Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Whole Point of the Weekend

In the latest issue of the dependably great Ugly Things, Richie Unterberger profiles the Yardbirds' co-founder and bass player Paul Samwell-Smith. It's a dense and informative must-read, packed with details of the Yardbirds' history. Samwell-Smith is lively and candid, and his memory is sharp. At one point, he discourses on the purpose of the recording studio the mid-1960s, as he saw it: “I think we regarded the recording process as entirely different from the live shows." He adds,
The songs changed quite dramatically every night anyway—"Smokestack Lightnin'" would sometimes go on for ten or even fifteen minutes; "I'm a Man" likewise. That was the point and purpose of playing live. The recording studio was for a different purpose. I remember driving around London with Jeff Beck in his car, which had a record player in the front (yes, a record player), listening to the Mamas & the Papas singing "Monday, Monday," and Brian Wi1son’s "Good Vibrations" from the Beach Boys, or so many of the Beatles recordings— "A Day in the Life," "Yesterday," "Norwegian Wood." That is what the recording studio was for in my eyes—not trying to nail a "live" performance.
A few graphs earlier, remembering the ferocity of the Yardbirds (and another like-spirited band, the Rolling Stones) onstage, Samwell-Smith nails the palpable thrills of live shows, especially in small, sweaty places like the Crawdaddy: "It was fun to see several hundred young people come in to the Crawdaddy club on a Saturday night and just let go." He adds,
When we went to see the Rolling Stones playing at the Crawdaddy or the Station Hotel in Richmond, in the very early days, a lot of the audience would stand at the front just by the stage and just drop their heads down and shake them frantically at these crucial climactic moments, or they would be hanging from the rafters up in the (low) ceiling doing a similar thing. This was an important part of the whole experience. And with a couple of drinks inside, well, it was very exciting. So when we played live we were often trying to get the audience to rave like that. It was the whole point of Friday/ Saturday night.
Great stuff. Dig the Yardbirds live here and grab the new Ugly Things here.



Photo of crowd at the Crawdaddy, undated, via Welcome To Carnaby Street, where the photo is credited to Jeremy Fletcher.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Baseball: I'll Go Back

"The Old Roman" turns away from the field at soon-to-be-dubbed Guaranteed Rate Field.
Fine pitching on display at U.S. Cellular Field last night, as the White Sox ace Chris Sale faced the Seattle Mariners' ace Felix Hernandez. King Felix was removed after loading the bases in the 8th inning; Sale pitched a complete game. Guess who lost?

Truth be told, the Mariners put good wood on Sale for much of the night, lifting several long fly oits, banging loud doubles off of the wall; Franklin Guitierrez smacked a homer in the second. The Sox didn't help Sale much against Fernandez, with Todd Frazier and Avisail Garcia each running into outs after being caught off first; the Sox loaded the bases in the 8th, but J.B. Shuck was forced at home via a nifty play by Mariners third baseman Shawn O'Malley, and Jose Abreu popped up in foul territory to end the inning. Hernandez, with his square shoulders, thin legs, and high socks, struts on the mound regally, overseeing his denizens, befitting his nickname. He was pissed at himself for walking Eaton and juicing the bases, but is there any American League pitcher who pisses off batters more than Sale? He struck out fourteen last night, and at least a half dozen of his victims spun away from the plate and stalked back to the dugout trailing baffled fury behind them. Sale's sliders, when he kept them down, were untouchable. More than once he kicked the dirt around the mound, staring down impatiently after dealing yet another devastating slider strikeout, and I have to wonder if the Sox offensive ineptitude is getting to him.

As always, I enjoyed watching Jose Abreu. When seen up close from the along first base line, he gives the impression at the plate of a poised alley fighter, cornered but confident, ready to strike, his back leg tapping the ground for timing and power. Alas, his feeble first-swing pop up in the eighth was deflating, and—something you don't see on television—he stood at the plate in quiet disbelief for what felt like a minute, before picking up his bat and trudging to the dugout to grab his glove, the personification of dejection, It's been that kind of year. Mariners' reliever Edwin Diaz's pitches hit 100 on the radar gun in the 9th, and the Sox were finished.



