Saturday, March 31, 2018

"We are Four New Fevers"

A very interesting video popped up on YouTube recently, footage of an infamous Fleshtones tour of Italy in 1987 from which Peter Zaremba was notably absent. (Read all about the dysfunction and subsequent fallout in Sweat.) Reduced to a four-piece, the Fleshtones cancelled some gigs and gamely played others (Zaremba finally showed up for a show in Greece with Hoodoo Gurus and the Dream Syndicate.) Here, Streng, an unwitting front man, leads the band—Bill Milhizer, Gordon Spaeth, and Robert Burke Warren—through "Legend of A Wheelman," "Southern Twitch," "Way Down South," "Mean Ole Lonesome Train," "The Dreg/Hexbreaker," and "Return of the Leather Kings"; Warren sings lead on his track, "I Can't Do Without You." These odd "Fleshtones shows" were essentially Full Time Men gigs, Streng's side band with Milhizer, Warren, Spaeth, and guest musicians. They'd record a full length album Your Face My Fist, in January of 1988.

A bright side to all of this discord: the Fleshtones would later perform a make-up show in Italy at a beach near Rome. At the conclusion of the gig, Peter and Bill jumped into the ocean and swam away as the rest of the band was finishing Jody Reynolds’ “Endless Sleep,” a tune about a guy who saves his girlfriend from drowning. “They had set the stage up on the beach,” Peter remembers. “By the time we were playing, the tide had come up and there was water coming up under the stage. We were expecting to get electrocuted any second. It seemed like the only appropriate way to end a show like that was to swim away.” Peter and Bill, tom-drum in hand, ended up somewhere down the beach. “There was another party going on in an establishment on the beach,” Bill laughs. “So we walked in there soaking wet because we didn’t want to come back to the Fleshtones-show area just yet. That would blow the exit!”

Friday, March 30, 2018


(Jamie Squire / Getty Images)
Well, readers of this blog know, I've been following Chicago White Sox DH/infielder Matt Davidson closely for a couple of years now (here, here, and here). Hooray for small sample size and all that, but if his smashing performance in the team's opener on Thursday is any indication, my study's gonna be a lot of fun this summer. Davidson became only the fourth major-league player since 1908 to hit three homers on opening day. Jim Margalus at Sox Machine adds: "Just as importantly, Davidson drew a walk without striking out. He only had 16 zero-K games out of 107 starts last year, and he only strung together K-less starts twice."
"A lot of us don’t have a huge track record in the major leagues, so the confidence is going to be a big thing,” Davidson said in the Chicago Tribune. “Actually seeing the results in front of our eyes is going to be huge for us and our development. We want to keep on having those days, so we remember we’re that good."
On Thursday they were that good. But it's March.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Long Shot: The Fleshtones in 1980

It's very cool to watch this clip (below) of the Fleshtones playing CBGBs in August of 1980, filmed for the Urgh! A Music War movie and soundtrack. The band had been together for four years; drummer Bill Milhizer had joined a few months prior. If you've caught the Fleshtones somewhere recently, not much looks, sounds, or feels all that different, save for Ken Fox leaping around where Marek Pakulski used to play. (Witness the Beat Kitchen in Chicago a few weeks back.) I mean this as a compliment, of course.

Here's some context from Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America's Garage Band: "On August 21, Derick Burbridge arrived in New York with film crews in tow to lens acts for the Urgh! movie at CBGB’s and The Ritz. The Fleshtones were slotted to play their first show at the Bowery venue in well over a year."
Ian Copeland pronounced hopefully (and accurately) that “the acts that we’ve got are not what’s happening right now, but what’s going to be happening over the next ten years.” Burbridge filmed The Fleshtones following two support bands, Human Switchboard and Dirty Looks, before a surprisingly smallish crowd at CBGB’s, given the hype and promotion drummed up by A&M and F.B.I.. Although they were dismayed at having to play at CBGBs, where odd feelings between management and the band lingered, The Fleshtones tore through a typically frenetic if necessarily brief set, Peter doing nothing to indicate that he’d taken to heart Patron’s advice to stay more on mike. In The Soho News, Ira Kaplan called the band’s performance “superb,” and John Buckley raved that it was “sublime,” that “if this movie, F.B.I. or I.R.S. [does] something for The Fleshtones...then the Copelands deserve a certain degree of canonization.” Urgh! was released in 1981 with an accompanying double-album soundtrack, for which The Fleshtones contributed “Shadow Line.” (A version of Little Richard’s “Dancing All Around the World,” also recorded and mixed, didn’t make the final cut.) [From the Never Too Late File: the Fleshtones recorded “Dancing All Around the World" for their most recent album, Budget Buster.]
Soon after this performance, the Fleshtones flew to Los Angeles to record their ill-fated debut EP, Up-Front.
Ian Copeland himself lobbed an encouraging, if backhanded, compliment toward The Fleshtones as they prepared for Los Angeles: “Some of the bands on Urgh! are definitely a long shot, but who but us is convinced the Fleshtones are going to be huge?” 
Bill Milhizer (l) and Keith Streng

