Monday, July 18, 2011

I Miss David Bowie

   David Bowie went into a sort of unofficial retirement after suffering a heart attack in 2006, aged fifty-nine, and so the cultural scene lost one of its most elegant and brilliant musicians and artists. (He lives quietly with his wife, the former model Iman, in New York.)
   In 2002 Bowie recorded the album Toy, left unreleased in favor of Heathen, which hit the market that same year. The latter carried the track "Slip Away," a melancholy remembrance of an obscure New York children's TV show Bowie and friends used to watch and giggle over. The opening track on Toy is "Uncle Floyd," a slightly different version of the same song. Both are gorgeous.
   Below, for the purposes of comparing and contrasting, are audio of "Uncle Floyd" and "Slip Away," followed by a gorgeous rendition from a 2002 TV show (the video quality is less than perfect, but the performance is stellar) and one from his "Reality Tour," during the European leg of which he sadly suffered the heart attack that appears to have sent him into hiding.
   (I saw Bowie at the Berkeley Community Theater on the American leg of the "Reality Tour." He performed "Slip Away/Uncle Floyd" backed by opening act The Polyphonic Spree, for lack of better description a rock and roll gospel choir. It would understate things to say the version burned down the house.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Because the Rolling Stones are Fuckin' Awesome, That's Why #2

   In summer 1976, the Rolling Stones toured Europe, an extension of their go-round of America the year prior. That spring they'd released Black and Blue, inarguably the worst of their 1962-1983 output. To flog the album they included some of its dreadful songs in the 1976 shows. ("Fool to Cry," anyone? "Hot Stuff"? Eesh.)
   By 1976 Keith Richards' heroin addiction had attained epically destructive proportions. (Hence Black and Blue, in all its shitty glory.) Tragedy dogged him that year, too. A month before the Stones pulled into Paris for a multi-night stand, Keith's son Tara died, aged three months. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was cited as the offical cause, but rumors, naturally, floated about the extensive drug use indulged by Keith and his longtime partner Anita Pallenberg. 
   Regardless, the tour went on. Beneath the photos below, I've posted an audio recording of the June 7 Paris show recorded directly from the mixing board--the console where a technician balances the sounds of the instruments and singing for optimal concert broadcast.
   Because it is taken for that source (as opposed to from a little tape recorder held by an audience member), this bootleg recording has nearly the clarity of a live album. Indeed, the Stones culled three sides of the double live album Love You Live (1977) from the 1976 Paris shows.
   Incidentally, that album's fourth side featured a few songs from their ill-fated early-1977 appearance at the El Mocambo club in Canada. Keith was busted for heroin possession on his way into the country for the shows; the busts precipitated his cleanup from, at least, that particular heavy drug. (It wouldn't be until 2006, after brain surgery, that he surrendered cocaine. He was sixty-three.)
   If nothing else from the nearly two-hour June 7 show, listen to "Honky Tonk Women," the first song. (I recommend earbuds/headphones.) Keith is in the right channel, guitarist Ron Wood--who'd joined the Stones the year before--in the left. Inside-baseball fans will want to know (or already do) that at the time both Keith and Woody were playing through three Ampeg amplifier heads and three speaker cabinets with six 12" speakers--a ridiculous amount of power.
   On "Honky Tonk" and some other songs, Keith played a custom-built five-string Zematis guitar (it was later stolen). From his opening blast in "Honky Tonk," his guitar tone is dementedly raunchy.
   In the press at the time he  made a big deal of the difference in the band after Ronnie Wood replaced guitarist Mick Taylor, a Stone from 1969-1974. Taylor was rightly known as a brilliant player capable of improvising melodic, achingly gorgeous solos. But his focus on soloing left Keith to anchor the rhythm, which happens to be his particular forte anyway.
   By way of example of the Taylor-Richards style, I've included a recording of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" taken from a show in Brussels in 1973, Taylor's last tour with the Stones and, aficianados will tell you, the band's peak live period. Keith again is in the right channel, Taylor in the left. The Stones suffered licensing problems with their 1960s material, which prevented them from putting out a highly anticipated live album from the 1972 American tour. This version of "YCAGWYW" was taken from a professional recording first broadcast on the King Biscuit Flower Hour in 1974. It is the great Stones live album that was never released, the holy grail for Stones freaks.. (Oh, fuck it--below "YCAGWYW" I've posted audio of the entire performance. Spend an hour or so to see how really great the Rolling Stones once were.)
   Anyway, Ronnie Wood proved a less adept soloist than Mick Taylor, but he perfectly commingled rhythm and lead parts with Keith; the two meshed completely. Keith has dubbed their style of interplay "the ancient art of weaving" and has said it's like having "one guitar and four hands." You'll hear that on the June 7, 1976 "Honky Tonk." Listen, for example, to Woody's pounding rhythm behind Keith's solo. At the end of it, Woody perfectly doubles, way up high, Keith's solo-ending lick.
   Below the June 7 show audio you'll see footage of the Stones playing "Honky Tonk," taken from another of the Paris concerts. 