Chris Sale and Felix Hernandez hard at work.

~~

I have to admit, with mild embarrassment, that that 8th inning crushed me, and I childishly brought the disappointment with me out of the park. Driving west along Pershing Road, past crumbling blocks of enormous, empty warehouses and abandoned store fronts, churlish at the amount of money US. Cellular Field again soaked me for, I questioned my fanly allegiance to the White Sox, a team that I adopted, a team that's been "mired in mediocrity," to quote General Manager Rick Hahn, for years. The empty, sour-yellow blocks did not lighten my mood, and of course it began to rain. But by the time I turned on Western Avenue, I was able to objectively admit that civic disrepair has nothing to do with baseball, that I'd been more than a little precious. It's silly what a game can do to me, how watching millionaires play can haul me from literal edge-of-seat excitement to glowering disappointment. The ride home to DeKalb and lots of Stones on the iPod helped, and I burdened Amy with my blues less than I might have. I'll go back before the season's over, and submit again to the absurd fun of it all.
Celebrating Todd Frazier's homer in the 7th. Too little, too late.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Fleshtones' Super Cap

In recognition of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary in May of this year, I've been combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives for some little-seen nuggets. Following the release of Hexbreaker! in 1983, the Fleshtones signed a sponsorship deal with Miller Beer in the national Miller Rock Network, a promotional boon that gave the band coast-to-coast exposure and tons of free equipment and gear—and the odd promotional item, such as this swank Fleshtones cap, perfect for hiding that big 80s hair. Thanks to photographer and Super Rock fan Jimmy Cohrssen, who generously sent me the cap.
Super (Rock) Model: Amy Newman

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Lydia Loveless Stays Real

If you were distractedly listening to Lydia Loveless's new album Real, heard her sing the lines, "How can love like this exist? It gets more perfect with every kiss," and worried that she'd hired songwriters fired by American Idol castoffs, fear not. The following lines:
Now I'm walking away I guess I don't understand
Why someone like you would be cruel
I don't know what the truth is but
You give me every reason to fall out of everlasting arms
remind you that this is a Loveless song, where romance is often undercut by a turn toward confusion, ruefulness, or liberation that always feels honest. On her fourth album, recorded in Loveless's hometown of Columbus, Ohio, co-producer Joe Viers has smoothed the group's sound a bit; gone is the reckless cowpunk bar-band sound of earlier records, replaced with studio finesse and laid-back pop grooves, but Loveless's yearning twang is intact, and as affecting and powerful as ever. As before, Loveless is singing about boys and sex and love, about the ideal and the bitterly real, and the cynical humor to be found in it all. "I know just what you do, I know just how it feels when you make it seem real," she sings in the title track.

I'm a fan; her show at The House (RIP) in DeKalb last fall was one of the best I've seen in years. Happily, onstage Loveless and the fellas behind her (Todd May on vocals, guitars, and keys, Ben Lamb on bass, Jay Gasper on guitars, pedal steel, and keys, and George Hondroulis on drums and percussion) play with raw edges and humorous abandon; her songs benefit from that kind of loose-limbed barreling sound, and several cuts on Real suffer from studio claustrophobia and, though Loveless maintains a sure grip on her subjects, a bit of a sonic identity crisis. On the strongest songs—"Longer," "Heaven," "Out On Love," "Clumps," the title track—Loveless's voices cuts through the gray studio weather and adds pulse and personality. She's especially effective solo and acoustic (no knock against her band), as in "Clumps," where she gives the impression of having rushed to the studio with the song, anxious to track its emotional interior before she'd had much time to flesh out a band arrangement.

