graig Nettles, Ken Singleton, and Ruppert Jones, guys who played baseball really well—even as a kid I knew how hard the game was—but in the shadows of the giants. Konerko is such a player, and I've loved him ever since he was traded to the White Sox before the 1999 season. He'll turn 38 in March, and he's retiring after this season and 16 popular years on the South Side. I'll miss watching him day to day.

Konerko's lifetime stats don't overwhelm, aren't catnip to Hall Of Fame voters and debaters, but they reflect a sturdy, productive career in the major leagues. To date: a career OPS of .847. 434 homers. 1,390 RBI. 2,297 hits. 911 walks to 1,340 strikeouts. .281 batting average. Thick-legged and notoriously slow, Konerko's legged out eight triples in his career, so few that I remember several of them vividly! He's stolen only nine bases, surely half of them when the pitcher was otherwise distracted. He's averaged over 600 plate appearances per season, and has often played hurt. He's appeared in three post-seasons for the Sox, including the 2005 World Series, in which the Sox swept the Houston Astros. He's been a solid, dependable presence for managers Jerry Manuel, Ozzie Guillen, and Robin Ventura (with whom he missed being a teammate by a season, in the late 90s). Much has been made, in the Chicago media especially, of Konerko's quiet temperament, too quiet, many feel, for the captain of the team, an honor which Konerko didn't court but accepted with maturity. A quiet ballplayer never bothers me; as fun as players with over sized personalities are, I'd rather a team field nine dependable, taciturn players than nine loudmouths who pop up or strike out more than they should. Konerko is a flawed player—he's too slow, grounds into too many double-plays, and has little range at first base—but in his prime his bat speed against fastballs was astonishing, and exciting. I've taken him for granted.


Two Konerko plate appearances stand out for me in memory. In the second game of the 2005 World Series, Konerko came to plate in the seventh inning with the bases loaded. He swung at Chad Quall's first pitch and drove it into the left field stands for a grand slam, at the time only the eighteenth in Series history. Against the euphoria and hysteria, what I remember is the strange but assuring calm with which Konerko stood at the plate. Typical: focused but relaxed. He arched his body slightly and tipped back his bat before Qualls threw and then, head down, he stepped into the pitch and whipped around his bat to make solid contact. Because it was the first pitch of the at-bat, everything seemed to be over in seconds—the U.S. Cellular scoreboard and the fireworks in the night sky exploded giddily—and yet the deep-breath steadiness Konerko exhibited at the plate moments before the pitch extended time. Konerko owned that plate appearance from the on-deck circle to his curtain call.

You can watch Major League Baseball's official video of the homer (and the inning) here. But as always, shaky fan videos capture the insane joy of a post-season, momentum-shifting home run so much better than can any sanctioned recap:

Here's another fan vid, with Joe Buck's and Tim McCarver's call:

Day in, day out
The second Konerko plate appearance I recall is far less grand, but no less characteristic. I don't remember the game or the in-game circumstances. It probably occurred during Konerko's vexed 2008 season, when he struggled with injuries and lost his stroke for long stretches. He struck out, badly missing an inside fastball he normally would turn on and drive. He stormed off to the dugout, leaning forward, his whole body a tight, inclined wall of self-directed anger and disgust, his fists clenched around his bat. If he were in a comic, there'd be a swirl of miserable black scrawls above his head. He looked miserable, and he probably was; it was a long season for him. What struck me was the rare show of emotion. After his World Series homer, he pumped both fists in the air and was cajoled by his teammates to tip his cap for the delirious crowd in Chicago. Yet after a random, despairing strikeout a few years later, in a meaningless game, his body language seemed more vivid to me. It said: I'm better than this, but the game keeps beating me. He went back to work the next inning, of course, and played out the year, reminded as all players are that baseball humbles far more often than it tickles. I noticed something in Konerko's anguished walk back to the dugout, the park (and even Hawk Harrelson) silent. It stuck with me. Anyone fortunate enough to be a daily starter in major league baseball for fifteen seasons is going to navigate that wide gulf between joy and frustration, both of which seem inexplicable and equally impossible to explain or predict.

I'll miss Konerko's adult, modest, pleasing way of accepting those wide intervals. Speaking to the Chicago Tribune about his farewell year, Konerko said, "I don't want to make this into a circus with all that stuff off the field. Having said that, I want to fit in some more things. But I want to go out like I came in and (played) all the way through, where it's totally your job.… That will satisfy me the most at the end." Me too.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Marty Thau, 1938-2014

I was saddened to learn of the death of Marty Thau, a rock and roll and pop manager, A/R man, producer, and visionary who had a fascinating and influential career in the music business. Most famously, Thau discovered and managed the New York Dolls, but he'd already carved a thoroughly impressive career by trusting his hunches. His first job was a yearlong stint at Billboard magazine as an intern. In 1966, Al Rosenthall recruited Thau to do promotion for the recently reactivated Cameo /Parkway label which placed an amazing twenty-eight records on the Billboard chart in their first year, including singles by Terry Knight and the Pack, the Five Stair Steps, Bob Seger, the Rationals, and the super hit “96 Tears” by ? and The Mysterians. A year later when the owners of Kama Sutra Records started Buddah Records, Neil Bogart from Cashbox magazine brought in Thau as Vice President of Promotion. At Buddah, the hits came fast: from 1967 until 1970, “Green Tambourine, “Oh, Happy Day,” “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,” “Simon Says,” “1, 2, 3 Red Light,” “Indian Giver,” “Chewy, Chewy” and other terrific tunes invaded transistor radios and put Bubblegum on the map. Buddah grossed an astonishing thirty million dollars in one year alone. In early 1970, Thau left Buddah and moved on to Inherit Productions, where as a partner he was instrumental in selling Van Morison’s Astral Weeks and Moondance, John Cale’s Vintage Violence, and an assortment of other work from artists including Cass Eliot and Mike Bloomfield. But the climate of popular music was transforming, and in 1972, Maurice Levy of Roulette Records asked Thau if he would helm Levy’s new singles-only label. Among the first bands Thau envisioned for the label was the New York Dolls, whose over-the-top attitude performances leapt outrageously out of the softened musical climate. Thau later formed the trailblazing indie label Red Star Records, which released music by Suicide, Real Kids, and the Fleshtones.

