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May 06 2013


Manque Generation


Without even venturing to the upper reaches of Fifth Avenue, I unreservedly despise the Metropolitan Museum's new Costume Institute exhibition, PUNK: Chaos to Couture, which purports to "examine punk's impact on high fashion from the movement's birth in the early 1970s through its continuing influence today."

To put it simply, there is nothing in this particular quadrant of the celestial universe more un-punk than a Met show on punk's impact on couture.

This is all you need to know about punk fashion: sometime in the late 70s, I saw Stiv Bators walk past me on the stairs at Max's in some kind of multi-layered leather jacket sarong with a red scarf and thought, "I gotta find something that like."

There is no punk fashion after that. By 1983, punk fashion was for marketers and those who'd missed it. Vivienne Westwood, the MRI for your soul beckons - perhaps some wisp may be seen on the resonance machine. But I doubt it.

For those who were there - and yeah, this is a fogey rant so bear with me kiddies - "punk fashion" was the most ephemeral thing in the world. Sure, the more manufactured of the British punks were studied collectors and McLaren tried his marketing bones (and went belly up) but all else was momentary experimentation. Otherwise it was thrift shop nonsense and passing fancy; fashion of the moment, by the moment, and for the moment.

The recreation of CBGB at the Met is like the faux Oval Office in George W. Bush's new Presidential library - there's an unsanitary stain on your soul if you're taken in by the exhibitor's artifice.

To quote my friend Al Giordano via his angry Facebook feed:

Why do some of my chums seem to crave "institutional endorsement" for something whose first beauty was its utter contempt for institutions and absolute disregard for their approval? Day in, day out, we are treated to bombastic NY Times "stories" on this stupid exhibit, people who should know better link to them and cheer them. Well, sit down all of ye and stare at this Bloomingdales ad (hat tip Jim Sullivan) and contemplate what *always* happens when institutions try to make something theirs. I hope someone tosses dollar bills off the balcony during tonight's exhibit opening to reveal the true colors of this porkfest and lay waste to its elite pretensions.

Please remember dear friends that the Met is one of my favorite New York institutions. I liked it back in those days too. But for different reasons. I guess you can't put your arms around a memory (and Johnny Thunders knew his way around fashion, bub), but today's fashion manques can try and sell some baubles from the days of yore.

April 02 2012


The Legend of Carlotta Valdes

Been writing again. Here's a story-telling song about a woman named Carlotta Valdes - it was inspired by Vertigo, but the back story is mine. Just your typical 19th century feminist hero mobster tale....by way of Mexico, Texas and California. The Ballad of Carlotta Valdes by telecaster62
Tags: Music

October 02 2011


Pump It Up Until You Can Feel It

When "new wave" was a newly-minted but short-lived record sales category, Elvis Costello & the Attractions shared a bill at the old Capital Theater in Passaic, New Jersey with Rockpile of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds partnership and blew the doors into the nearby flood zone with a nuclear version of "Pump It Up!" one of the big hits off This Year's Model, a record that belongs on anyone's 70s playlist. Costello and his band were all crooked angles, bouncing and veering to the swirling keys of the bent, trapezoidal Steve Nieve who sent trills into the rafters while Costello's twangy Fender chords hung around down by the stage, bouncing off the wasted kids doing the pogo in the aisles. The experience remains front and center in the musical mind thirty-odd years on.

Last night, we finished a pre-concert libation at La Casa Del Mofongo before repairing to excellent orchestra seats in the cavernous United Palace Theater on Broadway at 175th Street in Washington Heights - better known in previous years as the earthly home of the Reverend Ike and his United Church Science of Living Institute (an outfit that also rocked, on occasion). Ike has departed for the kingdom above, but the show in his palace got the soul stirring last night, courtesy of the skinny Anglo-Irish lad from Birkenhead, and his Imposters, a tight outfit that features the slightly less-angular Nieve on the swirling killer keys. It may well have been the setting and the hometown crowd (Costello has lived in New York for decades). But two hours and 45 minutes of non-stop songs, enlivened by caged go-go girls (including Weeds star Mary-Louise Parker, who shimmied in the cage while the band blasted through "Monkey to Man") and audience members who spun a huge wheel of hits to create a unique setlist, left us buzzing like it was 1978.

Of course, we didn't have these handy Internet blogs and boards to track setlists back then - nor were we particularly interested in the librarian side of rock in those New York days. But I was amazed last night with the breadth of work that Costello managed to cover in (at least) 34 songs, some of them spontaneously called to the band. The hits were there of course - and the clever covers (I particularly enjoyed the conjoined version of Prince's "Purple Rain" with a bit of the Beatles' "Rain"). But it was the catalogue that wowed, and the artistic energy poured into every song; "Clowntime Is Over," for example, had all the anger and lyrical lashing out it deserved, with Costello's vocal range on full, audacious display.

