Monday, March 5, 2018

The Was of 1s and 0s

Today I was thinking idly, and a little indulgently, about an impossibility. What if there were Google Street View images of the past? You could select a year and virtually stroll down the street of your childhood house, the 1s and 0s and intrepid Google cam-car filling in all of the blanks in your memory. You'd be startled by the puniness of the trees and shrubs and by the low-scale development, the behemoth size of the gas-guzzling cars, the blocks of favorite stores long-abandoned, or fields and forests leveled for today's homes, condos, strip malls.

Then I learned that this has happened, in a limited way, and that I was, again, lost in the solipsism of generation bias. Four years ago, Google opened its archives back to 2007, gathering "historical imagery from past Street View collections" to create a "digital time capsule of the world." I think it's very cool that, if, say, a half century from now people will still be able to archive Street Views of the 'hoods from their past, have a kind of digitized, click-by-click home movie, the audience of which will vary dramatically from spectator to spectator, from this neighbor to that neighbor, from this kid who grew up on the block to that one who lived there for just that one summer.

The force of the awakening of details long forgotten might be overwhelming—most of us lose to memory the vividness of childhood and adolescent backgrounds, the specifics replaced with recreations, some streets elongated, some shortened—and I'm not sure I'd want to actually access the past this way. But this is the new normal: future generations will have the means of visually exploring every inch of their past in ways that earlier generations could only imagine. But because nostalgia means the overwhelming desire to return home, it's always worth reminding myself that that home is redefined with every passing day. It probably means more as recollected than as was.

Image via Pinterest

Sunday, March 4, 2018

It's an art

As I've written about the last couple of seasons, I'm keeping my eye on Chicago White Sox third basemen and designated hitter Matt Davidson. I think that I learn more about baseball—its difficulties and challenges, as well as its occasional transcendent moments—by watching a single player over the course of a season or more. (I'm this way with teams, too; I'm regularly impressed by friends of mine who have League-wide knowledge of many teams over the course of a season.) When I was a kid, I followed Ruppert Jones because, living in suburban Washington D.C., Jones, a Seattle Mariner, was far enough away for me to project my love on the game onto, and he could live in my imagination. I rarely if ever saw him play, but followed his stats in the newspaper. He was mine.

It's different, of course, with Davidson. I'm an adult now and can see beyond childish attachments to a player (which still occur!) to be able to gauge what in a player 's approach might be emblematic of the game and its grown-up challenges. Davidson intrigues me because he's pretty ordinary, relatively speaking: he's not a feared slugger nor was he ever projected to be; he's an average fielder; he runs OK. In short, he'll probably struggle in some way, everyday, to maintain his presence in Major League baseball; he'll have hot streaks and go off on offensive tears like every player at this level is capable of, but he'll eventually regress, as they all do. Watching Davidson is my annual lesson in Major League Baseball Is Hard, Even For The Ones Who Make It. That he has a good shot to become the team's starting third baseman says as much about his tenacity and drive as it does it says about the White Sox talent and depth at the position.

In the Chicago Tribune, he spoke about his goals this year. “Seeing results gives you confidence,” he said. “Ultimately, I want to improve on that. I was glad I was able to show a little bit of what I can do. I still feel like there’s more to do.” He added:
It’s an art. All the greatest hitters, that’s something they have. They swing at strikes instead of balls. A good starting point is staying in the zone that you want and being ready to hit that pitch only and not trying to hit too many pitches. If somebody has a nasty slider it’s a ball … you can’t hit for the most part. The thing is, (it’s) not swinging at balls out of the zone, it’s swinging at pitches in the zone.
Late in the piece, Davidson reveals that he's a fan of former White Sox Paul Konerko. So was I.
“(Konerko) would never settle for not perfecting his swing,” Davidson said. “Pitchers are so good now, you have to be so precise on every swing and every pitch of the at-bat. You can’t give up (on) a pitch because that might be the one good one you get to hit.”