I was fortunate to have been able to talk to him at length about his career for Sweat. He was a great interview: he lived in Brooklyn at the time, and the walls of his office and hallway were lined with gold records. He was honest, generous with his time, genuinely interested in and supportive of my project, and patient. During the production of the book, he was very helpful with fact-checking, and never hesitated to answer a question for me or place me in touch with a key industry figure. After Sweat was published in 2007, we became virtual buddies. He'd moved to Virginia to be nearer to family, and we stayed in touch. He worked on his memoirs, and kept his finger on the pulse of music. He was a big supporter of Sweat, privately and publicly. I'm grateful to have gotten to know a warm, friendly person. His career in the music business that I and so many others love was original, integral, and enduring. RIP Marty Thau.
The Chairman, Marty Thau, with, from left, Miriam Linna, Peter Zaremba, and Keith Streng, 1978

Top photo via Urban Image.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Roger Angell Says Goodbye

Roger Angell, NYC, 2014
Reading Roger Angell's recent essay "This Old Man," a sobering and melancholy but ultimately cheering account of the writer's own mortality, I childishly pushed aside thoughts about death and other depressing inevitabilities, not the least of which those circling Angell. (He's far braver than I am.) I comforted myself by considering the many goodbye's that Angell has bade to others. He's been writing about baseball for over half a century; during that span many athletes and managers, writers and broadcasters have died. When he or his editors feels that the occasion warrants it, Angell eulogizes. His piece on the passing of Joe DiMaggio in 1999 is among his best in this vein.

But I'm recalling tributes to a different kind of mortality: the departed baseball manager. Angell knows that a field manager, particularly in a hi-wattage town such as New York, does more than fill out lineup cards, chew over eighth inning strategies, and holler at umpires; he also, perhaps unfairly, comes to represent and embody the hopes of thousands of fans. Managers are dads who often disappoint in their promises; managers themselves toil under a different kind of gloomy patriarchy. In an unsigned (and as-yet-uncollected) "comment" in The Talk Of The Town in the October 29, 1960 issue of The New Yorker, Angell gives an affectionate "so long" to longtime Yankees skipper and local legend Casey Stengel, fresh off his team's seven-game loss to the Pirates in the World Series. With his characteristic blend of knowledge, humor, and affection, and in the grand "We" manner, Angell acknowledges that Stengel's departure "from our town and our summertimes" has left us "saddened and reflective."

Zooming out, he adds, "Among other things, it has made us realize how rarely these days we encounter a public news item that strikes us personally."
Now that this city has become the capital of the world, we have grown habituated to significance, attuned only to the long view; the cry of a siren in the street below us, once the herald of some small neighborhood excitement, now only marks the passage of a statesman speeding toward crisis and the history hooks. Casey was different; we have cared about him as we used to care about our local celebrities—with pride and laughter and a fond recognition of detail. Watching him, memorizing him as we have done—the rubbery, humorous mouth between deep parentheses, the thumbs oddly pointing outward above half-clenched fists, the torso bent forward during the labored walk toward a pitcher in trouble, like that of a mountain climber on a steep trail—we have been increasingly grateful for the sight of a rarely complex man who was sufficiently preoccupied with his trade to develop eccentricities that were wholly unconscious. 
Angell gently criticizes New York media for its patronizing tone toward Stengel's "difficulties with the spoken language—his total recall, his addiction to the non-stop sentence, the unattachable pronoun, and the multiple non sequitur." With precise knowledge of the game and with a mastery of describing its nuances, Angell defends Stengel's in-game expertise, so often misunderstood by the outsider. "The manager on his way out to the mound or on the point of selecting a pinch-hitter is a man beset," Angell begins.
He must have total recall, in order to remember not only what this batter or that pitcher did earlier this season but what ten thousand batters and pitchers have done under the same circumstances in the past—right back to, say, a left-handed spitballer for the Toledo Mud Hens in the sixth inning of a doubleheader played in August of 1927. There are also the immediate abstrusities: the state of mind and future usefulness of the pitcher if he is derricked (or left in), the collective muscle tone of the bull-pen staff, the ability of his pinch-batter to hit against the present pitcher and the relief pitcher who may be brought in to face him, the ability of the substitute fielder (who will take the place of the man removed for a pinch-hitter) to handle high flies in left field late in the afternoon, the danger of scrambling the pitching rotation just before an important series in Chicago (where one of the club’s fast-ball pitchers has a girl friend who is apt to keep him up late at night), and the possibility that those clouds beyond the Grand Concourse may roll in and rain out the last few innings before the team can make up a two-run deficit. It was only Casey Stengel’s honest attempt to re-create and recount all these circumstances that led to his verbal misadventures when he was asked, “Why did you yank Duran in the seventh? 
This is great stuff—smart, funny, disarmingly (and charmingly) devastating in its defense of Stengel. Angell concludes by wagging his finger at a favorite target, greedy and clueless owners "who would prefer to believe that their field leader is not a manager but a management expert who has been hired simply to administer their personnel." Angell ends the brief tribute with this wonderful, evocative image: "We can think of no more heartening sight for a squad of suggestible, nervous, and incurably superstitious young athletes than that bowlegged father-figure—the tribal juju man, wise in battles—hobbling off the mound after having made his impossible decision, muttering to himself and rotating his fists, and then executing his cabalistic little hopping dance in order to avoid stepping on the foul line."