l-r: Marek Pakulski, Peter Zaremba, and Keith Streng


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Career Choices, circa 1975

role models
"When I grow up, I wanna be a cowboy."

"I wanna be...uh...a dentist."

"When I grow up, maybe I wanna be a mechanic."

"I wanna be a rock and roll drummer!"

This opening also kicked off the hairy, shirtless, horse- and motorcycle-riding promo film for "We're An American Band," an evocative introduction to the head space of each Funk member, if that's your thing.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Why don't you ask her?

Mark Doty, in his terrific essay "Bride in Beige," recounts being asked by his copy editor to fact check an incident in his draft-stage memoir, Firebird. The incident in question was why his sister wore a beige, not a white, wedding dress. Why don't you ask her why? said the copy editor. Doty writes: "This question struck me with considerable force, in the way that obvious things often do. All I had to do was pick up the phone."
But what startled me was not that an answer to my question (or the version of the story my sister Sally would recall now, anyway) was readily available—what struck me was that I had been working on the book all this time and that, during all that delving, I hadn't wanted to know. l didn't realize until I was asked this question how deeply my book was allegiant to memory, not to history.
When I was a kid, my family regularly drove from suburban Washington D.C. to the small town of Coldwater, in western Ohio, where my mom's parents still lived. Train tracks cut through the town, and once, while I was walking with my older brothers and sister from our grandparents' house into town, a train arrived. While it was still a ways away, one of my brothers grabbed my foot and wedged it between the rail ties near a street intersection. My foot was stuck as the train—in memory—barreled toward me at reckless speed. It was probably traveling slowly, as trains do when cutting through a town, and soon enough I wrenched my foot free as—in memory—my brothers laughed.

I share this inconsequential story, a version of which you likely possess, not to incriminate my siblings or to whine and cry foul, but because I'm put in my mind of it whenever I read Doty's essay. I, too, could easily corroborate this story with the brother in question, but I don't want to know if a) it never happened, or b) it happened less dramatically then I recall. The facts don't matter to me, now. The incident (I'm still calling it that), how I've replayed it off and on down the years, has come in large part to define and narrate my attitude toward and relationship with my brother for a certain period of our lives. Were I to discover that my memory is suspect, or were I to hear my brother's version, likely different from mine, or his defense, or other details that would provide context, the essential truth that that memory tells in unchanged. It's a kind of Greek chorus to a certain era of my life marked by resentment, immaturity, and dysfunction. What it says is true, always, even if what it says is untrue.

Later in the essay, Doty writes, "I want to suggest that beyond the personal ethics of memoir—how fair or unfair we are to other people in our lives—and beyond the matter of accuracy, there’s a higher ethical standard, which has to do with the ethics of art: that what is made is commensurate with the real." Biblical stuff, that. What's real is what is felt; what's felt is what's true. There are many problems with that equation, which doesn't make it any less profound.

Doty's essay first appeared in Poets & Writers in 2008, and was reprinted in Truth in Nonfiction, edited by David Lazar.

Friday, March 23, 2018

"I was bored in my first semester at college..."
The Crawdaddy! Origin Story

Many creation stories originate in frustration ennui, boredom, and/or obsession. The origins of Crawdaddy!, the early rock and roll magazine founded by Paul Williams, were no different. From college disaffection to rock fantasies realized, that old story.

From Williams's introduction to The Crawdaddy! Book: Writings and Images from the Magazine of Rock: "I was seventeen and a half. The most important thing in my life for the last two years had been music."
I’d been listened mostly to folk and blues, but the previous winter—spring (1965), when I was a senior in high school, rock ‘n’ roll had started talking to me in a big way....

