Friday, September 29, 2017

Winding down...

I couldn't attend the White Sox's final home game last night. They close out the year in Cleveland, assured of losses numbering in the 90s. That's OK; this was a rebuilding season, and the foundation for the structure assembled over the next couple of years feels surprisingly sturdy at this point. Highlights of the season: Jose Abreu continued his steady, workman-like march toward the category of elite sluggers; Avisail Garcia had a career year; Tim Anderson got better and more consistent; Matt Davidson caught more good luck than bad; a couple pitching prospects stepped up.

White Sox announcer Jason Benetti and the team said their goodbyes:


Being at Guaranteed Rate Field for Abreu's unlikely Cycle on a few weeks back was a personal highlight for me; the amped-up excitement at the park is something I'll carry with me as a low murmur over the off season. Speaking of the off season, there really isn't one anymore, and I don't know how I feel about that. The long wait between the end of the World Series and the start of Spring Training has, like so many delays in contemporary culture, been eradicated, or replaced 24/7 with loud data. Great for baseball writers, researchers, and obsessives, but I'm not so sure that even devoted fans need this much baseball—videos; blog reports; off-season feel-good stories; "Hot Stove" talk, and the rest—between November and February. I'll eat it up over the cold, dark days, but not without some wistful looks back at the off season years when I was a kid, when Eastern Seaboard snow and endless gray figuratively smothered anything baseball-related until the Spring thaw, when, deep in the Sports section of the Washington Post grainy, black-and-white photos began popping up of ball players in white unis and bright sun.

Anyway, the playoffs start next week and I am psyched. Predictions coming once the Wild Card game participants are settled. The White Sox open next season against the Royals on March 29 at Kauffman Stadium. See you here.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Bangs on Rock & Roll, ctd.

In 1980 Lester Bangs wrote Blondie, a idiosyncratic biography of the band then riding high on the commercial wave of "Call Me." Bangs famously cared little for the book that he saw as a hack-work project to make some dough. (You can find decent-priced copies at Amazon and elsewhere.) Neither Greil Marcus nor John Morthland excerpted Blondie in their respective collections of Bangs's work, though Marcus acknowldges the book is "scabrous" and "crackling."

In 1992 Clinton Heylin did, in his criminally hard-to-find Penguin Book of Rock & Roll Writing. In the passage Bangs revisits a favorite topic, the anti-virtuosity of great rock & roll, its democratic call to arms to anyone with the nerve and style to pick up an instrument. By 1980, Bangs had traversed this subject many times, but it's always great to listen to the man hold forth on the lo-fi power of rock & roll and punk. "The point is that rock & roll, as I see it, is the ultimate populist art form, democracy in action, because it’s true: anybody can do it," he writes.
Learn three chords on a guitar and you’ve got it. Don’t worry whether you can "sing" or not. Can Neil Young "sing"? Lou Reed, Bob Dylan? A lot of people can’t stand to listen to Van Morrison, one of the finest poets and singers in the history of popular music, because of the sound of his voice. But this is simply a matter of exposure. For performing rock & roll, or punk rock, or call it any damn thing you please, there’s only one thing you need: NERVE. Rock & roll is an attitude, and if you’ve got the attitude you can do it, no matter what anybody says. Believing that is one of the things punk rock is about. Rock is for everybody, it should be so implicitly anti-elitist that the question of whether somebody’s qualified to perform it should never even arise.

But it did. In the sixties, of course. And maybe this was one reason why the sixties may not have been so all-fired great as we gave them credit for. Because in the sixties rock & roll began to think of itself as an "art-form." Rock & roll is not an 'art-form"; rock & roll is a raw wail from the bottom of the guts. And like I said, whatever anybody ever called it, punk rock has been around from the beginning—it’s just rock honed down to its rawest elements, simple playing with a lot of power and vocalists who may not have much range but have so much conviction and passion it makes up for it ten times over. Because PASSION IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT—what all music is about.

In the early sixties there was punk rock: "Louie, Louie" by the Kingsmen being probably the most prominent example. It was crude, it was rude, anybody could play it, but so what? It’ll be around and people everywhere will still be playing it as long as there’s rock & roll left at all. It’s already lasted longer than Sgt. Pepper! Who in the hell does any songs from that album anymore? Yet, a few years ago, some people were saying Sgt. Pepper will endure a hundred years.

Photo of Lester Bangs via San Diego Reader; photo of Debbie Harry via Medium.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

"It's quite simple..."