Keith onstage in '76, looking a bit the worse for the wear. In hand: the Zematis five-stringer. 

Keith and Anita in '76: stylish as rockers, high as kites. 

The June 7 Paris show (sound only). Listen to "Honky Tonk Women," the first song.

   Footage of "Honky Tonk Women" from another of the Paris '76 concerts. 

Mick Taylor owns "You Can't Always Get What You Want," Brussels, 1973

The Stones in Brussels, 1973. Makeup, glitter, heroin--genius.

Mad as a Hater

   Anger also is related with other motivations. So therefore there can be positive anger. Anger out of hatred, out of fear--destructive fear--is harmful. But anger out of [a] sense of well-being, out of compassion, that kind of anger is positive. 
   So, like [the] ego feeling--ego feeling, just self-centered ego: it's negative. But another ego, the sense of [a] strong self, it's very necessary in order to build self-confidence and willpower. 
   --The Dalai Lama

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Friday, July 08, 2011

Smooth Sailing

   I go for something that sounds great, and if you want to try and figure out exactly what it means, let me know. Because there's no exact meaning to it. It's like life. It's all a little jagged and misunderstood. 
   ---Keith Richards, on his approach to singing and writing lyrics

Face Time 2

Thursday, July 07, 2011

When Good Cars Go Badass 4

   An early 70s Chevy, snapped by an intrepid LA spy.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

A Siren's Calling

   Nearly three decades ago, the 4AD Records "supergroup" This Mortal Coil produced three albums--It'll End in Tears (Oct. 1984), Filigree and Shadow (Sept. 1986), and Blood (1991). Each was a conceptual piece in which instrumentals both airy and heavy linked curiously, often hauntingly, reinterpreted songs originally sung by 4AD and other artists. (Founded in 1980 by Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent, 4AD today is home to such indie heavyweights as Bon Iver, The National and Iron and Wine.)
   One of the most haunting--and, for my money, the most powerful--tunes is the group's cover of the 1960s/'70s singer/songwriter Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren," from the first record. Actually, although it was released under the name This Mortal Coil, the version is performed by guitarist Robin Guthrie and vocalist Elizabeth Fraser (photos below, then and now), who comprised the group the Cocteau Twins (third photo). So in effect it's a Cocteau Twins performance.