I was bored in my first semester at college, although I did have a weekly blues program...and a morning rock ‘n’ roll program on the college radio station, WSRN. Then one day in late January 1966 I was in a drugstore off campus looking at a fan magazine aimed at teenage girls. I read that two of my favorite bands, the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones, had got their start playing in a club in Richmond, Surrey, England, called the Crawdaddy CIub—and it hit me in a blinding flash that it was now time to start this rock ‘n’ roll magazine I’d been thinking about, and that it should be called Crawdaddy!

Walking back to campus, all the details of a plan of action flooded into my excited mind. I would hitchhike to New York City, scam some “review copies” of new records from record companies, write them up, put out the first issue of Crawdaddy! on a friend’s mimeograph machine, send it off to friends and radio stations, and try to sell it at newsstands and record stores in Cambridge and New York. And so I did....
So now I knew the name of the magazine and had a plan of how I could put together the first issue during the five days between the end of exams and the start of the next semester. I was happy and excited. I didn’t really know where this would go, but I had a place to start and a direction…a ticket to ride.
Excited-minded Paul Williams, armed with ideas

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Remembering the Prime Movers

"We did it in high school. We're doing it now."
The Prime Movers (l-r, Dick Tate, Cam Ackland, Jeff Sugarman, Dennis McCarthy)
Sometimes a band just gets in you and stays there—especially when you're in your hungry early twenties, when music's as vital as oxygen. I came across Boston's Prime Movers when the Claws compilation found its way to WMUC at the University of Maryland, where I had a radio show. I dug "True To Me" and fell in love even harder with "All That Cryin'" from the Mr. Beautiful Presents All Hard comp. Both songs are glorious, spirited, desperate rock and roll—singer Cam Ackland's vocals are soulful, gruff, and timeless—and I played them to death, along with several cuts from the band's earlier Matters Of Time EP. Sadly, I never got to see them live, which is pretty remarkable given the numbers of shows I went to back then and the pipeline of Boston-area bands who made it down to D.C. to play. But I'll always have these killer records.

"True To Me," Claws (1985)

"All That Cryin'," Mr. Beautiful Presents All Hard (1985)

"Something Called Time," Matters Of Time [EP] (1984)

The Prime Movers were short lived, breaking up in the late 80s. They reunited briefly in the early aughts, released an album, and played out a bit; sadly, bass player Jeffrey Sugerman died in 2012.


I've just come across a terrific document from the era, a feature on the band from "30 GO," a music video program spotlighting Boston bands created by Cathy Carter and James Berkowitz, two graduates of Emerson College. The interview was conducted in 1986 in Boston at the band's rehearsal space—a MAACO Auto Body garage! I never really knew at the band looked like, and had I seen them live I might've been put off initially by their 60s-style, fearing only that they were more enamored of capturing a period look and sound than in playing real rock and roll (a self-consciousness that torpedoed many a "revivalist" band back in the day, in my opinion). A song or two in, my anxieties would've faded. In this exchange, guitarist Dick Tate and Cam Ackland discuss those influences and the difficulties that posed for some listeners and critics:
DT: Everything that's been done today was done in the '60s first, in most respects. To just ignore that fact is kinda like cheating yourself. We take a lot of classic '60s chords, put our own lyrics to them....

CA: But it's only 'cause we like that stuff, it's not because we think it's hip, it's the new thing. It's because that's what we like.

DT: We did it in high school. We're doing it now.

CA: We also take, like, classic '80s or '70s stuff, too, that we like. It's not bound by any time or specific genre of music 
This is followed by a bit of a take down of the New York City garage rock scene—specifically those scene purists who'd make a face if the band didn't play a requisite cool '60s cover at a show—and inevitably a territorial proclamation on Boston Versus NYC. Drummer Dennis McCarthy: "There's more sense of fun up here [in Boston]".
The attitude in New York overcomes the fun, definitely. Don't you think? [In Boston] people let go of that a little bit more.

CA: In New York, all those people who are into garage music and stuff were the kind of kids who when you went over to their house in grade school, they were like, "Don't touch my models! Don't touch my Battleship models!"
To much laughter. A bit of snark, thick Boston accents, long hair, and rock and roll.

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.