Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Burris Gets Buried

In amazing bit of political theater, Roland Burris, the Senator from Illinois that we all knew was corrupt from the get-go, just committed political suicide on Hardball. Chris Matthews played the soon to be ex-Senator, clearly offered money for power, the same pay to play that put Blago down for the count.

His defense - I lied to the Governor's brother. Nice try. Burris also gave it a go with this bit of logic - the Gov didn't ask me for money, his brother did. Oh, right, no connection there. Burris is a marvel. He gave Matthews an exclusive to defend himself and he went down in flames.

Didn't he ever see Jack Nicholson insist on answering the questions at the end of A Few Good Men?

Closing Credits

A quick RIP to Jay Bennett, ex-Wilco. In I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, detailed in the post below, Bennett and Tweedy go at it tooth and nail. As if Tweedy wasn't completely victorious in the internecine band battle, now Bennett is dead at 45. Don't forget the flowers.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Celluloid Heroes

A reader of this blog will find it as no surprise that I have a weakness for rock movies.

Watching a film starring a band you like is a no-brainer. A Hard Day's Night, Help!, Don't Look Back...these are among my all-time favorites, not just within the pigeonhole of the genre. Even when the cinematic experience isn't top notch, as with Concert for Bangladesh, the music is right up my aural alley and I can, and have, watched many times.

The real challenge is a musical paean to a band you don't know, or hardly know. A few of those for today.

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, a 2002 documentary about Wilco shows a band that is made up entirely of assholes. Jeff Tweedy, front man, is such a dick in this movie that it is hard to like these guys by the time the credits roll. I knew a little Wilco before I saw the flick, and a little more of Tweedy's first band, Uncle Tupelo. While I hated these guys after watching them up close and too personal, I ended up going all in on the music, loading up on the CDs I had missed. Having since seen Tweedy in concert as a solo artist, I am convinced more than ever that he is a tool, but he is also at the upper echelon of today's pop world. See the movie, hate the guy, love the music.

Dig! The bitter rivalry between The Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre is explored in depth in this 2004 doc. The what between who? Yeah, I know these are two groups few have heard of and, really, who cares, but it is a gripping show. That's part of the joy of a rock movie, the enthusiasm by the filmmaker for the music is palpable. Who would make a movie about a pair of relative unknowns other than a passionate devotee of their sound? The bands started out as pals, but as the Dandys got popular, the leader of BJM, Anton Newcombe, grew bitter. Anton is one of those "geniuses" - a sort of talent that creates religious devotion among his followers, allowing for some outrageous behavior. Compared to Anton, Jeff Tweedy is Mother Teresa. I never followed up with either band's music, I have to admit, but Dig! is a must see.

The Fearless Freaks is the impetus for this post. Recommended by a musical compadre and his band following daughter, this tribute to The Flaming Lips is well-worth your time. The Lips have a dedicated following, but I can't see it. Just not my style. 4 CDs to played at once? A garage full of car stereos synced for an art-rock symphony? As Keith Richards once said, you don't move me. That may make me a total L7, but I'm good with that. So, musically, The Lips didn't do it for me, but the movie is mesmerizing. You couldn't find a group of white trash less likely to become artsy-fartsy. Coming out of Oklahoma City, with family backgrounds heavily infused by drugs, jail, polka bands and Long John Silver's, The Flaming Lips seem to be the kind of people you would have steered clear of as they smoked pot while leaning on their cars outside the mall.

Drop me a comment on your favorite rock movie, or a recommendation. I'll watch it if I haven't seen it, guaranteed.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Land of the Lost Bands

What makes a band click and become popular? Who knows, we've all had groups we love go nowhere, and groups that suck completely become wildly successful. I'm talking to you Matchbox 20.

Lately, and I'll explain why further down, I've been thinking about some real unknowns from the early '80's that bored their way into my skull.

The Mosquitos were a killer band from those days, garage rock, Pebbles-LP style, with a touch of British Invasion. Plus, they had complete cultural cred by naming themselves after a combo that appeared in a Gilligan's Island episode. Catch them live here - For those who aren't in the know, Pebbles was a multi-volume set of records filled with rare gems of the mid-60's garage era, as influential a source for early 1980's bands as Harry Smith's Anthology of American Music was for the folkies of the 1950's and early 1960's.

The Milkshakes kicked ass, generated a rough early Mersey sound, like The Beatles at The Cavern or The Big Three, a Liverpool trio that never achieved the polish (or skill) of The Fab Four. Led by artistic raconteur Billy Childish, the 'Shakes were raw and completely stylized, real throwbacks.

In my never ending pursuit to establish some sort of writing career, I've had the good fortune of meeting very interesting and cool people. Mike Shatzkin is a publishing maven and fellow traveller in the worlds of rock and roll and baseball, although with a much richer resume.