We're not completists as a usual rule, but this setlist deserves some attention - it'll have me scurrying to download or stream a bunch of B-sides and album cuts.

Lipstick Vogue
Watching The Detectives
Help Me
Everyday I Write The Book
Cry, Cry Cry

I Still Miss Someone
Stella Hurt
Monkey To Man
His Latest Flame
Waiting For The End Of The World
I Can Only Give You Everything
You Little Fool
Town Cryer
New Lace Sleeves
Clowntime Is Over
Strict Time
Man Out Of Time
Out Of Time (Jagger/Richards)
I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea
Pump It up
Heart Of The City
Radio Radio
Red Shoes
Purple Rain (Prince)
Rain (Lennon/McCartney)
I'm In The Mood Again
I Still Have That Other Girl
The Stations Of The Cross
Watch Your Step
Secondary Modern
National Ransom
What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding (Lowe)
Wheels (Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman)


Tags: Music

April 11 2011


Come Gather 'Round People

Once upon a time, Bob Dylan stood dead center on a stage facing citizens of an oppressive regime that denies free speech and spat these lines viciously to the crowd:

But something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

If you read Maureen Dowd's idiotic, park-your-keister-in-a-DC-coffeeshop and hit the Google column in The Times, you're probably nodding and thinking wistfully of 1963 when young Bobby Zimmerman out of Minnesota's Iron Range actually stood for challenging authority and telling stories of truth and justice. Dylan, wrote the NYT's resident right-wing sex columnist, had sold out in China - indeed, was a sell-out for most of his career.

But you'd be wrong. Dylan, in fact, sung those lyrics front and center on the stage in the Beijing Workers' Gymnasium last week. He also sang these:

Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden

With a little reporting, James Fallows skillfully destroys the "Dylan Sells Out" charges Dowd so sloppily left at Dylan's feet. Here's a bit:

Jeremiah Jenne, a Chinese-speaker and long-time resident of Beijing who covered the actual "Jasmine Protests" in Beijing in a stint as Guest Blogger here, says in his Jottings from the Granite Studio that "there has been a rash of increasingly unrealistic drivel [about Dylan] from the foreign press, culminating yesterday in a truly moronic piece by Maureen Dowd." Jenne pointed out that one of the numbers Dylan sang in Beijing, "a corrosive version of All Along the Watchtower, ain't exactly bubble gum pop.

Dylan's not perfect, and nor has he ever been the idol of folkie protest that froze time in the last month's of the Kennedy Administration. The troubadour has made a habit of shedding skins. Yet anyone with a little knowledge of the man's actual career and writing knows he's as far from a sell-out as a major entertainment figure has been in the last fifty years. He plays it his way. The incisive BooMan finds the coda: "Dylan doesn't have to sing songs of rebellion to be subversive. His entire existence is subversive. And Dowd doesn't understand any of it."

But let's get some more from the poet, who opened his Communist-approved set in China with his Christian era classic Gonna Change My Way of Thinking, from Slow Train Coming - goes like this:

So much oppression
Can't keep track of it no more
So much oppression
Can't keep track of it no more

Tags: Music

October 30 2010


Soul Survivor


Keith Richards ambled to the stage last night at the New York Public Library, hand in one jacket pocket, his now-gray locks free of 80s voodoo tchotchkes and lost holiday ornaments, a kind of hipster Beaux-Arts Bing Crosby in the appropriately similar Celeste Bartos room. There were no Telecasters to be found, just two large arm chairs and a few hundred guests and ticket-buyers, assembled to listen to a capella riffs on Life, the instant karmic classic from the Glimmer Twin sergeant major of open G rock classicism.

The genial almost grandfatherly presence that Richards inhabited during the 90-minute interview with a gentle, nearly apologetic Anthony DeCurtis was tinged with a surprising element that you don't normally associate with the pulsing, surging, synthetic Stones: wisdom. Life (which I received in signed glory last night and will read eagerly) is promoted as the back-stage memories of one of rock's true wild men, the against-the-odds survivor of the syringe and myriad hotel hi-jinks. Yet what Richards talked about last night comprised more lessons and guidance; the creator of Satisfaction morphed into beloved secular shaman, the die-job on his ragged hair forsaken for a suburban vicar's authenticity. And there in the front pews like minor royalty at the feet of the liege were some of the bold-faced faithful: Steve van Zandt, Lou Reed, Jimmy Fallon, Lorne Michaels rubbing elbows with Library patrons who support its mission of knowledge and community wisdom.