In a comment in The Talk Of The Town nearly four decades later, Angell said goodbye to another cherished, enduring Yankee skipper. Joe Torre left town in 2007 under difficult and unhappy circumstances, and Angell took the opportunity in the November 5th issue to consider Torre's grace and humanity, often battered and bruised during his spectacular eleven-year run as Yankees manager. Angel writes: "Baseball will stick it to you; it means to break your heart, and though old fans do understand that it’s losing, in all its variety, that makes winning so sweet, the departure of Joe Torre is something else altogether. Gone after twelve years at the helm of the Yankees, the longest uninterrupted run since Casey Stengel’s 1949-60 tenure, Torre was victim of a corporate midfield takedown: the decision by the owner, George Steinbrenner, and his nepotic front office not to renew—or not acceptably renew—his contract, after the team’s failure to progress beyond the first round of post-season play in the past three Octobers." Angell marvels at the "attachment and identification" that Torre enthused in his many fans, noting that Torre's "composure and steadiness in hard times became as familiar as his odd, tilting trudge from the dugout to the mound to call in a fresh pitcher. A habitual modesty interwoven with an awareness of the difficult daily grind powerfully secured him to his players."

Disgusted with management, sympathetic to a manager besieged by pressure, Angell ends by describing Torre's graceful way of dealing with the rigors of managing in The Bronx:
The shock of Torre’s departure will not soon go away, but of course we should have known how it would play out. Only the owners, down in Tampa, seemed startled (at times, anyway) by his decision, but if they knew anything about him how could they not have known what would follow? Is it possible that they have no sense of the calamity to the franchise and to the fans and to baseball itself that the departure of Joe Torre from New York represents? He, at last, supplied the touch of class, the Augustan presence, that the Yankees had so insistently proclaimed for themselves and have now thrown away. For Torre, it was still about the players. Meeting the press at the Stadium after the third divisional game, the last victory of his regime, he said, “Every time we go to the post-season, there’s nothing that’s going to satisfy anybody unless you win the World Series. And that’s very difficult. . . . I understand the requirements here, but the players are human beings, and it’s not machinery here. Even though they get paid a lot of money, it’s still blood that runs through their veins.” There was a little more in this tenor and then he brightened: “For a guy that never got to the post-season as a player, I’m having a hell of a lot of fun when you look back on the whole thing.”
Note, beyond avaricious owners and Stengel and Torre's lengths of tenure, what links these two comments over thirty-seven years: the image of a manager and his long walk to and from the mound. It's a journey that Angell has witnessed and considered thousands of times, in meaningless chilly games in March and in engrossing chilly games in October, its narrative embedded in the game's mythology. It's just a man at work: Stengel in the team's mid-century glory years, Torre in its late-century rebirth. To Angell that work, and that walk, tells a far greater and enduring story than of a strategy session, pep talk, or pitching change, it tells the story of a team and its young and old fans, of everyone's need to fasten on to someone, in good times and bad. So long.

Top photo via The New Yorker.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Angell Lite

Roger Angell had been on the staff of The New Yorker for nearly two decades by the time he filed his first Spring Training report in 1962, which essentially launched his career as a baseball writer. His first piece appeared in the magazine in 1944; he was named Fiction Editor in 1956. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s he wrote and published many short stories, as well as film and book reviews and the occasional "comment" in the Talk Of The Town section at the front of each issue. Two of his baseball-related comments exhibit Angell's knack for the puff piece, winsome prose he'd occasionally turn to in his baseball writing over the decades, usually in the form of self-standing segments within his longer, more ruminative essays.