"...No Hank Williams, no rock and roll." Radney Foster

10" single (1947)

Photo via Sandbox Entertaiment

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"Little things remind me of you"

From dive bars to neon clubs, Honky Tonk to New Wave, bourbon to blow, heartbreak knows no genre.

single (1965)

I just came in here from force of habit
I don't intend to spend too much time in here
But I saw you headin' for the music
And if you play A-11, there'll be tears

I don't know you from Adam
But if you're gonna play the jukebox
Please don't play A-11

This used to be our favorite night spot
And when she was here it was heaven
It was here she told me that she loved me
And she always played A-11

I don't know you from Adam
But if you're gonna play the jukebox
Please don't play A-11

(words and music, Hank Cochran)


 single (1982)

So I saw you in the pizza place
You were with another girl
It was a crime it was such a disgrace
You really shattered my world

Little things remind me of you
Cheap cologne and that damn song too

Don't put another dime in the jukebox
I don't want to hear that song no more
Don't put another dime in the jukebox
I don't want to hear that song no more

Then I learned the treacherous end
You were with my best friend
Ain't got no class ain't got no respect
My broken heart will never mend

Don't want to hear that song no more No! No!
Don't want to hear that song no more
Don't want to hear that song no more No! No!
Don't want to hear that song!

(words and music, Bobby Orlando)

Jukebox photo via Wikipedia Commons.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Field Recordings at Open Stacks

My April 1 reading from Field Recordings from the Inside at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago is up at the Open Stacks podcast. You can listen here. While you're at, swing over to Spotify and crank the playlist I created as a companion to the book, a romp through (most of) the songs, bands, and artists I write about in the book. Link here.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Jose Abreu hits for the cycle

Abreu moments from launching a homer to center.
I was on hand last night at Guaranteed Rate Field for Battle of the First Round Draft Pick. The White Sox and the San Fransisco Giants own the third- and second-worst records in baseball, both peering with mixed feelings at the cellar position and dubious compensation. Although Sox General Manager Rick Hahn has thus far done a terrific, and to many surprising, job of restocking the franchise's depleted farm system through trades, the team can use all the help it can get. The Sox didn't help out themselves last night, crushing the Giants 13 to 1 behind an improbably sterling performance from beleaguered starter David Shields, who held the Giants to one hit through six and a third innings before surrendering a homer to Nick Hundly. Shields made the Giants hitters look foolish and over-matched all night, hitter after baffled hitter trudging back to the dugout hanging his head ("muscle memory," my buddy Dan quipped.) The Sox bats were hopped up on a cool, windy evening, all six of the home runs no-doubters. I hadn't heard such loud contact the park in a long, long time.

By the far the highlight of the game was Jose Abreu hitting for the cycle, only the sixth White Sox player to do so (the last was Jose Valentin, in April 2000). Coming to bat in the eighth, Abreu had already slugged a homer to deep center, driven a double down the left field line, and looped a little single into shallow left. What was ridiculously fun and improbable about the cycle was how steeply the odds were stacked against Abreu: a triple his hard to will; Abreu's a big guy, the opposite of swift; he fouled the second pitch, a 94 mile per hour fastball, off his foot, a real stinger that brought out manager Rick Renteria and team trainer Herm Schneider. All Abreu did was laser the very next pitch, another fastball, to the gap in right-center. As he rounded second I, and thousands of others, yelled "He's gonna go for it!"—he slid into third just ahead of the throw. I've never seen a player hit for the cycle, and to see one of my favorites do it—improbably!—at his home park was a thrill I won't soon forget. The White Sox scoreboard operator seemed a bit overwhelmed by all of the clangorous contact throughout the night—the Sox rapped out eighteen hits—and didn't acknowledge Abreu's feat, only flashing on the big screen a GIF of an applauding baseball.

Just as well. Abreu's a modest, go-to-work guy. He smiled and caught his breath while standing on third, and received the mauling of congratulations in the dugout, a celebration I was fortunate to be able to see form my seat just above the visitors' dugout. Another night at the park for the low-key and gifted Abreu, only this time it was historic.

It was Tim Raines Night last night. Dan and I were somewhere between the Craft Kave and our seats when Raines threw out the first pitch, but we were each clutching out Raines figurine, courtesy of the team. The scoreboard ran a terrific career-spanning video montage of Raines running, hitting, cashing into walls, and mugging it up in various dugouts. Truth be told, "The Rock" excelled during an era when I wasn't paying much attention to baseball; distracted, I didn't find my way back from my late-70s/early-80s love affair with the game until roughly the mid-90s, when Raines left the White Sox for the Yankees. I'd missed him, but I love the fact that's he's heading to Hall, and that the team for which he played five of his twenty three seasons would so fete him. A fun night all around.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

"Punk is..."

In the August 1977 issue of New Wave, Lester Bangs, charged with writing about the roots of "punk," launched an epic treatise on the word, a careening manifesto that's ridiculous, profane, mean, true, immature, self-absorbed, in-character, mock-heroic, probably three-quarters correct, and entirely authentic. "The roots of punk was the first time a kid ended up living with his parents till he was 40," he writes. "The roots of punk was the first time you stole money out of your mother’s purse and didn’t know what to spend it on because you weren’t old enough to buy beer. The roots of punk was the first time your father got so frustrated with your intransigence he almost raised his fists against you, and you not out of high school yet, and you didn’t even care, you just wanted to drift a few blocks away and get fucked up."