Paulie is a great player for Matt Davidson to emulate, someone to whom the game never seemed to come all that easily, someone who seemed to almost visibly wear (as Roger Angell might say) the difficulties of playing baseball consistently well at this level. Here's hoping that Davidson learns patience, at the plate and at every other place in the park.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Lost in the turn with Van Halen

I wrote an essay on Van Halen's monumental "Panama" from 1984 for March Shredness, Ander Monson's literary tournament of hair metal songs. It was a blast to write, and I'd appreciate your vote. Among other things, I weigh in on Eddie Van Halen's extraordinary guitar playing in the song:
A self-described “tone chaser,” Eddie takes his guitar to exhilarating places in “Panama,” as he does in his best work in the band. Isolated, his playing assumes dimensional shape—raw, rousing chords in the intro and chorus, lidded-cool idling during the verses and the breakdown, and swooping, diving leads and fret board tapping in the solo. I marvel every time I listen: his playing has so much personality that it’s a band in itself. Eddie’s rightfully lauded as a mold-breaking lead player yet, as the only guitarist in Van Halen, he’s also the rhythm player. What’s remarkable is how he alternates—morphs, really—between lead and rhythm in any given song. He was hardly the first to pull off this style—there’s a reason why Eddie is spoken in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page—yet coupled with an outrageous frontman, the giddiness of the songs, the blend of raw rock riffing and pop hooks, and the mass, international commercial successes of his band, it sounded, looked, and felt as if Eddie was doing something new.

Check out the turned-to-11, spandex-clad, hair-sprayed First Round bracket here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Longing, revelation, self-mockery, and pain

Last summer, I saw How To B A Rock Critic, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen's play about Lester Bangs, at the 1700 Theater at Steppenwolf. I wrote then that I was on the fence about the performance, "somewhere between my gratitude for Blank and Jensen's commitment to a great writer and my my skepticism about whether music writing can be fully dramatized." Meanwhile, I'd wondered what Greil Marcus—Bangs's friend and editor—thought of the play. He recently weighed in in his "Real Life Rock Top 10" column, these days running in The Village Voice:
A marvelously fast and convincing one-man play, set in Bangs’s disheveled New York apartment, which the late critic (1948–82) finds full of people to whom he proceeds to act out what he does and why. The structure is, interestingly, on a parallel with Springsteen on Broadway—riffing through Bangs’s work as dialogue, instead of stopping to sing a song as Springsteen does to mark a point in his life, Jensen walks over to a phonograph, puts on a record, and talks over it. The music instantly confirms whatever case he’s making: The sound that comes out is so rich it’s as if you’ve never heard Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” or Van Morrison’s “Cyprus Avenue” before.
Blank and Jensen get to the heart of the matter: The play is about Bangs’s struggle to believe that music can not so much save his soul as allow him, through signal moments of music, to construct a soul in which he might want to live, and his struggle to believe that he can pass that truth on to other people. For Lester, all good music, or all real music, was soul music. It didn’t matter if it was the nerd soul of White Witch or the heroic soul of Lou Reed, the doomed soul of Otis Rush or the intellectual soul of Charles Mingus. Because it was never absolute that what they had, could he write about it, would truly come to him, his work was full of longing, revelation, self-mockery, and pain. Jensen gets it all.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Always looking for that first fuck

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned an interesting (and wholly persuasive) New York Times article by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz about how songs that we hear, and fall in love with or are haunted by, in our adolescence seem to stick with us with particular force for the rest of our lives; the songs move around us into adulthood like satellites in perpetual orbit. I'm re-reading Dave Marsh's Before I Get Old, and was struck again by this terrific observation made in 1980 by Pete Townshend, rock and roll's Great Articulator. "I think what’s always been my problem is that I've always been fascinated by the period of adolescence," he said.
And by the fact that rock's most frenetic attachments, the deepest connections, seem to happen during adolescence or just post-adolescence. Rock does evolve, and it does change . . . but to you as a listener, someone who needs both the music and the exchange of ideas—you always tend to listen in the same way. You expect—and you feel happiest when you get—an album that does for you what your first few albums did. You're always looking for that first fuck. Of course, you can never have that first fuck, but you're always looking for it. Occasionally, you get very close. Always chasing the same feeling, the same magic. 
I love that Townshend cites his obsession with adolescence as a problem, and yet one that's on him like a tattoo he can never rub off, a paradox that not even a lifetime of tinnitus can erase.