For kicks, I've rounded them up, along with their accompanying illustrations (the artist who created them remains a mystery to me, unfortunately). From the September 30, 1950 issue:
We went to the Polo Grounds on a sparkling day last week and found ourself witness to a ballplayer's "day." It took us a few minutes to find the athlete being honored—a pitcher—but we finally spotted him in the crowd around home plate, uncomfortably surrounded by aldermen, Legion caps, Masonic watch fobs, and a fife-and-drum corps, all from his home town. There were a good eight or ten speeches before the pitcher was permitted to accept a check, wristwatch, radio, and a travelling kit, and all through the ceremonies, a fan near us kept shouting, "Where's the car? where's his Buick, ya cheap skates?" After the delegates had straggled back into the stands, the pitcher warmed up and was socked for four runs in the first inning. He was eventually removed for a pinch-hitter. We found the proceedings rather embarrassing, with all the marks of an unsuccessful birthday party for a six-year-old. There was the same Participation by Superfluous Elders, the same Odious Comparisons of Gifts (by the noisy fan), the same Crackup of the Birthday Boy Under Pressure. If we are going to continue to have "days" for ballplayers, let's have the ceremonies after the game is over, or maybe after the season is over.
Angell didn't write this next comment, but it sets up his piece published the following week. From the May 4, 1957 issue:
In anticipation of the start of what is called the Silly Season, the women's page of the World-Telegram & Sun carried a big feature on baseball recently, for the announced purpose of initiating women into the mysteries of the game. We guess we had better warn the ladies not to expect any help from The New Yorker's advertising columns. We ran an ad a couple of weeks ago for Schaefer Beer (which sponsors the Dodgers) that showed a young lady and her escort at a ballpark, each clutching a cup of the brew. In the girl's other hand, there was a filled-in score card, and you never saw a sillier piece of work. According to her card, the Dodgers sent only their pitcher to the plate in the third inning, and in the fourth they gave up their turn at bat with two our and a man on second.
Here's the terrific Schaefer Beer ad in question, from the April 13 issue. She's flirting, it looks like. I don't think she cares too much about this particular game. And maybe she's holding his score card. Incidentally, this issue also featured the great cover from Art Birnbaum at the top of this post.
Finally, from the May 11, 1957 issue:
Don't advertising men know anything about baseball? Evidently not. Last week, we took the trouble to point out some hideous mistakes on a filled-in baseball score card that had appeared in a Schaefer Beer ad in this magazine. Then our attention was drawn to The New Yorker for April 27th, which contained two advertisements incorporating such hilariously improbable baseball scenes as to lead us to believe that the copywriters responsible are either Englishmen or elderly Wellesley alumnae. Each of the ads involved at least one clear violation of the rules of the game. One of the strange little scenes shows a rookie player (who, by the ungainly looks of him, is now back in the Nebraska State League) lighting up a filter cigarette for an umpire on the playing field. In the accompanying dialogue, the umpire says, "Say, good smoke. Darn good taste. But...uh, son...don't you know cigarettes aren't allowed on the playing field? Shag those Parliaments—and put 'em in my locker!" Violation! Rule 9.00 in the "notes" section of the "Official Baseball Rules" states that "Umpires, on the field, should not indulge in conversation with players." It happens that there is no rule stating that cigarettes are not allowed on the playing field. Nor is there a rule against player's being invited by umpires to place small gifts in their lockers, but we'll wager that the Commissioner of Baseball would be interested to hear of such an invitation.
        The second ad shows a trim, bearded young Sikh, clad in a turban and a pink Excello shirt, and spotting a bracelet and a large sapphire ring, who is standing on the playing field and apparently signing an autograph book for a member of the visiting team. Double violation! Rule 3.09: "Players in uniform shall not address nor mingle with spectators...before, during, or after a game." Rule 3.15: "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers, authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform, and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Rules or no rules, the identity of this mysterious Indian fascinates us. (The advertising copy doesn't mention him once.) Having dismissed the unlikely possibility that he is a new colorfully costumed watchman for the home team or a photographer for the New Delhi Tribune, we think we have come up with the only logical answer. He must be a new player—a pitcher, from his build—who has been unearthed by a scout for a second-division club and is being photographed in the act of signing a contract. We have named him Dizzy Singh, and we advise Birdie Tebbetts to keep a sharp eye out for Dizzy's betelnut spitter.
The ads in question:
These comments are breezy, inconsequential, and a bit corny—not to mention mildly politically incorrect. In the "Talk Of The Town" style, they're written in the (now-defunct) anonymous first-person plural, congenial hors d'œuvre to get you to the meatier politics, arts, and culture. As such, they're middling pieces in the Angell cannon; he hasn't bothered gathering them between covers. But that doesn't detract from their small and nostalgic pleasures.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"The Theme from Sweat"

I'm stoked that The Fleshtones have written a song about Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America's Garage Band. "It Is As It Was" appears on the band's new album, Wheel of Talent, out today on Yep Roc Records. Keith Streng wrote the rocking homage to my book, and to the band's amplified present rolling on into the future. Turn it up!!
C’mon, we’re gonna start at the beginning
Page one, Bonomo says, “It’s gonna get good, it’s gonna get better”
Read on, this is the story of The Fleshtones
Chapter One, how it started, it is was it is and it is what happened

It is as it was, you know that it is as it was…

Dig it, we didn’t make a whole lot of money
But we did what we wanted to
If you read Sweat you can find out too

It goes back to our past
But the present rolls on into the future

Tonight the band is ready for some action
Hold tight, you're here to have fun
Like the Pope in Rome says, “It is as it was, now”
Of course, Sweat makes the perfect reading accompaniment, if you're so inclined.
The Fleshtones: 1976 - ???

Bottom photo via Yep Roc

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Filling in a Story with a Song

I usually respond to music first, lyrics second. I've always loved a good rock and roll instrumental, but even an instro's got to have a name. The first memory I have of drawing a line—or having the line drawn for me—between an instrumental and its title is listening to The Champs' 1960 song "Too Much Tequila" when I was a kid. I discovered the tune on 20 Rockin' Originals, one of many low-budget compilation albums released on the Pickwick label. (This is the album where my long education into Jerry Lee Lewis began, as well.) My family owned the record and I'd spin it in the rec room, loving "Too Much Tequila's mid-tempo Latin groove and somehow connecting its end-of-the-night vibe with the hangover implied by the song's title. I didn't really know what a hangover was but I sure knew "Tequila," the frantic song to which "Too Much Tequila" was a follow-up single—and, well, I got the joke. Tequila: giddy, shake-your-hips happiness. Too much tequila: misery fighting with a wan grin to keep the party going. I didn't know such language when I was a kid, of course, let alone the dissolution behind over imbibing, and 1960 sure seemed a long way in the past to me. But I smiled at the connection the song made between its headache-y shuffle and the sorry acknowledgement of its title. It was a good early education in the power of evocation.