Some more definitions Lester's beat-up dictionary:
Punk is oblivion when it isn’t any fun and unlike winos you do have a choice in fact; you're young.
Punk is bleared out of your mind watching Lancelot Link at 12 noon on Saturday and having no idea of what you're seeing.
Punk is vomiting all over your “motherfuckers”/ John Sinclair liner notes version of Kick Out the Jams and not particularly caring.
Punk is ten thousand tattered skin magazines under your bed but never getting any satisfaction from masturbation not the kind that leads to languorous rest anyway so you exist on a thin hot prostate wire of tension and jack off three, four times a day, knowing it’s stupid and pointless and hating it for that more than submerged guilt but doing it because there’s nothing else to do but get drunk.
Punk is finally getting a girlfriend and then treating her shitty because you’re too stupid, drunk, and self-absorbed.
Punk is not punk, because it has become too codified. Punk is sitting in a half-dark room alone wishing you had Valiums with an indifferent record playing wanting to claw the stuffing out of the chair but feeling futility in your fingernails.
Punk is hating poeticization of your condition.
Punk is vague dreams of carnage and bloody revenge when you can barely swat a comatose fly.
Punk is pointlessness.
Punk is ripping up articles like this one. Punk is lacking the energy or interest to bother ripping them up. Punk is reading this article mechanically because there’s nothing else to do and the words glide by like cinders. Punk is hurling the magazine across the room, dropping your hands into your lap, idly scratching your dick or clit wondering if you wanna jerk off again, deciding it’s not worth the trouble, staring blankly into space.
Punk is thinking maybe we should go to the movies tonight and not having the energy or self-discipline to get up and walk across the room to pick up the daily paper.
Punk is talking back to situation comedy rerun syndicated characters on afternoon TV. Punk is seeing girls in TV commercials and croaking “Take off yer clothes . . .” when you haven’t been laid in two years.
Punk is running out of beer at 5:30 A.M. and taking three Chlor-Trimetons to see if they'll exacerbate what’s left of it.
Punk is putting on a record you love, lying down on the couch, rolling over and trying to go to sleep at four in the afternoon or seven at night just because you want that state of twilight consciousness which is better than drugs.
Punk is laziness at apogee with no apologies.
Punk is saying fuck rock ’n’ roll.
Punk is saying fuck punk rock.
Punk is treating your 2,000-plus LP collection like dirt.
Punk is passé.
Punk is just a word dug by media.
Punk is anything you do that should have consequences but either doesn’t or you ignore them.
Punk is a meaningless word that everybody is sick to death of purporting to represent a state of mind and lifestyle which while not so very complex cannot be reduced any further than it has been already in inchoate preverbal practice.
Punk is something worth destroying posthaste. Hopefully this article will speed that process. 

Photo of Bangs in 1977 via CBGB.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Happy 10th Birthday, Sweat

I can't believe that it's been ten years since Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America's Garage Band was published. The writing process felt twice that long, longer still the time spent hoping against hope that I might publish the thing. I heard from more than one agent and editor along the way who told me either No Way, or, more charitably, I love those guys, but who's gonna buy a book about them? I'm forever grateful to David Barker, my editor at Continuum Books, for taking a chance. Barker understood the story I wanted to tell: how a rock and roll band that wants to keep playing after their shot at stardom has passed is forced to redefine what "success" means and, against great odds, continues to plug in to what drew them to rock and roll in the first place. The tag line on the book's cover, "30 years, 2,000 shows, 1,000 Blue Whales, no hits, no sleep," might as well have read, "How to live a life successfully." In addition to deepening my friendship with the guys in the Fleshtones and with ex-members, I made a ton of friends while living and working in New York City researching and writing the book, and many more since online around the globe, and I'm grateful for that, too. Above all, thanks and love to Amy, who decided at one point to intercept agents and editors' rejection letters and hide them from me so that I would keep going.

Though I rub my eyes that a decade has passed, the Fleshtones have barely missed a step: since the book came out they've released five albums, nine singles, an EP, three compilations, and toured North America, Europe, Mexico, and China. 2016 saw the band celebrate their 40th anniversary testifying to SUPER ROCK around the globe.

Of the many very cool things that have happened since the book was published, I'd have to list being name- and title-checked in the band's song "It Is As It Was" from Wheel of Talent a few years back as the supremely coolest. I'll let the guys have the last word. See ya at a show.
C’mon, we’re gonna start at the beginning
Page one, Bonomo says: “It’s gonna get good, now, 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”