The greatest cut on Real is "Midwestern Guys." Loveless is a born-and-raised Buckeye, and even though I've lived in Ohio and Illinois for most of my adult life, I still feel like an East Coast Guy, and I'm taken by her take on the men who grow up here. Recently she discussed the song's origins with David Anthony at A.V. Club: "I was thinking about it when I was writing that one, the fact that most of my friends are middle-aged men," she said. "I was laughing at myself and thinking about how those are my girlfriends—older dudes—and how they all sort of have the same story and the same upbringing."
A few of the guys in my band went to school together or grew up near each other, and I love sitting in the van listening to their weird rural Ohio school stories. Particularly Ben [Lamb, bassist], there was one story that he told me that was the trigger for that song. He had a half-brother who was doing some drug up in a tree and fell out and died. That inspired one of the verses, which ended up getting cut from the song. Maybe it was too depressing. But I don’t know, just the boredom of the ’80s and how everyone was driving around drunk, and the guys always talk about how at least two times a year people would drive into a tree. I listen to their stories and wonder how they survived. It’s a tribute to all my sensitive guy friends that are weird.
Wry, yearning, haunted, and packed with narrative detail that ignite moments, "Midwestern Guys" is prime Loveless. Though I wish she'd done more with the chorus then simply repeat the tile phrase, the details in the verses add poignancy to that litany. She addresses a man pretty common to her songs, someone to whom she's maybe attracted but of whom she's also wary, burned by his type before even as she finds it hard to resist the flame, a guy she studies because he tells her something even though neither he nor she can articulate what that is.
And after it gets dark you want to go look at the stars,
Aw, you sure know the way to my heart honey
You wanna make love, not fuck, in Schiller Park
That's how romantic you are, yeah.
The next verse gets even more explicit:
And tell me all about '83
It was a long time ago, you can sure say that again to me
All the lives lost to Natty Light in a tree
You played Pyromania until she got down on her knees between your thighs
Oh you Midwestern guys.
It's hard to know, behind the song's careful pace and the lilting melody, what the singer makes of this guy: is he still hot, or is he a loser? Easy to mock or hard to fathom, and so more attractive because of it? It's great stuff, and "Midwestern Guys," in its humor, sexiness, and longing, is one of Loveless's finest songs.
Her Twitter feed's worth following, too:


"I'd rather be lonely than ashamed." she sings in "Bilbao," a song whose prettiness is made complex by lines just like that one, and on "European" she nails the intersection of mind and body, a favorite place to linger for Loveless: "Honey, come on, I thought I was broken, then you turned me on." At its best, Real confirms that Loveless is one of our finest songwriters, that her wise, honest, and skeptical take on men and women and the lives they enrich and fuck up is always worth hearing.

You can stream Real at NPR's First Listen here.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

So close and yet....

Perhaps the most dispiriting statistic of this dispiriting 2016 Chicago White Sox club is this: the team leads the major leagues in one-run games at 44. Their record in those games is 20-24. In two-run games, they're 13 and 12. Leading the league in close games suggests robust starting pitching but also a sputtering offense that fails more often than not to blow games wide open. Add to this a frustrating bullpen. But this is why I love baseball, even when—especially because—my team is suffering at such a narrow margin. If baseball is indeed a game of inches, then think, a few bloop hits here, and few lucky breaks there, three or four more hard liners skipping off of the opposing team's shortstop's glove with runners on third, and the White Sox record in one-run games might've been vastly better. Luck isn't everything in baseball, but it's plenty. Ever since their World Championship in 2005, the White Sox have for the most part been on the outside looking in. 44 one-run games? They're awfully close, and yet very far away. White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier summed up the predicament: "We [start the season] 23-10 and I'm not worried about a thing, and the next thing you know we're in this predicament. It's every little play." Baseball is made up of lots of little plays, mostly of the middling kind. Coming within two runs of winning in so many games and consistently coming up short, the White Sox—and, let's face it, plenty of other baffled and sore teams in this great game—are wishing for a few more of those little plays to go their way. But it's nearly September, and the White Sox and its familiar frustrations seem cast in stone. They'll keep swinging, running, catching, and throwing until the end of the year, but the field's dimensions will bafflingly remain the same: just a little longer and narrower than for the teams above them in the standings, those lucky teams. That old story.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Lonelyville