   The aching story of a lovelorn sailor, "STTS" was penned by Buckley and his writing partner Larry Beckett, and released on his 1970 album Starsailor. Buckley was popular and respected, but the Buckley family luck ran thin. Buckley died June 29, 1975 of a heroin overdose. His son, the beautiful musician Jeff Buckley--you've likely heard his version of "Hallelujah"--died in 1997, aged twenty-eight, under tragic if mysterious circumstances: he disappeared while swimming in the Mississippi River. His death was later ruled an accidental drowning.
   In the TMC/CT version of "STTS," Robin Guthrie's ethereal electric guitar creates a logy sense of oceanic dislocation. Elizabeth Fraser's vocals pierce the fog, her voice as crystalline as her enunciation is garbled. The effect is heart-wrenching: a profound, indeed bottomless, sense of loss.
   The song originally was released as a 7" single (record) in the early '80s, and appeared on the album version sometime after. It was enormously popular in an underground way: it never got past #66 on the British charts, but it stayed on the charts for something like 100 weeks.
   I first heard it in the late '80s, and it shredded me. You can have your revisionist '80s bullshit; for a lot of us, it was a time of mass death. A good portion of the gay male community was wiped out by AIDS while the sitting president did nothing. His name was Ronald Reagan, and, speaking of revisionism, remember that name and his inaction on AIDS when you next hear Republicans laud him. One hundred thousand, seven hundred and seventy-seven AIDS-related deaths between 1981 and 1990 (figures here). Reagan didn't utter the word "AIDS" until 1987, six years into the epidemic.
   Fuck him.
   Anyway, this song, like many others, became a soundtrack for that grim era, and so it has special resonance for people who attended funeral after funeral of friends who died young and horribly. (By 1989, AIDS was the second-leading cause of death among American males ages 25-44.)
   I'd always thought that at my own funeral--to which you are all invited, by the way, and which I hope happens in roughly thirty-five years, cuz why not live to ninety?--I'd make everyone sit through the entire Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street album. There I'd be--fucking with people from beyond the grave. But I think perhaps just "Torn and Frayed," from that album, followed by the TMC version of "Song to the Siren," would do the trick. 
   Below are some "STTS"-related items. First, you'll find a link to a website in which a guy decodes differences between the Buckley and TMC "Song to the Siren" versions. The lyrics are printed below that.
   Then come videos. The first is the official This Mortal Coil music video. The second shows the Cocteau Twins performing the song on an undated TV show. The third contains a live audio version from a 1994 CT performance in France. The fourth shows Tim Buckley performing the song in 1968 on the TV show The Monkees (!). In the fifth, Robert Plant, channeling Bryan Ferry, offers a likable version on VH1's Storytellers that gives more than a passing nod to the great Led Zeppelin tune "The Rain Song." And, oh, what the hell--the sixth shows Zep ripping "The Rain Song" live. The seventh and eighth are, respectively, studio and live versions of Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah." Like father, like son. 
   Enjoy, if that's the word I'm looking for. 

   The "STTS" lyric deconstruction appears here
   And these are the lyrics as sung by Fraser, with Buckley's originals in parentheses: 

On the floating (Long afloat on) shipless oceans
I did all my best to smile
'Til your singing eyes and fingers
Drew me loving to your isle
And you sang, "Sail to me.  Sail to me, let me enfold you.
Here I am.  Here I am, waiting to hold you."

Did I dream you dreamed about me?
Were you here when I was (full sail) flotsam (Were you hare when I was fox)
Now my foolish boat is leaning
Broken lovelorn on your rocks (now)
For you sing, "Touch me not.  Touch me not, come back tomorrow."
Oh my heart, oh my heart shies from the sorrow.

Well I'm as puzzled as a newborn child.
I'm as riddled as the tide.
Should I stand amid the breakers,
Or should I lie with death, my bride?
Hear me sing, "Swim to me.  Swim to me, let me enfold you.
Here I am.  Here I am, waiting to hold you."


Saturday, July 02, 2011

Face Time

   The intense competitiveness. The fierce concentration. The deep focus.
   The... bizarre faces?
   Competitive tennis is a fast-moving sport, requiring agility, skill, and--judging from the photos below--the capacity for twisting the face beyond recognition. Wouldn't it be cool if they awarded trophies for Best Face? You've got a 120-mph serve? Ha! I've got this face--and this trophy for making it. So suck it!
   (I picked the best of 33 pix on the Huffington Post. See these and the remainder here.)

Burnin' Down the House

   I used to like it when TV and rock 'n' roll didn't get along. To me, TV is the family and the house. Rock 'n' roll is something outside the house. 
      --Keith Richards