Drugs, relations with women, conflict with life partner Mick Jagger, mortality itself (an end-state associated with the wild Keef since his mid-20s), the role of a band-as-family over a long period of time - these were the threads that might have led to tension and topical insight. (The only real news on the night was the Richards tip that the Stones may be back at it next year). Yet in this relaxed, seminar-like setting they did not. A part-time New Yorker and Connecticut gentry since the 70s, Richards bantered easily and with a shiny grin, pausing like the old hoofer he is for the laugh lines to take hold. And like his own guitar playing, he allowed white space to filter into the song, and he kept an ear out for the rhythm section along the way. As in many a Stones show, the best stuff from Keith came from a fill, a short riff, an unexpected upstroke.

When DeCurtis gently prodded him to talk about the women in his life, Richards parried easily - yet his answer was almost Confucian: "I found it very futile to write anything bad about women ... [pause - thumpa-thumpa] ... It just doesn't swing." Words to live by. A sea of nodding bald spots. The phrase "right on, man" was heard to be uttered by attending Boomers wearing faded Stones t-shirts over $200 jeans.

 The biggest light of the evening came from a surprisingly sweet topic toward the end, when DeCurtis asked Richards about his own children. Clearly a direct hit, and one that brought an older man's spoken version of the opening riff from Happy (at least to this fan's ear): “Wife, family kids. Nothing can come between them.” Then his own question. “What is a family? It sticks together." Salt of the earth talk from the leather-clad former junkie new age Dumbledore of modern living. Yet it swung.

Yet it's the music we want to hear about, that sonic wellspring we want to read about. In his rave review of Life in The Times - "by turns earnest and wicked, sweet and sarcastic and unsparing" - Michiko Kakytani says that...

...the most insistent melodic line in this volume has nothing to do with drugs or celebrity or scandal. It has to do with the spongelike love of music Mr. Richards inherited from his grandfather and his own sense of musical history, his reverence for the blues and R&B masters he has studied his entire life (“the tablets of stone”), and his determination to pass his own knowledge on down the line.

Or rather, all down the line. Whether talking about the Beatles - "primarily a vocal group where either Paul or John or even George took the lead" - or about the insistence of Motown in all of 60s rock, Richards evinced an obsessive's knowledge of both form and history. Expected of course, but still thrilling in its way because you realize that on Friday night in the old building on 42nd Street, you're in the presence not just of rock star fame (it's New York, after all, happens every day) but of perhaps the greatest living "wizard of synthesis" of that moment in time when British rockers took American blues and R&B and churned it into a different, brilliant and lasting form.

 And in that context, Richards was at his most generous to Jagger. "Ain't nobody else could sing Midnight Rambler," he said, remembering conscious efforts to write for "the best front man in the business."

Richards was charmingly comfortable with his fame, while acknowledging that it sometimes destroys other people. "I've sort of grown into it," he said seriously, pausing to chuckle a smoker's thick chuckle.  "I'll be as famous as you like."

Vitally aware of his place in history, Richards was entirely approachable on the subject of that place - but  insistent that he didn't know it back then, "not consciously," at least. He maintains that he and others served almost as channels for that musical synthesis.

"When working, making those albums [mid-60s to early 70s]  it seemed very easy at the time," he said. "I'd guess you'd say we were on a roll. We were working a lot and, uh, songs were just popping out al over the place ... You do get swept along in the general tide of feelings. Obviously, something was happening and we were trying to put our finger on it ... In a way what can you do except to mirror or express what you're hearing around you?"

Then he added: "That's what a writer does."

Tags: Music New York

May 01 2010


One Road Is Just A Road

Patti Smith wrote a book about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe called Just Kids, and made the scene at the New York Public Library the other night to talk about it. She read from the text, listened to arias, and sparred with her interlocutor in her down-to-earth girl from South Jersey earth mom kinda way. But she was really there to talk about love and loss and the path through life - and she referred several times to human "passages" and the presence of the dead in our living lives. Facing a passage in my own circle these long months, I found the experience moving, especially Patti's muscular insistence on the evidence of joy within the dark valley of human fear and mourning. Then she picked up the guitar, apologized for her lack of skill on the instrument, and proceeded to blow the room away - and shake the every leaf in the NYPL stacks below - with a rendition of In My Blakean Year from her brilliant 2004 record Trampin'. My crude handheld video appears above, shaky as its maker these days. But the sound is good, and the words are still true:

In my Blakean year
I was so disposed
Toward a mission yet unclear
Advancing pole by pole
Fortune breathed into my ear
Mouthed a simple ode
One road is paved in gold
One road is just a road

Tags: Music

January 31 2010


Whatever Happened to the New Contenders?