He's also responsible for another of my favorite definitions of rock and roll:
We're not perfectionists. We're idealists. We think that rock & roll is more than just music for kids. Rock music is important to people because in this crazy world it allows you to face up to problem. But at the same time, to sort of dance all over 'em.
I can't explain. Turn it up.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

They’re all going to get so bored...

I'm re-reading Dave Marsh's fantastic Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who, first published in 1983. Nearly a decade into the Punk Era, and minutes after the Who had wrapped their (first of many, it turns out) farewell tour, Marsh takes the long view. Especially interesting to me is his description of the widening divide between Rock Bands and The Audience beginning in the early 1970s—a gap that a handful of bands strove valiantly to close, originating with the proto-punk MC5 and the Stooges and raucous pub rock, and cresting with punk by the end of the decade. Describing a rainy Forest Hills show in Queens, New York on the successful Who's Next 1971 tour, Marsh hones in on the issue:
The crowd inside was content to sit and soak as long as the Who played, a pattern that was maintained throughout, not just on this tour but for the rest of the decade as well. So the Who toured in continuing comfort, and their audience (like all rock audiences in this time) became increasingly irrelevant, except as a means of footing the bills. The bonds between band and fan were severed now; in a world without true connections, only shallow symbols remained. The moment to replace them had passed. The tour closed in Chicago with Townshend demolishing two guitars at once, battering the ruins of one with another until both shattered into tiny splinters. They had played to more than 700, 000 fans
A bit later, Marsh chronicles the vexed tour that the Who endured to support Quadrophenia. These '73 shows were beset with technical difficulties, particularly corrosive (and violent) bickering among band members, and Daltrey's curious decision to pedantically explain the context and meaning of the songs from the narratively-murky Quadrophenia before the band would play them. The alienated crowd seemed further away than ever from the stage. "As even Roger Daltrey could see, this situation couldn’t last forever," Marsh writes.
“If they want to bust that frustration bubble, they’ve got to show their feelings,” Daltrey said. “One day they’re all going to get so bored, they’re gonna go out and smash windows. Then we’ll have a whole new rock era.”


Friday, February 23, 2018

Muscle Memory

When I listen to music via iTunes or Spotify, the songs sound fantastic—I've EQ'd them (bass boost, thank you very much), Sound Checked them, and I play them loud through a good stereo. But when I listen a record, there's an accompanying dimension in the room that doesn't come with mp3s or streaming. recognize more and more that listening to vinyl involves more than listening to music. When I play vinyl, even new records, I play my past. There's the tactile issue, for sure, the relative weight of stiff album covers and papery 45 sleeves, and the gestural pleasures of dropping and lifting the stylus, of flipping the record. Vinyl sounds good to me not only because of the warmth of analog waves versus digital ones and zeroes, but because of a deep pleasure principle that kicks in which originates in my adolescence, when I played records all of the time, when the burst of sound and kicks and intensity issued only from vinyl, mint and fucked-up, and turntables, Pioneer grand or Radio Shack shitty. The gestures that I make today listening to an album or a 45 repeat the gestures I made when I was five, six, fourteen, twenty-one. Listening as muscle memory. A future fifty-year old who was raised only on mp3s and streaming will have similarly fond associations with those media, will warmly recall pressing buttons or scrolling for the first time, the thrill of, say, new, wider bandwidth dovetailing with the agonies of puberty, the portability of music an analogue to an ever-shrinking world, 20,000+ songs in her pocket a heady thrill and a tiresome burden of excess. Music on vinyl will always sound special to me because my music was born there. I guess I'm talking about the ways the past informs our present in every moment. Nostalgia, after all, means a desire to return home, and the special, irreplaceable pleasures there, even if that home is defined by its absence.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