Since then, I've enjoyed the instrumental that narrates a story as its music and title come together. Here's a recent cut, "Pigtails and Kneesocks" written by guitarist Eric Stein of the great Greenhornes. It's from their 2002 album Dual Mono. There's a blacktop story in these 12 bars somewhere, its blend of sex and innocence unsettling. But it's told, or remembered, from whose point of view? The girl's? The boy's? The grown woman's? The adult male's? Are we on the playground, or are we somewhere decades later, cursed by nostalgia? The beauty of an instrumental is that the spaces inside of it are so vast that they can evoke a number of stories at once. This might be a deeply personal song, or it might be fantasy. Or it might be that the images the song produces matter to me because they're filtered through my own memories of recesses at Saint Andrew's, of girls in uniforms flying on swings. And what about those ethereally howling backing vocals, what stories do they tell? Anyway, it rocks.


Another favorite is "Seka's Wedding," a haunting song from Charlie Pickett's 1986 album, Route 33. By the time I first heard this cut, I was considerably more worldlywise than I was when I puzzled over "Too Much Tequila," half getting the gag. I sure knew who the porn star Seka was, and that news of her nuptials produced this disconsolate, sighing ode is very funny. "Seka's Wedding" is nothing less than a recording of disappointment, echoing around in self-consciousness and awkwardness. Imagine the heartbreaks around the world, now that Seka's betrothing herself to only one dude. She's already semi-retired, and now she's getting hitched? Hang on to those VHS tapes, guys; an era's over....

I asked Pickett if my interpretation of "Seka's Wedding" was correct. "Ninety percent yes," he told me. "Seka was just about every rock and roller's favorite. It seemed to me that a porn star's wedding—picture a traditional white dress, etc.—would have a touch of sadness and melancholy to it. Hundreds of men having been...with...your wife, and everyone knows all the details." He adds: "All the details." Embarrassments and sorrows merge. Sigh.

Friday, February 7, 2014


Even a minor event in the life of a child is an event of that child's world and thus a world event.
         —Gaston Bachelard

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rock and Roll in Sepia: A Conversation with Jim Linderman

Jim Linderman
Jim Linderman is an archivist of the obscure. I profiled him here in 2011 and continue to deeply enjoy the curios he finds and actively posts at his three blogs, Old Time Religion ("Vernacular religious detritus"), Vintage Sleaze ("The true and untold story of smut in America"), and Dull Tool Dim Bulb ("Surface, wear, form and authenticity in art, antiques and photography"). Via Blurb, he's just released a terrific new book, a collection of found photographs titled The Birth of Rock and Roll in which he's arranged a storyboard of sorts that dramatizes the spirit, if not the chronology of rock and roll. The book is poetic in that the photos evoke without naming, and Linderman trusts that the white spaces among the images will do much of the heavy lifting. The photographs have little to do with conventional iconography of the birth of rock and roll—i.e., young white men in Memphis, poodle skirts, Bill Haley's Brylcream, etc.—instead they document, and celebrate, the pure but undefinable essence of rocking: ordinary, nameless men, women, and children, some white, some black, are holding guitars and strumming while looking relaxed or frantic, but nearly always blissful. Some of the action takes place in rural fields, some in dance halls, some at civic events, some in living rooms and basements. Wherever there is an urge to make acoustic or electric music—whether it was to help at a rent party, or to busk in front of a crowd, or to testify in the name of Jesus—there is an uncredited photographer to snap an image.

I've long been fascinated by the ethos of found photography. The very spontaneous nature of the framed images in The Birth of Rock and Roll—only a few of the photos feature conventionally posed figures—adds to the excitement in the moments. Bottles are open, races are blending, legs are splayed, guitars are played, there's smiling all around: these photos capture the at-ease thrills of making music off the cuff, in the moment, inspiring some of the unlikely moved to dance. There's a lot of impromptu dancing in The Birth of Rock and Roll. It's beautiful stuff.


In his introduction, Linderman discusses the brevity of the rock and roll revolution, couching that melancholy truth in larger terms. "We think our lifetimes last a long time," he writes. "They do not. We think what has happened in our lifetime is significant too, but not really. On the contrary, we and the events we live through are just blips. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of an event as though it was forever. Nope." He continues:
The entire span of Rock and Roll occurred in just one century out of millions of centuries, and it is now over. A tiny and brief stirring, a mere bump we passed on the road which is now well behind us. Royalties remain, songs change hands like soybean futures and a museum in Cleveland attempts to recreate the era like a sacred archaeological dig. To kids, Rock and Roll is but the fundraiser week on PBS.
Helpfully sifting the diverse ingredients in the photographs, Linderman names the forces that coalesced to help create Rock and Roll. "Loosely in order of their importance? Racism and subsequent integration, gospel, blues (racism again...I am afraid), hillbillies, minstrels in blackface, cheap Silvertone guitars from Sears, the Hawaiian music craze, burlesque, booze, weed, vaudeville, the circus, some Showtime razzle-dazzle and the spoiled generation following World War Two." He adds:
That pretty much sums up the whole damn fad which many of us have lived entirely through. Those forces, and of course the necessity to procreate the species. Rock and Roll was more than anything else about sex. Not romance at all. Romance was pop chart pre-rock. When a bar band had to play one for slow dance (romance) they did it almost with apology, and when it was over they were glad to rock again. Rock and Roll was sexual attraction, hot passion and down dirty rutting...even when it was being created in the church. They tried to cover it up with holy gospel, but there was a back door in every church. Lord knows they worshiped the flesh too, and it helped fill the pews.
Near the end of his introduction, Linderman cites some detailed evidence. "If you doubt my thesis above that Rock and Roll was pretty much about sex," he argues, "think of one of the great Rock and Roll songs 'Farmer John' and you will agree. Every garage band learned it. The premise? Doing the farmer's daughter. That’s the whole song. It is a story as old as farming itself, but again in the scope of time? Not so long. Even the change from 'hunt and gather' to agrarian didn't take so long in time. Longer than Rock and Roll, of course, but that is still not as old as the rocks under your feet."