From There Be Dragons, the story of an old band and the wistful ways of the changing muse.
Tags: Music

January 27 2010


Taking the Stage: There Be Dragons

Tbd bayou

Tomorrow night, we unveil the rock majesty that is There Be Dragons, with a gig at the fabulous Bayou in the scenic Fleetwood section Mount Vernon, NY. TBD, as fans call us for short, is a five-man group that has been steadily working on originals and handful of covers for the last year or so, practicing above an auto body shop on Route 9A in Ardsley, next to the New York State Thruway.

The music is mostly avocation, but the ambition lurks in the breast of middle-aged rocks nonetheless. We named the band for that space on the edge of the map, the unknown regions beyond the familiar and the safe.

The band is Brendog Tween, Jason Chervokas, Steve Manzi, Mark Ursel and myself and we come from previous bands line Mephiskapheles and Shaved Pigs (the two bands Brendog toured the world with), Kool Moe Dee, the Swingin' Philanthropists,  the Grubbies, Self-Inflicted Wounds, Snot Varmint, Nonesuch, Los Gringos Perdidos and countless others.

And, I'm pleased to say, we're releasing our free 3-Song Super Single to coincide with the live debut tomorrow night. The songs are anything but similar:

Secrets of the Freemasons (Manzi) is the only 2-minute rocker you'll ever hear about Rem Koolhaus, Othmar Ammann, Buckminster Fuller and Paul McCartney. The tune nearly marries industrial design and the ancient story of love: "I'll build a coast to coast pan, from Oregon to Japan....I'll stand astride your sleek expansion joint...I'll live my life on top of you."

The semi-autobiographical Whatever Happened to the New Contenders (Chervokas) tells the story of an early 80s band and what happened to its members through the years. "At 22, the hooks just come...by 36 you just feel numb...at 40-something recommuning with the muse, playing Folsom Prison and James Alley Blues."

And then there's Infinity (Watson) an uptempo blues rocker about the rise of American terrorism....back in the 1860s, that is. And then there are the ghosts alongside the modern highway: "By the strip malls and the movieplex the bones of hate lie still, and the spirits sometimes ride again for the kill."

You can download the tunes here - free of charge, but only if you act fast! Put it on your iPod! Annoy the neighbors' dogs! Email 'em to Pete Townshend! Use 'em in your favorite YouTube video! (Or just listen to 'em on the band site).

We hope to see you at The Bayou tomorrow night - or at Madison Square Garden in a couple of months (if all goes according to the master plan - are there any record label types or promoters reading this?) - the first set starts at 9:30.

Tags: Music

December 25 2009


Re-Gifting Those Christmas Blues Away

And so as Santa guides his silvertone sled over the housetops into grooveland, we slip into the dulcet tones of  my blogging rat pack pals Neddie Jingo and Blue Girl, once again collaborating across the blue intertubes with a smooth shot of Christmas love and cheer, and some hepcat uke-picking besides. It's my Yuletide re-gift to blog readers and feedcats everywhere. Merry Christmas baby, and don't wait up:

Download yer own here and take it on the road: Santa Baby. Oh, and happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Tags: Music

November 26 2009


Now Be Thankful

Some hippie-dippy British trad-rock Celtic goodness circa 1970 from Fairport Convention on this Thanksgiving Day, 2009 - written by Dave Swarbick and Richard Thompson - somehow seems fitting in the pre-turkey mists of morning.

When the stone is grown too cold to kneel
In crystal waters I'll be bound
Cold as stone, weary to the sounds upon the wheel

Now be thankful for good things below
Now be thankful to your maker
For the rose, the red rose blooms for all to know

Tags: Music

November 20 2009


Out Here on the Field

The Who have agreed to play during halftime at Super Bowl XLIV, a source close to the performance confirms to Rolling Stone. “It’s 100 percent the Who,” the source says. “They signed a long time ago.” (Update: Sources later clarified that while the official contract is still unsigned, a deal is expected to be finalized shortly.) The official announcement from the band and the NFL is expected on Thanksgiving Day, according to another source familiar with the deal. The game, which will take place February 7th in Miami, will be broadcast on CBS.

via www.rollingstone.com

What's the setlist? Who Are You, Can't Explain, Won't get Fooled Again - or do they end with iconic/ironic My Generation, replete with shattered Fender merch?

Tags: Music
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