I'm Still Around Here, Baby

I'm stoked to have finally found this record, one I'd been looking for for years. By 1965, Bo Diddley was commercially cold and culturally passe (though not in UK and parts of Europe). The criminally hard to find 500% More Man, recorded in Chicago by Ron Malo in July of 1965 as Diddley Disciples the Rolling Stones were riding high on the charts with "Satisfaction," is a solid and rocking album, full of style, attitude, and muscular rhythms. Bruce Eder in Allmusic points out that the sessions were among Diddley's last with Norma-Jean Wofford, aka the Duchess, and that the group he's recording with is the studio equivalent of the band he's rocking with in the following year's Big TNT Show.

"It's the thing that I started, and nobody recognizes where it came from, nobody mentions that this is an old Bo Diddley lick!" Diddley observed to George R. White about the raw, funky, and soulful sounds on this album, which he was to explore in greater depth the following decade. "If you listen to the song 'Bo Diddley,' that's where it actually came from. There's a lot of it in there—the 'muffled sound'—you know." 500% More Man was released in the fall, when Herman's Hermits, Sonny & Cher, the Beatles, Barry McGuire, the Supremes, and the Byrds were ruling the airwaves. Where would Bo fit in? In the liner notes, Chess Records' Marshall Paul wasn't selling a new Bo to a new teen audience in '65; instead he seems eager to rave about what's timeless in the Bo Beat:

Party swinging, indeed. The title track is a stomping classic, Muddy filtered through McDaniel. Bo wastes no time in laying down truth:
Some of you people think
That the man growing old
But I'm still around here, baby
And I let the good time roll
"500% More Man"

The real gems are the lesser-known tracks, such as this grooving take on Chuck Berry, Bo hollering in vintage style, chasing his girl around town, the band chugging along right next to him:

"Let Me Pass"

And look at Bo and his band rev it up (while lip syncing) in this performance. Few bands played with this much style, cool, and humor:

And this song, about a robbery in Las Vegas, based on a true story that occurred on the other side of the country, is very cool, a shrugging, shit-happens tale, the wearily accepting and funny tone of which you hear in nearly all of Bo's interviews:

"Somebody Beat Me"

Monday, February 12, 2018

"We believe in what we're doing"

Here's a Super Rock gem courtesy of Paul M. Martin, an interview with the Fleshtones by Ron Rimsite in the New York-based 99th Floor zine, circa 1982.

Rimsite's introduction nicely captures the early-I.R.S. Records era of skeptical optimism:

Here's my favorite exchange:
99th: How does it feel to be one of the only Rock 'n' Roll bands around?
KEITH: It feels great! We believe in what we're doing & always will. We always have.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


I love Seth Stephens-Davidowitz's column in today's New York Times, which basically proves with Big Data what we've known all along: a song gets in us when we're in our early teens and, like ink, saturates and tattoos us in a way we can't rub off. "Songs that came out decades earlier are now, on average, most popular among men who were 14 when they were first released," Stephens-Davidowitz observes. "The most important period for men in forming their adult tastes were the ages 13 to 16." What about women? "On average, their favorite songs came out when they were 13. The most important period for women were the ages 11 to 14."
...I did find it interesting how clear the patterns were and how much early adolescence matters. The key years, in fact, match closely with the end of puberty, which tends to happen to girls before boys. This also adds one more piece of evidence to the growing scientific consensus that we never really leave middle school and high school.
For both men and women, their early 20s were half as influential in determining adult musical tastes as their early teens.
The column's graph-heavy, but statistical curves aren't all that necessary. Think back to your teen years and the music you loved. Most of the essays I wrote in Field Recordings from the Inside are about those years and the confounding sensations, moods, and unspoken highs-and-lows that only Top 40 songs, it seemed, understood and articulated. At that age, songs tell us what we didn't know we knew, or didn't yet want to know, and score the baffling, dimly-glimpsed lessons we learn just about every day: about love; arousal; heartache; friendships; meanness; injustices of all stripes. When we're teens, songs lift the curtain on the complicated world that awaits us. But I'm not sure we want to live our adult lives by such sonic knowledge. Think of Jay Gatsby, the fantasy of a teenager named James Gatz. We all know how that story ends.