When we spoke, he mentioned early on that he and his wife had managed a rock group in the early '80's.

"Would I know them?" I asked.

"Were you around here in 1983?" he answered.

"Yeah I went to SUNY-Binghamton."

"Did you ever hear of The Drongos?"

Electric current shot down my spine. The first time I saw The Drongos they were playing on the streets of lower Manhattan. To my recollection they were playing on Broadway in the summer of 1981 next to a dumpster, but there infectious pop had the crowd mesmerized and unaware of the nasty surroundings. "Don't Touch Me," written by drummer Stanley Mitchell is a great unknown pop classic. Richard Kennedy was a twitchy, energetic presence on guitar and vocals.

A year later, I think, they played Binghamton, where I bought their 45 (pictured right and left). Kennedy is still out there, plugging away. Mike wrote about the group ( ) and a clip of Richard singing The Drongos signature song can be found there. I'd direct you to You Tube for it, but I want you to read the blog first.

The joys of networking. Sometimes it brings you to kindred spirits that you wouldn't have otherwise encountered. Sometimes it brings you back to a long forgotten pleasure.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Road Work on E Street

There's nothing musically more enjoyable than a Bruce Springsteen show. The Boss has the unerring ability to put a genuine smile on your face and get your feet moving.

Last night, at the Times-Union Center in Albany, the E Street Band hit the ground running with "Badlands." On the drum riser was Jay Weinberg, Mighty Max's boy, easing himself into the position due to Dad's West Coast gig with Conan O'Brien starting June 1. Young Jay, who looks little like Dave Grohl and plays a little like Animal from The Muppets, was a thunderous presence throughout the night. He was in the game at all times, and, though Max's touch was missed, the heir to the throne had his own style that added much to the show. It was fun to, every once in awhile, note the elder statesmen's prompting and encouragement of their nephew, attentive uncles making sure he did well.

Jay's presence did limit the set list. The last few years, the band pulled out many a chestnut, like "Be True" (a personal favorite). With a new member on board, it's likely that there will be more hits than obscurities. In just over a year, the band has gone over an overhaul, losing Danny Federici to cancer and Max to California. Clarence Clemons can barely walk, and while he may be, in Bruce's words, "the biggest man you've ever seen," his immobility brings mortality to mind. But, like a well cared for road, the band is patched and repaved. It feels different to travel on, but it's still the best path to travel.

The highlight of the night was the camera on Nils Lofgren's guitar. The "fretcam" showed, in giant screen form, the artistry of the little man. "The Ghost of Tom Joad" was turned into a blistering guitar storm, and seeing up close the extent of Lofgren's string bending and finger work was mind-blowing. Never saw anything like it in my life. Rage Against the Machine's take on this neo-folkie has nothing on last night's live performance.

The new tunes from Working on a Dream didn't jell with the rest of the show. They are great songs, but the high production value needed to get them across doesn't quite work live. Especially when sitting next to a high octane version of "Mony Mony."

Springsteen has been ending, or nearly ending, his shows with "American Land," a tribute to immigrant America. It's the type of song that Bruce does well, and The Dropkick Murphys do better. Hearing it last night and watching the band, made me realize how much the E Street Band represents this idealized melting pot - a Polish Catholic guy everyone thinks is Jewish, a Dutch guy who everyone thinks is Italian, a young Jewish kid replacing an old Jewish man, a big black guy, a Norwegian (I guess), and some undefinable ethnics (what nationality could surnames like Bittan and Tallent be?) - Bruce Springsteen is America!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Stadium Tour Hits New Shea

When I graduated from college in May of '84, I had an idea. If I hit 2-3 major league ballparks, I could see all of them in about a decade. I never, never expected the massive rebuild of big league playgrounds. Yesterday, I visited my 45th, adjacent to the site of my first, the parking lot which was once Shea Stadium.

Passing the inlaid plaques that noted the previous spots of Shea's home plate, pitching rubber and bases, it seemed as if Citi Field held great promise. It is a great place to watch a game, even from my right field upper deck seat. The food, according to Ron Darling, is the best in baseball, but I couldn't verify that. I did have a Nathan's hot dog and a Gabila's knish, both yummy, but one can never sample all the wares, from brick oven pizza to Mexican. It smelled good, though.

Here's my problem with the park, and why I left feeling quite negative about it. Tom Seaver has said that he never understood why the Mets always tried to compete on history with the Yankees. It's no contest - the Yankees ARE baseball history. However, as Seaver pointed out, the Mets have their own unique heritage, with two World Series wins and the best comic losers in a game filled with characters.