I've made several long drives in the past few months throughout the eastern U.S. (Mississippi, New York, Maryland, West Virginia...). Looking east, I snapped this photo at the Chicago Southland Lincoln Oasis on the Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294/I-80) in South Holland, Illinois. My mood mingling with the image inevitably put me in mind of the songs of Dave Dudley, in particular the great title track from his 1969 album., One More Mile:




And that song in turn brought me back to this evocative image, an unfortunately scratched-up detail from the front cover of Dudley's Oh Lonesome Me, a 1968 Wing Records reissue of Dudley's Lonelyville (how could you improve on that title?!), originally released on Mercury in 1966. As is often the case with reissues, salient discographical details get sacrificed; in this case, the name of the photographer is absent on the Wing reissue. After some sleuthing I discovered that it was Fred Schnell, a Chicago-based freelance photographer most famous for his award-winning photos taken at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and for his 1971 book of rodeo photographs. According to discogs, Schnell's photos were featured on other Mercury releases, and on albums from Philips, Columbia, Limelight, Smash, and others. Schnell committed suicide in 1982.

This image captures the off-the-road solitude in the beholden-to-the-highway, drive-till-dawn, truck drivin' persona that Dudley made a career with. Gotta keep doggin' it one more mile, then hit a motel, maybe write a song about it....

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Jimmy Cohrssen's Super Rock Photos, Ctd.

In recognition of the Fleshtones' 40th anniversary in May of this year, I've been combing through the Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America's Garage Band and online archives for some little-seen nuggets. I've received help from plenty of people, also: photographer Jimmy Cohrssen has come through again with some terrific pics, most of which I hadn't seen. Enjoy the time travel.

Fred Smith and Keith Streng, downstairs in the dressing room of the old 9:30 Club on F Street in N.W. Washington D.C. This photo is ca. 1988 or '89, when Smith played bass in the Fleshtones (before giving way to Andy Shernoff who, in 1990, gave way to Ken Fox, who's stuck around).

~~

Gordon Spaeth, Mustang Mike, and Bill Milhizer, in front of the old "Tough Club" at 243 West 14th Street in Manhattan. Mike was a security guard befriended by Spaeth and Milhizer, who recruited him into Action Combo, an on-again, off-again side band. A men's social club for "gentlemen of rank and wealth," the Tough Club opened in 1865.

Spaeth and Milhizer outside of Tough Club.

~~

George Gilmore and Marek Pakulski, striking a pose as Tall Lonesome Pines, an Everly Brothers-styled duo Marek formed with Gilmore after leaving the Fleshtones in late 1986. Rumor is they cut some tunes, one of which was scheduled for the 1988 Time Bomb: The Big Bang Theory compilation of Fleshtones off-shoots but was replaced by a song from Marek's replacement Robert Warren.

~~

Peter Zaremba and Spaeth, 9:30 Club, 1984.

~~

Milhizer and Cohrssen, 9:30 Club.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Ball in Paw Paw

Chad Arnold Field
Paw Paw, West Virginia

While driving through Morgan County in West Virginia, I stumbled across this little ball field, home of the Pirates, in the tiny town of Paw Paw (population: 500). Located in the Town Park near the elementary and high schools, the field's having a rough go of it these days, ragged at the seams. Nothing a little TLC, weed wacker, and infusion of civic capital wouldn't help.

For what it's worth, no Major League baseball player has been born in Paw Paw. The nearest seems to have been John Allen, born in 1890 and raised in Berkeley Springs, population 624, twenty-five miles from Paw Paw up winding Route 9. Allen's career—if you can call it that—was brutally brief: he played in precisely one game, for the Baltimore Terrapins in the old Federal League, on June 2, 1914, in which he pitched two innings of two-hit ball, surrendering four earned runs in mop-up duty in an 11-4 shellacking by the Brooklyn Tip-Tops. The game was played at Washington Park in the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. The crowd was estimated at 600 people, or roughly the equivalent of Allen's hometown, though it's unlikely that all attendees stuck around for the end of the game when Allen made his lone appearance in professional baseball.

Allen died in 1967, at the age of 76.




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