Stephens-Davidowitz also raises an essential aspect in the life of every music nerd (*raises arm*): that we love and obsess over songs that came out well before our teen years, and well after, songs that were massive hits or one-off obscurities that barely sniffed the charts. These songs, these artists, mean as much to use as the music that pulsated along with our puberty hormones. He admits to loving "Born to Run, though he was born eight years after the song was released. "In fact, my data analysis couldn’t explain where I got most of my musical taste," he writes. "O.K., maybe I caught the Springsteen bug because I grew up in New Jersey. But why my obsession with Bob Dylan? Or Leonard Cohen? Or Paul Simon? Most songs I listen to came out well before I was born."
This research tells us that the majority of us, when we are grown men and women, predictably stick with the music that captured us in the earliest phase of our adolescence.
But it also adds one more piece to the central puzzle of my adult life: Why did I develop so abnormally?
I spend as much time on Spotify filling in the gaps of bands I missed the first time around, Humble Pie to Husker Du, as I do jamming to the new Bat Fangs and Ty Segall albums. But those songs from my early teen years...they remain as vital, graphic, and memorable as cherished books, whose soft covers and tatty, dog-eared pages I turn again and again and again, relearning—reliving—the confounding lessons and mysteries enacted every moment around me in home and school hallways, back seats of cars, and as I tuned in to the radio alone in my room. Look out, here comes tomorrow.

"Teenagers listening to the latest hits 1957, New York." Photo: Esther Bubley. Via Pinterest

Friday, February 9, 2018

Between bravado and collapse

Bobby Fuller Four
Few songs capture heartbreak and its flip-side more evocatively than Bobby Fuller Four's "Let Her Dance." Released first in 1965 on Mustang, "Let Her Dance" is a dance song about fierce longing, stinging sorrow, wobbly confidence, defensive good cheer, and dance songs, not necessarily in that order. With its distressing lyric set against an irresistible four-four beat and catchy melody, the tune's both a lament and a celebration. A pop song can collapse under too much meta, but it's hard to listen to "Let Her Dance" and not realize that it's likely providing for its unhappy listener the very scenario that Fuller's broken up about—somewhere, someone's dancing to "Let Her Dance" like she doesn't even care, when just yesterday she danced with him the very same way. (And it was their favorite song, to boot.) The melody's a balm of sorts and—if it's correct that rock and roll is fun songs about sad stuff—then the hooks will help him forget, too. The generosity in the title is real, but wouldn't be there if not for the naively hopeful marching rhythm and the pep talk of dance let her dance let her dance dance dance, or is it a kind of a mantra? Is it the guy's bravely insisting inner voice, or his buddies' at the bar? Either way, he vows to turn the tables soon enough.

But I'm not so sure that he's as optimistically large-hearted as he appears in the last verse. As writer Lucy Grealy said in a different context, we have to re-learn are epiphanies every morning. The song's pitched at that teetering spot between bravado and collapse. It's got a beat and you can dance to it. That's the problem.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Drugs, Attitude, Youth. (And a Record Collection)

"If I didn't make a complete break with the music that was going on, I wasn't gonna ever make it as a musician. So we had to stop what was going on and make up something new. And the answer is it was done with drugs, attitude, youth, and a record collection."