Judge for yourself:

Recently, I virtually sat down with Linderman to discuss The Birth of Rock and Roll and found photography.


Could you talk a bit about how you came in possession of the photos? How old is your collection? Did you have guiding principle in selecting images for the book?

I am always collecting with a project in mind, and usually few projects at a time. I love vintage anonymous photographs of musicians. Originally, I had in mind an "old timey" musician book, purely rural and full of banjos, but the project broadened as it developed. I wanted to give a fuller impression as complex and alive as the story, and also to include participants and the audience. The beauty of anonymous, vernacular photographs is that they leave so much to the viewer's imagination, and yet for the most part, the collections which have been formed have not concentrated on one narrative or subject. There are specialized anonymous snapshot collections, many of them at this point…but for the most part the collections seem all over the place. I like to collect in a narrow area, and let the objects themselves create an expansive landscape. And make no mistake, these photographs are objects. The have shape, surface and form. Digital photography will never have that. These photographs scratch just like records, and records lasted around 100 years too.

To answer the question, all were purchased at paper and ephemera shows, antique shows, flea markets and eBay. It isn't surprising how many photographs contain musical instruments. To become adept, instruments becomes an extension to a musicians arm, in particular for guitar players. Photographs of people enjoying music are also common. I could have done an entire book of families staring at the phonograph.

What's the appeal of found or vernacular photography? Is the genre a kindred spirit to rock and roll somehow?

The true history of our culture is told in anonymous photographs, and whether they are kindred to rock and roll is both a good question and a good observation. I was determined to tell the story with no promotional photos if possible. I think I included only one. Just as I would rather listen to a bootleg or a live performance, I would rather see a candid shot or an authentic image created without artifice. What is presented to us as product is today so manipulated and controlled, virtually all the reality has been airbrushed away. This applies to music, photographs…across the board. The real story is always found beneath the surface. It seems fewer and fewer take the time to look for the real story these days. Product need only be surface deep to sell. Amateur photographers may not have been rebels, as so many of the early musicians were, but they were documenting a life and time without pretense or an agenda. 

What I especially like about the book is the way you evoke a story without naming it, the juxtaposition of strangers and eras scenes in a long, complex narrative. In the introduction you write that the book tells "a one hundred year old story." What is that story?

I came to the realization one day that Hank Williams had died the year I was born, and Elvis made his first recordings the following year. I realized I had lived through virtually the entire history of rock and roll, and how fortunate I had been to have experienced it in real time. I've seen dozens of the performers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and many of them in small, intimate venues, yet today it all seems so effortless.  I began to wonder how such a diverse and rich musical form had coalesced into rock and roll at the very time I was here…it seemed too fortunate. I had even seen Muddy Waters perform. And yet all the books I had read about rock and roll still hadn't said how short a time the entire span of the genre was. They failed me somehow, and I thought the story could be told without words just as well.

As this is a photography book, the images really tell the story. I can only hope they provide a suitable impression in the mind of viewers, as the actual story is far too complex to explain. I wanted to create an atmosphere more than a book of non-fiction, and I think the results work well enough. History is impossible to capture. Any history is tainted with error and  false memories, certain agendas and misinterpretation. The best I can do is evoke an emotional response, and I choose to do it by assembling and grouping images here.

Also in the introduction you reference racism as among the forces that created rock and roll. There are unfortunate images of blackface and minstrelsy in the book. Can you comment on them?

At the time the Caucasian rockabilly performer Warren Smith was playing "Ubangi Stomp" so what can I say? The history of rock music is filled with unsavory and inappropriate things. Hollywood, the cartoons and the dominant society as a whole were just as offensive. There have been plenty of scholars discussing the birth of rock and roll and the forces which led to it, but basically what it took was European music meeting African music here in America. There were all manner of configurations, connections and influences, and you can't deny minstrelsy was one of them. If it sold tickets, it was on a stage, be it vaudeville, the carnival or the burlesque show. All were instrumental in the forces which combined to create rock and roll, and why sugarcoat it?

Blackface is offensive, but just as offensive to some are the white covers of African-American music which happened in the 1950s and 1960s. White musicians wore "virtual" masks and repurposed the originals…but last I heard Little Richard was thrilled to be covered by the Beatles. One could say Pat Boone was a minstrel without a mask, but why bother. It was the relative lack of racism among musicians which contributed more than anything to what we call rock and roll. If more of us were as colorblind as musicians, it would be far better place. As I point out, once white musicians realized they could learn from black musicians and vice-versa, we got rock and roll, we got jazz and we got harmony, literally. Like it or not, minstrelsy was a part of that. No less than Nick Tosches has documented the importance of minstrelsy in his work devoted to Emmet Miller. A considerable force behind rock and roll is Caucasians trying to emulate black musicians. With a mask or not, it was appropriated. I try to be as much journalist as collector, and the photographs exist. I don't judge them anymore than I judge any photograph. The ravages of slavery contributed to blues, to gospel, to jazz, to hokum, you name it. To me, rock and roll is all about showmanship, strutting and cake walkin' babies from home. I certainly do not embrace blackface, but masks come in all colors. Bob Wills played minstrel songs. Hank Williams did as well.  

The image you are likely referring to is a black and white photograph, so for all I know the witless imbeciles were wearing green masks and trying to be martians. But few images carry that much emotion and baggage in a little 3 x 4 snapshot.  This is a photography and art book, and few photographs are as thought-provoking. It is a WTF photo. Denying history is not a positive thing, and neither is censorship or revisionist interpretations of what went down. To some, the photographs here of inter-racial dancing and kissing will probably be just as offensive, but they are photographs which were taken. Same with obviously intoxicated dancers and a fellow doing the alligator. Artifacts now…and yet still they carry a power as strong as the music.