Citi Field is remarkably a nearly no-Mets zone. The stadium is built to replicate Ebbets Field and the majestic Jackie Robinson Rotunda, though a lovely and fitting tribute to the man, is Dodger central, with pictures of Brooklyn moments past. There's even an Ebbets Level. Come on!

When the Mets started in 1962, the infant franchise had, by necessity, to rest on the laurels of New York's National League past, the recently fled Dodgers and Giants. Not now, though, not now, almost 50 years later. The Dodgers have their own stadium. I believe it's called Dodger Stadium.

At Citi, the outfield walls are black and orange, recalling the New York Giants. So what is present to remind fans of the Mets' history? Some black and white photos on the outside of the park and, during the game, a short clip on Seaver's near-perfect game from 1969, and some Cliff Floyd highlight from 2005. Hell, even the Mariners have a Seattle baseball museum at Safeco and that franchise has done virtually nothing over their 30 plus years.

It's a shame, really, because Mets fans love this team and would truly enjoy even a small nod to their memories. I'm not saying their should be a statue of George Theodore, but it couldn't hurt to embrace the high and low moments of the last four decades.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Follow-up on A-Rod and Manny

With 162 games and non-stop coverage of game highlights, it's awfully hard to muster up any enthusiasm to tune in too any specific game. I was glued to the TV set (is that still a proper term?) on Friday night to watch the return of ARod in real time. By now everybody knows that he hit a 3-run homer on the first pitch he was served, a shot that led the Yankees to victory. Truly thrilling and memorable. Glad I tuned in.

As to the travails of Manny, I again say so what. To hear Tim McCarver's tirade yesterday about this being Manny's "final insult to baseball" was to witness true hysterics. Let's face it - steroid use was prevalent and, let's also face it, most fans don't care. Baseball interest is at an all-time high and McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod, Manny and ___ (insert your next name here) cannot and will not ruin it.

It's left in the voices and pens of the media to tear at their breast and bemoan how the game has been sullied by these villains. The custodians at the BBWAA will pass their judgment on the "worthiness" of the greats of this era, but it means nothing.

It is interesting to hear Peter Gammons put forth the notion that Manny was not taking performance enhancers in 2004 and 2007. Wouldn't want to mar that wonderful Red Sox story, but does anyone really believe that? Really? And, assuming that clubhouse was full of juicers, and we can all start looking and choosing who were the likely users, does it take away from the story of that post-season? No, it does not.

47 more games until Manny's back.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Tale of Two Steroids

Two stories today, "Manny Ramirez Suspended for 50 Games for Violating Drug Policy" and "A-Rod to Return Friday." A sweet coincidence.

Manny was found to have been taking a women's fertility drug that induces testosterone production. It is also well-known to be used by steroid users as they come off the juice. Makes sense, right? If steroids bolster testosterone and you go cold turkey, you need something to produce your manly qualities.

Perhaps using women's drugs has also helped Manny's flowing locks. As I've mentioned before, I don't care. Manny has always been, and will continue to be, one of the greatest pure hitters of all-time. Yes, I said, pure. He is leaps and bounds above most of his peers, who more and more, are known drug users. I'm outraged that he will be missing from the scene until July 3, not that he is in violation of MLB's drug policy.

With that, welcome back A-Rod. Nothing made fans, and anti-fans, of your game miss you more than watching the abysmal performance of these Yankees. Without you in the lineup, these guys really suck. It took your disappearance to make the faithful realized how much you're needed. If I had to bet, you'll be roundly cheered upon your debut at the new Stadium. On the road, there's no hope. They hate you anyway.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Katz on Dylan on Dylan

I'm no Dylanologist, like Clinton Heylin (world's leading Dylan scholar) or A.J. Weberman (who famously "researched" Dylan's garbage cans), but I'm no dabbler either. I have 70 Dylan LPs/CDs, have read 10-15 books on the subject and I've seen him more times in concert, 10, than any other artist. I do have my thoughts on the man.

I would never argue that Blood on the Tracks isn't the key Dylan album of the 1970's, but I will unequivocally state that Street-Legal, from 1978, is the second best of the decade and the single most undeservedly ignored work in the Dylan oeuvre. The songs are magnificent and the imagery potent and mysterious. Dylan often talks about how, after his motorcycle accident on the heels of Blonde on Blonde it took him years to write consciously the way he wrote unconsciously in the years pre-crash. Street-Legal is the prime example of this return to form.

True, the album suffered from dark and muddy production, but the songs still came through with strength. The remastered SACD positively explodes with energy and clarity, showing Dylan in his finest voice of the decade, period, and the texture and depths of the tracks truly to be marvelled at. The sweeping organ on the last cut, "Where are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)" will put you in a "Like a Rolling Stone" mindset and make you appreciate how monumental this album is.
Jonathan Cott's collection of Dylan interviews in Dylan on Dylan weave together a finer autobiography than even Dylan himself attempts in his unique and entertaining Chronicles. Every Dylan that we've known - drifter, protest singer, psychedelic rocker, Woodstock prairie farmer, soul searching singer-songwriter, fire and brimstone Christian warrior - are explored in the man's own words. I have a new theory.