   —Iggy Pop, quoted in Jeff Gold's Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Anarchy: Super Rock in NOLA

I love this small Wavelength article that Jimmy Anselmo posted to the "‎I Attended Concerts At Jimmy's Music Club in New Orleans" facebook page, a description of a 1985 Fleshtones show at the late Big Easy rock and roll joint, a favorite Fleshtones haunt. "All the rules of how-you-should-watch-a-concert were out the window," Nick Marinello wrote. "But it was Zaremba and the Fleshtanes who had broken the rules first: the second encore didn't begin until 10 minutes after the lights had come on at Jimmy’s and half the people were sticking keys into their car's ignition. But when the uptown neighborhood began to rock again, the crowd flooded back through the doors and then onto the stage."
Then the anarchy mounted, and it was only when the singing and banging and general delirium was about to unglue Jimmy's that Zaremba began the hypnotic reiteration or “we're back, we're back” and this apostle of lunacy regained control at the stage. The audience began to relax, and as the drummer slackened the fervor of their pounding most people receded to the floor. The Fleshtones were allowed to continue the song and end the set. When it was over Peter Zaremba hopped lightly off the stage and, with a broad, gentle smile, walked into the audience, which welcomed him with open arms.
More on Jimmy's here.

Photo of Jimmy's t shirt via My Spilt Milk.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Musings from the Originator

"Some guys play with real mellow tones that I could never do. I'm not what you call a guitarist; I’m a showman, an’ I’m not downin' myself when I sat when I say that."
There is a difference: the cats that do all that pretty finger-work, now they are guitarists. I could never do that: my fingers are too slow... but my hands are fast, y’understand
"I figured there must be another way of playin’, an’ so I worked on this rhythm of mine. I’d say it was a 'mixed-up' rhythm:"
blues, an’ Latin-American, an’ some hillbilly, a little spiritual, a little African, an’ a little West Indian calypso... an’ if I wanna start yodelin’ in the middle of it, I can do that too.‘ I like gumbo, you dig? Hot sauces too. That’s where my music comes from: all the mixture. I got those beats so jumbled up on "Bo Diddley" that they couldn’t sort ’em out!‘
      —Bo Diddley, quoted in Bo Diddley: Living Legend, by Charles R. White

Bo Diddley (1958)

Bo Diddley In The Spotlight (1960)

Bo Diddley's Beach Party (1963)

Bo and Jerome, bringing it

Monday, January 22, 2018

Our only truth

"There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the brains we have. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare and that for the most part our memories are so solid and reliable." Oliver Sacks, "The Fallibility of Memory," The River of Consciousness

Chasing Stories, painting by Karla Beatty via Fine Art America

Sunday, January 21, 2018

"I play the electricity"

Richard Lloyd (with Fred Smith)
I was born at 8:15 PM, October 25, 1951, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I only know that it was Pittsburgh because I was told that it was Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is just a word, and my memories are full of hearsay.
Richard Lloyd's new memoir Everything is Combustible: Television, CBGB's, and Five Decades of Rock and Roll, is a curious book. In sixty-nine loosely linked, non chronological vignettes, Lloyd moves from recounting a fiercely interior, self-aware, and precocious childhood toward his wandering, drug- and alcohol-soaked twenties, up to the present day (Lloyd, with a backslide or two, has been clean and sober since the mid-1980s). In an oddly childlike tone, he writes about his favorite guitarists, lots, and lots of sex, lots, and lots of drug use (cresting with a crippling heroin addiction in the early 1980s), and his recording and touring career as a founding member of Television and as a solo artist and session musician.