Do you have a favorite image in the book, one that narrates the birth of rock and roll in a particularly powerful or graphic way?

Certainly the 1949 snapshot of the Carter Family is among them. They are the only known performers in the book. It not only evokes a different time and place, but as a composition it is lovely. Even at a pie-eating contest in a county fair, they were regal. Country musicians have always been more willing than most to "meet and greet" but the picture reveals how much music evolved from "us" rather then "them." It came from the bottom up. I also favor the cover photograph. It reveals the American dream, a family opening their ice cream shop, and they hired an African-American ensemble to perform for the celebration. It is hard not to appreciate that photograph as both historical and prescient.
Carter Family, 1949

All original photographs from the collection of Jim Linderman.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Angell's Paradox

In the Spring of 1976, Roger Angell was uncharacteristically dejected. In his mid-50s, he was recognizing that rapid changes in the game of baseball—greedy owners, escalating salaries, too many night games, the dilution of talent via expansion, among them—were affecting him negatively. The game he grew up loving was revealing its inevitable, mercenary nastiness to him, and he was at a loss. He'd been writing about baseball for The New Yorker for well over a decade, and had been an immoderate fan of the game since he was an adolescent growing up in Manhattan in the 1920s and 30s. His position at the magazine was a fortunate one, and he knew it—for many years he leisurely filed Spring Training, mid-season, and postseason essays, luxuriating in the time and space that his editors allowed him to develop his knowledgeable admiration and analysis of the game in an increasingly rich, literary manner. But by the mid 1970s he was feeling pulled between his passion for the game and his disappointments with the sport.

No piece catches that tension more graphically than "In The Counting House," published in the May 3, 1976 issue of The New Yorker, and reprinted a year later in Angell's second collection of baseball essays, Five Seasons. Two passages in particular dramatize the widening intervals in Angell, and in many fans of that era. In the middle of ranting dismayingly about the owners' lock-out that delayed Spring Training, the sport's mounting financial injustices (both to players and fans), and the watering-down of skill levels necessitated by expansion, Angell figuratively takes a deep breath and looks around him while at a meaningless Spring Training game between the Cardinals and the Padres, in Scottsdale, Arizona. For moments, the unpleasant realities of the sport drifted away, replaced by the sensual sounds of the game. "I half-closed my eyes and became aware at once that the afternoon silence was not quite perfect but contained a running pattern of innocuous baseball sounds." he writes, adding:
I could hear the murmurous play-by-play of some radio announcer up in the press box—the words undistinguishable but their groups and phrases making a kind of sense just the same—and this was accompanied by the unending sea-sound of the crowd itself, which sometimes rose to shouts or broke apart into separate words and cries. "Hey, O.K.!" ...  Clap, clap, clap, clap ... "Hot dogs here" ... "Hey, peanuts and hot dogs!" ... Clap, clap, clap ... Whoo-wheet! (a whistle from some player in the infield). Whoo-wheet! ... Clap-clap, clap-clap, clap-clap ... "The next batter, Number One, is...HO-SAY CARR-DENAL, right field!" (The p.a. announcer was giving it his best—the big, Vegas-style introduction—and the crowd tried to respond.) "O.K., Ho-say!" ... "Hey-hey!" ... "Let's go, Ho-say!" ... Clapclapclapclap ... Wheet! There was a sudden short flat noise: WHOCCK!—the same sound you would hear if you let go of one end of a long one-by-eight plank, allowing it to fall back on top of a loose stack of boards. I leaned forward and watched Cardenal sprinting for first. He slowed as he took his turn and then speeded up again as he saw the ball still free in the outfield, pulling into second base with a stand-up double. Real cheering now, as the next batter stood in ("...Number Eighteen, BILL MAD-LOCK, thirrd base!"), but soon the game wound down again and the afternoon sounds resumed. Clap, clap, clap ... "Hey, Cokes! Get yer ice-cold Cokes here!" ... Clap, clap, clap, clap ... A telephone rang and rang in the press box—pring-pring, pring-pring, pring-pring: a faraway, next-door-cottage sort of noise. Clap, clap clap ... "Hey, Tim! Hey, Tim!" (a girl's voice). "Hey, Tim, over here!" ... Clap, clap ... "STREEOUGH!" ... "Aw, come on, Ump!" ... Clap, clap, clapclapclap ... "Get yer Cokes!" Ice-cold Cokes here!" ... Whoo-wheet! ... Clapclap ... "Ice-cold." Then there was another noise, a regular, smothered slapping sound, with intervals in between: Whup! ... Whup! ... Whug! ... Whup!—a baseball thrown back and forth by two Padre infielders warming up in short-right-field foul territory, getting ready to come into the game. The sounds flowed over me—nothing really worth remembering, but impossible entirely to forget. They were the sounds I had missed all winter, without ever knowing it.
This is prime Angell, novelistic in its evocative details, aware of the appeals of routine, attentive to the sensuous rhythms and textures of the game—above all risking sentimentality but pulling back before just before the treacle. But the mood can't last this season. Hanging over Angell like an impending storm is the game's financial concerns and ever-widening gap between the game and its fans. "In The Counting House" ends with a passage that is among the glummest of Angell's career, as if he couldn't not voice his concerns. He recognized the drama of the end of an essay as the proper and august place to do it. "Two weeks later, with the season under way, I took a subway up to the Bronx for the Yankees' home opener." he writes. "It was a big day, because it marked the reopening of Yankee Stadium—a homecoming for the famous team to the famous old park, which had been rebuilt by the City of New York over the past two years." He adds, "The new place looked fine."
The overhanging rook around the top deck was gone, and the old thick supporting columns and girders had disappeared, giving us a new, clean triple sweep of bright-blue seats from right field all the way around to left. The whole place was blue and white, and sparkled, There were three new banks of escalators, and a new, tree-line promenade outside the first-base side of the Stadium, where a street used to be. The playing field had been lowered and its outlines altered a little, but most of that enormous green pasture in left was there, so you know it was still the Stadium, all right. There were some big new scoreboards out behind the bleachers, with a white scrim on top in the shape of the lacy coppery-green top-deck facade of the old park. The wall of scoreboards cut off our view of the elevated-station platform and the near-by apartment-house roofs, where in the old days you could always spot a few neighborhood fans watching from a great distance. The new Stadium is cut off from the city around it, and nobody can watch baseball casually there anymore.