I have never seen Dylan's signature film Renaldo & Clara. It was obvious, as witnessed through his availability to and honesty with interviewers, that the movie meant the world to Dylan. He goes deeply into himself in this period than in any sit downs before or since. His entire being was devoted to the making of the film and, in an earnest attempt to explain its themes and importance, Bob approaches his questioners with candor. He even quotes his own lyrics to delve further into his true persona. Even George Harrison quoted Dylan lyrics more in interviews than Dylan himself, except in 1978.

Following the film came Street-Legal, which he was also willing to discuss at great length. Both works were crushed by critics, and, by 1979, Dylan was a Christian soldier, his answers to questions now showing no tinge of personal feeling, simply rehashed religious doctrine. While Slow Train Coming is a very fine album, it is only the tunes that are Dylan's; the words are Biblical paraphrasing.

I think Dylan, who always made it clear that the press didn't bother him, was hurt, hurt deeply, when two very personal works were thrashed in the media. With that, he sought solace in religion, a place many go when feeling desperate, alone and unwanted.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Passing the Musical Torch

When you're a collector and/or obsessive, there is always the hope that your kids, at least one of them, will want to share an interest you hold dear. I remember hitting baseball card shows and looking with envy at a father and son poring through card albums, want lists in hand.

In the last week, I've had the pleasure of many encounters with two of my boys over shared musical love. Having spent most of my life accumulating a record/CD collection both deep and wide, it gives me a warm squishy feeling that it has not all been in vain.
1- "Hey, do you know Bowie's Berlin trilogy," was the starting point of Friday afternoon's conversation with my 10th grader. We talked about Heroes, which I only have on LP, but I happily told him that we had Low and Lodger on disc. I also got to tell him about how Nick Lowe, in response to Bowie's Low sans "e" had an EP entitle Bowi. My son loved that. He also a month or so ago pointed out that Lennon's Intuition on Mind Games was very much like "kooks" on Hunky Dory. Hadn't picked that up myself in the last 30-35 years.

2- "This is my favorite version of "You're a Big Girl Now." My 7th grader is the child musicologist and really pores over the collection. He is deep into Dylan and, in this case, listening to the version on Blood on the Tapes, the original takes that would be recut by Bob for Blood on the Tracks.

3- That same 7th grader came home from his first band practice yesterday. He plays keyboards, sax and guitar. The band, tentatively called The Chick Magnets, but only tentatively as they may acquire a female bassist, got together at the drummer's house. My wife was there and heard them fiddling around. All of a sudden they began to play a real song - New Order's "Age of Consent"-and, according to first hand reports it sounded great. Of course, it was my boy who brought such a tune to the attention of his bandmates.
4- "I just got Holiday in Cambodia" for Rock Band. Let's play!" I never thought when I first bought Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables that I would have a 16 year old son who would say that. Never thought it, but it's damn nice. I confess that I love Rock Band and I will spend more Beatle money in September when the Beatles version of the game comes out. Just to hold a plastic Hofner bass makes it worthwhile. When the youngest son sings Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge," with the older on guitar and myself on bass, life is good.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Spectre of Specter

The Democrats welcome Arlen Specter with open arms. To what end? Is it true, as I've heard, that it's for the short term gain of his vote for Obama's health care plan?

Could be. All I know is that it is another example of a lack of real belief in the values of the Democratic party. I'm not saying that booting out 40 year Republicans in a move to the right is helpful for the GOP, but at least you know what they stand for.

What do the Dems stand for in welcoming Specter, who has agreed with them about 30% of the time? Do they really gain a stranglehold on the 60 vote filibuster buster?

I doubt it. Specter just said on Meet the Press that had the Club for Growth not made Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) spend all his money fending off a conservative challenger in the primary, then good ol' Linc, a moderate Republican, would have enabled the GOP'er's to keep hold of the Senate in 2007-08. And what would have happened in that case? Let me tell what "Democratic" Senator Arlen Specter said: 34 Republican appointed judges would have been approved and not left to expire. He was positively wistful, just thinking of that missed opportunity.

That's who the Dems are going to fall behind, that's who Obama will campaign for? Crazy stuff.

As in the torture hoo-hah, there has to be some principle behind the politics, something that is lacking in the Obama equation. Not everything is, or should be, merely a tallying of numbers on the scoreboard.

Here's hoping a REAL Democrat whups Specter in the primary and gets elected. A Dem was going to win in Pennsylvania anyway. Might as well be an authentic one.