In the prologue, Lloyd makes an interesting distinction between autobiography and memoir, insisting that he's composing the latter, which allows writers to wander among life's events, untethered to chronology, and to "understand [themselves] a bit and to share their lives from the inside." Yet for the most part, Lloyd observes, with detachment, his life's worth of sensual, pharmaceutical, and artistic adventures in the world's "lunatic asylum"—occasionally floating theories on spirituality, mysticism, Dharma energy, and psychology, especially in the book's ponderous final pages—with nary a note of self-reflection. We shouldn't necessarily expect deep character excavation in rock star memoirs, but we can hope for some measure of stock-taking, of wisdom or perspective arriving with the long view. For the most part, Lloyd seems uninterested in that; rather, Everything is Combustible reads like a dispassionate diary, closer in tone to Walter Benjamin's "Hashish in Marseilles" than to a revealing memoir.

That said, the book's juicy as hell. In the late-60s in Los Angeles, Lloyd palled around with the idiosyncratic guitarist and performer Velvert Turner, a protege of Jimi Hendrix's from whom Lloyd claims to have learned tricks on the guitar. For a time in the mid-70s he hung with Anita Pallenberg and Keith Richards, the latter of whom invited Lloyd down to Jamaica with him on a whim. Alcoholism and drug abuse permeates the book, and the extent of Lloyd's recreational drinking and drugging is astonishing; that he's alive is a remarkable testament to, as he sees it, his stamina, native curiosity in the expanding limits of body-testing, luck, and prayer. Lloyd's other major preoccupation in the book, sex, is mostly of the mid- and late-70s one-off variety, much of it emotionally engaging for Lloyd, a lot of it degrading and tawdry, and sometimes mean-spirited, for both parties. There's a funny scene involving Keith Moon in a tux, and a great revelation that Joey Ramone wrote his early Ramones songs on a guitar with only two strings. Lloyd gets digs in at his fellow band mates, particularly Tom Verlaine, whom he barely tolerates, endeavors to correct one or three errors in others' memoirs of the era and scene, and details the up-and-down recordings sessions of Television's three albums (Marquee Moon, Adventure, and Television) all with an innocent, wide-eyed view of the wonder of the world and the strange people doing strange, sometimes weird, sometimes tragic, often funny things on it.


Two of my favorite moments in the book revolve around music, unsurprisingly. One occasion is couched in a very particular moment in time. In 1978, Television's second album Adventure entered the English charts at #7, but as Lloyd observes, "the timing of our tour for the record was all wrong. While on tour we received a sample of The Cars’ new record. That’s when we knew we were done for in terms of mainstream radio airplay."
We were sitting on the tour bus while listening to it and Tom [Verlaine] threw up his hands and said, “Well that’s it—that’s a commercial Television. Elektra now has a band that is commercial and they are going to forget about us.”
Verlaine, however despairing, was on the money about Ric Ocasek's band; they were just on this side of pop in their arty songwriting, a Top 40 instinct that Television seemed to lack. Lloyd: "Too bad, but we broke up later that year anyway."

The other moment is more universal. Lloyd's hanging out with Keith Richards at Richards's house in Connecticut, when Keef asks Lloyd if he'd "like to have a play." Nervously, he says yes. "Two acoustic guitars soon arrived," Lloyd recalls. "This shocked me a little bit because I was used to playing electric guitar and hardly ever played acoustic."
I always say that I play the electricity while the guitar plays me and the three of us dance while the music comes out.

Photo of Richard Lloyd and Fred Smith of Television performing at CBGB's in New York City on March 14, 1980 via Getty Images

Saturday, January 20, 2018

South Toledo Talking Blues

The Mods, 1966, left to right: Terry Smith, Larry Music. Larry Smith, horizontal, Fred Jablonski

So baby I know we had a good thing going
And now I see you comin' down the sidewalk and you're playin' your radio
And baby, you knew you done me wrong when you went out with all the high hipsters
But baby now you're back and you're the one whose gonna get a hard way to go

The Mods' bio here.