There were 54,010 of us there for the opener. Three bands played, and the sun shone, and a lot of celebrities—Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Mrs. Lou Gehrig and Mrs. Babe Ruth, and some others—were introduced, and then the Yankees played the Twins and beat them, 11-4, coming back from a four-run deficit. The Yankees have a sprightly, quick-running team this year, with a marvellous-looking new young second baseman named Willie Randolph, and they may be in the thick of things all summer long in their tough division.
And here's where his tone changes:
There was a lot of hopeful noise at the Stadium that first afternoon—a terrific amount of cheering—but the truth is I didn't have much fun. I don't know what to make of the new Yankee Stadium. It cost the city a hundred million dollars to rebuild and finance, and the city can't pay its bills, can't pay for new schools or hospitals, can't pay its teachers, can't keep its streets or its neighborhoods up; the South Bronx, where Yankee Stadium stands, is a disaster area. These are the bad realities and insolubles that we all know so well, and maybe they are the things that make us give so much attention to sports in the first place—why we need these long diversions at the ballpark. I don't think we should use sports as a hiding place, but I have always been willing to try to carry the two conflicting realities in my head at the same time—poor cities and rich sports, a lot of unnoticed kids playing in burnt-out playgrounds, and a few men playing before great crowds in a new sports palace. As the paradox deepens, however, it begins to see as if we are trying to make the irony disappear—that we are hoping to rub out one side of the equations by vastly increasing the other. By spending more and more millions of dollars on sports, we may be trying to tell ourselves that sports matter almost more than anything else simply because we do spend so much money on them. The name for this is addiction. I'll probably get used to the Stadium in time, but on the first afternoon all I cold think of was the quiet, slow afternoons I had just spent in Bradenton and Winter Haven and Scottsdale and Phoenix, and the games I had seen there. Those games seemed like elegies now. It was strange to be sitting in Yankee Stadium, where I had grown up watching baseball, and no longer feel at home there. I don't know what to think, because it may be that the money and the size of sport have grown too big for me after all.
Sobering stuff, sighing, regretful, sad—"wintry," to use one of Angell's favorite words. Tellingly, Angell ignored much of rest of the 1976 season, at least as a writer. He did not produce a mid-season essay for The New Yorker; he instead wrote "Scout," a wonderful piece on baseball scouting that ran in the August 16 issue; he returned with an essay on different kinds of pitches ("On The Ball," October 4) and then finally, as if out of obligation, turned his attention back to the season at hand for his World Series wrap-up ("Cast a Cold Eye," November 22). At least he had Chris Chambliss's pennant-winning homer to write about.

Of course (paradoxically) Angell suffered his season of discontent in privilege. His bosses flew him about the country to take in Spring Training and postseason games, and after Yankees and Mets contests he retreated, if by dingy, loud subway, to his tony apartment in Manhattan, not into the disastrous Bronx. But Angell's gifts as a sympathetic commentor enable his humane perspectives on the game and its fans. Of course, he was back the following Spring, reporting from Spring Training, renewed and cautiously optimistic, and the lively, rancorous 1977 season generally revived him. (Check out Late Innings.) But "In The Counting House," and the mid-70s malaise, left a mark on Angell, I think. He was never quite the same fan again.


Through the miracle of YouTube, you can put yourself next to a glum Roger Angell in the Stadium seats during the opening ceremonies on that very April 15. Do you see what he sees?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

These are a few of my favorite riffs

All hail to The Plugged-in Perpetual Motion Machine.

Berlin, West Germany's Boots Yardbirds-up this cool raver from 1965, originally done by the UK's Cops and Robbers. (I first heard this tune in the mid-80s via a very cool version by Lyres, whose Jeff Conolly probably owned the Cops and Robbers', Boots', Pretty Things', and a half dozen other versions of the song that few knew existed.)


Not much needs to be said about this stomping b-side, also from '65. I nearly wore out the rocking chair in the rec room while spinning this one ad infinitum on the family stereo.


An album or two before stardom and the unfortunate death of Bon Scott, who takes a back seat to this monster riff from 1977. Bon made a career out of convincing us that hell's got a better house band than heaven, but the lyrics are superfluous. Don't Angus and his brother Malcolm do all the convincing with their hands?


Produced by Ritchie Cordell and Glen Kolotkin in 1983, Subterranean Jungle has a terrific, loud, and rousing guitar sound (maximized in places by uncredited guest Walter Lure, late of the Heartbreakers). Written by Johnny and Dee Dee, "Psycho Therapy" may be the last classic Ramones song, an elevation of petty violence and borough mental illness via eighth notes and sirens.