The Mods recorded the two songs in Toledo, Ohio on the PECK label in the basement of Buzz 

Friday, January 12, 2018

My silver-painted face

KISS signs first recording contract with Neil Bogart's Casablanca Records, on November 1, 1973
In his 2011 autobiography No Regrets (co-written with Joe Layden and John Ostrosky), Ace Frehley sifts through decades of drunken, drug-ridden shenanigans, blackouts, Guardian Angel-vouchsafed impaired driving; groupies, brushes with the law, stays in therapy and rehab, professional lows and highs, excesses of all kinds, to tell the story of a left-of-center, lazy kid from The Bronx who had only one ambition in life: to be a rock guitarist in a wildly popular band. Against unlikely odds, Frehley satisfied that ambition a thousand-fold.

As always, I find myself most interested in the early chapters of a rock star's memoirs. Frehley's stories of seeing the Who, Hendrix, Steppenwolf, Mitch Ryder, and other giants in New York City in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and his hilariously lucky propensity to find himself backstage often, are loaded with the kind of wide-eyed, fanboy, rockist, beer-soaked details that are still clearly dear to him. Similarly to Keith Richards's Life, Frehley regularly brings his musings (you can hear the borough accent) back to his great love: rock and roll. He admits that his favorite memories of playing in the dysfunctional KISS are the early days, when the band hustled for gigs, made their own fliers, sewed their own costumes, learned how to put on makeup by trial and error, played for an audience of a dozen as if there were tens of thousands there, and stuck together as a band of brothers.

I especially like Frehley's description of personally buying the first KISS album. "We were doing things differently in KISS, putting the cart in front of the horse, creating a brand, with a unique marketing concept before we'd even developed a following," he writes.
So I guess it shouldn't have been a huge surprise that the first record didn't exactly take the world by storm. Hardly anyone knew who the hell we were, or why we were wearing this ridiculous makeup. Was the band a joke? A gimmick?

No, man. We were dead fucking serious. But it took some time to convince everyone else.

On that February day I walked into (the now-defunct) Alexander's department store on Fordham Road in the Bronx, right across the street from Fordham University. Alexander's stood near one of the busiest intersections in the borough. There was always a crowd hanging out nearby, and the traffic in and out of the place seemed never to slow. I'd been shopping at Alexander's since I was a little kid—bought a big chunk of my album collection there. So you can imagine how I felt walking through the store, my heart racing as I headed to the music section. You can imagine what it must have been like for a guy who had bought his first Hendrix record—and his first Led Zeppelin record, his first Who record—in this very spot to suddenly be thumbing through the stacks of vinyl, looking for a record of his very own.

And there it was, staring out at me from a wall of new releases:


I picked it up, held it for a moment, flipped it from back to front. I smiled and laughed a little as I looked at my silver-painted face, gazing stoically from the upper right-hand corner.

Then I walked to the cash register, pulled out a ten-dollar bill, and paid for the record without saying a word.

Alexander's department store, Fordham Road, The Bronx, New York


Monday, January 8, 2018

"My mind is blown"

The Cramps, Max's, 1977
The Fleshtones' guitarist Keith Streng, on seeing the Cramps for the first time, in 1977: “I flipped when I saw the Cramps. It was probably the most amazing show I ever attended."
I went to Max’s on some Tuesday night to see Suicide, and the opening band was the Cramps, their first show in New York City. Within half a song my mind is blown. It was probably more shocking to see them than to see the Ramones, because when you saw the Ramones they already had a following. At Max’s there were, like, 28 people in the whole place on a Tuesday night and you’re watching the Cramps do their thing for the first time in New York City. They had their gig way down, they were really professional, they knew what they wanted.
Shortly after the show, an inspired Streng wrote "The Dreg (Fleshtone-77)," the lead cut to the Fleshtones' debut album, a stone-cold Super Rock classic, and a fan favorite forty years down the line.

"The Dreg (Fleshtone-77"), Roman Gods (1982)

"The Dreg" (and "Theme from 'The Vindicators'") at Vicolo Bolognetti in Bologna, Italy, July 11, 2015
The Fleshtones, Queens, New York, 1977
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